The wheels on the bus go round and round

Mark Levin, whom I admire, was complaining on Thursday about Glenn Beck’s (though Levin did not mention Beck’s name) focus on Van Jones, the President’s Czar for “Green Jobs.” I paraphrase Levin, “Yeah he’s an avowed Communist. Yeah, he said white people are poisoning black people. Yeah, he has an agenda to destroy capitalism by incremental environmental regulation. Yeah, he’s a despicable twit. But the only reason Van Jones in in government is Barack Obama! Focus on the real problem, people!”

Levin noted it was long ago obvious to sentient beings that people like Van Jones would be appointed by Barack Obama. Levin thinks detailing Jones’s radical stupidity is a distraction. Well, yes, for him and for me, but not for most people. Otherwise, they’d have been protesting Obama’s nomination instead of excusing his inexperience by saying he’d surround himself with good advisers.

Let us review. Jones is an avowed Communist. He excuses playing the race card because of environmentalism. He wants to destroy capitalism. (Is that redundant or just banal?) Charles Krauthammer is right that his Communist sympathy is sort of “ho, hum.”

He’s also right that Van Jones as a Truther, is not “ho, hum.” Van Jones also thinks cop killers like Abu-Jamal Mumia should be free. That is not “ho hum,” either.

During the 2008 Presidential campaign Barack Obama told audiences, ‘Judge me by the people who surround me.’ OK. Then Mr. Jones is relevant, especially to those who didn’t understand during the campaign that Obama’s associations were distasteful.

Mark Levin is right: It isn’t Van Jones, Carol Browner, Ezekial Emmanuel, “Skip” Gates, Harold Koh, Cass Sunstein, Sonia Sotomayor, Eric Holder, Steven Rattner, John Holdren, Arne Duncan, Steven Chu, Susan Rice, Regina M. Benjamin, Mark Lloyd, Valerie Jarret, or any of the other official Presidential advisers who subscribe to the philosophy of Karl Marx, the ethics of Peter Singer or the tactics of Saul Alinsky who are the issue – any more than it was Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, Frank Marshall Davis, Tony Rezko, Louis Farrakhan, Bernadine Dohrn, or Rashid Khalidi, who were an issue during the campaign. No, they are important because it is by listening to them we find out what Barack Obama thinks is reasonable discourse, if not precisely what he believes.

Yes, it is Barack Obama who is the issue. But since he never says what he thinks, we only find out what he really believes, as he has invited us to do, by listening to the people who surround him.

I think Jones will soon be free to pursue other employment. Obama has to be greasing the wheels on the bus. I certainly hope so.

If that’s true…

Joe Biden:

I’m prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception.

Then how can you not think abortion is murder, Joe? Fetuses are alive but are not human, and therefore are not required to be protected by the State? Is Peter Singer going to be Surgeon General in an Obama administration?

Applied statist ethics

Peter Singer is a well-established Princeton University professor of bioethics, whom The Other Club has earlier mentioned here and here.

This is what his ethical code prescribes: Allow ‘active euthanasia’ for disabled babies, doctors urge:

…The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology has put forward the option of permitting mercy killings of the sickest infants to a review of medical ethics.

It says “active euthanasia” should be considered for the overall benefit of families who would otherwise suffer years of emotional and financial suffering.

Deliberate action to end infants’ lives may also reduce the number of late abortions, since it would allow women the chance to decide whether their disabled child should live.

I guess the good news is that we can reduce the number of partial birth abortions simply by sanctioning state murder.

This moral state is also a logical conclusion of the principle of affirmative action. If the State can make the judgment that others must lose property and freedom in order to make your life fair, it can also judge that making that life fair is too much trouble.

Liberal Epiphany

Sam Harris, writing in the LA Times, may be mistakenly obsessed with the idea that the rise of jihadism has as much to do with Christians as it does with Islamists. I have yet to hear about Christians rioting over Madonna’s cruci-fiction or the burning of the Pope in effigy, for example. No beheadings in Rome or in South Carlina have come to my attention. I’d say Harris is trying to salvage some of his earlier work after passing too near an epiphany, if he’ll excuse my use of the term.

Whether he has every quacker in line or not, he presents some powerful criticisms of his fellow travellers. He’s almost got it, and that is a hopeful thing. I present some extracts, but read the whole thing.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that “liberals are soft on terrorism.” It is, and they are.

…This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims. But we are absolutely at war with those who believe that death in defense of the faith is the highest possible good, that cartoonists should be killed for caricaturing the prophet and that any Muslim who loses his faith should be butchered for apostasy.

Unfortunately, such religious extremism is not as fringe a phenomenon as we might hope. Numerous studies have found that the most radicalized Muslims tend to have better-than-average educations and economic opportunities.

Why should their university educational system be any less radical than ours? Where do Juan Cole and Peter Singer and Ward Churchill come into sustained contact with impressionable rich kids? Imagine the equivalents in Iran. It’s the religious fervor of those American “educators” Harris is missing. Harris thinks it has to do with G-d.

Here, he comes close to recognizing what it actually has to do with:

…At its most extreme, liberal denial has found expression in a growing subculture of conspiracy theorists who believe that the atrocities of 9/11 were orchestrated by our own government. A nationwide poll conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found that more than a third of Americans suspect that the federal government “assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East;” 16% believe that the twin towers collapsed not because fully-fueled passenger jets smashed into them but because agents of the Bush administration had secretly rigged them to explode.

Many of the people who believe this have been educated in American Universities, and 99% of the rest have been subjected to the tender mercies of the public school system. … “It’s a wonder they can think at all.”

Such an astonishing eruption of masochistic unreason could well mark the decline of liberalism, if not the decline of Western civilization. There are books, films and conferences organized around this phantasmagoria, and they offer an unusually clear view of the debilitating dogma that lurks at the heart of liberalism: Western power is utterly malevolent, while the powerless people of the Earth can be counted on to embrace reason and tolerance, if only given sufficient economic opportunities.

Took you a long time to recognize this, Sam. Liberalism has been declining precipitously since WWII and dragging Western Civilization with it.

It isn’t Christians, Sam, or any particular instance of a supreme being that has been preserving Western Civilization. It is, or was, an educational system informed by judeo-christian values.

It’s the values, stupid. You guys wrecked that long ago. Maybe you’ll come out for school choice next?

Peter Singer and Ayn Rand

Peter Singer, Princeton University Professor of Bioethics, speaks out.

Would you kill a disabled baby? [asked by] KAREN MEADE, Dublin

[Singer:] Yes, if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole. Many people find this shocking, yet they support a woman’s right to have an abortion. One point on which I agree with opponents of abortion is that, from the point of view of ethics rather than the law, there is no sharp distinction between the foetus and the newborn baby.

Well, he’s right about one thing. The only remaining piece of the puzzle is whether the State has a responsibility to prevent murder.

This is the question upon which Objectivism founders. It purports to base its moral code on the intrinsic value of human life, but labels fetuses as “parasites.” The failure to assert an inherent human sanctity precludes a moral code built on valuing human life.

Backward by choice

While the North American press (or parochial narcissist buffoons –PNB – in Mark Steyn’s felicitous phrase) continues to ensure that you can’t see the cartoons about which Islamofascists are rioting worldwide, others are more courageous. Much more.

Dr. Wafa Sultan is a psychologist and a Syrian expatriate who resides in the U.S. She recently appeared on Al-Jazeera television where she attacked Islamists as “backward.” The video is here. You should watch it.

She is articulate and relentless in her contention that the war with Islamofascism is not a clash of civilizations. To summarize Dr. Sultan’s position: To have a clash of civilizations, you’d need a minimum of two civilizations, and Islam is generally too backward to be so considered.

This isn’t mere semantics, she’s asking what “civilization” means, and it caused me to think about evidence that would support her contention of “backwardness.” Not simply evidence of religious frenzy that leads to uncivilized behavior; we have a surfeit of that sort of data; but, since it is possible to imagine an intellectually advanced civilization that behaves in a fashion similar to militant Islam, what would demonstrate “backwardness?”

It certainly isn’t the presence of intellectuals. An intellectually advanced civilization may produce ethicists like Margaret Sanger or Dr. Peter Singer, who argues:

…the value of human existence can be ascertained by the amount of pleasure one derives from life. And sometimes the individual’s pleasure is irrelevant and the pleasure of one’s parents should decide the worthiness of one’s life. He even advocates killing a child below the age of 28 days, if that child’s life can be replaced by a happier one.

In his book, “Practical Ethics,” Professor Singer writes, “When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of the happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if the killing of the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others it would … be right to kill him.”


Singer [also] claims that some people with life-long cognitive disabilities never become “persons” at any time throughout their lives. He claims that some people who acquire cognitive disabilities cease to be “persons.” For example, Singer writes:

“Only a person can want to go on living, or have plans for the future, because only a person can even understand the possibility of a future existence for herself or himself. This means that to end the lives of people, against their will, is different from ending the lives of beings who are not people. Indeed, strictly speaking, in the case of those who are not people, we cannot talk of ending their lives against or in accordance with their will, because they are not capable of having a will on such a matter. …killing a person against her or his will is a much more serious wrong than killing a being that is not a person. If we want to put this in the language of rights, then it is reasonable to say that only a person has a right to life.” (Rethinking Life and Death (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1995): 197-198)

This may be considered merely as evidence that elite University professors can be morally confused, but it is manifestly not evidence of a lack of education. Not that “education” equals “advanced”, but we are looking for some basis to distinguish societies in an examination of Dr. Sultan’s claims.

For one thing, without a philosophical underpinning there can be no moral approach to life, and so no point to it. Peter Singer’s philosophical underpinning ends up defining morality as how much pleasure a being can experience, and leads to his claim that animals may be superior to severely disabled people merely because the animals can better experience suffering. A set of philosophical principles, then, is necessary, but not sufficient, to produce ideas generally defensible as moral.

Singer’s philosophy violates the Golden Rule, which I contend is all you need to know about moral codes. This prescription comes, apocryphally, from Rabbi Hillel of Babylonia who, when approached by an unbeliever requesting that the rabbi teach him the whole of the Torah while he stood on one foot, responded: “What you find hateful do not do to another. This is the whole of the Law. Everything else is commentary. Now go and study it.”

Many Westerners equate the Golden Rule with Christianity, which is a cultural and historical blind spot. Its tenets are found in every religion (Satanism excluded) and the idea predates monotheism.

Plato: “May I do to others as I would that they should do unto me.” (Greece; 4th century BCE)
Socrates: “Do not do to others that which would anger you if others did it to you.” (Greece; 5th century BCE)

Almost all religions pay homage to the Golden Rule, and Islam is not an exception:

“None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” Number 13 of Imam “Al-Nawawi’s Forty Hadiths.”

This sounds fine until you realize that the definition of “brothers” is as important to the outcome as is Peter Singer’s definition of “person.” Singer would not agree that a human being can be defined as an animal, as do Islamists when they seriously describe Jews as pigs and apes, but Singer’s ethics require placing animals’ right to live above that of certain human beings. It is but a small step, especially if supernaturally re-inforced, to defining infidels in general as non-human.

Western religion has historically had no qualms about treating those of a different supernatural persuasion as non-persons. Today, we see Christian religious fundamentalists killing people over abortion; and it has been worse, as those subjected to the mercies of the Inquisition found out. No one in the West today goes on television to cheer on the abortion bombers, however, or promotes videos of the atrocity.

To close the circle on Dr. Sultan’s points, I am led to suggest that science – practiced as a falsifiable, reproducible and open intellectual activity, is a reasonable surrogate for “advanced.” The most important part of this definition is the word “falsifiable” – one can at least imagine objective evidence that would refute a given idea. No argument from the supernatural can qualify. This is why Creationism, in any of its guises, is philosophy, not science, no matter what criticisms may be brought against Darwin.

If commitment to scientific method, and not even necessarily scientific achievement, is a place where one can identify “advancement”, what does it mean to be an Islamic scientist?

The scientific method in its modern form arguably developed in early Muslim philosophy, in particular, citation (“isnad”), peer review and open inquiry leading to development of consensus (“ijma” via “ijtihad”), and a general belief that knowledge reveals nature honestly. During the middle ages, significant advances in mathematics, medicine, astronomy, engineering, and many other fields originated from the Islamic civilization. During this time Islamic philosophy developed and was often pivotal in scientific debates–key figures were usually scientists and philosophers.

Muslim philosophy in this regard seems to have led the West by miles. Islamic science made marvelous contributions to the world, most of which seem to be unrecognized in Western histories of science. This lack of recognition may have more to do with the disappearance of Islam from science after about 1490, however, than with Western perfidy.

Evidence of Arabic contributions to science exist in the names of many stars, but I know of no Arabic equivalent to Galileo. The closest I can come is this blaming of the West, via Galileo, for the plight of Muslims today.

“Today one can find that Muslims have become increasingly marginalized. The literacy among Muslims is about thirty to thirty five percent on the average and among rural women it is only about two to four per cent. The status of Muslims in the present world is at the bottom. Economically Muslims are poor, in education they are backwards and in science and technology they are marginal. There must be a deep examination of what has gone wrong. Why non-Muslims particularly in the West have achieved supremacy in every field of human endeavor.

What is the reason that the Muslims have fallen from a position of top of the civilization to the bottom of civilization? One of the reasons or a major reason is OBSCURANTISM. What is obscurantism? Obscurantism is the act of obscuring, or striving to prevent enlightenment, scientific advancement, modernity or to hinder the progress of knowledge and wisdom.

Obscurantism in Christianity (2)

Galileo and the Holy Inquisition
Many scientists in the West believe religions to be irrational, obscurantist and anti-scientific. The problem goes back to Galileo, who discovered that the earth goes round the sun, rather than vice-versa as stated in the Bible. When he publicized his findings he was arrested by the church on a charge of heresy and threatened with torture and burning at the stake unless he withdrew them. He offered the chance for his accusers to confirm his findings by observation through his telescope. They refused – if the facts were contrary to holy scripture then the facts must be wrong.

The burning times
During the centuries when the church held political power, numerous other investigators of the natural world were tortured to death or burnt at the stake for their curiosity. The early pioneers of biochemistry and pharmacology paid a heavy price. Anyone who was adept at herbal healing (herbology or phytopharmacology) was particularly likely to attract the attention of the church as if he/she practiced Wicca –one variety of witchcraft. Successful practitioners of Wicca were in league with the devil. In most rural communities throughout Europe such expertise was in the possession of elderly women, who were persecuted mercilessly by the Inquisition and other ecclesiastical authorities. These witch-hunts continued until the eventual triumph of reason over obscurantism during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (a period known as the Enlightenment).

A very famous example of obscurantism is the use in medieval Europe of Latin (an otherwise dead language) as the tongue of religious and intellectual discourse both verbal and written. This avoidance of the vernacular allowed the Catholic Church, and it’s approved adjuncts such as the cathedral schools and the universities, to retain an effective monopoly on the inherited knowledge of the Classical era. This control over the writings of the Greco-Roman philosophers, mathematicians and theologians allowed the authorities to maintain a stranglehold on higher education, scientific inquiry and the direction of European political and moral thought up until the advent of Humanism during the intellectual revolution known to us as the Renaissance. It may seem unlikely that a simple control over whom could read which book allowed the Church to maintain a leading position in Europe for several centuries. However the idea becomes less infeasible when it is remembered that there were quite simply no other sources of information on the wider world available at the time. No one in medieval Europe could gain an education that was not colored and constrained by the doctrine and taboos of the Church. Anything, which disagreed with doctrine, was likely to be either hidden away or destroyed as the work of the Devil. The Church, as keeper of the wisdom of the ancients was final arbiter over truth in medieval Europe and, as in the case of Galileo, could stifle entire ‘unacceptable’ schools of thought if it chose.

The intellectual monopoly of the Catholic Church over Europe is only the most famous example of obscurantism in action. During the same period the presentation of cases in courts of law commonly had to be made in the language of the learned (ie: Latin). This served not only to make cases involving peoples of different nations possible, but also to lend an air of majestic mystique to what was often little more than petty wrangles over money or land. Both the religious and the secular usage of Latin in medieval Europe serves to illustrate something about the nature of obscurantism: namely that it plays upon the ignorance of the person watching, or upon the feeling of superiority he may feel over the ignorant.

Left unexplained here is how Western repression of science was so much more effective against Islamic scientists than against the Western scientists to whom it was directly applied. An explanation blaming outsiders for losing such a massive lead – in an area most conducive to maintaining leadership – is suspect. This seems to fully support Dr. Sultan’s argument that Muslims are whining, as does this argument against attempts to pass off the Q’uran as scientifically prescient:

Muslim Fundamentalists are fond of claiming that the Koran miraculously predicted the findings of modern science, and that all of its factual scientific claims are flawless. There are two important objections to this claim that I will make, one pointing to a general problem, the other a specific example of the failure of the claim. The tactic in general has also been criticised by Muslim intellectual Imran Aijaz (see part 2 of “Evidentialist Apologetics in Islam) and I have criticised other examples of it elsewhere (“The Koran Predicted the Speed of Light? Not Really,” “Predicting Modern Science: Epicurus vs. Mohammed,” and a past forum discussion about ants).

Much of the fundamentalist’s evidence for this alleged miracle is actually moot, since it represents scientific knowledge that had been known in both the Mediterranean and Middle East for centuries before the Koran was written. Things like this have proven hard to explain to fanatics who are more practiced at pious denials than in actual historical research. For what follows, I am repeating common knowledge in the field of medieval history, and I refer doubters to the bibliography at the end of this essay.

Such misdirection of intellectual capital into glorifying the Q’uranic gospel at the expense of reason, cannot “advance” one’s society. “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” is no longer interesting, even philosophically.

The question of the decline in Islamic science is, I suggest, answered by the continuing enforced ascendancy of religious dogma over rational thought. This is another of Dr. Sultan’s points.

My conclusion is that the modern ascendancy of the West is due to the ability of Judeo-Christian culture to have overcome tribalism and superstition during the Enlightenment. This may even have been an accident of history, but that is irrelevant, and it cannot be imagined to have been directed against Islam.

More fully accepting the Golden Rule distinguishes the West from Islam in many ways, science not least. Christianity had a hard time overcoming its biases; Islam has found it impossible. The Enlightenment – the birth of modern Western values – is based on a simple extension of the Golden Rule to include those of other “tribes” who may not share your dogma.

The strain of Islam which dominates today’s headlines never experienced its own Enlightenment. Until it does, a rational discussion will not be possible. I think this is also among Dr. Sultan’s points.

I thank her for the obvious courage it took to say such things on Jihadist TV.

Update: 5-Mar, 6:38PM – various minor corrections.