Politics

Truth In the Time of Babel

A few months ago, I mentioned on Facebook that I no longer trusted my friends to tell me the truth. Some people expressed hurt feelings, and in retrospect, I should have anticipated how that would sound. But I wasn't questioning anyone's honesty. Rather, I was expressing dismay at feeling lost in a sea of misinformation.

It must have been easier in the days of Edward Murrow and then Walter Cronkite. Whether justified or not, the general perception was that you could trust these journalists to tell the truth, even if governments or corporations didn't want them to.

But by the time my generation came of age, that sense of trust in the media was gone. One of the defining characteristics of GenerationX is that we are distrustful of institutional authority - whether it's political, religious, advertising, or media. While sociologists have attached that cynicism to GenX, this distrust of mainstream media has arguably increased across all age groups.

And no wonder. We all know the biases of Fox News. And that CNN helped Bush and Cheney sell the public on the second Iraq war. We know that the mainstream media don't just report the news, they create it, shape it by what they choose to report and how they frame the story.

Just as a brief aside, in Buddhism the three poisons that stand between us and realizing our Buddha nature are hatred, greed, and delusion. Buddhist scholars like David Loy have argued that these three poisons are institutionalized in our society – hatred in the military industrial complex, greed in Wall Street and advertising, and delusion is institutionalized in our mainstream media.

For a while, the rise of the internet and then social media seemed like the antidote, because we could get information from other sources. Whether it was events that the mainstream media didn't cover, or someone pointing to biases in their reporting, we could learn about it via independent sites. These stories were shared among friends, first via email and now via Facebook and Twitter. And I trusted my friends when they shared these stories.

Now, my friends tend towards a certain political persuasion. Occasionally, a story would be shared of someone of the other persuasion doing bad things, to which we'd be outraged, only to learn later that it wasn't true. Either it was a misunderstanding, or exaggeration of a partial truth, or a completely fabricated story on a website designed to look legitimate. I've shared a few myself. And such mistakes are understandable. Your friends share something. You trust your friends. And sharing takes only a click, which makes passing on false information too easy. But it's also because we have a tendency to believe stories that fit our preconceptions whereas if a story doesn't fit, we're more likely to investigate its validity or just dismiss it outright. Confirmation bias.

At first these questionable stories came up only occasionally.

Then, election season happened.

And my online friends support two different candidates.

My Facebook feed was overrun with posts about the two candidates or their supporters. Claims of people doing bad things, to which they'd be outraged, but I wasn't sure were true. Or exactly opposite claims that couldn't both be true. Wading thru these articles, the only thing of which I'm certain is that we are locked in collective a feedback loop of confirmation bias. People preferentially believing and sharing those stories that confirm their preconceptions and discounting those stories that conflict. And since we tend to be friends with those whom agree with us, we preferentially see stories that confirm our view and the effect is magnified. In addition to the mainstream media deluding us, we are deluding ourselves.

I no longer trust my friends to share the truth. Or trust myself for that matter. Lost in a sea of misinformation. How do we navigate? Where is our anchor and what is our compass? Well, as an anchor I'm keeping a list of websites that have proven from past experience to be reliable. If a controversial story comes up, I'll try to remember to look to these sites to see if they confirm it. And as a compass, this rule of thumb – if a story validates my preconceptions, scrutinize it carefully, and if a story challenges my preconceptions, try it on for size. I'm not saying that I always succeed. Just the other day, I shared a story that while factually true was two years old and thus misleading, because it fit my preconceptions, and because I trusted the person who shared it. So the challenge continues. And if anyone has suggestions for how they navigate, I'm all ears.

More on Obama - sort of...

Really, it's more on race and class in the U.S.

I. This is old news but I didn't hear it talked about much. A couple of weeks ago, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice weighed in on Obama's speech and the issue of race in this country. She said it was "important" that Obama gave the speech "for a whole host of reasons," and described slavery as a "birth defect" in the founding of our nation. She pointed out that the African American experience is different from that of Asian Americans or Latino Americans in that African Americans are not immigrants (in the sense traditionally used in the U.S. - we're obviously all immigrants compared to Native Americans):

Africans and Europeans came here and founded this country together - Europeans by choice and Africans in chains.

But even as she recognized the reason for the anger as expressed by Rev. Wright, Rice was quick to defend black patriotism:

What I would like understood as a black American is that black Americans loved and had faith in this country even when this country didn't love and have faith in them - and that's our legacy.

I bet Obama would agree with her on that, tho I know not all blacks would, and understandably so. Anyway, it was refreshing to see that Rice does recognize that race is still a problem in this country that needs to be addressed. One would think that any semi-intelligent person of color would, but then there's people like Clarence Thomas so ya never know.

 

II. Hillary Clinton is attacking Obama for using the word "bitter" to describe Pennsylvania's working class, claiming that he is "out of touch" and "elitist." For perspective, this is the full quote in context:

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Call me out of touch and elitist (I'm sure some will), but I don't see anything wrong with what he said. Of course it's not true for everyone. Generalizations always have exceptions. But Obama was describing the economic situation and explaining why issues like gun control and immigration might take on more prominence than they otherwise should. It was a compassionate explanation.  Are we at the point where a politician cannot speak the truth (without getting blasted) just because it doesn't sound nice?

Clinton (and McCain) can keep making their claims of elitism, but ultimately it depends on whether the working class who are being talked about see Obama or them as more truthfully describing their situation, not just giving platitudes.  Will people actually buy Clinton as a pro-gun, church-goer?  The Clintons didn't even start attending church until Bill lost re-election of the Arkansas governor's mansion.  We'll see.

 

Addendum (2008.04.13 4:34 pm)

Tracing back through a series of blogs, I found this great news article that pertains to the Wright controversy:
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23947058 

What the Heck is Hillary Thinking?

Whenever I evaluate a person's actions, particularly a politician's, I look at two considerations: 1) ethics - was it the morally right thing to do? and 2) logic - was it rational?  These are not the same thing.  One might commit a completely unethical act that nonetheless is logically expedient - helps advance your cause.  Ultimately I would argue that unethical acts are not expedient in the long run, but still, I can understand why sometimes people choose the short-term gain.  

 

With Mrs. Clinton's campaign these days, her choices seem neither ethical nor logical.

 

First off, there was the 3 am commercial, designed to suggest that Obama does not have enough experience to handle crisis defense decisions.  It's not entirely unethical to raise such a concern. It was not a personal/character attack, tho I disliked the preying on fear.  But it was not logically expedient.  If you're going to raise military experience as a primary concern, McCain is the winner, not Clinton.  She hurts herself even as she attacks Obama.

She did it again shortly thereafter, asserting that Obama was light in the experience category, unlike herself... and John McCain.  And I was like, why the heck would she add that last part?  Who is she running for, herself or McCain?

Now, when the furor over Rev. Wright seems to be dying down just a smidgeon, Clinton decides to raise it again by claiming that if Wright had been her minister, she would have left the church.  

Whether or not it was unethical depends on whether it was sincere or merely calculated.  If for some reason Clinton is truly appalled by Rev. Wright's words, then maybe she has the right to say so.  I guess I simply find it hard to believe that she's really that appalled.  (And if she is, that's an even greater reason to distrust her.)

Logically speaking, this was a ridiculous blunder.  Clinton might have surreptitiously enjoyed the negative attention that it brought Obama when it was other people raising the stink.  But to go on the offensive herself is just... ugly.  Even if she manages to hurt Obama, she is irreversibly turning the faithful against her.    

It used to be I would say that I favored Obama but would be happy if either one won the nomination.  Now that's no longer true.

Both unethical and illogical.  How can we ever respect her again?

What Pat Buchanan Says About Obama's Speech

Well, I've posted his previous tripe, I might as well post this too.

From Buchanan's 3/21 post on his blog:

Barack says we need to have a conversation about race in America.

 

Fair enough. But this time, it has to be a two-way conversation. White America needs to be heard from, not just lectured to.

This time, the Silent Majority needs to have its convictions, grievances and demands heard. And among them are these:

First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.

Wright ought to go down on his knees and thank God he is an American.

....

We hear the grievances. Where is the gratitude?

----

I was stunned when he called the influx of Asians into the U.S., after racist quotas were eliminated in 1965, "the greatest invasion in [American] history."  (Methinks the Native Americans would disagree with that.)  I have to say tho that while his anti-Asian comments cut deep personally, this round of anti-black comments is just... I'm flabbergasted.

Is there not the slightest sense of shame when he refers to the forced immigration of Africans as SLAVES and then asks "Where is the gratitude?"

Mr. Buchanan, where is your conscience?

I've been thinking today, if I happened to find myself in a room with Pat, what I could say to him.  I've been wondering how I might stay in relationship with him instead of simply writing him off.  To be a UU means that even those who hate you still have worth and dignity.  

And I can believe that Pat Buchanan is simply ignorant.  Due to his upbringing, he hasn't had the opportunity to experience what it's really like for African Americans in this country.  So he can't understand the anger.

But that really only goes so far.  There is ignorance and there is willful ignorance.  It's one thing to not know and another to refuse to listen when someone is trying to tell you how it is. Buchanan calls Obama's speech "the same old con, the same old shakedown that black hustlers have been running..."  Is he talking about the same speech I heard?  The one where Obama went out of his way to recognize the legitimacy of white anger, and called on us - all of us - to rise above the hatred?  Obama recognizes the legitimacy of white anger, and Buchanan ignores it.  Obama articulates the source of black anger, and Buchanan calls it a "con/shakedown" and Obama a "hustler."

If I found myself in a room with Mr. Buchanan, it seems to me that whatever I tried to say he wouldn't listen.

Obama

I've mentioned how I tend to root for the underdog. As a result, even tho I think Obama is the better candidate, it's been hard for me not to root for Clinton too.

From my perspective, she's had it rough - being beat up on by all sides - while everything seems to come easy for Obama. He is the golden child, the rock star. Seeming to defy even the stigma of race, everyone seems to love Obama.

Not just liberals. I've met libertarians and even conservatives who love Obama. People who hate Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. People whom I would not have thought would support a black candidate. And when I ask them about it they say that Obama "transcends" race. He's "a different kind of black man." He's "post-racial."

And I'm shaking my head, amazed. Post-racial? What?

There are those who think that racism is largely over and that the only reason why there are still problems is because people of color keep insisting there are still problems. There are those who think that affirmative action is "reverse racism." My guess is that these are largely also the same people who think that Obama is "post-racial." Thus, he is a black man who is safe to support, who will affirm their view of the world. (They might be surprised to learn that their dream candidate supports affirmative action.)

And then there are us, mostly people of color and some white allies, who hope that Obama is strategically avoiding talking about race in order to get elected. We look to his long-time membership at Trinity, an "Unashamedly Black" church, and we hope that once he's elected, when the chips are down, he will be a candidate of real change... for everyone, yes, but especially for the poor and people of color.

All of us who support this man are pinning our hopes on him... from both sides. And the other day it occurred to me that even tho the candidate himself has very carefully avoided making promises to either "side," we've all projected so much onto him that when it comes down to it in the not so distant future, some people are going to feel angry and betrayed.

I just hope it isn't us. I don't think it will be.

I realized that things seem ridiculously easy for Obama now, but that's because of these projections. When the sh*t hits the fan, things will be very hard indeed. He is, ultimately, still an underdog.

Why We Can't All Just Get Along

Today in the blogosphere, I came face to face with why it is that we can't all just get along. Because our views of the same exact event are so fundamentally different, and because there is so much misinformation out there.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs has scheduled a markup hearing to consider funding the reauthorization the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Of the money, one-third of it is earmarked for "abstinence only" (until marriage) programs, even tho studies show that "abstinence only" fails to prevent the spread of HIV. Some of those who support continuing this earmark hosted a press conference on Capitol Hill yesterday to say so. Some of those who want the earmarks removed, such as the UUA, so that all of the money can go to comprehensive programs, staged a counter protest of sorts, standing behind the speakers with signs.

Here are blog posts about it from R H Reality Check and the UUA's Washington Office. (You can see my colleague in the back in the red, holding up a sign.)

I can understand that there is a serious difference of opinion here. Some of us think it's morally important to teach people to wait until marriage for sex, and some of us just want to provide the information that will best prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS without judgment as to whether and when people should have sex.

But still, here's how a pro-lifer site presented the exact same event: Concerned Women for America - Help Africa, Save PEPFAR

I'm really appalled that they characterized us as the "abortion lobby." And by the claim that we're trying to take money away from good Christians providing "health care" to poor Africans so that we can fund abortions. First of all, how is their preaching abstinence only considered "health care"? Second, we want COMPREHENSIVE SEX ED, meaning teach the people about condoms instead of preaching at them to wait for marriage. If they allowed the teaching of condom use there wouldn't be as many abortions! Who is it that is truly against abortions?

How can there be any hope of compromise if we can't even characterize each other's positions fairly?

Super Tuesday - what did it mean?

I arrived in the office bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, having stayed up into the wee hours watching commentary on primaries that did not give a resounding victory to either Obama or Clinton as I had hoped. I almost don't care who wins the nomination at this point; I just want some resolution.

I arrived bleary-eyed and went immediately into Theological Reflection (a weekly spiritual practice at the office for the interns that I sometimes take part in). Today, one of the ministers from All Souls, Shana Lynngood, lead us through a reflection on identity. This was especially fitting because it is identity that has got me on edge in this election. Amazingly, instead of the usual suspects of older, wealthy white males, for the first time we have front-runners who are a black (well, biracial) male and a white female. And the politics of both race and gender are all mixed together.

The analysis that I had stayed up too late watching broke the voters up, state by state, by gender, race, economic class, education level, and age.  We learned that older white women went overwhelmingly for Clinton.  We learned that the black vote, which the Clintons used to have locked up, went increasingly to Obama.  We learned that younger folks in their 20s and 30s tended to favor Obama, as did college-educated folks and people who made over 70k a year.  We learned that blue collar Dems strongly favored Clinton.  

After a while, my eyes glazed over from the numbers and yet I kept watching, trying to make sense of the pundits trying to make sense of this.  Surely in this historic primary election, when we should be celebrating two important milestones, it hasn't come down to something as simplistic people voting for the candidate that is their race or gender or age?  Surely, the numbers do not tell the whole story.  

 

Sexism Alive and Well

So these historic Dem primaries pose a question: which is the biggest barrier to getting elected president, gender or race?

In all honesty I spend a lot more time ruminating on the inequities of race than I do gender. I can list countless times where I have been made to feel "less" or "other" due to my slanted eyes, and very few times due to my vagina. But what I suspected might be the case, and what is becoming increasingly obvious, is that gender is the bigger barrier, possibly because it is more invisible.

First, there is the more obvious stuff like criticizing Clinton's personal features - her hair, her clothes, her voice, her laugh. These are petty criticisms that for the most part would not be directed at men. I was appalled one day upon entering an online forum to find a (female) member had posted an especially unflattering picture of Clinton, with the challenge to write an equally unflattering caption. But unflattering pictures of Clinton abound in the media.

Then, we had to witness Edwards, Obama, and the supposedly neutral moderator, Charles Gibson, gang up on Clinton during the "debate" on Jan. 5th. "Gang up" is a loaded term but I see no nicer way to put. How else does one explain the debate moderator thinking it reasonable to ask Clinton why so many voters found her "unlikeable"? The animus was so obvious that poor Bill Richardson remarked, "I’ve been in hostage negotiations that are a lot more civil than this."

When Clinton got angry over the attacks - a very human reaction - it was characterized by the media as a "meltdown." She doesn't even get to be called "angry" like a man, instead the media chose a word that implies feminine weakness, hysteria.

The challenge is that a lot of people think that just as long as you don't say, "I won't vote for a woman" then it's not sexism. They don't take into account all the other factors that make them less likely to vote for a woman. A lot of people think their animus towards Clinton is purely personal. I've heard people say, "I'm not against a woman president, just not that woman. On the surface, this seems reasonable, doesn't it? After all, we are allowed to dislike people on an individual level, for their personal flaws, without being accused of sexism (or racism for that matter).

But let's take a closer look at the personal flaws that Mrs. Clinton supposedly has.

I've heard that she's aggressive, ambitious, domineering. All of these traits are considered positive in men, but apparently unacceptable in women. No one accuses Barack Obama of being overly ambitious in his run for president, even tho he's only recently been elected to the Senate and Clinton has been elected twice. Why? Because a man who wants power is understandable, it does not conflict with accepted norms, whether he is black or white. But if a woman shows the same ambition it's perceived negatively. That kind of bias is sexism.

Pundits, in seeking to explain why Clinton won New Hampshire when they had written her off, are now saying that it's because she "cried." In doing so, she showed her human side. "Why," they ask, "didn't she do that before?," as if this were due solely to some personal failing on her part. But Clinton walks a fine line here. If she is hard, cold, and ambitious, she is seen as the bitch. If she is warm and approachable, she is seen as weak - NOT "Commander in Chief" material. If her misty eyes did help Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, the irony is that it came at the expense of what she's been trying to be all her life - strong, self-reliant... the traits that many of us look for in a president.

Wow, Iowa!

The first time that I was shown up by residents of Iowa was when I was interviewing for a postdoctoral position at the University of Iowa.  The taxi ride from the small airport into Iowa City passed field after field of corn, playing into my presuppositions of a rural and thus conservative state.  But the conversations that I had were pleasant enough.  And then someone asked me, "What's up with you guys in California and that anti-immigrant law?"  

My supposedly liberal home state of California had just recently passed proposition 187.  Prop 187 was an idiotic bill designed to deny undocumented workers social services, health care, and public education.  I say idiotic because even if you dislike undocumented workers, you wouldn't rationally want to deprive their children of education, nor deprive their families of health care so that they're forced to use the emergency rooms.  The denial of these most basic of necessities would make things even more expensive for everyone in the long run.  187 passed, much to my shame, but was overturned by a federal court.

And here was this guy in Iowa who couldn't understand what had gotten into us.  Neither could I.

So I should have learned my lesson to not discount Iowa.  Yet as the Iowa caucus came around, I didn't say it but I wasn't really expecting much.  It didn't matter what the polls said, I barely paid attention to them, the Bradley Effect was much on my mind.  Perhaps Obama would have a chance of winning in the more cosmopolitan, more progressive states, but surely not in Iowa.  

Color me absolutely and happily mistaken.  The voters of Iowa have sent a challenge to the rest of the United States, especially to the so-called liberal blue states.  Maybe the Bradley Effect is over?  Maybe race will no longer be the dominating factor in public elections?  

She says, hopefully...

Sadness

Like everyone else, I've been watching the Democratic primaries with special interest.  For the first time in history we have a credible African American candidate and a credible woman candidate, both running for president of the United States.  (I don't mean that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are not credible as people; just that they never really had a chance to be nominated.)  We should take the time to rejoice in this.  Whoever wins it will be historical.  And it won't be due to political grand-standing was was Geraldine Feraro's nomination to VP in 1984.  

While I would be happy with either Obama or Clinton as president, I ultimately favor Obama.  For years now I've been saying that instead of the uninspiring candidates that we are forced to settle for, what I want is another Kennedy.  No, not a Catholic or even a man.  What I want is leader who will call us to our noblest natures, not prey on our basest fears.  Obama is that candidate.  

So I support Obama and have been watching with interest as the polls show him catching up with Clinton.  This week however was the first time where I saw him leading, beating Clinton.  And for the first time, the consequences of an Obama victory hit me.

As I said, we have for the first time in our history a credible woman candidate for president of the United States.  A woman of impressive accomplishments - graduate of Yale law, the first female partner at Rose Law Firm, listed as one of the one hundred most influential lawyers in America in 1988 and 1991, twice elected Senator of New York - and she is going to lose.  (Ok, I'm jumping the gun a little here, but for the first time I realized that she very well could lose.)  The realization filled me with a deep sadness. 

That doesn't mean I've changed my mind.  I still support Obama.  And of course if Hillary did win the nomination, I'd be sad about the first credible African American candidate losing.  And I wouldn't vote for anyone based on just identity.  Nevertheless I am sad that someone has to lose.

So I have to remind myself, that if someone loses that means someone has won.  No matter what happens we are going to make history.  And it will be with a credible candidate.  That is something to be happy about.

Pages

Subscribe to Politics

Latest Wizduum Blog Posts

11/12/2018 - 11:03
06/08/2018 - 11:54
04/24/2018 - 11:09

Forum Activity

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 08:11
Mon, 06/16/2014 - 07:09
Tue, 10/01/2013 - 22:01

Acknowledgments

wizdUUm.net is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative