Friday, September 16, 2016

Safe Space or Vindictive Protectiveness?

Two things. 

First, I have been mostly diligent lately about keeping politics and heavy ranting on my blog (that almost nobody reads) and off my Facebook feed which quite a few people read. I intend to stick with that program, despite being sorely tempted.

Two. I am regularly critical of those on the Conservative side of the political spectrum. Flatly stated, I am more aligned with those on the Left. However, any case of poor thinking is open to criticism, regardless of political affiliation. I am stating bluntly and unapologetically this type of thinking is not some tiny problem being blown out of all proportion. It is at minimum foolish and at maximum dangerous. Slapping a “politically correct” sticker on something should not offer a free pass to poor thinking. I am embarrassed that the liberal/progressive movement, of which I consider myself a proud member, would harbor or even encourage this sort of behavior.

Frankly speaking, this brings to mind an “inmates running the asylum” type of mentality. Progressives are constantly (and most often, rightly)  cautioning us about the decline of the educational system in America. Is it possible that, in part, as a function of our horror regarding current events, we are blinded to the darker side of this bizarre set of circumstances?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Hearts and Minds

Link to article about a Slovenian philosopher and his thoughts on the migrants.

Perhaps it is time (arguably past time) for us to sort out our feelings from our policy decisions. To be clear, I am a big proponent of acknowledging and being in touch with our feelings. I am convinced feelings are our motive force. That said, they are as much a force propelling us to do stupid or even harmful things as they are for motivating us toward our more noble goals. Further, following our feelings without a sufficient injection of rational thought is almost always a bad play. A cursory check on current events illustrates how, both in our own lives and on the global stage, failing to include the links of critical rational thought into the chain running between events and policy has led us down some foolish or even dark paths. Without heart we are nothing. With only heart, we silly dangerous beasts, indeed.

I am in part drawn to association with my beloved fellows inhabiting the Left side of the political sphere because of their heart. That said, I think it is important to call out my comrades*. The stakes are too high for us to make grave errors because we are (understandably) caught up in the horror. We need to honor our bleeding hearts without drowning in that blood.

I am going to unambiguously label the following as the critical bit. Some of the points being made by the Slovenian philosopher (and other thoughtful humans) are the same as or overlap with points made by people on the far Right here in America and in Europe. How can this be? If a person says some of these things they must be driven by racism, xenophobia, fear, anger and hatred, right?


Recognizing evidence that is disturbing does not immediately make one a hateful, fearful, xenophobe. In the same way that recognizing the horror on the faces of desperate refugees does not make a person a hopeless romantic without critical thinking skills. How one reacts to the evidence is the deciding factor. When the philosopher asserts that many of the migrants entering Europe are from vastly different cultures that may share little in common European countries, this is a fact. When he states that these migrants were at once justified in fleeing their war-torn homelands and not necessarily entering Europe with an intent to assimilate or adopt European values, this is a fact. If the response to these facts is hatred and violence, this is a horrible and sad fact- but not a surprising fact. If the response is to the plight of desperate fleeing refugees is to ignore their plight, this is unconscionable. However, recognizing the horror and committing to aid the afflicted while not simply absorbing them all into Europe is not a horrible or hateful thing. In fact, I would argue (after hearing the recent report on the refugees by This American Life) it is a superior idea. Compare this to the truly horrifying condition they currently endure in squalid under-funded refugee camps as stateless persons. Bereft and hopeless. Link to the refugee story.

Things would be easier if we could blame everything on the far-right-crazies but that won't fly. However, I will advance this idea. I am not the first to think this by any means. We are all concerned by the tendency on the Right, in recent years, to stray from historical fiscal conservatism into fundamentalist ideology both religious and political. I suggest that, when we are not reveling in glee at the pit they've dug for themselves, we may want to have a look at the ripple effect of these trends on the Left. Once upon a time and not so long ago, I could have an honest debate with a conservative in which we shared a fair amount of middle ground (intelligent rational people wanting to solve commonly agreed upon problems). Our routes to the solutions were often quite different but our thoughtful arguments spurred each other to better thinking and eventually some compromise. As the far right ideologues began their ascendency, I noticed the lack of a rational opponent helps degrade the argument on both sides. Without real and thoughtful arguments to push back on, progressives began to lose their edge. Worse yet, we didn't notice ourselves slipping. We rejoiced with cheap jokes about our opponents, but we were duller.  If you are thinking I seem wistful and at a bit of a loss without those old-time fiscal Conservatives, you'd be right. It wasn't all sweetness and light but I might have appreciated the reasonable ones more while there were greater numbers of them to appreciate.

*I agree, that bit about "comrades" was totally gratuitous. It was an unsubtle poke at any hardcore Republican Fundamentalists passersby. One has a certain curmudgeonly image to uphold.

Examples of conflicting cultures:
child brides

so-called honor killing

Monday, September 5, 2016

Thoughtful words from a person with a unique perspective

Elizabeth Smart speaks on Sex, Rape, and self-worth

Back in July I posted about missive in my Facebook feed regarding still pervasive religious teaching that links sexual activity and a person’s self-worth. I only considered the topic in relation to consensual sexual activity. Luckily this articulate young woman helped me see it in a larger context.

In my earlier post I asserted such thinking was fostered primarily by men, almost exclusively directed at women, and was the source of untold misery for many of those women. I find the whole business appalling and feel it is a human rights issue and a feminist issue. Some may have felt, as a man, I had no standing to comment. I don’t agree but fair enough. How about this young lady.

Back to the basics with Kasich.

Though it seems like forever, it was only few months ago that Kasich was being touted by some as the sane reasonable Republican candidate in the Primaries. I believe a better assessment might have been, very parochial and judgmental but a bit less crazy. Here is a recent quote from the former Presidential candidate and current governor of Kansas: Gov. John Kasich Condemns Actor Daniel Radcliffe’s Atheism: “What the Hell Is Wrong With Him?” I wonder where Muslims, Buddhists, and Jews fit into the Governor's hierarchy of people who do not share his views? Do they enjoy higher status because, at least they believe in a god- even if it is one of those "foriegn" gods?

Young Mister Radcliffe, known for playing Harry Potter, is by all accounts a talented actor living an exemplary life. apparently those facts are merely ancillary to the issue in Kasich's mind. He doesn't believe in God! What the hell is wrong with him?

Well, Governor Kasich, you claim to believe in Jesus who promoted good living but was accepting of  different people and flawed people. So, I ask, what the hell is wrong with you?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Drivel? Nun for me, thanks!

Check this NPR link to a story about the nun up for sainthood. Pay particular attention to the statements of the Canadian physician, Dr. Duffin: Miracles? Really?

Okay, so lets assume you do not immediately recognize this as drivel. First, I am sorry to hear that but do not surrender to goofy thinking.  Claims of miracles should be our last resort. Our very last resort. Chin up, we can walk through this.

The good doctor, a self described atheist, stated that she found no "scientific reason" the woman should have recovered. Not to be harsh with the physician here but, seriously? What the fuck does that even mean? There is no such thing as a scientific reason. Science is merely a well considered way of examining the world. It is a method. When we speak about the "reason" for something happening, that is about the "why". And anyone who truly understands how science works subscribes to the basic idea that science is not really in the "why" business. On the other hand, science is very much about the "how".

Let's give the doctor the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she intended to say, Apparently the woman was healed but I found no evidence that medical treatment should have resulted in her dramatic healing. Such results, though rare, are hopeful and cause for wonder. I'd have been among the first to offer praise and support for that.

The doctors statements leave us with a substantial problem. Critical thinking leads us right to the mess. All the doctor "proved" was, she was unable to gather sufficient evidence of a prosaic biological process that resulted in the woman's healing. That, obviously leaves open possibilities that include (but are not limited to) she missed something, the woman's body was healing itself and the prayers merely coincided with healing events, the doctor didn't miss anything but was hampered by current technology and/or medical knowledge. To be clear, the doctor provided zero evidence of a supernatural healing. I could have offered respect if she had simply said, "I don't know and that proves nothing beyond I don't know".

I feel the need to make a quick program note:

I am guilty of saying things like, "I believe in science". I now try to avoid such lapses. I am actively trying to eliminate believe and belief from my vocabulary. I find these words tend to muddle rather than clarify. For our purposes here, what I intend to say is, "I have confidence in the scientific method".

And now, back to our story.

How would one conclude that a given event had a supernatural cause? Think about that a moment.

To be sure, one could believe that to be the case. However, believing and concluding based upon the gathering of evidence and the evaluation of that evidence based upon logic and critical thinking- well, those are two different things. When belief is involved, no investigation is necessary. Likewise, when an investigation is necessary, belief does not and should not enter into it.

Further, if you should hear a person making claims about miracles and that person says something that resembles,  "You have to admit some humility and accept that there are things that science cannot explain", that is your clue. Somebody is trying to pull a fast one on you. The speaker has already fallen victim to Dr. Richard Feynman's ultimate caution: "The first principle is, you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool". The great physicist was reminding us that we are not clean slates. We all bring our hopes, beliefs, desires, and biases with us as we try to understand something or solve a problem.  Things can get muddled double quick.

So what? 

Well, if the answer is to admit humility,  we might well have begun down that path three thousand years ago and ceased all that bothersome "thinking" about matters such as the twinkling lights in the night sky, the nature of the various plants and beasts, and so on. This reduces the argument to, one needs to have humility and employ belief above everything. Why? Because, god. End of story. No investigation necessary.

I understand why the Catholic Church jumped right on this. They came to the process believing in miracles and simply wanted someone to offer something upon which they could hang their hats. Why Dr. Duffin became enmeshed in this mess escapes me.

The sainthood process and the proving of miracles is drivel. However, I am open to changing my mind on this. Bring evidence.

Labor Day, Laboriously Considered

Labor Day

Have I misunderstood something or have I got this right.

Starting at about forever ago, people with more power and resources took advantage of,or outright enslaved, people who had less. This continued, largely unabated until, the people with nothing were at the end of their rope. Finding themselves in a democratic republic, they decided to stand up for themselves against robber barons who saw them as nothing more than expendable instruments for creating and hoarding wealth. The little people were suffered greatly but were brave and resolute. They finally won the right to unionize and bargain with employers.

Fast forward a few decades.

The robber barons had not disappeared, they had simply gone underground, biding their time like hunted vampires. Slowly they morphed into giant faceless corporations. Now, insulated from the rabble with the pitchforks, they set about doing what they do. They found ways to increase their rights and weaken the rights of average citizens. Now, when challenged, they no longer need to send in goons to crack heads. They simply pack up the "means of production" and ship them elsewhere to take advantage of people who have fewer options and were unfortunate enough to be born in a place where they enjoy fewer rights. And, like manna from heaven, the wealthy few found ways to make unlikely allies among those they exploit, by appealing to their fears and prejudices and constantly suggesting that God is on their side.

Oh, yeah, Happy Labor Day.