The words that will stop them in their tracks when they come to take me away.

Consider our relationship with cattle*.  They are born and raised in captivity, to live a life of relative ease**, the end of which comes in the form of a bullet to the brain or a knife to the throat*** (I won't pretend that this is a quick, painless death, but for the purposes of this post, I'm not going to go into the ethics of the death itself).  Following such a death, many of them are then chopped up, vacuum sealed, and frozen in preparation for later consumption.  They are either retrieved by the previous owner, or sold to another member of the human species, in part or whole.

Where this process gets interesting, at least to my mind, is in the interaction between the farmers and the cattle.  There is a famous, though apparently too obscure to show up on google, question that many throughout history have pondered: What can I say that will stop [them] in their tracks when they come to take me away.  'Them' referring to any body of people or any organization that may have a motivation to 'take me away', presumably to a fate I do not desire.

In that vein, while enjoying a sirloin from a cow that had broken her leg(and summarily executed, butchered, and stowed in the freezer), I thought to myself, "what would I say if a more powerful life form came along and shifted the food chain down a link, putting myself in the place of cattle?"   That is to say, what if earth were taken over by a life form that is as advanced of us as we are to cattle, and began treating us as we do cattle.  Our men, the vast majority, raised simply for consumption, a select few kept alive longer for selective breeding.  Our women selectively bred for their production of breast milk, the health of their babies, and their capacity for domestication (a handful in and of itself, that last).  The children are whisked from the birth canal to another location, where they are raised with other such children, and supplied with artificial sustenance.  When men reach the age of 15-18, if not ideal studs, or if studs are already plentiful, they are killed, butchered, vacuum packed, and either retrieved by the owner or sold, for consumption either way.  Some are killed even younger, to satisfy the whims of those who prefer the most tender of human flesh.  Studs who have reared their last child, or women who show a decline in milk production following a number of children, are also killed, butchered, vacuum packed, and either sold or retrieved.

Given this state of affairs, the question I alluded to in the beginning becomes more than an academic parlor game.  Finding the answer to the question is then a matter of urgency, and our success could determine the lives of future generations for a thousand years or longer.  Since we have the capacity to communicate, to reflect, to recognize and appreciate freedom, to have desires and goals and ambitions with meaning to our lives, there is no need to argue that we would find this situation in dire need of remedy.

Say you are given the unique privilege of making the case for human sovereignty before the leader of this advanced race, and that somehow you are made able to communicate clearly with them.  You have one opportunity to say whatever it is you think will "stop them in their tracks when they come to take you away".  What would you say?

I have given this some thought, and asked a few other people.  I don't know as though I have a fullproof answer for this dilemma, but I think I have the only strategy that has any chance of success(though it does depend heavily on the audience).  Before I express my idea, let me take you through some of the ideas I have already considered and rejected:

1.  The first thought that sprung into my mind was an appeal to special-ness, something most religious people would begin, and presumably end, at for their choice.  It would go something like, "God(or allah/thor/etc.) made human beings specially, out of God-stuff."  This would, the arguer thinks, convince the advanced race by threatening them with the wrath of our protector.   I think this would fail utterly, as there is a pretty good chance they would either have rejected such supernatural mumbo-jumbo millenia ago, or have their own notions of ego-centrism that belie such a claim on our behalf.

2.  The second would be an appeal to basic morality; this sort of action isn't proper for one species to engage in upon another.  If, as is assumed, the species being petition is sufficiently advanced, the easiest response would be a gesture towards our raising of cattle.  Alternatively, if they have their own religious notions, they could just claim we lack souls (or whatever aether substance they feel no other species has). That brings me to the runner up for best response:

3.  This third option would be an appeal to our capacities to think rationally, to be self-aware, and all the things that distinguish the human species from our cousins in the animal kingdom; and more importantly, the things that should engender a sort of kinship with the advanced race (i.e. appeal to shared special-ness).  I don't think this would be compelling to them if the gap is substantial enough that they can easily overpower and domesticate our entire species.  I also think it would suffer from the second objection in #2.

That brings me to my idea for best response.  In such a situation, I would simply ask them the very question that plagues me.  I would ask them, "If you found yourself in my position, what would you(as me) say to you(more advanced species than yourself), in order to extricate your species from this bondage?"  This sounds like something Socrates would come up with(or has, I haven't read much of Plato), or at least would be in keeping with his style.  I think any convincing response that they could give would essentially do my work for me, and an inability to respond adequately would highlight a conflict between their actions and rational reasoning.

What do you think?


*I am not saying anything substantial about our current (or, plausibly, future) relationship with cattle.  I have no concrete opinions as of yet in regards this, and so I am hoping no one reads too much into my post.  I think that the differences between humans and cows are significant enough, in our capacity for rational though and introspection, to set us apart, at least for the sake of argument.  Moreover, since the domesticated cow(that being, afaik, the only cows still around) is without the selective pressures that engineered(sorry Prof. Dawkins) our evolution towards higher mental processes, I don't find it plausible that cows will develop these capacities in the future, and therefore this difference will remain, and remain salutary.

**I am not going to entertain a discussion of what freedom might mean, or whether it has a meaning, for cows.  This is an interesting question, but not relevant to this post.

***There is no reason to suppose that some afterlife awaits cows, or that they suffer or experience anything following the first sentence of the paragraph containing this reference.  This may be a controversial claim in some circles, but this is an uninteresting side-note, irrelevant to the main thrust of my post.


Travel the World, Meet People, Learn How to Kill Them

I've been following the over-politicization of the Tucson shooting, from the Daily Show, the NY Times, and a few snippets from both the left and right wing of America's struggling mascot: the Bald Eagle (if only they would realize that you can't fly with only one wing, we'd be far better off).  There seem to be two camps, as far as I can tell; one side wants fewer guns in the hands of fewer citizens, the other wants more guns in the hands of more citizens.

Those who are lobbying for more guns, in more places, for more people, seem to think that disputes that among people who are all equally armed end up like a mini Cold War.  I've personally been in a few of these sorts of disputes, and I've found that adding additional guns never seems to result in less violence.  The person diffusing the situation is generally unarmed, and doing so with conversation.  Granted, this method doesn't always work, but it does seem to have a higher likelihood of succeeding than simply pulling out another gun.

The other argument for more guns is that violent, armed combatants are less likely to engage a victim if said victim is more likely to be "packing heat", or if the nearby citizenry resemble disgruntled postal vigilantes with a hair-trigger and "more straps than a jansport".  This line of thinking is problematic for a couple reasons.  The first is that we have examples of areas infused with weaponry, like most american cities, and a study done recently by the University of Pennsylvania on the outcome of gun-toting victims in armed encounters found "that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun."   I've been mugged, at gunpoint.  It sucks, but at no point in that encounter would my having a gun done anything but exacerbate the situation.

The second problem is not always precisely obvious to most people, and is something you only discover if you are actually faced with a situation in which shooting becomes a plausible solution.  Real fights, involving really angry people with really loaded guns, are chaotic and messy.  Nothing goes the way you think it will; the first few seconds, especially, are completely bewildering your first time at bat.  Even in situations where you know a certain person is the bad guy, he/she is rarely standing 25 yards away, alone, with a 12ft berm in the background.  Anyone unfamiliar with CQC protocols and safety measures, detailed ballistics information, foreknowledge of the target and kill-zone, and solid ID and loc on all friendly positions runs a massively irresponsible risk when discharging a firearm.  Even highly trained, experienced trigger men and women make catastrophic mistakes in these situations.  This naive idea that the average joe is going to pull a quick and clean Dirty Harry on some unsuspecting mugger, or that some bystander is going to jump in like Batman in the alleys of Gotham is ludicrous, and far more dangerous than simply losing a couple bucks and a wallet you got for christmas.

The alternative, i.e. fewer guns for fewer people, in fewer places, runs up against a very simple constitutional problem.  The second amendment wasn't written for short sleeve shirts, it is a clear license for the citizenry to own guns, if they so choose.  However, there is no written clause or rule in the constitution that says you can carry said weapon into the grocery store or a government building.  Have your guns, but have them at home.


Simply for Safe Keeping

I was meandering through the internets and came across Dan Grossenbach's blog, in which he had posted a review of Mike Licona's newest book The Resurrection of Jesus.  I would highly recommend visiting the gentleman's blog and reading the review, it was well written and is imminently relevant to this post.  I have seen Licona in a few debates, and read some of his print around the web, so I was interested in a review by a fellow apologist.  My preconceived notions about the possible tone of the review did not come away disappointed, and I noticed a point brought up that I had heard many times before, and not just from Licona.  I posted a comment at the aforementioned blog, and since I'm pretty proud of what I managed to throw together, I have posted it here as well.  If, for some unknown and obviously technical reason, the comment moderation process gets muddled and my post vanishes, my mind will be at ease with the knowledge that my thoughts have not gone into the same black hole.  The quoted portion at the top comes from the review I cited, so, without further adieu....

"..such skepticism would force us to dismiss much of Western Civilization..."

If we "dismiss" the existence of Socrates, for example, does the socratic method fall to the wayside?  If we dismiss the existence of Caesar, or the banals of the Roman senate, do the lessons learned about that form of government and the many pitfalls of civil society fail to be compelling?

What about Epicurus, Aristotle, Pascal, Voltaire, Leibniz, Darwin, Euclid, Nietzsche, and a myriad others?  Even if they are rendered completely unhistorical, and proven to have not existed in even the philosophical sense, their ideas remain.  Their works, like those of Shakespeare, do not depend on the existence of the man, but on the value of the idea.

Applying that maxim to your quoted statement, and what appears to be Licona's thesis about skepticism, you must admit that "much of Western Civilization, and even our present knowledge" is built on ideas, not people.  Evolution is not contingent upon darwin existing, being a nice person, or what color shoes he wore, it is based upon repeat experimentation and observation.  It is built upon ideas. 

The fact is, no matter where an idea comes from, it stands or falls upon it's own merits, and any knowledge, be it scientific, philosophical, or mathematic, which builds it's foundation upon ideas has only the failure of those ideas to be concerned about.  Hitler could have given us Euclid's geometry, Darwin's evolution, Socrates' methodology, or Kant's imperative, and regardless of our opinion of the man, or his "historicity", the ideas would stand separate and upon firm foundation.

This hypothesis of over-skepticism is simply a category error on Licona's part.  He is equating ideas, which are self-justifying in that they require no authority but themselves to be valid, with a form of testimony, which depends heavily upon the nature of the person presenting them.  

In the matter of the resurrection, and much of what Jesus taught, it really does matter whether he existed, whether he actually said what the bible claims, and whether the miracles he supposedly performed actually happened.  It really does matter whether he actually rose from the dead, and is the son of the creator of the universe, or whether these claims qualify as something we can have reasonable doubts about.  Honest skepticism about the stories surrounding Jesus really is a deal breaker when it comes to the claims of christianity.  

That is not to say that some of what he presents in his Sermon on the Mount is not compelling, ethically, but these statements stand upon their own merits, entirely independent of Jesus.  Some can be shown to pre-date Jesus, but I think that is irrelevant: they are worthy based upon nothing but their own merit.  Others, however, like his talk of the end of the world in short order, his claims to divinity, and his followers claims of his resurrection and visitations, really do depend on the man.  Testimony cannot be extricated from the witness in the way that ideas can be extricated from the thinker.

I have reasonable, honest doubts about the claims attributed to this character, Jesus, and can therefore not take anything on his word or the word of his followers.  As far as I am concerned, his ideas must be worth it for their own sake, and while some of them most certainly are, his extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.


Thank you for stopping by, I would love to hear what you think!



Best World Ever

This being, as the German philosopher and mathematician Leibniz calls it, the "best of all possible worlds"(Theodicy, 1710), you might imagine that any being would have all the required tools necessary to subsist within it's environment, especially having been born into it.  C.S. Lewis expressed similar sentiments in his book Mere Christianity when he wrote "If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will...then we may take it it is worth paying."  It seems obvious that the aforementioned german is expressing far more optimism than does Lewis, who in a way views the state of the world as almost a faustian bargain.  This motif can be heard echoing throughout modern discourse, in religion primarily, and philosophy generally.  Anyone who knows me will know that I disagree with both, and that sentiment is what motivates this tale:

As far as I know, the kitten didn't have a name.  It was simply another member of the feline gang that inhabits the small ecocosm casually referred to as the barn.  Much like the rest of the group, it was wary of people and animals alike, perched as it usually was on whatever hay island it could find.  The balance of it's day was spent napping with it's brothers and sisters.  The few moments the cat moved were to avoid a fast-moving wheelbarrow, a stray kick from a cow, or the bored preoccupations of a barely tame canine.  Evenings brought a half-bowl of cat food to share with seven or eight other cats, while mornings offered the opportunity to swipe what dog food wasn't wolfed down immediately.  Survival, for this unnamed creature, lies in capitalizing on these opportunities whilst avoiding, in many cases narrowly, all the pitfalls that could result in serious bodily damage.  That and enjoying frequent naps.

This creature, being perhaps 6 months old, was all but independent from maternal care, and the father lived a couple miles up the road.  A few days ago, I was moving hay the same way I do any day, and noticed a slight change in demeanor in this one small kitten.  It was less apt to leap out of my way, or if it did, did so much slower than normal.  I was forced to keep a sharper eye out so that I didn't inadvertently engage in cat-slaughter.  I twice buried it in a wheelbarrow-full of lightly chopped hay, the day after my initial observations and yesterday, from which I had to extricate it manually because it was apparently too weak to do so itself.  Yesterday afternoon found this pitiful creature in such a state of malnourishment and destitute that one eye had ceased functioning, and the bones could be seen clearly pushing against the taut, unkempt hide.  It wandered through the barn, mewing plaintively with a slight stutter and sway in it's step.  I knew that something sinister had latched upon the life of this creature and was rapidly dragging it down.  Whatever it was, the kitten never had a chance.

As I was finishing my rounds, and keeping an eye out for the kitten, I spotted it perched in a little ball beneath the head and against the chest of an older female cat, possibly the mother.  The one functioning eye was closed, with all four tiny paws pulled in and bunched neatly beneath it's scant frame.  Slowly, with little energy but great feeling, the dying kitten nuzzled against the soft chest of the larger cat.  This type of behavior is quite rare in the environment in which these cats live, and as such struck me silent and immobile as I observed, and was observed in turn, by the larger cat.  The kitten never so much as acknowledged my presence, and seemed oblivious to any stimuli but the warm fur it was pressed against.  As I gazed, contemplating the scene before me, I attempted to imagine the amount of pain and anguish that tiny body was suffering through.  The effort tightened my chest, and, having finished the days work, I hastened to depart and think of happier things.

I did not see that kitten alive again after that, and only briefly caught a glimpse as it rolled into the manure spreader, stiff and filthy, completely devoid of life and dignity.

I would ask you to remember that while I am telling a single tale of a single creature, this is by no means the only tale of this sort surrounding the only creature to have walked this path, nor is it the extent of the suffering I have seen.  Truth be told, I have witnessed a number of deaths just in the course of my short time on the farm, and others in my time alive.  No single death was quick or painless, every instance of departure was preceded by what I can only perceive to be vast amounts of suffering as each one struggled futilely against the inevitable.  Modern anthropology and biology tells a tale even more heart-wrenching, as approximately 98% of all species to ever live on this planet are now extinct, including our ancestors that may have even been self-aware.  Each and every one died, some perhaps instantly or while asleep, but a vast majority went through a process similar to the one I have described above.  How many were able to feel the comfort of a mother?  How many were the last of their family? or the last of their species?

You would have to be profoundly unimaginative, or simply a sociopath, to consider this "the best of all possible worlds."  Moreover, you would need to be both to have created such a place.



The Commodore of Comedy

A bit of recent news got my attention, so I thought I would express the resulting thought process here.

First, the news piece, which can be found HERE, in which a highly decorated and widely admired Naval Officer is relieved of captain's duty FOUR years after a series of videos he released were finally leaked to the media(yay, more reasons to hate the media). Please see the article for relevant information before continuing.

Next, we have one of the actual videos, HERE, which happens to be the last one released sometime in 2007. Anyone reading this blog under the age of 18 should probably go watch scooby-doo instead.  Otherwise, have a look-see.

There has been a lot of slander about the actual content of the videos, much of it from people who presumably did not actually watch the videos.  Anyone that's been in the military would know that this kind of humor is pretty much standard fare, the language is pretty mild, and the content is, AT WORST, quasi-offensive to the overly sensitive.

The official statement by the navy, which was in the video from the first link, cites two quotes from the "handbook" on how to be a proper officer.  The first cites integrity, commonly defined as adherence to moral and ethical principles. This is a purely subjective judgement on the part of the brass, as it neither indicates who's principles are to be used, nor codifies a specific standard against which behavior can be compared. I imagine a very interesting conversation would ensue following an in depth inquiry into the answers for those very questions. The second is also a subjective judgement, i.e. "highest degree of moral character." This statement is entirely without objective content or meaning.  I imagine these particular injunctions were written by our puritan ancestors, enthralled as they were to christian doctrine (which would explain the continued presence of such unconstitutional and religiously motivated "tests of faith" in many state constitutions). The fact of the matter is that unless Jesus is captain of the enterprise, no man is able to fulfill such ambiguous requirements upon his character.  Of course, Jesus would have given the boat away, so thats probably a bad analogy(who needs a boat when you can walk on water, amirite?).  If the man is truly unfit for duty, is this really the best the Navy can throw at him?

There are a few other, lets say unofficial, reasons cited to justify him being removed from command. The most common takes the form of gay-bashing and/or sexism. This is a superfluous charge if you've seen the videos, more so if you've been in the military. The gay jokes are made at the expense of himself and other officers, and I would be surprised if gays didn't find these videos hilarious. Sexism is simply a straw man, as nothing in the videos evinces any sort of denigration towards woman post-sexual-revolution. I can see how some people may feel indirectly "offended" by the content, but in the words of that great english intellectual, and a proud gay man, I might add, "Well, so fucking what?"  This wasn't mandatory movie night, it was opt-in, opt-out.

If they had shown an old time western, perhaps one of the greats starring the pugnacious Duke, I presume the uproar would have been equally retributive?  No, actually, I highly doubt that would have been the outcome, even though such movies regularly portrayed the beating and keeping of slaves, indiscriminate killing, abuse of women and children, and overall "improper" behavior.  Sure, John Wayne wasn't captain of the ship (of course, neither was Capt. Honors at the time the videos were produced), but its safe to say this video was far less controversial, and quite in keeping with the mood of any ship crew I've ever had the honor of working with.

The military brass likes to pretend they're still in the '20s, but the reality is that anyone under the rank of captain couldn't care less about anything in these videos. Granny-panty bathing suits and dinner-party language is long gone, fellas.  Is the american military really so prudish that some mild potty humor is a career-ending offense?  If so, I'm glad I got out when I did; if not, lets fire the tightwad that deprived an entire aircraft carrier full of young men and women of a valuable source of moral.  This is the society that celebrates shows like Sex in the City, Southpark, and Beevis and Butthead, lets not forget that.

This, too, in a day and age when the vast majority of the country these servicemen and women are risking their lives for considers the entire enterprise (see what I did there?) to be a sham and a waste of time.  Do you honestly think "support the troops" means jack-all to a serviceman when the bullets start chipping the paint next to his head?  No one wants to die in a war the history books will sardonically refer to as "probably not a good idea."  Let them have their fun, get your sticks out of the proverbial mud, and go back to ignoring every combat operation that doesn't involve body-bags.

Thanks for stopping by, I would love to hear what you think!