Tag Archives: ethics

Al-Jazeera Buys Current TV, Pundits’ Heads Explode

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Current TV was sold to Al-Jazeera English for a reported $500 million dollars. Eliot Spitzer has quit his show, while the Young Turks made a point of saying they are independent, and thus owned by neither organization.

Time Warner Cable opportunistically jumped at the chance to drop Current with the ‘change of ownership’ clause in their contract. Time Warner contends it was not a political move, but cited ‘lack of demand’ and their already-streaming online free content as factors. According to the New York Times, Time Warner Cable wrote: “We are keeping an open mind, and as the service develops, we will evaluate whether it makes sense, for our customers, to launch the network.”

The point has been made at AlterNet that Time Warner subscribers are hit with the cost of political organizations they may not even want, with FOX charging $1 per month for its content and MSNBC 20 cents.

It is difficult to take seriously, however, claims that anything regarding Al-Jazeera in America (which would be called Al-Jazeera America) are not at least somewhat politically-motivated. FOX fraudsters called Al Gore and his Current TV a litany of names from ‘failures’ ($500 million worth of fail) to hypocritical assertions of tax avoidance, even implications of American betrayal and of being *gasp* unpatriotic!  FOX has a long history of blind stereotyping and anti-Muslim hatred, xenophobic fear-mongering and jingoistic bias; they reveal too much of themselves by calling the internationally award-winning Al-Jazeera English news agencies Anti-American terror mouthpieces: “Al Jazeera, known as the network of the Arab Street, is also known for taking anti-American, anti-Israel and pro-terror positions.” Absurd allegations from arguably the most morally bankrupt propaganda companies in the media.

The Huffington Post reminds us that this partisan vitriol is nothing new;

The Bush administration condemned Al Jazeera for its Arabic-language network’s coverage of the Iraq War and broadcasting of al Qaeda tapes, even targeting its headquarters in Baghdad during the Iraq War. Perceptions that the news organization, which is funded by Qatar’s government, is anti-American continue even as U.S. political leaders such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have praised the network’s reporting abroad.

Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera English, acknowledged to The Huffington Post in August 2011 that “in the United States of America, there were myths and misconceptions that needed to be tackled about what Al Jazeera stood for and what Al Jazeera English stood for and stands for.”

On Wednesday, Al Jazeera management expressed confidence that there’s strong demand for its programming in the U.S., which already accounts for 40 percent of the viewership of its streaming English-language network.

The talking heads at FOX are exploding so fast at news of the sale, you’d think terrorists had managed to creep in.

Bill O’Reilly has lambasted Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Arab Spring for its ties to the government of Qatar; which would have been a legitimate criticism if it wasn’t embedded in such an an us-vs-them framing, and combined with a factually inaccurate post-9/11 terror angle. It is also particularly silly considering FOX’s parent company’s second-biggest investors is Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, a nephew of the Saudi king. FOX’s biggest investor and founder is, of course, an Australian. Those damn international interests at work!

Glenn Beck went so far as to claim Al Gore had chosen to sell to Al-Jazeera over red-blooded American patriots such as himself. Unfortunately, Beck’s story is beset with inconvenient truths; he didn’t have the money for the purchase, didn’t intend to raise the money, was not a serious buyer, and happens to be at the opposite end of the philosophical universe as Gore. Beck then admitted that he thinks “global warming is nonsense”, and said that Al-Jazeera “hates America” while he himself loves it. Just loves it up in a cup.

Via The Young Turks:

Most of the ‘America hatred’ stems from Al-Jazeera’s coverage in the Middle East, including reporting on and showing the released tapes of Osama Bin Laden. Because a new agency should, you know, ignore or lie about what is going on in the world, especially if it concerns international affairs, the War on Terror or national security. How ridiculously pathetic is our own myopic national news when it has to be stated: “Content with an Arab perspective is not necessarily anti-American.”

Progressive online source Salon has even more on the possible biases and more possible openness of new points-of-view that would come from Americans getting that sweet cable access:

Juliette Kayyem, the national security and foreign policy columnist for the Boston Globe and lecturer at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, told Salon that the impression of Al Jazeera as an anti-America, anti-Israel newsroom was misleading. On a visit last month to Doha’s Al Jazeera campus, she noted, the reporters seemed more than anything young, ambitious and innovative. (Failing to break into the U.S. market meaningfully with Al Jazeera English, the network had been streaming through YouTube for interested U.S. viewers.) They were unconcerned about ownership issuing marching orders: “The monarchy knows Al Jazeera is a good brand for the monarchy,” said Kayyem. “And the more they mess with Al Jazeera, it’s not a good brand.”

Which is not to say that Al Jazeera has magically shed a point of view. “I suspect as viewers get to know the content,” said Al Tompkins, the Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting, “they will develop filters through which to watch the journalism, in the same way thoughtful viewers filter Fox or MSNBC and so on.” He cited Britain, Canada, South Africa and Denmark as states whose government-funded networks did good journalistic work.

For the record, can we just acknowledge that every media source has some bias somewhere along the political gradient, with many much worse than others? I can appreciate the alternative views from liberals at RT, for example, and still realize that they go easy on their own right-wing president Putin, who just granted a tax haven to the wealthy. I can enjoy the Chris Hayes and Ed Schultzes of MSNBC, and also see their news cycle asapologism for Obama‘s war crimes. I don’t need to suspect every local story from every minor FOX affiliate to be branded and approved by the GOP, especially if I’m watching FOX Sports.

Once again, it just requires constant calibration of your bullshit detector, which can only be helped by more information, not less.

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The Genetic Killer

This article originally appeared on Disinfo.com

Another proposed “solution” to the mass shootings in America is sure to upset many camps; privacy advocates, mental health care advocates, and even those calling for the heads of the murderers. Soon we will have the results of genetic analysis of Adam Lanza, which may be used by scientists to model genetic predispositions of violence, or by defense attorneys in their pleas. This controversial science is being criticized from all sides, condemned as “misguided and could lead to dangerous stigmatization.”

via Vaughan Bell at Mind Hacks:

But the request to analyse the DNA of Lanza is just the latest in a long line of attempts to account for the behaviour of individual killers in terms of genetics.

Perhaps the first attempt was for a case that bears more than a surface resemblance to the Sandy Hook shooting. In 1998, a 15-year-old high school student called Kip Kinkel killed both of his parents before driving to school and shooting 24 students, one of whom died.

In his trial a child psychiatrist argued that Kinkel had “genetic loading” that made him susceptible to mental illness and violence.

His appeal also relied upon this angle. His lawyer argued that “owing to a genetic predisposition, and therefore through no conscious fault of his own, the defendant suffers a mental illness resulting in committing his crimes.”

Perhaps for the first in decades, an appeal to genetics was used in an attempt to explain the killer’s behaviour.

The genetic arguments became more sophisticated with the trial of serial killer Cary Stayner where a psychiatrist and geneticist presented a genealogy of the his family showing how mental illness and violence ‘ran through the family’.

By the time of the trial of murderer Stephen Mobley, the defence based part of their case on molecular genetics – suggesting that Mobley had a version of the MAOA gene that made him susceptible to violence.

It’s worth noting that none of these appeals to genetics have been successful in the courtroom but it’s interesting that in light of the tragic events in Sandy Hook there has been, yet again, a look towards genetics to try and make sense of the killer – this time presumably based on the yet more advanced technology of whole DNA sequencing.

On this occasion, however, the reasons seems less related to issues of legal responsibility and more for scientific motivations, supposedly to better understand the ‘DNA of a killer’.

As the Nature editorial makes clear, this is foolish: “There is no one-to-one relationship between genetics and mental health or between mental health and violence. Something as simple as a DNA sequence cannot explain anything as complex as behaviour.”

There is a valuable science of understanding how genetics influences violent behaviour but analysis of individual killers will tell us very little about their motivations.

It does, however, reflect a desire to find something different in people who commit appalling crimes. Something that is comprehensible but distinct, alien but identifiable.

This may give us comfort, but it does little to provide answers. In the midst of tragedy, however, the two can easily be confused.

While I have mulled the utility of psychopathy testing before (mostly to weed out serial killers and white-collar criminals), I certainly don’t want to demonize mental illness. I also don’t want to see this turned into a genetic witchhunt, with public registries that would affect hiring, insurance rates, or result in other forms of discrimination or revocation of rights. Not only is it unknown for sure if Adam Lanza (or even James Holmes, for that matter) suffered from mental illness or disorder, but depending on the definitions, as many as 1-in-4 Americans might fall into this camp. This framing also narrowly and unfairly decides what is “normative,” always a dangerous proposition for society.

This sort of ‘registration’ might end up much worse for our liberty and democracy than any gun registration, by orders of magnitude. Especially if, as indicated by our elected leaders and the NRA, we are more concerned with tracking and banning these individuals than providing resources and help.

It sets a scary precedent, but it is also the observable evidence-based realm of science. Should we even go there? What do you think?

Read the artice in Nature, and follow Mind Hacks for more in-depth analysis of complex psychological and neurological issues.

The Lie of the Conservative Batman

I’ve waited a week to post this until enough people have had a chance to see the latest Dark Knight movie, but it bears mentioning: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Batman mythos runs so deep in our culture, that parallels are easy. Claims now run rampant that the latest brilliant installment of Christopher Nolan‘s Dark Knight trilogy is anti-Occupy, or pro-capitalist in sentiment. That it purports ‘only a billionaire’ can save us. Chris Nolan has dispelled as much, though it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the phenomenally successful series may be inexorably linked to current events, as no writer or director creates in a vacuum, and both life imitates art and art imitates life. All films reflect their times, and the Batman is no exception. The imagery itself has seeped into everyday usage, (much like the protagonist masks in V for Vendetta), the war-painted Joker has been used by protest movements to vilify seemingly every elite from Bernie Madoff to president Barack Obama. Even without the gadgetry, moral code, genius-level detective skills, martial arts, cape or cowl, many billionaires see themselves as crucial heroes, their “sacrifices” necessary for the good of the system. And yes, the probably psychopathic James Holmes seems unable or unwilling to separate reality from fiction, modeling himself after The Dark Knight‘s villainous Joker (portrayed inimitably by Heath Ledger).

But Christopher Nolan’s version of the Batman (dubbed the Nolanverse), had already established an old Gotham rife with political corruption, a recession predating our own by a few years (Batman Begins began in 2005), the excesses of the rich and inequity of their system, and the thievery of Wall Street.

The script for The Dark Knight Rises was written during 2010, with location scouting happening in December of that year. Filming ran from May to November 2011, overlapping the rise of the Occupy movement by mere months. Any similarity is purely coincidental, and furthermore seen through the lens of Fox news analysis and FBI entrapment, where Occupiers have already been condemned as criminals and terrorists. The predominant Beltway philosophy already has established the ‘infallible rich’ as a cornerstone of its power structure.

And the story of haves and have-nots is as old as time anyway, as the Dark Knight Rises draws heavily from A Tale of Two Cities and its historical Red Terror. It’s a false dichotomy (which many pundits love) that one cannot have both a healthy opposition to violent revolution and sympathetic support for a protest movement. It really reveals more about the claimants’ ideology than anything else. Charles Dickens, for one, cared deeply for the plight of the poor, but not for the brutal atrocities of the French Revolution.

We humans will ascribe our own meaning and see what we want in film and comic book escapism, no matter how earnest the telling. This trilogy simply rings true because it dissects the hard ideological differences regarding justice, evil, truth, responsibility, and just exactly who is the real psychopath, anyway. We can all too easily see the divides and overlapping philosophies of the Occupy movement, the police force, the rich elites, and the League of Shadows. And yes, both lone vigilantes and lone nuts.

But even if the movie were a direct allegory to our failed structure, it could hardly be seen as a conservative endorsement, as bloggers on both sides have contended. More likely, the chilling dystopian vision of a city torn into a No Man’s Land reads as a warning against radical demagoguery and institutional deception. And though some may not agree with the aims of the Occupy movement, it takes a willfully ignorant or forcefully disingenuous mindset to equate them with the insane philosophy of either a chaotically sadistic Joker or a frighteningly focused and cold-blooded Bane (portrayed by Tom Hardy).

Indeed, Occupy remains a leaderless movement, constantly worrying about being co-opted by self-interested parties. Bane adopts a populist message in order to peddle false hopes to the citizenry he hopes to torture, populating his army with liberated thieves and killers. Yes, and there are those whom society has forsaken. Bane’s armed revolt plays to the same paranoid fears of Fox News and the State Department, and the same rhetoric of a much less radical Anonymous; it is made up of janitors, shoe-shiners, orphans, ex-cons, sanitation and construction workers. The under-served.

Bruce Wayne’s (reprised by Christian Bale) sins are spelled out for us at the beginning of the Dark Knight Rises. Not only has he taken the fall for the crimes of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and conspired to propagate a political lie, he has turned his back on society and the world. The streets have become relatively clean without him in the eight years since he donned the cowl, but the less obvious ills of a broken system still endure as Bruce neglects the city he loves, and literally atrophies in his elegantly rebuilt mansion.

Gotham’s sins are also many, where betrayal and lies are common political practice, where war heros are expendable during peacetime, where critical-thinking police are discounted as ‘hotheads’, and where even good men like Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) get their hands filthy. The Batman himself, as the Force-ghost of Ra’s Al-Ghul (Liam Neeson) reminds us, “for years fought the decadence of Gotham with his moral authority… and the most he could achieve was a lie.” The overreaching Dent Act, based on Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne’s falsehood, has robbed the imprisoned of any chance of parole. And though it was (hurriedly) agreed that if they world knew of Harvey Dent’s crimes, the guilty would be opened up to appeal, it is this very act of conspiracy that threatens to help blow apart the system, once finally discovered. The career politicians, police bosses, day traders and rich elite are anything but sympathetic figures.

Selena Kyle (Anne Hathaway) is the only decent representative of the 99%. She (as well as her politics and moral code) is adaptable, values anonymity, and doesn’t seem to care much for gun control. She embodies the ‘honor among thieves’ adage, she is generous, and sees herself as somewhat of a Robin Hood, at least more than the society types she robs from, who ‘take so much and leave so little for the rest.’ However, she is equally horrified, frightened and disgusted by the madness that ensues during Bane’s “revolution.”

John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn), on the other hand, is your stereotypical corporate vulture, a literal blood diamond opportunist looking for his next hostile takeover, who doesn’t have time for “save-the-world vanity projects.” In fact, Daggett doesn’t care if the world is destroyed with his help, so long as he acquires more money, and the “power it buys.” It is the likes of Daggett and the other one-dimensional capitalists who worship the status quo when it suits them, and then collude with criminals on the side. Daggett only sees Bane as ‘pure evil’ once he realizes the imminent threat to himself and his riches. Once it’s no longer himself who’s in charge. It should be noted, for the record, that there are no real-life Occupy figures who could cow a crooked billionaire by placing a hand on their shoulder like an alpha dominant.

But of course these unsympathetic crooks are surely served up as contrast to our hero: the billionaire who would save us.

And though the Batman/Bruce Wayne may be heralded as the authoritarian’s dream; willing to employ mass surveillance, extreme rendition, and solely deciding what technology the people deserve and can be trusted with, he is no societal Superman. He is not a billionaire’s billionaire, for though he has more cars than cares to count, has never answered his own door, and “doesn’t even go broke like the rest of us,” he is also easily displaced within his own boardroom, decries the egotistical hypocrisy of charity balls, and has not been watching his own money carefully. Notably, he wants to fail. He relishes the opportunity to be destroyed as the Batman, if it means saving the lives of everyone; the rich, the workers and the poor alike.

Neither, however, has he been serving his own people and city of late, trading in his once rich playboy identity for a Howard Hughes shtick. Not only is his corporation floundering, his beloved charitable foundation is practically defunct. Orphaned boys age out of Gotham’s social programs, neglected by a city with no homes of jobs available. Here they become easy prey for vaguely Middle Eastern terrorists and organized criminals, where they die in the sewers and wash away once they are used up.

The progressive responsibility of socially conscious and civic-minded billionaires, (an extremely endangered breed both in Gotham and out real world) had to be summed up by an ecoterrorist acting the part of a lovely socialite (Marion Cotillard); “You have to invest to restore balance to the world.” Bruce has been lacking in his duties, and that evil that he and Commissioner Gordon buried isn’t dead, but rising up once again.

Bane’s movement is a false one, as he tells the people of Gotham that he is not a Conquerer but a Liberator, but in actuality he is neither. Bane is the Destroyer. Spinning a hopeful message in the wake of his havoc, telling the people to “take control” of Gotham, Bane uses his “truth” to get the citizenry to “tear down a corrupt city” and reclaim what is theirs from the rich oppressors who had peddled their myth of opportunism.

And it is not just any “ordinary citizen” who holds the detonator to their destruction, but equal parts rich girl and terrorist-anarchist. These masterminds did not just create a populist movement to fulfill their diabolical plot, but infiltrated powerful corporations with their subterfuge as well. For comparison, real-world anarchists, despite practicing just another political philosophy, are readily depicted by the media as murderous terrorists. Protestors, despite exercising their constitutional right to assemble, are either beaten or made into bridge bombers by the FBI. Even those who have read the anarchist or socialist literature pale in comparison to the bloodthirsty Bane army. But the fear has been writ large in the news: if a lone nut like the joker can inspire a depraved massacre in a theatre, what would an evil warlord and his army of mercenaries inspire?

Like the Batman, authoritarians do seem to create their own enemies.

What follows once the structures fail lacks even more subtlety; in the face of such wanton violence, the government will abandon you. The good cops will attempt to salvage the status quo, and the bad cops will either desert or work against the people. Idiotically and blindly following orders, in fact, could get orphans and priests killed. Only the Batman can save us.

As even Selena realizes too late, this is not what the 99% ever wanted. Their system has swung wildly from an authoritarian, decadent state to the bloody turf of a mad warlord. It is the Dark Knight who is the hero we need, but unlike any known billionaire, he is now humiliated and humbled, fearful, responsible, accountable, and thus strengthened, empowered, respectful and focused. “Hardened by pain… not from privilege.”

It really should go without saying, by the way, that is not until Bruce Wayne loses all of his money, loses nearly everything, in fact, and is dropped into a pit to rebuild himself, that he is worthy of becoming a savior. And even those he still uses all those wonderful toys that only his privileged life could have afforded him, there can be no analogue for his virtuosity. Nobody has done as much as the fictitious Wayne family. And no playboy industrialists don a mask and fight crime.

As super-fan of the Batman, Kevin Smith, points out:

“In our world it’s not the case. The richer one gets, the less moral one seems to become. Not in all cases, but you hear about everything that just happened to our economy in the last few years… at the end of the day, Bruce Wayne/Batman [is] a moral example of a billionaire… Right then and there you should be able to divorce yourself from reality because no billionaire would waste their time helping others.”

This establishes the film’s central conceit as high fantasy. The Batman doesn’t have what we’d normally call superpowers, and we’ve seen it’s not simply the gadgets or money that keeps him going, but his rigid moral compass and drive to do good that makes him superhuman.

It isn’t just allegorical. It’s not just a cautionary tale. It’s a mad thought experiment. Fiction. Fantasy. Though some of us do have trouble separating that.

For there is no Ayn Randian perfect citizen or engine of the economy that somehow magically makes everything better. There is no Nietzschean Übermench. In the face of the very real threats of depraved elites, deadly terrorist groups and savage gunmen, there are no real superheroes.

Batman will not save us.

How would you like to start a religion?

In Alain de Botton’s recent book; Religion for Atheists, the School of Life philosopher argues the benefits of religious thinking. He points out that the shared values in humanist philosophy and religion are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, the structures and traditions of each may be useful in creating a society that we can all agree is good and moral, regardless of their personal God (or lack of one).

Big Think – Alain de Botton “Religion for Atheists”

Those with brilliant acumen for realizing the essential effects of religious and spiritual thinking, as well as skeptical and critical thinking, should use every tool to navigate an otherwise trapped society ruled by charlatan plutarchs and snake-oil salesmen.

Tim Mawson has argued that atheists need to pray in an open-ended fashion, at the very least as a personal experiment to falsify the possibility of one’s own spiritual pantheon. Or is this a dubious step down the path to belief, activating and placating the God delusion parts of the brain? Or can a sufficiently intelligent brain maintain the divisions between outwardly-seeming contradictory systems of thought? Though Richard Dawkins would ask ‘what’s the point?’, many others ask ‘what’s the harm?’

Or as Kadam Morten (teacher in the New Kadampa tradition of Buddhism) explains, the neuro and cognitive sciences have shown an increasing benefit to the sustained practice of meditation, which can permanently change the structure of the brain and improve attentional capacity. Buddhists belief in the interdependence and interconnectedness of all things – a kind of unified theory of everything, and that all of reality is a distortion, which is echoed in the disconnect we know exists between physical reality, our sense organs, and the brain that illusorily compartmentalizes our experiences. Morten reminds us that the human capacity for love, compassion, peace, apology, happiness and joy all live in the brain, and can be understood through the lens of both spirituality or scientific discovery.

Since we all seem to be wired for belief, whatever the survival mechanism that brought us to this point, these instincts have clearly had a massive impact on religion, art, society, ethics and emotion. And while the corroborative neural pathways in humans and other animals can tell us a lot about brain evolution, the more subjective questions of emotion may always be beyond our grasp. How could we ever fully understand what emotion an animal is feeling, or even apply the human words we’ve developed with our own electrochemical impulses? But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be more informed, more literate, in our empathic roles as researchers and investigators and thinkers.

Some of these questions are (as yet) unfalsifiable, which makes them useless to science, but not necessarily to our growth and adaptability as humans. Provided there is no conflict with the current model of scientific knowledge, the Canon, then perhaps the ever-evolving systems of religious and spiritual thinking in our history can also build into a productive model of social utility.

But reconciling the physical world of hard science and metaphysical speculation is nothing new, and the brain is certainly capable of maintaining multiple worldviews.

When Einstein referred to his God, he was referring to Spinoza’s God. Indeed, when Richard Dawkins denies God, he refers implicitly to the God of traditional theology, and not Spinoza’s being of infinite attributes… or being itself. In so doing, the Big Bang can be the creation myth, empirical discovery becomes our theology, the laws of physics our forms of magick, and the Heat Death of the Universe becomes analogous to the Eschaton.

The Philosopher’s Zone – Beth Lord “Spinoza’s God”

This is not to say that science is based on belief, that creationism is in any way equitable to evolution, that quantum physics can by extrapolated on the macro-scale to justify mystical flim-flam, or that energized memory crystals can infuse the power of intention to transform reality into the magical alternate version you desire. Some things are simply false notions.

Atheists are still the most hated and distrusted group in America, despite being on average just as moral and law-abiding as any random religious adherent (and certainly more than some I could mention). Reason and philosophy have different aims from religion, the extent to which these various factors rule our lives and interact and cooperate with each other partly determining the kind of person we will be.

Theists do battle with atheists, atheists fight right back, many religions disenfranchise or discriminate against others, while some atheists belittle agnostics and others whose beliefs and opinions differ from their own.

The false dichotomy has it that people on the right behave and believe irrationally, and that those on the left are amoral heathens. But what if all parties involved transcended their petty differences to find those sticking similarities? How could we organize our communities, nations, and minds in such ways as to accept the verifiable truths found in science, and the infinitely complex beings we believe keep us thinking, going, doing, feeling, and helping?

Lest we forget that our great American experiment was started by a group of deists, who believed in a necessary first cause but were otherwise largely agnostic regarding the idea of an interventionist Creator. They believed that intellectual pursuit, discourse, and hard work were what built a nation, not an affinity to ghosts and clouds. True, while many of the groups that came to America to escape religious persecution and indoctrination were more puritanical, many others rightly splintered from them. Splitters.

Even Scientology, which is only fifty-eight years old and is largely regarded as a cult of science-fiction quackery, has spawned a reform movement of former members now disillusioned by the Church, but still firm believers in the metaphysical benefits they receive through their form of worship:

Marty was given intensive auditing, carried out lengthy meditation exercises, and at one point during a “communication drill” in which he had to silently stare into a counsellor’s eyes for an hour, underwent what he calls an “out-of-body” experience. “I literally exteriorised from my body,” he says. “It was incredible. It changed everything.”

The tools of science reveal that meditation alters brain-wave states, ritual belief and thinking change the dosage of electro-chemical impulses, and fasting raises the user’s perceptional awareness and focus. All this without the drama of a a bullying god, danger of fraud such as dying in a sweat lodge under some nincompoop new age guru, myopic prejudice rendered by dogmatic interpretations, or tithing your savings to a theocorporate entity.

Perhaps a truly superintelligent being (AI, extraterrestrial, extradimensional, god-like, or ourselves in the near future) would need to explore an infinitely rich tapestry of realities involving scientific discovery, spiritual self-reflection, psychoanalysis and even experimental psychedelic use.

“It has to do with your own intelligence. Truly stupid people aren’t interested in psychedelics because they can’t figure out what the point of it is. It feeds off intelligence. It’s a consciousness-expanding drug. If you don’t have any consciousness you can’t expand it.”

-Terence McKenna

And while an extreme intelligence would be largely unpredictable, given that its parameters for growth and survival would be very different than our mortal comprehension, it is useful to note that no strategy or resource would go ignored or unconsidered. It should go without saying, but often goes unnoticed, that a diverse set experiences, techniques and modalities for thinking will yield a more well-rounded, intellectual individual with wider options and resources for problem solving and deep reflection. We may even reach a point in our development towards super-intelligence that allows us to induce analytical or spiritual thinking, psychedelic or profound experiences all at will, depending on what suits our present needs.

Science is still the greatest tool we have for discovering the truth about the physical world, and neuroscience may bring us answers in the coming centuries concerning our elusive and dated conceptions of consciousness and self.

But epistemology and metaphysics aside, the most pressing and useful marriage of these techniques and schools of thought could further the higher order ethics usually found in humanist philosophies, and in the desire utilitarianism of Alonzo Fyfe, as “the idea that morality involves using praise and condemnation to promote desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and to inhibit desires that tend to thwart other desires.” This empirical system defines ‘general good‘, which can be either true or false, and the more specific ‘moral good‘:

“A good desire is a desire that tends to fulfill other desires. A bad desire is a desire that tends to thwart other desires.”

It uses relational values in such a way to determine a moral realism and not a moral relativism, in the same way that, say, distance can be both relative and definitely quantifiable at the same time. This would seem to result in a society that pursues civil libertarian values that do not adversely affect the lives of others, while rejecting both the individual subjectivism of psychotics and narcissists, and any desires based on fictional precepts such as neo-conservatism or fundamentalist dogma. In other words, such a system of ethics avoids the dangers of both populist and oligarchical power-mongering based on false notions. It, like other rational forms of philosophy and political science, would allow religious followers to worship as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. This would seem simple and American enough, and perhaps such a reasonable approach may one day replace the heated rhetoric and violent passion of theocratic conflict.

Conversations From the Pale Blue Dot – Alonzo Fyfe “Desire Utilitarianism”

In the realm of the secular sciences, peace is already being wedged into the Middle East, with cooperative endeavors such as SESAME, or Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications, which has been bringing together physicists from Israel and Egypt and Jordan, and perhaps eventually Iran.

Culture codes, languages and biases cannot be changed overnight. But perhaps the ongoing reformation (of art, science, philosophy, and religion) can utilize these ideas to bridge the gaps in these disparate fields. As we can see, they all have vital importance to operating minds, and we need only to overcome the contrived conflicts that have arisen through ignorance, but that may otherwise doom us with their obstinacy.

Effortless Conservation for the Modern Man

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” -Charles Darwin

After Rick Santorum’s recent attack on environmental “theology” in the face of such horrific anti-Christian acts (such as Obama’s blocking of billionaire oil profiteering via corrupted or incomplete environmental impact assessments), it behooves us to ask what it truly means, as Santorum biblically puts it, to be the “stewards of nature.”  Indeed, what it means to be a man in relation to nature, and to what degree our own conscience can handle.

With Climate Change Conspiracy Theories taking every shape from outright refusal to accept the hard science, to the denial of man’s influence, from conspiracy-mongering of the “science elite” to the strongly-worded prepared releases of big corporate bullies, it seems humans are happy with the pace of our own extinction. Make no mistake, this is not really about the little pebble orbiting in space known as Earth, or even the temporary handful of species currently threatened, this is about us.

As George Carlin explained, “there is nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The PEOPLE are fucked. Difference! Difference!”:

Indeed, there are several species which will actually benefit from global warming, from killer whales and albatross to the humble jellyfish, though that has been some debate as to the reasons for the world-threatening massive bloom of jellyfish population.

Or as Paul Gilding more recently explained in his TED Talk:

“Our economy is bigger than its host; our planet. This is not a philosophical statement, this is just science… that we’re living beyond our means.”

“The idea that we can smooth these transitions” through economic difficulties so that “9 billion people can live in 2050 a life of abundance and digital downloads,” he said, is “dangerously wrong.” The system will break down, it will stop working for us, and we’re not doing enough to prepare for that. And it’s not like we haven’t seen it coming. We’ve had 50 years of warnings from scientific analyses. And, if that weren’t enough, we’ve had economic studies showing us that it would be better for us to not to wait—that it will ultimately be even more profitably for us to act sooner—but we’re doing very, very little. Our eyes are still on the short term, whether it’s food, water, or waste.

Or perhaps as Kurt Vonnegut said, “Yes, well, I think we are terrible animals. And I think our planet’s immune system is trying to get rid of us and should.

Like languages, fire, and of course every single thing that lives, we can and will die.

Ignoring our predilection for preserving cute species selectively over others such as mosquitos and cockroaches (both of which, of course, are doing just fine), could it be that some some species (*coughdodocough*) might deserve to die? If an animal like the kakapo is evolved to embarrassing failure with one of the worst reproductive strategies in the Animal Kingdom, should we waste our resources there instead of on other planet-saving ventures? Couldn’t these Australian biologists better spend their time working out the fungal disease decimating the awesome Tasmanian Devil instead of the existentially-challenged Kakapo? Are we doomed to start wondering who and what on the sinking ship is worth saving and who cannot and should not fit in the life boats? And are we even worth saving?

Death is inevitable. Though we do seem in some particular hurry to get there.

There is an inevitability of collapse, the cyclical mass extinction of our own and many other species, swept under the rug by planetary forces. If there’s anything we can do at this point, we should try, and try we must and will. To fight against it seems futile, but our species, as the seemingly most adaptable, needs to adjust to the reality that we are simply animals, apex predators, nothing special, capable of slowing down our ridiculous pace. The same problem that faces deer who overgraze their environment of food, coral that topples under its own weight, or viruses who kill their host. Many animals clearly over-compete and exploit their ecosystem to their fullest for food, though within the wide genetic variance of life we also see species that adapt their methods, preserve their environment, even culling their numbers for long-term survival of the species. We can argue that we are better, more intelligent, more wise, more conscious, more highly adapted than all the rest, but somehow our track record and effortlessness are less than convincing.

And what good will our efforts make, in a modern world spiraling towards total breakdown? Your personal decisions won’t make much of a difference, economist Gernot Wagner argues in a provocative new book, But Will the Planet Notice? How Smart Economics Can Save the World. Instead we need to change our big picture science, tackling large-scale cultural waste issues like traffic congestion.

Technology will create GMOs with optimal nutritional value for starving nations, to replenish the soil as we till it, and attempt to better balance the unsustainable trends we’ve set over the course of hundreds of years. Lab-grown meat will become the norm, not borne of some nagging ethical concerns of animal consciousness, but the necessity of hungry mouths the world over. Future generations, just as selfish and greedy and hungry as every one before, will nonetheless find themselves painted into a tightening corner. We are in their corner now.

Our efforts may not count, but we should still make both large, sweeping policy decisions, and the small furtive steps to reduce our individual carbon footprints. I honestly don’t think that, since we’re all doomed anyway, you should sweat participating in society or having used styrofoam. We can’t all be expected to compost our own feces, or as one all-important issue demands:

To determine if a pesticide contains a neonicotinoid, look at the ingredients: Imidacloprid, acetamiprid, dinotedfuran, clothianidin, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam are all neonicotinoids.

But attempting to grind those gears that are now expediting the end is not a radical concept. If every person were to find that middle ground, accept the crushing weight of impending extinction facing us all, and make small changes accordingly, it would be better than denying it outright (though perhaps less comfortable than ignorance). Nobody is going to pat you on the back for doing the bare minimum, but at least it’s vastly better than what most Americans do, which is nothing.

But remember that if the damage is irreparably done, then we are just part of nature taking its course. No need to feel bad about our own extinction.

When does fucking the system cross over?

Is it better to be Stephen Cooper, and steal your money in obfuscated, technically legal ways hidden behind corporate espionage and litigation? Or D.B. Cooper, who hijacked a plane, extorted hundred of thousands, and leapt into the sky with a parachute and much badassery, never to be seen again? When does fucking the system cross over from skullduggery to douchebaggery?

This debate can be seen on the political stage between left and right, and even within the debates for the GOP nomination. More and more, the elite are attempting to distance themselves from their unpopular corporatist takeover, while still retaining their record-level greed and avarice. Within the movements of the left, the debate rages on protest methodology and ethics. Many hacktivists are ready to embrace the Robin Hood image, while others simply fight for privacy and liberty, others greedily attempt to get rich as unethically as big banking cheats, and others still just want to watch the world burn. Clearly, written in the faces of the police who clash with protestors, the conflict is very real and very painful. Most of us (except for wealthy policy-making plutocrats) did not have much choice in our positions, socio-economically, politically, or in some cases perhaps even ethically.

Guy DeBord’s Situationalism (which I have studied for years… on Wikipedia) tells us that each generation is in a futile cycle, in which is rises up against the entrenched dominant patriarchy, reclaiming their language and symbols as their own in the social battle, eventually doomed to grow up and become what they hate, usurping and claiming the language and symbols of the young in their corporatist regime. We saw some social, sexual, secular and popular culture advantages to DeBord’s revolution of the 1960’s, but many of those counterculture types sold out and got white-collar jobs, and many of their progressively populist politicians now accept tremendous bribes. Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, as the old saying goes. This is also known in tropes as ‘the Bad Guys Won.”

And how well do you have to know thine enemy, before you become what you hate most. “We’re not so different, you and I.

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre was a French Revolutionary, a capable articulator of the beliefs of the left-wing bourgeoisie. He was described as being physically unimposing yet immaculate in attire and personal manners. His supporters called him “The Incorruptible”, and although originally inspired by liberal Enlightenment ideals, his adversaries called him dictateur sanguinaire (bloodthirsty dictator). He was instrumental in the implementation of the Reign of Terror, which ultimately ended with his arrest and execution in 1794.

The Republicans are already writing their history books referring to the Occupy movement as “a bunch of goddamned chumps.” When I call back East and South to my conservative friends and family for the holidays, I discover a range of opinions and ‘facts’* ** mostly absorbed from FOX “News” and Glenn Beck. According to them, the “99%” is an unnecessarily divisive scheme of class warfare. Occupiers are lazy, unemployed, and probably on the take. Unemployed people just chose to be. They think that ten percent of the country would rather be on food stamps than find gainful unemployment. The Occupy movement has no clear message, and Anonymous are more than likely terrorists. Their criticisms (legit, illegit, and 2 legit 2 quit), can be easily countered with a few minutes of internet research, or by the shifting focus of Occupations around the country and globe to focus on and vocalize specific issues of economic injustice and income inequality. They are not, despite the false rhetoric, socialists and anarchists, though a radically inclusive movement is bound to have those, as well as gang members and hacktivists. The majority are people who have been disenfranchised both financially and emotionally from the democratic process, at a rate equally proportionate to the eroding of our democracy by corporate lobbying and tax fraud politicians. Many of their key themes, like it or not, are in keeping with the populist Tea Party movement. Occupy has singled out targets of protest, and Anonymous has clearly been keeping a list of individuals and organizations for cyber attack.

The claims that Occupy and others are being ‘bought off’, or on somebody’s ‘payroll’, or as one (particularly absurd) flyer posited, a ‘George Soros Psy-Op’, are patently false. Will it remain so in the future? Though the movement is sometimes split (by its very nature), on how to utilize its collective funds, it is even more contentious when nonviolent resistance resolutions have been adopted. Will these displays of respectful civil disobedience and rational discourse prevail? Or will they eventually be overshadowed by riots, destruction of property, graffiti and cop hatred? Historically, the argument could be made for either approach as more successful. When does it cross over?

The GOP candidates (not including Ron Paul, but there are other issues with him) all seem to be in perfect step with their corporate sponsors and overlords, seeing the proletariat uprising with chagrin, concern, or panic. Having gotten away with so many crimes, they cannot stand to allow the energetic movement to shift the country’s dialogue to the left, or even back into rational democratic debate. The attempts to lift the veil, in of themselves, are as dangerous to the prestidigitatious status quo as jihadist terrorism or communist invasion. So they equate them all using their media powers. They have been fucking them system bloody for so long now, it can be said that any young group is, by default, cast into the role of Robin Hood. That is, unless the system is so very fucked beyond any hope.

And if that is the case, then their runaway train wreck will take the elitists out with it. As journalist Chris Hedges points out, protest movements reach their tipping point when the enforcers (police, military, security) have a crisis of faith and either join the protestors, or cease protecting the elite. Even top military brass are saying that our networks are indefensible.

The inevitability of failure is clear to this ridiculous regime against consumer needs and an middle class class to succor. American love good underdogs, and will take notice once issues begin to directly affect them, especially where  civil liberty and privacy are concerned. Many of the technological threats from the oligarchy are hollow and laughable, with hacktivists ready to take down infrastructures, a deep net of both criminals and innocent privacy-seekers, and readying domestic right wing militias gone unchecked for decades. How will the 1% sustain themselves when the police switch sides, when the cities crumble, and when the serf class they were brainwashing riots in the streets for food, medicine, and pay cable? It is not the mainstream news, or Washington, or Wall Street who ultimately decides. It is not even the various fringe or voluminous protest movements. When the average and usually disconnected American casts their public opinions, that is when change will be forced, that is when the snowball cannot be stopped, and that is when the sides will be defined for the history books.

When does fucking the system cross over? As Robespierre found out, when total madness ensues, and everybody loses their heads.

*”Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, nobody is entitled to their own facts.”

**”You know what they say about opinions… everybody’s got one!”

John Rawls and American Society in the 21st Century

Note: This paper has the added advantage of not being about abortion.

John Rawls, 20th Century American philosopher, died November 26th, 2002. Rawls was a man who believed in the American system, the government, the bicameral legislature, the judicial system, and most of all capitalism. An attack on American soil, such as the September 11th attacks, was also an attack on all the ideals that he, and most of us as Americans, hold dear.
After reading his biography, I pictured Rawls to be sitting on his porch listening to bluegrass or perhaps even smooth jazz, smoking a pipe. Apple pie cooling on the window sill. His son Opie is playing America’s favorite pastime, baseball, and Aunt Bea is in the house packing fireworks for the fourth of July. There is a Rockwell painting above the mantel, which itself is adorned with football trophies and war medals. Just below the mantel are hung stockings from Christmas, because who in America has time to take down Christmas decorations when a Tom Hanks movie is on television ever other week? It’s the American dream. Mr. Television, Milton Berle, Road To movies, Captain America comics and other such clichés.
I bet France hasn’t got as many clichés!

Despite Rawls’ belief in democracy, in the American government, he may not agree with the steps taken by President Bush after September 11th. Part of the American experience is self-sufficiency, individuality. At least in the realistic sense that we are as self-sufficient as can be expected in a group mentality. We rely on others for our electricity, groceries, even water. But contributing members of society can provide for themselves and their families without fear of government intervention or an oppressive New World Order.
Individual accomplishments set people above and beyond in Rawls’ ideal society. The poor are poor through a set of unfortunate circumstances, sure, but the rich are rich because they worked an honest, hard life to get there. The harder you work, the farther you’ll go. In that sense, Rawls is clearly conservative. He believes in helping the poor, in fact he thinks it’s morally necessary, but it shouldn’t be federally mandated.
(And while we’re discussing deontological ethics, would federally mandated welfare really be more morally responsible?)
The Institute for American Values has discussed the American ideology in 1998’s report, A Call to Civil Society.
First and foremost is the conviction that all persons possess transcendent human dignity, and that consequently each person must always be treated as an end, never as a means.
Also, because our individual and collective access to truth is imperfect, most disagreements about values call for civility, openness to other views, and reasonable argument in pursuit of truth. Hey, that’s why I’m writing the paper, right?
Finally is the freedom of conscience and freedom of religion – the twin freedoms which many people, from George Washington to today’s finest historians, believe to be the foundation and precondition of all individual freedoms.

“What is most striking about these values is that everyone can participate. Because they apply to all persons without distinction, they cannot be used to exclude anyone from recognition and respect based on the particularities of race, language, memory, or religion.”
So in the light of these beliefs, it would seem logical that acts taken by the Department of Homeland Security recently would seem atrocious to Rawls. Databases on citizens detailing credit history, criminal history, and work history, not just available to law enforcement or creditors but any average citizen. The detaining of non-citizens and residents due to the possibility of terrorism based solely on race or religion.
Even though Rawls believes that a strong government should govern the people (what a crazy thought), he also believes in checks in balances, that most of the work should be done not by the lawmakers but by you and I. Attending town meetings, voting, and writing our congressmen or women. The happy medium between government regulation and self-rule. But you don’t need a lesson in civics.

Given the threat of terrorism, the nation must now determine the proper balance between freedom and security, liberty and lockdown.
During a news briefing in December at the White House, Steve Cooper, CIO at the Department of Homeland Security, said privacy issues would be one of the five guiding principles used to develop the administration’s cybersecurity protection strategy.
The VISIT program (which will take digital fingerprints and photographs of foreign nationals entering and exiting the country) proposed by the DHS, came coupled with a Privacy Impact Assessment. It explains the flow of data from department to department.
“Getting the balance right between security and privacy will be a pendulum,” Cooper said. But at least they’re trying, right?
Good invasions of privacy…
Bad invasions of privacy…
In May, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft released the FBI from the requirement that surveillance and collection of personal data be based on probable cause. Acts taken by Homeland Security in their search for terrorists and domestic espionage may trample on the rights of those home and abroad, some believe. However, large technological strides have been taken, and the personal information collected, so far, has brought many a notorious villain to justice.
Of course, many people wonder where this trend will eventually lead? Secret warrants, secret courts, black helicopters and Martians in tubes beneath Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Tracking collars on our necks and UPC tattoos on our hands. The mark of the beast.
Ever see that TV show The Prisoner?
The proposal to form a National Counter Terrorism Center, one more organization that will collect and database the information on American citizens and residents, seems to come straight out of George Orwell’s 1984.
James S. Gilmore, one of the main opponents of the government control, has formed the Gilmore Commission (what a modest fellow), for the purposes of countering and reporting to the Congress and the president on matters of invasions of privacy. Gilmore has admitted that incidents in the past, such as the Red Scare, warranted federal action. The difference today, he says, is that “we have the technology to watch everybody all the time, intercept all communications all the time.”
And, as with most large websites, the Homeland Security website has included a Privacy Policy. It mentions the use of internet cookies, IP ranges, if someone links to the site, et cetera. The usual fare. In the context of such a large government organization, however, I cannot help but smile.
Conspiracy, much?

Let’s look at the opposite sides of the argument. Are small compromises in freedoms regrettable but necessary? And what about the larger rights that we as human beings, and not just Americans would be forfeiting if we ignored the problem of terrorism altogether? Is the right to keep your internet history clear from the public eye really more important that the right to sleep unabashed on an airplane? The right to go to school, work, or simply walk the streets without fear of a plane dropping on your head, or a suicide bomber jumping from the crowd and screaming “Jihad!”
To many Americans, the failure to uphold rights may seem an abstract concern in the face of the very concrete exploding threat posed by terrorist attacks.
And what rights are we really giving up? We can still say what we want, own as many guns as we want, worship any way we want if at all, and get the education we desire. Dear God what will we do if we can’t get our double mocha lattes with an injection of overpriced arrogance or our Sears catalog?
I’ll come back to that.
Many people cry foul at the alleged invasions of privacy that government agencies are taking. Conspiracy theories range from the subtle but realistic Big Brother threat involving monitoring what songs you download to the ultimate conspiracy theory; that September 11th itself was a government coup. Normal, sane people scoff at such allegations. There is nothing to be gained! And what threat do fourteen-year-olds pose if they download Garth Brooks songs off of Kazaa? Why would the FBI even care? They (mostly) don’t.

Yes, it’s true and it’s sad how many people of Middle-Eastern descent have been wrongfully prosecuted in this country after September 11th. But keep in mind that all of the high-jackers on all of the planes that day were of Middle-Eastern descent. Racial profiling? Maybe. But if a man with a six-inch boil on his forehead mugs me in a parking lot, and the police lineup contains a man with a six-inch boil on his forehead, you better believe I’m picking out the guy with the six-inch boil.
Ok. Stupid comparison. But ignoring the semi-logical answer of “we’re suspicious of Middle-Easterners because most terrorists are Middle-Eastern”, answer me some other questions… Why doesn’t every American duck and cover when they see a teenager in a grocery store wearing a black trench coat? Would these people accept mail from a grizzled white man from Michigan who lives in a cabin? Are Japanese allowed to fly crop-dusters over Hawaiian soil?
Let’s face it. Some terrorists are Middle-Eastern, and some Middle-Easterners are terrorists, but one obviously doesn’t necessitate the other.
People in America have problems with Venn diagrams.

What exactly is the problem? Recently, the Human Rights Watch organization wrote a report detailing infractions against people in this, our very own country.  Most of those directly affected have been non-U.S. citizens, but that doesn’t negate their basic human rights, or those afforded to them even as aliens in this country.
Separate chapters detail the unjustified secrecy of the government’s practices, including: “the secret incarceration of post-September 11 detainees and immigration proceedings closed to the public; custodial interrogations without access to counsel; arbitrarily prolonged confinement, including detention without charge; and the deplorable conditions-including solitary confinement-as well as the physical abuse to which some detainees have been subjected.
Immediately after the September 11 attacks, the Department of Justice-through constituent agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)-began a process of questioning thousands of people who might have information about or connections to terrorist activity. The decision of whom to question often appeared to be haphazard, at times prompted by law enforcement agents’ random encounters with foreign male Muslims or neighbors’ suspicions. The questioning led to the arrest and incarceration of as many as 1,200 non-citizens, although the exact number remains uncertain. Of those arrested, 752 were charged with immigration violations.
Using immigration law violations as a basis for detention permitted the Department of Justice to avoid the greater safeguards in the criminal law-for example, the requirement of probable cause for arrest, the right to be brought before a judge within forty-eight hours of arrest, and the right to court-appointed counsel. While the alleged visa violations provided a lawful basis for seeking to deport these non-citizens, the Justice Department’s actions constituted an end run around constitutional and international legal requirements governing criminal investigations.
While an immigration law violation may justify deportation, it does not in itself justify detention after arrest. The INS has the legal authority to keep a non-citizen confined pending conclusion of his or her deportation proceedings only if there is evidence of the individual’s dangerousness or risk of flight. Whereas most persons accused of overstaying their visas, working on a tourist visa, or other common immigration law violations are routinely released from jail while their cases proceed, the Department of Justice has sought to keep “special interest” detainees confined in the absence of evidence that they were dangerous or a flight risk. Their release from jail has been contingent on government “clearance,” that is a decision that they were not linked to nor had knowledge about terrorist activities.
An example from the same report:
Tiffanay Hughes, a U.S. citizen, and her husband, Ali Al-Maqtari, a Yemeni citizen, were searched and detained at an army base in Kentucky where she was a recruit on September 15, 2001, for no stated reason. She said that two days earlier, when she went to pick up her orders in Massachusetts, an officer told her repeatedly that she could not wear a hejab, a headdress used by many Muslim women. She protested and said it was a religious symbol. She said that the officer replied, “Don’t let people know that you’re Muslim. It’s dangerous.” Hughes believed that her identification card photo, in which she was wearing the hejab and which was allegedly posted at the army base guardhouse when she arrived there, and her speaking a foreign language (French) with her husband may have raised suspicions. Hughes was followed by three officers everywhere she went for almost two weeks while at the army base. The army encouraged her to take an honorable discharge, and she did so on September 28. Her husband was detained for fifty-two days, mostly in solitary confinement. He was charged with an immigration violation for ten days of “unlawful presence” in the United States while he changed from a visitor’s visa to a visa sponsored by his wife. He had been released on bond.”
Its not just the government’s mentality that provides racial discrimination since September 11th. Additionally, there have been reports of violence against people of Middle-Eastern descent. Hate crimes such as the murder of Ali Almansoop, an American-Yemeni native and hardworking father of four, spark a sense of dismay at the extremes that some people will take their hatred concerning the attacks. Septemer 10th was a normal day. The next day, we were all shocked and certainly outraged, but the majority of us didn’t pick up a gun and murder discriminately.
Despite this, there are more Middle-Eastern victims of terrorism than there are American victims. Not to minimize American deaths, but more innocent Middle-Easterners have been blown up than voluntary suicide bombers. But that’s a different rant, we were talking about America, I believe.
“Abdo Ali Ahmed, 51, a Yemeni shopkeeper, was killed in Reedley, California, on Sept. 29 after receiving a death threat and a hate note deriding his ethnicity. Ahmed was a father of eight who had lived in California for 35 years.”
I bring this up, not because it is the fault of the Justice Department or the president. Quite the contrary, I will connect this evidence later to show how the government may be even more necessary due to this hateful mentality.
However, hopefully these murderers don’t represent or speak for all of us. Though we can discount these lone nuts as lone nuts and repress the hatred imparted upon us by former generations, we cannot overlook the violence, and we certainly cannot discount the outrages committed by our very own government.
Overstepping the boundaries? Without a doubt.
In some cases, the Department of Justice detained people of interest to the Once de Septembre investigation by obtaining arrest warrants for them as material witnesses, which is a perfectly legal responsibility on the parts of law enforcement agencies. Some individuals, however, may have been detained because their names resembled those of the alleged hijackers. “The only thing a lot of these people are guilty of is having the Arabic version of Bob Jones for a name,” said Bob Doguim, an FBI spokesman in Houston. Muhammed is the most popular name on the planet, by the by.
Whatever the reasoning, the problem is real and… unless I’m mistaken in the completion of this overused phrase… the problem is now.

But I am not writing all this to convince you that the actions of the Department of Homeland Security are unethical. I’m sure that we’re all aware of that by now. I’m not writing to begrudge the government or ramble about Civil Rights infractions. In all honesty, I don’t even care that terribly much. I mean, let me be honest about this because it’s the ethical thing to do. It may be the only ethical thing I do because I love to laugh at the misfortunes of others. I think George Burns said it best with “Tragedy is when I stub my toe, Comedy is when you fall into an open manhole and die.” Also known as Schadenfreude. So I revel in the stories of people like the following:
On November 1, 2001, two FBI agents went to the workplace of a Palestinian civil engineer in New York City. They informed him that they had received an anonymous tip: that he had a gun, which was not true. The engineer suspects that a contractor with a grudge against him sent the tip to the FBI. Five days later, INS agents came to his workplace and arrested him for overstaying his visa. The man’s visa had indeed expired but he had applied for an adjustment of status; he was therefore legally in the country. He received a visa extension from the INS office in Vermont while he was detained. He was incarcerated for twenty-two days before being released on bond.
I laugh at that because it is not my tragedy, its my comedy. Perhaps that is part of the problem with America in the 21st century, but I digress.

To re-iterate. This paper is about Rawls’ possible reactions and thoughts on both Once de Septembre and our nation’s reactions. That in mind, what would he have to say specifically concerning the detainees in the wake of… the tragedy.
If terrorism is such a threat to our opulent way of life, which we all hold dear, then maybe the ends do justify the means.
But perhaps the dismissal of the rights of the few end up hurting the whole. Part of our mindset that makes us American is the recognition of the importance of the rights that are the foundation of American democracy. Indeed, rather than weakening national security, protection of civil liberties is a hallmark of strong, democratic policies.
Rawls would certainly agree. In his 1971 book, A Theory of Justice, Rawls sketches a complex and well-defined notion of how a liberal democratic state could make a positive impact in terms of being redistributive–that is, how such a state could insure that its members were provided with basic rights and more or less equal opportunities. Justice means that the same fundamental liberties are given to all citizens and it means ideological neutrality of the state. In later works, including Political Liberalism, Rawls deals with the thorny issue of cultural pluralism, and how a liberal state could hope to incorporate the life-plans of many different cultures under one roof.
Ah, the blissful veil of ignorance. Sweet bliss!
I mean, how is a Yemeni shopkeeper supposed to work hard and honest and get rich if he’s dead or deported? That being the case, when we set a precedent in history (which was really set with the detainment of Japanese during World War II, but who‘s counting?), it not only undermines the rights of a thousand non-citizens now, but possibly millions of thousands of American babies born in… the future!! Will these futurebabies be put into camps for the menial labors that benefit the rich and the few? Will rights such as freedom of speech and due process be suspended under fears that radicals will blow up not only themselves but others around them?
I don’t know what to believe anymore!! (Note: When you flip flop this quickly it’s not called flip-flopping, its called inner turmoil.)
True. There is no great conspiracy. The Illuminati and the Zionists didn’t work out a plan to make the Muslim community look bad by crashing airplanes into the symbols of economic trade in America. Bush isn’t reviewing his Napoleonic plans for world dominion while stroking a white furry cat. John Ashcroft doesn’t have ACME blueprints on how to stop the artists and liberals and attach ACME tracking collars on all the writers and poets.
And let me tell you something that may blow your mind. And this is coming from a self-described libertarian. I do not believe that the infringements on privacy or constitutional rights were intentional or malicious. I believe that the Department of Homeland Security has taken precautions to do what they think is necessary to ensure our safety. They have been walking on eggshells to tread a fine line between Martial Law and a world driven by terrorist fear.

Let’s take a look at some of their accomplishments taken straight from their very own Homeland Security website:
At the top of the list are improved border functions, which have resulted in better service, shorter delays and tighter security. Homeland Security Deputy Secretary James Loy said the border inspection process was unified to speed the free flow of goods and people, and to keep terrorists and criminals out of the United States. In addition, the department also took measures to enhance aviation security. Loy has said that in less than a year 50,000 newly trained screeners, air marshals, along with state of the art technology helped make airline travel safer and more secure.
The department also took a closer look at the Internet-based Student and Exchange Visitor Information System to maintain current information on non- immigrant students and exchange visitors coming and going to and from the United States.
He said the system has ensured that foreign students are not delayed upon entry and those “posing as students” or seeking entry to fraudulent schools are stopped in their tracks. Last fall 300,000 students were successfully cleared for study through the program, while some 200 others were sent home, he said.
Another department initiative has been expansion of its Container Security Initiative in an effort to ensure the 20,000 containers entering U.S. ports every day are safe. Loy said the department has increased inspections at ports around the world.
He said the department will install U.S. VISIT program equipment at the nation’s 50 busiest land ports as well as deploy aerial surveillance and expand CSI to more seaports around the world. The US-VISIT system is a DHS program that uses biometric identifiers such as fingerprints from visitors to assist border control officers in making admission decisions. The system also helps the department verify the identity of incoming visitors and confirm compliance with visa and immigration policies.
The department will phase in a system over the next three months that will provide secure real-time cyber connectivity among all 50 states and territories. In addition, a network of secure video conferencing capability between governors’ offices will be in place by July, he said.
The department also plans to build on existing programs to share information, because “pieces of information that were never important before have all of a sudden become important,” he explained.
Also the department is working on a solution for better information sharing and communication, as well as interoperability in equipment and training, among first responders and state and local levels.
Another priority lies in further protecting U.S. borders. Loy noted that every year 500 million people, 130 million vehicles, 2.5 million rail cars and more than 11 million containers are processed at borders across the country. “The challenge of developing a fully integrated border and port security system in the context of a global economy amid a global war is huge,” he said. “And yet the consequences of not achieving this goal is even greater.”

And let’s not forget that we went all the way to Iraq to shove flashlights down Saddam Hussein’s open craw. Now that’s what I call… Texas Justice!
It’s obvious to most, (excepting those that are set in their government hatin’ ways), that Walker Texas President and his council of Good Old Boys are actually working for the American populace, for better or worse.

Let’s return to Rawls for a moment. For though he may be dead… uh… well hell, the paper’s about him, anyway. Rawls describes his ‘Great Society’ as needing three specific things in order to operate successfully towards his Thomas Moore-like Utopia. He sees a need for government regulation and lawmaking. Although Rawls may not be happy to the extent that these regulations have been taken, it’s certainly better than the alternative. A lackadaisical government who sees a righteous injustice and replies with an apathetic “feh.” By comparison, we can assume that Rawls would be content, if not actually happy, with American society in the 21st century.
The other two requirement for the ‘Great Society’ however, don’t measure up by any means or stretch of the imagination. The second need, he says, is a reasonable acceptance of the norms and values of others. Along with the hate crimes mentioned earlier and the obvious racial tensions in many parts of the United States to this day, there are religious close-mindedness, sexual harassment, shortsightedness when it comes to lifestyle choices, and a general veneer of hatred still perpetuated to this day. Beyond that, many Americans cannot accept the beliefs of other world cultures. Eat dog? Barbaric! Not eat beef? Close-minded! Communist? Atrocious! The French? Well… maybe I agree with them on that.
The third and most important prerequisite for the ‘Great Society’ is perhaps the saddest of all since we aren’t achieving it. It ties in closely to the second, it seems to be the perfect balance to the first. It’s the responsibility of Americans to take a hand in their own system. Many members of the population fall far short of their expectations in Rawls’ theoretical utopian democratic society. The same people who sit at home and complain about the invasions of privacy or mistreatment of the elderly or school shootings… they may not even vote. Hell, they may not even stay on the phone long enough to answer all the questions on the Gallup Poll. The responsibility falls on our shoulders alone to take an active role. The value of public deliberation is not only important to increase personal reflection, but to ensure that each has a voice in the system.

If the people who don’t have a voice get deported, and if the people who do have a voice don’t bother to show up to any rallies, perhaps the Justice Department is justified in overstepping its boundaries. Maybe they’re not so much exceeding their authority as they are simply picking up the slack.
Would Rawls approve of the government’s actions? More importantly would he approve of the actions or inactions of the American society as a whole? Do we, through inaction, forfeit our rights? Throw up our hands and say, “let Josh Ashcroft take care of it, Hogan’s Heroes is on!”
I’d like to think that John Rawls hasn’t given up on the American Dream. That is, the American Dream to work hard and have the best society in the world, one that every other country would actually want to model itself after… voluntarily. Not the American Dream where a 40% voter turnout is high, 60% of Americans overweight is low, and the driving morality depends week to week on gas prices.

Or have the terrorists truly won?

BIBLIOGRAPHY

A Call to Civil Society. New York: Institute for American Values, 1998.
October 2001.

Black, Jane. “Privacy Progress at Homeland Security.” BusinessWeek. January 8th, 2004.

Bohman, James, and William Rehg. Deliberative Democracy. MIT Press. Nov. 7, 1997.

Decker, Kevin S. “John Rawls.” http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/1643/rawls.html. 2001.

Hanania, Ray. “Arabs and Muslims killed after September 11th related violence” http://www.hanania.com/hatevictims.html

Hanania, Ray. “Response to September 11th Driven by Bias Not Reason” http://www.hanania.com. Sept. 9th, 2003.

Kymlicka, Will. Liberalism, Community & Culture. Oxford Press, NY. March, 1991.

Pogge, William. Realizing Rawls. Cornell University Press. December, 1989.

“Presumption of Guilt: Human Rights Abuses of Post-September 11 Detainees” Human Rights Watch. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/us911/USA0802.htm

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. 1971.

Rawls, John. “Kantian Constructivism Moral Theory,” Journal of Philosophy. September 1980.

Rawls, John. Political Liberalism. 1993.

Sample, Doug, Sgt. 1st Class. “Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Lists Accomplishments” American Forces Press Service. Washington. Feb. 25th, 2004.

Sandel, Michael. Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy. Belknap Press. April, 1998.

Verton, Dan. “Homeland security approach to privacy challenged.” Computerworld. http://www.computerworld.com/securitytopics/security/ privacy/story. March 7th, 2003.