Does Christianity demand communism or at least socialism?

Here’s an arresting opinion in the Sunday New York Times, Review, Nov. 4, p. 4, “Are Christians Supposed to Be Communists?”, by David Bentley Hart, a Notre Dame fellow (Richard Harmon’s fighting Irish) and author of “The New Testament: A Translation”.

Pastor David Ensign at the Clarendon Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA has in the past talked about the hyper-socialism of early Christianity. It was not a political mass movement in the sense of more modern history, as this was not possible then.  It was more a refuge, a passage from one trying circumstance to the next world.  It was like living on a spaceship. One wonders if this comports with the idea of a science fiction writer describing an advanced civilization without the presence of currency or money (a strictly human invention as far as we know, most of all block chains and bitcoin, which might indeed be “universal”).  At the end, Hart admits that modern civilization is impossible without the idea of property, at least personal property.

Hart discusses the idea “koinon”, or common, and one’s life in koinonia, literally expected to become a koinonikoi, a member of a hive.  Accumulated wealth is viewed as having been stolen from the labor of others, the ultimate surrender to the ideology of some sort of Marxism, and maybe the whole ide of the “New Man”, as recently explored by the Cato Institute Oct. 16 in the forum, “Terror, Propaganda, and the Birth of the ‘New Man’; Experiences from Cuba, North Korea and the Soviet Union.”

I’ve seen a little of this by visiting a couple of intentional communities, especially “Twin Oaks” in central Virginia in early April 2012  (report).

(Posted: Sunday, Nov. 4, 2017 at 11 PM EST)

David Brooks explains how losers resent winners as they delve into identity politics

David Brooks, the conservative who wants to teach us how to be good, has an op-ed in the New York Times today that looks like it was penned by me, “Upwsingers and downswingers”.

Brooks points out that both major political parties have their own winners and losers.  Economic growth adds wealth to society, but tends, by creating efficiencies, to provide gains to some at the expense of others, especially traditional workers. Further innovation tends to smooth things out and the cycle repeats.  In my own 2014 DADT III book, I characterized innovation (paired with ego) as in tension with equality (as paired by belonging to the group).

On the right especially the “losers” (to borrow from Trump, ironically) tend to find identity in a zero-sum world in ethnicism, nationalism, and sometimes religious fundamentalism and even racism. People who don’t do well in a society where they have to make a lot of their own choices and get held responsible for them, tend to gravitate to identification with the group, and identity politics. They may become combative and try to deny people outside of their own circle of victimhood a right to be heard, and also tend to view speech as attacking group rights already achieved. Along these lines, we should also read Katy Steinmetz’s recent piece in Time, “The fight over free speech on campus isn’t about just free speech.”

Brooks notes the slope between economic, political, cultural, and even personal cycles. He criticizes hyperindividualism, as needing to be curbed by ways to get the “leavers” to do “penance” – a process I have called “right-sizing” here in previous posts. It can also be called “pay your dues”, although that doesn’t quite cover all the ground.

What would those dues be?  National service?  Some sort of encouragement of people to put their own skin in the game before they are heard?

Brooks notes that the cultural resentment gets personal, when the “losers” resent those who think that the winners are really better than losers.

My own interest is in looking at moral ukase though the eyes of the individual. I am a bit of an existentialist: what happens to someone is what happens, and there is no honor in claiming that victimization changes it. Ultimately, we are all responsible for ourselves, but we are also responsible for what we inherit and become complicit in. Past persecution of one’s group does not change this or demand special treatment for the individual.  Along these lines, this piece by Frances Lee on callouts, shared today on Facebook by DC Center’s David Mariner, is interesting.

Posted Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017 at 10 PM EDT)

Lower-Income Children Raised in Counties With High Upward Mobility Display Fewer Behavioral Issues, Perform Better on Cognitive Tests

PRINCETON , N.J. (by B. Rose Kelly and Princeton University)—Children who grow up in urban counties with high upward mobility exhibit fewer behavioral problems and perform better on cognitive tests, according to a study led by Princeton University.

Children in these counties display fewer behavior problems at age 3 and show substantial gains in cognitive test scores between ages 3 and 9. Growing up in a county with higher intergenerational mobility reduces the gap between economically advantaged and disadvantaged children’s cognitive and behavioral outcomes by around 20 percent.

The study, published Aug. 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides further evidence that place, measured at the county level, has a significant influence over the economic prospects of children from low-income families.

“Broadly speaking, our findings suggest that the developmental processes through which place promotes upward mobility begin in childhood and depend on the extent to which communities enrich the cognitive and social-emotional skills of children from low-income families,” said contributing author Sara S. McLanahan, William S. Tod Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The study results are based on data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, of which McLanahan, who is founding director of the Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, is a principal investigator. The study is a population-based birth-cohort study of children born in 20 large U.S. cities between 1998 and 2000.

The new research builds upon a series of papers by economist Raj Chetty of Stanford University and others who used income tax data to show that the economic prospects of children from low-income families depend on where they grow up. However, Chetty’s work does not explain why children growing up in some counties do better than others.

This question is what motivated McLanahan and her collaborators, which include lead author Louis Donnelly, Princeton University; Irv Garfinkel, Columbia University; Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Columbia University; Brandon Wagner, Texas Tech University; and Sarah James, Princeton University.

For their analyses, the researchers looked at 4,226 children from 562 U.S. counties whose developmental outcomes were assessed at approximately ages 3, 5 and 9 years old. The researchers divided these children into low- and high-income groups based on household income at birth. Children from low-income families were born in households earning below the national median household income (mean of $18,282), while children from high-income families were born in families earning above the national median (mean of $73,762).

Behavioral problems — like aggression and rule-breaking — were assessed by parents and teachers using the Child Behavior Checklist, a report used in both research and clinical settings, along with the Social Skills Rating Scale, a system that evaluates social skills, problem behaviors and academic competence. Cognitive abilities were assessed through a series of vocabulary, reading comprehension and applied problems tests in the children’s homes. Both assessments were collected as part of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that children from low-income families who grew up in counties with high upward mobility had fewer behavior problems and higher cognitive test scores when compared with children from counties with lower mobility. These differences were significant even after controlling for a large set of family characteristics, including parents’ race/ethnicity, education, intelligence, impulsivity and mental health.

Children who grow up in counties with higher intergenerational mobility show steady gains in test scores between ages 3 and 9, compared to those who grow up in counties with lower intergenerational mobility. These gains first appear at age 5 and accumulate over time, which is consistent with the argument that high-quality pre-K and elementary schools are an important part of what makes growing up in a high-mobility county beneficial, the researchers wrote.

The pattern for behavioral problems was somewhat different. For this outcome, the advantages associated with being raised in a county with high intergenerational mobility appear by age 3 and neither grow nor decline after that.

These two findings — early appearance and the lack of cumulate effects – do not point to specific community institutions that cause fewer behavioral problems. However, according to the authors, community factors that may account for these findings include programs that affect children directly, such as access to high-quality health care or preschool, or programs that affect children indirectly by reducing parents’ economic insecurity, like housing.

Importantly, for children from high-income families, growing up in a county with high intergenerational mobility is weakly associated with most developmental outcomes, which suggests that conditions favorable for disadvantaged children’s development do not come at the expense of advantaged children’s development.

The paper, “Geography of intergenerational mobility and child development,” was published in PNAS on Aug. 14.

Funding for this study was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Funding for the Fragile Families Study was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development grants R01HD36916, R01HD39135 and R01HD40421 and by a consortium of private foundations.

(Posted: Wednesday, August 16, 2017 at 3:30 PM as a guest post and press release Full credit:

B. Rose (Huber) Kelly
Communications Manager & Senior Writer
Princeton University
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs
205 Robertson Hall, Princeton NJ, 08544)

 

Pictures: first is mine, 2010 visit to Princeton; second supplied by author of the Woodrow Wilson School

 

Breaking down hyper-partisanship and polarization: it gets personal

I have traveled around in rural areas some after Donald Trump’s election and presidency, and often I have found people not too concerned about Trump’s (to the media) rather glaring leadership integrity problems, with allowing criticism. Perhaps some people buy the idea that a leader needs to have the confidence of his base that the leader can withstand criticisms and challenges and “protect” his own people. I’m personally not wired that way. My attitude is, do the math and solve the problem (or, “solve the dump” as they used to say at work with production abends in overnight computer data center cycles).

I didn’t find that people really bought the “fake news” stuff – the birtherism, or the rumors of sex rings (the Comet Ping Pong fiasco). The one issue that got mentioned sometimes was health care . Some younger adults with heavy dent – student loans – simply cannot afford mandatory coverages and Obamacare premiums. Yes, if I was in office, I would to the math and solve the problems and fix it. But I don’t know how to ask for money to run for office, because I don’t personally walk in other people’s shoes. I watch, observer, and journal, but I don’t always play. Oh, yes, I ought to play rated chess more often, maybe get better at winning again (holding those endgame leads like a bullpen closer) and maybe offer to direct tournaments for underprivileged kids. Maybe get the Washington Nationals to have a chess event. It would be good for the players.

On July 2, the Wall Street Journal ran a big article by Amanda Ripley, “America, Meet America, Getting Past our Toxic Partnerships”. The writer starts with the extreme hyper partisanship (augmented by gerrymandering) in our culture today – it’s getting downright dangerous when you get to issues like the debt ceiling (which, by the way, absolutely must be raised by October). She claims that the partisanship is personal. It’s a kind of xenophobia that turns, ironically, into oikophobia, rather like rain on the snow.

The article expands on foreign student exchanges with an account of domestic experiments where people in rural areas or red states go to spend summers with families in blue states or cities, or vice versa.

I have two gut reactions. One is that mainstream churches are still focuses on overseas outreach. Sometimes this challenges the law, as with some efforts to shelter undocumented immigrants in border states run by some faith-based groups. Often, this consists of youth programs in Central America and sometimes Africa. I noted in the previous post how this came come across. Church groups have often sent youth to volunteer domestically after floods (ranging from Katrina to West Virginia deluges) and found being of real help harder than it seems – sometimes the people that live in these areas (especially the mountains), with their prepper lifestyles, are more self-sufficient than we give them credit for.

The other is that, closer to home, we really don’t walk in others’ shoes very much. Look at what I ran into when I started looking into whether I could personally host asylum seekers – an effort put on hold now as I consider possible relocation myself (I’ve “announced” this on Facebook). There was a great dependence on social capital, belonging to a group of people with some degree of personal fungibility, which is foreign to me. Because of the legal environment and lack of certain structures (compared to how refugees are handled) there is more persona risk for the people who would assist unless they are already bound into a social group. Really, a lot of early activism in most areas (race and later gay rights) sometimes worked this way, even though I never wanted to deal with it on a group level. The irony is that belonging to a group (especially a “resistance”) means connecting to people with different kinds of cognition in novel ways, something Paul Rosenfels had called “creativity” at the Ninth Street Center back in the 1970s.

I think a recent column by “do good” David Brooks “Getting Radical about Inequality,” where he talks about the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu, seems to apply here. As David says elsewhere, we have to live with the fact that right now the free world is led by a child. And, no, blind loyalty to a “leader” does not come across as an essential moral value to me.

(Posted: Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at 11 AM EDT)

OK, I am a political hobbyist, too, and I don’t have to put my own skin in the game; I plead guilty

The New York Times ran an op-ed by Eitan D. Hersh, “Political Hobbyists Are Ruining the Country” in the Review Section Sunday July 2   Online, the title is “The Problem with Participatory Democracy is the Participants”.  This sounds like a series of choices on a “My Weekly Reader” reading comprehension test in grade school, “the best title for this story is ..”  Oh, that was third grade (1951) when the smartest girl in the class only got 44 out of 60 and poor little Bill got 16.   There’s a similar story in the Boston Globe “The Most Dangerous Hobby” by Hersh, inspired by the WB classic film “The Most Dangerous Game” based on a story by Richard Connell.  We read and watched that in 2005 when I was substitute teaching, in the middle of an incident caused by my own political hobbying.

So I’m one of the problem hobbyists.  OK, when do I “pay my dues” and do my part?  I do vote in all elections, including primaries.  I have worked as an election judge three times in retirement, although not recently. I do talk to neighbors about elections.  They’re both conservative to libertarian.

But I don’t raise money for candidates or issues.  I don’t knock on doors.  And don’t take orders from party operatives or pressure groups on what it is OK to say in a book, social media, or a blog.  And some of the mail I get for partisan contributions (I got one from Donald Trump) is plainly ridiculous. (Back in 1984 I got a very bossy letter from the Dems on how much money I “owed” to help Walter Mondale.)

And I generally don’t respond to urgent pleas to text or call law-makers about very narrow, niche issues.  I feel that if I did, that would dilute my effectiveness on when I have something unique to say. Sometimes I do sign online petitions.  I think I signed one to free Chelsea Manning, which Obama did.

What’s more significant is that I have never run for public office.  I can’t imagine asking people for money.  But in 2000 I almost ran as the Libertarian Party candidate for the Senate from Minnesota.  Another candidate, a gun enthusiast, would run instead and get himself arrested at Mystic Lake to make a point on the right to bear arms.  You see how polarizing this gets.

We don’t encourage the right people to run.  If someone like Anderson Cooper were president right now, the country would be just fine, with no scandals.  I think Anderson would listen to Lindsey Graham and become hawkish enough on North Korea and ISIS (and Russia).

I don’t join mass movements for revolution right now, although I can never say never.  Rather than put all my eggs in some revolutionary idea like single payer, that I know won’t pass, I try to solve problems within the existing system.  Like, if you want to allow a barebones health plan for the young and healthy, accept the fact that you have to subsidize the already sick a lot more, and reinsure them, to deal with the anti-selection problem. If we already had single payer, it wouldn’t be controversial or debated – except that we would have to deal with waiting lists and sometimes end-of-life decisions.  There is no way to escape the math.  Life is not a zero-sum game, but you can’t get something for nothing.  E is still M-C-squared.  So, yes, I am a conservative. And gay.  Welcome to Milo’s world.

The real problem is probably the gratuitous nature of my speech.  I report to no one.  I try to play devil’s advocate for everything, bring up all possible arguments.  I would be more useful, say, working in intelligence, which might have been my career had I grown up in a later, more tolerant or accepting time.

As Milo has pointed out, a lot of times the Left especially (and sometimes the populist alt-right) doesn’t want to allow constructive counter arguments to be made, especially by intelleculoid “Uncle Tom’s” in their midsts.   What partisan leadership sees is resurrecting old chestnuts that could be brought back to oppress or marginalize less competitive individuals in their groups.  After all, at a certain moral level, almost any goal can be “rationalized”.  A good example of this problem has occurred with HIV issues, when public health arguments, while valid (up to a point) can be used as an excuse for stigmatization or exclusion of gay men, a problem we had in the 1980s.  Leadership of activist groups want obedience and consistency of messages among supporters, not people who ask (and particularly self-publish) analytic policy questions on their own.

But that is what I do.   I want to keep an eye on the big picture, especially civilization -changing threats, not just local issues tied to my own identity groups.  That is how I make a difference, in the long run.  At least now   Maybe not forever.

So much for “Hobby Lobby”.

(Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2017 at 9:30 PM EDT)

On “Solutions Sunday”: “Step outside of your own comfort zone”: Does that capacity really start with families?

This Sunday morning, CNN referred today as a “Solutions Sunday”, where people were encouraged to have Sunday dinner in a home with people of another race besides your own.  Republican Senator James Lankford on Oklahoma was one of the hosts.  Lankford said “Step outside your comfort zone and invite someone into your circle”.  Maybe your inner sanctum.

Despite living in an “inherited” trust house, I really haven’t been in the “business” of having guests at home, because I’m so busy with personal projects.  Events these days are nearly always in facilities.  So there’s nothing unusual about great diversity in public spaces, but I have to admit that at home it sounds a bit novel.

When I lived in New York City, and sometimes before in New Jersey, I did sometimes have house parties or events, and I have had a few house guests over the years, mostly related in the past to college, chess clubs, or people in the LGBT community (not just “tricks”, although that happened a little in the 1970s).  I’ve stayed with people , but very little since probably the 1970s. The largest event I ever held in my own space was an “Understanding” meeting (I think it was Wednesday, May 19) with about 25 people crowded into my own little studio apartment in the Cast Iron Building on E 11th St.

But it is very hard to help people without openness to letting it be personal if it need be (countering the “mind your own business” society), and for older adults, that’s often frankly easier when “you” have had and raised “your” own kids first.

I get a lot of pressure from others these days to become more open to “gratuitous” socializing and even dating, in my own home court, partly so that I don’t (at 73) remain “an accident waiting to happen” (to quote Jonathan Rauch in his mid 1990s book “Gay Marriage”).  Yes, I prefer to remain individually productive and get recognized for my content (but not just with hyperbolic phrases like “esteemed author”).  But it seems people see a continuum bridging fixing inequality in an economic or politic sense, and the way people actually make social and intimate “choices”.

Maybe nowhere is that idea so stark as in the issue of assisting refugees and asylum seekers, all over the world, but most of all in Europe, and then Canada, with the most comprehensive private sponsorship program in the world.

The New York Times has a booklet-length story today by Jodi Kantor and Katrin Eimhorn, “Canadians Adopted Refugee Families for a Year;  Then Came Month 13”.  Refugee families were supposed to be cut loose from dependence on the private groups (usually of 5 people or 5 families, associated with various faith-based and sometimes secular groups) for rent and many other expenses.  (In the US, where there is no private sponsorship as such, refugee families get some benefits, but generally depend on congregational offerings for some of the rent, almost always in commercially run apartments;  in the US you have about 20 families in a congregation assisting one refugee family instead of just five as in Canada).  What’s interesting about the story is that in Canada, many of the refugees did not speak English and had few job skills, and needed intensive personal attention from sponsors.  In the US, generally, most of the refugees allowed in have male providers with considerable job skills and can speak English.  “Blame Canada”, as in “Southpark“?  The country seems to produce outstanding citizens.  Look how well they do in Hollywood.

The New York Times missive bares some comparison to how the Mariel boatlift was handled in 1980, where churches asked people to put up refugees (often LGBT) in their own homes, very suddenly, mainly in southern cities.  But it turned out that many refugees would need constant attention as many did not speak English and had no skills.  Very few found “sponsors” on the spur of the moment.

Asylum seekers, as I have covered here, face a different situation, as they (usually) have already been in the country legally because of school or job skills.  (That doesn’t include those put in detention and the border, and are generally released only if there are relatives who know them.)  Canada’s reputation of relative generosity (especially relative to Trump) has led to some US asylum seekers crossing into Canada, especially Manitoba.

I’ve covered more details on my own situation on another blog, here.

(Posted: Monday, March 27, 2017 at 12:15 AM EDT)