One of the places where I tend to disagree with other liberals is the defense budget. Attacking defense spending is a common hobby for many liberals. I get the appeal. I don’t like spending astronomical sums of money for the purpose of killing people. It doesn’t sit well with me. But what I’ve come to realize is that the defense budget is so much more than a killing budget. It’s a convenient way for Congress to allocate money to things we need, as a nation, but can’t convince many voters (or even Members of Congress) to support otherwise. How do some countries fight unemployment? They hire lots of people to work for the government. We do that too, through the military. Want to provide education and job training and healthcare for millions of Americans…put money for education and job training and healthcare into the Department of Defense budget and consider it done. Want to spend money on biomedical research, on materials research, on computing research, on all kinds of research…put money into the Department of Defense budget and consider it done.
I do not like politics of fear. I do not like making policies based on fear. I do not like using fear to play with people’s emotions. But, I am afraid. Genuinely afraid. I see a willful erosion of expertise in this country, and I fear the consequences will be worse than we can imagine. This is not a new feeling, but the removal of Brennan’s security clearance made it especially salient this morning. I recognize that this is a punitive act, and not directed at his expertise, but it’s all part of a bigger problem from my perspective.
The idea of white privilege made its way into common culture over the last few years. I’ve gotten into several FaceBook spats about whether or not there’s a certain privilege associated with being white. I think the word “privilege” might put people off, and make them defensive, but when you get to the heart of the matter, it’s really about a sense that the world revolves around white americans. It’s common here in the United States to hear people say that we don’t have accents. Of course some do, but when somebody speaks and you can’t tell if they’re from the north or south or midwest of the United States, they are said to not have an accent. But they DO have an accent, and it’s easy to tell that they are from the US (or Canada). It’s that, in our self-centered world, sounding like “us” means being “normal” and not having an accent. We don’t talk about people having an American accent, like we talk about Australian or British or Hispanic accents. We see it in how we talk about food in terms of “ethnic” and “non-ethnic” also. Restaurants are classified as chinese, ethiopian, mexican, burmese, indian…and then there’s the others. Not “american,” just unclassified. All of this makes it clear that our culture, specifically white American culture, acts as if we are the “norm” and everything else is different. Not bad, but not the norm. But these are small potatoes compared to the biggest of all…
In a somewhat hastily written post yesterday, I noted that some of the issues we grapple with about abortion could be solved by a way to remove the fetus from an unwilling mother, and allow it to gestate without needing the mother.
But what if the choice is this: carry the pregnancy to term, or terminate the pregnancy while others do what they can to save the embryo/fetus? Aside from the gigantic technical hurdle, there are plenty of other issues that need to be resolved (who pays for it? what is the impact on the population? who raises the child after gestation?), but it changes the discussion completely. We could even use this technology to take away what I see as sex discrimination entering into the debate (anti-abortion laws mandating the only instance of violating body autonomy, and it only applying to women). There are folks who think that the biological father should have a say in whether or not the woman terminates the pregnancy…now he can have that say, as long as he’s willing to carry the pregnancy to term (and consents to the implantation of the artificial womb and surgical removal of it and the baby when ready). These are things that could become technically feasible in the future. Again, I somewhat doubt they will, because I don’t see much real motivation for it, but my crystal ball hasn’t worked very well for years (or ever).
[Somewhat rushed piece…overwhelmed with work, but trying to stay in the habit of writing, and it’s been a long time. I’m sure it’s full of typos and other problems, but at this point, it will have to do]
I’ve spent a bit of time talking about abortion and abortion rights since Hitting Bregma started (notably here and here). I’m fascinated by it as a topic because it’s so meaningful to so many people, that I honestly see it as the number one guiding issue in our politics today. I don’t have any scientific evidence for this at all, and I would enjoy being shown that it’s not true, but I think the abortion question actually drives many people in one direction or another, and then the other partisan issues take hold. It’s easy for me to imagine somebody being appalled by abortion, leaning toward a particular political identity because of that, and then slowing assimilating with all the other beliefs of that political party. It seems like a key reason, for instance, why a deeply religious Christian would so predictably care about small government, about maintaining strong borders, about a super powerful national defense, about implementing the death penalty, about low taxes (especially for the wealthy). On the flip side, it’s puzzling to me that advocacy of abortion rights does such a good job at predicting where somebody stands on raising taxes on the wealthy, on being against the death penalty, about working hard for minority rights and environmentalism, and about government services for the poor. Of course, there are plenty of folks out there who don’t fall into those more predictable positions. I know plenty who are deeply religious, and guided by this to be sickened by abortion, but put this aside to otherwise favor liberal politicians who are anti-death penalty, pro-helping the poor, pro-helping immigrants, and willing to tax people to make that possible. It would be a silly straw man fallacy to say that I’m implying that this applies to everybody equally, but I find it interesting to see how many people seem to find their political identity by following the pro-choice or anti-abortion trail to the rest of the stuff.
Charles Taylor had a great piece in the Boston Globe yesterday. The opening sentence hits hard. “There’s no shame in not knowing; there’s shame in not wanting to know.” Another piece on Quartz argues that thinking like a scientist is a cure-all for democracy. “If there’s overwhelming evidence for something—like man-made climate change—and you don’t believe it, you aren’t being a skeptic, you are in denial. Being skeptical means demanding evidence, not ignoring it.”
I agree with both of these statements, and I do believe that society would be better if more people followed them, but the Taylor piece, and a comment in response to the Quartz piece paint the problem.