Politics

What’s Fueling “The Bern?” The Secret Every Marketer Should Know

Yet another view into the world of a “professional” narcissistic anthropologist at work.  Posted this morning on the company site / linkedin.

On a side note, I was recently inspired by a new blog i found called The Anxious Anthropologist to start writing more of “the fun stuff”…so expect something new soon.

 

catchingfirebernie

As Cultural Strategists, we invest our time and attention understanding the context that drives human behavior: the macroforces, societal trends and ultimately the resulting cultural values shifts that have a tremendous impact on how we exist in the world. This context influences the choices we make: from big life decisions and lifestyle preferences to our behavior in the marketplace.

The political marketplace has increasingly become a cultural focal point and provides a great example of how emerging cultural values have fueled momentum powering a different kind of politician and the movement his brand of politics is creating: Bernie Sanders.

Whatever the outcome of the election season, one objective fact can’t be denied: an unlikely candidate who, for all intents and purposes had been essentially written off by the mainstream political community, has been gaining more ground than anyone anticipated.

But what some might not consciously realize is that “The Bern” represents a critical mass of cultural values shifts that the team at Culture has spent their careers tracking. So, it’s safe to say we saw this coming. 😉

These values shifts result from the interplay of a number of big picture phenomena and trends, such as the rise of a global economy, increasing economic polarization, natural resource depletion, rampant technological and communication advancement, and the speed, efficiency and creativity with which humans have been able to connect, learn from and identify with one another.

Looking at developed world culture – with the U.S. as a prime example – we can highlight a few specific values shifts that underpin the principles and behaviors, which have created an ideal cultural climate for a candidate like Bernie Sanders to shine:

  • From an “us versus them” mentality rooted in “othering” to fostering a global culture and finding common ground as a human civilization
  • From a “humans first” mentality to acknowledgement of the commitment to a shared ecosystem
  • From the belief that power can only be held and change can only be made possible by institutions to the belief in the power and empowerment of individuals and society

 

The Bernie Sanders brand of democratic socialism, which focuses on human rights, climate change action and other socio-political issues, hits squarely on these values. The implications have been far reaching – including forcing the ‘competition’ to begin softening its message to get in line – because this is the direction of change as dictated by the values of our culture.

Even just looking at a few items, quoted from the list of Bernie’s key platform issues, you can see the connection:

  • Income and wealth inequality
  • It’s time to make college tuition free and debt free
  • Getting big money out of politics and restoring democracy
  • Creating decent paying jobs
  • A living wage
  • Combating climate change to save the planet
  • A fair and humane immigration policy
  • Racial justice
  • Fighting for women’s rights

 

But what are the implications for business and brands?

The fact is, values are beliefs that motivate behavior in life and in the marketplace. Values guide how humans react to change and how they will ultimately react to your brand in an increasingly cluttered and noisy landscape.

Which categories are most impacted by cultural values shifts like these? What does the landscape of trends related to those categories look like in relation to these values shifts? What other shifts are affecting your customers’ behavior and what should your brand / company do about them in order to succeed in the marketplace?

These are important questions to ask, and answering them effectively will require some deep exploration of your customers’ worlds.

At Culture, we are expert consultants who have spent our careers tracking global macroforces, trends, and values, working with leading global brands to direct strategy and keeping boots on the ground studying human cultural and behavioral context. Whether you are a client-side executive who needs a high-level but actionable overview of the implications for your business, or an agency looking to supercharge your planning or stand apart in your pitch with quick-turnaround insights that go far beyond trend reports and data-driven proof points, Culture can provide that strategic intelligence by connecting your business realities to the cultural context that is shaping our world.

Are you ready to uncover the “secret” motivations that will fuel your brand’s rise to the next level?

 Let us find the superpowers hidden in your customers’ and your brand’s values that will help it burn even brighter.

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Categories: Marketing, Politics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Why Coke’s “America The Beautiful” Superbowl Ad Brought Out America’s Ugly

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Let me start by saying that I may be a few day’s late to this party having been engaged in other life event activities over Superbowl Sunday and not having turned on a television until last night.  Why?

soundof music football

That being said, I am aware that I apparently missed a doozy of a backlash against one Superbowl ad in particular: Coke’s “America The Beautiful” spot:

And before I had even had a chance to view it (I will admit it was this morning), I had already consumed an onslaught of media about the outrage this “highly controversial” ad had sparked.  First, I read This article from rawstory.com  showcasing the trending Twitter dialogue of outrage featuring hashtags like #SpeakAmerican and #Boycott Coke – with sociopolitical commentary from both conservative “White America” and immigrants.  They talk about everything from accusations of Coke’s Amnesty and Gay agendas to the idea that any ad talking about America in any way ought to speak in English.

I found the aforementioned blog in a discussion started in the Multicultural Trends group on LinkedIn  by my friend Tom LaForge  ,who is Global Director of Human and Cultural Insights at Coca-Cola.   Even in this business-oriented context we are redirected to This blog making a case for the vitriolic reaction  in a pretty articulate and really enlightening manner.   Pointing to the idea of the founding fathers coming from England and, essentially, the American dream and our concept of America being firmly rooted in English.

What I see in the ad is Coca-Cola defining the America they believe in: the melting pot of multiculturalism and refuge that connects Americans based on this value of diversity, rather than the value of a common language, in the literal sense.  Essentially, I read it as the common “language” being about America representing freedom to pursue  your happiness – regardless of your native tongue.  I thought the response below from news anchor Brenda Wood illustrates this counterbalanced point of view well:

But the fact is, people don’t like to have their frames shifted – and are comfortable in the points of view that allow them to define an “us” versus “other”, and in this case the “us” being those seeking the American dream of accumulating wealth and power and the “them” being the immigrants, underprivileged and otherwise unworthy “huddled masses”.    This is classic Conflict Theory – a sociological macro theory about the nature of social order that basically says the only way societies stay intact is when you have oppressors and those being oppressed – with the wealthy and powerful being the oppressors.  It essentially states that this conflict and power struggle are what maintain social order – and that even attempts by those in power to create social change with charitable works is still in the best interest of the powerful.

What this means to me from an anthropological, cultural perspective is that many Americas who share values with “the powerful”, whether that be religious or economic, take the idea of the American brand / dream / ideal being about ultimate equality and sharing of multicultural values as an attack against the status quo and the deeply held values that drive their existence.  And this is as true for right-wing conservative operating from within the privilege of power to the newly arrived immigrant who strives to integrate into American society and follow a path for himself or his family to financial success and power.

“Wow”, you might say.  “That’s a lot of reading into a commercial for soda pop”.   But it’s not necessarily the anthropologists and sociologists inflating the conversation.  You can see it in the articles I have referenced in sentiments referring to the idea presented in this ad as “communists destroying our way of life” or promoting the destruction of the American family (there is a split second in the ad, if you watch very carefully, where you see a gay male couple roller skating).

I asked Tom Laforge (mentioned earlier – the Human and Cultural Insights guy from Coca-Cola) what he thought was happening and he had perspective that I think sums up the situation. He says, “concepts like America are continually evolving.  All culturally defined artifacts are. Errors: assuming the definition you like does not evolve or is shared”.   So I suppose the idea a company like Coca Cola could be powerful enough to change a definition as enormous as America hits a pretty deep cultural chord.

Even more to the point, Tom says, “change can be scary, especially to something that is part of your identity.  Change has always been scary”.

But perhaps if Coca-Cola believes it can “teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” and this is a core belief that does and continues to drive the message of their brand, that it is an appropriately bold step for them to take in sparking a passionate conversation about change in America.

Naturally, I am very eager to hear what the rest of the blogosphere thinks…

Categories: American Culture, american History, Anthropology, conflict theory, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Marketing, Politics, pop culture, Racism, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Coming Together Over Free Coffee: A Starbucks Political Statement and Marketing Magic

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The U.S. political environment is pretty bound up these days with the debt ceiling crisis and government shutdowns, etc.  All the CNN and MSNBC addicts among my readers (I imagine quite a few) are likely well aware.  If you look to your Facebook and Twitter feeds you will likely see lots of griping and general dissatisfaction with the inability of our government to be able to work together as a team to solve our financial problems in an effective manner.

How do you get politicians to play nice?  If you watch political dramas on TV (aside from the aforementioned “non fiction” news channels)  like House Of Cards on Netflix or on MovieBox on mobile, then it might seem counter-intuitive and darn near impossible.  But Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz would like to think that we can all get along and encourage collaboration – ease the bind in our governments bowels by lubricating the works with a steaming hot cup of coffee!  In that spirit, there is lots of “free marketing buzz” around the  Starbucks free brewed coffee promotion  being activated this week at Starbuck’s nationwide.

The concept:  today through Friday if you buy a cup of coffee for a friend or coworker you get one free.   The political message Starbucks is serving up:  let citizens lead by example by demonstrating a spirit of generosity, togetherness and collaboration.   Obviously more of a marketing ploy to tap in to the political sensibility of those first-worlders with enough taxable income to be concerned about the debt crisis (and spend several dollars a day on coffee) than an effective political activism tactic – but it leverages a warm fuzzy social fact that connects well with the brand – the idea of coffee as a social lubricant in America.

I applaud Starbucks for being so intuitive with their brand strategy in that regard.   Just like tea in Great Britain (and Asia for that matter), cigarettes in China (among only-child teens and twenty-somethings  who seek to make friends by sharing smokes) and other forms of social bonding over consumables – Coffee in the US represents the spirit of community.  It’s why Starbucks was able to so successfully launch a “third space” coffee house chain whereby people can find another place to be and hangout over hat’s not their office or a bar but still offers a stimulating incentive to get together.  The coffee house trend became popular during the Beat era in the US and saw a resurgence during the 90’s.   This was reflected in popular culture with TV shows like Friends  where the cast of New Yorker characters would regularly meet at the “Central Perk” coffee house to catch up and bond over life’s big and little situations.  🙂

It’s a far cry to think that congress can solve the world’s problems by integrating some slow-drinking caffeine and cozy couches into their collaboration process. Methinks a bottle of Jack Daniels would go a little further, but I digress.

In any case – this narcissistic anthropologist can appreciate some good strategy – albeit a bit transparent – when she sees it.  I raise my cup of Joe to the marketers who can find ways to make political statements while also making money.

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Branding, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Marketing, Politics, pop culture, Rituals, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Variations On A Meme: Marriage Equality Enthusiasm

Not to belabor the point on marriage equality, but I am always a fan of meme-watching…especially when you start seeing all the “hacking” that goes into personalizing a meme to make it more meaningful….and even borrowing from other memes to do so.

In the case of the marriage equality debate that is happening in the supreme court right now, I have seen (along with anyone else who has internet access) the emergence of the red HRC Equality symbol as a show of solidarity….mostly as people’s Facebook profile pictures.  Just this morning I started noticing some variation as different subgroups and even brands seek to identify their support or further signify their unique perspective.

From nostalgia buffs, to sci-fi geeks to drag queens and bacon-loving-foodie-hipsters, there is widespread equality love out there and everyone wants to be heard! Even some brands are speaking out.

Here are some examples:

It’s good to see people bringing levity to such a serious issue.  But I suppose humor has always been one of those things that reminds us to stay focused without sapping our energy – so we can live through life’s challenges and continue the conversation.

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Culturematic, Politics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Marraige Equality: Trending Today and Influencing Tomorrow, One Facebook Photo At A Time?

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Facebook is one of the best platforms for getting a meme out there – especially when you can adopt the symbol for a space-in-time social movement your profile picture and have it speak volumes.   Thanks to Mashable.com for explaining the phenomenon of the day and sharing the love!

http://mashable.com/2013/03/26/facebook-red-marriage-equality/

Facebook Turns Red as SCOTUS Marriage Equality Hearings Begin
Marriage equality activists are protesting outside the Supreme Court Tuesday, as the nation’s highest court begins two days of hearings about two same-sex marriage laws.

As can be expected in this day and age, the demonstrations are not only taking place in Washington. Facebook has become a hotbed for marriage equality supporters, as profile pictures change to a red version of the Human Rights Campaign’s logo.

The HRC, the largest lobby group for LGBT rights, shared a pink and red version of its navy blue and gold equality symbol logo on Facebook Monday.

“Follow @HRC on Twitter and at http://www.hrc.org/blog for live-updates from the first day of at the Supreme Court hearings. Make sure you wear red to show your support for marriage equality. And make your Facebook profile red too!,” the post says.

The logo has been hard to miss on Facebook news feeds, especially after George Takei’s profile picture change garnered nearly 40,000 likes from his enormous fan base Tuesday morning.

“For those friends wondering, this special ‘red’ equality symbol signifies that marriage equality really is all about love. Thanks to the Human Rights Campaign for this effort. Please consider changing your profile today in support—esp if you are a straight ally,” Takei wrote.

The HRC has also started an online petition, which it hopes will gain significant traction.

Image courtesy of Human Rights Campaign; composite by Mashable

Categories: American Culture, Consumer Culture, Culture, Gay and Lesbian Lifestyles, Lesbians, Politics, pop culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Putting Federal Ruling about Gay Marraige In Context: A Look Back to Roe V. Wade and A Discussion of Human Opinion V. Social Science

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One funny thing about being human is we tend to get pretty emotional about the topic of human rights.   Hilarious, right?  I mean, why do we have to take this stuff so personally?  😉   And that’s not the only funny thing about humans.  Another is, on the one hand – especially in America where we are all about our human rights – we want to be able to be free to make our own decisions and live life in a way that makes us happy.  On the other hand, we feel like there are some decisions that should be “over our heads” – like the right to kill, the right to steal, etc.  But then, we just can’t seem to get clear on which decisions belong to us as individuals and which belong to our governments. Then there is the holy elephant in the room, Batman!  Which decisions get left up to the higher powers?

The funny thing about being a social scientist is that, while on the one hand you are a human subject to all of the aforementioned predispositions on rights, you are a scientist beholden to objective observation of data and analysis of the meaning brought forth by that data.   So, for this said mad scientist, the topic of the social function of ruling-body decisions on human rights and the simultaneous functions of social debate and the political process, become a bit of a conundrum.

There are theories in sociology that propose basic rules for how society needs to work in order for it to, well work.  Conflict theory, which I have talked about before, says we need to be in a constant state of conflict or society will fall apart.  We need an “us” versus “them” at all times.  Labeling theory says we need to make sure those individuals who’s behavior disrupts social norms need to be primarily identified by those behaviors to serve as an example – and that when given our primary labels we tend to roll with them and live up to our “potential” one way or another, thus perpetuating the shining / or not-so-shining examples.  Structural functionalsm talks about the fact of  delicate and intentional interplay between social bodies, much like clockworks – that keeps society humming along.

So, as a socially liberal female homosexual who has some pretty distinct beliefs on what humans ought to have the right to, I am forced to consider the sociological implications of making federal rulings about them versus allowing states (smaller, “bite-sized” pockets of organized humans who’s likely share more in common due to the context of their proximity – meaning it’s more likely that the settlers of that area came from similar places and there is more likeliness of shared culture among people within that state than between those in that state and other people living across the country) to make those decisions individually and allow critical mass to eventually move in the right direction on its own.   PHEW….long sentence.

 

It’s a lot to chew on but all of these theories point to the necessity allowing society to work out its arguments.  And I think the discussion in today’s NY Times Article: Shadow of Roe V Wade Looms Over Ruling on Gay Marriage is a fascinating one.

It forces one to think that maybe a democratic, industrialized society requires a bit longer, drawn out political process to keep said society functioning efficiently and moving in the right direction.   That, perhaps, by cutting off the debate by enacting federal laws does more harm than good?  The context given in this article is that the federal law on Roe V. Wade legalizing abortion everywhere cut off the debate at a time when the conversation was just achieving a critical mass on a state by state level.  The result is that the country felt like they didn’t have a chance to really resolve the issue and thus the debate continued (and still continues) to rage on because people felt like they had their voice taken away from them.  Some wonder if the same thing will happen again if the conversation on Gay marriage is taken out of the hands of the states.

I have a human opinion and a scientific one.   As irony would dictate, they are at odds.   Am eager to hear how others who have the inclination toward a scientific or philosophical exploration of the topic as compared to their human opinion think / feel about this.

Categories: american History, Anthropology, conflict theory, Culture, labeling theory, Politics, Science, sociology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Nature Of Peace

In honor of the late Martin Luther King Junior and the inauguration of President Obama to his second term, I thought I would share this thoughtful perspective on the concept of Peace and our challenge as humans living in a “civilized” society.

Categories: Anthropology, conflict theory, Politics, sociology, Uncategorized, War | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

On The Road To Godlesness?

As we careen toward’s Christmas just a few days away, the topic of religion is obviously unavoidable.  I know, I know…muddying the celebratory waters with facts.   An article in today’s New York Times discusses the fact brought to light by a new Pew Center study that a full 20% (that’s 1/5th) of the U.S. Population claims no religious affiliation.  That’s not to say, according to the study, that they don’t necessarily believe in God (although the Athiests are in there).  Many said they were indeed spiritual or participated in prayer in one way or another – they just don’t dig the religious system because they find it a bit too focused on money or politics or just find it otherwise undesirable.

Interestingly enough – did you  know there are more Athiests than Jews living in the U.S.?  Hannukah just became way more fringe of a Holiday in my book.

But I digress.  The point is: as a country we celebrate a holiday proclaimed a national day of observation by our government as the Christian population steadily declines (5% in the past 5 years, although still the overwhelming majority at about 73%), we start questioning the propriety of religion as a civic guidepost.  It brings up a host of debate and conversation.  But I will let the New York Times do the talking.

You can click on the article or just read below:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/opinion/sunday/american-christianity-and-secularism-at-a-crossroads.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

One Nation Under God?
By MOLLY WORTHEN
Published: December 22, 2012

THIS week millions of “Chreasters” — Americans who attend church only on Christmas and Easter — will crowd into pews to sing carols and renew their vague relationship with the Christian God. This year, there may be fewer Chreasters than ever. A growing number of “nones” live in our midst: those who say they have no religious affiliation at all. An October Pew Research Center poll revealed that they now account for 20 percent of the population, up from 16 percent in 2008.
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Avoiding church does not excuse Americans from marking the birth of Jesus, however. Most of us have no choice but to stay home from work or school — and if you complain about this glaring exception to the separation between church and state, you must be a scrooge with no heart for tradition. Christmas has been a federal holiday for 142 years.

Yet Christianity’s preferential place in our culture and civil law came under fire this year, and not simply because more Americans reject institutional religion. The Obama administration subtly worked to expand the scope of protected civil rights to include access to legal marriage and birth control. Catholic bishops and evangelical activists declared that Washington was running roughshod over religious liberty and abandoning the country’s founding values, while their opponents accused them of imposing one set of religious prejudices on an increasingly pluralistic population. The Christian consensus that long governed our public square is disintegrating. American secularism is at a crossroads.

The narrative on the right is this: Once upon a time, Americans honored the Lord, and he commissioned their nation to welcome all faiths while commanding them to uphold Christian values. But in recent decades, the Supreme Court ruled against prayer in public schools, and legalized abortion, while politicians declared “war on Christmas” and kowtowed to the “homosexual lobby.” Conservative activists insist that they protest these developments not to defend special privileges for Christianity, but to respect the founders’ desire for universal religious liberty — rooted, they say, in the Christian tradition.

The controversial activist David Barton has devoted his career to popularizing this “forgotten history” through lectures, books and home-school curriculums. Mr. Barton insists that “biblical Christianity in America produced many of the cherished traditions still enjoyed today,” including “protection for religious toleration and the rights of conscience.”

Bryan Fischer, spokesman for the American Family Association, told me that he saw the “nones” as proof that “the foundations of our culture are crumbling.” The Pew poll, he said, “is one of the signs.” A couple of weeks after we spoke, he told a radio audience that God did not protect the children killed in the Newtown, Conn., massacre because of the Supreme Court decisions banning prayer and Bible reading in public schools. “God is not going to go where he is not wanted,” Mr. Fischer said.

How accurate is this story of decline into godlessness? Is America, supposedly God’s last bastion in the Western world, rejecting faith and endangering religious liberty?

The truth is that “nones” are nothing new. Religion has been a feature of human society since Neanderthal times, but so has religious indifference. Our illusions of the past as a golden age of faith tend to cloud our assessment of today’s religious landscape. We think of atheism and religious apathy as uniquely modern spiritual options, ideas that Voltaire and Hume devised in a coffee house one rainy afternoon sometime in the 18th century. Before the Enlightenment, legend has it, peasants hurried to church every week and princes bowed and scraped before priests.

Historians have yet to unearth Pew studies from the 13th century, but it is safe to say that we frequently overestimate medieval piety. Ordinary people often skipped church and had a feeble grasp of basic Christian dogma. Many priests barely understood the Latin they chanted — and many parishes lacked any priest at all. Bishops complained about towns that used their cathedrals mainly as indoor markets or granaries. Lest Protestants blame this irreverence on Catholic corruption, the evidence suggests that it continued after Martin Luther nailed his theses to the Wittenberg church door. In 1584, census takers in Antwerp discovered that the city had a larger proportion of “nones” than 21st-century America: a full third of residents claimed no religious affiliation.

When conservative activists claim that America stands apart from godless Europe, they are not entirely wrong. The colonies were relatively unchurched, but European visitors to the early republic marveled at Americans’ fervent piety. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1840 that the absence of an established state church nurtured a society in which “Christian sects are infinitely diversified and perpetually modified; but Christianity itself is a fact so irresistibly established that no one undertakes either to attack or to defend it.”

De Tocqueville visited during a wave of religious revival, but he underestimated the degree to which some Americans held Christianity at arm’s length: the “infidel” Abraham Lincoln declined to join a church, and his wife invited spiritualists to hold séances in the White House.

Nevertheless, America’s rates of church affiliation have long been higher than those of Europe — perhaps because of the First Amendment, which permitted a religious “free market” that encouraged innovation and competition between spiritual entrepreneurs. Yet membership, as every exasperated parson knows, is not the same as showing up on Sunday morning. Rates of church attendance have never been as sterling as the Christian Right’s fable of national decline suggests. Before the Civil War, regular attendance probably never exceeded 30 percent, rising to a high of 40 percent around 1965 and declining to under 30 percent in recent years — even as 77 percent still identify as Christians and 69 percent say they are “very” or “moderately” religious, according to a 2012 Gallup survey.

We know, then, that the good old days were not so good after all, even in God’s New Israel. Today’s spiritual independents are not unprecedented. What is new is their increasing visibility. “I like the fact that we’re getting more ‘nones’ because it helps Christians realize that they’re different,” Stanley Hauerwas, a Protestant theologian at Duke Divinity School, said when I asked for his thoughts on the Pew poll. “That’s a crucial development. America produces people that say, ‘I believe Jesus is Lord, but that’s just my personal opinion.’ ”

The temple of “my personal opinion” may be the real “established church” in modern America. Three decades ago, one “none” named Sheila Larson told the sociologist Robert Bellah and his collaborators that she called her faith “Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.” Americans are drifting out of the grip of institutionalized religion, just as they are drifting from institutional authority in general.

THIS trend, made famous by books like Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone,” has encouraged both the theological mushiness of those who say they are “spiritual, not religious” as well as the unfiltered fury that has come to characterize both ends of the political spectrum. “It seems like we live in a Manichaean universe, with vitriolic extremes,” said Kathryn Lofton, associate professor of American studies and religious studies at Yale. “That’s not unrelated to the lack of tempering authority. ‘Religious authority’ is no longer clergy in the pulpit saying ‘Vote for Eisenhower,’ but forwarded URL links or gossip exchanges in chat rooms. There is no referee.”

For a very long time, Protestant leaders were those referees. If individual impiety flourished in centuries past, churches still wielded significant control over civic culture: the symbols, standards and sexual mores that most of the populace respected in public, if not always in private. Today, more and more Americans openly accept extramarital sex, homosexuality and other outrages to traditional Christian morality. They question the Protestant civil religion that has undergirded our common life for so long.

The idea of Protestant civil religion sounds strange in a country that prides itself on secularism and religious tolerance. However, America’s religious free market has never been entirely free. The founding fathers prized freedom of conscience, but they did not intend to purge society of Protestant influence (they had deep suspicions of Catholicism). Most believed that churches helped to restrain the excesses of mob democracy. Since then, theology has shaped American laws regarding marriage, public oaths and the bounds of free speech. For most of our history, the loudest defenders of the separation of church and state were not rogue atheists, but Protestants worried about Catholics seeking financing for parochial schools or scheming their way into public office to take orders only from mitered masters in Rome.

Activists on both the left and the right tend to forget this irony of the First Amendment: it has been as much a weapon of religious oppression as a safeguard for liberty. In the 19th and early 20th century, when public school teachers read from a Protestant translation of the Bible in class, many Americans saw benign reinforcement of American values. If Catholic parents complained, officials told them that their Roman dogma was their own private concern. The underlying logic here was not religious neutrality.

The Protestant bias of the American public sphere has mellowed over time, but it still depends on “Christian secularism,” said Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, a political scientist at Northwestern University. This is a “political stance” premised on a “chiefly Protestant notion of religion understood as private assent to a set of propositional beliefs,” she told me. Other traditions, such as Judaism and Islam and to some degree Catholicism, do not frame faith in such rationalist terms, or accept the same distinction between internal conviction and public argument. The very idea that it is possible to cordon off personal religious beliefs from a secular town square depends on Protestant assumptions about what counts as “religion,” even if we now mask these sectarian foundations with labels like “Judeo-Christian.”

Conservative Christian activists hold those sectarian foundations more dearly than they admit, and they are challenging the Obama administration’s efforts to frame access to contraception and same-sex marriage as civil rights immune to the veto of “private” conscience. Alan Sears, president of the legal advocacy organization Alliance Defending Freedom, sees an unprecedented threat to religious liberty in the harsh fines facing employers who refuse to cover contraception in their insurance programs. “It is a death penalty. It is a radical change,” he told me. “It’s one thing when you’re debating about public space, but it’s another when you say, if you don’t surrender your conscience, you’re out of business.”

Barry Lynn, the director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (an organization that until 1972 was named, tellingly, Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State), sees things differently. He worries about what might happen if an unpredictable Supreme Court agrees to hear conservative Christians’ challenges to the contraception mandate, or their pleas for exemptions for charities that accept federal grants but discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring. “The court could create something vastly more dangerous than corporate free speech: a ‘corporate conscience’ claim,” Mr. Lynn, a lawyer and an ordained minister, told me. “These cases could become as significant for the redefinition of religious liberty as Roe v. Wade was a rearticulation of the right to privacy.”

These legal efforts are less an attempt to redefine religious liberty than a campaign to preserve Christians’ historic right to police the boundary between secular principles and religious beliefs. Only now that conservative Christians have less control over organs of public power, they cannot rely on the political process. Now that the “nones” are declaring themselves, and more Americans — including many Christians — see birth control as a medical necessity rather than a sin, Mr. Sears sees a stark course of action for the Catholic and evangelical business owners he represents: “Litigation is all that our clients have.” Their problem, however, is more fundamental than legal precedent. Their problem is that America’s Christian consensus is fragmenting. We are left groping for something far messier: an evolving, this-worldly, compromise.

Molly Worthen is an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Categories: Anthropology, Politics, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Evolution Of Bigotry: Racist Tweeting

It’s good to know that technological advancement takes all kinds.

Those who work in CRM (customer relationship management) understand the distinct value of being proactive when it comes to managing both positive and negative conversations happening about a brand or company in the social media space.

People have used social media technology like twitter to collaborate and coordinate and unify people for everything from fun stuff like flash mobs to serious stuff like political and social protests and even revolutions.

And then there are the racists…adopting technology to spread the hate.

A friend of mine posted this “fun” article assessing the geographic frequency of racist tweets following (you guessed it) the presidential election. You can link to it here:

 http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/11/where-americas-racist-tweets-come-from/265006/#.UKFppCRPHPk.facebook
Or simply check out the content below.  I am proud to say I don’t live in the #1 ranking state on the list…although unfortunately didn’t do much better:

Where America’s Racist Tweets Come From

By Megan Garber

inShare66 Nov 9 2012, 12:28 PM ET 334

Warning: The tweets are really, really racist.

[optional image description

A map of the location quotients for racist tweets: the darker-green the state, the higher the location quotient (Floating Sheep)

The day after Barack Obama won a second term as president of the United States, the blog Jezebel published a slideshow. The gallery displayed a collection of screen-capped tweets. Among them was this:

race_1.png

And this:

race_4.png

And this:

race_3.png

There were, both shockingly and unsurprisingly, many more where that came from. And many of those tweets were geocoded: Embedded in them were data about where in the U.S. they were sent from.

Floating Sheep, a group of geography academics, took advantage of that fact to turn hatred — and, just as often, stupidity — into information. The team searched Twitter for racism-revealing terms that appeared in the context of tweets that mentioned “Obama,” “re-elected,” or “won.” That search resulted in (a shockingly high and surprisingly low) 395 tweets. The team then sorted the tweets according to the state they were sent from, comparing the racist tweets to the total number of geocoded tweets coming from that state during the same time period (November 1 – 7). To normalize states across population levels, the team then used a location quotient-inspired measure — an economic derivation used to analyze norms across geographical locations — to compare a state’s racist tweets to the national average of racist tweets.

So, per the team’s model, a score of 1.0 indicates that the state’s proportion of racist tweets to non-racist tweets is the same as the overall national proportion. A score above 1.0 indicates that the proportion of racist tweets to non-racist tweets is higher than the national proportion.

Here’s the LQ formula the team used:

Screen Shot 2012-11-09 at 11.39.21 AM.png

Their findings?

Alabama and Mississippi have the highest LQ measures: They have scores of 8.1 and 7.4, respectively. And the states surrounding these two core states — Georgia, Louisiana, and Tennessee — also have very high LQ scores and form a fairly distinctive cluster in the southeast.

What might be most surprising, though, is the distribution of tweets beyond that cluster. North Dakota and Utah both had relatively high LQ scores (3.5 each), as did Missouri (3). And Oregon and Minnesota, though they don’t score as high when it comes to LQ, have a higher number of hate tweets than their overall Twitter usage would suggest.

In the chart above, the location of individual tweets, indicated by red dots, is overlaid on color-coded states. Yellow shading indicates states that have a relatively low amount of election-oriented hate tweets as compared to their overall tweeting patterns, and the states shaded in green have a higher amount — the darker the green color, the higher the LQ measure.

States shaded in gray had no geocoded hate tweets within the Floating Sheep database, which could have to do with the fact that many of them (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and South Dakota) have a relatively low level of Twitter use overall. The analysts also point out that their samples are measuring tweets, rather than authors — so it could be that one user could be responsible for several racist tweets, thus bumping up a state’s numbers. And given the overall low incidence of racist tweets — the good news veiled in all this — once you get past Alabama and Mississippi, it’s worth noting, the variation among the more-racist and less-racist states is relatively small.

Still, though. The analysis is a revealing exercise — and a nice reminder that in the age of the quantified self, biases are just one more thing that can be publicized and analyzed and, finally, judged.

Here, with all that in mind, are the states at the top of the racist-tweet list:

racelist.png

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Ethnography, Linguistics, Politics, pop culture, Racism, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Romancing The Senate: When Did The Business Of Government Become About Love?

On CNN today, the “talk back question” was “can Barack Obama romance the republicans?”.
It seems that voters intentionally put our country into a state of gridlock the past couple elections: with a democratic president and a senate dominated by Republicans. And it also seems that our two-party system has created a sandbox with a stone wall in the middle.

Some might say the past four years were plagued by intentional gridlock imposed by republicans to prevent our incumbent president’s reelection by not allowing him to make any progress.
Some say that’s a load of hooey and that the President simply refused to compromise.

So now the metaphor for a re-start is one of romance: how can the president win over the opposition party in the senate. Can they start “dating” again?

At what point do we start taking the emotion and ego out of government and remember that it’s about business, not love? Love fascinates and intoxicates and causes irrational conflict. Business is, in theory, objective and goal oriented.

Lets get goal oriented and get down to the business of getting our country’s economy straight.
This will be my last overtly political blog as I jettison my election-enduced political hangover.

Perhaps tomorrow I’ll blog about legalizing doobies.

Categories: Anthropology, Politics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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