Monday, August 29, 2016
Lenin described pro-Soviet liberals of his day as "useful idiots".
The Soviet Union is gone, but the Russian policy of using disinformation to unsettle democratic governments continues in full force.
Today, though, it is the right-wing media who are the most useful, and most credulous, spreaders of Russian falsehoods. In the words of Patrick Oksanen, a Swedish editorial writer after an especially virulent campaign against the Western alliance, the central idea is that “liberal democracy is corrupt, inefficient, chaotic and, ultimately, not democratic.”
The Trump campaign could not be more useful to the Kremlin if they tried.
Friday, August 26, 2016
The annual Burk Survey of philanthropy has come out, and once again religious involvement is one of the biggest factors in who gives to all causes, religious and otherwise. Likewise, religious people are more likely to volunteer.
The survey did not ask how involved in a religious community the givers were, but it is a reasonable guess (and conforms to previous research) that people people who give to religious institutions and volunteer their time to one are active in that community.
The survey also has some interesting comparisons of givers and non-givers to their undergraduate college. This, recall, is a survey of donors, so these non-givers do give to some other causes, just not to their own colleges if they have one. The main reason for non-giving: they didn't think the college needed it as much as other causes did.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
I am studying cultural differences among different fractions of the middle class. This is a class that has some choice about how it interacts with the world, and what kind of things it buys to live with.
I think one subculture regards other people, especially acquaintances and strangers who live nearby, as potential sources of unwanted entanglement. They prefer if people keep to themselves. The places we live and the things we own, by contrast, are valued because they enable us to do what we want.
Another subculture, though, sees other people, including acquaintances and neighbors, as the greatest source of interest and action in life. The things we must own, by contrast, are a constant source of upkeep and a necessary burden.
I would welcome thoughts on this contrast, and what else it might map on to in social life.
Thursday, August 04, 2016
I just read an interesting book, God Hates, about Westboro Baptist Church. WBC has a hyper-Calvinist, double-predestination, antelapsarian theology. This means that they think God damns - even hates - all sinners, and saves only a few for God's own inscrutable reason.
Westboro is not trying to change the world. They are, at most, trying to convince the damned that they are damned, but should repent anyway.
Like the Joker in Batman, they are not trying to save the world. Some churches just like to watch it burn.
Wednesday, August 03, 2016
For years I have had a mental list of things I am grateful that I do not have to do. I always begin it with "Thank you, Lord, I don't have to own a boat" or "go skiing."
I do not think those things are bad. I just don't want to do them, and am grateful that I do not have to.
My wife and I just read J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy, about escaping his Appalachian upbringing of drinking, yelling, fighting, and running away - even while he appreciated the virtues of the fierce family loyalties of Appalachian honor culture. I know many family trees with branches ruined by heavy drinking - my own included.
From my teen years I have been grateful for the freedom to not take part in drinking culture. Don't get me wrong, I am not against alcohol as such. Jesus made wine - it can't be all bad.
But I have realized that the invisible first item on my "Thank you, Lord, I don't have to ..." list has always been "drink or take drugs."
This is a great freedom of a free society.
Sunday, July 31, 2016
As soon as the Supreme Court ended the federal supervision of voting laws enacted in the Voting Rights Act in states that used to prevent voting by African Americans, North Carolina proposed a raft of voter suppression provisions.
A federal panel reviewed the history of how the law was made, and concluded that the legislature blatantly sought to suppress those, and only those, methods of voting and voter identification most favored by African Americans.
Before enacting that law, moreover, “the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.” After receiving that data, “the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.” Indeed, this data appears to have guided the state’s lawmakers in drafting a law that would have maximal impact on African-Americans.
This decision is good for democracy in itself. It is also a good step in restoring the wisdom behind the Voting Rights Act that our country has had a pernicious pattern of suppressing black voting.
Monday, July 25, 2016
Howe and Strauss' theory of generations has long predicted the "Crisis of 2020." The cycle of generations is now ripe for aging Baby Boomers to launch a crusade about something, which compliant Millennials will fight.
The theory does not predict that a bad thing will automatically happen in 2020. Rather, it says that bad things happen all the time, but only when we have leaders looking for a fight and young people willing to take orders do we have the conditions that, time and again, have led to the major crises of U.S. history.
The rise of strongmen around the world is the first precondition. Putin is the scariest, but Erdogan follows the pattern, too. And Trump is the most likely American strongman - long on aggressive rhetoric, short on any actual plan to do something. And to each provocation, his response is bellicose. In response to a single man driving a truck through a crowd in France, Trump said he would declare world war.
The strongmen, and the angry base behind them, want a big fight - whether it actually addresses their problem or not.