May 2016

Charles Lynn Frost

Charles Lynn Frost led our April monthly lecture, made it interactive with us, and focused on the many cultural transformations in which we are currently involved. He said that polarization is growing, creating large discrepancies between “them” and “us.”

Dr. Frost is a realist and asks himself what is possible and what is hopeless. His first case in point is, “Will the governor always be a Republican? If you remember, ‘twas not always thus. Growing up we had Cal Rampton. We can get there again.”

But currently, money is voice as defined by Citizen’s United ruling. We are surrendering political control to the large corporations. Republicans are saying their party is in shambles and has to be transformed. Trump has exploited the backward turning of the Republican Party.

Our democracy has morphed into a corporatocracy. In our medical community, St. Mark’s Hospital was run as a non-profit by the episcopal fathers and now is run by the largest hospital chain in the country and thus the world. Big Pharma has taken over the medicines and their distribution. There are basically four big companies from which we get our meds.

But alternatively, in health care, we are focusing more on wellness instead of illness, more people are growing food and/or finding out where their food is grown, slowing their purchase of packaged foods, and are exercising more.

There is also, currently, a transformational shift in religion. Millennials are leaving organized religion. This transformation is putting people into a position where they aren’t clear about how they decide what they should do and believe. There are questions such as “Who has what kind of rights? Are civil rights and human rights the same thing?”

Next Dr. Frost asked us “What do you fear?” Some answered, “Growing too old to have the ability to care for myself.” Boomers are of a quantity to overwhelm the system. Where are we going to put all the people? How will we feed them and educate them? What about their water needs? Although we are building many new senior living units, we are not building enough to house everyone.

At 60, Dr. Frost was surprised that he was still here. Most of his family are gone, and yet, here he is. Life expectancy brings up an inter- generational tension. Our children think the boomers act unbelievably entitled. And yet we look at them and think they are more entitled than any generation we have ever seen.

When Dr. Frost brought up racism, the thought was, “Isn’t that kind of over?” But really, racism seems to be more present than it used to be. By 2050, white people will be in a minority. Yet another thing to fear.

All around us there is a transformational change in negotiation and compromise. People are so polarized that no one can give an inch in any conflict. Each side is exclusionist in terms of being influenced by any other group’s ideas. We are seeing a rise of fear, shame, guilt, judgement and ignorance.

Considering sexism. Patriarchal organizations are on their way out and are terrified.

Finally, Dr. Frost asked us to ask ourselves, “How will I get involved? What can I do every day to make some change which will improve the world? What can I do that is good and yet do it with no expectations?”

He was adamant that this is essential. We need to see more of Charles Lynn Frost. Thank you, sir.

—Lauren Florence, MD


Call Me Reasonable

Test this for yourself. Ask a friend or foe, ask those standing next to you in line if they think of themselves as reasonable.

What a strange question. Of course I do, you do. And how often do we question our reasons, or even compare them from one day to the next? Our explanations on the day we have received bad news from that first flush of love or getting a check in the mail? Wouldn’t life be too miserable if we weren’t convinced of our own reasonableness?

This is happy hunting ground for research. Those who study what we say like to remind us that our ideas are transient, unstable, malleable and change from time to time, with situation. Philosophers have organized descriptions of that is logical and rhetoricians have done the same for what is a reasonable statement or defense of a statement—what is a reasonable.

One whole area of study asks us to explain what we are seeing and why. They give us one of their carefully faked photos or biographies and then ask us to make a judgement before we explain ourselves. We have no trouble coming up with a fair sounding explanation. And in general, it varies depending on who we think we are talking about.

Columbia University professor Charles Tilly’s book, Why, examines what we consider appropriate reasons for statements purporting to be factual, or truthful. Tilly, like others, knows that we don’t always explain ourselves in the same way. We have probably given a child one reason not to interrupt us. And that’s not the same reason we would give a best friend calling for sympathy, or a boss calling for rewrite, or a judge who sees us as one in a lineup of holders of traffic citations.

Tilly’s first category is one he calls conventions, a sort of standard response that we expect to be accepted without troublesome doubts or questions. This is the Donald Trump level of response, and handily functions as an assertion of what is true or likely, at the same time that it is such an attractive idea that listeners don’t need any proof, elaboration, evidence. Trump has followers who not only like what he says, they have their own conventional explanation for why they like it. “He tells it like it is.” Look at the faces of those who say this: so pleased to say no more!

Conventions are the penny farthing of discourse, the Benjamin Franklin of explanations, familiar to native English speakers. There’s a little jolt of happiness in knowing what a presidential candidate is getting at when he says he will always ’put America first. We’ve heard that before, and doesn’t it sound good?

As I write this, Trump explains Hillary Clinton’s success as ‘playing the woman card.’ Working women know what deck this is from, but do angry, frustrated mobs ask? And his classic promise is to ‘Make America Great Again,’ without specifying when we were great or why. Before we had too many regulations, I guess. The phrase rolls off the tongue, though. You can probably think of others. Early bird gets the worm, right? The problem with government is too many chiefs, not enough Indians. Also too many lower level employees doing nada. Language meant to merely feel good is part of liberal religious music. An example, for children: “Each of us is a flower, growing in the garden. Each of us is a flower, we need the sun and rain. Wind, bring the gentle rain; earth, dig my roots down deep.”

I’m sure you can see some problems, here. Some flowers don’t get a garden, or deep roots, or the rain at the right time. Some of us might be picked off by a nibbling sheep. Plus, children don’t stick where you plant them. But the point is to make the singer/audience feel good. Conventional expressions are an invaluable tool for those with authority, those who do not wish to be challenged. One child comes to tell Mama how his brother took his truck and Mama stops him. “Don’t be a tattle tale.” That is a cheap solution that does not hold up, or resolve any underlying problem (some of you had younger siblings) but it can work in the short run.

#1 Conventions aren’t always a mistake. Between parties with parity (workmates, partners, siblings, those with history and common understandings) favorite conventional responses can relieve stress, remind us of our bonds. “Like gas, bad moments will pass,” for instance.

#2 Stronger reasons for our choices are stories. What happened, here, a parent asks two quarreling teens, or a student explains why homework has not been completed. These are a mainstay of politicians speak to large audiences or we provide an explanation to a relative stranger. Stories can be manipulated. They include some details, edit others, even as they appeal to our narrative loving brains. Stories have great flexibility, can be meekly told to win sympathy, or insistent, emphatic, demanding. They work when an agreed upon moderator presides. This is a core of counseling and ‘restorative justice,’ which does not depend upon simply deciding who is right and who is wrong.

#3 Right versus wrong are part of the next category, that of codes, rules. Who would send the IRS a sad story of why taxes cannot be paid on deadline? Better to fill out the form first. Codes are impersonal ways of settling outcomes. All right, each little person who finds her shoes and puts on her coat will get a balloon. Some codes and purely social, used as class markers or the willingness to respect others: Say please. Say thank you. Excuse me, Pardon me. There’s also a whiff of social position, here. The boss probably leaves your cubicle when done talking, without a ‘bye your leave.’ And spouses of 30 years may not say, “Pass the butter, please.” Some codes are more fair than others.

#4 Logical, even technical descriptions, summaries of all available facts are expected in professional reports. They take skill in gathering all relevant data, weighing it by comparative importance. Then modifying language to suit the listener. This is often the only explanation considered ‘reasonable’ or most reasonable. But as many know, sounding carefully logical may not satisfy.

Secular Idaho Newsletter, May 2016
Jeanette Ross
In honor of the Day of Reason, May 5 2016

President’s Report

It is getting to be a busy time of year and as usual I’ve been putting things off a bit, so now I have to get with it. The Utah Pride Festival is coming up on June 3rd-5th and we will have our Humanist of Utah kiosk there for our third year. I need to round up our gear, which use to be a challenge to get all of it in a Subaru. But now that I have a full sized van, that is not a problem anymore. While it is a fair amount of work, it is always an enriching experience and a good way to help make our organization known to a lot of good people. It will be fun. I hope some of you will join the crowd and stop by our booth.

Last year we were celebrating the SCOTUS decision about Gay marriage. Happy as we were, we knew the battle wasn’t over as we now witness the ugly laws being written in some states. Nothing but mean, nasty and ugly laws

Our May general meeting will feature a forum of speakers speaking on subjects that are at the heart of what the Pride Festival is all about. You know like universal human rights.

I like forums where we can engage one another about current issues and even long standing issues. Come and join us, I’ll bring the refreshments. I repeat myself quite often when I say that I enjoy discussions with like-minded friends.

Keep an eye on our schedule, we will be having a movie night this summer and our discussion group will continue. We will have our BBQ in August. Also do not forget to RSVP to go to the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur quarry this fall. This day trip to the quarry will be fun and informative.

I do not have much else to say and I know you’re tired of me writing about gardening so I won’t say much about having peas and radishes and lettuce and spinach and…well never mind. See you soon I hope.

—Robert Lane
President, HoU


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