Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What! This still exists!

I know right?

Lot's of stuff has happened in the intervening years, far too much to recount here. Suffice it to say that I've re-assessed my priorities, considering that I'm posting again after some 4 years.

I'm mostly active on Facebook nowadays, having discovered a number of communities and friends who are interested in careful discussion. Sadly, my forays into controversy have had the unfortunate side effect of making things awkward with certain other people I know.

There is someone I know, though, who isn't so shy about stirring the pot. A, uh, friend of mine, a certain don of the Spanish East Indies, holds court as his intriguing Page. You can find him here.

I'm gonna think about what sort of things to put on here. Till then, I'll see you all later.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Facebook Argument: Aboriginal activism

Because I am some kind of exhibitionist, I've decided to start copy-pasting the delightful arguments/fights that I occasionally have with others about various 'important issues' on Facebook (and because FB's search function for your previous posts sucks, as in, they have no such function)

R (OP):
Christie Blatchford is many things, but I never thought of her as a racist. Not a 'this person is white and made a comment so I will just call them that so that the accusation will heftily speak the crime', but an honest-to-God, ribald, bigoted, racist. So whenever I refer to her, I will do so by saying "Noted racist, Christie Blatchford, today shat on humanity from on high by stating..." Because thats what you do when someone is a racist, you call them on it. Over and over and over again.
Natives have the same right as white people to be called stupid by newspaper columnists
(A bunch of clarification posts)

[Lorenzo], I really think you need to read the article. Replace the words 'First Nations' with Filipino, or Basque, or Uhyghur, or Black, and people would be calling for her head on a pike. Again, when it comes to the conversation about First Nation's in this country its A-OK to use explicitly racist language because of our nebulous and ill-informed understanding of 'money goin' to them' and other insane myths like 'they get free college' and 'they're just not working hard enough'.
I have read the article, and I agree with pretty much 90% of it. Her target is not Natives but Native activism in its present form (as represented by Chief Spence), which she denounces as ineffectual puffery because, in her view, it does nothing to actually address the significant problems that Natives continue to suffer under the present legal regime. Indian Act is broken? Aborginals are forced into dependency? She agrees with all that too!

I think people are failing to make a distinction between good intentions and effective advocacy. Chief Spence may mean well, but if her 'activism' only serves as an obstacle to the betterment of Aboriginal lives then others are free to criticize her in strong language. Because that's really all I see here: strong language. Yes, there was that one paragraph that made fun of common tropes associated with Native culture, but all forms of activism carry with them the risk that their most important symbols and ideas will become misused in a fit of sentimental frenzy, and that is specifically what Blatchford is denouncing.
So its okay for Blatchford to be a racist because she sees the Indian Act as a bad thing. Okay. Gotcha.
If Blatchford's article is 'racism' then criticism of Native activism is impossible without being racist
That's crap and you know it [Lorenzo]. Denigrating the customs of a culture, saying that a group of people give off offensive physical odors and that their cultural practices does not make them a nation and should be written off as such is racism, plain and simple. I've enjoyed our debates on many things Juan, but you're really showing that you're unwilling to accept that yes, sometimes people utilize racist language to denigrate others to make their argument seem more palpable to others. That makes you naive, and intellectually dishonest.

Again, go through this intellectual exercise by replacing 'First Nations' with 'Jewish' and 'tobacco offerings and smudging' with 'kosher meats' and 'menorah' and tell me that this would not result in Christie being brought up on hate speech charges and denounced by every sector of Canadian society.

"Denigrating the customs of a culture, saying that a group of people give off offensive physical odors and that their cultural practices does not make them a nation and should be written off as such is racism, plain and simple."

Except that she doesn'
t actually say all those things you say she said. Let me bring up what she actually said:

"... there is... a genuine question as to whether there’s enough of aboriginal culture that has survived to even dream of that lofty status, or if the culture isn’t irreparably damaged already. Smudging, drumming and the like do not a nation make."

OK, so she did make a mistake in lumping all Aboriginals together, since Crees are different from Algonquins, etc. But the point remains: isn't it one of the major arguments of pro-Native activists that Native culture has been, well, irreparably damaged by centuries of discrimination? I do not see how it is racist to point out uncomfortable truths. Native culture /has/ been severely damaged, what with the Indian Act, residential schools, etc. Of course, the real extent of what cultural elements survive has to discovered through other means, but to ask the very question is not 'racist' but, rather, part of the bleak task of surveying the damage that has been done to Aboriginal society.

Right, so I've given this a bit more thought.

Blatchford was probably a little insensitive when she made those comments about 'smudging and drumming', but I still believe that focusing, above all else, on the negativity that those phrases generate in
some is to totally miss the point of her article. The righteousness of your cause (and Aboriginal rights are as righteous a cause if any) does not absolve you from making dumb decisions in your activism, or from exploiting your own cultural symbols to generate emotions of sympathy in a manipulative fashion.

Let's take...oh, the pro-life movement, which often gets accused of emotional exploitation (because of the pictures of aborted babies) or 'only caring about babies before they are born'. Do those accusations sting me, a pro-lifer? Yes. Do I call them out of it and complain about how offended I am? No, because despite the strong language there are legitimate points behind those criticisms. There are legitimate points in Blatchford's article, too, and I'm afraid they've been lost in this dispute.

Heck, let's go further...

Let's go further and talk about, say, Filipinos under American occupation (as they were about a hundred years ago) ((Blognote: I'm Filipino)). The Filipino activists create posters showing crying women watching as big dumb Whitey takes always her beautiful forests. They stage protests that make liberal use of traditional Filipino dances. Soon, Mark Twain (who was pro-Filipino historically) writes an article denouncing the 'shrill sentimentality of the Filipinos, who act as if their hoppity dances and their precious jungle soil are their defining cultural traits'. I would be hurt, yes...for the first few moments. But then I would realize that he has a point, because we /have/ been using our 'hoppity dances' and our 'precious jungle soil' as tools to generate sympathy.
Emotional sensitivity is less important than rudely stating the facts.


See this is where you are doing a great job of lying to yourself and apologizing for racism Juan, which is really, really crappy. Reading your apologist screed for racists of old and present is not baffling, only depressing. You're cherry picking of all of the segments of the article save those which are explicitly racist and your refusal to quote them is a clear representation of your inability and/or tacit unwillingness to approach this issue on the battleground of reason. This makes three times in a row that you have ignored and been unwilling to engage in the very simple yet painfully difficult exercise I put before you. Your 'uncomfortable truths' angle is representative of most of the drivel I have to hear on a constant basis from people who have no understanding whatsoever of what has been going on in this country for the past fifty years, let alone the meat and potatoes genocide that we would all like to forget about. I expected more from someone that is so willing to champion 'moral' causes that fit in with your Christian orthodoxy. I am surprised that you can still call yourself one.

I do not apply different standards to different moral causes. They are plenty of folks who champion 'Christian orthodoxy' whom I find wholly disagreeable, but I have not been given a situation where I have had to denounce them, hence my supposed silence on that issue.
OK, let's break this down and look at the most objectionable parts of Blatchford's column, since that is what you desire.
"Now, of course, Chief Spence has parked herself on an island in the Ottawa River, is on Day 17 of a hunger strike, and all around her, the inevitable cycle of hideous puffery and horse manure that usually accompanies native protests swirls."
OK, so she says native protests are full of shit, basically. Admittedly, this is a highly insensitive thing to say, and if I had stopped reading the article there I would have come to the same conclusion as you about her 'racism'. But let's not forget the context here: she goes on to say that natives do have legitimate grievances, and that this has been going on for years and no one has done anything. In fact, I went on and on about how her whole point was that the current strategy of native protests was amounting to a bunch of nothing.
"Already, there is much talk of smudging ceremonies, tobacco offerings, the inherent aboriginal love for and superior understanding of the land, and treaties that were expected to be in place “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the river flows.”
Derisive, definitely. This is where your argument is strongest because she actually does target actual native practices in her crosshairs. Again, context: she is talking about how those things are being used by activists as tools for public relations, and not that those practices per se are bad.
I already talked about the next honker paragraph in my previous post above.
Now, here's a few questions I have for you, R.
Do you object to the actual point of this article, or merely those offensive things she says in those few paragraphs I (and you) have highlighted? Do you think that excluding those sections from her column would drastically improve her thesis?
Do you believe that native activism, as it is, should be something we support unconditionally? Does criticism of this activism imply criticism of natives themselves, or their beliefs and traditions, or even to question their value? Should native traditions not be criticized so freely, because of the delicate nature of the issue?

I (and Blatchford, and every other normal person) have never expressed anything but genuine concern over the issue of Aboriginal rights and the poverty and depredation of Natives (especially in Reserves). Everyone who has an adequate understanding of history knows the story of Aboriginals' plight, the loss of land and dignity, the destruction (more or less) of their culture and their way of life, their continual endurance (however frail) of systemic discrimination (whether intended or not). We know all this because of the efforts of activists to bring these issues to light; and yes, I do believe that pro-native activism has had positive results.
But just because Aboriginals are suffering doesn't mean they get to be certified as morally pure victims. To regard Natives as an unassailable, uncriticizable group by virtue of the real suffering they have endured is highly patronizing, akin to the views of those people who think that you can't criticize Israel because of the historical suffering of Jews. In fact, I don't really believe this is about 'racism' at all but about the hurt feelings that Blatchford's article generated by virtue of her daring to attack Natives for their tactics (and only certain Natives, at that). Bad tactics and bad advocacy are bad regardless of the group or the cause, as I have said at least three times now.
You know who's making a real difference in Aboriginal advocacy? Shawn Atleo. ((blognote: current head of the Assembly of First Nations)) And, of course, you never hear Blatchford complain about him very much.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Arguing for the sake of arguing

So I decided to look over an old post over at (this post) and I found this comment:
The arguments both for and against same-sex marriage are not logical arguments. Logical arguments should work from a fixed and common set of axioms and be independently verifiable, but the arguments for and against same-sex marriage are based on very variable moral judgements and values.
Wait, what?

So let me get this straight: neither side in the gay marriage debate is basing their argument on logic, only relativistic values.

In that case, there is no reason why gay marriage should or should not be allowed based solely on the number of people who happen to believe either position, i.e. sheer majority will. There is no real reason beyond the collective whims of everyone; there is no righteousness in the struggle of gays to have their relationships recognized as marriage, because 'righteousness' is a function of moral axioms, and there are no moral axioms.

I'm glad that's straightened out.

Sarcasm aside, let's break down this statement to see what's wrong with it.
Logical arguments should work from a fixed and common set of axioms and be independently verifiable.
Assuming that the word 'axiom' means what I think it means, e.g. a premise which can definitively known to be true, then so far so good. Moving on, however...
...the arguments for and against same-sex marriage are based on very variable moral judgements and values.
And here is where the trouble begins. First off, this is yet another example of presuming the truth of premises that are left undefended, because they are thought to be clearly true by reasonable people... Except they aren't, and that's why we keep having arguments about things like gay marriage or other such things.

Secondly, this statement presumes that there is some kind of separation between "logic" and "rhetoric", as if they are different species. On the contrary, there is indeed such a thing as "rhetorical logic". In the Middle Ages, the distinction was made between the "demonstrative" argument, which relied purely on syllogisms (e.g. If A is true, then B must follow) and the "rhetorical" argument, which was probabilistic (e.g. Given that A, B, and C are reasonable courses of action, I submit that B is the best, because X). The latter is the common technique used in politics, and can be perfectly valid arguments despite not being purely "logical".

I think the trouble here is that there seem to be different working definitions of what logic is in the first place. It seems that the commenter believes that what counts as "logic" would produce a proposition that cannot be denied by anyone. This is strict to an unfounded degree. There is no such thing as an argument or proposition that can compel a person to believe it beyond their capacity to deny it. People are fickle and can deny whatever they want, and even if they are open to argumentation it takes some time for someone to truly absorb, understand, and (possibly) adopt a correct argument. People have to consciously choose to accept even a totally sound proposition or argument; that is just a fact of life.

As to what the actual premises at stake are in the gay marriage debate, that will have to wait for now. I merely wanted to point out that even our ideas about what arguments are seem to, sadly, vary wildly between different people.

"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"

I was thinking about that famous saying of Carl Sagan's. It didn't take me long to realize that...well, what the hell is that supposed to mean?

"Extraordinary claims." What makes a claim extraordinary? I'm guessing that's supposed to refer to claims about the supernatural or God, but to call such claims 'extraordinary' is to take for granted the assumption the only the physical is real, and that therefore anything that suggests otherwise must be considered 'extraordinary'. So, why is only the physical real?

"Extraordinary evidence." This is where things get out of whack. If the evidence for an 'extraordinary' claim is also 'extraordinary', then how is one supposed to obtain any such evidence? How you know what counts as 'extraordinary evidence' if the claim itself is subject to suspicion in the first place?

Now, granted, the statement itself isn't necessarily /bad/ per se, it only presumes a number of premises that may or may not be true. Sadly, it seems a lot of people aren't even aware that there are premises to be held beforehand; the statement becomes a bald assertion masquerading as an argument.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A New Definition

The Western: that peculiarly American genre in which lawlessness breeds high adventure and guns are magical weapons that can shoot flipped coins out of the air.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Random eschatological thought

Contrary to what Aquinas states, I think that there will, in fact, be food in Heaven, simply not the kind of food we are used to. After all, the risen Lord, I assume, did not dine with the disciples merely to show that he was not a ghost; he was demonstrating a real fact about what it is like to be resurrected. The supernatural effusion of divine grace into the resurrected body does not destroy the old, regular human nature but builds upon it.

As to the nature of this heavenly food, one can only speculate since we are dealing not with nature but with super-nature. The closest thing that comes to mind, of course, is the Eucharist, but since the presence of the Deity would be supremely effusive into everything in the New Heaven and Earth one might wonder if the Eucharist would be even necessary.

Or maybe it is, sort of? After all the whole point of divine grace is that it is wholly 'unnecessary' and gratuitous (the word 'gratuitous', of course, coming from the Latin gratic meaning, among other things, 'gift'). Maybe some kind of super-Eucharist or super-elf bread is the food of the blessed (and they don't have to worry about going to the bathroom, either, I would think), since the total union of the person to God, physically and spiritually, is the chief characteristic of living in Paradise, and consumption (but not digestion!) of the Deity is, I venture, a particularly intimate sort of physical union. Kinda gives a new meaning to those old Philly cheese commercials about having 'a little taste of Heaven in your mouth'.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Murder Death Kill

Wow new post after a year!

Right, so I was involved in this conversation about the nature of murder for some reason. What the other guy(s) were arguing was that, because the law defines 'murder' as the deliberate killing of another human being, therefore all killing of humans was murder, including executions and warfighting, except that two latter two happen to be lega kinds of murder.

I thought that this was a highly facile and, well, stupid argument, but I'm not exactly the best debater, so my attempts to argue to the contrary came out as a bunch of bwahahrghar and stuff.

Thankfully I've thought about it for a while now so I can provide what I think is a reasonably sound argument as to why 1) Not all killings are murders, 2) Some killings are justified, if regretable.

 What is murder?

When one defines "murder" as the deliberate killing of another human being, one is only partly right. Why is this killing forbidden and not others, like capital punishment? It all has to do with purpose and rights.

Purpose and rights

There are two major concepts at stake here: the natural rights of individual human beings and the common good. When a murder is committed it is because the former has been violated for no other reason than the will of the murderer; he kills another because of some private quarrel, or for money, or for some other advantage that the death of that person is seen to bring. He is doing it for himself, and therefore he is imposing his own will against the natural right of another person to be alive.

But what about executions, which some cynics/hippies regard as "state-sanctioned murder"? This is a totally different matter. The reason why the state makes laws that allow the killing of some criminals is to preserve the common good. That is, the person poses such a threat to the security of the whole community that it is better that he perish than be allowed to live. This is a very loose argument for capital punishment, but the point is clear: the state is allowed, in certain very limited circumstances, to execute criminals for the common good of the society which it governs.

War is similar. In a just war, a state sends its soldiers to fight and defeat the enemy in order to protect not only itself but also the people; war is the ultimate action in which the common good, directly threatened, is preserved. Inevitably, fighting will involve killing, but as long as a reasonable level of force is applied (which is another argument entirely) then the killings are justified because the survival of the state and of the common good is at stake.

All of this is akin to the idea that one has a right to self-defence even until the point of killing the aggressor. Just as a person as a right to preserve his life, so the state has a right to preserve the welfare and integrity of the community/nation.

In all these cases, the common good, in a sense, "overrides" the natural rights of individuals to live. There are very important caveats, of course, for not even the community/state can demand absolute rights, but the purpose of this missive has been merely to lay out a basic argument regarding the distinction between the different kinds of killing, legal and illegal.