Kavanaugh the Folkloric Monster of the Mid-Atlantic

In my wife’s country, there is an old folkloric story from the time of small villages and horse-trodden roads of a monstrous woman called la Cegua. She only appeared at nights on lonely roads, asking late-night travelers for a ride to the nearest village. To drunk men returning home from a night at the bar she appeared as a beautiful woman, and would ask to climb atop the horse and sit behind him. Then suddenly, midway into the ride, she would change and reveal her true form as a monstrous demon with a horse skull for a head and eyes of fire. She would then grab tight onto the man, and the startled horse would begin to gallop, until they both fell. Only those men who had innocent intentions would escape alive; the rest would die.

Obviously, no such creature as la Cegua ever existed, but you can imagine how the story came about. You can imagine older men in town swearing to God and the Virgin that they saw la Cegua on a road one night years ago, that they in fact gave her a ride and looked into the flaming eyes in her skull, and escaped only because of the purity of their hearts. You can imagine a man on his way home on a dark night atop his old slow horse, convincing himself la Cegua wasn’t going to come out, until suddenly a woman on the side of the road causes him to send his horse off in a gallop.

You can kind of imagine what he says, breathlessly, as he arrives at his door:

“I saw her, la Cegua! She was on the road, looking like a beautiful woman. She was asking for a ride, but then a cloud shifted and the moon came out to shine full on her face. In a moment she changed, and her flaming eyes pierced out of her skull straight into mine. I don’t know how I made it back, except that I ran the horse as fast as I could.  I’m sure it was her!”

Today, we are beginning to see the formation of a new folkloric monster. It is in the form of Brett Kavanaugh. Not the real Brett Kavanaugh, but the one that exists in the present leftwing imagination.

This folkloric Kavanaugh has evolved in a darker turn from the “Bill Brasky” stories. Rather than just being comically adept at drinking and picking up women, this Kavanaugh is more like a drunken ogre who emerges from a cave deep in the Mid-Atlantic woods and wanders forth into civilization, stumbling into parties, starting fights and assaulting women, before dragging a helpless victim back to his cave. Maybe he’ll show up at your boat party in Rhode Island and get into a fight while groping women.  Maybe he’ll throw ice at you in a bar in Connecticut.  Maybe he’ll drunkenly stumble out of a bar and pin you to a wall.  Or maybe he and his companion Mark Judge (of equally folkloric proportions) will drag you into a cave and take turns raping you all night.

No one can know if or when they’ll be safe from Brett Kavanaugh, or where he’ll appear next.

One thing for certain is that he only appears on dark nights when the moon is hidden, and that he only comes to places with lots of beer. Kavanaugh likes beer. And then in a moment, he’ll rear up to 8 feet tall, an angry monster with poor temperament, beer on his breath and hands that end in knives for cutting off loose clothing. Will he wag his penis at you? Will he drop qualuudes in your punch and summon a gang of rapists to take turns having their way with you? Or will he just throw beer in your face?

It’s Brett Kavanaugh! As unpredictable as he is belligerently drunk!  80’s partiers beware!

More and more sightings are beginning to appear in the press, and I expect even more and more and more as the week drags on and the FBI finishes its investigation and what passes for a press in this country struggles to print anything at all that anyone at all is willing to say to stop Kavanaugh from becoming the fifth (now much more-so) conservative on the Supreme Court.

You can almost imagine an old man in a bar swearing to God and his mother’s grave that he saw Brett Kavanaugh one night in a bar back in the 80’s. Was it ’83? ’84? He came swaggering in, drunk as a goat and mean as sin. Demanded a whole pitcher of Bud Light, which he downed in a single enormous gulp. Then he smashed the pitcher over the head of the guy next to him and just slides over the bar and starts chugging Miller straight out of the tap. Bartender tries to stop him, but Ol’ Man Kavanaugh grabbed him and in a ferocious rage hurled the bartender clean across the room. Then he grabbed the nearest woman he could find, slung her over his shoulder, and with a hideous growl of anger at everyone walked back into the night. We never saw either of ’em again. I’m sure it was him. Brett Kavanaugh.

You can almost imagine, right?

On Contraceptives vs. Abortifacients

The political outrage of the moment is the assertion that SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh thinks that contraceptives and abortifacients are the same thing. HuffPost provides a sample article with the contention that “Kavanaugh] referred to contraception as ‘abortion-inducing drugs.'” and then a quote from the EVP of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund:

Kavanaugh referred to birth control ― something more than 95 percent of women use in their lifetime ― as an ‘abortion-inducing drug,’ which is not just flat-out wrong, but is anti-woman, anti-science propaganda.

This is a convenient narrative for pro-choice activists, who routinely smear the pro-life movement as being motivated by regressive prudery or just an outright “War on Women.” They would have you believe that pro-lifers are out to control women’s reproduction, and therefore pro-lifers oppose contraception and abortion as one and the same thing.

None of this is true.

First, it’s not true that the pro-life movement conflates contraceptives and abortifacients. These are two very different things. Abortifacients act after fertilization to cause the death of an innocent human being. Opposition to this–at least, in elective cases–is the core of the pro-life cause.

Contraceptives, on the other hand, act to prevent fertilization. If there’s no fertilization then no human life is at stake. So the pro-life movement has no relevance here.

It’s true that some pro-life people view contraception as immoral. It’s also true that some pro-life people would like to bring school prayer back. But just because they do, it doesn’t make school prayer a pro-life issue. It just shows that there’s overlap between people who are pro-life and people who like school prayer. Same concept here: there’s overlap between people who are pro-life and people who view contraceptives as immoral, but opposition to contraceptives (morally or legally) has nothing to do with the pro-life cause because there isn’t a human life directly at stake. 

Second, returning to Kavanuagh specifically: he knows this. Much as Planned Parenthood would like to scare up some more donor dollars by terrifying people with the specter of a crazed misogynist who can’t tell the difference between contraception and abortion, Kavanaugh’s dissent in Priests for Life vs. HHS (which is what Ted Cruz was asking Kavanugh about) makes clear that he is perfectly aware of the difference:

By regulation, that insurance must cover all FDA-approved contraceptives, including certain methods of birth control that, some believe, operate as abortifacients and result in the destruction of embryos.

Page 1 of Kavanaugh’s dissent.

The drug that Kavanugh is talking about is levonorgestrel. In low doses, levonorgestrel is a contraceptive that acts by preventing fertilization. This raises no pro-life concerns. But levonorgestrel is also available in a much higher dosage as the emergency contraceptive Plan B. In this higher dosage–and taken after sex (which is the whole point of an emergency contraceptive)–levonorgestrel may kick in after fertilization has already occurred and prevent an embryo from implanting. This is the scenario that concerns pro-lifers, because once fertilization takes place we have a new, living human being and the entire point of the pro-life movement is that it shouldn’t be legally permissible to electively kill human beings.

So, contrary to Planned Parenthood propaganda, Kavanaugh isn’t attacking all contraceptives. He’s not even attacking all uses of levonorgestrel. In fact, he’s not attacking anything at all.  He’s merely pointing out that “some believe” (i.e. Priests for Life believe) that in this particular case, levonorgestrel may act as an abortifacient and not as a contraceptive.

Is the concern reasonable? Probably.

The question of whether or not Plan B can act as an abortifacient is incredibly controversial because it has to do with abortion, but Wikipedia (with a citation) concludes that “While it is unlikely that emergency contraception affects implantation it is impossible to completely exclude the possibility of post-fertilization effect.”

One last important thing before we wrap up. There’s a lot of sophistry surrounding the issue of whether or not Plan B is an abortifacient. WebMD is a case-in-point:

Plan B One-Step is not the same as RU-486, which is an abortion pill. It does not cause a miscarriage or abortion. In other words, it does not stop development of a fetus once the fertilized egg implants in the uterus. So it will not work if you are already pregnant when you take it.

This is misleading because they’re relying on a technical definition of pregnancy that doesn’t have anything to do with the moral issue at hand. Their argument is that pregnancy starts at implantation rather than fertilization. If Plan B stops an embryo from implanting, then it hasn’t interrupted a pregnancy because technically the pregnancy hasn’t started yet. Therefore it can’t be an abortion, because there is no pregnancy to abort. This is all technically true and yet at the same time ethically irrelevant, since the germane issue is not whether a pregnancy has ended but whether or not a human life has ended. 

Other sources, like NPR, have covered the issue much more responsibly and still conclude that Plan B is not an abortifacient because it doesn’t block implantation, only fertilization. If that is demonstrably proven (my understanding is that the jury is still out) then Plan B will no longer be a pro-life concern.

Ultimately none of this will be persuasive to people who are pro-choice because it seems self-evident that an embryo only a day or so old is not really what we mean by “a human life” even if, speaking scientifically, it is in fact a distinct, living human organism. I understand that, and I’m not going to address that aspect of the debate today.

My point is simply this: Kavanaugh in particular did not conflate all contraceptives with abortifacients and the pro-life movement in general is similarly able to tell the difference between these two very distinct things.

Jenga and the Meaning of Life

This comic from Existential Comics gave me a good laugh this morning:


As renoun philosopher Al Davis said, the meaning life is to just win, baby.

It also reminded me of how much I like Camus. I believe he’s the most authentic philosopher of his time period. And he asks a fundamental question: Why do I even bother going on living? What in my set of beliefs makes life, with all its suffering and uncertainty, few of days and full of trouble, worth living?

Image result for job suffering
I wouldn’t turn to Job’s friends for advice

Quick caveat, please don’t go out and kill yourself, but it’s a question we must face squarely and answer. And I believe whatever we answer will naturally orient us towards, as Jordan Peterson would put it, the highest possible good we can conceive. It’s kinda fun to see what your first, unscripted answer is. I said to myself, “Because the Lord has commanded I live on this earth and do good with the time I have here.”
 

Well how do I do good? I would answer that I become the kind of person who knows the right thing to do in any given situation. How I do become that kind of person? I’m not entirely sure, but since excellence is a habit, I’ll take some lines from virtue ethics and Jordan Peterson. I can start by telling the whole truth (which I don’t always do), being diligent in my tasks at home and at work (I’m often a ‘close enough’ kind of person), taking care of my body (which I just injured..oops), etc. And now here we are on the adventure of life, because I answered the rather macabre question of why I don’t wake up and just kill myself. Victory!

Image result for jordan peterson lobster

Speech on the Silent Sam Memorial at UNC

I was recently allowed to share my thoughts on the Silent Sam Confederate monument at UNC. Beforehand, I shared my anxiety about this.  The full transcript of my speech is available below.  My own recording can be viewed here, and perhaps an official recording if the University releases it.

The speech:

Way back when, during the America Civil War, a number of students here at UNC left their studies, left school, and went to fight in the cause of the Confederacy.

They fought out of a sense of honor,
a sense of duty,
a sense of loyalty,
a sense of service.

They believed the cause they were fighting was
a just a cause,
a noble cause,
and a worthy cause.

They would have heard from
politicians
and elected leaders
and news media
their families
and fellow students
and even their professors

— every voice in their lives that they trusted —

that this cause was a just and noble and worthy cause.

Today, we can look back and recognize that it was not.
It was not a noble cause they fought for.

Students today are also fighting.

They are LITERALLY fighting.

They are brawling in the streets,
throwing riots on campuses across the country,
setting fires
smashing in windows
and ribcages,
assaulting innocent bystanders and peaceful demonstrators for holding opinions they dislike.

They are shouting down invited guest lecturers with whom they disagree.

They are shutting down important debates and discussions that are vital to our civic life in democracy.

They are silencing through their activism
and violence
their fellow students,
their professors,
and others on campus.

Students are fighting for speech codes, restricting our first amendment rights to outlaw speech that offends them, calling it hate speech.

Students are opposed to our basic freedoms and liberties dear to our democracy.

Freedom of speech,
freedom of religion and worship,
freedom of conscience
freedom of association
freedom of self-determination

Students are fighting to overthrow free market capitalism

— which has brought us unprecedented prosperity —

and instead replace it with the economic system that all the world over has given us nothing

except Supreme Leaders and zoo meat.

Students are being told that these causes are just, and noble and worthy.

We are being told this by
our politicians
and elected leaders
By the news media
and by Hollywood actors and late night comedians who for whatever reason we listen to
By our families
and fellow students
and
— more than any other voice —
by our professors.

Every voice in our lives that we trust is telling us that these causes are just and noble and good.

I think the message Silent Sam has to offer UNC students is very important.

It is not the original intended message.

It is instead a call to sober reflection on the lesson of the past.

You can believe you are acting out of principles of virtue.

You can see your cause as so self-evidentially right only evil tyrants would oppose it.

You can feel Lady Justice’s hand on your shoulder, beckoning you to honor and duty.

You can hear from every voice around you that this is the noble cause.

And yet be so very wrong.

Thank you.

My speech went over about as well as you would think it would.  Looking back, I perhaps could have been more clear on what I was actually speaking about.  For anyone wishing to characterize my speech as one side or another, the full text is there.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

I got about halfway through When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner. It’s a good book. I didn’t finish the book primarily because his thesis is not acceptable to me and therefore not helpful in understanding suffering from an Abrahamic perspective. Rabbi Kushner argues that, given the existence of suffering in the world, the best answer is to give up God’s omnipotence. That’s impossible, because if God isn’t omnipotent, then He isn’t what we call God. He’s some lesser deity in competition with various other forces in the world, essentially giving us dualism or polytheism.

However, what caught my attention is that Rabbi Kushner is willing to give up God’s omnipotence because it puts God clearly on our side. He wants to help us. He just doesn’t always have the power. And this notion really clarified for me the importance of Jesus in making monotheism intelligible in a world of suffering. Jesus is God With Us, Immanuel. He is the one who emptied himself, taking the form of servant, being born in the likeness of men. He is the one pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He is the one who was put to death for our trespasses. Who is more illustrative of God being on our side, with us in our suffering, than Jesus?

Granted, Jesus’ suffering does not answer the logical problem of evil, but I have thought for many years now that the problem of evil isn’t first and foremost a logical problem. It is a values problem. We don’t just feel the world doesn’t make sense when we suffer. We feel it is unjust. God on his high mountain does nothing while we suffer and die. No amount of good can make this bad right. And if this sense of injustice is our problem, the figure of Jesus is incalculably valuable. If our Lord was humbled, pierced, crushed, scourged, and killed, then why is it unfair that the same should happen to us? We have a Lord who can relate to our sufferings in every way.

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”

Transgenderism

I want to visit this topic briefly because, while the subject never seems to leave the news, the fundamentals of the subject come up rarely. In keeping with the confusion that reigns regarding many subjects, transgenderism ultimately is not a question of science. Rather, the question lies in philosophy. I would sum up the question this way: What is the really real which defines a person’s identity? More specifically, in a mismatch between the body and the mind, is the body or the mind in error?

For this reason, the scientific facts of transgenderism only make sense in the light of choosing an answer to the above philosophical question. The possession of a penis or a vagina only proves definitive if you have answered the above question with “The physical aspects of our body define our identity.” Conversely, the fact that transgender people often possess a brain structure somewhere in between men and women definitively rules in this case only if you have first answered “The mental defines our identity.”

In other observations, the debate over transgenderism has seemingly brought gender essentialism back to circles from which it was long ago banished, because you cannot be something unless that something has fixed traits. One clever professor and journalist caught onto this trend during Caitlyn Jenner’s transition:

jenner comment

Now, what is my opinion? I identify the real with the physical body. The topic of transgenderism is, so far as I can tell, the only subject where we identify the real with the mind. When a person experiences a phantom limb, we all identify the really real with the fact that they lack a limb, not with their mind which believes the body still has that limb. On the flip side, when people profess a desire to amputate a healthy limb based on their mental image of themselves as an amputee, we do not amputate the limb because, once more, we identify the body as real and the mind as in error. We also show an abhorrence to amputating a healthy limb based on desires. I believe, in all cases except transgenderism, we unanimously identify the real with the body for good reason. Namely, a common human experience is the individual (and sometimes even the collective) mind in error compared what is real. Making the individual mind into the sole arbiter of the real cannot help but lead to conclusions both absurd and damaging.

As a final thought, I do not want to leave this subject without acknowledging that an immense amount of human suffering is bound up in this topic. We’re not just discussing abstract theories of the really real. We’re discussing people’s lives. I try to be sensitive to that fact. I doubt my opinion will change on this subject, but I am always open to people sharing their experiences because, even if no one changes their opinion, I find it helpful to know what people are experiencing.

A Primer for Understanding Conservatives

I think it’s fairly common for people to wonder “Are my conservative friends insane?”, so I’ve set out to provide a short primer on factors that influence modern conservative thought. The following points will obviously be generalizations, both of conservative and liberal thought.

Outcome, not Intention

To a conservative, the intention of a law or government program is generally meaningless. At first, that might seem odd, but think about this way: Who in their right mind intends badly with legislation? Given that almost nobody intends badly when legislating, a conservative is instead focused on the outcome: Does the law or program do what we want it to do? If it doesn’t, the legislation can be the most well-meaning program in the world, and conservatives still won’t support it.

Federal Government is not the Only Tool

Even if a federal government program is effective to one degree or another, a conservative is next going to ask: Is the federal government the most effective tool for accomplishing this goal? Could this goal be better accomplished on a local or state government level? What about with private programs? In general, the burden of proof is on the a federal government program to prove it could not be accomplished effectively on a more local or private level.

No Solutions, Only Trade-Offs

If I could frame a youtube video and put in on my wall, I would frame this youtube video.

Thomas Sowell summarizes a philosophical cornerstone of conservative thought: There are no solutions, only trade-offs. I think Sowell fairly contrasts the different paradigms underpinning modern conservative and liberal thought. For the liberal, if we could only get our institutions right, all would be well. For the conservative, no amount of institutions can ever make man right because man is inherently flawed. We can only hope to mitigate man’s negative impulses, and any attempt to mitigate one negative impulse has the possibility of encouraging another. So we have to ask of any law or program: Are the positives of this legislation going to outweigh any negatives it might introduce? Or, as Sowell puts it, “At what cost?”

How These Principles Turn Out in Practice

With these general principles in hand, one can hopefully start to understand conservative thought. A great example to test this understanding is minimum wage laws. Walker and Nathaniel have written quite a few articles on how minimum wage laws intend well but in reality only hurt the people they are meant to help. Another great example is equal pay laws. We can all agree that women deserve to be paid as much as men, but any legislation addressing the issue is going to cross every one of these principles: Does the proposed equal pay law actually work? Is federal government intervention the only or most effective means of addressing this issue? Will these equal pay laws be worth any trade-off incurred?

These examples also represent topics where conservatives are often impugned for their intentions and conversation breaks down: Do you hate poor people? Do you hate women? Of course not. We’re deeply concerned about the welfare of others. But we want to know that what we’re supporting actually works, is done at the most effective level, and is worth the cost. If legislation cannot jump over those three hurdles, we’re not going to support a program simply for the sake of its good intention.

As a final thought, one can understand conservative thought and still disagree with it. I have no problems with that. My only goal is that people first understand before they disagree. Otherwise, conversations are unproductive at best and nasty at worst. And in keeping with this thought, if you think I’ve misrepresented either conservative or liberal thought anywhere, let me know! I’ll probably still debate the comment, but as my momma came to understand, just cus I’m debating doesn’t mean I’m not listening.

Animal Cognition

The Economist recently ran a great article on the recent studies into animal cognition. The article doesn’t introduce the raging background discussions on the theories of animal cognition, but considering the topic takes up three full Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) entries, I don’t blame the author. Rather, the article does an excellent job providing empirical information that can help one better pick among the myriad theories of animal minds. More than most subjects, I believe this topic continues to need more empirical information, because we have so little on account of how hard it is to study the inner workings of animals. And where information lacks, theories abound with little way to adjudicate among them.

In reading deeper into the topic on SEP, I found one particular passage enlightening:

One concern is that researchers may have a failure of imagination when it comes to hypothesis generation; they may make an inference to the best explanation argument without considering all the possible explanations. This reflects Kennedy’s worry when he claims that the following argument for attributing mental properties to animals rests on a false dichotomy: either animals are stimulus-response machines, or they are agents with beliefs and desires; since animals are not stimulus-response machines, they must be psychological agents (Kennedy 1992). According to Kennedy, the problem with this argument is that not all machines implement stimulus-response functions; some machines are complex and indeterministic, and if animals were machines, they would be machines of that sort (Barlow 1990; Kennedy 1992).

This observation seems to fit what I have read in studying animal cognition. Authors will gather a jumble of facts, and then either fit them into the box of ‘animals have minds just like human beings’ or ‘animals are completely unconscious.’ But what about a spectrum? I do not see any reason animals cannot possess mental capacity which puts them beyond pure unconscious decision-making but also doesn’t launch them to the same level of mental capability and freedom as human beings. Now, I hardly have the philosophical capability (or credentials) to give any substantive comment on what this spectrum would look like, but I think pointing out the possibility of spectrum might help break the logjam of either/or in animal cognition.

I think animal cognition also has a simmering background fight over naturalism vs. theism in the western world that encourages either/or thinking. For theists, man must remain separate from animals. For naturalists, breaking down the distinction between man and animal is a step forward. Add in sparsity of information, and what information we do have being closely tied to theory for interpretation, and we have a mess where almost anybody can get what they want with enough massaging. But I find this mess exciting! I think we have a golden opportunity to remain open to new information in a rapidly developing field, and one where careful thought on theoretical underpinnings goes a long way.

Abortion: A Legal Right or a Moral Wrong

Recently the Oregon State University Socratic Club hosted a debate on abortion between Dr. Nadine Strossen and Dr. Mike Adams. If a pro-lifer wants to learn how to effectively discuss this topic, this debate is the one to watch.

Mike made a number of great points. First and foremost, he would not let die the subject of defining what the fetus is. During his opening statement, he emphasizes repeatedly the indisputable fact that the fetus is a living, biological human being, complete with citations from textbooks. Later, when Nadine starts using the term potential life during the discussion section, he states (twice!) that dead things don’t grow. An audience member even chimes in later with a question asking whether these newly conceived, two-celled organisms have the DNA of a plant, a hippopotamus, or a human. The answer, of course, is human.  It’s a seemingly stupid question, but I’ve found asking and answering that stupid question helpful on more than one occasion because it once again centers the discussion of the humanity of the fetus.

Mike also did a great job discussing the future value argument, which I would rate one of the best arguments for the philosophical value of the fetus. I really liked his analogy, which I hadn’t heard before, of taking a photo of the Grand Canyon on an old Polaroid camera. While the picture is developing, does it not have value? If my brother takes that picture and rips it up, have I not lost something of value, even though currently no picture existed on the film? I like the analogy in particular because it’s brief, an all-important attribute for using analogies in debates and discussions.

Future Value!
Future Value!

Mike made another good point on value. Many people will express uncertainty on the moral status of the fetus. If such uncertainty is the case, doesn’t that recommend caution and erring on the side of respecting human life, rather than destroying something (or rather, someone) whose value you do not know?

Lastly, Mike brought up probably my favorite pro-choice philosopher: Peter Singer. Peter Singer is the single most helpful pro-choice philosopher. Singer illustrates that, if one argues for gradualism (i.e. an entity gains worth as it gains functions like cognizance), you have to endorse potential infanticide if you’re going to be consistent because newborns lack many key mental characteristics, such as self-recognition, just like fetuses. The only caveat I would add to Mike’s argument is that Peter Singer does argue that the love parents have for their children means infanticide would almost always be terrible, but that’s not really a comfort because underlying that statement is a very grim sentiment: newborns and infants only have value and therefore the right to live because their parents love them.

kiss-parents
Parental kisses: now assuring moral worth

Overall, I have found that pro-lifers in debates have to keep the value of the fetus at the center of the debate. It’s not that the bodily autonomy argument isn’t also important, or that women in general don’t merit a portion of the discussion, but all too often the entire debate will proceed without a single discussion of the fetus’ value. Some pro-choice debaters actively argue that the topic isn’t relevant because bodily autonomy would win out no matter what the moral status of the fetus. My view: Don’t listen. The moral status of the fetus is of utmost importance. If we’re going to make a moral and legal assessment between two entities, we have to know what the moral and legal status of those two entities is!

Speaking of bodily autonomy, one question with which Mike did struggle was the organ donation question. He made a distinction between strangers and children, which isn’t bad, but I think a better distinction (related to the child/stranger distinction) is that you aren’t responsible for a stranger’s state of dependence, whereas the mother and father are responsible for the fetus’ state of dependence. And if a person wants to discuss whether sex entails a responsibility to any resulting children, that sets up a comparison to child support, which almost no one, pro-life or pro-choice, opposes.

Overall, an excellent debate. I apologize in advance for not giving any coverage to Nadine Strossen. I didn’t find any of her arguments particularly compelling, especially when they focused on the fact that abortion is legal or that some religious people are ok with abortion. She’s clearly a very smart women, but I just didn’t find myself moved by any of her arguments. Anyways,  if you have time to watch the full debate, I highly recommend it, and you can form your own opinions on Mike and Nadine’s arguments.

Four Mistakes to Avoid When Talking About Radical Islam

isis

One of the best-written pieces in the aftermath of the Paris attacks has not received significant exposure so far. It is a pity, because Shai Held’s 4 Mistakes To Avoid When Talking About Radical Islam goes right to the heart of how public dialogue on religious extremism should be handled. As Held indicates, “the public conversation about radical Islam is often tedious at best, and downright toxic at worst,” because, predictably, each side cares more about defending its own worldview than engaging in nuanced consideration of the problem posed by radical Islam (or any other religious extremism, for that matter). Both sides become entrenched in their opinions, something which isn’t helped by the nature of social media. Those with a positive view of Islam and Muslims are understandably inclined to distance ISIS and other expressions of extremism from Islam as practiced by millions. On the other side of the debate are those who are legitimately concerned with violent acts committed by Muslims in the name of Islam, but wildly exaggerate its role in Islam. Each view feeds on the other. How do we step out of yet another vicious circle of partisan strife and find effective solutions to the problem posed by radical Islam?

In facing the current moment, there are four pitfalls we must avoid. The first two, the mistakes of misguided liberals, are (1) denying that Islam has anything to do with ISIS, and (2) refusing to admit that Islam is in unique crisis. The latter two, the mistakes of reactionary conservatives, are (3) declaring that Islam is irredeemably evil, and (4) painting all Muslims with the same brush. All four of these illusions are appealing to some, but all are false, and ultimately noxious.

I highly recommend reading the rest of Held’s piece, it is a reasoned and reasonable response to a controversial topic that does not dismiss legitimate concerns on either side. Something rare indeed.