Thursday, March 31, 2011

Romney for President

A member of the Studio Audience wrote:

If it makes you feel any better, conservatives and Republicans in general are not backing Newt as much as they did in 2008. He's hard to take seriously anymore, so the odds that he'll actually win the nomination and defeat Obama are very slim.

In response to this, I would like to say that I would like to support a limited-government, limited-spending candidate for public office. However, let's look at who the Republicans are so far willing to back in the next election.

A recent survey of Republican leaders shows that the it top candidate for 2012 is Mitt Romney.

In the 2008 election, Romney said,

Let me -- let me offer just a thought, and that is, one of the great things about this great land is we have people of different faiths and different persuasions. And I'm convinced that the nation -- that the nation does need -- the nation does need to have people of different faiths, but we need to have a person of faith lead the country.

We may assume, of course, that this means not only that the President cannot be an atheist, but neither can any person in the chain of command.

This would include the Vice-President, the Speaker oh the House, and, in order, the president pro temples of the senate, the secretary of state, the secretary of treasury, the secretary of defense.

Indeed, we may inquire as to whether Romney believes that everybody elected or appointed into public office must be a person of faith and whether he shares Bush's belief that no person is qualified to be a judge who does not believe that our rights come from God.

Shortly after he made that comment above he gave a speech addressing religion in which he said,

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. . . . Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

This pretty much equates atheism with immorality, tyranny, and injustice. With religious people in office, our freedoms are secure. With atheists running the show, there can be no freedom.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Newt Gingrich on Atheists in America

Here is a statement that deserves an immediate, loud, and hostile response.

"I have two grandchildren: Maggie is 11; Robert is 9. I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."

This is from Newt Gingrich, who wants to be President of the United States.

(See: CNN: Gingrich fears 'atheist country ... dominated by radical Islamists')

One's first impression is to laugh at this statement.

A secular atheist country dominated by radical Islamists?

We really have to question the sanity of such a person - for reasons that are too obvious to mention.

But, while shaking our collective heads in mocking disbelief, we must remember that this is one of the leading contenders to become President.

We have another reason for speculating why he might have said such a thing. Recently, several Republican Presidential candidates gave speeches to a conservative gathering in Iowa.

Haley Barbour (R) and Newt Gingrich (R) were politely and well received, but it's Bachmann who really fired them up with criticisms of the administration, an artful weaving of audience response, and backing up her points with a litany of "statistics."

(See MSNBC: Bachmann: 'I am an Iowan')

A couple of days after that happened, we see Gingrich attacking atheists and linking them to Islamic fundamentalists. And, at the same time, he links atheism with being anti-American. An atheist, apparently, does not understand what it means to be an American. You simply cannot be an atheist and, at the same time, understand what it means to be an American.

And he makes a well calculated emotional appeal by attaching these sentiments to an apparent concern for the future of young children. Can you imagine these cute and innocent children growing up in a country with secular atheists? It's enough to make you gag.

It doesn't matter that it makes no sense. What matters is that it is politically useful. It is something that may persuade one highly irrational and bigoted part of the population reason to support Gingrich's campaign, but give others no reason to oppose it because they simply ignore it.

Which is a part of the problem.

Let Gingrich or any other political candidate claim that by the time their grand children are his age they will be "in a Jewish community" and the Anti-Defamation league and their allies will end that candidate's Presidential ambitions before the week was out.

Gingrich did not even qualify his contempt for atheists – the way he qualified his contempt for Islam by adding ‘fundamentalists’. Whereas Islamic fundamentalists worry him, all atheists worry him, without exception or qualification.

However, he says this about atheists and it is barely worth mentioning in the news. Those who favor this message will repeat it to their friends and associates - those who are opposed will likely not even hear about it.

Part of the reason is that the atheist community has no organization to pay attention and to tackle events such as this - have no way to send the word out to the various atheist and anti-discrimination organizations (including the Anti-Defamation League).

His success in this strategy will only encourage others while it teaches its audience a wide lesson that looking down on atheists is acceptable, right, and proper. It contributes to a hostility towards atheists by building a community in which these values are accepted, but which go unchallenged in society at large.

Whereas widespread and public objections to these types of claims will help to discourage other candidates from taking the same path, while teaching the public at large that this type of bigotry is unacceptable in the public at large, and particularly among Presidential candidates.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Overriding International Non-Interference

Imagine that a person, Agent A1, known that neighbor N1 is brutally abusing his children. However, A1 does nothing about this. She may cast disapproving glances in the direction of their home, avoid contact with members of the household, and speak in tones of condemnation when talking about them, but she takes no action.

Later, she learns that neighbor N2 is brutally abusing his children. N2 owns property that A1 would like to own. By taking action against N2, this property might become available. She decides to take action against N2. In justifying her actions, she says that she is motivated by concern for the children.

Now, Agent A2 speaks up. She asserts, quite sensibly, that A1 is not motivated by compassion. If A1 were compassionate, she would have interfered with N1’s brutal abuse of his children as well. A1 is actually motivated by a desire for the property that this interference might force N2 to sell. Because of this, A2 condemns A1.

However, A2 does not condemn A1 for failure to interfere in the first instance. A2 instead protests that A1 should never have interfered even in the household of N2. N2 should be permitted to continue to brutalize his children, even killing and maiming many of them, without any type of community involvement at all.

I'm looking for a hero in this story.

I’m not finding one.

This characterizes some of the current debate on the situation in Libya – the decision to hinder Muammar Gaddafi’s ability to brutalize citizens who are supporting a change to a more democratic form of government.

Some people argue that the United States is not motivated out of compassion. There are people in the world who are suffering greater brutality than in Libya where the administration does almost nothing. But Libya has oil. So, the United States must be more concerned with supplies of oil than the wellbeing of civilians.

Yet, these protesters argue that the Obama Administration ought to do nothing. They argue for the international equivalent of a principle that says that the head of a household shall be left alone to brutalize his children in whatever manner suits his tastes and interests, and that the rest of the community must not get interfere.

At this point, I want to add one more character to this story. A1 shares her home with A3. A3 holds that members if the household ought to do nothing unless it can be demonstrated that a “household interest” is at stake. In other words, before A3 will allow A1 to act, A3 must be convinced that the action will profit the household in some way. If A1’s actions do not advance a “household interest”, then it is to be condemned.

Because of this, if A1 had taken action against N1's abuse, A3 would have been on him in an instant, rallying other members of the household to strip A1 of any type of ability to act, taking that decision-making power for themselves.

So, while it is true that the difference between N1 and N2 is that the household will not profit from interference in the first case but might profit in the second, there is a powerful force in this country that says that this is how it should be. They will not permit any type of action without being shown that a “national interest” is at stake. Taking action (particularly with an election coming up) in the international equivalent of N1 would mean that A3 wins the next election.

Ah, but A2-type thinkers are incapable of thinking in such complexities. They like a world of black and white – one in which taking action against the brutalization of children in another household is condemned in all circumstances.

I hold that, while we certainly require a presumption of international non-interference (in the same way we have a presumption against interference in the way parents raise their children), there are cases in which there is evidence to overcome this presumption. I condemn A2-type thinkers (pacifist Democratics and isolationist Republicans) for their utter lack of compassion and their blind obedience to rules. At the same time, I condemn A3-type thinkers (most Republicans as well as many independents and Democrats) for their utter lack of concern and compassion – people whose attitudes, if applied to individuals instead of countries would clearly create a community of alternating violence and indifference.

There is a reason for applying these principles of households to nations.

That is how peaceful communities are formed.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Libya, Iraq, and Epistemic Due Process

Our discussion of the moral merits of military action in Libya versus Iraq has brought us to the issue of due process. The moral difference between the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq and the current attacks in Libya, I have held, does not deny that Saddam Hussein was as bad a person as Miramar Ghadafy.

I have put the difference on whether the attackers followed principles of due process.

So, why is this so important?

Because humans are notorious for blowing past evidence and reason to get to the conclusion that they like. When that conclusion involves the use of violence, we have many and strong reason to put barriers in front of the use of violence that recognizes the most common sources of error – a moral requirement to subject those beliefs to a system of due process.

I have heard a few speak as if this disposition to ignore evidence and reason is a theist fault and that atheists are superior in that they have learned to overcome this failing.

Yet, the more scientific among us recognize that this is absurd. As a matter of fact, much of the progress we have seen in science is grounded on the fact that scientists admit and respect the fact that individual scientists cannot be trusted to be rational or impartial. Because of these human faults, scientific culture is one that DEMANDS that scientists use a type of “scientific due process” in its investigations – specifically to counter these tendencies that afflict all people, including scientists.

Double-blind experiments, control groups, replicatability, peer review, all of these aspects of scientific research can be lumped together under this concept of "scientific due process." All of them recognize and seek to counter the fact that humans - even scientists - are notorious in their tendency to see what they want to see and cherry-pick evidence to support a desired conclusion.

The use of due process has nothing to do with whether a conclusion is true or false. A scientist’s theory may be correct or incorrect regardless of whether it has been subject to scientific due process. Its use has to do with whether moral agents have reason to adopt that proposition. In adopting a belief, has the responsible agent employed those safeguards that, while imperfect, at least reduce the possibility that he has ignored reason and evidence?

This is particularly true when the belief involves the use of violence.

One way to reduce this possibility of self-serving error is to present one's evidence and reasoning to an impartial third party who has no particular reason to accept one proposition to another. Because the jurist does not have a stake in the conclusion, the jurist has less of an irrational tug that would tempt her to ignore reason and evidence. If this impartial third party can be convinced we are right, we may be more confident that our reasoning is sound and our conclusions are actually justified.

The main reason we employ a right to trial by a jury of the people in this country is, again, in recognition that, where the government is a party in a case, a government judge has an inherent conflict of interest.

Now, to return to the difference between the invasion of Iraq and attacks in Libya. I hold that Bush is to be condemned for the invasion of Iraq mostly because of his contempt for the principles and institutions of “due process”.

The Bush Administration found itself incapable of convincing third parties that it had a good case against Saddam Hussein regarding weapons of mass destruction. In fact, it didn't have a good case, as events would soon show.

Instead, it had a will to believe that caused it to twist and distort evidence and reason to support a desired conclusion. Evidence and testimony was examined in the light of the conclusions the administration wanted to believe – or, at least, wanted others to believe. If the evidence supported the desired conclusion, it was deemed trustworthy. If not, it was deemed unreliable.

Yet, third parties saw through this irrationality and lack of evidence. The Bush Administration was not able to convince the United Nations. Procedural due process reached the conclusion, "You do not have a good enough case."

Instead of respecting the moral requirements of procedural due process, the Bush Administration ignored those principles and attacked Iraq anyway. In doing so, they taught the world to hold the doctrines of procedural due process in contempt, and that people and nations may act with violence whenever they are certain in their own gut that they are right.

This is not the only area where the Bush Administration’s arrogant presumption of infallibility caused it to base its evaluation on the evidence on the basis of support for its conclusions. In the area of global warming and other environmental issues, it demanded that scientific papers be rewritten, judging as “sound science” that research that supported desired conclusions and rejecting science as “unsound” on the basis of failing to support desired conclusions.

I have further commented that many members of the Bush Administration as well as the bulk of its most vocal supporters belonged to a culture that demanded this form of epistemic negligence – a culture that took the Bible as literally true, and judged all science and reasoning based on the degree to which it supported their interpretations of scripture.

Which, again, is an attitude towards truth that is virtually certain to bring about death and suffering that can otherwise be avoided where people subject their belief to a more reliable system of “due process”.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Libya vs. Iraq: A Moral Comparison

There are those who say that the moral case of interfering in Libya is the same as the moral case against interfering with Iraq.

I disagree

Case 1: A person charges into a neighbor's house, kills the head of the household, and claims that he did so in self defense. He asserts that the neighbor was going to harm him. This is in spite of the fact that the neighbor presented no clear and present danger. Further investigation shows that the neighbor did not even own a weapon and, furthermore, agents for the attacker had been in the house looking for such a weapon and finding none.

Case 2: A community, faced with clear evidence that the head of a household is engaged in the murder of his children in clear view of that community, organizes a comunity response to stop those murders.

I hold that these represent a proper analogy for examining the attacks against Iraq and Libya. The first case represents the invasion of Iraq, while the second represents the attack on Libya.

I am being told that I must not permit or endorse the Libya response because doing so endorses the actions of the agent in the Iraq case.

Ultimately, on the face of it, this is absurd.

In raising objections to Bush's attack on Iraq, I argued that Bush violated a basic principle of justice. Except in the case of an immediate act of self defense against a clear and present threat, an individual has an obligation to appeal his case to an impartial third party. The Bush Administration failed to do this.

Analogously, our attacker in Case 1 above simply asserts that his neighbor was a threat without providing any information and without any sign that the neighbor was going to launch an immediate attack.

In the case of Libya, there was an appeal to an impartial third party that endorsed the conclusion. A U.N. resolution was passed authorizing the use of force against Libya.

In the case of Iraq, no use of force was ever authorized. the Bush Administration attempted to get a resolution passed authorizing such an attack, but withdrew the attempt when it was seen that the resolution would almost certainly fail.

In fact, it appears that the only way Iraq could have avoided a US invasion would have been to turn over stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and weapons research it did not have. This would be like saying that the attacker in Case 1 was authorized to kill his neighbor unless his neighbor agreed to produce a weapon the neighbor did not have.

Granted, I am not spending all of my time studying the facts of the case in these situations and I may have missed some relevant facts. Yet, the facts that I do have - if they are true and complete - would suggest that there is a significant moral difference between these two cases, and many and strong reasons to condemn the first set of actions (the attack on Iraq) while endorsing the second (the attack on Libya).

Air Strikes in Libya

Allowing that there are a huge number of factors related to peace in and the well-being of people in the Middle East of which I am ignorant, I am tentatively in favor of the decision to attack the forces of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

I hold that the principles and concerns that govern international relations are quite a bit like the concerns that one should have of what happens in the houses of your neighbors.

For the most part, whatever your opinions are on the best way to organize a household, you need to leave your neighbors free to pursue options you disagree with. You may debate with them, argue against them, and even rant against them with other neighbors, but you must stop short of violently interfering with the way they live their lives.

However, there are limits. There is a point at which it is time to say, "Enough. That option is not available."

The patriarch who kills and maims others who share his house has gone past those limits. At that point, it is permissible to send in the police, if necessary, and put a stop to it.

So, each nation has a right to sovereignty that restricts the use of violence against them. There is to be a strong presumption that they are to be left alone. However, when a government begins to slaughter its own citizens, the option – in fact, the moral obligation - exists for others to step in and put a stop to it. Anybody who asserts that violence may never be used and that households must enjoy complete autonomy, is like the neighbor who says that a father’s rape, beating, or murder of a child would not justify sending in the police.

Like I said, there are other factors that would also be relevant in this decision. Will a new government in Libya be a fundamentalist Muslim state harboring terrorist training camps, executing homosexuals, and stoning women who dare not to live according to the dictates of Sharia law? Will one dictator be replaced by another dictator even more violent? These are legitimate concerns, and the answer might well dictate a change in the overall policy.

However, there is at least a prima-facie moral permission, even a moral obligation, to interfere with a government’s slaughter of its own people.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Quadaffy's Miracle

It have found it difficult to turn on the news recently. I wish for things to get better, but that's not what I am finding.

Quadaffy is probably overjoyed at the earthquake. It has pushed his violence off of the front page. A person in his position can do whatever he pleases, as long as the people are properly distracted.

It is almost as if there is a God, and that God favors people like Quadaffy. He prayed for a miracle to help save his regime, and he got one, at 8.9 on the richter scale

That's one of the truly remarkable things about miracles. You can find them where you want to find them. And if it does not make sense to you that your God would provide a particular benefit, then it is " coincidence".

Then there are those being caused to suffer in ways that do not make the headlines. If you can harm people in ways that do not make good YouTube videos, you are home free. Heck, you could destroy a whole economy, throw tens of millions of people out of work, destroy savings and retirement plans, and have taxpayer money go to secure your multi-billion dollar salary and your annual merit bonus

Oh, that bonus is well deserved. Roping in those billions of dollars in government assistance and saving your failed company - that is worth a few million dollars at the end of the year.

Fortunately, it also makes lousy video. That's where Quadaffy made his mistake. He had this regime of slowly simmering tyranny that made poor video. When that changed, he was in trouble. He was at risk of being overthrown. Once the video started, what he needed more than anything was compelling video from somewhere else.

No doubt he prayed for a miracle, and he got one.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Institutions of Law and Justice

My posting on ethically breaking laws (referring specifically to the claims made by Berrett Brown, an alleged spokesperson for the group Anonymous, drew the following comment from a member of the studio audience.

Here is one difference where I have to disagree with the premise. Anonymous is defending against illegal actions by adversaries that not only are themselves overwhelmingly powerful but are also able to invoke the wrath of the state, again, illegally.

Right. This is always true, 100 percent of the time, with no possibility of error. The members of Anonymous are morally and intellectually perfect. These claims I made about the dangers of self-deception and confirmation bias do not apply to them because if their superhuman qualities.

Every villain that has ever existed has been able do describe his actions in the most noble terms, at least in his own mind. The question is, "How do you know? What institutions are in place to check for the possibility of error?"

Because these are the only three options that exist:

(1) We are incapable of error.

(2) We are capable of error but errors do not matter. The possibility of unjust harm to innocent people is simply unimportant to us.

(3) We are capable of error and errors do matter.

If you go with option 3, then this demands that institutions be put in place that reduce the possibility of error - institutions that respect the most common sources of error. These common sources include conflict of interest, insufficient information, confirmation bias, selection bias, and the like.

Where an organization lacks these institutions, we may ask, "Which is it? Are you saying that you are incapable of error, or are you saying that error does not matter?"

And what happens when one discovers that an error does do harm to innocent people? What's the plan then? Are tree methods set up to compensate those who are harmed? Or is the plan to just shrug one's collective shoulders and say, "Well, that's their problem, not mine."

One option describes the morally responsible agent. The other option describes the immoral agent.

I live in a system of law. If I do harm to others, institutions exist to determine if I am in fact guilty and, if so, what I owe the victims in terms of compensation. This system is not perfect - nothing designed by humans ever will be. But it is far superior to a system that utterly ignores or, worse, undermines the principles embodies in such a system.

Neither Anonymous nor Wikileaks can ask or expect governments to intercede on their behalf, and, operating in the international ether, both they and their adversaries are functioning in places the law has yet to tread. Like the wild west, justice can sometimes only be delivered from the barrel of a [keyboard]. To expect -or wait- for due process would be to give further license to the banksters, who have already proven themselves immune to prosecution.

Here is one of those irrationalities that people use to excuse wrongful action - the false dilemma. "I only have two options: A or B, and A is clearly unacceptable, so I must choose B." a person who wants to choose B for whatever motive merely has to pick the correct A to put it up against.

"We must condemn and seek to abolish homosexual relationships or a vengeful God will visit us with hurricanes and earthquakes. We must do whatever we can to prevent the angry God from attacking us with hurricanes and earthquakes,"

You take the conclusion that you like, put it up against a horrendous alternative, and then proclaim that you actions are necessary, given the alternative.

This does not have to be done consciously. A person with no desire to see a third option has no motivation to look for a third option - or to find some excuse for dismissing any proposed third option out of hand. In their own mind, they are stuck with the options they described

They WANT to see themselves as being stuck between those two options, so that the option they like seems necessary.

This is just one of the tricks people use to judge themselves to be innocent and virtuous - by refusing to see the options that a truly virtuous person would have seen.

For one thing, there is nothing in this argument that prevents Anonymous from creating a set of institutions designed to protect innocent people from the harm of those who would use violence through institutions that respect the most common sources of error.

The wild west was not so wild. In the absence of access to formal courts, many mining camps created their own court - their own mining law. They elected trustworthy arbitrators and systems of arbitration - institutions where people brought their evidence before an impartial judge and jury.

Of course, it did not always happen this way. However, the relevant point here is that it should have happened that way – that this is the option that good people would have strived for. When it did not happen that way it is because not-good people – corrupt, greedy, or otherwise morally bankrupt people – got in the way.

Disaster Prevention and Relief

I am going to assume that you have heard of the earthquake that hit Japan recently.

We live in a universe that is entirely indifferent to our survival and well-being as individuals, as communities, and even as a species, surrounded by massively powerful forces.

Our best hope in protecting ourselves is to understand the world around us in ways that allow us to predict, and thus to avoid, these disasters. And when those disasters strike anyway, to depend on each other for mutual support.

When it comes to giving aid, reason should prevail here as well. Irrational, careless charity may make the giver feel good with false beliefs that they have helped, but people who truly care about others will want to make sure to make reason-based contributions to disaster relief.

Disaster relief organizations state that the best help that one can provide is to provide cash. Let the professionals determine what they physically need and where they need it.

At times like these, many people make contributions that are not only worthless but counter-productive. One such form of aid is for people to rush to the area where the disaster has struck so that they can volunteer their labor. Once they arrive, they end up becomming a part of the problem. They are just one more mouth to feed and one more body to take care of.

People also tend to make entirely worthless contributions of food and clothing. The labor involved in evaluating, sorting, crating, shipping, and distributing these types of contributions can almost certainly be better spent elsewhere. Cash allows the organizations to purchase and ship food, blankets, shelter, medicines, and qualified people in bulk - much more efficiently.

Of course, those donations can be made useful because, in spite of the disaster in Japan, you will almost certainly find people in your community in need of that kind of help. And there is no need to think that the only help worth providing is help given to Japan.

That is another burden that charities suffer at times like this. Local charities see their sources of income and support dry up as people shift their contributions in ways that focus on the disaster. So, keep that in mind when making a contribution.

Then there are those for whom their contributions are entirely self-serving; who have no interest in actually helping people as can be seen through their actions. People donate high-healed shoes and fine clothes, not because they have any interest in helping others, but because it makes a nice tax deduction.

If people are making irrational contributions, it really does no good to say, "At least their heart is in the right place," and let it pass. If their heart really is in the right place, then they care not to make irrational and senseless contributions. If they are offended by the news that their contributions are irrational and senseless, then their heart is not in the right place. They are seeking only the personal pleasure that comes from thinking that they have helped, they are not seeking to help. That is not a sentiment that deserves our respect or consideration.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Anonymous and Breaking Laws Ethically

An article by MSNBC has a spokesperson for the group Anonymous, Berrett Brown, saying,

“Our people break laws, just like all people break laws,” he added. “When we break laws, we do it in the service of civil disobedience. We do so ethically. We do it against targets that have asked for it.”

(See MSNBC: Hacker group vows 'cyberwar' on US government, business.

One fact to note is that criminals generally like to think of their victims as asking for it.

The husband who beats his wife will claim that she asked - that she has done something wrong and deserves to be beaten. The same with the parent who beats her child.

The common murderer will tell you that his victim deserved to be killed for some affront or other - in some cases, for the mere crime of showing disrespect for the murderer or some group the murderer belongs to.

To the rapist, the woman asks for it by the way she dresses or the way she is alleged to treat men.

One of the differences between the criminal and the just - between those who act immorally and those who act morally - is that ethical people do not decide for themselves who deserves to be victims of violence and who does not. They subject their case to an impartial judge and jury. They create a set of rules that are posted publicly for everybody to see, they give everybody a voice in what those rules are, and, where those rules are broken, they present evidence to an impartial judge and jury who can make an unbiased decision.

Vigilantes - who claim the right to be accuser, judge, jury, and executioner on all matters - inevitably judge their enemies always to be guilty, and themselves always to be innocent. We see this in Brown's attitude. Anonymous can do no wrong. All of their enemies "have asked for it."

Brown also demonstrates that he has no understanding of the concept of civil disobedience.

We have three paradigm examples of civil disobedience in our history.

The first is Henry David Thoreau who, because he considered the American war with Mexico to be a war of aggression for the purpose of conquering territory belonging to another sovereign power, refused to pay taxes in support of such a war. He openly defied the government and peacefully went to prison.

The second was Ghandi's Salt Satyagraha. Ghandi's intention was to protest the British salt laws by breaking them. He announced to the government that he was going to break the law. He walked 240 miles (over 24 days) to the coast, and there, in full view of the public, broke the law in a way that did no harm to any person, and allowed himself to be arrested. While he sat in jail, 60,000 people followed his example.

The third example are the non-violent "sit ins" that took place during the civil rights movements. Restaurants and other facilities were divided into "white" and "colored" sections. Groups of blacks would walk into these establishments and sit in the "white" section. There, they would get arrested and be hauled off to jail.

There are two aspects of civil disobedience that Brown does not understand.

The first is that you cannot perform acts of civil disobedience behind a mask. The perpetrator of civil disobedience stands up and takes credit for his actions and announces why he is doing what he is doing. When he is arrested. He expects to be arrested. In fact, he plans to be arrested. That is a part of his message - that he cares so much for the principle he is standing for that he is willing to suffer a personal cost in defense of that principle.

The second, of course, is that acts of civil disobedience are . . . well . . . civil. The person who practices civil disobedience destroys nothing - damages nothing - and commits no acts of violence. Anonymous, on the other hand, is all about committing acts of violence against the property of other people.

Among the methods the group is vowing to use: posting personal information about the officials on the Internet, a method known as “doxing.” The group also this week issued a threat over the Internet to “harass” the staff at Quantico “to the point of frustration,” including a “complete communications shutdown” of its Internet and phone links.

These are acts that aim to destroy the usefulness of the property belonging to other people. If it was a house, we can destroy it by burning it to the ground. If it is a computer program or process, we destroy it by making code changes that make it unusable. There is no moral difference between these two acts of violence. Neither of them qualify as "civil".

Anonymous commits acts of violence. Of course, we are told, the victims of their violence "have asked for it" - and they have made themselves the accuser, judge, jury, and executioner. On this matter, please refer to the first part of this posting.

Acts of violence in defense of liberty is sometimes necessary. The Underground Railroad that helped slaves to escape into Canada provide an example.

There is more to be said on these issues than I can fit in one small post. However, one thing I can say is that Anonymous spokesperson Barrett Brown is utterly incompetent when it comes to discussing these issues. Nor do I see any sign from Anonymous itself that it is embarrassed at having such a display of incompetence in somebody claiming to be their spokesperson - suggesting that Anonymous itself, by and large, suffers the same deficiency.

Unfortunately, when a group of morally incompetent people claim the right to use violence against others, every decent person has a reason to worry what the results will be.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Representative Peter King's Anti-Islamic Hearings

Representative Peter King wants to hold hearings on the radicalization of Muslim youths in America as a major threat to American security.

This has raised some protests.

The protests have made a number of claims.

One of those claims is tactical. By focusing specifically on Muslim youths, the hearings will cause Muslim youths to feel that Islam is being unfairly singled out, which will then cause them to become radicalized and a threat to national security.

Well, this is a topic that can be brought up in the hearings. I would be interested in knowing if this is just an "intuition" that some people have, or if it has a basis in fact. I would like to hear the evidence, and these hearings would be a good opportunity to present that evidence.

If I were holding the hearings, I would be looking for people who can tell me something of the history of those Muslims who became radicalized. I would want to know who and what was causally responsible for the condition. Furthermore, I would want to know what the warning signs are and the methods of detection we can put in place to look for those warning signs. I would want to know what types of things seem to stand in the way of radicalization. And, of course, I would want to see what evidence people are using to draw these conclusions.

(See: Muslim-American Terrorism since 9/11: An Accounting)

But is this the type of information that King is looking for?

Republicans in general have had shown themselves to have a strong aversion to anything that even hints at a rational, scientific investigation of a problem. Instead, many tend to think that “sound science” is "anything that supports the unquestionable self-evidence truths that I, being the true genius that I am in perfect harmony with the wisdom of the universe, already know beyond all possible doubt."

In fact, the report cited above states that the list of invited speakers includes Zadhi Jasser:

Zudhi Jasser, an America Muslim of Syrian descent and a physician in Arizona… believes that to counter radicalization of young Muslims, Islam should be purged of Islamist politics that he says fuel anger in people like Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood gunman. "To measure (the threat) you can't approach it scientifically," Jasser said, referring to the data on violence committed by radicalized Muslims. "It's about countering an ideology that is at odds with Western ideals."

Translation: "Bah, who needs all this science garbage? I - being the perfectly wise and wonderful person that I am - already know the truth. Evidence is for wimps."

"Peter King's hearing is a staged event that will do little to shed light on the causes of domestic terrorism . . . . Instead the hearing will be a platform for Islamophobia draped in the American flag, reinforcing ignorance, stereotypes, bigotry and intolerance in the name of national security."

The point is that it is the content of the hearing, not the fact that the hearing actually takes place, that will tell us if King's actions are motivated by a desire to save lives while maintaining a respect for the human dignity of others who are of no threat, or whether he intends to use his power and position to engage in primitive chest-thumping tribalism.

Another point of protest against King's hearings is that it is unfair to have hearings that focus specifically on the radicalization of Muslims and avoid talking about the radicalization of other groups (e.g., radical fundamentalist Christians who murder doctors who perform abortions, blow up abortion clinics, and threaten other violent activities).

While there is some reason for concern, it is also the case that focusing on a specific form of radicalization is a fair topic. Different forms of radicalization might have sufficiently different causes.

If the medical community were having a conference on "Leukemia" it would be strange to argue that this conference ought not to take place - that the only legitimate for the medical community to discuss cancers in a generic sense rather than holding a conference on a specific type of cancer.

On the other hand, there would be reason to question what was going on if medical researchers were spending huge amounts of time and money studying a form of cancer that killed an average of 4 people per year, while ignoring other forms of cancer that, combined, killed 150,000 people per year. One thing we can say with near certainty that, whatever is motivating their research topics, they are certainly not being motivated by a desire to save lives.

So, while some objections to the hearings that James King plans to host have no merit, this does not imply that we are lacking in good reasons to question his motives. We certainly have cause to look closely at whether he intends to use these hearings to acquire information useful for taking lives, or as a personal stage for performing the ape-like antic of throwing poo at members of tribes he does not like.

Academic Excellence

Actually, I have been doing a huge amount of writing recently . . . but it doesn't get posted. I have a computer littered with drafts of postings on a wide variety of topics, from the new ATLAS SHRUGGED film to civil disobedience.

But I can't seem to get them to the point where I want to post them.

Well, I suppose, one of the ways around this is to go ahead and post things even if I am not perfectly happy with the result.

A case in point: In today's news I caught an article on a documentary called THE RACE TO NOWHERE, which claims that our current devotion to testing is sacrificing other values and even threatening the healthy development of children by putting them under too much pressure.

See, MSNBC: 'Race to Nowhere' targets academic pressures.

Yet, I look at the amount of overall stupidity there is in the United States and wonder where this "academic pressure" is going to. Global warming denial, the denial of evolution, absolutely no sense of the scientific method or of the principles of logic, we are surrounded by misinformation and fallacious arguments.

So . . . somebody says we are pushing too hard for academic excellence and we need to ease up?

It is to laugh.

How about . . . we're teaching the wrong things.

Many parents actually do not want their children to be educated. They want their children to share the same foolish, unfounded idiocies they accept. Teaching children . . . actually TEACHING them . . . means that they are going to come home and say, "You say that homeopathy works because the water "remembers" the chemicals that have been placed in it. But have you ever stopped to think where that water has been?"

The educated child will come home and say things like, "Homosexuality is the result of brain and body structures that come from an interaction of genes and environment - mostly the chemical environment of the womb - are certainly not chosen and certainly not a threat to the welfare of society as a whole.

She will claim, "No, mom, dinosaurs and man did not walk the earth at the same time, and the Bible is a primative book of superstitious fairy tales no different from the ancient Greek works of Homer - a human invention that reflects human thinking in a primitive age."

There are a lot of parents do not want to hear this kind of stuff coming from their children, so they seek to make sure that our education system fails to teach. And now we have a testing system so that we can measure and make sure that the education system produces the right amount of failure.

Of course, in picking these examples above, am I not dictating that what I believe is what counts as education, and that the school system is not educating children if the school does not indoctrinate the child into my beliefs?

Actually, no, because an education does not consist in teaching any of the claims I made above as fact. It involves teaching the children how people came to these conclusions - what counts as evidence and what does not - and what the child will have to do if the child wants to challenge any of these claims. It teaches the child why current challenges fail, but also teaches the child what to look for in future challenges that have a chance of success.

THIS is the education that many parents demand that their schools fail to provide - teaching the children what to look for if the child wants to question what is currently believed (by their parents). While people adopt the slogan that the school should teach a child, not what to think, but how to think, in fact the national goal is to teach neither. Any attempt to teach the child what to think will inevitably clash with the beliefs of some parents. Any attempt to teach a child how to think will teach the child how to question what their parents say is gospel. So, the schools teach neither.

Some children get an education anyway. Yet, it seems that the education they get has to do with their own curiosity that drives them to learn outside of the public school system.

So, I find the claim that our schools are pushing too hard for academic excellence to be laughable. We are talking about a system designed by parents for the specific job of preventing children from acquiring "academic excellence" - the ability to know what to look for when they want to verify or falsify the claims of their parents and other authority features.

Gasp! Teach academic excellence? Not on your life!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Westboro Baptist Church and Freedom of Speech

In the middle of every silver lining there is a big black cloud.

The Supreme Court upheld the rights of freedom of speech for the Westboro Baptist Church to say all of the offensive, mean-spirited, hate-mongering things they are prone to say.

(See: CNN Anti-gay church's right to protest at military funerals is upheld)

That's the silver lining.

Then there's the cloud.

In Wednesday's case, 48 states and dozens of members of Congress filed an amicus brief in support of the Snyders.

Fourty-eight state governments do not understand the right to freedom of speech?Which two did understand this right, I wonder? They deserve to be recognized and honored for this fact.

Dozens of members of Congress?

Plus, we have one (fortunately, only one) Supreme Court Justice himself who does not understand the right to freedom of speech - Justice Samuel Alito, the descenting voice in the 8-1 decision.

[F]ree and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case,

Yes, it is. Vicious verbal assault is contant. Praise and condemnation - including vicious condemnation - counts as speech. It is delivering a message. Prohibiting these messages means prohibiting speech because of its content. Alito should know this.

Plus, we have the words of Mr. Snyder who lost the case:

Snyder: Well there's not much we can do about it anymore. When the government won't do anything about it, and the courts give us no remedy, then people are going to start taking matters into their own hands. And believe me someone is going to get hurt. And when the blood starts flowing, let it be on the Supreme Court Justices' hands.

(See: CBS: Dad on Westboro: Blood is on court's hands)

So, "We are going to take it upon ourselves to use violence in response to words and, rather than take responsibility for our own violence, we are going to blame those who did not yield to our threats."

So, once again we see that the right to freedom of speech is not so well loved in America as some people would like to claim. With so many people willing to see such a right shredded, there is reason to temper the celebration with a word of caution.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A Special Way of Knowing

I have a special way of knowing things.

This special way of knowing is not subject to proof of any kind. These facts exist outside of any realm touched by reason or demonstration. I simply know them. God must have planted the knowledge of these things into my head directly. Since God would not deceive me, I trust these facts beyond all reason. I can trust God because this is one of the unquestionable facts that God has placed in my head.

These facts that I know that are beyond all reason are moral facts. They are facts about who I may kill, who I may maim, who I may imprison, and who I may enslave. They are facts about what I may do to women, what I may do to homosexuals, and what I may do to those who do not believe.

When I come to kill or maim or imprison or enslave you, do not ask me to justify my actions. My actions are self-justified. They come from my special way of knowing that is beyond inquiry - beyond reason.

If you deny that I have this special way of knowing, if you deny that I may kill, maim, imprison, or enslave those that I know I may kill, maim, imprison, or enslave, then you are insulting my beliefs - and that is something I will not tolerate. I do not have to tolerate your insults because my special way of knowing tells me that I do not have to tolerate your insults.

Do not question how I treat women, because in doing so you insult my beliefs.

Do not question my attitude towards or treatment of homosexuals, because that is also an insult to my beliefs.

Do not question my distrust of those who do not believe as I do, because by their mere existence they insult my beliefs.

Do not question me in any way, because to question me is to insult me.

In case you have not figured it out, my special way of knowing also tells me who you may kill, maim, imprison, or enslave. It tells me what you may wear, who you may be alone with, what you may say, and who you may have sex with. If you disobey any of these rules that my special way of knowing gives me, then you have insulted me and my beliefs.

Of course, my special way of knowing tells me what you may say with respect to questioning the facts that I know beyond all reason through my special way of knowing. You should be clear on that matter by now. I will expect you to comply and I will respond in a way that my special way if knowing tells me is appropriate if you do not.

Everything above this point is satire. But, I hold that it represents a very common way of thinking - and a very dangerous way of thinking. While not everybody thinks this way (obviously) we clearly have a lot of people who are far too close to this way of thinking - even if they do not put it exactly this way.