Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Resist the Fear Machine. It Only Serves Our Enemies.

This was the story the Brent Bozell ran:

"A Florida hardware store was ordered to remove American flags honoring the owners family serving in the military. In response, residents displayed more than 500 American flags throughout the town. God Bless America!"

That's it - the whole story, with no links to where you could find out what happened.

In fact, the store was NOT ordered to remove the flags. They were asked to move them from the public right of way, where no flags are permitted, on to the store's property, where they were free to fly any flag they wanted. http://www.news-press.com/.../hundreds-flags.../17231703/

People like Brent Bozell, who made up the scary headline, make a living from tricking Americans into fearing other Americans. Isn't that exactly what America's enemies want? Resist the Fear Machine.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Passive-Aggressive Atheism.

Claiming to raise your children with no religion "so they can make up their own minds" is just a passive-aggressive way to teach atheism.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New Position Paper on Presbyterian Same-Sex Policy Takes a Centrist Line

Barry Ensign-George and Charles Wiley, official of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), have issued a new paper, "Our Challenging Way: Faithfulness, Sex, Ordination, and Marriage."

They defend the middle line that the denomination has taken on both gay ordination and same-sex marriage.  The church recognizes both pro and con positions, and leaves it up to the conscience of local authorities to determine whether they - ministers, elders, sessions, presbyteries - will participate in authorizing same-sex actions by the church.

I have written often that this middle way is in keeping with the Presbyterian middle polity.  Indeed, I have discussed this with the authors in the past.

I would only add to their paper that our polity allows presbyteries to differ from one another without threatening the unity of the denomination, not just a conscience clause allowing individual officers of the church to differ.

In particular, I commend their gentle criticism of the my-way-or-the-highway ruling on women's ordination in the 1970s 'Kenyon case'.

(I still do think that the Authoritative Interpretation of the church constitution that the General Assembly adopted this summer, in which the words "between a man and a woman" were interpreted to mean "not only between a man and a woman" is incoherent and foolish, but that is water over the dam.)

Sunday, October 05, 2014

A Centrist Position on the Gender Binary

What the left needs to accept is that, for most people, there is a close connection between sex and gender.  For them, the gender binary of masculine and feminine works well.

What the right needs to accept is that the gender binary does not work well for some people. In those cases, we all should be understanding and, where possible, accommodating.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Ethics of an Industry is Driven by the Most Ruthless Competitor

This insight is the fruit of a visit to the Eastern Kentucky coal fields, but could come from many other industries.

I am drawn to this idea because students tend to see ethics as simply the morals of individuals, multiplied by the number of individuals.  It is very hard for them to see social structures at first.  Thus, when we study how some particular firm is exploitative, they attribute this to the bad morals of the owners of that firm.  Students imagine that if they were in charge, they would never act so badly because they are good people.

Yet in any competitive industry - which is to say, any industry in capitalism - if exploitation will increase profits, then some firm will become more exploitative.  And if that gives them a competitive advantage over other firms, the other firms will incline to become that exploitative, too, or lose business.  Normally, I think, it is not the biggest or highest status firms that begin a round of exploitation, and the managers in that firm think themselves more honorable than their more ruthless competitors.  Until, that is, the higher-status firm starts losing profits.  Then, no matter how high-minded they started out, they are likely to follow the more ruthless firms downward.  And thus, the ethics of the industry as a whole are driven by the most ruthless competitor.

Which is why regulation is good for industries, and is most beneficial to those owners and managers who do want to be moral, who do not want to exploit their workers.

We were told a chilling story by a retired coal miner, who had worked in both unionized (that is, more regulated) and non-unionized mines.  He said that when women won the right to work in the mines in the 1970s, the owners were required to put portable toilets in the mines.  In the unionized mines, these were a practical improvement for all workers.  In the non-unionized mines, our guide told us, the workers were told that the toilets were there for the inspectors to see - any miner who actually used one would get fired.  To eke out the tiniest bit of extra profit by not letting miners take a toilet break, and not paying the cost of cleaning portable toilets, the more ruthless firms would add that much exploitation - until and unless the inspectors caught on. 

Ethics comes from the structure of social relations as much as it does from the morals of individuals.

Monday, September 15, 2014

'Who Benefits?' Now is the Result of 'Who Governs?' and 'Who Wins?' Before

Teachers know that the best way to learn something is to teach it.

I have come to see that I need to spend the first month of my "Introduction to Sociology" course on how power works and why the political economy of any society is fundamental to understanding everything else.  This is a hard lesson for students to learn - their tendency to see everything from their perspective as individuals and consumers means it takes work to envision that the structures of power that shape everyone's reality are not simply given, but are the result of the conflict of social forces.

This morning we started on William Domhoff's Who Rules America? I like using Domhoff because his fundamental questions are very practical, very graspable by students. He says that what we really want to know is 'who has the power?' but we can't measure that directly.  So we ask of any social situation 'Who benefits?', 'Who Governs?', and 'Who Wins?'.  These questions each get closer to power, but also get harder to measure.

This was the thing I learned as I was teaching Domhoff's questions this time: the answer to 'Who benefits?' now is the result of 'Who governs?' and 'Who wins?' before.  The distribution of wealth now is the direct result of who won the previous conflict of power in an earlier struggle.  There is no neutral starting point, which got distorted by power.  And there is no 'free market' solution that does not reflect ongoing struggles of 'who governs'.

This was helpful to me. I will see if it was as helpful to students.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Is There an Essential Affinity Between A Typological Reading of the Biblical Story and a Providential View of History?

I am reading a nifty manuscript on civil religion.  The author emphasizes that one of the great traditions of American civil religion - Martin Luther King's, for example - reads the Bible narrative as provides types of the themes that we also see in our national narrative.  This is not the same as seeing the Bible as providing literal prophetic markers of current events, as 'End Times' readings do.  Rather, the belief that history has an arc, which we see signs of in the biblical story and in our own, connected-but-different story, is a deep and fruitful way of seeing history as meaningful.

I have also long believed that life has a providential form, which is a way of seeing historical events as a meaningful narrative.

It has only struck me now, though, that these two kinds of readings - a typological reading of the Bible and a providential reading of history - are intimately connected. My intuition is that they are really just different ways of doing the same thing.

But I can 't quite flesh out the argument to prove that intuition.  Any help from you smart readers to make the argument or set me straight?