Despite the passage of Proposition 8, exit polls on how various demographic groups voted shows that there is hope for the future. Although those over 65 years of age voted 57-43 percent for Proposition 8, about 65% of those under 30 years old voted against the ban. This means that, as time goes on, and as the older generations are replaced by younger ones, support for gay marriage will almost certainly grow. Also, look at Proposition 22, a ballot measure in 2000 aimed at banning gay marriage. Proposition 22 passed with an overwhelming 61% of the vote. Just eight years later, Proposition 8 barely passed with 52% of the vote. Of white voter, about 55% voted against Proposition 8; this means that minority groups carried the day for gay marriage foes. Rather than allowing this fact to inflame racial prejudices within the gay community, we should redouble our outreach efforts to these minority groups.
With about 98% of the vote in, it seems as though California has passed the controversial Proposition 8, a measure which bans same sex marriage in the state. Ironically, Obama was giving his acceptance speech just as the results affirming Proposition 8 were being released. Even as Obama uttered, “If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, tonight is your answer” discrimination was being enshrined in California’s state constitution. I cannot help but feel bitter about this major setback in the midst of a tremendous victory for the Democrats. Equally ironic to the words of Obama’s speech was the fact that, according to exit polls, about 70% of black voters in California supported Proposition 8. To much of the black community, I suppose, equal rights under the law is an exclusive privilege. What a shame.
The death of George Carlin, the notoriously profane comedian, has brought a bit of life back into the issue of censorship in America. Those who oppose government censorship of media outlets argue that it suppresses freedom of speech, whereas those who support it often voice concerns about the exposure of children to profanity and the erosion of “decency” in modern society. The truth is, speech has never really been free in American society. Nor should it be. Imagine what would ensue if everyone in America was able to say what they wanted when they wanted. Neo- Nazis would be able to march through minority neighborhoods shrieking slurs at the top of their lungs. I hardly think that many Americans would put the right of Nazis to spew hatred above the need to prevent outbreaks of violence which would undoubtedly follow such a march.
If freedom of speech were truly absolute, such offenses as slander, libel, creation of a public disturbance, and even blackmail and threats would be completely legal. The problem is not whether speech should be “free”; it’s where to draw the line. For example, are the actions of the Westboros Baptist Church protected by the First Amendment? Those who argue that they are often say that, while the Church’s message is deplorable, banning them would set a bad precedent. I am inclined to reject this argument; the decision of where to draw the line regarding freedom of speech is inherently arbitrary. Therefore, precedent is not an overriding concern.
What does disturb me, though, is when censorship is extended beyond the preservation of “decency” and into the realm of political correctness. For example, an actress named Brigitte Bardot was recently fined by a French court for criticizing the inhumane slaughter of animals during an Islamic festival. Though parts of her criticism bordered on racism and xenophobia, the thought that a person could be fined 15,000 euros for making an incendiary statement is absurd. Americans must keep their guard up against the forces that would fuse political correctness with censorship. It is one thing to punish a wayward celebrity for exposing her breast during a Super Bowl halftime show. It is quite another thing to censor an individual for making a controversial statement on a touchy topic. And as always, the American public must decide where to draw the line.
There is an ill polarity in the acceptance of evolutionary theory in the United States. The scientific community overwhelmingly supports evolution, while something like half of the general public believes creationism over evolution. The reason: religious fundamentalism and scriptural literalism. Religious leaders continually indoctrinate children about the literal truth of Genesis or phony flaws in the scientific theory of evolution. (I cringed watching this Nightline clip.) Ignorance breeds ignorance. It’s always been fundamentalists that have gawked at evolution. That isn’t to say religious people are all against evolution, it is in fact split in that sphere as well. Fortunately, the Catholic Church has seen its scientific validity. (Although it has still tainted evolution with a “divine intervention” addendum to explain the existence of souls.)
But the dead horse seems to be on some ungodly life support thanks to quite a bit of misunderstanding of evolution in popular culture, and that has been an active barrier to evolution’s acceptance. Issues such as Lamarckian evolution and “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” have been settled well over a century ago, and yet they are still painted upon the face of evolution by creationists. Shall we carry on the traditional discourse of gill slits and circular reasoning in the fossil record, or has everyone moved on yet? If not, then I highly recommend the TalkOrigins Archive.
This problem has been pummeled in the kingdom of science, but creationists have groped and gasped for air and then creeped over to the place where it has a chance to thrive – the political realm. (Take a look at the Wedge strategy.) Now we are sporting such ideas as “teach the controversy” and “academic freedom,” all of which fly in the face of true science. Shall we start teaching the “Stork Theory” alternative to our modern theory of sexual reproduction? (Dawkins uses this analogy to satirize Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.) Of course not, and so why should we teach something outside of scientific theory in our science classrooms? Creationism needs to gain legitimacy before it starts being taught in public schools. Creationism has the freedom to gain this legitimacy, and we should not confuse this with its lack of ability to do so.
Hence the birth of Intelligent Design theory. ID has no evidence; it has only proposed gaps in evolution. (Famously Behe’s “irreducible complexity.”) It purports to be entirely scientific, but it is not. ID has brought to light a more general social problem here: the God versus no God debate in culture. “One nation under God”; “in God we trust.” School prayer is out of the question; is God? Indeed, many take evolution to be a denial of God’s existence, and many see its teaching in schools as just another way the secular left is getting God out of the school system. Both atheists and religious have argued either side of the evolution + God question.
(Personally, I don’t think evolution rules out a god altogether. Obviously, it raises serious questions about things like the emergence of consciousness, the existence of souls, or our divine place in the cosmos. I can’t say there isn’t a logically possible god who would choose to have the universe give birth to life in order to evolve us. But one would expect any theory speaking to the human’s rank among the life on Earth as well as the origin of all known life in the observable universe would have some kind of tribute to its planner, and I don’t see any indication of that at all. Alas, we move on.)
The distorted views on evolution can range from the depressing to the hopefully ignorant, but I think there is almost always a measure of intellectual dishonesty involved in the hardcore activist. Is it really all that hard to go looking for the other side of a “controversy”? How difficult can it really be to conceptualize the processes of natural selection, adaptation, and divergence? It seems like creationists like to sit around their campfires telling their own yarns and guffawing at how we came here by “chance”, while genuine progress is being made in today’s biologically-related sciences as if it were a totally disconnected domain of intellectual thought.
This needs to stop. Science education has to be representative of the actual scientific train of thought; if anybody wishes to dissent, that would be fine, but don’t teach the views of the fringe. (Obviously this works in more than just science classes…) If evolution were taught correctly, if our biology teachers all knew what they were talking about, then creationist ignorance of evolution wouldn’t get very far in the our education system at all. So what we need are more teachers who are knowledgeable about evolution to educate our public, and more importantly, our children.
This is important because it is one of many ways to protect our free society from building theocratic underpinnings. It would be a slippery slope to making our nation (nearly-) officially sponsor uniquely religious viewpoints (which is definitely “respecting an establishment of religion” in my book). Beyond this, it proves internationally that America can walk the walk, not just talk the talk. America has a real potential to be a huge beacon of science, but the fact that America has the highest number of evolution “skeptics” makes us laughable. It’s just one more part of America that the rest of the civilized world makes fun of.
One major part of having a freer world is having freedom of speech and free access to it. Sadly, that isn’t coming any time soon, but we’re still facing enormous decisions in progressing in the fight against censorship. One of those decisions was made in colossal proportions by everybody’s familiar friend, Google. (China is one fifth of the world, which makes this a pretty big issue.) Knowing Google’s exemplified values and mission aligned with furthering human rights, it appears confusing or downright selfish of Google to stay in China’s market by self-censoring. In fact, Google’s motto from the very beginning was “Don’t be evil”. Contradiction, wouldn’t you think?
Despite appearances, this is not an uncontemplated act. In fact, it is the smart choice to appease China’s request for censorship. Let’s be blunt. If Google partially self-censors, China will have much freer access compared to if the “People’s Republic” there does the censoring for them. And allowing Google in China without censorship is out of the question, knowing China. So if you think we’re doing the world any good by not giving China a censored version, you’re wrong.
We ultimately reached our decision by asking ourselves which course would most effectively further Google’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally useful and accessible. Or, put simply: how can we provide the greatest access to information to the greatest number of people?
Filtering our search results clearly compromises our mission. … By launching Google.cn and making a major ongoing investment in people and infrastructure within China, we intend to change that.
Our continued engagement with China is the best (perhaps only) way for Google to help bring the tremendous benefits of universal information access to all our users there.
We’re in this for the long haul. In the years to come, we’ll be making significant and growing investments in China. Our launch of google.cn, though filtered, is a necessary first step toward achieving a productive presence in a rapidly changing country that will be one of the world’s most important and dynamic for decades to come. To some people, a hard compromise may not feel as satisfying as a withdrawal on principle, but we believe it’s the best way to work toward the results we all desire.
Not too shabby, huh? And to be honest, it’s a bit ambiguous, perhaps even untruthful, to say that Google is filtering its content. The unfiltered Chinese-language version of Google still exists, and is open to China if they are willing, but Google made the .cn version to supplement that for the benefit of users. Furthermore, whenever something is censored, the users in China are told that information was taken out by their government. And finally, proving that Google really does care, Google will not host anything with private information on Chinese users (like Gmail or Blogger) because it would pose huge dangers to dissenters there. Beyond this, Google is looking for more steps towards bettering the world, like the internet industry’s support and involvement of the United States government.
(Google has their own testimony on the issue, of which I am in effect summarizing.)
Google has the right idea, and is making the best decision in regard to China’s current state. If Google keeps this up, it will have a great impact on the entire world.
Since the end of the Second World War, most western nations have adopted an economic policy known as the welfare state. Frequently criticized by fiscal conservatives, the welfare state endeavors to create a strong safety net that provides for all of its citizen’s basic needs. Welfare states also attempt at some leveling of society, with the end result being a lower rate of income disparity. Conservatives argue that welfare states are decadent monstrosities that lead to stunted productivity and large budget deficits. But what’s the truth about the welfare state?
I must confess that this is an issue that I am divided on. On the one hand, I can see the logic of fiscal conservatives and libertarians- let people keep the money they make. On the other hand, tremendous gaps exist in the opportunities of poor and rich people. To understand this gap and how to solve it, we must first understand two terms: equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. They are fairly self-explanatory; equality of opportunity means that the government provides its citizens with equal opportunities. Equality of outcome means that the government ensures that all people have the same amount of money or material goods (ie the same outcome) no matter what. The fall of communism demonstrated that equality of outcome doesn’t work. The best form of government is one which is able to guarantee equality of opportunity.
So the question remains; does the welfare state do a better job at providing equality of opportunity to its citizens? The simple answer is yes. In the welfare states of western Europe, universal healthcare is the norm. In the United States, the quality of healthcare that a child receives still depends upon the income of his parents. Access to higher education in the US is denied to most poor individuals. Our nation’s top colleges are so prohibitively expensive that only the upper class can afford to pay tuition. Contrast that to many other western nations, where college is free. It is reasonable to conclude that the system we have in the US does not provide equality of opportunity as well as welfare states.
It’s definitely true that taxes are higher in welfare states. In Denmark, the lowest income tax bracket is 42%. In Finland, the average income tax rate is about 50%. Still, citizens of these countries consistently report being happier than Americans. Yes, I know that happiness is a subjective term. Still, a study performed by Leicester University in Britain has the US being outpaced by most western European nations in terms of happiness. This could be due to a number of factors, but prevalent among them is surely the issue of income disparity. In western Europe, income disparity between the rich and the poor is quite a bit lower than in the US. If my psychology textbook is accurate, then income disparity is a good predictor of how happy a particular country or region is. Therefore, it is in the interest of the state to reduce income inequality as much as it reasonably can without stifling economic growth.
So what about the high taxes found in all welfare states? Don’t they inhibit economic growth? Not necessarily; economic growth in Denmark is comparable to growth in America. Sweden’s economic growth is roughly a percent or two higher than America’s. It is true that welfare states are particularly susceptible to deficit spending. However, this is largely because Europe (where most welfare states are located) has an aging population. Immigration, as well as technological advances, have the ability to generate enough wealth to support any modern welfare state.
The last issue I will address regarding the welfare state is that of income redistribution. Is it right to punish those who work hard and become wealthy by redistributing a large share of their wealth by giving it to those who are poor? The truth is that there are millions of people in America who work hard but are unable to fully support themselves and their families. When we ignore these people (as laissez faire would), then we deny them and their children equality of opportunity. All welfare states have to be careful that they do not overtax their wealthiest citizens; doing so would have profoundly negative consequences on economic growth. Again, the welfare state should not strive to ensure equality of outcome. But it should provide for the most basic needs of its citizens (ex. education, healthcare, adequate food). Failure to do so will lead to an inability to exploit the valuable human resources that are our nation’s poor. Plus, as studies have shown, we’d all be happier in a welfare state. And that’s the bottom line.
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With some 80% of Americans believing that the country is on the wrong track, the stage has been set for a Democrat to win the White House in 2008. Since both Clinton and Obama have vowed to end the war in Iraq, we have to ask ourselves this question: What will happen in Iraq when the US leaves? There are a few possibilities.
Possibility #1: The Optimist’s View
The optimistic outlook on leaving Iraq states that the source of much (if not most) of the tension in Iraq comes from the continuing presence of US troops. Remove the troops, and you remove the tension. This view on Iraq is favored by many Democrats who advocate for a swift withdrawal. But this outlook is also deeply flawed. If the logic of this stance were true, then violence in Iraq would have spiked when President Bush deployed tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq in his infamous surge. But, of course, this did not happen. Instead, violence levels dropped substantially as more troops were injected.
Possibility # 2: The Pessimist’s Outlook
The pessimistic view on Iraq is often favored by neoconservatives trying to discourage withdrawal from Iraq. This viewpoint states that if the US were to leave Iraq, complete chaos would grip the country. Iraq’s ability to drill precious oil would be decimated, and Iran would come to dominate the region. The Kurds would secede from the rest of the country, and Turkey would be drawn into a vicious war with Kurdish rebels in its southern provinces seeking to join their independent Iraqi brethren. Jealous Sunni countries would then intervene to help the Sunni minority in Iraq, and a region- wide war between Shiites and Sunnis would ensue. Unlike the optimist’s outlook, this view of withdrawing from Iraq actually has some merit. As Bush himself has pointed out, chaos reigned for a time in Vietnam after the US withdrew. However, it is important to remember that Vietnam eventually stabilized, and had the US prolonged the war in Vietnam, the country would have almost certainly suffered greater devastation.
Possibility # 3: The Realist’s Outlook
This final possibility, which I believe has the most merit, is a tempered down version of the pessimist’s outlook. Under this possibility, US withdrawal from Iraq will lead to a full blown civil war, which will probably be won by al-Sadr or another dictatorial figure. Iran will probably increase its influence in Iraq, though it will not be able to completely dominate Iraqi politics. The Kurds may try to secede, but in order to do so, they would need to wrestle precious oil wells in central Iraq away from other factions, while simultaneously dealing with Turkish and American reproach. Considering that significant numbers of US troops are stationed in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, a regional war that would disrupt oil flow from the Middle East would be unlikely (ie. the Iranians would be unable to seize Sunni oil supplies). To be sure, this outlook is bleak. It means that the US has wasted billions of dollars and thousands of lives on a conflict that only weakened our position in a crucial region of the world. But staying in Iraq longer does not make sense under this scenario, as we will only delay the inevitable. Even if the surge is “working”, our generals on the ground have conceded that a military solution is impossible. With political progress fleeting, the sooner America can extricate itself from Iraq, the better.
It’s official- radical Muslims are invading Europe. Alright, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. But the influx of unassimilated Muslims into Europe is bound to be one of the greatest and most persistent problems “indigenous” Europeans will face in the coming century. Unlike in America, where studies show that Muslim immigrants are quick to assimilate, Europe’s Muslim population has remained largely autonomous from mainstream European culture. A lot of this has to do with discrimination and a lack of employment opportunities for European Muslims. Consider the following: young Muslims living in France have to contend with an unemployment rate of about 30% (the unemployment rate of France as a country is 10%). Likewise, the unemployment rate for British Muslims is 15%, about ten points higher than the rate for the general population. The fierce rioting that occurred in France in 2005 ago were largely a manifestation of malcontent caused by unemployment.
What are the consequences of the failure of Europe to assimilate its Muslim population? Let’s start with the curtailing of freedom of speech. As many know, the publishing of offensive cartoons in Denmark sparked rioting and fierce anger among European Muslims (and those elsewhere in the world). The death of Theo van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker critical of Islam, must send chills down the spines of every European who values free expression. At the same time, these events foreshadow what will come if European Muslims continue to rise to prominence without assimilating. European culture would be radically changed, and tolerance for groups like ranging from gays and lesbians to women would surely diminish. I fear that a time may soon come when unassimilated European Muslims are able to deeply influence the politics of what is now a bastion of progressive thought and enlightened policies.
So what is Europe to do? First, European countries need to rethink their immigration policies toward Islamic countries. As the population of Europe is aging, it is imperative that Europe encourage immigration. However, it is pointless to welcome immigrants from impoverished nations if your country is unable to assimilate them and offer them economic opportunities. Therefore, I propose that Europe temporarily cut off immigration from the Islamic world. This policy must exist until Europe can find a way to guarantee jobs to its Muslim immigrants.
Second, European countries must make a new drive to employ young Muslims. In America, the children of immigrants are invariably better assimilated than the immigrants themselves. Not so in Europe. If European nations were to implement programs similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps that existed in the U.S. during the Great Depression, and taylor these programs toward unemployed Muslim youths, they could kill two birds with one stone. On the one hand, young Muslims would be given work (and paychecks). On the other, these Muslim youths would be able to improve their European countries in a very tangible way. Hopefully, this would inspire national pride, which is integral to any integration effort.
Many Americans fret over U.S. predicaments regarding immigration. Truth be told, America has it easy when it comes to immigration policy. The immigrants flocking to America are Christians whose values and beliefs are quite similar to those of mainstream America. It is much easier to assimilate Hispanics immigrating to America than it is to assimilate Muslims in Europe- studies will back me up on this one. Europe, unlike America, is facing a problem that will probably alter its landscape. Let’s just hope too much damage is not done.
“The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc [English Socialism], but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words”
In the fictional world of Orwell’s 1984, Newspeak was a language made to serve as a political and social controller. It was a way of thinking that was narrow and deliberately separate from all other paths of imagination. This, of course, is an especially pointed and hyperbolic version of a real feature of our world. We are all accustomed to our own culture’s language and normally perceive the world in its light. For example, “time” is seen in one way as an object that can be spent, wasted, or invested, or free. This sort of language programing of society inspired the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that language limits thought. “All our work, our whole life is a matter of semantics, because words are the tools with which we work, the material out of which laws are made, out of which the Constitution was written. Everything depends on our understanding of them.”
In other words, language is the stuff of thought. It is foundational to all mental activity and determines the form of every possible thought. I think this is untrue. I think that language is a program for communication that has been given enough power to shape some thoughts, but is distinct from the “assembly code” of our minds and even as a container it can be stretched. There are many reasons to believe that language is not at the most fundamental level of our thinking, and that we can supervene our semantics.
“Uncritical semantics is the myth of a museum in which the exhibits are meanings and the words are labels. To switch languages is to change the labels.” This is wrong. Even under the acceptance of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, this is wrong. In SW, different languages would correspond to slightly different museums, that might have mostly the same exhibits but with varying organizations of them. But SW still doesn’t capture the full reality here.
Suppose we were to look at language from a reductionistic standpoint. In a child’s development, how does the child learn a language? How does a child associate words with meanings if the meanings aren’t already in their minds? The child must put a label with a purely nameless concept that works on an even more fundamental level. Also, a child does not take on a language all at once. The child will continuously construct a partial build of a language. That couldn’t always be possible under SW, because the later parts of language that are being learned defy expression in the earlier parts of the language. Since language is accommodated into our minds in development, our minds must initially operate on differently without the modes of thinking provided by a particular language.
Now suppose we look at languages from a holistic standpoint. How did language get started in the first place? How do they change and diverge? These issues cannot be resolved with SW, because language is viewed too much as a rigid machine rather than an evolving organism. When Shakespeare set a shining example that effectively redefined the English language, he was inventing words and expressions that had never been seen before. He made metaphors that language could not alone hint at, and that makes it so comparably easy to understand today 400 years later even when other works only 200 years ago are alien to us now.
The idea that language at least influences thought is overwhelmingly accepted by linguists. For instance, the precise meanings behind “life” and “marriage” taken by someone can direct their opinions on abortion or gay marriage. Most linguists accept that there is a reciprocal relationship between language of society and thought of the individual. The nature of this relationship is not precisely spelled out and still has a haze of confusion surrounding it. With a thought experiment I intend to make this relationship a bit clearer.
Suppose we have many artificial intelligence programs that can observe and process information from the real world as well as interact with it. These AI’s will learn to use patterns to communicate with each other (call these patterns L, for language), but there is little reason to believe these patterns will correspond exactly to the patterns they use to process information internally (call these patterns M, for mind).
Furthermore, suppose the AI’s are hard-pressed for energy to sustain their computer hosts, and so the AIs, by their programming, naturally attempt to internally use efficient ways of “thinking” that will better suit them for dealing with the world and getting energy, however that may be. To this end, once the AIs have developed complex methods of communicating with each other, they will start automatically translating their internal “thoughts” of M into communicable ideas of L, so that they are ready on-demand for discourse about these ideas. Eventually, it will start adopting L itself as the main way of processing the world to further optimize their thinking because they are highly sociable pieces of software.
This scenario, I hope, at least roughly mirrors the real case for us humans. We adopt languages because they are highly useful ways of thinking, and use it as a primary mode for expressing thoughts. However, we can change, add to or subtract from, and otherwise manipulate language as a tool or aid to living.