AlterNet.org: Sara Robinson https://www.alternet.org/authors/sara-robinson/%3Chttp%3A/www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/20/%3C%20http%3A/www.npr.org/templates/story/%3C%20http%3A/www.npr.org/templates/story/%3C%20http%3A/abcnews.go.com/US/%3C%20http%3A/abcnews.go.com/US/%3C%20http%3A/www.npr.org/templates/story/%3C%20http%3A/abcnews.go.com/US/%3C%20http%3A/abcnews.go.com/US/%3C%20http%3A/www.npr.org/templates/story/%3C%20http%3A/abcnews.go.com/US/%3C%20http%3A/www.npr.org/templates/story/%3C%20http%3A/abcnews.go.com/US/%3C%20http%3A/abcnews.go.com/US/%3C%20http%3A/www.npr.org/templates/story/%3C%20http%3A/www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/politics/july-dec09/%3C%20http%3A/abcnews.go.com/US/%3C%20http%3A/abcnews.go.com/US/story en Ayn Rand Worshippers Must Face Facts: Blue States Are Providers, Red States Are Parasites https://www.alternet.org/visions/ayn-rand-worshippers-must-face-facts-blue-states-are-providers-red-states-are-parasites <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1030158'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=1030158" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The time has come for blue America to go Galt.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_230527144.jpg?itok=RunF8IVA" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>The <em>New York Times</em> published <a href="http:// http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/us/even-critics-of-safety-net-increasingly-depend-on-it.html?_r=1&amp;pagewanted=all ">a widely discussed article</a> updating an argument that progressive bloggers noticed a very long time ago. It's now well-understood that blue states generally export money to the federal government; and red states generally import it.</p><p>Talking Points Memo published a great map showing exactly how this redistribution works:</p><p></p><div alt="" class="media-image" height="515" width="600"><img alt="" class="media-image" height="515" width="600" typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/images/managed/storyimages_1330391586_givetakesmallfinal.png" /></div><p>Progressives believe in the redistribution of wealth, so we're not usually too upset by this state of affairs. That’s what it means to be one country. <em>E pluribus unum,</em> and all that. We’re happy to help, because we think we’ve got a stake in making sure kids in rural Alabama get educations and seniors in Arizona get healthcare. What’s good for them is good for all of us. We also like to think they’d help us out if our positions were reversed. It’s an investment in making America stronger, and we feel fine about that.</p><p>But maybe it's time to admit that we're being played for chumps, and that there are people in the rest of the country who are taking way too much advantage of our good nature. After all: it's now a stone fact that the blue states and cities are the country's real wealth creators. That's why we pay more taxes, and are able to send that money to the red states in the first place. We're working our butts off, being economically productive, <a href="http://chronicle.com/article/Interactive-Map-Proportion-of/65009/">going to college</a>, raising good kids, supporting reality-based schools, keeping our marriages together, tending to our busy and diverse cities, and generally Playing By The Rules. And the fates have smiled on us in rough proportion to the degree that we’ve invested in our own common good.</p><p>So we've got every right to get good and angry about the fact that, by and large, the people who are getting our money are so damned ungrateful -- not to mention so ridiculously eager to spend it on stuff we don't approve of. We didn't ship them our hard-earned tax dollars to see them squandered on worse-than-useless abstinence-only education, textbooks that teach creationism, crisis-pregnancy misinformation centers, subsidies for GMO crops and oil companies, and so on. And we sure as hell didn't expect to be rewarded for our productivity and generosity with a rising tide of spittle-flecked insanity about how we’re just a bunch of immoral, godless, drug-soaked, sex-crazed, evil America-hating traitors who can’t wait to hand the country over to the Islamists and the Communists.<br /><br />Ironically, the conservative movement's favorite philosopher had some very insightful things to say about this exact situation. Ayn Rand's novels divided the world into two groups. On one hand, she lionized "producers" -- noble, intelligent Übermenschen whose faith in their own ideas and willingness to take risks to achieve their dreams drives everything else in society. And she called out the evil of "parasites," the dull, unimaginative masses who attach themselves to producers and drain away their resources and thwart their dreams.</p><p>Conservatives love this story. They're eager to claim the gleaming mantle of the producers, insisting loudly that their tax money is going to support people (mostly in blue states and cities, it's darkly implied) who won't or can't work as hard as they do. If you want to arouse their class and race resentments, there are few narratives that can get them rolling like this producers-versus-parasites tale.</p><p>But the <em>NYT</em> story and that map up there prove beyond arguing that the conservative interpretation of events is 100 percent, 180-degrees, flat-out wrong. America's real producer class is overwhelmingly concentrated in the blue cities and states -- the regions full of smart, talented people who've harnessed technology and intellect to money, and made these regions the best, most forward-looking places in the country to live.</p><p>And the real parasites are centered in red states (the only exceptions being states with huge resource reserves, like Alaska and Texas) -- the unimaginative, exhausted places that have clung to a fading past, rejected science, substituted superstition for sense, and refused to invest in their own futures. It's not unfair to say that those regions are simply feasting off the sweat of our ennobling labor, and expecting us to continue supporting them as they go about their wealth-destroying ways.</p><p>And we producers have had enough.</p><p><strong>Progressives Go Galt!</strong></p><p>If you're a conservative who thinks Ayn Rand called it true with this producers/parasites thing, then by all means: let's go there. All the way there — and then some. But fair warning is in order: you may not like where we end up.<br /><br />By way of a modest proposal, I hereby declare the birth of a new Progressive Objectivism — a frankly producerist personal-responsibility crusade aimed at getting these whiny red leeches off our collective blue hide. If they think they can get by without us, let’s not stand in their way. What these people need from us, at minimum, is some tough talk — the kind of stern, grown-up verbal whoop-ass the conservatives wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to unload on us if the roles were reversed<em>.</em><br /><br />The time has come for blue America to <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Galt">go Galt</a>. Our farewell rant — long and epic, as Rand's turgid writing style would have required — might sound a bit like this:<br /><br />First off, dear Red Staters: If your town’s economy depends on a nearby dam, canal, harbor, airport, military base, interstate highway, national park or monument, or prison, just STFU. Because you are, in every way possible, a parasite, living off something the rest of us paid to build.</p><p>Second: If you are a homeowner who takes a mortgage interest deduction — which is how the rest of us subsidize your house, and with it your status in the middle-class — we don’t want to hear another word from you about how you made it all on your own. And that goes for those of you who got your education via the GI Bill, or took out an SBA loan, or went to well-funded public schools back when such things existed. You are what you are because we believed in you, and invested in you. And we’re deeply insulted that <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010104329/myth-self-made-american-why-progressives-get-no-respect">you refuse to even acknowledge that fact.</a> <br /><br />Third: Don't come crawling to us to support those kids you couldn't afford to have, but refused to allow contraception or abortions or <a href="http://advocatesforyouth.org/publications/1487?task=view ">actual fact-based sex education</a> to prevent. It's just that simple. Our <a href="http://www.marchofdimes.com/peristats/level1.aspx?reg=99&amp;slev=1&amp;top=6&amp;stop=91&amp;obj=10&amp;lev=1&amp;dv=cm">blue-state babies are better off</a> in every way that matters because we plan our families. A failure to plan on your part does not create an obligation on ours. Your policies force women to have kids, even when they're patently not ready to have them. Now (as you’re so fond of telling women who find themselves unhappily pregnant), you get to live with the consequences of those choices.</p><p>Fourth: Don't ask us to pay to educate your kids if you're not willing to have us teach them what we know about the world. We believe in free, comprehensive, rigorous and reality-based public education because it’s done more than any other government service to make us rich, powerful and successful; and we want the same for you.</p><p>We realize some of you aren't too keen on public schools. It's great that you want to take on more personal responsibility for educating your own kids. Just be warned: if you don't teach them real science and real history — including evolution, climate change and the actual contents of the US Constitution — we're probably not going to hire them. So we hope you're also ready to take responsibility for that, too, which will probably mean supporting your grown kids in your basement until you die.<br /><br />Fifth: Between federal water reclamation projects and farm subsidies, we are paying you zillions of dollars to grow stuff we'd actually rather not eat. Don’t look now, but those of us in blue cities and states are moving away from your petrochemical-saturated GMO-bred <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrated_Animal_Feeding_Operations ">CAFO-grown</a> industrial “food” products as fast as we possibly can. There aren’t enough organic and community-supported farms to feed all of us yet — but we have taken responsibility for this, and are working hard on the problem. You can either get on this train, or holler at it while it flattens you. What you cannot do is yell at us because we don’t want to eat what you choose to grow.<br /><br />Notice, too, that the only reason we’re having to subsidize you in the first place is that the all-holy free market does not bless you with profits on this crap. In your own book, that makes you a capital-L Loser. In ours, we’ll settle for “parasite.”<br /><br />Sixth: We are so over your bigotry. Again: we know from our own long experience that including women, gays and minorities makes us not only culturally richer; it also makes us more economically productive as well. And the recent economic meltdown has shown us that monocultures run exclusively by rich white men tend to stagnate into breeding pools for all kinds of social and financial parasites, who then come forward to prey on those least able to resist -- like you.<br /><br />Diversity isn’t just an idealistic fetish for us: we do it because we think it makes us richer on every front that matters. If “parasite” is just another word for “people who willfully make bad choices that keep them poor and ignorant,” then your prejudices by definition make you parasites. And we are not, therefore, obliged to deal with you.<br /><br />And finally: If you want to pretend global warming isn't happening, you do not get to come whining to us when you get hit with droughts or floods. We're not going to send FEMA to bail you out. We're not going to build canals to give you our water. We're not going to fund your levees. If you're so sure God will provide, go ask him to keep your reservoirs full and your cities dry. Because we resign.<br /><br /><strong>But will we come back?</strong></p><p>Yep. It all sounds really ugly. But that’s the point of going Galt: it’s a big fat tantrum designed to prove just how important you are in the grand scheme of things. (The tactic is also not unfamiliar to any mother who’s gone on a protracted housekeeping strike to gain appreciation from an uncooperative family.) If others have to suffer hardship to learn the lesson — well, that’ll teach 'em. The emotionally satisfying goal is to get the parasites to come back, begging on their knees for your vital help and resources. They know now, in a way they didn't before, that they cannot survive without you.<br /><br />So: if that fantasy moment were to come, what would it take to convince us Progressive Objectivists to emerge once again from our cool blue producerist enclave, and take responsibility for the chastened masses once again? We have just five simple demands:<br /><br />1. Stop taking more money from the federal government pot than you put into it. If you believe in paying your own freight, then do it. If you can’t, that’s fine -- we'll go back to helping you out -- but you have to let go of that producerist superiority crap, because you’re simply not entitled to it.<br /><br />2. Admit that we were right. Admit that nobody in America ever makes it on their own, and that we are all in this together, and that there’s such a thing as the common wealth and the common good. Admit that regulation is necessary to keep the unprincipled strong from preying on the weak. Admit that there has never in history ever been any such thing as a free market: markets are created by governments, and need to be overseen by them. And finally: admit that your conservative leaders got us into this economic mess, and don’t know squat about how to get us out of it.<br /><br />3. Join the reality-based world. Accept that America’s prosperity utterly depends on how well-educated its kids are, especially on topics like science and history. Accept that evolution happened, and that climate change is happening now. Embrace nuance. Learn something about how to assess evidence and think rationally, without a pre-determined conclusion. Remember that God only helps those who've gained the real-world skills to help themselves.<br /><br />4. Admit that we love our country every bit as much as you do — and that, given our much greater success at creating strong families, productive 21st-century industries and excellent places to live, we might actually know more than you do about how to make it work better in the future.<br /><br />5. Last but by no means least: Knock off the hate-mongering, threats and name-calling. Your heroine, Ms. Rand, predicted rightly that parasites invariably despise the producers they feed on; you should be embarrassed that your own behavior bears her out so clearly. And, just once, say thank you to us for all the contributions we’ve made (or, at least, tried to make) toward your well-being. We don’t ask for much, but a little gratitude now and then wouldn’t hurt.<br /><br />Five easy steps. Do this, and we’ll come back and work with you as co-creators of an America we all can love. Until then, though, you can pay your own bills. We’ve decided we have better things to invest that money in — upgraded schools, single-payer healthcare, expanded college systems, mass transit, sustainable technology investments, and forward-looking research to launch new industries that will make us richer yet. And you’ll have a choice, too: you’ll either learn what it takes to produce like we do, or you’ll get to find out what real poverty feels like.<br /><br />Would that we had the guts to go Galt. We probably don't; it's just not in our natures to tell people who are hurting to go to hell, or leverage our economic might to get the political upper-hand. But there's nothing stopping us from pointing out, loudly and often, exactly who is really who in this producers-versus-parasites relationship. We didn't draw that ridiculous battle line -- but maybe it's time for us to accept their terms of engagement, stake our rightful claim as the country's actual producer class, and show them just how tall and proud we are to stand on our far more fertile ground.</p> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2015 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '1030158'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=1030158" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 12 Jan 2015 12:36:00 -0800 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 1030158 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Culture The Right Wing Visions conservatives red states blue states ayn rand galt producers We Need to Hear From More Pro-Choice Men in the Abortion Conversation https://www.alternet.org/gender/we-need-hear-more-pro-choice-men-abortion-conversation <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1027301'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=1027301" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">What&#039;s at stake isn&#039;t just women&#039;s liberty—it&#039;s yours, too. </div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_175719359-edited.jpg?itok=RSDwD7PV" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Pro-choice activists have been saying for at least three decades that the landscape of the abortion debate won't permanently change until women are brave enough to do what gays did 30 years ago -- emerge from the shadows, speak our truth and demand respect for our decisions.</p><p>One in three women in America will have an abortion at some point in her life. There are roughly twice as many abortions as LASIK procedures performed in any given year. Given that overwhelming prevalence, it's high time for women who have had abortions to come out, step up, stand by their choices -- and refuse delivery on all attempts to burden them with regret or shame.</p><p>The GOP's legislative "war on women" and Darcy Burner's<a href="http://www.alternet.org/rights/155961/progressive_candidate_darcy_burner%3A_how_i_became_the_target_of_a_right-wing_smear_campaign">controversial "take a stand"</a> moment at Netroots Nation have brought renewed vigor to solving the invisibility problem, sparking new campaigns to encourage women to reject right-wing attempts to shame and silence them. It's important work, with huge potential to change the way we talk about abortion for decades to come.</p><p>But through all of this fresh energy and determination, there's one set of big, deep voices that's conspicuously missing.</p><p>We need to hear from the men, too.</p><p>For every single woman who's ever had an abortion, there's a man somewhere in the story. For every woman who was able to delay motherhood until a better moment, or improve her existing kids' chances by not enlarging her brood, or end a pregnancy that was doomed to end in tragedy and pain, there's also a man out there who is not a father today -- or is a better father to the kids he has -- because a woman he was involved with had the means to make this decision.</p><p>Forty years of feminism notwithstanding, the reality in American politics and culture is that our national discussion around this issue won't materially change until men understand just how invested they are in this issue -- and then stand up with us to insist that our reproductive rights be protected and preserved.</p><p>It's not that there aren't plenty of male voices in this debate already. They're booming in loud and strong from the anti-choice side. We're getting an earful from the Catholic bishops (whose moral authority on any matter relating to sexuality should rightly be a national joke by now), Mormon elders, evangelical preachers, and pontificating legislators. Out front of the clinics, the furious guy who is raging because "the bitch killed my baby, and I didn't have a say in it" is a stereotype on picket lines from coast to coast. Men who think they have the right to control women's fertility are outraged when they find out that they have no rights at all -- and over the years, their anger has been a potent accelerant to the flames of anti-choice furor.</p><p>We've heard more than enough from them.</p><p>But even as we're getting an aggrieved earful from the full chorus of patriarchal bullies, our own pro-choice men have receded into the background of the conversation, to the point where they have no voice at all. Worse: these sweet guys think that by holding their tongues, they're doing us a favor. After all, they understand that getting pregnant is a lot like that old joke about your ham-and-eggs breakfast: the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed. At the end of the day, the decision to carry on or terminate a pregnancy must, by moral right, remain in women's hands -- because while men are involved, women are committed, body and soul. </p><p>Men still enjoy the luxury of being able to choose their level of parental engagement. Some walk away and never see their baby. Others dedicate the rest of their lives to their kid's welfare. Which path they choose is totally their decision, and they can (and do) reconsider that relationship at any time, at will.</p><p>Women have no such choice. Once we're pregnant, we're in it, full-on, for the next 20 years, whether we want to be or not. Since we don't enjoy the wide leeway men are granted on the engagement front, it's essential that we maintain control of the one choice we do have -- that is, whether or not to go forward with the pregnancy at all. To a degree that's simply not true for men, we have a few short weeks in the first trimester of pregnancy to decide, once and for all, whether we're in or out. Once we make that call, there's no taking it back or changing our minds. We will live with that decision day in and day out for the rest of our lives.</p><p>Pro-choice men get this, and that's why they've stepped so far back from the political conversation. And pro-choice women have encouraged their silence, because we've learned the hard way that whenever we get men involved in these discussions, we're vastly raising the risk that some of them are going to try to assert control over our choices.</p><p>But it's time for both men and women to rethink this hands-off position. <a href="http://www.guttmacher.org/media/nr/2011/02/01/index.html">Recent research</a> has found that the vast majority of women who have abortions don't make the decision on their own. We almost always turn to our partners, family members, spiritual advisers, and doctors as we weigh our options. And of those supporting players, it's our male partners who have the biggest stake in the decision, and play the biggest role -- which is why, better than 80 percent of the time, our partners not only know about the abortion; they also support it. </p><p>Just as we never hear from millions of women who have never regretted their decision to terminate a pregnancy, the millions of men whose lives have been unquestionably changed for the better by an abortion decision are also rendered completely invisible -- often, even to themselves. When I ask male friends about the role abortion has played in their lives, they get quiet, shy and furtive. "I supported my girlfriend through an abortion -- but I really don't think it's my story to tell," one told me. Or they simply don't make the connection at all. "Oh. My. God," another one said, his eyes getting wide with sudden realization. "If she hadn't had that abortion, <em>I'd have been a father right now!</em>" It was an ultimate "<em>duh</em>!" moment, as though he'd never really reckoned the full implications of this fact until just that moment.</p><p>The thing of it is, gentlemen: You <em>do</em> have a story to tell. You didn't make the final decision, but we know that in the overwhelming majority of cases, you were intimately involved in the conversations that led up to it. You were most likely the one who drove her to the clinic, and drove her home again. And the choice not to become a father, right at that particular moment, has had a major impact on every day of your life and every major decision you've made ever since.</p><p>Think about it. How would your life be different today if she hadn't chosen abortion? Would you be co-parenting with a woman you knew wasn't right for you? Or fathering more kids than your time and resources responsibly allow? Are there educational opportunities you would have had to skip, reducing your earnings for the rest of your life? Or career breaks that wouldn't have happened if you'd been encumbered with a kid (or another kid)? </p><p>Your life is the way it is right now because your female partner was able to make that choice when she needed to. If that hadn't been possible, you'd be having a very different day today.</p><p>That's why we need you to speak up now. What's at stake isn't just women's liberty -- it's yours, too. You don't have to tell the whole story. The details aren't anybody's business but yours and hers (and that's why abortion is legally a privacy matter). But we need to hear you say, "My life is better today because a woman made that choice. I supported her in making it, and we have no regrets." Every time you say that out loud, you are doing something that shifts the gravity of our national conversation a little bit for the better.</p><p>We need you in this conversation again, for a lot of reasons.</p><p><strong>We need your credibility.</strong> As long as you keep silent, that small but screeching clutch of right-wing men will continue to command far more attention than the millions of embattled women who are trying to protect their reproductive rights. It's sad but true that male voices and interests still carry more weight in our culture than female ones do -- especially with the kind of patriarchal men who have chosen this as the political hill they're going to die on. We can't tell those guys to STFU. We've been trying for decades, but their sexism totally deafens them to voices in our higher register.</p><p>But you will be heard. If you start making it clear that this is an issue that matters to all men -- and that you're willing to defend it, because it matters to you very personally -- they will at least be able to hear you and respect you in a way that they will never hear or respect us. You bring authority that we can't. And that, right there, will change the dialogue dramatically.</p><p><strong>We need your political support.</strong>As long as abortion is seen as simply a "women's issue," politicians can keep shunting it off to the side as a "special interest" matter -- the kind of thing Serious People don't really have to deal with -- rather than an everyday medical procedure that ensures the liberty and prosperity of every fertile adult American of either gender. If you guys start owning how important abortion has been in determining the path of your own lives, it stops being a women's issue and becomes a human right issue --  a non-negotiable matter of equality and opportunity for everybody.</p><p><strong>We need your social support</strong>. I was in the room when Darcy Burner asked the women of Netroots Nation to stand if they'd had an abortion -- and then asked the rest of the crowd to "stand with these women." According to one woman who stood, "Having everyone else stand afterwards, saying, in essence, 'You are not alone' was incredibly powerful." She said she felt like 50 pounds had been taken off her shoulders. That's how heavy this burden has been for us. It's deformed us, silenced us and changed the way we view ourselves and our lives.</p><p>You can help us put that burden down for good. We, the women you love -- the ones who've mothered you, put up with you, slept with you, and been adored by you; the ones you've lived with, married and made witness to your lives -- have carried this burden of shame and isolation alone for far too long. More often than not, you have been our partners in making these decisions, and our main source of support in carrying them out. And your lives were changed by that, just as much as ours were. Abortion is your issue, your story and your fight, too. And when you stand up with us -- and for us -- in defending that story and fighting that fight, you bring with you the power to transform the entire conversation for everyone.</p> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2014 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '1027301'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=1027301" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 18 Nov 2014 07:02:00 -0800 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 1027301 at https://www.alternet.org LGBTQ LGBTQ Personal Health Sex & Relationships Visions abortion choice pregnancy personhood The Self-Made Myth: Debunking Conservatives' Favorite—And Most Dangerous—Fiction https://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/self-made-myth-debunking-conservatives-favorite-and-most-dangerous-fiction <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1024780'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=1024780" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Nobody ever makes it on their own in America. </div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/shutterstock_196597007.jpg?itok=r1WNBfpb" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>The self-made myth is one of the most cherished foundation stones of the conservative theology. Nurtured by Horatio Alger and generations of beloved boys' stories, It sits at the deep black heart of the entire right-wing worldview, where it provides the essential justification for a great many other common right-wing beliefs. It feeds the accusation that government is evil because it only exists to redistribute wealth from society's producers (self-made, of course) and its parasites (who refuse to work). It justifies conservative rage against progressives, who are seen as wanting to use government to forcibly take away what belongs to the righteous wealthy. It's piously invoked by hedge fund managers and oil billionaires, who think that being required to reinvest any of their wealth back into the public society that made it possible is "punishing success." It's the foundational belief on which all of Ayn Rand's novels stand.</p><p>If you've heard it once from your Fox-watching uncle, you've probably heard it a hundred times. "The government never did anything for me, dammit," he grouses. "Everything I have, I earned. Nobody ever handed me anything. I did it all on my own. I'm a self-made man."</p><p>He's just plain wrong. Flat-out, incontrovertibly, inarguably wrong. So profoundly wrong, in fact, that we probably won't be able to change the national discourse on taxes, infrastructure, education, government investment, technology policy, transportation, welfare, or our future prospects as a country until we can effectively convince the country of the monumental wrongness of this one core point.</p><p><strong>The Built-Together Realty</strong></p><p>Brian Miller and Mike Lapham have written the book that lays out the basic arguments we can use to begin to set things right. <em><a href="http://www.powells.com/partner/32513/biblio/9781609945060">The Self-Made Myth: The Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed</a></em> is a clear, concise, easy-to-read-and-use summary that brings forward a far more accurate argument about government's central role in creating the conditions for economic prosperity and personal opportunity.</p><p>Miller, the executive director of <a href="http://www.faireconomy.org/">United For a Fair Economy</a>, and Lapham, a co-founder of UFE's Responsible Wealth project, argue that the self-made myth absolves our economic leaders from doing anything about inequality, frames fair wages as extortion from deserving producers, and turns the social safety net into a moral hazard that can only promote laziness and sloth. They argue that progressives need to overwrite this fiction with the far more supportable idea of the "built-together reality," which points up the truth that nobody in America ever makes it alone. Every single private fortune can be traced back to basic public investments that have, as Warren Buffet argues in the book, created the most fertile soil on the planet for entrepreneurs to succeed.</p><p>To their credit, Miller and Lapham don't ask us to take this point on faith. Right out of the gate, they regale us with three tales of famous "self-made" men -- Donald Trump, Ross Perot and the Koch brothers -- whose own stories put the lie to the myth. (This section alone is worth the price of admission -- these guys <em>so</em> did not make it on their own!) Once those treasured right-wing exemplars are thoroughly discredited, the middle of the book offers a welcome corrective: interviews with 14 wealthy Americans -- including well-known names like Warren Buffet, Ben Cohen, Abigail Disney, and Amy Domini -- who are very explicit about the ways in which government action laid the groundwork for their success. Over and over, these people credit their wealth to: </p><p><strong>* An excellent education received in public schools and universities. </strong>Jerry Fiddler of Wind River Software (you're probably running his stuff in your cell phone or car) started his computer career at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Bookseller Thelma Kidd got her start at Texas Tech and the University of Michigan. Warren Buffet went to the University of Pennsylvania, a private school, and to the University of Nebraska as an undergrad. And beyond that: several interviewees paid for their educations with federal Pell Grants and Stafford loans.</p><p>Over and over, the point gets made: public universities -- and the good public schools that feed them, and the funding programs that put them within financial reach -- have hatched millions of American entrepreneurs who might not have been fledged without that opportunity to get an education.</p><p> <strong>* The support of the Small Business Administration and other government agencies.</strong> Ben Cohen notes that almost all the business training he and Jerry Greenfield had came from extension courses at the University of Vermont and Penn State, and small brochures produced by the SBA. And as they spun up, they also got an Urban Development Action Grant from the federal government. Other interviewees started their businesses in incubators or other quarters provided or arranged by their local city governments.</p><p><strong>* A strong regulatory environment</strong> that protected their businesses from being undercut by competitors willing to cut corners, and ensured that their manufacturing inputs are of consistently high quality. Glynn Lloyd of Boston's City Fresh Foods points out that nobody in the food business can get by without reliable sources of clean water; and that the USDA inspection process is an important piece of his quality control.</p><p><strong>* Enforceable copyright and intellectual property laws </strong>that enabled them to protect good ideas. Abigail Disney recalls that her father, Roy Disney, and her Uncle Walt made and lost one great cartoon character -- Oswald the Rabbit -- because they didn't have copyright protection. They didn't repeat that mistake when Mickey Mouse was born three years later, launching the Disney empire.</p><p><strong>* A robust system of roads, ports, airports, and mass transit </strong>that enabled them to reliably move their goods both within the US, and around the world. Kim Jordan of New Belgium Brewing (the makers of Fat Tire beer) points out that "Beer is heavy, and it needs to be transported in vehicles. Certainly, the highway system has been important to New Belgium Brewing." Lloyd also points out that Boston's excellent public transit system enables him to draw on a far wider employee base.</p><p><strong>* The government's role in creating the Internet,</strong> without which almost no modern company can function. Anirvan Chatterjee built Bookfinder.com (now a subsidiary of Amazon.com), the world's biggest online used-book marketplace, as an entirely Internet-based company -- an achievement that wouldn't have been remotely imaginable without DARPA, the establishment and enforcement of common protocols, and significant congressional investment in the 1980s to take the Internet commercial.</p><p><strong>* The ability to issue public stock in a fair, reliable, regulated marketplace</strong>  -- a benefit that raised the value of several interviewees' companies by about 30 percent overnight. Peter Barnes, founder of Working Assets, spoke with concern about the loss of trust in this system over the past decade. "The corporate scandals [Enron and Worldcom] caused people to stop trusting the numbers that companies were reporting. Imagine how much value is created by trust and the whole system that assures that trust?"</p><p>Besides the government, most of those interviewed also locate their companies in the context of a large community of customers they utterly depend on for their success. "It takes a village to raise a business," says Nikhil Arora of Back to the Roots, a sustainable products company that came about through partnerships and grants from UC Berkeley, Peet's Coffee and other interested parties.  </p><p>Others are quick to acknowledge the contributions of their employees, without whom their companies wouldn't exist. When Gun Denhart and her husband sold their company, children's clothier Hanna Andersson, in 2003, they distributed a healthy portion of the sale proceeds to their employees, prorated on the basis of their length of service.</p><p>All businesses exist within a vast network of human connections -- customers, vendors, employees, investors, and the communities that support their work. These stories make it clear: saying you did it all yourself and therefore don't owe anybody anything is about as absurd (and self-centered) as saying that you raised yourself from babyhood, without any input from your parents, and therefore don't have any further obligations to your family.</p><p><strong>The Role of Luck and Timing</strong></p><p>We all know wealth isn't just a matter of hard work, brains or talent. Most of us probably know hard-working, brilliant, or extraordinarily talented people who aren't being rewarded at anything close to their true value. So perhaps the most intriguing and useful part of the book is a long discussion of the many other essential factors that go into making someone wealthy -- factors that are blithely brushed off the table whenever the self-made myth is invoked.</p><p>Rich conservatives have to downplay the role of luck. After all, if we think they're just lucky, rather than exceptionally deserving of exceptional wealth, we'll be a lot more justified in taxing their fortunes. But luck -- the fortunate choice of parents, for example, or landing in the right job or industry at the right time -- plays a huge role in any individual's success. Timing also matters: most of the great fortunes of the 19th century were accumulated by men born during the 1830s, who were of an age to capitalize on the huge economic boom created by the expansion of the railroads after the Civil War. Likewise, the great tech fortunes almost all belong to people born between 1950 and 1955, who were well-positioned to create pioneering companies in the tech boom of the late 1970s and 1980s. Such innovative times don't come along very often; and being born when the stars lined up just so doesn't make you more entitled. It just makes you luckier.</p><p>Because Americans in general like to think we're an equal society, we're also quick to discount the importance of race, gender, appearance, class, upbringing, and other essential forms of social capital that can open doors for people who have it -- and close them on those who don't. The self-made myth allows us to deflect our attention from these critical factors, undermining our determination to level the playing field for those who don't start life with a pocket fat with advantages.</p><p><strong>What Changes?</strong></p><p>The book winds up with specific policy prescriptions that can bring the built-together reality back into sharper political and cultural focus. The last section shows how abandoning the self-made myth for a built-together reality creates fresh justification for a more progressive income tax, the repeal of the capital gains exemption and raising corporate and inheritance taxes. It also makes a far more compelling philosophical backdrop against which progressives can argue for increased investment in infrastructure, education, a fair minimum wage, a strong social safety net, and better anti-discrimination laws.</p><p>But the most striking thing about the book -- implicit throughout, but explicit nowhere -- was the alternative vision of capitalism it offers. Throughout the book, Miller and Lapham seem to be making the tacit case that businesses premised on the built-together reality are simply more fair, more generous, more sustainable, and more humane. While far from perfect (Disney's empire being one case in point), they are, as a group, markedly more aware of the high costs of exploiting their workers, their customers, the economy, or the environment. Owners who believe themselves to be beholden to a community for their success will tend to value and invest back into that community, and they seem to be far more willing to realize when they've got enough and it's time to start giving back.</p><p>The implication is clear: if we can interrupt American's long love affair with the self-made myth, we will effectively pull the center tent pole out from under the selfish assumptions that shelter most of the excesses of corporate behavior that characterize our age. This isn't just another point of contention between progressives and conservatives; it's somewhere near the very center of the disconnect between our worldviews. <em>The Self-Made Myth</em> is an essential primer that gives us the language and stories to begin talking about this difference, and the tools to begin to bend that conversation in some new and more hopeful directions.</p> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2014 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '1024780'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=1024780" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 27 Oct 2014 07:55:00 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 1024780 at https://www.alternet.org The Right Wing News & Politics The Right Wing self-made myth responsible wealth fair economy Why Patriarchal Men Are Utterly Petrified of Birth Control and Why We'll Still Be Fighting About It 100 Years From Now https://www.alternet.org/gender/why-patriarchal-men-are-utterly-petrified-birth-control-and-why-well-still-be-fighting-about <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1022950'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=1022950" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Conservatives are fighting a rear-guard action against one of the most revolutionary changes in human history.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/screen_shot_2014-10-13_at_10.55.01_am.png?itok=-YXjUxXX" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>When people look back on the 20th century from the vantage point of 500 years on, they will remember the 1900s for three big things.</p><p>One was the integrated circuit, and (more importantly) the Internet and the information revolution that it made possible. When our descendants look back, they're likely to see this as an all-levels, all-sectors disruption on the scale of the printing press -- but even more all-encompassing. (Google "the Singularity" for scenarios on just how dramatic this might be.)</p><p>The second was the moon landing, a first-time-ever milestone in human history that our galaxy-trotting grandkids five centuries on may well view about the same way we see Magellan’s first daring circumnavigation of the globe.</p><p>But the third one is the silent one, the one that I've never seen come up on anybody’s list of Innovations That Changed The World, but matters perhaps more deeply than any of the more obvious things that usually come to mind. And that’s the mass availability of nearly 100% effective contraception. Far from being a mere 500-year event, we may have to go back to the invention of the wheel or the discovery of fire to find something that’s so completely disruptive to the way humans have lived for the entire duration of our remembered history.</p><p>Until the condom, the diaphragm, the Pill, the IUD, and all the subsequent variants of hormonal fertility control came along, anatomy really was destiny — and all of the world’s societies were organized around that central fact. Women were born to bear children; they had no other life options. With a few rebellious or well-born exceptions (and a few outlier cultures that somehow found their way to a more equal footing), the vast majority of women who’ve ever lived on this planet were tied to home, dependent on men, and subject to all kinds of religious and cultural restrictions designed to guarantee that they bore the right kids to the right man at the right time — even if that meant effectively jailing them at home.</p><p>Our biology reduced us to a kind of chattel, subject to strictures that owed more to property law than the more rights-based laws that applied to men. Becoming literate or mastering a trade or participating in public life wasn’t unheard-of; but unlike the men, the world’s women have always had to fit those extras in around their primary duty to their children and husband — and have usually paid a very stiff price if it was thought that those duties were being neglected.</p><p>Men, in return, thrived. The ego candy they feasted on by virtue of automatically outranking half the world’s population was only the start of it. They got full economic and social control over our bodies, our labor, our affections, and our futures. They got to make the rules, name the gods we would worship, and dictate the terms we would live under. In most cultures, they had the right to sex on demand within the marriage, and also to break their marriage vows with impunity — a luxury that would get women banished or killed. As long as pregnancy remained the defining fact of our lives, they got to run the whole show. The world was their party, and they had a fabulous time. </p><p>Thousands of generations of men and women have lived under some variant of this order — some variations more benevolent, some more brutal, but all similar enough in form and intention — in all times and places, going back to where our memory of time ends. Look at it this way, and you get a striking perspective on just how world-changing it was when, within the span of just a few short decades in the middle of the 20th century, all of that suddenly ended. For the first time in human history, new technologies made fertility a conscious choice for an ever-growing number of the planet’s females. And that, in turn, changed everything else.</p><p>With that one essential choice came the possibility, for the first time, to make a vast range of other choices for ourselves that were simply never within reach before. We could choose to delay childbearing and limit the number of children we raise; and that, in turn, freed up time and energy to explore the world beyond the home. We could refuse to marry or have babies at all, and pursue our other passions instead. Contraception was the single necessary key that opened the door to the whole new universe of activities that had always been zealously monopolized by the men — education, the trades, the arts, government, travel, spiritual and cultural leadership, and even (eventually) war making. </p><p>That one fact, that one technological shift, is now rocking the foundations of every culture on the planet — and will keep rocking it for a very long time to come. It is, over time, bringing a louder and prouder female voice into the running of the world’s affairs at every level, creating new conversations and new priorities in areas where the men long ago thought things were settled and understood. It's bending our understanding of what sex is about, and when and with whom we can have it -- a wrinkle that created new frontiers for gay folk as well. It may well prove to the be the one breakthrough most responsible for the survival of the human race, and the future viability of the planet.</p><p>But perhaps most critically for us right now: mass-produced, affordable, reliable contraception has shredded the ages-old social contracts between men and women, and is forcing us all (willing or not) into wholesale re-negotiations on a raft of new ones.</p><p>And, frankly, while some men have embraced this new order— perhaps seeing in it the potential to open up some interesting new choices for them, too — a global majority is increasingly confused, enraged, and terrified by it. They never wanted to be at this table in the first place, and they’re furious to even find themselves being forced to have this conversation at all. </p><p>It was never meant to happen. It never should have happened. And they’re doing their damndest to put a stop to it all, right now, and make it go away.</p><p>It’s this rage that’s driving Catholic bishops into a frenzied donnybrook fight against contraception — despite the very real possibility that this fight could, in the end, damage their church even more fatally than the molestation scandal did.  As the keepers of a 2000-year-old enterprise — one of the oldest continuously-operating organizations on the planet, in fact — they take the very long view. And they understand, better than most of us, just how unprecedented this development is in the grand sweep of history, and the serious threat it poses to everything their church has stood for going back to antiquity. (Including, very much, the more recent doctrine of papal infallability.)</p><p>That same frantic panic over the loss of the ancient bargain also lies at the core of the worldwide rash of fundamentalist religions. Modern industrial economies have undermined the authority of men both in the public sphere and in the private realms; and since they're limited in how far they can challenge it in the external world, they've turned women's bodies into the symbolic battlefield on which their anxieties over this play out. Drill down to the very deepest center of any of these movements, and you'll find men who are experiencing this change as a kind of personal annihilation, a loss of masculine identity so deep that they are literally interpreting it as the end of the world. (The first rule of understanding apocalyptic movements is this: If someone tells you the world is ending, believe them. Because for them, it probably is.)</p><p>They are, above everything else, desperate to get their women back under firm control. And in their minds, things will not be right again until they’re assured that the girls are locked up even more tightly, so they will never, ever get away like that again.</p><p>If you’re a woman of childbearing age in the US, you’ve had access to effective contraception your entire fertile life; and odds are good that your mother and grandmother did, too. If you're a heterosexual man of almost any age, odds are good that you also enjoy a lifetime of opportunities for sexual openness and variety that your grandfathers probably couldn't have imagined -- also thanks entirely to good contraception. From our individual personal perspectives, it feels like we’ve had this right, and this technology, forever. We take it so completely for granted that we simply cannot imagine that it could ever go away. It leads to a sweet complacency: birth control is something that’s always been there for us, and we’re rather stunned that anybody could possibly find it controversial enough to pick a fight over.</p><p>But if we’re wise, we’ll keep our eyes on the long game, because you can bet that those angry men are, too. The hard fact is this: We’re only 50 years into a revolution that may ultimately take two or three centuries to completely work its way through the world’s many cultures and religions. (To put this in perspective: it was 300 years from Gutenberg’s printing press to the scientific and intellectual re-alignments of the Enlightenment, and to the French and American revolutions that that liberating technology ultimately made possible. These things can take a loooong time to work all the way out.) Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will, in all likelihood, still be working out the details of these new gender agreements a century from now; and it may be a century after that before their grandkids can truly start taking any of this for granted.</p><p>That sounds daunting, though I don’t mean it to be. What I do want is for those of us, male and female, whose lives have been transformed for the better in this new post-Pill order to think in longer terms. Male privilege has been with us for — how long? Ten thousand years? A hundred thousand? Contraception, in the mere blink of an eye in historical terms, toppled the core rationale that justified that entire system. And now, every aspect of human society is frantically racing to catch up with that stunning fact. Everything will have to change in response to this — families, business, religion, politics, economics…everything.</p><p>We're in this catch-up process for the long haul. In the meantime, we shouldn’t be surprised to be confronted by large groups of well-organized men (and their female flunkies, who are legion) marshaling their vast resources to get every last one of Pandora’s frolicking contraception-fueled demons back into the box.  And we need to accept and prepare for the likelihood that much of the history of this century, when it’s finally written, will be the story of our children’s ongoing struggles against the organized powers that intend to seize back the means of our liberation, and turn back the clock to the way things used to be.</p><p>The fight for contraception is not only not over — it hasn’t even really started yet. </p> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2014 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '1022950'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=1022950" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 13 Oct 2014 07:52:00 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 1022950 at https://www.alternet.org LGBTQ Human Rights Culture LGBTQ birth control patriarchy conservatives religion catholics contraception What Some of the Greatest Science Fiction Writers Thought 2012 Would Be Like https://www.alternet.org/visions/what-some-greatest-science-fiction-writers-thought-2012-would-be <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '685252'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=685252" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">25 years ago, a group of writers and scientists offered their visions of today&#039;s world. What did they get right? And what did they miss?</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/2676696330_8e8fa4a995.jpg?itok=vHK5yTyN" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--> <p>Back in 1987, L. Ron Hubbard created a time capsule of sorts. He challenged his fellow science fiction writers, along with a smattering of famous scientists, to write letters to the people of 2012 offering their visions of what the world might look like in another 25 years. (Yes, that Hubbard -- the Scientology guy. But he was a well-known SF writer before he started the church, and it was in that guise that he threw down this challenge.)</p><p>So here we are, in the high summer of 2012, and it's time to go back and see just how much they got right -- and wrong.</p><p>The full collection of letters Hubbard got for his time capsule is <a href="http://www.writersofthefuture.com/time-capsule-predictions">here</a>. A lot of the greats offered their thoughts. There's <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederik_Pohl">Fredrick Pohl</a>, the genre's legendary editor (who's still at it, after 70 years in the business); <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Pournelle">Jerry Pournelle</a>, writer of political and military SF, who also did some speechwriting for President Reagan; <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Zelazny">Roger Zelazny</a>, who mined the world's great mythologies for his stories; <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregory_Benford">Gregory Benford</a>, astrophysicist-turned-Hugo winner; Nobel Prize-winning physicist <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheldon_Lee_Glashow">Sheldon Glashow</a>; and <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Asimov">Isaac Asimov</a>, arguably the greatest of them all.</p><p>I invite you to go read the whole thing, because it's fascinating to see what some of the most forward-thinking and imaginative storytellers of that time saw when they cast themselves toward today. It's a portrait of the hopes and desires of an earlier generation -- some of them uniquely of their time, others the same dreams that every generation carries for its children. And looking at what they got right -- and what they got wrong -- offers some insight into the way we think about our own future now. </p><p>Here's my commentary on some of the topics they touched on.</p><p><strong>Population</strong></p><p>Asimov and Benford both relied on mid-'80s projections that the Earth's population would be at or over 8 billion by now. We should take some encouragement from the fact that they overestimated that figure by a billion souls. Unlike climate change, where our experts' most dire worst-case predictions have consistently undershot what reality delivered, the reverse is true for population. Over the past 40 years, we've succeeded in bending the expected population curve downward significantly -- and that's a really important win for the future of the planet.</p><p><strong>Technology</strong></p><p>The old lions had high hopes for the emergent technologies of the time: nanotech, biotech, genetic engineering. Their letters ooze with envy: they'd love to be here among us here in 2012, enjoying what they imagine will be the abundant fruits of these ripened technologies. (And some of them are indeed still among us -- even old Fred Pohl, who's in his 90s and published his most recent book just last year.)</p><p>Unfortunately, almost none of their expected harvest has come to pass. We are not yet storing computer information in atoms (as <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_Feinberg">Gerald Feinberg</a>, the Columbia physicist who discovered the tachyon, suggested). Using genetic medicine to end diabetes, gout, MS, and Parkinson's (as Glashow forecast) is within just a few years' reach now, but we're not actually there yet. <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dave_Wolverton">Dave Wolverton</a> did accurately describe the GMO food that's on every American's plate now -- though he underestimated the degree to which some of us would be very creeped out by it.</p><p>Almost everybody, save writer's writer <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_Wolfe">Gene Wolfe</a>, thought we'd be well into space by now. Zelazny congratulates us on our space colonies. Benford wonders how things are on Mars. We're still wondering, too.</p><p><strong>Health</strong></p><p>The Big Thinkers, as a group, might be surprised at how healthy we are. In 1987, AIDS was just hitting its full stride as a global health crisis. The first treatments were finally emerging, but nobody knew how far the disease could go or how fast it might overtake humankind. So it's clear that some of them considered it their solemn duty to prepare us for the worst. </p><p>And apart from AIDS, it seemed like a safe prediction then (and still is now) that the next quarter-century would see some kind of Spanish flu-like global pandemic that would cut the world's human population by a billion or more. Wolfe further predicted that fear of increasingly virulent sexually transmitted infections would bring about an age of strict marital fidelity enforced by draconian penalties. We are delighted to report that he could not have possibly been more wrong.</p><p>The fact that the global pandemics so many of the entrants worried about didn't happen is, not to overstate the case, a miracle. Yet they probably weren't wrong to put this on their list back then -- and, given that the odds that we'll produce a world-killer supervirus are even higher now than they were then, we're still right to worry about it today.</p><p><strong>Energy and the Environment</strong></p><p>In 1987, peak oil and climate change weren't widely popular concepts -- but they were already well-understood by people whose business it was to pay attention.  Benford accurately predicted our increasing dependence on shale oil -- and also the looming water crisis, which has the potential to be a far bigger global nightmare than our energy problem, even though it still isn't on enough people's radar even now.</p><p><em>Rogue Moon</em> author <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algis_Budrys">Algys Budrys</a>, in what's easily the most presciently spot-on entry of the entire pack, described a future in which the central driver is the overwhelming need to stop using so much energy, while having no real options to fall back on yet:</p><blockquote><p>Because we will be in a trough between 20th-century resources and 21st-century needs, in 2012 all storable forms of energy will be expensive. Machines will be designed to use only minimal amounts of it. At the same time, there will be a general expectation that a practical cheap-energy delivery system is just around the corner. Individuals basing their career plans on any aspect of technology will concentrate on that future, leaving contemporary machine applications to the less ambitious or to those who foresee a different future....It should be noted that most minimal-energy devices process information and microscopic materials, not consumer goods. The function of "our" society may depend on processing information and biotechnology to subjugate goods-producing societies. These societies may be geographically external, or may be yet another social stratum within central North America. In either case, crowd-management technologies will have to turn away from forms that might in any way impair capital goods production. Social regimentation will then have become so deft that most people will regard any other social milieu as pitiable.</p></blockquote><p>When they got it wrong, they got it really wrong. But when they got it right...</p><p><strong>Education and Culture</strong></p><p>Older generations have decried the ignorance of the youth going back to the days of Plato. So it was completely predictable that a bunch of famous middle-aged scientists and authors in 1987 darkly dreaded a new millennium full of illiterate twits who would "think in images rather than symbols," with literacy confined to a small counterculture, or notable only as the hallmark of membership in the great global oligarchy. Wolfe decried schools that "exist only to train their students for employment—how to report to computers and follow instructions...Fifty million adult Americans are less than fluent in English."  He elaborated:</p><blockquote><p>A literate stratum supplies leadership in government and most (though not all) other fields. Its members are experimenting with sociological simulations that take into account the individual characters and preferences of most of the population. Its aim is to increase the power of the literate class and further limit literacy, without provoking war with the U.S.S.R. or alienating the rising powers—China and the Latin American block. A literate counterculture also exists.</p></blockquote><p>A lot of progressives, in our more cynical moments, would have to agree.</p><p>Wolfe also foresaw the world of computer-generated graphics, which was just emerging in 1987: </p><blockquote><p>The dramas are performed by computer-generated images indistinguishable (on screen) from living people. Scenery is provided by the same method. Although science fiction and fantasy characterize the majority of these dramas, they are not so identified.</p></blockquote><p>It sounds like he saw <em>Brave</em> -- 25 years before it got made.</p><p><strong>Nuclear War, World Power and the USSR</strong></p><p>In 1987, the Berlin Wall was still standing, the USSR was still the Other Big Power, the Cold War was the defining fact around which all global politics turned, and Japan was a rising tiger that was just starting to make Americans nervous.</p><p>Where would all this lead? Sheldon Glashow pulled no punches. By 2012, he said: </p><blockquote><p>There will have been no nuclear war, and the threat of such a war will have been removed by the mutual nuclear disarmament of the major powers. SDI, Reagan's ill advised Star Wars program will have come to nothing.</p></blockquote><p>And further:</p><blockquote><p>The American economy will have experienced a gentle yet relentless decline. Our children will not live such comfortable lives as we do. The spread between the rich and the poor will have grown, and crime will have become so prevalent as to threaten the social fabric. The rich and the poor will form 2 armed camps. Most automobiles and heavy machinery will be manufactured in Japanese owned planets located in America. Yet, agriculture and higher education will be our most successful exports. There will be no fast trains connecting American cities, but a network of levitated superconducting trains will be under construction in Western Europe and in Japan.</p></blockquote><p>So far, so good. But then Glashow lost his foresight mojo:</p><blockquote><p>Japan will be the central economic power in the world, owning or controlling a significant part of European and American industries. This "economic dictatorship" will be beneficial to Japan's client states, since Japan benefits by keeping its customers healthy and wealthy. Indeed, a peaceful and prosperous world community will owe its existence to this Pax Japanica.</p></blockquote><p>Orson Scott Card, the author of <em>The Abyss</em> and <em>Ender's Game</em>, was the only one who truly understood that America in 1985 was approaching the beginning of the end of its time as the world's dominant power -- and also the only one who hinted at the end of the Soviet Union, which would result in a rapid global political decentralization. And he offered a potent warning that still rings true: </p><blockquote><p>If America is to recover, we must stop pretending to be what we were in 1950, and reorder our values away from pursuit of privilege.</p></blockquote><p><strong>Hopes, Fears and Foolishness</strong></p><p>Some of the predictions were just specious and silly. Jerry Pournelle foresaw computers winning prestigious literary prizes. Yeah, we've got computers producing text now -- but they're a long way from passing any <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test">Turing tests</a>. Steampunk pioneer <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test">Tim Powers</a> was betting his copyrights on cryonics, and predicted a boom in lawyers representing the deceased.</p><p>Fredrick Pohl, tongue firmly in cheek, applied a time-honored futuring tool: lay out your assumptions for a most-likely future, and then turn every assumption and trend on its head until you get a mirror-image future in which every variable becomes its opposite. Since Pohl started with the most pessimistic assumptions possible back in 1987, his vision of 2012 is the most rosy and utopian of all: a world of global peace and prosperity, free of arms and armies, longevity and leisure, happiness and healed Earth. "It is therefore clear that to make the predictions above is to bet recklessly against the odds," he concluded. "It's still a good bet, though."</p><p><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Powers">Jack Williamson</a> (the science fiction grandmaster who coined the word "terraforming") tempered his despair with hope -- as we all should:</p><blockquote><p>If we had a time-phone, now in 1987, we would beg you to forgive us. We have burdened you with impossible debts, wasted and polluted the planet that should have been your rich heritage, left you instead a dreadful legacy of ignorance, want, and war.</p><p>Yet, in spite of that, we have a proud faith in you. Faith that you have saved yourselves, that you are giving birth to no more children than you can love and nurture, that you have cleansed and healed your injured planet, ended hunger, conquered crime, learned to live in peace.</p><p>Looking toward a better future for you than we can see for ourselves, we trust that you will use your computers and all your new electronic media to inform and liberate, not to dominate and oppress, trust that you will employ the arts of genetic engineering to advance the human species and make your children better than yourselves. We know that you will be inventing new sciences that would dazzle us, opening brave new frontiers, climbing on toward the stars.</p><p>We live again through you.</p></blockquote><p>And I'll give Gene Wolfe the last word:</p><blockquote><p>It is of course to you of this counterculture that I write to say, take heart! Twenty-five years is no great length upon the long scale of history. In my time too, the age was dark. But we are summoning the sun. </p></blockquote><p>The age is indeed dark -- darker than anybody in 1987 could have possibly foreseen. But we still have a future to make. And we're still summoning the sun.</p> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '685252'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=685252" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 01 Aug 2012 13:58:00 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 685252 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Culture Visions science fiction hubbard asimov forecasts The New Totalitarianism: How American Corporations Have Made America Like the Soviet Union https://www.alternet.org/story/156311/the_new_totalitarianism%3A_how_american_corporations_have_made_america_like_the_soviet_union <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '671689'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=671689" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Free-market capitalism was supposed to save us from the tyranny of faceless apparatchiks. But that&#039;s not what happened.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1342194823_290603668c84ba6d165.jpg?itok=aeeXz1W9" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> The great power struggle of the 20th century was the competition between Soviet-style communism and "free-market" corporatism for domination of the world's resources. In America, it's taken for granted that Soviet communism lost (though China's more capitalist variant seems to be doing well), and the superiority of neo-liberal economics -- as epitomized by the great multinational corporations -- was thus affirmed for all time and eternity.</p> <p> There's a small problem with this, though. An old bit of wisdom says: choose your enemies carefully, because over time, you will tend to become the very thing you most strongly resist. One of the most striking things about our victorious corporations now is the degree to which they've taken on some of the most noxious and Kafkaesque attributes of the Soviet system -- too often leaving their employees, customers, and other stakeholders just as powerless over their own fates as the unhappy citizens of those old centrally planned economies of the USSR were back in the day.</p> <p> It's not just that the corporations have taken control over our government (though that's awful enough). It's also that they've taken control over -- and put serious limits on -- our choices regarding what we buy, where we work, how we live, and what rights we have. Our futures are increasingly no longer our own: more and more decisions, large and small, that determine the quality of our lives are being made by Politburo apparatchiks at a Supreme Corporate Soviet somewhere far distant from us. Only now, those apparatchiks are PR and marketing executives, titans of corporate finance, lobbyists for multinationals, and bean-counting managers trying to increase profits at the expense of our freedom.</p> <p> With tongue only somewhat in cheek, here are a few ways in which Americans are now becoming a new lumpenproletariat, subject to the whims and diktats of our new Soviet-style corporate overlords.</p> <p> <strong>Reduced Choice and Big-Box Censorship</strong></p> <p> We see it most evidently when we go to the store. Back in the 1970s, the American retail landscape was still mostly dominated by mom-and-pop stores, which in turn carried merchandise also made by small manufacturers (many of them right here in the US). Not only did this complex economy sustain tens of millions of comfortable middle-class jobs; it also produced a dazzling variety of retail choices. Every store on Main Street carried somewhat different merchandise, bought from a different group of preferred suppliers. A shoe store might carry 20 different brands. The shoe store down the street might differentiate itself by carrying 10 of the same brands, and 10 different ones. The result was a very wide range of consumer choices -- though you did have to go from store to store to find it -- and a rich variety of stores that competed aggressively for their customers' attention. And if you visited a different part of the country, the selection might be very different from what you'd get back home.</p> <p> Now, every Macy's in America carries the same dozen or so lines of bland, middle-of-the-road women's clothing. You'll find exactly the same stuff on the racks in Long Island as you do in Long Beach. If you're looking for something that hasn't been dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, you probably won't find it at the mall.</p> <p> Big-box stores have eliminated choice even further: The Supreme Soviet in Bentonville or Atlanta or Minneapolis has decreed what appears on the shelves of your local Walmart or Home Depot or Target store, with very little tailoring to local tastes and preferences. (Even our own tap water is being sold back to us by Coke and Pepsi.) You have exactly as many choices as they deign to devote shelf space to. Now that <a href="http://www.ecori.org/local-food/2011/7/26/wal-mart-aims-to-crush-food-deserts-small-farms.html">Wal-Mart is selling 25% of the groceries in America</a>, if you're looking for a specific brand that someone back in Bentonville decided Walmart will no longer carry, then you're just plain out of luck. And since the other grocers in town often close up when a Walmart opens, there's no place else to turn to find it.</p> <p> This constriction of choice is most virulent when it comes to media. Big-box stores have very limited shelf space for each product category they carry; yet they are far and away the nation's biggest purchasers of things like toys and video games. For the past 20 years, this fact has dominated decision-making in both those businesses: manufacturers know viscerally that if the buyers at Walmart aren't interested in your toy or game, there's probably no economic point in even making it. So everything is made with these buyers' sensibilities, prejudices and cost requirements in mind. This became a de facto form of centralized control, where a handful of buyers in Bentonville ended up dictating what the entire country got to play with.</p> <p> Increasingly, the corporatization of our consumer landscape has meant that there's less choice and variety in our marketplaces than there used to be. Centrally planned franchise and chain stores have been stripped of quirkiness, uniqueness, local color, and anything that might be challenging to the most easily upset among us. The result is that we're left with a bland, santized, Disneyfied set of choices in goods, experiences, entertainment, and ideas that's a far cry from the lively, authentic Main Street scene those stores killed -- and which has brought us several steps closer to the scary stereotype of the limited and poorly stocked state-controlled Soviet shops we were constantly threatened with during the Cold War. Yeah, it's still better -- but not as much better as it should be.</p> <p> The Sovietization of malls and big-box stores has launched a couple of backlashes. Online shopping is the new refuge of people who are looking for a broader set of options. Local producers of food, clothing, grooming supplies, furniture, and other goods are stepping up to scratch our itch for things that are unique and special. These are both end-runs around the corporatized retail order that's been systematically stripping away consumer choice for decades. But they've got a long way to go before they'll supplant the neighborhood hegemony of Walgreens.</p> <p> <strong>Health Care</strong></p> <p> The Supreme Health Care Soviet has also done a number on the kind of health care we get, how we get it, where we get it, and who we can get it from. Again: there was a time not so long ago when health care was in the hands of a doctor, who was usually in independent practice (often in a partnership with a couple of other doctors, but that's it), and who had wide leeway to dictate patient care without being second-guessed. The doctor got sound, reliable information on new treatments from respected peer-reviewed journals, and insurance companies generally paid for most of what he or she ordered without further ado. This extreme level of autonomy notoriously led to doctors who overestimated their capacities; but it also meant that whatever happened in an examination room was -- to an extraordinary degree -- left in the hands of the doctor and the patient, and nobody else was entitled to interfere. The result was that, in the struggle between science and the doctor's profit motive, science stood at least a fighting chance of prevailing.</p> <p> Now, the profit Politburo has had its way with almost every aspect of this interaction. Two-thirds of <a href="http://www.physicianspractice.com/blog/content/article/1462168/1880809">primary care doctors don't own their own practices</a> anymore -- in no small part because the administrative cost of dealing with <strike>Soviet bureaucrats</strike> insurance company overseers is so overwhelming. Now, they're salaried employees of some large corporate entity, where they're subject to constant pressure to shorten visits, rack up billable hours, stick to narrow protocols of accepted treatment and churn patients through.</p> <p> Insurance bean-counters second-guess every order, requiring doctors to put in extra shifts each week writing letters and making phone calls to fight for their patients' right to care. Every channel they rely on for information on new drugs and treatments -- from the peer-reviewed journals to the medical conferences to the drug information inserts -- has been co-opted by the pharmaceutical companies to ensure that doctors won't ever get important information that might reflect badly on profitable drugs; and this, in turn, undermines evidence-based medicine in favor of a kind of corporate-driven Lysenkoism.</p> <p> Increasingly, states are also inviting themselves into the exam room, passing laws telling doctors what they can and can't tell you about your own condition (and, in some cases, demanding that they out-and-out lie to you, for reasons that are entirely political and seldom supported by science). And as a patient, your access to this co-opted, compromised care is entirely dependent on what the Politburo apparatchiks at your own employer's corporate HQ have decided you deserve to have.</p> <p> Again: what we've got here isn't anything like a free or independent system, one in which patients and doctors are at liberty to make appropriate decisions without layers of centralized interference (much of it from people who aren't even MDs). And most of this interference isn't from government; it's from various corporate interests that have subjugated both doctors and patients to a centralization regime in order to extract profits from them. During the Cold War, this is what we were told Soviet medicine was like. Now, we don't have to go to Russia: we can get the same regimented, over-managed treatment from our own free-market health system -- and we'll pay more for it than anybody else in the world.</p> <p> <strong>Education: Testing, Not Teaching</strong></p> <p> My eighth-grade civics teacher used to terrify our class with grim stories about the education endured by our unlucky peers in the USSR. Communist education, she said, was nothing but rote learning -- no discussion, no critical thinking skills, all aimed at preparing kids for high-stakes standardized testing that would ultimately determine their place in the Party hierarchy. They weren't free like we were to explore our own interests, or choose professions that pleased them. Rather than being treated like full, autonomous human beings being prepared for a limitless future of their own design, they were sorted and graded like potatoes, and tracked to serve the needs of the state. All of the decisions, we were told, were dictated by the central authorities in charge of determining what kind of workers the state would need, and which schools students would be sent to in order to fulfill those goals.</p> <p> The ironies abound. Even as China has ramped up its efforts to inculcate creativity and critical thought in its students, the United States has voluntarily given up on those values -- our competitive edge over the world for the past 150 years -- in favor of a centralized, test-driven schooling regimen that only a Soviet bureaucrat could love. Increasingly, the doors to the best high schools and universities are closed to everyone but those in the top echelons of society, just as the best schools in the USSR were set aside for the children of the Party leadership. But the greatest irony of all is that, far from being done in the name of the state, this is being done by taking education out of the hands of the state and giving it over to for-profit corporations. Again, the more "private industry" gets involved, the more the outcome looks like something from a 1950s John Birch caricature of the horrors of Soviet life.</p> <p> <strong>And On It Goes</strong></p> <p> These are just three easy examples. There are plenty more to be had:</p> <p> * Our modern homes are designed by marketing researchers working for Soviet-style large developers that dictate what The People's Houses should look like.</p> <p> * Our food supply is dominated by Soviet-style government-mandated (but privately run) monoculture.</p> <p> * Our voting system is increasingly restricted to people who are acceptable to the party hierarchy, just as the Soviet system limited Communist Party membership to a small percentage of the population; and corporate-owned machines count our votes.</p> <p> * Our increasingly privatized and militarized law enforcement is starting to owe a lot to the brutal Soviet policing style, too. We have gulags now -- and the corporations are running them, too.</p> <p> * Our response to climate change is being driven by another form of Lysenkoism -- a science-denial movement driven by corporations that are threatened by any demand that they change their ways.</p> <p> * And anybody who's dealt with a bank foreclosure can tell you stories that would cross Franz Kafka's eyes about the runaround they get every time they try to contact their lender. Checks and papers vanish, and must be sent over and over. Payments are never posted. And you can never talk to the same person twice. (We used to think the DMV was bad enough, but now we know: it takes a corporation to really screw things up.) This kind of faceless, brutally inhuman bureaucracy used to be the stuff of totalitarian nightmares. Now, it's everyday reality for tens of millions of American homeowners.</p> <p> This is corporate-sponsored tyranny that comes at a huge expense to the masses. The great irony of our age is that, over the past 60 years, the more energy we put into resisting Communism by raising up the cult of the consumer (and the corporations that serviced it), the more our own corporate overlords were able to seize our resources and energy, and divert them into the goal of consolidating their power and inflicting their own totalitarian, centrally planned hell on us.</p> <p> The USSR has been a historical dead letter for over 20 years now -- but there are still plenty of earnest Fox-watching Americans for whom "communism" remains the most terrifying of all scare words. They're vigilantly watching the leftward horizon, scanning for signs of government-inflicted socialism, ready to strip their own democracy of its very ability to thwart totalitarians if that's what must be done to stop totalitarianism.</p> <p> Unfortunately, they're facing the wrong direction. The real threat of dignity-stripping, liberty-destroying, soul-crushing oppression is coming not from government, but from the very corporations those same people believed were the key to our superiority over the Communist menace. Now that the government can't protect us from rapacious businesses any more, the centrally planned authoritarian state they've feared is already coming to pass -- privately, for the profit of the few, free from pesky accountability or oversight, and without a bit of resistance from the would-be patriots who have been on guard for decades to ensure it could never happen here.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '671689'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=671689" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Sun, 15 Jul 2012 20:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 671689 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions Labor Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Human Rights corporations health care consumer foreclosure soviet Six Reasons We Can't Change The Future Without Progressive Religion https://www.alternet.org/story/156207/six_reasons_we_can%27t_change_the_future_without_progressive_religion <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '671571'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=671571" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Often, religion offers much that progressives need to build movements for change.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/storyimages_080121mlkvmed6awidec.jpg?itok=r8Qp2_lJ" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>One of the great historical strengths of the progressive movement has been its resolute commitment to the separation of church and state. As progressives, we don't want our government influenced by anybody's religious laws. Instead of superstition and mob id, we prefer to have real science, based in real data and real evidence, guiding public policy. Instead of holy wars, othering, and social repression -- the inevitable by-products of theocracy -- we think that drawing from the widest possible range of philosophical traditions makes America smarter, stronger, and more durable over time.</p><p>That said: while we all want a government free of religion, there are good reasons that we may not want our own progressive movement to be shorn of every last spiritual impulse. In fact, the history of the progressive movement has shown us, over and over, that there are things that the spiritual community brings to political movements that are essential for success, and can't easily be replaced with anything else.</p><p>Religion has been central to the formation of human communities -- and to how we approach the future -- for as long as homo sapiens has been around. Apart from God-belief (which varies widely between religions), all successful religions thrive and endure because they offer their adherents a variety of effective community-building, social activism, and change management tools that, taken together, make religion quite possibly the most powerful social change technology humans have ever developed.</p><p>What does religion offer that progressives need to make our movement work?</p><p>First: there's nothing like it if you want to bond a bunch of very diverse people into a tight community of shared meaning and value. A religious congregation brings together people of all ages, backgrounds, educational levels, professional rank, and life circumstances, and melds them into an enduring tribe that's centered around a shared commitment to mutual trust and care, and (most importantly) has a clear and vivid shared vision of the future they're trying to create.</p><p>There is simply no other organizational form that encourages people to share their time, energy, and resources so quickly, completely, or enduringly; or aligns so much conviction toward the same goal. (This is why the leaders of corporations, the marketers of sports teams, and the military all study religious cultures, and try to appropriate their tribe-building techniques for their own purposes.) The resulting tribes can last for many centuries -- and acquire a resounding moral voice that can reverberate throughout their larger communities, and well beyond. If you want to change the world, this is the kind of group -- deeply bound by faith, trust, love, history, and a commitment to each other and to the world they envision that transcends life and death -- that's most likely to get it done. Religion is the best way going to get people to consecrate themselves, body and soul, to a larger cause; and to take on the kind of all-or-nothing risks that are often required to really change the world.</p><p>Second, religious narratives center people in the long arc of history, telling them where they came from, who they are, what they are capable of, and what kind of future is possible. History does this, too; but religion does it at a deeper, mythic level that gives these stories extra emotional and cognitive resonance. For most of human history, in fact, the task of imagining a different future and giving people the inspiration and courage to reach for it has been the primary role of religious prophets. (So has the job of warning the people that they're wandering into grave error or betraying their own values, and must change their ways or face disaster.) Religion is the native home of the prophetic voice -- the voice that calls people to transformative change. Throughout America's history, our most evocative political prophets -- both Roosevelts, all the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Van Jones, Barack Obama -- have invariably been people who spent a lot of time in the pews, learning to speak the kind of language that calls us to a better place.</p><p>Third, over the course of American history, liberal religious faiths have been the primary promoter of progressive values throughout the culture -- and also the leading institution when it came time to inculcate our progressive sensibilities into the next generation. Many, if not most, progressives in America are progressive specifically because they believe that this is what their faith demands of them. They're raising their kids in churches and temples because they believe, as the Bible says, that "if you train up a child in the way that he should go, when he is old, he will not depart from it."</p><p>Liberal congregations have etched our values onto the young souls of tens of millions of American progressives, over three centuries and dozens of generations. Do we really want to try to do without them now?</p><p>Fourth, progressive religion has always been America's most credible and aggressive front-line defender of non-market-based values against the onslaught of capitalism and greed. In recent years, as the “free-market” fetishists took over (and gulled American Evangelicals into shilling for their hellish utilitarianism), our liberal faith communities -- mainline Protestants and liberal Catholics, Jews and Quakers, Unitarian Universalists and the rising wave of reformist Muslims -- are the strongest remaining cultural forces left with the moral authority to insist that we have a duty to the poor, that democracy cannot survive without a commitment to justice, and that compassion is always a better survival strategy than competition.</p><p>The market says: Everything and everybody has a price, and is for sale. Faith says: The most valuable things in our lives -- good health, safe food, strong families, a clean environment, a just economy, meaningful work, access to opportunity -- are beyond price, and should by right be available to us all. Our faith communities (especially, but not always exclusively, the progressive ones) have always held this light up within our culture, and it's never been needed more than it's needed right now.</p><p>Fifth, in a nation where over <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/147887/americans-continue-believe-god.aspx">90% of everybody has some kind of God-belief</a> -- and the overwhelming majority of them ground their political decisions in that belief -- abandoning the entire landscape of faith to the right wing amounts to political malpractice. For most Americans, our religious worldviews are the epistemological soil in which every other decision we make is rooted -- the basic model of reality that we use to navigate the world. When we stopped engaging people's basic model of moral order, we effectively ceded the entire moral landscape of the nation to our enemies. It was, in retrospect, perhaps the most self-destructive error we've made over the past 40 years (and that's saying something).</p><p>To our credit, a lot of our best organizers and activists are starting to realize the magnitude of this mistake. We're paying a lot more attention these days to learning to clearly articulate progressive values, to express ourselves in explicitly moral language, and to put forward more strongly progressive frames, narratives, and future visions to counter the bankrupt conservative worldview that's brought us to this sorry place in history.</p><p>But while we're working toward some new understandings here, let's also remember that the right wing's success on taking this field was rooted directly in their ability to mobilize conservative churches to carry the moral banner forward into the culture for them. If we're going to overwrite their brutal and anti-democratic story of how the world works, the most important step we can take is to tap into the vast reach and deep moral authority of our remaining progressive faith communities, and amplify their voices every way we can. Churches and temples have always been the first and most natural places Americans turn when it's time to have serious cultural conversations about value and meaning and the future they desire. If we're serious about changing the national story and bending the future in our preferred direction, then that's where we need to be.</p><p>Sixth: Progressive faiths, across the board, promote the essential belief that human communities are, in themselves, inherently and intrinsically sacred. In fact, progressive atheists may be surprised to learn that among their more religious brothers and sisters, there's very little agreement about the nature of God -- but a very strong consensus that the act of radical community-making is the most intensely holy and essential work that they do.</p><p>If there is a God (and progressives of faith debate that question endlessly), then we might most reliably see the face of that divinity in that permanent circle of friends with whom we celebrate life's passages and joys, and wrestle with its hardest challenges -- the people whom we trust to stand with us no matter what comes, and who will work with us tirelessly toward our shared vision of a better world. It's this deep faith in the dream of the beloved community that also feeds our faith in the potential of good government, and our confidence in the unleashed potential of the American people. (And furthermore: I don't think I've ever met a progressive atheist who would disagree on this point.)</p><p>Across all the long centuries of the American progressive movement, we've never launched a successful change wave that didn't draw most of its leadership, its base, and its moral grounding from the country's deep liberal religious tradition.</p><p>Our churches and temples have been the fountain, the rock, the mother source of our movement from the very beginning. Progressives of faith have always played a central role in our political victories in the past. It's time to stop imagining that somehow, we're going to take the country back without them now.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates.</p> </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '671571'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=671571" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Sun, 08 Jul 2012 20:00:00 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 671571 at https://www.alternet.org News & Politics Belief religion organizing progressive church belief movement Conservative Southern Values Revived: How a Brutal Strain of American Aristocrats Have Come to Rule America https://www.alternet.org/story/156071/conservative_southern_values_revived%3A_how_a_brutal_strain_of_american_aristocrats_have_come_to_rule_america <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '671441'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=671441" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">America didn&#039;t used to be run like an old Southern slave plantation, but we&#039;re headed that way now. How did that happen?</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1340847244_shutterstock75441469.jpg?itok=3EHE4p2Y" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> It's been said that the rich are different than you and me. What most Americans don't know is that they're also quite different from each other, and that which faction is currently running the show ultimately makes a vast difference in the kind of country we are.</p> <p> Right now, a lot of our problems stem directly from the fact that the wrong sort has finally gotten the upper hand; a particularly brutal and anti-democratic strain of American aristocrat that the other elites have mostly managed to keep away from the levers of power since the Revolution. Worse: this bunch has set a very ugly tone that's corrupted how people with power and money behave in every corner of our culture. Here's what happened, and how it happened, and what it means for America now.</p> <p> <strong>North versus South: Two Definitions of Liberty</strong></p> <p> Michael Lind first called out the existence of this conflict in his 2006 book, <a href="http://www.powells.com/partner/32513/biblio/9780465041220"><em>Made In Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics</em></a>. He argued that much of American history has been characterized by a struggle between two historical factions among the American elite -- and that the election of George W. Bush was a definitive sign that the wrong side was winning.</p> <p> For most of our history, American economics, culture and politics have been dominated by a New England-based Yankee aristocracy that was rooted in Puritan communitarian values, educated at the Ivies and marinated in an ethic of <em>noblesse oblige</em>(the conviction that those who possess wealth and power are morally bound to use it for the betterment of society). While they've done their share of damage to the notion of democracy in the name of profit (as all financial elites inevitably do), this group has, for the most part, tempered its predatory instincts with a code that valued mass education and human rights; held up public service as both a duty and an honor; and imbued them with the belief that once you made your nut, you had a moral duty to do something positive with it for the betterment of mankind. Your own legacy depended on this.</p> <p> Among the presidents, this strain gave us both Roosevelts, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy, and Poppy Bush -- nerdy, wonky intellectuals who, for all their faults, at least took the business of good government seriously. Among financial elites, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet still both partake strongly of this traditional view of wealth as power to be used for good. Even if we don't like their specific choices, the core impulse to improve the world is a good one -- and one that's been conspicuously absent in other aristocratic cultures.</p> <p> Which brings us to that other great historical American nobility -- the plantation aristocracy of the lowland South, which has been notable throughout its 400-year history for its utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.</p> <p> As described by Colin Woodard in <a href="http://www.powells.com/partner/32513/biblio/9780670022960"><em>American Nations: The Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America</em></a>, the elites of the Deep South are descended mainly from the owners of sugar, rum and cotton plantations from Barbados -- the younger sons of the British nobility who'd farmed up the Caribbean islands, and then came ashore to the southern coasts seeking more land. Woodward described the culture they created in the crescent stretching from Charleston, SC around to New Orleans this way:</p> <blockquote> <p> It was a near-carbon copy of the West Indian slave state these Barbadians had left behind, a place notorious even then for its inhumanity....From the outset, Deep Southern culture was based on radical disparities in wealth and power, with a tiny elite commanding total obedience and enforcing it with state-sponsored terror. Its expansionist ambitions would put it on a collision course with its Yankee rivals, triggering military, social, and political conflicts that continue to plague the United States to this day.</p></blockquote> <p> David Hackett Fischer, whose <a href="http://www.powells.com/partner/32513/biblio/9780195069051"><em>Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways In America</em></a> informs both Lind's and Woodard's work, described just how deeply undemocratic the Southern aristocracy was, and still is. He documents how these elites have always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press. (Lind adds that they have historically been profoundly anti-technology as well, far preferring solutions that involve finding more serfs and throwing them at a problem whenever possible. Why buy a bulldozer when 150 convicts on a chain gang can grade your road instead?) Unlike the Puritan elites, who wore their wealth modestly and dedicated themselves to the common good, Southern elites sank their money into ostentatious homes and clothing and the pursuit of pleasure -- including lavish parties, games of fortune, predatory sexual conquests, and blood sports involving ritualized animal abuse spectacles.</p> <p> But perhaps the most destructive piece of the Southern elites' worldview is the extremely anti-democratic way it defined the very idea of liberty. In Yankee Puritan culture, both liberty and authority resided mostly with the community, and not so much with individuals. Communities had both the freedom and the duty to govern themselves as they wished (through town meetings and so on), to invest in their collective good, and to favor or punish individuals whose behavior enhanced or threatened the whole (historically, through community rewards such as elevation to positions of public authority and trust; or community punishments like shaming, shunning or banishing).</p> <p> Individuals were expected to balance their personal needs and desires against the greater good of the collective -- and, occasionally, to make sacrifices for the betterment of everyone. (This is why the Puritan wealthy tended to dutifully pay their taxes, tithe in their churches and donate generously to create hospitals, parks and universities.) In return, the community had a solemn and inescapable moral duty to care for its sick, educate its young and provide for its needy -- the kind of support that maximizes each person's liberty to live in dignity and achieve his or her potential. A Yankee community that failed to provide such support brought shame upon itself. To this day, our progressive politics are deeply informed by this Puritan view of ordered liberty.</p> <p> In the old South, on the other hand, the degree of liberty you enjoyed was a direct function of your God-given place in the social hierarchy. The higher your status, the more authority you had, and the more "liberty" you could exercise -- which meant, in practical terms, that you had the right to take more "liberties" with the lives, rights and property of other people. Like an English lord unfettered from the Magna Carta, nobody had the authority to tell a Southern gentleman what to do with resources under his control. In this model, that's what liberty <em>is</em>. If you don't have the freedom to rape, beat, torture, kill, enslave, or exploit your underlings (including your wife and children) with impunity -- or abuse the land, or enforce rules on others that you will never have to answer to yourself -- then you can't really call yourself a free man.</p> <p> When a Southern conservative talks about "losing his liberty," the loss of this absolute domination over the people and property under his control -- and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws that he was once exempt from -- is what he's really talking about. In this view, freedom is a zero-sum game. Anything that gives more freedom and rights to lower-status people can't help but put serious limits on the freedom of the upper classes to use those people as they please. It cannot be any other way. So they find Yankee-style rights expansions absolutely intolerable, to the point where they're willing to fight and die to preserve their divine right to rule.</p> <p> Once we understand the two different definitions of "liberty" at work here, a lot of other things suddenly make much more sense. We can understand the traditional Southern antipathy to education, progress, public investment, unionization, equal opportunity, and civil rights. The fervent belief among these elites that they should completely escape any legal or social accountability for any harm they cause. Their obsessive attention to where they fall in the status hierarchies. And, most of all -- the unremitting and unapologetic brutality with which they've defended these "liberties" across the length of their history.</p> <p> When Southerners quote Patrick Henry -- "Give me liberty or give me death" -- what they're really demanding is the unquestioned, unrestrained right to turn their fellow citizens into supplicants and subjects. The Yankee elites have always known this -- and feared what would happen if that kind of aristocracy took control of the country. And that tension between these two very different views of what it means to be "elite" has inflected our history for over 400 years.</p> <p> <strong>The Battle Between the Elites</strong></p> <p> Since shortly after the Revolution, the Yankee elites have worked hard to keep the upper hand on America's culture, economy and politics -- and much of our success as a nation rests on their success at keeping plantation culture sequestered in the South, and its scions largely away from the levers of power. If we have to have an elite -- and there's never been a society as complex as ours that didn't have some kind of upper class maintaining social order -- we're far better off in the hands of one that's essentially meritocratic, civic-minded and generally believes that it will do better when everybody else does better, too.</p> <p> The Civil War was, at its core, a military battle between these two elites for the soul of the country. It pitted the more communalist, democratic and industrialized Northern vision of the American future against the hierarchical, aristocratic, agrarian Southern one. Though the Union won the war, the fundamental conflict at its root still hasn't been resolved to this day. (The current conservative culture war is the Civil War still being re-fought by other means.) After the war, the rise of Northern industrialists and the dominance of Northern universities and media ensured that subsequent generations of the American power elite continued to subscribe to the Northern worldview -- even when the individual leaders came from other parts of the country.</p> <p> Ironically, though: it was that old Yankee commitment to national betterment that ultimately gave the Southern aristocracy its big chance to break out and go national. According to Lind, it was easy for the Northeast to hold onto cultural, political and economic power as long as all the country's major banks, businesses, universities, and industries were headquartered there. But the New Deal -- and, especially, the post-war interstate highways, dams, power grids, and other infrastructure investments that gave rise to the Sun Belt -- fatally loosened the Yankees' stranglehold on national power. The gleaming new cities of the South and West shifted the American population centers westward, unleashing new political and economic forces with real power to challenge the Yankee consensus. And because a vast number of these westward migrants came out of the South, the elites that rose along with these cities tended to hew to the old Southern code, and either tacitly or openly resist the moral imperatives of the Yankee canon. The soaring postwar fortunes of cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Houston, Dallas, and Atlanta fed that ancient Barbadian slaveholder model of power with plenty of room and resources to launch a fresh and unexpected 20th-century revival.</p> <p> According to historian Darren Dochuk, the author of <em><a href="http://www.powells.com/partner/32513/biblio/9780393339048">From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism</a></em>, these post-war Southerners and Westerners drew their power from the new wealth provided by the defense, energy, real estate, and other economic booms in their regions. They also had a profound evangelical conviction, brought with them out of the South, that God wanted them to take America back from the Yankee liberals -- a conviction that expressed itself simultaneously in both the formation of the vast post-war evangelical churches (which were major disseminators of Southern culture around the country); and in their takeover of the GOP, starting with Barry Goldwater's campaign in 1964 and culminating with Ronald Reagan's election in 1980.</p> <p> They countered Yankee hegemony by building their own universities, grooming their own leaders and creating their own media. By the 1990s, they were staging the RINO hunts that drove the last Republican moderates (almost all of them Yankees, by either geography or cultural background) and the meritocratic order they represented to total extinction within the GOP. A decade later, the Tea Party became the voice of the unleashed id of the old Southern order, bringing it forward into the 21st century with its full measure of selfishness, racism, superstition, and brutality intact.</p> <p> <strong>Plantation America</strong></p> <p> From its origins in the fever swamps of the lowland south, the worldview of the old Southern aristocracy can now be found nationwide. Buttressed by the arguments of Ayn Rand -- who updated the ancient slaveholder ethic for the modern age -- it has been exported to every corner of the culture, infected most of our other elite communities and killed off all but the very last vestiges of noblesse oblige.</p> <p> It's not an overstatement to say that we're now living in Plantation America. As Lind points out: to the horror of his Yankee father, George W. Bush proceeded to run the country exactly like Woodard's description of a Barbadian slavelord. And Barack Obama has done almost nothing to roll this victory back. We're now living in an America where rampant inequality is accepted, and even celebrated.</p> <p> Torture and extrajudicial killing have been reinstated, with no due process required.</p> <p> The wealthy and powerful are free to abuse employees, break laws, destroy the commons, and crash the economy -- without ever being held to account.</p> <p> The rich flaunt their ostentatious wealth without even the pretense of humility, modesty, generosity, or gratitude. </p> <p> The military -- always a Southern-dominated institution -- sucks down 60% of our federal discretionary spending, and is undergoing a rapid evangelical takeover as well.</p> <p> Our police are being given paramilitary training and powers that are completely out of line with their duty to serve and protect, but much more in keeping with a mission to subdue and suppress. Even liberal cities like Seattle are now home to the kind of local justice that used to be the hallmark of small-town Alabama sheriffs.</p> <p> Segregation is increasing everywhere. The rights of women and people of color are under assault. Violence against leaders who agitate for progressive change is up. Racist organizations are undergoing a renaissance nationwide.</p> <p> We are withdrawing government investments in public education, libraries, infrastructure, health care, and technological innovation -- in many areas, to the point where we are falling behind the standards that prevail in every other developed country.</p> <p> Elites who dare to argue for increased investment in the common good, and believe that we should lay the groundwork for a better future, are regarded as not just silly and soft-headed, but also inviting underclass revolt. The Yankees thought that government's job was to better the lot of the lower classes. The Southern aristocrats know that its real purpose is to deprive them of all possible means of rising up against their betters.</p> <p> The rich are different now because the elites who spent four centuries sucking the South dry and turning it into an economic and political backwater have now vanquished the more forward-thinking, democratic Northern elites. Their attitudes towards freedom, authority, community, government, and the social contract aren't just confined to the country clubs of the Gulf Coast; they can now be found on the ground from Hollywood and Silicon Valley to Wall Street. And because of that quiet coup, the entire US is now turning into the global equivalent of a Deep South state. </p> <p> As long as America runs according to the rules of Southern politics, economics and culture, we're no longer free citizens exercising our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as we've always understood them. Instead, we're being treated like serfs on Massa's plantation -- and increasingly, we're being granted our liberties only at Massa's pleasure. Welcome to Plantation America. </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '671441'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=671441" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Thu, 28 Jun 2012 15:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 671441 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions News & Politics Labor Economy Culture Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Human Rights The Right Wing south segregation elites aristocracy Abortions Have Made Life Better for Millions Of Men: It's About Time to Speak Up in Support https://www.alternet.org/story/155960/abortions_have_made_life_better_for_millions_of_men%3A_it%27s_about_time_to_speak_up_in_support <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '671333'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=671333" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">It&#039;s time for pro-choice men to step up -- because our choices change their lives, too.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1340156616_4299302931cb84ca68fa.jpg?itok=KqtSZEcm" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p> Pro-choice activists have been saying for at least three decades that the landscape of the abortion debate won't permanently change until women are brave enough to do what gays did 30 years ago -- emerge from the shadows, speak our truth and demand respect for our decisions.</p> <p> One in three women in America will have an abortion at some point in her life. There are roughly twice as many abortions as LASIK procedures performed in any given year. Given that overwhelming prevalence, it's high time for women who have had abortions to come out, step up, stand by their choices -- and refuse delivery on all attempts to burden them with regret or shame.</p> <p> The GOP's legislative "war on women" and Darcy Burner's<a href="http://www.alternet.org/rights/155961/progressive_candidate_darcy_burner%3A_how_i_became_the_target_of_a_right-wing_smear_campaign">controversial "take a stan</a>d" moment at Netroots Nation have brought renewed vigor to solving the invisibility problem, sparking new campaigns to encourage women to reject right-wing attempts to shame and silence them. It's important work, with huge potential to change the way we talk about abortion for decades to come.</p> <p> But through all of this fresh energy and determination, there's one set of big, deep voices that's conspicuously missing.</p> <p> We need to hear from the men, too.</p> <p> For every single woman who's ever had an abortion, there's a man somewhere in the story. For every woman who was able to delay motherhood until a better moment, or improve her existing kids' chances by not enlarging her brood, or end a pregnancy that was doomed to end in tragedy and pain, there's also a man out there who is not a father today -- or is a better father to the kids he has -- because a woman he was involved with had the means to make this decision.</p> <p> Forty years of feminism notwithstanding, the reality in American politics and culture is that our national discussion around this issue won't materially change until men understand just how invested they are in this issue -- and then stand up with us to insist that our reproductive rights be protected and preserved.</p> <p> It's not that there aren't plenty of male voices in this debate already. They're booming in loud and strong from the anti-choice side. We're getting an earful from the Catholic bishops (whose moral authority on any matter relating to sexuality should rightly be a national joke by now), Mormon elders, evangelical preachers, and pontificating legislators. Out front of the clinics, the furious guy who is raging because "the bitch killed my baby, and I didn't have a say in it" is a stereotype on picket lines from coast to coast. Men who think they have the right to control women's fertility are outraged when they find out that they have no rights at all -- and over the years, their anger has been a potent accelerant to the flames of anti-choice furor.</p> <p> We've heard more than enough from them.</p> <p> But even as we're getting an aggrieved earful from the full chorus of patriarchal bullies, our own pro-choice men have receded into the background of the conversation, to the point where they have no voice at all. Worse: these sweet guys think that by holding their tongues, they're doing us a favor. After all, they understand that getting pregnant is a lot like that old joke about your ham-and-eggs breakfast: the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed. At the end of the day, the decision to carry on or terminate a pregnancy must, by moral right, remain in women's hands -- because while men are involved, women are committed, body and soul. </p> <p> Men still enjoy the luxury of being able to choose their level of parental engagement. Some walk away and never see their baby. Others dedicate the rest of their lives to their kid's welfare. Which path they choose is totally their decision, and they can (and do) reconsider that relationship at any time, at will.</p> <p> Women have no such choice. Once we're pregnant, we're in it, full-on, for the next 20 years, whether we want to be or not. Since we don't enjoy the wide leeway men are granted on the engagement front, it's essential that we maintain control of the one choice we do have -- that is, whether or not to go forward with the pregnancy at all. To a degree that's simply not true for men, we have a few short weeks in the first trimester of pregnancy to decide, once and for all, whether we're in or out. Once we make that call, there's no taking it back or changing our minds. We will live with that decision day in and day out for the rest of our lives.</p> <p> Pro-choice men get this, and that's why they've stepped so far back from the political conversation. And pro-choice women have encouraged their silence, because we've learned the hard way that whenever we get men involved in these discussions, we're vastly raising the risk that some of them are going to try to assert control over our choices.</p> <p> But it's time for both men and women to rethink this hands-off position. <a href="http://www.guttmacher.org/media/nr/2011/02/01/index.html">Recent research</a> has found that the vast majority of women who have abortions don't make the decision on their own. We almost always turn to our partners, family members, spiritual advisers, and doctors as we weigh our options. And of those supporting players, it's our male partners who have the biggest stake in the decision, and play the biggest role -- which is why, better than 80 percent of the time, our partners not only know about the abortion; they also support it. </p> <p> Just as we never hear from millions of women who have never regretted their decision to terminate a pregnancy, the millions of men whose lives have been unquestionably changed for the better by an abortion decision are also rendered completely invisible -- often, even to themselves. When I ask male friends about the role abortion has played in their lives, they get quiet, shy and furtive. "I supported my girlfriend through an abortion -- but I really don't think it's my story to tell," one told me. Or they simply don't make the connection at all. "Oh. My. God," another one said, his eyes getting wide with sudden realization. "If she hadn't had that abortion, <em>I'd have been a father right now!</em>" It was an ultimate "<em>duh</em>!" moment, as though he'd never really reckoned the full implications of this fact until just that moment.</p> <p> The thing of it is, gentlemen: You <em>do</em> have a story to tell. You didn't make the final decision, but we know that in the overwhelming majority of cases, you were intimately involved in the conversations that led up to it. You were most likely the one who drove her to the clinic, and drove her home again. And the choice not to become a father, right at that particular moment, has had a major impact on every day of your life and every major decision you've made ever since.</p> <p> Think about it. How would your life be different today if she hadn't chosen abortion? Would you be co-parenting with a woman you knew wasn't right for you? Or fathering more kids than your time and resources responsibly allow? Are there educational opportunities you would have had to skip, reducing your earnings for the rest of your life? Or career breaks that wouldn't have happened if you'd been encumbered with a kid (or another kid)? </p> <p> Your life is the way it is right now because your female partner was able to make that choice when she needed to. If that hadn't been possible, you'd be having a very different day today.</p> <p> That's why we need you to speak up now. What's at stake isn't just women's liberty -- it's yours, too. You don't have to tell the whole story. The details aren't anybody's business but yours and hers (and that's why abortion is legally a privacy matter). But we need to hear you say, "My life is better today because a woman made that choice. I supported her in making it, and we have no regrets." Every time you say that out loud, you are doing something that shifts the gravity of our national conversation a little bit for the better.</p> <p> We need you in this conversation again, for a lot of reasons.</p> <p> <strong>We need your credibility.</strong> As long as you keep silent, that small but screeching clutch of right-wing men will continue to command far more attention than the millions of embattled women who are trying to protect their reproductive rights. It's sad but true that male voices and interests still carry more weight in our culture than female ones do -- especially with the kind of patriarchal men who have chosen this as the political hill they're going to die on. We can't tell those guys to STFU. We've been trying for decades, but their sexism totally deafens them to voices in our higher register.</p> <p> But you will be heard. If you start making it clear that this is an issue that matters to all men -- and that you're willing to defend it, because it matters to you very personally -- they will at least be able to hear you and respect you in a way that they will never hear or respect us. You bring authority that we can't. And that, right there, will change the dialogue dramatically.</p> <p> <strong>We need your political support.</strong>As long as abortion is seen as simply a "women's issue," politicians can keep shunting it off to the side as a "special interest" matter -- the kind of thing Serious People don't really have to deal with -- rather than an everyday medical procedure that ensures the liberty and prosperity of every fertile adult American of either gender. If you guys start owning how important abortion has been in determining the path of your own lives, it stops being a women's issue and becomes a human right issue --  a non-negotiable matter of equality and opportunity for everybody.</p> <p> <strong>We need your social support</strong>. I was in the room when Darcy Burner asked the women of Netroots Nation to stand if they'd had an abortion -- and then asked the rest of the crowd to "stand with these women." According to one woman who stood, "Having everyone else stand afterwards, saying, in essence, 'You are not alone' was incredibly powerful." She said she felt like 50 pounds had been taken off her shoulders. That's how heavy this burden has been for us. It's deformed us, silenced us and changed the way we view ourselves and our lives.</p> <p> You can help us put that burden down for good. We, the women you love -- the ones who've mothered you, put up with you, slept with you, and been adored by you; the ones you've lived with, married and made witness to your lives -- have carried this burden of shame and isolation alone for far too long. More often than not, you have been our partners in making these decisions, and our main source of support in carrying them out. And your lives were changed by that, just as much as ours were. Abortion is your issue, your story and your fight, too. And when you stand up with us -- and for us -- in defending that story and fighting that fight, you bring with you the power to transform the entire conversation for everyone.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '671333'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=671333" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 19 Jun 2012 15:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 671333 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions Sex & Relationships LGBTQ Human Rights abortion choice pregnancy personhood How Homeownership Has Changed in America And Why You Shouldn't Give Up on Buying https://www.alternet.org/story/155525/how_homeownership_has_changed_in_america_and_why_you_shouldn%27t_give_up_on_buying <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670917'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670917" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In one short decade, home ownership has gone from being the Holy Grail of middle-class financial achievement to a very risky financial ball-and-chain.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1337632672_shutterstock70530379.jpg?itok=CsU7o6wF" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>In one short decade, home ownership has gone from being the Holy Grail of middle-class financial achievement -- the biggest and most lucrative investment most of us would ever make, and the one most reliably likely to pay off -- to a very risky financial ball-and-chain that more and more of us are going way out of our way to avoid.</p> <p>To be sure, rental housing is no joy. You're answerable to the landlord for every picture nail, plugged drain and loose window; and you get to endure bad landscaping, cheap appliances and paint and carpet colors not even Martha Stewart could work with. But if the trade-off is between spending your life co-existing with your landlord's surreal aesthetic choices or watching your life savings turn into six-figure debt as the value of your house sinks beneath the waves, more and more of us are choosing to suck it up and embrace the charms of bubblegum pink bathroom tile.</p> <p>For the last few years, renting has seemed prudent and safe -- even for those lucky enough to have the cash for a down payment and a stable enough income to buy. But as the bubble has deflated, and the prices are getting closer to what they would have been in a less exuberant economy, a few hardy souls are starting to venture back in.</p> <p>What's different now, though, is that there are signs that the deep expectations and motivations of American homebuyers are changing. The economic crash has created some deep ontological shifts in how we value homes and home ownership. The early signals are starting to suggest that we're on a return trip back to a much older American tradition of home ownership – one that assessed a home's primary value not on the basis of its price on the open market, but for what it offered intrinsically to families in terms of security, stability and self-sufficiency.</p> <p>Recent years have seen a boom in slow food and slow money. Now, some of us are also starting to think about the virtue of slow home ownership as well.</p> <p><b>Back to the future</b></p> <p>For the first 150 years of our history, we were mostly a farming nation; and this fact deeply colored the way we defined words like "home," "security," "prosperity" and "freedom."</p> <p>Up until around 1900, farmland was plentiful and cheap enough that it wasn't uncommon for an enterprising white guy to have 40 acres in his name by his late 20s -- either by working hard for somebody else and saving up his cash, or by toughing out the hard five years it took to prove up a homestead. But acquiring the raw land was just the start: that up-front investment would be followed by many decades of exhausting work to build up the infrastructure (barns, herds, flocks, houses, equipment) that yielded a reliably prosperous and stable farm, providing employment for a large family and food for scores of fellow citizens.</p> <p>Owning a farm (or perhaps more accurately, allowing it to own you) was an all-in commitment that you hoped to make just once, and planned to stick with for the rest of your life. Ideally, your kids would take it over and improve it even further -- so any investment in your homestead was an investment in a better, easier future for them, too. And in return, the house and land rewarded you with a reliable source of money and food, a secure place for your family, and a sturdy roof that nobody could take away from you. The fact that you owned your own place is what made you a free man.</p> <p>As Americans moved into the cities and suburbs starting around the turn of the last century, we left the plows, cows and barns behind -- but this deep idea about the intrinsic, enduring value of a piece of turf we could call our own came right along with us. A house is the freedom to do what you want. It's guaranteed shelter and comfort, no matter what the world dishes out. It's a castle you can spend years turning into the private paradise of your dreams. It's the emotional and physical center of gravity for generations of family. It's the matrix of neighborhood connections that builds up over decades, as you look out for each other's houses and watch each other's kids grow. It's capital you can borrow against to fund other investments, like a business of your own or an education for your kid. It's something you pay off in 30 years, so you'll have a free, comfortable, familiar place to live when you retire. If you're really lucky, you'll be blessed to die there, surrounded by your family.</p> <p>For people who came up in less certain times -- like the panics of the late 1800s, or the Great Depression -- having a home you could count on, come hell or high water, represented a kind of security that was far more valuable than mere money. So people continued to make long-term commitments to their houses. People in the military or who worked for large corporations might be moved around every few years, and sometimes people traded up if their incomes took a real leap. But if you were an average middle-class guy who owned a small business, had a government job, or worked out at the plant, then you could expect that you'd start and end your career right where you were. There was no reason your first house couldn't also be your last.</p> <p>This is how it happened that so many people in our parents' and grandparents' generations bought a little mid-century modest place in their 20s, and ended up staying there for the rest of their lives. The houses were small -- the average new house size in 1950 was 953 square feet, increasing only to 1,200 by 1960 -- but they were affordable enough that a single paycheck could cover the mortgage with some to spare. (My stepmother still lives in the 1,100-square-foot house my dad bought in 1967.) And the house returned your commitment: its real value was in the quality of the lifetime you got to spend in it, and all the little things you'd done to make it your own. Historically, most generations of Americans have expected to get back out of their houses no more and no less than exactly what they put into them. And even at that, they thought it was still a deal very much worth making.</p> <p><b>Financialized markets = expensive houses</b></p> <p>The drift away from this view of a home as having an intrinsic value of its own was slow at first. People became more mobile in the decades following World War II, moving to the coasts and the Sunbelt (now made habitable by air conditioning) over the new interstates, and taking jobs with ever-bigger companies that stationed them in offices all over the country. But the shift really gathered force in the late '70s and early '80s, as several developments conspired to pull the rest of those deeply planted American homeowners up by the roots.</p> <p>Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research ticks off several factors that fed the change. "People had a much more 'buy and hold' attitude towards housing in the '50s, '60s, and into the '70s," he told AlterNet. "A lot of things worked to change that. It was much easier when you had a reasonable expectation that you could hold the same job until retirement. Also, when divorce was rarer, it was easier to commit yourself to being in the same house for long periods of time. And there was, on average, no appreciation in excess of inflation (though certain markets had high rates of appreciation), so people in general could not count on making money by flipping homes."</p> <p>Changes in financing rules also fed an accelerating market. "Refinancing was unusual and generally expensive in the '70s," Baker continued. "In fact, many mortgages had large penalties for pre-payment. This was outlawed in the late '70s or early '80s, so it became much easier to refinance mortgages" -- which, in turn, encouraged people to view their houses less as cherished family homesteads and more as fat and growing piggy banks.</p> <p>In addition, as the Boomers entered the housing market en masse in the late 1970s, houses started to appreciate faster than the rate of inflation, which launched the flipping mania that flourished right up until the 2008 crash. And alongside all of this, the Reagan-era assaults on both unions and public-sector jobs undermined the long-term employment stability of millions of Americans, further eroding people's willingness to become too attached to their homes.</p> <p>(A side note: the intergenerational dislocations caused by this attitude shift were also the spark that launched the conservative tax revolt, which began with California's nefarious Proposition 13 in 1977. As the market heated up, the tax assessments on retirees' homes started rising so fast that their fixed incomes no longer covered their property taxes. They fought back by lining up behind conservative tax warrior Howard Jarvis, who sold Prop 13 with the argument that it would let seniors stay in the homes they'd loved and invested in their entire lives -- and which the Big Evil Government was now trying to take away.)</p> <p>The upshot was that by the mid-'80s, the old expectation that a middle-class life would be defined by one job and one house had almost completely given way to a new, harder-edged view. A house wasn't anything to get emotional or romantic about, let alone to commit your life to. Beyond a certain point, you didn't make the place pretty or comfortable for yourself; rather, you focused on the improvements (an updated kitchen, a new deck) that would increase your profit at the next sale. It was just a financial instrument you bought, hung onto for a while while it appreciated, and then sold at a hefty profit so you could move on to something better.</p> <p>And above all, we learned the lesson: do not fall in love or get all sentimental about it, because it will only hurt that much more on that inevitable not-too-far-off day that you change jobs, end this relationship, or find a better deal and decide to move away.</p> <p><b>Back home again</b></p> <p>Now that the boom has gone bust, a lot of Americans are left wondering if there's any reason at all to buy a house now. Seen from the perspective of the high boom years, home ownership now offers no value proposition at all. If it's not going to double your money in a decade, then what's the point? </p> <p>And yet, in spite of it all: some of us are still getting out there into the market, and closing deals. You have to ask: what in the hell are they thinking?</p> <p>Despite the fact that homes are no longer sizzling investments, the bald fact still remains: you need a place to live. And in this deflated market, some people are doing the math and coming to the surprising realization that owning a home in today's market can be cheaper than renting.</p> <p>Follow me here. First, there's the matter of the down payment. If you've got enough cash on hand for a healthy down, you're probably already painfully aware that there aren't many places to invest that much money these days that will yield any kind of reasonable return. So why not tuck it away into a comfortable place of your own that will, at the very least, make you a little happier every day that you're in it? It may not grow much -- but at least if things go to hell, you'll have a roof over your head, and you can call it your own.</p> <p>Then, there are the monthly payments. The good news is that mortgage interest rates are at or near historic lows. If you've got good credit and a stable income in addition to that down payment, you can get a 30-year fixed mortgage that may very well cost less per month than it would cost to rent a similar house. And, on top of that, you'd get a mortgage interest deduction, which could well make this a much sweeter deal than renting.</p> <p>The bad news is that in this new environment, it's probably realistic to give up on the idea that your mortgage money is contributing much to your investment. Rather, it's better to view it as cheap rent on the house -- the month-to-month cost of living there. If you weren't paying it to the bank, you'd be paying it to a landlord. Seen this way, the only real investment you have in the house is that down payment, plus the cost of any improvements you might make. As long as you can recover at least that much when you sell the house, then owning will have been a better deal than renting -- and these days, that's about the best anyone can hope for.</p> <p>Also: this new logic rewards people who can commit to a place for a long time. The longer you stay, the cheaper your house will become. First: with every passing year, you'll avoid paying out tens of thousands of dollars in rent to someone else. You may not recoup much of it; but at least you'll have a shot at adding something to your equity. Over 10 or 20 years, that can add up to a lot of money. Second, the longer you stay, the more your investments in improvements will be worth to you, personally. A house that's not a financial instrument needs to do much heavier duty as a really satisfying place to spend your days. But if you're going to be there a long time, then investing in a marvelous wood shop or a luxurious bathroom or a glorious back yard will yield years of happy returns. Taking the emphasis off the house's potential market value gives you freedom to plan improvements that will enhance the house's intrinsic value to <i>you</i>, rather than to some imaginary future buyer.</p> <p><b>Is this really happening? Yes.</b></p> <p>There are early signs from the field that Americans really are seriously rethinking what investing in a house means to them, both financially and emotionally. Dean Baker, for one, is seeing a shift in buyer behavior in the marketplace. "Going forward, having seen so many people burned, I think it is unlikely that we will get anything like the flipping we saw in the bubble years any time soon," he observes. "We may settle into something like what we had in the '50s and '60s, with the qualification that people are now much less secure in their jobs and their marriages, which virtually guarantees that they will be less secure in their homes. I don't think that we will be able to go all the way to the mentality of that era, but we are likely to be much closer to the '50s-'60s sensibilities in the housing market than the '00s."</p> <p>Rob Graham, the Realtor who recently sold me a new house, says he's also seeing signs of this shift among his buyers. "We've all been raised in a disposable society," Graham says. "And that's been true of housing, too. You used to be able to sell a house at a profit in two years -- but since the recession, that's transitioned to a five-year commitment."</p> <p>"Real estate is no longer bulletproof," he continues. "You need to look at it as a long-term deal. The folks I'm seeing are looking to be in their starter home for a longer period of time -- from two or three years then to five years now. For their second home, where the Boomers looked at it as a seven-to-10 year investment, the Millennials I talk to see it as the 20-year home where they'll raise their kids. And then they'll buy a third home to retire in -- and that's it. They're not planning to turn their homes every three to five years any more."</p> <p>Furthermore, says Graham, people are looking for the kind of creature comforts that will make that longer-term commitment more satisfying, including easy proximity to markets, transit, parks, schools, work, and churches. And they want homes that are less demanding to live in. "For decades, the trend was to larger homes. Now, people don't want to clean that much house or mow that much lawn. They want more sustainable, greener, smaller homes instead. I'm having more conversations about how much time and money it will take to maintain a house than I am about its resale value. It's an emotional change: people are putting a lot more thought into what they're purchasing, because they see it as a longer-term investment rather than a financial asset."</p> <p>The crazy days are over. But better times may be here. Settling into homes that we can love for their own housey goodness changes our relationships to a great many other things as well. If our houses aren't piggy banks, then we have to re-think our expectations about investing and money, and be more careful about building and preserving real wealth over a longer period of time. If we're sticking around longer in the neighborhood, then we'll have more time to get to know our neighbors -- and build the kind of social capital that over the longer term adds both economic and intrinsic value to our homes. This kind of rootedness also makes investment in things like on-site solar and wind generation (which can take a few years to pay for themselves) -- or the years it takes to plant trees and build up a great garden patch -- much more worthwhile.</p> <p>And there will be rewards to our families -- in long friendships that unfold over years, in a connection to the coming and going of the seasons seen from the same windows year after year, in more soul-deep commitments to a place that will always be remembered as home. If we want more humane and welcoming places to live, we need to start by being willing to commit ourselves to spending the years it takes to create them.</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670917'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670917" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 21 May 2012 10:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 670917 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions Economy Culture housing home ownership How the Conservative Worldview Quashes Critical Thinking -- and What That Means For Our Kids' Future https://www.alternet.org/story/155469/how_the_conservative_worldview_quashes_critical_thinking_--_and_what_that_means_for_our_kids%27_future <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670848'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670848" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The education of our children is a core cultural and political choice that reflects the deepest differences between liberals and conservatives.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1337026619_shutterstock70173967.jpg?itok=tBQAr1TW" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>The Conservative War On Education continues apace, with charters blooming everywhere, high-stakes testing cementing its grip on classrooms, and legislators and pundits wondering what we need those stupid liberal arts colleges for anyway. (Isn't college about job prep? Who needs to know anything about art history, anthropology or ancient Greek?)</p> <p>Amid the din, there's a worrisome trend: liberals keep affirming right-wing talking points, usually without realizing that they're even right wing. Or saying things like, "The education of our children is a non-partisan issue that should exist outside of any ideological debate."</p> <p>The hell it is. People who say stuff like this have no idea what they're talking about. The education of our children is a core cultural and political choice that reflects the deepest differences between liberals and conservatives -- because every educational conversation must start with the fundamental philosophical question: <i>What is an education for?</i></p> <p>Our answers to that question could not be more diametrically opposed.</p> <p><b>A Question of Human Nature</b></p> <p>Our beliefs about the purpose of education are rooted in even deeper beliefs about the basic nature of humanity.</p> <p>All conservative politics springs from one central premise: they believe that human beings are essentially fallen and deeply flawed. Human beings are swayed by uncontrollable passions, we make consistently bad choices, and we are incapable of governing ourselves. Given our basic depravity, civilization can only work if we submit ourselves to the external guidance of society's appointed authorities; and stay on the straight and narrow path our betters have clearly marked out with rules, oversight and punishments. Without those constraints, we cannot be trusted: our own perverse natures will inevitably lure us into ruin.</p> <p>George Lakoff pointed out that in this worldview, children are born evil, and it's the duty of the Strict Father to beat it out of them. For their own good, kids must learn to accept the boundaries and order imposed by the authorities who've magnanimously consented to take on the responsibility for their wretched and unworthy souls. The main imperative of education is to break the child's will, force him to conform to society's expectations, make him an obedient and compliant employee, and prepare him to survive in a hostile and competitive world that will cut him no breaks. Nobody's going to protect you; for good or bad, you'll only be given what you earn. What kids need most from school are hard skills and marketable credentials that will enable them to find a stable place in the hierarchy, thus securing their futures.</p> <p>Libertarian education critic John Taylor Gatto has pointed out that <a href="http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/bookstore/dumbdnblum1.htm">the "hidden curriculum</a>" of public schools is designed from the ground up to reinforce these deeply authoritarian lessons. According to Gatto, the student is trained to eat, sleep, excrete, and think by the bells -- no daydreaming about history during math class! She also learns to accept the judgment of the teachers, peers and other worthies who are entitled to evaluate her worth; it's beyond her pay grade to assess her own performance or value. This lesson fosters a lifelong dependence on external authority, and further quashes self-assessment and critical thinking. High-stakes testing is an artifact of the conservative belief that education is about acquiring a required body of knowledge that's been determined by experts. If it's not in the book, you don't need to know it. And the ultimate outcome -- the purpose of this whole process -- is to graduate with a credential that will certify your acceptability to the established hierarchies of the economic world.</p> <p>In the conservative model, critical thinking is horrifically dangerous, because it teaches kids to reject the assessment of external authorities in favor of their own judgment -- a habit of mind that invites opposition and rebellion. This is why, for much of Western history, critical thinking skills have only been taught to the elite students -- the ones headed for the professions, who will be entrusted with managing society on behalf of the aristocracy. (The aristocrats, of course, are sending their kids to private schools, where they will receive a classical education that teaches them everything they'll need to know to remain in charge.) Our public schools, unfortunately, have replicated a class stratification on this front that's been in place since the Renaissance.</p> <p>Gatto argues that this kind of regimented education is profoundly inappropriate in a democracy. If you teach a child that he is incapable (and intrinsically unworthy) of governing himself -- a central assumption of conservatism -- then how on earth can he participate in governing his country?</p> <p>The answer, of course, is that he can't. And indeed: that is the whole point.</p> <p><b>A Democratic Education</b></p> <p>Democracy begins with the premise that most people are intrinsically decent and good, and that they can usually be trusted to make the right choices for themselves. Without this humanist belief in people's essential moral and intellectual competence, a system of universal citizenship and collective governance would be philosophically unthinkable -- and functionally impossible. This assumption also has profound implications for education.</p> <p>Among liberals, the ultimate purpose of both education and parenting is to bring forward the best that lies within us, with the ultimate goal of maximizing the unique potential of each child. The stronger each of us is individually, the stronger civilization is as a whole. Education should, above all, foster self-knowledge and self-discipline, equipping us to make the best possible contributions to the collective -- and to pursue life, liberty and happiness wherever those pursuits may take us. It's hoped that they will take us on many unforseeable adventures -- adventures for which we will need to be ready.</p> <p>Central to this preparation is the development of our own internal authority and judgment, which we rely on to guide us through life and make us thoughtful, moral citizens. It's assumed that people who are accustomed to this kind of personal freedom will also fiercely resist authoritarian leaders, whom we know we can never trust as thoroughly as we trust ourselves.</p> <p>Our system relies on citizens who can think critically and clearly about any new situation they're facing, and reason out solutions to problems without input from others when it's necessary. And in today's economy, it will often be necessary. We've known for 25 years that the old paternalistic workplaces -- the ones with rigid hierarchies, where people could spend 40 years at the same plant -- are gone. Most workers these days can expect to change careers two, three or four times over the course of what may well be a 50-year working life.</p> <p>Given this reality, the college-as-job-training model the conservatives are promoting looks patently insane. Subjects like logic and philosophy, anthropology and rhetoric, foreign languages and history provide the mental flexibility, deep perspective, and sharp critical thinking skills that allow one to make one's own way on unfamiliar landscapes, a skill that's useful when the world keeps changing around you. People with rich liberal arts backgrounds are also <a href="http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/05/14/essay-how-liberal-arts-colleges-promote-leadership#.T7Gih8W-Qyp.facebook">far better prepared for leadership roles</a>, and better positioned to recognize and seize on whatever opportunities fate throws their way. And survival in the economy of the future is going to depend far more heavily on our ability to create and maintain strong, broad social networks -- to make and maintain supportive relationships with people who understand your value.</p> <p>It's obvious that stripping these mind-expanding fripperies out of the curriculum -- as conservatives are proposing, often with no push-back at all from liberals -- serves the narrow, functional conservative view of education and citizenship very well. But we let them win this point at our peril. It's not exactly accurate -- but nonetheless true -- to say that the reason we call it "liberal education" is that the more of it you have, the more liberal you're likely to be. If we buy into the idea that critical thinking is somehow non-essential, we're not only betraying the entire future of the liberal tradition in America; we're also depriving future generations of the basic skills and knowledge they'll need to defend their democracy from the plutocrats who are always standing in the shadows, determined to wrest it from them.</p> <p><b>Getting Back to a Liberal Education</b></p> <p>Once you understand how very different our underlying worldviews are, the things we need to do to preserve our idea of a progressive, empowering education become far more clear. And once we've gotten a firmer grasp on what our own values demand on this issue, the easier it will be to talk about our vision of what American education should be.</p> <p>Some examples:</p> <p>Tests are valuable. They give teachers useful feedback about where each kid is, and what can be done to improve his or her progress. But they are only a means to an end – and the end should be a comprehensive, appropriate education. Only totalitarians who reject our democratic goals and values can possibly believe that tests are ends in themselves. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all education, and no student's potential can ever be described by a single number.</p> <p>The same applies to teachers. In a democracy, we find competent people, and then we trust them to do the right thing until they've shown us they can't. Teachers deserve at least this much from us. The grinding, constant oversight is an authoritarian response that de-professionalizes and demoralizes smart people. The metrics used to reward and promote them should reflect the full range of skills they bring to their work, and the actual difference they make in the lives of their students. Let's make it easy for really talented people to love this job -- and then let them do it.</p> <p>The arts, crafts and humanities matter. From kindergarten through college, we've seen 25 years of deep cuts in music, art, lab science, foreign language, school papers, drama departments, sports programs, home economics, and shop class. All these classes have one thing in common: they're the hands-on subjects where kids spend the most time thinking independently, exploring their own creativity, experiencing themselves as productive and competent, and gaining confidence in useful real-world life skills.</p> <p>What they learn in these classes doesn't show up in test scores. But these lessons yield adults who can take care of themselves in a wide range of situations. You may never use a quadratic equation again for the rest of your days, but no matter where you're headed, your life will be forever richer if you know how to informally test an idea, play on a team, make a satisfying dinner, speak some basic Spanish, handle a wrench and a drill, and write an engaging narrative on a subject you care about.</p> <p>Teamwork matters. The cooperative skills we learn while playing sports, making music, or doing a class project with friends are essential to economic survival in an increasingly interdependent world. High-stakes testing reinforces the conservative message that you're on your own -- and will rise or fall on your own merit, as defined by external authorities who grade the tests. But a truly progressive education focuses on teaching kids to work together, build relationships, and draw their sense of self-worth from their ability to make strong contributions to the group. In the years ahead, which one of these people would you rather be sitting across the table from at a city planning meeting?</p> <p>College isn't just about job prep. It's about developing the leaders who will set the standards for our entire culture. When we short-change students on the liberal arts curriculum, we are dooming the next generation to be led by people whose perspective, vision, flexibility, insight, and compassion aren't up to the highest standards. If we want our nation to be better, we need to train better minds -- and for thousands of years, a firm grounding in the arts and humanities have been the main way civilizations around the world have always developed this talent.</p> <p>Discipline is not about control or retribution. It's about encouraging students to make better decisions, exercise some foresight, take responsibility, and recognize the effects their actions have on the larger group. If a disciplinary intervention doesn't meet those goals, then it's not effective, and shouldn't be used.</p> <p>Vocational ed is not for losers. Our country is a far better place when it's well-stocked with tradespeople, factory workers, technicians, small business owners, and service providers who have mastered their fields, and take pride in their work. These people are the foundation of our economy, and the real wealth and job creators. When we short-change their training, we're undermining our own future competitiveness -- and cutting the knees out from under the next generation of the American middle class.</p> <p>And finally: critical thinking is the birthright of every American. We should not aspire to become a feudal society where only the elites are taught to think independently, evaluate evidence, weigh complex factors, and make informed decisions. But it will become one -- in just a generation or two -- if we stop making this <i>the</i> foundational competence delivered by our educational system. A democracy in which a majority of people are no longer capable of basic critical thinking skills cannot remain a democracy very long.</p> <p>Our educational system is a product of our deepest values. And the battles we're having now are, very directly, battles over what we believe is possible in America, and what kind of country we want to be 20 years from now. The conservatives are not wrong: for 150 years, the schools have been the leading promoter and disseminator of progressive values. It's precisely because they understand the power of education to preserve democracy that they're now doing their best to dismantle that system, and replace it with one that produces followers, subjects and serfs.</p> <p>What is education for? We won't even be a contender in this fight until we're committed to our own clear, coherent, values-based answer to that question. How we answer it will shape the country's future.</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670848'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670848" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Fri, 18 May 2012 20:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 670848 at https://www.alternet.org Education Visions Education The Right Wing education testing Capitalism Has Failed: 5 Bold Ways to Build a New World https://www.alternet.org/story/155456/capitalism_has_failed%3A_5_bold_ways_to_build_a_new_world <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670939'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670939" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Some new ideas and big questions are defining our economic future.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg?itok=wQcwl0WS" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>As our political system sputters, a wave of innovative thinking and bold experimentation is quietly sweeping away outmoded economic models. In New Economic Visions, a special five-part <a href="http://www.alternet.org/">AlterNet</a> series edited by economics editor Lynn Parramore in partnership with political economist Gar Alperovitz of the Democracy Collaborative, creative thinkers come together to explore the exciting ideas and projects that are shaping the philosophical and political vision of the movement that could take our economy back.</em></p> <p>The problem, in a nutshell, is this: The old economic model has utterly failed us. It has destroyed our communities, our democracy, our economic security, and the planet we live on. The old industrial-age systems -- state communism, fascism, free-market capitalism -- have all let us down hard, and growing numbers of us understand that going back there isn't an option.</p> <p><p></p></p> <p>But we also know that transitioning to some kind of a new economy -- and, probably, a new governing model to match -- will be a civilization-wrenching process. We're having to reverse deep and ancient assumptions about how we allocate goods, labor, money, and power on a rapidly shrinking, endangered, complex, and ever more populated planet. We are bolding taking the global economy -- and all 7 billion souls who depend on it -- where no economy has ever gone before.<p></p></p> <p>Right now, all we have to guide us forward are an emerging set of new values and imperatives. The new system can't incentivize economic growth for its own sake, or let monopolies form and flourish. It should be as democratic as possible, but with strong mechanisms in place that protect the common wealth and the common good. It needs to put true costs to things, and hold people accountable for their actions. Above all, it needs to be rooted in the deep satisfactions -- community, nature, family, health, creativity -- that have been the source of real human happiness for most of our species' history.<p></p></p> <p>As we peer out into this future, we can catch glimmers and shadows -- the first dim outlines of things that might become part of the emerging picture over the next few decades. Within this far-ranging conversation, a few dominant themes crop up over and over again. For the final chapter in this series, we'll discuss five robust visions that are forming the conceptual bridge on which our next steps toward the future are being taken.<p></p></p> <p><strong>Small Is Beautiful</strong> <p></p></p> <p>Many people imagining our next economy are swept up in the romance of a return to a localized or regionalized economy, where wealth is built by local people creatively deploying local resources to meet local needs. <p></p></p> <p>Relocalization is a way to restore the autonomy, security and control that have been lost now that almost every aspect of our lives has been co-opted by big, centralized, corporate-controlled systems. By bringing everything back to a more human scale, this story argues, we'll enable people to connect with their own creativity, their communities and each other. Alienation and isolation will dissipate. We'll have more time for family and friends, really free enterprise and more satisfying work. Our money will be our own, accumulated by us and re-invested in things we value. And it'll be a serious corrective to our delusional ideas about what constitutes real wealth, too.<p></p></p> <p>This vision is deeply beloved. It's front and center in both the resilience and Transition Towns movement. You hear it from foodies who extol the virtues of local food, Slow Money investors who back local banks and businesses instead of Wall Street, community gardeners, and 10 million Makers. David Korten argues that capitalism is actually the enemy of truly free markets -- the kind where anybody with ideas and initiative can make a tidy living working for herself, doing something she loves. And that kind of freedom is, very naturally, small in scale.<p></p></p> <p>This vision is also seductive. It holds out the promise that if people dare to let go of what they have and reach out to the future, there's a better life waiting within their grasp -- a core piece of any effective change story.  However, this model also has a few problems that haven't yet been engaged by most of its proponents, but which compromise its ability to serve as a global framework.<p></p></p> <p>First: the infrastructure that will enable us to relocalize isn't thick on the ground right now. City and regional governments across the country are broke, devastated by the devaluation of their tax bases. Ironically, relocalizing may require significant federal investment -- but do we really think that the corporations that control our federal government will actually back a model that will ultimately undercut the economic and political chokehold they have on us? It seems unlikely.<p></p></p> <p>Also, localization often involves trade-offs between making things efficiently -- which, in the industrial age, has meant making them in large, centralized factories -- and resilience. Making stuff locally in small batches increases resilience, and decentralizing the process means that many more people will have jobs. For example: A single factory farmer can manage thousands of acres. An organic farm might have half a dozen workers on just 20 acres.<p></p></p> <p>But the fact remains that our world depends on at least a few large, complex systems (the Internet, for example) that require national or even international coordination to manage properly. Where does that coordination come from when all the power is pushed down to the regional level? Also, many of our biggest problems -- climate change, damage to the oceans, loss of species, the threat of epidemics and extreme weather events -- also require a larger and more coordinated response than any one city or region can mount. In a relocalized world, who has the authority to manage these problems?<p></p></p> <p>Furthermore, what becomes of our currently high national and global standards on things like civil rights, infrastructure codes and the environment when all the power is devolved to local governments? Some places will no doubt forge ahead and raise the bar even further, but it's not hard to imagine that quite a few others will be all too glad to get back to oppressing their minorities and raping the land.<p></p></p> <p>These are questions that few theorists, so far, have addressed, but it's possible they may be answered in time. A lot of the people doing the best work on relocalization right now are young, and the new enterprises they're building are untried and new. As they grow in skill and experience, and their trust in these structures grows, they may find ways to start scaling up. <p></p></p> <p><strong>Marx 2.0</strong><p></p></p> <p>Another group of theorists are updating Marx for the 21st century, proffering models that put both control and profit of enterprises into the workers' hands. In some of these, workers are also owners, with a full stake in the success or failure of the business. In others (such as the one proposed by philosopher David Schwiekart, which was based on Yugoslavia's industrial policy), the state is the owner and primary investor in the business. The workers lease the means of production, run the business, return some of the proceeds to the government, and distribute the rest of the profit between themselves. <p></p></p> <p>Ironically, most of these schemes share capitalism's biggest flaw, which is its inherent reliance on growth. As a business owner, it's very hard to say, "We're big enough now. Let's stop here." (Though some, like Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, have done just that.) Most businesses have competitors who, if they're allowed to get bigger than you, will swallow you whole. If you don't stay big enough to compete, you don't survive -- and since the competitors are facing the same imperative, the race can never really end.<p></p></p> <p>As noted, this kind of constant growth simply isn't sustainable on a finite planet. People will always trade -- it's an essential human activity -- but going forward, we need small-scale businesses that can stay happy and healthy without being pushed to grow. Worker ownership doesn't really address this problem, though relocalization, which roots businesses deeply in their own local markets, limiting their reach beyond those boundaries, may provide one natural brake on growth.<p></p></p> <p>For many large and necessary enterprises (utilities; essential centralized manufacturing; big, capital-intensive tech industries; and so on) public ownership may be the only way to ensure that they grow no bigger than they need to be to fulfill their mission. If there are other solutions that will allow us to have complex enterprises minus the growth imperative, they're still lurking out beyond the horizon.<p></p></p> <p><strong>Systems Theory</strong><p></p></p> <p>One of the great breakthroughs in human understanding over the past 40 years has been the realization that all complex systems -- economic, political, biological, mechanical, environmental, or social -- behave according to a simple set of common principles. The rules that govern the behavior of one set of systems usually apply to other kinds of systems as well. <p></p></p> <p>For example, much of what we've learned about how ecosystems work is now informing new thinking about the economy. Successful enterprises don't exist in a vacuum. They only thrive in interdependent communities of customers, suppliers, investors, employees, and related businesses. The most economically productive places -- for example, Silicon Valley -- are as dense in these interrelationships as old-growth forests are. This complex landscape allows for endless combinations of new interactions, which in turn leads to constant, easy, productive innovation. At the same time: these ecosystems are every bit as susceptible to thoughtless disruption when some critical element is disturbed.<p></p></p> <p>This new awareness of the intense interdependence within healthy economies undercuts the "rugged individualist/self-made man" story that undergirds conservative economics. Seeing the world in systems makes it abundantly clear that no individual or enterprise ever succeeds on its own, or that one business alone can bring about the kind of change we need. Fostering healthy economies is the work of generations, and thanks to systems theory, we understand more about how to build them than we ever did before.<p></p></p> <p><strong>A World Like the Web</strong><p></p></p> <p>A related framework, which is being driven by technologists rather than economists, posits that economic systems like capitalism, fascism and communism all belong to an industrial age that's now passing. In the old era, we saw the world through the metaphor of the machine. Our systems were static piles of unchanging parts that you designed, defined, tinkered with, and deployed toward a desired result. <p></p></p> <p>This framework argues that our transition to the Information Age (which includes not just the Internet revolution, but other technologies like nanotech, biotech, 3D printing, and so on; and which will be playing out through the rest of this century, at minimum) will require us to rearrange our economic and political orders to more closely fit the Internet metaphor. Closely related to this are emerging human-centered economic models, like behavioral economics, which jettison the mechanistic "rational actor" assumption for a more nuanced and organic understanding of how human decision-making actually works.<p></p></p> <p>In these models, the economy is seen as a series of simultaneously interrelated and self-sufficient nodes, each embedded in a complex matrix of relationships that are redundant and self-healing. These could easily be strong regional economies based on natural bioregional boundaries, which are then bound together in a tight global network that fosters robust trade in goods and ideas. The foundation of capital is ideas and information -- resources that don't deplete the physical wealth of the planet. Membership in the network increases scalability and adds extra layers of resilience. <p></p></p> <p>This model also implies big changes in governance. It demands new constitutions that push control down to the local level, while also integrating these regional governments into the global network. If political power can move like the Internet, we might get the best of both worlds: the small-is-beautiful dream embedded in so many of the current alternative models, plus a genuine global governance structure that's capable of getting its arms around our biggest and most universal problems (like, say, managing the global commons, creating needed accountability, or intervening collectively when one regional node has a crisis of some kind). These new governments would also establish a raft of new rights and privileges, updated for this age.<p></p></p> <p>It's implicitly understood that this leap will facilitate global investment in new infrastructure that will, in turn, enable the next advance in the complexity of human systems. Technology has introduced a deep-level paradigm shift that is rapidly destroying the current order, while also providing the ontological map that shows how the distribution of power, money, organization, governance, and control should play out in the next one.<p></p></p> <p><strong>Reform, Revolution, and Evolution</strong><p></p></p> <p>All of the above discussions are also being informed by an evolving understanding of how transformative social change happens. <p></p></p> <p>As long as most people assume that market capitalism is sustainable,  they'll focus on reforming it -- cleaning it up around the edges, rewriting regulations, making it work in the public interest, and so on. Many Americans, in fact, still hope that this is all it will take-- that technology, political reform and market forces, working in some magic combination, will be enough to save us from ourselves.<p></p></p> <p>Others among us are holding out for a full-on revolution that overthrows the whole system in one massive push, clearing the way for something entirely new. Revolutions are tricky, though: historically, a lot of them have gone sideways when the revolutionaries couldn't hang on through the chaotic aftermath of what they'd wrought. They often get swept away by some other force that's better organized, and thus better equipped to step in and take over. Anything can happen in the wake of a revolution, and all too often, it's not the thing you hoped for.<p></p></p> <p>Gar Alperovitz offers "evolutionary reconstruction" as a better alternative to either reform or revolution. Visionaries from Gandhi to Buckminster Fuller have agreed with him. This model focuses our change energy on building new parallel institutions that will, in time, supplant the old ones. Don't fight the existing system, this strategy argues. Instead, just sidestep it entirely and create a new one. As the old system collapses under its own decay, yours will gradually fill in the gaps until it becomes the new dominant paradigm.<p></p></p> <p>America's right wing has used this model very successfully to take control of our culture over the past 40 years. Starting in the 1970s, they invested in a wide range of parallel education systems, media outlets, professional organizations, government watchdog groups, and so on. These groups groomed a new generation of leaders, while also developing the intellectual, policy and cultural basis for the change they wanted to create. As time passed, they took advantage of opportunities to insert people and ideas from these alternative institutions into the mainstream ones. The result was that 90 percent of the conservative revolution took place almost entirely under the radar of most Americans. One day, we simply looked up to find them in charge of everything that mattered.<p></p></p> <p>We lost the country this way. And we are well on our way to getting it back this way, too. As we steadily, carefully build a new set of enterprises, the new reality will inevitably and naturally take shape around us. There's nothing stopping us from starting co-ops or worker-owned businesses or triple-bottom-line corporations; we can do all of that today, in full faith that these businesses will be far better adapted to the future than the old capitalist forms we're seeking to supplant. In time, these structures will become the new normal, and people will barely remember that we ever did it any other way.<p></p></p> <p> </p> <p><p> </p></p> <!--EndFragment--> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670939'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670939" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 16 May 2012 06:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 670939 at https://www.alternet.org Economy Visions Economy new economy relocalization How the Ayn Rand-Loving Right Is Like a Bunch of Teen Boys Gone Crazy https://www.alternet.org/story/155393/how_the_ayn_rand-loving_right_is_like_a_bunch_of_teen_boys_gone_crazy <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670827'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670827" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Flowers are nice, but this Mother&#039;s Day, what I really want is for these immature boys to grow up already.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1336760820_shutterstock53595241.jpg?itok=Snxg_2fd" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>If, as George Lakoff says, we view politics through the metaphor of family, then Mother's Day is a good time to ask the question: Where's Mom in this picture? What are all those dirty socks and pizza boxes doing in the living room? (Seriously: it looks like a frat house in here.) Who's been drinking the beer I hid in the basement fridge?</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic; ">And, sweet mother of God: how did we end up letting the 16-year-old boys take over the entire household?</span></p> <p>Make no mistake: all this Ayn Rand libertarian me-first-and-the-rest-of-you-<wbr></wbr>go-to-hell stuff -- the there's-no-government-like-no-<wbr></wbr>government theology that's now being piously intoned as Holy Received Truth by everybody, male and female, in the GOP -- is, very precisely, the kind of politics you'd come up with if you were a 16-year-old boy trying to explain away his dependence on Mom.</p> <p>Parents? I don't have any parents. I raised myself, on roots and berries and small vermin I dug up in vacant lots. That lady hanging around, feeding me and nagging me and picking up my socks and driving me to practice? She's just the nanny state. That bitch. I hate her.</p> <p>Society? There's no such thing as society. There's only what I want right now, which is the ultimate good in my universe. And what I want right now is more time on the XBox, pizza money, and the keys to the family car.</p> <p>The future? If I pursue everything I want now, then the future will magically take care of its self. Dinner will appear. So will clean socks and the next-gen XBox.</p> <p>Obligations? I am God's gift to the world. I don't owe it anything. In fact: it owes me -- just for being so magnificent, cute and special. (Even my mom thinks so.)</p> <p>On behalf of America's mothers, let me say: I have had enough of this. I don't care how cute they are: it's high time these so-called "libertarian" freeloaders get off the couch, stand up, and show some respect to the rest of us who've done the hard work that makes their cushy lives possible.</p> <p>You know what I want for Mother's Day? I want these so-called "self-made men" to grow up and get a life.</p> <p><strong>No More "Nanny State" -- Ever</strong></p> <p>Also: I'm putting them on notice: I don't ever want to hear one more word about the "nanny state." Not one. Not ever again.</p> <p>First of all : It's ugly. It just reeks of that 16-year-old boy being told to clean up his mess. The big sigh. The dramatic eye-roll. The drawn-out, agonized, "yyezzzz, mommmm..." that lets you know you're about to spend the rest of the evening in a passive-aggressive battle during which your teenager will generate enough inertia to bring the rotation of this and several neighboring galaxies to a dead stop.</p> <p>The "nanny state" is making you do the dishes, and then it wants you to clean out the garage. You poor persecuted darling. Go dial 1-976-WAAAAAH.</p> <p>Second of all: It's sexist as hell. Anti-feminist at its very core. It says that the concerns that we most identify with mothers -- cleaning up your crap, minding your manners, not annoying other people, taking responsibility for your actions -- are intrusive and unwarranted infringements on your essential freedom, instead of the basic adult responsibilities that are required of everybody if society is going to remain free and functional.</p> <p>It says that the power and authority by which mothers -- "nannies," in this construction -- set the rules within the family is illegitimate. It belittles women who are bossy enough to insist on adult behavior from men.</p> <p>It suggests that the things women are stereotypically most bossy about -- politically, this would be issues like child welfare and education (looking after your little brother), the environment (housework), and peace and social justice (playing fair and being nice) are beneath the attention and dignity of men. You can almost hear John Wayne: "Don't you worry about what your Mom says, boys. Dad's here, and he'll set her straight. (Big fat wink. Deep chuckle.) You go right on ahead with what you were doing." </p> <p>(Of course, when the Duke said stuff like this, the result was usually a shrieking, hair-pulling fight with Maureen O'Hara, which always ended with her turned triumphantly over his knee. And then, after a good, sound spanking that put the little lady firmly back in her place, he'd wrestle her tiny hands away so she couldn't slap him, and kiss her until she stopped struggling. And she'd love every minute of it, because in this deranged view of gender relationships, that kind of manhandling is just what all pissy women are really secretly asking for.)</p> <p>It implies that Real Americans are honor-bound to resist any and all exercise of female bossiness in the sacred name of preserving their almighty "freedom."</p> <p>And then, as the final insult, it identifies all government action with that exaggerated feminine weakness. Corporations: the domains of independent, active men who are busy creating a better world for themselves -- and therefore, automatically, for everybody else as well. Government: the domain of dependent, passive women who are fussing about everybody's business, insisting that they clean up their stuff, eat right, play nice, and get to bed at a decent hour. </p> <p>Government, like Mom, is a real buzz-killer. And also powerless. You can safely ignore her. After all: all she can do is yell at you, ground you, and dock your allowance. And Dad (or, in the case of government, his lawyers and lobbyists) is the truly sane and powerful one around here, and can be counted on to set her straight when he gets home.</p> <p><strong>How to Tell the Men From the Boys</strong></p> <p>Conservatives completely fetishize masculinity. They idolize sports heroes, warriors and the Manly Jesus of modern evangelicalism. They eagerly seek the trappings that will buttress their sense of maleness in their own minds -- guns, big trucks, enough money and power to push other people around. The further right you go, the more exaggerated this focus on hypermasculinity becomes.</p> <p>Psychiatrist Stephen Ducat explained this phenomenon at long length in his book, <span style="font-style: italic; "><a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Wimp-Factor-Politics-Masculinity/dp/0807043443">The Wimp Factor</a></span>. Ducat's research shows that right-wing men are so obsessed with the external trappings of maleness precisely because they've failed to develop the inner qualities and accept the obligations that are required of actual adult men. It's all show, with nothing solid on the inside to back it up. And the more fragile their masculinity feels to them, the more exaggerated the outer display they put on is.</p> <p>Given the insecurity that lies at the heart of this sad compensation, it's especially ironic that they've got the whole country buffaloed into thinking this is appropriate adult behavior. We've ended up with a culture of maleness that emphasizes the objectification and degredation of women, a lack of male accountability for anything that happens in the culture, and a definition of masculinity that's all about empty shows of dubious might -- like peacocks preening on parade.</p> <p>For the record: This is a comic-book stereotype of manhood as it's imagined by little boys. But it's not the real deal -- not even close.</p> <p>The essential difference that separates the men and the boys is that men understand and accept that they have an obligation to the greater good, and are willing to unflinchingly step up to that responsibility. They commit to their families. They work to improve their homes and communities, so they're safe and nurturing places for everyone to be. They take the long view as they plan for their kids' future. They look out for people around them who are weaker than they are. And they respect and cherish the co-parents of their children as their equal partners in that effort.</p> <p>Adult men do not resent being asked to contribute to the collective whole. They know that their actions have consequences, and that they are responsible for the impact of those consequences on the greater good of the community.</p> <p>As a veteran mom, I understand that it's totally developmentally appropriate for a teenage boy to desperately struggle to separate from his female parent as he begins to find his way toward his adult male identity. But at some point, that oppositional process is supposed to come to an end -- usually in the early- to mid-20s, with a reconciliation and renewed acceptance of Mom as a useful guide in his life. And, if he's straight, there will be a mature acceptance of his obligations to a female partner and their children as well.</p> <p>A 50-year-old CEO who's still whining because Big Bad Government is asking him to clean up his shit, look after his little brother, and not act like a psychopath in public is flat-out suffering from arrested emotional and social development. He's not a grown man, despite his thousands of employees and millions in salary. He's still that teenager, hating on Mom because she dared to remind him that he's still deeply dependent on the resources of provided by his larger family. And as a mother, I'd invite other moms to join me in calling out this immaturity for what it is, wherever we see it.</p> <p>What I really want for Mother's Day is for America's Lost Boys -- the libertarian Peter Pans, the free-market feral children, the neo-liberal ramblin' men -- to stop pretending that they're something special and uniquely free because they've managed to disassociate themselves from women's care and women's concerns.</p> <p>I want respect for the role mothers play -- both in our personal families, and in our national one. I want some recognition of the fact that the issues that are typically dismissed by the masculine fetishists as "women's issues" or "nanny-state meddling" are, in fact, the issues that the future of our country most depends on. And I want the common wealth and the common good -- the health and wealth of our national family -- to get the same kind of loving respect that all mothers are entitled to.</p> <p>Flowers and chocolate and a nice brunch are appreciated, too. But they're a meaningless insult -- a sop to authority we don't have, and aren't seen as entitled to -- long as we let the 16-year-olds run the household the other 364 days out of the year.</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670827'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670827" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Fri, 11 May 2012 08:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 670827 at https://www.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing Visions libertarianism mothers day How Conservative Religion Makes the Right Politically Stronger https://www.alternet.org/story/155081/how_conservative_religion_makes_the_right_politically_stronger <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670696'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670696" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">We may not share their theology, but right-wing religion teaches powerful lessons on courage, confidence and foresight that we could stand to learn.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1334948714_3311587295540335c761.jpg?itok=37QXIb49" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Progressives often marvel at how focused, coordinated and aggressive our conservative opposition is. They seem to fall into lockstep and march, building large organizations and executing complex strategies with an astonishing rate of success. We may be smarter, better educated and more reality-based -- but they seem to have a cohesion and a discipline that eludes us. What's going on here?<p></p></span><br /><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <o:DocumentProperties> <o:Template>Normal.dotm</o:Template> <o:Revision>0</o:Revision> <o:TotalTime>0</o:TotalTime> <o:Pages>1</o:Pages> <o:Words>2313</o:Words> <o:Characters>13185</o:Characters> <o:Company>Cosmic Cowgrrl</o:Company> <o:Lines>109</o:Lines> <o:Paragraphs>26</o:Paragraphs> <o:CharactersWithSpaces>16192</o:CharactersWithSpaces> <o:Version>12.0</o:Version> </o:DocumentProperties> <o:OfficeDocumentSettings> <o:AllowPNG /> </o:OfficeDocumentSettings> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:WordDocument> <w:Zoom>0</w:Zoom> <w:TrackMoves>false</w:TrackMoves> <w:TrackFormatting /> <w:PunctuationKerning /> <w:DrawingGridHorizontalSpacing>18 pt</w:DrawingGridHorizontalSpacing> <w:DrawingGridVerticalSpacing>18 pt</w:DrawingGridVerticalSpacing> <w:DisplayHorizontalDrawingGridEvery>0</w:DisplayHorizontalDrawingGridEvery> <w:DisplayVerticalDrawingGridEvery>0</w:DisplayVerticalDrawingGridEvery> <w:ValidateAgainstSchemas /> <w:SaveIfXMLInvalid>false</w:SaveIfXMLInvalid> <w:IgnoreMixedContent>false</w:IgnoreMixedContent> <w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText>false</w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText> <w:Compatibility> <w:BreakWrappedTables /> <w:DontGrowAutofit /> <w:DontAutofitConstrainedTables /> <w:DontVertAlignInTxbx /> </w:Compatibility> </w:WordDocument> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:LatentStyles DefLockedState="false" LatentStyleCount="276"></w:LatentStyles> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;} </style> <![endif]--><!--StartFragment--></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">There are a lot of answers to that question. But I'd suggest that some intriguing answers might come from a close study of conservative religious paradigms, which play an essential role in giving conservatives a unique kind of emotional and social durability. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Conservative faiths -- particularly evangelical Protestantism, but orthodox Catholicism and Judaism also include similar teachings --<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>inculcate a worldview that equips people with extra tools to work with in face of large-scale change. The same qualities that lead non-believers to deride faith as a crutch also give believers very real psychological support in turbulent times -- the kind of sure footing that makes organizing for political and social change easier, more effective, and more gratifying for those who are operating off this sturdy base.</span><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p> </p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">What follows are just a few examples of advantages followers of conservative religions may enjoy when facing transformative change. I offer them not as an argument for belief -- that's not an option for many of us, and not even most religious liberals would agree with the theology at work in these systems -- but rather in the hope that if we study these advantages closely, we might find authentic ways to cultivate similar strengths that are firmly rooted in our own worldview. There are lessons to be learned here.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Knowing you are on the side of right</span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">The soul-deep certainty that God is on your side, and that you are fighting on the side of Eternal Truth, may be the biggest political and cultural confidence-builder there is. Conservatives know, beyond the shadow of doubt, that they are on the side of the angels, and this profound sense of spiritual assurance reduces hesitation, spurs action, and increases their willingness to take big risks for the sake of the ultimate victory they know in their bones is coming. They shake off defeat more easily, too, because they know it's only a temporary setback on their way to that promised victory. After all, the Bible asks: if God is for us, who can be against us?<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Progressives operate from a far more open-ended place. We're suspicious of that kind of deep spiritual certainty, because we know how often it's led people and nations into moral catastrophe. Instead, we prefer to operate out of our heads. We're always questioning, taking in new data, re-analyzing, and re-deciding what we've already decided, triangulating and re-triangulating against our own moral lines. In our minds, the final outcome is never preordained; and what's "right" is an ever-shifting target that we constantly need reorient ourselves toward. Chris Mooney documented these tendencies in his recent book, <em>The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science -- And Reality</em>. He notes that this hyperflexibility can make it devilishly hard for liberals to settle on a plan of action -- let alone actually act effectively together with confidence when the time comes. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Also: because we're not buttressed by the reassuring conviction that the CEO of the Universe has our backs, we feel more acutely alone in the battle, and often doubt that our ultimate victory is anything but assured. Because of this, it's much easier for us to feel overwhelmed, discouraged and burned out. When religious conservatives feel this way, they can resort to sanctuaries of prayer, fellowship and reconnection with their sense of larger purpose. Most secular progressives don't have any kind of built-in weekly restoration-and-regeneration process -- and the lack of safe healing space does take its toll.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">I'd gently suggest that there are authentically progressive, non-theistic ways of tapping into that deep spiritual conviction, raising our own sense of trust in the righteousness of our vision, and finding regular sources of sanctuary and restoration. And that it would be good for us to start exploring ways to do this.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">We might, for example, make telling pieces of our own glorious history a regular feature of all of our gatherings. We could make a bigger ritual out of invoking the achievements of our progressive forebears, the noble example of the lives they lived, and the ways in which they altered the course of American history. These stories ground us in our own progressive identity, forge us into a community, reaffirm our shared vision, and rouse our courage. We are capable of everything Mother Jones and Martin Luther King Jr. were. Our enemies are no more dangerous or implacable now than the segregationists, the robber barons, the slaveowners, or the royalists were back then. We don't know for sure if God is for us or against us, but we do know, with certainty, that "the moral arc of the universe is long, and it bends toward justice." And we are the ones in our generation who have been entrusted with the sacred task of bending it a little further. History, at least, is on our side.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Being accountable to God, and nobody else</span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Which brings us to another, closely related item: Religious conservatives are highly motivated by the sense that, today and every day until the end of time, they're ultimately accountable to God for how things on earth turn out. The fear of failing the test before St. Peter -- and again on Judgment Day -- gives their temporal efforts a sense of urgency and commitment to the cause that we progressives sometimes have a very hard time mustering. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">At the same time -- perhaps paradoxically -- believing that the only consequence that matters will be deferred until after death makes it easier to let go of the day-to-day ebb and flow of one's fortunes here on earth. Conservative Christians believe that they are in this world, but not of it; and therefore, it's a sin to worry too much about what goes on here. And they certainly don't care much about what people outside their own tribe think about them. (Inside the tribe, they care very much.) God's judgment is the only one that matters in the end; here on earth, persecution is just the clearest possible sign that you're doing the right thing. This ability to disengage can be a profound source of peace and courage.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Progressives, on the other hand, worry a lot about this world. We have to: we believe that we are directly accountable to history and our grandkids for what happens on our watch. There is no mercy, no grace, no forgiveness or born-again do-overs if we screw it up. And that, frankly, makes us a little tense. We think we should control everything, and take it out on each other when we can't. They know they can't, and let God handle the rest. And that ability to let go of what they can't control very often makes them easier to be around, and far less likely to take out their frustrations on each other.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Recognizing your special destiny in the eternal human story</span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">All three major monotheisms have a linear view of human history as an ever-progressing struggle between the forces of Good and Evil. This narrative gives every succeeding generation an ever-more-important role on the front lines of the Ultimate Cosmic Battle (the final scene of which is always viewed as possibly happening Any Day Now). <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Seeing your personal struggles as part of an eternal battle between Good and Evil locates you in time, and gives an epic quality to your very existence. No matter how ordinary your existence is, the notion that God Has A Plan For Your Life -- and every life --  lends a vivid sense that your everyday actions have tremendous potential to affect the ultimate fate of humanity. How you manage your family and raise your kids matters. How you allocate your resources, devote your talents, and spend your time matters. What your church congregation does matters. The entire world is fraught with meaning, because your existence is exquisitely precious in the sight of God. <i style="mso-bidi-font-style:normal">You</i> matter.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Again, this sense of being a chosen warrior in a heroic and eternal struggle is a tremendous psychological confidence-booster. It encourages people to dream big -- and to take concrete steps toward fulfilling those dreams. It justifies all kinds of risks. It stirs feelings of deep love and respect toward one's fellow warriors, which in turn creates strong movement cohesion. It gives people a vast mental space in which to regain their perspective following setbacks. <p></p></span><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p> </p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">And perhaps most importantly: it confers the long view required for high-quality foresight, and the ability and inspiration to make bold plans that span decades and even generations. If your sense of time takes in all of history, from the Creation to the Apocalypse, then it doesn't really matter whether or not you'll live to see the changes you're working for. The battle is forever; your job is to fight it as well as you can while you can, while also raising the next generation to take over for you when their time comes. And the most important work isn't about getting big wins today; rather, it's the work that builds enduring institutions that will enforce the conservative worldview long after your generation is gone.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Progressives need to bear in mind that we have a long history, too. We are today's heirs to the Enlightenment, the latest in a series of generations that have been upholding America's founding values and worldview since before the nation began. The progressive argument for justice and freedom is a conversation that will not end in our lifetimes. We don't have to win all the battles, but we were born to this fight, and must also write our own chapter in its history before handing it over to the next generation. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">And, most importantly: we need to cultivate that same long foresight that leads conservatives to protect their existing institutions like they were prized forts on a battlefield (which they are), and seed new ones constantly to expand their capacity to dominate the future. Our progressive legacy includes the vast array of public and private amenities -- universities, parks, transit systems, social organizations, hospitals, libraries, public programs, on and on -- that were created by our forebears for the same purpose, and continue to add to the dignity, opportunity and enlightenment of every American. Protecting this inheritance is the first duty of every progressive. Expanding it to serve future generations is the way we pay the gift forward.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">I once was lost, but now am found</span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Another huge strength of the conservative side is the Christian redemption narrative. We make fun of the way the right-wing's fallen angels do penance and are accepted readily (often far too readily, in our view) back into respectability. Make the obligatory confession, do your ablutions, and you're back in good graces in time for Sunday dinner. And the rest of the movement will have your back the whole way. They may hate the sin, but they do walk their talk when it comes to continuing to love the sinner.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Our way of handling disgrace is demonstrably much more damaging, both to our own fallen angels and to the movement as a whole. If someone on our side is tarred -- even if we all know the smear is completely unjust and undeserved -- we will not defend the accused. Instead, we'll close ranks and jettison them before anybody else has a chance to. And over and over, we lose incredibly valuable and talented people this way -- people we've invested a lot of capital in raising up to leadership, and whose future contributions to the movement are forever lost to us when this happens.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">As long as we're so willing to off our own disgraced members, the right wing will always have an edge on us. They can take shots at our leaders and organizations (ACORN? Van Jones? Anthony Weiner?), and consistently score fatal hits, because we will reliably join them in putting their targets out of our misery. But because they have a theology that enjoins them to protect and forgive their own, they get to redeem their own disgraced people (David Vitter? Newt Gingrich?), and keep their talent in circulation. On their side, these hits are seldom fatal. They don't lose their stars very often.<p></p></span><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p> </p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">We could do with our own universally accepted rituals of repentance and redemption -- a known, established path that lets our good people make their amends and put their mistakes behind them, and enables us to acknowledge both flaws and growth in each other with grace and mercy. If someone has done their penance, there will be room again for them in our circle. And our refusal to turn on each other will also do wonders for our overall level of community trust.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p> </p></span><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">A mistake should not be the end of the world -- or even people's otherwise brilliant careers. And it won't be if we find our way back to a belief in the power of redemption.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Coming together for love and community, not just work</span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Religion is a potent social technology -- and its greatest strength is not about theology, but rather in its ability to knit people together in tight, close communities of trust, commitment, care and meaning. And regular observance of shared rituals is central to this power. Religious conservatives attend services at least once a week (in some churches, they go twice) to affirm their commitment to their shared values, celebrate and mourn the passages of life, and connect with each other not as workers and warriors, but as human beings. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Those rituals are social superglue. They build trust that extends outward into everything else these communities do. They inspire and engage people's hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits, offer incredible healing and solace when things go wrong, and provide a ready-made outlet for celebration and re-commitment to doing even more when things go right. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">The rituals that make community are simple, powerful, essentially human, and independent of any theology. </span><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Sitting down together to share a good meal. (In my long experience, there's far more likely to be large quantities of good food at a conservative gathering than a progressive one. Eating together is vastly big mojo, and we often shortchange this.) </span><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Raising voices together in song, poetry, or a shared creed. </span><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Being present with each other to mark the passages of life -- birth, marriage, parenthood, retirement, and loss. Gatherings that are about joy, play, sensual pleasure, and relaxation. Other gatherings that give us safe places to struggle among trusted friends with the things that are hardest and darkest within ourselves.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Secular progressives might even consider keeping a Sabbath. How much more effective would we be if we set aside a day of personal downtime every week? Shut off the phone, turn off the computer, and re-focus on life's deep essentials:, home, self, health, family, community, and our own sanity. It might be a day to make a real meal, have friends over, create something beautiful, linger in a hot bath with a book, take a long bike ride, watch old movies, or make a picnic with your kids. You don't have to be a person of faith to appreciate and savor the gift of simply being human. And such days are a potent reminder of why we're doing this work in the first place, and what this life is for.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Conservatives may think and believe differently than we do. But their sheer political durability is due to some specific strengths in their communities and characters -- strengths that aren't out of reach for us, even if we arrive at them by different routes. We may not believe in God; but we have every bit as deep a need to believe in our cause, our future, our prospects, ourselves, and each other. And anything we can do to deepen our confidence in those things <p></p></span><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">makes our movement more effective going forward.</span></p> <!--EndFragment--> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670696'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670696" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 08 May 2012 17:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 670696 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions The Right Wing religion faith religious right Fascist America: Have We Finally Turned The Corner? https://www.alternet.org/story/155222/fascist_america%3A_have_we_finally_turned_the_corner <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670590'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670590" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The author offers one of her periodic assessments of America&#039;s potential to go fascist. And the news is better than it&#039;s been in years.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1335825012_447379633456dd7ab07c.jpg?itok=HqsG0miZ" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <o:DocumentProperties> <o:Template>Normal.dotm</o:Template> <o:Revision>0</o:Revision> <o:TotalTime>0</o:TotalTime> <o:Pages>1</o:Pages> <o:Words>2052</o:Words> <o:Characters>11701</o:Characters> <o:Company>Cosmic Cowgrrl</o:Company> <o:Lines>97</o:Lines> <o:Paragraphs>23</o:Paragraphs> <o:CharactersWithSpaces>14369</o:CharactersWithSpaces> <o:Version>12.0</o:Version> </o:DocumentProperties> <o:OfficeDocumentSettings> <o:AllowPNG /> </o:OfficeDocumentSettings> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:WordDocument> <w:Zoom>0</w:Zoom> <w:TrackMoves>false</w:TrackMoves> <w:TrackFormatting /> <w:PunctuationKerning /> <w:DrawingGridHorizontalSpacing>18 pt</w:DrawingGridHorizontalSpacing> <w:DrawingGridVerticalSpacing>18 pt</w:DrawingGridVerticalSpacing> <w:DisplayHorizontalDrawingGridEvery>0</w:DisplayHorizontalDrawingGridEvery> <w:DisplayVerticalDrawingGridEvery>0</w:DisplayVerticalDrawingGridEvery> <w:ValidateAgainstSchemas /> <w:SaveIfXMLInvalid>false</w:SaveIfXMLInvalid> <w:IgnoreMixedContent>false</w:IgnoreMixedContent> <w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText>false</w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText> <w:Compatibility> <w:BreakWrappedTables /> <w:DontGrowAutofit /> <w:DontAutofitConstrainedTables /> <w:DontVertAlignInTxbx /> </w:Compatibility> </w:WordDocument> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:LatentStyles DefLockedState="false" LatentStyleCount="276"></w:LatentStyles> </xml><![endif]--> <!--[if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} </style> <![endif]--> <!--StartFragment--> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none">America has never been without fascist wannabes. Research by Political Research Associates <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010010428/state-union-status-report-far-right">estimates that</a>, at any given time in our history, roughly 10-12 percent of the country's population has been bred-in-the-bone right-wing authoritarians -- the people who are hard-wired to think in terms of fascist control and order. Our latter-day Christian Dominionists, sexual fundamentalists and white nationalists are the descendants -- sometimes, the literal blood descendants -- of the same people who joined the KKK in the 1920s, followed Father Coughlin in the 1930s, backed Joe McCarthy in the early '50s, joined the John Birch society in the '60s, and signed up for the Moral Majority in the 1970s and the Christian Coalition in the 1990s. <p></p><p> </p></p> <p>Given its rather stunning durability, it's probably time to acknowledge that this proto-fascist strain is a permanent feature of the American body politic. Like ugly feet or ears that stick out, it's an unchanging piece of who we are. We are going to have to learn to live with it.<p></p></p> <p>But it's also true that this faction's influence on the larger American culture ebbs and flows broadly over time. Our parents and grandparents didn't have to deal with them much at all, because the far-right fringe was pushed back hard during the peak years of the New Deal. It broke out for just a few short years in the McCarthy era -- long enough to see the rise of the Birchers -- and then was firmly pushed back down into irrelevance again.</p> <p>But the country's overall conservative drift since the Reagan years and the rise of the Internet (which enabled the right's network of regional and single-issue groups to crystallize into a single, unified, national right-wing culture over the course of the '90s and '00s) reenergized the extreme right as a political force. As a result, history may look back on George W. Bush's eight years as the "Peak Wingnut" era -- a high-water mark in radical right-wing influence and power in America. <p></p></p> <p>Now, things are changing again. <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2009083205/fascist-america-are-we-there-yet">Every year</a> <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2009083311/fascist-america-ii-last-turnoff">or so</a> <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2009083526/fascist-america-iii-resistance-long-haul">for the</a> past five years, I've written about the future prospects for America's would-be fascists on the far right. And it's time to take another look, because the political and cultural landscape they're working in now isn't at all the same one they were working in even three years ago.<p></p><p> </p></p> <p><strong>Fascist America: We Were Very Nearly There</strong><p></p></p> <p>The last time I visited this subject in 2010, progressives were reaching a point of maximum despair. In 2008, the GOP had taken its most thorough drubbing since the FDR years. But, just two years on, the far right had not only regrouped; it had taken full control of the Republican Party under the resurgent Tea Party banner -- and was getting set to elect some of the country's most extreme political, social and economic Neanderthals. In the process, it was also about to retake Congress, along with control of over half of the state governorships and legislatures. <p></p></p> <p>And take over it did. In the wake of this victory, the far right's new electees shifted into overdrive, immediately introducing brutally aggressive legislation to bust unions, disenfranchise Democratic voters and roll back a century of progress on reproductive rights. The speed and power of the onslaught was breathtaking -- but it was also driven by desperation. What most pundits missed was the fact that the far right had no time to waste, because both the mood of the country and its basic demographic realities were changing under their feet. <p></p></p> <p>Polls over the past decade show that America is, at its core, a progressive nation in every way that matters, and that this trend is solidifying and expanding with time. As Nancy L. Cohen put it in <a href="http://www.powells.com/partner/32513/biblio/9781582438016 "><em>Delirium: How The Sexual Counterrevolution Is Polarizing America</em></a>:<p></p></p> <blockquote> <p>Cultural progressivism is the new American way....A majority of all Americans now supports same-sex marriage. Americans strongly upholding Roe v. Wade, and strongly oppose the position of the Republican Party. Fully 62 percent think that abortion should be legal in the first three months of pregnancy, in which 89 percent of abortions occur; only 15 percent favor outlawing abortion in all circumstances. Americans have become less religious and less culturally conservative over the past 40 years. Polling on birth control and sexual morality show that Americans unequivocally reject the sexual fundamentalists' attempt to take us back to a time when sex was stigmatized and only legitimate when confined within the traditional heterosexual marriage. The majority of Americans believe in the basic values underpinning a culturally progressive approach to matters of sex, gender, family, and culture: privacy, personal freedom, equality, and pluralism.<p></p></p></blockquote> <p>This progressive bent also extends to the country's attitudes on ending corporate dominance over our economy, supporting a robust middle class, and addressing climate change and other environmental crises. <p></p><p> </p></p> <p>The conservatives know that the demographic trends are not on their side, and that whatever limited advantages they enjoy now are receding with every election cycle that passes. Right-wing America is old, white, rural, and religious -- a cohort that's shrinking with every passing year, and is even now in the process of being swamped by a tide of voters who are younger, urban, ethnically diverse, and largely non-churchgoing.  It was that tide, mobilized, that elected Obama -- the first time it's been heard from, but by no means the last.<p></p></p> <p>So these hard-and-fast grabs for power are a Hail Mary play. The far right sees that the clock is running out. It's rushing to consolidate its gains as fast as it can, in the hope of slamming America as far to the right as possible in the time it has left -- and also building big, ugly legal obstacles that will make it much harder to undo the damage when the younger, more progressive wave that's rolling in finally does assume full control.<p></p></p> <p><strong>The Race for the Future</strong><p><strong> </strong></p></p> <p>My past assessments of the far fascist fringe's political prospects were mostly predicated on which side would win this race for the future. <p></p><p> </p></p> <p>Would the far right -- now mostly standing under the Tea Party banner  -- manage to consolidate power fast enough to hijack our democracy entirely, and institute the fascist theocracy of its dreams? In 2010, the signs were strong that it was on track to move quickly toward that goal.<p></p></p> <p>Or, alternatively: would the basic decency, common sense and patriotism of the American people kick in in time to halt the fascist power grab and knock the country back toward its better, fairer and more democratic side? Despair was deep and time was growing short. There were few signs on the ground that this was even possible.<p></p></p> <p>In the past, I warned gravely that the first scenario was our default future unless something changed radically. Fascism creeps; and one of its hallmarks is that by the time you realize you're in it, it's too late to do anything about it. The legislative agendas being pursued in statehouses all over the country -- not to mention the stated willingness of congressional Tea Partiers to crash the American economy, tear up constitutional protections, enable theocracy, and bring our government to a standstill -- were clear warnings that our country was in the hands of radical revolutionaries who will stop at nothing, up to and including destroying the country, to get their way.</p> <p>More ominously: a political movement that's willing to take power through terrorist violence -- which the far right threatens constantly, and delivers on often enough for us to take that threat seriously -- doesn't need anything remotely like a majority to take over a country. When you're willing to use force, democracy becomes irrelevant.<p></p></p> <p>In the dark hours of 2010, it was hard to even imagine that the second scenario was possible. Americans were apathetic, disengaged and resigned. Everybody saw where things were going, but it was like watching a train wreck -- that slow-motion horror in your head, the disbelief, the sense that nobody can hear you screaming, and the sickening knowledge that there's nothing you can do to stop what you know is coming.<p></p></p> <p><strong>Pulling Ahead</strong><p></p></p> <p>Now, from the vantage point of 2012, it's surprising how quickly the view changed. It's way too soon to call a winner in the race, but as it stands now, the second scenario has pulled into the more likely position, and the possibility of a fascist America is starting to fade back.<p></p></p> <p>The difference is the same simple signal I was hoping to see back when I started tracking this in 2006. Finally, after years of impotence, average Americans have done the one thing that will make all the difference: they woke up and got pissed. Wisconsin was the first sign. Then came Occupy. Now, this spring, it's sprouting up everywhere, to the point where our would-be fascists can't take a step anywhere without getting their feet tangled up by protestors determined to hold them to account.<p></p><p> </p></p> <p>Mind you: our country's future still looks like that slow-motion train wreck. But, even though the train is still moving and the horror is still filling our heads, you can finally hear your own voice screaming. And so can everybody else. There's a gathering sense that even though there's still nothing we can do, we must do <em>something</em>. Standing on the sidelines and watching is no longer an option. We know the time has come to fight for our country's future -- and our own futures as well.<p></p></p> <p>This uprising of American decency and vision is the critical difference that switches tracks, and puts us onto an entirely new future. As long as this pushback continues, the fascist future that loomed so large in the front window through the years of Peak Wingnut will continue to belong to the receding past.</p> <p><strong>The Timeline</strong><p></p></p> <p>It won't happen quickly. It could be another decade before we can fully shove the would-be fascists in our midst back into their box. Wrestling them in there will still be a long, ugly fight. <p></p><p> </p></p> <p>A lot of the damage will come by attrition. They'll lose power with every election, as their base and funders (most of whom are quite old now) die off. They'll lose relevance as their talking heads retire, lose audiences and get canceled, or discredit themselves by saying outrageous things that are increasingly less tolerable to most Americans (and their own corporate sponsors). The fact that the most radical-right candidates in the GOP primary -- Bachmann, Perry, Gingrich, and ultimately Santorum -- all flamed out in favor of Romney speaks volumes about the limits to the far right's ultimate power within the Republican party, even now. They may pack the state houses and stall Congress, but at the end of the day, they can't elect a president.<p></p></p> <p>The Tea Party proto-fascists will probably hold onto some legislatures and congressional seats over the long haul in their home regions -- but they don't have anything like the momentum in 2012 that they did in 2010, and surveys of both voter attitudes and expected demographic shifts suggest that this decline is probably a long-term trend. They're on the wane.<p></p></p> <p>To make matters worse (for them), they're also reacting to the loss of power by digging themselves ever deeper into their own hole. Most of the Republican establishment knew from the jump that the war on women was a political disaster in the making -- but the Tea Party extremists, driven by that ticking clock, couldn't be persuaded to let it go. That recklessness may well cost the GOP the election. Now that the pushback has started, the GOP has locked itself into a self-destructive cycle in which no change of course is possible. As long as it keeps spinning this way, the odds of a Fascist America will continue to diminish by the month.<p> </p></p> <p>In the meantime, the danger of political violence may actually get worse. Right-wing domestic terrorists are at their most virulent when they're furthest back on their heels politically. Over the course of the next decade -- as the very different priorities of that younger, more urban and diverse voter cohort come to dominate the nation's political agenda --  we can expect to see an uptick in violent retribution as the most militant members of the far right make a desperate last stand for their vision of the country's future. <p></p></p> <p>As usual, the biggest trouble will likely come in the states where the friction between far-right conservatives and this new emergent electorate has already heated up to the flash point -- Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, and similar states where the old guard had been counting on fascist solutions to keep a new generation it fears under control. Alternatively, the violence will start in these states, but be directed against coastal big-city targets seen as representing the decadent society the far right refuses to accept. Either way, the more ground they lose, the wiser we'd be to expect them to try to take their frustration out on the rest of us.<p></p></p> <p><strong>A Final Word</strong><p></p><strong><br /></strong></p> <p>Some may think that in saying we've probably passed the critical switch from a likely fascist future to a likely not-fascist one, I'm somehow suggesting that the threat is passed, or that struggle is no longer required, or that we can all pack up and go home now. <p></p></p> <p>To be very clear: I am not saying that. In many ways, the real fight -- the one that pulls up the American economic, political and cultural order by its floorboards and lays down the foundation for something better, freer and more humane, fair and durable -- is only just beginning. What I am saying, however, is that the tide has turned to the point that we are not unreasonable to believe that our preferred future has a strong chance of coming to pass. Our enemies are noisy and well-funded, but they are also small in number, crazy and increasingly despised. Everywhere, the growing, rising, creative part of the country is soundly rejecting them, and the future they were offering. And on our side, there are signs of uprising everywhere -- the first green shoots of a new world in the making, one that will we will spend the next 20 years bringing into fruition.<p></p></p> <p>As long as that vision continues to spread, there will be good reason to believe that the future will most likely belong to us.<p></p></p> <!--EndFragment--> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670590'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670590" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 30 Apr 2012 21:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 670590 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions Election 2016 Culture The Right Wing fascism right wing tea party Occupy american future The Self-Made Myth: Debunking Conservatives' Favorite -- And Most Dangerous -- Fiction https://www.alternet.org/story/155149/the_self-made_myth%3A_debunking_conservatives%27_favorite_--_and_most_dangerous_--_fiction <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670530'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670530" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A new book makes a strong case that nobody ever makes it on their own in America.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1335385422_5440604654fda0d92655.jpg?itok=KCJ4LZ28" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <o:DocumentProperties> <o:Template>Normal.dotm</o:Template> <o:Revision>0</o:Revision> <o:TotalTime>0</o:TotalTime> <o:Pages>1</o:Pages> <o:Words>1733</o:Words> <o:Characters>9881</o:Characters> <o:Company>Cosmic Cowgrrl</o:Company> <o:Lines>82</o:Lines> <o:Paragraphs>19</o:Paragraphs> <o:CharactersWithSpaces>12134</o:CharactersWithSpaces> <o:Version>12.0</o:Version> </o:DocumentProperties> <o:OfficeDocumentSettings> <o:AllowPNG /> </o:OfficeDocumentSettings> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:WordDocument> <w:Zoom>0</w:Zoom> <w:TrackMoves>false</w:TrackMoves> <w:TrackFormatting /> <w:PunctuationKerning /> <w:DrawingGridHorizontalSpacing>18 pt</w:DrawingGridHorizontalSpacing> <w:DrawingGridVerticalSpacing>18 pt</w:DrawingGridVerticalSpacing> <w:DisplayHorizontalDrawingGridEvery>0</w:DisplayHorizontalDrawingGridEvery> <w:DisplayVerticalDrawingGridEvery>0</w:DisplayVerticalDrawingGridEvery> <w:ValidateAgainstSchemas /> <w:SaveIfXMLInvalid>false</w:SaveIfXMLInvalid> <w:IgnoreMixedContent>false</w:IgnoreMixedContent> <w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText>false</w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText> <w:Compatibility> <w:BreakWrappedTables /> <w:DontGrowAutofit /> <w:DontAutofitConstrainedTables /> <w:DontVertAlignInTxbx /> </w:Compatibility> </w:WordDocument> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:LatentStyles DefLockedState="false" LatentStyleCount="276"></w:LatentStyles> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} </style> <![endif]--><!--StartFragment--><p class="MsoNormal">The self-made myth is one of the most cherished foundation stones of the conservative theology. Nurtured by Horatio Alger and generations of beloved boys' stories, It sits at the deep black heart of the entire right-wing worldview, where it provides the essential justification for a great many other common right-wing beliefs. It feeds the accusation that government is evil because it only exists to redistribute wealth from society's producers (self-made, of course) and its parasites (who refuse to work). It justifies conservative rage against progressives, who are seen as wanting to use government to forcibly take away what belongs to the righteous wealthy. It's piously invoked by hedge fund managers and oil billionaires, who think that being required to reinvest any of their wealth back into the public society that made it possible is "punishing success." It's the foundational belief on which all of Ayn Rand's novels stand.</p><p class="MsoNormal">If you've heard it once from your Fox-watching uncle, you've probably heard it a hundred times. "The government never did anything for me, dammit," he grouses. "Everything I have, I earned. Nobody ever handed me anything. I did it all on my own. I'm a self-made man."</p><p class="MsoNormal"><p></p>He's just plain wrong. Flat-out, incontrovertibly, inarguably wrong. So profoundly wrong, in fact, that we probably won't be able to change the national discourse on taxes, infrastructure, education, government investment, technology policy, transportation, welfare, or our future prospects as a country until we can effectively convince the country of the monumental wrongness of this one core point.<p></p></p><p><strong>The Built-Together Realty</strong><p></p></p><p>Brian Miller and Mike Lapham have written the book that lays out the basic arguments we can use to begin to set things right. <em><a href="http://www.powells.com/partner/32513/biblio/9781609945060">The Self-Made Myth: The Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed</a></em> is a clear, concise, easy-to-read-and-use summary that brings forward a far more accurate argument about government's central role in creating the conditions for economic prosperity and personal opportunity. <p></p></p><p>Miller, the executive director of <a href="http://www.faireconomy.org/">United For a Fair Economy</a>, and Lapham, a co-founder of UFE's Responsible Wealth project, argue that the self-made myth absolves our economic leaders from doing anything about inequality, frames fair wages as extortion from deserving producers, and turns the social safety net into a moral hazard that can only promote laziness and sloth. <p></p>They argue that progressives need to overwrite this fiction with the far more supportable idea of the "built-together reality," which points up the truth that nobody in America ever makes it alone. Every single private fortune can be traced back to basic public investments that have, as Warren Buffet argues in the book, created the most fertile soil on the planet for entrepreneurs to succeed.<p></p></p><p>To their credit, Miller and Lapham don't ask us to take this point on faith. Right out of the gate, they regale us with three tales of famous "self-made" men -- Donald Trump, Ross Perot and the Koch brothers -- whose own stories put the lie to the myth. (This section alone is worth the price of admission -- these guys <em>so</em> did not make it on their own!) Once those treasured right-wing exemplars are thoroughly discredited, the middle of the book offers a welcome corrective: interviews with 14 wealthy Americans -- including well-known names like Warren Buffet, Ben Cohen, Abigail Disney, and Amy Domini -- who are very explicit about the ways in which government action laid the groundwork for their success. Over and over, these people credit their wealth to:<p> </p></p><p><strong>* An excellent education received in public schools and universities. </strong>Jerry Fiddler of Wind River Software (you're probably running his stuff in your cell phone or car) went to the University of Chicago, and started his computer career at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Bookseller Thelma Kidd got her start at Texas Tech and the University of Michigan. Warren Buffet went to the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Nebraska as an undergrad. And beyond that: several interviewees paid for their educations with federal Pell Grants and Stafford loans. <p></p></p><p>Over and over, the point gets made: public universities -- and the good public schools that feed them, and the funding programs that put them within financial reach -- have hatched millions of American entrepreneurs who might not have been fledged without that opportunity to get an education.<p></p></p><p><p><strong> </strong></p><strong>* The support of the Small Business Administration and other government agencies.</strong> Ben Cohen notes that almost all the business training he and Jerry Greenfield had came from extension courses at the University of Vermont and Penn State, and small brochures produced by the SBA. And as they spun up, they also got an Urban Development Action Grant from the federal government. Other interviewees started their businesses in incubators or other quarters provided or arranged by their local city governments.<p></p></p><p><strong>* A strong regulatory environment</strong> that protected their businesses from being undercut by competitors willing to cut corners, and ensured that their manufacturing inputs are of consistently high quality. Glynn Lloyd of Boston's City Fresh Foods points out that nobody in the food business can get by without reliable sources of clean water; and that the USDA inspection process is an important piece of his quality control.<p></p></p><p><strong>* Enforceable copyright and intellectual property laws</strong>that enabled them to protect good ideas. Abigail Disney recalls that her father, Roy Disney, and her Uncle Walt made and lost one great cartoon character -- Oswald the Rabbit -- because they didn't have copyright protection. They didn't repeat that mistake when Mickey Mouse was born three years later, launching the Disney empire.<p></p></p><p><strong>* A robust system of roads, ports, airports, and mass transit </strong>that enabled them to reliably move their goods both within the US, and around the world. Kim Jordan of New Belgium Brewing (the makers of Fat Tire beer) points out that "Beer is heavy, and it needs to be transported in vehicles. Certainly, the highway system has been important to New Belgium Brewing." Lloyd also points out that Boston's excellent public transit system enables him to draw on a far wider employee base.<p></p></p><p><strong>* The government's role in creating the Internet,</strong> without which almost no modern company can function. Anirvan Chatterjee built Bookfinder.com (now a subsidiary of Amazon.com), the world's biggest online used-book marketplace, as an entirely Internet-based company -- an achievement that wouldn't have been remotely imaginable without DARPA, the establishment and enforcement of common protocols, and significant congressional investment in the 1980s to take the Internet commercial.</p><p><p></p><strong>* The ability to issue public stock in a fair, reliable, regulated marketplace</strong>  -- a benefit that raised the value of several interviewees' companies by about 30 percent overnight. Peter Barnes, founder of Working Assets, spoke with concern about the loss of trust in this system over the past decade. "The corporate scandals [Enron and Worldcom] caused people to stop trusting the numbers that companies were reporting. Imagine how much value is created by trust and the whole system that assures that trust?"<p></p></p><p>Besides the government, most of those interviewed also locate their companies in the context of a large community of customers they utterly depend on for their success. "It takes a village to raise a business," says Nikhil Arora of Back to the Roots, a sustainable products company that came about through partnerships and grants from UC Berkeley, Peet's Coffee and other interested parties. <p></p><p> </p></p><p>Others are quick to acknowledge the contributions of their employees, without whom their companies wouldn't exist. When Gun Denhart and her husband sold their company, children's clothier Hanna Andersson, in 2003, they distributed a healthy portion of the sale proceeds to their employees, prorated on the basis of their length of service.</p><p>All businesses exist within a vast network of human connections -- customers, vendors, employees, investors, and the communities that support their work. These stories make it clear: saying you did it all yourself and therefore don't owe anybody anything is about as absurd (and self-centered) as saying that you raised yourself from babyhood, without any input from your parents, and therefore don't have any further obligations to your family.</p><p><strong>The Role of Luck and Timing</strong><p></p></p><p>We all know wealth isn't just a matter of hard work, brains or talent. Most of us probably know hard-working, brilliant, or extraordinarily talented people who aren't being rewarded at anything close to their true value. So perhaps the most intriguing and useful part of the book is a long discussion of the many other essential factors that go into making someone wealthy -- factors that are blithely brushed off the table whenever the self-made myth is invoked.<p></p></p><p>Rich conservatives have to downplay the role of luck. After all, if we think they're just lucky, rather than exceptionally deserving of exceptional wealth, we'll be a lot more justified in taxing their fortunes. But luck -- the fortunate choice of parents, for example, or landing in the right job or industry at the right time -- plays a huge role in any individual's success. Timing also matters: most of the great fortunes of the 19th century were accumulated by men born during the 1830s, who were of an age to capitalize on the huge economic boom created by the expansion of the railroads after the Civil War. Likewise, the great tech fortunes almost all belong to people born between 1950 and 1955, who were well-positioned to create pioneering companies in the tech boom of the late 1970s and 1980s. Such innovative times don't come along very often; and being born when the stars lined up just so doesn't make you more entitled. It just makes you luckier.</p><p>Because Americans in general like to think we're an equal society, we're also quick to discount the importance of race, gender, appearance, class, upbringing, and other essential forms of social capital that can open doors for people who have it -- and close them on those who don't. The self-made myth allows us to deflect our attention from these critical factors, undermining our determination to level the playing field for those who don't start life with a pocket fat with advantages.<p></p></p><p><strong>What Changes?</strong><p></p></p><p>The book winds up with specific policy prescriptions that can bring the built-together reality back into sharper political and cultural focus. The last section shows how abandoning the self-made myth for a built-together reality creates fresh justification for a more progressive income tax, the repeal of the capital gains exemption and raising corporate and inheritance taxes. It also makes a far more compelling philosophical backdrop against which progressives can argue for increased investment in infrastructure, education, a fair minimum wage, a strong social safety net, and better anti-discrimination laws.<p></p></p><p>But the most striking thing about the book -- implicit throughout, but explicit nowhere -- was the alternative vision of capitalism it offers. Throughout the book, Miller and Lapham seem to be making the tacit case that businesses premised on the built-together reality are simply more fair, more generous, more sustainable, and more humane. While far from perfect (Disney's empire being one case in point), they are, as a group, markedly more aware of the high costs of exploiting their workers, their customers, the economy, or the environment. Owners who believe themselves to be beholden to a community for their success will tend to value and invest back into that community, and they seem to be far more willing to realize when they've got enough and it's time to start giving back. <p></p></p><p>The implication is clear: if we can interrupt American's long love affair with the self-made myth, we will effectively pull the center tent pole out from under the selfish assumptions that shelter most of the excesses of corporate behavior that characterize our age. This isn't just another point of contention between progressives and conservatives; it's somewhere near the very center of the disconnect between our worldviews. <em>The Self-Made Myth</em> is an essential primer that gives us the language and stories to begin talking about this difference, and the tools to begin to bend that conversation in some new and more hopeful directions.<p></p></p><!--EndFragment--><p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates.</p> </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670530'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670530" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 25 Apr 2012 09:00:00 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 670530 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Books Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Economy The Right Wing Visions self-made myth responsible wealth fair economy $5,000 For a Pair of Sandals: The Rich Are Different, Right Down to Their Shoes https://www.alternet.org/story/155139/%245%2C000_for_a_pair_of_sandals%3A_the_rich_are_different%2C_right_down_to_their_shoes <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670490'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670490" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In a world where kids are starving and ice caps are melting, how can people spend $5K on shoes?</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1335299295_wavewedge.jpg?itok=ylRCh3q9" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p class="MsoNormal">The fashionista world has been having a collective snit this spring over a huge and sudden increase in the price of designer shoes. <a href="http://jezebel.com/5896426/why-are-designer-shoes-so-damn-expensive-all-of-a-sudden">A choice quote from Jezebel</a> summarizes the outraged screams rising across the nation:</p> <blockquote> <p class="MsoNormal">Any dedicated observer of shoe culture knows that over the last decade or so, something very strange and concerning happened to designer shoes: they got <b>really fucking expensive</b>. In the early 2000s, a pair of <b>Pradas</b> or <b>YSLs</b> could be had at full price for around <b>$400</b>. </p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:15.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:&#10;Georgia;color:#262626">$400 is pretty damn insane, but that was then: at the most recent Barneys Warehouse Sale many of the <i>sale</i> prices were higher than that. One struggles to name a consumer item whose price has inflated more dramatically in recent years than the designer shoe (and it's not like $400 is "cheap," as baselines go, to begin with). Basic designer pumps now often hit in the <b>$700-$900</b> range. Even newer designers, like <b>Brian Atwood</b> and <b>Camilla Skovgaard</b>, feel justified in pricing some of their offerings at over <b>$1000</b>. <b>Christian Louboutin</b>'s zippered </span><a href="http://www.net-a-porter.com/product/189068?cm_mmc=ProductSearch-_-US-_-Sandals-_-20th"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:15.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:Georgia;color:#C62D36;&#10;text-decoration:none;text-underline:none">heels</span></a><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:15.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:Georgia;color:#262626">will set you back nearly <b>$1600</b>. Anything with embellishment or exotic leather might top <b>$2000</b>. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:15.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:&#10;Georgia;color:#262626">What. The. Fuck?<p></p></span></p></blockquote> <p class="MsoNormal"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:15.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:&#10;Georgia;color:#262626">Safe behind its paywall, WWD -- the fashion industry's paper of record -- has <a href="http://www.glamour.com/fashion/blogs/slaves-to-fashion/2012/03/why-designer-shoes-are-so-expe.html ">apparently defended the increase</a>, explaining that materials prices have gone up, and the US dollar has lost ground against the euro, and also admitting (in many more obfuscating words) that designers and retailers are working overtime to exploit the already absurdly high profit margins to be found on statusy shoes and handbags.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:15.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:&#10;Georgia;color:#262626">The Wave wedge</span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:15.0pt;mso-bidi-font-family:&#10;Georgia;color:#262626"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal">So why should we care? Progressives are, by definition, pretty much not the target audience for these shoes.<span style="mso-spacerun:&#10;yes"> </span>Beyond the ridiculous price tags, they're too high to walk in, and most of us don't have anything in our closets that would remotely go.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Here's why we should care. WWD's reedy rationalizations don't explain the crowning absurdity of N-M's spring collection: the above-pictured black-and-gold sandal. Far and away the most expensive shoe in the collection (more than double the price of the next contender, in fact), it was designed by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen -- the woman who also designed Princess Kate's wedding gown, and is clearly making her bid to cash in.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">This should be enough to give us pause. I mean: Five grand for a pair of shoes?<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>In a world where kids are starving and ice caps are melting and we're closing public hospitals and libraries?</p> <p class="MsoNormal">As Jezebel so aptly put it: What the fuck?</p> <p class="MsoNormal">I tried to contact Neiman-Marcus' PR chief, Ginger Reeder, to ask her what could possibly make a shoe worth $5,000. I wanted to ask her: what's the value proposition here? Historically, designer shoes were at least good value: they were well-built, comfortable, durable, and had classic good looks that ensured you'd keep loving them for years.<p> </p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">But clearly, this shoe is not remotely about durability, quality or enduring style (and it's sure as hell not about comfort). Its sole reason for being is to show off. The fashion statement here is direct and clear: "I'm so ostentatiously rich that I can throw around gobs of cash just to have the newest thing. Suck on this, peons."</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>How does this happen?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">It was probably predictable that I got no response from Ms. Reeder. (I mean, honestly: what sensible thing could she have possibly said?)<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>So I turned to another expert on conspicuous consumption: Pulitzer Prize-winning financial writer David Cay Johnston. What, I asked him, does it say about us as a country that a store can market something like this, and find buyers for it?</p> <p class="MsoNormal">First of all, Johnston said: remember that Neiman-Marcus has made its name selling over-the-top stuff (up to and including bespoke Learjets), so it thrives on the attention it gets from items like this. And second, for women in the top income level, "$5,000 is like chewing gum money" -- they hardly miss it.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">"We've reached a point where this very, very narrow band of people -- the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent -- has these incredible amounts of money coming at them constantly from their investments. But they pay relatively light taxes compared to people who work and have big incomes but make nothing like they're making -- and they have literally no place to put this money."<p> </p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">So, Johnston continued, "They have more money than they have any utility for...Money at a certain point loses all meaning, in the same way that if you are unbelievably beautiful, it loses all meaning and distorts what you do.<p> </p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">"And I don't have any doubts that they'll sell at least a few pair of these shoes. You can imagine some incredibly rich guy simply sending a pair of these to his wife or his mistress or his second mistress." And then a joke: "The second mistress is always more expensive than the first one because it's a newer model and you're an older guy."</p> <p class="MsoNormal">This kind of extravagance may be uniquely American, Johnston observed. It's certainly not possible in most of the rest of the world. "If they lived in Bangladesh, they'd have nowhere near this kind of money," he noted, referring to the vast public and private infrastructure that makes wealth acquisition so much easier here than almost anywhere else. And in other countries where that infrastructure does exist, it's far more aggressively taxed. "This is a reflection of how the enormous fruits of the American economy are not being distributed in any relationship to their contributions to that economy."</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>And worst of all: Guess who's picking up the tab?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Then Johnston mentioned something else that should piss people off a whole lot more than over-inflated shoe prices. It's this: in some cases, there are absolutely legal ways for rich women to shunt some of the cost of an absurd shoe purchase off onto taxpayers. For some of the buyers of the Wave wedge, we may end up picking up part of the tab.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Johnston explains how this works. A famous actress -- say, Angelina Jolie -- buys a $5K pair of shoes and wears them to an event. Then, she donates them to a charity auction, which may sell them for more than $5K (whee! Angelina's <em>actual shoe</em><em>s</em>!) -- and takes the value of the sale as a tax deduction. Which means we end up subsidizing roughly 40 percent of the the purchase of a pair of once-worn $5K shoes. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>And she may actually end up making money on the deal.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Of course, the amount of the deduction varies directly with the fame of the person wearing the shoes. Kim Kardashian routinely sells her once-worn shoes on eBay for a hefty profit. Regular gals like me can only deduct the going thrift-store rate -- and that's only if we itemize our taxes, which most Americans don't.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">In other cases, studios and production companies buy things like this, and take them as a business deduction. All those Hermes handbags and Manolo Blahnik shoes worn by the <em>Sex and the City</em> cast? We also subsidized it all to the tune of about 40 percent -- the amount of the tax deduction the show's producers were able to take because they were used in a show.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><strong>What else does $5,000 buy?</strong></p> <p class="MsoNormal">I can't help but think about how much more good could be done with the $5,000 a handful of rich N-M customers are going to squander on these shoes. Assuming they sell 100 pair -- which is a conservative assumption -- that's a half a million bucks. With that kind of money, you can fix up a school, improve a park, or put a few hundred kids through Head Start. You can put two would-be doctors all the way through medical school. You can staff a full-time seniors' or youth center serving a middling-sized city. You can put half a dozen more nurses into the local hospital, or that same number of teachers into neighborhood classrooms.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">Any of these things have far more lasting value than a pair of shoes that will be yesterday's news by Labor Day.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">If someone's rich enough to spend five grand on shoes and not even feel it, she's rich enough to pay a lot more than that in taxes. The right wing likes to say that people have a right to keep the money they earn, and spend it however they like. But in a time when money is so tight for 99 percent of us -- and yet those same rich folks are telling us every day that we don't deserve to have decent (or even basic) government services -- it's time to insist that their right to profit comes with a serious responsibility attached to it. They only deserve to make that money as long as they're going to invest it in things that will build enduring value for society.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">And that -- emphatically -- does not include shoes that cost one-tenth of what the average American household brings home in a year. Am I instigating class warfare? If so: bring it on. Because as long as there are families out of work, banks that refuse loans to the middle class, and a national debt our financial titans refuse to pay, indulgences like this are the stuff of which revolutions should rightfully be made.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><p> </p></p> <!--EndFragment--> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670490'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670490" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 24 Apr 2012 10:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 670490 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions Economy Culture consumption inequality fashion david cay johnston 6 People You Need to Start a Revolution https://www.alternet.org/story/154968/6_people_you_need_to_start_a_revolution <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670344'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670344" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Successful change movements run on diversity. Here are the essential skill sets no revolution can win without.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1334246509_4046764327396befce65.jpg?itok=tfsjnmWn" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>With the 99% Spring up and rolling and set to bring 100,000 new activists to the party this weekend, there's some increased friction between various progressive groups who are working to expand the movement this year. <p></p></p> <p>It's a good time to remember that mass movements are — by design and necessity — big and diverse, encompassing lots of different kinds of people who bring all kinds of skills, resources, interests and priorities to the table. As progressives, we've always believed that that diversity is our most important strength. <p></p></p> <p>There's not enough that can be said about the genius of Occupy at raising America's awareness of the corporatization of our culture, and defining and framing the predations of the 1 percent against the 99 percent as the defining conflict of our age. But now it's time to take the message out of the parks and streets and into the American mainstream. If the goal is to build a truly diverse nationwide movement that will change the foundations of the American economy, getting more established groups like MoveOn.org, Rebuild the Dream and the labor unions involved can only be a good thing.<p></p></p> <p>For the revolution to spread, the Occupy protestors need to be joined by other people — very specific kinds of other people, in fact. Centuries of social change theorists going back to Marx and before have figured out that successful revolutions require certain recurring character types and skill sets. History tells us that the relationships between these very different groups are more often than not fractious and prickly -- and, in fact, revolutions (like the French Revolution) can very easily fail when they're seized and overwhelmed by vicious infighting between people who are nominally on the same side. <p></p></p> <p>(A sober reminder: The Terror was, at its core, a purge against "co-optation": Robespierre was determined to preserve the purity of the revolution at all costs. A majority of the people who went to the guillotine, including, ultimately, Robespierre himself, were on the side of the revolution.)<p></p></p> <p>At some point, we have to decide we're going to trust each other, or this new revolution simply isn't going to work. Based on the patterns of history, there are six categories of people without whom no modern revolution has ever succeeded. And that success only happened when members of all six groups were able to put their personal misgivings aside, honor and value the irreplaceable knowledge each one brought to the table, and consciously built up enough mutual trust to bring about the future vision all the parties shared.<p></p></p> <p><strong>Activists</strong> <p></p></p> <p>There's no doubt about it: you need rabble-rousers, organizers, rally makers, protest leaders — the people who know how to turn masses of people out into the streets, keep them there for as long as it takes, and get the rest of the country (media, politicians, the man and woman in the street) to pay attention to what they're saying. In every generation, this requires different skills, different technologies, and different tactics. But without these people, you don't have a movement.<p></p></p> <p>That's the piece of the equation that progressives haven't been great at for a long time, and that Occupy revived for us with tremendous originality and flair. They kicked open the door, went in, and dragged America to the table for a new conversation. When the activists move, history gets made.<p></p></p> <p><strong>Intellectuals</strong><p></p></p> <p>But even the best activists can't move the masses if they don't have a coherent story to tell, clear arguments to make, and game-changing policy changes to demand. Every successful movement has a compelling, factual story about why change must happen and well-reasoned theory for how that change must occur. This R&amp;D function is what intellectuals bring to the revolution.<p></p></p> <p>In the current moment, the progressive movement's intellectuals are its think-tankers, bloggers, speakers, professors and authors — the people who've been honing critiques of corporatist economy, politics and culture over the past few decades. Over time, they've quietly been dreaming up a new vision for how a truly free, secure, sustainable, and just American society ought to work. <p></p></p> <p>In every successful revolution, the intellectuals are the people who hang onto the map of where we're going, and keep us from drifting off course when the chaos of change threatens to blow us into dangerous deeps. They know, better than anybody, how this new order goes together and what we'll need to do to build it.<p></p></p> <p><strong>Artists</strong><p></p></p> <p>It's a tragic truth that the kinds of imaginative people who can envision new societies — the intellectuals — are typically not the same people who know how to communicate those visions to the great mass of people. In fact, the intellectuals are often crummy at it. To get people off their butts and out into the streets, you need professional storytellers — writers, artists, songwriters, poets, filmmakers, actors, ritualists — who are gifted at grabbing people by the guts and not letting them go.<p></p></p> <p>Artists are the ones who transform the intellectuals' ideas and visions into heart-level imperatives brimming with deep historical and personal meaning. They're the ones who can inspire vast numbers of people to make the necessary sacrifices, to feel intense bonds of solidarity, and to understand that the work of revolution is the most important work of their lives. You can't do that with a treatise. It takes a manifesto, a movie, a theatrical ritual, a marching song.<p></p></p> <p>Emma Goldman said: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." Our artists are the ones who make sure that we keep dancing, even when things are at their darkest. Without artists keeping them engaged in the grand story of their own quest, people lose focus and wander off. But with that encouragement, they'll dance bravely straight into the abyss, even if they know death is waiting for them there. <p></p></p> <p><strong>Insiders</strong><p></p></p> <p>The activists, intellectuals and artists are all loath to admit it, but the bare fact is that no revolution succeeds without a cadre of shrewd political operators who intuitively understand how power works, and are ready to rush in and deftly pull exactly the right levers the minute they're left unguarded by the powers that be. <p></p></p> <p>This fact is going down really hard across the progressive movement right now. Here we are, trying to purify the nation from its corruption by the money power. It's natural that we'd be the most suspicious of the people in our own midst who best understand how that power works. We worry that this familiarity somehow taints their intentions and bends their sympathies. It bothers us that they know how to speak to evil on friendly terms in its own native language, and are willing to negotiate compromises with it. We doubt that they're really as committed to the idea of revolution as the rest of us are, and feel constantly uneasy about where their true loyalties lie.<p></p><p> </p></p> <p>These are all very valid concerns, and they should be attended to. Of all the groups, this one is far and away the hardest one to trust. After all, they sit across lunch tables inside the beltway exchanging funny stories about their kids and dogs with people from Heritage, AEI and Cato! They go to parties hosted by billionaire banksters! They've got lobbyists on speed-dial!<p></p></p> <p>And yet we need trustworthy and committed insiders every bit as much as we need our activists, intellectuals and artists. Insiders are our eagle-eyed scouts and spotters. Without access to the thousand small details they know about how the system works — the people, the rules, the gossip, the way power and money flows — our strategies to undermine it are doomed to failure. They're also the ones most likely to notice subtle change signals coming from inside the power centers, alert us to rare windows of opportunity when they open, and tell us what we need to do gain maximum leverage over events.<p></p></p> <p>Love 'em or hate 'em, trust 'em or keep a close eye on 'em, it's all fine, and the best ones completely understand and expect this. But at the end of the day, we will not succeed with our inside operators. No revolution ever does. It turns out that if you want to dismantle the master's house, it actually does help to have someone on your side with a journeyman's knowledge of the master's tools.<p></p></p> <p><strong>Supportive</strong> <strong>Elites</strong><p></p></p> <p>Marx may have been the first one to notice that revolutions only really take off when they're backed by a group of disaffected elites -- both economic and intellectual --who are willing to bring their connections, influence, organizational skills, money, fame and other resources to bear. <p></p></p> <p>Either because of upper-class birth or sheer dint of talent, these people have been trained from childhood to lead society's important institutions. In a stable society, they're typically very well-rewarded by the status quo for this service, and thus don't have any incentive to rock the boat. <p></p>But one of the hallmarks of a society that's descending into revolution is that the rewards system fails everybody, and these are the very people with the most of all to lose. Always, we see what we see now: a few greedheads get all the money, and people of real merit, skill and talent get the shaft. <p></p></p> <p>Alongside them, there are also a handful of rich people with strong social consciences whose theory of wealth follows Paul Wellstone's rule: Everybody does better when everybody does better. They know that their own prosperity depends on a strong middle class and are willing to get into the fight to protect the nation's future. When these two groups get angry enough to abandon their privileges and join the fight, everything changes.<p></p></p> <p>If the other groups are building the fuse, it's the elites who carry the matches. They bring enough cultural and financial gravity to leverage a local uprising into a major revolution. They add ballast and weight to the revolution's efforts, slicing through obstacles and putting massive momentum behind every new action. The connected ones gather support for change in the halls of power, and like the insiders (who often play an important role in convincing them to step up), they are skilled at anticipating and countering the big counterattacks when they come. The famous ones get the media to pay attention to the cause and sometimes to say nice things about it. The rich ones ensure that the revolution has beans, boots and bullets -- because at the end of the day, the fight can last only as long as these people's resources do.<p></p></p> <p><strong>The Masses</strong><p></p></p> <p>And finally, we come to the basic truth: You cannot have a mass movement without the masses. Margaret Mead said that a few truly committed individuals can change the world. But they never do it alone; they do it by getting a big enough slice of society engaged and ready for the fight.<p></p></p> <p>How big a slice? Good question. A rough answer would be about 15 percent of the country. That's about the number of Americans who identify with the Tea Party. It's also the number of Americans who participated in the American Revolution (and also about the number of active Nazi Party members in prewar Germany). At 15 percent, almost everybody in the country knows someone in the group personally. It's enough to win a few elections in various corners of the country, putting you on the political map. It is, in short, enough people to create some pretty serious cultural and political ripples.<p></p></p> <p>By this measure, we're already doing fabulously well. Various polls over the past year have found that Americans' sympathy for Occupy has at times run as high as 70 percent. This suggests that progressives are now telling a story that Americans are ready to hear and that makes sense to them. A lot of people are interested in what we're doing and wondering how they might get involved.</p> <p>But Boomer-era progressives are worried. They know all too well from their own experience how easy it is to lose the sympathy of average Americans when we appear to threaten their sensibilities, even if they share our goals and values. But they also know that as long as we keep the focus on the broader story, rather than the small dramas, we have the first real chance in years to change the way America works.<p></p></p> <p>The broader story the masses want to hear from us is this: <p></p></p> <p><em>America's greatness and prosperity was built on the strength of her working and middle classes. Together, we — the 99 percent — built the world's strongest democracy, enforced the rule of law, provided for the common defense, promoted the general welfare, established an ever-rising standard of justice, ensured domestic tranquility, and secured the blessings of liberty for many generations of American families.</em><p></p><em><br /></em></p> <p><em>Now, our 99 percent way of life is gone, devoured by an elite 1 percent who took over our own government and used it against us to seize both the personal and the common wealth amassed for us by generations of our ancestors and provided to us by the bounty of this land.</em><p></p><em><br /></em></p> <p><em>We want our American birthright back. We want to restore rule by the 99 percent. We want the elites to return our futures and our government to us. We will challenge them by every means we can find until this happens.</em><p></p><p><i><br /></i></p></p> <p><em>We are not going away. Their 1 percent's dream of an American feudal state is over. Our American dream of sustainable prosperity and opportunity for the rest of us is now beginning — again.</em><p></p></p> <p>That's not a story any one of the above groups can ever tell on its own. It will take all of us — activists, intellectuals, artists, insiders, elites and the masses — combining our common will and focus to bring that future about. And the sooner we can start honoring the specific and necessary skills and strengths each of us brings to the process, even when they're different from our own, the sooner we'll be on our way to the next American Dream.<p></p><p> </p></p> <!--EndFragment--> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson, MS, APF, is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670344'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670344" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Thu, 12 Apr 2012 05:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 670344 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions Culture Activism moveon rebuild the dream Occupy 99% spring Deciphering Right-Wing Code: What Conservatives Are Really Saying When They Seem to Spew Nonsense https://www.alternet.org/story/154853/deciphering_right-wing_code%3A_what_conservatives_are_really_saying_when_they_seem_to_spew_nonsense <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670206'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670206" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Did Rick Santorum just declare the next right-wing crusade?</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1333566458_6184432968d14c29e93f.jpg?itok=Xtves6mh" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Progressive commentators have been piling on Rick Santorum for a weirdly incoherent statement he made about the state of American history classes in America's colleges. Here's what he said:</p> <blockquote> <p>"I was just reading something last night from the state of California. And the state of California universities -- I think it's seven or eight of the California system of universities -- don't even teach an American history course. It's not even available to be taught. Just to tell you how bad it's gotten in this country, where we're trying to disconnect the people from the root of who we are...."</p></blockquote> <p>The derision Santorum has received is well-deserved. He messed up the facts badly: 10 of the 11 UC campuses do teach US history (the only exception is UC San Francisco, which is exclusively a graduate-level health sciences campus and offers no humanities classes at all).</p> <p>It also misses the point. It's not news when a conservative says something that was flat-out wrong, or when liberals take smug satisfaction in demonstrating that they are (as usual) factually right. But there was something else Santorum said in that statement that was newsworthy and important -- and in our zeal to debunk the facts, many progressives are completely missing it. </p> <p><strong>It's Not About the Facts</strong></p> <p>The thing to remember is this: Even though right-wing narratives are often factually wrong, they are absolutely never content-free. Stories like this are always about something. And the weirder and more factually challenged they sound to liberal ears, the more important it probably is for us to know what that something is. Too often, our obsession with the gobsmacking wrongness of these statements deafens us to clues to the right's current motives and intentions that are frequently lurking in these strange declarations.</p> <p>I'm a native-born speaker of right-wing code. And what I heard in Santorum's ramble was, frankly, hair-raising. To my ears, it was a very loud and clear tip-off that conservatives are gearing up an all-out frontal assault on funding for America's public universities.</p> <p><strong>The Story Beneath the Story</strong></p> <p>Santorum's brief comment, incoherent as it seemed, communicated a great deal to his audience by artfully triggering a vast universe of essential right-wing memes. Consider what got communicated here.</p> <p>The University of California may have 11 campuses, but in the right-wing mind, "UC" is code for just one of them -- UC Berkeley, the first and still-flagship campus, which holds a mythic position as Ground Zero for all of Dirty Hippiedom in the conservative imagination. If Satan is alive on earth, there is no doubt that his zip code is 94720. Everything conservatives loathe about the Evil 1960s is epitomized by the very word, "Berkeley."</p> <p>Oblique as this already is, invoking UC and Berkeley also calls forth the ghost of Ronald Reagan -- always a good thing in conservative stories. Let it never be forgotten that Our Hero made his political bones by standing up to those Dirty Hippie brats while he was governor of California. He punished them by abolishing UC's free tuition -- which is still remembered by the faithful as the first historic salvo in the long war to defund all public services.</p> <p>Furthermore: picking on UC was telling in another way. When conservatives seriously gather themselves to go after somebody, they always attack frontally, at their intended victim's point of greatest strength. (See also: swiftboating.)  The University of California system has long been regarded as the best public university system in America, and Berkeley as the best single public university in the country. Santorum's story's focus on this particular system -- the biggest, baddest exemplar of its type -- is no random accident. It draws a bead on the strongest target on the field. This is almost always a clear sign that conservatives are lining up their artillery -- in this case, for an open assault on America's public colleges and universities.</p> <p><strong>The Crusade Begins</strong></p> <p>When wingnuts say stuff like this, it is never, ever offhand. This narrative is making the rounds on the right because somebody is laying the groundwork for an imminent, planned political action. Santorum's screed is the first stage of this campaign. It's a story that justifies the coming action, and puts the issue on the public table for discussion. It explains to right-wing followers that public universities, already well-understood as havens for liberal (!) public employees (!!) who exist only to corrupt the youth (!!!), are now also so blatantly unpatriotic (!!!!) that they no longer deserve taxpayer support.</p> <p>Further inquiry bore this suspicion out. It turns out that Santorum's weird claims about UC's history departments were a garbled rendering of <a target="_blank" href="http://professional.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303816504577312361540817878.html?mg=reno64-wsj">an op-ed that appeared last week</a> in the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>. (The article is behind a paywall; but <a target="_blank" href="http://www.nas.org/images/documents/A_Crisis_of_Competence.pdf.">the report it referenced</a>, from the conservative Hoover Institution, is not.) The WSJ piece deplored UC's history programs thusly:</p> <blockquote> <p>This decline in the quality of education coincides with a profound transformation of the college curriculum. None of the nine general campuses in the UC system requires students to study the history and institutions of the United States. None requires students to study Western civilization, and on seven of the nine UC campuses, including Berkeley, a survey course in Western civilization is not even offered. In several English departments one can graduate without taking a course in Shakespeare. In many political science departments majors need not take a course in American politics.</p></blockquote> <p>The report goes on to point out that university faculties skew decidedly liberal (perhaps because the facts have a well-known liberal bias), and that nothing but partisan education happens behind those ivy walls.</p> <p>You can kind of squint sideways and see how Santorum got from here to there.</p> <p>For the record: it is true that a single "survey course on Western Civilization" isn't offered at most UC campuses. That's because Western Civilization courses are more typically offered in a multi-part series, because the professors don't think it's possible to effectively teach 3,000 years of history in a mere 10 weeks. So all of UC's undergrad campuses offer plenty of courses in both US and Western history, and a lot of students take them to fulfill their general education requirements. However, it's also true that many students choose to broaden their horizons by taking something they didn't already cover in both elementary and high school -- say, Asian or African history -- instead.</p> <p>Given how fast and loose the WSJ played with this point, it's probably not wise to credit it with much accuracy on the other claims, either.</p> <p>But the content of this Hoover report isn't as important as the fact of its provenance, its existence, and its publication on the pages of the WSJ. Right-wing crusades almost always start with think-tank reports; and are issuized on the pages of conservative magazines and newspapers. From there, the ideas are picked up and disseminated by Fox, politicians, conservative ministers, and right-wing bloggers. If all goes well, within weeks, legislators will be paying attention, and lobbyists will be presenting them with ready-written legislation to propose to deal with this manufactured "problem."</p> <p>This is the path we're on now. Santorum was setting the stage. He warned us, very clearly: Following the War on Public Employees and the War on Women, this will be the summer of the War on Public Universities. Whether the proposals will be to revoke their charters, close campuses, or sell off their facilities to for-profit colleges, you can bet that ALEC already has the bills in the can, and will be introducing them in state legislatures presently.  </p> <p>We can waste our time and energy marveling at Mr. Santorum's lack of facticity -- or we can hear the clear warning of real danger just ahead, and start getting ready to defend our public universities.<span style="font-family: Arial; "><br /></span></p> <p> </p> <!--EndFragment--> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670206'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670206" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 04 Apr 2012 08:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 670206 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions News & Politics Education Activism The Right Wing santorum maddow public universities 10 Big Mistakes People Make in Thinking About the Future https://www.alternet.org/story/154773/10_big_mistakes_people_make_in_thinking_about_the_future <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670184'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670184" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In a time of huge change and uncertainty, we need to think about the future as clearly as possible. Here&#039;s where we most often get it wrong.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1333137382_4679104514e0f58e00.jpg?itok=MK0bjIkA" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Being a working futurist means that I think a lot about how people think about the future. It also means spending a lot of time with people who are also thinking about their own futures.</p> <p>Typically, this involves a dialogue between three distinct groups.</p> <p>First, there's usually a small handful of very foresighted people, who are aware of their own blind spots and biases, and who are eager and open about the prospect of soaring into a wild blue sky to gather a lot of exciting new information. </p> <p>Second, there's a larger group of people who don't usually think at 50,000 feet -- but are willing to go there if they're with people they trust. Their wings aren't sturdy, and they are prone to some very common mistakes in thinking, but they're often the most gratifying group to work with. What they want is permission to let go, encouragement to go big, and a watchful eye to keep them out of the rocks and ditches. </p> <p>And then there's a third small group that's very resistant to the idea that anything could or should change. I've spent a lot of time over the years thinking and writing about that last group, because I'm fascinated by the question of what drives change resisters. What they want from me is safety -- the reassurance that if they overcome their natural reticence and try to embrace some constructive thinking about change, they won't end up all alone somewhere terrifyingly unfamiliar.</p> <p>Of that second group, I've found that there's a fairly short list of common mistakes that they make over and over again -- little assumptions that create big obstacles in their ability to see all the potential alternatives clearly. These are the same mistakes most people out on the street and in the media make, too; on any given day, one can open a newspaper to the op-ed page and find three or four of these mistakes, right there in black and white. When pundits and prognosticators are wrong, these assumptions are usually somewhere near the root of why they're wrong.</p> <p>To the end of helping progressives think more productively about the future we're trying to create, here are 10 of the most common mental hiccups that keep people from seeing the bigger picture and planning for it with a full measure of courage and intelligence.</p> <p><strong>1. The future won't be like the past.</strong> And the most likely future isn't. In any group, there's usually a tacit set of assumptions about where the world is headed, and what their future holds. Life has gone on for a certain way for a while -- and the longer that trend continues, the more invested they get in the assumption that things will just keep on going that same direction. I always ask people early on to describe their Most Likely Future -- the one they and their friends assume will happen if nothing else changes. And I've never met anybody who had to hesitate a minute to fill me in on what that future looks like. </p> <p>But the gotcha is: research by academic futurists has found that this expected future really isn't the most likely outcome at all. In fact, it only actually comes to pass somewhat less than half the time. Which means that somewhat more than half the time, you're going to be facing something else entirely. And if you're too settled on that vision of what's most likely, odds are that you won't do nearly enough to prepare for those alterative futures in which you are even more likely to actually end up living.</p> <p>It's good to know what your expected future is. Objectively understanding what that story is and how you arrived at it is half the work. The other half lies in being willing to let go of that cherished vision long enough to figure out and prepare for some of the other things that could -- and probably will -- happen instead.</p> <p><strong>2. Trends end. </strong>This is related to #1, in that the most typical reason the expected future doesn't come is that one or more of the trends supporting it fails. As noted above: the longer a trend has been going on, the more we tend to assume that it will never end.</p> <p>But all trends do end -- and, in fact, the longer it's been going on, the more overdue you are for it to change. One of the things I do is map the trends that are creating the current conditions, and figure out which trends are overripe (there are telltale signs) and thus most at risk of disrupting the existing circumstances. Imagining how these trends could fail or reverse -- what would happen if the opposite thing happened instead? -- is a useful way of revealing viable and realistic alternative futures. </p> <p><strong>3. Avoid groupthink. </strong>Another reason the Most Likely Future tends to obscure everything else is groupthink. Every group has basic assumptions about how the world works -- what's realistic, what's plausible, what's nonsense, what can't be discussed. The longer the existing set of operating rules has been in place, the more pressure people feel not to question that -- and the crazier you look if you do suggest that other futures are possible. </p> <p>In fact, it's arguable that when a group that's reached a point where no other futures are even discussable, it's a clear red flag that they are vulnerable to being flattened by some new situation that comes out of the blue -- or any of the many other places they're no longer looking out for change. Which brings us to:</p> <p><strong>4. If it's taboo, it's probably important.</strong> The thing you are not discussing -- the elephant in the room -- has a very high probability of being the very thing that will put an end to the present era, and launch you into the next phase of your future. Worse: the longer you ignore or deny it, the more at its mercy you will ultimately be when the change does come down.</p> <p>A big part of being a futurist is to gently get people to start thinking and talking about those taboo subjects, the ones that are too scary or painful to think about. The very act of bringing those hard issues out onto the table and beginning to grapple with them, all by itself, has tremendous power to make people more courageous and resilient. The elephant only has power as long as we refuse to talk about it. When we finally confront it, its power becomes ours.</p> <p><strong>5. Any useful idea about the future should sound ridiculous at first. </strong>This rule originated with Dr. Jim Dator, the founder of the graduate program in futures studies at the University of Hawaii. His point was: If you're not coming up with ideas that sound a little crazy on their surface, it's a sure sign that you're stuck in too many conventional assumptions -- and are therefore not thinking big enough about just how different the future could be. If things don't look a little weird, you're not reaching far enough.</p> <p>An example: Six years ago, I wrote about the right-wing's up-and-coming assault on contraception. It sounded completely off-the-wall at the time, and I took a lot of grief for it. But look where we are now.</p> <p><strong>6. Ask: What stays the same?</strong> The world is big, and governed by huge interlocking chaotic systems whose behavior can be impossible to anticipate. But, at the same time, there are also constants -- the things that don't change from era to era, or that change so slowly that you can pretty much count on them staying the same even when everything else is going to hell.</p> <p>Chief among these is human nature. Economies grow and shrink, nations rise and fall, the globe is getting hotter and world is getting smaller, but through it all, we are still Homo sapiens -- which means we will always be hungry, greedy, horny, infuriatingly stubborn, astonishingly kind, quick to take up arms against each other, and equally quick to bind each others' wounds. It's just how we are.</p> <p>Any serious survey of a future landscape includes questions like: What stays the same? What will we carry forward with us? What will follow us, whether we want it to or not? What can we count on? What will we still need to guard against?</p> <p><strong>7. The other side is not always wrong.</strong> Right now, America is assertively separating itself into two vivid, strongly held visions of the future. In these situations, groupthink necessarily runs especially high; we are committed not only to progressive values, but also to a specific set of solutions, policies and outcomes that we believe will best make those values manifest in a world shaped by our vision. </p> <p>The other side, of course, is equally passionate about their values, vision, solutions, policies, and outcomes. In his new book, <a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Republican-Brain-Science-Science/dp/1118094514">The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science -- and Reality</a>, Chris Mooney points out that one of the defining traits of liberals is that we're far more open to evaluating conservative ideas on their merits, and adopting good ideas wherever we find them. Conservatives, on the other hand, will usually consider the source first. If an idea came from a liberal, it's immediately rejected as unacceptable, regardless of its merits.</p> <p>This is gross generalization, though. It's plenty easy to find progressives rejecting potentially useful ideas out of hand because they came from sources we don't agree with. But when we're deep in the throes of transforming a country, an economy and a society -- long on problems and short on good ideas for fixing them -- that kind of narrowness of mind is a luxury we can't afford.</p> <p><strong>8. Be aware of different change theories. </strong>Everybody has their pet theories about how change happens. Almost all of these theories can be sorted into one of about 10 basic buckets, which are described <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/why-change-happens-ten-theories">here</a>. Most of us have two or three of these buckets that we think explain just a whole lot about the world, and another one or two that make us very uneasy. And it's usually true that the people we disagree with most are working off of some fundamentally different assumptions about how change happens.</p> <p>Understanding which theories you're drawn to and which you tend to reject can go a long way toward helping you notice your own blind spots, and also form strategies to deal with places that your pet theories collide with those of other groups.</p> <p><strong>9. Don't think in five or 10 years.</strong> Think in 100 or 500 years. A lot of Wall Streeters didn't see the 2008 meltdown coming because economic forecasters typically work with historical data that's anywhere from two to five years old. In 2008, that means that their models didn't include so much as the possibility of a financial disaster on the scale of 1989, let alone 1929. They were thinking on a scale of five years, not 50. And certainly not 100.</p> <p>While we know abstractly that Bad Things happened to the generations before us, we seldom believe that anything that bad could actually happen to us. America is safe and stable, and has been for a long time (though this is no guarantee: see #1). We're comfortable thinking that there's no way we could face famine or drought, epidemic or genocide, or other catastrophes on that kind of culture-changing scale. </p> <p>This is a common blind spot. Anything that's happened to humans before is quite likely to happen at some point again. And there's always the possibility that it could happen to us. Simply recognizing our true vulnerabilities -- however unlikely those catastrophes may seem -- and giving them their due in our future planning enables us to become stronger and more robust, even if the full catastrophe never arrives.</p> <p><strong>10. Don't assume it will be hard.</strong> Don't assume it will be easy. Better yet: don't assume anything, ever. Most of the above cautions are aimed at a final big one: Be acutely aware of every assumption you're making, and don't leave any of them unexamined.</p> <p>Clear thinking about the future is all about carefully choosing which assumptions you're going to work off of. Often, futurists' main role is to point out and re-examine assumptions that everybody else just accepts as gospel. Someone will say, "Oh, we can't do that; it's too hard." And my job -- made easier, because I'm an outsider -- is to ask them why that's just assumed. As they explain the obstacles, we can unpack each piece of that assumption together -- about how this person won't go along, or how that agency's rules work, or why the time frame just won't allow for it. </p> <p>This exercise is worth doing because, frequently enough, the assessment that something's just not possible (or, conversely, will be trivially easy -- one should question those, too) falls apart when you take a second, deeper look at things. Maybe that assessment was true when you last visited this question six months ago. But maybe things have changed since then -- and now, your options are different. Or maybe it turns out that that old assessment is still true, after all. In that case, revisiting it increases your confidence that you can still trust it -- though it doesn't exempt you from continually poking at your assumptions, every time you revisit them, to make sure they're still true.</p> <p>Whether the assumption changes or not, the exercise is worth doing because basing your assumptions about the future on outdated information that already belongs to the past isn't useful. The future is ambiguous enough when you start working from the baseline of the present. You only increase that ambiguity when you put yourself several steps back of that line -- especially when you don't have to.</p> <p>In a time when the stakes are so high, and the margin of error so thin, it's more important than ever that we make the right decisions about the future the first time. Being mindful of these 10 mistakes can go a long way toward increasing the quality of our strategy and planning, and improve the choices we make about our country's future.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670184'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670184" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 03 Apr 2012 16:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 670184 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions future change strategy planning strategic Atheism Rising, But God Is Not Dead Yet: 10 Ways Religion Is Changing Around the World https://www.alternet.org/story/154738/atheism_rising%2C_but_god_is_not_dead_yet%3A_10_ways_religion_is_changing_around_the_world <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670118'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670118" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Religion is alive and well in the 21st century -- but it also looks very different now.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1332967037_3409628477f0b140c5e0.jpg?itok=91edEfaN" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">For most of the 20th century, smart people assumed -- with smug certainty and probably more wishful thinking than they'd be willing to admit -- that humanity's long obsession with religion is finally winding down. God is dead -- done in at last by the forces of enlightenment and reason. Humanity is now free to chart a new course, without worrying about the Big Bad He-God In the Sky.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">But, as the last 30 years have rather <span style="mso-bidi-font-style:italic">brutally</span> <span style="mso-bidi-font-style:italic">demonstrated</span> to American <span style="mso-bidi-font-style:italic">progressives</span> (religious and otherwise), those reports of the death of religion turned out to be greatly exaggerated.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Here we are, with a firm foothold in the 21st century, and it's pretty clear that God is very much alive and well and living almost everywhere on the globe (except Europe and Canada, as we shall shortly see).<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">God or no God, the religious landscape of the planet isn't what it was in the last century. In fact, it's changing in some essential ways. And whether you're a person of faith or no faith, those changes have deep implications for the way other important factors -- culture, technology, economics, the environment, and politics -- play out as this new century unwinds. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">What follows is a quick summary of some of the key drivers that are changing the landscape of faith around the world. It's hardly comprehensive, but I did try to hit the high spots. (Agree? Disagree? Got another one to add, or a point to amplify? Drop a comment below, and let's talk about it.)<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">1. God Is Not Dead</span></b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">In 2007, the Pew Forum on Religion &amp; Public Life went around the world asking people a straight-up question: "Religion is very important to me." Yes, or no?<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">The numbers in Europe were low to middling. In Great Britain, 33 percent of those polled said religion was "very important" in their lives. The number was 27 percent in Italy, 21 percent in Germany and 11 percent in France. Poland came in at 36 percent, with Russia at 14 percent and the Czech Republic at 11 percent. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">Closer to home, the numbers in Canada looked pretty much like those in England. And in the US, you will not be surprised to learn, the numbers were about twice as high as they were in Europe. Here, about six out of 10 respondents said that religion was very important in their lives.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">But when Pew went to Latin America, Asia and Africa, the numbers were radically different. In Guatemala, 80 percent of those polled said religion was "very important" to them. That number was 77 percent in Brazil and 72 percent in Honduras -- but only 39 percent in Argentina.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">In Asia, the "yes" total was 95 percent in Indonesia, 92 percent in India, 91 percent in the Philippines, but only 12 percent in Japan. And in Africa, Senegal checked in at 97 percent, Nigeria at 92 percent and Angola at 80 percent.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">So the world is still a very religious place, indeed, though it's still not well understood why Europe should be such a secular anomaly. (My own guess is that its long and bitter history of religious wars simply exhausted Europeans, and they've given up religion as too divisive to tolerate.) These numbers show pretty clearly that modernism didn't kill religion, and postmodernism isn't likely to, either. Faith may be on the wane in a few spots, but it's still kicking hard everywhere else.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">2. The Center </span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">o</span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">f Gravity </span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">f</span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">or </span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">t</span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">he Christian World Is Moving South</span></b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none;mso-prop-change:&#10;&quot;Sara Robinson&quot; 20120328T1119"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;&#10;color:#1B1B1B">A few years back, a spate of books like Philip Jenkins' </span><i><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">The Next </span></i><i><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">Christendom</span></i><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">and <i style="mso-bidi-font-style:&#10;normal">Globalizing The Sacred: Religion Across The Americas</i> by Manuel Vasquez and Marie Marquart argued that Latin America is going evangelical at such a furious rate that Protestants could outnumber Catholics as early as 2025. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">Further examination of this trend suggests that it's not happening quite that fast. While people in these countries often do succumb to the charms of Christian missionaries, a lot of those conversions don't stick for very long. Even so: Protestantism is growing in the global south, and the conversion cycle is rapidly introducing Protestant ideals and values into these cultures, which could over time create some deep shifts in Latino culture.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">In Africa, Christian and Muslim missionaries are squaring off in turf battles that transcend national borders, and researchers from the Pew study cited above are frankly worried that conflict and competition between the two conversion-oriented faiths could eventually lead to political disruptions and military confrontations. Increasingly, an African's most defining affiliation isn't his or her tribe or nation, but his or her faith.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">Meanwhile, here at home, American Catholics have noticed that a growing number of the priests serving their churches are coming up from the global south -- and are often far more traditional than their comparatively liberal congregations. As these priests move up through the church hierarchy in the years ahead, this southern traditionalism may make the church even more conservative as the century rolls on. Over the long term, this trend could easily alienate North Americans and Europeans to the point where the Catholic Church becomes largely a phenomenon of the southern hemisphere in another generation or two.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;tab-stops:11.0pt .5in"><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">3. The </span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">K</span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">ids are </span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">D</span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">ifferent</span></b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">The religious trends of the country over the past 40 years have been dominated by the religious preferences of the Baby Boomers and Generation X -- two generations that have been highly individualistic and inner-directed, generally preferred individual "spirituality" over group-oriented "religion," and distrusted all forms of institutional authority -- especially religious authority. By and large -- and especially as they've aged -- the religious focus of these two generations has been on personal salvation, rather than changing the world.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">The Millennials, on the other hand, distrust religion for somewhat different reasons. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">According to research conducted by Barna, this is an ethnically diverse generation that was born connected, and does almost everything in tribes and teams – a tendency that is already making them more communal and outer-directed in their spirituality than any group we've seen since the GI generation. For them, faith is meaningless unless it leads to action. The thousands of community service hours they logged as teenagers <a href="http://millennialmomentum.com/Articles/CSM%20Millennial%20Generation%20challenges%20religion%20in%20America.html">instilled in them</a> a strong sense of social justice, huge confidence in their own ability to make a difference, a growing trust in their ability to create effective and inclusive institutions, and an conviction that religion should be about serving the world instead of perfecting yourself.  </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">This shift has implications for every religious institution in the country, but it's particularly rocking the foundations of Christian fundamentalism. A <a href="http:// http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church">Barna Research study</a> last year found that large numbers of young adults from evangelical homes are leaving the faith because they dislike their churches' limiting attitudes toward science, the arts and sexuality. </span><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">They don't like the right-wing culture war. They grew up with it, they're tired of it, and they want their elders to knock it off.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">Because of this, the ones who were raised in megachurches are abandoning those churches in droves.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>They're not particularly interested in policing theological boundaries; if they affiliate with a faith at all, it will be because they're looking to join a community where people are coming together to </span>work on the stuff that really matters: social justice, poverty and the environment. </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">4. Atheism Ascendant -- and </span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;&#10;color:#1B1B1B">N</span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;&#10;color:#1B1B1B">ot </span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;&#10;color:#1B1B1B">J</span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;&#10;color:#1B1B1B">ust in the </span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;&#10;color:#1B1B1B">C</span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;&#10;color:#1B1B1B">ities</span></b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;&#10;color:#1B1B1B"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">We're also seeing a resurgence of atheism. Much to the surprise of both the very religious and the entirely irreligious, non-theism consistently shows up as the second or third most popular philosophical worldview across most of the US. According to a 2008 survey by the City University of New York<i style="mso-bidi-font-style:normal">, </i><span style="mso-bidi-font-style:italic">atheism is cited as the number one orientation</span> (by proportion of adherents) in Washington and Idaho, and it's number two or three in almost all the other states.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">Nationwide, atheists rank #3 overall, just behind the Catholics and the Baptists -- and the numbers are even higher among Americans under 30. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">But what's really weird about this is that it's not just a phenomenon of the liberal coasts. Non-religious people make up a higher percentage of the populations of Idaho, Montana and Nevada than of California, Massachusetts or New York. It turns out that rural does not equate to religious after all -- a trend that has some interesting political implications in the decades ahead.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">5. Environmental Ethics Go Mainstream</span></b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;&#10;color:#1B1B1B"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">The global inter-religious dialogue on the theology of environmentalism has been going on for about 20 years now, which is long enough that it's soaked through an entire generation of young clergy, and is now being absorbed into their congregations.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">The idea that the living earth and its vast matrix of interlocking systems are inherently sacred was a heretical idea just 25 years ago. But when <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2006/08/03/6719/robertson-global-warming/ ">Pat Robertson goes on TV</a> and tells his flock that climate change is serious and real and Jesus wants them to fix it (though he's very recently recanted), you know there's some real change afoot in the way even some conservative Christians are assessing their relationship to the planet. As we look ahead to solving some of our big problems, it's good to note that (with a handful of very noisy exceptions on the right-wing Christian Nationalist side) most of the world's most prominent religions have taken up the task of teaching people what's required, and priming them to act.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">6. The </span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">M</span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">arketplace of </span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">S</span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">piritual </span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">I</span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">deas </span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">I</span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">s </span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">G</span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">oing </span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">G</span></b><b><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:&quot;Times New Roman&quot;;color:#1B1B1B">lobal</span></b></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">It's a small world, and it keeps getting smaller. We've got twice as many people as we did 50 years ago. But we've also got far more access to all those people, through trade and the Internet and social networks, than we could have even imagined a decade ago. And that interconnectivity stands to change our religions along with everything else.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">The Internet has opened up a virtual global souk of religious ideas. Last year, I went online and downloaded the PDF of an 80-year-old book that was the only account in English of life among the traditional Yezidi tribes of Kurdistan. They're almost extinct now, since their remote homeland has been a war zone for the past 30 years. But if you're interested in their unique folkways -- or in Apache girls' coming-of-age rites, or what goes on in Mormon temples, or reading comparable translations of the Kama Sutra -- well, there's a vast feast of amazing material just a quick Google search away.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">This is already resulting in massive religious cross-pollination -- a trend that could move us toward a sort of syncretic, celebratory sharing of traditions that could be very healthy for everyone. But, on the downside, it's getting easier for fundamentalists to find each other, too. Some scholars of Islam report that apocalyptic stories of the Hidden Imam, long suppressed by ayatollahs and mullahs, are taking on new themes that were clearly borrowed from Christian fundamentalist end-times tales. (Startling, yes -- and also proof that not all change is for the better.)<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">And for some faith groups, especially those that thrive on secrecy and restricting information or criticism, it's making life just plain hard. One wonders if the full scale of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal would ever have been known if the victims hadn't been able to find each other on the Internet. Mormonism isn't faring at all well in this new environment, either: members and would-be converts can easily find accurate historical information about the church's early history that church leaders had been suppressing for decades, out of (apparently justified) fear that it would undermine the testimony of the faithful. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">7. Religion as a Way of Reclaiming Cultural Identity</span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">All this syncretic sharing and blending may yield some weird and wonderful things, but there's a counter-trend here, too. In the developing world, some groups are very consciously re-connecting to their traditional religious roots as part of their struggle to resurrect national and cultural identities that have been lost through generations of colonial oppression.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">The best example of this is the re-emergence of the hijab among Muslim women the world over. While women have no choice about this in many Islamic countries, a woman wearing a hijab on a Western street is likely making a voluntary statement of pride in her Islamic identity, and affirming her own culture. Likewise, in Russia, the Orthodox Church is re-emerging as Russians reconnect with their lost culture and history in the aftermath of the Soviet era.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">While it's great to embrace the global spiritual marketplace where we're welcomed in, it's also important to recognize and respect when people are leaning harder than they might otherwise on religious traditions because they offer a fragile lifeline back to a lost cultural identity.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">8. New Empires, New Religions</span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">It's a historical truth that religions tend to spread and grow right alongside rising economic and political powers. In this century, the world's two up-and-comers are India and China. As they become bigger players on the world stage, we can expect that those countries' dominant religions -- Hinduism, Confucianism and Buddhism in particular -- will become far more visible and influential on the global religious scene. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">9. The Hardest Truth: Fundamentalism Isn't Going Away</span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">The best we're ever going to do is contain it. Authoritarian religion, like authoritarian politics, takes root wherever people feel like they're losing control over their traditional ways of life. This is why fundamentalists are taught in their churches to look for potential converts who are going through important life transitions, or have just sustained some kind of heavy emotional loss. They know those people are vulnerable, and may be receptive to the idea of having someone else make their decisions for them.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">Unfortunately, there are going to be a lot more of these vulnerable souls in the world as we go through wrenching process of moving off of carbon fuels, rebuilding our economy and our infrastructure, and coping with the dislocations caused by climate change. A lot of people's well-ordered lives are likely to be devastated by events, and in the aftermath, they may be willing to follow anyone who promises to restore structure and meaning to their lives. 
<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">It seems likely that these movements could become far more prevalent in the transitional years ahead of us. They could even become big and powerful enough to slow the transition process down, or stop it altogether. <p></p></span><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">This is yet another reason we need to plan a responsible and intelligent transition to a new economic and energy paradigm. As long as people see themselves moving toward a better future, we'll probably be able to keep the religious and political authoritarians at bay. But the risk is real, and we need to be thinking about it now.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">10. Technology Changes Everything -- Including Faith</span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">Technology is already challenging our ideas of what it means to be human, to be alive, to be a spiritual being. Genetic engineering, cloning, nanotechnology, bionics, and computers that can outsmart us have been the stuff of science fiction for 60 years, but that future is now here, and it's going to be interesting to watch our current crop of religions wrestle with the new ethical and theological questions these technologies raise.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">Probably unsurprisingly, the biggest breakthroughs on these fronts are being made in the very same countries that Pew found (back in item #1) to be the least religious. And yet the world's religions are going to have to find ways to deal with these changes. in fact, this rethinking of the whole human enterprise as we've understood it for the past couple of millennia may be the biggest challenge faced by all the world's faiths in the coming century.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">If they do the job well,  I think we may end up with a far more expansive and inclusive sense of the sacred than we can possibly imagine right now. In fact, this century may be giving us the best chance humans have ever had to create a global spirituality built on enduring human values: compassion, justice, community, and the common drive to share and celebrate the wonder of our lives. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">But if they do it poorly, religion may continue to be the biggest obstacle to taking the decisive steps we need to deal with our growing number of human-created crises.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:9.0pt;mso-pagination:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-family:Verdana;color:#1B1B1B">Religion changes, and will continue to change. But if the last century didn't knock the religious impulse out of us, it may be time to accept that it's here to stay. <p></p></span></p> <!--EndFragment--> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670118'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670118" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Thu, 29 Mar 2012 07:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 670118 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions Belief religion faith millennials The Right-Wing Plot to Control Your Health Care https://www.alternet.org/story/154643/the_right-wing_plot_to_control_your_health_care <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670019'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670019" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The war on women is also an effort to permanently give politicians, religious authorities, accountants, and your boss a seat in your doctor&#039;s exam room.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1332450087_screenshot20120322at5.00.03pm.png?itok=CC9Rqvnj" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p class="MsoNormal">Much has been written the past few months about the conservatives' assault on women's autonomy: the intrusive battery of new laws designed to forcibly insert the right-wing's political and religious agenda into the most intimate conversations between women and their doctors. <p></p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">What's less well understood is that this same effort is also a full frontal attack on the future of government-paid healthcare, and by larger extension, on Americans' trust in their public institutions, and our confidence in government's ability to solve problems the market can't handle. <p></p></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/154622/conservative_bullying_has_made_america_into_a_broken,_dysfunctional_family%3A_but_there_are_ways_to_regain_our_wellbeing_?page=entire">As I've written recently</a>, busting our trust in democracy is a central goal of the Republican Party as it's currently configured. Killing our will and ability to provide good healthcare to every American is central to this enterprise: If we get the idea that we can do this much good for this many people through government, we might regain faith in our civic competence to do a whole lot of other things, too. It's the last thing they want. <p></p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">So they are, quite simply, out to break the social agreements that would enable such a system to exist at all. And there's a lot in these "war-on-women" bills that achieves this other goal as well.<p></p></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><b>Who Gets to Choose?</b><p></p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Americans already support several government-paid healthcare systems. One, Medicare, is a single-payer system on the Canadian model. Another, the VA system, is pure British-style socialized medicine. There are a vast number of other systems as well -- child health programs, active-duty military health services, the systems that serve Native American reservations and prisons, and so on. Through these systems, we pay the bills for our seniors, troops, veterans, kids, disabled people, and others to receive healthcare.</p> <p class="MsoNormal">But we've also very clearly understood, throughout the many decades of these programs' existence, that paying the bills does not give us the right to choose what care people get. Americans, by and large, stand by the idea <span style="mso-bidi-font-weight:bold">that the fundamental right to make medical decisions should remain with us and our doctors to the greatest extent possible. There's a strong cultural belief that politicians, bureaucrats, bean-counters, well-meaning friends, religious busybodies, and your mother have no business in deciding how you should manage your health.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal">In fact: the thing that pisses us off the most about private insurance is the way those systems allow accountants and shareholders into the mix -- two groups of people most of us are firmly convinced have absolutely no business making decisions about our care. And we're equally suspicious when government tries to "ration" care (which is why our default has been to leave rationing to the free market, which does an ugly and brutal job of it). <p></p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">We've also been pretty hostile to the idea that taxpayer-funded healthcare should ever be an open invitation for pecksniffers to run around commenting loudly on people's diets and recreational activities. Yes, we're paying their bills. And we can do what we can do -- build parks and trails, mandate good food labeling -- but beyond a point, that's it. When it comes to what any given individual does, that's between them and their doctor, and our job is to butt out.</p> <p class="MsoNormal"><p></p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">This goes to the heart of what Americans adore most about the promise of government healthcare. We love the way it guarantees our individual freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness, while also recognizing that we can't pursue those goals freely unless we're also covered for the very real risks that pursuit entails. If freedom means being able to quit your job to go back to school, start a business, travel the world, or raise your kids, the prospect of losing your health insurance may be the biggest obstacle there is to true American liberty, investment and self-improvement. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span><p></p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">It's that promise of personal freedom and opportunity that beckons us in the direction of single-payer healthcare. It's also the promise that conservatives are doing their damndest to break.<p></p><b><br /></b></p> <p class="MsoNormal"><b>Breaking Faith With Our Doctors</b><p></p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Right now, Republicans in Congress and in legislatures around the country are asserting -- for the first time in the history of government-paid healthcare in America -- that politicians, religious leaders, bosses, and bureaucrats have an express legal right to meddle in our personal medical affairs.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>If this campaign succeeds in opening those doors, we'll end up with a public system that we can trust even less than we trust private insurers now. <p></p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">Among the radical new ideas that will shred the ability of public healthcare to function going forward:<p></p></p> <ul><li>They are asserting that the opinions of politicians trump both your right to patient consent and the scientific judgment of your doctor.<p></p></li> <li>They are establishing the principle that the government can require you to undergo -- and pay for -- specific treatments (like the transvaginal ultrasound) for purely ideological reasons that contribute nothing to your health.<p></p></li> <li>It's not just government that's slipping through this door. So-called "conscience clauses" are also expanding the rights of other non-MDs -- particularly pharmacists, nurses and employers -- to insert themselves into people's personal medical decisions for reasons that have nothing to do with ensuring good evidence-based care.<p></p></li> <li>They are encouraging all the rest of the country's panty-sniffing moralizers to believe that they are qualified to judge who is entitled to what kind of care, and to make the delivery of that care a political issue. If this continues, it's not hard to imagine future laws that allocate healthcare on the basis of who is deemed most "deserving" by their neighbors. <p></p><p> </p></li> </ul><p>This is a dangerous step away from science-based medical practice -- and from our basic rights to liberty and privacy.<span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>Worse, once policies like this fall into place, there will be no limit to the amount of future political, bureaucratic and religious tinkering with our medical care that will become possible. Ultimately, the Right is trying to create a two-tiered system in which the only people who have complete privacy and freedom of choice in their doctors' offices are those rich enough to pay out-of-pocket for it themselves. The rest of us will have to accept whatever Congress, our boss, the bean-counters, and the Catholic bishops think we deserve.<p></p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">And they will have conclusively proven their argument that we can trust government even less than we can trust corporations. Just as they've already done to our Congress and our economy, it'll be yet another case where they willfully break effective democratic systems -- just so they can then complain loudly to anybody who'll listen about how broken they are.<p></p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">If we want to make sure that our medical decisions remain between us and our doctors, we need to stop this now. What's at stake goes far beyond even the horrors of state-mandated physical and emotional rape of women seeking abortions (though that's horrible enough). If this crusade is allowed to succeed, every detail of our healthcare stands to become a political, economic, bureaucratic, and theological football forever after -- and we will grieve for the good old days when our medical care was a personal, private decision made just by us and our doctors behind the exam room door.<p></p></p> <p class="MsoNormal">It's now or never. Because once they've broken it this way, the odds are slim that we'll ever get it back.<p></p></p> <!--EndFragment--> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670019'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670019" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 21 Mar 2012 19:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 670019 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions Personal Health LGBTQ Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace Human Rights Activism The Right Wing single payer doctors trust broken democracy Conservative Bullying Has Made America Into a Broken, Dysfunctional Family: But There Are Ways to Regain Our Well-Being https://www.alternet.org/story/154622/conservative_bullying_has_made_america_into_a_broken%2C_dysfunctional_family%3A_but_there_are_ways_to_regain_our_well-being <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '670023'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670023" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">An abusive, out-of-control, rageaholic GOP broke our country by shattering our trust in democracy and in ourselves.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1332278676_3964742494ff627aabee.jpg?itok=8kY28u7-" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>A marriage counselor friend once told me that he almost always knows by the end of the very first session whether he's being hired to guide a damaged couple back to health, or to help them work toward a divorce -- even when the couple doesn't know the answer to this question themselves.</p> <p>It's easy to see, he explained. The relationship's future success or failure all hinges on one simple thing: How much goodwill and trust they have left. Even if they've hurt each other badly, the couples who make it are the ones that still retain a few shreds of faith in each other's basic good intentions. <em>She didn't mean to hurt me. He's not always a bastard. Deep down, she still loves me. Deep down, he really wants things to be better</em>. <p></p></p> <p>These couples are still seeing same future together, and still cling to the tattered memories of why they first fell in love. Just a few frayed threads of trust are all that's needed -- if they've got that, the odds are high that with time and work, they can re-weave the fabric of the marriage into something that's once again strong and good.<p></p></p> <p>On the other hand, the tell-tale sign of a zombie marriage -- one that's already dead, even if the parties involved haven't yet confronted that fact -- is that one or both partners have already given up and checked out. The trust is broken, the dream shattered, the damage just too much to ever repair. Things have been said and done that can't ever be unsaid or undone. There's so much bad history that there's no way a mere human heart can ever forgive it all. It's so far gone that pain and rage are all that remain -- and the longer they stay together, the more brutal it's likely to get.<p></p></p> <p>If, as George Lakoff says, we tend to think of the nation as a family, then my friend's approach for identifying salvageable marriages may apply just as well to salvaging our democracy. Because, like all marriages, all democratic governments are founded -- first and foremost, above all else -- on an essential bedrock of trust and shared vision. We need to trust that our fellow citizens are decent people with good intentions. If we don't have even that much basic confidence in each other, there's no way that we can work together to build a society that works. In fact, there's not really even a reason to try.<p></p></p> <p>Seen this way, "America" is the family name for the 310 million of us bonded together in a covenant that's very much like the commitment that forms a family. We have come together to build our common wealth, create opportunities for each other that will secure our shared future, raise our children, care for our elderly, protect our assets, look after each other in sickness and in health, and wisely tend our national house and manage our gathered resources so we can hand the increase proudly off to the next generation. <p></p></p> <p>And, like a family, this is a commitment that is entirely grounded in mutual trust -- a bone-deep knowledge that we will keep faith and be there for each other; that we will look out for each others' rights, property, and kids; that we will generously give the family our best whenever possible; and that we also rely on it to be there for us when we need help. For better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health, we promise to be there for each other. The true strength and wealth of the country begins with the strength of that commitment.<p></p></p> <p>We cannot do this kind of mutual self-governance well -- indeed, we cannot do it at all -- unless we fundamentally trust each other's good intentions and devotion to our shared enterprise. We may disagree on the means, but we share the same vision about what the ends should be. And just like in a marriage, when that trust is damaged, our future viability as a nation becomes a wide-open question.<p></p></p> <p>This is a scary thought, because right now, America is riven by two very different visions of the future, held by two partners who obviously have radically different visions about where we should be going.<p></p></p> <p>On one hand, you've got most of the country -- center-right, center, center-left, and progressive -- which sees us as a family in trouble, but which also believes that if we return to our bedrock agreements, focus on solving our shared problems and fall back on our basic goodwill and common sense, we should be able to sort things out. This is the two-thirds of America that poll after poll shows is ready to move forward on issues like economic transformation, inequality, corruption and corporate overreach, climate change and energy policy, and remaking our infrastructure. There's a sense that, even though the challenges are big, we can solve them if we can come together, treat each other decently, reaffirm our commitment to the future, and force the democratic process to work again.<p></p></p> <p>On the other hand, there's another group that has entirely checked out on us, and turned ugly and abusive. The conservative minority is acting like Lakoff's canonical Strict Father scorned: When the family rejects his leadership and his attempts at authoritarian contol, he sinks into a punitive, bullying rage, lashing out at the rest of us for what he's come to believe is irredeemable broken faith because we won't let him be the boss. By his behavior, he is telling us in no uncertain terms that he wants a scorched-earth divorce -- the kind that leaves the rest of us broke, ruined, miserable, and utterly at his mercy.  He has gone so far as to hire batteries of lawyers and lobbyists to accomplish this, and is taking a bully's evident glee in his success.<p></p></p> <p><strong>What Democracy Abuse Looks Like</strong><p></p></p> <p>Here are a few broad-brush examples of how this screw-you attitude toward the idea of a balanced, strong, cooperative American family is playing out right now:<p></p></p> <p>Most conservatives now openly reject the very idea of democracy. Whether it's corporatists seeking to own every branch of government and privatize every public institution, security and intelligence types cracking down on our civil liberties, or Christian nationalists out to turn the country into a theocracy, conservatives are increasingly united by the conviction that Americans cannot be trusted to govern ourselves. <p></p></p> <p>According to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-johnson/when-they-say-government_b_242820.html">Dave Johnson</a>, if you really want to understand just how hostile conservatives are to the very idea of democracy, and how debased their discourse has become on the subject, just take some of their favorite sayings and substitute the word "government" with either "democracy" or "we, the people." <p></p></p> <p>So: "government is the problem, not the solution" becomes "democracy is the problem" -- or, perhaps worse: "we, the people are the problem." Likewise: "smaller government" becomes "smaller democracy" and a smaller role for we, the people.  The idea that "government destroys liberty" is clearly code for "democracy destroys liberty." And so on. (It's a great game you can play at home -- fun for the whole family!)<p></p></p> <p>Along these same lines -- and despite the conspicuous way the Tea Party fetishizes the Constitution -- it's increasingly evident that the future they have in mind very explicitly does not include the Bill of Rights, a people's Congress, the ability to petition our government, or the right to appeal to the courts for redress. I don't have to enumerate the violations on this front, but I do encourage progressives to start seeing these assaults on our rights as clear evidence that our opponents fundamentally do not trust democracy, and are very deliberately out to destroy the constitutional rules that ours runs on.<p></p></p> <p>They also don't trust diversity in any form. T<em><span style="font-style: normal; ">hey're actively hostile to the idea of </span>E pluribus unum</em> -- out of the many, one. Anybody who's not white, straight, Christian, conservative, and male is inherently not-American. And the only acceptable function of government is to keep those Others -- both here, and abroad -- firmly in their place. The nightly news is full of fresh assaults on the rights of those who don't fit their narrow definition of Real Americans.<p></p></p> <p>They have embraced bullying as a political strategy and an acceptable cultural norm, which has in turn coarsened our civil discourse to the point of democratic breakdown. Rush Limbaugh and his throng of hate-talking imitators have given their listeners wide-open social permission to say ugly things in public that would most assuredly get them fired if they said them at work (check your company handbook, which no doubt has firm guidance on this point), and would probably precipitate an immediate divorce if they said them at home. The tone alone says it all: this is not the way you talk to people you intend to have any kind of future with.<p></p></p> <p>Conservative lawyers and courts are actively carving out a First Amendment right to bully racial and religious minorities, immigrants, gays, and women who won't stay in their place. Almost every family (including mine, unfortunately) and every workplace has a FOX-trained bully who makes it almost impossible to have simply collegial conversations. Democracy is literally not possible where such bullies exist, because the give-and-take and nuanced discussions that lead to good decision-making simply can't happen. Instead, all the power goes to the person who's willing and able to throw the biggest tantrum. That's not democracy, in any sense of the word.<p></p></p> <p>Our founders understood this all too well, which is why so many of our basic rules of government were explicitly designed to keep bullies in check.<p></p></p> <p>They are systematically destroying Americans' ability to trust almost every civil institution on the American landscape. The list goes on and on, but here's a starter collection:<p></p></p> <p>They are <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/154435/the_religious_rights_plot_to_take_control_of_our_public_schools">strategically undermining our schools by deliberately destroying community trust</a> in them. Like a controlling father, they want the kids at home where they can keep a constant eye on them.<p></p></p> <p>They are attempting to privatize Social Security, prisons, the military, and our infrastructure -- all to prove their argument that we are no longer competent to do anything for ourselves through our government. Like an abusive spouse, they want us to feel too demoralized about ourselves to do anything effective to improve our lives, let alone find the courage and resolve to free ourselves from the abuse.<p></p><p> </p></p> <p>They are bastardizing science and bowdlerizing history -- the two fields of academia most essential to developing foresight and understanding the implications of our future choices. And, in the process, they are keeping us from solving problems that threaten the continued existence of the entire human family.<p></p></p> <p>They have demonized and harassed the mainstream media to the point where they can no longer be truly neutral about anything, for fear of exhibiting "liberal bias."</p> <p>They repealed the Fairness Doctrine, and took over local radio. <p></p></p> <p>They are infringing on our religious freedoms in the name of extending their own. <p></p></p> <p>They are defunding government ("democracy") at all levels because they don't believe that We, the People, can spend the money right. (Again: this is the logic of an abusively controlling spouse.)<p></p></p> <p>They have destroyed our economy to benefit the top .10 percent, which effectively robs the rest of us of much of our cultural, economic and political power as well. And they have done this by telling us that "there is no such thing as society" -- a claim that justifies bleeding off the vast and very real mountain of public wealth that this fictitious American society has carefully amassed over the course of its entire history.<p></p><p> </p></p> <p>All of these efforts, and many more, are rooted in one core fact: America's conservatives ultimately do not trust other Americans to run their own lives as individuals -- let alone govern ourselves as a group. And I'd argue that this mistrust runs so deep that no healing is possible for them. They have reached the point where they very clearly no longer want to be in this family together with us. <p></p></p> <p>The seething, simmering rage and pain are running so deep now that the only thing that will satisfy them is total destruction of everything that puts the "us" in US. In their minds, breaking America as we've known it for the past 80 years is the only way they'll ever be able to adequately punish us, and the only hope they have of someday seizing enough control of the shambles to finally salve their fury and fear.<p> </p></p> <p><strong>To Stop A Bully: How to Restore Trust<br /></strong></p> <p>This kind of dogged will to destroy is inherently pathological, whether it's happening within a marriage or a nation. There's no way it can ever be construed as healthy. My friend the marriage counselor would have looked at this situation -- one spouse overwhelmed by irrational, abusive, controlling rage and constantly imputing unspeakable motives to the other -- and written the marriage off. <p></p></p> <p>But we can't do that. We are still, for better or for worse, the biggest, richest family on the planet. On one hand, there's no way for them to leave, because there's nowhere for them to go, and no legal divorce is possible. On the other, letting them destroy the great house of America, built through generations and centuries to its present stature, is simply not an option.  <p></p></p> <p>So what do we do? If these people really don't want to be in the marriage -- if they are, in fact, trying to destroy it by any means possible -- how on earth can we continue to function as a family?<p></p></p> <p>We may have to do what families have always done with members who have lost their way, but cannot be abandoned. We need to close ranks around them, building alliances and strategies that will enable us to protect ourselves and each other from their depredations. We cannot change them, but it helps to realize that the faithful and decent members of this family still vastly outnumber those who wish us harm. If we work together closely, we can leverage our numbers and our sanity to arrange things in ways that will minimize the damage our rageaholic members can do.<p></p></p> <p>The most important and critical thing we need to do is to restore trust; trust in each other, and in the idea of ourselves as a good and worthy family. We deserve so much better; and we are capable of so much more than our abusers tell us is possible. <p></p><p> </p></p> <p>We can refuse to buy into divide-and-conquer strategies, realizing that in this situation, the only distinction that matters at all is the one between those who are rooting for this country to succeed, and those who are out to destroy it. You are either on the side of democracy and the great American family, or you are not. <p></p></p> <p>We can resolve to trust and respect each others' perceptions and interpretations of events, even when they don't entirely agree with our own. We can decide that we're going to stay sane in the face of the craziness -- and stand with anybody, regardless of their politics, who is also acting in good faith to stand against the bullies.</p> <p>We can work to create a consensus vision of the next America we want to become, and form trusting relationships with others to make that happen.</p> <p>We can refuse to reward bullying behavior with success. (Or, for that matter, with any more attention than it takes to get the bullies out of the room.)</p> <p>We can stand up before each other and the world and say: "Those people do not speak for us, and their squalid, angry vision is not our vision. We are a better nation than that."</p> <p>And we can, simply, continue to come together and <em>govern</em>. Because the specter of citizens civilly and peacefully exercising power is, above everything else, the one thing they fear the most, the biggest threat to the radical anti-democracy agenda. <p></p><p> </p></p> <!--EndFragment--> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '670023'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=670023" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 20 Mar 2012 19:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 670023 at https://www.alternet.org News & Politics Visions News & Politics Human Rights Activism The Right Wing democracy government trust bully Kiss the McMansion Goodbye: Is the American Home Shrinking? https://www.alternet.org/story/154582/kiss_the_mcmansion_goodbye%3A_is_the_american_home_shrinking <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '669951'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669951" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A long-term trend toward smaller houses is well underway -- with huge implications for the future of our cities.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1331931804_237931889cb3f58bcd5.jpg?itok=YtAEwtGG" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Very Tiny Houses may be the new American homeowner porn.</p> <p>I know I'm far from the only one who looks at pictures like this one and thinks wistfully about all the stuff I'd get rid of if I had such a place. I could prune my closet to nothing. Cull out the excess kitchen stuff, and winnow things down to a few pots and place settings. Consolidate all my books, movies and electronic toys onto a single iPad. And my Saturdays would be my own: I could clean the whole place in half an hour flat.</p> <p>And if we did this, how simple life would be! How much more time I would have for stuff that mattered! And think of the money we could save on mortgages, taxes, utilities, and upkeep!</p> <p>Of course, the vast majority of us will never actually go all the way to this extreme. (My geek husband's bank of computers alone would overwhelm every inch of this lovely little space with a nova-like explosion of screens and wires; we'd have to sleep on the roof.) But, according to a growing mountain of data from the building and real estate industries, Americans are in fact backing away slowly from the sprawling McMansions of the 1990s, and increasingly tucking ourselves into cozier quarters.</p> <p>Intriguingly: professionals in the building industry are saying that this move may be a long-term shift that's reflecting a deep sea-change in American values and attitudes about what makes a place a home.</p> <p>In a 2009 article in <em>USA Today</em> interior designer Christine Brun sums up the emerging ethic: "You're almost unpatriotic to live so large." She points out that baby boomers are downsizing their now-empty nests; and younger adults "don't care if they live in 500 square feet. They just want cool stuff." Add in growing awareness of our environmental footprint and a crashing economy, and you've got a perfect storm that's moving Americans back toward the kind of smaller digs we lived in in the days of Ward and June Cleaver.</p> <p>How much smaller are homes getting? According to <a href="http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/us_home_size_preferences_final.html ">NRDC's Kaid Benfield</a>, the average American home exploded from 983 square feet in the 1950s up to 2,300 square feet early in the 2000s, even as the size of families declined over the decades.</p> <p>But by 2010, according to data from both Trulia.com and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the median size of a new US home had headed back down toward 2,100 square feet. And that was just single-family homes; the calculations didn't take into account the increasing popularity of condos, which would have brought the number down even further.</p> <p>Some experts think this long-term trend toward smaller houses is likely to hold steady even if the economy improves. "I don't expect [home size] to come back up," says Gopal Ahluwalia, a VP at NAHB. He notes that nine out of 10 NAHB members surveyed said they were planning to build smaller, lower-priced homes in the future. "We don't need big homes; family size has been declining for the past 35 years." That fact may not have stopped us from going big in the past, but it may matter more in these frugal and eco-conscious times.</p> <p>Kermit Baker, chief economist of the American Institute of Architects, <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/life/lifestyle/home/2009-03-16-small-homes_N.htm">agrees</a>. Even though a healthier economy may stimulate some demand for bigger houses, Baker thinks that the economic shocks of the past few years have dramatically altered people's fundamental attitudes toward home ownership. It's no longer a family's primary financial investment. Now, it's viewed as a place to live -- an investment in day-to-day quality of life. </p> <p>Baker also notes that this scaling-back trend was already evident in high-end homes well before the 2008 crash, as affluent homebuyers sought out smaller houses with nicer finishes and higher-quality construction -- another sign of a deeper trend at work.</p> <p>At all price levels, what people are looking for most of all in a small house is location, location, location. A tiny place can make you feel pretty cooped up unless there's plenty to walk to nearby in the neighborhood. Giving up our private lawns, kitchens, dining rooms, and garages means that we'll need to rely more and more on public places to take over the recreation and entertainment functions of our lives. For this reason, small houses are far more liveable when they're close to shops, parks, evening entertainment like restaurants and theaters, and transit that can quickly whisk you around town.</p> <p>This deep shift, which homebuilders have already been responding to over the past few years, points to the potential for some longer-term changes in how American cities are built. If people are hungry for smaller homes, that bodes well for sustainability solutions that involve greater urban density -- and a serious turn away from the old suburban model, which the marketplace is increasingly treating like an ugly, unwanted old dinosaur from an era we'd rather forget. </p> <p>And if small is beautiful and density is desirable, then cities are going to be needing to invest far more in the kind of public infrastructure that makes these tiny homes liveable -- those parks and transit centers and retail hubs, for example. As we turn toward smaller homes, voter demand for these kinds of amenities will increase. And, at some point, our attitude toward paying higher taxes to make these investments will have to shift as well.</p> <p>In the meantime, no doubt more and more of us will be reading more juicy homeowner porn featuring sexy pictures of IKEA kitchens, cunning storage solutions, and tiny houses that we might imagine are inhabited by beings far more serene, unencumbered and creative than we are. If the necessary shift of the 21st century is to get Americans to turn away from lives built on stuff, the smaller-house trend is a clear sign that an important piece of the change is already underway.<p> </p></p> <!--EndFragment--> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is a trained social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '669951'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669951" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Fri, 16 Mar 2012 10:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 669951 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions cities taxes homes Why We Have to Go Back to a 40-Hour Work Week to Keep Our Sanity https://www.alternet.org/story/154518/why_we_have_to_go_back_to_a_40-hour_work_week_to_keep_our_sanity <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '669886'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669886" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">One hundred fifty years of research proves that shorter work hours actually raise productivity and profits -- and overtime destroys them. So why do we still do this?</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1331598753_3406132648c09ea7d06c.jpg?itok=vSPqp-Kd" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">If you’re lucky enough to have a job right now, you’re probably doing everything possible to hold onto it. If the boss asks you to work 50 hours, you work 55. If she asks for 60, you give up weeknights and Saturdays, and work 65.  <p></p></span><br /><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <o:DocumentProperties> <o:Template>Normal.dotm</o:Template> <o:Revision>0</o:Revision> <o:TotalTime>0</o:TotalTime> <o:Pages>1</o:Pages> <o:Words>3523</o:Words> <o:Characters>20084</o:Characters> <o:Company>Cosmic Cowgrrl</o:Company> <o:Lines>167</o:Lines> <o:Paragraphs>40</o:Paragraphs> <o:CharactersWithSpaces>24664</o:CharactersWithSpaces> <o:Version>12.0</o:Version> </o:DocumentProperties> <o:OfficeDocumentSettings> <o:AllowPNG /> </o:OfficeDocumentSettings> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:WordDocument> <w:Zoom>0</w:Zoom> <w:TrackMoves>false</w:TrackMoves> <w:TrackFormatting /> <w:PunctuationKerning /> <w:DrawingGridHorizontalSpacing>18 pt</w:DrawingGridHorizontalSpacing> <w:DrawingGridVerticalSpacing>18 pt</w:DrawingGridVerticalSpacing> <w:DisplayHorizontalDrawingGridEvery>0</w:DisplayHorizontalDrawingGridEvery> <w:DisplayVerticalDrawingGridEvery>0</w:DisplayVerticalDrawingGridEvery> <w:ValidateAgainstSchemas /> <w:SaveIfXMLInvalid>false</w:SaveIfXMLInvalid> <w:IgnoreMixedContent>false</w:IgnoreMixedContent> <w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText>false</w:AlwaysShowPlaceholderText> <w:Compatibility> <w:BreakWrappedTables /> <w:DontGrowAutofit /> <w:DontAutofitConstrainedTables /> <w:DontVertAlignInTxbx /> </w:Compatibility> </w:WordDocument> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <w:LatentStyles DefLockedState="false" LatentStyleCount="276"></w:LatentStyles> </xml><![endif]--><!--[if gte mso 10]> <style> /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;} </style> <![endif]--><!--StartFragment--></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Odds are that you’ve been doing this for months, if not years, probably at the expense of your family life, your exercise routine, your diet, your stress levels, and your sanity. You’re burned out, tired, achy, and utterly forgotten by your spouse, kids and dog. But you push on anyway, because everybody knows that working crazy hours is what it takes to prove that you’re “passionate” and “productive” and “a team player” — the kind of person who might just have a chance to survive the next round of layoffs.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">This is what work looks like now. It’s been this way for so long that most American workers don’t realize that for most of the 20th century, the broad consensus among American business leaders was that working people more than 40 hours a week was stupid, wasteful, dangerous, and expensive — and the most telling sign of dangerously incompetent management to boot. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">It’s a heresy now (good luck convincing your boss of what I’m about to say), but every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul. And it may sound weird, but it’s true: the single easiest, fastest thing your company can do to boost its output and profits -- starting right now, today -- is to get everybody off the 55-hour-a-week treadmill, and back onto a 40-hour footing. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Yes, this flies in the face of everything modern management thinks it knows about work. So we need to understand more. How did we get to the 40-hour week in the first place? How did we lose it? And are there compelling bottom-line business reasons that we should bring it back? <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">The Making of the 40-Hour Week</span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">The most essential thing to know about the 40-hour work-week is that, while it was the unions that pushed it, business leaders ultimately went along with it because their own data convinced them this was a solid, hard-nosed business decision. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Unions started fighting for the short week in both the UK and US in the early 19th century. By the latter part of the century, it was becoming the norm in an increasing number of industries. And a weird thing happened: over and over -- across many business sectors in many countries -- business owners discovered that when they gave into the union and cut the hours, their businesses became significantly more productive and profitable. As Tom Walker of the Work Less Institute puts it in his <a href="http://www.worklessparty.org/timework/ford.htm ">Prosperity Covenant</a>:<p></p></span></p> <blockquote> <p>That output does not rise or fall in direct proportion to the number of hours worked is a lesson that seemingly has to be relearned each generation. In 1848, the English parliament passed the ten-hours law and total output per-worker, per-day increased. In the 1890s employers experimented widely with the eight hour day and repeatedly found that total output per-worker increased. In the first decades of the 20th century, Frederick W. Taylor, the originator of "scientific management" prescribed reduced work times and attained remarkable increases in per-worker output.<p></p></p></blockquote> <p>By 1914, emboldened by a dozen years of in-house research, Henry Ford famously took the radical step of doubling his workers’ pay, and cut shifts in Ford plants from nine hours to eight. The National Association of Manufacturers criticized him bitterly for this — though many of his competitors climbed on board in the next few years when they saw how Ford’s business boomed as a result. In 1937, the 40-hour week was enshrined nationwide as part of the New Deal. By that point, there were a solid five decades of industrial research that proved, beyond a doubt, that if you wanted to keep your workers bright, healthy, productive, safe, and efficient over a sustained stretch of time, you kept them to no more than 40 hours a week and eight hours a day.<p></p></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Evan Robinson, a software engineer with a long interest in programmer productivity (full disclosure: our shared last name is not a coincidence) summarized this history <a href="http://www.igda.org/why-crunch-modes-doesnt-work-six-lessons ">in a white paper</a> he wrote for the International Game Developers’ Association in 2005. The original paper contains a wealth of links to studies conducted by businesses, universities, industry associations, and the military that supported early-20th-century leaders as they embraced the short week. “Throughout the '30s, '40s, and '50s, these studies were apparently conducted by the hundreds,” writes Robinson; “and by the 1960s, the benefits of the 40-hour week were accepted almost beyond question in corporate America. In 1962, the Chamber of Commerce even published a pamphlet extolling the productivity gains of reduced hours.”<p></p></span> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">What these studies showed, over and over, was that industrial workers have eight good, reliable hours a day in them. On average, you get no more widgets out of a 10-hour day than you do out of an eight-hour day. Likewise, the overall output for the work week will be exactly the same at the end of six days as it would be after five days. So paying hourly workers to stick around once they’ve put in their weekly 40 is basically nothing more than a stupid and abusive way to burn up profits. Let ‘em go home, rest up and come back on Monday. It’s better for everybody.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">As time went on and the unions made disability compensation and workplace safety into bigger and bigger issues, another set of concerns further buttressed the wisdom of the short week. A growing mountain of data <a href="http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Munster/Industrial/chap17.htm ">was showing that catastrophic accidents</a> — the kind that disable workers, damage capital equipment, shut down the lines, open the company to lawsuits, and upset shareholders — were far more likely to occur when workers were working overtime and overtired. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">That sealed the deal: for most businesses, the potential human, capital, legal, and financial risks of going over 40 hours a week simply weren’t worth taking. By World War II, the consensus was clear and widespread: even (or especially!) under the extreme demands of wartime, overworking employees is counterproductive and dangerous, and no competent workplace should ever attempt to push its people beyond that limit.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">The Overtime Exception</span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">There was one exception to this rule. <a href="http://www.hcgexperts.com/scheduled-overtime-effect-on-construction-projects.php ">Research by the Business Roundtable</a> in the 1980s found that you could get short-term gains by going to 60- or 70-hour weeks very briefly — for example, pushing extra hard for a few weeks to meet a critical production deadline. However, there were a few serious caveats attached to this which used to be well-known, but have mostly been forgotten.<p></p></span> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">One is that increasing a team’s hours in the office by 50 percent (from 40 to 60 hours) does not result in 50 percent more output (as Henry Ford could have told them). Most modern-day managers assume there will be a direct one-to-one correlation between extra hours and extra output, but they’re almost always wrong about this. In fact, the numbers may typically be something closer to 25-30 percent more work in 50 percent more time. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Here's why. By the eighth hour of the day, people's best work is usually already behind them (typically turned in between hours 2 and 6). In Hour 9, as fatigue sets in, they're only going to deliver a fraction of their usual capacity. And with every extra hour beyond that, the workers’ productivity level continues to drop, until at around 10 or 12 hours they hit full exhaustion.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Another is that overtime is only effective over very short sprints. This is because (as <a href="http://www.worklessparty.org/timework/chapman.htm">Sidney Chapman showed in 1909</a>) daily productivity starts falling off in the second week, and declines rapidly with every successive week as burnout sets in. Without adequate rest, recreation, nutrition, and time off to just be, people get dull and stupid. They can't focus. They spend more time answering e-mail and goofing off than they do working. They make mistakes that they'd never make if they were rested; and fixing those mistakes takes longer because they're fried. Robinson writes that he’s seen overworked software teams descend into a negative-progress mode, where they are actually losing ground week over week because they're so mentally exhausted that they're making more errors than they can fix. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">The Business Roundtable study found that after just eight 60-hour weeks, the fall-off in productivity is so marked that the average team would have actually gotten just as much done and been better off if they’d just stuck to a 40-hour week all along. And at 70- or 80-hour weeks, the fall-off happens even faster: at 80 hours, the break-even point is reached in just three weeks.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">And finally: these death marches take a longer-term productivity toll as well. Once the crisis has passed and that 60-hour-a-week team gets to go back to its regular 40, it can take several more weeks before the burnout begins to lift enough for them to resume their typical productivity level. So, for a while, you’ll get significantly less than a full 40 out of them. <p></p></span><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p> </p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Wise managers who understand this will a) avoid requiring overtime crunches, because they're acutely aware of the serious longer-term productivity hit that inevitably follows; b) keep the crunches as short as possible when they are necessary; and c) give their teams a few days off -- one to two comp days per overtime week worked is about right -- at the end of a hard sprint. This downtime enables them recuperate more quickly and completely. It's much more productive to have them gone for the next week — and then back on the job, rested and ready to work — than have them at their workstations but too fried to get anything useful done for the next month.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">So, to summarize: Adding more hours to the workday does not correlate one-to-one with higher productivity. Working overtime is unsustainable in anything but the very short term. And working a lot of overtime creates a level of burnout that sets in far sooner, is far more acute, and requires much more to fix than most bosses or workers think it does. The research proves that anything more than a very few weeks of this does more harm than good.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Enter the Knowledge Worker</span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">After WWII, as the GI Bill sent more workers into white-collar jobs, employers at first assumed that the limits that applied to industrial workers probably didn’t apply to knowledge workers. Everybody knew that eight hours a day was pretty much the limit for a guy swinging a hammer or a shovel; but those grey-flannel guys are just sitting at desks. We’re paying them more; shouldn’t we be able to ask more of them?<p></p></span><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p> </p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">The short answer is: no. In fact, research shows that knowledge workers actually have fewer good hours in a day than manual laborers do — on average, about six hours, as opposed to eight. It sounds strange, but if you’re a knowledge worker, the truth of this may become clear if you think about your own typical work day. Odds are good that you probably turn out five or six good, productive hours of hard mental work; and then spend the other two or three hours on the job in meetings, answering e-mail, making phone calls, and so on. You can stay longer if your boss asks; but after six hours, all he's really got left is a butt in a chair. Your brain has already clocked out and gone home.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">The other thing about knowledge workers is that they’re exquisitely sensitive to even minor sleep loss. Research <a href="http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_pnih/is_200303/ai_90467367/ ">by the US military</a> has shown that losing just one hour of sleep per night for a week will cause a level of cognitive degradation equivalent to a .10 blood alcohol level. Worse: most people who’ve fallen into this state typically have no idea of just how impaired they are. It’s only when you look at the dramatically lower quality of their output that it shows up. Robinson writes: “If they came to work that drunk, we'd fire them -- we'd rightly see them as a manifest risk to our enterprise, our data, our capital equipment, us, and themselves. But we don't think twice about making an equivalent level of sleep deprivation a condition of continued employment.”</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">And the potential for catastrophic failure can be every bit as high for knowledge workers as it is for laborers. Robinson cites the follow-up investigations on the Exxon Valdez disaster and the <a href="http://history.nasa.gov/rogersrep/v2appg.htm">Challenger explosion</a>.</span><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><span style="mso-spacerun:&#10;yes"> </span>Both sets of investigators found that severely overworked, overtired decision-makers played significant roles in bringing about these disasters. There’s also a huge body of research on life-threatening errors made by exhausted medical residents, as well as research by the US military on the catastrophic effects of fatigue on the target discrimination abilities of artillery operators. (As Robinson dryly notes: “It's a good thing knowledge workers rarely have to worry about friendly fire.")<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">“Passion," De-Unionization, and the End of the 40-Hour Week</span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">How did this knowledge, which was so deeply embedded in three generations of American business management that it was utterly taken for granted, come to be so lost to us now? There are probably several answers to that, but there are three factors in particular that stand out.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">The first is the emergence of Silicon Valley as an economic powerhouse in the late 1970s. Since WWII, the valley had attracted a unique breed of worker — scientists and technologists who carried with them a singular passion for research and innovation. <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger_syndrome">Asperger's Syndrome</a> </span><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">wasn’t named and identified until 1994, but by the 1950s, the defense industries in California's Santa Clara Valley were already drawing in brilliant young men and women who fit the profile: single-minded, socially awkward, emotionally detached, and blessed (or cursed) with a singular, unique, laser-like focus on some particular area of obsessive interest. For these people, work wasn’t just work; it was their life’s passion, and they devoted every waking hour to it, usually to the exclusion of non-work relationships, exercise, sleep, food, and sometimes even personal care. The popular stereotype of the geek was born in some real truths about the specific kinds of people who were drawn to tech in those early years.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">The culture that grew up in the valley over the next few decades reflected and valorized the peculiarities of what Lockheed’s company psychologists were calling by the late '50s “the sci-tech personality.” Companies broadened their working hours, so programmers who came in at noon and worked through till midnight could make their own schedules. Dress codes were loosened; personal eccentricities were celebrated. HP famously brought in breakfast every morning so its engineers would remember to eat. The local 24-hour supermarket carried microchips alongside the potato chips, so techies working in their garages could stop in at 2am for snacks and parts. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">And then, in the early ‘80s, <a href="http:// http://www.amazon.com/Passion-Excellence-Tom-Peters/dp/0394553705 ">Tom Peters came along</a>, and promoted the Silicon Valley work ethic to the rest of the country in the name of “excellence.” He extolled tech giants like HP and Apple for the “passion” of their workers, and told old-industry employers that they could move into the new age by seeking out and rewarding that kind of passion in their employees, too. Though Peters didn't advocate this explicitly, it was implicitly understood that to "passionate" people, 40-hour weeks were old-fashioned and boring. In the new workplace, people would find their ultimate meaning and happiness in the sheer unrivaled joy of work. They wouldn't want to be anywhere else.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">There were two problems with this. The first is that this “passion” ideal didn’t recognize that the vast majority of people have legitimate physical, emotional and psychological needs — things like sleep, exercise, relaxation, and the maintenance of strong family and social support bonds — that these engineers didn't have to nearly the same degree. The second was that most managers, lacking windows into their workers' souls, decided to cut corners and measure passion with one easy-to-chart metric: “willingness to spend your entire life at the office.” (It was about this time, with gourmet company cafeterias and in-house fitness centers and on-site child care sprouting up in high-tech campuses all over town, that I realized if a company is working that hard to make the workplace feel like home, it’s a strong suggestion that their employees risk sanction if they ever attempt to visit their actual homes again.) <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">These were the early morning-in-America Reagan years. The unions -- for 150 years, the guardians of the 40-hour week -- were falling under a conservative onslaught; and in their place, the new cult of the entrepreneur was ascendant. All the old paternalistic contracts between employers and employees were torn up. Where companies once hoped to hire people young and nurture their careers through to a pensioned retirement — a lifelong relationship that required managers to take the long view about how to keep their workforces sustainably healthy and happy — young Gen Xers were being given a 401k and told to expect to change jobs every three to five years. Even while employers were demanding new levels of “passion” and commitment, they were also abdicating their old obligation to look after the long-term well-being of their employees. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">The rapacious new corporate ethic was summarized by two phrases: "churn ‘em and burn ‘em" (a term that described Microsoft’s habit of hiring young programmers fresh out of school and working them 70 hours a week until they dropped, and then firing them and hiring more), and “working 90 hours a week and loving it!” (an actual T-shirt worn with pride by the original Macintosh team. Productivity experts estimate that we’d have probably had the Mac a year sooner if they’d worked half as many hours per week instead.) And this mentality soon spread from the technology sector to every industry in every corner of the country.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">The new ideal was to unleash “internal entrepreneurs” -- Randian übermenschen who would devote all their energies to the corporation’s success, in expectation of great reward — and who were willing to assume all the risks themselves. In this brave new world, the real go-getters were the ones who were willing to put in weekends and Saturdays, who put their families on hold, who ate at their desks and slept in their cubicles. Forty-hour weeks were for losers and slackers, who began to vanish from America’s business landscape. And with their passing, we all but forgot all the very good reasons that we used to have those limits.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Within 15 years, everything America's managers used to know about sustaining worker productivity was forgotten. Now, 30 years and a few economic meltdowns on, the cafeterias and child-care centers and gyms are mostly gone, along with the stock options and bonuses that were once held out as the potential reward for the long hours. All that remains of those heady, optimistic days is the mandatory 60-hour work-week. And, unless you're an hourly worker -- still entitled to time and a half by law -- the only inducement employers currently offer in exchange for submitting yourself to this abuse is that you get to keep your job.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Can We Bring It Back? </span></strong><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Bringing back the 40-hour work-week is going to require a wholesale change of attitude on the part of both employees and employers.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">For employees, the fundamental realization is that an employer who asks for more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week is stealing something vital and precious from you. Every extra hour at work is going to cost you, big time, in some other critical area of your life. How will you make up the lost time? Will you ditch dinner and grab some fast food? Skip the workout? Miss the kids’ game this week? Sleep less? (Sex? What’s that?) And how many consecutive days can you keep making that trade-off before you are weakened in some permanent and substantial way? (Probably not as many as you think.) Changing this situation starts with the knowledge that an hour of overtime is a very real, material taking from our long-term well-being — and salaried workers aren’t even compensated for it.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">There are now whole industries and entire branches of medicine devoted to handling workplace stress, but the bottom line is that people who have enough time to eat, sleep, play a little, exercise, and maintain their relationships don’t have much need of their help. The original short-work movement in 19th-century Britain demanded “eight for work, eight for sleep, and eight for what we will.” It’s still a formula that works.<p></p></span><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica"><p> </p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">For employers, the shift will be much harder, because it will require a wholesale change in some of the most basic assumptions of our business culture. Two generations of managers have now come of age believing that a “good manager” is one who can keep those butts in those chairs for as many hours as possible. This assumption is implicit in how important words like “productivity” and “motivation” are defined in today’s workplaces. A manager who can get the same amount of work out of people in fewer hours isn’t rewarded for her manifest skill at bringing out the best in people. Rather, she’s assumed to be underworking her team, who could clearly do even more if she’d simply demand more hours from them. If the crew is working 40 hours a week, she'll be told to up it to 50. If they’re already at 50, management will want to get them in on nights and weekends, and turn it into 60. And if she balks -- knowing that actual productivity will suffer if she complies -- she won't get promoted.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">Of course, hiring new people is out of the question -- again, especially when the workers are salaried. Squeezing extra time out of an employee when you're not going to have to pay extra for it is seen as a total freebie by managers who cling to the delusion that they're getting 50 percent more work in 50 </span><span style="font-family: Helvetica; ">percent</span><span style="font-family: Helvetica; "> more time. This belief also drives the fallacy that you can fire one person and divide their job between two other people, who will work an extra 20 hours per week for free -- and that there is no possible downside to the company for doing this.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">And of, course, that's wrong. </span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">And it hurts the country, too. For every four Americans working a 50-hour week, every week, there's one American who should have a full-time job, but doesn't. Our rampant unemployment problem would vanish overnight if we simply worked the way we're supposed to by law.</span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">We will not turn this situation around until we do what our 19th-century ancestors did: confront our bosses, present them with the data, and make them understand that what they are doing amounts to employee abuse — and that abuse is based on assumptions that are directly costing them untold potential profits. We may have to appeal to the shareholders, whose investments are at serious risk when employees are overworked. (At least one shareholder suit has already been filed against a computer game company that was notorious for working its people 80 hours a week for years on end. It was settled out of court on terms favorable to the plaintiffs.) We may have to get harder-nosed in negotiating with our bosses when we first take the jobs, and get our hours in writing up front -- and then demanding that they stick with the contract down the line. And we also need to lean on our legislators to start enforcing the labor laws on the books.<p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">But the bottom line is: For the good of our bodies, our families, our communities, the profitability of American companies, and the future of the country, this insanity has to stop. Working long days and weeks has been incontrovertibly proven to be the stupidest, most expensive way there is to get work done. Our bosses are depleting resources from of the human capital pool without replenishing them. They are taking time, energy, and resources that rightfully belong to us, and are part of our national common wealth. <p></p></span></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"><span style="mso-bidi-font-size:12.0pt;font-family:Helvetica;&#10;mso-bidi-font-family:Helvetica">If we’re going to talk about creating a more sustainable world, let’s start by talking about how to live low-stress, balanced work lives that leave us refreshed, strong and able to carry on as economic contributors for a full four or five decades, instead of burned out and broken by a too-early middle age. A full, productive 40-year career starts with full, productive 40-hour weeks. And nobody should be able to take that away from us, not even for the sake of a paycheck.<p></p></span><p> </p></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;&#10;text-autospace:none"> </p> <!--EndFragment--> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is a trained social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '669886'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669886" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 13 Mar 2012 06:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 669886 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions Labor Economy unions productivity work less Can We Build a Sustainable Society Ourselves? https://www.alternet.org/story/154432/can_we_build_a_sustainable_society_ourselves <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '669854'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669854" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Sightline Institute’s Alan Durning discusses hope, fear and how we can keep making progress when change seems impossible.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1331070425_alanfacebook.jpg?itok=Xv_9sNKU" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Alan Durning, the guiding force behind Seattle’s influential <a href="http://www.amazon.com/This-Place-Earth-Practice-Permanence/dp/1570610401">Sightline Institute</a>, may be the most famous sustainability activist you’ve never heard of. The man who coined the phrase “green-collar jobs” has written at least a dozen books, including <a href="http://www.amazon.com/This-Place-Earth-Practice-Permanence/dp/1570610401">This Place On Earth: Home and the Practice of Permanence</a>, and <a href="http://www.amazon.com/How-Much-Enough-Worldwatch-Environmental/dp/039330891X/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&amp;ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1331062852&amp;sr=1-3">How Much is Enough? The Consumer Society and the Future of Earth</a>, that have shaped the way we think about green policy.</p> <p>On the heels of <a href="http://daily.sightline.org/blog_series/the-year-of-living-car-lessly-experiment/">The Year of Living Car-Lessly</a>, Durning’s latest project is <a href=" http://daily.sightline.org/projects/making-sustainability-legal-series&#10;">Making Sustainability Legal</a>, an effort to find and eliminate old zombie laws that may have once made sense, but now forbid people from taking basic steps that can lower their environmental impact. Over the past 20 years, Durning's innovative ideas have found their way into state-level policy and legislation throughout the Pacific Northwest states and provinces, and many have since rolled out into the rest of the country as well.<br /><br /> AlterNet caught up with Durning at Sightline’s sunny offices in downtown Seattle.<em><br /></em><br /><strong>Sara Robinson: Progressives operate under the delusion that most change comes from sweeping federal policy. What’s interesting about your work over the past 20 years is that you’re consistently looking for things we can do at the regional level, the city level, even the level of homeowners’ associations — small stuff that’s not that hard to do, but makes a big impact. “Making Sustainability Legal” is the latest iteration of that, but everything you’ve done has had this thread running through it.<br /><br /> How did you come to this, and why do you think that idea is powerful?<br /></strong> <br /> Alan Durning: I do believe that national policies and international agreements are important, but I also believe that stories change the world. National policies are so hard to affect. Local change is more promising as a way to create stories, living example, models that may inspire others to follow along. And I suppose the hope is that ultimately, the smaller example will move national and international change.<br /><br /><strong>SR: Have you seen signs of that?<br /></strong> <br /> AD: No! The American system of government is kind of broken, so the uptake is not good. The influence-buying in politics. The overuse of the filibuster in the Senate. But we certainly see change spreading from one locality to another, one state to another, and that’s pretty exciting.<br /><br /> Let me tell you about my story, because that will explain the choice I’ve made as much as any abstract reason or logic. I grew up in a family with roots in both the environmental movement and the civil rights movement. I grew up around campaigns, some of them candidates for office, some of them issue campaigns. But I myself found myself more drawn to the big ideas and the analysis than to organizing. I’ve always felt like the work that I do is less important than the organizing and the mobilizing, but I think that there’s a role for thinkers.<br /><br /> So after finishing my studies, I went to in Washington, DC. I started at Worldwatch Institute, a global-issues think tank. I was always fascinated by the ways that those at the bottom of the heap organize themselves to try to improve their lives. I went to South America, where I studied indigenous tribes’ struggles for self-determination, protection of their resources, self-help, development movements in various parts of the world. I also looked at the emerging environmental movement in Eastern Europe. I was always interested in the ways that change could start away from the centers of power. And then in the early '90s, after the book <em>How Much Is Enough?</em> — which is kind of a summation of my work -- I left DC to come back to the Northwest.<br /><br /> The way that happened was really about a particular experience I had in the Philippines. I was working on this project with indigenous people, and was staying with members of a tribe in the south. There was an old woman, a traditional priestess, who asked me to tell her about my homeland. And I didn’t know what to say to her. I don’t have a homeland; I have an apartment. And this desperately poor old woman looked at me with a kind of pity — this older, wiser woman, and this younger man — and that experience wouldn’t leave my memory.<br /><br /> It haunted me for months until I realized that maybe the real world wasn’t in the corridors of power in Washington, DC. Maybe the real world was in communities like hers — and maybe the path toward progressive change (or at least <em>my</em> path toward change) might be through this idea of groundedness in place.<br /><br /> So, a year later, I left DC to return to the Northwest, and started this organization, and committed myself to try to see what a sustainable future could look like in a bioregion — in my case, the Cascadia region. So that’s sort of a rambling answer to your question. There was this one experience than changed my life and direction. It was an emotional, almost spiritual calling, not a strategic realization.<br /><br /><strong>SR: Sustainability has become a controversial word. Even in the environmental community, there are people who don’t want to use it any more. How do you define the word? Do think it still has utility? Are there better words we should be using?</strong><br /><br /> AD: I still use it proudly. The controversy around the word is a reflection of our confusion. A sustainable society is one that meets its needs without jeopardizing the prospects for future generations to meet their needs. But I think about the word a kind of an analog to the word “justice.” Justice means “a right relationship among people.” We know what it means, though we don’t always agree on what it looks like — there are different varieties of justice. And applying those theories of justice to individual cases is complicated: a lot of political philosophy is about that. Our whole legal system is constructing procedural systems to try to ensure something approximating people’s intuitions of justice.<br /><br /><strong>SR: It’s an ongoing conversation that we have.<br /></strong> <br /> AD:  Right. So I think that sustainable means establishing a right relationship between people and future people. So of course this controversy about what it means in particular instances — there are as many different theories and flavors of sustainability as there are around justice — I don’t think it diminishes the analytical or ethical power of the word. I think that fighting over what it actually means and what’s the best route to it is stupid. Though, at any given moment, there may be tactical reasons to use other language to reach particular audiences. But for conversations among ourselves, it’s a good word, and we should keep using it — just like we use the word justice.<br /><br /> Sometimes, for framing purposes, we should also talk about opportunity, because the opportunity frame is more powerful than the justice frame. In our campaigning, some days, we talk about opportunity. But when it comes to being aware of first principles, it’s an essential concept. I don’t know any other word that covers its full meaning.<br /><br /><strong>SR: You’re talking a lot about the power of stories, narratives and frames. What do you see as missing most in our change efforts right now? Do you see things we could be doing better, are overlooking, or don’t understand well enough?<br /></strong> <br /> AD: There are at least three shortcomings we have as a movement for sustainable change.<br /><br /> One is that we’re not very good at telling our story. We need a healthy, vibrant process to do a better job of that. We tend to talk about issues and facts. We tend to be much more reductionist about all the political choices than conservatives tend to — they speak about values and morality, that twisted patriarchal control system. We have so thoroughly adopted a materialistic understanding of what motivates individual citizens that we assume that we should appeal to pocketbook concerns — that voters make choices about candidates the same way they make choices in the supermarket. As opposed to — they make choices because of their identities and their aspirational values. We’re complicated beings, and self-interest is only part of it.<br /><br /> The second shortcoming is that we need to do better at holding public institutions accountable for delivering the kind of services that citizens deserve. We’ve been forced into the position of defending public services from attacks by the right, which makes us not always as good as critics. Making Sustainability Legal is one of our attempts to make government work better.<br /><br /> The third category where we’re weak is about the design of governing institutions. Issues like the filibuster, or money in politics — they’re fundamental structural challenges that limit the chances of progress on many different issues.<br /><br /> The combination of these three things currently has us in a losing cycle. I don’t think we should beat ourselves up about this: any of these three is a hard problem, and working on all three at the same time is especially hard. But it seems like a tremendously powerful opportunity if we can start telling our story better, be seen as the movement that’s going to get government to more effectively deliver, and focus on fixing broken government institution so that our prospects for the next fights are improved.<br /><br /><strong>SR: So what are we going to do about it?<br /></strong> <br /> AD: I’ve been reading Lawrence Lessig recently on his ideas about a Constitutional convention as an unlikely but necessary path. He said that there are four solutions. Three of them are impossible, and the fourth is merely implausible. I’ve done a fair amount of thinking about the Senate filibuster, and I’ve done quite a bit of work about simple-majority voting in Washington State.<br /><br /> The fundamental challenge we’re up against is that the federal government has become a supermajority system. In Washington, Oregon and California, tax and spending issues at the state level also require a supermajority. Because of the political polarization that we’re in, this feeds a cycle that means that no substantial change can happen. We’re basically stuck. And this feeds the cycle of distrust and cynicism among voters and the public about government in general — all of which ultimately helps our enemies, because they’re saying that you can’t trust government to do anything, and we should therefore defund it, eliminate it, shrink it down small enough to drown it in the bathtub.<br /><br /> So the consequence of the federal filibuster is to perpetually run down our collective belief in democracy. The experience of an average centrist or progressive voter is that you get your hopes up because some new bright light comes along. And then they cannot deliver, they compromise and compromise and compromise, until they lose heart. It’s not an encouragement to get involved as citizens, because it seems like the system cannot work.<br /><br /> Typical voters look at this as a personnel problem. "If we send different people, we’ll get different results. We won’t get fooled again. I thought that maybe Candidate X was the right one." But it’s not a personnel problem. It’s a structural problem. It’s a system that’s designed to prevent change. And layered on top of that now is this extraordinarily corrupting system of money, lobbying and campaign financing. The combination of these things is what social scientists are calling “wicked problems” — it’s hard to imagine a real solution to it.<br /><br /> Yet, at the same time, unless until we can make some headway on those problems, it’s hard to see how we’re going to make progress any of the big challenges we’re up against — whether it’s a comprehensive form of a tax system, whether it’s comprehensive immigration reform, whether it’s limiting the prerogatives of Wall Street to gamble with other people’s money, whether it’s an issue like climate change or inequality.<br /><br /> So we have to work on it, but it’s hard. Most progressives aren’t really thinking about it. So what I’ve been trying to get my head around is what we can do to create a positive circle of growing trust — one improvement after another in the effectiveness of republican institutions, reduction of the influence of money in politics. I don’t have it figured it out. I’d like and sort of plan to do some more thinking and writing about this, but I don’t have the answers yet. I don’t think anybody does.<br /><br /><strong>SR: Let’s get back to Making Sustainability Legal, because this is a very solutions-oriented kind of thing. What I find enchanting about it is that this is stuff that can be done at a very small scale, and have a tremendous impact. Talk to me about what you’re most excited about, and some ideas that you think have good potential to change things.<br /></strong> <br /> AD: A year ago, because budgets are shrinking and because of the intense polarization of the legislative bodies at the state and federal levels, it became clear that big reform is not going to happen. So a little chunk of our work became this project called “Making Sustainability Legal.” We asked: “Are there some relatively modest barriers in our regulations and laws that prevent people of goodwill from doing common-sense green things?” The metaphor we used was: “We know we need to remodel the house, but nobody has any money, and we can’t agree on the remodels anyways. So while they fight, we’re going to clean out the fridge.”<br /><br /> And it turns out that there’s a lot of rotting old stuff in the fridge that is making everyone a little bit cranky. So we started in, and we’ve now done 17 or 18 case studies. And probably a third of them have turned into legislation in Olympia [Washington’s state capital] or Salem [Oregon’s state capital] or at the city level.<br /><br /> An important thing about this project is not to do it in a way that runs down government, but instead talk about rules that have outlived their sell-by date, that had a strong rationale at some point but no longer do. For example: there’s a regulation in Washington, as in most states, requiring that the phone companies deliver the white pages to every land line address in their service area, every year. No one is allowed to opt out. At one time it made a lot of sense. The phone companies were a regulated monopoly, very little competition, there was no such thing as cell phones, there was no such thing as the Internet….<br /><br /><strong>SR: …And it was the most-used book in the house.<br /></strong> <br /> AD: Exactly. And the network effect of everyone having access to a phone and to the information to use the entire thing made the whole economics work. Well, now, a few things have changed, and we have the Internet, and many people have cell phones. Allowing people to opt out makes very good sense. There really isn’t a constituency in favor of phone books for everyone any more, but there’s no campaign happening. The way politics work now, there’s usually an industry, occasionally a public interest group, pushing hard to change something. Things don’t just change because some legislator is sitting there combing through the law books trying to find laws that ought to change.<br /><br /> So that was the first one we got started on. I don’t think they’re going to get it done this session in Olympia, but probably in the next one, we’re going to get it fixed.<br /><br /> Another one that we’ve been working on is bans on clotheslines by homeowners’ association. This is an idea that actually came from a reader — when we launched the project, we said, “Send us all your ideas — barriers, regulations that get in the way of things that you’re trying to do. Someone wrote in saying that clotheslines were banned at High Point, which is the model affordable-housing green community in West Seattle. They’ve got swales and energy efficiency and low-VOC paints — but clothelines are banned there. So we used that as the poster child for this argument that you ought to have the right to hang your clothes out to dry — particularly if you’re living in a low-income housing project.<br /><br /> People started writing in about clothesline bans, and now we’ve got 117 on the map we created to track them. Now, we’re beginning to build the legal case. A number of states have laws on the books allowing access to solar energy. They were probably written for solar hot water heaters and PV cells and so on, but a clothesline is a solar collector. So we’re making the argument that these laws ought to cover clotheslines as well.<br /><br /> There’s legislators in both Oregon and Washington that are interested in this. There’s a city council member here in Seattle who’s going to introduce legislation this year to try to ban bans on clotheslines, to say homeowners’ associations cannot prevent you from hanging your clothes outside. I think six states have passed right-to-dry legislation.<br /><br /> So those are two examples of legislation we’ve written up already. In each case, it’s a relatively modest change that had a pretty substantial benefit.<br /><br /><strong>SR: Another one that homeowners’ associations often get in the way of is growing food on your property — having a little vegetable garden. Especially if you try to put it in your front yard, they get really upset.<br /></strong> <br /> AD: We haven’t done anything with that, but there are homeowners’ association problems for clotheslines, for solar collectors, for rain gardens, for vegetable gardens, for chickens, for wind…in any event, all those things are logical candidates.<br /><br /><strong>SR: That’s got to be exciting, though, because it suggests that there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit out there waiting to be picked. And the beauty of these small projects is that once you get a little team of people together and get one through — and it’s not all that hard, it’s basic organizing -- you get people together for six months and get it done. That’s a trust-builder, it’s a confidence-builder, a skill-builder. And that team can go on and do the next thing, and that’s how trust grows.<br /><!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]--><br /><!--[endif]--></strong><p></p><strong>There’s a certain overlap in the Venn diagram of political ideology between you and the libertarians. Has there been any dialogue or support?</strong><br /><br /> AD: On a couple of issues, we’ve been able to cooperate with them. In general, libertarians spend most of their time working on the rights and freedoms of corporations, as opposed to individuals.</p> <p><p></p>I’m strongly convinced that markets are incredibly powerful, but that they’re better tools than they are masters. So when there’s a way to use a market tool to achieve a shared public purpose, we ought to do that. I do not believe, as libertarians believe, that the market is the way you find out what is right and good in the world. But I don’t distrust markets.</p> <p><strong>SR: A lot of your work has been focused on our relationship to stuff. One of our biggest issues as we come up against the limits of a finite planet is that everybody wants to live like us — and of course, that’s not possible. We’d need several more planets for that to happen. Furthermore, it’s becoming clear that not even <em>we</em> can continue to live like us. How do you see us adapting to this new reality? What’s it going to take for Americans to change that gear?<br /></strong> <br /> AD:  There’s an easy way, and a hard way. The last few years have experiments with the hard way: high oil prices, collapsing real estate values, forced austerity, increases in poverty. The easier way is to do it on purpose, by choice. We can plan to build high-density communities with the kinds of services that allow us to have a higher quality of life without as much stuff.<br /><br /> As an example, we can build communities that require every adult to have an automobile at their disposal at all times to accomplish the basic necessities of life, like getting to work or school or stopping off at the market to pick up some groceries. Or we can build communities where you have viable alternatives like walking or transit or cycling or carpooling, taxis and jitneys and all kinds of other things, in which you do not need to have and do not notice the lack of a private car for every adult. The difference in terms of the quantities of stuff is absolutely enormous. <p></p></p> <p>People in Manhattan use about a tenth as much gas per person as people in Houston. It’s not because people in Manhattan are Democrats and people in Houston are Republicans. The difference is in the way the cities are designed. So the easy way is to build the systems that allow people to have a high quality of life.</p> <p>Maybe it’s making lemonades out of lemons, but younger generations of Americans are much less interested in owning cars, have much lower rates of holding drivers’ licenses, are much more interested in European-style cafe neighborhoods, smaller dwellings, being in public more of the time, being outdoors, and all the rest. People in their late teens are more interested in their iPhones than they are in their drivers’ licenses. This is a kind of dematerialization that’s going on in the economy. Some of that is because opportunities are few, but some of it is a reflection of a spreading realization that this stuff does not provide the quality of life we thought it would.<br /><br /><strong>SR: There’s a generational aspect to this: the younger generation has different attitudes on house size, car choices, family size….<br /></strong> <br /> AD:  …and food choices. Vegetarianism is weird among people over 50 (not so much in the city of Seattle) and utterly normal among people under 30. Attitudes towards same-sex relationships and marriage are also radically different if you’re under 40 or 35 or something like that. I don’t think my kids know anybody who’d vote against same-sex marriage.<br /><!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]--><br /><!--[endif]--><p></p><strong>SR: Once we’ve changed out our light bulbs, bought bikes and transit passes, and joined a CSA, what are the next steps we should be taking to make our lives more sustainable? Where do we go once we’ve made the personal adjustments?<br /></strong> <br /> AD: I had a philosophy professor in college who said that students discussed endlessly the morality of different diets, and the morality of investing in companies that do business in South Africa — but very few students considered their choice of career as a moral choice. It’s a choice about fulfillment and security, but not a moral choice. But it’s the one of the most important decisions we make about how we spend our life’s energy. It’s scary to think that we have an obligation not to give our labor to the machine.<br /><br /> I have friends who work at big corporations who feel so proud of themselves about moving their money from Chase Bank to Umpqua Bank. But I’m like, “Yeah — but you’re working for The Man, so where you keep your money — who gets the 1 percent on your deposit — it’s not as important as what you pour your heart and soul into.”<br /><br /><strong>SR: What keeps you up nights? Where’s our biggest potential for disaster?<br /></strong> <br /> AD: The science on climate change. It seems like every passing year, the predictions get worse. Climate advocates like me tend to soft-pedal how bad it is, because we know it tends to shut people down emotionally. But it’s really scary. We don’t have very much time to get off of carbon.<br /><br /> Human genetic engineering scares the crap out of me, and there’s no movement to impose principled regulation on genetic engineering. Nanotechnology scares me similarly: it’s also largely unregulated.<br /><br /> But going back: the thing that scares me most of all is that our democracy seems to be broken. We seem to be unable to make it respond to these challenges — even the ones that are right there in our face. Our education system is woefully out of date — and we can’t even deal with that, let alone regulate the cutting edges of biology and materials science.<br /><br /> So you put those things together, and that can keep you up.<br /><br /><strong>SR: What gives you hope, and keeps you going?<br /></strong> <br /> AD: I feel like I’m one of the luckiest people on Earth. I get to work in this community, in the Cascade region, with thousands of people who are spending their time and their treasure to make this place a global model of sustainability. I work 60 hours a week with a staff of a dozen, and another dozen members of the board, and a hundred donors that we’re particularly close to, and hundreds of other individuals we have relationships with, and scores of organizations and legislators who are doing innovative, cool, problem-solving things.<br /><br /> So while the facts that I know about are frightening, I am enmeshed in a community that is rising to those challenges. So I mostly feel lucky. I think it’s people who are not engaged, who are not in a community that’s struggling with change, who get shut down.</p> <p><em>For some of Sightline's ideas on Making Sustainability Legal, check out AlterNet's sidebar</em><a href="http://www.alternet.org/visions/154261/making_sustainability_legal_9_zombie_laws_that_keep_cities_from_going_green_"><em>here</em></a><em>. If you have ideas you'd like to contribute to the project, contact </em><a href="mailto:editor@sightline.org"><em>editor@sightline.org</em></a><em>.</em></p> <p><p></p></p> <!--EndFragment--> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is a trained social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '669854'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669854" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 07 Mar 2012 19:00:01 -0800 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 669854 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions Environment Activism sustainability local sightline cascadia Ayn Rand Worshippers Should Face Facts: Blue States Are Providers, Red States Are Parasites https://www.alternet.org/story/154338/ayn_rand_worshippers_should_face_facts%3A_blue_states_are_the_providers%2C_red_states_are_the_parasites <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '669703'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669703" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">There&#039;s only one way to demonstrate who America&#039;s producers and parasites really are. It&#039;s time to go Galt.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1330494739_shutterstock1750391.jpg?itok=Tnnj2E9a" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan">Last week, the <em>New York Times</em> published <a href="http:// http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/12/us/even-critics-of-safety-net-increasingly-depend-on-it.html?_r=1&amp;pagewanted=all ">a widely discussed article</a> updating an argument that progressive bloggers noticed a very long time ago. It's now well-understood that <span style="color:#222222">blue states generally export money to the federal government; and red states generally import it. <p></p></span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan"><span style="color:#222222">TPM published a great map showing exactly how this redistribution works:<p></p></span></p><center><p><a href="/images/managed/storyimages_1330391586_givetakesmallfinal.png" target="_new"><img alt="Click for larger version" border="0" src="/images/managed/storyimages_1330391586_givetakesmallfinal.png" width="400" /></a><br /><a href="/images/managed/storyimages_1330391586_givetakesmallfinal.png" target="_new">(click for larger version)</a></p></center><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan"><span style="color:#222222">Progressives believe in the redistribution of wealth, so we're not usually too upset by this state of affairs. That’s what it means to be one country. <em>E pluribus unum,</em> and all that. We’re happy to help, because we think we’ve got a stake in making sure kids in rural Alabama get educations and seniors in Arizona get healthcare. What’s good for them is good for all of us. We also like to think they’d help us out if our positions were reversed. It’s an investment in making America stronger, and we feel fine about that.<p></p></span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan"><span style="color:#222222">But maybe it's time to admit that we're being played for chumps, and that there are people in the rest of the country who are taking way too much advantage of our good nature. After all: it's now a stone fact that the blue states and cities are the country's real wealth creators. That's why we pay more taxes, and are able to send that money to the red states in the first place. We're working our butts off, being economically productive, <a href="http://chronicle.com/article/Interactive-Map-Proportion-of/65009/">going to college</a>, raising good kids, supporting reality-based schools, keeping our marriages together, tending to our busy and diverse cities, and generally Playing By The Rules. And the fates have smiled on us in rough proportion to the degree that we’ve invested in our own common good.</span><br style="mso-special-character:line-break" /><!--[endif]--><span style="color:#222222"><p></p></span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan"><span style="color:#222222">So we've got every right to get good and angry about the fact that, by and large, the people who are getting our money are so damned ungrateful -- not to mention so ridiculously eager to spend it on stuff we don't approve of. We didn't ship them our hard-earned tax dollars to see them squandered on worse-than-useless abstinence-only education, textbooks that teach creationism, crisis-pregnancy misinformation centers, subsidies for GMO crops and oil companies, and so on. And we sure as hell didn't expect to be rewarded for our productivity and generosity with a rising tide of spittle-flecked insanity about how we’re just a bunch of immoral, godless, drug-soaked, sex-crazed, evil America-hating traitors who can’t wait to hand the country over to the Islamists and the Communists.</span><br style="mso-special-character:line-break" /><!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]--><br style="mso-special-character:line-break" /><!--[endif]--><span style="color:#222222"><p></p></span><span style="color:#222222">Ironically, the conservative movement's favorite philosopher had some very insightful things to say about this exact situation. Ayn Rand's novels divided the world into two groups. On one hand, she lionized "producers" -- noble, intelligent </span>Ü<span style="color: rgb(34, 34, 34); ">bermenschen whose faith in their own ideas and willingness to take risks to achieve their dreams drives everything else in society. And she called out the evil of "parasites," the dull, unimaginative masses who attach themselves to producers and drain away their resources and thwart their dreams.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan"><span style="color:#222222">Conservatives love this story. They're eager to claim the gleaming mantle of the producers, insisting loudly that their tax money is going to support people (mostly in blue states and cities, it's darkly implied) who won't or can't work as hard as they do. If you want to arouse their class and race resentments, there are few narratives that can get them rolling like this producers-versus-parasites tale.<p></p></span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan"><span style="color:#222222">But the <em>NYT</em> story and that map up there prove beyond arguing that the conservative interpretation of events is 100 percent, 180-degrees, flat-out wrong. America's real producer class is overwhelmingly concentrated in the blue cities and states -- the regions full of smart, talented people who've harnessed technology and intellect to money, and made these regions the best, most forward-looking places in the country to live. <p></p></span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan"><span style="color:#222222">And the real parasites are centered in red states (the only exceptions being states with huge resource reserves, like Alaska and Texas) -- the unimaginative, exhausted places that have clung to a fading past, rejected science, substituted superstition for sense, and refused to invest in their own futures. It's not unfair to say that those regions are simply feasting off the sweat of our ennobling labor, and expecting us to continue supporting them as they go about their wealth-destroying ways.<p></p></span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan"><span style="color:#222222">And we producers have had enough.</span><br style="mso-special-character:line-break" /><!--[endif]--><span style="color:#222222"><p></p></span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan;mso-prop-change:&quot;Sara Robinson&quot; 20120228T1200"><strong><span style="color:#222222">Progressives Go Galt!</span></strong></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan;mso-prop-change:&quot;Sara Robinson&quot; 20120228T1200"><span style="color:#222222">If you're a conservative who thinks Ayn Rand called it true with this producers/parasites thing, then by all means: let's go there. All the way there — and then some. But fair warning is in order: you may not like where we end up.</span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">By way of a modest proposal, I hereby declare the birth of a new<span style="mso-bidi-font-style:italic">Progressive Objectivism — a frankly producerist personal-responsibility crusade aimed at getting these whiny red leeches off our collective blue hide. If they think they can get by without us, let’s not stand in their way. What these people need from us, at minimum, is some tough talk — the kind of stern, grown-up verbal whoop-ass the conservatives wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to unload on us if the roles were reversed<i>.</i></span></span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">The time has come for blue America to <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Galt">go Galt</a>. Our farewell rant — long and epic, as Rand's turgid writing style would have required — might sound a bit like this:</span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">First off, dear Red Staters: If your town’s economy depends on a nearby dam, canal, harbor, airport, military base, interstate highway, national park or monument, or prison, just STFU. Because you are, in every way possible, a parasite, living off something the rest of us paid to build.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan;mso-prop-change:&quot;Sara Robinson&quot; 20120228T1200"><span style="color:#222222">Second: If you are a homeowner who takes a mortgage interest deduction — which is how the rest of us subsidize your house, and with it your status in the middle-class — we don’t want to hear another word from you about how you made it all on your own. And that goes for those of you who got your education via the GI Bill, or took out an SBA loan, or went to well-funded public schools back when such things existed. You are what you are because we believed in you, and invested in you. And we’re deeply insulted that <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010104329/myth-self-made-american-why-progressives-get-no-respect">you refuse to even acknowledge that fact.</a> </span><br style="mso-special-character:line-break" /><!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]--><br style="mso-special-character:line-break" /><!--[endif]--><p></p><span style="color:#222222">Third: Don't come crawling to us to support those kids you couldn't afford to have, but refused to allow contraception or abortions or <a href="http://advocatesforyouth.org/publications/1487?task=view ">actual fact-based sex education</a> to prevent. It's just that simple. Our <a href="http://www.marchofdimes.com/peristats/level1.aspx?reg=99&amp;slev=1&amp;top=6&amp;stop=91&amp;obj=10&amp;lev=1&amp;dv=cm">blue-state babies are better off</a> in every way that matters <p></p></span><span style="color:#222222">because we plan our families. A failure to plan on your part does not create an obligation on ours. Your policies force women to have kids, even when they're patently not ready to have them. Now (as you’re so fond of telling women who find themselves unhappily pregnant), you get to live with the consequences of those choices.</span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan;mso-prop-change:&quot;Sara Robinson&quot; 20120228T1200"><span style="color:#222222">Fourth: Don't ask us to pay to educate your kids if you're not willing to have us teach them what we know about the world. We believe in free, comprehensive, rigorous and reality-based public education because it’s done more than any other government service to make us rich, powerful and successful; and we want the same for you. </span></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan;mso-prop-change:&quot;Sara Robinson&quot; 20120228T1200"><span style="color:#222222">We realize some of you aren't too keen on public schools. It's great that you want to take on more personal responsibility for educating your own kids. Just be warned: if you don't teach them real science and real history — including evolution, climate change and the actual contents of the US Constitution — we're probably not going to hire them. So we hope you're also ready to take responsibility for that, too, which will probably mean supporting your grown kids in your basement until you die.</span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">Fifth: Between federal water reclamation projects and farm subsidies, we are paying you zillions of dollars to grow stuff we'd actually rather not eat. Don’t look now, but those of us in blue cities and states are moving away from your petrochemical-saturated GMO-bred <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrated_Animal_Feeding_Operations ">CAFO-grown</a> industrial “food” products as fast as we possibly can. There aren’t enough organic and community-supported farms to feed all of us yet — but we have taken responsibility for this, and are working hard on the problem. You can either get on this train, or holler at it while it flattens you. What you cannot do is yell at us because we don’t want to eat what you choose to grow.<p></p></span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">Notice, too, that the only reason we’re having to subsidize you in the first place is that the all-holy free market does not bless you with profits on this crap. In your own book, that makes you a capital-L Loser. In ours, we’ll settle for “parasite.”</span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">Sixth: We are so over your bigotry. Again: we know from our own long experience that including women, gays and minorities makes us not only culturally richer; it also makes us more economically productive as well. And the recent economic meltdown has shown us that monocultures run exclusively by rich white men tend to stagnate into breeding pools for all kinds of social and financial parasites, who then come forward to prey on those least able to resist -- like you.</span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">Diversity isn’t just an idealistic fetish for us: we do it because we think it makes us richer on every front that matters. If “parasite” is just another word for “people who willfully make bad choices that keep them poor and ignorant,” then your prejudices by definition make you parasites. And we are not, therefore, obliged to deal with you.</span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">And finally: If you want to pretend global warming isn't happening, you do not get to come whining to us when you get hit with droughts or floods. We're not going to send FEMA to bail you out. We're not going to build canals to give you our water. We're not going to fund your levees. If you're so sure God will provide, go ask him to keep your reservoirs full and your cities dry. Because we resign.</span><br /><br /><strong><span style="color:#222222">But will we come back?</span></strong></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="mso-pagination:widow-orphan;mso-prop-change:&quot;Sara Robinson&quot; 20120228T1200"><span style="color:#222222">Yep. It all sounds really ugly. But that’s the point of going Galt: it’s a big fat tantrum designed to prove just how important you are in the grand scheme of things. (The tactic is also not unfamiliar to any mother who’s gone on a protracted housekeeping strike to gain appreciation from an uncooperative family.) If others have to suffer hardship to learn the lesson — well, that’ll teach 'em. The emotionally satisfying goal is to get the parasites to come back, begging on their knees for your vital help and resources. They know now, in a way they didn't before, that they cannot survive without you.</span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">So: if that fantasy moment were to come, what would it take to convince us Progressive Objectivists to emerge once again from our cool blue producerist enclave, and take responsibility for the chastened masses once again? We have just five simple demands:</span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">1. Stop taking more money from the federal government pot than you put into it. If you believe in paying your own freight, then do it. If you can’t, that’s fine -- we'll go back to helping you out -- but you have to let go of that producerist superiority crap, because you’re simply not entitled to it.</span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">2. Admit that we were right. Admit that nobody in America ever makes it on their own, and that we are all in this together, and that there’s such a thing as the common wealth and the common good. Admit that regulation is necessary to keep the unprincipled strong from preying on the weak. Admit that there has never in history ever been any such thing as a free market: markets are created by governments, and need to be overseen by them. And finally: admit that your conservative leaders got us into this economic mess, and don’t know squat about how to get us out of it.</span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">3. Join the reality-based world. Accept that America’s prosperity utterly depends on how well-educated its kids are, especially on topics like science and history. Accept that evolution happened, and that climate change is happening now. Embrace nuance. Learn something about how to assess evidence and think rationally, without a pre-determined conclusion. Remember that God only helps those who've gained the real-world skills to help themselves.</span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">4. Admit that we love our country every bit as much as you do — and that, given our much greater success at creating strong families, productive 21st-century industries and excellent places to live, we might actually know more than you do about how to make it work better in the future.</span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">5. Last but by no means least: Knock off the hate-mongering, threats and name-calling. Your heroine, Ms. Rand, predicted rightly that parasites invariably despise the producers they feed on; you should be embarrassed that your own behavior bears her out so clearly. And, just once, say thank you to us for all the contributions we’ve made (or, at least, tried to make) toward your well-being. We don’t ask for much, but a little gratitude now and then wouldn’t hurt.</span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">Five easy steps. Do this, and we’ll come back and work with you as co-creators of an America we all can love. Until then, though, you can pay your own bills. We’ve decided we have better things to invest that money in — upgraded schools, single-payer healthcare, expanded college systems, mass transit, sustainable technology investments, and forward-looking research to launch new industries that will make us richer yet. And you’ll have a choice, too: you’ll either learn what it takes to produce like we do, or you’ll get to find out what real poverty feels like.</span><br /><br /><span style="color:#222222">Would that we had the guts to go Galt. We probably don't; it's just not in our natures to tell people who are hurting to go to hell, or leverage our economic might to get the political upper-hand. But there's nothing stopping us from pointing out, loudly and often, exactly who is really who in this producers-versus-parasites relationship. We didn't draw that ridiculous battle line -- but maybe it's time for us to accept their terms of engagement, stake our rightful claim as the country's actual producer class, and show them just how tall and proud we are to stand on our far more fertile ground.<p></p></span></p><!--EndFragment--> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '669703'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669703" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 28 Feb 2012 21:00:00 -0800 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 669703 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Culture News & Politics The Right Wing Visions conservatives red states blue states ayn rand galt producers Making Sustainability Legal: 9 Zombie Laws That Keep Cities From Going Green https://www.alternet.org/story/154261/making_sustainability_legal%3A_9_zombie_laws_that_keep_cities_from_going_green <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '669682'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669682" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">These outdated laws forbid sustainable choices -- and here&#039;s what you can do to change them.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1330022019_3446995471424594f291.jpg?itok=TQfC7mTz" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>You’ve done your part, you good greenie, you. You’ve changed out the light bulbs, bought energy-saving appliances, learned to recycle, tuned up your bike, joined a co-op, and bought a transit pass and/or a fuel-efficient car. Now you’re looking around, wondering what to do next. With spring around the corner, maybe you’d like to hang out the wash on a sunny day. Or perhaps you could build an apartment in your basement to increase both your income and your neighborhood’s density….</p> <p>Not so fast. Because this is the point at which your city government is very likely to swoop down in a flurry of paperwork and citations, telling you in no uncertain terms: No. You can’t do that. We don’t care how green it is, it’s also against the law.</p> <p>The Sightline Institute in Seattle is compiling a list of zombie laws — outdated city ordinances and homeowners’ association policies that may once have served a purpose, but now mostly just get in the way of people’s desire to live more sustainably. Sightline's <a href="http://daily.sightline.org/projects/making-sustainability-legal-series/">Making Sustainability Legal</a> Web site offers a couple of dozen examples — some obvious, some off-the-wall — and they’re looking to add to the list. Sightline executive director Alan Durning hopes this project will give inspiration to activists looking for easy battles that will result in big sustainability wins.</p> <p>Here are nine examples of local laws that stand in the way of change, and need to be pulled off the books:</p> <p><strong>1. Clotheslines. </strong>Consider the facts. The clothes dryer is one of the biggest energy hogs in the average American home. There’s nothing like the sweet smell of sheets and towels that have been freshly dried out in the air and sunshine. Nineteen states have already put in place laws that allow home solar installations of all kinds. So why do over half the homeowners’ associations in the US — including some in those 19 states — explicitly ban clotheslines in their neighborhoods? </p> <p>A gathering “right-to-dry” movement is rising up to challenge these rules, asserting that laws permitting solar hot water heaters and PV electrical cells must also permit solar-powered clothes drying technologies (that is, clotheslines). Model legislation is being proposed, and legal challenges are being launched. Take up your clothespins, America! You have nothing to lose but your big electricity bills.</p> <p><strong>2. Granny flats in suburban houses.</strong> The first step in making suburbs more sustainable is to increase their density. Those big lots usually have plenty of room to tuck a small apartment into the basement or over the garage; and allowing people to build them has all kinds of salutary effects. The extra rental income can help families afford their homes. The units increase the share of low-cost housing, thus expanding the economic and age diversity of the neighborhood. They allow families more flexibility in terms of elder care and launching young-adult kids; and also provide a new option to public employees like teachers or cops who may not be able to afford to live in the affluent neighborhoods they serve. They also enhance property values, increasing the tax base. And as the density goes up, so does the argument for building new amenities closer by, and increasing transit service to the area.</p> <p>But most homeowners know how hard it is to get a legal permit to build such suites. City and county governments are still clinging to the same 1950s ordinances that created suburban sprawl in the first place. If we want to update our suburban infrastructure, simply letting people build infill housing that raises density is the first and most obvious step to take.</p> <p><strong>3. White Pages.</strong> When was the last time you used the White Pages? I know -- me neither. In an era of online 411, that big paper brick that arrives at your door once a year is mostly useful as an emergency booster-seat for visiting toddlers. Yet most states have laws mandating that this volume must be delivered to every residence, every year. Most of these laws also allow people to opt out, but almost nobody knows about this, so few people do. </p> <p>Some states are beginning to reconsider this, though. In a warming world, we need those millions of trees a lot more than we need the White Pages. it makes more sense to change the laws so people will only get these volumes if they specifically ask for them. An opt-in policy will allow people who like and use their White Pages to have them — and the rest of us can do something else with the drawer or shelf we used to keep it on.</p> <p><strong>4. Strollers on buses.</strong> It sounds ridiculous. But it’s far from silly if you’re <a href="http://daily.sightline.org/2012/01/10/your-wheels-on-the-bus/">a mom who’s struggling to get around on transit with a stroller</a>. In many cities, parents are required to unpack their kid and all their purchases out of the stroller, then fold up the stroller and pick it all up — stroller, bags and squirming baby — in two hands, then somehow get it all up onto the bus, then pay the fare, and then find a seat and not fall over while everybody else stands there, getting increasingly annoyed. </p> <p>It’s no surprise that this routine is forcing the nation’s transit-loving urban parents off the buses and into minivans. They don’t really have any other choice if they want to get the shopping done. Some cities are starting to allow babies to stay in the strollers, and letting strollers park in the same seat-free open areas reserved for wheelchairs. Others, like Portland, OR, are raising curbs and buying buses with extra-low floors, creating a level path for anybody on wheels to drive right onto the bus.</p> <p><strong>5. Couchsurfing. </strong>In these more constrained times, a lot of intrepid travelers are discovering the joys of sites like <a href="http://www.couchsurfing.org/">couchsurfing.com</a> and <a href="http://airbnb.com">airbnb.com</a>. Rather than pay for an expensive hotel room, you crash in someone’s spare bedroom. The traveler saves money and gets a local guide, and the homeowner makes money and maybe a new friend. And best of all, the ecological footprint of travel is dramatically reduced.</p> <p>This is legal in much of the country. But in some big cities where hotel competition is already intense, hotel owners are goading cities into cracking down. New York, for example, is notoriously rigid about telling people who they can and can’t let stay in their houses, for how long, and under what terms. This is an emerging new travel option (or, more accurately, the modern revival of a cherished old custom of taking in lodgers and boarders), and Sightline warns that it needs to be aggressively guarded from a rising wave of ill-considered and protectionist regulation.</p> <p><strong>6. Toxic couches.</strong> While we’re on the subject of couches, don’t look now, but is yours toxic? <a href="http://daily.sightline.org/2012/01/16/putting-the-chemical-witness-on-the-hot-seat/">Sightline’s Web site explains</a> why you might have reason to worry:</p> <blockquote> <p>California’s 12-second rule, a state flammability standard for foam-containing furniture, induces manufacturers to load their products with chemical flame retardants. It’s a stupid rule: it contaminates tens of millions of homes across North America with toxic substances — compounds that spread, harming people and animals. Of all the toxic industrial compounds in your body right now, a substantial share are flame retardants that came from foam furnishings — probably a larger share than any other category of industrial compounds....But the rule has no compensating benefit for fire safety. The 12-second rule does not save lives in fires. It is useless. That’s what the scientific evidence says. This rule is all pain, no gain.</p></blockquote> <p>This is one of those places where California’s outsized population footprint effectively imposes that state’s standards on the whole nation. Usually, that’s a good thing from a progressive standpoint; but on this issue, it’s putting us all in serious danger. In this case, it’s a big national problem that will entirely go away if just one state legislature decides to end it. </p> <p><strong>7. Food cart regulations.</strong> One of the most savory benefits of increasing density in a city is <a href="http://daily.sightline.org/2011/07/14/making-sustainability-tasty/">the rise of street food</a>. Food carts and trucks are a cardinal sign of healthy urbanism, providing expanded food options on the fly wherever crowds are gathering right now. And they’re important new business incubators for upwardly mobile families as well.</p> <p>However, wherever you see a thriving new street food scene, you’ll almost certainly hear the grumbling of nearby restaurant owners complaining about smell, crowds, mess, and hygiene. All of this, of course, is code for “our profits.” And critics naturally take their concerns to City Hall, where they get ordinances passed that stop the food trucks and carts in their tracks. </p> <p>But these low-impact, small-footprint, flexible businesses deserve a place in our cities, and need to be protected. If the restaurant owners are smart, they’ll join the movement instead of fighting it, and start launching trucks of their own. There’s plenty of room for everybody — but only if we insist that there should be. </p> <p><strong>8. Person-to-person car-sharing.</strong> “The Pacific Northwest’s rolling stock of cars and trucks constitutes a <a href="http://daily.sightline.org/2011/06/22/legalize-personal-car-sharing/">mind-boggling amount of underutilized capital</a>,” writes Sightline's Alan Durning. “The region has substantially more motor vehicles than licensed drivers. Everyone in the region could climb into a vehicle and no one would have to sit in the backseat. What’s more, the typical car is parked 23 hours a day. Most of us have more money tied up in our cars than in any other physical assets aside from our homes, and all that wealth is just sitting there in the driveway depreciating.”</p> <p>The answer to this? Car-sharing. “Imagine leaving town for a week and coming back to learn that your vehicle had earned you $300 on the rental market. Or imagine that your car-sharing membership gave you access, on a moment’s notice, to thousands of private cars and trucks sprinkled around your city. Why endure the expense and hassle of car ownership when you can drive any make or model you choose and only pay for what you use?” Car-sharing not only makes far more effective use of the cars we have; paying for driving by the trip also incentivizes us to drive much, much less (up to 44 percent less, according to a UC Berkeley study) than we do.</p> <p>Once again, the only thing standing in the way of implementing this idea is a thick wall of state laws. Some make it impossible to assign insurance liability to the person actually driving, leaving it all on the owner. Others try to apply stiff car rental taxes to car-sharing companies. Fortunately, California has led the way: in 2011, the state legislature cleared away the legal obstacles, and now car-sharing is thriving in the state. Other states are watching and following suit. </p> <p><strong>9. Pay-as-you-drive insurance.</strong> Auto insurers and sustainability experts agree: <a href="http://daily.sightline.org/2011/07/11/decriminalize-green-affordable-car-insurance/">The most sensible way to buy auto insurance is by the mile</a>. The less you drive, the more you save. Recent advances in technology make tracking car mileage easy; and consumers like it, because you don’t have to buy an expensive policy for a car you don’t drive very often. You pay for exactly what you use — no more, no less.  </p> <p>But most states still have insurance laws on the books that assume that people buy insurance by the year, not by the mile. There are old laws covering cancellation notifications and oversight regimes that simply aren’t compatible with the idea of buying and using insurance in blocks of 100 or 1,000 miles at time. A few states are starting to revise these laws, but there’s still a very long way to go before this will be legal.</p> <p><em>Sightline’s <a href="http://daily.sightline.org/projects/making-sustainability-legal-series/">Making Sustainability Legal</a> project is actively on the lookout for more zombie laws that are ready to be changed. You're invited to email yours to <a href="mailto:editor@sightline.org">editor@sightline.org</a>.</em></p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is a trained social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/sararobinson">Twitter</a>, or subscribe to AlterNet's <a href="http://www.alternet.org/newsletter/subscribe/">Vision newsletter</a> for weekly updates. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '669682'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669682" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Thu, 23 Feb 2012 09:00:01 -0800 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 669682 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Food Environment Activism Visions sustainability sightline durning Why Patriarchal Men Are Utterly Petrified of Birth Control and Why We'll Still Be Fighting About It 100 Years From Now https://www.alternet.org/story/154144/why_patriarchal_men_are_utterly_petrified_of_birth_control_--_and_why_we%27ll_still_be_fighting_about_it_100_years_from_now <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '669541'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669541" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Conservative bishops and Congressmen are fighting a rear-guard action against one of the most revolutionary changes in human history.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1329264113_3268160011b56fe71fdf.jpg?itok=uJZ52c1R" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>What's happening in Congress this week, as Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) bars any women from testifying at his so-called "religious freedom" hearings, is so familiar and expected that it hardly counts as news. The only thing surprising about it is the year: didn't we all honestly think that by 2012, contraception would be a non-issue, and Congress wouldn't make the mistake of leaving women out of conversations like this one?</p><p>Yes, we did. And the fact that we were wrong about that points to a deeper trend at work, one that needs a bit of long-term historical context put around it so we can really understand what's going on. Let me explain.</p><p>When people look back on the 20th century from the vantage point of 500 years on, they will remember the 1900s for three big things.</p><p>One was the integrated circuit, and (more importantly) the Internet and the information revolution that it made possible. When our descendants look back, they're likely to see this as an all-levels, all-sectors disruption on the scale of the printing press -- but even more all-encompassing. (Google "the Singularity" for scenarios on just how dramatic this might be.)</p><p>The second was the moon landing, a first-time-ever milestone in human history that our galaxy-trotting grandkids five centuries on may well view about the same way we see Magellan’s first daring circumnavigation of the globe.</p><p>But the third one is the silent one, the one that I've never seen come up on anybody’s list of Innovations That Changed The World, but matters perhaps more deeply than any of the more obvious things that usually come to mind. And that’s the mass availability of nearly 100% effective contraception. Far from being a mere 500-year event, we may have to go back to the invention of the wheel or the discovery of fire to find something that’s so completely disruptive to the way humans have lived for the entire duration of our remembered history.</p><p>Until the condom, the diaphragm, the Pill, the IUD, and all the subsequent variants of hormonal fertility control came along, anatomy really was destiny — and all of the world’s societies were organized around that central fact. Women were born to bear children; they had no other life options. With a few rebellious or well-born exceptions (and a few outlier cultures that somehow found their way to a more equal footing), the vast majority of women who’ve ever lived on this planet were tied to home, dependent on men, and subject to all kinds of religious and cultural restrictions designed to guarantee that they bore the right kids to the right man at the right time — even if that meant effectively jailing them at home.</p><p>Our biology reduced us to a kind of chattel, subject to strictures that owed more to property law than the more rights-based laws that applied to men. Becoming literate or mastering a trade or participating in public life wasn’t unheard-of; but unlike the men, the world’s women have always had to fit those extras in around their primary duty to their children and husband — and have usually paid a very stiff price if it was thought that those duties were being neglected.</p><p>Men, in return, thrived. The ego candy they feasted on by virtue of automatically outranking half the world’s population was only the start of it. They got full economic and social control over our bodies, our labor, our affections, and our futures. They got to make the rules, name the gods we would worship, and dictate the terms we would live under. In most cultures, they had the right to sex on demand within the marriage, and also to break their marriage vows with impunity — a luxury that would get women banished or killed. As long as pregnancy remained the defining fact of our lives, they got to run the whole show. The world was their party, and they had a fabulous time. </p><p>Thousands of generations of men and women have lived under some variant of this order — some variations more benevolent, some more brutal, but all similar enough in form and intention — in all times and places, going back to where our memory of time ends. Look at it this way, and you get a striking perspective on just how world-changing it was when, within the span of just a few short decades in the middle of the 20th century, all of that suddenly ended. For the first time in human history, new technologies made fertility a conscious choice for an ever-growing number of the planet’s females. And that, in turn, changed everything else.</p><p>With that one essential choice came the possibility, for the first time, to make a vast range of other choices for ourselves that were simply never within reach before. We could choose to delay childbearing and limit the number of children we raise; and that, in turn, freed up time and energy to explore the world beyond the home. We could refuse to marry or have babies at all, and pursue our other passions instead. Contraception was the single necessary key that opened the door to the whole new universe of activities that had always been zealously monopolized by the men — education, the trades, the arts, government, travel, spiritual and cultural leadership, and even (eventually) war making. </p><p>That one fact, that one technological shift, is now rocking the foundations of every culture on the planet — and will keep rocking it for a very long time to come. It is, over time, bringing a louder and prouder female voice into the running of the world’s affairs at every level, creating new conversations and new priorities in areas where the men long ago thought things were settled and understood. It's bending our understanding of what sex is about, and when and with whom we can have it -- a wrinkle that created new frontiers for gay folk as well. It may well prove to the be the one breakthrough most responsible for the survival of the human race, and the future viability of the planet.</p><p>But perhaps most critically for us right now: mass-produced, affordable, reliable contraception has shredded the ages-old social contracts between men and women, and is forcing us all (willing or not) into wholesale re-negotiations on a raft of new ones.</p><p>And, frankly, while some men have embraced this new order— perhaps seeing in it the potential to open up some interesting new choices for them, too — a global majority is increasingly confused, enraged, and terrified by it. They never wanted to be at this table in the first place, and they’re furious to even find themselves being forced to have this conversation at all. </p><p>It was never meant to happen. It never should have happened. And they’re doing their damndest to put a stop to it all, right now, and make it go away.</p><p>It’s this rage that’s driving the Catholic bishops into a frenzied donnybrook fight against contraception — despite the very real possibility that this fight could, in the end, damage their church even more fatally than the molestation scandal did.  As the keepers of a 2000-year-old enterprise — one of the oldest continuously-operating organizations on the planet, in fact — they take the very long view. And they understand, better than most of us, just how unprecedented this development is in the grand sweep of history, and the serious threat it poses to everything their church has stood for going back to antiquity. (Including, very much, the more recent doctrine of papal infallability.)</p><p>That same frantic panic over the loss of the ancient bargain also lies at the core of the worldwide rash of fundamentalist religions. Modern industrial economies have undermined the authority of men both in the public sphere and in the private realms; and since they're limited in how far they can challenge it in the external world, they've turned women's bodies into the symbolic battlefield on which their anxieties over this play out. Drill down to the very deepest center of any of these movements, and you'll find men who are experiencing this change as a kind of personal annihilation, a loss of masculine identity so deep that they are literally interpreting it as the end of the world. (The first rule of understanding apocalyptic movements is this: If someone tells you the world is ending, believe them. Because for them, it probably is.)</p><p>They are, above everything else, desperate to get their women back under firm control. And in their minds, things will not be right again until they’re assured that the girls are locked up even more tightly, so they will never, ever get away like that again.</p><p>If you’re a woman of childbearing age in the US, you’ve had access to effective contraception your entire fertile life; and odds are good that your mother and grandmother did, too. If you're a heterosexual man of almost any age, odds are good that you also enjoy a lifetime of opportunities for sexual openness and variety that your grandfathers probably couldn't have imagined -- also thanks entirely to good contraception. From our individual personal perspectives, it feels like we’ve had this right, and this technology, forever. We take it so completely for granted that we simply cannot imagine that it could ever go away. It leads to a sweet complacency: birth control is something that’s always been there for us, and we’re rather stunned that anybody could possibly find it controversial enough to pick a fight over.</p><p>But if we’re wise, we’ll keep our eyes on the long game, because you can bet that those angry men are, too. The hard fact is this: We’re only 50 years into a revolution that may ultimately take two or three centuries to completely work its way through the world’s many cultures and religions. (To put this in perspective: it was 300 years from Gutenberg’s printing press to the scientific and intellectual re-alignments of the Enlightenment, and to the French and American revolutions that that liberating technology ultimately made possible. These things can take a loooong time to work all the way out.) Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will, in all likelihood, still be working out the details of these new gender agreements a century from now; and it may be a century after that before their grandkids can truly start taking any of this for granted.</p><p>That sounds daunting, though I don’t mean it to be. What I do want is for those of us, male and female, whose lives have been transformed for the better in this new post-Pill order to think in longer terms. Male privilege has been with us for — how long? Ten thousand years? A hundred thousand? Contraception, in the mere blink of an eye in historical terms, toppled the core rationale that justified that entire system. And now, every aspect of human society is frantically racing to catch up with that stunning fact. Everything will have to change in response to this — families, business, religion, politics, economics…everything.</p><p>We're in this catch-up process for the long haul. In the meantime, we shouldn’t be surprised to be confronted by large groups of well-organized men (and their female flunkies, who are legion) marshaling their vast resources to get every last one of Pandora’s frolicking contraception-fueled demons back into the box.  And we need to accept and prepare for the likelihood that much of the history of this century, when it’s finally written, will be the story of our children’s ongoing struggles against the organized powers that intend to seize back the means of our liberation, and turn back the clock to the way things used to be.</p><p>What we’ve learned these past few weeks is: the fight for contraception is not only not over — it hasn’t even really started yet. </p> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '669541'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669541" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 15 Feb 2012 11:00:00 -0800 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 669541 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Belief Human Rights Culture LGBTQ Personal Health Sex & Relationships The Right Wing Visions catholic contraception Does College Make Us Less Equipped to Change the World? https://www.alternet.org/story/154091/does_college_make_us_less_equipped_to_change_the_world <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '669488'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669488" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Some of the things we learned back at the Big U don&#039;t work at all on the political street.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1328913821_screenshot20120210at5.42.50pm.png?itok=vM0-JS_6" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>In this great meritocracy of ours, those of us who’ve made it through college are encouraged to feel like we’re something special. And it’s no doubt true that a university education confers certain intellectual (if not always economic) advantages. By the time you’re handed your BA or BS, you’ve sharpened your critical thinking skills; have learned to see big pictures; can write a decent essay on command; don’t feel lost in a museum, library or concert hall; and might even know enough of a second language to navigate the subway and get yourself to the nearest hostel. Furthermore: it’s called “liberal education” these days because generally, the more of it you have, the more liberal you tend to be.</p> <p>All good and worthy stuff. But the more time I spend around political progressives, the more convinced I am that when it comes to doing good retail politics, our fancy educations get in the way almost as often as they help us. Specifically, there are things we picked up back at the Old U — biases, preferences, habits of mind — that are so reflexive we long ago lost any awareness of them, but that we’re constantly tripping over whenever we try to present our ideas to the rest of the country. </p> <p>It sounds weird and counterintuitive, but in my work with progressive organizations, I’ve noticed some specific ways in which the kind of thinking we learned in our classrooms actually makes us kinda dumb politically. Here are a few places college grads often seem to get led astray by their own educations.</p> <p><b>Originality doesn't matter</b></p> <p>In the academy, original thought that adds to the body of human knowledge is the most prized commodity there is. That, and only that, is what they hand out PhDs for. It’s also what gets you an A in most classrooms. Your professor doesn’t want warmed-over ideas pulled from the book or your classmates or the kids back at the dorm. She wants you to think for yourself — to exercise your brain, do some original analysis and synthesis, and come up with some fresh insights on the subject. Cribbing ideas from somewhere else is lazy at best; at worst, it’s plagiarism and it’ll get you kicked out of school.</p> <p>After college, we go forth and become knowledge workers, usually in fields where our ability to think independently is our chief economic asset. Present us with a new idea, and we’ll take it apart, put it back together, moosh it up with other things we know, and look for a way to make it our own. Since that’s what we’ve always been rewarded for, that’s what we always do.</p> <p>In politics, though, there are times when originality isn’t an asset. In fact, it can sometimes be an liability. Two examples follow, though there are plenty of others (and you’ll probably start noticing them now that I’ve pointed them out).</p> <p>First, Americans like their politicians to re-affirm comfortable old truths far more than they appreciate being hit with new ideas. (And the newer and more radical an idea is, the more important it is to swaddle it thickly in old truths.) A politician who flies too far forward of the great mass of public opinion risks being seen as flaky, flighty, and generally untrustworthy. In our interactions with family and friends, a lot of us end up in the same position — because of our intellectual training, we’re the smart one who’s thinking so far ahead, so fast, that everybody else feels left behind and overwhelmed. On both the personal and national levels, this mismatch leaves people on both sides feeling uncomfortable and untrusting. Since trust is the basic currency of politics, it’s far more important for us to build trust with people than it is to be original (or even right).</p> <p>Second, most progressives admire the tremendous message discipline we see coming from the conservative side. They have a handful of designated thinkers who figure out what the message of the day is, and how to frame that message within the larger conservative story. Everybody gets the memo (quite literally) — and then everybody goes forth and tells the same story, using the same language. And they are not afraid to repeat themselves, over and over and over, for as long as it takes. The result is what David Brock called “The Mighty Wurlitzer” — the overwhelming wall of sound that’s been reverberating with the same consistent message for 30 years. Their willingness to repeat and echo themselves endlessly enabled them to overwhelm the country’s political atmosphere. Until very recently, the noise was so overwhelming it was almost impossible for progressive voices to be heard through the din.</p> <p>We’re in awe of this because we can’t do it. And the biggest reason we can’t do it is because this originality imperative runs so deep in our bones. Most of us would gag before we’d repeat somebody else’s talking points verbatim. (Somewhere in the back of our minds, there’s still a professor gravely castigating our lazy thinking and threatening to flunk us.)  We still need to take every new idea we’re given — even ideas that have been tested and tried by people far more expert than we are, and that work perfectly without any further modification — and moosh ‘em around in our heads to make them our own. And we’re easily bored by things we’ve heard before — can’t you find another way to say it?</p> <p>We need to get over this. Nobody will flunk you if you repeat a great argument word-for-word (though giving credit is always nice, if you can manage it). Nobody cares if that new tactic you’re using was stolen wholesale from Occupy Springfield. Out here in the real world, plagiarism isn’t a crime. In fact, the willingness to get on the same page — and then stay there, singing the same tune over and over for as long as it takes — is absolutely essential if we ever hope to get and keep control of the national discourse.</p> <p><b>Grab 'em by the guts</b></p> <p>One of the things our professors beat into our little puddin-heads back at the U was that appeals to personal experience or emotion are unwelcome in classroom arguments. What you feel passionately in your heart, what you believe to be a moral imperative, or what you’ve been through in your own life simply don’t qualify as evidence in the classroom. The rules are clear: Emotion is out of bounds. Experience is merely anecdote. You must argue from the facts; and those facts must come from well-executed research or well-regarded authorities. If you can’t document it in a footnote, it has no place in your classroom debate or thesis paper.</p> <p>This habit has done us a lot of damage. It’s the main reason progressives are known for their wonky appeals to self-interest. Most of us remember (with a cringing, involuntary flinch), the long line of liberal candidates who’ve tried to enchant the public to their side with long, lovingly detailed descriptions of their 10-point policy initiatives. We assume the voting public thinks the way our professors did — that they’ll be impressed by our command of the facts, and our well-reasoned arguments for why things should be a certain way. And so we’ve been very confused when the conservatives, who seldom offer anything like a real-world, evidence-based policy agenda, still beat our pants off.</p> <p>Most of us are now coming around to the realization that our university-cultivated passion for evidence-based argument is a political liability we need to abandon. It’s still essential to making good policy (in fact, we should insist even more loudly on evidence-based policy-making than we do); but when it comes to talking to the public, they’ve made it very clear they’re not interested. They want emotional stories that humanize our ideas. They want to hear about the things we value most deeply. They want to understand the boundaries of our moral universe — what we think is right and wrong, what we’re willing to tolerate, and what we’re willing to fight for. They want good storytelling — complete with heroes, quests, threats, and villains to defeat — that rocks them down to their toes.</p> <p>This kind of talk is more appropriate to a church pulpit or a campfire than it is to a classroom. (And it’s no accident that our best practitioners of this kind of speechifying — Dr. King, the Kennedys, Obama — learned their craft in church.) If we really want to move the country, we need to speak to them in ways that actually move their souls. And we didn’t learn to do that in college.</p> <p><b>Don't overwhelm people with facts</b></p> <p>A corollary to the above argument is our naive belief that the more facts you can marshal in support of your argument, the more persuasive the argument will be. This works great in a term paper — gotta get those 5,000 words written somehow — but it falls absolutely flat when you’re talking to anybody who doesn’t have the letters P, H, and D after their name. As authors John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky put it in their excellent <a href="http://www.skepticalscience.com/docs/Debunking_Handbook.pdf">Debunker’s Handbook</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>Common wisdom is that the more counter-arguments you provide, the more successful you’ll be in debunking a myth. It turns out that the opposite can be true. When it comes to refuting misinformation, less can be more. Generating three arguments, for example, can be more successful in reducing misperceptions than generating twelve arguments, which can end up reinforcing the initial misperception.</p></blockquote> <p>There’s plenty of cognitive science to back up the idea that people are more likely to remember — and are more convinced by — a few simple, well-chosen, punchy facts than they are by the whole laundry list of arguments. What counted as “lazy research” in school turns out to be the way people actually prefer to argue out here in the Real World.</p> <p><strong>Call out the bad guys: our story needs them</strong></p> <p>In a college classroom, we are taught that it’s always wrong to personalize an argument. There is no place for ad hominem attacks, name-calling, or impugning someone’s intentions. According to the laws of reason, that’s just not fighting fair. We’re supposed to be congenial colleagues debating tough issues on their factual merits. There are no good guys or bad guys; there’s just a mutually respectful search for the truth in which everybody’s good faith is assumed and protected.</p> <p>There may have been a day when that was true in American politics, but that day is long since over. The forms of academic debate are still observed on the floor of Congress, but you won’t find them in many of the other venues where Americans are discussing their common destiny. That’s because we know now that voters are far more motivated by stories that present change in terms of high conflict: there’s a hero with a quest, posited against a villain who poses a threat. The weapons both choose and the details of their struggle lie at the center of all good storytelling. Leaving out even one of these elements creates a story that’s unsatisfying, and unlikely to move people to action.</p> <p>Joseph Campbell laid all of this out four decades ago, and professional storytellers from Hollywood to Madison Avenue understand how hardwired we are to viscerally understand stories that are structured this way. But, even so, too many liberal politicians (including, most notably, President Obama up until just very recently) still cling to the academic rule that we shouldn’t call out people as villains, or accuse them of doing willfully bad things. And then we wonder why people won’t mobilize — even though we haven’t given them anybody to mobilize against, any sense of a threat that’s worth getting off their butts for, or any larger moral story that will allow them to understand themselves as heroes if they do get up and fight.</p> <p>Those of us who’ve been through the college wringer — and especially those of us who’ve been working in some kind of knowledge field in the years since — might find it hard to let go of some of these treasured habits of mind. After all, they’ve served us well all our lives. They’ve made us comfortable. They make us acceptable and trusted in the enclaves where educated, reasonable people gather. They’re often an essential source of intellectual power in our daily work. </p> <p>But as activists, these same skills often simply get in our way, tangle us up, and separate us from the very people we’re most hoping to convince. If the first step to solving a problem is being aware of it, it’s probably time to admit that there are a few places in this world that these cherished, hard-won attributes make us less useful than we’d like. It's time we started retraining ourselves to deal with political reality as it is, and not as our professors told us it was going to be.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson edits AlterNet's Visions page. A trained social futurist, she's particularly interested in change resistance movements. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '669488'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669488" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 13 Feb 2012 18:00:01 -0800 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 669488 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions Activism education activism university Why Going 'Back To Normal' Is No Longer An Option for the American Economy -- And Where We're Headed Now https://www.alternet.org/story/154056/why_going_%27back_to_normal%27_is_no_longer_an_option_for_the_american_economy_--_and_where_we%27re_headed_now <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '669455'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669455" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Stop waiting around, because &quot;normal&quot; as we know it isn&#039;t coming back.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/images/managed/storyimages_1328653566_phasechange.jpg?itok=XtH1kmCK" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Former IMF chief economist Joseph Stiglitz has a message for everybody who's sitting around waiting for the economy to "get back to normal."</p> <p>Stop waiting. ‘Cause that train’s gone, and it ain’t coming back. And the sooner we accept that “normal,” as post WWII America knew and loved it, will not be an option in this century, the sooner we’ll get ourselves moving forward on the path toward a new kind of prosperity. The only real question now is: What future awaits us on the other side of the coming shift?</p> <p>In a don't-miss article <a href="http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/2012/01/stiglitz-depression-201201">in this month’s Vanity Fair</a>, Stiglitz argues that our current economic woes are the result of a deep structural shift in the economy — a once-in-a-lifetime phase change that happens whenever the foundations of an old economic order are disrupted, and a new basis of wealth creation comes forward to take its place. The last time this happened was in the 1920s and 1930s, when a US economy that was built on farm output became the victim of its own success. Advances in farming led to a food glut. As food prices plummeted, farmers had less money to spend. This, in turn, depressed manufacturing and led to job losses in the cities, too. Land values in both places declined, impoverishing families and trapping them in place. </p> <p>We remember this as the Great Depression. It lingered until the government stepped in — largely through the war effort — with unprecedented education, housing, transportation, and research investments that created new pathways for all those surplus farmers to come in off the farm, for the factory hands to get back to work, and for both groups to move into the modern industrial middle-class.</p> <p>Stiglitz thinks that we’re going through much the same kind of process again now, as the postwar manufacturing-based economy that saved us 80 years ago moves offshore, leaving our manufacturing workforce just as surplus and idle as those 1920s farmers were. In his view, the current phase shift is taking us away from industry-as-we’ve-known-it, and on into an economy that will have us relying more and more on many different kinds of knowledge work. (This isn't a new thesis; Daniel Bell was writing about it back in 1973.) But Stiglitz goes on to point out that because people are misunderstanding the moment, we're investing in the wrong things.</p> <p>Austerity and debt reduction will get us nowhere, in this view. In particular: it won't change the fact that we have too many manufacturing workers and too few information workers. Stiglitz argues forcefully that this gap is likely to remain open until our governments make a long-term commitment to do what they did in the 1940s -- that is, fund the kind of aggressive education, research, and infrastructure investments that will finally get us fully transitioned to the new phase. The current economic crisis is doomed to last exactly as long as we delay put off building that necessary to the new information economy. When we come out the other side, there will still be farmers and manufacturers — but even they will be leveraging the power of the Internet to create new wealth. Everybody will. </p> <p>But Stiglitz is far from the only theorist who’s trying to look beyond the phase change, and figure out what new form wealth might take when we get to the far side of it.</p> <p>Another one is <a href="http://www.homerdixon.com/">Thomas Homer-Dixon</a>, a Canadian economist who wrote <a href="http://www.theupsideofdown.com/"><em>The Upside of Down</em></a>. Homer-Dixon marshals evidence that all great empires rise and fall by controlling the dominant energy supply of their age. The Romans used roads and aqueducts to harness solar energy (in the form of food) from around the Mediterranean basin, and used that surplus to fund the most complex society of its time. The Dutch empire rose on its superior ability to master wind technologies — the windmill and the ship — to extend its land holdings, run early manufacturing industries, and extend its trading reach around the globe. The British empire rose on coal-powered steam engines, which gave it more productive industries, railroads, electrical generators, and faster ships. The US eclipsed the Brits due to its vast wealth in oil — a far more concentrated and fungible fuel — and inventions from cars and planes to plastics and fertilizers that allowed it to make the most of its advantages. And the Chinese are now making huge investments in renewable energy and safer, more efficient second-generation nuclear power, which they can use to fuel their ascent to global primacy. </p> <p>The bottom line in Homer-Dixon’s theory is this: Everything that Americans understand as “wealth” under the current paradigm comes from oil. It’s the foundation of our entire economy, and the ground our superpower status stands on. Our cities are built on the assumption of cheap, plentiful oil. Our consuming patterns are made possible by a fleet of oil-burning trucks, ships, and planes that bring us goods made in oil-driven factories. Our warmaking machine, which is largely tasked with protecting our oil interests around the world, is the single largest consumer of energy on the planet. Even our food is created with vast oil-based inputs of fertilizer and pesticides; and we enjoy a year-round variety of foods (bananas! chocolate! coffee!) that is unprecedented in human history because oil makes cheap transport and refrigeration possible.</p> <p>And the pain and fear caused when we're forced to face this fundamental fact explains quite a bit about why ideas like climate change and peak oil are so viscerally terrifying to so many Americans. (In many right-wing circles, denial about the American oil addiction is now a core piece of their political identity. It’s considered anti-American to even suggest that getting off oil is necessary or possible.) We are so deeply invested in oil, in so many ways, that it’s almost impossible for us to envision a world beyond it. We stand to lose so much that it’s hard to fathom it all.</p> <p>And this, says Homer-Dixon, is why no empire has ever survived an energy-related phase shift with its full power intact: the reigning hegemons are always too deeply invested in the current system to recognize the change, let alone respond to it in time. And so they are always superceded by some upstart that’s motivated to put more resources and risk into aggressively developing the next source. The decline of oil as the energy reality of the world has deep implications for every aspect of American life in the coming century. It’s a phase shift at the deepest level.</p> <p>Other theorists, including <a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/153646/america_beyond_capitalism%3A_is_it_possible/">Gar Alperovitz</a>, Jeffery Sachs and <a href="http://thenewcapitalistmanifesto.tumblr.com/">Umair Haque</a>, agree that there’s a phase shift happening under our feet — but they believe the real shift lies in the changing structure of capitalism itself. Forming markets is a core human activity that we’re not any more likely to abandon than eating or breathing. But our understanding of the purpose and value of markets — and the role of capital within them — is overdue for a profound change. Haque argues that “twentieth-century capitalism’s cornerstones shift costs to and borrow benefits from people, communities, society, the natural world, or future generations." But, he continues, "both cost shifting and benefit borrowing are forms of economic harm that are unfair, non-consensual, and often irreversible.” The result is a great imbalance that we are finally being forced to fully reckon with, one that will call us to radically change our focus, creating a totally new kind of capitalism.</p> <p>Haque makes a distinction between “thin” and “thick” value. Things with “thin” value tend to be artificial, unsustainable, and meaningless to anyone but the people who produce and consume them. Hummers, McMansions and Big Macs are all examples of thin value items. They’re produced without any recognition of our larger values context or the externalized costs to the community, and consuming them tends to add to the overall imbalance in our economy. Thin value, he writes, is “profit that is in many ways a financial fiction, because it fails to exceed a fuller, truer economic cost of capital.” And the phase shift is evident in the fact that the companies that are falling hardest right now are the ones whose past profits have relied most heavily on monetizing our common wealth for private profit.</p> <p>“Thick” value — produced by companies that practice “constructive capitalism” — is value that is sustainable, that has a moral component that matters, and that multiplies itself. Companies that practice it tend to win because they produce things that have a deeper meaning to people. Their real wealth isn’t what they’re able to extract from the rest of us, but in their long, deep, trusting relationships with their customers. The world is shifting from the economics of a game reserve to those of an ark, says Haque. The companies that are thriving now are the ones that increasing their focus on “constructive advantage” — “how free a company is of deep debt to people, communities, society, the natural world, or future generations.” While this focus-shift is far from complete, the current economy abounds with firms that are showing us a new way forward. (Apple is a prime example of a company that creates “thick value,” but we’ve seen recently that its commitment to this ideal has some rather glaring thin spots.)</p> <p>Alperovitz’ vision extends this by revamping how wealth flows in society. He points to a quiet revolution that’s already much further along than anybody realizes — the move toward worker- or consumer-owned cooperative businesses, in which distant shareholders are replaced by local stakeholders who have a deep personal interest in how every aspect of the business is run. Already, four in 10 Americans belong to some type of co-op business (if you have a Costco or a credit union card in your wallet, you’re already on board here); and America’s 30,000 cooperatives provide over 2 million jobs. (Many, many more fun facts <a href="http://www.ica.coop/coop/statistics.html">here</a>.) The UN has declared 2012 to be the <a href="http://www.2012.coop/">Year of the Co-Op</a>, in recognition of the fact that nearly half the world’s population now belongs to cooperatives. Co-ops are already forming a formidable challenge to Wall Street-driven 20th-century capitalism, and their expansion through the coming century would represent a massive redistribution of labor and wealth — a phase shift that favors the direction Haque suggests. </p> <p>These are just a handful of the many serious theorists out there describing the deep structural changes we’re undergoing. Not all of them, to be sure, are this cheery (and <a href="http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2008/01/2008-which-rough-beast-conclusion.html">I’ve made my own contributions to the dystopian canon</a> in the past). There are so many now, in fact, that their very numbers might taken as evidence that we’re going through something uniquely new and deep. Our government is broken. Our economy is broken. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our major institutions — education, religion, culture — are inadequate to the tasks at hand.</p> <p>These are all signs of an old world passing away, clearing the way for a new one to arise in its place. And the sooner we let go of our assumption that going back is desirable, or even possible, the sooner we’ll be able to fully embrace the new things that lie ahead.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is Alternet's senior editor in charge of the Visions page. A trained social futurist, she's particularly interested change resistance movements. She does foresight and strategic planning consulting for a wide range of progressive groups. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '669455'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669455" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Tue, 07 Feb 2012 10:00:01 -0800 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 669455 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions Economy stiglitz haque homer-dixon phase change New Rules for Radicals: 10 Ways To Spark Change in a Post-Occupy World https://www.alternet.org/story/153972/new_rules_for_radicals%3A_10_ways_to_spark_change_in_a_post-occupy_world <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '669331'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669331" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">The world is changing quickly, and we need to help steer it according to our shared values -- our vision of what might be.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg?itok=wQcwl0WS" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>Editor's note: AlterNet is excited to announce the launch of a full-fledged, future-oriented "Visions" section.</em><a href="http://www.alternet.org/signup/VisionNewsletterSignUp?akid=8190.108707.rqKr--&amp;rd=1&amp;t=4"><em>Click here to sign up for the new Visions newsletter.</em></a><em><br type="_moz" /></em></p> <p><strong>The first rule is this:</strong> The world is different now. The rules have changed.  </p> <p>Since Occupy, we all understand this. Nothing works now the way it did even just a couple of years ago. Political tactics that haven’t budged public opinion in years — like petitions and big street demonstrations — are suddenly working again. Narratives that seemed unassailable — like the primacy of free markets and low taxes — are being openly questioned. Doors that used to be closed to us are now opening. The media that once ignored us is now starting to listen. The conservatives are shaken and fumbling, stuck on autopilot and unable to re-route away from their old course even as disaster looms dead ahead. What’s going on here? </p> <p>What’s going on is that we are (finally!) in the first giddy months of a deep-current sea change in American politics, the kind of realignment that happens once every several decades. This change has put us into a whole new political era, one that runs by an entirely new set of rules — and one in which a great many impossible things may, all of a sudden, become possible. </p> <p>The reasons for this shift are complex and wonky, and are the stuff of other articles. But we all sense it, and we all want to know what it means. </p> <p>As a Silicon Valley brat-turned-futurist, I’ve spent a lot of my life in a culture that churned constantly with this kind of upending, unending change. There are things tech people know in their bones, survival strategies and cultural knowledge and habits of mind and specific attitudes that allow one to stay loose and adaptive in times of turbulent transformation.  </p> <p>So, with that, we are already on to Rule Two, which is really the most important one: </p> <p><strong>2. No despair. Despair is a waste of time and energ</strong><strong>y.</strong> </p> <p>Anger is useful. It gets the blood moving. It gets people out of their chairs and into the streets. Harnessed quickly to constructive action, it’s the fuel that drives change. But anger, once generated, also cools and congeals quickly into frustration, cynicism and despair. Indulging in our daily two-minute hate may be cathartic, but ultimately, it doesn’t change a damn thing about our situation. Even worse: it curdles, producing paralysis. Worst of all: once it starts festering, there’s nothing left to do with it but turn it on each other. </p> <p>So: let’s drop that cool, cynical, I’ve-seen-it-all, let’s-not-get-too-excited-here stance. Stepping back from the pain by telling ourselves sagely that it’s all too much, our enemies are too strong, and there’s nothing we can do — that’s the lazy way out. Yes, you are no doubt right: and yes, it sucks mightily. But the answer to that isn’t to sit around indulging in a group bitch session about how awful it all is. The answer is to get off our butts and get back to work, because life is short and there’s a whole planet out there that needs to be fixed on our watch. </p> <p><strong>3. Try everything.</strong> </p> <p>Because I have no idea what will work now, what we can ask for or expect, or where the boundaries of this new landscape lie. And neither do you. (Thrilling, isn’t it?) It’s all up for grabs. So, try everything. Try it, even if you’ve tried it before and it didn’t work. Try it, even if it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Try it, just because it’s there. It’s going to take many thousands of experiments before we really understand the contours of this new political and economic reality we’re living in.  </p> <p>Of course, there are boundaries: don't try anything that violates our principles, or replicates the things we hate the most about the other side. There will be no cheating, no lying, and no crazies with guns taking out people we disagree with. We have to be better than that: if we betray our values, we lose everything.  </p> <p>But apart from that: Go. The sooner we get going, the sooner we’ll figure this thing out. </p> <p><strong>4. Trust the vision. </strong></p> <p>Those of a progressive bent — and by “progressive,” I mean anybody who believes that business-as-usual is no longer acceptable and that real progress is not only possible, but necessary for our very survival — have a strong, vivid vision of what this nation can and should become. In our minds’ eyes, we can see that future as clearly as we can conjure the familiar rooms of our old childhood homes. And for most of the past few decades, it seems like it’s been just about as far away. </p> <p>Still, we can close our eyes and linger over every shimmering detail. The optimistic comfort of a middle-class life in which most Americans have dignified work, happy families, and enough wealth plus some to share. The relief of knowing that our basic needs for adequate shelter, healthy food and water, safe work, inspired education, useable transportation, essential healthcare, world-class recreation, and a good retirement are met through strong, trustworthy community commitments we can count on. The peace of mind that comes from knowing that we’re providing all of this in ways that won’t deprive our grandchildren of options crucial to their own survival. We want justice, equity, opportunity, and a government and an economy that are finely tuned to the spritely and practical rhythms of the common good. We want to be rich in the things that genuinely matter, rather than slaves to predatory institutions that produce things that don’t. </p> <p>That’s our vision, and we’re sticking to it. The problem is: until very recently, a lot of us have felt isolated, like this alternate reality existed nowhere else except inside our own skulls. Few corporations paid it anything more than lip service. Their pet media declared our ideas dangerously crazy and unworthy of “serious” coverage. Our federal government, even in Democratic hands, has been almost totally non-responsive (unless somebody screws up). The cultural authorities who used to defend and uphold our values without restraint or apology — the academy, the scientific community and non-fundamentalist religious congregations — were systematically discredited and silenced. Progressivism is literally being written out of history, its heroes co-opted, its astonishing victories erased. The very words we once used to describe these very American ideals have been redefined to the point where it’s sometimes impossible to even talk about it. </p> <p>It’s hard to trust a vision that nobody else recognizes, let alone validates. After a while, even you might even start to agree that this is all just a weird personal delusion that’s best kept under wraps. </p> <p>The new rule is: Trust the dream. Trust it enough to not only talk about it, but defend it proudly to any and all bullies. Trust the deep wisdom and sanity of it. Trust your own craziness in believing in it. Trust the other people who share it. Trust the change that you create while you pursue it. Trust that much of that imagined world has existed before; and trust also that it will — in a new and better form — rise again. </p> <p><strong>5. Focus on our goals, not on our enemies. </strong></p> <p>This one builds on #1, the “No despair” rule. </p> <p>I’ve made a career writing about the conservative movement’s uncanny skill at thwarting our dreams. This is red meat to progressives (and a perennially effective traffic booster at lefty Web sites). No blogger ever goes wrong by describing, explaining, or expressing spittle-flecked outrage over the overwhelming will, reach and resources arrayed against us. It’s easy, and not entirely wrong, to tell ourselves that we’re being stalled by the unfathomable cunning and treachery of our enemies. </p> <p>But we’ve got a lot to do, and are strapped for time, energy and resources to do it with. Every moment we spend focusing on How Evil They Are is a moment we are not focusing on creating the next America where we (and they) will all be spending the future. Yes, absolutely: we need to name our villains, clearly call out the threat they pose, and put names to the tools they’re using to stop us. But vanquishing them is not the ultimate goal. We’ve got bigger, better, more rewarding work to do. All they are to us is in the way. And all the energy they deserve is however much it will take to get them out of the way. </p> <p><strong>6. Expect resistance. </strong></p> <p>It’s the political corollary to Newton’s Third Law of Motion: Every action creates an equal and opposite reaction. Whatever you do, you are going to piss somebody off. (In fact, I’ve always thought that this is an important life metric: if you’re not pissing somebody off, you’re not doing enough to change the world. Call it Robinson’s First Law of Politics.) It is a waste of energy to be surprised by this. It’s also political malpractice not to think ahead to figure out where it’s likely to come from, what form it will probably take, and what you’re going to do about it. </p> <p>Also: there are people (and not all of them are on the other side, sadly) who have made a lifelong commitment to resisting change. For them, obstructionism is a spiritual path. And they’re masterful at it. It’s a waste of energy to be surprised by them, too. Obstructionists are a force of nature all their own; you cannot be angry at them, any more than you can be angry at a rattlesnake for wanting to bite you. It’s who they are. It’s what they do. It’s part of the Zen of change-making. </p> <p>Anticipate resistance as much as you can, and do whatever it takes to steer clear of known sources. If surprised, find the flow and go with it. As an Aikidoka friend once put it: If someone attacks you, lean into them. Become part of their attack. And then: become the part that goes horribly, catastrophically wrong. </p> <p><strong>7. Find and nurture innovators. </strong></p> <p>We’re building a lot of new stuff very fast right now. New politics, new media, new cities, a new economic paradigms, a new relationship with the planet — it’s daunting. We need new answers much faster than we’re able to generate them. </p> <p>There are people in our midst who are really good at this stuff, and times like this tend to be good ones for them. In more stable times, these folks are often pushed to the side: they often look and talk goofy, they have weird ideas, they don’t fit in, and nobody really gets what they’re talking about a lot of the time. Also: trailing in their wake you’ll find quite a few successes, along with a few stunning failures — the sure sign of somebody who’s comfortable taking a lot of risks, and not afraid of bombing out. </p> <p>Genius comes in all ages, genders and colors. It’s the old Boomer codger who’s got a thousand tricks up his sleeve, and forgotten more than you’ll ever know. It’s the young kid who’s never been told it can’t be done, so she just went ahead and figured out how to do it. I’ve seen world-changing political innovation come from farmworker organizers in Phoenix, women’s activists in Atlanta and rural organizers from Montana and Oregon. There are often no markings on the package it comes in that give you a clue as to what’s going on inside, so you have to drop your biases, and look closely. </p> <p>We need to seek out these folks and put their amazing brains to work. To do their best work, they need time and space to think. The basic necessities of life. Really good and worthy problems to solve. Permission to let their minds wander, unfettered and free. Permission to fail spectacularly. And then fail again. And again, over and over, because really complicated problems usually require outrageous quantities of failure before success is achieved. The process takes time, patience, and faith; this is what innovation runs on. </p> <p>And then we need to listen to them, which is often the hardest part of all. </p> <p><strong>8. Expect iterations, not perfection. </strong></p> <p>Even when we find some solution that’s shiny, new, and actually working, it’s smart to expect that the early successes will be so compromised that they’ll create a whole new round of problems of their own. It will take a while, sometimes a long while, to knock the rough edges off to the point where it’s an unqualified Good Thing. That’s part of the process, too. </p> <p>In technology, this fact is well understood. The first version of the product is never as good as later versions; this is new stuff, and we expect that we’re going to keep getting smarter about it. In politics, though, this is often the point at which the innovator is kicked to the curb. “She’s really smart, but that thing she does; well, there are problems. Move on to something else.” We lose a lot of brilliant people this way. In this new era, it’s a loss we can’t afford any more. If there’s promise, stick with it, and give the innovator the chance to keep making it better. </p> <p><strong>9. Celebrate every win, no matter how small. Every one matters. </strong></p> <p>We may be the world’s worst winners. We can get 75 percent of what we want, and spend the next three days whining about the 25 percent we didn’t get. (Also: we’ll probably forget to reward the politicians who actually managed to deliver the goods for once. And then we’ll wonder why they don’t help us out again next time.) We’ll eagerly do the two-minute hate, but ask us to spend two minutes feeling good about something, and we’d much rather drop back into that lazy cynicism thing instead. </p> <p>This has got to stop. Whatever we focus our attention on, we do tend to get more of. And as long as we’re spending more time focusing on failure than success, we shouldn’t be surprised that that’s exactly what we get. Would it really hurt us to break out the champagne, turn on the music, and just enjoy the win once in a while? (I sometimes wonder how much of the conservative success was simply built on the fact that those people know how to throw a party, and will do it even when they lose.) </p> <p>No, that city ordinance didn’t change the world, or even all that much in this town. But for once, we made sure the bastards also didn’t get exactly what they wanted. That, right there, is something to celebrate. So let’s party. </p> <p><strong>10.  Replicate success. </strong></p> <p>College teaches us to value original ideas. (Borrowing thoughts from others is called “plagiarism,” and it’s frowned on.) But guess what: this ain’t college any more. Out here in the real world, it’s OK not to spend valuable time and energy reinventing perfectly good wheels that have already been dreamed up by other people. If it works, use it. Good ideas belong to everybody, and nobody is going to flunk you for stealing them. </p> <p>There’s a corollary to this. This is a big movement, encompassing tens of millions of people and more moving parts than you can possibly imagine. And we’ve spent a decade building up some really good infrastructure. So every time you find yourself grousing: “Why isn’t someone doing X, dammit?” your next thought should be to assume that someone already IS doing X. Because the odds are good that they probably are. And your next move is to find out who that person is, and offer to extend, help with, or replicate what they’re doing. </p> <p>—— </p> <p>Ten new rules for the new era. We’ll probably figure out a lot more as time goes on and this weird new era we’re in becomes more familiar to us. I’d love to hear what other rules you’re discovering that help you navigate the post-Occupy world; if I get enough of them, I’ll turn them into a future column.</p> <p> </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is AlterNet's Visions editor. One of the few trained social futurists in North America, she has blogged on authoritarian and extremist movements at <a href="http://www.dneiwert.blogspot.com">Orcinus</a> since 2006, and is a founding member of <a href="http://www.groupnewsblog.net">Group News Blog</a>. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2012 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '669331'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=669331" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 01 Feb 2012 07:00:01 -0800 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 669331 at https://www.alternet.org Visions Visions Occupy Wall Street vision Fascist America: Is This Election the Next Turn? https://www.alternet.org/story/148588/fascist_america%3A_is_this_election_the_next_turn <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">It&#039;s not fascism yet; but if the Tea Party manages to get its hands on the levers of power, it will be.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg?itok=wQcwl0WS" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>In August 2009, I wrote a piece titled <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2009083205/fascist-america-are-we-there-yet">Fascist America: Are We There Yet?</a> that sparked much discussion on both the left and right ends of the blogosphere. In it, I argued that -- according to the best scholarship on how fascist regimes emerge -- America was on a path that was running much too close to the fail-safe point beyond which no previous democracy has ever been able to turn back from a full-on fascist state. I also noted that the then-emerging Tea Party had a lot of proto-fascist hallmarks, and that it had the potential to become a clear and present danger to the future of our democracy if it ever got enough traction to start winning elections in a big way.</p> <p>On the first anniversary of that article, Jonah Goldberg -- the right's revisionist-in-chief on the subject of fascism -- actually used an entire National Review column to taunt me about what he characterized as a failure of prediction. Where's that fascist state you promised? he hooted.</p> <p>It's funny he should ask. Because this coming election may, in fact, be a critical turning point on that road.</p> <p>The <em>Fascist America</em> series of three articles (the other two are <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2009083311/fascist-america-ii-last-turnoff">here</a> and <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2009083526/fascist-america-iii-resistance-long-haul">here</a>) was built out of Robert Paxton's <em>Anatomy of Fascism</em> -- a landmark work of scholarship that lays out that specific conditions and prognosis of fascism as a political form. Paxton defined fascism as:</p> <blockquote> <p>...a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.</p></blockquote> <p>Paxton laid out the five basic lifecycle stages of successful fascist movements. In the first stage, a mature industrial state facing some kind of crisis breeds a new, rural movement that's based on nationalist renewal. This movement invariably rejects reason and glorifies raw emotion, promises to restore lost national pride, co-opts the nation's traditional myths for its own purposes, and insists that the country must be purged of the toxic influence of outsiders and intellectuals who are blamed for their current misery.</p> <p>(Sound familiar yet?)</p> <p>In the second stage, the movement takes root, turns into a real political party, and seizes a seat at the table. Success at this stage, Paxton writes, "depends on certain relatively precise conditions: the weakness of a liberal state, whose inadequacies condemn the nation to disorder, decline, or humiliation; and political deadlock because the Right, the heir to power but unable to continue to wield it alone, refuses to accept a growing Left as a legitimate governing partner."</p> <p>(Paging the Party of No....)</p> <p>In the face of this deadlock, the corporate elites forge an alliance with rural nationalists, creating an unholy marriage that, if it continues, will soon breed a fascist state. And, of course, this is precisely what's happening now between the Koch Brothers, the oil companies, Americans for Prosperity, and the Tea Party.</p> <p>The majority of history's would-be fascist movements have died right at this stage -- almost always because of the basic authoritarian ineptitude of their leadership, which ensured that they'd never gain anything more than a small and temporary handful of seats at the political table. The successful fascisms, on the other hand, were the ones that held together and to gained enough political leverage that capturing their governments became inevitable. And once that happened, there was no turning back, because they now had the political power and street muscle to silence any opposition. (Fascist parties almost never enjoy majority support at any stage -- but being a minority faction is only a problem in a functioning democracy. It's no problem at all if you're willing to use force to get your way.)</p> <p>According to Paxton, there are three quick questions that let you know you've crossed that fail-safe line beyond which an emerging fascist regime has too much power to be stopped:</p> <p><strong>1.</strong>Are [neo- or protofascisms] becoming rooted as parties that represent major interests and feelings and wield major influence on the political scene?</p> <p><strong>2.</strong> Is the economic or constitutional system in a state of blockage apparently insoluble by existing authorities?</p> <p><strong>3.</strong> Is a rapid political mobilization threatening to escape the control of traditional elites, to the point where they would be tempted to look for tough helpers in order to stay in charge?</p> <p>If the answer to all three is "yes," you're probably on for the rest of the ride, which can run for at least a decade or two before it burns through.</p> <p>A year ago, I noted that we were already three for three on these questions. Now, the "yes" answers are far more resounding. With over 70 Tea Party candidates running for major state and federal offices on the ballot this November, it's fair to say that the 2010 election is shaping up as a national referendum on the Tea Party's future viability. And if they succeed at winning enough of these races, it may very well be the last vote on the subject we ever get.</p> <p><strong>The Alternatives</strong><br /> There are only a few ways this plays out. A few scenarios:</p> <p>1. The Tea Party is rejected outright by the voters on November 2. A handful of their candidates do win their races; and for the next few years, the Democrats have a grand time pointing out their sheer wingnuttitude, bolstering a compelling case against electing any more of them in the future. The party begins to lose momentum, and in a few years is defunct.</p> <p>2. The Tea Party elects a credible number of these 70-odd candidates -- enough to make a solid showing and establish its political bona fides, but not enough to get anything serious done. If this happens, progressives need to work fast and hard. If this right-wing tide continues to build as we head into the 2012 election, we'll still be cruising straight into a fascist future -- just not quite yet. There's time to stop it, but the momentum is not on our side -- and stopping it only gets harder with every passing week.</p> <p>3. A solid majority of the Tea Party candidates win their races, cementing the movement's lock on the GOP and turning it into a genuine political power in this country. They've already promised us that if they take either house of Congress, the next two years will be a lurid nightmare of hearings, trials, impeachments, and character assassinations against progressives. (Which could, in the end, backfire on the GOP as badly as the Clinton impeachment did. We can hope.) Similar scorched-earth harassment awaits officials at every other level of government, too. And casual violence against immigrants, gays, and progressives may escalate as the Tea Party brownshirts become bolder, confident that at least some authorities will either back them up or look the other way.</p> <p>In this scenario, the fail-safe point -- the point beyond which no country has ever turned back from the full fascist nightmare -- may well be behind us when we wake up on November 3. From there, the rest will play out in agonizing slow motion; and the character of the rest of this decade will hinge almost entirely on whether the corporatists, the militarists, or the theocrats ultimately get the upper hand in the emerging regime.</p> <p><strong>Really? Are you serious?<br /></strong>It's fair to wonder if the Tea Party deserves to be taken this seriously. After all, there's always been this faction in US politics -- the 10-12% rightwing authoritarian hard core that fueled McCarthyism and the Bircher movement and the Moral Majority; that voted for Goldwater and then George Wallace and even put KKK leader David Duke into office for a time. The far right has always been with us. It's one of the constants in our political landscape.</p> <p>But they've always been a fringe movement, and it's mostly kept to itself. What's different now is that all the crazy ideas of the radical right -- climate and evolution denialism, banning contraception, sovereign citizenship, End Times theology, white nationalism, all of it -- have been catalyzed by the magic of the Internet and widespread economic disaster into one coherent mass subculture that, according to a Wall Street Journal poll released yesterday, has attracted a full 35% of the country's likely voters. <a href="http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/2413/">According to Chip Berlet</a> of Political Research Associates, the Tea Parties are a broad movement that brings together several preexisting formations on the political right:</p> <blockquote> <p>-- Economic libertarians who worry about big government collectivist tyranny</p> <p>-- Christian Right Conservatives who oppose liberal government social policies</p> <p>-- Right-wing apocalyptic Christians who fear a Satanic New World Order</p> <p>-- Nebulous conspiracy theorists who fear a secular New World Order</p> <p>-- Nationalistic ultra-patriots concerned that US sovereignty is eroding</p> <p>-- Xenophobic anti-immigrant white nationalists who worry about preserving the “real” America.</p></blockquote> <p>This unification of right-wing forces around radical far-right ideas has never happened on anything like this scale in modern American history. And it's why we need to recognize the Tea Party as something unique under the political sun -- and seriously evaluate the future that awaits us if it becomes any more powerful.</p> <p>That future is a painful thing to contemplate. I've been called an alarmist for even daring to use the F-word to describe the situation we're facing. But that's one of the universal hallmarks of fascism: by the time everybody finally wakes up and realizes that they're in it, it's usually too late to do anything about it. Here's how <a href="http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/511928.html">Milton Mayer described his experience of this</a> as the Nazi thrall descended in Germany:</p> <blockquote> <p>In the university community, in your own community, you speak privately to your colleagues, some of whom certainly feel as you do; but what do they say? They say, ‘It’s not so bad’ or ‘You’re seeing things’ or ‘You’re an alarmist.’</p> <p>And you are an alarmist. You are saying that this must lead to this, and you can’t prove it. These are the beginnings, yes; but how do you know for sure when you don’t know the end, and how do you know, or even surmise, the end? On the one hand, your enemies, the law, the regime, the Party, intimidate you. On the other, your colleagues pooh-pooh you as pessimistic or even neurotic.</p></blockquote> <p>And yet the day comes when it's all too clear, Mayer writes -- and on that day, it's too late to stand up.</p> <blockquote> <p>Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.</p></blockquote> <p>There are only a few days left before the election. Whatever you do between now and then will be a small matter -- a matter of making a few phone calls, of knocking on some doors, of following up with friends. And yet any compromise now could be the one we will remember with breaking hearts five years from now, when the country we knew is gone, and our future has been seized by people who represent the worst of everything we are.</p> <p>Be the one who sees where this is taking us. Be the one who stands while you still can. The future these people have in mind for us is one that dozens of countries have already lived through; and all of them will carry the scars for centuries. It's not fascism yet; but if the Tea Party manages to get its hands on the levers of power, it will be.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is a Fellow at the <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/">Campaign for America's Future</a>, and a consulting partner with the <a href="http://www.cognitivepolicyworks.com/">Cognitive Policy Works</a> in Seattle. One of the few trained social futurists in North America, she has blogged on authoritarian and extremist movements at <a href="http://www.dneiwert.blogspot.com">Orcinus</a> since 2006, and is a founding member of <a href="http://www.groupnewsblog.net">Group News Blog</a>. </div></div></div> Fri, 22 Oct 2010 12:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, Blog for Our Future 663988 at https://www.alternet.org The Right Wing The Right Wing News & Politics election fascism election 2010 What the Hell Was That Ground Zero 'Mosque' Uproar Really About, Anyway? The Future of the Conservative Movement https://www.alternet.org/story/148296/what_the_hell_was_that_ground_zero_%27mosque%27_uproar_really_about%2C_anyway_the_future_of_the_conservative_movement <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Getting to the bottom of why the conservatives are taking out after the Muslim community now -- nine full years after 9/11.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg?itok=wQcwl0WS" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Now that the so-called Ground Zero Mosque controversy is slipping off the front pages for the first time in weeks, it's time to ask: Just what the hell was all that about, anyway? Why was it so important that we had to spend all that time discussing it? And why are the conservatives taking out after the Muslim community now -- nine full years after 9/11?</p> <p>By now, it's pretty obvious that this was never really about sacred ground or respecting the memories of the dead. What it was really about was the future of the conservative movement.</p> <p><strong>Where Have All The Bad Guys Gone?<br /></strong>Conservatives can do without a God, but they can’t get through the day without a devil. Their entire model of reality revolves around the existence of an existential enemy who’s out to annihilate them. Take that focal point away, and their whole worldview collapses into incoherence. This need is so central to their thinking that if there are no actual enemies around, they’ll go to considerable lengths to make some (or just make some up).</p> <p>Unfortunately, the past couple of decades have been rough for them on this front. Losing the Communists as the Bad Guys left a big gap in the conservative cosmology, which they've been trying (mostly unsuccessfully) to fill ever since. This void has driven them crazy, forcing them to reveal their inner ugliness in all kinds of ways as they thrash around looking for some likely replacement. The longer this goes on, the more of that ugliness we've all seen -- and the less coherent their politics have become.</p> <p>They had some luck early on with gays. But that target had one serious flaw. If you're going to go to all the trouble of conjuring yourself a major existential demon, you want one people can hate on with unfettered abandon for at least a couple of decades to come. The biggest threat to that goal is familiarity: it's nearly impossible to sustain the necessary level of fear when members of the feared group are living on your own street (or can be seen regularly on your own TV), where you're forced to deal with them as actual human beings. It's a question of ROI: you don't want to invest all that effort in a creating a target, only to have people figure out within just a few years that you were flat-out lying about how awful those people are. In the end, hating on gays turned out to be nothing but a big fat credibility hit, which they're still paying for.</p> <p>Hating on Latinos seemed promising for a while; but it's fizzling out, too. Even the most rageaholic right-wingers now realize that the GOP has no future if conservatives don't knock off that crap, preferably 15 years ago. You've got a rising Millennial generation that's 44% minority -- a plurality of it Latino -- that will probably not be voting Republican in their lifetimes due to this new New Southern Strategy. So that's not going to work, either.</p> <p>For a couple of years around 2008-2009, they tried to ratchet up the liberal-hating. The proximity problem made liberals a bad target from the get. But on top of that, there was a scary rash of nutjobs who didn't get the memo that this was all just political noisemaking, and the "liberals are a mortal threat to the nation" exhortation wasn't meant to be taken as a literal call to arms. In less than a year, <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2009062410/tragedy-holocaust-museum-how-real-terrorism-begins">over a dozen people were murdered in cold blood</a> as a direct result of this hatemongering; and Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bernard Goldberg, and Bill O'Reilly were all put in the uncomfortable position of telling people that they didn't mean for their blustering eliminationist screeds to be taken seriously. Given the choice between dialing down the liberal-bashing or acknowledging the blood on their hands, they picked the obvious alternative.</p> <p>All this leaves the conservatives right back where they were in 1990 -- still flailing around trying to find their next scapegoat. And at this stage, there's nobody really left to pick on but the Muslims. They've got all the perfect attributes for a solid long-term enemy: brown, Not Like Us, we've actually been in a war with some of them, and they're mostly so far away that it's unlikely that any red-blooded conservative will ever actually have to acknowledge one as a fellow human being. Apart from the messy downsides like war, debt, world approbation, continued terror, and so on, the right wing is starting to see the Muslim Threat as potentially the best thing that's happened to them since the Communists.</p> <p><strong>"Teachable Moments" -- Conservative Style<br /></strong>Having identified such a great potential target, the next logical step was to whip up public outrage and give people emotionally satisfying reasons to adopt this group as a worthy object of hate. Fortunately for the right wing, conservative PR folks have made an art form out of creating calculated, protracted media crises that drag on for weeks, during which they get to suck up all the news time and create "teachable moments" that put some new agenda item on dramatic public display.</p> <p>Take two past examples: Terry Schiavo and the Minutemen. Both were ginned-up controversies carefully designed to create a public crisis around a new right-wing political initiative. The goal in both cases was to create a public outcry that someone in a back room somewhere hoped would galvanize the nation into mass political action.</p> <p>Sometimes this works; sometimes, it doesn't. Schiavo was a spectacular failure. Americans of all persuasions took one look at that situation and recoiled: it turned out nobody in the country wanted Congress and/or the Southern Baptists making their end-of-life decisions for them. But the Minutemen's summer campouts on the border succeeded in bringing immigration and border security to the front burner, ultimately feeding into the militancy of the Tea Party and leading to the building of the border wall.</p> <p>And that's what the Ground Zero Mosque tantrum was -- yet another conservative PR confection designed to put a new boogeyman on the public agenda. (And the media, as usual, went right after the fake throw -- again. My dog is too smart for that trick, but our corporate media can be counted on to go for it every time.) The right wing has put us on notice that after nine years, they've abandoned Bush-era restraint where Islam is concerned, and are now declaring the entire Muslim world to be the new Devil who will fill that yawning void at the center of their cosmology.</p> <p>As a target, Muslims were just too tempting to resist any longer. They can be killed with impunity. They can be used to justify endless war. As a demon, they're likely to have tremendous staying power: after all, in the white, straight, Christian enclaves where most American conservatives live, Muslims are far rarer on the ground than even gays, Latinos, or liberals.</p> <p><strong>Fighting Back<br /></strong>It doesn't have to be this way, though. American Muslims (including our homegrown Black Muslims, who are collateral damage in all this) are strong and well-organized, and they're already fighting back. They're taking steps to define their faith in the public mind, rather than let conservatives do it for them; and to make themselves and their cultures more familiar to the average American. (This was, in fact, the ultimate goal of building a Muslim cultural center in lower Manhattan in the first place.) The hate campaign can only last as long as most Americans don't know a few Muslims personally. The sooner that ignorance is fixed, the sooner this nonsense stops.</p> <p>As progressives, we need to give them all the help we can, for two reasons. The first is that we have a clear moral obligation to step up and defend the civil rights of a group that's now been declared a high-profile public target. We've always done this, and history is calling on us to do it again. The media has moved on; but now that war has been declared, the conservative haters have their orders, and we'd be smart to expect more attacks on our Muslim neighbors, no matter where in the country we live.</p> <p>But beyond that, if we can deprive the conservatives of this made-to-order boogeyman, we may be able to keep that void at the center of the conservative cosmos wide open -- thus forcing them to keep their essential meanness on full public display. Conservatism doesn't thrive in cultures where diversity is recognized, embraced, and celebrated. As long as we keep debunking their devils, we make it very hard for them to regroup politically and present themselves as sane</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is a Fellow at the <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/">Campaign for America's Future</a>, and a consulting partner with the <a href="http://www.cognitivepolicyworks.com/">Cognitive Policy Works</a> in Seattle. One of the few trained social futurists in North America, she has blogged on authoritarian and extremist movements at <a href="http://www.dneiwert.blogspot.com">Orcinus</a> since 2006, and is a founding member of <a href="http://www.groupnewsblog.net">Group News Blog</a>. </div></div></div> Fri, 24 Sep 2010 10:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, Blog for Our Future 663696 at https://www.alternet.org Human Rights Human Rights 9/11 islam muslims ground zero islamic hatred Exploring the Crazy Conspiracy Theories Bubbling Up Around the BP Disaster https://www.alternet.org/story/147578/exploring_the_crazy_conspiracy_theories_bubbling_up_around_the_bp_disaster <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">You&#039;ve heard the latest one, right? The one about how President Obama deliberately blew up the Deepwater Horizon to pass an energy bill?</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg?itok=wQcwl0WS" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>You've heard the latest one, right? President Obama -- or maybe it was Obama working hand-in-glove with BP -- deliberately blew up the Deepwater Horizon, sent 11 workers to their deaths, destroyed the country's biggest fishery, and smeared the coasts of five states with endless tides of oil.</p> <p>Why did he do this? Why, to pass the new energy bill, of course.</p> <p>This is the Conspiracy Theory Of The Week (TM) on the far right this past week -- our little dip into the alternate, fact-free, gravity-free reality zone of the rabid right. Tracking the loony parade of right-wing conspiracy theories became something of a personal enthusiasm last spring, when the right wing's Bizarro World stories took a quantum leap for the weird. Up until the inauguration, these confections had almost always been wrapped around a kernel of factual truth; but there came a point -- it was somewhere in the early phases of the health care debate -- when that chewy middle suddenly became optional. Some new level of outrage and irrationality had been breached; and beyond that point, the new stories being told had absolutely no relationship to any observable reality at all.</p> <p>Fascinated, I hit the books. The most useful one out of the several I read turned out to be <em><a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Voodoo-Histories-Conspiracy-Shaping-History/dp/0224074709">Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History</a></em> by British historian David Aaronovitch. While carefully dissecting the anatomy of over a dozen of the past century's most famous conspiracy theories, Aaronovitch also draws some thoughtful insights about the nature of conspiracy theories: how they start, who believes them, and what psychological purpose they serve.</p> <p>Aaronovitch defines a conspiracy theory as any story that assumes that things happen due to the deliberate, covert actions of powerful others -- even when the preponderance of evidence points to the conclusion that the events were almost certainly accidental and unintended.</p> <p>Unfortunately, the right wing doesn't hold the franchise on conspiracy theories -- a lot of progressives are quite ready to believe all manner of sordid things about the Bush regime, for example. But as Dr. Robert Altemeyer observed, there are distinctively conservative habits of mind (suspicion, fear of strangers, fear of change, faith in strong leaders, paranoia) that do seem to lend themselves to conspiracy thinking. It's no surprise we're seeing it out of them -- but we also need to be more acutely aware that we're hardly immune to the siren song of crazy paranoia, either.</p> <p>Why do people believe this stuff? It turns out that it's a complicated issue, with several answers. Some of those answers have to do with the internal state of the people who believe them; others have to do with the cultural and political environment they're trying to navigate. This post covers some of the external factors that create a climate that predisposes people to suspend their judgment and believe the worst. Next week, I'll follow up with a second post about what goes on inside people's heads that untethers them from reason just far enough to be swept away by their fears.</p> <p>* * *</p> <p><strong>Broken Trust<br /></strong>People are far more likely to believe in conspiracy theories when they've already been objectively, seriously, undeniably lied to by people in power. Conspiracy theories are always a clear sign that people's faith government and private institutions has been repeatedly shattered, but never mended. If they lied to us then, we can never be sure they're not lying to us now.</p> <p>It's not just the Gulf of Tonkin, or Watergate, or Iran-Contra, or being lied into Iraq. It's also the way our own bosses treat us at work, and Wall Street doctors the books, and the media leaves essential facts out of news reports. The current generation of Americans, left and right, has learned the hard way that people in power lie to us -- constantly and habitually. Since they won't trust us with the simple truth, there's no reason to trust them in return.</p> <p>The thing our leaders still don't get about us is this: when we're forced to reflexively discount the official story, it only sharpens our determination to find out what's really going on. And the less solid information they give us, the bigger the void that has to be filled -- and the wilder our collective imagination will run to fill it. In the end, whatever we make up will invariably be orders of magnitude worse than any ugly truth we're not being told. They more they try to manage our perceptions, the more resistant to any such management we become.</p> <p><strong>History's "Contradictions"<br /></strong>This distrust is particularly likely to spin out of control around big, history-shaping events, every last one of which generates its own zombie horde of conspiracy theories-that -will-not-die. A lot of these theories hang on the belief that The Official Story (as told by the Warren Commission or the 9/11 Committee or establishment historians who have taken months or years to fully investigate) fails to account for important details, which are left unanswered. Or, if they are answered, the answer is rejected as unsatisfactory.</p> <p>Much of this dissonance starts with the very first news reports coming out of a crisis zone. As Aaronovitch notes, "Reporters in the West usually do the best they can in frightening and confused circumstances, but early explanations of major disasters will contain much that turns out to be mistaken or speculative." Conspiracy theorists typically seize on these early, blurred, fog-of-war reports and give them the status of indisputable truth. When later reports -- prepared with the advantage of complete information and the clarity of hindsight -- come to different conclusions, conspiracy theorists make a fuss over the perceived "contradictions."</p> <p>Many of these contradictions crop up because we tend to assume that the people in the thick of the moment had the same broad perspective and complete data that we enjoy now, looking back -- which, of course, they didn't -- and then use that as license to second-guess their decisions. Also, as Aaronovitch notes, "given the desire to believe, it is easy to confuse detail with thought." Conspiracy theories are often presented as a blizzard of random "facts" (like the lists of "facts" that still circulate on the right about the Vince Foster matter) -- but these "facts" don't necessarily add up to any kind of actual conclusion. And again, it's left to our imaginations to string them together -- which our marvelous pattern-making engines will do with reckless abandon.</p> <p><strong>Scapegoating<br /></strong>A lot of conspiracy theories start when someone in government or business decides to create a scapegoat in order to deflect attention away from their own decisions. The problem isn't that our immigration policies (which have been tailored to the whims of large employers at the expense of American workers) are completely ineffectual. The problem is that those damned Mexicans are conspiring to reconquer America. As long as we're distracted by the latter, we won't be doing much about the former.</p> <p>Scapegoats also appear when ideologues don't want to acknowledge that their own leaders have feet of clay. Our movement didn't fail out of its own inherent weaknesses or contradictions; it was sabotaged by plotters. This was the paranoid rationale behind the Stalinist purges; but you can also see it alive and well in the conservative movement's successful campaign to hunt their RINOs to extinction.</p> <p><strong>We're Never Wrong<br /></strong>Some conspiracy theories start when a group attempts to deflect humiliation after being proven categorically, undeniably, embarrassingly wrong. For example, the Holocaust Denial conspiracy theory can be directly traced back to the old America Firsters who had strongly opposed the US's entry into World War II. Their entire movement (which had included many high-profile, respected Americans) was completely discredited at war's end, when the liberation of the death camps proved beyond argument that America's decision to intervene has been the right one. After that, some isolationist diehards figured that he only way to vindicate themselves was to deny that the Holocaust ever happened; or (alternatively) to insist that the Zionist movement ginned the whole thing up to gain the world's sympathy and support, and thus reclaim Israel.</p> <p>Unfortunately, this toxic little figleaf, designed to cover up for one of the American right's bigger blunders, created a conspiracy theory that's now taken on a life of its own and gone global. Resurgent fascist movements in every corner of Europe these days take it as gospel that the Holocaust never happened (or, at least, didn't happen the way the historical record says it did). And it's gained a real following in the Arab world as well.</p> <p><strong>X Marks The Spot<br /></strong>Besides covering up embarrassing lapses of judgment, conspiracy theories very often contain elements that are shadow projections of our own worst attributes. It's axiomatic on the left that if the right wing is accusing us of thinking or doing something terrible, it's because they've already thought or done it themselves.</p> <p>This is such a reliable phenomenon that smart reporters rely on it: whatever evil a right-winger is raising holy hell about, start digging, because he's telling you precisely where his own dirt is buried. And so it happens that the congressman who pounds the pulpit about the Gay Agenda's evil conspiracy to corrupt America's youth is the very same one taking his own rentboy to Europe.</p> <p><strong>Faux "Experts"<br /></strong>Americans are famously suspicious of egghead intellectuals, and conspiracy-mongers take full advantage of that suspicion. Most of the "experts" promoting these theories are either celebrities (if Charlie Sheen believes that 9/11 was an inside job -- well, then, it must be true!), or "experts" and "researchers" whose credentials don't even hold up to the most basic scrutiny.</p> <p>Many of these popularizers received their lofty titles from "think tanks" or "institutes" that are run out of somebody's PO box or den. Almost none of them have credentials or professional experience in the field they're holding forth on -- and the ones that do have relevant qualifications are more often than not regarded as embarrassments by their colleagues. And so it happens that David Ray Griffin, the leading author of books on the 9/11 conspiracy, isn't an aviation expert, physicist, structural engineer, or authority on terrorism; he's a retired theology professor who asks his readers to take a lot on faith.</p> <p>Despite the lack of academic or professional cred (or perhaps because of it), the folks who promote conspiracy theories go overboard to put a thick veneer of scholarship on their claims. Books and essays are ostentatiously footnoted; but the references typically link back to even more obscure conspiracy publications with even flimsier evidence -- or else to other works written by the same author, in a self-reinforcing loop. Some theorists use scientific jargon to dazzle the crowd and obfuscate weaknesses in their story; others borrow terms of art from the intelligence trade, giving the impression that they're getting their data from sources on the inside who know what's <em>really</em> going on.</p> <p><strong>Media Sensationalists<br /></strong>The media needs to fill airtime, and doesn't feel the least duty to do even a minimum level of fact-checking. With our self-proclaimed gatekeepers of the truth asleep on the job, those above-mentioned fake "experts" and "researchers" find it easy to get on the air and spew fact-free nonsense. It's cultural pollution -- but if an hour-long examination of Obama's birth certificate or Dan Brown's latest book grabs eyeballs, that's all that matters.</p> <p>The worst conspiracy mongers totally abdicate their obligation to the facts by using the "I'm just asking" tactic, which is a particular favorite of right-wing talking heads like Glenn Beck. "It is irresponsible to speculate? It would be irresponsible not to." No data is provided, no evidence offered; the theorist merely offers up some disturbing questions out of "a simple desire to find the truth" -- and then leaves the audience to make up their own minds (which, as we've seen, is basically an open invitation to insert their own fantasies here). We report, you decide. But the questions themselves only make sense if you already think there's mischief afoot -- and once they're asked, the conspiracy is free to take on a life of its own.</p> <p><strong>The Failure of Critical Thinking<br /></strong>Americans believe in conspiracy theories for the same reason we're so quick to accept the right wing's faux science and reconstructed history: we simply don't teach most of our kids the basic skills of critical thinking any more.</p> <p>This is where 25 years of teaching to the test has brought us. We don't know who to trust, or when, or why. We can't evaluate the claims of history or science, or even get a basic timeline straight. We can't sort out what's plausible and likely from what's implausible and unlikely. We can't assess the relative credibility of various experts, or figure out what agendas they're serving when they make their claims. We'd rather take Rush Limbaugh's explanation as gospel than spend .062 seconds on a Google search that would give us some alternative data to work with, because then we'd be forced to evaluate that data on our own.</p> <p>And then we wonder why in the hell so many of us hold such implausibly baroque beliefs; but can't seem to locate the simple truth at high noon with both hands.</p> <p>Next week, I'll take a deeper look at what's going on in our own heads that predisposes us to believe the unbelievable. And in the third and final part of the series, I'll talk about what needs to be done in order to conspiracy-proof our discourse and restore some reason to our political conversations.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is a Fellow at the <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/">Campaign for America's Future</a>, and a consulting partner with the <a href="http://www.cognitivepolicyworks.com/">Cognitive Policy Works</a> in Seattle. One of the few trained social futurists in North America, she has blogged on authoritarian and extremist movements at <a href="http://www.dneiwert.blogspot.com">Orcinus</a> since 2006, and is a founding member of <a href="http://www.groupnewsblog.net">Group News Blog</a>. </div></div></div> Fri, 16 Jul 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, Blog for Our Future 663015 at https://www.alternet.org News & Politics Investigations Environment News & Politics conspiracy theory bp oil spill gulf of mexico Is Mean-Spirited, Ignorant, Tearful Glenn Beck Going to Have an Impact on America? https://www.alternet.org/story/146977/is_mean-spirited%2C_ignorant%2C_tearful_glenn_beck_going_to_have_an_impact_on_america <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '662567'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=662567" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">In his new book, journalist Alexander Zaitchik examines the character and career of the shock jock at the center of the far-right&#039;s churning cultural storm.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg?itok=wQcwl0WS" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>America has this long tradition of twisted, odd, widely beloved and yet darkly dangerous right-wing cultural impresarios that pop up out of our landscape like cultural tornadoes, leaving huge swaths of derangement and destruction in their wake. Aimee Semple McPherson. Father Coughlin. Joe McCarthy. Once in a while, when the cultural cross-currents intersect just so, they rise on the whirlwind, gather huge followings, and lead their followers on a furious high-velocity turn that blows across the countryside in desperate pursuit of a utopia only they can see. These maunderings are typically mercifully short and usually end in disaster, for both the people who started the storm as well as those who got swept away in it. And all is forgotten—until the next time.</p> <p>The next time, in this case, arrived on 9/11/01; and the tornado took on the form of Glenn Beck. It only <em>seems</em> like Glenn Beck has been with us forever. It's hard to remember a time when his endless rants weren't filling hours of TV time on Headline News, and more recently dominating everything else on FOX. But Beck was basically going nowhere fast before 9/11—the event that saved his failing TV career, turned this know-nothing showman into a leading political theorist, and catapulted him into the very eye of the far-right's always-churning cultural storm.</p> <p>Who <em>is</em> this guy? A precocious former Top 40 deejay with a longstanding drug problem, no discernible book learning, and a mean streak a mile deep. A "morning zoo" radio host known for his ruthlessness in ratings wars, yet unable to keep any job for more than a couple of years. A Mormon convert who immediately gravitated to the farthest edges of that faith's orthodoxy. The hottest host on cable TV. And soon, if all goes according to "The Plan," America's next great spiritual leader, stepping boldly forward to guide the Tea Party faithful in a complete re-making of this nation.</p> <p>It's high time somebody took a critical look at the full arc of Beck's character and career. That somebody turned out to be Alex Zaitchik, who had already spent quite a bit of time covering the right wing. Zaitchik's book,<em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Common-Nonsense-Glenn-Triumph-Ignorance/dp/0470557397/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&amp;s=books&amp;qid=1274674016&amp;sr=8-1">Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance</a></em>, hits the bookshelves this week. (Some of the chapters originally appeared as articles at Alternet.) Besides being an engaging telling of Beck's personal tale, "Common Nonsense" examines Beck's character and motivations in a way that might help progressives get a better handle on who he is, what he means to do to America, and what we're really up against.</p> <p><strong>Sara Robinson:</strong> <em>I guess the first question is: what possessed you to write this book? Where did your interest in Glenn Beck begin? What did your research process look like?</em></p> <p><strong>Alex Zaitchik:</strong> It came out of a conversation I was having with an editor at Wiley about a rather different project -- about India, of all things. It could not have been more different. And we started talking about Glenn Beck shortly after his "we surround them" episode on Fox in March of last year. We were talking about how bizarre it was, and trying to figure where this guy was coming from -- we'd never seen anything like it.</p> <p>This is, of course, the famous episode where Beck started crying about how much he loved his country and feared for it and the rest of it. And the more I started looking into him after this conversation, the more I realized there was this culture forming around him, this "cult of Beck" with big viewing parties, meetups, this kind thing. And I sort of got fascinated by it, and wrote an article for Alternet, and the response was pretty overwhelming. There seems to be a lot of interest in this guy.</p> <p>So I when brought the idea back to Wiley, we put the other idea on hold, and decided to do a book-length treatment on this phenomenon -- Glenn Beck.</p> <p><strong>SR:</strong> <em>There's a lot in the book that's extremely damning. One of the things that struck me was your description of Beck's antics while working as a morning zoo DJ in Phoenix, which is one of the most over-the-top things I've read this year. But it also revealed the extent of Beck's essential meanness, as well as the extent he'll go to to win a ratings war. Can you talk about that? </em></p> <p><strong>AZ:</strong>One of the consistent threads running throughout Beck's career has been this rather vicious mean streak that has changed over the years. It now sort of masquerades a sort of political argument -- but in fact, at its base, it's the same kind of gut spleen that's constantly looking for new avenues of expression.</p> <p>As a young DJ, he used to attack other people in the market for being overweight. Lately, of course, he's attacking people like Rosie O'Donnell for being overweight -- but now he says it's because she's a Democrat and a progressive, not just because she's overweight, which is what he used to do back when he was doing Top 40 radio.</p> <p>Probably the most famous example of this mean streak that I was able to track down is the time he called up a competing DJ's wife on the air and proceeded to mock her for having a miscarriage the previous week. She had just come back from the hospital. He did this live on the radio, which is of course illegal -- he didn't notify her that she was on the radio -- and then there's the moral question involved. He was the bad boy of an already bad-boy genre.</p> <p><strong>SR:</strong> <em>Did the local media cover any of this when it was going down? Was it widely known, or just known within radio circles around Phoenix?<br /></em><br /><strong>AZ:</strong>It made him infamous in radio circles. He had quite a reputation nationally for being talented, but also a bit of a prick. So yeah, people were definitely aware of it.</p> <p>He never lasted very long in any one market. I think his record was close to two years. He bounced around quite a bit; I think he had over seven jobs in the space of 20 years.</p> <p><strong>SR:</strong><em>One of the things that struck me about that whole description of his early career, Phoenix, Tampa, and elsewhere, is how vicious he gets when he's backed into a ratings war. I'm looking at that in the context of his newest schtick, "The Plan," which he announced last Thanksgiving and is planning to roll out this August on the anniversary of the "I have a dream" speech on the mall -- having his King moment.</em></p> <p><em>What can you tell us about "The Plan"? Is this just another ratings stunt, or does Beck really have the wherewithal to pull off a Tea Party 2.0 kind of movement?<br /></em><br /><strong>AZ:</strong> That seems to be what he's going for. It seems to be something quite on a different level than creating controversy for ratings. He sees himself now as not just a movement leader, but actually (if his words are to be believed) a conduit for the Word of God itself. The idea that God is giving him this plan for the saving of the Republic is, of course, a very Mormon idea -- the Constitution hanging by a thread, and Mormons will come to its rescue, possibly led by Beck. That seems to be where he's headed -- the idea that he's a sort of world historical religious figure who's actually going to be saving the country.</p> <p>His plan is actually a little bit less exalted than that -- it's basically just your usual list of right-wing think tank talking points. If you had the Heritage Foundation and Cato come together and put their best minds together, it would look something like The Plan. He wants an 11% flat tax, abolishing most federal departments, cutting social services, that kind of thing.</p> <p>He originally advertised the date to coincide with Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, but he's since pulled back from that and now he claims that he picked that date just because it's near Labor Day, and he wanted people to be able to bring their children and make it a family vacation. But clearly what happened is that somebody informed him that Martin Luther King was a famous progressive "cockroach" (in Beckian language), and of course he must have felt pretty embarrassed. He stopped talking about the King connection pretty quick.</p> <p><strong>SR:</strong> <em>You also got several people on the record about Beck's struggle with mental illness. In one of his books, he's admitted to being a borderline schizophrenic; another is premised on his confession of multiple personality disorder. He's also copped to having ADHD, and taking medication for it. And of course there's this very long history of addiction. What did these folks tell you, and why do you think they were so forthcoming with this information? And what part does all of this play in his history?</em></p> <p><strong>AZ:</strong> One of the first things people used to say when Beck first arrived on the national radar is over the last few years is: This guy is obviously crazy. And, in fact, a number of his former colleagues said that they believed that Glenn was under treatment for some form of psychiatric problem. They didn't know exactly, but many believed that it was bipolar disorder, and he used to take medication that one person believed was lithium, and all the behavior traits seemed to be lining up in that direction. That was in the early 90s in Baltimore. And then from New Haven in the mid-90s, I heard another colleague say that that sounded about right. One of his old bosses in Baltimore said he always used to remind Beck, "Don't forget to take your pill."</p> <p>So clearly, he's now or was at some point under treatment for something. But what that is is less important than the fact that he's able to command such influence over so many people while putting forward a sort of political version of his personal mental illness.</p> <p><strong>SR:</strong><em>Another thing that struck me is the crass way he manipulates his own family stories to elicit sympathy. He uses his daughter, who has cerebral palsy, as one of his props; and he tells people that his mother committed suicide when all the evidence points to a very straightforward boating accident. Even for someone like me, who's intimately familiar with the testimonial culture of the religious right, lying that your mom committed suicide for the sake of ratings is just beyond comprehension. You actually went out and tracked down the documents on that.<br /></em><br /><strong>AZ:</strong>The police records record a drowning accident in 1979. His mother and a friend of hers were found dead in the water after they apparently went swimming. There was an empty bottle of vodka found in the boat; there was no sign of foul play; and there was no suicide note left that was left or referenced in the local papers or police records.</p> <p>Family friends also seemed to think that it was just a tragedy. I tracked down one of Beck's closest childhood friends who was actually a pallbearer at the funeral, and he said that there was never any sign or discussion of a suicide at the time. So while I don't know for certain why the death occurred, it appears to be the case that Beck sort of embellished this tragedy to make a more compelling life story.</p> <p>Which, of course, is one of his stock-in-trades. He's constantly talking about his personal redemption narrative, which begins with the tragedy of his mother, and continues through this sort of 700 Club arc to his brother's death, after passing through a valley of depression and despair.</p> <p><strong>SR:</strong> <em>Which is, of course, the classic redemption narrative. There's a lot of incentive on the right to make those stories as dramatic as possible. That's how you get your cred in that highly emotional culture. You need that drama. </em></p> <p><em>Tell me about Glenn Beck's America, the one that he wants to take us to. Is this really about a return to some mid-century Golden Age, and is that even possible?<br /></em><br /><strong>AZ:</strong> He does sentimentalize the middle of the 20th century, and even the America of his youth. Which is an odd thing to sentimentalize, because that's the mid- to late 1970s, which most conservatives usually don't remember as the halcyon days.</p> <p>But what I think is most interesting about his reveries about mid-20th century America is that this was the social democratic peak of the country's history. I mean, this was when the New Deal and the post-New Deal programs gave the country its most egalitarian tax structure. There were more dollars flowing down the income pyramid than ever before.</p> <p>This was the nation that FDR built -- and of course, the America that [Beck] would like to build looks nothing like the America that was built by New Deal policies. So he seems to want to have the benefits -- the sense of social purpose, the middle-class fantasy -- without having the economic policies that really are alone capable of leading to this kind of society that he remembers as a kid.</p> <p>The policies he advocates result in Detroit today, not Mt. Vernon in 1955.</p> <p><strong>SR:</strong><em>What influence do you think his conversion to Mormonism had on Beck? And how do Mormons view him? </em></p> <p><strong>AZ:</strong> Mormonism has, I think, had a pretty big impact on Beck in a couple of ways. First, he didn't have much of a political education before he went to talk radio. There was a big void that needed to be filled. He sort of poured the liquid from right-wing Mormonism, in the form of this guy Cleon Skousen, into this empty vessel. That's what formed the bedrock of his political education.</p> <p>Cleon Skousen's this very right-wing Mormon involved with the [John] Birch Society and later got more and more into conspiracy culture. In the 50s, 60s, 70s and into the 80s, he was a very influential guy in Mormon circles.</p> <p><strong>SR:</strong><em>Although he was also something of an embarrassment to the Mormon elders as well, wasn't he? </em></p> <p><strong>AZ:</strong> He became so, yes. He became too extreme, and he was causing problems for the church. But he did manage to drag the church fairly forcefully to the right, and now you have this orthodox Mormon culture that is in many ways the product of Cleon Skousen. And it's the same Mormon culture that embraces Beck. So that's one way that the conversion deeply influences his development.</p> <p>Another thing: I have a chapter in the book where I talk about this very Mormon ritual known as "bearing testimony," which involves members of the ward house getting up and telling what amount to radio monologues. They talk for a couple of minutes about some sort of gut knowledge that they have, and very often they get emotional and tear up. It's very stylized. If you look at video of church leaders doing it off the LDS website, often they look like they're imitating Glenn Beck. It's a very Mormon thing.</p> <p>So it seemed that he sort of embraced that aspect of Mormonism, and it's informed his persona, which is very much tearful, and has this sense of having direct access to spiritual truths.</p> <p><strong>SR:</strong> <em>Why does Glenn Beck cry? </em></p> <p><strong>AZ:</strong>I think that, at bottom, there's a really fundamental emotional neediness in Beck that's come out over the course of his career in different ways. To some extent, you see it in a lot of entertainers -- people who've always had audiences and always sought them out. Even as a young kid, Beck was on stages performing magic; and then he was on the radio from age 13. He loves to be heard, to be the center of attention.</p> <p>And crying is a way to not just be the center of attention, but to hush the audience and draw them in emotionally and connect with them in a way that is unique. That's something he's really trained himself to do well. That's one of the reasons why his success has been as striking at it is: he does manage to connect with his radio and television audiences and his live audiences and his readers in ways that most people doing conservative commentary cannot or dare not.</p> <p>Beck's willingness to go there is one of the keys to his success. And it's not just a media strategy; it also dovetails with his personality and his deepest needs.</p> <p><strong>SR:</strong> O<em>K, this is a long question, so bear with me. One of the things that's got progressive right-wing watchers most concerned is Beck's real skill in co-opting the language and symbols of American patriotism. The right has done this systematically for 40 years -- but Beck is a genius at it.</em></p> <p><em>I'm thinking specifically of the way he's hijacked Tom Paine, who was easily the most progressive of the Founders. Paine was the first one to propose social security and welfare. The 19th century elites found him so threatening that they wrote him right out of history. Most Americans didn't even know who Tom Paine was until FDR and Eleanor put him back in the pantheon, for reasons of their own.</em></p> <p><em>Another example is how he's publicized Jonah Goldberg's revisionist idea that the Nazis were somehow left-wing welfare statists. Can you speak to this?<br /></em><br /><strong>AZ:</strong> What makes that that founder appropriation possible is relative ignorance on the part of his fan base. Also: Beck himself has only recently started to learn about this stuff, and he's really not a scholar on early American history. So it's an easy sort of touchstone for him to seem like he's representing the deepest and most consistent traditions in American history.</p> <p>Of course, if you went back to exactly what the founders believed -- Paine being perhaps the most glaring -- it's just absurd that he would claim that mantle. Another one is Ben Franklin. [Beck] has a picture of Ben Franklin on his TV set a lot, and also in his radio studio. Of course, Ben Franklin was a giant of the Enlightenment: this is not a guy who'd have had very much patience for Glenn Beck had they been contemporaries. And Beck himself would probably not have idealized Ben Franklin.</p> <p>And you can just go down the line. Thomas Jefferson, of course, believed in a pretty radical egalitarian view of society. He belief in limited government isn't limited government for its own sake, but limited government for the sake of a society of equal citizens, in which there weren't massive concentrations of economic wealth like the kind we see today -- which Beck not only glorifies, but openly worships. There's few things that'll quiet Glenn Beck faster than a kind word or the presence of a multi-billionaire industrialist.</p> <p><strong>SR:</strong><em>Beck has set himself up as this sort of revisionist history and civics teacher. What do you think it means for the country that we've got two million people watching his fractured-fairy-tale versions of history every day? </em></p> <p><strong>AZ:</strong>It doesn't speak very well for the state of conservatism, that's for sure. It wasn't that long ago that those people representing conservatism in high-profile positions were people like Bill Buckley, who -- disagree with him as you might have on the issues -- was fairly educated, and didn't make statements that were so wildly at odds with reality. So I think first and foremost, it's a statement on conservatism more than it's a statement on the country.</p> <p>You also need to keep it in perspective that it's only a very small percentage of the country at large that's watching this guy, and those people tend to be the more hardcore conservatives.</p> <p>And to the extent that it is a reflection on the country, it's a sign of the fracturing of media into these niche communities where people get their politics -- and in this case, their ignorance -- reinforced. The old gatekeeper system is, of course, done. You no longer have people producing what used to be called "quality television." You don't have three networks and PBS deciding what goes on television. Now you have FOX producers, and people like Glenn Beck, who are able to draw audiences -- who formerly were forced to go on community television or become street corner preachers and stuff -- are now on FOX News.</p> <p><strong>SR:</strong><em>Having written this book, do you think Glenn Beck really deserves the attention the left wing lavishes on him? And knowing everything you've told us about him, what's the best way for progressives to deal with this huge Glenn Beck phenomenon going forward? </em></p> <p><strong>AZ:</strong>It's certainly important that his statements -- and those of his peers, like Rush Limbaugh -- are taken seriously and debunked. To some extent, I'm glad there are organizations like Media Matters out there doing fact-checks on these guys.</p> <p>At the same time -- and I may be a weird messenger for this, having just spent the better part of a year thinking and writing about Glenn Beck -- I do think that at some point you have to start asking yourself what the opportunity costs are of fixating on every absurd statement coming out of the mouths of Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Limbaugh, and the rest. I mean, it takes a lot of time to mock and/or fact-check every idiocy that is said these days. Sometimes, when you tune into radio or blogs, it seems there's a real lot of time spent talking about this stuff.</p> <p>And while it's important to know, and counter, I think we need to ask ourselves sometimes how much is enough, and realize that it's much more important to come up with a positive agenda that is educative and based in reality to counter the profusion of lies. Ultimately, what this amounts to is diversionary programming coming from the right wing message machine, of which Beck has emerged as a central component.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is a fellow at <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/">Campaign for America's Future</a>, and a consulting partner with the <a href="http://www.cognitivepolicyworks.com/">Cognitive Policy Works</a> in Seattle. She has blogged on authoritarian and extremist movements at <a href="http://www.dneiwert.blogspot.com">Orcinus</a> since 2006, and is a founding member of <a href="http://www.groupnewsblog.net">Group News Blog</a>. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2010 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '662567'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=662567" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Mon, 24 May 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 662567 at https://www.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics Books glenn beck alexander zaitchik common nonsense zaitchik alexander zaitchik glenn zaitchik common nonsense Guilty of Sedition? How the Right Is Undermining Our Government's Authority and Capability to Run the Country https://www.alternet.org/story/146322/guilty_of_sedition_how_the_right_is_undermining_our_government%27s_authority_and_capability_to_run_the_country <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">It&#039;s time to openly confront the fact that conservatives have spent the past 40 years systematically delegitimizing the very idea of US government.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg?itok=wQcwl0WS" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><strong>Sedition:</strong>Crime of creating a revolt, disturbance, or violence against lawful civil authority with the intent to cause its overthrow or destruction<em>-- Brittanica Concise Dictionary<br /></em><br /> Well, finally. It's high time somebody had the guts to say the S-word -- sedition -- right out loud.</p> <p>When the <a href="http://www.annarbor.com/2010/03/29/stone.pdf">indictments</a> against the Hutaree were unsealed last week, the S-word was right there, front and center, in Count One. The Justice Department accused them of "seditious conspiracy," charging that the defendants "did knowingly conspire, confederate, and agree with each other and other persons known and unknown...to levy war against the United States, and to prevent, hinder, and delay by force the execution of any United States law."</p> <p>This is very serious stuff. But the Hutaree are getting nailed for sedition only because they crossed the line with inches to spare. They're by no means the only ones. Advocating, encouraging, and sanctioning sedition is the new norm on the conservative side.</p> <p>We saw it again last Thursday, when the<a href="http://thelibertyguardian.com/2010/04/guardians-of-the-free-republic-group-warns-governors-step-down-or-be-removed/" linkindex="38"> Guardians of the Free Republics</a> -- a Sovereign Citizen group that believes that the oath of office taken by state governors is invalid under their twisted Bizarroland interpretation of the Constitution -- sent letters to most or all sitting state governors telling them to either a) take what they consider to be a legitimate oath of office; b) stand down; or c) or be removed "non-violently" within three days. The FBI, rightly, regards this as a potentially seditious threat against the governors.</p> <p>These two events are a wake-up call for progressives. They're telling us that it's time to openly confront the fact that conservatives have spent the past 40 years systematically delegitimizing the very idea of US government. When they're in power, they mismanage it and defund it. When they're out of power, they refuse to participate in running the country at all -- indeed, they throw all their energy into thwarting the democratic process any way they can. When they need to win an election, they use violent, polarizing, eliminationist language against their opponents to motivate their base. This is sedition in slow motion, a gradual corrosive undermining of the government's authority and capability to run the country. And it's been at the core of their politics going all the way back to Goldwater.</p> <p>This long assault has gone into overdrive since Obama's inauguration, as the rhetoric has ratcheted up from overheated to perfervid. We've reached the point where you can't go a week without hearing some prominent right wing leader calling for outright sedition -- an immediate and defiant populist uprising against some legitimate form of government authority.</p> <p>Moderates and liberals are responding to this rising threat with feckless calls for "a return to civility," as all that's needed to put things right again is a stern talking-to from <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Martin" linkindex="39">Miss Manners</a>. Though that couldn't hurt, the sad fact is that we're well past the point where it's just a matter of conservatives behaving like tantrum-throwing spoiled brats (though they are). When a mob is surrounding your house with torches and telling you they intend to burn it down, "civility" really isn't the issue any more.</p> <p>At that point -- and we're there -- criminal intent and action become the real issues. Progressives need to realize that the right began defiantly dancing back and forth over the legal line, daring us to do something about it, quite some time ago. And it's high time we called it out -- and, where appropriate, start prosecuting it -- for exactly what it is.</p> <p><strong>What is Sedition?<br /></strong>Before we start throwing around inflammatory terms like "sedition," it's essential that we understand the strict definition of the word -- and use it carefully and precisely, lest it lose all meaning.</p> <p>(That's what happened with the word "fascism," which has been distorted into meaninglessness by hyperbolic overuse on the left and willful redefinition on the right. Once a word is abused to death this way, it's very hard to recapture it and restore its original meaning. And that's no small thing, because losing the word makes it functionally impossible to even discuss the political idea the word represents. Worse: as Orwell told us, when we no longer have the language to describe what we're dealing with, we also lose our ability to deal effectively with fascism at all. That's a real danger with loaded words -- so, please, let's be extremely careful about how we brandish this one.)</p> <p>Here's the defining line we need to hold on to. People who <em>promote</em> subversive ideas, no matter how dangerous those ideas might seem, are completely protected under the First Amendment. Even calling for the overthrow of the government is protected (though not benign, as we'll see later, because it creates justification, permission, and incitement to seditious acts). That's why the conservatives have been safe -- so far.</p> <p>It's only when those people start actively <em>planning</em> and <em>implementing</em> a government rebellion that it turns into criminal sedition. In this case: the weird rantings on <a href="http://www.freep.com/article/20100329/BLOG36/100329013/Site-offers-peek-into-Hutaree-Christian-militia" linkindex="40">the Hutaree website</a> -- not seditious. The group's allegedly operational plans to assassinate a police officer, ambush the resulting funeral, and thus bring on a national militia uprising -- absolutely seditious, if the charges stick.</p> <p>This bright-line distinction, which has been part of American sedition law for the past 50 years, parallels closely the <a href="http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2008/02/are-they-crazy-dangerous-or-just-plain.html" linkindex="41">line drawn by terrorism analysts</a> in sussing out which groups are benign and which ones are headed for trouble. As I've noted before, one of the cardinal signs these experts watch and listen for is a fundamental shift in rhetoric. In the early stages of dissent, groups establish the lines of conflict by obsessively focusing on their enemies and loudly denouncing their essential evilness. You hear this kind of talk in politics all the time these days. It's always ugly, but not inherently dangerous.</p> <p>But in the latter stage, the talk turns overtly eliminationist, and the group starts expressing its clear desire and intention to eradicate specific enemies. When they shift to that second stage, it's a sign that they have mentally committed themselves to violent action, and are more likely to be actively acquiring arms, selecting targets, and getting ready to act in the near future. When a group enters this planning stage in an attack on government offices or officials, they've officially crossed the line into sedition.</p> <p><strong>Sedition on The Right<br /></strong>Openly advocating acts of sedition has become the conservatives' main political stock in trade over the past year. (The SPLC offers a strong summary <a href="http://www.splcenter.org/publications/splc-report-return-of-the-militias/the-second-wave" linkindex="42">here</a>.) You hear it everywhere from Rush to Glenn to Michelle Malkin to Michelle Bachman. Everybody on the right is now roundly convinced that the fairly-elected President of the United States isn't even a citizen. He's a Muslim, and thus in treasonous league with terrorists. The main goal of his administration is to turn the country over to the One World Government. He's a socialist. He's a fascist. All of these are direct attacks on Obama's fundamental legitimacy and authority to lead the country -- and thus a deliberate incitement to revolt against his administration.</p> <p>These narratives are coupled with a rising us-versus-them blaming of progressives for all the problems of the country. These days, the screeds typically sound like free-market fundamentalists freebasing Hitler: they're clouded over with the typical eliminationist vitriol that reduces liberals to subhuman vermin that must be violently exterminated from the body politic in order to restore the virtue of the country. (For those who groove on that sort of thing, there's even a slight dash of anti-Semitism in the mix.) This is dangerous stuff. And in the context of the conservatives' longstanding effort to delegitimize the government, it's also an open invitation to sedition.</p> <p>This seditious intent is expressed even more directly in the increasingly overt firearms displays at right-wing events. The media took to their fainting couches, aghast, when a small handful of people showed up packing heat at last summer's Tea Party disruptions. Now, we've advanced the point where not one, but two, 100% gun-toting marches on Washington, DC are planned for this coming April 19. Their organizers are hoping the marches will draw tens of thousands of armed protestors. Get used to seeing guns in the streets wherever the law allows -- because the conservatives have told their base explicitly that they need to be "exercising their rights" on this front to the fullest extent. The right to carry guns in public is now an essential symbol of how the the right defines freedom.</p> <p>These escalating armed demonstrations, accompanied by belligerent sloganeering, are a clear signal that these folks are done talking -- and, worse, have already decided that democracy is futile, and taking up arms is the only appropriate response to the threats we now face. They're carrying weapons to scare us weak-kneed girly libs into submission, and to show us they mean business. Growing up in gun country, I was taught at my daddy's knee that when someone says they're going to shoot you, it's always a good idea to take them at their word and handle yourself accordingly. Right now, I think that's good advice for anybody in America who considers themselves a member of the reality-based community.</p> <p>But it's not just armed individuals. They're also forming more and more armed groups, which are gearing up for a fight. For the past five years, armed Minutemen have been usurping the job of the US Border Patrol. And within the past year, <a href="http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2010/spring/active-patriot-groups-in-the-united-s" linkindex="43">according to the SPLC</a>, the number of right-wing militias has more than doubled to over 500, many of which present themselves as <a href="http://www.annarbor.com/news/bridgewater-township-turns-to-militia-for-help/" linkindex="44">alternative law-enforcement posses</a> that are adjunct to the ones staffed by the county sheriffs.</p> <p>What these folks are telling us is that they no longer recognize the government's sole franchise on the use of force; and they're actively organizing to seize at least some of that power for themselves.</p> <p>Most alarming of all: these right-wing warriors have also advanced to actual target acquisition. This should worry us, because law enforcement and terrorism experts know that when groups like this get to where they're settling on specific targets, they're the final stages of gearing up for violent confrontation.</p> <p>When Bernard Goldberg wrote a book listing the "100 people who are destroying America" -- which included some government officials -- he was writing a target list with seditious intent. (And <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2009020710/know-if-nothing-else-was-hate-crime" linkindex="45">at least one guy</a> took him up on it, in his own deranged way.)</p> <p>When the "spiritual warriors" of the<a href="http://www.talk2action.org/story/2010/3/6/95620/29842" linkindex="46"> Transformations movement</a> proudly announce that they've mapped every town in America -- literally creating target maps of "demonic activity" that pinpoint government offices, non-Evangelical houses of worship, clinics, theaters, Indian mounds and sites; or even just households with Muslims, neo-pagans, Goth-baby teenagers, or Obama stickers on their cars -- they're putting us on notice that they've identified the specific people and places that need to be "cleansed" in order to purify their communities. According to researchers Rachel Tabachnik and Bruce Wilson, these <a href="http://www.truthout.org/prayer-warriors-and-palin-organizing-spiritual-warfare-take-over-america57276" linkindex="47">"transformation" attempts</a> have already become government-level issues in New Jersey, Arizona, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/2010/03/04/texas-taliban/" linkindex="48">Texas</a>, and Hawaii.</p> <p>At present, they claim that they're only mapping their neighborhoods so they can pray over us all; and their attempts to take over local government are being done by purely democratic means. But, as has often happened before (yes, the Nazis started out just this way), the day may come when they'll decide that mere prayer and organizing is not enough. Like any street gang, they've taken proprietary responsibility for a piece of turf; and they believe God is holding them accountable for everything that happens there. The resulting performance pressure is a perfect setup to justify more aggressive cleansing tactics if they can't convert the town by peaceful means.</p> <p>And some of these groups have already effectively crossed the line, in spirit if not in prosecutable fact. When the Christian dominionists train up "<a href="http://www.alternet.org/story/96945/theocratic_sect_prays_for_real_armageddon/?page=entire" linkindex="49">Joel's Army</a>" by sending their sons to the US armed services so they can get the combat experience they'll need to set up a worldwide theocracy, that's evidence of an active plan to effect an armed government takeover. When senior US military officers put their commitment to Jesus ahead of their commitment to uphold the Constitution and regard the military as <a href="http://harpers.org/archive/2009/05/0082488" linkindex="50">God's force in the world</a>, we should be very afraid.</p> <p>For years now, we've dismissed all of this as crazy talk, the rantings of a loony fringe that will never get enough traction to become a material threat to our democracy. But we're well past the point where it's no longer quaint and funny, or an embarrassing breach of democratic etiquette that polite people should just ignore.</p> <p>It's time to confront the sobering fact that the entire right wing -- including the GOP establishment, which encourages, endorses, and echoes these sentiments almost every time its officials appear in public -- is now issuing nearly constant invitations to criminal sedition. They're creating a climate and using language that emboldens the handful of sociopaths in our midst who are always spoiling for a fight. They've given their newly-expanded corps of flying monkeys permission to brandish their guns in public, empowered their militias, promised them glory, and are now telling them explicitly which targets to hit.</p> <p>We'd be idiots not to regard this as an overt threat. Especially when they keep telling us, very explicitly, that they mean it to be. When somebody says they're going to shoot you, believe them.</p> <p>We need to start talking about this for what it is, and calling it out whenever it happens. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leonard-zeskind/strongthe-hutaree-militia_b_519066.html" linkindex="51">Leonard Zeskind points out</a> that the feds have never been able to make a sedition charge stick against a right-wing group (if the Hutaree are convicted, it'll be a first); but the first step in stopping sedition is making sure everybody knows exactly what it is when they see it. And that means calling out the S-word every time we see the conservatives defiantly flinging their hands and feet out over that line to score a few cheap political points.</p> <p><a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2009062412/memo-right-wing-put-or-shut" linkindex="52">The challenge I once threw down on the conservatives</a> still stands. Do they want a civil war? Are they out to overthrow the US government?</p> <p>If this is just political grandstanding to energize the base, they're playing with fire, and they need to bring this incendiary campaign to a screeching halt. Right now. This Mickey Mouse pussyfooting around, play-acting at sedition is criminally dangerous chickenshit politics that puts the short-term needs of the Republican party ahead of the long-term viability of the American democracy they've sworn to uphold. In case the party leaders haven't noticed, their base has taken them as seriously as a heart attack -- and they're genuinely making ready for armed revolt.</p> <p>On the other hand, if seditious overthrow is what they intend, let them stand up, follow through, and face the charges. They're either Americans, committed to working in good faith within the democratic process to create our common future; or else they're seditionists in intention or fact -- and thus enemies of the state, plain and simple.</p> <p>For the good of the country, we cannot continue to let them have it both ways. They need to choose whose side they're on: America's, or their own.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is a Fellow at the <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/">Campaign for America's Future</a>, and a consulting partner with the <a href="http://www.cognitivepolicyworks.com/">Cognitive Policy Works</a> in Seattle. One of the few trained social futurists in North America, she has blogged on authoritarian and extremist movements at <a href="http://www.dneiwert.blogspot.com">Orcinus</a> since 2006, and is a founding member of <a href="http://www.groupnewsblog.net">Group News Blog</a>. </div></div></div> Mon, 05 Apr 2010 21:00:01 -0700 Sara Robinson, Campaign for America&#039;s Future 661705 at https://www.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics right sedition goverment conservations An Expat's Guide to the Vancouver Olympics https://www.alternet.org/story/145639/an_expat%27s_guide_to_the_vancouver_olympics <!-- iCopyright Horizontal Tag --> <div class="icopyright-article-tools-horizontal icopyright-article-tools-right"> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '660992'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/horz-toolbar.js"></script> <noscript> <a class="icopyright-article-tools-noscript" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=660992" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/> Click here for reuse options! </a> </noscript> </div> <div style="clear:both;"></div><!-- iCopyright Tag --> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Vancouver does things its own strange and subtle ways that the media hordes will only begin to be noticing by the time these Games are over.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg?itok=wQcwl0WS" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p>Hello, world. We've been expecting you. It's good to see you here, milling around Robson Street in your uniforms and badges, whooshing here and there in what must be a million Official Olympic GM-donated cars, making guesses as to where in town they've hidden the fire tower for the Olympic Torch (it's still a big secret, but the local news station thinks they may have found it last night), and generally making it impossible for locals to get a restaurant reservation or cross a bridge. Still, we've got you to thank for the new convention center and Seabus ferry, the Canada Line subway that finally(!!) directly connects the airport to downtown, and that shiny new four-lane freeway that's taken half an hour off what used to be a treacherous winding trip two-lane up to Whistler.<br /><br /> So, y'no, thanks.<br /><br /> I got here a little ahead of you -- six years ahead, in fact, as a native California transplant who was looking for something a bit more like freedom back in 2003. This city has been preparing for this week almost exactly as long as I've been here. And I arrived already knowing what Vancouver was in for, because this isn't my first Games. I'm an Olympics veteran who did her time as a full-time paid staff writer for the Los Angeles Summer Olympics back in 1984. So the energy gathering around town right now is very familiar, mostly in a sweet, good way.<br /><br /> But Vancouver is a peculiar place (even by LA standards, which is saying something). It does things its own strange and subtle ways -- ways that the media hordes will only begin to be noticing, and will have no chance in hell of figuring out, by the time these Games are over. There's going to be plenty of coverage of the sports events, but I'm wagering you won't see or hear much on how these Games look on the ground to those of us who are going about our daily lives around and amid the party -- not least because so much about Vancouver outright defies so many American assumptions about life, the universe, and everything. That's the piece I'll be reporting on, with daily (or nearly-daily) dispatches on assorted facets of life in Olympicsland.<br /><br /> To kick this off, let me start by telling you a bit about my city.<br /><br /> Somewhere in your mind's eye, you're already conjuring totem poles and eagles, cruise ships and orcas, grizzlies and Mounties, and the misty interplay between mountains and sea and endless dark woods that makes our landscape the stuff of the North American frontier mythos. British Columbia is twice the size of California, with a population that's about the size of Washington State's. Over half the population lives in the Lower Mainland, as we call Greater Vancouver. In the American imagination, BC is the last outpost, the edge of the continent, the end of the West, and the beginning of everything that lies Out There, beyond the boundaries of civilization.<br /><br /> You probably know already that Vancouver routinely ranks at the top of everybody's "most liveable cities on earth" lists (Vienna and Melbourne are our chief rivals). You may have heard that we're an incredibly green city -- heavy on transit, light on freeways, an electrical grid that's almost entirely hydro-powered, and a food supply that's uniquely dependent on local sources. You may even know that we're one of the most densely urban and cosmopolitan cities in North America, with huge populations of Chinese, South Asians, Koreans, South Africans, Iranians, and…well, you name it. (The French, who give everybody in eastern Canada such political fits, are simply lost in the mix here. You want to get along, you learn Cantonese, which is the mother tongue of fully one-quarter of the city.)<br /><br /> Vancouver is the place where laconic, easy-going West Coast style meets hyperpolite Anglo-Canadian discipline meets an almost thoughtlessly casual multiculturalism meets a completely un-self-conscious, not-the-least-bit-ironic obsession with the common good. It's lush English gardens, savory Asian food, cautious Scots bankers, impeccable Mountie law enforcement, and gentle but effective First Nations justice.<br /><br /> And it's a vast landscape of contradictions. Alongside its legendary green ethos, you find forests clear-cut by the mile and salmon farms that breed parasites that are destroying the wild salmon stocks. Alongside its social progressivism, you sometimes find incredible official foot-dragging when it comes to domestic crimes against women and children. Alongside its strong First Nations culture -- perhaps the most vibrant surviving native communities still extant in North America -- you find odd moments of inexplicable racism. Alongside its extreme pacifism, there's hockey.<br /><br /> Still, the thing I love best about my Canadian neighbors is that they try very seriously to do the right thing by each other -- more seriously than Americans have for a long, long time. I'd like to hope some of that comes through your TV screen over the next two and a half weeks, because it's something we could stand to relearn from our friendly neighbors to the north (along with how to run a sound banking system). I'll do my part here each day to help the message along.<br /><br /> And if there's something you see during the next couple weeks of saturation coverage that you find weird, wonderful, disturbing, or simply curious, drop me a comment or a note, and I'll see what I can do to shed some light on the subject.<br /><br /> Speaking of light: the Olympic torch is moving through my neighborhood this morning, just a few streets over. I'll be wandering over later to see it. A group of drummers from the Skwxwu7mesh (just say "Squamish"; nobody really knows how you pronounce that seven thing) tribe has set up over in the village square downhill from the house; I can hear their drums and songs filtering up through the tall trees as I write this. More about the torch tomorrow.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is a Fellow at the <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/">Campaign for America's Future</a>, and a consulting partner with the <a href="http://www.cognitivepolicyworks.com/">Cognitive Policy Works</a> in Seattle. One of the few trained social futurists in North America, she has blogged on authoritarian and extremist movements at <a href="http://www.dneiwert.blogspot.com">Orcinus</a> since 2006, and is a founding member of <a href="http://www.groupnewsblog.net">Group News Blog</a>. </div></div></div><!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> <script type="text/javascript"> var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2010 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '660992'; </script> <script type="text/javascript" src="http://license.icopyright.net/rights/js/copyright-notice.js"></script> <noscript> <a style="color: #336699; font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size: 12px;" href="http://license.icopyright.net/3.18566?icx_id=660992" target="_blank" title="Main menu of all reuse options"> <img height="25" width="27" border="0" align="bottom" alt="[Reuse options]" src="http://http://license.icopyright.net/images/icopy-w.png"/>Click here for reuse options!</a> </noscript> <!-- iCopyright Interactive Copyright Notice --> Wed, 10 Feb 2010 20:00:01 -0800 Sara Robinson, AlterNet 660992 at https://www.alternet.org World World olympics vancouver british columbia New Poll Results Are Proof That Republicans Don't Think https://www.alternet.org/story/145569/new_poll_results_are_proof_that_republicans_don%27t_think <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">A poll commissioned by DailyKos shows just how far to the right the GOP has been dragged by its right wing...and how far out of step they are with the rest of America.</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg?itok=wQcwl0WS" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><em>A village cannot revise village life to suit the village idiot. -- <strong>Frank Schaeffer</strong><br /></em><br /> On Tuesday, the Daily Kos published <a href="http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/2/2/832988/-The-2010-Comprehensive-Daily-Kos-Research-2000-Poll-of-Self-Identified-Republicans">a new Research 2000</a> study showing the current state of belief in the GOP. Though the results aren't anything new -- indeed, the study just puts hard numbers to everything we already thought we knew about the right wing -- the data also show, in sharp detail, just how far to the right the GOP has been dragged by its right wing...and how far out of step they are with the rest of America as a result.</p> <p>The data also show that Frank Schaeffer was more than fair in characterizing these people as America's "village idiots." For one thing, they really are a bitterly small minority. Last week, <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010010428/state-union-status-report-far-right">I laid out some numbers of my own</a>, which showed that the conservative movement as it's currently constituted only represents the views of about 25 to 30 percent of Americans. (And, historically, that's about as big as conservative movements ever get in the US -- though it's plenty big enough to do some real damage.) Furthermore, according to a <a href="%3Chttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/20/fewer-people-identify-as_n_326971.html%3E%20">Washington Post/ABC News poll</a> done last October, only about 20 percent of Americans currently identify as Republican, which is a 40-year low. There's nothing about our current GOP that can be supportably described as "mainstream."</p> <p>Kos's pollsters did a valiant job of getting inside the heads of this 20 percent. But the story they tell also shows how severe the conservatives' level of derangement has become; and just how little introspection the conservatives have done to reckon with the causes and consequences of their own failures. And it also documents the vast chasm this willful refusal to deal with reality is creating between this noisy minority and the vast majority of Americans.</p> <p>To grasp the size of the gap, you only have to compare Kos' numbers on conservative beliefs with the most current available stats on the attitudes of the country as a whole. So -- that's what I did below. This discussion doesn't address all of the the questions in Kos's summary, because good data wasn't available on some of them; but a look at most of the high points gives you an accurate picture of just how far out of the mainstream the GOP is pulling.</p> <p><em>Should Barack Obama be impeached, or not?<br /></em><strong>Yes</strong> 39<br /><strong>No</strong> 32<br /><strong>Not Sure</strong> 29</p> <p>Over a third of Republicans say Obama should be impeached. ("For what? Who the heck knows?" asks Kos. The beauty of being a village idiot is that you never have to explain yourself.) Nearly another third think it's an open question; only one-third say no.</p> <p>But out in the Real America, Obama's <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/113980/gallup-daily-obama-job-approval.aspx%20">Gallup approval ratings</a> are well within the normal range for a one-year president. Since his TV appearances last week, they're up over 50% again -- and, as Rachel Maddow notes, the Omentum is rising.</p> <p><em>Do you think Barack Obama is a socialist?<br /></em><strong>Yes</strong> 63<br /><strong>No</strong> 21<br /><strong>Not Sure</strong> 16</p> <p>OK, fine. All faithful FOX watchers know that Obama is a socialist. But the problem for the village idiots is: it's increasingly true that socialism is a terrifying boogeyman that only they can see. For them, it's Mao and Stalin. For the rest of us, it's just another day of government-built roads and schools.</p> <p><a href="%3C%20http://dandelionsalad.wordpress.com/2009/04/18/capitalism-versus-socialism-poll-confirms-massive-anti-capitalist-shift-in-us-public-opinion-by-eric-sommer/%3E">An April 2009 Rasmussen poll</a> (and remember, Rasmussen's findings generally skew rightward) found that only 53% of Americans thought that capitalism was better than socialism. A full 20% though we could do with some more socialism around here; and 37% didn't have an opinion either way.</p> <p>When nearly half the country no longer thinks that Socialism is Evil Incarnate, red-baiting just doesn't pack much of a political punch any more.</p> <p><em>Do you believe Sarah Palin is more qualified to be President than Barack Obama?<br /></em><strong>Yes</strong> 53<br /><strong>No</strong> 14<br /><strong>Not Sure</strong> 33</p> <p>For those of you thinking the "village idiot" metaphor is bit of hyperbole, consider for just a moment the sheer surreality of the idea that there could be any group, anywhere, in which half of everybody thinks that Sarah Palin would make a good president. Enough said?</p> <p>But let's skip ahead to the facts. Which are these: A C<a href="%3Chttp://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2010/01/18/politics/politicalhotsheet/entry6113291.shtml%3E%20">BS News poll</a> taken two weeks ago found that 71% of Americans do not want to Sarah Palin to run for president in 2012. Only 20% of us (apparently the same ones the Kos poll talked to) think this is a good idea.</p> <p><em>Should Congress make it easier for workers to form and join labor unions?<br /></em><strong>Yes</strong> 7<br /><strong>No</strong> 68<br /><strong>Not Sure</strong> 25</p> <p>This is "I've got mine -- get off my lawn" conservatism in a Faberge jewel-encrusted nutshell. <a href="%3C%20http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/17/employee-free-choice-poll_n_175563.html%3E%20">A Gallup survey</a> done last May found that 57% of Americans think that it's "very important" or "somewhat important" that Congress pass new law to "make it easier for labor unions to organize workers." Only 39 percent opposed such a law.</p> <p><em>Would you favor or oppose giving illegal immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and learn English?</em><br /><strong>Favor</strong> 26<br /><strong>Oppose</strong> 59<br /><strong>Not Sure</strong> 15</p> <p>The village idiots can never resist tuning up their perennial anti-immigration noise machine in advance of an elections. In their minds, it's just not a party until you've got the hate spewing at full volume all the way down Main Street.</p> <p>But this issue is becoming more of a loser for them with every passing election. <a href="%3C%20http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/01/snapshot011810.html%3E%20">An America's Voice poll</a> released on January 19 found that 87% of Americans favor comprehensive immigration reform that includes fortifying the border, penalizing employers, and a citizenship path for current immigrants that includes working, paying taxes, and learning English.</p> <p><em>Do you support the death penalty?<br /></em><strong>Yes</strong> 91<br /><strong>No</strong> 4<br /><strong>Not Sure</strong>5</p> <p>The whole country is still conflicted about this issue, and the consensus is far from clear. The Death Penalty Information Center <a href="%3C%20http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/news/past/30/2009%3E%20">summarizes</a> how Americans' views have changed in the last two decades:</p> <blockquote> <p>The latest Gallup Poll on the death penalty shows 65% of Americans support the death penalty, significantly lower than the 80% support recorded in 1994 and near the lowest support of 64% in the past 25 years recorded last year. Only 57% believe the death penalty is fairly applied, and 59% of Americans believe that an innocent person has been executed in the last five years. Gallup reported that support for the death penalty is lower if Americans are offered an explicit alternative, such as life imprisonment with absolutely no possibility of parole. The last time that Gallup offered such alternatives in 2006, only 47% preferred the death penalty, while 48% supported life imprisonment with no parole.</p></blockquote> <p>Stlll, 91 percent of Republicans favor the death penalty, compared to 65 percent of Americans generally. There's no more reflection, soul-searching discussion, moral wrangling, or complex and nuanced thought going on over there than there was back in the good old days when executions were public entertainment, and the village idiots never failed to show up.</p> <p><em>Should openly gay men and women be allowed to serve in the military?<br /></em><strong>Yes</strong> 26<br /><strong>No</strong> 55<br /><strong>Not Sure</strong>19</p> <p><a href="%3C%20http://mediamatters.org/research/201002020043%3E%20">Media Matters</a>cites four studies done last spring by Gallup, CNN, Quinnipiac, and the Washington Post, all showing that between 56 and 81 percent of Americans favor allowing gays to openly serve in the military. Now that the Joint Chiefs are fully on board with this as well, that 55 percent of Republicans against are increasingly the only people left in the country who are opposing this.</p> <p><em>Should same-sex couples be allowed to marry?<br /></em><strong>Yes</strong> 7<br /><strong>No</strong> 77<br /><strong>Not Sure</strong> 16</p> <p>The demographics of this issue put the historical momentum firmly on our side when it comes to the rights of LGBT people to form legal families. Full marriage rights are still controversial among some groups (like African-Americans), and in some parts of the country (like the south). But a wide range of studies last year found that Americans are generally running about 40% in favor, and that number grows by a percent or two each year as the very pro-gay-rights Millennials replace the more deeply conflicted Silent Generation in the voter base.</p> <p>The better news: according to <a href="%3C%20http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/politics/july-dec09/gay-marriage_10-12.html%3E%20">a Pew survey</a> done last October, 57 percent of Americans are fully on board with the idea of civil unions. This idea is now past the point where it's not even considered controversial by anyone who's not pretty far right of center.</p> <p>The Republicans have been losing ground on gay rights issues for the past 20 years, and will probably lose the issue entirely in the next 20. But, as usual, the village idiots will continue to pound on it with jackhammers until the day they finally wake up, forget the whole fight, and realize they were actually for it all along (and blame any remaining lack of progress on us).</p> <p><em>Should sex education be taught in the public schools?<br /></em><strong>Yes</strong> 42<br /><strong>No</strong> 51<br /><strong>Not Sure</strong> 7</p> <p>That 42 percent "Yes" vote looks pretty high -- until you realize that, according to <a href="%3C%20http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1622610%3E%20">the last good poll on this</a> (which was conducted by Pew and NPR in 2004) only seven percent of Americans think sex education doesn't belong in the schools. Just 15 percent think abstinence-only education is a good idea; and only 19 percent think sex ed programs should be silent on the issue of homosexuality.</p> <p>On the other hand, 55 percent of us think kids should be taught how to use condoms; and a sensible 77 percent believe that having this information will make it more likely that kids will practice safe sex.</p> <p>Yet about half of all Republicans apparently cling stubbornly to the belief that if you don't talk to adolescents about sex, it'll never occur to them to have it on their own -- an idiot delusion that ends too often the day little Tiffany comes home pregnant.</p> <p><em>Should public school students be taught that the book of Genesis in the Bible explains how God created the world?</em><br /><strong>Yes</strong> 77<br /><strong>No</strong> 15<br /><strong>Not Sure</strong> 8</p> <p>I wish the news here was better. This may be the only issue where the Republicans in Kos' survey may actually have their fingers on the American pulse. (I apologize in advance for any sleep lost by this revelation.) The last time Gallup <a href="%3C%20http://www.gallup.com/poll/108226/Republicans-Democrats-Differ-Creationism.aspx%3E%20">visited this issue</a> was in 2008. Here's how they summarize their long experience with this question:</p> <blockquote> <p>Between 43% and 47% of Americans have agreed during this 26-year time period with the creationist view that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so. Between 35% and 40% have agreed with the alternative explanation that humans evolved, but with God guiding the process, while 9% to 14% have chosen a pure secularist evolution perspective that humans evolved with no guidance by God.</p></blockquote> <p>It's obvious that America is at risk of turning into one big village of idiots on this issue. GOP candidates who don't toe this line are going to get ripped by their base; and fighting for the reality-based position won't win them many fans among mainstream voters, either. And that, in turn, means that this issue won't be going away any time soon.</p> <p><em>Should contraceptive use be outlawed?<br /></em><strong>Yes</strong> 34<br /><strong>No</strong> 48<br /><strong>Not Sure</strong> 18</p> <p>On this issue, it's best to watch what people do, not what they say. According to <a href="http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_contr_use.html">the Guttmacher Institute</a>, 98 percent of sexually active women between the ages of 15 and 44 have used a contraceptive method. Among the 42 million fertile, sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant, 89% are currently practicing contraception. It's reasonable to assume that the overwhelming majority of these are doing this with the knowledge and support of their male partners.</p> <p>Contraception has been thoroughly embraced by four generations of American couples. But a third of Republicans want to roll the whole country back a full century to the days before Margaret Sanger; and another 18 percent have acknowleged that thinking this no-brainer all the way through is simply above their pay grade.</p> <p><em>Do you consider abortion to be murder?<br /></em><strong>Yes</strong> 76<br /><strong>No</strong> 8<br /><strong>Not Sure</strong> 16</p> <p>According to the indispensable Nate Silver, who's <a href="%3C%20http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/05/is-public-opinion-changing-on-abortion.html%3E%20">compared the numbers from a lot of abortion polls</a> over the years, "the remarkable thing about abortion is precisely how steady public opinion has been on it for many, many years." The country has always been fairly evenly split on this issue, which is why it's still not resolved.</p> <p>Based on these numbers, abortion will continue to be a galvanizing issue for the GOP's base for years to come. Silver also notes that the rising Millennial generation is somewhat less pro-choice than the Boomers and Xers; but not as anti-choice as the Silent generation (now ages 64-early 80s) that they are replacing in the voting population. Therefore, abortion rights are another issue where the conservatives' hard line will continue to diverge widely from the far more nuanced thinking of the American mainstream.</p> <p><em>Do you believe that the only way for an individual to go to heaven is through Jesus Christ, or can one make it to heaven through another faith?</em><br /><strong>Christ</strong> 67<br /><strong>Other</strong> 15<br /><strong>Not Sure</strong> 18</p> <p>These stats show that a belief in the One True Right and Only Way -- which only they have the inside line on -- is probably a defining trait among Republicans. They also support the progressive perception that GOP politics is driven by religious belief to a constitutionally dangerous degree.</p> <p>Fortunately, mainstream America is far more tolerant. <a href="%3C%20http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=5229895&amp;page=1%3E%20">A 2008 Pew study</a> found that 70% of Americans think that many religions, not just their own, can lead to eternal life. That's very good news for a democracy founded on the principle of <em>e pluribus unum</em>-- and bad news for a party that's relied far too long on stirring up religious antagonism for political gain.</p> <p>* * *</p> <p>Taken as a whole, the Kos data shows a Republican party that's falling farther and farther out of touch with the American mainstream. More interestingly: it also suggests a party that's falling into a concentration-of-craziness pattern that doesn't happen in healthy political movements, but is very typical of authoritarian groups in the middle-to-last stages of decline.</p> <p>In this pattern, the radicals take control of a previously healthy and well-balanced group, and start taking hard positions that alienate the group's more moderate members. Often, these moderates are driven out because they're too reality-based and lack sufficient revolutionary zeal. (Republicans-in-name-only -- "RINOs'' -- have been hunted to extinction in the GOP; but it's important to note that these kinds of intramural purity crusades are ubiquitous in all kinds of radical groups going sour, both on the left and right.)</p> <p>Losing their moderates also means that the group loses the ballast that keeps them from leaning too far to the crazy edge; and the moorings that kept them tethered to some level of objective reality. Without that ballast and mooring, the group is free to drift in a more radical direction. And because they're now smaller, they also tend to feel more persecuted and embattled by the larger culture -- which leads to more paranoia-driven purity crusades within the group, which alienates the next slice of semi-sane people into leaving, which in turn distills the levels of paranoia and radicalism further yet.</p> <p>This vicious cycle typically repeats until there's nothing left but a few True Believers ranting on a street corner somewhere (if you're lucky) or resorting to domestic terrorism to regain their lost renown and take out their revenge on the culture (if you're not). The fact that the GOP has been reduced to 20 percent of the voting pool -- and that that 20 percent holds views that are so deeply at odds with the mainstream of America -- suggests that the Republicans are in the grip of a cycle that portends serious problems with the party's continued viability.</p> <p>Comparing these two sets of numbers also calls into question the conventional (though not-well-documented) wisdom that though the GOP's own numbers are small, they still command strong allegiance among the 38% of Americans who consider themselves independents. On issues like Sarah Palin, don't-ask-don't-tell, sex education in schools, contraception, and religious tolerance, the overwhelming mainstream support for the progressive position shows that on many important issues, these independents are keeping a big philosophical distance from the ever-more-conservative GOP.</p> <p>As <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2009052226/center-left-america%20">we've argued here</a> for several years: America is, at heart, still a progressive country in most of the ways that matter. The Kos poll shows us, once again, just how far from that mainstream the conservatives have drifted. At this point, it should be clear to everybody that doing things their way would amount to nothing more than rearranging American life to suit the whims of our handful of remaining village idiots -- at a very high cost to the rest of us.</p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson is a Fellow at the <a href="http://www.ourfuture.org/">Campaign for America's Future</a>, and a consulting partner with the <a href="http://www.cognitivepolicyworks.com/">Cognitive Policy Works</a> in Seattle. One of the few trained social futurists in North America, she has blogged on authoritarian and extremist movements at <a href="http://www.dneiwert.blogspot.com">Orcinus</a> since 2006, and is a founding member of <a href="http://www.groupnewsblog.net">Group News Blog</a>. </div></div></div> Fri, 05 Feb 2010 13:00:01 -0800 Sara Robinson, Blog for Our Future 660935 at https://www.alternet.org News & Politics News & Politics gop poll belief dailykos Copenhagen: Getting Past the Urgency Trap https://www.alternet.org/story/144235/copenhagen%3A_getting_past_the_urgency_trap <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-teaser field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even">Copenhagen is the next step forward, and we’ll accept it with greater equanimity if we understand that conventional thinkers have to work their toward deeper transformation</div></div></div><!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-story-image field-type-image field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"><img typeof="foaf:Image" src="https://www.alternet.org/sites/default/files/styles/story_image/public/story_images/default.jpg?itok=wQcwl0WS" alt="" /></div></div></div><!-- BODY --> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter--><p><i>The article below appeared earlier this week at <a href="http://www.grist.org/article/copenhagen-getting-past-the-urgency-trap">Grist</a>.</i></p> <p>Copenhagen’s still three weeks away, but climate activists are already voicing their enormous disappointment about everything that’s not going to get done there. The heat is rising, and we’re all feeling the overwhelming urgency to get a strong global agreement that will get the laggards off their butts and launch the structural reformations most of us know we need to fix the problem. A lot of us, it seems, loaded all our highest hopes onto this one conference, wanting desperately to believe that this would finally be the moment the long-awaited Grand Transformation would occur.</p> <p>But the hard truth of the matter is this: change of this magnitude never happens with a single conference, a single treaty, or even a single disaster. The structural changes required to get us off carbon and onto a truly sustainable footing challenge the economic assumptions that humans have lived by for 2500 years. Change that wide and deep will be the work of an entire century, maybe two. (If we’re smart and lucky, our grandchildren may live to see it mostly done.) All of us are well aware of the precarious time crunch we’re under here; but humans change only as fast as they change, and forcing the issue isn’t likely to help. And it may even hurt us in the long run.</p> <p>We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and we’re not going to get out of it in one dazzling planetary stroke of universal enlightenment, either.</p> <p>The good news: big, deep changes like this one tend to proceed in a fairly predictable order. If we understand the whole arc of that process, we can have a little more patience with where we are, and think a little more strategically about what comes next. </p> <!-- All divs have been put onto one line because of whitespace issues when rendered inline in browsers --> <div class="field field-name-field-bio field-type-text-long field-label-hidden"><div class="field-items"><div class="field-item even"> <!--smart_paging_autop_filter-->Sara Robinson has worked as an editor or columnist for several national magazines, on beats as varied as sports, travel, and the Olympics; and has contributed to over 80 computer games for EA, Lucasfilm, Disney, and many other companies. </div></div></div> Sat, 28 Nov 2009 13:11:01 -0800 Sara Robinson, Orcinus 659590 at https://www.alternet.org PEEK Environment PEEK News & Politics Old_Blog Type Content climate change copenhagen