Sunday, January 08, 2012


Dehumanization occurs primarily as a result of being part of a larger specialized system, with a sense of futility of being able to change the course of that system. A person who cannot face shame, guilt or pain, of what harm the system that he is part of is doing to others, either rationalizes it by perceiving his role as fragmented and refusing to acknowledge responsibility for what the system is doing, and what he is doing as a part of that system, or by viewing those hurt by the system as subhuman and somehow deserving the pain. The major example would be Nazi Germany, where many Germans were "just following orders" (as Adolf Eichmann said) and where the Jews and other minorities, as well as disabled people, were portrayed as less than human and not deserving to live or to be treated with freedom and dignity. Other genocides have also taken place in modern times, usually based on a similar rationale.

A part of dehumanization is blocking out one's emotional feelings of empathy toward others. Sometimes it would seem necessary to do so in order to help others, such as when a doctor performs surgery. In general though, by blocking out such feelings, one not only can become more cruel toward others, but also toward oneself; in that he becomes a more repressed person, less able to share feelings of love or concern for others. Furthermore, in a large world such as ours, it is natural for one to care little about mass tragedies happening elsewhere, yet much more concerned about the trials of one friend, or a pet. The "good German" attitude caused by dehumanization becomes a vicious cycle: as people see their roles as fragmented, they become apathetic and allow those in power to accumulate even more power.

There have been suggestions for minimizing dehumanization. For example, encourage people to exercise more power in the decision-making process. Another example, educate children toward rehumanization and against behavior that might lead to dehumanization. And encourage people to think more in terms of the future, including the long-range future, so they may respond to situations which might lead to dehumanization. In Christian terms, we can each begin with ourselves, acknowledge our guilt and responsibility for our own bad actions, acknowledge our responsibility as part of a larger system, and become less apathetic, with the hope that we can each see ourselves and others as fully human.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Confusing filibusters with majority vote

In her column today conservative pundit Michelle Malkin denounces the recess appointment of Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She says:

"The nomination of former Democratic Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to serve as Dodd-Frank regulatory enforcer had been soundly defeated in the Senate before Christmas."

No his nomination was not defeated. A majority of Senators approved his nomination, by a vote of 53 to 45. Constitutionally only a majority approval in the Senate is required for presidential nominations. But there were not enough votes to overcome the filibuster. And Republicans made it clear they do not oppose Richard Cordray himself, they oppose the agency which he now heads. The way to exercise their opposition to an agency set up to protect consumers against financial fraud is to repeal it, which they can do once they gain control of the Senate.

Maybe Democratic members of the Senate should just bring sleeping bags and cots and forget about trying to get a super majority vote for every piece of legislation or presidential nomination opposed by the obstructionist Republicans.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Government must function in a democracy

Republicans in Washington are expressing thier usual fake moral outrage, in this case because of a recess appointment by President Obama of Richard Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general, as the new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As a form of retaliation, it seems the GOP senators may refuse to approve several other nominees for positions involving the regulation of the banking industry.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a legal agency established by the government. Republicans are still a minority in the Senate so the only way they can prevent it from functioning is through the filibuster. As reported, they don't object to the nominee, they object to the agency itself. Perhaps when Republicans regain control of the Senate and White House, they can abolish the agency, as well as other regulatory agencies that protect the American people from predatory practices of corporations. In the meantime, our government still has to function, and if the only way to do so in some cases is through recess appointments, then so be it.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Catholic politicians vs. the Vatican

Rick Santorum in his almost victory speech last night, cited his religious faith as applied to his political views. But he fell short. He is a conservative Catholic politician, but unfortunately in his stand on political issues, he places his conservativism, as defined in American terms, above his Catholicism. In this sense he is not that different from liberal Catholic politicians such as Nancy Pelosi or John Kerry. The latter would agree with the Vatican's stand on a wide range of issues, such as protecting the environment, opposition to the death penalty, torture and preemptive wars, opposition in the words of Pope Benedict XVI to the “scandal of glaring inequalities” between rich and poor, and other social injustices. Santorum differs from the Vatican and Catholic bishops on these issues, but shares their stand on abortion and gay marriage. On the other hand, liberal politicians share the view of the Vatican on these issues, while differing with them on abortion and gay marriage.

There does not seem to be any Catholic politician in America, on either side of the political spectrum, who embraces the whole Catholic doctrine, but instead both conservative and liberals Catholics cite those portions of Catholic teachings which support their political positions while ignoring others. The same general principle applies to other Christian politicians. In general, conservative Christians are more faithful in adhering to the original doctrines of Christianity, except when it comes to teachings that address social inequalities and injustices.

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