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A favorite argument of the Confederate monument defenders is that those who are trying to take them down are destroying history. They we are whitewashing it. That we are making future generations ignorant of history by destroying them, and that they will be the poorer for it.

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My governor, Governor Abbot of Texas, just weighed in on this issue on Wednesday.

“But we must remember that our history isn’t perfect,” Abbott added. “If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Instead of trying to bury our past, we must learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Tearing down monuments won’t erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future.

What my governor, and all like him overlook, is that these monuments were never about history.  History is best taught in museums, in schools, in books, in articles, on historical tours, all of which can provide the context and details that will allow a person to understand the history.

A stone or metal statue can and does do none of that.  What they do instead though is show what values a society values   They provide a tangible form to intangible societal beliefs and ideals.

This is something that those who created and raised these monuments understood.  It is why they so often have inscriptions that make this very plain, such as that that once was on the Battle of Liberty Place monument (taken down in 2017).

McEnery and Penn, having been elected governor and lieutenant-governor by the white people, were duly installed bb this overthrow of carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers, Governor Kellogg (white) and Lieutenant –Governor Antoine (colored).

United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the south and gave us our state.

Values, not history is what is being shown here.

The same holds true for the vast majority of other statues and monuments. When not explicitly inscribed in the monument, it is explicitly inscribed in the words of the newspapers and speeches of the time on why this or that confederate monument was raised.   A testament to white supremacy.  A testament to white superiority.

This should be something so obviously true that there should be no dispute. A monument to honor the Confederacy – an almost country created to preserve and protect the ideal that whites can own blacks as easily and as morally as they can own a dog and the ideal that whites are supreme race – can be nothing else.

These were not monuments to men and history. They were monuments to the ideals of white supremacy. Their primary intent was not to remind people of a historical person or event, but rather to remind both whites and blacks of their place.

These monuments were raised to promote the values of the Klu Klux Klan. They were raised to promote the values of Jim Crow.  They were raised to promote the values of white supremacy.

Those values are, or should be, our shame now.

 

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Republic and Democracy

I have seen this meme making the rounds among many conservative sites and people, especially among those who strongly support Trump. It is used to justify the results of the last Presidential election by protecting the whole idea of the electoral college. I won’t go over the problems I see with the current electoral college (I don’t think it has to be eliminated,  just changed, which can be done without a constitutional Amendment), except to say that the flaw should be obvious when the candidate who receives three million more votes loses.  Instead, I am going to focus on two problems with this meme; one of definition and categorization, the other a severe error of historical fact.

Problem the First; Definition.  This meme seems to claim that a Republic and a Democracy are two separate conflicting ideas.  The truth is that they are not.  A Democracy is a broad category of which a Republic is a subset.

A Democracy is a form of government in which the people ultimately have the power.  A Democratic country is one in which its citizens ultimately rule. Contrast this with the various other forms of governments: monarchies, dictatorships, oligarchies.  In these other forms of governments, forms which most of humanity throughout history have lived under, the people do not rule.

As I said earlier, a Democracy, as opposed to the other forms of possible government, is one in which the people rule.  However, how the people have rule can vary.

I believe the type of Democracy being referred to by this meme is one in which citizens directly vote on issues and bills and do not delegate their power.  This type of democracy works best for small and relatively homogenous  population, and is often referred to as a direct democracy.  And in a pure direct democracy those holding  minority view’s can have their rights not only infringed but eliminated, although minority views can be somewhat protected if the direct democracy also has a Constitution setting out which rights are protected for all citizens.  However, the meme is correct that the rights of minority views are at much greater risk in a direct democracy.

Now though, what about a Republic.  Unlike what this meme implies, a Republic is not something different from a Democracy.  Like all forms of Democracies, the power to rule ultimately lays with the people.  In a Republic though this power is delegated to others.  Others who can be voted out of office if the people are not satisfied with their performance.  In other words, it is not something separate from a  Democracy but is, rather, a form of Democracy.

Now, a Republic does do a better job of protecting the rights of minority views.  But, it does so by virtue of a Constitution defining it powers and organization.  It does so by requiring supermajorities on certain issues and by dividing up the powers of government into three branches, Most importantly, it does so by stating rights that all individuals have within the country, one that cannot be taken away by majority votes or the power of the government.   While there needs to be a separate judiciary that can rule on whether a law or actions is Constitution or legal, and a separate legislative and executive branch, these are not enough to protect  individual and minority rights.

A Republic without a strong bill of rights is no defender of the rights of those whose views are in the minority. It never has been.   A look at United States in the years before the Civil War shows this to be true; a look to a time when the Bill of Rights did not apply to states (although Madison argued that they should apply to the actions of the states. He lost that argument by two votes if I remember correctly).

Even though each Southern state was a Republic, and not a direct democracy, they trampled on the rights of those with minority views.  They restricted the rights of abolitions to speak freely and argue their views.  They made it illegal to publish abolitionist literature and so restricted freedom of the press. They made it illegal for abolitionist groups to meet, restricting freedom of assembly.  For those who violated these laws, they were fined, imprisoned, whipped, deported, and, in some cases, executed.

However, it is also true that having a Bill or Rights and making them apply on paper to all citizens by itself does not protect the rights of minority views or prevent the tyranny of the majority. Even after being given a right that should have been theirs all along, the right to vote, look at how the views, the thoughts, and the rights of blacks were violated and restricted time and time again; by Jim Crow laws, by laws regulating where they could live, and other laws.  Even though we were a Republic with a Bill of Rights, blacks suffered under the tyranny of the majority.  As did women, even after they were given what should have been theirs from the beginning, their right to vote.   As have religious minorities and those of differing sexual views and outlooks, and on and on.

A Republic is no protector of rights.  However, what did protect those rights , eventually is the Constitution with its Bill of rights that gave every individual certain rights that could not be infringed by the majority. Once this was made to apply to the state governments as well as to the federal government after the Civil War then the framework for what was needed for true protection of the rights of minority views and beliefs from that of the majority were in place, although it would take almost a century before they were finally made use of as they should have been.  Something that is still very much on-going and far from finished.

Our rights are not protected by virtue of us living in a Republic. Instead, in our democracy, our rights are protected by them being written into our Constitution and by us having an independent judiciary.  Something that would still exist even if the electoral college were abolished.

Atheism Destroyed!

I just came across this article “Ex-Atheist Dr. Sarah Salviander Destroys Atheism with One Tweet” and thought to myself…Wow.  So, I looked.

Apparently Dr. Sarah Salviander has “a Ph.D. in astrophysics, and is an ex-atheist”.  I did not bother to check on either of these claims.  Instead, I wanted to focus on this amazing tweet to see if it really does live up to its claim.  So, here is the tweet whose few words are going to destroy my thoughts about the existence, or rather non-existence of God in the space of a few words.  If you are an atheist, be prepared to have your views on life, the universe and everything rocked!

How to Design Your Own Atheistic Personal Philosophy

1. Start with the assumption of no God
2. However, also start with Christian morality
3. Remove the bits you personally don’t like
4. Proclaim that it’s self-evident
5. Ignore the meaninglessness of a Godless universe

The article then states that since Ms. Salviander” receives the same criticism and arguments from atheists over and over, she’s pinned a tweet to the top of her page linking to an article answering commonly asked questions and arguments from atheists.”  However, since the article then follows this with the statement that “ the above tweet is apologetics gold.”, let me save her link for another blog and, instead, focus on the many problems and wrong assumptions contained within these 44 words.

First, it is not an argument for God or against atheism being true. This article states that Salviander in addition to being a scientist is also a Christian apologist. Christian apologetics, according to BibleStudy.org is:

Christian apologetics is the body of knowledge that defends the philosophical, historical and doctrinal truth of true Christianity against attacks by others who possess (usually) a very different belief system.

Apologetics attempts to respond to questions or assaults on Christianity using rational and logical arguments, rather than ones based on faith alone. Some of the questions tackled include – Who IS God? Is the Bible the word of God? Can miracles happen? Is the theory of evolution true? Why does a good Creator allow evil to exist? Did the doctrines in the New Testament come from paganism? If the Eternal can do ANYTHING can he LIE?

Nowhere in her tweet do we see any of this.  Instead of an apologetic it is a criticism of a perceived problem on how atheists create their own beliefs and morals, from her perspective. It makes no claim on whether God exists or not, but addresses, again, a perceived, problem in creating an atheist sense of purpose or morals. At best, it offers a poor criticism of how atheists might ignore evidence of God.  And that is at best, something this is far from being.

 

  1. Start with the assumption of no God.

Not me. I started with the assumption of God.  I was a Bible believing church going Christian first.  The start of me becoming an atheist lay in my reading the Bible, specifically the story about Moses and the Pharaoh.  As I discussed in my blog “The Start of My Journey to Atheism”,  the interactions between God, Moses, and Pharaoh raised several significant moral problems for me. Problems that at the time I was sure  would be answered if I just read a bit more and talked to some knowledgeable people – ministers and such.

Instead though I came across more moral problems and no satisfactory answers. At least if taken literally. Going the non-literal route of understanding the Bible did help, for awhile. But other philosophical questions joined those of my supply of moral questions, and when combined with a lack of evidence for the existence of a God, well, I became an atheist.

So, there was no assumption involved. Instead the initial assumption was God existed. An assumption I found myself unable to sustain as I read and thought and examined.  Now, I may be wrong (isn’t that a fundamental attribute of being human?), but there was no assumption made. Just a great deal of thought and research.

  1. However, start with Christian morality.

OK, now this one I did.  However, how could I not?

First, that was the morality I was brought up in.  However, I would also point out that labeling something as Christian Morality does not mean that it is exclusively Christian morals. What I mean is that most moral ideas and systems are very similar.  In broad terms there is a great deal more of agreements than disagreements.

Further, Christian morality is not a monolithic construct. There are disagreements within the Christian community on many different issues. And it has changed over time; slavery was considered moral and Christian not so very long ago.  Today, the same process seems to be occurring in regards to LBQT issues.

Final, and most important, is that she seems  to believe that the only type of morality possible is a top down one- one where morality is decreed from above. However, that is false. A more accurate picture about the origins of morality show it to be a bottom up creation.  In other words, the roots of morality lies in what we evolved to be – a highly social and highly moral creature. From that basis, in what we are, comes our morality. Which means that since we are all humans, the morals created by the different societies are going to be very similar. Not exact, but similar.  This includes those that consider themselves “Christian morals”.

  1. Remove the bits you don’t like.

Most of my response to this is included in my one to point two. However, let me emphasize, again, that Christian morality is not a monolithic entity, and that it has changed over time.  The bits within it are not the same across all Christians and across all time. Does she then claim that Christians also pick out the bits they don’t like?  Even the first Christians had to choose.

Further, this is normal and often a good thing.  Slavery for example.

  1. Proclaim that its self evident.

Not sure where she gets that from.  As I said, there is a good amount of evidence of the bottom up theory of moral origins.  A good book in regards to this is “Moral Origins: the Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame”.  Also, the books by   Fran de Waal, such as “Good Natured” provides some good information on this.

So, no, not self evident. Rather it is the exact opposite. It is evidence based.

  1. Ignore the meaningless of a godless universe.

Not sure how a supposed meaningless is evidence that the atheist is wrong. Perhaps an uncomfortable and disturbing truth, but whoever claimed that truth is comfortable and always warm and fuzzy?

A lot here depends on what is meant by meaning. If you mean a purpose built into the universe, then yes it is meaningless. If, however, you realize that meaning is something created by humans and not given by the universe or a god, then there is meaning. The meaning we create.

So, again, not something that destroys atheism. Not even close.

On Abortion

Humans. Despite how we pride ourselves on our rationality, our ability to think, that ability is not the core of who we are. At our core we are an emotional species. Emotions are what drive us. Reason and logic, for the most part, are just tools in the service of those emotions. They can be and usually should be used to steer, but the driver is usually emotions. And there is no doubt that abortion creates a great deal of emotion. An emotional response that seems to be reaching new crescendos today with more and more restrictions being put on abortion, and with some states pushing back, such as New York’s recent law on abortion (which does not by the way, promote infanticide).

What is interesting is that at one time abortion did not generate this storm of emotion. It generated some, but not nearly the amount we see today. And, the emotion generated was most often due to different reasons than today.  Back in the day before modern medicine, before the x-rays and ultrasounds, before scientists and doctors started studying the fetus, abortion was largely not as an emotional topic. It is the due to the actions of reason and science that it became so.

Back in the day, abortion was usually considered immoral not because it killed a baby but because it was evidence of an attempt to cover up a sexual transgression; either sex before or outside of marriage. It wasn’t until we discovered more about the fetus, such as its heart starting four weeks after conception, and became better able to see the developing fetus that the emotions really started to get involved and the belief that abortion killed a child gained traction.  We instinctively started to identify with the appearance of the fetus, and with the listing of when its body was able to do what. It is part of our bonding with babies.

For myself, and most people, the issue is more complicated than a simple black and white choice between killing a baby or not killing a baby.  This is my attempt to explain why that is so. I do wonder though if any pro-life people will be reading this, as I have had some refuse to even consider any pro-choice argument. But, here it is anyway.

One note about my choice of labels from here on out. Instead of pro-life I am calling those who advocate banning abortions anti-choice. I feel that this is a more accurate designation, and that their calling themselves pro-life is a misnomer as their position really isn’t.  Part of the reason why I think this is covered in my previous blog “Pro Life – Time to Walk the Talk”.  The rest of the reason why will be covered at different points in this blog.  Basically though, it comes down to those against abortion gravely oversimplifying the issues involved as well as for the most part being against those measures that would be most effective in reducing abortions (and which would help improve the lives of those already born) and ignoring the lives of the women.  Hence, anti-choice and not pro-life.

 

A Baby and a Fetus, Not the Same

A commonality among all anti-choice supporters is that there is no difference between a baby and a fetus. They will argue that the only reason the pro-choice side uses the term fetus is to try to create an artificial distinction between the two in order to cover up that we are actually allowing the killing of babies.  However, there are several important distinctions between a baby and a fetus, distinctions which are important considerations in regards to a woman’s legal rights to an abortion.

Those who are anti-choice like to point out that the DNA of the fetus is that of a human being.  A unique human being in that it is not the same as that of the mother or the father but a unique combination of the two, with even a few mutations tossed in.  They will also point out when the heartbeat starts, when toes and fingers and eyes form, and the other physiological functions. Brain waves. Reactions to outside noises.  And on and on, all done to show that the fetus is an independent human being with its own set of rights that have to be considered.  Chief among them is the right to life.

So, given all of this, why then do I disagree that a fetus and a baby are the same?  Why do I then not believe that a fetus is a person in the same sense of a baby, or the mother?  Why do I believe that the fetus is a developing into becoming a baby but not one, a person in the act of becoming, but not yet one?   There are several reasons.

A fetus is totally dependent upon its mother. A baby is not. 

A baby can be cared for by others not their mother, or not related to them in anyway. A fetus cannot.

A fetus exacts a physical and economic cost to the mother.  A baby exacts a financial cost, but not a direct physical one.

I won’t go over the physical  issues and problems associated with pregnancy, even the normal ones. Just talk to any woman who has been pregnant. But there are also the times when the costs become greater, where the woman has to be put on bed rest for her safety.  Pregnancy is not risk free.  The woman’s body is providing all the nutrients and building blocks for the embryo to form and develop into a fetus and then to be born a baby.  That is a lot of material. Further, she is providing the physical space for this development within her body.  This is normal, but normal does not mean without costs, and without greatly increased risks.

Further, the physical costs are lasting ones, resulting in usually permanent changes to the woman’s body. These changes also usually include being at increased risks for such things as depression, diabetes, and other health issues.

A fetus is not conscious until, at best, near the very end of the pregnancy. A Baby is actively becoming so. 

Yes, there are brain waves very early in the development of the fetus. But brain waves and human consciousness are not the same thing.  Brain waves are evidence of electrical activity in the brain and all living creatures that have a brain have brain waves.

Human consciousness and awareness requires a developed cerebral cortex, which doesn’t happen until the sixth month and doesn’t mature until the end of pregnancy.  Even then it is still developing.  Further, while the development of a cerebral cortex is necessary for consciousness, it is not enough. Consciousness consists of the interactions of the environment and the developing brain and a whole host of different areas of the brain communicating and working.  Again, not something you see in the fetus.

The fetus has reflexes. The fetus most likely can learn unconsciously. But, it is not a conscious and aware being until after birth, when the cerebral cortex is mature enough and it has an environment to stimulate it.  Oh, and it is awake too. That’s the other thing, the fetus is sedated while in the womb.

This article from Scientific American, “When Does Consciousness Arise in Human Babies” is a good article on this

 

As Hugo Lagercrantz, a pediatrician at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, discovered two decades ago, a massive surge of norepinephrine—more powerful than during any skydive or exposed climb the fetus may undertake in its adult life—as well as the release from anesthesia and sedation that occurs when the fetus disconnects from the maternal placenta, arouses the baby so that it can deal with its new circumstances. It draws its first breath, wakes up and begins to experience life.

 

In other words, a fetus does not become conscious until after it is born. In fact, until then it is sedated and for most of its life it is not developed enough to have consciousness.

All these differences above lead and should lead to very different legal rights for the two.  In fact, the fetus’s dependence upon the mother and its physical and psychological effects upon the mother, and the fact that is it not a conscious and aware being whereas the woman is both, means that the fetus does not have any rights that do not likewise depend on the rights of the woman.    They are not separate entities. It is always the woman’s decision.

A Few Odds and Ends Considerations

The vast majority of people, even among the anti-choice crowd, do not believe the fetus rights are equal to that of the woman. Most are willing to have exceptions for the health and life of the mother and also in cases of rape and incest. If they truly believed that both had equal rights, then legally one would need to have a court hearing to determine who should die when carrying the fetus would result in the death of the mother.  Instead though, that decision is left to the mother.

And, of course, there is that question to ask of the anti-choice crowd – if a fertility clinic was going up in flames where the lives of one hundred embryos were threatened as well as the life of an 80 year old woman, and you could only save one, which one would you save?

Currently there is a great deal of outrage over third trimester abortions. I am not going to get into it much here, although much of the rhetoric and claims of the anti-choice side are misleading at best and flat out wrong at worst.  However, I do want to deal with one myth that they promote, which is another reason why I consider them ant-choice and not pro-life. They all act as if a woman gets to her eighth or ninth month and then decides “oops, I changed my mind” and tries for an abortion.  I can see how believing this makes it easier for these anti-choice people to continue to believe what they believe, but it is far far from the truth.

When a woman reaches that point in her pregnancy she is committed to having that child. She wants to have that child. If she is opting for an abortion, then something is very, very wrong indeed.  When you read the stories of the women who actually have those abortions, it is heartbreaking.  And yet, the anti-choice people don’t care. They don’t acknowledge the reality and the pain. All they want is to see that fetus born, no matter the cost to either the mother or the baby.  Anti – choice, not pro-life.

Then there is one final argument in regards to abortion rights.  Women will get them when they feel they have to, when they feel that there is no other good option. Even women who have opposed and marched and protested against abortion have had abortions, both before and after their protests. There have been several studies showing that even women who state strong anti-choice views have and do get abortions.

Given this, I think that makes keeping all abortions legal in order to keep them safe and then strongly promoting the items I went over in my previous blog critically important.

Pro Life? Then Walk the Walk

Listening to all the conservative and religious stations, abortion is in the news again, big time. Our country is not only doomed if we continue on our current path, but damned.  So, again, I put off a blog that was more than half written to discuss a hot and important subject.  Abortion.   Looking back I see that it has been almost six years since I last blogged about abortion.  Almost eight years since I last explained why I am pro – choice.  So, time to go over it again.

This originally was going to be just one blog about abortion.  However, it quickly became apparent that one blog would be much too long. So, instead, it is going to be two parts, both posted this week. Oh, and with the way my mind works, this would normally have been the second one. I am moving it up though to highlight the one area of common ground that should exist between those who are pro-life and those who are pro-choice.  I do so because I consider that ground important for oh so very many reasons.  One of which is that it defines what I feel is a truer pro-life position.

 

What Do We Disagree On?

Whether abortion is a moral choice or not.

What Do We Agree On?

This is the point at which many would say “abortion should be rare and safe”.  However, that would not be true. Those who are pro-life would say that abortion is never safe since a baby is killed. And, while most of us on the pro-choice would be fine with the rare part, those on the pro-choice side would not.  However, I do think both sides could agree that they would like to see abortion rates reduced. And theoretically I am good to it being none, if done correctly.

How To Get There

So, since there is a bit of an overlap, what can be done with that sliver of shared ideological real estate? Let me start by stating the obvious; abortion is an emotional issue. And humans, at their core, are driven by their emotions. However, there comes a time when, if effective action is to be taken, that the tool of reason needs to be picked up and used. Emotion tells us that abortion needs to be reduced.  So, what does reason tell us about how to achieve this goal?  It tells us several things that, broadly speaking, break down into providing resources, providing knowledge, and changing culture.

Step 1: Making resources available.  Make all contraceptives free to all, regardless of age.  Make all contraceptives easily available to all, regardless of age or income. Looking at many different countries with much lower abortion rates than the US has, and at the results of when different states made contraceptives free, it is plain to see that easily available contraception reduces abortion. And not just a little, but a lot.

Step 2: Providing knowledge.  Provide comprehensive sex education, starting with age appropriate material early in school. This includes how to properly use contraception and what consent means and how it works, including the grey areas.

Step 3: Changing Culture.  As difficult as it will be to provide the first two across the whole of the US, this step is the one that is most difficult and the most complex. Fortunately for me, I only have to write about it here, although I am, as is everyone reading this, and even those not reading this, responsible for doing what they can to effect this change.

So, what aspects of our culture do we need to change?

  • Almost all aspects of how we deal with rape and sexual harassment. Looking at what those who were raped and sexually assaulted go through it is no wonder that many do not ever report this crime against them. This change is in the works, but only just.  It will be a difficult, sloppy, and slow slog.  But, it needs to be done because at the end of it we will have created both a more just society and just legal system. And provided better support for women. Better support means less unintended pregnancies, and less abortions.
  • Healthcare for all. Sickness and concerns about wellness influences a woman’s decision, whether her own health, pre-natal health, or the health of a possible child. Justifiably so.
  • Better and more affordable daycare.
  • Parental leave.
  • Destigmatizing unwed mothers.

There are more that could be listed (it seems there always is), but these changes would be a good start.

The unfortunate reality though is that when I, and others, have brought these up as a means for reducing abortions, most pro-lifers deny them. Again and again deny them.

They bring up moral objections – pre-marital sex. They bring up monetary ones – why should we pay for their contraception and healthcare.  They bring up objections about having big government play a role and thus threaten our freedoms.  They bring up this thing. They bring up that thing.  However, if, as they say, abortion is the greatest moral evil of our age, and fully realizing that we live in an imperfect world where trade offs have to be made, why not push for these changes?

Which is the greater moral evil, pre and extra marital sex, or killing a baby? Which is the greater moral evil, having to pay for a health service or not doing so and killing a baby?  Which is the greater moral evil, the possible taking away of freedoms by government or the death of a baby? It is an interesting irony that so many of those who call themselves pro-life are rejecting the changes that would create the greatest reductions in abortion, and by so doing are actually supporting abortion.

To be morally outraged is easy.  People of all and every political and religious persuasion do that on countless issues.  Turning that moral outrage into effective action, that is more rare and more difficult. Until the pro-life movement decides to do this, then they are not, to my mind, really pro-life. They are posturers with a cause.  A cause that they do nothing to advance or help.

I came across this interesting article titled “Researchers Say They’ve Figured Out Why People Reject Science, And It’s Not Ignorance”. As you might be able to tell from the title, it is about some new research into why so many people reject certain findings of science – evolution, climate change, vaccinations etc. They basically find that it comes down to two reasons. I plan on adding a third reason based upon my experiences in discussing these issues with such people, one I consider even more basic than the two mentioned.  But, first, the two reasons, with commentary, from the article. 

The first reason is that:

… people think more like lawyers than scientists, which means they ‘cherry pick’ the facts and studies that back up what they already believe to be true.

I found their use of the the word lawyer interesting and its contrast with scientists.  I see the same thing in much (but not all) of Christian apologetics too, looking at the evidence for Jesus’ divinity, God, the truth of the Bible, from the viewpoint of a lawyer.  One of most prominent examples of this is Lee Strobel.  But there are many others. 

Their basic observation is true. People chose which facts are important, and which are not important and can be ignored, and, even, which facts are not facts. I have seen this over and over again in my discussions with such people on several issues. This is something well known by many as cognitive bias. However, it is the addition of the next reason that adds a bit more depth to what is already known.

A big part of the problem, the researchers found, is that people associate scientific conclusions with political or social affiliations.

New research conducted by Kahan showed that people have actually always cherry picked facts when it comes to science – that’s nothing new. But it hasn’t been such a big problem in the past, because scientific conclusions were usually agreed on by political and cultural leaders, and promoted as being in the public’s best interests. 

This too is something I have seen time and time again in discussions, although I had never thought to link it to the growing political and social divides fracturing our nation, exacerbated by the rise and now dominance of social media.  

I would now like to add one more item to this listing of reasons for why people deny some science.  The idea of certainty. This is something I feel is the most basic issue of all, not only in regards to science denial but in regards to many political and social conflicts.   

The vast majority of these science deniers have an absolute commitment to one view.  A view they are not willing to question, a view that they know with absolute and total certainty is true.  I have asked several such people if they ever do or would  question their deeply held beliefs. Invariably I either get ignored (a tacit admission to my mind) or a direct “why would I, its true”. 

Now, no one questions all of their beliefs all of the time. Most of us go along knowing what we know and interpreting the world based on that knowledge. It would be impossible to navigate our lives otherwise. But many of us are willing to at least acknowledge that we could be wrong in regards to our most basic beliefs, and would at least try to be open to considering, honestly and completely, any new contradicting information or arguments.  And many would, and have, changed their minds on these issues.  All of which is easier said than done, but at least we are willing to consider and to try to follow through should the situation warrant it.  In other words, we should hold our truths provisionally, no matter how dear they are to us. 

So, let us call one group consisting of science deniers, but not limited to them, as Absolute Certaintists, unwilling to question core beliefs.  The other group, the ones that do hold firmly to beliefs, but are also willing to acknowledge that they could be wrong and are willing to at least listen and consider countering evidence and arguments, let’s call them Provisional Certaintists. 

The Absolute Certaintists know beyond question or hint of doubt something that is true about the world and all other information has to bend to fit that belief.  For example, the young earth creationist absolutely knows that the world is only 6,000 years old. The rest of what he reads and hears has to be fitted into that belief, no matter how it might seem to contradict it. To do so they will ignore, deny, twist and invent conspiracies but think all of it is true because that is the only way this seemingly contrary information can be fitted into what they know is true.  They know what reality is, and anything that contradicts it must be wrong. 

Now, I talked about a religious belief just now in regards to an Absolute Certainty.  However, it can also hold true for political and social beliefs.  Climate change is often linked to the “knowledge” that big government is always bad and a danger to individual liberties;  inefficient, ineffective, and out to control us.  I have had conversations with climate change deniers where they have explicitly said this, not only to provide a rationale for why I promote it (seemingly I am a lover of all forms of big governments ), but also why they oppose it. They see it as an issue of freedom based on this unquestioned and unquestionable belief of theirs. 

One rather frustrating result of this is that, despite how it seems to us, Absolute Certaintists are not deliberately trying to twist and ignore facts, lie, and create rather fantastic conspiracy theories.  They are seriously trying to reconcile new knowledge and arguments into the framework of what they know is absolutely true.  Of course, in the beginning Provisional Certaintists do the same.

In science, when a piece of evidence seems to conflict with a well establish scientific theory – say evolution – scientists do not then abandon that theory.  They work to fit the new information into the existing framework.  The same holds true with the science deniers.  Where the scientist and the science deniers differ is that if enough information is accumulated that conflicts then the theory is changed or even discarded.  Science deniers do not do this.  They hold their truths absolutely, not provisionally. 

As I have said, of the three issues mentioned here – cherry picking facts, basing those cherries upon political and social views, and a belief that your views are absolutely true without question- the most basic and biggest problem is that last, absolute certainty. With absolute certainty, change is never a possibility.  Errors occur (an inevitable part of being human) with no chance of being corrected.  Ignorance exists (another basic part of being human) and has no chance of being corrected. With provisional certainty, there is a chance of change due to new information or arguments.   Distorted and incorrect views of reality are more likely to change if confronted with contrary information.  And just as important, discussions can be carried out with a presumption of honesty on both sides. 

I know that in my conversations with Absolute Certaintists, when I disagreed and found problems with their evidence and arguments I would often be told I was dishonest and deliberately lying. I was told that I did not really care about people, such as the illegal immigrants and their children.  That I was cold hearted.  The reason for this belief of theirs?  They know with such certainty that they are right and the evidence supposedly confirming this seems so clear and simple, that the only way they can explain why a seeming intelligent and well informed person can disagree is because that person must have an agenda that takes precedent over everything.  I refuse to admit the truth because of my “agenda”, and don’t really care about anything else. 

Now, in addition to the annoyance factor involved in being thought a lying, dishonest and cold person, there is a bigger problem. It shuts down all hopes of productive dialogue.  Now, I still engage, but not as often, nor for as long as I have in times past. Change does happen, even to those who are Absolute Certaintists, occasionally.  Further, it allows me to check and test my provisional certainties. 

Holding that even our basic truths is only provisionally true provides some protection against this sort of irrationality. But, not an absolute protection. Each of us is going to be prone to this error during our lives, multiple times in fact. To live life it is almost impossible to fully avoid. We just reduce, hopefully, the number of times we are.  

As for being able to persuade the minds of those who are Absolute Certaintists – I’m sorry, I have run out of space for now.  And I am absolutely certain that is why I am not addressing that, not that I don’t have any good ideas on how to do this. 

Why Mark Eternity?

Time. For something that goes on and on forever, life is very stingy in allocating our share of it.  Recently I found myself with much more to do than I had time for, and so spent some of that time looking at myself and my priorities.  In doing so I decided, very regretfully, to not write any more blogs to allow more time for other activities.   Now, seven weeks after making that decision, I found that I just could not quit my blogging.  It seems I had misfigured my priorities.  It helped that my wife told me to not give it up as she enjoys them.  Given my own strong regrets and desires and the encouragement of a very important person, I re-prioritized my time to make time to take up my blog again.  And so, I am back.  For those who care, sorry about the long gap.  For the rest, well, me not writing didn’t really matter did it.  Hopefully though my writing will eventually come to matter to those.  All of which makes for a nice intro and example for this first blog.

Why Mark Eternity?

Why do so many think meaning has to be eternal?  That you have to leave your mark on history to have lived a worthwhile life?  Why, to too many, cannot it be enough to leave your mark on another person? To touch them in comfort, to make them laugh, to help them in need.  All of those are things of the moment, not eternity.

Why do so many think meaning has to be eternal?  That you have to leave your mark on history to have lived a worthwhile life?  Why, to too many, cannot it be enough to leave your mark on another person? To touch them in comfort, to make them laugh, to help them in need.  All of those are things of the moment, not eternity.    

So often we denigrate those things that do not last.  The ephemeral.  The transient.  Oh, we enjoy the moments, but don’t assign them any value unless they wind up marking eternity in some way.  To many meaning has no meaning if it is not part of something grand and eternal.  I think this is one of the attractions of a belief in a life after death.  It provides an eternity in which meaning and a person’s actions can be attached.

This, by the way, is not just a Christian need, but a human one.  Look at the pyramids and mummies of Egypt.  Look at the different forms of ancestor worship from Confucianism to Africa.  Look at all the myths and religions and beliefs. A desire to be able to set your actions and place in the universe within an eternal setting is something that seems to be a part of our nature.  I would note though that this does not necessarily mean a life after death.  Looking at early Greek beliefs about life after death is pretty depressing.  The ghost of Achilles told Odysseus it would be better to be a live poor serf than the lord of all the dead.  The same holds true for the afterlife of the ancient Hebrews, originally a dismal and gloomy place.

However, even in those cases, lives are given meaning in relation to something eternal .  So, again, the idea that things which do not last do not have the ability to provide and support meaning is present.  Now, in case you hadn’t guessed already, I am going to disagree with this view. 

Consider those events, words, people who have most impacted you, that you have found most meaningful. Does their impact depend on them being eternal?  Did your wife’s words of love and support during a time of difficulty somehow mean less or have less of an impact on you even though it was of the moment?  Are those words from a favorite poem or book that you recite and reread and from which you draw strength somehow made weaker by the fact that the writer may be or will someday be dead, that the book or poem will someday be lost and forgotten?   Those mountains, the field, the ocean’s movements, all of nature; is it somehow less inspiring with the knowledge that it will someday pass away?  Does a rose lose its sweet smell by virtue of its short life?

Just as what affects us doesn’t have to be eternal, so too should our meanings not have to be eternal.  We live in moments and meaning is what helps us survive and navigate all those moments from our birth until our death.  Whether they survive our deaths doesn’t matter, only that they provide some hope, some satisfaction, some purpose to guide us while we live. 

Further, meanings are not monogamous things.  You are not and should not be committed to one and only one meaning till death do you part.  You can be, it is your life. But, if one meaning wanes see if another better suits you as you are and at your moment.  Or, have several meanings that work together, or, being the illogical and irrational creatures we are, work at slightly cross-purposes. 

Meanings are meant to help us find satisfaction and direction in life.  Once there is no life, there is no longer a need for meaning.  Marking history so that you are remembered or at least have an effect that outlasts you for many years is nice.  But not necessary.  As the Beatles sang, “Ob La Di, Ob La Da, Life goes on”.  Yes, it does.  Until it doesn’t.  And after that, why should we care.  Our search for meaning has no meaning any longer. 

Judgement Day

Immediately after former President George H. W. Bush’s death I was surprised by how many people were happy that he had died, and at the vitriol aimed at him in death from those I normally agree with.  Now, most people either said nothing or gave respectful recognition of his passing.  However, there were too many of the rejoicing responses for me to ignore.  So, I wrote this and used his death to reflect on how judgements should be made. And to defend George Bush the man.

Judgelment Scales and lady

First, if we are going to pass judgement on a person, and make no mistake that is what is happening here, in order for that judgement to be fair and just you need to consider all of that person’s words and actions.  Additionally, and just as importantly, their words and actions need to be considered in the context of their times, their culture, and what was happening at the specific time they said those words and took those actions.

Before I go further with this general discussion, cause I can already see some leaping ahead and thinking I am going to excuse the inexcusable by referencing the times and thus tuning me out, let me point out some actions of President George Bush that many might not be aware of in regards to just one issue, that of gay rights.

  • He endorsed civil unions for same sex couples, despite the Republican Party platform against it.
  • He not only passed the American With Disabilities Act, he did so making sure that there was anti-discrimination language in it that would protect those suffering from AIDS. The Washington Post reported President Bush saying , “Once disease strikes, we don’t blame those who are suffering . . . We try to love them and care for them and comfort them. We don’t fire them, we don’t evict them, we don’t cancel their insurance.”
  • In 1990 he signed the Hate Crime Statistics Act. This act, for the first time on the federal level, recognized sexual orientation as a protected status.

Now, was he a strong supporter of gay rights?  No.  Definitely not.  Was he a total enemy and all his actions evil in regards to gays?  Again, no.  The reality is more complex.  And that more needs to be considered when rending judgement on a person.

So, now to turn to someone else to illustrate what I am trying to say here before going back to George Bush.  Darwin.

Darwin was totally in tune with his times in regards to his views on woman and their Darwin mondkeyplace in society.  That is to say he was a thoroughly misogynistic and patriarchal man of his times.

The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shown by man’s attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can women—whether requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands.  Descent of Man

However, in addition to this, he was also one of the greatest scientists in history.  He was a devoted and loving father.  He spoke out against slavery and for blacks, and worked to end slavery.  He supported his local community and neighbors with his time and money.  He was a good friend to many.  He tried to be fair in his dealings with others, including Wallace when suddenly seeing that Wallace too had come up with the idea of natural selection.

So, how do we judge Darwin as a man?  How to decide whether we should mourn or rejoice?   Because of his views on women and their place in society should we be glad that he finally died?  Do we consider him a moral failure?  Is humanity better off with him gone, and would have been even better off if he had never been born?  Was Darwin a man only his family could mourn?

The same mix of good and bad, of being ahead of, totally of, and behind one’s times, can be seen in almost every person, both living and dead.  Lincoln is another good example of such   He never believed that blacks were the equal of whites, did not think that blacks and whites could live together as equals, would have been horrified at the idea of interracial marriage being considered normal, would have put keeping the country whole over abolishing slavery if that had been possible.  Should we then rejoice that he died so soon into his second term and judge him an immoral monster unworthy of being recognized by a national holiday?

Yin Yang

This mix of good and bad, of being in large part a product of one’s time and culture, is not just a trait of the powerful and prominent.  It is a human trait shared by all of us.  The difference is their actions and words reach and impact many more people than what yours and mine do.  Their shortcomings and mistakes (and being human mistakes will be made, more than once) impact more people.  The difference between them and us is a matter of degree rather than quality.

In our judgement of people, do we now expect those in power and in the limelight to consistently and on every issue to be able to transcend the limits of their times, their "I've never quite figured out how it works. For years, you're on the right side of history, and then one day, you're not!"society, and their upbringing?  Do we expect them to be able to peer into the future to determine on which issues society is going to change and what was once right is then determined to be wrong?  Further,  for the politicians, do we expect them to stand firm on every issue and not compromise or hide their true feelings and thoughts on every issue (if so, then they would become terrible politicians, ineffective and quickly out of office as this is a trait all politicians need to survive and accomplish things whether terrible or wonderful).

I don’t think so.

Yes, there are some failures that are so large, so monstrous and horrible, that the rest of the person, the context of the person, no longer matter when it comes time to render judgement.  We all know of such people.  Hitler. Stalin. Pol Pot.  But it is not just the great and notorious, this applies to the everyday people that no one except those immediately impacted by them know about too.

However, the words and actions of the vast majority of humanity – both the famous and powerful as well of the unknown everyday person –  are a mixed lot, with most such born from their times and culture and a few rising above and a few below, but whose failings do not rise to such a level that those times and that culture and their own fallible human nature should not be taken into account when rendering judgement.

 

 

So, to George Herbert Walker Bush. How should he be judged? prezbios-ghwbush-434c5ccf

I see nothing in his life to cause celebration that he is dead.   I have mentioned some of the acts he did that furthered gay rights, even though he was far from a gay rights supporter.  Let me mention other things he did.

  • One of the most politically courageous things he did was to increase taxes when he saw it was necessary. Even though the right thing to do, this act was what lost him the election.
  • He had a Democratic Congress that he worked well with and compromised with to get good things done: the ADA, updating the Clean Air act by working with environmentalists and Democrats, and more.
  • No matter what you think of why he got involved in Kuwait against Iraq, and there are arguments both ways, he did so well. He went in with international support.  He had limited objectives, obtained them, and then got out even though many were strongly calling for him to take out Saddam Hussein, and then criticizing him for not doing so.
  • Despite what many think due to Kuwait, a hallmark of the George Bush presidency was a strong preference to using diplomacy over force. It was his first choice. Bush helped to bring the cold war between the Soviet Union and the US to an end by such actions as increasing economic aid to Russia and its former satellite states to help speed up the demise of the communist bloc.
  • He ensured the removal of the Berlin Wall. He helped in the reunification of Germany, pushing for cooperation between not only East and West Germany but also the US, the Soviet Union, France, and Britain.  President George Bush’s proposal for reunification that was adopted included admitting Germany into NATO and granting the Soviet Union four years to withdraw from East Germany.
  • In Somalia, President Bush deployed United States forces to help ease the crisis there due to famine and economic depression. He provided food, water, and refuge.

And then there is George Bush the man.  He was polite.  He treated people with respect.  And yes, I am aware of the groping.  I have addressed that in a blog on the Me Too movement a year ago, and yes it is a mark against him.  And he has several marks against him.  And several marks for him.  In the end, I do not see any of those against him rising to the levels where we can dismiss his times, his culture, and the political needs (he was more socially liberal before joining in with Reagan and before having Buchanan challenge him in the primary) when rendering judgment.

There is more that could be said, there almost always is.  But, this should be enough to show that George Bush was not a monster whose death we should be glad or, or regret it not happening sooner.  He was a good president, but not a great one.  He was a good president who I often disagreed with, one who had seriously good accomplishments and who also made some seriously bad decisions, and who I voted against both times he ran.  I disagreed with his stance on abortion rights, preferred a stronger support for gay rights, was appalled at his remarks about atheists, and had differences on a host of other issues.  But, he cared for his country, for the people of the United States, and tried, and often did do what was best.  And, even more important, from what I can see, he was a good man.  And the last Republican president that I could actually respect.

For myself, I mourn and regret his passing.