Monday, January 22, 2018

The Conservative Classical Liberal

With several books out recently that contain the word "Liberalism" in the title, I have been giddily traipsing across the internet exploring ideas and definitions of conservatism. The intriguing game for me is coming to understand and articulate how many contemporary conservatives are actually classical liberals. Isn't that fun? From Patrick Deneen's hot-off-the-presses Why Liberalism Failed to the boldly titled and eloquently researched The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce, there is much to entertain the minds of Burkean-Kirkean conservatives. For a while I have maintained a pretty consistent "conservative-but-not-Republican" eye toward the issues, as I generally find myself aligning with the fiscally-conservative-but-socially-conscious camp. Many would simply identify that as being a moderate - and I don't quarrel with that view. There are simply so many contradictions and dead ends in the party politics that have made the heads of America's center-right spin. Religion would be a key component of that, with the roots of dissent going back to the rise of Ralph Reed in the 80s and 90s. It seems that many conservatives draw a line in the sand on "their" ideology as being intrinsically linked to a firm religiosity, notably Christian. But the line of thinking I tend to follow believes, as George Will so eruditely explains “an individual’s faith is not a requisite for good citizenship; that democratic flourishing does not require a religious citizenry; that natural rights do not require grounding in God.” Tell that to Focus on the Family though. As I've wondered around the blogs and think tanks, I've enjoyed discovering The Imaginative Conservative, a website filled with commentary and scholarship exploring conservatism in the contemporary age. There I found a wonderfully succinct bit of Kirkean wisdom worth repeating:

The conservative is concerned, first of all, with the regeneration of the spirit and character—with the perennial problem of the inner order of the soul, the restoration of the ethical understanding, and the religious sanction upon which any life worth living is founded. This is conservatism at its highest. - Russell Kirk

And, as I continue to explore the Burkean-Kirkean tenets of conservative thought, all the while pondering ideas of the Emerson-ian and Thoreauvian conservative, I am always amused to get lost in thoughtful ponderings such as this one from the New Republic:  Everyone Hates Henry David Thoreau.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

If I'm the Media, what does that say?

I believe in the news. And, as much as any rational, educated person can be reasonably well-informed while also scrutinizing any source of information, I also believe the news. That seems to be an ever more rare and suspect position in the era of fake news and Russian trolls, and I think a lot about what that means for contemporary society. The number of people who "don't believe the news" or simply don't pay attention to the news always surprises me (with increasing frequency), and a couple of recent conversations have re-framed this for me in interesting ways.

For one, I have an old college buddy who regularly challenges my blog posts and tweets as being part of "the media." The criticism mostly implies that I am "brethren" to the liberal mainstream media that is in conspiracy against the President and his agenda. Now, I am definitely a critic of the current White House, and I will occasionally post about relevant issues. But I'm a personal blogger with a couple social media accounts. That ain't "the media." For me, the media are professional news organizations such as The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and NBC. Journalists are people who have trained to report the news and information. While any individual and organization is bound to have bias in the way stories are reported, I'm fairly comfortable with the state of news.

The issue of a news organization's "trustworthiness" came up over Winter Break with my middle-school-age daughter and one of her homework assignments, and the subsequent discussions I had with another parent also baffled me a bit. I was initially annoyed by the task my daughter had because she was asked to gather some factual information on a government-associated issue (hers was military spending), and her teacher told her she could not use news organizations because they were biased. She was instead steered toward using "a dot-org" because it's unbiased. Now, clearly any educated person knows that Americans for Prosperity and the Progressive Policy Institute are both .org groups, but each has a clear bias and agenda. So, I didn't like the assumptions about a website's inherent bias or the implication that CNN would be intrinsically biased about reporting of military spending.

Yet, interestingly, when we did a bit of researching, the quickest way to find simple facts about spending was, in fact, to go to a ".org" like Pew or the Petersen Foundation, and all searches of news sites truly did offer some biased commentary even in the headlines. And, I guess a lot can be said for not just turning kids loose on news websites because it's not so easy to simply go to Time or CNN or the WSJ or Fox and just collect facts and information.  That said, I am surprised by people who simply don't read or watch "the news," and I am a bit saddened by people who choose to remain somewhat aloof and uninformed simply because "all news is just biased."

Certainly, as an educator and teacher of rhetoric and argumentation, I am committed to developing a better understanding among my students about "what's out there," and I still seek to create "people on whom nothing is lost." This challenge of interpreting the media is actually in the media with the recent AP report that "States Push Media Literacy in Schools." While that goal is already ripe for criticism because of who will teach what to whom, it's probably a worthy goal for schools. And, interestingly, even as I was composing this post, I was challenged to find some sources. For example, in terms of an organization actively pushing a political party's agenda, I immediately referenced AFP. But I was initially at a loss to come up with a comparable group pushing the Democrats agenda that had equal prominence. Here's a good question: who makes up the progressive version of AFP?

Lawmakers in several states have introduced or passed bills calling on public school systems to do more to teach media literacy skills that they say are critical to democracy. The effort has been bipartisan but has received little attention despite successful legislation in Washington state, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Mexico. Several more states are expected to consider such bills in the coming year, including Arizona, New York and Hawaii. "I don't think it's a partisan issue to appreciate the importance of good information and the teaching of tools for navigating the information environment," said Hans Zeiger, a Republican state senator in Washington who co-sponsored a bill that passed in his state earlier this year. "There is such a thing as an objective source versus other kinds of sources, and that's an appropriate thing for schools to be teaching."

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I do know a few things. I will still read the Denver Post everyday and the Wall Street Journal on the weekends. I will still subscribe to Time Magazine and occasionally check in with CNN. I will still get my news and news commentary from sites like The Atlantic, Vox, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. And I will still trust my ability to read news with a critical lens, rather than simply choose not to read.

And I will maintain that I am not "the media."

Friday, January 5, 2018

Ideas Junkies & their Gurus

America is fascinated with ideas - just take a look at the non-fiction bestseller lists across the country and then review the careers of people like Malcolm Gladwell, David Brooks, Daniel Pink, Thomas Friedman, and others. We love to read and think about cool stuff. As a self-diagnosed "ideas junkie," I have been thinking a lot about my list of favorite thinkers and ideas-writers. I got to thinking about this when I recently read a review of Daniel Mendelsohn's new book An Odyssey: a Father, a Son, and an Epic. 

Looking in to Mendelsohn's work, I discovered him to be a thoughtful and erudite literary and social critic. His website led me to other works of criticism, and I just disappeared down the rabbit-hole of more and more books. Literally, I (and many others) just can't get enough of writers who so smoothly introduce the general populace to ideas and information that we would probably never encounter on our own. Perhaps no one has done this so effectively - and to such success - as former journalist Malcolm Gladwell who taught us about The Tipping Point and people known as Outliers

So, who do you like to read?  Here are some people I like to call "Ideas Gurus" who catch my attention regularly with the cool stuff they've been reading and thinking about:

Thomas Friedman

David Brooks

Daniel Pink

Daniel Khaneman

Stephen Levitt

Thursday, January 4, 2018

"I am What I am" - Poem, 2018

Art, more art. That is what I regularly tell myself ... and others. Being a creator more than being a consumer, seeing the world as an artist does - these are my goals for 2018. So, to begin this new year in pursuit of art, I offer this poem that I just ran across in an old folder at school and that I apparently wrote years ago, though I can't recall when.

I am what I am; 
Teacher, husband, father,
I am what I am.
More conservative than most people expect,
More liberal than I might admit,
I am what I am.
A traditionalist who likes to push the envelope; 
a painfully shy extrovert,
I am what I am.
Smart enough to know better, foolish enough to
make the same mistake twice,
or three times.
I am what I am.
Fiercely loyal to those I know well,
strongly suspicious of too many others;
I am cautious and carefree, and while 
I am always learning and usually willing
to listen, I figured it all out a long
time ago.
I am what I am.
Madly in love with my wife, amazed with,
inspired by, devoted to, and enamored of
my children, I live for my family,
and I can't get enough of them.
I am what I am.
In perpetual pursuit of the truth, constantly
refining my craft, fascinated by the whole
world, desirous of everything
at once, I am completely satisfied, but
always questing for more.
I am maniacally, cautiously
at peace with my life.
I am what I am.