Thursday, March 12, 2015

'Radical' is not constrained to Islam

The Peter Principle explains how people rise to their level of incompetence in every hierarchy, but hierarchies are more than that.  Higher levels of hierarchy enable easy ways of collective understanding overlooking the obscuring details of lower individual levels.

Thousands of years ago philosophers theorized that everything was made of small indivisible particles called atoms, but they could not prove it.  It was not until around the beginning of the 20th century that we learned that they were mostly right.  We could predict how fluids and gases would behave without atoms.  If we only looked at the vibrating atoms of a gas, we would find it difficult to relate that to temperature.  The temperature of a gas is easy to measure and what we call an emergent property.  The point is that understanding flows from the top down (1st the gas, a collection of atoms) and from the bottom up (2nd, atoms that explain that heat is really atomic vibration).  The same is true of “radical” and its manifestations.

Words Can Never Hurt Me

Recently America’s favorite news mounted an assault on our President for not explicitly calling out “radical” Islam as the greatest threat to civilization.  They referred to him as a coward, weak, afraid, not a real leader like Winston Churchill or Ronald Reagan, not willing to crack down on terrorist Iran and the Islamic religion.  They said that he was the sole cause of the controversy over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech, claiming that nuclear negotiations would pave the way to bombs throughout the Middle East.   But do we want a war that can’t be won and a perpetual intervention in the Middle East?  Is our choice between no deal and the best deal?  We should remember that the WWII attack on Pearl Harbor was partly brought on by economic sanctions against Japan.  We should consider that Republican politics could be an appeal to Jewish voters.

Should we be more concerned about terrorism than a war on 1.2 billion Muslims?  Do we want to declare war on all of Islam when some Muslims are on our side?  Islam is the second largest and fastest growing world religion, but it has cultural, geographical, and dogmatic facets that don’t get along with one another.  It is the majority in 56 countries spanning North Africa to Southeast Asia and has had a significant influence on the development of civilization.  How could our government get tough on this religion without becoming discriminatory?  Doesn’t there have to be a line between measurable concrete behavior and belief?

On his TV show, Pat Robertson joined in, picking sides when he gossiped that terrorists were the President’s friends.  He used photos of our intercontinental ballistic missile site near Tucson to pump up fears about Iran having a nuclear bomb and the means to deliver it to America.  The news joined in when they used footage of the 1960’s Navy rocket launch to illustrate North Korea’s ICBM threat.  Pat showed photos of military parades as evidence of our government stocking up ammunition to be used against Christians.  Conservatives joined in when they wrote about finding tanks in the forest that were to be part of the impending assault.   Meanwhile, Republicans are stocking up with thousand round boxes of assault ammo.


The paranoia about terrorism leads to HB2320 and an armed public inside crowded shopping malls.  It forgets that bullets sometimes miss or penetrate through more than one person.  The law won’t be on the side of the citizen when an innocent person is harmed.  To make certain there is no avoiding guns, HB2527 strips the right of municipalities to regulate their possession and sales while HB2509 makes it a felony assault to try to take a gun away.

SB1460’s surprise amendment legalizes sawed off shotguns.  Their main feature is that they are easily hidden and you don’t have to aim.  Their deadly buck-shot spreads widely.  They are perfect for drive by shootings and the next best thing to a machine gun.  SB1330 would prohibit the feds from outlawing them.  Soon, we could be living in a more free but violent society, with far more guns than ever were in the Wild West.

The talk show moderator cried out that America is a Christian nation and that Christ died on the cross for her.  The theme was Muslim persecution of Christians and the merger of Church and State with American Triumphalism.  They would have us give those bad guys their comeuppance.  The news showed a picture of a tank driving down a street while displaying an ISIS flag.  The news commutator asked, why weren’t we bombing it?

The problem is that “radical” is not constrained to Islam.  The right wing exonerated Christianity when it argued that the Crusades and the Inquisition were long ago.  It forgot the Ku Klux Klan’s songs calling on Christian men to join and their burning crosses.

Radical fundamentalism is characterized by rigidity and the idea that change and cooperation are forms of weakness.  They usually believe that the past was better, a 2,000 year old cosmology is more accurate than Einstein’s and women should submit to authoritarian males.  Those who challenge these beliefs must be excluded.

When millions of religious Americans select verses from Revelations to argue for Middle East war to accelerate the second coming of Christ we should be concerned.  It alienates the world’s Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus who are viewed to be condemned to hell.  Apparently Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses will suffer the same fate because Ron Rhode’s book, The Complete Guide to Christian Denominations, informs us that they are not Christians.

But this is not the form of fundamentalism that many of us grew up with.  It focused on the teachings of the New Testament instead of an institutional hierarchy.  Perhaps fundamentalism is not really problematic.  We have to look elsewhere for roots.


A popular book by a right-wing commentator claimed that Jesus was crucified by elite liberals because he got in the way of their revenue flow.  On the TV, a religious program replaced the cross with a portrait of Ronald Reagan.  Another preacher admonished his congregation, which was larger than the population of many towns, to vote Tea Party in the coming election.  His emotional demagoguery inflamed the congregation who could not sit still in their seats.  They chanted and swayed in response to his oratory as though they were attending a war dance instead of a sermon.

Tea Party conservatives complain about government schools ran by secular elites.  They want to teach creationism in public schools and will use vouchers and scholarships to fund intelligent design pseudo-science in charter schools.  Religious freedom imposes its values on others when it empowers businessmen to deprive their employees of insurance covering birth control pills even though it knows the faithful won’t take them.

These are examples of how religion has mapped itself onto secular issues.

Perhaps the problem is the merger of “God said” with politics.  Islam had its origin with Sharia law.  The merger of Christianity with politics is new.  Confucianism, a teaching that easily lives alongside and even within many religions, is about the proper way to live.  So, maybe the root is deeper than politics merged with religious belief.


In college, students from every discipline met at the math major’s apartment to discuss and debate the great issues of the time such as segregation, existentialism, nuclear war, and the coming super-industrialization of America.  Our discussion was lubricated by gallon bottles of wine.  It ran into the wee hours of the morning.  We actually thought we could solve the world’s problems.  The solution would be found in human rationality, objectivity, and cooperation, but was this possible?  We did not anticipate the coming anti-intellectual culture war.

The still published 1906 classic, The Phantom of the Poles, presented the theory that there are holes at the ends of the earth that lead into the interior where there are continents and civilizations that are yet to be discovered.  Recently, the history channel has presented stories about UFO’s emerging from such holes and from beneath the sea.

A not so critical line of thought was presented in a TV reality story about alligator hunters.  Paw is driving home in a hurry.  As he enters the trailer, he shouts, “Maw, ah done shooted our son again”.  Maw replies, “Waak, doesn’t I told youse to not shoot lil Willie like that!”  Paw returns, “But maw, he got in the way of my bullet.”  She says,” I’ze gonna take that gun away from you”, and he returns, “but maw, we needs that gator.”

Incompetence “Rains”

Where do these popular but crazy ideas come from?  Is it really bottom up, one person, one vote, or is it top down from the DNC, RNC, Church, media, or special interest groups?  Does necessity drive it?   Are our disagreements caused by incompetent leaders who would sink our ship to prevent letting it run aground?

We know what we like, but the world has changed and what was good enough will not suffice in global competition.   A retreat to the past, American triumphalism, more freedom, false cheerfulness, and a patronizing attitude won’t make us competitive.

In Arizona, the ability to win elections is more important than wisdom and expertise.  Our dislike of elites and distrust of government could be the death of democracy.  We need those who will lead in a greater way than the carved figure-head at the front of the ship of right-wing ideology.

No comments: