Saturday, July 2, 2011

You Don't Have To Believe It But Ridicule Won't Win Their Support

Note: This is the first blog post I did addressing the new atheism, even as I didn't identify it by name,, in September of 2006. It was the first of my posts which was distorted by a prominent blog atheist in what, so far as I'm aware of, was the first of many such attacks. I repost it because it came up in a discussion in the past couple of weeks.

You know it is one of the clearest realities of American life, so clear that it is beyond question; for the left’s agenda to be put into effect it will need the support of religious people. Some kind of religious belief is held by a very large majority of Americans, you don’t win elections without the support of the majority of the voters. If the left, by its own actions or by caricature, can be made the enemy of religion in general then the left can forget about holding power in the United States, ever again.

Reading leftist blogs you have certainly seen comments hostile to religion. The sometimes witty slurs against people who believe in one or more gods are certainly well known to you. If not, just wait around, one more is on its way. While sometimes quite funny, they tend to be repetitive. They could be intended as a fairly harmless indulgence for those hostile to religion but it isn’t politically innocuous.

I am bringing this up because I suspect there is an effort to stir up these questions just now. Articles in MSNBC-Newsweek and elsewhere might indicate an attempt to kick up a religious fight before the fall election. My interest in this is entirely in its effect on practical politics, I want the left to win this election, winning is the most important thing for the next two months. We can live with a certain level of atheist-religionist animosity, we cannot win an election with leftists falling for the bait the Republican right puts out for it. Leftists can be counted on to come to the defense of atheists who are targeted for discrimination. If atheists are in danger of life and limb, we must do that. But this all too timely row has nothing to do with life and limb. It is not pressing.

Absurdly, this time the bait seems to feature the question of an atheist not being electable as president. Since it’s proving hard enough to get any moderate-liberal elected you wonder why the left needs to deal with that just now.

Does an atheist have the right to be President? No. Let’s get that straight. No one has a right to be President. Holding an elected office is an assumed responsibility, assumed only with the permission of the voters, not a right. Our democracy would be a lot safer if everyone would remember this. Atheists have a right to run for President but no one has what is constantly mislabeled a right to assume the office except the legitimate winner of the election.

Is it unfair that an atheist who is honest about it has no chance of being elected as President? Yes, unfair. It is as unfair as the fact that a vegetarian, a Buddhist, an Animist or a Zoroastrian has no realistic chance of winning a real party’s nomination or gaining enough votes to win a presidential election. If you point out that the Constitution says there will be no test of faith to hold office, that’s enforceable against the congress, executive or judiciary, how are you going to enforce it against voters?

Will it remain so? Almost certainly it will remain so for the rest of our lives, there’s not much we do about it. Changing that situation cannot be done politically or by court ruling. It is a matter of cultural change, and, ironically, it will be a change that depends entirely on the acceptance of atheists by religious believers. Atheists who would like to change that might profitably ask themselves if insulting religious believers will hasten that day. They might consider if their, at times brilliant, mockery of religion* has perhaps played any role in their present day status with believers. When we talk about religion we are talking about people. Religion doesn’t exist outside of people who have feelings that inform their opinions and votes. Some religious people will never vote for us and we don’t have to worry about them. But there are many, I hope most, who we can convince to vote with the left. Those are the ones we need.

Atheists on the left should cut out the blanket mocking of religious people. What do they hope to gain by it? Nothing that is worth the cost. Interestingly, it almost always lacks the objective observational acuity necessary for realism, usually the pride of atheists. “Religion” takes in an enormous range of beliefs**. It is safe to assume that the range of religious variation is at least as wide as that found in politics. To lump together Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, Catholics, Jains, Oomotists, etc. and to ridicule them over their religion as if it was any one thing is the sign of a lazy mind. The variation in these beliefs and the actions that come from them do make a huge difference. Pretending that they are all the same thing is just as unrealistic as conflating all political parties, ideologies, rump caucuses and majorities of one for characterization - based on the worst of the bunch- as “political people”. Attack away, as long as it is religious fascists who are the target, there is nothing to lose by doing so. But ask yourself if you really want to drive away people who might vote the same way you would.

A lot of the most important success of the left was grounded in the religion of the activists who did the necessary work. We have that on the best possible authority, the activists themselves. What good is there in mocking liberal religion? Atheists have also done good work for the left but you don’t usually hear religious leftists slamming them because of their atheism just as a matter of course. That kind of injustice would be remarkably atypical of religious liberals. It is a matter of fact that religious liberals have been outspoken supporters of the rights of atheists and other religious non-adherents.

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by phrasing it as a question. This conflict will be promoted by the supporters of the Republican Party during this election season. It is brought up now because they know it could provide them with the margin they need to win this election. Atheists and knee-jerk leftists who ignore that this is a well worn tactic of the Republican right are counted on to do most of their work for them. Remember this, these kinds of wedge issues don’t have to succeed with a majority of the voters to work. They just have to deliver the margin of victory. Leftists who choose to strike a pose should be asked if they really think their ephemeral self-satisfaction is worth remaining out of power. It isn’t a price that is worth it to any rational leftist.

* Some of the mockery, when it has been against criminal behavior and moral hypocrisy by the religious establishment, has been well worth the cost. As the urgency of the problem addressed diminishes the benefit over cost ratio plummets.

** Including non-theistic forms of Buddhism

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Cold Case: Crush Porn Has More Rights Than Mere Humans

First posted April 24, 2010

The 8-1 decision in the Supreme Court this week, striking down the prohibition against selling videos that show illegal dog fights and women in high heels crushing small rodents - one suspects both for the sexual gratification of an audience comprised of degenerate men - was a useful illustration of the irrationality of free speech absolutism.

The judges on the Court, and a “justice” is, least anyone forget, actually a judge, seem to have a pathological fear of doing their job in this area. Which is to JUDGE. Throw in the words “speech” and “expression” and these folks who have no problem with judging cases ranging from petty theft up to capital murder, hold themselves and their colleagues as not to be trusted to JUDGE. The same folks who have no problem with throwing out the votes of tens of thousands of voters on a flimsy technicality, the ones who have held that it is legal for a local government to take property and hand it to developers, who have declared not only that innocence isn’t enough to override filing deadlines in the matter of merely executing someone, can’t be trusted with distinguishing speech important to our freedom from an industry that painfully kills hamsters with high heals so some pathetic losers can masturbate to climax.

Someone who objected to one of my recent posts on the out of wack status of “speech” displayed the same refusal to think. They held that if someone recognizes the difference between advocating a living wage and the Phelps abuse of the survivors of service members in their sickest of publicity stunts, they are some mixture of a Nazi and Stalinist.

Of course, this is absurd. We make judgments every single day about speech, judges do it continually and often on behalf of the exact same people who promote the speech libertarian wackiness that we live under. Judges enforce copyright laws, often having to decide if the one being accused of copying is a copycat or not. They enforce libel and slander laws, deciding if the words used fulfilled the legal definitions included in those laws. Since the 1970s the Supreme Court put judges and juries in the mind reading business, determining if the “intent” of the accused defamer was “malicious”. All of these and other laws that are adjudicated in the courts every week constitute a restriction by the laws enacted by congress and state legislatures regulating speech.

I'll bet you that most of even the most ardent of "free speech champions" would see it differently if someone was freely copying their speech for profit, and without citation.

The absurdity, no, insanity, that a large majority of the Supreme Court refuses to acknowledge that dog-fight and crush porn are “expression” which could be banned with absolutely no harm to The Peoples’ ability to govern ourselves and to enjoy the benefits of liberty, is a symptom of how insulated that least democratic branch of our government is from reality*. The Court’s complete willingness to steal elections for the candidates of their choice, their willingness to allow corporations to deceive The People for the purpose of destroying our ability to have an informed vote** and a myriad of other actions that end up in elections being stolen and people being killed, makes their scrupulous refusal to judge words and images grants corporations, words and videos more rights than mere humans. And among mere humans, it grants those with more money more power and more rights than those of us who don’t want to lord it over our fellow human beings and helpless, tiny, animals.

In the process, elevating that one right over all others endangers all other rights. The legal fad of free speech absolutism, pretending that judges aren’t in the business of judging, that any discretion in this matter given to juries and judges will result in totalitarian suppression of speech is completely absurd and disproved by our history before smut and most classes of media lies were given a free hand.

The far right, has obviously decided to de-emphasize the restriction of the very lucrative pornography industry, perhaps, at least in part, as a favor to their most powerful patron, the emperor of soft-porn, Rupert Murdoch. But it could be for it’s more obvious use to the far right. In giving up that traditional stand for sexual propriety, they have bought themselves a tool with which they can free the rest of the corporate elite to lie themselves into absolute control, as the line of decisions from Buckley v. Veleo to the recent “Citizens” decision show beyond a reasonable doubt. It is merely self-government which they are in the process of destroying with the slogan of “free speech”, with the acquiescence of the moderate right, what is called the “liberal” wing of the court.

Liberals who choose to ignore all of this are fools. It’s been going on long enough right before our eyes so the intention of the right on the Court is as clear as could be. It turns out, you can have free speech absolutism or you can have self-government, you can’t have both That is what we face. A people who don’t know the truth can’t govern themselves. Judges who give up their chosen responsibility to exercise judgement in a rote and automatic response are leading the way, in association with other judges who have a clear malicious intent to institute one-corporate-party government under the slogan of “free speech”. It’s the results of a principle that govern its validity, despotism will be the result of free speech absolutism.

* Rachel Maddow’s finger puppet demonstration of Supreme Court hearings is one of the most brilliant uses of free speech and free expression I’ve seen in a long time. The one I heard the other night about texting and e-mail ranks with George Bush I marveling over a supermarket scanner as revelations of our detached elites.

** If there is a clear cut of a “public interest” it is that for which the system of government set up in the Constitution to be possible. Self-government is the right that is most endangered by the recent string of “free speech” rulings. Without that right, all of the others are weakened, endangered and, when desired by the actual rulers, destroyed.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Suicide of Liberalism

In the wake of the violent video game decision, the stupidest line that is being repeated by rote on the liberal blogs is the old chestnut that "parents should take responsibility for what their children watch". How difficult it seems to be for people to imagine that video-trained sociopaths might not only target other sociopaths should be a marker for how stupid a liberal is. The belief reaches its most clueless in the idea that parents aren't frequently depraved in ways depicted in the most violent and depraved video games and porn. Consider, dear libertarian-liberals, that the creators of propaganda for the torture and evisceration of women, children, pets, even, if they're feeling especially brave, grown men, are quite able to produce little bundles of joy, themselves and to bring them up with their, uh, "values". People are going to die at the hands of these entertainment industry created killers, unfortunately, it won't only be the libertarians who get to experience the results of their fashionable irrationality.

The stupidity of liberal libertarianism also is heard in the "there is no evidential that imbibing the message that women and other human beings are there to be used and killed doesn't have an effect on behavior". As has been pointed out, we know that the very people who produce that propaganda don't even believe that themselves BECAUSE THEY ADVERTISE. They produce ads to change the behavior of their target market, convincing them that they will have more gratifyingly depraved experiences if they buy their product instead of the alternative sociopath which is their competitor. It wouldn't be surprising if they didn't mention a right to compete commercially in restrictions, that competition inevitably being based in that desire to change commercial behavior in the form of purchasing choices.

The utter stupidity of the liberal libertarian position is seen in the "free speech" content of the latest attempt to destroy public financing of elections, countering the force of private money. The right to an uncorrupted government that is answerable only to The Voters is being dismantled using that most cherished of liberal mantras. The two being released the same day doesn't look coincidental to me. The depravity promotion is certainly issued in support of the election ruling.

The problems of speech have not caught up with the very different conditions of electronic speech with the potential to engage the marginally sane in a destructive way has not caught up with the superannuated view of the First Amendment that has held sway since Buckley vs. Valeo.

The suckering of old line liberalism in this way, having it support the most illiberal of commercial speech and it helping destroy the very foundation of democracy in the process is as clear evidence that liberalism has committed suicide as could be had. Liberals have abandoned the values which are the only reason for liberalism to exist on behalf of fascistic entertainment. The part that professional media figures have played in that is certainly worth considering. The free speech absolutists have a conflict of interest as well as a virtual monopoly on the means of discussing it.

The Reason for Liberalism to Exist At All and Why Violent Pornography Should Be Supressed

Two people hearing the same piece of music won’t have the same reaction to it. One person will hate it and the next person will find that it compellingly speaks to their condition. And those aren’t the only two possibilities. The person who finds a piece to be irresistibly absorbing of their attention will have a half-ally in someone who likes to ignore the same piece as background music while they read a book. The first cousin to indifference.

And what is true about different responses to a piece of music is true of books, movies, pictures, and just about anything else. It is also true of ideas. One person who finds an intellectual position to be totally convincing will be matched by many who think it is hogwash. And there are few passionate dislikes quite like colleagues who hold similar but competing positions on a subject within the world of scholarship.

Clearly people react in significantly different, often significantly opposite ways to the same experience. Which will come as a surprise to no one. When it comes to the things above.

A note I had from someone who read the exchange from last weekend provided the same old lines about pornography that can be abbreviated to “there isn’t any proof that pornography leads to violent behavior”, with the obligatory mention of statistics thrown in. While I’m not convinced that the statistical analyses, such as I’ve seen, are convincing, I ‘ve come to be even less convinced that they are relevant to the topic of the damaging effects of pornography. The statistics won’t show us what we need to know about this topic.

For the purposes of thinking about the possible impact of pornography in the actual lives of people, it is the individual people that are important, not the artificial, nonexistent conglomeration that is the focus of statistical analysis. A person isn’t raped by a number, they aren’t strangled or slashed or bludgeoned by a tolerable confidence interval, mode, median or average, they are attacked by one person, or a group of actual, other associated people. I hold that it is a reasonable conclusion, that if those people who attack have been exposed to violent pornography, their actions have been motivated by that pornography. That another person – OK, let’s cut that even handed garbage now — if another man happened to view exactly the same pornography and was entirely unaffected by it, that does nothing to negate the motivating effect it had on the attacker.

When it is a matter of a crime, the events of that crime are more important than a sociological generality. The life events and condition of the individual who commits a crime are more important in understanding that crime than the experience or condition of any or, even, all other individuals. Just as the crime of an unrelated person cannot be justly blamed on another accused person*, the non-response of another person to pornography can’t negate its likely effect on a person who acts in a way that is consistent with it and the ideas it promotes.

n individual person's experience isn’t watered down by the experience of another person, our lives aren’t neutralized to a tolerable acidity by the introduction of an inert substance. When looking for the possible effects that violent pornography has on the victims of violence, the only relevant subjects for study are those who attacked them. Unfortunately, since we are talking about the internal conditions of peoples’ minds in this, you have no access to that except through their self-reporting. And in the case of the consumption of violent pornography and its effects on those who act violently, I don’t know how you are going to reach a reasonable level of confidence in their testimony about their consumption of it or its place in their motivations. I’d be rather disinclined to view violent rapists and sexual sadists as reliable in matters of self-knowledge and truth.

As I’ve always been stunned to realize, in our society today, words and images are granted a higher level of respect than mere mortals, both human and animal. I strongly suspect that what began as an abstract Jeffersonian ideal that was supposed to allow the best ideas to incubate and naturally rise to prominence, in practice hasn’t worked out with anything like uniform success. I also strongly suspect some of the worst of it, flows from the fact that not all words and ideas are of equal attractiveness to people with the power to change things. The idea that women are inferior to men and so women were subjugated by natural law is an idea that we are still struggling against. It was such an accustomed idea to the late 18th century that women could be left out of the founding documents of this country, its expression isn’t sufficient to disqualify men from holding important public offices now. ** Jefferson’s actions show that he certainly didn’t see women as being the equals of men, certainly not women of color.

Clearly, for most of the history of this country, the idea that women were inferior to men had greater appeal than the idea that women are equal to men and possessed the right to full person hood and equality. It was to the benefit of men to pretend they knew this, it was to their economic benefit and to the gratification of their self-concept to have women subservient to them, their chattels. The struggle of the idea that women had equal rights is an idea that has had a hard time winning out over the traditional viewpoint of patriarchal domination. That the factual case of women’s rights is solid and entirely more credible than the self–interested hunches and habits of patriarchy has not made it strong, politically, and even under the judiciary it is constantly endangered in 2010.

Just think of that. In 2011 women are in danger of losing their right to control the most personal and intimate aspects of their personhood! Despite the centuries of reasoned discussion and proof, we are still struggling against the most primitive and obviously dishonest line of oppression that deprives more than half of the human population of their equal rights. The “more speech” of women’s rights has not yet effectively won over patriarchy despite what must be the daily experience of more than half of the species. And it is the freely spoken lies, the freely presented images and dramatic presentations and Madison Ave. style PR in favor of male domination that are what maintain the oppression. And in no part of the freely spoken, freely expressed discourse of patriarchal oppression is that as obvious as violent pornography.

To grant pornography the legal status where it must be convicted at a standard beyond mere reasonable doubt is one of the absurdities of our times. A standard granted to pornography is well past a standard based on perfect certainty that it is innocent. If there was absolute proof convicting pornography in promoting violence, I would bet you anything that the absolutists would still claim it was the right thing to allow it to live. That is the essential stand that is unstated in free speech absolutism. It is the standard of those who oppose all libel and slander laws which are, obviously, a restriction on speech. That standard makes the most damned lie immune from suppression. The counter-argument that bad speech be answered by “more speech” is made false by the fact that a lie, even countered, generally has a damaging effect on those lied about. There isn’t enough of the distilled water of “more speech” to render the lie of no consequence. Of course, if you have a prominent position in the media or other realm and often according to where you live, those consequences are often of less impact. The effects of many of the worst lies varies by area and economic status.

In Massachusetts on Thursday, a young man was convicted of the stabbing murder of James Alenson, a 15-year-old school mate. The jury didn’t find the psychological mitigation presented by the defense to be convincing. Among other things learned in the trial, the murderer, John Odgren, was obsessed with a series of Stephen King stories. The testimony in the case documented that what he read in those books influenced his behavior to the extent that he called himself by the name of the principle character in them. To assert that his behavior was unaffected by the book is, clearly, to lie. He was, clearly, impressed with the trench coat cult, which I associate with the killers at Columbine High School. He would have had to hear about that from someone, most likely through the media, perhaps through the sick online cult that sees the Columbine killers and their kind as heroes. I don’t know what it was in the mass of psychological jargon presented by either side of the court case that made him attack a randomly chosen student, one who apparently he didn’t know, who was small and gentle and not someone who would have been likely to taunt him. Someone who was probably seen as unlikely to put up an effective defense. I don’t know exactly why Odgren killed, I do know that to discount his media driven obsessions is willful detachment from reality. It is as delusional as the thinking asserted by his defense team as the motivation of the murder. Just as an observation, if I was the author of stories that played a role like this in a murder, I would at least cease from producing similar tales. My right to tell a story can hardly be equal to the right of a 15-year-old to live.

The political impotence of the left is the result of the pseudo-judicial requirement imposed, by us and media coercion, on our public life by the free speech industry.**** That standard of extra-judicial impartiality has been absurdly inserted into our political speech and our lives as political animals. It is a standard of behavior that no other part of the political spectrum feels they must practice. It is seen clearly in the scrupulous observances maintained on the left about speech and expression. When someone can’t object to the word “cunt” or about the business practices of Hooters without being chastised as violating some bizarrely inverted concept of justice, it’s clear that we mere human beings are the vassals of words and images, so much more so when they are the products of commerce. It is time for women and the rest of those struggling for progress to declare we are going to throw off that mind forged manacle that is so notably a benefit to our opponents. The idea that all speech is equal and must be treated impartially will always benefit those with more power and fewer morals.

When you add the mass media to violent words the results can be genocidal. As mentioned in last weeks argument, free speech in the form of lies is the basis of most of the loss of rights due to bigotry and discrimination. Misogyny, racism, ethnic and religious bigotry, hatred of LGBT folks, are, in almost every case today, founded on and fueled by freely expressed speech. Hate talk radio and cabloids are the most prevalent media informing the American People of what their government and others do. Our virtually unrestricted media, just about entirely freed of the obligation to serve the public interest is the product of the free speech industry and the corporate media it so often acts on behalf of***. There has hardly ever been a time in the history of speech, when hate speech by and in the interest of those with power wasn’t given complete freedom, no matter what other speech was suppressed.

Of the many clear examples when speech has a homicidal impact on mere human beings, abridging every right those mere humans have, the Rwandan genocide is a relatively fresh and undeniable example. By the time the “more speech” had time to catch up with the hate speech and incitement to commit genocide that was uninhibitedly broadcast in a way that our shock jocks are quickly catching up to, hundreds of thousands of people were dead. If you think that can’t happen here, it does now. Women, the identifiable class most subject to hate speech, freely expressed, are murdered in the United States every single day because they are women. The slaughter of women is slow motion terrorism that has an inhibiting effect on the freedoms of women and girls. It is a lynching campaign that is the product of words that accumulate into attitudes and social norms. The same can be said to an extent of other groups which are regularly and irregularly the topic of hate speech. As is undeniable during this time of “open carry” rallies, our opponents are showing us that they are armed well past the teeth. Anyone who is willing to bet that they could not be incited to kill with them is an idiot.

In thinking about this and other topics, I’ve come to the conclusion that the way we have been led to think of human behavior is basically wrong. People aren’t atoms and molecules, they don’t behave with reasonable uniformity, there aren’t just a few simple vectors to describe their motion and interaction with their environment. I think much if not all of this statistical activity concerning human behavior might be quite useless. I don’t believe anymore that human behavior is subject to any laws and rules that our science is able to discern with any reliability. It is in determining the actions of any individual. While it might be very desirable to be able to make predictions about future behavior, trying to determine that with statistics is of wildly variable success at the very best. The more complex the behavior, the less likely it is liable to be understood simply. With complexity, given the nature of behaviors and their possible source in unknowable motivations, the complexity of the network of those possible motivations expands very fast. I don’t think behavioral science works even as well as the observations of a good fiction writer. That conclusion is something I didn’t want to be true, I used to believe the opposite, but I think it is true. I would like there to be a reliable science to deal with dangerous mental illnesses, but I don’t believe that, other than administering drugs to prevent some of the adverse behavior, the results are reliable.

We don’t have to like something for it to be true. Nature and science don’t have to conform to what would be most useful to us or most convenient for us. It would be extremely useful if we could predict who will have a bad reaction to violent pornography and use it as a how-to manual. But we can’t. To pretend that inability requires us to accept complete libertarianism, allowing pornography to throw off its chains and to flourish in its infinite depravity, is insane. To ignore that it is at least as effective as Viagra commercials in changing behavior or encouraging behavior that is latent in a potentially dangerous person, is also insane.

* The results of the habit of generalization are on full display in the infamous law recently passed in Arizona. Allow sterotypes and group libel full reign and you get laws like that one.

** When you add the element of ownership, as in slavery, the interests of slave owners asserted themselves and the original Constitution included mention of slaves, conferring extra privileges to slave holders and the states they lived in. The importance of that distinction is seen in the fact that the constitution didn’t give extra weight to the representation of states based on giving unenslaved women a fractional value, the infamous 3/5ths person value. Of course, that added representation wasn’t given to slaves, it was given to their enslavers.

*** If you want to know why our government doesn’t work, despite the majority that was elected with Barack Obama, our media is the foremost part of that. The impotence of Democrats in the congress and the administration is inflicted by the free media, exercising their unrestricted free speech in the absence of the onerous burden of risking an accurately informed electorate voting in an effectively beneficial way.

**** It was exactly that media coercion that fueled my first blog post.

Note: In the end, you have to stand for what you stand for.

I would have risked making this post of even more unreadable length if I’d gone into the all important issue of what the values of liberalism are for, in the end. To hold that governments and societies should treat people equally, to allow them to practice the control of their bodies and lives, isn’t an isolated end in itself. It has a goal, that of allowing people to live peaceful, happy lives, to not be harmed by other people with the ability to suppress and harm them. I don’t think it’s wrong to point out that much of speech and expression is an attack on that goal, it isn’t of innocuous intent. The goal of many people is to hurt people and animals, some people are gratified by hurting other people, they want to steal the product of their work, up to and including the most basic sustenance. There are people who like to hurt and kill other people. To deny that is to deny the reasons that liberalism and democracy are necessary in the first place. To deny that it is necessary to prevent that harm is to deny the only legitimate reason that laws and government exist.

There are also people who are so enamored of their self-righteousness that they will preen in a posture of scrupulosity in the matter of free speech even as they wash their hands of the results of the malignant speech they champion. “More speech” is the water that is held to clean up the blood. Only it doesn’t clean up the blood. It does, however, mask the indifference to it.

Note: This was written last year. This year the danger predicted, that women were in danger of losing the most basic legal acknowledgement of their full person-hood is even more obvious. And the same Supreme Court which will remove more of those rights are confirming that violence is being encouraged by the oligarchs. I will write about that more later.

"We need not turn away from the measure of light that comes into our experience showing us a Way through the unseen world." A. S. Eddington

A little over a year ago I was sitting in a small United Church of Christ church attending the funeral of my sister-in-law's mother. My entire family Irish Catholic-agnostic-atheist, were there. We loved Lois (not her name) very much. She was a woman who had endured a hard life, two marriages to alcoholics – one who used to beat her, an abusive mother of her own, hard work at low paid jobs, until her third marriage to a far nicer man. She had stayed with him through his long final illness of cancer, the third husband she'd nursed before his death. Through it she had brought up her daughter among the most purposeful and hard working members of our family, a woman who has ended up doing an enormous amount of good.

Sitting in the small congregation of her church and craft circle friends, listening to hymns sincerely sung by people who grew up on them no matter how corny they sounded to me, listening to the unfamiliar service and hearing people speak about what her life meant to them, gave me an unexpectedly complex and profound experience of the real equality that covers us all, of the rightness of it, of the ultimate stripping of pretensions and snobbery that are an emblem of the higher learning as merely a more profound ignorance., an experience of self-abasement that is still working itself out into an attempted reality though action.

Here was a church, foreign to my experience, Calvinist in origin though a member of one of the most liberal institutions in the United States, where I could be married to another man if we chose to be married there – I suspect the minister would have liked to solemnize the marriage of a gay couple – a tiny congregation that hosted an interdenominational food pantry and meals run by some of the least arrogant people you could imagine. It housed other necessary ministries of the kind that secular government is abandoning, the kind of social services that you can read atheists argue are a folly because they lull the destitute and the merely poor from doing what their scientific ideologies say they are supposed to do in order to bring about their materialistic eschaton. Here I was witnessing the ongoing and humanly imperfect creation of the better life laid out before me and for the first time I was unable to deny that it was far better than anything I was involved in. It's clear and known impossibility of making more than the slightest dent into the vast size of suffering making its attempt all the more a profound act of faith an entirely more impressive act of thought than the entire mass of enlightenment mumblings on the subject. Here, the propositions of pure reason were outdone by action undertaken through faith that would be widely seen as absurd, in a maligned tradition which couldn't be more out of fashion in what called, in a truly absurd act of would-be impressiveness, the present Zeitgeist.

That was an experience which I am still dealing with, even as I am falteringly beginning to learn to act in a way that the members of that unfashionable congregation, widely seen as superstitious or necessarily conflicted, knew decades ago. I cannot be a Christian due to my own disbelief in ideas and doctrines but on the ground of action, where faith is made flesh in real life, I am totally convinced.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Incorporating the Outcome

for the late Molly Ivins

On first hearing that the "christian" right had come up with chastity rings, fingers weren't the first appendages to come to mind. Know what I mean? Then I heard about their even weirder sister. Ceremonies in which very little girls, indeed, symbolically give their reproductive organs to their daddy for safe keeping. He then is to hand them over to the groom at her wedding. I might not be the most financially savvy guy but this is sufficiently brazen as to glow like the sun. Electra becomes money. Keepin' it is a growth industry.

For those who might find this neo-folkway just too strange or the overhead too high there is the alternative of abstinence "education" carried out by private contractors at public expense. In this alternative, misinformation and all too temporary fear take the place of custom jewelry. The short history of this quaint idea is complete with evidence that it doesn't work very well. It also seems to have the unintended effect of leading young people who just can't keep it to engage in more dangerous activities than protected sex.

This evidence doesn't seem to bother proponents one little bit. They deny the evidence but I suspect that even if they did accept it they wouldn't mind much. If the recent stories about sexual moralists' opposition to the most recent vaccine which will prevent potentially fatal venereal disease is any indication it would seem that they might see it as another mark... ah, teaching opportunity. Making certain that the wages of sin are death would seem to be their goal.

Much as I'd like to turn this into a piece about the statistical evidence of their depravity, that will have to wait. My purpose is to investigate the morality of traditional sexual taboo from a different angle. Incorporating the outcome of that approach into the moral analysis.

The traditional moralist holds that it is essential to issue a flat ban on prohibited activities, end of question. A flat ban with no exceptions. No alternative consideration is necessary for morality to be satisfied. In fact, to consider anything else would weaken the flat ban and thus be wicked in itself. That experience has shown throughout recorded history that the ban will not be followed doesn't matter. That enormous suffering and even death result from to impossibility of many, if not most people keepin' it within the confines of monogamous, heterosexual marriage is not a downside to the traditional sexual moralist. They just ignore it. Deaths of women who bear their eleventh child before they reach the age of thirty, venereal disease, children who can't be cared for, grinding poverty, ... all taken in stride by the traditional sexual moralist. Even those who don't find this suffering good in the sight of the Lord find it insufficiently awful to reconsider a single word of the flat ban.

Well, here's a thought. Any moral proclamation that causes suffering, disease and death is evil. Any moral teaching that willfully ignores the pain it causes is phony morality and should be junked. For those who think the left has no moral absolutes, there is one for you. Replacing scientifically based sex education with this kind of exercise in sadistic pseudo-morality is evil. No matter how longstanding, it is superstitious and evil and destructive of the public good. It should be prohibited for public money to go to this pseudo-religious clap trap. And a clap trap it is.

This kind of stuff isn't confined to sex education. Ending needle exchange programs is another clear example. Drug addicts exchanging HIV and hepatitis is a direct result of needle exchanges being made impossible by the War on Drugs industry and their moralist camp followers. We have ample evidence that needle exchange programs work to lessen the horrors of disease among drug addicts. Addictive drugs, and some which aren't addictive, are allegedly banned because they cause suffering and in the case of addictive drugs that is true. To assert that you are banning them to prevent suffering and then to ignore HIV transmission is to be the direct cause of suffering more awful than the addiction. Treating addiction as a moral failing punishable by death instead of a treatable disease has led us into the obscenity of the war on drugs we find ourselves in today.

Many children being born with HIV are a direct result of the lies of the chastity industry and the drug moralists. Their suffering is taken with remarkable equanimity by these protectors of public morals. Any feeling person with an intact brain can see that their suffering is morally unacceptable. Any person of good will can see the calm acceptance of children and adults dying of entirely preventable AIDS is absolute proof of the moral decay of traditional sexual moralists. These facts definitively impeach the moral pretensions of religious conservatives and it would be entirely immoral for the left to let them get away with it another minute without a fight.

How about this for some real sexual morality. Ignoring preventable suffering resulting from the inability of people to go without sex is evil. People who ignore suffering and so help more of it into the world are evil. Ignorance is a leading cause of suffering. So is discouraging the use of condoms.

First posted May, 2006

While We're Just Talking About It

Sarvodaya in Sri Lanka

"Sarvodaya is a movement which promotes human development. The uniqueness of Sarvodaya lies in the fact that it promotes inner connections between people and communities which we call spirituality. It is the glue which keeps this wholistic approach together."