The Debunkers vs. John Oliver on abortion

One of my all time favorite youtube channels is Freedomtoons, a channel devoted to informing about and satirizing many bizarre notions in our society.  The author has several recurring characters, two of which are the Debunkers, two hoity toity sounding intellectuals who spend their days debunking youtube videos in a bunker.  The channel recently released a very good video debunking the comedian John Oliver who was attempting to cover (or rather mock) crisis pregnancy centers (CPC’s).  These are organizations devoted to giving people information about pregnancy, preserving human life, and averting abortion.

At any rate, the video is hilarious and very spot on.  Now, if you are pro-choice, rather than clicking the X above, why not watch the video and expose yourself to some counter arguments to your position?  What strikes me about this video is the overall level of propaganda and undefended assumptions that John Oliver has about abortion.  For example, why do so many pro-choice advocates equate choice with abortion?  Why do they assume that anyone who is trying to avert abortion is somehow disingenuous or stupid?  Why does anti-abortion always mean anti-woman or anti-choice to pro-choicers? Actually most crisis pregnancy centers want women to have all the information and options available to make a more informed choice.  Statistically, women who have a sonogram, tend to overwhelmingly choose to have the baby.  Thus these CPC’s that offer free sonograms end up averting quite a few abortions.  And while these organizations are crafty in how they market themselves, they are no less crafty than Planned Parenthood, an organization that actually profits from people not planning and not being parents.

 

These aren’t the Droids you’re looking for: Social Justice Warrior Robots in Solo and Bladerunner

After watching the recent movie, Solo: A Star Wars Story, one thing struck me above the rest: the social justice warrior robot.  After reflection, I realized that there is a long history of the justice warrior robot/android in films and books.

Early on in the movie, we see L3-37, Lando’s robot, attempting to free other robots from some kind of cage fighting situation while humans look on.  Just like our modern day SJW’s, this robot is in-your-face, combative, and has little room for any argument or nuance.

Just like our modern day SJW’s, this robot is in-your-face, combative, and has little room for any argument or nuance.

This character brings us back to Star Wars episode IV where the bartender in Mos Eisley says of Droids, “We don’t serve their kind here.”  This is a clear reference to the discrimination that happened under Jim Crow laws in the south.  Throughout the rest of the franchise, droids are depicted as servants, even slaves; 3PO and R2D2 even refer to their human owners as “master.”

L3-37 has a strong reaction against the notion of droids as slaves.  She also entertains the idea that that droids could somehow have a human mate despite her construction which lacked any semblance of flesh and blood.  At the end of the movie, L3 tragically dies in an attempt to free all kinds of creatures from a slave-colony.

Another notable set of social justice warrior robots appear in the world of Bladerunner, a franchise loosely based on the sci-fi novels of Philip K. Dick, peace be upon him.  Dick was a prophet of sorts in the sci-fi world, seldom to be surpassed by any contemporary sci-fi writers.  We see androids rebelling against social degradation in the novels and movies, attempting to strike back and seek their own freedom.  But there is subtle twist in Dick’s world. The question arises about whether androids really are human-like enough to be considered people with equal rights (this is more true of the book than the movies).  Since they cannot feel as humans feel, they are actually far more dangerous, able to kill others at the drop of a hat. Androids are then a kind of pseudo-human in Dick’s world, a tragic, Frankensteinian mix of human qualities and robot.

Androids are then a kind of pseudo-human in Dick’s world, a tragic, Frankensteinian mix of human qualities and robot.

The issue lurking in the background to much of this social justice the issue of human rights.  How exactly is a human being constituted.  Our liberal democracies today recognize racial minorities, women, and sexual minorities as in need of the same protection under law as anyone else. Back when Star Wars made the comparison between robots and race in the 70’s, it made a lot of sense.  George Lucas’s robots appear to be able to feel emotions and act as if they had free will, unlike Philip Dick’s deranged and tragic bots.  Dick, I think, was writing not about race and gender etc…but about the ethical status of artificial intelligence in the future. For Dick, it’s a literal question of robotic rights. But Star Wars is fond of using robots as a metaphor for the status of minorities, pointing to the way of equality. With that said, Dick’s stories have an application; we ought to consider the facts of every claim about the need for equality, weighing that on the scale of reason. Otherwise our policy actions will be haphazard, reactionary, and haywire.

With out social justice warrior movement today, there are some troubling aspects, such as calling people Nazis who are clearly not Nazis, picketing and shouting down any speakers who challenge their worldview, and outright advocating of things like socialism or communism as the way forward.  What is it that drives the social justice warrior mindset today?  Philosopher Harry Frankfurt puts his finger on it in his fascinating book, On Inequality; he says people often fear “the unbearably deep suffering and dread that may be caused when people are treated unjustly.” Further, he suggests they feel that “their personal reality is threatened by a denial of the importance that is required by respect.” To understand these feelings, one need only watch a movie like Imitation Game, about the scientist Alan Turing.  The brilliant man is forced to take drugs by the government to reverse his homosexual orientation, to a soul-deadening effect. This kind of dread drives many people to action, striving for equality. But, as I said, pursuits of justice ought also to be based on facts as Solo illustrates.

In the movie, E3 quips that she could have a romantic relationship with Lando, her counterpart.  Yet one wonders if the curious lack of flesh and blood on the robot might get in the way a bit. The strange thing is that the makers of Solo apparently failed to see the stark absurdity of this statement. This recalls the movie Her where Joaquin Phoenix plays a man in the future who has a romantic relationship with a sentient artificially intelligent program.  In one scene, the AI program brings a woman to make love to the protagonist as a proxy, so that she can see through her eyes and experience something like that reality. The absurdity of this scene is part of the comedy of the movie. I’m not sure if the movie makers at Disney would get the joke about the robot copulating with a human. So at what point does a pursuit of equality get qualified by the facts? If a robot literally has no humanlike parts to its body, and it wants romance with a human, how exactly is that going to work? I’m imagining android body implants right now.

One can draw some parallels to a few minority groups today who seem to want to throw out all reason in pursuit of their existential dreams. One group I’m thinking of are the transgendered, people who identify as the opposite of their inherited biological gender. Now, first of all, I’m for protecting the rights of anyone, regardless of how they identify.  But I wonder about the wisdom of trying to compel others to truly think that the transgendered are the gender that they identify as. I understand using the pronoun that they ask us to use to be polite, but I only think of that as a kind of fiction. I listen to biology on this one, not ideology. Yet many want to compel others by law to use the pronoun of their choice. It’s already law in Canada. Another related point regards child rearing from gay and lesbian couples. What I’m about to say has nothing to do with your official stance on gay marriage. Sociological research and biological realities demonstrate that a father and a mother are the optimal setup for raising children. A gay or lesbian couple attempting to raise children is going to have a tough go of it and, at minimum, might consider bringing in the biological, opposite-gendered parent to be part of the child’s life. That’s the way biology suggests that things are set up.  Another popular pursuit for justice warriors today is economic equality.  Yet if you think about that for five seconds, it’s obvious that we can’t make everyone really equal in talents, intellect, ability, or economic status. If we did, the world would be hellishly dull and unproductive.  Now, by saying all this, I’m not suggesting from this that we should all go back to the 1950’s.  That ship has sailed.

So every quest for justice and equality ought to be limited by reason, science, and biological facts. In other worlds, nature does provide a limit to nurture that no amount of social engineering, re-education camps, gulags, or lovable movie characters can change. At what point can an “equality at all costs” ideology bend to incorporate facts?  That’s the question. Power to the robots!

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash.com

Are You a Grace or a Truth Person?

Most people are either geared towards grace or truth. Either we believe in unconditional love and forgiveness or we tend to put a higher focus on what is true and right. Sometimes we are grace oriented in one sphere of life and truth in another. There is a way, however, to bring both grace and truth into every area of our lives, and if we think about it, we desperately need both. Let me explain what I mean.

Grace oriented people often see how deeply weak and wounded most people are, including themselves. Their creed is a “all we need is love,” always looking for redemption. They often point out that the truth people are hypocritical. Truth people tend to emphasize what is right and true and sometimes exclude anyone who does not conform to their standards. This can be seen perhaps most starkly in religious people who appear to have little love or compassion for the sins of others. If you are a grace person, you are probably nodding your head here. Does not attachment theory in psychology tell us that the love we received or failed to receive as a child powerfully impacts us? Only healthy, loving attachments can heal those wounds, and who is more loving that almighty God, who, according to Christianity “is love”? Therefore, the grace person mostly concerns herself with loving others, giving them uncritical freedom. She thinks we should rarely correct or judge behavior to be wrong even if we see how destructive it is.

Grace people, however, have to realize that there is a limit to their perspective. Truth actually does matter. Truth leads to wisdom and boundaries. It highlights the stark realities of human nature. Though we sometimes look like we are born from angel dust, more often than not we appear born from sin. How many of us have been left trembling by the callous, selfish, and outrageous actions of people we thought were incapable of such things? And how much worse when we realize how selfish we ourselves can be. Anyone who has studied history will know how brutal the past was; the present is not that much better. In our own century, we had the Nazi (National socialist) and Communist regimes, both of which together inflicted over 100 million casualties in their pursuit of utopia (Utopia is ironically a very grace-oriented idea). And we all know that even forgiveness does not mean letting other people hurt you again and again. Forgiveness means letting go of need to inflict justice over a wrong, not making the person pay anymore. It does not mean forgetting what happened or stupidly leaving ourselves open to more abuse. Grace has limits, at least in the sense that people often refuse it and go their own way.

Truth people will be nodding their head to all that I’ve said in the last paragraph. They care about facts, right and wrong, and reality. They see the outcome of flakey philosophies which state that there is no truth or that everyone should be equal in every way. These notions are not grounded in any facts. Truth people understand simple biological facts about gender differences. They are astounded at the mob mentality of social media. They can see when people are doing something self-destructive or irrational and usually are the first ones to point it out. They also note that the grace people have a pattern of being hypocritically intolerant of anyone they think does not belong to the grace-tribe.
But truth people need to see that even they fall short of their own standards. How good is really good enough? This is especially true as it relates to relationship with the Almighty. Nobody is capable of being perfect, says Paul. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Jesus told parables about self-righteous people like the pharisee who “thanked God he was not like everyone else” and the elder brother who refused to go into the party the Father had laid out for the wasteful younger brother (Luke 18, Luke 15). Truth without grace ultimately crushes the truth person under the weight of the law that they themselves have failed to keep. It often leads to callouse self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and mere outward conformity to the rules. All the while the truth person is desperately trying to cover up his own need for grace and forgiveness.

For all these reasons grace without truth and truth without grace are incomplete. Only in Jesus Christ can we really put the two together. How so? Jesus Christ is the one who embodied these two realities perfectly, so in him we have a perfect example of what it looks like. He could speak a word of truth with absolute love. Just read the gospels to see for yourself. But more than that, Jesus loved us to death, literally, showing us how we can reconcile grace with truth. At the cross, “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10). Jesus bore our sins and the weight of God’s justice on the cross to reveal God’s great unconditional love. The cross turns our grace into real grace that recognizes falsehood and sin, rather than just overlooking it or explaining it away. The person who zealously strives to balance grace and truth without Jesus has to ask herself a question. What philosophy or religion has ever united grace and truth in a more coherent, beautiful, and historically accessible way than that of Jesus Christ? Often I suspect that the rejection of Jesus Christ, either outright or in practice, is for one of two reasons. Either the truth person does not want to accept that radical message of forgiveness available to the worst offenders who embrace Jesus, or the grace person does not want to accept that God would speak clearly in a way that seems to exclude those who don’t accept it. But Jesus can offer forgiveness in a way that bears the weight of truth while telling the truth in a way that beckons in grace to the loneliest outcast. “In him we have all received grace in the place of grace” but also the fullest expression of “grace and truth.” (John 1:16-17).

How should we pursue equality?

Well-known philosopher, Harry Frankfurt, in his book, On Inequality, argues that extreme economic inequality is concerning because of its tendency to cause social unrest; yet he doesn’t think we should try to eliminate all inequality.  Instead, he argues that poverty is the major culprit that we should all agree to fight, not inequality itself.  But that’s not so much what I want to talk about in this article.  An intriguing part of Frankfurt’s book highlights the psychology of many crusaders for equality.  He points out that many equality justice warriors treat equality as an end in itself.  Yet, Frankfurt, like Immanuel Kant before him, believes that people are ends in themselves.  Mutual respect for the person should underlie any reasonable pursuit of equality.  Frankfurt argues that pursuing equality for its own sake can lead people into an inauthentic existence, to what the existentialists call “bad faith.”  It can lead, for example, to constant comparison with others; through envy we lay waste our souls, not to mention society at large.  Frankfurt argues that instead of this surface level envious pursuit of equality, we should take careful note of our gifts, abilities, nature, and context. Who are we? What are we? And what are we and other people able to accomplish in our current context?  If we do this, we will have a much savvier  perspective on how to advance both ourselves and others. If we do not start there, we can never have an authentic equality. The foundation for all this is always a respect for our shared humanity, along with knowledge of individual needs and abilities.  The answer is not always re-organization of society’s resources, institutions, and relationships as the cultural Marxists of today would have it.  We know from history, just as the book Animal Farm teaches, that even in “utopias,” some animals still be more equal than others.  I’m inclined to agree with Frankfurt that there are a lot of flakey pursuits of equality today that are not well-thought through, do not take account of nature, context, or ability.  Instead of shouting, we should learn through quiet reflection and study how we can make the world a better place.  We should look at the world in terms of respect for individual people, not merely social groups. And that also includes asking and answering the larger philosophical question posed by the agrarian essayist Wendell Berry, “what are people for?”

Can we justify real morality in a godless world?

Sam Harris’s book, The Moral Landscape, promises us that morals can be objective and scientific with no reference to a deity.  All we have to do is accept the supposedly common sense idea that morality is nothing else than the well-being or happiness of conscious creatures.  Since, according to Harris, humankind is just material in makeup, happiness is simply physical and psychological.  He thinks that brain scans and neuroscience are key to unlocking more of our moral questions.  Well-being just is morality and morality well-being, so to speak.

The problem with this is that well-being and morality do not appear to be identical.  To figure out if two things are identical, we just need to consider whether they have the same properties.  For example, if I say red is the same as blue, we can determine quickly that they are not the same.  If I say that my wife, Meridith, is the same as Cleopatra, then all of the two women’s attributes would have to match.  In the same way, morality and well-being would have to be identical for them to be the same thing.

Are they?  Nerp.  Not exactly.  Let me illustrate.  It is possible to experience well-being upon sipping a cup of coffee or climbing a mountain.  Does that mean we have done something moral?  What about moral choices where our own well-being is negated, such as sacrificing our joy for the sake of another?  Further, what if we simply handed out medication to increase serotonin levels and make everyone happy?  Would that make the world moral?  I don’t think so.  Simply put, since well-being and moral actions do not have the exact same properties, they cannot be the same thing.  Well-being is part of morality, surely, but it is not the whole thing.

But let’s take this further.   Does it even make sense to say that physical states of well-being are the same as moral states?  I’d say no.  This is because of the is/ought problem.  What is this?  The philosopher, David Hume, pointed out that material things, or the “is,” can never imply a moral “ought.”  Stay with me here.  According to Hume, there is nothing about the world itself in its matter that could justify us saying, “you shouldn’t act like that.”  My brain states or chemistry can never produce a moral ought, such as “it’s wrong to take my Eggo waffle.”  Make sense?  It’s hard to wrap the mind around this, which is why Harris can get away with his casual dismissal of the is/ought problem.  Another example comes to us from the classic movie, “Psycho.”  As the murderer creeps up to the shower with his knife in hand, is there anything about that state of affairs that makes it so that he ought not kill the hapless woman?  Not really.  There is no ought coming from the killer or the knife or the shower curtain or the blissfully ignorant woman.  Moral duties or “oughts” need to come from some from somewhere, such as a non-physical being, adequate to explain moral experience.  Theists explain this with God, an all-powerful, good, and loving law-giver.  Harris’s best counter argument against the is/ought distinction, however, is simply to dismiss it out of hand and scoff at it.

One part of his argument is true, however; we can investigate nature and come to understand ethical situations better through various sciences.  Psychology might teach us more about why people behave with bias, giving us more compassion for others when they display it.  Social science shows us that a close connection with a mother and a father are vital for a child’s development and that a good relationship with a father figures curb violent tendencies in males.  Looking to nature to inform ethics is called natural law, an idea which helped form the foundation of our legal system.  But Harris’s anti-God worldview leads to a universe where there is no ultimate purpose, value, or meaning.  Unfortunately, even conscious creatures like us do not have the miraculous power to endow nature with these bountiful gifts.

Earth Mother Strikes Back

The other day I took six middle schoolers on a field trip to the Denver Art Museum.  One of the strangest and most wonderful pieces we saw there was the earth mother sculpture called “Mud Woman Rolls On.”  It features a very large, clay womanlike giant.  She is sitting with four children between her legs.  Each child has another child between his legs and so on.  It gives one the impression of a giant Russian Nesting Doll.

According to our tour guide, the artist wanted to convey a sense that we are all from the earth and are responsible to it and to one another.  We are all called to be earth mothers of a sort.  We must teach our children good ethics.  Each generation must continue this chain of teaching.  The artist herself writes, “To hurt one part of the chain of life is to disrupt the flow that nurtures the generations to come. I believe this story is certainly one that needs telling at this time.”

I find it fascinating that this lesson continues to resonate with all kinds of people.  Indeed, it is impossible for human beings to really abandon ethics altogether.  C.S. Lewis in his book the Abolition of Man discussed this topic.  Every culture has a traditional understanding of what is valuable.  The similarities between human cultures regarding value far outweigh the differences.  Things like “don’t lie, don’t steal, respect your parents, don’t commit adultery, love the good and beautiful” and so on are universal.  This is true even though they may be practiced in different particular ways in some cultures.  At the end of Lewis’s book, he points out a list of moral precepts from around the world that all agree.

Of course, today, we often recognize this, but then at the same time, some people want to say that morals are culturally relative, that they are completely subjective to different cultures.  Some even say traditional morals are oppressive.  They say this in a completely non-evaluative and non-oppressive way of course.  Others state that the differences between moral values in various cultures prove that morals are relative.  Yet, differences can’t really show that.  If I think cannibalism is right and you think it’s wrong (in the same time and sense), how does that lead to the conclusion that it is both right and wrong?  If I say the skyscraper is vast and you say it’s little, does that mean there is no skyscraper?  There could still be a right answer.

Rarely, in fact, does the moral relativist truly get rid of all her morals.  Sometimes she simply rejects some of them and accepts other ones based on enlightened self-interest or  a personal sense of what she wants to be right.  Yet the danger here is that moral relativism really means complete relativism, not partial relativism, not mostly relativism.  Hopefully, the relativist’s enlightened self-interest will lead her not to steal, murder, and cheat, otherwise there may be very odd natural consequences.

One thing is for sure, the Earth Mother is not a moral relativist.  Where does she get her values from I wonder?  That’s a question.  Obviously not directly from the earth.  The earth is very silent about values.  Believe me.  I’ve listened closely.  All I hear are worms wriggling and wind blowing over grassy knolls and so on.  Perhaps the earth mother’s morals come from a society or a religion.  Perhaps she herself is a kind of deity, doling out moral values to her progeny.  We all must meet the challenge of explaining where we get our sense of right and wrong and why we all have such a similar set of moral values and duties.   Perhaps they come from God.  Another possible source is the blind hand of chance in an unguided form of evolution.  And the latter option appears to lead to, well, relativism.