Why Political Correctness is back

feminist-tweetsI don’t have much to say about Jonathan Chait’s recent missive against the new wave of political correctness. The debate he sparked has followed predictable lines: most lefties deny the problem or downplay it, adding a healthy dose of ad hominem against Chait to build their case (he’s not a true leftie, he’s said bad things in the past, and he’s a white guy, so case closed.) Debating the merits of these accusations is, in the larger scheme of things, beside the point. Even if individual examples can be dismissed, the totality of the evidence proves that the problem exists.

I’d like to focus instead on a debate that unfolded between fellow lefties Freddie deBoer and Angus Johnston. Both bloggers are worth your time, but to state briefly, deBoer argues that political correctness is a major problem that is stifling free speech and preventing would-be activists from joining liberal causes, while Johnston is much more optimistic and finds the issues Chait and deBoer raise overblown and easily addressed within an in-group setting. If the dynamics of this exchange sound familiar to you, it’s because this debate is a carbon copy of the ongoing missives between ex-churchgoers listing the reasons the church has failed us, and the Christians chiding them for leaving the fold.

Johnston has adopted a social justice version of The Gospel Coalition position: activist organizations are great, people are welcoming, and you just need to make an effort to be respectful in order to fit in. If there’s a problem or you feel unwelcome, it’s likely your fault.

deBoer is taking the Benjamin Corey position: activist organizations are unwelcoming, cliquish, and thick with their own coded language that separates rather than unites. If there’s a problem and you feel unwelcome, then maybe it’s the organization’s fault after all. (If you’re skeptical of my take, skim over Corey’s first nine bullet points about why people are leaving churches and switch out “leave church” with “quit activism” or “quit being allies.” The similarities are astonishing.)

While it makes sense for churches and activist groups to set behavioral expectations, it’s worth asking why liberal activists sweat the small stuff so much (and invent small stuff to sweat over). I’ve worked with both conservative and liberal activists over the years (sometimes concurrently), and I believe that the answer can be found within the culture of activist groups themselves.

We live in an age when women’s health clinics are being shut down at an unprecedented rate, yet there is little effort to reverse this trend. Activists seem to care more about making sure reporters get quotes from women of color in articles about the closing of health clinics than whether the clinics themselves stay open. Rather than fight for gay housing and employment rights, they focus on making sure activists say “cisgender” instead of “straight.” Instead of fighting to reverse the trend of cutting programs that support the disabled, activists waste time scolding people for using the word “disabled.”

I believe that the cause of all this infighting over political correctness is an underlying pessimism among liberal activists. By and large, activists do not believe that abortion rights are salvageable in the short term (due mainly to the conservative make up of the higher courts, and the rightward swing of state and federal governments.) Most do not believe that global warming will be reversed because oil companies and climate change deniers wield too much power. The battle for racial equality mimics the misfortunes of gun control advocates: a tragic shooting happens, then a big media flare up follows. Protests, grassroots energy, and hope for genuine change surge. Sometimes that energy grows to the point where it looks like the Left might finally be getting its act together. But then the sound and fury fades. The media loses interest, conservatives change the terms of debate, and the Left flitters off to the next controversy or tragedy. With few exceptions, the momentum is on the conservative side.

Some of this pessimism is warranted. By design the modern Left attempts to stand up for the powerless, so the people they’re advocating for lack the resources to sustain their cause. It’s a lot easier to defend billionaires than the poor. The decline of unions and blue collar liberals has led to greater dependance on academia and young people. This adds up to a largely unreliable voting base that lacks resources and the self-discipline to sustain political causes beyond 4-year presidential election cycles. An aging population coupled with rising costs of college may deal another major blow.

So that leaves us with the kind of activism that young people with short attention spans can sustain. Activism that can win small victories with minimal effort. Activism that people suffering the weight of massive debt and time-consuming jobs can participate in. And yes, activism that can often bring positive results.

Language has proven to be the easiest thing to police online. What begins as noble intentions (be considerate of others’ feelings and experiences) and clear cut goals almost everyone can get on board with (racism and misogyny suck) easily morphs into the bullying campaigns deBoer and others describe: someone famous says something ignorant. So you spread the word, call them out for it and get them to recant. With a few days’ work, you’ve helped communicate your message globally, established your reasoning, and discouraged others from using the same language. Often this creates positive change, but it’s usually superficial change, and it creates the illusion of genuine political victories.

As these quick successes multiply, in-group expectations intensify. Some of these are positive (like pointing out that women of color have lacked a voice in feminism) while others are negative (like condemning anti-war veterans for using masculine language to express their frustration with the military-industrial complex.)

Instead of acknowledging that people who travel in different social and economic circles will not be familiar with their in-group language, activists attempt to transfer the environment of their online community into the real world, full of people who don’t tweet or don’t have time for their meetings or learning their lingo. So you end up with the same alienating dynamic evangelicals experience when they try to use Christianese in public, except liberals resent the fact that people aren’t hip to their lingo more than evangelicals do.

As a result, even the best ideas become unwieldy and incapable of being translated to non-academic circles. Does anyone believe that your average fifty-something blue collar Dad with a GED diploma could ever get his mouth around the phrase “reinforce patriarchal and heteronormative stereotypes of women,” even if he’s a lifelong Democrat?) So instead of translating their ideas for the public, the public is expected to learn activist’s language. The whole process is so convoluted that you end up with situations like the ones deBoer describes, where people just give up rather than risk offending people, even when they mean well and want to contribute.

Mark Sandlin’s God

tumblr_lx0ndigYDi1r4u11so2_1280Somehow it’s appropriate that a few days after commenting about how touchy liberal Christians are about contrarian viewpoints on their blogs, I got a post of mine marked as “spam” on one of their blogs.

Blogger Mark Sandlin, who’s written a series outlining his beliefs called “Heresies From A Southern Minister,” apparently doesn’t like it when people challenge his heresies.

I’ll try to recreate the points I made to him here on my blog because they dovetail nicely with my last post. Many of Sandlin’s arguments in his series fit the equation for liberal arguments I proposed here last week:

A  A society that believes Y will be a more moral one.

B. Therefore, God must believe Y.

In his post about Hell, Sandlin starts with a belief and presents arguments in favor of his predetermined outcome, which is a God that didn’t create hell. He openly states that his primary motive is personal rather than theological:

I don’t believe in Hell, and any confession that requires me to believe that Dante’s Hell is not only real but that Jesus went there…is not a confession that I care to confess.

From there Sandlin reverse-engineers his scriptural analysis so it falls in line with his goal Again, we see the liberal logic: conclusion first, scripture second:

A  A theology that believes Hell does not exist will be a more moral one.

B. Therefore, God must not have created Hell.

Despite his lack of objectivity, my second point was that Sandlin’s flawed approach does not necessarily lead to incorrect conclusions.

I remember an old episode of Cheers that illustrates this nicely. One of the main characters was Diane, a cerebral woman with zero understanding of football. In spite of her ignorance, she kept winning the bar’s football pool. Sometimes she based her choices on how a real-life confrontation between the team animals would play out ( “A bear against a dolphin?” she scoffed without realizing she had picked a major upset), while other times she picked them based which team color scheme she preferred.

Diane ‘s whimiscal approach echoes Sandlin’s approach to “heresy”. Sometimes he stumbles onto legit theological debate (there are good arguments that hell as we understand it might not exist) but other times he’s just plain off-target (like when he argues that you can be a Christian and not believe in Christ’s divinity.)

And while I didn’t compare his approach to a sitcom character in my post, I suspect that what irked Sandlin the most was my claim that he was arguing that God must endorse his beliefs because he’s really sincere about them. Sandlin has a vested interest in worshipping a God that didn’t create Hell, so he created one. Now maybe he’s right and God didn’t really create Hell. In that case his God is closer to the truth than the God I believe in that did create Hell. But the end result is due to Sandlin’s personal preferences rather than an attempt to try to understand God. HIs series is using the same shallow approach as tea partiers who comb the Bible for evidence that God loves the free market.

Ultimately,  Sandlin was making the case for a God who makes no demands upon him. Whatever he believes, God must be fine with it precisely because Sandlin would not worship a God who expected more of him. If your faith doesn’t move you out of your comfort zone or force you to consider the possibility that God might disagree with you or demand that you do things you don’t really want to do, then I would argue that you don’t really have faith. You just have an ego that you like to talk about in the third person.

Christian Logic

hqdefaultWell, I managed a pretty cool accomplishment this past month. I got banned from both a liberal and a conservative website! There’s nothing like moody forum managers to illustrate the truth in my moniker.

I don’t want to name the liberal site because I posted under my real name, but the conservative site was The Gospel Coalition. Since my last post there was a rather innocuous post explaining why employers hesitate to hire employees with evangelical ambitions, I suspect that someone over at TGC took a gander at my blog and decided they didn’t like me anymore.

At the liberal site, my crime was disagreeing with the opinions of people on the forum. Yup, that’s it. My last two posts there was a statement that arguing that hell doesn’t exist makes a number of New Testament verses about hell sound nonsensical, and pointing out (after the forum manager ranted against evangelicals spreading the “love the sinner, hate the sin” mantra) that the quote actually comes from Augustine.

After engaging fellow Christians on message boards and blogs nearly twenty-years, I’ve found that forums run by liberal Christians tend to be much testier than those run by conservative Christians. There’s a constant culling and deleting of even the mildest dissenters at them. The stakes at conservative sites tend to be much higher (your soul is at stake if you’re wrong), but for the most part administrators at those sites tend to be very permissive of dissenting opinion and rarely delete the evidence. That’s always struck me as odd.

And then it hit me: the answer was hiding in plain sight. Conservative sites are more permissive precisely because for them, the stakes are higher.

For a while now I’ve been toying with writing a post about the different ways conservative and liberal Christians think. I’ve touched on this in various ways on my blog, but last night it crystallized me with two simple, logical equations.

Here’s the conservative perspective about God:

A. God said X.

B. Therefore, a society that believes X will be a more moral one.

Now here’s the liberal perspective:

A  A society that believes Y will be a more moral one.

B. Therefore, God must believe Y.

You can plug in almost theological debate into these equations and they make things so much clearer. For example:

A. God said that homosexuality is immoral.

B. Therefore, a society that believes that homosexuality is immoral will be a more moral one.

and:

A  A society that believes homosexuality is moral will be a more moral one.

B. Therefore, God must believe homosexuality is moral.

Now let’s plug exclusivism into the equation:

A. God said Jesus is the only way.

B. Therefore, a society that believes Jesus is the only way will be a more moral one.

and:

A  A society that believes there all religions are true will be a more moral one.

B. Therefore, God must believe all religions are true.

Now so far, it sounds like I’m saying that the weight of logic falls in favor of the conservatives.  I’m not. And if we plug in slavery, then we’ll see why:

A. God endorses slavery.

B. Therefore, a society that endorses slavery will be a more moral one.

and:

A  A society that believes slavery is immoral will be a more moral one.

B. Therefore, God must believe slavery is immoral.

And herein lies a thousand internet debates distilled into their core elements. Now I know that some readers will insist that the conservative logic should say “The Bible says..” But remember that, from the conservative perspective, the Bible = God. And certainly many liberals make a good case that the Bible doesn’t teach that homosexuality is immoral, and therefore their argument fits the conservative equation.

But we’re talking psychology here. Conservatives prefer top-down, authoritarian logic. They believe that God’s opinion weighs supreme, and any discrepancy between mankind’s moral values and God’s must mean that mankind has gone awry.

Liberals prefer bottom-up, evidence-based theology. A pluralistic society strikes them as a more just society than a theocratic one, so that means that the pluralistic society is more reflective of how God wants us to live. Societies with a more loving attitude towards gays tend to be more just, therefore God must endorse homosexual relationships.

These equations also illustrates the strategy each side uses to challenge the other. Liberals ask whether it’s self-evident what God says (or whether conservatives are consistent about this). Conservatives argue that modern society is less moral, and that liberals prioritize societal values over God’s.

Check out Christian blogs for example. Notice how many conservatives blogs start with the question “What does God say about this controversy?” Liberal blogs, on the other hand, usually start with a personal experience or the impact the controversy has on people, and use that to illustrate where God must therefore stand on the issue. For liberals personal experience is evidence in moral debates, while conservatives see it as a nonfactor.

So what does this have to do with surly liberal blogs?

Well, if your theological arguments are evidence-based, then you’re working with a more ambiguous set of proofs than if you believe that God said it. The key difference is confidence. They are confident that the Biblical proofs they provide refute the liberal perspective. Conservatives are confident that liberals posting on their sites allow them to provide wise instruction to a visitor happening upon the debate. In their view, these debates serve a potentially evangelical function.

On the other hand, since liberals base their arguments on evidence, people providing contrary evidence muddy up the waters. A woman who pops into as discussion about gay conversion therapy to say she underwent it and lives a happy life will likely be deleted or banned (as I have witnessed), because the discussion as a whole rested on the case that gay conversion therapy has been awful for everyone involved in it. A man popping in to cite Bible verses to rebuke them gets tossed out because their focus is on evidence, not scripture.

In my case, I suspect that I was kicked out of The Gospel Coalition because my account linked back to my blog, where my liberal views are largely uncontested. The liberal site kicked me out because their case against hell rested on the belief that a God who creates hell would be unworthy of worship. Citing Bible verses muddies up their argument and takes it out of an evidence-based structure.

What Does Suey Park Want?

stephen-colbert-cancelcolbertBy now, anyone who cares to know about Suey Park‘s twitter crusade to cancel The Colbert Report has probably formed an opinion on it. I’m not that interested in taking a side on the issue, since other people have stated their case more eloquently than I can. Instead, I’d like to take a step back and offer my thoughts on the bigger picture.

1. If you’re not using twitter as your last, desperate means of communication to help overthrow an oppressive regime, then you’re not a Twitter activist.

Aside from its value in organizing high stakes protests in Iran and the Middle East, Twitter functions as a means for corporate promotions, social networking, and Mean Girls-style backbiting. It’s also a pretty good way to acquire 15 minutes of fame.

But activism? If someone pulls off a successful political campaign using Twitter exclusively,(meaning they get the results they want, not just drawing attention to their cause), then I’ll concede that there is such a thing as a Twitter activist.

2. Let’s be honest: the reason people aren’t taking her seriously isn’t her gender, ethnicity, or intellect. It’s her age. And like it or not, age matters.

I’m not saying that young adults don’t have anything of value to say or that they can’t offer important insights and ideas, but there’s a reason why people tend to be dismissive of them.

While I’m not a fan of his politics, columnist Jonah Goldberg summarized this phenomenon perfectly when he stated that:

Alas, the thrill that comes with the novelty of youth tends to delude a lot of young people. Often, they convince themselves that just because they’ve thought of something for their first time they believe they’ve thought of it for the first time, period. This translates into a kind of arrogance where some kids think no one else can really understand something as well as they can.

Young people have a hard time believing that their parents and grandparents looked at the world with the same outrage and passion when they were 23. And no matter how stridently Suey believes in her cause, odds are she’ll follow their same pattern. The real world has a way of resetting priorities by making things like raising a family and getting a job one’s priority. And once that happens, it’s very difficult to rekindle the passions of one’s activist days – if they even feel the same way.

I’ve lived in a college town for 30 years, and I’ve witnessed an endless cycle of young adults like her who think they’ve latched onto a revolutionary movement that will change the world. I was one of them. But while I admire their enthusiasm and even share some of their political aims, most of them are too immature or insecure to use their energy effectively. Suey is a great example of this: she’s managed to draw attention to her cause by piggybacking on another cause, and when given the chance to articulate her concerns, she’s all sound and fury without much to say except complain about the status quo.

3. If you’re going to be an activist, then act like one. Don’t make your cause about yourself. That’s narcissism.

On a strategic level, Suey has erred by using her forum as a confessional as much as a political soap box. And because people are cataloguing her personal struggles, she’s giving them fodder to detract from her message and question her motivations. If she wants to be an actjvist, then she should get out of the proverbial basement and and make things happen. Hashtags have the shelf life of a polonium halo.

4. There’s been some debate whether she should have expected the backlash she’s received. Some have even gone so far as to claim that Colbert putting her photo on TV was a horrible thing to do. That’s a bizarre argument given that the image Colbert used was the profile photo from her twitter feed, and it was the photo used for the dozens of articles written about her. What’s more, Park has done a number of podcast interviews that reach millions more people than Colbert does. If Suey wanted privacy along with her activism, then she would have declined podcast interviews or requested that her image be pixelated. Claiming that she hasn’t explicitly strived to get her name and image into mainstream currency is patently absurd.

That said, it does suck that women are so often subjected to misogynisitic insults and threats when they speak out about causes they care about. But I don’t think the repulsive behavior of anonymous trolls nullifies counterpoints to her arguments.

5. Suey should be able to answer the same question all activists should ask themselves: what do they ultimately want? What is her long term goal? Is it to end discrimination against Asians? Is it to end white privilege forever? Is it simply to get satirists to be more considerate of their targets? This was her answer when Salon asked for her goals:

I wanted to hit the irony and inability of the left to deal with their own racism. I think as a result of the white ally industrial complex, for too long people of color have been asked to censor whiteness, they have been asked to educate their oppressor, they have been asked to use the right tone, and appease their politics in order to be heard. And in an effort to just contribute to the self-improvement of white allies that are often times just racist. So I think it’s kind of like pulling a blanket off the façade of progressivism. It forces people to deal with those conversations about race that go beyond micro-aggression and that go beyond being politically correct, to what it means to uproot racism in its entirety.

To me, this is where a lot of liberal causes fail. Their goal is too vague or too utopian. A pro-lifer has a simple, tangible goal: end abortion. They have definable steps they can take to end it. Same with people protesting the Keystone XL. The success or failure of their goal hinges in whether the XL gets built.

I’m not sure how Sue’s vision would play out in reality, and the more she explained it, the more absurd it became:

The revolution will not be an apocalypse, it’s gonna be a series of shifts in consciousness that result in actions that come about, and I think that like, at this point is really like, ride or die, in terms who’s in and who is out. I don’t play by appeasement politics, it is not about getting my oppressors to humanize me. And in that sense I reject the respectability politics, I reject being tone-policed, I think we need to do away with this idea that these structures are … that the prisons can undergo reform and somehow do less violence as a structure. But any example like that.

So in Suey’s view, what does it success look like? Is it an end to racial humor? An end to white privilege? An end to white people weighing in on racial topics in any manner? What does it mean to uproot racism in its entirety? How does she plan to go about that?

I’m curious as to how she would answer these questions. At this stage though I figure she’s 23 and she still hasn’t formed plausible goals to match her visceral distaste for the status quo.

Rachel Held Evans Says Goodbye

Rachel-Held-EvansRachel Held Evans made a seismic announcement today:

But I’m done fighting for a seat at the evangelical table, done trying to force that culture to change.

While it’s not as drastic as if she announced a shift to agnosticism, I suspect that Rachel’s going to lose a large faction of her audience and her influence. I’ve always been a big fan of her, but Rachel’s main appeal to the masses has always been that she’s a role model for a different kind of evangelical, an alternative for millennials and Gen X’ers that confirmed that they could remain within the evangelical fold while they seek to transform it.

Now Rachel becomes a cautionary tale, and within the evangelical subculture it will be one that young people will have a very hard time refuting. Whereas before a teenager could point to one of her blog posts and show a youth pastor that not all evangelicals think the way he does, now that youth pastor has two counter arguments: she’s not an evangelical, and she left the faith.

So rather than wearing out my voice in calling for an end to evangelicalism’s culture wars, I think it’s time to focus on finding and creating church among its many refugees—women called to ministry, our LGBTQ brother and sisters, science-lovers, doubters, dreamers, misfits, abuse survivors, those who refuse to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith or their compassion and their religion, those who have, for whatever reason, been “farewelled.”

Now I’m not saying that Rachel is no longer a Christian, or that her credibility has been damaged. But within a culture that only reads books by evangelical authors and never glances at anything written by a mainliner (save for CS Lewis) or Catholics, Rachel has cast herself far out of the universe where she had the most influence. That young evangelical who wants to use Rachel Held Evans as proof that there are liberal evangelicals can’t use her as an example anymore, and odds are she won’t even be on their radar:

For many years, I felt that part of my call as a writer and blogger of faith was to be a different sort of evangelical, to advocate for things like gender equality, respect for LGBT people, and acceptance of science and biblical scholarship within my community.  But I think that perhaps I became more invested in trying to “fix” evangelicalism (to my standards! oh the hubris!) than in growing Kingdom.  And as helpful as I know that work has been for so many of you, I think it’s time to take a slightly different approach.

I respect the fact that Rachel has taken time to reflect n her motives and reassess her goals. It’s Rachel’s life, her choices, and her walk with God. and I’m not trying to tell her how to worship or what to think. But I think shedding the evangelical label, even if it was just a label, will damage the liberal voice within evangelical churches.” You can’t cite Rachel anymore,” conservatives will say, “She’s not one of us. She’s confirmation of their slippery slope arguments. Stay away from that thinking lest you drift away from the faith.” For a culture that views anyone who leaves the evangelical church with leaving the big “C” Church,  Rachel joins Rob Bell and other former evangelicals as evidence that you can’t be liberal and stay in the faith.

Yes, Journalism Has Consequences. Get Over it.

Illustration By John Tomac

Illustration By John Tomac

For 45 years, Penn State never endured the offseason drama of losing a head football coach. Until this year, the rumor mill and the subsequent hiring free-for-all that occupies the sports pages of most major universities during the winter months never pierced the State College bubble.

So it was odd to see the contorted reactions locals had when Bill O’Brien left town for a head coaching job with the Houston Texans. The backlash was predictable; fans who praised O’Brien’s loyalty and winning record turned around and painted him as a traitor with a mediocre record. Soon the gossip bubbling under the surface came to light.

Then the secondary consequences filtered in. Stores found themselves with unsellable O’Brien-related merchandise. Recruits second-guessed their decisions to commitment to Penn State, The families of assistant coaches were forced to leave town for new jobs.

All of this is mind-numbingly obvious, of course. Sure it stinks for the people who find themselves leaving friends or taking a financial hit. These are real people with real friendships and budgets. But it’s part of the business.

I see a lot of similarities between Penn State’s jarring realization that college sports involves broken promises and uprooted families and the web’s histrionic reaction to Grantland’s investigation into Dr V’s Magical Putter.

Caleb Hannan investigative profile of Dr V is a compelling story that starts with a late night encounter with a Youtube video and ends with the death of the con woman behind the video. As you can imagine, it’s that last part that has people upset.

Most of the outrage has revolved around the fact that Dr V turned out to be transgender, and whether it was ethical to “out” her against her will. But the people who are fixated on that aspect are ignoring Hannan’s primary discovery: Dr V ( who chose the name Essay Anne Vanderbilt after her gender reassignment surgery)  was a con woman who lied about her credentials and connections in order to get wealthy investors to fund the golf putter she had invented.

Among the tall tales she told, Vanderbilt claimed to be: an aeronautical physicist from MIT; her clearance level within the government equaled those given to federal judges; a member of the exalted Vanderbilt family; a private contractor for the Department of Defense; a key researcher on the stealth bomber; and a clearance level is so high that her names cannot be found on government record; and someone who knew former Vice president Dan Quayle.

I want to point out two critical elements of Vanderbilt’s story that keep getting lost in the shuffle. The first is that her name change was explicitly made to deceive people and raise funds for her putter. If she had chosen to rename herself Essay Anne Smith, then that’s no biggie. But she chose Vanderbilt, and she used her new name to mislead investors.

The second point is that her initial condition for agreeing to talk to Hannan wasn’t simply because she wanted his report to focus on “the science and not the scientist.”  She wanted to protect her “association with classified documents” and her fictional government clearance level. In other words, she was most interested in preventing an investigation into her phony scientific credentials.

Back in the 80’s I wrote for Penn State’s college newspaper, the Daily Collegian.  While we weren’t exactly breaking major scandals, but we did learn a lot about Journalism 101. And one the key lessons drilled into us was to be tenacious. Never settle for anything less than the whole truth, and go where your investigation takes you no matter how unexpected the twists and turns are. To be honest,  being a good reporter means being a jerk: break promises; lie if you have to get to the bottom of a story; and if someone tells you not to look into their background and gives you wild, melodramatic warnings if you do so, then by all means dig into their background.

By and large, good journalists are rude, aggressive, selfish, and restless. If you want people to like you, then don’t become a reporter. If you ‘re more concerned about the potential consequences of your investigation than the investigation itself, then don’t become a reporter.

One of the reasons I quit was because the environment even at the college level was so ruthless. I don’t know if Caleb Hannan is a nice guy – he strikes me as affable enough and I commend him for being willing to pursue his story to its end, even if his phrasing in a few parts is poorly chosen. But everyone is assuming that Vanderbilt killed herself for fear of being outed. They’re ignoring the fact that she has a long history of mental illness and at least one previous suicide attempt. It’s also possible that Vanderbilt feared being outed as a Sunoco mechanic and bartender more than any public disclosure of being transgender.

I imagine many people already assumed that a 6 foot 3 woman with an unusually deep voice would be transgender. And we should never forget that no one would have probed into Vanderbilt’s past if she hadn’t spun such tall tales about her credentials and deceived so many people.  She’s the one who chose to con wealthy people and adopt a name after her surgery that would aid her scheme. Being transgender should not let her off the hook for her dishonesty in every other facet of her life.

I think it’s a good that reporters err on the side of being insensitive. Investigative journalism on all levels is suffering because journalists care too much about getting chummy with the people they’re supposed to be watching. As result of the Dr V story, people are coming to grips with the mind-numbingly obvious revelation that investigative journalism impacts real lives, and it often does so negatively.

But it’s always been that way: thanks to the media, a company that dumped toxic waste into a river has filed for bankruptcy. We should (and do) focus on the lives harmed by the chemicals and the hazardous drinking water. But breaking open the story of the corrupt chemical plant also causes lost jobs for the people who worked there, uprooted families, and down the road it could mean divorces and even suicides.

The reporter who scored the revelation that a New Jersey governor may have used his power to punish mayors who wouldn’t endorse him should be commended. But people were fired, reputations ruined, friendships were likely broken and down the road there might be divorces and broken homes. There’s a lot of misery to go around when reporters get big scoops.

So get over it. Journalism is cold-blooded, even if some reporters aren’t. Broken lives are an inherent byproduct of big stories, Given that Hannan’s investigation involved a wild attempt to profile a self-claimed physicist who conned people to create a revolutionary golf club, there would be no way to expose Vanderbilt’s fraud without mentioning who Dr V was before she was Dr V.  And lets not forget that lots of people have lost thousands of dollars in this mess. Who knows how many savings and retirement nest eggs were lost?

The Right Seeks Converts, The Left Seeks Traitors

alec-baldwinBack in the 90’s I used to hang out at Christian messageboards. Ar first they helped serve as an outlet for the frustrations I felt dealing with the evangelicals I was hanging out with. Locking horns with fundamentalists online had fewer social consequences than doing the same with my Bible Study friends.

For me the most fascinating discussions took place when two fundamentalists found themselves on opposing sides of an issue, like the dating vs courting craze: Fundamentalist A would say that closely monitored dating was acceptable, while fundamentalist B would call A a foolish liberal and insist that courting was Biblically mandated. Or Fundamentalist A would b an Old Earth Creationist, while B would be a Young Earther.

Inevitably the more extreme Christian would accuse their brother or sister in Christ of being a heretic or dangerously misguided. A fascinating phenomenon would then take place: the fundamentalist whose faith was being questioned would start speaking like a moderate, and their tone would become much more polite while they defended their positions. This dynamic would escalate – the extremist becoming more aggressive, and the accused more delicate even as they pleaded for a truce – until an atheist or feminist showed up to give both fundamentalists a sweeter target.

You don’t see that happen on liberal forums. Liberals have a much harder time coping with dissension within their ranks. Witness the recent blowup regarding Alec Baldwin’s videotaped rant. I won’t delve into the particulars of Baldwin’s case; Wes Alwan has a good summary of it. Russell Brand is another example of a lefty found guilty of not being pure enough. Brand’s worthwhile essay (from which I lifted this post’s title) sums up the conservatism’s built-in political advantage well:

The right has all the advantages, just as the devil has all the best tunes. Conservatism appeals to our selfishness and fear, our desire and self-interest; they neatly nurture and then harvest the inherent and incubating individualism.

With that kind of disadvantage, the Left needs all of the help it can get. Instead, we see liberals engaging in a constant cycle of purging sinners like Baldwin, and doing so with more zeal than the conservatives who already despised the man for his politics. Women’s heath care clinics are being shut down across the country and liberals are busy fretting over whether Hollywood actors known for their off-color remarks can still be a part of the club.

Now you might be thinking that I’m guilty of making false equivalencies here. That fundamentalists sparring over doctrinal issues are in no way similar to Baldwin’s gay slurs. But here’s the point: in my examples, Fundamentalist B believes that A is preaching a false Gospel. In the end they come to no compromise, and B still believes that A is facing damnation. But they know how to make a truce and focus on their real adversaries.

Think about this: many evangelicals adore Glenn Beck. I know many evangelicals who buy Beck’s books, subscribe to his website. and follow his radio show religiously (pun intended). These people all know that Beck is a Mormon. They also believe that Glenn Beck is going to hell when he dies. That Beck’s religion has doomed millions to hellfire. They believe that Rush Limbaugh is bound for hell, too. And so is that doomed Catholic Rick Santorum.

These people don’t just disagree on minor issues like whether you can tell raunchy jokes and still be called a feminist. They believe that the moral foundation of their allies is built on falsehoods. And they look away. They take a utilitarian view and decide that these people are useful for their causes. Limbaugh and Beck might be going to hell, but they’re great at giving marching orders and rallying the troops. Not only do they get to stay in the club, they get promoted to be their loudest voices. Santorum is a warrior for one of their biggest causes, so they hold their nose, tolerate his Catholic values, and praise all the good he’s done for the pro-life cause. In spite of their reputation of being simple-minded sheep, the Right is able to approach politics with enough nuance to recognize that even heretics can join the team if they serve a useful role. While liberals fret whether they should ever allow Alec Baldwin to utter another word on causes that he’s supported for decades.