Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Bigotry's Victories in Tuesday's Elections

Atheists lost yesterday's election in a big way.

I want to state at the start that I do not care about atheism per se. I care about the moral issue of anti-atheist bigotry. So, in effect, the problem is not that atheists lost yesterday's election. The problem is that the opponents of anti-atheist bigotry (regardless of their own religious beliefs) lost yesterday's election in a big way.

One thing that I am certain of is that members of both political parties, from the top-level operatives to the local volunteers, are starting to work on their strategies for the next election. They are looking at what happened in this election for what worked and what did not work, so that they can figure out how to win the next election.

Here are two rules that are now carved in stone in the Democratic play book.

Rule 1: Make sure that you know who the atheist activists are, and make sure that you exclude them from any party or gathering that you might attend, except where the atheist leader might be lost in a crowd and the candidate can claim ignorance of their presence.

One thing that you will not see in the next two years is an atheist leader in the company of a political candidate. The candidate might meet with priests, rabies, imams, and clerics of all types and colors, but not with the atheist. That is political suicide. All of those other people have some type of religious belief – and any religious belief at all is better than no belief.

Rule 2: Make sure that your candidate has her religious bona fides in order.

This way, if some accidental violation of Rule 1 gives the opponent an opportunity to run an advertisement that accuses your candidate of atheism, she can run a massive counter-campaign saying, "How dare you sink so low that you would accuse me, of all people of atheism or of having atheist sympathies."

These are two of the new rules.

They are quite devastating. Not only is it the case that we cannot run for public office, now we cannot even have the attention of somebody who is a candidate for public office. The wall between the atheist and the political representative has just gotten significantly taller.

And this defeat is tied to other defeats – other groups in this country whose one and only lives are made less than what they could have been, less than what they should have been, by those who seek states harmful to others for reasons they rationalize by assigning them to a god that they invented to serve as the vessel and justification for their own harmful prejudices.

These rules were most clearly applied in the Kay Hagan/Elizabeth Dole contest in North Carolina, of course.

However, they were also used to help to win the Presidential election.

These rules came into play in the Presidential election. Remember the Democratic National Convention, which began with a meeting of religious leaders? No atheists were invited. Obama never once met with any representative of any group defending secular values. It is one thing for him Obama to include in his circle of acquaintances the leaders of various religious sects. If I was running for office, I would do the same thing. However, to exclude a group – to shun them – to make sure that one has no association with them – is a different kettle of fish.

It has been a quiet shunning, of course. Atheists know their place, so they are not too demanding. Those few who are demanding can be safely ignored – because they are too few and their voice is too soft for anybody to hear them. So, the shunning, the ostracism, all slips quietly under the social radar.

And, of course, Obama had his religious bona fides in order. Of course, since he was accused of being a Muslim, and not of being an atheist, he could not fire back a response that said, "How dare you sink so low as to accuse me of being a Muslim." That would not have been politically incorrect, and would have earned the (justified) ire of much of the population. In this case, such a response may well have ended Obama's political career. It would have endeared him, of course, to a set of anti-Muslim bigots, but it would not have helped him win votes in the general population.

It turns out that Kay Hagan's response to Elizabeth Dole's accusation of atheism did not harm her at all. In fact, some evidence suggests that her response, "How dare you sink so low as to accuse me of atheism," seems to have earned her about 4 points in the election. We could make the same analysis – that the response would have endeared her, of course, to a set of anti-atheist bigots. However, in this case, anti-atheist bigotry is wide spread through the general population – at least of North Carolina. So, the campaign worked.

Actually, in two years, we can expect that the Republicans will make some progress in regaining some lost ground. We can expect them to pick up a few seats in the Senate and the House, just as a part of the normal course of events. The Democrats have full control of the executive and legislative branches, so any and all criticism can be leveled straight at them. Any amount of unhappiness at all, and the Democrats will pay a political price. And some amount of unhappiness is inevitable – particularly with a Republican political machine telling the people at every opportunity of how Obama and the Democrats have failed them.

So, the Democrats will be focusing on retaining as much of their current political advantage as possible – with some hope of building on it. To do this, they are going to hunt for candidates in contestable races who have their religious bona fides in order. They are going to make sure that no accusation of palling around with atheists can stick, and that the candidate makes sure to give no evidence that he has sympathy for atheist values or pro-atheist judges.

When the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals gives its decision on ‘under God’ in the Pledge (assuming that they declare the phrase unconstitutional), expect to see Democrats will rush to introduce resolutions in the House and Senate denouncing the decision, giving their members an opportunity to go on the record for their anti-atheist bigotry.

Republicans will rush to the microphone to announce that they are introducing legislation (or pushing legislation already introduced) that will strip the courts of the power to hear such cases, and to condemn the Democratic party for appointing judges who do not share the nation’s values . . . who do not share and will not enforce the nation’s bigotry.

This election has left atheists far more marginalized than ever. In spite of the “new atheist” movement during the Bush administration, American atheists have continued to lose political ground – and to lose it at an accelerating rate.

I look at history – at where these types of trends have ended in the past. At the same time, I tell myself that it cannot happen again. It’s not even worth writing about. Yet, evolution does not happen so quickly. What people have been capable of doing in the recent past they are still capable of doing. All it needs is the right confluence of events. History makes it abundantly clear that societies that declare decent and normal people unfit for membership and, ultimately, seek to remove them. When they write that message, “These people are unfit for membership” into the pledge and their national motto, one has to ask, how far they can actually go with such a message.

Decent people would never have tolerated such a message being written into their pledge and motto. Decent people would never have tolerated a political message that said that some segment of the population is not only unfit for public office, but unfit to be in the company of those who seek public office.

Yet, here we are.

Where are we going from here?

10 comments:

anton said...

Rule One:

I would imagine then that there will be no participation in meetings with Warren Buffett (or any of the other top ten wealthiest people in the world), Bill Gates, Noam Chomsky, Steve Jobs and quite a few others who "do not believe". Pity!!! Maybe they could learn something but I understand the "American" spirit where they will just "wing it" without the benefit of advice from those who achieved success . . . just those who want to make it!

Oh, well. Same old, same old!

I do, however, congratulate US America over its political "shake-up". I hope President Obama manages to influence the political, big business and military complex as well as he has influenced the American people.

Tom said...

I partially disagree with you. While there was obvious courting of the religious right, I have yet to find a conservative Christian who was for Obama, and many of them voted. I've tried to find out what the statistics are on Christians that voted for Obama vs. McCain, but I can't find it, aside from pre-election polls which put it at about 35:65.

My point is, the last several elections have seen the religious right really swaying the election. This time around, not so much.

During Obama's acceptance speech, he said, "It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America." I was surprised that he did not say, "Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, and non-believers." I would have been happy if he really did interject "non-believers", but to not mention religion at all, I see as a positive sign.

PhysicistDave said...

Alonzo,

Relax.

Christianity is dying. The USA is the only significant nation on earth, which is still dominated by Christianity, and, even here, the intellectual and cultural elite is no longer Christian.

And, the USA’s dominance in the world will soon be a thing of the past. The future belongs to Asia: religion has never been central to Chinese culture, and India is not Christian (nor does it seem likely that Hinduism can survive long-term as India becomes educated).

Europe of course is already post-Christian.

Humans will no doubt find many things to kill each other over in the future, but religion per se is in decline.

The real question is: what form of irrational worship will replace religion?

That most of the people who object to “under God” in the Pledge are nonetheless willing to pledge “allegiance” to a piece of cloth, as long as those two words are removed, is very telling.

Americans’ real religion is not Christianity; it is worship of the American central government: “one nation indivisible… with liberty and justice for all” as the old lie puts it. See Carolyn Marvin’s insightful book “Blood Sacrifice and the Nation : Totem Rituals and the American Flag.” We saw that worship with a vengeance the other day with the great religious ritual which ushered in the national acceptance of our newly chosen national Messiah (one of the few good things about McCain – at least he inspired religious feelings in no one).

I love to Christian-bash every now and then just for the fun of it too. But the real threat to human well-being, and even human survival, is not Christianity; it is the imperial government of the United States. The USA is dying and should be gone within a century. But in the interim, the sick animal is dangerous indeed.

Dave

anticant said...

To us in Europe, most of these boastful loud-mouthed Americans trumpeting their religiosity haven't a clue about what Christianity is supposed to stand for. Their religion is worship of the Self, dressed up as 'God'.

Their ceaseless proclamations that America is the greatest nation on earth betray deep inner insecurity. The fact is, America is no longer the greatest nation on earth, if it ever was.

PhysicistDave said...

anticant wrote:
> Their ceaseless proclamations that America is the greatest nation on earth betray deep inner insecurity. The fact is, America is no longer the greatest nation on earth, if it ever was.

Actually, a significant number of American Christians are willing to say quite explicitly that God created America as a central aspect of his plan to save the human race. They have transferred the idea of Messiahship from the Christ figure to the American nation-state.

This, of course, is a profound form of idolatry (and deeply heretical to anyone who believes in traditional Christianity). But most American Christians are more worshipful towards the American nation-state than towards Jesus of Nazareth.

The scariest thing is that this is true even of most liberal Christians in the US, many American Jews, and many American atheists. Many of G. W. Bush’s advisors who planned the debacle in Iraq were actually Jewish secularists (not all – it was not of course a “Jewish conspiracy”!): their worship of the American nation-state exceeded even most fundamentalists’.

That is why I am bemused by Alonzo’s fixation on the sincerely religious Christians. Most of the world can see that the real religious danger is rampant American nationalism. Very few Americans can see this.

Read Obama’s comments on Russia’s attempt to defend South Ossetia or Iran’s attempt to deter a nuclear attack from the US or Israel, and you will see that Obama buys into this insanity nearly as much as Dubya does.

American nationalism may yet prove to be a more dangerous ideology in terms of world peace than either Communism or Nazism was. The world should be very afraid of this dangerous rogue nation: I’m not sure even you Europeans realize quite how insane the USA truly is. Somehow, the government of the United States must be abolished for the safety of the human race.

Dave

Eneasz said...

An interesting turn of events. :) After having such bitter words for each other in the prop 8 thread, I find myself agreeing with just about everything Dave just said. (Altho I do think complete abolition of the government is a bit extreme at this stage) Not all Americans are like this.

If I were to put it in my own words, I'd say that the human instinct for tribalism is the most destructive force this world has ever seen, and American Nationalism is the most recent incarnation of that. I think people are probably fixated on extremist religions (the previous incarnation of this tribalism) because they still exist, and have done so much damage in the past. Heck, I know *I'm* still pretty fixated on religion myself. It's a daily struggle to look past that, and often I fail.

PhysicistDave said...

eneasz wrote:
> Not all Americans are like this.

No, but it is the overwhelmingly dominant culture. Decline to make the Catholic sign of the cross or fail to call out "“Amen!”at the end of someone’s prayer, and few Americans will think less of you.

But, stay seated during the Pledge of Allegiance -- much less spit on the flag! – and you will really excite antagonism.

I should add that, as you might expect, I myself am not emotionally antagonistic towards traditional American symbols: I like Old Glory, I enjoy singing the national anthem (I like the challenge, since it is, after all, almost unsingable), etc. But the old symbols are being used to justify a suicidally belligerent policy.

One point on which you and I may differ is that I do not see this as having started with G. W. Bush. McKinley and Roosevelt launched the brutally racist and murderous US imperialist conquest of the Philippines, one of the nastiest wars the US has ever started; FDR was responsible for the racist imprisonment of Japanese Americans and Truman for the nuclear incineration of tens of thousands of Japanese in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; etc.

Before the Presidencies of the two Bushes, all this was largely a liberal-progressive enterprise. Now, it is, sadly, a bipartisan effort.

You also wrote:
> Altho I do think complete abolition of the government is a bit extreme at this stage

Well… I do not expect President Obama to abolish the Union before the end of his first term!

But it could come sooner than anyone expects – I remember the collapse of the Soviet Union in ’92. Even five years earlier, I knew of no one who expected it to occur that rapidly (although as long ago as the ‘60s, prescient writers such as Amalrik and Rothbard did predict its eventual collapse).

The USA is structurally very similar to the old USSR: a monstrous, centralized empire, nominally consisting of individual sovereign republics, without any real, unifying historical culture but using universalist slogans to try to suppress regional and ethnic differences.

Of course, there are differences between the two empires: the USA has been enormously more aggressive on the world scale than the USSR (the Soviet Union generally confined its aggression to its neighboring captive satellites) and the USSR murdered many more of its own people than the USA has done.

When will the USA fall? I don’t know, but fall it must and fall it will.

My guess is that it will fall late in this century when Occupation forces of the Eurasian coalition dismantle the US government and divide the country into different zones of occupation as the Allies did to Germany after World War II. (Anyone who thinks that no one will ever beat the USA should google “Shanghai Cooperation Organization”: the rest of the world is gearing up to defend itself.)

Personally, I oppose all government as I oppose all religion, but the US government is an especially dangerous example of the animal.

You also wrote:
> After having such bitter words for each other in the prop 8 thread, I find myself agreeing with just about everything Dave just said.

Yeah, people just do not fit into the little boxes that are used to classify human beliefs. I am an atheist, an anti-imperialist, a Darwinian evolutionist, and an anarchist. I’m also a multiculturalist who thinks that Western civilization is rightly dying, to be replaced by a new world civilization.

I also favor “family values”; I think that philosophical materialism is an error; I oppose governmental funding of science; I have contempt for the idea that human beings are or should be equal; I am a cultural conservative in matters of art, education, and high culture who admires the traditional high culture of the West; etc.

That all fits together in my mind: for example, sending off young men and women half-way around the world to kill innocent people is hardly a good way to advance family values! Similarly, without government to artificially fund and prop up “progressive” social values, “avant garde” art, etc. I think that such things will just fade away, as they should have long ago.

But most people, most especially “liberals” and “progressives,” are shocked at the idea that such values and perspectives can be consistent and cohere together, and it tends to make people angry.

I find that quite interesting and revealing.

Dave

Eneasz said...

But, stay seated during the Pledge of Allegiance -- much less spit on the flag! – and you will really excite antagonism.

Yah. It is a sad state of affairs. But it's only about 50% of the population right now, and some of the liberals among us (who you seem to despise for some reason, despite the fact that they're fighting on your side) are trying to curb this. Who is it, you think, that speaks up for people's right to burn any piece of cloth they've bought, regardless of what colors are on it?

I enjoy singing the national anthem (I like the challenge, since it is, after all, almost unsingable)

LOL! That is perfectly in charecter for you. :) I don't mean this as an insult, that really was kinda endearing.

One point on which you and I may differ is that I do not see this as having started with G. W. Bush. McKinley and Roosevelt launched the brutally racist and murderous US imperialist conquest of the Philippines

Actually, you'll get no disagreement from me on this, at all.

Before the Presidencies of the two Bushes, all this was largely a liberal-progressive enterprise.

Ah, of course. It was never the reactionary conservatives who inflamed the red-scare, black listed liberals, and argued that American troops must be deployed everywhere because of some nutty "Domino Theory". No no, that was purely the fault of liberals.

I think that philosophical materialism is an error

Wait, what? You just said you were an atheist a paragraph ago. You are an atheist that believes in the supernatural? Or do you not understand what philosophical materialism is?

I have contempt for the idea that human beings are or should be equal

Yes, obviously you do. And I'm assuming that the judge of who is inferior and who is superior is... you? Or someone else who thinks just like you, no doubt.

for example, sending off young men and women half-way around the world to kill innocent people is hardly a good way to advance family values!

I agree. But it seems you have no problem with oppressing people right here and now in your own state. Is that the family values you are trying to advance?

But most people, most especially “liberals” and “progressives,” are shocked at the idea that such values and perspectives can be consistent and cohere together, and it tends to make people angry.

I have too much experience with compartmentalization and other fixes for cognitive dissonance to be shocked by such things anymore. Those who are shocked are usually young and naive.

Anonymous said...

>I have contempt for the idea that human beings are or should be equal;...

People should be equal only before the law. In every other way they are different; in fact, they are unique.

stevo

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Political equality, of the type spoken of during the Enlightenment at the time of the American revolution, is the belief that no person is born with a natural right to rule, and no people are born with a natural duty to obey.

It applies to the idea that God selected certain people to rule as kings, and assigned everybody else the duty to obey those kings.

Later, it was expanded to challenge the idea that those with light skin had a right to enslave those with dark skin.

And, still later, to challenge the idea that men had a natural right to rule and that women had a natural duty to obey.

The idea that America is a 'Christian nation' is a throw back to the old idea that one group (Christians) have a right to rule and all others (non-Christians) have a duty to obey.