Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Are Some People Born Slaves, If So, Then What?

But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature? 

Without sociopathic tendencies most people need to dehumanize someone in order to dominate them for slavery to properly function. In Aristotle's lifetime the slaves were barbarians. Barbarians were considered anyone who wasn't of an educated Greek order. Whether it's religion, race, or class distinction the ability to place the slave class in a category of being other is not just a postulate, but a constitutive part of justifying the immorality of the institution.

The three dominant western religions all have scriptures that can be used for the justification of slavery. When you add religious approval to in-group out-group bias, you have a moral slip n slide in which the use of humans as tools for production is acceptable. 

This explains the subjugation of people, but does nothing to deal with the question of someone being a "born slave". I'm comfortable knowing there's no serious conversation about moving our culture back to a place where people, who have a predisposition for servitude, could be easily exploited by individuals or market factors. We should strive for a society in which we actively prevent the exploitation of people, even those who may even want it. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Taking Back Their Country: I Don't Want to Go

The free press and the right of the people to dissent without fear of criminal prosecution is a constitutive part of our continuing attempt to perfect our union. I look forward to reading the comments section on blogs and the editorials in my local newspaper. The passion that some of our fellow citizens write with is palpable. We share space with some interesting people.

Over the last few years I've noticed a recurring theme among several of the comments and editorials of different publications: the quest to, "take back our country". This America that my fellow citizens long for seems like a fascinating place. When I close my eyes I picture Mayberry. The only problem with that is Aunt Bee and Opie were fictional characters. From 1960-68 (the years the Andy Griffith Show ran). Medgar Evers, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated (in that order), the Vietnam war had started under false pretenses (we admitted the Gulf of Tonkin incident didn't happen) and the National Guard had to be sent to the south numerous times to enforce the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Topeka, Kansas decision (ending segregation in public schools). In 1961 there were over 60 churches burnt to the ground by American terrorists.

I'm leary of a trip much further back than that. We live in a country that has overcome great obstacles, but we were never a perfect union. If we push that fairytale out of our mind, and look at how far we've come I think we can appreciate the journey even more.

Mayberry seems like a great place to live, but the reality is: just as The Andy Griffith Show was taping their first episodes students were risking their lives in organized sit-ins less than 100 miles away. Often times the further we get from something the better it looks, but historical context and empirical data have a way of removing the thick clouds we can find ourselves viewing the past through. I long for the day that the promises of citizenship apply to everyone, until then I'll think long thoughts and write letters.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Month of Resistance

This is the first day of the month of resistance. There are dozens of events planned throughout the month of October designed to bear witness to the epidemic of police brutality, and the Stop-and-frisk policy that criminalizes black and brown existence in New York City. 

This movement has been organized and promoted with virtually no help from the traditional media. As the month progresses and the protests can't be ignored any further the organizers and participants will undoubtedly be demonized. Don't fall for this; the people making the arguments are secondary to the arguments they're making. Stop-and-Frisk is a direct violation of the 4th amendment.

I'm "amazed" that our 2nd amendment "patriots" haven't been more vocal against stop-and-frisk. The sad truth is that many of them are more concerned with the majorities 2nd amendment rights than the 4th amendment rights of minorities. It's tragicomic how a society (any society) just assumes the humanity and dignity of some of its citizens, while others have to constantly prove their right to be treated as a person. Johnny Carson once asked Malcolm X what does the black man want. Malcolm's response was perfect. "Johnny, I'm the same man you think you are. I want to fall in love. I want my family to be safe. I'm the same man you think you are. What do you want?"

The messengers and fighters for equality have been historically vilified. Dr. King was called an outside instigator by several prominent clergy members in the south. Don't allow some talking head to distract you from the arguments being made. The inadequacies in our judicial system aren't imagined. Yes, we've made great progress on the racial front, but we still have work to do. I pray for the day that we make overtly racist policies not only illegal, but so stigmatized no one would want to be associated with them. As citizens we have the power to put enough pressure on the power structure that we can make a fundamental change to the elements of our justice system that aren't working.

The Gap Between Dogma and Dogmatism

It's been my experience that faith rooted in cautious optimism and a smidgen of doubt is less likely to devolve into dogmatism. Having beliefs, whether they be religious or secular (grounded in faith or empirical data) is something all of us have in common. All of us believe something: especially those trapped in nihilism who profess they don't believe anything. The amount of certainty we place in our worldview coupled with an inability to accept or even process new information factor heavily in our dogmas slide into a combative one sized fits all belief system.
One sufficient, but not necessary, symptom of being overly dogmatic is the inability to consider ideas that don't originate from people who share your worldview. We're all fallible; all of us posess the human propensity for error. Our quest[s] for ultimate truth will all fall short and end in the grave, but the closing of our minds to information or empirical data is a flashing sign that points to a childish mentality grounded in low intellect and/or weak faith. 

I often hear people say we need a national religious awakening or prayer back in school. These request assume that all of our problems could be solved with a rededication to spirituality or faith. The biggest problem with that line of thinking is that we (Americans) have never lived the utopian religious fantasy those who espouse those views are nostalgic for. It's much more reasonable to ask for a collective commitment to critical thinking. 

We have political and media organizations that are invested in systematically misinforming our fellow citizens. The university, scholarship and intellectualism have become the sacrificial lambs to the shrine of dogmatism. Immanuel Kant wrote an essay titled, "What is Enlightenment" that I have quoted in the past more than a few times, the most powerful quote in relation to dogmatism reads as follows: 

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why such a large part of mankind gladly remain minors all their lives, long after nature has freed them from external guidance. They are the reasons why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as guardians. It is so comfortable to be a minor. If I have a book that thinks for me, a pastor who acts as my conscience, a physician who prescribes my diet, and so on--then I have no need to exert myself. I have no need to think, if only I can pay; others will take care of that disagreeable business for me.

We are splintered as a nation along every possible dividing line. Even agreement has suffered because of our "pure" ideologies. We can agree with each other on 90% of an issue and allow the 10% to get in the way of progress. Just remember: because you hear two sides of an issue doesn't mean you've heard every side of an issue. The certainty we cling to is often an illusion.