Thursday, April 26, 2007

Susan Lipkins: Preventing Hazing

Susan Lipkins, Ph. D. Preventing Hazing: How Parents, Teachers and Coaches Can Stop the Violence, Harassment and Humiliation. Wiley: Josey-Bass, 2006. ISBN 0-7879-8178-8. 179 pages, paper, indexed with references.

This handbook covers all the bases of preventing or responding to hazing today, mostly at colleges. NBC Dateline covered an incident in California of water poisoning, a possibility that she mentions.

When I was growing up, hazing, however, was expected. During my lost first semester at William and Mary, on the Friday night of the second week of classes (in September, 1961), there was to be “tribunals” where freshmen males were to be hazed in various ways, including leg shaving. I skipped out on that, but heard about it later, and my doing so may have contributed to the tensions in the dorm that led to my expulsion in late November, 1961.

Hazing has long been understood as a group rite of passage, and “victims” tend to want to become hazers themselves. But there was very much a myth then that “being able to take hazing” was an important step in becoming a competitive adult male, ultimately able to perform in a marriage and raise a family. It was, perhaps, an urban legend or old wives tale.

Hazing has been taken up in the movies: Sorority Boys (2002, Touchstone, dir. Wallace Wolodarsky), Old School (2003, Dreamworks/Montecito, dir. Todd Phillips), and even for females: The Initiation of Sarah (2006, MGM/ABC Family, dir. Stuart Gillard, story by Tom Holland, about 100 min, a remake of a 1978 film).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

National Geographic issue rewrites our concept of Jamestown and the birth of America

The May 2007 issue of National Geographic contains an intriguing article “America Found & Lost” by Charles C. Mann. The magazine cover includes the subtitle “How settlers destroyed a native empire and changed the landscape from the ground up.” He also claims that what we were taught in grade school history is wrong. England brought biological “infection” to the New World with it – a process that is sometimes now considered in connection with space exploration. These imports may have included the common earthworm, the honeybee and malaria, as well as tobacco. The native American societies thought that they could accommodate the settlers with trade, and gradually became weakened by disease and ecosystem changes. Their population was only 2000 after 60 years.

The tale obviously bares a moral lesson. Drastic changes in the environment can wipe out entire civilizations. What actually happened parallels a lot of science fiction (such as the 1980s TV movie series “V”). But there is the moral question of who “owns” the land or “deserves” it. On a much more obvious scale, the same problem exists today with Israel and the Palestinians in the Middle East. We usually never stop to question how we accomplished political control of the area, before our own struggle for independence.

The article also shows what objects and lifestyles the settlers brought from the Old World. One can really understand the social foundations of any society, its enforcement of tribal, blood and familial loyalty (passed on in marriage), of considering the welfare of one’s “own” before thinking globally, which goes with modern individualism but is a much more recent development as a moral concept.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ruby K. Payne on Understanding Poverty, and education

Title: A Framework for Understanding Poverty
Author: Ruby K. Payne, Ph. D.
Publisher: aha! Process, Inc. Highland, TX
Website: (Do not confuse with ahapress, whichis associated with Health Forum, an American Hospital Association company)
ISBN 1-929229-48-8
Date: 1996, various editions up through 2005
198 pages, paper
With appendix: “Additive Model: aha! Process’s Approach to Building High-Achieving Schools, by Philip E. DeVol

This book, reportedly self-published, is available in updated edition and purports to have sold over a million copies. The title characterizes the author as “The Leading U.S. Expert on the Mindset of Poverty, Middle Class and Wealth” and there is a banner “A Must-Read for Educators, Employers, Polucymakers, and Service Providers.” The book is in nine chapters with introduction and conclusion, very detailed research notes, an appendix and index. There are many charts, tables, and illustrations.

The greatest value of the book is the way it explains the psychological mindset of poverty. In particular, it contrasts the mindsets of poverty, the middle class, and wealth. All classes have social patterns and values that tend to become self-generating and reinforcing. Generational poverty invokes its psychological model more than does situational poverty.

Poverty tends to encourage social values that emphasizes the physical over the mental, survival over creativity, and the concrete over the abstract. And it tends to emphasize people over things. Self-interest in the poor community seems short-sighted to a middle class person as it seems to invoke much more about reciprocal relationships with other people, and especially the relationships in the family, which is often matriarchal. Self-expression, abstraction, foresight, and the ability to choose one’s own social network are encouraged by middle class economics (I add here, whether straight or gay). All of this affects the concepts, skills and content that students can learn in the school systems, and the way they respond to it. Teachers are often befuddled by the “immaturity” (and sometimes “dishonest” behavior) of kids, but “personal responsibility” as a classical liberal young adult understands it is a mindset that has to be built in a series of steps and only works in an economic climate that allows a surplus for creativity and self-expression.

Gradually, she builds up her own model for teaching, which involves relationships (because teaching takes place outside the brain, whereas learning takes place within it) that express the idea of "deposts" and "withdrawals." She believes that her paradigm would apply to most children affected by intergenerational poverty, and reduce the emphasis on special education and individualized education plans.

DeVol expands upon this with his “additive model” for learning the values (or “hidden rules”) of other classes of people.

All of this reflects a moral debate about poverty and unequal opportunity. The liberal solution is generally more programs and more aggressive anti-discrimination or affirmative actions measures. But on an individual level (and DeVol points this out) it would call upon middle and wealth classes to share some of the experiences of the poor, at least learning to empathize with them. As a substitute teacher, I was practically run out of one classroom of low-income students who refused to respect me. It seemed that I was an insufficiently “masculine” man to respected without children, but the real problem is that I did not share their need for immediate empathy and connectedness with others. Some social conservatives seem to appeal to lower income interpersonal values to develop a theory as to how healthful heterosexual parenting and marriage is supposed to develop. The authors of the book,, however, maintain a largely professional, rather than moral, view of the way empathy is shared.

Ian Shapira has an article about this book: “Author’s Poverty Views Disputed Yet Utilized: Materials Have Guided Va., Md. Teachers”, April 15, 2007, The Washington Post, at this link.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Older AMORC books by H. Spencer Lewis

I don’t often review older books on this blog, but I have good reason to go back and review some Rosicurcian philosophy in books published from the 1920s by the 1940s. Two of the most important are books about Jesus by H. Spencer Lewis. Specifically, these are as follows:

Mystical Life of Jesus: An Astounding Account of the Known and “Unknown” Periods of the Great Master’s Life (1929), 316 pages, hardcover

The Secret Doctrines of Jesus (1939), 237 pages, hardcover

These books do not appear to have ISBN’s, possibly because of their time of publication.

There are a number of other books by Lewis, such as The Conscious Interlude, and Mansions of the Soul. There are other books related to The Great White Brotherhood and the supposed lost continent of Lemuria (even before Atlantis). Generally, these are published by the Rosicrucian Order AMORC, web site at this link. I visited their museum in San Jose, CA 1975, and various other areas of interest in California such as the Mt. Shasta area in 1978.

All of this bears comparison to the book Richard Kienenger (pn. Eklal Kueshana), The Ultimate Frontier (1970, rep 1992, Adelphi Org., ISBN 0963225200). Kienenger held monthly meetings in the Unitarian Church in Dallas (University Park) and was building a planned community near Greenville, TX; he had already built another one called Stelle, near Kankakee, IL around 1970.

To get back to Lewis, he starts with the thesis that Jesus was actually a member of the Essenes, a secret society that lived simple, ascetic lives in Palestine and studied mystical truths. The Essenes generally were quiet, and not given to calling a lot of attention to themselves, as Jesus would later (all of this in a time with no electricity, no Internet, no Myspace; but, according to Lewis, its own version of fantastic capacities and miracles). He points out that the Essenes were Gentiles, and were also Aryans, although that refers to descent from certain areas of India, not to the racist meaning to develop later in history. Lewis goes on to relate that the great avatars all had virgin births, and went through secret initiations. He describes young Jesus’s worldwide journey and initiation ceremonies.

Now I tried Rosicrucianism when I lived in New York City, and actually attended the Rosicrucian Feast on the first day of Spring on 1977, a cold drizzly Sunday, in a hotel ballroom. It was a three hour ceremony with considerable silence and ritual, but nothing that would seem spectacular or controversial. AMORC had a chapter that met in the East Village then.

The second book develops its own interpretation of Christianity. Now Lewis tends to be wordy, and drags the reader along with promissory sentences before giving a payoff. His writing style would seem expansive, egocentric, and “screed-like” by today’s standards. But that is OK if you want his message. He claims that the doctrines were secret and taught first to inner circle initiates, which for Jesus comprised 120 disciples, including his own mother Mary. He does not go into the Mary Magdalene controversy (of Leonardo da Vinci) but he indicates that women were able to become initiates just as were men. The “secrecy” would, for some people, be a red flag or indication that the philosophy is not for everyone.

Lewis’s books develop the idea of karma and reincarnation. Of course, everyone has heard of this, but they do take on a moral context. Lewis makes a distinction between the physical body and the soul, with discussions and language that are familiar in theology. At physical death, the soul goes back to the afterlife for a time (some accounts say 144 years). Depending on how the person performed in an incarnation, he or she lives as part of a group consciousness, or he or she may be reunited with the souls of loved ones, family members, or other significant people. In each successive incarnation, the person works off the karma earned or accrued in the previous incarnations, according to a kind of double-entry accounting system called the akashic records.

Spencer Lewis distinguishes between the outer self (the physical body and brain), the soul (which seems to be a collective entity) and the inner self, the individual identity which always exists and learns from incarnations (something like the notion or purgatory) as long as necessary. The inner self cannot sin. It does seem possible that a sin from the outer self could cause the inner self to be denied more incarnations (that is, remain in Hell). That would seen to behave with "spiritual bad faith," to fail to live up to convictions when they are known to be valid. Lewis acknowledges that some moral notions exist to prevent aggression on the rights of other individuals, some exist for the good of the community as a whole, and some moral notions have to do with essentially spiritual good faith. Because of the nature of the soul and complex problems of society, it is not easy for most people to parse moral teachings, but being one's brother's keeper can be important. Spencer's explanation of crucifixion and resurrection seems to be partly as a demonstration of the laws of karma and spiritual life cycle of the inner soul, but also to pass the knowledge among his disciples or adepts (which then numbered 120 but that collection would grow) and start the growth of a new spiritual kingdom.

Conventional Christianity stresses salvation after one lifetime through grace and the atonement on the cross by Jesus Christ. The other major Lewis (C. S. Lewis) tried to develop as thorough an intellectual foundation for this in his works like Mere Christianity (1960). An important moral concept is what kind of living brings one closer to God or to shows the proper kind of faith. C. S. Lewis, for example, sometimes wrote that sexual morality is important, not just for society’s good, but because it tended to encourage people to develop active social empathy for others through the family (by becoming a parent and accepting family responsibilities) – a process of countering the natural inclination to focus on one’s own ability to compete and perform in a competitive world (this concept is part of the institutional concept of marriage being debated by the “challenge” of gay marriage). This has always been a bit of a problem, as men have to “compete” to provide for their own families, so it is a paradox that politicians can exploit to maintain class and tribal (and religious) divisions. However Spencer Lewis maintains that, while one improves one’s karma by helping others and indeed must do so (although it seems that one may keep the right to control one's own emotional distance from people), eventually one grows by practicing various mysteries (certain sounds, prayers, rituals, mantras, and so on) that lead to cosmic consciousness and abilities that seem supernatural to the normal world, including what amounts to astral projection. It would seem to the reader that a man is, in an physical incarnation, becoming more like a god. Initiates and masters of this practice supposedly are around the world, "the invisible empire of the Rosicrucians." Of course, other great spiritual leaders are well known, such as the Dalai Lama of Tibet (whose history is quite convincing). I actually met him in line waiting to board a flight from Amsterdam in May 2001.

Lewis obviously believed that the world would discover these secrets and that the result would be some kind of social revolution. In some sense, with global communications one could say that this has in a sense happened, because of ‘the geeks.”

In comparison, it’s important the Kienenger believed that it is important for men to find wives, marry, and have children. In Stelle, at one time, a man was required to be the sole economic support of the family. Other unusual religions have emphasized the family and its relationship to the afterlife. For example consider the Mormon Church and eternal marriage, with its layers of afterlife in which marriages continue. Karma for them is a family affair.

Many people would find this sort of idea “offensive” if they look at the world around them. Are all of the poor people in undeveloped parts of the world poor because of their own individual karma? In economics, we see similar justifications, that growth (to raise living standards) in poor countries has to start somewhere, in situ. We saw similar objections to the ideas Rhonda Byrne's best-selling book The Secret. Indeed, the charity in the New Testament seems to transcend helping people out of utility or objective “enlightened self-interest” (as in Ayn Rand’s writings), but accepting some kind of communal emotional bonding. That can tie back to notions of sexual morality, as a way directing people into “God centeredness.” Even Spencer Lewis says at some point that the laws of karma are God’s laws.

For me, the central ethical issue comes up over the practical problems of being able to follow one’s own chosen goals in life (that is, this life). After all, the theory of karma says that one makes progress only during incarnations. In practice, external events, disasters, political hardships, and the needs of others in an immediate environment (even when one did not marry and have one’s own children) can affect what one is able to accomplish. Now, I personally feel that some one what I accomplish has to come from me, on my own, without the intrusive demands from others. It is good to have two feet on the ground when entering a relationship. Accomplishing these goals does seem to be part of fulfilling karma. Then what happens when one is sidetracked? Perhaps one makes a “sacrifice” because of the needs of a family members. Maybe one has no choice, and owes the family members a debt. Yet, if the family member’s own ends are improper, then in paying the “debt” back, one will incur the other person’s karma as one’s own debt. Lewis often comments that failure to help others with their karma will hurt one’s own. It seems reasonable to suppose that karma can move around in a family or other group of people, and that in time one’s karma could become connected to that of another person and become absorbed.

In any case, it is not enough, in this system of thought, to sacrifice according to the needs of others and become connected to them, just as proof of “faith.” Doing so does not by itself get one "saved" and does not necessarily satisfy one’s own karma. Two wrongs don’t make a right, and one should not be pressured to fight for someone else’s goals, even if they seem charitable, if at a deeper level they seem incomplete or wrong. Regardless of one’s own circumstances or inborn abilities or disabilities, one is presumed to be responsible for one’s own progress – unless it is somehow assumed by someone else.

It's interesting to compare all of this to Calvinsim and predestination, Puritan concepts that suggest that only certain people are predestined to be saved, contradicting today's ideas of salvation through Grace available for everyone. These ideas also looked at Man as totally sinful. Reincarnation doctrines would suggest that most people will need to "earn" their way into a favorable eternal place with works in successuve lives. It's interesting to compare to Mormonism and Judaism, also.

Book review on book about C. S. Lewis by Purtill, at this link.

Related post here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Clint Bolick: David's Hammer, The Case for an Activist Judiciary

Author: Clink Bolick
Title: David’s Hammer: The Case for an Activist Judiciary
Publisher: The Cato Institutie, Washington DC
Date: April 2007
ISBN: 978-1-933995-02-1
Description: Paper, 188 pages, indexed (Cloth also available)

(Note on ISBN’s: Most books today are published with a 10-digit ISBN and a 13-digit “truly” international standard book number. Gradually the 13-digit code is becoming the accepted number.)

This new work was presented at a noon Cato book forum in Washington today. The two core concepts seem to be judicial activism, and judicial review, which are not the same. The role of the judiciary is particularly critical in the checks and balances of American government, although it is taking on that kind of role in the European Union as well now.

The book has eleven chapters, and starts with a particularly well nuanced case, of Juanita Swendenburg, a wine grower from Virginia. Michael Laris had written up the story of her case before the Supreme Court in the May 17, 2006, page B04 The Washington Post, “A Bittersweet Victory for Va. Winemaker,” here: The Court overturned several state laws that prohibited her from exporting her product to other states without having plants (and employing people) in those states. Her arguments centered around the Commerce clause and countering protectionism, but she had to content with the idea that the 21st Amendment, which had repealed Prohibition, arguably gave states the right to control importation of alcoholic beverages. Another nuance was the Internet, and the idea of efficient selling without bricks and mortar stores, employees and plants in a locality.

Bolick goes on to discuss the role of an activism judiciary in a number of individual rights areas, varying from sexuality issues to economic rights and eminent domain. He mentions the gay marriage issue (with Massachusetts) early, as a situation where state supreme courts are weighing in. Later he discusses Lawrence v. Texas (2003) as a reversal of Bowers v. Hardwick(1986) on sodomy laws.

There has always been a question about how the courts recognize “fundamental rights” unless spelled out in words in the Constitution or Bill of Rights. Gradually, courts have become willing to expand this notion, partly because of the penumbra clause, 9th Amendment. The level of scrutiny required to uphold a law depends in some part on whether an explicit (e.g. fundamental) liberty interest is trampled. For example, “expressive association” has come to be accepted as a First Amendment interest (part of freedom of assembly) and was used to allow the Boy Scouts to exclude gays in James Dale v. BSA. So is private, consensual adult intimate contact protected? That was in a sense tested in Lawrence, although it had to be parsed from equal protection concerns (as with Romer v. Evans).

What comes across in all of these debates is that “public morality” (a notion defended by the 5th Circuit in a 1985 ruling regarding Texas 21.06, 18 years before Lawrence) is a subjective concept that seems to function to protect the emotional world (even from “hurt feelings”) of conventional families with children from distraction from the cultural competition of the outside world. That notion certainly buttresses institutionalistic defenses of traditional marriage from court challenges demanding recognition of same-sex marriage.

In economic rights, the grounding in ideas of fundamental rights may seem less clear, except that the Fourteenth Amendment certainly gives property rights as foundation as a fundamental liberty interest. Many of the controversies that reach the Court deal in some way with “protectionism” – a desire of one economic group to protect its members from competition. Group loyalty is always morally double-edged, as when we deal with union (or family) issues, but sometimes it gets extended with all kinds of laws preventing entrepreneurs competing with established business interests with low-cost models. John Stossel has mentioned many cases involving cosmetology, food preparation, and especially pedicab or independent van services. Local governments often pass these laws under pressure from lobbyists representing industries wanting to retain monopolistic control. This has not happened in the publishing or media business with the Internet, but over time there could be such pressures even in these areas.

Bolick discusses state constitutions, as often being more specific in enumerating fundamental rights than the U.S. Constitution, and often offering potential plaintiffs more legal standing. In that regard, however, it is odd that Virginia amended its own bill of rights to prevent gay marriage and civil unions. But President Bush keeps talking about needing a federal constitutional amendment to protect "the sanctity of marriage" from state supreme court activist judges.

The title of Bolick’s book apparent refers to the boy-king in the Old Testament facing Goliath. There is a science fiction novel called “Lucifer’s Hammer” by Niven and Pournelle, a title which Bolick’s reminds me of.