Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Circle the Wagons!

I have been reading and writing blogs for a couple of years, now. I regularly visit a lot of different types of blogs, and have observed some trends. For example, crafty blogs with a lot of cool pictures and on-topic writing have a lot of traffic. More philosophical or political blogs have smaller followings, for the most part, but have very strong supporters. Religious blogs are similar. In essence, the more "serious" and focussed the blog, the smaller the base of followers.

The philosophical/religious blogs have an interesting tendency to be defensive. There is a lot of "preaching to the choir," and sometimes some expression of openness to challenges, yet when a particularly sensitive area comes under scrutiny it looks like a wagon train pulling the wagons into a circle because someone saw a feather on the horizon. The enemy is near, circle the wagons!

Some of the Christian and/or religionists of Texas and the Mid-West are still in active conflict with the Atheist/Agnostic scientists of that same area over how evolution is to be presented in schools. Of course there are other related points in conflict, but this one is easier to focus on. I can see both sides of the argument, and two groups of wagons forming circles to defend fundamental truths.

The religionists want to prevent evolution from being the sole mode of creation taught in schools. This is a defensive response to a perceived threat to the spiritual well-being of their children. A threat to children is a serious threat, and so the response is strong regarding this threat. Circle the wagons!

The scientist see a threat in what is essentially a myth (from the scientific perspective) being placed on par with a body of scientific knowledge that has been assembled through the proven reliable method of scientific research. This causes a defensive reaction and the wagons of science are drawn into a circle.

Too often the venue for the subsequent battle is the court of law and the halls of the law makers. This third body, the makers and enforcers of laws, is in the unenviable position of trying to find a viable middle ground. The issues in conflict are not subject to compromise, and so the battle comes down to trying to shape and influence policies and rules and laws in favor of one camp or another.

An ongoing struggle with little promise of resolution. The scientific thinkers reflect on a past when new ideas were squelched by religious hierarchies, and fear the religionists gaining too much strength. If  you examine history it is a reasonable fear.

The religionists fear the corruption of their children, who will be discouraged from faith because that faith does not submit to the rules of scientific inquiry. The educational practices of  declared atheistic political orders in recent history lend some strength to such a fear. Think KGB and USSR.

What are your issues, the ones close to your heart or touching on something you really value? What causes you to bring your wagon into the circle? Are they so dear, so fundamentally part of your view of the world, that they are not open to discussion?  Are there ideas out there that cause you to feel threatened?

Watch closely. I think I saw a feather on the horizon.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yabba! Yabba! Merry Christmas, Baby!

Or, What are the limits of Tolerance? 

Here in the little town of Felton is a half-way house. A parade of inmates from the half-way house trek from the house to the small downtown area of Felton every day. Most are obvious victims of the drug culture, people with brains modified through the wonders of modern chemistry. A less generous person might call them "burn outs," but that would be contrary to our theme of tolerance.

This particular half-way house has been in operation for a number of years. It seems that the parade of burn-outs, I mean "victims," has been a fixture of Felton for quite some time. Long enough that it seems just another part of the town, like the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park or the Roaring Camp Railroads. OK, maybe not quite all that, but something similar.

Walking in the park near our covered bridge my wife Linda encountered one of the inmates. Upon greeting him as she passed she received the reply, "Yabba! Yabba! Yabba! Merry Christmas!" from the otherwise stoical gentleman. On a subsequent day my daughter Beth was walking in that same park, pushing my granddaughter Abigail in a stroller. She was greeted with, "Yabba! Yabba! Yabba! Merry Christmas, Baby!"

Neither my wife nor my daughter found this experience particularly pleasant. Though not overtly threatening, it was none-the-less disconcerting. Walks in that particular park have become much less attractive. Since the person in question is most likely a resident in a long-time half-way house, the probability of that person being unusually violent is low. A respectable facility screens candidates and simply will not house an overtly violent person in an open facility.

There was a time in our culture when this man would have been locked away in a secured facility, and none of the more respectable members of our society would have been greeted with, "Yabba! Yabba!" It would have not been tolerated behavior, and the aberration would have been neatly locked away. That, or "Yabba! Yabba!" would have been driven to the frontier, to shout his greeting to the rocks and trees until such time as a hungry bear might come along and solve the problem.

Now we live in a time when we have little in the way of convenient frontiers, cannot afford to lock up our less-violent social embarrassments, and must learn to live with them in tolerance. I sometimes wonder if our greater promoters of tolerance happen to live near anything that needs tolerating, but I haven't the patience to research that particular aspect of toleration.

I do suspect, however, that in neighborhoods where average incomes are in the higher six-figure realm Mr. "Yabba! Yabba!" would conveniently be found committing some crime or other and whisked away to someplace else. Like Felton. This may simply be a bit of prejudiced opinion and speculation on my part. It probably is. I have no real facts to back it up.

Intolerance would be the intentional harassment of people like Mr. "Yabba! Yabba!" Whatever the events that lead to his current condition, it seems reasonable to allow him to enjoy a public park. Still, his rather strange greeting issuing from a patently strange individual can be disconcerting to more average citizens also enjoying the park.

There are no easy answers on the road to tolerance. My daughter is contemplating getting some pepper spray, just in case.

These days, even a walk in the park is no walk in the park.