The unrelenting quest for certainty
In the context of the current presidential race, pundits and pendants alike are maligning each other over the place of faith in politics, levels of acceptable morality, and which minority should we elect this cycle (the woman, the black, or the mormon). In my private reading of these articles, it occurs to me that there is a general trend toward discrediting the concept of "truth" and "certainty", especially when it comes to politics. This is not without merit, but as far as I've seen, the concept is in its infancy, and therefore half-baked.
Ira Chernus, a Professor of Religious Studies attacks both parties for their increased religious rhetoric, but especially the conservatives, in this election cycle. He takes them to task for flinging religious platitudes at the masses in an effort to apply their brand of certitude. Amid the tumults of a depressed housing market, a war in Iraq, and skyrocketing oil prices, Chernus claims that the candidates are abusing the notion of certainty to bring the uncertain into their fold. This claim is founded in some measure of truth, but the underlying premise that certitude cannot or should not exist in politics or in the world is false.
Candidates can and do enumerate their positions on everything from steel tariffs and war, to AIDS and health care. This is a necessary function of the election process. What Chernus wants changed is not speaking to the issues, it is the use of words to create an appearance of certitude. He states, "When words and policies become symbols of moral absolutes, they are usually about preventing some "evil" deed or turning things back to the way they (supposedly) used to be." That's all well and good, but it misses a much more important point: Certainty is not a variable.
I can understand Chernus's position, but there is a moral absolute and people should be able to talk about it and claim to have it, especially in the context of a political debate. Having absolute truth is not the real issue. The issue is trying to get people to agree on what absolute truth is.
I credit the wholesale adoption of the scientific method for ruining this. Its process of peer review and consensus-based validation has made it hard for real truth to come to the surface. When people are unable to recognize a tool for what it is, they fail to use the tool properly. So it is with the scientific method. It has its place in determining truth, but we should be careful in how we apply it, or in how we categorize truth attained from other sources.
Let me offer some words from another source of truth and see what you think:
"Truth is the only meaningful foundation upon which we can make wise decisions."
"More people are finding that making wise decisions is becoming more and more difficult..."
"The scientific method is a valuable way of seeking truth. However, it has two limitations. First, we never can be sure we have identified absolute truth, though we often draw nearer and nearer to it. Second, sometimes, no matter how earnestly we apply the method, we can get the wrong answer."
WMD in Iraq?
So the debate is increasing its pitch with the anti-Bush crew harping the WMD issue into the President every chance they get. So what? I would like to ask you if anyone really believes that Iraq *never* had WMD. If there are those who don't, I would suggest they go talk with the thousands of Iranians and Kurds who's family members were gassed. Then explain to me where the hundreds of thousands of tons of bio weapons he admitted having went. We also found centrifuges and calitrons that can only be used for one thing, making nuclear weapons.
There seems to be this notion that there exists in Iraq this room, that has a sign on it which reads, "Weapons of Mass Destruction"; and finding this room is what needs to happen to justify Bush's claims. Bio and Chem weapons don't have to made until moments before they are used. Only nukes have to be assembled before hand. Chem weapons are made in the same places that pesticides are made. One literally switches a lever and you go from pesticides to chem weapon agents. Bio weapons are made in a similar vein and we *have* found the mobile labs they were using...
Where the anti-Bush pundits fail most miserably is that they are attacking Bush where it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if Hussein had WMD and if they are still in country. What matters is whether or not Iraq posed a serious enough threat to the United States to justify war. That is where we should be demanding answers. American's died and their families have the right to know why. What were they defending America against? Even if the whole thing was about freeing the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator, then Bush should have been more up front about it. Instead, he chose to hide behind something identifiable to the American people. Everyone is afraid of WMD, but it was too weak of an argument and he is paying the price for it. Weaker still is any claim that America was threatened by Iraq. We are more threatened by North Korea than at any time by Hussein. At least Kim-jong Il admits he has a nuclear program...
Pornography: What's the big deal?
As a guy, I have been exposed to porn. I can remember seeing it as far back as five years old. Most of my friends growing up think of porn as normal and even essential. I grew up in the 80's when cable TV was just taking off and my dad had the Playboy channel. It didn't take long for me to find it and spend many hours watching unbenownst to my parents.
Many people think that looking at porn is normal and natural, but it was not always so. Before Playboy came out in the 1950's, it was very hard to get access to and was looked on as 'dirty'. So what? Sex in our society is ubiquitous, especially outside of America where topless news shows are common. The problem is that it is destroying society bit by bit.
Although there are exceptions to every generalization, I find that pornography and excessive sexuality are some of the largest contributors to the breakup of the family and therefore, society. Dr. Harold Voth said, "By permitting the ever-expanding display of pornography, or sexually explicit material on the printed page, in theaters, on television (regular TV, cable and satellite), our social structure is being bombarded continuously by powerful erosive stimuli. Sexuality in its mature form is a necessary aspect of the heterosexual bond and the stability of the family. The massive unleashing of sexuality which is occurring in Western civilization is a reflection of cultural decline. It is well-known that an inverse relationship exists between indiscriminate sexual expression and cultural excellence." (Emphasis added)
WOW. That's pretty strong language and I don't claim to know this guy or his credentials, but want to know: Does anyone think that there is a causal relationship between "cultural excellence" and "indiscriminant sexual expression"? It makes sense to me and it does explain a great many things that have been questions in my mind for a while. For example, why is it that "popular" movies released today are so underwhelming in their intellectual engagement? Even those with some promise tend to include sexuality just for heck of it.
In conversations with friends and random web surfers, I have seen a general disillusionment with this understanding. Most people feel that there is nothing wrong with pornography or overt sexuality, they are quick to point out that I am a prude for thinking anything else. The fact is that I view sex as vital to a healthy relationship. However, as with anything, too much of something good can be bad. Pornography can be addicting and divisive, which like drugs or alcohol can destroy familial relationships.
So now the question is what do we do with it as a society? I am personally opposed to most governmental meddling in personal freedom issues. Therefore, I don't advocate any regulation above that which we already have. I also discourage censorship and place the burden of filtering appropriate material for children in the hands of the parents. The only viable solution that will effect change is for people to choose to refrain from consuming pornography. As a multi-billion dollar industry, clearly there is room to decrease its use. The only way to effect this change in societal choice is to teach children that while sexuality is good, it belongs in the bedroom between consenting adults and not in the movie theater, magazines or television. Therefore, the sanctity of freedom is maintained while the seeds of change are sown.
Understanding the Arab World (Pulling our heads out...)
In attempting to understand the Arab world, western scholars and politicians have applied the same tools and reasoning that has worked for centuries in other regions. However, early attempts baffled most and led them to the conclusion that Arabs were "illogical, untrustworthy, passive before domineering rulers while given to intrigue and violence--all in all, an unsavory lot". As I have walked down this same path of research, a thought has occured to me, "Arabs are people, and at the very least share those things common to all people". I want to attempt to do something different in my analysis of Arabs and by extension, Muslims. Instead of trying to figure out why they aren't like me, I am going to analyze why they are the way they are and figure out what they want to be and how they are going to get there.
There exist a multitude of explanations for why Arab politics exist the way they do. Why does there seem to be a predisposition of authoritarian regimes and only two (non-Arab) democracies in the Middle East (Turkey and Israel)? Some point to the Arab cultural history of tribes, clans and the patriarchal order that they evolved from. Others claim that there exists "traditions of domination" that permeate social and political life in the Arab world. Still others point to Islam and tell us that it is wholly incompatible with democratic rule. Of all these and the many others presented elsewhere, none answers the most important question: What do the Arab people really want? Since no one has bothered to explore this, we are left with speculation and a decidedly "Western" view of the political culture of the region.
Islam is a difficult religion to democratize because it does not seperate "God from Ceasar" or politics from religion. However, it contains elements that are both compatible with democracy and clearly undemocratic. What most Western analysts seem to miss is that all religions can be categorized this way. Catholicism and Protestant religions have both an undemocratic past and persistent features that today fly in the face of true democracy. It is the myopia that I believe prevents the United States from using its power to effect positive change in the region.
Current peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine are doomed to failure with traditional political methods because of the lack of attention to the human factor. The militant groups who want to "eradicate Jews from the region" are not going to negotiate easily and have a lot of backing. Why do they have so much support? Because the Palestinians don't have water, food, and medicine or any guarantee of safety. They are on the wrong side of a power struggle and feel like they don't have much to lose. Success depends on providing these *people* with what all other people need and want in life: water, food, shelter and some semblance of security. The promise of a Palestinian state is a good thing, but if that state is dysfunctional, the militants will continue to bomb and shoot until their demands are met. Regardless of the politics and religion of Palestinian Arabs, the United States needs to spend its resources on nation building and securing the lives of the people that make up the nation. One hopes that current efforts in Iraq are no indication of the capability of the U.S. to do so.
Untangeling a confusing /. story.
So I am reading this story with the related comments and I get to thinking about how confused so many people are about the issue at hand. What we need is some way to sort out the facts of the story and a guide to common misconceptions. Too much time on my hands? Perhaps, but it only took an extra 25 minutes to write this up after reading through the thread. Suffice it to say that I would never do this for *every* story one /.
- Monsterpatterns.com is selling sewing patterns that it obtained as "discarded" property. It includes pictures of the items in its effort to make the sales.
- McCall and Simplicity are makers of the patterns found on the Monsterpatterns.com website and hold the copyrights for them. They have used the DMCA to cause the ISP (Digital River) for Monsterpatterns.com to disable access to the website. They claim copyright and trademark infringement.
- Monsterpatterns.com is now suing McCall, Simplicity and Digital River for blocking its right to sell discarded property, the right to display pictures of copyrighted property it owns (under fair use) and for the revenue it has lost because of this action.
- How is this piracy?
Piracy is defined as " The unauthorized use or reproduction of copyrighted or patented material". Therefore, if McCall and Simplicity are correct in their assertions and Monsterpatterns.com is using the patterns in an unauthorized way, it could be considered piracy. However, it has been pointed out that "you only need permission to copy, perform, or create derivative works". Even so, you also may need permission to distribute copyrighted material, but not sell it as Monsterpatterns is doing.
- DMCA confusion?
Some may question whether the use of the DMCA was appropriate in the instance. However, McCall and Simplicity are claiming that the pictures on the website were violations of copyright and trademarks. That covers the copyright question. Since Monsterpatters.com is a web based business, it covers the digital portion. AFAIK, the DMCA does not distinguish between digital content and digital distribution in terms of applicability.
- I thought garbage was abandoned property?
The legality of taking trash from cans can vary from state to state, but generally is considered abandoned if left on public property. Trash on private property is still in possession of the property owner. The other issue is tresspassing which coincides with where the trash receptacle is physically located.
Here is a good post on how and why merchants discard merchandise.
Evolution and the origin of man
I just stumbled upon the FortKnox journal entry on evolution. In it, gmhowell begins an interesting line of reasoning that I wanted to get some more information on. So gmhowell, if you read this, I would be interested in some more information.
For those who don't know me very well, I don't agree 100% with the theory of evolution per se, but am intrigued by science's attempt at explaining how man arrived on planet earth. Although I have my doubts, I would like to better understand, if at all possible, why some people so violently adhere to their beliefs in evolution or creation. I believe in the creation, but not the same way that many who call themselves Christians do. For example, I don't believe that the six days referred to in the bible are literally days. I do believe that Adam and Eve were the first humans, created literally in the image of God and that man was not found on the earth prior to this event. However, I don't automatically discount evolution just because it is different than the beliefs I espouse.
It is debatable, therefore to determine what certain things regarding the origin of man mean and indeed if they are comprehensible by man. I won't jump into the ship that says evolution is all wrong, with no truth at all. By the same token, I won't say that the biblical account of the creation has all the facts or is 100% correct. So here is my question: How did man arrive on the earth? Was it divine intervention or the random chance of evolution. Someone once pointed me to a web site that gave all the odds for each event in the evolutionary process. While I don't recall the site, it was an astronomical amount for each condition for life to begin, and for each step in the ladder from single celled life to human beings. Obviously I am biased in my views and none of this addresses the (IMHO) more important issue of sentience. But that is another debate.
There are those who claim that evolution is fact and that the theory is only a monniker. Why is this true? It seems to me that the evidence at best points to evolution, but is far from proving it. Am I wrong? Why? For example, fossil records and observation of microevolutionary trends proves that the idea has merit, but does not prove that man evolved from apes. Likewise, the persistent tradition of the creation and the existense of a written record does not prove anything either. What it boils down to for me is that we have to make a choice. Believe in science (appealing to the empirically minded among us) or believe in religion (a very transcendental option). I have so far chosen religion, but am open to the ideas and knowledge others have collected.
Submitted to Slashdot on 5/22/03 at 12:10:57 EST.
The NY Times has an update to the previous stories on Slashdot. The F.C.C. is poised to decrease regulation on media ownership rules. This would have the effect of further decreasing competition in media outlets. Conspiracy theorist quote: "The F.C.C. proposal remains officially secret to avoid public comment but was forced into the open by the two commission Democrats." Other news stories are also revealing the concerted effort by Washington to make this happen.
Does anyone else have information on the reasoning behind this? With the commission closing the session to public input, it seems that they want to pass this without a chance for the voters to know about it. And it is precisely this kind of thing that turns Republics into Totalitarian regimes...
Apparently the FCC is also now accepting free trips from broadcasters according to IMdB. Also, Spots 'n Dots is telling us that newspapers are already looking to buy TV stations when the decision is made.
Poll: The relationship with my S.O. is like...
Not to take anything away from you EM, but here is a poll I submitted to Slashdot yesterday.
The relationship with my S.O. is like...
(C) Chutes and Ladders
(G) Solitaire, you Insensitive Clod!
The Matrix Reloaded (no spoilers)
I usually have a strict policy of not seeing rated 'R' movies but made somewhat of an exception for this movie. I found the original Matrix to be philosophically stimulating with the added bonus of technically impressive Kung Fu and innovative special effects. Judging on the trailers and previews, it seemed like this one was headed in the same direction. My hopes were not realized.
In the first movie, I tried to bend my mind around the concept of "there is no spoon". In Reloaded, I cringe at lines like "there is no lipstick". Why sex up the Matrix? Certainly not to attract more geeks to see the ultra dorks Keanu Reeves and Carrie Ann Moss get it on. And what was with the dance/orgy thing in Zion? The Wachowskis should have stuck with the elements that made the Matrix a sensation: fighting, philosophy and special effects. They created a world that isn't real, with a hero that is unbeatable. Why spoil it with unsexy love scenes and atrocious innuendos?
Keanu was as wooden as ever and I would not have it any other way. He is a hero and heros have often killed their characters by talking too much. Overall, I would give it a 7.5 on a scale of 1-10. Kill the time from the end of Morpheus' speech to the moment Neo wakes up to take a walk and you would have a much better movie, IMHO.
Power is the capacity to influence another person's thoughts or actions directly or indirectly. Every personal relationship we have involves power. As children, our parents have great power over us. As adults, we have power relationships with our peers, spouses, superiors, co-workers and family. Power is both respected and hated because of its ability to corrupt and control.
According to Raymond Aron, there are three main types of power that can be used between people. Macht is conventional power or force. Pouvoir is the action of using power or the power of the office. Puissance is the threat of using power or inner power. You will find some combination of these three power types in all great leaders. However, those who have chosen to abuse their power tend to focus on Macht and Pouvoir to attain their goals. Whereas those rare persons that can wield greatness with humility focus on puissance to inspire their people to do good.
If a man or woman were to be given absolute control over another person's life without consequence, you would usually see a sadistic tendancy to abuse that control. There is the story of the experimenter who used two people in two booths. In one booth a person is wired to an electric device and asked questions. In the other, a person has a button which applies electricity and a dial which controls the amount. The scientist tells the person with the button to apply an increasing amount of electricity with each wrong answer given. The person believes that the one being asked the question is the one being studied. Interestingly, the person controlling the electric shocks was found to apply lethal voltages to the questionee even though the experiment was limited to around 9 volts. It was the control over a person that became intoxicating and caused a complete disregard for life or pain.
History is replete with examples of this behavior, from Stalin and Hitler to Hussein and Kim Jong-il. As Macchiaveli put it, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts, absolutely". This penchant for domination has its roots in the base instincts of humankind: survival. In order to survive, many would choose and have choosen to abandon all reason, morality and virtue. Abuse of power is but one of these methods that unscrupulous men have used to survive. Although it could be argued that individual survival is different that state survival, some leaders see them as inseperable. This is why Hitler committed suicide when the Third Reich was crushed and why Sadaam refused to leave Iraq even though he knew victory was never within his grasp. The intoxication of power and control had absolutely corrupted them.
In our every day relationships, these type of power are also manifested. People tend to have great respect for people who seem to have "inner strength" or the ability to cope with difficult circumstances. This inner strength is puissance and is the key to all the great men that ever lived. George Washington had it because he was able to step away from the presidency in America after 8 years. Lincoln had it as he held together a nation divided against itself. FDR had it when he carried America through a great depression and a world war. Ronald Regan had it because he was able to stare down the USSR and win the cold war. Not to leave the women out: Joan of Arc, Abigail Adams and Elenore Roosevelt all possessed this character quality. It is inner strength, not force or a simple title that inspires men to give up their life for a cause or leader. We desire to be like these men and women because they are inspiring and engender trust and respect. Although these things are intangible, they have great influence over our thoughts and actions.
So the question is: how do we gain puissance? Every person has different capacities for greatness, but we all have the ability to show extraordinary strength. Only through living a virtuous life can we create within ourselves that inner strength. Like exercising a muscle, inner power only becomes potent through its exercise. Making virtuous decisions is the key to exercising inner power because to do so frequently goes against the accepted norms of society. Undeviating virtue is not a common personality trait and therefore is not expected. To show such would be a true display of confidence and power.
Liberalism, Conservatism and Communitarianism
I desire to define several popular political philosophies and analyze how well they deal with modern problems. Instead of dealing with all of them here, I will only treat three of them: Liberalism, Communitarianism and Conservatism. I may deal with others in the future. Liberalism and Conservatism are not easy to define in today's political culture but it is necessary to understand their historical background despite the popular notions of the terms conservative and liberal.
To be a liberalist means that you believe government should intervene when there is a conflict between freedom and equality. All people should have a level playing field and in all cases, there should be fairness in society. Instead of letting people who were born into a bad situation be left unto themselves, liberals desire resources from the rich to be diverted to them so that they have an equal chance. Liberals also believe that rights and property are very important. John Locke positioned his version of liberalism as secularized Calvinism. That is to say, God gave the earth to Adam and hence to all men. When any man mixes a material of the earth with his labor, it becomes property. This is the basis for modern property rights thought in the West.
Alternatively, Conservatives believe that society is organic in nature. After society takes care of the basics such as order and safety, it becomes like an oak tree, constantly growing and changing. Conservatives argue that rights don't exist outside the natural order of society. Therefore, if rights can only exist within the confines of society and those who leave it are not entitled to its protection. Government has a role in society, but it should be limited and not used to create a level playing field. Instead, conservatives desire to see people trained to live virtuous lives. Through virtuous actions, those who are disadvanted can receive all the benefits of education and opportunity.
Modern Communitarian thought has its origins in Conservatism and is a response to and a critique of Liberalism. In criticizing Liberal thinking, Communitarianism recognizes several of its weaknesses but fails to keep itself from crashing into the hard rocks of reality. After analyzing both ideologies carefully, it becomes apparent that while Communitarianism emphasizes the ideal and appeals to the greatest number of people, it cannot cope with real world problems like power and greed. Additionally, we should take care to note that central to any analysis of these two ideologies is their different concepts of liberty.
To understand Communitarianism, we have to realize that it was formed in response to Liberalism. John Locke, the17th century British philosopher is considered to be the first politically liberal thinker. To Locke, rights were universal and everyone had the right to life, liberty, and property. He changed the relationship between the government and the people from the Hobbesian idea of Leviathan, to one where the people are governed by consent. Furthermore, the people are only under obligation to any government as long as it does not violate their rights. Such a violation may even be grounds for the government's overthrow and the establishment of a new government.
In the 19th century, John Stuart Mill added to liberal thought new ideas, particularly in relationship with democracy. Mill feared that the new tide of democracy would stifle individual thought by forcing the people to conform to the public will. He countered this by stating, "That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others." In all of Mill's writings we can see great emphasis on liberty and freedom.
Isaiah Berlin, a 20th century liberal thinker, responded to Mill's notions of liberty. He contended that Mill was wrong about how liberty is formed and used in society. Instead of liberty being a requirement for independent thought, Berlin stated that liberty, or freedom, is inherent to the existence of men and proposes two main types: negative and positive.
Negative freedoms are those that free us from government domination. The Bill of Rights is a good example: granting the people freedom to bear arms, speak their minds, and the separation of church and state. Since the Constitution is a liberal document, the freedoms it espouses are designed to limit government regulation and create a more liberated society.
This is in contrast to the Declaration of Independence, which is much more conservative. Berlin tells us that the freedoms declared in it are positive. That is to say the God given rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are freedoms to do something. These are liberties that cannot be broached by government or men. It is this idea of something higher than the state which sets liberal thinking apart from prior ideologies.
John Rawls, a contemporary of Berlin, added to Democratic Liberalism the idea of the deontological self. Rawls rejects the conservative notion that people can make themselves into whatever they want to be without limits. This is frequently taught to children with the claim that they can be anything from a fireman, an astronaut to a doctor or the President. Instead, he claims that because people have limited abilities beyond their control, such as a low IQ or physical handicap, he or she cannot achieve literally anything not matter how hard they try. Rawls also tells us that the individual has the ultimate decision-making power over his or her life, not an external entity.
Also in contrast to conservatives, Rawls has a very different idea of justice. Conservatives believe that justice is served when all people are allowed to live their lives to the fullest of their individual capacities. They believe that the highest virtue is liberty, not justice. Rawls takes issue with this because of the social inequalities that result. He would have society live so that the minimums were maximized. That is, money and opportunity should be taken from the rich so that those with the least can have a level playing field. We see evidence of this in today's society with programs like affirmative action and welfare.
Conservatism and Liberalism developed side by side as ideologies, with important Conservative contributions by Edmund Burke in the 18th century, Alexis de Tocqueville in the 19th century and Michael Oakeshott in the 20th century. Conservatism was born partly in response to Liberalism, especially the fear that as a liberal government grows in power; it will be able to trample on the rights of its people. Burke sees the French Revolution as a destructive thing: uprooting the traditions, rights and values of a civil society instead of just the issues that fomented revolution. Tocqueville views a liberal government as a father figure with control over its citizen's individual lives. Oakeshott urges states to minimize their interference and regulation among the citizenry. This argument over the scope and power of a state government continues today between conservatives and liberals.
Republicanism is the marriage of Berlin's negative freedoms with traditional conservative thought. Negative freedoms are important to republicans because they check the liberal government and prevent it from becoming too powerful. Conservative thinkers emphasize the idea of checking government power. Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt are good examples of republican minded leaders.
Communitarianism therefore, is a combination of republicanism and Berlin's view of Liberalism and was formed in America in response to the domination of Liberalism in political thought. Communitarians are liberal because they are Americans and Americans believe in individual rights. They are also conservative because they share the notion that individual identity stems from the attachments people have with each other. Both Communitarians and Conservatives ask the question: Do liberal views of civil society destroy the attachments that are central to individual identity in the name of liberty and justice?
Michael Sandel, a Communitarian philosopher, criticizes Rawls in his paper, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice. Sandel argues that the ideas of community Rawls envisions are too weak to accomplish Rawls' ideas of justice. Because Rawls demands that the rich sacrifice in order to level the playing field for the poor, the citizens of this society would have to have very strong bonds to it. This means that if the people have such strong bonds with their society that this sacrifice would be possible, it would be logical to conclude that such sacrifice would be voluntary and not compulsory. Therefore, government intervention is not required and freedom is not violated to enforce justice.
Also, instead of focusing on the symptoms of the problems of civil society as Rawls does, we should concentrate on the reasons why people are self-serving and individualists. Communitarians believe that if emphasis were placed on creating a civil society that produces strong interpersonal bonds, such problems would disappear as a byproduct of the resultant society. The building of a strong community through faith based initiatives, within economic communities, or by government sponsorship, will allow civil society to create these bonds that will automatically minimize the maximums without a sacrifice of freedom.
Obligation is to the society, not necessarily to the government. Community members generally benefit from the sharing of resources and responsibilities and therefore, have an interest in seeing it continue. Power is managed by eliminating any single source of power and distributing it amongst the members of society. This prevents abuses of power by government and individuals.
Communitarianism is appealing to many people because of the ideals of liberty, freedom and automatic equality. However, like most other political theories, it fails to address all issues and actually creates additional problems. Critics of Communitarianism cite the "experiments" performed by religious groups like the Shakers, Mennonites and Latter-day Saints. These groups all attempted to institute a community based organization where each person contributed to the whole.
What the critics found is that Locke's view of human nature reared its ugly head and led to the destruction of the order. Instead of strong community bonds, there appeared "free riders" that received every benefit but did not contribute. Without a strong, central governing body; disputes, contention, and disorder were rampant. Justice and equity became so difficult to maintain, that they were forced to abandon Communitarianism and adopt more liberal or conservative governments.
Furthermore, while obligation to the society can be strong for those that receive the most from it, such as the poor or undereducated, it can be powerfully disenfranchising to those with money and means. Control over the creation and distribution of goods in this model is not clear either, leading to a breakdown of the economy and social order. Frequently, this scenario has caused the rise of someone to impose order on the society. Therefore, neither the realization of blanket obligation nor the complete management of power is achieved in a Communitarian style government.
In choosing between Liberalism and Communitarianism, I believe that the most valid ideology is that of Liberalism. It is better equipped to handle the problem of power by empowering the citizens, enabling them to choose a government. Liberalism consolidates and emphasizes rights and each member of society is more important than the government. This also creates a sense of obligation by allowing the people to decide their fate and creates an interest in their future.
Communitarianism by contrast, fails to control power or create enough obligation to sustain a society built on these ideals. Although it is appealing to those who would benefit from a more even distribution of wealth, it has yet to be applied to the real world with much success. Liberalism is by far, a more valid theory for modern civil society than Communitarianism.
Anyone seen Twirlip?
So I like to garden and have now for the past 6 years. As a child I would plant seeds and water them with little extraneous thought. Now I have a good sunny location, a drip system, a tiller and plenty of (unhelpful) advice from other gardeners. However, there remains quite a few questions left unanswered.
- How does one capture seeds for subsequent years? I realize that things like peppers, sunflowers and corn are relatively easy to get seed from. What about keeping genetic purity/quality from season to season? Potatoes don't require "seed", but what about carrots and onions? I usually stop watering them to let them age before harvesting.
- New crops that I have little experience with. Instead of corn this year, my wife convinced me to plant beans. I have grown beans before but can't remember exactly how I did it. We are planting a "Kentucky Blue" hybrid that seems to offer the best of both varieties. However, it has been almost three weeks and the seeds have not germinated. I dug a few up to see what was happening and discovered a tap root underneath the seeds, but no shoot. Any ideas?
- Fertilization is always a tricky thing to get right. Things like soil type/temperature, drainage, watering method and crops all affect how much and what type of fertilizer to use. My question is: Does there exist some kind of online database for people to get specific soil requirements for different crops. Of all the hobbies that exist, gardening is one of the oldest, yet one of the least able to penetrate the web. All the information I seem to find is very inspecific or doesn't apply to me. Does anyone know of some good gardening links?
- Storing a year's harvest has always baffled me as well. My wife is a great canner and always stores things like tomatoes and salsa. However, how can you store corn, fruit or lettuce? It seems that unless you convert it to jam, freeze it or eat it straight away, there is no good method for these "perishables". I have a basement, which allows me to cold store my potatoes, carrots and onions. Any advice for those who wish to store food longer than a month or two?
I have a ton more questions, but I am patient and am willing to get some of these worked out over the course of the season. Perhaps there is room for a gardening.slashdot.com site? Not geeky enough I suppose...
Religious Extremism in America
So there are a couple of journal entries that have been talking about the flap
over Santorum's comments on marriage.
It would be very easy for me to take one of two sides in the debate over his comments, pro-family or
pro-freedom. However, these two facets of the issue are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, as we take a closer look
at the history behind his comments and the character and nature of civil society, we will be better able to
understand how to form our opinions.
The United States of America was founded by people who desired at least one of three things: economic
freedom/opportunity, a new start in life, or religious freedom. I desire to focus on the latter in order to
demonstrate the rich tradition of religious extremism in America. Over time, a multitude of other people have
immigrated to its shores in an effort to find something better than what was afforded them in the land of their
In the beginning of the 19th century, there was an unusual interest in religion in the states of the union.
This interest led to the creation of many new sects of Christianity and the persecution of many whose views were
considered deviant. The overriding commonality between the various religions was a sense of moral superiority. It
is a persistance of this perspective that has grown into tradition and become part of religious culture. Moral
superiority has affected society in a far more profound manner than any attack on the family.
I have a very strong belief in God and therefore believe that the family is an integral part of society and
God's plan for us His children. My belief in family values is shared by many, but this does not motivate me to
enforce my views on others. Sadly, this is not the case for everyone who believes the same. Senator Santorum
espouses certain values and as an elected representative, it is his responsibility to make decisions based on what
his constituents desire and the law of the land. Currently, there are laws against sodomy and polygamy. He
desires to see these laws remain in effect. If this is the desire of the majority of people he represents, then
the republic we live in is working. If not, then the voters have a mechanism to remove him from office. I don't
view his comments as extremist.
What is extremist, is the desire for a minority of people to enforce their view of society on the rest of the
nation's citizens. This is what happened in Hitler's Germany, Hussein's Iraq, Iran, Communist China, Communist
Russia, the Taliban's Afghanistan , and Castro's Cuba. People's freedoms are being repressed beyond tolerance
because of one moral perspective being enforced upon others. Its results lie in the ashes of Waco and Ruby Ridge
and the millions of deaths suffered at the hands of cruel authoritarians.
America, founded on the principles of religious tolerance, cannot afford to lose moral perspective because of a
vocal minority. Liberty and virtue do not need to be in conflict. They are the two primary ingredients to a free
and just society that cannot be compromised. If we sacrifice liberty in the name of religion, then we are no
better than Hussein or Hitler. It matters not what our motivations are if the results are a decrease in freedom.
For if we sacrifice freedom in any degree, to whatever ends, then society will arrive at an end that is frought
with misery and repression.
Decreasing freedom will not only be a detriment to society, it is a paramount of hypocrisy to even suggest it.
Virtue is the quest to do what is good or right, the very ideals religion holds dear. How then can we justify the
unvirtuous actions proposed by religious extremists, when the very reasons they give for their actions are to make society more virtuous? Such action is folly and we would be best to let society as a whole judge what is in its best interests, even if its choice is to self-destruct. At least moral agency will not be pierced with the sharp dagger of moral superiority.
Update: 15:15, 5/6/03 EST
Here is a shorter way to say it.
Bush and his need to spy on Americans
The NY Times is reporting that "The Bush administration and leading Senate Republicans sought today to give the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon far-reaching new powers to demand personal and financial records on people in the United States as part of foreign intelligence and terrorism operations." Althought the measure was beaten back in committee, it appears that the administration is not satisfied with Patriot or Patriot II type powers...
Submitted to Slashdot at 3:00pm Eastern time.
My question is: Where will it stop? Is the government going to use 9/11 as an excuse to restrict its citizens freedomd forever, until we are truly a police state? At what point will those under Bush (or his cabinet) tell them that enough is enough?
In studying Political Science, I have taken a couple of ideology classes and have tried to understand what direction our society is going. America practices democratic liberalism as a means of societal order. Our civil society is based on the principles espoused in the Constitution. According to Isaiah Berlin, the freedoms in the bill of rights are negative freedoms. This means that they are freedoms from something, namely freedoms from government interference. James Madison did not want there to be a bill of rights because the constitution specifically mentions that all rights not given to the state or federal government are contained with the people. He feared that if they were spelled out, any missing rights not explicitly stated would be assumed to belong to the federal goverenment. It seems that his fears are becoming justified.
The Constitution makes it difficult for bad laws to stay in force, especially when they butt up against the Constitution so forcefully. However, the courts cannot take action unless a case is brought to them. Therefore, it could be some time before the Patriot act and its derivatives are challenged. Until then, America becomes less and less the land of the free and the home of the brave, no matter what the Bush propoganda machine would have you believe.
God and Natural Laws
Here is a thought provoking thread. Cosmosis tries to tackle the eternal question of man: "Where did it all start?" Assuming you believe in God, the question is analogous to "Where did God come from?" I want to focus on one quote in here, but I will try to answer this question to the best of my mortal limits. Since I have moderated in the thread and cannot post there, I will do so here.
No matter how you try to explain the origin of any laws, none of the theories can account for the cause of those laws. From this, I concluded there can be no fundamental laws.
First, let me get one thing out on the table before we tackle this issue. Man has basically two methods available to him to understand the universe and answer fundamental questions like these. Empirical and Transcendental thinking.
Empirical thinking is also termed scientific thinking. It was conceived of by Aristotle, who was known as the first scientist. Empirical thinking is based on logic, fact and testability. It has given mankind a wealth of understanding about things that affect our mortal selves. We own much of our technology and comforts to Empirical thinking. It is based on the idea that truth exists everywhere but must be verified. The key to empiricism is testability. This means that all truth is relative to the tester. As more people verify a certain theory, that theory becomes more universal and less relative. However, Aristotle himself scoffed at the idea of universal truth. Empirical thinking is well suited for answering questions like "How does this machine work?" and "Why do birds fly south in the winter?" It fails miserably when trying to answer questions like "What is it that makes humans self-aware?" and "Where did the universe come from?" Great empirical thinkers are such people as Darwin, Newton, Einstein and Rousseau.
Transcendental thinking is based on the notion that all truth is absolute. Truth exists inside of each person and life is the process of discovering this latent truth. Furthermore, my truth is the same as your truth and any disagreements are a product of us not yet having found the same truths. This type of thinking actually came about before empirical methods. Aristotle was a student of Plato who was a student (purportedly) of Socrates. Plato and Socrates are the best known transcendental thinkers. Since then, there have been a wealth of philosophers who have expanded on the ideas generated by these great men. My personal favorite is Immanuel Kant. His notions on enlightenment (hence the icon) are nicely married to the religious principles I espouse. Truth is implanted within man and can be discovered through education, meditation and study. Truth does not have to be logical to be true and there does not have to be a method that describes or explains it with any certainty. Nevertheless, transcendental moments in the lives of man are fact and cannot be easily discounted. So called miracles, paranormal events or other unexplained mysteries may not be resolvable with science, but that does not make them any less true. What breaks down is our ability to apply science to events that are not scientific. Just as empirical thinking has many flaws, so does transcendental thinking. It can explain the origin of the universe, the purpose of life and what happens to man when he dies. It is ill-equipped to answer questions pertaining to science and logical thought.
The problem then is not which method one should choose to think with, but which one answers any given question the best? To answer our question, I will use transcendental thinking and follow the path of truth, not the path of testable fact.
Laws are boundaries that apply consequences to those who cross over them. The severity of the consequences are directly proportional to the law that is broken. For example; causing damage to your neighbor's house carries with it the punishment of restitution. But if you kill your neighbor, how do you restore his/her life? Therefore, the punishment may need to be as severe as the loss of your own life. This is known as 'justice'. I believe strongly in justice and claim that it is the only power that is greater than God.
What was that? Yes, I said that there is a power higher than God. It is this simple little thing called justice. You see, even God cannot brush aside justice for whatever ends He desires. He is bound to justice because it is justice that gave Him His power. Here is a quote from an ancient prophet that explains this further: "And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God."
Justice is a two-way street. It doles out punishment and blessings. It does so based on the actions, intents, thoughts and words of the individual. We each work out our own mortality before God. He judges us on how well we have done, but in the end, it is justice that determines our fate. That is the beauty of Jesus Christ's atonement. To quote another prophet, "[Jesus] Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice."
This is called mercy. Justice demands that if you sin (break the law), a punishment must be inflicted. Alternatively, if you keep a law (i.e. by not breaking it) you are entitled to a blessing. Another quote: "Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement" There is a punishment and a happiness attached to every law. When you keep the law, you are blessed, when you break it, you are punished. There may be a delay in the execution of the blessing or punishment but they are inescapable. Mercy is something that diverts the punishment from the offender to someone else.
The absolutely wonderful beauty of God's plan for mankind is that He allows for our mistakes. Because of Jesus's death and suffering, the punishment can be claimed by mercy and not inflicted upon the sinner. Last quote: "But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God." If we repent of our sins, justice is satisfied by mercy. Mercy comes about because of Jesus and justice is immutable or God would cease to be God. Finally, note that here is where I get the notion that God's power is tied to justice. If the works of justice are destroyed, God would cease to be God. God cannot interfere with justice, except through mercy. This means that no matter how much He loves us, He cannot simply snap away our sins and save us. We have to qualify for the protection of mercy. But that is another discussion.
So we come back to the origin of the law. I have already explained in truth that God is subject to the law. Now I will try to explain how there can be something before God, who is both eternal and without beginning or end.
I believe that God was once a man as we are now. Furthermore, that man can become like God because we are His literal children. However, as He changed from a mortal to an immortal being, He also acquired His current attributes of omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. God is eternal because He is only subject to one law: justice. All the laws of physics, corporeality and all the perceptions of our existence don't apply to Him. Because of this, time cannot restrict His movement and it loses all meaning for Him. This is difficult for us to understand and our minds cannot easily move beyond this boundary. Basically, once God became God, all notion of a beginning to the universe (and consequently the end of it) became irrelevant. It doesn't matter for us who started it all or where it precisely began. What matters is that we are on this earth to grow and discover truth. That discovery does not end at death and eventually, we will have the opportunity to progress infinitely as God has.
The Israeli and Palestinian Conflict
The History of Israel and Zionism
Zionism is the goal of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. Since this goal was realized in 1948, the meaning has changed. Zionism now has several meanings depending on who you are. For most Jews, it means the maintenance of Jewish sovereignty over the "Land of Israel". For some, it means much more. So called "Messianic Zionists" desire nothing less than the total control of the entirety of Palestine by the Jews. In fact, they hold it as a matter of divine destiny.
The 1967 six-day war proved an important turning point both for and against Israel. Egypt, Syria and Jordan began massing troops around Israel in an attempt to intimidate it. Israel, reading the writing on the wall, launched a pre-emptive strike that decimated the Egyptian air force. After the fighting was over, Israel had captured the Sinai, west bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights. While the Arabs had close to half a million troops and were far from routed, they chose to end the war because Israel was within a day's fight from Cairo, Damascus and Amman.
The results of the war were many-fold. America, seeing an opportunity to check the expansion of the Soviet Union in the Middle East, began to prop up the fledgling state. Arms sales, nuclear technology and a close tie between Mossad and the CIA offered Israel more than a chance to survive. It created a regional hegemon that has consistently threatened the stability of the area. Second, it humiliated the Arab nations who could not believe that such a small bunch of unbelievers could defeat the armies of Islam. This humiliation would create a huge up well of support for Islamic fundamentalist groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and later, al-Qaeda. One other result was that Jews saw a miraculous victory by overwhelmed forces as a miracle and a key step in the Messianic view of Zionism. Expansion of borders was natural to their ideas of full, autonomous control of the entirety of "Zion".
The History of Arabs in Palestine since the creation of Israel
Arabs in Palestine resisted, from the outset, the creation of a Jewish state. Quote:
- "In November 1947, the General Assembly endorsed a plan for the partition of Palestine, providing for the creation of an Arab State and a Jewish State, with Jerusalem to be placed under international status. The plan was not accepted by the Palestinian Arabs and Arab States."
The day after the creation of Israel, Arabs began armed hostilities and two weeks later, the Security Council of the UN called for a cessation of the conflict. Since then, Arabs have repeatedly refused the idea of peace and the existence of a Jewish state. Nasser, who was the single greatest leader of Arab Nationalism said that the Arab goal was "... the full restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people. In other words, we aim at the destruction of the State of Israel. The immediate aim: perfection of Arab military might. The national aim: the eradication of Israel."
Nasser would achieve the first goal through arms deals with the Soviets, which increased aid to Israel from America. After his death in 1970, the Egyptian military would decline and never see again its dream of further closing the gap in military power with Israel.
Beginning in 1965, the PLO began what was to be known as the "Entanglement Theory". This involved a series of sabotage attacks that were specifically designed to provoke offensive retaliation from the Israelis, thus giving the PLO something to point their finger at and say, "See, we told you they were killing innocent Palestinians". This strategy has been largely successful and continues today in the form of bus bombings, suicide attacks and the random machine gunning of civilian areas. However, it is now known as 'intifada'. Naturally, there are different views on its meaning and origin.
Where do we go from here?
Since the end of the six-day war, the cycle of violence has increased, causing greater suffering and deaths. Both Israel and the Palestinians are responsible for the deaths and suffering they have caused. They both need to accept blame and move on. Resolution can only come after they both give up their incessant quest to kill each other, regardless of justification.
- First, there needs to be a Palestinian state. Borders can be negotiated, but would probably be best set at the 1948 lines.
- Israel needs to withdraw all military, government and civilian personel from the occupied territories. It also needs to give up control of the water being diverted from the aquifers in the west bank and any other resources being taken from occupied territories.
- America must immediately reduce aid to Israel and divert that to nation building efforts in Palestine (roads, power, water, telephone, schools, hospitals, etc.).
- Jordan, Syria and Egypt must sign a pact of non agression towards Israel and Israel must reciprocate.
- UN forces (most likely American) must be put in place to enforce the treaty and maintain an orderly transfer of power in the affected areas.
I know I have probably left quite a bit out, but this is a work in progress. Let me know what I am missing and tell me just how pie in the sky this plan is.
Islam: Religion and Civil Authority
I just became aquainted with Twirlip of the Mists and have been reading and replying in his/her journal. One particular comment got me thinking and I wanted to address my thoughts here.
Basic morality is absolute. The devil, as always, is in the details, but to deny a person his freedom because of an opinion he expressed about a religious figure is wrong. Not unfortunate, not disappointing, wrong. A society that not only allows but actually mandates such a practice is bad, and wrong.
I couldn't disagree more...and agree more. Here is what I read this as saying: "There is one (basic set of) morality for all people. Denying people their rights because they adhere to a different moral code than me is wrong. The only thing worse is government enforced morality.
Okay, I agree that there is only one set of "truths" that apply to the universe. However, there is absolutely no method established for anyone to obtain this knowledge in-toto. Therefore, no one person can pass judgment on another for their beliefs and be justified. Now if we diverge our thinking to include common social morality and ascribe to the social contract theory, then we can find justification for these judgments. But this argument inherently relies on the basic premise of majority rule and democratic political ideology. Everything else is mandated from a person or group of people. So no, I do not agree that any state can apply judgment to any other based solely on moral grounds, no matter how reprehensible they may be.
To apply this to Islam, we need to understand what Islam is and why it functions the way it does. The basic premises of Islam lie in the Koran and sumah (way of the prophet). The Articles of Faith for Islam are: Oneness of God, Belief in Angels, Belief in the Prophets of God, Belief in the Holy Books (Bible, Koran, Torah), Belief in a day of judgment and Qadr (the will of God). The pillars of Islam are: Shadada (testament of faith), Salaat (Prayer), Zakat (Charity typically 2.5% of annual income), Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and Fasting (Ramadan).
Mohammed was the first prophet and civil leader of all Muslims. When he died there were two ideas on how to lead the people. One view held that the leader must be a direct descendant of the Prophet (Shi'i) and the other was to be determined by election (Sunni). Later a third group split from the Shi'i called the Khawaraj due to differences in dealing with sinful leaders, but they are mostly non-existent. See here and here for more information.
There is considerable disagreement between the two remaining sects of Islam regarding what is 'right'. For example, this site makes the following claim, "The Ahlus Sunnah or the 'Sunnis' are the only group of Muslims on the face of this planet who still adhere to the beliefs that were taught 1400 years ago by Islam's Noble Prophet Muhammad." Obviously, the Shi'a do not consider themselves to be in the wrong. Added to this split, there is also the problem of centralization within Islam (or even within its two sects). Simply put, there is no central authoritative body that governs the actions of all Muslims. Without this central body, there is no way to unite member of Islam to a common purpose or to prevent further schisms within the two sects (see Wahhabism and Ismailism). Most religious decisions are made at the local Mosque and are absolute. Furthermore, the concept of ijtihad (independent reasoning) is shunned. Most Muslims are textualists meaning that they practice Islam how Mohammed practiced it with no variation. There are however, voices of dissent who are urging a rational approach to Islam. Still unresolved are the questions of "Who speaks for God?" and "How does God Speak?". Ask ten Muslims and you may get ten answers. There is essentially no answer for these questions and this is why Islam is such a difficult religion to understand.
So now we come to the problem of Islam and Civil authority. There is an inherent conflict between Islam and secular political authority. There is only one way to run a "Muslim country" and that is with Islam. You have a mullah or other Islamic leader double as the leader of the government. If you allow a "Muslim country" to become secular, you are giving up on Islam. This would apparently be in conflict with western ideas like democracy and capitalism, yet we see American Muslims proclaim that there is no better place to practice Islam than the United States. Principally because of the freedom we enjoy. A strange paradox indeed.
"Total Information Awareness" hits snag in Congress
Submitted 10:43am EST on 2-12-03. If it doesn't get posted, at least it is here for the rest of us.
The NYT is reporting that both the Senate and the House have blocked funding for the 'Big Brother' type program. However, the CIA is allowed to present more evidence as to how it would not invade American's privacy, and President Bush could certify that lack of the program would constitue a threat to National Security. Senator Leahy said, "If there is one thing that should unite everybody...it is a concern that our own government should not spy on law-abiding citizens."
2003-02-12 15:44:45 'Total Information Awareness' hits snag in Congres (articles,privacy) (rejected)
That was fast...
US proposes complete Internet monitoring
Another story submission that I wanted to have posted in case it gets rejected.
The times is reporting that President Bush is "planning to propose requiring Internet service providers to help build a centralized system to enable broad monitoring of the Internet and, potentially, surveillance of its users." The recommendation is part of a report entitled "The National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace". It is due to be published early next year.
Nice to know that Big Brother will be watching.