March 22, 2019

The Pragmatic Democrats

girl on swing

The mainstream news media has been referring to a certain group of Democratic voters as "pragmatic Democrats." Who are these pragmatic Democrats? According to this particular narrative, they are voters who are seeking the candidate with the best chance of beating Donald Trump, regardless of that candidate's progressive credentials. But the interesting thing about this narrative is that "pragmatic Democrat" has quickly become a proxy of sorts for referring to voters who are supporting establishment candidates (i.e., those we might describe as "moderate" or "centrist"). "Pragmatic Democrats" are frequently contrasted with "progressive Democrats," barely concealing the notion that only a moderate or centrist candidate can win.

I had hoped that the Democratic Party would have been wrestling with the centrist vs. progressive conflict ever since 2016 and that real progress would have been made long before now. If that happened, I am not seeing much evidence of it. I realize this will sound a bit conspiratorial, but I sometimes find myself thinking that the media narrative of the "pragmatic Democrat" seems almost as if it was deliberately crafted to undermine support for more progressive candidates.

March 20, 2019

Reviving the AtheistVoter Campaign

American flag

In 2014, American Atheists launched the #AtheistVoter campaign. It sought to increase the participation of atheists in the political process. Specifically, atheists were encouraged to engage our elected officials and candidates running for office on social media using the #AtheistVoter hashtag. By using this hashtag, the rest of us could see what they were up to, learn from their examples, and take similar actions ourselves. I thought this was a great idea and was happy to support it. Unfortunately, the campaign was limited to two weeks and did not receive nearly enough publicity to have much of an impact.

The run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election saw a rebirth of the #AtheistVoter campaign. Atheists were encouraged to register with the campaign's website and encourage other atheists to pledge to vote. The earlier goal of encouraging atheists to be more visible to our elected officials and to candidates running for office was still there; however, it was not explained well enough or adequately promoted. Despite some of us doing what we could to continue promoting the campaign, it seems like most people lost whatever limited interest they had after the election.

March 18, 2019

Back In My Day, These Damn Kids Stayed Off My Lawn

old man's eye

Members of every generation have a favorite pass time in common: criticizing the generation that follows them. Regardless of when "today" is, the youth of today are always screwed up. "Back in my day..." is where we find the correct way to do everything, and "these damn kids" need to do things like we did. They also need to get the hell off my lawn! Some of this is undoubtedly driven by arrogance and inaccurate stereotypes, but I think much of it simply reflects the older generation's distaste for change and difficulty remembering how they were viewed by the previous generation when they were young.

Social values change over time. Depending on your point of view, you may regard this as progress, evidence of moral decay, or something in between. For many atheists, trends toward secularism are likely to be an encouraging sign of progress. I think most of us would agree that the fact that young people today are far less interested in organized religion is a step in the right direction. For many fundamentalist Christians, these same trends probably reflect a frightening disintegration of our culture. That might explain why so many of them are motivated to slow it down or reverse it.

March 17, 2019

Preventing Radicalization

ground zero

I wrote an early version of this post in 2016, roughly two months before the senseless mass murder in Orlando. I did not write it in response to any specific incident, as I feared it would apply to many incidents. I updated and expanded the post in 2019 shortly after the mass murder in New Zealand because the subject remains relevant.

If a country were to have a small minority population within its borders (e.g., an ethnic and/or religious minority, a political minority) with some potential for radicalization and a history of violence, it would seem that preventing radicalization among members of this group would be a worthy goal. Consider a country such as France with their Muslim immigrant population. The vast majority of French Muslims are not radicalized and pose no more threat to French national security than anyone else. At the same time, it might make sense that the French people would have an interest in preventing radicalization among members of this group.

March 16, 2019

Tear Down That Cross

World War I Memorial, Bladensburg, Maryland 002
Ben Jacobson (Kranar Drogin) [CC BY-SA 3.0]

I don't think anybody expects the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against the Bladensburg cross in The American Legion v. American Humanist Association. Everybody seems confident that the plaintiffs are going to lose, so much so that the focus has been on dissecting the various implications of how they will lose and what the court's eventual decision will mean for the separation of church and state in the future. I suppose that makes sense. If I was the betting type, I'd certainly be reluctant to put my money on the plaintiffs in this case.

Still, that does not mean I find the likely outcome any less frustrating. It seems obvious that the sensible outcome here is for the court to have the cross removed. Sectarian religious symbols do not belong on public land, and there is no doubt that this is a sectarian religious symbol. Allowing this explicitly Christian symbol to remain on public land amounts to government promotion of the Christian religion. As the federal appeals court in Richmond already recognized, this is unconstitutional. The court should rule for the plaintiffs.