A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

April 18, 2009

The March of States Towards Gay Marriage

A thoughtful and sane analyis, written by Froma Harrop, of current trends of states legalizing (or normalizing) marriage between gay partners appeared in the Providence Journal.

In this article she posted many of the changes which have occured recently. 

She reported:  “The Iowa Supreme Court struck down a ban on same-sex marriage, providing a toehold in the heartland. And the Vermont Legislature legalized gay marriage, marking the first time that elected lawmakers, rather than state judges, initiated such change.”

This latter development is important and it is well that Harrop notes this.  While one may agree or disagree regarding gay marriage, the legislature making the move, rather than judges making a decision is an important step in this process.  Legislators are elected and can be held accountable.  The move towards democratization of the process is a positive step as the representatives of the people are in fact, doing their job.

She later wrote:
“There’s much to be said for letting states settle the question of gay marriage, one step and one jurisdiction at a time. This pragmatic approach does not always sit well with gay rights activists. They consider marriage a basic human right that should not be honored in one place and abridged in another.”

This is also true.  There is a deep divide whether marriage is a right, and one that the need for licensure seems to give weight that it is not an inherent right.  While one has a right say to free speech, they would have to obtain a license to exercise that free speech in certain conditions.  The same is true for heterosexual couples as for homosexual couples.  The states have statutory authority to restrict or grant licenses, and the people have a right via the legislature to express their voice.  Granting the rights of legal status are not analogous of limiting exercise of property rights, visitation rights, and expansion of benefits of employment, public housing and services etc. to homosexual couples.  Many gay activists understandably wish for the process to be expedited, but this is not in their long term interests.  Roe v Wade is still not accepted by large parts of the nation, and as Harrop reports, is still looked on unfavorably from a Constitutional vantage point by many “Pro-Choice” legal experts.   In the end states will make this decision, and for all parties this is the best remedy.  States are closer to the people and in that view are more democratic than federal interventions. 

Harrop also reports on the changing of cultural norms:

In a poll done shortly after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court threw out the ban on same-sex marriages, over half those residents surveyed said they wanted a state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to between one man and one woman. But a poll taken three years later found that 56 percent of the Massachusetts respondents would oppose such an amendment.

What happened in Massachusetts? Gay marriage had become legal, and the sky hadn’t fallen in.  People got used to the idea.

The strongest ally for homosexual partners who wish to become legally married is the changing of cultural perspectives on the norms of human relationships and sexuality.  Harrop does not report about another factor that leads to shifts in cultural norms and mores, the role of the media.  Right or wrong the media has framed homosexual relationships in positive light or at the very least in neutral lights.  This along with homosexuals become more visible and vocal in society has lead to the formation of new cultural perspectives regarding this aspect of human sexuality.  Younger people are more attuned to viewing homosexuality as an alternate form of human sexuality and not an aberrant or discrepant form of sexual expression.  The media has played a large part in this normalization process, and an occlusion of the old paradigm has coalesced with the formation of a newer paradigm. 

There is also the perception among many that this issue is a human rights issue.  Once that perception becomes the reality, in a democracy the outcome is inevitably going to side with the group that is seeking a rise in their status to acceptance.  This is not inherently a bad thing; while for some it may be emotionally painful.  It is merely the reshaping of the norms of a society and has happened throughout history.  Of course many will reply that homosexuality is the bane of a powerful culture and a sure sign its demise is imminent.  That is a ludicrous proposition based on emotion and not fact.  Homosexuality was practiced by segments of society that were rather formidable in history.  Cultures decline for other reasons, usually economic and military, apart from the practices of people regarding their sexual choices.

Harrop correctly concludes that the “straight path” to change is often not as beneficial as the slow steady road that this issue seems to be taking in American society.

Self Actualization and Adoptive Parenting

Filed under: Adoption,children,Culture,Family,History,Multiculturalism,Religion — avoiceofreason @ 6:07 pm

As some of the loyal readers of this humble blog know I am always interested in research proposals of varying degree.  Recently I have begun a cursory review of the literature regarding formation of self concept in children.  This became a very broad topic, and so I limited my research to formation of academic self concept and adopted children.   Some of the initial reading has been interesting and illuminating.  It also lead me to a conversation with an expert in adoptee issues – who is always more than willing to sledgehammer any ideas I may have about the topic.  Actually, their input is usually very helpful.

Trying to get a broad view on the topic, I was just perusing through news articles one day and just hit adoption as a key word.  Of course the topic of Madonna and her attempts to adopt a child from Africa came up.  As I read I reflected, more on formation of self-concept issues.  This lead me to have rather strong opinions forming, which is often the driving force behind some research.  The researcher then has to do a lot of work with colleagues on the audit trail (if ethnographic approaches are used or on content validity if a survey device is used) to make sure that bias hasn’t crept in.

However, my reflections were what were the basis of Madonna’s wish to adopt a child from a third world nation and the potential outcomes.  Her motivation she claims is altruistic and are in the interests of the child.  Whenever I hear a person citing purely altruistic motivations, and my cynicism may be ramped up proportionally by the wealth or influence of the alleged altruist, my BS radar is actively pinging.  I honestly don’t really believe that the actions of most people are done from altruistic motives but are done to promote self-actualization.  There are so many benefits to this woman or any other person who ventures upon a course of adoption and many have formed guises to rationalize this understandable emotional benefit derived on the one who chooses to adopt. 

Some of these fallacious altruisms may be:

1) God told us to adopt this child.  While I am second to none in the role that faith may play in a person’s life, I am skeptical about this in many cases.  Recently I came across a study that cited that nearly 40% of all adopted children are turned back in to the adoption agency.  It is mathematically impossible that none of this children weren’t initially adopted at the behest of the Almighty.  Either God was changing his mind in these instances or the person was acting in their own self interests – which may have some positive outcome for other mind you, and things didn’t quite work out.  You will not believe how many people “knew” that God had drawn them to their spouse only to end up in divorce proceedings.  Nations do this also.  Whenever God speaks and tells someone to do some certain minute detail of their life, I am convinced that 90% of the time it is really a quite human rationalization to justify or lend credence to an action they would like to do without the involvement of God.  While some may strongly believe this to be true, I am unaware that Madonna in particular has claimed to have a “Burning bush” experience.

2) Adoption is done in the interest of the child.  This one may be more nefarious than citing the blessings of a deity because it shows an underlying arrogance on the part of the one who is adopting.  Most people adopt out of a need they have more so than the need of the child.  If this were truth there are some discrepancies that must be addressed.  Why are the overwhelming number of children adopted under the age of four?  Statistics show that as the child’s age increases their chance at being adopted decreases in geometric proportion to their age.  These children have great need, yet the Almighty and the interests of these children are not being considered by a vast portion of people who are eligible for adopting.  Another discrepancy is the large number of guarantees that many adoption agencies put forward in their promotion of adopting children.  Guarantees of the health of the child, that the child is not offspring of someone who was drug addicted among others can be secured with a price.  These are contractual issues which if violated would constitute breach and make the agency liable to damages or to provide a more suitable child.  Much of this talk seems to be reminiscent of contracts entered into when purchasing a dog for show or for breeding, which may be a more accurate analogy to the practices of many who adopt a child. 

In this particular instance a child from an economically disadvantaged nation may be adopted by a person of incredible wealth.  There will doubtlessly be some economic advantage afforded this child that they would not be given access to should they remain in their current condition.  However, there is a large amount of arrogance in the presupposition that adoption is in the interest of the child.  What this child – and many who are adopted from developing nations – loses in regard to their culture, their language, their inherent religion,  and in total their sense of identity within that culture, may outweigh what they gain by access to wealth.  Statistically, this cultural arrogance is strengthened by the tendency of developed nations seeking out these children from undeveloped nations at a rate that is growing astronomically. 

Another litmus test of this alleged altruism being in reality cultural arrogance can be illustrated in this scenario.  Picture children in desparate need of basic necessities such as food, medical care, clean sanitary housing and education.  These children exist in many places in the United States.  Many of these children are also White – as in Appalachia and other areas of the nation.  A large number of these children are adopted by parents who are of Islamic or say Hindu background.  They are wealthy and could meet the physical needs of these children far better than their indigenous parents or perhaps than the social agencies in their region.  The prospective adopted parents – who have dark skin, speak a different language and worship in a different fashion state that God told them they should adopt this poor suffering American child.  The child will be forced to learn the language of the parents, will be raised in the religion of these parents and it is understood they will be asked to take on the world view of the predominant culture of these parents.  This is in the interest of the child.  One must wonder if this would be the view of any in the Industrialized West if this were a common practice.  

Adoption like most human activities is done out motives of self actualization.  If Madonna or any prospective adoptive parent wanted to act in a more altruistic fashion they would make a private donation to a bona fide relief organization for that or any other child which would raise the standards of living for those children.  Lord knows they need that.  What has happened in current practices and policies of parents from Industrialized nations adopting children from undeveloped nations is in many ways more akin to the stripping of natural resources – in forms of humanity – that happened during times of European Imperial aspirations from the 15th through the 20th centuries – moreso than acting in altruistic methods for the interests of children.  An interesting study might be to compare the emotional factors that prospective adoptive parents face and find out the degree that they are causative towards the action of adopting a child.  This would be particularly interesting is analyzed by comparing the adoptee’s emotional factors and see how they were causative in forming self concepts in the adoptee.

3) Adoption is a win-win –Due to the length of this post comments will be brief.  Adoption at its base is formed by loss and usually accompanied by some type of pain.  It is not a win win.  Don’t get me wrong.  Adoption can be of benefit to all parties, but my feeling is that looking honestly into the mirror of self would be an important factor in this occurring.  However, in most situations may be making the best of a situation – and the policy practices currently in place by developing nations desperate for influx of currency from Industrialized nations – and the need of those who are comparatively wealthy to have a child by nearly any means necessary – create conditions which are from from the “win-win” picture painted or at all “best” policies.   The current painting being framed by society is one of impoverished and helpless (nations and children) being removed from indigenous lands by the powerful and wealthy (mostly those from the Industrialized West) for ostensibly altruistic motivations.  

Hardly the stuff of headline news.  Even when Madonna is on the front page; it is merely history repeating itself.

Media and Framing of Culture

This is a paper I authored analyzing an an ethnographic study performed concerning the media and cultural occlusion vis a vis The Vietnam War.

This paper is the intellectual property of the author and may not be utilized in any form without proper citations and/or permission of the author.

The Media as a Framer of Cultural Norms

 

            In society today, as well as in the past, there is a constant shifting of oppositional positions.  One of the major functions of the media is to inform the general public of the relevant issues which are parties to the constant stir in the social and political realm.  The media – whether in book, radio, television, daily publication, movies, and most recently in electronic weblogs (blogs) – serve a dual purpose in society as a reporter of the events, and also as a framer of the discussion regarding those events.  Media can by the sheer volume of their voice call attention to or occlude reality, and thereby frame a discussion or limit discussion by eliminating it from the public discourse.  A common perception is that the mass media is a vital player in the framer of societal norms, values within a culture which supersedes the framing role of the educational system, family system, and the political system.

            How the media frames a cultural curriculum was the topic of a study (Wineburg, Mosborg, Porat, Duncan; 2004) performed concerning generational perceptions of the Vietnam War, and whether the history represented by the media formed a “collective memory”.  The study posed to answer the question how media and popular culture frame historical knowledge and how it is transmitted across generations. 

Over a course of 30 months, 30 members of 15 families were interviewed about how their conceptualization of the past may form a collective concept about a historical era.  One parent and one child from each family were interviewed about their knowledge and conceptual framework concerning American involvement in Vietnam.  Each member participating in the study was also asked to provide their interpretation of well known photographs taken from the Vietnam Era.  Each of these photographs had become iconic of the Vietnam War Era.

Prior to the interviewing the student’s perceptions of the Vietnam War and the instruction offered concerning the topic were analyzed by the researchers.  Despite the detailed instruction concerning the issues at stake in the Vietnam War by the schools of the students, as a group, had a similar perception of the Vietnam War – “A war without a reason”.

Using well documented photos, produced by the mass media, both parent and child were asked to write down their reactions to the pictures shown by answering open ended questions, such as, “What do you see in this picture?” and “What associations does this picture bring up?”  Later on the responses elicited by each respondent was coded with a graphic textual spreadsheet in order to develop emergent themes from the interview process. 

The first photo used was a picture of a veteran of the Vietnam War looking upon the names etched on the wall while his hand gingerly touches the wall.  Of all the photos presented, this one image was the most identifiable picture.  All of the teens and all but one of the parents (who had been born in the former Soviet Union) were able to recognize the memorial.  Every student also knew what the man was attempting to do.  For the parents, the picture brought back memories of loved ones or friends who had served in the Vietnam War, and the veteran took on a symbolic identification of long remembered people from their past.  However, the students’ answers were more general, with the man depicted in the photo not taking any symbolic meaning at all.  The experience for the adults in the study also reflected their own personal opinions concerning America’s involvement in Vietnam.  Words and phrases such as “resolution”, “respect that was deserved” appeared in the responses in the adults.  Interestingly, the man portrayed in the picture is seen by all as a victim of the war, and not as a perpetrator of war, who is worthy of respect and pity, not hatred.

The second photo is also an icon of the Vietnam War era, a photo of a young man placing flowers in the barrels of guns of soldiers in the 1967 March on the Pentagon.  The adults surveyed instantly identified the clash between the flower and the guns as a symbolic clash of war opposed to peace.  Terms used to qualify the event express the antithetical symbolism the picture displays, “Blocking soldiers with flowers”; Peace, not power”; and “a divided country”.  For the students there was a significant disconnect with the interpretation of the picture.  Only eight of the fifteen could identify the basic concept of peace versus might.  The symbolic elements of the picture were even less easily discerned by the youngsters.  One student thought the soldiers were North Vietnamese, another felt the incident was meant to mourn the dead. 

Interestingly, for the adults, while the first photo brought about feelings of the nation coming to reconciliation about the war, the second photo brought the sharp divide felt by their generation back to the forefront.  One parent spoke warmly of the camaraderie felt by members of the anti-war movement; while another contemptuously replied, “He’s a slime-bucket”.  Part of the student’s problems with this photo was their failure to identify the clean cut youth as a “hippie”.  The young man is clean cut and wearing clean clothing with an overall appearance which does not align with their perception of the prototypical hippie of the 1960’s. 

The third photo, a “hard-hat” rally drew strong responses and identification by the adults in the group, and almost universal misunderstanding by the younger generation.  The rally, which was a pro-war response by blue collar workers in New York City in support of the war in 1970, elicited two polarized replies.  One reply stated that “although there was confusion about the issues in the war, these guys, typical working men, were going to support the government”.  This picture also drew a rather strong comment by an opponent of the war, “These men are a bunch of assholes, guided by their penises”. 

The majority of students were unable to interpret the photo.  One person identified the type of people represented, “blue collar workers”, but had no idea what the purpose of the rally served.  One thought that a sign, which referred to “Building America”, was an anti-war sentiment, as it contrasted the destruction which was going on in Vietnam.  Many of the students were surprised to learn that people actually protested in favor of the Vietnam War.  More than one of the students cited the movie Forrest Gump, which had framed their perception that all of America was against the war, when in reality, as late as 1972 a Gallup Poll showed that 70% of the nation felt a renewed confidence in the prosecution of the war.  However, the media through a repeated message – that the Vietnam War was without support and baseless – had constructed a framework of history apart from the reality of fact.

The findings of this study concluded that the younger people perception of the war had not been formed by instruction or by a true understanding of the concepts involved, but had been formed by images found in media such as movies about the Vietnam War, such as Forrest Gump, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, which were frequently cited as sources of history.  Despite various ethnic and cultural variances, a consistent perception about the war had been formed in these young people, and their perception about the war was remarkably more similar than those of their parents, who had experienced the war from a more personal vantage point.  The young people’s perception allowed no room for pro-war demonstrations and “the silent majority” that supported the Vietnam War.   In the eyes of this generation, removed by the war from time, the Vietnam War was one fought without supporters.  In a real sense cultural occlusion has come about with regard to this historical event, and in effect, the icons of the Vietnam War have been selectively used or occluded to create a historical construct and the largest framer of that occlusion has been the media.

The findings of this study have vast implications for the transmission of knowledge to a society by the media.  The demonstrated ability of mass media to control the flow of information, through a mode of entertainment, gives it the ability to form a cultural curriculum, and a view of historic events which may be anything but a view which is based upon the truth. 

The challenge facing educators is one of coalescence.   In many areas, in particular to this study, The Vietnam War, a common belief about the war has become imprinted upon the framework of the nation.  Any idea which challenges this view reached by occlusion, must take on a cognitive dissonance, which precludes any view other than the one which is currently held.  The common belief of a culture, particularly when spurious, must be challenged by other sources to allow students to use inductive reasoning to frame a true understanding of historical consciousness.  The real danger resides when educators themselves have bought into the common belief of history, which is often formed by ideology rather than reality, and are no longer capable of presenting historical information apart from the vantage point of merely spewing out what other sources have programmed them to say.

 

References

Wineburg, Sam; Mosborg, Susan; Porat, Dan; Duncan, Ariel; (2007). Common Belief and the Cultural Curriculum: An Intergenerational Study of Historical Conciousness. American Education Research Journal, Vol. 44, No 1. pp. 40-76.

November 11, 2008

Thank you Veterans

Another Veteran’s Day.

As a public employee I am off today.  This is one Federal Holiday I feel I have earned.  I am a veteran and am proud of my service to my country.  However, I realize that that sentiment should be replaced by another.  I am a veteran, and I am lucky to be one. 

I learned that sentiment from my son. 

My son is said something along these lines shorly before he left to serve you, his fellow citizens in the United States Army.  More on that later.

I am not a great family historian, but I do know that my family has served its fellow citizens by serving in our nation’s armed forces.  I could become at this moment altruistic, but I won’t.  They served for their own reasons.  I could also wax utopian and have the attitude that service in the military is not a good thing because war is evil.  Of course war is evil, and so service in the military is not a redeeming panacea that frames human character.   Serving in the military has as a goal ending the life of an enemy, so any military service is a necessity of evil.  The word necessity should be the word which catches our eyes.  In case any have unrealistic fantasies out there, it’s a rough world out there, filled with people who don’t like us – and I write this knowing that the “thems” in their own context are an “us”.

I will not at this time go too far afield and talk about patriotism.  Let me just give the short version and say that one of the most maddening phrases, songs, and attitudes I hear is the one “Proud to be an American”.  It’s not because I disagree with the policies of our country, overly lament the national errors our forebears have made, nor disagree with the concept that America on the whole has been a force of good.  I just think the statement is stupid.  One has no basis to be “proud” of something they had no control over.  I’m happy or lucky or even blessed to be an American would be a much more accurate and intellectually honest statement.  My son’s statement back this summer reminded me of that.

My relatives have served our nation from their arrival in the 1840’s.  From the Civil War, World War One and Two, Vietnam and today my family members have worn the uniform.  I am lucky that I have such people in my family who sacrificed so that our nation was torn in two was sustained.  I am lucky that today when there are many who still do not wish our nation well, my son in his words, “gets to stand up for his country”.

I also was lucky to serve, but my service pales when I consider that my Uncle Peter Smith served as a Doughboy in France in World War One.  I am shamed of my “pride” in my own service when I consider that my grandparents had four sons – my Uncles Jim, John, Frank and James – all serving in World War Two.  I can’t imagine the daily prayers, hopes put on hold, and fears that they experienced, until recently when I have begun to have maybe a concept of what they faced.  My Uncle Jim’s vessel was torpedoed three times in World War Two, my Uncle Frank was 17 years old when he was a casualty at Omaha Beach spending much of the rest of his life in pain reliving that horrible day from his adolescense, my Uncle James spent much of his 20’s island hopping while in the USMC, including involvment in Bloody Tarawa.  When faced with this level of service to their country, my “pride” is indeed pathetic, and I indeed was lucky to have served as a Paratrooper. 

My son enlisted this past summer.  In his words, he is lucky.  My son had many stumbles as an adolescent, and like many parents today, I was impotent to stop him on his own path to ruin.  Luckily for me when he was spiraling downward, he and my wife caught him.  God was also most kind to my son, and my son much to my joy recongizes the mercy that was given to him.  However, my son did not have a clear direction and needed one.  He had also done many things that while forgiven, only time could heal the wounds and the breaches of trust done to them.  This was a real family crisis.  There were little places he could turn.  At 19 he knew he didn’t want to go to college.  He also knew that he didn’t want a job working at a deli, Walmart, 7-11 etc.  He considered moving to the Midwest with his mother, but didn’t wish to do that either.  In the past he would have run from his responsibility.  I also knew I had to help him. 

I picked him up one morning and laid out the thin options he had before him.  I added one, that I don’t regret, but knew that doing so, was not without risk, and mentioned service in the armed forces.  I told him I would go with him to the recruiter and asked him to respectfully listen to what they said.  He shocked me when he said he would do so.   Even though I had been in the Army I mentioned the Coast Guard, Air Force and Navy.  I am sure that you all know why I would mention these first.  He said, No, but he would visit the Marines and Army recruiter.  I said that the Guard or Reserves would be a good option.  He was silent.

We went to one recruiter.  My son, despite his lack of belief in himself qualified for every MOS offered by the Army.  Many of these had lucrative bonuses and sounded as if they were made for my boy.  My boy who would drive me wild with his shouts of joy and anger as he played Gears of War and Ghost Recon – becoming one of the best in the gaming world at them.  He listened, respectfully and said “No”.  I broached the Reserves and the Guard, he was faster than the recruiter when he said, “No”.  In six months I’ll be in the same boat as I am today.  Even the recruiter was silent for a moment at that one.

When he asked what he wanted to do he looked at the recruiter and me and said, I want to do what m dad did.  I want to jump out of planes and be a real soldier.  I have never felt such pride and fear in my life at a statement.  You see, although I belatedly realized that I am lucky to have served in the Army, and yes as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne, I believe that my son was proud of me.  I asked him if he was sure.  I mentioned all the things that he could do with his ability scores.  My son who is as stubborn as I am replied, “If doing that was good enough for you, it’s good enough for me”.  I will admit that tears filled my eyes upon hearing that.  Tears of fears and of gratitude, that my son was indeed proud of me.

One day shortly before he departed for basic training, AIT and Jump School we spoke.  I told my son how proud I was of him for his decision to serve his country in a tough time.  He didn’t say much and then looked at me.  “Dad”, he said, “I’m lucky”.  I’ve screwed up my life a lot, but now I get to serve my country.”.  Even as I reflect upon this months later I am moved by his thoughts. 

I will echo them.

I am lucky that I was given the opportunity to serve my country in some small way.  I have been repaid richly for the minor investment I made.

I am lucky that I was born into a family who like thousands of other families in our nation demonstrated courage and a willingness to serve their country.

I am lucky that I have a son who also serves his country.  I will also be proud of him and his choices. 

Those who may come upon this post, please also reflect upon how lucky you are. 

I also ask you to join me in a daily ritual that I have as I ride to work, I pray for my son, and for thousands of other sons and daughters.  I pray that those who have wives and children will be kept emotionally close to them as they serve me.  I pray that God will be merciful to my son and the other sons and daughters who are indeed volunteering to be in harm’s way – for my safety.  I pray for my wife and my son’s mother (that one is not always an easy prayer) that they will be at peace with their child’s choice.  Then  I offer a prayer of gratitude that I amso lucky to have such people as our fellow citizens, our neighbors, our parents and grandparents, and our sons and daughters that watch over me.

Proud – not really.  Lucky – most definitely.

Quote of the Day

Filed under: Conservatives,Culture,History,Inspirational,Philosophy,Politics,Quote of the Day — avoiceofreason @ 11:21 am

It is well that war is so terrible – lest we grow too fond of it.

Robert E. Lee

November 9, 2008

Quote of the Day

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.
George Orwell

November 7, 2008

Studs Terkel – A Belated Farewell

Filed under: Corporatism,Culture,Democrat,History,Liberals,PoliticalScience,Politics — avoiceofreason @ 8:24 pm

A belated farewell to a person whom I have read extensively and often disagreed with as I read extensively, but for whom I always held in admiration. Farewell to author/historian Studs Terkel . 

Terkel is an important historian for the method he used.  Rather than allow his own narration to become the focal point of the narrative, he chose to allow the voices of the participants ring loud.  At times Terkel’s left of center (and he was certainly that) came to the surface in his analysis and evaluation, however, his body of work is impressive, particularly concerning The Great Depression, The Second World War (which he called “The Good War) and American Workers and the work they do.

Terkel had an edge to him and while I did not agree with his position regarding post 9-11 security measures, I do hold in respect any person who can give a heartfelt and rationale argument towards a position.  This to my mind was the most frustrating aspect of the current election campaign – the utter mindlessness of many drones rekindling memories with a mantra of “Change, change, change” and “Yes, we can”, who inability to clearly articulate a coherent arguement about why their beliefs were valid to a rational mind.  The vapidity of the masses reminds one of Orwell’s sheep bleating “Four legs good, two legs bad”.  Blind obedience and the ability to speak slogans without the benefit of an ability to coherently defend a position is dangerous to democracy whether the sheep are of conservative or liberal cloth.

Studs Terkel was no a pushover, and his interviews, writings, essays and certainly his anthology of oral histories are worthy of respect –  from whatever side of the political spectrum one finds themselves upon.  I for one will miss his voice – raspy from far too many cheap cigars – and his passion for his beliefs.   I am able to understand his perspective and find some common ground with it, even though I often rejected his conclusions. 

There is a reason why I wll miss his voice, more for the content than its tone and tenor.  As Studs wrote, “I want people to talk to one another no matter what their difference of opinion might be.”  Isn’t that concept an important fixture of self government?

June 9, 2007

The Formation of Cultural Icons: A Critical Analysis Pt. II

Filed under: blogging,children,Culture,Education,History,PoliticalScience,Politics — avoiceofreason @ 2:17 am

Second in a series.  This is from a paper I presented.  This segment deals with an analysis of a study of the formation of a cultural identity in the text book covers found in the US in the 18th and 19th century.

The second article analyzed wished to examine the use of visual metaphor in the front covers in popular textbooks published in the United States in the late 18th and early to mid 19th century.  In this study (Provenzo, 1984) the argument posed is that by use of traditional and symbolic metaphors a distinct patriotic iconography emerged in the United States.  In declaring independence from England, it was important for the United States had also declared a rejection of England’s social traditions and the need was to find a replacement for the new republic.

Typically found on the textbooks from this era are symbols from the ancient world, typically found in the ancient Roman Republic.  Ultimately, these symbols would become identifiable with the new republic being formed. The author’s asserts, a patriotic iconography or symbolism emerged, drawing upon the collective history of the nation. 

In early editions of textbooks used in the United States images of the Founding Fathers are seen.  However, by the end of the 18th century the figure of Minerva or Athena is seen acting as a guide for young children.  It was a common practice in England to put the ruling monarch on the cover of children’s texts, yet after only a short period publishers had rejected this practice in America.

The use of these characters from antiquity is not unusual, and emerged consistently.  As time progressed, the image of Minerva went through slight changes.  Light is seen as coming from her head, she holds a staff, and other symbols from antiquity appear.  Interestingly, Minerva is the Roman equivalent of Athena, the safeguard of Athens, so long as her image remained within the walls of the city.  The symbolic parallel is clear, and was over a period of time was brought to the focus of the new nation’s children daily. 

In later editions of texts the Roman Goddess of Liberty is represented.  She also goes through minor transformations through the year, each having symbolic value.  By the year 1841 she is seen wearing a Phrygian cap – which in ancient Rome would be given to slaves who had been emancipated.  In another widely used series of texts, Minerva and Liberty appear together, with Minerva ascending into the heavens, while Liberty remains on the earth – which the author insinuates as the coming to maturity of the ideals of the new nation.  By the middle of the century the figure of Liberty is seen atop the national capitol and by 1886 The Statue of Liberty arguably becomes the most recognizable icon for the values and principals of the American Republic. 

The suggestion of the study is that educational materials reflect an emergence and are part of the evolution of a culture.  It is clear that development of a cultural identification with ancient Rome was paramount in the formation of a national identity for the United States, and the educational system was at the front and center of this formation of a collective sense of historical identity.

June 8, 2007

The Formation of Cultural Icons: A Critical Analysis Pt. I

This is a paper I am presenting and thought it might generate some interest here.

Icons are a part of any culture. However, they often serve a role which detracts from a role which would be more fitting. In the sense of this report, an icon is an object which takes upon mythical meaning beyond the symbolism which it attempts to represent. Three areas of society which could easily be identified as icons are elaborated upon in this analysis of three historical studies.

How common beliefs become part of a cultural curriculum – or in a sense an icon – was the topic of a study (Wineburg, Mosborg, Porat, Duncan; 2004) performed concerning generational perceptions of the Vietnam War. The study posed to answer the question how historical knowledge is transmitted across generations. Over a thirty month period the authors interviewed fifteen families, drawn from three different communities. The author’s purpose was to ascertain how two generations defined moments of history, and whether the history represented by the generations formed a “collective memory” with regard to a historical event.

Over a course of 30 months, 30 members of 15 families were interviewed about how their conceptualization of the past may form a collective concept about a historical era. The sample families represented Evangelical Christians, lapsed Roman Catholics, Buddhists, and Jews. Four of the families consisted of members who had been born outside of the United States; twelve families were Caucasian and one each as African American, Native American and Asian American. One parent and one child from each family were interviewed about their knowledge and conceptual framework concerning American involvement in Vietnam. Each member participating in the study was also asked to provide their interpretation of well known photographs taken from the Vietnam Era, which could easily be identified as icons of the era.

Prior to the interviewing the student’s perceptions of the Vietnam War and the instruction offered concerning the topic were analyzed by the researchers. Despite the detailed instruction concerning the issues at stake in the Vietnam War by the schools of the students, as a group, had a similar perception of the Vietnam War – “a war without a reason”.

During the interview process both parent and child were asked to write down their reactions to the pictures shown by answering open ended questions, such as, “What do you see in this picture?” and “What associations does this picture bring up?” Both participants would then be asked to respond to the photo and their corresponding interpretation, with the child. This was done in order to protect against parental input having an impact upon the child’s answer.

Later on the responses elicited by each respondent was coded with a graphic textual spreadsheet in order to develop emergent themes from the interview process. Various combinations of grouping students with other students, students and parents from one subset being compared to other students and parents from other subsets, and then groupings based on conceptual agreement were formed.

The first photo used was a picture of a veteran of the Vietnam War looking upon the names etched on the wall while his hand gingerly touches the wall. Of all the photos presented, this one image was the most identifiable picture. All of the teens and all but one of the parents (who had been born in the former Soviet Union) were able to recognize the memorial. Every student also knew what the man was attempting to do – search for a name on the wall and then etch it into a piece of paper he held in his right hand. For the parents, the picture brought back memories of loved ones or friends who had served in the Vietnam War, and the veteran took on a symbolic identification of long remembered people from their past. However, the students’ answers were more general, with the man depicted in the photo not taking any symbolic meaning at all. The experience for the adults in the study also reflected their own personal opinions concerning America’s involvement in Vietnam. Words and phrases such as “resolution”, “respect that was deserved” appeared in the responses in the adults. Interestingly, the man portrayed in the picture is seen by all as a victim of the war, and not as a perpetrator of war, who is worthy of respect and pity, not hatred.

The second photo is also an icon of the Vietnam War era, a photo of a young man placing flowers in the barrels of guns of soldiers in the 1967 March on the Pentagon. The adults surveyed instantly identified the clash between the flower and the guns as a symbolic clash of war opposed to peace. Terms used to qualify the event express the antithetical symbolism the picture displays, “Blocking soldiers with flowers”; Peace, not power”; and “a divided country”. For the students there was a significant disconnect with the interpretation of the picture. Only eight of the fifteen could identify the basic concept of peace versus might. The symbolic elements of the picture were even less easily discerned by the youngsters. One student thought the soldiers were North Vietnamese, another felt the incident was meant to mourn the dead. Interestingly, for the adults, the first photo brought about feelings of the nation coming to reconciliation about the war, the second photo brought the sharp divide felt by their generation back to the forefront. One parent spoke warmly of the camaraderie felt by members of the anti-war movement towards each other; another contemptuously replied, “He’s a slime-bucket”. Part of the student’s problems with this photo was their failure to identify the clean cut youth as a “hippie”. His appearance does not align with their perception of the prototypical hippie of the 1960’s.

The third photo, a “hard-hat” rally drew strong responses and identification by the adults in the group, and almost universal misunderstanding by the younger generation. The rally, which was a pro-war response by blue collar workers in New York City in support of the war in 1970, elicited two polarized replies. One reply stated that “although there was confusion about the issues in the war, these guys, typical working men, were going to support the government”. This picture also drew a rather strong comment by an opponent of the war, “These men are a bunch of assholes, guided by their penises”. On the other hand, the majority of students were unable to interpret the photo. One person identified the type of people represented, “blue collar workers”, but had no idea what the purpose of the rally served. One thought that a sign, which referred to “Building America”, was an anti-war sentiment, as it contrasted the destruction which was going on in Vietnam.

Many of the students were surprised to learn that people actually protested in favor of the Vietnam War. More than one of the students cited the movie Forrest Gump, which had framed their perception that all of America was against the war, when in reality as late as 1972 a Gallup Poll showed that 70% of the nation felt a renewed confidence in the prosecution of the war.

The findings of this study concluded that the younger people perception of the war had not been formed by instruction or by a true understanding of the concepts involved, but had been formed images found in media such as movies about the Vietnam War, and that despite various ethnic and cultural variance, a consistent perception about the war had been formed by these young people, and their perception about the war was remarkably similar than their parents who had experienced the war from a more personal vantage point. The young people’s perception allowed no room for pro-war demonstrations and “the silent majority” that supported the Vietnam War. In the eyes of this generation, removed by the war from time, the Vietnam War was one fought without supporters. In a real sense cultural occlusion has come about with regard to this historical event, and in effect, the icons of the Vietnam War have been selectively used or occluded to create a historical construct.

May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell The Moral Majority and Me

A short report about the death of Rev. Falwell.

One short comment, I am sickened by the vitriole that some of the left wing blogs are showing.  I mean you can disagree with a man, but the moment of their death isn’t the time to do so.  What should I expect though from pigs, but grunts.

I started college in 1979 and became interested in GOP politics shortly thereafter. My family had a split political history. My mother was a staunch pro-labor, Irish/Catholic Democrat. My grandfather had been one of the founders of the NYC Electrical Workers Union, and was called “The Great White Father” for pushing for minorities to be allowed into the union in the 1920’s. I am very proud of his work on the behalf of working people. My father was a staunch Republican and was Protestant. However, he had become a minister when I was about thirteen, and my mother had left the Roman Church beforehand. In 1976, they both backed Jimmy Carter, and it was odd not to hear the political debates, as they thought they had found a candidate they could agree upon. Boy, did they get hoodwinked on that one.

Early on I was not overly impressed with President Carter, and the Iran crisis sealed the deal. I had actually always been a bit more Conservative on military and foreign policy issues than my politically divided house, and I think Carter was the straw that broke the camel’s back with regard to supporting Democrats.

So when I received a newspaper from this organization called “The Moral Majority” I didn’t know what to think. I read the paper and found out that I agreed with many of the their positions. I was in favor of supporting Israel’s right to exist along with the concept that I trusted those guys more than Muslims and Arabs. I was concerned about the lack of respect that many in the country had towards our nation. I was a troubled about some of the content of the political process. I was – and still am – in favor of limiting abortion. I was fearful about some of the language in the ERA movement and mostly I was ticked about Iran and the hostages. I joined the organization at 17 in 1979. My wife rolled her eyes when I told her that one and had one word, pathetic, as a rejoinder. At 17 in my first year of college I should have been partying, getting drunk and laid, and not lining up with social conservatives. I guess you can tell she and I are a bit different in our political outlook – but she did wave a “W” placard and campaigned for President Bush in ’04. Her family still doesn’t talk to her!

I think what Rev. Falwell meant to me, at that age, was that there were people who were concerned not just about politics as usual, but who were concerned with cultural climate and its rapid change. Maybe they saw a connection between the dots – and that social outlook was related to economic policy and even a world view towards foreign policy.

I know that my views were a bit different from the Moral Majority, but there was enough agreement for me to join and to send my fees in cash – talk about naieve – in $10 increments, as I was indeed a struggling student in my first year of college. From that launching point, I became involved first in George Bush (41) campaign for the nomination, and later switched to Reagan when he won the nod. I guess that choosing of Bush over Reagan showed that I was a bit more centrist than dyed in the wool with the “MM”, but I knew that I was more comfortable with that crowd than the “rabble” I saw endorsing – and the rabble has gotten worse – Democrat candidates.

I with my still soft positions upon some social issues, such as abortion and rights for homosexuals (I support civil unions as policy), put me at odds with many of the antecedents of the Moral Majority, but I am understanding of their views, and I view our slight differences as a friendly disagreement within the family. I still feel that they are my people. So, for that, I am thankful for Rev. Falwell’s life. He profoundly shaped my growth as a person in the political realm, and though I still politely disagree with some of the social agenda of him and others of the harder Evangelical Right, and I do profess my own Evangelical foundation as a view of life, I recognize their value as a part of my family. Most importantly, I know that Rev. Falwell, despite some of our differences held a strong view upon the value of loving God. He also understood that the love of God requires action. Although in many ways I take that interpretation to promote egalitarianism, something that many of the Moral Majority/Christian Coalition/Focus on the Family crowd typically endorse, I find that we are using the same source, and in the end probably have similar intentions. This is how a person who is still, a good deal more Centrist – and still thinks that while Reagan was Great, and he was, that I like Bush 41 more for his intellect.

Let this be my final thought towards Rev. Falwell; May you wake to find you are resting on quiet shores.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.