Monday, September 24, 2007

Why Don't You Know the Difference?

I've just finished reading Pharyngula's response to Mark Morford's article on the supposed collapse of the religious right. The original source of these claims seems to be this Newsweek piece on the Democrats courting evangelicals.

I'll have to go into more detail later as these people who give me money biweekly insist that I do this thing called work. But I'll leave you with the thing that should make you go "hmmmmm...?" Why is it that educated, presumably well-read Americans can't tell the difference between the religious right and the neocons? Why do people not get that the damage inflicted by the religious right (which shouldn't be underestimated) is a pittance compared to that inflicted by the neocons? Anyway, more later.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Presidential Factoids: Fascism on the March

The following facts describe an American president whose egregious policies and actions pushed this nation closer to fascism than it had ever been before.

*He said, "We can't be so fixated on our desire to preserve the freedoms of ordinary Americans."

*A member of his cabinet and one of his closest advisers told USA Today, "The dirty little secret is that both houses of Congress are irrelevant. ... America's domestic policy is now being run by Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve, and America's foreign policy is now being run by the International Monetary Fund [IMF]. ...when the president decides to go to war, he no longer needs a declaration of war from Congress."

*He signed an executive order granting the president dictatorial powers in the event of an "emergency" declared by the president. What would constitute such an emergency was never defined.

*He signed hundreds of executive orders in order to bypass Congress' constitutional role of providing "advise and consent" to the Executive branch. Many of these orders went far beyond his constitutional powers as president.

*He ordered the CIA to "destroy Al Quaeda." Under his orders, the CIA created a program of "extraordinary rendition" whereby terrorism suspects would be handed over to foreign nations "without strict human rights records" in order to circumvent American law. Many of these suspected terrorists would be tortured by our "allies."

*He used the FBI and IRS to go after political opponents, including opposition political and activist organizations.

*He oversaw the deregulation of the telecommunications industry, leading to increased concentration of corporate control over the nation's media and a narrowing of the available spectrum of opinion.

*He drew his party to the right, arguing that it should fall in line with corporate interests.

*He expanded the federal death penalty, making it applicable to dozens of new crimes. Among those new capital offenses were a variety of crimes that did not result in death, including drug trafficking.

*While a state governor and candidate for president, he left the campaign trail and returned home to personally witness the execution of a profoundly retarded death row inmate. This inmate was on antipsychotic medications, had been lobotomized, and was so blissfully unaware of the import of what was happening that he decided to save his dessert to enjoy AFTER the time scheduled for his execution.

*According to a Sixty Minutes report, former intelligence officials who worked on the program, and government officials from Britain and the European Union, he conducted a massive secret spying program that monitored the phone calls and e-mails of millions of American and British citizens. The NSA has admitted that this program collected and leaked more than 1,000 pages of information on a member of the British royal family. According to an EU report, some of the information obtained through this top secret program was sold to top political donors to be used against their competitors.

*His policies led to a 70% increase in anti-gay discharges from the military, costing the United States vital personnel, including Arab language translators.

The president? William Jefferson Clinton.

Never believe that the road to fascism began with George W. Bush. Never believe that the prior bad acts of previous presidents excuses the acts of this administration. What is happening in our country (and has been happening for decades) is an affront to our nation's values and the Constitution that created the world's oldest democracy.

It is no coincidence that our current Dictator-in-Chief is the grandson of one of the conspirators who plotted to overthrow the democratically elected president of the United States in a fascist military coup. Let's hope that George W. Bush makes the same mistake his grandfather and his co-conspirators did when they attempted to recruit the wrong Marine. Prescott Bush et al. underestimated Major General Smedley Butler's loyalty to his nation and his oath to protect her against all enemies foreign and domestic. Let's hope that there are Smedley Butler's still. And while we're hoping, let's actually do something about it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Answers to the Quiz

The answer to all 7 "who said it?" quotes was d. 1 & 2 were the work of Jean Jacques Rousseau. 3 was David Hume. 4 & 5 were Arthur Schopenhauer. (I realize that Schopenhauer was 19th Century, but I think we can agree that his place on the tail end of the Enlightenment puts him in a group with the other Enlightenment philosophers.) 6 & 7 were Immanuel Kant.

The point? So many like to argue that X problem was created by religion and solved by "rationality." Considering the actual history of the development of modern Western ideas on race, gender, and sex, the interpretation is highly questionable. The quotes given are just (forgive the cliche) the tip of the iceberg when it comes to "rational" justifications for factionalism, ignorance and bigotry.

One could add to the above the work of 18th, 19th and early 20th century scientists, including those no less influential than Carolus Linnaeus (a pioneer in scientific racism),Charles Darwin (who argued for a progressive hierarchy of races and female inferiority as a product of sexual selection), Sir Francis Galton (the father of eugenics), and Sigmund Freud (no explanation needed, I think).

Scientists and philosophers of the Englightenment and the proceeding centuries (many of them atheists) promoted racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-sex hysteria and a whole host of other social ills. Whatever religion's contribution, (and I don't doubt that there is one) rationality was no "savior."

I'll leave you with a couple quotes from Darwin:
"At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla."

"Men attain a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can women - whether requiring deep thought, reason or imagination, or merely the use of the senses and hands; If two lists were made of the most eminent men and women in poetry, painting, sculpture, music history, science, and philosophy, with half a dozen names under each subject, the two lists would not bear comparison. We may also infer from the law of the deviation from averages, that the average mental power in man must be above that of women."

Friday, September 07, 2007

Quote Quiz: Who Said It?

Can you figure out who said the following things? Your options are: a.)a Muslim cleric, b.) a Talmudic scholar, c.) a famous Christian theologian and d.) a renowned Enlightenment philosopher. No Googling.

1. On masturbation: "Therefore, watch carefully over the young man; he can protect himself from all other foes, but it is for you to protect him against himself. Never leave him night or day, or at least share his room; never let him go to bed till he is sleepy, and let him rise as soon as he wakes. Distrust instinct as soon as you cease to rely altogether upon it. Instinct was good while he acted under its guidance only; now that he is in the midst of human institutions, instinct is not to be trusted. It must not be destroyed, it must be controlled, which is perhaps a more difficult matter. It would be very dangerous if instinct taught your pupil to divert these senses and to supplement the occasions for satisfying them. If once he acquires this dangerous supplement he is lost. From then on, body and soul will be enervated; he will carry to the grave the sad effects of this habit, the most fatal habit which a young man can be subjected to."

2. On masturbatory "rape": "This vice, which shame and timidity find so convenient, has a particular attraction for lively imaginations. It allows them to dispose, so to speak, of the whole female sex at their will, and to make any beauty who tempts them serve their pleasure without the need of first obtaining her consent."

3. On race: "I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences. On the other hand, the most rude and barbarous of the Whites, such as the ancient Germans, the present Tartars, have still something eminent about them, in their valour, form of government, or some other particular. Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen, in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction between these breeds of men. Not to mention our colonies, there are Negro slaves dispersed all over Europe, of whom none ever discovered the symptoms of ingenuity; though low people, without education, will start up amongst us, and distinguish themselves in every profession. In Jamaica, indeed, they talk of one Negro as a man of parts and learning; but it is likely he is admired for slender accomplishments, like a parrot who speaks a few words plainly."

4. On women: "One needs only to see the way she is built to realize that woman is not intended for great mental or for great physical labour. She expiates the guilt of life not through activity but through suffering, through the pains of childbirth, caring for the child and subjection to the man, to whom she should be a patient and cheering companion. Great suffering, joy, exertion, is not for her: her life should flow by more quietly, trivially, gently than the man’s without being essentially happier or happier. […] Thus nature has equipped women, as it has all its creatures, with the tools and weapons she needs for securing her existence, and at just the time she needs them; in doing which nature has acted with its usual economy. For just as the female ant loses it’s wings after mating, since they are then superfluous, indeed harmful to the business of raising the family, so the woman usually loses her beauty after one or two childbeds, and probably for the same reason."

5: On women: "As a consequence of her weaker reasoning powers, woman has a smaller share of the advantages and disadvantages these bring with them. She is, rather, a mental myopic […] One must say that the fundamental defect of the female character is a lack of a sense of justice. This originates first and foremost in their want of rationality and capacity for reflexion but it is strengthened by the fact that, as the weaker sex, they are driven to rely not on force but on cunning: hence their instinctive subtlety and their ineradicable tendency to tell lies … Dissimulation is thus inborn in her and consequently to be found in the stupid woman almost as often as in the clever one … A completely truthful woman who does not practice dissimulation is perhaps an impossibility, which is why women see through the dissimulation of others so easily it is inadvisable to attempt it with them."

6. On illegitimate children and infanticide: "Legislation cannot remove the disgrace of an illegitimate birth … A child that comes into the world apart from marriage is born outside the law … and therefore outside the protection of the law. It has, as it were, stolen into the commonwealth (like contraband merchandise), so that the commonwealth can ignore its existence (since it was not right that it should have come to exist this way), and can therefore also ignore its annihilation."

7. On rape: "No matter what torments I have to suffer, I can live morally. I must suffer them all, including the torments of death, rather than commit a disgraceful action. The moment I can no longer live in honour but become unworthy of life by such an action, I can no longer live at all. Thus it is far better to die honoured and respected than to prolong one’s life … by a disgraceful act … If, for instance, a woman cannot preserve her life any longer except by surrendering her person to the will of another, she is bound to give up her life rather than dishonour humanity in her own person, which is what she would be doing in giving herself up as a thing to the will of another."