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I’m being Framed by Mark Souder

I’ve recently received a mailer from my Congressman Mark Souder (R-IN). Besides the typical, “I’m doing this for you” type propaganda is a survey. And just to give you an idea of what the survey is like let me choose at random, well, let’s just pick Item #1 shall we,

If forced to choose, would you support more federal spending on education or alternative energy?

____ Education                                          ___ Alternative Energy

Well Mr. Souder, I pick alternative energy because I don’t really care if my children can’t read as long as they can’t read by solar powered lamps. Obviously this is a political stunt that as a taxpayer I’m paying for but nevermind that.

Ever since Matthew Nisbett and Chris Mooney authored there little article about Framing, I’ve become keenly aware of how the framing (or context) of a question or statement can dramatically affect my perception of an issue or person. Just in case you don’t know what I mean by framing and don’t care to follow the above links since they do go on a bit. Essentially “framing” is the term describing the different ways in which you can present your message to elicit (intentionally or otherwise) the desired response and that the “framing” of the message often bears more on the response than the message or content itself.

Now I won’t point out the obvious False Dichotomy that Mr. Souder is choosing to employ because quite frankly I’ve never accused Souder of even being a logical or rational person. Hey Souder, can’t wait to see what other road in Fort Wayne you can put Ronald Reagan’s name on. Ooh maybe you should try putting his face on the dime. Anyway.

Ready for more? Well you asked for it but this time be extra aware of the choice of words he uses,

Which of the following do you believe is the best strategy to reduce gas prices?

___ Drill for oil

___ Force further size reductions in vehicles

___ Nothing, the current strategy is working

___ Other

“Drill for oil” is put forward in very neutral terms that almost begs the question, “Aren’t we already doing that?” or “Why wouldn’t we do that?”

But the next one, “Force further size reductions in vehicles”, is an example of using both perjorative phrasing and quite frankly a misleading statement (my grandmother would simply call it lying). First notice the use of “Force”, just in case your not clear ANY government regulation is force, just see what happens when you choose not to comply. The statement “further size reductions in vehicles” to my knowledge doesn’t make any sense. I’m unaware of any regulation or law that currently requires the reduction in the size of vehicles. I’m not nearly as aware of regulations as Mark Souder but I’d like to see some proof of legislation or even a bill proposal on this. Clearly he’s referring to raising the CAFE standards on vehicles which says nothing about how big a vehicle has to be only the average miles per gallon that a fleet of vehicles from a car manufacturer must achieve.

And to cap off the idiocy, the third option is “Nothing, the current strategy is working”. Do I even need to comment.

You want more? You people are glut tons,

Would you support higher taxes on all taxpayers to fund government-run health care?

___ Yes      ___ No      ___ Maybe

Well at least I get a maybe. 2 words, oversimplification.

Mark Souder has been criticized for spending too much time working to help veterans, including by working to save the Fort Wayne VA hospital. What do you think?

___ I agree with the critics that he has spent too much time on veterans issues

___ I agree with Congressman Souder’s effort to boost veterans spending and save the hospital.

Personally I think once a veteran has gone past their usefulness, either they are too injured to fight or too old, they should all be shot and then their bodies should be recycled into a food product, and we should call it Soylent Green.

Seriously what kind of question is this? I hang with a fairly liberal group of people and I hear a lot, I mean a lot, of criticism of Mark Souder, spending too much time on veterans affairs is not one of them. Again, the question is used to paint Souder as a victim of partisan politics and is a pathetic attempt to cast him as a champion for the common man.

I have a new criticism though. How about Souder’s wasteful taxpayer spending on direct mailers that could otherwise go into processing old people as a renewable food source. Is Mark Souder’s 3-terms* in office up yet?

Now that I’m done ranting about Mark Souder**, let’s get back to the question at hand which is Framing. I can’t find an online version of this survey so I can’t send you off to see the whole thing but needless to say each question is carefully phrased and each response is carefully guided to a particular “right” answer. But the attempt to guide the reader to the right answer is so thinly veiled that it, at least to this harmless blogger, puts me into one of two frames of mind. Either I’m put off by the level of political hackery that’s involved or Mark Souder clearly does not understand the issues he’s being presented with.

Of course, being a rational person, and therefore unintelligable to people like Souder, I’m going to assume that this is just a political hack job. Quite frankly the other proposition is too depressing to think about. Plus let’s be honest Mark Souder didn’t put this survey together, he’s got a guy who does this stuff, he probably rubber stamped this thing without a second glance but if I were Souder I’d be checking on what image you are portraying to your constituency. This survey presented two Mark Souders, one of a Partisan Hackjob or an Incompetent.


* One of Mark Souder’s campaign promises, Gingrich’s Contract With America, was that he would only run for 3-terms in office. He was elected to Congress during Republican Revolution of 1994.

** In case you need additional reasons to conclude that Mark Souder’s grasp on reality is tenuous at best here’s his press release bragging about his recent appearance in the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. If you movie is about the lack of intelligence then Souder is your man.

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The Future of FreeThought

I have spent the last few days putting my thoughts to digital paper but they weren’t really my thoughts. They were thoughts that I only think are mine but really have come about from reading Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers, A History of American Secularism. In my first post on the matter I mentioned how profoundly this book has changed my view. How I feel to some extent a sense of connection with the past.

I liken it very loosely* to what I can imagine perhaps a homosexual in America might feel and may I be so bold as to draw a comparison between FreeThought and Homosexual Rights. The first step in the acceptance of homosexuals was the acknowledgement that “they” exist and that there is a community of them. I suppose step 2 was try not to get killed but then came step 3 begin to discover a shared history. There hasn’t been much of history for the GLBT community to draw on, they sort of sprang out of nowhere as you might be led to believe. Of couse, it’s becoming more and more apparent that there is an extensive “gay history” however it hasn’t been very pleasant and we’ll never know the full extent to which the homosexual community has always been around.

I suppose this is the natural evolution, if you will, of all groups as they struggle for identity.

This brings us to the main point of this article, the Future of FreeThought. What does tomorrow or even 5 years bring. Maybe we should be saying to ourselves, “Forget about the future. What does the present look like?”

Where we stand today

There are plenty of very good reasons to be pessimistic about the future of FreeThought considering the last 20 years in one sense hasn’t been that great. We’ve seen the ascendancy of the Religious Right during the 70’s through such organizations as Falwell’s Moral Majority and their ability to shape the political landscape of today (not to mention their power within the Republican party out of proportion to their numbers). The 80’s brought us the almost laughable Satanic Panic. The 90’s brought us the Republican Revolution and the rise of the Christian Coalition led by Ralph Reed. The 21st century was kicked off with a bang, specifically 4 bangs on 9/11. An event that should have led to soul-searching within religious circles on the power of faith and that without some kind of check or measure like reason and evidence all ideology particularly religious ideology can lead to some of the greatest atrocities of mankind. Instead, in America, the various Christian sects circled the wagons and drew Us vs. Them distinctions while the liberal left called Islam the Religion of Peace and tried to categorize the 19 young men as fundamentalists or extremists. No doubt they don’t represent the mainstream muslim but there are some very basic questions that are not being asked.

Today secularists and skeptics, atheists and agnostics face some of the same recurring issues that have cropped over the decades, nay, centuries. That thing called Intelligent Design (AKA warmed-over creationism) has been making inroads or at least the strategy has changed again to “academic freedom” bills. The broad support for faith-based initiatives and school vouchers is a reincarnated version of the very same kind of bill that was working it’s way through the Virginia Assembly that attempted to get the state of Virginia to fund religious education. The very thing that Madison and Jefferson worked vigorously to oppose and many evangelical groups of the day also opposed.

Susan Jacoby begins the final chapter of her book with a recent speech given by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia [full text here],

… the real underpinnings of Scalia’s support for the death penalty are to be found not in constitutional law but in the justice’s religious convictions. He believes that the state derives its power not from the consent of the governed – “We, the People,” as the [Constitution] plainly states – but from God. God has the power of life and death, and therefore lawful governments also have the right to exact the ultimate penalty. Democracy, with its pernicous idea that citizens are the ultimate arbiters of public policy, is responsible for the rise of opposition to the death penalty in the twentieth century. “Few doubted the morality of the death penalty in the age that believed in the divine right of kings,” Scalia noted in his speech. He would have been just as accurate had he pointed out that most subjects in absolute monarchies also supported the right of kings to torture and to impose the death penalty by drawing and quartering. To bolster his argument, Scalia turned to the perennial favorite of conservative politicians the evangelist Paul: [quotes Romans 13:1-4]

And this is from a Supreme Court justice. What happens when abortion makes it’s way to the SCOTUS? I wonder what a devout Catholic will make his decision based on, clearly not case law or prior precedent or any other impartial manner. I wouldn’t doubt if he quotes Psalms 139:13-16 in his opinion.

Now all of that is kind of a drag and I’m generally an optimistic person.

A Plan for the Future

If you are looking for me to start making predictions of what will happen in the future you can stop reading now. I don’t know and neither does anybody else but I do have some ideas about what we can begin to build today.

1) Identify that non-believers exist, acknowledge that you exist

  • A recent Pew Study shows that approximately 10.3% of the U.S. population identifies itself as either atheist, agnostic or secular-unaffiliated, there’s an additional 5-6% of the U.S. population that is religious-unaffiliated, maybe they just need to be told it’s OK to not believe. 
  • Read that again 10% (that’s about 30 million people). We more than exist, we are significant chunk of the population.

2) Recognize that you have a history

  • I hope the last 3 posts have given you a taste of the extremely rich history that secular and free thought have in America. If you don’t know about the last 3 posts here they are:
  1. Revolutionary FreeThought
  2. The Golden Age of FreeThought
  3. FreeThought in the 20th Century

3) Get involved

  • Join a group or start one. I live in Fort Wayne, Indiana, not exactly a liberal bastion by any stretch. We have a group, you can find us here, freethoughtfortwayne.org. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in starting your own.
  • Groups like CFI On Campus provide excellent resources for starting college campus groups.
  • Write letters to the editor, attend speeches and conferences promoting secular thought, scientific literacy and freethought.
  • Write your story, start a blog, write a book. We don’t live in an age anymore where you have to jump through hoops and sell your soul to get published anymore. You can self-publish. Every piece of literature out there adds to the growing number of freethought voices.

4) Begin Building Bridges

  • Instead of fighting or resisting religious groups, we should be defining where we have common ground. I suppose this goes back to that old adage, “The frontiers that trade won’t cross, armies will”, or something like that. If we won’t engage with religious groups we will only ever exchange volleys and that won’t get us anywhere
  • I’ve said it before and I say it again, we really should promote advocacy for secular government within the religious community.

Let’s do what we can to change the tone and tenor of the nation. If you are unhappy about the invasion of religion into every nook and cranny of our political discourse then speak up. Write your congressman, yours can’t be any worse than mine, Mark Souder (R) – 3rd Dist. IN. He or she works for you, remember that.

I would be interested in your comments. AM I missing something? Am I too optimistic?

* Of course, I’m a heterosexual, middle-class white guy, so what do I really know about being gay or even oppressed for that matter. Like I said “very loosely” based on the recent history of homosexuals.

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