The “Moral 1950s” Myth

Sylvia AllenArizona state senator Sylvia Allen thinks that people need to carry guns everywhere until America has a “moral rebirth.” She thinks this moral rebirth might come about if everyone were required to go to church. But don’t worry: you’d get to choose the church you went to. Freedom of religion, am I right?! Of course, she specifically said they would be forced to go “on Sunday,” so that kind of limits things. You’d get to attend any church that was close enough to what Sylvia Allen thinks is the one true way.

Allen mentioned that such a law would never be allowed. Curses! Foiled again by that meddling Constitution! But Allen is yet another crazy Christer who hasn’t a clue. I was struct by one thing she said that is incredibly common, “Allen later told the Arizona Capitol Times that she wished things were more like they were in the 1950s.” I know that everyone thinks that people were so much more religious in the 1950s, but is that even true? Well, barely. There was a bit of a peak in church attendance in the late 1950s. This is mostly due to the Cold War and not to any outbreak of religiosity.

Church Attendance - Gallup

What’s interesting is that other than that burst of church going — which lasted less than a decade — attendance has been shockingly consistent. But even more important, we are talking about an increase of about 5 percentage points. Even in those glory days of the late 1950s, still less than half of the country was going to church regularly. So how is it that this 5 percentage points created a moral world where everything was just perfect? I think that it doesn’t. Allen is just another delusional conservative who pines for a world that never existed.

I think the reason that people hearken back to the 1950s is because that was before all the liberation movements. Blacks and women and gays knew their place — at the back of the bus and generally out of sight. I doubt that Allen thinks about it in these terms. But if you consider Corey Robin’s work on what makes a conservative, this fits perfectly. Conservatism is a reaction against liberation movements. This is why Allen would say, “Of course African Americans should be able to vote!” That’s the new status quo. But her mind naturally goes back to those days before this was the status quo to the good times when she didn’t have to deal with such scary disruption.

The interesting thing is that if you look at the crime rate, it did go up somewhat during the 1960s. And then it really went up in the 1970s and 1980s — peaking during the first Bush administration. This was during a period of constant church attendence. But over the last couple of decades it has gone down — again, even while church attendance has stayed at a very constant 40%. In fact, the murder rate is now notably lower than it was in 1960, even though the country has twice as many people and that generally leads to more crime. The data just don’t support the narrative that conservative Christians like Allen are pushing.

I am so tired of hearing people glorify the 1950s as some grand time in the history of the United States. It wasn’t. There were lots of good things at that time — just like any time. But it was not a great moral period. It was not even a great period for church going. I don’t mind conservatives disagreeing with me. But I wish they would put away their childish delusions. All they are actually saying is that if we eliminate our diversity and walked in lockstep, all would be well. I have two problems with that. First, I’m not interested in living under fascism. Second, doing that wouldn’t cure our problems, and it would create far more.

Ayn Rand on Abortion

Ayn RandNever mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a “right to life.” A piece of protoplasm has no rights — and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable… Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, that is, the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives. The task of raising a child is a tremendous, lifelong responsibility, which no one should undertake unwittingly or unwillingly. Procreation is not a duty: human beings are not stock-farm animals. For conscientious persons, an unwanted pregnancy is a disaster; to oppose its termination is to advocate sacrifice, not for the sake of anyone’s benefit, but for the sake of misery qua misery, for the sake of forbidding happiness and fulfillment to living human beings.

—Ayn Rand
“A Last Survey” in The Ayn Rand Letter

See the excellent Abortion page at the Ayn Rand Lexicon. Regular readers know my long history with Ayn Rand and my many specific criticisms of her. But she was quite right on the issue of abortion. I wish that liberals would talk about the issue with such force.

America’s Broken Justice System in Two Cases

Glenn FordI was talking to Will over the weekend about Glenn Ford — the recently exonerated Louisiana man who had spent 30 years on death row. He’s been in the news recently, because the state is refusing to pay full restitution to him. Meanwhile, Ford has stage four lung cancer. He has been released just in time to die. And the state is messing with him. The judge in the case claimed that “he did not have clean hands.” This is because he knew those who did commit the crime, but despite what the judge says, there is actually little evidence that he was majorly involved in the crime. But what does it matter? Ford is poor, black, old, and dying. The state of Louisiana is showing the kind of callousness that we expect.

But Will thought I was talking about a different case. Anthony Ray Hinton was convicted of two murders a year after Ford in the similarly enlightened state of Alabama. He spent 28 years is solitary confinement in a 40 square foot cell. But that is the least of the injustices done to him. Hinton had no criminal record. The police tried to get him for the non-fatal shooting of a man working at a restaurant. As usual with these cases, the only evidence against him was an eye-witness — the victim himself. But it turned out that Hinton could not have committed the crime. So the police went searching for a crime that they could charge him with.

Anthony Ray HintonFive months earlier, two managers at a fast food restaurant were murdered. There was no evidence, but the police decided that Hinton had done it. They searched his house and found a pistol that belonged to his mother. The prosecution claimed that the gun was used in both crimes. Hinton’s public defender did not counter this — probably because he didn’t know he could have requested extra funds to hire a ballistics expert. It was determined much later that not only was that not the gun used in the crimes, the two crimes were committed with different guns. Hinton was railroaded.

There is much more to the case. You can read Steven D’s excellent overview if you feel like being enraged, Alabama AG: “No Comment.” That title is in reference to the fact that the Alabama Attorney General had no comment on the case, even after the state had spent over a decade fighting a retrial after experts discovered that Hinton must be innocent. (The case had to go to the Supreme Court before Alabama would grant a retrial.)

I think it is interesting that Will and I could be confused about similar cases. This is because there are so many of them. And the total apathy of those in the “judicial” system is staggering. But I guess it goes along with the American attitude that it is more important to look like you are doing something than to actually accomplish something. In this case, rather than actively seek justice, prosecutors and judges just try to stop the world from knowing about the injustices that they create every day. In the case of Glenn Ford, they were probably hoping that he would just die in prison.

Meanwhile, no one is held accountable. The prosecutor in Hinton’s case was a known racist who was allowed to say in court that he knew Hinton was evil just by looking at him. I’ve tried to find the name of the prosecutor, but I have been unable. He’s probably dead anyway. And if he isn’t, there will be no public shaming, much less professional or economic penalties. (To his credit, Ford’s prosecutor has apologized and has advocated for him.) The police who railroaded Hinton doubtless got raises for bringing down such a dangerous criminal. And it is not clear if Hinton will receive any compensation from the state. Another day for justice in America.

Congressional Democrats Plot to Kill Iran Deal

Chuck Schumer - Rarely a Friend of ProgressivesOn Thursday, Jonathan Bernstein provided some real insight on a side of things I hadn’t much thought about, The Iran Deal and US Politics. I was most struck by what he said about public opinion, “President Barack Obama is extremely unlikely to get a short-term public opinion bounce from the deal announced today that outlines next steps in curbing Iran’s nuclear program.” If he had started bombing Iran, well then, his approval rating might shoot up to over 50%. Leave it to Americans to be happy about something we know they would complain about in short order. But the main thing is that while Americans may live their lives in terror about Iran, they aren’t at all interested in the actual work of governments to reduce that threat.

Now Senator Bob Corker has proposed a bill that would limit, and potentially eliminate, the President’s ability to lift most of the sanctions against Iran. He can do this because it is a matter of national security. I’ve never been so keen on all of this kind of Unitary Executive Theory garbage. But the right of the President to manage foreign affairs is established in the Constitution and by tradition. But the Republicans, who always claim they want a “strong” President, decide against that the moment the President doesn’t see his job as going to war at every opportunity.

Of course, it isn’t just Republicans. Many Democrats in Congress are for doing this as well. This is why this is potentially a threat to the deal with Iran. It is possible that Corker’s bill could get enough support from Democrats that it would be able to overcome a veto. In the Senate, 13 Democrats would be needed. But here’s the shocking thing, “In the Senate, nine Democrats have already signed on as cosponsors… with several more supporters said to be waiting in the wings.” Just brilliant. When it comes to NSA spying or unrestricted drone killings or bank bailouts while homeowners get screwed, the Democrats in Congress can’t get in the way of the President. But on this issue, the Democrats are going to take a stand? Unbelievable.

And who is one of the biggest supporters? Only the future Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. He’s a multiple threat: a Wall Street hack and apparently someone who thinks that Israel ought to be dictating US Middle East policy. The thing is, all this “tough on Iran” business is nonsense. The deal we are looking at is really good. And this is all reminding me of the budget deal that John Boehner passed up in 2011. In 2012, Obama allegedly chided him, “You should have taken that deal when you had the chance.” We aren’t going to get a better deal with Iran. And to those many people who think that the Iranian regime is on the verge of collapse, I have one word: Cuba. (Of course, most of these same people think that after 50 years, Cuba is on the verge of cracking too.)

It is possible that the excellent Iran deal framework will change some minds — at least in the Democratic Party. But it is hard to say. The truth is that all this anti-Iran hysteria is not based upon a rational analysis. It is rather based upon the same old irrational belief that our enemies are monsters who just can’t be trusted to act in their own interests. And that very clearly isn’t the case. If this is the hill that Democrats want to die on with respect to standing up to the President, it will be very sad for this country.

Morning Music: Translator

Heartbeats and Triggers - TranslatorWill sent me a long list of songs that I should do for the Morning Music posts. They are not particular favorites of his, just some random things that came to mind — totally in keeping with the idea of Morning Music. I thought I would present the one song that most spoke to me: “Everywhere that I’m Not” by Translator off their first album, Heartbeats and Triggers.

Will and I have a long history with this amazingly great band. They were a San Francisco band and we used to see them at little venues like the Cotati Cabaret. They were great live; they were great on vinyl; they were just great. It’s just a four piece outfit with Steve Barton and Robert Darlington on guitars, vocals, and songwriting.

Many people think that “Everywhere That I’m Not” is about the death of John Lennon. It is not. It is about a guy who thinks he sees his girlfriend everywhere. But he knows it can’t be her, because in his mind she is off everywhere else having a great time. Without him. It could be a really depressing song, but instead, it is quirky good fun.

“You’re in New York, but I’m not. You’re in Tokyo but I’m not. You’re in Nova Scotia, but I’m not. Yeah, you’re everywhere that I’m not.”

Anniversary Post: No More Barbarian Clothes!

Emperor Honorius - Jean-Paul LaurensOn this day in 397, Emperor Honorius banned the wearing of barbarian clothing in Rome. It’s always interesting to me that the definition of “barbarian” is simply “not Roman” — or more generally, “Not us.” Every society thinks that its ways are the best, so other peoples must be inferior. In this particular case, Honorius seems to have had the Visigoths in mind. But what did he know anyway? He was only 12 years old.

I don’t necessarily think that the Roman Empire was especially bad. But I do think that we tend to hold up the Roman Empire as a much greater thing than it was simply because of centuries of Catholic propaganda. It is wrong to judge civilizations outside their time, but the Roman Empire was highly fascistic. It’s important to remember that when people recount barbarian misbehavior.

Of course, the biggest problem with even talking about this stuff is that most of what we know about conflicts between the Romans and the barbarians comes to us from Roman writers. Imagine how the history of the world would look if all we had left in a century were the official histories out of North Korea.

The main thing is that people are bigoted. They don’t like outsiders. This is a fact that libertarians can’t seem to get their heads around. (At the same time, they realize that democracy is a great impediment to their policy prescriptions.) I do understand that Alaric I was an existential threat to Honorius and his empire. But I don’t see how policing clothing was a helpful policy.

Here is the Visigoths episode of Terry Jones’ Barbarians. It’s very good, but bear in mind that Jones is not exactly a fan of the Romans.

We mark this day in the history of intolerance.