Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Another orca movie





Just got back from the wilds of British Columbia -- specifically, near Telegraph Cove on northern Vancouver Island. My friend Mike and I spent three days in the vicinity of Robson Bight Ecological Preserve. We didn't enter the preserve, of course, which is off-limits to boats (or at least is supposed to be, though we saw any number of commercial fishermen blithely wading through). We mostly hung out about a quarter-mile from the boundary and watched the whales come through; on Saturday, we saw about 60 whales.

The star of the procession was the A11 pod, which came in next to us from a handful of feet away from where we had been hanging out near the shore. They had also come by us the day before at our camp at Kaikash Creek (the wind was up and so were the whitecaps, so we stayed ashore) and come in close, at times rubbing the rocks there. The most impressive, as you'll see, was A13, the 28-year-old male who sometime this past year suffered a horrifying injury to the top of his magnificent dorsal fin; it appears a boat propeller took out a chunk of its top, leaving a noticeable white scar. These fins, incidentally, are mainly large chunks of collagen. He came up so close in front of my kayak he took my breath away; I was too startled to get off anything but a blurry half-shot of his saddle patch.

The sound recordings were generally pretty clear, but there was a large log boom being hauled by a massive tug that was slowly grinding its way eastward up the strait that day, churning up water and noise along the way. It's part of the constant background noise on the soundtrack.

Hope you enjoy. Back to our regular blogging shortly.

Tunnels and Bridges, Part III: A Bigger World

by Sara Robinson

As we saw in Part II, isolating authoritarian leaders and confronting their followers is a proven strategy for dealing with hate groups, whether it's a local band of skinheads a national movement of several thousand, or a coast-to-coast televangelist gone rogue. But these groups will simply reform and reappear unless we take essential steps to change the cultural atmospherics, and reduce the appeal of their message in the future.

We've seen that liberal tolerance and openess to others' ideas grows as one's fear decreases, and one's sense of the world expands. RWA followers tend to be somewhat less educated and much less familiar with other cultures; our recovered fundies commonly find that the fear that keeps them inside the system dissipates when their exposure to different religions and ethnicities increases, and the unknown world becomes known.

On the other hand, if you were going to deliberately set out to create an authoritarian society, you could hardly do better than some of the GOP's misbegotten social policies over the past couple decades. Here are a few ways in which Americans' understanding of the world has narrowed in recent decades, setting the stage and creating the atmosphere that allowed right-wing memes to take root and fester.

Civics Education
I was at a conference at a small university in the Southwest last year, debating media topics with several other panelists. The conversation included a lively debate over the intent of the First Amendment. It soon became clear, judging from the questions we were getting from the 150 students, that many of them weren't entirely clear on just what that amendment said.

Finally, on an ominous hunch, I peered out into the darkness and asked for a show of hands. “How many of you had a high school class in government or civics?”

Three hands went up. All of them belonged to faculty members over 30. It was, I freely admit, one of the most frightening moments I've had in the past several years.

It turns out that civics classes – the essential information one needs to function as a citizen – have been gutted by tight school budgets over the past 20 years. As a result, we now have an entire generation of Americans who don't know how their government works, how the laws the live under get made, or what rights they have as citizens. They don't know who the Founders are, or what's in the Federalist Papers. They can't really articulate the Enlightenment ideals that led to the formation of this country. They are frighteningly ill-prepared to exercise or defend a birthright they don't even understand.

Small wonder, then, that the 1998 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that three-quarters of American high school students lacked basic proficiency in civics. According to a commentary published that year by William A. Galston of the Institute of Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland:

"The NAEP is administered biennially in what are deemed "core academic subjects." Unfortunately, civic education has not yet achieved that exalted status, and we are fortunate if civic knowledge is assessed once a decade...The results of the 1998 NAEP Civics Assessment were released a few months ago. They were not encouraging. For fourth, eighth, and (most relevant for our purposes) twelfth graders, about three-quarters were below the level of proficiency. 35 percent of high school seniors tested below basic, indicating near-total civic ignorance. Another 39 percent were at the basic level, less than the working knowledge that citizens need.

"When we combine these NAEP results with other data from the past decade of survey research, we are driven to a gloomy conclusion: Whether we are concerned with the rules of the political game, political players, domestic policy, foreign policy, or political geography, student performance is quite low. This raises a puzzle. The level of formal schooling in the United States is much higher than it was fifty years ago. But the civic knowledge of today's students is at best no higher than that of their parents and grandparents, know no more than they did. We have made a major investment in formal education, without any discernible payoff in increased civic knowledge...

"...It is easy to dismiss these findings as irrelevant to the broader concerns with which I began. Who cares whether young people master the boring content of civics courses? Why does it matter whether they can identify their congressman or name the branches of government? Surprisingly, recent research documents important links between basic civic information and civic attributes that we have good reason to care about.

1. Civic knowledge promotes support for democratic values. The more knowledge we have of the working of government, the more likely we are to support the core values of democratic self-government, starting with tolerance.

2. Civic knowledge promotes political participation. All other things being equal, the more knowledge people have, the more likely they are to participate in civic and political affairs.

3. Civic knowledge helps citizens to understand their interests as individuals and as members of groups. There is a rational relationship between one's interests and particular legislation. The more knowledge we have, the more readily and accurately we connect with and defend our interests in the political process.

4. Civic knowledge helps citizens learn more about civic affairs. Unless we have a certain basis of knowledge, it is difficult to acquire more knowledge. The new knowledge we do gain can be effectively used if we are able to integrate it into an existing framework into an existing framework of knowledge.

5. The more knowledge we have of civic affairs, the less we have a sort of generalized mistrust and fear of public life. Ignorance is the father of fear, and knowledge is the mother of trust.

6. Civic knowledge improves the consistency of the views of people as expressed on public opinion surveys. The more knowledge people have, the more consistent their views over time on political affairs. This does not mean that people do not change their views, but it does mean that they know their own minds.

7. Civic knowledge can alter our opinion on specific civic issues. For example, the more civic knowledge people have, the less likely they are to fear new immigrants and their impact on our country."


Perhaps more horrifying of all: that 1998 NEAP survey was apparently the last time the federal government even looked at this issue. Another eight years of high school seniors has graduated in the meantime. Too many of these, no doubt, are getting their remedial civics education from Rush Limbaugh, their pastors, and their skinhead co-workers. When confronted with bad facts, these young adults simply have no idea what the Constitution says, or how a true patriot responds.

Making sure that our high school seniors get at least a year or two of civics education, delivered by well-trained teachers using sound curricula, is arguably even more important that what's being taught over in the science lab. We will not stem authoritarianism over the long haul unless we establish a civics as a core requirement for high school graduation in all 50 states. We can't have an effective democracy -- and will be sitting ducks for would-be tyrants -- until every one of us knows this stuff. It's that simple.

Liberal Education
There's a reason they call it “liberal education.” The more of it people have, the more liberal they tend to become.

Yet it's much harder to get to college now than it's been since WWII. Pell Grants and federally-supported low-interest loans have all but vanished. Now, students who want financial help for college have to fight for it – literally, by joining the military. Construction of new public universities has stalled, making it hard for the Echo Generation to find a place that will take them even if they can afford it. Our grandparents' firm belief that the more education Americans have, the stronger and richer the nation becomes, seems to have been abandoned: today's policy-makers would rather have less-educated workers that they can readily control.

That's only going to change when we realize our government is only as good as the education of the average voter. It's not a coincidence that America's most prosperous decades were also the ones in which we invested the most in education. While most Americans understand (at least vaguely) that our national prosperity and all that goes with it -- good jobs, growing industries, global prestige -- correlates strongly with the number of university degrees we're minting in any given year, we've somehow misplaced the understanding that the advanced thinking skills learned in college are also critical to making us canny, discriminating, well-informed voters.

Either we build the classrooms, pony up the tax money for tuition, and get more Americans back in college -- or we're going to keep ending up with politicians picked on the basis of their suitability as drinking buddies -- and voters who are easily led by their fears instead of by reason.

Cultural Exchange
Americans hold fewer passports per capita and do less foreign travel than the citizens of any other industrialized democracy. We just don't get out much – and the less we travel, the more conservative we tend to be. According to Diana Kerry, who organized U.S. Expatriate voters for her brother John's 2004 campaign, 75% of passport-holding Americans vote Democrat.

We also travel less than we used to. Americans take fewer, shorter vacations than workers in any other first world country. Increasingly, we are not taking vacations at all. And, when we do get away, the costs and post-9/11 hassles of travel are keeping us much closer to home. Over time, these trends are going to seriously narrow our collective view of the world beyond our shores -- with potentially disasterous effects on our ability to make sound political decisions, especially where foreign policy, trade, and war are concerned.

We can fight back, to some degree, by bringing the world to us. The liberalism of urban Americans is fed by the rich cultural mix of our cities -- it's perhaps the main ingredient that turns our cities blue. But xenophobia grows like tansy in the vast rural stretches of the country -- not usually because the folks are naturally mean, but because they simply don't know anyone who's not like them, and therefore can't really imagine what it must be like to be, say, non-white, non-Christian, gay, lesbian, or an immigrant. In the hands of an ambitious right-wing leader with an anti-democratic agenda of his own, this unfamiliarity can all too easily be stirred into outright hostility and fear.

In better days, service groups like the American Field Service, Rotary, mainstream churches, and others historically stood on the small-town front lines against this impulse. AFS imported steady streams of foreign exchange students into small towns, giving rural high school students one-on-one friendships with peers from every corner of the planet. Returning AFS students from our own school were treated like local celebrities when they got back, bearing slides and stories and fluency in languages from Chinese to Afrikaans. At the adult level, international service clubs and church mission groups (run mainly within the largest denominations) provide adults with opportunities to go abroad, often to work on local projects in remote areas; and, at the same time, bring foreign visitors into their towns.

These efforts may look quaint and dated -- but it's hard to overstate the effect this kind of one-to-one cultural exchange can have in opening the horizons of people in rural areas. If we want to dissipate the fear of the Other that drives people into authoritarian thought systems, we need to make sure these networks survive, thrive, and expand. It's not a complete answer, but we need to identify and support the groups that keep these doors to the world open in rural America.

Goin' Up to The Country
The Democrats bear their share of the blame, too. The post-McGovern retreat from the party's traditional blue-collar and farming base ensured that liberals were thin on the ground in much of rural America by 1980. The party's decision to centralize campaign planning in Washington led to the shuttering of thousands of local Democratic offices, many of them serving small towns. The GOP grew like kuzdu into the social void they left behind. By the late 80s, liberals were so invisible in so much of America that the right-wing radio talkers could tell their listeners we had horns and ate babies – and there was nobody actually on the home front left to stand up and contradict them.

They couldn't have gotten away with this if more rural Americans had simply known their liberal neighbors. “Wait – Rush is talking about those nice old ladies down at the Democratic office who did that great float for the Memorial Day parade.” “Hey, my fishing buddy Joe's a Democrat, and he's no traitor – he's a Vietnam vet.” The demonization of liberals happened one person at a time, and counted on the fact that rural liberals had been so effectively scattered and silenced that they couldn't mount a coherent response.

This is why liberal talk radio and Howard Dean's 50-state strategy play a critical role in changing the atmospherics. As we've seen, it's hard for RWAs to demonize a group when they feel affinity and loyalty to a member of that group -- or when they see the actual faces, and hear the actual voices, of those people every day.

We need to get our faces and voices back out there, on every street in America -- and Dean's plan to plant full-time, permanent activists and offices on the ground in every county in America will accomplish that, giving Democrats that missing high local profile again. Rural Americans, even those brainwashed hate-radio fans, will be reminded that those traitorous liberals are people they know, and interact with daily – the teacher, the preacher, the guys in the union and down at the veterans hall. Organizing local progressives, raising their profile, and restoring their voices is the first step to breaking the back of national authoritarian politics.

Our GI grandparents were lifelong liberals not just because of the New Deal, but because WWII took them off the farms and out of the cities and showed them the world; and because the GI Bill opened the university doors to them -- a hope many had never had before. They stayed generally liberal in their outlook -- even when they became prosperous and started voting Republican -- because everybody they knew agreed that travel, education, and tolerance were essential to both the spiritual and economic well-being of a growing empire.

The investments America made in this generation and these goals were, in a very real sense, investments in its own democratic future. We are losing our democracy to the authoritarian movements because we are no longer making these investments. This stuff is basic -- perhaps so taken for granted that it doesn't even need to be said out loud. But, given the decay evident in our civics classes, our college attendance rates, and our overall exposure to the larger world (including the other cultures we share the country with), it's time to step back and start giving them the attention they deserve.

Democracy begins when we value essential liberal values enough to invest in them for the long haul. And, without that investment, it dies.

Next: Landing Zones

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Tunnels and Bridges, Part II: Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

by Sara Robinson

In Part III of Cracks In The Wall, we saw the importance of calming the high fear and panic levels that drive individual authoritarian thinking. Taking fear reduction to the community and national scale is pretty much the same process. The ground rules are: find and build from our common ground; appeal to authorities they're bound to respect; and speak from strength, always avoiding weak and ambiguous language.

Family, Community, and the Moral Common Good
Finding political and cultural common ground, as we all know, hasn't been easy in recent years. Many RWAs are beyond furious at the whole idea of government, for reasons that most of us have found perplexing, but Doug Muder, in his excellent essay "Red Family, Blue Family," makes pointedly clear. For those at the authoritarian end of the spectrum, supporting schools that don't teach their values and parks where they can't put up their Christmas displays feels like taxation without representation. The social safety net just encourages people to ignore their inherited familial obligations. We don't even define “family” the same way they do; and we don't reckon our obligations to it in quite the same way. How can we stop talking past each other, and find solid places to connect?

Muder's essay offers several promising suggestions – all of which emerge from his core point that RWAs are angry with us because they've been told to mistake our tolerance and flexibility for moral unseriousness. Only people who take their commitments lightly could be so keen on creating systems that enable people to abandon their obligations, or excuse them from the consequences of their choices. Staking out common ground, he argues, begins with making our own commitments clear:

The most important fact that conservatives don’t know about liberals is this: We believe that a life without commitments is superficial and empty. Unlike the demonized liberals you hear about on Fox News, real liberals are morally serious people who are not looking to take the easy way out when there are greater issues at stake.

Liberals join the Peace Corps, work in soup kitchens, and stand together with unpopular oppressed peoples rather than walking away from. Why? Because liberals are serious, committed people....Our rhetoric needs to capture the seriousness of our beliefs and commitments. We should, for example, miss no opportunity to use words like commitment and principle. Our principles should be stated clearly and we should return to them often, rather than moving towards a nebulous center whenever we are afraid of losing....

Many, given an accurate view of liberals and the values that motivate us, may come to see that we are not so scary, and that their differences with us can be bridged. And as the pluto-
cratic agenda of the Right lets jobs continue to be lost, wages continue to stagnate, and the gap between rich and poor stretch ever wider, they may recall that the New Deal was not such a bad
idea after all.

As we saw in Part III, individual RWAs relax when they feel sure of who we are and what we stand for, even when they don't agree with it. They are impressed by strength, and have contempt for weakness – especially in those who seek to lead them. They will not trust us as long as we're ambiguous about our values and commitments. But once we start using clear language and taking clear, bold stands for what we cherish, they may at least be impressed with our moral strength even when they don't share our principles. Once their trust is engaged, and they are convinced they are dealing with morally serious people who are strong in their own beliefs and values, it becomes easier to lead them away from black-and-white thinking, and toward greater willingness to think in more complex terms.

The Right Authorities
We've seen that RWA followers only grant legitimacy to authorities who confirm and support their worldview; and they may expand those views if given permission to do so by people operating under color of these accepted authorities. We gain their trust when we support our points by enlisting authorities they respect.

It's true that finding authorities that we can also give some credence to isn't always easy. We need to choose our rhetorical allies carefully. Perhaps the first place to look is in the ranks of sainted Republicans, past and present, who took positions that would now be recognized as liberal. Eisenhower and Nixon both had some magnificent moments here. Teddy Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln also provide rich fodder. "Conservatives Without Conscience" began in conversations between John Dean and Barry Goldwater; one of Dean's main arguments is that Goldwater's values were much closer to those of modern liberals than they are to Bush's. Likewise, there are clergymen with "elder statesman" status on the right -- Robert Schuller and Billy Graham, to name two -- who have surprisingly often argued for positions that square with progressive notions of morality.

Yes, we have our own important liberal sources of authority. But when we are trying to talk to the authoritarian right, our sources will not be believed. In quoting their own heroes back to them, we're not only moving onto common ground -- "we believe these things, too" -- we're also co-opting some of their own mythology, taking control of it and re-defining it in the same way the right wing has re-defined words like "liberal" and "patriot" out from under us. It's a game two can play; and this is the way to play it with a clean conscience.

Brave Words and Strong Language
Democrats seem to have lost the gift of powerful oratory. Most of our public figures speak like overeducated technocrats, relying on facts rather than emotion to carry their message. It's why they're seen as effect urban snobs. It's time to return to language that speaks in clear terms of right and wrong – not to parrot authoritarian values, as some Vichy Democrats are prone to do, but to passionately assert and defend the traditional Democratic values that are the very basis of constitutional government. There are just two rules here:

Stay Strong -- As we've seen, RWA followers are driven by their fears. Rush, Ann, and other right-wing talkers play straight into that fear by speaking in voices that are strong, assertive, even occasionally aggressive. It hits all their buttons, providing an emotional antidote to the fear they feel even as it stokes the fires of their rage. God knows the appeal of these gasbags isn't in the factual information they provide; it's in the soul-comforting conviction they bring to their bloviations. It's their emotional appeal that establishes them as authorities in their listeners' ears, and convinces them to follow wherever they lead.

Democrats have a long and noble rhetorical tradition of speaking from strength, which we stupidly abandoned out of embarrassment at the over-the-top rantings of the far-left leaders of the 60s. In reaction to this, public liberals have spent the last 30 years leaning the other way, trying (at the cost of their own credibility) to sound not-loony, calm, and rational. The upshot, to many Americans, is that we sound like wimps who don't really believe what we're saying, don't understand the fear they feel, and aren't strong enough to be counted on when it matters.

People: Abbie Hoffman has been dead for 17 years, and the Sixties are now three decades behind us. The world has moved on -- and it's desperately in need of Fighting Dems again. America isn't afraid of our strong language; to the contrary, it's terrified by the lack of strength we seem to bring to our convictions.

If you can't remember how this is done, go re-read Tom Paine's pamphlets, Dr. King's speeches, or anything from FDR or JFK or great populists like Bob LaFollette. This is our rhetorical heritage; it is also how we reclaim the respect of the soft-core followers who may be seeking a powerful, moral alternative to the increasinly unignorable cravenness of their own right-wing leaders.

Stay Concrete -- Use the specific, non-abstract language that authoritarians understand. Draw clear lines between people, policies, and the real-life consequences people experience in their own lives. "My proposed bill will put $10 million in new programs for illiteracy" makes your average voter (authoriarian or otherwise) just snooze. But "The war in Iraq is costing you, personally, X dollars per day. In a year, that's Y new teachers you're not getting in your local school, Z amount of health care for your family, and Q amount of effective homeland security" -- that's the kind of real-world specificity that wakes listeners up to the intimate consequences of their choices.

As the GOP rose through the 70s and 80s, it sought out and cultivated candidates that could speak this language – and then, just to make sure, gave them specific training to make them particularly effective at it. It's stunning that Democrats haven't followed suit. They've been talking circles around us for 20 years now.

It's past time for progressives to make strong, passionate oratory a required skill for our emerging leaders as well. Al Gore's global warming talks are perfect examples of how to lay out arguments that are clear, specific, values-based, emotionally appealing, and unambiguous in describing how specific policies can create great personal harm to the listener. Nationally, the growing influence of progressive Christian groups within the Democratic party, and the rise of politicians like Barack Obama and John Murtha who are comfortable with strong moral language, are positive trends. The progressive side is not going to win back the soft core until our ranks are thick with leaders who can present our values in the clear, literal, unequivocal language RWAs associate with strength.

Next: A Bigger World

Saturday, August 26, 2006

No Flag But My Flag

by Sara Robinson

In a few days, I'm going to talk a bit about the way our collapsing educational system created fertile conditions for the bumper crop of authoritarians we've been seeing in recent years.

But this just sort of says it all.

By the way: this is the same metro area that's also trying to position itself for a 2018 Winter Olympics bid.

As a former Olympics reporter, I gotta say: it's damned hard to picture an Olympiad that's not wrapped from top to bottom in acres of international flags. According to the article, though, even flying the Olympic rings for three weeks would probably be illegal under the current law.

I wonder if anyone's told the IOC site selection committee about this yet?

Back to the Back of the Bus

by Sara Robinson

The biggest shock of the new millennium is this:

The battles we thought were won long ago are still with us.

Who ever thought we'd be seeing stories like this again in our lifetimes?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Tunnels and Bridges, Part I: Divide and Conquer

by Sara Robinson

America's founders understood all too well that would-be authoritarians would always be among us; and that holding on to our democracy would involve a constant struggle against their ongoing efforts to control us. That's what Ben Franklin was talking about when he said that we have "a republic -- if you can keep it." And what Tom Jefferson was alluding to when he told us that "the tree of liberty must be watered occasionally with the blood of tyrants and patriots." They knew that democracies are not established once, but re-created continuously as each generation reasserts its freedom against fresh generations of would-be rulers. It's an ongoing conversation about liberty, equality, and power that's re-negotiated – sometimes more peacefully, sometimes less -- every day.

They also knew that our homegrown wannabe kings and dictators have momentum on their side. High-social-dominance (SDO) authoritarian leaders are always among us, always pushing, always scheming, always looking for their next chance. There is no opportunity to take control, legally or illegally, that they won't fail to exploit, as long as the gains promise to outweigh the costs. As Edmund Burke did not say (but usually gets the attribution for anyway): all that's required for them to succeed in this endless quest for power is for the rest of us to do nothing.

Unfortunately, the ease and confidence of living in a prosperous society under a strong Constitution makes kicking back and doing nothing a very easy, attractive option. You can be blithely oblivious to these guys for years -- until the day comes when you've got a fundamentalist school board trying to teach your kids young-earth creationism; or militia guys jackbooting up Main Street at noon and performing blitz redecorating on the local synagogue at midnight; or a born-again president trying to bring on Armageddon for the profit of the oil companies and the acclaim of his Rapture-minded followers. On that day, we're jolted out of our reverie. Where did all these wackadoodles come from? Of course, they came from us -- because we didn't take seriously the threat they pose to the continued existence of our democracy, or our constant obligation to keep an eye out for the authoritarians in our midst, and take steps to prevent them from amassing followers and power in the first place.

In this next extension of the "Cracks In The Wall" series, I'd like to expand on the strategies outlined in Part III, and show how they might be applied in larger spheres – at the community and national level. What works to bring individuals back from right-wing fantasyland may also work to open large tunnels in the Wall, and build bridges over which the softer core of followers can make a safe return to the reality-based world.

An Authoritarian Taxonomy
Our discussion so far has looked at three different classes of authoritarians. I'd like to start with a quick review of these three groups, and the things that motivate them.

First, there are the high-social-dominance leaders, whose primary goal is to amass and expand their social dominance over others. To this end, they are dominating, overtly or covertly opposed to equality, focused on power to the exclusion of other concerns, and usually quite amoral. Rules don't apply to these guys (and they are almost always guys); they'll do whatever they think they can get away with to get what they want. Since it's extremely rare for someone with a high social dominance orientation (SDO) to ever really change, our only option is to isolate them.

Second, there are committed “hard-core” right-wing authoritarian (RWA) followers. These people were usually raised in authoritarian homes, or have spent so many adult years in the system that there's not a lot of hope that they'll ever be capable of operating outside of it. Some of these people do leave, eventually; but these are flukes at best. Generally, it's best not expect that they'll have too much interest in moving to our side of the wall.

Then, there's the third and largest group: “soft-core” RWA followers who probably came to authoritarianism during an episode of major life stress, or were seduced into it with heavy propaganda from friends and right-wing media. This group may form as much as half of the current authoritarian voter pool in America. These people usually weren't always authoritarians; and they're the ones we have the greatest hope of bringing back around to a full embrace of democratic principles.

Effective bridge-building begins with being clear about which of these three groups you're addressing, because the strategies and messages are very different for each.

Leaders: Identify and Isolate
My experience has been that we non-authoritarians -- especially more progressive ones -- tend to discount the central role leaders in authoritarian organizations. Generally (and especially compared to RWAs), we don't pay a lot of heed to authority in our lives. When we do encounter it, we take its measure, reckon its limits, and give it only the required level of credence and respect.

This loose approach to authority can lead us to underestimate the overweening power authoritarian leaders exercise within their organizations. If we're going to be effective, we need to understand their importance, develop radar that picks out these high-SDO personalities quickly and accurately, and understands the subtleties of how they're operating. Books like Dean's are a great basic education.

Get Out Your Shovel -- Once the leaders are identified, they need to be isolated. The best way to do this is to discredit them in the eyes of both the public and their followers. For that, you need dirt.

Fortunately, these guys seem to move more dirt than the Mississippi. The tediously predictable amorality of high-SDO authoritarian leaders means they've got piles of bones buried in their back yards -- many of which can be dug up with surprisingly little effort, especially in these days of electronic public records and global Web access.

Faithful Orcinus readers have seen this in action, as Dave regularly dredges up all kinds of pungent dirt on extremist leaders in various movements. Part of this is that, as an old reporter in the field, he's got a long memory and a tracker's knowledge of the terrain, and thus knows exactly where to pitch his shovel. But another part is that there's so much dirt that you don't always have to be skilled or lucky to find it. They really don't care about which laws get broken, where the money went, or who got hurt by their actions. Their future destruction can usually be found -- quite readily -- in their pasts. If you're even halfway lucky, you may even find a disillusioned and betrayed former follower or two who, for the price of a beer, would love to get a few fascinating stories off their chests. If you're looking for a trail, just follow the line of burned bridges behind them.

Once the leader's history of spousal assault is on the front page, or he's frog-marched into court on fraud charges, the followers evaporate like seawater on a hot day. Note that this applies to right-wing leaders at all levels: it's how scores of communities have put a stop to small racist thug groups; over time, it's also the way the entire Bush Administration is slowly being discredited.

Sandbox 101 -- Another way to isolate high-SDO leaders is to leverage their propensity for schism. If the movement has multiple leaders, look for the tension between them – and leverage it.

The greatest miracle of the Republican rise over the past three decades is the extraordinarily high level of cooperation the movement was able to get from so many high-SDO leaders. Most authoritarian leaders (literally) flunked Sandbox 101 in preschool: they don't like to share, and they only cooperate when the shared goals are compelling. Alliances between them only last as long as all parties are convinced that there's personal power to be gained by staying. As soon as that equation changes, they're instantly out shopping for a better deal.

The conservative takeover succeeded because of the sweeping scale of the goal: national, if not global domination. That's perhaps the only goal high-SDOs would regard as worth putting in a long-term cooperative effort for. Everyone involved understood the stakes -- and knew that they'd only get there if they set aside personal issues and stuck together for as long as it took. But, once the goal is within reach and it's time to discuss divvying up the spoils….ahh, that's when everyone's individual motives shoot back to the foreground -- and the follies really begin.

In most authoritarian groups, whether religious or political, schisms are so frequent as to be almost comic. Jealousy between leaders runs high, egos are prickly, tempers volatile, emotional intelligence not much in evidence. The more followers they get, the less stable alliances become. This internal instability is predictable -- and exploitable, in the hands of a smart opposition. (According to one experienced activist, if you've got good dirt on one leader, make sure it first gets into the hands of his most ambitious co-consipirator – then sit back and watch the fun begin.)

All we need to do is stick together better than they do. For some of us, that's not always easy; but victory belongs to the last team standing. Sometimes, with these guys, it's just a matter of waiting for their own hubris to finish the job for you.

Hard-Core Followers: Meet The New Boss
The inner circle of right-wing authoritarian (RWA) followers backing these leaders won't be impressed by your dirtpile, unless their guilt-evaporation mechanisms are totally on the fritz. If their leader has an incest conviction in his past, yeah, you may get their attention. Otherwise (as we've seen), they're already primed to forgive. It's a mistake to count on their outrage.

Once their leaders have been isolated and discredited, though, the hard-core followers usually just fade away quietly into the woodwork. However, be sure you get their names before they go: the odds are good that you'll see them again, years later, emerging under the banner of another charismatic leader. Longtime Orcinus readers are familiar with the ways in which militia leaders, for example, pop up over and over in different guises, different groups, and different areas of the country. Same old faces, same old story. They can't help themselves; they're just wired this way.

This is the group most likely to commit political violence. As these followers move away from their discredited leaders, it's especially important that strong community voices make it absolutely clear that aggression will not be tolerated -- and will be prosecuted, either in the court of law or the court of public opinion. In particular, they need to be told in no uncertain terms that, in the larger community, there is no such a thing as a righteous or acceptable violent act. We know who they are; we regard them as troublemakers; and they will not enjoy our support or mercy if they continue to create problems within our community.

Soft-Core Followers: Back Toward the Mainstream
Unlike the hard core, the softer core of followers is far more likely to be sensitive to public embarrassment. In fact, being caught in fealty to a real low-life scoundrel can feel a lot like a betrayal to them. Their leader has exposed them to the jeers of their peers, and made them look personally ridiculous. For people who believe in their deepest hearts that they are more moral and righteous than others, the public and humiliating loss of moral authority within the community can lead to a moment of re-direction.

During that shift, many of them will be looking for stronger, more stable authority to lean on. Remember that RWA followers respond to legitimate authority -- and for most of the soft-care, that usually still includes the cops, courts, and clergy. It's critical to have these authorities standing by to provide the rules and structure these followers crave, and who can model constructive behavior.

We see this in small-town fundamentalist churches caught in pastor scandals. When the church disintegrates, some members move to other churches; but there's always a solid percentage that loses faith entirely. On a national scale, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly have been losing listeners quarter over quarter since the news broke on their hillbilly heroin convictions and misplaced falafels, respectively. In all these cases, the followers who left were the ones “on the bubble,” with the strongest ties to the reality-based world. These are precisely the people we are most likely to welcome back over the Wall.

Looking at these three types in groups, and applying some of the lessons discussed earlier in the series, points us in some potentially useful directions when it comes to dealing with authoritarians at the local, regional, and national level. We'll look at some of those directions starting in the next part of this series.

Cracks In The Wall: The Segue

by Sara Robinson

I've been working on the intended Part IV of the "Cracks In The Wall" series for over a week now. It has turned into a monster -- a thing of its own, with an intention of its own, which seems to be to become a series of its own. I've decided to stop fighting it, and let that happen. It was either that, or let the damn thing eat me.

So here we go. "Tunnels and Bridges -- Part I" will be up within the next hour or two. It's a broad look at some of the leverage points that will help us court and keep returning authoritarian followers, coming at the problem from a wide range of angles and drawing on the lessons learned in "Cracks In The Wall."

I hope you'll find it an interesting way to while away this last week until Dave gets back again.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

That missing calf




Sunday before last, while kayaking with my sister and my daughter along the western coast of San Juan Island, we encountered the combined J and K pods of the southern resident killer whales that ply those waters in the summer. (Some of the photos and sounds from that encounter are included in the little home movie I recently made.)

The most notable member of the pods was a young calf traveling with the K pod that was extraordinarily playful, particularly in the repeated breaches it performed in close proximity to a number of kayakers. (You can see it surfacing alongside the adult female on the right in the above photo.)

It breached twice about ten feet behind our kayak, too quickly for me to swing the camera around, but still giving Fiona her chief thrill of the trip. We then watched it perform four breaches in succession in front of a cluster of kayaks about 300 yards past us, including a number of google-eyed youngsters, so closely that it splashed them.

Two days later, on a trip into Roche Harbor, we read the front-page headline and photo in the Seattle Times: "Newborn orca has disappeared". Naturally, we were concerned that the calf we had just seen might be dead.

Then we read the story and discovered that it was all about merely this:
Researchers at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island were elated Sunday to see a newborn orca calf swimming with K pod in Haro Strait, between San Juan Island and Vancouver Island.

But Monday, researchers observed the K pod for hours and did not see the baby. Then Tuesday, none of the members of the pod were seen.

It is possible the calf is dead. About 40 percent of all orca calves do not survive their first year.

The baby could also be alive, but stranded by its family. "Then what do we do?" said Kelley Balcomb-Bartok of the Center for Whale Research.

Researchers at the center will continue to search for the calf.

Well, the problem with all this is that when the whales were sighted Monday, they were in serious transit mode, steaming southward at a heavy pace and fairly spread out, obviously headed out of Puget Sound and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the open Pacific. They do this periodically in the summer, especially between runs of salmon, and can disappear for nearly a week at a time (they did not reappear until Saturday).

The lack of a sighting for the calf did not necessarily mean anything; individuals often can be hard to spot in a single sighting, especially when they're spread out and moving steadily, as they were in this case. Disappearances are usually only confirmed after multiple sightings of the family group.

It all seemed like, perhaps, much ado about nothing. And sure enough, when the K pod returned Sunday, little K-41 was among them after all:
"The lost was found," said Ken Balcomb, veteran orca researcher at the Friday Harbor center. "It wasn't with its mom that day," he added of reports last week that the calf was missing and perhaps dead.

The state's three resident orca pods -- dubbed J, K and L -- were declared an endangered species last year, and the disappearance of the newborn that had boosted the population to 90 for the first time this century was painful news.

The calf -- whose orange newborn coat made it stand out among its black-and-white family -- was first spotted Aug. 13 in Haro Strait, on the west side of the San Juans, where the orcas congregate over the summer to chase salmon. But then it was not seen for days.

"J, K and L pods have been pretty much together this (past) week when they've been seen," Balcomb said. "He didn't show up with any other pod."

There were a couple of possible sightings, but no documentation until Sunday.

"We have to go by a picture to be sure," he said.

"He's an adventurous little guy," an exuberant Balcomb said. "But he was there today, nice and tight" with the other orcas.

"He's moving around," the researcher added. "He'll surface way ahead of Mom. Very unusual for that small of a baby."

It's worth noting that, since K-41 is this young, it is unlikely to have been the calf that was breaching around us; they typically are not that active until later in their development.

Each of them, however, is specially precious because of the southern residents' endangered status; they represent the pods' fragile hopes for surviving into the next century. If one of them disappears, those hopes dwindle exponentially.

Still, this feels like a classic case of overreporting. While the calf's appearance and then non-appearance was certainly noteworthy, this wasn't a real story until its disappearance was officially confirmed.

Both the Times and the P-I have been significantly stepping up their coverage of killer whales this spring and summer, and for the most part, that's something of a welcome change. The state of the southern residents has been, if anything, underreported here in recent years, so the change in news judgment is long overdue (though one has to suspect that the likelihood orca pictures also sell lots of papers may be part of the shift).

But credibility, bred by perspective and informed restraint, is always an essential part of effective coverage. Misplayed stories like this, by fostering a "boy who cried wolf" effect, tend to undermine public awareness of the very real problems these orcas face.

The new blog-inspired hit

Coming soon to theaters of transportation near you, courtesy of the right-wing blogosphere ...
Muslims on a Plane!

Starring, of course, Michelle Malkin, as FBI agent Nellie MacFlynn, the tough-talking terrorist hunter who knows a threat when she sees one ...



Featuring the immortal line:

"I want these motherfucking Muslims off this motherfucking plane!!!"

Audience participation encouraged.

Coming soon to airports everywhere.

UPDATE: Via TBogg, right-wing bloggers are promoting exactly this concept. Seems LaShawn Barber wants the Samuel L. Jackson role.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Terror and hate

May we have a round of applause, please, for the marvelous job Sara Robinson has done filling in here for the past week and a half? I'm especially taken with her series on "Cracks in the Wall," carries some of the discussion begun here -- identifying the pathology of the discrete conservative movement -- to its next logical step, to wit: How do we confront it effectively?

But I also took special note of her most recent post on racial profiling, particularly since vigilante-style racism driven by such profiling is now apparently in vogue among the right-wing set.

Of course, a "defense" of racial profiling was also ostensibly what Michelle Malkin's fraudulent history of the Japanese American internment was all about, too. As we saw then, holding up the internment episode as an example of racial profiling actually demonstrates, in stark fashion, what a monumental failure it actually is:
[E]ven beyond its transparent unjustness, the damage to the integrity of the Constitution, and the dangerous precedents it set, the internment of the Japanese-Americans was an unfathomable waste. It demonstrably undermined the war effort, and proved not to be worth a penny of the billions of taxpayer dollars it wasted.

In addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars the actual enterprise itself cost -- rounding up 120,000 people by rail car and shipping them first to “assembly centers”; building ten “relocation centers” in remote locales, and then shipping the evacuees into them; maintaining and administering the centers for another three years, which included overseeing programs to help internees find work outside the camps; feeding the entire population of internees during this time; and then helping them to relocate near their former homes once the camps closed -- there were millions more in initial reparations costs, and then hundreds of millions more in the later reparations approved by Congress in the 1980s

At the same time, the Japanese population on the Pacific Coast actually was responsible for the production of nearly half of all the fresh produce that was grown for consumption on the Coast (the Japanese also shipped out a great deal of produce to the Midwest and East). Indeed, Nikkei farms held virtual monopolies in a number of crops, including peas, green beans and strawberries, and a nearly 80 percent of the lettuce market.

When these farmers were rounded up and interned, a handful of enterprising whites decided to try running their farms with the hope of making a killing from the crops. But labor was so short that not one of these enterprises lasted beyond about five weeks, and none of them had a successful harvest. Nearly all of these farms lay fallow for the next four years. This major loss of production of fresh vegetables clearly harmed the national war effort, and played an important role in triggering the rationing that came during the war years.

When you look at the actual historical results of racial profiling, the conclusion by Canadian security officials that racial profiling is "fundamentally stupid" is really inescapable.

This is especially the case when you consider the chief strike against it, even beyond its sheer inefficacy: As a method of weeding out terrorists, it creates automatic blind spots that create more opportunities for terrorists to succeed. Once ethnic profiling is instituted, it becomes a much easier matter for terrorists to game the system. Not only is it grotesquely ineffective, it actually increases our vulnerability.

Terrorists -- the successful ones, anyway -- are smart. Once authorities begin profiling as a means of assessing security threats, they will respond by producing operatives who do not fit the profile. If Arabs and Muslims are the profile target, it is a relatively simple matter for them to identify, recruit, and employ operatives who are neither Arab nor Muslim.

When it comes to recognizing this aspect of the problem, most of the attention (particularly from the Malkin/LGF side of the blogosphere) has been on "white Muslims," whose presence in Al Qaeda cells has been recognized for some time. Somehow, it fails to cross their consciousnesses that their existence militates against racial profiling.

More to the point, there's another potential source of operatives who do not fit the profile: white supremacists.

After all, various neo-Nazis have at various times proclaimed their affinity with, and admiration for, the 9/11 terror attacks. They have also expressed at other times a wish to form alliances with Muslim terrorists, because their ends are so similar. Those coalitions have never, as far as we know, actually been formed, but racial profiling could provide Islamic radicals with even more incentive to do so.

Consider, for instance, the way that certain factions of white supremacists have been making overtures to Muslim radicals, most recently in Canada, as described in a Macleans piece by Nancy MacDonald:
Ontario MPP Kathleen Wynne's invitation to speak at the conference "Christians-Muslims Relationships in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective" came from a constituent she knew well. The event, hosted by the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, sounded promising. "I'm very interested in interfaith dialogue, between Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jews, all of us," says Wynne. She agreed to participate. Official invitations were sent out, with Wynne's name as well as that of keynote speaker William Baker. Then Wynne got a call tipping her off about Baker. He had written the anti-Israel book Theft of a Nation, and once chaired the U.S. Populist Party, which nominated former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke as its candidate in the 1988 presidential race. An occasional lecturer at the Crystal Cathedral -- the California mega-church from which televangelist Robert Schuller broadcasts the Hour of Power -- Baker resigned in 2002 after his neo-Nazi ties were publicized.

Wynne acted quickly. She refused to share the stage with Baker. He was dropped from the conference, to be held on July 16. Another Toronto event at which Baker was to speak this month -- the 18th Annual Islamic Dawah Conference -- appeared to follow suit.

Baker has been stepping up his visibility on the Muslim speaking circuit, and it's classic right-wing fearmongering, complete with anti-Semitic conspiracies:
In Toronto, Tarek Fatah, communications director for the Muslim Canadian Congress, was first to sound the alarm about Baker within his community. Fatah had heard Baker speak at a U.S. mosque and was "appalled." "It was the whole notion that there's a conspiracy against Muslims, and Muslims should face up," he says. He counts Baker among the pretenders who "act as though they're friends of the Muslim community, but come from the Christian right and use the community to propagate their own point of view."

I recently picked up a copy of George Michael's The Enemy of My Enemy: The Alarming Convergence of Militant Islam and the Extreme Right, in no small part because the possibility of this convergence has always underscored my ongoing thesis regarding the nature of terrorism, both domestic and international, as arising from nearly identical wellsprings (namely, extreme alienation from modern society).

Michael's book is provocative, but when all is said and done, it's abundantly clear that the convergence described in the title is mostly, to date, a potentiality and not a reality -- and I think Michael would agree with this assessment. There is a thorough analysis of David Duke's international recruitment work, particularly in the Muslim world. But so far there is little if any evidence of any operational convergence between far-right terrorists and Islamist radicals.

MacDonald interviewed Michael for the Macleans piece, and what he said was noteworthy:
In any case, George Michael, a professor with the University of Virginia's College at Wise who studies the convergence of militant Islam and the extreme right, sees greater cause for alarm elsewhere. Revisionist history has found an outlet in parts of the Middle East -- as have Klan proselytizers like Duke, who in 2002 presented a lecture in Bahrain on "Israeli Involvement in September 11." President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has called the Holocaust "a myth." So has Muhammad Mehdi Akef, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. In March, Syrian President Bashar Assad told PBS, "If you ask many people in the region, they would say the West exaggerated the Holocaust."

Still, rhetoric aside, there's little to indicate any real operational alliances, says Mark Potok, intelligence director for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, a watchdog that monitors organized hate. "When all is said and done, for American neo-Nazis, Muslims are, quote, 'mud people.' It's hard to get beyond that." At the end of the day, the enemy of my enemy is still my enemy. "Last night," says Kreis, "I spent two hours talking to a Palestinian, out of Canada, and yes, I'd invite him into my home." He pauses, then adds: "As long as he doesn't try to marry my daughter."

The possibility that Al Qaeda cells in Canada were recruiting white operatives in Canada arose during the recent spate of terror arrests there. White supremacists offer a special advantage: they can blend in, and they can be used somewhat disposably.

It's also worth remembering that there's a historical precedent for this: In the early 1940s, during the runup to the outbreak of war, Japan's diplomatic offices became centers of espionage activity, coordinating intelligence gathering and helping build a stateside network of spies. Many of these were Japanese nationals operating under diplomatic cover; but they also actively recruited a network of domestic spies.

This recruitment plan was uncovered in the so-called "MAGIC" decrypts -- diplomatic cables intercepted and decoded by American intelligence agencies -- which are often touted by revisionists like Malkin, rather groundlessly, as evidence of the propriety of the decision to evacuate and incarcerate Japanese Americans from the Pacific Coast.

One of the "MAGIC" decrypts often cited by these revisionists actually prioritizes the recruitment effort by the Japanese agencies involved in a telling fashion: Highest on its list are African Americans; next come white supremacists, particularly William Dudley Pelley's Silvershirts. At the bottom of the list are Japanese Americans, who were in fact widely mistrusted as "traitors" by the militarists in Tokyo.

Pelley's white supremacists, in fact, had a special relationship with Tokyo. According to Tetsuden Kashima, in his definitive text Judgment without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment during World War II, other "MAGIC" decrypts revealed even more extensive activity:
A few of these messages dealt with intelligence agents. Few Japanese names are mentioned: one is "Iwasaki," who "had been in touch with William Dudley Pelley, leader of the Silver Shirts, a fascist organization in the United States." Iwasaki was apparently an agent sent by Japan who returned home prior to December 7; he was not a permanent resident Issei.

Pelley and the Silvershirts, as I've explored in a broader context, represent a long historical strain in the fabric of the American right, particularly in their melding of religious fervor and racial hatredunder the rubric of politics, one that remains very much with us today.

The reality is, of course, that far-right extremists have always been, at heart, profoundly anti-American and deliberately opposed to democracy and equality -- genuinely traitors in our midst. It was true during World War II, and it remains true now.

Any kind of profiling that ignores their presence is innately useless.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Patriot Acts

by Sara Robinson

From the London Daily Mail:

British holidaymakers staged an unprecedented mutiny - refusing to allow their flight to take off until two men they feared were terrorists were forcibly removed.

The extraordinary scenes happened after some of the 150 passengers on a Malaga-Manchester flight overheard two men of Asian appearance apparently talking Arabic.

Passengers told cabin crew they feared for their safety and demanded police action. Some stormed off the Monarch Airlines Airbus A320 minutes before it was due to leave the Costa del Sol at 3am. Others waiting for Flight ZB 613 in the departure lounge refused to board it.

The incident fuels the row over airport security following the arrest of more than 20 people allegedly planning the suicide-bombing of transatlantic jets from the UK to America. It comes amid growing demands for passenger-profiling and selective security checks.

It also raised fears that more travellers will take the law into their own hands - effectively conducting their own 'passenger profiles'.


Let's see. A frightened mob selects a couple victims, accuses them of being would-be criminals without any evidence whatsoever, forcibly robs them of the cost of transcontinental airfare, and threatens anyone (pilots and airline personnel) that questions either their verdict or their right to exact "justice."

There's only one word for this. It's vigilantism, pure and simple. It's no different than any other kind of lynch mob. And it is beneath the dignity of a civilized society.

The reasons for and righteousness of the anger on display here are under furious discussion on both the left and right sides of the blogosphere. (See The Mahablog and Glenn Greenwald for two useful perspectives.)

But there's far more at stake here than meets the eye. If these vigilante mobs are allowed to get their way on airplanes, what's to stop them from taking their show on the road? Are we going to see subway mobs assaulting brown people on train platforms to "prevent" subway bombings? Are restarauters going to find themselves under pressure from upset diners not to hire -- or seat -- certain "frightening" classes of people? Will neighborhood groups press realtors to stop selling local homes to specific ethnic groups, for fear property values will drop? Or will they, perhaps, subject "undesirable" neighbors to harassment campaigns until they're forced to move on?

This all sounds far-fetched -- until you realize that we're hardly forty years past an era when most of this was standard operating procedure in much of America. Vigilante justice, racial segregation in public accommodations, real estate redlining, and sundown towns are part of a past that we've worked hard to leave behind. It will be a disgrace to all of us if we allow a few irrational bullies on airplanes put us on the road to bringing it all back.

Greater sanity is called for. The airlines need to start by stating, unequivocally, that they trust the decisions of their security staff on the ground. And even if they can't make that statement with a clear conscience, allowing vigilante mobs to intimidate their passengers and crews isn't the way to solve it. They are, after all, the ones paying for the Big Security Show down at the gates. Every time pilots allow the vigilantes to win, they undermine public confidence in that system.

But the buck really stops with the passengers. Which means those of us who fly frequently need to sit down and have a long chat with ourselves.

We know, without question, that bully squads bent on violence believe they're acting on the tacit values of the community. That motivation is certainly at work here -- and every time the mob succeeds, that belief is validated further. We also know that vigilantism stops when the larger community steps up and says, "No. You don't represent our values."

Today, I've been trying to imagine myself in this situation. Would I have the courage to speak up in support of the flight crew and the accused? What would I say? How much danger would I be in? Could I count on the better sense of my fellow passengers, and rely on them to support me? Or would I simply become a target myself? And, if that happened, could I handle the consequences?

You never know the answers to these kinds of questions until you're standing in that moment, of course. But a little role-playing now -- thinking through the most effective choices of word and action, deciding how much I'd be willing to risk -- might come in handy somewhere down the runway. At the very least, I could see myself saying: You put them off this plane, and I'll be staying, too. And I'd invite everyone who believes in equal justice -- and who refuses to live in fear of strangers -- to pack up their stuff and march down the jetway with me.

This much I know: There are some principles worth more than any plane ticket.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

An orca movie





Rather than write about what I've been up to this past week and a half, I thought I'd show you.

The movie I've made is really a 10-minute sound file illustrated with photos. The soundtrack is entirely orca sounds.

I've been listening to them through my hydrophone so I can get a handle on what the southern residents are trying to cope with in their native habitat, sound-wise. Killer whales' chief sensory capacity is through their echolocation -- they can only see about twenty feet underwater with their eyes, but hundreds of yards with echolocation -- and the presence of manmade sound is, after a paucity of salmon, one of the real survival issues they face. The sound interferes with their ability to hunt and to generally communicate. As you can hear, they are very social animals, and vocalize a great deal even while traveling.

One of the samples gives you an idea what they're up against: In the middle of a relatively quiet set of vocalizations, a boat motor fires up and takes off -- completely drowning out any orca sounds at all. It's worth noting that this was not a whale-watching boat -- it was just a fisherman with a 20-foot recreational boat who was watching the orcas for awhile and got bored.

As the sound samples progress, you'll note that the noise levels increase, especially as more boats began surrounding them. In the canyon walls of San Juan Island's western coast, the constant echoes just add to the general din.

Hope you enjoy. Back to our regularly scheduled political commentary later today.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Racial Profiling is "Fundamentally Stupid"

by Sara Robinson

I really do like living in a sane country. It means I get to pick up my morning paper (in this case, the Vancouver Sun), and read stuff like this:

CSIS boss calls racial profiling 'fundamentally stupid'
Janice Tibbetts, CanWest News Service
Wednesday, August 16, 2006

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said Tuesday that the spy agency avoids racial profiling because it is "fundamentally stupid'' and does not knowingly use information gleaned under torture offshore because the practice is "morally repugnant.''

James Judd told a gathering of Canadian judges on Tuesday that he is "acutely aware'' of complaints that the agency, along with several other organizations, targets the Muslim community in fighting the war on terror. "We don't profile because it's fundamentally stupid and we don't have enough resources,'' said Judd. "From a national security perspective, we can't afford to have whole communities feel alienated.''

Rather, the agency has embarked on community outreach efforts to combat "this legend that this is how we do business,'' Judd told a panel discussion on human rights and national security.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International, told the panel that "when it comes to the issue profiling, there is "obviously a reality'' that has been well documented since the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

"There is a varied landscape,'' he said. "There are a number of reports prepared by cultural and religious groups that have tried to compile and document some of the experiences that people across the country have had, be it in airports or other situations ,where they feel they have been pulled aside or questioned or have someone show up at their place without an appointment and start asking questions.''

Justice Dennis O'Connor, an Ontario judge who presided over the inquiry into Maher Arar, agreed there are "perceptions out there among some in those communities that they are unfairly targeted.

"That's not healthy for anyone,'' he said. "It's certainly not healthy for agencies that are trying to develop co-operation for those communities to help with their investigations.''

Arar, an Ottawa engineer and Canadian citizen, was detained by U.S. authorities in September 2002 during a stopover in New York on a flight from Tunisia to Canada. Suspecting him of terrorism ties, he was sent to Syria under a policy called "extraordinary rendition."

A federal inquiry into Arar's detention found he had been tortured while in Syrian custody. O'Connor's report into the affair is slated for release next month.

Judd also took aim at information obtained under torture, adding his voice to a growing international debate over whether confessions obtained under torture should be used in criminal investigations or as evidence in court. ``Like most Canadians, I find torture to be sort of morally repugnant ... and from an operational perspective it's not particularly reliable. Certainly in my own case, I'd probably admit to anything if I was tortured.''He added CSIS does "not knowingly'' use information obtained through torture.

Neve said international conventions dictate that information gleaned under torture is not admissible in court."It is less clear whether it should be used in the investigation itself and we take the position that it shouldn't. It is simply condoning torture and we can't allow that.''

Part of the difficulty with torture , he said, is the definition is not legally set so "where do you draw the line on what torture is?''


Just to make it clear: James Judd is the Canadian version of the head of the CIA. O'Connor is one of the most esteemed judges in the country. These public officials are acutely aware of the way profiling sows deep mistrust in a diverse society. And trust, as I'm going to argue in a future post, is one of the most essential communal assets any country can have. It's the key piece of social capital that makes every other investment possible. Allowing it to be eroded by stupid, thoughtless, fear-driven policies like profiling is like giving a three-year-old a pair of scissors and telling them to have at the very fabric of your civilization.

To their credit and that of Canada, these men understand this. This is what it looks like when Canadian patriots stand on guard for the True North, strong and free. Would that more American patriots would stand up and do the same.

They might start by inviting Alex Neve and Amnesty International to speak at a few public hearings. Wouldn't that be different?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Cracks in the Wall, Part III: Escape Ladders

by Sara Robinson


Assorted polls -- usually focused around questions such as belief in evolution, strict opposition to all abortion, self-identified fundamentalism, voting patterns, and so on -- have in recent years put the number of hard-core religious and political conservatives at somewhere between a quarter and a third of American voters. Wherever the number actually falls within that range, there are certainly enough of them in the voting base to dominate our political landscape. (To put it in a historical perspective: in 1932, when Hitler was elected president of the Reichstag, the Nazi party was consistently garnering 31 to 38 percent of the German vote. That's all it takes for an organized, passionate group to take control of a country.)

I've looked in vain for hard evidence that these percentages have grown or declined in the past 30 years (and would appreciate a pointer to this kind of data if it exists). However, there's no doubt that this group carries far more clout when it comes to defining our politics, our economics, and our culture than they've had at any point in the past 80 years. Good political organizing, coupled with the fulsome noise of the Mighty Wurlitzer, have indeed added former liberal constituencies -- blue-collar workers, Catholics, and so on -- to the Republican column. Many of these former moderates were drawn into the far-right fold by targeted political messaging that played up their fears and activated (to at least some degree) the fear-and-submission response characteristic of right-wing followers, as well as expansion-oriented conservative religious groups that replaced fraying community, family, social, recreational, and personal support networks.

Which is not to say that there weren't very real reasons for increasing levels of social fear. In Wealth and Democracy, Kevin Phillips laid out the economic fact that American middle-class prosperity peaked in 1972, and has been in decline ever since. For all but the richest, the dollars (in real terms) are fewer, and they don't go as far as they used to. In the late 70s, decades of misbegotten foreign policy in the Middle East came home to roost, shattering a sense of American invulnerability that had already been severely dented by Vietnam. By the early 80s, Reagan's promise of "morning in America" sounded forced -- but a disheartened and newly fearful middle class was eager to believe. 9/11, of course, put whole new factions of the country into a fear-induced malaise. Republican messaging since the mid-70s has kept all these threats uppermost in the American imagination, creating a climate of fear that supports authoritarian thinking even in people who should know better. And, as mentioned above, Republican hostility to any kind of investment in social capital has left these people a) enraged at the foreclosure of opportunities their parents took for granted and b) left with nowhere to turn but churches.

All these issues, and others, provided ripe openings for the disciplined organizers of the authoritarian right. It's like they've slapped stick-on hot buttons onto all of us -- and now keep pushing them for all they were worth to activate a Pavolvian fear response. ("Abortion! Faggots! Affirmative action! Brown people! Flag-burning!") There has always been -- and probably always will be -- a hard core of natural authoritarian leaders and followers in any society. But their numbers have almost certainly been swelled (my non-supportable guess is that it's been at least doubled) by tens of millions of "soft-core" authoritarians who've been shanghaied onto the authoritarian bandwagon over the past three decades.

John Dean tells us that we are not likely to change the hearts of the authoritarian leaders. And their hardest-core followers may be lost causes, too: most of them grew up with that model, have lived their entire lives by it, and in many cases have been so damaged by it that getting them to accept any other way of viewing reality is likely to be futile.

However, those two factions probably don't comprise even half of the current horde that's commandeered our country. And the rest -- the "normal folks" who got swept up in the right-wing hysteria of the past three decades -- have already demonstrated a certain fluidity: many of them have crossed the Wall once already and have at least some memory of life on the other side. Not all of them will return, of course (though it's always surprising to see which ones decide to make the jump) -- but bringing a good slice of this group back may not be as hard as we've been prone to think.

The experiences described by people who've left authoritarian religious systems point to possible ways we might convince individual authoritarians (of whatever type) to at least take a peek over onto our side of the Wall. This installment talks about some of the ways we can create the conditions that will encourage individual authoritarians to come take that look.

Save Your Breath
The angry hard-core authoritarians -- especially those raised in acutely authoritarian homes, and those with a long history of active participation in authoritarian movements -- are not likely to be interested in reality-based thinking. And people with a long history of addiction may actually do better in the highly-structured, rule-bound culture of authoritarianism -- at least, until they do the hard work of resolving their core issues. Remember the old caution about pigs and singing lessons, and be realistic about your limits.

On the other hand (and as a gross generalization), there are a few groups of people who are more likely to be open to change. Women, whose worldview tends to be more nurturant and relationship-oriented, may be more open than men to liberal points of view. Even those who've spent their entire lives in authoritarian systems get frustrated at times with their lack of power and privilege, the unfairness of the men who outrank them, and the overt bullying. In addition, women are generally less conforming than men, and more likely to reject one-size-fits-all moral systems in favor of ones they see as more just and fair.

People who are under stress without a support system -- college students, single mothers, travelers, prisoners -- are often open to anyone offering ideas for how they can increase their sense of security and connectedness. While this drives many of them straight into waiting authoritarian arms, it could just as easily become an opportunity for them to learn to trust their own inner authority instead.

Those undergoing major life transitions may be similarly receptive: the newly married, new parents, the recently relocated, career or job-changers, the newly divorced or widowed, people who've just lost a parent, and the recently retired are all in positions where the old answers are up for questioning, and the prospect of the larger world outside the wall may look very welcoming. And, of course, people undergoing major self re-creations -- emerging gays and lesbians, new immigrants, and those in the midst of large-scale socioeconomic change -- are likely to be very open to new way of strengthening their confidence, and learning to navigate their brave new worlds.

Fear Is The Mind-Killer
In talking to right-wing authoritarians (RWAs) -- in any situation -- the first and greatest challenge is to reduce the level of fear and increase the level of trust. They cannot hear or see you at all until this happens. A few thoughts on how to accomplish this:

Stand on Common Ground -- Keep the conversation focused on the things you agree on. You may find more in common than you might have imagined, especially with "classical conservatives" who are outraged by the Bush Administration's spending, foreign policy blunders, and neglect of important domestic infrastructure. (Small businesspeople, in particular, can give you a real earful.) Move away from potential areas of conflict as soon as they appear, or state your position in a non-threatening way and then move right back to the safe zone. Remember, you're trying to reduce fear, not arouse it.

Avoid Ambiguity (yourself) -- The liberal penchant for seeing life in infinite shades of grey annoys the hell out of conservatives in general, and authoritarians most particularly. It's the main reason they think we don't stand for anything. "It depends" is not an answer they find comfort in, and long explanations are seen as obfuscation, not clarification.

Yet there are things we do believe in -- fervently, and with great passion. We should not be afraid to state our moral principles, especially the ones that can be fairly articulated in near-absolutes and with a certain amount of zeal. They're impressed by zeal, and are often surprised to find that we have our own share of it. If you can unambiguously and firmly state a principle that you share with the RWA (marriage, family, and community are great topics for this kind of commonality), you'll find them warming to you quickly.

Affirm Ambiguity (in them) -- Once in a while, you'll hear the RWA start to give a long, hairsplitting answer (for, in sooth, many of their odder theories of the world have no short explanation). In these moments, they're embracing exactly the kind of ambiguity they usually go way out of their way to avoid (and criticize in us). When this happens, note it: "You're so right. This world is a pretty complicated place, and the answers aren't always easy, are they?" The key here is to create a comfortable, easy, give-and-take atmosphere in which reasonable people can reason together -- and remain friends even if they don't agree on the ultimate answer.

This isn't an experience that most RWAs are used to having, even within their own precincts. Having it with someone who can be fairly classified as the enemy can be a life-changing experience, for reasons I'll discuss further below.

Appeal to "Legitimate" Authorities -- When citing authorities, try wherever possible to refer to authorities they recognize as legitimate. RWAs have far more respect for established authority than liberals do; but, at the same time, they usually don't accept our reality-based authorities (and often hold them in total contempt). The only way around this is to support your points by finding and citing authorities they accept.

You need to get creative here. An RWA may not regard Al Gore as an acceptable authority on the environment; but Richard Nixon (who passed the Endangered Species Act, and founded the EPA) might well be.

If you must quote an authority they're likely to regard as dubious, do what you can to establish that sources' bona fides. "Did you know that Bill Moyers is a Southern Baptist minister?" It won't always work among the harder core -- Moyers isn't in the SBC now, and therefore has forfeited any authority he may have had -- but for the softer core, this at least puts a little grease on the ball. If you can't find a direct source they'll respect, at least try to find a source that's been vetted and given the Seal of Approval by someone they do trust.

For religious RWAs, there's nothing more authoritative than God's own literal words. Biblical literalists are often astonished when a knowledgeable liberal starts quoting unfamiliar passages back at them. While they've usually been inoculated by their preachers with "correct" interpretations of difficult passages, the fundie reading of the Bible is highly selective, and it's not hard to find passages they're completely unaware of. They may not like it -- but they've got no choice but to accept it, at least until their pastor can "set them straight" again. If the pastor can't do that (they're only trained to respond to the most common objections), then you've undermined the pastor's omniscient authority, and set up a pattern of questioning that may not stop until the RWA is safely on the other side of the wall. (A large subset of ex-fundamentalists started their exodus just this way.)

Keep it Literal
As I mentioned in the last post, fundies (and most other flavors of authoritarian) do not think in abstracts. While they can usually summon empathy for people in their own belief communities -- people who are very much like them -- they have a very hard time imagining themselves in the shoes of people who are different. And the greater the difference, the harder this is.

This inability to empathize makes it very easy to demonize outsiders, accuse them of all manner of vile motives and outrageous actions, and eventually move toward dehumanization and eliminationism. In turn, this can come back around to feed a very active persecution complex. The fear that results from this failure of imagination is the driving force that keeps them huddled behind that Wall.

This is why it's important to keep any critiques of ideas and people as personal and literal as possible. You need to draw a clear, bright line connecting the negative personal harm that particular RWA has sustained as the direct result of a policy, and the specific leader who implemented it. As we know all too well, there's no limit to the amount or degree of abuse a determined RWA will forgive; but making people see the concrete damage their leaders are inflicting on them personally may in time re-direct their sense of persecution, and undermine the legitimacy of their accepted authorities.

Literal, personal critiques work in a wide range of situations. They're useful in getting across the effects of bad policy, the policies of bad leaders, hypocrisies and contradictions, and inaccurate information. Any time you can frame a point in terms of, "This person/policy/action has harmed you , this much and in this way," you're more likely (though still far from certain) to get your point across. If you can't say, with proof, that "Bush did this to you, you probably won't get through.

It's important to note that positive attributes can also be presented this way. "We should do this because it's fair to minorities" cuts no ice at all with RWAs. "We should do this because it's in your own self-interest" will get you a lot farther. And don’t neglect to spell out every possible benefit, as clearly and specifically as possible. Don't assume they'll make the logical leaps to see those on their own. These are very concrete thinkers: leaping isn't their strong suit.

Sometimes, keeping communication personal and literal can even short-circuit the guilt-evaporation mechanisms Dean discussed. God may have forgiven you, or you may have just been doing what you were told and following the rules, or the person who harmed you may merit forgiveness -- but the fact remains that your actions (or a third party's) have demonstrably harmed someone who matters to you, or created problems in your own life. Absolution may clear your conscience, but it doesn't clean up the mess. Associate personal actions with their direct results, and you may stand a chance of making them realize the full brunt of their behavior.

Be an Enlightened Witness
The great psychologist Alice Miller, who did seminal work on the role child abuse plays in shaping authoritarian personalities, often discussed the importance an "enlightened witness" plays in preventing an abused child from becoming an amoral or abusive adult:

"When I began to illustrate my thesis by drawing on the examples of Hitler and Stalin, when I tried to expose the social consequences of child abuse, I encountered fierce resistance. Repeatedly I was told, "I, too, was a battered child, but that didn't make me a criminal." When I asked for details about their childhood, I was always told of a person who loved them, but was unable to protect them. Yet through his or her presence, this person gave them a notion of trust, and of love.
"I call these persons helping witnesses. Dostoyevsky, for instance, had a brutal father, but a loving mother. She wasn't strong enough to protect him from his father, but she gave him a powerful conception of love, without which his novels would have been unimaginable. Many have also been lucky enough to find enlightened and courageous witnesses, people who helped them to recognize the injustices they suffered, to give vent to their feelings of rage, pain and indignation at what happened to them. These persons never became criminals."

The enlightened witness not only affirms the child's better character; s/he also models a higher standard of behavior. Dave has often discussed the importance of providing a clear, positive standard of expected community behavior as the first response to hate crime or petty terrorism. The offenders must understand, in no uncertain terms, that they are not expressing the will of the community, and that their actions are considered unacceptable. As far back as Stanley Milgram's study, it's been understood that people are far less likely to misbehave -- and far more likely to rise to the expected standard -- if someone else is there upholding a higher moral standard.

RWAs are sadly accustomed to subordinating their own needs to those of their superiors; in fact, one of the struggles we often see in recovering fundies is a complete inability to even acknowledge that they have needs of their own, let alone identify them, let alone act to meet them. They simply don't know where to begin. Also, because their own authorities use guilt and shame to control them, they've seldom been allowed to see themselves as truly good and moral people.

Giving an RWA permission to recognize, give voice to, and take action to satisfy his or her own needs is a powerful act. In affirming that they are not just allowed, but entitled (in the name of fairness) to feel their own emotions, own their own goodness, indulge a few harmless appetites, enjoy themselves, assert their boundaries, or stand up and say "no" to overweening authority, you are being an enlightened witness to their true self -- something many of them have seldom if ever had. In the process, you are also giving them a direct view over the wall. Often, it's a view that they never forget, and will keep coming back to until they're persuaded to go over it for good.

This admittedly requires a strong belief in our own best liberal ideals -- most particularly, in meeting with people where they are, and dealing with them as they are. If they believe that their goodness and strength flow from the grace of God, don't quibble. At least they're focusing on their strength, instead of leading with their fear! They have a right to whatever moral context they're comfortable with. It's the core of their moral reasoning, and often of their identity.

Focus on the Family
We need to be having much more open conversations with the RWA community about our views on family. Weird as it sounds, they honestly, literally believe that we don't care about families, don't really have them ourselves, and are out to destroy theirs as well. I know, it sounds ridiculous -- but it's true.

The best writing on this I've seen comes from Unitarian writer Doug Muder, who has taken George Lakoff's model of "strict father" versus "nurturant parent" politics one step further, and uses it to explain precisely how the right wing came to believe this preposterous notion. (Hat tip to the estimable Trefayne.) Muder asserts that, while Lakoff's right that family models are the right frame, the real dialectic is between families of "inherited obligation" versus those based on "negotiated commitment". Go read the article, then come on back. We'll be here.

Muder's thesis highlights very specifically where and why our divergent models of family lead to disagreements on everything from abortion to homosexuality (and also answers our exasperated questions about how these particular issues became such hot political potatoes in the first place). At the same time, it also points up the places in which we have strong commonalities with RWAs that they don't typically see. For example, authoritarians typically don't believe that those of us who assemble families of choice feels as committed to those families as those who are bound to their kin by blood ties and birth. And they tend to view "family" as a stage script, with set roles for mothers and fathers and grandparents. If you don't have people filling all the roles, it is, by definition, not a family.

Being aware of the way RWAs model and value their families allows us to present our own family values in ways that they can begin to understand. There is a lot of common ground here, most of which they're apparently totally unaware of. It also gives us a clear view of the ways in which progressive "negotiated commitment" families can indeed be seen as a threat to their worldview. With this understanding, we can begin to acknowledge those fears directly, address them head-on, and perhaps begin to defuse one of their biggest sources of fear and mistrust.

Make the World Bigger
Anything that gets RWAs interacting with people outside their narrow realm is a good thing. Travel, formal or informal education, community interactions with unknown and feared groups (especially those based on shared concerns, interests, and values), and activities that increase a sense of personal achievement and competence all enhance their ability to trust themselves and others, without having to rely on the rules of their system to maintain their fragile sense of safety.

If we're serious about reducing the number of authoritarians in our midst, we need to greatly increase the number and frequency of our engagements with them. As noted in Part II, are very literal thinkers, and capable of tremendous loyalty. An RWA who knows just one gay person, up close and personal, often finds that their sense of loyalty will force them to resist their leaders' generalizations of gays as evil. The more contact they have with the demonized Other, the greater the cognitive dissonance grows, and the more their accepted authorities are discredited.

We need to actively start creating ways for the authoritarians in our midst to make contact with people outside of their cocooned communities. The means and methods are many; but this is perhaps the most important work we can do. Start by committing random acts of kindness (just to mess with their assumptions, if nothing else). They need to see us as trustworthy allies, valuable contributors to their own well-being -- and perhaps, in time, friends.

Landing Zones
Finally: we need to make safe landing zones for those just arriving from the other side of the Wall.

It takes courage, time, and support to come out of an authoritarian mindset. Most RWAs are used to having people tell them what to think, where to be, what to do, and who to trust. In the reality-based world, we tend to assume that people can do this for themselves. While exiting fundies typically feel exhilarated with the freedom they feel in the first weeks after leaving; they've also got a huge new world to navigate, and acquiring the necessary skills takes time. They're often wobbly on their feet for a while until they get the hang of it.

There is the emotional work of learning to trust your own perceptions, accept your own feelings, and act on your own judgment -- something people in authoritarian systems never really learn to do. There's also the business of learning to navigate in a looser, more do-your-own-thing social structure, which can be hard for someone used to ready-made social hierarchies. There are the practical matters of telling family and friends on the other side of the Wall that you've left, and coming to terms with their reactions. There's all the work involved in sorting through all your new intellectual and moral options, and deciding for yourself which values you're going to build your new life on.

It helps tremendously to have friends and guides who understand what you're going through, and can supply guidance and hugs when it all seems overwhelming. They are far more likely to succeed if we offer them consistent (but not hovering) friendship and support -- and a bit of patience while they make their first steps into the reality-based world.

Micro to Macro
The above discussion, long as it is, is just a beginning. The more time we spend talking to soft-core authoritarian followers, the better we'll get at understanding their motivations, calming their fears, and framing our arguments in ways they can clearly understand.

However: as kum-bay-yah (and stereotypically liberal) as all this talk of "understanding" individual RWAs may be, it doesn't mean that we stop holding the authoritarians in our midst accountable for the misbehavior of their public figures and the recklessness of their policies. It doesn't mean that we stop correcting the media when it misrepresents our views, or aggressively fight for solutions that will ultimate break the cycle of right-wing authoritarianism that now dominates American politics. While the work of bringing these missing Americans back into the larger fold is gentle and slow (we may well spend a decade or more bringing the bulk of them back), the work of recovering America as we knew her requires a fierce energy that draws firm boundaries, demands an honest reckoning, and requires constant and determined assertion of our own good values.

In the fourth and final part of this series, I'll look at some of the ways authoritarians can be turned back at the community, state, and national level.

Updated for HTML and grammar corrections