Disney and the Tolerance Two-Step

There’s an interesting situation developing at the Walt Disney Company. Disney, one of the early pioneers of corporate gay acceptance, conducts mandatory sensitivity training for employees. The goal is full tolerance for and zero discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender (GLBT) employees.

But the tolerance enforcement saga has turned up a new twist: It appears there have been numerous documented incidents of intolerance against ex-gays. And one non-profit advocacy organization is asking Disney to address it. “Ex-gays are forced to remain closeted because they are not protected by diversity policies and are subjected to open disapproval by others in the workplace,” said Regina Griggs, executive director of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays (PFOX).

PFOX became aware of the tolerance quandary after being contacted by Bobbie Strobhar, a Disney shareholder who submitted a resolution to Disney asking the corporation to expand its antidiscrimination policies to include ex-gays. “Disney should treat ex-gays and their friends with the respect they deserve," said Strobhar. "We need more of these resolutions nationwide to assure tolerance and safety in the workplace for the ex-gay community and their supporters."

Disney’s initial response was to ignore the request, but the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) disagreed, and has in effect ordered Disney to include the proposal among the issues addressed at its 2010 annual meeting.

The question yet to be answered is, Is tolerance really about tolerance?

Cultural Entrepreneurship

Arts and entrepreneurship. Few of us think of artists as entrepreneurs or of economic capitalism as art-friendly. Writer Jeffrey Tucker, who hints that he just might be a bit of an art snob, (“Dancing to me means ballet. Popular fiction I find insulting in every way. Kids, in my view, should spend their time mastering piano rather than gaming on computers.”) says that may be a false dichotomy.

To illustrate his point, Tucker offers three home grown vignettes where individuals’ innovation, risk-taking, and hard work introduced into a community genuine virtuosity of the caliber that, by his exceedingly high standard, qualifies as “Art.” You can read Tucker’s article, “How to Improve the Culture,” here.

To increase the availability of quality art, Tucker doesn’t call for more public funding, the oft-heard cry of the industry. The best way to encourage great art, he says, is capitalism. “Today, cultural entrepreneurs are seriously inhibited in their innovations by high taxes, regulations, and mandated benefits. This produces fewer attempts to improve our world than there would otherwise be. What we need is … more freedom for cultural entrepreneurship, and more individual initiative.”

“Capitalism makes more of everything available to the consumer. That means more … great literature and high-level music, all of which is accessible as never before.”

Life (or not) According to “The Big Bang Theory”

What is the meaning of life? If you watch “The Big Bang
Theory” you could be forgiven for concluding that the meaning of life is sex.
Take Howard Wolowitz, the skirt-chasing, 27 year-old Jewish engineer who lives
with his overbearing mother. Wolowitz once tried to use the Internet, military
satellites, and robot aircraft to find a house full of gorgeous young models “so
I could drop in on them unexpected.” On another episode, he told his physicist friend,
Sheldon Cooper, “I’d kill my Rabbi with a pork chop to be with your sister.”

Hardly a word comes out of Howard’s mouth that doesn’t have
to do with getting a woman – any woman – to “be with” him. The overgrown
adolescent doesn’t know how to carry on a conversation with a woman as a fellow
human being. To him they’re not people; they’re walking appliances.

It’s sad, really. Wolowitz embodies what Dale Kuehne laments
in Sex and the iWorld. When all relationships are sexualized, a person doesn’t know how to have a non-sexual relationship, which means he really doesn’t know how to have a relationship at all.

It’s not that sex is bad; in the right relational context,
it’s good. But a hyper-sexualized life is ultimately lonely, frustrated, and
unsatisfied with all its relationships. Perhaps that’s too common-sensical for
a Hollywood rocket scientist to grasp.

The Botany of Desire

Last month PBS aired a two hour special on The Botany of Desire by science writer, Michael
Pollan. Pollan set out to explore how four particular plants have evolved to
satisfy human desires: the apple, which evolved to satisfy our desire for
sweetness; the tulip, our desire for beauty; the cannabis (marijuana plant),
our desire for intoxication; and the potato, our desire for control.

The documentary shows beautifully how over time man has
cultivated, cross-bred, and aided the transfer of these plants from one native
environment to another. What’s odd is that Pollan talks about the plants as if
they’re the ones in control while all these things are going on. For example,
the apple’s existential predicament, Pollan says, was that it was stuck in one
place. So the apple evolved to appeal to mammals so they wouldn’t be stuck
there, and that’s how they got people to bring them to America.

For the tulip, which Pollan says has no practical value, “the
really ingenious ones are the ones that figure out ways to reengage us every
generation.” They do this by reproducing themselves in different colors so we
won’t get bored with them.

The unique feature of the cannabis plant lay in its ability
to make chemical molecules that have the power to alter one’s mental state.
“Cannabis recognized that this was the path to world domination.”

The potato? Pollan didn’t ascribe as much intelligence to
the pedestrian potato. It evolved, he says, to gratify our desire for control because
we can grow huge amounts of it.

To be fair, Pollan shows genuine, contagious wonder at the
fascinating subjects of his study, and he does admit at the end of the show
that he’s engaging in a bit of anthropomorphism. His conclusion was a fairly
accurate summary of the power of nature. “Nature is stronger than any of our
designs, and nature resists our controls.” I wouldn’t argue that point.

But what struck me as odd was that all the ingenuity and
industriousness was ascribed to the plants, not to the people who were cultivating,
growing, researching, cross-breeding, or transporting them. And it was the plants
that had plans, will, and intentions. The people were merely objects for plants
to manipulate.

Different. Plus, for me, I couldn’t help but think that
potatoes satisfy a desire for food more than a desire for control.



Science and Imperialism

The Wall Street
commissioned Richard Dawkins and Karen Armstrong to respond
independently to the question, “Where does evolution leave God?” Their answers became
an article in the Life & Style section last month called Man vs. God.

Richard Dawkins said of Darwinian evolution, “We know, as
certainly as we know anything in science, that this is the process that has
generated life on our own planet.” Evolution, Dawkins concluded with his
characteristic wit, is God’s “pink slip.” In other words, since science says Evolution
is, we say God isn’t. (I discussed Dawkins’s argument for the non-existence of God in an earlier Salvo article.)

Karen Armstrong’s response was more artistic. She spoke of
two complementary ways of arriving at truth, which the Greeks called mythos and
logos, both of which were recognized by scholars as legitimate. Logos was
reason, logic, intellect. But logos alone couldn’t speak to the deep question
human beings ask like, What is the meaning of life? and, Why do bad
things happen to good people?
For that, she said, people turned to mythos –
stories, regardless of whether or not they were true, that helped us make sense
out of the difficulties of life. They were therapeutic. We could think of them
as an early form of psychology.

was not supposed to provide explanations that lay within the competence of
reason but to help us live creatively with realities for which there are no
easy solutions and find an interior haven of peace; today, however, many have
opted for unsustainable certainty instead. But can we respond religiously to
evolutionary theory? Can we use it to recover a more authentic notion of God?

Darwin made it clear [that] we cannot regard God simply as a divine personality, who
single-handedly created the world. This could direct our attention away from
the idols of certainty and back to the ‘God beyond God.’ The best theology is a
spiritual exercise, akin to poetry.”

Not only is the veracity of any religious story irrelevant, she
seems to be saying, it is incorrect to believe any account concerning God as
objectively true. To do so is to construct an idol of certainty. How do we know
that? Because of the certainty of Darwinian evolution.

Her response, at bottom,
isn’t much different from the atheist’s. Evolution is. God isn’t. But some of
us like to imagine that he is.

Notice the source Dawkins and Armstrong consult for certain truth: Science. Why? Because Science proclaims what is.

The questions I’m pondering and
posing are (1) At what point do the proclamations of science become imperialistic?
and (2) At what point does an appropriate respect for science morph into worship?

Global Warming: This is Denialism?

In March 2009, the Texas State Board of Education finalized its new standards for science education. Soon thereafter, in the Summer 2009 issue of the The Earth Scientist , the quarterly journal of the National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA), Steven Newton, Public Information Project Director for the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), took issue with the new standards.

Specifically, Newton singled out a handful of amendments which he said “weakened the standards” and “opened to door … to bring non-scientific ideas into the science classroom.”
He took issue with minor changes to wording concerning teaching of, among other subjects, the age of the universe, changes in the earth’s atmosphere, and fossils. Referring to these amendments, Newton summed up his comments this way,

“[The] amendments sought to cast doubt upon well-established earth science ideas. The language changes are subtle but significant, hinting to students that scientists do not really know as much as they claim to understand.” (page 31)

My personal favorite had to do with the teaching of global warming. Newton complained that the new standards did not require a presumption that global warming exists. Instead the standards allow different views to be examined. Newton contended:

In Environmental Systems, Texas students are now required to “analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming.” This is the language of global warming denialists, not of the scientific community.” (page 33)

Is it unscientific to analyze and evaluate different views? Newton is writing here as a representative of the NCSE, so I referred back the NCSE website. Here’s what the NCSE says about its reason for existence:

The National Center for Science Education is not affiliated with any religious organization or belief. … Our members range from devout practitioners of several religions to atheists, with many shades of belief in between. What unites them is a conviction that science and the scientific method, and not any particular religious belief, should determine science curriculum.

I’m left wondering, if science and the scientific method are the guiding principles for science education, why is there a problem with students being allowed to analyze and evaluate different views on the existence of global warming?

I’m also wondering, who is the denialist here?