Thursday, May 18, 2006

Can America Be Saved?

In These Times has a good article on the growing divide in this country between the increasingly fervent Christian nationalists and the also increasingly vocal liberal secularists. This is an issue that is hard to get people interested in because it is slow in its movement. Most of us will notice little change in our lives as the right takes over, until one day they have complete control and America has become a theocratic state.

The article shows that the smallest "red states," when combined, have seven more electoral college votes than New York and Massachusetts combined, yet with nearly equal populations. Is it time to redesign the electoral college or do away with it altogether? The system, as currently designed, gives more weight to conservative worldviews. Can that be fixed?

This is really a battle between Blue meme authoritarianism and Orange-Green progressive liberalism. It's a battle that has been going on for at least a decade and will only get more acrimonious before it gets better. Please see the article on the sidebar, Who Owns God? (Part One, Part Two, Part Three) for an overview of the conflict as reflected in American politics the last few years.

This is from the In These Times article:
After all, the heartland has no claim to moral authority. The states whose voters are most obsessed with “moral values” have the highest divorce and teen pregnancy rates. The country’s highest murder rates are in the South and the lowest are in New England. The five states with the best-ranked public schools in the country—Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey and Wisconsin—are all progressive redoubts. The five states with the worst—New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Mississippi and Louisiana—all went for Bush.

The canard that the culture wars are a fight between “elites” versus “regular Americans” belies a profound split between different kinds of ordinary Americans, all feeling threatened by the others’ baffling and alien values. Ironically, however, by buying into right-wing elite-baiting, liberals start thinking like out-of-touch elites. Rather than reflecting on what kind of policies would make their own lives better, what kind of country they want to live in, and who they want to represent them—and then figuring out how to win others to their vision—progressives flail about for ideas and symbols that they hope will appeal to some imaginary heartland rube. That is condescending.
Please read the whole article and then let's discuss it in the comments.

This is a huge issue that will effect all of us, especially those of us who seek an integral worldview. The Blue meme can't tolerate an integral view, so we, along with the Green liberals, will be targeted by their narrow definition of reality. What can we do to soften the Blue meme's need to rule the world? Recognizing the need for the Blue meme, how can we help it to be more healthy and less authoritarian?

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Anonymous said...

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." I always think of that quote when discussion of America's red/blue divide comes up. I guess I have real doubts about our orange-green brethren's ability ever to organize effectively against their blue-red opponents. Real passion, real motivation seems to come from belief in something greater than one's self, a belief which too many orange-green types lack. Ok, I got my despairing groan out, now to the more positive side of things.

It's no guarantee, of course, but Bush really has fucked up so bad (and can be counted on to continuing fucking up for the remainder of his term) that it's beyond me to believe that a similar total hack could be voted President directly behind him. (It's difficult to imagine that anyone else period, even an outright right-wing nutjob, could do as much harm; but I'm knocking wood anyway). Interestingly (parodoxically?) I think the sort of growing religious radicalism we're seeing right now grows specifically and especially under conditions of economic hardship (for all but the rich) and governmental mismanagement and corruption. Wierdly, the people who support Bush most, suffer most because of his policies, which leads them to supporting him all the more (increasing his license to increase their suffering): fucking wierdest feedback loop ever. My point, anyway, is, given a democratic president, or even a marginally more socially/fiscally responsible republican president, the cultural conditions which foster religious fanaticism will cool down some (or a lot, given real prosperity and governmental competence). That, I think, is the answer to the last question in your post. There aren't, I'm convinced, arguments or strategies or outreach programs which will persuade fanatics to play nice; you have to change the societal conditions which encourage them to stay stuck at that level of development.

I could go on, but let me clear the soapbox for another speaker.

Kai in NYC

william harryman said...


I agree about the strange feedback loop. However, I'm sure it is economic, since this has been growing since the early 90s when things were good for everyone, not just the rich.

I think it has more to do with security. I don't really mean national security, although I think that can play into it in big ways.

What I mean is the fear that the Christian nationalists feel that they were losing a place in this country as it became more secular and Orange/Green (Bill Clinton's meme stack). He is the posterboy for all that they hate, and it has less to do with his sexual stupidity than it does with how the right painted him as a postmodern relativist who would do away with religion and god.

This was the battle cry of the mega churches as they grew in the mid nineties. Meanwhile, Rove was building a network of email and telephones connecting all these Blue meme people. His people distributed voters guides to chruches around the country pushing a Christian nationalist agenda. Mostly he was using these people, but he created a monster he could no longer control. Now they put pressure on him/Bush to do what they want. And they succede.

I agree with your final comments. We do need to change the societal conditions. We need to get the postmodern Green meme that runs the academic world to stop targeting religion as the enemy. People like Sam Harris and others like him are a big part of the problem. As long as the Blue meme feels it is under attack, it will act like it is being attacked and fight back. Right now, they are better organized than we are, so we're going to lose this fight.

If we can create a space for them to feel safe, they might feel less like they need to run the whole show to ensure their survival.

That's my 24 cents.


Anonymous said...

One point I keep coming back to is that Christianists have been whippped into this froth of radicalism through lies, manipulation and propaganda. This sense that they're under seige and being forced out, when the opposite is the case, cannot possibly be assuaged by conciliatory gestures when it's not based on reality to begin with. The (academic) green meme's condescenion toward religion is an obvious and stupid lightning rod, sure, but the lightning would keep on striking anyway, if I can extent the metaphor.

Growth is what's healthy--for every meme. Creating conditions which encourage folks to stay stuck where they are (i.e., "safety") is partly how we get these poisonous manifestations of blue energy, to my mind.

(This also calls to mind a point you made in a earlier post, about needing blue mythological structures which were centered in higher memes: inherently encouraging growth, rather than the feeling that one "has it" once and for all, as Christianists feel. But a very long range hope, that one.)

Kai in NYC

Anonymous said...

The thing is, this isn't about "us and them". It's about us. Our global community. What we are going through here in the U.S. is nothing new. It's the typical polarization that occurs when people seek power rather than empowerment. The polarization exists because both sides want power.

Mythologically speaking, this is inevitable. If you try to fly too close to the sun, you are going to get burned. So the polarization is a karmic necessity so that both sides can begin to feel the burn through their numbed awareness.

I don't know about being able to save America. We do seem to be headed on a collision course. I still have hope for us. I have this sense that fundamentalism is experiencing it's last big hurrah before it burns out. (Fundamentalism exists as much on the right as it does on the left. You can be an atheist and be a fundamental atheist, after all.)

My hope is that rather than just saving America, we will figure out how to save the global community.

Until we become willing to serve the "least" among us and to see the other as ourselves, we're pretty much dead anyway.

william harryman said...


Yeah, I agree, making them feel safe isn't the best option (my bad). But they do need to feel as though they are not under attack, which requires their own leaders to turn down the hyperbole a bit. Do you agree?

We know they are more powerful than they recognize sometimes, but their leaders are fostering a David and Goliath battle, with them cast as David. Rather than slay Goliath with a slingshot, they are using laws (mostly local) to do it for them.

How do we prevent that from happening? If majority rules, and most people don't even vote, they will own the system in no time.


I sympathize with your view, especially this: Until we become willing to serve the "least" among us and to see the other as ourselves. But if we are to face the issue as it exists, we have to face that this isn't going to happen anytime soon.

Right now, they are attacking us. We can turn the other cheek, but sooner or later, our freedoms will be legislated out of existence in their theocratic state.

So then what? How we do get both sides to pull back and be less reactive? Or how do we create conditions that can foster growth so that fundamentalism loses its foundation?

These are the crucial questions, it seems to me. We need to put out the fire before we can build a new house.


Anonymous said...

One thing that's always frustrated me enormously in talking about this issue (red vs. blue) is that, very often, those in choir (i.e., my friends who for the most part share my views) don't seem to realize the extent to which their opponents' fears and aggression are irrationally based, and as such really cannot be quelled by rational responses. All that to say that orange-green-yellow meme backing down in any sense will NOT make blue meme folk feel any less under seige: (y)our existence itself is offensive and seen as an act of aggression. Die, convert, leave the country: that's the extent of meaningful (to Christianists) appeasemnet we can offer. Really sit with that for a moment; it's the truth.

So, again, the cure for Christianist irrational aggression is, first of all, doing away with the social conditions that encourage it and, secondly, constant culturally-sensitive rational alternatives that allow for growth.

Kai in NYC

william harryman said...

I agree.

Changing the social conditions is easy -- get rid of Bush and elect progressives who are sensitive to the voice of the right without caving in. Even failing that, we can elect someone who isn't operating from the Red-Blue transitional zone.

But the part about alternatives -- this is the sticky part. I'd really like to see how Don beck would approach this. Unfortunately, I have to miss the meeting next month in which they will be looking at ways to create large scale systems change. Beck is all about changing conditions, not people.

If we look at the "changing the conditions" part as an AQAL approach, then all we need to do is address each quadrant.

Not much we do to change their organism, short of mass MDMA poisoning to reprogram the hard drive, but that probably wouldn't work so well.

We can change the ITS by reshaping the economy and electing new leaders.

Changing the interior stuff is hard, but some of it would follow from changing the exterior.

Anyway, okay, I need more coffee.


Anonymous said...

The organism, too, Bill. I daresay if you gathered 100 randomly selected yellow meme folk in a room and 100 equally randomly selected blue meme folk, the differences in their average level of health, fitness and nutrition would boggle the mind. A fit, healthy mind is far more capable of receiving new notions than a sluggish, obese, malnourished one.

Beck is the bee's knees to be sure, but the issue of "cultural sensitivity" I brought up is a crucial one. Too often, alas, brilliant, massively educated, rich white men who are accustomed to be taken seriously by those in power can be surprisingly out of touch with the inside of the poor, working class red/blue mindset. Admittedly second and third hand reports, I was somewhat surprised and disappointed by what I've heard of Beck's work in South Africa...

As in the case of Wilber, I strongly suspect that Beck's ideas might be much better implemented by others closer (inside) the issue.

Kai in NYC