Sturm, Drang and Me

I use some strong language from time to time to describe people who I view are politically and policy-wise opposite from me. A few of the terms I use:

“Fundamentalist”
“Republican”

I’ll start with the definition for each and then discuss a bit.

Fundamentalism strictly defined:

fundamentalism |ˌfəndəˈmentlˌizəm|
noun
a form of Protestant Christianity that upholds belief in the strict and literal interpretation of the Bible, including its narratives, doctrines, prophecies, and moral laws.
• strict maintenance of ancient or fundamental doctrines of any religion or ideology, notably Islam.

Modern Christian fundamentalism arose from American millenarian sects of the 19th century, and has become associated with reaction against social and political liberalism and rejection of the theory of evolution. Islamic fundamentalism appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries as a reaction to the disintegration of Islamic political and economic power, asserting that Islam is central to both state and society and advocating strict adherence to the Koran ( Qur’an) and to Islamic law ( sharia), supported if need be by jihad or holy war.

DERIVATIVES
fundamentalist |ˈfəndəˈmɛn(t)l=əst| noun & adjective

From the Wikipedia:

“The term fundamentalist has since been generalized to mean strong adherence to any set of beliefs in the face of criticism or unpopularity, but has by and large retained religious connotations. The collective use of the term fundamentalist to describe non-Christian movements has offended some Christians who desire to retain the original definition. In addition, some writers, editors, and scholars believe that calling Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists ‘fundamentalists’ makes very little sense.

“Fundamentalism is often used as a pejorative term, particularly when combined with other epithets (as in the phrase ‘Muslim fundamentalists’ and ‘right-wing fundamentalists’). Richard Dawkins used the term to characterize religious advocates as clinging to a stubborn, entrenched position that defies reasoned argument or contradictory evidence. Others in turn, such as Christian theologian Alister McGrath, have used the term fundamentalism to characterize atheism as dogmatic.”

Before I discuss how I use and misuse the term, I’d like to point out that I’m sharing points here where I have 1) clearly misused the term; 2) where I am at fault; 3) where I’m making an effort to move the conversation forward (the point of this post).

My misuse of the term? I use it in the perjorative virtually 100% of the time. In casual conversation, I’ve used the term “fundamentalist punk rockers”, “fundamentalist Mormon” (probably the only correct use of the term in my personal life) and “fundamentalist [insert religion name here]“.

Potential remedies:
When I strictly misuse “fundamentalist” or “fundamentalism” perhaps I should replace it with fanaticism. The trouble there is that word is equally as loaded and charged.

For example, I’m a fanatic about overturning errors I feel that were made during the Bush presidency. Errors, I note, that many people in the Democratic Party voted FOR. However, my fanaticism is tempered by reality. President Obama may not want to immediately do away with warrantless wiretapping. Obama may not want to end the practice of signing statements. Should those be true, I’ll be upset as I view both as improper; one for the sake of civil liberty, the latter in that the executive branch should not possess the power of interpreting how a law should be carried out. That’s for Congress and the courts to decide. That’s my view. I’m open to listen to opposing viewpoints on both counts, so long as the accounts put forth an effort to understand where I’m coming from first and then share their views to the counter. Tangential, strawman and ad hominem attacks (which I have certainly been guilty of in the comments here) are low-hanging and easy devices to use. I’m trying to avoid such things, but as with most political arguments, my emotions will get the best of me from time to time and I’ll refer to people in a negative light, rather than strictly attacking their viewpoints.

So if I use fanatic to describe someone’s strict adherence to a viewpoint, including my own, is that necessarily wrong? I don’t think so. This bit from the Wikipedia page on fanaticism is pretty good:

“The difference between a fan and a fanatic is that while both have an overwhelming liking or interest in a given subject, behaviour of a fanatic will be viewed as violating prevailing social norms, while that of a fan will not violate those norms (although the person may be considered unusual). A fanatic differs from a crank, in that a crank is defined as a person who holds a position or opinion which is so far from the norm as to appear ludicrous and/or provably wrong, such as a belief in widespread alien abduction. In contrast, the subject of the fanatic’s obsession may be ‘normal’, such as an interest in religion or politics, except that the scale of the person’s involvement, devotion, or obsession with the activity or cause is abnormal or disproportionate.”

I obviously am fanatical about politics. I keep bringing them up here. I’m also fanatical about computers, technology, cameras, photography and smart-assery.

Republicans

I use the term to describe members adhering to the tenets of the Republican party in the United States. Again from the Wikipedia page about the Republican Party:

“Today, the party supports a conservative and/or center-right platform, with further foundations in supply-side fiscal policies and social conservatism.”

Clearly, my referring to people as “fundamentalist Republicans” is completely in error:

“Founded in Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1854 by anti-slavery expansion activists and modernizers…” (emphasis mine)

Lincoln was a Republican.

For me, the biggest era of Republican shenanigans started with Watergate. It permeated a couple of summers on television; my childhood daytime TV shows were pre-empted by hearings. Still, my parents were politically active, my father held office in the 70s as a councilman in my hometown and I sided with them on most views until my time in England.

I use the term “Republican” pejoratively. I use it as such because I used to be one in the early 80s. I loved Reagan. Until I moved to England and saw a different view of the United States and got to live and work in areas of extreme poverty as a Mormon missionary. I witnessed massive unemployment and saw first hand the downside of the dole and also the downside of misguided conservative & liberal policies.

I’m all for helping people, but feel, like Republicans, just handing cash out isn’t enough. Education, training and follow-up are expensive in the short term, but I believe are a necessity to helping people out of poverty and bettering society in the long term. In this way, I believe I’m making concessions to some socially conservative ideas while also adhering to my more liberal ideas about welfare and human aid. I may be considered clownishly foolish for doing so, but in my experience, teaching people to fish is better than handing out fish. That does not mean one should not hand out fish. There will always be a need for handing out fish as well as a need for teaching of said fishing.

In 1992, I graduated from Brigham Young University, an extremely conservative institution. I was a member of the Mormon Church, notedly and perhaps now increasingly infamous, an extremely conservative institution. During the ’92 election cycle, I realized that I leaned more liberal than conservative and voted for Bill Clinton. I took a job a few weeks after graduation at a firm where a co-worker listened daily to Rush Limbaugh on a radio. I listened for close to two years before I asked her to wear headphones. I bring this up because it was during this time that Newt Gingrich and Contract With America was being trumpeted by Mr. Limbaugh.

I feel my exposure to Republicans, Republican ideals and Republican tenets has been extensive. I’m not certain many readers know just how pervasive the Republican Party is in Utah culture. Yes, Utah is a “red state”. But even those who aren’t Mormon are more conservative than in other parts of the United States. So. I’m surrounded by Republicans. I grew up in a Republican family. The church I was raised in sides nearly unanimously with the Republican Party. There are exceptions, but this is generally the case.

So why do I use the term pejoratively? Here are a few reasons:

Insistence, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, that Republican ideas, ideals and thinking are the absolute correct path, without exception. There is also the sometimes tacit insinuation in the rhetoric that God is somehow Republican. I believe that the infusion of God into the rhetoric gives sway to an amount of shunning science and reason that is disproportionate with reality. It’s one thing to question science. It’s another to invent it. Here are some examples:

Global Warming / Climate Change
The response to the realities that something is happening/has happened is starting to change, now that pastors are going green (following a marketing trend by larger corporations and political rhetoric due to the election cycle in 2008). However, it is still common for Republicans to doubt the science of global warming or the science behind it. Republicans do not like Al Gore. My view is that humans and our inventions have had an enormous impact on the environment in which we live. Here’s an interesting graphic:

File:Climate Change Attribution.png

Read more about this graphic here.

Supply-Side Economics
This nugget was first introduced as “supply side economics” under Reagan. He turned it into a household word. This economic theory supposes (I’m generalizing and simplifying) that if certain taxes are lowered, the resulting uptick in expenditures makes up for the loss in tax revenue. This has been trumpeted by virtually every Republican candidate since Reagan. Most recently, George W. Bush used this theory to guide his tax cuts in 2003. There are critics of supply-side economics, and their ammunition is substantial and real. The realities and results of supply-side economics seem to bypass Republicans. To wit (that link was sent to me by a frequent commenter, going by faydean. Thanks for sending that in.).

My view is that the benefits of a tax cut are temporary. The much lauded Milton Friedman said this in 2003:

“I do not know whether the tax cuts will or will not stimulate the economy in the short run. They put money in the pockets of taxpayers to spend; but simultaneously they take money out of the pockets of the investors who buy the government securities that finance the tax cut, money which would otherwise presumably have been spent on private investment projects. The net effect on total spending could go either way.”

(source)

As we’ve seen, spending didn’t go either way. The Republican controlled Congress spent lots of money and the debt rose. Friedman is a proponent of small government. His views on tax cuts support that view. If we cut off funding for the big government, it will have no choice but to shrink. This view has been shown to be faulty under three Republican presidents; Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. Here’s a link from 2006 that does some work on the 2003 tax cuts and would seem to negate the current arguments supporting making those tax cuts permanent.

The newest Nobel Laureate in Economics (as of this writing) is Paul Krugman. His recent column in the New York Times outlines take on the bailout can be read here. Of note under this heading of Supply-Side Economics is this quote:

“Old-fashioned voodoo economics — the belief in tax-cut magic — has been banished from civilized discourse. The supply-side cult has shrunk to the point that it contains only cranks, charlatans, and Republicans.”

When I talk about Republicans ideas being irrelevant, the biggest idea whose time has past is the notion that Supply-Side Economics produces good things and the insistence of its adherence after years of evidence to the contrary that this theory is bunk and nothing short of political gamesmanship to try to reduce the size of the U.S. government. Big government is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Church and State
Conservatives seem to conflate God and those who govern. One of the biggest contributors in the conservative movement’s rise (and fall) has been the fervent church goer. One classic example of utter hypocrisy in this regard I’ll share from my past. During my time at Brigham Young University, the University established a policy about having “controversial” speakers. The policy was that the University would avoid having “controversial” speakers speak at University events. As part of this policy, the University said that it would not allow speakers who are actively campaigning for office to speak at University events. You’ll never guess who spoke at Brigham Young University while running for President of the United States… George Herbert Walker Bush. In 2007, Dick Cheney spoke at the BYU commencement.

There is an apparent split personality in much of American politics (on both sides). The issue I take with Repubicans and God is that among those most ardent it is increasingly obvious that while Republicans have the right to worship their God, but others do not share that right, as their God is the wrong God. Most extremist wings of any religion view life through the lens that the deity they worship is the only true diety. It’s to be expected. What’s troubling is that most evangelicals I’ve met absolutely refuse to see the similarities in rigid dogma they hold with those of other religions. In these times, that would be evangelical Christians looking disdainfully at Islam extremists. In my view, both are toxic to any society and in the past, when I’ve spoken of fundamentalism being a scourge, it is in this regard.

One such example: President Bush enacted a rule that took effect a couple of weeks ago. Medical practitioners will be allowed to deny treatment if that treatment goes against their conscience. This kind of “values legislation” is informed largely by religion. I would argue, in this case, that this kind of denial of service is immoral in and of itself. This continued insertion of religion into the lives of others via the State is a ghastly step backwards. There are lawsuits (see also the extensive linkage on this page for more coverage of this rule) pending.

Liberal Media bias
I have never, ever seen or read any evidence presented that there exists in the United States a powerful Liberal Media cabal. I’ve heard it echoed my entire life. On the contrary, the number one (in the ratings) Fox News Network is unabashedly conservative. It can hardly be compared in its partisanship to any news organization with a substantial viewership. Fox News Network v. CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC on partisanship? Fox is more partisan than the other outlets combined.

Also, there is nothing on the radio airwaves that comes close in liberal ideas/ideals/talking points to the utter saturation that Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Neal Boortz, Laura Ingraham, Michael Reagan, Howie Carr, and Michael Savage have.

Republicans have an astoundingly awesome PR machine. The willingness of Republicans on every level (from the highest, most powerful down to the voter on the street) to repeat and argue talking points is unparalleled on the Democratic side.

If you respond that “liberals have CNN, TIme, Newsweek, etc.” you obviously don’t read those publications or watch those channels. I want evidence to support claims that there exists a liberal media machine. Because I don’t have an outlet that sounds as partisan as even one of the pundits I mention above.

Finally, my usage of the perjorative in talking about Republicans is best summarized by this hilarious piece from the Buffalo Beast outlining the 50 Most Loathesome People in America, 2008 (via: kottke & powazek). Barack Obama is number 50. Number 43 is You:

Charges: You think it’s your patriotic duty to spend money you don’t have on crap you don’t need. You think Hillary lost because of sexism, when it’s actually because she’s just a bad liar. You think Iraq is better off now than before we invaded, and don’t understand why they’re so ungrateful. You think Tim Russert was a great journalist. You’re hopping mad about an auto industry bailout that cost a squirt of piss compared to a Wall Street heist of galactic dimensions, due to a housing crash you somehow have blamed on minorities. It took you six years to figure out what a tool Bush is, but you think Obama will make it all better. You deem it hunky dory that we conduct national policy debates via 8-second clips from “The View.” You think God zapped humans into existence a few thousand years ago, although your appendix and wisdom teeth disagree. You like watching vicious assholes insult each other on TV. You support gun rights, because firing one gives you a chubby. You cuddle falsehoods and resent enlightenment. You think the fact that 43% of whites could stomach voting for an incredibly charismatic and eloquent light-skinned black guy who was raised by white people means racism is over. You think progressive taxation is socialism. 1 in 100 of you are in jail, and you think it should be more. You are shallow, inconsiderate, afraid, brand-conscious, sedentary, and totally self-obsessed. You are American.

Exhibit A: You’re more upset by Miley Cyrus’s glamour shots than the fact that you are a grown adult who is upset about Miley Cyrus.

Sentence: Invaded and occupied by Canada; all military units busy overseas without enough fuel to get back.

Ouch. I’m on that list of charges as well.

Epilogue

Should you choose to respond, which I encourage, I’d like to note a few things. While one may use the “Reply” link in a comment. Replying back and forth is only able to happen 6 times. You’ll note on past posts, this means somebody gets the last word in that reply chain. A new chain may be started at will and I ask that responders consider this in how they conduct themselves in the responses.

I’ve been criticized for “not responding” to comments where people have asked me to refute something, particularly where that something is opposing my stated viewpoints. I’ve been guilty of that, to be sure. Hopefully, this post will outline some of my viewpoints in the political realm and why I hold those views. Lame cop out: I get busy and it’s difficult to respond with a sense of intellect and wit. I’ll try to be better about responding. If I need more clarification from you or I misunderstand what you are saying, I’ll make an honest attempt to gain more insight before responding.

I’ve tried to lay out here a broader criticism and one that hopefully will elicit responses in kind, including those views that differ with mine. I would ask you to be considerate of others and their time when responding. Sometimes responses take awhile to formulate, particularly when one wants to make a point most definitively.

I know this post isn’t very blurby or matty.

Whew. Where are the pictures? Coming soon!