The Least Stressful Job for 2013? A Real Look at Being a Professor in the US

The brain trust at CNBC just published this little fluff piece about the least stressful jobs for 2013 and of course the least stressful job was being a university professor. Their rationale? There are no physical demands, no deadlines, no environmental condition hazards, we don’t put our lives on the line, nor are we responsible for other peoples’ lives. I will grant that we’re not crab fishing on the Bering Sea nor making command and control decisions on the front lines of a military conflict; however, this feeds the myth that being a professor in the US is like living in a plush ivory tower disconnected from the world — holding class like we’ve all seen in the movies. It’s also easier to dismiss us in a whole lot of different ways when this myth is perpetuated.

Let’s cut through the BS — being a professor in the US for the first 7 years is like being an indentured servant … and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have a ‘good’ tenure track position. There are different experiences in being a professor, but let me give you a bit of a walk through our world. I sincerely hope that some of my friends will also add their experiences onto this.

Beginning the “Life of Luxury”

Many of us in academia don’t come from backgrounds of extreme privilege — what I mean by this is that loads of us finish our Ph.D.’s (which is what you have to have to be a ‘regular’ professor) with between $75,000 and $160,000 in debt — and the debt mountain is enormous for those coming from lower income families. The median salary in this little fluff piece puts what professors make at over $60,000 per year. Silly story.  The reality is that in most disciplines, a freshly minted Ph.D. is going to be making $45,000-$55,000 per year (depending on geographic location and field). So, we start from a place of financial trauma — if we don’t find a permanent job, we’re still going to owe Uncle Sam our pound of flesh.

Why did we do it? I think this is a question most of us ask ourselves… sometimes often. The two realities are #1  that most of us who are professors are there by choice — this isn’t the ‘fall back’ career and #2 we’re typically really smart people**(editing note at the end) (the PhD and doing original research is kind of a baseline test for that :) ). I know, that’s probably not PC to say but it’s true.

Yet, why would we hamstring our lives this way? Well … lots of reasons, but most of us just frankly like the notion of research, teaching, and being a part of the intellectual endeavor. And we’re saps for it. There is a point that we realize we’re idiots for committing ourselves to a life of functional poverty (because seriously, we’re never going to pay off our student loans), but we still tell ourselves it’s worth it and there are good arguments to be made for the financial sacrifice depending on what we want out of life. It’s just that I don’t know that we all really ‘get’ what it’s like before we start. Why? Look at the silly story — most people just don’t understand what being a professor entails on a daily basis.

But I get ahead of the story — we have to find a job. Well, one of the realities since the economic crash of 2008 is that “real” academic jobs are getting harder and harder to come by both because there are too many new Ph.D.’s and because many universities’ endowments, state funding, and/or giving campaigns have been damaged. Not only that, but many at state universities haven’t seen appropriate cost of living raises for the last 4 years. What does this mean in a practical sense? Lots more applicants than jobs. For example, last year when we were interviewing for a position very late in the year we had amazing candidates because they were new grads who couldn’t find jobs — they were losing out to professors just looking to change jobs who were willing to take “entry” level jobs just so they could make the move. That was great for us, but ridiculous in the job search process.

The “Least Stressful” Job

Now, there are disciplines whose student to professor (for advising) ratio is quite low … Departments of English, Philosophy, Math, and the like who ‘make their money’ because they’re essential parts of a liberal arts curriculum and so each year they fill a lot of classes with students who have to take ‘required’ courses. However, if you happen to be in large majors (e.g., my own in Communication is just one of many that are either growing or already very large at most colleges & universities), the student to professor ratio is actually quite high… so let me walk you through the life of the “Assistant” Professor (i.e., the lowest level of the tenure track faculty, not tenured, and could be released just because they don’t like your socks and you don’t have a lot of legal recourse absent documented discrimination… kind of like working in a ‘right to work’ state) by sharing what my life looked like for the last 3 years. I was at a small ‘teaching’ college, but one that is beginning to place more emphasis on building Master’s programs and research. This ‘suited me’ because while I like teaching, I liked the notion of a balance between teaching and research.

Year One. ‘Breaking You In’

In your first year, you might get a course release … so instead of teaching 3 or 4 classes in an academic semester you might teach 2 or 3. This is a matter of negotiation. Doesn’t sound too bad does it? So what does it mean to teach a class? Well, as a brand new professor in a department, you’re probably having to put together your classes for the first time. So, what does the first year look like?

    •  You have to write your syllabus and all of the course materials (e.g., assignment descriptions, etc.). This will typically take 30-60 hours per class before the semester even begins — for the brand new prof, that’s 90-240 work hours (3-6 weeks) of UNPAID work before you even start your job. 
    • Preparing lesson plans for 16-32 class sessions per class that you teach. If you’ve never taught the class, you have to write the lectures, which takes me about 3 hours (and I’m actually pretty fast, but expect a high level of quality out of the lecture and the visuals) per lecture. Multiply that by 3, so you’re talking about 15-20 hours per week spent on class prep (Yes, this post requires simple mathematics… keep in mind I’m a social scientist, so the math won’t be too complex).
    • You have to attend each of your classes — I know this seems obvious, but hell… it adds to the math. So, that’s 10-12 hours per week (ok… if you’re counting we’re already at 25-32 hours per week).
    • You have to have office hours each week, so that the eager young minds can visit you to ask you the questions they probably could find in the lectures, class announcements, or other class documentation anyhow. At my college, we had 8 hours per week of office hours (33-40 hours per week).
    • At most universities, faculty also have advisees — I had 40-55 advisees assigned to me at any given time (including by the end of my first year). While you don’t have regular contact with them, during ‘advising season’ (i.e., the 6 weeks before registration as well as the first week or two of classes) you end up spending 30mins to an hour ‘helping’ each one. So, that adds 25-50 hours over the course of the semester. The semester is about 16 weeks long, so let’s add 1.5-3 hours per week (oh dear, we’re up to 34.5-43 hours per week).
    • In your first year, committee work tends to be pretty light because they’re ‘helping you to land on your feet’ — so you may only be on 1 or 2 committees the whole year, but those will likely add about an hour of responsibility to your time (especially when combined with routine department meetings, etc.) each week (35.5-44 hours per week).
    • It seems like I’m forgetting something… oh wait … grading — the bane of all of our existence. Now, there are disciplines where the ‘challenge’ of grading consists of the time it takes to write multiple/choice tests and run them through a scantron machine (or post the test online). Unfortunately, the social sciences and liberal arts tend not to be those types of disciplines. None-the-less, if you’re teaching 25 students per class x 3 (or 4), if you’re efficient takes about a half hour to grade each person’s short assignment, add in feedback, and enter the grade into the ‘gradebook’. The norm in the US is to have 4-8 assignments per class plus one or two tests. I tended to assign less… so usually about 4 assignments per class and two tests. That adds on roughly an average of 15-19 hours per week more (realize, there are weeks with no grading and weeks with LOADS of grading). So… we’re now at 50.5-63 hours of work each week.
    • Then comes the research — the stuff we tend to do ‘in our spare time’ — you know, like anytime that school isn’t in session. If we ever hope to be tenured and promoted, we need to produce about 2-3 published journal pieces per year (there is variance there by university and publication type, but that gets too silly to try to explain). Right. So, in the 10-16 weeks that we’re not ‘teaching’ each year, we have to collect data, write, revise, send out, etc. — uh huh…. The reality is that we’re working on projects year round and while we may use our ‘unstructured’ times to do a lot of our writing, each journal article is tough to come by. We’re committing no less than a week’s worth of time just to write the damn thing, let alone collecting data, analyzing it, etc. It’s not unreasonable to assume that the total time commitment to a single piece is about a month’s worth of work (assuming a 40 hour work week). That fills all of that “spare time” y’all seem to think we have AND also addresses the misnomer that university professors have no deadlines.
    • Oh yeah — and for those of us who are trying to build a reputation of expertise within our fields, we travel to conferences (2-4 per year usually) to present papers, we review papers for those conferences as well as journals, etc. All of this is ‘unpaid’ but is really expected not only in terms of service to the profession but enables us to get tenured. That’s added on top of our 50-60 hour work week (before research).

Welcome to year one of your stress-free life as an academic. Oh yeah, and that “good” salary of (on average) about $52,000 per year comes out to $17-20 per hour that we’re getting paid BEFORE taxes. Awesome deal, right? I made more bartending in college than I make with my Ph.D.

Year 2. ‘Piling it On’

Right, so remember that in year one, we were already at 32 weeks a year of 50-60 hours per week of work for the awesome pay of about $20/hour gross. In year 2, your department chair or dean (i.e., your boss) talks to you about the importance of contributing to your college and the whole university through ‘service’ if you want to get tenured and promoted… that they would help you ‘manage’ your commitments (they are lying to you at this point), but that it would be ideal if you involved yourself with at least one student organization and got involved on some university-wide and more departmental committees.

You’ve just added about 3-10 hours worth of work each and every week to your regular work load. Now, hopefully by this time, some of the time you have to spend in course prep goes down a little bit, but you’re probably still being asked to teach different classes (often better classes because you’ve now ‘proven’ yourself) and you discovered that there were things about the ways you were teaching your classes that just didn’t work so you’re redesigning the damn things. Ok, the prep work doesn’t change that much in your second year.

It doesn’t sound like much, but if you happen to prove yourself to be ‘competent’ and affable enough on these committees, you start to get asked to work on side projects, you get encouraged to take on more. And before you know it, you’ve added 15-20 hours more work and honestly, you don’t know how it happened, but you can’t say no. Why? Because they can still fire you for any reason… they don’t even have to tell you why they’ve fired you. As a non-tenured faculty member, you live on a year-to-year contract with no repercussions if they choose not to renew your contract. Don’t make any waves!

Years 3-6. Have you lost your mind?

  By year 3, if things have gone well, you play well with others, and you have adjusted well, then things start to get exciting. You will be approached to take on leadership positions; you will be approached to start doing administrative tasks; you will have the opportunity to really make your case for tenure… oh yeah and you’ll probably be going through mid-tenure review. This is the first point that a group of folks in your department really pay attention to you and ask the question, “would we want to keep this person?”. To get ready, you have to prepare your case… this means putting together a portfolio and building a set of arguments for your contributions to your department, the college, and your profession. You’re now regularly working 80 hours per week, so your effective pay rate comes down to somewhere under $15/hour.

Assuming your mid-tenure review goes well (i.e., they don’t put you on a one-year terminal contract), you still have two more years of this before you begin your tenure review process.

Oh… and if you have to move for any reason… you get to basically start all over again. Usually, you can con them out of a little higher starting salary, and maybe a shortened tenure clock, but you’re still starting over again….

Adding Insult to Injury

So, we come back to the CNBC assertion that being a college professor is the ‘least stressful job’. To that, I say kiss my ass! Not nice? Yeah, being nice, playing by the rules, being erudite, and being smart has gotten us to being in a job we may still love (though by now we’ve gotten rid of our rose colored glasses and often have ‘happy hours’ spent drinking and bitching) but being paid insulting money.

And we have to listen to pundits talk about us like we’re idiot-savants who have no idea what the real world is like.

And for those of us whose research directly translates to the real world (e.g., in my case — persuasion, crisis communication, strategic communication), the so-called professionals look down their overpriced noses at us. That means that even if we did want to move back to the ‘real world’ — we have to basically apologize for our PhD, our time spent training them (Where do they think new professionals come from? Are they hatched?), and kiss their asses for handouts. So, basically until we write our book and ‘become’ a pundit or consultant later in our careers we’re stuck because Americans are scared of smart people.

So, while we may like our students, like our research, and like our colleagues (all of which depends on the day). While we may have unstructured time (because we can be productive without ‘clocking in’). And while most of us either chose this career path when we were young and stupidly idealistic and older and looking for a change — I think I can speak for most of us when I say fuck off with your patronizing understanding of what it means to be a professor in the US.

We know we’re not on the battle lines and most of the time we’re not risking death, but guess what if we do a bad job at our jobs… your workforce is screwed. We have to battle against bad parenting, stupid emerging social norms, a primary/ secondary education system that is broken, and try to reach people at the most annoyingly self-absorbed time in their psychological and social development. All while being paid $12-20/ hour in real wages

Oh yeah and CNBC — learn to do some damn research you wankers!

* Just a small addition at the end*

Thanks for the conversation — even if you are just bitching because you think I suck ;) … In particular, thanks to those folks who have shared their experiences (both positive and negative) in academia. Like a lot of conversations that happen in happy hour there are people calling bullshit, people adding their own experiences, people asking for reality checks, and I think it’s productive.

I’ve added some links to some research and information that folks might find useful about student debt, access to good jobs, job satisfaction, and intent to leave academia. I figured some of you might want quick access to additional information. Have more links to relevant points — feel free to let me know, I’ll add them.

Just a reminder — try to think about what/how you would say stuff to people face-to-face. Yes — this is how I talk and would talk to most of you in a social setting. I think everyone would appreciate the same courtesy.

**And since too many people have gotten so damn hung up on the fact that being exceptionally bright (especially in comparison to average folks) is offensive, I tweaked it because I was just annoyed with the whining about it… ffs…. who was planning on the rant going a bit viral?

Exhausted by the politics of the irrational — the fundamentalist? So am I.

Technically to simply have faith in the absence of empirical proof is irrational.

That isn’t necessarily bad if it produces positive social and cultural outcomes. For those with faith, it’s also very real — there are many things that are irrational that people experience (e.g., phobias of small places, belief in the ‘triumph of human spirit’ in the face of adversity, etc.). And, in many ways it’s been necessary for human evolution and the evolution of society.

However, it is not rational. Rationality, by definition, focuses on verifiable information and making decisions based on that information. And let’s not point to the Bible (insert book of faith of choice) as ‘proof’ concrete because any serious religious scholar (including those who are members of the clergy) say that it’s foolish to take the Bible as empirical proof — that without understanding the larger social and cultural contexts, we cannot truly understand its lessons.

So, I think that most of us without faith are exasperated in our often had conversations with many modern American “Christians”. It’s exhausting to live in a religious society (i.e., the US) when you’re not a person ‘of faith’ because we have to defend rational reasoning and empirical proof of many thing (e.g., those who don’t ‘believe’ in climate change also tend to be those who believe in God and GOP politics). The US has become not just a religious nation, but a nation of anti-intellectuals who use pseudo-intellectual arguments as logical fallacies or just outright dismiss anything that threatens their world view.

That is not to say that people of faith can’t also be 99% rational in their lives, their interests, and their pursuits. For example, the Jesuits seem to fall into that camp. They still have faith, but reconcile their beliefs with interests in the pursuit of science, philosophy, empirical truths, and education as being the work of God. The work of God bit I could personally do without because I don’t need that to feel fulfilled in my life. Others do, but most Jesuits that I’ve had the opportunity to talk to, don’t dismiss people simply because their beliefs differ. In fact, an active part of the Jesuit mission and education is for everyone to question religions of all kinds.

We’d frankly have a lot better conversations if “Christians” in the US modeled themselves after the Jesuits in their pursuit of faith, science, philosophy, and education. Unfortunately, they don’t — instead Fundmentalist beliefs disproportionately influence American politics and thus American “values”.

So, you’ll have to forgive us non-believers… we’re sick of politics and life being hijacked by a loud-mouthed minority of irrational people who functionally want a theocracy that serves the interests of the wealthy, that rejects analytic thinking, and a repressive social existence.

I finally have a ‘for the children’ argument that works… PEOPLE with GUNS kill PEOPLE

In the last 48 hours, I’ve watched the gun control vs. wild west arguments in the media but mostly in social media and I’ve got to say that I think most people defending the American approach to gun ownership have lost their freaking minds. Let me summarize their positions… we have the ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’, ‘arm the teachers’ (eek), ‘but kids in China have been injured and some killed by random knifings’, ‘we’ll lose our freedom’, ‘guns = safety’ (LMAO on that one), and a whole slew of Karl Rove’esque approaches to argumentation that take verifiable information and twist it on its head using piss poor logic to try to distort the conversation (most of these people aren’t as good at doing it as Rove and I do wish they’d just stop). But I think my favorite appeal has to be the, ‘but vulnerable people (read women and kids in most of the comments) need access to guns to protect themselves or to be protected’. Are you kidding me?  For real?

It’s funny — I’ve traveled literally all over the US and bits of Europe by myself. I’ve walked in downtown areas of many major cities by myself after dark and sometimes even late at night. From the ages of 21 – 31′ish I lived by myself most of the time. I’ve walked my dogs in urban public spaces by myself both early in the morning and late at night (i.e., the two times of the day that women are most susceptible to personal attack… and my dogs are under 20 lbs, it’s not like they’re attack puppies). I’ve seen dodgy things, even had fairly dodgy encounters, but I can honestly say that I’ve never once thought to myself, ‘damn, if only I had a gun, I’d be more secure.’

Oh, and it’s not because I don’t know how to shoot. I grew up with guns, passed gun safety courses, and used to be a bit of an “Annie Oakley” type — give me a handgun, rifle, shotgun, and even a bow and I could hit my target from about any position (except sitting down… couldn’t ever really shoot that well that way). So, why have I never wished for a gun to keep myself safe? Not because I have some foolish sense of invulnerability, but because I’m situationally aware and believe that violence begets violence. I’m also pretty confident that with adrenaline, I make a pretty good accounting for myself in a risky situation.

But you know the thing that makes all of those things in the US MUCH more risky? The fact that the dodgy assholes could have guns. Here’s a scary number for you — in ALL of the industrialized world, 80% of the gun deaths are in the US. The fact that handguns are so readily accessible. The fact that in, 2009, for example that approaching 70% of all homicides in the US were committed with a gun. The fact that there are roughly 300,000 crimes committed with the aid of guns in the US each year. The fact that in just 4 years (2006-2010) almost 50,000 people were murdered in the US with guns... that’s the equivalent of wiping out my hometown or the undergraduate population of the University of Texas all in just 4 years.

So, would I trade our situation for the strange knife attacks in China or dogs, or any of the other weird ass excuses used by gun sympathizers in the last 48 hours to try to justify that some people are violent assholes, regardless of the weapons available to them? You’re damned skippy I would, especially for the CDC’s stated 500 accidental gun-related deaths of children in the US each and every year.

Oh yeah — and should I mention the fact that the CDC also has found that the good ole USA has a murder rate of children that’s 5x that of 25 other industrialized countries COMBINED. With relation to guns, it’s shocking…. American children, under 15 are 15x more likely to die of gun-related causes than kids in the other 25 industrialized countries COMBINED, gun-related homicides are 16x more likely than the other countries combined, firearms suicide rates are 11x higher, and unintentional gun deaths are 9x higher. And while we are a violent country (our child homicide rate for non gun-related murders is still 4x higher than the other industrialized countries), the difference even between the gun murder/death rates and non-gun death rates is pretty shocking.

So, I’m pretty confident when I say that if we take guns away, Americans living in the US may be able to send their kids in public without worrying they’re going to come home in a body bag. I’m not going to worry about nutsos with knives or packs of feral dogs quite yet… I think we have a much bigger fish to fry. PEOPLE WITH GUNS KILL PEOPLE — both on purpose and by accident. We fool ourselves into thinking that we’re ‘safer’ because we can also buy guns to protect ourselves. We should not aspire to live in freaking Deadwood (i.e., a metaphor for the old west for those who didn’t get it). We should aspire to live in a society that is more safe and secure. There is no if, and’s, or buts — guns kill. Reducing firearm ownership/ access empirically leads to less violent societies.

That’s it. That’s why there should be no real discussion on this. This isn’t lying with statistics or trying to make weird comparisons to a string of strange knife attacks against children in a repressive society. This is the cold and simple reality — it’s empirical, it’s not emotional. We need to think rationally and the only rational response is to reduce firearms, better regulate them, and maybe trade in our useless war on drugs for a much more productive assault against assholes having guns. I understand that for the last decade Americans have become anti-intellectual — that reasoning and logic have become foreign to us as a people, but it’s time to stop watching the shadow people dancing on the walls, walk out into the sunlight, and think rationally.

Now, can we pull our heads out and stop having stupid discussions about all of this? It’s really exhausting. I get stuck listening to ‘for the children’ arguments about shit that’s stupid or just doesn’t matter all of the time. How about we actually talk about the safety of our children and do something for them now?  Because, statistically speaking, each day we wait is probably going to cost at least one more kid their life.

Aren’t we all tired of being sad for mass shootings?

For the second time this week, Americans are dealing with yet another mass public shooting. This time, more than 20 are dead — most of them kids. I have a very simple argument — everything Americans and American policy is doing on this issue is being proven to be fundamentally wrong over and over and over.

Look — as sad as the shooting in Connecticut is, and it is devastating, aren’t we all tired of being sad for mass shootings? At some point, perhaps those who make arguments about the necessity of the second amendment, the need for a ‘strong militia’, the horrors of a society that would limit (or eliminate) guns, how freedom requires guns, that in a society that limits/ bans guns only ‘criminals’ get them, and my personal favorite ‘guns don’t kill people, people do’ will have to concede that this shit is just unacceptable.

Clearly everything that Americans/ policy do right now just doesn’t work. As a society the US has violence problems and as a society the US fails to take appropriate legal precautions because of the same old crap arguments listed above. So, Americans and the rest of the world will have to watch the violence time and time again until we decide what’s more important — a safe society or a gun-toting society because clearly the two aren’t working together.

And, sorry, but on this one I’m tired of having the conversation and being reasonable and open to other opinions. Until someone can propose a solution with proven effectiveness (with adequate and diverse expert sourcing), I’m just not interested.

Fiscal cliffs, mountains out of molehills

Is there anyone out there who isn’t tired of hearing about the ‘fiscal cliff’ in the US? In a season that is supposed to be about giving, humanity, and other “Christian” values, it seems like we get to December and we start seeing the economy used as a political football. And as normal, it seems as though the GOP and their media pundits couldn’t tell the truth if it bit them in the ass.

We saw so much evidence of creative economic storytelling during the November election, yet it seems like the conservative pundits want to keep the whoppers flowing. So, let’s just settle this right now. President Obama is a fiscal moderate at best whose spending has been as responsible as possible in this economy. In fact, both he and President Clinton demonstrate the greatest level of fiscal restraint from the White House in the last three decades. Forbes, a conservative leaning publication, explains that not only has President Obama run the smallest government in the last three decades but we have to go all the way back to Eisenhower to find a president with smaller government.  In fact, the graphic here is from the Forbes article cited above showing us that the Democratic presidents are the most fiscally responsible by a mile….

Presidential Spending



Even Ann Coulter argues that it’s time for the Republicans to realize they lost the election and they’re going to have to let the President govern. Less of an indicator that the Mayan predictions about the end of the world are near and more of a suggestion that there are fights worth fighting and this just isn’t one of them, I think this should tell the GOP to give up the fight. When the rigid positions are no longer financially profitable for someone like Ann Coulter, it probably suggests that most Americans would prefer if the two parties put their big kid pants on and work together.


But guess what? The fiscal cliff, end of times rhetoric, is just that — words. There are serious long-term consequences  if the children can’t play together to figure out a solution that’s good for Americans; however, instead of a cliff it’s a hill — one that we can go down with increasingly severe consequences, but also one that we can come back up if solutions are put in place to address the problem of the Bush tax cuts.


In the end, this issue is about what it’s been about for the last four years, getting both parties willing to do what’s in the best interests of the American people. Whether folks believe that there are better and worse routes to those ends based on political and economic dogma, that’s a fair conversation to have; however, aren’t we all just a little bit tired of lies, misdirection, half-truths, and a whole lot of ill-intended bullshit? The president has been using increasingly urgent sounding rhetoric (e.g., the fiscal cliff) to get people active — from ordinary folks writing into their representatives and senators to those elected officials themselves — and hopefully once the GOP comes to the table, that rhetoric calms. However, it is vital that once-and-for-all the GOP lawmakers people have elected actually start to represent the interests of their constituents instead of playing silly political games of obstruction that have slowed our recovery.


Less drama, more adult-like behavior!

nate silver and the rise of analytics: what it means to you.

Reblogged from InsideTimsHead:

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As the election drew near, many political and stats junkies (like me) became fans of Nate Silver, aka @fivethirtyeight, the shrewd political number-cruncher and blogger for the New York Times. His way of aggregating the most reliable presidential polls into megapolls, and factoring in those polls' historical accuracies, was considered by some to be as revolutionary as the introduction of "Moneyball" -- or use of undervalued stats -- on baseball.

Read more… 930 more words

This isn't just about politics -- this is about rational decision making. Kind of like they had the ability to make the 6 million dollar man, we now have better insights into decision-making. If only people, organizations, and governments would start to value intellectualism again! But selling intellectualism in industry is sometimes hard because "academics" don't understand the real world. Selling intellectualism to the masses is viewed as some kind of liberal conspiracy. Selling intellectualism to the government...well, it's a bureaucracy -- it doesn't like logic. In the end, it's time to embrace the reality -- we need smart people to run the country. Not everyone's smart. Not everyone is good at decision-making. It's now time to critically evaluate our relative skills and attributes!

Tolerance in the US? Sure, if you’re white, straight, and Christian.

Yesterday, I see this picture of a man taken at an Ohio Romney/Ryan rally yesterday (October 12, 2012):

and today, I see someone I knew in high school post this status update on Facebook: “Today at noon local time in over 8,000 locations around the country, people are praying in public for our country and to preserve religious freedom that it was founded upon. Please join me in front of [deleted to maintain the anonymity of the person who posted it].

Have these people all lost their bloody minds?!

Apparently tolerance in the United States only matters if you’re white, straight, and ‘Christian’ — and only then if you are of a like-minded world view.

So, let’s deconstruct the inane bullshit for just a moment by beginning with Asshole #1 — ‘Putting the white back in the White House’. My reaction yesterday is and remains,  I think it does give us a glimpse into the racism that is still prevalent in the United States among the hard right folks.

This has been evident since the 2008 election cycle where we say Sarah Palin whipping crowds up into a frenzy about whether Barack Obama was an American who ‘palled around with terrorists’. We have seen this in the ridiculous ‘birther’ discussions that keep popping up (nice euphemism for the ‘black guy’, huh?). We’ve seen it in the discussions of whether the president is “for America” or whether he’s fundamentally destroying the country. All of these are thinly veiled and more socially appropriate arguments for what this dipshit thought was appropriate to wear in public — these folks can’t stand that President Obama is a bi-racial black man and he’s our elected leader (and by the way — elected without question and a Supreme Court case unlike President Bush… yet no one leveled the same claims in his direction).

Need proof? In 2010, there was a much discussed Daily Kos poll conducted by an independent research group measuring registered Republicans beliefs about the President and a number of political issues. Now, this poll has been critiqued by Republicans as not being representative and biased and all of that kind of stuff. So, let’s look at it from a demographic point of view…

  • The poll measured 56% men and 44% women. According to a CNN/AP poll of Republicans in 2006, 52% of all GOP’ers are male, so the Daily Kos poll is within an acceptable level of variance.
  • They measured 89% white respondents and other/ refused made up 11%. Actually, if anything it’s under-representing how WHITE the GOP actually is — according to the US Census Bureau in 2009.
  • As far as age goes, 18-29 Daily Kos 9% (32% Gallup, 2009); Daily Kos 30-44 21% (Gallup 30-49 were 38%), Daily Kos 45-59  33% (38% 50-64); and Daily Kos 60+ 37% (41+ 65+). So, aside from under-representing young peoples’ responses, it’s not too bad on the rest of the categories, so the Daily Kos could be said to be representative of older GOP beliefs rather than younger GOP beliefs.

Bottom line, based on demographic comparisons — it’s pretty representative for older members of the GOP. So, what did the Daily Kos poll reveal that was so damning about members of the GOP’s racism and intolerance?

  • A majority of those polled (i.e., 58%) either believed that President Obama was NOT born in the US (36%) or at the very least, they weren’t sure (22%).
  • A majority of those polled (i.e., 76%) either believed that President Obama wanted the TERRORISTS (43%) to win or at the very least, they weren’t sure (33%).
  • A majority of those polled (69%) believe Barack Obama is a racist who hates White people (36%) or at the very least, they weren’t sure (33%).
  • An overwhelming majority (73%) didn’t believe that openly gay men and women should be allowed to teach in public schools, and the majority of the remaining GOP’ers weren’t sure (21%).
  • A full 1/3 of those polled (34%) believe birth control is ABORTION and nearly 20% weren’t entirely sure — so over half even have a problem with birth control pills.

Were the questions loaded? Yes, but the wording on them should have prompted a social-desirability bias meaning that in normal civil society, no one should ever WANT to say that their President wasn’t an American who wants terrorists to hurt the US/ Americans. That suggests in normal social science research that a lot of those undecideds probably leaned more towards the “Yes” response, but knew that it was inappropriate for them to believe that way.

No other president has ever had to deal with these fundamental types of questions (ignoring the last two social questions). While many presidents and their policies have been well-critiqued, no other president has ever had fundamental questions about their citizenship and loyalty to the country they serve questioned. Yet, here’s a guy whose political beliefs are fairly moderate — why does his cabinet look like the Clinton administration’s … because President Clinton was a moderate liberal too. Why are those on the left dissatisfied with Obama? Because he’s not that damned liberal…he’s a political and social moderate.

I’m not one who sees racism around every corner, but we have a serious problem among a substantial proportion of our population with regards of fundamental questions of racial equality. In fact, new research suggests that racial prejudice is likely to negatively influence this election even more than we would have ever suspected. This isn’t limited to presidential politics either — the US Army is having to battle and purge White Supremacists from their ranks fueled by the modern Crusade against Muslims.

So, am I surprised? Absolutely not. Especially, when you bring back into the fold Asshole #2 who thinks that our religious freedoms in the United States are under attack. Now, keep in mind this person meant CHRISTIANITY is under attack in the United States. It’s a little early for the Christmas season, but this status update seems to be opening the store doors before black Friday for this one. Since when is it difficult to be “out” as a Christian in this country? Sure, columns on Al Jazeera are making the argument that religious fundamentalism is becoming more central to Republican politics, but an increasing amount of polling and academic research is suggesting that at least 20-30% of the American population view themselves as fundamentalist Christians.

So, when the Daily Kos poll reports that the overwhelming majority see gays as a threat to public education and an unsettling number even view birth control as abortion, I absolutely agree that religious freedom in the United States is at risk, but not in the same way that these people who wear their Christianity on their sleeve seem to think. The freedom to practice religions other than Christianity is at serious risk — just ask the 2.6 million Muslims in the US who are facing attacks on their ability to practice their religion in many ways from zoning problems for Mosques, facing job discrimination, and increasing violence. Jon Stewart has consistently attacked the religious right on their hypocritical views on ‘religious freedom’ identifying hypocritical and hyperbolic arguments on a lot of different issues (e.g., the ‘war on religion‘, or employment).

Freedom of religion is not only about the freedom to practice any religion that we want, but it is also the freedom FROM having any government sanctioned religious beliefs forced on the populace. Remember, the first amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof“. That means that the government isn’t allowed to “establish” (i.e., endorse) any particular religion or religious beliefs as part of laws. That means that someone else’s religious beliefs regarding sexuality, marriage, etc. should never be forced on me (as a non-Christian) in the United States.

In some ways it seems like we’ve made progress on that front under the Obama administration — gays can now serve, DOMA was found unconstitutional, and more and more states are legalizing gay marriage. Yet, in others the growth of Christian fundamentalism has made it difficult to have conversations for women about birth control, about the government mandating birth control as part of insurance coverage, and about the availability of abortions despite Roe v. Wade establishing it as constitutionally appropriate. To me, it seems that where we’ve made grounds in some areas, we’ve moved backwards in others. In fact, the typical GOP stance as anti-choice has been expanded in the official 2012 GOP platform (which both Romney and Ryan defacto or directly endorse) supports the personhood amendment, which would not only outlaw abortions in the US, but would outlaw or limit access to birth control, in vitro fertilization, prevent doctors from treating women with life-threatening conditions, and certainly throw the US back another decade in stem cell research. This is a religious position that is being forced into a public policy context.

So, let’s put this into perspective — the growth of Christian fundamentalism in the United States is not only a threat to what America is — a secular nation created for anyone — but the Christian fundamentalists themselves are much more like the Muslim fundamentalists they claim to want to protect us from.

Yet, in this country the new and more radical religious right find it alright to question the President’s patriotism, heritage, and intentions for this country because not only is he a half-black guy, but his views happen to differ from theirs. There couldn’t be anything less American than the views articulated by the modern ‘conservative Christian’.

To be honest, I’m just tired of the bullshit. Why can’t we just call bullshit right now? In part, a lot of liberals lack the internal fortitude to laugh at the ridiculousness and call it ‘malarky’. I respect Vice President Biden because he can/does call people on this kind of stuff. We should all come out of the closet and start calling them — if we are squeamish about using the word bullshit (or just find it disrespectful to a perfectly good fertilizer) to talk about them, then use Biden’s word “malarky”. But it’s time that we started standing up for tolerance — expanding its definition beyond those who dominate the public sphere.

Is calling bullshit nice? Probably not, but fuck nice. I don’t care if there are racists (I’d prefer people to be more enlightened) because they remind us of the small-minded bullshit that is a threat to modern civil society. I don’t care if there are fundamentalists (though I wish there weren’t) because they remind us of the incestuous and dangerous nature of dogma left unchecked. What I care about is that these views are allowed to drive conversations and voting behaviors without social sanction.

When people try to claim that America is attacking the freedom of people to be Christians, we should laugh at them for being fucking ridiculous. If someone’s a racist or fundamentalist they should be a social pariah because they’re assholes. It’ll only be at this point that we can have meaningful discussion about policy and the path our society wants to take. Until then, we’re just going to keep using euphemisms and letting assholes get away with it.

Just some closing food for thought, I know whose side I’m on, do you?