Monday, April 23, 2018

What the Nazis did to Morality

Stuart Hampshire was a British Philosopher who worked as an Intelligence officer for Britain during the second world war and interviewed some of the leading Nazis in captivity immediately after the war ended.  The quotes are taken from his book, Innocence and Experience (1989) Chapter 2:  “Justice and History”.  

One of Hampshire’s insights is that there is a bottom ground to morality that is more basic, and, without which, any part directed at increasing the public good is ineffective.  It was this bottom ground of morality, a sense of justice, that the Nazis destroyed.
“ There is a sense in which justice, both procedural and substantial, can be called a negative virtue…. It is negative in comparison with love and friendship, or courage, or intelligence.  One has to ask, in a Hobbesian spirit, what it prevents rather than what it engenders.”

“The Nazi revolution was a revolution of destruction, and more particularly, of moral destruction...The aim was to eliminate all notions of fairness and justice from practical politics, and, as far as possible, from person's minds; to create a bombed and flattened moral landscape, in which there are no boundaries and no limits...”

According to Hampshire,  a strong influence on his moral ideas, “was the sordid behaviour of the leading politicians in Britain confronting Nazism in Germany and Fascism elsewhere...It became obvious that they were ready to tolerate Fascist outrages and threats, and even to curry favour with Fascists, for the sake of protecting private property….I could observe this servility of Conservatives in the face of Fascism at first-hand, because I had become a colleague at All Souls’ College, Oxford, of some of the leading appeasers of Hitler."

“Revenge was to be substituted for justice in relation to enemies, loyalty to party and to race was to replace impartiality, and favour and maltreatment were to depend on a person’s origins rather than on his character… The weak and the handicapped and helpless minorities were to be destroyed, rather than helped...Justice was to be identified with the interest of the more powerful, and the exercise of power was to require no justification and to admit no restraint…”

“Below any level of explicitly articulating hatred of the idea of the Jews was tied to the hatred of the power of the intellect as opposed to military power, hatred of law courts, of negotiation, of cleverness in argument, of learning and the domination of learning:  and in this way anti-Semitism is tied to hatred of justice itself, which must set a limit to the exercise of power and to domination…”

“Hitler and his thousands of devoted followers were furiously impatient with all moral complexities and anxieties as such, and were determined to destroy in Germany, once and for all, the tradition of moral and disputable limits in the pursuit of power.”

Is it a coincidence that we now have an American President whose egregious behaviour challenges basic standards of decency, who openly admires Dictators and Authoritarian leaders, and who calls American Nazis "some very fine people"?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Debt: The First Billion Years

What  is debt?   The word is only one syllable, only four letters, but it packs an entire world of  significance and complexity that few other words do.  In the modern world debt is synonymous  with money. But if we stop at money, we are not doing the concept of debt justice, for it goes far deeper than money in both human and evolutionary history.

I think we need to look at debt as a more universal concept that includes all of life.  I see debt as an ever-changing balance between the present and the future.  If too much of what is present is consumed then debt grows too high and the  future is undermined.  If not enough of the present is taken  then we die before we even start.  There must be a balance.

OK, forget the metaphor.  What is it really? Debt is an obligation owed by the "debtor" to the "creditor".  It is an agreement, a contract, that rests on  legal  definitions of property and human rights. This  presupposes human society, governments, associations, markets,  language, memory,  and the ability of legal institutions to enforce those rights.  Debt exists over time periods that are bound by human events. In these time periods debts can be paid down, renegotiated, forgiven, kept in perpetuity, processed into derivatives, and  can even create a global financial meltdown.

The growth of debt and money are not subject to physical laws but to conceptual laws, ie, mathematics because symbolic concepts are what humans use to communicate and make agreements.  Since debt is not tied to physical laws it can, in theory, grow exponentially.

If humans went extinct there would be no debt, the debt would be paid, so to speak. So debt is ultimately bound by human mortality.  There are limits to the growth of debt therefore.  And human action depends on the existence of the Sun, the Earth and earth, as in dirt and rocks.  These are all finite although Economics treats them as virtually infinite as if they were contained within the human economy.  This is a fatal error, meaning the science of Economics needs to pull a 180.

Why do humans have debt, while other critters don't?   Maybe debt is a biological subject too.   What is the Darwinian explanation?  Let's go back to the metaphor - "an ever-changing  balance between the present and the future"  Every critter has some form of it:  Invest energy now to keep predators at bay in order to survive and pass on descendants; Consume too much and die back;  Exist in symbiosis  with the eco-systems and maintain descendants;   Grow too big, too fast and run out of resources; Migrate to other continents, but eventually run out of eco-systems to destroy, then go terminal.

What I'm getting at is that while debt is a purely human invention, it's meaning and  history have a "biological" continuity.  We use debt in human society to finance investments that we expect to pay off in the future and to help pay for emergencies  All living things sometimes borrow from the future to keep from starving and being eaten.  As long as they succeed in balancing the present and the future they can keep on going, if not, not.   There are a lot of dumb ways to die.
Humans are known for being smart and problem solving.   Humans evolved the capacity to cooperate and share information.  That's what made language, technology and the economic system of trade and markets possible.

There is an ancient association of debt to morality.  The code of Hammarabi stated:  " an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth."  This is moral reciprocity:  if I struck out your eye you could strike out my eye in retaliation.  The concept of punishment derives from this moral sense -  You do something wrong, and you have incurred a debt which gets repaid by a punishment.  When something goes wrong it has to be righted.  There is a balance.  the goddess of justice with her scales exemplifies this moral sense of debt.

This derives from the need, in human society to  balance  individuals and groups.  Groups are what makes humans superior to other animals, but individuals are the source of variation.  Without individual variations populations cannot adapt to environmental changes and they go extinct.  But individuals can take advantage of group sharing and cooperation by free-riding without contributing to the group.

 Moral rules and religion are ways that groups control individuals, so that individuals are, for the most part, prevented from taking advantage of the group as a whole. If this were not the case, then groups would have fragmented long ago and humans would have lost out to other primates.

Primate societies operate on dominance relations.  One's ability to reproduce is reflected by one's social dominance.  This creates a social order but it leaves a lot of potential unrealized.  In human societies people are infinitely more cooperative.  Compared  to all other animals, only humans care for dependents for extended lengths of time.  The idea that  we owe a debt to our parents or to society has been around for a long time.  It reflects the time we have spent being fed and cared for before we are ready to strike out on our own.

Only humans have marriage, which is an agreement between two families that many ways resembles  a debt because it is the recognition of a mutual obligation.    There are countless wedding ceremonies and customs which in some way symbolize the transfer of debt from old to new, such as the customs of dowries and bride price. The exchange of rings symbolizes a down payment, and the marriage ceremony itself is a mutual contract. The object of marriage has traditionally been for procreation, thus the wedding can be seen as the loan of resources that are required to start a new family.  This may well be the original form of debt.

 Thus, in inventing and using the  concept of debt we recognize that our very existence derives from a give and take between generations and between humanity and nature.

Unfortunately there is one difference between what the concept of debt means in the human economy and what it means in the bigger economy of nature.  In Nature's economy  we can't re-negotiate ourselves out of extinction by filing for bankruptcy.     Can humans negotiate with Climate Change?  In this sense I don't think the huge debts in non-renewable resources that we are piling up will ever be  forgiven.  I think we are in for a rude awakening.

The creativity with which we use the concept of debt today should not blind us to the fact that we need to understand the physical limits of human action and energy use.  In other words, we need to know how the human economy can exist and sustain itself within the Earth's Economy.  Let's use our brains and knowledge to manage all kinds of  debt wisely so that we can continue to have a future.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Charter 8

III. What We Advocate

Authoritarianism is in general decline throughout the world; in China, too, the era of emperors and overlords is on the way out. The time is arriving everywhere for citizens to be masters of states. For China the path that leads out of our current predicament is to divest ourselves of the authoritarian notion of reliance on an “enlightened overlord” or an “honest official” and to turn instead toward a system of liberties, democracy, and the rule of law, and toward fostering the consciousness of modern citizens who see rights as fundamental and participation as a duty. Accordingly, and in a spirit of this duty as responsible and constructive citizens, we offer the following recommendations on national governance, citizens’ rights, and social development:
1. A New Constitution. We should recast our present constitution, rescinding its provisions that contradict the principle that sovereignty resides with the people and turning it into a document that genuinely guarantees human rights, authorizes the exercise of public power, and serves as the legal underpinning of China’s democratization. The constitution must be the highest law in the land, beyond violation by any individual, group, or political party.
2. Separation of Powers. We should construct a modern government in which the separation of legislative, judicial, and executive power is guaranteed. We need an Administrative Law that defines the scope of government responsibility and prevents abuse of administrative power. Government should be responsible to taxpayers. Division of power between provincial governments and the central government should adhere to the principle that central powers are only those specifically granted by the constitution and all other powers belong to the local governments.
3. Legislative Democracy. Members of legislative bodies at all levels should be chosen by direct election, and legislative democracy should observe just and impartial principles.
4. An Independent Judiciary. The rule of law must be above the interests of any particular political party and judges must be independent. We need to establish a constitutional supreme court and institute procedures for constitutional review. As soon as possible, we should abolish all of the Committees on Political and Legal Affairs that now allow Communist Party officials at every level to decide politically sensitive cases in advance and out of court. We should strictly forbid the use of public offices for private purposes.
5. Public Control of Public Servants. The military should be made answerable to the national government, not to a political party, and should be made more professional. Military personnel should swear allegiance to the constitution and remain nonpartisan. Political party organizations must be prohibited in the military. All public officials including police should serve as nonpartisans, and the current practice of favoring one political party in the hiring of public servants must end.
6. Guarantee of Human Rights. There must be strict guarantees of human rights and respect for human dignity. There should be a Human Rights Committee, responsible to the highest legislative body, that will prevent the government from abusing public power in violation of human rights. A democratic and constitutional China especially must guarantee the personal freedom of citizens. No one should suffer illegal arrest, detention, arraignment, interrogation, or punishment. The system of “Reeducation through Labor” must be abolished.
7. Election of Public Officials. There should be a comprehensive system of democratic elections based on “one person, one vote.” The direct election of administrative heads at the levels of county, city, province, and nation should be systematically implemented. The rights to hold periodic free elections and to participate in them as a citizen are inalienable.
8. Rural–Urban Equality. The two-tier household registry system must be abolished. This system favors urban residents and harms rural residents. We should establish instead a system that gives every citizen the same constitutional rights and the same freedom to choose where to live.
9. Freedom to Form Groups. The right of citizens to form groups must be guaranteed. The current system for registering nongovernment groups, which requires a group to be “approved,” should be replaced by a system in which a group simply registers itself. The formation of political parties should be governed by the constitution and the laws, which means that we must abolish the special privilege of one party to monopolize power and must guarantee principles of free and fair competition among political parties.
10. Freedom to Assemble. The constitution provides that peaceful assembly, demonstration, protest, and freedom of expression are fundamental rights of a citizen. The ruling party and the government must not be permitted to subject these to illegal interference or unconstitutional obstruction.
11. Freedom of Expression. We should make freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and academic freedom universal, thereby guaranteeing that citizens can be informed and can exercise their right of political supervision. These freedoms should be upheld by a Press Law that abolishes political restrictions on the press. The provision in the current Criminal Law that refers to “the crime of incitement to subvert state power” must be abolished. We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes.
12. Freedom of Religion. We must guarantee freedom of religion and belief, and institute a separation of religion and state. There must be no governmental interference in peaceful religious activities. We should abolish any laws, regulations, or local rules that limit or suppress the religious freedom of citizens. We should abolish the current system that requires religious groups (and their places of worship) to get official approval in advance and substitute for it a system in which registry is optional and, for those who choose to register, automatic.
13. Civic Education. In our schools we should abolish political curriculums and examinations that are designed to indoctrinate students in state ideology and to instill support for the rule of one party. We should replace them with civic education that advances universal values and citizens’ rights, fosters civic consciousness, and promotes civic virtues that serve society.
14. Protection of Private Property. We should establish and protect the right to private property and promote an economic system of free and fair markets. We should do away with government monopolies in commerce and industry and guarantee the freedom to start new enterprises. We should establish a Committee on State-Owned Property, reporting to the national legislature, that will monitor the transfer of state-owned enterprises to private ownership in a fair, competitive, and orderly manner. We should institute a land reform that promotes private ownership of land, guarantees the right to buy and sell land, and allows the true value of private property to be adequately reflected in the market.
15. Financial and Tax Reform. We should establish a democratically regulated and accountable system of public finance that ensures the protection of taxpayer rights and that operates through legal procedures. We need a system by which public revenues that belong to a certain level of government—central, provincial, county or local—are controlled at that level. We need major tax reform that will abolish any unfair taxes, simplify the tax system, and spread the tax burden fairly. Government officials should not be able to raise taxes, or institute new ones, without public deliberation and the approval of a democratic assembly. We should reform the ownership system in order to encourage competition among a wider variety of market participants.
16. Social Security. We should establish a fair and adequate social security system that covers all citizens and ensures basic access to education, health care, retirement security, and employment.
17. Protection of the Environment. We need to protect the natural environment and to promote development in a way that is sustainable and responsible to our descendants and to the rest of humanity. This means insisting that the state and its officials at all levels not only do what they must do to achieve these goals, but also accept the supervision and participation of nongovernmental organizations.
18. A Federated Republic. A democratic China should seek to act as a responsible major power contributing toward peace and development in the Asian Pacific region by approaching others in a spirit of equality and fairness. In Hong Kong and Macao, we should support the freedoms that already exist. With respect to Taiwan, we should declare our commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy and then, negotiating as equals and ready to compromise, seek a formula for peaceful unification. We should approach disputes in the national-minority areas of China with an open mind, seeking ways to find a workable framework within which all ethnic and religious groups can flourish. We should aim ultimately at a federation of democratic communities of China.
19. Truth in Reconciliation. We should restore the reputations of all people, including their family members, who suffered political stigma in the political campaigns of the past or who have been labeled as criminals because of their thought, speech, or faith. The state should pay reparations to these people. All political prisoners and prisoners of conscience must be released. There should be a Truth Investigation Commission charged with finding the facts about past injustices and atrocities, determining responsibility for them, upholding justice, and, on these bases, seeking social reconciliation.
China, as a major nation of the world, as one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and as a member of the UN Council on Human Rights, should be contributing to peace for humankind and progress toward human rights. Unfortunately, we stand today as the only country among the major nations that remains mired in authoritarian politics. Our political system continues to produce human rights disasters and social crises, thereby not only constricting China’s own development but also limiting the progress of all of human civilization. This must change, truly it must. The democratization of Chinese politics can be put off no longer.
Accordingly, we dare to put civic spirit into practice by announcing Charter 08. We hope that our fellow citizens who feel a similar sense of crisis, responsibility, and mission, whether they are inside the government or not, and regardless of their social status, will set aside small differences to embrace the broad goals of this citizens’ movement. Together we can work for major changes in Chinese society and for the rapid establishment of a free, democratic, and constitutional country. We can bring to reality the goals and ideals that our people have incessantly been seeking for more than a hundred years, and can bring a brilliant new chapter to Chinese civilization.

From New York Review of Books website: from Chinese by Perry Link

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Slavery and Fossil Fuels

The nineteenth century global economy was a like a small scale version of today's global economy. Trade in slaves, sugar, coffee, tobacco, and cotton were the drivers of global economic growth. But the growing trade in the above mentioned non-human commodities was first made possible by slave labour in plantations in the tropics and the American South.

In our modern global economy, cheap fossil fuels have taken the place of slaves. Industrial farming, convenient travel by automobile, and the transportation of commodities by trucks and tankers is all made possible by fossil fuels.

The nineteenth century movement to abolish slavery, called “Abolitionism” was entirely based on the moral inhumanity of slavery. Slowly but surely, the idea of buying and selling human beings, of separating members of slave families, of punishing slaves with whippings and other forms of torture, came to be seen as morally unjustifiable.

The twenty-first Century movement to stop runaway global warming is based more on science than on morals. Science tells us that the unchecked growth in fossil fuel consumption is leading to accelerating global warming. Science also tells us that this warming has catastrophic potential for all humans because of the increased probability of drought, forest fires, flooding and destruction of biodiversity.

Because the case for preventing global warming is largely based on science it has a much better potential for gaining widespread agreement among the world's nations. It took fifty years for the British abolitionist movement to halt slavery in the British colonies, where it finally ended in 1833. But it took closer to a hundred years and a wrenching civil war for the United States to abolish it.

It's instructive to examine the difference between British and American abolitionism. In both countries slave owners and slave traders stood to lose profits from abolition. But in Great Britain slaveholders were a small society of men who owned plantations in the British colonies, mostly in the Caribbean. In the United States slavery was the basis of the Southern states' economy. When American abolitionists first aimed a direct mail campaign at the South in the 1830's, the Southern reaction was swift and decisive. The entire white population of the South rallied around the cause of slavery, intimidating and physically expelling anyone who dared to disagree.

As a voting block, the South was able to stalemate and paralyse all three branches of the federal government whenever attempts to deal with the issues of slavery were made. It took the election of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln in 1860, to end the stalemate, but the Southerners refused to accept the result and quickly declared war on the Northern states.

There is no doubt that the economies of Great Britain and the United States were harmed by abolition. Slavery, was, after all, profitable. But the majority of English and Americans were persuaded that the moral result was worth the cost.

In our modern global economy, it is some of the richest corporations – the oil corporations like Exxon and Shell that stand to lose the most from our taking action to stop runaway global warming. The fact that they are so profitable is relevant here because their huge profits are being used to subvert political systems all over the world.

Unfortunately, the 2016 U.S. election of Donald Trump has left us with an American Executive and Legislature that is bought and paid for by the fossil fuel industry.   It's no wonder that they have made it their goal to block the kind of national and international action necessary to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

 One of our priorities  should be to put a stop to the undue influence of corporate money on politics. We don't even have ten years to turn things around, let alone fifty. There is no justification for putting the human race at risk for the sake of oil company profits.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

I had a conversation with my eldest son Michael about a month ago. It was just before I got married. We discussed: “Why can't knowledge be used to make things in society work better?” This question of my son's got me to thinking about what is knowledge and what is the difference between knowledge of nature and knowledge of human affairs. In philosophy, this is called epistemology, the study of knowledge.

I was very gratified that Michael was interested in this subject. And, though at that time that I studied philosophy in University, I wondered whether there was any point in it, my son's question made me realize how important the consequences of a particular epistemology can be.

Consider the case of “self-fufilling prophecies”. I believe that my neighbour is a witch. I accuse her in public. She denies it, but under the law the way to ascertain if someone is a witch is to torture them ( truth by ordeal). It's no surprise that the majority of accused will confess after being tortured. And the publicity of the case leads some people to see more witches, just by the power of suggestion. Soon more people confess to being witches and now we're into a full blown witch hunt.

Eventually the witch hunts ended but not before tens of thousands of women were burned at the stake. This happened about five hundred years ago. The interesting thing here is that the fact that witches with supernatural powers don't exist didn't stop Europe from seeing more and more witches. In other words, beliefs can be self-reinforcing even though they are false.

Consider another case closer to home. Banks don't actually have as much money as people deposit in them. They create money by loaning out multiples of their cash deposits. If most depositors believe that there is enough money then there is enough money. And as a consequence, each individual will have no trouble withdrawing their whole deposit if they want to. But if enough people believe that there isn't enough money, they will make a run on the banks, banks will close down and people will not be able to withdraw their money. So their won't be enough money.

Or, if enough people believe that money is worth less today than it was yesterday, they will delay paying back their loans, they will spend their money as fast as they can, the money supply will expand and prices will rise. So money will be worth less. Again, a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Our beliefs about ourselves effect our actions. Author George Soros calls this “reflexivity”. That means that human behaviour is not independent from our knowledge of it. Why is this important? Because it means that the correspondence theory of truth does not always work. A statement is true if it corresponds to reality. I'm sitting on a chair. This corresponds to the truth. No problem. But what if our thoughts change reality? Then the idea of “correspondence” is problematic because thoughts and realities are not independent of each other. It's when you get into things like witches and money that correspondence to reality is a problem because what we believe about witches or money effects their reality.

We can assume that the correspondence theory of truth works for natural science but not always for the social sciences because of the principle of reflexivity. Thus the idea that the way we study social science must be different in kind from the way we study nature. Of course we go on acting as if the truth of our statements about humans corresponds to reality but we have a lot harder time knowing for sure. What we believe could just be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the stronger we believe it the more self reinforcing it becomes.

If knowledge must be certain this implies that those with access to knowledge have a monopoly on the truth. Any political system based on this will be rigid and closed to change or improvement. This is the religious, tribal, and totalitarian approach to knowledge and it leads to a closed society. That's why epistemology is so important. If we believe that knowledge is fallible then we have to be at least open to other points of view and open to change in our views. And if knowledge is imperfect that means that there is always room for improvement.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Science and Religion

Science and Religion are two different things. But a long time ago they were one thing. The Greek Pythagoras lived at about the same time as the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews. He is said to have discovered irrational numbers and the Pythagorem theorem in geometry. Pythagoras was head of a mystical brotherhood of mathematicians. He is said to have believed in the transmigration of human souls, which he may have picked up from Hinduism. Pythagoras believed that numbers formed the ultimate reality and that knowing the numbers and their relationships revealed the divine nature behind the origin and perfection of the universe. This divine nature was called the “Logos”. An idea that influences the Apostle John in the New Testament, more than five hundred years later.

Pythagoras is situated at the birth of science when science and religion were not seen as seperate and they cross- fertilized each other. When they cross-fertilize they lead to heightened creativity, to bold new theologies and scientific theories. The idea that numbers are the ultimate reality eventually leads to modern science, especially in the figure of Copernicus. At the beginning of the Renaissance, European scholars began to rediscover the writings of the Classical Greeks. But Copernicus, was not happy with the astronomical predictions of Ptolomy, the greatest of the Greek astronomers. Ptolomy's calculations for the movements of the planets were inaccurate and imprecise. Copernicus went back and looked at the writings of the other Greek astronomers, H e came to realize that it was Ptolomy's theory about the relationship of the planets with the Earth and the Sun that was at fault.

Instead of everything revolving around the Earth, Copernicus said that the Earth was a planet and it and the other planets moved around the Sun. The Earth moves. But, of course, common sense tells us that the Earth does not move. We see the sun cross the sky every day and the moon and the stars every night. Besides, if the Earth moved, things would fly off of it.

This is what people believed and Copernicus was careful to have his theories published posthumously. Around the same time Martin Luther was busy challenging the authority of the Catholic Church. Luther took scriptural authority as ultimate, overriding the authority of the Church hierarchy. Luther's move to make scripture the ultimate authority, has had unfortunate consequences for the relationship between science and religion because it created a conflict between holy scripture and modern science. Copernicus says the Earth moves, but the Bible says that the sun moves around the Earth. Luther's Reformation creates a counter move in the Catholic Church - the Counter-Reformation. The Curch ends up condemning Copernican theory.

Science is cumulative. Unlike theology scientific theories can be falsified and overthrown. Science doesn't work by scriptural authority. To be a scientist, you don't need to follow the work of Pythagoras, Plato or Aristotle. Science evolves, it deepens our understanding over time. It leads to ever more specialized knowledge. A scientist like Einstein can create a theory that contradicts the earlier work of Newton, at the same that it deepens our understanding of gravity.

But the conflict between science and religion reaches a crisis four hundred years after Copernicus, when Charles Darwin publishes his theory of evolution. Darwin's theory contradicts the Bible on a number of crucial issues. It disagrees with the Biblical account of how the Universe began, and how humans were created and on the age of the Universe. As a result of Darwin's theory, the split between liberals and the Biblical literalists becomes permanent. Those who hold to scriptural authority, who we now call Fundamentalists, reject the theory of evolution because it contradicts scripture. Those Christians we call “liberals” accept the authority of scientific discovery when it concerns factual matters about the physical world.

The same divide between liberal and Fundamentalist Christians also exists around the issue of Global Warming. Most Fundamentalists reject the science about global warming. Why? It is not so much that it contradicts the Bible as that it draws attention away from it. Global warming is a more convincing story than the Biblical Apocalypses in the Book of Daniel and Revelations.

What is an apocalypse? It is a story about how the table is turned by a series of catastrophies, so that the wicked, who were formerly in power are cast down and the righteous are lifted up and exhalted. A modern example is the”Left Behind” series. Apocalyptic stories are elaborate revenge fantasies.

Global warming is more convincing than the Bible's apocalyptic stories because we can see the evidence for ourselves in the changing weather in the skies. What's more, the evidence fits the scientific predictions very closely. More frequent and more powerful storms, flooding, forest fires, and drought.

Of course the weather is not being selective about who it harms but it is quickly becoming a vehicle for people's fantasies. For instance, Bill Shanker of the New Covenant Fellowship of New Orleans says this about the significance of Hurricane Katrina:

"New Orleans now is abortion free. New Orleans now is Mardi Gras free. New Orleans now is free of Southern Decadence and the sodomites, the witchcraft workers, false religion – it's free of all those things now. God simply, I believe, purged all of that stuff out of there – and now we're going to start all over again."

Liberal Christians have accepted global warming as true, and it's beginning to influence the way they practice religion. Climate scientists have talked about the “moral imperative” of lowering carbon dioxide emissions. Al Gore calls it a moral and a spiritual challenge. Here we have the vital cross-fertilization of science and religion. People accept the predictive authority of science but religion inspires and motivates the science of global warming because people are concerned about the future,

The rivalry between fundamentalism and science has played a part in the Bush Administration's suppression of the science of global warming and could, if not checked, lead to a theocracy. Creativity, scientific knowledge, and basic human rights and freedoms would all be the causalties. The path of Pythagoras and religious liberalism has led to the fruitful cross-fertilization of science and religion. Science and religion need each other.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Building The Great Great Wall

"We will soon begin construction of a Great Great Wall along our southern border." - President Trump, inaugural address to Congress.

When I think of serious walls, two walls come to mind: The Great Wall of China, and the Berlin Wall. President Trump says that he is building a “Great Great Wall”.   This could lead to another diplomatic incident, inadvertently clashing with China's "One Great Wall" Policy. The Chinese will not take kindly to their Great Wall downgraded to something less Big.   

Nevertheless, these two historical examples  are instructive.  One wall was built to keep people out.  The other wall was built to keep people in.  Both were truly audacious projects, but in the end, neither worked out as planned.

The Chinese definitely win the prize for hubris for the sheer scale of their enterprise, in fact it is the largest man made object in the world.  No doubt their wall cost a lot of money, but it employed a lot of people and helped their economy grow, didn’t it?  And it employed lots of workers for hundreds of years.   And the people it kept out:  we’re talking pillagers and rapists, we’re talking bad hombres.  

The problem only came hundreds of years later when the worst pillager and rapist of them all -  Ghengis Khan - circumvented the  wall and conquered China and all of Asia Central,  and, this is documented, there is evidence in our DNA, this bad hombre sired more children than any other individual in history.

 So much for building a very big wall to protect your country.  China has been there, done that.  Now it’s their biggest tourist attraction.  This shows that with sufficient time, you too can recover from bad hombres running your country.  

In 1961 the East Germans, a client state of the now defunct Soviet Union, built a wall that followed the dividing line between East and West Germany through the city of Berlin.  They built this wall, topped with barbed wire and manned with machine guns, in order to stop East Germans from leaving the Communist East to go to the Capitalist West.  

Then in 1989 the Soviet Economy collapsed, probably because of chronically low oil prices, and very soon after that people tore down the Berlin wall, brick by brick, and within a few years Germany re-united.

Now, in 2017 the new Wall-Builder-In-Chief has officially  passed the baton of "the leader of the free world" on to Angela Merkl;  and this shows that you can recover and heal your nation after a particular ugly wall has been built, and even become the leader of the free world.  

 If you want to know why Trump wants to build The Great Great Wall, you can get a hint from Christian Evangelist David Barton, who runs an internet Website called "    “WallBuilders is an organization dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built – a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined.”   So says David Barton, who calls himself - “America’s Premier Historian.”

 You see: “In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, the nation of Israel rallied together in a grassroots movement to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem…”  On this point I beg to differ with “America’s Premier Historian.”   If memory serves me well, the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls was no grassroots event.  It was overseen and funded by the Persian Empire.  It even says so, right there in the Bible. The Persian Empire was the new kid on the block at that time, and unlike the Babylonians and Assyrians before them, they actively supported subject peoples’ keeping their ethnic religious systems intact.

The new Nehemiah is going to build a Wall.  A “Great Great Wall” that will protect all the faithful against “Them”  -  the Coloured, the Muslims, the “Extremist Islamic Terrorists.”  

Nor will the Great Great Wall that is to come  be a grassroots movement,  because the Great Great Wall also requires a great military buildup, and a great new partnership between Industry and Government. That’s OK with Evangelical Christian, David Barton, because he sees Donald Trump’s new administration and I quote him: “I’m loving what I am seeing.”

To build a Great Great Wall  it was necessary  to pass the baton of "the leader of the free world" from America,  to the leader of the nation that managed to break down the last big wall.  This will be a point of interest to future Historians, if there are any.