“BECAUSE GOD SAID SO?”

“Hey, you. Yes, you. Give me $20.00.”

But wait — you’re looking at me askance. Do you doubt my sincerity? Rather, do you doubt my sanity? What sort of person just walks up to you and demands you hand over a pair of sawbucks… or anything else? A child, maybe, as they don’t know any better than to play “Stand and Deliver” anytime they have a desire, or someone lacking in social graces, or someone especially desperate. Or, perhaps, someone used to having their way.

What’s lacking in my request for $20.00 is an explanation. You will want to know why I want $20.00 and not just any set of reasons are going to count as “reasons” will they? So, my argument for your parting with hard earned cash had best be pretty good or you aren’t giving me the time of day, much less moolah.

Let me try this again.

“Hey. I need $20.00 because my psych meds are out and I’m dead broke. If I don’t get them today, I’ll become suicidal inside the week and I don’t get paid for 13 days. Will you help me, please?”

Assuming this is all true, you might consider helping if you have any money. I have at least made a rational attempt to give a meaningful, understandable, reasonable, clear explanation of my request. It’s no longer a demand based on nothing, nor is it rude, and it isn’t senseless.

But what if I came to you and said,

“Hey. Give me $20,00. God said you have to give it to me because I have to have it.”

Is that a reason? Really? For some, that may be good enough, but for a thinking person, this isn’t going to work, even if this thinking person is religious. Why? First, how do I know it was God speaking to you and not an hallucination — or Satan, for that matter. Why is it God told you to tell me to give you the bucks instead of bypassing the middle-man and just tell me directly? If He can talk to you, He could talk to me, too. Isn’t it more likely you’re just using God as an excuse to get what you want, not what God wants?

All of this seems sensible. And you would be well within your rights if you asked me, after I delivered this alleged Divine Revelation unto you, “Why did God say for me to give you $20.00? What’s His reasoning here?”

Maybe this is where I say something like this:

“God can command whatever He wishes. Things are right or wrong because God says so. He could command anything and it would be good or bad, depending on what He desires. And He desires that you give me that twenty dollar bill. If you fail to comply, you are doing wrong.”

If this smells fishy to you, good. It’s a sign you are a thinking person. If you are stumped, I’m about to un-stump you.

About 2,300 years ago, a young man named Euthyphro was so sure he knew what God wanted and that things were right because God commanded them, he was on the way to court to accuse his own father of violating divine commands and being atheistic… an offence punishable by death in Athens Greece.

Along the way, he met that problematic character, Socrates who held him up and engaged him in a long conversation about what makes something right or wrong. Euthyphro took up his position — things are right or wrong because God commands it.

Long story short, Socrates asked young Euthyphro a question and that question ran like this:

“Are things right and good because God commands them, or does God command only what is right and good?”

Euthyphro, after hemming and hawing a bit had to admit God would only command what is truly right and good. “OK,” says Socrates, “then let’s quit worrying about what God commands and start worrying about what is truly right and good — because everyone disagrees about what God commands, but we can think somewhat more clearly about what is actually right and wrong.”

In other words, quit telling me what your religion teaches and start explaining why what your religion teaches is actually right and wrong for all people to believe and practice. And that involves giving reasons for what you’re saying that everyone has access to — not quotes from scriptures as many don’t believe in your scriptures or they have different interpretations of what the same scriptures mean.

Build me a rational argument for why I ought to believe your moral beliefs are more true than false and are better than other possible positions. Quit insulting God by using him as an excuse for your moral beliefs… which may well be incorrect as you are merely human and fallible even in your “understanding” of scripture, much less human ethics.

Only overweening pride would allow you to claim otherwise and overweening pride is no virtue.

Now I can get at what I really wish to attack: This issue of opposition to LGBT persons and discriminatory laws based on a very peculiar interpretation of religious beliefs. These laws and bills are being called protections of “Religious Freedom” but I’m going to argue these things are protections of prejudice and nothing else.

Some fundamentalists claim God has commanded that homosexuality, etc. is evil. Why? I’m unsure myself, but the supporters of these laws are full of “explanations.” So, is it the case homosexuality, etc. is evil because God commanded that we not ever participate in such sexuality?

I think Socrates has already turned the tables on those who want to make the claim: If this is your position, you’re going to have to tell me why God commanded this — what makes homosexuality, etc, intrinsically evil?

Your first move, I imagine, would be to tell me it is “unnatural.” That was St. Thomas Aquinas’ belief he put down in the Summa Theologiae and his argument was based on an Aristotelian interpretation of metaphysics. It runs roughly like this: All things are made for one purpose. My hands are made to grasp, my feet for walking, my eyes for seeing, my mouth for eating, and my sexual organs for procreating. Anything else is unnatural.

Obviously, there are many problems with this sort of view. First off, humans are quite creative… we have to be as I’d argue we have no nature — nothing about “being human” is natural at all. We are cultural beings, historical beings, not machines. Yes, my hands can grasp… but I can also speak with them if I use sign language; I can communicate with them just by the way I hold them. I can make gestures with my hands that are considered impolite or polite or neutral or whatever, depending on cultural interpretation.

Yes, my eyes see (not well, so I have to wear prostheses called trifocal eyeglasses — a human invention); but I can flirt with them even if I’m blind. I can blink out a morse code SOS like the POW in the Vietnam War who was put on TV to read a lie saying that he and his fellow inmates of the Hanoi Hilton were being treated well.

My feet — they can be used to walk. I can also paint my toenails to attract attention — though that’s more interesting to me on women. I can tap out a beat with them when I listen to music or make music. I can use them as decoration by tattooing them or clothing them in various forms of footwear.

And my sexual organs. They can be used in any number of ways, some open to procreation and many more not at all, even as a straight person. Moreover, I could choose to be celibate… as St. Thomas Aquinas did when he led a life not open to procreation in favor of joining the Dominican Order and serving his God.

Plus, my wife and I can’t have children, no faster than any homosexual couple can together. No sex act we participate in has procreation as even a remote possibility. Does our infertility make us evil? By the logic that all “unnatural sex acts” are those not open to procreation, yes, my wife and I are as evil as any gay or lesbian couple in the world, only we are of opposite gender.

This entire appeal to the wrongness of the “unnatural” has more problems. If by “unnatural” you mean statistically abnormal biologically, here’s the rock on which your position founders — left handedness is statistically abnormal. Does that make left handers evil or just more rare than right handers? Once upon a time, it did, The word “sinister” means “left” because, in the past, left handedness was equated with evil. Left handed children were forced to use their right hands and fit in to the “right” way. Now, culturally, we in the West have changed our interpretation… because “rare” does not necessarily equal “wrong.”

Redheads are rare. Red hair is extremely uncommon. Moreover, evolutionary biologists can find absolutely no “purpose” for it. It doesn’t “do” anything except look good. It’s attractive to some, repulsive to others — a matter of completely personal taste. But is it evil because rare? Like left handedness, we have decided no, it isn’t.

But, you might say, psychopaths are rare, child molesters are rare, necrophiliacs are rare, etc. And they are evil.

I’d agree on both counts, but because they actively harm people or the memory of people. They are users and manipulators. They dishonor themselves and others and the families of others.

Do homosexual, etc. people do this? Is a loving, voluntary relationship between such people evil or even vaguely similar to people who manipulate, use, harm, and force others into sexual and power relationships? I can argue no and do so well — the evidence just isn’t there. Any argument you come up with to the contrary will be based on not understanding or knowing any gay or lesbian couples who are as happy as any straight couple and not using one another, but are in a deep, loving form of friendship.

What you are saying when you claim homosexuality, etc. is “unnatural” is that it doesn’t fit into the concepts of sexuality you were taught by your culture. But culture is human-made, like any other tool, and is capable of redefinition in the face of better evidence. I think we have better evidence now that homosexuality, etc. is not evil, just rare, like red headedness and left handedness. And such unions are as capable of being as open to love and intimacy and deep friendship as any heterosexual union… so any rights applying to a straight couple apply to any couple similarly in love… including a right to marriage and freedom from discrimination.

Yet we have our fundamentalists who want laws based on their “Divine Revelations” they ought to be allowed to have a “right” to discriminate against whoever they please — because “God said so.” Ask them why — they point to scriptures. Ask them why those are the best interpretations of the scriptures since the interpretation of scripture changes from time to time and place to place and they have no good answer. Ask them why God commanded this interpretation, and they say things that amount to “it’s tradition” and the ever-circular “because the Bible (or whatever holy book is in question) says so.” And that is no reason at all.

Once, similar people excused slavery on biblical grounds, they excused racial inequality on biblical grounds, they excused the refusal of marriage to couples of differing races on biblical grounds… and we changed our minds about all these things. One of the biggest reasons we did so is: We cannot, in this country, base laws applying to all citizens on sectarian religious traditions and prejudices. We must have reasons, clear and meaningful reasons that any reasonable person can grasp and agree with that do not appeal to matters of faith, upon which we can actually base laws that apply to all.

You wouldn’t give me $20.00 based on anything less. Why would you allow a town, state, or nation to take away people’s freedom and rights based on something that is so intellectually impoverished — a dull appeal to “God said so” as an excuse?

Did the Enlightenment fail to take root in this place — the first nation founded on Enlightenment principles?

3 April 2015
Richard Van Ingram

Richard Van Ingram 1988
Tom Paine, Richard Van Ingram 1988, etching
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Donations

Page from a Medieval Bible ( c. 1250 c.e.) I acquired and donated to the Georgia State University Archives in honor of Drs. Renick and Medina, my two biggest influences at the university. Atlanta, GA.

Richard Van Ingram and Bobbie Ingram Donation to Georgia State University Library

Copy of Loser Comix #1 in the Georgia State University Archives, Atlanta, GA.

Loser Comix #1 donated by creator, Richard Van Ingram to Georgia State University Library

 

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The Future

The Future
April 12, 2015 at 8:25pm
Our intellectual history in the West, Jose Ortega y Gasset once noted, has been a long struggle between Heraclitus and Parminides.

To refresh your memory:
Heraclitus said all things are in flux, ever-moving, energetic and active, like fire.

Parminides said all things are One, that movement and change are illusory, and that radical stability is what things arise from.

For the most part, the influence of Parminides has won out up to this point. From Plato, who believed the “real reality” was in the realm of the immaterial Ideas to Aristotle, who believed that things in this world were composed of two parts — the hyle’, or “matter”, which had no form on its own and was unintelligible and the morphos, the form that gave the matter its shape, its meaning, its “purpose” which we could abstract from the matter intellectually thus making it understandable. The real reality was not the changing world around us, but the stability which our minds can grasp that underlies the unstable-seeming world of life — the substancia, substance, that which stands under or beneath appearances… and appearances are changing things.

The Stoics went with Heraclitus, but Stoicism, even though it never entirely died, has been a minority report in philosophy and was more interested, like Socrates and the original Cynics in working out how to live a good, moral life in the face of this changing reality than in working out a detailed metaphysics or ontology.

Modern science went with Parminides as well, whether the origin was in Galileo or Descartes, both of whom saw geometrical stability and measurability as the only sure paths to knowledge, or in the Empiricists who ultimately taught the same, or Kantian Constructivism. In the end, being able to reduce or substitute measuring and quantifying for qualities – which are complex and often unique because they flow and change or because, like courage or justice or mercy, they very often cannot be applied exactly the same way every time — one cannot properly make rules from virtues.

In the 20th c., this dream of stability was revealed to be illusory. The first crisis in theoretical physics that unveiled this was summarized by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle in physics: After close examination of phenomena at the quantum level, it was discovered that, for example, you may be able to know how fast a particle is moving or where it is at, but you cannot do both at the same time. It is impossible and no matter how fine the instrumentation becomes, the best the most exacting of the sciences will be able to do is give probable knowledge — not absolute knowledge.

This understanding, that absolute knowledge of any “substance” is impossible — because of the ever-changing nature of reality at every level and our epistemological limitations as humans — has yet to be completely felt or grasped in all sciences or pursuits, much less the true theoretical origins of the scientific theories being employed. This is true in some practitioners of biology, for example.

No, this is not an attack on Darwinianism. Far from it. It is an attack on bad metaphysics and scientists who make pronouncements without grasping the historical origins of their theories. Or their limits.

During the Cold War, we were desperate to understand the Soviet Union and be able to guess how they would react to this or that strategy. The short story — you may look up the long story — is that America turned to the think tank at the Rand Corporation to work out theories to predict Soviet behavior and avoid nuclear destruction. A man called John Nash was there who was a brilliant mathematician… and an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. If you’ve seen the movie “A Beautiful Mind” the more romantic fantasy of the man’s life has been presented for public consumption. In truth, Nash, being actively paranoid, delusional, and generally a son of a bitch, worked out game theories based on a paranoid person’s conception of human beings. Humans, he said, were by nature, selfish and always out for their own interests — dangerously so. Not in some cases, but all cases. He resurrected Hobbes’ theory of radical egoism and the cultural atmosphere was well-prepared for it (e.g. Ayn Rand’s Universal Ethical Egoism was beginning to be accepted by the popular mind through her propagandistic novels and the Social Darwinian notion of American atomistic individualism).

Nash came up with games he played on his co-workers one of which was called “Fuck You, Buddy.” The object of the game was for everyone to screw everyone else over trying to obtain something — a date, for example with the same woman. The theory he worked out from this game was that the equal selfishness of all involved created a sort of equilibrium where everyone was held from the object of desire and the only path to success was to choose something — another woman — rather than the woman no one could get because of the competition. Later, he worked the theory out further into “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” which mathematically “proved” that rather than trust anyone else, the best thing to do was screw over one’s partner and at least get away with something, rather than trust the other person and probably wind up with “the sucker’s reward” — i.e. nothing — because one’s partner, being selfish by nature, will probably screw you over.
For this, Nash eventually won the Nobel Prize in economics. But not after years in an asylum and medication and recovery. Oddly, Nash now believes his theory is wrong, the product of paranoia, and needs to include a full description of human beings — not humans reduced to mathematical formulae and lacking empathy and the capacity to cooperate.

But that’s recent history. In between the 1950s, when Nash’s theory began to be used to strategize against Soviets and be applied to right-wing economics, it leaked out into science and influenced Selfish Gene Theory. Long story short, two men, an English biologist and American mathematician, worked out a theory to explain the underlying stability in the chaos of human behavior. Presto: Our genes are selfish and trying to preserve those most like them and get rid of those less like them — we are machines doing the rational will of the genes whose “mission” is to propagate and survive and eliminate rivals. Thus marriage… and murder and war, etc. The selfish “nature” of human beings lies in our genes protecting and spreading themselves — all we are — literally — are the meat machines that carry the genes and do their hidden will.

Richard Dawkins became a disciple of these two and proceeded to popularize the idea and dogmatically fight for it with the missionary zeal of a fundamentalist… which I will assert he is, fully.

For one thing, scientifically, there is a disqualifying element in any theory so pervasive and so absolutely true it can’t be disproven. Any instance of so-called altruistic actions or moral behavior that are not self-centered are explained — explained away, really — by saying it’s the genes’ strategy to preserve themselves and their kin and they recognize, somehow, close kin from distant. The genes control us the way a program controls computer hardware. To have a scientifically acceptable theory, it has to be at least possible that it is wrong and that means being able to imagine an opposite interpretation or example that would disqualify it. This theory explains away every attempt to give a counter-example making it, at the very least, suspicious.

And remembering that it arose from non-biological theories invented by a paranoid’s interpretation of human beings and economic theories that are specious, and from computer science — essentially, to believe this theory one has to replace the living human being with the imaginary model of an inert, unliving computer and reduce us to machinery while ignoring the many, many very un-machine-like qualities we have.

Dawkins, et alii, are attempting to assert they have a science with a grasp on absolute truth, not probable or possible truth — in violation of the Heisenberg Principle. It has been one of the last gasps of the Parmenidan version of reality with the “stable substance” being genes now, not an immortal soul – which these genes may as well be – or Platonic Ideas.

Biology itself, now, has begun to discover that the living being actively chooses which genes to use and which to ignore based on circumstantial needs — it’s not the genes running the show, but the show running the genes. And part of the show is our choices. Even if I were set up to be “selfish” by my genetic inheritance, it does not follow I should be selfish or that I must be selfish. Within the network of determination, I have a zone of freedom, even if it is very narrow. If my genes cause me to feel anger towards you, enough to kill you, I can always disengage, go home, and draw a vicious satire of you which I may share with others… or hide… or throw away. Transform it into humor. You want to talk to some angry, depressed people? Talk with a comedian.

I can take the energy from my genes and shunt them off, use them in any number of ways, or swallow it down and get an ulcer. It is possible. I can take something so strong as the sexual drive and choose to be celibate and direct the energy in other directions — spiritual, artistic, scholarly, scientific, whatever.

Human beings are not automatons, literally or metaphorically. Humans have no “nature,” no stable program, and no predetermined destination. We have history, circumstance, pressing in on us and from within our psyches have structures and our bodies have a biology. But I am not these things, these limitations — I am what I choose to do with these things, or in spite of them, as far as I can be creative and get away with it. I am an agent of change and choice, an energetic being, not a fixed “substance” — I must always be choosing and seeking whom to be or drifting on the social tide of unexamined opinions, shrugging off my responsibility, being “just like everyone.”

The future, if there is to be a meaningful future, will shift to seeing the world more through the lens of Heraclitus than Parmenides. The world is ever-changing, ever in flux. Darwin dimly grasped this in his own way — why else would he need to explain the change in species over time if they, indeed, did not change and are not, at all times, changing? Geology shows us that the Earth is continuously changing, is continuously flowing, if very slowly most of the time except in disasters. History is all about human change and choice and accident while archaeology and other sciences show that humans in the past and in other cultures are as unlike us here, now, in this country, as can be. If you transplanted them here or us there the experience would be so bewildering as to be maddening.

The choices human beings make are creative, unexpectedly, unpredictably so. Some are selfish, others, many others can’t even vaguely be explained by something as impoverished as egoism, whether the egoism be by choice, “nature,” or genes.

Since the 1950s, we have labored under a powerful delusion and applied it to all levels of activity: economic, scientific, military, diplomatic, scholarly, religious — and the roots of the delusion go back thousands of years… to dear, mistaken Parmenides.

That is all I have to say for the moment. Others may comment if they wish.

Richard Van Ingram
12 April 2015

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Storms

Storms. Lightning tearing up the sky, thunder boiling over the night time landscape, wind — change or the warning of more of the same? All difficult to read as any celestial morse code and I’ve no skill at it, just forebodings. In ’68, the people thought they could change this country and its culture while men were sent senselessly by the droves to suffer and die in some foreign jungle over nothing; and the inhabitants suffered and died just as senselessly. And here we are in ’14 in the wake of two idiotic wars that accomplished nothing but a potential civil war in Afghanistan when we leave and some insane terror campaign in Iraq that threatens the borders of three or four other countries with a half-assed “caliphate” of rednecks with heavy machine guns and stolen money to enforce their will.

A jet liner with innocent people from several countries was lost today to a surface to air missile in the Ukraine in its civil war. Thunder and lightning and wind over a field of debris and dead, burnt bodies, vocations and destinies caught mid-act and ended with the punctuation mark of mindless hatred,

In ’68, unarmed people marched, they took billy clubs in a police riot in Mayor Daley’s Czechcago, were gagged by National Guard teargas, threatened with bayonets and live ammunition and jeeps with mobile barbed wire fencing. Blood of innocent Americans was spilled for practicing nothing more than the right to protest peacefully. That was what passed for optimism in the 1960s: that goodness and right motives would overcome bit by bit the old order of corruption and death.

It did not.

And too many hippies and Yippies sold out, in the end, became the Me generation of the bump and grind disco ’70s, then the Reaganite capitalist-egoists of the ’80s and beyond who salved their bad consciences with the belief they could fix the machinery of the system from within by manipulating it in their favor; a little Jesus didn’t hurt to grease the wheels. Jerry Rubin took that route, much to the dismay of Abbie Hoffman who never sold out, never gave up the resistance until it wore on his bipolar depression and he killed himself with a bottle of pills and liquor in ’88. He heard the storm coming and saw no way to survive it or change the outcome, too much damage done, too much lost to the laissez-faire take-the-money-and-run sweepstakes of the New Amerika, the shining sewer plant of propaganda on a hill.

Jerry Rubin got killed when a bus accidently hit him as he crossed a street. His millions didn’t pad the impact. C’est la vie. Lightning strikes us all before it’s done.

In ’01, after the World Trade Center Towers came down, most of Amerika finished auctioning off its collective soul to the meanest bidders. People who marched in ’68 lined up like Good Germans for The Homeland and agreed to suspend the Bill of Rights, or overlook its extra-legal destruction, Hunter S, Thompson couldn’t reconcile himself to it and blew his brains out a couple of years later. I’ve watched off on the sidelines as people I admired gave their allegiance to beliefs and immoral practices that make Dick Nixon look as harmless as a cute waitress at IHOP. I’ve heard the storm coming for some time, and tonight as this one broke hard over San Antonio, the wind full of the voices of my dead heroes and the protests of better people from a more hopeful, naive moment, I realized my ears, born in the ’60s but informed by all those intervening years, pick up something wicked not so far in the distance now.

It’s just a matter of time and the storm will be on us all, full force, merciless. And no one is going to go out to rail at it… there is no profit in protest.

2014 Richard Van Ingram

Censored by Facebook, 23 April 2015

Richard Van Ingram 2013
The Summer of Love, Richard Van Ingram 2013
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