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~ Special Announcement ~

With Christmas coming, Bridging The Abyss or In the Absence of God (or both) make great gifts for the reader on your shopping list.

Thank you,

Dick Cleary

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Progressive Liberalism

Nick Cohen at the Guardian undertakes to contrast traditional liberalism with modern, progressive liberalism. He writes:
On the one hand, traditional liberals say they must oppose political Islam. It is oppressive in its attitude to women, freethinkers and gay people, dogmatic in its intolerance of believers in other religions and none, and contemptuous of democracy and human rights. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, it mandates theocracy. In Syria and Nigeria, it justifies slavery and the mass murders of unbelievers.

Traditional liberals say we should oppose its non-violent and violent sectarianism as vigorously as we oppose Christian, Jewish, Hindu or any other form of sectarianism. Let your enemies play the race card and call you an Islamophobe if they must. Liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims need your support and you need to show that you are not living a lie.

Against traditional liberalism stands multicultural liberalism, which the majority of people who call themselves “progressives” believe. An unimprovable example of how it turns old certainties on their heads came two days before the Paris massacres. The Muslim Council of Britain demanded a blasphemy law because “Muslim communities need to be able to respond to accusations [against] Muslims, or against the Prophet, in a more effective way”.

The council’s guest, Keith Vaz, appeared to agree. It is symptomatic of our time that Vaz is not a Tory traditionalist who thinks it wrong for impious critics to mock the beliefs of the faithful, but a Labour politician. In general today, the left rather than the right, multicultural liberals rather than Tories, are the most likely to defend religious conservatism.

There can be no compromise between these two versions of liberalism and we should have the honesty to admit it.
Cohen has more at the link. Cohen captures several ironies of modern, progressive liberalism in his column. One point that could be added to what he writes is that "progressive liberalism" is actually a misleading label. Modern progressives are much closer to fascists than they are to liberals in the classical sense. They reject, for example, the traditional freedoms that liberals have long cherished - freedom of speech, the spirited clash of ideas, freedom of religion, the equality of all persons under the law, free and open markets, etc.

Modern progressives oppose all of these. Where progressives are influential, as they are on university campuses, speech codes, forbidden words and topics and other stiflings free speech are rife. Ideas which dissent from the orthodox view are shouted down and their proponents subjected to all manner of intimidation and punishments ranging from loss of tenure (instructors), to expulsion from school (students), to calls for arrest (climate change skeptics).

Progressives endorse freedom of religion as long as long as the religion isn't Christianity. Christians are pressured to shed their belief in traditional marriage, for instance, and threatened with fines or loss of tax exemption and, in some European countries, even arrest if pastors speak out in favor of traditional marriage, but progressives would never dream of subjecting Muslims to such sanctions.

Having insisted for decades that minority groups are victims of racism and oppression progressives now find themselves unable to oppose or criticize whatever members of those groups demand, whether it be the right to practice sharia law or even the right to impose sharia on the broader culture by enacting blasphemy laws.

Progressives have constructed an implicit narrative that governs the way they see the world. According to this narrative those who have power are ipso facto oppressors and those who lack power are ipso facto innocent victims. Thus, whenever the oppressor, for example a police officer, employs force against a victim the officer is by the very nature of the case engaging in oppression against the oppressed. The victim is by definition innocent and the oppressor is by definition guilty. Justice demands that the innocent be vindicated and the guilty oppressor be punished.

This progressive narrative infuses much of the racial tension in this country and sets the tone for the relations of Muslims to the wider culture in Britain. One way the innocent are to be vindicated, in the progressive view, is by yielding to their demands, which emanate, after all, from the moral high ground, and turning a blind eye to their social, legal, and intellectual transgressions and inadequacies.

Of course, when this point is reached genuine justice is no longer possible. And that, indeed, is the legacy of progressive liberalism.

Monday, November 23, 2015


Walter Russell Mead at The American Interest lays responsibility for the Syrian refugee crisis at the feet of three people: Syrian president Bashar Assad, ISIS leader al-Baghdadi, and President Obama. Why President Obama, you ask?

This paragraph from the conclusion of the essay sums up Mead's indictment of the president's culpability and the rest of the article fills in the facts supporting his allegations:
For no one, other than the Butcher Assad and the unspeakable al-Baghdadi, is as responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria as is President Obama. No one has committed more sins of omission, no one has so ruthlessly sacrificed the well-being of Syria’s people for his own ends, as the man in the White House. In all the world, only President Obama had the ability to do anything significant to prevent this catastrophe; in all the world no one turned his back so coldly and resolutely on the suffering Syrians as the man who sits in the White House today—a man who is now lecturing his fellow citizens on what he insists is their moral inferiority before his own high self-esteem.
What exactly were the president's omissions, in Mead's estimation?
Obama’s own policy decisions — allowing Assad to convert peaceful demonstrations into an increasingly ugly civil war, refusing to declare safe havens and no fly zones — were instrumental in creating the Syrian refugee crisis. This crisis is in large part the direct consequence of President Obama’s decision to stand aside and watch Syria burn.

Many Americans who now oppose the President’s ill-considered refugee program have long supported the use of American power to create “safe zones” in Syria so the refugees could be sheltered and fed in their own country. If President Obama seriously cared about the fate of Syria’s millions of displaced people, he would have started to organize those safe havens years ago. And if he understood the nature of America’s role in Europe, he would have known that working with the Europeans to prevent a mass refugee and humanitarian disaster was something that had to be done.

Not even President Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq has been as destructive for Europe or as damaging to the Transatlantic alliance as President Obama’s hard-hearted and short-sighted Syria policy. The flood of refugees is shaking the European Union to its core, and Obama’s policy has cemented perceptions among many around the world that the United States is no longer the kind of useful ally that it once was. France didn’t even bother to invoke NATO’s Article 5 after the Paris attacks; nobody really thinks of President Obama as the man you want at your side when the chips are down.
Mr. Obama prefers to "lead from behind" which implies that he prefers to cede leadership to others, but this is an abdication of his responsibility. The American president, whoever he is, is ipso facto the leader of the free world. If America declines to lead Western civilization will be rudderless, disunited, and vulnerable to the savage barbarians howling for blood just outside the gates.
The collapse of President Obama’s Syria policy is hardly a partisan issue. He has repeatedly overruled his own national security officials, top diplomats, and advisors, many of whom have been horrified by the President’s passivity in the face of onrushing disaster. His abrupt policy switch on airstrikes left many senior Democrats who had supported his apparent determination to enforce his “red line” against Assad twisting in the wind.
Mead also points to an astonishing irony in the president's policy:
The Obama Administration’s extreme caution about engagement in Syria led it to insist on such a thorough process of vetting potential Syrian allies that years of effort and tens of millions of dollars resulted in only a paltry handful of people being found acceptable to receive American weapons and training. The refugee vetting process won’t be nearly this thorough; it’s almost certain that the President’s program will result in settling people in the United States who could not be certified to fight for the United States in Syria. Given our gun laws, uncertified Syrians living in the United States will soon have the opportunity to get weapons that the United States government would refuse to give them in Syria.
Being largely responsible for the refugee mess it ill-suits Mr. Obama to mock those who urge a cautious approach to allowing thousands of refugees, refugees his policies have contributed to creating, into this country. Nor is the crisis over:
The Syria war has not finished creating refugees, undermining regional and even global security, putting WMD in terrorist hands, or spreading the poisons of radicalism and sectarian war across the Middle East and among vulnerable Muslims in Europe and beyond. Things can and will get worse as long as American policy continues to flounder; instead of arguing about how to shelter a few thousand refugees we need to look hard at how we are failing to address the disaster that has created millions, and that continues to grow.
Mr. Obama came into office thinking, or at least giving the impression that he thought, that all he had to do was convince the world that he wasn't anything like George Bush and peace and love would break out all over. Unfortunately, the world is comprised of billions of people who care little about "goodness" and who are restrained by only two things: Power and the willingness to use it. The Obama administration has sounded an uncertain trumpet and refused to back up its own threats in Syria. The evil-doers in ISIS know that this administration is not really serious about stopping them, so, unintimidated by our weak hand and the lack of leadership from this administration, the world is merrily tearing itself apart.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Is Islam Violent?

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently claimed that "Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.” Secretary of State John Kerry recently assured us that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam.

Over and over we're told that Islam is a religion of peace. Well, the religion of peace is racking up quite a body count lately, not just the 3000 victims of the 9/11 attack, not just the more recent 600 plus victims of the Ankara, Beirut, and Russian airliner bombings, the 130 victims of the Paris slaughter, and the 30 or so victims of the Mali hotel attack, but uncountable lesser crimes throughout the world all done in the name of Islam.

To say that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism is like saying Christendom had nothing to do with the Inquisition. As Jonah Goldberg puts it:
The jihadists say they are motivated by Islam. They shout “Allahu akbar!” whenever they kill people. “Moderate Muslims” in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere have been funding Islamic radicals around the world for nearly a century. This morning in Mali, terrorist gunmen reportedly released those hostages who could quote the Koran. The leader of ISIS has a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies and openly talks about restoring the Caliphate.

Oh, one other thing: The Islamic State is called the Islamic State. I used to eat at a restaurant called “Burrito Brothers.” Saying the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam is like telling someone eating a burrito they bought at Burrito Brothers that Burrito Brothers has “nothing whatsoever” to do with burritos.
It is inexplicable that so many of our politicians and opinion-molders seem unable to grasp this. If Republicans had rung up as many casualties as Muslim terrorists have you can bet there'd be no reticence about drawing the connection between Republican thinking and murderous barbarism. Indeed, some who can't bring themselves to put the words terrorist and Muslim together in the same sentence had no trouble putting the words Tea-party and terrorist together just a few years ago.

But set all that aside. The test of whether people are true Muslims or Christians is how closely their behavior, either theoretical or actual, comports to that of the founder of their religion - the one whose example and teaching they aspire to emulate.

When this test is applied to Islam it turns out, unfortunately, that the ISIS savages who enslave and behead are far more like their founder than are those Muslims who simply want to live in peace.

Mohammad himself practiced slavery, he condoned it for Muslims, and encouraged his followers to have sex with their female slaves. Yet all of these the world professes to be appalled at when practiced by ISIS.

Mohammad also cut off the heads of those he had taken prisoner. He had 500-900 Qurayza Jews, men and boys, decapitated after the battle of Trench and gave their wives, mothers, and sisters to his soldiers. When ISIS cuts the heads off their enemies they're following the example of the Prophet all Muslims revere and whose life they look to as their example. Indeed, Islamic literature, including the Qu'ran, is replete with passages enjoining Muslims to kill infidels.

This is why, perhaps, significant minorities of Muslims in eleven countries polled by the Pew Foundation condone the horrors that ISIS perpetrates. The numbers of supporters, though small in terms of percentage of the population, are huge in absolute terms. As many as 63 million people in eleven countries actually support ISIS, and that number rises to as many as 287 million if those who aren't sure are factored in. In Israel alone, for example, only 4% of the Muslim population supports ISIS but that translates to 66,000 individuals.

In any case, the claims of Clinton and Kerry that ISIS does not represent Islam and that Muslims have nothing to do with terrorism seem to be instances of burying one's head in the sand to avoid having to face a very unpleasant reality. We can be very grateful that millions of Muslims deplore the atrocities perpetrated by ISIS and other Islamic groups, but in order to do so they have to tacitly distance themselves from the behavior of Mohammad himself.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Unhelpful Rhetoric

President Obama has been strongly criticized, even by members of his own party, for his rhetorical lassitude in the wake of the Paris atrocity and for his refusal to see anything in the reluctance of many Americans to admit tens of thousands of Syrians into the country except unalloyed bigotry.

He recently couched a petulant response to his critics in the form of his favorite rhetorical device, the straw man, accusing opponents of his refugee policy of being frightened of "widows and orphans." This is an astonishingly silly characterization from the man who is supposed to be president of all Americans. Instead of explaining in a dignified manner befitting a world leader how his administration is making sure that no terrorists and terrorist sympathizers are sneaking in among the genuine refugees, he resorts to ridicule, a tactic more befitting a community agitator.

Mr. Obama insists that the refugees are being properly vetted, but until he explains exactly what that vetting process consists of it's hard to believe him. For most refugees there is no database, no records, against which to vet them. The vetting process consists essentially of asking them if they are who they say they are.

Over 70% of the refugees flooding Europe are young men of military age with no families. Many putative Syrian refugees are not Syrians at all but men from other nations carrying fake passports, and some Syrians are trying to sneak into the country illegally with fake Greek passports.

President Obama and others have chastised those who are calling for a cautious approach to letting in tens of thousands of people, some of whom may be murderous monsters, by declaring that such would be a denial of American values and that calls for caution only make it easier for ISIS to recruit. Both of these assertions are nonsense. There was no legal immigration into this country from 1924 to 1965. Moreover, according to current law, Cuban migrants seeking to come to the U.S. but intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba.

It might also be added that the attempt by some to compare the current refugee situation to that of Jews fleeing Nazi Europe in 1939 aboard the SS St. Louis, only to be turned away at American ports, is a red herring. Turning away a boatload of over 900 refugees from the Nazis was unconscionable, but the situation today is not analogous. There was no danger in 1939 that any of the Jews on board the St. Louis were plotting to commit mass murder of Americans, but ISIS boasts that they've heavily infiltrated the refugees and our FBI and Homeland Security leaders tell us there's no reason to doubt them.

Finally, if Mr. Obama really thinks that a cautious approach to the refugee problem gives ISIS a powerful recruiting tool then the president needs to get more rest. ISIS has successfully recruited young men and women because it offers them the promise of being in on the ground floor of the final victory of the forces of Allah over the hated infidels and Jews, not because of American immigration policies which are, it should be noted, far more liberal than those of any middle eastern Muslim country.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Luv Gov

A young woman named Alexis falls in love with a guy named Govinsky who turns out to be an overbearing, controlling lout who, despite his assurances of wanting only what's best for Alexis, gradually smothers her freedom.

Her friend Libby (Liberty) tries to warn her that "Gov" isn't what he appears to be, but Alexis allows herself, over a series of five short (5 minutes) videos, to become more and more deeply dependent until finally she has an epiphany and realizes that her dependence on Gov has wrecked her life.

Each of the videos in the series is an amusing parable for our times. Here's the first:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Evolution and Consciousness

Sal Cordova at Uncommon Descent talks about how reflecting on the phenomenon of human consciousness as a high school student led him to doubt the Darwinian story:
I remember sitting in class and the biology teacher gave the standard talking points. But for some reason, the fact I was conscious did not seem reducible to evolutionary explanations. Strange that I would even be perplexed about it as a high school student, but I was. That was the beginning of my doubts about Darwin…

Years later, when I related the story to Walter ReMine, he explained to me that consciousness poses a serious problem for evolution.

He said something to the effect, “Say an animal has to flee a predator — all it has to do is run away. Why does it have to evolve consciousness in order to flee predators?” Mechanically speaking the animal can be programmed to flee, or even hunt, without having to be self-aware. Why does it have to evolve consciousness to do anything for survival?

Why would selection favor the evolution of consciousness? How does natural selection select for the pre-cursors of consciousness? I don’t think it can. Ergo, consciousness didn’t evolve, or it’s just a maladaptation, or an illusion — or maybe it is created by God. Materialists can say consciousness is an illusion all they want, but once upon a time, when my arm was broken in a hang gliding crash, I felt real pain. It would have been nice if consciousness were an illusion back then, but it wasn’t.
Somehow, at some point in our embryonic development consciousness arises, but how does a particular configuration of material stuff generate it? Dead people have the same configuration of matter in their brains (unless they suffered a head injury) that they had before dying and yet before death they were conscious and after death they are not. Why? What's missing after death?

How do physical processes like electrochemical reactions in the brain produce a belief, or a doubt, or understanding? How do atoms whirling about in our neuronal matrix give rise to our sense that the distant past is different from the recent past? How do chemical reactions translate a pattern of ink on paper into a meaning and how do firing synapses translate electrical pulses into the sensation of red? Not only does no one know the answers to these questions, it's very hard to see how they even could have an answer if our material brain is the only entity responsible for them.

Consciousness is an incredibly intriguing phenomenon. Not only is there no explanation in a materialist ontology of how it works, there's also no explanation for how it could ever have evolved through purely random, physical, material processes.

Cordova has more at the link.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Problem With Teaching Ethics

Ray Penning at Cardus Blog asks the question, "Can ethics be taught?" The answer, of course, is yes and no. Ethics, as the study of the rules that philosophers have prescribed to govern our moral behavior, can certainly be taught, but, although thousands of books have been written about this, I doubt that any of them have changed anyone's actual behavior. Part of the reason is that, as Penning observes:
Ethics courses that leave students with a bunch of “you shoulds” or “you should nots” are not effective. There are deeper questions that proceed from our understanding of what human nature is about and what we see as the purpose of our life together.
This is true as far as it goes, but the reason teaching such rules is not effective is that focusing on the rules fails to address the metaethical question of why we should follow any of those rules in the first place. What answer can be given to the question why one should not just be selfish, or adopt a might-makes-right ethic? At bottom secular philosophy has no convincing answer. Philosophers simply utter platitudes like "we wouldn't want others to treat us selfishly, so we shouldn't treat them selfishly," which, of course, is completely unhelpful unless one is talking to children.

The reply is unhelpful when aimed at adult students because students will discern that the reply simply asserts that we shouldn't be selfish because it's selfish to be selfish. The question, though, is why, exactly, is it wrong to do to others something we wouldn't done to us? What is it about selfishness that makes selfishness wrong?

Moreover, this sort of answer simply glosses over the problem of what it means to say that something is in fact "wrong" in the first place. Does "wrong" merely mean something one shouldn't do? If so, we might ask why one shouldn't do it, which likely elicits the reply that one shouldn't do it because it's wrong. The circularity of this is obvious.

The only way to break out of the circle, the only way we can make sense of propositions like "X is wrong," is to posit the existence of a transcendent moral authority, a personal being, who serves as the objective foundation for all our moral judgments. If there is no such being then neither are there any objective moral values or duties to which we must, or even should, adhere. This lack of any real meaning to the word "wrong" is a major consequence of the secularization of our culture, and it's one of the major themes of my novels In the Absence of God and Bridging the Abyss (see links at the top of this page), both of which I heartily recommend to readers of Viewpoint.