Love, Sight, and Corporations

December 16, 2013

If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  -1 John 4:20

It is interesting that love is connected with sight in this Biblical passage.  Elsewhere in the New Testament, the Bible teaches that a human is much more than a physical, visible entity (2 Corinthians 5:4 refers to the body as a “tent”, and 1 Corinthians 6:19 refers to the body of a Christian as a “temple of the holy spirit.”).  Scripture also states that God created man in His “image,” specifically in Genesis 1:26-27: “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image’. . . [and] God created man in His own image.”  However, it is highly debatable (if not entirely unlikely) that the reference to “God’s image” has much to do with the physical appearance of human beings.

The thesis of this post is that the removal of the “sight” of a second party may actually hinder one’s propensity to love someone, and that that has consequences in our political and social lives.  This may seem obvious, but I am going to take it a step further than the obvious.

We know intuitively that a blind person must be able to love a person, so physical sight is not necessary to love someone.  But it is surely easier to avoid loving another person if one does not have to see that person.  If your community keeps homeless people relegated to a rough corner of town that you never visit, it is easier not to think of them or help them.  But if you have to face homeless people every day, your conscience is more likely to be bothered and perhaps spur you to do something to love the homeless, even if only donating to a local charity or giving a few bucks to a homeless person who appears to be in need.  On the other hand, one might choose to become callous toward the homeless, particularly with the aid of stereotypes and rationalizations such as “homeless people are lazy.”  Accordingly, it is said that if you cannot even love those who you see (and sight should make it easier to love someone), you cannot love God, whom you cannot see (because it is presumably harder to love God, who you cannot see).

But what if you owned a small private business in a neighborhood with homeless people?  I would imagine it would be even more difficult to resist a sense of sympathy to (and even responsibility for) the needs of those in the community.

Enter corporations.

Setting aside private companies, the “owners” of a publicly-traded corporation could be shareholders from all across the world.  If the corporation runs nation-wide chain retail stores or restaurants, the shareholder is far removed from the faces on the ground.  A corporation cannot truly love a person.  The corporation exists to provide profit to its shareholders.  Sure, a corporation can give money to a charitable cause, but it generally does so because it helps the corporation’s bottom line in the long run by building good will with consumers.  The private small business owner is in a much better position to help those with needs in the community because the private small business owner can actually “see” the faces of the need in a real way.

Furthermore, the private small business owner sees his or her employees and is more likely to treat them in a loving manner.  Grace and mercy cost a business owner no more than he or she is willing to voluntarily contribute.  The shareholders of a private corporation cannot see the employees and thus will not care about them.  The corporate hierarchy will provide little grace or mercy at the sacrifice of the company’s (and the shareholders’) bottom line.  Employees within a corporation can still exercise some grace and mercy, but with a much greater risk.  If an employee in a corporation shows mercy to a subordinate and it does not work out, the managerial employee loses his job, which is more than the comparatively negligible amount of profit lost by the corporation.

Now enter politicians.

Politicians, surviving largely on the backs of private corporations (this goes for Democrats as well as Republicans), answer these bottom-line focused entities rather than the rank and file individuals.  Moreover, federal government politicians are far removed from their constituents (often by thousands of miles).  If politicians need not look many of their constituents in the face for most of the year, it will be easier to forget to love them or serve their interests, just as people forget about the homeless in the bad areas of town that they never visit.

Is the link between “sight” and “love” a good reason to be suspicious of corporations and support local businesses?  Is it a good reason to prefer local to state or national government?

What Do You Care?

August 30, 2013

So, why do you care about the behavior of others?  Where you are not concerned, why care about others having abortions, gay marriage, prayers in public school (or at high school football games in Texas), therapy for minors with unwanted same sex attraction, racial discrimination that does not harm you, laws in other states or countries, or anything else that would not affect your life specifically and personally?

Should any of us care about the plight of another so much that we would interfere with that person’s life (or the lives of those around them) through legal compulsion?  The answer seems to be “yes,” if we love justice, but who is this “we”?  Should “we” interfere with the behavior of others through our town’s local law, our state law, or our federal law, or leave law out of it and resort to other methods?  (One could “interfere” with the behavior of others without using law, via boycott or shunning.)  It seems more intuitively acceptable for us to interfere with or regulate the behavior in our own community based on our moral inclinations about the good of our community.  One’s interest in the behavior of the people in far away places seems more attenuated.

To push this point even further, should “we” as a society (small or large scale) interfere with other societies?  Can the people of Los Angeles decide they’ve had enough of the ridiculous laws in San Francisco and try to do something about it?  Yes, the people of Los Angeles lack jurisdiction to do anything about what happens in San Francisco, but the United States has no more jurisdiction over anything in the Middle East, yet there “we” are, interfering…

It strikes me that this is absolutely not a conservative or liberal question.  Conservatives will interfere with your ability to smoke pot.  Liberals will interfere with your ability to smoke a cigarette in a public restaurant.  Each will claim the high ground of “freedom” on one issue while claiming the high ground of “morality” on the other.  “Freedom” is just another buzz word like “equality” and “democracy” that people only invoke for convenience and sound bites, not because they are actually committed to those ideals.  It is the same with foreign policy.  Conservatives and liberals will walk the line between “respecting the sovereignty of other nations” and “taking a stand for the cause of justice” depending on the values or interests at stake in a policy decision.

So, do you care about the behavior of other people so much that you want to interfere societally?  Do you want to interfere with other societies (and do you want your own government to interfere in other societies for you)?  No doubt, there are numerous moral tragedies happening around the world right now and we are doing nothing about them.  Yet when discussing instances of interference in the past (like fighting the Nazis in WWII), people point to how evil the situation/government was to justify the U.S.’s behavior.  Wouldn’t that be like the people of Los Angeles pointing to how bad the laws of San Francisco are as justification for interference?  That doesn’t hold water unless we are going to distinguish between types of “bad” laws (whether a difference in kind or degree).  Certainly some silly laws that drive away small businesses in San Francisco would not justify usurping the authority of the San Francisco local government through force.

What kind of laws (if any) should invite the scrutiny and interference from other governments that have no jurisdiction?  What kind of behavior from other people in your community or neighboring communities invites your own scrutiny and legal interference?  Is there a difference between attempting to interfere (through force of law in matters in which you have no direct interest) with the behavior of your neighbor, or someone in a neighboring town, or someone in another state, or someone in another country?

If government A can usurp government B’s authority through force based on the bad laws of government B, can government B do the same to government A?  If government A is too strong for that, doesn’t that make government A a self-appointed “benevolent tyrant”?  What happens when government A turns bad and ignores its own unjust laws?  Would the citizens of the country of government A look kindly on the interference from the weaker government B?

America (and particularly the federal government in America) is government A.

Elysium is a thinly-veiled promotion of a rather liberal political agenda, especially with respect to immigration and healthcare reform.  One can gather that quickly by watching the movie or reading the reviews of moviegoers on yahoo.  But I would have enjoyed the movie anyway if it had been more complete.

Sorry to spoil the rather unoriginal and predictable plot, but here it is in all its simplicity: 150 years into the future, our planet Earth is ruined by overpopulation and poverty such that the entire earth looks like a third world country.  Everyone in LA speaks Spanish and/or is Hispanic.  The elite of the world (wealthy, intelligent, educated, etc.), build a huge space station called “Elysium” to, and I quote, “preserve their way of life” (though the film does little if anything to show what that “way of life” looks like; we are supposed to assume it’s ideal with whatever that might mean to us–kind of like Heaven, I suppose).  Elysium has free (and perfect) healthcare in the form of body-scanning machines that can heal a person from essentially every malady short of complete death (it can even do reconstructive facial surgery and restore someone who had his face blown off by an explosive, looking good as new after the healthcare scan).  To get the bodyscan, a person needs both to be on Elysium and be a citizen of Elysium.  They refer to all non-citizens as “illegals,” and Jodie Foster’s character heads up a group called “Homeland Security” (yes, the metaphor is that obvious) to protect Elysium from intruders, but the dark-skinned “president” essentially undermines the Homeland Security efforts, leading Foster’s evil character to stage a coup to protect Elysium.  Meanwhile, Matt Damon’s character lives on earth, gets sick, has 5 days to live, and needs to get to Elysium to get that body scan to heal himself as well as his friend’s daughter, who has leukemia.

There was potential for this movie but they didn’t explore the pertinent questions arising out of such a plotline nearly enough.

For instance, were the people on Elysium happy in their isolated (and supposedly trouble-free) world?  What was life like for them?  Did they at least have “first world problems“, or was this a symbolic utopia of sorts?

Was it immoral for the citizens of Elysium to build Elysium at the outset and/or to take the best and brightest from the world and stick them up in Elysium? (If so, it’s likewise immoral for America to allow the best and brightest of other nations to emmigrate to the U.S., contributing to brain-drain in third world countries, which could actually mean permitting unlimited immigration would sometimes be immoral, not benevolent).

Is the existence of Elysium itself (or the imbalance of wealth in any closed system) an instance of injustice?  If it didn’t exist at all, apparently no one would have healthcare, unless the best and brightest of Elysium were somehow forced into providing healthcare to everyone everywhere (and how would we force them to do so without paying them–making them elite, the kind of elitists that we from the outset held were an example of injustice–or forcing slavery, which we also find disgusting?).

To put that last question another way, more broadly: is it unjust that Oprah owns eight homes while I only rent one (and some people are entirely homless, or living with multiple families in the same dwelling)?  Is an imbalance of wealth itself an inherent injustice?  Is it immoral anytime any of us earns more than the median world salary (a small number that will shock your conscience) and fails to donate the entire surplus to those below that line to even things up?  Isn’t this movie saying that the general imbalance of resources and happiness between Earth and Elysium is in itself immoral (notwithstanding that everybody who helped make that movie likely lives an extravagant lifestyle, at least from a world-wide perspective)?  If the movie is saying that, does it not also suggest by implication that we are a nation of hypocrites and psychopaths, but not much else?

Were there scarce health-care resources on Elysium, such that the masses on Earth would consume up the health-care “machines”, creating an underclass of the unhealthy anyway? If there was no such scarcity, why did the people on Elysium keep those machines from being delivered to earth rather than sending reproductions (or even just one or two) of these impersonal machines (which apparently did not even need maintenance or a personal expert to operate, or at least the movie did not indicate such a need)?  Were the citizens of Elysium presumed to be psychopaths with nothing but contempt for all outsiders (and in fact a positive desire to harm or starve outsiders), rather than protectors of their limited goods?  (Even in wealthy America, we participate in and fund global relief efforts, however effective or ineffective that may be.)  If the citizens of Elysium were that evil, shouldn’t we just blow the whole edifice up rather than allow these Stalin-like creatures to continue profiting from building such machines?  Or would we disapprove of forcing them to labor on our behalf here on “Earth” (the third world country)?

Additionally, as a somewhat irrelevant side note, imagine how long the wait lines would be on an overpopulated earth seeking to exploit the machines that were built only to serve an elite few rather than billions.  Can the machines break from overuse?  Will people harm each other to cut in line?  Will the gate-keepers of the line allow their friends and family a place of privilege so that they get the best machines and spend the smallest amount of time in line?  These machines are unlikely to turn the third world Earth cesspool into a utopia just through healthcare.  At least, the problems of poverty and crime would still persist.

There are just way too many unanswered questions. This movie might have been an ambitious mini-series on TV, and I would love to have seen these issues explored (even if with a liberal or other agenda), but the movie fails to deliver in an intellectually-satisfying way.  That’s unfortunate.

Update:  It just occurred to me, this movie could be seen (ironically) as a pro-life metaphorical argument.  The citizens of “earth” could be unborn humans, whereas the elites on Elysium could be people who have been born.  The people on Elysium (metaphors for mothers) are entirely in control of whether the earthlings (metaphors for unborn babies) can have healthcare and live.  However, the earthlings pose a threat to the comfortable way of living for those on Elysium, and the citizens of Elysium want to “preserve their way of life.”  When someone from earth finally “gets through” against the will of those on Elysium (say, for example, a child of a failed abortion), that person fights with all his/her might to end the denial of life for the earthlings.  In this interpretation, the movie metaphor wouldn’t even go far enough, because mothers and their unborn babies have a far more intimate (and morally obligatory) relationship than that between the citizens of Elysium and Earth.

Principled Voting

July 21, 2013

Would you vote for a politician running in an election if he/she agreed with your political beliefs in all respects except one, and that one exception was that he/she was in favor of, say, race-based slavery?

I pose this question because some media types say that Republicans should get away from the “social issues” which concern religious voters.  I’ve also heard Republicans refer to problematic “single issue voters” who would not vote for Republicans who were (for example) pro-choice.  Now, if you believe that abortion is in fact the killing of an innocent human being, these Republicans and media types are treating your views as subordinate, urging you to compromise.  But I’m going to ask again, with a different example:

If a politician espouses all of your views except one, the exception being his/her desire to initiate state-sponsored killing of the terminally ill and elderly (keep in mind, you will likely one day be elderly) because such people increase national healthcare costs, would you vote for that politician?  If your answer is “no,” perhaps you don’t think it’s such a bad thing to be a “single issue voter”.

While I found myself wearied of debating people on the internet (both here and even more so on other websites), I have found myself more and more simply wanting to pose philosophical questions to the world, just in case anyone is listening.  Keeping up with current events and writing about them as frequently as possible won’t be the focus so much.  So here goes…

Is it possible, or even beneficial, for a person to hold different political beliefs at different levels of government?

For example, whether one wanted to socialize medicine or continue the ban on marijuana use, couldn’t a person believe (and vote accordingly) that such measures are better decided at lower levels of government than the national level,  and thus vote for libertarian-minded politicians (desiring little governmental regulation of anything) at the federal level and liberals (desiring mostly governmental support on social and economic issues) or conservatives (desiring mostly government support on social issues and deregulation on economic issues) at local levels?

Thus, one might vote against federal politicians who promise government aid to students and universities while voting for local politicians who promise to increase funding to local community colleges.  One might be in favor of an increased state-wide minimum wage law while opposing the federal minimum wage altogether.  One might vote against federal politicians who promise to continue the war on drugs while voting for a state proposition banning the possession of marijuana–or even a community ordinance prohibiting all cigarette use.

Ultimately, if you always vote the same way at all levels, you may be focused on the ends and ignoring the question of the appropriate means.  Maybe it would be a great thing to have socialized medicine or a ban on marijuana in one state while permitting decreased regulations on medical insurance or legalized marijuana in another.  If people in one state grow envious of the other for whatever reason, they could make an educated and informed decision on that policy.  Or maybe one state’s policy works great for that state, but wouldn’t work in another state.

Some issues are necessarily federal (like national defense and whether we will wage war), but should all issues be decided on as high a level as possible?  If you think some issues ought to be local, do you vote against federal politicians who meddle in those issues rather than leaving them to states and local communities?

The New Abortion Bailout

March 11, 2010

In a time when we have so much public money to spare, we’ll now be paying for the abortions of the irresponsible:

House leaders have concluded they cannot change a divisive abortion provision in President Barack Obama’s health care bill and will try to pass the sweeping legislation without the support of ardent anti-abortion Democrats.

A break on abortion would remove a major obstacle for Democratic leaders in the final throes of a yearlong effort to change health care in the United States. But it sets up a risky strategy of trying to round up enough Democrats to overcome, not appease, a small but possibly decisive group of Democratic lawmakers in the House.

Democratic leaders are working to rally rank-and-file members around last-minute agreements on several sticking points, health insurance taxes and prescription drug coverage among them, and dozens of other complicated issues — all as Republicans stand ready to oppose the overhaul en masse. 

So bipartisanship doesn’t matter when it’s unnecessary?  I’m shocked.  Shocked I tell you.

Not that this would be as shocking as our funding of rapeforced abortions in China.

An interesting post on the blog of a South African discusses what people mean when they assert that they have a right to believe what they want:

[C]an anyone actually believe something just because they want to? Go on, try it. Pick some belief at random, something silly which you never really took seriously before, and will yourself to believe it…

I doubt you had any more success than I did.

What we can claim is the right to express and practice our beliefs, whatever they happen to be, to the extent that our actions do not infringe on the rights of others.

It is these other rights which concern me most. Attempts to defend a belief which cannot be limited may infringe on a few of them, for example:

Freedom of expression: False beliefs can generally only be maintained by ignorance. If someone has the “right” to believe something then that necessarily means that we must loose the right to argue with them about it.

Equality: Many beliefs are discriminatory. So often the so called “right to believe” is used to justify acts of discrimination in all their various forms.

In conclusion, We need to stop assuming we can control belief and let free expression take care of defending rational beliefs and gradually dismantling the irrational ones.

I agree that many people misuse the term “right to believe” just as they misuse the phrase “stop forcing your beliefs on me.”  No one can really be forced to believe anything, although certainly propaganda and brain-washing do exist.  Some are better at guarding their minds than others.  Still, people generally use these phrases more as nifty sound-bites than intelligent arguments.

That said, after reflection, I do believe one can choose to believe things.  One may not be able to choose to believe a fact in the abstract, especially something we know is wrong.  No matter how much I close my eyes and insist to myself that Catalina Island does not exist, I cannot do so because I’ve been there and know that it does.  However, consider a situation where a friend claims to have visited an unnamed island in the South Pacific where there are beautiful mountains and waterfalls.  Depending on my friend’s propensity to tell the truth or exaggerate, I can make a rational choice whether to believe him or not.  In court, we ask juries to decide which testimony they believe based on the evidence.  Sometimes that requires a very difficult decision, but a decision nonetheless.

Even so, the right to decide what one believes does not in itself require action or inaction by any other private individual.  If I speak falsehood and deceive others into false beliefs, the correct course is not to limit the expression of false beliefs, but to respond with truthful ones (this is what the above post is getting at in the conclusion).  In America, that’s the whole point to the First Amendment:

If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927).

Now, with respect to freedom to follow one’s beliefs through actions, we have a much more difficult question.  I think there should not be a bald right to act on one’s beliefs however one sees fit.  You’ve got to have more.  When a bald right to act on one’s beliefs is respected, we get ridiculous statements like the following:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992).

Come again?  We have a right to define our own concept of the universe?  And that right is supposed to be respected by law?  Of course, that’s nonsense.  The law will not permit me to define my concept of the universe if my concept of the universe claims that law does not exist.  Anarchy is not among my liberties.  There is no right to define one’s existence.  The Supreme Court was out to lunch in that statement, as the dissent noted:

A State’s choice between two positions on which reasonable people can disagree is constitutional even when (as is often the case) it intrudes upon a “liberty” in the absolute sense. Laws against bigamy, for example — which entire societies of reasonable people disagree with — intrude upon men and women’s liberty to marry and live with one another. But bigamy happens not to be a liberty specially “protected” by the Constitution.

As argued in the dissent, a government may make choices that intrude on the liberty to act upon one’s beliefs.  But when it does, the question is not whether it may intrude on such actions in the abstract, but whether the particular intrusion is just.  That will be a matter of politics.  But it makes no sense, in the public discourse aspect of the process, to assert that a law should be changed because it infringes on someone’s right to practice their beliefs.  The kind of belief and the kind of intrusion must be considered on their own.

Incidentally, to address the discrimination argument in the post, I’m going to disagree with the proposition that “acts of discrimination” are inherently a bad thing.  Lots of discrimination is beneficial.  We discriminate against minors when we do not allow them to drive.  We discriminate against those who commit crimes by throwing them in jail.  The question is not whether a law is discriminatory, but whether it is rationally discriminatory.  And of course, that will draw some really heated debates, hence the current climate of politics and the media.

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise us that the Democrats in the Senate want to include abortion mega-funding under the auspices of “health care” and voted to do so.  The interesting thing is that they did so in a manner so as to avoid debate

The Democrats won’t debate it because they know they will lose in the court of public opinion, as demonstrated in various polls.  Indeed, CNN has reported that fully “[s]ix in 10 Americans favor a ban on the use of federal funds for abortion”.  Moreover, in these economic times, I highly doubt that Americans are all that eager to see tax money used to fund elective abortion and line the pockets of Planned Parenthood. 

As word gets out about this, the healthcare bill will be put in jeopardy.  Hopefully word spreads quickly across the blogosphere.

If God commanded you directly by voice from heaven to vote to make wearing red t-shirts illegal (say it’s on the ballot, California referendum style), and you became convinced that God had actually given you such a command, would you vote accordingly?  Just to secure the hypothetical, let’s say that you were with your closest friends and family, including the ones you trust most and the ones who are most skeptical in character, and each of them affirms that he/she heard God give you the command, and you are provided whatever other forms of proof you need to be certain that it was actually the Creator of the Universe who gave you the command (dew on the grass but not on the blanket, a staff turning into a snake, burning bush, water into wine, and whatever else you want).  Again, would you vote according to the command?  (You need not assume that it’s the Christian God giving you the command; just some ultimate creator.)

If your answer to the question is “yes,” it seems to me that you are therefore willing to enforce your religious convictions in a political manner upon others, consistent with your (practically undeniable) belief in God and His command, regardless of whether anybody else had any insight into your knowledge of the command obtained through direct revelation.  It probably wouldn’t much matter to you that others happen to disagree about whether you had been given the command, or even if they thought you were crazy.  You were given a direct insight from God and a command, and you chose to obey.  (Note: this is only because God hypothetically commanded you to, and I am not setting forth the argument–at least not in this post–that in reality, God has in fact commanded you to vote in any particular way on red t-shirts or any other issue.  That’s for another post.)

If your answer to the question is “no”, then it seems you aren’t really all that willing to obey God (or else you doubt your sanity).  You place your politics or personal judgments ahead of God Himself, which is to say that you are ultimately faithful not to God, but to the state and/or your own fallible judgment.  In short, you are deliberately and knowingly unfaithful.

Now replace “red t-shirts” with abortion.  Maybe God has commanded people to oppose abortion, or maybe He hasn’t, but if a person in good conscience believes that God wants him or her to politically oppose abortion, he or she is perfectly entitled (perhaps even obligated) to do so, even on religious grounds.  The appropriate response to that position for the pro-choice person is not to spit on the freedom of religious conviction and the free exercise thereof by demanding that people keep their religion to themselves, but rather to discuss whether God actually does require them to oppose abortion.  And that will bring us squarely to a religious discussion about politics.  Suddenly the lines don’t seem so clear. 

I came up with this little hypothetical at one minute shy of midnight, which is rather late for me.  Perhaps I’ve committed some fallacy.  But I’m very curious how one would respond to my brief argument (one conclusion being that if your religion requires certain political action and you reject, even oppose, that political action, you deny your faith).

To be clear, I am not a Roman Catholic.  Nevertheless, I am not shy about drawing from the deep well of Catholic teaching prohibiting abortion or the legalization thereof. 

I recently received word of a ghastly organization, “Catholics For Choice“.  It should be noted that this is not a Catholic organization, and in fact, claims to represent “the [alleged] great majority of the faithful in the Catholic church who disagrees with the dictates of the Vatican on matters related to sex, marriage, family life and motherhood.”  Seems sort of silly to call such an entity a Catholic organization at all, since it opposes a rather major mission of the Church, not to mention its authority, which is sort of a big deal in the Catholic Church.

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