Monday, November 22, 2004

Trying To Put The Fruit Back

Opinions Nobody Asked For took a wrong turn and ended up in theology. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.

Genesis 3 is one of the Bible's most well-known stories. It chronicles how Adam and Eve disobeyed God's command, ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, and were therefore banished from Eden. It takes up maybe a page of rather unimpressive writing. However, deep within this story and its myriad interpretations lies a key to understanding America's cultural divide.

The Christian thought that has shaped our society - and continues to shape it - refers to the episode as "the fall of man." Here the emphasis is on man's disobedience and punishment. From this story comes the Christian doctrine of "original sin," claiming that all mankind has been tainted by sin because of Adam and Eve's transgression. The act of the first couple, therefore, is an undeniably bad thing.

But most people recognize another dimension behind the story. Had Adam and Eve never eaten the fruit, they would never have known good and bad. Indeed, it is said that "their eyes were opened." But because of this eye-opening experience, they first began to feel shame at being naked. It can be argued that the point of the story, then, is that we must pay for the pleasure of knowledge with the pain of moral responsibility, that because we know right from wrong we are charged to do right.

Perhaps it can be said that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit they held on to the seeds and planted them all across the earth. It is true that we are constantly eating of the fruit of knowledge - personally and collectively. Each time we do, we are faced with painful and sometimes horrifying choices along with the benefits we reap.

And always, there are forces that would wish that we had never eaten, that want to put the fruit back on the tree and return to our sojourn in Eden. You can see it in the people protesting a nuclear power plant. And you can see it when you read about the Texas school board's decision to eliminate contraception from their textbooks, or when you hear about plans to teach abstinence-only sex education classes, or when you hear about people protesting a new movie about famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey.

But recall that once we ate the fruit there was no turning back. Adam and Eve tried to put the fruit back. They even lamely passed the buck onto the serpent. But God would have none of it, and so we were doomed. We were doomed to a life of moral responsibility when we took that first bite and our eyes were opened. We can no longer put the fruit back where it came from - we must now face the choices that are in front of us.

To advocate abstinence-only education, to refuse to teach our children about contraception and safe sex - this is trying to put the fruit back on the tree. Conservatives are trying to avoid having to make moral choices about sex, to set Alfred Kinsey up as the serpent and return us to our blissful ignorance. This is human nature - to wish for ignorance once we had knowledge, to shy away from our tough moral choices. But we must resist the urge to pretend that these choices don't exist. We are no longer in Eden - we are in a world of choice, and we must face the truth about sexuality and present our children with good solutions to the moral dilemmas that they will inevitably face. We must realize that even if we wanted to, we can't put the fruit back.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Two Goodbyes

First, a goodbye to John Ashcroft, who resigned his post as Attorney General this week. Not a minute too soon, I might add. Ashcroft was a darling of the far right - and few else. I think he sensed that. His penchant for ignoring the principles of justice in the pursuit of terrorists, and his innate need to question the patriotism of any dissenters, did him in.

He is replaced by Alberto Gonzalez, someone about whom I only know bits and pieces. I had expected him to be nominated to the Court some time later, but Bush pulled a fast one on me here. I am reassured by his soft-spokenness - finally, an attorney general who won't insult me. But I, and I think a lot of other civil libertarians are with me here, am troubled by his stances on terrorism, most notably on the use of torture. He pushed for ignoring Geneva Convention standards for our prisoners, and is often credited (blamed?) for having a hand in the policies that led to Abu Ghraib. Whether he was acting as a lawyer serving his client, or as an independent policy mind, remains to be seen. I hope Democrats aren't so spineless now as to give Gonzalez the nod without asking him some tough questions on these issues. (Also, I wonder if he'll take that silly robe off the statue in the Justice Dept. buliding.)

We also said goodbye to Yasser Arafat, who died early this morning. I can't bring myself to rejoice over Arafat's passing - I'm not the kind to dance on peoples' graves - yet I can't say I'm particularly saddened, either. Arafat was a dreamer without a sense of practicality, an idealist who refused to compromise. His ideals won him a Nobel Peace Prize - his intransigence earned him the scorn of the non-Palestinian world. It appeared briefly that Arafat had learned the lessons of twentieth-century diplomacy - that you can get a lot more done with favorable media coverage than with a gun. He had even slowed terrorism down to a crawl during the 1990s, and as a result Palestinians got something they never had before - international sympathy for their cause, even from the Jewish diaspora. But then, when peace seemed within grasp, he forgot it again. He launched, or at least did nothing to stop, a new terrorist offensive, putting a torch to all the hard work at Oslo and Camp David.

Still, I think because of Arafat we have a more two-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Before the 1990s, we thought of the Palestinians as the bullies and the Israelis as the innocent victims. Now, we know that neither can be held blameless for the violence.

Arafat leaves this world just as the best chance for peace since Camp David has come along. Sharon pounded his disengagement plan through the Knesset, letting the world know that Israel is serious about letting the Palestinians run their own affairs. Israel (however quietly) is bringing an army commander to justice for killing Palestinian civilians. During the past month, Israel has shown that it is serious about peace.

Now it's the Palestinians' turn. If Arafat were still here, we could rest assured that the Palestinian Authority would completely ignore any Israeli overture of this magnitude. But we are rid finally of Arafat's intransigence. If they are serious about peace, Palestinians must hold elections as soon as possible, and the newly elected leader must demonstrate a willingness to bargain. Arafat showed Palestinians the path to autonomy and peace, but he refused to follow it. He was a master at talking the talk - it is up to his successor to finally walk the walk.

Friday, November 05, 2004

North Carolina's Latest Outrage

So in the interest of "creating jobs" (3,000 low-paying ones in Greensboro, where unemployment is well below the national average), the North Carolina state legislature is considering a bill to give Dell a really cushy tax incentive package. And they don't even have to keep the jobs to keep receiving the tax credits - they can lay off all their new hires and still get paid.

Dell, of course, needs our money. Just like Bill Gates needs a welfare check.

Seriously, though, this corporate welfare thing has gotten way out of hand - and for conservatives who claim to believe in the free market to support this kind of handout is ridiculous. These are the same people who think we shouldn't be helping the mother supporting three kids on a job that pays $6 an hour.

Ohio just got slapped in the face for giving this kind of incentive - I think the 6th Circuit ruled it unconstitutional. Stay tuned.

A random thought

Six out of ten Americans support some sort of legal recognition for gay couples. 62% of Ohioans, 60% of Michiganders, and 66% of Utahns voted to ban recognition of all gay relationships, even civil unions - and all the civil-union-banning measures passed by similar margins.

Which raises the question: where are these six in ten Americans when you need them?

(On a similar front, props to Wilmington, NC, who elected North Carolina's first openly gay state legislator, Democrat Julia Boseman. This from a conservative district that last elected Patrick Ballantine, Easley's challenger.)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Our 1964

Damn, it's been a long time since I've posted.

As I write this, the election is pretty much over. Nothing short of direct divine intervention would keep Ohio out of Bush's hands, CNN's "green state" business be damned. We can safely say we're looking at four more years of George W. Bush. Add to that the loss of four Senate seats in the South, the probable defeat of the sitting Senate minority leader, and continued Republican dominance in the House, and you have what appears to be an unmitigated disaster for Democrats. Yes, it was close, but in the end, conservatism appears to have captured a clear majority.

Some pundits may start blaming some of Kerry's weaknesses for this defeat - that he doesn't connect well, that he appears aloof, etc. I don't buy it completely. This election was more about Bush than Kerry, and most people (yes, 51% is still most) still agree with Bush.

Which leaves liberalism where, exactly? If a centrist like Kerry can't even beat the arch-conservative Bush, where does that leave those of us on the left? The same place conservatives were in the 1960s, that's where - an ideology whose party has abandoned us, whose leaders have failed us, and whose country has ignored us.

I'll put it to you bluntly - we won't get even a non-conservative administration until 2016 at the best. If the Republicans have any brains at all, they'll nominate McCain in 2008, and he's so wildly popular that he's good for eight years (barring a major policy screw-up). We've got some time to think, folks.

I wrote after the disaster of 2002 that liberals had to stop being afraid of their own shadows and engage the country. Tonight, the lessons of 2002 were re-learned - if you don't present a clear alternative, no one will listen. It's time to come up with an ideology, folks, a clear statement of what liberalism is and where liberals want to lead the country.

Because there is hope for liberals - we are not doomed to a conservative-controlled country indefinitely. Take a look at Barack Obama - an unabashed liberal who outperformed Kerry in Illinois. He not only found a way to win big in Chicagoland but managed to rack up big numbers in rural areas as well. And these rural voters are the ones that Democrats all but write off to the Republicans nowadays.

And parts of the country that once showed no signs of "going blue" now are back into play. Ken Salazar pulled off a big win in Colorado, of all places. Here in the Triangle, two conservative state House members - Don Munford and Sam Ellis - lost to relative upstarts (Grier Martin and Linda Jackson, respectively). Munford and Ellis weren't redistricted out of jobs - they just flat-out lost them.

Maybe in Obama, Salazar, Martin, and Jackson, we can find our silver lining. In 2016 Obama will be 52 - about the right age to run for President. That's the election I'm looking towards now. It may seem like far off, but when it comes to rebuilding and selling an ideology, there's no time to lose.