Thursday, October 26, 2006

Why Assumptions Are So Problematic (and often erroneous)

This is a continuation of the discussion I've been having with Red Tulips. Another very interesting person has joined the conversation and devoted an entire post to his assumptions about me. I decided to post my response to it here because I'd love to hear whether anyone else who has read all of this came to the same conclusions as Steven did. This is the message that I left in response to Moral Relativism, Explored. So here it is:


Wow! An entire post inspired by me! I'm pretty flattered to be able to be your muse. :o)

Well, I suppose I should get down to my response to this.

Judaism stands between absolute and relative morality.

Anything other than moral absolutism is moral relativism of some sort.

If he/she actually acts on these ideas and murders an innocent child it would still be wrong.

Right and wrong isn't just determined in terms of morality. There are several other standards of right and wrong that are equally valid and, perhaps, even more valid than using morality as the mearsuring stick.

The Rabbi continued to explain that we all have different "moral levels". That said, we all have a duty to improve our own moral level. There is no point in looking at someone on a lower moral level and thinking "wow, I am so much better than them" and being satisfied.

Who established this duty? What if others established different duties (that were mutually exclusive to this supposed duty) and they state must be carried out by everyone? I think there is a "point" behind looking at others and believing you are at a higher "moral level" than them. The point is it serves (in the minds of those who do this) as a justification for dehumanizing and and engaging in violence against the targeted group or individual.

Even though Person A is still doing wrong (assault), the actual act of improving morally is a great Mitzvah and is better than if he stayed at his natural level like person B did.

The "natural level" of all individuals is the same. The person commits an act of violence is not to be commended for not engaging in even more damaging forms of violence. They have still committed an act of violence which is always less ethical than simply not engaging in assault or murder or any other form of violence against other people.

Aka. Freedom loving people have no right to say that a genocidal terrorist group leading a dangerous indoctrinated population should not have a country to run. Our ideals are no more moral than theirs.

What's the point of this strawman argument? Have I said that any one doesn't have the right to say anything? Please show where I did, if you think you saw that. I haven't even touched on the moral aspects of any of these behaviors. My statements are simply concerning logic, rationality, and ethics. Morality is pointless to discuss because it is a subjective term and we aren't all using the same guidelines.

Bint attempts to make us understand that there is no moral truth.

Boy, you couldn't be more wrong. Perhaps this seemed like an "attempt" because that wasn't even my goal in the first place. If you want to know whether I believe in moral truth, just ask me and I'll tell you what I think.

They think we are morally wrong!

Indeed they do and even if you believe that they are wrong, the point is that you thinking they are wrong and them thinking that you are wrong isn't going to solve anything. All it does is point out differences in opinion.

In Bint's world we just have our own perceptions of morality and the only thing that is wrong is for us to impose our ethnocentric ideas of morality on another culture.

Uh, have you been following me around Steven? ;o) If not, how could you possibly know what things are like in my world? If you want a list of things that I think are wrong, I'll be glad to supply one. Would you like a short version or an extended one? I guarantee there will be a lot more than what you're claiming I think.

It is wrong for me to say that a culture which indoctrinates its youth with hate is immoral. It is wrong for us to say that the PLO's goal of genocide is immoral

Nope. You can say whatever you want. That doesn't have anything to do with what's factual, of course.

all these ideas are, according to Bint's moral relativism, equal.

Wrong again. To me, all of these ideas are just that--ideas. I don't think that policies should be made based on ideas. I think that policies should be based on facts.

This is bordering on insanity.

Of course it is. That's why people make strawman arguments like the ones above. If they were sane, then they'd be as hard to refute as what the person actually said.

Clearly, being human, this is impossible.

It's not impossible. It's just highly, highly unlikely to occur given that we are humans with the same tendencies and desires as all other humans.

What is Bint asking here exactly? Well, she is saying that what would it mean for the world if every nation was perfect.

Oooh! You almost had there but you missed by a mile. I asked a question. A question is not an assertion. If you understand that I was asking something, then why would you then claim that I am asserting something?

So right now Bint wants us to the image of a Utopian world in our minds:

This is pretty funny because you just defined what a strawman argument is and then you proceeded to make another one. If I wanted someone to imagine a Utopian world, then I'd have asked you to do so.


If you're unfamiliar with this spelling of the word, this might help: pre-requisite I hope, however, that this isn't going to turn into one of those pointless grammar police conversations. We could all engage in that activity but it only serves as a distraction from the issues, I think.

There was no proposal of creating a nation where everything is perfect.

Is there anywhere in my supposed strawman argument where I claimed that someone had proposed a "nation where everything is perfect"? Is there anywhere that I said that we should believe in creating a nation like this?

We were proposing a nation that does not support genocidal ambitions or indoctrinate its youth from point blank.

Okay. That's the proposal you've made. I didn't propose any nation at all. I simply stated that there are no nations where all of the inhabitants have, in the words of Red Tulip, given up all desire to genocide, and have turned from hate to love, and have actively apologized for their past.

The Utopia world that nobody was talking about was created simply to be destroyed in an effort to create an argument - but it doesn't work. It is not logical.

You're right. Nobody was talking about a Utopia, not even me. If you think that I was trying to claim that the whole world or even one country in particular should be a Utopia, then please explain where I stated that. Your creation of this idea that I'm looking for a Utopia is simply the result of looking for something that isn't there.

(You don't even need to stop at "which religion". Some of the most moral people I know are agnostic. You do not need to be taught religion to know the difference between right and wrong.)

If someone is discussing sin then they're discussing religion because sin is a religious concept. Right and wrong are not inherently religious concepts ergo the terms "right" and "wrong" are not synonymous with the term "sin". By the way, I think it's great if you have people in your life who have views that you admire. In my "moral code" we should all try to appreciate those around us and especially those who try to treat us well. Egads! Did I just make an absolutist statement? Heaven forbid such a thing! ;o) (Just joking!!)

Trying to answer this question puts the reader in an impossible position by forcing them to personally decide what is the correct moral code.

It's not an impossible position at all. It's a question. It can not force anyone to decide anything. However, it does point out what's problematic when it comes to trying to get people with different moral codes to believe that one in particular is superior to all others. Besides, if this is an "impossible position", then why do so many people claim to know what is the correct moral code? Are they all wrong? If at least one of these individuals in the world managed to decide this, then how could it be impossible? Do you have a moral code that you believe to be correct? If so, then you too are proof that this is not an impossible position to take.

Naturally whatever decision you make it will alienate millions of people who have a different perception to morality than you have.

Every decision that one makes in life could alienate you from millions of other people: whether or not to eat a hot dog, whether or not to wear a mini-skirt, whether or not to shave your underarms and legs, whether or not to engage in pre-marital sex, whether or not one will even get married at all. All of these are decisions that people can make based on their moral code. All of these decisions will set you apart from the decisions and lifestyles of billions of other people on this planet. Does that mean we should be reluctant to make these decisions? I don't see any reason to live my life around what's going to please the whole world but perhaps others do. If you do know of any such reason why we should try to please the entire world population of humans, then please let me know.

Is it fair for you to dictate what is moral and what is immoral?

You know, I remember when I was diagnosed with the cancer on my ribs and spine. I really wondered how could it be fair for me to have this awful disease when there are people like Osamma bin Ladin and Kim Jong Il walking around perfectly healthy. As someone with deist beliefs, it was a bit challenging. However, the oncological psychiatrist at the cancer center where I was told me something I'll never forget. He said that "fair" is nothing we should expect from the world. All that "fair is good for is determining how we'll treat others. I truly believe that.

Do you have the guts to say your perception of morality is right and they have it wrong?

I don't see what's so gutsy about this. If you believe something to be true with all your heart, then wouldn't you want to tell others so that they can benefit from whatever you've gained from your view?

Nobody can properly answer this question - and it is not supposed to be answered. It is supposed to make you think.

Why are you assuming that no one can properly answer this question? Perhaps someone does have some logical answer. I mean, if we should be guided by morals (instead of facts), then I think it's a rather essential question to have answered. I can explain why I think that people should be guided by the principles I've mentioned here.

Bint's moral relativism can be extended to the insane. Maybe our opinion that genocide is wrong is irrational because Adolph Hitler may not agree with it.

Well, I must admit, this strawman argument that you've come up with regarding my beliefs is rather insane.

With this philosophy we will be going around in circles until we die - and that is exactly why the Islamic Fascists love the so-called left so much.

Oh my! There's that illogical "Islamic Fascists" term cropping up again. Well, that's a whole other topic, I suppose. As far as I can see we are going around in circles because people still think that there is some exception when it comes to how they should treat others. As long as people think that their violence against innocent people is justified, we will see many more genocides, homicides, and suicides. Of this I am sure.

The "left" has lost it's morality and can justify the unjustifiable.

I wish that everyone would stop trying to justify the unjustifiable, especially when it comes to violence against others. Even if it happens every century, every decade, every year, every day and every hour, violence against innocent people is just unethical.

That's the same thing I've been saying since I started posting here. So please explain how this is relativistic. Unlike others, I do not believe that certain rules apply to some but not others. That's relativism.

This philosophy will also be the death of our civilisation because it will excuse murderers and weakens our resolve to defend ourselves against a people who would not tolerate this kind of thinking.

Unless you are psychic, your predictions are just conjecture and nothing more. Furthermore, it is relativism that attempts to excuse all those who perpetrate violence against others. However, no matter how much some people try to justify killing in the name of nation-building or ethnocentrism or any other kind of bigotry, my resolve is not weakened and I know that I am not the only one who is still dedicated to not supporting violence.

it impedes our ability to protect basic freedoms because we put ourselves into a position where we have no right to tell someone else that what they are doing is wrong, regardless of what it is they are doing.

This is illogical. No one's moral relativism could possibly impede your ability to tell someone anything. No matter what they believe, you can still say whatever you want.

Bint thinks this is intelligent, the consequences prove this philosophy is most unwise.

Bint thinks you ought to ask her whether she believe in this philosophy before you make erroneous statements like this. Creating some imaginary idea that you would like to assert that I'm carrying around in my head is just illogical.

Let me re-write that for you:

Instead of changing what I wrote, why not respond to what I said? It wouldn't take much more effort to do so, you know.

Here is the philosophy of moral relativism in its purest form.

No, this is logic. Even if we really, really want someone to do something and we think that they should do something and we want others to think that they should do it, the fact is that unless you can get that targeted person to agree with you, they won't even believe that they must do what you want. If what you and Red Tulips stated was something that a particular group must do, then the fact that they aren't doing it (and show no signs of even trying to do it) then it isn't a must. Palestinians are being born, living and dying without ever doing what you are saying they "must" do. So how can your assertion be logical?

Bint views this loophole of morality to be logical. But is it logical?

How is logic a "loophole of morality"?

What I will add is that regardless of how logical it is, this philosophy is blind and dangerous.

Woahh!! What a world we live in when logic is considered "blind and dangerous" and unproven, disputed assertions are believed to be the preferred option.

Bint suggests that she is completely logical, and logic is better than religion.

Where did I suggest that? Did I ever say anything even remotely close to this? Come on, this is just downright silly!

This is her victory. You can't win because...

I didn't realize that this was some sort of competition. I thought it was a discussion. If it is a competition, what is the prize and does it come with a toaster?

whatever you do she will draw you back into the relative moral loophole until you take the bait and say that your moral values are right and anyone who disagrees with you is wrong, essentially humiliating yourself in the process.

Wow! You really are imputing me with a lot of power! I figure that everyone here is intelligent enough to decide what they want to talk about. You see, I'm of the opinion that I'm talking to people, not fish.

If someone thinks their views are right and others are wrong, what could be humiliating about voicing that? You certainly haven't had any trouble deciding what you want to say to me. Isn't everyone here just as capable? The other people here seem pretty intelligent to me.

Personally I see this entire philosophy as humiliating for Bint.

Yeah, I would feel humiliated if that was actually my philosophy.

I see her attempts to justify genocide as being immoral because genocide is wrong. No ifs no buts no conditions.

You couldn't be more wrong when it comes to my views. This is a good example of why someone should take the time to read what someone says before they assume what the person thinks. If you actually took the time to read the posts that we've been making, you'd see that from the beginning I've said that ALL GENOCIDE IS WRONG

Since you haven't done that--at least I'd like to believe that you haven't because the alternative is that you either didn't comprehend what you saw or you are purposely telling untruths--I'm going to go back and show you some of what I've said in this discussion. I'd love for you to show me how this is justifying genocide:

If we start saying that those who kill innocent people can be heroes, then how can we also have any grounds for saying that people should stop killing innocent Jews?


I refuse to go along with gross generalization no matter what ethnic or religious group we're talking about, including Jews.


I certainly do not believe that I should be held responsible if ever some Black or Native American or Irish individuals or groups blew up buildings nor would I claim that you should be held responsible every time some Jewish individual or group blows up buildings.


It's still ethnic stereotyping and that just isn't rational or acceptable to me.


Unless you buy into the religious claims of either groups, there is no reason to see one person wishing death and destruction upon an entire population as superior to another person wishing death and destruction upon an entire population.


I would not accept that as an excuse if African-Americans wanted to go to the city of Toronto and set up their own nation where Blacks are given preference over the people who were living in that area already based on the fact that more than TWENTY MILLION Africans lost their life as a result of the Maafa. It simply isn't democratic to apply different rules for people based on their ethnicity or religion.


As much as I love my ethnic traditions and abhor the genocides that slaughtered most Native American nations into oblivion, I just can't condone that sort of thing. I see your life as having just as much value as mine because it is a human life not because we may have similar beliefs or traditions or heritage. I truly hope that you feel the same way.


I do not believe that terrorism is ever justified. The problem with saying that the cause must be "THAT GREAT" is that those who engage in terrorist acts almost always feel that their cause is "THAT GREAT" even though the people who are their victims usually disagree.


I do not see how terrorism saves lives. It simply exchanges one type of atrocity for another. I see nothing ethical about that, especially since the majority of people who are victims of terrorism aren't necessarily guilty of anything.


It's rather scarey to hear that some think that we should judge who lives or dies based on what we think of their religious tenets and traditions. Weren't these the same sort of arguments that the Nazis made about what might happen if Jews were allowed to take over the world?


But even if there was the possibility that an evil Jewish or Muslim world-government might come to power and make the world the sort of place that's uncomfortable for people like me, I still don't think that it would be acceptable for me to kill Jews or Muslims.


I don't see violence as being any more acceptable because it wasn't indiscriminate.


It certainly isn't hard for me to say whether it was justifiable to kill the families of those who supposedly cooperated with Nazis. It was wrong. See, that was easy. See, that was easy. Do you know why it's easy for me to say that? It's because I would say the same thing if someone wanted to kill your family because they didn't like something that you did.


This is the same hypothetical-scenario-making that the Nazis engaged in. I don't accept the idea that killing innocent people was justifiable for them nor do I accept the idea that killing people who have committed no crime is justified for anyone else who just wants to obtain or maintain certain demographics in their particular country.


It doesn't matter what religion you belong to, you have a choice. If you do go out and kill others, then you have made your choice and you are simply being hypocritical if you say that others shouldn't do the same.


Jews and Native Americans were once the "THEY" that people were justifying violence against. I have no desire to see any individual or group go through that. Our offspring deserve better than that.


I have no more affection for those who kill the children of Jews either. My heroes are those who did not choose to become killers of their fellow mankind.

Do I need to go on? If so, I can. These are the quotes I found with a quick glance back. Please show how these statements justify genocide. That is an awful claim for you to make about someone, especially when that person has devoted years of their quite limited life time to advocating peace and doing their best to explain these cultures to those who know nothing about them. I truly hope that if you are a person who believes in morals, then you'll feel some inclination to examine whether or not my statements really reflect the idea that I am okay with genocides. What a disgusting idea!

A world where someone can morally punch you in the face for no reason at all.

In case you haven't noticed, that's the world we live in. Every day there are people who are killed despite the fact that they have committed no crime. All of the innocent lives lost to suicide bombers in Israel/Palestine alone are proof of this. It's certainly not the world that I want for my child.

Bint is Atheist. She can't prove there is no God but she "believes" there is no God - that is why Atheism is like a religion.

Okay, you're really talking out of the side of your neck now. If you'd bothered to read this thread at all, you'd know that I stated up front that I am a theist. If you'd even a good bit of my blog posts you'd know that I'm quite religious.

Being Atheist, Bint naturally believes and asserts that all moral law is man-made.

What can I say? You're just wrong.

As it is impossible to convince everyone of any set moral truths Bint concludes that there are no set moral truths.

How could I conclude that when I'm not even an atheist. Hello? Red Tulips is the one whose the atheist here--and that's perfectly okay with me--but I certainly see no reason to give up my religious beliefs. My faith plays a huge role in how I deal with my health. It provides meaning for me and gives me hope for the future even when there are no statistics that can prove what will happen to me. I'm more than a bit saddened that someone would make all of these assumptions about me without even taking the time to talk to me about my views. That is a courtesy that I would extend even to a random stranger. I wish you did too because, from your writing, you don't seem like the sort of person who'd just enjoy telling untruths about someone.

Even if 99% of the world say that genocide is wrong, her philosophy dictates that they are just being ethnocentric.

My philosophy dictates that someone actually read what a person says before they attempt to play mind reader.


I am actually more comfortable with this sort of format than I am with essays. I find it much easier to show exactly what I'm addressing when I write something. So, please do not feel alone in using this sort of format instead of strict essay-writing. We aren't in grade-school any more, so there's no one to rap you on the fingers if you don't put a comma or a paragraph in the "proper" place.

Friday, October 13, 2006



This guy is amazing. Sometimes I really hate videos or documentaries about people with disabilities because they can give people the impression that every guy born without arms could drive a car if he just applied himself, for example. However, this trailer struck me quite differently. Bill Shannon is truly an artist and I enjoyed watching him because of how his crutches aren't "about" his disability to me. To me, they seem more like paintbrushes he uses to add art to his every day life. Anyway, this is worth taking a look at, I think.

I just visited Shannon's website called "WhatIsWhat" and reading it is even more amazing than watching his performance. There was one part in particular that really intrigued me. He talks about how people without disabilities can be quick to label any integration of an artist's condition (i.e. disability) as "exploitation of the condition".

The Condition Arriving also could be applied to a disabled stage performer with an obvious condition. The disabled performer performs and the act is perceived as performing the condition, not as the performer performing. For example a man on crutches dances and a critic writes that he has turned his condition into a means of making a spectacle of himself. The critic gives credit for the spectacle to the exploitation of the condition rather than the expression of the performer's imagination in relation to all aspects of the performance.

The combination of theory, commentary and short clips of his "performances" make for a very compelling presentation.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Changing Templates

It worked!! Belledame222 had pointed out to me that my page was loading extremely slow and I had noticed something screwy going on with the template that I was using so I wanted to fix things. I know this might be irrational but I was really afraid that changing the template might erase my entire blog. Yesterday I tested they system by changing the template for my photo blog. It worked so I felt a little more comfortable about changing this one but I still waited until today. Well, I'm happy to say that I and my crazy posts are still here!

I have to go in and add a few things to my profile column but hopefully I won't mess up the code too much like I wound up doing to the other one. Nothing beats a failure but a try!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

PlayStation Three Luck!!

Hooray!! Last night, The German found out that GameStop/EBGames was going to begin taking pre-orders for the new PlayStation 3 (PS3) that's due to come out on November seventeenth. He's been talking about it ever since the 2006 E3 previewed it back in May. In my opinion, at $499.00 for the 20 Gb version and $599.00 for the 60 Gb model, it's really quite expensive but the graphics on it are amazing plus it features Blu-Ray technology which makes it well worth the money.

The German is a pretty serious gamer and a total PlayStation addict, so he's been pining away for one ever since it was announced. At first Sony was slated to produce 1,000,000 units for the U.S.A. but that number was slashed a few months ago. The "reason" why is because of trouble with the production of the Blu-Ray components. If I were in Japan, I'd be pretty aggravated because Sony is only allocating 100,000 game units for the entire country. Considering the fact that Sony's headquarters are in Japan, I'd have figured it they'd have more of them available there than that.

Anyway, even with the initial number of units at one million, The German was not very confident about being able to get the PlayStation 3 when it first came out. We figured that there wasn't going to be a snowball's chance in hell of getting one once we found out that the U.S.A. is only going to get 400,000 units. Then yesterday he got the e-mail announcing that EBGames/GameStop was going to begin taking pre-orders the next day. When we rode past last night, we didn't see any people camped outside the store. We began to suspect that the word must not have gotten out to many people. The German started getting his hopes up even though he'd tried not to.

Every time we'd stopped by or called the store we were told that they didn't know what day they'd begin taking pre-orders. We knew that even if all of the people who had called the store yesterday were given the same answer that we'd received, if the pre-ordering was happening today, word would definitely get out to at least a few people via the same EBGames e-mail that we'd received. We decided to give it a shot anyway.

This morning we woke up as usual and got VanGoghGirl ready for school. The plan was for us to bring her to school and then go directly over to the game store. In our excitement, we actually forgot to feed her breakfast, so we had to stop at the gas station and buy her a muffin and some apple juice which almost made her late for school. I swear, that girl needs to hone her self-preservation skills. I think she'd waste away and die if we didn't remind her to eat every day.

On the way from VanGoghGirl's school, The German's stomach-ache (which had been brewing since he woke up today) worsened. He wanted to go home and take some medication and then come back out to see about the PS3 but I was really not going along with that. I wanted to see what it looked like in front of the store and then decide what to do from there. Well, I'm glad that we listened to me and not to him. When we got to GameStop around 7:30 a.m. there was one car out front. I made him let me out and save a spot while he went to our flat down the street and took care of his belly.

The two people who were in the car got out once they saw me sit up against the front of the store. They turned out to be a really nice newly-married couple that was only a few years younger than me and The German. They'd been sitting out there since 6:00 a.m. with the same intentions as we had. The guy hadn't received the e-mail that we got even though he'd signed up for it; He'd gotten wind of it on a message-board online somewhere.

None of us were really sure how many pre-order spots would be available. Some people have said that each store would get about 16 PS3s and others heard it would only be 5 per store. Either way, we felt pretty hopeful given the fact that we were the first four people in line. Last night, The German and I had discussed whether or not we should attempt to get two units if the opportunity presented itself. EBGames has a strict one pre-order per household rule in order to keep people from simply buying out a store's entire stock. Fortunately, The German and I have different addresses on our IDs so we could still by-pass that little hurdle. The other couple was doing the exact same thing since their IDs still had their pre-marriage addresses on them.

It was just the four of us out there in front of the store until around 8:30. Then a really sweet looking older lady sauntered over and asked us if we were waiting in line for the PS3s. I was a bit surprised because she definitely didn't seem like a gamer. It turns out that her grandson in Florida had called her and asked her to come and stand in the line out here. He's buying as many as he can in order to re-sell. Another guy around our age got there for about 9:00 and we all just sat out and talked about all of the other toy fads from the past.

I still remember the great Cabbage Patch Kids shortage that took place when I was a kid. I wanted one of those dolls so-oo-oo badly. I really wanted an African-American one but living in New Orleans meant that there were a bajillion other folks who also wanted a black one. I was more than satisfied to get a female Cabbage Patch kid with red hair and freckles. Her name was Wendy-Sue. Hey, it could have been worse; Some kids had to settle for the boy Cabbage Patch Kids if they were lucky enough to get one at all.

When the PlayStation 2 first came out, they were also in high demand and short supply. Even though that unit was selling for $300 with 500,000+ units available, they were going for around $2,000 on EBay. So, there's definitely going to be some money to be made this time around too for those who can get their hands on one early. In order to pre-order the PS3 you have to put down a $100 deposit. If you can manage to get two of them, the profits from one will essentially pay for the other one and that's just a conservative estimate. Depending on how many go up for auction on the first couple of days, you may be able to make more than double what you paid for it at the store but at the very least you won't lose a dime at all. We're playing it by ear but right now our goal is to sell one and keep the other for The German. However, if it looks like we could make a nice profit based on how much the PS3s sell for on EBay, then we've discussed selling them both and just waiting until later on in the year to get another one for The German.

To make a long story short, at about 9:30 an EBGames employee arrived at the store. By then another guy had come to wait in line too. After setting up for around 15 minutes, the store employee came out and told us that there would only be six pre-order slots which meant that all but the last guy who showed up would be able to pay the deposit and pre-order the PS3. We all were careful not to say we were together but I'm pretty sure the employee knew that with six people and only three cars (the older lady had walked since she lived right behind the store) in the lot besides his, at least one person must have come with someone else. He didn't ask for IDs but we did give him separate phone numbers and e-mail addresses just to make sure he didn't have an excuse to turn us away.

I am really, really hyped up about actually having been successful with this. I can't wait to call up my brothers this morning and gloat!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

"Excusing" the Inexcusable

For those who don't understand what this thread is about, Red Tulips and I have been engaging in a dialogue that has touched on a few different subjects. I am very, very grateful to be able to have this discussion with someone like her. Most of the time, I tend to shy away from on-line conversations about Judaism, Islam, and Christianity because so often they end up in shouting matches.

On the other hand, I've spent several years studying Middle Eastern and Maghribi culture so it's obviously something I'm interested in. I have my first mentor professor to thank for that. Dr. Mackie Blanton is one of the most amazing people I have ever encountered and whatever I become, I know I do that it is at least partially because of the way he challenged me to aspire to become a life-long academician. He was the first person to ask me to serve on a Muslim/Christian/Jewish dialogue panel. I've never met someone more dedicated to increasing the level of unity between people of all faiths. On top of all of that, he was a great father figure. I remember when my daughter's pre-school was having open house and he came too. My daughter really used to think that he was just her really tall buddy. Even now, I'm always slipping up and calling him "Brother Blanton", which is an appellation that I only used with ministers from my childhood church. It just seems to fit him and he said he didn't mind me calling him that but he's earned that "Dr." label more than a lot of other people who walk around feeling self-important because of their PhD.

My second mentor professor was a physics professor. Dr. Ashok Puri is Hindu. Even though his focus is on the sciences, the biggest lessons that he taught me was that we need to care about others even if we don't seem to share much in common with them. I don't think I could even do justice by trying to describe how much time that he spends to helping people of color and women overcome academic deficiencies and go on to obtain graduate degrees. He could easily have chosen to devote his time and efforts to helping students of Indian descent. Heck, he could have just focused on his own two sons and he'd still be worthy of a lot of respect. One of the things that I really appreciate about him is how he made himself available to us no matter what he was doing. God only knows how Mrs. Puri was able to put up with us students calling his house all the time and all of the trips out of town that we all took.

I know I've gone off on a tangent but I just wanted to mention these two professors who took me under their wing and changed my view about how much mankind can actually accomplish in the way of brotherhood. Anyway, this is a message that I wrote in response to Red Tulips post "Redefining Terrorism". I've posted it here so that anyone who visits here can chime in if they want to.

I don't think that when people use the "one man's terrorist..." cliche it's necessarily an attempt to justify a particular action as morally acceptable. I think it is simply a way of saying that who gets labeled a terrorist depends on what the labeler's interests are in the particular issue. I mean, if my favorite cousin goes out and kills a bus full of Japanese people, am I likely to view it as terrorism or just a case of road rage gone too far? The more we feel like we have in common with a group of people, the less likely we are to condemn their actions. That's human nature. It's because when we see ourselves in someone, it becomes to easier to be lenient with them as we'd want someone to be with us. If we can't relate to someone at all, then it's not such a problem to enact the harshest of punishments against them because we don't see ourselves as ever being anything like them.

First of all, this term "Islamofascists" makes absolutely no sense. It is specifically because America does not consider these people to be lawful combatants that it is claimed that the Geneva Convention standards do not apply to them. If this were some Islamofascist war then it would have to be against a particular government's army. I really wish that these labels would stop being thrown around so haphazardly. It only muddles the issues.

I do not believe that terrorism is ever justified. The problem with saying that the cause must be "THAT GREAT" is that those who engage in terrorist acts almost always feel that their cause is "THAT GREAT" even though the people who are their victims usually disagree. I can't think of a single group that has engaged in terrorist acts that did not think their actions were justifiable. I do not see how terrorism saves lives. It simply exchanges one type of atrocity for another. I see nothing ethical about that, especially since the majority of people who are victims of terrorism aren't necessarily guilty of anything. Yes, Jews were being systematically slaughtered. To me, the answer to that is for the slaughterers to stop killing NOT for other people to also become killers. Jews becoming killers did/does not prove that Jewish life is not cheap. It only proves that some Jews do not value life any more than the people who were willing to kill them. It's basically the equivalent of me as a parent spitting on my kid in order to teach my child that spitting on people is not acceptable. It just isn't logical despite whatever temporary satisfaction some may get from killing those they consider their enemies.

I'm sure that if you asked the "Rebels" if their cause was great enough to justify terrorizing those who disagreed with them, they'd have said it was. Why? Because people generally don't want to believe that they are unethical no matter what they do. I do not see genocide as an excuse for engaging in terrorism as we discussed before because if I were to believe this, then it would completely ethical for me to go out and kill anyone who isn't a Native American. With the number of Native Americans that have been slaughtered being much higher than the number of Jews that were killed, then the case for killing non-Native Americans would be even greater, would it not?

All terrorism is a means to an end. If the terrorizers didn't hope to accomplish something, then there would be no point in engaging in terrorist actions. It's rather scary to hear that some think that we should judge who lives or dies based on what we think of their religious tenets and traditions.

Weren't these the same sort of arguments that the Nazis made about what might happen if Jews were allowed to take over the world? The consequences that they claimed would result was used as a justification for engaging in atrocious killings but it was all conjecture, mere speculation. We don't know what a world run by Jews would be like any more than we know what a world run by Muslims would be like. I think that both hypothetical situations would probably depend on what specific individuals from these faiths were put in charge. But even if there was the possibility that an evil Jewish or Muslim world-government might come to power and make the world the sort of place that's uncomfortable for people like me, I still don't think that it would be acceptable for me to kill Jews or Muslims. I don't think that entire groups should suffer because they don't promote the sort of lifestyle that I prefer.

If killing others is not the only option available to Muslims, then it's only logical that this is not the only option available for any other individual or group. We can all decide not to be killers and the sooner that people stop believing that death can be a path to peace, the better off we all will be. I don't feel any safer when a Muslim is killed than I do when a Jew is killed or when a Hindu or Buddhist or a Christian is killed. It all increases the likelihood that eventually it will be me that's killed...or worse yet, my child.

Your argument about where Muslims are "indiscriminately killed" is also illogical. The Nazis claimed to have good reasons for killing Jews. I don't buy that any more than I buy into the arguments that people have legitimate reasons for killing Muslims.

As long as people accept the argument that some killing is justified all killing will be found justifiable by someone.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

No Culture Exists (or is created) In A Vacuum

Red Tulips from Culture for All stopped by my blog and left a comment under the Labels, Identity and Religion post I made a few days ago. She also responded on her own blog under the same post that started this conversation. However, the two messages cover different material so while I responded to the message she left here underneath that post, I decided to post what I left in response to the message on her blog. I think it's a very interesting subject and it's one that I've studied a bit in the past. It also touches on population genetics and evolution which is one of my favorite topics. the first part (in italics) is the message from her blog. My comments are underneath it.

From Red Tulips
bint alshamsa:Thanks for stopping by! That was certainly a very informative bit about the history of New Orleans and public education.

As far as Judaism...I happen to disagree with you for many reasons.

First of all, Jews share a genetic link with each other, because it is a birthright as well as a religion. You have to realize that until recently, Jews rarely intermarried, and in fact there was a Jewish disease as a result of this - Tay Sachs.

Secondly, Jews, until recently, lived cut off from the broader populations in which they resided. And thus, a unique language formed - Yiddish. Unique songs, dance, and rituals formed. These are separate and distinct from the religion.

Thirdly, Adolph Hitler never asked if someone believed when he sent them to the gas chambers. This ironically created many atheist and agnostic Jews.

Much of this unique culture and tradition formed as a result of antisemitism. However, in a post-antisemitic world (mostly a fairyland, as that does not quite exist, even in America, and certainly in Europe and especially the Middle East is only a dream) Jews are able to mix and mingle with the broader population. In this world, Jews are able to own businesses and run for Congress and even the vice presidency. And so in this world, I would argue it is difficult to maintain a unique cultural identity of Judaism for atheist and agnostic Jews.

I believe that it is antisemitism that in fact helped to create the Jewish culture, which absolutely exists, separate from the religion.

Just remember that given that the Jewish status of someone is a birthright, one can actually be an atheist Jew.

Moi (also known as Tulip, coincidently):
Actually, Tay-Sachs is not a Jewish disease. This is a myth. If you look up information about this disease you'll find that it does indeed occur in people who are not Jewish. The genetic link that Jews share with each other is also shared in those who are not Jewish. In other words, what genetically links Jews to one another also links them to the other Semitic people in the areas where they lived.

It is utterly impossible for Jews to have always lived cut off from broader populations if one is to believe that this more than one Jewish genetic branch. At some point, the groups (e.g. Ashkenazi, Yemeni, Lemba, Sephardic) acquired enough genetic variation to make them into distinct groups instead of one, as they were in the first place. That genetic variation didn't just fall out of the sky. It came from the groups around them. This intermingling is why the Yiddish language contains elements from the languages of those who Jews lived amongst.

There isn't a single culture that exists in the world that does not have unique songs, dances, and rituals. However, being unique does not mean that any total separation from other cultures exists. It simply means that these features form a distinct combination.

It is also a myth that the Nazis didn't care anything about one's beliefs before they sent them to the gas chambers. Many people went to those very same gas chambers because of their beliefs and not because of their ethnic heritage. Living through this period did play a role in many people adopting atheist and agnostic beliefs but it also had the opposite effect in others. Many found their religious beliefs strengthened through seeing the tenacity of those who never gave in to the Nazis no matter how difficult things became.

No culture forms because of being hated. It can be affected by hatred but that's true for every single culture. Native American culture is affected by the oppression we've faced. The various cultures of the African diasporic people was and is affected by hatred. The whole world is affected by hatred and hatred can motivate people to engage in positive or negative behavior. It all depends on what each individual wants a reason to do.

It isn't so much a post-antisemitic world (which I think would require nothing less than a miracle) that threatens the unique cultural identity of Judaism. The main threat to it is the same as the main threat faced by every other unique culture on the face of the earth. That is the globalization made possible by technological advances in transportation.

In the past, intermingling was (in general) a rather slow process. Cultures had more time to absorb elements from surrounding populations and alter these elements to suit their cultural environment. Today, cultures are bombarded with a barrage of cultures. We may get our coffee from Columbia, our fruit from America, our grains from Asia, our television shows from India, our kids toys from China, coats from Canada.

All of this commerce brings with people along with it. No matter what the religious tenets of a people (within a community) are, there are always those who intermarry, reproduce with, and adopt elements of these people who they come in contact with. Such people have always existed. If not, then we would eventually cease to belong to the same species. The fact that people from opposite sides of the globe can come together and produce offspring is proof that humans have been mixing and mingling consistently since our hominid ancestors became homo sapiens.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Labels, Identity, and Religion

As I was blog-hopping today, I wound up at Culture For All. While I was reading the responses left under the post entitled "The Nature of Being Jewish", I happened across a comment left by one of my fellow Louisianians. It was so remarkably incorrect that felt very motivated to point this out lest anyone else happen upon that post and believe him. It then occurred to me that it might make sense to cross-post my remarks here. I started another post a few days ago that I think will be slightly related to this Culture For All post. I suppose I should go ahead and finish it tonight. Anyway, here is a slightly modified version of what I said there:

I'm used to seeing people make assumptions about New Orleans despite the fact that they were not raised here and may not have even ever lived here at all. During Carnival, it's always funny watching the big stations (e.g. CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews) air stories about Mardi Gras or Voodoo or some other facet of New Orleans that outsiders in "white bread America" might be curious about. They are usually so clueless about the culture here that they are stuck talking about what's "apparently" true instead of what is true. However, I get a bit aggravated when locals, the born-and-raised folks, get in front of outsiders and show that they haven't taken the time to understand anything about the culture they were blessed to be raised in.

Under "The Nature of Being Jewish", Thomas Forsyth makes a bunch of very silly and erroneous comments about my beloved city. One of the things that really bugged me was his comparison of New Orleans' Catholic schools to the public schools.

"While I went to Catholic school, it was not because my mother was especially religious. It was instead because the public schools in New Orleans are failures with a few exceptions."

What he fails to mention is that the Catholic schools, like other private schools, are not subjected to the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (L.E.A.P.) testing that all public school students must pass in order to be promoted and eventually graduate. Of course, the Catholic schools could choose to administer the test to students but it really wouldn't be to their advantage because many families opt to send their children to these private schools so that they won't have to take the test and it would definitely affect their financial bottom line if testing showed that their education wasn't any better despite the grades that students receive. Since that is the case, there really isn't any reason to believe that Catholic schools in New Orleans are doing any better than public schools when it comes to educating comparable students. Given the other statements Forsyth made, I'm inclined to believe that his family just bought into the scare-tactics private schools use to hype their for-pay programs.

By the way, for the record, students have always been able to do well in public schools here when they are given the proper environment for learning. My parents were big believers in public school and we all went to them. Our magnet school program is one to be envied by many places. One of them, New Orleans Center For Creative Arts, is the absolute best school in the state with many parents sending their children from out of town and even other states just to attend it. The same can not be said of any of our city's Catholic schools; There is no Catholic school that can boast of having produced even nearly as many of our city's famous arts icons as N.O.C.C.A.

It's also a bit embarrassing to hear a Catholic person from New Orleans who attended Catholic schools in this city claim that there is no Catholic culture even though he admits that he spent the first decade of his life thinking that everyone in the world was Catholic. With the plethora of churches (the majority of which are not Catholic) in New Orleans, I don't ever remember being unaware that there were many, many other religions. There were so many holidays (e.g. Tet, Kwanzaa, Chanukkah) celebrated in the public schools that I think his experience is the exception and not the rule. Personally, I think that the diversity of our public schools is another reason to eschew the private school system in favor of one that better reflects the society around it. I, for one, have no desire to send my child to any supposed place of learning where most segments of our society are conspicuously and purposely absent or under-represented.

For hundreds of years, New Orleans has taken great pride in its religious and cultural diversity. Nevertheless, New Orleans provides proof that Catholic culture does exist. As a matter of fact, whenever a significantly large number of adherents to a particular religion reside in a distinct geographical location you'll find that their religion plays a large role in what constitutes the culture of that area. I think it's generally true that culture plays a major role in creating religions and, conversely, religion greatly affects the formation of the cultures where its adherents reside.
In New Orleans, we have the Carnival season which is a distinctly Catholic holiday. The culmination of the Carnival season is Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday, which are also Catholic affairs. Following Carnival, there is Lent. I can not think of a single upscale restaurant in the city that does not offer special menu offerings catering to the dietary restrictions of this period. Heck, even the student cafeteria at the University of New Orleans has a Lenten menu and it's a public school.

There's also the fact that our entire state of Louisiana is not divided up into counties but instead into parishes modeled after the Catholic church's territorial divisions of authority. Several of our parishes are even named after Catholic saints: St. Bernard, St. Tammany, St. Helena. Indeed, none of the parishes are named after non-Catholic religious figures.

While there are several distinct ethnic groups here most share the Catholic culture regardless of their actual religion. I also come from a very old Southern family (We are direct descendents of Gilbert du Montier Lafayette himself amongst others). Despite the fact that my family's various Louisianian branches are African, Native-American, Irish, and French there is not a single one of these groups that hasn't been greatly altered by the Catholic culture that exists here despite the fact that many of them were not all practicing Catholics or even any sort of Catholic at all.

As a result of all this, I don't see the use of the term "Jewish" as an ethnic identifier and as a descriptor for adherents of a particular religion to be a unique or even uncommon phenomenon. There are many others. A big example of this would be the term "Hindu". It can refer to those who live in a particular area of the world or it can mean the adherents of a religion. In the attempt to make Jewish suffering seem worse than all others, I think that some people erroneously claim that the Jewish experiences are unique to them. The other post I'm writing will discuss this a bit more.