On the Religion Excuse for Bigotry and Intolerance

In The Battle for God Karen Armstrong makes a compelling case for secular tolerance of religion.[1]  She sets out to explain the global rise of public violence by adherents to fundamentalist interpretations of the world’s major religions during the waning decades of the 20th Century.  Her basic argument is that the success of rational secularism (roughly, science) has led many people (i.e., both the rational secularists and the fundamentalists) to interpret religious texts literally, despite the fact that they are allegorical, mythical tales.  In other words, fundamentalism is the bitter fruit of the hegemonic success of scientific reasoning, and political conflict–which inevitably entails public violence–naturally follows.  The implication of her argument: chillax, you frigging science lovers, stop being so literal and embrace some tolerance.  You are getting people killed.[2]

One can find a similar dialectic process in Lynn Hunt’s Inventing Human Rights: A History.[3] Hunt offers a highly readable account of the remarkable political success of rights rhetoric since the 1780s, and highlights the backlash each success produced.   The Religious Freedom Restoration Acts that have been sweeping state legislatures across the US in recent years and the stories about male Orthodox Jews refusing to sit next to women on airplanes (e.g., here and here) are but two contemporary illustrations of such backlash: the fact that the terms of debate are religious “rights” demonstrates the hegemonic success of the rights project.

Let’s explore the arguments being advanced by the advocates of the religious right to bigotry and intolerance.

My literal interpretation of my religion’s teachings leads me to be uncomfortable around certain human beings, and I have a “religious right” to not be made uncomfortable.

That their literal interpretation of the religion is the problem, not the human being they are uncomfortable with, does not occur to them.  Further, the assertion of a “religious right” is empty sloganeering that grafts the hegemonic language while abandoning its accompanying logic.  That rhetorical move is as old as political rhetoric itself, and has persisted forever because it is effective among the anointed.[4]

So what is a rational secularist, a science lover, a humanist to do?  First, we need to double down and embrace tolerance.  Tolerance is difficult, especially in the face of righteous bigotry and intolerance.  Consult Gandhi or Martin Luther King.  

I especially want to endorse Armstrong’s idea that we embrace diversity in cognitive styles and the variety of means human beings pursue to find meaning on this cold orb.  That one finds comfort in deities has never made an iota of sense to me since I was first exposed to the notion as a child.  But I have long been accustomed to the understanding that not everyone thinks like I do.  And religious beliefs patently give meaning to large swaths of humanity.  Sure, there is no shortage of charlatans and opportunists among politicians and religious leaders, but one can find plenty among any other collection of human beings.

Mysticism, faith in deity, and appeal to allegory and myth have assisted the success of our species for all of recorded history, and certainly long before then.  Casting it aside would not only be foolhardy, but doing so beyond a personal decision is also antithetical to rights and tolerance. We must consistently and vigorously challenge bigotry and intolerance, and unmask the rhetorical shenanigans in defense of them.  But historical political forces are interactive: one need not subscribe to dialectical theorizing to appreciate that.  Religion is here to stay, for at least the medium run, but I would guess the long, long run.  Embracing tolerance is an important challenge that those of us on the rational secular side can do better.

@WilHMoo

[1] You can read the Introduction to her book here.

[2] Though Armstrong is happy to be provocative, she does not spell out the implications that way.  I am.

[3] You can find reviews here and here.

[4] See, for example, the American idiom preaching to the choir.

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An Email Exchange that went South

So, this came in over the transom yesterday:

DGibson1

I was surprised: why would someone at APSA, and a newbie Dir of Communications, want to pick my brain?  So I thought I’d ask:

DGibson2

Now, you might be thinking: Why ask?  Does it matter?  And at some level, no, it does not matter at all.  After all, had he phoned, I would have answered and we would have chatted.

But this is a great example of a situation where one of my aspie tendencies reveals itself.[1]  You see, I have an insane desire to do things correctly.  Worse, I am the relevant audience. So this request for a phone call made me a bit anxious because it was not clear to me what the person wanted, and it was far from obvious to me that I have anything useful to offer.  I asked for clarification so that I could be reasonably prepared, the purpose of which was to manage my own internal dialogue.  It had nothing whatever to do with the person who contacted me: I know that when I got done with the interaction I would judge whether I was pleased with my performance or not.  I have no earthly idea how to “turn that off.”  It is just a part of my existence.  So, undoubtedly unbeknownst to my interlocutor, he had induced a small amount of stress into my life, and I wanted some info to manage it.  I often have this sort of experience when I interact with a friend of mine, David Davis, who is (to me) infuriatingly vague (casual) about things, and I know full well that’s just his style.  It wouldn’t surprise if this person has a similar personality/style.

This morning I received this reply:

DGibson3

This irritated me.  “Why didn’t you answer my question?!?” my brain hollered.  And I thought about whether I should (a) just suck it up; (b) ask again (nicely); or (c) register my irritation, hoping that might prompt a reply.  After all, I am happy to help out, but I was miffed.  I kicked this around for 45 seconds or so, trying out a couple of different phrasings, and settled on signalling my irritation:

DGibson4

The reply came quickly:

DGibson5

I rolled my eyes, and decided to cancel:

DGibson6

I suspect that my correspondent is a perfectly decent sort who found my query about why his lack of a response to my question about the topic asinine and rude.  I suspect at least some, perhaps most, readers will agree.  And I confess that there must be more effective messages I could have written to elicit the information I sought.  But here’s the thing: I did make some effort to do so.  I just came up blank, and being useful in this situation just wasn’t that important to me.

This is a weakness I am aware of: I sometimes find myself at a loss with respect to how to respond to someone who has irritated me in a fashion that does not escalate the situation.  I have learned to seek counsel, when doing so seems to be a good plan, and am often surprised—Why didn’t I think of that?!?–at how obvious the proposed course of action can appear in hindsight.  I am sure such an opportunity existed here, though as I type this I honestly don’t know what that might have been.  And in a situation like this, I don’t find it worthwhile to seek someone’s counsel.  So I just winged it, and it turned out much less pleasantly than I had anticipated.  And that is a shame.

Oh well.  I am sure the American Political Science Association, which has never sought my counsel before, will be perfectly fine without it.

@WilHMoo

[1] This is not the first time where the communication style of the sender of an email irritated me.

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Is GDELT’s HR-GKG Useful for Human Rights Researchers?

Back in Sept of 2014 this happened on twitter:

Moore & Pruce Twitter Exchange

Moore & Pruce Twitter Exchange

In January I explored GDELT’s HR-GKG a bit (that brief paper can be found here [pdf]), and today I am finally writing a brief post about it.  Here is how I conclude said paper:

Unfortunately I have not been successful locating promising opportunities for using the HR-GKG data to augment or extend the ITT SA data. Nor have I located opportunities for using it in other ways. It is important to observe that this does not suggest that the HR-GKG is flawed or “useless.” To make such judgments one would need to know the specific purposes the GDELT project had in mind when designing and executing the project, and I have not been able to locate documentation of that…

That said, I am hard pressed to come up with ways for academic researchers broadly interested in the types of questions I have been studying in recent years to put the HR-GKG to good use. A handful of shortcomings with respect to such efforts stand in the way. First, the absence of dates that can be tied to events or themes is a likely deal breaking impediment to the utility of the HR-GKG for academic researchers interested in the naming and shaming activities of organizations.

Second, it is not clear what are the possible values for the Counts field, and that makes it challenging to assess the usefulness of the data for any given application. When one turns to produce frequencies to ascertain the set of values one encounters the third shortcoming: the data are not structured in a conventional format that most academic researchers who work with country–year or events data will find familiar. Since the HR-GKG was not, to my knowledge, produced with academic researchers in mind, this is not a criticism, but rather a note to academic researchers who wish to use the data. Recognize going in that there will be data management issues that may well fall outside of your experience and skill set. Relatedly, the absence of descriptives limits researchers’s ability to gauge the likely value of the data for their specific project absent addressing the data reshaping.

If you decide that you would like to explore that HR-GKG data, you may find these R scripts  useful for getting you started (thanks for Chris Fariss for an assist with them).

@WilHMoo

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FWPs of Conflict Researchers

I rather like this quote of Tilly’s from his From Mobilization to Revolution (p. 5):

The analysis of collective action is a risky adventure.  For one thing, there are too many experts around.  It is a bit like food, or sex, or speech.  Almost all of us know enough about food, sex, and speech to survive in our own environments, and none of us likes to be told he is ignorant in any of these three regards.  Yet from a scientific point of view, we all have lots to learn about all three.  The same is true of collective action.

@WilHMoo

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Massasoit’s Decision: First Contact and Teaching IR

Many of us who teach international relations turn to fictional accounts of “first contact” to illustrate processes such as the security dilemma, alliances, balancing power, and so on. Indeed, Dan Drezner has rather famously shown us the many ways we can use the zombie genre to illustrate the explanations we have created to explain the processes we study.

I recently encountered an American Experience series, We Shall Remain (2009), that turned to historians to produce documentary films of the European conquest of the North American indigenous people, but told from the vantage of the victims of that genocidal conquest. Episode 1, After the Mayflower, provides a non-fiction account that anyone interested in the security dilemma, alliances, terror, and so on will want to watch.[1] Doing so will also provide you with a useful corrective to whatever you (and your children) are taught in K-12 schooling in the US. In the interest of not spoiling, I sketch the issues that arise that are of interest.

Massasoit Ousamequin2

After having secretly watched the newcomers for months, Massasoit, the leader of the the Wampanoag Confederacy, made contact with the small group of Pilgrims who had survived the first winter on March 22, 1621. Remarkably, the two groups signed a written treaty that very day, which said in part:

1. That he nor any of his should do hurt to any of their people.

2. That if any of his did hurt any of theirs, he should send the offender, that they might punish him.

3. That if anything were taken away from any of theirs, he should cause it to be restored; and they should do the like to his.

4. If any did unjustly war against him, they would aid him; if any did war against them, he should aid them.

5. He should send to his neighbors confederates to certify them of this, that they might not wrong them, but might be likewise compromised in the conditions of peace.

6. That when their men came to them, they should leave their bows and arrows behind them.

7. That King James would esteem Massasoit (Ousamequin) as his friend and ally.

They strengthened their ties via an additional treaty on September 13, 1621.

The first portion of the episode focuses upon Massasoit’s decision to ignore the advice of some of his counselors who wanted to destroy the colony while it was so weak and vulnerable.  I have long known that Plymouth Colony could have easily been destroyed during the first few years of its existence, as as a descendant of William Bradford I owe my very life (as do my daughters, mother, grandparents, cousins, and so on) to Massossoit’s choice not to slaughter the invaders.  Watching this dramatization made it personal in a way I have not before experienced, and compels me to say: Thank you, sir.

The remainder of the episode covers the period through King Philips War (i.e., 1678), nicely illustrating the problem of incomplete contracting,[2] and also touches on the colonists’ use of mass slaughter and terror to secure quiescence, as well as the geopolitics involved among the various inhabitants of New England.

MetacometsHead

My ancestors publicly displayed on pikes the head of vanquished foes. Metacomet’s head was displayed for more than two decades.

 

If the security dilemma, alliances, terror, etc. interest you, I urge you to check it out. If you teach you will want to consider whether the episode could be useful in the classroom. Inevitably there are issues about the production that I can quibble with, but I think you will agree your time was well spent.

@WilHMoo

[1] The five episode series, which has an 8.2 score on IMDB, is currently streaming free on Amazon Prime. At present there is also a copy of episode 1, the one discussed here, on YouTube.

[2] For a discussion of the impact of the incomplete contracting problem upon military alliances, see BA Leeds (2003) Alliance reliability in times of war: Explaining state decisions to violate treaties.

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An Apology to Paget, Pity for Deneice & Sydney, and an Explanation for Nadia

Yesterday I confessed to reading a thread at PoliSciRumors.  ‘Tis about my accepting a post at Arizona State.  Paget[1] observed that I once gave a lousy talk, but was otherwise very kind:

Paget

D’oh!  Sorry about that.  I have definitely given some awful talks, I do digress (this is true in conversation, classroom discussion / lectures, and even my posts here), and that does sometimes become inglorious rambling.  I like to tell my students that one great thing about our line of work is that the public speaking and prose bars are low, and thus it is pretty easy to stand out positively.  My favorite line is: “Try not to suck.” Paget’s observation is a reminder that I don’t always heed my own advice: I blew my one chance to make a good impression upon Paget.  <sigh>

Deniece decided to troll the thread, posting six times before getting someone to join the fun.

Deniece1

Deniece2

Deniece3

Deneice4

Deneice5

Deneice6

Sydney was keen enough to recognize the awesome opportunity for witty repartee that Deniece was providing, but the rest of the troglodytes had failed to appreciate:
Sydney1Sydney2

Sydney3

brilliant

Whether Deniece climaxed, or not, I cannot say, but s/he chimed in one final time:

Deniece7

I’d recommend Deniece and Sydney to Chris Miller and Phil Lord, but alas, Deniece and Sydney are pseudonyms.

I cannot help but wonder what the life of someone who trolls threads at sites like PoliSciRumors looks like. S/he sits alone with a device, multi-tasking between whatever other things such a person does and following threads on PoliSciRumors. Or perhaps this isn’t solo play?  In any case, is it possible to feel anything but pity for a person who spends time this way?

Moving on to Nadia, as seems to always happen in conversations about person X choosing job R when they could have stayed in their current job, Q, a number of folks asked why Moore would leave FSU for ASU.[2]  Someone shared that while s/he had no knowledge of my case, faculty who lose out in departmental politics sometimes look around, and upon attracting an outside offer, learn that their colleagues are happy to see them go and prevail upon Admin not to make an attractive counter offer.  Nadia, apparently, is well informed, and posted this:

Nadia

Thanks for playing, Nadia!

Since the set of people who might have genuine interest in my view of my options may not be empty, for the record my department chair, Charles Barrilleaux, asked me, prior to going on any interviews last fall, whether he’d be wasting his time pursuing a counter offer, should I attract an offer.  I told him that the only reason he should do so is if he thought it would have value to the Dept: demonstrating to faculty that the Admin supports the Dept by making strong counter offers can have value.  As I recall, he felt that given the recent history of strong counter offers that wasn’t necessary.  So I told him, no, there was no need.  Seventeen years is a long run, and I have never much liked gerbil wheels–except for the one Mark Donaldson built for Burning Man–and I am just ready for something new.

My colleagues have known for years that once my kids were in college I’d be interested in bugging out to see what’s over the horizon.  Does that mean I “wanted out of FSU”?  Nope.  But it did mean I have looked around with interest for the past several years. When ASU made me the offer Charles did ask me about the specifics, expressed confidence that he could get the Dean to at least match it, and asked whether I was sure I wanted to go exploring.  I told him I was, Charles did not seek a counter (the Dean apparently pressed him on the matter), and I am off to Tempe to see what fun I can get into with great new colleagues there.[3]  I’ll do my best not to suck.

As for those FSU colleagues who are happy to see me go, Nadia, HeeMin Kim left FSU a number of years ago, so he doesn’t count.[4]  But feel free to poll the current faculty.  I’ll be happy to buy your drinks for an evening for each of those you locate.

@WilHMoo

[1] As I understand it, people have an option to post under a randomly assigned pseudonym or their own moniker, and the majority opt for the former.

[2] My participant observant status in such conversations has been face to face, but I suspect it is common online as well.  My goal during such conversations is to manage my frustration and hope it ends soon (I may explain this in a future post).

[3] If you are thinking “That is not an income maximizing strategy!”, you win a Kewpie doll.  File this under: I guess he’s serious when he quips that if making money was what drove him, he wouldn’t have gone into academia.

[4] I don’t actually know that HeeMin would have been pleased to have seen me go. But it does strike me as plausible.

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FSU Reloads in IR

This morning I noticed an unexpected spike on my blog.

Spike

Curiously, a post I had written on 1 March was getting traffic 9 days later.  I got to wondering whether someone had mentioned it on PoliSciRumors, a site a ignore.  So I did a search for my name and found no such mention, leaving me none the wiser about the source of the interest.

I did find a Moore –> ASU thread.  “Never read the comments!  NEVER read the comments!” my brain screamed.  I clicked the link.

To my considerable surprise,[1] the threads comments are overwhelmingly positive toward me, perhaps due to the initial posts.[2]

Moore2ASU

Not surprisingly some reflected that my departure bodes poorly for Florida State’s Poli Sci Dept.  And that gives me an opportunity to reflect on the history of the IR group at FSU and the great hires coming aboard in Tallahassee.

When I joined the faculty at FSU the IR group was Dale Smith, Doug Lemke and Paul Hensel.  In addition to hiring myself (6 years removed from my PhD), the department also hired Ashley Leeds and Sara Mitchell, both ABD at the time.[3]   As is so often the case at FSU, a few years would demonstrate what a great reload that was.  But in 1997 few could see it.

“Reload?” you may be thinking.  The problem was that the line I was hired in was created by Jim Ray‘s departure to Vanderbilt.  Smith was an Associate, Lemke and Hensel early Assistants, and I came on board untenured.  I don’t know that the percentage drop in the group’s citations was, but it was substantial.

Fast forward to today.  In fall 2013 the IR group was Smith, myself, Sean Ehrlich, Meg Shannon, and Mark Souva.  Meg joined the faculty in Boulder last fall and I am off to Tempe in August.  Again, the group has lost its largest citation producer.[4]  Reloading has been a big deal, and everyone in the department knows it.[5]

In 2014 the department hired Inken von Borzyskowski.  If you are unfamiliar with Inken’s work, change that.  I’m not willing to argue that she is guaranteed to have the impact of an Ashley Leeds or a Sara Mitchell, but I’m equally unwilling to say she won’t have even more of an impact of those two ABD hires by FSU.

Last week Rob Carroll accepted an offer to join the faculty in August.  Rob strikes me as an excellent “Isle of Misfit Toys” hire, an ABD who flys under the radar due, perhaps, to some unorthodox projects, who has an outstanding science mind.  I started using the term to describe FSU hires around 2004, shortly after we hired T.K. Ahn, Bumba Mukherjee and Jeff Staton.   The most recent misfit hires at FSU were David Siegel and John Ahlquist.[6]  Again, I am not saying that Caroll’s work will necessarily have the influence of the other FSU misfits, [7] but I can’t say it won’t surpass the median nor become the group’s maximum.

Maintaining an active, excellent, stimulating group of faculty is difficult.  Doing it in a state in the Southeast is remarkable.  When that faculty stands out for its comity it becomes ridiculous.  I set several goals for myself when I joined the department at FSU in 1997.  One of those collective oriented goals was “Work to make the Dept better when you leave than it was when you arrived.”  In general I am better at achieving my personal goals than the collective oriented ones.  But I will leave feeling bullish about the future of FSU’s department.[8]

@WilHMoo

[1] For those unfamiliar with the reputation of PoliSciRumors, [formerly Poli Sci Job Rumors], it is generally described as a cesspool, exhibiting the well known problems of Internet forums and Comment sections.

[2] Yup, I just went “broken lights” there.

[3] Lemke took a job at Michigan the following year

[4] Don’t get me started on diversity.  My one frustration during my 17 years at FSU is our failure to address the lack of diversity of the faculty.

[5] American Politics has even more challenges than IR.

[6] If you are thinking “Those folks were misfits?” that demonstrates the success that they were able to have.  None of them were doing orthodox work when they entered the market, and each will tell you they benefited from starting their career at the FSU incubator.

[7] This is an illustrative list: I count myself and several other folks as members of the misfit crew at FSU.

[8] If you are thinking “Seriously, you compared the female hire to women and the male hire to men?” I hear you.  It bugs me too.  But von B does not strike me as a misfit, and the two most influential IR ABD hires from FSU happen to be women (and I am familiar with hires in the Dept back to the 70s).  On the other hand, the bookend misfits are all male.  Small samples can be irritating.

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