Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The War on the Poor: Religion--The Sixth Battlefield (Part 1 of 3)

We move this week onto the heights overlooking a new battlefield in "The War on the Poor: The Battle For (On?) Religion!".

Consultations during the framing of this conversation have seen many prefer this particular battlefield ranked higher, discussed earlier, and perhaps even longer than our 3 week format would allow. We begin what I hope will be, for each battlefield (and the war itself) a continuing dialogue leading participants with differing viewpoints to the "Golden Moment" opportunity to arrive somewhere apart from the edges (or fringes) of this battlefield with a newly discovered understanding of other points of view, other positions and other possibilities. First, however, we must begin.

As I look out upon this particular battlefield, it is one which I know well, and perhaps best. I would like to put it to you that this battlefield is laid out in quadrants. Without any particular order (or bias), they are:

The Humanist/Secular Viewpoint

The Divine Viewpoint

The Social Viewpoint

The Practical Viewpoint

While it may not at first seem to be the case, there is a lot of overlap among and between these various viewpoints. Rather than try to place politics, issues, candidacies or candidates into a box of my qualification only, I would much rather make some garrishly over-generalized definitions, and allow you to do that. 

Firstly, about this whole religion thing. There are two principal schools of thought currently enjoying popularity amongst moral ethecists such as myself from which our opinions, ruminations, perambulations and prevarications tend to arise. 

From a religion standpoint, these differing schools do offer one grotesquely common border: The definition of religion as it pertains to humanity. Specifically, Human Rights and/or human dignity. This is going to be fast, so don't lay about. This is, after all, a blog: not a book.

The Humanist/Secularist Viewpoint tends to espouse the view (that is, a complete spectrum of belief systems) that mankind derives human rights because mankind as an individual exists in nature. "Natural Law", or more appropriately "Natural Rights". This is to say, generally that mankind determines what are human rights based upon schema of his own design and definition, and upon a variety of other external, ancillary or even barely tangential fields of knowledge or expertise(Biology, Sociology, Anthropology, Humanities, etc.) 

There are several and even ancient writings on this particular subject. (Plato, Bentham, Locke, etc.) As these humanist folk are doing a lot of current work in political science, political theory, education and philosophy, I will leave it to you to discover where the conversations within this particular school are currently situated. 

Under this scientific/social/philosophical/religious construct, human dignity is automatically absent--or at least sub-serviant to other autonomies which validate or give legitimacy to the definition(s) the holders of this school either create for themselves, or accept from others whom they hold in great esteem.

Strangely, (and in an ongoing conundrum for these thought leaders) the economic, social, religious and political solutions they most usually create, or at least accept from others are solutions of utility: "The greatest good for the greatest number". 

This is at best odd, and at worst contradictory because it lies in direct opposition to the tenets which make their choices acceptable to them. 

The resulting dilemma for these folks is that they must somewhere accept both the legitimacy of human dignity and human rights in terms, and applicable to degrees they can neither fully comprehend nor accept. They certainly do not control them; a most perplexing reality, indeed.

Actions, programs and policies they would tend to create and accept sound very rational and fair, but have a great tendency to fail for lack of clarity and purpose with no "exit strategy".

As for the second (and final for today) viewpoint, a lot of folks who mainly identify themselves as being with the "Religion Viewpoint" accept the reality of both human dignity and human rights as arriving with them (humankind) at some point which lies somewhere between conception and birth--and some self-defined "age of majority" that may even include the moment of death. (Talk about an exit strategy!)

These terms are not merely societal or dogmatic: they are proven and confirmed experientially for these actors. As such, these subjects are always fluid, based upon some pre-conceived notions of accuracy or comparison to theological teaching or religious dogma. This teaching, dogmatic theological structuring and experiential living is very seldom in harmony, even between two members.

These folks view their rights and dignity as being passed along to them by a Creator, who gives these traits to His created beings. Even the definitions of "human rights" and "human dignity" are widely varied, even within the same community or group affiliation. 

Where such terms should naturally find agreement, it is rather dilution, specialization, or superiority (forced or enforced) over "other" which tends to create multi-faceted layers on the spectrum which can change from religion to religion, or sect, or cult. 

The creator either pre-ordains, peri-ordains, or post-ordains human value, dignity, and worth depending on who you talk to. As for human rights, these tend to get so glossed over as to make your eyes a bit fuzzy. 

Those who ally themselves with this camp also see both human rights and the concept of human dignity to be absolute definitions, with clear scope and limit. If someone does not meet the terms of the definitions, they are outside the scope which affords either human dignity or human rights to others. They are deemed to be off limits.

Strangely enough, this group tends to advocate the most directly for social and religious justice, for programs that protect and advance the human condition within their communities. I know, go figure!

One of the primary reasons these two identity groups (and again, remember that I am warning you, in advance that these are grossly over-generalized definitions) seem to be talking past one another is that the results of the practice of their beliefs on the really important issues is that they must each go "through" the other camp to arrive at determinations, choices, and actions they would nominally prefer to create themselves. Kantian moral philosophy is instructive for these communities (among many others). 

Make no mistake, there are very strong religious components ready to align themselves on this battlefield for not only scientific, but also altruistic purposes. The argument tends to break down the dialogue right about the point where one group declares itself to be "the right one" on a particular point. 

Because each camp has highly favored viewpoints that each would really never voluntarily lay aside, this battlefield is one which is paved with the gold of those who would buy the power of a strong moral position. This has virtually nothing to do with being either right, or in the right. Both camps are arrayed with diversionary attacks, feints, and defenses which they see as, perhaps if not convincing, at least convincing enough.

This is what you must consider. The greatest assets of each school comes with a vast number of powers and weaknesses which are both, on the battlefield, used for nothing more than distraction. 

For instance: Abortion. 

Does the federal/state/local government have an inherent right to force its way into a young pregnant woman's examination room and dictate what course of action she will/must take? Does the Church?

And, there you have the issue. Pro Choice and Pro Life camps are the distraction. 

As a final consideration for today try this one:

What about homosexuality, the LGBT communities, and marriage equality? Are we all equal in both our human dignity and our human rights, that all of both must necessarily extend to even those groups who are "other" across this globe?

What do you think each of the two groups I've defined today would say about each of these issues? And where, and how do we stand both socially and practically on them? How does our living testify to not only our beliefs, but our actions? Our policies? Our programs and direct actions every day? 

What are YOU going to do about it?

We'll be talking about things like this on our next show on Sunday, June 1, 2014. I hope you will come prepared to share with us in an open, civil dialogue about these and other pressing issues of the day on "Progressive Politics: Tennessee Style" (PPTS). We begin at 2:00 PM Central Standard Time. I look forward to seeing you there.

Bud Fields

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What Can YOU Do About It?

On the next installment of PPTS, I would just love to hear callers taking this battle to heart, and choosing to do something with this information. I do understand the "curb appeal" of sitting on the sidelines, and letting others do the heavy lifting. The entire engagement idea can be  hypnotizing to consider, and certainly can be interesting to watch. These choices, however, are insufficient for citizen. Choosing to observe engagement is a much safer (usually) option, until you come to understand that this is where democracy fails. More specifically, this is where citizen fails democracy.

Democracy is not--at least for citizen--a spectator sport. Neither is argument. Both only occur when you are engaged, involved, and passionately active within them. Snarking, or sniping from the sidelines is not participation in either democracy OR reasoned argument; it is evasion. This, too is a choice. I know this may sound a bit "preach-ey" as you read it; it is not meant to be. It is truth.

So, as for the title. The first thing YOU can do about it is to clearly understand that the choices are many, and as diverse as there are people reading these words, hearing our conversation, or walking upright. It's easy to create a list of possibilities, and I will--after Sunday's show. What I'm really looking forward to is to hear from, and share with you those ideas YOU are working on, or have employed in YOUR reasoned arguments. Innovation within ethical, moral and legal boundaries has been the exciting lifeblood of American democratic politics from the beginning. That has not changed, and there are those near you (or very far away) who are creating new opportunities to become engaged in reasoned argument every day that are valid, that are making a significant difference within twelve blocks of where they live.

While I will highlight a few of these, I'm really looking forward to hearing from those who are engaged, who are presenting their reasoned arguments for that which they passionately believe should be the change they seek.

This is perhaps the biggest lesson to be learned, and the most effective reason for any truly significant argument you create: Become the change you seek. You must understand that this truth stands at the center of the opposition against you, your idea(s), your plans and/or actions.

That's really true. It is also the most important thing YOU can do about it, no matter what "it" is. That is the power of citizen. Speaking truth to power, things change.

Friday, May 2, 2014

An Opinion on Reasoning

There are a couple of statements which I feel need to be made. One of them kept me awake last night.

When you are on a battlefield, it is sometimes difficult to see everything that is happening around you, especially when you are attacking someone else's position--or defending your position ON the battlefield. Make sense?

The smarter person will rather situate themselves on the highest possible position overlooking the battlefield before engaging the opponent. I encourage you to do this. 

The view is neutral from the highest point, and allows you to "see", often with the added luxury of time, more (if not all) of what is actually (or most likely will be) occurring on the battlefield. More importantly, this "bird's eye view" of the battlefield can help you prepare for battle. You can see topographically, spot landmarks, choose your own position(s) based upon their strength or weakness, and actually anticipate an opponent's defensive positions, create a fallback position, etc.

I know this sounds very militaristic. It is, and it isn't. Here is a great example to consider:

NB: I will admit that I love the optics here. Generally they make sense as they were the original topic of Campbell's speech. Here, however, the board behind him is just epic. :) Nevertheless, there is much to be learned here!

Just consider this example for a moment. What was the Proposition? What was the Opposition. Who wins here? Why, or why not? 

When you are engaged in true rhetorical argument, your intent is not to "win" the argument without your opponent's consent and agreement. Winning in this regard means that you will convince your opponent that your argument is a more correct one. That may (hopefully) happen because your supporting statements for your position are stronger and more legitimate. That may happen because, through your carefully crafted argument, your opponent will see or at least discover the weakness in their own position. 

Rhetorical argument does often have a "winner", but can also have multiple "losers" (including your argument!).  While a weak argument is precisely that, it is not as relative as you may think. Some arguments are weaker than others, without a clear or decisive "winner", or convincing argument. The greatest difficulty here is that we do want to convince others that our arguments are the best ones. 

This is why we hold the opinions we do. Proposition presents, and then Opposition presents their reasoned argument. But then, proposition presents counter arguments to the opposition's argument. BEWARE!

If the Proposition and/or Opposition arguments present weaknesses, these weaknesses can sometimes create "easy" counter-argument. This is where logical fallacy loves to play! Logical fallacy ALWAYS guarantees a losing argument!   

If you adopt a purely militaristic view, bad things will happen. Your intent in this case is not to share and participate in civil discourse. It is to win. Your proposition will not be available to counter-argument, OR civil discourse. Telling your opponent to shut up, or grow up, or just get over it is not an invitation to civil discourse; it is slamming the door leading to it.

You really do not want to hear, and are not interested in what your opposition has to say about the subject and it will come through in your argument, especially if you should find yourself guilty of logical fallacy. "You're just too stupid to understand reality!" is but one such example. 

Sitting high on a summit is not having superiority in the discourse because that is not where battle occurs. It does, however provide you with both time and space to carefully craft your argument, consider and perhaps even prepare for (or eliminate, in advance) potential opposition arguments and counter them. (The earlier this can be done, the better, but realize this is not positive argument! Don't waste your points in counter-argument!) Saying things which indicate your beliefs about your opponent's points is not a good idea. "Never interrupt an opponent when they are making a mistake!" is good counsel--especially in your own Proposition!

 "Please proceed, Governor." Remember that? You should. It won an election!

The entire purpose of the exercise is to create YOUR argument in such a way as to be convincing to your opponent. The success of your argument will be that it causes your opponent to consider--not adopt--your argument. That may (or will not) happen over time. That's the "juice" of reason! 

The juice of reason is consideration, which is the only path forward to agreement. Respecting your opposition is to grant them the intellectual space necessary not only to abandon some part (or all) of their argument, but to peacefully adopt all or part(s) of your argument. Discourse despises vacuum. Let your opponent fall into that trap. Silence can be your strongest ally in reasoned discourse.

That is what civil discourse is all about! If your argument has no exit, you have no argument. You may have a rant, or an all-out attack. You will NOT, however have an argument. That is very sad. It is nothing more than a wasted opportunity, and everyone suffers for it.

Another important point for finding the high peak before descending to the battlefield is that you may discover (and, usually to your shock and horror) that your argument cannot reasonably be defended. (Isn't that what you are hoping for in your opponent, after all? So is your opponent!) Declarations are the most usual culprits here. For example:

"The United States is nothing more than a Welfare State!", or

"Anybody who thinks we should tax the poor is a maniac!"

are two strong examples of declarations that just do not lend themselves to reasoned argument. These are, of course, logical fallacies. Logical fallacies stop reasoned argument dead in the water. 

You really want to get and understand this truth: that's why logical fallacies are most often used. The sadness is that they do sometimes occur "innocently", through ignorance. Yet, the result is the same. 

Logical fallacies can most often be avoided or eliminated from your own arguments with a little time on a high peak of consideration and planning. If you can see them before your opposition sees them, you can eliminate them from your argument entirely. By definition, having a stronger argument from the beginning is to serve your advantage. But, it also gives a greater possibility for reasoned argument and civil discourse. That is the goal, after all. I'd like to make the second point now.

Arguments are NOT personal. Beliefs may be, and convictions usually ARE personal.

"I believe that abortion is murder, because that is how my faith tells me I must view it if I am to be consistent in my faith."

What are you going to do with that one? Attack the intelligence of the person? Attack the faith they hold? Well, that is most often what weak reasoning does. The discourse stops. Why?

Because both responses are logical fallacy, that's why. This example is used because it will elicit a personal, emotional response from you! Can you instead create a meaningful, reasoned counter-argument that will move the discourse forward? That is your task. 

Remember that retreat may have one meaning to you, but to the successful military leader, "tactical withdrawal" may be the linchpin of a successful campaign. Not re-direction. Not abusive braying. 

Craft your argument with at least some awareness of what your opposition is most likely to offer. Allow your opponent to make their own argument--just be prepared to counter-argue their points reasonably, respectfully and effectively. That's how civil discourse and reasoned arguments work. 

That's why I feel it is just so important to spend some time on the peak when and as you can.  You can do this before, during and after an engagement with the opposition. Hopefully, spending time on the high ground will be nothing more than mere points of punctuation in an ongoing civil discourse.

You really have no idea just how hectic and chaotic the battlefield will be when you jump into battle.