Monday, November 24, 2008

De Toke-ville on De-mocracy

Tocqueville: "I have previously stated that the principle of the sovereignty of the people hovers over the whole political system of the Anglo-Americans. Every page of this book will reflect certain fresh instances of this doctrine. In nations where it exists, every individual takes an equal share in sovereign power and participates equally in the government of the state. Thus he is considered as enlightened, virtuous, strong as any of his fellow men."

Tocqueville understands the faulty premise of Jeffersonian democracy (as did TJ, in his gloomier moments). Democracy presupposes that any person is as competent, intelligent and "virtuous" as any other. That is demonstrably false: people vary widely in intelligence and virtue, as a comparison of education scores, or incarceration ratios would show. So "democracy rests on a lie" (Colin McGinn's phrase). D-T also seems to suggest as much: x is "considered" as enlightened as any, but not proven to be. That does not imply, however, the superiority of Pax Regina, except to dolts (a large and controlling tribe, paraphrasing Bierce).

In more formal terms, D-T questions the presumption of agency. That citizens all have the right to vote at 18 does not mean they possess the knowledge to make informed vote-choices; being a citizen in a Democratic society does not mean one is Thomas Jefferson. Criteria does exist for various social roles, employment, for establishing "competent agency," in effect--say driving a car or obtaining an MD--but not for others, such as voting, or running for political office (nor for blogging). It does not seem prima facie unreasonable to require a voting license program similar to a driver's license (or requiring a hs diploma, etc). That might not appeal to the romantic leftist (usually a crypto-rightist anyway) representin' for the Peoples, but would most likely lend a bit more intelligence to the political process.

Miss Rand, America's Phirst Lady of Philosophy

Academics rarely offer some cogent definition of agency for that matter-- anymore than they establish the "Rational Man" standard of Smithian economics (20th century history reads more like the work of Irrational man--). Granting that humans do make choices (even if they are coerced by physiological factors of various sorts--voluntary determinism, aka compatibilism of a sort), some choices are measurably better than others, and in many situations one person is a more competent "chooser" than another. There is a definite tendency among many people, rather Nietzschean and elitist (also seen in Aynnie Rand's pop-Nietzschean ideas) to think that the smarter, competent, more virtuous person has more of a entitlement claim, and greater "rights" of some type than an uneducated or mentally ill, homeless person does (Nietzsche's "chandala"). That's not necessarily mistaken: obviously some people are smarter and more competent than others, and that can be established via various methods, by standardized tests, degrees, credentials, etc. Mistaken however is the usual protestant assumption (or monotheistic, really) that being a good Churchie and believing in Jee-zuss confers some special right..

Indeed, meritocracy (as opposed to naive democracy), given our technological age, would seem to require specified agency criteria. That needn't imply elitism of the Nietzschean sort: rational-agent Meritocracy could be to the advantage of intelligent progressive politics, and a means to dismantling oligarchies of various sorts (say "natural fortune" in Rawlsian terms). Meritocracy based on carefully defined agency-criteria could create a more even, and fairer playing field. Rawls also requires that humans who make disinterested decisions regarding society via his "veil of ignorance" be rational, though he does not hash that out too much (what would be sufficient to establish rationality, and a sort of political-participation right? a HS diploma, or an MD). Meritocracy could in principle avoid the problems of populism, of economic disparity--like that between rich pimps n ho's and starving Einsteins and Jeffersons--and ameliorate mob rule in general (whether that's a mob of biblethumpers for Sarah Palin, or a mob of sans cullottes bent on smashing the state)---don't hold your breath.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bricmont, representin'

"...Here is where modern science and British empiricism (which can be characterized as the working philosophy of most scientists) enter. Science explains the visible world, let’s say the structure of matter, by appealing to the invisible one, the properties of atoms. So, why can’t science postulate an invisible Intelligent Design to account for the origin of the Universe or its unexplained properties? The difference is that we do not use merely the word "atom" in our explanations, but also their many quantitative and testable properties. On the other hand, the Design of the ID movement is just a word -- nobody has ever proposed that it possesses any given properties, nor how, if such properties were proposed, one could test them. The postulated Design has just whichever properties were needed to make the world as it is and not otherwise. But then why was the ID not intelligent enough to create a world without birth defects, tsunamis or American imperialism ? The only thing that the defenders of ID are able to establish is that there are certain things we don’t know -- and with that, of course, all scientists agree.

Because of the specificity and testability of its explanations, modern science has introduced a new factor into the spiritualism/materialism debate that was absent among the classical materialist philosophers. The latter had their hearts in the right place but, because of lack of experiments, their physics was fanciful and open to the objection that it was not any more credible than religious stories. Since then, modern science has turned the tables decisively in favor of materialism.

More to the point, this postulated Design has nothing whatsoever to do with the Gods of the traditional religions. Theologians constantly try to present such "arguments" as ID in favor of a deity as if they supported their favorite belief systems. But those belief systems are all based on some kind of revelations and "sacred" scriptures. Even if the ID arguments were valid, they would tell us nothing about particular revelations. The God of ID is a philosopher’s God, like the one whose existence St Thomas Aquinas or Descartes thought to have proven. But the God of the traditional religions is entirely different. It is a being that defines what is good and evil, answers our prayers, and punishes us in the afterlife. Those belief systems are even more radically undermined by modern science than ID. Indeed, whenever one looks at the facts in an undogmatic way, the sacred books turn out to be essentially wrong. Not only about evolution but about almost everything. There is no independent evidence for the story told in the Gospels, the Bible is mythological, and even the Jewish people is, as Shlomo Sand puts it, "an invention" .

Given that, there are two routes open to the believer. There is that of Sarah Palin, clinging literally to the belief system, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. That school of Christians enter into direct conflict with science. Or one can choose the metaphorical route, which most liberal and European Christians (including even the Pope, at times) follow -- declare that, whenever the Scriptures conflict with science, they have to be "interpreted" in a non-literal way. That leads to total defeat for religious belief, because, if the parts of the Scriptures that can be checked with the facts are not to be taken seriously, why pay any attention to the parts that cannot be checked (notably concerning Heaven and Hell or God himself )? The whole of liberal Christianity is the result of a double standard: follow the Scriptures whenever they are "metaphysical" or ethical and cannot be checked independently, and discard them when they can. Since God is not good enough to tell us what he really meant in his "revelations", and which parts have to be taken seriously and which parts not, we are left with total arbitrariness.

People who call themselves agnostics are often confused about these two notions of God. What they claim to be agnostic about is the philosopher’s god not, say, the Gods of Homer. With respect to the latter, they are atheist, just as all religious people are atheist with respect to all gods except their own.

It is also a pity that some secular leftists, like Stephen Jay Gould, support liberal Christianity with the idea of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA): science deals with facts, religion deals with values. But if you really remove all statements of facts from religion, including those about the existence of God or of Heaven and Hell, then why should one care about what religion says about values ? (That is why the NOMA argument adds to the confusion on the secular side, but is rarely accepted by the religious one).""""

A point worth re-iterating: "since then, modern science has turned the tables decisively in favor of materialism." Many in Consumerland (even in the universities of Consumerland) can't quite realize that point, and instead insist that quantum mechanics and the latest findings of physics (or what they take to be physics) provides support for their own brand of mysticism (be it monotheistic, or otherwise). Bricmont reminds us that materialism has not been overthrown, but updated and revised (as Einstein, not a mystic or immaterialist, asserted as well). Or in the words of one Professor Beiser--not quite a Bricmont, but not lacking a materialist sensibility, when you're dead, you're dead.

Bricmont, however, like many scientific materialists, does not quite realize all the entailments of his ontology (at least in this essay, and others I have read): assuming his physicalism (and no transcendent soul/ego), AND, at the same time assuming that thinking exists/occurs (like Bricmont thinking through the ideas for this essay) , bio-chemical matter then itself must think (a rather odd point that some material minded idealists, like Schopenhauer, understood--and perhaps Hegel and Marx in some sense). The Idea realizes itself in the human brain...........

(continued). Bricmont thus might be classified (by those who specialize in such things, like Dennett) as a greedy reductionist. While scientific materialism may be the most plausible ontological account of "reality" for lack of a better term, that doesn't mean that much. Humans still think and make decisions, even if a Bricmont (or Searle, or Skinner, etc.) insists all decisions are determined by biological- genetic, and/or environmental factors (tracing those causal determining factors still out of reach as well); and they are to be held accountable for those decisions, just as someone making a wrong answer on a test, or a bad move in chess is held accountable--not only by say losing the game, but by subsequent analysis showing what went wrong.

It seems quite evident (considering a game of skill like chess, or Dreyfus' example of learning to drive, or a person deciding to commit a crime) that in many situations, a person does have a definite decision which results in different outcomes, and that one choice (or move) was better or more successful than another--he could have done differently (chess opening analysis seems to suggest this as well---had Karpov moved this way instead of that, he would have beaten Kasparov, etc). The beginner who brings out his queen early will probably lose: with more skill, he no longer does that. The ability to plan, and envision future scenario also poses a problem for deterministic views--how does bio-chemical matter (ala a brain) envision future events, even a few moves ahead on a chess board? Rather difficult to explain via the Bricmontian clock-physics.

However quaint or macabre Marx might seem to some, he addressed some of the implications of a Bricmontian materialism (ie psychological implications) over 100 years ago: humans may be determined to some degree (in Hegelian terms, that determinism, or conditioning is mediated--), but they are not merely animals responding to stimuli, or following some primitive algorithms. Marx's criticism of the older materialism of Feuerbach thus still seems pertinent, given the prevalence of Feuerbach-like Bricmonts (though Jean's a rather high-powered Feuerbach):
“The chief defect of all previous materialism — including Feuerbach’s—is that the object, reality, sensibility, is conceived only in the form of the object or as conception, but not as human sensory activity..." .

It's difficult to think of a Beethoven symphony--or the invention of integrals for that matter-- as causally determined in the Bricmontian, mechanistic sense; there does seem to be a human sensory activity implied (or dare we say conceptualization of some sort, without affirming any metaphysical ghosts). Brains aren't machines, or CPU's; brains may have some CPU-like characteristics (or, rather CPUs have brain-like characteristics), but there's more to it, a lot more to it; at the same time, objecting to strict determinism ala Bricmont does not thereby necessitate belief in a soul-ghost.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A linguistic heretic takes on Pope Chomsky

"""When I first started working with the Pirahã, I realized that I needed more linguistics if I was going to understand their language. When I began to tell them the stories from the Bible, they didn't have much of an impact. I wondered, was I telling the story incorrectly? Finally one Pirahã asked me one day, well, what color is Jesus? How tall is he? When did he tell you these things? And I said, well, you know, I've never seen him, I don't know what color he was, I don't know how tall he was. Well, if you have never seen him, why are you telling us this?

I started thinking about what I had been doing all along, which was, give myself a social environment in which I could say things that I really didn't have any evidence for—assertions about religion and beliefs that I had in the Bible. And because I had this social environment that supported my being able to say these things, I never really got around to asking whether I knew what I was talking about. Whether there was any real empirical evidence for these claims.

The Pirahã, who in some ways are the ultimate empiricists—they need evidence for every claim you make—helped me realize that I hadn't been thinking very scientifically about my own beliefs. At the same time, I had started a Ph.D. program in linguistics at the University of Campinas in southern Brazil, and I was now in the middle of a group of very intelligent Brazilian intellectuals, who were always astounded that someone at a university doing a Ph.D. in linguistics could believe in the things I claimed to believe in at the time. So it was a big mixture of things involving the Pirahã, and at some point I realized that not only do I not have any evidence for these beliefs, but they have absolutely no applicability to these people, and my explanation of the universe.

I sat with a Pirahã once and he said, what does your god do? What does he do? And I said, well, he made the stars, and he made the Earth. And I asked, what do you say? He said, well, you know, nobody made these things, they just always were here. They have no concept of God. They have individual spirits, but they believe that they have seen these spirits, and they believe they see them regularly. In fact, when you look into it, these aren't sort of half-invisible spirits that they're seeing, they just take on the shape of things in the environment. They'll call a jaguar a spirit, or a tree a spirit, depending on the kinds of properties that it has. "Spirit" doesn't really mean for them what it means for us, and everything they say they have to evaluate empirically. This is what I hadn't been doing, and this challenged the faith that I thought I had, to the extent that I realized that it wasn't honest for me to continue to claim to believe these things when I realized how little investigation I had done into the nature of the things I claimed to believe.""""

Maestro Chomsky's a formidable intellectual force: at the same time, he's arguably become a sort of guru for many (both in terms of his linguistic theory and political views). More than a few psychologists, linguists, and philosophers have criticized Chomsky's theory of Universal Grammar as somewhat idealist and "Cartesian", though doing so requires some skill in terms of empirical psychology, and philosophical debate (skills generally absent in many hysteria cases of left and right). One recent criticism of UG relates to Chomsky's insistence on infinite recursion as an aspect of UG (Recursiveness is the ability--presumed to be universal by Chomskyites-- to embed endless phrases in any syntax).

Dan Everett has for years studied a native language, Piraha, which apparently falsifies the UG claim of recursiveness. A Piraha native might say "Moe's house" (in his language of course), and he can say "Moe's brother", but if he wants to say "Moe's brother's house", he must say "Moe has a brother. This brother has a house". The Piraha don't embed, but say that in separate sentences. (We suspect that recursion's characteristic of most languages, but not all, especially those without writing (while realizing the political-ethical problems implied by saying one language or culture is more advanced than another)). Recursion as used in programming involves a bit more complexity than the linguist's, but related: in both programming and linguistics recursion involves an equation that relates later terms in the sequence to earlier terms (iterations, and loops also make use of recursion in various ways).

Everett has in effect offered an empirical rebuttal of the recursion claims of UG. Old empirical savages like Skinner (and his logician pal WVO Quine) had of course brought up similar points a few decades ago, before Pope Noam's excommunication of behaviorism. Finiteness, empiricism, human language use as conditioned by environment, dare we say synthetic a posteriori: all of that was more or less proclaimed anathema by the Chomsky-Cartesian school, which demanded, instead of Watson/Skinner's experimental methods, an a priori account of language acquisition (indeed, the Noamster has no problem citing Platonic metaphysics as support for UG). Everett's research suggests that the experimentalists were not completely mistaken (or Sapir-Whorf, perhaps?), though Everett's not the first scholar to point out key differences in primitive languages compared to modern and/or indo-european languages. This might not be a refutation of Chomsky's UG, yet an interesting development, and of course Dr. Everett's already been dismissed as a fascist, hick, imperialist lackey, etc.


Searle approves of Dan Everett's work: "Dan Everett has written an excellent book. .....his data and his conclusions about the language of the Piraha run dead counter to the prevailing orthodoxy in linguistics. If he is right, he will permanently change our conception of human language.' That in itself could be anathema.

Speaking of Searle, he's written a somewhat interesting book on "free will" and determinism (not unrelated to the Everett/Chomsky debate). He recently paid a visit to Google:

(that was Zeno's paradox, Doc--actually a rather more challenging problem than the language specialist Searle realizes)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Reason ala Bierce

REASON, v.i. To weight probabilities in the scales of desire.

REASON, n. Propensitate of prejudice.

REASONABLE, adj. Accessible to the infection of our own opinions. Hospitable to persuasion, dissuasion and evasion.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Jimmy Carl Black RIP

""Jimmy Carl Black, the original drummer in Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, a band that helped define the sub-genre of art rock, died of cancer Saturday. He was 70.

He died in Siegsdorf, Germany, according to Roddie Gilliard, who performed with Black in recent years as part of the Muffin Men, a British group that specialized in performing Zappa's music live."""

UPDATE: another great rock drummer, Mitch Mitchell, found dead. Mitch. was the equivalent of a Elvin Jones or Buddy Rich of rock. RIP.

International Con Man Barack Obama Leaves U.S. With $85 Million

"To my tender little pawns, the all-too-trusting people of America," said FBI lead investigator Ray Hilland, quoting the letter at a press conference Wednesday. "If you are reading this, then I have already left your silly country in my private jet, and am right now sipping fine champagne with my lovely associate, a woman you have come to know as 'Michelle.'"

"I assure you, this was the most pleasurable and fulfilling con I have ever pulled off," the note continued. "Not since the Moroccan elections in 1984 have I taken so much joy in raising, and then crushing, the hopes and dreams of so many pathetic, disenfranchised, and downtrodden people."

"It's been an absolute delight doing business with you. Rest assured, your generous contributions will be well spent," the note concluded. "Fondly yours, Ψ."

Heh heh. The Onion posse understands dissent to some degree, unlike most of the soy-milk swilling PC vermin who make up the suburban DNCocrats.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Myth of the Great Leader

Carlos Fierro:

"""""We don’t need another Lincoln, or an Obama; what we need is more Fredrick Douglasses and Harriet Beecher Stowes. We need more Martin Luther Kings, Big Bill Haywoods, and Helen Kellers. We don’t need more FDRs, we need more Eugene Debs. We don’t need more JFKs, we need more Philip Berrigans. We don’t need to look to great men to lead us to the promised land, we need to recognize the power that we, the nameless and “the powerless,” possess when we assert our power rather than make assertions of faith directed at the great leader myths.

There are two reasons why these myths are particularly dangerous. First, they are simply false. The legislature, the executive, and the judiciary have not pushed this nation forward. They have gone along with popular movements kicking and screaming. It was not any of the three branches of government that led to the advances in voting rights, labor rights, or the end of slavery, it was mass popular movements. It was not Cleveland, Harrison, McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, or even FDR that had anything to do with advances in labor rights or suffrage. It wasn't Brandeis, Berger, Brennan, Holmes or Marshall that led to the advancement of this nation as a more equitable state. It wasn't JFK, Robert Kennedy or Johnson in the White House, or Mansfield and Dirksen in the Senate that lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was people on the street marching and fighting for a more equitable nation. It was many of those same people that brought about the end to the Vietnam War, not the mainstream media or any of those mentioned above. It is this very misperception, the creation of dubious hero leaders that leads to the second danger: disempowerment. We are left to petition our overseers and vote for leaders and wish a wish based on the most unfounded faith that they will make things better."""""

One could quibble with a few points here (MLK for one drew from Thoreau as much as he did from a Douglass), but Fierro hits fairly close to the mark. Politicians rarely advance the cause of authentic progressive politics: that's the responsibility of informed citizens (that doesn't necessarily mean proletarian heroes). Also to be noted are Fierro's rips of the three branches of the USA political system. Those siding with the winning party of an election typically praise Democracy and the popular vote--the People have spoken!--at least as long as the party remains in power; those with the losing party usually object, until gaining power again (unless they are outlawed, as the nazis or communists outlawed opposition parties).

At the same time, however cold, ugly, and oppressive Prospero seems (the Kingdom of Prospero), Caliban (the Peoples Republic of Caliban!) does not offer much of an alternative. Eugene Debs, or MLK are not exactly Calibans, perhaps--tho' the knave's counted in their ranks. Which is to say, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches. FN cared little for King Prospero or his outlaw subordinate Caliban, really; and for that matter NietzscheSpeak provides an effective antidote to anarchist dreams (so may Shakespeare, or whoever penned that interesting dystopia, The Tempest).

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The General Fantasia

Dennis Perrin:

""...I'll give Obama this much -- his campaign has been one of the most brilliantly conceived and cynically executed appeals I've ever seen. His propaganda team has ably exploited people's desire for HOPE and CHANGE, offering them empty platitudes which they can fill with any fantasy they choose. Even when Obama baldly states whose interests he actually serves, his followers either don't care or pretend not to hear. Besides, they bleat when pushed, Obama will be pressured to do the right thing should he stray too far from liberal concerns. The fact that he already has done this shows that claim to be as empty as Obama's speeches. The idea that libs are going to shift from genuflection to lighting fires under Obama's feet is preposterous, but fully in line with the general fantasia.

President Obama will be vigorously defended by liberals, who'll devote more energy to attacking and mocking right wingers than clogging the machine until Obama moves "left," or wherever he's supposed to go. I've repeatedly asked those few libs who bother to debate the issues what they will do when Obama sells them out, further strengthening the authoritarian legacy of Bush/Cheney. Will they demonstrate? Commit civil disobedience? Call for impeachment and criminal indictments? I've yet to get any firm answers to these questions, but the answers are already known. Besides, we gotta get Obama re-elected in '12, or it's President Palin/Romney/Monster Yet To Emerge. But once he snags that second term . . ."""

Word. Now, time for some Hope, Change, and enforcing FISA...

Monday, November 03, 2008

When Actors Attempt Economics...

John Cusack, master thespian, with some deep thoughts on the lending crisis:

Many believe economies must serve humanity and not the other way around. Economies must make a moral connection to the republic. Brace yourselves free marketers: the quality of economic and human transactions will have to take priority over money. Faith and hope have to manifest in the social transactions we make.

A new social contract could be coming based on a real currency my friend Kevin McCabe calls the currency of grace. It is a currency of economic fairness and institutionalizing concepts of shared responsibility; a currency based on the gold standard that every human has value and should be awarded respect and opportunity, the dignity that comes from human beings protecting each other from the values and ideals of a Darwinist world. Its spirit is in Keynesian economics, a mixed economy with regulated markets and social spending. In the new era, we must remove fundamentalist right wing economists as the high priests and kings. Their ideology will stay dead only if we remain vigilant and call things what they are. It's a battle for the idea of America and it's just beginning if Senator Obama becomes president.

An interesting rant, but Signore Cusack does not recall that JM Keynes claimed that he wanted to save capitalism, not bury it. Many GOP econ. and finance people are Keynesians; for that matter, Bill Clinton and his staff (including Robert "NAFTA" Rubin, now working with Obama) promoted Keynesian ideas, including privatization. The status of Keynesian macroeconomics itself remains an issue as well. While Keynes had an interest in poverty and unemployment, he was mostly unaware of other contemporary problems (related to poverty, really), such as depleted energy sources, Big Oil (a commodity), monopolies, mobs, strife of various sorts (including religious).

Econ. guys--whether micro or macro--talk a good game; they're usually the wits and wags around the kegger at the frat boy FAC. In reality economists (whether pro or not-so-pro) should be considered more like sociologists than physicists. They do not offer reliable predictions of, say, how changes in interest rates affect demand (i.e. consumer purchases): economic theories, claims, and "laws"--even as basic as supply-demand--are a type of inductive reasoning-- i.e contingent and probabilistic, not "necessary" as a logic wank might say.

The macro indicators like GDP are grand abstractions; not completely meaningless--at least to economists--but anecdotal. Keynes did rightly emphasize the non-rational elements in economic behavior; and he's against the moralizing aspects of most liberal politics. Like most real economists, he's more interested in describing, not prescribing; it's the accuracy of his descriptions that are in question. Keynesian ideas influenced Galbraith, yet Galbraith understood the limitations of the macro. model, especially aggregation. Galbraith also took issue with the businessmen and managers, who, greatly influenced by macroeconomics, placed "aggregate growth at the heart of modern economic organization and economic theory."

Cusack also made mention of James Madison (Dr. Johnson comes to mind--"patriotism, the last refuge of a scoundrel....."). Madison did modify his views, as Cusack pointed out, from federalism to a slightly more Jeffersonian view. Both JM and TJ opposed monarchy, and were more mercantilist than capitalist. Was JM Keynes opposed to monarchy? I am not completely sure, but his statist-capitalism does seem amenable to Tories, whether they be of royal lineage, or perhaps hollywood or silicon valley lineage. We are not avid fans of Marx, but Cusack does argue for his own "class interests," more or less; compared to the authentic leftists of say Counterpunch, not to say someone like Zizek, the reformer liberalism of Cusack (and Klein) seems fairly tame--Democracy ala Chair-Dame Pelosi and DiDi Feinstein.

Bill Clinton himself ENDED the most critical New Deal regs (google Glass-Steagal act, Signore Cusack), when he signed off on Gramm/Gingrich's de reg plans. Obama, the Change candidate, sided with Paulson, Bush and Pelosi on the corporate welfare planbailout. That doesn't stop liberals, especially the celebrity sorts (not to be mistaken for real progressives) from routinely overlooking the bipartisan nature of the USA dystopia, or the bipartisan-supported Iraqi war. (That said, Cusack in The Grifters: bravissimo).

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Apostasy club

AC Grayling representin,' contra-Prophet:

""""The conference was supported by the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association, so that the dozens of ex-Muslims present had the support of over 200 others who believe in the right of individuals to think for themselves and who treat people as human individuals, not merely as bearers of overriding identity labels stuck to their foreheads by tradition and religion. A friend who is a crown court judge once told me that he is always pleased when a member of a jury affirms rather than swears the oath on the Bible, because it indicates independence and maturity of mind. Indeed: that was what was on display last Friday at Conway Hall.

One of those speaking at the conference, my friend Ibn Warraq, recently edited a book on apostasy in Islam, which combines a scholarly overview of doctrines on apostasy in the various schools of Islamic law, with a collection of powerful personal testimonies by those who came to leave Islam either for another faith or none. It was interesting to compare the accounts there given with those in Louise Anthony's book Philosophers Without Gods, which collects similar accounts by ex-Christians and ex-Jews. The personal cost in family and community terms of rejecting the doctrines of any of these religions is very similar; only in Islam does the danger of being murdered for doing so remain.

But, horribly, it is a genuine danger. That is why some of the speeches made during this conference, and some of the remarks from the floor, were filled with a passion and concern that were as real as they were moving. Not least among the matters that surfaced several times in different contexts was the question of the position of women in Islam. To take just one issue: in sharia law a woman is worth half a man, and thus among many other things receives half the inheritance that a man does. Like other provisions of sharia law, this is a stark example of contrast with the laws of England and Wales and with Scottish law, in both of which principles of justice do not countenance systematic discrimination on the basis of sex. By the oppressive requirements of conformity with community practices, many women in Muslim communities in Britain are obliged to observe the practices that the community prefers, across the whole range from whom they marry to what they wear.""""

To reiterate: "The personal cost in family and community terms of rejecting the doctrines of any of these religions is very similar; only in Islam does the danger of being murdered for doing so remain." Americans may choose to be secularists, or atheists, by law (that doesn't mean they aren't discriminated against). Humans living in muslim countries under sharia, however, often receive a death sentence for doing so. Apostasy: it's a right, not a privilege (let's hope Chairman BO keeps that in mind, assuming the Demos out vote-tamper the GOPers).
Custom Search

Blog Archive