By Amanda Marcotte
July 23, 2014
For the masochists among us who tune into right-wing media, you soon learn that the all-time favorite fear pundits and preachers love to trot out is that “they” are coming for your children.
Whether it’s liberal college professors supposedly turning kids to Marxism or gay people who are accused of recruiting, over and over you hear the claim that the children of conservatives are in serious danger of being talked into everything from voting for Democrats to getting gay-married.
It’s a peculiar thing to obsess over, and not just because it suggests conservatives have an unhealthy unwillingness to allow their children to grow up and think for themselves. It’s because the imagined conspiracies of liberals trying to “indoctrinate” kids are total phantoms. A little digging shows that accusations of indoctrination are usually aimed at attempts to educate or simply offer support and acceptance. While there are always a few rigid ideologues who are out to recruit, by and large liberals are, well, liberal: More interested in arguing and engaging than trying to mold young people into unthinking automatons.
But I think I know where conservatives get the idea that other people are sneaking around trying to indoctrinate children into unthinking ideologies. It’s because they themselves are totally guilty of it, both in terms of trying to recruit other people’s children and trying to frighten their own children about the dangers of exploring thoughts outside of the ones approved by their own rigid ideologies.
Parents in Portland, Oregon were alarmed to hear that a group calling itself the Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Good News Club has been targeting children as young as five for conversion to their form of Christianity. The group pretends to be similar to more liberal and open-minded groups, claiming they are just trying to teach their beliefs but aren’t trying to be coercive. However, it’s hard to believe, in no small part because they admit they run around scaring children by telling them they are “sinners” who are hellbound unless they convert and start trying to convert others.
One mother, Mia Marceau, told the Associated Press about her 8-year-old son’s encounter with the group. “Within a few hours, however, she didn’t like what the group was telling her 8-year-old son and his friends: They were headed to hell, needed to convert their friends and were duty-bound to raise money for the organization.” Those kinds of tactics aren’t about encouraging free discourse, but about creating a cult-like mentality that discourages questions and free thought.
By Tom Boggioni
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
In an exclusive interview with Salon, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson talked about his role as a scientist, how the media presents scientific breakthroughs, and about how climate change will have to get worse before citizens force their elected representatives to do anything about it.
Tyson explained that he doesn’t see himself as an advocate, but as an educator whose job it is to present “emergent scientific consensus,” in the hope that the public and policy makers will use it to make informed decisions.
“I’m just trying to get people as fully informed as they can be so that they can make the most informed decisions they can based on their own principles or philosophies or mission statement,” Tyson explained. ” What concerns me is that I see people making decisions, particularly decisions that might affect policy or governance, that are partly informed, or misinformed, or under-informed.”
Tyson notes that during the Cold War, physicists actively advocated for specific policies because those policies were directly related to their work in developing nuclear weapons. When it comes to climate change, he would like to see more climate scientists take the lead instead of an astrophysicist like himself just because he’s famous.
“I’m an astrophysicist. But there are people who are climate scientists. I think more climate scientists should step up to the plate and serve that same corresponding role that the physicists played during the Cold War, and if they want, to empower lawmakers and the citizenry to make informed decisions about the future of the country,” he said.
By Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart
July 25 2014
I first began wearing men’s clothing a few years ago, because I thought that looking like a lesbian might help me get girls. Once I’d started, I realized almost immediately that I was feeling far more comfortable and confident and that I liked the way I looked in the mirror for the first time in my life. Other people who knew me said I looked more natural, more like my clothing fit my personality. It felt a bit like I’d been wearing an uncomfortable, ill-fitting costume all my life.
As I adjusted to this new information, it was hard not to notice that many of the people who shared my preference for the men’s section and my subtly masculine mannerisms had gone a step further and stopped identifying as women entirely. At times, it almost seemed as if, by not throwing my lot in with these pronoun creators and binary-rejecters, I might be just a little bit behind the times—a little square, uncool, perhaps even cis-sexist. Facebook has more than 50 possible gender indentifiers. So why have I, a female-bodied person who wears men’s clothing, decided to stick with the increasingly old-fashioned “butch lesbian woman”?
In part, it’s because the language of gender identity has always been a bit bewildering to me—I’ve felt hungry, happy, gassy, and anxious, but never male or female. Even so, it has been tempting to interpret my experience in ways that separated it from that of other women. This is especially true because cis-gendered women have a distinct tendency to define themselves in ways that don’t include me. I hear women throw out things like, “As women, we all know how important it is to feel pretty,” or “We, as women, are naturally more tender and nurturing,” statements that never seem to include women like me. Not only do I dislike feeling pretty and prefer arguing to nurturing, I don’t even particularly like eating chocolate. Popular culture, and women themselves, often imply that I lack many of the most essential qualities of womanhood.
So in the past I’ve been quite tempted by the idea that perhaps I’m not a woman after all. I mean, I’m masculine in all sorts of ways—I am ambitious, logical, aggressive, strong, and highly competitive. And I’m certainly not silly, frivolous, dainty, weak, or overly emotional … Oh dear. That’s where I run into a major problem, isn’t it? When I start listing traits of mine that I’d call masculine, they’re always positive. They’re points of pride. Whereas when I list traits I lack that I’d call feminine, they’re negatives. It seems I can’t consider my own masculinity or lack of femininity without relying on some of the worst and most pernicious sex-based stereotypes. This suggests to me that the enterprise itself is suspect.
Monday, Jul 21, 2014
Prevailing neoliberal ideology, which perverts capitalism as an economic system into capitalism as an unyielding political ideology, lurks in the shadows of almost every major issue in America, though nowhere is its influence more obvious or profound than in the spiraling rise of income and wealth inequality today.
When Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” was first released in English, it followed the Culture War Playbook to perfection: First came the triumphant plaudits from like-minded thinkers, followed shortly by the hasty rebuttals of their ideological opponents, followed themselves by a torrent of commentary from pundits left and right who skimmed the book before adding their own two cents. Soon, there was the predictable “unskewing” by the right, after which came the fact-checking of the “unskewers” on the left… at which point the whole process had reached its inevitable conclusion. High-traffic angles fully juiced, our treadmill news cycle moved on to the next plank in our bitter, pointless culture clash, what author William Gibson has termed our “cold civil war.”
So it goes.
What’s so interesting about this Kabuki dance is just how few commentators at the time bothered to note that Piketty’s findings were never particularly controversial or groundbreaking. Piketty’s book became such a sensation on the left precisely because it gave weight to what anyone with a pair of eyes in the real world (i.e., not Lower Manhattan, the Washington Beltway, or Silicon Valley) can already plainly see: Wealth inequality grows each and every day, while the middle class keeps getting pummeled by this Glorious Free Enterprise System. What used to be good, stable jobs are converted into temp positions or contract work — automated, downsized or simply eliminated entirely, they’re replaced in the labor market by the worst-paying, most utterly dehumanizing low-wage gigs that our much ballyhooed “job creators” can imagine and implement.
The consequences for our democracy and our economy are perilous and unlikely to be easily remedied.
Whether or not one is generally convinced by Piketty’s thesis that r > g (or more plainly, that capital tends to grow at a faster rate than income without some form of outside intervention), it should be plain that in our system, the stage has been uniquely well-set for the unbridled expansion of wealth that his book describes. When the effective tax rates are lower for capital gains than for the incomes of the less affluent; when political processes are legally corrupted and circumvented for a price; when regulatory agencies are gutted, stalled, or simply staffed with careerists eager to make their way through the revolving door — this is not a political or economic system likely to become less unequal over time.
Will this trend toward inequality continue? According to “U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth,” a recent survey of wealthy Americans that aims to “[shed] light on the direction and purpose of the more than $15 trillion that will be passed across generations in high-net-worth families over the next two decades,” it seems increasingly likely.
The survey, which polled 680 Americans holding at least $3 million in investable assets, unearthed a troubling trend — the birth of a new American aristocracy. As the survey notes, “Nearly three-quarters of those over 69, and 61% of Baby Boomers, were the first generation to accumulate significant wealth. Among the younger Millennial generation, inherited wealth is more common. About two-thirds are from families in which they are the second, third or fourth generation to be wealthy.” Now, it should be noted briefly that this survey relies on self-reporting, which makes these figures somewhat suspect. (More on this in a bit.) But consider two charts: The first shows the highest marginal tax rates on income and capital gains throughout the last hundred years, while the second outlines the estate tax rate during the same period.
By Amanda Marcotte
July 16, 2014
There’s been a lot of ink spilled about the increasing political polarization in America , which is at historically high levels. There are a lot of reasons for it, including changing demographics, women’s growing empowerment, the internet, the economy and cable news. But religion and religious belief plays an important role as well. There’s no way around it: America is quickly becoming two nations, one ruled over by fundamentalist Christians and their supporters and one that is becoming all the more secular over time, looking more and more like western Europe in its relative indifference to religion. And caught in between are a group of liberal Christians that are culturally aligned with secularists and are increasingly and dismayingly seeing the concept of “faith” aligned with a narrow and conservative political worldview.
That this polarization is happening is hard to deny, even if it’s harder to measure that political polarization. The number of Americans who cite “none” when asked about a religious identity is rising rapidly, up to nearly 20% from 15% in 2007, with a third of people under 30 identifying with no religious faith. Two-thirds of the “nones” say they believe in God, suggesting that this is more of a cultural drift towards secularism than some kind of crisis of faith across the country.
But even this may underrepresent how secular our country really is getting, as many people who say they belong to a church don’t really go to church much, if at all. While Americans like to tell pollsters they go to church regularly, in-depth research shows they are lying and many of them blow it off, putting our actual church-going rates at roughly the same level of secular Western Europe.
Even when people identify with a label like “Catholic” or “Methodist”, that doesn’t mean they consider it an important part of their identity in the way that people used to. Take, for instance, the way that weddings have quietly changed in this country. It used to be that you had a wedding in a church, and only people who were eloping got married by someone other than a minister. Now, outside of very religious circles, it’s more common to see weddings on beaches or at country clubs, and very often officiated by friends of the couple rather than clergy. Indeed, state laws are slowly beginning to change to reflect this reality, allowing more flexibility for people to have the secular weddings they increasingly desire.
But of those who remain religious, being affiliated with a fundamentalist or conservative religion is becoming a little more common. The same Pew research that found while all Christian faiths are slowly receding, mainline Protestant churches are shrinking a little faster and have fewer followers, at 15% of the country, than white evangelicals (19%) or Catholics (22%). This comports with other research that finds evangelicals have a bigger piece of the shrinking pie called “Christianity.”