The Meliorist – It takes you…

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? 

{June 15, 2007}   Are you a feminist?

You Are 91% Feminist

You are a total feminist. This doesn’t mean you’re a man hater (in fact, you may be a man).
You just think that men and women should be treated equally. It’s a simple idea but somehow complicated for the world to put into action.

Are You a Feminist?

This is perhaps one of the worst quizzes I’ve ever taken and the fact that some people might score less than 50% on it is a little disturbing to say the least (sorry CaraMichele).  I guess I never really consider that there are still (probably a lot of) people who still hold such traditional views….I guess that just makes it all the more apparent that feminist activism still needs to occur.  I try to remain somewhat open to ideas that do not agree with mine and I can certainly see a couple of these questions being answered in the negative by large portions of the public (e.g. the one about two women being able to have and raise children).  I think it would be interesting to explore the REASONS behind the responses given…but, that’s a little complicated for Blogthings to handle, I’m sure! 

After working with young adults in the college context at both a large public university and a small, Christian university over the last decade, I realize that feminism may be backsliding.  I think that so much of our society today takes for granted the equality of women that the real story often disappears behind a veil of ignorance.  Take for example the recent findings reported by the AFLCIO:

In 2007, women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar a man is paid, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Economist Evelyn Murphy, president and founder of The WAGE Project, estimates the wage gap costs the average full-time U.S. woman worker between $700,000 and $2 million over the course of her work life.

Is this fair?  Are women still only 2/3 of a person in the work world?  I have heard repeated complaints that men are losing out on good jobs to women simply because of their gender.  But, if this is true, how are women still only making 2/3 of what a man does?  Could it be that women are getting hired for “good” jobs because they are just as qualified but won’t have to be paid as much in the end?  Could it be that women are getting hired because they are even MORE qualified but willing to work for less?  I guess I’ll continue to be a feminist (or at least 90% of one) until I can honestly say that women are treated as a whole person, not just 2/3 of one in our society.

So, are you a feminist?  Or at least 2/3 of one?

I came across this article and thought it makes a great foundation for this first substantive post at The Meliorist.  It seems, from this article, that today’s prospects for progressive activism are neither as attractive, nor as pedagogical, nor, perhaps, as successful in the long-term as they once were.  As the article tells us:  “One could question,” says Fisher, “whether Saul Alinsky, Ralph Nader or Cesar Chavez would have become successful at leading different aspects of the progressive movement if they came up through the model we have today.”

It seems that outsourcing has not only stripped numerous factory workers and call center employees of their positions, but are now threatening to displace realistic entry-level positions in activist organizations.  I was not really aware of this shift to outsourcing, and it does seem a little sad.  And I can certainly relate to the need to make sacrifices in ideological positions in order to pay the bills.  My first job out of grad school was a corporate position for a year, just so I could start making my loan payments, buy a car, rent a place of my own, etc.  I was lucky to find something that paid almost as much a year later with an outreach program that received its funding from a grant, but it was certainly not something I could count on being available to me.  Its a little depressing to see the number of my friends and classmates who truly cared about the world become desperate and take jobs “temporarily” to pay the bills that became more permanent in nature when those bills just grew as more and more expenses were added to the mix.  Its not easy to walk the walk when you can not afford a new pair of shoes!

The article discusses the importance of funding to progressive activism.  It identifies the funder of my outreach program, Soros, which provided me with five years of gainful employment at a living wage.  I wasn’t going to get rich from that job, but I could afford to pay my bills.  This is something that the article seems to indicate is a rare opportunity. 

So, what do you think?  Is this, the closing statement of the article, true?

“But until progressive veterans realize the necessity of this support, organizers like Nelson will be left with a choice: sell-out or squeak by. It’s one that committed young people like her should not be forced to make.”

n.   The belief that improvement of society depends on human effort. (

I consider myself a meliorist.  I do believe that improving society depends on the efforts of humans…my efforts, your efforts, the efforts of all those around us.  I think we can easily lose sight of this belief if we aren’t careful (or lucky).  But, daily there are so many things that happen that reminds me that others are meliorists too. 

Take today for example – it was a bad day, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.  Things haven’t been going my way financially speaking, relationships are not as good as they could be, etc., etc.  I decided to get my hair cut to make myself feel better, but the usual place I go had already closed.  I began to drive around town and happened on a hair place with a bunch of balloons out in front.  I went in, excited to find a place open on a Sunday afternoon and lo-and-behold, they were having a “cut-a-thon” – raising funds for Couture for Cancer.  They were offering haircuts at $30 (a discount over their usual rate) and goody bag with Redken items for $10 donations.  The owner, it turns out, has cancer and the Couture for Cancer raises funds to provide wigs of real hair to cancer sufferers.  This may not seem like a big deal to those of you who have no personal experience with cancer, but my mom’s two bouts of cancer showed me how important a good wig can be.  Attitude is everything when you’re fighting cancer and a good wig (as opposed to one that looks fake and feels uncomfortable) can make all the difference in the world to a chemo patient.  So, I was happy to pay my $30, get a great haircut, donate an extra $20 and get two great Redken products. 

So, this is the foundation of this blog – to encourage, report on, provide resources for, and to hopefully live the belief – that we can make the world a better place, one (perhaps small) action at a time.  So, I encourage any readers of the blog to submit their projects, tell their stories, and direct others to possible resources.  Let’s see how many meliorists we can find in the world!

et cetera