March 5, 2017 § 3 Comments
The Sandman Postman
I want to add a couple of supplemental comments to yesterday’s essay entitled “The Nature of Truth”. Last night, as I slept, I received a telepathic message from some Indians who occupied most of the American continent when European intruders and explorers arrived and began populating it. The message was an angry response to my discussion of the cultural result of the advent of automobiles and trains as dominant means of transportation.
I described this cultural change as a result of the expanded area in which American people could easily travel. I compared it with the wagon and buggy days when that area was often a hundred miles or less from a person’s birthplace.[Probably an overestimate of the distance.]
The message I received from a delegation of Indians was, ” Your experience was different from ours. If those white people stayed within a hundred miles of where they were born, who the hell were all those people who showed up all over our hunting grounds, killing buffalo and hunting us like wild game, spreading smallpox and other diseases to kill those of us whom they didn’t shoot? They damn sure were more than a hundred miles from their birthplaces. They went everywhere.” I received his message because the space/time/continuum is inoperative when you sleep.
The Urge to Move
When I awoke, I realized I had failed to take into account what I learned from another professor at UT: Walter Webb, who spent most of his career documenting and analyzing the American frontier. So, I now wish to add a couple of qualifications to yesterday’s essay.
First, the European immigrants who populated the American continent brought with them a cultural understanding of territorial rights based on private ownership of specific fixed tracts of land. They saw America as a giant store where land was free for the taking. And, because the economy to which they were accustomed was primarily one based on farming and ranching, their goals were to find, occupy and establish a home on a specific tract. They were explorers and seekers but their goals were to settle down on their own property.
In other words, my argument yesterday was based on the mental reactions of those immigrants to achieving their goals. It did not mention or acknowledge their motivation to travel to the land they sought. It was this latter inclination that caused their culture to prove devastating to the culture of the Indians.
Most of the early American immigrants were from European countries, including England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Land ownership in those countries was generally controlled by various levels of royalty based on grants from kings and queens. Most of the population worked on the land based on various systems of serfdom.
Given these conditions, there were powerful temptations motivating those without personally owned land to immigrate to America and begin a quest for a place to settle. When I wrote that, once they found and settled on some land, where they raised their families, they typically were not motivated to stray far from home, I was referring to land owners, not land seekers. Also, when the automobile and train replaced the wagon and buggy, the frontier was closed. The last displacement of the Indians occurred in Oklahoma early in the 1900’s . The wagon and buggy displacement began about the same time, as Henry Ford began putting Americans behind the wheel of a black Model T Ford.
The Bhuddist Version of Jung’s Collective Unconscious
Another thing I neglected to mention in yesterday’s effort: One phenomenon I find interesting is the way ideas and frameworks for analyzing them seem to emerge, disappear and, later, sometimes centuries later, re-emerge clothed in different philosophical language but, still, very similar.
In yesterday’s essay I wrote about Carl Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious. I neglected to mention a corresponding idea based on a Buhddist doctrine. I don’t pretend to be a serious student of Buddhist theology but, many years ago, i read about a Buddhist doctrine to which I was attracted. Some Buddhists believe when a person dies, a spark representing his being returns to a limitless repository of all life. And when a person is born he is vivified by a spark from that same source. The nature of the new being is affected by the manner in which its previous life as another being lived. This is not reincarnation, as in Hindu theology. It does teach that successive episodes of life on Earth and the behavior of the person who lives it determine whether the next episode will be closer to or further from the ultimate end of the process, when a person reaches Nirvana, described in the reading I have done as “the absence of desire”.
I understand this as a form of immortality. I am not a believer in any form of religion but I have spent time thinking about religious ideas. Several decades ago Beverly and I attended a few days of lectures in Tarrytown New York. One of the lecturers was Joseph Campbell. He spent a lifetime writing and talking about the religions and myths and folk tales of different cultures. I was able to talk to him about religion and immortality. He told me, “Don’t be bothered because no form of religion suits you. No one knows anything about immortality. Different religions choose different metaphors to express their choices of beliefs in ideas that are beyond actual human knowledge. So, you can choose your own metaphor, one that satisfies you. You are not bound by the choices of others.”
Like everyone else, I have no personal knowledge of any truth about immortality. I long ago decided I could not embrace the ideas based on claims of divine disclosure to a preacher or priest. I do believe it is natural for human beings, including me, to speculate about what happens after they die. I have accepted the probability that nothing happens but I have no more basis for that assumption than for any other. So, I have found Campbell’s advice to be reassuring and comforting.
The Buddhist idea is attractive to me because it is not hopeless, it does not depend on hostility toward any other religious idea and it resembles the ideas of Carl Jung, whose ideas are interesting and are based on actual scientific research.
Finally, as I write this I realize that some readers may conclude that I have achieved the pinnicle of hypocrisy: The hypocritical doubter. All I can say is that I have never claimed consistency, only honesty.
PS: I have revisited yesterday’s “The Nature of Truth” and found several grammatical mistakes, misspellings and some sloppy sentence structure. I have made corrections I hope will make it more understandable. I know this is too late for most of my readers but it , at least, eases my embarrassment.
March 4, 2017 § Leave a comment
I attended a meeting this week where a close friend of mine introduced me as a believer in relativism as distinguished from truth as an immutable concept from which any aberration is, by definition, an error at best and a sin at worst. My friend’s intention was to provoke a discussion. He succeeded.
I had not been asked to defend myself on this ground for several decades. I once practiced law with a lawyer who was the product of a Jesuit education. He delighted in baiting me into arguments about this subject.
I have an advantage in these arguments because I don’t recognize any idea as permanent or immutable except those based on mathematics and physical science [2+2 is now, always has been and always will be 4, if those symbols are expressed in the decimal system]. So far as concerns physical science, the truth concept is more complicated. Scientific principles are always stated with a caveat warning label reading, “until proven otherwise”. This caveat came in handy when Einstein proved that light does not always travel in a straight line, related velocities depend on a relationship with the speed of light and space is curved, not rectangular or circular.
Despite these complications, scientific discipline insures a kind of objective reliability because its principles must be reproducible, regardless of the instutional context in which they are accessed. The laws of physics are the same in a Catholic cathedral as in an opium den. The same is true for Chemistry’s Periodic Tables.
Relativism, for me, is not frightening. In fact, as a trial lawyer I had no trouble with the duty of opposing lawyers to argue with equal vigor and enthusiasm that each of two opposing propositions is true. I did not see that as evidence that lawyers are liars for hire. Their skill is to frame facts favorably for their clients’ interests. There are many examples of this phenomenon. The Civil War settled the most significant conflict of this kind: The South contended that natural law protected their property right to own slaves. The North contended natural law protected black people from being deprived of their liberty without due process. Before the war overruled him, Mr. Justice Taney, in his Dred Scott decision, argued that natural law favored the South’s position.
The Concepts Which Frame My Judgements and Perceptions of Reality
In college the ideas of Thorstein Veblen made sense to me. He was a rebellious dissenter from most of the underlying principles offered to justify capitalism. He spent his academic life teaching and writing about the logical faults and hypocrasies offered to defend capitalistic methods of distributing wealth.
I learned about Veblen in two semesters of a class taught by Clarence Ayres, a follower of Veblen. He taught me to view social and economic activity as composed of two different but related forces: technology and institutions. Technology is the dynamic force that results from human curiosity and creativity. It drives and shapes the way humans engage in work, play and form relationships. Institutions change in in response to technology, but they lag behind technological changes. Thomas S. Kuhn’s long essay, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, describes elegantly the way these two forces interact. Here is a link: http://projektintegracija.pravo.hr/_download/repository/Kuhn_Structure_of_Scientific_Revolutions.pdf
As I read and thought about these ideas, it became apparent, at least to me, there was no place in that analysis for truths unaffected by these forces. The most powerful institution in our western culture has been and is religion in all its thousands of forms. The Roman Catholic Church, relying on its historical roots in Greek philosophy as interpreted by Thomas Aquinas as well as Jewish/Christian religious teachings and writings, is a major defender of absolute truth and a system of morality based on that concept.
The Church’s conflict with Galileo is a good and, I think, a fair example of the Church reacting to the relativistic ideas I discussed above. Galileo’s study and telescopic exploration enabled him to see that the Earth revolved around the Sun, an idea in conflict with the Church, which believed the Earth to be the center of the solar system. When Galileo tried to explain the basis for his research, he was threatened with the horrors of the Inquisition. He recanted but was imprisoned for the rest of his life in his home, where he continued to study and write.
I mention this well known episode because it illustrates the way truth is impacted by technology. Galileo did not learn how the solar system worked because of divine revelation. He did so because Hans Lippershey, a Dutch scientist , invented a serviceable telescope. Technology illuminates the darkness protecting institutional “truth”. The process never ends because curiosity is hardwired in our brains.
Stephen Crane has captured this idea in a short verse:
I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never — ”
“You lie,” he cried,
And ran on.
Our Brain is a Universe
Because we are human beings our universe is perceived with, and is subject to the limitations of. our brains. We are not capable of experiencing “reality” as it is perceived by other species of life. For example, we can guess, based on the structure of their hives, the bees do not perceive reality as 90 degree angles. A bee-probably functions efficiently in a “reality” that is structured as a hexagon. The eyesights of an eagle as well as a fly are fundamentally different from ours. It seems likely to me that those creatures see a reality different from the one we perceive. If this is true, then their “truth”, based on their reality is likely different from ours.
In the same way, when, through our technology, we change the way we can perceive reality, it seems obvious to me that our conceptions of morality and reality also change. For example, when the wagon and buggy were replaced by the automobile and the railroad, we changed the way we regarded the sexual relationships that affect the process by which we choose mates. The size of the available choices increased because the distance from our birthplaces increased. The rituals of courtship changed because they included interactions with a much larger and more varied set of people. The days of people on farms living their lives within a hundred miles of their birthplaces were over.
This steadily increasing mobility has resulted in a culture that bears practically no resemblance to the one in which our grandparents and great grandparents lived. And, it seems to me that when culture changes, cultural norms also change. Our literature is filled with stories about these changes. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is only one example that illustrates this fact. People “going native” are common themes of fiction as well as accounts of characters changing their attitudes after becoming involved with and aware of cultures different from their own.
In our own lifetimes, we have seen a dramatic change in the cultural attitudes toward black people, homosexuals and women. I think these cultural changes are accompanied by changes, not only in our moral judgments, but also in the way we perceive the world. Of course, I acknowledge these changes do not occur at the same rate for all of us. But I don’t think the cultural norms claimed to be “natural” and immutable were universally accepted. That is the reason those “norms” had to be so vigorously defended and imposed with the force of law and threats of eternal damnation.
The Structure of Brain Change
The process and mechanics of how our brains make changes in these fundamental principles is a matter of endless fascination to me. I don’t pretend to know or understand this subject but my amateur exploration has convinced me it involves brain science, psychology and religiosity.
My impression of brain science is that the extent of acquired and taught behavior and attitudes is steadily decreasing and the extent and importance of genetically hard wired influences, the result of evolutionary endowment, is correspondingly increasing.. I no longer think of my “mind”, my “soul”, my “body” and my “brain” as being separate parts or places somewhere inside my skin. I believe my entire self is the result of a constant total interaction of my brain connected by neural networks to my entire body. Consequently, what I think and feel and how I react to my environment is a function of this totality, as all parts of it constantly interact. I also believe that we know only a very small part of the way our brain, as it interacts with the rest of us, works or is capable of working. I think, with respect to thenature of our brain’s capacity, we are like Columbus when he stepped ashore on to an insignificant island in the Caribbean. little did he know that he had stumbled on to a vast continent with potential of which he could not have conceived. If we survive long enough I think we will discover ways our brains work that will fundamentally change the way we interact with each other and with the universe.
The Lakoff Effect
My opinion about this was affected when, thanks to my daughter, I read a book by George Lakoff, The Political Mind. This linguist has written many books about the way our mind works, To vastly oversimplify his basic thesis: When we confront an occasion requiring a choice, we make it instantly, based on previous wiring in our brain. Then, a nanosecond later, we rationalize the justification for our reaction. These reactions as well as the rationalizations have been acquired by repetative exposure to similar confrontations in the past. That means we can change our way of thinking the same way we learn to type: By practicing making the connection between a letter and the movement of our finger.
The result of this analysis is: In order to change reactions, e.g. a political judgment, it is necessary to expose a person, over and over and over, to a particular judgment and its rationalization. According to Lakoff, and he has convinced me, the Tea Party succeeded because it selected a particular way of perceiving political activity and created thousands of groups all over America where these ideas were expressed, without any deviation or distraction, for over ten years. That is the way the Tea Party swallowed the Republican Party and changed it from conservatism within the boundaries of traditional American politics to its present form as an uncompromising combination of religious fundamentalism and devotion to unregulated corporate domination.
Lakoff contends that Clinton style center left political “triangulation” will no longer work. He argues we must undertake the same kind of brain rewiring used by the Tea Party.
Carl Jung was a follower of Sigmund Freud. Freud developed the idea that we have a subconscious mind in addition to our conscious mind. He was a doctor and his focus was on methods of treating patients with particular mental problems.
Jung was also a doctor and he used Freud’s techniques but, in addition, he postulated an unconscious mind in addition to Freud’s bi cameral theory. Jung believed this unconscious mind was the repository of the collective consciousness of the billions of human beings who inhabited our planet after separating themselves from other species in the evolutionary process. He based this thesis on a painstaking and wide ranging study of myths and folktales which were part of primitive cultures. He found commonality among these myths and folktales in primitive cultures regardless of whether there had been any contact or interaction between them.
He therefore postulated a medium of communication between primitive cultures other than physical contact. He theorized the existence of a collective unconscious. According to Jung, this collective unconscious was populated with what he called archetypes. He identified personas like “The Wise Old Man”; “The Sage” , “The Wizard” et al.. There is a book called The Red Bookˆ that lists and describes many of these archetypes. Jung believed our brains contain this collective history in our unconscious and that its presence affects the framework of our perceptions of reality.
Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian writer who wrote a series of books in the 1960’s and 70″s about the way the form of communication affects the thinking patterns of its viewer or user. One of his books, The Gutenburg Galaxy, analyzed the way the printing press changed the way people thought . His insight was that receiving information in a totally controlled medium, like a book, by reading, line by line, from one side of the page to the other, was a fundamentally different experience from receiving information visually, like a picture or spoken or sung words or songs. His books were written as television was beginning to dominate public forms of information.
As I read and thought about McLuhan’s ideas, I concluded that, by switching from print to TV and, later, to digital pictures on iPhones, iPads and other forms of computers, we were returning to the culture and mores of civilization that existed for millions of years before the advent of the printing press. During that time, and later for much of the world’s inhabitants who did not have access to TV or computers, the campfire, the cave, the tavern , the church or the meeting house, tent or tepee served as the TV and the internet consisted of myths and stories recounted and repeated, from generation to generation in social gatherings.
As McLuhan explained, this reversion from print to picture changed the reception of information from an individual, rational experience to a mass emotionally experienced reaction to broadcast and telecast performances. He predicted, and subsequent evens have affirmed, this change has enabled demagogues and skilled manipulators to evoke fear and emotions that threaten the Constitutional democracy we enjoy. The truth, to return to the theme of this essay, is no longer a matter of rational thought and reason. The truth has become the consensus of brain sponges. trained through repetitive exposure to visual and oral stimuli, to react emotionally; not individually after rational contemplation.
We are back to ancient Rome when tyrants ruled with bread and circuses. Our bread is the false promise of prosperity and our circus is our television set. Orwell’s 1984 has creeped into our lives, quietly, wrapped in the veneer of entertainment, and bastardized our language, captured our politics and disempowered our ability to resist.
To summarize this effort: Our beliefs, attitudes, conceptions of morality – the qualities that fashion who we are – do not result from our acceptance or rejection of some specific rules and perceptions of the truth. It seems to me that what is true at any given time depends on the context of technological and institutional forces that affect the nature of our culture. As I contemplate the history of these forces and the significance of the changes in the way culture perceives truth, I am unable to discern or imagine any meaningful system of timeless truths unaffected by those changes.
Is there a timeless truth that murder is wrong? In our system, the answer is “Yes” unless it is done in self-defense; not self=defense in reality, but self-defense as perceived by the killer. And unless it is done by an armed peace officer; not only if the victim was doing anything illegal; but if the officer thought the victim was doing, or was about to, or was running or walking away from, having done something illegal, provided the illegal act was one classified as sufficiently serious to warrant deadly force, or if the officer thought it was that kind of illegal act; or was nor responding to the officers’s command to stop or was a threat to the safety of the officer.or was perceived by the officer to be a threat to his safety . . . . I have not exhausted this subject but I hope my reader can understand that, to me, it is nonsense to say that an immutable truth is that murder is wrong. This Byzantine thicket of nuance and exceptions is only true in our system of justice Every country has its own rules and, without being sure, I have every reason to believe the justice systems of other countries are at least as complex as ours.
I cannot see that searching for and identifying universal timeless truths is likely to benefit anyone except those like, Mr. Justice Taney, who are arrogant enough to believe that their beliefs are coincidentally and miraculously coterminous with Natural Law and absolute truth.
February 21, 2017 § 1 Comment
The dictionary describes a zombie as “. . . a creature capable of movement but not of rational thought. . . .”
The essential responsibility of those charged with the supervision of law enforcement in a democratic republic like ours is prosecutorial discretion. District Attorneys, County Attorneys, US Attorneys and the Attorney General of the United States are obligated to use judgment informed by principles of justice and fairness to impose guidance and limits to those entitled to use force to kill or capture people suspected of unlawful acts and omissions.
This feature of law enforcement is necessary because it is impossible and undesirable to use the criminal justice system to proceed with equal zeal to arrest the hungry person who shoplifts a loaf of bread and the bank teller who embezzles thousands of dollars. Priorities are necessary as a matter of justice as well as efficiency.
The Immigration Problem
Nowhere is this fundamental principle of criminal justice more obviously important than in our response to the problems of immigration. We have eleven million of our neighbors in large and small communities throughout our country who did not comply with the prescribed procedures for becoming citizens. Many of them have lived and worked and paid taxes and contributed their support to our country for periods of time varying from thirty or forty years to a week or a day. Many have children and grandchildren who are citizens because they were born here. Many have formal permission to be here – holders of “green cards” or visas entitling them to stay here for extended periods of time to attend schools, work as doctors, nurses, teachers, scientists, engineers – the gamut of useful employments.
The classification of these “undocumented aliens” is a daunting task because it should be done with gumption, fairness and discretion.
This classification process should have been done by Congress. It was not done for two reasons: First, a substantial segment of Republican members of both the House and Senate were more interested in blocking any significant accomplishment by President Obama than they were in performing the job which they had sworn to perform. Second, a sizable group of those GOP elected officials were unwilling to agree to any rational arrangement for deporting some aliens and granting conditional permission for many of them to remain as citizens of the United States. They were more interested in appealing to the bigotry and hatred of some of their constituents than in designing a reasonable and humane immigration law.
As a consequence of this legislative dereliction of duty, the task of seeking a solution to the immigration problem devolved to the President, who sought to create some degree of stability and rationality through executive orders.
As a result of the recent presidential election that responsibility is now dependent on President Donald Trump. His recent blunderbuss mishandling of travel from five predominantly Muslim countries bodes no confidence he will respond to this immigration issue in a rational or just way.
The Horrors of our Past as Cautions for out Present
Our history is littered with examples of how not to deal with problems like these. It began with our treatment of the Indian population that inhabited this land for thousands of years before our ancestors arrived. With many fits, starts and stumbles we ultimately solved this problem with genocide, almost destroying the Indian culture and most of its population. As we engaged in that atrocity, we simultaneously imported a segment of our population from Africa, against their will; then enslaved them and afforded them the right of citizenship only after a war than came close to destroying our nation.
In the 1940’s we imprisoned Japanese people living along the West Coast, regardless of their citizenship, because we let anger and fear overpower our Constitution and the principles upon which our country was founded.
At different times in our past we have discriminated against immigrants from China while simultaneously using many Chinese immigrants as close to slave labor to build our railroads. For awhile we discriminated against the Irish who fled Ireland for America to escape a famine. Later we discriminated against immigrants from Eastern Europe and from Italy. These examples of bigotry were some what moderated by the fact that, until the late 1900;s we had a sparsely populated frontier to which the victims of our prejudices could flee. That frontier has now been closed for over a hundred years and is no longer available.
Tu summarize, we have had several examples to warn us against wholesale mistreatment of people because of generalized classifications. We should not add another chapter of hateful abuse to our already embarrassing past. Simple rules should guide us: Punishment should be administered based on individual wrongdoing; not like an indiscriminate scythe, wounding the innocent along with the guilty, the children along with their parents and the worthy like the unworthy. Children should not be denied the stability of a family. Long time residents should not be treated the same as recent arrivals.
Statements like “They are all here illegally, therefore they are all equally guilty of a crime and all should be treated as criminals.” is the idiotic declaration of a simpleton; not a person with the mental equipment necessary for serious matters.
The Gathering Storm
Today, February 21, 2017, we have the first evidence that, having had his first ham-handed effort graded a failure by four federal judges, President Trump is revising his directions, while still, like a four-year-old child snuffling after a scolding, insisting that his rejected effort was perfectly crafted and expertly executed. This is not encouraging because it indicates he is uneducable, even by experience.
I have not read the new Executive Order but, based on the commentary about it, it apparently preserves the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) exemption in one place but, in another paragraph seems to call for deportation to all who have broken the law. It is not clear whether “broken the law” in this context means committed a crime after arriving in the U.S. or committed a crime by crossing the border into the U.S. without legal permission.
Regardless of the ambiguity of the new Executive Order, its application to the fate of the eleven million undocumented people in our country will depend on the way the Justice Department and the other government agencies involved in the enforcement of our immigration laws exercise discretion concerning the timing and choices based on that Order. If they proceed, willynilly, sending ill trained armed officers into communities all over our country with vague orders to arrest and detain everyone suspected of being here illegally, America will become a dsreputable example of a zombie nation, where the imposition of punishment and harm are meted out without regard to justice, fairness, rationality or morality.
We have already tarnished our reputation by turning a blind eye toward the abuse of Palestinians by the Netanyahu government in Israel. If we apply that same level of abuse to millions of men, women and children living in our own country, we will forfeit any right to boast of our standing as a beacon of justice and hope for the rest of the world.
February 6, 2017 § 3 Comments
I have been trying to compose these ideas in my mind for several days. My dilemma is to write carefully about religion and politics without attacking religion while expressing my sincere fears about the nomination of Betsy DeVos. I am not a religious person but I respect the choices of others who find comfort and helpful guidance from their faith. The narrow balance for me results from my hostility toward anyone or any government which considers his, her or its particular religious belief to require enmity and forceful opposition to other religious beliefs, especially when that opposition is translated into law.
I am aware of the often repeated retort to this distinction: “I hate the sin but love the sinner.” The history of this idea is long and bloody. To an Evangelical Christian the fatal sin is the failure to believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ and, for most members of that sect within the Christian church, the failure to believe in the literal infallibility of the Christian Bible. This doctrine obviously envelops the corollary belief that adherents of other religions, who reject the tenets of Christianity entirely, are sinners.
In practice my observation and reading of history compels me to regard that pleasant expression with profound suspicion. The Inquisition’s proclaimed purpose was to identify and convert those who strayed from the Catholic Church’s teachings. To the man on the rack it was of small consequence whether his inquisitor was loving him or hating his errant belief. The Spaniards who “converted” the Indian population of Mexico by brutal punishment may well have believed they were trying to save the victims from eternal damnation but, again, the victims most certainly did not understand those benign motivations.
And, not to put too fine a point on it, the eleven million citizens of America who are either Muslims, Hindus or Jews should not be compelled to contribute their tax contributions to support religious instruction and political support of religious ideas at odds with their own. When that occurs, democracy becomes a tyranny of the majority and America becomes, thus, not a democratic republic but a theocracy. No adherent of one religious faith should be required to contribute money to support other sects or religions.
It is also important for our public schools be conducted in ways and in a manner welcoming children of all faiths or of no faith. No Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or atheist child should be educated in a classroom where his or her ideas about religion are treated disparagingly or condemned as sinful, contrary to God’s will or destined for eternal punishment.
My Problem With Billionaire Bess
I believe Betsy DeVos is more seriously perilous for our country than any other Trump nominee. She threatens our most valuable resource: the minds of our children. Unless one more Republican decides the future of America is more important than party loyalty, Betsy DeVos will realize her lifelong dream: To covert the education of our children from a secular system designed to teach our children to learn how to think and relish the thrill of exploring new ideas and skills to a system designed to enclose our children’s minds within the framework of Christianity. And not just any flavor of Christianity; the kind of Christianity that regards any intellectual framework other than its own as logically flawed whose adherents are doomed to eternal damnation unless they repent and embrace its doctrinal imperatives.
Here is my bill of particulars;
1. Betsy DeVos has never attended a public school After graduating from a private school she obtained a Bachelors Degree in business from Calvin College in Grand Rapids Michigan. Here is a statement from its web site; “. . . Calvin’s excellent Christian faculty walk alongside you to ensure that you find God’s path for you in the world.” Calvin boasts of a “252 full time Christian faculty”. One of them, an English Professor, described education at Calvin as follows: “At Calvin, faith and learning work together constantly . . . .”
2.Betsy DeVos is a strong advocate for private school vouchers for parents who chose to send their children to private schools.
3. Private so-called charter schools compete with public schools for federal and state funding for public schools. There is a long history of litigation and Supreme Court decisions concerning the persistent effort of religious sects to impose requirements for religious instruction in public schools and charter schools. So far, the Court has thwarted that effort but it continues. There is no doubt Betsy DeVos would be a vigorous advocate for injecting religion into public schools and public funding for religiously oriented charter schools.
4. President Donald Trump, Ms. DeVos’ sponsor, has proposed the repeal of the “Johnson Amendment”, a law drafted and successfully submitted for enactment by President Lyndon Johnson. It prohibits nonprofit tax exempt organizations from supporting or opposing political candidates. Ms. DeVos is an enthusiastic backer of the proposed repeal.
5. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” As stated, this prohibition has been the basis for several Supreme Court decisions preventing religious involvement with public education.
The origin of this part of our Bill of Rights was the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, proposed by Thomas Jefferson in the Virginia Assembly in 1779, ten years before the adoption of our Constitution in 1789. The Assembly adopted the Virginia Statute in 1786. Here is a link to Jefferson’s proposal and a description of its adoption: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Statute_for_Religious_Freedom. It is an eloquent argument for preventing exactly what is now being proposed by President Trump and supported by his nominee to head our Department of Education.
From its origin, the most damaging and shameful thread in the fabric of America is racism. The founders, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others were slave owners. The Constitution of 1789 included a provision treating negroes as 3/5ths of a white person. Jefferson’s stirring rhetoric in the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal” represented an aspiration requiring decades of slavery, a Civil War, bloody political struggles in the streets, lynchings continuing for two and one half centuries, several Supreme Court battles, several Congressional battles – and still remains an aspiration not a realization.
It is now apparent that, while the white man’s behavior can be constrained by laws, his mind and heart will require more decades and generations to become a reality. I believe public education is the necessary remedy for the horrors of racism. Children are not born with hatred based on appearance. It has to be taught. The most impressionable period of a person’s life is between birth and age twenty. The most intense period of time is from birth to age six or seven. During those periods of time, the sources of influence shaping the child’s intellect are parents (not necessarily genetic parents, but those in loco parentis) and schools.
Children in kindergarten do not react with racism toward their classmates. So it is important for the future of our country that the population in those classrooms are reflective of American population. That means we must continue to work to integrate public schools; to insure those incubators of future American adults are free of separations based on race. Privatizing schools is inimical to that objective. It enables parents to “protect” and separate their children from the children of other races and religions.
If secular public schools are protected, adequately financed and designed to have student populations reflective of America’s racial and cultural diversity, the final solution to racism in America will eventually come about because, after puberty, boys and girls will begin to select mates without regard to race and the problem will gradually disappear.
I do not believe we can or should wait patiently for all this to happen. Far from it. We should do everything we can to hasten the end to this plague. I just don’t expect it will cease to be a concern until racism becomes too complicated to be practiced.
I regard Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos as stumbling blocks in the way of this process and, therefore I believe it is immoral for the Senate of the United States of America to consent to her appointment.
This is not required reading. I’m just including it because I found it interesting.
While researching the basis for some of this essay I encountered an essay by a PhD college professor from (of all places!) The University of California. Robert A. Harris has written a series of essays he calls Virtual Salt. One of them is an intellectual disagreement with just about all I’ve written here. Here is a link.http://www.virtualsalt.com/int/intdef.pdf
Here is his conclusion:
“The integration of faith and learning is such an important topic largely because too little of it seems to occur. The bias in the academy and in the larger culture against Christian truth and Biblical authority has had the effect of disconnecting Christian knowledge from other knowledge, even in the minds of some Christians. For that reason, integration must be undertaken with deliberateness. Christians must be intentional about making the con- nections between their faith and the knowledge claims they encounter and careful to keep the Biblical framework in the foreground as the structuring principle of truth.” I include it here to alert my readers that the risk of religious bigotry is real and has powerful advocates. I don’t know how widely Professor Harris’s ideas are distributed but I am sure he has many supporters.
He and I are from different planets but he’s a smart guy and he wraps his argument in an impressive academic package. His essay is a good example of a man who lures you in to agreeing with his first premise and then tells you ,”. . . now that you’ve agreed with that, let me tell you what else you’ve agreed with.”
January 31, 2017 § Leave a comment
I am a Muslim
I am a Mexican
I am a black person whose life matters
I am Sudanese
I am an Iraqi
I am a Yemeni
I am a Syrian
I am a Lybyan
I am an Irani
I am a Somalian
I am a woman
I am gay
I am transgender
I am a lesbian
I am homosexual
I am queer
I am an American
January 5, 2017 § Leave a comment
During the past sixty or seventy years I have picked up a few scraps of prose and poetry. Some of them inspired me. Some made me smile. Some related to my private life. Some were chosen as part of my life as a lawyer. Some expressed my doubts and fruitless quests for certainty. I kept them and reviewed them when I needed inspiration.
I do not share these because I have any claim to wisdom nor with any intent to be condescending. I have reviewed them because I need words to offer me hope as I contemplate the empowerment of a dangerous foe. I especially recommend the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin Louis Brandeis. They remind me that we have faced and survived danger before.
December 26, 2016 § Leave a comment
The Loss of Ari Shavit
For several decades Ari Shavit was a talented and intelligent columnist in Israel’s left-of-center newspaper Haaretz. A few years ago he published a very good book describing the origins of Israel and an incisive analysis of its culture and modern history: The Promised Land. I was charmed by it and, three years ago, expressed my admiration and reaction on this blog:The Broken Promised Land. https://wordpress.com/post/bobsremonstrance.com/2757
Now, a few months ago, as Israel faces what I believe is an international crisis, for Israel as well as the rest of us, Ari Shavit was disgraced and banished from public discourse because he made an astonishingly stupid assault on a woman, a respected journalist, who visited him for an interview. He admitted his guilt and apologized but, as a person with a list of political enemies as long as his list of supporters, he was fired by Haaretz and voluntarily discontinued public professional life.
Here is an article from The Forward, a more than century old weekly newspaper published weekly in New York with news about Jews and Israel. http://forward.com/news/israel/352891/ari-shavit-sorry-for-trump-style-sex-assault-many-israelis-arent-buying-it/
Without defending Shavit’s indefensible behavior, I can’t resist reflecting how his treatment contrasts so sharply with our political embrace of our own braggart about his history of sexual exploitation of women.
I know Ari Shavit, aside from this scandal, has been attacked from both right and left in Israel. He has vigorously defended Israel’s right to exist and has never ceased criticizing the Palestinians for failing to officially acknowledge it. Still, I wish he were around to offer some measured analysis of the present situation.
The Tragic Timing of Shavit’s Foolishness
It seems apparent to me that Israel is now the hub of an international earthquake that could threaten the safety of the United States and, given the recklessness of three men, perhaps the future of our planet.
The three men? Donald Trump, Bibi Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin.
Remember how WWI began? It began in Austria with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and Sophie, his wife, by a Serbian rebel. WWIII could begin in Israel, a country long characterized as the hub of conflict between violent internal and external ethnic and national groups. One difference: In 1914, there were no nuclear bombs.
In the past decade Israel, led by Netanyahu, has used its huge military force to control the Palestine population by killing its civilian population and encircling it with a network of barriers, hindering its ability to care for its citizens as a free and separate nation. This has been explained and justified with claims of encroaching rockets launched by Palestine’s small cadre of outraged rebels. The rockets rarely reached population centers and the number of their victims were far outnumbered by the all out responsive assault by the Iraeli military.
So, again, I wish for some calm reasoned ideas from someone like Ari Shavit. But his fatal foolishness has disqualified him.
One feature of this conflict has been the erection of “settlements” i.e. housing for Israeli citizens on Palestinian land. These “settlements” have flourished and expanded thanks to the deliberately passive and permissive unwillingness of the Israeli government to stop them. They are in plain violation of international law. The United Nations assembly has repeatedly tried to declare them to be unacceptable. Until last week those efforts were thwarted by vetoes by the U.S..
Last week, finally, the U.S. abstained and the UN measure was adopted with a large majority vote.
The Dangerous Reaction
Netanyahu reacted angrily, claiming that the UN resolution was a betrayal of Israeli and was “engineered by Barack Obama”, with whom Netanyahu has waged an endless political war during Obama’s terms in office. The intrusion into US politics has always been treated with enthusiastic acceptance by the GOP and, ironically, by the so-called evangelical wing of the protestant church in America. Until Putin’s hacking interference with the recent election, Israel was the only foreign power granted permission to meddle with US politics. See: http://forward.com/news/breaking-news/358334/benjamin-netanyahu-seeks-to-rally-israelis-with-no-holds-barred-attack-on-u/
This time, Netanyahu’s tantrum has exceeded his past performances. He has recalled Israel’s ambassadors from the nations who sponsored the UN resolution. and expelled the diplomatic representatives from Israel. Trump has denounced the UN resolution and Obama’s failure to oppose it. Putin, so far as I know, has not yet waded into this morass but I am confident he will perceive how the attacks on the United Nations can serve his international ambitions.
So, as a dangerously ignorant and reckless man becomes President of the U.S., a situation fraught with peril develops in the world’s most dangerous place: The Middle East, where religious conflicts cause common sense diplomacy and rationality to be regarded with suspicion and hostility. To fanatics, dying in a nuclear holocaust evoked by religious zeal would be a privilege.
A second national leader , Netanyahu, is a single minded, religiously oriented, reckless man whose policies invariably choose military might over reasonable searches for peace. His success has depended on the support of the United States and its military strength as well as its alliances and reputation with the nations surrounding his tiny nation. I believe he will eagerly accept the support of Vladimir Putin, who shares his hostility toward the nations of Western Europe.
And Putin will surely see the opportunity to weaken the alliance between the United States and the Western European nations as a means of realizing his goal of restoring the empire which disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
These three dangerous men have one thing in common along with their militant policies: Possession of nuclear weapons. That is what frightens me and should concern the political leaders who obediently regard Donald Trump as a useful means of attaining their long cherished wish for a collapse of the political and governmental power to limit the corporate greed that nourishes them. They should remember that nuclear war will not distinguish between liberals and conservatives or Christians and Muslims. The dust from their incinerated bodies will mix indiscriminately.