Archives

After posting a well-worded invitation to Trump supporters to engage in civil discourse with me, a woman, LR, who first responded with dismissive scorn began commenting on my Facebook page. After some trust building between us, and editing out the participation of another individual, this is the meat of the discussion we had. (I edited her comments for spelling and punctuation and to reduce “noise”. My first comment follows her declaration, in response to the other participant –who carried most of the first part of the conversation– that she has absolutely no second thoughts about her support for Trump.)

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, I’m going to jump in here with an observation. Intellectually, as a student of society and of the human mind, I know that many of the things I believe are wrong. I know that many of the things I am absolutely certain are true are not true. I know that the narratives of reality that form my identity and my relationship to the world around me is laden with defense mechanisms that protect it from critical challenges. And I know that all of that is true despite the higher-than-average degree to which I work to mitigate them.

It’s very hard to act on the knowledge I just outlined above, particularly when engaged with people with whom I disagree. I don’t want to give them that admission as a lever or weapon to use against me. But even in the privacy of my own mind, or in the company of like-minded people, it is hard to own and harder to act on.

That’s why, in the process of creating Transcendental Politics, I increasingly came to emphasize “intellectual humility.” I’m not talking about the appealing personality trait in which one presents as knowing that they’re not special, but rather simply the knowledge that we don’t know, that much that we think we know is wrong, and that some things we are absolutely certain are true are in reality false.

I just finished reading Steven Pinker’s new book, “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.” Pinker and I think in similar ways, share a tendency to be critical of ideologues across the spectrum, believe in the value of reliance on empirical evidence, rational analysis, and a commitment to our shared humanity, wherever it leads. I’m a pretty diligent consumer of information, trained in research methodologies, aware of psychological pitfalls (such as confirmation bias and attribution bias), and yet was surprised that Pinker managed to bring into question some things that I thought were beyond dispute. It was a humbling reminder of how much crap we all have in our minds.

(I’m not suggesting that Pinker is infallible either. There were some emphases, some ways of framing information and conceptualization that I remain at odds with him on, though mostly it is really just more a matter of emphasis than anything else. But I recognize that rejecting data that doesn’t confirm my bias is inexcusable, and some of the data he presented absolutely challenged some of my biases.)

So, I encourage us all, to the greatest extent possible, to come to the table knowing that we don’t know, that we may be wrong about some things we are certain of, that the more we allow reason and humanity to guide us the better, and that our inevitable boat load of false certainties is a major obstruction to doing so.

I didn’t really want to interrupt the flow of yours and EB’s discussion, or attempt to impose my will while trust is still being built, but I just wanted to plant the seed of this suggestion early, just to tuck away in the back of your mind.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, sounds like an interesting book . I struggled with whether to use the word “absolutely,” and in the end decided that that was the most truthful answer for me to give at this time . Nothing of course is absolute, except “Universal Truth” which only the creator of the universe is privy to. I understand where you are coming from. Point well taken : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, first, I want to reiterate that we appreciate your having the courage and integrity to be here, where you knew that you were going to be bombarded with challenges to what you hold to be true. Most people are unwilling to put themselves in that situation. I don’t like putting myself in that situation! (But, we would all benefit, individually and collectively, if we all put ourselves in that situation more routinely.)

Second, I have to continue that bombardment just a little, because not only conservative Republican Jeff Flake, but many others, both publicly and privately, echo his sentiments. The more thoughtful conservative columnists and pundits –George Will, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, most Republican congressmen and senators at some point or another, every living former president from both parties (implicitly or explicitly), virtually every reputable, established news publication in the world, virtually the entire corpus of professional historians, economists, foreign policy experts, anti-terrorism experts, diplomats, and statesmen, the former heads of the CIA and NSA, the former head of the FBI, all echo the sentiment that Trump is a disaster for this nation and world. Historians posted video-testimonials, with reference to historical analysis, to implore people not to make this mistake. Economists and foreign policy experts wrote mass letters signed by the luminaries in their fields with the same message. Venerable old publications that have either never endorsed anyone or have done so only once or twice in the course of centuries came out to endorse Clinton, not because they loved Clinton, but because they recognized how unthinkable it was to elect Trump to the presidency. Conservative papers that had always endorsed the Republican nominee prior to 2016 received death threats for doing the same.

That humility we agreed we all require should give us pause in the light of so enormous, so well-informed a chorus of both the expected and unexpected voices urging the same warning upon us. Can we entertain the possibility that we have ventured into some horrifyingly dangerous territory here? Not an agreement that it is so, necessarily, but a recognition that it might be so?

LR: EB, If you are asking my opinion of (a speech by Flake that EB had posted), which I was already familiar with, and others …. well here goes …. all I can think of is that Flake went on an unhinged tirade of sanctimonious grandstanding . He hates Trump , he was a never Trumper from day 1 , and he wants someone like himself to challenge Trump in 2020 . As my Father used to say ” He has a better chance of being struck by lightning ” Good luck with that : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: If being a “never Trumper” disqualifies all of the conservative voices echoing liberal, academic, and expert concerns over Trump, then all of the most intelligent and informed and venerable of conservative voices, including previous conservative Republican nominees for the presidency and Republican presidents themselves, are disqualified, and the only definition of credibility becomes the refusal to listen to those voices and consider what they’re saying, which is a very dysfunctional definition of credibility.

Isn’t it just possible that the virtually unanimous voices of the world’s historians, economists, foreign policy experts, former presidents, former candidates for the presidency, editorial columnists for major publications, might, just might, have a point that is being systematically ignored by those who prefer not to hear it.

There are really two possibilities here: Virtually the entire universe of people with relevant knowledge, experience and expertise are all engaged in a conspiracy against what is good and true, or that which they are against isn’t actually good and true. Which seems more reasonable on the face of it?

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, all I will say is this: I am very familiar with all of these views. I have been listening for 3 years now. If this Presidency turns out to be the unmitigated disaster that they ( experts ) are predicting, our Constitutional Republic will be strong enough to survive.

Colorado Steve Harvey: I agree that our republic will *probably* survive a Trump presidency, but some of the harm done may be irreparable, and some of it may take generations to repair, and some of it may cause multitudes real harm in the meantime. So, if he is an unmitigated disaster, that is not a trivial concern.

I’m going to risk all of the goodwill we’ve built on a frank, admission, LR.

I personally am convinced that it is impossible for any rational person of goodwill to look at the evidence comprehensively and arrive at or retain the conclusion that Trump is anything other than a travesty that we have to do everything in our power to rectify.

I also believe, from all I’ve seen of you here, that you ARE a reasonable person of goodwill.

By syllogistic logic, if those two premises are correct, you would have to come to the conclusion that Trump is a travesty that we have to do everything in our power to rectify.

Now, given all that, there are three possibilities: 1) Premise number one is wrong because I’m wrong, the world’s historians are all wrong, the world’s economists are all wrong, the world’s foreign policy experts are all wrong, this nation’s living former presidents from both parties are all wrong, the most intellectual of conservative pundits are all wrong, and Trump isn’t a travesty that we have to rectify; or 2) I’m wrong in my assessment of you; or 3) you will, in time, come to the rational and humane conclusion.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, well , apparently the grass roots voters in the swing states and the thousands who went to the rallies didn’t get the “Memo.” Trump was approachable, he worked like a dog going everywhere, he spoke plain english, he was smart enough to know that there was an untapped silent majority out there who was furious over 8 years of Obama’s policies . We are not racists, we are not anti LBGT. I know transgender Trump supporters, educated conservative women. Check out the FB page of Rocky Mountain Black Conservatives , they are in your state. I don’t know what else to say. That’s how he won 306 electoral votes . I went to bed on election night thinking “no way” we are never going to win Pennsylvania which I had determined was crucial. I was just as surprised as you guys . Peace : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, but none of that really gets at the crucial question. Multitudes of ordinary, intelligent, kind people can opt to support and create horrors. We’ve seen that, repeatedly. Among Nazi supporters were kindly old grandmothers who baked cookies for their neighbors…, sometimes even for their Jewish neighbors! That multitudes of ordinary, intelligent, kind people supported and support Trump doesn’t tell us that the analysis of those who are specifically informed on each dimension of policy are wrong, and that the mind-bogglingly abundant evidence of Trump’s racism, misogyny, xenophobia, crudeness, incompetence, anti-constitutional authoritarianism, and general malignant buffoonery are all wrong. You said that his many supporters “didn’t get the memo;” that might be exactly right. And those many supporters might just be demonstrably wrong.

That there are some from categories of people the majority of which didn’t support him who do support him is both unsurprising and uninformative. There were slaves who defended slavery; there were women who opposed women’s suffrage; there were even Jews who sided with the Nazis. It is always the case that when horrifying injustice and brutality occurs, some members of those groups that are specifically targeted by the injustice and brutality actually support it. That is not proof that what they were supporting was not in fact injustice and brutality.

Appeals to the proof of the support of large pluralities or even outright majorities are not appeals to truth, or to justice, or to human decency, because we have many, many, many instances throughout history in which such pluralities or outright majorities were clearly on the side opposing truth, justice, and human decency. I would argue that the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that this is just such a circumstance.

That’s a lot to digest. Hang around a while and let’s find out together which of the three possibilities I listed is the correct one.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, you are telling me which possibility is correct for me to pick ? I will tell you this: The minute you start to use the Natzi comparison, you lost me. Forget the other stuff like his foreign policy, which I agree with. I was willing to play fair, but don’t try to railroad me. You are not interested in my views. You want to change my views.

Colorado Steve Harvey: I want only one thing: For reason in service to our shared humanity to prevail. If I am failing, in my understandings and actions, to contribute to that, then I want my understandings and actions to be corrected. If others are, then I want the same for them. That is the only thing I want.

As for the Nazi analogy, it was to make a specific point, and that is that the argument that the support of many “good people” is proof that Trump is good is fallacious. My analogy was to point out that that is wrong. That’s all. And, it is.

Now, you are welcome to stay; I hope you do. I will continue to be courteous, and will continue to champion reason in service to humanity. No argument I have made has been irrational, nor has any been in service to inhumanity. If you want to find a pretext to bow out, I understand. If you want to put your own views to the test of whether they satisfy that objective, that would be more admirable, but it is entirely up to you.

Let’s see how good your faith really is; will you find pretexts to reject arguments that have been nothing but factual, rational, and made with a will to serve humanity? Or will you continue to find the courage to allow your own beliefs to be challenged?

As I said, I always welcome having mine challenged, and if you have arguments that can do that, I invite you to snare me in the same trap; I would be most grateful for the favor.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, what if everything that happens, no matter how bad we think is is serves Humanity. Lessons learned. I wonder who you wanted as president?

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, that we are fallible and that the unexpected can occur is a given, but that that should not stop us from, with humility and diligence, making choices based on the best analysis of the best evidence available is a necessity.

I wanted the person of the two in the binary choice available who had the most competence, who was the most emotionally stable, who was the most professional, and who had given the greatest reason to believe that her choices would better serve our general welfare. I didn’t have to love her, or believe that she was without serious flaws; I only had to believe that she was the best of the two viable choices presented. And as I’ve already indicated, I think almost any other human being alive would have been the best of the two choices available, if they went up against the one who prevailed.

As for the fatalism, the suggestion that reason and responsibility may be irrelevant, because whatever we do serves humanity. In that case, we are free to commit acts of violence and predation, to harm others for our own benefit, to be cruel and selfish and reckless and devoid of compassion or mercy. But neither you nor I believe that; we both believe in our responsibilities as human beings, and that is really what we are discussing now; what is our responsibility as human beings, in the context of our role as citizens and sovereigns, and considering what is being done in our name?

LR: Remember these words …. ” we’ll stop it ” that came from the email of the lead FBI agent on the Mueller investigation . That came out in the hearings today . Meaning we will stop the Trump presidency . Some heads are going to roll over there , and that is not Trump interfering with an investigation . That is the top tier of the FBi . They mishandled the Clinton email investigation also . Comey ruined his reputation . McCabe lied to Congress , and Struzk was escorted out of the FBI building today by security . There are also 3 other unnamed agents under investigation. That is what should have all Americans scared, not some crazy allegations that Trump is like Hitler.

My role as citizen was to vote for the person I felt was the best choice to lead this country. I did that, and I have no regrets . My issues were border security , the economy , and foreign policy. 60 million others made that choice also, they have a right to have their choice respected and not demeaned

Colorado Steve Harvey: Yes, two FBI agents who were in an intimate relationship opined via email about how horrifying the prospect was that Trump would be elected, a perspective I believe any rational human being would hold. “We’ll stop it” could easily have referred to us all, as Americans, at the ballot box, not in their capacity as FBI agents. As soon as he became aware of those emails, Mueller removed the two agents from the investigation AND released the information himself about the existence of the emails (which were not known to the public or to anyone else who might have released them prior to that). That’s not evidence of a corrupt investigation; that’s evidence of an investigation that is assiduously non-corrupt and incorruptible. Furthermore, it was the head of the FBI himself who sealed the deal FOR Trump, by announcing days before the election that he was reopening the case against Clinton, so if their purpose was to block Trump, and their actions were predictably more causative in the opposite direction, they are either the most incompetent conspirators in the history of the world, or you’re entire narrative is wrong.

Our responsibility is to do as much due diligence as we can, to refrain from ignoring massive quantities of relevant information, and to make choices that are not just appealing to us but that are rationally and empirically defensible. If you think you did that, fine. The election is over, but our responsibility to one another and to humanity is not.

We are interdependent. If someone commits acts of terrorism, for example, and says that that was their choice for how best to serve humanity, that choice can indeed be criticized. Voting for Trump was not an act of terrorism, but it was a choice that has consequences and, like any other choice that has consequences, can be critiqued.

Why don’t we take a break from this, and find more pleasant and agreeable things to discuss in the near future. We can always return to this another time.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, that is only part of the story . The part the left wing media don’t you to hear . More is going to come out, but I am sure you aren’t interested because it doesn’t fit your narrative. That’s okay. It doesn’t really matter.

Colorado Steve Harvey: There are, as always, multiple possibilities, each of which we should consider methodically before either rejecting or accepting it as truth. There is a range of possibilities about the balance of how right and wrong we each are. There is a range of possibilities about the relative reliability and credibility of competing sources of information. And there is a range of possibilities about what will or will not come out, and how accurate and salient it will be.

To determine which among those many possibilities are in fact realities, we would need to refer to arguments made using reason applied to evidence, and not mere assertions. I strive, imperfectly but in earnest, to ensure that what fits my narrative (or rather what my narrative is fit to) is that which reason and evidence recommend as best serving our shared humanity.

If you have an argument to make, I am eager to hear it. If you are just going to make empty assertions, that’s fine, but it doesn’t mean anything until it has reason and evidence to support it. That is after all the trap we set, the one I invited you into from the very beginning.

I want to ask an isolated question, without letting it sprawl out into every other issue. (It helps to be able to focus on one issue at a time rather than shift to another one as soon as the first one becomes uncomfortable, never really dealing with it.) You said that the 60 million people “have a right to have their choice respected and not demeaned.” You also were unhappy with my earlier analogy of the tens of millions of Germans who supported Hitler and the question of whether they had “a right to have their choice respected and not demeaned.” But it’s a relevant question, because if there are extremes at which people don’t have a right to have their choice respected and not demeaned, then the question becomes whether those who made this choice crossed that threshold or not, and where the threshold is.

I think we can agree that there are choices that DON’T merit respect. Choices to commit acts of predatory violence don’t merit respect, for instance. Choices to support leaders who commit acts of predatory violence don’t merit respect. Choices to vilify whole categories of people don’t merit respect. Choices to support leaders who vilify whole categories of people don’t merit respect. The choice to foment fear and hatred in service to callous and brutal policies doesn’t merit respect. The choice to support a leader who foments fear and hatred in service to callous and brutal policies doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to forcibly take children from their mothers who arrived at your door in terror, fleeing from violence, in order to discourage such mothers from seeking such assistance, doesn’t merit respect. The choice to support leaders who forcibly take children from their mothers who arrive at our borders in terror, fleeing violence, in order to discourage them from doing so, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who calls white supremacists who rioted in and terrorized a southern town, including murdering one counter-protester with a car, “some very good people” doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who bragged about routinely committing sexual assault, and is accused by 19 women of having done so, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who mocked a disabled reporter doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who tries to undermine the free press and convince the American people that the free press is their enemy doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who lies twice as often as he tells the truth, and always to serve his own interests rather than the public interest, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who praises despots and alienates allies, igniting a mutually destructive trade war with tariffs no economist thinks are a good idea doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who, as a candidate, asked three times in a military briefing why, if we have nuclear weapons, don’t we use them, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who has said that he is in favor of nuclear proliferation and wouldn’t care if there were a nuclear war in Asia (which wouldn’t just be a humanitarian crisis on an almost unimaginable scale, but would also destroy the global economy and create a global catastrophe which would be completely disastrous for us as well) doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who said that an American born judge of Mexican descent was unfit to hear a lawsuit against Trump because of his Mexican heritage doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader whose anti-constitutional authoritarian policies have been blocked by the courts repeatedly for violating the protections of fundamental rights guaranteed in our Constitution doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader whose own racism is evident from his violation of the Fair Housing Act for discriminating against blacks, his taking out of full-page ads calling for the execution of a group of black teens arrested for a crime they didn’t commit, his repeated vilification of Mexicans, his constant fear and hate mongering, his courting of and support by white supremacists (including appoint one as a senior advisor after winning the election), his support of the preservation and continued display of symbols of white supremacy, his exploitation of racist outrage toward peaceful and respectful protests by blacks of excessive use of deadly force by police toward frequently innocent black suspects, doesn’t merit respect.

The choice to support a leader who is economically and diplomatically illiterate, uninformed, incurious, indifferent to the consequences of governing with self-glorifying and dysfunctional bluster rather than with skill or knowledge doesn’t merit respect.

The tragic thing is that this list can go on ten times longer than it already has, this president is such a dramatically unqualified and disqualified individual for the presidency. He has quoted Mussolini, the inventor of Fascism, favorably; he had (according to Ivana in a 1990s interview in Vanity Fair) a copy of “Mein Kampf” on his bed stand; he has bragged about his superior “German blood;” he made his entry into politics by becoming the figurehead of the arbitrary racist insistence that the first black president wasn’t born in America but rather Kenya…. How is it even possible for anyone to insist that it is unfair to them for others to be appalled that they supported this horrid, incompetent, hateful individual for the presidency?

But I don’t want us to be stuck in our being appalled and you feeling wronged by it. I want us to join together to try to be the nation and the people we once were and could and should be again, a compassionate people, a nation that values our alliances and understands the need to mobilize expertise in navigating the complexities of the modern world, a nation that seeks to join people together rather than divide them into warring tribes, a nation that believes in justice and in human decency, a nation that strives to be wise and fair and admirable. I don’t care about your past decisions; I care about your present and future decisions, about whether you continue to double down on choosing to destroy this nation, or whether you will join with all reasonable people of goodwill to correct our course and be a decent and honorable people once again.

This is self-destructive craziness we are in now. Yes, it’s true, I want to shake people like you and shout, “What the hell is the matter with you?! Why are you doing this to us?!” Obviously, you are free to dismiss me and all of the world’s historians and all of the world’s economists and all of the world’s foreign policy experts and all of our nation’s living past presidents from both parties and all of the evidence and all reason and all human decency, and insist that up is down and in is out and even if it isn’t it doesn’t really matter because fate is in charge anyway, all incredibly irresponsible things to insist upon and impose upon this nation and world. You are free to do it, but you are wrong to do it, morally wrong. And I really don’t believe you’re that kind of person, who knowingly inflicts harm on multitudes and knowingly destroys this country we all love. I don’t believe that that is who and what you really are.

So my question is: Are you more concerned with not being criticized for this choice, or with doing what’s right if the criticism is, after all, warranted? Which is more important, your feelings, or America’s and humanity’s welfare?

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, I don’t care about the critics. Call me immoral, call me whatever you want. If you want to change politics why don’t you run for office, or find a candidate of your choice to back? It’s not about my feelings. To me and many others, I guess you can boil it down to one core issue, and this issue was central to us way before Trump arrived on the scene. It’s our issue, no matter who is in office or who is running. The issue is Globalism. I believe in Sovereign Nations, free and independent of any kind of “One World Governing Body.” If America First is appalling to you, and I think it is, you have the right to your opinion. I am sure you won’t like our Governor here in Texas either : ) The Democrats, in my opinion are ruining this Country.

Colorado Steve Harvey: What we’re doing now doesn’t put “America first,” anymore than the Hatfields and McCoys were putting their respective families first when they spent generations killing each other. You subscribe to a zero sum fallacy in a non-zero sum world, to everyone’s detriment, including our own. That’s where the phrase “enlightened self interest” comes from, the realization that to serve ourselves well we must enter into messy cooperative relationships with both friends and foes. People who actually spend their lives in economics and diplomacy get this; people who refuse to recognize the limits of their own expertise not only don’t get it but obstruct the beneficial mobilization of knowledge and experience they lack, believing that their current understanding is the understanding that should govern us, and that the expertise of others is irrelevant. And, if you’ll pardon my saying so, that combination of ignorance and arrogance is the most destructive force in the human world, the author of all our woes.

Here’s the point: I don’t, in general, just believe in random ideological narratives of reality. None of us should. But when you “argue” your position, you don’t argue it at all. Rather, you appeal to some random article of ideological faith. We can do better than that. We can analyze data. We can formulate an evolving, precise, highly sophisticated understanding of reality, and we can use that understanding to govern ourselves intelligently rather than arbitrarily. And that’s the real political divide in the world, between those who believe in our responsibility as citizens and human beings and do due diligence in service to it, and those who don’t. Guess which group is comprised of creative problem solvers and which group, in one form or another, flies planes into buildings and calls it a noble cause.

I’m done. Feel free to stay and chat about the weather. You clearly don’t want to be reached, and I clearly don’t appreciate the plane you’re​ choosing to fly into our building.

LR: I am not choosing to fly a plane into anything. I voted. You don’t like my choice. 2020 is 2 years from now, a lot can happen between now and then, so we will see : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: This isn’t a plane that hits the building just once and the damage is done. It occurs in slow motion, more of the damage mitigated the sooner those who’ve hijacked us either have a change of heart or are simply overpowered. The fact that we have a legal opportunity to overpower you in two years does not mean that it would not be to everyone’s benefit for you to have a change of heart long before then.

I think it’s important to note that this is a familiar historical scenario for the collapse of a republic, going back to the collapse of the Roman republic under Julius Caesar, and through the collapse of the Weimar Republic under Adolf Hitler. The scenario is as follows: An authoritarian populist attracts a large following by promising a return to supposedly lapsed “greatness,” and in the modern scenario by targeting foreigners, minorities, intellectuals, and the press, and countervailing governmental branches acquiesce out of either fear or self-interest in light of the populist pressure put upon them. The republic then becomes a dictatorship.

You wrote in an earlier comment that if all of this is a mistake, the republic will survive it. I answered, with emphasis on “probably,” that we would *probably* survive it, but I have no desire to continue to gamble our freedom and well-being on that very uncertain assessment of where the probability lies. We are in great danger as a republic right now. We really are. This is scary. This is horrifying. And, yes, people can vote their own freedom away without knowing it; they can vote their own prosperity, their own safety, their own welfare away without knowing it. It’s happened many times in the past, in republics that had existed longer than ours has and among people who didn’t believe it possible that that could ever change.

It can. We are gambling everything that we are, everything that our Founding Fathers and every soldier and public servant after them fought and often died for. And for what? To make enemies of friends and to strengthen the hand against us of the enemies we already had? To pretend that a trade war that no one wins and everyone loses makes us greater? To rail against history and the reality of interdependence? This is self-destructive insanity, pure and simple. The urgent challenge facing us as a nation and world –that, as I said, virtually everyone, from both parties and across the ideological spectrum, with relevant experience and expertise not only knows but is shouting as loudly as they can from the rooftops– is whether we can convince enough of those who are deceived or self-deceived to help pull us back from the brink in time

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, contrary to what you may believe about my capacity to understand, I totally understand where you are coming from in the above statement. I have thought deeply about it. My main question to others who I ask about this is “Why are they drawing a correlation between Trump and Hitler?” Now I see from your perspective, but I still think you are making a far stretch here, as far as what is happening or going to happen. I don’t know what else to say : )

Colorado Steve Harvey: LR, as far as I know, I am not saying or implying anything about your capacity to understand. And my analogies to Hitler, as well as to Julius Caesar, are for specific purposes, identifying specific similarities. Since I make those similarities explicit, there is no question of it being “a stretch,” unless you can explain why those similarities aren’t in fact real or relevant.

Again, every position has to be argued rationally and with reference to empirical data to be anything other than an empty ideological assertion. One can believe whatever they want, but, in discourse, the standard should be how well they made their case, not just whether they announced what they believe. My whole point is that reason applied to evidence DOES lead to the conclusions I am drawing (and, frankly, the conclusions shared by virtually everyone else on Earth with relevant expertise or highly developed critical thinking skills), and I make my case why that is so. Simply saying “I have thought deeply about it” is not an actual argument.

I, and a whole lot of other people, continuously lay out in detail exactly why Trump and the movement surrounding him is not just bad for America, but an existential threat to America as we know it, and dangerous to the world. It may sound like hyperbole to you, simply because any such claim is assumed to be hyperbole, but a lot of very non-hyperbolic people are shouting it very loudly, and there are clearly times in history when it has not been hyperbole; lots of times in history, in fact. So, we have to consider the possibility that it isn’t hyperbole now. And if a cogent argument is being presented as to why it isn’t, simply assuming it is out of habit or convenience isn’t really very convincing.

A guy named Dan Kanan (if I’m remembering his name correctly) came up with a notion he called “the tragedy of the belief commons.” The tragedy of the commons is one variation of a set of scenarios in which when each individual acts in their own self-interest, the collective outcome is more harmful to everyone involved than had they been able to act cooperatively in their collective interests instead. (Something very relevant here as well.) But the tragedy of the belief commons is that we form our beliefs more as an expression of allegiance to some social identity we hold, while those beliefs may not actually be (and more often than not aren’t) what actually serves our general welfare.

So, it’s important for each person not just to state what they believe, but to explain why it actually does serve our general welfare. And in a conversation in which one side is doing that and the other is not, the side that is doing it is presumptively the one that has the better claim to be in service to our general welfare, until someone makes a more cogent argument to the contrary.

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, my answer comes from my husband who has a Masters in Sociology. Revisionism. Germany the 1930’s was nothing like the USA today. The economy, unemployment, Plus, Germany had never been a democracy, also the Treaty of Versailles, where they were blamed for WWI and had to make reparations and give up land as part of the surrender agreement.

Colorado Steve Harvey: Again, I made specific comparisons, explicitly enumerated. You have not addressed any of them. I can help you out with listing differences, if you like: the de facto national languages are different, the populations are different, the size and shape of the territory is different, the longitude and latitude of the capital is different, the currency is different. There is an endless list of differences, all of which are irrelevant to disproving the validity of the specific similarities I named.

By the way, the Weimar Republic was democratic, and Hitler rose to power through mostly democratic processes.

Though I know it’s not intentional, I’m going to point out that focusing the debate on the tangential question of whether the comparisons I drew to Nazi Germany are warranted, especially without addressing the actual comparisons I made, is a tactic called “pettifogging,” which involves avoiding the central issue by focusing on tenuously relevant tangential issues, like whether the imposition of German reparations in the Versailles Treaty render comparisons of different instances of authoritarian populism moot (it doesn’t), when the real issue is whether our current crisis of authoritarian populism is dangerous to our republic and to humanity (it is).

LR: Colorado Steve Harvey, its because the comparisons you made on the surface seem valid , and I can understand them , if you dig deeper into history , ” that dog won’t hunt ” Why are some people losing their minds over this ? Because a non Politician with no political experience was elected President over all the experts .career politicians , and Washington elites. In short , some peoples world was turned upside down and they just can’t get over it.

Colorado Steve Harvey: Okay, I do officially give up at this point. The dog that doesn’t hunt is your willingness to absorb information that utterly destroys any notion of logical, empirical or moral defensibility of the position you hold. You will continue to insist that up is down, in is out, and wrong is right forever, and there’s nothing I can do about that.

You have the entire world population of people with relevant knowledge, experience and expertise trying desperately to get you to open your eyes (and heart) to a reality you have closed them to. You have argument after argument compellingly showing you that you are, frankly, just plain wrong, in every conceivable way. You have most of the party that supports Trump and all of the party that opposes him, publicly or privately, beside themselves in disbelief and horror at what is happening. And it’s all irrelevant to you.

What we have is an enormous quantity of evidence that Trump is an authoritarian populist eroding our democratic and constitutional institutions, our norms and conventions that maintain and preserve them, our international alliances, and our basic human decency, stoking fear and hatred, inciting racist and xenophobic rage and violence (there HAS been a rise in hate crimes). And it’s clear that no amount of fact, reason, or appeal to human decency is ever going to have any impact on you at all.

If you and EB would like to continue this conversation, please feel free to do so, preferably, at this point, elsewhere. It was a noble experiment, asking the question of whether a person dogmatically holding an empirically, rationally, and morally indefensible position but willing to listen to arguments against them could be persuaded to give up that position. The answer, in this case, was no. That’s too bad. But I don’t have an eternity to devote to this experiment. I wish you all the best.

There is great demand for an ultra-simplified version of my proposal for a social movement to shift the cultural ground beneath our political struggles, in favor of reason in service to our shared humanity. If this abbreviated synopsis raises questions, they are almost certainly answered in the comprehensive treatments I have given elsewhere.

The organized social movement I propose would have three components: 1) a network of community organizations with a specific purpose (described below); 2) a data-base or internet portal allowing easy access to the best peer-review quality arguments on all sides of any social issue; and 3) a meta-messaging program, whose purpose is to create, gather, and disseminate messages (works of art, movies, documentaries, books, plays, advertisements, internet memes, etc.) which reinforce our shared commitment to one another, to reason, and to humanity.

The community organizations would leverage existing community organizations (HMOs, park districts, PTOs, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, local churches and synagogues and mosques and temples of any and all kinds, etc.) , to provide a vehicle for community solidarity, for tutoring and mentoring programs for local youth, and a forum for frequently held and formally moderated public discourse and debate among neighbors, with strictly cultivated and enforced norms of listening to what others have to say, and trying to see the world through the eyes of those you most disagree with. One “ritual” that would be implemented to do this would be debating the opposite position from the one you actually hold, to the best of your ability; researching it and composing the best argument you possibly can.

The data base or portal is to inform these debates, to provide easy access to the best arguments on all sides of any issue. A larger, longer-term project is something akin to “the human genome project” in the social theoretical sphere, creating a coherent, comprehensive mapping of the human social institutional landscape through a rigorous social scientific lens, synthesized through the complex dynamical systems social analytical paradigm I outline in the essays hyperlinked to in the first box at “Catalogue of Selected Posts” on Colorado Confluence (see URL below). This will provide a subtler, deeper and broader basis for informed public discourse, for those inclined to engage in such discourse at a more sophisticated level of analysis, ideally eventually transforming an ever larger swath of the public into an extended national academy of social analysis.

While membership in those organizations would not be any greater than membership in any other community organizations, the point here is not that everyone participates, but that participation is seen as a normal part of our social institutional environment, that we are not just a bunch of individuals left to shout obscenities at one another, but that we can be, if we choose, deliberative citizens of a civil society, using our reason and our discourse to forge a more rational and humane society.

The value of this is not just the direct fruits of one institution promoting rational discourse in service to our shared humanity, but also promotion of the narrative of rational discourse in service to our shared humanity. Ideologies dedicated to any other purpose often claim to be both rational and humane. This movement would provide a challenge to that claim, and a more credible claim to being the community locus of rational, civil discourse in service to our shared humanity.

The third pillar of “meta- messaging” is one dedicated to reminding one another of our shared humanity. In politics, strategists recognize the importance of “messaging” to promote a particular stance on an issue. This is the cultural equivalent, but, instead of promoting a particular stance on particular issues, it only promotes a commitment to reason in service to humanity. Christmas “feel-good” movies are a good example of what meta-messaging looks like: A reminder of our shared humanity, of the goodness of caring about one another, of the ugliness of failing to. This pillar of the movement is a constant, intentional, strategic campaign of bombarding the public with such reminders by all means and mediums possible, as often as possible, in the most effective ways possible.

Combined, these three pillars constitute a cultural movement advancing the cause of reason in service to our shared humanity. It is more methodological than substantive (it cannot take, as an organization or a movement, any positions on policy issues other than this generic commitment to reason in service to our shared humanity, and this process for better realizing it), an attempt to extend somewhat the methodological virtues of scientific methodology and legal procedure for determining contested truths.

Modern history has been defined by an undercurrent, an evolutionary impetus, favoring both increased reliance on methodical rationality (scientific method, legal procedure, formal organizational structures, etc.) and an increased commitment, at least in principle, to our shared humanity (political revolutions based on the values of “liberty and justice for all,” the abolition of slavery, anti-imperialism/national independence movements, civil rights movements of various kinds, etc.). This movement is designed to reduce the chasm between the loci of these undercurrents of modern history and the public at large, and to promote the already well-established narrative that favors reason over irrationality and a commitment to our shared humanity over conscious inhumanities, making it more difficult to claim their mantle arbitarily and falsely.

In the gardens of Athens in the fourth century BC (planting the seeds of Western Civilization), in the plazas of Florence in the 16th century AD (ushering in the modern era), in the salons of Paris in the 18th century AD (informing and inspiring others in a small meeting room in Philadelphia), to a lesser extent in mid-19th century Concord, MA (informing and inspiring Gandhi and King and Mandela), the genius of a few unleashed new currents of the genius of the many, currents thick with reason and a stronger commitment to our shared humanity, changing the course of human history. It has been done before and it will be done again, whenever and wherever people choose to do it.

They did not gather in those times and places to discuss only how to win this or that election or to shift power from one party to another or to address the human endeavor one issue at a time. Rather, they gathered, with wonder and hope and passion, to explore and discover, to create and innovate, to raise reason and our shared humanity onto a pedestal and dedicate themselves to the enterprise of perfecting our consciousness and improving our existence.

In every time and place, including these ones of particular florescence, most of the people went about their business, engaged in the mundane challenges of life, fought the battles we all fight, both personal and collective. But the great paradigm shifts of history have happened when a coalescence of inspired minds reached deeper and broader than others around them, beyond the individual issues of the day, beyond the immediate urgencies and power struggles, and sought out the essence of our existence, to understand it, to celebrate it, and to change it for the better.

Imagine a gathering of great minds today that were not lost to the minutia of academe or the mud-pit of politics or the selfish pursuit of wealth and fame and power, but were free to devote themselves to the challenge of orchestrating a social transformation, a peaceful revolution occurring beneath the surface of events, a new threshold reached in the advance of creative reason in service to humanity.

Imagine gatherings of engaged citizens that, guided only by the broadly attractive narrative of reason in service to our shared humanity, of emulating our Founding Fathers and fulfilling the vision that they had for this nation, dedicated themselves to learning how to listen to one another and weigh competing arguments rather than regress ever deeper into blind ideological trench warfare. Imagine forming the nucleus of a movement that would extend the logic of methodical reason in service to our shared humanity ever more broadly, not just through direct participation, but through the promotion of the narrative that we are capable of doing so and that it is incumbent on us to do so.

What is stopping us from establishing such gatherings, and such a movement? What is stopping us from bringing together a small cadre of brilliant minds to implement ideas designed to cascade through the social fabric in transformative ways, and large populations of engaged citizens to stir and be stirred by the sea giving rise to those cresting waves of brilliance, together advancing the tide of imaginative reason in service to our shared humanity? Only the precise combination of vision, drive, sophistication and resources that would make it happen, not just in some stumbling and unsustainable or unproductive way, but as a living, breathing, current reality.

I’ve designed the nucleus of an idea, a social movement that is realistic as well as idealistic, a secular religion to promote the narrative and practice of disciplined reason in service to our shared humanity. As a person who learned how to dream as a child; who drifted and worked and lived around the world for several years as a young adult; who became a social scientist, author, teacher, lawyer, public policy consultant, candidate for office, and member of several nonprofit boards and advisory councils; who has done urban outreach work and community organizing; who has synthesized ideas from many disciplines, many great minds, and much experience, this is not a Quixotic quest that boasts much but can deliver little; it is a carefully considered strategic plan for moving the center of gravity of our zeitgeist in the direction of an ever-increasing reliance on imaginative reason in ever-increasing service to our shared humanity.

For a comprehensive (though somewhat dense) presentation of my proposal, please see A Proposal: The Politics of Reason and Goodwill.

For a briefer and simpler presentation of the underlying philosophy of this proposed social movement, please see: The Ideology of Reason in Service to Humanity.

For an extremely bare-bones summary of the social movement idea itself, please see: A VERY Simplified Synopsis of “The Politics of Reason and Goodwill”.

For more elaboration of various aspects of this proposal and various musings about it, please see the essays hyperlinked to in the second box at: Catalogue of Selected Posts

The biggest challenge that faces human beings is to make sense rather than to make noise. Effectively addressing all other challenges depends on it. Whether we want to change the world or want to protect ourselves from the impositions of others trying to change the world, our beliefs, our goals, our actions, are all a function of how we understand reality, and it is clear, at least in the abstract, that some understandings are more precise, more accurate, and more useful than others.

The first thing we have to understand is that we are not just a collection of individuals, but rather are members of a society and organisms in a biosphere. We exist interdependently with one another and with our environment, unable to survive at all without the latter and unable to survive as human beings without the former. Our continued existence as organisms depends on ingesting food and breathing air, two vital needs that are produced and maintained by the living planet which we inhabit interdependently with other living things. Our consciousness as human beings and our existence beyond bare survival (and in almost all cases our survival itself) depends on our coexistence with other human beings in organized groups, through which our use of language allows us to thrive through a shared but differentiated mind and a shared but differentiated enterprise.

That leads to the first question we must face: Do we, as individuals and as a society, take responsibility for our impact on those systems of which we are a part, or do we leave them to their own organic trajectories, pursuing our own immediate goals without attempting to act with conscious intent beyond them? Do we attempt to be conscious and conscientious participants in these larger wholes of which we are a part, or do we simply live as individual organisms pursuing our own individual desires? Do we take responsibility for one another, for the distribution of suffering and well-being, of opportunity and of relative lack of opportunity, for how well our systems are functioning in terms of their sustainability, their robustness, and their fairness, or do we insist that doing so is either impossible or undesirable?

The second thing we have to understand is our own fallibility. Anything any one of us is certain about may be wrong. Our various beliefs and certainties are conceptualizations of reality in our minds, and must always be considered fallible. This leads to two considerations: 1) the best (and perhaps only rational) argument supporting those who insist that we must not try to govern ourselves as rational people confronting the challenges and opportunities we face is the argument that perhaps we are simply not up to the task, and that we should therefore rely on simple principles that best liberate our collective and individual genius rather than try to “micromanage” our shared existence, and 2) our focus should be on how we arrive at our conclusions, rather than on insisting that our current conclusions are the one absolute truth.

The first consideration is easily dealt with: Recognizing our fallibility and the power of organic processes is a part of being rational people working together to do the best we can, not a displacement of it. The Constitution (created by intentional human thought, arguably a very ambitious act of “social engineering”) and the modern marketplace (also a product of much intentional thought and oversight) are not magical panaceas which free us from the responsibility of striving to be responsible and humane sovereigns, but are merely part of the accumulated material of past efforts by past generations to do what we ourselves are called upon to continue to do: To govern ourselves intelligently, responsibly, and intentionally, in service to our shared humanity.

We should strive to emulate rather than idolize our “founding fathers,” to be the same kind of proactive rational citizens, working together, mobilizing our intelligence, believing in our ability to rationally and humanely govern ourselves. We should utilize rather than surrender to market forces, recognizing that there is nothing about them that automatically resolves all human problems and challenges, but rather that they are one useful institutional modality upon which we can rely in concert with others, in our ongoing efforts to work together to do the best we can in service to our shared humanity.

The second consideration flowing from our recognition of our own fallibility is the one that leads to a broader and deeper commitment to the methodologies that have proved most useful in the modern era at diminishing the aggregate effects of bias and increasing aggregate accuracy in our conclusions. Both scientific methodology and legal procedure are sets of techniques for informing and framing rigorous debates over what is and is not true, following sets of rules regarding what evidence to consider reliable and how to organize and channel the determinations that follow from that evidence. In science, the purpose to which this process is put is to refine our shared consciousness; in law, it is to increase the justness of our coexistence. These, indeed, are the two things we should always be striving to do, as responsible sovereigns, and to do so most effectively we should build on the methodologies that already exist for doing so.

In other words, the most pressing imperative facing our shared human enterprise right now is the expansion of the logic of science and law into the realm of public discourse and public opinion and policy formation. We need to transcend, to leave on the dust heap of history, the myth that all opinions are equal (while protecting the expression of all opinions in order to determine their relative merits), and engage in rigorous, increasingly formal debates in a constant quest for the best understandings, in best service to our shared humanity.

Tragically, we, as a people, are not only faced with the challenge of cultivating these disciplines more broadly among ourselves, but also of convincing those least committed to them that they have any value at all. We are also faced with the challenge of overcoming the reality that human beings in general do not arrive at their conclusions primarily through rational processes, but rather through social and emotional processes that often circumvent or disregard reason and evidence, and often serve narrower interests than our shared humanity.

The challenge facing rational and humane people, therefore, is not just to make the most compelling arguments in best service to our shared humanity, but also to create a context in which the most compelling arguments in best service to our shared humanity are more likely to prevail. That requires us to be rational about human irrationality, and to engage not primarily in a competition of rational arguments but rather in a competition of emotional narratives. The challenge, in other words, is to create a compelling emotional narrative out of the notion of being rational and humane people, and, even more, the notion of being rational and humane people in certain specific, disciplined ways, and then to create a set of mechanisms by which the most compelling rational arguments in best service to our shared humanity are also, simultaneously, compelling emotional narratives that persuade people who do not engage in or necessarily understand the disciplines we are promoting.

The most immediate challenge in the ongoing human endeavor, in other words, is to create, promote, and disseminate a compelling emotional narrative that systematically favors reason in service to humanity, not on a case-by-case basis (as we have been doing), but in a more general and comprehensive way.

There are, therefore, two major branches to the human endeavor: 1) to continue to develop, deepen, and broaden a commitment to disciplined reason in service to our shared humanity, using the methodologies we have developed for doing so, and extending the breadth of contexts in which they are utilized and the number of people striving to utilize them; and 2) to create an emotionally compelling narrative that attracts those who lack the desire or ability to utilize or defer to those disciplines (rigorously applied and debated rational argumentation) or that objective (our shared humanity) to support them not just in name, but also in some effective and authentic way.

To some, this will all seem too abstract, too far removed from the political and cultural realities we grapple with, or too far removed from their own emotional and cognitive inclinations. But those of us who are truly committed to striving to become an ever-more rational and humane people need to recognize that the ongoing mud-fight isn’t the height of what we can do, that we need to reach higher, think deeper, act more ambitiously in service to the highest of ideals and the noblest of purposes. The great cultural and political heroes of modern history, who we revere for their inspired and effective leadership, are who they are precisely because they have had the courage and determination to bite off rather large chunks of this challenge that I have just laid out, opposing imperialism or racism or other injustices. But we can invoke them all now, we can rally them to the greater cause of which they all were a part, and we can promote that cause with the same degree of passion and commitment that they did…, because that truly is the essence of the human endeavor.

(My essays on Colorado Confluence elaborate many of these themes. In the first box at Catalogue of Selected Posts are hyperlinks to essays laying out a comprehensive social systemic paradigm through which to understand and analyze our shared cognitive/social institutional/historical/technological landscape. In the second box are hyperlinks to essays laying out a social movement idea for promoting the narrative of and actual commitment to reason in service to humanity. Scattered among the remaining boxes are hyperlinks to essays exploring various aspects of both of these branches of the human endeavor. Together, they form a comprehensive and detailed map of the human endeavor as I have described it in this essay.)

Regarding educational reform, I think there are two main dimensions to address: 1) Student socialization and culture, and 2) targeted student (and teacher) placement. (Though issues of teacher socialization and training are also relevant, in this essay I’m going to focus only on student socialization, which I think is the most critical issue in educational achievement; and, yes, in response to a comment to this essay on Facebook, that does include addressing parent socialization as well.) The issue of student socialization and culture involves how students are taught to be students and encouraged to engage in those behaviors most conducive to successful learning, both in the school and in all the years and hours outside of (including prior to) the school. The issue of targeted placement involves making sure that every student and teacher is placed in the environment most conducive to satisfying their particular needs (for students) and most able to exploit their particular talents (for teachers). In other words, neither students nor teachers are fungible (interchangeable) , and we need to stop acting as if they are.

Student socialization is really the critical factor in student success or failure: Those students who are better socialized to be good students will excel more certainly and in a broader array of contexts, whereas those who are not will require increasingly precise, expensive, and elaborate interventions (that are decreasingly successful) and will to varying degrees obstruct the education of those around them. Addressing student socialization requires both more attention to the role that time prior to and outside of the school plays in determining how students perform in school, and more attention to the role that kids play in encouraging/facilitating either educationally conducive or educationally counterproductive behaviors among one another both in school and out.

To address the socialization issue of what goes on prior to and outside the school, I think we need to implement a very robust volunteer tutoring and mentoring program, locally, statewide, and nationally. We have enormous social and professional resources, including a growing cadre of retirees looking for useful places to put their time and energy, and a huge need on the part of many students to be socialized into a sense of intellectual curiosity and how to feed the hunger for knowledge and comprehension that such curiosity instills. (To some extent, such socialization primarily requires careful nurturing of innate tendencies, because children are naturally curious.)

As for in-school, student mutual socialization, I worked on a research project years ago involving incentivizing mutual encouragement of positive behaviors in a target population (something I’ll call “group-mediated behavioral reinforcement”). The project was enormously successful, and can and should be applied to schools. We already have in Colorado programs like The Legacy Schools Project implemented by The Colorado Legacy Foundation, rewarding students for their own good academic work, but what if we extended such incentive-based programs to rewarding not only good academic work (e.g., passing an AP exam with a 3 or above, as Legacy does), but also helping others to do so as well, paying successful students for their recruits who also pass with a 3 or above? What you end up with is a positive pyramid-scheme of increasing numbers of successful students scouring the remaining student population search of recruits to train and assist in excelling academically.

Finally, targeted placement: We throw students with various and competing needs all together, and frequently don’t address any of their needs very well, particularly in failing schools. We need to identify student needs, and target their placement into schools that can specialize in meeting those needs. For instance, some of the most responsible and motivated students in the articulation areas of failing schools would benefit most from a college-like environment; others need military-like discipline due to the degree to which their own dysfunctional behaviors have become entrenched in them; and others still need more personal, emotional, and focused attention and nurturing. School choice does not really address this, because parents and students generally seek out the schools that they wish were right for them rather than those that actually are, or, in some cases, that satisfy needs and desires other than educational achievement. We need to find ways to target the assignment of students to schools in order to give them each what they really need, and to prevent those with incompatible needs from undermining the education of those around them.

“Targeted teacher placement” simply refers to the fact that we assign teachers too haphazardly, frequently  putting teachers with less subject area expertise but great technical and classroom management skills in high performing schools and advanced classes, and teachers with extraordinary subject area expertise but poorer technical and classroom management skills in behaviorally challenging schools and classes, losing the comparative advantage of both and setting both up for failure or sub-optimal performance (which in turn means that the students in both contexts receive educational services inferior to what they would have had teachers been more strategically and consciously placed).

Clearly, all of these recommendations raise a host of issues, primarily involving the tension between centralized decision-making and local autonomy. But identifying the most fundamental, underlying factors affecting educational success and failure is a critical component of any truly robust and ambitious plan for educational reform. It’s time to move past the superficial panaceas and start focusing on the real educational challenges we face and on developing richer, deeper and more structurally penetrating strategies for addressing them.

(See also Education Policy Ideas, Real Education Reform , Mistaken Locus of Education Reform, School Vouchers, Pros & Cons, A Colorado Teacher’s Perspective on Education Reform, American Universities: Two Dimensions on which to Improve)

“School choice” is all the rage. “Accountability” is all the rage. “Funding” is all the rage. I’ve written before on the more fundamental concerns we should be addressing: Student socialization both prior to and within the school, requiring us to pay more attention to that larger portion of a child’s educational preparation that occurs outside the school building and outside the school year and hours, and requiring us to focus more on preparing students to be students than on seeking superficial panaceas that can succeed without attending to this fundamental challenge.

But there is another dimension on which we are systematically failing to address our real educational challenges: The manner in which students and teachers are placed. “School choice” is based on a notion of educational consumers and providers, relying on market dynamics to discipline schools. “School choice,” however, is a misguided effort to homogenize schools, to set them up to compete for generic clients, rather than to create more targeted educational institutions, in which those students who currently do the most to undermine the education of others are placed away from others where they cannot do so, in highly disciplined environments where they can learn to behave in a manner that does not adversely affect others, and in which all other students are similarly assigned to environments which are specifically tailored to meet their particular needs and to leverage their particular talents.

Neither teachers nor students are fungible; each is unique, and all fall along numerous axes of variation. School reform, and intentional educational policy, has paid little or no attention to the challenge of ensuring that we make an effort to place the right students with the right teachers, that we utilize our human capital to maximum advantage by playing to individual teachers’ comparative advantages, and that we serve students most effectively by assigning them to the teachers and schools that best serve their needs.

There are students currently thrown together in struggling urban schools with very different sets of challenges and difficulties, often exacerbating one another’s problems, feeding into one another’s dysfunctions, and creating unmanageable or difficult to manage chaos together, whereas removing just a few of the students who really need strict military-style discipline from that setting would free the teacher and the remainder of the students to engage in a far more functional and fast-moving educational process. Further, assigning students more carefully according to their strengths, weaknesses, and needs would allow those particular strengths weaknesses and needs to be most effectively addressed. This is, in many ways, the opposite of the direction we have gone in, insisting that students with identified special needs are placed in “the least restrictive environment,” meaning not separated from other students lacking similar needs unless “absolutely necessary” (by criteria of necessity that does not include overall educational effectiveness for all children).

Similarly, teachers with a gift for teaching the highest functioning and most motivated students (highly intellectual college-level teachers with vast enthusiasm and expertise in their discipline and imaginative, intellectually stimulating lesson plans) often find themselves stuck in struggling schools beset by serious behavioral problems, frustrated by the fact that they have no special gift for this job, though they do for another that goes by the same name. As a result, their careers are short and education loses excellent teachers who were destroyed by a dysfunctional system. At the same time, teachers whose subject-area expertise and imagination are less well developed but have excellent classroom management skills are often promoted to teaching advanced courses in pedestrian ways, where the most highly motivated and capable students are deprived of the benefits of more knowledgeable and imaginative teachers.

This is one more dimension to our deep-structural educational dysfunction, along with an unwillingness to tap into, in a very robust way, the community resources available to our kids (i.e., professionals and retirees who would be glad to volunteer their time tutoring and mentoring kids, but are never asked to do so), to broaden the educational mission to include more focused and extensive work with families in order to assist them in assisting their children to become intellectually curious life-long learners, and to engage in programmatic strategies for developing student cultures in which students themselves mutually reinforce educationally productive behaviors and mutually discourage educationally counterproductive behaviors in their peers.

(See the seventh box at Catalogue of Selected Posts for hyperlinks to essays on related education policy ideas and critiques of current popular education reform obsessions.)

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

Mischievous imps blowing invisible darts that stoke human passions and spin them out of control, moving twigs a few inches across the forest floor providing links in conflagrations that would not otherwise occur, plucking the strings of nature to produce crescendos of catastrophe. Zen-mathematician wizards dancing in their ice spheres high in the Vaznal Mountains, solving ever-deepening riddles of sound and sight and sensation, weaving order from the chaos the Loci imps foment. Winged muses carving sensuous stories from the clouds and celebrating the lives of those from whose dreams and tribulations they were born.

A fiery giantess is held captive in a hollow mountain. A sea serpent’s breath inspires the priestess of an island oracle poised above a chasm beneath which it sleeps. City-states are at war; slaves, led by a charismatic general, are in uprising; dictators and warlords are vying for power; neighboring kingdoms and empires are strategically courting local clients in pursuit of regional hegemony or outright conquest. Human avarice has strained the natural context on which it thrives. And ordinary people in extraordinary times, caught within the vortex of the powers that both surround and comprise them, navigate those turbulent currents.

Follow the adventures of Algonion Goodbow, the magical archer; Sarena of Ashra, the young girl at the center of this epic tale; their friends and mentors, guides and adversaries, as they thread the needle of great events, and discover truths even more profound than the myths of legend and lore. Discover the truth of fiction and the fiction of truth; celebrate the fantastic and sublime, in this magical tale laden with rich echoes of world history and world mythology, informed by blossoms of human consciousness from Chaos Theory to Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts, from Richard Dawkin’s Meme Theory to Eastern Mysticism, enriched by the author’s own travels and adventures.

A prophesied Disruption is upon the land of Calambria, causing the Earth to quake and societies to crumble. The Loci imps are its agents, but, according to Sadache mythology, it is Chaos, one of the two Parents of the Universe, who is its ultimate author. As Chaos eternally strives to make the One Many, Cosmos, the other Parent of the Universe, strives to make the Many One. The Sadache people view themselves as the children of Cosmos, whom they worship, and the lowest rung of a hierarchy of conscious beings opposing Chaos and the Loci imps. Above them, both of them and apart from them, are the drahmidi priests of the Cult of Cosmos, founded by the hero and conqueror Ogaro centuries before. Above the drahmidi are the Vaznallam wizards, Cosmos’s agents, just as the Loci are Chaos’s.

As the Great Disruption begins to manifest itself, Sarena of Ashra, a peasant girl from a village on the outskirts of the city-state of Boalus, flees an unwanted marriage to an arrogant lord and in search of freedom and destiny. She meets a young vagabond on the road, coming from the seat of the ceremonial High Kingdom, Ogaropol, fleeing his own pursuers. Together they form an alliance that leads through adventures together and apart, and binds them into two halves of a single whole.

Swirling around them are the wars of would be dictators and cult-leaders, of neighboring empires and kingdoms; the adventures of young Champions engaged in the prophesied Contest by which the Redeemer would be chosen and the Realignment realized. But, in both different and similar ways, the culmination of centuries of history flows through these two people, Algonion and Sarena, on haphazard quests of their own. And both the past and the future are forever changed by their discoveries and deeds.

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

Click here to learn about my mind-bending epic mythological novel A Conspiracy of Wizards!!!

Though the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic “I have a dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, is still three days away, today is the day to start reflecting on it, on its continuing relevance in so many ways, and on our need to recommit as a nation to that poignant dream of realizing our decency as a nation.

As we look back on recent events and recent developments, on the shooting death of an unarmed black teen walking home from the store by an armed vigilante out looking for “bad guys;” of the response by so many dismissing it as the price we pay for the “liberty” to “protect ourselves,” often informed by our bigotries,  in violent and deadly ways; of the combination of a right-wing drive to reinstate voter suppression laws and a Supreme Court holding making it easier to do so; of the rise of an angry, violent, divisive, and frequently racist political movement in America that loves guns and, by its ideological choices, hates humanity; it’s time for us to once again ask ourselves what kind of a people we want to be.

It’s time to dream again, America, and to shout that dream from the mountain tops. It’s time to dream of a nation in which we are more committed to lifting one another up than to knocking one another down. It’s time to dream of a future, of a present, in which we care that so many are so impoverished, that so many have so little access to basic health care, that so many suffer so much unnecessary violence. It’s time to dream again of being a people whose disputes are defined more by the limits of our reason and decency than by the extent of our bigotries. It’s time to dream again of striving to become a nation, and, eventually, a world, committed more to our shared humanity than to our explicit and implicit hatreds or, just as destructively, our mutual indifference.

It’s time to dream again, to care, to think, to strive, to work diligently on behalf of that which is most rational and humane, that which is most decent and good, that which is most caring and conscious. It’s time to dream again, and, in never-flagging opposition to those base and horrifying human tendencies that ever-seek to turn our dream into a nightmare, tendencies that are so in ascendance once again in this too-often troubled and misguided nation of ours, work diligently, work with all other rational people of goodwill, work in service to our shared humanity, to make that dream come ever-more true.

(Dr. King’s prepared remarks end at about the 11 minute mark of this video, and his “I have a dream” speech, extemporaneously building on a theme he had used a few times in smaller venues, begins just after the 12 minute mark.)

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

Click here to learn about my mind-bending epic mythological novel A Conspiracy of Wizards!!!

The Child Welfare through Family and Community Facilitation Act (the Act):

(1): The Family and Community Facilitation and Child Welfare Administration (the Administration) shall be established to execute this Act and all of its provisions.

(a): The Administration shall be staffed by Community Facilitators (CFs) and Family Support Case Workers (FSCWs), trained and licensed in the skills necessary to implement the provisions of this Act.

(2): Current Parents, Expectant Parents, Foster Parents, Prospective Adoptive Parents, Legal Guardians, or primary care-givers (collectively, “parent,” whether referring to one parent acting alone or more than one parent making decisions together), along with their children, shall either formally belong to a Community, as defined in subsection (a), and participate in Community Parenting Support Meetings (CPSMs), or shall attend a Parental State-Disengagement Determination (PSDD) conducted by an agent of the Administration according to section 2(c) below. (Non-parents are encouraged, but not required, except as specified below, to belong to a Community and attend CPSMs). If a parent declines to attend either CPSMs or a PSDD, then an FSCW will automatically be assigned to that parent.

(a): The Administration shall create regulations to ensure that parents, both expectant and actual, follow procedures incumbent on parents in accord with this Act as soon after being informed of impending or actual parenthood, or beginning adoption proceedings, as is reasonably practicable.

(b): A Community, for the purposes of this statute, is either geographically or culturally defined.

(i): A parent shall by default belong to his/her geographical community, unless that parent selects a cultural community to belong to.

(ii): The upper and lower numerical limits of such Communities, the boundaries of Geographical Communities, the degree of geographic dispersion permissible for Cultural Communities, and the criteria of what constitutes a Cultural Community, shall be determined by the Administration according to guidelines designed to ensure that each Community is so constituted as to be capable of satisfying the functions described in the provisions of this Act, and of advancing the goals defined as the purpose of this Act (following the provisions described in subsection (iii) to protect parents utilizing culturally variant practices from ethnocentric presumptions of abuse or neglect).

(iii): Culturally variant practices that might be technical violations of the law, or presumptively harmful from a prevalent American cultural perspective, shall constitute grounds neither for refusing definition to a Cultural Community, nor for invoking the provisions in sections 4 and 5 of this statute, if they do not unambiguously create objective harm or deprivation to the child, if all or nearly all members of the Cultural Community would find the practice harmless and inoffensive, and if the Cultural Community has an independent existence and is not an artifact of convenience designed primarily to insulate its members from legal constraints to which they would otherwise be subject.

(iv): Communities shall be assigned the task of ensuring, with the organizational resources allocated and with the oversight of the CF, that the basic needs of parents and children in the Community are attended to by

(I): assisting parents in accessing the relevant family support programs established by complementary legislation, which provide children and families with adequate material support and vital services,

(II): facilitating mutual cooperation among Community members to provide one another with the moral, emotional, and informational support conducive to the long-term welfare of all of the children and parents in the Community, and

(III): providing children with age-appropriate means for expressing their views and preferences regarding their own upbringing and disposition, and having those views and preferences known and taken into consideration in any proceedings that involve them.

(c): CPSMs shall be held at a frequency to be determined by the Administration for each Community in consultation with the members of that Community, not to exceed one time per week nor be less than one time per month. By similar means, the Administration shall establish a mandatory attendance rate for parents in each Community, not to be less than 30% nor exceed 70% of all meetings, applicable to each parent individually, except in particular cases in accordance with subsection (ii) below.

(i): Each Community shall arrange on-premises child-care during the meetings by having three or more parents, on a rotating basis, undertake child care responsibilities during each meeting.

(ii): The Administration shall assist individual parents and Communities to make special arrangements in cases of particular scheduling problems, exercising a substantial commitment to accommodating parents with such verified scheduling problems, so long as the conflict involves an obligation that substantially contributes to the family’s material welfare.

(d): The Administration shall conduct PSDDs at the time and location most convenient for the parent whenever possible, and with substantial deference to the parent’s presumed right to direct the upbringing of the parent’s child(ren) as the parent sees fit. The Administration shall determine at the PSDD whether there is any compelling reason not to permit the parent to voluntarily disengage from the Family and Community Support apparatus established by this Act.

(i): The Administration shall establish a fully delineated set of criteria by which to make such determinations, and will do so under guidelines designed to prevent the influence of prejudices on the part of its agents, such as those regarding race, ethnicity, culture, class, gender, or sexual orientation.

(ii): If such a compelling reason is not found to exist, the parent will be allowed to disengage from the state involvement delineated in this Act, except for the provisions of sections 2(d), 3(a)(5), 5, and 6.

(iii): If such a compelling reason is found to exist, the parent will be assigned an FSCW.

(3): Family Support Case Workers (FSCWs) are entrusted with the responsibilities of monitoring families for evidence of Child Abuse or Neglect (as defined in 20-8-140 of the SHF Revised Statutes); working with parents (always deferential to parents’ preferences short of child abuse or neglect) and children to improve coping skills and devise more effective strategies to deal with the challenges of child-rearing; identifying particular family problems, challenges, and needs that are having or can reasonably be expected to have a significant impact on the child’s welfare; and recommending to the Administration interventions and assistance that are conducive to the continued provision of a safe and healthy home environment for the child.

(a): An FSCW shall be assigned to a parent when

(i): a parent requests it,

(ii): a Community Facilitator (CF) recommends it,

(iii): the Administration deems it necessary through a Parental State-Disengagement Determination,

(iv): a parent declines to participate in CPSMs or, alternatively, to attend a PSDD,

(v): the Administration deems it necessary as the result of an investigation into an allegation of Child Abuse or Neglect, or

(vi): to prospective adoptive parents upon initiation of adoption proceedings.

(b): An FSCW shall be authorized to recommend targeted financial and material assistance to parents, according to criteria to be developed by the Administration.

(i): An FSCW shall be authorized to predicate the receipt of such assistance on the parent’s participation in CPSMs, if the parent is not already participating in them.

(ii): The FSCW shall assist the parent, with substantial deference to parental autonomy, in self-monitoring parental choices, considering how well or poorly those choices serve the child’s welfare, and contemplating alternatives that might serve the child’s welfare better. The FSCW will be trained to be a parental resource rather than an imposing authority in this process.

(4): If either the FSCW or CF determine that a child is not in imminent physical danger but that the

child’s long-term welfare is being substantially compromised (according to the definition of Abuse or Neglect defined in 20-8-140 of the SHF Revised Statutes) by the child’s current home environment, (a): the parent can voluntarily submit to a process of Intensive Community Intervention (ICI), or

(b): the Administration shall investigate and determine if, by a preponderance of the evidence, the Administration’s determination accords with that of the FSCW or CF.

(i): If the Administration finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the child’s long-term welfare is being substantially compromised, the Administration shall initiate ICI.

(ii): If the Administration does not find that the child’s long-term welfare is being substantially compromised, then all adult parties will be brought together for a determination of how to proceed, which might include reassigning the parent to a different community, reassigning a new FSCW to the parent, or, if the parent prefers, maintaining the current FSCW and Community (and thus CF).

(c): Intensive Community Intervention (ICI) requires the voluntary involvement of Community and extended family members, as well as of teachers and others involved in the child’s life, working with the parent to rectify and remedy the problems that have been identified as substantially compromising the child’s long-term welfare. ICI strategies always include the determination of a designated period after which the case will be reviewed, and can include any combination of the following:

(i): parental behavior modification efforts, closely monitored by Community and extended family members, utilizing whatever institutional assistance is required (such as drug rehabilitation programs),

(ii): temporary in-home residence of Community or extended family member to assist the parent,

(iii): temporary placement of the child with a Community or extended family member,

(iv): limited or monitored parental contact with the child, and/or

(v): professional assistance in concert with the Community and extended family assistance.

(5): If as the result of an investigation into allegations of child abuse or neglect, or if an FSCW or CF determines that a child is in imminent physical danger; or if, after the designated period for an ICI, both the FSCW and CF determine that the ICI has been unsuccessful; or if an ICI was impossible due to a lack of willing extended family or Community members, the Administration will initiate a child custody hearing, adhering to the following guidelines:

(a): The Administration must find, by clear and convincing evidence, that the child’s long-term welfare is being substantially compromised, or that the child is in imminent physical danger, before parental rights can be wholly or partially terminated.

(b): The value of affective bonds and remaining in the child’s familiar home shall be given full weight as important, but not entirely decisive, factors in consideration of the child’s custody arrangements.

(c): Parental rights shall be terminated or limited only to the extent necessary to preserve the child’s safety and to secure the child’s long-term welfare.

(i): This Act imposes no presumption concerning the number of people that may be granted parental rights regarding a particular child, nor the precise scope of such rights in any given instance.

(ii): Preference will always be given to preserving and encouraging established healthy affective bonds between adults and the child, rather than severing such bonds in pursuit of parental exclusivity.

(iii): Partial, delineated parental rights may be granted to various adults, who must devise decision making guidelines commensurate with their various parental rights, with the assistance of an FSCW.

(iv): The Administration shall generate guidelines for relinquishing the rights and responsibilities associated with partial parental rights commensurate with the extent of those rights and responsibilities, and in accord with the child’s best interest, ensuring continuity of comprehensive parental services.

(v): “Parent,” for the purposes of this statute, does not refer to anyone with limited parental rights, but only to those with primary custodial rights, to be fully defined by the Administration.

(d): Consideration of custodial alternatives shall be given concurrently with consideration of the parent’s, and others’, custodial rights.

(i): The termination or diminution of parental rights do not necessarily result in an immediate or eventual loss of physical custody: The child will always be placed in the best available home, all factors considered, even if parental rights have been revoked from, or not yet granted to, the adult in whose custody the child is placed.

(ii): Preference will be given, in order, to (1) extended family members who are also members of the same Community as the parent, (2) other Community members, and (3) other extended family members, in any change of custody of the child, whether it is a temporary arrangement, the placement of the child in a foster home, or an adoption proceeding. The Administration has the authority to supersede or alter the ranking of these preferences in accord with particular circumstances.

(iii): No racial preferences beyond those implicit in the preferences above shall be implemented.

(iv): If the child can not be placed in a home according to the above preferences, and the Administration determines, by clear and convincing evidence, that the child’s safety or welfare is too drastically compromised in his/her current home to leave him/her there, the child will be placed in foster care and adoptive parents will be sought, with the parent retaining those rights of visitation, if any, that the Administration finds contribute to rather than detract from the child’s long-term welfare.

(e): Prospective adoptive parents must be members of a Community for one year prior to adoption, and must be recommended by their FSCW and the CF of the Community, and by a majority vote of both the community to which they belong and the Community from which the child is being adopted.

(f): A mother may not put her child up for adoption until 36 hours after the birth of the child if the decision was made in writing at least two months prior to birth, or three weeks after the birth of the child if the decision was not made in writing at least two months prior to the birth of the child.

(6): Extended family members, as defined in subsection (a), have the right to maintain a relationship with the child, subject only to the limitations delineated in subsection (b).

(a): An extended family member is, for the purposes of this statute,

(i): any blood relative of any parent (as defined in section 2 of this Act) that the child has ever had, who has formed a healthy affective bond with the child, as determined by clear and convincing evidence, according to criteria to be delineated by the Administration,

(ii): any other individual who, in a relationship sanctioned by any parent (as defined in section 2 of this Act), has formed a healthy affective bond with the child, as determined by clear and convincing evidence, according to criteria to be delineated by the Administration.

(b): The legal rights of extended family members (as defined in subsection (a)) to access to the child are limited in the following ways:

(i): No parent shall ever be obligated to relinquish temporary physical custody of a child to any current non-parent, unless by a formal hearing of the Administration the non-parent’s ability to have occasional temporary physical custody of the child, as opposed to mere visitation rights with parental supervision, is held, by clear and convincing evidence, to be vital and indispensable to the child’s long-term welfare, though the parent can rebut this finding by demonstrating by a preponderance of the evidence that any occasional relinquishment of temporary custody to the petitioning non-parent would be contrary to the child’s long-term welfare. If a finding in favor of the petitioning non-parent is made, the amount of occasional temporary physical custody shall be limited to the least possible to satisfy the needs of the child’s long-term welfare. The parent has the right of appeal; the non-parent has no right of appeal.

(ii): Non-parents with rights of access to a child are required to exercise reasonable self-restraint regarding the amount of access they demand, the degree of inconvenience they impose on the parent and other family members, and any disruptions or tensions that their relationship with the child may cause to or among the parent, family, or child. The Administration shall draft explicit guidelines regarding these issues.

(iii): Non-parents with rights of access to a child, who do not belong to the parent’s Community, shall be required to attend the Community Parent Support Meetings (CPSMs) at a frequency to be determined by the Administration, taking into consideration all relevant factors, though the frequency required may not be more than once per month nor less than once per year.

(iv): The parent can file complaints regarding non-parents with rights of access to the child, which the Administration is obligated to investigate, preliminarily through the agency of the child’s FSCW and CF. If the problem cannot be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties through the agency of the FSCW, CF, and CPSMs, a hearing must be held to determine if, by a preponderance of the evidence, the non-parent has abused his/her right of access to the child according to the criteria established by the Administration. If such a finding is made, then the non-parent shall have his/her right of access to the child revoked. Neither the parent nor the non-parent has the right of appeal regarding the determination of the Administration.

(20-8-140, a fictional statute to which I have cross-referenced in this hypothetical statute, would include conventional definitions of Abuse and Neglect, plus extreme emotional abuse).

I. Social Policy Concerns Addressed by the Act

            This Act addresses the care and custody of children, including the rights and responsibilities of extended family and community members involved in a child’s life, the procedures for identifying and responding to child abuse and neglect, and the procedures for reassigning legal custody of a child. The purpose of this Act and the responsibility of the Administration is to facilitate communities and families in providing healthy and stable homes for children by means of mutual support, encouragement, involvement, oversight, and, in the last resort, reassignment of a child’s custodial arrangements, among family and community care givers. It is based on the principle that the state should be a proactive agent and vehicle of the people, to be utilized in conjunction with other social institutions in the facilitation of the welfare of its residents, rather than a reactive intervener of last resort, standing aside to permit preventable failure and subsequent suffering, and only then stepping in to pick up the pieces at greater public expense and with less efficacy.

            This Act accordingly reconceptualizes the state’s role, relinquishing its theoretical commitment to initial minimal intrusion on family autonomy until a threshold is reached triggering a sudden extreme and generally inefficacious intervention (see Clare Huntington, “Mutual Dependence in Child Welfare,” 82 Notre Dame L. Rev. 2007, 1485: 1497-1505), and, in its place, constructing a state-family-community system which institutionalizes support to families prior to, and in prevention of, the failure of a family to provide for a child’s welfare.

            The Act is characterized by two essential innovations: 1) a legal construct called “Community,” which mediates, buffers, and articulates the primarily coincidental and only marginally or superficially conflicting real interests of parent, child, and state; and 2) a proactive rather than reactive approach to child welfare policy. The Act meets the challenge of reconstructing and refining, through legal artifice, a traditional and organically produced social institutional form (i.e., community) that has grown increasingly attenuated with the growth of modern individualism, while not violating the Constitutional 14th Amendment liberty interests of parents (and others) which give that cultural individualism legal teeth. It does so in order to meet the corresponding political and legal challenge of increasing the constant and constructive involvement of the state in family and community life in order to decrease the extreme and often destructive involvement made more frequently necessary by its absence (or less comprehensive and humanized presence).

            The central innovation of this Act is the introduction of the legal reincarnation of the Community, which serves, with focused intentionality in its new form as a legal construct, to mediate the tensions and alliances among the interests of parent, child, and state, and as a buffer coordinating the functions of family and state in more cooperative and mutually accommodating ways. It provides an arena of support, communication, negotiation, and resolution. It is a medium of both state coercion and parental resistance, the conflict between the two channeled, filtered, or dissipated according to the moderating, focusing, or amplifying influence of a middle-range of social organization through which both the individual wills of parents and the corporate will of society, via the agency of the state, must pass. It provides a familiar and intimate zone in which children have an increased opportunity to formulate and express their will, in which subcultural diversity can hold out against an often overreaching and categorically biased state demand for conformity, but in which authentic child abuse and neglect has reduced opportunity to hide. While no law or institution can either eliminate child abuse and neglect or erase all errors of overcontrol or undercontrol, of false positives and false negatives, the Community is designed to lower the rate of both child abuse and neglect itself and of errors in detecting it at both extremes, and to coordinate the freedom of parents to raise their children as they see fit with the desire of the state to ensure that those children are raised in a safe, healthy, and nurturing home.

            The Community, as defined in this Act, 1) humanizes the state, 2) provides parents with improved due process protections, 3) channels information to the state to assist in accurate administrative decision making, 4) accommodates and protects diverse practices, 5) reduces institutionalized bias on the basis of race, ethnicity, English language proficiency, or social class, 6) mobilizes and moderates local normative control in service to child and family welfare, 7) channels relevant information and guidance to parents to improve parental decision-making, 8) facilitates continuity without sacrificing flexibility, 9) preserves and fosters rather than severs healthy affective bonds, 10) provides a buffer for strained relationships among adults involved in a child’s life, 11) provides a vehicle for including the child in the process, and, most fundamentally, 12) provides a vehicle of proactive state support of parents and families instead of state reaction to structurally-facilitated family failure.

            The Community, as the humanized incarnation of the state, helps reduce the error of overly mechanistic or politicized responses by bureaucracies often processing children rather than attending to their needs, by relying instead on an intervening layer of intimate social bonds through which the state’s decision-making must operate. The current dysfunctions are poignantly illustrated in The Lost Children of Wilder (Nina Bernstein, 2001), from the institutionalized brutality of the Hudson Training School for Girls (pp. 8-26), to the institutionalized racism resulting from farming out child welfare services to private religious organizations (pp. 44-45), and on through the stories of bureaucratic in-fighting, severed ties, and inadequate mechanisms for adapting available human resources to children’s emotional needs. The need to humanize the process, to mobilize the many people of good will who would take an interest in the welfare of the children in their community were there a functioning community through which to exercise that good will, and to facilitate their ability to do so in concert and through mutual support rather than in mutual isolation, is eloquently argued both by the anecdotal evidence of current bureaucratic dysfunction (see Wilder; Elizabeth Bartholet, Nobody’s Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative,  pp. 8-15), and historical analyses of how our child welfare system became a vehicle of often punitive race, class, and gender bias through paternalistic and ethnocentric assumptions about the duty of the state and the incompetence of the people perceived to be (and often in reality) most in need of its services (see, e.g., Jill Elaine Hasday, “Parenthood Divided: A Legal History of the Bifurcated Law of Parental Relations,” Geo. L.J. 90: 299; Linda Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, Viking: 1988; Annette R. Appell, “Protecting Children of Punishing Mothers: Gender, Race, and Class in the Child Protection System,” 48 S.C.L. Rev. 577 (1997)). The viability of alternative, community-mediated, and family empowering approaches, on the other hand, is illustrated by the anecdotal evidence of successful historical and contemporary examples (see e.g., Dorothy E. Roberts, “Black Club Women and Child Welfare Lessons for Modern Reform,” 32 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 957, 2005; Huntington, 1531-36 (discussing state-sponsored family-service programs that, while not specifically community-mediated, reflect the kinds of services that community mediation can most effectively deliver)).

            Parental due process protections are improved as a result of this humanizing process by providing parents with a social resource through which their story can be effectively told. The Supreme Court, in Santosky v. Kramer, identified some of the structural challenges to the adequate provision of due process to parents in TPR proceedings, such as the state’s far superior ability to mount a case than the parents’ ability to mount a defense, and the conceptual separation of concern for the child’s welfare from concern for the parents’ due process rights (455 U.S. 745 (1982): 1310-11). In Lassiter v. Dept. of Soc. Servs., the Court accorded the loss of parental rights less due process than the loss of liberty, holding the former not to merit the requirement of appointed counsel (452 U.S. 18 (1981)). The Community, professionally organized and represented by the Community Facilitator, serves to mitigate these deficits by acting as a mediator, counselor, and conduit of information (sec. 2(b)(iv)). The resource thus provided helps to avoid what the dissent in Lassiter accurately identified as the average parent’s dilemma when opposed by the state in a legal proceeding: An inability to negotiate the rules and procedures of the court, resulting in an inability to mount an effective defense, coupled by, as in Ms. Lassiter’s case, what may well be a tendency for such lay people in such situations to exacerbate the judge due to their inability to follow the procedures expected of a litigant in court (pp. 62-60).

            This by-product of an institution (the Community) serving multiple other purposes, incidentally increasing due process protection to parents in TPR proceedings, fares well under the scrutiny of the Mathews v. Eldridge test (424 U.S. 319, 335 (1976)): The Supreme Court has made clear that the parental interest in their parental rights is of the highest order of magnitude (see, e.g., Lassiter (1981), Santosky (1982), and Troxel v. Granville 120 S.Ct. 2054 (2000)); the state’s interest in keeping children with fit parents coincides rather than conflicts with this interest, while the state’s interest in efficiency is served by the multi-functional quality of the Community (including the more family-supportive roles of the professionals involved) by which parental due process is increased; and, finally, the benefits of this additional procedural resource in avoiding error is substantial. A corollary of this increased due process protection to parents is an increased flow of relevant information to the state, both to the Administration and the courts, thus resulting in the reduction of error discussed above. The benefits emanating from this one institutional innovation are widespread: Error is reduced not just in a single court proceeding, but in all administrative and legal action involving child welfare and parental rights.

            The additional due process protections accorded to parents through the medium of the Community are substantive as well as procedural: The Community protects sub-cultural diversity and forms a bulwark against class, race, and cultural prejudices operating through the apparatus of the state. By providing people the opportunity to belong to a cultural (rather than geographical) Community if the choose (secs. 2(b)(i), (iii)), they are given an opportunity to preserve and insulate culturally divergent customs and practices. While the state still has a presence, and (what the state deems to be) unambiguously harmful practices will be prohibited, people with divergent customs are given a greater opportunity to preserve them in this Act than they would have in its absence (see sec. 2(b)(iii)). Furthermore, just as the Community protects divergent sub-cultures from the excesses of the conformity-imposing tendencies of the state, it protects historical victims of discrimination from the prejudicial presumptions of poorly informed state actors by embedding state actors in the Community with which they will be interacting.

            The Community is an arena where compromise can be achieved: If Somali refugees wish to retain a symbolic remnant of female genital mutilation that does not inflict the physical harm of the actual practice (see “Refugees’ Beliefs Don’t Travel Well,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 28, 1996), then, despite our cultural outrage at the symbolism itself, that can and should be accommodated. If it is Afghani custom for loving parents otherwise providing appropriate care to kiss, as a sign of affection rather than an expression of sexual intent, the penis of one’s child (see State of Maine v. Kargar (Maine S.Ct. 1996)), then a well-informed state might wisely choose to prioritize substance over form.

            Of course, prioritizing substance over form does not always favor the divergent cultural practice. The Administration, if not the courts, might choose not to privilege spanking children with a ping-pong paddle for two hours in accord with the practices of a fundamentalist religious sect (see In Re Marriage of Hadeen, 619 P.2d 374: 620 (Wash. App. 1980)). Nor would it be incumbent on the state to permit parents to allow their children to die in lieu of providing medical care due to membership in the Christian Science church (see Hermanson v. State of Florida (Fl. S.Ct. 1992)). To the extent that federal law and the Constitution would allow, the Community replaces all other forms of deference to the particular, neither allowing it to justify what would otherwise be considered a clear and unambiguous infliction of substantial and palpable harm, nor forcing it to accede to vague and suppositional mainstream sensibilities. The issue remains the child’s welfare: Religion and culture can not excuse outright violence to the child, nor should the ethnocentrisms that seep through the state deny a family the discretion to provide a loving and safe household in accord with its customs and beliefs.

            The Community reduces the salience of racial and class biases in three primary ways. First, it empowers the members of the sub-group, providing a bulwark against marginalization. The “othering” of poor families of color that Appell identifies (1997, p. 579) can not so easily occur when the “other” is not, in a sense, “divided and conquered.” When represented and expressed by a Community that is the overlap of “state” and “family,” the “other” becomes internalized, recognized, acknowledged, and, to some extent, accommodated. The norms are negotiated in that arena, not defined and imposed from without. Similarly, the frequently encountered language and cultural barriers Appell describes (Annette Appell, “Spanish-Speaking Caregiver,” 7 Nev. L.J. (2007)) are mitigated by the medium of a Community that acts as a linguistic as well as cultural translator. Furthermore, the thus-far prevalent cultural assumption is reversed: Instead of depriving a loving caregiver of her granddaughter on the basis of the erroneous assumption that she would be carrying the burden alone (see id., pp. 116-17), a Community both reinforces and raises the profile of extended family and community care-giving.

            Second, the Community reduces the differential visibility of families of different socioeconomic classes (see Appell 1997, p. 584) by creating a continuous, recurring public interface for far more families regardless of socioeconomic class, an interface whose primary purpose is to ensure the welfare of the children in the Community. To a large extent, it merges together what Appell (1997, p. 581) identified as the bifurcated branches of public and private family law, one based on more intrusive treatment of the poor associated with child welfare intervention and the other based on more deferential treatment of the rich associated with property rights adjudication (see secs. 5(c), (d) of the Act). While it may be the case that more affluent than poor families opt for a Parental State-Disengagement Determination rather than belong to a Community, it is likely that many affluent families will be attracted to the material and social benefits of Community membership, and that the normative control (discussed below) exerted by Communities on its members will have an ameliorative effect across classes. Even those families that opt for a PSDD will have at least one encounter with the state in which their parenting skills and inclinations come under close scrutiny (sec. 2(d)), which may be one more encounter than they otherwise would have had.

            Third, the Community, and complementary legislation (see sec. 2(b)(iv)(I)), reduce the rate of neglect-due-to-poverty by providing material, informational, emotional, and social support according to need, thus mitigating what Appell (1997, p. 585) identifies as the breach of white middle-class norms of proper child care that accompanies poverty. This channeling of resources and services in proactive support of families produces many benefits, just one of which is the reduction of class bias in our child welfare system. (Other benefits are discussed below.)

            Like traditional communities before it, the Community will undoubtedly function as a vehicle of local normative control through the mutual enforcement of informal rules. This is accomplished by means of the diffuse social approval and disapproval of its members (see class, Jan. 27). The combination of the state’s involvement in the Community (see sec. 2(b)(iv)), and the historical tendency of communities in general to reinforce behaviors that are conducive to children’s welfare, are sufficient to ensure that the Community’s norms do indeed invoke positive and negative reinforcement of parental behaviors that, respectively, positively and negatively affect children’s welfare. In fact, due to the institutionalized interdependence Community members (see secs. 2(a)-(c), 4(b)), the externalities of individual parental choices is increased, and the incentive for other Community members to encourage good parenting and discourage bad parenting (as defined by some articulation of state and Community values) is correspondingly increased.

            Indeed, the most likely, and perhaps most legitimate, criticism that may be leveled against this Act is that the Community itself can be a very onerous intrusion on family autonomy and privacy. But, aside from the opt-out provided by the PSDD, the tyranny of the Community is, if not necessarily reduced, then at least made more coextensive with individual freedom, by allowing parents the option of selecting a cultural Community that best expresses their individuality (see 2(b)(i), (iii)). Leaving aside for now the discussion of how the Act moves from, as Huntington put it, the somewhat mythological “freedom from” notion of family autonomy to a self-determination-increasing positive mutual engagement model (2007, pp. 1510-20), and considering instead the residual need of the state to intervene in remaining child abuse and neglect cases, the Community provides an appropriate balance between a family’s right to privacy on the one hand, and the state’s need to be vigilant in the protection of children’s welfare on the other. Deficiencies fostered by our current social institutional framework, such as the very inadequate job we currently do of identifying and intervening in cases of sexual abuse (class, Jan. 15), and the decreased ability to intervene in cases of child abuse and neglect in affluent households due to their decreased interaction with public services (see Appell 1997, p. 584), can be addressed more effectively, with a moderate and reasonable compromise of privacy, by means of a Community to which each family belongs, and under whose intimate vigilance each family thrives.

            Along with the encouragement of practices conducive to child welfare and discouragement of practices antithetical to child welfare, the Community provides a conduit of information and guidance to parents to help them become familiar and comfortable with positive child care practices, as well as with coping skills to help avoid spontaneous responses to events that would be considered abusive or counterproductive to the child’s welfare. The Community Parenting Support Meetings (sec. 2) are, essentially, self-help group meetings held at regular intervals for just this purpose, as well as to resolve problems and address needs of individual families as they arise. As Huntington points out, this type of proactive assistance increases rather than decreases family self-determination, by “reducing the chance that a crisis will occur and the state will remove the child from the parent’s home” (2007, pp. 1511-12).

            The reliance on the Community as the arena in which both proactive and reactive needs are addressed first, and are addressed most, balances permanence in the provision of a home for a child with flexibility in meeting the demands of ensuring that the home is a safe and nurturing one, and that all adults who have healthy affective bonds with the child are allowed to remain in that child’s life. As Bernstein explained in The Lost Children of Wilder, citing Bolby’s Attachment and Loss to explain Lamont’s traumatization by the shuffling around he experienced in the New York child welfare system, young children experiencing repeated cycles of attachment to adult care givers and subsequent loss develop reactions of anger and anxiety in association with the prospect of future attachments (2001, pp. 257-58). The Community provides an increased layer of the familiar around the family, facilitating the  satisfaction of the sometimes conflicting demands of continuity on the one hand, and placement in a safe and healthy home on the other. It accomplishes this by 1) looking for foster care, adoption or temporary placement options within the Community first (secs. 5(c), (d)), 2) not severing the healthy affective bonds that the child has already formed in order to create parental exclusivity with each new placement (secs. 5, 6), and 3) investing in the proactive assistance to parents that will increase their ability to provide a healthy and safe home to their children in the first place (sec. 2(b)(iv)).

            Our current child welfare system dramatically fails to meet these demands. Elizabeth Bartholet, in Nobody’s Children: Abuse and Neglect, Foster Drift, and the Adoption Alternative, identifies how the dysfunctional combination of excessive individualism and lack of community (p. 2), the notion of family autonomy as freedom from the state (p. 3), and “a powerful blood bias” (p. 7), creates a model which sets up often loving but poverty-impaired biological parents to fail and children subsequently to receive suboptimal care. According to Bartholet, child welfare services either leave abused or neglected children in the care of damaged parents deemed “good enough,” or place the child first in a sort of limbo awaiting the improbable event of the parent’s mostly unaided resolution of her problems, and then set the more-damaged-than necessary children adrift in a foster care system that is unlikely to provide either a stable or nurturing home (id., pp. 8-15).

            Bartholet’s proposed solution involves the combination of a more proactive state assisting parents from pregnancy onward (id., pp. 15-16)  and “concurrent planning,” “proceed[ing] on two tracks simultaneously, working with parents toward family reunification, while at the same time developing an appropriate adoption plan” (id., p. 18). The Community serves as a vehicle for a more comprehensive solution that incorporates Bartholet’s proposal, but also improves upon it. Not only does it provide a conduit for the state’s proactivity, but it does so with an inclusiveness and constancy that a mere patchwork of state assistance programs can not match. It facilitates blending concurrent planning with a focus on continuity for the child, by involving prospective adoptive parents in the child’s community from the earliest possible date (see secs. 2, 2(a), 5(e)), and by not forcing, as a matter of policy rather than as the result of an individualized determination, either prospective adoptive parents or biological parents (or any other care giver) to severe their ties with the child if the child ends up in the care of another (see secs. 5(b)-(d)).

            This latter characteristic of the Act, of preserving rather than severing the healthy affective bonds that children have formed with adults (secs. 5(c), (d), 6), contributes not only to continuity for the child, avoiding the attachment-interruption problems described above, but also provides the child with increased adult human resources on which to draw. Who could doubt that, had Alicia’s loving bond to Lamont not been arbitrarily severed (see Bernstein, pp 300-302), had care instead been taken to preserve it, that Lamont would not have fared better? Or, for that matter, had Shirley been able to maintain some kind of relationship with Lamont throughout his childhood, even if not a custodial one, that they both would not have benefited (id.)? The Act explicitly allows for any number of adults to be involved in a child’s life, to have plenary or circumscribed roles, responsibilities, and rights, and for those roles, responsibilities, and rights to be coordinated in mutually accommodating ways by the Community and the agents of the Administration (secs. 5, 6). Through these mechanisms, the Act addresses and mitigates many of the problems associated with allowing more than two parents, while retaining all of the benefits (see class, March 5).

            The literature is rife with examples of severed or attenuated bonds between children in the system and adults who love them, often followed by disastrous outcomes for the child (or simply the loss of a loving parental figure) (see, e.g., Apell 1997, pp. 592-93; Appell 2007, pp. 116-21; Bernstein 2001; Suzanne Goldberg, “Family Law Cases as Law Reform Litigation,” 17:3 Colum. J. Gender & L. 307, 2008). The case law also provides numerous examples of the exclusion of adults who wished to form a relationship with the child, frequently on the basis of parental exclusivity (that is, only two parents per child) (see, e.g., Quillon v. Walcott, 434 U.S. 246, 1978; Michael H. v. Gerald D., 91 U.S. 110, 1989; Sider v. Sider, 334 Md. 512, 1994; In Re Baby M., 109 N.J. 396, 1988; Ohr v. Ohr, 97 P.3d 354, 2004; In the Interest of CTG, 179 P.3d 213, 2007). While in some individual cases a determination might be reached that a particular relationship is not in the child’s best interest, the presumption that a child can have no more than two adults with parental or quasi-parental rights severs valuable bonds and reduces the affective human resources available to the child.

            The focus on fostering and preserving healthy affective relationships with adults, and contextualizing the child’s welfare by membership in a Community, provides resources that can also serve as a buffer when necessary between two adults with shared parental rights. In In Re the Paternity of Baby Doe (207 Wis. 2d. 390, 1996), the court held that, absent a statutory distinction, the rapist father of a child had the same rights as any biological father. If, even under a more refined legislative regime, a rapist-father’s relationship with the child were found under certain circumstances to be in the child’s interest, the presence of multiple adults in the child’s life, and of a Community enveloping those relationships, could more easily accommodate a mother who might well be highly averse to any kind of interaction with the father. Even under less dramatic circumstances of divorced parents highly antagonistic to one another, the best solution at times, if all else fails, might be to preserve the child’s relationship with each while sparing all from forcing a relationship on the two antagonistic adults. Moving away from the current insular family microcosm and toward a Community model of socially contextualized families would facilitate such flexibility.

            The Community, as a facilitated organic medium for, among other things, interpreting, coordinating and accommodating the wills of various actors vis-a-vis the children whose welfare is the purpose of this Act, is able to give voice to those actors whose voice is most marginalized, though whose interests are most pertinent: the children themselves (see sec. 2(b)(iv)(III)). Just as the Community can interpret for care givers who are not fluent in English, it can interpret to some extent for children whose cognitive development renders their conceptual language to some degree out of sinc with the conceptual language of the adults around them. This is a function of the combined genius of numbers and of intimacy: The more intimate one is with a child, the more that adult can intuit the child’s thoughts, wishes, and perceptions; and the more adults so positioned, interacting both with each other and with the child over extended periods of time, the more able they are collectively to extract and render comprehensible the perceptions and wishes of that child.

            Children’s participation in Community Parenting Support Meetings, and their interaction with the Community Facilitator and with their family’s Family Support Case Worker (if they have one), will help to empower the children, and teach them through experience not only civic participation, but also how to live in a community, how to advocate for themselves, and how to engage with the world in a more aware and proactive way. The skills they thus actively develop, as well as the institutional apparatus through which they develop it, will help mitigate some of the inherent and, to varying degrees, intractable challenges facing the extension of rights of self-determination to children.

            As Justice Douglas put it in his dissent in Wisconsin v. Yoder, “the children should be entitled to be heard” (406 U.S. 205, 241: 244 (1972)). In Yoder, the rights of the parents, the state, and even of the reified Amish religion and community, were all considered, but the children were the ball rather than the players moving it down the field (see class, Jan. 29, though the metaphor is mine). The difficulty of obtaining a fully informed and well articulated statement from children involved in matters of concern to them, and the question of how to weigh such statements if obtained given the children’s cognitive limits (id.), contribute to the marginalization of a child’s will in determinations of that child’s fate.

            Perhaps most saliently, how could the state enforce a child’s right vis-a-vis a fit parent, when that child remains dependent on that parent (class, Feb. 3)? One step toward resolving these challenges is to provide the child with a social resource that is neither the parent nor the state, that is familiar with and supportive of the child, that is not an individual either guessing at the child’s best interest (e.g, a guardian ad litum) or a lawyer representing the child’s uninterpreted express views and preferences (see Elizabeth Brodsky’s class presentation on April 21), but is rather a Community that knows the child and can help the child to discover, formulate, and articulate his or her own views and preferences most effectively. And, perhaps most uniquely and importantly, the Community reduces the child’s absolute dependence on the parents with whom he or she is identifying imperfectly aligned interests.

            The parental advantage is far from eliminated in this context: The Community is always of the parent’s choosing (unless accepted by default). In Yoder, the relevant Community (the Amish community) would have sided unambiguously with the parents. The children would have had to leave their Community as well as their families to escape the adult will to which they were being subjected. But the Community will provide many children in many situations with an adult social resource that is more attuned to them then a GAL is likely to be, and is capable of being the child’s most powerful advocate in certain circumstances. And the presence of state actors in the Community (the Community Facilitator assigned to the Community itself, and the Family Support Case Workers assigned to families within the Community) helps to provide at least some counterweight to the Community’s own potentially totalitarian inclinations.

            Those totalitarian inclinations pose a serious challenge. The Community can as easily be the oppressor as the liberator, an increased weight dictating to the child (or parents) rather than an asset supporting them. Care must be taken in the design and management of Communities to prevent them from becoming suffocating forces, and to maximize their potential as an empowering resource.

            In many ways, the Community’s ability to perform effectively its functions is due to it being a permanent and familiar presence rather than a foreign agent suddenly introduced in response to events. And this, of course, is the crux of its utility: It is the vehicle of a proactive rather than reactive approach to the provision of child and family welfare services. The Community is the comprehensive operationalization (and marginal refinement) of Huntington’s “‘engagement with’ model of family-state relations,” which replaces “the ‘freedom from’ conception of family autonomy” (2007, p. 1485). Like the African-American child and family welfare advocates at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries (Roberts 2005), this model is focused on supporting rather than penalizing parents and families facing the challenges of providing for their children, and particularly those families that are further burdened by the deprivations of poverty (Huntington 2007, p. 1494).

            Following Barbara Bennett Whitehouse’s (Ecogenerism: An Environmental Approach to Protecting Endangered Children, 12 Va, J, Soc. Pol’y & L. 409, 423 (2005), cited in Huntington 2007, p. 1496) identification of the salience of a child’s environment, “including a child’s peer group, neighborhood, and school” as “the systems surrounding a family” that should be supported in conjunction with the support of the family itself (Huntington, p. 1496), the Community is the vehicle for directing that support and coordinating the various components of a child’s environment. And rather than providing the “one-way ratchet” effect of regulation-imposing state aid (Huntington, p. 1506), the Community provides a two-way forum of state and family articulation.

            As Huntington points out (citing Frances Olsen, “The Myth of State Intervention in the Family, 19 U. Mich J.L. Reform 835 (1995)), the state is already heavily implicated in family decisions, first by “determin[ing] the contours of the world in which a family lives,” and second by “establish[ing] a system authorizing parents to make some decisions concerning children” (Huntington, p. 1514). In essence, the illusion of family autonomy is a function of the degree to which we accept the state’s involvement as a fixture of the social institutional environment, and so do not identify it as state involvement at all. Public education, for instance, is an enormous state investment in our children’s development (Huntington, p. 1522), one that affects children’s development in an often cooperative and occasionally conflicting dialectic with individual families (or, indeed, individual communities), but one that is not generally perceived as an unacceptable intrusion on family autonomy. Indeed, most parents have come to see it as an indispensable state service.

            There is no inherent, qualitative difference between the institution of public education, which parents generally accept and appreciate, and the institution of the Community established by this Act, which families could well come to accept and appreciate in much the same way. Just as the state has created an elaborate apparatus, both local and ubiquitous, to provide public education services, so too can it provide a similar apparatus, the corollary of the local school, providing comprehensive support to families in the enterprise of raising their children. And just as public education is an enormous investment that has paid off enormously, the fully endowed Community (see sec. 2(b)(iv)) holds the same promise multiplied many fold.

            The Community as a legal construct satisfies not only the need to provide a conduit through which to channel state services to families that need them, but also the need to replace, in some form, a valuable traditional social institution that has eroded with increased mobility and increased familial and individual insularity. The Yoder Court, by one not terribly strained interpretation, appears to have been implicitly informed by an appreciation of and deference to the stability and nurturing environment that a well-functioning community provides (406 U.S. 205 (1972)). The Community is the family writ large and the state in humanized form; it is the middle ground. As such, it provides many benefits beyond those that are the focus of this discussion, such as, by permitting and coordinating multiple adults participating in a child’s life, the facilitation of non-traditional family arrangements (see In Re Baby M 1988; John Bowe, “Gay Donor or Gay Day?” New York Times, Nov. 19, 2006).

            The Community is also an improved social thermostat, responding in real time to evolving situations, rather than, as in our current child welfare regimes, relying on a remote state which must choose between removing a child from his or her home (and thus ensuring that he or she is at a statistical disadvantage of faring well (class, Jan. 22), as well as risking the outright abuse found within the foster care system (see Taylor v. Ledbetter, 11th Cir. 1987)), or, conversely, risking a catastrophe such as that illustrated by DeShaney v. Winnebago (7th Cir. 1989), in which a boy was not removed from an abusive home and, subsequently, was beaten into a coma by his father and suffered permanent brain damage as a result. The Community satisfies the risk-aversion of the state (class, Jan. 22) by being its more vigilant immediate presence, but simultaneously permits less precipitous removal of the child than is often the result of that very same risk aversion (see, e.g., Appell 2007, pp. 116-121; Bernstein 2001, pp. 189-97).

            The Act contextualizes all decisions made regarding child welfare, and places all adults currently or prospectively involved in such decision-making (see, e.g., secs 2, 5(e), 6(b)(iii)) in the relevant Communities, aided by the trained professionals within those Communities. The professionals are attached to both levels (a CF for the Community as a whole, and FSCWs for individual families within the Community) in order to increase communication and cooperation across levels. Some flexibility for individual Communities and care givers is incorporated into the Act, such as, in sec. 2(c), allowing for some variance in the frequency of Community Parental Support Meetings, in sec. 2(c)(ii) allowing for accommodation of individual parents with scheduling problems, and in 6(b)(iii) allowing for variation in how frequently adults with more peripheral roles in a child’s life must attend meetings (depending on factors such as geographic distance). This flexibility combines assurance of actual integration into the Community with avoidance of making Community membership an onerous burden.

            The use of the Community, with the oversight of the CF, to target resources to families in need (sec. 2(b)(iv)), increases the efficiency of the channeling of resources to where they are needed, and deferential assistance in most effectively utilizing those resources.

            The Act strikes a balance between protecting privacy concerns and creating an intimate social context for proactively providing and targeting family services in provisions such as sec. 2(c), which provides parents with an opportunity to opt out of the entire proactive apparatus of the Act, after a deferential meeting to determine that there is no reason why the parent shouldn’t be allowed to do so. This meeting is designed to ensure that no parent remains completely insulated from the child welfare system created by the Act, and to give the Administration at least one chance to detect any obvious signs of concern before a parent is allowed to retreat into the current default of family insularity that is so conducive to undetected child abuse and neglect. Parents who do not opt-out can participate with varying degrees of engagement, receiving varying amounts of professional support, depending on a combination of their choices and the Community Facilitator’s recommendation (sec. 3).

            Section 4 provides an escalating process of intervention when necessary for the child’s safety or welfare, beginning with Community support and guidance if at all possible. Due to liberty concerns, the Act cannot mandate that Community members provide that support and guidance, though the hope is that by institutionalizing the opportunity and providing a framework through which to operationalize Community support and guidance (absorbing the transaction costs, so to speak), such support will become the norm rather than the exception. Section 5 continues the provision of steps to be taken to remove a child from a dangerous or unhealthy home, always focused on creating the least disruption possible to the affective bonds that the child has formed with adults, and contemplating available alternatives simultaneously rather than sequentially (secs. 5(d), 5(d)(i)), thus avoiding terminating a bad situation in favor of a worse situation. The concerns for maintaining continuity of racial and sub- cultural identity for the child are incorporated into the preferences outlined in sec. 5(d)(ii), and neither merit nor require any additional privilege. Sec. 5(e) further facilitates continuity for the child in adoption proceedings, and increased assurance of a good fit, by involving the prospective adoptive parent in a Community as soon as adoption proceedings begin, and encouraging involvement in the child’s Community as soon as possible by requiring the Community’s approval of the adoption.

            Section 5(f) is a slight modification and refinement of current (Colorado) rules of adoption requiring a four day waiting period after birth before a mother can put her child up for adoption (CRS sec. 19-5-103.5(1)(b)(IV)). Section 5(f) distinguishes between a considered decision made well before birth, and a precipitous decision made after birth. While sec. 5(f) recognizes the wisdom of giving every new mother a brief opportunity to reconsider her choice, it also recognizes that it is in the interest of mothers who made that choice rationally well prior to birth to abbreviate that period as much as possible (36 hours in this case), while for mothers who may be making the decision more precipitously it is important to extend that period enough (3 weeks in this case) to ensure that it is, in fact, a well-considered and rationally made decision.

            While section 6 describes the provisions for fostering and maintaining healthy affective bonds with all adults actually involved in the child’s life, it also recognizes the parent’s ultimate responsibility and right to be vigilant regarding such relationships (sec. 6(b)(i)). Sections 6(b)(ii) and (iv) similarly protect the parent’s privacy vis-a-vis other adults with rights of access to the child, and address the logistics of ensuring that such rights are exercised in a minimally intrusive and disruptive way.

II. Constitutional Issues Raised by The Act

            The Constitutional issues raised by this Act center on the 14th Amendment liberty interest of parents in their parental rights regarding the custody and care of their children, and the penumbra privacy right found through a distillation of the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 9th Amendment rights. The case law at hand focuses on the 14th Amendment liberty interest, and, following that case law, I believe that the Act can withstand a 14th Amendment challenge. In Troxel v. Granville (120 S.Ct. 2054 (2000)), the Court, in a plurality decision, struck down a Washington statute permitting any person at any time to petition for child visitation rights against a parent’s express wishes, on the bases that the statute was overbroad, and that parents have a fundamental right protected by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment regarding the care and custody of their children. But the holding is ambiguous, in that the Court does not apply strict scrutiny despite the identification of a fundamental right (see J. Thomas’s concurrence, 2067-68). And the Court’s holding, “as applied” (p. 2060), strongly implies, if not explicitly states, that not any statute permitting people with specified relationships to the child to petition for visitation against parental will would not necessarily be unconstitutional according to this holding, but only a statute that permits “any third party seeking visitation to subject [a contrary parental decision] to state-court review” would be (p. 2061, emphasis mine). Since the Act (sec. 6) specifies that only adults that have formed healthy affective bonds with the child have such right of petition (and, had space allowed, would have made detailed provisions for biological parents who had not formed such bonds), it does not suffer the defect that caused the Washington statute in Troxel to be struck down.

            Troxel only requires special deference to parents not found unfit, on the rebuttable presumption that parents have their child’s best interests at heart (pp. 2061-62). The Act above provides such deference. In sections 6(b)(i), (ii), and (iv) of the Act, the special deference accorded parents is codified in precise detail. Section 6(b)(i) ensures that the parent can always be present, if she chooses, in any visitation with her child by any other adult, unless a very high threshold is met to demonstrate that the child’s best interest is served, and no harm is threatened, by the non-parent’s ability to visit the child without the parent’s supervision. Sections 6(b)(ii) and (iv) specify the deference to parents required by non-parents exercising these rights, and the procedures available to parents who feel that appropriate  deference (specified in the regulations) was not exercised.

            The Supreme Court of Colorado, in In Re R.A. (137 P.3d 318, 2006), interpreting Troxel, construed the Colorado grandparent-visitation statute to contain a rebuttable presumption that parental determination is in a child’s best interest, the burden being on the grandparents to prove by clear and convincing evidence that it is not in the child’s best interest. The Act, by placing the state, as parens patriae (see class, April 16), in the position of the petitioner, in essence legislates precisely this proposition: In sections 6(a)(i) and (ii), petitioners for such third-party visitation rights must demonstrate to the Administration, by the same standard of proof as that identified by the Colorado Supreme Court (“clear and convincing evidence”), that they have already formed a healthy affective bond with the child, thus, if opposed by the parent, rebutting the presumption that favors the parent’s judgment.

            The traditional two-parent limit, which this Act modifies, appears from the available sources to be an artifact of state statutory law rather than any form of federal law (whether Constitutional, statutory, or regulatory). The authority cited in Elisa B. (117 P.3d, 664) and Ohr (97 P.3d, 356) for the two-parent limit is the Uniform Parenting Act, as enacted by the states of California and Colorado, respectively. The Supreme Court of California weakly implied, in Elisa B. (117 P.3d, 665), that there is nothing to prohibit, a priori, a state from legislatively recognizing multiple parents, stating “we see no compelling reason to recognize [a multiple parent arrangement] here,” citing California law, and neither Constitutional nor federal law, as their authority. The Colorado Court of Appeals stated it more strongly in Ohr: “We think it best to leave to the General Assembly the decision whether to extend eligibility to seek parenting time…” (p. 358). The sharp distinction the courts consistently make, however, between “parents” and “third parties” (see, e.g., Troxel, p. 2061; Johnson v. Calvert 5 Cal.4th 84, cited in Elisa B, p. 665), raises some concerns that a diffusion of parental rights vis-a-vis a single child could confront a Constitutional challenge. However, since no provision in the Constitution speaks either directly or indirectly to this issue, one would hope that judicial restraint would prevail.

            The remaining 14th Amendment question is whether the requirement of attending a Parental State-Disengagement Determination in order to opt-out of the family-state engagement (Community) provisions of the Act violates a parent’s liberty interest in the care and custody of her children. Using Huntington’s analogy of public education (p. 1522), and noting that there is no Constitutional prohibition to imposing procedural requirements on parents wishing to disengage from the state in regards to compulsory public education as onerous as, or more onerous than, those incorporated into this Act in order to disengage from the Community (see, e.g., Pierce v. Society of Sisters, S.Ct. 1925, holding that parents can remove their children from public schools only if they send them at their own expense to state-regulated private schools instead), there is no reason to believe that a Constitutional challenge to the requirement of meeting with the Administration one time in order to disengage from the arguably more invasive elements of this Act would be successful.

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

Click here to learn about my mind-bending epic mythological novel A Conspiracy of Wizards!!!

In response to a Facebook post wondering at the uncritical commitment to Israel insisted upon by the American far-right, and their insistence that any wavering from that commitment is “anti-Semitic,” I wrote the following essay:

Being critical of Israel is not necessarily “anti-Semitic,” just as being critical of America is not necessarily “anti-American” (and, for that matter, being critical of any given religious order, movement, or individual, isn’t necessarily an affront to “God”). Israel and America are both nations, more like than unlike others despite the mythologies surrounding them.

Israel and America have had an important strategic relationship, confused and exaggerated by two religious communities that have become overzealously committed to America’s unflagging and unquestioning support of Israel, even to the point of to some extent ceding our own sovereignty to Israel. Those two groups are, of course, the American Jewish community, which has always been overwhelmingly blindly and fanatically pro-Israel (though not without many exceptions, Jews who are first and foremost humanists and are first and foremost concerned with our shared humanity), and,  now, conservative evangelicals, who have their own religious reasons for feeling a zealous commitment to Israel (having something to do with their interpretation of the requirements for the Rapture, as I understand it, rather than any sincere love of Israelis) combined with their own ultra-conservative, ultra-nationalist leanings.

Israel’s history and pre-history are also both critical threads in a complete understanding of the geopolitical landscape into which it has woven itself, and the moral implications of that choice. The one thing that isn’t relevant to anyone but Israelis themselves is their ancient, religious-based claim to the land: Every parcel of land on the face of the Earth has changed hands –far more often by violently imposed than by peacefully mutual means– many, many times over the ages, and the current legitimate claims of one racial/ethnic/religious group that had been in continuous possession of that parcel for about a thousand years prior to the Israeli colonization and usurpation of that parcel had, up until that point, the far superior claim to legitimate rights over that parcel.

So, one thread in the tapestry to understand is the very legitimate grievance of the Palestinians, whose currently and extant ancestral land was colonized by a group of Europeans who decided to call it their own and create a state explicitly dedicated to their own culture and religion on it, instantly reducing the pre-existing inhabitants to the status of second-class citizens. Another thread of the tapestry is the recognition of the strong and compelling push factors that induced that European population to do so, though the legitimacy of those push factors (i.e., a history of violent oppression, culminating in the Holocaust), as horrific and empathy-inducing as they may be, can’t justify colonizing and oppressing another, unrelated, foreign people. (That injustice experienced by the Palestinians, however, does not justify and excuse their own atrocities committed since the establishment of the state of Israel, a lesson to those who forget their humanity in the midst of their commitment to other abstractions.)

But another fact of our geopolitical history is that it is a story of borders drawn and redrawn, populations placed and displaced, by endless series of combinations of militant initiative and gross injustices, so that once some new formation becomes a fait accompli, the injustice of its formation becomes less relevant than the reality of its existence.  No modern nation on Earth can claim not to trace its roots to the military conquest of other peoples and the drawing of lines in the sand based on that conquest (if there are a few tribes scattered about the world, who still have some identity of themselves as a nation, who never occupied land they took from others, they are an exception to the rule defined more by the circumstances they encountered than by some idealized superior moral quality of their own). For that reason, Israel’s right to exist should not be brought into question; the Israelis aren’t going anywhere, and any agenda that insists they do at this point can only become a source of gross inhumanity.

Finally, there is the issue of the Israeli-American relationship and their combined and separate relationships with the rest of the Middle East and the rest of the world. America quickly recognized Israel’s right to exist, in part to avoid having to absorb millions of European Jewish refugees in the wake of World War II, in part due to the presence of large numbers of Jews in America who strongly favored supporting Israel, in part due to a sense of the inhumanity that had been inflicted on the Jews in the chapter of world history just preceding the establishment of the state of Israel and some generalized debt of humanity to them that that chapter incurred, and, undoubtedly, in part due to recognition of the strategic value of such an alliance. And America quickly formed a strategic partnership with Israel, becoming Israel’s staunchest and invaluable military and economic supporter in return for having a country-sized base of operations and proxy agent in a region of the Earth very much at the vortex of historical geopolitical struggle and conveniently located near the Eastern Communist Block.

This meant that the hatred of the Arab world toward Israel for colonizing and usurping what had been an Arab country became generalized to the United States as well, and, in some ways, raised to a higher pitch against the United States, whose superior wealth and power and secularity all piqued the jealousies and religious animosities of many in that region of the world. America, the rich, secular, militant supporter of the small power that had ensconced itself on previously Arab land, easily became “The Great Satan” in the popular Arab mind (and, yes, the animosity toward America in the Arab world, while far from universal, is very wide-spread).

Our unfailing support of Israel’s own sometimes overly aggressive reactions to their own perceived insecurity has not helped this modern historical animosity between America and the  Arab world. All of this combined with our support of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, in order to use them as proxies to repel the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s, and our choice to leave abruptly once that was accomplished, leaving a tribally-contested power vacuum and a whole lot of very deadly state-of-the-art military hardware and weaponry. As a result of that latter choice, a very bloody civil war ensued in Afghanistan, for whose intensity we were in part correctly blamed, resulting in the establishment of the Taliban, who hated us for all of these reasons involving our relationship with Israel; our secularism, wealth and power; and the deadly and bloody ruin we had set their country up for.

So our support of Israel has come at a high price, a high price that we should have been glad to pay if that relationship really were as morally perfect as some pretend it is. In reality, we incurred the enmity of the Arab world in part by taking a very strong side in a complex regional relationship that required more of an honest broker from what is in fact the global hegemon (The U.S.). (The extent that we failed to be an honest broker can also be exaggerated; our shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East has often played a very valuable role in resolving conflicts there, and forging new alliance where enmity had existed, such as between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan.) This is a difficult error to correct at this point, but one which we should strive to correct by taking a harder line with Israel, not rescinding our alliance, but insisting on more restraint, accountability, and accommodation from those often wayward allies of ours.

Click here to buy my e-book A Conspiracy of Wizards for just $2.99!!!

Topics