Sunday, April 13, 2008

VoR Turns 4: Reason Making A Comeback

Voices of Reason began four years ago, a little over one year after the start of the Iraq War and six months before the U.S. presidential election. It was a time when terror alerts, “swift boat” attacks, and a blind American nationalism were at their peak. The U.S. had yet to experience the full extent of the incompetence of the Bush Administration: its complete misreading of the Iraqi insurgency, its inability to protect New Orleans and its citizens, an economic policy that would lead to record debt and a looming recession.

But reason is making a comeback.

As if awakening from a stupor, Americans of all political persuasions are starting to think more clearly and to demand rational discourse on a host of issues. Things that were once too politically sensitive to demand much attention are now front and center; political correctness is beginning to give way to an honest examination of the facts; and anti-intellectualism appears to be in retreat.

Just last week, Newt Gingrich gave a major address at the American Enterprise Institute in response to Obama’s speech on race in America. While I don’t agree with much of what the former Speaker said, and his speech was not given in as humble a manner as professed, it was definitely a sign of the times that someone as prominent as Gingrich would tell a hardcore conservative audience that they needed to take Senator Obama’s words seriously.

And for all of the criticism leveled at the blogosphere, the internet has shown an amazing power to give voice to thousands of perspectives and to provide an alternative to the pundits who for so long have dominated Americans' access to information. In my judgment this has contributed tremendously to American political discourse; Voices of Reason is just one small voice in this great and dynamic conversation.

None of this is to suggest that somehow we have found the solution to all of our problems. But we do have an opening: there is a sense of possibility in the air, and sense that we may be on the verge of something new, profound, and potentially decisive. It is my hope that this small forum can continue to contribute to America's march toward reason and help us to seize this great opportunity.

In this spirit, it would be much appreciated if each of you could invite five people to this site, and ask them to invite five more. And if you have any suggestions for future topics, please let me know.

Thanks for all your comments and feedback; may we still be going strong many years from now, looking back at the beginning of a great period in American (and world) history.

Jason Scorse

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

VoR Turns 3!

Time flies so fast that I’m a week late getting to this. I want to thank all of the readers who make maintaining this site worthwhile, particularly those who take the time to offer their often-insightful comments.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to recap what I consider a modest return of reason on the political landscape over the past year.

1. Obviously we have to start with the 2006 U.S. elections, in which the Democrats finally turned the tide against the far right extremism that had gripped the country since 9/11. While the Democrats too can fall prey to specious reasoning, corruption, and bad policy, it was still a shining moment for those of us who have watched with alarm as America adopted extremist positions both abroad and domestically. While I can’t forgive the electorate for giving Bush a second term, the results last November go a long way towards getting us back on track; finally, there is a modicum of accountability in government again.

2. This brings me to the 2008 election, where the Democrats have arrayed an impressive cadre of candidates (aside from Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich). Not only would the second-tier candidates–Richardson, Biden and Dodd–be serious contenders for the top spot in almost any other election, the field is also the most diverse that I can remember. All are serious candidates intent on improving the public interest; despite their differences, they’re all dedicated to reasoned analysis and policy. I don’t agree with a lot of what they say, but a President Obama, Clinton, or Edwards would be a significant victory for reality and reason-based politics.

3. Two other trends are likewise worth noting, one of them abroad.

First, young voters in America are increasingly identifying themselves as Democrats. This is significant because party identification is historically not very malleable; those who begin as Democrats are likely to stay Democrats. Although no doubt the Iraq War is central to this shift, I think the GOP’s identification with the Religious Right is also partly to blame. This bodes well for the future since the Democrats are rightly associated with a more secular-based politics.

The second trend is the liberalization of abortion law in Latin America (aside from Nicaragua, where the communist Daniel Ortega worked with the Catholic Church to completely criminalize abortion and lock women in jails). In Mexico City abortion is now legal in the first trimester and Brazil is seriously considering major changes as well. While abortion itself is nothing to be celebrated, the opportunity for women to control their reproductive decisions, instead of the State or the Church, is. It is a victory for reason over patriarchy and coercion.

As always, it is worth reminding ourselves that reason, like freedom, must always be defended each and every generation. Fortunately, it looks like the tide both in America and elsewhere may be slowly turning in reason’s favor.

P.S. For most of the summer the News & Commentary will take you directly to the site, Headline Junky, where my good friend Judah will keep you posted on all the latest news.

Jason Scorse

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April 30, 2006

VOR Turns 2!

I want to thank all of you who have visited and commented on Voices of Reason during this second year of operation. It’s my opinion that the conversations on VOR remain some of the most sophisticated in the political blogosphere, where people with different views and political leanings actually exchange ideas instead of simply shouting at each other. I think it is a much needed forum, and I hope to see it grow into a major source of ideas and commentary.

As I prepare for year three, there are some interesting developments that I would like to bring to your attention, and a couple of small requests:

1. Is a conservative-liberal convergence on the way?

This past week in the very conservative Weekly Standard, two articles appeared, one by Irvin Stelzer and the other by William Kristol, the editor, which are extremely encouraging. The first, by Stelzer, an economist, laid out why Republicans need to accept that the challenges brought on by the acceleration of globalization require more government involvement to help workers facing difficult transitions, and to care for the sick and the elderly. He makes a reasoned argument why Republicans need to drop their “government is always bad” and “tax cuts are always good” rhetoric. Essentially, all of the points he makes can be found in VOR pieces over the past two years. I have continually stressed that the Republican aversion to government was hurting the chances for meaningful economic reform, and now it seems that some prominent Republican thinkers are starting to agree.

Kristol’s article is perhaps even more striking. Basically, it is little more than a resounding endorsement of a new political movement coming out of the United Kingdom, the essence of which is summarized in the Euston Manifesto. What is so striking about Kristol’s praise for this document is that it was produced by democrats and progressives, and its 15-point statement of principles is essentially a reaffirmation of classic liberal principles. Kristol is no doubt enamored by its tough talk on terrorism and its unapologetic support of the United States, but the document is even more important for its strong affirmation of human rights, secular humanism, the separation of church and state, and equal rights for gays. The Weekly Standard has occasionally veered from true conservatism by throwing bones to the Christian right and the anti-gay crowd; whether Kristol realizes it or not (I emailed him to ask him), this appears to be an acknowledgment that conservatism’s roots are grounded in Enlightenment principles, not the Bible.

I strongly urge you to read both of these articles. They are proof that the core classic liberal-conservative principles are alive and well, and that with reason and rational thought both the Left and the Right can come to realize that they are not nearly as far apart philosophically as they may think. In fact, the core principles (as outlined in the Euston document) are little more than the principles upon which this country was founded, and that we need to rediscover in this era of religious intrusion into public life. If both the Left and the Right can jettison their most radical elements, we could have a coalition dedicated to reason, liberty, and the public good that is so strong that it will be unbeatable (and America, and the world, will be much the better for it) This is what Voices of Reason is ultimately about.

2. E.J. Dione of the Washington Post wrote a piece this week on the lack of ideas from the Democrats, in which he points out that ideas always come from the grass-roots and never from the leadership. It was the conservative think tanks and magazines that provided the intellectual foundations for the modern conservative movement, and if a new movement on the Left is to arise it will be fueled in the same way. I couldn’t agree more, and this is why I will kick off year three, next Sunday, with a continuation of the series on a new vision for the Left.

3. VOR was originally a two-person mission, but now it is only me. I would like to put the ‘s’ back in ‘voices,’ so if you would like to submit a guest piece please do so. As long as your essay is based on facts and rational argumentation, it will be published. (Email:voices)

4. In order to help VOR grow, I ask that all of you who believe in its mission email five friends or family members to tell them about the site and invite them to participate. I would sincerely appreciate it.

In summary, we are at a time when America is battling the enemies of reason both abroad and at home. In an era when so much is changing so swiftly, it is not surprising that many people cling to dogma and repressive traditions, and are easily swayed by fantasies of a past “golden age”: an environmental utopia that never existed, an Islamic kingdom, an age of “traditional family values”. Voices of Reason aims to combat these reactionary impulses with better and more persuasive ideas that will help people look forward instead of backward, and free people from the shackles of the irrational thinking that continues to be the root cause of most suffering in the world. We need all the help we can get.

I look forward to reasoning with everyone for many more years to come.

Jason Scorse

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April 27, 2005

VOR Turns 1!

It seems like yesterday, but Voices of Reason is one year old today! It’s been a great ride so far and we would like to thank all of our readers, especially all of you who routinely leave comments. Our readership is definitely up and growing and with the power of the internet and persistence we hope one day to reach millions. As it was when we began this endeavor, there are simply too few forums where people from all political persuasions can have a voice.

We at VOR take it as sign of success that many of our Lefty friends call us conservative and most of our Righty friends call us liberal. We take this as evidence that we are providing an environment where all views are judged on their merits, not their ideological roots.

As we prepare to enter our second year we would like to highlight a few main threads of discussion that have continued to surface on VOR throughout the past year, as well as clarify a few things about our objectives.

1. Although a disproportionate share of VOR pieces have focused on Bush administration policies or GOP initiatives, this is because Republicans are in power and control all branches of government. VOR is going to be around for a long time and one day when the Democrats are back in power we will focus more on their agenda. In the time being, it is not a bias against the GOP we are exhibiting, but a bias to cover the people running the show.

2. One thing that has been stressed on VOR is that religion and morality are not synonymous. In our society it is too common for non-religious people to be labeled as amoral (or even worse immoral) and we want to demonstrate why this is wrong. A robust set of moral principles can be established based solely on reason, introspection, and rationality. In addition, although for many people religion does represent their primary source of morality, we at VOR believe that without reason and rationality these religious moral principles can easily become oppressive or counter-productive. Bottom line: we can all use a little more reason in our lives. (See our new quote at the top of the site.)

3. We at VOR want to reiterate that our support for a policy or set of policies does not constitute blanket support for the Party that promotes these policies. Just because we don’t necessarily support one party or the other doesn’t mean that we don’t take sides on the issues; we do. If you feel that our reasoning and logic is wrong that’s fine, but please tells us how and why; simply accusing us of bias doesn’t get us anywhere or elevate the larger discussion.

Finally, we would like you to let us know how you think we can improve the site. What are we doing well? What could we do better? Also, if you could take this opportunity to pass on our URL to five others, we would greatly appreciate it.

Jason Scorse

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January 2, 2005

New Year’s Resolutions from VOR

Depending on your political persuasion, 2004 will go down as a year of bitter defeat or sweet triumph. Regardless of which side of the ledger you’re on, America remains a deeply divided nation in which there seems to be increasingly less of the open dialogue that is so desperately needed. VOR has tried to fill that gap (for almost a year) by addressing the most pressing and contentious issues of the day from a perspective of reason, not ideology.

Using reason we have presented arguments in favor of full equality for gays and gay couples, as well as abortion rights (with some restrictions), while at the same time we have backed school vouchers and free trade. Our arguments also support strong environmental policy, an end to corporate welfare, the abolishing of most anti-drug laws, and a reassessment of current affirmative action policies. Although many have differing views on whether the Iraq War was just and good policy, a reasoned analysis of the current situation can only lead to the conclusion that establishing stability and some sort of civil society in Iraq is America’s utmost responsibility and the morally right thing to do.

In short, reasoned arguments can lead to policies championed and reviled by both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, the religious and the secular. No one party or ideology has a monopoly on reason, and reason doesn’t discriminate when it comes to exposing fallacious arguments, dogma, and superstition.

As we celebrate our first New Year’s Day in the blogger universe, we’d like to present some resolutions we think will make 2005 an even better year.

1. Befriend someone from an opposing political perspective, listen to them, and engage them in the issues that matter most to you both. Whether it be a friend, family member, or coworker, treat him or her as an equal and try to understand their point of view.

2. If you were a Kerry (or non-Bush) supporter find one element of Bush’s policies that you agree with. If you are a Bush supporter identify one of the critiques of Bush that you agree with or one of Kerry’s policy prescriptions that you think is sensible.

3. If you are religious try to understand why the non-religious feel threatened by religious intrusion in civil life. If you are non-religious try to understand the religious impulse and try to find common ground regarding morals and principles.

4. Try to uncover elements of your beliefs that remain largely unquestioned and are perhaps based more on emotion or habit than reason. Take a step back and carefully examine them; see how they fare once they are exposed to rational analysis.

5. Finally, remember, moral evolution is a process that should never stop. If it does then we are in big trouble.


If you have any resolutions you would like to share please post them. Thanks a lot.

Happy New Years Everyone!

Jason Scorse

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