Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The problem with “name it and claim it”

There are many ways to broach this topic. The bottom line is that a “name it and claim it” approach to faith will leave one intellectually and spiritually unequipped to fully invest in the continual quest for godly wisdom.

To begin, I need to define some terms that will take greater elaborating on in later essays. What I call God’s perfect intent are the general goals and intentions of God that are clear from Scripture: basically put, that we operate in sinless and perfect trust and enjoyment of God in relationship and that we love and bless each other. From there God’s perfect intent is that all people are healed, all good desires are met. God’s ultimate intent is the realization of God’s perfect intent which is promised at the end of history.

What I call God’s existential intent is much trickier and works upward from the failings of gritty human reality on earth. The question of God’s existential intent in general form is: “What does God intend from one point in history to the next as He works within the confines of free will, sin and fallen humanity”. As a personal prayer, God’s existential intent can be stated as follows: “What does God want for me right now, what should I dwell on and what pitfalls should I avoid in regard to my own sin, the sin of others and the danger of life.”

With that quick introduction to a theology of God’s intent, here is what a person with a “name it and claim it” theology of faith believes: “If I have a specific desire that is generally consistent with God’s will, God will back it up and see it through to realization if I A) commit that intent into words and B) hold on firmly to the belief that what I have committed to words in God’s name will come to pass. My faith is to be certain that this specific thing will happen even as it does not appear that it will happen by natural or human means. Anything that stands in the way of that specific goal is the adversity of the devil and of human faithlessness. In the face of adversity I must cast out the devil and confess my sins so that there will not be a sin in my heart that gives the devil permission to thwart my desire.”

Depending on one’s maturity and experience in listening to and following God, this is more often than not an immature, juvenile approach to faith. The central problem is that while God’s perfect intent is clear, God’s existential intent is much more complex and mysterious. We know generally what to pray for but not specifically. We must be ever more knitted into the heart and mind of the Spirit to know exactly what to pray for and how from one moment to the next.

A correct understanding of faith in God’s promises is as follows: God has given us the following promise that is largely unequivocal and a guaranteed endowment of grace: that we will grow in deeper knowledge, enjoyment and love of God. The following promises to us from God flow directly from this central promise: A) the wisdom to follow God in a dangerous world, B) deeper and richer human relationships, C) using us to advance his Kingdom in the lives of others and D) provision of our needs as God sees our needs and not necessarily as we see our needs. I will refer to these as first tier promises.

Nothing else – not, wealth, fecundity, health, career success, long life, and not even good specific ministry intentions – are promised to us with any of the same certainty as the first tier promises. Beyond what God promises to us as first tier promises, we are generally unwise and do not even know what to specific thing to pray for / think about from one moment to the next and need the guidance of the Spirit. Generally speaking, God does intend to reward us with the specific desires of our hearts, but they need to be treated as a “second tier desires”, not having the same gaurantee as first tier promises.

This does not mean that a good and godly desire in our heart won’t come to pass or that God has not invited us into a special vision of his will, but the desire must be treated with different spiritual gloves. Our first and foremost act of faith is listening to God continually to orient our heart and mind to gain wisdom from God. In doing so we put our specific intents – however godly we think they are – on the altar and let God either crucify them or give them back to us. We are to hold onto them with the right grip that is neither too loose nor too tight. Learning to be supple in our grip on our desires is a life long process. The greater maturity we have in our faith the more accurately we are able to interpret the meaning of the desires God has placed in our hearts.

God often uses us to advance his kingdom in ways far more mysterious and creative than any our specific intentions, no matter how godly they may be. God’s work in our lives and the use of lives to advance his kingdom is often more visible more on the look back than the look forward. God’s breath of a new vision of His Kingdom into our minds often arrives as an unexpected turn of a corner.

The immature Christian arrives at his understanding of faith by proof-texting certain Scriptures, knitting them together into a name it and claim it approach to faith at the expense of other Scriptures (dealing with all of the Scriptural specifics would require more detail later). The immature Christian believes that a good or even godly desire is every bit as certain to come to pass as God’s first tier promises. The immature Christian will often lack the wisdom to see his needs in exactly the same way as how God sees his needs, and may mistake his “want” for a “need”. Inevitably, the immature Christian is more invested in the realization of a concrete second tier desire than a more difficult and abstract first tier promise, and treats his faith as persevering in an expectation of a particular outcome in his life rather than the premise that he is unwise and requires Gods wisdom which God promises to give.

By properly seeking wisdom, we are able to better execute those “second tier” desires when it becomes God’s appointed time. When we are properly illumined by the Spirit in the internal quest of our personal discipleship— we are able to be properly illumined in performing our God ordained external goals and objectives. As we are properly on track gaining wisdom continually from God, the same wisdom enables us to be shrewd and interpret people, dangerous situations correctly. As we operate with the right leaning on God’s continual direction we are able to navigate around life’s pitfalls in prayer, thought and godly action, all of which all different expressions of the same fundamental act of following the leading of the Spirit.

The execution of our godly desires requires the full investment of our minds pressing into God to gain God’s problem solving insight into matters. Lacking a discipleship of continually seeking and gaining wisdom and lacking a theology of faith that pre-disposes him to this quest, the immature Christian will often have a tendency to “punt to the Holy Spirit” – expecting God to solve problems for him that actually require the investment of his own mind in problem solving. This Christian gets the “be innocent as a doves” but neglects the “and as shrewd as snakes” teaching of Jesus and ends up using his understanding of Christian faith to arrive at what I call “Pollyanity”, which is the abdication of the responsibility to be shrewd in the name of faith.

The immature Christian will put an almost magical faith in the power of his words, which is another part of his failure to fully invest himself to be ever more knitted to the mind and heart of God. It is not the fact that we have committed something into human words per se that matters, though putting something into words is an important way in which make shape our intentions for our own minds and for others. What actually matters is the intensity and clarity of our intent before God which may or may not always be expressed by words. The first orientation our intensity must be to seek God’s will so that it can be shaped into godly wisdom. If not our words will not necessarily have any meaning or backing from God.

The immature Christian is not equipped to properly interpret the true meaning the adversity lying in the way of the realization of his second tier desires. Any crisis on earth is not first and foremost the adversity of the devil, though there may be very well be spiritual forces involved in our obstacles. What is of greatest importance to our walk with God is that adversity is first and foremost a crisis of our own wisdom.

God is plenty big enough to deal with any obstacle when it is the appointed time and place for an obstacle to be removed from our path. Until then, our primary pre-occupation should not be with the size and power of the spiritual forces against us but with seeking the vision and will of God. There may be wisdom encoded into the adversity we are experiencing – that God is allowing the adversity so that we must loosen our grip on a second tier desire so that God can advance to use a first tier promise of His grace in a new way.

Friday, November 13, 2009

a poem

We used to know each other by name
now I see you sitting there
in the café as I walk in
almost a complete stranger
perhaps it would be social of me
to rekindle our acquaintance
and rescue my memory of you
from its fading twilight
or perhaps that would obligate each of us
into forced pleasantries
momentarily popping each of us out
of our minds grooves
like an old vinyl record player
for better or worse
I let your face fade into oblivion
and let the sun set on our acquaintance.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A couple more aphorisms

When you treat a social reality as having a simple moral problem with a simple fix, you often ignore other moral realities that exist in the true complexity of the matter. When that happens the cure you created for the one problem becomes the poison that causes other problems.

To those who say "There's talk and there's action!" I say this: Serious talk is a form of action and is often necessary before any other constructive action can begin.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

You can be "you"

I’ve seen more billboard ads than I can count the past couple of years that use the word “you” or some overt target of the first or second person --- “the you wide web” “It’s all about you” … “the bank of me” … and on and on. I think that as Americans (or Usonians if you prefer) we have a tradition of valuing individualism. In our films we celebrate the individualist individual who breaks out to do it his own way, whatever “it” is. In the drama of film we enjoy watching this person make the painful choices to go it alone and subvert/fight against the bad guys and wet blankets. We watch them cut through the gristle come out on top in the end and cheer.

In the actual function of most Americans daily lives, most are not individuals in this way in any real heroic sense. To actually become an individual requires that one be willing to walk in a valley of aloneness, which is often a long valley. To even begin the journey one needs a compulsion to begin it and then one needs a vision to guide one along the way.

I think most Americans live in the tension that they are not true individuals and for better or worse and aren’t on any real hard or productive path to becoming one. Americans live in a culture that lionizes the successful individual in myth but that is hard on true individualism in practice. Most Americans for all truly important matters in life stick as close to the ideas and modes of their chosen peer group with whom they identify -- this is true no matter what age. So many an American harbors an angst that he/she wants to feel like a truly special individual but knows deep down that he/she is not all that terribly special. Even if you get the most radical tattoos you are only an “individual” when you are alone in the company of non-radically tattooed people.

Here to fill the emotional void of this American angst are products, courtesy of corporations, that you can buy. With these products you can medicate your need to feel kinda sorta like an individual by buying a certain product or flavor of product. That way you can be a sorta kinda individual without any real path into loneliness. Even better, if you may feel that if you buy a cool product before it is super popular then you can even be a bit cool and edgy and therefore be kinda sorta like a leader among men. If you believe that then I know a brand of whiskey that’s looking for you.

If you don’t know or care that it is fake and you are not living in the conscious management of your deep down American angst, then I suppose there is a certain bliss to being ignorant and/or oblivious. If any of you really feel that “you can be you” by your choice of which ring tone or bank then you are in a sense blessed by not having the angst that I often feel. When I see those ads I’m offended. I’m offended that someone out there thinks that I’m such a nincompoop that I would find one scintilla of my emotional needs for individuality from my choice of a bank, car or cellphone. I’m also sad for the state of our country that there are people for whom this advertising actually works – there have to be lots of those people since there’s lots of that kind of advertising.

I say if you’re going to be an individual then do it the hard way or not at all. If you are not then be honest with yourself. Not everyone is meant to be a trailblazing individual. Getting your individuality from buy-decisions without walking through the valley of aloneness will get you as close to individuality as playing guitar hero will get you close to playing guitar.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fighting a hacker

These past few days if you’ve come to my blog here you will have noticed occasional spam and even porn blog posts. I’ve been having a problem with my blog being hacked into by some posting these “articles” that look like I posted them. I have deleted these articles of course and reported this problem to Blogger. The problem continued even after I changed my Blogger password twice.

I even set my Blogger to account to send me an email alert when “I” have posted a blog article. When the spam hacker posts these articles my e-mail recognizes them as spam. So I've needed to check my spam box to see when my blog has been hacked into!

When I posted this problem on their Blogger help someone who asked me whether someone was merely posted comments vs. posting a blog article. When I did a key word search of this problem in the help forum I found that other people have posted this same problem and not have gotten any serious response from Blogger.

So today, Monday 10-12-09, when I found that my blog had been hacked into again in the morning, I promptly deleted the blog article and then googled “blogger hacking” and finally found an article that got me closer to the real problem. It turns out that there is a Blogger e-mail address for every blog that follows this default pattern: (your blogger name).(the first word of your blog title)@blogger.com. These e-mail accounts are created automatically by blogger whereby one can post a blog article through email.

If you use this feature you can be hacked if you have listed the Blogger e-mail addresses in your e-mail address book and someone hacks into your e-mail. I have never used this feature and these addresses are no where on my computer, but somehow these addresses were hacked and someone has been using them to post spam messages. I think in my case it's possible that the hackers know that the Blogger e-mail addresses follow enough of a pattern that they can successfully guess your blogger e-mail address if you don't manually change the address to something other than the first word of your blog title. Since the default setting is to have the feature enabled for automatic instant e-mail posting, the hackers can go to your blog site, find your public user name, the first word of your blog title and get lucky.

Later I found a link in a reponse that was posted to my Blogger help question that explained more about the problem of spammers guessing your Blogger e-mail address.

For now I have disabled this automatic instant e-mail posting feature. Let’s hope that works!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Even more aphorisms

Beware the offhand remark -- it is the serious point that one feels no need to defend. It is a window into a subterranean world of pressure to conform to the belief system that assigns truth and value to what is being offhandedly said.

Beware one who makes a serious point/argument wrapped up in jokey talk. If you challenge his point he will try to shame you for being humorless.

Beware the national leader who attempts to charm you out of your desire for specifics on a topic of national interest.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Most of what is said on Twitter is pointless babble? What a shocker!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

More aphorisms

When discussing a sensitive topic, one must be capable of making a distinction between raw truth and useful truth.

A morally serious person will find more of a sense of community among the grass and the trees than among morally unserious people.

Some seeds require fire to break free of their husk to germinate. So it is with our moral and ethical sensibilities.

Is the grass green? Or is it many shades of yellow, green, brown and black? Or is the color of the grass subject to cultural perception? The truth is, each facet of the grass represents a different setting of a zoom lens on life that will be more enlightening to certain discussions and not others.

Monday, June 15, 2009

exploring "post rational"

I was exploring on the internet the word "post rational". Last year during the presidential campaign, Rachel Maddow used it to describe Hillary Clinton applying a campaign strategy that may have been rational to try at one point in the campaign but was irrational at a later point. Others have used "post-rational" offhandedly to describe a society that has rejected depth and analysis in favor of that which gives satisfying emotional appeal.

I have a working definition of a "post-rational society" as a society that does not value a person’s individual journey of rational effort but considers itself to be above and beyond having such a value. This society is "post-rational" because it considers much personal rational effort to be passe and outdated -- that life has become too complex for an individual person to sort out. This society simultaneously favors experts, like scientists while also valuing collective expressions of emotions that express themselves through trends.

Sometimes I surf the internet and post comments on someone's blog post that interest me. I'll leave a long enough post and link it to my blog post here that it becomes a de facto post on my own blog site. On a site called Us and Them, I posted comment to a question that the author posed, which can be summed up as follows -- what are the government / institutional implications of a society that considers the individual to be irrational and that only experts are qualified to sort out what is best for us?

Friday, June 05, 2009

More aphorisms

  • A thing has value if someone values it, no matter how mean or insignificant the item is or how mean and insignificant the person appears to be.

  • While a certain degree of cerebral maturity comes with age, moral maturity is not guaranteed by age. One must work at gaining moral wisdom.

  • A lizard can be fearless, but it takes a human to have courage, since to have courage you must have the capacity to see your fear within and put it aside.

  • Show me one who thinks that those on the other side of a controversial issue from him are thoughtless and I’ll show you one who likes to think that he thinks more than he actually thinks.

  • That which is a source of your pleasure is that which is gaining your allegiance.

  • You commit an original sin the day you first promote yourself at another's expense. It remains as a mark on your soul and character until the day you are contrite about it. It remains and outstanding offense until you apologize.

  • When someone denies the existence of an evil, remember that it is often a tactic used by those who wish to promote it.

  • Making a false distinction between people leads to injustice. So too does making a false equality.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thinking "in Stereo" on Gay Marriage

I have a whole philosophy of what the process of sound thinking requires. It requires that one is certain and uncertain simultaneously. Specifically it means that a thinking person allows himself to be confident that his initial hunches and hypothesis contain substance, that they represent a “pre-articulate” understanding of something real. It also means that a thinking person is continually evaluating counter-arguments in order to understand the domain of his pre-articulate wisdom: in other words, in what realm the original hunch proves to be true and in what realm it gives way to another idea.

This realm, this cross section of reality that is best understood by a particular idea is that idea’s “domain”/“jurisdiction”. This jurisdiction may be simply academic or it may also affect social and legal jurisdictions.

A thinking person does not have the obligation to chuck his hunches out the window and let his opinion drift whenever he’s presented with a contrary opinion. A thinking person does, however, have the obligation to continually refine his opinion. He has the obligation to better and better understand the contours and boundaries of where his idea’s jurisdiction begins and ends.

With our human vision, we have a “dominant eye” and a passive eye. Our dominant eye goes squarely in the direction where we wish to look, while the passive eye follows. As a result, the passive eye sees what the dominant eye sees at a slightly different angle, giving us depth perception.

This principle of vision applies to actively thinking. My hunch/my sense that I am developing from a hypothesis into a thesis is the “dominant eye” of my thought. My willingness to allow myself to consider contrary views is my “passive eye”. Together, the two bring the intellectual equivalent of depth perception, which in the case of ideas, is having a correct understanding of how the jurisdiction of one idea fits with the jurisdiction of another. As we see in stereo, this is what it means to “think in stereo”.

So I have been applying this principle of “thinking in stereo” to my thoughts on gay marriage. This is a debate I’ve had with myself, imagining myself talking to a tough opponent. So as to have intellectual honesty I have held nothing back in imaging the best and most articulate and intellectually honest advocate of gay marriage I can think of as an opponent. Here it is:


ME – “If gay is the new black”, do you believe that gender is as superficial as skin? Do you intend to have the raising of the American flag symbolize the end of the meaning gender as it now symbolizes on Martin Luther King Day the end of the meaning of skin color. If so, why isn’t this statement of human design “gender is as superficial as skin” put forward front and center? I think you don’t make this bold of a statement because it makes you face a wide body of naturalistic, commonly available evidence for the value and meaning of gender.

IMAGINARY OPPONENT Gayness is no better or worse than hetero from a natural perspective. They are both naturally occurring realities that both have a place in a human ecosystem as they do in the animal ecosystem.

ME – But human society doesn’t function by mere instincts. We create the conceptual, social and physical tools to survive. You can’t look to an animal ecosystem of pure instinct as a moral compass for human society.

IMAGINARY OPPONENT If you’re going to look to naturalistic evidence to put hetero unions on a moral pinnacle above a gay union, you open the door to all of what is contained in nature.

ME –Any idea of what is “good” is selective about nature, subdividing nature into “raw natural” and “archnatural”. It is OK to look at nature for evidence from nature that there is an archnatural aspect of nature that suits us best, that is good. A hetero-union is archnatural and good, and there is plenty of naturalistic evidence that points in this direction. On the other extreme, there are less idea expressions of nature such as naturally occurring diseases.

IMAGINARY OPPONENTIf you’re going to look to nature at all as the basis of any division between “archnatural” and “natural”, you need to look at this way: human’s tendency to oppress and constrain his fellow man with prejudice is “raw natural”/bad and tolerance of his fellow man is “archnatural”/good. Therefore, the only concept of the good that is relevant for the organizing of human society is maximum freedom and minimum intolerance.

Humans require freedom unless they are doing something that directly hurts the freedom of others. Any attempt to extrapolate harm beyond what is imminently hurtful to another’s freedom will lead to people imposing their moral views on others. We should be blind to the question of marriage, and we should raise our American flag to symbolize this idea of “moral minimalism”: that whatever is not an imminent harm to others is a justly entitled privilege to myself.

As for understanding nature, we move beyond fears and prejudice of others when we appreciate the broad endowment of diverse human instincts that aren’t imminently harmful to others.

ME –The flaw in a “moral minimalist” approach is that you are blind to a host of moral hazards that are real while at the same time being diffuse and slow to mature. If you were to destroy the original color of the Declaration and replace the museum that houses it with low income housing, there would not be imminent harm. The harm would be hard to pinpoint other than the fact that it is a sacred document of our founding and meaning as a people.

Not all harms are imminent and “spreadsheetable”. There is a cost to re-interpreting the American flag as backing a sacred moral idea that gender is irrelevant in order to make the law blind: it uses the American flag to make gender meaninglessness into a sacred moral truth.

Furthermore, you don’t merely believe that the harm of gay marriage is simply not imminent. You believe there is no harm at all by any yardstick of measuring harm.

IMAGINARY OPPONENTThe sacredness of the meaning of gender is sacred only to religious people and people of a certain worldview. If I am not religious why should I have sacredness imposed on me and at my expense of being able to marry? Gay marriage will not stop hetero marriage but your moral vision will stop me.

When too much sacredness with vague harms comes at the expense of imminent and tangible limitations on others, that parochial view of sacredness must give way to freedom. The Declaration is not standing in anyone’s freedom. If it were, perhaps we should do something about it. On the other hand, your “hetero exceptionalism” as the law of the land is standing squarely in the way of my freedom.

ME – We are blind to skin color because we have a sacred moral truth that skin, like bloodlines is irrelevant. In the name of advancing freedom, you are trading one idea of sacredness and replacing it with another: the sacredness of gender meaning with the sacredness of gender blindness. It is a realm of conflicting impositions. This is a moral pivot point in the law that is not merely a legal adjustment on par with adjusting a speed limit. You are replacing one moral imposition with another. If you are intellectually honest, you say that you believe that your moral imposition is a better trade-off for our society.

IMAGINARY OPPONENTLet’s say that we, gay marriage advocates, wish to define gender blindness as an American principle on par with “skin blindness” that by default will result in certain legal, cultural and moral impositions; an advancement of a “sacred” moral idea to use your term. The end result will be more tolerance, less prejudice and a wider and broader tent for a greater cross section of experiences, orientations and personal goals. It is necessary for a nation to be “blind” to the sacred meaning that you wish to invest in gender for a nation where it is possible for the maximum number of people to pursue the maximum happiness.

ME –Human sexuality is a complicated “both/and”. There is a dimension of sexual orientation that is fixed and there is a dimension of flexibility to human sexuality. To the extent that there is any dimension of flexibility it should be encouraged toward committed one man-one woman unions. This encouragement is enhanced by putting man-woman unions on a legal and moral pinnacle.

There have been societies where the flexible dimension of sexuality has been directed away from man-woman committed unions, where gay and pederasty behavior became normative.

IMAGINARY OPPONENTSocieties where men turned to a certain degree of gay and pederasty behavior are societies were men were kept away from women for long and extreme periods of time and space. It was a consequence of less freedom not more freedom. Furthermore this happened in societies that still only recognized marriage as a man-woman union on an institutional level. Therefore, in those societies, the institutional recognition of “hetero-exceptionalism” by way of only honoring male-female marriages was obviously not enough to offset the problem you are concerned about.

There is fluidity to sexuality in a free gender-mixed society, but it is whether one is promiscuous within one’s orientation, not whether one has one orientation or another. It is whether you are a committed gay person or a promiscuous gay person, whether you are a committed hetero or a promiscuous hetero person.

A free society will not cause someone to “flip a script”. People should be encouraged to commit in marriage. It is commitment, and commitment period, that should be encouraged in the institution of marriage, not just hetero commitment.

ME As I said, we humans do not act soley act out of instincts but must guide our instincts with good conceptual tools that we have a hand in creating. Healthy committed sexuality is one seeing a part of one’s humanity that is both alien and familiar in the other sex. In a committed hetero sexual union one is nurturing that alien aspect of ones own humanity by caring for another, allowing the other to live out that part of ones own humanity as an extension of oneself. Our sexual orientations give us the raw material to begin this process, but it must be consummated by good choices, good concepts and good conditioning in our society and environment. A society that has made gender meaningless in order to make gender blindness a sacred social truth will sow confusion into this process.

That is the moral hazard to denying meaning to gender that will take long to mature. The harm is not “spreadsheetable” but real. Of course having hetero-exceptionalism on a legal pinnacle is not the only part of this healthy gender conditioning process but it does matter, and it is a necessary part of a social matrix for encouraging people into healthy man-woman unions over the long term.

I agree that a gay committed relationship is better than a promiscuous one, but the gender nullity required for a legal and social blindness of gender for gay/hetero marriage equality is based on a worldview that borrows too heavily from “raw natural”/animal and instinct ecosystems in order to construct its moral compass for managing our sexuality.

While it is true that not all gay marriage advocates are pro-promiscuity. In the end the advancement of the gender nullity worldview contributes to and justifies promiscuity because it is fruit from the same tree if not the same branch of the tree. Promiscuity operates in the animal ecosystem as does a lot of not ideal things as “natural endowments of instinct”. The civil religion of a gay marriage worldview is a civil religion that is oriented to an animalistic/desire-based raw natural view of the world.

In terms of flipping scripts, a society of enforced gender nullity will, over time, create new forms of peer pressure and “experimentation”. This will occur as people operate with their natural instincts to bond and follow each other while adopting a "times change" and "who's to say?" philosophy in order to avoid the sin of being intolerant.

(This debate could go on and on, but I’ll stop it for now)

Monday, March 09, 2009

Here is a blog site where I got into a debate with the "Science Avenger" on gay marriage.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Gay marriage - When Gay is the new Black part 2

I'll say one thing about the gay marriage debate. Generally speaking, Christian Evangelicals have not been good at arguing their point. To the extent that they have argued "…Judeo-Christian values…" and "…5000 years of marriage as the backbone of civilization…", these points may contain truth but they make poor arguments when presented as talking points. As talking points they only state the opinions of those who already agree and speak nothing to those who disagree.

Not every one agrees on the “5000 years” analysis and the patent importance of Judeo-Christian values, but no one wants to be “hater”. Questions of truth aside, the gay marriage advocates have succeeded in putting Evangelicals on their heels. In my opinion, Dennis Prager, a Jewish commentator has made the best and clearest public arguments. So if here, along with my Part 1 post, is my attempt to explain the concerns of those now opposing the legal sameness of gay unions and hetero unions. My ideas are an elaboration on things that Dennis Prager has said. Here is one Prager article on this topic and here is another.

As I’ve said before many gay marriage advocates put forward the position that they are merely widening the umbrella of freedom, expanding marriage from something that hetero people enjoy to something that gay people will be able to enjoy. The gay marriage crowd say that they only wants to expand a freedom that straight people have. On the face of it, gay marriage advocates don’t seem to want to impose anything. But there is a much larger and more total imposition that can be redacted from other aspects of their rhetoric.

Allow to explain. If I were to say that I was OK with the law being blind to the question of gay marriage but I still wanted,

A) Christian adoption agencies allowed to prefer hetero couples
B) Churches that only married hetero couples
C) Churches that only allowed hetero people into positions of leadership
D) Evangelism into my church
E) The public expression on a university campus of an idea that a hetero union is uniquely special

Would I have crossed completely into the realm of non-hatred? Or would I still be hating except only in a more limited sphere and therefore represent an unfinished revolution? On the one hand I would be allowing legal freedom to marry. On the other hand I would be working against some of the essential gay marriage moral ideas through other means.

After the legalization of gay marriage, the unfinished revolution of those who allowed gay marriage “despite their personal beliefs” will be finished with more lawsuits against discrimination and hate speech and for affirmative action. Why? because that is what “gay is the new black” means:

The law not to make someone royalty is not merely a law like a speed limit. It is a law that is backed by everything that it means to be an American – backed by every resource that the country has to symbolize the moral importance of that law. Every time you see the U.S. flag, see a coin, see the name of street or city named after a Founder, every memorial carved in granite on the mall of D.C. you are reminded that we as a people are founded on a moral idea that it is fundamentally repugnant to see specialness in a family that would require that they be made royal.

If you actually believed in your heart of hearts that a particular family should be the royal family, you would have the right to your conscience as an American citizen. But for all practical purposes, this would be an exceedingly difficult country for you to practice your belief – it would be profoundly un-American.

We in 2009 recognize that the civil war was an extension of the War of American Independence. The Black civil rights movement of the 60’s is an extension of the Civil war, being Part 2 of the reconstruction that was begun after the civil war. When we celebrate Martin Luther King day, we raise the American flag and retro-actively assign the blood of patriots on Bunker Hill to the cause of the Black civil rights movement. We recognize that holidays, street names, city names, monuments in granite, flags, currency and textbooks all attest to our moral narrative as a people that we now see repugnancy in seeing specialness in a skin color as we do to seeing specialness in a particular blood line. This is at the core of what it means to be an American and we use every public resource that we have to symbolize this meaning.

If you actually believed in the specialness in a skin color, you would have the right to that belief in the deep recesses of your conscience, but for all practical purposes it would be hard to practice. While defacto segregation is still real, every national symbol is designed to point to a different moral narrative, very much including what children are taught in school. Furthermore, you would be barred from practicing your belief in any sphere of life other than clandestine meetings in the woods. Even uttering your belief in the wrong place would be the end of your career and possibly illegal under hate and discrimination laws.

If “gay is the new black”, we have adjusted the moral narrative of our people to a narrative where seeing specialness in a man-woman union is now as morally repugnant in seeing specialness in a skin color as seeing specialiness in a blood line. If gay is the new black, we now back this new moral narrative with our flag, currency, national monuments, street names, city names, holidays, etc… In addition to all symbolical resources, we will now use every available legal resource to marginalize those who still believe that there is specialness to a man-woman union, as we marginize those who oppose other sacred moral ideas that we have as a people.

So I want to be clear even if the gay marriage activists are not always so clear: if "gay is the new black", the movement does not merely want the legality of gay marriage, it wants the raising of the American flag to represent the day when we as a country vanquished the idea of the specialness of a man-woman union into the dust-bin of history.


As a Christian I am very careful about how I defend “Judeo-Christian Values” from my personal practice of Christianity. I am not happy when Christians elide from one into the other without making careful distinctions. I'm also mindful of pantheists (worshippers of natural forces) who elide from a civic argument for maximum freedom of personal expression into the evangelism of a pantheistic worldview.

As I've said before I define a "morality" as an idea of right and wrong that flows from an essential idea of design. A "moral narrative" is a moral idea that is seen through the lens of past, present and future.

A country is more than a set of laws: it has places and objects of public and even sacred importance that identify it as a people. It is these symbols – whether a coin or a monument – whereby a country indicates its moral narrative and in which it invests moral meaning. And where there is a moral narrative there is a hint at that the "design source"; the source from which the moral design derives from that makes the right right and the wrong wrong.

Any publically owned item, such as the design of a coin or national monument, that is capable of containing symbolic meaning has the potential to communicate symbolically the moral narrative of a people and the design idea behind the narrative. In this way, every public symbol is in some way a “sacrament” has invested in symbolical importance indicating the ultimate source of its moral narrative. This sacrament of moral ideas invested in public symbols is a society’s “civil religion”.

All societies have a moral narrative and all societies have some sort of a civil religion even if it is very minimal in its presentation and does not require that you attend a church on Sunday. Even a country that said that it did not have a narrative would have the moral narrative of nihilism.

Discussing the “separation of church and state” in all of its forms from the verbatim text of the First Amendment to its modern interpretation would other writings. Suffice to say that his idea was designed so that the government cannot press you into going to a church. However, we do not and have never had a complete separation from an idea of a God above nature that resembles the Judeo Christian God. What we have is a moral narrative that is consistent with a God-belief in a God above nature vaguely reminiscent of the Judeo Christian God. We have some minimal references to this God in our symbols.

As a result we have a country that generally allows the easier and fuller expression of conscience to those who believe in a Judeo Christian God, especially so than those who belief in a god that requires human sacrifice, allegiance to a blood line or a skin color. You and I both agree that we don't want to grant largess to the conscience of one who believes in a God that requires regular child sacrifice. But as a nation we are at a pivot point between a society that will either give largess to those who believe in a God above nature or those who do not believe in a God above nature. One party will be the loser.

Many argue that the representations of and references to God in our country national symbols represent an unfinished revolution in the separation of church and state. But if you were to remove every reference to this God above nature from anything that is touched by the government you would not actually separate government from religion. This is true especially in a modern world were government touches everything from sidewalks we walk on the school ciriculum requirements established by the government. For better or for worse the modern government touches almost everything.

Now if you treat a force in nature with the same allegiance that god-believers treat God, then you have a religion of a different form. And if you significantly alter the moral narrative of a country, you alter the idea of the "design source" behind the moral narrative.

If gay is the new black in all the ramifications that I have described above, we now have a moral narrative that is not consistent with a design source being a God above nature. Rather we would have a moral narrative that is inconsistent with a God above nature but that is thoroughly consistent with a god-like force of Nature expressing its wisdom in the warp and woof of human opinion and desire. All public granite, silver, holidays and flags would now point to this form of god.

This is the same god-like force that is revered when a certain cross-section of emerging opinion is taken as the ultimate and final source of all moral wisdom. As George Will pointed out in his column on Jerry Brown, Brown takes this view of Natural Law expressed as the god-force of the emergence of libertine opinion as the ultimate source of all moral truth that judges can use to over-ride any other moral idea.

So if you removed the reference to the Judeo-Christian God with a moral narrative that vanquished the idea of man-woman specialness into the dustbin of history, you would not separate government from religion: you would simply be replacing one civil religion with another.

This is what is behind the gay marriage debate are conflicting impositions rising from conflicting ideas of moral fundamentals. Many Evangelicals, me included, would impose on gay people a legal position of a union that is inferior to a hetero union—even if it’s a slight distinction: this so that the symbolism of freedom and the blood of patriots is not used to make repugnant the idea that there is something special in a man-woman union. This specialness of a man-woman union can be seen from certain evidence in nature but is seen most completely in the light of a God above nature. We want to have a land where it easy to express conscience that is consistent with a Judeo Christian God.

The hardcore gay marriage advocates are seeking to impose a moral vision that re-interprets the moral narrative of our country and orients it toward a "god as nature" civil religion. This imposition is not stated boldly but can be redacted from the rhetoric of the gay marriage movement. This imposition in its full form will make it harder to express a conscience that is consistent with a Judeo-Christian idea of God

If this imposition occurs I will accept it and face whatever marginalization / persecution follows, but that does not mean that I will not attempt to articulate what is at stake.

Gay Marriage -- When Gay is the new Black part 1

In the Gay marriage debate there are important shades of distinction to be explored. There are those who A) demand that gay marriage be legal and those that are B) OK with it being legal. Gay is the new black represents one aspect of the rhetoric that represents the group A. Despite your personal opinion, (gay) marriage is a fundamental right is an appeal from those in Group A to those on the fence to join group B.

“Gay is the new black” is a summation of a gay marriage argument that makes a direct comparison to banning mixed skin marriages as gay marriage, saying that the ban of the latter is as morally repugnant as the ban on the former in the era of segregation. Gay is the new black is a way of saying that gender is as unsubstantial a human reality as skin color. “Gender is as superficial as skin” is not stated in so many exact words but it can be redacted from of the rhetoric gay is the new black. For a Group A person “gender is as superficial as skin” is what they mean when they say that gay marriage is a "fundamental right" as a "right of design": that the moral imperative flows to view a gay union as the same as a hetero union and that seeing difference is as bigoted in seeing difference in race. I will explore this more depth a little later.

A person in Group B may or not believe in a complete one-to-one comparison of the black movement to the gay movement. The common belief of Group B is “that which cannot be compellingly made illegal by imminent and easily measurable harm needs to be left in the realm of choice”. For a Group B person, gay marriage is a "fundamental right" as a "right of utility" only in the sense that a certain privilege of choice is fundamental even if the choice is not necessarily ideal.

There is another way to describe the relationship between groups A and B – is that "gays are the new feminists". As in feminism the same debate occurs as to the meaning or lack thereof of gender. In Christina Hoff-Sommers book, Who Stole Feminism: How Women Have Betrayed Women, she delineates a “equity feminism” from “gender feminism”. Equity feminism is feminism that seeks to advance the cause of women without attempting to remove the idea of gender differences. Gender feminism sees it necessary to advance the cause of women by denying consequential gender differences and denying meaning to gender.

Gender feminism has a deeper worldview agenda than equity feminism. In the gay marriage debate, Group A is an extension of the gender feminist position, seeking to advance the cause of gays by denying meaning to gender. Group B is an extension of an equity feminist position that seeks mere equity under the law without regard to the question of sameness.

I am definitely not in the Group A but I have seriously considered the B position. Let’s explore the validity of the B position, most of our laws are very eye for an eye and are based on easy ethical questions of imminent harm, “if everyone did it there would be a problem…” Gender, though is a complex reality. Whether one sees the harm of denying meaning to gender depends largely on whether one has a worldview that requires that gender have meaning. The harm of gay marriage is not imminent as allowing people to steal from each other. Jerry Brown, a gay marriage supporter, has made the point regarding that there is not enough compelling imminent harm to a gay marriage to make it illegal.

Why am I still not supporting the gay marriage movement? Because I'm convinced that the gay marriage movement – including Group A with Jerry Brown included— will use every available means of the law to advance a package of moral views and intentions from the "gender is as insubstantial and superficial in its meaning to human existence as skin color" worldview. This is not a matter of those who have a parochial narrow worldview who see meaning in gender vs. those who have the broad interest of maximum freedom for the common good. Rather this is a matter of one worldview vs. another competing worldview.

My interest in this debate is to explain why this debate is not between those who would impose their moral vision on other vs. those who want maximum freedom. Rather it is a battle between competing moral impositions based on competing moral visions.


If gay is the new black, why have you not seen “gender is as superficial as skin” in a billboard? As a sheer design question, the statement on its face is easy to attack with science. You don’t need a Bible to see profundity to gender as a part of human design. If I examine the topic from an evolutionary standpoint I can find copious evidence for the meaning of gender and I can make a naturalistic argument for the specialness of a man-woman union.

Race is genetically insiginificant and gender is pre-human. We could have been designed by nature to reproduce as where each individual is “bi-gender” like certain amphibious animals that can switch genders as needed, but we reproduce with male and female genders that largely set. Nature has selected us according to a benefit to male and female and nature rewards that union with reproduction, something that the two together create that is not duplicated in the union of two gay people

Many of those with a naturalistic/evolutionary worldview believe that our needs that were forged in evolution are hold-overs/relics from our times surviving on the Savanah of Africa etc… There is an idea that we can take mastery over our evolution to suit the modern world shaping our evolution in the direction of minimum carnage and maximum harmony. This is only possible to a point. However we came to be, we were stamped. Even looked at from an evolutionary perspective, base needs were a crucible in which something more than base needs came about. We do not "need" art to survive but we nevertheless need art and we need it for needs far beyond impressing the chicks in order to reproduce.

In regard to gender, men and women do not simply need each other in the primitive sense of men being physically strong biological organisms needing to reproduce and women needing providers. It is not true that modern technology has freed us from essential emotional needs. We have been designed to get our emotion needs met with a sexual union across male and female and to have that be of benefit to kids.

Sexual attraction exists to attact the other, and the pleasure of sexuality is vicarious experience of a part of ones own humanity that one sees in the other that is both alien and familiar. The bond of sexuality in its full power is explained only as complementary needs being met, where the palate of human experience, the different aspects of what it is to be human are brought together for the best nourishment of each other and of children. No other view does justice to the awesome power of the sexual appetite than to recognize that there is a relational nutrition across male and female that the sexual appetite was made for.

Not all of life is a dispensation of perfect sameness and being gay is not the same as being hetero. In a gay person, the appetite for the experience of the other gone askew due to having a portion of a gender dis-order. Being gay leads to gay sexual experiences that do not join body parts in their best union of design and do not join people across the full spectrum of otherness that exists across male and female. Yes gay people can lead rich lives but their condition is not the best exression of human sexuality; it is not the same as being heterosexual.

Even if being gay is entirely naturally occuring as result of pre-natal exposure to hormones in the womb, it is the occurance of a partial version of what in its full form is a gender disorder. In a similar manner that Asperger’s syndrome is a lesser form of Autism, being gay is a lesser version of what in its full form would make one feel like a man in a womans body or vice versa. The latest science indicates that a gay mans brain has more female characteristics than a hetero man’s brain and that a gay woman’s brain has more male characteristics than a hetero woman’s brain.

The reason why this issue boils down to the meaning of gender is that if there is meaning to gender than there is a complementary union in a man woman union that isn't duplicated in a gay relationship. I have not given an exhaustive naturalistic argument for the superiority of hetero committed unions. I recognize that there are naturalistic counter-arguments. I'm not saying these things because I think it will convince those who disagree. I am certainly not saying them with the intent to inflict hurt and hatred on gay people, but to explain that there is commonly available naturalistic evidence for the profundity of gender cannot be dismissed as ridiculous, and there are consequences to this meaning.


How superficial and insubstantial is gender? Whether it is true in every dimension of truth the gay marriage hardcore absolutely believe is that we must “act” and operate as though the statement is true in every dimension. “Gender is as superficial as skin” may be a fiction from a purely objective standpoint but it is considered necessary to believe. In other words, if not a total “design truth” it is a total “social truth” that everyone must remove gay difference from one's moral vision of the world as one removed black difference. It is in the crack between objective truth and "social truth" that we get the idea of "politically correct". If it is socially true but not necessarily objectively true, then it is "correct", in the sense of being a "correct social orientation".

Here’s the problem with the gay is the new black rhetoric in regard to the question of design. The black civil rights movement made clear unequivocal statements of design. There is famous picture of black marching in the streets with “I am a man”. A clear four word statement of design that black men were every inch men that white men were men. “I am a man” was not merely a "social truth" or "necessary objective fiction" or "PC". Rather, the black movement was advancing clear unequivocal statement of objectively true design, and they were absolutely right. “I am a man" is a total social truth and a total "design truth." You would never hear Martin Luther King prefacing a speech with "despite your personal beliefs…” as in "despite your personal beliefs, all racial equality is a fundamental right" or "despite your personal beliefs, all men are created equal". Either they are all equal or they aren't, and you either believe it or your don't.

If Group A in the gay marriage debate wanted intellectual honesty in their comparison the black movement, they would need to clarify their social truth and how it relates to design truths. I have attempted to redact it, which can be stated as follows, "Gender is as superficial as skin. Is this a total design truth? We won't say. What we will say is that the question of whether there are or aren't design aspects of gender is irrelevant to any examination of human relationships and is irrelevant to any moral question involving human relationships. Therefore all decent people must operate with "gender is as superficial as skin" as a total social truth, as much as we now treat the black sameness with white as both a total social truth and total design truth."

The closest that the gay marriage advocates have come to this statement is making their movement co-equal to the black movement by harnessing the sympathy to that movement (“gay is the new black”) while also seeking the partnership of people who may find some narrow meaning to gender but who are willing to allow the law to be blind (“despite your personal beliefs…”). So how do you harness the same interest that was harnessed for the black movement without making as clear statements of design as the black movement made? Aside from calling people to bracket their "personal beliefs”, many in the gay marriage movement have compensated by labeling those who disagree as “haters”.

It is the charge of hatred that colors how one is to interpret Group A's appeal to Group B: that appealing to the "right of utility" crowd has current tactical value to a movement that seeks to advance "gender is as superficial as skin" as a total social truth. For Group A the “despite your personal beliefs, gay marriage is a fundamental right" slogan is a way of saying, “If you do have a personal belief that is contrary to this it is to be vacuumed sealed in the container of your thoughts, while the narrative of our culture and law goes squarely in the direction of "gender is as superficial as skin". If Group A is intellectually honest, it is not enough that the law is blind, for the total social truth, all pubic conversation must be "blind" and all discourse in school and universities must be "blind".

If you take the personal belief out of the vacuum container of your thoughts you are a hater. This is true even if you would stand up for a gay person in the street who was being bullied. In regard to the gay marriage debate it doesn’t' matter: having the opinion that a hetero union is superior to a gay union is tantamount to the bullying. The position opposing total sameness of gay marriage and hetero marriage is thus a pre-crime for all violence done to gays, and is violence of a different form.

The Group A tactic of identifying a position contrary to gay marriage is "hate" is penultimate to making it illegal as "hate speech". With this, any point of view that questions "gender is as superficial as skin" can be labeled as fundamentally harmful to society. In the name of stopping harm, the imposition of moral thought has already begun, as on can see here in this article.

So how will Adam and Steve getting married affect your marriage? In the context of the current debate, it is intellectually dishonest to put a microscope on a couple of individuals named Adam and Steve in order to make a "right of utility argument". The legal and social apparatus of Group A to advance the "gay is as superficial as skin" worldview for the collective "Adams and Steve's" to be married will have a profound effect on what forces one must counter to raise one's kids according to a belief that gender has meaning.

I don't like the law "sheparding people into goodness". There is a part of me that is sympathetic to a "right of utility" argument. On the other hand, there are aspects of law that are pivot points where people will either be sheparded into one view of goodness or another view of goodness in an alternate moral paradigm. I see this gay marriage debate as a realm that goes far beyond mere utility: it is a crossroads of conflicting impositions where the law will either shepard people into the "gender is as superficial as skin" worldview or the "gender has some degree of meaning" worldview.

Most all of us in this debate are equity feminists in the sense that we all agree that gender should be largely blind in the human resource departments. Those opposing and/or questioning the total legal sameness of gay unions and hetero unions say that the degree of gender blindess that is being asked of society is gender blindness gone too far; that it requires too much non-acknowledgement of something real in human reality; that marriage cuts closer to the bone of sexual meaning than the human resource department – and has implications that radiate beyond the privacy of marriage beds ; that enough imposition of gender blindness is an imposition not of a more generous legal vision but of an alternate moral vision.

If you believe that there is any substance to gender, the Group A agenda within the gay marriage movement is the imposition of "gender nihilism" in the face of evidence of profound meaning to gender.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

On a very different note than my posts on philosphy and culture, from time to time I am going to post different random ideas that I have. Among my other areas of interest are developing non-profits and green/eco/fair trade. Here is an e-mail that I sent to a local commercial bank in Pasadena, CA.

--My name is Greg Wertime. I am a resident of Pasadena and I have an idea that I wanted to share with a local commercial bank.

I decided that if I’m going to invest anything that I wanted to have as much involvement as possible in what I'm investing in. There is an idea that I am promoting for my own interest as an investor and perhaps as an organizer too.

Lots of people are interested in green investing, but green investing for “small time” investors is limited to certain mutual funds and publically traded companies. Local green investing is limited to larger venture capital. I’m convinced that there is a lot of under-tapped interest in green investing among common “small time” local people that could be pooled together for green venture capital.

What if one of the local commercial banks had a “green banking” division where local residents could invest in local green/sustainable/and fair trade businesses.

Imagine a website where you could purchase CD’s at a minimum of $500 which would be pooled to make loans for local green start-up or green renovations. On this site you would see the local businesses featured that were receiving these green loans. Also imagine if on the site there would be an invitation for “green meets” every month that would be hosted by different loan recipients. “Green networking” among people interested in investing and promoting green business is a hot thing right now.

In this way local investing, advertising and green-networking would all be wrapped up with each other. This would a very innovative, banking concept – where the bank is the catalyst for the advancement of the green movement and thus for the benefit of those businesses that it is lending to. It would be a new vehicle for people who wanted to marry their investing with their interests.

I would be grateful to know your thoughts.


Greg Wertime

Monday, February 23, 2009

Every week the Week magazine has a puzzle contest where they provide a story/scenario and invite their subscribers to try to complete it, offering a years free subscription to the winner. This week the puzzle is about the Dalai Lama and his new twitter account. The contest was to come up with a wise saying within 140 characters that the Dalai Lama might send his followers.

So here is my entry:

"If you surf the internet too much you will not download wisdom. Take the time for reflection for the internet is only as big as your imagination."

I thought it would be fitting if the Dalai Lama questioned the very medium he was using to enlighten his followers with. It is an aphorism that will lead into a set of essays that I am working on about modern technology and the inner life.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Question of Rights -- Part 2

As I explained in my previous post, people often have very different ideas of what is good when they are debating a question of rights. Depending on what someone means when they say something is a "right" they will, without fully knowing it, state their moral view and how they believe that it relates to the law, which itself is part of their moral view.

There is what I will refer to for convenience here as BELIEF A, that generally what is immoral should be illegal. In this idea, a legal right supports the good and people need the law to shepard them into a realm of goodness that lies beyond the law and transcends the law. Here the question of what is legal works backward from the question of what is good.

And then there is what I will call BELIEF B, wherein that which is moral and legal exist as overlapping but separate realities and the law has only a very limited ability to shepard people into goodness. In this idea, a legal right is separate from the good, and some legal rights can be a reflection of the good while other things can legal without being necessarily good. This belief is a "legal minimalism" that only works backward from what is imminently bad and harmful to society to decide what should be illegal.

There is another idea of the law and the good that I will call BELIEF C, that the question of what is moral generally follows what is legal. In other words, the legal right is the good. BELIEF C is based on the idea that the collective moral intuition of people operating in a particular time and era figures out the best calculus of what is good and what is legal at any point in time is generally a reflection of what is the best negotiation of a situational morality. Whereas BELIEF B is merely a "legal minimalism", BELIEF C is a moral minimalism wherein anything that is not harmful is good. In this idea, as in BELIEF B, the law should only “shepard people into goodness" in the sense of protecting people from the clear and present harm of others.

These beliefs are not always mutually exclusive. It is also possible that a person may have all of these different dispositions toward the law, operating in paradox and/or cognitive dissonance with each other. There may be certain areas of life where a person holds one view of the law and another area of life where they hold another.

It is also possible for the ideology of one idea of the law to elide into the practice of another. For example, it is possible for a person with a BELIEF C or BELIEF B to come full circle to the practice of BELIEF A when the expression of certain ideas and thoughts are seen as toxic and as "pre-crimes' for bad actions. A broad enough idea of what is “harm” will render that which is not harmful as a de facto a narrow vision of the “good”.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Question of Rights -- Part 1

Here is a Miriam Webster dictionary definition of a "right".

2: something to which one has a just claim: as a: the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled b (1): the interest that one has in a piece of property —often used in plural (2)plural : the property interest possessed under law or custom and agreement in an intangible thing especially of a literary and artistic nature 3: something that one may properly claim as due

Here is a link to an online legal dictionary that parses out several variations on the idea of "rights".

The general principle of a “right” seems simple enough: a right is a justly entitled privilege or power. The law does not create rights but acknowledges them as naturally existing. But what are the boundaries of our "justly granted privileges"? For legal purposes, those things not explicitly forbidden in law are considered in the realm of "just privilege".

Just because something is or should be in the legal realm of "just privilege" does it also mean that it is also good? Different people can be asserting that something is a "right" with very different ideas of what is good and how goodness relates to the law. To help bring more precision
to this question, I am going to offer my own vocabulary of “right” to help parse this out.

It is possible to believe that something must be legally within the realm of "just privilege" because it is fundamentally good and proper. I will refer to this as a "right of design", which is a legal right that is derived by working backward from a best use of our human design.
My right to vote is an example of a “right of design” which is derived from my naturally endowed rational powers, which are generally good to exercise.

It is also possible to believe that something should be legal within the realm of "just privilege" not because it is good but because it is impractical to use the law to stop it. I will refer to this as a "right of utility". In the realm of legally allowed “just privilege” a “right of utility” touches the realm of design only the very limited sense that a free person needs to be able to make bad choices in order for that person to have freedom. A right of utility works backward from what is merely impractical to enforce.

I have the right to get drunk in the privacy of my home. This is not a good use of design, since it is better of me to not get drunk even in the privacy of home. However, as the era of Prohibition taught us, it is not practical to make a law against it. Making a law against getting drunk at home would cause more problems than it would solve and be too intrusive to try to fix, so the right to get drunk at home is a right of utility as is the right to hit myself with a hammer.

It is this vocabulary of rights that I think will aid in our debate over hot button topics. It will reveal that there are several debates rolled into one:

DEBATE A) Those who believe that the issue involves a right of design vs. those who believe the issue would make something legal that is wrong and should not be made legal. These two parties are at fundamental odds with each other.

DEBATE B) Those who believe that the issue involves a right of utility only vs. those who believe that what is at stake is a right of design. These two parties have agreement on what should be legal but have different ideas of what is fundamentally good.

DEBATE C) Those who believe that the issue involves a right of utility vs. those who believe that the issue should not be a right at all. These two parties have some agreement on what is good but do not agree on how the law should be applied.

Very often in a hot button issue, the debate A) is front and center, but the debates B) and C) are equally important, even if they go on behind the scenes. Having this vocabulary will help organize what is being debated by whom.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What is Art?

I have thought from time to time on the nature of, beauty, smut and "transgressive art" and the public license that should be afforded to these. I once had a debate with someone about whether smut advertising was art or propaganda. I argued that the intent of the image had something to do with whether it could be considered “art”. I argued that advertising smut was aimed at subverting the viewer’s attention to distract him to buy something and was therefore to be considered propaganda and not art.

I argued that enough smut becomes and "unchangeable channel" (Gil Reevil) that one cannot ever choose to avoid. An environment of smut advertising as an “unchangeable channel” had the effect of dull the senses not to enlighten the senses. I explained that despite that artfulness with which certain Saddam Hussein pictures may have been made throughout Iraq, their intent was to be an instrument to subjugate and brainwash. Even ancient Egyptian megalith sculpture, while wonderfully made and enjoyed in 2009, was originally intended to intimidate and awe its ancient viewers into worshipping the Pharaoh. Art that may be explored as beautiful later can still be used to hurt and dull the sense of people in the present, depending on how it's used.

The person I was debating with said that it's too hard to tell what art is and isn’t art, so it’s not possible to make any such judgments. After all, what is considered art in 2009 is not necessarily what was considered art in the past. This person argued the postmodern position that everything and anything can potentially be seen as art. Since art is ultimately enlightening and enriching to human existence anything that might possibly be considered art at some point in the future should receive no constraints. In other words all objects are either art or “proto-art”.

In this view, life of the present moment is always and continually a foundry, a sometimes brutal foundry for the beautiful and enlightening art that the future will be able to perceive. For postmodernists, art cannot be crisply defined, but we know it when we see it, and our eyes in the future will be better than our eyes in the present. Therefore it is necessary that we in the present sublimate an inclination to judge and suppress art or proto-art so that future generations will be able to see its beauty, even as we in the present now enjoy the fruits of the past's brutal art foundry.

Joy for the sake of Joy

The question of art cuts deeply at what is means to be human. The question of "why is art" is inseparable from "what is art". What makes us human is that we are designed to seek joy for the sake of joy. We are not designed merely to seek the pleasure of sated base appetites. We experience the joy for the sake of joy, which is an emotional nourishment for its own sake, as we experience our ability to see infinite levels of abstract order and as we see the complexity of our selves reflected in that order. We find joy in the perceiving and find joy in the discovering previously undiscovered forms of order in the world.

Beauty is that aspect of order that is enjoyed for the sake of joy and not merely for what particular survival utility the particular form of order has for us. There is an extent to which it is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is as much an experience as it is anything else, but it cannot be wholly imparted to the subjective experience of one human vs. another human. We collectively experience beauty because our innate ability to find joy in order is being met with something that has a unique form of order, even as each person may not experience it equally.

We have a profound need to discover ever more forms of order in ever more realms of abstraction. It is our joy and our calling. The need to discover new lands is but one form of the quest to understand terra incognita. A scientist, mathematician, philosopher and artist are all operating on the same basic impulse – they are all seeking to discover previously undiscovered forms of order. These are all fundamentally, efforts to quarry the order from reality.

An artist is only "creative" in the sense that the quarrying is a more exclusively inward focused process. An artist, mathematician, philosopher, or scientist is capable of finding joy for the sake of joy in those forms of order which have been quarried out of reality, even as the newly discovered order can also have utilitarian uses. When those new forms of order are quarried out of the efforts made in the lab, the study or the studio, they are brought into the world and our met and recognized by our collective ability to see and enjoy the order. The presentation of the order has now caught up to our ability to see the order that was always there as a latent potential.

A spear tip may be a form of order, a technological form that has a utility in hunting for food. I may enjoy the fact that I gain material benefit in the form of food from a spear. When I enjoy the beauty of the streamlined artistry of the spear tip and wonder at the hands that flint-napped it, I am experiencing beauty. In the case of the spear, I am enjoying a facet of the spear's reality that is not mutually exclusive to its other facets. The utilitarian facet may even enhance the beauty facet. It may be an experience of beauty whose intensity and mystique is enhanced by the reality that it is also very deadly useful. Here, the beauty of beautiful spear is the experience of the order that is represented by that spear tip that exists on different levels of life and reality.

I can find joy for the sake of joy in the order that is presented in a Japanese sword, a joy that resonates with the profundities of an object that has been used to slice bodies in half. I can find joy for the sake of joy in the shape of an airplane wing. I can find joy for the sake of joy in a form of music that was created to find joy in God. Art may be in the natural realm, such as a sunset. Art may be a side benefit of a utilitarian goal of making a more useful object as with the shape of a boat or a mathematical formula.

With this in mind, art is any thing that meets our ability to perceive order in such a way that it produces joy for the sake of joy and the wisdom that goes with it. Potentially, everything and anything can be art. Even the natural world can be enjoyed as art. Here, art is the object, and beauty is the quality of order that the experience of the object begets in us.

"Art" that fills our art galleries, as we normally define it, is actually "art created intentionally and exclusively for the sake of beauty, as I have defined beauty: "art" as we generally define as "art" is a work of order that has been quarried out of reality for the express purpose of generating some form of joy from the perception of some form of order. Later generations may take an object that was not created intentionally to be "art" and may nevertheless treat it as "art". Advertising ephemera and toys from the past are collected and admired for an unintentional mastery of a certain order that was not appreciated at the time it was created.

Art and Wisdom

When we perceive a new aspect of order in the realm of our emotional experience we gain a form of pre-articulate “proto-wisdom”. Later when this experience develops into articulate knowledge, the wisdom takes on a linguistic form and is useful for the realm of words and becomes Wisdom proper, defined as first-hand articulate knowledge of the world.

Joy in the perception of order and the accumulation of wisdom are inseparable. Joy itself is the union of wisdom and pleasure. Entertainment is a form of the joy of perceiving new forms of order unfolding before our eyes. The joy may not be "happy happy": it may be a turgid and dark joy in the gaining of painful wisdom. Very frequently joy is both bitter and sweet, sometimes with different combinations of both. Gaining the perception of order and wisdom can be a painful and expensive process.

It is the process of gaining wisdom whether pre-articulate or articulate that is enjoyable as a form of perceiving order. But proto-wisdom that is not on its way to becoming articulate knowledge of the world is an arrested form of joy, which is actually not joy but merely pleasure. Not all that contains nutrients is nutritious. I think of how chocolate can be nutritious in the right time and place, but too much of it is malnourishing. It is possible to be malnourished by experiencing pleasure in art by only being able to enjoy a certain form of the perception of order without consummating it with thought.

It is possible to malnourished with an experience of a proto-wisdom that never becomes wisdom. Here, art is merely experienced as "hedons" of pleasure, as a shallow sensory experience never blossoms into a more mature form of exploration. That which could nourish us will impoverish us if our senses are dulled. This is a hazard with art that is too ephemeral or art that is too imposing and impossible to avoid or art that comes at profaning/exploiting other good things in order to be. Here, the experience of art is thus only pleasure divorced from any purpose and progress and never becomes full joy.

Appreciating our Appreciation

How do we appreciate order that has been wrought from violence without condoning violence past, present and future? Here the violence may be the hard violence of swords and Pharaohs past or the subtle violence of the present of having sensitivity drummed out of us. While we appreciate the artistry of ancient pharaohs and spears, we also enjoy a history of certain victories in the cause of the justice and the rule of law that freed us from much of the tyranny of pharaohs, spears and swords. And so the development of our sense of justice and rule of law through history is another part of the order that we have found joy in uncovering.

Now there is another aspect of order that we must bring to light, while we must be open to the mysterious unfolding of new forms of artistic order, but we must not lose our joy of the journey. The joy of experiencing order is the substance of our appreciation of art. Our very capacity for appreciation is part of the order that we must appreciate. This is appreciation of our appreciation is the meta-artistic view of the world of our self knowledge. It contains an ethical requirement to work to protect it from harm.

You can’t explore what’s in your face. The joy of exploration requires distance so that there is space for reflection. We must savor art and make sure that those things that are used harshly to dull our senses need to be held in check: this, so that there is contemplative space for the practice of actually harvesting the proto-wisdom of artistic experience into articulate wisdom.

To appreciate our appreciation, the creation of art owes as much a debt to the present as to the future. A Japanese sword it not art when it's slashing you. Borat is not art when he's humiliating you. Smut propaganda is not art when it is dulling your sense, shocking you with irresponsible intentions. The justice that is owed to the appreciation of our appreciation can't happen in an environment of un-mitigated violence, whether the hard and obvious violence of swords, or the subtle violence of propaganda that subjugates us by desensitizing us.

The casualty of this subtle violence on our sensitivity is the diminution of the “dialogue” (i.e. the accumulation of wisdom) that artists always claim to want to stimulate that will never happen. So much of the dialogue they want to stimulate is in the activist direction of making the world better. To that I say, "Fine, don't make the world worse in the process. Don't make art irresponsibly in the name of getting people to be more responsible and sensitive".

Transgressive and the unchangeable channel of smut advertising needs to be held in check to allow for contemplative space, even if the trangressive art and propaganda might somehow be "proto-art" that might be one day refracted into a form of beauty and wisdom. This, so that whatever kernel of nourishment therein will actually and eventually nourish us and not rot us out in the meantime in the midst of an "evolution too slow to save our souls".

Putting boundaries on transgressive art and propaganda gone amok is an extension of and refinement of our call to justice whose lineage extends all the way back to the first rule of law. There are those who will argue that transgressive art needs to transgress in order to be, in order to cut and do what it must and that putting bounds on art hurts art. To answer this (I know I open up a large can of another topic by saying this) putting bounds on art can often enhance the quality and creativity of art. I want to give trangressive artists more to chew on when they think of mocking or tearing down a boundary to make their point. I want to push back against trangressive art when it is a form of tyranny.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The War on the No Cussing Club

Read here about the No Cussing Club

If you read the link above, you will see something that caught my attention when I heard about it on the radio. A teenager started a "No Cussing Club", a group of people who simply decide that they will abstain from cussing. There are those who see this club as a direct threat to their First Amendment Right and see that this threat must be confronted with anonymous death threats.

When I first heard about this on the radio, the radio host made good point saying, "…what about the First Amendment rights of the teenager who believes that cussing is bad?..." I want to explore the deeper reason why a "No Cussing Club" would pull death threat makers out of the woodwork. The impulse to cuss without restraint and then confront the Cussing Club with death threats are related impulses that connected by an underlying worldview that needs to be exposed and brought to light.

We all value bathroom stalls and bedroom privacy. We have a natural desire for a certain verbal prudence which is an extension of the privacy that we value in having bathroom stalls. Uttering a cussword is the equivalent of momentarily ripping down the walls of everyone's bathroom and sexual privacy and putting a private matter onto a screen for all to see. The F-bomb is rightly called a “bomb” because there is violence to it: it is an act of verbally tearing down the wall of our privacy, and it has the effect on our sense of prudence what scratching a needle across the record has when it halts a song un-expectedly.

In the rarest instances when exploring philosophical ideas, I've used off–color language to make a point (Here is my WWAD post which is relevant to this post). In Letter to the FCC I defended the FCC banning "fleeting indecency" during the hours of 0600 to 2200. I argued that people need to be apprenticed in simple ideas of decency and considerateness before they can navigate moral complexity with an eye towards what is ultimately good and decent. I argued that one must reckon with this need when considering what is best for the common good, and that this need demands a pocket of common time and space where simpler ideas of decency are upheld. The First Amendment right to express adult concerns on issues can be exercised freely without cussing, and people should be held to this standard on the airwaves.

I argued that people must be long apprenticed moral arithmetic to ever be able to use profanity in a moral calculus of "creative violence". There is a very big difference between

A) a rare and conscious use of profanity to shock an audience into seeing something when that audience has proven themselves in need of such a shock when all other means to wake that audience out of a slumber have been exhausted


B) using profanity without regard to boundaries says that privacy and boundaries of time and place do not matter.

Using profanity at will between the hours of 0600 to 2200 on public airwaves is an expression of a B) worldview and not an A) worldview. Unbound cussing is one form of the advancement of and evangelism of a worldview that is denuded of any idea of the sacred or even the special, and unbound porn is another. With this worldview the inclination to guard what is sacred is seen as an expression of human ignorance and fear. In the name of authenticity and naturalness, the power that comes from exploding our impulse to sacredness can be profaned for anyone's banal purposes of self promotion.

There is power to cussing and there is a cost when this power is used selfishly and habitually in a banal way. Banal, habitual, selfishly used cussing begets cynicism and numbness. Unbound and banal cussing can resemble creative violence but really isn't. It not a refinement of moral arithmetic but a replacement of it: it is based on a wholly competing idea of what is "authentic" and 'real" and "natural". Unbound cussing works backward from numbness and ennui as that which is natural and authentic.

In my Open Letter to Big Kids post, I explained that destructive people want the trappings of danger to command respect from people more innocent and more gullible than themselves. Wearing these trappings of danger is what I call "wearing a lion's mane", like a member of a tribe who wears the mane of the lion he has killed to show his bravery and prowess. Cussing is one way among many (gang fashion, etc…) that people try to give themselves the trappings of toughness and danger. Wearing the trappings of danger is a way of saying "Awe me, for I know the ways of the world! Entrust me with your respect and allegiance"

As lion's manes go, a cuss word is not necessarily creative or brave, and is therefore somewhat of a cheap, second hand lion's mane. When everyone is wearing some sort of second hand lion's mane as an expression of coolness, it can take real personal courage to not to wear a lions mane at all. When people lack this courage and lack the vision of a better world that would summon this courage, it can feel very natural to follow a crowd who are all wearing some form of cheap second hand lion’s mane, all seeking to command some low grade admiration from each. This low common denominator is "natural" for those who operate with a worldview that doesn't summon them to anything else.

To suggest any boundaries on cussing, or its cousin, porn, is the counter evangelism for a this worldview with a wholly different idea of what is “natural” and “authentic”: that some sacred time and space is required to make us better human beings and that profaning it is an act of nihilism. To be concerned about nihilism is to value a reality of goodness/ideals and hope that is being denied by nihilism. It is based on a view of human beings needing special times and places for different experiences to nourish a diet of spiritual emotional and mental needs; a diet that is as broad as the physical dietary needs that we have. In this paradigm to be fed junk is malnourishing to the soul: it is bad to even be fed too much of something that could be a good in a different portion.

To blend metaphors, these nutritional needs of the soul and mind demand the acknowledgement of a sort of "moral geography" in society, relationships and personal choices – a moral geography of boundaries of time and place that negotiates the meeting of these varied needs. The idea of a "moral geography" takes the idea of “moral hierarchy” of virtues and vices and places the hierarchy in the realm of multi-dimensions, a moral landscape of heights lows, middles and cliffs and boundaries. In a moral geography of varied terrain, not all paths are equal: paths that avoid the cliffs and lead to the heights are better than those paths that don't. It is this sense of special times and places in this moral geography that can be summed as the idea of the "sacred" and the "special".

It is with a moral geography of varied terrain that the classical distinction between License and Liberty distinction makes any sense. As I explained in my Naked Smoke post, License is the sheer ability to do something. Liberty is the license exercised with the discretion of acting in good faith to shoulder the responsibilities that come with the license. The idea of Liberty makes sense in a varied moral terrain where common good is something that transcends mere personal advancement.

“Freedom” and not “Liberty” is the rallying cry for those who do not believe that there is a moral geography with a varied moral terrain. In my Porn Moralists post I mentioned how the idea of the "Superflat" culture was used by a Japanese Philosopher Murakami to describe the obliteration between high art and low art in postmodern culture. The idea of the “superflat” can be taken beyond art and used to describe the flatness of moral geography to those who do not perceive that humans have needs that require a varied moral terrain. In a flat moral geography, Liberty is collapsed into License such that distinctions between the two are irrelevant. In superflat land, all you need is "freedom" since the common good is not elevated higher than personal advancement. It is in the broader realm of moral flatness that the consumption of art-- particularly the “low art" of disposable and consumable products and entertainment -- is denuded of “dietary” considerations, as I have defined a diet of spitiritual, emotional and intellectual needs. If the art is pleasing you somehow and not causing imminent harm, then it's perfectly good.

With the First Amendment, the Founders understood that there is a moral reality that transcends the First Amendment that makes the right a right: that the right to free speech operates in an unbreakable package with other moral truths, particularly that rights come with responsibilities to act in good faith to advance the common good. There is a moral geography that Founders understood that lies behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Bill of Rights; that there are the dialectics of rights and responsibilities, personal advancement and common good that operate in a Helenistic sense of balance and proportion to each other. The Founders believed that citizens of a free society needed to invest effort to properly navigate this moral geography and that it took effort to apprentice oneself in moral consideration and reflection.

Those who want unlimited right to cuss and make death threats would hurt the speech of those who disagree are holding the First Amendment as a form of Secular Scripture while they reject every other moral principal that the Founder stood for. For them, the Founders were the secular equivalent of Moses for the First Amendment but can be dismissed as slave owning bigoted white men for every other moral consideration that led to the First Amendment.

For the death threat makers and those who want unlimited license to cuss, the First Amendment is the only remnant of the Founders moral vision that has any place in the moral geography of the superflat. This is based on a hyper rejection of sacredness and an extreme rejection of humans needing a particular emotional/spiritual diet that requires certain pockets of time and space free from the intrusion of cussing. If you don’t believe these needs exist, you don’t have to factor them into your consideration of common good.

In the superflat, the First Amendment it is denuded of any other consideration of common good and so the mere advancement of the morally denuded First Amendment therefore becomes the highest common good. When you flatten the reality that makes the First Amendment right a right, you elevate the unlimited porn and cussing as the highest and only expression of the common good. And so Larry Flint can wear the American Flag as one out to do us all a favor.

So the First Amendment in the superflat world is the right to cuss without limits. In this flat terrain, the engine is of one’s intentions revved for maximum freedom to go full steam ahead like a car, speeding, careening, doing donuts on the dessert floor. All pleasure is morally equal, so you are “free” to do whatever you want where-ever and whenever.

Any moral system must manage how people interact with each other and the “superflat” moral system is no exception. Trying to create moral freedom by creating moral flatness makes it necessary to enforce a low common denominator of behavior. Part of the underlying idea of "authenticity and "realness" is that there are not higher ideals that people must aspire to in their thought and language. In this realm, "I cuss therefore I am", since all people are fundamentally animals who's only motive is to pleasure themselves by gaining dominance over others. Since people are essential domineering animals, all thoughts and ideas can be decoded for certain "dominance instincts" and thus certain conspiratorial dominance intentions. Those thoughts and ideas that will lead to bad dominance equilibrium among brutes must be policed.

Anyone who aspires to live according a vision of a more varied moral terrain is the potential domineer of others. Since people cannot be entrusted to think through nuances they must their thoughts policed to make sure that they do not ever impose their thoughts on others. The only acceptable imposition is to impose the superflat that is seen as promoting maximum instinct expression. In the superflat, maximum cussing is the calculus of maximum diversity of instinct expression among brutes. You must keep your non-cussing values to yourself. If you evangelize them in any way, it would upset the equilibrium of brutes and give domineering animals the idea of dangerous moral hierarchies. Even if you keep to yourself while quietly practicing your values you can be persecuted for having incorrect thoughts that have the potential to poison the PH balance of society with potentially toxic ideas.

While I have argued for the FCC 0600 to 2200 hrs ban on cussing/profanity on the airwaves, the leader of the no cussing club has stated that he is not trying to impose a law and that he and others are only trying to put a personal value into practice. From the moral view of the threat makers, it does not matter that the No Cussing Club isn't promoting law since law has its genesis in thought. Therefore thought must be policed. People cannot be trusted to have thoughts that may end up in laws they don't want, even if they say they don't want to impose laws. Those thoughts might put brutish people to march in goosestep formation so they must anticipate this brutish goose-stepping with their own pre-emptive total war against a "pre-crime". Any thought that can challenge the superflat must be nipped in the bud by any means necessary, using any available cyber weapon, threat and assassination of character.

Such an extreme rejection of sacredness has lead to this view of human brutes needing violent thought policing. This impulse to thought policing it is not a generous enough view of human potential to be worthy of democracy and to be worthy of the government of by and for the people that the Founders bequeathed to us. The Founders said, “…we've given you a republic if you can keep it…” In bequeathing a democracy to us that bequeathed to us a place where different views were allowed to be expressed where the parties make a good faith effort to be civil. Democracy is a civic matrix for dialogue that, if heated, makes every effort to be civil and peaceable. In bequeathing Liberty the Founders bequeathed the freedom to undermine it and choose tyranny.

Many of the death threat makers are advancing/protecting their idea of freedom in the name of protecting it from something that is religious or at least connected to religion. In fact, the superflat is its own alternate religion that seeks not only to make exposure to cussing a freedom but a requirement. The death threat makers have become the Inquisition of the superflat religion. Its in the force of their thought policing that they make the force of their allegiance to their religion known.

Those who think A) that an anti-cussing club is an affront to their First Amendment and B) that they can enforce that right with death threats will not be remembered well by history. They owe their debt to terrorists and not to the Founders. To have any integrity these anonymous people making death threats need to stand up and be counted. Until then they are cowards who must hide in secret to promote ideas thought threats because they know they will look stupid defending their actions in public.

The audacity of 22,000 death threats against the No Cussing Club is a dragon breathing down the neck of those who value sacred space, who question the superflat moral vision and those who would impose it with force. It is a dragon that will grow if it is not confronted. To the No Cussing Club: keep it up and don't back down.