Preferred History

A few days ago, I came across a Facebook post that spoke to the current frenzy about “critical race theory.” The post was actually directed at defenses of confederate statutes and the confederate flag, but what really struck me was the following litany about the contents of most history classes. 

You learned about Helen Keller instead of W.E.B, DuBois
You learned about the Watts and L.A. Riots, but not Tulsa or Wilmington.
You learned that George Washington’s dentures were made from wood, rather than the teeth from slaves.
You learned about black ghettos, but not about Black Wall Street.
You learned about the New Deal, but not “red lining.”
You learned about Tommie Smith’s fist in the air at the 1968 Olympics, but not that he was sent home the next day and stripped of his medals.
You learned about “black crime,” but white criminals were never lumped together and discussed in terms of their race.
You learned about “states rights” as the cause of the Civil War, but not that slavery was mentioned 80 times in the articles of secession.
Privilege is having history rewritten so that you don’t have to acknowledge uncomfortable facts.

At the conclusion of the list was the following: “Racism is perpetuated by people who refuse to learn or acknowledge this reality. You have a choice. – Jim Golden”

I don’t know who Jim Golden is or was, but I think this list is an excellent illustration of what is at stake in the current fury over the teaching of history.

No history class can cover every aspect of America’s past. Selectivity is inevitable–but it is abundantly clear that the selection incorporated into most high school history texts and consuming the majority of class time in most of the nation’s schools has been wildly unbalanced. 

How many American high school students have been taught that the Civil War was about “state’s rights”? What percentage of them were ever confronted with this statement about  the genesis of the war?

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin …

The quoted paragraph is only one of several that can be found at the link–which is to an article from the Atlantic by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates simply assembles the official statements of the “Southern Gentlemen” who led the Confederate States into secession.

Elsewhere, I found  this one, from Alexander Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, rebutting the position of the abolitionists:

Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition. This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. 

The only state right that was being defended was the right to own black human beings. American students have a right to know that.

Granted, a curriculum that only included the information that is currently not being taught would be as one-sided and inaccurate as the curriculum that is still predominantly in use. What is needed is a syllabus balanced between the good and bad, the beautiful and ugly– lesson plans that accurately show students where we have been, and how far we have come–lessons that would provide them with a context for deciding how far we still have to go.

Most of the people in my age cohort didn’t learn actual history–we were spoon-fed an inaccurate, Whitewashed mythology that didn’t prepare us for the shock most of us felt when we learned the less admirable elements of our past. Thanks to the work of historians and scholars, however, we now know a great deal about those less admirable elements, and revelations continue to emerge.

All the White Nationlists’ hysteria about Critical Race Theory will not succeed in obscuring the reality of America’s Original Sin. What it doesn’t obscure is the racism that prompts it.

 

 

COVID Facts And Fictions

Okay–you are all probably as tired of discussing COVID and the insanity of anti-vaxxers as I am, but my cousin the cardiologist has written an important summary of the issues, and maybe–just maybe–sharing considered information from a medical professional might trigger productive discussion.

Yeah, I know. Dreaming…

As Mort says, as a member of the conventional medical/scientific community, he grieves at the number of needless deaths that have occurred, and he agrees with the Surgeon General about the need to understand and counter the large amounts of disinformation  flooding social media. He proceeds by offering facts about the vaccines–their efficacy, a history of their development, where they can be accessed, the fact that they’re free, and much more…He’s compiled a very useful, one-stop overview of most of the questions people have. You should click through to see the entire compilation.

Undoubtedly the most important part of his message, however, has to do with safety. With his permission, I am quoting that section at length.

Even before the vaccines were given emergency use authorization, the FDA reviewed months of safety data on tens of thousands of participants in vaccine trials. Since then, regulators have tracked people who received a vaccine in the real world, because it’s possible that very rare side effects might emerge once millions of people receive a shot.

In the U.S., more than half of adults are now fully vaccinated, and even more have received at least one dose. With more than 300 million doses of vaccine administered and an intense safety monitoring program that’s able to track even extremely rare side effects, researchers have been able to track vaccinated people for months, and are confident that the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use by the FDA are safe.

For the vast majority of people, side effects have been similar to those from other vaccines, like the shingles vaccine, though they have been more common and severe than they are with the typical flu shot. These side effects include fever, headaches, feeling run-down, and soreness in the arm. These are more common after the second shot than the first, and generally go away within a few days. A few rare side effects have been detected, now that millions of vaccine doses have been administered.

After receiving the J&J vaccine, a very small number of people—primarily women younger than 50—have developed a type of rare but serious blood clot. In women between 18 and 49, there have been about 7 cases per million vaccinations, and the FDA and CDC still recommend this vaccine. Similar rare blood clots have been observed with the Astrazeneca vaccine in Europe. In July, the CDC also announced that the agency had detected preliminary reports of about 100 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder, among 12.8 million people who received the J&J vaccine. Most were men, many of them 50 and older. Another concern is that early data suggest that this vaccine may not be quite as effective as the other vaccines against the delta variant of the virus.

After receiving either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, a small number of people have had a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, which can occur after any type of vaccination. These have occurred in about two to five people per million vaccinated, and while serious, they are treatable—this is why people are asked to stick around for 15 to 30 minutes after getting a shot.

The CDC is currently investigating higher than normal rates of suspected myocarditis (heart inflammation) in adolescents and young adults who have received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. These incidents are rare, and in 81 percent of suspected cases with a known outcome, patients have fully recovered. Any longer-term side effect is extremely unlikely, according to the CDC. Typically, any vaccine side effects would emerge during these first two months after immunization. Moreover, it’s difficult to clearly link any adverse health events that occur after two months with a vaccination. But regulators will continue to monitor vaccine trial participants for two years to see how long immunity lasts and note any adverse events.

Initial reports of several severe but treatable potentially life-threatening allergic reactions called anaphylaxis raised concern about whether the vaccines would be safe for people with severe allergies. There were 71 cases of anaphylaxis reported after the first 18 million vaccine doses were administered in the U.S. That works out to 2.8 cases of anaphylaxis per 1 million people vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine and 5 cases per 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with no reported deaths linked to anaphylaxis. The risks of dying from COVID-19 are much worse—about 16,500 people per 1 million diagnosed with COVID-19 will die. Now, the only people being told to avoid the vaccine are those allergic to vaccine ingredients such as polyethylene glycol or the related substance polysorbate.

Of course, the most dangerous allergy is the allergy to science and fact that apparently afflicts a significant percentage of the American population.

Share his post with any non-vaccinated folks for whom facts might still be persuasive…

Loyalty Signaling

I’ve posted before about “virtue signaling”-a way of publicly expressing a moral viewpoint with the intent of communicating one’s connection to people of similar, virtuous sentiments. (When I first purchased a Prius, a colleague asked if the purchase was prompted by a desire to “signal” my concerns for the environment to those who would be sympathetic. I guiltily wondered if he was on to something..)

However, I had never heard of “loyalty signaling” until I read a recent column by Paul Krugman.Krugman was  referencing scholarship on the development of cults, and he was particularly impressed by a paper by a New Zealand-based researcher, Xavier Márquez.

“The Mechanisms of Cult Production” compares the behavior of political elites across a wide range of dictatorial regimes, from Caligula’s Rome to the Kim family’s North Korea, and finds striking similarities. Despite vast differences in culture and material circumstances, elites in all such regimes engage in pretty much the same behavior, especially what the paper dubs “loyalty signaling” and “flattery inflation.”

Krugman defines signaling as a concept originally drawn from economics; it describes costly, often pointless behaviors engaged in by people trying  to demonstrate that they have attributes that others value.

In the context of dictatorial regimes, signaling typically involves making absurd claims on behalf of the Leader and his agenda, often including “nauseating displays of loyalty.” If the claims are obvious nonsense and destructive in their effects, if making those claims humiliates the person who makes them, these are features, not bugs. I mean, how does the Leader know if you’re truly loyal unless you’re willing to demonstrate your loyalty by inflicting harm both on others and on your own reputation?

And once this kind of signaling becomes the norm, those trying to prove their loyalty have to go to ever greater extremes to differentiate themselves from the pack. Hence “flattery inflation”: The Leader isn’t just brave and wise, he’s a perfect physical specimen, a brilliant health expert, a Nobel-level economic analyst, and more. The fact that he’s obviously none of these things only enhances the effectiveness of the flattery as a demonstration of loyalty.

Does all of this sound familiar? Of course it does, at least to anyone who has been tracking Fox News or the utterances of political figures like Lindsey Graham or Kevin McCarthy.

Krugman repeats his often-communicated belief that the G.O.P. is no longer a normal political party. (As he says, it sure doesn’t look anything like the party of Dwight Eisenhower). But as he and a number of other observers have pointed out, it does bear a distinct and growing resemblance to the ruling parties of autocratic regimes.

In the U.S., of course, the Trump Party doesn’t (yet) exercise complete control– so Republican politicians suspected of insufficient loyalty to Donald Trump aren’t sent to the gulag. “At most, they stand to lose intraparty offices and, possibly, future primaries.” Yet–as Krugman says, these threats are seemingly sufficient to turn them into modern-day versions of Caligula’s courtiers.

Unfortunately, all this loyalty signaling is putting the whole nation at risk. In fact, it will almost surely kill large numbers of Americans in the next few months….

Republican politicians and Republican-oriented influencers have driven much of the opposition to Covid-19 vaccines, in some cases engaging in what amounts to outright sabotage. And there is a stunning negative correlation between Trump’s share of a county’s vote in 2020 and its current vaccination rate.

Krugman says that hostility to vaccines has become a form of loyalty signaling–which, if accurate, answers a question about vaccine refusal that has confounded most sane Americans. As he says, the G.O.P. has become something having no precedent in American history (although there have been many precedents abroad.)

Republicans have created for themselves a political realm in which costly demonstrations of loyalty transcend considerations of good policy or even basic logic. And all of us may pay the price.

When cult members “drink the Kool Aid,” they typically only kill themselves. Unfortunately, the cult that has replaced the once-Grand-Old-Party threatens to kill us all.

 

The Disinformation Dozen

Well, we are beginning to understand how the Internet–and especially social media–supercharge disinformation, also known as propaganda.

The Guardian has recently reported on research issued by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) a nonprofit operating in the United States and United Kingdom.The organization found that the vast majority of anti-vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories began from just 12 people, dubbed the “disinformation dozen.”

When you think about it, that’s pretty stunning. Twelve people have been able to harness new technologies to feed America’s already simmering and irrational paranoia. Those twelve people have a combined following of 59 million people across multiple social media platforms.

The largest influence by far was Facebook.

CCDH analyzed 812,000 Facebook posts and tweets and found 65% came from the disinformation dozen. Vivek Murthy, US surgeon general, and Joe Biden focused on misinformation around vaccines this week as a driving force of the virus spreading.

On Facebook alone, the dozen are responsible for 73% of all anti-vaccine content, though the vaccines have been deemed safe and effective by the US government and its regulatory agencies. And 95% of the Covid misinformation reported on these platforms were not removed.

Among the dozen are physicians that have embraced pseudoscience, a bodybuilder, a wellness blogger, a religious zealot, and, most notably Robert F Kennedy Jr, the nephew of John F Kennedy who has also linked vaccines to autism and 5G broadband cellular networks to the coronavirus pandemic.

(As an aside, this isn’t Robert Kennedy’s first departure from reality; Kennedy –NO relation!– has long been on a voyage to la la land…He’s been removed from Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, but he’s still on Facebook.)

CCDH has called on Facebook and Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to completely deplatform the dozen, pointing out that they are instrumental in creating vaccine hesitancy at a crucial moment in the pandemic.

“Updated policies and statements hold little value unless they are strongly and consistently enforced,” the report said. “With the vast majority of harmful content being spread by a select number of accounts, removing those few most dangerous individuals and groups can significantly reduce the amount of disinformation being spread across platforms.”

Unfortunately, Facebook’s ability to generate profits is dependent upon its ability to “engage” users–and that militates against removing material that millions of those users are seeking, in order to justify otherwise insane behaviors.

I have posted before about my inability to understand those who refuse to get vaccinated–the willing audience for the “disinformation dozen.” With the exception of people with genuine medical issues, the justifications are mostly ludicrous (I particularly like the picture of a man eating chicken McNuggets and drinking an energy drink who says he wants to know what he’s putting in his body…) As a pretty hardcore civil libertarian, I can attest to the fact that the Bill of Rights does not protect our right to infect our neighbors.

These folks aren’t simply irrational–they’re dangerous and anti-social.

Reading this report made me feel helpless–a reaction I probably share with many. We clever humans have produced wondrous tools since those first stone axes. What we haven’t been able to do is improve our social maturity at an equal pace. We are at a juncture where our technologies have far outstripped our abilities to use them wisely.

One of the most stunning realizations of the past few years has been just how widespread  individual and social dysfunctions really are–and how powerless we seem to be in the face of fear and tribalism.

 

 

 

It Really Isn’t About Abortion

I’ve written before about the actual origins of the anti-abortion movement, as recounted by noted religion scholar Randall Balmer. Ballmer (whose account is confirmed by several other historians of religion) reminds us that it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe v, Wade—that evangelical leaders, goaded by Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion as “a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term.”

Objecting to abortion was seen as “more palatable” than what was actually motivating the Religious Right, which was protection of the segregated schools they had established following the decision in Brown v. Board of Education. 

According to Balmer,

Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.

Ballmer has reported on the anger at civil rights laws expressed by those running the segregation academies, and the strategic success of Falwell and Weyrich’s decision to tap into the ire of those evangelical leaders. They were, as he reports, “savvy enough” to recognize that organizing grassroots evangelicals to defend racial discrimination would encounter moral blowback. The anti-integration message worked for Evangelical leadership, but they would need a different issue to mobilize evangelical voters on a large scale.

Bottom line: the catalyst for the Christian Right’s political activism was not, as often claimed, opposition to abortion. The real roots of Christian Nationalism –as has become very clear–can be found in the movement’s racism and defense of racial segregation.

I thought of that history when I read this report from the DesMoines Register.

The number of abortions performed in Iowa climbed nearly 14% in 2020, after jumping 25% the previous year, new state data show.

Iowa had seen years of steady declines in abortions before 2019. But that trendline has changed. 

The state saw 4,058 abortions performed in 2020, up from 3,566 in 2019 and 2,849 in 2018, the new numbers show. 

The new data were shared with legislative staff Thursday by the Iowa Department of Public Health.

The turnaround in abortion numbers came in the wake of Iowa’s 2017 decision to withdraw from a federally funded family planning program, which helped thousands of Iowans gain birth control supplies and information on how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The program was replaced with a state-run version, which barred Planned Parenthood’s participation and has served fewer Iowans.

If “pro-life” activists really wanted to reduce the number of abortions, they wouldn’t oppose family planning. They certainly wouldn’t fight so ferociously to ban sex education in the schools. And as numerous observers have noted, “pro life” is a curious label for people who are unwilling to have government provide any support for children once they are born. 

Perhaps the best summation of this hypocrisy is reflected in an oft-quoted observation from Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister:

“I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”

Thanks to the COVID pandemic, the hypocrisy of the Christian Right position has become especially clear. It’s obvious in the righteous indignation of GOP mask “refuseniks” and anti-vaxxers, who insist that they have the right to decide what to do with their own bodies. That is a right they are unwilling to extend to women, even though a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy doesn’t endanger the community at large, as a refusal to wear a mask or be vaccinated does.

The origins of the cynically-named “pro life” movement are largely unrecognized, and I’m sure there are sincere people who believe that abortion is morally wrong. But the continued strength of the movement isn’t found in a concern for babies; it’s firmly located in the continuing belief of Christian Nationalists that women, like Black people, must be kept subservient.