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The Roots of Josh Hawley’s Rage

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Josh Hawley, like many on the Christian Right, have the attitude toward belief that Henry Ford had toward car color: Ford said that you could have a car in any color you wanted so long as you wanted black, and Hawley and his ilk say you can believe anything you like so long as you believe as they tell you to.

Katherine Stewart reports in the NY Times:

In today’s Republican Party, the path to power is to build up a lie in order to overturn democracy. At least that is what Senator Josh Hawley was telling us when he offered a clenched-fist salute to the pro-Trump mob before it ransacked the Capitol, and it is the same message he delivered on the floor of the Senate in the aftermath of the attack, when he doubled down on the lies about electoral fraud that incited the insurrection in the first place. How did we get to the point where one of the bright young stars of the Republican Party appears to be at war with both truth and democracy?

Mr. Hawley himself, as it happens, has been making the answer plain for some time. It’s just a matter of listening to what he has been saying.

In multiple speeches, an interview and a widely shared article for Christianity Today, Mr. Hawley has explained that the blame for society’s ills traces all the way back to Pelagius — a British-born monk who lived 17 centuries ago. In a 2019 commencement address at The King’s College, a small conservative Christian college devoted to “a biblical worldview,” Mr. Hawley denounced Pelagius for teaching that human beings have the freedom to choose how they live their lives and that grace comes to those who do good things, as opposed to those who believe the right doctrines.

The most eloquent summary of the Pelagian vision, Mr. Hawley went on to say, can be found in the Supreme Court’s 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Mr. Hawley specifically cited Justice Anthony Kennedy’s words reprovingly: “At the heart of liberty,” Kennedy wrote, “is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” The fifth century church fathers were right to condemn this terrifying variety of heresy, Mr. Hawley argued: “Replacing it and repairing the harm it has caused is one of the challenges of our day.”

In other words, Mr. Hawley’s idea of freedom is the freedom to conform to what he and his preferred religious authorities know to be right. Mr. Hawley is not shy about making the point explicit. In a 2017 speech to the American Renewal Project, he declared — paraphrasing the Dutch Reformed theologian and onetime prime minister Abraham Kuyper — “There is not one square inch of all creation over which Jesus Christ is not Lord.” Mr. Kuyper is perhaps best known for his claim that Christianity has sole legitimate authority over all aspects of human life.

“We are called to take that message into every sphere of life that we touch, including the political realm,” Mr. Hawley said. “That is our charge. To take the Lordship of Christ, that message, into the public realm, and to seek the obedience of the nations. Of our nation!”

Mr. Hawley has built his political career among people who believe that Shariah is just around the corner even as they attempt to secure privileges for their preferred religious groups to discriminate against those of whom they disapprove. Before he won election as a senator, he worked for Becket, a legal advocacy group that often coordinates with the right-wing legal juggernaut the Alliance Defending Freedom. He is a familiar presence on the Christian right media circuit.

The American Renewal Project, which hosted the event where Mr. Hawley delivered the speech I mentioned earlier, was founded by David Lane, a political organizer who has long worked behind the scenes to connect conservative pastors and Christian nationalist figures with politicians. The choice America faces, according to Mr. Lane, is “to be faithful to Jesus or to pagan secularism.”

The line of thought here is starkly binary and nihilistic. It says that human existence in an inevitably pluralistic, modern society committed to equality is inherently worthless. It comes with the idea that a right-minded elite of religiously pure individuals should aim to capture the levers of government, then use that power to rescue society from eternal darkness and reshape it in accord with a divinely-approved view of righteousness.

At the heart of Mr. Hawley’s condemnation of our terrifyingly Pelagian world lies a dark conclusion about the achievements of modern, liberal, pluralistic societies. When he was still attorney general, William Barr articulated this conclusion in a speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School, where he blamed “the growing ascendancy of secularism” for amplifying “virtually every measure of social pathology,” and maintained that “free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people.”

Christian nationalists’ acceptance of President Trump’s spectacular turpitude these past four years was a good measure of just how dire they think our situation is. Even a corrupt sociopath was better, in their eyes, than the horrifying freedom that religious moderates and liberals, along with the many Americans who don’t happen to be religious, offer the world.

That this neo-medieval vision is incompatible with constitutional democracy is clear. But in case you’re in doubt, consider where

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 January 2021 at 3:31 pm

I have to agree with Baruch Spinoza

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The brief video summary gives the reasons I agree, and I further would say that the only appropriate prayers are those of praise or gratitude. Asking God to make your football team win is (IMO) so misguided that one doesn’t know where to begin — it’s on a part with asking God to make Lima the capital of Boliva because that’s the answer you gave on the mid-term. Petitions to God are, in my view, never appropriate — at least for those who believe that God is all-loving, all-wise, and all-powerful. The only petitionary prayer that makes sense is, “Thy will be done. Amen”

So far as Spinoza’s omissions, I don’t see them as significant. So far as rituals are concerned, one can celebrate any number of things — obvious examples are the winter solstice, when the celebration is the turn toward longer days; the vernal equinox, when daylight lasts longer than night; the summer solstice, the peak of the sun and the beginning of the sumer; and the autumnal equinox, when harvest celebrations might begin. And of course one has rituals to recognize births, marriages, deaths, and anniversaries (such as birthdays or Bastille Day or the like). In fact, the equinoxes and solstices are often co-opted by religions, which time religious rituals to (roughly) coincide with those natural demarcations.

And belonging to a group does not require religion — one’s family is a start, and there are groups based on shared enthusiasms (sports fans, game players, literary discussion groups, bowling leagues), shared experiences (classmates, veterans organizations), shared location (neighborhood groups, civic organizations), shared outlooks (political parties and organizations, environmental groups).

At any rate, I was struck by Spinoza’s view of the world in which we find ourselves.

The video is from an Open Culture post by Josh Jones, which begins:

The so-called Enlightenment period encompasses a surprisingly diverse collection of thinkers, if not always in ethnic or national origin, at least in intellectual disposition, including perhaps the age’s most influential philosopher, the “philosopher’s philosopher,” writes Assad MeymandiBaruch Spinoza did not fit the image of the bewigged philosopher-gentleman of means we tend to popularly associate with Enlightenment thought.

He was born to a family of Sephardic Portuguese Marranos, Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism but who reclaimed their Judaism when they relocated to Calvinist Amsterdam. Spinoza himself was “excommunicated by Amsterdam Jewry in 1656,” writes Harold Bloom in a review of Rebecca Goldstein’s Betraying Spinoza: “The not deeply chagrined 23-year-old Spinoza did not become a Calvinist, and instead consorted with more liberal Christians, particularly Mennonites.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 January 2021 at 11:43 am

Tibetan Monks Use Meditation to Raise Their Peripheral Body Temperature 16-17 Degrees

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I can’t embed the 7-minute video, which leads an Open Culture article by Josh Jones, a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. (See also this article in Aeon.)

Tibetan monks in remote regions of the Himalayas have long claimed near miraculous powers through yogic practices that resemble nothing you’ll find offered at your local gym, though they may derive from some similar Indian sources. One such meditative practice, a breathing exercise known as tummotum-mo, or g-tummo, supposedly generates body heat and can raise one’s peripheral body temperature 16-17 degrees—a distinctly advantageous ability when sitting outside in the snow-capped mountains.

Perhaps a certain amount of skepticism is warranted, but in 1981, Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson was determined to take these ancient practices seriously, even though his first encounters with western practitioners of tummo produced results he deemed “fraudulent.” Not ready to toss centuries of wisdom, Benson decided instead to travel to the source after meeting the Dalai Lama and receiving permission to study tummo practitioners in Northern India.

Benson’s research became a 20-year project of studying tummo and other advanced techniques while he also taught at the Harvard Medical School and served as president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston, where he believes the study of meditation can “uncover capacities that will help us to better treat stress-related illnesses.” The claims of monks who practice tummo have been substantiated in Benson’s work, showing, he says, “what advanced forms of meditation can do to help the mind control physical processes once thought to be uncontrollable.”

In his own experimental settings, “Benson found that [Tibetan] monks possessed remarkable capacities for controlling their oxygen intake, body temperatures and even brainwaves,” notes Aeon. Another study undertaken in 2013 by Maria Kozhevnikov, cognitive neuroscientist at the National University of Singapore, “corroborated much of what Benson had observed, including practitioners’ ability to raise their body temperatures to feverish levels by combining visualization and specialized breathing.”

In the short documentary film above—actually a 7-minute trailer for Russ Pariseau’s feature-length film Advanced Tibetan Meditation: The Investigations of Herbert Benson MD—we get a brief introduction to tummo, a word that translates to “inner fire” and relates to the ferocity of a female deity. Benson explains the ideas behind the practice in concise terms that sum up a central premise of Tibetan Buddhism in general:

Buddhists feel the reality we live in is not the ultimate one. There’s another reality we can tap into that’s unaffected by our emotions, by our everyday world. Buddhists believe this state of mind can be achieved by doing good for others and by meditation. The heat they generate during the process is just a by-product of g Tum-mo meditation

Perhaps centuries-old non-European practices do not particularly need to be debunked, demystified, or validated by modern scientific medicine to keep working for their practitioners; but doctors have significantly benefited those in their care through an acceptance of the healing properties of, say, psilocybin or mindfulness, now serious subjects of study and clinical treatment in top Euro-American institutions. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2021 at 2:53 pm

The Vatican’s Latinist

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John Byron Kuhner wrote in The New Criterion in 2017:

I1970, the Procurator General of the Discalced Carmelite Order, Finian Monahan, was summoned to the Vatican for a meeting. The subject of the meeting was a promising young American priest by the name of Reginald Foster. The head Latinist of the Vatican’s State Department had tapped Foster to write papal correspondence, which was at the time composed entirely in Latin. Foster wanted the job but was bound by a vow of obedience, and the decision would be made by his superiors. Monahan intended to resist. Foster, thirty years of age, had proven himself to be both supremely intellectually gifted and utterly reliable—a precious thing at a time when the Catholic Church’s religious orders were hemorrhaging priests. Monahan thought Latin was a dead end. He didn’t want to lose one of his best to a Vatican department that would only get less and less important every year. He said Foster would go to the Vatican “over my dead body.”

Foster remembers the meeting vividly. “So we arrive there, and we’re ushered into this office, and who do we find there but Ioannes Benelli,” Foster says, using Benelli’s Latin name, as was customary at the Vatican at that time. He continues:

Benelli was Paul VI’s hatchet man—whenever he wanted something to get done, he called on Benelli. He was very energetic—got things done, and no nonsense. Everyone was terrified of him. I was too, and now here we were in the room with him, and he turns to Monahan and says, “This is Foster?” The General said yes. Then Benelli said, “Thank you very much, we won’t be needing you anymore.” And he took me by the hand and brought me down to the State Department and that was the end of that. Monahan didn’t say a word. I was now working for the Pope, and it was like I was more or less out of the Carmelite Order. A lot of the time the Order didn’t even really know what I was doing.

Foster would spend the next forty years at the Vatican, part of a small team of scribes who composed the pope’s correspondence, translated his encyclicals, and wrote copy for internal church documents. His somewhat unique position between the Carmelite Order and the Vatican bureaucracy meant that in fact he had a great deal of freedom for a priest. Later in his career his loose tongue—some in the church called it a loose cannon—would attract the notice of journalists looking for interesting copy. “Sacred language?” he said when asked about Latin as the “sacred language” of the church. “In the first century every prostitute in Rome spoke it fluently—and much better than most people in the Roman Curia.” The Minnesota Star Tribune quoted him as saying “I like to say mass in the nude,” which caused a small Curial kerfuffle (Foster claims he was misquoted). He appeared in Bill Maher’s movie Religulous, which featured him agreeing with the proposition that the Vatican itself was at odds with the message of Jesus, that the pope should not be living in a palace, and that hell and “that Old Catholic stuff” was “finished” and “gone.” Foster says the pope received complaints from bishops and cardinals about his appearance. “They said ‘Who is this Latinist of yours and what the hell is he doing?’ They would have fired me for sure. But by the time the film came out I was sick and a few months away from retirement anyway. So they just waited it out and let me go quietly.” He had already been fired from his post at the pontifical Gregorian University for allowing dozens of students to take his classes without paying for them.

Besides being the Pope’s Latinist and “one of the Vatican’s most colorful characters” (as the Catholic News Service called him), Foster has been a tireless champion of Latin in the classroom. Indeed, Foster’s greatest legacy may be as a teacher. “The most influential Latin teacher in the last half-century is Reggie Foster,” says Dr. Nancy Llewellyn, professor of Latin at Wyoming Catholic College. “That’s not just my opinion—that’s a fact. For decades, he had the power to change lives like no other teacher in our field. I saw him for an hour in Rome in 1985 and that one hour completely changed my life. His approach was completely different from every other Latin teacher out there, and it was totally transformative.”

A humanist par excellence, Latin for Foster was not something to be dissected by linguistic analysis or serve as the raw data for a theory of gender or poetics: it was a language, a medium of human connection. I first met Foster in 1995, at his summer school, and couldn’t get enough: I returned seven times. No one on Earth was reading as much Latin as he and his students were, but he was more like an old-school newspaper editor than an academic: he wanted the story. But for that you actually had to know Latin, and know it well. Foster was ruthless about ignorance, and equally ruthless about anything that to him looked like mere academic posturing. “I don’t care about your garbage literary theory!” he barked at his students one day. “I can tell in about ten seconds if you know the Latin or if you are making it all up.” “Latin is the best thing that ever happened to humanity. It leaves you zero room for nonsense. You don’t have to be a genius. But it requires laser-sharp concentration and total maturity. If you don’t know what time of day it is, or what your name is, or where you are, don’t try Latin because it will smear you on the wall like an oil spot.” The number of Foster’s students runs into the thousands, and many of them are now themselves some of the most dedicated teachers in the field. “When I was in college I asked people, ‘Hey, we all know Latin is a language. Does anybody actually speak it anymore?’ And they told me there was one guy, some guy at the Vatican, who still spoke the language, and that was Fr. Foster,” says Dr. Michael Fontaine, a professor of Classics at Cornell University. “I said to myself, ‘I have to study with this guy.’ And that changed everything for me.” Dr. Paul Gwynne, professor of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the American University of Rome, said of Foster, “He is not just the best Latin teacher I’ve ever seen, he’s simply the best teacher I’ve ever seen. Studying Latin with the Pope’s apostolic secretary, for whom the language is alive, using the city of Rome as a classroom . . . it changed my whole outlook on life, really.”

Time seems to bend around Foster, and past and present intertwine. When I wrote to Fr. Antonio Salvi, the current head of the Vatican’s Latin department, for comment about Foster, he responded entirely in Latin, beginning with four words that sounded like an old soldier praising Cato—“Probus vir, parvo contentus.” An upright man. Content with little. And in many ways Foster’s resembles the life of a medieval saint: at the age of six, he would play priest, ripping up old sheets as vestments. He entered seminary at thirteen. He said he wanted only three things in life: to be a priest, to be a Carmelite, and to do Latin. He has spent his entire life in great personal poverty. His cell had no mattress: he slept on the tile floor with a thin blanket. His clothes were notorious in Rome: believing that . . .

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Full disclosure: The Younger Daughter teaches Latin and Classical Greek.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2020 at 8:42 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Religion

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Buffalo Diocese Accused of Yearslong Cover-Up of Sexual Abuse

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See the previous post: when you have a strongly hierarchical structure that emphasizes respect for authority and in-group loyalty (cf. police, the church, the military), you tend to get an authoritarian organization that becomes corrupted via power, with overt determination to hide misconduct and wrong-doing.

Liam Stack reports in the NY Times:

The New York attorney general, Letitia James, on Monday accused the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and three bishops connected to it of engaging in a yearslong cover-up of sexual abuse by priests in violation of church policy and state law.

The lawsuit is the first state legal action against the Catholic Church in New York since a new wave of abuse investigations began in 2018, and it is the culmination of just one of eight inquiries, one for each Catholic diocese in the state. The other seven inquiries are ongoing and could yield further lawsuits.

The lawsuit represents what prosecutors believe is a novel legal strategy: The state will attempt to use civil laws, in particular those governing religious charities and their fiduciaries, to sue a Catholic diocese for failing to follow church policies enacted in 2002, after a series of investigative reports by The Boston Globe thrust the sex abuse scandal into public view.

It also may also raise questions about religious liberty: In addition to restitution and changes in the way the diocese handles sexual abuse claims, the lawsuit seeks to ban two bishops from management roles in any charitable organization — a demand that may draw pushback from those who believe this encroaches into church autonomy.

The attorney general said its investigation found that the diocese and its two former top leaders, Bishop Richard J. Malone and Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Grosz, used bureaucratic maneuvers to shelter more than two dozen priests accused of harming children.

Ms. James said in a statement that the prosecution aimed to right both a breach of trust and “a crisis of faith.”

“For years, the Diocese of Buffalo and its leadership failed to protect children from sexual abuse,” she said. “Instead, they chose to protect the very priests who were credibly accused of these atrocious acts. Individuals who are victims of abuse deserve to have their claims justly and timely investigated and determined, and the Buffalo Diocese refused to give them that chance.”

Greg Tucker, a spokesman for the diocese, said it was reviewing the lawsuit and was committed to working with the civil authorities to investigate “alleged crimes and complaints.”

“In the meantime, we wish to reiterate that there is zero tolerance for sexual abuse of a minor or of sexual harassment of an adult in the Diocese of Buffalo by any member of the clergy, employee or volunteer,” he said. “The diocese has put in place rigorous policies and protocols governing required behavior as well as a code of conduct which all clergy are expected to abide by.”

David Gibson, the director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, said the lawsuit “represents a real sea change” in the way New York approaches clergy sex abuse.

“Even as recently as 2003 the state showed great deference to Catholic leaders,” said Mr. Gibson. “They did not want to be seen as attacking the Catholic Church because that was politically dangerous. Now in 2020 it is considered a political plus to try to hold the bishops accountable.”

The Buffalo diocese, which includes 600,000 Catholics, careened from crisis to crisis in recent years under the leadership of Bishop Malone, who held a senior position in the Diocese of Boston when its sex abuse crisis became public in 2002. He resigned from his position in Buffalo in December after a Vatican investigation into his mishandling of the abuse crisis there.

The Buffalo diocese filed for bankruptcy protection in February, citing a deluge of lawsuits filed by people who said they were sexually abused by priests as children. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2020 at 2:47 pm

Sex, Lies, And Regret: Giancarlo Granda Reels From Eight Years With The Falwells

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Josh Kovinsky reports at TPM:

Giancarlo Granda first noticed that something was off about Becki Falwell while in bed with her.

It was around three or four in the morning, Granda recalls, when he woke up and noticed Becki staring at him without blinking.

It’s what he’d later come to call “the look” — something that, eight years later, still creeps him out.

But Granda is neither squeamish nor skittish. And nor was he, as a 21 year old, primed to let something a little odd like Becki’s “dark, black eyes” fixating on him in the night give him pause.

After all, he was waking up at Cheeca Lodge, an exclusive resort on the Florida Keys’s Islamorada, just weeks after having first met Becki poolside at Miami’s glitzy Fontainebleau hotel.

Becki and her husband Jerry Jr., who, Granda recalls, was sleeping on the couch that night, had invited Granda to the resort for a good time. Granda was only dimly aware of who he was with: education administrators at a Christian university.

But where others saw bible thumpers with an axe to grind against modernity, Granda says he saw a “hot cougar,” an outlet for his own business idea, and, eventually, a second family. Across days of in-person interviews outside Washington D.C., over weeks of phone calls, and through dozens of supporting documents, Granda provided TPM with the most detailed account yet of his entanglement with the Falwells, which would contribute to Jerry losing his position as president of Liberty University and leave Granda feeling besieged by embarrassing articles, wanting to change his name.

Born to a family of first generation Cuban and Mexican immigrants, Granda, with his chiseled jaw and rigorous workout schedule, projects masculinity. It wasn’t always that way. Late in high school, Granda went through a period in which his personal, athletic, and academic lives collapsed due to an obsession with gaming, leaving the school baseball team to spend all his time on first-person shooters like Halo and Call of Duty.

But Granda found redemption from that period by working out and working hard as a pool attendant at the Fontainebleau, which allowed him to study part-time for a bachelor’s degree at Florida International University. It also gave him the physique that, according to Granda, Becki Falwell snapped pictures of as he worked poolside in March 2012, before she invited Granda back to her hotel room, pouring him a glass of Jack Daniels as she asked if it was okay if her husband Jerry watched.

That brief triptych of his life, from baseball infielder, to gamer, to pool attendant, had given him a business idea: Big Brothers, Big Sisters, but for gamers. He shared his plan with the Falwells.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Granda recalls Jerry telling him over breakfast at Cheeca Lodge. The evangelical scion then suggested he “partner up with Liberty University.”

Granda was elated. He and the Falwells made plans for a trip to New York City later in April — one full month after their first meeting. Granda told his buddies at the Fontainebleau what was happening: he had befriended a wealthy, well-connected couple who were going to take him to New York and introduce him to deep-pocketed investors, giving his business idea — and separate real estate ambitions — legs.

Granda had told his sister about the relationship from the beginning, who remembers asking her brother, months into their relationship, if Jerry was “the pastor guy who is super conservative?”

“And he’s like, ‘No, it’s the son,’” she recalls.

It was Jerry, the tall, good ol’ boy son of the famous televangelist, who stoked Granda’s business ambitions while Becki, the dark-haired daughter of millionaire donors to Liberty, flirted with Granda and drew him away for private liaisons.

But as the chance encounter turned into a years-long relationship, Granda’s sense of good fortune wouldn’t last. Granda would come to see these early meetings not as encouragement, but as “grooming.” Publicity around their arrangement was not a useful link to someone well-connected, but “psychological torture.” Two jaded, middle-aged evangelicals taking advantage of someone decades younger, simply out of ennui.

“I’m standing up for my 20-year-old self,” Granda, now 29, reflects.

Carnival ménage à trois

The Falwells have a dramatically different narrative.

In a lawsuit filed against Liberty University in late October, Jerry alleged that Granda carried on a sporadic affair with Becki from 2012 to 2014 in which he was not involved. The couple befriended the 20 year old, the lawsuit says, because they were “impressed” by his “entrepreneurial attitude and ambition.” Later, the lawsuit claims, Granda sought to extort the Falwells.

The Falwells responded to initial inquiries from TPM, and appeared willing to discuss their relationship with Granda. But after Jerry filed his lawsuit against Liberty, the Falwells stopped replying to TPM’s requests for an on-the-record interview.

Granda shared records with TPM that he said back up his version of events. And other reporting suggests that Granda may not be alone in his account. Politico reported earlier this month that Becki told a neighbor about a separate liaison she had had with a Liberty student, saying that Jerry would only be angry about the encounter if he didn’t get to watch. In a statement to Politico, the Falwells called the story “completely false.”

But in 2012, Granda knew none of that. He was seduced by New York.

In Manhattan, the three stayed at the trendy Gansevoort Hotel, sharing drinks on the hotel’s rooftop by a year-round pool with a giant mosaic of Marilyn Monroe at the bottom.

The Falwells squired Granda around Manhattan, taking him to . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2020 at 9:50 am

Trump or No Trump, Religious Authoritarianism Is Here to Stay

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Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, writes in the NY Times:

Will President-elect Joe Biden’s victory force America’s Christian nationalists to rethink the unholy alliance that powered Donald Trump’s four-year tour as one of the nation’s most dangerous presidents? Don’t count on it.

The 2020 election is proof that religious authoritarianism is here to stay, and the early signs now indicate that the movement seems determined to reinterpret defeat at the top of the ticket as evidence of persecution and of its own righteousness. With or without Mr. Trump, they will remain committed to the illiberal politics that the president has so ably embodied.

As it did in 2016, the early analysis of the 2020 election results often circled around the racial, urban-rural, and income and education divides. But the religion divide tells an equally compelling story. According to preliminary exit polls from Edison Research (the data is necessarily rough at this stage), 28 percent of voters identified as either white evangelical or white born-again Christian, and of these, 76 percent voted for Mr. Trump. If these numbers hold (some other polls put the religious share at a lower number; others put the support for Mr. Trump at a higher number), these results indicate a continuation of support for Mr. Trump from this group.

The core of Mr. Trump’s voting bloc, to be clear, does not come from white evangelicals as such, but from an overlapping group of not necessarily evangelical, and not necessarily white, people who identify at least loosely with Christian nationalism: the idea that the United States is and ought to be a Christian nation governed under a reactionary understanding of Christian values. Unfortunately, data on that cohort is harder to find except in deeply researched work by sociologists like Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry.

Most pollsters shoehorn complex religious identities into necessarily broad labels, so they fail to separate out the different strands of Mr. Trump’s support. There are indications that the president in fact expanded his appeal among nonwhite evangelical and born-again Christians of color, particularly among Latinos. Mr. Biden, on the other hand, who made faith outreach a key feature of his campaign, appears to have done well among moderate and progressive voters of all faiths.

Conservative voters of faith “came in massive numbers, seven and a half million more above the 2016 baseline, which was itself a record,” Ralph Reed, head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a longtime religious right activist, said at a postelection press briefing. “We believe they’re the reason why Republicans are going to hold the Senate.”

In their responses to the election outcome, some prominent religious right leaders have enabled or remained true to the false Trumpian line of election fraud. Michele Bachmann, the former Minnesota congresswoman and 2012 presidential candidate, said, “Smash the delusion, Father, of Joe Biden is our president. He is not.” In Crisis Magazine, a conservative Catholic publication, Richard C. Antall likened media reporting on the Biden-Harris ticket’s victory to a “coup d’état.” Mat Staver, chairman and founder of Liberty Counsel, added, “What we are witnessing only happens in communist or repressive regimes. We must not allow this fraud to happen in America.”

Even as prominent Republican figures like George W. Bush and Mitt Romney slowly tried to nudge Mr. Trump toward the exit, leaders of the religious right continued to man the barricades. The conservative speaker and Falkirk Center fellow David Harris, Jr. put it this way:

If you’re a believer, and you believe God appointed Donald J. Trump to run this country, to lead this country, and you believe as I do that he will be re-elected the President of the United States, then friends, you’ve got to guard your heart, you’ve got to guard your peace. Right now we are at war.

Others stopped short of endorsing Mr. Trump’s wilder allegations of election fraud, but . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. (Or read her book.) Her column concludes:

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the Christian nationalist response to the 2020 election is that we’ve seen this movie before. The “stolen election” meme won’t bring Mr. Trump back into the Oval Office. But then, the birther narrative never took President Barack Obama out of office, either. The point of conspiratorial narratives and apocalyptic rhetoric is to lay the groundwork for a politics of total obstruction, in preparation for the return of a “legitimate” ruler. The best guess is that religious authoritarianism of the next four years will look a lot like it did in the last four years. We ignore the political implications for our democracy at our peril.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2020 at 1:52 pm

How to Tell the Story of a Cult: NXIVM in soft focus and NXIVM analyzed

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Sophie Gilbert writes in the Atlantic:

Not 20 minutes into the vowHBO’s enthralling-then-ultimately-gasbaggy docuseries, things started to feel concerningly familiar to me. Sarah Edmondson—an engaging Canadian actor with big valedictorian energy who had joined the Albany-based organization NXIVM (pronounced nex-ee-um)—was describing how she was first drawn into a group that she would later expose as a sex cult. Edmondson’s career had stalled, and she was looking for a sign from the universe. A chance meeting on a cruise with a documentarian named Mark Vicente led her to her first five-day NXIVM seminar, where, between clunky taped interludes with ’80s fitness-video graphics, Edmondson says, she had a revelation.

The part that grabbed her came midway through, when NXIVM’s co-founder Nancy Salzman theorized that people with low self-esteem let their “limiting beliefs” curb their potential. “I thought that was just the way that I was,” Edmondson says. “And then all of a sudden, like, I could systematically evolve to be the ideal version of myself. To write my own character.” The jargon comes thick and fast in The Vow: “disintegrations,” “possibilities,” “human-potential program.” To the uninitiated, this might read like so much innocuous psychobabble. But during an intensive self-development workshop, when you’re sleep-deprived, isolated, and being love-bombed by peppy idealists who speak in emphatic cadences, these kinds of ideas can feel like the secrets of the universe are being unlocked.

Reader, it happened to me. In 2006, when I was floundering after college and my father was dying of cancer, my mother enrolled me in a personal-development program she’d recently taken and couldn’t say enough good things about. Edmondson’s description of suddenly awakening to the idea of profound personal change tracked with what I found on day three, having identified my own limiting beliefs and witnessed dozens of fellow attendees “transform” emotionally onstage. Pepped up on possibility, I decided to apply to journalism school. During one of the breaks, compelled by the session leader, I called my dad and told him I loved him. (Because we were both English and therefore hopelessly emotionally repressed, this was the moment my stepmother decided I was in a cult.) For years afterward, I told people how much the course had helped me, and encouraged them to consider it. My interpretation of the program was, until recently, colored by the immersive experience of the whole thing—of being surrounded by joyful, trippily tired people committing themselves to being better human beings. What could be so bad about that?

The storytelling in The Vow can be both similarly open-minded and similarly blinkered. From the outset, the show’s directors, Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, appear intent on countering the reductive “sex cult” portrayals of NXIVM with a persuasive portrait of how intelligent, empathetic people became so swayed by the promise of infinite human potential sold by NXIVM’s Executive Success Programs that some ended up agreeing to be branded with a cauterizing iron. As Edmondson publicly revealed in 2017, NXIVM wasn’t just running self-improvement seminars. Within the larger organization was a smaller cult of personality in which some female members (including the Smallville actor Allison Mack) reportedly recruited other women into sexual servitude for NXIVM’s co-founder Keith Raniere, a soft-spoken, unprepossessing volleyball enthusiast.

“We didn’t join a cult,” the NXIVM member turned whistleblower Mark Vicente says in one scene, frustrated. “Nobody joins a cult. They join a good thing. And then they realize they were fucked.” Much of The Vow’s footage is taken directly from the propaganda videos Vicente made as he abandoned his directing career to climb higher in the NXIVM ranks, which may explain why the show feels curiously defensive. It dreamily weaves ex-members’ reminiscences through abundant scenes of Raniere working his schtick—expounding vaguely on topics such as integrity and trauma. The emphasis is always on understanding, not judgment.

Some crucial context is missing, though. Amer has said that he and Noujaim are filmmakers, not journalists; according to Noujaim, their mission was to document a crisis of faith, not tell the comprehensive story of NXIVM. (Noujaim enrolled in a few NXIVM workshops herself and has spoken about being swayed by the group’s supposedly idealistic mission.) But The Vow’s fly-on-the-wall approach to capturing how NXIVM unraveled means it treats both its apostates and Raniere himself—sentenced last month to 120 years in prison for sex trafficking and other crimes—with a dubiously soft touch.

It’s easier to see the series’s blind spots when it’s viewed as a companion piece with a new Starz series on the same subject, the finale of which airs tonight. Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult undercuts The Vow’s approach. Its directors interview cult experts in tandem with former NXIVM members to better understand Raniere’s tactics. The Starz series also includes information so pertinent to understanding NXIVM that it seems inexcusable for The Vow to omit it. Before watching Seduced, I had seen the particulars of the workshop I took (14-hour days, no alcohol, no snacking, no painkillers for headaches) as quirks designed to impress upon participants the importance of self-discipline, rather than coercive techniques to make them more psychologically and emotionally pliable. My own account of the course was incomplete, because my ability to interpret it critically had been fundamentally manipulated and impaired. The same thing is true of The Vow. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2020 at 11:14 am

The illusion of truth

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This video helps explain how President Trump, QAnon, and cults do their work.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2020 at 2:19 pm

Posted in GOP, Politics, Religion, Video

How Ayn Rand Destroyed Sears; or, The Folly of Capitalistic Competition.

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Alfie Kohn wrote a good book worth reading: No Contest: The Case Against Competition. (He wrote a second good book worth reading, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, but that’s not the one I’m talking about.) In it, he describes research findings that demonstrate the drastic costs of competition.

Of course, Libertarians will have none of this, and blinded by Ayn Rand they insist that the free market, unhindered by any restrictions save the laws enforcing contracts, will solve any problem efficiently, and commonsense observation and history of what actually happens when corporations and companies operate free of regulation and oversight is something simply must be ignored.

Sometimes, though, the effects of untrammeled competition are not so easily ignored, as when those effects result in the destruction of a once-towering company.

Leigh Phillips and Michal Rozworski wrote a book, The People’s Republic of Walmart: How the World’s Biggest Corporations are Laying the Foundation for Socialism, that argues that centralized planning on a vast scale can work, an idea that gives Libertarians the heebie-jeebies, they include a description of what happened when free-market forces were released within Sears.

An extract from their book:

While companies like Walmart operate within the market, internally, as in any other firm, everything is planned. There is no internal market. The different departments, stores, trucks and suppliers do not compete against each other in a market; everything is coordinated.

It is no small irony then, that one of Walmart’s main competitors, the venerable, 120-plus-year-old Sears, Roebuck & Company, destroyed itself by embracing the exact opposite of Walmart ’s galloping socialization of production and distribution: by instituting an internal market.

The Sears Holdings Corporation reported losses of some $2 billion in 2016, and some $10.4 billion in total since 2011, the last year that the business turned a profit. In the spring of 2017, it was in the midst of closing another 150 stores, in addition to the 2,125 already shuttered since 2010—more than half its operation—and had publicly acknowledged “substantial doubt” that it would be able to keep any of its doors open for much longer. The stores that remain open, often behind boarded-up windows, have the doleful air of late-Soviet retail desolation: leaking ceilings, inoperative escalators, acres of empty shelves, and aisles shambolically strewn with abandoned cardboard boxes half-filled with merchandise. A solitary brand-new size-9 black sneaker lies lonesome and boxless on the ground, its partner neither on a shelf nor in a storeroom. Such employees as remain have taken to hanging bedsheets as screens to hide derelict sections from customers.

The company has certainly suffered in the way that many other brick-and-mortar outlets have in the face of the challenge from discounters such as Walmart and from online retailers like Amazon. But the consensus among the business press and dozens of very bitter former executives is that the overriding cause of Sears’s malaise is the disastrous decision by the company’s chairman and CEO, Edward Lampert, to disaggregate the company’s different divisions into competing units: to create an internal market.

From a capitalist perspective, the move appears to make sense. As business leaders never tire of telling us, the free market is the fount of all wealth in modern society. Competition between private companies is the primary driver of innovation, productivity and growth. Greed is good, per Gordon Gekko’s oft-quoted imperative from Wall Street. So one can be excused for wondering why it is, if the market is indeed as powerfully efficient and productive as they say, that all companies did not long ago adopt the market as an internal model.

Lampert, libertarian and fan of the laissez-faire egotism of Russian American novelist Ayn Rand, had made his way from working in warehouses as a teenager, via a spell with Goldman Sachs, to managing a $15 billion hedge fund by the age of 41. The wunderkind was hailed as the Steve Jobs of the investment world. In 2003, the fund he managed, ESL Investments, took over the bankrupt discount retail chain Kmart (launched the same year as Walmart). A year later, he parlayed this into a $12 billion buyout of a stagnating (but by no means troubled) Sears.

At first, the familiar strategy of merciless, life-destroying post-acquisition cost cutting and layoffs did manage to turn around the fortunes of the merged Kmart-Sears, now operating as Sears Holdings. But Lampert’s big wheeze went well beyond the usual corporate raider tales of asset stripping, consolidation and chopping-block use of operations as a vehicle to generate cash for investments elsewhere. Lampert intended to use Sears as a grand free market experiment to show that the invisible hand would outperform the central planning typical of any firm.

He radically restructured operations, splitting the company into thirty, and later forty, different units that were to compete against each other. Instead of cooperating, as in a normal firm, divisions such as apparel, tools, appliances, human resources, IT and branding were now in essence to operate as autonomous businesses, each with their own president, board of directors, chief marketing officer and statement of profit or loss. An eye-popping 2013 series of interviews by Bloomberg Businessweek investigative journalist Mina Kimes with some forty former executives described Lampert’s Randian calculus: “If the company’s leaders were told to act selfishly, he argued, they would run their divisions in a rational manner, boosting overall performance.”

He also believed that the new structure, called Sears Holdings Organization, Actions, and Responsibilities, or SOAR, would improve the quality of internal data, and in so doing that it would give the company an edge akin to statisti- cian Paul Podesta’s use of unconventional metrics at the Oakland Athletics baseball team (made famous by the book, and later film starring Brad Pitt, Moneyball). Lampert would go on to place Podesta on Sears’s board of directors and hire Steven Levitt, coauthor of the pop neoliberal economics bestseller Freakonomics, as a consultant. Lampert was a laissez-faire true believer. He never seems to have got the memo that the story about the omnipotence of the free market was only ever supposed to be a tale told to frighten young children, and not to be taken seriously by any corporate executive.

And so if the apparel division wanted to use the services of IT or human resources, they had to sign contracts with them, or alternately to use outside contractors if it would improve the financial performance of the unit—regardless of whether it would improve the performance of the company as a whole. Kimes tells the story of how .  . .

Continue reading.

In my view, Libertarians love logic but fail to recognize its imitations. As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. observed with respect to the law, “The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience.” Logic can readily take you to a place or conclusions that experience shows is bad, that doesn’t work. Generally this happens because the logic is using false assumptions, of which Libertarians have an abundant supply — cf. the Sears story above, a tragic clash between logic and experience.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2020 at 4:45 pm

Early Christians Might Have Been High on Hallucinogenic Communion Wine

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Ed Prideaŭx in Vice interviews Brian Muraresku, author of The Immortality Key:

Could the communion wine of history’s earliest Christians have been a hallucinogen? This is the question that The Immortality Key, a new book by religious scholar, archaeology sleuth and classicist Brian Muraresku, aims to answer.

Drawing on more than ten years of research across six countries, Muraresku links the drug-fuelled rituals of Ancient Greece and the Mediterranean to the simultaneous outgrowth of Christianity in first-century Israel.

The bottom-line is that it’s far from absurd – and perhaps entirely reasonable – to think that some early Greek-speaking Christians had hallucinogens in their ritual wines.

Armed with Vatican archives, Greco-Roman texts, and the innovations of archaeochemistry – a new discipline that can isolate the exact chemical makeup of ancestral food and drink – Muraresku traces the rich and vined history of “spiked” wine through the ages. He suggests that the wild parties of Greek Mystery sects – which occurred thousands of years before, and at the time of Jeusus – were powered by wines likely imbued with drugs, later making their way into Christianity’s early sacred cups.

It’s a controversial claim to make. The communion wine has been a fixture of Christian worship since the Last Supper, and stands as a core ritual for its 2.5 billion adherents around the world every week of the year. Called to sip the wine and invite the presence of Jesus, Christians believe that the wine becomes the blood of Christ (metaphorically or literally, depending on the sect) during the Eucharist phase of a church service, when special Biblical blessings are cast on the drink by the vicar, priest or pastor.

Of course, the vast majority – if not all – of Christianity’s predominant sects would place strong injunctions against hallucinogenic drugs altogether. But as researchers continue digging up the boozy remnants of our ancient past, it may well be that the Church is in for a big and truly shattering surprise.

VICE spoke with Muraresku about The Immortality Key, the LSD rituals of Ancient Greece, and trippy wine.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

VICE: The Immortality Key makes a complex case. Could you outline your basic thesis?
Muraresku: The Ancient Greek world was full of secret rituals called Mysteries, where a sacrament of one kind or another was consumed. I question whether some version of the pagan wine sacrament of Dionysus (the Greek god of ecstasy and mystical rapture) was passed along to the earliest, Greek-speaking Christians.

The wine of the ancient Greeks wasn’t really ‘wine’, was it?
Ancient Greek wine was nothing like the wine of today. For a period of well over a thousand years from Homer to the fall of the Roman Empire, wine is consistently referred to as a pharmakon (drug). It was routinely spiked with plants, herbs and toxins, making it unusually intoxicating, seriously mind-altering, occasionally hallucinogenic and potentially lethal. No less than 56 detailed recipes for spiked wine can be found in Book V of Dioscorides’ Materia Medica, an ancient pharmacopoeia, whose author lived at the exact same time that the Gospels themselves were being written in the first century AD.

So the Greeks may have been sampling something far stronger than wine. But why would Christians have wanted to follow a Greek or Greek-tinged lineage? What’s the connection?
The world into which Jesus and the earliest Christians were born was swimming with Greek influence. Especially around Dionysus: the quintessential Greek god of wine and ecstasy. John’s Gospel goes to great lengths, as a matter of fact, to portray Jesus as a kind of second coming of Dionysus. The well-known water-to-wine miracle, for example, has been described by biblical scholars as the “signature miracle” of Dionysus. I dedicate a chapter to comparing the wine of Dionysus – which was described as “blood” by several ancient authors, including Timotheus of Miletus 400 years before Jesus – with the wine of Jesus, which becomes the literal “blood” of Jesus during the Mass. Some Greek Christian would have interpreted the Last Supper – which occurred indoors – as an invitation to bring Dionysus’ [spiked wine] sacrament into their own homes.

The book discusses an unusual finding in Pompeii, dated to around the time of Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD. Why is it so important? . . .

Continue reading.

I’m told that St. John was more influenced by Jewish tradition (Passover wine, for example) than Greek thought. The drive to make the influence Greek was to some degree propelled by antisemitism.

And Greeks drank their wine watered. Drinking wine neat was thought to be dangerous — Odysseus served unwatered wine to Polyphenus (the Cyclops) to render him unconscious, and Herodotus tells of how Cleomenes, driven made by drinking neat wine, committed suicide by cutting himself to pieces. From Wikipedia:

Wine was almost always diluted, usually with water (or snow when the wine was to be served cold). The Greeks believed that only barbarians drank unmixed or undiluted wine and that the Spartan king Cleomenes I was once driven insane after drinking wine this way.[2] They also believed that undiluted wine could even kill the drinker: the Gallic chieftain Brennus was recorded as having committed suicide by drinking wine full-strength.[14] Greeks asserted that the dilution of wine with water was a mark of civilized behavior, whose contrast was embodied in the myth of the battle of Lapiths with the Centaurs, inflamed to rape and mayhem because of wine drunk undiluted with water.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2020 at 12:54 pm

Rabbi David Wolpe: Jewish Wisdom — an interview with David Pell

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David Pell has a podcast of his interview with Rabbi David Wolope, and he thoughtfully includes a transcript. The interview begins:

Newsweek Magazine once called Rabbi Wolpe the most influential rabbi in America. He is the Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and he’s the author of eight books including one about King David and another gem called Why Be Jewish? I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed preparing for an interview so much. I’m named after King David, but until this interview, I hadn’t explored the history of my name in more than a decade.

This interview touches on various parts of Judaism including how rabbis should interpret the Bible, what we can learn from King David, and how Judaism anchors us when a loved one dies. There were two parts that I’ll always remember. The first was a discussion about the concept of aloneness in Judaism. On one hand, the book of Deuteronomy says: “It is not because you are the most numerous of peoples that I have set my heart upon you and treasured you—indeed, you are the fewest.” On the other, community is everywhere in Jewish life and the first thing God called not good in the Bible is loneliness — “It is not good for the man to be alone (Gen 2:18).” Secondly, I enjoyed our conversation about repentance in the Jewish faith and how you must repent after a loved one dies but also have to stop after 11 months. If this conversation interests you, I recommend his sermons on YouTube and the book I mentioned before called: Why Be Jewish? . . .

David: Preparing for this interview has sparked a lot of really interesting conversations. But I think the most interesting one was I called my father and I said, “Why did you name me David?” He said that one of the three reasons was that it was Jewish enough that it was Jewish, but it wasn’t so Jewish that it was obviously Jewish. There’s something very Jewish about naming your kid in that way. In a way that is enough of the tradition that you’re part of the sacred lineage of people going all the way back to the time of Moses. But also something that is subtle and that is discreet because of the oppression that Jews have historically faced.

Rabbi Wolpe: Well, there is among Jews … It’s not unique to Jews, but it’s certainly significant to Jews. There is self-hatred and self-shame of different degrees that has afflicted Jews throughout the generations. Some Jews try very hard to hide it. There’s a great story about Ben Hecht. He was a screenwriter. He was a famous personality in Hollywood. He wrote a lot of famous movies. When Israel was founded, he was a very proudly identified Jew. He went around to collect money for Israel. He went to David O. Selznick, the producer, and he said, “I want you to give money for Israel.” Selznick said, “I’m sorry. I don’t think of myself as Jewish.” Hecht said, “I’ll tell you what, I want you to pick up the phone and call 10 of your non-Jewish friends and say to each of them, am I Jewish?” If any of them says, no, I won’t bother you again. Selznick wrote him a check.

Because even when Jews have tried to hide it, the world thinks of them as Jewish. There is a sort of sadness and a quixotic effort to pretend we’re not Jewish when everyone knows we are. This, I’ll be Jewish, but not too obviously Jewish is one way of Jews saying, “I want to be part of this society without entirely giving up what I am.” That’s a struggle that Jews have had ever since they’ve been a minority in a majority culture.

David: You could call it Jew-ish.

Rabbi Wolpe: Yes. Just so. Jew-ish.

David: Is that something that you see as much in Israel as you see in, say America or in Europe? Or is it something that happens when Jews feel like they’re a real minority?

Rabbi Wolpe: Well, something else happens in Israel, which is not the same phenomenon. It’s a different phenomenon. That is, that a lot of young, especially young Israelis think of themselves not as Jewish but as Israeli. That Israeli is its own characteristics. They’re not religious and they think of Jewish as the religious part, but they are Israeli. There is a different kind of identification that goes with being in Israel that’s not exactly analogous to the way Jews have felt in Europe or in the United States.

David: You wrote in, I believe 1995, a nice little book called Why Be Jewish? My favorite line in there was, if you wish to know the character of a people, look to its heroes. How have the heroes of the Jewish tradition changed since you started practicing being a rabbi?

Rabbi Wolpe: The biggest change I think, I would say there are two. One is that … I’m not sure that this is since I started practicing as a rabbi. But I think in the last 100 years, they’ve changed to a great extent from religious to political. Heroes became Zionist heroes. Or for Jews, not so much today, the more they know about it, but FDR was a hero. Before that, the heroes were generally religious figures. Not exclusively, but generally. That’s one difference. Then the second difference is that Jewish figures, to the extent that they succeed in the secular world become Jewish heroes. Einstein is a Jewish hero and he’s a Jewish hero because he’s succeeded outside the Jewish world. I think that also has changed to some extent, although again, it was always true a little bit. It’s much truer now.

I think you would be very hard-pressed to think since the death of Elie Wiesel to maybe Sharansky is the only one that I can think of who is a Jewish hero who’s identified for his Judaism that is accepted all across the Jewish world. Very, very hard to find such a person. There used to be a lot of them, but now there aren’t. I think as I said, maybe Sharansky is the only one.

David: Is that something to be worried about, to be concerned about? Because this is something that I struggle with with Judaism. I went to Hebrew school growing up and I so distinctly remember stories about how you have to knock on the rabbi’s door three times and get rejected twice before you can be admitted to the faith. I contrast that with my Christian friends who are so explicit about conversion, some of them. For them, there’s this metric basically like, we are successful in so far as we’re growing the religion. When you take a story like that, on one hand, I’m like, “That’s really concerning.” Maybe Jews were losing this faith. I remember a song that we used to sing in day school. It was, the words in English, I forget what the Hebrew was, it was keep the dream alive. It was sort of trying to keep the religion alive. But at the same time there aren’t those conversion rituals. I’m ambivalent here about how to interpret what you just said.

Rabbi Wolpe: . . .

Continue reading — or listening (at the link).

Written by LeisureGuy

12 October 2020 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Daily life, Religion

Characteristics of Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic (WEIRD) societies

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A couple of papers. First, the abstract from a paper in Behavioral and Brain Science:

Abstract: Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world’s top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers – often implicitly – assume that either there is little variation across human populations, or that these “standard subjects” are as representative of the species as any other population. Are these assumptions justified? Here, our review of the comparative database from across the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial variability in experimental results across populations and that WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species – frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Many of these findings involve domains that are associated with fundamental aspects of psychology, motivation, and behavior – hence, there are no obvious a priori grounds for claiming that a particular behavioral phenomenon is universal based on sampling from a single subpopulation. Overall, these empirical patterns suggests that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity. We close by proposing ways to structurally re-organize the behavioral sciences to best tackle these challenges.

And the abstract of a paper in Science, the publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science:

Cultural evolution

There is substantial variation in psychological attributes across cultures. Schulz et al. examined whether the spread of Catholicism in Europe generated much of this variation (see the Perspective by Gelfand). In particular, they focus on how the Church broke down extended kin-based institutions and encouraged a nuclear family structure. To do this, the authors developed measures of historical Church exposure and kin-based institutions across populations. These measures accounted for individual differences in 20 psychological outcomes collected in prior studies.

Science, this issue p. eaau5141; see also p. 686

Structured Abstract


A growing body of research suggests that populations around the globe vary substantially along several important psychological dimensions and that populations characterized as Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) are particularly unusual. People from these societies tend to be more individualistic, independent, and impersonally prosocial (e.g., trusting of strangers) while revealing less conformity and in-group loyalty. Although these patterns are now well documented, few efforts have sought to explain them. Here, we propose that the Western Church (i.e., the branch of Christianity that evolved into the Roman Catholic Church) transformed European kinship structures during the Middle Ages and that this transformation was a key factor behind a shift towards a WEIRDer psychology.


Our approach integrates three insights. First, anthropological evidence suggests that diverse kin-based institutions—our species’s most fundamental institutions—have been the primary structure for organizing social life in most societies around the world and back into history. With the origins of agriculture, cultural evolution increasingly favored intensive kinship norms related to cousin marriage, clans, and co-residence that fostered social tightness, interdependence, and in-group cooperation. Second, psychological research reveals that people’s motivations, emotions, and perceptions are shaped by the social norms they encounter while growing up. Within intensive kin-based institutions, people’s psychological processes adapt to the collectivistic demands of their dense social networks. Intensive kinship norms reward greater conformity, obedience, and in-group loyalty while discouraging individualism, independence, and impersonal motivations for fairness and cooperation. Third, historical research suggests that the Western Church systematically undermined Europe’s intensive kin-based institutions during the Middle Ages (for example, by banning cousin marriage). The Church’s family policies meant that by 1500 CE, and likely centuries earlier in some regions, Europe lacked strong kin-based institutions and was instead dominated by relatively independent and isolated nuclear or stem families.

Our theory predicts that populations with (i) a longer historical exposure to the medieval Western Church or less intensive kin-based institutions will be more individualistic, less conforming, and more impersonally prosocial today; and (ii) longer historical exposure to the Western Church will be associated with less-intensive kin-based institutions.


We test these predictions at three levels. Globally, we show that countries with longer historical exposure to the medieval Western Church or less intensive kinship (e.g., lower rates of cousin marriage) are more individualistic and independent, less conforming and obedient, and more inclined toward trust and cooperation with strangers (see figure). Focusing on Europe, where we compare regions within countries, we show that longer exposure to the Western Church is associated with less intensive kinship, greater individualism, less conformity, and more fairness and trust toward strangers. Finally, comparing only the adult children of immigrants in European countries, we show that those whose parents come from countries or ethnic groups that historically experienced more centuries under the Western Church or had less intensive kinship tend to be more individualistic, less conforming, and more inclined toward fairness and trust with strangers.


This research suggests that contemporary psychological patterns, ranging from individualism and trust to conformity and analytical thinking, have been influenced by deep cultural evolutionary processes, including the Church’s peculiar incest taboos, family policies, and enduring kin-based institutions.

Click the links to see the papers.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 September 2020 at 6:53 pm

Why Is Our Country So Divided (and What Can We Do About It)?

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The previous post quoted Spencer Critchley. Jeff Nilsson recently discussed his book in the Saturday Evening Post :

The name of our nation claims we are united, but one could compile a history of America just by chronicling our civil conflicts. Starting with the clash over the independence movement, Americans have been bitterly divided over tradition, faith, morals, and the rights of people of color, women, the poor, immigrants, and other groups. And, of course, we are divided between political parties.

Today, there’s a deep gulf in American opinion, which seems to be growing wider and deeper.Back in 1994, a Pew Research Poll reported that the partisan split over racial discrimination, immigration, and international relations was 15 percent. By 2017, it was 36 percent.

Spencer Critchley, author of Patriots of Two Nations: Why Trump Was Inevitable and What Happens Next, says that behind many of our arguments lie polarized views of the world that go back to our earliest days.

Critchley explains that on one side are the followers of Enlightenment, who believe in science, reason, and the rule of law. It was enlightenment thinkers who framed our government and wrote our Constitution. Today’s followers of the enlightenment believe in a “civic nation,” founded on a social contract between the individual and the state. The citizen exchanges a measure of personal liberty for membership in a mutually supportive society.

On the other side are followers of the Counter-Enlightenment, who believe a focus on reason is too constraining. It doesn’t account for culture, art, tradition, spirituality — the elements that bring richness to life. This group believes in an “ethnic nation,” which is rooted in their race and culture. While this focus can appeal to bigots, counter-enlightenment people are not necessarily racist. In an interview with the Post, he said,“Many thoughtful people come from the counter-enlightenment world view.”

The gap between the two world views is so great that Critchley, a former campaign advisor to Barack Obama, says that it has created alienation and suspicion, helped on by politicians and the media playing on resentments. “Much of the division has been exaggerated,” he says. “A lot of money can be made by making people angry and afraid.”

Yet there are a considerable number of Americans who have embraced the extremes of ideology. At the far extremes of counter-enlightenment are white supremacists. At the other extreme are people who Critchley says believe in “identity policing, endless litigating, political correctness, and punishing people for not being ‘woke’ enough.”

Critchley, who considers himself part of the enlightenment crowd, is aware of how easy it is to dismiss the opposing points of view. He says, “We live lives of high rationalism most of the time. We think in terms of facts, logic, productivity. We tend to believe facts and logic explain everything.”

The two groups’ attitudes toward culture is significant, he adds. “Enlightenment people can become disconnected from any particular culture. This is part of what’s behind the ‘globalist’ charge. Sometimes that refers to the global financial elite, and sometimes it’s veiled antisemitism, but it can also point to this sense of cultural emptiness.” Critchley says that globalism is a concept that disconnects people from the symbols and traditions that shape their lives. Critchley compares it to the campaign to teach Esperanto, “the international language.” He wonders at “the idea that anyone would want to speak a language rooted in no culture at all.”

What is true in language is also true of history, art, and human psychology. Counter-Enlightenment people “would argue that people are inherently subjective and tied to a particular location.” Culture is crucial.

Says Critchley, “The Democratic party — I’ve seen it up close — is sometimes stuck in a science-driven world. They’re really good at using science and coming up with solutions.” But they can be oblivious to culture.

“A lot of liberals would be surprised that while more than 90 percent of Blacks consider themselves Democrats, only about a quarter would define themselves as liberal.” Critchley says that they need to recognize “there are many cultures alive in the Black community.”

The current level of social friction threatens  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Here’s the sidebar to the article:

Solving Our Long Division Problem

In his book, Critchley makes several suggestions for talking with fellow Americans of opposing political beliefs.

  1. Right from the start, show respect, good will, and vulnerability. Leave your defenses behind and show you’re ready to be honest and authentic.
  2. Control the natural human instinct to judge people who disagree with you. Just be aware of what they’re saying without trying to correct them. You can return to your differences later, maybe, after you’ve established trust.
  3. Look for your points of agreement. De-emphasize the differences. Trust can grow from shared values.
  4. Focus on building trust, not making points. When ideological opponents can stop vilifying each other, and can stop viewing different viewpoints as evil, American society can resume the work of compromise and progress.
  5. Don’t expect opposition to disappear. The point is not to eliminate conflict but to repair our society’s ability to handle it constructively.


Written by LeisureGuy

25 September 2020 at 9:55 am

Greek Orthodox Bishop in Cyprus: Masks Will Turn Children into Demons

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Sometimes it’s hard to be hopeful. And facts seem to be an ineffective way to convince to change beliefs, which leaves me not knowing what can be done. Gregory Pappas writes in

A Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus encouraged his faithful to not allow their children to wear masks because they’d become demons.

Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou, a member of the Holy Synod of the autocephalous Church of Cyprus suggested that kids would be better off staying home— even for a few years— instead of having to wear masks in school.

He simultaneously poked fun at the “European education” that kids were getting in school and encouraged parents to homeschool their kids.

Neophytos has been an outspoken critic of civil measures to control the spread of the Coronavirus in Cyprus.

In April, despite the government’s ban on religious celebrations, he celebrated a liturgy that was forced to stop by police. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2020 at 9:02 am

The Destructive Conspiracy Theory That Victoria Unleashed Upon the World

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I didn’t realize that this conspiracy theory/illusion had its roots in Victoria. Jen Gerson reports in The Capital:

his month, US president Donald Trump was asked an offhand question about QAnon. “I’ve heard these are people that love our country… so I don’t know, really anything about it, other than they do supposedly like me,” he said during a press briefing. “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.”

It may seem like an innocuous remark, but it’s hard to imagine it was genuine. QAnon is the purveyor of one of the wildest and most pervasive conspiracy theories running through American politics. Based on the cryptic ravings of an anonymous imageboard user named “Q,” the theory’s adherents believe that Donald Trump is working to ferret out a global satanic pedophilic sex ring secretly supported by elements of the Democratic Party and the “deep state” within the U.S. government.

The group is now holding rallies in numerous cities, ostensibly to combat child sex trafficking. At least one open QAnon believer, Marjorie Taylor Greene, has won a Republican primary in Georgia to run for the House of Representatives. Trump, of course, tweeted his support: “Marjorie is strong on everything and never gives up – a real WINNER!”

QAnon may sound like  something that could only have birthed in the darker corners of the internet. But QAnon predates president Donald Trump and even the internet itself;  It’s just the latest iteration of a moral panic that swept the highest levels of Western society only a generation ago. One  of the most polarizing and divisive social movements in modern history; it destroyed families, turned communities against one another, and sent numerous innocent men and women to prison.

And it all started in Victoria, BC.

It was known as the Satanic Panic; a conspiracy theory that convinced millions of well meaning and rational people that a secret cabal of Satanists had infiltrated the highest echelons of society in order to sexually molest children. The Satanists were accused of sacrificing animals and using women as “breeders” to create an endless supply of dead babies for use in their gory, bloody-fuelled rituals and orgies.

It destroyed lives and ripped apart families. Reports of ritualistic child abuse were reported across the English speaking-world. Almost all of them were eventually found to have been partially, or wholly fabricated, but not before dozens of innocent people were falsely accused, and sentenced to years and even decades in prison.

Born of a genuine historical injustice — society’s neglect of childhood sexual abuse — this was a panic that saw some of the world’s smartest minds taken in by accusations, that, at their root, were as preposterous as any raised during medieval European witch hunts. It  was legitimized by a professional class, captivated law enforcement and proved itself a lucrative grift for fraudsters and attention seekers. Worse, as the conspiracy grew under its own weight and influence, the hysteria inspired real and horrific crimes — usually by disturbed teenagers who claimed they were sacrificing humans to Satan.

This is a case study of how badly off the rails we can go when we allow our best intentions and passions to overwhelm us.

The story begins in 1980, with the publication of a book called Michelle Remembers. It detailed the fantastic claims of Michelle Proby, who recounted several months of gory and sadistic ritualistic abuse at the hands of a cabal of Satanists when she was a child in 1950s Victoria. The memories, she alleged, were repressed for decades, until she sought help from psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder. Under a state of hypnosis, Proby began to uncover a horrifying tale of murder, torture, abduction, and molestation. She claimed to have been taken from her willing family and groomed to take part in a ritual to call the devil — one in which she witnessed the murder of children, was forced to eat human remains, covered in dead baby parts, and locked in a cage with snakes.

An explosive bestseller. Michelle Remembers would become the folkloric template for countless other claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse ostensibly uncovered during therapy during the 80s and 90s.

On its face, the book seems too implausible to take seriously. But neither Michelle Proby nor Lawrence Pazder gave anyone the impression of being loony, hysterical, or liars. Proby was a married woman living an ordinary life in Victoria. Measured and even-tempered, with close cropped curly dark hair and a soft-spoken, feminine lilt to her speech.

Pazder, her psychiatrist, was by all accounts a brilliant family man, a respected professional psychologist and a devout Catholic.

In 1973, Proby began to visit Pazder to seek treatment for depression. After four years of regular therapy sessions, the pair had worked through Proby’s ordinary childhood issues and, it was clear, that their sessions were coming to a natural close. Then, in 1976,  Proby suffered a miscarriage and began to experience horrible nightmares. Pazder was called in to help.

“I had a bad dream last week,” she said in one of these first sessions, as described in Michelle Remembers.

“A bad dream?” replied Pazder.

“Yes … a very bad dream,” she said before describing a terrifying dream about scratching an itch on her hand only to have the skin rupture with spiders. “Little spiders, just pouring out of the skin on my hand. It was just –I can’t even tell you how it was.”

From there, the sessions began to delve into increasingly bizarre territory. Proby would slip into a kind of hypnotic trance, in which she began to recount long-forgotten events in the childlike voice of her five-year-old self.  . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2020 at 10:54 am

Vatican continues program of protecting pedophile profligate priests

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Michelle Boorstein has a disappointed albeit unsurprising report in the Washington Post about the Vatican’s continuing effort to protect the pedophiles in its hierarchy:

Nine months after West Virginia’s Catholic bishop ordered a historic restitution plan for his predecessor, who is accused of misusing millions in church money and sexually harassing fellow clerics, the Vatican has approved much-reduced reparations, including an apology letter that takes no direct responsibility.

Bishop Michael J. Bransfield stepped down in September 2018 as leader of the Wheeling-Charleston diocese amid allegations that he spent millions of church dollars on personal extravagances and gifts to fellow clerics and that he harassed seminarians and young priests who worked for him. After an internal Vatican investigation concluded that the allegations were true, Bishop Mark Brennan, Bransfield’s successor in West Virginia, drew up a restitution plan in November that he said would be “an act of restorative justice” for Bransfield to accept. “It is also for his own spiritual good and his own healing as a man who professes to follow Christ,” Brennan wrote last fall.

The Bransfield report: Post publishes secret Vatican document as parishioners demand answers

But on Thursday, Brennan’s office announced the final plan approved by the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops, which sharply reduces the money Bransfield was supposed to pay the diocese — money that was to be set aside for victims of abuse. The initial plan called for him to pay $792,638; the Vatican deal agreed to $441,000, according to a letter Brennan wrote to the diocese.

Brennan called last fall for Bransfield to lose his church-paid health care and the normal $6,200-per-month retirement package for bishops and instead receive the monthly stipend of a retired priest who had worked 13 years, about $736 per month. The Vatican deal means West Virginia will still cover Bransfield’s health insurance, and his monthly stipend was lowered to $2,250.

Brennan had also called for Bransfield to apologize to diocesan staff, Catholics of the diocese and those he allegedly sexually harassed “for the severe emotional and spiritual harm his actions caused.”

Bransfield’s “letter to the faithful,” dated Aug. 15, instead says he is sorry “for any scandal or wonderment caused by words or actions attributed to me.”

He acknowledges being reimbursed by the diocese for personal expenditures “that have been called into question as excessive.” He has “been advised” to pay back the money, his letter says, and “I have now done so even though I believed that such reimbursements to me were proper.” The church money he spent included a $15,000 gift to a cardinal in Rome to improve his apartment there and $4.6 million to renovate his Wheeling residence after a fire damaged one bathroom.

In the letter the Vatican approved, Bransfield said there are allegations that some priests and seminarians “feel sexually harassed.” He added: “Although that was never my intent, if anything I said or did caused others to feel that way, then I am profoundly sorry.”

Catholic seminarians are newly speaking out about sexual misconduct — and being shunned as a result

At least six of Bransfield’s clerical assistants in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston “were broken by the experience” of their superior’s harassment, one of his assistants told investigators in the internal church investigation.

Bransfield has denied wrongdoing all along, and he expressed shock last fall at Brennan’s restitution proposal. Reached earlier this month by The Post, he declined to comment, saying only that he was confident a deal would be reached.

The Vatican media office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on why the Congregation of Bishops softened Brennan’s proposed restitution. Asked Thursday for comment about how Brennan felt, his office referred to his letter to the diocese, in which he said he had been able to offer “extensive input, as the representative of the Catholic people of the Diocese.” Brennan also cited “consideration of governing factors in both civil and canon law.”

Vincent DeGeorge, a former West Virginia seminarian who says Bransfield kissed and groped him and pressured him to sleep over and watch porn, wrote Thursday that his former bishop’s statement “does not meet the basic conditions of Catholic contrition, or apology.” The statement added: “In the Catholic tradition, we do not apologize for actions ‘attributed to’ us or for hypothetical ‘ifs.’ ”

DeGeorge also noted that the internal church investigation . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 August 2020 at 11:11 am

How to talk to conspiracy theorists—and still be kind

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To the comments in this article, I would add a suggestion: if you have a strongly hostile and angry reaction to someone who believes a conspiracy theory that to you is quite obviously false, then it’s worth spending some time and introspection into figuring out why you are responding so strongly. Some respond as though they are being personally attacked if a person professes belief in some theory that on the face of it is outlandishly stupid. But that belief is clearly not a personal attack, so take a few deep breaths, step aside, calm down, and see whether you can figure out what is going on in you.

Tany Basu writes in  MIT Technology Review:

On May 4, a slick, 26-minute video was released, alleging that the coronavirus was actually a laboratory-manipulated virus deployed to wreak havoc so that a resulting vaccine could be used for profit. None of that was true, and Plandemic’s claims were thoroughly, repeatedly debunked. Still, it went viralgetting liked on Facebook 2.5 million times. Soon after, another conspiracy theory took hold: Bill Gates’s plan was to control vaccination efforts that would include tracking people via implanted microchips activated by 5G cellular towers. Again, obviously not true.

But a Pew Research Center survey of US adults found that 36% thought these conspiracy theories were probably or definitely true. Perhaps some of those people are your family, your friends, your neighbors.

So how do you talk to a person who believes a conspiracy theory? This is something that the members of one of the internet’s most vibrant communities, r/ChangeMyView, deal with on a daily basis. This is the place on Reddit where people go to have their own beliefs challenged, and it is known as a calm, moderate place for debate.

We asked some of its most active users, as well as some conspiracy theory researchers, for their tips.


It’s very human and normal to believe in conspiracy theories. “Conspiracy theories resonate with us all, to some extent,” says Rob Brotherton, a psychologist who’s written two books on conspiracy theories and fake news. It’s a defense mechanism: we’re primed to be suspicious and afraid of things that can’t be explained.

No one is above conspiracy theories—not even you. Brotherton cites the “third-person effect,” the hypothesis that people tend to think the average person will be much more influenced by fake news or conspiracy theories than they are themselves. But though you might think of yourself as smarter than your aunt on Facebook, and while there is evidence that education combats belief in conspiracy theories, the truth is that none of us are perfectly immune to them. Multiple members of r/ChangeMyView said they’ve been personally changed by this humility, and that it’s helped them to talk to people who believe in conspiracy theories.

No single demographic is most prone to conspiracy theories. “I’ve seen plenty of representation from white, Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Indigenous people,” one Redditor, ihatedogs2, told me. “Plenty of women, LGBTQ+ people, and people with all kinds of careers. Many different countries, too. In terms of political leanings there is also a great variety, with liberals, conservatives, socialists, libertarians, communists, fascists, and more.”

Social distancing makes conspiracy theories more appealing. Joan Donovan, a disinformation expert at Harvard University, says coronavirus conspiracy theories offer a sense of community in the face of social distancing. “Images of sick people, empty shelves, ventilators—these are all things that have been serious traumas for us,” Donovan says. Without friends or family around, people have found social media especially engaging, and they have drawn comfort from the explanations that conspiracy theories provide.

They all contain a kernel of truth. “There’s something verifiable in there somewhere—some information that’s layered with dangerous speculation,” Donovan says. For example, the 5G conspiracy theory can be traced to a paper published in December in Science Translational Medicine about “quantum dots,” particles emitting near-infrared light, that could be embedded in skin to record vaccinations. But the lead author of the paper, Kevin McHugh, told NPR that there was no tracking or microchips involved: “I don’t even know where that comes from. All the quantum dots [do is] produce light.” A kernel of truth, stuffed in a conspiracy theory.

Conspiracy theories tend to involve a dangerous “other.” Donovan says a common underpinning of these theories is racism. “Disinformation falls into ‘What they don’t want you to know about,’” she says. And who they refers to “tends to be racialized.”

Everyone is an influencer. And that’s good and bad. The anti-vax movement found its strength in celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, who were able to use their platform to magnify their cause. Now, YouTube and podcasting have been able to take what were once fringe views into the mainstream, says Donovan. But that also means that there are lots of debunking sources at your disposal.


  1. Always, always speak respectfully. Every single person I spoke to said that without respect, compassion, and empathy, no one will open their mind or heart to you. No one will listen.
  2. Go private. Donovan says that when she sees someone post something problematic on social media, she doesn’t pile on in the comments section. “I might send someone a text or reach out in a personalized way through DMs rather than post on their wall,” she says. That prevents discussion from getting embarrassing for the poster, and it implies a genuine compassion and interest in conversation rather than a desire for public shaming.
  3. Test the waters first. That way you save yourself time and energy. “You can ask what it would take to change their mind, and if they say they will never change their mind, then you should take them at their word and not bother engaging,” r/ChangeMyView moderator ihatedogs2 told me. In fact, the subreddit has a list of behaviors that indicate if a person is not genuinely open to discussion.
  4. Agree. Remember the kernel of truth? Conspiracy theories often feature elements that everyone can agree on. Establish those to help build trust and an “I’m on your side” vibe to prep for the stickier stuff to come.
  5. Try the “truth sandwich.” Use the fact-fallacy-fact approach, a method first proposed by linguist George Lakoff. “State what’s true, debunk the conspiracy theory, and state what’s true again,” Donovan says. For example, if you’re talking to someone who believes the 5G conspiracy theory, you could structure your argument as “Coronavirus is an airborne virus, which means it is passed by sneezing, coughing, or particles. Because viruses are not transmitted via radio waves, coronavirus, which is an airborne virus, can’t be carried by 5G.” It’s repetitive, but it reinforces facts and points out where the conspiracy theory doesn’t work.
  6. Or use the Socratic method. In other words, use questions to help others probe their own argument and see if it stands up. Stuart Johnson, a mod on r/ChangeMyView, says that this is by far the most effective approach he’s found, as it challenges people to come up with sources and defend their position themselves. “The best way to change someone’s view is to make them feel like they’ve uncovered it themselves,” he says. That means engaging in back-and-forth questions and answers until you hit a dead end, gently pointing out inconsistencies. Studies show that people often think they know more about a policy than they let on, and the Socratic method can reveal those inconsistencies. Research shows this tactic can prevent one party from feeling attacked.
  7. Be very careful with loved ones. Every single person I spoke to hesitated when asked how to confront a loved one, like a parent or sibling, who believes in conspiracy theories. Many said they back off if the relationship is extremely close. “You have to perform a calculation on whether it’s worth it to engage,” ihatedogs2 told me. “How deeply do they believe it? How harmful is their belief?” It can be tough, but biting your tongue and picking your battles can help your mental health too. As another r/ChangeMyView user, Canada Constitution, put it: “A harmonious Thanksgiving is preferable to fights over social media.”
  8. Realize that some people don’t want to change, no matter the facts. In highly politicized areas, researchers have found, some people rationalize their belief system—even if reality counters it—simply because it’s difficult to be in the wrong. Canada Constitution once ran into this in trying to talk to someone who thought psychiatric medication was a conspiracy: “No matter how many peer-reviewed studies I pulled up, they would not budge. Rather than get frustrated, I took the opportunity to ask them further questions to understand their beliefs.” Taking this approach not only helps you refine your argument but also is more compassionate.
  9. If . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2020 at 2:22 pm

What if a friend or family member drifts into conspiracy ideation?

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The Eldest shared in Facebook a post by David Troy, CEO at 410 Labs, Curator at TEDx, a former speaker at TED. Troy writes:

In the last week, I have heard from multiple friends who are concerned about family, friends or other loved ones who seem to be losing their grip on reality and falling into conspiracy thinking and other destructive online communities.

As someone who studies this closely, I believe radicalization is accelerating right now. Some conspiracy communities (such as QAnon) have created powerful incentives for participation and can take people from no exposure to a break from reality in a matter of just a few weeks. This is not something to brush off.

For those of you left in the position of wanting to help but are not sure what to do, it is useful to first understand the problem: it is not a “beliefs” problem but a social problem. People get pulled into these communities because they feel alienated, and are looking for sense-making and connection. It is often driven by an overwhelming fear that “we aren’t being told the truth,” and the feelings of having been deceived that come with that. That tends to be a powerful driver of radicalization and can quickly re-wire people’s social landscape.

Individuals become enmeshed in this new world of fake truth-tellers and movements that seem to provide connection and identity, but these relationships are not real: anything requiring actual time or money is out of reach for this fake network of support. Family and longtime friends, by contrast, are real and persist. The challenge comes when people begin to confuse this new identity with their “old” one.

The worst thing you can do to someone who has been pulled into these networks is to attack them, or focus too much on correcting their false “beliefs.” The ideas are secondary artifacts of the social pathology.

Instead, it is necessary to aid them in minimizing their connection to the destructive network while bolstering their ties to their “real world” support network. This can be done by asking open-ended, respectful questions, and leaving space for answers. “You seem to have really changed your thinking a lot lately. Can you tell me more about what’s behind that?” or “Wow, I’ve never heard that point of view until now. Are you sure that’s really true?”

Simultaneously, it is a good idea to reinforce ties to positive, stable life relationships. Maybe suggest a family outing, or find some way to spend more time with the person, away from online communities. Maybe suggest new hobbies or otherwise distance from destructive content channels, whether internet, tv, or radio. Help them find new patterns and habits, and always with love.

To be clear I am not a clinical expert on this; I just study radicalization behavior. But as part of that I have been working this year with Steven Hassan, who is one of the top experts on this topic in general and on cults in particular, and I have squared his work with my own studies and with other experts in the field. So I am echoing many of his ideas above. For more on this topic I am recommending his book “Freedom of Mind” as well as his website “freedomofmind. com.”

Americans in particular have a hard time with the relationship between individual and community. We mostly think in individual terms; if someone is acting strange, they have “mental health” problems and need “therapy” or drugs. And certainly therapy is an invaluable resource for all of us, and is frequently called for as part of helping people recover from undue influence.

But it is also important to understand that many kinds of individual pathologies are social in nature. We are the average of the people around us; so disrupted social ties can lead to disruptions in ourselves and in our outlook. We must properly understand online radicalization and conspiracy theories within this framework. People are falling into believing crazy ideas not because they are stupid, mentally ill, or because they lack critical thinking capacity or intellect. They are manifesting a lack of strong social connection, which in turn is born of a desire for meaning, connection, and identity.

If we focus on providing those core human needs then we address conspiracy radicalization at the same time. Our culture and social structures do not do a great job at meeting those needs, so it’s not surprising that in this time of massive uncertainty we are seeing a spike in radicalization. And many people are suffering from various kinds of trauma as well.

Please treat your friends and loved ones with care, help knit them better into normative social fabrics, and ramp down destructive channels. This will work far better than arguing with them or trying to “fix” their false statements. That will just make them dig in further, and will work against you. Consider also doing this in person or by video/phone, and off of social media, as online dynamics can often be counterproductive and destructive.

Please feel free to share this with anyone you think may benefit. Every situation is a bit different, so seek professional help as needed, but I do hope that having a little better understanding of the nature of the problem will be useful. Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 August 2020 at 8:15 am

How the US got that way

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Jonathan Chait explains in New York:

Last October, the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security compiled a ranking system to assess the preparedness of 195 countries for the next global pandemic. Twenty-one panel experts across the globe graded each country in 34 categories composed of 140 subindices. At the top of the rankings, peering down at 194 countries supposedly less equipped to withstand a pandemic, stood the United States of America.

It has since become horrifyingly clear that the experts missed something. The supposed world leader is in fact a viral petri dish of uncontained infection. By June, after most of the world had beaten back the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S., with 4 percent of the world’s population, accounted for 25 percent of its cases. Florida alone was seeing more new infections a week than China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, and the European Union combined.

During its long period of decline, the Ottoman Empire was called “the sick man of Europe.” The United States is now the sick man of the world, pitied by the same countries that once envied its pandemic preparedness — and, as recently as the 2014 Ebola outbreak, relied on its expertise to organize the global response.

Our former peer nations are now operating in a political context Americans would find unfathomable. Every other wealthy nation in the world has successfully beaten back the disease, at least significantly, and at least for now. New Zealand’s health minister was forced to resign after allowing two people who had tested positive for COVID-19 to attend a funeral. The Italian Parliament heckled Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte when he briefly attempted to remove his mask to deliver a speech. In May — around the time Trump cheered demonstrators into the streets to protest stay-at-home orders — Boris Johnson’s top adviser set off a massive national scandal, complete with multiple calls for his resignation, because he’d been caught driving to visit his parents during lockdown. If a Trump official had done the same, would any newspaper even have bothered to publish the story?

It is difficult for us Americans to imagine living in a country where violations so trivial (by our standards) provoke such an uproar. And if you’re tempted to see for yourself what it looks like, too bad — the E.U. has banned U.S. travelers for health reasons.

The distrust and open dismissal of expertise and authority may seem uniquely contemporary — a phenomenon of the Trump era, or the rise of online misinformation. But the president and his party are the products of a decades-long war against the functioning of good government, a collapse of trust in experts and empiricism, and the spread of a kind of magical thinking that flourishes in a hothouse atmosphere that can seal out reality. While it’s not exactly shocking to see a Republican administration be destroyed by incompetent management — it happened to the last one, after all — the willfulness of it is still mind-boggling and has led to the unnecessary sickness and death of hundreds of thousands of people and the torpedoing of the reelection prospects of the president himself. Like Stalin’s purge of 30,000 Red Army members right before World War II, the central government has perversely chosen to disable the very asset that was intended to carry it through the crisis. Only this failure of leadership and management took place in a supposedly advanced democracy whose leadership succumbed to a debilitating and ultimately deadly ideological pathology.

How did this happen? In 1973, Republicans trusted science more than religion, while Democrats trusted religion more than science. The reverse now holds true. In the meantime, working-class whites left the Democratic Party, which has increasingly taken on the outlook of the professional class with its trust in institutions and empiricism. The inflŭ of working-class whites (especially religiously observant ones) has pushed Republicans toward increasingly paranoid varieties of populism.

This is the conventional history of right-wing populism — that it was a postwar backlash against the New Deal and the Republican Party’s inability or unwillingness to roll it back. The movement believed the government had been subverted, perhaps consciously, by conspirators seeking to impose some form of socialism, communism, or world government. Its “paranoid style,” so described by historian Richard Hofstadter, became warped with anti-intellectualism, reflecting a “conflict between businessmen of certain types and the New Deal bureaucracy, which has spilled over into a resentment of intellectuals and experts.” Its followers seemed prone to “a disorder in relation to authority, characterized by an inability to find other modes for human relationship than those of more or less complete domination or submission.” Perhaps this sounds like someone you’ve heard of.

But for all the virulence of conservative paranoia in American life, without the sanction of a major party exploiting and profiting from paranoia, and thereby encouraging its growth, the worldview remained relatively fringe. Some of the far right’s more colorful adherents, especially the 100,000 reactionaries who joined the John Birch Society, suspected the (then-novel, now-uncontroversial) practice of adding small amounts of fluoride to water supplies to improve dental health was, in fact, a communist plot intended to weaken the populace. Still, the far right lacked power. Republican leaders held Joe McCarthy at arm’s length; Goldwater captured the nomination but went down in a landslide defeat. In the era of Sputnik, science was hardly a countercultural institution. “In the early Cold War period, science was associated with the military,” says sociologist Timothy O’Brien who, along with Shiri Noy, has studied the transformation. “When people thought about scientists, they thought about the Manhattan Project.” The scientist was calculating, cold, heartless, an authority figure against whom the caring, feeling liberal might rebel. Radicals in the ’60s often directed their protests against the scientists or laboratories that worked with the Pentagon.

But this began to change in the 1960s, along with everything else in American political and cultural life. New issues arose that tended to pit scientists against conservatives. Goldwater’s insouciant attitude toward the prospect of nuclear war with the Soviets provoked scientists to explain the impossibility of surviving atomic fallout and the formation of Scientists and Engineers for Johnson-Humphrey. New research by Rachel Carson about pollution and by Ralph Nader on the dangers of cars and other consumer products made science the linchpin of a vast new regulatory state. Business owners quickly grasped that stopping the advance of big government meant blunting the cultural and political authority of scientists. Expertise came to look like tyranny — or at least it was sold that way.

One tobacco company conceded privately in 1969 that it could not directly challenge the evidence of tobacco’s dangers but could make people wonder how solid the evidence really was. “Doubt,” the memo explained, “is our product.” In 1977, the conservative intellectual Irving Kristol urged business leaders to steer their donations away from public-interest causes and toward the burgeoning network of pro-business foundations. “Corporate philanthropy,” he wrote, “should not be, cannot be, disinterested.” The conservative think-tank scene exploded with reports questioning whether pollution, smoking, driving, and other profitable aspects of American capitalism were really as dangerous as the scientists said.

The Republican Party’s turn against science was slow and jagged, as most party-identity changes tend to be. The Environmental Protection Agency had been created under Richard Nixon, and its former administrator, Russell Train, once recalled President Gerald Ford promising to support whatever auto-emissions guidelines his staff deemed necessary. “I want you to be totally comfortable in the fact that no effort whatsoever will be made to try to change your position in any way,” said Ford — a pledge that would be unimaginable for a contemporary Republican president to make. Not until Ronald Reagan did Republican presidents begin letting business interests overrule experts, as when his EPA used a “hit list” of scientists flagged by industry as hostile. And even Reagan toggled between giving business a free hand and listening to his advisers (as he did when he signed a landmark 1987 agreement to phase out substances that were depleting the ozone layer and a plan the next year to curtail acid rain).

The party’s rightward tilt accelerated in the 1990s. “With the collapse of the . . .

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When the coronavirus began spreading in American cities, the Republican Party turned to a trained store of experts whose judgment conservatives trusted implicitly. Unfortunately, their expertise and training lay not in epidemiology but in concocting pseudoscientific rationales to allow conservatives to disregard legitimate scientific conclusions.

The cadres who leapt forth to supply Trump and his allies with answers disproportionately came from the science-skeptic wing of the conservative-think-tank world. Steven Milloy, a climate-science skeptic who runs a think tank funded by tobacco and oil companies and who served on Trump’s environmental transition team, dismissed the virus as less deadly than the flu. Libertarian philosopher Richard Epstein, who had once insisted, “The evidence in favor of the close linkage between carbon dioxide and global warming has not been clearly established,” turned his analytical powers to projected pandemic death tolls. He estimated just 500 American deaths, an analysis that was circulated within the Trump White House before Epstein issued a correction.

It was like watching factories mobilize for war, only instead of automakers refitting their assembly lines to churn out tanks, these were professional manufacturers of scientific doubt scrambling to invent a new form of pedantry. Some skeptics took note of the connection, though they seem to have drawn the wrong conclusion. “While they are occurring on vastly different time scales, the COVID-19 panic and the climate-change panic are remarkably similar,” wrote one of the climate-skeptical Heartland Institute’s pseudo-experts.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 July 2020 at 4:06 pm

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