22 November 2017

Discussion on morality

My recent post on Roy Moore led to a discussion on morality in the comments with Christian blogger Daniel Wilcox (his own blog is Lightwaveseeker).  I think this is of sufficient interest to merit a post in its own right, so here it is.  Text in blue is his, text in regular black is mine.

o o o o o

Daniel WilcoxStrong points. And you wrote, "What's striking to me is how closely the divide over Moore on the right correlates with the religious/secular divide. The very people who generally exhibit an outright obsession with Christianity's sexual taboos are going all out to defend a man plausibly accused of sexual misbehavior..."

It's even more absurd than that. Because in the past Christian leaders obsessed on Bill Clinton (and others) "sexual misbehavior" BUT all of those ethical choices were with adults.

Even Christian leaders' past defense of Newt Gingrich (who twice committed adultery, once when his wife at the time was dying of cancer!:-( isn't as bad as this current hypocrisy.

This Christian defense of Moore is much more like the Roman Catholic response to priests having sexual relations with young teens. How could anyone defend a Christian leader, a 32 district attorney, who has alleged sexual relations with a 14 year old who had told her mother that he would watch over her?!
(Of course, his legal 'out' is that he didn't go all the way. BUT that was also true of the priests who did sexual actions to the young teens.

So really nothing new here. Christian leaders have been defending fellow Christians who engage in sexual misconduct for many years.

WHAT surprises me is the nearly complete condemnation of Ray Moore's actions by secularists (after you ferret out their hostility to right-wing politics). Heck, in the last couple of years, I've gotten lambasted by secularists for stating that sexual misconduct--even rape!--is really ALWAYS wrong. In contrast, these secular leaders claim that all ethics are "subjective."

Some even claim that various unethical actions are only about subjective "like" or "dislike." According to them, even enslavement, slaughter, rape, etc. are no different than not liking coffee or tea or soda.

ON THE CONTRARY:
We need to promote the view of the Humanist Manifesto III, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Enlightenment view of thinkers such as Thomas Paine--
that humans have
"inherent value"
THAT ethics are real and molestation, sexual misconduct, statutory rape and adult rape are ALWAYS wrong.

Infidel753:  For fundamentalists, it seems entirely a matter of whose ox is being gored. Accusations against, say, Bill Clinton or liberal Hollywood figures are automatically true and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. Accusations against fellow fundamentalists are automatically lies and, even if they're true, whatever they did isn't really all that bad.

Many of the abuse cases involving Catholic priests, by the way, involve boys considerably younger than the teens, and unambiguous use of force.

I would be curious what "secular leaders" have claimed that "enslavement, slaughter, rape, etc. are no different than not liking coffee or tea or soda" (and I mean actually claiming that in clear language, not just saying something that can be remotely interpreted that way). The only people I can recall ever hearing saying such things were Satanists (and those individuals were very much fringe figures even among Satanists).

We have pretty solid evidence now that morality is an evolved instinct in humans -- it's inborn and doesn't require philosophy to support it (I've posted about this a couple of times). That a few individuals are apparently born without morality should be seen as a type of birth defect; that rather more individuals act against morality out of self-interest is no more surprising than the fact that we are capable of defying other instincts for various reasons.

In my own writing I use the word "morality" to mean this real morality, while using the word "taboo" to refer to the random and arbitrary prohibitions imposed by local religions and cultures -- against eating pork, homosexuality, trimming one's beard, speaking certain words, working on certain days of the week, etc.

If secularists are unanimous in condemning Moore, I'd attribute that partly to a good awareness of the distinction between morality and taboo (fervent religionists tend to conflate the taboos of their own religion with moral absolutes), and partly to the fact that most secularists are liberals, or at least not radical right-wingers, and thus have no vested interest in supporting someone like Moore.

Daniel Wilcox:   Infidel753, I'll respond to your thoughtful comment with a list (that way I don't start writing a long article by me in your blog comment box:-) (My wife always emphasizes to me to give her the "short" version.)

#1 I completely agree with your statement, "For fundamentalists, it seems entirely a matter of whose ox is being gored." Look at evangelist Franklin Graham's statements about President Trump's bragging about committing adultery, and "grabbing"...etc.
Graham dismisses that as minor! But then in the same sentence calls Obama and Hilary "godless"! Huh?

#2 As for the priests, all the cases that I read-- a bunch-- dealt with, not little children but older kids, especially 12-13 year olds.

But I am not an authority on this. What url would you recommend which documents the fact that most of the priests' molestation were of young children?

#3 I hesitate even now (for the same reason in my first comment) to give you all the documentation because usually in the past, such discussions end up in legalese and the semantic jungle. Let me think on it some more. And I will need to search my computer files for the various statements by secularists. Bob Seidensticker at crossexamined

#4 I pretty much agree that morality came about through evolution. Heck, so did the human ability to think, reason, and compute, and invent, etc. BUT that doesn't mean that thinking, reasoning, computing, etc. aren't real.

Also, I have difficulty with secularists who claim that morality ONLY came through evolution. First, according to nearly all scientists, (including famous scientists who are theists), evolution as a process isn't "purposeful" in the sense that math is.

Secondly, if there is no basis for ethics inherent within reality or transcending matter and energy, then there is no basis for any version of ethics. Even Richard Dawkins, in several books and interviews, emphasized that he wouldn't want to live in a society based on evolution because evolution is often cruel, wasteful, and so forth. (By the way, Dawkins did appear to agree that even rape isn't really wrong, but is only a subjective view. This occurred in an interview. I'll try and find the shocking interview. Dawkins, of course, is opposed to rape. Though I find his approving of mild molestation by a professor horrific:-( As an educator, besides being a human being, I think that any form of molestation, sexual relations with teens, etc. are ALWAYS WRONG.

#5 As a former anthropology major at university, I am very familiar with concepts such as "taboo." It appears that we agree on this.

#6 Then you wrote, "If secularists are unanimous in condemning Moore, I'd attribute that partly to a good awareness of the distinction between morality..."

BUT that is the shocking part to me, is that so many secularists DON'T think real "morality" exists. I first encountered this incredible view studying Sartre, Nietzsche, and other non-Enlightenment thinkers at university (the U of Neb., and Long Beach State).

One of the individuals I admired back then was a Marxist graduate student who to a very strong stand against injustice, etc.

In contrast, almost weekly I run across secularists now who make the horrific claims that I mentioned.

Infidel753: Daniel, thanks for your response. Just for the record, I want to confirm that for me those kinds of questions (#1) are not just a matter of whose ox is being gored. I don't make excuses for people on "our side" when they are guilty of genuinely heinous things. See for example my obituary for Ted Kennedy.

#2: I haven't kept a lot of links about the Catholic priest molestation cases, but I've read a lot of stories about them over the years, the majority from outside the US. There have certainly been a lot of them involving boys around 8 or so. What age range predominated, I wouldn't know. As one example, this report on a large number of cases in Australia says the average age of victims there was 11. Certainly lots of cases I remember reading about in Europe and the US were younger.

#3: I did look at some of the links in your e-mail that seemed relevant. The people who were claiming that the Holocaust is morally comparable to preferences in trivial things are nuts, in my opinion, but this is the kind of rubbish that a few people generate when they get bogged down in airy philosophical abstractions instead of the pragmatic and concrete. Very few people do that (I certainly have no interest in it), and people that do are not typical of any general group of people, secular or otherwise. Using the same kind of abstract arguments, a person could equally well "prove" that love, hate, fear, etc. are unjustified on some abstract level, but so what? Those feelings are very real and most of the time we know well what causes us to feel them, just like with moral feelings. Most secular people never bother their heads with such meaningless word-games, just as most Christians, Muslims, etc. don't.

#4: By the same token, yes, morality did arise entirely by evolution -- there's nothing else it could have arisen from. And just like "thinking, reasoning, computing, etc.", yes, it is very real and the fact that it arose through evolution does not conflict with that. I can't imagine why it would. All our other instincts, and all the physical details of our bodies, arose through evolution, and they are certainly real.

It also doesn't matter that evolution is not purposeful. Evolution is an inevitable process in pretty much any population of organisms with heritable traits which work the way such traits do in life on Earth. It naturally tends to maximize traits which are conducive to survival under the prevailing conditions. It doesn't need to be purposeful to do that, any more than gravity needs to be purposeful to form stars and planets. (And as I argued here, yes, morality is a trait "conducive to survival under the prevailing conditions".)

Dawkins's point about not wanting to live in a society "based on" evolution reflects a similar observation. As his books emphasize, the process of evolution generates a vast amount of animal suffering. A human society which did nothing to mitigate the struggle for survival of the fittest would do the same. Evolution is a description of what does happen, not what should happen (science doesn't deal with "should" issues in that sense). Evolution is unpleasant and shouldn't be taken as a model to imitate. That doesn't change that fact that it is what happens under natural conditions.

(Fair warning: Dawkins is probably the person I admire most. I have most of his books and have read them cover-to-cover several times.)

#6: My remark about secularists here referred to people like the politicians, bloggers, and members of the public who have condemned Moore's alleged behavior, not the kind of navel-gazing twits you were arguing with.

I think I somewhat misunderstood what you were saying about "secularists say X-Y-Z" because I misjudged the type of debate you were referring to. As I said, I'm interested in the practical and pragmatic. I post about moral issues like "if the Catholic Church is so infested with people who engage in child abuse on a large scale, that means there's something fundamentally malignant about it". I'm not interested in arguing about things like "can we prove child abuse is bad" -- that kind of question reminds me of, as some wag once described it, "arguing about whether it's OK to shout 'theater' when you're in a crowded fire". Most people I deal with, secularist or otherwise, are the same way. Secularists who "don't think morality exists" are "so many" only in a very narrow and non-representative context.

For another example of what I mean by not wanting a society based on evolution, or nature generally, see here. It really doesn't matter to me whether things like illiteracy, ignorance, famine, lack of modern medicine, etc. are "immoral" -- most people would say they aren't, strictly speaking. The point is, they cause suffering and it's in our nature to want to minimize suffering.

Daniel Wilcox:   Thanks for recommending your article on nature! Gets the point across very well.

I'm going to keep that handy for all the people I meet who speak so appreciatively of "Mother Nature."

And you wrote, "Dawkins is probably the person I admire most. I have most of his books and have read them cover-to-cover several times.)"

I've read 8 of his books. What a brilliant biologist and powerful writer! (My BA is in Writing. I wish I had the ability to write such lucid prose on difficult subjects.

Have you read The Ancestor's Tale?
I think that tome on the history of evolution by Dawkins is one of the 5 best science books of the last 50 years.

o o o o o

A couple of other points have occurred to me in connection with this -- I'll post about them later.

20 November 2017

Video of the day -- fake news, Chinese style


This tinpot dictatorship makes the most cretinous blunders in its propaganda, when not lying outright.  But heaven forbid anyone doubt them when they claim their economy grows at 7% or 9% every year.

19 November 2017

Link round-up for 19 November 2017

What if real life was like our modern explosion-filled movies?

Nice ride.

Good point.  And good choice.

It's called teamwork.

Vegetables are good for you.

Fire monster, ice monster.

Dara O'Briain has a few laughs about creationism.

The system is unfair.

Don't try to invade Finland.  And Japan is well-defended too.

That's one heck of a lobster.

We are godlike, immortal beings.

Finally!  Amazon is developing a dramatization of Ringworld (found via this post at Crazy Eddie).

Trust the Japanese to re-gender the whole Solar System.

Antis are the fundies of shipperdom.

Some friends are not real friends.

Behold, a moron even among morons.

Danica Roem neatly pwns Bob Marshall.

Starbucks is again being accused of waging war on Christmas.  They should put Bible verses on their cups instead.

Check your internet connection speed here.

World Kindness Day is apparently a thing.

Trump is such a Russian toy.

Long live the free market!

Maybe English isn't so bad (but Arabic has a dual number, not "tense").

Murrmurrs takes a look at Louis CK.

Gender segregation is dehumanizing.  Forced marriage is poisonous.

Fair and Unbalanced has a discussion on the NFL anthem protests.

Bruce Gerencser explains why he writes his "black-collar crime" posts.

Opposition to homosexuality is all about family values.

This is what deregulation looks like.

Roy Moore's alleged behavior is perfectly Biblical.  A man of God gives his viewsDoes Christianity help in such cases?  Alabama's fundies are showing their true colors.  Hysterical Raisins looks at Moore's supporters; Mock Paper Scissors looks at the Republicans' options.  Some of them find him sickening (found via Hackwhackers).  First Draft offers Ten Commandments.  It's all the gays' fault anyway -- why, Moore is just like Jesus.

Here's another man of God.

Remember LaVoy Finicum -- accurately.

The new Bible museum in Washington has some issues.

I wonder if they also hire convicted sexual harassers.

Rick Wiles is at it again.

You've probably never known this kind of fear.

A new book discusses the dangers of letting religion into politics.

Green Eagle looks behind the latest Republican lies.

One church attracts 56 sexual-abuse lawsuits.

Steve Bannon is the man with the plan (found via Electoral-Vote.com).

God is with you, but don't count on us.

Public outrage saved the elephants, for now.  But conservatives may want to shoot these lions.

We told them this goddamn thing was going to leak.

Overcrowding leads to violence, or maybe not.

There are now glasses that can correct color-blindness (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Wise words.

Sorry, Nibiru is bullshit.

Strange life thrives right here on Earth.

Almost every country is named after one of these four things (found via TYWKIWDBI).

The US is no longer the country with the best global image.

Give children a good Christian education (found via Ahab).

The fight for gay marriage in Australia isn't quite won yet.  Will this couple keep their promise?

Maybe you'll believe this when it's said by a man like Mohammad Tawhidi.

The Iraqi government is coming under pressure to negotiate with the Kurds.

This policeman was a true hero (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Health conditions in North Korea are terrible.

India takes a step forward (found via Snowstorm Thirteen).  China still embraces ignorance.

Solar panels are catching on, even among Mongolian nomads (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Feminism involves different issues in India and the West.

Trump is about to be hit with a legal tidal wave.

Franken should not resign. Not all abusers are alike.

Even after Trump's absurdist caudillo regime is over, the Republicans will remain the party of nationalist demagoguery -- and may be doomed thereby.

If Republicans pass tax "reform", they will regret it.

One video assembles 16 women who have accused Trump of abuse.  Trying to change the subject isn't working.

A new Puerto Rican migration will change Florida politically.

Finally, one of the more reassuring stories I've seen since Trump got in.

[304 days down, 1,158 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

17 November 2017

Video of the day -- idiots for impeachment


Found via Mock Paper Scissors.

15 November 2017

Congratulations Australia!

Australia has released the results of its vote-by-mail referendum on gay marriage.  Over 61% voted yes.  The vote was positive in each of the country's seven states and its Capital Territory.

The referendum is not legally binding, but Australia's Parliament is expected to pass legislation by Christmas.  Support is over 70% in both houses of Parliament.  The government has rejected proposals to allow businesses to discriminate against gay couples on "religious freedom" grounds, an issue which is still contentious in the US.

Gay marriage is now legal in most of the Western world, including the US, Germany, the UK, France, Brazil, Canada, several Mexican states, Argentina, Spain, Scandinavia, and even Ireland (by referendum!) and South Africa.

14 November 2017

Roy Moore and the holy war on the right

The accusations against Roy Moore have opened up a considerable divide on the right wing.  Old-line establishment Republicans (notably in the Senate) and sites like NRO have called on Moore to drop out, or for the party to back a write-in candidate.  But others have taken a different view.  37% of Alabama Evangelicals say the allegations make them more likely to support him, with a further 34% saying they make no difference.  One of my regular right-wing reads, traditionalist-Catholic LifeSite News (which had praised Moore's anti-gay and anti-abortion stances to the skies), ignored the accusations until yesterday, then finally posted this attack on their credibility.  Alabama's state auditor cited the Gospels to justify Moore's alleged behavior.  More than fifty Alabama pastors apparently signed a letter supporting Moore (see comment below from Marc McKenzie).  Breitbart, of course, is firmly in Moore's camp, posting article after article defending him and trashing his Republican critics.  The numerous commenters there almost all take the same positions, with startlingly greater vehemence.

What's striking to me is how closely the divide over Moore on the right correlates with the religious/secular divide.  The very people who generally exhibit an outright obsession with Christianity's sexual taboos are going all out to defend a man plausibly accused of sexual misbehavior that would have them foaming at the mouth with condemnation in most cases.  It's reminiscent of their willingness to overlook Trump's sexual and other moral transgressions.

This isn't really so surprising.  First, they've had plenty of previous opportunities to practice such hypocrisy.  Consider the many leading Christian Right personalities who have been caught in illicit behavior -- Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, George Rekers, Josh Duggar, Ted Haggard, a few zillion Catholic priests, and on and on.  Nor are such transgressions rare among less-prominent clerical figures.  But the importance Christianity gives to repentance and forgiveness provides a ready-made template for cutting the holy men plenty of slack, while that same fixation on the mental state of the "sinners" leaves little room for attention to their victims, who are reduced to mere stage props for the central story of the victimizer's fall and redemption.  Moore, whose long record of vehement hostility to gay rights, abortion, and separation of church and state puts most fundie preachers in the shade, fits this template perfectly.

Second, the Christian Right inevitably assesses politicians somewhat pragmatically, more interested in what they would do with power than in their personal morality.  If a politician credibly promises to attack gays, support creationism in the schools, force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, and widen the holes they are always trying to gnaw through the Establishment Clause -- then they're willing to forgive him a great deal in other areas.  This accounts for the still-solid Evangelical support for Trump, who (unlike Moore) has never made much pretense of being personally religious.

So what's Breitbart's angle?  It's not an explicitly Christianist site.  However, I suspect that most of its readers are Christianists.  Its commenters are usually quick to defend hard-line Christian views, especially hostility to gays and abortion, whenever such subjects come up.  As for Bannon, I have no idea how religious he personally is, and I don't think it matters.  I stand by my description of him as "Trump with brains".  He has forcefully condemned secularism and atheism, and called for the re-imposition of "Judeo-Christian" "traditional values" upon Western culture, reversing the enlightenment and liberation of the last 400 years.  Whatever his ultimate goals, he knows where within the American right wing the most fierce and fervent culture warriors are to be found.

As for that old-line secular Republican establishment, don't count on them to act as a bulwark against the holy war Moore and people like him represent.  As I've observed before, they are cowards.  For all their obvious disdain for Trump, throughout 2016 they made only the most feeble and tentative efforts to stop him from claiming their nomination and then the Presidency.  Now that ten months in office have confirmed that he's as unqualified and dangerous as he seemed, these same establishment Republicans show no sign of getting on board with impeachment until Robert Mueller provides ironclad proof of what's already been obvious to every sane American for months.  And perhaps not even then.  They fear the wrath of the enraged Trumpanzee masses too much.  If Moore wins the election -- which is still a real possibility -- I expect they'll cave to him just as they did to Trump, and welcome him into the Senate as if all their current tough-sounding talk had never happened.

12 November 2017

Link round-up for 12 November 2017

Missing:  pet lizard, quite large, reward for safe return (found via Mendip).

"All holidays matter."

Here are some stupid people objecting to things.

See if you can adapt (found via TYWKIWDBI).

This is how Trump handles a crisis.

Worst amusement park ever.

Checking out library books does benefit authors.

It isn't obedience.

This movie looks.....different.

Watch humans behaving like deranged baboons.

If you discourage people, they will be discouraged.

A kiss in 1927 could have had a different meaning.

Always trust the police.

Fundies have their own dialect.

Fox News finds an upside to the Texas church mass shooting (found via Mendip).

Raul Ryan is either an idiot or pandering to idiots.

An all-powerful, all-knowing being is so insecure as to need constant praise.

Here's what the wingnuts have been up to this week.  Don't laugh, they have a mighty army.  Then there's this guy.

The accusations against Weinstein and his ilk show that Hollywood may by almost as corrupt as Evangelical Christianity (found via Tell Me Why the World Is Weird).

This is another example of why the football players kneel.

Don't believe everything you read.

Sometimes God answers prayers.

Liberals who support gun rights aren't all that rare -- and we're getting organized.

"Christianity is, and always has been, a nasty, bullying religion....."  Yes, this nasty.

Miners reject retraining because they still think Trump will bring the coal jobs back (found via Mendip).

For the world's most important asteroid impact, location was crucial.

Science doesn't support the possibility of life after death (found via Mendip).

Scotland does right.

Wednesday will see the results of Australia's gay-marriage referendum, and it looks like it will be a landslide.

The Saudi blockade of Yemen threatens famine and disease.

Trump has transformed the Republican party -- and trashed our country's global reputation, leaving us increasingly isolated in the world (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

Cynicism poisons democracy.

On Tuesday, women struck back against Trump -- and jerks like this guy.  It was a defeat for hate politics (found via Progressive Eruptions).  Pundits of various stripes assess the Virginia results.  Fox reacted to the big Dem win by changing the subject.  I noticed on Wednesday that a lot of right-wing sites were focusing on the anniversary of Trump's election rather than on current events.  We're in a strong position for 2018 but will still need to fight -- so don't get complacent.  Here's the difference just a few votes can make.  Electoral-Vote.com has more, and more here.

The enemy is not at all happy with Danica Roem's win -- or with Tuesday's results in general.  But this one's for us.  Oh, and ouch.

Here's Bannon's latest terrible idea (don't miss the Trump-Hayes exchange).

Mueller's path to Trump is through Flynn.

Crazy Eddie reviews Tuesday's elections in Michigan.

Ultra-wealthy Republicans push hard for tax cuts.

What do you mean, "we"?

Breitbart is solidly in Roy Moore's corner.  A religio-wingnut uses the Bible to show that the charges are no biggie, and many Alabama Republicans seem to agree.  Here's what could happen, and why many Republicans are waffling.  Three pundits discuss the case.

This is Trump's base.  Some Trumpanzees are really committed.

Republicans are going to have some problems with voter turnout.

[297 days down, 1,165 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

10 November 2017

Video of the day -- the meaning of life


What differentiates the living from the non-living?  The boundaries between the two are fuzzier than one might think.  "Life" is basically the name we give to chemistry when it exceeds a certain level of complexity and takes on certain characteristics.  Differences in magnitude can mean differences in kind (an ocean differs from a glass of water in ways that can't be deduced merely by scaling up the observable traits of the latter), but ultimately life as we know it is just a complex form of chemistry.

Life on another planet, where evolution had proceeded along different lines, might be difficult for us to identify or define.  And as artificial intelligence comes into its own, we will probably have to deal with self-awareness in forms which are not "alive" as we currently define it.

AronRa's channel is here; my earlier post about him is here.

08 November 2017

A blue wave of wins

Take that, wingnuts.  Northam beat Gillespie in Virginia by 54% to 45%, a much bigger margin than the most recent polls predicted.  In the state's House of Delegates, where Republicans had a 66-34 majority, Democrats have picked up at least 14 seats and may manage another 3 to take the majority.  Maine approved Medicaid expansion by referendum, 59% to 41%.  In perhaps the sweetest result of the day, the Republican state legislator who wrote Virginia's anti-trans "bathroom bill" was defeated by Danica Roem, a transgender candidate.  A round-up of our wins nationwide is here.

The wingnuts quickly began devouring their wounded.  Breitbart repudiated Gillespie as an "establishment Republican" leading a "band of virtue-signalling Bush loyalists", while Trump said that he "did not embrace me or what I stand for", even though in fact Gillespie had been endorsed by Bannon and had run a Trumpesque campaign full of dog-whistles about illegal aliens and Confederate statues.  RedState, which these days is unenthused with both the Trump and establishment brands of Republicanism, declared the day "a bloodletting of the Republican party of a kind unseen in a generation".

One of the striking things about this election was turnout.  In Virginia, about 2.6 million people voted out of a total state population of 8.4 million.  This is not high; in the 2016 election, turnout in Virginia was almost 4.0 million.  In the off-year election of 2014, which saw record low turnout nationally, 2.2 million people voted in Virginia -- more comparable to yesterday's figure.  Low turnout is normally bad for Democrats, since Republicans vote more consistently.  Yet yesterday Democrats won by massive, poll-beating margins.  To me this suggests that Republican turnout was unusually low, though it's likely that that of Democrats was also unusually high (hence the 400,000 increase over 2014).  If so, Trump's plummeting popularity and the almost comical inability of the Republicans in Congress to pass any of their agenda may indeed be demoralizing their voters, while the unique threat Trump poses to minorities, Constitutional norms, and sanity in general, are energizing ours.  I don't know enough about Virginia politics to judge the effect of state-level issues, but our wins elsewhere in the country suggest that national perceptions played a real role.

And don't forget the various special elections over the last year, such as the Georgia House election, most of which were won by Republicans -- but with Democrats doing better than they have historically done in the venues in question.  It matters.  If close losses in red states foreshadow blowout wins in purple states, as yesterday suggests, then it bodes well for 2018.

07 November 2017

Racial politics -- an observation

Most of this article is good news, detailing the shrinkage of Trump's support among his core voters.  I couldn't help noticing, however, this section toward the end:

Watching the whole runup to the election, "every time that Hillary would mention diversity and difference I would say to myself: 'there go another 100 white voters," Major says. "By emphasizing differences and diversity, what research in social psychology shows is that at an implicit, unconscious level whites, not just prejudiced whites, associate diversity with 'not me.'"

In a study published in late October 2016, Major and her colleagues found that just by reminding white voters — be they Republican or Democrat — of changing demographics that show the U.S. won't have a single racial or ethnic majority by 2055 was enough to tilt them toward voting Trump.

"People's identity had to have been threatened for them to then become more pro-Trump," Major says. "Research in social psychology shows that the more you emphasise intergroup distinctions, you can heighten inner-group identity," she added.

It's astonishing to see this presented as some sort of surprising new insight that everyone needs to be made aware of.  How on Earth is it possible that anyone knowledgeable about politics doesn't already know this?  How on Earth is it possible that anyone who lives in the United States doesn't already know this?

We need to stop emphasizing and legitimizing category-think and group identity, the mentality that the population consists of discrete, immutable, sharply-bounded categories (mostly racial ones) and that individuals should be seen primarily not as individuals but as members of whichever category they are classified into.  That mentality is, unfortunately, already very entrenched, and it plays right into the hands of people like Trump.  People who have been taught to see the population as a group of distinct racial blocs will inevitably start thinking in terms of what bloc they themselves belong to.

Racism definitely exists, and it's a bigger problem than most of us used to think -- the eruptions of racism during the Obama administration made that clear.  But it is nevertheless a minority tendency, as the popular revulsion towards clear manifestations of racism (such as Charlottesville) make clear.  Using racism as a catch-all explanation for everything we don't like, when in fact the reality is more complex, has become a lazy habit on the left, and a hugely self-destructive one.  From the same article:

From a social psychological point of view, however, "the issues and the concerns and the threat that white Americans are feeling are a bigger issue than just prejudice," Major says. "It can't just be boiled down to 'oh, it's racists.'"

Real racism is a deadly evil and must be denounced and fought wherever it appears.  But for that very reason, we need to stop using accusations of racism where the evidence doesn't justify them.  Name-calling is not persuasive, ever.  It may silence people, but resentments silenced in public are all the more likely to be expressed in the voting booth.

A good example of what I'm talking about is the claim that the US will no longer be majority-white by 2050 (or 2055 or whenever).  Anybody who doesn't realize that this claim stampedes swing voters toward Trump-like politics must be willfully ignorant of human psychology.  Besides, the claim isn't true.  The concept of "white" has steadily shifted throughout American history and is continuing to do so.  Most of the growth of "non-white" population in the US is growth in the Hispanic population, but "Hispanic" is a cultural and ethnic category, not a racial one -- and as Americans of Latin American ancestry become more culturally assimilated, ever-greater numbers of them are self-identifying as "white" and being recognized as "white" by others.  By the definition of "white" that was commonly accepted in 1850, the US stopped being a majority-white country a long time ago -- but nobody noticed, because the definition of "white" kept expanding to include people of Irish, Italian, and other ancestries previously excluded.  By the time 2050 or whatever gets here, the US will still be a solidly majority-white country by the definitions in use at the time.  Unless, of course, we've wised up enough to stop attaching so much importance to such categories altogether.

The poison of racism is strengthened, not expunged, by thinking in racial terms.  If we let the salad bowl replace the melting pot as the governing metaphor for America, we'll lose the country to the Trumpanzees forever.

05 November 2017

Link round-up for 5 November 2017

A 55-gallon drum of lube and a kids' party make a bad combination.

Sheep are morons.

Apparently a lot of people are interested in pig sex.

Somebody needs an editor.

What color is a mirror?

Try this candy if you dare.

"He can dance if he wants to."

Love songs are re-imagined as horror novels.

Filip Hodas depicts the ruins of pop culture.

What if you were a vampire but didn't know it?

Alaska fishing boats fall prey to piracy.

Religio-Trumpanzee Carl Gallups thinks men have no self-control.

Donna at Tell Me a Story looks at Blade Runner 2049.

Here's why fewer hotels now provide free Bibles.

Save our libraries from the idiots (the library near me always has plenty of people visiting).  And it's not nice to steal books.

Right-wing crazies sink ever deeper into insanity.

These guys understand freedom of expression -- do you?

Bruce Gerencser explains why he won't return to Christianity.

Read Martin Luther in his own words.

This racist is beyond disgusting.

The Rude Pundit looks at the case of Rosamaria Hernandez (she's now been released).

Consider how the political ground is shifting in the US.  Both parties need to change.

We've just discovered a new species of orangutan, but it's already endangered.

Most people don't grasp the real nature of insect hive minds.

You could survive as long as 90 seconds in space, but you wouldn't be comfortable.

Homophobes are losing out in the US, but they're spreading their message elsewhere.

Ontario has banned religious harassment of abortion-clinic patients (I have some direct experience with this issue).

Sample half a millennium of English music.

Spain's Catalan secession crisis deepens as over 40,000 Basques rally in solidarity.

One country is providing humanitarian aid to desperate Syrians.

Recognizing the falsity of religion comes with a sense of betrayal.

When is rape a national duty?

Plague is spreading because of stupid traditions.

Being associated with Trump is poison.

Can Trumpanzees ever be deprogrammed?  Even some Fox employees are ashamed at maintaining the fake-reality bubble.

Here are some examples of how Russia subverted the 2016 election.

John Kelly deserves kudos for keeping Trump somewhat under control, but he's not a good guy.

Yes, the Democratic party favors Democrats.

Mueller offers Trumplings the carrot and the stick.  Here's why Papadopoulos's cooperation is important.  Trump is furious, but Senate Republicans aim to protect Mueller from being fired.

Hackwhackers has cartoons for the week.

03 November 2017

Video of the day -- ruining the Alien


The first two Alien movies gave us a terrifying, fascinating species that (unlike most movie extraterrestrials) actually made sense as a product of evolution on another world.  The prequels threw that away in favor of a muddled and mundane backstory.  They should have just left well enough alone.

01 November 2017

When is secession justified?

As we see in the cases of Kurdistan and Catalonia, most governments nowadays take the position that existing borders are sacrosanct -- that is, secession is never legitimate, regardless of historical and cultural realities. That's clearly untenable as an across-the-board rule because there are many cases of secession that almost everyone now accepts as legitimate -- for example, the American colonies leaving the British Empire, the Baltic states seceding from the USSR in 1990, Third World colonies breaking away from British and French imperial rule in the mid-twentieth century, etc.

I think each case should be judged not based on some general rule about secession, but on how the individual case would affect freedom and justice. So, for example, seceding from an authoritarian state to create a democracy (Baltics 1990, for example) would be just, but seceding in order to preserve slavery (Confederacy 1861) would clearly be unjust. The US in 1776 was justified by this criterion since it created a representative government for people who had not been allowed democratic rights under the previous imperial rule -- the thirteen colonies had no representation in the British Parliament.  Secession by Southern states today (something that was muttered about by some during the Obama administration) would be unjust because black people in those states would very likely suffer suppression of their civil and political rights, while gays and non-Christians might well become targets of outright persecution.

Catalonia is a difficult case to judge under that or any other criterion. Spain is a democracy and an independent Catalonia would be a similar one, so the level of individual freedom would be about the same either way. It's not clear that the majority in Catalonia even wants to leave, given the low turnout in the referendum (though that was the Spanish government's fault for trying to suppress the vote), and earlier polls had shown a majority for staying with Spain. On the other hand, the government's brutality during the referendum and its efforts now to suppress Catalonian autonomy are arguably violations of human rights and may well be turning Catalonians against Spain -- so the government, by the very act of suppressing independence, may be creating the conditions that justify it.

The Spanish government would have been wiser to follow the example of Britain in 2014, which let the referendum on Scottish independence go forward without interference. As it happened, Scotland voted by a wide margin to stay in the UK, and the matter is now pretty much settled.

Kurdistan is a clearer case. The Kurds have suffered terribly under Iraqi rule over the years, so much so that expecting them to reconcile themselves to staying permanently part of Iraq is asking too much. The history of the KRG suggests that an independent Kurdistan would be more competently run and probably better at protecting human rights than the Iraqi state is.

It's not possible to come up with a blanket verdict that secession is always right or always wrong. Each case has to be judged based on how it would advance or retard other, more fundamental values.

[This post is adapted from a comment I wrote here.]

31 October 2017

Halloween!

Happy Halloween!  However you celebrate Summer's End, may your spooky day be enhanced by contemplation of Donald Trump and his gang being haunted by the very real and inexorable specter of Robert Mueller.  Candy and indictments for everyone!  (Click pics for full-size.)











Crazy Eddie has dancing American witches and a treat for trick-or-treaters you really hate.  If you haven't seen it, here's my earlier post on the true origin of Halloween.  And don't forget Every Day Is Halloween!

[First two images found via Ranch Chimp, skeleton on flute by Might Be Magic, haunting monster gals by Marc McKenzie, dancing Medusa by Jake Clark, Trumpkin found via Progressive Eruptions, other items found here and there around the net]