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Paul Levinson

Paul Levinson
New York City, New York, USA
March 25
Fordham University
Paul Levinson's The Silk Code won the 2000 Locus Award for Best First Novel. He has since published Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002), The Pixel Eye (2003), The Plot To Save Socrates (2006), Unburning Alexandria (2013), and Chronica (2014) - the last three known as the "Sierra Waters trilogy". His science fiction and mystery short stories have been nominated for Nebula, Hugo, Edgar, and Sturgeon Awards. His eight nonfiction books, including The Soft Edge (1997), Digital McLuhan (1999), Realspace (2003), Cellphone (2004), New New Media (2009, 2013) have been the subject of major articles in the New York Times, Wired, the Christian Science Monitor, and have been translated into twelve languages. Paul Levinson has appeared on "The O'Reilly Factor" (Fox News), "The CBS Evening News," the “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” (PBS), “Nightline” (ABC), and numerous national and international TV and radio programs. His 1972 album, Twice Upon a Rhyme, was re-issued in 2010. He reviews the best of television in his blog, and was listed in The Chronicle of Higher Education's "Top 10 Academic Twitterers" in 2009. Paul Levinson is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in New York City


Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 20, 2009 1:13PM

The Most Revolutionary Phrase of Obama's Inaugural Address

Rate: 59 Flag

I never thought I'd enjoy a Presidential Inauguration as much as I did JFK's in 1960, when I was a kid and I saw it on a black-and-white television, but Barack Obama's today was every bit as good on the big color screen, and even more revolutionary. The son of an African and an American being sworn in as President.

The single most daring words in Obama's inaugural address, I thought, was his inclusion of "non-believers" in his citing of Christians, Muslims, Jews, and the other faiths of our nation and world. That one phrase shows the profound inclusionary quality of President Obama's vision. It represents a revolution indeed. Non-believers are people, too.

His statements of what America would be doing different from now on, with George W. Bush just a few feet away, were inspiring, too. The speech was strong and straightforward.

The audience - on the stage and in the crowd - was extraordinary. It was good to see Ted Kennedy walking in at the beginning. He made it. Witness to JFK and now Barack Obama taking the oath of office.*

The first day of a new America, and a new world.

*3pm: Breaking news that Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd were taken out on stretchers from the Inaugural luncheon.   Let's hope for the best.


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Heh...I just posted something about that VERY thing a few minutes ago.

Yeah, that's really interesting. Thanks, Paul!
Also sweet was the part about being judged by what you build, not what you destroy. Dubya might have gulped hard at that moment.
Beautifully stated.
To all the naysayers--these are many of the things he spoke of while campaigning. He asks us for nothing less than a change of minds and hearts. Grand!
His words did make Dubya gulp! least the parts Bush could understand.

It is as exciting as it was when Kennedy took the oath. He was a thinking man as well.
With you 100% Paul.
It was truly inspiring - I was immediately moved to write! I'm glad that you and Persephone13 wrote on the importance of these words. Great post.

It IS nice to be included for a change!! rated
I noticed that too! Made me feel validated.
my eyebrows rose when I heard that phrase too. Nice observation and thanks for the recognition of it! rated.
Yes, Paul, exactly so. And aside from so many amazing things Obama declared in his acceptance speech, something else he said really resonated with me and I paraphrase, " we will extend an open hand to all those who will unclench their fists."

That was powerful for me as well as his entire speech.
But can I ask what you mean by this statement: "The son of an African and an American being sworn in as President." Did you mean the son of an African-American and a White-American? I.E., as he often refers to himself, a mutt? But he's our mutt now. It's hard to be all-inclusive. Great speech, and great to see that helicopter circle the Capitol and go away.
Warmed me to the bottom of little agnostic toes.
Certainly one of the most satisfying moments in a speech with many satisfying moments.
Yes, including non-believers was great. But I didn't notice "other faiths of our nation and world". I thought he said Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus...and non-believers. I am pleased (FWIW), but "other faiths" would have been nice too.

But, yippee, some kind of acknowledgment of those of no faith as equal human beings was nice.
... Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu and Nonbeliever

And on Sunday, he included ...Gay and Straight, Disabled and those who are Not

He's doing a beautiful job. I could not ask for much more.
I was going to post about this, too. I watched with my husband and his co-workers and we all shouted with surprise and pleasure when he mentioned us. We do our best to live decent lives, too, dammit. Now I'll have to go check out Persephone's post.
Yeah, I heard that, too. It felt good, being included for a change.
I understand Obama's wish to heal, to urge us forward. On the other hand, we all know why our nation is in the state it is, thanks to the Republicans and especially "evil Dick". I can understand, too, that expending energy on going after the most criminal and corrupt administration in our nation's history is better spent working to overcome the huge problems we now face. In the long run, being the bigger, better person (as I always taught my children) as Obama is doing, being above assigning blame is most likely the best way to move forward.

It's a new world, that's for sure, and WE must set the course! Obama's greatest accomplishment may be in re-igniting and inspiring complacent Americans to build a new society!
It was truly inclusive. The emphasis on "people of faith" coming from our political leaders (dem and GOP) over the last 8 years always had a tendency to elevate the religious and relegate those that don't partake in organized religion (or even the unsure of it all) to some kind of second class citizenship. When Bush said he was a "uniter not a divider," it was just hollow branding on his part. Obama might be the real deal.
Totally with you. Imagine all the useless, time consuming crap dialogue he eliminated just by saying that.

That phrase "welcoming non-believers" is used as a standard welcoming in many UCC churches---like the one I belong to and---up to just a little while ago---so did the President.

But an awful lot of preachers say it with a catch in their throat.

He did not have that catch in this voice when he said it. He MEANT it.
It's worth a dozen posts. Yes, the inclusion of Non-Believers was absolutely stunning and spectacular.
Yes! So true. This is a good day.

As an agnostic, I've always wondered why it seemed as though I had to subscribe to some dogma to be considered fully American. I guess I don't have to after all.
Appreciate the inclusiveness, but wouldn't "athiests and agonostics" be a better turn of phrase than non-believers? Non- believers defines a group as opposed to those who believe, and could be perceived as perjorative, whereas the other terms do not
Pat on Mars: in answer to your question about Obama being an African and an American, Obama's Father is/was(?) Kenyan. His mother was from Kansas.
Yeah, I wondered about saying atheist and agnostic in lieu of "nonbelievers", as well. But you got to take what you can get, at this stage.

His father, who died long ago in an auto accident, was Kenyan. His mother was originally from my home state: Kansas.
You can forgive a laundry list that ends before including all the major religions (as so often happens), but this was telling. Good to hear someone else perked up at "non-believers."
thanks for highlighting this small, but very important, phrase

We also noted it on my live-blog...

btw - on the subject of religion - Rev. Lowery's benediction was a fitting conclusion and made Warren's invocation look as ill-suited to the occasion (and tied to the previous administration POV) as it was
Yes, another mark of Obama's great and unique courage to say such a thing. He is all-inclusive, and yet does not suffer fools nor threats to one's right NOT to believe. I noticed it too, and did a double-take, not certain I heard correctly... and I'm glad you've pointed it out here.
A good day is when Kennedy walks in to the swearing in while Dick Cheney arrives in a wheel chair. I heard that Kennedy collapsed, but not Senator Byrd.
I agree. The statement about non believers came out like a comet across the night sky. Powerfully assertive. And the notion of "putting away childish things", a veiled reference to GWB's administration as childish was what tens of millions of Americans have been saying for most of Bush's Presidency. It was definitely not like Clinton asking to be welcome into the G.O.P's good graces. It seemed like he was saying that he meant to say that America starts over from the beginning. Fascinating.
I always take the term 'non-believer' to be somewhat condescending, as in 'those that just don't get it.' Why not couch it in such a way that you can just say 'atheist' in a non-negative tone; or better still: just address the populace in non-religious contexts.

For my part, I generally thought the speech was good--not great--but appropriate in the situation. What disappointed me was, if I'm not mistaken, the lack of a single use of the word 'law', as in, we shall endeavor to reestablish that we are a nation of laws first.
The "Non-believers" comment made me feel like a citizen again, ever since King Bush I declared that he didn't think we (non-believers, specifically atheists) were even worthy of being citizens while running for office in '88.
2 points

First-- If you take Obama for saying what he means---and I think he's pretty good at that--the reason that "non-believer" communicates a more powerful message than athiestists or agnostics or really ANY other "ism" is that "non-believer" MEANS the absence of belief.

That means that the lines we draw around our belief systems---often saying mine are better than yours---are simply GONE.

Belief systems (even more than religions. often tend to STOP one from thinking. From questioning. Why do I have to think? I know what I believe. That is enough.

There is a wonderful book "The Religious Case Against Belief" that explains this much more eloquently than I could. Bottom line though---if you see the phrase "non-believers" as being anything but as INCLUSIVE as inclusive can be---- you might want to examine the rigidity of your own beliefs. Non-believers really does mean ANYONE can get on the bus.

Point 2---As to us being first a nation of laws. My take on the address was that there are principles upon which all those laws were founded. Principles as old as time. Much older than our young country.
When I first heard Obama say that, I didn't believe it.

I don't like the term "non-believer" because it implies something less than "believers." But just to be included in that list is pretty darn refreshing.
I don't feel the need for the religious to approve of my lack of faith, but it's certainly a nice change of pace to get a shout-out for being something other than a threat to peace, justice, and the American way.

Perhaps this is what you get from someone who pals around with academics (going solely on the rather limited percentage of my friends with PhDs who also go to church or temple).
As a convinced atheist, I must say that the tern "non-believers" doesn't bother me in the least. It accurately describes my position.
"Nonbelievers," unbelievable! For once, a true sign of inclusion, bravely acknowledging what would be political suicide for most politicians: We exist, and we make no apologies for it.
Yes, it was wonderful to be included and referred to as equals, not second rate citizens. The online non-theist community that I frequent was a happy place today.
Thank you, President Obama.
I have actually heard him use this phrase before Paul. He is a uniter, not a divider. The proof is in the pudding.

It was beautiful, wasn't it. I looked over at my girlfriend and said "Look baby, he cares about us too!"
A good observation Paul. I was struck by the forcefulness of Obama's delivery, the steady timbre of his voice, the intensity of his words. And make no mistake, the words themselves were forceful -- he sugar-coated nothing. It was the speech of an adult, of someone who has, indeed, put away childish things.

I was relieved, actually, that there was no intentional sound-bite comparable to any other inaugural address, even though I suspect we'll be seeing a lot about the "New Era of Responsibility". Sound bites are among those childish things Obama put away in this speech.

There's much more I could say -- about how he managed to touch on so many aspects of our world so lightly but memorably, about how gracefully he addressed "the issues." But instead I think I'll go back and watch and relish it again and mine it for new treasures.
Non-believer = lack of belief?? Nonsense! I believe in many things, just not in any creation myth. Many morals are shared across religions, and many atheists also accept those morals, because they are wise and born of human experience and wisdom. I've lost count, tho, of the number of times I have seen folks imply that atheists are without morals.

Michael Shermer makes an interesting philosophical observation on the relation between believers and atheists:

"So it turns out there are 10,000 gods and yet only one right one. That means we're all atheists on 9,999 gods. The only difference between me and the believers is I'm an atheist on one more god."
I also noticed that phrase and thought it was great he put it in.
...about bloody time. Revolutionary? I don't think so. But it's still 'progress'.
I just heard Ken Burns on MSNBC, saying that America has now started its 3rd Act. Act I was democracy, but only for landowning white men. Act II was when Lincoln said that ALL men were created equal. But we fought a war, and many years of oppression, over that very notion. Now we begin Act III.
Amen, brother Levinson!
If Obama speech validated Non-believers, what did Rev Lowery's, "and when white will embrace what is right," prayer do to the whites?
Yes, but we can never decide how we shall label *ourselves*, all the way down to the annoyingly-cloying "brights." I don't care if he called us nonbelievers, unbelievers or the unGodded; the acknowledgement was enough. If we must parse words, we would do better to examine that awful poem.
I also felt the inclusive quality of somehow being named among the others, but the word "non-believers" is tinged with a negative view much like heathens, pagans, infidels. Kind of a paradox, too, because I've learned to be wary of all beliefs since most are borrowed or indoctrinated rather than freely chosen. I prefer to stick with what I know via visceral learning, while also being diligently watchful for my unconscious beliefs.

But still, it's a tiny movement in the evolution of consciousness, for which I'm grateful.
I can't help but wonder how many of those aboard the Titanic were glad to be "included" on the manifest.
Not nearly as many as those who prayed they wouldn't drown...and did.
I also liked the line when he said (and I'm paraphrasing) - that we'll reach out to enemies if they'll unclench their fists. I listened to some of the fight-winger talk about how he didn't have a JFK or FDR memorable line. Well, that 's because everything he says is memorable!
The oath of office was re-administered yesterday, this time without the Bible.
When I heard him listing the religions, I figured eh, I'll be excluded again...and then was not! It WAS a great moment, especially given George Bush Sr. posited not so long ago that we nonbelievers are not Americans.
It was a terrific speech that would have garned a A+ grade in whatever ivy league communications class he decide to present it. As an inaugeration speech it missed memorability and was bland at best. Had i fought the traffic and arrived 5 to 10 hours early as many did I would have felt short changed.
I love when a president's inauguration, you can see how many people will be attending and what will be a president plan for his country.