Politics, Religion, Social Justice

Dear Alt-Right and Postmodernists – Actually, Truth Doesn’t Depend On Power

July 13, 2017
evergreen-state-pc-mob-accosts-liberal-professor

In one debate after another on any issue with regards to religion, race, gender, or fairness, there is one maxim of faith you’ll hear repeated over and over again with an evangelist’s zeal – objective truth doesn’t exist.  And what we hear to be the truth is merely based on power – power invested in the state, the media, the church, or the academy, just to name a few of the many nodes from which it emanates.

Downstream proponents of instersectionality repeat this constantly.  One merely has to take a look at websites like Everyday Feminism to see this trope constantly carried out to shut down any criticism of their own movement.

One can be appreciative of this article for spelling out exactly what ideas are at play here.

“We are authorities on our own experiences and nobody else’s. Objectivity is often a sign of privilege and distance, not expertise… , nobody can ever argue from an objective or neutral perspective on things like social justice – because society treats no identity with neutrality. In other words, no matter who you are, your perspective will always be affected by the privilege or oppression you face…At risk of oversimplification, black feminist thought centers the lived experiences of marginalized people. It argues that subjectivity is valuable because people’s lived experiences are valuable – because people’s spoken truths are, in and of themselves, truths…”

Much of this rhetoric has its origins in Critical Race Theory, which explicitly credits its own origins to the Postmodern philosophers of the 1970s.  They too spell out exactly the way by which they can dismiss even the concept of an objective point of view – because power is all that really exists, and knowledge is never, in any way, separate from it.

Michel Foucault, in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, spells this out explicitly and articulately. 

“Perhaps, too, we should abandon a whole tradition that allows us to imagine that knowledge can exist only where the power relations are suspended and that knowledge can develop only outside its injunctions, its demands and its interests.  Perhaps we should abandon the belief that power makes mad and that, by the same token, the renunciation of power is one of the conditions of knowledge.  We should admit rather that power produces knowledge (and not simply by encouraging it because it serves power or by applying it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.  These “power-knowledge relations’ are to be analysed, therefore, not on the basis of a subject of knowledge who is or is not free in relation to the power system, but, on the contrary, the subject who knows, the objects to be known and the modalities of knowledge must be regarded as so many effects of these fundamental implications of power-knowledge and their historical transformations.  In short, it is not the activity of the subject of knowledge that produces a corpus of knowledge, useful or resistant to power, but power-knowledge, the processes and struggles that traverse it and of which it is made up, that determines the forms and possible domains of knowledge.”

Who else seems to subscribe to this way of thinking?  The populist movement that put Donald Trump in the White House, seeing itself as an oppressed minority, is now also tearing down the edifice of truth with zeal.  They too see their right to their own truth, their own alternative facts, and view their own fight against ‘elitist’ versions of truth in the same framework of the oppressed against the powerful.  The powerful are usually some combination of the media, Hollywood, academia, and urban cities (though the media seems to consistently be the favorite target).  And despite an exhaustive and unprecedented catalogue of Trump outright lying, it doesn’t seem to matter.  He’s their guy.  “They believe they’re getting lied to constantly, so if their hero tells lies in order to strike back, they don’t care” said Republican Strategist Rob Stutzman, who worked against Trump in the GOP primaries, a description of the kind of real-politik struggle of narratives that postmodernists see as being the reality of the world.

One New York Post columnist laid it out just after Trump’s victory.  His comments about suffering at the hands of a ‘dominant culture’ could make any Critical Race Theorist or Gender Theorist proud in another context.

The factory workers, the veterans, the cops, the kitchen help, people who plow the fields, make the trains run, pick up the trash and keep the country together and keep it moving — they are all now winners. As one, these cogs of our daily life rose up in a peaceful revolution, their only weapons the ballot box and their faith in the future.

Trump voters had the courage of their conviction to go against all their betters, all the poobahs and petty potentates of politics, industry and, above all, the fraudulent hucksters of the national liberal media.

And who, at this extraordinary juncture, dares say that Trump is not worthy of victory and of the salute of his countrymen? He has done what nobody thought he could, overcoming the doubts and scoffs every incredible step of the way.

No candidate in modern times and perhaps ever has suffered such abuse at the hands of the dominant culture. Virtually every day, nearly all the front pages and broadcasters in the entire country vilified him in an attempt to destroy him.

The late-night comics made fun of him like so much trailer trash, Wall Street saw him as a threat, Hollywood looked down on him and even the pope added his two cents of disdain.

It was dirty pool, against any standard of fairness and decency, but that was not the would-be assassins’ biggest mistake. It was that failing to destroy Trump, the elite smart set unleashed its contempt on his supporters.”

Anna Katherine Mansfield in the Washington Post articulates how similarly Trump supporters prioritize experience over objectivity.  Their demands that people listen to their ‘experience’ and ‘their truth’ are heavily praised when placed in a minority context in the mainstream of the media and academia.

It’s certainly easy for Trump supporters to “know” without proof that the mainstream media isn’t trustworthy: It hasn’t represented their point of view, their truth, in years, and therefore is inherently suspicious… Facts don’t matter if the emotional impact is real.

With this complete eradication of the concept of truth, the effects of the post-truth era are manifest.  From denial of basic truths about discrimination against minorities to truths about climate change, the economy, and vaccines, the ability to dismiss truths as illuminated via the scientific method – still the most powerful tool we have for doubling our lifespans and putting rockets into orbit – seems greater than ever before.  I say this of course being completely cognizant of the lies of the Bush years, and aware that some mythical Golden Era of truth never existed in American politics.  This doesn’t change the fact that the frequency of lies and the manner in which they occur are unprecedented in recent history, and it’s not an accident that Trump won an election in a zeitgeist so carefully prepared for his arrival by embracing alt-truth for decades.

To a certain degree, all of us who embraced relativism are at fault for this current state of affairs.  How can one challenge lies if we’ve spent so long attacking truth as a concept for generations?  One person I’ve connected with on social media, Nicolai Gamulea Schwartz, parodied the predicament perfectly – “There’s no such thing as truth, therefore there’s no such thing as lies. They’re all nodes in a semantic network of power.”

If we want to try and change this – if we want liars in power to be accountable for skirting the truth, if we want children to be vaccinated and climate change dealt with as a real problem, we have to attack this disease at its source.  So the next time you may feel tempted to do so, check your factual impairment – please stop walking around saying everything is about power. Your second-rate unconscious plagiarism of Lyotard and Foucault isn’t, for lack of a better word, “true”.

Yes it’s true, people in power often try to impose their narrative upon those with less power.  This is an observation that Postmodernists aren’t incorrect for pointing out.  It is a totally different observation, however, from whether or not any such a narrative is true.  To this author, this is exactly where the postmodern account goes wrong – equating narrative with truth.

I don’t doubt that this equivalence is reinforced with the best of intentions.  Plenty of real suffering was inflicted upon the powerless by the powerful in the name of some objective truth that was anything but.  One need only go back to the history of pseudo-scientific explanations used in the 19th century to justify racism and slavery to see what damage this can cause, or how conquering civilizations unleashed unimaginable cruelty upon the conquered thinking they did so for the conquered’s benefit, bringing God and civilization to the savages.

But the idea that one can only correct for this only by undermining truth itself is misplaced.   Who here can look at such 19th century pseudo-science and affirm it as science today, any more than a chemist today affirms alchemy?  Subjecting such questions to scientific scrutiny and peer review leads to an overwhelming number of identical conclusions to those desired by the postmodernists, but without the Trumpian chaffe that has accompanied it.  To say otherwise is to claim that aspirations to racial and gender equality are in and of themselves irrational – a position all too welcome by the Richard Spencers of the world, whose rhetoric and justifications often sound all too similar to the postmodernists themselves.

It’s also not crazy to point out that yes, often personal bias does get into scientific analyses.  People do have different perspectives and sometimes objectivity gets clouded by them.  The whole purpose of the scientific method  and peer review is to weed them out, and refine such views.  This leaves conclusions that are still never perfect – just better than all the others.  Calculations made to send rockets into flight always have a margin of error.  The point is not that they will be perfect – only that they, unlike alternative methods, get the rocket into the air.  No amount of ‘personal experience’ or ‘alternative facts’ even comes close to accomplishing this, and it is rather odd that we think that they will do so on other vitally important questions of equality and human rights.

And the other important thing about such calculations is that they actually do keep their truth value regardless of who sits on the throne or in the White House.  If Medieval Europe were sent these tools via a time machine into the Dark Ages, they would be true even if nobody understood them.  This is completely different from the types of nightmare scenarios cited by scholars like Howard Zinn, where narrative defeats narrative and the affirmation of the truth of that narrative only depends on the position of the powerful.

So yes, when the Arab imperialists kicked the Romans out of what is now modern-day Israel in the 600s and built a Mosque on the temple mount, that’s a clear example of imposing a narrative based on power. It was the same almost a thousand years later when the Spaniards forced the Native Americans to forgo their local Gods and accept Jesus and Mary instead.  But at no point, either when nobody in Europe believed in Jesus or when everyone did, when all of Arabia believed in the revelation sent by Muhammed or none of them did, were their narratives ever true. Truth never did, and does not, depend on “power” – truth depends on evidence.

Nobody should really care about critical theory challenging the ‘prevailing’ narrative simply for the sake of it being prevalent. Try challenging untrue narratives instead, both of the powerful and the powerless, for the sake of a real truth that will benefit both groups.

People in the United States now constantly question the truthfulness of whether vaccines cause autism.  The reason?  Being made by for-profit companies, their motives are suspect.  This is one of the exact critiques of science made by Jean-Francois Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition – that science and technology, often originally performed by or made for profit-seeking interests, should be suspect as something that serves and reinforces the interest and power of those very profit-makers.  The truth, of course, is that they could have been created by people with the most suspect motives in the world, and it doesn’t matter – vaccines work, and they do not cause autism. Meanwhile American children are once again getting diseases they have not seen in a generation, and all because a legion of delusional parents think they are bravely challenging the status quo.

Certainly I would never pretend that lies have never been pushed by powerful interests in the scientific and medical communities.  It’s vitally important to challenge these interests when their power and the truth do not intersect, such as when tobacco companies tried to buy off doctors to tell consumers that cigarettes were safe.  But this challenge too isn’t to overthrow science and reason, but to affirm them.  To try and destroy the truth simply because at times it does intersect with power is also dangerous.  That measles is now a concern parents must contend with is a testament to this.

So no, your position in the power hierarchy, whether on top, or on the bottom, has absolutely no say on one’s command of the truth.  There’s no such thing as “white physics” or “Native American vaccines”.  Power dynamics are still important, and the extent to which bias exists in the narrative of those in power, it must be mercilessly weeded out. But we must return to that place in the discourse where there is in fact a truth to be found, not a nebulous grey area into which we can insert whatever favored ideology we prefer.  Language is descriptive, and though powerful, it alone is not reality itself.  There is something beyond a language game that allows humanity to transcend its boundaries and manipulate the Universe itself.

When having to choose between power dynamics and the truth, we should demand the truth – truth based on real, peer-reviewed evidence – every single time.

Politics, Secularism, Social Justice

Censorship has crossed over. The left reaps the whirlwind.

June 30, 2017
WOODLAND HILLS, CA - JUNE 02:  Kathy Griffin  speaks during a press conference at The Bloom Firm on June 2, 2017 in Woodland Hills, California.  Griffin is holding the press conference after a controversial photoshoot where she was holding a bloodied mask depicting President Donald Trump and to address alleged bullying by the Trump family.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Those who only a number of years ago were touting the merits of deplatforming offensive speakers, using mob action to shame wrongthinkers or get them fired from their jobs are now reaping the whirlwind. Offense has crossed over, and is serving a new master.

But a moral position on speech with the defense of the oppressed at its core couldn’t cross over, surely?  Of course it can. Ideas can and do often cross over in small units, disassociated from their origins. If you don’t believe me, just look at one of the perfect analogies of this phenomenon in the natural world – the curious case of antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics were first discovered in the formal sense in 1928 by Alexander Fleming, and first synthesized in a more massive scale in 1942 by Ernst Chain, Howard Florey and Edward Abraham. But with their incredible, paradigm-changing success, the general trend of antibiotic resistance came to be understood as inevitable. Naturally, as antibiotics were so effective at killing bacteria, over time the few that mutated to possess resistance would be the ones left behind. The rise of such bacteria was an inevitable consequence of Darwinain evolution, a consequence we feel all too acutely now as traditional antibiotics become less and less effective.

But at that time, perhaps nobody could’ve predicted one of the methods by which such bacteria could become resistant – the passing of resistance factors from one bacteria to another through horizontal transfer via transposons, plasmids or viruses.  Bacteria can pass the genetic material for resistance alone from one to another, including completely different kinds of bacteria.

In this sense, the overexposure of one strand of bacteria to antibiotics becomes the advantages acquired by another strain, and the danger to our health incurred in one area becomes incurred in another. Overuse of antibiotics is no longer a limited problem, it becomes a universal problem. We need not wait for all bacteria to spontaneously mutate into more virulent forms. The virulence now crosses over, and without a renewed public effort towards the development of new antibiotics, soon it will be ubiquitous, our health defenses set back over a hundred years.

Such is the reality of information, be it genetic, linguistic, or ideological. In any space of survival, as Dawkins described in ‘The Selfish Gene’, it is the individual unit that is vying for survival, and without any concept of consciousness at all, it will collaborate with other snippets if it helps itself propagate in whatever relevant environment it happens to find itself competing in.

So therefore it should be no surprise, that certain cultural conventions – acting just as Dawkins described them in “The Selfish Gene”, where the concept of the meme was first codified – are now crossing over from left to right and back again in our politics and discourse. Much for the worse.

Over the past 4 to 5 years or so, certain conventions regarding speech and offense became more and more common and ubiquitous among the left. A new memetic complex of postmodernism, critical race theory, gender theory, and identity politics seemed to merge, breed, and finally re-emerge into the zeitgeist as the modern ideology of so-called Social Justice, along with a new, more muscular brand of political correctness not seen since the 90s, now more fully armed by the organizing power of the internet.

For those of us just old enough to have not spent our entire youth in the bubble, the results were surprising.  Speakers deemed too offensive, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Bill Maher, were subject to constant attempts at forcing retractions of their invitations.  Nobel prize-winning scientists making self-aware satirizing jokes about sexism were not given groans for poor taste, their employment was unapologetically terminated.  A rocket scientist who successfully landed a spaceship on a comet was shamed in public and reduced to tears for wearing a tasteless shirt.  Offensive speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos, whose words were deemed to be doing violence, was met with actual, riotous window-shattering violence.  Maoist struggle sessions were mandated for defending the right to wear offensive halloween costumes at Yale.  Just recently at Evergreen State University, a professor who did not agree with a request that certain students not be made to leave campus on the basis of their skin color was met by a mob that barricaded professors in their own offices and wouldn’t even permit them to go to the bathroom by themselves.

Some people concerned about these events, I among them, warned that such trends would be dangerous, because such trends can and do cross over. Such postmodernist conventions are always couched in language saying that such behavior is permissible and laudatory in the name of challenging the powerful – but inevitably, as Christopher Hitchens predicted in 1994, the powerful majority eventually decides they want in on the victimhood business too.

Since the election of Trump, and the elevation of his movement, we have seen that this same brand of censorship has indeed fully crossed over. Once a proponent of deplatforming herself, Linda Sarsour recently came under intense pressure to be subject to it, with condemnations of her speaking at a CUNY graduation coming from the father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl and hundreds of holocaust survivors. Reza Aslan had his CNN show cancelled for calling the president a ‘piece of shit’ on social media. Kathy Griffin was similarly let go from CNN’s new years eve broadcast for performing an ‘artistic’ stunt in which she held up a mock-up of the President’s severed head. A college professor defending a race-segregated Memorial Day celebration for Black Lives Matter in a mocking tone on Tucker Carlson was let go from her job for doing so.  Another professor, harshly criticizing Trump’s election, went into hiding as her speech to a classroom was secretly recorded by a conservative student and posted online, sending hateful comments her way as well as people sending photos of her house to let her know they knew where she was and imply potential threats to her safety.

These meme may have been birthed as a tool to help the powerless.  Once it has undergone horizontal transfer, it becomes a new deadly weapon to further the interests of the powerful.

This is the problem more generally with identity politics. Forming coalitions of minority interests to pursue an agenda isn’t bad in and of itself – a consistent liberal demand for equality coming from such coalitions only benefits all when it crosses over to the majority.  But when it becomes tribalism for its own sake, rather than a tool for the furthering of equal civil rights, it only benefits the majority once it crosses over, if only because the majority is still the largest tribe.  Postmodern identitarianism is more likely to give us Richard Spencer than new meaningful civil rights legislation, a trend illustrated clearly by the fact that the rhetoric used by identitarians of multiple racial stripes often sounds strikingly similar.

As some of you may know, I am generally not a fan of Reza Aslan.  Linda Sarsour, for her vile statements regarding Ayaan Hirsi Ali and anti-semitism, excites me even less. I don’t care for Kathy Griffin, the college professor on Tucker Carlson is a joke, and I’m grateful that Milo’s own words served as the catalyst of his undoing. But I do worry very much when more and more people must fear for their jobs when they wish to criticize the President, even in a profoundly distasteful or stupid way.  Our Democracy depends on the ability to do so, and the chilling effect on free speech that these trends has created is real. ( It’s certainly true that there was a deluge of beyond-tasteless criticism directed at Barack Obama when he was in office, but this transferred plasmid of silencing and firing had not quite passed over yet in quite the same way. Times were simpler then.)

Now with this and other tenets of anti-free speech sentiment having crossed over, we’re experiencing a new wave of what I’ve heard described as “patriotic correctness”, a similar desire to censor and shame those who dare to blaspheme against our national leaders or symbols. Holding up such an ideological conception of truth and a disdain for free speech may have been advocated within leftist academia with the very best intentions of helping the marginalized, but now instead it has created the era of fake news and alternative facts within the majority, only making it harder to hold their feet to the fire.

Given that many obvious basic historic inequities exist and are concerning, there are those who advocate that true consistency in ethics, rights, or speech misses the point.   Given the nature of power, they assert, there must be a corrective mechanism enacted that constantly challenges the prevailing narrative of those in power. There should indeed be free speech for some, not others.  And this idea, consistently applied, should in theory produce the more fair and equitable society we desire.

How many of you feel that is what we are achieving now?

When such conventions cross over – as the inevitably do – who do they end up helping, the powerful, or the powerless?

Are we pressing forward, or have we merely reaped the whirlwind?

Politics, Religion, Schism Podcast, Secularism, Social Justice, Terrorism

The Postmodern Condition, and How to Fight It – Schism Podcast no. 4, with guest Reza Ziai

June 15, 2017
derrida

UdsTdK97_400x400On this episode of the Schism Podcast, I talk with Reza Ziai, Lecturer of Psychology at the College of Staten Island of the City University of New York, about Postmodernism, what it is, how its pervasiveness has affected our discourse, politics, and more, and how the Enlightenment is in need of a vigorous defense more than ever.

 
Read his articles at Areo Magazine.

 
Follow him on twitter at @Reza_Ziai
 

Politics, Religion, Social Justice

Fake Racist Fliers Posted on Campus – Don Quixote’s New Windmills

March 28, 2017
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As reported by National Review, the students and faculty of Gustavus Adolphus College were shocked to find openly racist fliers posted on their campus, only to find out later that they were in fact fake, posted on purpose by campus social justice groups.

The Diversity Leadership Council at Gustavus Adolphus College admits that it — with the help of other social-justice groups — planted fake racist flyers on campus “to educate” people about racism.

The flyers, according to a photo obtained by Campus Reform, stated:

A NOTICE TO ALL WHITE AMERICANS
IT IS YOUR CIVIC DUTY TO REPORT ANY AND ALL ILLEGAL ALIENS TO U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT
THEY ARE CRIMINALS
AMERICA IS A WHITE NATION

On Monday, the Diversity Leadership Council published a Facebook post explaining that it had posted the fake flyers to “promote, preserve, and protect on-campus diversity” and “to help educate our peers and campus community about issues of bias, and the importance of being an active bystander.”

“We want to help put an end to bias-related incidents that happen on our campus, social media, and in our communities by forcing individuals to have dialogues about forms of hate and bias,” the post stated.

It has been speculated much as of late if intersectionality is a religion, and this incident certainly tends towards confirming this thesis.  Religions and the religious are always very careful to find confirmation of their own narrative, and if no such evidence currently exists, it is incumbent upon the true believers to create it, lest the greater good of the enterprise be lost to the masses.

Religious ideologies cannot exist without an ever present enemy to fight at all times, especially when there are other problems that seem currently beyond solution. During the time of the plague in Europe, people conjured up as many causes for the scourge as they could, and the victims of the resulting vicious reaction included Jews, Romani, pilgrims, and even people with simple skin diseases like psoriasis.

Colonial Salem Massachusetts similarly couldn’t seem to help itself in conjuring up yet more witches to kill.

Very recently some politicians in Pakistan, a country facing many complex challenges, saw fit to declare that the real problem facing the country was the scourge of blasphemy on social media, a cause against which they are trying to enlist Facebook in its aid.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised therefore that in a time where young people feel the stability and accomplishments of their parents’ generation slipping away from the expectations of a normal educated middle-class life, they channel such frustrations into a religious panic of their own, with an enemy that, if it does not actually exist before their own eyes, must be created out of thin air.

What is Don Quixote to do if his delusion breaks and he realizes those are windmills after all?

No doubt racism exists and must be steadily fought, but it is rather peculiar that people seem to see it in the very places in this nation and the world where the leftist Utopian dream on this issue is the most actualized as it has ever been in history. And it is notable just how similar this movement is to earlier moral panics and fervent religious revivalism.

A good narrative needs confirmation, and the artificially constructed hate crimes we have seen since Trump’s election bear witness to the zeal of those so insatiably eager to confirm it.

Ironically the greatest casualty of this behavior is the narrative itself, for crying wolf does indeed make people think twice when the real wolves arrive.

Politics, Religion, Social Justice

Charles Murray at Middlebury – Asking forbidden questions while leaving the road to bigotry.

March 18, 2017
FILE - In this Thursday, March 2, 2017, file photo, Middlebury College students turn their backs to author Charles Murray during his lecture in Middlebury, Vt. The college says it has initiated an independent investigation into the protest in which the author of a book discussing racial differences in intelligence was shouted down during the guest lecture and a professor was injured. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke, File)

In part thanks to the recent dust up at Middlebury, there seems to be a lot of talk once again about Charles Murray, The Bell Curve, and whether or not there is a correlation between race and IQ. And as usual, whenever people venture towards this third rail, tensions and passions run high, as it is one of the most forbidden conversations to even initiate within polite, liberal society.

The reasons for people considering this conversation dangerous aren’t totally unfounded. It’s certainly true that in past generations, a supposed statement of ‘inherent’ inferiority, backed up by bogus pseudo-science, was one of the many tools of justification that members of the powerful majority used to oppress the disempowered minority. It’s certainly understandable why some would want this to be one of those truths best left untouched, as the ramifications for subjecting the question to even the most rigorous, dispassionate scientific scrutiny would, in their view, still become a weapon too dangerous for any faction with an agenda to hold.

This raises an interesting philosophical question – are there some areas of inquiry where we really are better off simply not exploring it?

Is this one area where the best acquired scientific truth won’t set us free, but instead will become the whip of the slavemaster?

There is a similar air of emergency around similarly skeptical treatment of the modern cult of identity. Are there 37 genders? Is someone really a different race by simply identifying as such? Many of the same justifications are given as to why we simply cannot subject such claims to scientific evidence and scrutiny, as if a straight line can be drawn between the idea of proving Rachel Dolezal’s status of white or black and giving a green light to fully oppress marginalized people who depend upon this view of identity, most notably transgendered people. Many academics, with the best of intentions, do all they can to fully insulate such topics with an armor of ideology against such inquiry, attacking the very nature of scientific investigation itself as just yet another tool of powerful interests that does not deserve any special consideration – or any consideration at all – in illuminating these questions.

Does it really do society a service if certain topics are given the mandate of silence like a religious blasphemy law, similarly in the name of serving some greater good?

Lost in all of these conversations, I believe, is the real crux of the matter as to why many believe such inquiry is dangerous, and what in fact has caused it to be dangerous in previous generations – the link between the ‘truthfulness’ of claims as a kind of binary switch as to whether or not people deserve equality before the law and full civil respect as an individual in society.

Phrenologists of the 19th century spread many bogus claims as to the supposed inferiority of African Americans. Of course such claims are embarrassing under the light of modern science – but perform a thought experiment where we lived in a possible universe where such claims were true. Under what scenario therefore does it still become morally justifiable – when it is abundantly clear that African Americans are still shown scientifically to be full human beings – to therefore infringe on their rights? Even if this spurious claim were shown true, their rights are not therefore subject to any change.

Some really believe you can change from male to female based solely upon ‘identifying’ as such, while others believe this to be a mental illness or delusion. But ironically, many of the people taking the latter position also profess a belief in an all powerful God that is supremely interested in our masturbation and sexual habits, one that sends burning bushes to talk to us but cannot be bothered to extinguish genocidal modern dictators. If we run a thought experiment where trangenderism is a delusion, how would it be any more delusional than the fairy tale that so many religious Americans worship on Sundays? Indeed there is far less evidence for their magic sky man, and yet in the case of religious belief our modern moral zeitgeist has perfectly separated out debating the claims of believers from from whether or not the truthfulness of their claims would in any way affect full access to their equal rights within society and under the law.

It is perfectly clear to us as to just how respecting one’s beliefs is fundamentally different from respecting the right to hold such beliefs. Every religious believer in America believes in a set of truth-claims that are fundamentally at odds with all of the other truth claims, and they similarly regard the other claims as incorrect, delusion, dangerous, or some linear combination of all of these possibilities. And yet nobody thinks declaring a talking burning bush to be laughable delusion is the very singular thing that opens the door wide to anti-semitism, or the hatred or oppression of Jews as individuals within our society.

Once we understand how immutable the granting of universal rights is and must be within our modern liberal democracy – a position that, in all truth, certainly was not so for much of our history – and provided we fully dedicate every ounce of our political will towards that proposition, the untouchable areas of exploration are no longer demons hiding in the mist. Is homosexuality natural? It doesn’t matter, even in a universe where it was the most unnatural choice possible, it would have absolutely no impact one iota on the access that person has to their universal human rights and full equality before the law. (Homosexuality is of course observed in a plethora of other species, making this debate about its status moot and more or less settled).

Can one change their race or gender simply by virtue of how they identify? This is, again, irrelevant as to whether or not individuals who do so should in any way have their full equality curtailed. Believing in magic Prophets on flying horses – a belief shared to varying degrees by approximately 1.6 billion people – or in a socialist Jew magically rising from the dead after three days – shared by 2.2 billion Christians to varying degrees – are far more ridiculous than changing one’s race or sex could ever be. And yet the cornerstone of our civilization is built upon universally respecting the freedom to live in such beliefs, a foundation that makes it possible for the old warring tribes of of the Middle East to settle in a place like Dearborn Michigan and manage to go about their days without any fear of rocket attacks or theocratic massacres, despite being racially and culturally identical to those who suffer ceaselessly form such scourges in their countries of origin today.

Even if every claim Charles Murray made turned out to be completely true – a position I do not share – this has absolutely no impact on whether or not racial minorities deserve every measure of equality within our society, nor does it in any way diminish the need for continued political action to make such equality more and more the reality of our time. Room for blasphemy does not by definition make room for bigotry. Disagreeing with your Muslim or Jewish friends on the truth claims of their religion in no way gives a green light towards infringing upon their rights as people. Both using the truth-claims of their beliefs to oppress and insulating such beliefs by conflating the two as the same only hinder the progress of our civilization, and the furthering of the project of maximizing human flourishing.

If non-binary genders or changing racial identities are similarly faith claims based upon experience, and not necessarily based on empirical evidence, those that espouse these ideas too deserve the same protection and freedom we grant to all other believers. Fighting to separate out rights from truth claims only aids both the defenders and critics of such beliefs. Areas of exploration are only dangerous if rights depend on them – the elimination of this dependency is the only project that makes the title of ‘universal human rights’ worthy of such description.

Politics, Religion, Schism Podcast, Social Justice

Schism Podcast Episode 2 – First Week in the Wilderness. Women’s March, Linda Sarsour, Corey Booker, DNC Debate, the Path Forward

February 1, 2017
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On this episode of the Schism, I reflect upon Week one of Donald Trump, and the first stumbles of the Democratic party and liberalism generally in the wilderness.  Linda Sarsour, Corey Booker, and the DNC debate are hard reminders of just how entrenched in the failed dogmas of the past we still are.

 

 

Politics, Religion, Secularism, Terrorism

Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ shows he hasn’t got a clue on terrorism.

January 28, 2017
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When most Presidents take office, we are disappointed and angry about the things they promise and don’t deliver.  In the case of Donald Trump, after just one week, we are terrified that he’s really trying to implement almost everything he promised.

But he is still falling short.  It has already become evident that Mexico isn’t going to pay for the wall, we are.  And as for his “temporary Muslim ban” on immigration, Trump is showing himself to not have a clue when it comes to terrorism or its causes, nor even understanding the promises he made during the campaign.

Firstly, to the disappointment of his alt-right supporters, let’s just understand that this isn’t really a Muslim ban – it’s a ban on people coming from specific Muslim-majority countries, notably Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.  Why does this make absolutely no sense if the goal is to prevent acts of terrorism?  According to the New York Post,

Not a single American was killed on U.S. soil by citizens from any of those countries between 1975 and 2015, according to statistics tallied by the conservative-leaning Cato Institute.

However, the same set of statistics show that nearly 3,000 Americans were killed by citizens from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Turkey in the same time period — with the bulk of those killed being victims of the 9/11 attacks. Yet, people from those four countries are still welcome to apply for U.S. visas and travel permits.

Why is this the case?  One obvious explanation is his business ties to all of these countries, conflicts of interest that Trump has refused to give up while in office.

In a striking parallel, Trump’s sprawling business empire — which he has refused to rescind ownership of — holds multi-million dollar licensing and development deals in all of those countries, raising potential conflict of interest concerns and alarming questions over what actually went into the decision process behind Friday’s executive order.

In the interest of fairness, it’s undeniable that many of the conspicuous countries left off the list have had deep-seated diplomatic ties to the United States that preceded Trump for decades.  Many have helped the United States in numerous ways, providing intelligence and military assistance and other things in the war on terror.  But it’s important to highlight just how nonsensical this Executive Order is in its stated goals – banning specific groups from entering the United States in the interest of national security.

Trump must answer the most glaring contradiction present in this list – why Iran and not Saudi Arabia?  Saudi citizens, as previously noted, made up the majority of the 9/11 hijackers, and the Wahabist ideology they have exported for decades and continue to export is the ideological seed that has given rise to the modern jihadist movement.

Trump, like most Americans, seem to be largely ignorant of a simple fact – when we look at people who commit terrorism in the west against western countries, almost none of them are Shia, and this is because they do not express doctrine of Jihad in the same way that Sunni fundamentalists do.

It’s undeniably true that Shia extremists, “tethered to state and organizational objectives” have created many problems in the region itself, but in terms of our actual security interest at home, I almost never have to worry about a Shia Muslim blowing themselves up in an airport or in a marketplace, or driving a vehicle into a crowd in the name of a political or religious purpose.  Even in the sectarian morass of post-Saddam Iraq, the dearth of Shia suicide bombings has been noted, as ideological directives from the Shia establishment purposely put a lid on the practice in favor direct confrontation and political action.

This is not to let Iran or Syria off the hook one iota for being terrible regimes, nor to discount the threat that Iranian influence has presented towards Israel.  But we must remember that we aren’t talking about admitting regimes, but immigrants from those regimes, and if the Shia extremists haven’t proven to be a domestic terror threat in the west, then the Shia moderates have proven themselves even less so by orders of magnitude.  Iranian and Shia immigrants themselves haven’t proven to be imminent security threats to the United States, and outright banning them is going to do effectively nothing in terms of bolstering our own national security in this regard.

Trump himself shows his own glaring contradictions on this issue with recent comments regarding Christians from these very same parts of the world, who he seems to believe don’t threaten us and need our help.  On the subject of Christianity, Trump seems to understand that specific ideas matter – if Trump understood the greater ideological differences in the region, and how each are tied or are not tied to acts of terrorism committed in western countries, his list would be totally different.

ISIS of course does subscribe to a violent Wahabist/Sunni doctrine of jihad. I am not one of those on the left who mistakenly believes that religious ideas have no link to terrorism, or that specific religious ideas should harbor no concern at all with regards to keeping track of who may be entering the country.  But if Trump is going to make religious concerns part of our immigration policy, he should at least half understand them.  Banning Iranians while making no change to screening processes for immigrants from countries like Saudi Arabia will do absolutely nothing to make us safer.  If we were truly interested in an immigration policy regarding our national security, Saudi Arabia would be at the top of the list for all kinds of actions, and yet they remain one of our closest allies, not subject to anything new.

This approach is also of grave concern to our strongest allies in the Middle East, namely liberal and secular activists.  The Secular Activist Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, an atheist from Iraq who fled under direct threat from Al-Qaeda, who works all over the world promoting liberalism and feminism and human rights, will now be unable to attend any conferences outside of the United States, as he could be stopped and turned away at the border should he try to enter the country again.  Trump’s order does nothing to distinguish between the promoters of good and bad ideas in a way that will aid us in the war on terror, and does nothing to target specific areas where we actually could make meaningful progress in reducing threats.

If there was one thing that seemed at least potentially refreshing about Trump during the campaign, it was his willingness to go after the bad decisions committed by his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, in responding to Bin Laden’s attacks from Afghanistan by invading Iraq.  In banning Iranians in the hopes of stopping Sunni fundamentalists, he has proven himself equally worthy of parody and ridicule.

 

Politics, Religion, Schism Podcast, Secularism, Social Justice

Schism Podcast Episode 1: Why We Are Here, Filmmaker Jay Shapiro, “Islam and the Future of Tolerance”

January 22, 2017
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After months of procrastination by perfectionism, here it is – the first episode of the Schism Podcast.

Much thanks to all who encouraged me and all who lovingly poked fun at me for doing it.

Special thanks to Evan Vicic, my audio guru who was able to point me in the right direction in terms of audio equipment and editing, so that I was able to do this without making a total technical fool of myself.

In this episode I discuss what brought me here, and have a great conversation with filmmaker Jay Shapiro, who is filming a movie version of “Islam and the Future of Tolerance” with Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz.

Hope you enjoy this first rudimentary step forward.  Please leave suggestions and comments below for what and how I can do better in the future!

Politics

On the Misunderstood Nature of Work and Government Assistance

December 20, 2016
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An interesting question I just saw on social media – “Why did all these Trump supporters, such as unemployed former coal miners, vote to destroy their own health insurance?”

Some liberal outlets are almost gleefully celebrating this outcome as justly deserved rewards.

Paul Krugman, not exactly one without contradictions between his professed progressivism and staunch campaign against Bernie Sanders, similarly seems to revel in the irony.

Regressive liberal sociopathy aside, the question raised by this simple fact – that so many people in middle America who need health insurance the most decisively voted against it – is one worthy of examination.  The contradiction present is, at least on the surface level, bewildering.

But I believe it is a mistake to simply assume that people who did so were somehow willfully acting against their best interests.  Rather, I think a lot of people born in the coastal bubble (like me) often don’t understand just how differently people in the middle of the country view the concept of work, and what it means when one confesses they need or want government assistance.

In much of middle America, it’s not about just getting what one needs by hook or by crook, it is the act of self-sufficiency in and of itself for its own sake that is considered one of the most important moral goods. The idea isn’t that we just create a society where people have what they need and we use government to fill in any gaps, it’s a society where people have everything they need *solely by laboring enough* to acquire it on their own, built on the presumption that being able to do so isn’t that hard with just a touch of will-power.

It’s not about whether government can or should provide healthcare to all its people, it’s the idea that using the government to do this at all – even if it did it better and more efficiently – is a shameful act, and buying into it is seen within this framework as proof that one isn’t significantly industrious enough to do it on one’s own.

And now of course we come to the central problem with this worldview – we live in an age where quite frankly, we simply don’t need the labor or industriousness of many of these people. This philosophy regarding work and self-sufficiency, while it made some sense in a world where there was too much work to be done and too few people to do it, is running into the brick wall of globalization and automation. And just as when a concept held as a religious truth runs into this wall of reality, the reaction of people caught in the crash clinging to the dogma can be rancorous, unsettling, and deeply troubling.

Given the fact that many *only* want a world in which they would and could do it all on their own, in a way it makes sense that they would support someone like Trump, who simultaneously wants to break Obamacare but insanely promised to bring all the old jobs back. It’s not that they don’t want healthcare – they want it in a way that fits perfectly with what they perceive to be the moral and just narrative of their ancestors. Only when acquired through labor is it not shameful to have, and the realities of the modern world are making this more and more difficult no matter how hard one even *tries* to work.

And when your religious worldview fails it is always easier to blame outsiders and scapegoats for your ills, rather than admitting that your own moral algorithm is out of date and unsuited to the new world in which it is still trying to operate.

PS – On the subject of the above mentioned liberal sociopathy, Sarah Jones is right on the money –  “Liberals should try not having so much contempt for the poor“.