Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Just a short time ago today, the United States Senate saw Republican senator Ted Cruz give an over 20 hour long, rambling speech to try and stop the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare). In an earlier post (here), I wondered why the right wing in America are so much more right wing than any large political party in any other first world country. I'm certainly not the only person to remark upon this (Thomas Edsall in the New York Times today had an editorial entitled "How did Conservatives get this Radical"), and, sadly, Cruz's speech today fit right into that idea (in the midst of his rambling he compared Obamacare to the Nazis and himself to the founding forefathers!). And along with Cruz's speech, there has been a ridiculous series of commercials attempting to scare young people out of getting health care. And then there's the house of representatives...
Recently the Republican house passed a bill that would fund the government except for Obamacare. The bill is sure to die in the senate, and of course President Obama will never sign it, but the Republican party has shifted so far to the right that they'd rather push a bill with no chance of passage than admit that Obamacare will soon be law.
The tumultuous history of the Affordable Care Act is a long and rambling one, which featured numerous fights in congress and some screeching protests, along with some crazy rhetoric from the right (remember Sarah Palin literally saying that her handicapped son's life was threatened by death panels?). But the important thing to remember about it is this: it is a bill that was passed by a majority in both houses of congress(without a single Republican vote) and was signed into law by the president, and it was then upheld by the supreme court. As any 5th grade student of the US government will tell you, that's how bills become law. Furthermore, Mitt Romney very specifically ran on a platform of overturning it, and he lost. The law has survived every possible test, and yet the Republican party still acts like they can kill it instead of accepting it. The word compromise simply seems to mean surrender to them.
The crazy thing about this is that the Affordable Care Act is far from radical; a real different plan would have expanded the popular medicare program, that covers senior citizens, to all Americans. Something like what they have in every other industrialized nation. Instead, it's a watered down plan that requires people to sign up for health care or pay a fine, with poor and middle class people getting some government aid to help pay for it. It actually is similar to a plan first suggested by former Republican senator Bob Dole way back in 1993 as an alternative to then president Clinton's doomed health care plan. The idea that it's some government take over of health care that will raise prices and destroy jobs seems absurdly over the top, if not out of the realm of possibility, but even Social Security, one of the most popular government programs ever, had to go through some tweaking after it was passed. Hopefully Obamacare can also be improved if need be.
The issue of the house trying to defund the bill shows one of the real differences between the two parties in our country today, and why it's often so hard for Democrats to get things done even when they have one house of congress and the presidency. This partisan contrast can be easily seen if one looks back to the year 2006; that year the Democrats took both the house and the senate in a stinging rebuke of President Bush and the way he was handling the war in Iraq, which was growing less popular by the day. After taking over the house, there was some talk of the Democrats trying to defund the war in a manner similar to what the Republicans are now trying to do with Obamacare, but the Democrats realized that simply defunding the war and demanding immediate troop withdrawal, which could have resulted in a government shut down, would have been too radical a move. Sadly, today's Republicans have no fear of being too radical.
It's possible that what we are seeing is the last gasp of the extreme right in this country, what with demographic changes working strongly against them as they struggle to appeal to anyone who isn't an old white man, but if that's the case, I'm afraid it will be a long gasp. For years the Republicans have often had an advantage in raising money from corporations and the wealthy (like the billionaire Koch brothers) and while more money does not always equal electoral success, it certainly can help. So, sadly, we may be seeing uncompromising extremists like Cruz shooting off their mouths for years to come.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
I sometimes listen to a radio show on NPR entitled Philosophy Talk, and one time John Perry, one of the show's hosts, said something that really struck me: he pointed out that if male humans had not evolved to be the way that they are, the human race would have died out thousands of years ago. But the more civilized that the world has become, the more their masculine ways have become a disadvantage. For example, being physically aggressive was a good thing thousands of years ago when humans were competing for their survival with other species, in fact it was necessary for hunting food and fighting off predators. But now we live in a world where over ninety five percent of all violent crimes are committed by men, and almost all violent behavior is frowned upon unless it's in response to other violent behavior. It would appear that evolution needs to catch up to civilization.
Our primitive past also plays a role in our sexual and romantic relationships. Again, thousands of years ago when we were fighting with other species for our very survival, certain tendencies arose; the bottom line for any species survival is to produce as many healthy offspring as possible. Now consider that if a man has sex with a hundred different women in a year, it's possible that he could impregnate all of them, whereas if a woman has sex with a hundred different men, she can only get pregnant once. So you can see why promiscuity in men was necessary to human survival, with healthy, strong men passing on those good genes as much as possible. Today this manifests itself in the unfortunate stereotype of promiscuous men being haled as studs and promiscuous women being branded as sluts. It also explains why men tend to avoid committed relationships more than women, and are more likely to stray when in one. Evolution has just led men on average into wanting to have sex more often, and with more partners, than women.
|The sexiest man alive in 1989 was almost 70|
Evolution has led to another unfortunate stereotype: that men age better than women. Almost from the very beginning, movies have matched older men with younger women romantically, with little protest from audiences (Fred Astaire used to say that as he got older, his leading ladies got younger). Again, this is due to evolution and human reproduction: putting it simply, the main reason men and women are attracted to each other in the first place is the animal instinct to produce offspring. Even if you don't want to have children, your unconscious mind is pushing you that way, and women, unlike men, lose their natural fertility as they get older. Generally speaking, a woman past the age of forty is not likely to get pregnant without fertility treatments. And while men at that age do see a reduction in their overall sex drive, their ability to reproduce remains, and there are men in their sixties still fathering children. So the sad spectacle of the older man divorcing his wife for a younger trophy wife is based on human evolution.
And it has added an interesting wrinkle to women's desire also. In their highly entertaining book SEX AT DAWN, authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha point out that in the distant past, promiscuity may have had an advantage for women too. It's safe to say that, centuries ago, the infant mortality rate was very high, perhaps as much as %50. Humans, unlike so many other animal species, spend the first few years of childhood being completely helpless and reliant on adults (compare a human baby to a newborn zebra that's up and on its feet within minutes of birth). And a woman nursing a child needed help from others, usually men, to bring her food. Now, if there are more than one man in the tribe who think that they may be the father of a child, then there'll be more than one man feeling obliged to help feed and protect that child, and its chance of survival will increase. So in the days before paternity tests, women's promiscuity may have also played a role in our survival as a species.
|You should really read this|
So should we just throw up our hands in defeat and say that all marriages are doomed? That evolution has led us too far away from monogamy for it to ever succeed? Of course not, (although open relationships in marriages can work in some cases). The nice thing about humans is that our brains are big enough that we can resist instinctual urges. Consider, for example, that humans, like our distant relatives the chimpanzee, have been omnivorous from the beginning. And yet there are millions of people that are vegetarians and vegans, and they're perfectly happy to avoid the animal instinct of eating meat. So long term monogamous relationships are possible, because, as we all know, humans are both animals driven by instinct, and something more.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Abortion is, of course, the single most contentious issue in the US today because it's so straightforward; either you believe that life begins at conception or it doesn't, that every abortion ends a life or not. But I do believe that there are more complexities to the issue than people often consider.
I myself am pro choice, I support abortion on demand for the first three months of pregnancy, and then after that in certain cases (according to The New York Times, 98.5 percent of all abortions take place in the first five months of pregnancy). This puts me on the side of the slight majority of pro choice Americans. But I do have some sympathy for the anti abortion stance, because when life actually begins seems to be difficult to pinpoint, and personal feelings come into play. Although I think some anti arbortionists want to punish women for having sex without wanting to have children, I have met some who honestly do believe that a fetus is alive and therefore worthy of protection. There's even a group that calls themselves "feminists for life", yes, an anti abortion feminist group! So the issue is not always clear cut.
But for the anti arbortionists, I would like to make this logical hypothetical point: let's say that the Christian fundamentalists get exactly what they want in America, a constitutional amendment banning all abortions without exception. Can they really honestly believe that that would end abortions completely in this country? As we can see from the war on drugs, making an activity illegal hardly brings an end to it. All that would happen is that American women who can afford it would travel to another country to get an abortion, and poor women would go to back allies and get dangerous illegal abortions. In the days before the Roe vs. Wade ruling, states where abortion was illegal had numerous cases of women being badly injured or even dying from such unsanitary abortions, and there's no reason to doubt that this problem would return if abortion were made illegal.
Furthermore, there is contradiction from anti abortionists that angers me: one of the main reasons that women give for getting an abortion is economic; raising a child is expensive, and many women just can't afford it. And knowledge of that expense comes from experience, tellingly, sixty one percent of women who get abortions already have at least one child. So if money is a large part of why women get an abortion, why is that so often the most outspoken anti arbortionists are the first to demonize single mothers, to call women on welfare moochers, and to cut food stamps and medicaid? A stunning seventy six percent of families that get food stamps have at least one child, but that doesn't stop congressional Republicans from trying to gut the program in the name of "fiscal responsibility" and "ending dependency". The anti abortionists seem to want it both ways: if a woman gets an abortion she's an evil murderer, if she goes on welfare, she's a lazy leech on society. How can a group care so much about unborn babies and then so little about poor children? Ardent anti arbortionist Ronald Reagan once referred to people on medicaid as a "faceless mass waiting in line for a handout", robbing poor people (including children) of their very humanity. Many anti abortionists say that they support adoption instead of abortion, but if every woman who got an abortion put that child up for adoption instead, our adoption centers would be flooded, many of the children would never find homes, and they would wind up being raised by the same government that conservatives claim to hate so much.
And why do so many anti arbortionists support making it harder for women to get access to birth control? Many say that health care plans should be able to opt out of offering birth control for "moral reasons"; even worse was George W Bush's plan of abstinence only sex education. The absurd notion that if we just tell children not to even think about sex until marriage then they won't have any denies not only reason, but human biology. It's just plain common sense: less unwanted pregnancies equals less abortions, so why can't the US grow up and teach proper birth control methods as part of sex education, like other industrialized nations with lower teen birth rates do?
Although I obviously disagree with the Catholic church on this issue, I will give them points for consistency; unlike Christian fundamentalists, the Catholic church supports expanded aid to the poor, and pays for many charitable organizations. In fact, in the last presidential election, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a Catholic, proposed a budget that slashed government aid to the poor, that was condemned by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. So not all anti abortionists demonize the poor, just some of them.
Here's another point I'd like to make: Christians assert that god created all of us in his divine image and that we are his blessed creation. Now if god knows and sees all, then surely it must be able to see into the future, and therefore it must have known that eventually humans would create the ability and desire to have abortions. If god hates abortion, why did it create us with the ability to perform them? Surely a supreme being could have created humans in such a way as to make abortions physically impossible. But it chose not to. Why? Was this a design flaw in its creation? Why would god allow humans to have abortions and then send its holy messengers on earth to attack it? Isn't that a mixed message?
Trying to change people's minds on this seemingly intractable issue may be a fool's errand, but I hope I least have made some points that might provoke some thought for anti abortionists. And for those of you who do want to overturn Roe vs. Wade, I would plead with you to at least tone down the angry rhetoric, which has lead to violence against clinics and doctors. Killing people is never the answer, and it makes a mockery of your so called "pro-life" stance.
Sunday, September 1, 2013
|God(feel free to substitute George Burns or Morgan Freeman)|
When making the case for atheism, many atheists use logical, scientifically based arguments. Things like displaying the science of carbon dating and fossils to prove evolution, or the history of world religions to point out that belief in all powerful beings are not new to the human race can be persuasive to some, but faith, by its very definition, is not based on reason or logic, and therefore can often resist such arguments with ease. I once heard a Christian fundamentalist say that fossils were put in place by satan in order to make humans question creationism; while this statement seems laughable to me, it perfectly shows the lengths that the faithful will go to defend their beliefs and how difficult it is to counter against such beliefs when they are so strongly held.
So why not make arguments against god that are based not on reason or science, but that instead play on emotion? Here are some I like to make: the concept of heaven and hell as reward or punishment is one that runs through the Christian faith. On the surface, it seems like an understandable and even pleasant idea: why shouldn't good people be rewarded by going to a perfect place forever, and why shouldn't the Adolf Hitlers and Joseph Stalins of the world get what's coming to them?
But the idea of human life being a test, one in which we are freely allowed to choose between the moral and the immoral and are duly rewarded or punished, falls apart when one examines the realities of the world. For heaven and hell to really work, every person would have be born into a similar life situation, and share a similar life span. That would be the only way for there to be a just judgmental system applied to every person in the world. But that just isn't the case: every year, all around the world, millions of children are born into lives of poverty and hardship through no fault of their own. Many of those children will grow up and violate the laws of their country and human morality in general as a means to get out of that poverty. Are they completely at fault and deserved of eternal damnation? Many of them would never have broken the law if they were born to a family of reasonable means, so how can their lives be seen as test when the odds of them passing it have been stacked against them? And then there are children who are born to a family that provides for them reasonably, but who are horribly abused as children. Sexual or physical abuse can leave life long scars on them. If a boy is born into a family where violent behavior and abuse are the norm, can he really be blamed for growing up to be a violent person? How much free will does such a person have?
And then there's the question of geography; many Christians maintain that eternal paradise can only be achieved through being Christian or converting to it. But what if you are born into a part of the world with a completely different faith? There are around nine hundred million Hindus in the world today; if a person is born into a community of Hindus, lives his entire life as a Hindu and never converts to Christianity, why would a just and fair god punish that person with eternal damnation? What if he led a good and moral life? What if he never even heard about Christianity? Would a murderer who embraces the Christian faith in jail be allowed into heaven before a Hindu who led a good honest life?
|And let's face it, their gods look cooler|
And then there's the tricky question of lifespan. To lead a moral life, one has to live long enough to be able to consciously make moral choices. And the sad fact of the matter is that every year, all around the world, millions of children die before reaching the age of five through starvation, dehydration, disease and other factors. None of these children led a long enough life to make moral decisions, so how can they possibly be judged?
Even worse, why does god allow so many innocent children to die in the first place? God is supposed to be loving and caring, and yet where is god in the face of sudden infant death syndrome(SIDS), a condition that causes thousands of tiny babies all around the world to just stop breathing? Here are completely blameless children who have never even had the chance to commit a sin; why would a benevolent god let them just die needlessly? If god truly has control over everyone and everything in the world, and has deep love for all the people in it, why can't it prevent those innocent babies from dying? If a supreme being can't be bothered to save the lives of newborn babies, then what good is it? Is that a god worth praying to? At the risk of being noble, I would gladly trade my middle aged life to save the life of just one of those babies dying from SIDS. But I can't. Why not?
I have personally used this last point about SIDS when debating the existence of god with religious people I know, and I have yet to receive an answer that is satisfactory to me. One person said that all those babies were going to grow up to be the next Adolf Hitler, but that raises more questions than it answers (If god intervenes to stop the next Hitler from growing up, why didn't it stop the first Hitler? And how could thousands of babies grow up to be the next Hitler? How many Hitlers can there be?). Most just shake there heads and admit that it's a tough question, and indeed the concept of god allowing the suffering of the innocent is one that theologians have grappled with for years. To me the answer is simple: the idea that there is a wise, caring and loving all powerful being that guides us, listens and responds to our prayers and that wisely judges us is an attractive one on the face of it, but, when one honestly looks at the deep, unfair inequities of the world, the likelihood of such a being actually existing becomes minuscule. That is, of course, entirely my own opinion.