Category Archives: Responsibility

The Spectatorization of American Politics

Interesting juxtaposition between two pieces from this past week, “Americans’ Political Views Not So Far Apart” from and “Yes, Washington is in fact more partisan now” from The Signal. The first looks at polling since 1970 that purports to show no growing ideological divide between people in the U.S. The second shows just the opposite, but among U.S. politicians. If you believe these two statistical snapshots, there is a growing ideological split among our elected representatives, that is not also reflected among the people they represent!

From the analysis of 40 years of polling results called out in the first piece “Americans’ Political Views Not So Far Apart”

Political polarization among the public has barely budged at all over the past 40 years, according to research presented here on Jan. 27 at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. But, crucially, people vastly overestimate how polarized the American public is — a tendency toward exaggeration that is especially strong in the most extreme Democrats and Republicans… “Strongly identified Republicans or Democrats perceive and exaggerate polarization more than weakly identified Republicans or Democrats or political independents,” said study researcher John Chambers, a professor of psychology at the University of Florida… The people who see the world split into two opposing factions are also most likely to vote and become politically active, Chambers said in a talk at the meeting. This means that while real growing polarization is illusory, the perception of polarization could drive the political process.

And from the second piece, “Yes, Washington is in fact more partisan now”

Washington has never been more partisan, right? Or is that common lament simply a trick of nostalgia? A look at the numbers reveals that the problem is not, it turns out, all in our heads: over the last four decades, Congressional polarization has steadily increased… Since 1947, Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal advocacy group, has tracked the political positions of each Senate and House member, scoring how they voted each year on 20 key bills covering a variety of social and economic issues. (Many groups from across the political spectrum calculate lawmakers’ dedication to various ideologies and causes. The Signal is merely using this group’s data because it is collected over many years and is based on the controversial votes that reveal the fault lines in the House and Senate.)

The Problem Statement

As a political, history and anthropology junkie, this is a fascinating question to me. What the heck is going on here? What happened in the 1960s and 1970s that might have caused this growing ideological split between politicians (if not in the larger society, if you believe the polls cited above), progressive on one side and conservative on the other, leading to the “blue vs red” politics of today?

If you obsess about these things like I do, you may well have your own take on this. Here are some of my thoughts at this point. I’m sure you’ll have your own insights that I’m perhaps not factoring in.

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Moving Towards a World with No Bosses

I keep attempting to bear witness to and advocate for our society’s continuing transformation from “hierarchies of control to circles of equals”, but I got feedback from my partner Sally on our morning walk today that that is too academic of a framing… Damn! So how can I call this out in a more clear, un-geeky, and compelling way? What captures the essence of (along with the argument for) this transformation? I thought about it, feeling some frustration that I was not yet effective in really communicating what I’m trying to say.

So I suggested a new framing that my comrade thought might be more compelling. In the simplest and broadest sense of it, isn’t it about moving towards a “world without bosses”?

The word “boss” is such a loaded one in our culture, evoking (at least in my mind) an old-school sense of a person who gives you orders, monitors your conduct, and does a high-stakes evaluation of your performance in your work. Someone who is higher than you on the org chart that you may strive to replace or just to mollify. Someone who “bosses you around”, which from my sense of that usage, is never intended to mean something positive. As a parent, I still have in my mind one kid challenging another kid’s bullying by saying, “You’re not the boss of me!”

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Person of the Year

I caught the cover art of the recent Time magazine piece calling out the “Protester” as its “Person of the Year” and thought it was very cool. For the second time in this new century this long-time bulwark of the Eastern U.S. establishment has gone against its longstanding elitist tradition of calling out a member (or at least a darling) of the elite as its (once “Man” and now) “Person of the Year”. You may recall back in 2006 when “You” were the “Person of the Year”, Time‘s nod to the growth and importance of the Internet and the egalitarian social networking it fosters.

My understanding is that Time magazine has always represented the world view and biases of its founder Henry Luce and his second wife and successor, Clare Boothe Luce. Stalwarts of a moneyed New York establishment, Republican in that old school Nelson Rockefeller or Henry Cabot Lodge sort of thinking, prior to that farther right drift of the GOP starting with Goldwater in the 1960s to the various incarnations of the political right today.

I remember my mom, who was a Democrat and feminist activist in the 1960s and 70s, telling me that she always read Time to see what the other side was thinking. (One of many bits of wisdom she gave me – putting yourself in the shoes of your adversary to more effectively challenge that adversary.) So my mom, were she still alive and ticking today, would certainly alert me to take note of this new perhaps more egalitarian nod from one of the champion voices of the elite.

I for one would like to see this new century be all about “us”, the regular folks of the world, rather than “them”… highlighted members of some defined elite or even the iconic leaders (like Barak Obama for example) that may rise out of “us” but then grab the spotlight to lead and perhaps vicariously represent our aspirations. To the extent that people in the U.S. still live vicariously through celebrities – whether politicians, sports figures, media stars, etc. – I’m so ready for all of us to move beyond that! We can move our society forward without having to put so much stock in the beneficence of our anointed superstars! Continue reading →

Ayn Rand, Left-Libertarianism, Selfishness and Freedom

Just read Michael Gerson’s piece, “Ayn Rand’s adult-onset adolescence”, from the Washington Post opinion page. I am not familiar with Ayn Rand‘s work directly, but have read some discussion of it and her foundational status among some contemporary libertarians. Short of reading her book Atlas Shrugged, I’ll at least have to watch the movie version on Netflix. I’m intrigued how much her conflation of liberty with selfishness have perhaps demeaned the former in some progressives’ view.

Article author Michael Gerson writes…

Rand is something of a cultural phenomenon — the author of potboilers who became an ethical and political philosopher, a libertarian heroine. But Rand’s distinctive mix of expressive egotism, free love and free-market metallurgy does not hold up very well on the screen. The emotional center of the movie is the success of high-speed rail — oddly similar to a proposal in Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address. All of the characters are ideological puppets. Visionary, comely capitalists are assaulted by sniveling government planners, smirking lobbyists, nagging wives, rented scientists and cynical humanitarians.

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Giving What I Can Give Freely

My supervisor at work sent out an email with a link to the piece, “1 in 3 Americans Gets Less Than 7 Hours of Sleep: CDC”, from HealthDay magazine, along with a comment that among our circle of colleagues (including him and me) it was more like “3 out of 3”. I understood my coworker’s good intentions in acknowledging that our team was understaffed and all the extra work that caused. But I also felt that maybe the comment was tapping into what I see as an assumed mythology in many American workplaces that working too hard is a badge of honor. (See my piece “American Calvin”).

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Teachers Take Control of a Detroit School

The Palmer Park Preparatory Academy
Just read the Education Week article, “Teacher-Led School Innovates With Student Regrouping”, about some innovative governance and methodological changes happening in a Detroit public school. Detroit, if you are not aware has had a crumbling public school system, even before the current recession has put extra pressure on state budgets and as a result, school spending. What I like about what’s happening at Palmer Park Preparatory Academy is that former worker-bees from the conventional educational hierarchy are demonstrating agency beyond what is expected of people at the bottom of the pecking order. As my mom always said, “The teachers should run the schools”, and that is what’s starting to happening here. The only missing ingredient IMO… bringing the students into that school administrative and governance processes. Continue reading →

The Beginning of the End of Meat and Dairy?

I was surprised to see an article the other day reporting that the United Nations is now recommending that…

A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger… and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today… As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.

My partner Sally and I have been vegans for nearly 20 years. We were initially motivated by personal health reasons, but soon after adopting this diet I read John Robbins’ book, Diet for a New America, which presented a lot of other reasons for we humans to move down the food chain to a plant-based diet.

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The End of Management

In a bit of personal synchronicity, my partner Sally pointed out that the latest edition of the wonderfully positive Ode magazine (which bills itself as a “community of intelligent optimists”) has an excerpt from Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. It is the same Daniel Pink who does the impassioned voice-over for the 11-minute YouTube video I highlighted in my previous blog piece. With all the handwringing and anger around corporate greed and its consequences (e.g. the BP oil spill and the misadventures of the American financial industry that contributed to our “Great Recession”), it’s nice to be able to report a positive movement happening in the corporate world, still on the periphery and off the radar, perhaps just waiting for the “hundredth monkey” (at least metaphorically) to become a full-blown trend.

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Uncle Joe’s Unveiling: Thoughts on a Good Lay-Led Worship Service

Brothers Aaron, Joe & Reuben
Brothers Aaron, Joe & Reuben
I like to call out and celebrate instances in our various institutions and practices where we take a step in that direction. Religion and education tend to be two of the “lagging” institutions in terms of adapting partnership practice, so that made the “unveiling” ceremony I attended Sunday, a breath of fresh air and a joy to participate in.

This was a service for the “unveiling” of the marker on my partner Sally’s Uncle Joe’s crypt at the Culver City, CA cemetery where he is interred. In the Jewish tradition, this event usually happens no later than one year after the death and funeral, the previous event that I wrote about in my June 26, 2009 post “On the Occasion of the Passing of Uncle Joe”.

There was no rabbi present or other “memorial service professional” to create and lead the service. Instead, Joe’s daughter Judy put the service together, consulting with a rabbi to get some ideas and recommendations. It was short but powerful, and at times provoking tears and sobs, which I always feel is a key indicator that a worship service has been effective in its intent. In this case it was memorializing a person who had lived 82 years, been a husband and parent of five kids (all in attendance) for six of decades, served in World War II and Korea, and adored his seven grandchildren as well. Continue reading →

Chicken Pies & Banquet Bags

In 1965, when I was ten and my brother seven, our mom and dad got divorced, our mom getting custody of my brother and I, and my dad allowed the standard visitations of the non-custodial parent. Our mom continued to make us meals (particularly lunch and dinner, we fixed our own cold cereal for breakfast) for a couple more years, but after that she went through a difficult period of depression and health issues and I recall, more and more, that I had to make my own meals.

Being 1965, this is way before the day of such specialty stores as “Trader Joe’s” that offer a wide variety of previously prepared and packaged meals for one or two. Basically we had whatever was available at a standard grocery store of the day, in our case either the locally owned “Food & Drug” or the bigger chain “A & P”. So during this very difficult period for her, when she spent much of the time in her bedroom, in her forays to the store she started bringing home a lot of these prepared foods, rather than the uncooked chicken, pork chops, or potatoes that used to be featured in her grocery list. Continue reading →