Posted tagged ‘Evil’

Today in GOP Sociopathology

December 20, 2013

We’ve got two headliners today.

First up, child labor cheerleader Jack Kingston, a congressman from Georgia now looking for a promotion to the Senate, claimed that he’s no hater of the poor for saying this:

“Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money,” Kingston said at a Jackson County Republican Party meeting, according to video surfaced by the Huffington Post. “But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”

But nah, that wasn’t aimed at shaming and constraining the poor, swears Kingston (R-eternally misunderstood).  Rather,

“This is not targeted to any one group,” Kingston said. “It would be very helpful for kids in any socio-economic group to do chores and learn the work ethic….I never did say poor kids.”

Over to you, M. Anatole France:

Thomas_kennington_orphans_1885

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

And then there is that noted scholar of the Civil Rights era, Ian Bayne, a Republican candidate running for the nomination to challenge Rep. Bill Foster, an actual smart person and a Democrat representing Illinois’s 11th district.  Mr Bayne identifies the ties that bind two characters most observers of lesser penetration would never have uncovered:

“In December 1955, Rosa Parks took a stand against an unjust societal persecution of black people, and in December 2013, Robertson took a stand against persecution of Christians,” Bayne wrote in the email. “What Parks did was courageous.”

Bayne added in the email that “what Robertson did was courageous too.”

That would be Duck Dynast Phil Robertson, who, as we all know, is convinced that African Americans with whom he worked in the pre-Civil Rights era were, as he put it “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”  And who says in the context of a current civil rights struggle, that gay men and women are bound not for equality before the law, but for Sheol:

“Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers–they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right. [via Ta-Nehisi Coates]

So, let’s recap:  Rosa Parks risks jail, bodily harm, quite possibly death to secure the minimal rights of citizenship for Americans who have been subjugated through a reign of terror for a century since the end of outright chattel slavery.  Some guy spouts hate at blacks and gays.

Just the same.

Ladles and Jellyspoons:  Your modern GOP.  A party that does not vomit out such characters cannot be allowed anywhere near the reins of power.

Or, as my man Cato would say, Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est

Image: Thomas Kennington, Orphans,1885.

Alienating The Electorate, Nineteen Million Americans At A Time

December 5, 2012

Ladles and Jellyspoons!

As Anne Laurie has so ably documented, your modern GOP has once again managed to be both vicious and stupidly self-destructive.  This time, it’s their wisdom in the decision to piss on  some 19% of the American people — from a considerable height — in the process of  blocking ratification of the UN treaty on the rights of the disabled.*

The wickedness at the heart of the trumped up objections that led 38 Republican senators to tell our disabled brothers and sisters that they do not rate equal protection under the law is, I think, obvious.  It’s well documented, at any rate. (Link via Anne Laurie.)

So, yeah.  To channel my inner Dennis Green,** the Republicans are who we thought we were.

Evil.

Dumb (also too).

Fresh on the heels of repeated, reasonably high profile forays into insulting Obama voters, minority voters, Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans, and whoever they’ll figure out they hate next, it turns out there are a fair number of disabled folks in this country.

How many?

According to the US Census Bureau [pdf], as of 2010, 56.7 million Americans from the civilian, non-institutionalized population had a disability — that’s 18.7% of the US population.  Of those, 38.3 million, 12.6 percent, had a severe disability (as defined in Table 1 of the linked report).***  

Bringing it down to the sharp edge of what it takes to make it through the day,  “About 12.3 million people aged 6 and older (4.4%) needed assistance with one or more activities of daily living (ADLs) or instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs).  (See p. 9 of the linked report for definitions of those terms of art.)

That’s a lot of folks, no matter what level of disability you choose to emphasize.  They’ve all got families — and that’s a lot more people.  [Full disclosure -- this is an issue that has at times, though not now, impinged on my own family.] They have friends too…and you get the point.

Befoere stating the obvious about the wisdom of the GOP vote in light of these facts, let me drop in a bit of anecdotage.

A few Sundays ago, I was up in New Hampshire, knocking on doors to get out our vote.  I and my partner were nearing the end of our list, and, after a rough beginning — first stop at a house where the vehemence with which we were ordered off the property bordered on the “or I’ll get my gun” territory — we’d had mostly good quick conversations, the “yup, I’m voting for your guy” kind.

We had split up at that point, my colleague taking a couple of houses down the road while I walked up a little hill to an old house on one of those big New Hampshire yards that always look like they’re thinking about being a farm.  It was a gorgeous afternoon, and I saw one woman out doing yard work, so I didn’t bother with the door bell.

She was soft spoken, and little reserved, and she told me that she really didn’t do politics, that I needed to talk to her partner.  She very kindly walked me a little further up the hill and called out, and then almost a cliche of a tough old New Hampshire bird came rolling down on an ATV to talk to me — a small woman, well into middle age (look who’s talking, pilgrim!), lots of daylight on that face over the years, thick New Hampshire accent and an air of utter no-nonsense competence.  Reminded me a lot of the best sergeants I’ve met over the years.

She liked to talk as much as her partner craved quiet, and we had a great conversation, sharing our disdain and horror at the person and prospects of W. Mitt Romney.  She agreed to volunteer for the campaign and I gave her contact info, and then we got to trading greatest hits (the horse as tax deduction! “Our turn!”).  Then I mentioned the 47%, and we starting going over who actually lives inside that number — the old, I said, students…the disabled.

At that, the first women I’d met suddenly spoke up. She’d been standing off to one side the entire time (ten minutes or so, now), clearly defining herself as audience and not participant in our little GOP loathe-fest.  But now it was as if a valve blew.  She was, she said, herself disabled, couldn’t work.  Was it really true, she asked me, that Romney had said that about the 47%? That she herself was a taker?

Yup, I said.

That’s it, she said.  That makes me mad.

We talked a bit longer — really it was a grand way to spend twenty minutes on a stunning New England afternoon, revving each other up to take action on our own and our country’s behalf.  The sun was kind, the trees still had some color, and I was talking to two people who were not just going to vote, but do whatever they could to drive a stake through the vampires that both exsanguinate our politics and work to deny the possibility of American dreams for so many of our fellow citizens.

So though I think it both tragedy and travesty that 38 scumbags senators blew up the UN treaty, I take a residue of comfort in seeing the Grand Old Party reaffirm its commitment to alienate an ever greater majority of the American people.  The party cannot collapse too soon — but I suppose I could say we owe our friends in the minority a debt of thanks for doing so much on their own to advance that goal.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est

*That treaty would, by the way, be the international agreement that would enshrine one more example of American Exceptionalism (in the good sense), with the US actually playing the role of that shining city on a hill that offers a light to the nations, being as it is more or less the enshrinement in international law of the landmark protections and perspective of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

**Get him out of me. RIGHT NOW!

***those numbers are based on sampling, not derived from the total census, and the report records a 90% confidence level in the significance of the estimates — which isn’t great.  But the broad magnitudes are what matters here, not the decimal places. Tens of millions of folks with disability is the key take away for this argument.

Image:  El Greco, Christ healing the blind, c. 1567

 

 

Andrew Sullivan Fouls (Another) One Off — and Then Grotesquely Strikes Out: God, Evil, and Auschwitz edition, part two

October 14, 2009

Way, way back in blog years (aka, about two weeks ago), I posted the first of a three parter on Andrew Sullivan’s follies as he attempted to waffle his way around the theodicy problem.  That’s how to harmonize belief in an omnipotent and omniscient loving God with the existence of evil in the world, preferably with a sophistication (if not the blunt practicality) exceeding that of the old aphorism, “Malt does more than Milton can/To reconcile God’s ways to man.”

In that first post, I did not engage the argument head on, though, just to be open about my own dog in this hunt, I think that at this point in human history it is abundantly clear that if you wish to retain a God with personality and direct agency in the world, that deity would have to take the responsibility for deeds so grotesque that Einstein’s line — “only his nonexistence excuses him” — seems to me the only plausible response.*

For me, better to reign in hell — or rather, better, to act with firmness in the right as we may see the right** on this perhaps-not-fallen earth — than bow to any doctrine that pays homage to the author of so much misery.

But dogma, or leaps of faith, may lead others to a different conclusion.  I spent much of the prior post describing what I understood to be Sullivan’s position to argue that his error wasn’t that he thinks suffering is a tool for harrowing faith to the point of redemption– for him. Rather, he ran into trouble when he asserted that his personal experience of his God’s love in response to his pain offered anything more than an individual, subjective kind of knowing.

Such solopsism is a venial sin.***  It’s hardly unprecedented in human affairs that one Andrew Sullivan might mistake deeply felt personal experience for a truth universally to be acknowledged.

But  where he truly stumbled was when he tried to demonstrate that his theodicy possesses a naturalistic justification:  that the difference between human beings and animals lies in our  awareness of suffering.  He claimed that our conscious emotions in the anticipation of our own deaths and other losses enables God to turn our suffering for a spiritual purpose.

This is, I argued, just another God-of-the-gaps wheeze, and betrays deep ignorance of what people who actually study animal behavior and culture have been talking about for a quarter of a century or more.

That’s no surprise.  I’ve noted elsewhere that Sullivan is an innumerate thinker with a purely instrumental — and quite disdainful — view of what science actually does.

Here, as a warm up to my final, science-free rant on Sullivan’s biggest failure in this round of theodicy cage matches, I just want to add one thought.  Sullivan’s fear of science — not of any particular fact to be uncovered, but the terror that the enterprise as a whole really does have something to say at odds with his most deeply held beliefs — can be seen in the tricks he plays with language, as much as in any explicit argument.

To put it another way:  you can see how much this stuff matters to him by the way he commits the very sin he condemns so swiftly when performed by those attempting to justify more obvious wrongs.  When someone calls torture “enhanced interrogation” — Sullivan knows what is being done, and contemns it.

But when he says “Darwinist” in the title of this post, “What is Evil to a Darwinist?”  he attempts the same sleight of hand.  By mislabeling the object of scrutiny he attempts to weight the scales towards a false conclusion.  (And yes, I know that the title is taken from the text of the email he quotes below; I’ll get to that in a moment.)

Sullivan’s readers know precisely what the construction “Darwinist” implies; it parallels his term “Christianist” — which denotes an ostensibly religious person committed to a particularist and overly literal interpretation of Christianity that blinds him or  her to the variety of messages and meanings one might find in more modest faith.

A Darwinist in this context is an evolutionary literalalist and a fanatical materialist, blind to the reality of spiritual experience.  Worse, he or she is a member of a cult, slavisly serving the author of a revealed text, presented to humanity by none other than the devil’s chaplain himself.

Of course, the proper term, in reference to Jerry Coyne, Sullivan’s principal antagonist in this latest round of the theodicy chronicles, and to the relevant group as a whole,  is “evolutionary biologist.”

But if you then used that term, then the offending headline asks this question:  “What is evil to an evolutionary biologist?”  — and the fraud becomes obvious.

What is evil to a physicist?  To a diesel mechanic?  To a cook?  To me, to you, to Andrew Sullivan, to my nine year old?****

There are evils specific to, say, an evolutionary researcher.  Lying is evil — and not lying in general, but specifically committing fraud or deliberately obscuring what is known or not in a given field.  The Creation Museum is thus evil — but it is so within the specific confines of its claim of scientific authority.  If it were simply a religious exhibit, conceived and presented as such, it might be silly, but it would not be sinful, at least not within the context of the professional concerns of an evolutionary biologist.

Evil to a cook? According to Ruth Reichl, contempt for the cuisine you present.

Evil to a kid:  breaking small “f” faith, arriving earlier than discussed to end a play-date or failing to launch into as promised the next goddamn iteration of the Lego game you’ve only repeated 73 times that day (not that I mind, mind you)…

That is:  If you are a scientist, or a banker, or any person working in the world, then (while I agree with Hilary Putnam and many others who dispute the fact-value dichotomy) the evil to be understood in the theodicy issue is not one of a bounded professional ethics, but moral reasoning.  And pace apologists, one does not need a single divinity, a single text…and/or one does not need all of a text as an indispensible aid to such judgment.  (To see what I mean, look no further than the contrast between the moral worlds of Samuel, chapter 15, and that of Micah, chapter 6.)

But if you are a Darwinist, then, like the Christian, or the Christianist, you are on the spot.  You aren’t a human being with expertise in a certain area and intellectual method.  You are a believer, a member of a cult, a person of the (a) book.  Your failure to advance a theory of evil to contest with that of the revealed-religious believer is dispostive; the laurels must go to those who enter the lists.

Hence the usefulness of the such rhetorical posturing, and the deceit.

And what is most galling about this is that Sullivan truly does know better.  He has no time, none at all, for the enablers of torture.  He has justified contempt for every attempt to weasel some language of essential difference to justify distinctions in law between gay and straight.  He has no patience for coded racism.  He knows langauge, and he knows how it can be used for harm…or dare I say it, for evil ends.

No excuses then, for this.

One last note:  he may defend his headline as merely a quote from a post that is in its entirety a reader’s email.  That doesn’t wash, at least not for me.  First — he chose to run the email himself, and he bears responsibility for its rhetorical sins as well as whatever else it may contain.  Second, he wrote the headline.  He had alternatives.  He chose this one; he owns the word, and its sins.

*from a letter written in response to learning that his friend Nernst’s two sons had been killed in action in World War I.

**and yes, I am aware of the crucial edit there.

***though it certainly can lead pretty directly to literally mortal ones.

****I’m deliberately not delving into the folly of the post itself here — but as this headline was in fact taken from the linchpin passage in this reader’s email, you may get a sense of the poverty of the argument there.

Images:  “The Ruins of Lisbon,” after the Nov. 1, 1755 earthquake and tsunami that destroyed that city. German copperplate engraving.

Darwin cartoon from the London Sketchbook, 1874


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