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March 31, 2005

possible break in "service"

I'm moving my site to a new host today—so that I can install new software to defeat various forms of spam. Once the process is complete, everything (including this blog's address) will be exactly the same, from a visitor’s perspective. However, during the process, the site may be "down" for a time. Since anything I post today may disappear in the transition, I'm not going to write a substantive contribution. I should be able to post safely tomorrow.

Posted by peterlevine at 2:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 30, 2005

the impact of religion on the 2004 election

On p. 29 of Trends 2005, a report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, there is a fascinating chart. (Go directly to the pdf.) Luis Lugo and his colleagues have estimated the importance of various demographic factors in predicting whether an individual voted Democratic or Republican in 2004. They found that church attendance was as important as race; almost twice as important as living in a union household; 2.5 times more important than the urban/rural split; between three and four times more important than income, age, gender, or region (North vs. South); and 5.6 times more important than education. The impact of race was "almost entirely a function" of the Democratic leanings of African American voters; but "the relationship between church attendance and vote choice is seen across the full range of the population." The impact of church attendance was about one fifth greater in 2004 than in 2000. Gender became less important.

Immediately after the election, many Democrats panicked when they saw "moral values" appear as the top category of issues in the exit polls. Then came a backlash. Commentators correctly noted that "moral values" may have come first, but they only attracted 22% of the whole electorate. Besides, "moral values" is an ambiguous phrase, since it can mean opposition to abortion and gay marriage, or support for those things--or even opposition to Abu Ghraib and Enron.

Even granting those points, there was a reason for the panic. America is divided into red and blue not by income, education, or beliefs about economic policy-- and not even by state and region--but above all by race and religion. This is bad news for anyone who wants the public to support more progressive economic policies. It is also bad news for libertarian Republicans, who find themselves belonging to a party whose constituency cares about religion, not taxes or welfare programs. It's no wonder that actual federal economic policy is neither progressive nor libertarian, but simply shortsighted and profligate.

However, politics is fluid, not static. I continue to believe that people ignored their own economic situations in 2004 and voted according to their religious identities because Republicans clearly explained how they would promote socially conservative policies, while Democrats offered no persuasive solutions to deep economic problems, such as the loss of manufacturing jobs and persistent poverty. If we had a competition between "traditional values" and economic solutions, I think the latter might win. If, however, a campaign pits traditional values against nothing new, people will vote according to their religion every time.

Posted by peterlevine at 10:04 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 29, 2005

McCain and '08

If John McCain runs strongly for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and the Democrats also find a genuine reformer, then we could be poised for one of those periodical reform moments that I described in The New Progressive Era. In years like 1912 (and to a lesser extent, 1974-6), Americans have supported reforms in the public interest or for the common good.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with sticking up for your own interests or those of your group. In fact, we need disadvantaged people to advocate on their own behalf. However, democracy tends to neglect goods that really are in everyone's interests, because such goods are not especially important to any particular group. Public goods don't have PACs. Examples include a balanced budget, competitive elections and high turnout, freedom of information, and the rule of law. Fortunately, when American governments do serious damage to these goods over many years, reform movements sometimes arise that emphasize changes in the political process to promote good government and democracy.

Although John McCain has some beliefs and commitments with which I personally disagree, he stands for a robust version of procedural reform, including tighter regulation of campaign finance, more fiscal responsibility, tax simplification, federalism, and less "corporate welfare." If he is smart, McCain can tie his version of reform to genuine conservative values while appealing to diverse Americans with arguments about the public interest.

Ideally, a major Democratic candidate would vie with McCain for the reform mantle, but with a slightly more "progressive" twist. While fiscal responsibility and federalism do serve the common good, a Democratic reformer could put more emphasis on deliberate efforts to empower ordinary people politically. In fact, the full list of needed procedural reforms is quite long, and it would be great if both campaigns scrambled to claim them:

  • campaign finance reform

  • non-partisan redistricting

  • tax simplification

  • deep cuts in wasteful government programs. (Democrats, out of power and able to operate freely, should go after waste in Agriculture, Small Business, HUD, Energy, Commerce, AID, and of course Defense--agencies that are full of corporate welfare. In fact, they might propose terminating at least one domestic federal agency.)

  • radical efforts to simplify (but not weaken) the regulatory apparatus and to increase public engagement in rulemaking

  • civic education, broadly conceived

  • a decentralized, diverse, net-based alternative to PBS

  • restoration of the rule of law and civil rights after the USA Patriot Act
  • McCain is obviously the Republican reform candidate, the Teddy Roosevelt of our time. It's less clear who represents the Democrats' strongest reformer, the Woodrow Wilson of 2008. Senator Feingold has reform credentials and enough personal integrity, but I'm not sure at this point that he has a chance for the presidential nomination. Several other potential candidates (especially governors) could develop a robust reform agenda if they started now.

    Posted by peterlevine at 11:11 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    March 28, 2005

    Journal of Public Deliberation

    I am proud to announce the debut of the Journal of Public Deliberation, a peer-reviewed, free, online, "open access" publication that will include scholarly articles and essays aimed at practitioners. I serve on the editorial board and have spent considerable time over the last six months reviewing articles and discussing matters of editorial policy. The first issue contains five articles:

  • Christopher F. Karpowitz and Jane Mansbridge, "Disagreement and Consensus: The Need for Dynamic Updating in Public Deliberation" (This is a version of a chapter from the Handbook of Public Deliberation that John Gastil and I are editing. It tells a cautionary tale about a deliberative process that went wrong because the pressure to obtain consensus about the "common good" was unfair to the less advantaged people in the meetings. A standard public hearing turned out, in this case, to work better.)

  • Peter Muhlberger, "The Virtual Agora Project: A Research Design for Studying Democratic Deliberation" (This is an essay on an important experiment in online deliberation.)

  • Ethan J. Leib, "The Chinese Communist Party and Deliberative Democracy" (A report of an extraordinary meeting that convened some of the West's leading authorities on deliberative democracy along with leaders of the Chinese CP.)

  • Ramon Daubon, "A Primer for Promoting Deliberative Democracy and the Dynamics of Development at the Grassroots" (An essay by a Kettering Foundation colleague on deliberation as a tool in economic development)

  • Peter Levine, Archon Fung, and John Gastil, "Future Directions for Public Deliberation" (A longish piece by yours truly and two friends.)
  • Posted by peterlevine at 8:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 25, 2005

    ethical criticism of literature

    Wayne Booth (in The Company We Keep, 1998) observed that most people, including most sophisticated literary critics, evaluate literature ethically, asking whether particular stories are good for us to read and how we should react to them. Yet literary theory since the 1940s has usually been hostile to ethical evaluation. I've just come across an article by Noel Carroll from 2000 ("Art and Ethical Criticism: An Overview of Recent Directions for Research," Ethics, 110, pp. 350-387) that begins with a similar observation: "Of course, despite the effective moratorium on ethical criticism in philosophical theories of art, the ethical evaluation of art flourished. ... Indeed, with regard to topics like racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on, it may even be the case today that the ethical discussion of art is the dominant approach on offer by most humanistic critics, both academics and literati alike."

    At the core of Carroll's article are three theoretical objections to ethical criticism, and his response to each. I would paraphrase them as follows:

    criticism #1: The value of art cannot be ethical, because some great art has little or no ethical purpose (consider purely abstract music); and some art is good even though its ethical meaning is on balance bad (e.g., Wagner).
    response: Not all art has the same kind of value. Ethical evaluation of some genres is appropriate, but not of others. The ethical value of art is only one kind of value, but it is important.

    criticism #2: The moral propositions implied by even the best works of art are usually unoriginal, and sometimes even trivial. For example, "Perhaps the moral of Emma is that people (such as Emma) should not treat persons (such as Harriet) simply as means." But Kant was much clearer on that point. "If James's Ambassadors shows the importance of acute perceptual discrimination for moral reflection, well, Aristotle already demonstrated that."
    response: One kind of knowledge is propositional--"knowledge that." Art rarely provides such knowledge in sophisticated or original forms. But there is also "knowledge how" (i.e., skill). And there is "knowledge of what it is like," or "knowledge of what it would be like." Art provides these forms of knowledge much better than moral philosophy does. For instance, Aristotle said: Be perceptive of other people. James shows what moral perception is like, and gives us opportunities to practice it.

    criticism #3: The moral consquences of art are unresearched and probably impossible to predict. Who knows whether reading James makes people finely perceptive of others' inner states? Maybe it causes a backlash against such concerns. Who knows whether a racist novel creates racists or makes people angry about racism? Who even knows whether reading novels is good or bad for character?
    response: For thousands of years, people have been interested in the ethical meaning or structure or purpose of particular works of art, quite apart from their effects on any particular audience. For instance, we can discuss Henry James' ethical intentions in writing The Ambassadors . Or we can discuss the ethical meaning of the text (leaving James' intentions aside). It is yet a third question whether The Ambassadors has, or could have, a positive effect on readers of any particular type.

    If people misread a book, that can be because the author is insufficiently clear and persuasive (a fault in the text), or because the audience has been inattentive (their fault), or because the author holds bad values and the audience chooses to interpret him critically and subversively. In any case, the ethical function and the moral consequences of a story are different. Most readers are rightly concerned with the former, because our job in reading is to decide what a book means, not what most other people may think of it.

    Posted by peterlevine at 3:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 24, 2005

    New York

    I was in New York City today on business. My meetings were good, but draining; they have left me too tired to write anything of much substance. Waiting at La Guardia for the shuttle back to DC, I'm remembering how I spent some spare minutes during the day: gawking at the midtown skyscrapers, admiring the murals in Rockefeller Center and the interior of St. Patrick's, watching the skyline from Queens, and (best of all) visiting Christie's auction house. Asian objects were on sale, including Samurai armor, Indian statues from the 2-3rd century AD (carved under heavy Greek influence), and a huge, serene Buddha. The showroom looked exactly like a museum, except that people were handling the objects, peering into the ancient Chinese vases, stroking Khmer statuettes, rotating porcelein busts on their bases--just like the shoppers across the street at Gap.

    Posted by peterlevine at 6:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 23, 2005

    high schools in a high-risk era

    (Macon, Georgia) At last weekend's meeting, we discussed economic insecurity and its effects on young people. Many high school students believe (whether or not it's true) that their lifetime prospects of earning satisfactory wages depend on their climbing as high as possible on a ladder that ascends from their local community college to the branch campus of their state university, on to the flagship state school and regional private colleges, and then all the way up to the summits of Harvard and MIT. Their sense of insecurity and omnipresent risk (some scholars argue) leads to a "rat-race" mentality in which everything they do only matters if they can put it on their resumes and use it for admission to college. They feel compelled to obtain marks of success that they can advertise. They see other students as competitors and doubt that local groups and networks have much value.

    To the extent that these generalizations apply, they could help to explain some well-documented findings: young people have low and declining trust for their peers and they are less likely to join formal voluntary groups than in the past. Increasing numbers of adolescents report that they volunteer, but often their participation is episodic (see pdf); and many cannot explain to interviewers why they serve. Some admit that they are basically "padding" their resumes. There may be a sense of hollowness in today's adolescence, as if what you do when you're 16 is simply practice--a competitive "try-out"--for life that really begins after graduation.

    Any change in this situation would presumably require economic growth, greater financial security, and more sharing of risk. After all, real family income has been basically flat since the early 1970s, and families are shouldering more individualized risk as unions shrink and health coverage gets worse. These trends could have negative effects on adolescents' sense of security, mutual trust, and concern for their communities.

    I'm afraid there is not much that I can do (or participate in doing) that can mitigate such pervasive social problems. However, I am trying to become involved in the debate about high school reform, and lately I've wondered whether comprehensive reform might make a positive difference. After all, today's large, anonymous high schools are relentless sorting mechanisms. Their wide variety of courses, extracurricular activities, and social groups create numerous internal competitions and hierarchies. Students are left to make their own choices among these offerings. If they aren't ambitious enough, then they cannot ascend very high on the college hierarchy; but it's just as damaging if they aim too high and get poor grades. Since young people see their performance as having dire economic consequences, they agonize about how to make themselves look successful.

    Again, the high school "rat-race" is largely a phenomenon of increased insecurity and individualized risk in the broader economy. Nevertheless, it seems possible that students would feel more comfortable and fulfilled if they attended small high schools with coherent, required curricula, lots of opportunities for participation in diverse groups, partnerships with adult institutions, and guidance from teachers who knew them as individuals. These are hallmarks of whole-school reform.

    Posted by peterlevine at 7:42 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    March 22, 2005

    two levels of politics

    (Macon, Georgia.) I have been recalling the conversations last Friday and Saturday at Catholic University, especially some comments by Lew Friedland and Carmen Sirianni. The following is my own view, but I believe it's generally consonant with theirs.

    We need two levels of politics. One involves major policy issues, the kind of questions that are ultimately decided by legislative votes, court decisions, and referenda. In considering these issues (e.g., taxation, welfare, war, or the right to abortion), people fall into ideological groups that are represented by major organizations and parties. Voting is a citizen's main source of power. Debating, organizing, petitioning, and raising consciousness are important, but they count only insofar as they change votes. Free and fair elections are what make this level of politics democratic.

    Politics at the macro-level can sometimes be "win-win" and creative. Wise legislation and competent public administration can make everyone better off. Nevertheless, a lot of macro-level politics is zero-sum, because (for example) a victory for abortion rights is a loss for abortion opponents--and vice-versa. Indeed, this level of politics should be competitive, because tough competition between parties and ideologies gives citizens choices and keeps incumbents honest. Besides, when parties are forced to compete, they mobilize ordinary people to engage as voters and activists; thus competition encourages participation. Perhaps the worst flaw in today's macro-politics is a lack of fair competition caused by gerrymandered electoral districts, incumbents' advantages in campaign finance, and various impediments to insurgent campaigns and movements.

    There is another level of politics--most common at the local level and within institutions--that involves direct participation. At this level, many of the people who will be directly affected by a decision should personally participate in deliberations about it. For example, before a religious congregation makes a major financial decision, often the whole group discusses it. Furthermore, there is no need to isolate discussion from action at this level of politics. The same people who meet and talk about an issue can also implement their own decisions. A student government can decide to implement a mentoring program and then actually serve as the mentors. A neighborhood group can decide to protest a crackhouse and then actually picket it. An academic department can choose a new curriculum and then actually teach it.

    The micro-level of politics--characterized by direct participation, deliberation, and "public work"--is not necessarily more pleasant or less divisive than macro-politics. On the contrary, when issues arise in our everyday lives, involve our identities as workers or neighbors or parents, and cause disagreements with people we know well, politics can become intensely emotional and painful. That's why "office politics" and "academic politics" are phrases with very negative associations. Diana Mutz shows that people tend to avoid controversy within families and social networks, and for understandable reasons. Persistent disagreement can tear a group apart; and even when most people agree, minorities may feel excluded and mistreated. However, it is possible for micro-politics to be consensual and "win-win" rather than competitive. Indeed, if the main problem with macro-politics is a shortage of competition, the main flaw in micro-politics is a weak set of institutions and practices that allow Americans to collaborate on common problems.

    I believe there are two main reasons that we need the micro-level as well as the macro-level of politics. First, a whole range of issues is better addressed in a participatory, deliberative way than through state action. Governments can do some things well, but they cannot change hearts, care for individuals holistically, or tailor solutions to local circumstances. Second, participation in micro-level politics may be the most powerful form of civic education, giving people confidence and deep knowledge of issues that will enable them to participate in macro-politics effectively and wisely.

    For those interested in such topics, some of the major texts include Jenny Mansbridge's classic Beyond Adversary Democracy, Steve Elkin's City and Regime in the American Republic, and Sirianni & Friedland's Civic Innovation in America.

    Posted by peterlevine at 8:44 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 21, 2005

    environmentalism and human creativity

    (Macon, Georgia) A lot of the environmentalist rhetoric that filters down to a person like me (who's not terribly attentive to the environment) emphasizes the need to preserve gifts of God or nature: unspoiled places, endangered species, and non-renewable resources. These are important goals, and they imply a set of aesthetic, moral, and/or religious principles that I respect. For example, if something is scarce, complex, and impossible to recreate, then we should try to preserve it, whether it is a forest ecosystem or a human language.

    There is also a kind of environmentalism in which concerned people work together to make things: for instance, new parks and forests or restored and restocked rivers and lakes. These are not pure and unsullied gifts of God or nature; they are assets that people have helped to build and shape.

    It would be useful, I think, to develop a rhetoric that celebrates these accomplishments, appreciating the constructive role of human beings in creating habitats and ecosystems. I would support that rhetoric as a matter of principle, since I admire human agency. Besides, there is something pessimistic or even tragic about environmentalism conceived as a rearguard effort to save pieces of unsullied nature. After all, non-renewable resources will sooner or later run out, and unspoiled wilderness (if there is any such thing) will inevitably be altered by human behavior. The best we can do to preserve such things is not to touch them, which is a passive stance. If we could learn, on the other hand, to admire human agency in creating environments that have natural elements, then there would be no limit to what good we could do together. This optimism might be the basis of a powerful political movement.

    Posted by peterlevine at 8:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 18, 2005

    conference on youth civic engagement

    I'm spending today and tomorrow at the Life Cycle Institute, Catholic University. Jim Youniss of Catholic and I have jointly planned and organized a conference on youth civic engagement that aims to make the "institutional turn" that I've written about before. Usually, when we discuss why young people don't vote or follow the news, we think in terms of what's going on inside their heads--their knowledge, motivations, habits, or feelings of confidence. Thanks to a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York, Jim and I have convened about 20 of our most admired psychologists, political scientists, sociologists, and communications scholars to discuss a different question: how changes in major institutions may be causing young people not to participate in democracy.

    Posted by peterlevine at 7:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 17, 2005

    fear the turtle

    Following up on yesterday's post about sweatshops, here's a little protest. The t-shirt depicted on the right costs $14.98. I don't know the precise statistics for the University of Maryland (my employer), but chances are, the people who cut and sewed that garment were paid less than 18 cents for their work, while the University took $2 for the right to print our fearsome turtle on the front. Likewise, reproducing the logo on my blog probably requires the University's permission and a fee. However, until Maryland joins the Workers Rights Consortium (which certifies garment factories as "sweatshop free"), I'm not terribly concerned about its property rights.

    Posted by peterlevine at 12:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 16, 2005


    Yesterday, I went to a lecture about United Students Against Sweatshops--part of a series on campus activism (from the right and the left) that CIRCLE is sponsoring through the Democracy Collaborative. My professional interest is the activism, not the students' chosen issues. However, yesterday's presentation mostly concerned sweatshop labor itself. According to an analysis by the Hartford Courant, the cost of a $38 university-branded sweatshirt (like the ones sold on my campus) is distributed thus: for the store, $18.99; for the university, in logo royalties, $2.28; for the importer, $8.22; for material, $5.50; for the factory in Mexico, $2.92; for the workers, $0.18.

    Confronted with that kind of statistic, we might think ...

    1. Workers in Mexico must be better off getting those 18 cents than they would be without them, or they wouldn't take the job. Any effort to raise their wages beyond what the market will bear may just cost them their employment. However, if they continue to participate in a global market, their economy should grow. Consider that Japan was the first country to export clothing to the US; now it has a high standard of living.

    2. It is a moral scandal that 18 cents goes to the adolescent Mexican women who cut and sew our sweatshirts, compared to $2.28 for the legal right to print the words "Fear the Turtle" on the front. However, this moral scandal can be solved basically within our current political/economic system. Workers all over the world should be able to choose to unionize, because a union can decide how much to demand in salaries, job security, and working conditions, given the constraints of the global economy. To help unions form, American consumers should be given information about the conditions under which their clothes were made. If they have a choice to pay somewhat more for better working conditions, polls show that they will. Therefore, campaigns to certify clothes as "sweatshop free" will offer advantages to unionized factories, thus causing workers' salaries to double or triple.

    3. The second choice is no solution. Even tripling wages wouldn't obtain a just global distribution. Besides, if factories unionize in one country, jobs will just move to another. And if American consumers prefer unionized products, they (the consumers) will still remain dominant and won't give up real power or wealth. Instead of awareness campaigns and "sweatshop-free" labels, we need a fundamentally different international system for the allocation of capital.

    I'm open to #3 if someone can show me how it would work and how we would get there. In the meantime, I'd suggest a note of caution. In 2000, China had 3.67 million textile workers who earned 40 cents an hour. In Vietnam, textile-industry wages were 22 cents an hour. These are Communist countries in which the means of production and the system of exchange were seized by revolutionary parties in the name of equality. Just a generation later, the children of those Leninist guerillas in Vietnam and those Maoist party cadres in China are making handsome profits from sweatshop labor, benefitting from their own ban on independent unions. Comparing the average wages of textile workers in China with those in Taiwan ($4.78) or Hong Kong ($4.62) provides a sense of what radical reform can cost workers if it isn't done right.

    Posted by peterlevine at 9:45 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

    March 15, 2005

    the youth vote in 2004

    Ivan Frishberg from PIRG and I are doing a series of open conference-call briefings on the youth vote in 2004. You could join one of those calls; please contact Demetria Sapienza at 301 405 2790. It would be even easier simply to read our PowerPoint presentation.

    Posted by peterlevine at 10:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 14, 2005

    evolution in schools

    Today's Washington Post reports:

    WICHITA Propelled by a polished strategy crafted by activists on America's political right, a battle is intensifying across the nation over how students are taught about the origins of life. Policymakers in 19 states are weighing proposals that question the science of evolution.

    Here are some scattered thoughts of mine ....

    1. Although it is desirable for public schools to be neutral about religion, pure neutrality isn't possible. To teach evolution is to put the weight of the state behind a set of views that some people find theologically abhorrent. To teach both evolution and "intelligent design" is to give arbitrarily equal attention to two doctrines, while omitting many others (including the Biblical account). To avoid offense by skipping the origins and history of life is to give members of certain denominations a veto over the curriculum for religious reasons.

    2. My opinion on this subject may not be worth anything, but I think it's a theological mistake for fundamentalist Christians to try to place creationism on an equal footing with evolution in schools, or to champion "intelligent design" as a scientific hypothesis. The Post quotes Senator Santorum: "students should be exposed to 'the full range of scientific views that exist. ... My reading of the science is there's a legitimate debate [between evolution and 'intelligent design']. My feeling is let the debate be had.'" If I were a fundamentalist, I would not accept the idea that core principles of my faith were testable hypotheses on par with those of science--subject to confirmation or refutation. First of all, I wouldn't want to give so many hostages to fortune. What if the data do not ultimately support the existence of God--must I then agree that there is no deity? In any case, the data will not support the Genesis account, and surely it's a retreat to move from Genesis to "intelligent design." Even I were confident that the scientific evidence would ultimately corroborate my beliefs, I wouldn't want religion to rest on data. Faith is faith. It should stand against all evidence.

    3. Civil libertarians should be aware of, and concerned about, a tension in this debate. According to the Post, "Alabama and Georgia legislators recently introduced bills to allow teachers to challenge evolutionary theory in the classroom. Ohio, Minnesota, New Mexico and Ohio have approved new rules allowing that." On one hand, it may offend the constitutional separation of church and state for an agent of the state, the biology teacher, to challenge evolutionary theory on religious or quasi-religious grounds. On the other hand, doesn't the First Amendment grant a biology teacher a right to say what he or she believes? I can probably be talked into a "gag order," but not without deep regrets about the offense to the teacher's rights.

    4. I generally like the idea of "teaching the controversy." In this case, that would mean teaching high school students some philosophy of science. I realize that schools face excessive mandates already, but I suspect that debating the meaning and purpose of science is more important than knowing most particular scientific facts and theories. Thus, for example, some assert that science consists only of conjectures that stand until evidence refutes them. In that case, Darwinism is "just a theory," and so is "intelligent design"--but so is heliocentrism. We merely hypothesize that the earth circles the sun, and we stand ready to change our theory. Is this a plausible philosophy of science, or is there such a thing as certainty (or near-certainty)? If so, it would seem that evolution has a lot more evidence behind it than intelligent design.

    Meanwhile, are articles of religious faith also conjectures that stand until evidence makes them fall? Or is science fundamentally different from religion?

    Sociology of science becomes relevant here, too. We can know very little directly about nature. Even if we make our own observations, we must use instruments and techniques that others created. Thus trust in other people is essential to science. The kind of people who believe in evolution are very different from the kind of people who believe in creationism or intelligent design. I'm not saying that one group is better than the other, only that they have radically different sociologies. The evolutionists dominate biology departments at Research-1 universities. The proponents of intelligent design mostly work at independent outfits funded by wealthy fundamentalists, or in academic departments other than biology. On one view of the sociology of science, the dominant strand is just more powerful: it's the one with money and prestige. That's what Senator Santorum means when he says: "Anyone who expresses anything other than the dominant worldview is shunned and booted from the academy." (Note: this kind of diagnosis is also common on the postmodern left.) On a different theory, mainstream science is a self-correcting, transparent, rational community. Students, as budding citizens, need to develop informed opinions about science and scientists.

    5. Fundamentalist opponents of evolution may do some damage if they prevent our students from gaining access to modern biology--not to mention geology, medicine, anthropology, physics, psychology, and other disciplines that have embraced the notions that the earth is very old and that natural selection explains many biological changes. The damage is likely to be worst for young people who come from relatively sheltered--and often disadvantaged--backgrounds.

    However, I am at least as worried about the threat from today's "Darwinian fundamentalists," who believe that almost all important social, economic, and even moral questions can be answered by speculating about what traits must have increased our ancestors' chances of survival in the early Pleistocene. We are evolved, physical creatures with certain inherited limitations. But we know much less about these limitations than many pop-Darwinians claim. Besides, our evolved traits or tendencies do not tell us much about what is valuable. Roaches are very durable and "fit" (in the Darwinian sense), whereas tigers only survive today on human charity. Yet it is important to be able to see that tigers are beautiful and priceless. The equation of the fit with the good is a great mistake, more characteristic of our age than religious fundamentalism.

    Posted by peterlevine at 10:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 13, 2005

    technical problems

    I'm having lots of technical problems with this site, which I won't bore you with. Meanwhile, spammers are busy flooding my archives with their advertisements. Although it's a half-measure and not very elegant, I have succeeded in blocking all comments on most of the old entries. Apologies if you're trying to comment. (You can always email me your thoughts at plevine@umd.edu.) One day soon, I'll be on a new server, with the new version of MovableType, having deleted the latest 500 or more spams--and all these trials will be forgotten.

    Posted by peterlevine at 9:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 11, 2005

    an experience of globalization

    Today, a group of teachers from Azerbaijan visited my office. With help from Streetlaw (on whose board I serve), they are teaching their students to deliberate about current issues, as a form of civic education. Since I have long worked on deliberation and civic education, both separately and in combination, I was interested to hear their experiences. Meanwhile, Professor Gabriel Murillo from Colombia, a leading proponent of public deliberation, happened to be visiting. I know Prof. Murillo from past work with the Kettering Foundation, so I accompanied the Azeris to his talk. He lectured in English on the role of deliberative democracy in development. An Azeri interpreter provided simultaneous translation into Russian, since not all of the delegation from Azerbaijan speaks Azeri. Dr. Murillo said at one point that he thinks in Spanish; I sensed that he was translating words like "consentimiento" into English as he spoke. The Azeri translator presumably had to think in his own (Turkic) language as he generated Russian words from Dr. Murillo's English. And some of his colleagues who know Azeri better than Russian may have had to translate into their native language to understand what he was saying. At one point, an Azeri of Russian ethnicity stood and bravely asked Dr. Murillo a question in Russian, which several people helped to translate into English so that Dr. Murillo could reply. The whole point of his speech was the need for communication in a pluralistic society, and that's exactly what we experienced--albeit through the medium of English.

    Posted by peterlevine at 9:57 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 10, 2005

    what worked for Dean worked better for Bush-Cheney

    I didn't share in the enthusiasm for Howard Dean's campaign, and partly that was because I feared that the very methods he pioneered would work much better for the right than for the left. Decentralized networks like Dean's are perfect if you have a constituency that's habitually engaged in politics, rich in connections and network ties, able to make financial contributions, and technically savvy. If, on the other hand, much of your constituency is alienated, demoralized, offline, and without money, then big, disciplined institutions like labor unions, conventional parties, and churches are awfully useful.

    Marty Kearns has picked up a telling article by Michael Barrone that describes the Bush-Cheney campaign in the same terms that many leftists used to celebrate Dean. Bush's reelection campaign was, to a large extent, a volunteer-driven, broad-based network. To be sure, Bush raised big bucks--but so did Kerry. The difference may well have been the strength of the decentralized network that supported Republicans.

    Some people argue that new network technologies lower the cost of participation, thereby "empowering" ordinary people. That may be true to an extent, and I hope it is. But participation also requires a civic identity: a sense that one is an effective, responsible, committed, important member of a community. A civic identity is much more common, and much easier to develop, among wealthy professionals than among poor and middle-income people, who have good reasons to doubt that they can be effective, valued participants. Networked technologies rarely create civic identities; instead, they amplify the power of the engaged. Thus the decentralized networks that played roles in the 2004 campaign were dominated by relatively affluent volunteers--as shown by the rise of Dean, the victory of Bush, the impact of the "527" groups, and the irrelevance of labor unions.

    Posted by peterlevine at 7:55 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

    March 9, 2005

    student government

    Research by Daniel McFarland and Carlos Starmanns finds that there's a great variation in the quality of high school student governments. Some have elaborate and evolving constitutions that establish significant powers for students over budgets and discipline. Others are merely clubs whose members are chosen in popularity contests. This is an important issue, because research since the 1960s has consistently found that students are more committed to democracy and have better skills if their schools offer student "voice."

    In general, the wealthier the school's population, the more power is given to its student government. However ...

    Alternative schoolscharter, magnet or privateseem to offer opportunities for meaningful political participation greater than even the wealthiest public schools. Student councils typically consist of 20 to 40 officers, regardless of school size, so these generally smaller schools enable a greater percentage of students to hold office. And because alternative schools tend to have a clear mission, their constitutions try to uphold school valuesby encouraging the election of moral exemplars, for example. However, alternative schools also tend to give faculty tighter control over students (including reins on elections), leading McFarland and Starmanns to wonder whether such schools raise citizens who are not used to thinking for themselves.

    I'm interested in whether it's the poverty of neighborhoods or low per-pupil spending that seems, all else being equal, to predict a weak or non-existent student government. We at CIRCLE plan to do some simple statistical analysis to evaluate whether the level of per-capita school spending correlates with students' civic engagement, controlling for other factors. If schools without adequate funds tend to sacrifice student government, that would be one of several ways in which low funding could hamper civic education.

    Posted by peterlevine at 2:03 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 8, 2005

    network mapping, civic education, & social capital

    If you interview community members or leaders of local organizations and ask them what other organizations they work with, you can use software to generate a "network map" that shows all the linkages among organizations and allows you to identify any gaps in the network. For an example of such a map, see my depiction of major links in today's civic renewal movement. (I generated this image using TouchGraph's GoogleBrowser, so the connections represent links between websites, not reports of actual collaborations.)

    Network mapping seems promising to me as a tool for community organizing: it allows you to see how your community could be strengthened by forging new connections among nodes that are not in contact. It also seems promising as a form of civic education. Students could perform network-mapping of their schools or communities and learn a lot about civil society.

    Indeed, yesterday, three University of Maryland students began a network-mapping pilot project in Prince George's County, MD, under my direction. They are terrific students, but since there are only three of them, they probably won't be able to achieve more than get the process rolling so that others can follow after them. I am hoping that they'll generate at least an interesting preliminary graph that will tell us something about the place of the University in the County.

    By the way, when scholars like Robert Putnam estimate "social capital" by asking people how many associations they belong to, whether they invite friends over for dinner, and whether they trust other people, I would say that they are using proxy measures to assess the strength and density of actual collaborations in a community. Thus I would say that a network map is a more direct (although more labor-intensive) measure of "social capital" than anything based on survey data. This is partly because I believe the purpose of social capital is to address social problems; I am not interested in connectedness or sociability for its own sake.

    Posted by peterlevine at 9:38 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

    March 7, 2005

    youth civic engagement: an "institutional turn"

    Maybe every generation in every democracy gives its elders reasons to worry about the future. Citizens are made, not born; each generation needs deliberate, critical guidance from the older ones.

    Looking at recent trends in the US, we see particular problems, including: a steep decline in youth interest in public affairs (graph); low levels of knowledge; widespread skepticism that it is possible to make a positive difference; and a decline in youth turnout of about one third (pdf) until the uptick last November. (As a discrete act, voting can be over-emphasized; but it is a useful proxy for knowledge, connectedness, and commitment.)

    I see two basic ways to interpret these trends and respond to them. One is to assume that there is something wrong with the pyschology of young people: their knowledge, skills, and values. These deficits may not be their fault; we can blame schools, the media, parents, and others. But the deficits are located inside young people's heads (so to speak). If that's the situation, then we should be interested in the efficiency of various "interventions"--civic education programs, community service opportunities, or voter-canvassing drives--to change young people's psychology while they are still in a formative stage of life.

    The other "model" assumes that the problem is not inside youth's heads, but in major institutions that are not worthy of being engaged. For example, maybe kids don't read newspapers because newspapers aren't that great to read. Maybe they don't vote because the vast majority of elections are decided when the districts are drawn. Maybe they aren't interested in "public affairs" because public issues are not being framed in useful ways.

    In this model, youth attitudes, knowledge, and skills are not simply "dependent variables" that should be raised as much as possible through interventions such as "civic ed." They are rather (or partly) symptoms of a need for deeper social change.

    There may nevertheless be arguments in favor of programs that work directly on young people's minds and hearts. It is easier to change social studies than reform politics. Thus if we can enhance civic skills through better social-studies education, maybe we can help the next generation to press for political reform (on its own terms, not ours). Or if we can raise youth turnout through get-out-the-vote efforts, which seems to have happened in '04, then maybe we can create a more competitive and unpredictable electorate, thereby changing campaigns and politics. Nevertheless, working on kids' pyschology is an indirect strategy, and it's worth constantly asking two more basic questions: What kind of polity is worthy of full engagement? And how do we get there?

    Posted by peterlevine at 10:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 4, 2005

    W.B. Yeats and me

    Last fall, I spent nearly a whole Saturday in the playground of my younger daughter's school. It was the day of a block party, and she wanted to stay for hours. From time to time, I saw and talked to adults I knew, but mostly I just watched the scene. I kept thinking of Yeats' "Among Schoolchildren." I don't know the poem by heart, unfortunately, but I remembered the structure and several of the lines. It struck me that I am a perfect opposite of Yeats, and not only because he was a genius of a writer and I am not.

    The narrator of "Among School Children" is an old and very distinguished "public man"--presumably the Irish Senator and Nobel Laureate that Yeats himself was in 1928. He is paying an official visit to a modern, efficient school whose lessons in neatness perhaps stifle the more romantic spirits of the children. He recalls an unrequited love from his lost youth. He sees this beautiful and inspired young girl at a moment when she was being harshly reproved by an adult.

    The children remind him of his love, "And thereupon my heart is driven wild: / She stands before me as a living child." Perhaps his face shows his emotion, so he covers it up--"Better to smile on all that smile, and show / There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow." Meanwhile, as he walks between the twin rows of desks, he considers the contrast between his earthly, aging body and the idea his mother had of him in his infancy; and then reflects more generally on the gap between the real and the ideal. A lost and unrequited love is a hint of that perfect world that art and religion also strive for. Yet, says the narrator in the final stanza, it is best not to seek after an ineffable perfection, but rather to unite the real with the ideal--just as the poem "Among School Children" actually does. "O body swayed to music, O brightening glance / How can we know the dance from the dance?"

    I am no "sixty-year-old smiling public man." I am a 38-year-old citizen, anonymous except among my friends and colleagues. Yet I have always had the habit of imagining I'm some authoritative observer whose opinion might be of general interest. (Do we all think that way?) In this vein, standing on the playground last fall, I silently approved of the diverse population and the adults' efforts to interact respectfully. One parent said that her neighborhood school was also a homeless shelter, which is why she had sent her child "out of bounds" to Cleveland Park. Her interlocutor, White and prosperous-looking, found common ground with her as a parent. I looked "upon one child or t'other there" and thought that our community exemplified "the best modern way."

    Unlike Yeats, I have no lost, unrequited love, no urge to transcend the corporeal or the mortal, no "dream of a Ledaean / body." I'm quite satisfied with the actual love of my living family, the actual sight of a humane modern schoolyard with my kindergartener in it. Yet I'm bifurcated almost as Yeats was (as perhaps everyone is). He was old, famous, and influential, yearning for his passionate youth. I am a youngish bystander, fantasizing a more statesmanlike role. Few of us live fully in our own time like "bodies swayed to music."

    And then a mob of little ones ran by, splitting into two streams to pass me, and I remembered just what it was like to face such helter-skelter packs on a playground when I was only three-feet tall. Turn and run with them? Stand aside? -- Is this fun? Is it scary? Where are we going?

    And suddenly there was my own little girl in the crowd, flushed, unsure, a perfect vision of myself thirty years ago--or so I thought. From my perspective,

    it seemed that our two natures blent
    Into a sphere from youthful sympathy,
    Or else, to alter Plato's parable,
    Into the yolk and white of the one shell ...

    but she could race on with them and I could only stop behind to watch.

    Posted by peterlevine at 2:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

    March 3, 2005

    spam attack

    This site is really under attack today. In addition to the scores of spurious "trackback pings" than I've been receiving every day, an organization has now posted more than 200 comments that are really advertisements for its product. Their software puts no more than one comment on each of my posts, so that I must open up more than 200 separate records and painstakingly remove each ad. Their spam software uses a different, fake IP address each time so that I can't block it from posting. Instead of writing something substantive, I've been trying to clean up the site and have also inquired about changing my software. I hope to be back in business tomorrow, but I may have to delay blogging until I can solve this problem. (Someone who can spam me 200 times in six hours can spam me 2,000 times and do me in.) Isn't interactivity great?

    Posted by peterlevine at 3:51 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 2, 2005

    the computer as a metaphor for the brain

    Last Friday, some colleagues and I discussed a very strong paper by Joe Oppenheimer et al. that bridged rational choice theory and cognitive psychology. The authors of the paper (and the texts they quoted) said that memories are "stored," "linked," "tagged," "called up," and "retrieved" by the brain. These metaphors have come originally from various domains of human activity. (I suppose that shopkeepers store things, dogs retrieve things, and archaeologists tag things--to name just a few uses). However, the proximate source for all these words, obviously, is computer programming. Without thinking twice about it, we use the computer as an analogy for the human brain. This analogy can be illuminating, but we must be careful to remember that it is not literal. Brains are like today's computers in some respects, but not in many others. It struck me that in John Locke's day, the main metaphor for the brain was painting: i.e., representation of sense-data on flat surfaces. Painting was a very advanced technology in 1700--better than it is today. But it was an imperfect metaphor for cognition, and so is computing in our era.

    Posted by peterlevine at 10:47 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

    March 1, 2005

    tolerance & generational change

    Yesterday, CIRCLE released a detailed report (pdf) on the evolution of young people's attitudes toward racial minorities, immigrants, and gays. The report finds substantial increases in tolerance, although not much increase in actual interactions among racial groups. My favorite graph is the one on the right. It's a perfect illustration of Karl Mannheim's theory of generations, which holds that our political values are permanently shaped by our experiences as young adults. Why have Americans become increasingly favorable toward interracial marriage since the 1960s? Not because many individuals have changed their minds over their lifetimes, but because each generation has come of age in a more tolerant era and remained at a consistent level of support. The underlying theory is that we are forced to make up our minds about major questions when we first encounter them. Thereafter, changing one's opinion takes a lot of effort, so we rarely do so. Those who first considered the issue of interracial marriage in 1930 are permanently different from those who first heard of it in 1980. (Incidentally, this pattern is good news, because it suggests that tolerance will rise inexorably as today's young people predominate in the population.)

    Posted by peterlevine at 10:22 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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