Friday, October 5, 2012

Living in the Age of Anger: Politics replaced by Vitriol.

Angry people
 As some of you know, I sometimes write for a website called Policymic. A couple of days before  first presidential debate the editors contacted me and asked me to write something. Because Romney was the expected loser, I decided I would write a piece about him. I chose a photo to accompany the article that would draw readers. This is the photo I chose:

Romney punching Obama
Photo by Alison Jackson

I thought it was funny photo. I didn't take it too seriously. And it seems to have worked as my article had well in excess of a thousand views by the end of the day.

But ponder the photo for a moment. It seems strangely appropriate given the current political culture, doesn't it?Why is it that two men boxing is an apt analogy for modern political discourse? Wasn't politics originally a much more cerebral and intellectual endeavor?And now, days after the first debate, we aren't really talking about the issues. All we can can talk about is that "Romney won." As if winning were the point.

One of the more disturbing features of this years election cycle is how deeply entrenched each side is. Republicans against Democrats, liberals against conservatives. And no one can seem  to see any good in the other side.

Disagreement is natural and avoidable. Demonization is not. People of goodwill can disagree on heated issues without denying the humanity or integrity of the other. But it seems to me that something very strange and dangerous has taken place in American discourse such that civility and mutual respect  has been replaced by partisanship and rivalry.

I have been noticing this for some time now. A write-up about  moral psychologist  Jonathan Haidt in The Chronicle Review  really helped to elucidate what I had been feeling. Haidt describes our political anger and vitriol as tribalism. According to Marc Perry of the Review, Haidt thinks that "Humans are 90-percent chimp, but also 10-percent bee—evolved to bind together for the good of the hive." In America, our hives are our political identities. And we appear to be be viciously set against all the other hives, or as Haidt would say, tribes. On this understanding of political discourse, truth takes a back seat to protecting the tribe and destroying outside threats.That seems to be what's happening.

Being troubled by this, I e-mailed Dr. Haidt and asked him if he thought things were getting better. He responded, simply saying " I think it's getting much worse, and will continue to do so for a few years." He sent em a link to an article he recently wrote for a New York Times blog entitled "Look How Far We've Come Apart."

In the article, Haidt relates that "America is not united and it is getting less and less unitable with each passing decade" and that " it’s not just politicians who are moving further apart; it’s us – the public – as well."

I finally understand why more and more people are ambivalent to political discussion. Asking people to get involved in political life is like asking them to jump in a sea filled with hungry sharks.

Something is seriously wrong with our political culture. If we don't fix it, if we don't fix our attitudes, things are only going to get more hostile and common good will be abandoned to a quest for more and more power.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Jones after her loss in Beijing
In some way, Lolo Jones life for the past four years has been defined by regret. During the Beijing Olympics, Jones was on her way to  a gold medal. On the cusp of victory, Jones tripped over the 9th of 10 hurdles, and ended up finishing in seventh place.
If you visit her website, amid a flurry of pictures of the photogenic Jones, one will find this phrase: 
I'm inspired by failure. The process of defeat – picking yourself back up again is the hardest thing in the world.

Perhaps the most difficult advice to take is your own. Yesterday, Jones placed Fourth in the hurdles. No medal. Olympic dreams delayed yet again.

What makes this loss so difficult is the amazing build-up that preceded it. Jones was not even favored to win, but you wouldn't know that from the flurry of magazine covers, interviews, and sponsorships that accompanied Jones on her way to the Olympics. When Jones placed fourth, it was like a much hyped moving crashing at the box office.
I was made aware of Jones loss via facebook. Her update? "In room singing Desert Song by Hillsong. Lord Jesus please comfort me, guide me, and heal my broken heart..."(sic)

Jesus. Actually, Jesus is very relevant here, for it is in the story of Jesus that we see two ways to handle regret. Judas represents one way; Peter the other.

Both Judas and Peter forsook or betrayed Christ in their own way. Judas traded Jesus life for 30 pieces of silver; Peter denied knowing him. Both expressed regret. Matthew 26:75 tell us that he went outside and "wept bitterly." Yet, his grief didn't consume him, at least no to the point of death. We know how the story ends. Jesus, after his resurrection, intentionally approaches Peter, giving him the work of "feeding his sheep."

Judas, on the other hand, took his life into his own hands.
According to Matthew

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.
The question I have always asked is,  What would have become of Judas had he waited those three days? What conversation would he and Jesus had? Think of the joy that would have gripped him -joy deeper than remorse unto death.

Scripture warns us against such sorrow.According to  Paul, writing in second Corithians,  godly sorrow "brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret." Worldly sorrow, on the other hand, " brings death."

I don't know what Lolo Jones is feeling. But, my hope for her is that she is not consumed, that she overcomes.

Because who knows what joy awaits her on the other side.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Writing for Policymic

Hey guys, just wanted to give a heads up- I have written a couple of articles for a website called Policymic. Policymic is a new, "next generation" news outlet. you can access the articles here:

Friday, June 8, 2012

Beyond Therapy to Enhancement: The Advent of Super-abled People

Can you imagine a world in which being normal isn't good enough? A world in which anyone with enough money can buy the talents and abilities it would normally take years of hard work and dedication to develop? We may be on the cusp of just such a time. As writer Daniel H. Wilson shows in his article "Bionic Brains and Beyond", science fiction is fast becoming science fact. The concrete reality of human beings not only being restored to proper functioning, but indeed being enhanced to super-human levels is a reality we will have to grapple with in the very near future.  According to Wilson,

The conversation may be jump-started as early as this summer, on the glaring international stage of the Olympics. The poster boy for our superabled future is Oscar Pistorius, an increasingly famous South African sprinter who happens to have had both of his legs amputated below the knee. Using upside down question mark-shaped carbon fiber sprinting prosthetics, called Cheetah blades, Mr. Pistorius can challenge the fastest sprinters in the world. He is currently just one race away from representing South Africa in London.

[AMPED jump1]
Oscar Pistorius at the starting gate.

Mr. Pistorius' "cheetah blades" present a troubling dilemma. On the one hand, Pistorius should be applauded  for overcoming what must've surely been depressing and discouraging adversity to rise to the upper echelons of a physically demanding sport. Yet, sports are about human  excellence. If Pistorius' cheetah blades truly take him beyond the limits of human ability, we have to question what place he has competing among non-enhanced atheletes.

Pistorius and others like him are what Wilson terms the superabled. The superabled are those whose abilities have transcended that which is achievable by human beings. They are, in a sense, superhuman. And in the coming years their numbers may be multiplying and they may be competing with us.

The controversy goes deeper. The possibility that human enhancement will become elective introduces economic and social questions. There is now and always has been a gap between what is available to the rich and what is available to the poor. In some sense, this is just the nature of things. A part of the American experiment is to create a nation where, regardless of where you start, hard work, dedication and skill can transport you farther and higher. This is equality not of outcome but of opportunity.

But consider the challenge to this dream presented by elective human enhancement. If we get to a point where we don't care where your skills come from-be it hard work or, say, genetic manipulation- the poor will be at even more of a disadvantage because the rich will always be able to afford more advanced enhancements. In fact, the poor might not be able to afford them at all. What fate awaits the poor in a world of elective enhancement?

My blog post merely scratches the surface of the questions presented by Mr. Wilson. I  commend his article to you for your consideration:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Crack Babies, Running Mothers and the Politics of Pregnancy

The conduct of women while pregnant has become highly scrutinized. From the time we realised that activities such as smoking or drinking could negatively affect the quality and length of life of the fetus, there has been increasing pressure for women to curtail these and any behaviors that might prove detrimental to the child she carries.

     Recent news items underscore this pressure, and all would do well to pay attention to the conversation generated. Consider, for instance, Amber Miller, who gave birth...hours after running a 26-mile marathon. Says Miller, "For me, it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. I was running up until that point anyway." ABC news interviewed Dr.Jacques Moritz regarding whether or not it was safe for Miller and her baby to run, to which he replied  "as long as she did not become winded during her exercise portion, the running part, she was fine," though he cautioned "You have to be able to breathe...
If you're not getting oxygen, the baby is not getting oxygen."

In other news, doctors are seeing "explosive growth" in babies being born to addicted to pain pills. As one who works in a hospital, I can attest first hand the devastating effects of addiction and the sad state of those addicted. The idea of passing entering the world addicted is cringe-inducing. USA Today reports that
The trend reflects how deeply rooted abuse of powerful narcotics, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, has become. Prescription drug abuse is the nation's fastest-growing drug problem, classified as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention..National statistics on the number of babies who go through withdrawal are not available, and states with the worst problems have only begun to collect data. Scattered reports show the number of addicted newborns has doubled, tripled or more over the past decade.
How should a society respond to these developments? Should women be penalized for posing threats to the child in utero? If so, what does this leave the abortion industry? Anyone who argues for the personhood of the unborn must surely desire some sort of legal recourse on behalf of the unborn. Yet, as always, this sentiment generates controversy.Ada Calhoun, in her article "The Criminalization of Bad Mothers" exposes the intersection of law and pregnancy.  Emma Ketteringham, the director of legal advocacy at the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, recoils at the idea of pregnant women being prosecuted for their actions while pregnant:
The idea that the state needs to threaten and punish women so that they do the right thing during pregnancy is appalling. Everyone talks about the personhood of the fetus, but what’s really at stake is the personhood of women. It starts with the use of an illegal drug, but what happens as a consequence of that precedent is that everything a woman does while she’s pregnant becomes subject to state regulation.
“It starts with cocaine, and then it’s cigarettes and alcohol. How much alcohol? And when? It’s only a matter of time until it comes to refusing a bed-rest order because you need to work and take care of your other children and then you have a miscarriage.

 Ketteringham raises valid points. What constitutes danger to the fetus? Is there definite line between genuine danger and innocent mistake?

All in all, these developments simply reflect a nation still divided over the issue of abortion. I doubt the issues would be newsworhty at all in a nation that had taken a definite stance on the personhood (or lack thereof) of the unborn. Alas, the now infamous Roe v. Wade decision feigned neutrality, refusing to decide whether or not the unborn in fully human.Yet, effectively, the court decided that the unborn is not  the subject of rights under our Constitution. The personhood question will not go away. As a pro-lifer myself, I welcome the opportunity to present rational arguments for the personhood of the unborn. But I don't advocate easy answers or rash decision making. The women who carry children are just as important as their babies. There has to be some middle ground where we can honor the unborn and their mothers equally. Where that is, I don't know.

The Criminalization of Bad Mothers:

Pregnant mother running:

Addicted Babies: