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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Where Religion and Politics Should Not Cross

While religious organizations and associated 501(c) 3 charitable organizations are not prohibited from having political positions and being on the side of one issue or another, the IRS has restrictions on their supporting one candidate or opposing one actively. But some preachers are scoffing at this and risking their churches all for the sake of a ridiculous idea that church needs to be this involved with politics as opposed to the more imminent issues, like saving souls or spreading the gospel. Not that I believe in souls or the value of the so called “good news”, but I think I’ve made that apparent enough. Bottom line, there are a number of reasons churches don’t need to push this envelope, notwithstanding the IRS effectively ignoring them so as not to give them any real publicity beyond what they already have. Supposedly the standards of audits are complicated and the potential legal implications are what may be primarily hindering any enforcement. The only other solution is to enact sweeping changes and enforce them more stringently. If the IRS doesn’t do something about this, it’s going to encourage this emerging movement of borderline theocrats thinking that we need to run this country by religious morals and standards instead of using reason and secular standards that everyone can abide by without infringing upon individual rights to believe nonsense. The law protects your right to practice religion even if it also says that the right itself is not absolute. This sort of practice needs to be nipped in the bud or it will just spiral into something worse than a remotely harmless resurgence of religiosity, but actual political confrontations by people both tightly and loosely affiliated with these antiquated traditions motivated by mob rule and peer pressure to try to ask for special treatment. No one wants to limit religion more than necessary, but you can’t ignore the law when it’s convenient to you and this is no different than politicians trying to get lesser sentences because of their previous contributions to society. Religion may have benefits, but it doesn’t get tax breaks and also make political statements that directly involve it with secular and civil election processes. Keep your theology out of the government and we’ll make sure the government stays out of your theology.

This practice of taking on the IRS and its threat of removing tax exempt status for churches has been going on for nearly 4 years and nothing seems to have been done. If anything, it behooves them to start focusing on this issue because the taxes that could be gained from those churches would be a benefit to deficit issues in this country. Outright removing the tax exempt status for all churches might be too extreme, but enforcing the law about political involvement as regards candidate approval and disapproval with these churches could aid in lowering the U.S.’s crippling deficit that looms over us according to many conservatives. Freedom of religion is not so absolute as to allow those in positions of authority as spiritual leaders to flaunt the law in the spirit of what can be a reasonable practice of associating political decisions with personal faith and convictions, and taking it too far in directly campaigning from the pulpit against or for a particular candidate. Of course, one might argue that churches which don’t get involved in politics in any sense might be justified in at least getting some tax breaks, even if it was made mandatory for all churches to pay some portion of taxes. Those that are especially political might not get those cuts, but that would be a choice they’d make from the start. It shouldn’t be such a big deal for mega-churches to keep preaching politics or even advocating for candidates as long as they keep getting money. And wouldn’t it be a good thing for Christians to support the U.S. with money from their churches, especially if they’re all about the U.S. being a “Christian nation”?

The Catholic groups railing against the contraception mandate in the healthcare plan put forward by President Obama are another group that is pushing their protections under the law. When they say Obama is anti Catholic in his positions and then urge their congregations to vote their “conscience”, it’s not as explicit, but it’s certainly able to be interpreted as preaching party politics. I wonder what they expect Catholics to vote for instead. If Mormonism is a cult and/or false Christianity, then can Catholics truly vote for Romney either, unless voting one’s conscience means ignoring dogma that explicitly states the church in question is against the true church’s teachings? This concern with insurance plans covering birth control and such creating a conflict of religious ethics and secular law seems to be blown out of proportion, especially with evidence pointing towards the majority of Catholics actually using birth control anyway. Of course they don’t get abortions, but if you don’t want to cover abortions, one might be justified in saying you have a right to refuse coverage for it under the plan. But birth control has other benefits besides the prevention of a particular stage of reproduction, namely fertilization (implantation prevention is a whole other treatment), such as preventing STDs and in terms of hormonal birth control, evening out one’s menstrual cycles and aiding with other issues such as painful menstruation or inconsistent menstruation. I’ve noted this before in “Catholics,Contraception and Conscience,”; birth control can be justified in terms of an overall healthcare plan as it has medical benefits aside from what the church has a person moral objection to. It isn’t compromising their religious freedom overall and will not necessarily escalate to anything further in simply saying you have to provide what is considered basic medical care even if you personally object to it. And wouldn’t it be better off to prevent unwanted pregnancies than to cause undue suffering to children you feel morally obligated to bear and then are unable to provide adequately for them?

Is it really clashing between freedom of religious exercise/expression and separation of church and state when you enforce what is a fairly simple rule of not endorsing or attacking political candidates from the pulpit? You can speak politics in general, but not be partisan about it, which is partly what the IRS is worried it will appear when it cracks down on the offenders. But you’re just being fair in applying the law to those who break it. You shouldn’t play favorites merely because the offenders in question are in a special position by cultural perspective. Religion does not deserve favors because it supposedly helps people be more moral or any such thing: in fact, since it does such things, it shouldn’t ask for more in the government’s treatment of it. Stay within your limits and no one will rock the boat of your sensibilities about politics and faith. Until next time, Namaste and aloha

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fight, Flight or Force

I’ve already described myself as a martial pacifist, one who does not go looking for fights, but nonetheless advocates preparedness and self defense in pressing circumstances and this topic will reflect that. I could bring up various incidents that no doubt have actually happened, but the general circumstances are better to explain what the overall theme here is. An assailant is killed by someone who defends themselves with a weapon, a rapist is killed by the victim’s father after they catch them attempting or in the act, a burglar is shot dead by a homeowner after they break in. These are just a few of the somewhat unique situations that complicate homicide law and jurisprudence and I think that this sort of distinction is not splitting hairs at all. But we shouldn’t see this as purely retribution or restitution but strive for equity and fairness in all situations as much as possible.

We tend to have two common options in our head when a combat situation arises directly: fight or flight. This is based in a biological response triggered by neurochemical reactions in the brain. In order to preserve ourselves, humans will run in order to save themselves as opposed to fighting what may be an opponent too great for us unless we are adequately equipped. A fairly recent event comes to mind when talking about the fight or flight response and it’s not pleasant. Whether Trayvon Martin provoked his attacker or Zimmerman acted on a degree of racial bias against Martin and shot him thinking that he was in immediate danger, the severity of the action reflects something that has become acceptable in society: shoot first, ask questions later. I’m not against the use of guns for self defense in a responsible manner, but viewing them simply as tools for killing instead of waging war in defense of justice and others reduces the gravity of their existence and function. We use the gun for the primary purpose of defense, of course, but the violent nature of it also necessitates that it be used with a great deal of discipline and training. This is why gun permits are a good even if they also limit the legality of higher grade weapons. There is a whole other issue with the military having access to such powerful weapons and potentially abusing the public’s trust in them by turning those things used to protect their rights into objects that suppress those rights in the form of martial law or a totalitarian state. Even the use of martial arts to defend oneself demand a responsibility many people don’t think of when enjoying the brutality of MMA on pay per view or the like. Of course there are rules involved, but a sense of honor or discipline is not there as much when martial arts are used in a sport context. It is very much an individual sort of sport, not something you can share with a team to the same extent. You can have similar goals, but not the same degree of individual will, training, and such. That aside, either way, using weapons of any kind: guns, swords, knives, blunt objects, or fighting with your body as a weapon, you should not take it to excess and view any threat to you as an immediate or direct threat to your life at that moment. Of course a mugger may just want your wallet, but they may want to take your life to do so. But this does not mean you should kill them to stop this act. Incapacitation or use of basic force can alleviate the situation just as well. Diplomacy and negotiation can do the same for international conflicts. Of course, these don’t always work, but the use of violence should be a last resort, morally and ethically speaking.
There is such a thing as justice without sinking to levels of vengeance and the violence associated with it. Martial pacifism is a good buffer to temper out what can be otherwise excessively emotional incidents that could lead to manslaughter. There are nuances in talking about justifiable homicide or imperfect self defense? Not all homicide is justifiable, unless we talk about fear of imminent danger to oneself or others. And immediate threats do not always imply death, though humans are not so tough that we can’t be killed in ways we think we could survive. And there is also the distinction between life and wellbeing. Being raped is certainly a terrible scar on one’s psyche, but one can reasonably get through it with therapy and support. To say a person can kill another because they are going to rape someone or even have been caught in the act seems to take it too far. This is not to say that I condone rape at all or see it as a lesser crime, but killing someone takes away any possibility of redemption or real justice in mediating differences and punishing those who have done wrong in appropriate and humane ways. Rape does damage a person, but does not take away their future entirely as death does. Imperfect self defense is similar to the justifiable homicide concept in that the reasoning behind using deadly force is not always justified. Bare fists are not as much of a threat as a knife which is not as dangerous as a gun. This sort of relationship of risks is part of imperfect self defense’s somewhat slippery slope. Imperfect self defense does not reduce culpability, but only the liability of one’s crimes.

I’m not saying one can’t use force to defend others or oneself. That’s justified in many forms of pacifism to the extent that you don’t use violence. Non resistant pacifism is an exception to this in that it says even use of force is unethical because we should be able to always resolve problems with words and not our hands to hurt others. Or there is a notion that love always prevails as a virtue even if you have to die to prove it. Both of these are unrealistic and idealistic in their approach to the real world where this doesn’t always work. But we also shouldn’t resort to violent force to solve problems that could be solved in forceful ways without the potential for death or mortal injuries. If moderation in all good things is necessary for moral behavior, as Aristotle at least implied, then protecting others should not be taken to excess or deficit and use appropriate force for the situation. As vile and contemptible as people may be, killing them does not take away their crimes, nor vindicate those who have been victimized by them. I must emphasize the idea of appropriate force, because it varies by situation. Experience can dictate this, but without that, a dual principle of restraint and assertiveness is key. You shouldn’t let your emotions overtake you. If a criminal is raping your family member, it is not a justification for you to kill them on account of the closeness you have with the person being violated. And even someone being killed does not mean you should exact the same thing against the one who did it. It doesn’t solve the problem of murderers overall, nor does it really vindicate the one who was killed. Incapacitation, knocking the person unconscious or otherwise keeping them under control should be the first goal in neutralizing a tense and dangerous situation such as the ones I brought up at the beginning. You should not simply eliminate the person, since this negates a principle in justice that each crime is different and should be judged by the evidence and nature of the individual who committed the offense.

As much as force can solve problems, violence should never be our first impulse, unless the situation absolutely demands it. This sort of discernment is difficult to gain, but can be done over time and experience. Peace should be a goal, but we should not be opposed to fighting for it when it is necessary. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Free Speech Is Not Absolutely Free

The right to freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental of values in America, spreading across the world. But people commonly misinterpret what it means, suggesting it is limitless by the ad nauseum claim that “it’s a free country”; this is also applied to freedom of actions, which is more easily refuted on basic ethical grounds, let alone legal ones. Free speech has long been established to have limits based in obscenity, fighting words, defamation of character and incitement to crimes. The most used example of incitement is yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, while libel is misrepresenting someone’s actions in published works and claiming it is factual. Obscenity is more difficult to discern, but the limitation could be construed to restrict more public sale or broadcast of such things. That’s how pornography is protected in its existence, privatized in its funding. But there have been many instances where preachers, especially recently, that have used their status as a religious official to speak words against homosexuality that go beyond simply saying they’ll go to hell or even wishing they’d die of AIDS or the like. Those are within rights, even if they are repugnant statements. The fact that they speak about religious concepts and in generalities (not individual gays, but the gay community) respectively makes them not fall under defamation of character or the like. But when you say that the government should kill homosexuals or that we should isolate gay females and males on an island and separate them by sex with electrified fences until they die off, you’ve gone beyond what even your state as a person associated with a house of worship, free of taxation, permits you to. This is especially so if you start saying what you think the government should do or even what you know it won’t do, but ought to in your opinion. But even when you just say it as your personal opinion without regard to the government, it borders on incitement to illegal actions, on the level of Japanese internment camps from World War 2 in America, not to mention the obvious Holocaust in that same era. No one’s saying you have to hold positive opinions about homosexuals; you can hate them all you want. But there are limits to what we can say for the same reason there are limits on many other freedoms, which I spoke about briefly in other articles, such as “Pro Choice Or Pro Liberty”. One shouldn’t try to legally protect otherwise unlawful speech under the guise of religious freedom or unrealistic ideas of how free you think speech is or should be. Speech can motivate actions, so we shouldn’t let it be abused anymore than the value of religion, regardless of if one believes it to reflect truth or not.

Preachers have every right to express distaste and even moral condemnation against homosexuals, along with everything else, but just because it’s fashionable within the particular sub culture to bash gays on such a level that is explicitly genocidal, even if not so direct in the method, doesn’t mean it’s protected free speech. At the very least, it’s in poor taste even if it is protected by the basic limits of criminalizing hate speech by imminent threat instead of any threat, but when you advocate such a thing, it goes beyond speech that merely expresses hatred and goes to acting on that hatred in some way that is illegal, like putting gays in separate electrified fenced off areas until they die off. No one’s saying you can’t express even strong distaste or bigotry towards people, but when you use words to give an impression that you intend harm to someone, either in their reputation or their person, those expressions are not legally protected automatically, especially if you are taken seriously, or even if people laugh at it jeeringly, because that just means that if they had the opportunity, they may very well do it, but the present law thankfully prevents them from doing so.

Making such a controversy over what you think are overly strict legal prohibitions on particular types of speech misses the point of freedom in general. A simple way to explain why any freedom is not completely at ease to be performed in any way is the idea of balance. A taijitu, the symbol most often called a yin yang, is one way to see it. To paraphrase, there is good in evil and there is evil in good. Some things are not harmless in their existence, so forbidding them is actually protecting people, not unnecessary censorship. There are dangers to the positive liberties we enjoy in that they can be taken to excess. So benefits exist in the negation of very specific instances of speech that are nearly universally considered damaging to civil society in that they allow for more expansive borders to what is permissible. When we have basic guidelines in terms of such a widespread and diverse practice as speech in one form or another: spoken, printed, broadcast, etc, then the extent to which one can push those limits is fairly large, to the level where satire is protected on the grounds that it is not obscene for its own sake, but to make a point. The Westboro Baptist Church argued its own legal cases well in terms of their speech being protected and not strictly criminal hate speech or defamation in the immediate sense of the terms. What they do is motivated by religious beliefs first and foremost and protection of those, whether you agree with them or not, is as essential as protecting our right to expression. Since they are not doing their protests because of a primary hatred of homosexuals irrespective of religious considerations and they are not attacking the individual as they are still alive, there are basic loopholes that are in place to protect them. This is not to say that the spirit behind WBC’s slanderous remarks is a good thing, but legally they are protected on the grounds that the individual cannot sue if they are already dead and it becomes difficult to establish whether someone can sue on a person’s behalf. Does it really affect another person if their friend is insulted and already dead? Does it affect the person already dead at all? These sorts of questions muddy what are already clouded waters to begin with. But both freedom of speech and religion have their limits and even Westboro understands this. Not that they’d feel the need to actually inflict property damage or assault gay people or those that “enable” them; their God will do it for them according to their beliefs. That’s where hate crimes start, though in this case the argument would be that these are merely assaults and not hate crimes, just as their speech is not specifically derived from the homosexuality itself, but religious beliefs about homosexuality. What distinguishes hate speech from defamation of character in general is your basic motivation for why you speak the hateful and libelous words you do. If it is merely out of spite for the individual or group in general, it is defamation, but if it is because the individual or group in question possesses particular characteristics that you are biased against, then the hate speech denotation is justified. Further qualification specifies whether your threats or hateful words give a person a feeling of imminent danger. If this is the case, then the hate speech can be criminally prosecuted. I admit I’m not an expert on this sort of thing and there may be more nuances that I’m not aware of, but fundamentally the protection of any speech, including hateful forms, is limited by whether it infringes upon the fundamental rights we all share, which include a basic sense of security in our persons, freedom of speech and religion, amongst the other derivative rights thereof. As the saying goes, “Your right to punch me stops at my nose”

While speech is certainly a valuable part of our society, we shouldn’t take it for granted as something that has a catch all sentiment of being acceptable all the time in every way it can be taken. Words are not just empty of any meaning, even if the meanings we attach to them vary by time and place. They are the foundation of beliefs, which are the motivation to actions. To paraphrase Confucius, if we don’t take our words seriously and reflect that our saying something leads to how we regard ourselves and others, then we risk social disharmony. If we speak hatred of others, it suggests a sort of self loathing that is at the root of the problem. One hears the Christian notion of hating the sin and loving the sinner, but with such statements made in today’s culture regarding the supposed problem of gay people and alleged agendas, it seems like there really isn’t a fundamental solution except to go back to antiquated ideas. Looking towards the future does not mean we throw out the past entirely, but we certainly don’t bring in traditions that are repressive of those that pose no real threat to others. Gay people, among so many other minorities still mistreated today in speech and action, should not even be treated ill with words. There are legal protections to those reprehensible voices, but only to a point. You cannot say you want to kill someone without the potential threat of battery charges against you on the simple fear that you may follow through with that thought in actual form. To not take what you say seriously is to make your deeds worthless. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Both Biology and Psychology Matter

Even today, some of the biggest barriers we have to break down are those strict dichotomies between sexes and genders. The idea of males doing feminine things or vice versa still makes us uncomfortable, even if we have no problem understanding varying sexual orientations, since those are understood in our minds as inborn and immutable. But there is still a strong tendency to believe that our genders are conditioned and even determined by our assigned sex. If we have male or female genitals, we commonly, almost automatically, identify with masculine or feminine gender stereotypes and behaviors. But this isn’t so rigidly true, even if many people tend to follow this pattern, which is referred to in gender studies as “cisgender”. Anatomy and biology do not absolutely determine one’s gender identity or psychological makeup in terms of gender roles or enjoyment of perceived masculine or feminine activities that conflict with their assigned sex and associated gender. Our perception of ourselves as male/masculine, female/feminine, transgender, etc is a combination of many factors, which I’ll give at least a cursory investigation into, though I’m certainly not well versed in the vast amount of studies that exist in this likely growing discipline.

It’s important to continue advancing the distinction and nuance of the terms “gender” and “sex”. Gender used to be considered identical to sex in common parlance, even on surveys, but this was before psychologists began to distinguish between our biological sex and genitalia, such as the penis, testes, vagina and ovaries for obvious differences between the sexes, and our psychological state and perception, which reflects socially constructed ideas about what constitutes masculine and feminine behavior and tendencies. Intersexed people or those with what are called ambiguous genitalia are potentially more prone to having confusion about their sex, not to mention their gender. The problem people with otherwise normal genitalia have is the conflation of our biological sex with our psychological gender and otherwise using gender in the mistaken sense of sexual characteristics instead of what can be shared in some sense by both males and females. Males can do feminine things occasionally and even identify with the feminine gender from a young age and vice versa for females in regards to masculine things. This does not mean these people are insane or destructive, but merely that they have a disordered relationship between what people identify them as in terms of what I would call sexual gender, those physical traits that we distinguish as male and female; and psychological gender, those ideas that group us into what are commonly a binary of male/masculine and female/feminine, though there is always room for inclusion of third gender understandings, not entirely female or male, but almost androgynous. It doesn’t have to inspire fear or such negative emotions in us, but merely open up our perspective to the diversity the human condition has in terms of our ideas about what constitutes men and women, as well as what is feminine or masculine, or even if these binaries make complete sense in today’s changing world.

There are a lot of terms to throw around related to the study of gender as a whole, but for the purposes of discussion, I think it’s best to simplify this to a few key ideas: gender identity, gender role and transgender. Gender identity is one’s personal concept of gender, both psychological and biological. There is a wide spectrum of genders in society, some including not only a third gender, but genderless and androgynous ones, among others. One’s gender identity is something that is conditioned in part by society’s expectations of oneself, but also chemical and physiological traits that one is born with unknowingly or without a desire to change. A man may have a higher pitched voice than normal and vice versa for a woman’s voice. These create a variability with how one is approached. A higher pitched voice for a mature male is not considered masculine and a deep voice for a woman is similarly so. With this in mind, these individuals may begin to consider whether they are strictly male or female as a whole. This doesn’t even cover the entire topic that could be devoted to intersex and sexually ambiguous individuals who have gender confusion primarily because of how genetics worked before they were born in one form or another. This topic applies to those people who had a sex assigned to them at birth, but feel that does not adequately describe them or fully encompass what they are as a person who is both a body and a mind in or out of synch with each other.

Gender roles are related to gender identity in that the former are at least partly informed and motivated by the latter. Whatever one’s personal sense of being a man, woman or other gender is, this effects what kind of behavior you will do, which may or may not fit with social norms of what is considered masculine or feminine, since a common, though not strictly so across the world, structure is a binary one where the two genders have some overlap, but some actions and habits are not considered feminine at all, such as having a career and choosing to not have children for a woman in this day and age. A man or woman crossdressing is still considered something abnormal and even aberrant, but it isn’t so cut and dry. It doesn’t even mean the man or woman in question is homosexual, but that they understand and express their gender in this way. They certainly don’t intend to hurt people; this may explain why many times they hide this practice from family and friends, for fear of conflict rejection, and ostracism. But this sort of behavior is hardly so damaging that we should treat those who do it as lesser people.

Being transgender is a variable identity, since it exists on a sort of spectrum, ranging from simple dissonance of one’s assigned sex and one’s gender ideation as a whole to even rejecting the binary entirely, identifying with both sexes and genders. Some might call it special treatment if you allow transgendered individuals to use the opposite sex bathrooms, since it gives them privileges without them deserving it, or some variation of a claim that they are abusing the system. It is not unjust or unfair to permit someone who identifies as the opposite sex to use the opposite sex bathrooms even if unisex ones are available. The concerns of rape are unfounded if we interpret that the people who have severe gender identity disorder are not taking advantage of the permission, but simply trying to integrate into society as a person of the opposite sex, sometimes because they are required to do so for a year in order to be approved for a sex reassignment surgery. Crossdressers are not afforded the same privileges, however. Being transgender in the sense of wanting to change one’s sex to match one’s overall sense of self as a person is not on the same level as dressing as the opposite sex for reasons that don’t reflect the same level of need for accommodation. It’s not even remotely unfair to say a crossdresser who is not trying to live as the opposite sex and gender cannot go into the opposite sex bathrooms as if it is normal. Unless you are crossdressing for that previously stated purpose of sexual integration, then it is not the same category of consideration legally.

Of course there will be distinctions in one form or another about what is manly or womanly and those who stand out may be ridiculed or singled out. But we shouldn’t be ashamed of these people, but proud of their diversity and uniqueness in a world where people are far too often uncertain or pressured into their gender identity and roles and treat those who differ with some measure of contempt or disinterest. We certainly shouldn’t be negative towards a group of people who have a great deal to offer in terms of culture and psychology, since they do not take their anatomy as the only means by which they see themselves as a person, but they look inside. We shouldn’t condemn those who are different, especially if they aren’t hurting anyone but those that are insecure themselves because they aren’t willing to admit their own uniqueness. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.