koshersalaami

koshersalaami
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October 01
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Male, Jewish, in my extremely early sixties, married with kids (well, at this point I guess that should be "kid"). Thanks to Lezlie for avatar artwork - sort of a translation of my screen name. "Salaam" is peace in Arabic, hence the peace sign. (No, my name doesn't mean "hunk of meat" and yes, the pun is intentional.)

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Salon.com
JANUARY 31, 2013 6:49PM

Screw Purity

Rate: 8 Flag

published earlier on OurSalon

I've had a conversation with another blogger over a long period of time and over multiple posts, and we have never reached agreement. It has to do with two views of morality. I devoted a pair of posts to this issue on Open Salon, one entitled Dirty Hands and the other entitled The Gift. Basically, it comes down to efficacy vs. purity. This other blogger is of the opinion that one should never vote against one's views on any issue under any circumstances, even as a legislator. I am of the opinion that the purpose of the legislator, that for which he/she was hired, is to accomplish things for constituents and for whatever overall entity the legislature serves (in the case of Congress, the United States) or, more simply put, to actually help people. In other words, we are on opposite sides of whether compromise ever makes sense.

As you can imagine, I sometimes had my morality impugned during the course of this conversation. One could get the impression that I simply favor expedience.

I don't. The best way I can think of to put it is a way I put it in a comment on my most recent post on OS. Here is the text of that comment.

Thank you.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

What do you think of Ted Kennedy? He was a successful senator for a long time and he horse-traded all over the place, probably voted for a bloody fortune in pork barrel over his legislative career.

What this meant was that when there was something he really wanted to accomplish, he had the poltical capital to do it. One of the things he spent that capital on was ADA, the Americans for Disabilities Act.

I spent nearly eighteen years raising and caring for a son with a severe disability. When you're in a wheelchair, particularly a power wheelchair, a curb might as well be a cliff. Those stupid curb cuts made all the difference in the world. When you're loading and unloading a 100 lb. kid from a car in the rain (which in my case meant lifting him - we didn't have a lift van - and physically positioning him in and out of his wheelchair), handicapped parking meant a lot. The fact that schools had to cope with his disability meant that his life was closer to normal rather than just institutionalized, which is what it would have had to have been years earlier because there's no way he could have gone to school without a PCA (personal care assistant).

I thank God for Ted Kennedy's dirty hands. You'd have said that he should have refused to compromise on any vote about anything.

I'm glad you can afford to think like that. Congratulations. Some of us can't.

And the idea that it was immoral of Ted Kennedy to do what had to be done to help people like my son is outside of my comprehension, where it will remain.

Morality doesn't exist in a vacuum. If purity keeps you from helping people,

Screw purity.

And that, for me, is a deeply felt moral position, and I do mean moral position.

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The perfect is often the enemy of the good.
Yes, Don, Exactly. The perfect is often the enemy of the good.
As moral as any Republican. In other words, so long as you get what you want you don't care who gets hurt in the process.

Just where do you think the money came from to pay for all that? Thin air? No, it came out of your fellow taxpayer's pocket. I'm glad you can afford to think like that. Congratulations. Some of us can't fund your every need.
Frank Apisa opened a similar dialogue with his 'Lincoln Bought Votes!'.

Effective politicians must be willing to make concessions to the other side; what is important, and must be understood by the voter if he or she is going to be able to cast a good vote, is what ranks highest on the political candidate's list of priorities.

It's my opinion that the way political campaigns have been managed -not only in America, but in the world- is now going to undergo a substantial change, for the good. No longer will the 'perfect' candidate be the standard. The more human, the more honest and forthcoming, the better.
And Now,
Sorry that I'm running this conversation in two threads, one one OurSalon, where I've just addressed your question.

Who said I didn't care who got hurt in the process? Deciding who gets hurt how badly under what circumstances is one fairly good description of politics.

The contention that I think the consequences are cost-free is utterly silly. If that were the case, there would be no moral question at all, would there?

Where do I think the money for ADA came from? Taxpayers. I'd have thought it made sense whether I had a kid with a disability or not. The truth about ADA and whatever else is that it cost us more than the line item because of what else had to be spent to land it. However, that's true of almost everything that has ever gotten through Congress. That's the way our system works, and it's the worst one in existence aside from all the others. (Who said that? I don't remember. I couldn't have come up with that myself.)

Steve, I hope you're right, but I don't understand why things will change.
Change will come because the system, as it stands today, is broken; too few own too much, and too many are struggling under too much hardship too support the top 1%.

Everyone I know, everyone, is struggling; I see kids coming out of college owng $70,000.00 in student loans with no prospects for work. I see the oldest members of our communities supporting their kids and grandkids, which is wrong ans a further sign of a failed economy. I know of very few who can make it through the month anymore without coming up short: on food; on insurance; on car repairs; on babysitter money. I'd guess that perhaps 90% of everyone I know doesn't even have the money to bury themselves.

No; the future belongs to those politicians whose moral compass is true, and knows compassion as a real, measureable commodity, and the most valuable quality one can have in these trying times.

Substance will trump image.
And the United States will lead the way.

This will happen [is beginning to happen now] when the working class of America remembers that they are not, in fact, part of the third world labor pool.
When you're starving, half a loaf is better than none.
Oh Goody!

I'm finally going to get to explain "Death before Dishonor!"

Back in a bit-
I'm not going to read whatever comments there are here so I don't get scared off. But I saw that first one by Rich - I agree with you both. Imperfection is no excuse for not moving toward perfection. If every child would only get up and walk if they could do so perfectly first time around we'd be a world of cripples. A simple lesson from children. And no matter what compromises we make for the good of moving toward better, we should also not give up on perfection. Purity an perfection should enable us rather then cripple. I'll vote for the lesser evil if I have no better choice, scream and stomp and hope that the next set of choices are better ones.
I am just about as pragmatic as anyone can be, and I think I have a good understanding of how politics works. Sure, horse-trading gets things done.

But what I wonder is...regarding things like Gitmo and drone strikes in Pakistan. What "horse-trading" was involved there? I have a hard time believing that this administration had to trade those things for accomplishing something good.
I'm firmly in the "politics is the art of the possible" camp so I'm with you on this kosh. Moral victories in the form of electoral or legislative defeats don't carry much weight with me.
What does that mean, "Moral victories in the form of electoral or legislative defeats don't carry much weight with me."?
Steve,
I hope you're right, though I'm not sure I see it. I don't see the mechanism for that change and I've been looking desperately for it since I started blogging here. This is a subject I spend more time on than any other.

Seer,
In this case this post makes sense.

Cranky, Agreed. Maria, Thank you

Jeannette,
I don't know about the drone strikes because I don't know enough about what's being them. Gitmo I think is the exact opposite - I don't think Obama is trying to keep it open, I think he's got problems in Congress closing it.

Abra,
With me either. I prefer my victories actual.
Kosher

going to have to start digesting this one tomorrow- later
Steve Kenny, I LOVE your optimistic view of how things will change. I want it. I just do not agree with it.

I see social change, and geopolitical change as functioning like a wrench. You need leverage at the proper point to get the torque to overcome the fixed bolt. In this case, the fixed bolt is status quo.

Now, if reason and facts were enough to overcome status quo, change would always come much more easily. There are huge forces which stand in the way of reason. Superstition, self interest in a variety of ways, and all sorts of other pieces of unreason resist the appearance of facts making old positions obsolete.

Take the example of "intelligent design." This is basically a superstition. Now layer on top of that the state of Texas. Texas is so large, and its purchase of textbooks is so large, that it influences the apparatus of printing and distributing textbooks. It is costly to print various versions for different places, so the large orders hold sway. Since Texas mandates that a notion like "intelligent design" be mentioned side by side with evolution, the superstition gets more support, and is more difficult to remove with science than it should be.

That is just a drop in the ocean of the challenge that self interest and superstition poses to the reliance on reason as a guiding principle for our society, and for civilization as a whole. Even though we have sent space probes beyond our own solar system, we are in the early stages of embracing reason as opposed to the forces which work against it.

Incidentally, "purity" is just another superstitious concept. Purity exists as a concept in science, but is virtually non existent there. When it comes to philosophy, social systems, human character, etc, it is absolutely unachievable. It only exists as a means by which we deceive one another. There is no human system which contains some purity chip that will arrive at some pure solution. Human systems require engagement, experimentation, correction, compromise, challenging held premises, etc. There is no auto-pilot.
Bill,
I agree with your whole assessment, though the part I find most conceptually interesting is your take on purity. It's not, incidentally, that those I know who back the concept use that term for it; that's just a good description of their approach.
So. according to you, then, we should take down this:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to be free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me;
I lift my torch beside the golden door"

which are the majestic words inscribed upon the Statue of Liberty, and install this:

"I AM THE WAY INTO THE CITY OF WOE.
I AM THE WAY TO A FORSAKEN PEOPLE.
I AM THE WAY INTO ETERNAL SORROW...
ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE. "

which is Dante's idea of what is inscribed above the Gates of Hell.

Just asking, but, you don't happen to have a new name for the Statue of Liberty when we change plaques then, do you?

They say that a pessimist is just an optimist with experience.

We need optimists with experience, but we don't need pessimists.

We need people with the audacity to hope.

Theodore Roosevelt brought change. FDR brought change, Martin Luther King brought change. We can bring change, but not if we're gonna throw are hands up and walk away before we ever get started.
No Steve. You provide a good example though.

One of the things I lament as a barrier toreason is that people frequently default to binaries. Your statement was that we are at the advent of justice or positive change. I said, I like it and want it. I just do not think we are there. I said I see barriers. One of those barriers is a binary view of reality. Either/or... I see a third option. In this case the third (central option) is infinite.

I think certain things will overcome unreason in time, but the time factor is huge. And that is if we dont pull the plugon the world before reason can have its chance. The major problems in the world are not aligned with the major conflicts in the world. The major problems are things like poverty and disease, and personal security. The major conflicts in the world revolve around who's vision of God is most accurate. That discrepancy is a problem.

Even if one were to grant that God exists, let's say for the sake of this discussion that it does. God is not preventing people from eating, or from having mosquito nets in areas with malaria, or fighting over settlements, or mineral deposits, or whatever. God is not doing that, even if it exists. People are their priorities are doing that. Until we stop fighting over who's God is right, all of that other stuff gets submerged. And keep in mind, the disagreement over God could light the candle all at once. It is that big of a conflict.

I am not saying "abandon all hope." (Also a religious construction, by the way.) I am saying, there is still a clogged artery on the body intellectual. It is clogged with magical thinking. It presents a serious existential risk.
Steve,
Where you draw this conclusion I have no idea. Where do you get the idea that I advocate giving up hope? Do you think there's something cynical about this post?

Or are you responding to Bill? He's not advocating that either. He's saying that what you're talking about isn't going to happen automatically, not that it can't be made to happen.

I'd say at the moment we have a very significant problem. We're stuck in a feedback loop that's self-amplifying. Campaigning got expensive, so candidates had to seek money from wealthy donors who, in exchange, demanded legislation that made them wealthier (at the expense of everyone else), which meant that they became progressively more important to campaign finances, which increased their influence, which gave them the opportunity to push policies that made them still wealthier, etc. Money is being sucked upward. Yes, I think the rest of us will get fed up but I'm not sure yet what we'll do about it. The information we get is also, as part of this process, being controlled more and more by those who are wealthy, making it progressively more difficult to derail the process. Now, Murdoch is trying to buy the LA Times. Twenty years ago that would have been a regulatory joke; now it's a realistic possibility.

I'm not sure how to break the cycle. Actually, I have a good idea, but I don't know how to implement it.
We gave you two awfully different answers. I guess that's what perspective is about.
"... we are in the early stages of embracing reason as opposed to the forces which work against it."

This is taken from the penultimate paragraph where I disagreed with your timeline. I did not say abandon all hope. I said that we are at an earlier stage in the process than "about to happen" would imply.
Bill, you wrote:

"The major problems are things like poverty and disease, and personal security."

I agree. You also wrote:

"I am not saying "abandon all hope." (Also a religious construction, by the way.) I am saying, there is still a clogged artery on the body intellectual. It is clogged with magical thinking. It presents a serious existential risk."

I don't agree with this. The past forty five years have brought the American Working Class a host of woes. These woes were brought in on pirate ships, similar to those of Columbus, on which were borne the propaganda, rhetoric, and hidden agendas of Big Business.

Too my mind, we can't fight fire with fire; we can't fight 'the combined powers' as Oliver Wendell Holmes called them, with propaganda, cold facts and rhetoric alone.
We must add another ingredient, and that ingredient, I believe, is exactly the 'magical thinking' you have just pointed to.
Statistics don't move people. Statistics, in the modern world, are there to control populations and shore up the bottom line. To move people, effective arguments will be those that employ cold statistics together with the 'magical thinking' of arguments based on morality and compassion, not profit and loss.

For an example, see my "Christmas Eve On Bullshit Mountain', found in my 'Economics 101' post.

Kosh, you wrote:

"Campaigning got expensive, so candidates had to seek money from wealthy donors who, in exchange, demanded legislation that made them wealthier (at the expense of everyone else), which meant that they became progressively more important to campaign finances, which increased their influence, which gave them the opportunity to push policies that made them still wealthier, etc. Money is being sucked upward. Yes, I think the rest of us will get fed up but I'm not sure yet what we'll do about it. The information we get is also, as part of this process, being controlled more and more by those who are wealthy, making it progressively more difficult to derail the process. Now, Murdoch is trying to buy the LA Times. Twenty years ago that would have been a regulatory joke; now it's a realistic possibility."

I agree.
Yet, the hope I hold comes from the very fact that here we are, pointing to the problems, identifying the causes, ruminating. And believe me, this conversation is being viewed, and is, even now, changing hearts and minds.

All we can do is keep the conversation open.

And look! we are, here at Open Salon, and at other pockets of compassionate reason, all across the Internet.
Furthermore, I'd like to extend to you my definition of 'magical thinking'.

Some like to hang the title on the style of the writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, among others. This, to my mind, is too narrow a definition.

"Magical thinking', to me, includes all of Dickens, and extends in an unbroken line right into today, and must include any artistic endeavor that, like a prayer, is an expression of hope, or a petition to right a wrong.
Steve, statistics are not intended to move people. Statistics just give you a readable, understandable measure of what has moved. Earthquakes are large things, but can go unnoticed without a seismometer.

Let me leave the scientific mumbo jumbo aside. My view of te problems that people af the world face comes from Maslow's hierarchy of needs. At the base (highest priority) is breathing, food, water, sex, etc. The next level of priority is security of body, employment, resources, mortality. These are how a mid 20th century psychologist determined human priority of needs as a specie.

I will grant you that a whole host of problems exist regarding the working class, propaganda, coroprate control, etc. Our politics are the same. My statement meant that people worldwide are struggling to live and stay alive. Food, shelter, security and health are real needs for billions of people worldwide. I forget the number of people that have lack of clean water. (Just googled) I found 780 million people world wide lack access to clean drinking water. 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation facilities. These lead to 14,000 deaths daily. The primary causes of death from these inadequacies are things like infections from intestinal worms, diarrhea, and malaria. The prevention of some of these maladies has existed for thousands of years in civilizized areas. Ancient Rome had the answers to clean water and waste disposal. Paris had it 1000 years ago. London developed it relatively recently. London had a cholera epidemic which resulted from conditions that were solved thousands of years earlier elsewhere in Europe.

Today sewers are exploding in Rio de Janero do to lack of maintainence. They are literally blowing up and killing residents in rich and poor areas. Brazil is famous for its social darwist priorities. Ironically, the chicken poop is coming home to blow up on the wealthy as well as the poor, but the point remains that the problems we face world wide are things like water, waste, food, medicine, etc. We are much closer to 1849 London, or 500 Paris, or B.C.E. Rome than we are to a world without these problems. That does not mean abandon all hope. It means that there is a lot of work yet to do.
Steve,
If incantations do the trick, I suppose I have a reason to blog.

Most of my body of work, such as it is, is about this topic. My very first post was about income polarization, a topic whose title is a lot drier than its content. I've been talking about just how polarized we've become (almost unimaginably - I don't think the public has a clue how bad it's gotten and I devote a lot of time to coming up with easily graspable ways of getting this point across), why we're polarized. how we got there, who is falling down on the job in reversing this and why, and the most likely route out: bringing to the attention of the business community that this trend is killing them because they can't survive without customers and the customer base is dying with their cooperation.

That is a synopsis of the majority of what I've been saying for well over two years online, with a few detours to talk about Judaism, Israel, my late son, and assorted other stuff that comes up like my inabilty to understand modern poetry.
By statistics, I do not mean financial statistics. I mean science. I mean, if I have malaria in a water source, I remove it by scientific means rather than praying over the pond. My definition of magical thinking is religion, and things not manageable by science. Art and creativity, in my view, are much more like science than they are like prayer. Science is used in classical paintings to create perspective. Science is used in architecture, music, all sorts of creative areas. I AGREE with you that imagination and exploration is needed. I AGREE with you that profit gets in the way. Completely agree. The stats I refer to are not financial statistics.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez was an inventor of "magical realism." That is not the same as "magical thinking." They are very, very different concepts. Magical realism is a genre of literature. An example of magical thinking is transubstatiation which states that wine gets turned literally into the blod of Jesus Christ during the Eucharist. The self persuasion (saying it nicely) that wine turns into blood is a belief in a magical process. Religion states that a whole host of other things come from magical processes. Much conflict in the world involves whose magic is real and whose is not. Christianity and Islam chiefly conflict in this way. Judaism is not possessed of much magical thinking, to my knowledge. Islam is in conflict with Judaism in various ways, obviously, as is Christianity in conflict with Judaism to a slightly lesser degree, and so on.

Magical thinking and magical realism are distinctly separate things.
Bill, I disagree.
I don't believe anyone who believes in their particular and [probably] personal God would call their belief in their God 'magical thinking'. To them, God is real. 'Supernatural', maybe. Yet both phrases seem mildly derogatory to my mind.

"Magical realism' and 'magical thinking', to my mind, are the same thing, and refer to the creative thoughts and works of men and women, not God
Steve, I am not trying to argue with. I am only going by how these terms are defined. I did not create the definitions.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_thinking

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_realism

http://www.themodernword.com/gabo/gabo_mr.html

I do not mean anything deragotory by it. And frankly, I have no idea if God exists. I suspect a God may exist. I tend to believe that we do not know the nature of God. I dont claim certainty about nonexistence. What I do know is, no one can imagine something into being. Believing is not the act of creation. It is belief. That's all fine and dandy, but it is not the same as being. That is a very important point.
In theory, Christianity should be more in conflict with Judaism than Islam is, not less. Current conflicts are far more political than religious.
Right, the political systems use religion as points of separation than for problem solving. Christianity and Judaism do not war on the basis of philosophy. Conflict comes from socio-political issues.
Actually more true with Islam at the moment