The two major territories of the blogosphere

The National Journal says that Republicans are trying to turn the phrase “liberal blogger” into a boogeyman phrase (like “Hillary Clinton” or “Howard Dean.”) Kos, whose blogis probably the most villified, says their “whining” is an alternative to governing the country. However, tearing down the opposition is not an unusual tactic for either the left or the right.

Meanwhile, Franklin Foer at The New Republic coins the acronym MSB for “mainstream blogosphere,” and claims that the two main territories of the MSB–left and right–have united with the conservative media in “trying to shred” the institutions of The New York Times and The Washington Post and other mainstream media (MSM) outlets. We are now paying the price for this folly, he argues, because the MSM has been so tarnished by relentless criticism from all sides that it is no longer able to credibly break a big story such as the wire-tapping debacle.

Stuart Davis on the future of integral semiotics

Recently on musician Stuart Davis’s blog, these fascinating musings:

Spent the day at Ken’s place yesterday, talking about a Wilber-Davis languaging system… Those of you familiar with Ken’s work already know he’s the World’s foremost benefactor and genuis when it comes to perspectives. His integral philosophy includes, organizes, and inter-relates all the World’s wisdom traditions, domains, and methodologies. One example from the myriad dozens is linguistics. Wilber’s Integral Semiotics is a linguistic revolution so stunning once you absorb it, it renders your old relationship with signifier, signified, syntax, and semantics undone. Again, you will be hearing more of this…

Those of you who know me at all, through this blog or otherwise, know that language construction, especially as a method of expanding and enriching perspectives, has been a passion of mine for years. I’ve been working on just such a language for quite some time, it’s called Is, and it’s engineered as a device to force the user to consider and include levels, depths, of communication. Why? Because Flat language is for Flat people. I’ve spent a lot time developing a sytems that are intended to unpack the multi-dimensionality of words, vertically and horizontally. Well, yesterday Ken blew the vertical doors off my language. Truly. His revolutionary insights -an integral semiotics- is going to fundamentally change everything it touches, everyone who encounters it…

My attention is gotten. Very cool stuff. Looking forward to seeing the promise realized.

This new year, aiming for dietary mindfulness

I weighed myself this morning at 162.5 pounds. At my height, my Body Mass Index is in the “normal” range. I have a positive view of my body weight. Like many others these days, I’m thinking of getting my year off to a healthy start. Sure, I’d love to spend more time at the gym to redistribute some of my fat into muscle, but I feel no need to obsess over my weight. No new diet for me. All that’s good.

I live with chronic medical conditions, so there are always ups and downs in my daily life, some are minor annoyances and others are major problems. Luckily, at the moment, my health issues don’t require many specific dietary changes. I take a multi-vitamin. I keep my alcohol intake down. I avoid herbs and other natural remedies that could interfere with the pharmaceutical drugs. And that’s about it. Compared to my friends and family with diabetes, I’ve got it easy. Not a bad place to be.

And yet diet is at the top of my new year’s list of areas for improvement in my life. I don’t care so much whether I lose weight or gain weight. What I want is to bring greater mindfulness to how I nourish myself. Less “99 cent heart attacks in a paper sack” and more home prepared meals. Less waste, more economies of eating. Less meat, more soy protein. Less thoughtless consumption, more gratitude for the bounty of the earth. Less eating because I’m lonely or angry, more eating only when I’m truly hungry. Less eating haphazardly, more eating in tune with the natural rhythms of my body and my daily routine.

There are few things more important to maintaining good health than how we fuel ourselves. As I strive to become more mindful of the health and nutritional choices in my life, cultivating appropriate new habits along the way, educating myself and expanding my awareness, I’ll share my journey with you here. Perhaps it will lead to some variety of vegetarianism. I’m certainly open to that possibility. Or perhaps I will try my hand at a diet to transform my body composition while I try to muscle up for summer. Who isn’t interested in getting or staying healthy, getting more fit, and looking good?

Polyamory: a more evolved sexual relationship style?

There’s been some interesting and stimulating discussion on bisexuality, polyamory, and plural marriage throughout the blogosphere. None of this commentary has been more refreshing than Julian’s post on AndrewSullivan.com, a post that is mainly a response to Stanley Kurtz writing here and here. From Julian’s post:

As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing particularly wrong with polyamory, and if the state’s going to be in the business of sanctioning romantic relationships, I do think there’s a good case to be made for providing some kind of legal arrangement for polyamorists. So, bereft of magic Kurtz-glasses, I don’t see broad acceptance of group relationships as the self-evident evil he does (a point to which I’ll recur in a bit): I don’t think this slippery slope is going anywhere particularly bad. But neither do I see quite as much Crisco on the ramp as does Kurtz: Even if he were right that legally sanctioning the tiny number of Americans who prefer their domestic bliss à trois (or more) would have dire consequences, the idea that this move flows straightforwardly from the acceptance of the argument for gay marriage just won’t hold up.

I’m also of the mindset that polyamory is a natural, normal, and not morally troubling form of relationship. (Definition by Wikipedia: Polyamory is the practice or lifestyle of being part of more than one long-term, intimate, and, often, sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.) Some polyamory advocates are bisexual, others are gay or straight. Because many bisexuals prefer monogamous relationships, there is no necessary link between bisexuality and polyamory.

Relationship philosophers haven’t overlooked the links between polygamy, monogamy, and polyamory with stage conceptions of relationships. According to Wikipedia:

To many monogamists polyamory might seem like a weakening or failure to adhere to the values that most of the rest of society agrees to. Another way of looking at it is that the presumption that monogamy is the only acceptable form of long term relationships is an example of stage four of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. Polyamory on the other hand is the practice of relationships in stage five or six. In this context, some who practice polyamory consider it a superior form of relating to people, but most simply suggest that it is the right way for them.

In my column “The M Word,” I explained how it is possible to view sexual relationships on a developmental spectrum. Broadly, there are at least three main levels: pre-conventional (Kohlberg stage 3 and lower), conventional (Kohlberg stage 4), and post-conventional (Kohlberg stage 5 and subsequent).

In the first (pre-conventional) stage, dynamics are characterized by a desire for fluid and polymorphously perverse sexual play with multiple partners, and/or sexual role playing based on power dynamics (fetish, sadomasochistic play, etc.) Non-monogamy is valued; monogamy is derided as something for fuddy duddies and uptight squares.

In the second (conventional) stage, sexual relationships are characterized by a desire for a balanced relationship with one primary partner, usually in a conventional marriage/domestic partnership. Monogamy is held to be virtuous, and non-monogamous liaisons are forbidden as adulterous or cheating.

In the third (post-conventional) stage, sexual relationships are characterized by a desire for deep intimacy and passionate sexual aliveness that may be found with one or more partners in either conventional or unconventional relationships. Monogamy and non-monogamy are both recognized as playing important roles in the development of a mature sexuality.

At their peak, post-conventional relationships continue to evolve, sometimes birthing forms of relationship based on “sacred sexuality” (or “intimate communion” to use an idea of David Deida’s, whose ideas have informed this analysis).

Not everyone would describe the stages of relationship in precisely the way that I have in this summary. But if you accept the broad concept that sexual relationships evidence a growth in moral development, then it becomes clear that there is no necessary moral problem with polyamory–unless your moral compass is set to a Kohlberg 4 or a conventional stage of relationship.

Nor is it appropriate to jump to the conclusion that the existence of moral ways of being non-monogamous therefore validates all non-monogamous lifestyle choices. That would be to commit the pre/trans fallacy: a confusion that because sex with multiple partners is non-conventional, it is therefore post-conventional. In fact, sex with multiple partners can also be pre-conventional behavior (Kohlberg 3 or earlier).

So far as I know, the implications of a developmental perspective have not yet been publicly assessed by the political pundits like Kurtz and Sullivan. Generally, the talking heads of the blogosphere are content to addressing the cultural and public policy arguments they see implied by the lifestyles of the polyamorists, such as whether there are legitimate civil rights issues raised by excluding polyamorists from group marriage (most pundits don’t think so). That’s a totally legitimate focus.

However, there are some very interesting moral and spiritual questions raised by polyamory that simply aren’t going away. As more people evolve from conventional to post-conventional relationships, why should they take monogamy with them? Or is polyamory a morally and spiritually superior form of relationship? It is interesting that the only religions to frankly discuss polyamory are pagan and Unitarian, religions that tend to have significant degrees of highly evolved pluralistic values. Aren’t criticisms of polyamory really valid only when looking at pre-conventional forms of relationship? What are the pros and cons of plural marriages? How do male/male and female/female marriages look different from traditional heterosexual couplings at conventional and post-conventional stages?

That these questions can now be asked in the public domain is a sign of the growing evolutionary maturity of relationships and the sophistication of public discourse. And thank heaven that we can have these discussions because seeking the truth is a worthwhile endeavor, and let us leave behind fear-based arguments that we should silence the discussions out of political expediency. Now let’s look and listen, watching for signs of life from polyamory advocates and foes, to see what answers are forthcoming…

Ritualizing the Bridge of Light

This year I celebrated an original New Year’s Day tradition: the Bridge of Light, a tradition to honor the spiritual equality of all people. The tradition’s central symbol is the symbol of pluralism–the Rainbow Flag of diversity–transformed into a multi-dimensional integral Rainbow Bridge, a symbol of the unity of Light behind the diversity of colors.

My own celebratory ritual was a simple, improvised candle lighting ceremony. I smudged my space and then lit seven candles each of a different color. As I did so, I uttered one word that called to mind the value that I wanted to honor.

As the ritual concluded, I felt serene and hopeful. This was a great touch to enhance New Year’s Day and really make the day seem more special. In choosing to honor the Bridge of Light today, I am not alone. A new tradition has been birthed, led in large part by the gay/queer community. Let’s keep our eyes peeled to see how Spirit chooses to work with this opportunity for a new winter celebration of light.

At the sweat lodge

I’m carpooling with a friend to a New Year’s Eve sweat lodge in Olympia, Washington. I’ll call my friend Mark (not his real name).

As we approach our destination, I turn to the driver and say, “So, Mark, how’s your relationship with Jesus Christ?”

It was a total non sequitur. Not only did my question not flow from anything previously spoken in our conversation, it was unlike anything we’d ever discussed before. Mark and I know each other very well and have often spoken about religious and spiritual matters. He’s read an early draft of my book. But I had no idea how he would respond to a question about his relationship with Jesus Christ. So I asked. There was nothing to lose.

After a brief moment of contemplation, he said, “It’s good. It’s a good relationship.” And then he told me a story I’d never heard about his dedicating himself to Christ over twenty five years ago. (The story ended with Mark’s evangelical friends holding a ceremony to exorcise the demons responsible for his homosexual feelings. One finally declared, “There is no evil here,” and angrily left the room. Mark came to the same conclusion. “My relationship with Christ is strong, but I can’t say the same for my relationship those who call themselves his followers…”)

Mark and I arrived at our destination. The forecasts called for a ninety percent chance of rain. The skies were gray and the tree branches were moist, but there was no rain. Our umbrellas and tarps were underused.

Mark and I never did pick up the conversation about our relationships with Jesus Christ. Had we, I would have explained that I don’t have an “imaginary little friend” who I call Jesus to guide me through life’s challenges. However, I do have a very real perception of the world as the dynamic force and being and mind of Spirit or Absolute Reality by any other name–alive, personable, generous, mysterious, powerful, sometimes terrible, and often humorous. As my awareness expands to see the world the way it truly is, I become aware of “eruptions” or “emergences” of Spirit in the world, a greater unfolding of harmony over strife, beauty over pain, joy over despair.

Those emergences of Spirit often present themselves to me as the doings of a living, changing God… the aliveness of Jesus Christ, resurrected, glorified, and still present among the poor, the despised, the downtrodden, the stigmatized… a reality that includes the present aliveness of Jesus and John the Beloved together as role models for men loving men, calling my fellow homosexuals and bisexuals and whateversexuals to lives of greater wholeness, dignity, and bliss. That’s the Christ that is alive in my life, more real than ever, even as my childhood days of speaking to an imaginary friend named Jesus have long since faded.

In the sweat lodge, there are nearly thirty men and women. At the center is a pit containing nearly one “grandfather” for each of us, piled in a mound. The water pourer, a Cree trained in the Lakota lodge traditions, adds water to the heated rocks. The doors are closed. The darkness is absolute. The hot steam begins to fill the lodge. Everything is hot except the cold mud beneath our flesh and the naked soles of our feet.

The water pourer guides us on a spiritual journey… a journey of letting go of our impurities, our baggage, our needs for control, our self-importance… just as often, he guides us in song, sometimes in English and others in Lakota or a mixture of the two.

The earth, the fire, the wind, the water
Return, return, return, return
The earth, the fire, the wind, the water
Return, return, return, return…

The lodge brings me to a powerful altered state of consciousness. In the utter blackness, there is no difference between what I see when my eyes are open and when they are closed. The heat is oppressive and before long the feelings of panic and terror arise. “I have to get out of here, or I will die…” My body is turning into water. I am losing my mind… I am dissolving. And then calmness. And then the reassuring voice of the water pourer: “Soon the door will open…” (It was a lie.) I calmed down, and listened to another spirit journey story, and marvelled that despite my fears I had not exploded or gone insane or stopped breathing. The air in my lungs did not turn to water.

And in the moments of serenity, there was a bliss I seldom touch in ordinary life. The bliss that arises by ceasing to identify with the self while at the same time never disassociating from the body. How else can you describe such as thing except as spiritual, or (to be more precise) a reunion of the gross, subtle, and causal bodies? As I warmed myself on the fire, toweled off the sweat and mud, and debated whether to re-enter the lodge for another round, I knew that I’d gotten what I came here for.

This is what integral awareness is all about. On New Year’s Eve, a ritual of purification. Out of steam, STEAM. Out of the cessation of all sight, insight. Rising up, touching what’s real, leaving behind that which can be left behind, a joyous reunion of body and soul, and bringing with us… muddy feet, breathless chest, sweat dropping from every pore… that without which we are not complete.

I blog, therefore I interact (part 5 of 5)

This is the final installment in a five-part series on why I blog.

Five. I experiment. I speculate. I follow a beat. I lie. And I am doing all of this before some sort of audience of readers. But who are they? What do they want? Why do any of them keep coming back? As I’ve said before, I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll get more clarity in the next year once my blog officially launches. But for now, consider this: you are part of the experiment, a fellow voyager on the integral beat, and a co-conspirator in the lies.

I don’t know who you are, but here’s what I imagine about this blog’s audience. You are probably among the 20 to 25 percent of the US population that falls into one of these three categories: pluralist, integralist, or higher. I do not consider hard core atheists and anti-spiritual secular humanists part of my target audience, though I believe many of them are open enough to find some value in the contents of this blog.

(And if you aren’t in my target audience–trust me, it’s often flamingly obvious in your interactions–well, you’re definitely welcome to visit. I may not even delete the Bible verses about the abomination of homosex you sometimes sprinkle in my comment boxes, but only because I think it can be educational for my actual audience to be reminded by your ignorance of the pathos of the world. But just so we’re all clear, I’m not writing for you. I may choose to listen to your feedback if you care to share any, or I may not, but I almost certainly won’t respond. Every publication has an audience, a target market, a home base. You’re not mine, so read quietly or you might hear me saying a little lie: “Go away please.”)

I check my blog site stats regularly, and I admit to enjoying positive trends in my traffic and fretting when I seem to be losing readers. When I first started blogging, I went through a phase of checking on my traffic daily and obsessing over who was linking to me and plotting strategies for getting more links so as to rise in the blogging ecosystem. My first blog got several tens of thousands of visitors over about a year. This blog has received just over 50,000 page views in its beta period (since May 2005). Now I’m pursuing the opposite strategy: I actually prefer to fly “under the radar screen” and do not actively promote the visibility of this blog. Perhaps in the future, when my book is published, I will take a different approach. But for now it suits me. I’m naturally quite shy. It’s easier for me to speak authentically and be more experimental when I know that my readership is in the dozens, or low hundreds, and not in the thousands.

I am envisioning that the audience for Rising Upwill consist of two distinct groups: (1) persons familiar with Ken Wilber’s integral theory and possibly the work of other integral writers, and (2) persons who are curious about integral, not turned off at first sight by a little jargon, and are willing to check this blog out enough to see if there’s anything worthwhile they can take away. And that’s it. In the past, I’ve thought that liberal religionists or political progressives who are not familiar with integral theory might be interested enough to become regular readers, but that idea has never materialized so far as I can tell. For whatever reason, they just haven’t connected with my writing. They’re definitely in my target audience so I hope that changes, but the fact is that at this point in time, they’re not my actual audience. Therefore, I won’t change the way I write this blog in an effort to appeal to them and I don’t seek out links on their blogs.

Perhaps I use too much jargon for their taste. Some critics have suggested that integral writers should always refrain from using jargon and should speak instead in “everyday language.” To such critics, I say “good luck with that” and “when you start taking your own advice, let me know.” I’ve previously explained why that’s not wise. More importantly, it’s just not much fun as a writer. And why blog if it’s tedium and not fun? It would be horribly irritating to have to censor myself or refrain from discussing integral concepts in order to try to “convert the masses,” no matter what the cost in intelligibility by the uninitiated. It doesn’t take long to learn the basis of all the jargon I use on this blog. I’ve summarized everything in six blog posts of under a thousand words each. If a reader is too lazy to spend five to ten minutes learning about STEAM, they need to go back to their Beavis and Buttheadre-runs. They really do. Neutering my writing is simply not an option.

You’re my audience. If I had zero audience, I wouldn’t blog (I’d write a private journal.) But I blog so I can interact, share, commune, build friendships, engage in the sort of interactions that makes life more meaningful and fulfilling. If what I’ve said about my intentions for Rising Up in 2006 appeals to you, do come and check this blog out to see what emerges. And until I blog again, Happy New Year… and most especially, Happy Bridge of Light.

I blog, therefore I lie (part 4 of 5)

This is the fourth in a five-part series on why I blog.

Four. Bloggers can be way too self-righteous and serious about what they do. Certainly anyone reading the last three posts in this series could get the impression that I have donned my shining armour, have received the blessing of the Lord and Lady of the kingdom, and am getting ready to set forth on a dragon-slaying adventure. I suppose I probably deserve that. So now let’s turn to the dark underbelly, the unconscious world of shadow motivations: I blog, therefore I lie.

I wish it weren’t so, but it really is. There is nothing I can write that doesn’t contain the seeds of deception and error within. In fact, there may be something about the integral and higher levels of consciousness that is particularly keen at cloak and dagger games (I like to think that it’s greater awareness of the limits of language and the duplicity that exists all around us, rather than any particular malevolence that springs to life among the integrally inclined.) I don’t mean to say that I intentionally deceive so much as that I often make conscious decisions to withhold beliefs and judgments that aren’t particularly useful in a given context.

For example, I’ve learned over the past two years of blogging that it is rarely worth my time to engage in dialogue with conservative religionists on homosexuality or other highly emotional subjects. I can point these folks to archives of my writings, but I simply have no interest in ongoing communications with them for more reasons than I care to divulge except in these brief remarks. Nor do I have a particular interest in being polite or friendly with these folks, except for a desire to avoid the bad karma of causing suffering in another sentient being. So you see, when I do engage in back-and-forth with conservative religionists, I do so for no other motivation than self-expression and enjoyment. (An exception is when I read a genuinely interesting argument that I’ve never heard before, then I may respond with seriousness.) Usually my responses appear to others as as gleeful mockery, mischievous antagonism, or impudent rudeness. Terry Mattingly once called me the “heckler” of the GetReligion blog. Fine. I have no problem with being a heckler. I have no desire to persuade or engage in debate of any sort with most of these traditionalists (as I said previously, if they want argument, they can read my writings and respond with an essay).

In this example, my “lie” is that I may communicate unintentionally that I actually have more respect for a person’s religious beliefs than I really do. I may have great respect for a person’s intellect, eloquence, and achievements in life, but have zero respect for her particular religious convictions about homosexuality. In fact, I might judge that she’s an idiot or a bigot, though I would never say so publicly unless it was plain obvious. Often, the most honest response I could muster would be, “Go away and come back in ten years when you’ve evolved to the point where we can actually have meaningful discourse.” But that’s considered a mean thing to say in our culture, so instead of speaking the truth I tend to let Mr. Nice Guy say something more ambiguously dismissive, something like, “Go away please.”

(Too often people speak about the need to respect religion. I think that’s ridiculous. Religion is not a good thing in itself, it is a bearer of traditions that range from respectable to horrible. Respect people. Tolerate religion. Respect religion only if it deserves respect. Many of the religionists–including some prominent religion bloggers who have scads of readers–have a religiosity that I don’t respect, and don’t pretend to.)

Here’s another example. Ken Wilber has stated that the central presupposition of his philosophy is that “Everyone is right.” That’s a lie. He usually follows immediately by saying that “To be precise, everyone is partially right.” Ah, that seems to be closer to the truth (but it’s not really). Then he proceeds to say something like, “Now here’s how everyone else is limited but true.” Which then enters the ears of a listener as a particular vibration that actually sounds like, “Now here’s how everyone but me is wrong.”

I like this example of Wilber’s writing not because I think it’s true, but because it’s darn clever. As I see it, Wilber is making a statement that appears to be a fact of some sort (“Everyone is right,”) but he is actually doing something quite different. He is introducing a thought like a Zen koan, a paradox like the lying Cretan, an invitation to wonder. He is stating something as some sort of fact that couldn’t possibly be true, unless Truth itself is different than you have conceived.

That’s why I read “Everyone is right” not as a statement of fact, but as an injunction that goes like this: “Consider the possibility that everyone in the world is right. What sort of world would have to exist in order to allow for this possibility?” (And if you don’t know the answer to that question, consider reading Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything or another book to hear a very interesting story.)

“Everyone is right,” could very well be a mantra for this blog in 2006. Not because of its truth, but because it’s a useful lie. If I engage other bloggers in challenging argument, I do not need to explain to them how terribly they are wrong. I can critique in a new way, not the old fashion of critique that displays the usual sort of intellectual arrogance of setting one’s self on a pedestal and explaining how everyone else isn’t reasoning well enough, is committing atrocious logical fallacies, and so forth. (Well, that sort of diatribe has its place in certain contexts. I think it’s often a good way of responding to rationalists by speaking their own tongue.)

What’s the alternative to the old sort of blogging-as-critique that shoves down everyone’s throat how wrong they are? Well, we can follow Wilber’s injunction and see where it leads us. We can assume the truth of someone’s vision of reality, and then explicate (as best we can) just what they’re missing in their picture of the world, where they are more blind than they need be, where they are partial in their apprehension of truth, where they are less comprehensive than they could be, and how they could begin to a few steps down the path of greater integration from whatever point they’re at. And if it takes a lie–basically an antithesis in a dialectic–to do the trick, so be it.

I blog, therefore I follow a beat (part 3 of 5)

This is the third in a five-part series on why I blog.

Three. Although I’ve edited and written for many student and corporate publications, and even founded a few publications, I’ve never received a paycheck for journalism. My college degree is in comparative religion and philosophy; my graduate studies are in the psychology and sociology of religion; I have no formal journalism training. So it seems more than a little odd to me to find myself wearing the journalist’s hat as I set the editorial calendar for Rising Up in 2006. The most pressing question: What’s my beat?

Starting on January 1, 2006, I’m calling my blog’s beat “the integral beat.” What’s that? I’m not exactly sure. There are very few role models. There are other integral bloggers, but few are doing the sort of writing that I’m envisioning. To be frank, nobody’s written the sort of beat that I want to cover before. I know that I certainly haven’t, and I’ve been blogging for two years. By “integral beat,” I don’t mean to imply that I’m going to be looking inward at controversies and developments in whatever might be called the emerging “integral community.” While I don’t intend to overlook such things as the spring launch of Integral University, I expect writing on such matters will be a very small part of the integral beat.

As I see it, following the integral beat means taking a look at the intersection between individual perspectives, cultural values, religious beliefs, and social development. Within that broad territory, there are certain stories that are more interesting than others. The most interesting stories, at least from an integral standpoint, are often those stories where there are suprisingly overlooked perspectives, conflict arising from misunderstandings across different developmental stages, and dynamic elements of fusion and integration of surprisingly disparate elements.

Covering the integral beat, even as an unpaid blogger, requires a certain sort of detachment that is able to hold the tension between “letting the world be,” and making a proactive effort to advocate change. My view is that an integral approach doesn’t require me to take a supposedly objective stance; rather, integral describes a way of looking at issues that reveals a hidden or unconscious unity, synergy, and potential for integration. What I hope to do by following the integral beat is to bring those sorts of insights to fruition in the wide open territories of self, culture, and nature.

When talking about abortion, let’s not overlook the individual and collective interiors

I’ve written previously on the importance of rising above the fray on the issue of abortion. Not a middle ground, but a higher ground. This means affirming the fetus’s value as a sentient life form (i.e., the ground value, or its worth from the point of view of Spirit) as an absolutely beautiful, unique, and precious aspect of Spirit. From this absolute perspective, all sentient life is equally valuable.

But it’s not enough to stop there. At the same time, my STEAM-based perspective doesn’t lock anyone into a rigid belief that equates abortion with murder. There are also intrisic and relative perspectives that are important to take to gain a full appreciation of the value of life. From these perspectives, we can recognize that there is a hierarchy of value when it comes to sentient life (a human being is worth more than an ape, an ape is worth more than a snake, a snake is worth more than a bacterium, and so forth). These perspectives also lead us to consider the need to balance competing values, including respect for the autonomy of individuals as moral agents to make decisions related to their bodies with minimal interference from the state. (This balancing, by the way, leads me to advocate policies that permit safe and legal abortion only during the first trimester of pregnancy; under other circumstances, I would see abortion banned except to save the mother’s life or severe, permanent injury to her health.)

Although I’ve blogged on the topic of abortion previously, the issue rarely catches my notice. In contrast, many conservative religion bloggers talk about abortion constantly. To them, it’s an issue with the moral weight of genocide. And progressive bloggers are generally in a reactive stance. Their concern is mostly with beating back legal efforts to re-criminalize abortion or with the fate of the Supreme Court. I’ve been wondering lately if perhaps I’m not talking enough about abortion and similar issues as a legitimate ethical concern. Perhaps my lack of volume on this issue has led some readers to wrongly assume that I am unequivocally “pro choice,” (actually I resist both the “pro choice” and “pro life” labels as meaningless propaganda).

If I were to make new year’s resolutions related to my blogging, perhaps “talk more about abortion” should be one of them. For starters, I would resist the temptation to snicker at the “Insane Religious Fanatic [Who] Subverts Dominant Paragdigm” (to quote a Mark Shea headline). When I read headlines that say the pope is preaching that “God loves every embryo,” I can’t help but wince. I think of a classic Monty Python skit (you know the one). It’s true that the pope’s rhetoric badly obscures the distinctions between ground, intrinsic, and relative perspectives on value. It’s also true that the pope talks about God’s love for every “creature,” but when’s the last time you heard the Vatican calling the killing of animals equivalent to the crime of murder or genocide? Still, the pope’s basic moral intuition that life has dignity that must ultimately be grounded on a transcendent basis is a sound one.

One of the most important things to say about abortion, it seems to me, is that to reduce abortions we need to address the relevant issues of the interior dimension (the subjective, personal angle and the objective, cultural angle). We need to talk about how to best develop the individual psychological structures that are able to perceive a transcendental value of life and are capable of exercising the sort of responsibility necessary to avoid the dilemmas the result in abortions. But above all, we must find ways to grow an awareness that all sentient life forms should be respected, nurtured, and valued as part of an interconnected whole. That includes unborn children, but it also includes greater respect for animals and the environment.

In this report, Evelyn Nieves of The Washington Post describes how South Dakota has made abortion rare: doctors there are too afraid of social stigma to actually offer abortions (Even though abortion is legal, South Dakotans have to travel outside the state to get one.) This is an excellent example of the key role that both personal and collective interiority can play in reducing abortions. The personal interior dimension: even doctors who support abortion rights are choosing that when it comes to their career, the costs of performing abortions are greater than the costs of not performing them. The collective interior dimension: stigma in the form of backlash against “baby killers” has contributed to a cultural environment hostile to abortion.

Of course, there will be those on the left who will decry the situation in South Dakota. And others who could raise the legitimate question of whether South Dakota has really reduced abortion demand or simply burdened women with the need to travel to neighboring states. But for the purposes of keeping this blog post reasonably concise, let me just say that the article highlights often neglected aspects of the abortion debate. Individual choices and our collective cultural mores often have a far greater impact on how we value life than the votes we cast in our elections or the judges on our courts.