The Meliorist – It takes you…

{February 26, 2008}   The Meliorist Returns…

I am returning from a long hiatus….its been a really busy six months and I’ve been trying to figure out where to focus my energies.  I have realized that although I have a ton of interest areas and a lot of things I would like to do, I need to focus my energies on a few things at a time.  I’ve spent the last six months focused on my job.  Since it was my first six months in this position, I felt like it was important to focus my energies on that.  But, I’ve also dipped my toe in the water of a few other bodies of water.  Although a few of those things seemed to be right at the time, my interest of them quickly wained.  I have some issues with commitment – no doubt about that.  But, I think its more of a problem with focus.  I just have too many things I want to do in life.

So, I’m returning to this blog in the hopes of focusing some of that energy into a blog about my political frustration, sharing knowledge that may help (or frustrate) others, and hopefully to spur people to think about multiple sides of an issue.

Its almost the end of February in this leap year – and if nothing else remains the same, time always seems to fly.  But, its still pretty early in the year and I’m jumping back in at a key time in US politics.

So, here’s to getting out there, gathering information and then taking the important step of acting on it when necessary!  It takes you!


Are you one of “those people”?  The person who is constantly referring to politicians by name and state while others can not even name our Vice President (21% according to a recent poll).  If so, you may have a new place to showcase your talents and a way to boast about it that others will be more able to understand.  Enter Fantasy Congress.  Created by students at Claremont McKenna University in California, the league makes following politics and legislation a competitive affair, with points being scored for introduction of legislation, passing through committee and the big points for the legislation actually passing into law. 

I think it sounds like a great tool for getting students of government classes in high school involved in following the legislative process, getting to know their representatives, etc.  Most college students could use the knowledge base as well.  If it increases awareness about our political system and encourages citizens to know more about their government representatives, than I think its a great idea. 

If anyone has experience using it, please chime in.  I think I might give it a try.  I could probably use some education on upcoming legislation and representatives myself.  In reality, couldn’t most of us?  To read more on Fantasy Congress (and some other less intellectual fantasy leagues) see this LA Times article from July 11.

Broadsheet had this review of a new documentary about the fourteen women serving in the Senate in 2006.  A trailer of the film is available here.  It looks like an interesting film.  Although our current society has a lot of cynicism (rightfully so) toward politics, it looks like this film might show some of the positive things politicians are able to do for their constituents.  It also seems to show that politics is not as easy of a job as we might sometimes think it is.  I am definitely going to put it on my watch list!

Despite all the checks and analysis, an Orange County parking ticket bill would have missed the mark without last-minute intervention.  This article does a good job of pointing out the importance of communication and debate basics to “real-world” policymaking and advocacy.  Things like defining your terms, being as specific as possible about what it is you are advocating so everyone is on the same page, and insuring that you consider the actual impact of your advocacy before going gung-ho to convince others of your point of view…

In addition, I had an interview at Sac State a few years ago that Barbara O’Connor was involved in – she is a prolific reviewer and commentator on political communication.  It is nice to see an academic connecting their studies to the everyday happenings in our world. 

After working at a Christian university for the last three years, I have definitely wondered if what my parents would have called “liberal activists” have been on the decrease or if it was just the context I was living in.  This essay, by Matt Tabaii, a contibuting editor for Rolling Stone magazine, published by Adbusters offers a pretty scathing criticism of the current liberal movement in today’s society.  Although I often own up to my being a liberal in public, it is not always easy to do so.  So much baggage comes along with the term that it makes it almost easier to deny the affiliation.  I do not feel as strongly about it as Tabaii does, but there are some things I can definitely agree with and feel somewhat guilty about doing (or not doing as the case may be).  Towards the end of the article, he says he has changed his self-identification from liberal to progressive because he is fighting against things not fighting against people.  In response, and because I’m curious, I am going to take a closer look at the differences between liberal and progressive, and perhaps at the end of this post, you can make a more educated choice as to how to self-identify.

Liberal, from the Free Dictionary means:

1.  a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.

b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.

 Progressive, from the same source, means:

1. Moving forward; advancing.

2. Proceeding in steps; continuing steadily by increments: progressive change.

3. Promoting or favoring progress toward better conditions or new policies, ideas, or methods: a progressive politician; progressive business leadership.

Let’s take a look at each of these within the context of self-identification.

First, not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.  I think this first one is the most difficult one.  The first question we have to be able to answer is what are “established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas”?  I believe that some of what passes itself off as “anti-traditional” or “anti-authoritarian” is pretty dogmatic and authoritarian itself.  And when does something become “traditional”?  I think part of the argument being made by Tabaii is that the anti-establishment views of the sixties have now become the establishment of the new century.  So, I think this is difficult for me to answer.  I’m pretty mainstream.  I would not identify myself as anti-authoritarian or anti-establishment.  So, on this level, I guess I would not be considered to meet a strict definition of liberal.  I have not really thought about it that way, so this seems to make an important distinction.  In addition, it might explain why the people in Cat in the Hat hats with puppets keep showing up at the anti-war rallies Tabaii describes.

The second part of the definition, “free from bigotry,” is also pretty broad-based.  I am sure that most people would knee-jerk respond, “of course I’m free from bigotry.”  But, I know enough to know that most of us are not free from bigotry.  We may be better at covering up our bigotry or our bigotry may be aimed at a population not typically considered when examining bigotry, but we are bigots all the same.  I work at being open-minded and not pre-judging individuals or their ideas, but I can not claim to be 100% free from bigotry.  In addition, there is plenty of bigotry that takes place in our more liberal communities.  So, I’m not sure if this just represents a utopian view of liberalism, something for which to strive or if it means there are no liberals in the world.

Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.  This one is a bit easier for me to deal with.  I am most often in favor of proposals for reform and open to new ideas for progress.  Although I can see the value of upholding some consistency in our actions and taking less dramatic reform actions than others would advocate, I certainly think that if we do not adapt and improve, we will not be around for long.  I also consider myself to be tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others.  But, I would make an argument that this is less a conservative/liberal difference than a difference created by the individuals themselves.  I know plenty of people who would self-identify as politically conservative who are very tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others.  On the other hand, I also know a large number of self-identified liberals who are not at all tolerant of ideas and behaviors that go against their own ideologies.  So, I’m not sure I buy this as representative of liberal, but if I accept it as such, I certainly would qualify as a liberal on this point.

Liberal score:  I guess I would say I am 50% liberal.  I certainly do not think I fit the first definition in most of my actions.  But, I do feel like I fit pretty well in the second definition.  I’m not sure if I should lower the percentage due to the fact that I fail to meet what the dictionary identifies as the first definition of liberal and I do meet what it identifies as the second definition.  Perhaps the secondary status makes my meeting that definition less important. Maybe I should give myself a 40% score on the liberal scale.

Okay, now to examine my status as a progressive.

Moving forward; advancing.  I certainly hope I meet this definition.  I consider myself to be constantly searching for ways to improve myself and others.  It is one of the reasons I love teaching.  I feel like I get to see students move forward and advance in their understanding of the world and the subject matter each semester.  And each semester, I get to learn something from them that allows me to move forward as well.  So, this one I feel pretty comfortable in affirming.

Proceeding in steps; continuing steadily by increments.  Yes, yes, yes.  I am a strong believer in incremental reform.  I think attempting dramatic changes usually leads to disaster.  As humans, I think we deal better with small changes.  We are more apt to work with them, accept them, and then move on from there to make more changes on down the line.  There are many out there who think that revolution is the only possible way to change the world.  I tend to disagree.  I think revolutions usually include or are followed by violent and bloody reactions.  Small changes sneak up on people.  They don’t realize what is happening as much, so they tend to adopt new views without realizing its happening.  This definitely is the reason I DO NOT meet the first definition of liberal and do meet the defintion of progressive.  This is a very clear delineation between the two with which I can identify.

Promoting or favoring progress toward better conditions or new policies, ideas, or methods.  This, to me, is much the same as the second definition of liberal, which I felt like I met pretty well.  I will not rehash those points, but just say that the idea of a “meliorist” definitely fits in with this belief.

Progressive score:  I am 100% progressive, with confidence.  Interesting.  I can now provide a self-identification, made from a educated place that explains why I do not fit within the concept of liberal (and the anti-establishment focus was much of the “baggage” I referred to earlier), but can comfortably identify as a progressive. 

I am glad I did this.  I feel much more comfortable and focused in my ideology and efforts in the world.  I think that Tabaii may have oversimplified a bit in his article about the difference between progressive and liberal.  I also think there are many out there who identify themselves and/or others as one or the other without really knowing the differences in the definitions.  I feel more knowledgable for exploring this, and I thank Tabaii for giving me the impetus.  I hope that some of you are better able to define yourselves after reading this.

I will state outright that I am an avowed peacenik.  I have a hard time believing that violent force is justified (or successful) in the vast majority of international incidents.  But, I know that 9/11 has made that a sometimes seemingly indefensible position.  I will say that if we KNEW for certain that the planes were headed for buildings, than perhaps I would support destroying the planes before they destroyed the buildings, but we didn’t have that choice.  And we certainly could not prove the connections between many of the places we bombed and the 9/11 attacks (or possible future attacks).  Self-defense is important and justified, but at what point do we get to claim self-defense without allowing others that same benefit?  So, I have a hard time seeing military action as justifiable in most instances, but I also try to understand where those who do support military action are coming from.  And sometimes they have pretty good (and realistic verses my more idealistic) points to make. 

But, I just read at about the recent Republican debates and the candidates’ responses to the question of preemptive NUCLEAR attack against Iran if they fail to fall in line with our requests in their nuclear weapons development.  Now, even if I ignore the total hypocrisy of saying, “let’s nuke ’em so they don’t get a nuke,” I can not possibly understand someone saying that using nuclear weapons in the Middle East is a good (and justifiable) idea.  But, I guess four of the candidates came straight out and said it.  A related blog post by William M. Arkin at gives direct quotes from those candidates and a post-debate interview of Fred Thompson (of Law and Order fame – why doesn’t Jack run instead?!?!?) had him agreeing.  The remaining six candidates had the chance to speak up on the issue following the direct questioning, but only one, Ron Paul, chose to speak out against the use of preemptive attacks.  The former Libertarian candidate responded to a question from the audience on moral issues faced by our society by saying that he saw the viewpoint of the others as a moral issue.  I’m not Republican and I’m not really Libertarian (although I sometimes find myself leaning that way, especially with our current government), but this is a guy I definitely need to look at further. 

I have long been disappointed in the political debates that happen in our system.  As an instructor of argumentation and communication and a coach of intercollegiate debate, these debates often make me cringe.  So, I have to admit that I don’t tune in to the vast majority of debates, choosing instead to follow up on them through the media and blog coverage.  It is interesting that it was incredibly difficult to locate any comments on these answers in the mainstream media. and the World Socialists were the primary reactions I saw, with the blog from the writer giving some coverage to it.  But, I can’t figure out if this is because the media is trying to cover up the candidates true positions or if they view this as an issue that just is not that controversial.  Could it be that the possibility of using nuclear weapons in retaliation, but especially PRE-EMPTIVELY, is not controversial?!?! 

What do you think?  Is using nuclear weapons, even in a “tactical” and “limited” attack a-okay in today’s international context?  If you think it is controversial, than why not more coverage of these responses in the mainstream media? 

et cetera