Category Archives: Social Darwinism

The Problem of Choice in America — Roe V Wade, 40 years on…

Pro Life March

Lives Reduced to Numbers: Well done in striking one for hypocrisy everywhere, Dallas Pro-Lifers (Taken from The Guardian’s website)

I must confess, to you my brothers and sisters, my dirty little secret at last: I. Am. A. Recovering. Republican.

That’s right. Reagan became president when I was a wee slip of a toddler stumbling forth into the world and stayed in that Oval Office for the next eight years, until the man I thought at the time was his heir apparent assumed the throne and for me, this just seemed to be part of the natural circle of life. I just assumed that Reagan had reigned as a sort of Republican Emperor, a sort of Caesar for a while. What he stood for was part of The Holy Trinity of my childhood: Father, Mother and the Holy Right. I felt an unspoken, unarticulated loyalty to something I knew nothing about and, like Pope Benedict, had there been a Reagan Youth, I probably would have joined it because it seemed for a time like he represented a larger tradition of which my parents, my father vocally, formed a part.

Reagan Roe V Wade At 40

Glib arguments:Reagan was full of them, but they still don’t stand up to scrutiny. (taken from zazzle.co.uk)

Why do I make this digressive confession and risk losing my audience after the fourth sentence? Apart from the fact that it is characteristic of me to interpolate myself in an outdated, postmodern sort of way?

Because looking back, very little of my childhood makes sense. There was a number of years, possibly three, possibly four (the math gets fuzzy when I think of my Republican childhood), when my father, being an active member of our local church, organised coach trips to Washington D.C., annually, to march on the capital and demonstrate solidarity with… well I didn’t really know at first. For me, as a kid, jeez, it was an adventure. An adventure to march in our numbers against… Again I hadn’t a notion what why we were there. It was so hot most of the time I just hoped there was ice cream at the end of it all. And I was impressed by the buildings. I had a childlike inkling that I was in the presence of some great power both fascinating and well beyond my ken.

All I knew then was that my brother and I took our comic books and pack lunches, bundled on the back of a coach, met other Catholics on the bus and spent the day near the center of government in the free world. I observed several things through young and impressionable eyes. That for some people making similar pilgrimages from different parts of the country, this was a day of fancy dress, but for some reason, those marchers always chose the same costume, that of the grim hooded figure with a scythe on stilts. I always kept well clear of those Christian soldiers. Others carried posters that looked like they had emerged freshly from some horror films with bloodied and barely formed, lifeless infants. Those images hurt my eyes and thundered in my brain for ages afterwards.

Grim Reaper Roe V Wade at 40

Bogus: Surely an innocuous way to recruit the youth?

A movement that indoctrinates youth by desensitizing them to violent imagery and and demanding an unquestioning adherence that makes detractors sound cowardly? Remind anyone of any other historical movements?

Strange Times indeed.

Both my adoration of Reagan and the right and my steadfastly dogmatic and childlike support of the pro-life movement came to an eventual end, the former, oddly enough, far faster than the latter, which goes to show they are not one in the same, much they may seem like it. I got to be a teenager and I did what teenagers do, I questioned things. I had help along the way. I met a friend when my family uprooted from New Jersey to Pennsylvania, from strip malls to the boondocks and this friend had the most unlikely family to ever exist in the heart of the bible belt of the Pocono Mountains, with a Scottish intellectual medieval literature scholar for a father, an artist for a mother and a sister who would go on to work for the democratic party, there were times when I felt oddly like I had walked into the lion’s den, going over to my friend’s house for dinner. Did they corrupt me? I don’t think so. If they did, I needed corrupting, but I think all they did was help shine the light  a little brighter on the collection of ideas that had amassed in my mind at which I had never really looked very closely. After I started questioning, there was no going back. “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” And so it goes.

So it amazes me that in my country the issue of abortion still polarizes so badly. In fact, it seems, the issue is more divisive and corrosive than ever.

For the left, the right’s position is staked out by psychotics that bomb abortion clinics, kill doctors and care more about the unborn child than the ones that walk around as living, breathing sentient beings. This fanaticism and view of Pro-lifers as slightly unhinged is not without basis, especially considering the documented violence connected to doctors who perform the procedure and a quick read of Rick Santorum’s views on the politics of childbirth. But I loathe reductionism and to be fair to my father, while he was organizing parish coach trips to the capital, he was also putting in countless hours for Several Sources, a charity that provides shelter, help and advice to expectant mothers who have, because of difficult circumstances are tempted to have a termination, but have turned away from that option.

For the right, and I should know, having been a sheep that has long strayed from the fold, pro-choice supporters are murderers lobbying for abortions on demand as a source of some sort of dystopian population control. Glib arguments lash forth from their tongues about how “rape doesn’t justify MURDER”, “abortion stops a beating heart”, and about individuals who choose to have the procedure are tantamount to Nazis. And nothing moves forward in this language of fire and brimstone, but it does serve to ignite a populace’s collective temper. My parents are Catholics who believe in social justice, my father being a retired social worker. It confounded me that he was also a staunch Republican until I realized that his vote turned on the issue that also turned so many Kennedy Democrats into eventual Reagan Republicans: childbirth politics in America, which is what seems to connect my two childhood anecdotes that I started with, the idea that the conservative right has used this intensely incendiary issue to indoctrinate those who know no better and lasso  a tight hold around those that might otherwise stray from the collective by violently tying moral, personal values to good old, screw-the-poor, virtue-of-selfishness, social conservatism, embittering the taste in my mouth for either.

pro-life-demonstration

March For Life (Taken from schmoop.com)

Despite the issue rising up like a geyser every once in a while, it does not play a significant part in UK politics and oddly enough, we are the better for it over here. In 2011, the US recorded 20.8 abortions for every thousand pregnant women. Britain comes in significantly lower at 17.2, Scotland at 12.0, despite having legalized abortion six years before their American counterparts. To listen to the pro-life movement, you would think the NHS was doling them out.

If I speak with some bitterness and some certainty, it is because I speak also with a modicum of empirical authority, having to make the choice with my wife to terminate our unborn daughter’s life at 24 weeks. It was not a choice we took lightly and not one that I’d wish on anyone. But our baby’s liver had not grown, her body was not circulating fluid and neither her lung capacity nor her brain development would have been sustainable for any length of time. We chose what we did over her dying in my wife’s belly, or taking a few short breaths outside of it. We held our dead daughter that never lived, we buried her and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending played at her tiny funeral. We named her Pip and I weep bitter unutterable grief thinking about her.

But I also find it bitterly galling to see individuals presume to label and judge and pronounce about “murder” and “inviolability”. Our experience, if anything, made us more personally pro-life for ourselves. We would never have willingly chosen our situation, and no one who is pro-choice is pro-abortions, no one seriously wants abortions to happen, but at the time the situation chose us and we had to work within a very small space of limited choices. I’m thankful that Roe V Wade happened, not for most of the reasons that you hear volleying back and forth in high profile debates, but for all those reasons that you can’t think of and would wish never to need to think of, but for which every individual or individuals should have the freedom to make that most loathsome and difficult choice. I quoted from that old rascal St. Paul earlier and though Shakespeare warns us that “the devil can cite scripture for his purpose” I think that Damascan pilgrim gives some particularly good advice to those who would purport to follow him:

“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts of men.”

Whew! That was close… But why?

President Obama celebrates re-election

Jubilation as we Americans just about manage to make the sane choice for the second time in the last twelve years (Photo from ABC News)

And the rest of the world breathes a sigh of relief. Because this is a president with whom the world likes to talk. This is a president that has built bridges and restored our image. This is a president who realizes the value of international cooperation and of pragmatically building constructive relationships, even with former ‘enemies.’

That argument won’t sway many moderates or independents, who are, after all, the gold dust that campaigns painstakingly panhandle for before elections. It does matter, but it won’t sway most Americans. After all,  it was the economy, stupid, with a few issues to do with equal rights thrown in, moron. Which doesn’t square, I know, since more voters tended to say they trusted Romney with the economy than Obama, until you look at the demographics of the voters. In times of economic difficulty, conservatives have trouble convincing those less well off, who voted en masse for Obama, that they can provide jobs and economic security. It’s summed up well in the plutocratic image that Romney projected in the 47% video. Those living on significantly meaner incomes don’t generally think the conservative, especially the rich conservative, will give a damn about their situations.

And yet…

It does baffle me, not so much that the race was close, but that so many issues that still feature so prominently now seem so foreign to me, morally. I do understand there is a socially puritanical vein that runs deep in us, but not so deep that we willfully stand knee deep in the mire of the social stone age of the world while everyone else moves on. I offer below three such examples of issues that, really, we could do without in our politics.

  • Healthcare — This is that great fantastical, fire-breathing boogeyman of American politics. Mention it and watch Rush Limbaugh foam at the mouth and Karl Rove manipulatively asking hard-working Americans if they really want to pay for some freeloader’s healthcare? Of course you don’t, you’re a God-fearing American. I don’t not get the healthcare thing because I’m an expatriate. I don’t get the healthcare thing because we call it moral to take money from sick people and refuse to take sick people with no money. Paying more in taxes for universal healthcare is not giving a handout. It’s investing in your fellow human being. It’s time to welcome ourselves as a country, my compatriots, to the rest of the developed world as well as the human race. That way everyone has one thing guaranteed and one less obstacle to individual independence and initiative.
  • God — I have to admit, I was a bit surprised that Martha Raddatz asked about both Biden’s and Ryan’s Catholicism. It’s not her fault. She’s just the moderator, but we have to get over the idea that a person’s very personal religious beliefs should in any way be outwardly manifested in the way we govern ourselves. The more I hear the left talk about it, the more I think that the separation of church and state is the worst thing that ever happened to America. Do you know who the head of state is in the United Kingdom? The Queen. Do you know who is the head of The Church of England? The Queen. Do you know, in 2012, how high profile a role religion plays in British politics? It makes not a visible difference to a single issue. John Prescott, Tony Blair’s Deputy Prime Minister used to talk about how he likes to avoid all that “mumbo jumbo” and the current Labour leader has professed himself an atheist. Political suicide in America, but a passing novelty here. As it should be. We need to leave the personal beliefs of an individual firmly in the personal world of the individual.
  • Gay rights — I’m not saying homophobia no long exists in England. It does. Nor is the legal status of gay marriage necessarily any better here. But it is indeed courageous for a British Prime Minister to come out (tee hee) in support of gay marriage and promise to the electorate to  introduce legislation by the end of the year on it. But that is also suggestive of how socially liberal conservatives have to be in order to survive politically over here. We’ve had gay cabinet members including Peter Mandelson, and high-ranking conservatives turned journalists such as Mathew Parris. According to a Yougov poll, 71% of British voters support the introduction of gay marriage throughout the country.  And yet, for nearly half of Americans, it still seems to be an acceptable prejudice for no apparent reason. Legal recognition in three states in one election gives me great hope, but it also explains why the GOP are screaming unintelligible oaths about their country being overrun.

Four years ago, Obama ran on the idea of ‘Change.’ The next four years are supposed to be allowing him to ‘finish what was started.’ I hope for the sake of the country that he continues the great work in changing Americans’ attitudes towards issues like these.

As a reminder, I am still doing Movember and have raised £135 for research and awareness of men’s health issues. We are coming into the giving season and it is a worthwhile cause. Please follow the link to give:

Pete Lawler’s Movember Page

In honour of POTUS winning a second term, here is a special list of presidential mustaches:

The Best Presidential Mustaches

Mitt Romney: Truer American Historically? Possibly, but we are still making history

The Republican Presidential Nominee 2012

I’m on my way to the Meeting House… I mean White House to take charge around here (Photo taken from the Wall Street Journal’s website).

Many years ago, when I was a slip of a youth attending history lectures at Penn State University, one of my most brilliant and dynamic lecturers, Dr. Harold Aurand, said something that’s stuck with me. He probably didn’t think about it much at the time; it was more by way of instruction that he told us that America’s first two colonies were The Virginia Company and The Plymouth Colony. The first, founded in 1606, was a commercial venture, driven by the need to make money out of fertile unexploited land in ‘the new world’. The latter, founded in 1620, was a group of ‘pilgrims’ fleeing religious persecution and setting out to create a perfect puritan society, a low church utopia.

What struck me was that there you have the twin pillars upon which our fine nation has been founded: Religion and Profit. In the 90s, when I was attending university and ever since, it’s been a helpful filter through which to understand a lot of what goes on in my homeland, including the increasingly bewildering alignment of the extreme right with big business and major American corporations financing people like the moral majority and charter schools that have an austerely puritanical ethos.

And so it is with the GOP’s offering this year for the highest office in the land; he happens to be the two things most beloved by reactionary America: severely Christian and rich. I’m not holding either of those things against him personally, but extremist elements of the right have been misquoting history for years now starting with the “Tea Party” (terrorist act against the crown anyone?), so it is no surprise that the North Atlantic Tories have a special place in their hearts for Mitt.

I just worry.

Great as our nation is and great though our forefathers were, I have no desire to return to a society that outlaws general rabble-rousing, hunts down non-conformists as witches, and declares the church to be at the centre of society. Nor do I want to be a remote cog in some grand business plan, for I fear I would not last long as a cog always wanting to spin in different directions and fit into square holes as a round peg and whatnot. I want neither a business or a city on a hill out of my America and frankly, I’m sure there were many in Plymouth and Jamestown who felt the same.

And besides that, we have accomplished so many things since the days of cash crops and the intolerant north. From basketball to Broadway, tall tale to short story, Great American novel to Hollywood, Jazz to trip hop, the Hudson school to Ivy League schools, there is so much in our rich history in which we can take pride. We can acknowledge where we came from without embracing the baser parts of our origins and be a better nation for it.

So while there’s nothing innately wrong with Mr. Romney’s profession or his religion, what he seems to be peddling to us is old school Calvinism at its best. He may have got his sums wrong, but clearly, 47% of us are not of the 144 chosen that will ascend with him in the rapture and sit at the right hand of that great CEO in the sky. 47% were not born to greatness.  Our destiny has been written with no possibility of veering off of a course of victimhood and sloth and we are clearly not worth Mr. Romney’s effort or campaign advertising. But if my country is to be cynically turned into a business and run like one, with the ‘unprofitable’ cogs in this great vision left behind, I shall proudly stand with the 47%.

But let us hope it doesn’t come to that. Even as we ponder these issues of the past, we seem to be living history. The Wall Street Journal, no puppet of the liberal left-wing media, wrote this  earlier today, and it seems to me as good a reason as any to spread the good word.

There Are Still Some Good Guys: Rosen Championing Reading For Meaning in the Great Phonics Debate

The piloting of the government’s current obsession with phonics suggests some interesting, but deeply worrying results. 
 vs 
I grew up reading. My parents made sure to take me on regular trips to the local library during summer vacations when I was a child. My mother read to us every evening before bedtime. I was reading a mixture of Shakespeare and Stephen King (because I found a tattered old copy of Skeleton Crew in my older brother’s closet, a hoarded away and hidden treasure to be devoured) for pleasure by the time I was coming to the end of elementary school and reading when I was younger seemed as natural to me as riding a bike. 
But I was lucky. 
I came to school with a certain cultural currency and my parents enabled me to learn that cultural currency with fluency and speed. Many that I teach and have taught over the last ten years or so are not nearly as lucky. Many do not understand how to read simple sentences out loud. Many have never been read to out loud. Many have never become familiar with the joy of fairy tales. Alarmingly, many are developing deep anxieties and even antipathies to reading for pleasure. 
I can think of no better way to expedite such a massive distaste for reading than the government’s current efforts to stalwartly fly the flag for phonics, phonics and little else but phonics in reading education. All children in England from this year are required to take a ‘Phonics Screening Check’ test at the end of the academic year 1, (aged 6) in which they have to decode 30 real words and 10 fake words. The government is even offering an incentive of £3,000 which it claims ‘will be hard to ignore for many cash-strapped schools’ in order to promote the teaching of ‘synthetic phonics’. 
The first examination took place in schools in June and the results were intriguing and unsettling. First of all, results were generally low, which the government may, no doubt say is down to teachers not having taught the ‘synthetic phonics method’ effectively. Could it be something deeper? Results also found that otherwise good readers had moved beyond just using phonics as a reading strategy, that they looked for meanings in the ten ‘psuedo words’, that their brains were making real words out of fake (eg storm out of ‘strom’) and some of the fake words were arduous to get one’s mouth around, deterring children from pronouncing them as they were spelt. 
So, children score lower in the test for trying to make meaning out of what is unfamiliar to them. Trying to construct order out of the unknown, otherwise known as creativity and initiative, is marked down in this new compulsory test, whilst sticking to what you know and rejecting all familiarity will be marked higher. The government is, through mandatory testing and irresistible cash bonuses to schools, disincentivising initiative and independent thinking in young minds. 
One is put in mind of Gradgrind from Dickens’ Hard Times: ‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon facts: nothing else will ever be of service to them.’

Say what you will about the American Education System.

Go ahead. Say what you will about it.

No, do. 

What worries me is that my son and many of his friends have already been raised up with a similar affinity for books and reading; what worries me is that when my son faces this test next year with his classmates, we will be sent a short letter home afterwards saying that he has scored low because he tried to make sense out of nonsense words, make meaning out of familiar looking verbal chaos. 

And what worries me greatly is that poorer schools in places like Hackney, where I live, will be unable to resist cash incentives for ‘synthetic phonics’ in the classroom. If the government wanted a docile, unquestioning mass of dunderheaded deltas and epsilons, unable to decipher complex treaties, pacts and agreements; antipathetic to compelling narratives anywhere except presented through moving images; unable to resist being oppressed through paternalistic power structures and figures; desiring nothing but bread, circuses and X Factor; and awed by the use of stutterings statistics and figures, a cynic might conlcude that there are fewer quicker routes that this one.

I owe most of the information in this post to Michael Rosen’s intelligent and well-thought out recent blog posts and his continuing effort to fight the good fight. Please do read up on this crucial issue.

This post is also informed by the following articles:

Politics blog | The Guardian

Musings of an expatriate

BBC News - UK Politics

Musings of an expatriate

NYT > U.S. > Politics

Musings of an expatriate

EXPATLOG

life without borders

World in Motion

Reflections on culture, politics, philosophy and world events during an era of crisis and transformation

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