Battle for Modernity

HourglassRecently, Linda Greenhouse wrote commentary about two pending Supreme Court cases: Sex After 50 in the Supreme Court, November 26, 2015. Along the way, she paid homage to Justice Stevens’ 1989 statement, “Our jurisprudence, however, has consistently required a secular basis for valid legislation.” Her conclusion:

Yes, there is a fight over birth control that has never really ended, and a battle over abortion that erupts anew in every election cycle. But what the Supreme Court may or may not grasp is that it has on its hands something deeper yet: a struggle over modernity, a battle for the secular state in which women can make their choices and design what Justice Ginsburg calls their life course, free of obstacles erected by those who would impose their religious views on others and who find in recent Supreme Court decisions encouragement that this time they might get their way.

It is indeed amazing that 50 years after Griswald vs. Connecticut established that American citizens may have access to birth control and forty-two years after Roe v. Wade, the State of Texas has forced its women back to self-induced abortions and secular employers are allowed to deny insurance coverage for birth control prescriptions. Both of these are “theologically based” and, thus wrongfully law.

This struggle for modernity is political, not simply legal. One of our major political parties has been captured by religious political extremists who are fighting to impose their will on their fellow citizens. A politician of that party saw this coming decades ago when he said in a speech on the U.S. Senate floor:

I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?
And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

— Barry Goldwater, September 16, 1981

But the Republican party gave in. Apparently in its greed to hold power, the Republican Party does allow the “preachers” to dictate its votes in Congress, in the State legislatures, and in the selection of judges. The power it has gained is inherently limited by the depth of the religious base. Unless extreme measures are taken, that religious base will wither with age and the repulsion of the majority. But extreme measures have been taken in the gerrymandering of our legislative and Congressional Districts. At least one of their leading candidates seems to advocate a police state with special IDs for suspects. It seems unlikely that the most extreme measures will come about, but in the early-1990s, who would have thought we would see states which are in control of these extremists closing abortion clinics and owners of secular enterprises allowed to impose their religious beliefs on their employees (Hobby Lobby). We must be active and not passive in the face of the “preachers” push.

I find it sadly ironic that a political party that was born of the progressive notion that the U.S. Constitution should not protect slavery has been captured by such oppressors. The emergence of the Republican Party elected Lincoln and led to the enactment of three major Amendments to the U.S. Constitution that have evolved to guarantee freedom and equality for many. Yet, somehow, one hundred years later, the party was captured by opponents of this arc of history.

Reagan did not overtly preach most of the time, but he caved to the preachers in all of his judicial appointments after Sandra Day O’Conner. We are just now beginning to see the restoration of a secular judiciary.  Control of the judges at all levels of the federal system and control of state governments must be the battle cry of Democrats in the next election. It’s easy to win a Presidential race in the current climate; convincing voters to care about the down-ballot races is harder.

Political discussion these days often uses the words “progressive” vs. “conservative.” I think it more appropriate to call the sides “Modernists” vs. “Regressives.” The Modernists seek to preserve society’s progress and make further advances for the general welfare. The Regressives are simply twisted: They have a vision of an ideal past that never was and wish to return to it – an impossibility. A return to the past is a return to oppression not freedom.

I’m an optimist and believe that the struggle for modernity will ultimately prevail. But the road is tragically long with too many victims.

Over the River…

Over the river and through the woods…

Both of my maternal grandparents were dead long before I was born, but my mother and I sang this poem on long car rides to family dinners (she had many siblings that got together often). I never knew where it came from until now. I imagine she did actually sing it in a sleigh going to her grandparents’ house.

The Grandparent Effect

Non-Fiction Now

So yes, I went to the Non-Fiction Now Conference. Of course, I did not have to travel far. Just across town. That’s physical travel, of course.

Psychic travel went much further. Back to the excitement of learning. Of being among people who are striving through a singular endeavor — yet with individual destinations. Young and old (like me).

Such a range of people. From experts and high-end producers to those just starting out (like me). From those with supreme confidence (cocky, shall we say) to those working through grave self-doubts. I’m somewhere in between — an explorer.

Three days of fun. I couldn’t keep up with the young ones, who ran a schedule beginning at 9 a.m. and ended when the 9 p.m. readings at coffee houses wound down. I took a break on Friday night to keep to my regular symphony commitment with my very important wife. That’s a very important change from behavior in previous professions — family first, life first. We’ll make this writing part of life, not the whole life.

What did I gain at this conference?

  • Inspiration: Brian Doyle was great; others, too.
  • Perspective: All those different people; all those different presses. (I heard no one here mention self-publishing. This is a world of academics. Publish or perish is their world.)
  • Recollection: Experts, too, should strive for perspective and sometimes they don’t. One panel with an exciting title about research was all about navel-gazing. Literally, one panelist read her research on navels, which was, indubitably, interesting. But then each panelist read his or her research. That’s it. No thread binding these interesting vignettes together. No lesson. Just an implication from the panel’s title that only academics were legitimate researchers. Hmm — not impressed.
  • More books for the shelf. At discounted prices.
  • Reminder: Closed minds are everywhere. One woman walked out of a panel. She later told me she felt her religion (“Christianity”) was being insulted and she wasn’t putting up with that “anymore.” Really?

Glad I went. Now, back to the keyboard. Typewriter

Retirement

This is the first time in forty years that I’ve not held a professional license from one state or another. It feels good.

What am I going to do? Over the next month, I’m going to enjoy a visit with friends who are coming from Chicago, go to Iowa to visit family, play in a three-day golf tournament at Flagstaff Ranch, get reacquainted with the Oakcreek Country Club (as well as play at Continental as long as the weather holds and the greens aren’t punched), hang some pictures, and watch the leaves change.  At the end of the month, I’m going to attend the Non-Fiction Now Conference. Then, we’ll see what November brings – hopefully, days of writing and golf.

What I’m NOT doing: Moving from Flagstaff, taking a big trip, going off the deep-end (I hope).

Emerson

Studying Ralph Waldo Emerson in my junior year of high school had one of the most profound impacts on my thinking.

The copy of the collection of his essays which I bought with my allowance that summer is something I hope to never lose. I consulted it often through college and often thereafter. Still, when I stumble across one of his quotations, my mind goes on alert.

Emerson

Oliver Sacks: My Periodic Table – The New York Times

OutlookGraphic_BinocularsAn essay worth saving:

Oliver Sacks: My Periodic Table – The New York Times.

I’m not a scientist, but I appreciate his attachment to physical things. Perhaps I shouldn’t feel so compelled to weed-out my “junk.”

Stall?

My book effort has been sidetracked. I don’t think it’s stalled. I think I’ve just been busy with life.

This authorship is a third career for me and I’m trying to avoid the mistakes I made in the first two careers — the primary one being that I made the career the number one priority in my life and living my life secondary. This time, I took a week off to spend full time with my family over the 4th of July; to enjoy our wonderful town of Flagstaff; and to celebrate my love’s 70th birthday. (We’re thinking of that as the new 50.)

I’m also not getting younger and I need to work on staying physically fit. Before 40, I barely thought about that. At 65, it’s a primary focus and it needs to be if I am going to accomplish anything else, including writing a book, or books. I’m in training with a golf coach and I spend at least an hour every day in vigorous exercise and more hours several days a week on skills training and enjoying the game. This also has become a significant part of my social life.

Finally, I also need to close out career #2. It’s not as easy as resigning and walking out the door. There are commitments to honor and investments to divest. That’s getting done. It takes time from the book effort. But that should stop in a few months.

I know I have the discipline to write. I proved it in college, law school, and in two prior careers. So, when life stops interfering, I’ll get back to the discipline of blocking hours at least 4 days per week to sit in my chair and write the book.

Loving life….not in stall.