The trade-off triangle (or: Culture wars explained) December 11, 2016Posted by Ezra Resnick in Democracy, Freedom, Politics.
I think many of our worst political and social conflicts are caused by failures to recognize the trade-off between two values that are both important.
Let’s start with an easy example: the relationship between the efficiency and safety of our transportation systems. We naturally want our transportation systems to be both efficient and safe; and while it’s obviously possible to have a system that is both inefficient and unsafe, it’s less obvious that it’s not possible to have a system that is both maximally efficient and maximally safe. There’s a tension between the two: once we reach a certain level of efficiency and safety, further improvements to one will necessarily come at the expense of the other. Consider speed limits, for instance. We could doubtless save many lives by reducing all speed limits to 10 mph, but we don’t do so because of the intolerable loss of efficiency; conversely, we could save many lost hours by abolishing all speed limits, but we don’t do so because of the intolerable risk to safety.
Clearly we need some reasonable balance between efficiency and safety. One problem, however, is that as humans we tend to be biased by our own personal experiences (among other things), which can cause us to focus too much on one side of the equation at the expense of the other. If you have not had any firsthand exposure to traffic deaths and injuries, for instance, but you have experienced many annoying traffic regulations and delays, you might consider safety concerns overblown and advocate against onerous safety precautions in the name of increased efficiency. If that path is followed too far, however, traffic casualties will inevitably rise; and someone who loses a loved one as a result may come to demonize the pursuit of efficiency and advocate for increasing road safety at any cost. Finding (and maintaining) an optimal compromise is not easy, but if we want to make progress while avoiding the harmful extremes we must recognize that efficiency and safety are both important, and also understand that there is a trade-off between them, so that whenever we increase one we are mindful of the impact on the other. There is never going to be a silver bullet that maximizes both.
Transportation safety versus efficiency is really just a special case of a more general dilemma: how to build a civil society while maintaining individual freedom. In this context, “freedom” refers to an individual’s ability to express themselves, make their own choices, and pursue their own goals without interference; while “civility” refers to a society’s cohesiveness and inclusiveness, the extent to which it affords equal opportunities to all its members and treats them all with justice and compassion, leaving no one behind. Unfortunately, there is a tension between freedom and civility, as illustrated by this graph:
At the bottom left, we have no freedom or civility, which is the lowest humanity can sink: think Nazism. (This, I believe, is the explanation for Godwin’s law: all discussions that go on long enough end up with a comparison to Hitler.) Notice, however, that it’s not possible to achieve maximal freedom and maximal civility simultaneously: we cannot escape the trade-off triangle. A world with complete freedom is a world with no civil society at all: law of the jungle, dog eat dog, every man for himself, might makes right. On the other hand, attaining perfect civility would allow no freedom: it would require enforced orthodoxy, suppression of individuality, intolerance of criticism and dissent, groupthink — a benign dictatorship, a “Brave New World” dystopia.
Most everyone agrees in principle that both freedom and civility are important and that both extremes are bad, but I think our personal experiences and other biases can lead us to focus on one axis exclusively while ignoring the trade-off implications for the other. For example, someone whose current position in society is more secure, who belongs to a more privileged class, or who has had personal experience with authoritarianism, might tend to consider freedom all-important, and might too easily dismiss calls for more civility as whining and weakness. Whereas someone whose current position in society is less secure, who belongs to an underprivileged class, or who has had personal experience with a failed state, might tend to consider civility all-important, and might too easily dismiss calls for more freedom as greed and callousness.
It’s not my intention to suggest that there are no right or wrong answers to specific policy questions, or that the correct point of balance always lies at the exact center between the two extremes: as I’ve said, there are no silver bullets. And sometimes the person disagreeing with you actually does have bad intentions. But I think there are some principles we can adopt to help keep the conversation productive, and hopefully move us closer to the optimal part of the trade-off triangle:
Recognize that both freedom and civility are important; that more of one can sometimes mean less of the other; that we need voices on both sides to stop us from going too far in either direction. Don’t live in a bubble or an echo chamber, don’t automatically take the side of your preferred axis on every issue, don’t demonize the other side or dismiss their concerns out of hand. Try to understand the point-of-view of those who have had different life experiences than you.
And always remember that despite our differences, there’s one thing we can all proudly agree on: At least we’re not Nazis.
Proud to be the party that protects human life July 24, 2016Posted by Ezra Resnick in Belief, Freedom, Politics, Religion.
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The Republicans have published their 2016 Party Platform, in which they claim to stand for noble ideals:
We denounce bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic prejudice, and religious intolerance. Therefore, we oppose discrimination based on race, sex, religion, creed, disability, or national origin and support statutes to end such discrimination… Our ranks include Americans from every faith and tradition, and we respect the right of each American to follow his or her deeply held beliefs.
Not bad, but they’re missing a crucial bit at the end there: it should read, “we respect the right of each American to follow his or her deeply held beliefs — so long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others.” We don’t condone polygamy, for instance, or human sacrifice, no matter how deeply someone might believe in them. But the omission was not accidental: before you know it, the authors’ own “deeply held beliefs” are trumping their supposed opposition to bigotry and discrimination.
We … condemn the Supreme Court’s lawless ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges… [in which] five unelected lawyers robbed 320 million Americans of their legitimate constitutional authority to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman…
We endorse the First Amendment Defense Act… which will bar government discrimination against individuals and businesses for acting on the belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
This obstinate resistance to same-sex marriage (in spite of the fact that a majority of Americans support it) might seem puzzling, since the Republican platform is all about promoting “married family life as the basis of a stable and prosperous society”, and it praises adoption as well (“Families formed or enlarged by adoption strengthen our communities and ennoble our nation”). Why, then, are they hellbent on preventing same-sex couples from marrying and adopting? The only justification they offer is a depressingly familiar one: “traditional religious beliefs that have been held across the world for thousands of years”. Do those who use that argument really not realize that it applies equally well to innumerable atrocities we have worked hard to leave behind us, from witch hunting to slavery?
Same-sex marriage is not the only bogeyman the Republicans squander their energy on: abortion is mentioned in the platform thirty-four times. (Climate change is mentioned just nine times — the scientific consensus is rejected, in case you were wondering.) And this is where we really go through the looking glass. The platform says things like “We affirm our moral obligation to assist, rather than penalize, women who face an unplanned pregnancy,” and “We are proud to be the party that protects human life and offers real solutions for women,” but those words must not mean what I think they mean.
we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to children before birth…
We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage…
We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.
Needless to say, those laws were designed solely to reduce the availability of abortions: Texas could not provide the Court with a single example of a woman whose health would have benefited from the laws’ provisions. And in addition to making it as difficult as possible for women to get abortions, the Republicans also want to make it more likely that they’ll need them:
We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with sexual risk avoidance education that sets abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior. That approach — the only one always effective against premarital pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease — empowers teens to achieve optimal health outcomes. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referral or counseling for abortion and contraception…
This despite the fact that abstinence-only sex education has been shown to be ineffective at preventing unwanted pregnancy or the spread of STDs — in the U.S., abstinence education was actually found to be positively correlated with teen pregnancy. And just for good measure, the platform also opposes embryonic stem cell research, which has the potential to produce therapies for many horrible injuries and diseases. But don’t forget, they’re “proud to be the party that protects human life”.
Why does the Republican Party care more about clumps of cells than the health and happiness of actual human beings? Why do they obsess over controlling people’s sex lives (despite claiming to be “the party of independent individuals”)? It all starts with their definition of “the fundamental precepts of American government”:
That God bestows certain inalienable rights on every individual… that man-made law must be consistent with God-given, natural rights; and that if God-given, natural, inalienable rights come in conflict with government, court, or human-granted rights, God-given, natural, inalienable rights always prevail…
And they have a specific God in mind, of course:
We support the public display of the Ten Commandments as a reflection of our history and our country’s Judeo-Christian heritage…
Yes, the same Ten Commandments that teach us to kill people for worshiping the wrong god. So much for respecting Americans from every faith and tradition. The Constitution, of course, never mentions God at all. Because, if you care about reality and about the wellbeing of those living in it, you need to base your policies on reason and critical thinking — instead of blindly maintaining ancient beliefs and traditions just because they’re ancient, in the face of all evidence against them.
Assisted suicide is yet another humane policy opposed by the Republican platform. But some things should really be allowed to die.
The Pope and the Patriarch February 15, 2016Posted by Ezra Resnick in Freedom, Religion.
Tags: Patriarch Kirill, Pope Francis
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Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church finally got together after a thousand years, and they issued a joint declaration of what’s been on their minds lately.
In affirming the foremost value of religious freedom, we give thanks to God for the current unprecedented renewal of the Christian faith in Russia, as well as in many other countries of Eastern Europe, formerly dominated for decades by atheist regimes. Today, the chains of militant atheism have been broken and in many places Christians can now freely confess their faith…
I’m not myself a fan of the Christian faith, or of religious faith in general, but I certainly think people should be free to confess it. I must say, given the history of Christianity, I’m glad to hear the holy duo are such big supporters of religious freedom. I assume they know what it means, right?
At the same time, we are concerned about the situation in many countries in which Christians are increasingly confronted by restrictions to religious freedom, to the right to witness to one’s convictions and to live in conformity with them. In particular, we observe that the transformation of some countries into secularized societies, estranged from all reference to God and to His truth, constitutes a grave threat to religious freedom. It is a source of concern for us that there is a current curtailment of the rights of Christians, if not their outright discrimination, when certain political forces, guided by an often very aggressive secularist ideology, seek to relegate them to the margins of public life.
And… no. Sorry, guys, but the secularization of society, the removal of God from politics, does not restrict or threaten your religious freedom — that’s exactly backwards: secularism is what makes religious freedom possible, because it denies official status and privilege to any particular religion. That means no one gets to force their religion on you — although I’m afraid you don’t get to force yours on anyone, either.
Anyway, back to the declaration: you were concerned about discrimination against Christians and the curtailment of their religious freedom?
The process of European integration, which began after centuries of blood–soaked conflicts, was welcomed by many with hope, as a guarantee of peace and security. Nonetheless, we invite vigilance against an integration that is devoid of respect for religious identities. While remaining open to the contribution of other religions to our civilization, it is our conviction that Europe must remain faithful to its Christian roots. We call upon Christians of Eastern and Western Europe to unite in their shared witness to Christ and the Gospel, so that Europe may preserve its soul, shaped by two thousand years of Christian tradition.
If I didn’t know how deeply Francis and Kirill care about religious freedom, I’d almost think they were encouraging some discrimination against non-Christians there…
Any other big problems to be concerned about?
The family is the natural centre of human life and society. We are concerned about the crisis in the family in many countries…
The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman… We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience.
Oops, see what you did there? You’re trying to make the general public conform to your own religious rules. I’m sorry, but you don’t get that power any more. I know you’ve been used to having it for a long time, so losing it feels like persecution, but it’s really not. You still get to practice your religion and preach it; but you don’t get to force it on anyone who doesn’t subscribe to it. Isn’t freedom wonderful?
Freedom of superstition July 3, 2014Posted by Ezra Resnick in Freedom, Law, Religion, Superstition.
You keep using that term, “freedom of religion” — I do not think it means what you think it means. The problem is that everyone thinks their own religion is eminently reasonable and wise, while all other religions are mistaken at best. And there’s no way to ever work out which is right, since they’re all equally unsupported by evidence. So, while people shouldn’t be persecuted because of their religious beliefs, the flip side is that those beliefs don’t (or shouldn’t) confer any magical “get out of jail free” cards, either: the law must be strictly secular, with no religious exceptions. People often conveniently forget this when their own religion is the beneficiary (at the expense of those who don’t share it).
So here’s my proposition: “freedom of religion” will be renamed “freedom of superstition.” That should help clear up any confusion about what is and isn’t included. You’re free to be as superstitious as you want in your private life; it’s just that you can’t force anyone else to respect your superstitions, or expect to be exempted from any laws because of them.
Let’s give it a try: Your superstition tells you that your neighbor is a witch? You’re free to shun her, but not to burn her. Your superstition forbids contraception? You’re free to eschew it, but not to make it less accessible to others. Your superstition demonizes gays? You’re free to not have sex with people of your own gender, but not to discriminate against those who do.
What’s that? You don’t like your sacred, heartfelt convictions referred to as superstitions? Well, then, all you have to do is bring forth good evidence to support them — at which point we can all get on board, no special pleading necessary. Until then, I wouldn’t talk so loud. You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you’re not entitled to your own facts and you’re not entitled to your own laws.
In return for our chains March 8, 2014Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Freedom.
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In 1890, when American women had no right to vote (the Nineteenth Amendment wasn’t passed till 1920), and marital rape wasn’t considered a crime (which remained the case in some states until 1993), Voltairine de Cleyre gave a lecture entitled “Sex Slavery”.
Let Woman ask herself, “Why am I the slave of Man? Why is my brain said not to be the equal of his brain? Why is my work not paid equally with his? Why must my body be controlled by my husband? Why may he take my labor in the household, giving me in exchange what he deems fit? Why may he take my children from me? Will them away while yet unborn?” Let every woman ask…
From the birth of the Church, out of the womb of Fear and the fatherhood of Ignorance, it has taught the inferiority of woman. In one form or another through the various mythical legends of the various mythical creeds, runs the undercurrent of the belief in the fall of man through the persuasion of woman, her subjective condition as punishment, her natural vileness, total depravity, etc.; and from the days of Adam until now the Christian Church, with which we have specially to deal, has made Woman the excuse, the scapegoat for the evil deeds of man…
At Macon, in the sixth century, says August Bebel, the fathers of the Church met and proposed the decision of the question, “has Woman a soul?” Having ascertained that the permission to own a nonentity wasn’t going to injure any of their parsnips, a small majority vote decided the momentous question in our favor. Now, holy fathers, it was a tolerably good scheme on your part to offer the reward of your pitiable “salvation or damnation” (odds in favor of the latter) as a bait for the hook of earthly submission; it wasn’t a bad sop in those days of faith and ignorance. But fortunately fourteen hundred years have made it stale. You, tyrant radicals, have no heaven to offer, — you have no delightful chimeras in the form of “merit cards;” you have (save the mark) the respect, the good offices, the smiles — of a slave-holder! This in return for our chains! Thanks!
Ulysses and Mo February 4, 2014Posted by Ezra Resnick in Freedom.
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In 1921, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice issued obscenity allegations against Margaret Caroline Anderson and Jane Heap, editors of a literary magazine that had been serializing James Joyce’s Ulysses.
During the trial, the assistant district attorney announced that he would read the offending passage aloud to the court, a proposition to which one judge objected. The judge believed such indecent material “should not be read in the presence of a young woman such as Anderson”… When it was pointed out to the judge that Anderson was the publisher, he declared that he was sure “she didn’t know the significance of what she was publishing”.
The law may have changed, but there are still those who seek to force their narrow-minded sensibilities on everyone else — and those who would preemptively censor any potential source of “offense”.
[British] Muslim politician Maajid Nawaz tweeted a picture of a t-shirt with a crudely-drawn cartoon entitled ‘Jesus and Mo’ which he describes as an “innocuous” and inoffensive.
However the image has caused fury among some members of the Islamic community who believe images of the prophet Muhammed are forbidden.
More than 7,000 people have now signed a petition calling for the Liberal Democrats to suspend Mr Nawaz. Some have even suggested a fatwa should be placed on him while others have threatened they would be “glad to cut your neck off”.
This is what Nawaz posted:
Viewers learning about the story from Channel 4 News, however, would not have seen that image; they were shown this instead:
In response to complaints, Channel 4 News defended its decision:
As we are sure you can appreciate, this is a very sensitive subject for many viewers. Channel 4 News editorial staff gave great consideration to the issues involved and believe that they reached a fair and balanced judgement, weighing up the potential for offence to some viewers by showing the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed and the necessity of showing the cartoon in full.
The senior editorial team decided that the showing of the entire illustration, whilst likely to cause offence, was not integral to the story, and therefore took the decision to pixelate. Whilst we acknowledge your views, we believe that on balance this was the correct decision and as a rule, where we consider the likelihood of significant offence to our audience, we will attempt to mitigate against that. As to not pixelating the image of Jesus, it was not felt that the same level of offence was likely to be provoked as the image is commonly depicted in cartoon form.
You know what else some people are offended by? The sight of a woman’s uncovered hair. Or uncovered face. Will Channel 4 News also be blacking out all female faces on its programs?
And can you believe they claimed that showing the relevant cartoon in a segment entitled ‘Cartoon controversy’ was “not integral to the story”!?
Journalists should be the first to defend freedom of expression against its enemies. When we censor ourselves so as not to offend the bullies, the bullies win; and we are all less free. In their cowardly attempt to not choose a side, Channel 4 News placed themselves squarely on the wrong one. Respecting unreasonable demands doesn’t make you “fair and balanced” — it makes you part of the problem.
(via Butterflies & Wheels)
Saving your queen January 20, 2014Posted by Ezra Resnick in Freedom, Law, Politics, Reason.
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In chess, it’s generally a good idea to sacrifice a knight in order to capture an opposing rook, or to sacrifice a rook in order to capture the opponent’s queen. The pieces’ standard valuations (a queen is worth more than a rook, a rook is worth more than a knight, etc.) are useful for guiding basic strategic decisions — but there are exceptions. Sometimes, sacrificing your queen for a lesser piece is actually your best option, and will save you from defeat or even lead you to victory. In such a case, it wouldn’t make any sense for a player to insist on adhering to the principle that the queen shouldn’t be exchanged for lesser pieces, as if that were an end in itself. The relative valuation of the pieces is just a heuristic — a “rule of thumb” — providing a useful simplification that often leads to good results. But in the end, all that matters is winning the game. A smart player knows to disregard a heuristic in situations where it would not actually further the ultimate goal.
In our ongoing attempts to build and maintain a civil society, we have discovered and refined many wise principles. It’s important to remember, however, that these rules are means to an end, not ends in themselves. Principles like freedom of speech, for example, or the right to a fair trial, lead so reliably to increased individual well-being and societal health, that we’ve determined they should be protected by law, not to be abridged without a very compelling reason. They can be abridged, though — in situations where doing otherwise would, on balance, cause greater harm. For instance, we would deny freedom of speech from someone inciting murder; and we would deny the right to a trial from a terrorist if killing him is the only way to save an innocent life.
Other cases seem more prone to confusion. For instance, some people think the principle of “religious freedom” means they have the right to do anything their religion tells them, including denying lifesaving medical treatment from children and blocking other people’s access to contraception. But religious freedom is valuable only insomuch as it promotes a free and equal society, where people may live their lives as they see fit without interference — provided they do not interfere with the freedoms of others. Religious freedom is no more absolute than freedom of speech or the right to a fair trial, and it must give way the moment it causes more harm than good. (The fact that religious people in the instances above believe they aren’t causing harm is irrelevant, since there’s no rational basis for that belief.)
Another example is the idea that private-sector, free-market solutions are preferable to government regulation. As a general rule, this principle has been shown to promote societal flourishing (on balance). However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain domains, like health care, where free-market solutions don’t work, and government regulation is necessary to prevent a greater harm. Yet some people seem to have an almost mystical faith that laissez-faire capitalism can do no wrong.
Admittedly, in complex situations, it’s not always obvious which among conflicting principles should take precedence, or which alternative will cause the least harm. It’s legitimate and healthy to debate the pros and cons of different options, falling back to first principles if necessary. But we must be wary of turning useful heuristics into infallible dogmas to be followed blindly, as if they were valuable for their own sake, regardless of the actual consequences for human well-being. We must not let the pursuit of proxies overshadow what really matters. For what will it profit a man if he saves his queen, but loses the game?
Majority opinion June 30, 2013Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Freedom, Law.
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In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld (Bowers v. Hardwick) a Georgia sodomy law that criminalized private sexual acts between consenting same-sex adults. The case was decided by a margin of 5 to 4.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote:
I believe we must analyze respondent Hardwick’s claim in the light of the values that underlie the constitutional right to privacy. If that right means anything, it means that, before Georgia can prosecute its citizens for making choices about the most intimate aspects of their lives, it must do more than assert that the choice they have made is an “abominable crime not fit to be named among Christians”…
I cannot agree that either the length of time a majority has held its convictions or the passions with which it defends them can withdraw legislation from this Court’s scrutiny…
That certain, but by no means all, religious groups condemn the behavior at issue gives the State no license to impose their judgments on the entire citizenry. The legitimacy of secular legislation depends, instead, on whether the State can advance some justification for its law beyond its conformity to religious doctrine… A State can no more punish private behavior because of religious intolerance than it can punish such behavior because of racial animus…
I can only hope that… the Court soon will reconsider its analysis and conclude that depriving individuals of the right to choose for themselves how to conduct their intimate relationships poses a far greater threat to the values most deeply rooted in our Nation’s history than tolerance of nonconformity could ever do. Because I think the Court today betrays those values, I dissent.
The Court reversed its ruling in 2003 (Lawrence v. Texas), invalidating all remaining sodomy laws — making same-sex sexual activity legal in all U.S. states. The case was decided by a margin of 6 to 3.
On June 26, 2013, the Court ruled (United States v. Windsor) that Section 3 of the “Defense of Marriage Act” is unconstitutional, and that the federal government may not discriminate against same-sex married couples.
The case was decided by a margin of 5 to 4.
Crimes and insults September 22, 2012Posted by Ezra Resnick in Freedom, Law, Religion.
As U.S. embassies were being attacked and innocents murdered throughout the Muslim world, the Prime Minister of Pakistan had this to say:
The Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has called upon the world community to declare blasphemy despicable and a criminal act.
Addressing Ishq-e-Mustafa Conference held at the Prime Minister House, he said denial of holocaust is met with punishment but Muslims’ sentiments are absolutely disregarded, adding it is incumbent upon all as a Muslim to protest against any insult to the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
“The anti-Islam movie has harmed the sentiments of all Muslims including me,” he asserted, adding the issue does not pertain to the freedom of expression as it was intended to provoke the feelings of Muslims…
He said if denying Holocaust is a crime then demonizing holiest personalities is not less a crime. Prime Minister Pervez Ashraf said an attack on the Prophet Hazrat Mohammad [Peace Be upon Him] is an attack on the core belief of 1.5 billion Muslims.
The Prime Minister of Turkey agrees:
Erdogan said he will continue to give messages at the next UN General Assembly meeting about adopting international legislation against insulting religion. “I am the prime minister of a nation, of which most are Muslims and that has declared anti-semitism a crime against humanity. But the West hasn’t recognized Islamophobia as a crime against humanity — it has encouraged it. [The film director] is saying he did this to provoke the fundamentalists among Muslims. When it is in the form of a provocation, there should be international legal regulations against attacks on what people deem sacred, on religion. As much as it is possible to adopt international regulations, it should be possible to do something in terms of domestic law.”
He further noted, “Freedom of thought and belief ends where the freedom of thought and belief of others start. You can say anything about your thoughts and beliefs, but you will have to stop when you are at the border of others’ freedoms. I was able to include Islamophobia as a hate crime in the final statement of an international meeting in Warsaw.”
Erdogan said the government will immediately start working on legislation against blasphemous and offensive remarks. “Turkey could be a leading example for the rest of the world on this.”
The only thing more depressing than the depths of moral confusion and ignorance displayed by heads of state in the 21st century, is that the international community’s response so often consists of apology rather than derision.
Allow me to offer some remedial civics instruction for those who are stuck in the Iron Age: One person’s freedom of speech ends only when another person would be materially harmed. The classic example is incitement to violence — which, incidentally, is widespread in the Muslim world. Antisemitism, like racism and sexism, should only be illegal when it is codified into discriminatory policy (also widespread in the Muslim world).
What must never be curtailed, however, is the right to freely criticize people and ideas — no matter how offensive or blasphemous such criticism may seem to some. Surely, anyone who cares about the truth has nothing to fear from allowing dissenting voices to be heard. If the opinions being expressed are clearly stupid and wrong, that should make them all the more easy to refute. And if the critics are simply too repugnant for words, if they’re being deliberately provocative and insulting, then everyone is free to ignore them. But not to harm or threaten or imprison them.
Holocaust denial, by the way, should not be illegal, even though it currently is illegal in some countries (not in the United States). The way to deal with liars and bigots is by exposing their lies and shaming them with evidence.
Are we all clear, now? Illegal: violence and discrimination. Stupid but legal: voicing nonviolent antisemitic opinions; denying the Holocaust; respecting Islam and its barbaric Prophet.
Forced ignorance is legal in Virginia September 15, 2012Posted by Ezra Resnick in Education, Freedom, Religion.
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Denying children a basic education severely harms them for life: it restricts their opportunities and limits their ability to think for themselves and make informed choices. Obvious, right? That’s why we have compulsory education laws, right?
Nearly 7,000 Virginia children whose families have opted to keep them out of public school for religious reasons are not required to get an education, the only children in the country who do not have to prove they are being home-schooled or otherwise educated, according to a study.
Virginia is the only state that allows families to avoid government intrusion once they are given permission to opt out of public school, according to a report from the University of Virginia’s School of Law. It’s a law that is defended for promoting religious freedom and criticized for leaving open the possibility that some children will not be educated.
I’ll bet you saw that coming: “promoting religious freedom.” I wish I didn’t have to keep repeating the obvious: The religious freedom of a parent does not include the freedom to harm his children. Not by abusing them physically, and not by keeping them ignorant (which is also a form of abuse). Parents are free to teach their religion to their children as persuasively as they can, but they have no right to keep them cut off from the world, denying them the freedom to decide for themselves how they want to live their lives.
Home-school advocates say the law is essential to preserving the rights of families who believe that any state control of their children’s education would violate the tenets of their faith. It takes on particular importance in the state where Thomas Jefferson helped define religious freedom as a bedrock principle for the country.
“They feel that their deity has given them that responsibility,” said Amy Wilson of the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. For such families, she said, to have to file paperwork and evidence of progress would put them in a crisis of conscience.
What about parents who believe that any state control over their ability to beat their children would violate the tenets of their faith and put them in a crisis of conscience? Must the law preserve those parents’ rights, too?
The statute does not allow exemptions for political or philosophical beliefs “or a merely personal moral code,” but the beliefs do not have to be part of a mainstream religion.
In other words, you don’t need any rational justification for your position; you just need to say the magic word — “religion” — and you’re exempt from the law that applies to everyone else.
In Fairfax County, which reported nearly 500 children who had been granted the religious exemption as of the 2011-12 school year, parents and children older than 14 must submit a letter explaining their religious beliefs, and letters of support vouching for the authenticity of their beliefs.
Steven Staples, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said that once families have written to the district to request the exemption, superintendents tend to honor the families’ wishes. “Most folks who choose religious exemption have some very strongly held beliefs that we want to respect,” Staples said.
I’m asking you now, Mr. Staples: Would you honor and respect folks who very strongly believed in beating their children? Regardless of how many letters they submitted vouching for the “authenticity” of their beliefs?
Parents who seek the exemption, [Yvonne Bunn of the Home Educators Association of Virginia] said, “would probably rather go to jail rather than put their children in school, because they have very strong convictions that they’re following what God has directed them to do.”
Actually, jail sounds like an appropriate place for them — together with all the other abusive parents. Better to imprison the parents than to let them imprison their children’s minds.
(via Butterflies & Wheels)