Corporate-Ruled MSM & DNC Is Left-Wing, Says Corporatist Right-Wingers

The warmongering big biz establishment media is what the right-wing ruling elites repeatedly call left-wing, in their accusation of a supposedly ‘liberal’ bias (What Does Liberal Bias Mean?) and related to perceptions of censorship, silencing, and political correctness (Framing Free Speech; & Right-Wing Political Correctness, Censorship, and Silencing). To be fair, there might be a basic sense in which entertainment media, if not news media, can sometimes express a long-established cultural liberalism. This is to the degree that the majority of the viewing public is socially liberal and so that is what sells, considering there has been a major strain of liberalism in American society going back centuries (Conservatives Watching Liberal Media. That still leaves the question open about what exactly is this ‘liberalism’, to the degree it can be found in the center of the establishment ‘mainstream’ (The Shallows of the Mainstream Mind).

Consider the pervasive and systematic racial bias that has been shown in news reporting on crime and poverty (Katherine Sims, The Role of News Media & Racial Perceptions of Crime; Cale G., The Media and Government’s Biased Response to Muhammad Youssef vs. Dylann Roof; Jenée Desmond-Harris, These 2 sets of pictures are everything you need to know about race, crime, and media bias; Nick Wing, When The Media Treat White Suspects And Killers Better Than Black Victims; Elizabeth Sun, The Dangerous Racialization of Crime in U.S. News Media; John Wihbey, Racial bias and news media reporting: New research trends; The Opportunity Agenda, Media Representations and Impact on the Lives of Black Men and Boys; Trina T. Creighton et al, Coverage of Black versus White Males in Local Television News Lead Stories; Wikipedia, Racial bias in criminal news in the United States; et cetera; one could include a thousand other articles, studies, and summary reports). Even the local media in this liberal college town has been shown fall into such default racism (Robert E. Gutsche, Jr., A Transplanted Chicago: Race, Place and the Press in Iowa City; The Old WASP Dream Falters). Is that the infamous ‘liberal’ bias one hears so much about?

One might argue that liberalism is the paradigm of modernity and that conservatism is simply a reactionary variation on liberal ideology. That said, the corporate media is just as happy to push reactionary right-wing crime dramas, murder mysteries, and cop shows that promote a hardcore vision of law-and-order; along with noirish films, hyper-patriotic war movies, moralistic superhero flicks, and popular entertainment like The Dark Knight series. Anyway, conventional liberalism has never been left-wing. Liberals have often been the most vicious attack dogs set against the political left in their defense of the conservative status quo, as seen during the Cold War when liberals joined in the McCarthyist witch hunts of commies, fellow travelers, and sexual deviants. Labels of liberal and conservative sometimes are ways of making relative distinctions within the reactionary mind, in an age that has been overshadowed by all things reactionary.

The accusation of liberal media bias is similar to the right-wing claim that the corporatist DNC, in serving the interests of plutocratic big biz, is somehow simultaneously communist, Marxist, Nazi, fascist, and antifa; elitist, anarchistic, ideologically dogmatic, morally relativist, and nihilistic; or whatever rhetoric is convenient at the moment. But the supposed left-wing media and political elite offers little pushback against this ideologically-confused narrative, often repeating some variation of it themselves. In fact, one sometimes hears supposedly liberal journalists discussing the supposedly liberal bias of a supposedly liberal media, another example of the reactionary dynamic at play.

But if liberal ideologues actually controlled the mainstream media, the last place one would expect to hear such accusations is in the mainstream media (Bias About Bias). Generally speaking, people don’t accuse themselves of being ideologically biased when they genuinely believe in an ideology as right and true, as fair and accurate, as moral and worthy. “It’s not as if those on the political right are lacking media to support their worldview and confirm their biases. […] The only reason they think the rest of media is biased is because the political right media that dominates keeps repeating this and, as the old propaganda trick goes, anything repeated enough to a large enough audience will be treated as if it were fact” (Corporate Bias of ‘Mainstream’ Media). What little pseudo-debate is involved happens within the corporate system itself with all sides of the same elite opinion being widely broadcast and funded by corporate advertising (e.g., Ross Douthat, The Missing Right-of-Center Media, The New York Times). Gets one thinking about the actual ideological bias that is motivating it all.

A false duality is created within a narrow range of elite-enforced opinion. This is the political spectrum as political SNAFU. Pick your side among the two predetermined choices within the same corporate power structure. In the shadow of this obfuscation, the ideal of democracy gets called mobocracy while the reality of a banana republic gets called democracy (Will Democracy’s Myths Doom Liberty?, James Bovard; an analysis that identifies the problem but, sadly, falls into the trap of false rhetoric). And, of course, the American people are to blame for everything that goes wrong. This is what is argued by the anti-majoritarian elite who wish to undermine democracy, and so we the people probably should trust what they tell us to believe. I’m sure they have our best interests in mind. But don’t worry. The psuedo-left often goes along with this caricature, as the gatekeepers mark the boundaries of allowable thought: this far left and no further. That is to say not very far left at all.

One of the leading news sources on this presumed political left is the Washington Post. It has the official slogan, “Democracy dies in darkness,” which implies the newspaper’s purpose is represent and defend democracy, although others suggest it is more of a threat and a promise. The WaPo is owned by Jeff Bezos, one of the wealthiest and most powerful plutocrats in the world and a strange person to be a communist, who got his wealth through crony capitalism and his grandfather’s Pentagon connections while building his business model on highly profitable contracts with not only the Pentagon but also the CIA (Plutocratic Mirage of Self-Made Billionaires). By the way, don’t be confused by two corporate plutocrats, Bezos and Donald Trump, having a battle of egos in fighting over who controls the profit system; that doesn’t make one of them a communist by any stretch of the imagination.

In WaPo articles, unnamed CIA sources are regularly used — sadly, not a new situation (Good Reason The New Pentagon Papers Movie Was About “The Post,” NOT The New York Times). Also, the newspaper hires right-wing hacks whose apparent job it is to punch left and attack left-wingers, including left-wing journalists working in the independent press and alternative media (Why Journalism Sucks In America!). When candidates use left-wing rhetoric, such as Bernie Sanders, they are bashed mercilessly while third party left-wingers are ignored and dismissed in the hope that American voters won’t realize there is more than two parties. Now that is some sneaky liberal bias, in hiding it behind actions that appear to undiscerning minds as if they were right-wing.

The aforementioned Sanders, in calling himself a socialist, plays the role of a sheepdog to weaken any left-wing challenge and once again he has driven votes to the corporatist oligarchy to ensure the plutocracy remains in power. Similarly, Noam Chomsky, after having spent a lifetime proving beyond all doubt that the Democrats are as deceptive and dangerous as the Republicans, repeatedly throws his weight behind each new corporatist Clinton Democrat. Those corrupt Clinton Democrats are led by the Clinton dynasty, old cronies and close family friends with the Trumps, and yet we are told they’ll save us from Trump’s rule. Such behavior by self-proclaimed left-wingers confirms the false belief that soft fascism is actually communism or even genuine progressivism.

One might come to cynical conclusions. The disconnection between words and deeds, as demonstrated by Sanders and Chomsky, could be taken as indicating a consciously planned deception of the American people. But one can, instead, choose a more generous and forgiving interpretation. Maybe such influential figures are as dissociated from reality as the rest of the American public. They took are ignorant and confused in having been taken in by manipulative rhetorical frames. When Sanders speaks of ‘socialism’, does he even know what that word means? One might start to have doubts. What if these possibly unintentional purveyors of propaganda are the first and most prized targets of indoctrination? Some have suggested that this is the case (Hillsdale’s Imprimis: Neocon Propaganda). Maybe they really believe what they say, discordant as it is with what they do. But, of course, that makes them all the more dangerous to our freedom. Here is a brilliant take on it by C. J. Hopkins (Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works):

“The primary aim of official propaganda is to generate an “official narrative” that can be mindlessly repeated by the ruling classes and those who support and identify with them. This official narrative does not have to make sense, or to stand up to any sort of serious scrutiny. Its factualness is not the point. The point is to draw a Maginot line, a defensive ideological boundary, between “the truth” as defined by the ruling classes and any other “truth” that contradicts their narrative. […]

“In short, official propaganda is not designed to deceive the public (no more than the speeches in an actor’s script are intended to deceive the actor who speaks them). It is designed to be absorbed and repeated, no matter how implausible or preposterous it might be. Actually, it is often most effective when those who are forced to robotically repeat it know that it is utter nonsense, as the humiliation of having to do so cements their allegiance to the ruling classes (this phenomenon being a standard feature of the classic Stockholm Syndrome model, and authoritarian conditioning generally).”

It’s all controlled opposition as part of a propaganda machine that pushes division and outrage, and it’s highly effective: “The failure of corporate media is as much or more ommission than it is commission. Various media figures attacking each other about their supposed biases is yet more distraction. Arguing over biases is a safe and managed debate, each side playing the role of controlled opposition for the other. But what is it that both sides avoid? What is disallowed by the propaganda model of media? What is not being spoken and represented? What is missing?” (Funhouse Mirrors of Corporate Media). One thing that is clearly missing is the perspective of labor unions and the working class. In the early life of the still living older generations, newspapers typically had a labor section as newspapers still have a business section, but that has since been eliminated. The labor section would have been the one place in the mainstream media where left-wing voices might have been regularly heard.

Managed debate replaced what was once actual thriving public debate in this country. There is no surprise that the American public, left and right, is so confused about what any of these political labels mean since only one side of the old left-right debate is being heard. That is the whole purpose, to spread disinfo and division, to provoke cynicism and reaction. It’s unclear, at this point, if any of these words mean anything at all. Left and right of what? Of the ruling class? Of the center of power on Wall Street and in Washington, D.C.? Well, the political elites of both parties are to the right of the American public on major issues, in particular economic issues but also many social issues (US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism; American People Keep Going Further Left). With an illiberal, authoritarian ruling elite that defines the terms, controls the narrative, and frames the debate, Orwellian doublespeak has replaced reality itself in the minds of most people.

Yet the left-wing is forever the scapegoat. One might wish the left-wing was the threat it’s claimed to be. But the political left is neutered and hobbled. We haven’t seen an organized left in the United States for more than a half century, not since the FBI’s COINTELPRO successfully targeted and destroyed leftist organizing. It’s not clear what a left-wing could possibly mean under these oppressive conditions of mass brainwashing and indoctrination. Does a ‘left’ exist at all these days? The propagandists have won that battle and we may be forced to abandon the entire left vs. right paradigm. Any potential future challenge to authoritarianism, one suspects, will need to define itself according to entirely new ideological terms, frames, and understandings.

This is not something that can be solved through teaching the American public about American history in order to shed light on collective amnesia. It’s not a lack of information or a lack of access. All of this can easily be understood by anyone who goes looking for it and gives it a half second of thought. No, the failure is not necessarily of knowledge and education. What we are missing is a sense of moral vision and radical imagination, the gut-level groking of other possibilities, even if they can’t yet be articulated. What matters is not how words are manipulated but the sense of fear, anxiety, anger, and outrage behind it all. The public is frustrated and ready for something else entirely, but they need leaders and visionaries to speak to this truth they know in their own direct experience, that the way things are is fundamentally wrong and intolerable.

The fog of rhetoric and propaganda, the veil of lies only has to be lifted for a moment. Once the public glimpses behind the charade, it will be harder and harder to lull most Americans back to sleep again. No matter how effective the games of power, manipulation, and deception, it won’t last forever… but it might last longer than some of us would prefer. The ruling elite will play it for all its worth for as long as they can. Still, take comfort in knowing we might be entering an age of revelation, of awakening. We are long past the stale left-right battles of the Cold War and now are heading into unknown territory. After the political left is assassinated and buried, after we mourn the loss, may something new be born.

* * *

So, how did we get to this point? The left-right paradigm began in the French National Assembly, originally having to do with choice of seating indicating one’s political position in relation to the king, for and against revolution. Then it took on other meaning during the revolution with the formation of the Legislative Assembly. It’s true that the left was represented by extremists, but those that gained power were radical more in the reactionary sense. Advocates of democracy like Thomas Paine, the most radical of radicals in that era (the equivalent of many American left-wingers in the Cold War), actually sat on the right side.

Even back then, there was some confusion built into these labels. Nonetheless, a basic ideological division did take form over the following generations and many came to see it as applying more widely. The political spectrum was adopted in other Western countries, as it captured a central schism in the modern West that developed after the destruction and dismantling of the ancien regime. Over the past couple of centuries, there has been much agreement that it expressed something meaningful about the political systems that have emerged, largely corresponding to views on class identity and class war but also related to general attitudes of open or closed, inclusionary or exclusionary.

Is this still true and meaningful? Rick Wilson is a major political figure, former Republican, and now opponent of Trump. He states that political power in Washington D.C., including the aligned corporate media, is not partisan but transpartisan (Why Republicans Still Support Trump, a talk with Cenk Uygur, another former Republican; also see Journalism of, by and for the Elite by Reed Richardson). It isn’t Democrats vs Republicans, left vs right. The real divide is insiders vs outsiders, which is to say the rulers and the ruled, the elite and the masses, the plutocracy and the precariat. Wilson is saying this as someone who not long ago was an insider of the establishment he has come to criticize. He was an insider who has become an outsider because he revealed the workings of the system. He broke the rule of secrecy.

The original valence of meaning was shaped by a metaphor about political positions. Left and right indicate a relationship that is visuospatial. It’s maybe unsurprising that such a framing took hold in concert with widescale literacy. In the West, we read from left to right. The Enlightenment and early modernity also brought us the obsession with lenses, further emphasizing the importance of a visual culture that was replacing the older oral culture. It was vision through observation that, in science, has revealed truth. Seeing is believing or rather knowing. The duality of left and right also resonated with Cartesian dualism, spirit and matter, mind and body; basically, a distinction between what can and cannot be seen.

Maybe this metaphor is breaking down. There has been the rise of media technology: radio, telephone, television, cable, internet, and smartphones. The one commonality of all these technologies is audio. It’s true that the visual has increased as well, but there is a particular emphasis on sound: “All media has increased, as unmediated experience has gone on a rapid decline” (The Great Weirding of New Media). Think of how in the 21st century that, even when we are otherwise occupied, we almost always have audio playing. We have radios and news running in the background. We have voices pumped directly into our brains in the form of podcasts and audiobooks. And we fall asleep to Netflix movies, Hulu shows, and Youtube videos streaming as our eyes close.

Sound, with or without visual accompaniment, is an ever present reality — most of it as voices that sing, speak, report, narrate, explain, opinionate, argue, dialogue, and debate. As such, a visuouspatial metaphor may no longer have the compelling potency it once possessed. We now exist in cacophany of voices. What once was experienced as totalizing visions, as encompassing worldviews has splintered into an endless multitude of voices. It is an immersive aural space that surrounds us and penetrates our skulls (Battle of Voices of Authorization in the World and in Ourselves). Dozens of voices permeate our personal space, our mindspace. They become internalized and we identify with them. They speak to us, a constant input of spoken words.

If the visuospatial metaphor of left and right is no longer the dominant frame and paradigm, then what might be the aurospatial metaphor replacing it? How will we reorient ourselves in our identities and alignments? And how will we differentiate according to what new distinctions? What voices of authorization will speak to us, shape our thoughts, and compel us to action? And how will these voices be heard and perceived? What is the change from primary to secondary oral culture? With new media technology, what might be the new message or rather messages spoken and heard? What will become of our mediated identities? Will we collectively and communally experience the return of the bundled and porous mind? Or will some entirely unforeseen mentality emerge?

* * *

Other related posts:

Dominant Culture Denies Its Dominance
Black and White and Re(a)d All Over
NPR: Liberal Bias?
The Establishement: NPR, Obama, Corporatism, Parties
Man vs Nature, Man vs Man: NPR, Parking Ramps, etc
Otto Reich’s Legacy of White Propaganda
A Culture of Propaganda
Wirthlin Effect & Symbolic Conservatism
Political Elites Disconnected From General Public
US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism
American People Keep Going Further Left
Sea Change of Public Opinion: Libertarianism, Progressivism & Socialism
Most Oppose Cutting Social Security (data)
Environmentalist Majority
Warmongering Politicians & Progressive Public
Gun Violence & Regulation (Data, Analysis, Rhetoric)
The Court of Public Opinion: Part 1 & Part 2
Poll Answers, Stated Beliefs, Ideological Labels

Metaphor and Empathy

Sweetness and strangeness
by Heather Altfeld and Rebecca Diggs

In thinking through some of the ways that our relationship to metaphor might be changing, especially in educational settings, we consulted a study by Emily Weinstein and her research team at Harvard, published in 2014. They set out to study a possible decline in creativity among high-school students by comparing both visual artworks and creative writing collected between 1990-95, and again between 2006-11. Examining the style, content and form of adolescent art-making, the team hoped to understand the potential ‘generational shift’ between pre- and post-internet creativity. It turned out that there were observable gains in the sophistication and complexity of visual artwork, but when it came to the creative-writing endeavours of the two groups, the researchers found a ‘significant increase in young authors’ adherence to conventional writing practices related to genre, and a trend toward more formulaic narrative style’.

The team cited standardised testing as a likely source of this lack of creativity, as well as changing modes of written communication that create ‘a multitude of opportunities for casual, text-based communication’ – in other words, for literalism, abbreviation and emojis standing in for words and feelings. With visual arts, by contrast, greater exposure to visual media, and the ‘expansive mental repositories of visual imagery’ informed and inspired student work.

Of course, quantifying creativity is problematic, even with thoughtfully constructed controls, but it is provocative to consider what the authors saw as ‘a significant increase in and adherence to strict realism’, and how this might relate to a turn away from metaphoric thinking. […]

In a long-term project focusing on elementary school and the early years of high school, the psychologists Thalia Goldstein and Ellen Winner at Boston College studied the relationship between empathy and experience. In particular, they wanted to understand how empathy and theories of mind might be enhanced. Looking at children who spent a year or more engaged in acting training, they found significant gains in empathy scores. This isn’t surprising, perhaps. Acting and role-play, after all, involve a metaphoric entering-into another person’s shoes via the emotional lives and sensory experiences of the characters that one embodies. ‘The tendency to become absorbed by fictional characters and feel their emotions may make it more likely that experience in acting will lead to enhanced empathy off stage,’ the authors conclude.

For one semester, I taught the Greek tragedy Hecuba to college students in Ancient Humanities. The first part of Hecuba centres on the violence toward women during war; the second half offers a reversal whereby, in order to avenge the deaths of her children, Hecuba kills Polymestor – the king of Thrace – and his two sons, just as he killed her son, whose safety he had explicitly guaranteed. The play is an instruction in lament, in sorrow, rage and vengeance, loyalty and betrayal. To see it is to feel the agony of a woman betrayed, who has lost all her children to war and murder. To act in it – as students do, when we read it, much to their horror – is to feel the grief and rage of a woman far removed from our present world, but Hecuba’s themes of betrayal and revenge resonate still: the #MeToo movement, for example, would find common ground with Hecuba’s pain.

Eva Maria Koopman at Erasmus University in Rotterdam has studied the ‘literariness’ of literature and its relationship to emotion, empathy and reflection. Koopman gave undergraduates (and for sample size, some parents as well) passages of the novel Counterpoint (2008) by the Dutch writer Anna Enquist, in which the main character, a mother, grieves the loss of her child. Thus, Koopman attempted to test age-old claims about the power of literature. For some of the readers, she stripped passages of their imagery and removed foregrounding from others, while a third group read the passages as originally written by Enquist.

Koopman’s team found that: ‘Literariness may indeed be partly responsible for empathetic reactions.’ Interestingly, the group who missed the foregrounding showed less empathetic understanding. It isn’t just empathy, however, that foregrounding triggers, it’s also what Koopman identifies as ‘ambivalent emotions: people commenting both on the beauty or hope and on the pain or sorrow of a certain passage’. Foregrounding, then, can elicit a ‘more complex emotional experience’. Reading, alone, is not sufficient for building empathy; it needs the image, and essential foreground, for us to forge connections, which is why textbooks filled with information but devoid of narrative fail to engage us; why facts and dates and events rarely stick without story.

Shaken and Stirred

I Is an Other
by James Geary
Kindle Locations 303-310

Descartes’s “Cogito ergo sum.”

This phrase is routinely translated as:

I think, therefore I am.

But there is a better translation.

The Latin word cogito is derived from the prefix co (with or together) and the verb agitare (to shake). Agitare is the root of the English words “agitate” and “agitation.” Thus, the original meaning of cogito is “to shake together,” and the proper translation of “Cogito ergo sum” is:

I shake things up, therefore I am.

Staying with the Trouble
by Donna J. Haraway
Kindle Locations 293-303

Trouble is an interesting word. It derives from a thirteenth-century French verb meaning “to stir up,” “to make cloudy,” “to disturb.” We— all of us on Terra— live in disturbing times, mixed-up times, troubling and turbid times. The task is to become capable, with each other in all of our bumptious kinds, of response. Mixed-up times are overflowing with both pain and joy— with vastly unjust patterns of pain and joy, with unnecessary killing of ongoingness but also with necessary resurgence. The task is to make kin in lines of inventive connection as a practice of learning to live and die well with each other in a thick present. Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places. In urgent times, many of us are tempted to address trouble in terms of making an imagined future safe, of stopping something from happening that looms in the future, of clearing away the present and the past in order to make futures for coming generations. Staying with the trouble does not require such a relationship to times called the future. In fact, staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present, not as a vanishing pivot between awful or edenic pasts and apocalyptic or salvific futures, but as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings.

More Metaphors of Madness

I first likened being a US citizen to being run over by a car. I then used a simple comparison to describe the prospective presidencies in terms of the boiling frog scenario. Here are three more metaphors for your cynical amusement.

This one is a more detailed metaphor for the candidates this campaign season:

The body politic is ailing. Hillary Clinton is a symptom of the corruption that has compromised the immune system. Trump is a secondary illness like pneumonia that is potentially life threatening.

The secondary illness wouldn’t be dangerous if the immune system wasn’t already compromised and the patient were willing to seek medical treatment. But for some reason the ailing patient refuses to go to the doctor who is Sanders.

The mainstream media is the hospice worker administering pain drugs that puts the patient to sleep, as death nears. Then the patient’s eyes open and rallies some strength asking for something in a voice too quiet to understand, either asking for the doctor or Jesus.

Is all hope lost? Or can the patient still be saved?

The next metaphor is me being plain silly:

Clinton is a monkey in a banana experiment. The monkey’s hand is stuck in the hole, unable to get the banana out and unwilling to let go of the banana.

Sanders is the scientist observing the monkey and taking notes. The scientist goes on lunch break so as to eat his banana and peanut butter sandwich that he made himself.

Meanwhile, Trump is a banana plantation tycoon. He is inquiring about buying the laboratory where the experiment is happening, as he thinks that further banana research might be good for banana profits. He is also inquiring about maybe even buying an entire banana republic while he is at it.

The voting public sees a news report about the ongoing research. It makes them hungry for a banana.

And the best metaphor saved for last:

This campaign season is “Monte Python and the Holy Grail.” Clinton is King Arthur. The mainstream media is the guy following along making clopping noises with coconut shells. Trump is the Frenchman taunting King Arthur and his entourage. Sanders is the peasant complaining that he never voted for King Arthur. The voting public is the killer bunny.

That should clear everything up for you. I’m glad to be of service.

Trinity In Mind: Rhetoric & Metaphor, Imaginal & Archetypal

Story. Culture. Knowledge.

Two elements: pattern and communication. What are the patterns of our communications along with the patterns of cognition and experience underlying them? How do we communicate these patterns when our very attempt is enmeshed in them?

It’s not just an issue of rhetoric and metaphor. It’s a stepping back and looking for a pathway to higher ground. A meta-language maybe is needed, but not meta in a way of making language abstract and detached. Death can’t speak for life.

I’ve never been in love with language. This could be seen as a flaw of mine as a self-identified writer. Admittedly, language is sort of important to writing. What I appreciate is communication, the essence and the impetus thereof, the desire to express, to be heard and possibly understood.

I have nothing against language. It just is what it is. My lack of love isn’t a hate; it’s a wariness. I’ve often found too superficial writers who’ve fallen in love with language. There can be a trap in linguistic narcissism. Even great writers can get caught up in their own cleverness. In these cases, it’s not always clear they’ve fallen in love with language itself or just the sound of their own voices.

Compelling language takes more than catchy phrasing and aesthetic sensibility. A writer or any other user of language has to first and foremost have something worthy of being shared and to be given voice. Language, however rarely, can touch something deeper. Then language isn’t just language.

It’s not the writer that matters, but the Other that is speaking through the writer. This deeper level is the imaginal and archetypal, the creative source.

Along with my lack of verbal romance, I have other ‘failings’ as well.

I’m prone to anti-climactic conclusions. This is because most of life feels anticlimactic to me. What can I say, I write what I know. The anti-climactic relates to another ‘failing’.

I’m also prone to a passive voice. Every writing manual I’ve read warns against this, but good advice never stopped me. It seems to me that a passive voice communicates something an active voice can’t, and that something obviously isn’t readily accepted by modern mainstream society or at least the English-speaking portions.

An active voice requires someone or something that takes action, but as I see it not all or even most of life involves action that is willed, directed or otherwise caused by actors. Still, the active voice is rooted in traditional storytelling. The question is: Are there other stories to tell and/or other ways to tell stories?

Our language determines our reality. So, what consensus reality is being reinforced by writing manuals? I’m not arguing against standard English writing. Certainly, I’m not arguing against compelling language and the active voice is more compelling; rather, I’m considering what we are being compelled by and toward.

The standard of compelling shouldn’t be its own justification. A soap opera is compelling. In fact, the average soap opera is more compelling to the average person than the greatest of art. Most people are compelled, usually mindlessly, by ideas and beliefs, metaphors and narratives that aren’t necessarily of much worthiness.

How do we judge worthiness? What is good writing versus what is great art? Does ‘good’ writing imply communication that is moral and true, whatever that might mean? What exactly is good and bad about the active versus the passive voices?

The most dangerous part about rhetoric is that we forget it’s rhetoric and mistake it for reality.

Failure of Conservative Morality in Politics

I’ve been reading about American society from a few different directions. I have just read some books about political history (such as the writings of Richard Hofstadter), but most recently I’ve focused on the the generational theory of Strauss and Howe (I’ve perused several of their books) and the moral frames model written about by George Lakoff in his book Moral Politics.

Last night at work, I was reading Lakoff’s book and found it quite fascinating. His main premise is that conservatives use the Strict Father family model to frame their political views and liberals use the Nurturant Parent family model to frame their political views. It makes a lot of sense to me, but that isn’t what got me thinking.

Lakoff was using Reagan and Bush sr as an example of how conservative morality plays out in politics. Conservatives use the rhetoric of small government, but obviously there are many exceptions to this rule and many moral principles they hold higher than the ideal of small government. Basically, when a conservative speaks of big government they’re referring to social programs that benefit the people who conservatives don’t believe are deserving. It’s not about saving taxpayers’ money but about doing the right thing. Those who do right should be rewarded and those who do wrong should be punished.

So, in terms of Reagan and Bush sr, who was rewarded and who was punished? By giving tax cuts to the rich and increasing the size of the military, what was the moral purpose that conservatives were trying to achieve? Increasing the military seems more obvious on the surface. The evil, Godless commies needed to be punished and it was the righteous duty of God-fearing Americans to punish them. So, what did the rich do to deserve tax cuts? Well, the basic idea is that we live in a meritocracy and so the rich have earned their wealth through hard work and ingenuity. It’s wrong to take away from the rich what they’ve earned fair and square. The corollary of this is that the poor deserve to be poor and so it’s perfectly fine that the tax cuts don’t benefit the poor (including the working class poor). As the Bible says (Matthew 25:29), “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

Still, Lakoff takes this one step further and it’s the best explanation that I’ve ever come across. He argues that Reagan and Bush sr (along with their advisors) weren’t stupid. They fully realized they were increasing the size of government and creating a massive deficit as had never been seen in all of US history. This wasn’t an accident. It was quite intentional. If social programs benefit the undeserving, this becomes a moral problem that must be solved no matter what the cost. If the country becomes immoral at the core, then all is lost and nothing else matters. By creating an enormous deficit, this forced Congress to tighten its belt and cut funding to all social programs. And that is exactly what happened. It’s so clever it’s evil.

This brings me to something else I read in of the books written by Strauss and Howe (I don’t remember which one). They pointed out that the GI generation was the most politically powerful generation in all of US history. The GI generation had more than three decades of GI presidents and two of those were Reagan and Bush sr.

The GI generation came to see itself as the Greatest Generation. They fought hard and worked hard. For most of their life, they saw American wealth and power ever increasing. They believed two things about this situation. First, they took personal credit for all of it and so they thought they were deserving of being rewarded for that they had done. Second, they assumed that this trajectory of increase would continue for a very long time. They were wrong on both accounts. There were complex reasons for America’s rise to wealth and power, but the main reason was that Europe was decimated by WWII. Without much competition, America’s exports dominated the global economy. This situation wouldn’t last for very long since the European countries were able to rebuild.

When Reagan and Bush sr were presidents, the GI generation was at the height of its power. They were golden and they were mostly free to use their power as they so desired. Since they thought they had earned it, they redicrected America’s wealth towards their own generation. The tax cuts to the rich were disproportionately directed to the GI generation since their generation was (and is) the wealthiest generation in US history. They also redirected money to their generation by funding expensive social programs for the elderly. So, where did this money come from? As I pointed out, social programs for the undeserving (i.e., the poor) were cut. A related example was Reagan’s kicking the mentally ill out of the psychiatric hospitals (and created a large population of mentally disturbed homeless people who then needed to be rounded up and put in prison).

Even more interesting is the fact that social programs directed at youth (from welfare to school funding) were all cut. This had two impacts. First, starting with young Boomers and ending with Generation X, the quality of public education decreased and SAT scores decreased. Second, Generation X became the most poverty prone generation in a century. While the GI generation remained wealthy, GenXers grew up to discover that their employment opportunities were as bad as was experienced by the whole country during the Bust Years of the Great Depression.

What must be understood is that GIs such as Reagan and Bush sr did all of this out of their sense of morality. They were simply doing what they thought was right. They were rewarding those who they thought deserved it and they were punishing those they thought deserved it. In doing so, the made America into a deficit-driven militarized empire which they saw as forcing America into its role of being the greatest nation in the world. The heavy costs of this were worth it in their minds.

The problem is that they couldn’t see the long term consequences. I don’t think they realized that creating such a deficit would increase out of control and end up crippling our entire country. They didn’t foresee how deregulation of markets would eventually lessen the power of the American economy. They saw the world through the lense of their own generation and didn’t realize how differently it would look to later generations.

They thought that benefitting the rich was the right thing to do since they believed the rich deserved the wealth they earned. It’s easy to argue against this in pointing out that it takes everyone in a society and not just those at the top to make an economy successful, but there is an even more important factor they didn’t understand. Many GIs became wealthy during a time when there were high taxes on the rich. How is that possible? How did the GIs become so wealthy despite being heavily taxed? This cuts to the heart of the misunderstanding that motivated Reagan and Bush sr.

There are many arguments about who deserves what, but there is a more essential issue about who can use wealth to the greatest benefit of society as a whole. To conservatives, those who become rich deserve their wealth because they theoretically will put their extra wealth towards wise investment in the economy. Sadly, it doesn’t work out this way. Innovation happens from the bottom up. Reagan and Bush sr implemented policies that increased the wealth gap which concentrated the wealth at the top. I forget the source, but I was watching an interview recently where the person was referring to data about wealth. That person pointed out that wealthy people don’t invest their wealth wisely. Beyond a certain level of wealth, extra money loses any practical worth. What the super rich tend to do with their extra money is gamble it in risky investments because it doesn’t really matter to them if they lose it. What they generally don’t do with it is invest it in further innovation. That is what happened recently with our economy. There were too many people making risky gambles and not enough people investing in industries that produce concrete products. Our economy has become dependent on the banking business and America has lost its innovative edge.

The conservative moral vision of Reagan and Bush sr has backfired.

Lakoff puts all of this into a larger context of the metaphorical frames used by conservatives and liberals. Reagan and Bush sr as GIs were seeing the world according to the experience of their generational cohort. And as conservatives they were seeing the world according to the Strict Father moral frame. It was because of their being GI conservatives that they implemented those particular policies. Like most of us, they couldn’t see outside of their reality tunnel. But the consequences of their narrow vision have been immense. Bush jr, although of the Boomer generation, was simply the ultimate endpoint of this particular worldview. Under Bush jr (aka The Decider), the military was strengthened and regulation was paralyzed (with eventual consequences as we now see with the BP oil spill), the deserving were rewarded and the undeserving were punished. Bush jr certainly was trying to return America to the conservative moral vision of a righteous country, but it’s become obvious that this vision has failed. The costs are just too high: undermined Constitutional rights, massive deficit, crippled economy, struggling small businesses, ever increasing wealth gap, shrinking middle class, environmental disasters, etc.

An opening has developed in the status quo of recent decades. People are hungering for a new vision. Many hoped that Obama could bring that new vision, but many have been or become doubtful. Lakoff sees the liberal vision as being in a difficult position. For various reasons, conservatives have been very successful in framing most of the political discourse in recent history. Liberals have an opportunity right now. It’s just not clear if liberals are presently capable of organizing their own moral vision and communicating it well. Even though conservatives have indisputably failed in their attempt, it isn’t yet determined if liberals will likewise fail during this time of change. What is for certain is that many cultural narratives are being formulated right now. The narrative that gains the most traction will most likely be dominant in politics for the next several decades… or so that is the prediction of Strauss and Howe. I guess we’ll find out.

Re: Is abstract thought just piggybacking on the physical body?

Is abstract thought just piggybacking on the physical body? by Matt Cardin

This post reminds me of the ideas of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.  Lakoff, in particular, has been voicing his opinions about the power of metaphor in politics.

The work of Lakoff and Johnson also relates to some others researching and speculating about the embodied mind.  I know you’re familiar with Ken Wilber and integral theory.  Have you seen any of the integral discussions about enactivism.  Enactivism was influenced by both Buddhism and phenomenology, and was an attempt to discover scientific language to describe the embodied mind.

Debate b/t Religion and Science: Theists, Atheists, Agnostics, Integralists

 – – –

FIRST COMMENT

This response profoundly misunderstands Karen Armstrong’s arguments.  This isn’t a fair portrayal.  As far as I understand her arguments, the criticisms presented here don’t seem to touch upon what she actually writes about.

Armstrong’s books are very scholarly.  She isn’t against rationality and science.  What she supports is making subtle intellectual distinctions in order to create a rational context to discuss otherwise non-rational issues.  She backs her arguments with historical evidence which is the best one can do when trying to analyze the development of religion and society.  And nothing she states contradicts any known scientific facts or theories.

Armstrong offers great insight into the religious mind.  Her explanation of the origins of literalist fundamentalism make more sense to me than any argument I’ve come across.

Her argument is that a new way of thinking about religion arose with the Axial Age.  In particular, this involved the ability to think metaphorically.  But I don’t think she disagrees that it was initially (and for many centuries to come) a style of thinking limited mostly to elite theologians.  It was only with the Enlightenment that the the Axial Age ideals started to take hold more clearly and science provided a new paradigm by which metaphorical thinking could be contrasted.

In response to science, the idea of religious literalism arose as entirely distinct from allegorical interpretation.  It’s not that literalist thinking didn’t exist to an extent earlier, but it only became an ideology unto itself in modern times.

Armstrong isn’t an enemy of atheism.  The only thing she is an enemy of is closed-mindedeness and simplistic thinking.  Her criticism of the New Atheists isn’t a criticism of atheism in general.  She is simply pointing out that certain arguments made by some popular atheists aren’t the best arguments to be made.  Her main issue is that, by talking about religion in literalist terms, the atheist just plays into the hands of literalist fundamentalists.  She wants to undermine religious literalism at it’s base.  She wants to show fundamentalism for what it is by showing how it developed.

 – – –

SECOND COMMENT

We seem to be talking past each other or something.

And you apparently have me mistaken for someone else.  I’m far from being a religious apologist.  I can’t stand apologetics and I harshly criticize anyone who uses it.  I do have some interest in religion and I study religious scholarship, but I’m not an overly religious person as I usually think of myself as an agnostic.  I look for insight where ever I can find it whether from religion, science, psychology or whatever.  But I especially appreciate quality scholarship.
 
Straw-men arguments? I have no clue what you’re talking about.  My basic argument was that you didn’t understand Armstrong’s ideas, and I then explained my own understanding of her work.  Have you read her books?  If you haven’t, then I don’t know why you have such strong opinions based on such limited info.  Or if you have, you need to reinforce your argument with more specifically quoted examples.
 
“Of course, Armstrong doesn’t say she is against science. I never claimed this. She is completely misrepresenting it’s place in history, that’s all.”
 
Well, so far, you’ve mentioned science 25 times and mostly in reference to Armstrong.  Going by your own words: Your argument is that she undermines and blames and ignores science, that she doesn’t care about scientfic facts, and that she is dangerously usurping science for a liberal anti-scientific agenda.  If this isn’t your true opinion, then you need to edit your previous statements or else better explain what you actually meant by these words.
 
“I am amused at how you built your assumptions into the statement while cloaking Armstrong’s revisionism in the language of tolerance.”
 
All statements have assumptions built into them.  My argument was fairly simple and straightforward.  I wasn’t cloaking anything.
 
“Firstly, she is not so much making ‘intellectual distinctions’ as she is making stuff up.”
 
Generalized judgments and dismissals aren’t helpful.  Give me precise quoted examples of her making stuff.   Show in detail that your allegation is correct.  Explain how her supposed “making stuff up” disproves her entire argument and undermines all of her scholarly respectability.
 
“Secondly, your implicit assumption that there is no other rational context to discuss such issues is wrong.”
 
No such assumption was implied.  I’m fond of many other rational contexts.  I wasn’t arguing that Armstrong has the market cornered on rational contexts.  She isn’t even an author I obsessively read or even think about that much.
 
“There is one very powerful rational context that is always relevant- objective reality.”
 
I like objective reality.  Are you implying that my arguments or Armstrong’s arguments deny or contradict objective reality?
 
“No preferential treatment of facts is necessary, thanks a lot (read up on sociobiology- really read- to get a rational context for understanding religious fundamentalism).”
 
I don’t understand your complaint.  Preferential treatment of facts isn’t necessary, but emphasizing the importance of facts is always a nice thing.  And, yes, I do read up on many fields of study.  In particular, the relationship between biology and behavior is a topic I often read about.
 
“Literalist fundamentalism was always there.”
 
It seems we’re defining literalism differently.  I can’t assess your definition as I don’t know what facts and theories you’re basing it on.  As far as I can tell, you seem to be using a very general and vague sense of literalism.  In terms of cognitive ability, however, literalistic thinking is more narrowly defined.
 
“Religion is the political remnant of a system of belief that told a narrative of factual events. For modern religious moderates, when it comes to everyday issues they can understand that there is such a thing as the real world and there is the emotional world, but when it comes to religion they forgo this distinction.”
 
It’s not that all fundamentalists dismiss this distinction.  Many of them simply don’t understand it.
 
The definition of literalism I’m using is from a developmental perspective.  On the personal level, people have the potential to learn how to make clear rational distinctions at a particular stage of development, but this depends on the person’s intelligence and their social environment.  As such, development can be stalled or even permanently stunted.  Plus, integrating this ability into all aspects of one’s life involves even further stages of cognitive development that are even less common.  There are also theories that discern stages of development in societies.  A person is only likely to develop to the extent that most others have developed in their society.  Our modern understanding of literal facts didn’t exist thousands of years ago.  Even when this understanding began to develop, it was a minority of the population that grasped it.
 
I openly admit that it’s hard to figure out the cognitive processes of ancient people.  But plausible theories can be formed using historical data, anthropology, psychology and neurology.  Anyways, my main point isn’t that all ancient people didn’t have some basic sense of an external reality that they perceived as being separate from their own subjectivity.  I’m simply pointing out that religious literalism as we know it today has become influenced by a scientific worldview which wasn’t the case in the past.
 
“Please spare me the Axial age BS. It is a half-baked hypothesis that relies on amateurish post hoc reasoning. Such ideas are designed to appeal to those who have already made up their minds. In this case, it is the mind of the religious moderate who desires above all to find a way to make all the religions work together in harmony.”
 
You have many biased assumptions about many things.  Half-baked?  Amateurish post hoc reasoning?  Please do explain!
 
Armstrong didn’t simply invent the idea of the Axial Age as it (along with similar ideas) has been discussed by many scholars.  It’s common for scholars to analyze history according to ages of socio-cultural development such as tool-making, agriculture, city-states, etc.  In terms of the Axial Age, there was a specific time period when many cultures were developing written language and when certain new ideas arose such as monotheism/monism and variations of the golden rule. 
 
The term Axial Age is merely a way of labelling and describing a broad period of cultural transformation.  That such a transformation happened is a matter of historical record, but the cause of it is a complex issue.  Even though cultural transmission is one possibility, it’s implausible as being the sole cause as there were many separate cultures experiencing similar changes at around the same time.  It is true that correlation doesn’t prove causation, but obviously something was causing massive change.
 
“To understand cultural patterns on such large scales one needs to take into account a lot more real variables that Armstrong can grasp.”
 
Why do you presume what Armstrong can grasp?  Do you personally know her and have you scientifically tested her cognitive abilities? 
 
She is a religious scholar.  That is what she is an expert in and so that is what she focuses on.  Why would you expect a scholar of a specific field to take into account all possible variables including those outside their field?  Yes, there are other areas of scholarship that are relevant.  So what?  That doesn’t disprove Armstrong’s contribution to her area of scholarship. 
 
Her ideas are just another possible piece of the puzzle, but I’m all for trying to understand the whole puzzle.  For that reason, I turn to such things as Integral theory in order to get a conceptual framework to put the pieces together.  Even so, you can never know that you’ve completely figured it out because theories about human cultural development are impossible to scientifically prove beyond all doubt.
 
“For example, briefly, the ‘ability’ to think metaphorically evolved at least 70,000 years ago, but possibly up to 300,000 years ago. However, the ability to perceive our world around us evolved with the first intelligent ancestors we ever had. For intelligent biological organisms to survive, they needed to be convinced that certain things were true. Metaphor as a semantic tool is pointless when faced with a hungry lion. Literalism is the default setting.”
 
I’m not using literalism as referring to the perception of external reality, though there are theories that propose that early humans didn’t clearly distinguish between internal and external experience (such as Julian Jaynes’ theory of bicameralism or Lloyd deMause’s theory of schizotypal personality).  Instead, what I am focusing on here is the cognitive ability to think in terms of black and white absolutes.  This is how a person cognitively processes perceptual experience rather than the process of perception itself.  So, metaphor as you are using it seems to be equated with mythological thinking which according to some theories of development represents an earlier stage of development.
 
“It is an insult to say that these people did not believe that stuff literally.”
 
I’m not saying that and I don’t think that Armstrong comes to that conclusion.  For example, consider Christianity.  Some of the earliest theologians relied heavily on allegorical interpretations.  Yes, they believed they were true but not necessarily true in a physical sense.  Christianity arose at the end of the Axial Age when the distinction between allegorical truth and objective facts was becoming more common.
 
In a sense, even these early Christians believed their allegorical interpretations were literally true for they conceived the spiritual realm as being the highest truth.  Still, they were making a distinction which is different than the earliest religions where the spiritual and physical were inseparable (and so mind and world were connected through magical thinking).  Nonetheless, even this conflation doesn’t deny that they may have had some understanding of reality as external to them.  If a hungry lion attacked, they would defend themselves against it.  But afterwards they probably would interpret it as an animistic encounter with a spiritual being.
 
I don’t know if I’m communicating this in a way that you understand.  I’ve been studying these kinds of ideas for years and I can’t claim to have it all figured out.  It’s a very complex topic involving many different theories by many different scholars in many different fields.  However, I often return to Ken Wilber’s Integral theory as it connects more of the puzzle pieces together than any other theory I’ve come across, though I don’t agree with everything he claims.  It’s first and foremost a descriptive model, but to the degree it accurately explains objective facts it can be considered potentially predictive in that all individuals and all societies tend to follow certain patterns of development.  According to Wilber’s use of Spiral Dynamics (which represents only one line of development), there are distinct stages.
 
 – The earliest stages see the world in terms of animism and magical thinking, and so mythology is “literally” a part of the world.
 – After the earliest stages, humans began to develop a more individual sense of consciousness meaning that that the mind was showing some independence from the environment (i.e., people could think about rather than merely react to the world).  Likewise, spiritual beings also were perceived as being more clearly distinct from the world and from human individuality.  The sense of something being “literally” true meant that it existed outside of mere human experience.
 – The stage where “literal” thinking shows itself most clearly is when humans start emphasizing binary opposites that are polarized into absolute right and wrong, absolute true and false.  Self and other become absolutely distinct.
 – After this stage, experiential data and evidence take on greater value.  Standards and methods are developed to ascertain what is objectively true.  What is “literally” true is what is verifiable.  
 – This is where postmodernism and cultural relativism come in.  “Literal” truth becomes just one perspective and what is considered true is whatever allows for and includes the most perspectives.  As such, science and religion are perspectives and there is neither is inherently superior to the other in that there simply separate paradigms of reality.  However, within multiple perspectives there is a sense that some things are universally true and I suppose that this might be taken as “literally” true in some way.  This is primarily where Armstrong is arguing from, but I don’t know if this is where her thinking ends.
 – Beyond all of this, further stages of development are proposed where inclusion of different perspectives is allowed while maintaining a meta-perspective to discern the value of different perspectives.  These higher stages supposedly emphasize the ability to understand the different stages and different perspectives toward practical ends.  Something is “literally” true to the extent that it effectively works towards some clearly defined goal.  So, there would be no singular truth per se as there are many goals.  These goals aren’t seen as necessarily in conflict for it would be considered most optimal to find where lesser goals can be directed towards more encompassing goals.
 
By the way, this isn’t mere theory.  Spiral Dynamics was formulated according to research Clare Graves did, and Ken Wilber correlated it with other research and other models.  My point being that Armstrong’s arguments can be placed in this larger context of diverse scholarship.  Whether it’s absolutely true or not, time will tell.  But for certain this does offer a plausible explanation of cultural development that clarifies the relationship between religion and science.
 
– – –
 
THIRD COMMENT

 “After the publishing of this response,the commenter responded by ignoring my entire rational argument in favor of more confirmation bias.”

Confirmation bias simply means that people tend to seek confirmation to their own view which is something everyone does to an extent, but it’s generally used to describe extreme examples of someone biased thinking.  However, making this allegation against an opponent can just as well be used polemically to dismiss another person’s view and evidence.  In this case, Kamal’s allegation of confirmation bias appears to be an example of confirmation bias.

“My statements were twisted in typical religious fashion, using the all-too-common religious dance between objective and subjective concepts in order to obscure naturalistic truth.”

Twisted?  I merely pointed out Kamal’s exact words.  I didn’t even take them out of context.  Anyone can look at his comments and see for themselves what he wrote (assuming he hasn’t since edited out these statements).

Typical religious fashion?  I presented carefully explained rational arguments supported by diverse theories and evidence.  All of the references I made can be found within the mainstream intellectual tradition.  Many of the ideas I was using for context are taught in universities and in some cases are based on social sciences research.  If Kamal considers this “typical religious fashion”, he must interact with some very intelligent and well-read religious people.  I wish he would give me their contact details because I’d love to meet such intellectually respectable believers.

“I am not interested in arguing with religious people since there are plenty of more useful things that I can occupy myself with.”

I explained to him that I’m not religious.  Some atheists can’t differentiate being interested in religion and believing in religion.  Anyone who has studied religious scholarship in any depth would quickly realize that many religious scholars aren’t religious believers.

“The writing of this article, contrary to what religious folk may think, has nothing to do with actually arguing against religious folk and everything to do with ridiculing Armstrong’s incoherent religious apologetics.”

He states his true intentions.  He isn’t interested in actual debate no matter how intelligent.  His main (and maybe only) purpose is to ridicule Armstrong because he has categorized her as a mere believer.  As his perception of her opposes his atheistic ideology, she must be attacked at all costs even if it means sacrificing intellectual honesty.  Polemically winning the debate by silencing one’s opponent is more important than the open puruit of truth.

“Such ridicule is well within my right, and I believe it is essential to the process of developing a strong freethought response to institutionalized superstition.”

Free speech is definitely everyone’s right, and it’s his right to choose whose comments he wants to post.  However, if his purpose is genuinely to promote freethought, then he should support the free speech of others rather than attempting to silence disagreement.  New understanding comes from the meeting of different perspectives.  Freethought isn’t about any particular ideology or theory.  Freethought is dependent on respect for open discussion and respect for all rational viewpoints.  His opinion that my viewpoint is wrong simply doesn’t matter from the perspective of freethought.  An intellectual argument deserves an intellectual response… which is what Kamal refused to do and so he loses any rational justification for calling himself a defender of freethought.

“In view of this, I have decided to not publish any further comments form religious folk. If you think you have won the debate, good for you. Please continue to feel good about yourself.”

Thank you.  I do feel good about offering you opportunity to have a rational discussion, but it saddens me that you apparently have embraced pseudo-intellectualism.

“We rationalists have our hands full trying to build real moral alternatives to religion and I would rather not waste my time arguing with those who cannot let go of primitive superstitions.”

Primitive superstitions?  Is that the best you can do?

Oh well… 

 – – –

NOTE ON COMMENTS

I posted the first two comments to Ajita Kamal’s blog.

However, the second comment apparently wasn’t allowed to be posted.  I can only assume that Ajita Kamal had no rational response to my dismantling of his argument.  I don’t know if Ajita Kamal is an example of a pseudo-intellectual, but his actions seem to show a lack of intellectual humility and maybe honesty.  After my comment was posted there and not approved, an earlier commenter returned to praise his writing.  He accepted this praise, but didn’t mention my having refuted his criticisms of Karen Armstrong.  Ajita Kamal is the type of ideologue of the New Atheist variety who gives atheism a bad name.

For obvious reasons, I made no attempt to post the third comment to Ajita Kamal’s blog.  Kamal did finally acknowledge in his blog the existence of my comment, but he still didn’t offer any rational response.

 – – –

ABOUT KAREN ARMSTRONG

I’m no expert on Armstrong’s scholarschip, but she is someone I refer to on occasion.  She is highly influential and probably can be considered to have taken up the position of authority that Joseph Campbell once held.  If you don’t like or understand Campbell, then you’ll probably have the same attitude about Armstrong.  Both began as Catholics and both sought a non-literal understanding of religion.

As for Armstrong, she was a nun who became an angry atheist and then later came to accept the label of “freelance monotheist“. 

I usually describe myself, perhaps flippantly, as a freelance monotheist I draw sustenance from all three of the faiths of Abraham.  I can’t see any one of them as having the monopoly of truth, any one of them as superior to any of the others. Each has its own particular genius and each its own particular pitfalls and Achilles heels. But recently, I’ve just written a short life [story] of the Buddha and I’ve been enthralled by what he has to say about spirituality, about the ultimate, about compassion and about the necessary loss of ego before you can encounter the divine. And all the great traditions are, in my view, saying the same thing in much the same way, despite their surface differences.

My sense is that she just means that she has the sense of something profoundly true, but she is unwilling to making any ideological claims about it.  She separates her scholarship from her experience, but at the same time sees scholarship as a way of exploring possible universal aspects of human experience.  From what I can tell, she isn’t trying to apologetically convince anyone of a particular position.  Her own position is an attitude of openness and acceptance (which I would deem intellectual humility).  She takes her role as scholar very seriously and so her attitude of openness is also an attitude of intellectual curiosity.  She doesn’t seem to start with the position of having anything figured out (either theistically or atheistically), but neither is she resigned to relativism.

What is interesting about Armstrong is how differently people react to her ideas.  Some religious believers agree with ideological atheists in their belief that she is the ultimate enemy (whether of “faith” or of “reason”).  On the other hand, many religious believers, agnostics, atheists, and generally open-minded curious people consider her to be a proponent of freethought and religious insight.  What is clear is that those who disagree with her are forced to come to terms with her very popular scholarship.

FURTHER INFORMATION

If you’re interested in further criticisms of the New Atheists, see these other posts of mine:

Here is a thoughtful criticism of the atheist response to religion:

A Mission to Convert
By H. Allen Orr
The New York Review of Books

And some other interesting blogs, articles, and videos:

http://fora.tv/2008/02/27/Karen_Armstrong_in_Conversation_with_Alan_Jones

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ya64kx1U2r8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsZF8I6lrdQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtpF94Fjue4&feature=related

http://www.salon.com/books/int/2006/05/30/armstrong/

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203440104574405030643556324.html

http://www.newsweek.com/id/215180

http://300dollarwonder.blogspot.com/2007/01/karen-armstrong-why-atheism-is-in-vouge.html

http://www.religiondispatches.org/blog/religionandtheology/2026/is_karen_armstrong_right_was_religion_always_about_belief_or_not

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relationship_between_science_and_religion

http://www.examiner.com/x-8637-Sacramento-Spirituality-Examiner~y2009m6d9-Theism-and-Skepticism

http://hokai.info/2006/11/where-atheist-revolution-went-wrong.html

http://rationalmorality.info/?p=132

http://karmabuster.gaia.com/blog/2009/5/dennett-dawkins-metaphor-and-much-more

http://julianwalkeryoga.gaia.com/blog/2008/2/interesting_conversation

http://coolmel.gaia.com/blog/2007/12/the_new_atheists_are_people_too

http://sunwalked.wordpress.com/2009/07/18/dawkins-the-fundamentalist-takes-a-left-and-a-right-to-the-chin/

http://www.northernway.org/weblog/?p=301

http://anamchara.com/2009/07/15/the-epistemology-of-post-fundamentalism/

http://anamchara.com/2008/01/04/holy-agnosis/

http://godisnot3guyscom-jeanette.blogspot.com/2009/11/trinity-by-ken-wilber.html

http://integral-options.blogspot.com/2007/09/more-on-why-new-atheists-will-fail.html

http://integral-options.blogspot.com/search?q=new+atheists