Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why Roe vs Wade is Divisive

Yesterday we marked the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe vs Wade, the case that made abortion legal. Advocates of women’s rights see this as the capstone of the movement for women’s liberation. Those who believe human life begins at the moment of conception see Roe vs Wade as permitting mass murder on a scale not seen since the Nazis. And the real problem is both sides are correct. Absolutely correct.

The idea human life begins at the moment of conception becomes easier to defend with every advance in genetic science. If we are going to define humanity by reference to the human genome it is obvious a human being comes into existence at the moment its genome comes into existence. That is the moment a sperm cell enters an egg cell to form a human zygote. So while genetic science can’t prove human life begins at the moment of conception it leads to the conclusion the most inclusive definition of humanness is one, which requires us to conclude human life does begin at the moment of conception.

From this point the argument for the criminalization of both abortion and contraception comes forth with the precision of a mathematical proof. Given the humanness of the zygote we must conclude the entire growth process from one celled organism to fully developed adult is that of a human with full rights including the right to life. Since this life has done nothing to warrant death we must conclude killing it is wrong. Indeed we must conclude killing it is an act of murder since murder is defined as the taking of human life without justification. Punishing murders is a moral duty of the government. If government is not going to punish murderers why have a government at all? Abortion kills the unborn since they can’t live outside their mother’s bodies. Contraception kills by permitting the union of sperm and egg but not permitting the resulting conceptus to implant itself in the mother’s uterus.

So we have concluded the following: the pre-born are human, the pre-born are innocent. Abortion and contraception both kill the unborn. One of government’s primary moral duties is the punishment of those who kill other human beings. Therefore we must conclude one of the moral duties of those who hold authority over the government is to enact and enforce laws making both abortion and contraception illegal. QED.

In the above argument the only thing missing is he abode of all these pre-born human beings. They all live in the bodies of adult human females. So what happens of one of these women doesn’t want to remain pregnant? What happens if for some reason it is bad for a woman’s health for her to remain pregnant? We can’t simply transport the unwanted pre-born out of her body and into a willing one. That happens only on Star Trek. In the real world a pregnancy can end in only one of two ways. A woman either carries her pregnancy to birth or she has an abortion. If abortion is illegal then a woman is legally required to carry her pregnancy to term.

The dilemma of abortion is a law that protects the right to life of the pre-born and a law that compels a woman to become and remain pregnant against her will is exactly the same law. You simply can’t pass a law which protects the right to life of the pre-born without passing a law that compels a woman to become and remain pregnant against her will. Can’t be done. The two laws are identical in effect. Removing the pre-born from their mother’s bodies kills them Therefore in order to protect their lives we must prevent that removal. But this is the same as using the government to force a woman to remain pregnant against her will. Sometimes this is the same as compelling a woman to remain pregnant even when it not healthy for her to do so. This is one reason why people of good will oppose laws against abortion.

Postmodern societies are feminist societies. Feminism requires legalized abortion. More to the point laws against abortion, especially laws against both abortion and contraception are laws that establish patriarchy as the preferred form of social organization. To force women to remain pregnant against their will is to restrict their role in society. Clearly society is giving men authority over women when says a woman’s ability to bear young is so important she can’t be allowed to terminate her own pregnancy. To say moral law requires this is just to make moral law itself patriarchal in character. The patriarchal leanings of all arguments against a woman’s right to abortion and contraception are the primary reason those who defend a woman’s right to choose claim their opponents advocate patriarchy.

Abortion is the most divisive of issues because we are dealing with two of a modern society’s most important needs and these needs are in direct and inescapable conflict. All societies must be based on commonly accepted moral principles. Natural Law is the best source of such moral principles. Natural Law labels both abortion and contraception evils of such magnitude as to compel government to outlaw them. But modern societies must be pro-feminist societies. They just can’t survive any other way. Feminists must have legalized abortion and contraception. There is just no way around it. But giving feminists what they need defies the laws of nature and nature’s God. There is just no getting around that either.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I Want You to Vote I Just Don’t Want You to Vote for My Opponent

Nevada is holding caucuses to choose delegates to the Democratic national convention this Saturday. Interest is high so the party wants everyone who wants to participate in these caucuses to be able to do so. Since hotel and casino workers may not be able to get time of to go to their regular caucus site the party has created nine at--large caucus sites inside casinos. Everyone was comfortable with this until the culinary workers union, which represents the workers in these casinos, backed Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. Then the fecal matter hit the quickly revolving object.

A teacher’s union supporting Hillary Clinton, along with six Democrats, sued to stop the al-large caucuses. They claim the at-large caucuses allocate too many state convention delegates to one group. Now these people do have a point. They might well convince a judge to see things there way. But it is interesting they did not see the importance of this point until after the culinary worker’s union endorsed Obama. That makes it seem as if there real objection is not to the delegates themselves but to the person those delegates will be supporting.

It’s not as if this Nevada teachers union is the only group playing this game. Republicans play this game against Democrats also. Republicans insist photo voter id should be the only voter id acceptable in order to vote. Now this has the effect of disenfranchising poor and minority voters. These persons find obtaining photo id more difficult than do more affluent persons. Republicans, of course, claim the photo id is necessary in order to cut down on vote fraud. But research into vote fraud has found few instances of actual vote fraud. So one can conclude the purpose of laws requiring photo id is not to cut down on vote fraud. The real purpose of these laws is to cut down on the number of votes Democratic candidates receive.

One presumes the Nevada teachers union will support Democratic candidates in the general election. One presumes they will oppose any voter photo id law on the grounds that it disenfranchises the poor and minorities. But why should their opponents believe them. Aren’t they trying to do the same by objecting to the al-large caucuses in casinos? And doing so for the same reason Republicans insist on photo voter id; the fact the voters in question are likely to vote for a candidate they don’t support.

Politics: a game with one goal and no rules. And then we wonder why some people conclude democracy is not the best form of government.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What Part of the Concept of Peak Oil Does Bush Have Trouble With?

President Bush in Saudi Arabia today called on OPEC to increase production before the world economy goes into recession. Of course this assumes OPEC and the Saudis have the ability to increase production. But if the idea oil production has reached its peak is true then OPEC and the Saudis do not have this ability.

The idea of oil production reaching a peak and then declining has been around in circles frequented by petroleum geologists for over thirty years. A petroleum geologist named M. King Hubbert correctly predicted oil production in the United States would peak around nineteen seventy. By the time I was in graduate school petroleum geologists were speculating on when world oil production would peak. Most experts in the field believe world oil production has either already peaked or is about to peak. If so then there is very little OPEC can do to increase oil production.

The time to begin thinking about the change to alternative fuels was thirty years ago. Unfortunately we turned our fate over to a devotee of austerity and when austerity became unpopular we turned to market idolatry. But markets simply do not reward really long term planning. Profit maximization requires concentrating on the short term. So we continued to remain dependent on oil because oil was cheap and plentiful. And now that oil is neither cheap nor plentiful we are in big trouble. And the lesson we can learn from this is simple: sometimes government is the solution rather than the problem.

In answer to the title question Bush has problems with the entire concept of peak oil. That is obvious.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Secularism and Morality

As we saw several days ago secularists find truth by finding and studying facts. For secularists truth is a description of what nature does. Truth is the correspondence between our conception of things and things as the really are. We study facts in order to refine our conception of reality. In this way our conception of reality is closer to reality as it truly exists. We simplify this concept by saying truth requires proof and proof requires fact.

Unfortunately we cannot base value on fact. We cannot say what nature ought to do merely by describing what nature does. Moral values describe what nature ought to do. Moral values are just that; values. Since we cannot base value on fact secularists have a big problem with moral truth. Since there are no moral facts there can be any moral truths.

Secularists are often accused of moral relativity. The accusation is correct. To the secularist there is fact-based truth and there is opinion. Since there can be no fact based moral truths all moral truths are nothing more than personal opinion. For them to be other than personal opinion there would have to be reference to facts that all persons could interpret in the same way. Since people who speak of moral law cannot show the truth of moral law by reference to moral fact secularists conclude there are no moral laws. In this way they defend the idea truth requires proof and proof requires fact.

Secularists adopt this position because it helps to prevent the excesses caused by using the ends to justify the means. Demanding factual proof is a way to avoid the need to settle disputes by the use of force. Given the destructive power of force in the twenty-first century one can see why its use should be avoided wherever possible. Unfortunately for secularists this also is a moral position. There are no facts to justify it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Why Bipartisanship is Dead

Bipartisanship is in today. Much of the reason for Barack Obama’s rise is attributed to his willingness to work with those who disagree with him. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is considering a third party run for president based on the possibility both major party nominees will be too partisan. People wish for a return to the days of bipartisan solutions to problems instead of bipartisan gridlock. But you can’t always get what you wish for.

Bipartisanship worked because pragmatists dominated both major parties. While they may have had different conceptions of thought concerning the intellectualization of external reality these conceptions did not achieve the status of a theory of everything. They were therefore comfortable with the idea that what is true is what works. They were comfortable with Deng Xiaoping’s idea of a cat’s ability to catch mice being more important than the color of its fur. So despite their intellectual differences they could work together to solve problems.

Then along came the Reagan revolution. Over the succeeding years ideologues took over the Republican Party. An ideology is a theory of everything. Its truth is established by the faith its followers have in it. Since an ideology is a complete explanation of reality all solutions to all problems must conform to its understandings. To ideologists the color of the cat’s fur does matter. It matters because the color of the fur determines the cat’s ability to catch mice. This fact cannot be questioned. Faith in ideology proclaims its truth.

For ideologues compromise is impossible. What compromise can there be between truth and error. Since ideology gives truth all compromise is movement away from truth and towards error. Compromise is acceptable only if it forces those who reject the ideology in question to move closer to its position. So bipartisanship became a tool by which the country was moved in the direction favored by Conservative ideologues. Finally Republicans gained control of all three branches of government. At this point they were no longer interested in compromise because now they could impose their ideology by force. Because compromise had been used to shove the center to the right Left wing Democrats were no longer interested in bipartisanship either. They were tired of being used.

The lesson here is simple. You can have bipartisanship only if the leadership of both parties is dominated by pragmatists who are willing to see beyond the supposed truth of what they believe to be true. If one party’s leadership is composed of ideologues bipartisanship is impossible. Alas today electing a Democrat or independent who is willing to act in a bipartisan manner is the same as electing a Republican, and a conservative Republican at that. This will be the case so long as ideological conservatives dominate the Republican party. If this nation really wants change it is going to have to resign itself to electing a partisan Democrat. Sorry about that.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Is Barack Obama a Muslim?

The idea Barack Obama is a Muslim is floating around that portion of the blogosphere where the Islamophobes live. They do have evidence. He did live in Indonesia for four years. He did go to school there. It does seem that on the records he was listed as a Muslim as that was the religion of his stepfather. This however would be a bureaucratic thing and not mean he actually was a Muslim. Furthermore they claim he did go to services in a mosque from time to time. They then stretch this out to imply he was an “infrequently practicing Muslim.” (Perhaps he went to church from time to time. Would this make him an infrequently practicing Christian? Could he be both at the same time like the Episcopal Priest in Seattle?) But there is one thing missing in all this evidence. They do not have an eyewitness to his saying the following words, or variants thereof, in front of witnesses: “there is no god apart from God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”

This is how one actually becomes a Muslim. What it says on elementary school enrollment papers does not matter. Whether one went to a Mosque as a child does not matter. The only thing that matters is proclaiming in front of witnesses that one believes Allah alone is God and Muhammad is the final messenger of God. That and that alone makes a person a Muslim. Since Obama never proclaimed his belief in Allah and Allah’s final message as proclaimed by Muhammad we may assume he was never a Muslim.

Now the practitioners of hysteria through fear of Islam would have us believe Obama would be ineffective as president because many Muslims would perceive him as being an apostate Muslim because of the information on his past. His life might even be in danger. Personally I don’t think they are about his life or his effectiveness. They simply want to use Islam to defeat him. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth two anyone?

People Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Stones

In this morning’s paper Michael Gerson gives us his view of the Republican presidential candidates. He criticizes Senator McCain for not embracing Republican theories of economic growth through tax cuts for the rich. He claims Romney is mean and lacking in mercy. He is concerned Mike Huckabee’s fair tax (30% national sales tax) plan will destroy his candidacy once the Democrats attack it. He wants Giuliani to give a creative agenda of reform. But reality stands in his way.

The Federal budget was in surplus when President Clinton left office. The deficit is larger now because of the Bush tax cuts and the Bush war in Iraq. Most of those 8 million new jobs are low paying ones. Most of the growth in the American economy over the past six years has gone to the rich just as Senator McCain has said. The middle class is worse off than when president Bush took office. We have been undergoing class warfare ever since Reagan took office and the rich have won a convincing victory. So much for the good done by embracing Republican theories of economic growth.

Romney is mean because mean wins. Has Gerson forgotten Willie Horton? Can he not remember Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? Attack ads were a Republican invention. As the Republican ascendancy shows only all too well attack ads work. So does the Nixon silent-majority of bigotry playbook. The only difference here is Romney using these tactics against his fellow Republicans instead of helpless Democrats.

Granted Huckabee’s fair tax is a far worse tax proposal than usual. But not that much worse than the Republican favorite, the flat tax. Of all the Republican candidates Huckabee shows the most concern for the losers in the economic struggle of our time. This is the real reason the Republican establishment doesn’t like him. There only real objection to the fair tax is in it’s being so unfair it makes the game of beggaring the poor obvious.

Giuliani is expected to come up with creative ideas, which correspond to accepted Conservative ideology. And there is the problem; accepted conservative ideology. Ideologists are blind as bats and lacking in the sonar system which bats use instead of sight. Conservative ideology has caused the problems of today. We must therefore conclude Conservative ideology has failed. This is why the Republicans are in trouble. More loyalty to Conservative ideology is not going to help.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

How Secularists Find Truth

Yesterday I discussed why faith is dangerous. Today I shall look at an alternative to faith as a means of establishing truth. This alternative is fact. According to this way of establishing truth you cannot have truth without proof and you cannot have proof without fact. By using fact as the basis for truth one avoids the problem of not being able to deal with reality faced by the faithful.

Fact based truth is the kind of truth discovered by science. The scientist observes nature and gathers facts concerning it. These facts are used to form an hypothesis. New facts are gathered in order to test the hypothesis. If the hypothesis explains the facts the hypothesis is confirmed and becomes a theory. The theory is considered true until facts are discovered which cannot be explained by the theory. At this point the theory is revised until it fits all the known facts.

As one can see this is a far different method of establishing truth than that used by religious people. But it has a very serious flaw, one that makes its use by believers in traditional religion next to impossible. If there are no facts there is no proof. If there is no proof there is no truth. Since there is no proof for such basic principles of traditional religion as the existence of God those who declare fact is the only basis for truth are forced to conclude God does not exist. Indeed virtually none of the dogma of any traditional religion has a factual basis. So societies that decide to base truth upon proof and proof upon fact find they must reduce religion to a purely personal matter and act in public as if God did not exist.

This method of establishing truth is quite effective. We now know far more about reality than we did before we began establishing truth in this way. We can manipulate reality far more successfully than we did previously. Modern technological society is based on science. This means modern society is based on the idea truth requires proof and proof requires fact. And since a society, which concludes truth, requires proof and proof requires fact has no reason to conclude God exists such a society will push traditional religion to the margins. It will become secular.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Problem With Faith

The problem with religion is the problem of faith. The problem of faith is faith’s blindness. Faith is blind. That blindness is what causes problems with religious belief.

Faith is the belief a statements is true without any other reason to believe the statement is actually true. The faithful know the ideas they believe in are true. They just know it. They do not need reasons to believe. They can give rationalizations, sometimes good rationalizations, to defend their beliefs. But in the end they do not need these rationalizations. They know the ideas they believe in are true. They just know it.

Which causes problems when these ideas are inaccurate representations of reality as it actually exists. The faithful cannot face reality because they have no way of seeing reality. If one believes the ideas one believes in are true then to accept the ideas of others is to replace truth with error. Furthermore one cannot question the truth of the ideas one believes in without questioning the idea of faith. This means losing the confidence which the illusion of having certain knowledge gives. It is easier for the faithful to ignore reality until the pain of doing so becomes so hard to bear as to make ignoring reality impossible.

The blindness of faith is what makes ideology so dangerous. No ideology is a perfect description of reality as it actually exists. So at some point the ideologue must attempt to force reality to conform to the teachings of a particular ideology. When reality refuses to do so, and reality almost always refuses to do so, the ideologue is in trouble. If ideologues hold positions of political power then the people over which the ideologues hold power are it trouble. Ideologues simply cannot admit they are wrong. Their sense of self worth requires their ideology to be an absolutely correct description of reality.

Many of the problems facing the United States today come from the fact the conservative movement which has held power over the past seven years is an ideologically based movement. In recent years, as the fallacies of their ideology have become more apparent, they have tried to force reality to obey the teachings of the ideology. Today’s Republicans are blind. They are blind because they are ideologues. They are blind because they have replaced wisdom with faith. And faith is blind.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

What is the Difference?

Let’s look at the following statements:

We must stop the sun from coming up in the morning.
We must stop illegal immigration.

In what way are they the same? In what way are they different?

Their similarity is their impossibility. They are different in that the impossibility is far less obvious for the second statement. That we cannot stop the sun from coming up in the morning is trivially obvious. But we should be able to enforce laws against illegal immigration. But in reality we can no more stop illegal immigration than we can stop the sun from coming up. So long as life is perceived as better on our side of the border people will try to cross it even if they must do so illegally. So long as the jobs are better on our side of the border people will try to cross it. So long as they have family members on this side of the border they will try to cross it. We cannot stop people from illegally crossing the border. No matter how much effort and resources we put into the effort there will still be illegal immigration. We can no more stop illegal immigration than we can stop the sun from coming up in the morning.

This is why rational people support amnesty. This is why rational people support guest worker programs. This is why rational people support giving illegal immigrants drivers licenses. We just have to make the best we can of a situation we are powerless to change.

There is one other important difference between these two statements. If one is serious in wanting to be the Republican nominee for President in 2008 one had better believe it is possible to stop illegal immigration. The voters in Republican primaries expect and demand no less. If a candidate were to dare to even suggest the impossibility of enforcing laws against immigration that candidate would fine he has no support. So we can continue to hear Republican candidates for President speak as if stopping illegal immigration can actually be done.

This is why the rational people of this planet are looking for a planet to immigrate to. Reason is clearly a lost cause on this one.