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The ecological morality of breeding….or not.

This and the other card can be found here.

When I saw Reason magazine tweet about an article entitled “Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been a ‘Breeder’?” and clicked through to see an image of the “breeder bingo board,” I expected to see a commentary on how harshly people tend to judge those who opt not to have children– such as myself.  That’s not what it turned out to be, however. Instead, science correspondent Ronald Bailey links back to an essay by Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill entitled “Our Brave New World of Malthusian madmen” arguing that society is turning into a real-life version of Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel The Wanting Seed, in which

overpopulation is rife. There’s a Ministry of Infertility that tries desperately to keep a check on the gibbering masses squeezed into skyscraper after skyscraper, and it does so by demonising heterosexuality – it’s too fertile, too full of ‘childbearing lust’ – and actively promoting homosexuality.
It’s a world where straights are discriminated against because there’s nothing more disgusting and destructive than potential fertility, than a ‘full womanly figure’ or a man with ‘paternity lust’; straights are passed over for jobs and promotion in favour of homos, giving rise to a situation where some straights go so far as to pretend they are gay, adopting the ‘public skin of dandified epicene’, as Burgess describes it, in a desperate bid to make it in the world. There’s even a Homosex Institute, which runs night classes that turn people gay, all with the aim of reducing the ‘aura of fertility’ that hangs about society like a rank smell, as one official says. ‘It’s Sapiens to be Homo’ is the slogan of Burgess’s imagined world.

 We haven’t gotten there yet, says O’Neill– there’s no Homosex Institute.  Still,

there is a creeping cultural validation of homosexuality in Malthusian terms, where the gay lifestyle is held up by some thinkers and activists as morally superior because it is less likely to produce offspring than the heterosexual lifestyle, in which every sexual encounter involves recklessly pointing a loaded gun of sperm at a willing and waiting target.

Seriously? That’s what we should be concerned about? 

This lengthy screed by O’Neill was prompted by an op-ed in a newspaper which argued for legalizing gay marriage on the grounds that it will “indirectly limit population growth,” since the sexual relations between two homosexuals in a monogamous relationship will not naturally lead to children.  The first problem with that is the idea that we should ever consider it legitimate to acknowledge or suspend human rights based on ecological concerns.  If there is a right to marry, there’s a right to marry whether there are 100 people on the planet or 100 billion.  And secondly it’s pretty silly to argue that allowing gay marriage will be some kind of relief for overpopulation even as a side benefit, unless we’re supposed to assume that otherwise all of these gays who want to get married are going to shrug their shoulders, find someone of the opposite sex to marry, and pop out of a couple of kids.  In short, become breeders.  That is what my boyfriend’s father did, and it did not turn out well for the most part– though I’m grateful for it having brought my boyfriend into the world– but these days?  Not so likely.  Now that acceptance of homosexuality has become so widespread, a far more attractive option is to come out of the closet, find another gay person to be with whether you can marry them or not, and if you want kids…adopt.  And that’s precisely what millions of gays are doing. 

“Breeder” is not, however, simply a term to use for people who have children.  Historically it has been a derisive term used by gays to describe straight people in general, since we’re the ones whose couplings have the natural potential to create children whether we actually take advantage of that opportunity or not.  Unlike those boring white-bread judgmental breeders, gays could live kid-free lives, stay out late, be irresponsible, and so on.  “Breeders” were mainstream; gays were the outsiders looking in.  And they were and still are punished for it.  But these days, the term doesn’t seem to be used by gays so much as by the voluntarily childfree, sometimes for any and all parents but usually just for the bad ones.  “PNB” (Parent, not breeder) is a term for a good parent, someone who makes the effort to raise well-behaved children and who takes care of them properly.  There are a variety of reasons why people opt not to have children– some people have inheritable illnesses that they don’t want to pass on or current disabilities which would make it too hard to parent, some people like children but don’t feel that they would be good parents, some feel that they truly have no maternal or paternal instinct, and some flat-out hate kids.  And some people, yes, argue that having children is wrong because it’s bad for the environment

And you know what?  It is bad for the environment, viewed objectively.  Sure, some of us may birth little Norman Borlaugs who find ways to feed the masses of starving people on the planet, but for the most part every new child brought into the world represents another mouth to feed, another consumer of fossil fuels, another contributor to greenhouse gasses.  On the whole, opting not to have children might be the single best thing a person can do for the environment:

A study by statisticians at Oregon State University concluded that in the United States, the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environment-friendly practices people might employ during their entire lives — things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs. . .

Under current conditions in the United States, for instance, each child ultimately adds about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average parent – about 5.7 times the lifetime emissions for which, on average, a person is responsible.
The impact doesn’t only come through increased emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases — larger populations also generate more waste and tax water supplies.

So people who have children are evil, right?  They’re harming the planet, and that makes them bad, and they should feel guilty, and maybe send their existing children to Madagascar or something where their carbon footprint won’t be as big?   No.  It means they’re obeying a biological imperative without which our species– no species which reproduces sexually– would not exist.   It’s hard for me to relate since I have no desire to reproduce whatsoever, even if doing so actually helped the environment, but people really, really, really, REALLY want to have children.  To the point that some of them regard those of us who are voluntarily sans sprogs as rather suspect, perhaps even immoral ourselves.

That’s what the bingo board above is meant to represent– “bingo” is a term used to refer to a comment that denigrates the choice to not have children, implying that there are so many of such comments and they are used so often that the recipients could play a game of Bingo with them.  So, for example, one childfree person might say to another “My cousin was bingoing me hardcore at the family reunion. She couldn’t believe that I still don’t have kids– said she was sure I’d change my mind, and I’m not a proper woman if I don’t.”  Some people do, of course, change their mind about having kids at some point in their lives.  But informing someone that they will change their mind about something about which they’ve thought long and hard is, needless to say, pretty darn arrogant.  Nobody would inform a friend that they’re sure said friend will convert from Judaism to Catholicism– at least, nobody who wants to keep their friends– but people don’t seem to understand the rudeness involved in informing someone smugly that they will want children later, whether they think so now or not.  Or worse, actively wish failed birth control on them, which to a childfree person is kind of like wishing a car accident on someone.  I have a personal established policy of urging anyone who is certain I’ll change my mind and is obnoxious about it to put their money where their mouth is– there’s a certain psychologist out there who owes me $50 if I’m still childfree by age 35. 

And I’m not gay, by the way.  But currently, gays who do want to become parents have a lot of options– they could get a sperm donor or surrogate, they could adopt, they could take in foster children (as many gays in Florida have done where gay adoption has until recently been illegal, but the state didn’t have enough foster parents available), and eventually science will find a way to create a child by combining genes from two potential fathers or mothers– they’re already working on it.   We have gay parents, and we will have more of them in the future.  Homosexuals may not be able to reproduce “recklessly”– as Dan Savage points out, it’s hard to get drunk and adopt– but they can and do become parents. 

As for the government promoting homosexuality and demonizing heterosexuality in order to limit population growth– I’m no stranger to theories about well-intentioned plans to fix broad problems through legislation failing abysmally and harming the populace, but…..come on.  There are plenty of people who think that homosexuality is something people are persuaded into, but the technical term for those people is “idiots.”  Okay, I’ll be nicer and more accurate, and say that they’re grievously ignorant.  Homosexuals have most likely never been more than 10% or so of the population and we have no reason to believe that they ever will be, no matter how many slogans are shouted at them or how bad they’re made to feel about their ‘womanly bodies’ (I’ve seen quite a few lesbians with womanly bodies, but it doesn’t seem to have any connection to their wanting to reproduce, no matter how happy they are about them).   

O’Neill’s essay, to put it plainly, sounds like a thinly-veiled argument against legitimizing “the gay lifestyle” (gee, that doesn’t send up any red flags) and granting homosexuals all of the same rights that straight people have based on the ridiculous idea that it will enable homosexuality to someday be forced on us by our government on ecological grounds. Or at the very least, an argument that we shouldn’t a) acknowledge that having children can increase the strain on the environment and b) have any normative opinions about that, because it will enable the government to forcibly stop us from having as many children.  To both of which I say…..bosh. 

An exercise in getting the last word

So now a Christian group in Fort Worth has hired a “mobile billboard” truck to follow around the buses with the “Millions of Americans are good without God” ads on them.  The truck’s billboards read “I still love you – God” and “2.1 billion people are good with God.”

One of the financiers of the truck interviewed said “These are business owners and individuals that really just want the atheists to know that God hasn’t given up on them.”

Umm….thanks?   The nearest church to me with JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON in 5 foot tall letters out next to the road must be all of five blocks away.  Who knows what would happen if I happened to see a bus drive by reminding me that godless people aren’t evil if it weren’t immediately followed by a message reiterating that people with God* aren’t either? For one second life amidst the normal deluge of pro-Christian messages that is living in DFW might be interrupted by someone saying “Hey, we’re okay too.”  Best to drown that out immediately.  Hire a stalkermobile, stat!

Edit:  Somebody on Dispatches commented:

 How about a bus to follow the bus that follows the bus that says “1 billion hindus are good with gansesh” or “1.5 billion muslims are good with allah” or “ancient greeks were good with zeus” or “the norse were good with odin”.

Hee.  If everybody joined in, we could get a good long caravan going…

* Only 2.1 billion?  I guess “good with God” only refers to the Christians. 

Another atheist bus ad controversy…

…this time in my neighborhood.  Well, not my immediate neighborhood, as the Dallas transit authority has refused these ads.  But Fort Worth has not, and local clergy are raising a big stink:

Ministers Justice Coalition of Texas thinks in the wake of the controversial campaign, the T should get rid of all religious ads.
“We have requested and asked that the T would review and revisit the policy and have it changed,” said Rev. Julius Jackson.
A second group of ministers aligned with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference threatened to organize a boycott if the signs are allowed.

The controversial ad slated to go on a total of four buses in Fort Worth that has them so agitated?

Hmmm…doesn’t seem so terrible to me.  A reminder that there are non-believers in the country, and they aren’t evil.  It doesn’t say that denying the existence of God is what makes them good, thus implying that believers aren’t.  It doesn’t say anything negative about religion at all, actually– just that people can be and are good without it.   The ads were paid for by the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition of Reason (DFW CoR), a subdivision of the United Coalition of Reason:

“The point of our national campaign is to reach out to the millions of humanists, atheists and agnostics living in the United States,” explained Fred Edwords, national director of the United Coalition of Reason. “Nontheists like these sometimes don’t realize there’s a community out there for them because they’re inundated with religious messages at every turn. So we hope this will serve as a beacon and let them know they aren’t alone.”

 I found that statement at the DFW CoR web site, since the Fox News video gives the Fort Worth ministers a good deal of time to be outraged, the Fort Worth transit representative a bit to say that they’re just shooting the messenger by threatening to boycott buses, and the head of DFW CoR Terry McDonald about four seconds to say that he didn’t expect people to throw such a fit about it. 

“Dallas decided no. Fort Worth decided to go with it. That’s saying something in terms of courage. Who has the courage to stand up for God!” said Rev. Kyev Tatum.

 I don’t know that it’s the responsibility of city transit authorities to stand up for God, Rev. Tatum.  I thought their job was to accept ads for buses from people who pay for them– that’s what they’ve been doing with pro-religious ads for quite some time without incident.  But apparently sharing that forum with a group of people who are just saying “Hey, we’re here, we don’t believe, and we’re okay” is just too much.  Trying to prevent the posting of a message that contradicts your beliefs sounds like the opposite of courage, to be honest.  More like taking your ball and going home.

God doesn’t like shopping on Sundays

From CBC News:

A debate over Sunday shopping has led P.E.I.’s transportation minister to suggest God had struck down the leader of the Opposition, who fell and injured herself after introducing a bill to allow Sunday openings year-round.
Opposition leader Olive Crane introduced the private member’s bill earlier this week. It would remove Canada’s last restrictions on Sunday shopping. Currently on the Island, stores must close Sundays between Christmas Day and Victoria Day. The bill passed second reading Thursday.Following an appearance on CBC Television’s Compass Monday, Crane slipped on the television set, injuring her ankle and wrist. Transportation Minister Ron MacKinley brought up the incident during the debate on the bill Thursday.
“I’m not what you call a saint, but I believe in God and I believe in [doing] the best I can do. You were at CBC pushing Sunday shopping, were you not? On TV?” he asked Crane. “Right after that interview what happened?”
“We had a bit of an accident,” Crane responded.
“Does that not tell you something?” said MacKinley.
“Like what?” said Crane.
“Like the Lord works in mysterious ways, and maybe you should start worrying what’s going on here? We are going all the time, we’re getting farther and farther away, whether it’s prayers in the schools or whatever it is,” said MacKinley.

If that’s the tack Mr. MacKinley wants to take, I assume he will accept any future accidents involving himself, his family, friends, or anyone who happens to share his ideology as judgments from God.  Because apparently God expresses disagreement with positions on local politics by breaking people’s ankles– perhaps MacKinley actually worships Don Corleone. 

12-year-old girl beaten after Christian youth meeting for “having a boy’s name.”


What’s in a name? A 12-year-old girl at Hernando Middle School in Mississippi was beaten by five fellow students — reportedly because they said her name, Randi, was “a boy name.”
“They started talking about me like I was a man,” she told local news station WREG. “That I shouldn’t be in this world. And my name was a boy name.” The four girls and a boy surrounded her after a Fellowship of Christian Students meeting, and, she said, kicked her in the rib and leg, hit her in the face, sat on her, pushed her face into the floor, and threw her onto a cafeteria table.
Apparently, the incident was caught on surveillance camera, but in order to maintain student privacy, the film has not been released. A school administrator issued a statement, said WREG, that “fighting is not tolerated and that disciplinary action will be taken to the fullest extent of the law.” No charges were filed, however, because the police were not called. Whether the attack was an isolated incident or part of ongoing bullying remains unknown.
The student in question was not said to be LGBT — but whether she is or not doesn’t matter. She was beaten because she was perceived to be in some way not conforming to her gender. That is yet another reason schools need to include discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in diversity and anti-bullying programs. It is not just LGBT students at risk, but potentially others as well. Students, teachers, and staff must learn that even characteristics some people might view as “deviant” or “sinful” are still no excuse for violence and bullying.

The part in bold is what is most important to me.  I’m not going to blame the kids’ Christian youth group for this, much less Christianity as a whole, much less religion as a whole.  For all we know, the timing of this attack is irrelevant to the motivation.  The only reason I think it’s worth mentioning at all is that perhaps in the future, the Fellowship of Christian Students could emphasize that beating the crap out of a girl because you think her name is boyish is not exactly loving behavior

My continuing suspicion is that at the root of homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, and any other gender-role-based hatred you will find a rigid belief in the necessity of conforming to gender roles– a belief that there are ways that men and women should behave, look, and apparently even be named, and there is something wrong with people who do not conform to these standards.  This suspicion first occurred to me while being assaulted and called a dyke for having short hair in middle school, and has pretty much developed and strengthened from that point on.

The more complex problem is where this fervent desire to maintain gender conformity comes from, and everybody seems to have a different answer to that.  Some people are willing to chalk it up entirely to religion, and indeed it certainly seems like most religious systems on the planet have some kind of prescriptions about how men should be and how women should be, but I think it’s more likely that those prescriptions became codified in religion because they existed prior to it.  That because people already thought that such conformity was necessary, they decided that that’s what God/the gods/the universe want as well.  There are even (even?  I guess this is not surprising at all) people who use evolutionary psychology to make the argument that men and women have evolved to be certain things and therefore that’s how they should be.  I have no issue with arguments that there are male and female behavioral tendencies that have evolved, but once you start getting normative with that stuff, I will whack you soundly over the head with the Mallet of Naturalistic Fallacy. 

I’m guessing the parents of the kids who beat this girl up didn’t specifically tell them that people who diverge from tightly prescribed gender roles have something wrong with them and should be punished.  But there are a lot of ways to convey that message less explicitly and most people don’t seem to see anything wrong with doing so.  No, you’re not going to catch me saying that kids should only be given gender-neutral toys or toys intended for the opposite sex, boys should be enrolled in ballet and girls signed up for the baseball team whether they like it or not, etc.  But while I know full well that kids like to have things simple and categorized while they’re young, I can’t help but think that accommodating that urge when it comes to gender is going to serve them poorly later on, and certainly that actively providing and enforcing views about gender conformity when they’re at any age is encouraging them to become like the students in this story.

Of course, maybe these kids just hate Randi and were using any excuse to go after her.  “You have a boy’s name” is such a stupid reason to go after anyone that it’s entirely possible.  But the gender role conformity thing shouldn’t be dignified by calling it anything other than stupid.

The trickiness of characterizing empathy in politics, part 1

So as mentioned, I’m working my way through Frans de Waal’s book The Age of Empathy.  On my drive I also listened to the audiobook of Michael Shermer’s The Mind of the Market, and it was almost comical to expose myself to both at the same time and read/listen to how both drew on the same research to reach radically different conclusions about how empathy works in American economics.  de Waal maintains that Americans practice little empathy toward their fellow man (which, in his eyes, would entail mandating the government to take better care of people) and believe that the free market will take care of everyone.  Shermer, by contrast, maintains that Americans trust the market barely at all and expect the government to make things fair for everyone.  Shermer is an American with a doctorate in the history of science, whereas de Waal is a primatologist and Dutch by birth though he has lived in the United States for almost thirty years. 

I couldn’t tell you whether or how much life in America has affected de Waal’s politics, but his book does contain the following passage:

Europeans are far more divided by rank and class and tend to prefer security over opportunity.  Success is viewed with suspicion.  It’s not for nothing that the French language offers only negative labels for people who have made it for themselves, such as nouveau riche and parvenu.  The result, in some nations, has been economic gridlock.  When I see twenty-year-olds march in the streets of Paris to claim job protection or older people to preserve retirement at fifty-five, I feel myself all of a sudden siding with American conservatives, who detest entitlement.  The state is not a teat from which one can squeeze milk any time of the day, yet that’s how many Europeans seem to look at it.  And so my political philosophy sits somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic– not too comfortable a place.  I appreciate the economic and creative vitality on this side but remain perplexed by the widespread hatred of taxes and government.  

 So to be fair to de Waal– he clearly has a mental boundary at which government taking care of people ceases to count as compassion and becomes pampering, and draws that line far in advance of where he sees other Europeans– mainly the French– drawing it.  But I would pay good money to put him and Shermer in a room together and see how they manage to resolve what constitutes “hatred of taxes and government.” I’m guessing Shermer would be incredulous at that characterization of Americans, as am I.  I don’t think that description even fits Tea Partiers (although putting one of them in a room with a French student might cause the heads of both to explode).  de Waal describes Americans after Katrina as expecting the market to take care of disaster relief, but also becoming angry about FEMA’s ineptness at tackling the problem quickly and efficiently.  Which is a head-scratcher for me– if they trusted the market to take care of it, why was their anger directed toward FEMA?  Wouldn’t that rather be a sign that they thought the government should handle the issue and felt cheated when it didn’t? 

Shermer, for his part, characterizes the American view of economics as analogous to how many of its population view evolution– with a conviction that there must be a top-down designer. Opponents of evolutionary theory claim that the environment could not exist with the species in it today without a designer, whereas Americans in Shermer’s view believe that the market could not function without economic disaster without its own designer: the government.  Shermer says this is false, but at the same time is not willing to advocate for no regulation, just much less.  He compares the free market to natural selection– not a process, but an emergent property.  A term for what happens when some species and products or serves are selected for or against in their given environment.  With evolution the environment is primarily physical, consisting of weather, geographic location, predator and prey relationships, and so on.  In economics, the environment is the market, consisting of incentives and psychology.  Shermer doesn’t just use evolution as an analogy, but actually discusses dispositions people have about economics as having been adaptive in our evolutionary past.  He and de Waal would have much to discuss in this regard as well. 

What does this have to do with empathy, now?  The answer is that as scholars who are fully aware that Adam Smith wrote his Theory of Moral Sentiments before his more popular book The Wealth of Nations, both Shermer and de Waal are convinced that empathy, or lack thereof, is at the root of economic beliefs and practices.  What’s revealing is that even with this as a given, they still reach near-opposite conclusions about how empathetic Americans would behave in an economic context.

Let’s check quickly on what the term “empathy” is supposed to mean.  In the common understanding of scientists who study it, there are two primary forms.  The first is affective, or emotional.  This can also be called “sympathy,” because it involves physically imitating the object of your empathic response, and often isn’t voluntary.  Emotional contagion, the act of yawning when someone else is yawning, or imitating the body posture of someone you’re talking to, are forms of affective empathy.  The second form is theoretical, reflective, usually deliberate.  It’s also called “perspective-taking,” because it involves consciously stepping into someone else’s shoes and trying to see the world through their eyes, to mix the most common metaphors.  These two don’t always go together, as exemplified by a sadist who can understand someone’s state of mind and uses that information to figure out how best to torture them.  Using one’s understanding of someone against them has been called the “dark side of empathy.” 

Now from what I can tell, trying to apply understanding of how empathetic someone is to what their political/economic philosophy will be is rather like trying to envision what Jesus’s political/economic philosophy would be today– everybody seems to have an opinion which is easy to reach, but is also inevitably diametrically opposed to someone else’s.  That’s because compassionate people, people who are not only strongly prone to affective empathy but are also compelled by it to help others, can have markedly different views on economics and politics.  How can this be?  Well, because there’s a difference between being nice to others and having the government do it for you.  I highly doubt that de Waal, for example, would want to claim that the French are kinder than he is.  Shermer’s primary argument for free market economics rests on the data he compiles to show that empathy and altruism are evolutionarily adaptive and that people feel and practice them without requiring any outside compulsion– that is, that America doesn’t need a big government because humans are empathetic.  I’m not entirely sure yet where de Waal is going to end up with his use of research on altruistic tendencies in non-human primates, but would make a good bet that it won’t be in Shermer’s land of the free market since that certainly isn’t where he started.   The main thing I am wondering at this point, actually, is whether it’s even possible for people who study human nature to divorce their own political views from it when it comes to discussing empathy in that context. 

This post is “part 1” because I discovered that one of my favorite psychologists Jonathan Haidt has been doing work on Libertarian morality using empathy as a primary factor, and libertarian magazine Reason has its own interpretation of it.  I want to discuss both of those, but need to do some more reading and thinking about it first.

Tea Party leaders v. O’Donnell the fire-breather

Last night I couldn’t get to sleep right away, and stayed up watching Lawrence O’Donnell eviscerate some Tea Party leaders on his MSNBC show “The Last Word.”  I don’t know their names or those of the particular groups they represented, but that was one thing about which O’Donnell made a big issue– the fact that they were all separate groups with separate leaders which he seemed to view as strange and problematic.  They didn’t, insisting that they collaborated and had similar goals in mind but different areas of focus, which seems reasonable for a grass-roots movement to me.  What caused the interview to turn into a blood bath was when O’Donnell asked each of them to define what “socialism” means and ask what specific socialistic programs they would chooses to eliminate.  Naturally he asked specifically about Medicare and social security first, because those are two programs which are a) federal and b) healthcare, supposedly the things that tea partiers on the ground have been complaining and waving signs about most.  None of the four leaders said they would eliminate either of those programs given the choice, though one said he would dramatically overhaul social security.

On the “What is socialism?” question, nobody came up with a good answer– one said “the re-distribution of wealth,” which would be ridiculous even if that were a comprehensive definition as so far as I know, the tea partiers are not anarchists.  They all support government existing in some sense, and in order exist government requires taxation, otherwise known as redistribution of wealth.  Saying that you want x,y, and z government programs to continue but you oppose all taxation is like saying you want to mow the lawn but you refuse to put gas in the lawn mower– good luck with that.  And that’s not an argument along the lines that if want something done, it has to be done by government….it’s an argument that if you want the government to do something, you have to give it the funding to do so.  These two should not be confused.  One of the tea party leaders being interviewed, for example, said that given the choice he would scrap the Department of Education and have public schooling be handled at the local level.  Whatever you might think of this plan, that does qualify as a significant measure to make government smaller and reduce taxation!  For tea partiers, however, my overwhelming impression is that those aren’t the reasons they want to eliminate federal control over public schooling– the real reason, quite simply, is that they don’t like national standards for education.  They want “local communities” to be able to decide that their children don’t have to learn about evolution, can be forced to pray in school, and probably any number of things that the Supreme Court has decided are unconstitutional.   To give them credit, however, these particular tea partiers being interviewed did, when asked, all acknowledge that there is such a thing as a separation of church and state in the U.S., though a couple of them stipulated “according to the Supreme Court,” as though the First Amendment should only be interpreted as supporting such a concept because SCOTUS has said so. 

They did do– or attempted to do– quite a lot of fudging and dodging, however, but O’Donnell would have none of it.  I hadn’t seen much of him on TV before aside from little snippets from time to time, so I had no idea this was his “thing.”  I don’t know if it’s supposed to be his “thing” for “The Last Word,” but now I’m curious to see a few more episodes to find out.*  He actually put the female tea party leader on “time out,” effectively, because she couldn’t or wouldn’t spit out a specific government program she would eliminate.  He told her to think of an answer and he’d get back to her at the end of the show.  Damn.  That kind of thing reminds of me of what I so admired about television and radio news reporters on the BBC– they’re merciless.  They don’t allow interviewees to simply decide to answer a question other than the one the reporter actually asked.  If they try, the reporter will forcefully remind them of what the question is and demand that they answer it.  That’s what O’Donnell was doing, and I almost felt sorry for the people being interviewed.  But you know, “What do you consider socialism” and “What would you cut, if given the opportunity” are not exactly “gotcha” questions for tea party activists!   The “Last Word” was followed on MSNBC by Keith Olbermann rattling off a list of complaints against tea party candidates for office all over the country.  And those are horrible and reason enough to not support any of them, but my bigger grievance with the Tea Party is reflected in this interview with O’Donnell– none of them were clearly able to articulate what exactly they’re trying to eliminate, and none of them had an immediate answer of a part of government they would cut to significantly reduce the debt and the degree of unwanted control that government has over their lives.  The obvious answer if you think about it for half a second would be the defense budget, which is larger than that of every other country in the world combined.  But because these activists are really disenchanted Republicans, that’s not what they’re advocating for cutting– no, it’s all about Obama and healthcare, and not the trillions of dollars being poured needlessly into two “wars” with no reason and no end.  Sigh.

Anyway– it was a good interview, and I’d like to see more like it even though it makes me cringe to see people embarrass themselves.  I debated changing the channel a few times because it was becoming unbearable.  But it’s either this or allow the tea party candidates to just keep spewing nonsense and thinking “WTF?” which doesn’t do anything to highlight their hypocrisy or the frightening implications of a lot of their ideas.  These things need to be doggedly dragged out into the light by people like O’Donnell, so I’m glad he’s doing it. 

*If it seems odd that I’m wondering about this, bear in mind that I don’t have TV at home.  We have television sets, but they’re used for Netflix/DVDs and video games and that’s about it.  And for the most part this is fine, but I do miss out on a lot of political/news commentary, which is sometimes a detriment and sometimes a bonus.

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