Thursday, May 25, 2017

Burrito Colon

Recent statements by the current Secretary of Housing and Urban Development have hinted again at the theocratic coup waiting for the dumpster fire of the 45th presidency to burn itself out. I’ve rarely been one to suggest that anyone look away from a good train wreck, but these days there are so many wrecks vying for one’s attention, and all I might suggest is that we spend a few minutes looking at some of the other spectacular collisions gearing up to spread their social shrapnel across the future of civilization; the accelerating theocracy will interact synergistically with the train-wreck in chief so spending a couple minutes looking at a facet of it is almost like keeping your eyes glued to the center ring of the train-wreck dumpster-fire circus.

I should really unstack the metaphors in order to uncover the focus of today’s post: Ben Carson. To be more specific I was struck by Carson’s comments yesterday that poverty could be avoided by personal vim and a positive state of mind. These comments are consistent with what Carson has said in the past, and are also consistent with a popular materialistic Christian narcissistic theology that would thrive on control of the means of production in modern society.

"I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind," said Carson. "You take somebody who has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street and I guarantee you in a little while they'll be right back up there.” – Ben Carso in a 23 May 2017 interview on SiriusXMPolitics

I also want to talk about some frozen burritos I picked up at Costco. I think they will make a good metaphor.

“I serve God, and my purpose is to please Him, and if God be for you, who can be against you?” – Ben Carson

There is something important to be said for the utility of a positive state of mind. Many books have been written on the subject, there are pamphlets and motivational talks enough to bury even the most intrepid climber, and most of this “positive state of mind” material is less than worthless. Carson was not really talking about a “positive state of mind”. He was talking about poverty. He is the sitting Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and so his discussions of poverty have the weight of policy, but how do you identify policy in a homogenized sound goo of feel-good theology mixed with half data on actual issues?

“I made a commitment to Christ. I’m a born-again, evangelical Catholic.” – VP Michael Richard Pence

About those burritos. I bought them to help AYD pack for work as she is spending the home from college summer living with me and a microwavable lunch takes the edge off a long commute. I picked out a number of individually-wrapped food items that had pleasant pictures of highly edible food items on their boxes; I was hoping there would be a reasonable mapping of the contents to the pictures, and for the most part, due largely to my lenient standards for what constitutes food, I was not disappointed. The burritos were an exception.

What does a “positive mindset” view of poverty mean to policy? It suggests that assistance, like the assistance Ben Carson –ironically- received while growing up, is not needed to provide opportunity, and will not help improve the lots of those in poverty. This flavor of blame-casting is very popular in many Abrahamic religions, but it is nowhere more popular than in the redstate heartland of America.

The basic idea is simple: “if people are responsible for their problems and poverty, and quantifiable assistance doesn’t really help, then let’s spend the church’s money on something better than helping people; it is what God would do.” By doubling down on the “positive mindset” aspect it is possible to convincingly insist that proselytization and building megachurches are the best forms of assistance. These realizations, which must save billions of churches’ untaxed dollars, has not resulted in any perceivable decrease in the amount of money the churches ask for.

Carson also talks a lot about “values”, and how these values come from Jesus and deliver people out of poverty. The next logical policy step, if you are charged with spending tax dollars to develop policy to efficiently address poverty, is to spend those tax dollars trying to bring people to Jesus. Ben only offers his own personal experiences, about which he has written several books, and some impassioned hand waving as evidence for his assertion. The simple fact that there are A LOT of poor folks who have believed whole-heatedly in Jesus, and yet remain poor, suggests that Ben’s assertions are not consistent with reality.

Ben is often at odds with more reality-centric ideas. One of my favorites is his often repeated claim that he thinks the Pyramids in Egypt were actually made for the purposes of storing various types of grain. Although his ideas are often interesting simply for their skewed relationship with the universe as we know it this current crop is harvested in the context of policy suggested by a man with the power to create policy.

Rather than just chewing nonstop through some wacky ideas of Ben Carson, let’s talk a little about those burritos. The box showed a burrito cleanly sliced open to reveal its filling which consisted of little bits of brown meat surrounded by some artistically arranged yellow cheeses, and some unidentifiable greenish stuff that I thought represented vegetable matter; these were “steak and cheese burritos" so the picture was consistent with what the contents were supposed to be. The actual contents did not look like the picture on the box. Microwaving does not work well for many types of foods, and tortillas often do not survive microwaving unscathed. The flour tortillas that wrapped the burritos became white all over; crispy in some places and just a translucent gelatinous film in others. Attempting a clean slice resulted in the knife simply poking a hole in a section of gelatinous film, and then the knife got caught up on a crispy bit and smooshed the whole thing flat; squeezing the filling out onto the plate. The filling was a homogenous brown paste; I suspect they pre-masticated all the wonderful texture displayed in the box’s photo so they could squirt the contents into the tortilla as it sped past on a conveyor belt. The resulting consistency was more like what I imagine a colon section from an alien autopsy would look like rather than food. As a section of an alien colon I might be thrilled that the presence of oozing brown paste might allow mankind to determine what the aliens’ diet was, and if they really ate humans; in the “here is lunch” context the burrito was less exciting.

I am obviously juxtaposing inconsistencies here. Ben Carson’s ideas and reality vs the box picture and the burrito. It is the directionality of these inconsistencies that makes them uncomfortable. If I had purchased a box of burritos with a picture of a section of fecal-filled alien colon with the ends folded shut, only to find the burritos in the box were stuffed with discernable steak and cheese I would have been pleasantly surprised; although I’m not sure what would entice me to buy a box of alien colon bits. If Ben Carson had a data-driven secular strategy to address poverty in the US, and the poverty problems were currently exacerbated by some reality free concepts of hand-waving justified theological blame casting, then I might have more confidence that future policy had the potential of heading in a productive direction. The fact that currently it appears as if US poverty problems are also currently exacerbated by some reality free concepts of hand-waving justified theological blame casting that resonate with Ben’s ideas might be where my juxtaposition fails, but it does not provide any warm fuzzy feelings.

There are two things we know, from many studies, help bring communities out of deep poverty. The first is access to an affordable secular education, and the other is access to effective family planning which includes safe abortions. There are “chicken vs egg” arguments to be made, but a lack of those two things is correlated with higher levels of community religiosity. Rather than spend federal dollars on bringing people to Jesus it might be cost effective to entice people out of churches, give them a good secular education, and subsidize all family planning efforts to include abortion.

Ben’s statements are only part of a right wing conspiracy to make the USA a Christian nation with a Christian agenda. This is not a secret conspiracy either. There are no secret signals embedded in pizza ads or backwards masking of satanic directions on albums. This conspiracy is advertised and promoted.

The team currently in positions to assemble the pieces are, from the outside looking in, a collection of people with disparate theologies. Ben’s singularly Seventh Day Adventist beliefs appear to be inconsistent with the heterodoxy of Pence, the Calvinist beliefs of DeVos, or whatever the heck Trump believes. However, on the idea of creating an isolated religious economy within a Christian nation that only, and just barely, tolerates secularism they are surprisingly resonant with each other. I do not think this conspiracy is highly organized. It appears more like a bunch of folks getting whatever they can get in the hopes they can do something with it all once they get it.

“I’ve got great beliefs, all the best theology, my piety is huuuge. Believe me” -fake quote that sounds like something Trump could say.

This conspiracy will not destroy America. It might screw up a generation or two; especially for those already in poverty, but it doesn’t rapidly charbroil millions of people in the way a nuclear war with North Korea would. I’m not even sure that the trump administration can muster the political will to craft many of these conspiracy puzzle pieces, and those they do manage to create might easily be dismantled by the next administration. However, there is the very real potential for very real damage to occur, and I'm one of those people who, on the morning of 8 November 2016, was prepared to celebrate a Clinton win that evening; you can't trust my minimizing of potentially disastrous outcomes.   


John McEldowney said...

Hey, AOA. I just stumbled on your blog. Great stuff, I can't stop reading. If you're ever up Logan way give me a shout, let's go for a bike ride.
John McEldowney

adult onset atheist said...

I hear Cache county is a great place to go riding, but I've not ridden there. The "Little Red" ride is there next week. It is a "women only" supported century ride so I won't be doing it, but I will be getting a report on how good it is to ride there.

John McEldowney said...

My girlfriend is riding the LRRH century, and I assist in my capacity as a ham radio operator.

adult onset atheist said...

Ham Radio! That’s a wonderful way of supporting a ride! Many people unfamiliar with the operation (or lack) of cell phones in rural areas might assume that smart phones made Ham Radio all but obsolete.