Friday, August 23, 2013

Pride cometh before the fall, Part 2

This post deepens an exploration I began in Part 1, in which I questioned the response of the City Council of League City to the request for cessation of prayer on the public clock, as that request was rendered by the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).  In this post, I'll frame my analysis using a detailed analogy and then conclude with a personal appeal that FFRF pursue its request as originally rendered.

First, the analogy. 

Last night, I asked my husband the following question, which I'm paraphrasing here and prefacing with context: 

"I require just three characteristics of every person with whom we associate on any social, familial, or professional level:  Sobriety, integrity, and work ethic. 

Those are the only defining metrics I care about.  I do not care if the person is immigrant or native-born.  I do not care if they are gay or straight.  I do not care if they are capitalist or socialist.  I do not care if they self-identify as Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, Communist, or Independent.  I do not care whether they worship Christ, Shiva, Allah, Buddha, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, none of the above, or all of the above. 

Now my question is:  Does this stance of mine make me liberal or conservative as those terms are popularly defined in this country?"
A week and a half after I asked that question of my husband, The Economist asked the same question of itself.  You can read their explanation here.  Screengrabbed from Facebook.   
Of course, my husband had no answer to give me, because no answer exists.  What I described above is a set of personal priorities that are orthogonal to prevailing American stereotypes.  
By the way, if you haven't read the historical background underpinning the development of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) conceptual framework, I highly recommend it.

Screengrabbed from Wikipedia. 
Prevailing American stereotypes remind me very much of the paper dolls with which I used to play as a child.  We'd cut out the shape of the doll, cut out a profoundly predictable selection of costumes (dressy, sporty, businessy, etc.), and then bend little paper tabs over the shoulders and hips to successively secure each fashion fa├žade to our pulpy princesses. 

That's what American subscriptional stereotypes are - they're nothing more than facades that are either approved or disapproved according to the extent to which they conform to pre-defined expectations (dressy, sporty, businessy morph into Democrat, Republican, Independent or Christian, Muslim, Atheist).  They say nothing whatsoever about the underlying character of the person, and they have about as much depth as the paper overlays I described above. 

A big problem arises because so many people unwisely associate superior moral characteristics with their preferred paper outfits.  They engage in wildly erroneous attributions in the process of so doing.  So, for instance, they see someone wearing the "Christian" tabbed costume and not only do they automatically assume moral and ethical superiority in that person, they assume it to the exclusion of other options.   

If you doubt the shocking extent to which this type of erroneous attribution occurs in our society, I urge you to examine the recent local cases of Jason Murray and Christopher Dupuy.

I said integrity.

This particular passage is screengrabbed from this KTRK report, but the sheer number of criminal allegations against this man defies the imagination.
I said sobriety.  AND I said integrity (Murray also pled guilty to assault in a separate incident). 

Screengrabbed from this Chron article
Why did those two men gain access to prestigious elected offices despite having personal characters that arguably are fatally flawed? 

Easy peasy:  They each donned a paper cut-out that had the letter "R" scribbled hastily on the front of it.  And the voters swallowed their superficial representations hook, line, and sinker:  "They are Republicans and therefore they must be who we need in office, by automatic definition."

The voters' assumptions couldn'ta been further from the truth, obviously.  And Galveston County has a seemingly-endless stream of legal messes to show for it.  All to be cleaned up using taxpayer dollars, of course. 

I'm belaboring this distinction because it's vitally important and I'll get to the specific point of this blog post in a moment. 

I have spent the last decade and a half of my life trying to communicate this very same perspective to my daughter: 

"Don't trust someone just because they tell you they're Christian," I tell her.  "You need to read between the lines and see what that person does rather than paying attention to what he says.  Not only can you not assume morally superior intentions in someone who claims to be Christian, you have to realize that the person may be leveraging that label as a disguise that protects them as they do evil to the rest of us. 

Similarly, don't distrust someone just because they say they are Muslim or Atheist.  There are as many different interpretations of Islam and Atheism as there are people who claim to be each, and you need to determine who the speaker truly is as a person before you can make inferences about either their character or their motivations." 

I wish someone could communicate that very same perspective to the City Council of League City right about now.  When I read this account (no paywall, woot!) of the most recent City Council meeting, the first thing that came to my mind was, "They are still not getting it."  The nuances of the current prayer-in-Council-meetings conflict (paywalled) still seem to be completely lost on them.  Rather than embracing the situation on its face and delving more deeply into what actually exists here, they are frantically pinning two-dimensional paper costumes on to whatever shadowy cut-outs they believe they can discern.  "...audacity of a northern state" because, of course, people from the north prefer a density of costume that cannot be worn here in hotter climes.  "funded by the usual suspects from the left" because that's the easiest paper-thin assumption to grasp at, isn't it?  Reach into your papyrus closet and grapple onto whichever hastily-scribbled label is most handy.
If you do an image search for "paper dolls" on Google, you'll see an utter lack of any ethnic or existential diversity in the results.  In this manner, art imitates life yet another time. 

Screengrabbed from Google. 
As I suggested during Part 1 of this post, this prevailing municipal attitude at the very least represents a significant missed opportunity to actually relate to the diversity of constituents (i.e., voters - remember them?!) who live and work within the City of League City. 
I hate to break it to you Council guys, but diversity of religious opinion isn't a phenomenon that is limited to any "northern state".  This is a screengrabbed excerpt from The Racial Dot Map, roughly centered on Centerpointe.  See that concentration of red dots?  Those represent people from Asia, where Christianity is a minority religion

These results are consistent with what I revealed earlier this year in "The Immigrant Effect", although a present-day edition of the Racial Dot Map would be even redder than the version shown above, as that version does not reflect the full ethnic flower of Centerpointe Section 9 (its construction had not been completed as of the 2010 Census).   
I was not the local person who originally petitioned FFRF to make their request of League City, but may I please be permitted to enjoin the request at this time?  It seems to me that this would accomplish several objectives simultaneously:
  • It would stop the dismissive finger-wagging about the responsibility for the request originating with a rogue "northern state".  At least some of the wrath could instead be re-directed at that crazy suburban vegetable gardener who stares maniacally over her back fence at City Hall. 
No, that's not me, but it captures my mood.

Screengrabbed from this site without regard to the paper doll that it represents.  Don't look at the source URL and yank knee-jerk assumptions out of your paper closet about who I am as a person.  I intentionally chose that one just to throw you off, eh?  
  • People might actually learn something new around here if FFRF were to follow up on its initial request.  God knows that our Council desperately needs practice in dealing with both cultural and religious minorities.  FFRF would be doing us taxpayers a massive favor in helping to develop them to be more sensitive and accepting, even if such "training" needed to be accomplished via legal compulsion (as it has in the past). 
  • Although the bullet points above were delivered in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek tone, I'm not kidding.  I really would like to see the City of League City improve its public relations, deepen public awareness of its demographics, and do a better job of responding to the Constitution of the United States.  I'm sick and tired of seeing news stories about how provincial and predictable and paper-costumed this city's representatives are.  It would probably be easier to come out publicly as a homosexual around here than it would be to self-identify as a member of a religious minority.  League City could visibly improve both of those conditions if it widens its interpretation of Council meeting prayers to reflect inclusivity principles that have already been embraced elsewhere in this country.  And I, for one, would sure welcome the sight of that. 
Coming soon to an LC Council meeting near you, but do you understand why??  That's the important question.

Screengrabbed from Wikimedia.   
 

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