Sunday, November 26, 2017

Why Abortion is (not) Immoral: a followup

This is a followup to my previous post, "A Review of 'Why Abortion is Immoral'".  I want to follow up for two reasons.  First, in my original post I made a serious mistake, which I want to acknowledge, and also explain why I don't think the mistake impacts the overall validity of my original argument.  Second, Peter Donis introduced an interesting new wrinkle in the comments to that post, which I want to discuss at some length.

The mistake I made was claiming that Don Marquis "moved the goal posts" in his justification for why the future-of-value criterion (FOVC) does not imply the immorality of birth control.  That part wasn't wrong; he does move the goal posts, just not where I said he did.  What I said was that his justification required that a future-of-value be bound to a particular thing, and that this was not part of his original criterion.  That was wrong.  It was part of his original criterion, as commenter Publius kindly pointed out.

Here is Marquis original presentation.  I've added a highlight to the part that I missed (or at least forgot about):
What primarily makes killing wrong is neither its effect on the murderer nor its effect on the victim’s friends and relatives, but its effect on the victim. The loss of one’s life is one of the greatest losses one can suffer. The loss of one’s life deprives one of all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments which would otherwise have constituted one’s future.  Therefore, killing someone is wrong, primarily because the killing inflicts (one of) the greatest possible losses on the victim.
He continues, but notice the subtle shift from the third to the first person:
To describe this as the loss of life can be misleading, however. The change in my biological state does not by itself make killing me wrong. The effect of the loss of my biological life is the loss to me of all those activities, projects, experiences, and enjoyments which would otherwise have constituted my future personal life. These activities, projects, experiences, and enjoyments are either valuable for their own sakes or are means to something else that is valuable for its own sake. Some parts of my future are not valued by me now, but will come to be valued by me as I grow older and as my values and capacities change. When I am killed, I am deprived both of what I now value which would have been part of my future personal life, but also what I would come to value. Therefore, when I die, I am deprived of all of the value of my future. Inflicting this loss on me is ultimately what makes killing me wrong.
He does this because he wants one of the consequences of his theory to be that killing hermits is morally wrong.  The only way to do that is to measure the future value of a human life by the quality metric of the person living it.  We don't want to have to find someone else to vouch for us in order to establish our own value.

Marquis continues by concluding:
This being the case, it would seem that what makes killing any adult human being prima facie seriously wrong is the loss of his other future.
This of course does not mean that the FOVC only applies to adult human beings.  The form of the argument is, "what makes the killing of adult human beings wrong is FOVC, therefore FOVC is a valid criterion by which to judge the wrongness of killing, and hence it is wrong to kill anything that values its own future."

Marquis then goes on to list four redeeming qualities of FOVC which I listed in the original post.  The fourth of these is:
In the fourth place, the account of the wrongness of killing defended in this essay does straightforwardly entail that it is prima facie seriously wrong to kill children and infants, for we do presume that they have futures of value.
Note the highlighted words.  This are where he actually moves the goal posts.  It's a subtle but crucial shift, and I think that may be why I missed it the first time around: "WE presume that THEY have futures of value."  Indeed fetuses do have futures of value relative to other people's quality metrics.  But Marquis has explicitly disclaimed this mode of reasoning!   It is not the effect of killing on friends, family, or concerned bystanders that makes killing wrong, it's the negative impact on the victim as assessed by the victim.  This is not an accident; it's the only way to save the hermits.  It's also the only way to not arrive at the conclusion that euthanasia is wrong.

The problem for Marquis is that fetuses do not and cannot possibly value their own lives.  To value anything you have to have a brain, and fetuses don't.  And it's even worse than that: the essential ingredient for valuing things is not a brain but a mind.  (This is why it's generally considered OK to kill brain-dead people and harvest their organs: they have brains, but not minds.)  Newborn babies have brains, but whether nor not they have minds is debatable.  In particular it's debatable whether a newborn human has more of a mind than, say, an adult chicken.  In fact, if you present the question to a chicken in a form that it can understand (e.g. standing over it with butcher's knife in your hand) I'll wager it will give you some pretty definitive indications that it does indeed value its own future.

So not only does FOVC fail to save fetuses, it even fails to save newborns, at least as long as we find it acceptable to kill chickens for food.  Oh well, at least the hermits can breathe a sigh of relief.  (And maybe the chickens if people really start to take Marquis seriously.)

I suppose the reason I missed this is that I was trying to give Marquis the benefit of the doubt, because the theory as he actually presents it is just hopeless.  The only way I can see to salvage it is to accept the moving of the goal posts, accept the premise that babies have futures-of-value because we adult humans say they do, and reason from there, at which point you run into the problem I described in the previous post, namely, that it's hard to decide where to stop the extrapolation backwards in time.  If you're going to impute value all the way back to the zygote, why stop there?

Enter Peter Donis with an unusually innovative (by the standards of the abortion debate) proposal to draw the bright line at implantation rather than fertilization.  Note that it is not even worth considering this unless we have already abandoned Marquis's FOVC-AABTV (As Assessed By The Victim).  We have to accept, either as an axiom or as a consequence of some other criterion, that the value of a newborn infant has already crossed the threshold beyond which it is morally wrong to kill it.  Then -- but only then -- we can ask: where was this threshold crossed?

The overwhelmingly most popular answer to this question (by those who accept its premises) is: at conception.  But this has problems with regards to the moral status of frozen embryos, the destruction of which most people do not regard as a moral transgression on a par with murder.  Peter's suggestion of drawing the line at implantation rather than conception is designed to solve that problem, along with several others that depend on events that are common before implantation but rare afterwards.

But this is only a temporary solution.  The problem of the moral status of frozen embryos only exists because we actually have the technology to freeze embryos.  Implantation is only a bright line because we don't yet have the technology to incubate an embryo outside of a womb.  But that constraint is probably only temporary, and it would be nice to have a moral framework that was AW-ready (Artificial Womb) as well as IA- and AI-ready.

The straightforward extrapolation of Peter's implantation criterion to artificial wombs is that an embryo crosses the moral threshold when it is taken out of the freezer and implanted into an artificial womb.  So let's do a thought experiment: a couple decides to have a kid, takes an embryo out of the freezer and puts it (literally!) in the oven.  Let's suppose that this is early days and the technology has not yet advanced to the point where you can order a Mr-Womb machine from Amazon.  You have to pay a company to rent and operate their machine.

Three months in to the process, both parents lose their jobs and are no longer able to pay the bills.  What should happen?

Or suppose that the technology has advanced to the point where you can buy a Mr. Womb for $199 and conduct this entire process in the comfort and privacy of your own home.  Now one day the couple's six-year-old daughter decides she wants a little sister, takes an embryo out of the freezer, pops it in and pushes the button.  Some hours later, the parents wake up and are horrified to discover what little Suzie has done.  They can't afford another child.  If they pull the plug at this point, have they committed murder?

It's also interesting to construct similar thought experiments based on hypothetical "gestational" processes for AIs.  I started writing one of those up and it turned into a very long passage (I think it could actually make a good premise for a science-fiction novel!) so I'm going to set that aside for now.

Friday, November 24, 2017

A review of "Why Abortion is Immoral"

Commenter Publius pointed me to this paper by Don Marquis, which advances a secular argument that abortion is immoral.  It's a good paper with an unusually well-reasoned -- though nonetheless incorrect -- argument.  I recommend reading it.  Finding the flaw in Marquis's argument makes an interesting and worthwhile exercise.  Seriously, go read it.  I'l wait.

Publius posted this link in the comments of my post, "The utter absurdity of the pro-life position."  I want to make it clear that the intended target of that post was a political position, not a philosophical one.  The political position is the one being advanced in the United States by a loosely affiliated coalition of organizations who refer to themselves as "pro life" (as opposed to their detractors who refer to them as "anti-abortion" or "anti-choice").  My post was intended to point out the intellectual dishonesty of this political movement, not to make the argument that an intellectually honest argument against abortion is not possible.  I have made that argument against other political positions (e.g. gays should be denied the right to marry) but I do not take this position on abortion.  Gay marriage is completely cut-and-dried.  It cannot be be and never has been opposed on any grounds other than thinly disguised (and sometimes not so thinly disguised) bigotry.

Not so with abortion.  I believe that it is possible for a reasonable and right-minded person to come to the conclusion that abortion is wrong.  That is why I support choice rather than (say) actively promoting abortion as a form of birth control.  However, I believe that most of the people active in the anti-abortion movement are neither reasonable nor right-minded because most of them also oppose the active promotion of birth control, which is the totally no-brainer answer to reducing the number of abortions.  But that's not what this post is about.

What this post is about is Don Marquis's argument, which really deserves to be taken seriously, notwithstanding that (IMHO) it is wrong.  The reason it deserves to be taken seriously is that it is an example of what a sound argument for the immorality of abortion would look like were one ever to be found.  Merely proclaiming that a fetus is a baby and describing the mechanics of an abortion in the most horrific terms one can muster doesn't count.  Proof-by-horror-story is not sound reasoning.  Marquis's argument is sober and secular.  It does not appeal to God or the "sanctity of life".  It is based on premises that are widely accepted by both religious and non-religious people.  For that reason alone it has promise as a way of actually advancing the debate in this seemingly intractable conflict.

Marquis's argument is also worth taking seriously because it might be salvageable.  It might be possible to patch the flaw in his argument (though I don't think so) and this could represent a real advance in the theory of human morality.  It was not that long ago that the idea that slavery was immoral was still legitimately controversial, so progress can (and often does) happen.

With that to frame the discussion, let me start by summarizing the Marquis's argument.  He begins, to his credit, by asking the question why killing is wrong in the first place, a necessary step which is too often glossed over, probably because both sides agree that killing is generally wrong even if they don't agree on why.  This covers up the possibility that the different justifications of the wrongness of killing might be the source of intractable disagreement down the line.  Indeed, Marquis opens the paper by pointing our how a failure to nail down the reason that killing is wrong in the first place causes problems for both sides:
the pro-choicer wants to find a moral principle concerning the wrongness of killing which tends to be narrow in scope in order that fetuses will not fall under it. The problem with narrow principles is that they often do not embrace enough. Hence, the needed principles such as “It is prima facie seriously wrong to kill only persons” or “It is prima facie wrong to kill only rational agents” do not explain why it is wrong to kill infants or young children or the severely retarded or even perhaps the severely mentally ill.
Appeals to social utility will seem satisfactory only to those who resolve not to think of the enormous difficulties with a utilitarian account of the wrongness of killing and the significant social costs of preserving the lives of the unproductive. A pro-choice strategy that extends the definition of “person” to infants or even to young children seems just as arbitrary as an anti-abortion strategy that extends the definition of “human being” to fetuses.
The principle “Only persons have the right to life” also suffers from an ambiguity. The term “person” is typically defined in terms of psychological characteristics, although there will certainly be disagreement concerning which characteristics are most important. Supposing that this matter can be settled, the pro-choicer is left with the problem of explaining why psychological characteristics should make a moral difference.
As an aside, let me point out that as an idea-ist I do not have a problem explaining this: psychological characteristics make moral differences because my foundational moral principle is that the interests of memes are primary.  Hence in my moral system the value of human life is not a premise but a conclusion, and one that is contingent on a human being able to provide habitat for memes, and a pre-requisite for that is having a functioning brain.  But let's leave that aside for now because this is not about me, it's about Marquis.

Marquis's answer to the question of why killing is wrong is that it deprives someone of their future.
[K]illing someone is wrong, primarily because the killing inflicts (one of) the greatest possible losses on the victim.  To describe this as the loss of life can be misleading, however. The change in my biological state does not by itself make killing me wrong. The effect of the loss of my biological life is the loss to me of all those activities, projects, experiences, and enjoyments which would otherwise have constituted my future personal life. These activities, projects, experiences, and enjoyments are either valuable for their own sakes or are means to something else that is valuable for its own sake. Some parts of my future are not valued by me now, but will come to be valued by me as I grow older and as my values and capacities change. When I am killed, I am deprived both of what I now value which would have been part of my future personal life, but also what I would come to value. Therefore, when I die, I am deprived of all of the value of my future. Inflicting this loss on me is ultimately what makes killing me wrong. This being the case, it would seem that what makes killing any adult human being prima facie seriously wrong is the loss of his other future.
Marquis calls this the future-of-value criterion, but sometimes refers to it as future-like-ours.  He cites four advantages of his theory, all of which I agree with: First, it's IA-proof.  Many theories of the wrongness of killing are human-centric and don't apply to intelligent aliens, but the future-of-value criterion does.  Second, it plausibly extends to animals.  Third, it does not imply that euthanasia is wrong (though it might be wrong for other reasons).  And fourth, it straightforwardly entails the wrongness of killing infants and children.

And, of course, it straightforwardly entails the wrongness of killing fetuses.

So what is wrong with this argument?

The problem is that the argument implies not only that abortion is wrong, but that contraception is wrong too, because it destroys the same future-of-value that abortion does.  Marquis addresses this issue towards the end of the paper:
But this analysis does not entail that contraception is wrong. Of course, contraception prevents the actualization of a possible future of value. Hence, it follows from the claim that futures of value should be maximized that contraception is prima facie immoral. This obligation to maximize does not exist, however; furthermore, nothing in the ethics of killing in this paper entails that it does. The ethics of killing in this essay would entail that contraception is wrong only if something were denied a human future of value by contraception. Nothing at all is denied such a future by contraception, however.
Candidates for a subject of harm by contraception fall into four categories: (1) some sperm or other, (2) some ovum or other, (3) a sperm and an ovum separately, and (4) a sperm and an ovum together. Assigning the harm to some sperm is utterly arbitrary, for no reason can be given for making a sperm the subject of harm rather than an ovum. Assigning the harm to some ovum is utterly arbitrary, for no reason can be given for making an ovum the subject of harm rather than a sperm. One might attempt to avoid these problems by insisting that contraception deprives both the sperm and the ovum separately of a valuable future like ours. On this alternative, too many futures are lost. Contraception was supposed to be wrong, because it deprived us of one future of value, not two. One might attempt to avoid this problem by holding that contraception deprives the combination of sperm and ovum of a valuable future like ours. But here the definite article misleads. At the time of contraception, there are hundreds of millions of sperm, one (released) ovum and millions of possible combinations of all of these. There is no actual combination at all. Is the subject of the loss to be a merely possible combination? Which one? This alternative does not yield an actual subject of harm either. Accordingly, the immorality of contraception is not entailed by the loss of a future-like-ours argument simply because there is no nonarbitrarily identifiable subject of the loss in the case of contraception.
Note, however, that Marquis has actually moved the goal posts here.  [UPDATE: I was wrong about this.  Marquis is not making a tacit change here, though it turns out not to matter.  Thanks to commenter Publius for pointing out my mistake.]  Before, he tried to move away from the problems associated with basing a moral judgement of abortion on the putative "value of human life" by basing it on a "future of value" instead, a criterion that applies to intelligent aliens as well as humans.  So far so good.  But now he has sneakily added an additional criterion to his quality metric, namely, that the future-of-value in question must be strongly bound to some thing.  He didn't actually say this before, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt.  At first blush it might seem that this little tweak actually does save the day because (he claims) the thing to which the future-of-value is bound has not yet come into existence before conception.

But in fact, his little tweak has changed an otherwise promising theory into one that merely begs the question.  It is far from clear that the thing to which the future-of-value is bound comes into existence at conception.  If there were consensus on this point there would be no argument.  Everyone would agree that an embryo is a human/person/whatever-it-is-you-want-to-call-a-thing-with-a-future-of-value and we'd be done.  But it is disagreement on this very point on which the whole controversy hangs.

And indeed there are strong reasons to doubt the proposition that a blastocyst is a thing-with-a-future-of-value while the sperm and egg that create it are not.  For starters, there are an awful lot of additional ingredients that need to be added to the pot before a blastocyst becomes a baby.  In fact, pretty close to 100% of the material that ends up being the baby is not present in the blastocyst, or even the embryo.

That prosaic consideration alone is enough to sink Marquis's argument, but we are far from done.  The first thing that happens to a newly fertilized egg is that it divides into two cells.  Each of those divides again, and so on and so on until baby is born (and thereafter as well).  But up until the third or fourth division, every one of those cells is totipotent, that is, each one is capable of developing into a fully formed human being by itself.  And indeed this happens naturally on occasion; that's how identical twins are formed.  So up until the the blastocyst becomes an embryo, is it one thing with a future-of-value, or is it multiple things?  (This is actually a serious theological question for those who hold that a human receives their soul at conception: do identical twins share one soul?  If not, where does the second one come from?)

We're still not done, far from it.  Nowadays we have the technology to intentionally separate out the cells of a blastocyst.  By failing to do so, we are depriving the individual cells of the blastocyst of having individual futures-of-value.  Are we then morally obligated to separate them?

In point of fact, this whole idea that even a fully fledged adult human is a single thing with a continuity-of-identity that can survive any circumstance (other than death) is really just a reflection of our current technological limitations.  Some day we'll be able to clone humans.  When that day comes, every cell in your body will be a mere technological intervention away from becoming a fully fledged human being without ever having been conceived.  What is the moral status of all of those potential humans?  If you injure yourself to the point where some of your cells die, are you depriving thousands of potential humans of their futures-of-value?

There is absolutely no basis for stipulating that a blastocyst is a thing-with-a-future-of-value while sperm-and-egg separately are not.  Indeed, there are strong philosophical arguments that call into question the idea that the identity of a thing has any sharp boundaries at all, or even that the very concept of "thing" is logically coherent.

Marquis sweeps all this under the rug and just blithely assumes, with no justification whatsoever, that there is a bright line to be drawn at conception, or at least somewhere, to keep us away from the infinite regress of potentiality that dooms the future-of-value argument.  But not only is there no bright line here, there are no bright lines in the whole universe.  That is, and always has been, the whole problem.

Monday, November 20, 2017

2nd Amendment 101

The Washington Post has a really excellent retrospective on the history of the Second and Third Amendmens to the U.S. Constitution.  One of the many interesting things that few people realize is that these two amendments are very closely linked historically, and it is quite remarkable how they have diverged to become respectively the most and the least controversial parts of the Bill of Rights.  Well worth reading.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Bug in the KJV

I've been studying the Bible ever since I was 12 and my parents sent me to a YMCA summer camp in Tennessee.  They take the C in YMCA seriously there, and after two weeks of relentless proseletyzing I finally saw The Light.  For three glorious days I was born again and felt the Presence of the Holy Spirit.  Then I went home and giddily told my parents the Good News.

My father's reaction was to tell me to study the Bible, which I did, and have been doing ever since.  It only took me a day or two to conclude (as my father no doubt foresaw) that it could not possibly be the work of an all-knowing all-loving deity.  It's just too chock-full of contradictions, weirdness, and out-and-out evil.  But I've remained fascinated by it as a book, not only because so many people do believe that it's the Word of God, but also because it provides an interesting window into deep human history.

One of the problems with reading the Bible as an English speaker is that there are dozens of translations to choose from.  My goto translation is the King James, but every now and then when reading the Old Testament I feel the need to go back to the original Hebrew.  There is only one Hebrew version of the OT, faithfully copied through the generations changing neither jot nor tittle.  Every time I've done this I've come away impressed by the fidelity of the KJV.  Not only does it capture the literal meaning of the original Hebrew, it even captures its spirit because old Hebrew is stylistically different from modern Hebrew in much the same way that Shakespearean English is different from modern English.

But the other day I stumbled upon a bona-fide mistake in the KJV.  It's in Job 6:6, which the KJV translates as, "Can that which is unsavoury be eaten without salt? or is there any taste in the white of an egg?"  The Hebrew word for "egg" is "beitzah" (or plural "beitzim").  But the word in Hebrew that the KJV translates as "egg" is "hallamut" which is a kind of plant that in english is called a malva or a mallow.    It's not a major mistake, but after all these years of being impressed by the KJV's scholarship I was really surprised to discover any mistake at all, let alone such a transparent one.

In case you're wondering, I was led to this through an on-line discussion on Reddit where /u/abram1769 was dissing the Jehovah's Witnesses for translating that passage as "the slimy juice of the marshmallow."  I happen to be personally acquainted with some Witnesses, and they really take their Bible scholarship seriously, so I was skeptical that they would get something so ludicrously wrong.  And indeed they didn't.  It's the KJV that got it wrong.  The Witness's Bible gets it right (and no, it's doesn't say "slimy juice of the marshmallow", it says, "juice of the mallow", which is the correct translation.)

So score one for the Witness's scholarship.  (Too bad they can't seem to get the rest of their house in order.)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Battling racism in a free society

A week ago I wrote a tiny, almost throwaway, article entitled, "Racism is Alive and Well in America."  It was more of a spur-of-the-moment reaction to John Kelly's egregious and historically ignorant attempt at Confederate apologetics, which culminated in (but did not start with) his now infamous quote that the American Civil War was a result of an "the lack of an ability to compromise."

That post spawned a substantial comment thread, in which Peter Donis wrote:
"Apologists for slavery" is not the same as "racism". Slavery is an action, that is outlawed now; it's perfectly reasonable to say that apologists for an action that is outlawed should not be tolerated. But racism is not illegal, and it's not an action, it's a belief: the law can't control what people believe, and expecting it to is unreasonable. So is not tolerating it, as a belief: in any free country, people are going to have all kinds of offensive beliefs. That's the price we pay for having a free country. 
*Actions* that violate people's rights are a different matter: the Lousiana judge's action was clearly wrong and he should be at the very least censured for it. But not because it was "racist": because it clearly denied a citizen the equal protection of the laws, which is guaranteed to him by the Fourteenth Amendment. That's all that should need to be said.
Yes, it's true that racism is a belief and not an action.  But it is a belief that often results in action, and the actions it produces usually end up depriving dark-skinned people of their rights.  I think that's a serious problem.  But as Peter correctly observes, you can't regulate belief in a free society.  So what to do?

Simply relying on the law is not enough.  The 14th amendment has been in force for nearly 150 years, and in that time we've had Jim Crow, Brown v. Board, Loving v. Virginia, the Civil Rights Act (two of them!), and the Voting Rights Act.  We've had George Wallace proudly proclaiming "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."  We've had lynchings and the rise of the KKK.  We've had Emmet Till and Rodney King and Terence Crutcher and Michael Brown and Sandra Bland and Freddie Gray and Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin.  

Seriously, do you believe that Rene Boucher would have been charged with a misdemeanor for an assault on a U.S. senator resulting in six broken ribs if he had not been a rich white dude?

The law is not enough.  And it cannot be enough in a free society.  In a free society, people are free to be bigots.  Racists are correct when they say that the road to tyranny is paved with government mandates.  But if the law is not enough, what else is there?

Shame.  The most effective way to eliminate a destructive behavior from society is not to make it illegal, it is to make it unfashionable.  We wrote alchohol prohibition into the Constitution and it was an unmitigated disaster (a lesson Jeff Sessions seems to have forgotten).  But tobacco use has plummeted 60% in 50 years despite remaining legal.  Smoking is just not cool any more.

The way to eliminate racism is to paint racists as pathetic losers.  And the best way to do that is to teach history.

I think it's really important to remember that racism was not always a dirty word in America.  The Confederacy did not defend slavery as a necessary evil, nor even out of economic necessity or expediency, but rather as a straightforward logical consequence of natural law and God's will:
[T]he servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations...
That's from Texas's articles of secession.  Read it again.  Let the words sear themselves indelibly into your soul: "mutually beneficial to both bond and free."  They genuinely believed that they were doing the niggers a favor by enslaving them.  They genuinely believed (and could cite scripture to prove it) that they were doing God's will.

It sounds shocking today, but it was the majority view in the Confederacy.  And if you think 1860 is ancient history, George Wallace was calling for "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" in 1963, and continued running on an openly racist platform for fifteen more years before he finally repented in 1979 (by which time it was far too late to salvage his reputation as the quintessential racist of the 20th century).

The view that blacks are so inherently inferior to whites that they can legitimately be held as property did not magically go away after the Civil War.  Most of the people who believed it before the war still believed it after.  And because reconstruction was botched, in the name of state's rights and opposing federal "tyranny", these bigots taught their children, and they taught their children, and so the idea has promulgated through the generations.  It has mutated and attenuated; no one openly calls for the restoration of slavery any more.  It is no longer fashionable to openly call for segregation (though that doesn't stop everyone).  But the idea that blacks (and hispanics and Muslims) are inferior to whites lives on.

Donald Trump and Steve Bannon and John Kelly and all of the other Confederate apologists are the intellectual and spiritual heirs of proud defenders of slavery.  Whether they realize it or not, whether they consciously advocate it or not, they are advancing a point of view that is irredeemably rooted in the once-popular idea that black people should be the property of white people, and that this is the natural order of things and the will of God.

It is my firm belief that when presented with these facts, people will reject racism, that it cannot survive in the bright light of this truth.  Like a vampire, racism depends on cloaking itself in darkness and obfuscation.  It depends on denial.  It depends on distancing itself from the past (even as it longs for a return to the past) because the truth is that it is born of slavery and inextricably linked to slavery.  And thank God almighty I don't have to try to convince people any more than slavery is evil (though 150 years ago I surely would have had to).

To paraphrase MLK (who was paraphrasing Theodore Parker), the arc of history is long but it bends towards justice.  Sooner or later the racists will lose, so if you want to be on the right side of history, if you want a seat at the cool kids table, if you want to be able to stand up proudly in front of your grandchildren, you must reject racism and racists.  You must shun them.  You must shame them.  You must call them out when they try to hide behind the "honor of the Confederacy" and "states rights."  You must shine the light in the dark places where this evil has festered for the last 150 years.  And then, when the racists have been driven from the public square and the halls of power, maybe at long last we can raise a generation that is finally free of this scourge.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Racism is alive and well in America

If you needed more evidence that racism is alive and well in America (yeah, as if) look no further than a Louisiana judge's recent decision to deny a black man his right to an attorney because he didn't ask like a white person would.

And then there's John Kelly, who was supposed to be the grown up in the room, saying that "the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War."  That the chief of staff to the president of the United States should be so profoundly ignorant of history would be shocking, except that the bar on ignorance in Trumps White House is already so low that not even cockroaches can slither under it any more.

I wonder: exactly what kind of compromise would Kelly advocate on the question of whether or not black people can be held as property by white people?

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

A candid glimpse inside the incredibly twisted mind of Donald Trump Jr.

Donald Trump Jr. inadvertently (I'm pretty sure) gave us a glimpse of his true face yesterday when
he tweeted:
I'm going to take half of Chloe's candy tonight [and] give it to some kid who sat at home. It's never to [sic] early to teach her about socialism.
Let's think about exactly what the lesson is supposed to be here: trick-or-treating is OK, a shining example of what capitalism is supposed to be all about, but sharing with "a kid who sat at home" is socialism.  Never mind why the kid who sat at home did so.  No possibility that the kid was sick, or disabled, or caring for a relative, or doing their homework, or forbidden from participating by their parents.  Nope, the only possible reason for any kid not seizing the initiative on Halloween is laziness and the anticipation of a government handout.

But it's even worse than that.  Not only is sharing "socialist" and therefore bad, but trick-or-treating itself is good, almost the ideal of capitalism.  But take a moment to think about what the phrase "trick-or-treat" actually means: it means, "Give me some candy or I will vandalize your home."  Halloween, when held up as a life lesson, is a training ground for budding mafiosos running protection rackets, which is not so far removed from how Donald Trump pére made a lot of his money.  So it's actually not surprising at all that DTJr thinks that trick-or-treating is a fine example of capitalistic initiative.  It has obviously worked for him.

Random tweet-length thought of the day

Why is it that when a Muslim kills 8 people it's the Democrats' fault for supporting diversity visas, but when a white man kills 59 people it's not the Republicans' fault for opposing gun control?