Is our Society Truly to Blame for the ‘Breakdown’ of our Society?

Society is fractured. That’s likely the understatement of the year. We fight, complain, support, revere, and fight some more on nearly every issue pressing. With social media giving everyone a voice, it is clearer now where people stand on the king’s ransom of issues that have (or will have) serious ramifications on this society we all love to criticize one minute and champion the next.

We are especially aware of moments in media where these debates are ignited, when writers, producers, and directors toss a match into the oil left behind our arguments with an poignant anecdote or sharp appeal from a character we’re all supposed to love. While Aaron Sorkin is the master of such social criticism in highly-popular media, there are others who pull at our awareness just as effectively, like Sam Esmail.

In an episode of Esmail’s critically-acclaimed techno-thriller Mr. Robot, main character Elliot is asked what it is about society that disappoints him. Following the inquiry, Elliot lets loose the following tirade:

“Oh, I don’t know… Is it that collectively we thought Steve Jobs was a great man, even when we knew he made billions off the backs of children? Or maybe it’s that it feels like all our heroes are counterfeit? The world itself is just one big hoax — spamming each other with our burning commentary bullshit, masquerading as insight; our social media faking this intimacy. Or is it that we voted for this? Not with our rigged elections, but with our things, our property, our money. I’m not saying anything new. We all know why we do this, not because Hunger Games books make us happy, but because we want to be sedated. Because it’s painful not to pretend, because we’re cowards. Fuck society.”

Elliot’s “fuck society” breakdown is everyone’s “fuck society” breakdown, just with the eloquence of a television writer.

When ruminating where society has “gone wrong,” most of us look to mere examples primarily drawn from aspects of society with which we find opposition. We cite things like partisan agendas, failures in education, obsession with possessions and vanity, institutional corruption, and even our own disagreements as proof that society is circling the drain. While these things are definitely worth a stirring breakdown, it may be dishonest to truly consider them reasons upon themselves.

What if society’s flaws are greater than that? What if the problems with society are beyond cultural identities and misplaced priorities? What if the problems with society stem not from society, but from the species that creates it?

Despite some who would argue the contrary, we are domesticated animals. Our domestication came when our species made the transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer and is qualified in much the same way human domestication of certain animals is qualified.

Cheap, accessible food sources? Check.
Quick population growth rate? Check.
Friendly disposition? Check.
Easy breeding? Check.
Social hierarchy? Check.
Generally calm? Check.

Our domestication is also evident biologically, as humans have more rounded, smaller jaws compared to undomesticated animals, are more likely to be hurt or killed by disease than by physical conflict, are more childlike in appearance and demeanor (“paedomorphosis”), and many adult humans can digest milk.

Through this domestication, humans are prone to three factors that together create a positive feedback loop and may contribute to the creation of societal aspects we consider to be problematic.

Susceptibility-Ignorance-Complacency

Image by the author.

Susceptibility leads to ignorance. Ignorance leads to complacency. Complacency leads to susceptibility.

We are susceptible in that we are prone to manipulation. We are a species conditioned to react to things we want and need and things we think we want and need. We react to ideas, primarily through either support or rejection. More of us are prone to follow than there are those prone to lead. We’ve even created slang to describe human susceptibility — “sheeple.”

Because we are prone to susceptibility, we are also prone to ignorance. Why do the legwork for yourself when someone has already done it for you? Being prone to manipulation, it’s easy to conform to certain ideas, especially if they’re easy to understand and emotive.

Because we are prone to ignorance, we become complacent. We put more stock in what is comfortable compared to what isn’t. We become set in our ways and hardened to change.

Because we are complacent, we can be further manipulated.

While this breakdown of human conditioning may sound like some dark conspiracy out of a dystopic fiction novel, it isn’t. It’s something many of us, if not all of us, do in some capacity. Consider religion as an example. Religions are hierarchical, with a church leader (usually a priest, pastor, rabbi, imam, etc.) projecting their interpretation of the faith to a group of people likely to take their word for it (susceptibility) and not seek out other interpretations (ignorance), thus enforcing in themselves the beliefs of another person in a spiritually authoritative position (complacency), which in turn, allows that priest, pastor, rabbi, or imam to further manipulate the beliefs of those who attend services (susceptibility).

When we’re out grocery shopping, we’re more likely to buy brand-name products over the copious generics that are shelved alongside them. Why is this? Aside from the fact that the most expensive products (which are usually brand-name products) are always placed on the middle shelf and studies have shown that placement has a profound effect on us, we are conditioned to favor brand-name products over their generic counterparts. We don’t see advertisements for Honey Nut Toasty O’s, but we see ads for Honey Nut Cheerios. The latter is the more recognizable brand, thus we seek it out (susceptibility) without considering the generic alternatives (ignorance), which are cheaper and taste the same. Then we take it home and enjoy it (complacency), only to repeat the behavior again after being bombarded with more advertisements (susceptibility).

Almost all human conditioning works this way. This cycle contributes to our views on money (“the more expensive it is, the better it must be”), us-vesus-them partisanship (“Libtards” versus “Rethuglicans”), and even “lemming” behaviors, such as being part of a trend (“everyone is doing it, so I should”). We’re susceptible to these views, we don’t consider other possibilities, we become comfortable with these views and hardened to change, which makes us even more susceptible.

The “breakdown” of society is not to blame here. Our domestication is. When we say “fuck society,” we are actually commenting on products of our domestic existence.

In Mr. Robot, Elliot’s sharp breakdown of society points out that we let these things we loathe about society happen, that we are complicit in our ideological suffering as victims of a seemingly-unstoppable machine of our own design. Perhaps it’s not so simple as that. Perhaps the things we despise about society are a product of us being unable to prevent it? Perhaps, even though we know society is caught in a maelstrom and we know we are the cause, because of certain “human-factors,” meaning products of human social evolution, we do not know how not to let these things happen?

The above explanation of human behavior is not meant to be considered authoritative. It is merely a rumination, something every single one of us does when trying to determine where society has “gone wrong.” Instead of being a breakdown of specific factors, the above argument seeks to determine if what we loathe about society is larger than society itself.

Some may disagree with it. Some may find it interesting. Some may seek to challenge it. Some may seek to expand upon it. After all, that is the human thing to do.

This article originally appeared at LiberalAmerica.org.

Featured image via Pixabay.

[H/T EducateInspireChange.org]

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Mississippi’s Sexuality-Motivated Apartheid

I once had a conversation with a man (who will remain nameless) of the conservative ideological camp, wherein he tried to explain to me the purpose of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. “It’s about making sure men and women who are religious have the ability to freely exercise their religious beliefs free from discrimination,” he said. But while his words were merely a regurgitated, baseless talking point he had likely heard ad nauseum from people named Hannity, O’Reilly, Tantaros, and Doocy, there was something in his eyes that let me know he actually believed it.

Even though the topic of conversation was a piece of Indiana legislation that all but spelled out it’s intention as a means to allow people of the Christian faith to freely discriminate against LGBT Americans while using their faith as justification, this man, an educator working at the collegiate level, genuinely believed Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act had altruistic intentions.

I was reminded of that conversation earlier this week when I read about a bill in Mississippi that appears unstoppable. House Bill 1523 spells out, in explicit detail, all the ways in which the people of Mississippi can freely discriminate against any Mississippian who is not heterosexual. Because this is a proposed law (a wildly popular one, at that), if it makes its way to Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R) and he signs it, then the government of the state of Mississippi has effectively endorsed this degree of discriminatory, prejudicial, and antisocial behavior. The government of the state of Mississippi will have made it painfully obvious that they view LGBT Americans as second-class citizens and that they have relegated these citizens into a psuedo-apartheid. The government of the state of Mississippi will have effectively resurrected the ghosts of its bigoted past, only this time the targets are not African-Americans, but gay and transgender Americans.

Welcome to gay Jim Crow.

According to House Bill 1523, its purpose is to “create the ‘Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,'” which is designed to:

  • provide certain protections regarding a sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction for Mississippians, as well as religious and privately-operated institutions within the state of Mississippi;
  • define what constitutes a discriminatory action for purposes relating to the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act;
  • provide Mississippians the ability to state that any violation of this act is considered a “claim against the government”;
  • provide certain remedies;
  • require that any Mississippian who feels a discriminatory action was taken against them in violation of the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act must make a “claim under this act” within two years of the infraction;
  • provide certain definitions; and for all related purposes.

In short, House Bill 1523 allows for the enacting of legislation that puts the state’s Christian population in an untouchable position when it comes to violating the civil and human rights of gay and transgender men and women within the state of Mississippi. The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act is not a piece of legislation that altruistically protects the sincerely-held religious beliefs and moral convictions of Mississippians, but is instead a license, afforded by the state government, to commit hate crimes and act with extreme prejudice with an infinite number of “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.

Section 2 of the bill lays bare who is protected by its language. It doesn’t even pretend to be a neutral bill.

“Sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions protected by this act are the belief or conviction that:

(a) Marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;

(b) Sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage; and

(c) Male (man) or female (woman) refer to an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at time of birth.”

The bill even goes so far as to spell out what degrees of discriminatory behavior are endorsed by the Mississippi government. Entities expressing a “sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction” can, with the state government’s express consent:

  1. decline to formalize or in any way recognize a marriage between non-heterosexuals, including providing any services;
  2. freely practice discriminatory hiring, termination, and disciplinary policies against employees who allegedly violate the organization’s religious beliefs;
  3. choose not to sell, rent, or otherwise provide shelter;
  4. refuse to provide foster or adoptive services to anyone who violates the organization’s religious beliefs without fear of losing subsidies;
  5. impose their religious beliefs on children, even adoptive and foster parents;
  6. refuse to provide counseling, treatment, or surgery related to gender transition or same-sex parenting;
  7. choose not to provide services for any marriage ceremony or occasion that involves recognizing a marriage, including:
    • Photography
    • Poetry
    • Videography
    • Disc-jockey services
    • Wedding planning
    • Printing
    • Publishing
    • Floral arrangements
    • Dress making
    • Cake or pastry artistry
    • Assembly hall or other wedding venue rentals
    • Limousine or other car-service rentals
    • Jewelry sales and services
  8. choose to establish “sex-specific standards or policies concerning employee or student dress or grooming,” as well as manage the access of restrooms and other sex-segregated facilities;
  9. openly express their beliefs without fear of consequence, even state employees;
  10. choose not to authorize or license legal marriages by recusing themselves from those duties.

That is absolutely mind-blowing. The consequences of this bill, should it pass, would be staggering. While the bill obviously targets the LGBT community, that does not mean that its enforcement is restricted. Theoretically, the effects of Mississippi’s Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act could extend to any group of people or any individual person a Mississippian views to be an ideological threat or ideologically incompatible.

  • A government clerk could refuse to issue a marriage license to a heterosexual couple if one of the parties has been divorced.
  • An adoption agency, funded by taxpayers, could refuse to place a child with a heterosexual couple if they had been cohabiting before marriage.
  • A taxpayer-funded organization that provides shelter to kids who have suffered abuse could turn away a pregnant teenager, even if she were raped.
  • A counselor could refuse to see a depressed teenager if her mother were single.
  • A counselor could refuse to help any person who calls the suicide hotline.
  • An LGBT child could be forced by their adoptive parents or foster parents into “conversion therapy.”
  • A company could fire a woman for refusing to comply with her boss’ sexual advances.

These are just a few of the countless possible ways House Bill 1523 could be implemented in a way that shatters the social stability of the Mississippian population.While some of these examples may seem extreme, consider that House Bill 1523 was initially proposed in the Mississippi House of Representatives last month, passing by a vote of 80-39. It also passed through the Mississippi state Senate by a vote of 31-17, returning to the house for an amendment concurrence before being sent to Governor Bryant, who is expected to sign it into law.

Making matters even worse, anyone who takes advantage of the language in House Bill 1523 will be protected from any kind of fine or penalty, including tax penalties, a loss of contracts or grants, any loss of benefits, any revocation or suspension of any license or certification, any revocation or suspension of any custodial award or agreement, or any setback in employment. Furthermore, these protections are extended even to conflicts that do not involve the state government, allowing anyone to cite their religious beliefs as justification for discriminatory behavior against anyone — an ideological free-for-all, where incidentally, the person citing their religious beliefs or moral convictions is not only entitled to a victory in court should a lawsuit be filed, but also compensatory damages paid out by the person or persons or entity they discriminated against.

Basically, Person A can fire Person B from their job because Person B got pregnant and is unwed. Person B sues Person A for wrongful termination, but because Person A acted in accordance with a “sincerely-held religious belief or moral conviction,” Person A will emerge from the lawsuit without a scratch. Person A will also be able to receive compensation from Person B solely because Person B sued because she was fired by Person A for getting pregnant out of wedlock.

As noted previously, Mississippians who choose to take advantage of House Bill 1523 are untouchable.

While no city in Mississippi has explicitly adopted policies that outright ban the discrimination of LGBT Americans within their city limits, many cities — such as Jackson, Magnolia, Oxford, and Hattiesburg — have passed resolutions opposing discrimination against LGBT Mississippians. However, House Bill 1523 would supersede those bans even if they were in place, similarly to how it supersedes the resolutions currently in effect in those cities and others have passed resolutions similarly. Should the aforementioned cities, or others, decide to pass enforceable law in the future, House Bill 1523 would immediately void those laws. All of the forms of discrimination described in House Bill 1523 will, on July 1st (assuming it continues it’s assumed trajectory), will be endorsed by the Mississippi government and perfectly legal, regardless of what any city has to say on the matter.

Critics are saying this piece of legislation may be the worst anti-LGBT bill the nation has ever seen. I’m inclined to agree.

Featured image by Jenny Mealing, available under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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Objectivism: How Ayn Rand Suckered the U.S. with Selfishness

Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism has four central tenets, one of which is that reality is objective. As she notes in a 1962 Los Angeles Times column, aptly titled “Introducing Objectivism”:

“Reality exists as an objective absolute–facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes, or fears.”

The ethical component of Randian objectivism is self-interest, which, in Rand’s words, means man “is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others.” Man exists “for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.” To Rand, the “pursuit of [man’s] own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.”

Rand also states that altruism is the destroyer of America’s implicit moral code — one man’s right to exist for his own sake.

I call shenanigans on grounds that the Randian objectivist manifesto contains a glaring logical flaw.

Consider, for a moment, someone who finds enjoyment in altruistic acts. This person beams with pride and a sense of justice when they give to those less fortunate. Even if this altruistic act has an outcome that appeals to a person’s self-interest, Rand would argue the act is not just. How could this be so? If the person’s altruistic act services what Rand would consider to be the “highest moral purpose” in life, then how can she logically justify her aversion — in the degree by which she refers to social evil — to altruistic actions? Rand would probably argue that being altruistic is not rational, at which point the burden of proof would rest on her to justify why an altruistic act, particularly one that appeals to the person’s self-interest, would be irrational.

I do not recall her ever doing that in her writings.

Secondly, since her ethical foundation rests on the self (self-interest), if someone can rationally come to the decision to kill, then if Rand’s objectivist ideas are to remain consistent, then this resolution to commit murder would be just. However, socially, we do not have that philosophy. Even if we were to remove arbitrary social components, human conditioning has evolved to the point where murder is unjustifiable. Even if the decision to kill someone were made for what would be considered a virtuous reason (such as preventing someone from committing a future homicide and as such, saving a life), as a species, we have determined such arbitrary acts of murder to be unjust. Furthermore, the assertion of justifiable murder (such as in the sense of preventing future homicide and thus, saving a life) can be considered altruistic, since the motive in doing so is, effectively, prosocial. In Randian objectivism, this cannot be rationalized.

To my view, this is the biggest takeaway from Ayn Rand’s junk philosophy. The context of absolutism (namely her vicious disposition toward altruism) within the manifesto presents logical issues. In the first tenet, she mentions that “reality exists as an objective absolute.” Even though we know this to be true, at least to an extent, it presents a logical problem with the third tenet, as well as the second — “reason is man’s only means of perceiving reality” — and the fourth — “the ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism.”

In regards to the first tenet, sense dictates that reality is actually subjective. Even though we may all “know” that a table is a table, if to invoke Bertrand Russell, not everyone sees the table the same way (whether it be through different viewpoints, lighting, etc). In effect, there is no unique qualifier to the arbitrary name “table.” No aspect of the composition or viewership of the table uniquely makes it a table, thus the name “table” is arbitrary, as are the “qualifications” that make a table a table. The same can be said about things such as the sky, or coffee, or cell phones, or even humans.

In regard to the second tenet, reason is not the only means by which people perceive reality. While reason is likely the most effective way (at the very least, unbiased way) by which people perceive reality, Rand makes no such distinction. She words tenet two as an absolute — the only way. As such, people who react emotively or appetitively to stimuli are thus not reacting objectively. But, did Rand not say that the “pursuit of [man’s] own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life?” Who, outside of pre-Enlightenment philosophers, made rational arguments against appetites and emotions? Rand must further prove that emotive and appetitive reactions to stimuli — an emotive or appetitive reality — are irrational. David Hume would argue that emotions and appetites are just, as they form “sentiments,” which ultimately determine our moral basis. In going back to the example of murdering someone, our social revulsion to it is not inherent, but merely a product of sentiments. For murdering someone to be considered a heinous, unjust offense, it had to have been not thought of in that context previously. This means that at one time, either murder was condoned or, at the very least, tolerated. The negative sentiment toward murder would have to develop.

As the definition of murder is to willfully take a life without consent, let’s refer back to Aristotle. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle uses an analogy of a flowering plant to provide a visual representation of “eudamonia,” which is Greek for “flourishing.” Aristotle makes this analogy in the context of “happiness.” The flower that survives is the one who must take more of the finite resources from the other potential flowering plants. For the dominant (Nietzchean view) plant to be “happy” (Aristotlean view), the happy flower must take from its competitors, leaving them to waste away and ultimately die. Since plants, like people, are deliberately motivated, as in they act with deliberate intent, this flower must “murder” other flowers to survive. Consider further the concept of parricide, the act of killing a parent. In Hume’s view, if a tree that drops a seed that grows into offspring ends up in competition with the offspring for resources, and further the offspring wins out, the result is that the parent tree dies. In human terms, this is considered an abominable offense — killing your parent. If in a situation where X amount of food exists and a parent and child have to compete for it, social justice would still prosecute the child if they killed their parent to eat . However, our revulsion is merely sentimental, for if it were inherent, every living thing would share it. Since the opposition to parricide is socially arbitrary (meaning not inherent, but sentimental), then it is not an “objective absolute.” Thus, the first, second, and third tenets of Randian objectivism are in conflict. Reality is not absolute (logical flaw of the first tenet), reason is not the only means of perceiving reality (logical flaw of the second tenet), and rational self-interest, via the revulsion to altruism, is not the highest moral purpose in life (logical flaw of the third tenet).

But, what of laissez-faire capitalism? Laissez-faire capitalism (or “full” capitalism) is a total separation of state and economics, comparable to the separation of church and state. To Rand, laissez-faire capitalism is “where men deal with each other, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit.” In laissez-faire capitalism, the governmental involvement is solely as a “policeman that protects man’s rights”; but this assignment is contradictory to laissez-faire capitalism.

The government “polices” the market through regulation. Because of various incidents that have taken place over the years in the American market, certain baselines, minimums, and regulations have been put into place for the protection of worker’s rights, such as minimum wage laws, regulations for workplace conditions, child labor laws, etc. To the laissez-faire capitalist, such regulations are the government overstepping its authority and taking control from the business owner (or trader, in this case), rendering the owner impotent in the scope of fully running their business. But, such government regulation exists for the sake of protecting man’s rights, if I am to use Rand’s own diction. Moreso, is protecting of man’s rights in the workplace not altruistic? How can Rand make statements of laissez-faire capitalism, notably the government’s role in laissez-faire capitalism, while harboring such a detrimental attitude toward altruism?

Further, wouldn’t rational self-interest dictate that the worker not be at the complete mercy of their employer? If the employer is one who demands long hours at low wages, denies benefits, and supports no regulation that abolishes a hostile, dangerous workplace, then how is it rational for anyone to work for said employer? If the economy is dire, do we not see people settling for less than ideal positions as a means to make ends meet? With this being a common-enough practice, then the argument “well don’t work there” doesn’t hold up, for it presents a logical contradiction. How is it rational to refuse to work at this company when the alternative is destitution? In this respect, tenet four contradicts tenet three.

Essentially, Ayn Rand’s philosophy of objectivism is loaded with logical contradictions and as such, is not “true and necessary” as Rand claimed in a 1959 interview with Mike Wallace. For something to be philosophically true, it must be logical, meaning it cannot be destroyed within itself. A logical philosophy cannot implode.

Unfortunately, there many who subscribe to Rand’s philosophy, despite it’s logical shortcomings. There are many who see value in it, despite it’s selfishness and problematic nature. How foolish is it to subscribe to a way of thinking that is incompatible with logic, especially if that way of thinking is considered, particularly by its founder, to be logical? How can someone believe something like Randian objectivism when the core of the belief is simply not true?

Featured image by HKDP, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. 

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Instead of Indicting Planned Parenthood, Texas Grand Jury Indicts Anti-Abortion Activists

 

It’s always entertaining when Republicans spectacularly fail in whatever asinine crusade they’re pitchforking each week. In their quest to Sonny Liston any and all things abortion, Texas GOP lawmakers and law enforcement officials tasked a grand jury with investigating the allegations leveled at Planned Parenthood from the Center for Medical Progress.

This is the same group who wasted so much of our time last summer with a series of heavily-doctored and deceptive videos that claimed Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue for profit.

In a shocking turn of events, that same grand jury decided not to indict Planned Parenthood officials, even though they did conclude that laws were broken. Instead, the grand jury chose to indict David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, the two anti-abortion videographers who created those controversial videos in the first place.

I don’t believe in karma whatsoever, but even I cannot deny the knee-slapping karmic hilarity of this.

Last summer, we were all disgusted with those videos for whatever reason. Some of us bought the O’Keefian horseshit wholesale, declaring that they prove Planned Parenthood is as evil as Satan dressed as Hitler recruiting for ISIS. Others were skeptical of the videos, either outright denying their legitimacy or expressing skepticism about their content and message. As it turns out, the latter groups were right, while the former chalked it up to the liberal-progressive-anti-Christian-socialist-PC-Black Lives Matter-conspiracy-agenda, since that is the go-to move for the former camp when their irrational batshittery is mercilessly defeated.

In August 2015, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, presumably while on his knees for Jesus in celebration of Daleiden and Merritt’s hard-hitting expose, ordered the Harris County District Attorney’s office to conduct a criminal investigation into the Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston. At least one of the videos is alleged to show employees at the Houston clinic discussing fetal tissue donation. The Harris County DA’s teamed up with the Houston Police Department and a surprisingly Chuck Norris-less Texas Rangers to conduct the months-long investigation.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said at the time:

“I want to assure everyone in Houston that I will use every resource allocated to this office to conduct a thorough investigation and should we find that any laws were broken, we will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.”

Fortunately for investigative transparency, Anderson and his yee-haw dream team found evidence that laws were broken. Unfortunately for Lt. Gov. Patrick, the filmmakers, far-right Texas conservatives, and probably Republican Jesus, Anderson and his yee-haw dream team found evidence laws were broken.

Both David Deleiden and Sandra Merritt were indicted on one count of tampering with governmental records, a second-degree felony. Daleiden was further indicted for the purchase and sale of human organs, a Class A misdemeanor, or “li’l felony.” The former charge is the most severe, carrying with it a prison sentence of up to twenty years. Daleiden’s misdemeanor charge carries up to one year of incarceration.

A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood’s Houston office said the news made the organization feel “vindicated.” Meanwhile, shrouded in darkness, we can assume Lt. Gov. Patrick and Gov. Greg “Hot Wheels” Abbott are meeting against a stormy backdrop, trying to figure out how to veto funding to the Harris County District Attorney’s office and not get caught.

Sometimes, it really seems like the tyrannous strategies implemented by Republicans come from an ACME handbook.

Featured image is in the public domain.

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Fox News Declares ‘War On Breakfast’ Amidst New WHO Report

Fox News hosts Bryan Kilmeade and Steve Doocy.

Fox News hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocy. (Photo Credit: Public Domain)

In response to a new report from the World Health Organization that found processed meats carcinogenic, Fox News pundits have criticized the World Health Organization for starting a “war on breakfast.”

In the vain of other culture wars of which Fox News has provided insight, the “fair and balanced” cable news network has committed itself to making sure “government agencies stop trying to control what free Americans eat.”

“This is absolutely inexcusable,” Bill O’Reilly, host of The O’Reilly Factor, noted in a statement on his Facebook page. “This is purely a measure by the World Health Organization to impose its will on the American people. It’s tyrannical. It’s unjust. And it’s wrong. This report just reinforces that there is a ‘war on breakfast’ in this country.”

O’Reilly is also credited with exposing the “War on Christmas” that plagues America every holiday season.

Fox & Friends hosts Brian Kilmeade, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Steve Doocy provided commentary on the WHO report Tuesday morning, with Doocy going so far as to shift accountability for the report to the Obama Administration. “Our socialist-Marxist-communist-Muslim President can now impose his Muslim values on the American people,” he said. “Well, here we are America, being turned into a bunch of vegetarian liberals under the thumb of a Fascist dictator seeking a third term!”

Dr. Kurt Straif of the WHO’s International Agency for Cancer Research spoke publicly about the report, stating that “for an individual, the risk of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but the risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.”

But, Fox News pundit Megyn Kelly disagrees, calling the report “a crude attempt at fear-mongering” and an example of “liberal propaganda being used to attack hard-working Americans who just want to eat some bacon.”

When asked about Fox News’ response to the IACR report, Dr. Straif replied with grave concern. “I don’t understand it,” he said. “I’ve never understood why people, supposedly smart people, would be so defensive toward and offended by scientific study.”

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What To Consider When Boasting God’s Omnipotence.

In conversations about God I’ve had with a wide variety of people, as well as theological lectures I have witnessed either in church services or through independent study, God has frequently been referred to as an “omnipotent” being. When I was young, before I began questioning the existence of God, I used to take this information wholly and without argument.

If a God created existence, that God must be omnipotent, correct? This is, after all, the basis on which God is based in nearly every monotheistic religion.

However, omnipotence is, in itself, problematic and creates irreconcilable paradoxes in not only God’s metaphysical prowess, but also in the context of human free will.

First, a definition of “omnipotence” is in order. To be omnipotent is to be “all-powerful,” meaning a God that is omnipotent must be fully capable of performing any task no matter how big or small. An omnipotent God would have absolutely no restriction to their power.

But, logic fails when a God is described as omnipotent.

As described above, an omnipotent God would be fully-capable and unrestricted in ability, so the enduring question must be asked:

Can an omnipotent God create a stone the omnipotent God cannot lift?

Some would say “yes” if pressed for a quick answer, claiming that because God is all-powerful, the creation of an immovable stone is well within God’s power. However, this answer explicitly states that God is actually impotent. If God can create a stone that God cannot move, then God’s failure to move the stone is a sign of his impotence. Likewise, if God cannot create a stone that God cannot lift, the failure of God to create such an immovable stone is a sign of impotence.

No matter which way one answers, God is actually impotent.

When I would ask priests, pastors, and Christian adherents about human nature and how such evil in the world can exist despite an omnipotent and omnibenevolent (all-loving) God, I was told the vast majority of the time that evil exists in the world because humans choose to do evil. Basically, God granted humanity free will.

God’s impotence complicates the argument of free will as well. Can an omnipotent God create a person that said omnipotent God cannot control?

God creates a person and for the sake of example, this person’s name is Reggie. Reggie has free will and over the course of Reggie’s life, he will make decisions that align him as either good or evil. If God were omnipotent and omnibenevolent (wholly good), then God would make Reggie be wholly good, for the possibility of Reggie being evil (as a creation of God) would stand in defiance of God’s omnibenevolence. If Reggie were forced to always choose good — because Reggie must be wholly good — then Reggie does not have free will.

This is what’s known as the Problem of Evil. The mere existence of evil raises serious questions of not just an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God, but of God’s entire existence. An omnibenevolent God just would not allow evil to exist and an omnipotent God would have the ability to create a space where evil does not exist. The fact that history is littered with people who have done evil, reprehensible things requires the questioning of God’s actual existence.

Basically, either God is impotent or simply does not exist. Humans do not have free will so long as an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God exists. Yet, humans do make choices. I made the choice to quickly jot down some thoughts on omnipotence. I could have just as easily chosen to watch YouTube videos instead.

The fact that I made the choice to jot these words down is proof alone that God cannot be omnipotent, especially considering that to God, these words are heretical. As I am currently sinning in the most mortal of capacities, if an omnipotent God existed, I would not be able to hit the publish button right… about… now.

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Salvation Through Greed: The Moral Bankruptcy of Pascal’s Wager

“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.”
— Colossians 3:23-24, King James Version

Someone once said to me, while in the midst of a debate as to the authenticity of an all-powerful, all-knowing, thoroughly benevolent god, that belief in God should be a general attitude. I’m going to paraphrase this person, but here’s the gist of what he said:

“If God doesn’t exist and you believe, then whatever — no harm, no foul. But if God does exist and you don’t believe, then damnation is in your future. Logically, you must believe, whether God exists or not, because you have more to lose through disbelief than you do with belief.”

For someone who may have faith in the existence of a deity, this train of thought does have merit. I mean, it makes sense, actually. To look at someone’s belief in God in the form of a comparison between reward and torment, logically one must choose the path that yields the highest reward with the least consequence. I get it.

But, unfortunately for this person, Pascal’s Wager — a game theory argument in Christian apologetics — highlights a very disturbing aspect of faith.

Before diving into the deep end of the moral ambiguity of this argument, here’s some background.

Blaise Pascal was a 17th Century philosopher who essentially posited that humans bet with their lives when it comes to their determination of whether or not God exists. In a nutshell, here’s the argument.

  1. God does or does not exist.
  2. Humans bet themselves on whether or not God exists or does not exist.
  3. Belief in God brings eternal salvation, whereas disbelief in God brings eternal suffering.
  4. If one believes in God, and God does exist, one’s future is of eternal salvation; but if God does not exist, then there is no consequence of disbelief.
  5. If one does not believe in God, and God does exist, one’s future is eternal suffering; but if God does not exist, then there is no consequence of disbelief.
  6. If God does not exist, then regardless of belief or disbelief, there is no consequence, but…
  7. … If God does exist, then there is consequence. To not believe is torment and to believe is salvation.
  8. Logically, regardless of God’s existence, to believe is the only possible outcome with no-risk and high-reward.

Essentially, Pascal’s Wager is a risk vs. reward scenario, and to me, this is the problem with Pascal’s Wager.

When it comes to the belief in a deity, and all that comes with it, someone is putting their basis of morality and their understanding of existence into a framework that essentially highlights personal avarice; someone simply believes in a supernatural, pseudoscientific entity because the risk is too great to not believe.

How delightfully flawed.

The efficacy of Pascal’s Wager is further complicated by the fact that for it to work, there has to be a “One True God.” Polytheism cannot be taken into account and when it comes to the existence of any kind of higher power, if we were to assume a supernatural power exists, the only (even remotely) logical definition is that there is more than one god. The Problem of Evil highlights this perfectly (“how can an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God exist when there is so much suffering and evil in the world?”). This is why Pascal’s Wager appears to have little to do with actually raising a legitimate philosophical argument for those who do not believe to believe, but more to do with reassuring those that already believe — those constrained by the view that there exists their God or no God.

Throughout history there have been hundreds of cultures that have worshiped thousands of gods and no one culture and no one god has any more logical certainty than any other. Basically, if Pascal’s Wager is applied and no “One True God” can be effectively established, then the probability of someone worshiping the wrong god is a mathematical certainty. In worshiping the wrong god, that person is damned regardless of their belief.

Perhaps the biggest failure of Pascal’s Wager, at least as far as Christian apologetics is concerned, is that even if it were a sound argument, it would still be a disincentive for an unbiased party to worship the Judeo-Christian God specifically. To worship the Judeo-Christian God, by definition, is to reject outright the existence of any other past god, current god, or future god, due to the intolerance presented in the First Commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Since there is absolutely no evidence that legitimizes the Judeo-Christian God more so than any other god, it makes more sense logically for the theist-to-be to direct their worship toward a less intolerant god.

Pascal’s Wager being a lynchpin for Christian apologetics appears little more than a case of cognitive dissonance engendered by Christian privilege. It appears to work, and is commonly invoked, because Christianity is the world’s alpha dog religion.

This is especially true in the United States. If a Muslim, for example, were to invoke something similar to make the case that everyone should believe in Allah, the Muslim would be socially crucified for it. However, I can sit in a bar and have someone throw Pascal’s Wager in my face to justify the existence of the Judeo-Christian God and a group of people at the table next to us cheered him on.

But that’s beside the point.

Effectively, Pascal’s Wager does very little for the actual justification of God, but highlights a disturbing moral fallacy — lynchpinning a set of moral guidelines and a viewpoint toward existence on whether or not there’s a reward in it for you. Christianity, as the collection of God’s own words, imposes a moral code. One cannot be a Christian without adopting it (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21). Since to believe in the Judeo-Christian God is to accept the morality and ethics that God lays down — to do otherwise is the forfeiture of salvation — than your accepted ethics, your perception of right and wrong, is also pinned on a notion of risk vs. reward.

Essentially, in choosing to believe in the Judeo-Christian God because there’s salvation in it for you, is to state that everything you believe and everything you are is hinged on eternal salvation. You follow your moral code because of the reward you will receive by doing so.

To paraphrase Matthew McConaughey’s Rustin Cohle from Season 1 of True Detective:

“If the only thing keeping someone decent is the expectation of a divine reward, that person is a piece of shit.”

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America’s Disturbing Issue With Recognizing Terrorism

American media is still searching for answers following the June 17 slaughter of nine people at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. While some outlets of American media are still hesitant to state Dylann Storm Roof’s actions were racial in nature, others are trying to determine what I feel is a more important detail to this incident:

Did Dylann Storm Roof commit an act of terrorism?

As a national colloquialism, we have loaded the word “terrorism” to be an ethnic term. An act of terrorism can only be purveyed by someone with brown skin wearing a turban. The word “terrorism” cannot be enacted unless the words “Muslim” or “Islamic” or “jihad” are in close proximity. Our obsession with terrorism’s Islamic associations has contributed to blinding us when we stare into the eyes of homegrown terrorists.

Dzokhar Tsarnaev, a Muslim immigrant via Kyrgystan who helped bomb the Boston Marathon in 2013, was labeled a terrorist in the United States. Eric Robert Rudolph, the man who orchestrated the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996, was not.

Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, Muslim’s from Arizona who opened fire on a “Draw Mohammed” event orchestrated by Pamela Gellar in Garland, Texas, were labeled terrorists. Jerad and Amanda Miller, members of the “Patriot movement” who murdered three in Las Vegas before being killed in a standoff with police, were not.

The last American-born citizen to be accused of terrorism was Timothy McVeigh, and as an interesting point of comparison, the socio-political movement in which Timothy McVeigh was part, the “Patriot movement,” is one of the loudest factions of Americans who pervert the actual meaning of the word “terrorism” into a tightly-defined synonym exclusive to jihad.

Every person listed above is a terrorist, yet there exists blatant and disturbing inconsistency when labeling them as such.

The United States has a real problem when it comes to classifying something as an act of terrorism and while I can sit here and blame 9/11 for that (and the events of 9/11 do seem to color our perception of what “terrorism” is) the misuse of the word “terrorism” can be found further back in American history. The old adage “your freedom fighter is my terrorist,” and vice-versa, is a very real and influential detriment on interpretations of what could be considered an act of terrorism.

To the British, the American Revolution was an act of terrorism. It is a part of history we in America celebrate. Likewise, to us, 9/11 is an act of terrorism. To many Islamic extremists, the act was heroic.

Determining whether an act is terrorism or its antithesis is solely influenced by personal biases, and unfortunately, this is where we fail in labeling things for what they are. Couple this with the fact American culture is self-centered and nationalistic — even more egregiously within some subsets of American culture — our failures in logically dissecting an act to determine its authenticity as an act of terrorism has overwhelming social consequences.

For example, when a violent act is carried out by a Muslim in this country, large portions of us rally behind the idea that a.) all Muslims in the United States need to denounce the faith and the actions of those who perverted the faith, b.) the act is of a terrorist nature, and c.) Islam needs to be kept even further under the thumb of American scrutiny. These ideas, routinely endorsed by people like Pamela Gellar and Florida pastor Terry Jones, as well as many members of Congress, infuse fresh blood in the hostilities many Americans have against Muslims.

Conversely, when a violent act is carried out by a Christian in this country, large portions of us rally behind the idea that a.) Christians in the United States need not denounce their faith, but merely the actions of someone who “lost touch with God,” b.) the act is not of a terrorist nature, and c.) Christianity still will be openly practiced and an imperative part of American culture.

When it comes to religion, many of us feel that Christianity cannot be tied to terrorism, but Islam is, even when people like religiously-motivated Scott Philip Roeder kills a doctor who provides abortion services, or when groups like The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord are tied to the Oklahoma City Bombing.

Has anyone called Jim Jones a terrorist yet? David Koresh? Robert Doggart? To our collective viewpoint, are these men not terrorists?

What about Manifest Destiny and, well, European colonization of the United States at the onset? Are the men who founded and expanded our nation terrorists? After all, the founding of America and its westward expansion was religiously-motivated and deliberate in its murder of indigenous peoples, ultimately prompting bloody conflict with the indigenous peoples and war with Mexico.

That sounds an awful lot like like the aftermath of 9/11 to me.

Ultimately, the men above are terrorists, but culturally, we are color-blind when it comes to labeling them as such. We shouldn’t be.

There isn’t undeserving harm in calling out our own brands of terrorism. There is, however, undeserving harm in refusing to call a spade a spade. Our inability to rationally view terrorism engenders more terrorism, in the form of racially and religiously-motivated violence. It’s like the cause and the symptom are indistinguishable from each other. They are the same thing.

Dylann Storm Roof committed and act of terrorism and is a terrorist. It is that simple to say and is undoubtedly accurate.

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Why Does the Right Believe in the “War on Cops?”

Last Friday, about twenty minutes from where I live, a pool party became the landing zone for the next chapter of America’s never-ending discussion of police procedure. I’m sure most by now know what happened, so I’m not going to rehash all of the details that ultimately led to McKinney PD Cpl. Eric Casebolt resigning his position. This isn’t about that. This isn’t even about the topic of police brutality or a criticism of police officers.

This is about us and how we, the American populous, are impeding the change necessary to make sure police officers are held accountable for their actions. This is about our inability to constructively have this conversation and how our inability to constructively have this conversation will continue to allow police officers who abuse their authority chances to hide behind their shield and their unions, freeing them of any accountability.

This is not about Eric Casebolt assaulting a 14-year-old girl. This is about how we enabled him to do so.

When Mike Brown was gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri last summer, the awareness of police violence exploded. We’d known about it. We’d talked about it. But this event triggered the social justice equivalent of Chernobyl. All of a sudden, there were so many faces, so many epitaphs, so many lives stricken from existence because of questionable police procedure. We knew of them, but were now forced to face them. Mike Brown’s smile joined the likeness of Victor White, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, John Crawford, and the hundreds of other black men and women tragically removed from our world because of trigger-fingered police. This attention mobilized two camps, one dedicated to police reform, while the other dedicated itself to keeping the public from “waging war on cops.”

Despite the latter’s vehement assertions, there is no war on cops. This is merely a talking point that has become popular on certain sides of the debate; the same sides who think restricting the possession of certain firearms is the government trying to take their guns away, the same sides who have convinced themselves that illegal immigrants are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, national security threat to the United States, and the same sides who believe that disrespecting the American flag during a protest is an affront to the armed forces of the United States.

An us vs. them philosophy, lending credence to the idea that we, the American public, are indeed polarized.

The idea that there may be a “war on cops” is beyond wrong, it is absurd, but I think I understand where it comes from. Fear. I genuinely think it may stem from fear.

These groups of people, who I will henceforth refer to as “Group A” for simplicity’s sake, are generally fearful people. They are afraid of ISIS, just as they were afraid of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and because of that fear, Group A wants to arm the American border and essentially remove the concept of immigration from the American landscape. Group A is afraid of being left vulnerable if there were an attack, either from outside or from the inside, so they mobilize, stockpiling every military-grade weapon they get their hands on. Group A are such tried and true nationalists — their love of country unparalleled — that any affront to national symbols is considered treasonous and as such, worthy of condemnation, or if they can get away with it, social damnation.

Group A is the definition of paranoia and it’s that paranoia, I think, that drives them to pedestal institutions that provide them with comfort and protection, not the least of which would be police officers. Much like Group A’s reception toward the military, a police officer is unable to do anything wrong. If the cop shoots someone, that person had it coming. If that cop becomes violent toward people during an investigation, those people had it coming. Essentially, the mindset becomes, don’t disrespect the cop and do as they say. If you are without guilt, they will realize that.

Group A also puts a lot of faith into a system that is easily corruptible and has, on many occasions, proven to be corrupted.

Group A’s world would come undone if they were unable to trust the institutions that keep them safe. Paranoia is like a cheap adhesive in this regard. If the position of law enforcement in Group A’s eyes falls apart, if police can actually do wrong, then the entire fabric of their lives begins to unravel. How could someone who swore to uphold the law so blatantly break it? This inquiry would drive them mad. It would be the same as how could a soldier, tasked with upholding the Constitution of the United States, do something so blatantly in defiance of it?

This is why Group A refuses to acknowledge that prisoners of the War on Terrorism are not deserving of the human rights violations they endure.

Our inability to even entertain this idea is getting in the way of the nation coming to a consensus about police reform. This is the sin of the side pushing for change. There is an obvious capacity for abuse (something the Ferguson Police Department undoubtedly showed), and I’m sure those who believe there to be a “war on cops” understand that as well, but because the idea of police reform threatens the immaculate view of law enforcement in their eyes, Group A will reject the notion every time. Every rejection will get louder, to the point where it evolves into the talking point we have seen laid out in conservative publications over the last year. In their eyes, it is not just a “war on cops,” it’s a war on their mental stability and their perception of safety in the face of all the horror that goes on the world.

I can understand that. Can anyone else?

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Gov. Abbott is Watching the United States Military: A Rant

There are times when I wish I had the ability to get inside someone’s head. You know, read minds and all that jazz. There are dozens of people I would be interested in knowing what thoughts bounced between their pruned brain matter when they made certain decisions. For example, what was evangelical pastor Ted Haggard thinking when he paid a gay male prostitute to shame-fist him into a meth coma (thanks Jamie Kilstein!)? What was Hilary Duff thinking that prompted her to sign up for Tinder as a means to meet dudes? I’m also very interested in how Glenn Beck’s and Alex Jones’ brains operate, since honestly, I view these men as two of the most intellectually-deficient guys on talk radio (Rush goes without saying).

If I had the power to read minds… I would definitely be curious as to why rookie Texas Governor Greg Abbott decided to send the Texas State Guard to observe the United States military conducting training exercises as part of Jade Helm 15, a seven-state wide military counterinsurgency training operation. It’s really not anything out of the ordinary, save for its size.

From what I understand, Texas’ bastion of backwoods paranoia seems to think that the presence of the U.S. military in the southwestern part of the state has less to do with training exercises and more to do with the implementation of “martial law” within the state. In a nutshell, these buffoons seem to think President Obama is looking to invade Texas, which is hilarious, considering that Texas has been in possession of the United States since 1845, save for a few years in the 1860’s when racist-ass Texas followed the racist leader and joined The Great Southern Temper Tantrum. Never mind that Texas is home to over two dozen U.S. military bases, which would have been part of the batshit equation if the state’s psychosis had actually thought about their outlandish claim before they grabbed their pitchforks, torches, and half-full jugs of moonshine. But, lo and behold, Governor Abbott, presumably with a cowboy hat on and an AR-15 in his hand, deployed the Texas State Guard to make sure the following did not happen:

“There can be no doubt that the internal events at Walmart holds the key to the endgame of Jade Helm operations. Jade Helm and Walmart are inextricably linked and the existing evidence suggests one of two possible endgame probabilities for Jade Helm. 1.) Converted Walmart stores will be processing centers for FEMA camp political prisoners. 2.) Some Walmarts will be used as supply and staging centers for an internal conflict within the United States.”
Conservative radio host Dave Hodges

Apparently, a United States military training exercise in the southwestern part of the country is enough of an endeavor to prompt conservatives around the nation to grab their tinfoil hats and channel their inner mid-90’s Mel Gibson. While they do all of that, and in some instances mobilize, as this Facebook group is propagating, I will be sitting here and rubbing my temples, as the stupidity of the southern conservative mother-brain has hit an all-time high.

I have never understood the need for people to be so freaked out by the government. While I’m not here saying that the government is not an enterprise without its flaws and its own questionable personalities striving for questionable outcomes (both right and left), I have never read anything, seen anything, heard anything, or been exposed in some shape, form, or fashion to anything that legitimately suggested the federal government is looking to install “martial law” or commence “hostile takeovers” of any state or any municipality within this nation’s borders, despite seemingly-endless exposure to all of the deranged jargon and outright lunatic propaganda pushed by Infowars, Breitbart, Fox News, WorldDailyNews, and the king’s ransom of other conservative publications that persuade a largely-inept and growing portion of the public who have stopped using their fucking brains.

I hate to break it to you, Texas far-right conservative voter base, President Obama is not going to take over Texas, he’s not going to install martial law, and he’s not a Muslim immigrant Marxist Communist dictator pushing the “gay agenda” so he can persecute Christians. You have been grossly misinformed by people exploiting your idiocy to push their own agendas. So, thank you for convincing our common sense-deficient governor to waste my tax dollars and yours for the purpose of deploying a bunch of third-string state “soldiers” to keep tabs on the United States military, as both he and yourself lack the ability to understand reason.

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