GOP bombs Womenistan

The other day after work I heard a report by Ari Shapiro on All Things Considered.  He was gauging voter sentiment in the swing state of Colorado.  One interviewee who made the cut was a female business owner.  She expressed her indecision thusly (emphasis mine):

“I don’t know that I can, in good conscience, vote for the Republican Party. I mean, it just – it seems to me that they don’t think much of women. But I don’t know if I can vote for the Democrats, because I don’t know that they think much of small business people. So, you know, the things that I hear from both sides, they do affect me. But there is, you know, it’s like a tug of war at this point. I don’t know who to vote for.”

I wish Ari Shapiro would have had the mind or maybe the time to pursue the vague yet provocative claim that Republicans “don’t think much of women.”  What must GOP women make of this statement?  The real story should be how Democrats’ continue to cobble their coalition with the same shopworn, cartoonish tropes for the past four decades.

It’s my fervent hope that voters such as the woman interviewed will think clearly and come to shake off the manipulative “war on women” narrative when they enter the booth come November.

The Elephant in the Room of Economic Development

A couple weeks ago, David Kestenbaum of All Things Considered reported on the Indian economy, artfully mixing interviews of Indian economic experts with the slice-of-life story of an elderly, impoverished, street-dwelling shoe-shiner Umrao Singh.  The words of both the Indian academics and Singh pointed to a shared sense of fatalism.  In pondering why the Indian growth rate has in recent decades been much lower than comparable developing economies, the experts jokingly alluded to the “Hindu growth rate . . . maybe it is there in the scriptures.”  Meanwhile, Singh justifies his poverty as he looks on the dwellings of his wealthy neighbors by saying, “this is what God has chosen for me.”  Like his countrymen, he concedes that “what is written is written, you can’t change it.”
A famous destination for seekers of wisdom, peace, and enlightenment in the 1960s, India has  regained the spotlight in recent years as a new wave of thinkers and celebrities have  attempted to answer the question of “happiness.”  Michael J Fox touted the Indian culture of cosmic acceptance in his 2009 TV special, Adventures of an Incurable Optimist.  I even read a New York Times article that somehow was able to proclaim a certain Tibetan monk as if with some degree of scientific authority, the happiest person in the world.  Fatalism and acceptance are compelling themes for the frenzied denizens of postindustrial societies.  But do these ideas really do justice to the marginalized poor in developing economies?  Given the shared outlook of Singh and his nation’s experts, and the fawning enchantment of India’s onlookers, does a problem of justice and marginalization even exist?

In his report, Kesterbaum supposed India’s problem was a lack of manufacturing jobs.  And while manufacturing has been credited with building the modern middle class everywhere from America to China, it is not the key ingredient that India lacks.  Rather the one thing that will satisfy the technical questions of the economists, the existential needs of the poor, and the postindustrial search for happiness is a proper fulfillment of the Christian concept of Imago Dei.  As apologist JM Njeroge noted in a recent interview, this idea is the root of much of human progress in recent centuries.

To answer the economists’ riddle, consider the innovators and the moralists who steered their societies through the original industrial revolution.  The scientists who accumulated knowledge of the physical world and the inventors who applied that knowledge as technology took as a given what astronomer-astrologist Johannes Kepler posited in the seventeenth century: because man is made His image, we can “think God’s thoughts after Him.”  Likewise, what would become the human rights movement snowballed with the successive propositions of moral philosophers.  In the American Revolution, we clearly see ideas and corresponding actions rooted in the affirmation that man is created in the image of God.  The same is true for subsequent moral movers, including abolitionists, suffragists, and labor activists.  Even when modern authorities on development point to the necessity of institutions like the rule of law, they are indirectly appealing to the outworking of Christian faith.

A society’s confidence in Imago Dei is also the basis for its sense of agency, without which the innovators, capitalists, and producers of wealth will find it hard to be motivated beyond immediate gain.  Wherever this notion does not prevail, you will see a society’s actors either jockeying among themselves for a sliver of a fixed socioeconomic pie, or consigned as ones marginalized without
hope for advancement.  But where there exists this understanding of agency, it enables those with economic capital to grow the sum of human wealth, and it allows both reformers and the destitute an actionable hope for change.  For this reason it is important that we permit ourselves to make meaningful distinctions between cultures and parse through the differing assumptions that animate them.

Whether informed by detached, journalistic diggings like Kestenbaum’s, or the ponderous musings of would-be “happiness” gurus, our notions of human development and spiritual fulfillment will remain incomplete if we forget that the Image of God has been the singularly transforming force for good in our world.

Truth, Justice and the American Weigh

A spike in news reporting on the Tea Party movement came with the passing of tax day earlier this month.  Orbiting around this media meme of course were various references to talk radio and certain polarizing cable news channels.  Time and again my attention returned to the contentious issue of media bias.  There is so little that can be widely agreed upon as a basis of conversation.  Does media bias even exist?  Is it desirable or to be avoided?

NPR’s All Things Considered ran a story last Friday featuring perspectives on three news organizations in Atlanta.  It was refreshing to hear mainstream media report with some candor on the nature of news gathering itself.  I found myself in basic agreement with the proprietor of the Atlanta Progressive News as he identified the corporate bias of big media, characterized reporters’ single-handed attempts to be the “arbiter” of truth as “arrogant,” and asserted that trust can only be built if news gatherers admit their biases.  This all stands in contrast with traditional notions of down-the-line objectivity that such a mainstream media staple as CNN, which Politico recently reported on, attempt to maintain.  But if the news business resembles anything like a marketplace of ideas, the old “dinosaur” media as Hugh Hewitt calls them are finally succumbing to leaner, meaner, and wholly worthy competition.

Why should we welcome the likes of FOX News, talk radio, devolved blogs, and the host of other aggressively biased reporters and commentators?  Contrary to late, platitudinous naysaying that the climate of our national dialog has taken a marked turn toward the uncivil, America has thrived under a long and continuous tradition of rancorously competitive news reporting.  Ad hominem slanders that would put current reporting flaps to shame were the staple of the nation’s earliest newspapers.  For decades, papers openly supporting one party or the other competed for readership in the cities they shared.  The conscious cultivation of the objective, altruistic “Voice of God” was something of an artifact of the twentieth century.  In the popular imagination, this was best exemplified by the earnest, selfless comic book superhero-reporters Clark Kent and Peter Parker.  As commendable as these paragons of integrity have been, they betray an all-too-simplistic popular culture conception of the relationship between news gathering, facts, and the truth.  If only real-life villains were always rich men and military brass with a penchant for violently vibrant spandex outfits!  This leaves no mention of scientists, the other revered revealers of truth, which will have to follow up in another entry.

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