Sensitivity about the “Ground Zero Mosque”

This piece from Will Saletan is actually the best thing I have read so far on the “Ground Zero Mosque.”  Their earlier argument having failed in the light of day, Republican elites are now turning to the “sensitivity” issue; i.e., it may be legal to place the Islamic Center there, but we need to be sensitive to the feelings of 9/11 survivors, etc.  Saletan does a brilliant job deconstructing what this sensitivity is actually all about:

You can’t tell somebody not to build a house of worship somewhere just because the idea upsets you. You have to figure out why you’re upset. What’s the basis of your discomfort? Why should others respect it? For that matter, why should you?…

With the exception of Palin, these are not stupid people. They’re searching our sensitivity for an underlying rationale that justifies the exclusion of mosques from the vicinity of Ground Zero. And they aren’t finding one.

What they’re finding instead is group blame. The destruction of the World Trade Center “was an attack in the name of Islam,” says Giuliani…

This is the true thinking behind the anti-mosque sensitivity: Muslims committed the massacre. Therefore, no Muslim house of worship should be built there.

It’s natural to be angry at Muslims for 9/11. In fact, it’s natural to want to kill them. We’ve hated and killed each other for centuries. You kill us; we kill you. The “you” is collective. You aren’t exactly the infidel who slew my grandfather. But you’re close enough…

But if our revulsion at the idea of a mosque near Ground Zero is irrational—if it’s based ongroup blame and a failure to distinguish Islam from terrorism—then maybe it isn’t the mosque’s planners who need to rise above their emotions. Maybe it’s the rest of us.

Once we recognize the sensitivity argument for what it is—an appeal to feelings we can’t morally justify—there’s no good reason why the Islamic center shouldn’t be built at its planned site, in the neighborhood where its imam already preaches and its memberswork and congregate. Asking them to reorder their lives to accommodate our instinctive reaction is wrong. We can transcend that reaction, and we should.

Read the whole damn thing.  And send it to your Islamophobic friends and relatives.

When parents can’t let go

Fun read in the Times about parents who just cannot let go when their children go off to college.  There’s some great anecdotes.  Apparently, many universities now even have “goodbye” ceremonies to let parents know they really need to leave and have otherwise taken to explicit language on the matter, lest mom and dad start showing up to Johnnie’s classes with him.

As is often the case, I suspect the Times overplays the story, but there is obviously something very real at play.  This was certainly not the case when I started college exactly 20 years ago.  I suspect that cell phones are, at least in part, to blame.   Parents have become used to being in instant and constant contact with the progeny in a way that was simply not technologically feasible in previous generations.  Heck, when I started Duke, many of us actually still worried about the costs of long distance phone calls.  I’m sure some people I knew talked to their parents every day, but it was surely a small minority.  These days, whenever a student I’m talking to interrupts a conversation to see who’s calling on their cell phone, it’s as likely as not to be a parent.  I was a huge momma’s boy, but my first year of college was a great step forward for me in actually learning that I could be independent.  I do wonder how much we are stifling kid’s independence with modern, overbearing parenting.  I’ll report back in 8 years when David heads off to college.  As of now, I definitely do not plan to talk to him every day.

Self government

John Sides, filling in for Ezra Klein, does a nice job bringing the Political Science on the issue of “self government.”

Over the weekend, John Fund’s Wall Street Journal column profiled pollster Scott Rasmussen.  Fund quotes Rasmussen saying this:

“Americans don’t want to be governed from the left or the right,” Scott Rasmussen tells the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conference of 1,500 conservative and moderate legislators. “They want, like the Founding Fathers, to largely govern themselves with Washington in a supporting — but not dominant — role. The tea party movement is today’s updated expression of that sentiment.

On his Web site, Rasmussen says something similar:

The American people don’t want to be governed from the left, the right or the center. The American people want to govern themselves.

It’s a little distressing that someone who’s job is to measure (and presumably understand) public opinion, is so off-base on this.  I love that Ezra Klein actually knows political science.  It would be nice if Scott Rasmussen did.  Sides fills him in:

Focus group participants were skeptical that the American people wanted to be responsible for political decision-making.  They said that people are too busy, or too apathetic, or too uninformed, or simply not smart enough…

According to Hibbing and Theiss-Morse, the public would rather have other people make the decisions, so long as those people are “empathetic, non-self-interested decision makers.”  About a third of the public is willing to delegate authority to such people even if they are not elected

There is no question that Americans have lost trust in government.  That is the predictable consequence of any recession.  It is far less certain, however, that they want to take responsibility for governing themselves.

Of course, this may not be fully coherent, but nobody who actually understands public opinion has ever suggested that the public has coherent and rational views  about government and politics.

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