Re: How to Lose Readers (Without Even Trying)

Sam Harris has an awesome post in response to the anti-tax anti-statists (who often seem to be anti-humanists, especially the Randian types). There was a particular part that caught my attention (emphasis is mine):

image“And lurking at the bottom of this morass one finds flagrantly irrational ideas about the human condition. Many of my critics pretend that they have been entirely self-made. They seem to feel responsible for their intellectual gifts, for their freedom from injury and disease, and for the fact that they were born at a specific moment in history. Many appear to have absolutely no awareness of how lucky one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be able to work. One must be lucky to be intelligent, to not have cerebral palsy, or to not have been bankrupted in middle age by the mortal illness of a spouse.

Many of us have been extraordinarily lucky—and we did not earn it. Many good people have been extraordinarily unlucky—and they did not deserve it. And yet I get the distinct sense that if I asked some of my readers why they weren’t born with club feet, or orphaned before the age of five, they would not hesitate to take credit for these accomplishments. There is a stunning lack of insight into the unfolding of human events that passes for moral and economic wisdom in some circles. And it is pernicious. Followers of Rand, in particular, believe that only a blind reliance on market forces and the narrowest conception of self interest can steer us collectively toward the best civilization possible and that any attempt to impose wisdom or compassion from the top—no matter who is at the top and no matter what the need—is necessarily corrupting of the whole enterprise. This conviction is, at the very least, unproven. And there are many reasons to believe that it is dangerously wrong.”
 – – –
That is what socialism has to offer us. Socialism reminds us that humans are inherently social animals. Humans literally can’t survive without others. Many infants die if they aren’t touched, despite how well they are fed.
 – – –
It was odd that Sam Harris had to or even wanted to explain that he wasn’t a socialist. He clarified his position by pointing out that he is a libertarian in many ways:
 – – –
And I say this as someone who considers himself, in large part, a “libertarian”—and who has, therefore, embraced more or less everything that was serviceable in Rand’s politics. The problem with pure libertarianism, however, has long been obvious: We are not ready for it.Judging from my recent correspondence, I feel this more strongly than ever. There is simply no question that an obsession with limited government produces impressive failures of wisdom and compassion in otherwise intelligent people.
 – – –
And…
 – – –
It was disconcerting how many people felt the need to lecture me about the failure of Socialism. To worry about the current level of wealth inequality is not to endorse Socialism, or to claim that the equal distribution of goods should be an economic goal.
 – – –
His reponse just goes to show you how little socialism is understood. Chomsky is both a socialist and a libertarian. Chomsky explains that libertarianism arose out of the the socialist workers movement.
 – – –
To put it simply, socialism promotes an egalitarian society that is fair and just. Socialism, however, doesn’t necessitate the equal distribution of goods. It only requires the equal distribution of opportunities and equal public benefits for public investments. Socialism is the opposite of our present plutocratic socialism. Instead of redistribution to the few, the benefits of our shared society go to benefit to all who are a part of that society. It’s the simple understanding that no person is self-made. Even Sam Harris understands this despite apparently, in his defensiveness, not realizing that socialism isn’t such a crazy idea.

Conservative Mistrust & Ideological Certainty (part 2)

I have some further thoughts about the topic I wrote about in my last post:

Conservative Mistrust & Ideological Certainty (part 1)

I started reading the introduction of Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. I immediately could tell that Hofstadter was a man who truly understood what intellectualism is about, but his book isn’t a paean to the glories of intellectualism. I sense that Hofstadter was trying to be fairminded even to those he is criticizing (a respectable trait that any intellectual should aspire towards). In this book, he is analyzing the specific history of intellectuality within the United States, the intellectuals themselves and those who opposed them. He doesn’t shy away from tough issues such as communism.

He clarifies a number of points. I’ll discuss two of them.

First, there generally isn’t a group of people who are entirely anti-intellectual. Those who use anti-intellectual arguments/rhetoric usually do so in response to some particular situation. The main opposition towards intellectuals is when they act as experts which goes against the populist grain of American culture (populist sentiments being particularly appealing to American conservatives). On the other hand, American intellectuals have at times been in alignment with this populism (e.g., the Progressive Era). Intellectualism isn’t inherently anti-populist and populism isn’t inherently anti-intellectual, but it’s obvious that in the US intellectualism and populism haven’t always gotten along.

Second, he distinguishes intelligence from intellectuality. Intelligence is universally valued, but intellectuality is not. Someone can be one while not being the other. The central distinction is that intelligence has practical ends and so can be known by its results (can be observed or even measured) whereas intellectuality doesn’t seek external justification. Intellectuality has two attributes that balance eachother: piety and playfulness. There is an almost religious sense that the intellectual has towards the moral values underpinning intellectual endeavors: truth and honesty, justice and fairness, etc. The intellectual endeavor is extremely serious and many intellectuals will dedicate their lives to it for very little reward (unlike businessmen or media personalities, few intellectuals become wealthy). Intellectualism is a calling. However, it’s playfulness (creativity, imagination, experimentation, openness, etc) that keeps the intellectual from turning into a zealot or ideologue. Also, I’d say this playfulness relates to the ability at role-playing, the ability to see different perspectives, the ability to empathize and understand.

The second point relates to psychological research which shows a correlation between liberalism and psychological factors such as the MBTI function Intuition, the FFM trait Openness to Experience, and Hartmann’s thin boundary type. I couldn’t help but think of MBTI Intution when reading Hofstadter’s description of intellectuality. Intuition is all about both the ability to think in terms of abstractions and imaginatively conceive of diverse possibilities. Intuitives tend to have a very playful sense of humor. Hofstadter’s seemed to be describing, in particular, the MBTI types INFP and INTP. There is other psychological research that I’m reminded of. There was a study that demonstrated a correlation between (as I recall) imagination, empathy (or emotional intelligence), and paranormal/spiritual experience… which makes sense according to Hartmann’s model of boundary types.

Conservatives like to call liberals bleeding hearts and it’s true that liberals on average have a stronger empathetic response (which would imply a higher emotional intelligence in that people tend to personally care about others to the extent that they understand the felt experience of others… not to imply, though, that conservatives entirely lack this because to entirely lack it would mean you’re a sociopath). What is interesting is that intellectualism is strongly correlated, especially in the US, with liberalism. For example, most scientists self-identify as liberals. So, what is the connection between empathy and intellectualism? This connection would be most clearly represented by the MBTI NF types (INFP, INFJ, ENFP, ENFJ), but even NT types would have an above average ability to understand the perspectives of others even if they didn’t experience this on an emotional level. My guess, however, is that most objectivists and anarcho-capitalists are NT types which would explain why they don’t identify with the average conservative who is probably an ST type.

I’ve noticed that some people speculate Ayn Rand was an INTJ. My dad, who has tested as an ENTJ, is fairly interested in Rand’s worldview. There is nothing comparable to the systematic logic of an INTJ or ENTJ… because these two types have Introverted Intuition which is a type of abstract thinking when taken to the extreme is utterly detached from outward reality and in some cases can lead to an idealization of outward reality. Let me use Rand as an example. Here are some quotes from the Wikipedia article titled “Objectivism (Ayn Rand)”:

Rand’s philosophy begins with three axioms: existence, identity, and consciousness.[6] Rand defined an axiom as “a statement that identifies the base of knowledge and of any further statement pertaining to that knowledge, a statement necessarily contained in all others whether any particular speaker chooses to identify it or not. An axiom is a proposition that defeats its opponents by the fact that they have to accept it and use it in the process of any attempt to deny it.”[7] As Leonard Peikoff noted, Rand’s argument “is not a proof that the axioms of existence, consciousness, and identity are true. It is proof that they are axioms, that they are at the base of knowledge and thus inescapable.”[8]

Like Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand likes axioms. To me, these are just ideas based on arguments. The problem with calling them axioms is that it gives me the sense that there are unstated assumptions underlying the argument for these axioms. These axioms don’t stand alone. For one, the very statement of these axioms is dependent on language (specifically, the English language in this case) and dependent on a philosophical tradition (specifically, the Western tradition in this case). If you put these axioms to a group of philosophy professors, they could debate them endlessly and never come to a conclusion about them. Rand’s perception that she defeats her opponents before even beginning the debate is just pure intellectual hubris. It’s a very simpleminded mentality.

As Rand wrote, “A leaf … cannot be all red and green at the same time, it cannot freeze and burn at the same time. A is A.”[9]

Essentially, this is binary (black/white) thinking. It’s easy to point out any number of examples that contradict this style of either/or philosophizing. Most issues in life consist of multiple categories and blurring between categories. Even something so simple as gender involves complexities such as hermaphrodites.

Objectivism holds that the mind cannot create reality, but rather, it is a means of discovering reality.[14]

This is such an over-simplification that I hardly know what to say about it. Our minds aren’t separate from the reality being perceived. Speaking about whether reality is created or not is pointless speculation, but what we can say is that the mind does create the perception of reality. To anyone who doesn’t understand this, I’d recommend reading the vast literature on the mind-body connection and I’d particularly recommend reading about enactivism.

Objectivist philosophy derives its explanations of action and causation from the axiom of identity, calling causation “the law of identity applied to action.”[15] According to Rand, it is entities that act, and every action is the action of an entity. The way entities act is caused by the specific nature (or “identity”) of those entities; if they were different they would act differently.[16]

This touches upon Rothbard’s own axiom of “Humans act”. This variety of conservative is obsessed with action, with doing and achieving. In Rand’s view, mind and reality are separate to some extent which seems to relate to a more general focus on what separates, what makes “A is A” and what makes “B is B”. It’s why this type is so centrally focused on ownership. You can only own that which is somehow outside of the one who owns. Many of these people even speak of individuality in terms of self-ownership which is a truly bizarre concept. The self, like anything else, is just an object to be owned and to do with as one wishes (manipulated, used, destroyed, sold, etc). The self has no intrinsic value and so it’s only value is what it’s worth on the market.

I’d suggest that this attitude is based in Hartmann’s thick boundary type. Research shows that the person with a thicker boundary has a stronger sense of separation between themselves and others, between themselves and the world, between the present and the past, between fantasy and reality, between body and mind. It’s a fundamentally distinct way of viewing and being in the world. It would seem that Rand had an impressively strong sense of thick boundary.

Objectivist epistemology maintains that all knowledge is ultimately based on perception. “Percepts, not sensations, are the given, the self-evident.”[20] Rand considered the validity of the senses to be axiomatic, and claimed that purported arguments to the contrary all commit the fallacy of the “stolen concept”[21] by presupposing the validity of concepts that, in turn, presuppose the validity of the senses.[22] She thought that perception, being physiologically determined, is incapable of error. So optical illusions, for example, are errors in the conceptual identification of what is seen, not errors in sight itself.[23]

Reality is what reality is (A is A). You see what you get. And there is nothing else

According to Rand, attaining knowledge beyond what is given in perception requires both volition (or the exercise of free will) and adherence to a specific method of validation through observation, concept-formation, and the application of inductive and deductive logic. A belief in, say, dragons, however sincere, does not oblige reality to contain any dragons. For anything that cannot be directly observed, a process of “proof” identifying the basis in reality of the claimed item of knowledge is necessary in order to establish its truth.[25]

Objectivism rejects both faith and “feeling” as sources of knowledge. Rand acknowledged the importance of emotion in human beings, but she maintained that emotions are a consequence of the conscious or subconscious ideas that a person already accepts, not a means of achieving awareness of reality. “Emotions are not tools of cognition.”[26] Peikoff uses “emotionalism”[27] as a synonym for irrationality.

Truth is nothing more than the combination of perceived reality (A is A) and pure rationality. This is a very self-contained attitude. Rand or Rothbard is presenting something that they consider to be self-evident for anyone willing to see the obvious (the axiomatic truth) and able to logically deduce the inevitable conclusion (from those axioms).

Integrating with this is Rand’s view that the primary focus of man’s free will is in the choice: to think or not to think. “Thinking is not an automatic function. In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.”[43] According to Rand, therefore, possessing free will, human beings must choose their values: one does not automatically hold his own life as his ultimate value. Whether in fact a person’s actions promote and fulfill his own life or not is a question of fact, as it is with all other organisms, but whether a person will act in order to promote his well-being is up to him, not hard-wired into his physiology.

This is an extension of something along the lines of the axiom “humans act”. The idealizing of freedom and choosing seems to be a form of heroic existentialism as expressed with Sartre’s radical freedom (it’s because there is no inherent value that we are absolutely free). By acting, we define who we are and we claim self-ownership. The “undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism” is a passive experience that must be acted upon.

Rand summarizes:

If [man] chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, nature will take its course. Reality confronts a man with a great many ‘must’s’, but all of them are conditional: the formula of realistic necessity is: ‘you must, if -‘ and the if stands for man’s choice: ‘if you want to achieve a certain goal’.[46]

Reality is what reality is, but reality in and of itself is separate from and opposed to rational self-interest. Nature must be tamed by man in order for him to attain his self-imposed goal. Reality is a world of objects and before anything else the object of the self must be taken control of. The method of taking control is rationality and hence actively forcing order upon one’s experience.

What is most important in all of this is that everything from this perspective (whether objectivism or anarcho-capitalism) begins with the claim of self-evident axioms. This must be understood in it’s larger context. The more intelligent defenders of this position don’t claim that everything is limited to this axiomatic approach. Much of the hard sciences necessitate research that can lead to objective conclusions, but the social sciences are dismissed out of some generalized criticism of positivism. What this comes down to is that social scientists can’t come to absolute conclusions and therefore all social science is complete bunk. So, all psychology, all sociology, all anthropology, all Keynesian economics based on data about humans, all of it is meaningless. Humans can objectively study the physical world but humans can’t objectively study humans.

Mises Non-Trivial Insight
By Robert P. Murphy

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the economics of Ludwig von Mises is his insistence on the a priori approach. For Mises, economic “laws” must be logically deduced from antecedent axioms, so that—assuming the initial assumptions are true—the conclusions reached are just as valid as any result in Euclidean geometry.This stands in sharp contrast to the method of the positivists, a camp that includes most of today’s practicing economists. In their opinion, economics can only be “scientific” if it adopts the procedures used by the natural scientists. Roughly, the positivists feel that economists should form hypotheses with testable implications, and then collect data to measure the accuracy of their predictions. Those tendencies that enjoy the most success in this sense are then deemed to be better “laws” than conjectures that do not fit the data so well.

Against the mainstream’s impressive mathematical tools and vast budgets spent on data collection, the Misesians meekly insist that economics must start from the premise that humans act. This action axiom lies at the core of “praxeology,” Mises’ term for the science of human action. The Misesians argue that all of the true economic laws can be derived from this simple axiom (sometimes with additional assumptions about the world, such as the fact that labor is onerous).

I think the motivation in this is the desire to see humans as free agents that can’t be predicted and the fear that anyone who would want to predict humans would also want to control humans. That is the real issue and all of the rationalized argumentation is just window dressing. There is a comforting simplicity in this plea for axiomatic truths and logical conclusions. It’s not unlike the theologians desire to understand the perfection of God through the perfection of rationality bestowed upon man by that very same God. It’s a desire for the world to just make sense. The social scientists gather immense data and portray a complex world. The social scientists are experts who debate issues the common man can’t understand. It’s understandable that anti-intellectualism can be an attractive alternative in response to these experts in control of our fates. When politicians call upon experts, how can we know what they discuss behind closed doors? Why should we trust these experts who live their comfortable lives in their ivory towers?

There really is no way to argue against this mistrust. It’s not unusual for this mistrust to be, especially during social turmoil and economic hard times, to turn into paranoid suspicion. It’s ultimate a sense of fear about what is beyond the individual. We do face many complex issues that have resulted from industrialization and globalization. It’s just a fact that we no longer live in a time when a single person can understand everything and can do everything for himself. It’s tempting to idealize the Jeffersonian libertarianism of a pre-industrial age or to idealize the simple unregulated capitalism when industrialization was barely taking hold. Once upon a time, Americans were innocently naive about environmental destruction, about pollution-related diseases, about the degradation of urbanization. The first century or so of American history seems almost utopian in hindsight. Why couldn’t that have continued? It would be nice to believe that capitalism, if left to its own devices, would’ve brought nothing but good. Why did the government have to ruin everything?

These people may profess rationality, but human motivation ultimately is non-rational. George Lakoff makes a good argument for this in his book Moral Politics. All logic about political views comes down to rationalization. Lakoff argues that we begin with metaphors by which we frame our experiences and try to understand them, but in doing so we filter all of reality through this frame (or, as Robert Anton Wilson say it, through our “reality tunnel”). This framing is prior to our verbalization of it. This is further supported by the psychological research (yes, the social science that is dismissed by Mises and Rothbard). Studies show that humans are born with or else develop early on certain psychological traits, but you don’t have to trust the experts. Go to a hospital nursery or a playground where children are playing and you will observe for yourself the distinctive personalities.

The only reason that the anarcho-capitalists and similar types can dismiss this science is because they’re ignorant of the scientific process. It really can’t be called anything other than anti-intellectualism. I don’t even know what they mean by positivism. They dismiss all social science based on the claim that it is positivist which is odd considering that there are anti-positivist social scientists such as Max Weber. Anyways, I don’t see how the world would be improved if we were able to somehow get rid of all social science and get rid of all the experts. So much of our society is built on social science. There is no aspect of capitalism or politics that isn’t informed by social science. Social science is the basis of all advertising and PR. Social science is used for product design and architecture. Social science is used in military training and military strategy. Social science helps city planners design efficient roadways and helps utility companies determine the patterns of customer behavior.

There is this strange notion that social science is about abstract data disconnected from the practical world. If social science can be used to control people as some fear, that only proves how effective it is in a practical sense. The arguments against social science are distractions from the real moral issues. Those who don’t see themselves as experts fear those who sometimes act as experts. These people want self-control and self-ownership which is how they define freedom, but this ideal of freedom is itself an abstraction. These people can offer no real world examples of a society that operated according to their ideals.

There is a serious disconnection here between American populism and intellectualism, but there is no reason it has to be this way. The average person can only have a negative view of intellectuality if he wasn’t ever taught intellectuality in his own schooling. If every American was taught how to think intellectually and taught to value intellectuality, then intellectualism would become a populist value. Most people have the capacity for intellectual thought. Even if the average person doesn’t desire to dedicate their life to intellectuality, it would still be of value for all citizens to get an intellectual education. The only way to counter fear and suspicion is through knowledge.

Nietzsche & Rand, Sinners & Criminals

“The Christian resolve to find the world evil and ugly, has made the world evil and ugly.”

 ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

“There’s no way to rule innocent men.
The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals.
Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them.
One declares so many things to be a crime
that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”

 ~ Ayn Rand 1905-1982

Ayn Rand & William F. Buckley, Jr.

I’ve been slowly figuring out the relationship of William F. Buckley, Jr. and Ayn Rand in their influence on the conservative movement.  

The truly odd part is that Ayn Rand’s objectivism has been conflated with libertarianism and the ‘social liberal’/anarchist libertarians have been forgotten about (surviving only by the force of Chomsky’s intellect).  Then the confused mixing of ideologies was somehow used as rhetoric for the rising religious right which, in response to Cold War Imperialism, ended up as evangelical neoconservatism.  Sadly, Rand’s idealism of rational self-interest and individualism became the justification of the neocons and their imperialistic military-industrial complex. 

Bush jr’s administration saw the full flowering of this trend.  And, more recently, the paranoid religious fringe, by way of Glenn Beck, has attempted to coopt Ayn Rand into their patriotic moral conservatism… somehow attempting to fit rational self-interest into the frame of submission to ideological fundamentalism with it’s concept of the fallen self.  Buckley supposedly was responsible for kicking out of the libertarian movment the racists and conspiracy theorists, but I’m getting the sense they might be sneaking back in now that he isn’t on watch.

I don’t know what Ayn Rand would think of it all, but she would not be happy.  Despite her criticisms of liberals, it was the conservatives that she thought would destroy America and she might turn out to be correct.  She had such opposition to the idea of a ‘moral majority’ that she considered starting a party called the ‘immoral minority’.

I’m even more confused about Buckley.  He apparently was the major intellectual and political force in making the religious right respectable within the GOP, but he later on had reservations about this alliance.  He criticized the harsh rhetoric of the religious right, especially in relation to overt gay-bashing.  Supposedly, Buckley believed in separation of Church and State, but at the same time he thought Christian values should be incorporated into the government’s policies and forced on to the American public.  He didn’t like the harsh rhetoric because it undermined his plan to sneak religious beliefs into politics in a more covert manner. 

Compared to today’s ideologues, Buckley was fairly tame.  The only person comparable to Buckley is Robert George who is the new leader of intellectually respectable moral conservatism.

We need a new Ayn Rand if only to knock some commonsense back into the conservative mindset.  Until then, we’ll have to make do with the words of Rand which are rather prescient considering what has become of the conservative movement.

William F. Buckley, Jr.: The Witch-Doctor is Dead
By Harry Binswanger

William F. Buckley, Jr. is finally dead. Buckley was the man who initiated and sustained the movement to bring religion into the conservative movement. His first book was “God and Man at Yale,” which I haven’t read or looked at, but which is said to have criticized Yale education for being both leftist and anti-religious. He then founded the magazine National Review, which Ayn Rand in her Playboy interview of 1964 called “the worst and most dangerous magazine in America,” because of its crusade to tie capitalism to religion. Here is what she said of National Review in a letter to Barry Goldwater in 1960:

This leads me to the subject of the National Review. I am profoundly opposed to it–not because it is a religious magazine, but because it pretends that it is not. There are religious magazines which one can respect, even while disagreeing with their views. But the fact that the National Review poses as a secular political magazine, while following a strictly religious “party line,” can have but one purpose: to slip religious goals by stealth on those who would not accept them openly, to “bore from within,” to tie Conservatism to religion, and thus to take over the American Conservatives. This attempt comes from a pressure group wider than the National Review, but the National Review is one of its manifestations. . . .

The attempt to use religion as a moral justification of Conservatism began after World War II. Observe the growing apathy, lifelessness, ineffectuality and general feebleness of the so-called Conservative side, ever since. You are, at present, a rising exception in the Republican ranks. I do not believe that that pressure group could succeed in making you its tool. But a philosophical pressure group is very hard to detect, particularly at first. That is why I want to warn you against them now, and help you to identify the nature of their influence.

I am not certain that you understood my relationship to the National Review, when I spoke to you here. I thought that you knew the facts, but perhaps you do not. In brief, they printed a review of Atlas Shrugged by Whittaker Chambers, which I have not read, on principle; those who have read it, told me that this former Communist spy claimed that my book advocates dictatorship. Thereafter, the National Review printed two articles about me (which I did read), one of them allegedly friendly, both of them misrepresenting my position in a manner I have not seen outside The Daily Worker or The Nation. What was significant was their second article: it denounced me for advocating capitalism. [Letters of Ayn Rand, pp. 571-2]

Buckley’s Big Mistake
By Gregory Paul

William F. Buckley Jr. was, like most American conservatives, a traditionalist Christian who was appalled at the secularization of western culture. And like most who share his right wing world-view, he made a mistake that is astonishing in its naivety — a mistake that is helping wreck western religion while it promotes the very secularization of the population Buckley et al. decry. It is the Grand Alliance between the religious right and corporate capital.

The Bible was written by Bronze and Iron Age peoples who had little concept about modern free enterprise. Nor did Jesus talk about stock options or hedge funds. Many early Christians lived in communistic communities where property was considered sinful. The fundamentalist Protestant William Jennings Bryan used to rail against the secular forces of capital. The Roman Church Buckley belonged to has always looked askance at capitalism. Yet, especially since World War II, the bulk of the conservative Christian cause — mainly evangelical with a number of Catholics going along for the ride — have embraced free wheeling, deregulated, laissez-faire, corporate capitalism as though it is God’s way for his human creations to manage their large scale economics. [. . .]

One reason only a quarter of the public attends church on a given Sunday is because lots of busy shoppers prefer to hit the stores on Sunday — which became possible only after the retailers helped repeal the Puritanical Blue Laws. Bill O’Reilly targets secularists for waging war on Xmas in order to divert attention away from how the mercantile powers have remade the event into a shop-til-you drop secular holiday. The right once owned the culture via the oppressive Comstock Laws, and the Hayes Code that ruled Hollywood. Nowadays not a single conservative Christian themed program graces the corporate owned entertainment networks, whose programming is steeped in the salacious and irreligious. Such as FOX’s hypergraphic medical drama House which stars a proudly atheist MD. Rupert Murdoch’s entertainment empire is notorious for offering an array of irreligious TV and film product that feeds cultural secularization, while his FOX News presents conservative pundits such as O-Reilly are careful to charge the faithless liberals, not the capitalists, with coarsening the culture. Despite winning the occasional battle, the right has lost the culture war as the corporate world takes its putative religious allies for a ride. [. . .]

William Buckley was instrumental in shifting the American Christian right from William Bryan’s old fashioned anti-capitalism to its modern enthusiasm for mass consumerism. To be blunt about it, for all his erudite intellectualism Buckley was not socially astute; the populist Bryan had much better horse sense concerning the dangers that the capitalist world-view posed for popular piety. One has to wonder exactly how right-wingers think that they will get a traditionalist culture out of the rat-race that is the pursuit of wealth and pleasure. Instead, Buckley’s Grand Alliance has predictably backfired. The corporate-consumer culture has been a disaster for mass faith in every western democracy — that’s one reason the Vatican remains so skeptical about it. But to be fair, it is not like the religious right has much in the way of viable options. They are in a classic socio-political bind. If they break off their Republican collaboration with capital they will lose what political power they have, which is already sliding as the growing secularism favors the Democrats. Nor can the churches compete for cultural influence with commercial forces that enjoy a cash flow amounting to many trillions each year. It looks like there is little that the followers of Buckley can do to stem much less reverse the rise of popular secularism.

Altruism: Human Nature and Society

Below is an article about how psychological research is disproving traditional Christian theology.  Humans aren’t born sinners.  Humans are born altruistic or rather humans are born with a sense of self that includes others.  The ideology of the sinner combined with the Enlightenment ideal of individuality led to our modern capitalistic model of democracy which is particularly favored by conservatives.  Sadly, this model that has been forced on humans for so long turns out to be wrong.

Alan Greenspan, a devotee of Ayn Rand’s libertarianism, admitted that he misunderstood human nature.  Humans aren’t rational in the Randian ideological sense, but more importantly they’re not selfishly rational.   Human nature, however, is perfectly rational when you look at it from the perspectives of psychology, biology, and evolution.  When human nature doesn’t conform to your “rational” expectations, it’s your expectations that aren’t rational and not human nature.

Another problem to early scientific understanding of human nature is the species we compared ourselves to.  Chimpanzees became the model of human nature and Chimpanzees are a fairly violent species.  The problem is that genetically we’re closer to Bonobos which are a very peaceful species.  Comparing ourselves to a violent species was a mere convenience for those who ideologically believed in violent worldview.  Also, comparing ourselves to any of these primate species may not tell us much about natural and hence non-deviant behaviors for these species have suffered greatly themselves from human violence and environmental destruction.

Some have noted the way modern capitalism is understood.  Through a manipulated legal fluke, corporations gained precedence as being treated as humans.  However, as they’re not actually persons, they’re not treated according to social norms.  The description of how a corporation is expected to behave most cloesly resembles that of a psycopath.  In defining corporations this way, we set up a standard by which humans also should strive towards in being successful.

We May Be Born With an Urge to Help  By NICHOLAS WADE (NYT)

What is the essence of human nature? Flawed, say many theologians. Vicious and addicted to warfare, wrote Hobbes. Selfish and in need of considerable improvement, think many parents.

But biologists are beginning to form a generally sunnier view of humankind. Their conclusions are derived in part from testing very young children, and partly from comparing human children with those of chimpanzees, hoping that the differences will point to what is distinctively human.

The somewhat surprising answer at which some biologists have arrived is that babies are innately sociable and helpful to others. Of course every animal must to some extent be selfish to survive. But the biologists also see in humans a natural willingness to help.

[…]   “We’re preprogrammed to reach out,” Dr. de Waal writes. “Empathy is an automated response over which we have limited control.” The only people emotionally immune to another’s situation, he notes, are psychopaths.

Indeed, it is in our biological nature, not our political institutions, that we should put our trust, in his view. Our empathy is innate and cannot be changed or long suppressed. “In fact,” Dr. de Waal writes, “I’d argue that biology constitutes our greatest hope. One can only shudder at the thought that the humaneness of our societies would depend on the whims of politics, culture or religion.”

The basic sociability of human nature does not mean, of course, that people are nice to each other all the time. Social structure requires that things be done to maintain it, some of which involve negative attitudes toward others. The instinct for enforcing norms is powerful, as is the instinct for fairness. Experiments have shown that people will reject unfair distributions of money even it means they receive nothing.

11.  Steve R.

While we may be born with the urge to help, it gets squashed out of existence. Today, the Times published Open Source as a Model for Business Is Elusive. This article appears pretty much mundane, but anecdotally it is simply one more unfortunate example that highlights the fact that those who wish to contribute to society through volunteerism are vilified when it comes to competing with business interests. The people who volunteer to help develop MySQL or Wikipedia should be celebrated.

13.  D Z

No doubt Dr. Tomasello’s work uses recent findings, but to those interested in this article (and to Mr. Wade), I would recommend Matt Ridley’s “The Origins of Virtue” – published in 1997!! – which present similar arguments with a combination of outstanding examples from biology, anthropology, economics, and supported by mathematics.

20. Rael64

Read Mencius. One should have a proper _xin_. Then read MacIntyre; intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in regards to ethics. Then, ponder the possibility that if this is the case, then what, or who, ruins us, eh?

As said in the article, “the only people emotionally immune to another’s situation, he notes, are psychopaths.” Well, maybe, in a strict sense (i.e. no internal reaction whatsoever), yet people are taught, are encouraged to be immune to the plight of others. And many of us buy it, whether we’ve ‘no time’, ‘not my business’, ‘nothing in it for me’, or simply ‘don’t care’.

Yes, we teach our children well: consume, hoard, and ignore; get yours while you can; it’s only wrong if you get caught; winning is everything.

Phffffft.

Ayn Rand’s Popularity

New York Times 

Crucially, both authors understand the reasons that Rand’s popularity has endured, not only among college students dazzled (and thronged into packs) by her triumphant individualism but also by entrepreneurs. From the young Ted Turner, who rented billboards to promote the “Who is John Galt?” slogan from “Atlas Shrugged,” to the founders of Craigslist and Wikipedia, who have found self-contradictory new ways to mix populism with individual enterprise, it is clear that (in Ms. Burns’s words) “reports of Ayn Rand’s death are greatly exaggerated.”

Ms. Burns gives a lucid account of how Rand set herself at odds with religious conservatism, how Rand-inspired libertarianism has shape-shifted, and even how Rand disciples of the 1970s adopted a hippie aspect to rival that of Students for a Democratic Society, confounding everyone, Rand included. She referred to libertarian fans as “scum,” “intellectual cranks” and “plagiarists.” Rand also complained, “If such hippies hope to make me their Marcuse, it will not work.”

That era was one Rand moment. This seems to be another. Both of these books cast light on why Rand’s popularity can be rekindled by economic turmoil, and on how much her real life and reputation diverged. Both capture the temperament of a woman once described as “the Evel Knievel of leaping to conclusions.” But of these two authors, it is Ms. Heller who comes closer to conveying what is missing from most images of Rand: “a personal warmth and charm that Rand most assuredly possessed,” on the evidence of her hypnotic effect on those in her orbit. Rand might have expressed disdain for that charisma, but it was enough to stop DeMille in his tracks. She would have been nowhere without it.

To begin, let us move away from a discussion of We the Living to the much more familiar, Atlas Shrugged, about which Glenn Beck said on his radio show several months ago:

Ayn Rand understood and identified the deeper causes of the crisis we’re facing, and she offered in “Atlas Shrugged” the principled and practical solution consistent with American values.

Ayn RandThe core idea of Atlas Shrugged is that, in the words of Whittaker Chambers, “the Children of Light win handily by declaring a general strike of brains, of which they have a monopoly, letting the world go, literally, to smash.

I can’t imagine a more arrogant or elitist conception of life, and it is a weird irony that many of the contemporary proponents of such a view would also see themselves as populists, much like Glenn Beck does.  The idea that without these “brains” (those who “get it”) the rest of us will make a mess of the world is a sentiment echoed (sometimes thunderously, sometimes faintly) throughout the world of right-wing talk radio and television.  

But no matter the intensity, there exists the notion that those of us on the outside—who are “asleep”—cannot  possibly survive without those insightful, productive, clear-eyed egoists leading the way, and it is incumbent upon us to subordinate ourselves, if we wish to have any kind of decent life.  And the grand irony is that they present the necessary subordination of ourselves and our ideas to their views in the language of liberty.

Admittedly, this hybrid philosophy is believed only by a relatively small group of people, but many of its propagandists have a rather large megaphone, sometimes influencing professional politicians who call themselves Republicans.  And I have often argued that they are doing irreparable harm to the Grand Old Party, like Darwin’s parasitic wasp feeding on its host.

[…]  If you doubt the influence of Ayn Rand on some of those who are leading the New Right, here is a short video of Glenn Beck conversing with Yaron Brook, Executive Director, The Ayn Rand Center:

That first publication date of 1957, and the fact that Atlas Shrugged is more popular now than ever, might be a source of pride for the Ayn Rand Institute, but the fact that American conservatives are returning to this novel at all suggests to me a retreat from the 21st century—and a turning back towards the 20th century, and to an era in which white Baby Boomers have a lot of nostalgia. The antiquated gesture is akin to imagining liberals in large numbers, nostalgic for early 20th century progressivism, reading John dos Pasos during the Bush years. It wouldn’t have been a sign of liberal strength that such a novelist was being rediscovered, but a sign that liberals were oversimplifying, and withdrawing psychologically from the challenges and perplexities of their own era.

XCowboy2

Even more relevant than when she said it in 1961.

Hopefully, we will see in our lifetimes a realignment of the GOP in favor of reason and individual rights and away from faith and tradition. Religion is a private matter.

As the Tea Party movement takes hold- we’re seeing the ugly specter of religious intolerance gaining strength to rip apart the coalition of patriots we’ve assembled. Commentator Glenn Beck has openly declared that religion is the only basis on which the movement can proceed. At the same time, he depends on Objectivist commentators and secular pro-capitalists to make his economic and ideological case. You can’t use rational men and women’s ideas and simultaneously damn them for being rational.

When “The Colbert Report” took on the recent increase in the reported popularity of the late Ayn Rand’s philosophy in “The Word” segment last week, it reminded me of my own rejection of Rand’s “Virtue of Selfishness” back in my college days and made me think of how that value judgment affects our economic choices as epitomized by a remark from Pulitzer prize winning Washington Post economics reporter Steve Pearlstein on last week’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colb…

You can see the entire March 11, 2009, segment of “The Word” titled “Rand Illusion” from which I took the two short clips for my video on the Colbert Nation website at

And, although the March 13, 2009, broadcast is not available on the HBO website, you can find more information about HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” at http://www.hbo.com/billmaher/

Finally, you can read my old college paper titled “The Vice of Selfishness” in which I reject Ayn Rand’s philosophy at http://www.liberalviewer.com/AynRand.htm

Glenn Beck’s Anti-Atheist Rantings

I wasn’t in the mood to blog, but I noticed a video of Glenn Beck (here and reposted below).  It’s hard to feel apathetic while listening to Beck and I don’t mean that he inspires me.  I genuinely try to listen to his message and not judge too quickly.  Despite my annoyance, I do want to understand what makes him tick… and what makes him interesting to so many people (whether they agree or disagree with him).

I appreciate what he says the most when he is talking about libertarianism which seems to be the most clear when he is talking to libertarians.  I can tell how much he wants to be accepted by libertarians and it brings out the reasonable side of his personality.  He is actually capable of cogent arguments on occasion despite his typically relying too much on emotional persuasion.  However, he goes into righteous ranting mode anytime he brings out his religious patriotism… and what amount of reason he does possess quickly goes out the window.

Some video responses:

The guy in the last video has some strong opinions about Beck, but that isn’t why I included it.  I noticed some interesting points mentioned by one of the commenters and wanted to quote this person.

alphacause (1 week ago):

If anyone of Glenn Beck’s idiotic followers is watching this, let me educate you. First, it is an elementary fallacy to take an isolated incident like this, and presume that this is the norm. As lamentable as this tragedy is, it does not underscore any true epidemic of violence in this country. Secondly, if the increase in secularism corresponds to a rise in crime rates, then the FBI crime statistics should reveal this. But they DONT reveal this.

In fact the FBI crime statistics reveal that violent crime has actually either stayed relatively the same, or is on a downward trend. Just Google FBI violent crime statistics over the years and look at the first few links. Also do a search of violent crimes by state, and you will find that many states in the Bible Belt have just as high crime rates as those in more urban and secular areas; and sometimes they have more crime.

Glenn Beck is merely sensationalizing a regrettable incident. It should also be noted that African Americans generally go to church more often than people in white communities. Furthermore, if Beck ever actually ventured out of his posh and cloistered neighborhood he would know that if you ask any gang member, almost all of them have a belief in God, and in fact display prominent religious paraphernalia such as the Virgin Mary.

Apparently belief in a higher power doesnt make gang members more moral. Probably, just as in the case with Islamic suicide bombers, religious beliefs make them more comfortable with they idea of dying for stupid reasons.

Two issues that Beck brought up are (1) the rising numbers of “religious nones” and (2) the “In God We Trust” being taken off of our money.

Okay, first issue.  Beck is woefully incorrect about equating “religious nones” to atheism and to anti-religious sentiments.  The religious issue is complex anyhow and even some religious people are atheists.  As for “religious nones”, it simply means someone doesn’t identify (fully or at all) with any particular organized religion.  I’m a “religious none” who is an extremely spiritual agnostic.  What polls show is that American’s have a growing sense of informality about religion and are more willing to mix-and-match.  Americans may mistrust religious authority figures and hierarchical religious institutions more than they used to, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have more mistrust towards a higher power or towards their personal sense of spiritual truth.  So, some “religious nones” are atheists and some aren’t.

The second issue I don’t know too much about.  I hadn’t noticed “In God We Trust” disappearing from money.  From a quick Google search, all that I can tell is that Beck might be referring to the new dollar coins.  They still have the religiously patriotic motto, but it’s on the edge of the coin.  However, the original (albeit unofficial) motto of our country (E Pluribus Unum) is also on the edge of the new dollar coins.  The religious right think it’s sacrilege because “God” might get rubbed off of the edge of our coins.  This is unlikely for the new dollar coins because few people actually use them (I’ve been a cashier for years and it’s rare when someone gives me one).

Anyways, this is the type of issue Beck likes to rant about.  When you look into it, there is no substance.

Let’s be clear that “In God We Trust” has only been our national motto since 1956.  I find it interesting that the American government decided to officially declare allegiance to God only after having dropped atomic bombs on two large cities filled with innocent civilians.  Was the Congress feeling some guilt for an action (decimating cities) usually reserved for the biblical God?  The founding fathers didn’t put it on our money.  It only first appeared on some US currency during the civil war (another era of religious patriotism).

It’s interesting that Beck also brings up the Battle Hymn of the Republic which also was written and became popular during the civil war.  The civil war was not only the most divisive time of American history, but a time when massive numbers of Americans were being killed by other Americans.  Now, there is religious patriotism for you (yes, both sides invoked God to support their beliefs and actions).

Anyways, there is nothing less Christian one could do than put God’s name on money.  Jesus himself distinguished quite clearly between God and Caesar.  The fact that we have God on our money simply shows how corrupt of a country we’ve become.  As an example, the Baby Boomers were the first generation to grow up with “God” printed on all of their money.  What kind of moral character did the Boomers have?  They have been a politically divisive and opinionated generation.  The protests that they were involved in (whether as protesters or as police) were some of the most violent protests in American history.  Also, I’ve heard that more wars were started during the time Boomers have been in political power than anytime before in history.

Let me share specific statistics.  From the Wikipedia article on Crime in the United States:

Since 1964, the U.S. crime rate has increased by as much as 350%, and over 11 million crimes were reported in the year 2007 alone.[10] Crime in the United States has fluctuated considerably over the course of the last half-century, rising significantly in the late 1960s and 1970s, peaking in the 1980s and then decreasing considerably in the 1990s.

So, almost in direct correspondence crime rates increased massively right after “In God We Trust” became our national motto, and it was declared as such right in the middle of the Baby Boom.  The Baby Boomers grew up bottle fed on this post-war patriotic religiosity.  How did it affect them?  From the Wikipedia article on Baby Boom Generation:

In 1993, Time magazine reported on the religious affiliations of baby boomers, stating that about 42% of baby boomers were dropouts from formal religion, a third had never strayed from church, and one-fourth of boomers were returning to religious practice. The boomers returning to religion were “usually less tied to tradition and less dependable as church members than the loyalists. They are also more liberal, which deepens rifts over issues like abortion and homosexuality.”[9]

Now, compare that to Generation X that followed.  Generation X grew up with less overt religiosity.  As older GenXers were coming into positions of power during the 90s, they began influencing society and they helped the technological boom.  What else happened?  Crime began to decrease for the first time since “In God We Trust” became our national motto.  Our national allegiance to God led to almost a half century of sky-rocketing crime.

There is no correlation between religious moralizing done by conservative Christians and actual moral behavior.  From religioustolerance.org:

There is consensus that the overall U.S. divorce rate had a brief spurt after WW2, followed by a decline, then started rising in the 1960s and even more quickly in the 1970s, then leveled off [in the] 1980s and [has since] declined slightly.”

Those are general statistics and there are many factors to consider.  Still, like crime, divorce rates increased after “In God We Trust” became our national motto.

The slogan: “The family that prays together, stays together” is well known. There has been much anecdotal evidence that has led to “unsubstantiated claims that the divorce rate for Christians who attended church regularly, pray together or who meet other conditions is only 1 or 2 percent. 8 Emphasis ours]. Dr. Tom Ellis, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Council on the Family said that for “…born-again Christian couples who marry…in the church after having received premarital counseling…and attend church regularly and pray daily together…” experience only 1 divorce out of nearly 39,000 marriages — or 0.00256 percent. 9

A recent study by the Barna Research Group throws extreme doubt on these estimates. Barna released the results of their poll about divorce on 1999-DEC-21. 1 They had interviewed 3,854 adults from the 48 contiguous states. The margin of error is ±2 percentage points. The survey found:

bullet 11% of the adult population is currently divorced.
bullet 25% of adults have had at least one divorce during their lifetime.
bullet Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, and much higher than Atheists and Agnostics experience.

 George Barna, president and founder of Barna Research Group, commented:

 “While it may be alarming to discover that born again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time. Even more disturbing, perhaps, is that when those individuals experience a divorce many of them feel their community of faith provides rejection rather than support and healing. But the research also raises questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families. The ultimate responsibility for a marriage belongs to the husband and wife, but the high incidence of divorce within the Christian community challenges the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriages.

According to Divorce Magazine, divorce rates peaked in 1981 and are presently at the lowest they’ve been in a long time.  Not only are divorce rates the highest following the post-war patriotic religiosity but highest amongst conservative Christians who preach family values.  More from religioustolerance.org:

Barna’s results verified findings of earlier polls: that conservative Protestant Christians, on average, have the highest divorce rate, while mainline Christians have a much lower rate. They found some new information as well: that atheists and agnostics have the lowest divorce rate of all.  George Barna commented that the results raise “questions regarding the effectiveness of how churches minister to families.” The data challenge “the idea that churches provide truly practical and life-changing support for marriage.” 

Donald Hughes, author of The Divorce Reality, said:

“In the churches, people have a superstitious view that Christianity will keep them from divorce, but they are subject to the same problems as everyone else, and they include a lack of relationship skills. …Just being born again is not a rabbit’s foot.”

Hughes claim that 90% of divorces among born-again couples occur after they have been “saved.”

Furthermore, atheists and agnostics have the lowest divorce rate of all!

Age group % have been divorced
Baby boomers (33 to 52 years of age) 34%
Builders (53 to 72 years of age) 37%
Seniors (above 72 years of age) 18%

 Many seniors were married in the late 40’s or early 50’s at a time when divorce rates were much lower than they are today.

 People specifically married prior to the Congressional declaration of “In God We Trust” have the lowest divorce rates and it has only begun to decrease again in recent years.

What about teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases?  From the Wikipedia article on Teen pregnancy:

In the United States the topic of sex education is the subject of much contentious debate. Some schools provide “abstinence-only” education and virginity pledges are increasingly popular. A 2004 study by Yale and Columbia Universities found that fully 88 percent of those who pledge abstinence have premarital sex anyway.[57]

The conservative Christian belief in teaching abstinence and nothing but abstinence is a complete failure, just as much of a failure as Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign.  Schools with abstinence only programs have the highest rates of pregnancy and STDs.  Of course, some of this is caused by the sexual revolution and sexuality in the media, but my point is that it was the patriotic religiosity that preceeded the sexual revolution and contributed to the social atmosphere that led to the it.  But how does this compare to other countries?  From the Wikipedia article on Adolescent sexuality in the United States:

Every year, an estimated 1 in 4 sexually active teens contracts an STD,[9] and teen pregnancy is 2 to 10 times more prevalent in the United States than in other similarly developed countries.[10]

The United States is the most conservatively religious industrial nation and yet has one of the highest rates of certain immoral behaviors.  Obviously, righteous moralizing is far from helpful.

The percentage of teenagers who report they are currently sexually active has also been dropping since 1991. In 1997, only 37% of females and 33% of males who reported ever having had sexual intercourse said that they had sex in the past 3 months.[28] By 2005, the overall percentage of teenagers reporting that they were currently sexually active was down to 33.9%.[1]

So, the generations following the Boomers were raised with less traditional Christian values.  Atheism, agnosticism, and “religious nones” have been increasing with the post-Boomer generations.  Directly correlated with this are the rates of decreasing extra-marital sexual behavior among teens.  The ironic fact is that, even though abstinence had recently been increasing, abstinence only sex education has been far from proven effective.  From the Wikipedia article on Abstinence-only sex education:

Abstinence-only education has been criticized in official statements by the American Psychological Association,[16] the American Medical Association,[17] the National Association of School Psychologists,[18] the Society for Adolescent Medicine,[19] the American College Health Association,[19] the American Academy of Pediatrics,[20] and the American Public Health Association,[21] which all maintain that sex education needs to be comprehensive to be effective.

The AMA “urges schools to implement comprehensive… sexuality education programs that… include an integrated strategy for making condoms available to students and for providing both factual information and skill-building related to reproductive biology, sexual abstinence, sexual responsibility, contraceptives including condoms, alternatives in birth control, and other issues aimed at prevention of pregnancy and sexual transmission of diseases… [and] opposes the sole use of abstinence-only education…”[17]

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “Abstinence-only programs have not demonstrated successful outcomes with regard to delayed initiation of sexual activity or use of safer sex practices… Programs that encourage abstinence as the best option for adolescents, but offer a discussion of HIV prevention and contraception as the best approach for adolescents who are sexually active, have been shown to delay the initiation of sexual activity and increase the proportion of sexually active adolescents who reported using birth control.”[20]

On August 4, 2007, the British Medical Journal published an editorial concluding that there is “no evidence” that abstinence-only sex education programs “reduce risky sexual behaviours, incidence of sexually transmitted infections, or pregnancy” in “high income countries”.[22]

A comprehensive review of 115 program evaluations published in November 2007 by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that two-thirds of sex education programs focusing on both abstinence and contraception had a positive effect on teen sexual behavior. The same study found no strong evidence that abstinence-only programs delayed the initiation of sex, hastened the return to abstinence, or reduced the number of sexual partners.[23][24] According to the study author:

“Even though there does not exist strong evidence that any particular abstinence program is effective at delaying sex or reducing sexual behavior, one should not conclude that all abstinence programs are ineffective. After all, programs are diverse, fewer than 10 rigorous studies of these programs have been carried out, and studies of two programs have provided modestly encouraging results. In sum, studies of abstinence programs have not produced sufficient evidence to justify their widespread dissemination.”

Joycelyn Elders, former Surgeon General of the United States, is a notable critic of abstinence-only sex education. She was among the interviewees Penn & Teller included in their Bullshit! episode on the subject.[25]

Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that abstinence-only sex education leads to the opposite of the intended results by spreading ignorance regarding sexually transmitted diseases and the proper use of contraceptives to prevent both infections and pregnancy.[26]

These are just trends and it’s hard to know which correlations may or may not imply causation.  The data isn’t always clear and much more study is needed to understand which programs work best, but my basic point remains true.  Simply put, religious moral claims have no basis in real-world scientifically proven facts.  From the Wikipedia article on Sex education:

Abstinence-only sex education tells teenagers that they should be sexually abstinent until marriage and does not provide information about contraception. In the Kaiser study, 34% of high-school principals said their school’s main message was abstinence-only.

The difference between these two approaches, and their impact on teen behavior, remains a controversial subject. In the U.S., teenage birth rates had been dropping since 1991, but a 2007 report showed 3% increase from 2005 to 2006.[28] From 1991 to 2005, the percentage of teens reporting that they had ever had sex or were currently sexually active showed small declines.[29] However, the U.S. still has the highest teen birth rate and one of the highest rates of STIs among teens in the industrialized world.[30] Public opinion polls conducted over the years have found that the vast majority of Americans favor broader sex education programs over those that teach only abstinence, although abstinence educators recently published poll data with the opposite conclusion.[31][32][33]

Proponents of comprehensive sex education, which include the American Psychological Association,[34] the American Medical Association,[35] the National Association of School Psychologists,[36] the American Academy of Pediatrics,[37] the American Public Health Association,[38] the Society for Adolescent Medicine[39] and the American College Health Association,[39] argue that sexual behavior after puberty is a given, and it is therefore crucial to provide information about the risks and how they can be minimized; they also claim that denying teens such factual information leads to unwanted pregnancies and STIs.

On the other hand, proponents of abstinence-only sex education object to curricula that fail to teach their standard of moral behavior; they maintain that a morality based on sex only within the bounds of marriage is “healthy and constructive” and that value-free knowledge of the body may lead to immoral, unhealthy, and harmful practices. Within the last decade, the federal government has encouraged abstinence-only education by steering over a billion dollars to such programs.[40]

[…] In a meta-analysis, DiCenso et al. have compared comprehensive sex education programs with abstinence-only programs.[49] Their review of several studies shows that abstinence-only programs did not reduce the likelihood of pregnancy of women who participated in the programs, but rather increased it.

The most significant fact here is that there is evidence that abstinence-only sex education may lead to increased teen sexual activity.  The facts speak for themselves.

If that is what religious patriotism has to offer, I think we as a society should try something else.  The GOP and evangelical Christianity had a lot of political influence during this half-century period.  There is a reason that people are now seeking change and so elect Obama who is a liberal Christian with a progressive vision.

As for Beck’s religious patriotism, I have a hard time figuring out how that fits into his libertarianism.  He was arguing that atheism was leading to violence.  As the statistics above show, there is no evidence for this argument and there is no evidence that Christianity inspires Christians to live up to a higher standard of morality.  But Beck is free to have an opinion on the matter even if it’s completely baseless.  The problem with his view is that the biggest proponents of libertarianism are atheists.

This next video shows him speaking with a Christian and then speaking with a Randian libertarian.

The Christian guy blames Obama’s healthcare plan on atheism (which is very odd considering Obama’s Christianity) and Beck seems to agree, but then Beck tries really hard to find agreement with the libertarian.  The libertarian even points out how Beck’s view of Christianity has no basis in historical Christianity.  Beck’s response is that it’s fine that this guy is an atheist, that they don’t have to agree on everything.  He says he even admires Rand accept for the atheist part… which makes no sense since Rand was strongly against religion.  Beck’s trying to bridge these views seems either desperate or bassackwards.  Why is this libertarian’s atheism perfectly fine with Beck when Beck in the other video claims atheism is destroying America?  He can’t have it both ways.  Is he being irrational or is he being a hypocrite?  Or is he just plain schizophrenic?

Let me point out another aspect that demonstrates the lack of substance.  Beck brought up the Battle Hymn of the Republic in reference to the schoolchildren singing a song to President Obama.  The right wingnuts got all crazed about America’s children openly showing respect to the American president.  I really don’t have much opinion.  I was forced as a child to dress up as a boy scout and sit in the front row to show reverence to Ronald Reagan.  It didn’t warp my tender young mind or convert me to conservatism.  The silly part of this criticism of children singing a song to Obama is that it’s been done before.  Just 3 years ago, schoolchildren were singing praises to the First Lady at the White House and they were doing so at the behest of President Bush (see here).

“Our country’s stood beside us People have sent us aid. Katrina could not stop us, our hopes will never fade. Congress, Bush and FEMA People across our land Together have come to rebuild us and we join them hand-in- hand!”

And talk about cult of personality:

Speaking of kids being taught to worship a President?

Not new with obama. Here’s an article about kids singing to Reagan: http://articles.latimes.com/1996-12-14/l…

This guy remembers being made to sing a song about Reagan: http://gatheringofthevibes.com/forum/sho…

OMG!! Here’s a whole elementary school in Wisconsin named after Reagan! http://www.nbexcellence.org/schools/rr/ Call the police!!!http://www.pbvusd.k12.ca.us/schools/reag…

OMG! Here’s one in Bakersfield California!

OMG! Another in California: http://rre.leusd.k12.ca.us/ http://cedarparktex.com/schools/reagan-e… http://reagan.leanderisd.org/

OMG! Texas!

IDAHO!! http://www1.nsd131.org/mainsite/schools/… Home of the RoadRunners!http://www.rogers.k12.ar.us/schools/reag…

Arkansas:

California again: http://www.kingsburg-elem.k12.ca.us/Reag…

California: http://www.cusd.com/schools/reagan.htm

California: http://teacherweb.com/CA/SangerRonaldRea…

Indiana: http://www.brownsburg.k12.in.us/reagan/

Nebraska: http://mps.rres.schoolfusion.us/

Do you need links to Ronald Reagan High Schools in San Antonio, Milwaukee, Florida, and North Carolina? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Reag…

Finally, I would be remiss to ignore middle schools: http://reagan.gpisd.org/ http://www.dixonschools.org/buildings.ph…

Gosh, it sure is an awful thing when kids are taught to respect presidents, isn’t it???

Oops, let me rephrase that … it’s fine when they’re taught to respect a republican president, but it’s awful when they’re taught to respect a democrat.

 – – –

Here is another video of Beck that demonstrates the delusion he lives in.

In the first video Beck was complaining about the “religious nones” as the fastest growing category.  In this last video, he was arguing that most Americans’s are God-fearing patriots just like him.  He constantly jumps back and forth from his attitude of “the media doesn’t represent us” and “we surround them”.  These two attitudes don’t perfectly fit together.

Some of the examples he used were the media focusing too much on protesters, but protesters are just ordinary people.  If protesters had lots of money and influence like Beck does, then they wouldn’t be on the street trying to get heard.  Beck is the mainstream media he complains about.  The guy gets more attention than most movie stars.  Who in the mainstream media was playing a video of violence?  Yep, Beck.  He does accurately point out that the problem with contemporary entertainment/news is that it sensationalizes, but in his fear-mongering and conspiracy ranting isn’t he the most sensationalistic pundit in mainstream media?

When Beck’s sensationalism turns towards fear-mongering, I feel utterly disgusted by his behavior and I find it hard to have much respect for him.  But he can be a silly guy which combined with his sensationalist tendencies can make him seem a bit loony at times.  If Beck’s ratio of silliness to seriousness was much higher, I’d actually have more respect for him.

Here is a rather humorous video montage of Beck.

So, where did Beck’s weird behavior come from?  Well, he began as a radio talk jock and that does seem to explain it somewhat,  I found this video of his radio days to be quite enlightening.

To get back to the issue of mainstream media, here is another video where he is complaining about what gets covered in the news.  I don’t know the entire context for this video, but part of his focus is on atheists not deserving the media focus they get.  This is rather ironic considering how much media attention he gives to atheists.

Okay, okay… so, how does Beck represent the average American?

His show is relatively popular, but that doesn’t mean his view represents most Americans.  The number of his viewers only represents a fraction of a percent of the American population.  And guess what?  The majority of American voters voted for Obama who Beck likes to criticize.  How is that populism?  Having a popular show isn’t the same thing as being a populist.  Seinfeld and Roseanne were popular shows; Star Trek and Stargate were popular shows; and these shows were far from the message that Beck preaches.  Besides, not everyone who watches him believes all or even most of what he says.  Going by the blogs and videos, many people who watch his show on a regular basis are his critics.  Heck, as a Mormon, he doesn’t even represent the majority of Christians.

Here is a video that analyses Beck’s “populism”.

During times of conflict and stress, pundits like Beck pop up in US media and they rant for a while.  People want simple, clear black and white answers during tought times.  But when the times become better, such pundits are forgotten again.  So, by being loud and divisive, he has been able to draw attention to himself.  Also, he’s worked in the entertainment industry for years and he knows how to entertain.  So?  Whatever he may be, he is far from being the voice of the average American.

He does touch upon a raw nerve in the American psyche and so it’s important to listen to him if only for that reason.  Even so, his opinion is just an opinion.  There are many other commenters who also resonate with many Americans… for example, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.  Even just considering the average American libertarian, I suspect that Bill Maher is more representative than is Beck.