17 May 2010

Beyond Freedom and Control: Autonomy Supportive Politics

The child who grows up without the laws, education, or health care is not free: he's been abandoned. There is a difference.

I demonstrated my stupidity again this weekend trying to look smart. (Which might, upon reflection, be the most effective route to looking stupid.) I tried to argue for universal health care with a man who, I’m pretty sure, has been a Republican since he was 12. We agreed that catastrophic health care would be a better option. I think it would be best to simply tell every American that they will not go bankrupt because of bad health and ensure that their personal expenses don’t exceed, say, $5,000. (And yes, this would have to be adjusted for people who are even more poor, but not as much as one might think. But I digress.) We disagreed about whether there ought to be universal health care regardless of the plan.

For me it is simple. If a 19 year old living on his own, working a job without benefits, should get cancer he should not have to die for lack of money. The market is a marvelous mechanism for distributing cars, designer jeans, and glazed donuts. It should have no say in whether someone lives or dies. (And if you agree with this, you do believe in universal health care. You may simply disagree on the extent of it and details.)

And reflecting on this, I realized that one of the most influential books I’ve read turns out to define my politics as well as my ideals for managing, teaching, or parenting.

Edward Deci wrote Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation. In it, he offers three models of parenting or managing. The first is controlling, where the locus of control is with the parent or manager and where the child or employee is expected just to follow the lead. This is actually pretty effective at certain stages of development. The other model is abandonment, where the parent or manager essentially doesn’t care, leaving the child or employee to work things through on her own. Some call it freedom. Again, this could be effective at times. But Deci argues that the real purpose of any kind of leadership is to work towards autonomy for the individual. He advocates autonomy-supportive behavior that is intent on creating the ability for self-directed behavior. This is enabling and like the abandonment model shifts the locus of control to the individual and like the controlling model offers help.

For me, this seems like a wonderful model for government. Things like public education, health care, and police protection enable individuals to live their own lives. A good government does not control or abandon its citizens: it enables.

Conceptually this is such a simple thing that I would imagine everyone would agree with it and perhaps all political disagreement traces back to differences in opinion in trade offs. (For instance, conservatives who oppose Obama’s health care hate being told that they have to buy some health insurance plan. They find it controlling. I guess the same could be said of seat belts or motorcycle helmets. For some, the law is controlling because it makes so many people do what they wouldn’t. For others, it is enabling because it leaves so many more brains in skulls, giving individuals the possibility of autonomy.)

But for me, realizing the applicability of Deci's model to politics was an epiphany of sorts (what Hyrum Smith of Franklin-Covey would call a “blinding flash of the obvious”), helping to define so many of the policies that are important to me, from generously funding basic research to education to making it easier for people to start businesses.

13 May 2010

Let's Make the Ten Commandments Law

I think it is time to take the advice of Sarah Palin and so many others and make the 10 commandments the law of our land. For those of you who may not recall just what those commandments are, let’s go through them (The New International Version is, by most accounts, the most accurate translation), using Exodus 20: 3-17.

1. "You shall have no other gods before me.
Some argue that this is evidence that the Jews were not so much monotheists as a people who believed in many gods (sort of polytheists) but only worshipped one. Such arguments begin to muddle things, it seems to me, and I’ll just go with the more literal interpretation: the first commandment suggests that we must accept the God of Moses. Simply put, we need to become Jewish. This will be a change for the nearly 98% of Americans who are not, but if we’re serious about inviting God’s blessing I don’t think that this is too much to ask.

2. “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
So, no images of lions, cougars, and marlins that we might idolize. Hmm. So, no sports team mascots as near as I can tell. To me, this can only mean that we stop idolizing sports teams and their stars, so starting with high school teams we’ll do away with competitive sports. Again, this should not be too much to ask when we think of what is at stake. (And really, I'm open to other suggestions but I will simply say that if we start dismissing commandments starting at the second one, we run the risk of ending up where we are now.)

3. "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”
This might mean no cussing that involves taking the Lord’s name in vain (which always seemed distasteful to me anyways). It might also mean that one not mis-use the name of God in political matters, using the approval you imagine he has given you to win votes.

4. "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
So, simple enough. Sort of. No businesses will be open on a Saturday. I’m not sure how we’ll handle businesses like rest homes, hospitals, and emergency services but I’m sure we can make exceptions. It’ll just be the shopping malls, grocery stores, TV stations, radio stations, Internet sites, gas stations, hotels, and, of course, sports complexes that will close down from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown.

5. "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”
This seems simple enough (although it may be more involved than merely sending a card on Mother’s Day).

6. "You shall not murder.”
Well, this will save on military expenses, end the debate on abortion AND capital punishment, and add to longevity as we all become vegetarians.

7. "You shall not commit adultery.”
Given that half of marriages end in divorce and about half of married people have committed adultery, this one is going to require an adjustment. For starters, we simply outlaw divorce. In fact, I think it would be a good idea to require all divorced or separated people to get back with their first spouse. Or become celibate. Again, I’ll leave the details of this re-partnering program to the politicians.

8. "You shall not steal.”
Presumably this would not apply retroactively. It would be a shame to have to give this beautiful country back to the Indians.

9. "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
This has always seemed like a great idea to me. Seriously. But if we’re going to treat it as law of the land rather than a simple injunction for believers, perhaps we should make use of the affordable technology that would allow us to monitor anyone at all times. (This could also come in handy for determining things like adherence to the 5th or 7th commandments.) This way, anyone falsely accused could produce video proof that the neighbor is lying. Trials would involve footage showing what the neighbor did or said. No more, “he said,” “she said.”

10. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
I’ll leave this to theologians to explain in more detail but I’m pretty sure that among other things, this means no advertising. Properly done, only seduction is more effective for making people covet. I realize that this would hurt a major industry and leave TV, radio, and the Internet without a source of revenue and likely depress GDP as well, but again … this should not be too much to ask of a country sincere about winning God’s approval.

Shalom. And call your mother.

07 May 2010

Those Crazy Catholics

Am I the only who suspects that the Roman Catholic Church would - in a heart beat - seize control of governments again if they thought they could get away with it?

I heard on BBC radio today that the Philippine government is finally allowing a gay party to run after a court overturned the decision to keep them out because they might offend religious groups. The Catholic Church protests the decision to allow this political option.

Catholics throughout the US are protesting Arizona's new anti-illegal immigrant law that might result in fewer Latinos (and fewer Catholics).

Catholics in the US for years have objected to the legal freedom of choice for pregnant women because this choice contradicts their religious beliefs.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is in trouble for ignoring laws regarding child molesters.

So, the officials of the Catholic Church want to impose their religious beliefs onto others in the form of laws but does not want the laws of the land to apply to them? Weren't they forced to give up this arrangement shortly after the Dark Ages? And could they be more obvious about how eager they are to again have such an arrangement?

But I guess no political leader is going to have the courage to rebuke a group that claims to represent more than a billion people. I liked it better when they were a definite minority in this country and were eager to prove that they had no political ambitions but merely wanted the freedom to worship in peace. And maybe that's the secret to success: lots and lots of denominations so no one denomination feels safe to impose their beliefs on anyone else but enough religious people that everyone is eager to maintain religious freedom.

It is becoming more and more credible that the current pope last served as head of the office that once ruled over the Inquisition. One can only speculate that he spent too much time in the archives.

Nick Clegg - Britain's New (favored) Beta Male

Intriguingly, some research into primate behavior suggests that the beta male actually does better than the alpha male. Eager to keep his position atop the heap, and needing a key ally to do this, the alpha male is more likely to favor the beta male with choice food and females so as to not lose the beta male to a competing alpha.

In yesterday's election in Britain, the Conservative Party won but did not win enough. That is, in order to rule, the conservatives will have to form a coalition government with another party. The problem with this is that, in this sense, the Labour Party is tied with the Conservative Party. That is, whichever party is able to partner with the third-place Liberal Democrats will rule. And this would appear to make Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg Britain's favored beta male. Without Clegg's cooperation, neither Labour nor Conservative can rule.

This is a fascinating election for so many reasons but one, of course, is that Britain faces very similar issues as the US. The most obvious similarity is the need to deal with the aftermath of the financial crisis and Great Recession.

To me, it's unfortunate that the Conservative Party did not win outright. The Brits will run a record deficit (11% of GDP) this year and the definite impression I got was that Cameron (the Conservatives leader) was more interested in reducing spending than slashing taxes, which should make Conservatives far more effective at reducing the deficit. Further, as mentioned in the last post, I got the distinct impression that Cameron has a better plan for implementing real reform in the city (London's Wall Street, or financial community).

But instead, Nick Clegg will likely dictate terms to the next administration. What left me unimpressed with Clegg was his seeming reliance upon general voter discontentment with the two main parties. Imagine a candidate standing up between Bush and Kerry and saying, "C'mon. You're not happy with these two. You know it. Vote for me." Crafting an effective policy requires doing more than expressing disgust with the main parties. I never really heard how Clegg's Liberal Democrats offered a coherent difference from either main party. And yet he will get to be the favored beta male. Watching the coalition government rule may well be as fascinating as watching the election. The jockeying for position is not over yet.

--------- post script
Oh, and by the way, my politics have not changed. I envy the Brits their conservative party. Sometimes a country needs to move in the direction of self reliance and smaller government and sometimes it needs to move in the direction of more regulation and public programs. Neither direction is a foregone conclusion any more than you can say whether you'll more often turn right or left on your drive to the store. But here in the states, our conservative party has been hijacked by people who deny climate change is a risk, deny health care is a right, and whose only economic development trick seems to be cutting taxes. If the Republicans looked more like Britain's Conservative Party, they'd be hard to beat. Instead, they're ruled by obstructionists reactionaries who deify Ronald Reagan but would reject him as a candidate for having actually raised taxes twice. But people do learn.