Religion, Social Conformity, Isolation, and Politics

I came across a comment in the Guardian (h/t Barry) which discusses the demographic shift in religious belief in the U.S. and predicts long term doom for the Republicans. It’s entitled “Godless Millennials Could End the Political Power of the Religious Right.” The column notes the prospects for short term success for the Republicans but predicts long term problems because the short term success in deep red states ought to be even greater. I’ve seen the doom of one political party or another predicted too often to put much stock in it. In political circles, short term success is the only kind of success there is. The voting public doesn’t seem to have a sufficiently long term memory for political parties to build up (or cost themselves) a lot of equity. (Pundits seem to be even more immune from long term accountability for good or poor prognostications.) In the past, I’ve seen predictions of a permanent Republican majority. More recently, I’ve seen predictions that will put Democrats in the majority based on demographic shifts that are always just around the corner.

Normally, those demographic predictions are based on race — e.g. Latinos vote for Democrats more often. The Guardian comment discusses religious belief. Its premise is that Americans, particularly millennials are becoming more godless.

What we’re seeing may well be the first distant rumblings of a trend that’s been quietly gathering momentum for years: America is becoming less Christian. In every region of the country, in every Christian denomination, membership is either stagnant or declining. Meanwhile, the number of religiously unaffiliated people – atheists, agnostics, those who are indifferent to religion, or those who follow no conventional faith – is growing. In some surprising places, these “nones” (as in “none of the above”) now rank among the largest slices of the demographic pie.

Even in the deep South, the Republican base of white evangelical Christians is shrinking – and in some traditional conservative redoubts like Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky, it’s declined as a percentage of the population by double digits. Even Alabama is becoming less Christian. Meanwhile, there’s been a corresponding increase in the religiously unaffiliated, who tend to vote more Democratic.

It may well be that the religious right loses its clout. However, the two party system being what it is, I would expect that if that happens, the Republicans will attempt to shift somewhat to stake out territory that gives them something close to a 51% stake in the electorate. (Power being what it is, political factions tend to want to be large enough to retain power but small enough that they share it as little as necessary.)

With that long lead up, what captured my interest is the premise. If America is becoming less religious — and I don’t pretend to know if the premise is sound — why now? The column suggests something like a backlash against the religious right’s treatment of gays and lesbians. Millennials regard bad treatment of those groups as an anachronism and hostile rhetoric against them as unacceptable. People who feel this way leave their various churches and, with such departures, the antipathy of the remainder toward gays and lesbians is higher as a percentage, and the rhetoric grows more extreme; causing a vicious cycle.

I’m more inclined to see aversion to rhetoric about the sinfulness of gays and lesbians as more of a symptom than a cause. I mean, why now? Certainly the public acceptance of gays and lesbians has grown dramatically. But why the sudden shift? I’m going to go with the Internet as a force multiplier accelerating the acceptance of the gay community. As I understand it, more people came out publicly as gay in the 70s and increasingly thereafter. This forced friends and acquaintances to deal with homosexuality as being something experienced by real people, including friends and relatives, and not as some kind of cartoonish abstraction that’s easy to hate. The Internet made it easier for people to come out and more likely that straight people would come into contact with gay people in every day life. The Internet does this by reducing isolation as an influencer of human behavior. By learning that other people think like you, it becomes easier to express your opinions and stand behind your beliefs. You learn that you’re not crazy and you’re not alone. You’re more likely to speak up and stand up for yourself.

When communities were formed almost exclusively by physical proximity, it was much harder to communicate and much harder to learn whether you were alone or whether your beliefs were shared by at least some others. When communities were formed by geography, it was much easier for powerful minorities to control the conversation and create the illusion of social norms and enforce that vision by, in effect, dividing and conquering.

I think I’ve mentioned a passage before from Howard Bloom’s “Global Brain.” He discusses a study by a guy named Schanck of a New York town in the 30s. It seems to have been populated by people who were nominally Baptists and the community was dominated by a minister’s daughter. Publicly almost all of them would declare the sinfulness of things like cards, liquor, and tobacco. Privately many of them would engage in those things.

How completely the anointed had commandeered collective perception became apparent when Schanck asked the closet dissenters how other people in the community felt about face cards, liquor, a smoke, and levity. Hoodwinked by suppression, each knew without a doubt that he was the sole transgressor in a saintly sea. He and he alone could not control his demons of depravity. None had the faintest inkling that he was part of a silenced near-majority.

Here was an arch lesson in the games subcultures play. reality is a mass hallucination. We gauge what’s real according to what others say. And others, like us, rein in their words, caving in to timidity. Thanks to conformity enforcement and to cowardice, a little power goes a long, long way.”

My suspicion, based in no small part – I must confess – on projection of my own experience, is that people aren’t just suddenly reacting to gays. Rather, I expect that a lot of people have long been dubious about the socially conservative behavioral components of religion — antipathy to, for example, gays, dancing, sex, gambling, alcohol. To one degree or another, probably based a lot on their geographic community, that large minority or even majority were perhaps too timid to speak up because they thought they were more isolated in their opinion than was actually the case. This might go not just for those behavioral components but also for a skepticism of religion itself. I grew up Presbyterian and in a family that wasn’t especially ardent about its religion, and I have never been shy about sharing my opinions. But even I felt a strong social conditioning against speaking out about my non-belief. The Internet (along with living in a geographic area with a wide range of beliefs and a non-trivial number of non-believers) has reduced that inhibition by bringing me into contact with others of similar thinking.

So, I wonder if that’s what’s really going on with the millennials. From day one, they grow up immersed in the Internet and exposed to the wide range of beliefs of the millions (are we at billions yet?) of people online. Social conformity based on isolation has to be reduced. (Social conformity based on a howling, mostly anonymous mob might be a thing, however.) What this means for politics is anyone’s guess, however. Prognostications are usually wrong.

Sheila Kennedy on why Gov. Pence will not seek preschool grant money

Sheila Kennedy has a post entitled “Pence, Pre-school, and the Right Wing Base”. The back story is that Indiana had the inside track to get $80,000,000 in federal grant money to fund pre-kindergarten education for Hoosier children. In a surprise move, Gov. Pence decided that Indiana would drop out of the race. He cited vague concerns about entanglement with the federal government. I speculated that Gov. Pence’s presidential ambitions were the explanation.

Sheila suggests a related but more local and specific rationale: opposition by the likes of the Indiana Family Association because it would fund competition to church day cares:

We’ve seen this movie before. Every time the state legislature tries to pass minimum health and safety standards for daycare and preschools–usually, after a tragic accident at some unregulated, unsafe facility– conservative churches mount a hysterical assault on “big government,” and claim a religious right to be free of pesky (too-expensive) rules about nutrition, fire safety, minimum ratio of caregivers to infants and the like.

Churches operating daycare and preschool operations that don’t want to comply with health and safety standards are a big part of Governor Pence’s base. Those churches clearly didn’t want federal money funding safer competitors, and the Governor just as clearly got the message.

Separating Ourselves from the Michiganders

Maureen Hayden, writing for CNHI, has an article entitled “Retracing a border incites tensions between Hoosiers, Michiganders” (h/t Indiana Law Blog).

The issue has to do with surveying the border between Indiana and Michigan. (If you’re a Michigander, dependent on hand-based maps, that’s the area between the palm and wrist.) When the original survey was performed in the 1820s they used wooden posts, most of which are long gone. The boundaries are generally known, but small differences can lead to problems. So, the states agreed to re-monument the border.

The new snag is that it’s taken awhile to get going, and Michigan doesn’t think the original cost estimate is reasonable. Apparently the original estimate from 2009 figured for about $1 million in expenses with each state footing half the bill. But, Michigan thinks that the estimates weren’t accurate Michigan anticipates that the true cost is more like $2 million.

Michigan insists that a survey crew needs to spend eight hours a day occupying a point on the boundary to get an accurate global positioning reading from satellites, for example. Indiana surveyors think the same work could be done in less than three hours.

“If you do it their way, it costs about $1,600 a day. If you do it our way, it costs $600 a day,” [St. Joseph County Surveyor John] McNamara said. “You can see how fast the extra costs add up.”

Indiana has only appropriated $500,000. So, it sounds like the states are going to haggle over the budget before they get started. Michigan should figure a way to get a bridge involved so Indiana could give them $1.7 billion the way we are to Kentucky.

The economy rewards leverage

As is his wont, Abdul just stirred the pot a little by saying on Facebook:

Ok, let’s make a deal. I’ll concede “income inequality” if you concede “work ethic” inequality.

That’s true, as far as it goes, but as he acknowledged in the discussion thread, the correlation is imperfect. It’s an old theme around here, but seems worth repeating.

Much as we’d like it to be, the economy isn’t a morality play. The economy doesn’t reward virtue. It rewards leverage. Hard work is one kind of leverage, and probably the most accessible form for the average person. Talent is another. Already having money is a big form of leverage. Controlling a bottleneck in the economy (e.g. monopoly or money supply) is yet another.

From the perspective of the person who makes the money, by and large, it seems like a function of their hard work and talent. They are acutely aware that they busted their ass, and they’ve seen, probably carried the load for at one time or another, any number of people who were lazy and talentless. What is often less obvious to someone in that position are the people who are also busting their asses with much less (or no) payoff. And even harder to recognize — on account of Upton Sinclair’s observation about the perspicacity of one whose salary depends on not being perspicacious — is when one’s own good fortune depends on siphoning off some portion of the value created by others.

The lack of insight into the condition of others is not unique to the well-to-do, of course. Just to pick an example, my guess is that there is a high percentage of employees who have no idea that their employer pays extra to Medicaid and Social Security on behalf of the employee for the privilege of employing them. While they no doubt have their own stressors in life, they perhaps don’t know what it’s like to continue thinking about work most of the day, every day, clocked in or out — where the next client is coming from, whether existing clients will renew their contracts, whether your vendors are cheating you, whether you have the company’s third quarter paperwork in order, etc.

In any event, the economy is complicated. We all have our problems. But, by and large, a person’s prosperity is not a good proxy for insight into the person’s moral character.

SCOTUS Declines to Hear Same Sex Marriage Cases. Lower Court Opinions Stand

The United States Supreme Court has issued its order denying to grant the petitions for certiorari to review the same sex marriage decisions by the various Courts of Appeal. The 7th Circuit had issued its opinion written by Judge Posner which upheld District Court Judge Young’s opinion issuing an injunction which nullified Indiana’s ban on same sex marriages.

Following an opinion by the Court of Appeals, the Clerk of the Circuit Court issues a mandate (See Fed. R. App. Proc. 41). This certifies the opinion to the lower court whose decision was under review. The Court of Appeals issued a stay which prevented the Clerk from issuing the mandate. The terms of that stay says that it terminates automatically if the Supreme Court denies the petition for certiorari. That has happened. Therefore, the stay on the 7th Circuit Clerk has been lifted. The 7th Circuit Clerk is now, I believe, free to issue the mandate, certifying the opinion to the lower court. That should probably happen as soon as the 7th Circuit Clerk can process the paperwork. Once that happens, Judge Young’s initial injunction will resume and Indiana’s prohibition on same sex marriages will be nullified.

A World Class Transportation System

Writing at Strong Towns, Charles Marohn notes that he has a book coming out entitled “A World Class Transportation System.” He is frustrated with the not-even-rising-to-the-level-of-a-Band-Aid approach to transportation policy. Our policymakers try only to come up with funding solutions for our current, outdated, system — and are not successful.

Transportation policy in America needs to focus on building cities that are financially productive and then connecting them with high speed, high capacity roadways. We built the interstate. Cross it off the list. We’re done. It’s now time to use that investment – to mature that system – to start getting more out of it.

Might be worth checking out.

Related – 50 years ago, on October 1, 1964, Japan began high speed rail service – Tokyo to Osaka at 130 miles per hour. Faster than we manage even today in the U.S.

Best Healthcare System in the World: Infant Mortality

One of the reasons for the push to Obamacare and away from the health care status quo is that our system costs way more than other places and yields results that are the same or worse as other countries. One of the metrics that lets us know our health care system is worse is that our infant mortality rate is worse than our peer countries. So, what explains the infant mortality rates?

Those in favor of the health care system status quo like to blame the differential on the measurements. It’s not that the U.S. actually has worse outcomes for infants, we just measure things more thoroughly and report more infant deaths. Aaron Carroll at the Incidental Economist has a post discussing a study that looks at this issue. And, in fact, these advocates have a point it seems. The reporting differences might explain up to 40% of the infant mortality differential — but that leaves us a long way to go.

It seems that one major area where our health system fails is in the period between one month and one year old. And, in particular, it fails infants who don’t have the good sense to be born to white, college-educated, married mothers. Those infants have a similar mortality rate as their European counterparts. The other infants are more likely to die.

I think it’s safe to say that being poor in the U.S. is a lot tougher than being poor in other Western countries.

Consent of Putative Father for Adoption Where He Has Abandoned the Expectant Mother

I was struggling through the General Assembly’s barely usable website (somewhat visible framed PDFs everywhere!) and found a relatively interesting hearing conducted by the interim study committee on the judiciary concerning SB 27 from last session and the issue of whether the consent of a father who has abandoned a child should be required for the mother to put the child up for adoption. (Maybe it’s SB 27, I see references to legislation introduced by Rep. Steuerwald but went to his legislative page and can’t see such a House Bill listed. But, again, the General Assembly’s unnecessarily complicated web page is unnecessarily complicated.)

The Indiana Council of Juvenile and Family Court judges submitted a letter with concerns, stating that: 1) abandonment of the mother doesn’t necessarily equate to abandonment of responsibilities to the child; 2) the timing with which the father can be served with a notice of adoption or file a petition to establish paternity; 3) the situation where a pregnant woman refuses contact with the putative father without “justifiable cause;” 4) an inadequate definition of “abandonment.”

A letter from a birth mother about a situation where, in her mind, allowing the biological father to prevent adoption by requiring his consent even though he would have been unable to provide financially for the child or mother would be unfair. “If a man is able to prevent a woman from choosing adoption . . . and encumbers her with the ensuing responsibilities and expenses then it is only prudent that he shares in those responsibilities.”

Adoptions of Indiana submitted a letter indicating that there is a need for a law regarding pre-birth abandonment in the situation where a father signs up on the putative father’s registry or file a paternity action “out of a desire to control and spite the expectant father.” The letter suggests that, where the putative father fails to support the mother financially during the pregnancy, that is evidence that the father has abandoned the expectant mother.

AP: Toll Road Operator in Financial Trouble

Rick Callahan, writing for the Associated Press, reports that the Indiana Toll Road is in financial trouble and that the Indiana Finance Authority has sent a 90 day letter ITR Concession Co., a subsidiary of Cintra-Macquarie, requiring the company “to show that it can meet its obligations to its lenders in compliance with the company’s lease responsibilities.”

The Toll Road operator is reportedly considering bankruptcy and selling its interest in the toll road to someone else. We are something like 11% of the way through the 75 year lease at this point.

Journal Gazette: State’s Infant Death Statistics Grim

Niki Kelly, writing for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, has an article entitled “State’s infant death statistics grim.” She is reporting on information received by the Indiana Commission on on Improving the Status of Children.

•Indiana’s 2012 infant mortality rate is 6.7. It was only the second time in more than 100 years it has dipped below 7.

•Two-thirds of all deaths under the age of 18 are infants.

•One baby dies every 13 hours in Indiana.

Among the issues listed were premature births and low birth weight, congenital malformations, sudden infant death syndrome, and the mother’s smoking or obesity.

Sounds like a lot of the resulting education campaign is going to focus on telling women not to smoke and drink and telling them to breastfeed. None of those are bad things, but I’m not surprised that the efforts will focus on relatively cheap and morally righteous scolding rather than, say, spending a bunch of money combatting the sorts of poverty that is usually associated with poor infant health. Also, just throwing this out there: I find that breast feeding advocates can go a little overboard on the zealotry.