Arguments Against Gay Marriage

September 6, 2009

I’m not sure how this first came to my attention (h/t to whoever shared this in Google Reader), but it’s a pretty grand summary of the arguments against full equality for gays and lesbians when it comes to marriage:


(by Patrick Farley)

Those Other Messiahs…

September 2, 2009

I told a friend recently about Sabbatei Zevi, the apostate messiah who I’ve written about before (in one of my favorite posts). An excerpt:

Understandably, when Sabbetai got to Istanbul, the sultan was pissed. The sultan had him arrested for rebellion and imprisoned in Gallipoli. His followers held faithfully to their hope that this all part of the plan. While he was in prison, Armstrong reports, Sabbetai began signing his letters “I am the Lord your God, Sabbetai Zevi.” No ambiguous “Son of Man” claims here.

But, fatefully, on being brought back to Istanbul for trial, Sabbetai was back in a depressive phase. One has to wonder how history would be different if he had been in a manic, prophetic phase. Forced to choose between death (which might have made him a martyr or a savior) and conversion to Islam, Sabbetai put on the turban and took a second wife as his harem. His followers were crushed.

But while most of them fell away and became disillusioned, a core of the truly dedicated (or delusional) remained:

‘The experience of redemption had been so profound that they could not believe that God had allowed them to be deluded. It is one of the most striking instances of religious experience of salvation taking precedence over mere facts and reason. Faced with the choice of abandoning their newfound hope or accepting an apostate Messiah, a surprising number of Jews of all classes refused to submit to the hard facts of history. Nathan of Gaza devoted the rest of his life to preaching the mystery of Sabbetai: by converting to Islam, he had continued his lifelong battle with the forces of evil. Yet again, he had been impelled to violate the deepest sanctities of his people.’

I find Sabbatei Zevi particularly fascinating because he’s one of only a handful of claimants to the title of messiah who still have followers today (the most notable example being Jesus of Nazareth).

This led me to wonder just how many people have claimed to be the messiah. And, like all great questions that have been asked by humanity, this one has a Wikipedia page to answer it.

This is going to be fun reading!

The Kaczynski Dilemma

May 12, 2009

For some reason that I fail now to recall, I recently went on a pre-9/11 domestic terrorism reading kick on Wikipedia. From Timothy McVeigh to Theodore Kaczynski, Wikipedia is a fascinating read when you’re looking for broad brush-stroke outlines. But the footnotes are where the real nuggets lie.

One footnote, linking to “Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber,” is cited in support of this passage:

Students in Murray’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-sponsored study were told they would be debating personal philosophy with a fellow student… Instead, they were subjected to the stress test, which was an extremely stressful and prolonged psychological attack by an anonymous attorney. During the test, students were strapped into a chair and connected to electrodes that monitored their physiological reactions, while facing bright lights and a two-way mirror. This was filmed, and students’ expressions of impotent rage were played back to them several times later in the study. According to Chase, Kaczynski’s records from that period suggest he was emotionally stable when the study began. Kaczynski’s lawyers attributed some of his emotional instability and dislike of mind control to his participation in this study.

Needless to say, I had to read that article. Fortunately, the June 2000 Atlantic article is available online here. Alston Chase summarizes his article as follows:

In the fall of 1958 Theodore Kaczynski, a brilliant but vulnerable boy of sixteen, entered Harvard College. There he encountered a prevailing intellectual atmosphere of anti-technological despair. There, also, he was deceived into subjecting himself to a series of purposely brutalizing psychological experiments — experiments that may have confirmed his still-forming belief in the evil of science. Was the Unabomber born at Harvard? A look inside the files…

Murray’s experiments were horrifically unethical by today’s standards – and sadly lacking in any clear redemptive value – on a level only attained by Stanley Milgram and a few others. But Chase’s discussion of Murray’s psychological experiments interest me less than his focus on the “prevailing intellectual atmosphere of anti-technological despair.” This atmosphere smelled slightly familiar to me, as my undergraduate education was in certain ways post-dated to the 1960’s: many of the philosophies and prevailing cultural norms that my devoutly Christian professors warned us against seem to have faded into history. Of course, many of the central ideas are there, but they have evolved and cross-pollinated to the point where the counter-arguments seem a bit stale.

Here’s a bit more about Kaczynski’s philosophy (which Chase sees as an all-too-natural outgrowth of ideas ascendent at Harvard during Kaczynski’s undergraduate tenure):

Driving these events from first bomb to plea bargain was Kaczynski’s strong desire to have his ideas — as described in the manifesto — taken seriously.

“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences,” Kaczynski’s manifesto begins, “have been a disaster for the human race.” They have led, it contends, to the growth of a technological system dependent on a social, economic, and political order that suppresses individual freedom and destroys nature. “The system does not and cannot exist to satisfy human needs. Instead, it is human behavior that has to be modified to fit the needs of the system.”

By forcing people to conform to machines rather than vice versa, the manifesto states, technology creates a sick society hostile to human potential. Because technology demands constant change, it destroys local, human-scale communities. Because it requires a high degree of social and economic organization, it encourages the growth of crowded and unlivable cities and of mega-states indifferent to the needs of citizens.

This perfect storm of philosophy – that science is both all-powerful and soul-crushing – led to a worldview full of despair. “We have no illusions about the feasibility of creating a new, ideal form of society,” Kaczynski wrote. “Our goal is only to destroy the existing form of society.” That brutal, grasping despair – if not Kaczynski’s wanton disregard for human life – once held a huge segment of the educated American public captive in a sad cycle:

From the humanists we learned that science threatens civilization. From the scientists we learned that science cannot be stopped. Taken together, they implied that there was no hope.

At its core, much of this philosophy is still embraced today. We (speaking general of irreligious Western society) venerate nature in ways that were set aside for hundreds of years in the Industrial revolution, if not longer. We stand in collective awe of the power of science to map our DNA and connect us through the Internet, and recoil in horror from its power to split the atom, mass-produce cluster munitions, and engineer biological plagues. And we, whether we like it or not, we cannot roll back the knowledge of nature and reality yield by science.

Kaczynski’s rage was directed at society, and at technology, and thus he targeted individuals closely associated with the scientific-academic-industrial complex. But the Kaczynski dilemma – how to reconcile our love of nature, our belief in the power of science, and the unavoidable conclusion that the greatest damage caused by nature has been a consequence of our science – can be answered in many ways. Kaczynski solved the dilemma through ironic use of simple technology, by sending bombs to targeted individuals to disrupt the flow of society, and, ultimately, to propagate his beliefs.

If the underlying tenets of Kaczynski’s views hold true, why haven’t more people resorted to his methods? Why aren’t his ideas preached far and wide? (Admittedly, a small anarchist core of disciples exists.) I suggest that the underlying despair has been eroded in part by the moden environmental movement in at least two ways.

First, science used to be synonymos with industrialization. Today, industrial production and the pollution it creates is perceived as being decidedly low tech. Science – especially climate science – is about finding smarter solutions to energy and transportation. While “old science” with its domination of nature is vilified, the new science is embraced as the key to our salvation from an earthly hell.

Second, the environmental movement – here less driven by science than by philosophy – has shifted from a massive scale to an individual one. Whether this shift was intentionally driven by leaders in the field is unclear to me, but it has been effective. Consideration of the world system as a whole can lead one to despair, but individual action can provide redemption. Shifting to consuming less or no meat, to burning less fossil fuel, or blindly acquiring more stuff – all these are personal acts lauded (rightly in my view) by the modern environmental movement. And regardless of whether those actions are effective global solutions (again, I think they are a great start) they are indeed an effective salve for the Kaczynski dilemma.

Inauguration Frustration

January 20, 2009

Update: Many are calling this the “Purple Gate Conspiracy”. In the tradition of political controversies in the US, I’d prefer if we could all just call it PurpleGate.

I just posted this as a comment over at Prince of Petworth

The scene from the narrow part of the 395 tunnel, where thousands of ticket holders were stuck for hours--most never got in.

The scene from the narrow part of the 395 tunnel, where thousands of ticket holders were stuck for hours--most never got in.

, but thought I’d post it here instead of writing it out again:

My girlfriend and I were unexpectedly given purple tickets on Saturday night and were absolutely thrilled! Turns out we would have been much better off without them. While two groups of friends without tickets departing Petworth at 4 am and 7 am go to the Mall and joined the celebratory crowds, we weren’t so lucky. We left Petworth at 6 am, took the 70 bus down to Chinatown and were in line at the Purple Gate before 7 am. The line snaked all the way back into the 395 tunnel–it ran the entire length of the tunnel–and we were about halfway down. We were inside the tunnel with the line mostly not moving until we inched our way out after 10:40 am. That’s over 3 1/2 hours underground. Disturbingly, there were no police visibly present in the tunnel. It was *packed*, and the crowd yelling and chanting at people cutting in line was almost frightening at times–I think the lack of crowd control and lack of barriers to separate those in line and those just coming into the tunnel was an unpardonable failure in planning. Can you imagine thousands of people (I’d estimate at least five, probably more) stuck in a cold tunnel underground for 3+ hours with no law enforcement? It’s really lucky nothing happened.

When the crowd finally started moving out of the tunnel, it was apparent that there had been no crowd control outside the tunnel either, as the group from inside the tunnel–that had been waiting for hours–merged with people just arriving on the scene. This made us furious of course, because we could have started hours later and ended up at the same spot. Evidently they had been letting these latecomers through the gates for hours while those in line were stuck in the tunnel, because by the time we got to the Purple Gate (around 11:30 am) the gates were closed, people were being turned back, and there were thousands of (sometimes chanting) people with purple tickets left outside the gate. The crowd trying to get in through the Purple Gate was actually the largest single grouping of people I saw all day–more people and more crowded than we were in the tunnel. That means there were a ton more people with tickets than they had space.

Now, I can understand (sort of) if they gave slightly more tickets than there was space, accounting for people not showing up. But the satellite photos on CNN show the crowd at the purple crowd to be as big and as dense as the area we were supposed to fit into. Did they really give twice as many tickets out, and not think that would lead to crowd control problems? Also, if they’re going to plan an event where you don’t plan to let everyone in, it would be nice if they let those who were in line the longest in.

Eventually some of us we were routed around to one of the general admission gates that was still letting people into the Mall. But once we got in we found we weren’t really on the Mall–we were still north of Constitution, and there were no screens or speakers set up so this overflow crowd had gone through security to get to an area where nothing could be seen or heard. We ended up leaving before the oath was take and watched the swearing-in from the Chipotle in Chinatown. Talk about disappointing.

I can’t believe that with all the planning that went into this event, nobody thought to have barriers and/or officers assigned to crowd control at intersections were the line merged with other groups. And if they were planning on warehousing thousands and thousands in the 395 tunnel, they should have planned a way to separate incoming and outgoing crowds. The situation as it played out was frustrating (we missed a once in a lifetime opportunity), unfair, and potentially very unsafe. And just plain stupid.

At least we have one positive note: Barack Obama is now President of the United States!!!

A Colossal Oops

January 13, 2009

(said the Founding Fathers

Credit Where It’s Due

January 13, 2009

What will be Bush’s greatest positive legacy? I think PEPFAR is a likely candidate, despite its flaws. I can’t think of any other program initiated by Bush that has helped so many people.

Seven Reasons Barack Obama Is Not a Christian

January 10, 2009

That’s right, it’s all a diabolical plot.

Reason #1: Obama Believes There Are Many Paths to Heaven
Reason #2: Obama Denies the Authority of the Bible
Reason #3: Obama Supports Homosexuality (rather hilariously, the still shot excerpted from the video on this page, directly under this Reason, is a picture of Obama with his arm around Rev. Jeremiah Wright)
Reason #4: Obama Supports Abortion
Reason #5: Obama Affirms Muslim Prayer
Reason #6: Obama is Associated with Black Liberation Theology
Reason #7: Obama Has No Bona Fide Christian Testimony

Tolerance of other religions, skepticism about the Bible, outrage at injustice, support for equal rights and individual rights… good grief, Obama sounds like a Christian Humanist or something.

h/t Hemant