The Bigger Picture, #28: Polarization, School Vouchers, the Middle Class, Etc.

I haven’t done one of these for several weeks.  Her are some of the more interesting articles I’ve run across recently that relate to topics we’ve discussed.

  • Polarization (2/17/11 mtg)Polarization is NOT the problem, or is a broken political system.  Nor is ir ideological extremism of left or right.  We’ve had all of this before.  No, the problem is a broken Republican Party that cannot compromise as our political system requires parties to do.  This is bad for conservatism itself in that it makes it harder to achieve its goals.  Your must-read of the week.
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    Relatedly:  The first major study by political scientists  (as opposed to just a survey by the Media) on the Tea Party movement reveals three big truths about the movement.
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  • Health Care Reform:  Why we have so much waste in our health care system and why we’re not doing anything about it.  Your must-read of (last) week, although I wonder what our conservative doctor member thinks about it.
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  • Is College Still Worth It? (12/3/12 mtg):  A new study says it’s not worth it for many.
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  • School Vouchers (4/29/13 mtg):
  • Saving the Middle Class (5/29/8 mtg pre-blog):  New data show that Americans are downsizing their view of what it means to be middle class and comfortable.  It used to mean social mobility and owning the major accoutrements of a middle class life.  Because the public perceives that downward mobility is more common now than upward mobility, the have largely redefined “middle class” as just keeping afloat and not sinking down into financial deep waters.  Interestingly, however, minorities, especially African-Americans, are the most optimistic about their future.  Details, including other nuggets, here.
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  •  Islamophobia: (4/1/13 mtg)
    • Polling on Islamophobia: i.e., American distrust of Muslims as Muslims
    • Are you aware of the fringe theory that the Obama Administration is infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood?  Now you are.  If I had been at the meeting, I would have reeled off a dozen examples like this one to give you a flavor of what kind of wild stuff is out there –  and bought into by some leading politicians.
    • But, FWIW, this guy makes the point that Islam inherently is more political than Christianity because Mohammed was a political leader and Jesus eschewed politics entirely.  (Of course, Christians have been as political as anybody else, terribly violent, undemocratic, yada yada.  But, he’s referring to the religious texts themselves).  Therefore, he argues, the Koran has a greater enthusiasm for violence than the Gospels because, well, not because “Muslims are more violent” than anybody else, but because Islam’s holy book was written in a more political vein and politics, after all is inherently coercive.  Is this wrong?
    • Relatedly:  An interesting point you never hear.  Skepticism and doubt should be part of being Christian, just as much as it’s part of being an agnostic/humanist.
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6 responses

  1. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    I’d like to repeat my earlier suggestion, that we visit a school. I hope that this can at least be discussed at the meeting.

    Also, I would like to offer another suggestion which I think would greatly improve the quality of our discussions:

    Right now, they tend to be dominated by a few individuals who speak repeatedly, often going off on tangents which are not really germane.
    I would like to suggest that we follow this rule: Everyone will have an opportunity to speak; but no one will have an opportunity to speak for a second time, unless all who wish to speak have had a chance. Then we can open up for a second and third round,etc., but following the same principle.

    I will attempt to bring both these suggestions to the floor, so to speak, next Monday.

    1. Good suggestion on the discussion. I will be interested if there is any real improvement. Part of the problem is that nobody seems to actually do much of any reading on the subject before the discussion (apparently including David, based on his reply to your other comment :-/), so there is not all that much useful information exchanged).

      1. I do plenty of reading, FYI.

    2. Having commented, I suppose I should try to say something more productive.

      One of the main problems in a group discussion is the difference between extroverts and introverts. Extroverts have a lot of connectivity and not much inhibition circuitry in their heads. Introverts are the opposite. So what tends to happen in a discussion is the extroverts jump in quickly, say whatever they think of first, then keep going and jump to another, only mildly connected topic. Meanwhile the introverts have trouble breaking in and keeping up with the change in topics.

      On an individual basis, you cannot expect the extroverts to change: they are happy with the way things are. As an introvert, you have to change your own behavior to jump in and take the discussion back to the point you were interested in. As a mega-introvert I have been working on this with only mild success. It is easy to take it too far and become overly aggressive.

      One solution for a group is to limit the size of the discussion groups to seven or less. Beyond this, breaking it up into two or more smaller groups works much better. Though I do not know if this fits in with David’s purpose in having the group. The Humanist Fellowship has had problems with this in their large meetings. Gary Linscott and others had a very nice meeting I was at that dealt with this well. You might want to ask him how they came up with their solution (without any studying of psychology science, as far as I know). You still have the problem of some people wanting to dominate, but it is less of a problem in a smaller group.

      Another big problem is our tendency to think about what we want to say and not pay much attention to what others are saying, just waiting our turn to talk. Some people are worse at this than others. This limits the amount of real discussion that takes place. Not sure what to do about this one yet.

  2. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    The rule was applied for a while last Mon. but didn’t seem to make much difference, as the same people ended up talking anyway, mostly. I think the above analysis may be germane.

    My goal is not so much to control who talks, but to keep the discussion focused, develop relevant information, keep it responsive i.e. not go off on tangents. I must admit however that I don’t know how to do this; but I do believe we should keep trying.

    1. I agree.

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