Uncommon Sense

April 28, 2022

Sometimes a Title is Enough

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Race — Steve Ruis @ 8:12 am

In this case it is a subtitle (to an Eric Sentell post on Medium.com).

Republicans display systemic racism by banning

teaching about systemic racism

April 15, 2022

What American Conservatives See

Filed under: Culture,language,Politics,Race,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:18 am
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American conservatives are flocking to demagogues because of what they see happening to their country. They say:

  • Their religion is under attack! Atheists and secularists taking away their religion.
    • Politicians taking their tax monies and giving it away to the unworthy.
    • The American (aka Christian) family is under attack! What if you have a transgender kid and they can’t carry on the family name, etc.
    • Schools curricula emphasize the theory of evolution over the Bible, and CRT, slavery years over patriotic education.
    • The American (aka Christian) family is under attack! Gay marriages, etc.
    • Cancel culture is attacking the core institutions of our lives.
  • Liberals/Democrats stole the last presidential election!

And, well, they aren’t exactly wrong . . . but they are being played. Let’s unpack a few of these, shall we?

  • Their religion is under attack! Atheists and secularists taking away their religion. Unfortunately they are mistaking shooting themselves in the foot for unfriendly fire. The reasons they are losing meat in the seats is their corruption and unwelcoming nature which offends the young they so desperately are trying to attract.
  • Politicians taking their tax monies and giving it away to the unworthy. Welfare is destroying this country! Actually, the shrunken “welfare state” is still but a tiny fraction of the governmental expenditures on corporate welfare. Plus, when people use the phrase “the unworthy” in this context they usually mean Black and Brown people. The majority of welfare moneys in this country are spent upon white people (the bulk of SSA payments go to old white ladies, for example).
  • The American (aka Christian) family is under attack! What if you have a transgender kid and they can’t carry on the family name, etc. This is a classic fear born reaction to any social outcaste coming out of the closet. Predictions about the dire consequences if Black men were allowed to vote, women were allowed to vote, women to be members of the armed forces, gay people to be married, women to run marathons, etc. were numerous and . . . unfounded.
  • School curricula emphasize the theory of evolution over the Bible, and CRT, slavery years over patriotic education. As a matter of fact CRT is only taught in some law schools, so it is not being taught in “their schools,” but the theory of evolution is being taught in Biology classes, where it belongs. The Bible is taught in comparative religion classes, which many schools don’t have because parents haven’t asked for them. (Classes on strictly the Bible violate the First Amendment to the Constitution, so schools cannot offer those, unless they are a private, non tax-supported religious schools, then they are perfectly legal.)
  • The American (aka Christian) family is under attack! It is claimed that same sex marriage, pre-marital sex, and contraception are weapons being deployed against the American family. Actually, none of these are being forced upon families and most families are completely unaffected by such things. And one cannot help but notice that the Bible Belt states have the highest unwed mother birth rates in the country.

And, well, they aren’t exactly wrong . . . but they are being played.

  • Cancel culture is attacking the core institutions of our lives. (Unfortunately cancel culture was enshrined in the Bible and is one of the favorite weapons of the religious, They are objecting to it being used against them instead of by them. They are perfectly happy when their opponents get canceled and outraged when their supporters get canceled.
  • Liberals/Democrats stole the last presidential election! Some many dead people in Georgia voted for Biden to swing the state. And all of those phony votes change our congressional elections, too. Wait, they didn’t? So, they voted for Biden, but no other Democrats? Strange.

* * *

I remember, back when I was still watching TV news, a story about a bus accident in India in which some number of students were killed. I don’t remember the number. And then I was struck with the thought “Why is this news . . . here?” I could understand that it would be news, probably local news in India, but why here? The odds that any listener would have a relative or a friend on the bus had to be close to zero (very close). And I don’t think there was a school bus safety standards issue, since I can’t imagine their school bus standards and ours are aligned. The only thing I could figure was the propensity for “news organizations” to follow the rule “if it bleeds, it leads” when it comes to news. And if there isn’t any bleeding closer, then faraway bleeding will have to do.

Shortly thereafter, I stopped watching TV news. (I still watched TV political commentary, but MSNBC’s coverage of the 2016 presidential election cured me of that.) My point was “Why am I importing misery, negativity, etc? When I stopped watching TV news shows, I noticed, almost immediately, that I wasn’t seeing anything like the events they had been feeding me. For example, I now live in Chicago and while the news was raving on and on about the murder outbreak in my city, I hadn’t seen a single dead body, nor heard a single gun shot. (Oh, I did see one dead body, but it was washed up on our adjacent beach, it was someone who fell off of a boat and drowned.) Yes, I understand such things are concentrated in “certain neighborhoods,” neighborhoods in which gang activity is rampant, and I do know that there are such neighborhoods close by and I appreciate the fact that my partner volunteered in one of those, but the level of concern generated by the “news” programs was much greater than that generated by newspapers and neighborhood gossip.

The creators of the Fox News channel recognized this effect: that if properly staged, the news can be a powerful tool for generating fear and that fear can be turned into a political weapon.

And, as another example, would die hard Christians even notice that “atheists” were undermining American’s belief in God? How many of them actually have spoken with an acknowledged atheist? If you look at online sites, you can find sites devoted to atheism, but you have to look for them, they aren’t being pushed to the fore, that is they aren’t being promoted greatly. On one site, Quora, a question and answer site, I see a great many atheists responding to questions. Virtually all of those questions come from theists (in the U.S. that means mostly Christians) and they come in great numbers. If those Christians weren’t asking those questions (mostly “gotcha-type” questions, that have been answered decades if not centuries ago) there would be hundreds of thousands fewer atheist statements on that site. The zeal of those “Christians” is producing exactly the effect they do not want.

What Christians are actually noticing is that the number of people in the pews is diminishing. In many churches the “oldsters” and “youngsters” are so at odds that they are given separate Sunday services. The oldsters cannot stand that modern church music (Electric guitars, for Pete’s sake!) and the youngsters cannot stand the old folk’s boring services with droning music. One would think that this real, noticeable effect would generate some introspection and an attempt to bolster the desirability of church attendance. But the churches don’t stand a chance because the political hate machine which is Fox News was declared at top volume that there is a War on Christianity. They even took images from the Near East where there is actual religious warfare and used them to illustrate that here in the U.S. Christianity is under attack, from atheists! Right here in River City!

We need what used to be called a “voice of reason” right now to lower the temperature of our political and religious discourse, but Fox News and right-wing extremist organizations have waged a war upon reason. So, apparently what we need now is a “Voice of Sanity.” Any suggestions as to who could fill this void?

April 10, 2022

Proof that Jesus Was White!

Filed under: Culture,Race,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:02 am

You have read here, and I am sure other places, that religious apologetics, especially Christian apologetics, is in a very sorry state. Currently poorly educated apologists are making arguments that were disproved centuries ago yet they are unaware of that. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Then I saw this argument made: “Jesus is white . . . because he went into a heavily occupied commercial district in Jerusalem, overturned working tables, scattering wealth in the form of coins of all denominations. He even whipped a number of the merchants with a corded whip. Did Jesus go to prison? No. Was Jesus arrested? No. Was Jesus even questioned by the Temple guards? No. If that wasn’t a manifestation of white privilege, I don’t know what is.”

Now, that is a solid argument.

But in the comments, a responder said: “No, no, no . . . Jesus was a black or very brown brother and I can prove it. Jesus got arrested, tried, convicted (without an offer of a public defender, mind you), then was physically brutalized, humiliated, then executed . . . for a crime he didn’t commit. Was this even investigated? No. Were the police questioned? No. Jesus was a brother, man.”

Now that is an argument that is hard to counter.

At least some of this new generation of Christian apologists are showing some chops!

March 24, 2022

WTF? Entitlement?!

Filed under: Culture,Politics,Race,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 10:30 am

I saw a comment on the Internet in which the commenter argued that, well, “people are entitled to be anonymous if they want to be.”

Methinks entitlement has gone too far.

In this country (the U.S. of A.) there is no such entitlement. For example, you have to be known by the Social Security Administration just to get a job. You have to be known by some Department of Motor Vehicles just to be able to drive on public roads, etc. You cannot own a home or other property without showing up in public records. The only person I knew who tried seriously to become anonymous was doing so so that she could avoid paying taxes.

So, since the “entitlement claim” is referring to identifying who is “speaking” on the Internet, let us limit the discussion to that. Do people have the “right” to communicate anonymously on the Internet?

No. Simply because not being identifiable is incredibility difficult on the Internet. There are tracing tools and whatnot that allow people to be “located.” Search engines exist to search just for people. The very act of typing something and posting it leaves a trail of digital bread crumbs that can be followed. And if someone goes to that trouble and “outs you,” as in “AssKicker 831 is Joel Nerdly of Omaha, Nebraska,” what do you think the penalty is for doing that?

Right. <cricket, cricket, cricket>

What you do have is the right to try to be anonymous. There is no guarantee you will be successful.

I can think of only a handful of situations in which anonymity is appropriate (spousal abuse reporting, whistle blowing, voting, etc.) so I consider the use of monikers/pseudonyms/avatars, etc. to be suspicious. To communicate anonymously without a substantial reason is an attempt to avoid the societal pushback that causes us to think before we speak. Before the anonymity provided by the Internet, racist comments were disappearing from public discourse. Conversations held out in the open, at work, etc. were self-policed to avoid the approbation that one would get if one made racist comments. That is one of the few mechanisms by which a culture polices itself. But as soon as people learned they could communicate anonymously on the Internet, and hook up with other like-minded individuals, observable public racism made a big comeback in this country.

If some politicians decided to write a bill promoting the “entitlement to be anonymous” I would oppose it because it undermines our society.

March 16, 2022

Don’t Say Gay . . . WTF?

So, no references to the Gay Nineties? No readings from books with the word gay in the title?

And, isn’t the Florida state legislature a state government and doesn’t the First Amendment to the Constitution state: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; . . ?” And didn’t the fourteenth Amendment extend the rights and obligations of citizens and governments to the states? (Amendment XIV, Section 1, All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.)

So why the fuck is the Florida State Government infringing upon the right of free speech (not the teacher’s, they are employees and have limited employee rights) but the students? They are usurping the power of what words may be used to speak. Granted it is a pandering appeal and a distraction, but WTF?

I can hardly wait for someone to be fired for teaching critical race theory, which is only taught in a handful of law schools (note—law schools are graduate schools). The teacher can say in good faith that they had not been teaching “CRT” and then the prosecution will have to explain how that is the case. Also, then the constitutionality lawsuits will spring up. But all of this is distraction. Distraction from what we really need to be talking about, such as why are the rich people in this country trying so hard to impoverish the rest of us and why are politicians so eager to help them?

March 12, 2022

Christian Nationalism Contradictions

Something I read recently struck me as an oddity, namely: “One of the most glaring areas of the Christian crisis reveals (itself) in the growing problem of poverty. In a Christian-dominated society that supposedly regards charity as a principle, Christians divide harshly over the treatment of poverty.”

What the author is referring to is the professed dedication to the spirit of charity within the religion, but virulently opposition to government sourced charity, which they refer to as “welfare.” I argue that this distinction exists because in welfare, Christians do not get to determine who is worthy of their charity. Some of this can be logged up as racism, but other factors are involved. For example, after the Great Depression Roosevelt’s administration decided that the best way to combat the poverty of so many Americans is to give them small amounts of money, an unprecedented governmental approach. There first rollout of the effort was exceedingly slow and when investigated it turned out that before the money could be granted, the good Christian government workers had to be convinced that the recipients were suitably shamed and so spent time driving home this point to the already shamed applicants. When the “aid workers” were suitably retrained the money flowed much faster and people felt the “relief” those funds provided. (The amount of money involved was so small as to appall modern Americans as to how stingy/mean spirited the government officials were being.)

This is an oddity amongst a whole class of oddities involving “Christian” attitudes that conflict with Christian teachings. I put the first Christian in quotes to distinguish it from the stated beliefs of the religion in that here it represents the actual beliefs and actions of American Christians.

Currently the undercurrent of American Christianity wanting political power, in the form of a declaration that the U.S. is a Christian nation, is more prominent than at any other time in the recent past. So, were these folks to get their wish, what sorts of policies could we expect?

Certainly, those Christians would welcome the practice of so many “official” Christian nations, which is to have the government collect their tithes for them, funneling those into the coffers of the churches. But, I must ask, how would the Christian mission of charity manifest itself in this new Christian nation? The government could collect money from the many who have some to give to the poor. But wouldn’t that be “welfare?”

As I have mentioned in so many ways now, I don’t think these “Christian nationalists” have thought through what it is they actually want. I am gravitating toward the possibility their desire is a manifestation of conservatives wanting to use the big club of religion to bash the country into something more to their conservative likings. I don’t think it is a religious issue so much as a political (neoliberal/conservative) issue. Those people have already achieved the coup of convincing evangelicals that “voting Democrat” is the equivalent of “voting Satan,” so they had to move on to new efforts, for “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

March 9, 2022

The Law of Unintended Consequences Still Rules

States, like Texas, are deathly afraid of becoming “white minority” states, with “people of color” numbering more than the “real Christians,” aka “white people.” And, the wise legislators in Texas recently banned abortions in the state by empowering vigilantes to seek out those attempting to get abortions for bounties.

So, a recent study has shown that “An average of 1,400 Texas women traveled each month between September and December 2021 for abortion services” (The Guardian). If we think this through, we have to ask who these women are who are heading out of state to acquire an abortion. First is they have to have the resources and skills to accomplish such a thing, so they are vastly more likely to be upper- to upper middleclass women, and therefore mostly white. Those being forced by the new law to carry their children to term, are likely to be poorer, and more likely to be black and brown women.

So, the consequence of the new Texas state abortion law is to accelerate the coming of a white minority status for the state. More black and brown babies are being born and fewer white babies are being born. (If that 1400 a month holds, it could be as many as 16,800 fewer white babies per year, 168,000 per decade.) Obvious. Won’t be long before that shows up on the voter registration rolls.

Yeah, hah! You go, Texas! You might want to get that one foot bandaged up before you take aim at the other.

August 24, 2021

Contradiction—A Review

Filed under: Culture,History,Race,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:20 pm

Contradiction is a 2015 documentary available on Amazon Prime. The subtitle is “A Question of Faith” with the primary question being this: there are more black churches serving the black community than any other community claims and the observation made was the poorer the community, the greater the number of churches. Is one the cause and the other the effect and which way? The documentarian seemed to believe that the effort supporting such a large number of churches is at least a drain on their community’s resources that would be better invested in helping people out of poverty and drug addiction, etc.

I am recommending this documentary to you because while it relates to the black churches of the U.S., the same questions need to be asked of all of the other churches.

My position is simple: civilization was created by a small group of people, the elites, coercing labor from the masses to support the interests of the elites. If the elites are not going to be working the fields and what not, somebody has to replace that labor. Apparently the number of volunteers willing to do extra work to take up the slack weren’t enough to make up for the labor lost, so large scale slavery started up when civilization did.

Plus, if slaves or unwilling “citizens” were to be forced to do this labor, guards would be needed, which swelled the ranks of the “elites” (those not growing food and supplying shelter, etc. but instead providing governance, art, music, etc. largely only for the elites but it was what it was and is what it is) which only increased the demand for coerced labor.

Also, if there were religious as well as secular elites, they soon realized that they were both better off supporting one another than contesting for elite status, so religion became the tool of coercing the labor. (They were sometimes all-in-one priest-kings, or separate “rulers” with one subordinate to the other, but they always were working together in their coercion, no matter how they fought among themselves.)

This was reinforced by the history of American slaves who were forcibly converted to Christianity and the preachers of black churches were given points to reinforce, the primary one was the “pie in the sky” promise, that their reward would come after they died. (The others being “slaves, obey your masters,” and, well you know.

It is hard to conceive of why black people are so loyal to their churches and to the baby Jesus. If I trace my ancestors back in this country, on both my father’s and mother’s sides, I find Christians all of the way back. But if African-Americans were to do the same, I would guess the number of their ancestors who arrived in this country as slaves who were also Christians, would be <1%. Their native religions were stripped from them and Christianity, a very limited Christianity (no Jesus tearing up the temple courtyard in their sermons), was forced upon them (with beatings, etc.) by “their masters.” Then to hear so many black women say that the most important thing in their life was “accepting Jesus as their Lord and Master” was shocking, very shocking.

This is quite worth watching, highly recommended.

April 20, 2021

The Invention of Whiteness

Filed under: Culture,Economics,History,Race — Steve Ruis @ 10:02 am
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This is an excerpt from The Invention of Whiteness: The Long History of a Dangerous Idea in today’s The Guardian that renders the idea that religion is harmless a lie.

If you asked an Englishman in the early part of the 17th century what colour skin he had, he might very well have called it white. But the whiteness of his skin would have suggested no more suitable basis for a collective identity than the roundness of his nose or the baldness of his head. If you asked him to situate himself within the rapidly expanding borders of the known world, he would probably identify himself, first and most naturally, as an Englishman. If that category proved too narrow – if, say, he needed to describe what it was he had in common with the French and the Dutch that he did not share with Ottomans or Africans – he would almost certainly call himself a Christian instead.

That religious identity was crucial for the development of the English slave trade – and eventually for the development of racial whiteness. In the early 17th century, plantation owners in the West Indies and in the American colonies largely depended on the labour of European indentured servants. These servants were considered chattel and were often treated brutally – the conditions on Barbados, England’s wealthiest colony, were notorious – but they were fortunate in at least one respect: because they were Christian, by law they could not be held in lifetime captivity unless they were criminals or prisoners of war.

Africans enjoyed no such privilege. They were understood to be infidels, and thus the “perpetual enemies” of Christian nations, which made it legal to hold them as slaves. By 1640 or so, the rough treatment of indentured servants had started to diminish the supply of Europeans willing to work on the sugar and tobacco plantations, and so the colonists looked increasingly to slavery, and the Atlantic-sized loophole that enabled it, to keep their fantastically profitable operations supplied with labour.

The plantation owners understood very well that their cruel treatment of indentured Europeans, and their even crueler treatment of enslaved Africans, might lead to thoughts – or worse – of vengeance. Significantly outnumbered, they lived in constant fear of uprisings. They were particularly afraid of incidents such as Bacon’s Rebellion, in 1676, which saw indentured Europeans fighting side-by-side with free and enslaved Africans against Virginia’s colonial government.

To ward off such events, the plantation owners initially sought to protect themselves by giving their “Christian” servants legal privileges not available to their enslaved “Negroes”. The idea was to buy off the allegiance of indentured Europeans with a set of entitlements that, however meagre, set them above enslaved Africans. Toward the end of the 17th century, this scheme witnessed a significant shift: many of the laws that regulated slave and servant behaviour – the 1681 Servant Act in Jamaica, for example, which was later copied for use in South Carolina – began to describe the privileged class as “whites” and not as “Christians”.

One of the more plausible explanations for this change, made by Rugemer and the historian Katharine Gerbner, among others, is that the establishment of whiteness as a legal category solved a religious dilemma. By the 1670s, Christian missionaries, including the Quaker George Fox, were insisting that enslaved Africans should be inducted into the Christian faith. The problem this posed for the planters was obvious: if their African labourers became Christians, and no longer “perpetual enemies” of Christendom, then on what legal grounds could they be enslaved? And what about the colonial laws that gave special privileges to Christians, laws whose authors apparently never contemplated the possibility that Africans might someday join the faith?

The planters tried to resolve the former dilemma by blocking the conversion of enslaved Africans, on the grounds, as the Barbados Assembly put it in 1680, that such conversion would “endanger the island, inasmuch as converted negroes grow more perverse and intractable than others”. When that didn’t work (the Bishop of London objected) they instead passed laws guaranteeing that baptism could not be invoked as grounds for seeking freedom.

But the latter question, about privileges for Christians, required the colonialists to think in a new way. No longer could their religious identity separate them and their servants from enslaved Africans. Henceforth they would need what Morgan called “a screen of racial contempt”. Henceforth, they would need to start thinking of themselves as white.

April 11, 2021

Cancel Culture, Just What Is It?

Filed under: Culture,Race — Steve Ruis @ 8:34 am
Tags: , ,

I used to pay no attention to this as I thought it another form of conservative made up nonsense, which it is partly but I had a realization of why it is not.

I have mentioned before that we were well on our way, as a society, to removing overt racist comments from general conversation. It was becoming less and less acceptable for people to make racist jokes, or racist comments of any kind because of the social backlash that those would trigger. And then along came the Internet, with anonymity for “commenters” built in, and the ability to build almost private spaces for groups of any kind and overt racism made a strong comeback, so strong that some people of weaker character, e.g. Congressmen, would blurt out racist comments while being videoed.

This is our new reality.

Recently, this “thing” called “Cancel Culture” has been bandied about. I think the name came from speakers who were invited to speak at places, like college campuses, but when their views became known would result in protests, which would result in speaking engagements being canceled. Currently however, this new form of societal interaction has been pumped up on steroids. Someone who blurts out something racist, and anti-Semitic, or misogynistic can find themselves punished with fines, public humiliations, redemption/apology tours, and even loss of jobs.

The right-wing elements in our society blame this “new” element of our society on the left and those on the left point out that the right has engaged in this activity for decades if not centuries (burning books, rock ‘n’ roll recordings, Colin Kaepernick, etc.). Ignore them, they always blame the others and neither is correct in this case.

My realization is that Cancel Culture is our culture’s “The Empire Strikes Back” moment. Since we no longer are within earshot of those social miscreants to chastise and shame them in person, we do it through Twitter, Instagram, and other social media. We “flame” them and defame them through their employers, advertisers, and other financial supporters. This can result in, for example, professional athletes groveling in front of cameras for making anti-Semitic slurs, people packing their things and looking for another job, people leaving public office, and even people leaving a community in disgrace.

Here’s the problem. Yes, our society has recovered its ability to shame members toward better behavior, but because we are doing it remotely, we have lost a major channel of communication: mostly affect. When a mother is upbraiding a wayward son, she can sense whether his contrition is sincere and can tailor a “punishment” to the degree of the infraction and the observed sincerity. If no sincerity is detected, things escalate (“Make that two weeks of being grounded” or “I’m not done with you, yet” or “Wait until your father gets home.”) If the miscreant is actually sincere, a lesser punishment can be applied in the form of a corrective, apology tour, etc.

Since remotely we do not have this connection and the feedback it provides, things can go overboard, quickly. Piling on can be extreme. Parents have to take turns reaming out a child done wrong, otherwise they won’t get the message, but hundreds if not thousands of complaints can be sent to someone’s social media account or, worse, someone’s employer’s social media account in minutes.

This social check can morph into forms that are more restrained, but are their forces in society to make that happen? I wonder.

Someone calling the police regarding black people in a park barbecuing can only do so because of mobile phones. In my youth you would have to find a phone booth or wait until you got home. Anyone behaving as a Karen back then would soon be ostracized by our small community. Technology has altered all of this things.

Some say that we are evolving socially faster now than biologically. I’ll believe that when it happens. Cancel Culture is old wine in a new bottle, something we have done for a very long time, but which seems new. In thinking about it, why would we have “emotions” like shame, embarrassment, and whatnot unless they played a positive role in our social species? Do these things exist in species that are not social? I don’t think so. So, we have evolved these mental states because they help us correct one another without killing one another, the goal being to survive long enough to reproduce (which is why we have the stereotype of grouchy old people who say what they think and let others be damned).

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