Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dignity and Equality

Here are the remarks I deliverd at the Dignity and Equality Rally at the Kansas State Capitol on Friday, June 26, 2015.

I spent the past 3 years working to protect the RPS. We lost it this year, but it had become a bit of an grind. Can you imagine a government of Kansas that wouldn't do everything it could to attract wind energy to this state? Yet the chairs of the committees in both houses have done all they can to destroy Kansas' wind industry. It's like Vermont not supporting its maple syrup industry, or Georgia not supporting its peach industry. “Here in Newcastle, we don't support coal.” It's absurd.

There's something you can get involved with now. How many people are Westar customers? Westar is trying to raise fixed rates to undercut distributed solar and energy efficiency. There are hearings in July.

Because you know what? (look L R) Climate change is real. The other thing we worked on this year were a number of laws to undercut the EPA's clean power plan. I sat in hearing about the clean power plan for 2 weeks, and finally I got up and said, It's not just about this thing called the CPP, it's about climate change, and the committee chair, Olsen, ran me off. Olsen is the chair of the Utilities committee, who on the floor last year opposed the RPS on the floor on the Senate because he thinks wind turbines are ugly. And when the bill on the CPP finally past, at the signing ceremony he said he doesn't believe carbon dioxide contributes to climate change.

But it's not just climate change. It's Medicaid expansion, it's the budget and taxes, it's reproductive health, it's guns. How many major issues is the radical conservative majority in the KS Leg on the wrong side of?

Do tax cuts on the rich raise revenue?
Is it fair to raise the sales tax on everyone to support income tax exmpetions for the wealthiest among us?

These people are hostage to an ideology. It doesn't matter how many times their talking points are proved wrong, they just keep spouting them. Supply side was disproven in Ronald Reagan's first term. Yet here we are.

There's a truth deficit here. Look at yesterday. Is there anything more immoral than hoping and praying that more than 6 million Americans will lose their health insurance? Yet what's the quotes from our legislators? (Swanning) “Obama care's a disaster, we have to repeal it...”

Let me ask you: Is Obamacare a disaster? How many people are on Obamacare?
Do people on TANF go on cruises?
Do wind farms raise your electricity rates?
Do abortion laws need to be loosened and gun laws tightened every ...single ...year?

There's a truth deficit here.

On the other hand, I ask: Is climate change real? Is it human caused? Should we do something about it?
Should we support and expand our renewables industry?
Should we expand medicare?
Should we raise the minimum wage?
Should we fully fund our schools?
Should we respect a woman's right to choose?
Should billionaires pay their fare share?

To the radical majority in the KS leg I say: You've had your fun. But it doesn’t work. That dog don't hunt. Come back to reality. Accept empirical fact. Moderation is the only way to govern this state.

And if these legislators won't choose sensible government, then I hope we'll soon have some new legislators up here who will.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Some thoughts on the “nones”

The recent Pew study on religious identity showed that the largest growing sector of the American religious population are the so-called “nones” - a category which includes both atheists and agnostics (7%) and those who say their religion is “nothing in particular” (about 18%). This makes the nones the second largest religious group in the country, after Evangelical Protestants.

This led to a couple of stories rather hopefully predicting that the nones could become a voting block to counter the Christian right. The problem with this idea is that there's a lot of variation within the category called nones – from Sam Harris-like hardcore atheists to the “spiritual but not religious”, and these varied groups are probably not motivated by the same things politically.

But there's another aspect of the rise of the nones that I want to address, and it has nothing to do with the tired arguments about whether God exists or not. I believe that the decline in religious identification is a significant negative societal indicator.

Let me explain: for the past 30 years all kinds of social groups have declined precipitously, from labor unions to the Rotary Club. Religious groups were the last to fall, but their fall is of a piece with the fall of all these other groups.

This coincides (not coincidentally) with the rise of libertarianism as a political force in the US.
And that decline was not something that just happened. The hyper-individualism of the past three decades was designed (and paid for) to destroy the social bonds between people beyond the nuclear family, and this was done both for business (consumption) and political (the rise of the right) reasons.

Religious groups are almost the last groups that are not self-selected where people are supposed to care for each other. In the absence of faith identity, we choose our communities, based on a number of factors that may include sexual or political identity, personal interests or hobbies, etc. In other words, we join them based on our needs, and we find in them people who meet those needs. There's no selflessness there. Religious communities, on the other hand, are at least putatively based on a higher calling, and we don't get to choose who the other members are. We are forced (in a sense) to care for people who are not related to us and may not be like us in any way other than by creed. With it, there's some element of selflessness. Without it, there isn't.

So to this way of thinking, the decline in religious identity is not a positive, progressive social outcome but is rather part of the work of destroying the bonds between people so that it's every man/woman for themselves. It's also not coincidental that the forms of religious identity that collapsed the most or the fastest are the most progressive – liberal Judaism and Mainline Christianity. In other words, the decline of religious identity is – perhaps paradoxically – counter-revolutionary.

The other thing I want to mention, briefly, is that I'm dubious about the spiritual efficacy of “spiritual but not religious” practice. Going to yoga or doing secular mindfulness meditation is a positive thing, but it's self-centered, part of the “self-help” ethos. If there's anything we don't need more of in this country, it's self-help. Religious traditions are based on the development, over thousands of years, of technologies to help people get over themselves. You just can't make up a suitable replacement on the fly. I don't believe in exclusive salvation, so I'm not saying what practice people have to have, but people have to have a practice.

Without a practice, without a creed, without a community, we only have another form of consumerism. And we don't need anymore of that, either.