Making Progress Toward a Secular America

The Fourth of July should be a time for patriotic Americans to reflect on the progress our country has made and to rededicate ourselves to the cause of making it better where work still needs to be done. We can find material for both of those avenues in this article by Katrina van den Heuvel in the Nation, Rediscovering Secular America (HT: DC Secularism Examiner). It’s a heartening glimpse into the political progress that freethinkers are making, including at least two news items I didn’t know. First, the Secular Coalition for America was invited to the White House to meet with Obama administration officials, the first time an explicitly nontheistic group has ever been extended such an invitation:

After meetings with the Obama transition team in coalition with other groups interested in church-state issues, the Secular Coalition for America was invited to the White House for its own meeting with Associate Director of Public Engagement Paul Monteiro. Kaplan, Silverman, Legislative Director Sasha Bartolf, and Associate Director Ron Millar all attended.

Second, the Secular Coalition has also announced that it knows of twenty-two members of Congress who have admitted to being nonbelievers – although so far, only one has been willing to go on the record about it:

Indeed when the Coalition ran a contest to find the highest ranking official who identifies as a nontheist (or one of the terms within the nontheist nomenclature), 60 members of the House and Senate were nominated. The Coalition spoke to each of them, and 22 admitted it but refused to go public. Only Congressman Pete Stark was willing to be identified.

Both these items show the progress that freethinkers are making, as well as the obstacles that still remain to be overcome. Being invited to the White House is well and good, and being mentioned in presidential speeches is also encouraging. But President Obama has shown a bad habit of trying to placate his supporters with symbolic but largely meaningless gestures, rather than exerting his political muscle to make substantive progress on our behalf. One egregious example is the faith-based initiative, where Obama has failed to keep his campaign promise that federal money could not be used to discriminate in hiring or to proselytize.

His inaction on the issues of gay rights and religious discrimination in the military, as well as his embrace of some of the most corrosive and lawless aspects of Bush-Cheney claims about executive power and secrecy, are other examples. Progressive groups can’t take it for granted that our work is done now that Obama is in office – we need to criticize him where necessary and to apply strong, consistent pressure for him to bring about the change he promised his supporters and, so far, has failed to deliver on many fronts.

The revelation of 22 in-the-closet nonbelievers in Congress is also both heartening and discouraging. Even if all 22 of them went public, we still wouldn’t be represented proportionally to our numbers. The 15% of nonreligious Americans would imply a proportional 80 members in the House and Senate! We’re not there yet. And though it’s a good thing that they’re there, it’s an object lesson in American prejudice that they’re too afraid to go public:

“But we see at the very least there are 22 people who think that honestly admitting their worldview would cause them not to get reelected,” Kaplan says. “That’s an awful commentary on a pluralistic, liberal America.”

As much progress as nonbelievers have made, we have a long way left to go. We need to spend more time and money promoting the message of atheism as a positive, worthwhile philosophy, so that it becomes an acceptable option and candidates will not be ashamed to admit it. We need to work harder and to organize in order to put greater pressure on politicians to support our causes.

The steps we’ve already taken are small ones, and this may be frustrating to freethinkers who were hoping for faster, more sweeping change. But small as they are, they’re the vital prelude to greater and more important accomplishments. For now, we can take comfort in knowing that we are being heard. If we continue to stand and fight, our impact and our influence will only grow. The wheels of democracy always turn slowly at first, but the harder we push, the faster their spin will become, until all the world turns in the direction we want it to go.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Alex Weaver

    as well as his embrace of some of the most corrosive and lawless aspects of Bush-Cheney claims about executive power and secrecy

    I wonder how much more there is to it than a rendition of “…no. The Ring is mine!”

    …and how long we’ll have to wait until McCain bites his finger off and falls into a volcano. ;/

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    I suspect that’s a big part of it. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, as the saying goes. Probably another major reason is that the CIA and other agencies are still populated with Bush-era holdovers who are pushing all sorts of superficially plausible reasons that really just boil down to their own desire not to be prosecuted.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Throw in the resignation of Bible Spice as governor of Alaska and Mark Sanford’s “hiking the Appalachian Trail” as striking another blow against politicians wearing Jesus on their sleeves. Maybe now more voters in conservative parts of the country will start being more skeptical of politicians, particularly Republicans, who act like they are carrying out some kind of mandate from god.

  • Alex Weaver

    Another hypothesis I’ve seen thrown around is that more democrats may be caught up in the torture thing than previously believed.

  • Demonhype

    I’m still not too worried about his failures on those fronts. So far he’s got the mother of all messes to clean and a lot of people still doing everything they can to screw it all up so they can continue doing what they were doing–or also, as you said, to prevent their own prosecutions. And he’s disadvantaged on the level that the rethugs and christofascists have the advantage of using the most immediate emotional manipulation–fear and faith–to screw him over.

    What I’m saying is what I said before–we have some real meltdown situations in this country with the economy and the housing and such, which is having immediate and devastating effects on the people. It’s already going to take some time to fix that all by itself, and he runs the risk of people getting impatient and forgetful and reinstating the rethugs. Now imagine he decides to divert his efforts prematurely to non-immediate emotional hotbuttons like the faith-based initiative, for example. This gives the rethugs a golden angle to push. “Look at him, he’s got an economic crisis, the American people are losing jobs and homes, and he’s off attacking God like the arrogant atheist homosexual liberal he is!” Same for some of the overreaching security issues, or the homosexual issues. It would be “he’s got an economic crisis, people are losing their jobs and homes, and he’s too busy endangering or perverting your children to care!” Divert your attention from an immediate crisis to an easily manipulated fear-button non-immediate issue like atheism or homosexuality or whatnot and see how easily they turn that into a win at the next election–not just presidential but also congressional which is next year. If they lose too much in 2010, see how much they can screw up for the Dems in 2012. I personally would appreciate not having to live through Bush Era 2, thank you very much.

    Well, that’s how I see it, anyway. I think things are going to be looking up with this, and I’m not really the optimistic type overall. Just meeting with the Secular Coalition is an unprecendented step in the right direction. Given the magnitude of the task before him and the precarious circumstances of the country right now, I’m going to wait a bit longer than six months before I’m sure enough to damn him. Yes, I know that Bush had screwed up a lot in only three, long before 9-11, but it’s a lot easier to make a grusome mess than it is to clean it up.

    Cheers.

  • Demonhype

    Additional–How long would I wait to damn him? Well, either after the economy gets better, after he wins a second term, but most likely both. Until the average people of this country stop hemmorhaging and things start turning around again, I don’t see much that he can do on some of these other issues without endangering the fate of the country, since the only likely alternative is the rethugs. You might not have noticed, but the majority of the American people are not generally very smart and are very easily manipulated into herd-voting against their own best interests–and I’m speaking as an American myself. :)

  • http://www.atheistrev.com vjack

    Yes, we certainly do have a long way to go on many fronts. I do not think any of us really thought that Obama was going to somehow herald in a new era of either progressive ideals or secularism. He was never that progressive, and he spews too much Jesus-talk to be mistaken for a member of the reality-based community. Then again, much of the progress to be made in the arena of atheist civil rights is ours to make. As we look forward, I think the real question is what we are willing to do to accomplish our goals.

  • Leum

    Demonhype, I don’t agree with you, but I understand the sentiment. However, regardless of how culpable you think Obama’s inaction is, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be applying constant pressure on him. Otherwise, he’ll never give priority to anything other than the economy (which, incidentally, I think he should be giving a bit more priority, but I’m weird that way).

  • http://www.ooblick.com/weblog/ arensb

    We need to spend more time and money promoting the message of atheism as a positive, worthwhile philosophy

    Is it worth quibbling that atheism isn’t a philosophy? Then again, I can’t think of a good word to replace it with, in this sentence.

  • Michael

    Obama economic policies will fail him as bigger governent seems to be the answer to everything. Just as the righties have it wrong in thinking they can legilate morality the left has it wrong in thinking more government is the solution. I know this will get me called out on this blog but oh well. The US is broke and printing money only hurts the people who recieve it last, the poor. It is very sad that poor people who buy into what politicians sell them don’t know enough about our monetary policy to realize it. Hopefully the progess mentioned in this post won’t be lost on the next administration.

  • Samuel Skinner

    “Obama economic policies will fail him as bigger governent seems to be the answer to everything. ”

    Well, when it comes to corporations, bigger government IS the answer. Now, what caused the current economic mess…

    “The US is broke and printing money only hurts the people who recieve it last, the poor.”

    The answer- taxes.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Samuel Skinner: BUT THATS SOCIALISM!

    …Sorry. I’ve wondered what it would feel like to say that ever since I got into an argument with a social conservative about gays serving in the military and I pointed out that, here in whatevercountryitis that I am from, we’ve got them and few people really seem all that fazed about it. The “socialism” thing was, roughly paraphrased, her reply.

  • Alex Weaver

    Obama economic policies will fail him as bigger governent seems to be the answer to everything. Just as the righties have it wrong in thinking they can legilate morality the left has it wrong in thinking more government is the solution. I know this will get me called out on this blog but oh well. The US is broke and printing money only hurts the people who recieve it last, the poor. It is very sad that poor people who buy into what politicians sell them don’t know enough about our monetary policy to realize it. Hopefully the progess mentioned in this post won’t be lost on the next administration.

    [Citation Needed]

  • Michael
  • Alex Weaver

    How is this for a source http://www.ashbrook.org/publicat/onprin/v1n3/thompson.html

    Actually, it seems to have the same problem with regards to providing supporting evidence for the strongly worded rhetoric as your post.

  • Leum

    Your source proposes a false dichotomy between unfettered capitalism and a command economy; I reject this. (All quotes are from Michael’s source)

    Yes, there are winners and losers in capitalism. The winners are those who are honest, industrious, thoughtful, prudent, frugal, responsible, disciplined, and efficient. The losers are those who are shiftless, lazy, imprudent, extravagant, negligent, impractical, and inefficient.

    Capitalism is the only social system that rewards virtue and punishes vice. This applies to both the business executive and the carpenter, the lawyer and the factory worker.

    Sadly, no. Capitalism rewards short-term thinking, punishes long-term planning. It needn’t do this, but as long as large businesses produce stock rather than products, it is the day-to-day stock price that drives the company, not what is best for its long-term future.

    But how does the entrepreneurial mind work? Have you ever wondered about the mental processes of the men and women who invented penicillin, the internal combustion engine, the airplane, the radio, the electric light, canned food, air conditioning, washing machines, dishwashers, computers, etc.?

    In many cases it was “thank goodness the government is paying for this.”

    Welfare, regulations, taxes, tariffs, minimum-wage laws are all immoral because they use the coercive power of the state to organize human choice and action; they’re immoral because they inhibit or deny the freedom to choose how we live our lives; they’re immoral because they deny our right to live as autonomous moral agents; and they’re immoral because they deny our essential humanity. If you think this is hyperbole, stop paying your taxes for a year or two and see what happens.

    I suppose you oppose child-labor laws, too.

    When government redistributes wealth through taxation, when it attempts to control and regulate business production and trade, who are the winners and losers? Under this kind of economy the winners and losers are reversed: the winners are those who scream the loudest for a handout and the losers are those quiet citizens who work hard and pay their taxes.

    I know, look at the way Bill Gates can only afford a $113 million dollar house, not the $200 million one he’s entitled to. Seriously, grow up. If you honestly feel paying more in taxes when you make more money and can thus afford it is a punishment, you need to reconsider your priorities.

  • Samuel Skinner

    “Have you ever wondered about the mental processes of the men and women who invented”

    “penicillin”

    Significantly governmently accelerated given its official discovery during WW2.

    “the internal combustion engine”

    And who made the roads? Without them, the car would be useless and no one would have bothered making them.

    “airplane”

    The two world wars were a major push for the improvement of plans, from mail carriers to jet propelled planes we use today.

    “computers”

    Computers were origionally used for military codebreaking and artillary plotting, with their nearest relatives being used in universities… also owned by the government.

    “because they use the coercive power of the state to organize human choice and action”

    So does using the police- after all, the organize peoples choice and action when it comes to following laws.

    “they’re immoral because they inhibit or deny the freedom to choose how we live our lives”

    So do zoning laws.

    “immoral because they deny our right to live as autonomous moral agents”

    We aren’t autonomous. There is all of society that we are dependant on.

    “they’re immoral because they deny our essential humanity”

    Our essential humanity is to freeride on the rest of society like a parasite?

    “stop paying your taxes for a year or two and see what happens.”

    Depends on IRS funding. Usually, you go to jail. That is what happens when people break the law.

    “I suppose you oppose child-labor laws, too.”

    I’ve heard economists opposed to them for very poor countries, but I never go that. Don’t they have a labor surplus?

    ” the winners are those who scream the loudest for a handout and the losers are those quiet citizens who work hard and pay their taxes. ”

    Depends on how the system is working. If it is farm subsidies, than yeah. A social safety net? Not really.

  • Scotlyn

    @Leum – your quote from “Michael’s source”

    Yes, there are winners and losers in capitalism. The winners are those who are honest, industrious, thoughtful, prudent, frugal, responsible, disciplined, and efficient. The losers are those who are shiftless, lazy, imprudent, extravagant, negligent, impractical, and inefficient.

    Somebody really said that? Just straight out like that? Spelled it out in black and white? In this day and age? And didn’t have their bones preserved as a prime specimen of the extinct, massively carnivorous “robberbaroneichus” dinosaur?

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Did it also say that poor people are poor because they’re lazy?

  • Scotlyn

    MO, would you say the poor are by definition capitalism’s “losers”? at least in the sense of receiving a lot fewer prizes in the game?

    If so, you have your answer – they are not only “lazy” but “shiftless, imprudent, extravagant, negligent, impractical and inefficient” … although anyone who can manage to be both “extravagant” and “impractical” – really? – on a very limited subsistence budget comes out in my book as a “bloody miracle worker.” (How to extravagantly feed the 5,000 on two loaves and five fishes?)

    Of course, its difficult to find fault in any one who loses a game that is played on a board that some rich bugger has put a barbed-wire fence and armed guards around, and according to rules that are only taught in expensive Ivy League schools, and with game pieces that are kept in the family, and are only occasionally rented out, at exorbitant rates, to outiders. “Yup, my game pieces – you don’t think they’re worth $X million”? “Well, they’re mine, and they’re worth whatever I say they’re worth.”

    Honestly, though. I thought that people who thought poor people are poor because they are lazy had gone the way of the dodo, or at least were finished off round about the time Dickens was poking sticks at them… Now I’m disillusioned. We’re obviously making no progress at all, here!

  • Thumpalumpacus

    As we look forward, I think the real question is what we are willing to do to accomplish our goals.

    Vjack, well-said. Relying on a politician, even one who promises, ahem, change, is a fool’s quest.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Beware, Scotlyn! Modus has been known to make use of that wicked strategem called satire from time to time.

    As far as Michael’s comment, I really have to remark on just one passage from the webpage he cites:

    Capitalism is the only social system that rewards virtue and punishes vice. This applies to both the business executive and the carpenter, the lawyer and the factory worker.

    It takes a special kind of stupidity to make statements like that just a few months after a financial crisis in which only massive government intervention averted a global economic collapse, and many of the business executives who were directly responsible still walked away with multimillion-dollar bonus checks.

  • Demonhype

    Oh, I have no problem with putting on the pressure. If you don’t open your mouth, you get stomped on, and that includes atheists. I’m just not sure of how much he can do right now, since it’s emotionally touchy for so many and also not an immediate need. Probably have a personal angle too, since I graduated last May and the crooked bastard who ran the only employment I could get in 2007 while going to school FT fired me in August because my brakes went out on me on the way to work.* It’s like anywhere you were when the economy collapsed is where you’re stuck until it gets fixed.

    Also, I enjoyed your answer to this Michael character (but Scotlyn, I love you!) In what universe does capitalism reward the worthy and punish the worthless? I call BS on that–in my experience, a worthy man leaves his holdings to his lazy, shiftless little offspring who have never done a day’s work, have no concept of the value of a dollar and an overinflated concept of their own personal worth. Without some kind of regulation and a bit of socialism to temper it (especially in the area of medicine and fair wages), capitalism is as bad as any other pure system. Left to its own devices, depending on the goodwill of the wealthy and their kids, it degenerates straight into a feudal society, wherein a wealthy family all but owns the lowly peasants and serfs who actually do all the work to keep them in caviar and bon bons. What I see when I look around is people starving on their feet to support their “owners”, who live in ever-increasing luxury as they glut themselves on what they never earned. No, I see no worthiness at the top, and I certainly have no hope that leaving the fate of the economy to the mercy of the wealthy is the way to fix things. I think the last eight years have shown us how pure, unregulated capitalism works.

    I probably sound like some full-on communist, but I’m not. It just infuriates me to look at the people I know, friends and family, working non-stop to survive while their bosses’ kids drive sports cars and have college paid for and generally live in idle luxury, and hear someone suggest that my hard-slaving loved ones are where they are only because they are so lazy and shiftless and not because of the reality–being overworked, underpaid, and having their bosses chip away at what little compensation they get. Sorry, but I’m not seeing this “praise capitalism” argument–not at the bottom, at least.

    I think all pure systems are recipes for disaster. There are good points about socialist systems and good points about capitalist systems. There are only two kinds of people who support either in its pure form: the dishonest greedy and the terminally stupid. How to tell them apart? Well, the former tends to get rich pretty quick while the latter plods along, scrubbing toilets at the age of ninety and still think if he continues to slave like this he’ll make good one day and if he doesn’t, it’s because he hasn’t eaten enough shit yet. It’s like faith-healing–it doesn’t work, but if you can convince the marks that it’s their own fault, you’re set.

    Anyone see Ragtime? JP Morgan enters an early 20th century sweatshop factory on a platform carried on the backs of his toiling workers, saying “I’m JP Morgan, my friends, the wealthiest man on this earth! Here, immigrants, look up to me and you’ll see what money is worth! One day your immigrant sweat might get you the whole US!”

    That scene was f-ckin’ brilliant.

    *Yes, that is why. No, I don’t have a history of being a bad worker–even made it out during that massive snowstorm to get my work done and generally bent over backward for the ungrateful jerk. I’ve worked many a job in various capacities, and have had employers try to talk me out of leaving. This place was just a dump. This guy stole what he could from his employees, cheated them (and his clients) whenever possible, and treated us all like his own personal feudal serfs. I only took it because it put $4 gas in my damned car to get to school, and when I got back from Pittsburgh in 2007, the economy was already on its way to going belly-up, so there really wasn’t any choice for me–it was this or no school. Well, I guess everyone–or at least, everyone not born with a silver spoon–has to eat a peck of shit to go to college. I had my share, but this was the hardest one to swallow.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Scotlyn “Of course, its difficult to find fault in any one who loses a game that is played on a board that some rich bugger has put a barbed-wire fence and armed guards around…”
    But they lack those advantages only because of their laziness.

    Google “poor people are lazy”. It’s a cornerstone of Social Darwinism, a generally unstated “flip-side” assumption of the Puritan work ethic, and endemic in the Right in general, including:
    *the poor Right who, as illustrated in What’s the Matter with Kansas willingly vote to disenfranchise themselves further,
    *the (Reagan and Up) Right, who use codewords (“Compassionate Conservative” pretty much equals “I cut social programs”) to hide their loathing from lots of the very people who voted for them (again, see, What’s the Matter with Kansas?)
    *and the more sociopathic branches of Libertarians (as in Glenn “Too many N’s” Beck),
    *Randians (who seem to believe that “Ayn said” and “Objective” are one and the same), where the poor are poor because they weren’t smart enough to take the fictional The Fountainhead non-fictionally.

    Ebonmuse “Beware, Scotlyn! Modus has been known to make use of that wicked strategem called satire from time to time.”
    Why must you fill the space between us with lies?

    “It takes a special kind of stupidity to make statements like that just a few months after a financial crisis in which only massive government intervention averted a global economic collapse…”
    Don’t you see? That’s not Capitalism. That’s Corporatism, which is totally unlike Capitalism. In a proper unregulated laissez faire Capitalist system, the unregulated Capitalists wouldn’t use their millions to buy the State. This is because all rich people are rich because they’re good and smart and strong and honest. Cheaters, you see, never prosper. Oh, and they wouldn’t need to use the State to advantage themselves, as they’d effectively be the State (advantaging themselves) anyways…which, for the purposes of this argument, is completely different than Corporatism.

  • Leum

    Technically speaking, I suppose corporations couldn’t exist under laissez-faire capitalism (limited liability without a government to define and regulate it seems unlikely), so the libertarians may have a point. On the other hand, the movement doesn’t exactly argue for the end of limited liability or incorporation. I recall seeing a one-liner on an Objectivist website where the writer said s/he was opposed to corporations and might one day write a piece on it.

    Personally, while I might like ending incorporation, I don’t see it as practical, anymore than I see the gold standard as practical. While it might be good in the long run, the total devastation to the world economy in the short and middle run would be a disaster.

  • Samuel Skinner

    “I think all pure systems are recipes for disaster. There are good points about socialist systems and good points about capitalist systems. ”

    That is because systems are means- when they become an ends to themself…

    “In a proper unregulated laissez faire Capitalist system, the unregulated Capitalists wouldn’t use their millions to buy the State.”

    You are thinking free market. Capitalism just means you can own capital.

    ” I suppose corporations couldn’t exist under laissez-faire capitalism (limited liability without a government to define and regulate it seems unlikely), ”

    They follow the Golden rule- those with the gold make the rules.

    “Personally, while I might like ending incorporation, I don’t see it as practical, anymore than I see the gold standard as practical. While it might be good in the long run, the total devastation to the world economy in the short and middle run would be a disaster.”

    Eliminating corporations is idiotic. There is a reason corporations exist- and if you ban them you get the same effect as banning ursury- people find ways to circumvent the rule and you just make things more complicated.

  • http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Samuel Skinner “You are thinking free market. Capitalism just means you can own capital.”
    Hardly. I’m not thinking at all. I just like stringing funny sounding words together. I’m ever so lonely.

  • Michael

    Wow and I thought this would be a place where people relied on evidence. This financial mess is caused by many things and many people. For someone to just say it was all the fault of the guy running the ship for those 8 years is a little short sighted and naive. I would like to know one thing you think specifically done by the previous administration that led to this mess. Am I a fan of Bush? absolutely not! He grew the government too much. Government programs waste money. The next round of bailouts will be to the states. The states that need the most help are lead the nation in socail programs and taxes. Coincidence?? California, New York and New Jersey.

    With less government and less power over commerce through policy, corporations have less power as there are less politicians to have lobbied.

    As to someones boss who buys his children sports cars. So what. That is what he started that company for or what they sought out promotion for. Go invent the next Snuggy and make some money. Write a book someone would want to read. Better yet go read Atlas Shrugged.

  • Leum

    Wow and I thought this would be a place where people relied on evidence.

    Oh, we do. We just interpret it differently from how you do. Y’know, with common sense.

    For someone to just say it was all the fault of the guy running the ship for those 8 years is a little short sighted and naive. I would like to know one thing you think specifically done by the previous administration that led to this mess. Am I a fan of Bush? absolutely not!

    I doubt anyone here would argue the economy’s just Bush, Jr’s fault. The government has been beholden to corporate interests for generations, and passing laws that favor corporate short-term interest over the long-term interest of the nation has been a national pastime since before our country was founded.

    The states that need the most help are lead the nation in socail programs and taxes. Coincidence?? California, New York and New Jersey.

    Can’t speak to NY or NJ’s problems, haven’t heard about ‘em. But I would suggest that CA’s problems come less from social program spending and more from its citizenry’s refusal to pay taxes combined with an insistence, often written into the very Constitution, on the government funding pet projects. CA is a failed state, and not just because of where its economy is right now; its Constitution is fatally flawed.

    With less government and less power over commerce through policy, corporations have less power as there are less politicians to have lobbied.

    Yeah, but they would have the power to pollute without interference, to exploit workers, fix prices, place toxins in their products, and generally do all the things that have made government policies and power necessary.

    As to someones boss who buys his children sports cars. So what.

    The point is that the children are being rewarded by capitalism for not working, which you proudly proclaimed would be punished.

    Go invent the next Snuggy and make some money.

    Thanks, but I already have a job, and am perfectly satisfied with my wages. Running a business requires skills I don’t have and would make me miserable and for what? The joys of running the treadmill?

  • Alex Weaver

    Wow and I thought this would be a place where people relied on evidence.

    So why don’t you cite some?

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Alex Weaver “So why don’t you cite some?”
    He cited Ayn Rand. Duh. What more do you need?

  • Scotlyn

    Modus,

    *the (Reagan and Up) Right, who use codewords (“Compassionate Conservative” pretty much equals “I cut social programs”) to hide their loathing from lots of the very people who voted for them

    The “codewords” I know, the thinking I’m familiar with, …I’m just shocked that, in this day and age, someone would baldly come out and say so, in so many words, and expect to get a serious hearing! Lots of people still “think” racism, sexism, and other self-serving isms, but seldom express their thoughts in polite discourse any more without using “codewords.”

    Michael –

    Wow and I thought this would be a place where people relied on evidence

    Michael, there is an accumulating weight of evidence, across many disciplines, demonstrating that less unequal societies gain an “equality dividend” in the form of greater happiness, better health outcomes, a better work ethic, more mutual trust, etc and everyone gains accordingly. (Of course this does not apply if “equality” becomes a value to be forced at gunpoint – per communism or some aspects of the French revolution). On the other hand, the greater the inequality index, the more chance there is of widespread misery, poor health, mistrust and theft, etc. In this view, there is a “tolerance” for income disparities of up to about 30 to 1 (ie the Company Director making 30 times what the poorest paid worker makes), so long as the 1 is sufficient to fully provide the basic necessities. This multiple appears to allow the system to sufficiently incentivise and reward ambition, innovation and risk-taking, and allow for personal mobility within the system, without fuelling resentment or a divergence of interests between the high earners and the low earners. But when the multiple becomes greater than 100 to 1 (and note, Walmart, just to cite one example, had a company inequality index of about a couple of thousand to 1, when I was reading about it a few years ago), the first thing that happens is a divergence of interests between the top levels and the lower levels. The top levels begin to institute ways and means of maintaining their own position, and ensuring they keep others out, and they lose a sense of solidarity and belonging with the people at the bottom levels. They no longer see the point of contributing to office collections when Mr Smith breaks his leg and can’t work (for example). They’ve got their own private doctor, and a guaranteed income when they get sick. Meanwhile the bottom levels survive by adopting “slave stupid” work ways. Since they can no longer advance, no matter what they do, they give only, and exactly, what they are asked, and that as slowly as possible.

    I’m not pro-communist, pro-socialist, or pro-capitalist. I think there must be a different way, perhaps modelled on the US constitutional idea of checks and balances. That is to say, that individual (and company) rights to the pursuit of happiness, should somehow be more thoughtfully balanced against one another, so that the pursuit of happiness of the rich cannot eclipse that of the poor, and so the society as a whole does not forego the “equality dividend”. Perhaps the “inalienable rights” of minorities could include the right to a basic income sufficient for basic needs – food, shelter, healthcare. And for example, what would be the result if companies and corporations paid more tax the wider the gap between their bottom and their top rates of pay? No one would be forcing them into more income equalisation, but there would be great incentives for them to do so. I’m not saying I would fight to the death for these ideas – but I think we could all do with some creative thinking on viable alternatives to what we’ve got!

    But Michael, search as you will, I do not think you will find any evidence base to support the contention that poverty is self-inflicted. Lots of eloquent and persuasive opinion, possibly. But no evidence.

  • Alex Weaver

    Perhaps the “inalienable rights” of minorities could include the right to a basic income

    I would suggest rephrasing this; I know what you mean but it’s begging to be quote-mined.

    But Michael, search as you will, I do not think you will find any evidence base to support the contention that poverty is self-inflicted. Lots of eloquent and persuasive opinion, possibly. But no evidence.

    To be fair, there is abundant evidence that cases of largely self-inflicted poverty exist; what is lacking is evidence that this accounts for even a large minority, let alone majority, of total cases of poverty.

    Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, Michael and his source are both treating “poverty is self-inflicted” as an axiom despite disingenuously characterizing it as a conclusion.

  • Scotlyn

    Alex,
    you’re right, and I had just thought the same thing when I reread it, thanks

    - the way I would re-phrase it is to say “perhaps the inalienable rights of individuals should include the right to a basic income.”

    This idea actually has gained currency in some economic circles – for one, it’s an easy thing to administer, since there is no need for a bureacratic machinery to assess and police eligibility, so it permits a slimming down of “government”. Also, since it is a right, there is no stigma attached to receiving it, and no need to deceive or cheat. It could be accompanied by a simple, easy to administer tax system – for eg. 15% off everything earned over and above the basic income. Again, no expensive revenue bureacracy needed, as there would be no loopholes or exceptions to police. There would be fewer disincentives to work, especially at lower paid, part-time or casual jobs, as there would be no need to give up the basic income in order to take up such work – all income earned, however small, would represent a gain. This would enable people to get involved in unproductive jobs that may have a high social dividend, eg. managing/supervising youth clubs. It would also suit employers who only have work at one season of the year, but then need a whole heap of people. On the other hand, it would allow more flexibility to the needs of families – opting to devote your time to the care of small children, or elderly incapacitated relatives would not involve a drop into poverty, making lots of care institutions redundant.

    Again, this is just an idea, I’m not a “basic income” zealot either. But the idea strikes me as one that has enough going for it to generate lots of useful creative thinking – the kind that originally brought us the US Constitution – still a wonderful, new and fresh political innovation that actually works, when it’s allowed to.

  • Scotlyn

    Alex

    To be fair, there is abundant evidence that cases of largely self-inflicted poverty exist; what is lacking is evidence that this accounts for even a large minority, let alone majority, of total cases of poverty.

    Alex, this is also a good point. However, looked at another way, what would you find if you took a large enough sample of poor people and of rich people and compared their ratings on some of the qualities mentioned – eg. “laziness” “industriousness” etc. Lots of industriousness is completely unpaid – care of young, old and sick, housework, gardening, volunteering, etc. Lots of underpaid people hold down three or four jobs – at minimum wage, working 60 hours a week, it would still take several lifetimes of industry for an individual to actually become wealthy.

    Demonhype – I like the irony of the scene you describe –

    JP Morgan enters an early 20th century sweatshop factory on a platform carried on the backs of his toiling workers, saying “I’m JP Morgan, my friends, the wealthiest man on this earth! Here, immigrants, look up to me and you’ll see what money is worth! One day your immigrant sweat might get you the whole US!”

    Just who is industriously sweating here? Who is lazily lolling about on his platform?

  • Samuel Skinner

    “For someone to just say it was all the fault of the guy running the ship for those 8 years is a little short sighted and naive. ”

    Are you claiming it wasn’t Reagan’s fault?

    “Government programs waste money.”

    As an absolute, false.

    “The states that need the most help are lead the nation in socail programs and taxes. Coincidence?? California, New York and New Jersey.”

    Actually, South Carolina is third. And I’d hardly say CA leads the nation in social programs. I think Alaska has more due to their oil wealth in fact. You do count giving checks to the populance a social program, right?

    “corporations have less power as there are less politicians to have lobbied. ”

    …I remember someone arguing that the danger of government control over the economy is that they can determine who gets what job and shut down their opponents. Corporations can use the exact same tactics only more so because they don’t have to make a pretense of fairness.

    “That is what he started that company for or what they sought out promotion for. ”

    Actually, most company presidents were appointed by their boards of directors.

    “Go invent the next Snuggy and make some money. ”

    You do realize that the Snuggy is currently manufactured by a company that takes things inventors have made, jacks up the price, advertises it and makes a profit? The inventor isn’t making money off of it.

    “Write a book someone would want to read. ”

    I hate to burst your bubble, but what is popular isn’t alway determined by quality. I’ll be fair- Twilight and Harry Potter are okay (although HP is significantly better), but Dan Brown and Tom Clancy…

    Lets not forget that all the trappings of Sci-fi… were invented in the 20s and 30s. Or that Conan the Barbarian is from the 1890s. You could actually spend your entire life and not read a fiction book written after 1950 if you wanted, while still reading thousands.

    “Of course this does not apply if “equality” becomes a value to be forced at gunpoint – per communism or some aspects of the French revolution”

    Wouldn’t Yugoslavia and the USSR be exception to that rule?

  • Alex Weaver

    “For someone to just say it was all the fault of the guy running the ship for those 8 years is a little short sighted and naive. “

    Missed this. “LOL wut u meen ‘buck stopz heer?’”

  • Demonhype

    Here’s hoping blockquote works, since the preview seems to be either down or removed. I hit the stupid submit button before I unchecked, so the stupid site ate my previous comments. GRRR!

    Anyway…

    Leum–

    “As to someones boss who buys his children sports cars. So what.

    The point is that the children are being rewarded by capitalism for not working, which you proudly proclaimed would be punished.”

    THANK YOU!!! My point exactly. Love how my actual point was removed and the rest reconfigured to make it sound like “my boss bought his kid a sports car and it’s not fair because I want one too. WAH!” Not even close.

    Well,there’s that point and the added fact that I see red when I think of that and then think of all the slaving people who actually earned the money to buy that sports car and how many of their kids are going to bed hungry or being denied a college education because their overworked, underpaid parents’ wages and benefits have been shaved down steadily by greedy boss-daddy to the point where they can hardly make ends meet–and then hear some yahoo suggest that the rich, lazy children have what they have because they are just fundementally superior and that the people holding down two, three, or four jobs are just lazy and not willing to work. It makes me sick, and it also makes me seriously question the basic sanity of the speaker.

    In short, “blame the victim” always pisses me off big time.

  • Demonhype

    Well, I got the first part right. This should do it for blockquote.

    Scotlyn–

    <blockquote cite=”Michael, there is an accumulating weight of evidence, across many disciplines, demonstrating that less unequal societies gain an “equality dividend” in the form of greater happiness, better health outcomes, a better work ethic, more mutual trust, etc and everyone gains accordingly. (Of course this does not apply if “equality” becomes a value to be forced at gunpoint – per communism or some aspects of the French revolution). On the other hand, the greater the inequality index, the more chance there is of widespread misery, poor health, mistrust and theft, etc. In this view, there is a “tolerance” for income disparities of up to about 30 to 1 (ie the Company Director making 30 times what the poorest paid worker makes), so long as the 1 is sufficient to fully provide the basic necessities. This multiple appears to allow the system to sufficiently incentivise and reward ambition, innovation and risk-taking, and allow for personal mobility within the system, without fuelling resentment or a divergence of interests between the high earners and the low earners. But when the multiple becomes greater than 100 to 1 (and note, Walmart, just to cite one example, had a company inequality index of about a couple of thousand to 1, when I was reading about it a few years ago), the first thing that happens is a divergence of interests between the top levels and the lower levels. The top levels begin to institute ways and means of maintaining their own position, and ensuring they keep others out, and they lose a sense of solidarity and belonging with the people at the bottom levels. They no longer see the point of contributing to office collections when Mr Smith breaks his leg and can’t work (for example). They’ve got their own private doctor, and a guaranteed income when they get sick. Meanwhile the bottom levels survive by adopting “slave stupid” work ways. Since they can no longer advance, no matter what they do, they give only, and exactly, what they are asked, and that as slowly as possible. ”

    Marry me.

    Um…what I meant to say was, that is probably the most perfect and succinct summary of the problem that I have ever seen. Saved it in my archives for future use. I may even paste it on my wall with the other worthy comments and articles I have up there.

    I am tired of the asinine claim that not being able to hoard all the gold and make all the rules and become a demigod in your society, doling out pittances to anyone who will lick your nuts in precisely the right fashion will somehow, in some way, destroy the will of people to strive or succeed. I call bullshit on that too. I see a benefit to people being able to do better if they put in more effort, but not in a system where whoever reaches the top first will be able to keep everyone else from even making a fair wage–for generations, even–and create a fundemental disconnect between working stiffs and privileged lords and masters. Basics, as you said, should be easily accessible for everyone (a fair basic income that can cover these things and should be immune to shaving down by the boss), but I don’t see how a cap or a balance as to how much you can ultimately earn somehow cripples progress. And again I question the sanity of such a speaker–if you think money is the sole incentive to strive or succeed (not love, or family, or excellence in your field or interests), then you have some extremely serious problems that go beyond your opinions on the economy. If the money itself is all you want, there will never be enough.

    And I love this social darwinist crap too. It’s nothing like actual darwinism. Ya know why? Because the lion may weed out the sick and old antelopes but he doesn’t glut himself on the entire herd, and every other herd, then move to other edible species, non-stop, without ever getting full and taking time to digest until the entire ecosystem is one big dried-out wasteland! Unlike the wealthy in our current system.

  • Demonhype

    Okay, last try. I think I see what I screwed up on.

    “”Go invent the next Snuggy and make some money. ”

    You do realize that the Snuggy is currently manufactured by a company that takes things inventors have made, jacks up the price, advertises it and makes a profit? The inventor isn’t making money off of it.”

    Very true. Which is why, when people find out I’m an animation major and ask if I’m going to work for Disney, I tell them “I will never work for Disney. Ever.” Disney, from all accounts I’ve heard (esp at AiP) owns its’ artists. Literally. Everything you do belongs to them if you work for them. When you go home and work on your own projects on your own materials and your own computer with your own software licenses, all bought and paid for by you, Disney owns it all and you have no rights to it. Disney is an evil corporation on so many levels, I’ve lost count. I understand it wasn’t always like that, or so I’ve heard. But it is now.

    Dreamworks is different and doesn’t own your private endeavors. So Dreamworks is my big-time aim!

    So once again, we have an example of robbing the poor to glut the rich. Rich corps getting richer off of an invention while the actual inventor never sees a dime, artists and writers having no legal right to their own ideas. I know it’s hard for some people to face, but the system doesn’t work. Everything is pointing to that fact. Unworthy people are being rewarded and worth people are being punished on a large scale. Lazy, shiftless rich people are living in luxury paid for by overworked, underpaid corporate slaves. Let it go.

    As to this damnable blockquote–crossed fingers. Again. >:(

  • Leum

    Demon, you’re welcome. You may be interested in Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth where he argues against leaving money to children, spending it on yourself, or bequeathing it to charity after death. Not that he followed through perfectly, but the idea is good. Another good essay, better imo, but less well-known, is Ingersoll’s Three Philanthropists. I firmly believe both should be required reading in all economics classes.

    WRT blockquote, the trick is to type

    (leaving out the spaces) at the start and

    at the end (again, leaving out the spaces).

  • Leum

    and looks like my attempt to show blockquote failed. It’s [blockquote] and [/blockquote] but with instead of [ and ]

  • Alex Weaver

    To show HTML, you can use < and > to generate the opening and closing brackets respectiv…

    …”<pre>” isn’t on the list either?

  • Nina Straussner

    I prefer to be referred to as a secular humanitarian. The word atheist literally means without god. I don’t and never believed in the existence of a god. I respect those that believe in god. I am, however, offended that some religious individuals equate faith with morality. Jefferson had strong feelings regarding the separation between church and state. Issues such as stem cell research, pro-life, gay rights should not be infused into our judicial system. I think that these endless debates are a waste of time and infringe on my constitutional rights. Nina Straussner

  • Leum

    Alex: what does pre do?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    <pre> is “preformatted” text: it’s shown in a fixed-width font and preserves spaces and line breaks exactly as you type them.

    If you’re still having trouble with blockquotes, the correct syntax is this (type it exactly as I’ve typed it below, with angle brackets):

    <blockquote>
    your text goes here
    </blockquote>

    which produces:

    your text goes here

  • Demonhype

    Thanks, Leum! Bookmarked both of them for future reading, since it’s getting late for me right now.

    Thanks, all, for the advice on blockquote. I seem to have gotten it by the last one, though I was using the ‘blockquote cite=>”” /blockquote> (leaving out the opening karots for both so I don’t inadvertantly trigger anything).

    Forgot to say one thing to Scotlyn about Ragtime–if you’re not familiar with the musical, look up “make them hear you” on youtube or wherever you can find it. It’s beautiful. The main context is about white on black racism in the turn of the twentieth century, but the wording is vague enough that it can easily include every similar minority vs. oppressive majority struggle throughout time. I like that because it emphasizes our shared humanity and the universality of such struggles.

    Anyway, if anyone still reading hasn’t heard that song, look it up. It really is wonderful.

  • Scotlyn

    Demonhype – aw shucks – (and yes, I’ll look up the song).

    Yeah, I have given a lot of thought as to how to reconcile my instinct that there is something immoral about the persistence of poverty in the presence of extreme wealth, and that there is also something immoral in the kind of coercion that can be found in certain expressions of the socialist/communist models for wealth re-distribution. I do believe there must be a way to nourish human potential and desire for progress, ambition, creativity, healing, caring, learning, teaching, and also for keeping things going (eg. maintenance type work like cleaning, cooking, fixing things, raising food, transporting things), without any human beings ending up in the human dustbin that is poverty (which, contrary to metaphorical probability, is also a treadmill and a trap).

    I don’t have a lot of answers, but I like to pay attention whenever I spot someone making creative suggestions. Like I say, when you think what the writers of the US Constitution (and the Bill of Rights) actually accomplished, I know it is possible for someone to come up with a creative new way of running economics that would be every bit as innovative as their prescription for running politics. Anyone who is familiar with Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy may be inspired, as I was, by the fictional martian community’s innovative economic thinking in the second book.

    There is one thing that puzzles me. The “conservative” cluster of ideological positions seems to, almost always, include a great regard for both capitalism and for Family (in caps). In my experience, capitalism is often the death of families (small letters). This is because capitalism awards value to people as either consumers, workers or gatekeepers (more on that in a minute). Therefore there is no room in capitalism to reward or recognise the type of caring commitment that families (small letters) need. As a mother, and as a long-term carer for my husband’s elderly uncle – Alzheimer’s/mobility issues, etc, I was not very much good as a worker (little time), and therefore became a poor consumer (I hate spending on anything unnecessary). By a failure of luck, genes, heredity, or whatever, I am not a gatekeeper, so I lack anything worth selling but my own time, and that is already required by the caring needs of my family. If I had not been lucky enough to obtain a really, really cheap mortgage compared to the size and roominess of my house, and to work part-time from home, I would have been forced to sacrifice my family’s needs at the altar of capitalism, and become one of those workers forced to consign their care duties to the state or to a stranger.

    This, in my opinion (and not a general degeneration in morals) is one of the reasons families find it so hard to hang together.

    PS. A gatekeeper, in my way of thinking, is someone who is able to restrict access to a desirable resource, and then sell access rights. Think of a concert you bought a ticket for. Someone is able to hire the muscle to keep you out without a ticket. But various criminally-minded hangers on can further restrict that resource by buying up all the tickets and “touting” them to you at a vastly increased price. All wealth in capitalist systems is generated by one form of gate-keeping or another – including the criminal, parasitical types of gate-keeping – eg drugs, prostitution, etc.

    Ironically, sometimes the original gatekeeper is someone who committed an act of theft by fencing off a common. But their original act of theft goes un-noticed. It is the existence of the fence that makes possible the capitalist crime of “theft.” This is why an organic farmer complaining about the invasion of GM seeds into his land from a nearby plantation was himself accused of theft – the seed, owned by the biotechnology company, was on his land! The GM movement has fenced off what used to be a common – genes – and awarded property rights accordingly. The original act of theft is unperceived, it is only the trespass against the gene “owners” that can be prosecuted.

    Gatekeepers don’t need to be industrious to generate wealth. They have “people” for that!


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