Category Archives: Democracy

Back to Civics!

This article from The View in Time Magazine’s current issue makes a case for a return to teaching basic civics. Democracy depends upon people being free to have differing opinions and learning to arrive at a compromise.

Our children (to say nothing of most adults) are ignorant of how our systems of governance actually work. Predatory opportunists now exploit that ignorance. Isn’t it curious how so many of our biggest national problems could be resolved if people had the goodwill toward each other to listen and seek equitable solutions?

We must learn to wage peace at home and abroad.

Defending Democracy

Here is carefully thought-out, non-partisan advice on how individuals can and should speak out for good government and democracy. The Washington Post’s “Democracy Dies in Darkness” motto is only one of many signals that government of the people, by the people, and for the people is in peril.

All of us lead busy lives, and it’s tempting to think there is little we can do as individuals. I don’t accept such a cynical attitude of resignation. We are social animals, and peer confirmation is the most powerful of the persuaders that influence how people think. We must speak out for integrity and democracy. Here’s a practical guide:

Pondering What Ails US

There are two recent articles that I’m pondering because they point to something more of us need to attend to: the erosion of our core values.

The first article appeared in the New York Times under the headline “Money’s up, religion and patriotism are down.” It presents the statistics and makes the case that most of us are more interested in personal prosperity than we are in service to “goodness.” While religion can be practiced in solitude, most people identify with a religious community and would regard their observance as a social activity. We invest time and money and we bond with the people who are members of our faith community. So it’s noteworthy when fewer people are moved to be observant and practice their religion with others.

Patriotism is not just flags and Independence Day fireworks. It requires a commitment to a cause larger than one’s self. Military service, altruistic public service, working for good government, voting, not cheating on taxes–all of the civic activities we invest sweat and treasure in–that’s patriotism one can see and measure.

The second article comments on why so many Protestant churches are in decline. The author, a progressive minister, thinks the traditions and practices of many churches no longer call people to be deeply committed to one another or to the core values of their faith.

As I look at the many existential problems America faces (climate change, pollution, political stagnation, extremism, nuclear brinksmanship), all of them are sourced by individual and collective failure to honor core values.

How do I contribute to the unsettling trends these writers perceive?

And you?

Countering Disinformation

I’m not an engineer, but I think like one. I’ve disciplined myself to be analytical and logical and to distinguish between assumptions and known facts.

Humans are not naturally rational. We must train ourselves to consciously construct a theory about the nature of reality, and then test our theory by experimenting and observing. Absent such scientific practices, we instinctively invent stories to explain patterns we observe. These stories need not be accurate representations of reality to serve as an organizational tool or a memory device. We may call these stories “hunches” or “intuition” about what’s beyond our certain knowledge.

Our stories may influence our behavior more readily than our reason. But stories are inherently fluid, and unlike the laws of physics or chemistry, they can be manipulated. People can lock on to a narrative (story) and act upon it without deliberation. Bad actors exploit this human tendency to their advantage and gain, often to the detriment of individual wellbeing and the common good. We get played and duped by persuasive narratives designed to harm–disinformation.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has come to understand how disinformation and misinformation can overpower factual contrary evidence. People will continue to trust and rely on stories that have been thoroughly debunked by rigorous scientific research to establish a true perception of reality. We need only look at the anti-vaccination movement, the false narratives asserting that global warming is a hoax, or the denial of the risks of smoking tobacco to verify the power of disinformation and misinformation.

Science Rising and UCS have produced training materials that are intended to help science advocates push back more effectively. On Sunday October 16th at 9:45 am, I spoke on the topic using UCS materials as the core of my presentation. The bibliography of all my sources is below.

Video of October 16th Presentation

Here is a video recording of the presentation done on 10/16/22 at Newtown Friends Meeting Adult Firstday School.

Blackout Averted

Imagine! People act in service of one another to avert a disastrous problem. Californians did just that.

Blackout

California deftly avoided rolling blackouts this week amid an energy surge through a novel innovation in the green energy space that researchers are calling “text everyone in the state and ask them to cool it.” It worked phenomenally well. At 3:20 p.m. on Tuesday, power demand hit a new record of 50.6K megawatts, and at 5:50 p.m. the state sent a text message alert mentioning that heat is straining the energy grid, and that there might be outages unless people turn off nonessential power until 9 p.m., please. It worked pretty much instantly. Power demand dropped 1.2 gigawatts within five minutes, immediately mitigating the issues, and by around 8 p.m. the emergency level was cancelled without a blackout. Wow, it’s almost as if slight collective action can have a meaningful impact addressing the ramifications of climate change if a state is willing to intervene; who could have possibly seen this coming.

Dan Murtaugh and Brian Eckhouse, Bloomberg

One of the advantages of digital networking is the possibility of instant notification. Since the 1950s, the US has had a nationally coordinated system for sending emergency communications to radio, TV, cable, and other FCC-regulated public media. It started as Conelrad during the cold war and morphed into the Federal Communications Commission’s EAS (Emergency Alert System). That raucous buzz you hear on your radio, TV, and cellphone just before a weather warning is the digital data burst that allows such messages to propagate from a single source to virtually all electronic public media in mere seconds.

Now, with mass text messaging to mobile phones, written alerts can be communicated to private and public networks with even greater speed.

It’s heartening to see California’s example of large numbers of people taking the trouble to cut their energy use so that there would be enough for all with nobody left out. Perhaps there is a moral lesson here.

Servant Leaders

Lately, I have been thinking about being a follower. It’s a natural human trait to both follow and lead, depending on circumstances.  And it says a lot about my personal spiritual growth when I examine how I do both. In family matters, business, and politics we reveal who we are by how we lead or who follow.

Here is my column as published today in the Bucks Courier Times.

Not Credible

I am struck at how the news of Ukraine is being distorted in the Russian media in an effort to keep the Russian in the street from knowing of the atrocities being committed against Ukraine. Why should I be surprised? Russia has been fraught with propaganda for most of my life.

It is a way of life in authoritarian countries to publicly parrot and defend the party line and keep one’s personal assessment of the truth strictly private. “I have an opinion, but I don’t agree with it.” is a Russian joke that plays upon the state-enforced duplicity.

In China, it is also unsafe to be candid in criticism of the ruling party. As one Chinese national put it, “One never knows when the wind will change.” It may be OK to express dissent today, but your words once uttered may return later to haunt you.

While we find such fears foreign to us in America, legislators in Florida and Texas are actively working to suppress all sorts of views and information. Yes, it can happen here. With that in mind, read the following:

We are only as good as the information we get. Only as grounded, as enlightened, as capable of forming rational opinions about our political leaders and making intelligent decisions about our lives. If we’re fed lies, we’re lost. If we subsist on fiction, we dwell in a fantasyland. [Read more …]

Frank Bruni, NYT

Believe in Free enterprise?

I’m a capitalist. I believe in free enterprise, and I respect entrepreneurs who risk everything, confident they can build a thriving business because they believe they have something valuable to offer the rest of us.

But, I think that a person should always be willing to reassess how their beliefs serve them. My belief in free enterprise is no exception. Too much that’s going wrong in the world is driven by narrow business interests that conflict with the common good and public welfare.

Jim Hightower thinks so too. He attacks Monopoly Power in his October pamphlet The Hightower Lowdown.

Continue reading Believe in Free enterprise?

Conflict Entrepreneurs

“Let’s you and him fight!”

That’s the mantra. Some people enjoy the drama they cause by triggering a confrontation and fueling the configuration. It’s akin to being an arsonist – a social arsonist. The result can be devastating to any community of shared interest.

Karen Tibbals names this destructive game in her current blog post:

I’m seeing a lot of this in the political mail I get from the GOP. Half truths and outright lies are employed to fuel outrage and villify the motives of the Democrats and all those who criticize Republicans.

It’s particularly distressing that these tactics attack proposals and policies that have socially desirable reforms such as stopping tax fraud and closing loopholes. The GOP attack on reforms that would allow the IRS to spot high dollar tax evasion and enforce the law earned three Pinocchios from the Washington Post’s fact-checkers.

“Disinformation is how you transform democracy. This is death by a thousand cuts.”

– Maria Ressa, journalist & 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner

Nonetheless, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), restates the falsehood in his current email blast, the theme of which is to denigrate Democrats and exalt Republicans as virtuous defenders of truth, freedom, and the American way. Never mind the GOP’s determined efforts to stonewall voting rights or the investigation of the instigators of the January 6th insurrection.

The GOP’s Moment of Truth

Sometimes things have to go very wrong before they come back right. I hope we have reached the moment when rational Republicans decide to sink the extremist wing of their party instead of riding it to power and scuttling the democracy they have sworn to serve virtually every time they were installed in an official position.

Heather Cox Richardson gives an excellent summary of what is now going public about GOP loyalists having a moment of truth, an opportunity to change course and purge their party of its cancerous extremism.

HCR’s article has links to other current articles. If you have strong feelings about democracy, now would be an excellent time to make them clear to the Republican elected officials in your district.

And vote your conscience at this and every election going forward.