Saturday, March 8, 2014
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Conor Friedersdorf, over at the Atlantic, wades into a hornet's nest with the assertion that refusing to photograph a lesbian couple's commitment ceremony (or, as long as we're being precise, refusing to provide a quote to photograph said ceremony) is defacto evidence of animus towards homosexuals. (If nothing else, you must credit the man for game bravery in the face of a certain teapot tempest.)
In doing so, he strides into a minefield that very few have braved. Yet, strangely, he does so without managing to ever really engage with the central issue. What, really, is hate - and is there a difference between being hated and feeling hated? If I despise someone with a passion that burns more brightly than a thousand Suns, yet they have no idea of my animus, are they hated? If my indifference knows no bounds, yet they perceive me as implacably hostile, which is true?
Offense, as I understand it, is in the eye of the offended, because it is simply not possible, by any means, to offend someone who simply does not take offense under the circumstances. So does hate work in the same way? If someone is unaware of, or refuses to acknowledge hate, does the hate have any meaning?
If not, then hate ceases to be a "real" thing and exists only in the perception of the recipient. And then, Mr. Friedersdorf's argument, as well reasoned as it may be, falls apart. But then it leaves us where we really are, but often refuse to acknowledge - in the position of judging whether or not someone's subjective feelings of being hated (or fearful or offended) are actually important. And that loss of objectivity matters, because it means that people who complain that it's really whether or not the greater public sympathizes with your plight are, effectively, correct.
People on all sides of the "conscience" issue, as well as those who steer well clear of a side, tend to be selective in their determination as to whose hurt feelings they understand to be worthy. But with emotions, perceptions are reality. The Christian who feels put upon because people perceive them a bigoted suffers no less subjective injury than a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer person who feels judged (and found wanting) for not adhering to conventional sexual norms or the college student who feels threatened by the reactions of her schoolmates to the fact that she's paying her tuition by acting in pornographic movies. These things are all important to them. It's the rest of us who pick and chose, and in so doing, heighten or assuage the feelings of those people who have invested themselves in our decisions.
So in the end, whether or not I do something (or refuse to do something) with hate in my heart is immaterial. It's what blossoms in the hearts of others as a result of my choices, words and deeds - and whether or not their peers legitimize that blossoming - that matters.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
I understand the concept of racial, ethnic or nationalist pride, but I have to admit that the reality of it doesn’t really compute for me.
One of the things that my parents taught me growing up is that pride should be a function of individual achievement. I don’t, however, think that they quite meant it in the way that I internalized it, which is that the only legitimate source of pride is one’s own accomplishments. This viewpoint caused friction between my father and I; he was somewhat put out that I refused to express pride in being Black. But, as I pointed out to him:
I am not Black because of any action on my part - I am Black because you and Mom are Black. It’s not like the doctor could have come into the maternity ward and said: “Hello, Mister and Missus McLin. We’ve looked over your son’s prenatal test scores and congratulations, you're having a Latino.”My father was unamused. (My mother, on the other hand, thought this was the funniest thing she'd heard that year.)
Affinity sentiments have always struck me as dangerous and more trouble than they are worth. So have to admit that I am dubious about an article in The Atlantic that describes South Koreans being upset by Kim Yuna not winning the gold medal as “perfectly healthy.” While I understand the point that the piece is making, that nationalism can provide “a sense of security, a feeling of belonging, and prestige,” but don’t racism, sexism, ethnocentrism et cetera also provide those things? We don’t see those as particularly healthy.
Perhaps there's something different about nationalism that makes “in-group favoritism” and “out-group devaluation” (mainly by putting down people we define as “others”) worth it. I don’t see it, myself. It’s always struck me as simply a cheater's shortcut, a way to claim accomplishment by piggybacking on the work of someone else, and the claims that it can help foster things like “selflessness, courage, and idealism,” never resonated with me, mainly because they never seemed to be in particularly short supply in people who weren't nationalists, or noticeably more common in say, sexists, and others who set themselves apart.
According to Joshua Searle-White, author of The Psychology of Nationalism: “Nationalism can be remarkably unifying, and unlike class or some versions of religious identity, it can do it across gender, class, and political lines.” But it can also come with “great cruelty against [...] enemies,” that a commitment to shared humanity would necessarily preclude.
Attachment and identity, or “us versus them” thinking, seem to me to be a reasonable response to multiple groups of people competing for scarce resources. But now, I think, it’s preventing us from moving past the idea of perpetual scarcity. I don’t see how that’s healthy for us.
Monday, March 3, 2014
|Apparently atheists aren't the world's best grammarians, either.|
Christianity tends to credit itself with the creation and spread of such ideas as the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule, but there's nothing particularly noteworthy about the concepts involved. Human beings are overwhelmingly social creatures, and those rules that deal with ethics are going to be central to any grouping of people. Without them it's difficult, if not impossible, to form trust relationships between individuals, especially in the face of potential scarcity.
While some religious people claim that the rules of their faith have solved the problem of creating an ethical framework that is indisputable, universal and eternal, the real innovation of Judeo-Christian-Moslem morality in particular is its reliance on an omniscient, unaccountable and incorruptible judge. When religious people accuse the secular of having no reason to not be as anti-social and psychopathic as they can practicably manage, they are really merely pointing out a disbelief in the universality and unavoidability of punishment. But this is nothing new - and, in fact, Christainity itself does not posit the universality and unavoidability of punishment. For many Christians, this is the whole point of being "saved;" no matter what sins one has committed in the past, redemption is always available.
In my own experience, what often confounds or even frightens atheists is not the idea that morality is governed by a divinity whose existence cannot be proven, but the idea that moral behavior is motivated solely by the fear of eternal punishment in Hell. In the stereotyped (but not entirely inaccurate) view put forward in the picture, humanity, as a species, is utterly incapable of maturing to the point where it internalizes a workable, if not always consistent, moral/ethical framework, and thus only the constant threat of punishment keeps humanity for self-destructing in a worldwide orgy of the strong openly victimizing the weak. Turn the concept on it's head, and a person is effectively saying: "The only thing that stands between me and victimizing you is my fear of damnation." As the picture says, not very reassuring.
This view of humanity as descending into utter lawlessness and "depravity" in the absence of universal, unavoidable and eternal punishment raises the question of how human societies prospered prior to evolution of the concept. Even reading the Bible as a literal history, one understands that there societies that predated the Ten Commandments - we are not told that any of them condoned, for instance, wanton homicide. And the non-Christian societies that European explorers, and later, missionaries encountered were not without sophisticated moral structures.
In the end, as it appears to me, the issue is one of Lovely Awful Things - the idea that wrongdoing is a more intrinsically appealing way to others behave. This is, for the most part, an article of faith. Part of the conflict between believers and non-believers is the truth of that worldview. Because it goes deeper than empirical fact, it's a conflict that is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Back in the day, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer posed what it posited was a Burning Question:
Is the eclipse of marriage a threat to our civilization or a step toward liberation?While I never sent it in, I did take a stab at an answer:
Neither. I would submit that it's a recognition of a changing reality. I have always understood that in the past, marriage was primarily for the families and the community, rather than the individuals involved. With love between the individuals involved having eclipsed the traditional political and economic reasons for marriage, it is little wonder that fewer people are choosing to go through what is more and more simply a ritual. As time goes on, marriage is ceasing to be the commitment, and is becoming more a public affirmation of said commitment. But the more personal nature of the relationships involved, as well as the greater role that personal satisfaction with one's partner is playing, are working to undermine the idea that marriage will be a lifelong commitment. What is causing us difficulty is that we are having problems adapting other family institutions to the more fluid nature of the relationships involved. This, coupled with the staunch opposition of traditionalists to allowing the marriage relationship to evolve to track broader social trends is leading to problems becoming more difficult to solve than they need to be.Looking back on it, I think that I was overly serious. Given the clear false dichotomy involved, perhaps I should have had a bit more fun with things.