Archive for the ‘theory’ Category

On Pornography

From pornography one learns that forcible violation of women is the essence of sex. Whatever is that and does that is sex. Everything else is secondary. –Catherine MacKinnon, Sexuality, Pornography and Method: “Pleasure under Patriarchy

Some statistics on internet porn (wonderfully ironic) from GOOD Magazine:

Some things to think about. A particularly difficult topic for me, as one with bits of both libertarian and feminist tenancies.

On this issue I side with both the religious right and feministis. I see pornography as a destructive and degrading force in society. At the same time, I still consider myself something of a conservative (in Oakeshottian terms) and a libertarian.

To explain, while I consider porn to be terribly violent, degrading, and disgusting, I worry that in banning it (as MacKinnon suggests) we would only be treating a symptom of the problem (that is, the pervasive degradation of women in our society), and what’s worse, perhaps unleashing greater inconceivable evil by driving pornography underground. The libertarian strains in me say that the government should not ban anything on moral grounds that does not hurt other individuals.

Given all of this, I think the “solution” to the problem of pornography is more people standing up objecting to it. The issue of the pornography provides an excellent opportunity for religious conservatives and (leftist) feminists to unite on a common issue–come to think of it (after I put it down in writing), the possibility of fundies and radical feminists coming together to create a public policy solution to a problem is quite terrifying (too much idealistic illusion). Perhaps I am a conservative afterall.

bonus points: Andrew Sullivan comments on Gaytanamo (warning: link is graphic), the “most controversial porn movie of 2007… [where a] German tourist is kidnapped off the street and accused of being a terrorist, then subjected to abuse and torture. The whole porn world is already talking about it!”


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For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world. –John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity, 1630


In applying their religious beliefs based on the literal reading of the Bible, evangelicals have constructed a millennial and apocalyptic worldview. The English Puritans who settled in Massachusetts in the seventeenth century established this millennial tradition. The Puritans, whose name derives from their desire to ‘purify’ their Christian faith down to the fundamentals of biblical teachings, believed that they were chosen by God to establish a “new Israel” in the New World. The new government they were to form there would be, in the words of John Winthrop, “a city upon a hill,” to be watched by the world as an exemplar of moral purity.

This set the foundation for American exceptionalism, the belief that the United States maintains a special place in the world, offering hope to the rest of humanity. Derived from what they view as divinely inspired exceptionalism, American evangelicals take for granted that the United States is always on the side of the good. They believe it is their God-given mission to promote that good in the world, and to fight evil. This can lead to a failure to look critically upon US foreign policy and its consequences.

This absolute dichotomy between good and evil is the basis of evangelicals’ apocalyptic mentality, and finds it source in the literal reading of the Book of Revelation. Revelation prophesizes the end of the world, where the forces of God battle those of Satan, culminating in catastrophic destruction on Earth, the victory of God, the Second Coming of Christ and his 1000 year reign of peace. Due to this apocalyptic mentality, American evangelicals tend to view conflict with extreme urgency, believing in resolution through cataclysmic transformation rather than gradual change. While this evangelical mentality can inspire dedication to a cause, that dedication maybe misguided. In viewing the world in strict terms of good vs. evil, one may overlook the complexity and nuance of world affairs as well as any empirical reality that may contradict that faith.

Though by no means exclusively to blame for the current troubles in Iraq, we can see some of these elements of an evangelical world view at work in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks and in the execution of the Iraq War. President Bush, himself a devout born-again Christian, drew roughly 40 percent of his 2004 votes from evangelicals. He believes that he was personally called by God to fight against evil saying, “God told me to strike al-Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did.”[1] He has promised to “export death and violence to the four corners of the earth in defense of this great country and rid the world of evil.[2] This certainty in mission, derived from the millennial aspects of his evangelical worldview, has plagued the Administration, as it has continuously called on Americans to “stay the course” in Iraq, in spite of the empirical reality of chaos and unrest.

We see again examples of millennialism in the Bush administration’s preference for unilateral force. In the aftermath of 9/11 terrorist attacks, the administration released its National Security Strategy:

While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self defense by acting preemptively…Today humanity holds in its hands the opportunity to further freedom’s triumph over all these foes. The United States welcomes our responsibility to lead in this great mission. But our responsibility is clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.[3]

This passage indicates the administration’s intent to use unilateral and preemptive force in its mission to destroy evil. Unilateralism relates to the evangelical millennial worldview in that American evangelicals view the United States as a nation chosen by God to lead the forces of good in the world. Certain in the veracity of their moral convictions, evangelicals with this millennial worldview believe that America has the unique obligation to fight evil in the world, even when they are alone in this endeavor. Unilateral action, to the individual with an evangelical worldview, does not indicate a lack the illegitimacy of a cause. Rather, it indicates a lack of morality on the part of non-supporters, only strengthening the millennialist conviction in American exceptionalism.

Additionally this evangelical preference for unilateral action is further connected to the literal reading of the Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation states that the Antichrist will appear before the Second Coming of the True Christ. The Antichrist will come with false promises of peace and prosperity to be achieved through the creation of a one world government before the True Christ returns to battle the Antichrist in Armageddon. Evangelicals look suspiciously upon the world governing body, the United Nations, as they believe it fulfills the Revelations prophesy of the creation of a one world government. The enormous success of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’s Left Behind series, a fictional account of a modern day apocalypse, indicates how widespread this belief is within the evangelical community. The Antichrist villain of the novels is represented by a fictional UN Secretary General. Sales of this series have topped 50 million.[4]

In line with the apocalyptic mentality, administration members continuously called Saddam Hussein evil in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. While this was done in part to stir popular support, President Bush’s assessment of Saddam went beyond his real capabilities. The administration’s demonization of Saddam probably contributed to the unwavering belief that he was developing nuclear weapons and sought to use them on the United States, in spite of the empirical evidence to the contrary.[5] President Bush’s evangelical worldview also came to light in his exceedingly ambitious belief that he could unilaterally invade a foreign country, depose of its government, and install a democracy that would set off a chain reaction across the entire Middle East. He was blinded by what he saw as his God-given mission into ignoring the real constraints of such an expedition.


[1] John B. Judis, “The Chosen Nation: The Influence of Religion on US Foreign Policy,” The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 2005. [2] Ibid.[3] The National Security Council, “National Strategy of the United States,” 2002. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html&gt;[4] Duane Oldfield, “The Evangelical Roots of American Unilateralism: The Christian Right’s Influence and How to Counter It,” Foreign Policy in Focus, August 31, 2003

[5] John B. Judis, “The Chosen Nation: The Influence of Religion on US Foreign Policy,” The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 2005.

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I found this piece in Good Magazine on Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Chairman of NYU’s Politics Department and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. According to the article, Bueno de Mesquita has developed a game theoretical computer model that “can predict the outcome of virtually any international conflict, provided the basic input is accurate.” The article goes on:

What’s more, his predictions are alarmingly specific. His fans include at least one current presidential hopeful, a gaggle of Fortune 500 companies, the CIA, and the Department of Defense. Naturally, there is also no shortage of people less fond of his work. “Some people think Bruce is the most brilliant foreign policy analyst there is,” says one colleague. “Others think he’s a quack.”

The criticism rankles him, because, to his mind, the proof is right there on the page. “I’ve published a lot of forecasting papers over the years,” he says. “Papers that are about things that had not yet happened when the paper was published but would happen within some reasonable amount of time. There’s a track record that I can point to.” And indeed there is. Bueno de Mesquita has made a slew of uncannily accurate predictions—more than 2,000, on subjects ranging from the terrorist threat to America to the peace process in Northern Ireland—that would seem to prove him right.

After testing Bueno de Mesquita’s model the CIA found it had a 90% accuracy level and that it provided far more specific information than the standard intelligence reports from the Director of Intelligence (though I’m surprised they would release that information). The model flows from standard rational choice theory, whereby actors’ motives are configured into equations to determine the rational outcome.

One could see how Bueno de Mesquita’s model is controversial. When I began reading the article I was immediately reminded of Marx’s historical materialism–and we all know how well that turned out. It seems Bueno de Mesquita’s model differs only superficially from Marx’s in that it does not rely strictly on economics and it is not (yet at least) sheathed in idealism. Is this enough to redeem it? It seems enough people think so.

I tend to yield on the side of cautious skepticism with regard to any theory, be it rational or religious, that makes predictive claims on the future. Though there is something of a deterministic element in history, I believe history is still subject to ‘accidents’ of circumstance and the agency of unique and irrational individuals (accidents at least in the sense of what the human mind is now capable of ascertaining) . But then again perhaps I am the naive one.

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An interesting little visual test to determine which hemisphere of your brain is dominant. From PerthNow:

If clockwise, then you use more of the right side of the brain and vice versa. Most of us would see the dancer turning anti-clockwise though you can try to focus and change the direction; see if you can do it.

Then goes on to give a list of brain functions of the hemispheres. Not sure if I’m buying it (the oversimplification, that is) but intriguing nonetheless.


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It was going through the blog stats of Schmitz Blitz and was interested by the search terms that brought it up:





shirtless hunks bagging groceries


religious advocacy


definition of counter arguments


rationale behind gay people?


the ten seeks


skinheads usa soldiers of the race war


First off, I couldn’t figure out how the term ‘sex’ led to my blog three times today alone (besides the fact that I talk about same sex marriage rather frequently) .

Then I was interested that someone searched ‘rationale behind gay people?’ to get to Schmitz Blitz. Beyond the fact that they do exist, I’ve not pondered much about why. I’m familiar with the standard evolutionary issues that often come up, but beyond that I was curious about what other people wanted to know about the question.

So I ran a search of the term myself and found that this entry from the blog Samson Blinded came up fourth (Schmitz Blitz was the first). The author offers a very comprehensive report on the recent developments in rabbinical thinking over the issue of homosexuality. And I think he nails the discourse right on the head in his general thesis that there is a great split in Jewish though between the Reform (and he claims Conservative too) and Orthodox traditions–that the former have generally adopted a reinterpretation of Scripture (if not flat out rejection) to be more in line with contemporary models of morality.

I’d also say that the author provides an excellent defense against the claim that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality (though I have attempted to make that stretch). To that point, in defense of the Reform rabbis, I would only offer that perhaps there is a case that there must be more to the law than just the letter. The Bible was written by humans afterall (even if you believe that it is the literal Word of God), and I generally have a lack of faith in the competency and general goodness of people, especially when given the task of writing down God Almighty’s words.

The author eventually concludes:

The abominable character of the action [of homosexual intercourse] is a rationale per se. Why? Because. Ask why having sex with one’s mother is abomination or eating excrement. Because. Society evolved that way. The opposite behavior attitude proved evolutionarily competitive. Jews outlived homosexual Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Do ethical standards change? Yes, usually before societies collapse.

As I originally suspected, this would all come back to evolution, in a way. Though the author does touch upon an important point: the role the emotion of disgust plays in our moral reasoning. A recent NYT profile on John Haidt, moral psychologist at the University of Virginia, provided a discussion of his views on the moral implications of disgust. Haidt argues that disgust originally developed as a deterrent mechanism to defend against things that would cause physical ills, such as raw meet and excrement. Disgust “was then extended to many other categories…to people who were unclean, to unacceptable sexual practices and to a wide class of bodily functions and behaviors that were seen as separating humans from animals.” From that a moral system with the virtue of purity develops.

Of course the counter to this emotional/evolutionary based system of morality is to say that I believe very many things are disgusting, but I don’t think that in of itself, makes them wrong. I think this has a lot to do with the extraordinary advances we’ve had in medical technology in the modern era. We are now much more likely to survive any disgusting thing that may cause us illness. Thus the whole rationale behind this moral system is undermined by modern developments. It seems therefor that since circumstances have changed since the crafting of the Bible, our moral systems should evolve as well, if you will, beyond the ones set up by ancient and tribal societies.

So back to Samson Blinded’s other general thesis against gay marriage. With all of this said about homosexuality and the Scripture, I don’t think it has (or at least it ought not have) any bearing on the current debate over civil marriage equality. If religious folks are worried that legal equality for all US citizens (ie. same sex civil marriage) might undermine their religiously based traditional model of marriage, perhaps they should be more ardent supporters of the separation of church and state.

An extra tid bit: There was a brilliant commentary on the Sarah Silverman Program last night on the relationship between disgust, morality and the law. Here’s a link–if you can stomach her crassness.

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With regard to all of this SCHIP business, the Economist tries to account for the rationale behind the President’s veto, noting:

Neither fiscal restraint nor the veto pen has characterized President George Bush’s time in the White House. America continues to run a deficit, and Mr. Bush has vetoed only three bills in his whole tenure. But now that he has a Democratic Congress to battle with, the president is promising to be tougher.

Mr. Greenstein [of the Centre on Budge and Policy Priorities] speculates that the president is really trying to force Congress to attach the health care tax-incentive proposal he unveiled in January. An aversion ot government-run health-care programmes and new taxes—a tobacco-tax increase would fund the SCHIP expansion—may also be driving Mr. Bush’s opposition. Or he may simply be trying to reestablish his credentials as a fiscal conservative

In adding to Bush’s reasons behind the veto, I argue that moral reasoning also played a role. I base my analysis off of the book Moral Politics by Berkeley Linguistics Professor George Lakoff. Lakoff argues that the liberal/conservative split over key issues is based on more than just partisan politics—he argues that these differences “arise from radically different conceptions of morality and ideal family life—meaning that family and morality are at the heart of American politics.”

Lakoff offers two structural models for the ideal family—the Strict Father model and the Nurturant Parent model. ‘Conservatives’ tend to prefer the former, ‘liberals’ the latter. From these differing conceptions of the ideal family, arise different moral systems for discerning what is good.

Lakoff characterizes the Strict Father model as:

A traditional nuclear family, with the father having primary responsibility for supporting and protecting the family as well as the authority to set overall family policy. He teaches children right from wrong by setting strict rules for their behavior and enforcing them through punishment…He also gains their cooperation by showing love and appreciation when they do follow the rules. But children must never be coddled, lest they become spoiled; a spoiled child will be dependent for life and will not learn proper morals.


If you accept Lakoff’s thesis, then President Bush’s veto of SCHIP makes perfect sense, assuming he adheres to the Conservative/Strict Father moral worldview (a pretty safe assumption I’d say, noting the President’s deep devotion to a conservative strain of Christianity, which espouse traditional family values).

The President would see SCHIP as undermining the ‘traditional’ family that his whole moral system is based upon. He would see SCHIP as transferring the responsibility of providing for the family from the father to the government. This diminution of the father’s authority strikes the heart of the Strict Father moral worldview. If this primary tenet is struck, then the whole moral conception loosens and waivers. In vetoing SCHIP, the President may believe that he is maintaining the very foundation his moral system—the authoritarian patriarchal father figure.

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