On November 9th, 2016, I woke up to see a mostly red US electoral college map. With a 9-hour time difference between France, where I live, and the West Coast of the US, polls had been closed for nearly 2 hours.
At that moment, my thoughts turned to what I would say to you today. You see, I had originally intended to question the way we think about the clash of civilizations. “Individual rights and aspirations for democracy,” I had intended to say, “must not be thought of as belonging exclusively to certain civilizations, not least because that would mean undermining the validity of universal principles, if ever those civilizations happened to falter.”
I would have preferred that events in my home country not impress upon me so sharply the importance of what I had to say to you today, but they have, and they urge me to make my argument with even greater conviction. The problem that confronts us today is not Oriental or Occidental, Northern or Southern; it concerns all of us what is happening politically in states across the globe today.
Many people in power or hoping to get there are selling citizens on a package deal: “We will protect you from the dangers of the world,” they say, “if you give us power.” What are those dangers according to populist leaders? “Economic competition due to globalization; political parties and governments disconnected from the people; and corrupt values that weaken families and societies,” they say.
Now, to protect people from such great dangers, authority is needed, so the sales pitch goes, the authority of strong leaders, the authority of the state. Only authority can protect. That is the hallmark of populist discourses that seek both to reassure and instill fear, promise justice, and pledge retribution, liberate some and censor others. Now, some analysts say that these discourses emanate from a demand from below. The people are dissatisfied, alienated from political processes. Populist leaders step up and fill the gap left by other political elites. Continue reading Crystal Cordell on Authoritarian Populism→
More fun this evening chatting with Chandler voters.
The first person I talk to comes out guns blazing. I don’t even knock on his door. He just pops out with a “Hey there!”
“Hey, I’m Clif. I’m with the Democrats. I’m collecting signatures for some local candidates.”
“I used to be a Democrat,” he says, “back when they were conservative. Now they’re for the homosexuals and abortion, and they’re against God.”
I say, “Well, you know, I’m not a big fan of abortion, but I think the Democrats have it right. Number one, strangely enough, making more restrictive abortion laws doesn’t actually reduce the rate of abortion.* It’s like Barry Goldwater said: ‘It’s always been around, and it always will be.’* Things we know that help reduce the rate of abortion, though, like increased access to birth control and sex ed are things Democrats are generally for.”*
“Well, that’s true,” he says, “and that’s why I’m not strictly for one side or the other. But, I don’t know why everything has to be gay, gay, gay now. You can’t turn on the TV these days without homosexuals in everything. You know, I believe in the Bible, and the Bible makes it totally clear that homosexuality is wrong. Take Sodom and Gomorrah: God sends angels down to Lot, and the wicked men of the city try to have sex with them. Lot offers them his daughters — now that part’s terrible — but the men want the angels.”
I say, “Yeah, but I would point out that there are different ways to interpret these things. There are people out there who believe — I’m sure — just as strongly in God and the Bible who don’t think homosexuality is bad. In that verse you mentioned, for instance, they might say that God’s problem with the wicked men was not that they were homosexuals but that they wanted to rape strangers. Maybe God is just against people who want to rape other people.”*
He says, “Yeah, there are a lot of people out there who want to distort the truth. They try to call people like me an extremist just because I’ve been married to my wife for 52 years.”
I say, “Well, I wouldn’t call you that. I would just say that I have gay friends myself who I care for a lot. They’re people who I think suffered because they grew up around people who told them that they were bad. They couldn’t change this ‘bad’ thing about themselves, so it made them deeply unhappy. I think that’s terrible.”
He then tells me a bizarre story about a handsome nephew who he says was turned gay by his mom and sisters who would dress him up like a girl, in dresses and makeup. I let that one go. I liked that the guy called his nephew “a real head-turner,” though.
This was like a 20-minute conversation that I won’t recount all of here. It turns out that the guy doesn’t like Jeff Flake because Flake’s nephew apparently … neglected some dogs? The guy doesn’t like McCain because McCain is responsible for the shoddy condition of the VA apparently.
He talks about how you can’t have the Bible in schools anymore, but you can have the “yin yang.” I kinda regret not finding out what the “yin yang” is ….
Trump, though. There’s somethin’ about that Trump guy. He says, “Trump’s a guy who can’t be bought ’cause he’s already a billionaire.”
As I almost always do when I hear Trump’s name, I begin to vomit uncontrollably. No, I’m kidding. I just vomit in my mind. The mind vomit helps to cloud the mental image of Trump.
This ex-Democrat then says, “And the Mueller investigation — the Democrats are just dragging it out. It’s just a waste of taxpayer money.”
I start to say, “Well, the Republicans spent a lot of taxpayer money to investigate Hillary….”
He jumps in: “Well, it’s been good talking to you.”
Then, he kinda cocks an eye and says, “Good night and … God bless.”
“Thanks for talking to me!” I say. “Have a good one!”
A representative from the The Door (Christian Center) came to my apartment earlier. I usually don’t answer My Door for people who aren’t delivering packages to me, but she was very insistent. She knocked and clacked the clapper several times as if to say, “You must answer — your very soul is at stake!”
I answered the door, and she handed me this bookmark-sized ad for something called XTREME VENUE. I’d never have guessed that it was for a church group if she hadn’t told me.
She asks if I’m religious. I tell her that I consider myself a humanist now, though I did grow up with a Pentecostalist mom and went to a Seventh-Day Adventist church school for several years.
She tells me how much Jesus still loves me and how Jesus saved her, made her whole, and made her a better person.
Eventually, I ask her what I ask the LDS missionaries that I periodically speak to when they come to my door: “If you passed by someone on the street who is hungry, would you try to help them?”
“Yes, of course,” she says. Everybody says this.
I say, “We both know that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present. So, we know that God could help that person but doesn’t. So, why worship something that is less moral than you are?”
“But God gives us free will, so it’s our own decisions that get us to that point of being hungry,” she says.
I say, “Well, I think we have some free will but not much. After our genetic makeup and environment are accounted for, that doesn’t leave much room for our personal choices. Our lives are highly determined by the circumstances we’re born into. We can predict, with high certainty, how a person’s life will play out just by where they were born geographically and their parents’ circumstances. I believe, like most humanists, that, by focusing on making the afterlife better for everyone, we too often fail to do as much as we can to help people now who will suffer and die if they only receive spiritual nourishment.”
She says, “I believe that we do need to help those people, and it is my personal choice to help those people. At the same time, though, if you die, you will never have filled that hole that only Christ can fill. That’s why I urge you to read the Bible.”
“What do you think about abortion?” I blurt out.
“Well, I oppose it,” she says.
I say, “Where in the Bible does it mention abortion?”
“God said, ‘Before you were formed, I knew you,'” she says.
I say, “That is Jeremiah talking about a vision he had of God. Jeremiah says that God told him in this vision that Jeremiah would be a prophet to the nations. In Exodus, there’s a verse that says, ‘If two men are fighting and one of them bumps into a pregnant woman, causing her to miscarry, the man who bumped into her has to pay a fine determined by her husband and some judges. But, if the woman dies along with her fetus, the man who bumped into her must be killed, life for life.’ To me, that means that God thinks differently of the born and unborn.”
“What do you think about abortion?” she says.
I say, “Well, I don’t think it should be illegal. I think of myself as scientifically-minded, so I always try to look at the evidence. We know that making it illegal doesn’t actually reduce the rate of abortion; it just makes it more dangerous for the mother. While I don’t think we can stop abortion completely, I would prefer to reduce the rate of abortion overall. The best way the research says to do that is to make birth control as available as we can.”
She says, “We can talk all day about different theories. Scientists have a lot of theories, but they’re not proven. You know, Darwin had his theory of evolution and, even though it’s not proven because it’s just a theory, they still teach it in schools like it’s a fact.”
I say, “Well, that’s an issue with how non-scientists casually use the word ‘theory’ and how scientists use the word. When scientists use the word, it means that there’s a huge amount of evidence in favor of it. It’s as close to truth as we can get. Evolution is ‘just a theory’ in the same way that gravity is ‘just a theory.'”
She says, “It’s fun to talk about the scientific, but I think you still have to think about the spiritual. That is so important to me. My spirituality is informed by reading the Bible and praying. Just reading the Bible and thinking about all these things that people say about it isn’t enough. That’s why you need to pray while reading the Bible.”
I say, “Yeah, but there’s something I can’t get over about prayer: How do I know who’s answering?”
“Well, it’s Jesus. You would be praying to Jesus,” she says.
“Yeah, but how do you know that it’s Jesus answering? I mean, if you connect to wifi, hackers can intercept that signal and reroute you to what they want you to see.”
“Oh, I know it’s Jesus.”
“OK, but let’s say that it’s Satan that intercepts that prayer. And, Satan wants you to think that it’s OK to bomb an abortion clinic, because Satan wants you to believe that people who provide abortions are baby murderers.”
“But, I know that it’s not Satan. I absolutely know that it’s Jesus answering,” she says.
“You are certain that something is answering,” I say. “We both know that Satan is deceptive, though. Satan could disguise itself as Jesus to make us do its bidding. That’s exactly the type of thing we’d expect Satan to do.”
She says that you can protect yourself from that by saying, “My blood is pure, Satan!” or something like that.
By that time, either because we’d been talking awhile and her fellow proselytizers had moved on, or because she had increasingly become convinced that I’m the Devil, she had backed out of the fenced area outside my entryway and closed the gate.
“Read the Bible and pray!” she said, looking back while walking away.
“I’m afraid to pray! Don’t want to let in the Devil!” I said. “Have a nice day!”
Sometimes I like to surf out onto the ol’ worldwide web and look for people with whom I unexpectedly concur on this or that. I know that may sound a bit weird as the whole point of the ‘Net is to argue with people, but I do it nevertheless. In this case, I have found a bunch of Republicans, conservatives, or other figures on “the right” who I think said something downright agreeable. Enjoy! (Also, please let me know if you know of other examples!)
“I don’t think we should ever tamper with abortion. You’ll never stamp it out. It’s been in existence since the world began, and it’s going to be here when the world ends.”
“Factory farming amounts to a complete subordination of animal life to human convenience, the reduction of thinking, feeling beings to commodities only and of their fate, no matter how horrific, to a calculation of pure self-interest.”
“I have been to the Antarctic; I’ve been to Alaska. I’m not a scientist, and I’ve got the grades to prove it. But I’ve talked to the climatologists of the world, and 90% of them are telling me that greenhouse gas effect is real, that we’re heating up the planet. I just want a solution that would be good for the economy that doesn’t destroy it.”
“Absolute certainty is unattainable. We are certain beyond a reasonable doubt, however, that the problem of human-caused climate change is real, serious, and immediate, and that this problem poses significant risks: to our ability to thrive and build a better future, to national security, to human health and food production, and to the interconnected web of living systems.”
—Kerry Emanuel, long-time Republican and atmospheric scientist at MIT
* * *
“I’m a registered Republican, play soccer on Saturdays, and go to church on Sundays. I’m a parent and a professor. I worry about jobs for my students and my daughter’s future. I’ve been a proud member of the UN panel on climate change, and I know the risks. And I’ve worked for an oil company and know how much we all need energy. The best science shows we’ll be better off if we address the twin stories of climate change and energy and that the sooner we move forward, the better.”
“If I were writing the Bill of Rights now, there wouldn’t be any such thing as the Second Amendment. […] This has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word ‘fraud’ — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. […] ‘A well-regulated militia….’ If the militia, which was going to be the state army, was going to be well-regulated, why shouldn’t 16 and 17 and 18 or any other age persons be regulated in the use of arms?”
“It was old Tom Jefferson that had us separate the church and state and, while I have nothing against a minister being a member of Congress, he should leave the Bible at the front door. Just carry it around in his head, and don’t try to preach and practice religion in the halls of Congress.”
“[N]owhere do our hopes take more visible form than in the quest of science…. The remarkable thing is that, although basic research does not begin with a particular practical goal, when you look at the results over the years, it ends up being one of the most practical things government does…. [O]ne thing is certain: If we don’t explore, others will, and we’ll fall behind. This is why I’ve urged Congress to devote more money to research. After taking out inflation, today’s government research expenditures are 58% greater than the expenditures of a decade ago. It is an indispensable investment in America’s future.”
There are a few good studies that may help us figure out what to do about abortion. In a recent study, researchers at the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization found that making abortion legal neither increases nor decreases abortion rates.
In another study, researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine found that making birth control widely available did reduce the abortion rate by 62–78%.
The aforementioned Guttmacher/WHO study echoed those findings.
In a 2006 study, WHO researchers estimated the number of maternal deaths worldwide from women obtaining illegal abortions to be 68,000. Millions more women, they say, have complications, many for the rest of their lives.
To me, these studies are sufficient to direct us in forming reproduction-related policy. However, I recognize that a lot of people are uncomfortable with abortion based on religious beliefs. The contention of people basing their opinion of abortion on the Bible seems generally to be that a fertilized egg has the same status as a person. If a zygote is a person, then the commandment to not kill must surely apply.
The closest thing in the Bible that I can find related to abortion is a passage from Exodus 21, verses 22-25. Here is the direct quote from Jehovah from the New Jerusalem Bible used on Catholic.org:
If people, when brawling, hurt a pregnant woman and she suffers a miscarriage but no further harm is done, the person responsible will pay compensation as fixed by the woman’s master, paying as much as the judges decide. If further harm is done, however, you will award life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stroke for stroke.
No indication here is given of the stage of development. The fetus could have been 8 weeks along or 8 months along. To reiterate: if the fetus is killed, Jehovah demands a fine; if the mother is killed, Jehovah demands “life for life” or “wound for wound.” Jehovah clearly does not view a fetus at any stage of development as equal to a person.
The Exodus passage will probably seem familiar if you’ve ever looked at the Code of Hammurabi (the oldest known code of laws after the Code of Ur-Nammu): “If a man strike a free-born woman so that she lose her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss. If the woman die, his daughter shall be put to death.”
Recently, I was trying to find non-xenophobic arguments against the US taking in Syrian immigrants. I found a potential case in National Review (assuming the numbers truly are reliable). Two writers from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) argue that it costs an estimated $12,874 per year (for the first 5 years) to resettle Middle-Eastern Refugees in the US while it may cost around $1,057 per year to move them to relative — if temporary — safety in neighboring Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. Again, if this is true, we could assist roughly twelve times the humans by helping resettle Syrians into neighboring countries with the same resource investment.
But, should we be concerned about this study’s impartiality? Maybe. The same authors published a study last year for CIS warning that immigration in general is a problem, partly because Muslims (who, incidentally, make up less than 1% of the US population) pose a significant security threat. These immigrants will, undoubtedly, “board an airliner and blow it up” according to one co-author*.
The person who said that, Steven Camarota, has remarked on another even more serious immigrant threat very concisely in the past: “[E]ach 10 percent increase in the immigrant share of the county’s population reduced the Republican vote by about six percentage points [over the last 30 years]”*.
Of course, we can’t discount this study/argument simply because the writers may be generally biased against immigration. Hopefully, PolitiFact will have a look at their figures.
Your reason is now mature enough to examine this object. In the first place divest yourself of all bias in favor of novelty & singularity of opinion. Indulge them in any other subject rather than that of religion. It is too important, & the consequences of error may be too serious. On the other hand shake off all the fears & servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.
You will naturally examine first the religion of your own country. Read the Bible, then, as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy & Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature in the case he relates. For example in the book of Joshua we are told, the sun stood still several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, &c.
But it is said that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine therefore candidly what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe it. On the other hand you are astronomer enough to know how contrary it is to the law of nature that a body revolving on its axis as the earth does, should have stopped, should not by that sudden stoppage have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after a certain time gave resumed its revolution, & that without a second general prostration. Is this arrest of the earth’s motion, or the evidence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities?
You will next read the new testament. It is the history of a personage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions 1. of those who say he was begotten by god, born of a virgin, suspended & reversed the laws of nature at will, & ascended bodily into heaven: and 2. of those who say he was a man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions to divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition by being gibbeted according to the Roman law which punished the first commission of that offence by whipping, & the second by exile or death in furcâ. […]
These questions are examined in the books I have mentioned under the head of religion, & several others. They will assist you in your inquiries, but keep your reason firmly on the watch in reading them all. Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no god you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort & pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there is a god, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, & that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a god, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love.
In fine, I repeat you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, & neither believe nor reject anything because any other persons, or description of persons have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness but uprightness of the decision.
I forgot to observe when speaking of the new testament that you should read all the histories of Christ, as well of those whom a council of ecclesiastics have decided for us to be Pseudo-evangelists, as those they named Evangelists. Because these Pseudo-evangelists pretended to inspiration as much as the others, and you are to judge their pretensions by your own reason, & not by the reason of those ecclesiastics. Most of these are lost. There are some however still extant, collected by Fabricius which I will endeavor to get & send you.
Point taken — I should be more critical of photos. But do you have anything to say about the address – which did happen? Or anything about her views?
I’ve meant to explore her views in more depth, but, not having done so, I can’t comment on those views generally. However, I can let her speak for herself of this encounter:
All the world over, in Penang and Skagway, in El Paso and Helsingfors, I have found women’s psychology in the matter of child-bearing essentially the same, no matter what the class, religion, or economic status. Always to me any aroused group was a good group, and therefore I accepted an invitation to talk to the women’s branch of the Ku Klux Klan at Silver Lake, New Jersey, one of the weirdest experiences I had in lecturing.
Never before had I looked into a sea of faces like these. I was sure that if I uttered one word, such as abortion, outside the usual vocabulary of these women they would go off into hysteria. And so my address that night had to be in the most elementary terms, as though I were trying to make children understand.
In the end, through simple illustrations I believed I had accomplished my purpose. A dozen invitations to speak to similar groups were proffered. The conversation went on and on, and when we were finally through it was too late to return to New York. Under a curfew law everything in Silver Lake shut at nine o’clock. I could not even send a telegram to let my family know whether I had been thrown in the river or was being held incommunicado. It was nearly one before I reached Trenton, and I spent the night in a hotel.
The following is the result of a Pearson correlation performed using SPSS.
The data on Muslim population proportion are from here; the data on FGM prevalence are from here.
Download the data set here.
Caveats: I am almost certainly not qualified to analyze these data appropriately. (I have a semester of behavioral health stats under my belt, but I do not use the information regularly.) In some cases, Wikipedia lists a range of FGM prevalence. I tried to use the figure that appeared to be most reliable.
Is this a significant correlation? According to this reference, a value between .40 and .69 is considered a “strong relationship.” So, .504 would be considered a significant correlation.