I have from time to time made the point that the entire debate over abortion and birth control and almost the whole edifice of what we call Fundamentalism in the world, in whatever religion, is all essentially over controlling women.
Here is an article which has one of the most bizarre takes on the entire issue I’ve ever seen. The central premise is early on stated in 0ne sentence that defines all of this nonsense, in whatever creed you care to name.
“Sexual relationships, while enacted privately, are public property.”
The twists in logic, never mind rationality, are among the most byzantine I’ve ever encountered. What is more, the writer doesn’t seem to understand that this “philosophy” reduces children to little more than marks on a scorecard. The exhibition of marital health and fidelity is all that is important. The attempt to limit family size and indulge private acts privately for private purposes is reduced to an attempt to deceive the community, pure and simple.
But ultimately, as in all other instances of this kind of obscene interference with the personal, it is the women who bear the costs, the burdens, and the responsibility.
I suppose the next step would be to devise a kind of tracking bracelet for the penis and vagina so someone somewhere can determine when either is being used and where.
I have no answer for this kind of inanity (or insanity). The fact that this makes sense to some people disturbs me no end, because it means that some people cannot see past the end of their own prurience. Yes, I said prurience, because to come up with this kind of thing, rather than demonstrating a balanced healthy appreciation for sex, shows an obsession with it that can only be described as prurient.
Najla Said gives a dramatic reading of one section of her play entitled “Palestine,” describing how her life was changed after visiting Gaza as a teenaged girl, along with her father, the late Edward Said, who was a Palestinian activist.
What guiding principles would you select if you wanted to establish a highly cooperative new society? In order to avoid re-creating the deep-seated cultural strife that is ripping us apart, you might be tempted to brush aside all current conflicting systems of religious-based morality and start fresh, striving to come up with a system to which most non-believers and many believers could assent. At center, it would be an evidence-based system.
That’s what Paul Kurtz has done with his newly released Neo-Humanist Statement of Secular Principles and Values. It’s not for everyone, but its list of principles and values will resonate with many people. Here are the basic principles:
- aspire to be more inclusive by appealing to both non-religious and religious humanists and to religious believers who share common goals;
- are critical of traditional theism;
- are best defined by what they are for, not what they are against;
- wish to use critical thinking, evidence, and reason to evaluate claims to knowledge;
- apply similar considerations to ethics and values;
- are committed to a key set of values: happiness, creative actualization, reason in harmony with emotion, quality, and excellence;
- emphasize moral growth (particularly for children), empathy, and responsibility;
- advocate the right to privacy;
- support the democratic way of life, tolerance, and fairness;
- recognize the importance of personal morality, good will, and a positive attitude toward life;
- accept responsibility for the well-being of society, guaranteeing various rights, including those of women, racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities; and supporting education, health care, gainful employment, and other social benefits;
- support a green economy;
- advocate population restraint, environmental protection, and the protection of other species;
- recognize the need for Neo-Humanists to engage actively in politics;
- take progressive positions on the economy; and
- hold that humanity needs to move beyond ego-centric individualism and chauvinistic nationalism to develop transnational planetary institutions to cope with global problems—such efforts include a strengthened World Court, an eventual World Parliament, and a Planetary Environmental Monitoring Agency that would set standards for controlling global warming and ecology.
Paul Kurtz has issued an invitation for others who accept its main principles and values to sign on in support, even if they do not agree with all of its provisions. I have signed up. The values listed in this document are my values. It is so rare that I find a collection of principles to which I would so readily aspire. These principles should not surprise anyone familiar with the work of Paul Kurtz.
This Neo-Humanist statement is both a set of positive principles and a push-back against radical atheism:
Writing in the December 2009/January 2010 issue of Free Inquiry, the magazine he founded, Kurtz declared “militant atheism is often truncated and narrow-minded…it is not concerned with the humanist values that ought to accompany the rejection of theism. The New Atheists, in my view, have made an important contribution to the contemporary cultural scene because they have opened religious claims to public examination…What I object to are the militant atheists who are narrow-minded about religious persons and will have nothing to do with agnostics, skeptics, or those who are indifferent to religion, dismissing them as cowardly.”
In his interview at Huffpo, Kurtz reminds us that only 2 to 3 percent of Americans self-identify as “atheists,” whereas 16 percent of Americans (50 million people) do not affiliate with any religious organization.
The Statement ends with this invitation:
We submit that the world needs to engage in continuing constructive dialogue emphasizing our common values. We invite other men and women representing different points of view to join with us in bringing about a better world in the new planetary civilization that is now emerging.
On the TV show, the game consisted of one participant asking questions to another player locked inside a booth with an electrode hooked up to his or her wrist. Any wrong answer meant the first player had to push a lever that subjected the victim in the booth to electrical charges up to 460 volts as punishment.
The audience applauded and chanted “Punishment! Punishment! Punishment!” when the contestant inside the booth answered wrong.
The results were startling, just as they were in Milgram’s study: 80% of the contestants administered what they believed to be lethal electric shocks. BTW, it’s not clear whether the audience consisted entirely of stooges–I assume that all audience members were stooges and that they had been instructed to encourage the reckless behavior of the contestants (if not, the consistently terrible audience reaction was phenomenally more interesting to me than the behavior of the contestants).
The CNN reporter reporting on this French “show” was perplexed by the behavior of the contestants on this “show.” She was flummoxed by the contestant’s willingness to administer (what they believed to be) painful and apparently deadly shocks to innocent people. She quoted the show’s French producer: “People were willing to act against their own morals, their own principles when they were ordered to do something extreme by a source they they trust is legitimate.”
According to the CNN reporter, the lesson is that “even the most well-adjusted person can be swayed to act in horrendous ways if the situation leads them to it–that anyone is vulnerable to this.” The host of the CNN news show, Campbell Brown added, “I hope that’s not the case.”
But the evidence is ubiquitous that people will happily allow entire communities of other people to needlessly suffer and die. We tolerate mass death of millions of innocent people, including children, through starvation and malaria right here on planet Earth, even though we could substantially alleviate those disasters if we only acted. We tolerate and even cheer on wars that have no purpose relating to “freedom,” even though we know that using our terrifying weapons often takes the lives of numerous innocent human beings. We fail to guarantee a minimum safety net of health care for those who can’t afford it, resulting in more deaths. We tolerate thousands of institutions that are “schools” only in name rather than insisting on paying a bit more for first rate teachers–we know that these sad public “schools” are ruining lives, but most of us couldn’t care less (if we cared, would we be doing something about the situation? Consider too, these eight other ways to kill 3,000 people. How is it that we tolerate any of this? But we do tolerate needless suffering every day, most of it through our inaction. “The Game of Death” demonstrates (just as Milgram had earlier demonstrated) that people are also willing to hurt and kill through their one actions, not merely inactions. For the most part, however, I find this action/inaction distinction to be legalistic and distracting. Highly moral people don’t make this distinction when lives are on the line.
How can people on the “show” be so cruel? In my opinion, the Milgram study is a finding that relates to limited human attentional capacity. Our limited and rickety working memory can easily be filled with things (such as audience encouragement and the “authority figure” of a show host) which leaves little room for moral processing. Simply fill up our heads with TV, “the threat of terrorism,” or whatever, and we are willing to not attend to everything else. We are incredibly fallible beings. I would also suggest that Hannah Arendt’s concept of banality of evil illustrates this human vulnerability to attentional distraction. I explain my reasoning regarding human attention capacity in the context of Arendt’s work here.
Back to the “Game of Death”. . . Some of the contestants purportedly explained that the power of television made them do those horrendous things, but this claim confuses me. I suspect that the live audience served as a proxy for that “television audience” (there actually wasn’t any such audience, at least until the documentary came out). But assume that the live audience boo’d and hissed when shocks were administered, thereby working at cross-purposes with the show host. In such as case, I would assume that far fewer “lethal” shocks would have been administered. My belief, then, is that the fact that there was a television audience (even an imagined one) didn’t cause the contestants to act in any particular way. Rather, the effect of that audience depends on how that audience reacts. No research needs to be cited for the fact that we are social animals and that we feel immense pressure to do the things that are approved by others around us (though I will cite this famous study by Solomon Asch).
Some might find this sort of “show” bizarre, but I find it valuable, and I hope that the documentary reaches a wide audience. Humans cognition is a complex and conflicting bag of tricks, many of which work counter to others. That is one reason I have repeatedly stressed at this site that we should first and foremost think of humans as human animals, not the demigods . We desperately need the humility and the skepticism that usually comes with the acknowledgment that we are frail and fallible. Consider that when when humans are thinking least clearly, we are nonetheless capable of feeling certain that we are correct. We are a lot less competent than we’d like to believe. The French “show” is dramatic evidence that merely presenting an audience and an “authority figure” can severely inflict moral blindness. These two things blinded the contestants to the most basic rule morality: don’t needlessly hurt and kill others.
The more likely that human animals become consciously aware of their gaping cognitive and moral vulnerabilities (I consider these part and parcel), they are less likely to do great damage to other humans. Perhaps this show will remind us that we regularly need to exercise social skepticism and put on the moral brakes, even when those around us seem certain.
I like the new law passed by Israel regarding organ donation. If you want to receive one, you’d better be willing to give one up, as explained by the AP:
Israel is launching a potentially trailblazing experiment in organ donation: Sign a donor card, and you and your family move up in line for a transplant if one is needed.The new law is the first of its kind in the world . . .