Monday, April 25, 2016

Being of the Right Side of a Revolution

I noticed today a television show dramatizing the American Revolution is about to return.  It planted this thought. 

In a revolution there must be two sides.  Those in favor, and those opposed.  At the time of the revolution neither side knows which is the right side.  This was true in 1776, and it remains true today.  It is only when the issue is settled and the winners write the history do the following generations fall in line with the righteousness of the victors, at least until history repeats itself and there is a subsequent revolution with a potentially different outcome.

In the case of the American Revolution the revolutionaries sought to overthrow British rule characterized by what the Parliament and the King viewed as legitimate taxation to pay for the defense of the colonies, and what the revolutionaries viewed as an outrageous imposition without a voice in the government.

Today we have a government with three self-serving branches that are divided and increasingly ineffective.  We have at least three or four insurgent groups all opposed to this government for different reasons.  Of course this allows the central government to divide them and maintain their authority.  Then we have those who defend the government just as those who prospered under British rule defended the status quo in 1776.

I wonder, is there a right side to be on?

Friday, April 22, 2016

Morning Toughts

-->        Today, April 22, 2016, is a good day.  All days are good days if you approach them as such.  Yesterday I completed the heavy labor in cutting the bottom eleven inches of siding off the house and replacing it with a rot resistant product called MiraTec.  I’ve seen both positive and negative reviews, but my cost-benefit assessment committed me to this as the best choice for cost and ease of installation.  All I have left to do is apply a second coat of primer and then the final color on about fifty feet of the garage.  Fortunately for my back it is raining right now…  I’d like to thank Karl A for his motivation getting me off my backside and helping get this done. 

I wonder what communication will be like in 10 years?  I was thinking about Star Trek this morning and how they were able to travel faster than light, yet communication with Star Fleet was instantaneous.  So obviously they’ve figured out how to move independent particles (or is it waves?) faster than light so they don’t slow down when they leave the warp field.  But I digress!  My thoughts were really more along the line of will we be able, or will we be willing, to communicate in more than emoticons?  

The conservative media is abuzz with discussion and condemnation of the recent announcement that Harriet Tubman is to be recognized on the next version of the US $20 bill.  While I can come up with a group of individuals who might be more deserving of this honor I am not sure I see the big deal here.  But again, we must make every decision a political argument.  Truthfully, I’d be a little more sympathetic to the Administration if the President hadn’t gone out of his way to encourage the division of the nation during the past seven years.

The artist Prince, or the artist formerly known as Prince, or [insert symbol] has passed away. It is unfortunate, but death stalks us all.  Sometimes we mourn the famous who’ve made choices in life that speed the inevitable and I guess this is to be expected, but I have a hard time feeling sorry for them when I look at those nameless men and women who struggle to get the most out of each breath and overcome the disabilities they were born with, or have incurred from accident, or fighting our Nation’s wars.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Simple Observation, with some Complex Thoughts

       A while back I had a conversation with a young liberal who questioned me when I said I wondered if the socialist countries of that Mr. Sanders is fond of using as a model of how we should be would remain as gleaming beacons when their populations were not as homogeneous as they have been.  Would the social benefits continue, would the economy continue as it had been, how would they coupe with the influx of middle eastern refugees? 

The Washington Post blames the “far right” as the problem of the government prosecuting its citizens for human trafficking when they help refugees reach Sweden.  Just as my young friend did when he said I was voicing the concerns of the right wing racists and was therefore being racist myself.  But let’s think about this for a moment.  The far right or far left are clear minorities in any self-governing society.  The majority of the population may lean one way or another, but they are for the most part moderate.  Wanting only to live their lives in relative comfort, care for their families, and not be bothered by the extremes.
How then does a far right party like the Danish Peoples Party gain control of the government? 
Is it because there is some inherent racist bent to the population or is it because the moderate voices have been shouted down by the extremes and the people react to the fear that their society, the one they have grown up in and want to continue, will be destroyed by the sudden pressure of tens of thousands of displaced persons who must be clothed, housed and fed?  When the one side voices this concern, and the other side dismisses it as unworthy of discussion who then do the moderates side with?
For me, one of the interesting aspects of the Danish example is the current government is using laws written by the previous liberal governments to prosecute its citizens.  The whole issue of human trafficking, while not new, was brought to the forefront by those who want it to stop, for it is slavery pure and simple. In this they are right.  Here we have a case where those on the left want to do the “right thing,” but in so doing violate the laws they helped write, for no law is perfectly written to anticipate every eventuality.
It appears to me, an interested bystander, that the left’s desire to open the gates of their countries to vast numbers of middle eastern refugees with a significantly different culture, will have a long term negative affect on the social discourse and no amount of belittlement by the liberal media will persuade those impacted by those choices differently.  It will only change once the moderates realize the government has moved too far to the right and the pendulum begins to swing back, but even then these societies will never be exactly what they were when Mr. Sander’s cited them as models of what we in America should be.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


    From the beginning of time we’ve looked to the sky and wished to be there.  The practical among us said that is impossible and kept their heads firmly rooted on the tasks of survival.  The dreamers watched the birds with envy, sought to mimic them, and thus attain their freedom.
The ancient Greeks saw flight and told stories of the perils, and the lessons learned from flying too close to the sun. Brilliant men like Leonardo daVinci studied the flight of birds and designed machines to carry us to the sky.  The complexity of the challenge kept these dreams in the world of the parable, or on the drawing boards, and then again there are always those who fear the unknown -- urging caution for the risks may be too great.

But we have reached that dream, we have soared the heavens on wings that have lifted us further than even the most visionary could have dreamed.  What is so often lost as we move further beyond the reaches of even our own solar system is this all started with the hard work of two brothers who realized that all that had been done before them was wrong, and set out to solve a big problem by making it a series of small ones.

What is also lost to most is they did this on their own, with no massive government funding, or political support, only the idea that if successful they may make their fortune. Flight was a folly for most politicians who saw little advantage in it, and the important people placed their confidence in the famous names of the day, not the two brothers. If you look closely at the lessons, you see similarities with today.  The upper class, smug in their elite status placed their confidence in the elite, but at the end of the day it was the efforts of the common man that prevailed.  Why?

I wonder if the human trait of arrogance plays a role in the dynamic?  When we believe we know all the answers we often miss the real problem.  Orville and Wilbur assumed they did not know the answer so they asked the experts, but soon came to realize they knew as much, if not more, than them. 

There is much we can learn from the challenge of flight, but much more we can learn from the brothers who met it.  As long as we look without question to an elite class to solve our problems we are unlikely to succeed.

Friday, April 1, 2016

On Morality and the Law

There is a young man I know… we have differing views, but I find our conversations challenging.  They give me reason to think not about the mundane problems of home and retirement, but about ideas and the reasons I believe one way and not another.  I was just watching the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, address a group of young people about how we need to raise our political dialogue to respect the views of others and argue with the understanding that differences of opinion are okay and at the end of the day we must understand each other, not necessary agree with each other. Our founders believed the civil and rational exchange of ideas was critical to our survival, if our young are not taught this simple fact then we have problems far bigger than ISIS.

One of our recent exchanges touched on the idea that some laws resulted in actions that where in his opinion in a “moral gray zone.”  My response was to point out the law and personal morality can be contradictory.  I’ve been thinking about this for a bit now and would like to expand on that idea.  But before I jump into this exercise I must point out I have not devoted my life to the study of Philosophy, Ethics or Morals so I come into this with just a lay insight and my own simple understandings.  The same holds true for my understanding of the Law, a simple thing made complex by the creation of lawyers.  Feel free to dismiss this as the babbling of a man with too much time on his hands.

Law (noun) 1. (often the law) The system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and may be enforced by the imposition of penalties. 1.1 An individual rule as part of a system of law. 1.2 Systems of law as a subject of study or as the basis of the legal profession. 1.3 A thing regarded as having the binding force or effect of a formal system of rules. (more definitions available - Oxford Dictionary)

Let’s start with a brief discussion of our laws, for that should be relatively simple and straight forward.  Laws are formed by the government to guide the behavior of the citizens, and perhaps even the law writers and administrators.  We can see that not all laws are just, and not all people choose to obey them.  We can also see that laws are not equally applied across the spectrum of a society.  Sometimes this is through bias, other times arrogance.    While our laws have some basis in morality, since each law is created by politicians, implemented by a law enforcement forces, and evaluated by judges who have moral standards, their real purpose is to define acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in the population.  Assuming for a minute we are not talking about laws specifically written to discriminate against one particular group, even then each law the government writes reduces one groups individual freedoms to protect the rights of some other group.  If during the course of its creation the law is passed without thought to the consequences, we as American citizens have right to redress that under our constitution.  This is not a universal right of all people in all nations. We often see the issues of morality brought into play during those proceedings, and the various groups seek support from those with similar moral values, but at the end of the day there is not a single view of right or wrong from a moral standpoint the legitimacy of the law must be evaluated against not a moral code, but the US Constitution as understood by the Justices.  It is not a perfect system, nothing built by man can be, but it is a pretty good model that has stood the test of time.

Morality (noun) 1. Principles concerning the distinction and wrong or good and bad behavior. 1.1. A particular system of values and principles of conduct, especially one held by a specified person or society.  1.2 The extent to which an action is right or wrong.  (Oxford Dictionary)

Where do our moral values come from?  Individually the ideas and tenants of our understanding of morality comes as part of our development as human beings, and is part of the natural development into adulthood, much like the realization of mortality and the questions of eternity.  The years of a teenager are tumultuous for a thousand reasons, not the least of which is the struggle to understand society and how he or she fits into it.  When you tie that to the issues associated with the growth of the body it is a miracle that any teenager survives into their young adulthood.  Historically our moral values are imparted from our parents, our church, and the larger society as a part of our growth and development.  I believe they are given to us in the order I listed.  The most important source of our moral code comes from the lessons, values, and guidance of our parents.  When this source is missing, or fails to provide consistent guidance, we seek other sources.

The church is an interesting dynamic. The foundations of the great religions are to help mankind understand our place in the universe and lay the ground work for society.  But churches are run by men (and women) who are human and subject to the fears, weaknesses and envy of all humans, on the one hand they deal with our mortality; on the other they are political institutions pure and simple.  I can remember turning to religion as a teenager to help understand the issues I had to confront.  There was a wonderful minister who provided great guidance and understanding.  Then there were adult members of the church who also served as role models.  The interesting truth was many of the adults represented both the best and the worst of what we hear about the church today.  As I went through my period of questioning who I was and why was I here, I found I moved further from the church as an institution, but closer to the idea of God as a creator of the universe.

Finally, we absorb from those we look up to, often the people we learn from are respected teachers and mentors who are instrumental in shaping our understanding of the moral codes we should live by.  They should open our eyes to concepts and understanding that are different from our parents, and perhaps different from our church so that we can incorporate key elements, or understand why we reject their basic premise.  It seems today far too many take without question what the educators tell them, without having a basis for argument.  Perhaps it is because it is in alignment with what their parents have taught so there is no conflict, or perhaps it is a result of a larger sense of pressure?  I don’t know which.

As a society our moral principles must incorporate the views of the many, and be in this sense an extension to a larger view.  So let’s talk about a couple of models for morality.  For this I’m going to use this simple discussion found on the University of San Diego web, but with some modification.

Essentially this site identifies 10 types of morality theories.

1.     Moral Subjectivism – right and wrong is determined by what you (the subject) thinks is right or wrong.

2.    Cultural Relativism – right and wrong is determined by a particular set of principles or rules the relevant culture holds at the time.

3.    Ethical Egoism – Right and wrong is determined by what is in your self-interest.

4.    Divine Command Theory – Let’s hold on to this for a while for this is the one I intend to discuss further.

5.     Virtue Ethics – right and wrong are characterized in terms of acting in accordance with traditional virtues (a good person)

6.    Feminist Ethics – right and wrong is found in womens’ responses to the relationship of caring.

7.     Utilitarianism – right and wrong is determined by overall goodness of the consequences of the action

8.    Kantian Theory – right and wrong is determined by rationality, giving universal duties.

9.    Rights-based Theories – we are to act in accordance with a set of moral rights, which we all possess because we are human.

10.  Contractarianism – the principles of right and wrong are determined by the social contract that everyone in that society would sign up to.

 There are other institutions with their own lists and as in most abstract education there is no universally accepted right.  Therefore, I would like to break down these theories into two basic principles. 

Subjective morality where what you believe is moral is based on what you think is right or wrong

Objective morality where there are pretty firm boundaries that define right and wrong and they should be universally understood. 

But before I get into this discussion I would like to go back to the Devine Command Theory I had passed over.  The University is pretty dismissive of this theory, citing a number of flaws in the construct.  First they dismiss the idea of a God, but even if God were to exist they question how man can possibly know the intent of God.  I have no desire to debate the validity of God, but because of this bias they do not distinguish, as so many others have, the two underlying premises by which moral judgments are made, either they are made subjectively by the individual or society, or the individual (and society) has an objective basis for their understanding.  A belief in God’s guidance can form a legitimate basis for an objective morality set if those intentions are codified to allow for a common set of understandings as described in their description of Contractarianism.  They, in fact, become the social contract.  The books of the old and new testament form the basis of this understanding for the Christian, and for both the Jew and the Christian the Ten Commandments form the social contract we have historically accepted as the basis for right and wrong.  Then of course we have things like the “Golden Rule” all geared towards shaping our views of what it means to be a “good person.”

So let’s talk about the differences between subjective morality and objective morality.  As the University of San Diego link points out subjectivity brings the individual and his or her views of right and wrong into play.  It argues that if personal self interest is benefited then it is morally acceptable behavior.  We see in society the move to these views, and the resultant conflict it creates.  To cite a position from the Democratic debates it is unacceptable that the rich Wall Street bankers and 1% not pay their fair share, yet the rich Wall Street bankers and 1% must pay their fair share as defined under the law, and it would certainly be morally wrong for them to pay more than the law requires because it would be against their self-interest.

There is an interesting video clip on subjective morality and its counter argument from a minister named Ravi Zacharias.  In the clip a young man asks why Mr. Zacharias is so opposed to subjective morality, after all we won’t suddenly begin running around doing foolish stuff.  I think this captures my thoughts on the difference between the two pretty well.

Well that’s about it… as I mentioned earlier, for those who’ve made it this far you can either agree, disagree, or dismiss.  Your call, but thanks for taking the time to read.
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