March 2005 posts

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

“Innocent lives”

 The protesters around Terri Schiavo’s hospice are saying that they respect life and that they want to protect her “innocent life”.

The ten year old who has been malnourished for most of his life, do they respect his life? Is his an innocent life?

The gay man who minds his own business, works hard, has a committed relationship, but gets beaten up by thugs because he is gay. Do they respect his life? Is his an innocent life?

The kid whose schools have never had enough books and those they had were outdated, with walls that are crumbling, who has parents who aren’t involved because either they’re always having to work to put food on the table or because they grew up in an atmosphere that taught them they would never be allowed to get ahead, do they respect this kid’s life? Is hers an innocent life?

The senior eating catfood because rents have skyrocketed and she is no longer able to work, do they respect her life? Is hers an innocent life?

The “culture of life” is a misnomer for these activists. They’re “B/D activists”. They care about birth and death, and for the rest you’re on your own. They don’t care about you in between. They have no respect for your life for most of it. 

The “culture of life”

 From what I can tell, the “culture of life” has to do with insisting that even if there are only a few cells in a woman’s womb, they must be carried to term. Now it also seems to mean that even if a person’s brain has liquified and they have no consciousness or ability to think or feel pain, their body must be kept alive and not be allowed to follow its natural course. The “culture of life” seems to just refer to the physical state of life, regardless of the shape or quality of that life.

It seems to me that anyone truly concerned with life would be much more concerned with the quality of life.

Meaning, they’d be leading the fight for better schools for all children.

Meaning, they would support contraception and early term abortions because they wouldn’t want children to grow up in in neglectful, possibly abusive homes because the parents didn’t want them, or in homes in which their physical and emotional needs wouldn’t be met because the family is so poor, possibly because of having too many children already.

Meaning, they would fight to end discrimination on any grounds, to ensure that all people are treated fairly.

Meaning, they would be working to institute workplace childcare programs and anything else that would financially help single mothers or struggling families.

Meaning that they would make sure that social security remains a safety net for everyone, that it continues to be a way for us all to be able to take care of each other, rather than throwing us out to sea to fend for ourselves and possibly fail.

So many things I can think of that it seems to me that someone truly concerned with life would make a priority. Rather than rising up occasionally to interfere in people’s personal lives, they would consistently and actively be focusing on the quality of (all) people’s actual lives.

Because life is what is between birth and death. 

Anti-abortion but pro-death-threats

 We’ve all heard about the anti-abortion zealots who kill pro-choice doctors. Now this same group is making death threats against the husband of Terri Schiavo, his lawyer, and one of the judges involved over the last 7 years of adjudication in this matter.

I just don’t get it. How can you protest something by doing the very thing you accuse someone else of doing? Is it more of this “eye for an eye” illogic?

How do they explain it? 

Sunday, March 27, 2005

“Activist” congress members

 Why is it that when judges make rulings that conservatives don’t like, those judges are immediately labeled “activist judges”? The conservatives say that those judges are “reinterpreting” the law.

Now that congress and the president have tried to bypass our judicial system to force things to go their own way in the matter of Terri Schiavo, are they calling themselves “activist politicians”?

Or has “activist” just come to mean to them someone who does something they don’t agree with? 

An old school shooting

 On NPR this weekend, a man named Kevin Roth talked about how he was the victim of a school shooting in 1966 by his friend David Black. Kevin Roth wants to apologize to David Black for all of the demeaning teasing he subjected him to.

I thought this was really interesting. His wanting to apologize has the potential to focus attention on the causes of violence, instead of only focusing on how to punish the violent person. It’s like trying prevent future terrorist attacks by understanding the motives of attackers, even if you don’t agree with them. You can’t prevent without understanding. Without that understanding and prevention, all you can do is behave similarly and attack back. An “eye for an eye”. Hmmmm…. 

Religion and violence

 On NPR the other day a religious person was saying that “religious intolerance” causes wars. Maybe other people hear it differently, but to me that suggests that agnostics and atheists are being violent towards religious people, and that is so not the case. Religious people are fighting with other religious people. I’d say it’s not “religious intolerance” that causes violence, but religion itself.

Religion breeds division. Religions, in order to continue to exist, need to portray religion as an end in itself and one’s own religion as the true religion. They need to indoctrinate and proselytize, and if the religion they are preaching isn’t the “true” religion, if they are truly all equal means to the same end, then why even believe one over the other? So they must teach that theirs is the true religion, and that’s where the division between people starts.

So in trying to maintain their own existence, religions have to inculcate division and notions of superiority, and therefore they are the breeding grounds for future violence and judgmentalism, in my opinion. 

Iraq and vindication

 There are those who say that the roots of democracy in Iraq vindicate our invasion. I think that is sooooo wrong. Feeling pleased that things might be better someday in Iraq, that someday they might be free of American control as well as Saddam, is not the same as agreeing with the methods. Those who are speaking of vindication are basically saying that the end justifies the means, and I don’t think that’s right.

When I think about how we are spending MILLIONS EVERY DAY in Iraq, it blows me away. If we were willing and able to spend all this money, why didn’t we take a chunk of it and try to bribe Saddam? We could have said, “hey, here’s twenty billion dollars, it’s just a small fraction of what we would spend if we invaded your country, take this money and a bunch of your buddies and we’ll build you a big palace on a remote island. All you have to do in return is to stay in Iraq for six months, convince your people that you have decided to institute a democracy, have elections, and then leave. You and your people can live rich lives on this island in the big palace. You just can’t have anything to do with ruling a country anymore. Otherwise, we’re going to destroy you. What do you choose?”

Why did that option not even enter the equation? Is it more shameful to “bribe” someone than it is to kill 100,000 civilians and destroy a country? Is it more important to be tough and manly than it is to be smart when you do a “regime change”? Really, with all this money and the human lives that this is costing, how could they not even have considered the other option? So, no, I don’t think that any success in Iraq “vindicates” the method used. 

More on the gay gene

 When people state their reasons for believing in a gay gene, they usually offer as proof that often gay people have gay siblings or cousins. But they never say that gay people have gay children. So this gene would have to be something that is carried by heterosexuals more than it is by homosexuals themselves.

A set of heterosexual parents have some children, and maybe one is gay. That gay child also has a gay cousin. So perhaps the father in this couple has a gay gene and his brother also has it, so that each had a gay child. This gene wasn’t expressed in themselves, as they are heterosexual. But it is something they were able to pass on to some of their own children. But those resultant gay children, when they have their own children, aren’t passing it on to their own children because the children of gays are usually straight (as most people usually are).

So what does this mean?

That the supposed “gay gene” is carried by but not expressed in heterosexuals? That it’s recessive in the parents but dominant when passed on to what results in a gay child, who expresses the gene but passes it on in a recessed and non-expressed form to their own children?

Those heterosexuals who have this gay gene and pass it on to one of their children who becomes gay, how recessive is this gene in themselves? Could it really be dominant, but society shaped them to “overpower” genetics so that they could live a heterosexual life? Could it really be a “bisexual” gene, meaning that someone with this gene could “go either way”, and we assume it’s a gay gene that only exists in the homosexual children because their same-gender attractions are the only ones who seek to explain? That really it’s also in the parents and the other children, but because they choose to follow a heterosexual path we assume they don’t have the “bisexual” gene?

I just don’t think it’s as simple or black and white as a dominant gay gene and a dominant heterosexual gene within an environment with no influence.

So, maybe they should be looking for this “gay gene” in heterosexuals, since they’re the ones who seem to pass it on. 

Violence and race

 People like to say that whites are more aggessive and domineering, by reasons of genetics. I don’t think that’s true. I think that whites had more opportunities and took those opportunities. And there are so many instances of domination in the world. Men oppressing women within every race, humans dominating animals and the earth, “wild west” Indians fighting with other Indian tribes, black Africans dominating other black Africans, religions and their endless bloody battles. The common denominator isn’t race, it’s human-ness.

I think that this scheme of domination either comes from religion, or religion was written based on it. Because religion always seems to have to do with hierarchy and levels of worthiness. There’s god at the top, then some angels, then the Pope, then others of the “cloth”, then humans (and our levels within human-ness), then animals,then the earth, etc. People fight to maintain or to change this status quo. Hierarchies breed violence. There’s just something about humans that we need to feel “above” others. If we finally stop using gender and race as a way to establish a hierarchy, we’ll probably just find something else. Perhaps if religion truly portrayed all life as equally valid, humans would start to emulate that worldview. 

“European descent” vs. “white”

 On the census and on the demographic part of forms that we have to fill out, new sensitivity is being shown to people’s ethnic identity. It has been found that so many people are the products of race-mixing (of course, there actually isn’t a genetic basis for the conception of “race”, anyway) that we needed more categories than simply “white, black, hispanic”, etc. Also, some people don’t identify with the “race” they appear to be, and some people identify with more than one race. Also, “black” has been changed to “African American” to give more acknowledgment of their ethnic identity.

But I think there are still some problems. First, I think that “African American” is a misnomer. Whether you believe in evolution or Adam and Eve, we all are from Africa. And those we call African American are more recently from many countries other than Africa, such as Jamaica, etc. And what about a caucasian from South Africa who moves here – is she an “African American”? So the term “African American” lumps all these people from Africa, America, and other countries under one term, simply because they have the darkest skin, even though their cultures are vastly different.

How would we refer to someone who actually grew up in Africa (which itself isn’t a monoculture, consisting of many countries) as opposed to someone who is an American black? An American black is very much a product of America; I would say they share more similarities with other Americans than they do with people actually from Africa.

A second problem I have is that the term “Native American” suggests that American Indians evolved here in America. In reality, they were the first immigrants, walking across the Bering Strait when there was a land bridge. They’re immigrants just like anyone else.

And a third problem I have is that they have made well-meaning efforts to be more sensitive to non-caucasians, but what about caucasians? A caucasian is no more “white” than a negroid is “black”. And “white” is so bland – what about the historical culture of whites? I suggest they start using the term “European descent” instead of “white”. Furthermore, I believe there is new evidence suggesting that rather than all people starting in Africa and some migrating to Europe and becoming lighter in color, that a separate group of people evolved simultaneously in Europe.

Really, I think it’s all just a game we have concocted, anyway. We’re all humans, not really different races. And who REALLY knows what their past is, other than that people have told them? I think we’re more a product of our present than of the historical past of our supposed ancestors. To the extent that our past effects us, it’s because we have chosen to internalize those past stories into our thinking systems. 

Foliage phobia

 In the midwest and the east and the south, trees are lush and full and foliage grows everywhere. Everything is green and full. In the southwest, I’ve noticed tree trimmers cutting trees and bushes down to the nub. So many of them end up looking like larger versions of those miniature Japanese trees that cost so much money.

My mother said the other night that she gave some gardeners directions for how much to cut from a tree, and they just went ahead and pruned it into nothing. I told her that I think southwesterners have “foliage phobia”. 

Phrases

 I recently read a couple of phrases I like.

“National exceptionalism” and “imperial impunity” 

Wine and wafers

 Catholics have communion with grape juice or wine representing the blood of Christ and wafers representing his body. And they eat those representations. The other day I saw some Jewish Russians having a Friday religious celebration in which they did the same thing, and yet, since they don’t believe that Jesus has come yet, it must mean something else. I asked some people and they said that this behavior is common in many religions. I want to find out what it means in the other religions, and why did it get linked to Jesus in the newer religion? 

Suffering and Christianity

 Today is Easter. The Catholic Pope is ill and is suffering, and a couple of days ago he referred to his suffering as bringing him closer to god, which has some relevance to the Christian holiday today.

I’d like to know, why would a god ever elevate suffering to an ideal, to a holy place? Commonsense tells us that suffering isn’t fun or something to strive for or rejoice in. It seems ludicrous to me. It seems like just another human invention, possibly devised to make the sufferer feel better or feel less fear of the unknown. Or perhaps, since all of us suffer at one time or another, especially at the end of life, perhaps it was a way for the church to relate to the masses and get converts.

When I think about the things that god supposedly wants and then I try to get a conception of a human who would be like that, it’s not a pretty picture. Someone who says your suffering draws you closer, someone who wants – no, needs – you to constantly praise him, someone who needs you to reassure him that he is the best and the only, someone who promotes violence by saying “an eye for an eye”, someone who forbids you to get angry at him and swear at him, and on and on… And a sexist person at that, who says that men cannot covet their neighbor’s wife, but makes no mention of women not coveting, who has no interest in maintaining the morality of women (because of course they are born unclean and are hopeless)?

Why do we accept unhealthy characteristics in a god that we wouldn’t accept in a human? 

Pedophile vs. gay

 I keep hearing the many priests who abuse children referred to as gay. Why is that, is it because they tend to abuse boys rather than girls? Since the church is male dominated, the children (altarboys) used in services are male, so the priests have a lot more opportunity with male children.

I have my own issues with the sexual promiscuity practiced by many gay men, but personally I don’t think the promiscuity is because they’re gay, I think it’s because they’re men. They’re men without the civilizing influences of women.

But calling child-abusing priests “gay” is just plain wrong. They’re not gay, they’re pedophiles. There’s a big, big difference. The vast majority of pedophiles are straight men, regardless of the gender of their young victims.

My guess is that it’s the gender bias of the church that accounts for the fact that the victims of the pedophiles are male. Either because, as I already noted, young boys are more accessible than young girls, or because the church has historically celebrated maleness and even male/male sex and denigrated womanhood.

But in terms of all pedophiles, whether priests or the man down the corner, the problem isn’t just that they are attracted to children. It blows me away that they think they have the RIGHT to molest someone else, either through force or through the manipulation of impressionable youth. A priest knows his behavior is wrong. A non-priest may be disturbed so much that he doesn’t “know”, but the objections of his victim should be a clue. And yet they still act as though they have the right. That their desires take precedence over the the objections of their victim. Really, a pedophile is a rapist of children. I think that perhaps the word “pedophile” doesn’t stress this enough. 

Minorities and creativity

 They often say that gay (men) are especially creative. They also say that “crazy people” are very creative (although I understand that the research shows this association to be very faint). And of course, they always say that minorities can dance “better” (whatever that means) than other people. It seems that this “world wisdom” considers these things to be fact and to be biological.

But something occurred to me. When you’re a minority, “less” is expected of you. You aren’t expected to succeed at what the mainstream succeeds at – as a matter of fact, you are often prevented from even trying. But the reverse side of this is that it frees a minority up from having to conform – they are more free to explore other ways of viewing and experiencing the world.

They are “expected” to be different and so are allowed to go off on their “abnormal” ways. And this freedom allows them to explore new areas, it gives them permission to be creative.

Imagine if we let everyone have this freedom? Maybe we should “give up” on more people and see what happens if we let people experience the world as individuals instead of as socially programmed receptacles of predetermined knowledge? 

Homes as investments

 It really, really bothers me that homes are used as investments. People need homes, they need places to live and feel safe. Using them as investment vehicles and tying them to market influences prices many people out of homes, even as rentals. I really think that home prices should be more tied to the cost of living (of course, some homes would be more than others because they are bigger, etc). It just really strikes me as ludicrous that something that people need should be used in such a way that many cannot afford one.

We say that cars depreciate and homes appreciate in value, but that’s not a fact, that’s something that’s an artifact of our system. If we let cars appreciate in value, we would just keep replacing everything on them just as we do homes. We don’t do it because it’s not worth it, but that too is an artifact of the system.

Homes appreciate in value because of the system. If homes were no longer considered investment vehicles, they would stop getting priced out of so many people’s reach. This even applies to rental property, because the owners of the rental property are playing the same game, constantly raising rents, calling it “market pricing” but of course doing nothing more than trying to make a profit off of something that people need. And what’s more, that huge profit is money made with no work done. Money for nothing.

And yet, homes are a necessity. Something that is necessary should be within reach. 

The agnostic gene

 Julie and John Smith were a very religious couple. Their home was filled with religious artifacts, they held bible study classes in their home on the weeknights, they attended church twice a day on Sundays, and they both held jobs within the church school.

When they had their children, Julie Jr. and Seth, they wanted to raise them as they believed. So they added child bible study classes to their weeknight schedule, they enrolled the children in the church school, they said prayers with them at every meal and at every bedtime, and they only allowed them to socialize with children from similarly religious families.

They made it clear to Julie Jr. and Seth that their own religion was the right way to believe and that it was the only natural and normal way to view the world. They made sure that that the chidren knew that agnostics and people from other religions were unnatural, were wrong, and were going to hell. Everything in these children’s environment – their home, their school, their family, their friends – told them that their natural identity was meant to be religious.

Imagine Julie Sr. and John’s shock when they discovered that their child Julie Jr., now in high school, was an agnostic. They realized that since being of their religion was natural and normal, that Julie Jr. must have a bad gene. She must have an agnostic gene. Seth must have only normal genes.

Because of course, our environment doesn’t have an effect on us. Our environment doesn’t shape us at all, and we don’t make choices in reference to that environment based on our cognitive abilities. Everything is naturally occuring or else is a bad gene. 

“Woman” used as an adjective

We always use the noun “woman” as an adjective. We say, “the woman doctor”, “the woman driver”, “the woman student”. Do we say, “the man doctor”, “the man driver”, the “man student”? No, of course not, we use the adjective “male”. So why do we use a grammatically incorrect phrase when we are referring to women? I realize that language is always changing, but why did it change in reference to women but not to men?

I’ve heard “woman” used as an adjective in movies from the 1930’s, so it’s not a new phenomenon. In patriarchal societies, men are seen as the norm, the default. So often we specify gender when the individual in question is a woman, but not when it’s a man. For example, if someone is talking about a doctor, they would assume you know it’s a man and therefore they wouldn’t specify gender. But if it’s a woman, they would say “the woman doctor”.

But that’s not what I’m trying to say. What I want to know is, when we DO specify gender, why do we use a noun as an adjective when the individual is a woman? If people were simply trying to specify gender, they would say “the female doctor”, not “the woman doctor”.

I’m guessing that it started when women starting moving into non-traditional fields and activities. Today people don’t even think twice; they don’t even seem aware that they are using a noun for an adjective. I’ve even heard sentences such as “women doctors now outnumber male doctors” – totally non-parallel forms in the same sentence!

But originally, I think that by using the noun “woman” instead of the adjective “female”, the speaker was using a code to indicate his disapproval. Think about the tone usually used when someone says “woman driver”. I think that’s probably what was conveyed back then whenever the noun “woman” was used as an adjective. 

War and memorials

 Whenever I’ve gone down south, I’ve always been amazed and repulsed by all of the statues commemorating war. There are statues of officers and of weapons (lots of tanks).

IMO, there should be no memorials that don’t also, to at least an equal degree, communicate the sadness and regret I think we should all feel at having had to participate in (state and socially sanctioned) violence. Otherwise such statues commemorating war are simply celebrating our victory or our bravado. Even if you feel that you had no choice but to go to war because you were actively being attacked, there should still be regret.

War and violence are not good solutions and are not something to be proud of. The fact that we feel no shame or regret but only pride is nothing if not a predictor of the likelihood of future wars.

I remember when they were talking about what to do with the property that the World Trade Centers once stood on, it seemed most logical to me that they should rebuild on most of it. I think they should have used a smaller part to make a permanent peace display, one which appeals to people to address problems at their base, not simply to react to the symptoms of those problems with violence.

A memorial which uses all of that property and only addresses loss will simply be used as a “victimization” reminder, serving to keep us ready to keep using violence as a solution.

There are reasons that people or countries uses violence and for us to ignore them and to simply use violence in return is to guarantee that our world will never be free from war. Then it just becomes a game of who is tougher or affluent enough to afford the most weapons. And many people take pride in that, which is why I think war memorials celebrate and justify war.

If we truly didn’t like war and violence, we would be trying to learn how to avoid them, instead of learning how to wage them better. We would be seeking to fairly address the world’s problems at their cores, before they get to the point of violence. Instead, it’s just a macho game and we take pride in our victories.

Where are the memorials celebrating peace activists, those who have worked to resolve conflicts without violence? Why do we have a department of war but not a department of peace?

We have a choice. We could see ourselves as the country with the most money and enough weapons to dominate and decimate the rest of the planet. Or we could see ourselves as the country with the most money and love of peace and justice that could use these powers to make the world a more just and safe place. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The word “allegedly”

 It seems like people are using the word “allegedly” incorrectly, even newscasters. Perhaps people are so afraid of being accused of slander that they throw it in anywhere and everywhere, just to cover their tails.

I think it’s used in sentences in which it is redundant. For example, I’ve heard the news say something like “He is on trial for allegedly stealing a radio”. But he isn’t being tried for allegedly stealing it – he is alleged to have stolen it and he is on trial for stealing it. Right? A trial is all about alleging. So it seems redundant to say “on trial for allegedly stealing” – the whole point of the trial is to determine if he did or didn’t.

And what about “the alleged defendant”? He isn’t alleged to be a defendant! He IS a defendant. It is alleged that he did X or Y.

I also heard on the news something like “the police allegedly said that he stole the radio”. The police didn’t allegedly say that, they DID say that!

So, it’s like people just throw the word “alleged” anywhere in the sentence, not paying attention to what it refers to, sentence-structure-wise. 

“Love it or leave it” mentality

 So often when someone voices a criticism of the administration or of the direction our country is taking, there are people who try to silence them by retorting with some form of the saying “love it or leave it(the country)”. It just blows me away. These people are thinking that they are the “true patriots” merely because they have a “my country right or wrong” mentality. And yet, to me, this is exactly the opposite of democracy, exactly the opposite of what this country is supposed to stand for.

First of all, free speech, particularly that of the dissenting variety, is an important part of the checks and balances format of our system. If issues aren’t raised through dissent, faulty choices and directions will continue without check.

Secondly, “love it or leave it” is the type of thing a dictator would say, a style of “leadership” that does not welcome input from constituents, that simply wants to do whatever it chooses.

Thirdly, the people who really love their system are the ones who constantly want to make it better, not the ones who want to simply assume it’s perfect and not consider how the system might impact on people other than themselves. In other words, the “true patriots” (I actually hate the word “patriot”) are those who want to make the system better so that it works for everyone, not just for themselves.

I think the people who say “love it or leave it” either don’t truly understand democracy or just want to feel they are “on the winning team” and don’t want to be troubled with having to think about things or change things. 

Bush’s tone

 I find it odd that so many people feel that Bush has an authoritative manner. Whenever he speaks, he sounds whiney to me. Particularly when he says “it’s hard work”. It’s just something about his tone, so whiney sounding. Maybe because I can’t bear to see him on TV; when I hear what he says, it’s all audio because I hear it on the radio. 

Monday, March 21, 2005

Democrats and moral values

 Recent newspaper articles have noted 2008 Democratic hopefuls, such as Hilary Clinton, talking more about their “faith” in an effort to recoup this year’s election losses. It immediately makes me wonder – why is it that when morals and values are the subject, politicians feel safest playing the “religion card”? Why do words and actions seem to only count when carried out under an umbrella of professed faith?

The Democratic platform is a very moral platform. Many Democrats belong to various faiths, but it is the moral implications of their platform that unites them. The particular religion or moral secularism of any given Democrat is a means to the shared end, an outlook on life which stresses human rights, accountability, helping those in need, nondiscrimination, working with the other peoples of the world, and a respect for individual differences. Democrats can win by explaining and emphasizing how the programs and laws that stem from their philosophies are based on morality.

Politicians may or may not be truly religious, but as religious affiliation is not synonymous with morality, we should judge candidates by the values we see exemplified in their past and proposed future policies, not by any claims of religiosity. If they genuinely feel a need to make public their personal spirituality, that’s fine, but don’t stop there – they should continue by talking directly about the moral underpinnings of their platform. And as the last election left the public thinking that Democrats don’t have values because they didn’t play the religion card, I’m hoping they won’t wait until the next election to get this message out.

If morals are truly the point in the current political milieu, why not cut to the chase and simply talk directly about them? 

Pain and species

 Although there are politicians declaring that it is cruel to intentionally cause Terri Schiavo to feel the pain of starvation, it is my understanding that a brain-dead person does not experience pain or any effects of starvation, because they have no brain with which to interpret the relevant nerve impulses.

On the other hand, an animal has a consciousness and a fully functioning central nervous system, and consequently can feel the same pain that a human does. And yet, we really don’t care about the pain that animals feel, unless they belong to the few species we have deemed to be “pets”. We don’t care about the daily pain and suffering endured by livestock before it becomes our “food”. But the pain that humans and pets and livestock feel is all the same – suffering is suffering.

If it is true that Ms. Schiavo’s brain is now predominately spinal fluid and that she has no ability to feel pain or to even have any of the “higher human processes”, then this case is highlighting our propensity to make decisions based on “ideology”. The ideology is that if it’s an animal, we must pretend they can’t feel pain even though they do, but if it’s a human, we must pretend that they can feel pain even if they can’t.

In my opinion, our “compassionate decisions” should be based on scientific facts, not merely on the species of the subject. If something has a working central nervous system and can feel pain and suffer, we should seek to avoid causing it that pain. As the philosopher Jeremy Bentham said, “The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor ‘Can they talk?’ but rather, ‘Can they suffer?’ ”

To me, any true “culture of life” would equate “life” with “quality of life”, not with an existence with no consciousness. 

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Jesus billboards

 I don’t agree with the yearly billboards which say “Jesus is the (only) reason for the season”. Christianity is the dominant religion in our culture and therefore impacts on everyone’s life. Christmas is a time of abundant good food, visitors, pretty decorations, love and sharing, and lightness in our hearts. Commercialism aside, it is a time of family bonds and goodwill towards others.

If we were to limit Christmas to only those who celebrate it as a birthday party for a historical figure, we’d be looking at a very few people, even among Christians. I’d say it’s more accurate to say that Jesus’ MESSAGE is the reason for the season. WWJD? I think he would say that the whole point is love, equality, and peace, and it isn’t important if it’s moral secularism or a religion or Christmas lights that get you there. I think the “Prince of Peace” would say that “LOVE is the reason for the season”.

The love and sharing and goodwill that people experience at Christmas time are deeply felt, are qualities that Jesus stood for, and are experiences we need to expand to other times of the year. But those billboards suggest that rather than truly acknowledge and appreciate what Jesus stood for, we should focus only on worshipping the man himself. The man over the message. Religion as an end in itself, rather than as a means to an end. The “letter of the law” over the “spirit of the law”. Personally, I don’t think that’s what Jesus wanted. 

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Reframing the question of the supposed gay gene

 It always amazes me that people are continually searching for some biological cause of gayness, when we don’t even know the biological cause of heterosexuality.

We do know, however, the ENVIRONMENTAL causes of heterosexuality, such as the enormous effort that societies put into shaping children from birth to be “gender appropriate” and heterosexual. From day one, and every day after, there are familial pressures and institutionalized shaping all around to make us all be in one of two discrete categories: a straight feminine female or a straight masculine male. If heterosexuality is so normal and automatic that we need to find a “gay gene” to account for aberrations, why do we need to put so much effort into shaping people to look and act “appropriately”? But one thing is sure: such environmental influences represent a huge, uncontrolled variable in this biological research.

Besides assuming that environment plays no role in our sexual orientations, the search for a biological cause of gayness, by examining only self-acknowleged and publicly “out” gays, assumes that all people with this supposed gene actively express the gene. And yet, we know that sexuality is on a continuum; most people aren’t 100% gay or straight, but fall somewhere in between, even if they only act on socially approved attractions. Should the scientists ever identify this gene, it will doubtless also be found in many bisexuals and heterosexuals – especially since it’s heterosexuals who pass on this supposed gene.

So there are many people on the “sexuality continuum” who never act on their feelings. They may feel some same-gender attractions but they repress them. Because they don’t act on their desires, they won’t be in the “gay” sample chosen for study. There are also very closeted gay people who would not ordinarily be noticed and therefore would never be included in this type of study.

Therefore, a study which only examines self-acknowledged and publicly “out” gays is using a sample which is not representative of the whole “community”. Any conclusions drawn could not be deemed representative of “gays” in general. The conclusions would have to apply just to gays who are “out” to the public and to themselves; rather than being a generalization about gays in general, the conclusions would refer to people who publicly act on same-gender attractions as opposed to those who don’t.

So maybe the question should be reframed – instead of asking “what biological variables cause one to be gay?”, we should be asking “what biological variables cause one to have the inner strength to explore their own sexuality and resist continual societal shaping?” It seems a much more accurate and positive way to frame the situation. 

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