Friday, April 08, 2016

The Whole GenX UUA President Thing

The UUA President; Generations and Ages.

Allison Miller and Susan Frederick Gray were guests on the CLF’s VUU video broadcast and the observation was made that either one of them would be the first Gen X UUA President, after the long (and oppressive) rule of the Boomers.

The historical fact that the last four UU Presidents were of the Baby Boomer generation was brought up.  

The last four UUA Presidents were born in a narrow span — 1946 to 1949 — it is true. But that also means that they were elected over a broad range of ages. Schulz was 35, Buehrens was 46, Sinkford was 55 and Morales was 64. 

I think the issue is less passing the torch to a new generation (Boomers to GenX) as it is choosing leaders who are in the lifestage appropriate to leading the UUA. 

The Swiss psychologist Erik Erickson hypothesized a lifestage process of development. 

He divided adulthood into three stages of adulthood: a younger (up to 35), middle (35-60) and older (over 60). 

The stage of younger adult is defined by the contradiction between “intimacy” and “isolation”. 

The middle stage, in which first three Boomer UUA Presidents served, is a defined by a contradiction between “generativity” and “stagnation.” The current President was elected within the range defined as middle adulthood. 

The older stage is defined by the contradiction between “integrity” and “despair”.

The younger adult stage is defined by the intimacy vs. isolation. This is not only about finding a life partner, but also making the decisions about the people you are committed to as cohort.

It is not hard to see the call to become a denominational leader is an act which completes the task of choosing cohort of one’s life companions, and the completion of the lifestage of young adulthood. 

The task of the middle adult life stage is “Generativity” vs "stagnation." 

Generativity is sometimes defined as “creativity between the generations” and in family terms is about setting the conditions for the young and education. It also surfaces in life as the creation and building of new organizations, organizational redevelopment, strategy setting for the future, building programs. Under the right conditions, this is the most productive time of life. 

We should expect that leaders of sizable organizations would be in this lifestage, and younger in it, if the work to be done is building, creating, expanding, growing.

I have observed in myself and in other Boomers that the Generative work we do as we move to the end of our Generative stage is what I call ‘perfecting work:” the work of improving what we have done, fixing mistakes, creating better management of the processes we have been working on. The work that so many of us have been doing around governance, stewardship and leadership development is all about perfecting what we have spent our lives doing.

One example is President Morales’ growth strategy of “stop repelling visitors!” We have been doing Sunday congregational worship for quite a while; let’s finally do it right. It’s a perfecting energy at work.

So, it is appropriate that many would want to elect someone in their 40’s as UUA President, because of where they are in their stage of life work. The Boomers are passing out of the Generative stage of their lives.  The GenXer’s are in the full bloom of that lifestage. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

84% Democrats: What does that mean?

The UU World ran this article summarizing a recent poll about the political affiliations of various religious groupings in the USA. In brief, it shows that 84% of UU identify as Democrats. Only historic Black denominations are more Democratic.

Who was surprised that UU's were as strongly affiliated with the Democratic Party as this poll shows?

What does it mean?

What one thinks about this probably has a lot to do with what you think the highest value of Unitarian Universalism is.

If you think that inclusion and diversity is the highest value, then the poll is discouraging news. We are not very good at making Republicans welcome in our congregations..

But if you think that living our faith is the highest value, the poll shows our growing maturity as a faith community.

Everybody says that we live in a politically polarized time. That means more than that people of similar political opinions are forming tighter associations with each other. It means that both liberalism and conservatism as becoming clearer, more defined, and more ways of life.

Corey Robin argues that modern conservatism is defined by the defense of local hierarchies of power, such as the power of the father in the traditional family or the owner of a business. Wherever there is a hierarchy, conservatives instinctively try to preserve it against any democratizing influence. Conservatives say they oppose the state, but only when the state is breaking down the many small kingdoms of the world.

This same line of thought shows up in the popular meme that the political differences in the USA all come down to differences in our parenting preferences: the authoritarian parent vs the nurturing parent.

The Republican Party has become the conservative party in our time. The GOP is becoming ideologically conservative; it supports the relationships of domination and subordination in just about any sphere that you can think of.

Unitarian Universalist thinking has been moving quite deliberately in the opposite direction. I think that our commitment to become an "anti-racist, anti-oppressive, multicultural religious movement" has set a moral imperative before us that is radicalizing us. We are increasingly seeing the petty tyrants and small kingdoms of this world, even in our churches and congregations, and opposing them.

You can even say that our vision of covenant as the ideal of all social relationships as being a direct contradiction of conservatism. A covenantal relationship is not one of domination and subordination but one of equality and mutuality.

I may be wrong, but I don't think that the 84% UU identification with the Democratic Party is really based on a commitment to the Party itself. I think it's anti-conservatism at work.

We are growing into the full meaning of our theological commitments. The evidence that we are gathering at one end of the political spectrum in a country polarizing over fundamental differences is a result of, and a sign of, that growth.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A More Accessible OWL! -- Landrum

Followers of this blog may remember that we did a series of posts about how OWL training can be expensive and difficult for congregations.  Well, the good news is that it has now gotten a little bit easier.  The UUA is making OWL training for all ages available in Columbus prior to General Assembly, thus enabling folks already traveling to GA to minimize travel costs associated with OWL training.  Folks interested can see details here.

This is your Association at work, responding directly to the need they've heard about from religious educators (and certain bloggers).  Melanie Davis, the OWL Program Associate writes, "The decision to host the training is due in part to requests made by religious educators who find trainings in other areas cost prohibitive, as well as to requests to combine OWL training and GA to help lower travel expenses."

The cost is still $250 for the training itself, but the ability to combine the trip with GA for those already traveling to GA cuts down the costs of training substantially, avoiding a second air fare or mileage, plus having the ability for some to share hotel rooms with folks going to Columbus early for other pre-GA events, such as Ministry Days or the LREDA Professional Day.

It should be clarified that all ages training does not mean that attendees will be trained in all ages, but that each of the training levels is being offered at the same time.  So if your church needs one more person trained in Junior and Senior High, and one more person trained in Elementary OWL, you can send them at the same time and they can share the drive and the hotel room, as long as neither snores or both do.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Wall Street and Income Inequality

Regulating Wall Street is a side-show to the question of economic inequality. More regulation of Wall Street can prevent, we hope, a repetition of the financial crisis of 2008, but it will not, on its own, narrow the gap between the 1% and the rest of us. The difference between "reinstating Glass-Steagall" vs "strengthening Dodd-Frank" does not change life for ordinary Americans. And, sending some Wall Street executives to jail is just a satisfying fantasy.

The steps to start to equalize the income in the country are more basic: strengthening unions, raising the minimum wage, increasing social security benefits, further subsidizing the purchase of health insurance, expanding medicare, lowering the total cost of college education.

And, increasing the taxes on the wealthy and spending that money on public goods, which will indirectly raise the standard of living of the many: better school buildings, better education, better roads and bridges and public parks, better public transit, free, fast, and universal WIFI, efficient electrical grids and updated water and sewage systems, post office banking.

The problem with the financial sector is that it has too much money. Too much money is available for investment through the private capital markets and too little is available for investment through the government for public infrastructure and improvement. We are at the point where capital goes hunting for places to invest, driving the price of equities sky high, while the state is starved and our infrastructure falls apart. More taxes on the wealthy starts to change that imbalance.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Presidents Make Lousy Leaders of Mass Movements

The theory of change that Bernie Sanders advocates is a "political revolution;" he wants increased mass mobilization in favor of broad reformist goals: universal health care, free public college, getting money out of politics, reining in Wall Street. He wants to turn his Presidential campaign into a social movement.

Is leading such mass mobilization something that the President can do well? Can the President go beyond using the "bully pulpit" to advocate for those causes. Sanders has called President Obama a "disappointment," but Obama has not been remiss in making speeches in favor of reforms.

Over the last eight years there has been a significant upsurge in militant social movements. Occupy and Black Lives Matter have put many people in the streets and placed new demands on the table. There has been a steady growth in email/social media based mass mobilizations across a wide range of issues and groups. The social movements are here. Would they be stronger if President Obama had explicitly endorsed them? In all likelihood, that kind of endorsement would have not helped and probably been repelled. Remember the deep suspicion that MoveOn aroused in the Occupy Movement? Occupy was very frightened of being co-opted by the Democratic Party.

The independent social movements are doing fine. Strengthening them is the work of the organizers at the grass roots level, not the President of the United States. No President, not even Bernie Sanders, is going to put a lot of effort into building a social movement that is critical of the President. Nobody is going to join a social movement that is in the tank for the President.

The second problem with the Sanders theory of change is that eventually all efforts at reform come down to legislation and legislation takes compromise and compromise takes flexibility. And legislative negotiation occurs both in public at a symbolic level and at the level of actually writing legislation and spending money. And these levels are intertwined.

One of the things that Obama learned in negotiating with the GOP was that it was a mistake to want something too publicly, or to refuse something too publicly. As soon as something went public, it became both a target of the opposition and a non-negotiable to the public on his side. This is what happened to the public option in the ACA. Once it became clear that it symbolically important to progressive Democrats, it became completely unacceptable to the GOP. And then it became something that 'center' Democrats like Lieberman and Ben Nelson had to oppose because doing so would prove their independence.

Remember the proposal to let 55 year olds buy into Medicare? A perfectly reasonable proposal that would have taken older sicker people out of the insurance pool. Joe Lieberman shot it down because it made the liberals too happy. Who knows, it might have passed if hadn't become a public symbol.

Mass movements cannot fruitfully intervene in legislative negotiation. They will be demoralized by the process. Just as the progressive movement got demoralized by the failure to get the public option included in the ACA.

To be truthful, I don't think Bernie Sanders wants to be President. I think Bernie Sanders wants to lead a political revolution against economic inequality and the corruption of our campaign financing system. For that I wish him every success. And I think that becoming President would be a disaster for his true calling.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Trump, Sanders and Reich

Wilhelm Reich 1897-1957,
(not Robert Reich)
As we move forward into TrumpWorld, everyone should familiarize themselves with the general argument made by Wilhelm Reich in The Mass Psychology of Fascism. (It's not just his hair that make him pertinent to discussions of Donald Trump.)  Reich analyzed why the German Left failed to stop the rise of Hitler despite the deteriorating living standards of the German people. He concluded that the failure was in the economism of the German Left. They talked about income, wages and living standards, but that appeal was less of interest to the Germans than the stuff of their psychosexual frustrations and fantasies. While the analysis of the latter was of its time, the general holds true. In times of great stress, people do not vote their pocketbook, but their ids.

This is why while Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump may appear to be speaking to the same anger over the decline of the middle class, income stagnation, and the sense that the economy no longer works for the ordinary person, Sanders and Trump voters are motivated differently. If the Sanders strategy for victory is to win over the Trump voter, I think that it will not work.

The Trump voter is drawn to the unaccountable hero; the fantasy of being the winner, the man freed of petty restrictions of 'political correctness' in his speech and actions, unfettered economically, entitled to what is rightfully his, and able to do what he pleases. It is literally a sadistic fantasy -- the thrill of unlimited power to be exercised despite the objections of those on whom it is unleashed. In the American context, this enactment of sadistic power is the lynch mob and the gang rape and the gay bashing. It is also the mass deportation, the carpet bombing, and the use of torture. The appeal of this type of power is more seductive than a bit more economic security, a better pension, less paperwork at the hospital, and confidence that Wall Street is being appropriately regulated.

The Sanders voter shares the surface appearance of being a rebel against the Establishment, but beneath the surface, there is something else going on. The Sanders voter wants a more equal society, and more public goods, which includes better transit, better health care, free public college and more fairness. Like the Trump voter, they are tired of being pushed around by the elite.

But in order for Trump voters to become Sanders voters, they will have to move toward an egalitarianism and empathy for the other that they currently lack. They will have to start moving on beyond their investment in white racism, male chauvinism, heterosexism, transphobia, xenophobia and all that. And that is the hard part. And the more radical the Sanders program is, the harder the journey from Trump to Sanders.

Capitalist ideology believes in "Economic Man," a mythical creature who makes all his decisions rationally on the basis of economic self-interest. Notice that someone like Rand Paul, a libertarian deeply entrenched in the belief in Economic Man, doesn't understand why we would need laws against racial discrimination in public accommodations. He asks "why would anyone want to restrict their customer base?"  "Why wouldn't they want to hire the best person for a job regardless of race?" Because the payoffs and pleasures of racism far outweigh narrow economic self-interest. Trump's invitation to be a part of a Great America again outweighs narrow economic self-interest.

The traditional Left also believes in the myth of Economic Man. The Left asks "Why won't people see that if we all unite across our many differences, we can get a better deal for all of us?"  Who wouldn't want to live in Denmark?  An appeal to better wages and pensions should unite the working class. Well it won't because the payoffs and pleasures of racism, sexism etc. far outweigh narrow economic self-interest.

A Sanders victory in the general is certainly possible, but it will depend on the mobilization of millions of hidden, non-voting, progressives. I don't think that it will come by melding together the votes of Sanders and Trump.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Fruits of Rightwing Demonization

For 24 years now, the right wing in this country has been depending on gender and racial demonization as a way to emotionally bind the public to their program, even though their  program is contrary to most people's interests. Put another way, if people voted their economic interests, the GOP would be tiny. But economic interests are secondary to questions of identity stability and even sexual fantasy. 
This is not a new insight; Wilhelm Reich analyzed the failure of the German left to prevent the rise of Hitler more than  three quarters a century ago. The German Left talked about wages and living standards; the Nazi Party appealed to a sexually repressed population and offered them a domineering, all powerful Father figure. While you can argue about the precise analysis of the unmet emotional needs that the Nazis manipulated, the lessons for the Left are still clear enough. It's stupid to think that it's just the economy.

For forty years, the Right in America said that the problem with American liberalism was that the men were too weak and the women were too strong, or even more bluntly: liberal men were not really men and liberal women were not really women. 

And their Exhibit A has been Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton has been their example of what will happen if gender roles and expectations are allowed to slip and change. Men will become like Bill Clinton: irresponsible, verbose, undisciplined boys. And women will become like Hillary: all-powerful, mean, manipulative Mommy witches, who rule by stealth and cunning. Lady MacBeth. The hidden power behind the throne. 

Everything nasty in every one of the phony scandals assigned to the Clinton was imputed to Hillary. Even Bill's sexual misconduct was eventually hung on her, who 'enabled' it. 

The misogynist Right demanded that she conform to conventional gender roles, and then said that she was faking it when she did. Everything about her was criticized, and then it was said that she was overly conscious of how she looked to others. She was said to be inauthentic and manipulative.

They demonized her. They assigned to her an hidden evil motivation for everything she did. And that demonization narrative was made up of all the fears and insecurities and competitiveness that strong females arouse in the rest of us. 

That Hillary Clinton always has hidden, self-serving, and evil motivations has now become the fixed perception of her. The fact that almost all Americans believe this to be true is the greatest triumph of the rightwing demonization machine. It shows in the polls which say that people agree with Hillary, believe that she is superbly prepared to be President, and many plan to vote for her, but they don't trust her. She's just likeable barely enough. 

Most of the Left side of the spectrum accepts this characterization of her without question. Most on the Left side don't see that what seems like the fact of her character is in fact a conclusion built upon 40 years of misogynistic accusations. She has been successfully demonized, and the Left accepts it as true. And then, the Left says with the straight face of the duped that they have no gender bias against her; they just like the man better.

(A parallel situation would be for someone to say that they have no racial bias against Barack Obama: they just think that he tries to be too cool, speaks too rhetorically, and is too emotionally guarded in his public interactions. They might as well say that they prefer their President to ride a bike rather than play basketball for recreation.)

There could be no greater repudiation in this election cycle of our right wing overlords than to see our way past their demonization of Hillary Clinton -- to humanize her, see her as a human being doing the best she can in the circumstances that were imposed upon her. When you take away the presumption that she is "always and already guilty", what you can see is a very tough, committed, progressive political leader who would make a great President.