Archives for category: religion

Sometimes it seems as though people no longer know what freedom of speech is. The Stanley Fish argumentation in his infamous essay against the very coherence of free speech has not increased clarity or general understanding — though I take it that was indeed what Fish was trying to provide. So I have, in a number of venues, tried to explain free speech.

Recently on Quora I have answered two questions that sketch out what I believe to be the correct formulation of the idea:

I provided the gist of my understanding in the first essay:

Remember, freedom of speech is a term of art. It does not mean “all speech is free,” or that all symbolic acts are legally justifiable. Freedom of speech is merely speech broadly construed (semiosis) that does not aggress against the rights of others to be free. It is a way of defending freedom in the realm of speaking, listening, reading, writing, etc.

We cannot (rightly) possess a right to use speech to conspire against the rights of others.

The most important point to take away is this: a right to free speech does not mean that all speech is free.

Free speech “absolutists” get this wrong all the time, for they are constantly moved by their desire for consistency and absolutism to construe all speech as free. One reason for this is that they wish to use the First Amendment in a lawyerly way, with specific words carrying the most weight. They most strongly wish to avoid philosophy, and instead use the Constitution as a magic document, and the words in it as incantations that solve all problems.

We can see how well that has turned out.

And perhaps my free speech absolutist friends are afraid of Fishian (piscine?) error, of saying that if some speech is free and other speech is not, then the demarcating line must be arbitrary.

This is just simply not the case.

So, what is the line of demarcation between speech that is protected as free and speech that is not?

Freedom itself, in the wider context.

Most importantly, free speech really only makes sense in societies that regard general freedom (liberty) as in some sense primary. Indeed, it also only makes sense — and this can be seen best when paired up with freedom of religion and especially the press and association in the First Amendment listing — in a private property rights regime.

You have the right to speak freely on your property. You have the right to speak freely on property you have hired for the occasion.

It necessarily becomes murky regarding public places. This is especially murky regarding the freedom of the press when the press is a government outfit, like Britain BBC. What is “freedom of the press” regarding a government-run medium? All speech is finite, and its purveying is done under conditions of scarcity. Everyone must ration their resources. Including newspapers and blogs as well as radio and TV networks. So when the BBC makes an editorial decision, “free speech” is problematic: which words and ideas to broadcast is a constant decision-making process, with some telling others what to say and what listeners and viewers may hear. “Freedom of speech” is perilously close to meaningless. (But is not.) Which is why minimizing government is a necessity: it obviates basic principles and places government bodies in the position of serving some people and not others.

And government is, in theory, supposed to serve all people.

Oh, why did I bring up “freedom of the press”? That is not free speech, I can hear someone protest.

But it is. “The press” is just a technological way of distributing speech beyond our local realms, outside of our properties. It is free speech with extended borderlines. But the extension must always conform — as speech alone must conform — to individual rights in society.

It might be useful to remind today’s confused connoisseurs to see these concepts in a continuum:

freedom: of thought — of speech — of press

with the most basic being on the left and going from private to public as we read right.

And the context of property rights integrates everything. Without property rights there is no freedom of any kind. For freedom depends on exit rights and exclusion rights. Which, together, make up free association, which is implied by free speech and press freedom.

And, as I noted on Quora: No one has a right to contract a hitman to murder another. You cannot absolve yourself on “free speech” grounds for that sort of criminal speech. Similarly, you may not command someone you have reason to believe will follow your orders to commit a crime, either. The common law has long held that incitement to riot and similar acts do not constitute protected speech because free.

The idea is simple: freedom as both a fact and a right requires reciprocity. Your speech cannot be defended as free speech if your speech precludes others from their free speech.

It is an old idea, reciprocity. But people still get this wrong.

Maybe it would help to compare freedom of speech and press with freedom of religion. In the United States, the First Amendment prohibits Congress from messing about in religious matters, or favoring one religion over another, ceteris paribus.

But that does not mean everything declared “religious” is protected. It may be the case that you desire to sacrifice infants and virgins to your god Ashtaroth, but let us be realistic: sacrifice of this kind abridges the rights of infants and virgins. “Religion” is no excuse for crime.

This is not so nuanced an idea that it cannot be readily understood. No? But maybe it is difficult. After all, I cannot recall anyone else make this exact formulation.

So this is what I insist upon: all these British-American concepts are terms of art, and the art should not seem to us British and American citizens at all recondite. The art is liberty. As soon as you erode liberty either by erecting a Leviathan state (of any variety) or by engaging in piecemeal criminal activity, these freedoms become incoherent.

twv

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Social Justice Lunatics

If ever we wondered how on earth a wide, once-learned culture could ever go whole hog for repression, tyranny, rage, murder, etc., we no longer need to. Just look at the faces of the young “activists” on college campuses. Cultism incarnate.

Smug self-righteousness in mob form.

These youngsters are worse than the traditionalists who scorned the hippies. The people who made me a “radical” when I was young. As if Hegel’s dialectic really were a thing, left has become right and right left; the cultural “radicals” (I hate to imply we take the same noösphere space) now exhibit the censorious traits of the cultural trads.

Yes, the new cultic leftism is really a form of conservatism (defending the institutionalized policies of the left, and then pushing for tyrannical advance of every last marginal gain through social controls like bullying, threats, mass boycott, shaming, and all the rest) combined with a self-image of radical chic “coolness.”

This is the age of the steely-eyed radical . . . with power.

One good thing about the Trump phenomenon is that these dangerous totalitarians have been dealt a firm kick in the pants.

They deserve many more.

twv

Nope Trump

 

 

Reading today’s press and watching the news and news talk shows is very much like “going to church”: there is never any doubt about how to feel about anything said, for what we hear is never just the facts, the stories. Always there is a moral or attitude attached. The preachers take special pains always to communicate this clearly, for otherwise the flock shall stray.

img_5132What I’m saying is, the press’s function is almost identical to the Church’s in days of yore, and it is inhabited largely by the same kind of people, though surely not identical in substantive moral content.

Today’s Church worships the American State as understood by the two major denominations: the Center-Left — which has been compromised by having fallen under full sway of the ambitious and cultic Progressive Left — and the rebellious Protestant sects — I mean, the Center-Right — with Fox being the still-dominant force.

To understand this era’s politico-culture war think in terms of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, a bloody and inglorious affair, despite so much earnestness all around.

fingerpointingIt makes me yearn for the wall of separation between news and state. Though we do not have an Established News, we do very much have Establishment News, with newspeople circulating to and from the State in regular four-year cycles.

And that Establishment really, really hates the rising Dissenting Sects, who have taken Fox’s lukewarm Protestantism to Anabaptist extremes.

Historically, the Reformation led to the Enlightenment and modernity as we know it. One would hope that something of that nature is building up again, and that out of the current crisis of legitimacy and sectarian strife a new order will emerge.

twv
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Caught a few moments of Scott Adams, on Periscope last night. He explained why calling terrorists such as yesterday’s New York pedestrian killer “cowards” is “not very good persuasion.” Mayor Bill de Blasio just did that, as GWB had in mid-September 2001.

Adams is of course right. “Coward” is inapposite. It makes no inroads into the belief system of would-be terrorists, surely the rhetorical target. As I explained, years ago, in defense of Bill “Politically Incorrect” Maher’s infamous ridicule of Bush’s “faceless cowards” designation, the cowardice charge is weak-minded and pathetic.

A better insult — better even than Trump’s “losers” epithet — would attack the terrorists’ faith and efficacy.

Adams suggests “burning in hell.”

A spin on that might be:

“Damned raisin-eaters.”

You see why, right?

twv

 

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What is the point of morality if there is no god, no afterlife?

Answered on Quora:

The point? Living a better life, mainly by

  • avoiding conflict,
  • learning how best to coöperate with others while
  • mastering how to mind one’s own business as well as
  • how to help others and
  • be helped by others
  • without encouraging conflict or
  • destroying opportunities for voluntary coöperation.

img_5132One could turn this a little less utilitarian by saying the point of morality is

  • Fulfilling human potential, most likely by
  • controlling the passions and
  • seeing possibilities of goodness where too many sufferers do not.

Aristotle took a typically Greek view of the point of the virtues by focusing on eudaimonia as the goal. That is often translated as “happiness,” but many contemporary scholars prefer “flourishing.” In this view, virtues are good habits — skills inculcated to function as means to increase the odds on leading a full life. (Nineteenth century philosopher Herbert Spencer elaborated on this notion of flourishing by saying that what we should want is to increase the length, breadth and depth of life.) Each virtue has its own rather obvious almost-intrinsic merit, so one needs be able to concentrate on virtue emulation (of admirable people) without bogging down in the pursuit of a wider pleasure, which often scuttles happiness. This is the “happiness paradox”: if one pursues only it, one ceases to be able to obtain it. A field of “natural law” developed around these ideas. The Stoics propounded a similar but quite distinct doctrine of acting “in accordance with nature.”

Epicurus, on the other hand, thought that nature often set us traps, and one reason to learn from nature is to avoid those traps. He thought one should investigate nature not merely because it is fascinating, but also to learn which pleasures to avoid — complicated pleasures that engender pain and suffering and anxiety and much else. He also campaigned to debunk much of religion and statecraft and traditional “common sense,” seeing many of the notions in these domains of thought as illusory dogmas that bring most people more grief than satisfaction.

Instead of eudaimonia, Epicurus offered ataraxia as the wisest goal, which is the pleasure remaining after conquering and/or avoiding pain. Ataraxy (the anglicized version of the word) is not so much “flourishing” as achieving peace. But he propounded no “peace which passeth understanding”: he thought understanding was the very key to peace, and reason and evidence the basic guides in that endeavor. Though close to a utilitarian, he thought that maximizing pleasure was self-defeating (that “happiness paradox” again!) and argued, instead, that minimizing pain and anguish was far savvier. His ethics of simplicity placed cheerfulness as a central virtue, with friendship and inquiry practices worth encouraging. His general approach was encapsulated, in ancient times, as “The Tetrapharmikon” (four-fold cure):

  1. Do not fear the gods;
  2. do not fear death;
  3. good things are easy to get; and
  4. suffering is easy to endure.

img_1711Note that the concept of duty is not central to these “pagan” philosophies, which have little to do with theology. This orthogonal-to-theology aspect is clearest regarding Epicurus, who was understandably (if somewhat inaccurately) accused of atheism in his day. With the rise of the monotheistic religions, duty took on a bigger importance than even found in the Stoics; I see it as almost apotheosized in the early modern period with Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative. (I will let Kantians give their answer, which I believe is basically incoherent — after all, I could be wrong.)

It is interesting to note what use Jews, Christians and Muslims made of the philosophical tradition. Though Aristotelianism eventually trumped the early Platonic strain in Christianity (Plato’s quasi-mystical notions of The Good fit well with a theological mindset), Epicureanism was from Christendom’s early days a deep and abiding enemy of the Church. Perhaps that is why the Christian apologist Lactantius attributed the famous “Problem of Evil” to Epicurus, even if Epicurus was not likely its author. It is the main moral challenge that philosophy brings to theistic ethics:

  • Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
  • Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
  • Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
  • Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

This does more than merely suggest that with God morality has no point!

DSCN0035And it is worth going back beyond Aristotle to his teacher, Plato, to find a knock-down argument why a belief in God is at the very least irrelevant to ethics: namely the “Euthyphro Argument.” It concerns holiness, but its general tenor applies to the moral form of the Good, too. It can be found in the dialogue Euthyphro. It is well worth reading. The upshot? It makes no sense to believe something is good because God says so; instead, God must say so because it is good. Carry that argument further and you find yourself where natural law philosopher (and devout Christian) Hugo Grotius found himself:

“What we have been saying [about right and wrong] would have a degree of validity even if we should concede that which cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God.”

Also along these lines, Grotius wrote: “Measureless as is the power of God, nevertheless it can be said that there are certain things over which that power does not extend. . . . Just as even God cannot cause that two times two should not make four, so He cannot cause that which is intrinsically evil be not evil.”

So, the point of morality lies in Nature, or in our natures, or some such construction. It is the very essence of good/bad and goodness/evil that its point be discernible, ready at hand. Investigatable.

Arguably, the tying of morality to theology has caused much harm, by steering us away from living better to striving, instead, to hit some dubious afterlife target.

twv

N.B. The specific question on Quora was worded this way: “If there is no God, no afterlife, no nothing, then what is the point of moral values?” I did not deal with the overkill concept of “no nothing,” taking it as hyperbole, and abandoned the postmodern formulation of “moral values” for the old-fashioned “morality.”

“Grooming gangs” is the term that is now used to designate the pattern of organized capture and forced prostitution of girls. White girls. In Britain, anyway.

In the news, the perpetrators are identified as “Asians” — but race does not seem quite right. Which is what Tommy Robinson is most exercised about in his recent video for Rebel Media:

The sex enslavement biz itself used to be called “white slavery,” and led to the 1910 passage of the Mann Act in America, much fueled by anti-Chinese sentiment. Not “Asian,” not “Muslim” (which wasn’t even on the political radar a century ago). The effect of the Mann Act, however, was largely to prosecute American black men, often high profile, especially those with white girlfriends. The evidence for Chinese-American “white slavery” is slim.

Most historians judge it a “moral panic.”

The term “white slavery” itself interests me, and not just because Tommy Robinson, in this video, doesn’t use it. It was a way of addressing sex crimes without using terms that might offend Mrs. Grundy. It was also a way of playing off the night mind of Americans, who had, the generation before, abolished slavery, which was linked to anti-black racism. “White slavery” is thus the tables turned.

It does not take a Freud, a Jung, or an Adler to see why the panic might have set in.

Now, though, today, the “white slavery” issue has come full circle, so to speak. And not in America. For there is a wider historical context. There was indeed a widespread pattern of “white slavery.” Real. Extensive. “Systemic.”

Remember “the corsairs of the Barbary Coast”?

Muslim states, or gangs (in olden times the distinction’s a little iffy) in North Africa — in cahoots with the Ottoman Empire — enslaved Europeans for centuries up until the administration of Thomas Jefferson, who would have none of it. Taking to the seas as pirates, they captured Europeans and then Americans traveling on the high seas, holding them for ransom, when possible, selling into slavery, when necessary. But they also raided European shores to kill resisters and capture women and children and the wealthy, hauling their captives off to Africa as slaves.

This started before slavery was established by the English in America, by the way. And it might best be seen as part of the long war between Islam and the non-Muslim Everywhere Else, which began soon after Islam’s original expansion.

The raiding parties scoured the shores of France and Spain, and even England and Ireland and the Netherlands and (get this) Iceland. Yes, Iceland.

This was so devastating that for a long time the French abandoned their towns along the Mediterranean shores.

IMG_2863The piracy on the open seas was, oddly, the reason for the Barbary Pirates’ undoing. Congress under President John Adams had paid ransoms to the pirates, but President Jefferson was not on board. He authorized (quite unconstitutionally, I think) the attack upon the “shores of Tripoli.” (The pirates’ nests were primarily in Salé, Rabat, Algiers, and Tunis.) The attack was astoundingly successful.

Tommy Robinson, in the linked video (above), links the rise in sex slavery gangs not to race — brown people against white people — but to religion . . . Islam teaching that the infidels may be killed or enslaved with impunity. Only by conversion to Islam could an infidel escape subservience of some sort, even slavery — and worse. And here is where it gets interesting. During the Barbary Pirates’ heyday, many captive Europeans converted. Many of the leaders in North Africa had remarkably light skin.

So it really isn’t about racism. Or, race is tangential to what was really going on. Muslims enthusiastically practiced slavery. Under Islam, black Africans to the south and white Europeans to the north were attacked and enslaved and traded and extorted — and funneled east. The Ottoman Empire was the hub of this market. Christian slaves were much prized.

American slavery was birthed, in part, by the Muslim slave trade. Where did all those slaves come from? It wasn’t Europeans raiding Africa. It was Europeans buying black Africans off of Muslim slave traders, in no small part. Muslims began large-scale buying and selling of African slaves six centuries before Europeans entered the odious business. And it was Muslims who continued to do so 100 years after.

Now it is “grooming gangs” that we have to worry about. Well, Brits do.

But the issue is not without controversy. For many obvious reasons.

And it might be worth Mr. Robinson’s time and attention to address the national culture issue. As far as I can tell, it is Pakistsnis who have been the main perps in the sex slavery biz. Also, it is worth addressing the thorny issue of consent: how many of these girls are enticed into prostitution? What is the interplay between threat and enticement?

Inquiring minds want to know.

twv