Fortnight Philosophy: August 14, 2017

Fortnight Philosophy
August 14, 2017

Fortnight 08-14-2017

Advertisements

Upping the Hyper-Partisan Ante

In case you haven’t been following the news, things are going to hell in Syria. As is the trend in the Middle East right now, protestors have risen up against the government, calling for reforms and re-instatement of civil rights, and the government has responded by arresting and killing the protestors. President Obama took steps in May of 2011 to effect sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an effort “to end its use of violence against its people and begin transitioning to a democratic system that protects the rights of the Syrian people.” This act effectively freezes any assets President Assad and those named in the Executive Order have in the jurisdiction of the United States. Similar steps were taken by the European Union and Canada, but have had no effect on President Assad’s campaign.

At the end of 2011, estimates showed that over 5,000 citizens had been killed since the revolution began in January. President Assad claimed that the uprisings were driven by foreign powers and that his “victory was near.”

In early February 2012, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton took the issue to the United Nations in an effort to enact global sanctions through the Security Council. The resolution was vetoed by the countries of China and Russia, and the immediate response by one of our leaders here at home was disgusting.

 

Congressman John Fleming, a Tea Party Representative from Louisiana took the veto as a victory against an attempt by President Obama and Secretary Clinton to “decide Syria’s destiny.” Never mind the fact that people are dying for something they believe in, and are being killed by an oppressive government, by all that is holy and American, the Conservatives won.

It occurs to me that Congressman Fleming doesn’t really have an understanding of American history or the Constitution he claims to serve. Lest we forget that 237 years ago, a group of rebellious citizens stood up against an oppressive British government for their right to governance with representation. This started an eight year war we call the American Revolutionary War which eventually resulted in the founding of this very country. In eight years, approximately 103,000 people were killed or wounded on both sides in the quest for reforms and civil rights.

The Constitution was written to ensure those rights remained in place, and over the following 230 years, those rights have been expanded from the Bill of Rights to include 17 further amendments to an ever-evolving document.

Not the same issue? I disagree, but I also digress. The real issue is this case is one of hyper-partisan politics. It’s almost as if there’s a script out there for this kind of childish tit-for-tat slap-fighting.

President Obama’s intervening on the global stage? He’s meddling in things!

President Obama’s not intervening on the global stage? The godless man is letting innocent women and children die!

President Obama wants to bring the troops home? He’s supporting terrorism!

President Obama deploys troops? He’s a warmonger!

President Obama announces plans to people to work? Socialist usurper!

President Obama announces a spike in unemployment? Where’s the jobs?!

Enough! This government has had absolutely no problem providing aid and assistance, for better or worse, to governments and people fighting against oppression for their rights. It is an American mission, whether we admit it or not, to not only promote but defend the concept of democracy around the world. It started with Manifest Destiny in the 19th century, and it continues today. It got us into the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War. It also was partially used as justification to invade Iraq and Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks.

This isn’t an issue of Democrat and Republican or Liberal and Conservative fighting for their slice of the First World pie. This is reality. There are people dying at the hand of an oppressive government because they want basic human rights, and the United Nations, for all of its failings, is the body to enact sanctions to sway that government to stop. China and Russia have enabled President Assad to continue his tyranny, and Congressman Fleming is celebrating 5,000 deaths in one year because it blocked the will of his enemy. This is also the same congressman who opposed a tax hike because he could barely survive on $400,000 a year. He also rallied his supporters because he believed The Onion’s satirical attack on Planned Parethood and posted it as news.

This kind of attitude goes against the spirit of the country and our Constitution. It also goes against very ideals and morals this congressman claims to hold as a leader in his Christian faith.

Honestly, Congressman Fleming, whose side are you on?

Sources:

United States Department of Treasury: Administration Takes Additional Steps to Hold the Government of Syria Accountable for Violent Repression Against the Syrian People

BBC World News: Russia and China veto resolution on Syria at UN

ThinkProgress: Multi-Millionaire Rep. Says He Can’t Afford A Tax Hike Because He Only Has $400K A Year After Feeding Family

ThinkProgress: Congressman Posts Satirical Attack On Planned Parenthood From The Onion As News

Wikipedia: 2011–2012 Syrian uprising

Wikipedia: Congressman John Fleming

Wikipedia: American Revolution

Wikipedia: American Revolutionary War

Wikipedia: Manifest Destiny

Facebook: Congressman John Fleming

United States House of Representatives: About Congressman John Fleming

 

 

Be Careful What You Ask For

This is a humorous write-up about school prayer, shamelessly copied from an unattributed source.  If you know who originally wrote this, let me know and I’ll update with credit.

––

Dear John,

As you know, we’ve been working real hard in our town to get prayer back in the schools. Finally, the school board approved a plan of teacher-led prayer with the children participating at their own option. Children not wishing to participate were to be allowed to stand out in the hallway during the prayer time. We hoped someone would sue us so we could go all the way to the Supreme Court and get that old devil-inspired ruling reversed.

Naturally, we were all excited by the school board’s action. As you know, our own little Billy (not so little, any more, though) is now in the second grade. Of course, Margaret and I explained to him no matter what the other kids did, he was going to stay in the classroom and participate.

After the first day of school, I asked him, “How did the prayer time go?

“Fine.”

“Did many kids go out into the hallway?”

“Two.”

“Excellent. How did you like your teacher’s prayer?”

“It was different, Dad. Real different from the way you pray.”

“Oh? Like how?”

“She said, ‘Hail, Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners…'”

The next day I talked with the principal. I politely explained I wasn’t prejudiced against Catholics but I would appreciate Billy being transferred to a non-Catholic teacher. The principal said it would be done right away.

At supper that evening I asked Billy to say the blessings. He slipped out of his chair, sat cross-legged on the floor, closed his eyes, raised his hands palms up and began to hum.

You’d better believe I was at the principal’s office at eight o’clock the next morning. “Look,” I said. “I don’t really know much about these Transcendental Meditationists, but I would feel a lot more comfortable if you could move Billy to a room where the teacher practices an older, more established religion.”

That afternoon I met Billy as soon as he walked in the door after school. “I don’t think you’re going to like Mrs. Nakasone’s prayer, either, Dad.”

“Out with it.”

“She kept calling God ‘O Great Buddha…'”

The following morning I was waiting for the principal in the school parking lot. “Look, I don’t want my son praying to the Eternal Spirit of whatever or to Buddha. I want him to have a teacher that prays in Jesus’ name!”

“What about Bertha Smith?”

“Excellent.”

I could hardly wait to hear about Mrs. Smith’s prayer. I was standing on the front steps of the school when the final bell rang.

“Well?” I asked Billy as we walked towards the car.

“Okay.”

“Okay what?”

“Mrs. Smith asked God to bless us and ended her prayer in Jesus’ name, amen, just like you.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “Now we’re getting someplace.”

“She even taught us a verse of scripture about prayer,” said Billy.

I beamed. “Wonderful. What was the verse?”

“Let’s see…” he mused for a moment. ” ‘And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.’ “

We had reached the car. “Fantastic,” I said, reaching for the door handle. Then I paused. I couldn’t place the scripture. “Billy, did Mrs. Smith say what book that verse was from?”

“Third Nephi, chapter 19, verse 18.”

“Third what?”

“Nephi,” he said, “It’s in the Book of Mormon.”

The school board doesn’t meet for a month. I’ve given Billy very definite instructions that at prayer time each day he’s to go out into the hallway. I plan to be at that board meeting. If they don’t do something about this situation, I’ll sue. I’ll take it all the way to the Supreme Court if I have to. I don’t need the schools or anybody else teaching my son about religion.

We can take care of that ourselves at home and at church, thank you very much.

Give my love to Sandi and the boys.

Your friend, Jack

My Thoughts on Lost

One of the American television shows that I heard a ton about but never had time to watch was Lost.  My wife borrowed the season sets from her brother, but only made it as far as season three before life took over.  During that time where we weren’t watching, fan groups and some of my trusted friends were still abuzz about the series, so when the complete series boxset came available after the series finale in 2010, I knew that it was a series that I had to invest in.

For those who don’t know about Lost, this post will involve spoilers.  If you intend on watching the show and want to experience it without knowing what’s coming, you probably want to stop reading and come back afterward.



What is Lost?
Lost was billed as a drama series, and ran on the ABC network from September 22, 2004 to May 23, 2010 over six seasons.  The show is centered on the survivors of the crash of Oceanic 815, a commercial passenger jet traveling between Sydney, Australia and Los Angeles, California.  The crash occurred on a mysterious, unnamed tropical island somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean.  The show was told in episodes that primarily focused on the events on the island, with secondary stories that amplified events in the life of the central character for each episode.  Lost was the brainchild of Jeffrey Lieber, J. J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Carlton Cuse.

When I say that Lost was a drama series, that classification is a very generic brush stroke to apply.  On its face, Lost was a character drama, but once I got invested, it was apparent that the show was part-drama, part-science fiction, part-fantasy, part-supernatural, part-hero quest, and part-mythological.  The blessing and the curse of the show was that the mythos brought up a plethora of questions that spanned all six seasons before being answered.  It was both frustrating and intriguing, and that was what I loved about it.

The frustration was amplified by the broad spectrum of cast members.  In the show, of the 324 people on Oceanic 815, 70 people and one dog survived, spread across three sections of the plane.  Season one focused on the survivors of the middle section, predominantly Doctor Jack Shephard, fugitive Kate Austen, con-man James “Sawyer” Ford, heroin-addict rock star Charlie Pace, former Iraqi soldier Sayid Jarrah, paraplegic John Locke, lottery winner Hugo “Hurley” Reyes, construction worker Michael Dawson and his son Walt, Korean couple Sun-Hwa and Jin-Soo Kwon, fueding siblings Boone Carlyle and Shannon Rutherford, and Claire Littleton, who is eight months pregnant.  As the show went on, some characters died, others were introduced—especially after the discovery of the tail section and the people who were on the island before the crash—and links between all of the characters are established from their lives before the show.

What starts as a simple show about people stranded on a desert island starts getting into the science fiction within the first few episodes with the introduction of a monster made entirely of smoke.  Characters also start seeing visions of dead friends and relatives, and eventually discover a mysterious hatch in the middle of the jungle.  Also woven throughout events of the show and the characters lives before the island are The Numbers:  4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42.

As the show went on, we discovered that the survivors were not alone.  First, there is the hostile seemingly primitive group known as The Others.  Second, there are the remnants of the mysterious Dharma Initiative.  Finally, there are the almost otherworldly inhabitants who have a greater purpose on the island.

Why I liked Lost
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for epic mythology.  Lost had that in spades.

One of the major complaints I heard about the show was that it was a victim of meandering stories that eventually headed in a somewhat decent conclusion, and I think that was a benefit to watching this on the DVDs.  Watching without the waiting between seasons or over writers’ strikes helped me to see this more as a mini-series rather than a six-season series.

Seasons one, two, and three of the show were standard American seasons with 25, 24, and 23 episodes, respectively.  Season four was supposed to have 16 episodes before the Writers Guild of America went on strike, and eventually ended up with 14.  Season five went with 17 episodes, and season six ended the show with 18.  The latter three seasons capitalized on the fact that the showrunners limited themselves to six seasons, particularly after the storylines started to wallow in stagnation in the third season.  The ratings show how the show started to suffer in season three.

Lost had an overarching mythology that, once it finally got assembled, really kept me rolling.  All the talk of The Numbers and Jacob and The Man in Black really came to a head for me with the eighth episode of the last season, when the show finally explained why everything was so important.  Sure, The Numbers were retconned in to correspond with the remaining survivors of Oceanic 815 who were potential candidates to replace Jacob, the guardian of the island and protector of the world, but I didn’t care because it made sense to me.  Jacob was a man who was forced into a sacred role and immortality without a choice, and a mistake he made in the nascent days of his role unleashed a great evil that had one goal:  to take over the world.  To get there, the evil Man in Black has to kill his brother, which he cannot do directly.  The rest of it, from the button that has to be pushed every 108 minutes to prevent the destruction of the island to the quest to control the energy at the heart of the island speaks to me as the folly of man.

While a great deal of the show’s events relied on destiny and fate, that’s what myths depend on as well.  Epic fantasy and science fiction, driven by powers outside the control on man, be it God, the Force, or whatever you want to call it, depends greatly on the possibility that certain things are destined to occur.  In Lost, the candidates were destined to arrive and be tested on the island, and they were selected not because they were strong or smart, but because they were flawed.  Only a flawed person, one who recognized and was willing to improve their shortcomings, could fill the role of protecting the island.  More so, Jacob wanted his successor to choose to be the protector, not be pushed into it.  Jack chose to take the responsibility directly, and Hurley chose indirectly by his continuous empathy and caring for his fellow survivors.  Jack continually jockeyed for the leadership position with Sawyer and Locke, but everybody truly loved Hurley, and relied on him for support.

Religion and faith also played a major role from day one in the show, and I had no problem with the final resolution of the “sideways” storyline being nothing more than a waiting room for the Oceanic survivors before moving on to whatever lies beyond this life.  Simply put, it was a method for each person to resolve any unfinished emotional business in their lives and remember the most important thing they did in the living world.  Watching all of these people, who had fought each other while struggling to survive, come together with a common goal in mind moved me, and I thought the intent was beautiful.

But the thing that moved me even more was the poetic ending for Jack.  He ended his journey exactly where he started it, and I bawled like a baby when he collapsed on the ground and Vincent—the dog who always had a knack for progressing the storyline when it needed a motivational kick—laid down next to Jack to ensure his last moments were not spent alone.  I’m getting weepy even now as I put these words to the page.  When a television show or a movie has the power to move me to tears, it takes a special place in my life.  I can count on one hand the media that has accomplished that.

That was the effect that Lost had on me.  It wasn’t just a drama series about survivors on an island with sci-fi and fantasy elements tossed in.  When I partake of any story, but in particular science fiction, I look for how it applies to the human condition.  Science fiction has always been an examination of the human condition by use of metaphor, and Lost did that.  Each character was three-dimensional in my eyes, and character motivations were, for the most part, genuine.  What solidified the characters for me was not only that genuine flavor, but the fact that they could evolve in believable ways as the plot progressed.

I know that the writing wasn’t always stable, and that there were problems with retroactively adding new characters into old situations as if they’d always been there, but for me, what I gained from experiencing the series far outweighs those minor quibbles.
Lost is a series I will go back to again in its entirety, and is a series that I feel has made a profound impact on my life.


Ratings graphic sourced from Wikipedia, © www.mysona.dk.  Image is used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Unported 3.0 License.
Lost title card image is copyright ABC, intended for use under terms of Fair Use for review of the series.

The Time to Celebrate Is Not This One

On May 1, 2011, President Barack Obama reported that al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was officially dead. Rumors suggest that SEAL Team Six was the end of the line for the man who planned and orchestrated the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the defeated attack on Washington, DC. The President suggests that this is a turning point in the nearly decade long global war on terror that is no longer called the Global War on Terror, and that this event is long-awaited justice for those innocents killed in what has become known as this generation’s Pearl Harbor moment.

So why don’t I feel like celebrating?

Continue reading

Amazon’s Latest Follies

This post covers both sides of the issue after a day of critical thought about this issue.  If you disagree with me, leave me a note in the comments and I’ll be glad to discuss it with you.

Oh, Amazon, you are quite the hotbed of controversy, aren’t you? You had my brain wrestling over some fairly important issues yesterday with your little fracas, and it took a little while to figure out where I stood on this. I’ll get back to you at the end of this musing.

If you haven’t seen the news yet, take some time to read about it. I know several smaller outlets have picked it up, along with CNN and MSNBC. Amazon recently started selling a Kindle-based e-book entitled The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct, which has been taken down as of late Wednesday. The outrage was furious, up to and including folks boycotting Amazon until the offending book was removed.

This is where I jumped off the train. I think we can reach a near unanimous agreement that pedophilia is not acceptable by any means. A how-to guide on the subject is equally unacceptable to me. However, at my core, I do not support censorship on any level. I do not believe that the information or entertainment I choose to enjoy should be filtered by any government organization or corporation. Such activity creates public animosity and backdoor trading sessions, and only serves to increase interest in the subject matter. Governments have tried in the past with religion, homosexuality, philosophy, pornography, alcohol, and even political ideologies themselves. We’re even doing it now every time someone refers to someone else as a “commie”.

Reading this guide would not directly make one a pedophile or even force them to conduct the illegal acts. Last I checked, human beings still have free agency to choose their own paths and actions. Do you seriously believe that reading the Bible instantly makes you Christian? Does watching Saw make you a torture aficionado and force you to kill? Does reading Harry Potter make you a witch or a fan of the occult? Does reading Mein Kampf make you a Nazi or a fan of genocide?  No, they do not.

Similarly, owning a gun does not make you a murderer or bank robber, nor does it enable you to be one.  Amazon is not responsible for acts conducted after purchasing this book any more than a car dealer is responsible for paying your speeding fines.

While the mob mentality can accomplish a great many things, some of those things are bad. I consider banning books and censorship to be one of those things. Remember that this same mob mentality has lead to very horrific acts in our past, including lynching of minorities, burning of witches, destruction of property, and outright warfare.

Information should be free within the confines of the creative rights of the artists. Only through careful interpretation and discussion do we find the true power of that information, the message it tries to convey, and how it will affect our lives.

Don’t censor. Don’t ban. Analyze, interpret, and discuss with an open mind, and then decide if the material is useful or utter dreck.

Hang on, Amazon!  I’m not done yet.

To you, I urge caution and mindful consideration of your future projects. After the homosexual censorship debacle last April, you’re under watch and on notice with me.  While you and I share the philosophy against censorship, you also need to consider good taste in your publishing and sales choices.  You can only make so many bad choices before your faithful walk out the door.  Good luck getting them back.

Your choice with marketing that book is disgusting and disappointing. You had to know that this uproar would occur, and you know what the mob is capable of when fueled by anger, rage, and pain.  If you didn’t know that your choice would go this far, you need to change out your marketing department.

I refuse to boycott you because your customer service has been nothing but exemplary in my book.  I want you remember that just because someone submits something to you for publishing doesn’t mean it deserves to be published in your store.  That’s a marketing decision more than it is a call to censorship, and it should be common sense.

Religion in Science-Fiction

Tiffany Vogt at Airlock Alpha recently asked, “Is Religion Killing Good Sci-Fi Shows?”  In her article, she uses three recent series – Lost, Caprica, and the Battlestar Galactica reboot – to prove her point. Now, before I go too much further, I have to admit that I haven’t watched Lost beyond the first season, although I do have the complete series set waiting on me to dive in. I also haven’t had the chance to watch Caprica beyond the pilot, although I do hear mixed reviews from friends.

But, from my experiences with Battlestar Galactica, from the 1979 and recent versions, along with entertainment like Quantum Leap, the Stargate franchise, Star Wars, and Star Trek, I have to argue no. The first thing we have to do is eliminate the “us vs. them” concept of religion and science-fiction. The important part isn’t the gadgets or technology, it’s the story. That’s what religion is based on, isn’t it? Read any holy text and you’ll find it chock full of parables with a lesson attached, much like Aesop’s Fables. Even the trope of preachers delivering the typical fire and brimstone sermon focuses on telling a tale and learning a lesson from it.

So what is science-fiction? It’s the same thing: A story with an embedded lesson or speculation on a topic with a setting different than ours. Star Wars has a mythic story arc based around the Hero’s Journey with a focus on the mystical Force, which may or may not be religious in nature. Did the element of the Force ruin Star Wars? No, it didn’t, and most detractors argue that the series wasn’t harmed until 1999 when George Lucas tried to put a scientific spin on it.

Here comes the counter-argument: Star Wars didn’t tell a story without the Force and then tack it on at the end as a convenient way out of the plot. Fine. What about Quantum Leap?

Quantum Leap tackled this overall concept by changing the setting every episode for five years, while skirting the core issue of whether it was God, Fate, Time, or a botched science experiment that was responsible for bouncing Sam back and forth within his lifetime. The only real matter was that Sam was putting right what once went wrong, and the concept of potential religious ties came second. It only really came to a head in the finale when Sam came face-to-face with what may or may not have been God, who told him the truth about his Leaping. What that a cop-out? I don’t think so at all. First, it was supposed to be a turning point for the series, leading to a sixth season with harder trials for Sam without a guide. Second, as a finale, it works because Sam finally confronts what’s been happening over the last five years and grows from the experience. He gained the confidence to take on the extra challenge that lay ahead of him, whether we saw it on screen or not.

Battlestar Galactica in its original form made no claims to be anything but a show based on religion. Every episode made reference to gods and faith; entire episodes were based around the Colonials battling an incarnation of the Devil and interacting with Beings of Light with god-like powers. The quest for Earth was based on divine prophecies and guided by the Lords of Kobol. The reboot may have been rooted deeper in scientific storytelling, but it did not refute the genesis of the story. Characters on both sides of the conflict prayed to deities and talked about faith. Roslin had drug-induced hallucinations that showed the Colonials and Cylons the path to Earth, and even if the quest was undertaken as a hollow pursuit, it became a voyage of exploration for the psyches of each character. Some characters gave up along the way, some tried to use failures and setbacks as tools for personal gain, and some, like Admiral Adama, discovered potentials that they did not know existed. Even the concept of “what has happened before will happen again” is based in mythological roots of destiny and fate that reach back beyond the religions of Ancient Greece.

Star Trek, which has always shunned religion, even took a stab at religion in a seven-year arc with Deep Space Nine, which I argue is the best of the franchise. I can’t forget the religious threads of Babylon 5, either, but having only seen the series once, I can’t comfortably explore that territory.

I think that most modern views on science fiction are built around the staples of Trek and Stargate, which have inflicted considerable and irrefutable damage with numerous stories of persons with godlike powers who are evil or corrupted, and I believe that to be one of the longest tentpoles in the “us vs them” philosophy.

Religion is, at its base, a mythology. Faith is man-made creation, built around believing in that mythology and adapting it to everyday life. Science-fiction, part of the larger genre of speculative fiction, is a mythology, whether it tells of trips through a portal that takes you to a different planet or a quest based on faith. I can’t speak for Lost, but Galactica has always been an exploration of the human condition through the strength of faith, and I don’t believe that following that exploration to Ronald Moore’s conclusion ruined the journey.

We’re not talking about proving the existence of God here, but rather the basis of sci-fi which was exploring new fantastic frontiers with the power of human ingenuity. I, for one, want to see more science-fiction that goes back to the human condition, which includes faith and religion. Removing faith and religion only serves to strip an aspect from humanity that feeds into everyday decisions, and an exploration of that result ignores crucial motivations. Faith and religion need to be a core element in explorations of human nature because they are a core element in each man, woman, and child, even if they don’t believe in a higher power.

We can’t ignore the science in science-fiction, that’s true, but not every human being is motivated purely by science, and I refuse to believe that the answers to the speculation will all immediately come from science. The religious belief that Earth was the center of the universe motivated scientists to prove it otherwise. The same stands true in part for scientists seeking life on other planets or exploring the mysteries of evolution. Religion and faith are powerful motivators and cannot be ignored or cast aside.

Books like Contact, a well-regarded science-fiction story written by a scientist, have made me realize that neither brute force method of science or religion have all the answers to the questions about humanity. I believe that an exploration based in logical reasoning with an open mind and a faith that not all the mysteries have readily observable answers will reveal more than either approach would by itself. After all, theological exploration by the main character in Carl Sagan’s only fictional work didn’t destroy the story. It made the story complete.