Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Principled Future

For half a century, our public square has been a cultural battlefield.

We have seen much progress. Millions of African American and other non-white groups can vote without fear because of the labor of Martin Luther King and thousands of hard-working folks.

Many farm workers now have living wages and reasonable conditions because of the efforts of Caesar Chavez.

Young adults can now vote as well as go to war for their country.

Our environment is cleaner today (in some regions) that 50 years ago thanks to public and private efforts.

We need to pause and be thankful for a land of freedom and opportunity that is always "in the making," always seeking to improve and live up to her highest ideals.

But there are ominous signs as well.

Religious and secular communities are engaged in a titanic struggle to define the values that will govern our future. In the early 60s, many of these folks (or at least their parents) cooperated to see the aforementioned changes. Now they are in a legal and verbal war that threatens to unravel the tapestry woven for 200+ years.

For the sake of this discussion, I am not going to refer to either extreme - theocratic cultists and communist/fascist enemies of all religion are not the focus here.

Most Americans want an environment of mutual respect and tolerance. What we are observing all too often is a kind of weird "McCarthyism" coming from both sides. The secularists lump together all "fundamentalists" and see bigotry and control behind every attempt to say grace in a public forum. The religiously observant are stunned by the callous attacks on their faiths and the militancy of those who want to change the public moral universe of America.

Is there a way forward?

Yes! But it is a "road less traveled", a principled thoroughfare that is not for the faint of heart and mind. We must return to the rich veins of moral gold mined by our Founders, who created the world's first major polis with complete freedom of conscience.

The beauty of our land is that we can be people of many faiths or none because of a common commitment to First Principles of personal virtue and civic responsibility. Not all our Founders were religious. But they all affirmed the necessity of moral rectitude that flows from adherence to Judeo-Christian values.

OK, great nostalgia, Dr. C, but this is the 21st century. We have gone beyond traditionalism and even modernity. No one has the right to impose any standards on anyone...

Here is nexus of our dilemma. Without First Principles, we can not have a cohesive society. Two centuries of civil religion and fifty years of defacto secularism leave us in vacuum.

What is the way forward? A fresh reffirmation of lasting values that move us toward a non-coercive future.

Here is my challenge: What are these principles? Can we build stability without Deity? What will define personal virtue, family cohesion and social responsibility for the next century?

For now, it is enough to know that we must find common ground before the center no longer holds.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Where Do We Go for "Facts"?

One of the challenges of our Instant Information Age is discerning the sources of relatively unbiased information. In my last blog I spoke of the "edutainment" problem and the ideological twist that seem to pervade so many sources. Even traditionally objective sources (New York Times or even National Geographic) can be fraught with bias.

Lest this appear to be another conservative rant against the "mainstream media", I hasten to add that the conservative movement is in a real crisis itself. The crisis is not necessarity one of basic values, but of facing the harsh facts about its icons and views of events and developing a more critical approach to substantiating its bold assertions.

OK, back to sources. Where do we go? My answer is everywhere - with a critical eye! The NYT remains an important source...but watch out for the loaded terms that can permeate any factual article. WorldNet Daily on the Rght and Truth Out on the Left both offer information that can help round out one's perspective. As we peruse sources, Let's ask these questions:

  • Who is doing the polling and what kinds of methods and samples are used?
  • Watch out for "wide-ranging" statistics; i.e., "It is estimated that between 2,000 and 20,000 have experienced..." what does this actually mean?
  • Take note of words like, "alleged' and "unconfirmed" and "off the record". This does not mean the facts are wrong, just tentative.
  • It is possible for two facts to be both right yet incompatible with different ideologies. For example, the 1980s Reaganomics were a boon for some and a total bust for many others, leaving a legacy of debt that has serious consequences. The Left blames the greedy Republicans; the Right the spendthrift Congress. The truth? A plague on both your houses! Until the pork is reigned in, the greed confronted, and social infrastructure honestly examined, we will stay in the wilderness of rhetoric.
  • As we look at sources, we can discover the values behind the citations and assertions. For example, the book Freakonomics assets that Roe v. Wade may have had a salutary effect upon certain rates of crime because of a declining birthrate among the poor. For me, an ardent pro-life advocate, such a fact is not going to change my mind on abortion, but it will challenge me to find better ways to confront poverty and unwanted pregnancies.

These are a few first steps toward real research in todays insight-starved world.

We must be unafraid to face reality even while affirming our enduring values. My sadness with the hypocricy of so many conservative icons does not force me to abandon good ideas - it challenges me toward greater integrity personally.

In my next blog, I will confrom the issue of what the Left and Right mean by "freedom" and how we can move toward a principled, non-coercive future.