Still ruminating on the Muslim cartoon controversy

I haven’t had a lot to say about the Muslim cartoon controversy, and don’t know if or when I’ll write a full article or column on the topic. By the time I finally have something to say, chances are good that the firestorm will have blown away.

It’s not that I don’t have reactions and thoughts. I have plenty of all of those. The harder work is putting them into a single, coherent, balanced perspective that offers something of value that hasn’t already been said. That, I haven’t done. And I make no promises.

It would be easy for me to side with the defenders of liberty on the right against the hypocritical US newspaper editors and leftist European governments. My sympathies lie strongly against giving in to the radical Muslim bullies. I think the conservative instinct is right and timed appropriately. I feel their outrage, but I don’t trust it fully. It’s an easy outrage. There are other outrages in this complex story that are harder to feel and take more work to appreciate.

The conservative’s story is just one perspective, and I’m not sure yet how to balance it against the other important concerns. Fighting anti-Muslim prejudice, for example, is not an expendable item. I’m concerned with giving too much comfort to conservatives whose ideas of an ultimate solution for European harmony is something like tossing Muslims into the sea. But the left and liberal reaction is the most worrisome, I’m afraid. Where there should be outrage, there is none. And the outrage they do feel–usually at some violation of “sensitivity”–is pitifully hypocritical. Theirs is the sort of attitude of appeasement that puts nuclear bombs in the hands of Holocaust-denying religious fundamentalists. They would have us give up our freedoms to the bullies for the vain hope that they won’t be bombed next. Reaction: I’m sickened by their cowardice.

And so I chew on the stories… studying my reactions, forming tentative judgments, tempering my outrages with caution… educating myself on the issues as time allows… but for now, too many judgments, too many reactions, fewer answers.

Poor aim

Al Franken:

Over the weekend, Vice President Dick Cheney shot a man in Texas. Asked why he shot the man, the Vice President said, “Just to watch him die.”

Seriously, though. Now that it looks like the shooting victim, Wittington, will be fine, it seems this is going to go down as little more than another pretzel incident.

Still, there’s something disconcerting about a Vice President shooting a man in an orange vest only 30 yards away from him. Is it poor judgment? Lack of focus, concentration?

Then there’s the 18 hour delay in the White House sharing the love. Not comforting, but is anyone really all that surprised? Politicians spin and try to avoid embarrassing news, even when they know they can only delay the inevitable. That’s what they do.

And there’s something spooky about the way the early responses from the Vice President’s office refuse to admit that the man might have made an error or mistake of some kind. No mistakes here! No siree! Dick Cheney is a “real man,” and those kind don’t make mistakes!

Well, I’m guessing this controversy blows away within 7 days and won’t pop up again until the Democratic Convention in 2008 when jokes about the “poor aim” of the Bush administration go into full swing.

Politics, elitism, and when to throw punches

In a comment on this blog, Nagarjuna said…

You say that second-tier Democrats might “begin to lose their arrogance and elitism, because they are able to see the irreducible value and merit of the entire spectrum of development, and to contextualize their own place in a cycle of development where there is no peak.” I like the sound of this, but I wonder just how much “merit” there really is to a “lower” or less inclusive “greed is good” or “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” level of development in today’s world, and how and how much one at a more inclusive level can respect and effectively work with someone at a less inclusive level. I agree that someone at a more inclusive level should not feel or display the kind of arrogance that alienates people at less inclusive levels. But I wonder how exactly this translates into how this person should interact personally and politically with others at “lower” levels.

My response (mostly unedited and still quite rough):

Since you are familiar with the color scheme of Spiral Dynamics, permit me to answer by reference to these colors.I wish that SDi hadn’t given the pluralistic level the color green and integral level the color yellow. The level of relativistic pluralism is really already symbolized quite well by the Rainbow Flag. Yes, it’s particular to the GLBT community. However, it’s also the symbol of Multiculturalism (e.g., Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition). The flat, unidimensional Rainbow is really the symbol par excellence of pluralism.

Integral shouldn’t be thought of as a separate color. Integral is a further extension of pluralism, from relativistic pluralism to universal pluralism. It’s the Rainbow turned from flat to multi-dimensional. It’s what I call the Bridge of Light, a spiral-shaped, dynamic rainbow of colors.

So in essence one doesn’t get to the integral level, look around at all the pathetic losers at lower levels of development, and start ringing your hands. First off, you’ve done the hard work at the pluralistic level of multicultural sensitivity training, expansion of awareness, deepening of feelings and capacity for intimacy, you’ve grown in appreciation for feminism and other modern liberation movements not only as abstract notions but as an expansion in your own being. Becoming more tolerant and sensitive to others is hard work, and if you’ve put in your time as a pluralist, you’re well on your way to getting there. Problem is: you may get Democratitis, you may get soft in the head, indecisive, you lose the killer instinct, the fire in the belly has gone out, and you start losing every argument because you see so many contexts and perspectives you’re paralyzed. You start to look for what might help, but you look to what you’ve seen before–attitudes and philosophies and religions at past levels of development–and you go, no thanks.

What happens as pluralists turn integral is that they look around and they see all the colors of the rainbow within themselves and the world around them arranged as a dynamic spiral of hierarchical development. They stop feeling separate from the “lower” levels of development, because they can see those levels within themselves. They begin to appreciate that the levels are a permanent aspect of the human condition, and cannot be by-passed. Every child starts at zero, and every child always will. So integral (yellow) properly understood is basically an extension of pluralism (green): it’s a deepening of compassion and love to encompass previously under-appreciated areas of self, culture, and nature.

Simultaneously, as one expands one’s awareness that the stages/levels are aspects of one’s own being, paradoxically, one transcends exclusive association with any of those aspects. One’s sense of self gets too wide to encompass any of those. It becomes impossible, then, to spout simple political slogans. Politics becomes the work of compassion and love, done in the thick of a world that demands compromise, negotiation, and skillful communications.

That said, personally the thing that’s most helpful to me in the writing I do on integral and politics is to bear in mind that there are healthy and unhealthy expressions of every level/stage. When I go on the attack, it’s against unhealthy expressions at any level. And I don’t feel a need to hold back on the punches. This is very confusing to some people to see me rather stridently attack people on both the left and the right, secularists and religionists, hedonists and moralists alike. On the other hand, if I simply want to criticize a perspective for being limited, I see no need for a frontal assault. My rhetoric and tone reflect a gentler approach. If I see somebody expressing a basically healthy attitude at a lower level of consciousness, I try to find someone at the same level who’s expressing himself with unhealthy, pathological ways, and then I contrast the two (here’s the good cop, there’s the bad cop). If I see somebody stretching beyond the green level towards yellow, I encourage them along their path, usually by something as simple as a blessing or encouraging tone. If I see somebody at orange stretching towards yellow, I try to push them back down to green, because you can’t skip levels (I realize some people want that to be a controversial proposition, but it really isn’t. That’s my firm opinion at this time). Orange’s desire to be more like yellow is often just misplaced revulsion at green; they need to to be encouraged to work on their aversion to green.

Orange moving to yellow is very tricky, because if you’re smart enough to read Wilber’s work and engage it critically then you’re pretty much at yellow on the cognitive line of development… but still have rationalism as your “center of gravity.” In politics, reason, debate, and dialogue dominate your ways of thinking and acting. Everything’s about who has the best arguments wins the debate. This basic attitude is the dominant approach among the “intellectual titans” of our political magazines and even in the blogosphere. This sort of condition isn’t hard to spot, for these individuals generally haven’t learned the developmental lessons of green. In the integral community, I’ve encountered this most often among self-described “integral neo-conservatives,” to be frank. One fellow I know who lives in the Northwest calls himself an “integral conservative” and writes nasty things about gay marriage, feminism, liberals, and the wickedness of polyamory on his weblog. That’s not even close to integral, if you ask me. That’s delusional. If you engage these folks in political discussion, you’ll find that they’re still basically pretty partisan or attached to right/wrong views of whatever their positions are. It calls itself “integral,” but if it talks and walks like a very different animal, it’s integral in name only.

P.S.: Integral politics isn’t pacifistic or lovey dovey. It’s okay, and it is sometimes absolutely essential, to go on the attack and throw hard punches. An excellent sign your writing on politics has reached an integral level is that you’re attacking unhealthy/pathological expressions of all the various levels/stages, and not focusing unduly on just some of them. In my writing, I notice a tendency to go a little light on the egocentric/hedonistic stage, and a little harsh on the traditionalist stage. And that’s just a bias that I am (somewhat) aware of. Part of the benefit of writing is its ability to help us to spot our own blind spots and shadows, so we can better integrate those aspects into our being.

Democratic inferiority complex watch

Want to hear my outrageous, pop psychologizing, totally useless wild ass turkey guess for why the Democrats suffer from this debilitating inferiority complex? Well, what if Democrats are, on average, far more likely to be at the touchy feely, uber-complex, multi-perspectival, “sensitive self” level/stage of development… and Republicans are, on average, far more likely to have a lower center of consciousness–cold, critical, hard as steel, “greed is good” rationalists and aggressive, manipulative, ruthless, guilt-free egocentrics?

I’m not saying that’s necessarily so. You can save your rightful demands for evidence behind such bold assertions for a later time. But if you’re with me, let’s just go there as a thought experiment.

As this cartoon illustrates, Democrats seem to have this self-defeating attitude that goodness and light are necessarily softer, weaker, and less aggressive than evil and darkness. The Republican devil looks like he’s gonna swallow the pitiful Democrat whole, and that long teardrop speaks volumes.

This complex isn’t susceptible to a quick fix, a new campaign slogan, or finally learning how to frame the issues. If the inferiority complex is a natural offshoot of the difference in average level/stage of development between Democrats and Republicans, then only solutions that bring an awareness of the developmental differences in the dynamics between the two parties have a hope of success. You can hand a winning sheet of talking points, expertly crafted by political geniuses, to Democratic politicians. But if they read them with a weakling, deflated attitude… and answer questions based on their unresolved inferiority complex… they are unlikely to accomplish any real change.

You see, part of the complexity of this problem is that Democrats are like alcoholics and other addicts. They aren’t just egomaniacs; they’re egomanics with an inferiority complex. Liberal writing is often arrogant, snotty, elitist, emotivism. Democrats are really convinced they are better people than Republicans, and this conviction when coupled with a core belief that “good guys finish last” does them in.

But what if many Democrats succeeded in shifting their interior dynamics from the “sensitive self” to the “integrative self”? They lose the inferiority complex, because they see the actual developmental dynamics between the two parties clearly for the first time. They begin to lose the animosity and bitterness than fueled their past partisanship, and they work to build bridges between other Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, and other groups. They also begin to lose their arrogance and elitism, because they are able to see the irreducible value and merit of the entire spectrum of development, and to contextualize their own place in a cycle of development where there is no peak. In short, what if they–in the words recently spoken by Bill Clinton–succeed in rising up for a “higher level of consciousness”?

Am I fool for thinking that this is the only way out for the Democrats, and if the Democrats are ever again to succeed in politics, they have nowhere to go but up? I firmly believe for the Democrats it’s rise up or perish.

Barrack Obama, I don’t expect you’re listening, but I want you to know: at this particular point in time, you’re the Democratic Party’s brightest hope. Don’t worry that you don’t have many years in elective office. You’ve got a great resume, and there are signs you have the character and vision neeeded to run for president. Don’t wait, run in 2008. (It’s too early to see what the future holds for Tim McGraw in politics, but he’s definitely got what it takes to succeed. His fans love this guy and for good reason: he’s a class act.) God bless you both, and any other rising stars out there who could use blessings.

I know it’s wrong, but I do it anyways

Psychological researchers call it moral disengagement. They are finding that ignoring morality not only gives human beings an evolutionary advantage, but in some cases it requires the religious or philosophical sanctification of pernicious actions.

Here’s a clip from this piece by Benedict Carey in The New York Times:

The innate human ability to disconnect morally has made it hard for researchers to find an association between people’s stated convictions and their behavior: preachers can commit sexual crimes; prostitutes may live otherwise exemplary lives; well-trained soldiers can commit atrocities….Now, psychologists at Stanford have shown that prison staff members who work on execution teams exhibit high levels of moral disengagement — and the closer they are to the killing, the higher their level of disengagement goes….

“You have to sanctify lethal means: this is the most powerful technique” of disengagement from a shared human moral code, said Dr. Bandura, who has expressed serious moral reservations about capital punishment. “If you can’t convince people of the sanctity of the greater cause, they are not going to carry the job out as effectively.”

So it’s not so much that religious and spiritual beliefs are suspended when acting out of moral disengagement… rather, they are simply shifted. Our philosophies and theologies change focus, allowing us access to new rationales that justify our violation of our own moral code. Ironically, we may even perceive a violation of our morality as an action with greater sanctity and righteousness than actions that conform with our own moral standards.

Among other things, this research is yet another blow to rationalists and religio-rationalists who insist on thinking of human beings as logical bio-machines in a carbon bag, despite all rational evidence otherwise. How long can people go on pronouncing that the answer to the world’s problems is in getting people to reason better and have more rational, substantive dialogue with finely honed arguments advanced to support their moral suppositions? Couldn’t we solve the world’s problems by giving deductive logic textbooks to the Muslims? How long will people go on with their rationalistic biases, despite growing evidence that people can shift between coherent reason and insidious rationalizations with the ease of pressing a button on a remote control? Probably as long as those folks stay stuck at the rationalist level of development, that’s how long.

Via The Revealer.

Beyond conservativism as the politics of plundering

This post by RJ Eskow on Huffington Post is definitely worth a read. He offers 13 conservative goals for progressives, along with this stinging commentary:

These days progressives often fight to keep things as they are while so-called conservatives pursue radical change. Change isn’t their objective, though. It’s just a necessary byproduct of their real agenda, which is to make government an even better instrument of plunder than it is today.Today’s right wants to strip the nation of all its resources – natural, financial, and moral – for personal gain.

And they’re well on their way. All those Democratic politicians who talk of “centrism” confuse moderation (and therefore conservatism) with a negotiated surrender to radical greed.

I don’t agree with that conclusion, but it’s a fine example of superbly crafted political rhetoric, if nothing else. The rest of the article is better on substance.

In a similar vein, there’s this column, “Neither Liberal Nor Conservative,” from Paul Varnell. Varnell makes some good points, but his rhetoric is drier and his analysis nowhere near as provocative and original as Eskow’s. Varnell seems to be aiming to show that reasonable people can (and perhaps should) sometimes disagree with the “party line” of their particular party. Not exactly an earth shaking conclusion to me, but partisanship is certainly a primarily negative force that needs to be countered. I am certain there are many people who need to hear that message… and they need to keep hearing it until they get it. On the other hand, I do often roll my eyes when I come across essays by moderates congratulating themselves on how independent and original they are in thought because they take half their stands from the Democrats and half from the Republicans. If that’s what you call thinking for yourself, frankly you might as well be a party hack.

Eskow’s post, on the other hand, has moments of sheer brilliance. He urges progressives “to conserve the future itself by ensuring we feed, care for, and educate all of our children.”–I love it! What’s truly praiseworthy is that he’s started to articulate a progressive agenda defined by what and how much it conserves, even transforming conservation from its past association with a backwards-looking, tradition-based ideology into a forward-looking approach that supports the present by “conserving the future.” Well done.

The NGLTF (still) doesn’t get religion

Here’s a statement by Matt Foreman, Executive Director National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, arguably the world’s most influential gay rights organization. He wrote:

“The hatred and loathing fueling this morning’s vicious attack on gay men in New Bedford is not innate, it is learned. And who is teaching it? Leaders of the so-called Christian right, that’s who. Individuals like James Dobson of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, the Rev. Pat Robertson and their ilk are obsessed with homosexuality. They use their vast resources, media networks and affiliated pulpits to blame lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people for all the ills of society. They disguise their hatred as ‘deeply held religious beliefs.’ We have witnessed seven years of vicious anti-LGBT organizing in Massachusetts — and endured the hate-filled rantings of Brian Camenker of the Article 8 Alliance and Parents Rights Coalition and Ed Pawlick of MassNews. The blood spilled this morning is on their hands.”

Elsewhere, I’ve already commented on the unwisely chosen timing and tone of this statement. Now for a few words about its content.

I think it’s beyond doubt that there is a complex chain of interaction between religious beliefs, cultural values, and the actions of individuals. Religions that teach that violence is wrong can nevertheless create a climate in which gay bashing or other violent behaviors flourish through their words and deeds, including deeds of omission. Christian theologians may not have operated gas chambers in Nazi Germany, but their theologies created socially acceptable tropes for demonizing and marginalizing Jews. Therefore, from my point of view, Foreman’s statement is, at one level, a fairly uninteresting regurgitation of some rather banal truths.

On the other hand, Foreman’s statement is deeply flawed in ways that have no necessary connection to the awful timing which gives the world the impression that the NGLTF is merely milking human tragedy for PR purposes… or fundraising capital. Here are three bullet points.

First, there is no specific link to the shooter in New Bedford and the religious figures cited in Foreman’s statement. We just don’t know enough to point the finger of blame at specific traditions. Was he a Jew? A Hindu? My guess is he was probably a Nazi-influenced atheist (two secular traditions). But you don’t see Foreman attacking secularism, do you? Rather than waiting until a clearer picture emerges of the shooter’s biography, his actual influences, the role of religion and values in his life, Foreman engages in sloppy, anti-religious stereotypes. Somehow I have a hard time picturing that the swastika-wearing shooter attended church every Sunday and picked up his inspirations from his preacher and Christian cable TV.

Second, it’s simply wrong to say as Foreman does that religionists simply disguise their hatred as deeply held religious beliefs. Perhaps Foreman sincerely believes this. In this, he is sharing a misguided prejudice all too common in the gay community. The idea is that if a person’s religious belief feels like hostility and hatred to you, then a person must be secretly motivated by hatred, even if they deny it and claim that nothing could be further from the truth. This is a complex issue, and the place where I come down is that both the hatred-sensing gays and the religionists are both right. What is offered as something like love very often appears to others as something like hatred, and that’s the nature of the world we all live in. What is sad in the NGLTF piece is that it shows once again a disrespect for religion as well as ignorance of the ways that religious people think and act. Not an encouraging sign, nor does it lead me to think that the NGLTF is an organization that has yet pulled its act together with regard to religion. I hope they keep working this, because it’s truly so important.

Third, Foreman’s screech of “blood on your hands” is just awful, shrill, obnoxious rhetoric. (That it should have been uttered at a time when the actual shooter was still at large, in effect deflecting responsibility for the crime onto Pat Robertson… well, that’s just looney.) But here’s where such rhetoric might be appropriate in the future. If a Muslim religious cleric calls for the beheading of gays and no other clerics condemn his call, then one of his followers beheads a gay person, well, Matt Foreman, you are most welcome to actually use this sort of rhetoric. It would be a most appropriate metaphor. Of course, if you’ve been issuing press releases that say “blood is on the hands” of Pat Robertson because Will & Grace is cancelled, your words in the future will have less and less effect. Nobody will be listening anymore.

Shadows and double standards

The traditionalist/Islamofascist call for sensitivity is betrayed by their many insensitivities, including the propagation of anti-Semitic hatreds.

Many Western writers are spotting the Islamofascist shadows, calling them on their bullshit, and refusing to give in to intimidation. In culture and politics, the double standard is the equivalent of the Freudian slip, a self-contradiction manifested not as overt hypocrisy so much as a destructive blind spot.

Where are my double standards? Where are yours?

Flatland politics

I’ve been reading flatland blogs lately, those that call themselves by such labels as liberal, conservative, and moderate. They seem to me the three stooges of American political life.

The liberal says, “look how smart I am. You all need to wisen up, you hear!”

Then the conservative says, “Look how stupid the liberal is.”

And then the liberal says, “I’m not stupid. You’re stupid.”

Then the conservative says, “I’m not stupid. And I can scream louder than you.”

Then the moderate says, “You’re both stupid. But if you take half of your stupidity and combine it with half the other guy’s stupidity, you get to be smart like me.”

Brownback fruit controversy ripens

The fruity goodness over Senator Brownback’s “you shall know them by their fruits” remark continues to ripen. Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer fame, the journalist whose interview sparked the controversy, chimes in:

The truth is that Brownback did not mean to make a joke, nor did he mean to use “fruits” as a slur. I didn’t think he did, nor did I mean to imply that. But I was laughing at the senator. Just once, in a 7,100 word, rather earnest story. The moment was classic “Beavis and Butthead: “Dude. Did he just say fruits?”

For more, read the entire 5,000 word piece, “Sam Brownback is a Fruit,” (and when you do, drop me a line with the Cliff Notes version).