some ethical thoughts

morality, evidence and secular thought

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A(nother) Bad Argument Against The Right to Die

Another post that was too long to publish at my blog at BIG THINK. There are many bad arguments out there, but if I’m going to dismantle them, it ought to be done in a way that adequately caters to the problems

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The right to die seems to draw out bad arguments from otherwise reasonable people. As I’ve already done with Jonathan Jones’ article, and as my friend Iain Brassington did with another article, I will examine and point out why yet another post gets this discussion wrong. In The Independent, Laurence Clark has written a reply to fellow comedian Doug Stanhope. Clark objects to Stanhope and his supporter’s vitriol aimed at journalist Alison Pearson and Nicki Clark who oppose assisted-dying. 

Firstly, to oppose Mr Clark as I am is not to agree with the horrible treatment Pearson and Nicki Clark endured. We must be able to disagree without vitriol, since if all we can muster is venom, then we are poisonous to the process of inquiry; we become no better than censors. And those who censor are, for thinkers like John Stuart Mill, almost always performing an evil, since censorship undermines acquiring greater clarity, better arguments, better ideas and therefore a better society and life. If argument is not forthcoming, the emotive and vile responses imply a cornered beast rather than a fellow person. How reasonable can your view be if all you all have to defend it is bitterness?

Thus, though I disagree with Pearson and Clark, I more strongly oppose the abuse they’ve received. I would not want people fighting for such an important cause to be considered allies, even if we share the same goals: when you too quickly reach for the gun instead of the pen, you’re more likely to suffer friendly-fire and collateral damage.

However, Mr Clark is wrong about just about everything else.

What is the Right to Die About?

Clark tells us the “Right to Die movement has … pre-occupied itself with trying to legalise assisted death for just one particular section of society, namely disabled people”. Clark doesn’t list which organisations or people do this. I do not doubt that this is the case for some, but that ignores the broader and more important point: Do we or do we not have the right to end our lives, at the time of our own choosing, with dignity and professional medical help? That people with disabilities tend to often be the focus of the campaigns – as happened with Tony Nicklinson – is no accident: often these people are in a position where, though they are not terminal, they wish to no longer endure the life they currently have. This makes the debate more potent, since, at least with the terminally ill, there is some kind of solace in even the worst outcome: they will eventually cease to suffer (soon).

Though Clarke does not support the view, he does think it fairer that we “legalise suicide and give everyone this same choice and control”. I agree, but this is precisely what he, I think, opposes. 

But we should be aware characterising the right to die “movement” as targeting a specific group – which Clark belongs to – misses the entire point. Do we, as rational adults, who are able to destroy our bodies without State intervention, also have the right to completely end our lives at our own choosing? Clark does not provide a response. Instead, he keeps focusing on being part of the “particular section of society” – since he is a person with a disability – and bases his claims on feelings alone, as demonstrated in his continuing caricature of the debate.

Caricaturing the Right to Die

Clark asks us to think what it would be like to find yourself enduring horrible moments of your life. To imagine “times in your life when things haven’t been going your way. Maybe you’d just lost a loved one or your relationship has broken down?”

And so on, going on, at unnecessary length, into examples of terrible life moments.

“Wouldn’t it have been easy to say ‘sod it’ and put an end to it all? Particularly if the country you lived in openly endorsed people doing this? Or indeed was even willing to help you commit the act itself?” 

“Easy” is hardly a term ever used in these discussions, yet for some reason Clark employs it – indicating again how he caricatures the difficulties and complexities of the situation. If I wanted to keep my neighbour’s dog quiet, wouldn’t it be “easy to say ‘sod it’ and put an end to it”? If I wanted to stop my CEO, my wife, my husband, my children from yelling at me, would it not be “easy” just to kill them? If by “easy”, we mean offer a quick end to the current aspect that plagues us. Then yes: it is “easy”. But that does not make it morally right or reasonable (or legal). Clark seems to miss this point and also that this is how legalisation does and would work! Merely legalising assisted-suicide does not mean societies end up with an increase in suicides. Clark is making the common fallacious claim that legalisation implies increase of that which is legalised. It may, but not necessarily so – especially for things, like euthanasia, we have long monitored when they are legalised (and which do occur anyway, but without legal protections of the medical staff or family that assist the patient).

Easier does not mean right, warranted, or permitted even when it is legal. That Mr Clark misses this and continues undermines his whole assertive post.

Secondly, what does Clark mean by “openly endorsed” in the society? I doubt Clark means that we are happy to end the lives of patients. To a minimal extent, doctors will tell you that they’re glad the patients stop suffering, but are never glad to receive them. Almost no one is glad that people die from horrible diseases and conditions.  Does Clark merely mean legalise? Then why call it “openly endorsed”? Being legal does not mean being liked: most people in South Africa, I think, oppose abortion yet it is legal. I want drugs and prostitution to be legalised – or maybe decriminalised – but I despise many aspects of both (not all, especially how marijuana relieves pain and significant side-effects of many patients; and sex work for those unable to find erotic engagement with others). If he means not ashamed of having something legalised/decriminalised, I don’t see how that factors into committing suicide – since, again, there’s no evidence that legalisation makes it more likely someone will do so, or that legalised euthanasia works like this. 

We will return to Clark’s unfounded and unjustified response to this.

Leave Emotions Out of It

No one is a robot. We are enveloped in feelings, in a spectrum of emotions, that mark us out as non-psychopaths. But what is essential for intellectual inquiry, especially about matters that evoke such strong emotions – and for good reasons – is to allay emotions during the inquiry process. Otherwise, we are merely using this as a platform to express personal sentiments, outrage and repugnance; not working toward solutions, not providing reasonable and evidence-based responses, the outcome of which can impact on social structures. Emotions should as far as possible be acknowledged but for the sake of debate, be put aside so we can assess it as reasonable persons – even and especially if we disagree. I find killing repugnant, as does Clark – but that’s not a reason to be against someone’s right to do it to themselves (given a number of factors that Clark glosses over to create his caricature).

Clark does the opposite.

In the previous section, we saw him asking us to imagine enduring these horrible life moments and contemplating suicide, in a society that “openly endorsed people” doing it. After this he asks:

“How are you feeling? A little uncomfortable all of a sudden? Well now you know how I and many other disabled people feel when we read articles about our ‘right’ to die.”

Is the ‘our’ here referring only to people with disabilities or all people? Clark believes himself to be part of a specific aspect of society, so perhaps he means only people with disabilities; as we noted, this is too narrow a view. Even then, the assertion is fine, I suppose, but hardly important to the debate: do we or do we not have right as adults to end our lives? Since we’ve already seen that Clarke has thoroughly mischaracterised endorsing the right to life – it’s not about hurt or spurned lovers, it’s not premised on only disabled people, there’s no evidence of increased suicide upon legalisation, etc. – it means he’s reacting to what is not real.

If it were the case that the Right to Die was only about ending the lives of disabled people and no one else; if it was the case that access to lethal medicine was easy and accessible to anyone without examining her personal history; if legalisation did lead to increased unjustified suicides, then we’d have reason to take Clark seriously. But even when asking us to tap into our emotions – which by itself is not a good way to conduct inquiry – he’s asking us to do so based on a caricature, not reality. So, yes, Clark would be right, given those fictional premises

But even then: so what? So what if that is how you “feel”? Why is it wrong? Is it wrong because it is insulting? Because of the threat and intimidation? These would be legitimate if Clark told us – but even here, there is nothing indicating what we’re supposed to take from this, aside from something like being a constant target for medical assassination. 

Why Trust Medicine

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of his piece is his disparagement of the medical establishment.

“I find it amazing that our society still puts such unquestioning faith in the opinions of doctors when it comes to issues like this.” 

What are “issues like this”? Bizarrely enough, they’re health issues. Clarke is essentially saying “I find it amazing that our society still puts such unquestioning faith in the opinions of cosmologists when it comes to questions of the universe”.

True, doctors are not the only aspect of health, but they are a vital [excuse the pun] aspect. Their purpose is to alleviate our physical suffering where possible. Their gathering of evidence to support claims of counter-measures is essential, since they are trained to know more about the body, about diseases, about treatment than the average person. Who else are we supposed to rely on for large aspects of “these issues”? Priests? Astrologers?

I also find it strange that he talks about the “unquestioning faith” of “society” in the medical establishment. This is undermined by even recent history and facts. Would a society that has “unquestioning faith” in its medical establishment abandon vaccinating their children, despite nearly every doctor and health administrator saying otherwise? Would a society that has “unquestioning faith” have a huge industry of pseudomedicine like homeopathy, despite various colleges and medical institutions openly opposing these?

Secondly, if doctors are going to present a loved one with reasons to kill herself, is there anyone who wouldn’t – even in a knee-jerk sense – do everything they can to ascertain the doctor’s evidence? If you or someone you loved was told they had certain horrible conditions, wouldn’t you want second-opinions? Many won’t obtain it, of course, but that’s a reason to encourage second opinions, not throw out all medical advice.

Mr Clark’s antagonism stems from doctors telling his wife that she ought to be wheel-bound, to give up work. “Eight years later she’s still on her feet and in work!” Additionally, Clark’s mother was told that Clark would “have severe learning difficulties and incontinence. The doctor even said I’d be a ‘vegetable’. They were wrong on every count.” Furthermore, Clark talks about a report [no citation] that claimed “institutional discrimination” “among doctors and nurses in causing or contributing to the deaths of at least 74 patients with a learning disability in the last decade!”

Was the learning disability part of a terminal disease? Were any of these patients so severely handicapped, their proxies thought the patients’ lives better off ended? We’re not told. Furthermore, what does “contributing” to the deaths mean? It does not mean “cause”, since he lists it separately. Finally, the number one question we should always ask when given a raw number is “out of what?” or “what is the context?”: how many patients who had learning disabilities were not “killed” by medics? 

It should also be no surprise to anyone in the medical profession that such acts occur. Even, for the sake of argument and in an unjust way, considering malicious intentions on behalf of every single medic that killed (caused or contributed) these 74 people, how do we extract from this a sufficient reason to disparage all doctors, medical science in general, medical expertise and, therefore, legalised assisted-death? Yet that is precisely what Clark does. This enormous leap in logic can only occur with the wings of a Strawman and on the hot air of caricature. 

While no one is denying that many people won’t seek a second opinion, since they would trust their doctors; and while no one is denying that misdiagnoses occur, this is not sufficient to conclude: “the idea that doctors’ diagnoses should play such an important role in end-of-life decisions sends a cold shiver down my spine”. What else could be more important than having an evidence-based, scientifically accurate assessment of your condition? This makes no sense to me (and I struggle to conclude that Clark really thinks this but that’s what he wrote).

The Myth of the Golden Mean

Fellow BigThink blogger, Adam Lee has written about ‘the myth of the golden mean’, to highlight the problem with the news media’s terrible habit of putting asymmetrical parties on equal footing. For example, having a medically-trained professional (who Clarke would apparently disparage?) and a grief-stricken mother of an autistic child on the same platform to talk about vaccinations and autism is no way to make inquiries: as was typical of the campaign to undermine vaccinations, the mother’s grief and emotions were more powerful than the boring scientist with her facts. 

It encouraged people to think: Sure every proper study shows no link, but can I be sure? Just look at her tears. Look at her grief. Would she be so grief-stricken if it wasn’t true? I don’t understand scientific studies nor why I should trust them, when medicine often leads to horrible things, like the Nazi scientists. I understand tears, I understand grief, but I don’t understand complicated studies.

Tears do not equal truth no matter how many of them you shed. There is no serious evidence to back up the claims of anti-vaccinator groups; their ideas will and have done incredible harm to children and families. Indeed, if it’s tears you’re swayed by, know more will be shed if such anti-vaccinating advocates have their way.

So when Clark ends his post by saying “There’s always two sides to an argument and both need to given fair hearing” – he’s also saying a mother with no facts to backup her claims is on equal footing with a doctor trained in the literature; he’s saying astrology should be given equal time as astronomy; alchemy should be given equal time with chemistry; creationism should be given equal time with biology; shamanic healing should be given equal time with heart surgery. I doubt Clark would agree with these, but then that undermines his point about there “always” being “two sides”. Is there any side to the debate of the Earth’s shape? I think not. Secondly, this assertion is both too excessive and too narrow. 

There are many sides to important issues, since reality does not conform to monolithic or binary human categories: what is the best way to govern? What is the best way to organise the economy? Though euthanasia is moral, should it be legalised? I can think of instances in which this might be a better option, but that’s a complicated discussion. Thus, even to this debate of wanting “sides”, Mr Clark aids no one in this very narrow assertion.

Articles like these worry me, since if we wish to engage in a more robust debate about the actual concerns of euthanasia, we can’t keep having to overcome such narrow views. The debate is important and having to point out caricature, fear-mongering and appeals to emotion should not still be happening at this stage. Though I appreciate Clark’s concerns, they are unfounded. 

Filed under right to die Doug Stanhope Adam Lee euthanasia argument debate medicine bioethics disability tony nicklinson

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Freedom of Expression Means the Freedom to Insult

This post was too long and not entirely appropriate for my blog at BIG THINK. I’m posting it here. Beware: it’s a fairly long read. 

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SA Hoseini, lecturer and director of the Islamic Centre for Africa, has penned an article calling for some strange responses in light of the recent attacks surrounding the “anti-Muslim” film The Innocence of Muslims. However, his arguments are severely lacking.

Hoseini correctly calls out those Muslims using the awful film (or rather trailer or … whatever) The Innocence of Muslims as a catalyst for violence.“Attacking embassies and killing diplomatic staff, or anyone for that matter, in the course of a protest is never justifiable,” he says. Naturally, the situation is more complicated than being sparked from a single film, since we’re talking about a region rife with political and economic problems.

Regardless of this, Hoseini wants to locate the problem of insulting The Prophet:

“The problem lies in the fact that, unlike in other cases where there is clear legal recourse and relief, the Muslim faithful have no tribunal in which to address their grievance: the insult and denigration of the most sacred personality of their faith.”

Apparently the option of ignoring or accepting differing, even critical and insulting, views is not one.

What’s interesting about this phrasing is that Muhammad being overtly sacred is precisely why he’s not depicted: it was meant to combat idolatry. Now, in itself, it has become a form of idolatry that, when transgressed, invites placards depicting “Behead those who insult the Prophet/Islam”.

However, to look even at the simple WikiPedia entry on this one can see there is conflict. Here’s an example of various, very beautiful, portrayals of the Prophet. For Shia Muslims, there is not as dogmatic denunciation of portraying Muhammad, as for Sunnis. Note, I’ve incorporated the actual dialogue and discussion between Muslims of whether there can be depictions of their Prophet. Hoseini claims therefore to not only be speaking for everyone – as we’ll see – but all Muslims. How can we, let alone someone invested in Muslims and Islam, take such a conglomerate view of various factions, conflicting thoughts, beliefs, and assume to know the best means to respond in such a universal way? This is unfair to those Muslims who think there should portrayals of The Prophet in respectable ways. I for one wouln’t mind seeing more of these stunning depictions (and less of the religion, of course). Hoseini does a disservice to Muslims who do not agree with him by ignoring them altogether.

Free Speech Confusion

But now we come to the main areas. Mr Hoseini does not seem to grasp what having a right really means.

“[Those who cannot fathom the offence] feel that freedom of speech trumps the rights of religious people not to have their beliefs defamed. The argument is as fallacious as it is old. There are no absolutes when it comes to freedom of speech: Holocaust denial and hate speech are two examples of the legitimate limitations that can be placed upon it.”

Firstly: freedom of speech is understood to be the ability to say, portray, express, etc., almost any idea without worry of silencing, violence and so on. I say “almost” because while we should be able to express an idea, there might be times when expressing it “incites” violence, hatred and so on. However, this is the exception, not the rule. It must and, indeed, is very difficult to show incitement, libel and so on, which constitute justified infringement on speech. All of it, however, must fall under a case-by-case basis: not some broad ruling that this type of speech cannot be allowed. As Kenan Malik has highlighted, we ought not to judge the content of speech but assess the risk and ramifications, given the evidence at hand, of allowing it.

This means we can have religions defamed, just as we have any ideas defamed. Mockery, insult and so on are all encapsulated with the same right that allows us to speak up against oppression. In other words, the freedom to insult is freedom of speech. There is a separate question of whether insult, mockery and so on is advisable or moral. But Mr Hoseini does not appear interested in that discussion.

Secondly, who decides whether something is or is not trumping the rights of religious people? Which religious people? What if one religion by definition trumps or offends another, as with Islam’s contrary view to Christianity’s on Jesus’ divinity? We’ll see these problems return in full force at the end.

Thirdly, no one has spoken of absolutes. I’m not sure which advocate of free speech would defend the licence to say and express whatever you want, wherever you want, to whomever you want. Hoseini has not cited any. This is not an admission of weakness but reality: words can have effects; they can change behaviour by delivering ideas. So we can agree on absolutes. Hoseini, though, has chosen bad examples to justify this: Holocaust denial, while unfounded, need not be censored. Just because something is unscientific is no reason to ban it: as much as we would like people to adhere to evidence and reason, free expression only really matters when it remains for our opponents, too. Furthermore, hate speech is already a contentious notion that many, including myself, have not been persuaded by. Hoseini will need better examples, but I cannot think of any to justify this point.

“There is a difference between freedom of speech and freedom to insult.”

There isn’t.

People disagreeing or criticising us will happen. It’s how we respond that matters. We can’t live in a childish vacuum sniping at anyone who dares disagree with our ideas. If our ideas are strong enough, they can withstand criticism; if they’re not, defending them with censorship only highlights the ideas’ inadequacy and, more importantly, allows us to embrace better ideas. 

“In Western liberal democracies, the concept of harm is not properly defined, though insult to religion is condemned by more than 45 resolutions by international agencies including the UN.”

An appeal to majority does not justify “insult to religion” as a concept to take seriously.

“There are also those who say religion, arguably the way of life of most people in the world, does not deserve special protection. Why, then, is it not okay to say something racist or anti-Semitic?”

A very badly-worded question. Racism, sexism, and so on, are irrational and unfounded. Criticising tenets of a religion is not. This does not mean all criticism of religion is necessarily aimed at inquiry, legitimate criticism or based on reason – as the awful film is a clear example of – but, those who criticised religion, like myself, will stand with Hoseini in disparaging this film. I agree with Hoseini when he says “Innocence of Muslims is not a critical movie”. Who said it is? But surely we’re not putting this film in the same category as Thomas Paine or Bertrand Russell? “It is not critical of the ideas Muhammad offered to mankind, but attacks his personality in a way Muslims find unacceptable.” Agreed.

And to be consistent, even questions about race and sex, however, are also not necessarily all bad or hateful. We must not equate all forms of inquiry and criticism with hate or opposition; though there are cases where we can conclude racism or sexism, that should be a conclusion, not an assumption.

Hoseini then goes into slightly conspiracy-theory spinning, which is not helpful here. For example, “Obama could also use these incidents to score his own political points.” Let’s move on.

“Ultimately, the filmmakers’ motive is irrelevant.”

Agreed. It is our responses to it that matter and so far, many people have failed poorly.

“What will remain is a reminder of the public anger that results every time such an incident happens. Innocent lives are lost when thousands of well-meaning but ignorant worshippers go on the rampage.”

We know that marches and rampages are most likely the result of external, violent groups that require outrage and anger to maintain their positions. If it wasn’t the film, it probably would’ve been something else. It’s not like this film was that widely known about before the attacks. Additionally, how can “well-meaning” worshipers go on a rampage? Did Hoseini mean they want their rampage to go well? This doesn’t make sense.

“Preventing the loss of these innocent lives is more important, surely, than the right to say what you like in a movie script?”

This is a false question: it’s not about innocent lives and a “movie script”. It’s about the right to speak our minds on any topic without others wanting to kill us; it’s about ideas that could benefit millions not been stapled shut by outrage; it’s about everybody realising first and foremost that we are fallible beings with limited knowledge, imperfect if we believe in gods and that there will be people in this life, on this world who will dislike our ideas, dislike our culture, dislike us; it’s about facing up to spite and outrage and mockery and being the better person for not responding as they want you to.

That this horrible film set out to test the fragile nature of angry men and women in a Muslim region and succeeded in being a factor should be the most insulting part of all: not the stupidity of the film itself.

The question of whether it’s worth creating a film if innocents will die is actually a complex one. The answer is not obvious, since what if it is the case that the film liberates and helps many more? This is not the case with regard to The Innocence of Muslims, but Hoseini posed the question in a broad manner. As this shows, we need a case-by-case assessment, not a blanket ruling.

Then out of the blue, Hoseini ends his article with:

“It’s high time a law was passed around the world prohibiting any kind of defamation or insult to religion — otherwise we are going to witness a repeat of this kind of grim news — again and again and again.”

This is an example of somebody wanting “a law” to do the job his own convictions are unable to. It is, I’m sorry to say and with respect to Mr Hoseini, quite a childish sentiment. Exactly which authority is going to enforce this law? How? More importantly and worryingly, who decides what constitutes blasphemy? That this concept still exists should be worrying to everyone, including Mr Hoseini whose own beliefs is constituted blasphemy by other religions.

If he wrote and discussed his views regarding Jesus, what’s to stop a priest charging Mr Hoseini under this bizarre “law” for blaspheming against Christianity? Or Hinduism? Furthermore, what about the large parts of our species – and the fastest growing – of non-adherents to religion? Laws do not make things automatically better. The less interference we have from laws to solve problems the better. To prevent “this grim news” from happening again, we need to work on multiple factors, engaged in multiple levels. However, blasphemy will only give power to those who already begun the terrible attacks. Mr Hoseini in his efforts would be aiding the very people he wants stopped, not those who want peace.

Filed under free speech free expression libyan attacks muslims islam censorship innocence of muslims

94 notes &

thehopefulheathen:

iamdysthymia83:

Can we strip this narcissistic twat of her Gold? Like your fake omnipotent superbeing gives a flying fuck whether you win a circle of metal. 


I was just waiting for someone to demonise her for saying this.
This is a 16 year old kid you are talking about here.  
This is really uncalled for.  While I agree that it is silly to operate under impressions like this (that God cares more about you winning than he does about starvation—this is why I dislike Tim Tebow), what I don’t agree with is vilifying her.  Also, I’m pretty sure the “starving third-world kids” would appreciate it if you would stop using them as a tool to prove a point instead of actually helping them to not starve.
Gabby has worked hard and deserves the Gold medal she won.  She is allowed to be happy.  It doesn’t make her a bad person for thanking God.

thehopefulheathen:

iamdysthymia83:

Can we strip this narcissistic twat of her Gold? Like your fake omnipotent superbeing gives a flying fuck whether you win a circle of metal. 

I was just waiting for someone to demonise her for saying this.

This is a 16 year old kid you are talking about here.  

This is really uncalled for.  While I agree that it is silly to operate under impressions like this (that God cares more about you winning than he does about starvation—this is why I dislike Tim Tebow), what I don’t agree with is vilifying her.  Also, I’m pretty sure the “starving third-world kids” would appreciate it if you would stop using them as a tool to prove a point instead of actually helping them to not starve.

Gabby has worked hard and deserves the Gold medal she won.  She is allowed to be happy.  It doesn’t make her a bad person for thanking God.

(via dawndrawsnear)

Filed under atheism reason questiong god olympics hypocrit bully

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On the nature of online commenters

Excellent little paragraph on the vitriol, anger and name-calling from Iain Robertson, commenting on this column, by Jacques Rousseau.

It’s to do with the signal to noise ratio. The Internet provides an opportunity for more signal, but an increase in signal will necessarily bring more noise with it. The usual “rush to the keyboard” immediacy before thinking things through certainly generates more noise.

Filed under online trolling online commenting rudeness civility

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'Shack' on the importance of artists and truth

In The West Wing episode ‘The US Poet Laureate’ (Season 3, Episode 16), the titular character asserts that the job of the artist (or “poet”) is not to relate truth. Tabatha Fortis (played by Laura Dern) says to Toby (played by Richard Schiff): 

"Do you think that I think that the artist’s job is to speak the truth? An artist’s job is to captivate you for however long we ask for your attention. If we stumble into truth, we got lucky. And I don’t get to decide. What you said about South Korea makes sense, you know. Your people know more than I do…I write poetry, Toby, that’s how I enter the world."

'Shack', from TelevisionWithoutStupidity.com, has a beautiful reply, taking to task this common and very lazy assertion.

I want to give this whole episode [of The West Wing] an F based just on Tabatha’s speech. The fact that I don’t, I guess, is proof that I’m still willing to give Aaron Sorkin more leeway than I am others. I remember Sorkin making that comment about artists before, and it took putting it into the mouth of somebody who was supposed to be America’s most influential poet before I realized how awful and wrong it is. A person who cares only about captivating his audience isn’t an artist at all — he’s an entertainer. The truth is the foundation of every artist’s work. An artist captivates his audience in the way he interprets the truth, even as he bends our perceptions of it to include impossible, supernatural elements, even as he sets it to music, even as he turns it inside out, paints it with the perspectives all out of kilter, and covers it in elephant poo — even as he denies that there is even such a thing as truth. All the dead artists in the world are collectively spinning in their graves at the suggestion that, like Sorkin, they were all just telling their “little stories.” Those little stories, and paintings, and plays, and symphonies, and poems, and yes, television shows have shaped every single culture on this planet, and in some cases, are all we have left of them. If Sorkin is afraid to be a part of that because he’s afraid of getting it wrong, or afraid that people won’t understand, or if he’s just afraid to — oh, I don’t know — grow a pair and take his critical lumps just like every other artist and learn from it, then fine. We lose a talented mind with an interesting view of the truth, and he loses the right to call himself an artist. But I will not just sit here and say nothing as he tries to drag the rest of the art world down with him. Hundreds of artists throughout the world and across time have been censored, imprisoned, exiled, and executed, and it wasn’t because they were simply trying to “captivate” people. It happens because, to put it in Sorkinese, sometimes an artist stands up, too. And they accept the consequences when their perceptions of the truth get them in trouble because they were wrong, or more frequently, because they were right. And finally, nothing an artist produces is as captivating as the way he shows us his truth. Nothing

Filed under west wing truth art poetry reasonm television aaron sorkin Toby Ziegler

2 notes &

Jason Alexander on ethical, evidence-based gun control post Aurora Shootings

Jason Alexander on Twitlonger

I’d like to preface this long tweet by saying that my passion comes from my deepest sympathy and shared sorrow with yesterday’s victims and with the utmost respect for the people and the police/fire/medical/political forces of Aurora and all who seek to comfort and aid these victims.

This morning, I made a comment about how I do not understand people who support public ownership of assault style weapons like the AR-15 used in the Colorado massacre. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AR-15

That comment, has of course, inspired a lot of feedback. There have been many tweets of agreement and sympathy but many, many more that have been challenging at the least, hostile and vitriolic at the worst.

Clearly, the angry, threatened and threatening, hostile comments are coming from gun owners and gun advocates. Despite these massacres recurring and despite the 100,000 Americans that die every year due to domestic gun violence - these people see no value to even considering some kind of control as to what kinds of weapons are put in civilian hands.

Many of them cite patriotism as their reason - true patriots support the Constitution adamantly and wholly. Constitution says citizens have the right to bear arms in order to maintain organized militias. I’m no constitutional scholar so here it is from the document itself:

As passed by the Congress:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
As ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

So the patriots are correct, gun ownership is in the constitution - if you’re in a well-regulated militia. Let’s see what no less a statesman than Alexander Hamilton had to say about a militia:

“A tolerable expertness in military movements is a business that requires time and practice. It is not a day, or even a week, that will suffice for the attainment of it. To oblige the great body of the yeomanry, and of the other classes of the citizens, to be under arms for the purpose of going through military exercises and evolutions, as often as might be necessary to acquire the degree of perfection which would entitle them to the character of a well-regulated militia, would be a real grievance to the people, and a serious public inconvenience and loss.”

Or from Merriam-Webster dictionary:
Definition of MILITIA
1
a : a part of the organized armed forces of a country liable to call only in emergency
b : a body of citizens organized for military service
2
 : the whole body of able-bodied male citizens declared by law as being subject to call to military service

The advocates of guns who claim patriotism and the rights of the 2nd Amendment - are they in well-regulated militias? For the vast majority - the answer is no.

Then I get messages from seemingly decent and intelligent people who offer things like: : Guns should only be banned if violent crimes committed with tomatoes means we should ban tomatoes. OR : Drunk drivers kill, should we ban fast cars?

I’m hoping that right after they hit send, they take a deep breath and realize that those arguments are completely specious. I believe tomatoes and cars have purposes other than killing. What purpose does an AR-15 serve to a sportsman that a more standard hunting rifle does not serve? Let’s see - does it fire more rounds without reload? Yes. Does it fire farther and more accurately? Yes. Does it accommodate a more lethal payload? Yes. So basically, the purpose of an assault style weapon is to kill more stuff, more fully, faster and from further away. To achieve maximum lethality. Hardly the primary purpose of tomatoes and sports cars.

Then there are the tweets from the extreme right - these are the folk who believe our government has been corrupted and stolen and that the forces of evil are at play, planning to take over this nation and these folk are going to fight back and take a stand. And any moron like me who doesn’t see it should…
a. be labeled a moron
b. shut the fuck up
c. be removed

And amazingly, I have some minor agreement with these folks. I believe there are evil forces at play in our government. But I call them corporatists. I call them absolutists. I call them the kind of ideologues from both sides, but mostly from the far right who swear allegiance to unelected officials that regardless of national need or global conditions, are never to levy a tax. That they are never to compromise or seek solutions with the other side. That are to obstruct every possible act of governance, even the ones they support or initiate. Whose political and social goal is to marginalize the other side, vilify and isolate them with the hope that they will surrender, go away or die out.

These people believe that the US government is eventually going to go street by street and enslave our citizens. Now as long as that is only happening to liberals, homosexuals and democrats - no problem. But if they try it with anyone else - it’s going to be arms-ageddon and these committed, God-fearing, brave souls will then use their military-esque arsenal to show the forces of our corrupt government whats-what. These people think they meet the definition of a “militia”. They don’t. At least not the constitutional one. And, if it should actually come to such an unthinkable reality, these people believe they would win. That’s why they have to “take our country back”. From who? From anyone who doesn’t think like them or see the world like them. They hold the only truth, everyone else is dangerous. Ever meet a terrorist that doesn’t believe that? Just asking.

Then there are the folks who write that if everyone in Colorado had a weapon, this maniac would have been stopped. Perhaps. But I do believe that the element of surprise, tear gas and head to toe kevlar protection might have given him a distinct edge. Not only that, but a crowd of people firing away in a chaotic arena without training or planning - I tend to think that scenario could produce even more victims.

Lastly, there are these well-intended realists that say that people like this evil animal would get these weapons even if we regulated them. And they may be right. But he wouldn’t have strolled down the road to Kmart and picked them up. Regulated, he would have had to go to illegal sources - sources that could possibly be traced, watched, overseen. Or he would have to go deeper online and those transactions could be monitored. “Hm, some guy in Aurora is buying guns, tons of ammo and kevlar - plus bomb-making ingredients and tear gas. Maybe we should check that out.”

But that won’t happen as long as all that activity is legal and unrestricted.

I have been reading on and off as advocates for these weapons make their excuses all day long. Guns don’t kill - people do. Well if that’s correct, I go with , let them kill with tomatoes. Let them bring baseball bats, knives, even machetes —- a mob can deal with that.

There is no excuse for the propagation of these weapons. They are not guaranteed or protected by our constitution. If they were, then we could all run out and purchase a tank, a grenade launcher, a bazooka, a SCUD missile and a nuclear warhead. We could stockpile napalm and chemical weapons and bomb-making materials in our cellars under our guise of being a militia.

These weapons are military weapons. They belong in accountable hands, controlled hands and trained hands. They should not be in the hands of private citizens to be used against police, neighborhood intruders or people who don’t agree with you. These are the weapons that maniacs acquire to wreak murder and mayhem on innocents. They are not the same as handguns to help homeowners protect themselves from intruders. They are not the same as hunting rifles or sporting rifles. These weapons are designed for harm and death on big scales.

SO WHY DO YOU CONTINUE TO SUPPORT THEM? WHY DO YOU NOT, AT LEAST, AGREE TO SIT WITH REASONABLE PEOPLE FROM BOTH SIDES AND ASK HARD QUESTIONS AND LOOK AT HARD STATISTICS AND POSSIBLY MAKE SOME COMPROMISES FOR THE GREATER GOOD? SO THAT MOTHERS AND FATHERS AND CHILDREN ARE NOT SLAUGHTERED QUITE SO EASILY BY THESE MONSTERS? HOW CAN IT HURT TO STOP DEFENDING THESE THINGS AND AT LEAST CONSIDER HOW WE CAN ALL WORK TO TRY TO PREVENT ANOTHER DAY LIKE YESTERDAY?

We will not prevent every tragedy. We cannot stop every maniac. But we certainly have done ourselves no good by allowing these particular weapons to be acquired freely by just about anyone.

I’ll say it plainly - if someone wants these weapons, they intend to use them. And if they are willing to force others to “pry it from my cold, dead hand”, then they are probably planning on using them on people.

So, sorry those of you who tell me I’m an actor, or a has-been or an idiot or a commie or a liberal and that I should shut up. You can not watch my stuff, you can unfollow and you can call me all the names you like. I may even share some of them with my global audience so everyone can get a little taste of who you are.

But this is not the time for reasonable people, on both sides of this issue, to be silent. We owe it to the people whose lives were ended and ruined yesterday to insist on a real discussion and hopefully on some real action.

In conclusion, whoever you are and wherever you stand on this issue, I hope you have the joy of family with you today. Hold onto them and love them as best you can. Tell them what they mean to you. Yesterday, a whole bunch of them went to the movies and tonight their families are without them. Every day is precious. Every life is precious. Take care. Be well. Be safe. God bless.

Jason Alexander       

SOURCE: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/if2nht

Filed under aurora shooting Jason Alexander gun control gun rights politics

35 notes &

Toby Ziegler on US gun control, from The West Wing, Season 2:13 “Bartlet’s Third State of the Union”.

Transcript of important parts:

Toby Ziegler: If you combine the populations of Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Australia, you’ll get a population roughly the size of the United States. We had 32,000 gun deaths last year, they had 112. Do you think it’s because Americans are more homicidal by nature? Or do you think it’s because those guys have gun control laws? 

Filed under gun control aurora shooting west wing toby ziegler ethics laws legality gun rights

8 notes &

AFC: CONGRATULATIONS!

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