Archive for June, 2013

The Tyranny of Choice

June 30, 2013

I read about this interview with Slovenian philosopher Renata Salecl in an article by John Sexton at Brietbart.com. The interview itself can be found at Der Spiegel. Ms Salecl believes that all of the choices we must make in modern life, under the capitalist system, causes us all too much stress which results in a “tyranny of choice”.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Salecl, at the fast food chain Subway we have to make half a dozen decisions before we can finally enjoy our sandwich. Is that what you mean when you speak in your lectures about the “tyranny of choice?”

Salecl: I try to avoid places like Subway, and if I end up there I always order the same thing. When I speak about the “tyranny of choice,” I mean an ideology that originates in the era of post-industrial capitalism. It began with the American Dream — the idea of the self-made man, who works his way up from rags to riches. By and by, this career concept developed into a universal life philosophy. Today we believe we should be able to choose everything: the way we live, the way we look, even when it comes to the coffee we buy, we constantly need to weigh our decision. That is extremely unhealthy.SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why?

Salecl: Because we constantly feel stressed, overwhelmed and guilty. Because, according to this ideology, it’s our own fault if we’re unhappy. It means we made a bad decision.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And if we make the right choice?

Salecl: In that case, we constantly feel that there’s something even better hiding behind the next corner. So we are never truly content and are reluctant to settle on anything.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: “Don’t let the common man decide. He’s not smart enough.” That argument has been used by autocrats for centuries. Do you mean to say they are right?

Salecl: No. I don’t criticize political or electoral freedom, but capitalism’s perversion of the concept: the illusion that I hold the power over my own life.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But I do have that power. I can decide for myself what I want, even if the thought stresses me out.

Salecl: Not at all. A friend, who’s a psychologist, told me about a patient once: a woman who was well educated, had a good job, a house and a loving husband. “I did everything right in my life,” said the woman. “But I’m still not happy.” She never did what she herself wanted, but what she believed society expected from her.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So we need to be better at pursuing our personal happiness?

Salecl: Even that is an illusion. Happiness has become a bar we measure ourselves against. The world is full of women’s magazines that strive to tell us what will make us happy. It’s filled with Facebook status updates, telling us how much other people are making of their lives. There are even indexes evaluating how happy certain nations are. “Be happy” has become a societal imperative. If you aren’t, you have failed.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But the motto also tells everyone that they can make their own choices. That gives people greater control over their lives.

Salecl: Yes, but that’s only partially true. We still can’t control the consequences our choices will bring. That’s the next step. Not only do we want freedom of choice, but we also want a guarantee that whatever we choose will be exactly as we envisioned it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why are we so afraid to just go with the flow?

Salecl: Because every time we decide for something, we lose something else. Buying a car is a great example. A lot of people not only read ratings before they buy their car but they continue afterwards — to make sure they really made the right choice.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: If I have no choice, because I can’t afford anything, will that make me happier?

Salecl: Paradoxically, no. One of the greatest gains of capitalism is that even the proletarian slave feels like a master. He believes he has the power to change his life. We are propelled by the ideology of the self-made man: we work more, we consume more and in the end we consume ourselves. The consequences are burnout, bulimia and other lifestyle diseases.

SPIEGEL ONLINE. Why do we treat ourselves so poorly?

Salecl: Sigmund Freud already discovered that suffering gives us pleasure — in a strange masochistic way. The tyranny of choice exploits that weakness. Consumer culture exhausts us. We suffer. We destroy ourselves. And we just can’t stop.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But we aren’t really the victims. After all, we created this system ourselves and as long as we keep consuming, it will continue to exist. Ultimately, capitalism only mirrors human nature.

Salecl: That’s true. Freud also said we choose our own neuroses. Capitalism is the neurosis of humanity.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: There are other ways. There’s a restaurant in London that only serves one dish and people are lining up outside to try it. And a company in Berlin sells T-Shirts without showing them to customers first.

Salecl: That’s a clever marketing strategy. With children you can see the same thing. If you ask them at a movie theater what they want to see, they will likely be overwhelmed. On the other hand, if you say shortly before, “let’s go see James Bond,” they will probably say, “No, mommy, anything else, but not that.” If there are no boundaries, we make our own.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Will we ever be truly free?

Salecl: No. But we can live a more relaxed life. We can accept that our decisions aren’t rational, that we are always conditioned by society; that we lose something every time we choose something else, and that we can’t truly control the consequences of our decisions.

If Ms. Saleci does not like the all of the choices that modern consumer based capitalism offers us perhaps she would like to return to a simpler system, like Soviet Communism.

They didn’t have many choices to make in the Soviet Union, just as the people in North Korea don’t get many choices on how to live their lives. Somehow they don’t seem to be any happier than people in free countries.

At the end of his article John Sexton observes,

In another talk, Salecl argues that choice offered in a capitalist society “also sort of in some way pacifies people.” She went on to say that capitalism leads to delusion when “at some point this subject starts believing that he is not simply a proletarian slave, but that he is a master, that he is in charge of his life.” She sums up by saying that “the ideology of choice is not so optimistic and it actually prevents social change.” [Lee Doren did a nice job responding to these statements back in 2011.]

Salecl’s critique of choice sounds remarkably like a communist apology for the failure of the proletariat to be sufficiently immiserated under capitalism. If only we weren’t distracted by all these pacifying choices, we would change society, i.e. rebel against the established order.

Another possible interpretation of the same data is that people don’t want massive social change because they are generally, albeit imperfectly as is always the case, happy at having the freedom to pursue life on their own terms. Most people like having a choice of beers. But to Salecl this is mostly a problem, an obstacle to be overcome in pursuit of a new order.

Basically this is the same attitude shared by many on the Left. Most people don’t want fundamental change because they are so befuddled by the prosperity and choices that capitalism brings that they don’t know what is really good for them. Luckily, we have people like Renata Salecl to tell us how awful it is that we have choices to make.

Personally, I like being able to choose my toppings at Subway.

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That Old Time Religion

June 27, 2013

Would you like to go back to that old time religion? Do you find monotheism monotonous? Would you prefer to worship older and more interesting gods? Then maybe Hellenismos is the religion you have been looking for.

Hellenismos is a revival of the polytheistic religion of ancient Greece and Rome. Followers of this religion worship the old gods of Greek and Roman myth like Zeus, Apollo, Athena, and so on. As far as I can determine, these people are serious about the matter. They are not play acting or pretending like Civil War re-enactors or the Society for Creative Anachronism. It has been centuries since any of the rites of the Greco-Roman religion have been practiced, but these new pagans practice them as best they can be reconstructed from the evidence of literature and archeology. The only concession to modern times is that they do not sacrifice live animals though they do give meat and bones as votive offerings. There aren’t many followers of the Hellenismos, only about 2000,

Photograph of Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hell...

Photograph of Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes (YSEE) ritual in Greece. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

mostly in Greece and the US. There are an estimated 100,000 people who have shown some interest in it.

The name Hellenismos is worth exploring. The ancient Greeks, as well as the followers of every other traditional ancient religion, did not have a name for their religion. Religion, in those days, was not something separate, but was an intimate part of culture and day to day life. There was no consistent theology or doctrine. There was not a separate class or hierarchy of priests or clergymen. Priesthoods were local and often political posts.  The people of ancient times would not have understood the concept of separation of church and state. Practicing the rites to gain the gods’ favor was an essential role of the state. You did not convert to the ancient Greek or Roman religion, unless you happened to adopt their culture.The closest thing to joining a church in ancient times might be being initiated into one of the mystery religions. Even then, the initiate still worshiped the same gods as everyone else.

The Greeks were aware that people in other countries worshiped other gods. If I understand Herodotus correctly, the Greeks seemed to assume that foreigners worshiped the same set of gods they did only with strange foreign names and ideas about their relationships with one another. In any event, people didn’t travel all that much and few Greeks had much opportunity or inclination to learn about the religious beliefs of people they called barbarians. This changed somewhat in the more cosmopolitan world of the Hellenistic Era and the Roman Empire. People and ideas moved back and forth throughout the ancient world and cults and sects spread far from their lands of origin. The culture became a little more individualistic than before and people could make conscious choices about their religious practices. A person could become a worshiper of Isis, or Mithras, or even of the God of the Jews. (In the century or so before Christ, Jewish monotheism was very attractive to some people). Naturally that person would still practice whatever local rites and customs were prevalent, except in the case of the convert or follower of Judaism. A little later on, a new option arose. One could become a follower of Christ, or a Christian.

Christianity grew fairly rapidly in the three centuries after the death of Christ, until Constantine became the first Christian Roman Emperor.  Most of this growth took place in the cities of the Roman Empire while people in rural districts tended to be more conservative in their beliefs and who clung to their idols. The growing Christian elite referred to these bitter clingers as “pagani” or country folk, or maybe even rednecks.

In 361 Julian, a grandson of Constantine, became Emperor. Although he had been raised a Christian, the deplorable behavior of the sons of Constantine as well as his studies in philosophy, convinced him to abandon Christianity in favor of neo-Platonism and the old religion. Julian realized that much of the success of the Christians was due to their organization and the way in which they took care of their members. He decided that if paganism was to survive, it would need to be reinvented. Julian wanted to create a new-old religion with a more consistent theology and a hierarchy of priests. He wanted the old temples to practice the same kind of charity as the Christians did and he wanted the priests to exhort the people to more moral behavior, as the Christian priests did in their sermons. He called this system “hellenismos” or the way of the Hellenes. (The Greek work for “Greek” is Hellene and the word for Greece is Hellas.)

Julian did not succeed. He was killed in 363 while fighting a war with the Persians. He successor was a Christian as was every Roman Emperor after him. By 395, the Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire and the gods of the old temples were banished.

I suppose, in their way, the efforts of the modern followers of the way of the Hellenes are just as quixotic as Julian’s efforts to turn the clock in his time. I can’t imagine all that many people taking the ancient myths very seriously. In fact, I am certain that the modern pagans do not take them literally but metaphorically. Even so, while the Greek gods could be grand and noble, they were also petty, vindictive and selfish. Even in ancient times, some Greeks were embarrassed by the many affairs of Zeus. None of the gods were consistently superior to humans in morals, and in most of the myths, the gods were nothing but trouble to the hapless mortals they met.  They don’t seem to be the sort of beings that are very worthy of worship. I like the stories in Greek mythology myself, though I have never been tempted to worship Zeus or Hermes.

DOMA

June 26, 2013

I wasn’t going to write about the unfortunate decision by the Supreme Court that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, but I read some comments on this ruling from a Catholic priest on Yahoo News.

As a Catholic priest who has performed hundreds of marriages, I am disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and to leave the Proposition 8 law unresolved. The DOMA decision, in particular, drives a wedge between Christian and secular rights unnecessarily.

If I now decline to perform a same-sex marriage because my church, the Catholic Church, only allows marriage between a man and a woman, how long will it be before my civil privilege of witnessing marriages will be challenged?

I lived in Mexico for four years, where religious and civil marriage ceremonies are entirely separate. When I performed marriages there, I was usually presented with a certificate proving that the couple had first gone to the civil authorities to register their union. My church ceremony was not recognized by the state and the civil marriage was not sacramental and therefore not binding in the eyes of my church.

I am beginning to think Mexico has it right. Let’s get religion out of the civil marriage business so that I and other ministers of religion can perform marriages that uphold the standard of one man, one woman, and one sacramental union. This is not to say that my church refuses membership to gays.

The Catholic Church teaches that same-sex attraction is not evil and that in regard to homosexuals, “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (CCC –The Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358).

Notice the strange word “unjust.” As religious people, we are convinced that marriage is a huge part of God’s plan to share love and bring children into the world. We believe the core of family life is wife, husband and their children. We believe it is our right under the First Amendment to discriminate and limit marriage to members who are heterosexual.

Will the government invade our religion insisting that our schools teach that same-sex unions are marriages? Will our textbooks have to support this new definition of marriage? I hope not.

One thing is sure: Catholic Americans will have to show a new determination to embrace their brothers and sisters whose orientation is same-sex. We Catholics must be inclusive and sensitive in all of our dealings with our church members regardless of sexual orientation.

Maybe the Supreme Court’s decisions today will force us Catholics (and other religious groups) to be clearer about our beliefs, especially those that are counter to the culture in which we live.

I would hope that the First Amendment will protect my right to practice my religion and live my faith.

I am afraid it won’t work. The next step will be for the homosexual zealots to attack any church that refuses to perform same-sex marriages. They simply will not tolerate any dissenting views on this subject. Already, we have seen a bakery, wedding photographer, and a florist punished for refusing to violate their religious beliefs by providing their services to a gay wedding. Can anyone really believe that churches will be left alone?

The gay bullies will not leave anyone alone and will certainly not respect anyone’s religious beliefs. If you are a Christian and believe that homosexual behavior is a sin, your belief is infinitely less important that the homosexual’s right to act as he pleases without any condemnation from anyone. You are not even permitted to keep to yourself and leave them alone. Support the gay lifestyle with all your hearth and all your soul and all your strength, or be publicly condemned as a bigot.

 

 

Summing it Up

June 24, 2013

Glenn Reynolds makes the point I tried to make at the end of this post better than I could possibly make it myself.

The problem is, it’s hard to trust the people who are supposed to use that data to protect us to do so, when they abandoned their own in Benghazi. And it’s hard to trust them not to use that data to oppress us, when they’ve already abused their powers that way in other connections. Which is why abuse of power is itself a kind of treason: It weakens the fabric of the nation like nothing else, by undermining the trust that is essential for the system to work.

If it turns out the actions of the IRS did indeed sway the election in Obama’s favor, then that would go a long way in completely eroding that essential trust. To put it another way, the main difference between a banana republic where everyone is corrupt and looking to evade the laws, and a system that works reasonably efficiently is that people trust the system to work more or less honestly and to their benefit. If you lose that essential trust, you end up with a country like modern Greece where everybody is trying to work the system.

 

Bracing for Climate Change Policies

June 24, 2013

Brace yourselves. President Obama is getting ready to address climate change.

David, this is huge news:

President Obama is set to announce his plan this week to address the growing threat of climate change.

We’ll know more specifics on Tuesday, but it’s expected he’ll offer a bold, national approach to reducing carbon pollution — and lay out a vision to lead global efforts to fight climate change.

The powerful, well-financed forces who still deny the science behind climate change aren’t going to like this — and they’ll be fighting this progress every step of the way. In fact, before he’s even seen the plan, House Speaker John Boehner is calling it “absolutely crazy.”

That’s why President Obama is calling on all of us — anyone who believes that climate change is a threat — to join him in taking action right now.

Add your name today — say you’ll do your part to help fight climate change:

http://my.barackobama.com/Stand-Up-Against-Climate-Change

Thanks — more on this soon.

Jon

Jon Carson
Executive Director
Organizing for Action

Get ready for higher electric bills and gasoline prices, if Obama manages to have his way on this.

By the way, Britain just had its coldest spring since 1962, and the fifth coolest spring since they began keeping records. This is part of global warming, no doubt.

Did the IRS Win the Election for Obama?

June 24, 2013
Official photographic portrait of US President...

The President? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One rather alarming possibility of the consequences of the IRS delaying tax exempt status and otherwise harassing Tea Party groups is that they were unable to organize as effectively in 2012 as they had been in 2010 and so were less able to bring needed voters to the polls and defeat President Obama. In this article in RealClearMarkets, Stan Veuger discusses the possibility that the White House was behind a deliberate attempt to neutralize political opponents using the power of the state.

The controversy over the IRS’s harassment of conservative groups continues. President Obama’s team continues to blame low-level bureaucrats. Some conservatives suspect a more sinister explanation: that the levers of government were used to attack an existential threat to the president’s 2012 reelection. The president and his party dismiss this as a paranoid fantasy. The evidence, however, is enough to make one believe that targeting Tea Party groups would have been an effective campaign strategy going into the 2012 election cycle.

It is a well-known fact that the Tea Party movement dealt the president his famous “shellacking” in the 2010 mid-term election. Less well-known is the actual number of votes this new movement delivered-and the continuing effects these votes could have had in 2012 had the movement not been de-mobilized by the IRS.

In a new research paper, Andreas Madestam (from Stockholm University), Daniel Shoag and David Yanagizawa-Drott (both from the Harvard Kennedy School), and I set out to find out how much impact the Tea Party had on voter turnout in the 2010 election. We compared areas with high levels of Tea Party activity to otherwise similar areas with low levels of Tea Party activity, using data from the Census Bureau, the FEC, news reports, and a variety of other sources. We found that the effect was huge: the movement brought the Republican Party some 3-6 million additional votes in House races. That is an astonishing boost, given that all Republican House candidates combined received fewer than 45 million votes. It demonstrates conclusively how important the party’s newly energized base was to its landslide victory in those elections, and how worried Democratic strategists must have been about the conservative movement’s momentum.

The Tea Party movement’s huge success was not the result of a few days of work by an elected official or two, but involved activists all over the country who spent the year and a half leading up to the midterm elections volunteering, organizing, donating, and rallying. Much of these grassroots activities were centered around 501(c)4s, which according to our research were an important component of the Tea Party movement and its rise.

The bottom line is that the Tea Party movement, when properly activated, can generate a huge number of votes-more votes in 2010, in fact, than the vote advantage Obama held over Romney in 2012. The data show that had the Tea Party groups continued to grow at the pace seen in 2009 and 2010, and had their effect on the 2012 vote been similar to that seen in 2010, they would have brought the Republican Party as many as 5 – 8.5 million votes compared to Obama’s victory margin of 5 million.

President Obama’s margin of victory in some of the key swing states was fairly small: a mere 75,000 votes separated the two contenders in Florida, for example. That is less than 25% of our estimate of what the Tea Party’s impact in Florida was in 2010. Looking forward to 2012 in 2010 undermining the Tea Party’s efforts there must have seemed quite appealing indeed.

 

The emphasis is mine. Is it possible that the Obama White House and the Obama reelection campaign (which were really the same thing) used the power of the government to suppress voter turnout? Liberals are always accusing conservatives of seeking voter suppression. Given their habit of projection, isn’t it possible that this was their strategy for the 2012 campaign?

Veuger goes on.

Unfortunately for Republicans, the IRS slowed Tea Party growth before the 2012 election. In March 2010, the IRS decided to single Tea Party groups out for special treatment when applying for tax-exempt status by flagging organizations with names containing “Tea Party,” “patriot,” or “9/12.” For the next two years, the IRS approved the applications of only four such groups, delaying all others while subjecting the applicants to highly intrusive, intimidating requests for information regarding their activities, membership, contacts, Facebook posts, and private thoughts.

As a consequence, the founders, members, and donors of new Tea Party groups found themselves incapable of exercising their constitutional rights, and the Tea Party’s impact was muted in the 2012 election cycle. As Toby Marie Walker, who runs the Waco Tea Party, which filed for tax-exempt status in 2010 but didn’t receive approval until two months ago, recounted recently: “Our donors dried up. It was intimidating and time-consuming.” The Richmond Tea Party went through a similar ordeal, and was only granted tax-exempt status in December, right after the election–three years after its initial request. Its chairman explained the consequences: the episode cost the Richmond Tea Party $17,000 in legal fees and swallowed time the all-volunteer network would have devoted to voter turnout, outreach in black and Latino neighborhoods and other events to highlight the constitution and “the concept of liberty.”

We certainly can’t have outreach in Black and Latino neighborhoods. That might conflict with the narrative that the Tea Party is composed of middle-aged White racists.

It might be purely accidental that the government targeted precisely this biggest threat to the president. It may just be that a bureaucracy dominated by liberals picked up on not-so-subtle dog whistles from its political leadership. Or, it might be that direct orders were given. In any case, it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to note that the president’s team was competent enough to recognize the threat from the Tea Party and take it seriously. The Obama campaign has made no secret of its efforts to revolutionize turnout models for the most recent campaign. Its remarkable competence turning out its own voters has been widely discussed, and it seems quite plausible that efforts to suppress the Republican vote would have been equally sophisticated.

We may never know to what exact extent the federal government diverted votes from Governor Romney and thus, how much it influenced the course of a presidential election in the world’s oldest democracy. At the very least, however, Americans of all political persuasions can be forgiven for a little cynicism when the president has the nerve to say, as he did on May 5th in his commencement address to graduates of the Ohio State University: “You’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems. You should reject these voices.” And that cynicism, that lack of trust in the country’s governing institutions, becomes harmful quite easily: when the people are asked to have faith in the NSA’s efforts to protect the nation from terrorist threats, for example.

Concerning the revelations of the massive surveilance programs of the NSA, I would think that some such program would be necessary to protect us from terrorists, yet the obvious disdain that the current president has for the concept of liberty and the temptation that any president would have to abuse the access to the kind of information that the NSA has been gathering makes me wonder which is the greater threat, the terrorists or our own government. Also, with the analyses that show that President Obama won re-election by harassing his opponent’s supporters,can we regard the election of 2012 as a stolen election and Obama as illegitimate?

 

Civility

June 21, 2013

Bill Whittle calls for more civility between people in this video from PJMedia. He does not mean what liberals mean by civility, which is something like, “Sit down and shut up while we tell you what to think”. He means that people should be civil to one another.

Hear, hear! I have discovered in my own life that I can get a lot more accomplished by simply being nice to people, especially when they don’t expect it. Confrontations can be diffused by simply not losing your temper or your cool and treating the other person with civility. Unless he is a total jerk, he will begin to reciprocate. In general, if you try to be pleasant to the people around you, they often feel obliged to be pleasant back at you. This doesn’t mean you should be a wimp or allow people to take advantage of you. Actually, I have found that if I and assertive in a civil way, I am less inclined to lash out at people. It’s really frustrating to feel that you are being pushed around and if you don’t stand up for yourself at first, you are likely to become more and more angry.

I used to be very rude to the people around me. Part of this was due to the extreme social anxiety I used to suffer from. It is very hard to be pleasant when you are anxious and can barely speak. I was able to get over the social anxiety, perhaps I’ll write about that some other time, but I still tended to be rude to people partly out of habit and partly out of the mistaken idea that rudeness was somehow a sign of strength and assertiveness. I hope  that I have learned better now and I do make a conscious effort to be civil. I try to write in a civil fashion in this blog and elsewhere, though I don’t know if I have succeeded to any extent.

 

Empire of Fear

June 21, 2013

Robert Spencer has some interesting things to say about the Muslim family at Jihad Watch and PJMedia.

Earlier this month, Islamic member nations of the United Nations Human Rights Council rejected as un-Islamic a resolution condemning violence against women. The Kuwait News Agency reported that “the rejections include the paragraph, which gives women ‘the right to control matters concerning their sexual lives as well as their reproductive health without coercion, discrimination or violence.’”

It is likely that this rejection had as much or more to do with the idea that women should be protected from coercion and violence as it may have had to do with any pro-life concerns. After all, the Qur’an directs men to beat disobedient women (4:34), while Islamic law allows for abortion at least early in the pregnancy. The Muslim scholar Sayyid Sabiq explains that,

abortion is not allowed after four months have passed since conception because at that time it is akin to taking a life, an act that entails penalty in this world and in the Hereafter. As regards the matter of abortion before this period elapses, it is considered allowed if necessary.

The idea that it is un-Islamic for women to have the right to be free from coercion and violence is revealing of the mindset underlying the entire Islamic understanding of morality. Muslims and non-Muslims often tell us that Muslims hate the West for its decadence, its immorality, its lasciviousness, which they contrast unfavorably with the supposed morality and uprightness of the Islamic world. Often this boils down to a Muslim critique of Western “freedom,” especially as Bush and Obama pursued military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan ostensibly to bring Western-style freedom to those countries.

In line with that, the mufti of Australia, Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali, once complained that “Australian law guarantees freedoms up to a crazy level.” Yet genuine freedom is an indispensable prerequisite for any cultivation of real virtue.

Even the post-Christian West makes it more possible to be virtuous than the apparently much more straitlaced Islamic world. With its stonings, amputations, and death penalties for an array of offenses including apostasy, Islam has created – even in the family itself — not a framework in which people can become genuinely good, but an empire of fear. People don’t dare step out of line, not out of an authentic understanding that the path of moral and ethical uprightness is preferable to the alternative, much less out of love for God or a real desire to please him, but because they are afraid of what would happen to them if they did depart from Islam’s vision of morality.

He has more to say. With all that in mind, I think it might be interesting to consider how the subtle differences between the Judeo-Christian and the Islamic view of God ties into the question of freedom and virtue.

In Christian and Jewish theology, God is considered to be not only omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful), but also omni-benevolent (entirely good). As God is wholly good and has no evil in Him, God cannot commit an evil act. To do so would be contrary to His nature. An Islamic theologian cannot say that. It is not that Muslims believe that God is evil or indifferent. Islam is, as C. S. Lewis said of Christianity, a fighting religion with a God who takes sides. The problem that Muslims have with saying that God cannot commit an evil act lies in their conception of God as all-powerful.

All three Abrahamic religions believe God to be omnipotent. Islam, however, emphasizes divine omnipotence quite a lot more than the other two religions. Muslims, therefore, are uncomfortable with any concept that seems to put a limit on God’s absolute sovereignty and divine freedom. Saying that God cannot do a thing or has any limits seems to be blasphemy. God cannot be constrained in any way or by any thing, not even by natural laws or logic. God may be good but there is no reason why He could not command something evil, arbitrary, or even irrational. Islam also teaches the unknowability of God by mere humans. No human being can know anything about God or His nature. This means that such statements as the apostle John is fond of using such as God is love or God is Light, or identifying God with the Logos or Reason are meaningless to the Muslim and, again, may even be blasphemous. We cannot know God. We can only know His will for us. Islamic theologians have not spent much time debating the nature of God, as Christians have with their disputes over the trinity and how Jesus can be both God and man. Islamic theology is more focused on legal matters and regulations for the believer.

These concepts might be the reason that Islamic political history is largely a history of despotism. If God is absolute with no constraints on His authority, then it stands to reason that rulers, God’s representatives, should also have absolute authority. There is, as far as I know, no Magna Carta in Islam, and certainly no Declaration of Independence with its inalienable rights. Muslims believe that humans are the slaves of God, while Christians believe that we are His Sons. Sons have rights. Slaves do not.

This also puts an interesting twist on the Euthyphro dilemma. Euthypho is a character in Plato’s dialog of that name. Socrates and Euthypho meet each other at a law court while they each are waiting for the court to hear their cases, in Socrates’s case the trial that would cost him his life. Since Euthypho is presented as an expert theologian who knows all about the gods, Socrates asks to define piety or holiness and the two begin the dialog. During the discussion Socrates asks whether the gods love pious acts because they are pious or are things pious because the gods love them. In other words, and moving to monotheism, does God command us to do good things because they are good, or are good actions good because God commands them. For instance, one of the ten commandments that God gave to Moses was, “Thou shalt not kill”. Did God forbid killing because killing is inherently evil, or is killing evil because God forbade it.

You may see the dilemma here. If the things that God wishes us to do are good in themselves, then does that not imply that there is some source of morality higher than God? On the other hand if good actions are good simply because those are the actions God happens to approve of, then the ideas of good and evil become arbitrary. God could just as easily told Moses, “Thou shalt kill”.

There have been a number of ways that both Christians and Jews have attempted to resolve this dilemma. I think that, in general, Christians and Jews tend to favor the first answer, that God’s commands are good in themselves and that for God to command or commit an evil act would be contrary to His nature. God can no more do evil than a triangle could have four sides. Islamic theology compels a Muslim to favor the second answer. Thus, there is a tendency to believe that God’s commands are somewhat arbitrary and subject to change. Indeed in the Koran, later commands replace or abrogate earlier commands.

I gone somewhat far afield, so perhaps I should try to tie in what I have written with Robert Spencer’s argument. If you consider the ultimate source of morality is not some abstract concept of justice but the somewhat arbitrary commands of the supreme deity then wouldn’t it stand to reason that you might adopt a sort of  “might makes right” and “ends justify the means” sort of moral code? And, wouldn’t you come to believe that virtue is something that must be imposed from outside, rather than something that each person must develop from within? That is something to consider.

Women’s Health Care

June 20, 2013

The Democrats are not too happy with the vote by the House of Representatives to ban abortions after 20 weeks, when there is good reason to believe that the fetus can feel pain.

David —

Last night’s House vote wasn’t a bad dream.

It’s actually terrifying that 228 members of Congress voted to stand between a woman and her doctor when it comes to her health care decisions, but here we are the next day, and that’s what happened.

These moments can’t pass with a shrug of the shoulders, or by crossing our fingers and hoping that it never becomes law. The reality is that bills like this are making headway in state legislatures across the country — and if people like us don’t speak out now, then how will we stop them?

Add your name today to say you’ll stand up to threats on women’s health:

http://my.barackobama.com/Stand-Up-For-Womens-Health

Thanks,

Organizing for Action

———-Original Message———-
From: Lindsay Siler, BarackObama.com
Subject: I can’t believe this just happened:

Friend —

This just actually happened:

The House of Representatives passed one of the most unbelievable, unconstitutional attacks on women’s health in a long time.

It’s a bill written by Republican Arizona Congressman Trent Franks, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks, except in extremely limited circumstances — a direct legislative challenge to Roe v. Wade.

And 228 members of Congress just voted for it.

Maybe they weren’t paying attention to the reaction of Americans across the country last year who rejected candidates who wanted to restrict a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care.

That’s a message they need to hear loud and clear right now — if you think politicians have no right to get between a woman and her health decisions, add your name and say you won’t stand for it.

This bill made it out of the House Judiciary Committee thanks to the votes of 23 Republicans — all men, of course.

And Rep. Franks objected when opponents tried to raise the issue of rape, saying, “…you know, the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.”

Women made their voices very clear last year when it came to the extreme positions that some elected officials took on women’s health. But that hasn’t stopped conservative politicians from trying to repeal Obamacare, block the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, and push an agenda that uses terminology like “legitimate rape.”

Making progress on smart health policy isn’t easy, but when Congress is spending its time actively trying to chip away at a woman’s rights, it feels impossible.

We can’t just sit back and hope it goes away — we need to speak up.

OFA supporters are going to be on the front lines reminding Congress we’re here and we care about women’s health.

Join the fight today:

http://my.barackobama.com/Stand-Up-For-Womens-Health

Thanks,

Lindsay

Lindsay Siler
National Director of Issue Campaigns
Organizing for Action

What does abortion have to do with women’s health? Is a woman’s health improved when she has an abortion? It would not seem that the health of the patients of Dr. Kermit Gosnell were greatly improved by his services. And, of course, abortion is decidedly unhealthy for those girls who haven’t had the luck to be born yet.

Notice how they never really want to talk about abortion. I think they would just as soon not use the word at all. Instead they say “women’s health” and “choice” and refuse to credit pro-lifers with any motive except to put women down. Why all of the euphemisms? Why don’t they simply come right out and say, “We believe a woman has an inalienable right to destroy her child right up to the moment of birth, and maybe a minute after”? Why can’t they bring themselves to say, “Yes, we know the fetus might feel pain but it isn’t really human and the right of the mother to eliminate it takes precedence over its right to life”? That really is what they seem to believe. Why not say it? Why the effort to evade the simple fact that abortion is the destruction of a fetus and the debate really should be whether or not we are killing a human being when we perform an abortion.

That is the debate they don’t want. Instead they try to make it about “choice” ignoring the small matter that the person, or thing, at the center of this debate is given no choice at all. Some people label themselves as pro-choice, stating that even though they oppose abortion personally, they believe that every woman should have the right to choose for herself. This is nonsense. If an abortion is simply another medical procedure, removing a shapeless clump of cells, then there is no more a moral component to the matter than having an infected appendix removed. If, however, this is a human being, than abortion is murder, pure and simple. This is what the debate ought to be about, not choice.

For, if an abortion involved the murder of a human being, then there can be no individual choice about the matter at all. I may not say that I personally oppose robbing banks but believe that everyone should be have the right to choose whether to rob banks. Nor is morality an individual matter, no matter what the moral relativist say about it. The important moral or ethical questions always involve out relations with out fellow human beings. A person alone on a desert island need not consider any moral questions at all, and is free to do whatever they like. I cannot kill my neighbor for blowing leaves onto my lawn and then say to the police and the court, “your morality says that killing is wrong, but my morality says that it is perfectly okay to kill”. The judge would probably assume that I am trying for the insanity defense.

So, this is the question. Is the fetus alive and human. If not, than abortion is simply another medical procedure and the state has no right to ban it. If so, than abortion is murder and a greater evil than slavery ever was and the state is under an obligation to end it.

Dr. Charles R. Drew

June 18, 2013
Charles R Drew

Charles R Drew (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr Charles R. Drew was one of those rare individuals who was good at whatever he attempted to accomplish. He was an athlete, educator, inventor, and medical researcher. He did suffer from one failing however, which might have hindered the career of one less talented. He was Black, at a time and place where Black was decidedly not beautiful.

Dr. Drew was born in Washington D.C. on July 3, 1904. He attended Dunbar High School, a school for Blacks which had a high academic reputation. At Dunbar, he was a star athlete who played football, baseball and basketball He also was involved in swimming and track. Drew graduated from Dunbar in 1922 and attended Amherst College where he graduated in 1926. He took a job as a biology teacher at Morgan State University, but then he decided to attend medical school at McGill University in Montreal Canada. He obtained his MD in 1933 and then became the first African-American to get a Doctor of Medical Science degree at Columbia University.

Dr. Drew’s chief contributions to medical science were in the field of blood transfusion. He discovered that blood could be kept longer by separating the plasma from the whole blood. He also learned that while people of various blood types, (A, B, AB, O) may or may not receive transfusions from other blood types, depending on compatibility, blood plasma was always compatible and could be used in transfusions in the place of whole blood, if necessary. He encouraged Columbia University to set up blood banks and helped to organize blood banks during World War II.

Charles Drew died in an automobile accident on April 1, 1950 and the circumstances of his death are really the reason I am writing this post, although Dr. Drew does deserve more recognition than he has gotten. There was a rumor that his death was because a White hospital refused to admit him and by the time he could be taken to a Black hospital, he had bled to death. This rumor is simply not true. The actual fact was that he was admitted to a hospital as quickly as possible but his injuries were so severe that there was nothing that could be done for him. If you think about it, surely no medical professional would send a dying  patient away, no matter how prejudiced. They would surely wait until the patient was stabilized enough to be moved before transferring him out.

I first encountered this story in an episode of MASH. There was a wounded soldier who requested that he not receive any “dark” blood, (actually blood was segregated during World War II, to Dr. Drew’s disgust) so the surgeons dyed his skin and pretended that he had been turned Black. When the soldier had had enough, Hawkeye, the one played by Alan Alda, explained to him what they had done and then recounted the story of Charles Drew’s death in his particularly smug and self-righteous fashion. The soldier learned his lesson.

It seems to me that even in those dark and primitive times before Al Gore invented the Internet and Google was available, the script writers might have done a little research and learned that the story was false. Perhaps that was too much trouble for them. Maybe, they were not inclined to let the facts get in the way of a story that portrays America as irredeemably and viciously racist.

Why are there no Dr. Drews these days? I suppose there must be some Black scientists and inventors but somehow I haven’t heard of them. Where are the Black entrepreneurs?  There don’t seem to be any African-American equivalents of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. Why is it that the only Blacks I do read of in the news are athletes, criminals, rap artists, and politicians? Some people might attribute this seeming lack to racial inferiority or oppressive racism but there seems to have been quite a few accomplished and successful Blacks in the bad, old days of segregation and Jim Crow. Dr. Charles Drew and George Washington Carver weren’ t the only Black researchers and inventors. There were a number of successful Black business men and there were even a few slave holders in the old South. There was even a thriving African-American cultural scene with talented artists far superior to today’s rap singers. The Black family was far more secure than is the case in today’s African-American community. Even under slavery, there were fewer Black children being raised in single parent households.

It may be heresy to suggest this, but I wonder if the Civil Rights movement was an unmixed blessing for the African American community. Obviously, it is manifestly unjust to deny basic civil rights to people based on their race and that is something that needed to be ended. Yet it seems to me that African-Americans of the pre-Civil Rights era were more willing to try to rise above the discrimination they faced. Of course, there are now Blacks at the highest levels of success nowadays and no one would argue that racism is worse today than a century ago. But there does seem to be that underclass which seems to be trapped and unable to improve itself.

I think, and I could be wrong, that a central message of the Civil Rights movement, at least after a certain point, has been that African-Americans have no chance of succeeding in a racist country like America. They need constant help from the government and the Democratic Party. Perhaps this message, repeated often enough and believed by all too many Blacks has done what slavery and segregation could not, break the will to succeed and turn people who should be proud into resentful victims.

If anyone does know the names of any first-rate Black inventors, scientists or businessmen, please let me know. I would like for this thesis of mine to be proved wrong. In any event, I would very much prefer that Black scientists and scholars get more recognition than thugs and rappers.


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