Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Losing the Spotlight

I read a lot of international news, probably almost none that's American. This is not hard because Reuters and AP together seem to write about 95% of news, and while in theory newspapers and news programmes are not supposed to pass it along word-for-word, they in fact do (google news makes this completely apparent). Fortunately, other countries seem to have a news tradition that has not yet been stifled, and both through scanning the headlines in Google news and regularly reading a few foreign newspapers one likes, one can get a broader perspective on world events. One of the odd things one notices is that their coverage of events in the USA is quite good - American elections are covered with equal or greater weight than local elections (when applicable). I initially thought this was a feature of either language or IP-based traffic, but one can look at picture captions (and possibly understand bits of other languages) and go through various proxies to find this largely untrue. If the American political/economic star is fading (I believe it is, although not as rapidly as I would like), I wonder how long we'll still see this level of coverage - I doubt more than 1% of Americans could distinguish Chirac and Sarkozy or even know who Margaret Thatcher or Angela Merkel are, but people are talking about Obama, Clinton, and McCain all over the world. Maybe some of this is how much style over substance we have in American politics - a more straightforward "job application for a CEO" with lots of in-depth info on one's political past combined with organised and detailed information on policy and intuitions seems like it would provide voters with a much more useful perspective than the media circus we have with advertisements and emotion-centred pitches. Another part of it probably is the unfortunate fact that the USA has disproportionate power in the world, economically, diplomatically, militarily (I would've discounted this before BushJr decided that invading other countries was chic), and through effective control of several large international bodies. We can expect all these things to continue to slip.

I wonder if ideas/traditions from the german Jugendweihe should be considered useful material/inspiration for those building a secular society in the USA. Standard disclaimer: I do not self-identify as a secular humanist. The defining elements don't sit well with me on a few points.

  • Declaration 2 is America-centric, sitting squarely in the American tradition for politics/economics, being capitalist, placing an excessive emphasis on individual autonomy and democracy. While the specifics of my socialist identification are not concrete, I disagree with both intent and several specifics of this declaration.
  • Declaration 4 is philosophically ill-thought, claiming things that are internally inconsistent: "We are opposed to absolutist morality, yet we maintain that objective standards emerge, and ethical values and principles may be discovered, in the course of ethical deliberation." - one cannot claim with integrity to not be value-absolutist and still reach objective values. I'm not sure if they're meaning to waffle here or if this was written by committee - either way if I identified with them I'd be embarassed.
  • Declaration 5 has some of the same wooly thinking, "It should be noted that secular humanism is not so much a specific morality as it is a method for the explanation and discovery of rational moral principles." - first, there's that word "rational" there that's judges while pretending not to, and secondly, there is a lot of value content in the declaration that should be understood as being part of secular humanist morality. If they would be more honest and say "we have ideas about morality that we want to teach, but they are not so specific and tightly bordered that they don't permit a certain amount of individual variance", they would sound less like they're talking out of both sides of their mouth.
My disagreements are strongest with declaration 2 - one could replace the dishonest passive-agressive value system with a more coherent one without changing the essense of secular humanism too much, but the political/economic roots of the movement in one of the styles of American capitalism/democracy are much more of a problem. I think the humanists are a lot more likable than the Objectivists though, even as both are trying to build their own subsocieties.

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