I've always been intrigued by the little ways that organizations tell you about themselves without meaning to. The organizational instinct is to restrict information to all but those in the upper echelons, but not every portal is patrolled, especially the electron-sized windows.
By now everyone knows about sites like F***** Company, where disgruntled employees mingle to gripe about their current and previous employers. But how many people realize that some of the best information about an organization can be found on its own site, via its search engine? I'm not talking about screeds and proclamations, but rather the information that is imparted at the meta-level, by searching for simple but significant words.
Let me show you what I mean. We all know that The National Organization for Women is, as its name implies, in the business of championing women. What's interesting is that only some of the issues that directly affect women seem to make the cut. Not surprisingly, when one types the word "abortion" into NOW's search engine, 853 articles that mention the subject appear. But surely childbirth is something an organization that claims to be "for women" should provide information about, right? Someone should tell the gals at NOW -- their search engine provides exactly 30 articles that mention this term, and most of these describe its dangers and complications. Women who need post-abortion counseling should look elsewhere as well, because NOW has nothing to offer them. Someone looking for guidance on breastfeeding will find seven articles. And of course we've all heard the myth that committed NOW members are a bit, well, either bitterly single or frighteningly butch. The NOW search engine doesn't help dispel this impression: the term "married women" was mentioned in 10 articles, while "lesbian" was mentioned in 584.
Planned Parenthood's website is similarly instructive. Searching for "abortion" yields 654 articles, while "childbirth" yields 68 (a typical article explains that emotional problems resulting from abortion are less frequent than those resulting from childbirth). It appears that planned childlessness is more likely to be the fruit of this organization's work. Women seeking post-abortion counseling will find 17 articles, though most of these are about how to use contraceptives in order to avoid getting oneself in the same jam a few months down the road.
I was especially interested in what I would find when searching for the word "ultrasound," because such an overwhelming percentage of woman who are considering abortion and who get ultrasounds choose to keep their children. Planned Parenthood's search engine turned up 11 articles that mention this word, but none recommends getting one before deciding on abortion -- they only talk about the ultrasound as a means of detecting fetal anomalies (one of many reasons you'll find on this site to abort your child). NOW, by the way, has five articles that mention ultrasounds, all in the context of abortion.
I've been reading a bit about environmental groups, and how many of the large national organizations oppose giving local citizens ownership and control over the resources in their communities, preferring instead federal bureaucratic control. Surely this is just a caricature, one might imagine, but sure enough, The Natural Resource Defense Council's website yields 50 articles mentioning the term "federal land," and zero that mention "private stewardship." Forget about one of the chief lessons of the past 1,000 years of human history, which is that people take better care of what they own -- the attorneys who comprise the NRDC seem to think they've stumbled onto something better. One wonders who they think runs the Post Office.
I'm sure you're wondering by this point what their search engines reveal about the various political parties. Here's a brief run-down. First, the Republican website is so lame that it doesn't even have a search engine, though it does have a George W. Bush store, for all your Dubya paraphernalia needs. You'll get what information the Republicans want to give, by golly, and nothing more. This is one of many things about Republicans that irritates those of us who want to like them, if only because of the alternative.
Speaking of which, the Democrat's website is in much better shape than the GOP's. Good form doesn't change the fact that they are a whining, carping bunch of ninnies, of course. Searching for pronouncements with the term "funding," for example (as in, "the ruthless jackbooted Republican attempt to cut Section 86 funding will seriously damage our efforts to assist first-time Latino bookstore owners in Southeastern Ohio"), yielded 73 hits, while a search for anything that mentioned "tax cuts" in conjunction with "economic growth" yielded four articles. What's more, none of the latter actually suggested a connection between lower taxes and economic prosperity -- apparently the Daschle-Gephardt plan is still to raise the highest bracket to 99% in order to really let the good times roll. God help us, that G.W. Bush mouse pad is starting to look pretty good.
Of course this wouldn't be fun if we didn't pick on the Libertarians who, bless their fevered little hearts, really do try hard. Their website, by the way, appears to be the best organized of the three, and stocked with the most forthright statements. They don't care if you love them, and their poll numbers prove it. A search for the term "legalize drugs" (you knew I was going there, didn't you?) yielded 72 articles. A search for the term "defeat terrorists" yielded four articles. And that, in a nutshell, is why Libertarians don't win.
I learned at the dinner table not to talk about religion or politics, and I learned in graduate school not to talk about women. Since I've violated the latter two taboos, we might as well go for the trifecta. I have a theory, which is that churches that talk about justice as much as they talk about Jesus have gone dreadfully wrong somewhere. Certainly Jesus preached against injustice, but he wasn't just a social worker in a robe. He had a clearer and more important message, which is the reason he addressed the behavior of slaves and owners, for example, without addressing slavery itself.
The Southern Baptist Convention leads the way here, scoring a very conservative justice (1851 hits) to Jesus (32,019 hits) ratio of 1:17 (Appropriately enough, John 1:17 reads: "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ"). Unfortunately the SBC, like most conservative church bodies, also exhibits an obsession with some sins at the expense of other, perhaps more pernicious sins. A search for "homosexuality" turned up 1443 hits, "pornography" yielded 770, but "gossip" yielded only 109. Anyone who has spent time in a conservative church can tell you the latter is cancerous, but rarely addressed from the pulpit with the same vituperation reserved for the first two.
Two other church bodies appear to be in fair shape: The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod -- an important distinction) has a justice to Jesus ratio of 1:3.4, while the Presbyterian Church (USA) has a ratio of 1:2.4. Here's a prediction you can hold me too: expect the latter's ratio to decline as it follows the path being forged by the increasingly liberal Episcopal Church.
Speaking of which, the Episcopal Church has a justice to Jesus ratio of 1:1.2. Sadly, this is better than the 1:1.09 ratio of the United Methodist Church. The UMC's new marketing slogan is "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors." -- a beautiful sentiment that tends unfortunately to be uttered only by those without Open Bibles.
Of course, this methodology has limitations. Consider the numbers posted by Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal Church in San Francisco, which yields a justice (40 hits) to Jesus (87 hits) ratio of 1:2.18. This is all well and good -- and to be honest, a tad surprising to anyone with a healthy disrespect for San Franciscan theology -- until we learn that the topic of a recent sermon at Grace Cathedral was: "What would Jesus do if Jesus recognized that his was a closed mind?"
Tune in next week, when Pastor Sheila will expose the homophobia of the Holy Spirit. Another potential clue is the fact that hits for the word "spirituality" were an ecumenically healthy 155. The word itself is perfectly decent, but like the word "liberal," it has been hijacked by twits.
So, you can see the fun waiting to be had with something as simple as a search engine. (Here's a hint: go to Enron's website and search for the word "integrity.") Organizations spend millions learning how to market themselves, and the result, especially in an age when saying any wrong little thing lands one in court trying to prove that one is not discriminating with respect to race/sex/gender/other protected classes, is that they all revert to a nauseating corporate lip-sync of "We Are the World."
But the discerning eye always finds a window. Don't you wish some people had search engines installed in their foreheads? Many folks are like the aforementioned organizations -- their individual statements all sound reasonable enough, but after listening to them talk for awhile, one starts to wonder if they aren't a tad unhinged. If only we could push a button on that co-worker to confirm that indeed, he has talked about his inadequate paycheck 187 times in the last year, but about his work only twice. Or, we could prove or disprove our hunch that, while Jesse Jackson talks an awful lot about other people's moral responsibilities, he has precious little to say about his own.
However, while we'll probably never have search engines bodily installed, as more of what we say and write accumulates in electronic space, an approximation of such a device becomes possible. So, please forgive me while I soften the curmudgeonliness that is likely to emerge should someone be meanspirited enough to level a similar meta-analysis at me: puppies, sunshine, flowers, ponytails, peace, brotherly love, dialogue, acceptance, and high fructose corn syrup.
Posted by Woodlief on August 27, 2002 at 10:47 AM
Excellent essay, with some very sharp and funny turns of phrase ("the Post Office," "Bush mouse pads," "Open Bibles," etc.).
The feminist would respond thus:
Sir, you are ignoring the fact that women have been victimized by men for centuries, through all of history. No single organization can address the myriad needs of women. There are thousands of organizations working at the grass-roots level, helping women who are not lesbians or who are not "of color" solve the diversity of problems brought on by a patriarchal, racist, and homophobic social structure. We work hand-in-hand with all of these organizations...
And so on. Speaking of feminists, I heard one Professor Stang, head of women's studies at Skidmore College, on Michael Medved's syndicated radio program a fews days back, attempting to explain an op-ed piece that she had written. The gist of her argument was that women "learn" at a very early age to be "afraid." The cultural factors responsible for this are apparently so diaphonous that they are almost beyond articulation, but every woman feels it and knows it to be true. (In other words, I don't need to defend my argument, I just need to say something is so.)
When pressed for a concrete example, she named as Exhibit A "Gone with the Wind." It's a film that has been given iconic status even though its message is that "it's OK to rape."
Medved pressed the argument that certain of her complaints seemed to be complaints against human nature itself (I'm off the rape topic here, I hope it's needless to say). Professor Stang countered by arguing that these problems were endemic to American and Western culture, and she cited by way of contrast -- are you ready for this? -- Islamic society!
I wonder how many hits for "women's rights" I'd get on a Wahhabi website.