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Americanism, Part IV - American Religiosity

by delicatemonster Thu May 24th, 2007 at 07:59:57 AM EST

Underlying both American's sense of innocence and the idea of an exceptional destiny and purpose is America's religiosity. Has ever a country been more religious? According to Samuel Huntington writing for a recent American Heritage Foundation report overwhelming majorities of Americans affirm religious beliefs.

When asked in 1999 whether they believed in God, or a universal spirit, or neither, 86 percent of those polled said they believed in God, 8 percent in a universal spirit, and 5 percent in neither. When asked in 2003 simply whether they believed in God or not, 92 percent said yes. In a series of 2002-03 polls, 57 to 65 percent of Americans said religion was very important in their lives, 23 to 27 percent said fairly important, and 12 to 18 percent said not very important. In 1996, 39 percent of Americans said they believed the Bible is the actual word of God and should be taken literally; 46 percent said they believed the Bible is the word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally word for word; just 13 percent said it is not the word of God.

From the diaries - afew


 
These high levels of religiosity would be less significant if they were the norm for other countries. Americans differ dramatically, however, in their religiosity from the people of other economically developed countries. According to the report,

"This religiosity is conclusively revealed in three cross-national surveys. First, in general, the level of religious commitment of countries varies inversely with their level of economic development: People in poor countries are highly religious, those in rich countries are not. America is the glaring exception. If America were like most other countries at her level of economic development, only 5 percent of Americans would think religion very important."

Tocqueville said that religion in America "must be regarded as the first of their political institutions." A century and a half after him, the English historian Paul Johnson described America as "a God-fearing country, with all it implies." America's religious commitment "is a primary source--the primary source, I think--of American exceptionalism."

Some people might argue that this is a good thing. But the conflation of religiosity with our ideas of American exceptionalism leads as often as not to disaster, if not for us, for our neighbors. The concept of manifest destiny is simply a particularized religious form of American exceptionalism: the idea that American expansion is divinely ordained. John O'Sullivan coined the famous phrase "manifest destiny." Writing,

"the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions."

At the beginning of the 20th century, when the United States invaded the Philippines, President McKinley said that the decision to take the Philippines came to him one night when he got down on his knees and prayed, and God told him to take the Philippines. No one likes to mention the some 600,000 or so Philipines who were saved afterwards, primarily by being slaughtered.

Invoking God has been a habit for American presidents throughout the nation's history, and I doubt it should be taken too seriously, but George W. Bush has made a specialty of it. For an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, the reporter talked with Palestinian leaders who had met with Bush. One of them reported that Bush told him,

"God told me to strike at al Qaeda. And I struck them. And then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did. And now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East."
No doubt, the Palestinians were greatly relieved to see Bush leave.  

Bush is also the President whose favorite philosopher is Jesus and who has `looked' into Putin's soul. One has to wonder if there is a correlation between religiosity and murderously incompetent behavior? Something along the lines of what the original settlers determined as they slaughtered their way Westward, washing the blood of the Indians from their hands: God says it's okay, so everything is fine.
As Zinn has noted:

"Divine ordination is a very dangerous idea, especially when combined with military power (the United States has 10,000 nuclear weapons, with military bases in a hundred different countries and warships on every sea). With God's approval, you need no human standard of morality. Anyone today who claims the support of God might be embarrassed to recall that the Nazi storm troopers had inscribed on their belts, "Gott mit uns" ("God with us").

Yet the drum beat of the American religious community is never very far behind. The banal antics and statements of the recently demised Jerry Falwell can give us a clue to the mindset of many of the fundamentalists. Here are some of his 'greatest hits', so to speak, delivered  in a top ten list:

http://politicalhumor.about.com/od/stupidquotes/a/falwellquotes.htm


  1. "The idea that religion and politics don't mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country."

  2. "The ACLU is to Christians what the American Nazi party is to Jews."

  3. "I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!"

  4. "AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals. To oppose it would be like an Israelite jumping in the Red Sea to save one of Pharaoh's charioteers ... AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."

  5. "Nothing will motivate conservative evangelical Christians to vote Republican in the 2008 presidential election more than a Democratic nominee named Hillary Rodham Clinton - not even a run by the devil himself ... I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate. She has $300 million so far. But I hope she's the candidate. Because nothing will energize my [constituency] like Hillary Clinton. If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't." --at a "Values Voter Summit"

  6. "Grown men should not be having sex with prostitutes unless they are married to them."

  7. "Billy Graham is the chief servant of Satan in America."

  8. "He is purple -- the gay-pride color, and his antenna is shaped like a triangle -- the gay pride symbol." -from a "Parents Alert" issued in Jerry Falwell's National Liberty Journal, warning that "Tinky Winky," a character on the popular PBS children's show, "Teletubbies," may be gay

  9. "You've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops. And I'm for the president to chase them all over the world. If it takes 10 years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord."

  10. "The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'" --on the 9/11 attacks

These revealing samples were found at a 'political humorist' site, and indeed there is much about Falwell's oversized personality that warrants caricature--both in what he said and how he said it, but at bottom, he's not funny.

He is the anti-Democrat: a religious fascist. He's also someone who should have been completely powerless politically in this country, but who gained huge political power and clout preying on the sexual inhibition, race, class and gender inspired prejudices of the ever venal majority. Under most circumstances such demogagic behaviour would have warranted nothing more potent than a mirthless Limbaugh or Imus show rant; but added to his vitriol was the power of the 'Gospel' and all of those Americans who conflated his venom with the 'word of God'--something that is dangerous, indeed. Although Falwell himself has gone on (or not) to whatever after life he so richly deserved, the rise of fundamentalism is not a passing problem.

Of late the fundamentalists have become louder and more brazen in their demands. Here is Newt Gringrich shortly after Falwell's death professing fear of a 'radical secularism' in an address to the 2007 graduating class at Liberty University. It's an amazing performance not least because the world view espoused by Newt Gingrinch has no apparent basis in reality. As Steven Benen over at http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/ has noted:

I'm hard pressed to imagine what country Gingrich and the 12,000 people who applauded his worldview are living in. Out of the 535 members of Congress, 50 governors, the president, vice president, the Bush cabinet, and nine Supreme Court justices, there is exactly one person -- not one percent, just one guy -- who does not profess a faith in God. If polls are to be believed, less than 5% of the population describes themselves as non-believers.

In the last presidential election, one candidate announced during a presidential debate, "My faith affects everything that I do, in truth.... I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith." This was John Kerry, the more secular candidate of the two.

As for "discrimination," the New York Times had an interesting report last week showing that so much public money is now going to ministries, religious groups are hiring lobbyists to get more.

In our culture, religion is common in the media -- I can't remember the last month Time and/or Newsweek didn't feature religion as a cover story -- almost exclusively in a positive light. In sporting events, celebrating athletes routinely express their religiosity. At awards ceremonies, entertainers routinely "give thanks to God" from the outset, usually to considerable applause.

Gingrich sees all of this and believes an "anti-religious bias" dominates U.S. society. I have no idea why.

Indeed, we've become so accepting of the profession of faith that news commentators like Tim Russert regularly dish up this nonsense with a straight face. Am I doing God's work? he asks, and tells without a blush how he is listening to St. Luke...

St. Luke teaches us "to whom much is given, much is expected." Am I hearing that admonition--and responding to it in a generous way? Do I have a true appreciation of the uniqueness and goodness of others? More questions than answers, I'm afraid.

Luckily, after 9/11 knocked off 2000+ US citizens, Tim can claim that he learned a lot about friends and family and now he is "praying with purpose". Besides the overt religious trappings, the distasteful coupling of the murders on 9/11 to Russert's personal edification seems callous, at best.

But the real problem with over zealous religiosity only begins there. Based almost entirely on religious believes, women are denied abortions all throughout the third world.

Since 1973, under the Helms amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act, USAID has been prohibited by law from using funds to support abortions as a method of family planning. Several procedures are used to ensure that the law is strictly followed. These include legally binding provisions within USAID contracts forbidding such activity, staff monitoring, and regular audits by nationally recognized accounting firms

Keep in mind that this is a worldwide effect.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been and remains the single largest contributor of funds for family planning and reproductive health services worldwide. In addition, it is the single largest donor of contraceptives globally. President Bush, however, is proposing a severe funding cut to USAID's family planning program for next year [2007] that would undermine the program's reach and reduce the amount available for procuring and distributing contraceptive supplies.

[...]

As if the resource limitations affecting the supply of contraceptives were not challenging enough, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that the United States conditions the provision of its supplies on the willingness of foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to comply with its strident antiabortion policy. The global gag rule prohibits foreign NGOs, in exchange for any U.S family planning assistance, from providing any abortion services or information and from engaging in any efforts to liberalize their own country's abortion laws. This restriction applies even to an NGO's eligibility to receive USAID shipments of contraceptives.

In specific countries and areas around the world, the effect has been disastrous. The London-based Marie Stopes International (MSI), for example, has been disqualified from any U.S. family planning assistance--including contraceptive supplies--because it could not accept the terms of the global gag rule. Getachew Bekele, MSI's Ethiopia country director, explained to the Ottawa Citizen in April that the U.S. policy is at least partly responsible for the fact that Ethiopia is facing a severe shortage in contraceptive supplies. In the article, Bekele recounts the story of a client named Esther, who was married at 16 and had had three children by age 21. She was exhausted and resisted her husband's desire for more children. MSI helped her to avoid another pregnancy for three more years with three-month injections of Depo-Provera. Last year, she came back numerous times for her shot, but each time learned there was none to be had.

http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/gpr/09/2/gpr090215.html

Thus the backwater fundamentalism of a reactionary North Carolina and North Carolinian pol manages to touch poor folks from Ottawa to  Ethiopia to Sudan--in ways that are far from positive.

Then there are people who are reckless closer to home, like David Barton, a 51 year old self-professed Evangelical leader whose main thesis is that the U.S. has been a religious nation from the time of the Founders until the 1963 Supreme Court school-prayer ban (which Barton has called "a rejection of divine law").

Time magazine has a profile on David Barton, noting that many historians dismiss his thinking, but Barton's advocacy organization, WallBuilders, and his relentless stream of publications, court amicus briefs and books like The Myth of Separation, have made him a hero to millions of religious Americans -- including some powerful politicians--who would like to see the wall between the church and the state in this country simply disappear.

But perhaps the most dangerous scenario is the one being fought by Mikey Weinstein, a self-described "militant Jew" who took on the academy, the Air Force and the Department of Defense a couple of years back because of flagrant violations of the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution by the officers and cadets of the Air Force Academy. Their officers, chaplains and classmates were subjecting cadets to a robust and pervasive proselytizing of fundamentalist Christian doctrine.
"With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military" chronicles Weinstein's crusade against the school from the time he graduated with honors in 1974. Some of the most chilling passages  in the book describe how Jewish cadets are subjected to Mel-Gibson-style anti-Semitism, and how the administration fails to support them. But more compelling than his personal narrative is Weinstein writing about the history of the evangelical influence in the military. Here are some sample passages:


"It was Vietnam," remarks Anne Loveland, "which really turned the tide. As the war progressed, more and more mainline denominations spoke out against it and, in fact, became centers of organized resistance. That never really happened with evangelicals." Perhaps largely due to their stark view of human events as a titanic struggle between the forces of good and evil, evangelicals often subscribed to official rationales of the war as a necessary stand against the domino-tipping strategies of their `godless' communist opponent.

Writes Weinstein,
"As the [Vietnam] war continued to grind away at American conscience and consensus and the military increasingly became the object of the swelling antiwar movement's fury, a siege mentality took hold. In the us-against-them polarization that was splitting the nation, the armed services looked within itself to single out and promote those who would wholeheartedly support the savagely decisive conflict, and none were more vociferously vocal in their allegiance than the evangelicals, who had spent much of the last two decades securing positions within the ranks. "Should a follower of Jesus participate at all in the messy military business of killing people?" asked evangelical author Randolph Klassen. "Would Jesus? Would Christ carry a draft card? I am convinced He would. Does He want me to carry one? Of this I have no doubt."

Besides this amazing reading of the New Testament which manages to elide almost all of its meaning without breaking a sweat, there have also been complaints about New Testament verses sent to cadets in email, chaplains actively proselytizing and forcing them to attend chapel. One incident reported that a Jewish cadet was told the Holocaust was revenge for the death of Jesus and that another Jew was called a Christ killer by a fellow cadet.

A banner in the football team's locker room read: "I am a Christian first and last ... I am a member of Team Jesus Christ."

As a result of these incidents (and more), Weinstein argues the military has been hijacked by a right-wing fundamental Christian agenda, in what appears to be a clear-cut violation of the constitutional separation between church and state, which has rippled across all four branches of the military under President Bush.


"The rise of evangelical Christianity inside the military went on steroids after 9/11 under this administration and this White House," Weinstein said in an interview with Jason Leopold of Truth Out. "This administration has turned the entire Department of Defense into a faith-based initiative."

Weinstein explained that VA chaplains, as federal government employees, are not supposed to "proselytize or rescue souls."

VA chaplains "are not supposed to view the VA hospitals as their own personal mission field, or the veterans as low-hanging fruit," Weinstein said.

"The VA is not the Southern Baptist Convention. In this country, we have a separation between church and state. The religious right views the separation of church and state as a myth. There is no difference between the VA hospital and a US Air Force fighter squadron. They're both part of the federal government. It doesn't matter if you're an Orthodox Jew, a Buddhist or an atheist."

To which, as a patriotic American, one can only respond: amen.

Americanism - Conclusion

What's most frightening about this moment is the fact that we are at once the most powerful nation in the world militarily, but also probably the most vulnerable and subject to dramatic change --a change that will prove inevitable as oil supplies recede, and global warming alters demographic patterns permanently -- within the next decade or so. We are also the nation most prone to delusions of self importance and divine destinies. And, as a culture, we are least likely to see anything culpable in our actions, indeed, as mentioned previously, we thrive precisely because we are capable of this 'double think', carrying out horrific actions in the name of some ostensible good (God or Democracy or Freedom),which allows us to excuse the very horror we create. "Gott mit uns!"

Our technologies make us truly exceptional and militarily powerful at the strategic level, but our religious pieties and sense of entitlement and innocence make us - as a population - blind. I sometimes see our nation as a flaying  Cyclops madly pawing at the cave walls looking for Ulysses' men, the villains who took away our sight: our villain du jour, the terrorists or the communists. But the image is fanciful. In truth, no villians have blinded us; we've just refused to open our eyes.

What is to be done than? In an excellent piece at Truthout.org and written up for Eurotrib by DeAnders (with a fun  betting poll rating US Imperial collapse possibilities   here ), Chalmers Johnson recommends a dramatic solution.


The American people must make the decision to dismantle both the empire that has been created in their name and the huge (still growing) military establishment that undergirds it. It is a task at least comparable to that undertaken by the British government when, after World War II, it liquidated the British Empire. By doing so, Britain avoided the fate of the Roman Republic - becoming a domestic tyranny and losing its democracy, as would have been required if it had continued to try to dominate much of the world by force.

    For the U.S., the decision to mount such a campaign of imperial liquidation may already come too late, given the vast and deeply entrenched interests of the military-industrial complex. To succeed, such an endeavor might virtually require a revolutionary mobilization of the American citizenry, one at least comparable to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

   [...]

    Such reforms would begin at once to reduce the malevolent influence of the military-industrial complex, but many other areas would require attention as well. As part of the process of de-garrisoning the planet and liquidating our empire, we would have to launch an orderly closing-up process for at least 700 of the 737 military bases we maintain (by official Pentagon count) in over 130 foreign countries on every continent except Antarctica. We should ultimately aim at closing all our imperialist enclaves, but in order to avoid isolationism and maintain a capacity to assist the United Nations in global peacekeeping operations, we should, for the time being, probably retain some 37 of them, mostly naval and air bases.

Is this possible?

At certain times in recent history, noted imperial nations relinquished their power, more or less voluntarily, and thus saved themselves. The British in India and East Africa, the Belgians in the Congo, the French in Algeria, the Dutch and French in Southeast Asia, the Portuguese in Angola--they all reluctantly surrendered their possessions and swallowed their pride.

Someday, like Chalmers Johnson, I hope America will have the sense to join them. In the mean time, it's worth examining what forced these other empires to bend to the will of the people.  Johnson makes reference to the Civil Rights movement and I believe he's onto something with that. The Indians did not fight the Brits to a standstill and although the Algerians were considerably more bloody than the Indians in their nationalistic movement, they certainly did not militarily win against the French. They won because of massive support for their cause in the indigenous population. These empires were forced to abdicate their authority by massive local resistance.

In the instance of Americanism what would be the parallel? A world wide movement, a rejection of unilateral efforts by Americans or Nato forces, a belief by many in the people themselves that can transcend this last and most menacing `ism'. But is such a movement possible?

I think so. In fact, it's already happened. On February 15, 2003, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, more than ten million people in more than 60 countries around the world demonstrated against that war. They weren't demonstrating against America, they were demonstrating against Americanism. They were marching against our massive military infrastructure, obviously built for empire, and fueled by Americans who rarely knew or know how their own tax money is spent. They don't know because they believe in their own exceptional piety and innocence. Thus, for many Americans still, it never occurs to them to ask.

Other diaries in this series:
Americanism, Part I - American Innocence

Americanism, Part II- American Militarism

Americanism, Part III - American Exceptionalism

(cross posted at DailyKos, ProgressiveHistorians)

Display:
So 8% of Americans are scientists? ;-)


You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 01:11:55 PM EST
Or maybe engineers.
by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 03:25:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
American military strength is another of our national myths. The US has the ability to destroy any spot on earth it wishes, but it can't use military means for political ends anymore.

Since the end of WWII there hasn't be a single successful large scale engagement where the US has prevailed. I suppose one could argue that forcing Iraq out of Kuwait was a win, but this was a fight over a very small territory.

We failed in Korea, we failed in Vietnam and we seem to be failing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even our client states in Latin America no longer obey our wishes. To top it off we haven't even been able to topple Castro after about 50 years of trying.

Military strength that accomplishes nothing politically is useless and our saying that we are the only remaining superpower is just more self delusion.

It has a bad effect, however. It permits policies which divert needed domestic investment into infrastructure and human services to go instead into militarism.

As to religiosity, I've been reading up on this a lot recently and I've come to the conclusion that the polls are incorrect. There is a well-known effect of social bias when conducting polls which means that people won't give answers that they think will be frowned upon. So one of the common statistics that is quoted is that church attendance is about 40% (as self reported), but when the numbers are checked by doing counts of people in attendance the figure is more like 20%.

So many people answer affirmatively when asked about belief or adherence to doctrine, but they don't really let it be a meaningful part of their lives. This isn't to say that the US isn't still the most religious of all the developed economies, just that the numbers aren't as big as thought.

I can't be sure, but it seems that there is a new mindset emerging. The religious critics like Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett are starting to make it acceptable for people to acknowledge their unbelief. In addition with people like Dobson leaving the stage the religious are turning more to good works and away from politics. Having been promised social changes for 60 years (from abortion to sex education to gay marriage) and having seen none of these programs delivered in any meaningful way they are becoming disillusioned.

Finally the younger generation is much less religious than their parents. About 50% of the children of evangelicals drop out as adults, for Catholics the numbers may be even higher.

I did post a diary the other day about the image of atheists in the US:
Can Atheists be Trusted? which didn't get much comment here, but did get a lot on dailykos. This makes sense since Europeans have no idea what the fuss in the US is about.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 04:56:33 PM EST
Good comment. I agree that our sense of military might as an useful tool in foreign affairs is vastly over rated and dangerous for all types of reasons: further delusions of military grandeur, etc. And not least because we end up killing a lot of innocent people unnecessarily when we use it.

As to religiosity, it's an interesting, if squirrely point. My thinking is that religiosity itself is more a measure of how you want to be thought of in terms of 'religious beliefs' not necessarily what you actually practice. So the discrepancy between what people say to a pollster and what they practice on the surface, though interesting in its own righ, may not be especially relevant to my larger point that the US is an especially religious culture. The point that they are saying it (or feel compelled to say it based on cultural norms) probably indicates, at minimum, the strength of the religious culture in which they live. Certainly, the same poll taken in Europe would probably be in the low teens, I would suspect. Again, as much an indication of the culture norm as what folks actually practice.

On the other hand, I find this is very interesting and I hope it's true:


I can't be sure, but it seems that there is a new mindset emerging. The religious critics like Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett are starting to make it acceptable for people to acknowledge their unbelief. In addition with people like Dobson leaving the stage the religious are turning more to good works and away from politics. Having been promised social changes for 60 years (from abortion to sex education to gay marriage) and having seen none of these programs delivered in any meaningful way they are becoming disillusioned.

Finally the younger generation is much less religious than their parents. About 50% of the children of evangelicals drop out as adults, for Catholics the numbers may be even higher.

by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 05:59:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you haven't read Daniel Dennett's latest book you might find it interesting.

One of his points (similar to yours) is that many people don't actually believe, but they believe in belief. That is the think that it is social useful for people to believe and try to instill this in their children. This is even the premise of the famous religious fallacy (from Descartes ?) that it is better to believe than not because if you don't and discover an afterlife then you will be punished for your disbelief, but if it turns out there is no afterlife then you have lost nothing by believing while alive.

The fallacy is that if God is really omnipotent than espousing a belief that you don't really hold or only hold out of fear won't "fool" him, so you gain nothing.

The real danger, of course, is that you have spent your life being the tool of some religious organization which has been telling you how to live your life.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 06:20:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I remember that! "Pascal's wager" after the mathematician, pretty much exactly as you've described it.

Once, kind of drunk at a party with a bunch of hardcore libertarians who were in denial about global warming, I used it to defend supporting 0 C02 emmissions technology. I called it the green wager, going something like this:

If global warming is false and you support 0 CO2 technology, nothing is harmed, you find useful and marketable alternatives to petrol which you will need down the road anyhow, because oil don't last forever.

On the other hand if global warming is true, and you support 0 CO2 emissions, you've help save all of humanity.

It wasn't an exact fit, but close anyhow...Thanks for the Dennet book recommendation! Sounds fascinating.

by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 07:34:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The fallacy is that if God is really omnipotent than espousing a belief that you don't really hold or only hold out of fear won't "fool" him, so you gain nothing.

I think his 'wager' comes with a bit more... He writes as well that belief is constituted by 'acts of belief'. That by following very formal rules of fate, praying, engaging in rituals etc, 'belief itself' will follow, or possibly that this is all there is to 'belief'? (Was a while since I read this...) The wager is a wager on belief, not a wager on God. (Or as well, in addition to a wager on God, one on belief?) It is not a matter of 'tricking God', but of assuming 'belief' which is already 'belief'?

I kind of like Pascal, in a funny sort of way. I used to quote him on belief when teaching a computational model in an intro comp sci class. It turns out that most of my idiot students when introduced to the model would freak out, going on about not understanding it, etc. "Explain, explain! Explain again!" they would shout. I would tell them, that the way one 'understands' such a model, is to blindly assume it, work in accordance with its rules in a step by step fashion, and through the process of enacting the formal parameters of 'understanding', 'understanding itself' will follow... I am not sure the students adequately appreciated the cleverness of Pascal. Ungrateful little bastards, they were!

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Wed May 23rd, 2007 at 03:11:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Military strength that accomplishes nothing politically is useless and our saying that we are the only remaining superpower is just more self delusion."

I disagree.  

It may be an illusion, but it is not a delusion.  Our military "strength" serves the elites quite well.  They've made billions and run the country as they were wont for decades.  Orwell was pretty clear on this point in 1984:  The Party doesn't need Victory.  It needs War.  Permanent War.

Isn't that precisely what Bush-Cheney promise us?

The singular weirdness of Bush-Cheney is that they are so much more overt than previous administrations.  And that is a function of their religiosity.

by cambridgemac on Sat May 26th, 2007 at 02:00:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nice diary.

I disagree with the premise that economic development correlates with a decline in religiosity. It is economic equality, not economic development, which correlates with lower levels of superstition.

I'd chalk this up to objectification and re-ification of the "other." People are "other" when they are demonstrably different, and being poor, unemployed, et c. sure makes you different. Class and race differences, whether formalized or not, tends to exacerbate this.

The US has a gini coefficient on par with the developing world, and so it is unsurprising that it is as superstitious as the developing world.


The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 05:36:05 PM EST
Excellent insight, worth a diary alone:

I'd chalk this up to objectification and re-ification of the "other." People are "other" when they are demonstrably different, and being poor, unemployed, et c. sure makes you different. Class and race differences, whether formalized or not, tends to exacerbate this.

by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 05:41:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks man.

If only there were hours in a day. My blogging is severly restricted these days due to work.

I don't, honestly, know how Jerome does it.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 05:51:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nonetheless - excellent point.

In effect the US is a third world country, complete with a religious dictatorship, an aggressive military caste and corruption maintained by various criminal families and businesses, pretending to be a developed country.

Small parts are developed - and some parts are very developed indeed.

But most of it isn't.

On that basis there's no point expecting the US to behave like other developed countries, because it's not going to do it - at least not until it allows real democracy and European-style wealth redistribution to happen within its own borders.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 06:00:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What does this "undeveloped" 3rd world landscape look like? I'll agree with the premise for a few of the big city slums, but for the rest of this country...that's a very shocking claim.

complete with a religious dictatorship

Bush has worked hard at blurring the line between church and state, but we're nowhere close to a religious dictatorship. I'm confused as to why Europeans so often make this claim, as the real examples of religious dictatorship in the middle east are in plain view.

The "aggressive military caste" is a far, far greater threat to this country and the world than any issue arising from a religious premise. Religion is nothing more than a symptom.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 07:39:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On my - rare - visits to the US I'm always shocked by the levels of poverty on display. It's not just 'apart from the inner city slums.' It's huge swathes of hopelessness right across the country. They're airbrushed out of existence because the media ignores them - it's much more interesting to focus on shiny celebs - but much of the US is still incredibly grim, even compared to the rough parts of London.

And it's not just financial poverty. It's about limited opportunity in every sense. If you're not born into the right caste in the US, your choices are very limited. Extremely talented individuals can change caste, but they need to be truly exceptional. How free can you be when you need to be a four-sigma person to have a chance of escaping your economic fate?

As for the religious dictatorship - name a recent president who hasn't deliberately and consciously used faith-based Christian rhetoric to sell their plans, or who has gone against the trend by setting out a secular and/or atheist moral program.

You might think Clinton, but then there's this.

Huge amounts of time and energy are expended on purely faith-based issues, like sexual and reproductive politics, which in a secular culture shouldn't be issues at all. Meanwhile things that matter - energy, the environment, and broader social welfare - are framed as extremist plots to destabilise the fabric of American society. Alternative belief systems - Muslims, pagans, atheists, agnostics, gnostics, Hindus and the rest - have little or no access to law-making.

You probably have to spend some time outside of it to understand how insane - very nearly in a literal, certifiable sense - the political scene looks from outside of the US.

The common roots of all of this seem to be a deep streak of almost mediaeval authoritarian fundamentalism. I agree that religion is a symptom, because US economic attitudes are just as detached from reality as the Religious Right is.

The real state religion seems to be Randian self-centredness and social Darwinism - the rich and powerful take everything, just because they can, and the poor and weak get nothing.

Not all Americans practice this religion to the same extent. But politically and socially, the worst possible thing that you can be in the US is poor and weak. Not only will people not usually help you, they'll treat you with contempt instead of compassion.

(And I'm far from smug about this because here in the UK we're headed in the same direction.)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 08:30:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good grief! It's too bad you weren't around to speak to the US's burgeoning immigrant (both legal and illegal) population. It would have saved them the effort and expense of a trip there.

Nevertheless, you do make some good points about the existence of poverty in the US, and the lack of an adequate social safety net.  Conditions are just much worse in other "third world" countries.  

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 09:46:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Looks like the UN disagrees.

Parts of the United States are as poor as the Third World, according to a shocking United Nations report on global inequality.

It reveals that the infant mortality rate has been rising in the US for the past five years - and is now the same as Malaysia. America's black children are twice as likely as whites to die before their first birthday.

Blacks in Washington DC have a higher infant death rate than people in the Indian state of Kerala

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/article311066.ece

Parts of the United States are as poor as the Third World, according to a shocking United Nations report on global inequality.

It reveals that the infant mortality rate has been rising in the US for the past five years - and is now the same as Malaysia. America's black children are twice as likely as whites to die before their first birthday.

Blacks in Washington DC have a higher infant death rate than people in the Indian state of Kerala

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/article311066.ece

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 10:26:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The sense of poverty--especially in the rural areas is pretty strong for a first world nation.

I don't know where BritGuy toured and that would be interesting to find out, but I do know from personal experience that great swaths of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Alabama, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma are incredibly poor at --yes --third world levels: tin shack homes or trailers dot the landscape and if you get into the nuts and bolts you find third world type problems with infant mortality or things like ringworm, head lice, etc.

Many of these states form our 'Bible belt'. I think Marx observed something once about religion being the opiate of the masses. The reason he put it that way is because religiosity was used (typically by the church heirarchy or the state) to make individuals forget their actual material needs. Didn't always work, but that was the game plan.

Out of this waste land, literarily, has sprung many of our most 'famous' televangelists.

Our Jimmy Swaggarts and Tammy Fayes don't hail from NYC, they come from coal country, from the red clay parts of the south where you are as likely to get bit by a fire ant as a honey bee.

And they grew up poor as dirt: and many of the areas are still that way. Obviously immigrants come up from the South to make a buck on agri-business or domestic help or construction labor--but I suspect if jobs were available in their local economy not many would make the trek North. It's all about employment opportunity --because here you can eat, down South, you starve--and one suspects things have been arranged that way for a reason.

So it's certainly true that we aren't third world at it's worst. We are not at Bangladesh levels or Sudan, yet. No stories of mothers selling their eye as organ donors to middle men for money to feed their kids; but there's a lot of incidental information out there that indicates we aren't that far away either.

We've worked 'very hard' as Bush might say, to destroy our safety net. We have no nationalized healthcare worth talking about, no nationalized employment or retirement scheme.Our public education levels stop effectively at highschool. No labor laws regarding unions or right to organize that are enforced. Our food inspections are spotty at best and we've just recently had a scare because we imported poisoned feed from China.

Then occasionally you hear horror stories not more than a mile from the WhiteHouse --that come straight from third world level poverty -- a boy dies from tooth decay because he couldn't afford a dentist visit:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/27/AR2007022702116_pf.html
Not the norm, true, but we're working on it.

So I guess our new motto might be: 'Come to the US, because we're not third world--yet!'

by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 10:44:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is extreme poverty in the US and a lack of a social safety net for many.  Probably more than any other developed country in the world, the US doesn't take care of its own.  But, the US remains a magnet for employment for much of the world's unskilled population from China and Africa to Latin America.  US business thrives on poverty - or at least the poor, be it at home or abroad, and if some political interests get their way with the new immigration bill and trade agreements that trend will worsen.

I don't see religion playing as much a role in this trend as simple greed.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 11:15:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Per usual it isn't that I see the world in a radically different manner, just that I think the gap between the US and Europe is smaller. You're right about the enormous amount of poverty that is very visible in the US. While I wouldn't wish it on anyone - it isn't the same sort of horror that 3rd world slums are, although psychologically it probably comes close.

You probably have to spend some time outside of it to understand how insane - very nearly in a literal, certifiable sense - the political scene looks from outside of the US.

I'll counter with "not when I see it on display every day." The game the elites are playing is the human equivalent of a ritual mating game of rams locking horns. The difference is that we're using nuclear weapons, and such a fight goes a bit beyond "ritual." Rather than using their conscious faculties to create a stable and happy environment for our species, the elites are instead using them to create better horn lockin' weapons. It is insane in a physical sense - it is amplified chaos, and it's not stable from a survival standpoint.

I'm not convinced that this comes from anything other than a self reinforcing feedback loop of power, power that was gained by the peoples of Europe (near the peak of their intellectual prowess in relation to the rest of the planet) happening upon a vast continent of untapped natural resources. I think Canada has gone a different route than the US because their culture has not been corrupted by the same effects of power, as they have no massive agricultural interior with one of the world's longest rivers nearby flowing to the ocean, nor Texas' oil, nor the coal of Appalachia. Without that power Canada's best avenue to influence world events (Canada's leaders are still competitive humans, after all) does not include military aggression.

Huge amounts of time and energy are expended on purely faith-based issues, like sexual and reproductive politics, which in a secular culture shouldn't be issues at all. Meanwhile things that matter - energy, the environment, and broader social welfare - are framed as extremist plots to destabilise the fabric of American society. Alternative belief systems - Muslims, pagans, atheists, agnostics, gnostics, Hindus and the rest - have little or no access to law-making.

Nonetheless, abortion is legal. Non-Christian religions operate with little interference. The courts, with very well publicized exceptions, do not rule from the bible (beyond the extent that the basis of law in most of the US and Europe derives in part from that book). Women's rights advanced earlier than in most of Europe. Again I agree with your claims - but they don't amount to a religious dictatorship. Not yet. The litmus test is simple - if I went to Saudi Arabia, would I feel the "religious pressure" to be on par with what I feel in the US? Of course not.

I agree that religion is a symptom, because US economic attitudes are just as detached from reality as the Religious Right is.

The attitudes in Europe are similar when considered at a higher level. The US and Europe have both acquired an unfair share of the earth's bounty and labor and at vastly unsustainable rates. The difference is that Europe distributes this unfair share more equitably internally. The latter point is all that you are addressing. The implications of "vastly unsustainable rates" may well be the best example of "detachment from reality" that humanity has achieved.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 10:34:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, the problem is that the real religion of the US is economic and social discrimination. It doesn't have an official name, which makes it difficult to challenge.  But it does have all of the trappings of a cult. There's a uniform - the business suit - the daily ritual of stock quotes and analysis, and fortune telling in the form of long term financial forecasts.

This isn't just metaphor. A lot of capitalist activity is no more useful - and sometimes far more destructive - than pyramid building. In reality-based terms it's nothing more than a slightly symbolic version of spinning a hamster wheel, apparently for the pleasant sensation of making it go around and around. Supposedly this equates to Progress, which is of course inevitable.

But progress rarely seems to be progressive. And even when it is progressive, social and cultural innovation never seems to be driven by the leaders of the financial cult.

Christianity provides a useful herding tool for keeping the masses huddled and starving. But it's only a tool, not the central focus of belief - which is Wall Street, towards which everyone bows, and from which all blessings flow. (If you're not one of the poor.)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed May 23rd, 2007 at 07:00:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In reality-based terms it's nothing more than a slightly symbolic version of spinning a hamster wheel

Have you seen the ad for the Guardian jobs section with the slogan "better jobs" and a picture of a hamster in a diamond-studded, gold-plated wheel?

I don't know if that's accidentally insightful or subtly subversive.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 23rd, 2007 at 07:14:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, I haven't.

It could be subtly subversive. It's something of a hobby among some ad staff to see what they can get away with.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed May 23rd, 2007 at 07:41:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the claims of religious 'dictatorship' in the practical sense of that word are overreaching, but there's a kind of religious expectations game in our politics that's hard to discount.

Here are some questions I'd ask myself:

Can I name a single self-professed athiest who has won the Presidency of the US?

A: nope, not one.

Q: Can I name all the self professed 'Christian' presidents...

A: Give me a minute or two and I could probably have the complete list, though it might be easier to name the Presidents who didn't profess a believe in some Christian God and make some profession of faith, if only symbolic. I think that list would be 0 again.

But of course that might all be just for show and tell 'round election time. I think where things get really interesting is when you start looking at the last few decades in the US. The level of self-identified evangelists and fundamentalists involved in national level politics has sky rocketed. Bush is nominally 'methodists' but he is beholding to and talks the talk of the evangelicals. These are the far, far right wingers. The Monica Goodlings from Regent University are WhiteHouse liasons by design, not accident. Folks like Ted Haggard, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson that we tend to discount as so many rabid talking heads or demogagic fools have real political power and there are people who pour lots of money into their political coffers every Sunday.

And the political dimension is easy to track. John McCaine --who once called Falwell and crew out as hatemongers now has to kiss Falwell's ring to get elected. And--what's worse-- he's doing it. And Falwell, of course, is the same guy who said gays and liberals caused 9/11. Regent University's Pat Robertson thinks we need to assasinate Chavez, etc.  

In that very real sense, the conjoining of political power with religious extremism is happening right here, right now in good ole US of A. True, dictatorship's not the right word. It's more like a theocracy from the bottom up--which, frankly, from my perspective--is probably just as scary, if not worse. I happen to live in Richmond, VA, 90 minutes from Va Beach where Pat Robertson has his strong hold, and about two hours from Lynchburg where Falwell used to make his home. I can tell you these folks are real. And they are nuts.

by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 08:52:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What does this "undeveloped" 3rd world landscape look like?

4+ years ago, my mother came to visit me in SoCal and we gave her a tour of everything we could think of: from Venice Beach and Santa Monica to Palm Springs with its gated communities, the shock of going from the desert to the snowed peak of Mt. San Jacinto, a trip to the Ontario Mills mall at the peak of the Christmas shopping season, and then a ride on the Scenic Route 74 through godforsaken places like Perris, Hemet, and Lake Elsinore. A scenic route it is, but you also get to see plenty of trailer/mobile home parks and lots of poverty.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 23rd, 2007 at 05:06:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When I said "some big city slums," I was thinking of parts of LA, Chicago, and the NYC metro area (thinking of coastal Connecticut mostly - Bridgeport is one of the poorest US cities).

LA may well be the most surreal city on the planet.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed May 23rd, 2007 at 12:46:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Small parts are developed - and some parts are very developed indeed.

But most of it isn't.

The US is a microcosm of the global economy. I have been harping about how global liberalised capital movements dissolve the national economies into one single world economy, and so we're going to see a thirdworldisation of the whole planet. Most countries are going to end up having very developed areas and vast hinterlands of misery.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 23rd, 2007 at 04:59:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
why economic equality correlates with lower levels of superstition? or economic development?

Aren't there societies clearly super-wealthy with strong religious bleiefs (like the indian "abundance" socities of north-west coast America in the 1900's)..

and what about the other way around..are there societies with very low economic equality with low levels of superstition? I have no idea.. but it would be strange because magic (and in particular the thing we identify as superstition also is).. so defining low level will be tricky.. but the dogon are not particularly equal.. and you could say that the superstition is very low, although of course not because of science but because of highly structured language and myhtology.

Isn't it more a special stuff about the enlightenment ideas which were generated in a very specific context?

I dunno.. I am just asking about what makes you think so

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Wed May 23rd, 2007 at 04:29:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for speaking up.  I have always suspected this.

There is a nasty mutually reinforcing causality here.  The inequality makes the distance and objectification easier - and the objectification (and projection) corrodes egalitarianism.

Rightwing religion supports both sides of the equation.

by cambridgemac on Sat May 26th, 2007 at 02:13:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is an excellent diary in an excellent series, dm.

Thanks for taking the time to write these.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 06:02:03 PM EST
Thanks! Very kind of you to say so.
by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 07:00:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
btw many USian scientists and engineers are religious...

my marginalium on this topic is that religiosity also goes with Empire, like... baked beans with toast?  the British Empah in its heyday was a hotbed of sanctimonious religiosity, and -- this is very much worth noting and mulling over -- a peculiar theological flavour du jour called "Muscular Christianity" which sought to masculinise (and Whiteyfy) the Christ icon into a robust AngloSaxon soldier/sportsman.  very analogous to the Team Jesus football thing, but of course it would have been rugger or cricket in those days.

the New Testament prescriptions of pacifism, altruism, generosity, gentleness and loving-kindness is deeply antithetical to patriarchal values (domination, hierarchy, control and conquest), and a tussle seems to develop between the two value systems in all ostensibly Christianised empires and polities;  the Nazis zBs attempted to Aryanise Christianity, or to render it obsolete and replace it with a kind of State Paganism (sounds like an oxymoron to me, but dialectical contradictions didn't bother them much, like most authoritarians...).

hmmm recommended reading, iirc, "The Games Ethic and Imperialism" by Mangan... "Fallen Soldiers" by Mosse?  I think there's a much better text but can't remember it off top of head.

anyway, it doesn't surprise me that as Imperial America gels or hardens into its role, it suffers from the same  genus (though the specifics vary) of overbearing, zealous, self-righteous, underinformed, intolerant and warrior-cultic religiosity as Imperial Britain.  I suspect that we can cross correlate seasons of 'religious revival' in the US with periods of territorial expansion and resource grabs.  we may have cart and horse backward here, and the religiosity may be a necessary moral justification for the empire, rather than the empire an outgrowth of the religiosity;  more likely they are synergistic...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 07:07:45 PM EST
Another diary in a comment! Excellent. Thanks for the book recommends as well.
by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 07:16:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
are deeply antithetical

dammit

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 07:32:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Since you have failed to agree your nouns with the correct verb in a blog post the only possible conclusion is: you are a terrible person & from that comes the result: I will completely discount anything you say from this time forward.

And, yes:   8^)

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Tue May 22nd, 2007 at 11:30:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
america's military braggadocio, world globocop-on-religious-steroids just enables more people to support the underdogs in whatever equation she formulates, which is pretty much anyone who has any resources she desires.

american's, having succeeded in ridding themselves of the overdog british in their time, should of all peoples, understand this.

but america's so huge, it's a world unto itself, unlike europe, the middle east, or asia, such huge land mass, creating a cultural crossroads that precludes too much incestuous reinforcing of superannuated, sclerotic memes...too many crosscurrents from easy land access, more turbulence.

even with s. america down south, and canada to the north, (perhaps latitude is more deterministic to this phenomenon than longitude), there seems more of a backwater effect to the religiosity of the bible belt, which really has to be experienced to be believed.

living in hawaii 16+ years, plus sojourns of several months in oregon, nebrasks, and california had in no way prepared me for texas, for example.

it's quintessential modern americana, and even kitschily charming, in its peculiar innocence of any irony till you turn up the resolutionand see the devastaion it symbolises and spawns more of.

i got a chance to see 'jesus camp' in cult tv the other day.

it won best documentary at cannes recently, and the trailer was intriguing in its outright lunacy, so i popped some virtual corn and settled down to what i hoped would be a trip through human abberrancy at its over-the-top finest.

and fell asleep...it was dull, or i was wiped, i'll never be sure, but seeing as i'd missed the first showing at 9 pm because a friend came over to play some music, i tuned in at 2am!

anyway, how many sobbing children can you watch going into religious ecstasy without dropping off?

it's easy enough to lampoon, but the possibly apocalyptic knock-on effects are indubitably worrying....up there with bird flu-style epidemics, resource wars, third world genocide, climate chaos and what ever other nightmare-du-jour serving to keep me from relaxing when i want to!

blogging, aah, relax and worry at the same time....simple really.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu May 24th, 2007 at 05:25:38 AM EST
Here was me thinking that the US religion is Money and Property.

ie Mammon, not God.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu May 24th, 2007 at 09:59:33 AM EST
A superlative diary.

When it gets to religion, I still get the sense that it's not that simple. We're such a mosaic of a country, with so many variants.

The third world analogy I've read here strikes me as a better/more encompassing one; the US is a young and politically immature country.

Right now, I don't think it can reform itself peacefully, no more than the USSR could. We have three futures ahead of us:

a) more of the same / worse, as long as it can last;
b) a revolution/coup
c) a societal collapse

At best, we'll move from the current Brezhnevian stage to a delusional Gorbachev/perestroika stage of pointless cosmetic so-called reforms (I can picture Hillary in that role) until we finally hit the Yeltsin, take it all down & rebuild stage.

As I wrote here and elsewhere over two years ago, the challenge of the next decade will be for the world to deal with the collapse/transformation of the United States.

by Lupin on Thu May 24th, 2007 at 11:55:37 AM EST
I can't picture Hillary as a reformer, and while Gorby may have been delusional in his believe in the chance of saving the Soviet system by reform, I think Perestroika, but especially Glasnost, were neither cosmetic nor pointless.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 24th, 2007 at 12:10:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Especially considering the alternative.

I can't picture Hillary as a reformer either. Edwards - maybe. Gore, certainly.

In an extremely lateral way, Obama somehow reminds me of Khruschev. (Even though the natural match for Khruschve would be Bush.)

I sense a nasty but hidden ambition there, perfectly camouflaged by an ability to fit into a given political system.

Gore might well turn into Gorby, capable of engineering a relatively soft landing. (Especially considering the alternative.)

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu May 24th, 2007 at 04:43:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with Lupin that Bush is more like Brezhnev (maybe Clinton was like Khrushchev?)

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 05:53:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll withdraw "cosmetic" but my definition of "pointlerss" is that ultimately perestroika became irrelevant and was entirely replaced by a new system. I'm not saying it didn't have a role to play in getting there, but it ultimately didn't survive as a separate regime.

If we equal Brish to Brezhnev as the manifestaytion of the old, corrupt kleptocratic and imperial US of A, then cleatly the transitional phases that Russia wernt through were:

  • Andropov: more of the same;
  • Chernenko: more of the same II;
  • Gorbachev: attempt at reform; failed
  • Yeltsin: regime collapse / new regime

I see the current Dems offering a choice between Andropov et Gorbachev, that is to say, something doomed to fail -- though it might be a necessary transitional period.
by Lupin on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 05:20:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmm, everything that is "ultimately unsuccessful" is "pointless"?

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 25th, 2007 at 05:51:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perceptive comments, and far from outlandish speculation - (c). The first thing that came to my mind after the collapse of the USSR was 'there goes the counterbalance. The USA will be next'. I was not thinking then about global society as an ecosystem - but it is.

There is a kind of organic democracy evolving at all times, beyond the reach of leaders. 'Leaders' emerge to fulfill the zeitgeist, rather than the other way round. The evolutionary cycles of societies are measured in hundreds of years. It is why we study history.

The envisaged collapse of the USA, if it happens, will not be an unthinkable one-off event. The same thing has been occuring for thousand of years - all over the world.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Thu May 24th, 2007 at 12:19:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd say there's a (d) or maybe a (b)(ii) which is

Revolution/ "Napsterisation" - essentially a "coup" but bottom up, rather than the classic "top down" putsch:

1/ Capture the TV stations....errrr...they already have....

2/ Seize the White House.....errrr....they did....

......to the barricades!

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu May 24th, 2007 at 02:37:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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