Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Monday, August 31, 2015

Government: Does Anybody Here Understand How This Thing Works?

Can't wait to see their education policies....

No:

"I'm going to have Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, come work for the government for three months," the Republican presidential candidate said at a town hall event in New Hampshire.

"Just come for three months to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and show these people." Christie said that 40 percent of undocumented immigrants in the country did not cross the U.S. border with Mexico, but instead came into the country legally on visas. "

We let people come into this country with visas and the minute they come in, we lose track of them," he said. He suggested the FedEx model would prevent immigrants from overstaying their visas.

"We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in and then when your time is up—whether it's 3 months or 6 months or 9 months, 12 months, however long your visa is—then we go get you and tap you on the shoulder and say, 'Excuse me, it's time to go,'" Christie said.
(Because FedEx has custody and control of a package from the moment it is given to them, to the moment it is delivered.  Likewise, the Federal government will take custody and control of immigrants on visas until their visas expire.  The government already does that:  we call them "prisons."  Visas; does anybody understand how they work?)

Apparently:

"And I think this election is largely about the idea -- the idea of America is slipping away in front of us. When it comes to immigration policy, what I’ve experienced and seen is that a smart immigration policy makes our country stronger; a dumb one makes us weaker. We’ve got a dumb one today," Jindal said.

"Yes, we need to secure our border. Stop talking about it," he continued. "I think we need to insist that folks who come here come here legally, learn English, adopt our values, roll up our sleeves and get to work."
(And by borders, do you mean all borders?  Because it seems to me only the East Coast and West Coast are left to propose walls for.  I guess once the walls go up, FedEx will have an easier time telling which of us get to stay.)

Not.

Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said on Sunday that a wall along the border between the United States and Canada is a "legitimate issue" to consider.
(No.  Seriously.  Canadians look just like us!  Well, not like Bobby Jindal, but you know what I mean.  It's the only way to be sure we keep their socialized medicine north of the border.)

Or, they just don't want to.

Rowan County Chief Clerk Kim Davis' lawyers filed an emergency appeal late Friday asking the Court to grant "asylum for her conscience" and allow her to continue to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to The Associated Press.
(Because why shouldn't she be allowed to do her government job in the way she sees fit, and damn the rule of law! Except when the rule of law allows her to do her government job as she sees fit.  After all, it's her constitutional right to draw government pay and refuse to work for it! Is this a free country, or not?  And can the law grant asylum to metaphysical concepts like "conscience"?  Inquiring minds want to know!)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

"No matter, never mind."


"Mind" is a metaphysical concept.  So is "consciousness."  Which may be why it is "the hardest unsolved problem in science."  And why "solving" it so resembles the effort to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity:  i.e., it wanders "off into fantasy realms of higher dimensions with little or no empirical connection to our reality."

Which, you will note, violates the fundamental premise of science.  Just like metaphysics does.

Philosophers, especially philosophers of religion, and theologians, have gone to great pains in the last 100 years to jettison "classical" metaphysics.  One effort to replace it was with a non-metaphysical metaphysic based on the work of Alfred North Whitehead after he gave up on mathematics and logical positivism thanks to Kurt Godel and Ludwig Wittgenstein.  That effort spawned "process theology," which never got further than a few American theologians, best I can tell.  We have to discard metaphysics because physics, above all, won't allow it anymore.

But we still have to solve the problem of consciousness, which is related to mind, which "arises" from a brain, so it must be physical, which makes it science-y somehow.

Right?

60 years ago the popular theory was that brain cells reached a critical mass (much like the "trigger" for a nuclear bomb.  We do love our metaphors, especially if they sound scientific!) and "became" conscious.  Arthur C. Clarke wrote a story about it happening with enough telephone exchanges, the connections of the phones standing in for the connections between brain cells.  Essentially the same idea fuels science fiction tales of world-wide defense computers that "wake up" and decide to destroy all human life in order to enact "peace."  It's been a favorite meme for decades.

And it's utter bollocks.  As well as an attempt to escape metaphysics by pretending the solution to consciousness, or mind, or "soul," isn't metaphysical.

A commenter at Religion Dispatches tried to argue that "mind" arose from the brain, but "soul" was some outdated religious notion.  But "soul" is no more understandable apart from the body than mind is apart from brain.  When we speak of "soul" we were always speaking of the animating force of the body, of what is different between a sleeping person and a corpse, why one will eventually awaken and move, and the other will never move again.  Soul as the essence, the inviolable and eternal person we might now call "personality" started in the West not with religion, but with Socrates.  He gave us the dualism of soul and body, leading to the modern critique that soul cannot be known apart from body and so cannot claim a separate existence from the body.  But of course soul cannot be known apart from the body, any more than "mind" can be known apart from the brain.  Whether soul can exist apart from body is a metaphysical question (and not necessarily a religious one).  Whether it can or not, body cannot exist without soul, without some animating process, some "spark", some motive factor.  Because once that factor is lost, the body begins an inexorable decay.

And yet some still think "consciousness" can be "uploaded" into a computer, because computer=brain; somehow.  Or it will; someday; when our technology finally catches up with nature.

Utter bollocks, and not something most serious thinkers take seriously.  But the idea that the computer somehow reflects our brain, our mind, is still a seductive thought; and it's a metaphysical one.  Why is a sleeping person different from a corpse?  We have known since the dawn of humanity that sufficient damage to the body can cause the animating force to fail.  It doesn't have to go anywhere, but where did it come from?  Why can't we reproduce it?  Mary Shelley knew enough to cloud her Frankenstein's efforts in mystery:  he used alchemy and something that was probably magic to give life to his monster.  It wasn't a lightning storm, otherwise the galvanic response of frog's legs would re-animate corpses around the world.  Where does the "spark of life" come from?  How is it only living things can pass it on?  We can grow cells in a laboratory, keep them alive for years in an artificial environment.  But if they are not alive to begin with, there's nothing we can do to re-animate them.  Why not?

The distinction between living and dead is the same as it's ever been:  between something that will move, and something that will never move again.  We've become more aware of the subtleties of that line, of the difference between corpse and coma, but we've done nothing to erase that line, to change it, to understand how to reverse it.  We speak of "life" but we still speak of something that is not entirely physical; known physically, but not understood physically.

The same way we speak of "mind;" the same way we speak of "consciousness."

Metaphysics is dead.  Long live metaphysics.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Let us now praise famous men


Jimmy Carter is, by and large, remembered as a failed President.  We remember him for MEOW; we remember him for "malaise"; we remember him for the failed effort to rescue the hostages in Iran.  We honor him now for what he's done since he was President.

We don't remember him for the Camp David accords which,even through changes in Egypt's government, including a revolution, the election of a President allied with the "Muslim Brotherhood," and the deposition of that president, has still maintained peace between Egypt and Israel.

We all agree peace in the Middle East is a chimerical goal, that it cannot be achieved; and yet one President achieved it, between two countries, and it has held.

And what we remember is the sweaters.  Then again, who is giving Pope Francis credit for the rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba today?

So it goes.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Do I have to draw ya a picture?

Unsurprisingly, this just gets funnier:

“The book includes cartoon drawings of a woman masturbating and multiple women engaging in oral sex,” he writes. “If the book explored the same themes without sexual images or erotic language, I would have read it. But viewing pictures of sexual acts, regardless of the genders of the people involved, conflict with the inherent sacredness of sex.”

Right, because the book is dirty and has boobies in it.
Well, no; the problem is, the book has PICTURES in it!  I can read about hot sex (get this kid a copy of The Story of 'O', stat!  Believe me, the language in that book is anything but 'erotic.'  I, er, have a friend who told me.), but I can't see it!  Because God doesn't care about words, God only cares about pictures.

Which is funny, because according to some Jewish traditions, any depiction of the human form violates the laws of Moses, since humans are made in God's image, and the image of a human is a depiction of God, which is strictly forbidden.

And I guess that could get us into God having sex in those pictures.....

My mind is just not right, sometimes.  Anyway, what's funny here is the distinction we draw between pictures and words.  If I pull a potboiler novel off the shelves of a bookstore, the kind of thing cranked out every month under the same author's name (nobody is that prolific!), you'll stumble across a fairly explicit sex scene every three chapters or so.  Nobody blinks.  Now, film that same scene, exactly as presented in the novel, and suddenly you get an "R", if not NC-17 (or whatever replaced "X") rated film.

It's pictures that matter.

Because in the beginning was the Word, but the Word was not dirty....it was the pictures that came later that were dirty.  Which has something to do with Proust and a squid, but I'm not sure why....

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Don't try this at home, kids


I was listening to Diane Rehm this morning, interviewing two writers who penned an Atlantic article about "political correctness" on college campuses (a term they never once tried to define, which I thought bizarre and a blotch on the work of a lawyer and a college professors, two professions where sourcing is vital to publication); and I'm thinking the whole time that one anecdote here and another there doth not a representative picture make.

And then some students at Duke got everybody's attention by objecting to reading the book Fun Home,  a graphic novel I've never heard of but which apparently would repay my attention.  Why do they object to it?  Not just because it includes scenes of "graphic sexuality" (no pun intended, I presume) but because:

Grasso and his peers imply that they’re being bullied when they’re encouraged to read Fun Home.
Precisely the kind of "trigger warning" mentality the authors of the Atlantic piece were complaining about.

I hate it when that happens.

Jacob Brogan is right about these students:

Much like Bruce in one of the book’s most famous sequences, they’re choosing to live their lives in narrowly circumscribed circles, willfully blind to the stories unfolding around them.
Which is not so much "politically correct" as it is extending adolescence further and further into adulthood, which is something that's been happening since as identified "teenagers" and then decided they could be "juvenile delinquents" and finally came up with the purportedly scientific category of the "teenage brain."

And yet science, of course, has nothing to do with culture, and is only concerned with Truth.  But I think if we're "coddling" students, it has less to do with "political correctness" and "helicopter parents" than it does with the root notion that childhood is to be protected at all costs, and the upper limits of childhood are to be extended further and further with each generation.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact we seem to be living longer; and we still worship at the fountain of youth culture.  At one point "Boomers" were the most important people on the planet; now it's Millenials.  It would seem the problem is far more fundamental than how a few identifiable groups are behaving.

The stories I grew up on were warnings about pushing children into college at too young an age, and breaking them with the sudden burdens of adulthood.  Now we seem afraid to let them take on the burdens of adulthood at all, and we push them into college while insisting they remain children.

And where it stops, nobody knows.

"All watched over by machines of loving grace...."


Some mechanists have conceded that a consistent machine could be out-Godeled by a mind, but have maintained that the machine representation of the mind is an inconsistent machine, but one whose inconsistency is so deep that it would take a long time ever to come to light. It therefore would avoid the quick death of non-selectivity. Although in principle it could be brought to affirm anything, in practice it will be selective, affirming some things and denying others. Only in the long run will it age - or mellow, as we kindly term it - and then "crash" and cease to deny anything: and in the long run we die - usually before suffering senile dementia. Such a suggestion chimes in with a line of reasoning which has been noticeable in Western Thought since the Eighteenth Century. Reason, it is held, suffers from certain antinomies, and by its own dialectic gives rise to internal contradictions which it is quite powerless to reconcile, and which must in the end bring the whole edifice crashing down in ruins.* If the mind is really an inconsistent machine then the philosophers in the Hegelian tradition who have spoken of the self-destructiveness of reason are simply those in whom the inconsistency has surfaced relatively rapidly. They are the ones who have understood the inherent inconsistency of reason, and who, negating negation, have abandoned hope of rational discourse, and having brought mind to the end of its tether, have had on offer only counsels of despair.


Against this position the Godelian argument can avail us nothing. Quite other arguments and other attitudes are required as antidotes to nihilism, and the Godelian argument can be seen as making this reductio explicit. And it is a reductio. For mechanism claims to be a rational position. It rests its case on the advances of science, the underlying assumptions of scientific thinking and the actual achievements of scientific research. Although other people may be led to nihilism by feelings of angst or other intimations of nothingness, the mechanist must advance arguments or abandon his advocacy altogether. On the face of it we are not machines. Arguments may be adduced to show that appearances are deceptive, and that really we are machines, but arguments presuppose rationality, and if, thanks to the Godelian argument, the only tenable form of mechanism is that we are inconsistent machines, with all minds being ultimately inconsistent, then mechanism itself is committed to the irrationality of argument, and no rational case for it can be sustained.
Via Thought Criminal I get this marvelous analysis of mechanistic thinking, of which these are the concluding paragraphs.  What a lovely way to start the day.

*The pessimism of the ancient Greeks:  the fundamental nature of the universe is chaos, and chaos is the state to which the universe must inevitably return.  Logos falls because Chaos is the true nature of the cosmos. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Plus ce change


I'm not yet convinced Donald Trump isn't just doing performance art:

"It's gonna be a great wall," Trump said on the Sunday program. "This will be a wall with a big, very beautiful door because we want the legals to come back into the country."
And Jeb! reminds us the original anchor babies came from Asia:

When asked if he thought his repeated use of the term "anchor babies" – a derogatory term for children born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrant parents – Bush said: "What I was talking about was the specific case of fraud being committed where there's organized efforts, and frankly, it's more related to Asian people coming into our country and having children in that organized effort."
One can't help but note his wife is not Asian.

It takes a lot to laugh; it takes a train to cry.

We the (benighted) people.....


So I had a bit of schadenfreude, enjoying the early comments to the most recent screed by Jeffrey Tayler.  More readers than not thought Tayler went completely off the rails. (I read Tayler for the comments, now; it's like reading a barometer to gauge the weather.)

Eventually, of course, this was cited:  the article that "proves" atheists know more about religion than believers.  Apparently if Jews recognize Moses but not Maimonides, and Protestants can't tell you if the elements of the communion are sacramental (or what a sacrament is) or merely symbolic, then they don't really "know" anything about their religion.

As if religion were a matter of passing a multiple-choice test, or every Christian believer should be able to get a seminary degree without a seminary education.

Dare I repeat this blog's motto?  "Ideas don't matter.  Things don't matter.  People matter."  Does my knowledge of church history, ecclesiology, soteriology, hermeneutics, exegesis, biblical theology, really make me a "superior" Christian to my grandfather, a lay Primitive Baptist pastor and one of the kindest, gentlest, wisest men I ever met?  I assure you he couldn't explain the difference between transubstantiation and consubstantiation. Does that make me superior to him?  On what scale, and for what purpose does anybody set up that scale?

To put this in context, let me ask all the "natural born" American citizens reading this if you can tell me the contents of all 10 of the "Bill of Rights"?  Or can you at least tell me the content  of amendments 7, 8, and 9?  Google is your friend, but Google is cheating in this test.  Can you tell me who was present in Philadelphia to write the Constitution?  Can you tell me what the 16th amendment is, or the 17th?  How about the 11th or 12th?

And if you don't know, are you less of a citizen than someone who does know?  Does it matter to you as an American whether or not you know those things, anymore than it matters to a Jew whether Maimonides was a Jew?  If you are a Christian, is it important that you know who Luther was?  Ever heard of Zwingli? Any idea what lasting influence he had on Protestants?  Do you really know anything about Calvinism, or do you just think you do?  Can you name the two branches of historic Protestantism, and explain their relationship to Pentecostalism?

Would it matter if you could?

And if you know more about the Constitution than you do now, if you know what the amendments are I mentioned above, or how they have been interpreted by the Courts, does that weaken your trust in the form of government we have?  Does knowing Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and probably raped Sally Hemings make you want to repudiate the Declaration of Independence?  If you became a Constitutional scholar, would you expect you would repudiate the democratic republic of the United States?  Why, or why not?

These things that pass for knowledge I don't understand.....

Sunday, August 23, 2015

"For I am very holy...."



So I was in a bookstore the other evening thumbing the remaining copy of Lapham's Quarterly, where I came across Christopher Hitchens' piece on Mother Teresa.  It was as harsh as I'd heard it was (I'd never read it before, and unfortunately it is not available online), and it relied mostly on the work of Robin Fox in an article about Mother Teresa for the Lancet.  It was, I've since learned, an excerpt from a book, apparently more like a long pamphlet, which was Hitchens' attack on Mother Teresa and her work with the poor in India.

Interestingly, in his essay in that issue Lewis Lapham notes that: "the word philanthropy first appears in Western thought in the fifth century BC, in Aeschylus’ play Prometheus Bound to name an act of rebellion and denote the crime of treason."

I'm not so interested in the controversy surrounding Hitchens' critique of Mother Teresa, except as it reveals the fundamental distinction in thinking between the religious leader and the religion critic.  A little Google searching reveals Simon Leys (pen name of Pierre Ryckmans) was Hitchens' bete noir on this subject.  The only argument by Leys I can find on-line (I'm a lazy researcher) references a complete review of Hitchens' tirade against Mother Teresa, but I can't find it on-line.  Apparently it exists in a book of Leys' collected essays, and includes this reference to Hitchens:

Mother Teresa is not a philanthropist. She is a Christian. A philanthropist is a person who has a fondness for anthropoids. A Christian is a person who loves Christ.
That is a perspective that has to be kept in mind when dealing with someone like the Blessed Teresa.  Saints are very strange persons to most of us.  Of her love of Christ, the reviewer of Leys' book of essays goes on to say:

 This "weird belief that a dead man called Jesus is still alive should command all the deeds and all thoughts of a Christian", writes Leys, "is the key to understanding Mother Teresa's vocation". Whether or not you agree with Hitchens's assertion that religion should not intrude on good works, Leys's understanding of basic Christian doctrine exposes the totalising character - and so the narrowness - of the journalist's rationalism.
It is that "totalising character...of the journalist's rationalism" that intrigues me.  Ultimately, one cannot argue that Hitchens is wrong and Leys is right, nor vice versa.  We are talking about two irreconcilable views of reality; and one cannot appropriate the other.  We are back to Wittgenstein's observations on believers:

Christianity is not a doctrine, not, I mean, a theory about what has happened and will happen to the human soul, but a description of something that actually takes place in human life. For 'consciousness of sin' is a real event and so are despair and salvation through faith. Those who speak of such things (Bunyan for instance) are simply describing what has happened to them, whatever gloss anyone may want to put on it.
 Ludwig Wittgenstein, "Ethics, Life and Faith," The Wittgenstein Reader, ed. Anthony Kenny (Oxford, Blackwell Press 1994).

Or perhaps more to the point:

In religion every level of discourse must have its appropriate form of expression which has no sense at a lower level. This doctrine, which means something at a higher level, is null and void for someone who is still at the lower level; he can only understand it wrongly and so these words are not valid for such a person.
In Wittgenstein's terms language games are not wrong or right, valid or invalid:  there can be violations of the rules of one "game," but what makes sense in one game may be nonsense in another.  Establishing a hierarchy of systems, however, is impossible.

And so we can have this obituary of Mother Teresa:

Mother Teresa admitted, in a famous series of BBC interviews, that she was not really doing all that much to ease the lot of the poor in India. The editor of the Lancet, visiting her Home for the Dying in 1994, reported that stocks of medicine were insufficient, and that not enough was done to cure the sick or ease the pain of the dying. But Mother Teresa believed it was not “things” her patients needed; they needed to feel wanted, and to die at peace with God. The secular view of death, as something to be resisted, met, in Mother Teresa, the religious view that death should be joyfully surrendered to. Neither side could hope to understand the other.

The obituary notes that Mother Teresa's order was a Franciscan one, "dedicated on Franciscan principles to serving the destitute and dying in the slums."  What little knowledge I have of Francis (not the plaster saint, but the real one) tells me she lived in strict accordance with his understanding of God, and no, it is not one most of us would find either pleasant or rational.

Which is the point:  not to rebut Hitchens (others have done that more ably than I can), or to argue for the saintliness of Teresa (again, others have done so beyond my abilities).  It is to point out the tension between God and the world.  When we say Jesus died on the cross for our sins, it makes Jesus  more comfortable for us.  It means he did it for us, much the way we imagine soldiers now die for our freedom.  It's a comforting mistake in understanding.  But if we follow Paul's teachings, we know Jesus died for faithfulness to God; and that is a stranger and harsher thing by far than dying for us, for our sins.

It makes God wholly Other, and frighteningly other, too.  It creates a tension, and not even a tension we can think of as a creative tension.

"The motif of the circle will obsess us through this cycle of lectures."

...

 "Now the gift, if there is any, would no doubt be related to economy. One cannot treat the gift, this goes without saying, without treating this relation to economy, even to the money economy. But is not the gift, if there is any, also that which interrupts economy? That which, in suspending economic calculation, no longer gives rise to exchange? That which opens the circle so as to defy reciprocity or symmetry, the common measure, and so as to turn aside the return in view of the no-return? If there is gift, the given of the gift (that which one gives, that which is given, the gift as given thing or as act of donation) must not come back to the giving (let us not already say to the subject, to the donor). It must not circulate, it must not be exchanged, it must not in any case be exhausted, as a gift, by the process of exchange, by the movement of circulation, of the circle in the form of return to the point of departure. If the figure of the circle is essential to economics the gift must remain aneconomic. Not that it remains foreign to the circle, but it must keep a relation of foreignness to the circle, a relation without relation of familiar foreignness. It is perhaps in this sense that the gift is the impossible.

"Not impossible but the impossible. The very figure of the impossible. It announces itself, gives itself to be thought as the impossible. It is proposed that we begin by this."

--Jacques Derrida, Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money, tr. Peggy Kamuf (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1994), 7.

Sorry to interrupt with that long quotation, but this idea must be placed precisely in context.  The presence of the wholly Other in our lives disrupts all notions of economy, or a circle, of payment and reward, cause and effect.  The wholly Other breaks the circle, and gives only a gift.  But that gift is terrible and frightening from the view of the world; it costs not less than everything, as the poet said, and that seems no gift at all.  However, the cost is what is measured by the world; it is not an aspect of the gift.  This is a truly disruptive tension, a truly decisive break.  This sets aside classical soteriology with its economy of repentance and redemption, payment in blood and gain in eternal life.

"A Christian is a person who loves Christ."

Yes.  And what a strange, strange person that is.  Such a person truly makes an act of philanthropy an act of rebellion and a crime of treason.  "Never share my hearth, never think my thoughts, whoever does such things."  There's a reason those lines come from the "Hymn to Reason."

Friday, August 21, 2015

Something's happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear....

Funny, she doesn't look Mexican!

And if you want to know what America would look like if the 14th Amendment were reinterpreted, you have only to look to Texas:

Juana, for her part, did not encounter problems presenting her matrícula along with hospital records to obtain birth certificates for her two older children, who are 13 and 8 years old. But obtaining a birth certificate for her youngest child has proved challenging. She has lost work lately because she cannot get her 1-year-old daughter accepted into day care without a birth certificate.

 “She should have the same rights as a child born to American parents,” she said
I would argue, per Plyler v. Doe, that a birth certificate should not be required for day care, but that would be yet another lawsuit.

And Texas is not saying these children are not U.S. citizens; it is just saying they can't get a birth certificate.

I honestly don't remember providing any identification papers when my daughter was born in Texas over 23 years ago.  Then again, I'm white, and my wife is white, and neither of us have so much as an "Hispanic" name.  We are blandly Anglo, and therefore acceptable in Texas.  Well, that and my daughter was born long before 2008, when the rules changed, or 2013, when enforcement of that change finally began.

A matricula consular, issued by the government of Mexico, is recognized as valid identification under the PATRIOT ACT, and is accepted by the Federal government as a valid i.d.  Under Texas law, "acceptable forms of secondary identification" for purposes of obtaining a Texas birth certificate include:  "(xv) Foreign Identification with identifiable photo of applicant."  That's a picture of a matricula consular above.  It is accepted as identification in Texas, except when it isn't.

The argument of the Texas Department of Health is fairly consistent:

... Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman with the Texas Department of State Health Services, said the policy has nothing to do with discrimination.

"DSHS provides certified birth certificates without regard to the requestor's immigration status and has never accepted the matricula consular as adequate identification," he said.

Van Deusen also said that the problem for the state of Texas is that the documents used to obtain consular IDs "are not verified by the issuing consulate." He added that other states and federal agencies reject consular IDs for the same reason.

The state of Texas provided CNN with a list of valid documents of identification. The list includes foreign passports accompanied by a visa issued by the U.S. State Department, a Mexican voter registration card or even a foreign identification with an identifiable photo of the applicant.
And:

The Texas Department of State Health Services said in an emailed statement that it “provides certified birth certificates without regard to the requester’s immigration status and has never accepted the matrícula consular as adequate identification. This is because the documents used to obtain the matrícula are not verified by the issuing consulate.”

Except those same articles, and others, point out this form of i.d. was accepted by the state of Texas until 2013; and there's nothing in Texas law to indicate it is not acceptable as a form of i.d.

The discussion here is also helpful; and it appears this has caught the attention of Democrats in Texas, who don't like this new policy one bit.  But you know, I'm not so concerned with what Donald Trump represents or what crazy new thing Ted Cruz said; I'm much more concerned with what's going on in these "laboratories of democracy" that not even Charlie Pierce is paying attention to.

And if you think this subject isn't about race, because in America it's never about race, think again.  A quick Google search found the following links:  "The Matricula Consular: The Only Card an Illegal Immigrant Will Ever Need;" "Mexican Sham ID;" "IDs for Illegals: The 'Matricula Consular' Advances Mexico's Immigration Agenda."  Clearly this is another of those "issues" that's running under the national radar, but running loudly enough in the state where the Governor was terrorized by a handful of loonies in Bastrop, that it got the attention of the Texas Department of Health.

Mexico has, by the way, been issuing these cards for over 130 years; and most American law enforcement are quite happy to use them as identification.  What we are seeing is yet another crackpot meme finding its way into government policy.

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz don't bother me; this kind of subversion of law by implicit racism, does.

UPDATE:  I got curious.  This is the where you go to order a Texas birth certificate.  The "Mail Application for Certified Copy" link takes you to a form that notes, boldly, it requires a photocopy of a valid photo i.d.  A valid secondary source for such an i.d. can include a student i.d.

But not a matricula consular, because it's not verified by the consulate.  Whereas a student i.d. is verified by...who, exactly?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Digging under the weeds


Just because I like things to be complete, and because the previous post was long enough, I add this by way of an update:

In the 1980s, the question of birthright citizenship began to take a similar shape as the “anchor baby” panic we see today. In their influential 1985 book Citizenship Without Consent: Illegal Aliens in the American Polity scholars Peter Schuck and Rogers Smith argued that Congress could deny birthright citizenship to the children of unauthorized migrants, noting that Wong Kim Ark involved the child of lawfully admitted noncitizens. Both opposed the idea as a matter of policy.
Graglia leans heavily on this book in his argument, but doesn't give Schuck and Smith credit for the legal argument he tacitly claims as his own.  Still, there's no difference between them:  both rest on the idea that the parents of Wong Kim Ark were here legally, and so children of illegal immigrants have no birthright citizenship.

I still don't get the distinction, which Graglia rests on legal immigrants in America being subject to foreign authority, while "illegal" immigrants in America are....not?  That really just doesn't make any sense, especially in light of the cases holding that "persons" are entitled to due process and equal protection of laws in America, not just "citizens."

These people just really don't like the idea of non-Europeans in America.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Yellow Peril and the Constitution as a "Suicide Pact"


So, going off in the weeds thanks to Charlie Pierce, I come up against Lino Graglia, an undistinguished member of the UT Law School Faculty whose name I remember from my days in Austin (and not for good reasons*).

Through Mr. Pierce I find a law review article by Mr. Graglia published five years ago, which one might consider the founding document for the legal theory being spouted by Donald Trump and aped by other GOP hopefuls for the party's nomination for POTUS.  I daresay the arguments made by Mr. Graglia are not sui generis with him, but his is the most recent and, as Mr. Pierce notes, the one the National Review is most enamored of.  

Rather than wade through Graglia's argument, I would point out this issue of birthright citizenship has been settled, according to most legal scholars, in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, a Supreme Court opinion from 1898.  I'm not a Con Law scholar, I found that case through NPR.

Being the case most damaging to his argument, Graglia leaves it until the end of his article.**  He tries to distinguish U.S. v. Ark on the grounds the ruling only applied to legal immigrants.  However, his argument is that the language of the 14th Amendment "and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" is of a piece and represents no change from the 1866 Civil Rights Act he claims was the progenitor of the 14th Amendment:

“[A]ll persons born in the United States, and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States . . .” The phrase “and not subject to any foreign power” seems clearly to exclude children of resident aliens, legal as well as illegal. The Fourteenth Amendment Citizenship Clause substituted the phrase “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” but there is no indication of intent to change the original meaning. 
Now that's a problem for the cohesion of his argument, because Ark clearly holds that, despite the fact the parents are subject to the Chinese Emperor, their child is an American citizen by birthright. As the Court states the legal issue:

The question presented by the record is whether a child born in the United States, of parents of Chinese descent, who, at the time of his birth, are subjects of the Emperor of China, but have a permanent domicil and residence in the United States, and are there carrying on business, and are not employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the Emperor of China, becomes at the time of his birth a citizen of the United States, by virtue of the first clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."
It couldn't be plainer that the Court has never supported Mr. Graglia's unique (and probably racist) reading of the Constitution.   This case is, as the lawyers say, on all fours with Graglia's interpretation of the 14th Amendment, and yet it rejects decisively his reading that "illegal" immigrants are still subject to a foreign power and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the United States (as does even the legislative history, as Amanda Terkel points out).

And if you think concern about Chinese immigrants making "anchor babies" is dead, you'd be wrong!

At the birthright hearing, King got things going by informing his colleagues that “birth tourism has grown substantially” and that it costs $48,000 for a Chinese national to fly to the United States, have her baby, get a birth certificate and take the child back to China. Though conservatives generally take a dim view of international law, King said the United States in this case should follow “almost every other industrialized country” in abolishing birthright citizenship. 
Everything old is new again.

What difference "legal" v. "illegal" immigrants would make, assuming arguendo his legal point is valid, is beyond me.  Legal immigrants such as the family in the 1898 case are still subject to the laws of the country where they hold citizenship.  Finding they are "outlaw" in this country if they are not here legally is a bizarre reading of the law that has never been supported since the founding of the country, and certainly not since the 14th amendment guaranteed due process and equal protection of laws to all persons covered by the Amendment (i.e., subject to the jurisdiction of the United States).

Mr. Graglia's article cites Plyler v. Doe, the pertinent case on that point, but he seem to ignore its holding (even illegal immigrants are entitled to equal protection under the law; that would be U.S. law, mind you) in order to support his bizarre and unsupportable reading of the 14th Amendment.

This, then, is the "legal basis" Donald Trump finds, and the "lawyers" he thinks agree with him and can make the case in court.  There's nothing to see here except some very, very sad examples of American racism still shining through, and still being treated as somehow legitimate because, as Mr. Pierce says, "It's not about race, because it's never about race."

*"And this is the very same Lino Graglia whose nomination for a federal judgeship in the 1980s fell apart amid allegations that he had urged Austin residents to defy a court-ordered busing plan and had used the racist word “pickaninny” in the classroom."  Yes, Austin was still trying to integrate its schools in the 1980's, ten years after my East Texas classrooms were integrated.  I still chuckle when people tell me how "liberal" Austin is, v. the rest of Texas.   

**Gaglia makes, it should be noted, the usual arguments about birthright citizenship and "anchor babies:"


A parent can hardly do more for a child than make him or her an American citizen, entitled to all the advantages of the American welfare state.   Nor need doing so even be entirely altruistic. Illegal alien parents with an American-citizen child remain subject to deportation, but that deportation becomes less likely. They will be able to appeal to an immigration judge, an administrative court, and ultimately a federal court to argue that deportation would subject the American-citizen child to “extreme hardship,” a recognized ground for suspension of deportation, as it would potentially deprive the child of the benefits of his or her American citizenship.


Perhaps even more importantly if the deported parents opt to take the American-citizen child with them, the child can return to this country for permanent residence at any time. The child can then, upon becoming an adult, serve as what is known in immigration law as an “anchor child,” the basis for a claim that his or her parents be admitted and granted permanent resident status. The parents will then ordinarily be admitted without regard to quota limitations.

His one reference here is to a book from 1985.  He takes no account, in other words, of the massive deportations of the Obama administration, only recently suspended, and that ICE regularly separated minor American children from their immigrant families.  Nor, being a law professor, does he note that "anchor babies" can only apply for visas for their family members after the child reaches the age of 21.  If the parents are in the US without documentation at that time, they must leave the country and apply for visas in their home country.  Even then, having entered the country illegally, they cannot be readmitted until 10 years have passed since they returned to their home country.  So the "advantage" of being an anchor baby is a notably slender one, at best.

This is the factual basis for his legal analysis.  He, of course, expresses no concerns about children of European immigrants who may enter the country legally, overstay their visas, and become "illegal" (his reference point is Los Angeles, the source for his information Rep. Lamar Smith.  If you read Dana Milbank's column linked above, you'll perhaps wonder if Mr. Graglia isn't repaying a kindness from the gentleman from Texas.)  Apparently their American-born children being "entitled to all the advantages of the American welfare state" is not worrisome. 

The Dog Days of August


There are, I have come to learn, two legal theories for citizenship:  jus soli, and jus sanguinus.  The former means one is a citizen of the country where one is born; "birthright citizenship," although that term's a misnomer as it actually covers both theories of citizenship (both apply to birth circumstances).  That is the law in the U.S., and in France.  The other means you are a citizen by blood:  so if you are of German descent, you are a German citizen by right of birth because of your parents.

Yeah, I know, in the historical context of Germany, that seems kind of creepy to me, too.  Now imagine that becoming the standard for citizenship in the U.S.

Until 1924, Native Americans were not U.S. citizens unless they left tribal lands and basically renounced any connection to their tribe.  It was a more complex situation than that, but that boils it down to the fine fairly well.  And, granted, the U.S. does also recognize jus sanguinus citizenship; it's why Ted Cruz is a U.S. citizen, despite being born in Canada to a Cuban national father.  But if we start making U.S. citizenship solely a matter of parentage, does anyone doubt the burden of proof would be heavier on some babies than on others?

Interestingly this question revolves around the 14th amendment, which some now want to argue (as some always have) that it goes too far.  That's interesting because the impetus for the 14th Amendment was the notorious Dred Scott decision, which declared that blacks born in America were not citizens by birth.  The basis for that ruling was jus sanguinus:  "A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a 'citizen' within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States."  The response to that is the first sentence of the 14th Amendment:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
Thus was Chief Justice Taney refuted.

There is no definition of citizenship in the Constitution before the 14th Amendment, but it's clear jus soli was the assumed legal doctrine for the new nation.  Congress was explicitly given power to decide how citizens were naturalized; but Congress was not given power to decide who are citizens of the U.S.  The only clause in the Constitution that addresses who citizens are (other than the fact slaves are chattel and not human beings) is the qualifications for President:

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
That clause doesn't set the standard for citizenship as jus soli, but it implies it strongly enough that there was no real question about it until Dred Scott; and the desire to overrule that decision was so strong what is arguably the most important amendment to the Constitution was approved 11 years later.

And now the impetus to undo the 14th Amendment is the fear of a brown planet.  Lest you think I exaggerate, attend to the words of Donald Trump:

“We’ve got to bring our country back,” Trump told Bill O’Reilly on “The O’Reilly Factor” Tuesday night. “There a [sic] crime wave, a literal crime wave, Bill. You know, we’ve spent the last year $113 billion on illegal immigrants.”

No, I don't know where that number comes from; it's Trump, he likes to think "yoooge!"  And when Bill O'Reilly(!) tells Trump mass deportations are impossible because of the requirement of due process, Trump has a ready answer:

Trump insisted that O’Reilly was “wrong about the 14th Amendment,” adding that “there are many lawyers saying that that’s not the way it is” in terms of the “anchor baby” problem.

“They are saying it is not going to hold up in court. It will have to be tested, but they say it will not hold up in court.”

“The courts are never going to allow mass deportation without due process for each and every” undocumented immigrant, O’Reilly retorted. “Do you envision federal authorities kicking in doors in barrios around the country, dragging families out and putting them on buses?”

Trump repeated his earlier claim that, despite the guarantees offered by the 14th Amendment, “many of these people do not really have American citizenship, and we’ve got to take back our country.”
There's a lot of just sheer ignorance there, beginning with the concept of due process.  Numerous Supreme Court decisions have held that, under the 14th Amendment, all persons (not citizens, persons) subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, are likewise entitled to due process and equal protection under the law.  It's the reason public schools in America have to educate the children of "illegal immigrants," be those children American citizens or not.  Indeed, about the only benefits conferred by American citizenship are the right to vote (which the majority of Americans never exercise) and the right not to be deported from the country.  The idea that citizenship entitles you to a raft of goodies which, apparently, only immigrants and poor people have access to (the rest of us have to work for a living) is ludicrous on its face (and yes, the contradiction that "brown" citizens get goodies that "white" citizens don't get, is fundamentally racist).  By the way, another effect of the 14th amendment was to extend due process and equal protection of laws to "persons," a term the Court has read as being much broader than "citizen."  That, too, was a repudiation of Dred Scott.

Of course, almost no one ever looks at that simple reality; they just rant about the brown people taking things from us that the brown people aren't entitled to.

O'Reilly is right about due process, in other words, and it's in the law because of the 14th Amendment.  Trump, you will note, doesn't really want to repeal the Amendment; he just wants to re-interpret it.  Well, the first sentence of it, anyway.  And what he's baldly asking for is that we "take back our country" from the brown people.

Which is just starkly racist language. The very kind of starkly racist language the 14th Amendment was meant to eradicate from American Constitutional law.  I'm sure it's popular language with the minority of people who both identify with the GOP and are paying attention to politics in the August before primary season.  But let's be honest:  it's going to sink Trump and the GOP to the bottom of the deep blue sea if this language gets on the national radar next year, when more people start listening to what these people are saying.

And if you fear a President Trump could carry out his threat, consider the bureaucracy of the U.S. government he would have to make complicit in his illegal and unconstitutional reading of the law.  Consider that to this day the CIA fears reprisal for what it did in torture chambers around the world under W's assurance it was "legal."  Consider this would be in the open, in America, and require the complicity of literally thousands of people from the Cabinet down to border guards and ICE agents, not to mention judges from the Supreme Court to the immigration bench.*

In short:  ain't never gonna happen.  Anymore than the 14th Amendment is going to be reinterpreted to mean what it clearly doesn't mean, or is going to be repealed and replaced with language that says, in America, it's your blood that counts.

*To begin to make this work, Trump will either need a massive bureaucracy to start tracking who is born to whom, or he'll have to violate the Constitutional ban on ex post facto laws so he can declare certain classes of people "non-citizens" he can immediately deport.  Granted this could happen in a Hollywood movie, but in reality? Not even President Trump could make that happen.

Monday, August 17, 2015

"May you live in interesting times"


So I keep reading/hearing stories about "Millennials" who don't attend church because it isn't interesting, or they don't have to (the "You're not the boss of me now!" generation, I guess), or something.  And it all means church as we know it is doomed because this generation will wipe it from the face of the earth, either by extreme atheism, or just by extreme apathy.

Bollocks.  And the main problem with the argument is:  Millennials are not the only generation which will be alive in the America of the future.

My parents, for example, are still alive.  They are part of the "Greatest" generation, f/k/a the "Builder" generation, at least B.B. (Before Brokaw).  I'm a boomer, my daughter a Millennial.  My parents will be gone some day soon (sad but true); I hope to be here another 30 years (matching my parents' longevity), my daughter is only in her early 20's.  Her generation may, like the Boomers, be the demographically dominant generation for the next 40 years or longer, but they won't be the only generation in America.

And they'll be about as uniform as Boomers and Gen X'ers were; which is to say, not really much at all.

Not all Boomers went to Woodstock, for example; or screamed in Shea Stadium for the Beatles, or protested the war or marched for Civil Rights.  The leaders of the Civil Rights movement, by the way, were all from the prior "generation."  They weren't Boomers.  Some Boomers were just old enough to march or otherwise get involved; some of us were still in junior high.  I was 14 when Woodstock happened, 15 when the shootings at Kent State occurred.  I'm old enough to have attended the last concert tour (the only concert tour) for CSNY, and to hear them close with "Ohio."  And I was born pretty much in the middle of the "Baby Boom" generation.

I was also too young to go to Vietnam.  I participated in the last draft lottery (what choice did I have) but I had a high number, and the war was winding down by then, anyway.  I'm a Boomer; but I had none of the experiences one associates with Boomers.

Most Boomers didn't.  We weren't all at Woodstock; we didn't all go to Berkeley; we didn't all march in Selma; we didn't all join communes, drop acid with Timothy Leary, go to "the Haight" or the Fillmore, weren't all at Newport when Dylan plugged in his electric guitar.  Etc., etc., etc.

So the whole idea of "generations" acting the same is about as sound as judging people by their birthdates and the astrology column in the newspaper (if those still exist).

And the idea that generations live in a vacuum free from other generations is really kinda silly.  My parents have been instrumental in their church since I was a child.  Had I stayed in my hometown and continued to attend that church, I'd have had to bend to their interests.  Old people mostly run churches, for better or worse (it's not always for worse).  I've met people my age who act preternaturally old in order to fit in with the operation of their church.  And I've attended people full of "old people," which is to say people not of my generation (or the preternaturally old, people of my "generation" who act like they grew up with my parents).

We Baby Boomers were supposed to wipe such people from the stage of history, and take over that stage, and establish an egalitarian society of racial harmony and classless equality.  Except, of course, not all of us were bent on that goal; so it never happened.  We were also supposed to abandon the church in droves, and leave the buildings lifeless and empty.

And then the Jesus Freaks came along, and after them the mega-churches and the TV preachers who, as John Oliver reminds us, are still among us.  And church affiliation actually rose between the 1960's and the 1990's (I'm tired of linking to that chart; take my word for it).

So the Millennials may well emulate their parents and stay away from church in droves.  It may even affect the Catholic church (which has already been effected, thank you very much; but that's another story).  What I don't think is going to happen is an apocalypse or a Ragnarok or an end to all things.  As John Oliver points out, there are some 350,000 congregations in the U.S. (that's roughly 7,000 per state, and since I doubt Montana or Arkansas or Alaska have 7,000 churches apiece, the concentration is much higher in some states than in others), and church is an old and venerable pillar of American culture.

As is disdain for church.  The love/hate relationship of Americans for churches is hardly a product of Millennial cynicism, and not even uniquely strong among Millennials.  But, as I say, they will never have the field entirely to themselves; they will never determine the validity of cultural institutions.  Millennials may turn away from churches, but they won't determine the fate of denominations.  Old people will still be there, even if fewer in number as the youngest generation becomes the oldest.  Boomers will not uniformly die and leave the stage in some kind of bizarre anti-rapture.  Generations younger than Millennials may follow the pattern of their Millennial parents but, if history is any guide, they may turn to institutions like churches just because their parents despise it.  Who can say?

I can say, from the ripe and old perspective of 60 years, the Millennials are too young to make pronouncements about the future based on the history they have experienced, or just read about.  In fact, the wisest guess you can make about the future is that it will look much like the present; which is probably why we all imagine the future will be Apocalypse or Ragnarok or some dramatic change that we get to witness, that we get to live through.

It's far more interesting than to think the history you live through won't be all that dramatic, or interesting, or even notable.  But the older I get, the more I think that's why some people seem to long for even catastrophe, the collapse of social institutions if not war and calamity:  because it would mean they were alive to see it, that they'd have something to tell their grandchildren other than "I remember iPhones and when Donald Trump actually ran for President."


Friday, August 14, 2015

Of birds and wisdom....


'Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.'

It's a bit cleverer than Richard Dawkins usually manages, but the sentiment could be his.  That which he does not know is not worth knowing.  The statement is usually attributed to Richard Feynman, a man with a posthumous (at least) reputation for wit and insight; and it is an interesting insight, at least into the education of Anglo-American scientists.

The "fathers" of quantum mechanics would disagree.  Most of them were trained more generally rather than more narrowly: they were as comfortable with philosophy as they were with physics.  It must be a German thing:  Rudolf Bultmann could confer with the greatest of Biblical scholars (he was one himself) on many topics, and make reference to the most obscure points in that field, complete with several footnotes; and he could also converse easily and well about phenomenology and existentialism with his colleague, Martin Heidegger.  Bultmann's magisterial study of the gospel of John is replete with arcane references to textual history, composition, and interpretation, (the very nuts and bolts of Biblical scholarship, and German scholars erect scholarship like they have an elaborate erector set) and equally comfortable with references to Kierkegaard and reflections of his arguments with Heidegger (they taught at the same university).

What can Richard Dawkins tell you about the work of Rudolf Bultmann?

To discard "philosophy of science" is to discard the very basis of science, which is a philosophical argument about the nature of perception, human being, and reality, known as empiricism.  The very idea of "objectivity," central to the practice of science, is a philosophical idea.  Indeed, the very idea of "idea" is a philosophical one.  To divorce science from philosophy is to separate the dancer from the dance:  how do you do that, really?

To say one is irrelevant to the other, is to betray one's ignorance of the subject one says is irrelevant.  Knowledge of the law and Constitutional construction is equally irrelevant to Wayne LaPierre when it comes to how he interprets the 2nd Amendment.  That doesn't make Mr. LaPierre's work on behalf of his interpretation of the Constitution equal to the work of Constitutional lawyers.  Jurisprudence, the philosophical study of law, is very important in any discussion of Constitutional interpretation.  But if you don't know what jurisprudence is, or the schools of thought it contains, you might say it is as useful as ornithology is to birds.

No one who knew anything about Constitutional law would regard you with anything but disinterest, at best.  Maybe the cop on the beat doesn't need to be a Constitutional scholar; but that doesn't mean Constitutional scholars and students of jurisprudence are irrelevant to how the police officer does her job.

Still, you might say, birds are entirely the product of natural causes, so they really don't need ornithology.  Yes, but science is not a product of nature as birds are.  Science, like ornithology, like philosophy, is a product of human effort. Science is what scientists are taught it is.  It is a human construct, not a naturally occurring object.  How we understand such constructs is the subject of philosophy.  To say philosophy is irrelevant to science is to say understanding and interpretation are irrelevant to science.  But the very idea of science, the very work of science, is to interpret data.  The rocks don't speak.  The printout of the chromatograph or the developed x-ray don't explain themselves.  Data must be interpreted.  The people who do that are specialists:  geologists and paleontologists and radiologists.  They are trained in interpretation.  They are trained in science.

And where does science come from, except ideas?  And what is the study of ideas, except philosophy?  And how do you know your ideas about science are right, or valuable, or even valid, except by appeal to a field other than science?  Because that's where the stereotype of the "mad scientist" came from:  the 19th century literary figure who left behind the constraints of contemporary culture for the pursuit of pure knowledge and damn the consequences!  Law is in part the field of consequences.  Ethics, a school of philosophy, is the arena where we decide what there should be consequences for, and why.  The scientist who abandons ethics, either blindly or maliciously, is rightly vilified as the "mad scientist."

Suddenly philosophy has a great deal to do with science; and philosophy of science explains back to scientists what they are actually doing, rather than what they want to tell themselves they are doing.

Philosophy, generally, does that.  It has that salubrious, and usually unappreciated, role.  Ask Socrates.  He told Athens they should keep him around so he, the philosopher, the lover of wisdom, could keep them honest.  He proposed to explain to them what they were doing, rather than what they wanted to tell themselves they were doing.  They decided to execute him, instead.  He presented them with sophia; they found techne to be less troublesome.

As Eliot said, humankind cannot bear very much reality.

Science is all about techne, not a bit about sophia.  Philosophy of science is about the sophia science should pay attention to.  It really isn't a surprise, if prominent scientists scoff against such a "waste of time."  History tends to repeat itself.

Repetition, while a good thing in establishing a new scientific theory or building a new product, a new piece of technology, is not necessarily a good thing outside the narrow bounds of science or consumer goods.  Not that wisdom is all about novelty, either.  But wisdom does have more to do with what is timelessly valuable.  And wisdom does offer more than a distinction between what things we can talk about (Hume's analytical statements) and what things we can only speculate about (Hume's synthetic statements).  That dichotomy is inextricably at the heart of science; it's a matter of the philosophy of science that cannot be wholly ignored.  Not if you wish to be wise.

Do you know what it means, to miss New Orleans?

Gotham's time has come. Like Constantinople or Rome before it the city has become a breeding ground for suffering and injustice. It is beyond saving and must be allowed to die. This is the most important function of the League of Shadows. It is one we've performed for centuries. Gotham... must be destroyed.--Ra's Al Ghul, "Batman Begins"
It's behind a paywall so I can't link to the Kristen McQueary op-ed about New Orleans.  I have to rely on the Salon article about it, and I'll stick to direct quotes as much as possible.  But I will note that both "Batman Begins" and Hurricane Katrina entered the world in the same year: 2005.  And the central evil of the plot of that movie was the idea that in order to save a city from its moral decay, most of the inhabitants of that city had to die.

This was, quite reasonably, seen as an evil which could not be allowed.

But Kristen McQueary argues that the residents of New Orleans benefited from such an apocalyptic purging.  After all the, the city got:

“[a] new mayor [who] slashed the city budget, forced unpaid furloughs, cut positions, detonated labor contracts[,]” making “New Orleans’ City Hall leaner and more efficient.”
And the cost in human life and suffering that goes on to this day?  Hey, totally worth it!  You don't think she means that?

“I can relate, metaphorically, to the residents of New Orleans climbing onto their rooftops and begging for help and waving their arms and lurching toward rescue helicopters.” She did, literally, write that. But she went one step further, arguing that her plight is more desperate than those in New Orleans because “here, no one responds to the SOS messages painted boldly in the sky.”
Ra's Al Ghul suddenly looks a bit less monstrous.  After all, he was only a fictional character in a fictional town.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Against Interpretation


The concept of interpretation is all here: there is no experience of truth that is not interpretative. I do not know anything that does not interest me. If it does interest me, it is evident that I do not look at it in an uninterested way.
Gianni Vattimo, "Toward a Nonreligious Christianity," After the Death of God, ed. Jeffrey W. Robbins (New York: Columbia University Press 2007)

The world is kind to scientists.

This is not because science is true or good or wise; it is because we have arranged our culture this way.  Once upon a time the world was kind to religious figures.  We call that 'medieval' now, though it was true in Europe and America until at least the end of the last century, and is still true somewhat now, despite the best efforts of the "New Atheists."  Still the world is much kinder to science than it is to religion.

Which is not a statement of value about either one.  If anything, I prefer religion, especially Christianity, to be out of power rather than in power.  Lord Acton's proverb is a correct one, and power is antithetical to the gospel message of the blessed poor and meek and hungry and mourning, and of who we should care for and when we care for God in doing so.  So it isn't that the world's values are topsy-turvy and we should turn back time or turn history back toward what never was.  It is not a statement of value, it is just a statement of fact.

The world values statements of fact.  The Western world does, anyway, the Anglo-American world even more so.  So leave it as a fact:  this world is kind to scientists, because we have structured it to be so.

Which is why science can ignore religion, but religion must take cognizance of science.  Science proceeds largely unchallenged, except by economics and politics (which fuel and fund it), and rarely by society (only through the arms, really, of economics and politics:  what we are willing to pay for, and how we are willing to pay for it).  Proceeding unchallenged it doesn't brook challenge, either.  Thomas Kuhn points out how science works in terms of paradigms, and scientists struggle to deny it or rewrite it so that science still produces "truth," even if they are careful not to get anywhere near Pilate's question:  "What is 'truth'?"  Philosophers and theologians struggle with that question (or presumably so).  Scientists consider it settled, and whatever disturbs their complacency is ignored, or re-interpreted.

Some religious figures do the same thing, and making the parallel is not unintentional.  Science functions now much as religion did then:  in a culture that is kind to it, supportive of it, and doesn't allow serious challenges to be made.  If Kuhn's philosophy of science unmoors science from access to "absolute truth" (whatever that phrase means!) or "reality" (again, meaning!), he does no more than David Hume did 200 years ago.  But science can't be bothered with philosophy, and the culture is kind to science and not to philosophy, so science rolls on.

How many scientists study any subject that challenges their fundamental assumptions, their basic beliefs?  How many scientists attend schools where professors attack what they have held to be long true, and try to replace it with other answers, or force the students to find answers on their own?  How many scientists even study the philosophy of science?  Are challenged to consider that what they prefer to think may not be true?  Are made professionals in their field precisely by examining the verities they thought unassailable, and finding them mere opinion and speculation and written on beach sand and the wind?

And then are told to go out and do their jobs?

The world is kind to scientists.  We've made sure to construct it to be that way.  We've told them that what they know is true, and they just need to apply their mathematics and their knowledge of physics and zoology and genetics and biology and go out there and discover more true things about all those fields.  And we will look kindly on their endeavors and accept their conclusions like tablets brought down from Sinai.

Who among has seen the evidence of the Higg's boson?  Who among us doubts its credibility, unless we are told it is incredible?  And then we are ready to believe when told, no, no in fact it's true after all.  Who are we to judge?  The scientists said so, it must be true.

But if I say God has told me to hand out blankets to the homeless, to lug pots of soup to the hungry, to welcome the stranger into my home as if he were my oldest friend...what would the world say then?  That I was mad?  That I was Mother Teresa, and someone had become my Christopher Hitchens?  I've as much evidence for the reality of God as I have for the Higg's boson:  in both cases, it's because other people testify to that reality, and I accept their testimony.  In one case, actually, I accept the testimony as explanation of my own experience.s

But science could say my experience is a delusion.  I cannot say the scientists are deluded about the "God particle."  I don't know enough about science to do that; and the world will not be kind to me if I declare the physicists liars.

The world is kind to scientists.

Scientists don't go through boot camp to be recognized as scientists, to earn their Ph.D.'s.  They aren't taught that all they learned about science in childhood is false, that is all must be replaced with new knowledge, that they must be ready to accept what they were always told cannot be true because it is better to bend with a parishioner than to break on the rock of unyielding certainty in what you believe.  Scientists know and believers only believe; but scientists know only what they believe.  They accept the premises and conclusions without ever doing each and every experiment themselves. They accept the explanations and the systems of thought; good students have to be very, very good at accepting systems of thought.  What they cannot be good at it original thought, is skepticism, is questioning everything a la Descartes.  They cannot be good at wondering why love is more important than gravity, or what bosons have to do with human society, or why technology is so easy and justice so hard.  They cannot be good at those things, they can only be good at certain things; and the world is kind to them for what they are good at.  The world rewards systematic thought that understands systems and works within them, that perhaps cuts a new groove but works deeper and deeper into the system.  The world does not reward people who ask the wrong kinds of questions; who ask hard questions.

The world only likes people like that when they are dead; when they have stopped asking questions.  The world is kind to scientists because the world is always kind to power.  The world is not kind to those who question power.

Pastors are taught to question power.  It's not a lesson they always learn, but it is a lesson they are repeatedly taught.  They are taught, among other things, that science has the power; that science has the whip hand, and discussion of "miracles" and metaphysics must bow to science, must crook the knee and bow, because there is no good to come of challenging science anymore.  And there's something right about that; and there's something wrong.

They are taught first to challenge the power of what they believe: to recognize it is brittle and fragile and will break easily and at the worst possible time, and what will you do then?  Best you learn now, in seminary, and not out there, in the world.  The church is in the world.  The church is a microcosm of the world.  And the world is not kind to the religious.  So pastors are taught to question power, because they don't have any power anymore.  Perhaps they never did; but they certainly don't now.

So pastors are taught to challenge power; because in a crisis, in despair and fear, in the moments of horror in the face of death or challenge to what one has held most dear, it is power that is lost.  The power to keep your child alive, or your spouse from dying, or your family together:  the power to save your own life, to maintain the life you've had and always expected to keep.  You have to learn there are no certainties, in order to steer people toward certainty; because platitudes won't do.  You seldom comfort people with "she's in a better place" or "God won't give you more than you can handle," unless you leave soon after you've said it, and imagine what you did was good.  If you are going to stay with them you have to live the experience with them; and sometimes for the experience there are no words and there is no comfort except compassionate humanity.  Sometimes you do not speak; you can only endure.  The shortest verse in the Bible, in the Gospel where Jesus is the wordiest man in the room, in the entire story, tells the tale:  "Jesus wept."  Sometimes common humanity is all you have to offer.  It is a challenge to your power, to realize that some experiences just have to be lived through, in mutuality; in communion with one another.

You have to question the validity of power, because it will one day make you question the validity of all you hold dear, even life itself.

If you do not question, you will not know what is true.  Scientists pride themselves on their questions; but they do not question their fundamental assumptions.  They do not challenge their basic beliefs, and if they are so much as called into question (the example of Kuhn), most scientists are quick to point out that Kuhn doesn't mean what he seems to mean, or that he isn't really talking about "science."*  They rally round to protect their field more ardently than any theologian, more devotedly than any religious believer.  If you do not question, you will not know what is true.  If pastors are taught to question, it because pastors are not taught science, they are taught wisdom.  They aren't necessarily good at it, any more than every scientist is the best and purest scientist possible.  But their subject is wisdom, and the path to wisdom starts with questions, guided by the challenge that "everything you know is wrong."  If you think it isn't, you will find yourself one day in a place where you realize it is:  and what then?

Not every believer has to go through that; but not everyone who benefits from science has to be a scientist.  It really is a matter of how narrowly you think you have to define your interests; and, in Godelian terms, what questions your system will allow you to ask, and what questions you won't force it to look elsewhere for.

*"These kinds of speculation are fun, but they are not science, yet. 'Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds,' goes the saying attributed to Richard Feynman, the late Caltech Nobelist, and repeated by Dr. Weinberg."--Paul Davies  Gotta keep those magisteria from overlapping, ya know.  Gotta keep science pure, which is to say, in another vocabulary:  holy.

Monday, August 10, 2015

It isn't nice



So, here's the thing:  interrupting Bernie Sanders at a political rally is not the same as being the heroes described in a Malvina Reynolds' song:


It isn't nice to block the doorway,
It isn't nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.

It isn't nice, it isn't nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom's price,
We don't mind.

We have tried negotiations
And the three-man picket line,
Mr. Charlie didn't see us
And he might as well be blind.

Now our new ways aren't nice
When we deal with men of ice,
But if that is Freedom's price,
We don't mind.

Because, as Robert Kuttner acknowledges, Bernie Sanders is a soft target.  He's not going to wrest the microphone away from someone who takes the stage and calls anyone who doesn't want her on stage a "racist."  And he's certainly not going to arrest her, turn dogs loose on her, fire water cannons, or send in goons to beat her nearly to death with billy clubs.

That's what isn't nice; that's what Malvina Reynolds was getting at.

It wasn't "nice" for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King to be in that Birmingham Jail.  We so revere King now we've forgotten how scandalous it was for a Christian minister who was supposed to be improving the lives of the "Negro" to be in jail.  That wasn't seen as a blight on the city of Birmingham, that was seen as a blot on the efforts of the pastor; at least by whites it was.  He was right, we were wrong, but he went to jail to prove it.  He didn't stand on a stage and call us all "racists" because we disapproved of his actions that put him in jail.

Bullying a politician who can't win by agreeing with you (what kind of negotiator you gonna be with Iran?  with Putin?) on-stage, or by having security hustle you off stage (think of the optics of that!), is not "direct action."  It's bullying.  Taking the stage and telling the audience that boos you, they are racists is not direct action; it's bullying.   To go back to Dr. King's letter for a moment:

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action.
Take the fact finding as given:  black lives matter, and too many black men (especially) are killed because they are black.  Sandra Bland was pulled over for two reasons:  Driving While Black, and having an Illinois license plate.  The former was the one that eventually get her arrested.  Now, what negotiations have occurred to correct this problem?  Dr. King didn't address the nation  every time he tried to correct injustice; he addressed the city, the local, the "grassroots."  The Civil Rights Act was a result of that decade long effort, not the beginning of it. And what self-purification does it take to grab a microphone at a public event and call the audience "racists" because they don't respond with cheers and applause to the interruption?  Finally, then, there is direct action.  What is that?

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
What dialogue are you inviting when you tell an audience to shut up and listen to you?  When you force the featured speaker to leave the stage so you can dominate the conversation and turn it into a monologue? What community are you forcing to confront "the issue" with such tactics?  Seattle?  Ferguson?  The South?  America at large?  And what law are you going to pass to make all police departments across the country stop treating blacks as a suspect class?

Dr. King didn't stop working for social justice when the Civil Rights Act was passed.  He didn't retire when LBJ got the Voting Rights Act through Congress a year later.  He was still working at the grassroots, trying to get justice for garbage workers, when he was assassinated.   I'll be happy to see Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton take up the slogan "Black Lives Matter" and treat it seriously.

But I don't think it will really make any difference; any more than the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act ended racism in America.  The direct action needed to change that reality is much more direct, and much more off-stage, than anything any politician or stage-grabber can ever do.

UPDATE:  Interestingly, the protestors who interrupted Sen. Sanders in Seattle may not have been part of Seattle BLM, but rather of a splinter group, "Outside Agitators 206."  Is the Senator listening to the concerns of BLM because of those protestors, or in spite of them? (I ask because Sen. Sanders was talking to Symone Sanders of BLM (legit!), now his national campaign press secretary, starting 3 weeks ago.  Just to keep all the causes and effects in the right order.)  As ever, the devil is in the details.

 And even setting that aside as inside baseball that's lost under the stitches somewhere, Charlie Pierce is right:  "Shouting down Bernie Sanders does nothing to solve any problem worth fighting against. It just doesn't."