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Amercan Perceptions of Christianity: What struck me most in the Denver Post article reporting that 1 in four Americans can’t think of any recent positive contribution by Christians was the intergenerational difference among Christians themselves (http://www.denverpost.com/ci_16433284). “[R]esearchers noted that Evangelical Christians over age 25 and those who said they are ‘mostly conservative’ on socio- political matters were least likely to list serving the poor as an important contribution.” This confirms what has long been obvious: That the configuration of political beliefs that include Evangelical Christianity, “Constitutional Idolatry”, and a general anti-government/pro-social-injustice-and-inequality-of-opportunity stance includes indifference to the plight of others. Cognitive Scientist George Lakoff, in his book The Political Mind, identified this orientation as a lack of empathy. Whatever policies we design and implement as a nation, whatever balances we strike between efficiency and equity, a lack of empathy should never inform them. More than anything else, this lack of empathy, frequently waxing into outright antipathy toward the poor, combined with a disdain for reason and knowledge, are the principal causes of my vehement opposition to the Tea Party and its fellow travelers. We must never, ever govern ourselves with indifference to human suffering, much less belligerence towards those who are suffering.

Crowdfunding: An example of Wikinomics (Wikinomics: The Genius of the Many Unleashed), crowdfunding is the use of an internet platform to present “grant proposals” to the public at large, and receive donated support from members of that public who find the idea worthy of their support (http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2010/10/crowd-funding_art). Again, this is triumph of decentralization through reduced transaction costs, allowing an increasing number of publicly funded projects to be funded directly by the public, rather than indirectly through the governmental and non-profit apparatus that has traditionally played the role of gatekeeper.

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  • Uncle Fish:

    American Perceptions of Christianity also apply to the faiths of the Muslims, the Jews, the Buddhists and any other…is it empathy or ignorance that we are measuring here?
    Do not attempt judge others’ lack of empathy…simply judge yourself.
    Ask yourself this: Within the last 12 months, how much have you given, as a percent of your total income and wealth, to those less fortuntate than you?
    If your personal giving is worthy of bragging rights, then challenge others to give at similar levels.
    If not, then it is advisable to keep your mouth shut.

    …just thoughts from the West Side

  • Your question errs on many levels. One, it is impertinent and irrelevant. No one is under any obligation to pass your litmus tests before they can speak on matters of public interest. Two, it presumes that only monetary donations matter, and disregards donations of time and effort, which are often both more valuable and more indicative of a sincere commitment to the welfare of others. Three, you presume that “helping the poor” only means the kind of superficial and temporary assistance that, though you disdain, occupies the entire scope of your comprehension, rather than attempts to create the kind of structural change that systemically reduces poverty rates and intensity.

    As it happens, despite being underemployed myself (having taken three years off to attend law school full time, to better serve the public interest), I wrote a $500 check to my local PTO even before having any income again, which still represents over 4% of my total earnings this year. I’ve also given over a couple of hundred dollars to political campaigns, because I recognize the importance of Democratic electoral victories to our collective ability to address issues such as poverty on a fundamental level, something that is only more apparent when reading your arguments on “A Choice Between Our Hopes and Our Fears”.

    Far more significantly, I have given a great deal of my time and energy, both as a volunteer and as a professional, to address the needs of the poor, as well as of others. Within the past few months, I have, on my own time and my own dime, founded and preside over a community organization, and have lobbied Jeffco Schools to implement a robust school-community partnership. During the summer of 2009, I volunteered over 150 hours of my time doing research on how to institute mental health screenings and services in the public schools. During the summer of the 2008, I volunteered over 150 hours of my time giving legal rights presentations to people in removal proceedings.

    At previous times in my life, I have been a Big Brother volunteer; a crisis intervention hotline volunteer; the chairperson on my own time, while a high school teacher, of a community outreach network; and worked for a small salary to help design, organize, and implement an urban outreach program in blighted urban neighborhoods, as well as having worked in childcare, with the elderly, and as a public school teacher, all low-paying careers dedicated to improving the lives of others.

    I am currently a policy consultant, doing contract work on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of services to children and families in need.

    Whether or not this narrative of a life that has always been focused on giving to the community satisfies your litmus test of what entitles me to Free Speech (on my own blog), commenting on an article in The Denver Post, your challenge is the weak attempt by a bitter ideologue to discredit and silence someone he disagrees with. No one has to pass your litmus tests to advance their arguments, and no one has to shut their mouth because you disagree with them. But thanks for illustrating yet once again what I’ve been saying in posts like The Tea Party’s Mistaken Historical Analogy, Tea Party Assault on Moderation & Professionalism in Politics & Governance, and others, as well as this one: You and yours are far more similar to 1920s and 30s European fascists than you are to 18th century American revolutionaries (e.g, anti-intellectual, loathing the poor, xenophobic and often racist, ultra-nationalist, the populist tool of corporate interests).

    Interestingly, while frothing with indignaton over the observations in the above post, you have simultaneously written (particularly on “A Choice Between Our Hopes and Our Fears”) about how parasitic the poor are, and how unfair it is to systematically address the issue of poverty, taking away from those who, in your words, work to earn the money, to give it to those lazy freeloaders (my quite accurate, if unflattering, paraphrasing of you). Your ideology is a brutal and ignorant one, fighting for a regression to some Voctorian/Dickensonian disregard of the needs of the less fortunate , and indeed blaming them en masse for their poverty (as you repeatedly did in your comments on “A Choice Between Hope and Fear”). And when called out, you tell people to “shut up” (on their own blog, I might add). I can almost hear you saying in some of your posts, “Are there no poor houses? No work houses? Then let them go there, and leave me alone.”

    The beauty of public discourse, UF, is that the more people like you talk and publish, the more people like me have the opportunity to shine a light on what you really stand for, and emphasize why the rest of us should very assertively stand against it.

  • Uncle Fish:

    Your Freudian projections are certainly rich. Knowing little of me other than that I oppose your political philosophies, you plug me into the Tea Party. As a member of that population, in your mind, I then become angry. And ignorant. And bitter. And xenophobic. And racist. And anti-intellectual. And irrelevant. All your words, not mine, because unlike you, I actually read what is written without making baseless characterizations, inaccurate assumptions and or ill-fated attempts to plug people into neat little boxes.

    With your world view, that is fairly easy to do because you obviously live on a single-line continuum – black or white, no gray; yes or no, no options.

    My world view is based upon a three-dimensional scatter plot with no well-defined or narrow definitions, only a multitude of variations and diversity.

    You criticize my use of ‘strawmen’ as irrelevant. Is not your use of the ‘poor children’, the ‘underprivileged poor’ and the ‘greedy corporate chieftains’ the same structure of argument?

    You call me a racist and on that point you are most assuredly not correct. I am, however, quite prejudiced. I am prejudiced against the lazy, the entitled, the net tax receivers, those that expect to be carried upon the backs of others and yet provide no benefit, nay, not even an effort to provide a benefit, to their brethren.

    As a member of the self-proclaimed educated intelligentsia, your reading skills are remarkably weak, or maybe just colored by the tinted glass through which you view the world. My point on personal charity was not a judgment, merely a call to self-assessment. If you are proud of your personal generosity, then tell others. Challenge them to give at levels that equal or exceed yours. If everyone was as generous as you and I, many of our social problems would be non-existent.

    I do take issue with defining your ‘volunteer work’ as an act of charity, however. Based upon your goal to attain political office, it is obvious that your attempts at community organization are merely an effort to elevate your exposure before the inevitable election. Good marketing perhaps, but not charity.

    Your goal to expand government at the expense of the wealthy is also self-serving. Your current income level clearly puts you into the sector of ‘net tax receiver’. You paid no income tax last year (count yourself among the 40% of US households with that privilege). You probably received the ‘earned income tax credit’ which is a cash refund for income taxes that you never paid. That cash refund offsets other tax you might have been subject to (sales tax, property tax, vehicle tax, etc). You lived and functioned in society, took benefit of the public services provided by tax payers yet contributed nothing toward those goods and services. How does it feel to be a ‘free-loader’?

    Based upon your personal philosophies, your ‘volunteer work’ is of dubious value to our broad society. Your goal to enter elected office, if attained, will put you clearly into the class of ‘net tax receiver’, possibly for life. A big and growing government supporting a large dependant class is critical to the success of your plan. The philosophies you espouse on this blog, over which you claim ownership, are thus not as altruistic as you would have others believe.

    Your disdain for private property rights (focused thus far primarily upon those who, in your estimation, make too much money or have too much wealth) is interesting. A challenge on ‘your blog’ is met with a swift and aggressive defense. “How dare I challenge you on ‘your blog’? The impropriety!” However, in your world, there is no private property. This blog is owned by the State. How does it feel to have property that you have worked hard to create usurped for the greater good?

    You accuse my ideologies as being utterly inhumane, when in fact, your method to support those “in need” equally, is most cruel of all. Your action plan will certainly feed, house and clothe the “under-privileged” and lull the masses into a false sense of security…until you can’t afford to support them anymore. You will then turn away this dependant population, requiring them to fend for themselves, after having stripped away all sense of self-preservation and personal industry. Your methods of financing the support for this dependant class involves involuntary confiscation, or as you prefer to call it, taxation. Involuntary confiscation is also defined as thievery.

    My preference is to teach, mentor and promote personal independence. This involves failure by some, to be sure, but provides the greatest opportunity for a rising standard of living among the largest population.

    Review the results of Johnson’s Great Society to understand the utter hopelessness that exists in 2nd and 3rd generation members of the dependant class. Follow current events in France and Greece to gain an understanding of the social unrest that exists when a large dependant class has its mouth forcibly turned away from the government teat.

    If you have ever raised successful, independent children or operated a large business enterprise, these basic tenets of human nature become self-evident and are not debatable. Employ a hundred people and it quickly becomes obvious that some will arrive early and work all day, constantly seeking advanced skills and responsibility. Others will have trouble arriving to work on time. Reward the former, cut the later and the organization, along with all members of the team, thrives. Keep the laggards on board too long and the entire operation is at risk. Cruel only in the short-run; much more benevolent in the long run and to a larger population.

    Definitely President Obama, and possibly you too, have never encountered this phenomenon in your lives. His burden is his view of life, formed during his early years, as a member of the dependant class. Living on welfare for a time, attending a prestigious and very expensive preparatory academy on a full-ride scholarship (look it up: Punahou School, the oldest private school west of the Mississippi, had an annual tuition of over $10,000 in the 1970’s. His postal worker grandmother didn’t cover that bill out of her wages). He then went on to Occidental, also on scholarship. During these years, he was a long-term net receiver. His view of the world is thusly based. All solutions are solved with Other People’s Money.

    Obama may be a Constitutional Scholar, but it seems apparent that his goal is not to understand the document with the intent of upholding it. Rather, his actions lead me to believe that he seeks to understand the document with the intent of exploiting it, molding the document to serve his world view. Passage of the Health Care Legislation (which Pelosi proudly proclaimed: “had to be passed to find out what’s in it”. What a model of astute leadership.) is a key example. Creating an entire new class of entitlements and dependencies, this is legislation that forces the purchase of goods and services under the threat of penalty and cannot be Constitutional, except on a technicality. That is what you lawyers do, though isn’t it. Find the technicalities and exploit them for your own benefit.

    One last point and then I must move on to more productive endeavors. The ultimate weakness in your plan to build a Better Society, through the care and feeding of a large dependant class, relies upon the productive endeavors of others. Without the Productive Class, you cannot possibly support your plans, either personal or governmental. You consume goods and services, demand that they be provided to others and expect the Productive Class to carry the burden.

    The Productive Class, those of us that favor independence over dependence, do not need you and your compatriots in thought to achieve our goals. In fact, you and your friends are a burden – net receivers –that offer little true benefit to society. Our plan may have the same goal as yours, the rise in standard of living for all, but we do not need you to fulfill that plan.

    You need us. We do not need you. Think about it…I have.

    Sorry for the length of this last post…through this process, I have gained a greater conviction for my personal philosophy. You have not weakened it, only strengthened it.

    Good luck in your endeavors, but know this: Should we ever meet in the election booth, my vote (if you have not succeeded in taking it away) will be cast in opposition.

    …just thoughts from the West Side.

  • UF, I’ve been responding to what you write (which, yes, I only skim, because, sorry, you’re not that interesting or original), and nothing else, when I respond to you. To be honest, your posts are both too long and too insubstantial, and time too scarce, for me to read them in depth, not out of any desire to insult you, but because you’re clearly just repeating the same old shallow platitudes, with the same old combination of angry insistence that those platitudes have suddenly been transmutated into profoundly incisive analyses (they haven’t been), and that venting your spleen at me is good argumentation (it isn’t). What’s the point?

    At a glance, I noticed some characterization of my views as black-and-white. Hardly. I see the world in terms of complex dynamical systems played out in an N-Dimensional space defined by all imaginable variables. I use tools like network analysis (ncluding epidemiology, cellular automata, and the theory of biased nets), microeconomic analysis, evolutionary ecology, and epistemology to explore it. I’ve engaged in mathematical modeling, computer simulations, historical research, and field research in service to the effort. More importantly than my own marginal contributions, unlike you, I also incorporate into my worldview the information, analytical frameworks, and enormous intellectual achievements of generations of professional scholars (and sometimes lay people who have made important contributions to our understanding), in a variety of disciplines, who have in most cases applied their full attention over the course of their lifetime to addressing the issues we are discussing, and whose work I’ve spent decades studying. I know that can’t compete with the shallow, emotionally appealing reality you and your ideological brethren have invented from whole cloth, in an intellectual vacuum. But those of us less endowed with instant wisdom (freeze-dried for improved flavor) have to brew our own the old-fashioned way, with hard work and careful study.

    Typical of your ideology, you want to simultaneously claim an intellectual superiority that you clearly lack, and decry actual academic expertise as “elitism,” which in a sense it is, in the same way that a surgeon’s expertise, and knowledge of his or her own expertise, is elitism. But it is the elitism of meritocracy (at least to the extent that achievement in America is due to merit), in which those who are fortunate enough to have the opportunity, and work hard enough to achieve something, in contrast to those who lacked either the opportunity or the initiative, develop an expertise in some field or another. If that’s “elitism,” then I want elites to perform my child’s surgery, help negotiate my contracts, fix my house’s plumbing, and help design and implement our public policies.

    I also noticed at a glance at least one strawman argument (I have no doubt that there are many more that would be discovered on a closer reading), a specialty of yours (as it is of most people who argue inherently weak positions): I have no “disdain” for private property rights, nor do I conceptualize the world with the silly caricature that you insist upon. Despite your “scatter plot,” it’s you and no one else who has a black-and-white view of reality, and one that is utterly uninformed (and apparently uninformable) at that. You have zero understanding of economics, law, or history, judging from your ridiculous reductions of reality.

    If you were capable of a more nuanced, subtle understanding of the world, and if you had actually read what I have written as carefully (or as capably) as you claim to have, then you’d know that I don’t advocate dependency, nor rote redistribution of wealth, nor a failure to emphasize personal responsibility, nor a disregard for what we know of human nature (which is far subtler than you believe, but nevertheless imperfectly and variably malleable), nor a disregard for incentives and motivations. In fact, as someone who has done professional research in economics, a discipline which presupposes that people are pursuing their own individual interests, I’m, if anything, inclined to exaggerate rather than underemphasize the role of individual interests in human social dynamics.

    Investing in our social institutional framework, with one of the values to be improved being equality of opportunity, is not the provision of “a government teat,” as you so simplistically insist. If so, public educaton would be the first thing to go, by far the most expensive burden on state and local governments, and the biggest “socialist” experiment in human history. And yet, no rational modern person can fail to recognize what a vital role it plays not just in extending opportunity more equitably, but also in improving the robustness and efficiency of the economic system itself. It is a good public investment, as many are. To determine which public investments are good, and which aren’t, you can’t just wield your ideological (and, yes, quite inhumane) sledgehammer and get it right. You need to actually do the analysis, using actual information, doing actual reseach, on a case-by-case basis. That’s what I advocate, and that’s what virtually all of my posts on this blog are all about.

    Your refutations are all conclusions you have started with, which you then rationalize and justify with selective and often inaccurate evidence. Unlike you, I don’t start with conclusions, but rather with a recognition of complexity, and of goals to be pursued within the limitations posed by a world of variable malleability. You say it is cruel to systemically address social issues because it is doomed to impose more suffering than it alleviates, but the global historical record does not support your conclusion.

    The history of the world is one of gradual improvement in the material quality and social justice of our shared existence. For this fact to be compatable with your professed wisdom, one of two facts would have to be true: Either progress only occurs when we make no organized and intentional effort to improve the quality of our lives, or, though progress has occurred throughout history, we have reached the final culmination of its trajectory, and any further attempt to progress can only hurt us by interfering with that perfection. Both positions are absurd. And, in fact, empirical evidence as well as basic reason points to their absurdity: Western European societies have beaten us by every measure of social justice and human welfare for over half a century now, and, while some are experiencing some economic problems for their excesses (just as we are for our opposite excesses), they have demonstrated that a sustainable balance between free market robustness and investment in human welfare is not only possible, but even, on balance, far more economically efficient and robust than blind dogmatic reliance on “small government”.

    I noticed that you called into question my motives for my volunteerism, as usual, not only in complete ignorance, but without the rational faculties to realize that you are making judgments about which you have no evidence one way or the other. I was a Big Brother volunteer, worked with kids, worked with the elderly, volunteered on a crisis intervention hotline, long before I ever imagined I might run for office, and am now running for office in service to the same motivations which drove me to do those things rather than having done those things in service to running for office. From your uninformed situation, you should have known that you have no basis for judging which came first: my choice to run for office, or my commitment to the community and the public welfare. But, since reason is irrelevant to you, you selected the judgment which served your conclusion, rather than postpone your conclusion in recognition of lacking the evidence to make one. That really sums up your contribution to public discourse.

    In fact, your assumption that my volunteerism could only be in service to my “political ambitions” is indicative of the strength of your “confirmation bias” (the habit of starting with a conclusion, and filtering and interpreting all evidence in order to confirm it). At first glance, it is at least equally likely that both my volunteerism and my running for office are expressions of a commitment to the public interest as that my volunteerism is a cynical ploy in service to my political ambitions (ambitions which don’t actually exist, as it happens, at least not in the sense that you think). Without looking any more carefully than that, reason would have compelled you to acknowledge, both to yourself and others, that you have no way of knowing which is the case.

    But, on closer examination, it’s apparent that the former explanation is in fact far more likely than the latter. My last salary as a teacher was $48,500/year, at which point I took off three years to get a J.D. in order to pursue a career in public interest law. A state legislator’s salary is $35,000/year, more than a 25% decrease from my pre-J.D. salary. Furthermore, I ran in a district that I had absolutely no chance of winning (an overwhelmingly conservative Republican district), because my purpose has never been to pursue a career in office, but rather a career in public policy design and advocacy. Since I knew I couldn’t win my race, my volunteerism, even more recently (not to mention over the decades), could hardly have been in service to my political ambitions.

    I’m not going to continue to engage you when you post repetitive and largely empty arguments, UF. I’ve written numerous, in-depth posts here making the case clearly for how we can more rationally, empathetically, and effectively address our challenges as a people and a society. You’re welcome to your own blindly ideological certainties, stripped of any actual information or analysis, but full of praise for yourself. I’m going to ask you to try to focus on issues rather than on venting your anger here, however. You’re welcome to make any argument, on any aspect of public policy, that you like.

  • UF, in a dull moment, I went back and looked at your most recent comment again. Because it’s such a corrosive and dysfunctional ideology, and yet so much in the ascendent at the moment, I’m going to address a few of your “points” specifically.

    You wrote: “I am prejudiced against the lazy, the entitled, the net tax receivers, those that expect to be carried upon the backs of others and yet provide no benefit, nay, not even an effort to provide a benefit, to their brethren.”

    The defects of this statement are low-hanging fruit on your heavily laden tree of fallacies. You manage to resurrect shades of Social Darwinism with your assumption that everyone who is a “net tax receiver” is “lazy, entitled” and “expects to be carried on the backs of others and yet provide no benefit…,” and that therefore they are parasites who suck off the “government teat,” as you put it. Disregarded in this atrociously ignorant, dismissive, and truly elitist depiction of humanity is the fact that you are referring to, among others, abused children (all public school children, in fact), paraplegics and other disabled people, most of the elderly, people who have worked hard their whole life earning a substandard wage, the cognitively disabled, and, disproportionately, the descendents of those who were systematically historically discriminated against in often brutal ways, the legacy of that historical discrimination still apparent in current distributions of wealth and opportunity. (Those who refute the latter point have to be either racist or innumerate, since the statistical correlation is clear and irrefutable; you must either acknowledge the legacy of history, or posit that those descendents are coincidentally on average “lazier” than the descendent of those who were coincidentally most privileged).

    You also are apparently referring to everyone other than actual laborers in your reference to those who are not “producers of wealth,” which makes you, basically, a very confused Marxist.

    You wrote: “Your goal to expand government at the expense of the wealthy is also self-serving. Your current income level clearly puts you into the sector of ‘net tax receiver’.” Yes, clearly, as a person with multiple advanced degrees, including a JD (usually considered a money-making degree), who has by choice never earned over $50,000/year due to the higher priority I place on service to the public interest than on service to my own accumulation of wealth, including teaching, research, and working on improved social services to children and families in need, proves that I’m a greedy bastard only looking out for my own pecuniary interests. Boy, you really got me on that one, and demonstrated your brilliant facility with logical deduction at the same time. Kudos.

    You wrote: “Your goal to enter elected office, if attained, will put you clearly into the class of ‘net tax receiver’, possibly for life.” Uh huh. As you said, my lifelong habit of volunteer work and work in the public interest was all a devious plan to take three years off, leaving a teaching salary of $48,500, get a JD, in order to land a job in the state legislature that pays $35,000/year. Again, your insights are mindbogglingly astute.

    You wrote: “I have gained a greater conviction for my personal philosophy. You have not weakened it, only strengthened it.” Of course I have. It’s called “confirmation bias,” a function of the avoidance of cognitive dissonance. People in general can take evidence that utterly destroys their professed certainties, and manage to see in it only confirmation. Those who are least determined to grow, least capable of honest self assessment, and most committed to the preservation and perpetuation of their current convictions, are least hesitant and most assertive in their embrace of confirmation bias. It’s therefore no surprise that it is something you are proud of.

    Frankly, just about every single word you wrote, in every single paragraph above, can be soundly debunked and ridiculed with as much dispatch as the few I chose. Please, come back frequently to demonstrate your profound wisdom. We can only hope that enough people who have not yet latched onto a blind ideology take note of it, for any semi-sentient being would quickly see that you are not a thing to be emulated.

  • Libertarian:

    Uncle Fish,

    Why do you even try? I was directed here from a link Harvey put in the Denver Post.

    This blog isn’t about open discussion, it’s about Steve’s rant’s and belittling of anybody that differs from his leftist world view. I anticipate that this post will be removed as soon as Harvey reads it. Cest’ la vie.

    I reccomend that you quit wasting your time here, you’re never going to get a reasoned discussion, only insults and belittling.

    Out.

    P.S. Steve, congratulations on State House district 28 results! Out!

  • Libertarian: Why don’t you make your arguments on matters of public policy, on this blog that I’ve opened up to any and all who want to engage in such civil discourse, rather than complain that my arguing my positions on my blog, on which you too are welcome to post, is a sign of my unwillingness to engage in “reasoned discussion”?

    You may disagree with my arguments, but, in fact, they ARE arguments, unlike what you’re offering in response. If you’re going to complain about the absence of “reasoned discussion,” it might help if you did not post something that itself is an egregious example of a complete absence of reasoned discussion, in response to what was clearly an example of reasoned discussion on my part.

    Could it be that it is reasoned discussion itself which so threatens and offends you, that you must try to turn reality on its head, and call its presence its absence and its absence its presence?

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