Classifying What Speech is Free

In an NYT piece, Lisa Barrett argued that:

By all means, we should have open conversations and vigorous debate about controversial or offensive topics. But we must also halt speech that bullies and torments. From the perspective of our brain cells, the latter is literally a form of violence.

But I would suspect that most people who accept her argument also tend to accept that freedom of expression applies to art, public demonstration, flag burning, and anti-Christian rhetoric of the sort utilized by atheists and hard-line feminists.

For instance, I would suspect that ‘from the perspective of our brain cells’ people who love their spouses being told that they are a part of an oppressive and regressive system called the patriarchy fell attacked. I also suspect that people who vote republican being called ‘Nazis,’ with the implication that they are morally reprehensible and ought to be destroyed causes them distress ‘from the perspective of their brain cells.’ 

 

Music Monday: When Bastille “Can’t Even!”

When I heard this song the other day, I thought it was a parody:

How can you think you’re serious?
Do you even know what year it is? 
I can’t believe the scary points you make 
Still living in the currents you create
Still sinking in the pool of your mistakes 
Won’t you stop firing up the crazies? 

 

This reminds me of Paul Graham’s wonderful essay What You Can’t Say. The very idea that ‘what year it is’ should determine what can, can’t, should, or shouldn’t be said is about as unamerican and certainly as illiberal an idea one can imagine. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from his essay:

We may imagine that we are a great deal smarter and more virtuous than past generations, but the more history you read, the less likely this seems. People in past times were much like us. Not heroes, not barbarians. Whatever their ideas were, they were ideas reasonable people could believe.  

A brief spiritual exercise from Genesis 1:26-31

In Genesis 1, the Lord makes the world insofar as it is experienced by humanity, as a place he considers good and very good. It is a composition of chaos and order and more fully, in Genesis 2, God makes a Garden to demonstrate to man how, as a being in his image, to subdue the earth in a way that brings more potential out of it rather than ordering it in a stifling way (think of a garden with no bugs…super orderly but no fruit!) or leaving it to pure chaos (a field with no edible food for humans, but covered in fire ants and fleas hiding in the weeds).

With this in mind, I think part of being God’s image is asking at the end of our days: “Can I look at what I’ve made of this day and say, with honesty, ‘this is very good?'” And if you can’t, then revise yourself.

Jonathan Edwards had a practice like this, though it wasn’t explicitly based on Genesis 1:26-31:

41. Resolved, to ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better. Jan. 11, 1723.

 

Psalms 34:11-14 Genesis 1:26-31
Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
(Genesis 1:26-31)

Music Monday: The Highway Man

I’ve always thought this was an intriguing song/poem. I prefer Loreena McKennitt’s song to the poem, but it’s good. 

One reason I like it is that it raises that perennial question: why do people have relationships with people who are bad for them? For instance, dozens of women in the UK are married to men on death row! Also, in college, people with Dark Triad traits are more sexually successful (not defined in terms of ethics).

But I also like it because it’s an example of why self-control is so crucial. The highwayman loses his cool precisely when it’s time to calm and calculating and ultimately dies for it. The woman in the story is the man who dates jerks (in this case, he may have merely been a criminal, but not a jerk to her…hard to say). And the man is like King Solomon, who gave his strength to women (Proverbs 31:3). The archetypes are very real and something like this story happens frequently. People get into a relationship and catastrophically destroy one another while continuing to obsess over one another anyway. 

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The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees, 
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, 
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, 
And the highwayman came riding— 
Riding—riding— 
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

II

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin, 
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin; 
They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh! 
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle, 
His pistol butts a-twinkle, 
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

III

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard, 
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred; 
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there 
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, 
Bess, the landlord’s daughter, 
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

IV

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked 
Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked; 
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay, 
But he loved the landlord’s daughter, 
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter, 
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

V

‘One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night, 
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light; 
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day, 
Then look for me by moonlight, 
Watch for me by moonlight, 
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.’

VI

He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand, 
But she loosened her hair i’ the casement! His face burnt like a brand 
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast; 
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight, 
(Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!) 
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonliglt, and galloped away to the West.

PART TWO

I

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon; 
And out o’ the tawny sunset, before the rise o’ the moon, 
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor, 
A red-coat troop came marching— 
Marching—marching— 
King George’s men came matching, up to the old inn-door.

II

They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead, 
But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed; 
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side! 
There was death at every window; 
And hell at one dark window; 
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

III

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest; 
They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast! 
‘Now, keep good watch!’ and they kissed her. 
She heard the dead man say— 
Look for me by moonlight; 
Watch for me by moonlight; 
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

IV

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good! 
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood! 
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years, 
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight, 
Cold, on the stroke of midnight, 
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

V

The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest! 
Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast, 
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again; 
For the road lay bare in the moonlight; 
Blank and bare in the moonlight; 
And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love’s refrain .

VI

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear; 
Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear? 
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill, 
The highwayman came riding, 
Riding, riding! 
The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

VII

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night! 
Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light! 
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath, 
Then her finger moved in the moonlight, 
Her musket shattered the moonlight, 
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

VIII

He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood 
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own red blood! 
Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear 
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter, 
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter, 
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

IX

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky, 
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high! 
Blood-red were his spurs i’ the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat, 
When they shot him down on the highway, 
Down like a dog on the highway, 
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

X

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, 
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, 
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, 
A highwayman comes riding— 
Riding—riding— 
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

XI

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard; 
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred; 
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there 
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter, 
Bess, the landlord’s daughter, 
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair. 

Paul Graham on what can’t be said

I love ideas, data, speculation, experiments, and plans.

I also love arguments, refutations, and attempts at persuasion.

And I think what I love the most about the United States is the general legal consensus that outside of inciting people to acts of terrorism, one is allowed to say what they wish without government censure. In this sense, I am and have always been a free-speech absolutist. If somebody wants to make the case that a grave sin is actually sane and good, I’ll hear it. If somebody wants to claim that mega civilizations can control galaxies for energy and call it science, I’ll listen to Michio Kaku:

But, how free speechy (I think I made that up) are we?

Paul Graham suggests a test for your own free speech absolutism by positing a test for moral fashions:

What scares me is that there are moral fashions too. They’re just as arbitrary, and just as invisible to most people. But they’re much more dangerous. Fashion is mistaken for good design; moral fashion is mistaken for good. Dressing oddly gets you laughed at. Violating moral fashions can get you fired, ostracized, imprisoned, or even killed.

If you could travel back in a time machine, one thing would be true no matter where you went: you’d have to watch what you said. Opinions we consider harmless could have gotten you in big trouble. I’ve already said at least one thing that would have gotten me in big trouble in most of Europe in the seventeenth century, and did get Galileo in big trouble when he said it—that the earth moves. [1]

It seems to be a constant throughout history: In every period, people believed things that were just ridiculous, and believed them so strongly that you would have gotten in terrible trouble for saying otherwise.

Is our time any different? To anyone who has read any amount of history, the answer is almost certainly no. It would be a remarkable coincidence if ours were the first era to get everything just right.

It’s tantalizing to think we believe things that people in the future will find ridiculous. What would someone coming back to visit us in a time machine have to be careful not to say? That’s what I want to study here. But I want to do more than just shock everyone with the heresy du jour. I want to find general recipes for discovering what you can’t say, in any era.

This particular test is useful. Are my ethical standards determined by the cultural fads or careful reasoning? Christians have a tendency to feel that the Holy Spirit and deep study have prompted them toward some new ethical insight that really is just a way for them to stop being at odds with the dominant culture (sad). But my version is this:

Could you listen to the views of somebody from any time period or culture, insofar as they are not inciting terroristic or mob violence, and not want them silence, jailed, or executed?  

Obviously, this is context specific. Church services aren’t the place for giving heretics a voice, children’s classrooms aren’t the place for letting philosophical cases for sexual deviance be made, and so-on. But I think this test for free-speech absolutism is key. Am I, then, a free-speech absolutist?

Linkin Park, Chester Bennington, and Death

A few weeks ago Chester Bennington, the front-man for the genre bending group, Linkin Park died, apparently having committed suicide.

When I was in high school I really loved every song but one on their first two albums Hybrid Theory and Meteora. And in those days of music pirating software like Kazaa and Morpheus, I was able to discover older versions of hits like In The End with significantly superior lyrics that may not have been as interesting to a mass market audience.

The weird thing about Linkin Park is that they were a staple in weight rooms and gaming dens alike. But admitting you liked them in public was like admitting you liked Wrestling, Nickleback, or Dragon Ball Z. But everybody knew that millions of people liked these things, but somehow it was weird to like them in public…even if you knew that all the jacked guys in school listened to them, too.

I did watch wrestling and I know an unusual number of ex-addicts (usually alcohol) who found Dragon Ball Z’s main character Goku to be archetypally important for overcoming their problems. So, yeah, I like Dragon Ball Z, too. And frankly, Linkin Park had enough awesome songs with sci-fi themed music videos to be a legitimately awesome band. Though, you probably only liked them if you programmed computers, played video games, or lifted weights in high school.

Here’s my favorite Linkin Park and Dragon Ball Z music video:

If you want to be less of a goober and weirdo, here’s the version of that song with alternate (superior lyrics). It deals with the struggles of seeking to be an independent thinker:

Lyrics:

It starts with one
And multiplies ’til you can taste the sun
And burned by the sky you try to take it from
But if it falls, there’s no place to run
Crumbling down, it’s so unreal
They’re dealing you in to determine your end
And sending you back again, the places you’ve been
And bending your will ’til it breaks you within
And still they fill their eyes
With the twilight through the skylight
And the highlights on a frame of steel
See the brightness of your likeness
As I write this on a pad with the way I feel
Hear the screaming in my dreaming
As it’s seeming that you’ve played your part
Like you’re heartless, take apart this in the darkness
But I know that

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

I’ve looked down the line
And what’s there is not what ought to be
Held back by the battles they fought for me
Calling me to be part of their property
And now I see that I get no chance
I get no break, fakes and snakes
Quickly lead to mistakes
And as the tightrope within slowly starts to thin
I can only hope that they close their eyes
To the twilight through the skylight
And the highlights on a frame of steel
See the brightness of your likeness
As I write this on a pad to the way I feel
Hear the screaming in my dreaming
As it’s seeming that you’ve played your part
Like you’re heartless, take apart this in the darkness
But I know that

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know
I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know
I’ve put my trust in you
Pushed as far as I can go
For all this
There’s only one thing you should know

Chorus :
I tried so hard
And got so far
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn’t even matter

 

Journalism: A lost art?

I was looking up some of Will Gervais’ recent work on atheism (has in the past published on why even atheists dislike athiests, heh).

One of the articles that popped up was a salon article about his recent work about the apparent prevalence of atheism in the United States. In the final paragraph the author remarked that, about Trump:

As with his other attempts to turn back the clock in America, President Trump’s remark in his inaugural address about joining all Americans together with “the same almighty Creator,” threatens the intricate and varying histories, beliefs and ways of being that are present in this country.

But Trump is a guy who, if ever, only took an interest in God very recently and has made no moves toward a theocracy in any policy.

The article had an awesome title portending the rise of hidden atheists within evangelicalism, “Trump Evangelicals face a growing number of ‘hidden atheists.'” I had hoped for an article about atheists going to church or something (of course this was Solong magazine).

I am aware of several atheists who are willing to participate in Christian culture if it means not submitting to a Muslim culture. I heard one atheist put it this way, “What if the choice isn’t between atheism and Christianity, but between Jesus and Muhammad?” But the headline had nothing to do with the article. The current religious demographic is the same as it was during the election, which means that with the current atheist population, Trump won. So if “Trump evangelicals” are facing “hidden atheists” I don’t know in what sense, if any, that is significant. I’ve known several atheists at most stages in my conscious memory. When I was a kid, I temporarily thought God made no sense because a giant man-in-space couldn’t see both sides of the earth simultaneously. Atheism, particularly of the uncritical sort, is as common as hammers.

Anyway, I applaud the author for trying to apply the findings of #SCIENCE to a topic not addressed in the original piece, but the remark I quoted above is essentially a non-sequitur in relationship to the Trump quote, the numbers cited, and the headline. Why? One, a president (Trump or otherwise) using the vague language of American civil religion is hardly an attempt to threaten the beliefs of atheist Americans. Even the phrase “almighty creator” can be vague enough to be endorsed by Christians, Muslims, or atheists who think the universe generates life through random processes (incidentally, it’s atheists I know who dwell within the darkest corners of the neo-reactionary movement, not the Christians…so I’m interested to know what atheist support for Trump actually looks like despite the left leaning tendencies of atheists).

Two, Obama had several similar references to God in his two inaugural addresses. Here’s one:

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.  This is the source of our confidence — the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.  This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall; and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

Oh no, the president threatened the stories of atheists by claiming that their confidence in American ideals is theologically rooted!

Anyway, I’ll get around to making a post about atheists being disliked, but for now, at least I found one more barely readable article written to the glee of the internet about how one last thing might spell the end of Donald Trump’s campaign.

Eating Meat is good for the environment?

I mean, of course it is. Farming animals requires ecosystem maintenance, whereas vegetation farming on mega farms is simply a process of ecosystem alteration through a process of chemical fertilizing, mass pesticide promulgation, and government subsidizing of non-ideal plants in regions hostile to their growth. Dr. Eades, over at protein power has a great post about this:

Human herding mimics the ‘herding’ done by large predators in the wild. That replicating natural herding creates the richest soil makes sense given that grasslands, large herbivores, and carnivores all co-evolved. Just as with diet, the closer we come to what the forces of natural selection designed us to eat, the better things work.

Here’s a Ted talk he posted about it by Allan Savory:

Jesus and Conservative Family Values

I saw a goofy journalist on Twitter claim, in essence, that Jesus opposed “conservative family values.”

Leave aside for a moment that Jesus wasn’t much of a screamer (Matthew 12:19-20).

As an experiment let’s see what the gospels related concerning Jesus’ views about the topics of conservative family values:

Marriage/Celibacy/Divorce

Matthew 19:3-12 ESV
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Non-conservatives outside of the group that identifies as asexuals are typically astounded any promotion of intentional celibacy. Similarly, non-conservatives overwhelmingly support no-fault divorce. Jesus utterly rejected the ancient equivalent. Jesus also endorsed sexual dimorphism as the divinely instituted rfoundation of marriage.

Children

Matthew 19:13-15 ESV
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.

Jesus, who taught that the kingdom of God was the highest value, made it clear that it was meant for children. In other words, Jesus supports the having of children, through the means mentioned in marriage.

Parents

Matthew 15:3-6 ESV
He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.

Jesus says that honoring mother and father extends to financial care in their old age. He then claims that any tradition or practice that gets in the way of doing so constitutes rejection of God’s word. This is so, even if that practice is explicitly connected to worship.

Jesus’ Teaching Goes Beyond

Now, Jesus’ teaching goes beyond conservative family values. But he’s certainly not opposed to marriage, having children, raising them to live in God’s kingdom, or even going to work to support your family (which he did). He goes beyond when he said to love your enemies and choose moral rectitude over family loyalty, but Jesus never contradicts family values. He actually makes them harder.