Sunday, January 25, 2009

On the topic of abortion...

The Vatican is in a frenzy. On Friday our new President repealed the global gag order that kept US money from going to groups that discuss or offer abortions.

Monsignor Rino Fisichella, one of the "higher up spokesmen types" in the Catholic Church, issued a statement that made reference to:
``the arrogance of those who, being in power, believe they can decide of life and death.''
Yeah, Catholic Church! You tell them!

Beyond the inherently flawed connotation that abortion is the same issue as murdering a sentient, conscious being, you should all be noting something odd in the words of the Catholic Church...

Let's read it again:

``the arrogance of those who, being in power, believe they can decide of life and death.''

Really?

The arrogance of those in power... life and death...

What does that make me think of??

What could it be??















P.S. JT has been writing some about abortion lately. You should read it, if you haven't yet.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Abortion should remain legal

The following will be a growing document. I will add to it every time I encounter a new argument.

Intro

"From a point of view outside of this affair, the killing of a neurologically inactive fetus is no greater a harm than the killing of a mouse, and in fact decidedly less--a mouse is neurologically active, and though it lacks a complex cerebral cortex, it has a brain of suitable complexity to perceive pain." ~ Dr. Richard C. Carrier


The most frequent canard I encounter in discussing the morality of abortion is that it takes a life. As with any philosophical discussion, we need to first define our terms to ensure that we are all on the same page when we use the word "life" (or the words "baby" and "child" for that matter). After all, many things have life; they possess cells that replicate, undergo the Krebs Cycle, etc. Objects on this list include trees, sperm, and cancerous tumors. The list is literally so extensive as to defy concise description. So obviously "life" in the sense of merely being alive doesn't mean all that much, since we typically don't weep over chopping down a tree and we can be downright insistent on purging tumors. Clearly, there is a difference between something being alive and something having a life, and it seems that those who are opposed to abortion also make this distinction whether they admit it or not, since none of them mourn the loss of a tree.

Where then, do we draw the line on when it is alright to destroy something that is living (because if the loss of living cells bothers you, it's time to stop scratching your nose)? This point must be reached somewhere, since most of us would consider it morally wicked to snuff out the life of a freshly born human being. What are the criteria? At what point does the collection of cells within the pregnant female acquire a "life" such that it is separated in terms of humanity from other living things?

I suggest it has everything to do with consciousness and the ability of a being to suffer its own loss. This even makes sense medically. The point at which you are medically dead is when there is no activity in your central cortex (when your brain "flat lines"). At this point your heart may still be beating with the help of a pacemaker, your cells will still be active, and your lungs may still be breathing with the help of a respirator, but this is all irrelevant since the conscience that constituted "you" is gone and will never return. At that point your body is simply engaging in autonomous functions. There is no reason to consider you still alive or to grieve when we unplug your life support.

With a fetus, the brain does not become electrically active until the fifth month (typically the 20th week). Until that point, it is no different than killing anything else that is alive but cannot suffer its own loss. When we say the words "baby" or "child", we imply a creature that has lost something when it stops "living"; a zygote, an embryo, or a fetus is not a child. It is a collection of cells (until the end of the second month when minute organ development begins to occur), nothing more.

Argument from potential

An argument that almost unavoidably arises at this point is that a zygote will one day become a child (perhaps the next Beethoven!) if left unchecked. These people do not seem to realize that every sperm in my body is a potential human being (it just needs the female egg, itself a potential unique, glorious human being). Yet the prospect of this lost potential does not seem to frighten them out of their chastity (trust me, it doesn't). Why not?

I am certain that if all human beings went Sodom and Gomorrah-style crazy with lust, we would eventually produce a physicist that would dwarf Stephen Hawking or Einstein, or a composer that would reduce the work of Mozart to child's play. That's no reason to do it. The dire consequences of augmented, unmitigated population growth are very well documented. A woman should feel no obligation to produce a child she does not want, simply because that kid might be the first John Conner.

Why then do we care about the potential of a particular set of cells in the female because they share a similar potential?

Argument about souls

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." ~ Jeremiah 1:5

There is not a scrap of evidence to suggest we have a soul that existed before birth or that will exist after death. All evidence suggests that conscience is tied exclusively to a functioning brain. Religious people can profess their certainty in this until they are blue in the face, but until they can evince even a decent reason to believe that it's true, they are just wrong by any rational standard.

Of course, nobody is insisting that religious people forfeit the right to reproduce as they please; nobody wishes abortion to be forced on anyone, even if their reasons for avoiding them are ludicrous. But you most certainly do not get to use your delusions to inflict others with their arbitrary, unfounded standard.

Argument from post-abortion trauma

In 1987, Ronald Regan asked then Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to produce a report assessing the possibility of trauma in the would-be mother. Scott's report concluded that "the available scientific evidence about the psychological sequelae of abortion simply cannot support either the preconceived notions of those pro-life or those pro-choice." This was as generous as the highly conservative Koop could be without being flagrantly dishonest. However, Regan ordered the report to be re-written to say that women did suffer post-abortion trauma, and it was (though Koop separated himself from it both publicly and during investiation) from this re-written report that the idea that abortions induced trauma was born.

Since both the announcement of that one disingenuous paper and the resulting beat down from the scientific and medical communities, all of our credible medical bodies have been in perfect harmony on the facts. The American Psychological Association sums it up nicely:

"The most methodologically sound research indicates that among women who have a single, legal, first-trimester abortion of an unplanned pregnancy for nontherapeutic reasons, the relative risks of mental health problems are no greater than the risks among women who deliver an unplanned pregnancy."


All the same, even if a higher portion of women did suffer depression after their abortions, you cannot shackle everybody for that. Women should still get the choice. However, the science is conclusive that no greater threat to mental health exists for having an abortion, so the argument is moot.

Outro

Abortion provides societal good by helping to mitigate population growth and by not saddling women with children they are not ready for, and there is no downside. All arguments to the contrary depend on either wrong information, outright lies, a lack of knowledge about the nature of pregnancy, beliefs about reality that are contra to the evidence and accepted on nothing more than faith, not spending enough time taking in the philosophy of the situation, or some conglomeration of all of the above. To quote Richard Carrier for the second time in this post:

"An act that causes no involuntary harm and produces some benefits for individuals and society in general should never be outlawed. This is based on the principle that laws should only exist to preserve and protect the liberty of individuals and, when no liberty is at stake either way, to increase the general welfare of all citizens."


There is no logical or empirical grounds upon which to illegalize abortions.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

BiGALA

This is a shameless plug, but tonight is my first meeting as BiGALA Co-President, and I would love for everyone to come.

BiGALA meetings are every Wednesday night at 7pm in PSU 315.

BiGALA is Missouri State's Queer-Straight Alliance. It is open to the whole community, not just MSU students. Also, it is open to all orientations and gender identities. Straight allies are really important, so don't think you can't come if you're straight! I feel like it's important to say also that we don't just sit around and talk about who's gay and who's straight - we will never ask you what your orientation is.

We do a lot of events and things throughout the semester other than just having meetings, some of which are issue-related, and some of which are just for fun, so if you aren't a weekly meeting type of person, there will still be plenty of opportunities for you to come hang out. And I will be telling you all about them throughout the semester. :)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Obama...

... is set to close Gitmo.

I want to hug him right now.

Rough draft letter to the editor

Some days it is just painful to get through the day. Painful because people are stupid. They are petty and stupid, they are hateful and stupid...they are just plain stupid.

Today's brush with ignorance comes from what often seems to be our local shrine to backwards religious nuts, the Springfield News-Loser.

Go on, brace yourself and read it. If you have a brain, it should hurt.

Anyway, I decided (while intoxicated) to crank out a response. Throw me any suggestions. It's probably a little more snarky than it should be...let me know if you think that.

Paul Summers Should Inhale My Penis*
by J.T. Eberhard

Before I dive into Paul Summers' letter, I will concede that I agree with him on one point: that all bullying is bad and should be discouraged. However, if one demographic is being abused with greater frequency, it seems only sensible that we give that group specific attention (after all, I’m against followers of any religion being fed to the lions, but that shouldn’t stop us from addressing specific examples).

Now for the abundance of places where I do not think Mr. Summers made sense. In his first paragraph he ascribes motivations to Sara Lampe that he could not possibly know without an intimate knowledge of the trappings of her mind. Nobody should be convinced by this. As for what could be identified as bullying, the measure would grant local school boards the power to make that call. If you want witnessing excluded (as I can only imagine it would be), simply make that known. The tenor of Mr. Summers letter is one of paranoia that gay people must surely be seeking some underhanded end, such as the suppression of faith, rather than just being protected from abuse. There is no reason to suspect that that is the case.

If a religious person lacks the character to realize that a person’s sexual orientation is none of their business and must approach the homosexual and attempt to impose their arbitrary standard on them…well, we cannot legislate tact or compassion. Now, if that conversation includes a negative assessment of their worth as a human being, I’d consider that bullying. Just as if I made it a point of approaching Christians in public school and calling them delusional bigots, that should also not be allowed.

I’m not sure where Mr. Summers got the idea that this measure had anything to do with interfering with churches (it probably stems from the paranoia I touched on earlier). It mentions nothing of the sort. In fact, it is very specific that this would apply only within public school grounds and property. Mr. Summers is frightened by only his own lack of information here, nothing more.

We then get this gem:

“If you do not want to be frowned upon, stop doing what causes the frowns. Grow up. Take some responsibility! If you do not want to be called "gay," stop what you are doing.”

There are several things to say about this, the most obvious of which is that if what they’re doing is not pathological in any way (and it’s not), why should the public schools tacitly endorse abuse over it? Later in his letter, Mr. Summers admonishes us that he does not want to see homosexuals bullied or degraded. How can we take him at his word when that guarantee is preceded by a statement like the one above, which clearly suggests that derision of homosexuals is acceptable until gay people change? Are you encouraging bullying? Well, despite your protestations to the contrary, yes you are.

The second thing to note is that Mr. Summers lacks the credentials to fly in the face of every credible psychiatric and medical body in this country (and the world, for that matter). That is precisely what he has done by insinuating that gay people have the option to change (or that they should even want to). The following is from the American Psychological Association, which is far and away the American authority:

“Human beings cannot choose to be either gay or straight. For most people, sexual orientation emerges in early adolescence without any prior sexual experience. Although we can choose whether to act on our feelings, psychologists do not consider sexual orientation to be a conscious choice that can be voluntarily changed.”

Our most austere battery of medical minds, the American Medical Association, echoes the sentiments of the APA, and they take it a step further in regards to measures like the one in question:

“Our AMA will collaborate with the US Surgeon General on the development of a comprehensive report on youth violence prevention, which should include such issues as bullying, racial prejudice, discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and similar behaviors and attitudes.”

This is the established opinion of the world’s most preeminent medical bodies, but Mr. Summers seems to be concealing a substantial reason to believe that they are all full of it. You can probably find the reason nestled within his one-book library.

The rest of his letter continues to disregard medical evidence and expert opinion. I’m sure that there are many people who will think that Mr. Summers' high level of piety absolves him from the normal constraints of what makes an opinion match reality. To the rest of us, it should be crystal clear that this man is scared of nothing. It is also not difficult to deduce that this man is attached to the idea of deriding normal people for imaginary crimes – his words suggest nothing else up until he assures us that he does not feel that way.

And this is the wisdom Christ has to offer me? If Christ is to be in conflict with not just reason but also compassion, I must take reason and compassion, as any decent human should.

* No, I'm not really going to use that as the title.


Free pass from god

PZ already commented on this, but I think something else about it needs some attention.

One of the most prominent rabbis in Israel, if not the most prominent, Mordechai Eliyahu has just sent a letter to Prime Minister Olmert explaining that "All civilians living in Gaza are collectively guilty for Kassam attacks on Sderot."

He also explained that "there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza."

And the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Eliyahu's son, himself a high-profile religious figure, "said his father opposed a ground troop incursion into Gaza that would endanger IDF soldiers. Rather, he advocated carpet bombing the general area from which the Kassams were launched, regardless of the price in Palestinian life."

There's one step for the justification: they attacked us without regard for the price of innocent life on our side of the fence! And since we just abhor the destruction of innocent life, there only seems to be one sane, logical reaction (and thank god that the almighty was around to give it to us before our humanity got in the way): we have to carpet bomb the innocents in their country! Thanks for the green-light, god.

But where is the line? How many heathen childrens' souls must we send to hell in this conflict?

"If they don't stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand," said Shmuel Eliyahu. "And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don't stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop."

Yes, "whatever it takes to make them stop," as if innocent people should get to be clumped up with "them". It's a pity that god couldn't be bothered to send this maniac a memo explaining that the people responsible for shooting missiles at their country and the common people who just happened to be born in Palestine are different groups (this will be lost on the war hawks who think all Americans endorsed the "shock and awe" assault on Iraq...it's kind of the same thing).

And now for the second part of the justification. Speaking of "shock and awe," you'll never believe this:

In the letter, Eliyahu quoted from Psalms. "I will pursue my enemies and apprehend them and I will not desist until I have eradicated them."

Yup, the bible. Where to even begin? For starters, the bible is a muddled piece of incoherent trash. Unlike any academic piece produced by mere mortal scholars in the modern world, the bible is so convoluted that you can evince any stance from its needlessly lengthy pages of crummy poetry and prose. Still, trusting your gut without regard for tempering your opinions with, y'know, logic and evidence is much easier than actually learning, and the notion of faith with an assist from the Bronze Age allows people to be lazy thinkers. Any problems that arise from this can easily be attributed to the lack of faith or any sinful non-conformity to their creed (since scrutiny has already been thrown out the window in favor of whatever they feel). And hence, the circle perpetuates.

And now this pious yutz in Israel is dredging the ignorance of the past into the 21st century, which explains his inability to discern his "enemies" that he wishes to be pursued and destroyed from normal fucking people who didn't have shit to do with it!

Eliyahu wrote that "This is a message to all leaders of the Jewish people not to be compassionate with those who shoot [rockets] at civilians in their houses."

Yes, because Sally P. Gaza-Housewife was the one who pulled the trigger.

We live in a world where somebody can have the intelligence and the resources to construct a nuclear weapon, yet still believe he will receive paradise for detonating it. We live in a world where children die consistently because people have faith in the power of prayer, yet find the skepticism to scrutinize doctors and the tangible results of medicine. To any sane human being, it is horrifyingly clear that this type of holy stupidity is dangerous and unnecessary.

There are a lot of things that people will say about this. They will say that he interprets the bible wrong, even though they will lack a single good reason to believe that their faith is even slightly more likely to be correct. If they disagree with Eliyahu, they will ascribe his error to any number of factors with the exception of one: few people, if any, will point out that this man has been divorced from compassion and sundered from reason by faith. It is the fault of the same disconnection from reality that most people on this planet embrace as noble or necessary that this type of horror could be considered possible. This man wants to cull millions of people he knows had no hand in assaulting his country because he believes, without reason, that god said they were guilty.

And all god's people said, "Amen".

You want sanity to return to this world? Then start making sure that insanity gets pointed out and scrutinized unapologetically.

And now, let's try and get a laugh out of it:


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Time to Mobilize

This Saturday at 12:30, there will be a rally at the downtown square in Springfield, MO to protest the Defense of Marriage Act. This is very important. We need to keep this issue in the public eye and not let them sweep it under the rug. Hateful irrationality and bigotry are like cockroaches: they don't do well in the light.

It takes a very backwards mind to take something so aggressive like a belief that you have the divine right to insist that everybody else live by your arbitrary standard, or an attempt to enforce that belief via (supposedly) secular law, and call it "defense". What are you defending? In Denmark, civil unions with the same rights as marriage have been around since 1989, and other Nordic countries followed suit in the 1990s. Same-sex marriage was legalized in the Netherlands in 2001. Amazingly, somehow, some way...religious freedoms, families, marriages, and the governments of these countries continue to flourish, and there have been no reports of ANYONE trying to marry their family pet. Incredible, right?

Well, religious people do not have the right to insist that we march to the beat of their mythological bunkum, and it's high time we started marching in order to drive that point home. There is no defense with DOMA, prop 8, or any similar bill; there is just bigotry dressed up in velvet. Calling it "defense" is their way of trying to coat the piece of poop that is discrimination with a pretty layer of paint to hide what it really is. Newsflash: it's still a piece of poop, and a layer of paint doesn't hide the stench.

I detest proud discrimination as I detest everything evil (and I especially detest the engines for such evil). As I have said before: there will be no more hiding behind your sacred beliefs. In order to be a bigot, I will do everything in my power to make sure you have to stand up in public with your badge of hate and defend your bigotry - and you'd best believe I'm gonna make it sting when I do. I've noticed that fewer and fewer people who have the courage to thump their bibles at the polls possess the fortitude to stand up in public and bear some actual criticism. It's amazing how pious certainty can fade really quick outside the privacy of the voting booth, isn't it? Only in the safety of the darkness, absent of the light of reason, do these people demonstrate the courage of their convictions. Fucking cowards. Fucking trolls.

Not sure who said it, but it's very true: all that is required for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing*. I'll be there Saturday, and I encourage you to be there as well.

* Apparently it is attributed to Edmund Burke, though there is some question about whether that phrase or some approximation were actually his writings. What he did actually say though was, "Whilst men are linked together, they easily and speedily communicate the alarm of any evil design. They are enabled to fathom it with common counsel, and to oppose it with united strength."

Good shit. Thanks to dad, for that piece of info.

Friday, January 2, 2009