Jun 27, 2015

Let's Celebrate a Great Victory for Equal Marriage Rights for All People. Conservatives Are Still in Sodom and Gomorrah Time & Place

What a month it has been for progressive causes in the US; the latest is that people have a right to marry a person of their choice--a right that should have been recognized long time ago. It's definitely a victory for human rights as our country is inching to the 21st century while the conservatives are kicking and screaming.

A divided supreme court (5-4) finally took the reasonable path to expanding on a couple previous decisions and making same-sex marriage legal in the whole country. In the 1960s, the Loving v. Virginia case the high court established the right to interracial marriage. Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924 had tried to preserve racial purity, as many states, primarily in the deep south, forbade interracial marriages.

There have been instances of horrible treatment of homosexuals in the US, but slowly a movement began to form and push on many fronts within America society. Look, LGBT people have been in every society throughout our human history; often they were oppressed into silence and denial of who they were. Societies have benefited, because such individuals contributed to arts, sciences, culture, politics, and every other domain you can think of. It was criminal to punish them for their nature and deny them their constitutional rights.

Almost to the day, 40 years ago, a police raid on a gay bar--the Stonewall Inn in the Village section of New York City--touched off days of violent clashes and riots, events that galvanized the gay community and it became clear to all progressives that this kind of treatment of the LGBT community had to change. In the 1960s and early 1970s, it was a time of rapid change when important questions about the nature of American society were seen as a big challenge. Too much too soon--beginning with women arriving in the marketplace, civil rights for blacks, sexual revolution, political instability--usually triggers a counter-reaction. And, it did. It was the conservatives who pushed back and eventually dominated the highest levels of our political system for at least 25 years, from 1980 to the dawn of the 21st century.

A Long Arduous Road

But, even if progress can be slow, painful, and challenging, it usually marches on.

In 2003, the court struck down anti-sodomy laws in Texas v. Lawrence. Justice Kennedy--a Republican-nominated judge, but with a centrist (swing vote) flair--wrong both that majority opinions, then and last Friday.  In 2012, the same court struck down the DOMA, which had passed by Congress and signed into law by president Clinton in 1996, not so long ago as far as important laws go.

So, what happened? Well, one thing is that once Hawaii and Massachusetts passed laws allowing same-sex marriage, then it became apparent--in the eyes of the conservatives, which include Democrats and traditionalists--that giving rights to those who are entitled to but denied because of religious superstition, nothing bad happens! These two states and a couple dozen more than followed created more happiness and, surprise surprise, God didn't destroy them like Sodom and Gomorrah. Who knew, right?...

But, let's not forget what happened in 2008 and 2012, that is, the election of a Democratic president. We would not have had two liberal judges, Kagan and Sotomayor on the court today if it hadn't been for president Obama! You see presidents nominate judges to the supreme court and these judges aren't all the same in that they have a particular judicial philosophy. The conservatives--Scalia, Alito, Thomas, Roberts--voted against giving people the right to marry a spouse of their choice. The liberals--Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer--and the centrist Kennedy decided that it is a constitutional right in the US for adults to marry any person of their choice, and that every state not only has to recognize marriages from other states but every state must allow same-sex marriage!

A present for the conservatives
The conservatives, including the likes of Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts in their dissent proposed laughable arguments. It's incredible that Scalia and Roberts are considered intellectuals. If you look at their arguments they sound sophisticated bullshit, ignorant of historical framework, and the constitutional liberal democracy we're supposed to have here. 

For example, they say unelected judges shouldn't be undone the work of legislatures, referring to the state legislatures that had passed constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage. But, a liberal democracy that has enshrined rights in the federal constitution is not a pure democracy, whereas the majority can take rights from the minority. That was the old south, keeping slaves because, guess what, the majority thought it was fine and dandy! Rights are meaningful when they're given to the minority. Justice Elena Kagan stated that the US is not a pure democracy (majority rules on everything), but it's rather a constitutional (liberal) democracy!

Or, that activist judges [yes, them liberals.... because when conservative judges do the same activism (remember Bush v. Gore?) it's ..legal!] destroy what society wants in defining marriage! What kind of ridiculous argument is this? We've always redefined the institution of marriage. The cases listed above did just that. Oh, you mean the Biblical definition? [You didn't think religion had nothing to do with this argument, did you?] Well, the Bible sanctioned marriage between a man and several women, plus many more concubines (sex servants). Oh, and underage girls given as brides to usually much older men. We call such practice today rape and it's illegal.

In Obergefell v. Hodges [check this out, how Jim Obergefell became the face of the in front of the supreme court] the majority of the court agreed that the US constitution is a living document, applied to contemporary circumstances within the greater framework of its liberal democratic principles. The strict constructionists, like Scalia, believe it's a dead document, thus accusing activist judges of inventing stuff not explicitly stated in the constitution. This is, of course, a stinking bullcrap pile of an argument...

Article 2, Section 2, clause 1 of the US constitution: "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States...".   Hmm, so then who should be in charge of the US Air Force then?

Let's salute this important moment in our history for civil rights and liberties. In the words of president Obama,

“This ruling is a victory for America. This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believe in their hearts. When all Americans are truly treated as equal, we are more free.”

However, we still have a presidential race developing. This decision will further expose the bigotry and backwardness of the Republicans. Already their candidates (and not only) are talking about how to reverse this ruling. Unfortunately for them, the country has moved while their party has regressed further into the dark ages. Let's not stop pointing this out, because quality of life issues aren't only based on economics but on law and culture as well.  

 The Supreme Court's Opinion as Written by Justice Anthony Kennedy

"Marriage is sacred to those who live by their religions and offers unique fulfillment to those who find meaning in the secular realm. Its dynamic allows two people to find a life that could not be found alone, for a marriage becomes greater than just the two persons. Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations."

The swinger on the high court, justice Anthony Kennedy. His vote proved crucial in the 5-4 decision
"As all parties agree, many same-sex couples provide loving and nurturing homes to their children, whether biological or adopted. ... Excluding same-sex couples from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry. Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. 

The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples."
"In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. 

The Constitution grants them that right."

Jun 21, 2015

After the Charleston, SC, Massacre, David Hume's ..Religion Comes to Mind...*

Today, many people are bowing in prayer, especially in Charleston, SC, after the massacre, whereas a lone gunman killed nine people in church who were praying to God. Any decent person is saddened by this kind of immoral act. Innocent lives lost always emotionally traumatize individuals and societies as a whole. Decent human beings would act to prevent such injurious acts if they could.

Today, there are lots of speeches expressing sorrow but also a belief in God. I find it truly amazing that what almost any person would do as a matter of decency is not done by God, and yet God is given only the good credit, never the bad. This is the behavior that hostages or people drenched in fear (like those under brutal totalitarian regimes) exhibit.

Actually, the speeches that urged us to be even more faithful in the face of a great tragedy are offensive for they ask me to suspend reason and dictate that I must feel the ..love of God and whatever else groupthink purports

Being faithful--accepting even the most incredible--is being able to accept anything without evidence or reason. This is like the worst virus of the mind, and this is exactly what religion is. It has a fail safe too; challenge it and it turns the faithful into a more defensive and close-minded person!

Oh, free will, they reply. Really? First, the grand designer created humans with certain attributes, including the bad ones. Why should a defective product's actions be harmful to me? Where;s my free will?  Why don't I get godly protection? To live my life the way I see it most rewarding without harming others of course! And, how about natural disasters and diseases that regularly kill millions of humans? If anyone wants to argue about free will a short trip to the local hospital should make them wonder why children (even babies) have cancer and other deathly diseases.... But, of course, this is not about using reason to understand--instead we're being asked to use our head to bow slavishly. Using faith to numb the mind and to accept horror, immorality, death, and suffering as part of the designer's great plan, should not be the practice of thinking people nowadays.

So, please, let's mourn those who die, let's help the world be a better humane place, and let's stop this nonsense about bowing our heads to an imaginary deity, who's either incompetent or impotent and thus cannot stop evil, or who doesn't really care when evil happens. 

“Epicurus's old questions are still unanswered: Is he (God) willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? then whence evil?”   ― David Hume

*David Hume on Religion

Jun 13, 2015

“If it can be destroyed by the truth, it deserves to be destroyed by the truth.” Carl Sagan

Free expression is desirable until someone gets offended, but the essence of free speech is that being offended shouldn't be a barrier to speech, because this is a sure way to kill true dialogue, debate, and, yes, revision. Primitive, traditional, conservative societies have the greatest penalties (social and legal) against the new, the different and progressive. Most people in history and all societies until very recently--and this is not universal even in the 21st century--have been conservative.

If only the cartoonists applied their magical powers wisely...
Yes, there's value in preserving stability. It's comforting to know what to expect even if this isn't optimal. How, then, does a person become progressive? How does he/she is willing and able to entertain the abstract? The abstract in the sense of something that has not been tried yet.

I think most, not all, people conform to their surroundings. In evolutionary terms, this is an advantage. Adapt or perish. Yet, this is not quite obvious, or the advantages of change may not be easily understood. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," is true but limits innovation and change. Not all change is good, and there are risks, however, we wouldn't have the advances we enjoy today if we stuck to the old ways.

I've talked about this several times before and it's one my favorite lectures in my politics classes: Being progressive or conservative can be described as a disposition. It's the first "gut reaction" people have to a new idea or a new situation. Of course, there can be a mixture of attitudes as many people have a variety of strong opinions about important issues. The fundamental attitude though is very strong.

Social and political change does happen. Why? And, who initiates it? Historically, it's been leadership that has moved the masses. Religious, political, economic leaders have shaped public opinion, morality, and behavior. In a democracy elected leaders reflect the public sentiment and they act as delegates. They should also act as trustees--in the interest of the country, which on occasion may not be what the people want to hear. Good leaders are those who take the country in a progressive direction, whereas the lives of the common people improve.

Fighting slavery and for civil rights hasn't been popular always; same with defending free expression that may be to the dislike of the majority. But, such a progressive approach makes for a better society--a society whose values now include many of the things were thought as radical, offensive, dangerous.

Modernity presents many challenges to authoritarian/totalitarian regimes, since technology gives people options to access to information and the outside world. Comparing conditions and realizing that liberal democracies have many advantages, indeed offer better life conditions than closed societies, is an eye-opener. It does take time to truly transform a society since culture (including religion) and the people's sense of identity are very strong, especially among people who aren't very cosmopolitan and educated.

Regimes that maintain (or try to) an iron fist over their people are limiting access to information & technology. It's a losing battle, in my opinion, though many people will suffer as those regimes eventually wither. Now, here's a big question: when will those non-democratic regimes wither? Similarly, is liberal democracy the ultimate destination? I think the answer depends on the existing conditions. 

Competition for limited resources, strife of all kinds, danger, sickness, lack of education, are the root causes of making a culture/society that is not open, less charitable, less secure, and more afraid.  All this is not a good foundation for liberal democracy. I also think that liberal democracy evolves over a long time. This type of a regime isn't the same as democracy--where people decide by majority, but who may also not be tolerant of the "other" and of minorities.

In the 1990s, people got arrested for producing or selling rap music to adults. In times of crisis, questioning the government, or the majority's group-think can still get people in trouble. Some states want to prohibit abortion, even access to birth control. As an adult, who should be in charge of your own body? Should you be able to use it anyway you want? Without harming others, of course. Should you have the power to check out (die) on your own terms? Should you have the right to hallucinate by means other than religion?

Barbarism Thrives in Saudi Arabia

Here's a country that in the name of religion remains barbaric if we judge it by the policies and practices of its government. It's the antithesis of liberal democracy, but it's also an international pariah in terms of harsh treatment of minorities, women, homosexuals, political dissenters, and those who practice ..witchcraft. 

Raif Badawi has been arrested and convicted to seven years in prison, a hefty fine, and 1,000 "severe lashes" for promoting liberalism. His web site, Free Saudi Liberals, is considered treacherous, insulting, and threatening to a society of the Dark Ages. The sham Saudi supreme court just upheld his conviction and now it's up to the new (old bag) king, if he wishes, to pardon or alleviate this sentence. Saudi Arabia should be reminded, every time and everywhere, how barbaric it is. [Here's the NYT editorial on the Badawi case]