April 1, 2017

Dear Rural South, Can We Talk?

Filed under: Politics — PolitiCalypso @ 2:41 pm

Dear rural South, can we please talk?  I don’t mean “I want to lecture you.”  I do mean “talk.”  Because, despite the fact that I’m frustrated with you and occasionally have very dark thoughts about you (I won’t deny it), the situation still grieves me.

You see, I used to be one of you.  Very recently, in fact.  I spent my early childhood in what is now a busy suburb of Memphis, TN, but at the time was a small town with plenty of outdoor spaces.  I remember climbing a grassy hill and picking wildflowers, then returning to my own backyard where there was a small grove of trees on one side.  My family moved, and I grew up several miles from a community that was not even incorporated.  I lived on 10 acres of former pasture land and played with my sisters along a creek bank.

I went to the Gulf Coast for vacations almost annually.  I wept when a hurricane devastated it, and I ground my teeth and cussed the perpetrators when an oil rig explosion defiled it.  I had many a sleepless night when a tornado outbreak killed over 300 people in the South here, in the United States, in the 21st century.

Jimmy Buffett makes me hum along.  Marshall Ramsey makes me laugh.  John Grisham provides guilty reading entertainment.  I know about all the SEC college football rivalries.  My degrees are from one of those colleges, in fact.

For those to whom this is very important, my ancestors were all settled somewhere in the South by the early 19th century, and some much earlier.  I have a couple of Revolutionary War veteran ancestors.  I have Confederate veteran ancestors, too.

My point is, you should not consider me an outsider, “the Other,” the type of person to be despised and scapegoated as the source of the economic and personal problems in your life—and yet, I know many of you do.

You see, I’m also a Ph. D. atmospheric scientist (a “so-called, self-proclaimed climate scientist,” in the words of Rep. Lamar Smith—words that I am not entirely sure he understands, given that scientists are “proclaimed” by our degree-granting institutions after years of study), an ex-staffer for former Secretary of State Kerry (from his time as a Senator), and, now, a “liberal government elite in the swamp of Washington, DC.”

It’s true that my political views are moderate-liberal.  However, why must this mean that we can’t talk?  Why does it have to make me evil in your eyes?  It wasn’t always this way.  As ugly as politics might have been as a profession, as vile as the conduct of professionals sometimes was, regular people used to be able to agree to disagree about politics.  It was just another thing to have friendly disagreements about, not a deal-breaker for any sort of amicable relationship.  You could think your best friend was wrong, but not think they were literally destroying your community.  You could have spirited arguments about FDR and Huey Long, but at the end of the day, you would shake the hand, slap the back, or offer the last swig of beer to your quirky liberal friend before heading home for the evening.  You didn’t think that your friend was out to destroy your way of life or personally ruin you economically.

What happened?

Do you really choose Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Steve Bannon—who do not know you and likely never will—over the people you grew up with?  If this is about “elites” who “don’t understand your way of life,” do you really choose them over the person who does share that same background and life experience?  Do you really choose the millionaire media personalities over your middle-class old schoolmate (or relative) who lives somewhere else now?  That’s your prerogative, but if you do choose them with eyes open, please be honest about why you are doing so.  It’s not because your friend is a “coastal elite” or suddenly no longer understands the culture of rural America.  It’s because of political ideology.

Now, while I would respect that degree of honesty, I can’t say it wouldn’t make me sad anyway.  So may I say a bit more first?

I don’t understand why you have a problem with my educational and career choice.  Yes, I accept the validity of anthropogenic climate change.  I’m in the 97% of my own profession, because I’ve examined the data myself.  Yes, I think that something should be done, policy-wise, to mitigate the effects, both as-yet still avoidable (by reducing emissions) and unavoidable (by community resilience against climate and weather extremes).

I don’t want you to be directly, personally hurt economically in any of those policy decisions, however.  Truly, I don’t.

And in fact, I’ve run up against some progressives on this very subject.  I bet you didn’t know that!  I don’t support any consumer carbon taxes unless they are demonstrably non-regressive.  I don’t support instituting them unless an existing tax that everyone (or almost everyone) pays is reduced correspondingly.  I support local and state control of matters such as vehicle emissions and home efficiency mandates, and when they create a hardship (for instance, when a family cannot afford to replace a polluting car or better insulate a leaky home), I don’t think that the state should apply punitive measures.  On the whole, when it comes to individual household responsibility in carbon reduction, I favor “carrot” measures rather than “stick” ones.

The reason I break with the most “activist” of environmentalists is because I grew up in the rural South.  I get it.  I’m on your side.  I am also on the side of the Earth, and I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.

I think the market has the capacity to innovate its way out of this crisis, too.  Clean power is burgeoning, and vehicles are more efficient by the year.  It won’t be too many years before substantial parts of the country are majority electric car, and this is not because “government is killing fossil fuels” or “regulating the auto industry to death.”  Government has provided a push, yes, to make the innovation happen faster than it otherwise might have—believe it or not, the free market can stagnate too, especially sectors where entry is incredibly expensive and a small number of very large companies dominate—but after that, the market took off on its own.  I believe this will continue to happen.  In fact, personal solar is much more competitive and small-business-driven than traditional utilities.  It’s why a coalition of environmental groups and Tea Party groups allied in Florida to defeat a ballot measure last November that would’ve crippled personal solar in the state.

Yes, that happened.  See?  We’re not all your enemies.

And I have to say, I really don’t get why you would hate me for being a scientist.  We’re not as different as you might think.  In fact, in some ways my philosophy of the world is more similar to yours than it is to that of your “ivory-tower academic progressives.”  I am an empiricist.  I reject postmodernism, the usual philosophy of that set, because I think it is incorrect (i.e., I don’t think the universe works that way), nihilistic at the core, and on a more selfish level, it completely opposes scientific thinking.  I don’t think there is “my truth” or “your truth,” just truth.  (Sorry, Obi-Wan Kenobi, but that whole “ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader”?  That’s not true.  They’re the same person.  You lied.  Luke was correct.)  In the view of a scientific empiricist, things are either true or not.  There is objective reality separate from our senses and our brains.  It doesn’t matter what race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion the person presenting a datum is; that piece of data is either correct or it isn’t.

You probably see the world in the same way, just through a fundamentalist or evangelical religion.  That’s your philosophical framework.  Things are either true or false, right or wrong.  Since I’m a scientific empiricist (though I am not an atheist, actually), I do think that the scientific method is the proper way to learn about morally neutral objective facts of the world rather than a religious text.  I’ll be honest (this piece is an exercise in full honesty); I think you’re incorrect about many things you say regarding the operation of the natural world.  I also think you’re incorrect about some human issues that society has instilled with a moral dimension but that do have a connection to the natural world (such as sexual orientation, which is biological and immutable).  I don’t think your views on all “social issues” are wrong, though.  I agree with you about monogamy, two-parent homes, and opposition to unserious relationships or hookups, and it is because of empirical scientific data.  But my overall point is, although we differ on the details, we really don’t see the world that differently philosophically speaking.  We have worldviews that hold to the existence of objective, immutable truths.  In that regard, we have much more in common than either of us has with postmodernists.

So, back to the first question I asked.  Why do you think I am “the Other” who doesn’t understand you, lives in an elite bubble, is indifferent to your lives at best and possibly outright hostile?

We have different points of view about politics.  I have an advanced degree in a scientific field.  I happen to live in an East Coast metropolitan area right now and make a middle-class living.

That doesn’t mean I don’t understand you.  It certainly doesn’t mean I hate you and wish you harm.  To the contrary, I care deeply about you, because I grew up with you.  Why do you think I would want the land where I grew up, and where most of my family lives, to shrivel up and die?  It upset me when tornadoes plowed through it, when a hurricane flooded it, when an oil spill contaminated it.  Why do you think I would shrug indifferently if the economy of your town or your state gets caught in a death spiral and you lose hope?  If you struggle through life paycheck-to-meager-paycheck at menial jobs?  Accept public aid with embarrassment and shame, because you have to take “charity” to feed your child?  Maybe die at 50 of opioid overdose?

I get it if you don’t consider me “one of you” anymore.  Arguably, I’m not.  I don’t want to pretend to be something I am not.  However, I do know you.  Your region is, metaphorically speaking, in my blood.  I may not be “one of you” in the true sense, but “you” are part of me.  How could you think I would wish you ill or not care?

You can hate me and hold me in contempt because we have political disagreements, if you wish.  You can consider Donald Trump your friend and consider the middle-class former schoolmate with the Southern accent in DC to be your adversary if you so choose.  But if you decide that, I ask that you recognize and acknowledge the reason:  political differences.

I don’t wish ill on you.  I don’t shrug indifferently when I read about the decline of rural America.  I don’t think that if a community is mostly white, then it automatically follows that it is mostly racist.  I don’t think that the despair that many of you are feeling is caused by depression from “loss of privilege,” but rather, from real trauma in the spheres of finance, career, and family.  When I read about this kind of situation, I don’t spout off platitudes like “they could just move” or “just go to college,” because I understand these things cost a lot of money and that matters.  I don’t call you bigoted for not knowing the latest “intersectional” term to avoid “microaggressing” someone; I probably don’t know it either, because I don’t take a lot of interest in thought-policing.  I don’t think you’re wrong to believe that there are things in this world that are true and things that are not true.  I may disagree about what is or is not true, but human history is about searching for those answers, and I, like you, believe that they can be found, and they can be found regardless of who you are.

I’m not your enemy, and I hope that someday you can see that.

October 28, 2008

Regulation Is GOOD for the Free Market

Filed under: Politics — PolitiCalypso @ 3:39 pm

If you listen to John McCain and a huge number of right-wing “free marketeers” lately, you might walk away with the idea that a capitalistic free market cannot exist with regulation of business practices. They think–or want “regular” people to think–that if you have agencies of the law telling business what it may and may not do, it is tantamount to communism at worst, and destroys the liberty of the free market at best. “The consumer will punish businesses that do bad things!” these right-wing types proclaim. “There’s no need for government to get involved!”

Besides being, all too often, entirely untrue, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of what a free market is really supposed to be.

The architects of the U.S. established that the people ought to have the ability to choose what they wanted, both in government and in commerce. They felt that if people were given the opportunity to make choices based on what political ideologies, candidates, parties, or–on the economic side–products were most valuable to them, this was the best system. I would agree. A representative democracy has worked for us for over 200 years, and a free market has allowed innovation and competition to flourish. But, just like our government is not “free” in the extreme sense of “anything goes,” because that would cause anarchy and then a totalitarian takeover, the system of commerce does not need to operate under “anything goes” either–and for the same reason. (Read more…)

October 16, 2008

The Illusion of the “Netroots Movement”

Filed under: Politics — PolitiCalypso @ 5:21 pm

There are some very good reasons why I have never chosen to identify with the “netroots” movement or the politics thereof. One such reason is the “movement”‘s eagerness to take credit for anything good that happens to the Democratic Party in elections, when the simple truth of the matter is that outside circumstances shape elections. If I were superstitious, I’d worry that the onset of crowing about the apparent coming Obama win would jinx it. However, that would be the ultimate in assigning undeserved responsibility to these characters.

The political pendulum swings back and forth. As a liberal, I think that the more liberal party should be the natural governing party of the U.S., because we need to move forward continuously. However, there is a place for a more conservative party, a loyal opposition, that keeps the metaphorical feet of the liberal party firmly on the ground, and sometimes gets rewarded with power when the liberal party becomes corrupt or goes off on some kind of crazy utopian scheme. A big reason why politics in the U.S. have been so messed up is because the party charged with keeping everyone’s feet planted on the ground was emphatically not the “conservative” party. It was the “conservatives” who had pie-in-the-sky visions of using force to instill democracy in people and being thrown flowers for it. It was the “conservatives” who believed that the sheer beneficent nature of the rich would lead to a pretty unicorn world of unregulated markets promoting widespread wealth. The “hard realist” party, the one attempting to put the brakes on these kinds of ideas, was the Democratic Party. Traditionally, liberals were supposed to have optimistic ideas of human nature and conservatives were supposed to be more pessimistic and cynical, but, despite the slogan of the Obama campaign, that has been reversed. Liberalism is traditionally, and classically, not supposed to be the check on conservatism run wild, but that’s what has happened now.

What we are seeing right now in the U.S. is that natural cycle, albeit in an upside-down world. (Read more…)

August 3, 2006

The Purpose of the Constitution

Filed under: Politics — PolitiCalypso @ 8:05 pm

“Judicial Activism,” Strict Constructionism, and Dominionism

I’ve been reading a great deal lately about the “Dominionist” sect of the Religious Right. For the uninitiated, this term refers to those people who wish to occupy seats of power within the American government so that they can enforce Biblical law upon the United States. Establishing “the Lord’s Dominion,” if you will.

This group, of course, has been leading the charge on social “issues” geared to arouse emotions and get out votes from “family values” religious conservatives. They are the first to cry “activist judges!” when a verdict is issued in favor of pro-science education, abortion rights, gay rights, or whatever their wedge issue du jour might be.

However, regardless of anyone’s opinion on any of these issues is, there’s a point that must be made about them. These issues are about extending rights beyond those explicitly declared in the Constitution. Even the Dominionists don’t argue with it; their websites are peppered with references to “special rights” and such. They will argue, as current Attorney General Gonzales has argued, that the Constitution contains no right to privacy and that is part of why their draconian notions of spying are supposedly legal. They don’t hide that their agenda is about denying rights to people.

Interestingly, these are the same people, in many cases, who called themselves “strict constructionists” in the 1990s. Remember that term? The people, almost exclusively right-wing, who opposed any court verdict that established a legal right that was not explicitly granted in the Constitution–if it was what they viewed as a “liberal” right.

The Dominionist movement does not support an interpretation of the Constitution that extends the rights of the people. But what do they support?

They support a Constitutional interpretation that extends the rights of the government to interfere where it has no business.Consider Justice Scalia’s infamous opinion on the the Lawrence v. Texas sodomy case:

State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers’ validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today’s decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding.

Reading past the legalese, one can conclude with confidence that Scalia supports the use of the government to legislate people’s private lives–to use it as a tool to support moral standards that have no impact on anyone beyond the persons in question and perhaps their immediate circle. Certainly not national security or even that nebulous concept called “the people’s interest.”

This is just one example of many. The Dominionist philosophy supports the establishment of a “Christian” theocratic government, operating through that which was established by the American Constitution, all the while spitting on it and perverting its original purpose.

What do you think the Founders intended for the Constitution and Bill of Rights to be? A document spelling out the rights of the American people, with absolutely nothing granted beyond what is explicitly written there? Or a document limiting the rights of the government with respect to passing laws that are unrelated or opposed to these aims:

“…[E]stablish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” (Emphasis added.)

Well, the writers of the Bill of Rights actually addressed that very point in a little thing called the Ninth Amendment. In case the “strict constructionists” have forgotten about this part of the original Constitution, here it is:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.


It point-blank says that the Constitution isn’t meant to limit the people’s rights to those that are spelled out, and that others not mentioned are retained.

Case closed.

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