Tag Archives: Politics

A Message to My Fellow Bernie Supporters

Tonight, Bernie Sanders confirmed his support for Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention. If you are an ardent supporter of Bernie, like I have been for years (I’m proud to say that, on November 10 2014, I signed a petition for Bernie to run for president), you are surely disappointed.

Unlike Sarah Silverman, I don’t have an condescending remarks for you. If you have supported Bernie Sanders, you are likely progressive, smart, and beautiful. We are dignified human beings worthy of making our own choice about whom we support. If you can’t, in good conscience, vote for Hillary Clinton, don’t. Millions of people have fought and died so that you can vote; do not be cowed into doing something with your vote that you are not comfortable with. Do not give in to fear. There is nothing more inspiring than someone being principled with their decisions, as Killer Mike suggests he will be.

I know that the only person that I have the conscience to vote for is Bernard Sanders. I know that the only person my logical beautiful black mind will allow me to vote for is Senator Bernie Sanders.–Killer Mike

The choice we are faced with is terrible, and on my view, it is the fault of the Democratic Party for putting us here. They pushed a candidate that is weak because they felt she deserved it. Do not let anyone tell you that it will be your fault if Trump becomes president. Blame the party that didn’t have the prudence to go in a direction that would more likely lead to success.

At the same time, if you believe that Hillary Clinton will carry on with some of Bernie’s message (some evidence suggests that she will), then don’t feel ashamed of voting for her to defeat Donald Trump. Bernie is suggesting that we do, and a Trump presidency would be an absolute disgrace.

The good news here is that the presidency isn’t everything and there are many things that you can do to help make Bernie’s beautiful vision a reality.

“What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House, but “who is sitting in” — and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.”–Howard Zinn

Make your voice heard; join the movement to elect a brand new congress; volunteer for a local campaign; make calls for Jill Stein (she very likely won’t win, but supporting her campaign doesn’t have to be about her winning); join a march or protest. Just do something. Martin Luther King Jr. was worried about moderates–he said that they are a greater obstacle to achieving justice than extremists who actively seek to thwart our efforts. So, do not be moderate; waiting for justice is a privilege, and many don’t have the luxury of waiting for incremental change. My message to all of you is: stay brave and carry on.

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Decisions and Reasons

This morning on Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer discussed Ohio Senator Rob Portman’s change in position on gay marriage. Portman, a Republican, was opposed to same sex marriage until he discovered that his son is gay. Now, he is the only Republican Senator to be in favor of same sex marriage. Schieffer’s editorial seemed to laud, not only Portman’s decision, but also the reason for his decision: “People can have differing views on what constitutes marriage, but wanting a fair shake for your kid is about as good a reason to take a public position as any I can think of. It is after all, the principle on which this nation was founded.”

I also praise Portman’s decision to support gay marriage; there is nothing wrong with being gay, and gay people ought to be afforded the same rights as anyone else. But, unlike Scheiffer, I do not praise Portman’s reasons for supporting gay marriage. I believe this is true because, at its core, the decision to support gay marriage is an ethical decision and requires ethical reasoning.  In general, choosing to support an ethical position simply because the position affects me (or because it affects my family) constitutes a bad reason for supporting it. We ought to consider how our positions would affect anyone, not just those we know or are close to. Ethical reasoning requires  that we detach ourselves from our particular situation and consider what might be best, not just for us and ‘our own’, but for everyone (or everything) involved in the decision.

Whether or not your son is gay should have no bearing on whether or not being gay is wrong. Perhaps if conservatives and Republicans had a better idea of what it means to reason ethically, we might not have to wait until their family members to come out of the closet in order to extend rights to everyone that deserves them.

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March 17, 2013 · 12:27 pm

The Left and Right: An Important Difference

I’d like to take a moment to express what I think might be an important difference between rightist and leftist ideology. The difference highlighted in this post might be obvious to some, but, given that the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ are so often used nebulously, I have a feeling that for others, this difference might not be so obvious.

Before pointing out the important difference between the political right and the political left, it might be worth mentioning what they seem to have in common. It seems to me that, wherever on the political spectrum one falls (if one has at least some general moral intuitions), one generally desires economic, political, and social relations that do more good than harm to society. That is, when agent A (e.g., you, me, Sandy, Bob) chooses act x (say, voting for Obama or advocating for more government regulation of the food industry) over act y (say, voting for Romney or advocating for deregulation of the food industry), A probably thinks that act x will produce a better outcome than act y. Whether an agent is a rightist or a leftist, he will, I think, attempt to promote the good more often than not.

Of course what ‘the good’ is can be parsed out in different ways–the upholding of duties, the maximization of overall happiness, etc. So, while it’s safe to say that regardless of political preference, one desires the promotion of the good, how one understands what ‘the good’ is, will, in a lot of ways, determine one’s political leanings. Rightists, it seems, identify the good with something like (economic) freedom or (economic) power; leftists identify the good with something like equality or justice.

Now, if what I’ve said is correct, one might conclude that rightists care less about equality or justice than they do about freedom and power. This might be true in some cases, but, I think quite often, rightists believe that equality and justice will come about as the direct consequence of actions performed by agents who have maximal freedom and/or power. That is, rightists think that the set of choices that promotes freedom and power (set A below) is either (a) equal to or (b) almost equal to the set of choices that promotes equality and justice (set B below). In diagram form, if we let sets of choices be represented by circles, rightists seem to think that set A and set B are (a) represented by the same circle–as in the first diagram– or (b) are almost entirely overlapping–as in the second diagram .

Leftists, I think, have in mind a very different picture. A leftist, in my mind, thinks that the set of choices that promotes freedom and power is not coextensive with the set of choices that promotes equality and justice (third diagram), and further, when faced with a choice between act x and act y, one ought to choose the act that promotes equality and justice.

This difference is an important one for at least two reasons. First, it puts on display that, more often than not, values are just as much a part of our political reasoning as facts. Often, claims made in political discourse are put forward as factual claims when, really, they are quite value laden. Noticing this can help move discussion away from blame (i.e., blaming ‘the other side’ for not knowing the facts) and toward a clearer discussion of how values (along with facts) inform our decisions.

Second–and here’s where I expose, to some extent, my own political leanings–it seems to me that rightists, if I’ve understood them correctly here, have a harder justificatory battle to fight than do leftists. Since rightists believe the claim that freedom and power will, as a direct consequence, promote equality and justice, they need to justify that claim (i.e., they can’t just state it; they need to have an argument for it). But I think that that claim is actually quite difficult to justify; in fact, there seem to be a slew of counter-examples. For 0ne such counter-example, consider climate change. In accordance with the overwhelming majority of research, it seems safe to conclude that: (1) free market ideology, utilized by the US and Europe, has permitted the excessive burning of fossil fuels and has had (and will continue to have) an effect on the global climate; and (2) those who will be negatively effected by climate change are not necessarily those who have caused climate change. An often cited example of (2) is sea level rise on the coast Bangladesh–many scientists predict that, as a result of climate change, sea levels will rise enough to have serious negative impacts on the 20 million people living in costal areas of Bangladesh (many of whom live in poverty). Further, it is certainly true that Americans and Europeans have contributed to climate change (and consequently sea level rise) much more so than Bangladeshis have.

This climate change example seems to pose a serious problem for rightists; it seems to me that a rightist, if committed to the claim that the set of choices that promotes freedom and power is the same set (or almost the same set) as the set of choices that promotes equality and justice, must hold that the suffering of Bangladeshis caused by sea level rise (which, in turn, is caused by free market choices in the US and Europe) is a just outcome. But, on most theories of justice, I presume, this scenario is unjust. I am certainly open to there being a satisfying solution to this problem, but I have yet to hear of one. Of course one such solution for the rightist might be to deny that the set of choices that promotes freedom and power is the same set (or almost the same set) as the set of choices that promotes equality and justice. But then it seems to me that they must explain why economic freedom and power is more important than equality and justice. It’s not obvious to me that that is the case.

As a child, my grandfather told me that there are two things that one does not discuss during a civil meal: politics and religion. Presumably, the reason is that these discussions will always end with anger due to rightists thinking leftists are ‘out of touch with the facts’ and vice versa. But, I think that if one realizes that the difference between rightists and leftists is driven by values–rather than by one side being ‘out of touch with the facts’–than I think it leaves the possibility for more clear and civil discourse. And, especially since it’s an election year, clear and civil discourse would be nice.

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Filed under Ethics, Philosophy, Politics

Arguments in Defense of Homosexuality

A few weeks ago I watched a great documentary called “For the Bible Tells Me So”. The movie details some experiences of several evangelical parents and their homosexual children, and also interviews several biblical scholars that speak about the serious incoherence of “biblical literalism”. The arguments given against literalism  are especially convincing; the scholars show that, as with any text, the Bible needs to be interpreted, and that a culturally sensitive interpretation of the most often cited passages about homosexuality render these passages useless in the crusade against homosexuality. These are the most convincing arguments given in the film because they refute key Evangelical arguments that attempt to support the claim that homosexuality is immoral.

This film does use another approach to defend homosexuality from the charge that it is immoral; it is an approach that, unfortunately, is used quite often in defense of homosexuality. This approach argues that, since scientific research shows that homosexuality has a biological root, homosexuality is natural, and thus, not immoral. In more detail:

1. Sexual preference is a naturally occurring biological trait found in humans (and other animals).
2. One cannot change any of one’s naturally occurring biological traits.
3. Thus, one can change one’s sexual preference.
4. Thus, people who identify as homosexual do not do so by choice.
5. Thus, homosexuality is permissible.

Putting aside for a moment that I have a hard time accepting 2*, I think this argument is bad for a number of other reasons. First, and probably most importantly, this argument does nothing to defeat the claim that “Homosexuality is immoral.” Simply because X occurs naturally, it does not follow that X is permissible. For example, if scientists found that pedophilia was a naturally occurring biological trait, we would probably all still believe the claim that “raping young children is wrong.” (though, perhaps, it might chance the way we deal with pedophiles). Further, we’d probably still expect them, over time, to chance this behavior, even though it is a biological trait.

Second, relying on this argument leaves open the possibility that progress in the biological sciences decides the question of whether homosexuality is permissible. But, it is entirely possible that further study in biology (or a better understanding of the relationship between biological traits and choices) could reveal that sexual orientation is, in some sense, a choice. If biology leads in that direction, people relying on the above argument would be in a pretty sticky situation.

For those reasons, I think that defenders of homosexuality (I am certainly one) should address the immoral claim head on. That is, they should show, through an informed interpretation of the Bible, that homosexuality is not condemned by God, and, perhaps more importantly, that there are no bad consequences that result from homosexuality (qua homosexuality).That is, we should show that, even if homosexuality is a choice–and I believe that it (along with heterosexuality) is a choice, in the Sartrean sense–there are no good reasons for one to claim that it is a bad choice.

*Well, not totally aside: for example, Sartre argues convincingly that much of what we consider to be ‘human nature’ is actually a free choice. While traits like skin color and height might not be so clearly seen as things to be chosen, many preferences and actions, even if we have a predisposition toward preferring X to Y, do seem like choices. We are free not to sleep with Jill, just as we are free not to commit criminal acts; further, we can even learn, through a bit of education or conditioning, to actually change what we prefer.

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The Virtues of “Flip-Flopping”

A major charge raised against presidential candidate Mitt Romney (I suppose that it is raised against others too) is that, over the past several years, he has had a tendency to change his position on several important issues. I haven’t heard much analysis as to why this is a bad thing to do, but the little analysis I have heard leads me to think that his opponents believe that (1) Romney is always speaking to what his audience wants to hear, which often results in him making a claim at one time that is inconsistent with a claim he’s made at another time, and (2) there is something wrong with changing one’s mind with respect to important issues. (1), if it is true, seems like a serious charge; (2), however, seems like an untenable general claim that I suspect many people believe unjustifiably. My purpose here is not to charge Romney with (1), but to articulate why I think (2) is untenable.

Since at least the time of the writing of Plato’s Meno, many philosophers have attempted to answer the question, “What does it mean to know P?” (where is some proposition). True to form, philosopher’s have not come to a consensus about what knowledge is, but it is often agreed that in order for something to be considered knowledge, it must (at least) be (a) true (b) justified, and (c) believed. So, I can’t havefalse knowledge, I can’t claim to know something that I have no justification for, and I can’t know something that I don’t actually believe. 

In my mind, there is a wonderful yet frustrating relationship that exists between truth and justification; for the vast majority of claims, we don’t seem to have independent access to their truth-value–we cannot intuit their truth. Moreover, if there is a God, he does not visit us to tell us which claims are true and which are not. Thus, it seems that our only way of assessing the truth or falsity of a claim is to carefully inspect the reasons–the justifications–that one might have for believing it; our only way to truth is through justification. Well supported-claims are much more likely to be true than poorly supported claims.

But the problem is that what constitutes a good justification can change. Advancements in knowledge (scientific or otherwise) can change the strength of a justification. For example, 15th century explorers were justified in their belief that the world is flat since their sense experience told them so, but upon further advancements in knowledge, their sense experience could no longer be trusted as justification for this claim. So, what is at one time a good justification, can, over time, become a bad justification.

If what I have said about justification is correct, then, in many cases, it seems to me to be a virtue to change one’s mind. Suppose that we believe P. If new knowledge strengthens a justification for not-P and weakens our justification for P, then, if we want to believe what is most likely true, we ought to change our belief in P.Changing our minds with respect to important issues–“flip-flopping”–could be a sign of an intellectually virtuous individual. Rather than being sensationalists–which is most often the case–perhaps opponents of “flip-floppers” should critically assess the reasons why one has changed their position. If those reasons suggest sophistry–e.g., appealing to an audience–then fallacious reasoning rather than “flip-flopping” is to blame; if, on the other hand, one genuinely changes one’s position based on advancements in knowledge, then one deserves praise. Intellectual evolution is not a condemnable attribute, but dogmatism is.

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