Tag Archives: worldviews

Speaking Of Paradigm Shift…

I’ve posted before about my theory that we (i.e. all humans) are in a period of paradigm shift–defined as a time when cultures’ previous world-views are undergoing profound change. The result of that shift is that people who see the world through previous lenses and those who have adopted new ways of understanding reality cannot communicate.

Just one example: People who see the world as it is and as it is emerging understand that humans are globally interdependent; folks wedded to an older paradigm cling tightly to nationalism, exclusion and slogans like “America First.”

Remarks made by the pastor who conducts Trump’s weekly bible study (and boy, would I like to be a fly on the wall in one of those!) are an excellent illustration of the wide gap–the abyss, really–between old and new realities.

According to the Intercept

The minister who hosts a weekly bible study session for President Trump’s Cabinet has an opinion about the origins of the coronavirus. According to Ralph Drollinger, it’s just another form of God’s wrath in response to an increasingly progressive nation.

“Relative to the coronavirus pandemic crisis, this is not God’s abandonment wrath nor His cataclysmic wrath, rather it is sowing and reaping wrath,” Drollinger wrote in a series of posts. “A biblically astute evaluation of the situation strongly suggests that America and other countries of the world are reaping what China has sown due to their leaders’ recklessness and lack of candor and transparency.”

Drollinger didn’t leave it at that; he also blamed the “religion of environmentalism” and people who express a “proclivity toward lesbianism and homosexuality,” and claimed that such persons have  infiltrated “high positions in our government, our educational system, our media and our entertainment industry” and “are largely responsible for God’s consequential wrath on our nation.”

Granted, Drollinger’s worldview–like that of Mike Pence–is hardly representative of today’s  American society. (Trump, as best I can tell, doesn’t have a worldview;  he has only a Trumpview.) Drollinger, Pence, DeVos and most others in the administration–along with the cult that supports them– are extreme examples of the eras when humans explained everything they didn’t understand or couldn’t control as “God’s will.”

America’s mainstream has been inching toward a very different approach, one that respects science, empirical evidence and human agency. It recognizes that there is still much that we don’t know, much that we cannot answer or control (see: pandemics), but has confidence that with additional study and information, humans will eventually be able to answer the unanswered questions and control more of our common destiny.

The current Coronavirus pandemic may speed up the shift from reflexive attribution of everything we fail to understand to this or that deity, and toward adoption of a very different cultural and intellectual framework.

I thought about that possibility when I read a New Yorker article about Estonia, of all places. Estonia is evidently coping with the pandemic admirably.

Estonia may be the nation best prepared for the consequences of the pandemic, both economically and socially. As my colleague Nathan Heller has written, its economy is bound to tech, its government is digital, and most services in the country either are or can be provided electronically—in fact, it’s nearly impossible to overstate the extent of Estonian digitization. People vote online and use digital prescriptions; a single piece of I.D. securely stores each Estonian’s personal information, including health, tax, and police records; one can even establish residency and begin paying taxes in the country digitally—effectively immigrating online. Estonians say that only three kinds of interaction with the state require a person’s physical presence: marriage, the transfer of property, and divorce. In some cases, births had to be registered in person, but this requirement has been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ninety-nine per cent of households have broadband Internet connections, and the education system is a world leader in developing and using electronic technologies. In other words, the prospect of having to work, study, and shop online may not require the sort of readjustment in Estonia as many people face elsewhere.

I don’t mean to suggest that digitizing society is a “new worldview.” it isn’t. But it is evidence of a society that accepts change and educates for it. And acceptance of and adaptation to change definitely is a very different approach to life than that adopted by people like the Reverend and other Trump supporters, characterized by resentment of change, blaming bad fortune on the  “other,” and insisting that bigotry is “God’s will.”

Transitions are always bumpy, but the sooner Americans abandon the Trumper’s paradigm, the better.

 

Single-Issue Voters And The Courts

There are plenty of reasons to criticize the single-issue voters who are willing to put up with a mentally-ill, deeply-corrupt President if they think their votes will translate into the nomination and confirmation of “conservative” judges–defined as judges likely to overrule Roe v. Wade. 

Unfortunately, “conservative” judicial candidates able to pass the right’s litmus test aren’t just reliably anti-choice. Individuals who are willing to ignore stare decisis and the multiple complexities of women’s situations in order to criminalize the termination of pregnancy don’t approach that decision in a vacuum.

Scholars who have researched the differences between pro-life and pro-choice activists have concluded that both positions are elements of far more comprehensive world-views, some religious, some not.

Pro-life activism more often than not includes the belief that men and women are intrinsically different–and that, as a result of those differences (as one study has put it), men are best suited for the public world of work, while women are best suited to rearing children. These worldviews frequently include homophobia, and often a (selective) rejection of science.

Lawyers who argue that government has the right to decide such intimate matters for individual women are conservative only in the sense that they elevate “tradition” over the limitations that the Bill of Rights places on state power. They tend to see the United States as a “Christian nation,” and are thus willing to rule in accordance with the beliefs of (some) Christian denominations and to ignore the doctrines of denominations or religions that do not consider abortion or homosexuality sinful.

I do not think it overstates the case to assert that a significant number of the “conservative” lawyers being elevated to the federal bench aren’t simply anti-choice; they are anti-modernity.

I thought about the consequences of staffing the federal courts with people who define conservatism in this very narrow way when I saw news about a recent case involving the EPA.

In a victory for science and public health, a federal court determined that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cannot exclude scientists who have received EPA research grants—who happen to be mainly academic scientists from research universities—from serving on its advisory panels. The change, made by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, had a silencing effect on public health studies.

The court’s decision in the case, which was brought by NRDC in 2019, “affirms the role of science in protecting our environment and public health,” says Jon Devine, director of federal water policy for NRDC’s Nature Program. “This is a victory for basic truth and good governance.”

Pruitt claimed that his 2017 directive reduced bias on the EPA’s nearly two dozen advisory panels, which offer scientific expertise that then guide policy decisions on environmental pollutants, such as industrial chemicals or airborne particles from power plants. But unsurprisingly, Pruitt’s rule was not extended to scientists and consultants with ties to chemical or fossil fuel companies, allowing the agency to soon fill some open seats with industry insiders who disputed the known harm of pollutants, like ozone and PFOA.

Devine calls the now-debunked plan a “pernicious scheme to stack the deck in favor of big polluters by trying to shut out the voices of scientists—all to pump more pollution into our lives.”

The ruling was handed down by Judge Denise Cote for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, after several courts had tossed similar claims.

It’s safe to assume that Judge Cote was not a Trump appointee–NPR recently reported that 70% of Trump’s judicial appointments have been white men. (As of last August, he had not nominated a single African American or a single Latinx to the appellate courts.)

And speaking of terrifying world-views,

Dozens of those nominees have refused to answer whether they support the Supreme Court’s holding in Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 opinion that said racial segregation of public schools is unconstitutional.

I wonder how many of the people who voted for Trump because they oppose Roe v. Wade will be equally happy with the other decisions these “conservatives” will inevitably hand down?

 

 

What Keeps Me Up At Night…

Why have a blog if you can’t share your nightmares?

As I see it, we live in a time of paradigm shift, characterized by a rapidly morphing information environment, a reversion to tribalism, deepening economic insecurities, widespread civic illiteracy, and growing recognition of the inadequacies of current legal and political structures.

All of these elements of our contemporary reality challenge our existing worldviews.

Humanity has gone through similar “shifts” before, but with the possible exception of the nuclear arms race, we have not previously faced the very real possibility that our behavior will cause large portions of the planet to become uninhabitable, or that social order will collapse—with consequences we can only imagine.

The 2016 election exposed significant fault-lines in American society and forced us to confront the erosion of our democratic institutions. The problems have been there, and been accelerating, for some time.

A splintered and constantly morphing media has dramatically exacerbated the problems inherent in democratic decision-making. The current media environment enables/encourages confirmation bias, is rife with spin, “fake news” and propaganda, and  is widely distrusted. The widening gap between the rich and the rest feeds suspicion of government decision-making, and Citizens United and its progeny increased recognition of—and cynicism about– the power wielded by corporate America through lobbying, political contributions and influence-peddling.

In order for democracy to function, there must be widespread trust in the integrity of electoral contests. The fundamental idea is a fair fight, a contest of competing ideas, with the winner legitimized and authorized to carry out his/her agenda. Increasingly, democratic norms have been replaced by bare-knuckled power plays and widening public recognition of the ways in which partisans game the system.

As a result, citizens’ trust in government and other social institutions has dangerously eroded. Without that trust—without belief in an American “we,” an overarching polity to which all citizens belong and in which all citizens are valued—tribalism thrives. Especially in times of rapid social change, racial resentments grow. The divide between urban and rural Americans widens, as does the gap between various “elites” and others. Economic insecurity and social dysfunction are exacerbated by the absence of an adequate social safety net, adding to resentment of both government and “the Other.

Making matters worse, in the midst of these wrenching changes, Americans elected someone incapable of recognizing or dealing with them.

Citizens in21st Century America are facing a globalized, technocratic, increasingly complex world that poses previously unprecedented challenges to the goal of e pluribus unum (not to mention human understanding and survival). The existential question we face: Can we create a genuine “us” out of so many different/diverse “I’s” and “we’s”? Can we use the law and legal system to create a supportive, nourishing culture that remains true to the Enlightenment’s essential insights, while modifying those we no longer consider so essential? If so, how?

How do we overcome the multiple challenges to the rule of law and a functioning democratic system? Those challenges tend to fall into three (interrelated and sometimes overlapping) categories: Ignorance (defined as lack of essential information, not stupidity); Inequality (poverty, consumer culture, civic inequality, globalization, power and informational asymmetries among others) and Tribalism (“us versus them”—racism, sexism, religion, urban/rural divide, etc.)

As an old lawyer once told me, there’s only one question, and that’s “what do we do?”

In the wake of the election, there’s been a lot of understandable hand-wringing. Comments on this blog, on Facebook and elsewhere have emphasized the need to act. Most of us don’t need that reminder; what we need is specifics: what do we do? How do we do it? 

The most obvious answer and most immediate imperative is political: we need to change Congress in 2018. But we also need to fashion concrete answers to the questions raised by social change and  threatening political realities. If we can’t find those answers and then act on them, humanity’s prospects don’t look so good.

And I don’t sleep so well.

 

 

What’s the Weather Like on Your World?

I don’t know whether anyone reading this remembers it, but there used to be a popular song titled “Two Different Worlds.” Clearly, Americans are now living in different worlds—albeit not the benign ones referred to in the song. Indeed, we seem to occupy different universes.

Consider:

Franklin (son of Billy) Graham says that there is only one election left to “save America” from godless secularism.

The secularists, he claimed, want to prevent people from praying anywhere other than inside a church, so that “having a service like this in a few years could be illegal.”

A pastor named Bickle has endorsed Ted Cruz, because he is confident that Cruz will “hunt down” Jews who refuse to accept the “grace” of Christ.

Recently, Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign proudly announced the endorsement of Mike Bickle, the head of the controversial International House of Prayer and an extremist pastor who believes, among other things, that Oprah Winfrey is a forerunner to the Antichrist. Among Bickle’s more radical views is his prophecy that as the End Times approach, all Jews will be given a chance to accept Jesus, warning that if they do not accept “the grace” of Christ, God will then “raise up a hunter” who will kill two-thirds of them “and the most famous hunter in recent history is a man named Adolf Hitler.”

A certain Rick Wiles, identified as an “End Times Radio Host,” says Obama had Scalia killed.

Wiles said that the assassins who killed the conservative justice “deliberately left the pillow on his face as a message to everybody else: ‘Don’t mess with us, we can murder a justice and get away with it.’ And I assure you, there’s a lot of frightened officials in Washington today, deep down they know, the regime murdered a justice…. This is the way a dictatorial, fascist, police state regime takes control of a nation.”
It’s reasonable to assume that few people are as disconnected from reality as these and similarly-disturbed folks. I take comfort in the belief that there have always been unstable, frightened and angry people blaming all the world’s ills on some group or other— that we just didn’t hear about them as often before the Internet.
But how rooted in reality are the rest of us?
A recent article from the Washington Post suggests that the Right and Left see each other as very different countries—and that what both see is wildly inaccurate. Republicans think that 46% of the Democratic party is African-American; double the actual percentage of 24. They estimated the percentage of Democratic atheists at 36%–the actual percentage is 9. And they were equally off-base estimating the percentages of union members (44%) and LGBT voters (38%); those actual percentages are 11 and 6, respectively.
For their part, Democrats think that 44% of Republicans earn over 250,000/year, although the actual number is 2%.  They estimate the percentage of Republicans over the age of 65 at 44%; the actual number is 21%. They came closer with their estimates of the percentages of Southerners (44%, actually 36%) and Evangelicals (estimated 44%, actual 43%).
The remainder of the article describes the very different worldviews and reactions of voters listening to President Obama’s State of the Union Speech. It was hard to believe they were listening to the same words.
All of this leads to some pretty sobering questions.
What produces such gaps in the polity’s understanding of the world we inhabit? And more importantly, how do people who occupy such dramatically different worlds live together?

 

A Zero-Sum World

A couple of days ago, a friend sent me an email about recent remarks made by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. Deal wants Congress to repeal the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986. That’s the law–approved and signed by President Reagan–that requires hospitals to treat anyone in an emergency, regardless of citizenship or ability to pay.

In other words, if you are shot, giving birth, having a heart attack–whatever–and you make it to the nearest emergency room, they have to stabilize you before they determine whether you can pay and if not, send you elsewhere. They can’t just turn you away to drop the baby on the pavement or die from the heart attack.

To most sane people, this seems pretty reasonable, and by all accounts, the Act has saved many lives since it was enacted. 

I spend a lot of electronic “ink” wondering what’s wrong with people like Governor Deal. Why are they so adamantly opposed to expansion of Medicaid, increased access to health insurance, or a modest raise in the minimum wage? I could understand it if they were arguing about the best way to provide healthcare or alleviate poverty,  if they were offering alternatives, but they clearly aren’t–they are opposed to the goals themselves. And that’s what I’ve had so much trouble understanding.

However, I think I may have figured it out. These people live in a zero-sum reality.

In the zero-sum worldview, every social good exists in a fixed amount. If you get X, I lose X or its equivalent.

Thankfully, the real world doesn’t work that way. In countries with single-payer systems, for example, healthcare costs less, and everyone benefits. Studies have also confirmed that raising the minimum wage puts more money in the economy, and actually increases employment (counter-intuitive as that may seem.)

It must be exhausting to live in a zero-sum reality, where you must constantly on guard to protect your personal fiefdom. I know I need to cultivate some compassion for the denizens of that world, but it’s hard to feel sympathy for mean-spirited people.

On the other hand, maybe there’s a fixed amount of human-kindness, and they didn’t get any?