“If you can’t hear it from me …” — 3 voices that might get through to your conservative friends

If you’re a liberal who has any conservative friends or relatives, you know how well defended they are against anything you might say. Any fact you know is wrong. Any source you might quote is biased: Academia is biased (except for institutes funded by the Koch Brothers). Major newspapers are biased (except for the Washington Times). TV news is biased (except for Fox). Government agencies are biased (unless a Republican president has had their reports vetted by a political appointee) … and so on.

Here are three points of view that might sneak under the conservative radar, because of where they come from and how they’re pitched.

Now let’s look at those one-by-one.

BYU’s Barry Bickmore on climate-change denial. Bickmore’s talk isn’t about climate change. It’s about “How to Avoid the Truth about Climate Change“. (If you don’t have time to watch, scroll down the comments to Anna Haynes’ notes on the talk.) In other words: What techniques make it possible for honest and intelligent people to deny something that virtually all the experts in the field believe?

Bickmore knows why people don’t believe in climate change, because he used to agree with them on two points: There’s lot’s of scientific controversy about global warming, and the is theory based solely on complex computer models which are easy to screw up.

When he looked into the issue more closely, though, Bickmore discovered that each of those points is wrong: Around 97% of actively publishing climate scientists believe that human activity is causing the planet to get hotter, and their opinion is verified by a variety of techniques that may not give exactly the same projections, but do agree within the bounds of the published error estimates.

He wondered: Why didn’t I already know that? What led to my confusion?

First, there were those “thousands of scientists doubt global warming” articles. Bickford explains the strategy that generates them: First, expand the field of “experts” to include a lot of people who aren’t really experts at all, and second, report a raw number that sounds big rather than doing a poll and getting a percentage.

So the Oregon Petition (claiming there is “no convincing scientific evidence” of human-caused global warming) claims 30,000 signers. But signers don’t have to be experts or even scientists. They need only have a bachelors degree, not necessarily in a relevant field.

So why is this impressive to people — 30,000 scientists? … People think about scientists as “Well, you know science, so why don’t you tell me?” Right? But in reality we’re much more specialized than that. If you have cancer, you don’t go to your podiatrist. You go to your oncologist.

Ditto for the 900 peer-reviewed journal articles skeptical of climate change. It sounds like a big number, but in what universe of journals? Apparently, a universe big enough to include journals that publish “research” articles on dog astrology and UFO abductions.

Bickford continues, similarly destroying the “What about Galileo?” and “We don’t need experts” objections, leading to this conclusion:

There’s always room for doubt. But there has to be a point — if we’re going to make any attempt at all at trying to be objective — that we have to admit that we’re trying too hard [to avoid the truth]. And I think that for people who are on the side I was a few years ago, I think we should admit that we’ve reached that point.

Rachel Held Evans on the damage Christianity is suffering from the culture wars. After reviewing some research showing how young adults (even those raised in Christian households and even young church-goers) view Christianity’s anti-gay image negatively and are shamed by what they see as un-Christ-like hostility towards their gay and lesbian friends, Evans gives her personal observations. When she speaks at Christian colleges, she finds that “every single student I have spoken with believes that the Church has mishandled its response to homosexuality.

On the evening when North Carolina’s anti-gay Amendment One was passing by a wide margin, Evans saw a pattern in her Twitter feed:

Christians over 40 were celebrating. Christians under 40 were mourning. Reading through the comments, the same thought kept returning to my mind as occurred to me when I first saw that [pro-amendment] Billy Graham ad:

You’re losing us.

I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again…(though I’m starting to think that no one is listening):

My generation is tired of the culture wars.

Back when gays were in the closet, you could make them out to be any kind of hobgoblins you wanted. All the scary talk about a “gay agenda” depends on that image: sinister conspirators out to destroy everything good and decent in the world.

But to folks under 40, gays and lesbians are their friends from high school. They decorated homecoming floats together and washed cars side-by-side to raise money to send the French Club to Paris.

We know too many wonderful people from the LGBT community to consider homosexuality a mere “issue.” These are people, and they are our friends. When they tell us that something hurts them, we listen.

Evans says her generation wants to “stop waging war and start washing feet”. Translating for those who don’t speak Christian: They want to help people rather than beat them down, and practice their religion humbly rather than be authoritarian ideologues. If they can’t do that inside the church, she says, they’ll do it somewhere else.

Nick Hanauer. This guy was an early investor in Amazon, and then made several other piles of money by starting little-fish companies that he eventually sold to bigger fish like Microsoft. In other words: not a communist, not a fifth-generation Rockefeller who has forgotten where his trust fund came from, not an academic economist who has never made or sold anything.

Hanauer’s 6-minute TED talk addresses one question: Who are the job creators? You might expect him to answer, “People like me.” But he doesn’t.

If there was no one around who could afford to buy what we had to sell, all those companies [I helped start] and all those jobs would have evaporated. That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs. Nor do businesses, large or small.

Jobs are a consequence of a circle-of-life-like feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous cycle of increasing demand and hiring. In this sense, an ordinary consumer is more of a job creator than a capitalist like me.

… Anyone who’s ever run a business knows that hiring more people is a course of last resort for capitalists. It’s what we do if and only if rising consumer demand requires it.

After displaying graphs of rising income and falling tax rates for the rich since 1980, he comments:

If it was true that lower taxes for the rich and more wealth for the wealthy led to job creation, today we would be drowning in jobs.

But when the middle class thrives, businesses grow and everyone does better. So he concludes:

In a capitalistic economy, the true job creators are middle-class consumers. And taxing the rich to make investments that make the middle class grow and thrive, is the single shrewdest thing we can do for the middle class, for the poor, and for the rich.

At first, Hanauer’s talk didn’t appear on the TED website — not all of them do — leading National Journal to bill the talk as “too hot for TED“. This prompted a TED official to post “the real story“, claiming that the audience gave the talk mediocre ratings:

a non-story about a talk not being chosen, because we believed we had better ones, somehow got turned into a scandal about censorship.

Even that spin, though, implies that TED and its audience are not very representative. Once the YouTube got out, it quickly went viral and has been seen (so far) by over 400,000 people.

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  • KimV  On May 21, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    Ref: Rachel Held Evans on the damage Christianity is suffering from the culture wars.

    I am a Christian. My best friend & cousin is lesbian. My uncle was gay & died of AIDS. I have had extensive conversations with both of them & exposure to the LGBT community. I love them dearly, just like I love my alcoholic mother dearly. I smoke, & although my husband hates it, he still loves me. My point? I agree with Ms. Evans, but if one truly believes in God’s design for marriage, one cannot simply support someone’s “desire” for same-sex marriage anymore than one can support a 40 year old man’s desire to have sex with a 10 yr old. We all have desires, but when is it right to act or not act on those? When it hurts others? If every person born, if not aborted, were homosexual from this point forward, what would happen to the human race? The push to “normalize” a perverted sexual act to the point of marriage is demeaning to the institute of marriage itself & devalues the family unit. I am having a real hard time understanding why Christianity is being deemed such a terrible thing & why standing up for our own Creator has become so taboo. In the words of Jesus, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

    • weeklysift  On May 21, 2012 at 5:12 pm

      I’m fine with you “standing up for our own Creator” when that doesn’t mean “forcing somebody else to live the way you want them to for no good reason”. When it does mean that, I’ve got a problem with it.

      • KimV  On May 22, 2012 at 9:23 am

        For no good reason? I am a good person. As I said before, I loved my uncle, I love my cousin. My cousin receives all of my son’s clothes & necessities for her son, whom I also love. How was that son created? Because she had sex with a man, not her girlfriend. In her words, “I can have a more intimate relationship with a woman…there is a closeness there that I’ve never been able to have with a man.” Uh, yeah, that’s why we have girlfriends, ones we don’t have sex with or marry! How do you think I reconcile loving gay family & friends & not supporting their lifestyle? I can assure you, it’s with very good reasons. And, I can assure you, they struggle very much, & their decisions do hurt others. My uncle said on his deathbed, “I wish I would have fled from that lifestyle & made different choices.” So, for the non-Christian, from where is their moral compass derived? Government? Feelings? Both are fleeting & untrustworthy. And how is normalizing homosexuality to the point of recognizing same-sex marriage NOT forcing those beliefs onto my children & fellow Christians? This is the exact reason younger Christians are beginning to accept what God calls an abomination. Our country is filled with immorality more than ever before. Why? Can you not look at the big picture? You stand for NOTHING.

      • KimV  On May 22, 2012 at 10:25 am

        How do I unsubscribe? I was hoping to be enlightened, but it isn’t going to happen. Thx

      • weeklysift  On May 28, 2012 at 8:14 am

        KimV. I believe if you go to the blog and look at the top of the page, you’ll find a Following button. If you click that, it should turn to Unfollow.

        I think you’ve exemplified a major way in which the Christian Right is at odds with the rest of us: We don’t see how allowing people to live a different lifestyle “forces” anything on anyone. For example, I have been married to a woman for 28 years. For the last 8 of those years, we’ve known of (and later known personally) same-sex married couples. Our relationship — and our heterosexuality — has been unaffected. Nothing has been forced on us.

        The idea that people who don’t follow your particular version of God have no morality and stand for nothing is, quite simply, ignorant. Look around. Most of the people I see living authentically moral lives have nothing to do with right-wing Christianity.

    • Carolyn  On May 21, 2012 at 8:38 pm

      Kim, I don’t think ‘perverted sexual acts’ are the issue: on the sexual front, gay and lesbian people don’t do anything that straight people don’t sometimes do, whether within marriage or outside of committed relationships.
      Equal marriage is about forming households of committed, loving couples, where (in my experience) the fruits of the Spirit can flourish.
      But even that is by the way–marriage is also a complex of legal rights and relationships, and there’s no logical or moral justification for denying those to pairs of consenting adults.

      • KimV  On May 22, 2012 at 9:28 am

        You are correct, however, I along with many others, cannot support this type of union based on God’s design. Government may legalize it, but God will never honor it. Same-sex union & the prevalence of divorce has demeaned marriage to a piece of paper. Congratulations to our country.

  • Kim Cooper  On June 2, 2012 at 2:38 am

    Replying to KimV On May 22, 2012 at 9:28 am
    Oh, Kim, you are so wrong! God will certainly honor it, it is you who won’t. You put too much faith in the writers, translators and interpreters of the bible. God is about love — think about it — don’t you think God would prefer that homosexuals (whom He made to be homosexual) would find a mate and form a loving faithful relationship than be “promiscuous”? The people you listen to are mistaken, God is about Love.
    According to the bible, God’s main concern is that we take good care of each other. God told you not to judge others — and that includes judging when it is appropriate for them to marry or not, or whom to marry. Let them judge that for themselves, and resign as general manager of the universe. Or do you think God can’t handle the task without your help? You can relax, and “let go and let God.”

  • weeklysift  On June 2, 2012 at 8:24 am

    I just finished Evans’ book “Evolving in Monkey Town”, which is a fuller explanation of where she’s coming from. (“Monkey Town” is Dayton, TN, where the Scopes Monkey Trial was held. Evans grew up there and went to the local William Jennings Bryan College, which teaches a “Biblical worldview”.)

    The book doesn’t actually say anything about Darwin, but it’s about the evolution of her own beliefs and the evolution of Christianity in general. She continues to believe that God exists and does not change, but that human interpretations of scripture have to be held lightly.

    In every age, she says, Christianity gets infected with “false fundamentals” — things that people believe are essential to the faith, but which in fact are cultural artifacts that pass away while Christianity rolls on.

    False fundamentals are easy to see in hindsight: slavery, geocentrism, and so on. But they are hard to see in the present, so everyone needs to hold their interpretations with a little humility.

    She has rejected the idea that Christianity is about believing the right things or making converts, and now believes that Christianity is about having compassion and being of service to others. As for the afterlife, she depends on the mercy of God.


  • By Market Society « The Weekly Sift on May 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    […] “If you can’t hear it from me …” — 3 voices that might get through to …. A former climate-change denier explains why he stopped denying. A young Christian author tells her elders how their anti-gay focus is causing Christianity to lose her generation. And a successful entrepreneur explains why he isn’t a job-creator, but middle-class consumers are. […]

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