Saturday, February 03, 2007

Links, Life

Yeah, I missed a week. Here's the thing, I'm really, really busy right now. This post is gonna be half links and half life update, cause those are the laziest kinds of posts (except for Bears-related photos that I upload without further comment, which is the laziest kind of all.)

Life update first: my two classes are kinda kicking my butt. It's been a year or so since I've taken a class, and the last one was taught by my advisor, who thought time in the lab was more important than getting the homework done anyway. It's been four years since I've taken one like my GR class, with twenty students, and homework problems from the end of the chapters due weekly, and midterms and finals and real grades. Just going squeezing the classes into my work days is hard. We're actually making a little progress with the MOT (I said I'd put up pictures of the launching we've done here, and I will, whenever we get the data off of the non-internetted computer it's stored on) but sometimes I'm not there when I'm needed. And when I am, days full of MOT work and school work are very full indeed, long and exhausting. Meanwhile the gyroscope project is sort of in suspended animation as we try to figure out what exactly needs to be done next. With no deadline attached to it, it has slipped to the bottom of my priority list. I am, however, writing a summary of our group's work on this stuff so far, which will probably become my thesis proposal, but which does have a deadline because it's supposed to be published as the text to accompany a talk my advisor gave.

Just writing about all that makes me feel as if I should be doing something more productive than blogging.

But I'm getting an intimidating backlog of links to post and comment on, so let me at least put a few of them up.

In particular, I've come across lot of related stuff about the suburbs, politics, and religion lately.

Slacktivist says the reason we're at war in Iraq is that our urban schools suck. Actually, he just says it's why we're not able to cut down our gasoline use. But we're at war in Iraq at least partly because we're so dependent on foreign oil, that's what makes the region so strategially important. We're dependent on foreign oil because everybody drives rather than taking mass transportation. But many people can't take mass transportation because they live in the suburbs. Why? Because that's where the good schools are.

He also has a powerful argument that the war in Iraq can't be "won" because it was not in our interest to begin with. If we were to invade Canada, what would it mean to "win"? Assuming we succeeded in taking down their government, what would we do then? Occupy Canada? Why would we want to do that? And for how long? Because there would be no reason to invade Canada in the first place, victory is undefinable. Same in Iraq. If there had been WMD to capture, we could've declared victory when we captured them, but since there were not, and since Saddam's government was not uniquely bad -- we have no reason to expect the next one to be better, if we pull out -- how do we know when we've "won"? (And if the real goal was to destabilize the middle east lest it unite against us? Then the war can never be won until we turn the middle east into Canada. So long as they have a significantly different culture and different values than us, some of our leaders will see their unity and prosperity as a threat.)

Meanwhile, back in the suburbs, Chris Hedges says that the reason the country is so polarized by religion is "suburban despair." He says "A terrible distortion and deformation of American society, where tens of millions of people in this country feel completely disenfranchised, where their physical communities have been obliterated, whether that's in the Rust Belt in Ohio or these monstrous exurbs like Orange County, where there is no community. There are no community rituals, no community centers, often there are no sidewalks. People live in empty soulless houses and drive big empty cars on freeways to Los Angeles and sit in vast offices and then come home again."

I think my "radically" Christian, suburban mother (who reads this blog, by the way-- hi, Mom) might actually agree with his argument, if not the conclusions he draws from it. She grew up not in the suburbs but in a small country town, and laments the loss of "community" every day. She does not find the daily grind of work, commute, TV, commute, work fulfilling either. When people begin to feel their lives are meaningless, religion gives them meaning. I think that is probably the definition of religion.

But I want to own my own home and have a couple of kids and make enough money to buy fancy digital toys and take vacations, too. Almost everybody wants that stuff, especially the people who actually live the furthest from the suburbs, in decaying inner cities and half abandonded rural towns. I think the problem is, what happens when you actually get all that? When you have nothing left to strive for, really? When you've achieved all your ambitions, what gets you out of bed in the morning then? That's the problem people "trapped" in the surburbs have. And that's why many of them turn to religious activism, to give them a purpose, a cause, a mission.

Of course, they also have the leisure and resources to pursue such a mission, which someone less successful, just struggling to make a living, doesn't have. That may be the other reason a lot of this comes out of the suburbs.

I think Hedges (who wrote War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, a book that I found incredibly moving, and who is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School) is more on the money than Tom Frank (who wrote What's the Matter With Kansas). But in another article of his I think he makes the same mistake that Frank did, not taking the convictions of the people he's writing about seriously enough. I mean, I think that a lot of environmental activists are motivated by basically the same thing. They need a mission, and saving the world is a compelling one. But that doesn't mean the earth doesn't actually need saving. It does. And likewise, just because anti-abortion crusaders are motivated part by their need for a mission, doesn't mean they don't have a point. We're a hyprocritical society, aware that nothing magical happens at the moment of birth to turn worthless "tissue" into a priceless "child," and yet refusing to admit it, refusing to deal with the ambiguities or the moral queasiness they bring with them.

So long as we keep in mind that understanding people's motivations doesn't excuse us from taking their messages seriously, I think that kind of understanding is really valuable, and I still really respect Chris Hedges. I also think he's right that the divisions on some of these passionate issues could ultimately tear our society apart, and that some of the less rational religious types, like those obsessed with the "end times", seem to want it that way. And that does scare me some.

But my final link is proof that some people are anti-abortion and pro-environment, believe it or not. Crunchy Conservatives buy organic food and homeschool their kids, wear Birkenstocks and go to Bible study groups. The New York Times says it's "a kind of across-the-board rejection of modernity [...] Crunchy cons disapprove of abortion rights, same-sex marriage, illegal immigrants, public schools, secular liberals and mothers who work outside the home. But they don't like Wal-Mart, McMansions, suburbs, pollution, agribusiness or processed foods, either." I think I could like and even admire people like this, hard working and sincere in living their convictions, but not agree with them. I'm not on board with the rejection of modernity part. I like pop culture and I like technology and I like the idea of women working outside the home. And I like cheap food, and I like government social services, because self-reliance would only work if the world were fair. I'd much rather live in the modern world than fifty years ago or a hundred years ago or more, and I'll resist anyone who tries to turn back the clock.

But still, I respect these "Crunchy Cons," who manage to be both left wing and right wing nuts at the same time, more than people who are merely one or the other.


Ampleforth said...

What Hedges doesn't realize is the the liberal Protestantism that he learned at Harvard Divinity School -- watered-down Paul Tillich -- is at least as guilty as urban sprawl for the loss of a sense of mystery and ritual among Americans in the cities, as is evidenced by the breakdown of the Protestant Mainline over the last fifty years. And even though the mainline's done, their legacy continues in kitchy Masses, liturgies, and "worship centers" throughout the nation.

Simon said...

Nothing being wrong with being "left wing" and "right wing" at the same time. Unless things are more different than I realise that side of the pond, the "wings" really refer to forms of government - primarily economics.

I guess that traditionally people toward the right in the forms of government that they like have been non-environmentalist and pro-abortion and those to the left the opposite... but I don't see any reason that this has to be, and I don't see too many reasons not to be environmentalist and anti-abortion (although you might have to view ecology as something magical and sacred rather than an evolved system to merge these views).

But that's fairly obvious I guess.

Brian said...

Hi there. My name is Brian Falb and I'm a graduate student in communication at DePaul University. I'm also applying for my PhD in political science beginning next fall.

This term, I'm taking a course in quantitative research methods and my chosen research topic is political bloggers and their goals/intentions, processes, inspirations, etc. I'm focusing on blogs NOT associated with a traditional media source or with an organization/politician/party. This way, I can examine why every day Americans initiate, participate, contribute, and comment on political blogs.

I would love to interview you to talk about your opinions and views about the role of the political blog in contemporary political discourse. If you know of others that would be willing to take part in my study, I'd appreciate that information as well. Answering my questions shouldn't take more than a few minutes.

Please feel free to contact me at if you're at all interested. Thanks very much!



kenzfazzer said...

Regarding, having kids and money and gadgets and vacations,what then? Then, raising your kids, and watching them grow, gives maximal fulfillment. Everything else pales, permanently.