Feb 28, 2009

An Argument in Defense of Blasphemy. [and a comment on the UN blasphemy resolution]

There are many things that offend me. High on my list is obligatory superstition and ignorance forced upon us, as well as violations of human rights & fundamental freedoms! On the other hand, I admit, I do like the occasional blasphemy routine (who doesn’t?), because it has a liberating effect on me. That’s right, it feels good to have the right to free expression! Even though, many things offend me, I support the conditions that ultimately make me happy. Such conditions allow others who disagree with my views and life style to pursue their own self-defined bliss. I can deal with offensive expressions by maintaining my personal choices and taste.

Boycotting, choosing not to, or ignoring something is not the same as legally banning it. I prefer not to be offended, but if it happens, I shouldn’t have the legal right to remain non-offended. This is easy to understand why: there’s isn’t anything under the sun that can’t be offensive to someone somewhere.

Morality, in its most basic application, is how we treat others in a civil society where a plurality exists. The conditions that support civil rights & constitutional liberal democracy are the most suited for enlightened, progressive human beings. A personal definition of fulfillment & purpose is appropriate for every thinking, mature individual. Free expression is in the core of such definition.

If you are a confident person you probably don't think that ideas (or expressions) are toxic, because you can handle them. Correct? Bad taste, stupidity, purposeful ignorance, prejudice, etc, can all be dismissed by the rational and confident mind. You probably worry that it is your fellow citizens who aren't equipped to handle such expression, and therefore you want to protect them by banning offensive material. Right?

Wrong! People have to grow up and deal with life and the real world--even if this means being offended here and there. Keeping people insulated in a web of mind control is not good. It results in ignorance, extremism, lack of confidence to deal with a crisis, and, obviously, authoritarian practices by small elites--benevolent dictators. We are better than that.

Besides, who is the best judge of what's offensive to me? Should I say, I don't want to be offended.. Should I elevate this to a legal right? What do you think?

When I was very young, I saw the American flag being burnt in protest by veterans of the Vietnam war. I was offended. I hadn't separated the material of the flag with what the flag represents. Just as I was offended when my religion was being attacked as a myth. Yes, once I believed in Zeus, Santa Claus, Superman, and the Tooth Fairy. I grew up since. Today, I'm offended mainly by actions that attempt to limit the conditions of freedom--including banning free speech. Being challenged on my core beliefs back then resulted in re-examining those long-held beliefs. I'm better for it. This has been another liberating experience for me. I mean, it's a relief not to have to worry about offending the big man in the sky. My dress code, eating patterns, sex, and how I relate to others, all improved after this discovery.

I do support blasphemy. I support it because I want to offend t
hose who don't want free-thinkers around. And, I want to fight for liberty, including the liberty of those who oppose free expression; though I oppose their plans to gag the rest of us into submission.

By now you've probably heard about the UN General Assembly's resolution to ban "defamatory" speech against Islam and religion in general. If this is not a defamation of liberty & free expression I don't know what it is! It's not just the Islamic countries that are pushing this, mind you. They have many Christian sympathizers, because most of the Church hierarchy does not care to defend free thought & expression; it wants more religion! I bet many western Churches dream longingly of the European theocracies of the past! The Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, favors Sharia law in the Muslim communities in Britain!!! Sharia law in a constitutional liberal democracy??!! Well, that's really offensive!

Germany shares a big slice of the blame here. It's illegal in that country to deny the Jewish holocaust--an offense that can land you 3 years in jail. Obviously, only ignorant persons or Nazi-sympathizers deny the holocaust, but those bigots should have a right to their own propaganda and indoctrination, even if they're 100% wrong and offensive to the rest of us. As others have the right to make up and believe in their own myths, like winged horses, virgin births, walking through walls, warlords from outer space, and the earth resting on a giant tortoise.

After all, there are many types of deniers out there, like those who deny the notion that Zeus is the God of all gods. I suppose this is fine, because only a handful of people follow the ancient Hellenic religion today, right? There are others, though, who make extraordinary claims without offering any proof while their claims could not stand against rudimentary logic. What's really crazy it's the view that irrational & superstitious beliefs deserve an absolute protection from blasphemy. I'd say, {it is precisely those beliefs that we must offend}, and offend with impunity!

Maybe this way, sometime soon, we can reclaim our humanity from those who want to impede our species' intellectual progress and self-fulfillment.
[Here's an older post written at the time of the Danish cartoon controversy. Who's afraid of offensive speech?]

PS>The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by most UN members, should be re-read by those who seek to limit free expression. From the UDHR:

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Feb 25, 2009

The Party of Beavis and Butthead

In all of my classes today, we've been discussing Obama's first speech to Congress and the Republican response by gov. Jindal. The two men delivered two very different views on the role of government. Obviously one was a much better messenger but the point of their differences should not be missed. I now think that they both are addressing a different audience. If Jindal and the conservatives think this kind of idiotic appeal works, I hope they keep using it. I wouldn't be surprised if the hard-core conservatives thought Jindal scored big... they thought the same about Sarah Palin!

On the other hand, Obama must win his bet, that is, like FDR, he has to show that sensible government can be a powerful means for improving the lives of most Americans. The conservatives have opposed every single worthwhile policy that today we take for granted and don't want to give up. Social security, medicare, seat belts, collective bargaining (unions), and electrification--just to name a few. If Obama passes a meaningful health care reform, it will further limit the conservative appeal and reduce their maneuvering space . Likewise with immigration reform--Latinos have been voting Democratic by 3-1. If this group solidifies behing the Dems, there will be a new political realignment that can last generations.

Last November, the Economist published an article, Ship of Fools, referring to the Republican party.

The Republicans lost the battle of ideas even more comprehensively than they lost the battle for educated votes, marching into the election armed with nothing more than slogans. Energy? Just drill, baby, drill. Global warming? Crack a joke about Ozone Al. Immigration? Send the bums home. Torture and Guantánamo? Wear a T-shirt saying you would rather be water-boarding. Ha ha. During the primary debates, three out of ten Republican candidates admitted that they did not believe in evolution...

..The Republican Party’s divorce from the intelligentsia has been a while in the making. The born-again Mr Bush preferred listening to his “heart” rather than his “head”. He also filled the government with incompetent toadies like Michael “heck-of-a-job” Brown, who bungled the response to Hurricane Katrina. Mr McCain, once the chattering classes’ favourite Republican, refused to grapple with the intricacies of the financial meltdown, preferring instead to look for cartoonish villains. And in a desperate attempt to serve boob bait to Bubba, he appointed Sarah Palin to his ticket...

The public seems to be supporting the president, and a sizeable majority wants Obama to pursue his policies with or without Republican support. As we've seen before the election, there are some noticeable trends in American society. There are majorities that support more regulation, a stronger social safety net, an active government for the commonwealth, and 7 in 10 Americans would favor the government's influence over the health care system in an attempt to reduce costs and expand coverage!

When liberalism's revolutionary ideas broke the Old Regime, and with the American political experiment (post-war of independence), the government was seen as a threat to liberty. For thousands of years, the government was controlled by the aristocracy, the very few who had ascribed status. But, with an evolving political system, and changing conditions, the liberals realized that the government can be "re-captured." Of, by, for, the people means a government where the people can participate in, that it relies on popular consent, and it operates for the benefit of all. We progressives expect the government to empower and protect--with an expanded definition of these two words.

UPDATE, 2/26/09
Wait, there's more. In their own words....

The Conservatives are having their annual get-together at CPAC. I hope more Americans paid attention to this gathering, because the conservative parade is very interesting and clearly show their core beliefs. I wrote this post a couple years ago, but not much has changed since then. In 2007, the cons' CPAC took place after a severe beating of the GOP at the polls (Nov. 2006). It's the same situation this year. The more the lose, the more bitter and extreme they get. This regressive party must be pushed aside and a newer, more modern, should take its place--much like some of the (western & northern) European conservative parties.

Feb 12, 2009

Charles Darwin's Bicentenial: A Good Reason to Celebrate Our Species Inquiry into Our Origins

Seeking and Examining the Evidence

It's not easy having our long-held beliefs challenged, especially when those beliefs have become part of one's identity. Science has given us knowledge--often by destroying our esteemed views of humanity and the world around us. But, this is good; we have a brain that can learn lots, think in the abstract, and able to create greatness.... if we want to.

It's incredible that more Americans today believe in creationism than evolution. A religious belief that we were made in our present form a few thousand years ago. This is despite the theory of evolution being one of the strongest scientific theories we've got--tested and confirmed many times over. Yes, science has told us that we are not the center of the universe and that our species wasn't created in the image of gods, but the other way around. Of course, we're special, but in our brief moments of existence, we should try to make the best of it through a progressive culture of life!

Two hundred years ago, on February 12, Charles Darwin was born. Fifty years later (another reason to celebrate, the 150th anniversary this year), he published THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, but it seems that news travels very slowly in a dense medium....

Anyway, another great great thinker, Richard Dawkins summarizes Darwin's discoveries in the following video:

Our leaders must provide leadership and not try to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It unconscionable that presidential candidates declare, and being proud of it, that they don't believe in evolution. It's appalling that we still pay such a great homage to superstition and ignorance. There's a price to pay for shunning knowledge, reason, and progress.

There's something about science that I find fascinating, and it falls within my definition of the meaning of life. My need to know is greater than my fears. I welcome a challenge and I'm open to revision. It's incredible that I'd hold a belief just because it made feel good when the evidence is contradictory.

PS>Today it's Abe Lincoln's birthday too. He was also a person who helped humanity take a couple big steps forward.

Feb 9, 2009

Sometimes Being in the Middle of the Road Results in Roadkill

It seems that Republicans are on a mission from God, as evidenced by their behavior so far: . They have created this huge mess, and now all of them (sans 3, yes, just t-h-r-e-e in the Senate) have been opposing any effort by the newly-elected and 70%-approval-rated president to deal with the crisis. I think Obama is learning quickly that he cannot depend on the conservatives for help to build a progressive country by redefining the role of government. Nobel laureate, Paul Krugman, nails it (again) about the Destructive Center.

Here's the Barack Obama we liked during the campaign: