Spritzophrenia

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Archive for the ‘ethics’ Category

A Plea to the USA about the Death Penalty

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 22, 2011

By the time I write this it may be too late. Troy Davis, who may very well be an innocent man, will be killed by the state. Which is, if we truly believe in representative democracy, the same as being killed by us.

I’m sure you’ve heard various arguments, and you may have me pegged as a “bleeding heart liberal”. My life has been affected twice by murder. Firstly, a high school friend’s 21 year-old brother, who I’ll call Calvin, was killed at a party. I remember going to the trial. I remember seeing a good friend of Calvin’s give monosyllabic answers under questioning in the dock. This seemed strange until we learned later that the Mongrel Mob gang had beaten him up the night before to ensure he wasn’t too “helpful” to the prosecution. The young man who knifed Calvin and left him bleeding to death in his car was a gang prospect. Allegedly he was heard to mutter afterwards, “I’ve earned my [gang] patch now.”

The second time I was affected by murder was far worse. My sister’s best friend, at age 25 was brutally abducted, raped and murdered, and her body left to rot for 10 days before it was found. My sister still hasn’t recovered. It took 10 years before her killer was found. I have to admit, I wanted to hurt him. I do know what it feels like to feel the raging desire of revenge, and want to call it justice.

Troy Davis

Troy Davis.

But in the end, I know it’s not just. Here in New Zealand, the last man we executed was in 1957. Our society hasn’t gone downhill since then. In fact, we have a very low murder rate compared with yours in the USA. Since that time at least one man would have been executed here in the 1970s. Arthur Allan Thomas was convicted twice of murder and spent 8 years in jail before being proven innocent and pardoned. Only two years ago here in New Zealand, David Bain, who spent many years in prison for allegedly slaughtering his whole family, was released as innocent.

Giorgio Agamben has predicted the return of homo sacer, the sacred man “who may be killed and yet not sacrificed”. He sees the concentration camp as the paradigm of modern politics, as we increasingly strip our citizens of all humanity and leave them as “naked life”. Maybe he’s right. We are outraged when (say) Saudi Arabia cuts people’s hands off or executes them by stoning. But really, what is the difference? Making someone wait for 10 years of appeals with the threat of death hanging over them is akin to torture. And the actual execution process is not a lot better either – see the death by lethal injection scene in “Dead Man Walking”.

There are hideous crimes, and people who should probably be never released from prison. But I know from various angry attempts at revenge in my own life that killing them, in the end, makes me just as brutalising. And if it’s our state that’s doing it, then we are complicit. Isn’t it time for us to grow up?

Edit:
Consider supporting the Amnesty International USA Abolish the Death Penalty campaign.

Ten reasons why Troy Davis should not have been killed.

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Rage Against The Machine | Killing In The Name Of

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Would You Report Someone For Welfare Fraud?

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 8, 2011

Lots of people are interested in my post a while back about welfare fraud in the USA. So I thought I’d do a follow up. First, I’ve got some current figures from reliable sources. Here’s part of a 2011 paper. If figures bore you, skip to the interesting stuff below:

Overseas findings
The UK Department for Work and Pensions estimated that in 2008-09, approximately 2.2 percent of all benefit expenditures, or 3b [pounds sterling], was overpaid as a result of fraud and error (DWP 2009). Half of this, about 1.1b [pounds sterling], was attributed to fraud, although this was based on a sampling procedure rather than convictions. The figure represented an increase, from a low of 0.6b [pounds sterling] in 2005-06, despite concerted efforts by the department to stop fraud (NAO 2008).

In the United States in 2008-09, the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General (2009) received 129,495 allegations of fraud and closed 8,065 cases, with 1,486 criminal prosecutions. These activities involved over US$2.9b in ‘questioned costs’; with US$23.3m in recoveries, US$2.8m in fines and a further US$25.5m in settlements, judgement and restitution orders.

welfare

Australian data
The following section presents data supplied by Centrelink on its compliance and fraud-related activities and outcomes. Unlike the UK Department for Work and Pensions, Centrelink does not provide estimates of fraud but reports on detected errors and fraud prosecution actions and outcomes.
Formal fraud investigations are usually initiated through compliance and eligibility reviews. Reviews occur in large numbers each year. There is a crossover of triggers and methods, including routine data-matching, random sampling, identity checks and public tip offs.

Table 1 reports on the outcomes of reviews for the three year period 2006-07 to 2008-09. Of note is the fact that typically, only 15.7 percent of reviews led to cancellations or reductions in payments. Of these, as few as 0.8 percent were referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP); with 0.5 percent being prosecuted. Prosecutions resulted in a 98.8 percent conviction rate. Overall, in the three years, 0.04 percent of customers were convicted of fraud. For the same period, fraud investigations were estimated to have produced $380.6m in gross savings and amounts targeted for recovery. This compares with $1.4b in overpayments identified and debts generated from the review process. Fraud therefore accounted for approximately 26.2 percent of invalid payments. Furthermore, on average, only 15.1 percent of investigations resulted in a prosecution referral. In 2008-09, Centrelink referrals accounted for 69 percent of defendants prosecuted by the CDPP (2009: 115-116).

Table 2 provides a snapshot of fraud across the top 15 benefit types. Within this group, the Single Parenting Payment and Newstart Allowance (unemployment benefit) together accounted for 72 percent of convictions and $33.5m of debt. The Disability Support Pension and Partnered Parenting Payment together accounted for a further 14.7 percent and $7.6m of debt.
Figure 1 shows longer term trends for compliance reviews and adjustments for the 12 year period from 1997-2008 (when Centrelink was established) to 2008-09.
They show that, in terms of the number of Centrelink customers, compliance reviews increased by 54.5 percent from an average of 41.1 percent of customers up to 2001-02, to an average 63.4 percent subsequently, while cancellations or adjustments more than doubled from 4.3 percent to 10.1 percent.
Figure 2 shows that referrals to the CDPP have increased less dramatically, with prosecutions and convictions at a fairly stable rate.

Exerpt from Prenzler, Tim. “Welfare fraud in Australia: Dimensions and issues.” Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice (2011)

Be careful in how you read the figures above, as it isn’t always clear what they mean. Also, these figures don’t tell the whole story. I haven’t fully absorbed the paper, but in essence, it supports my previous claim that less than 2% of people on welfare commit fraud.

In my last post, a few people queried the definition of fraud in the comments. So here’s the definition I’m using: Fraud is knowingly accepting welfare payments that you are not legally eligible for.

Note that it’s knowingly. Mistakes by the recipient, or the welfare agency are not fraud.

“Abuse of the system” is not fraud. If Bob is lazy and doesn’t want to work, but the welfare system has evaluated him fairly and allocated him funds, this is not fraud. You may wish to reform the system so that people like Bob can’t get money, but it’s not fraud. In New Zealand, where I live, it is not at all easy to get welfare, and it is not at all easy to live on welfare. It’s not a “cushy life”. Another paper I read suggests we feel more strongly about welfare fraud than we do about tax fraud or white collar fraud, arguably more serious crimes. I wonder why this is?

A few commenters assert that fraud is much more widespread than my figures show. Again, I reply: Show me the evidence.

Some commenters give anecdotal evidence, eg, “My sister has a baby and she hasn’t told them who the father is so she can get welfare, even though they are living together.” My question is, if you are so concerned about welfare fraud, why don’t you report them to the authorities? I know someone who has probably been collecting more welfare than she is entitled to for many years. Yet, if I report her, her son might suffer financially. Maybe we get the welfare system we deserve?

Would you report someone close to you for welfare fraud? If not, why not?

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Work songs in a Texas prison

Posted in ethics, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

Should We Tolerate the Intolerant?

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 17, 2011

Thankyou all for your comments yesterday, I found them really helpful.

In American Fascists Chris Hedges quite seriously analyses the US Christian Right as a fascist movement. One thesis of the book disturbed me. He quotes Karl Popper:

Unlimited Tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be most unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

~ The Open Society and Its Enemies 1:263

Christian Fascism

Hedges himself writes:

Debate with the radical Christian Right is useless. We cannot reach this movement. It does not want a dialogue. It is a movement based on emotion and cares nothing for rational thought and discussion. It is not mollified because John Kerry prays or Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school. Naive attempts to reach out to the movement, to assure them that we too, are Christian or we, too, care about moral values, are doomed. This movement is bent on our destruction. The attempts by many liberals to make peace would be humorous if the stakes were not so deadly. These dominionists hate the liberal, enlightened world formed by the Constitution, a world they blame for the debacle of their lives. They have one goal– its destruction.

~ page 202

These quotes make me uncomfortable. What would we think if it was the Christian Right saying this about us? Is it true that the only exception to tolerating all, is not to tolerate the intolerant?

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Slayer | Cult
“Religion is hate, religion is fear, religion is war”

Posted in agnostic, Christianity, ethics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 19 Comments »

Around the World on Welfare

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 12, 2011

I did some investigation a while back which shows that the rate of welfare fraud is very low. However, there will always be some exceptions and this is an amazing one, from my own country.

A Kiwi beneficiary has travelled the world funded by the dole, spending nearly two years seeing the sights of Europe, Asia and Africa without his unemployment benefit being cut off.

In an international escapade that has left Social Development Minister Paula Bennett and Work and Income fuming, Peter Freedom, 34, has admitted seeing the world at taxpayer expense.

Mr Freedom left New Zealand for Australia on April 11, 2009, expecting his benefit would be cut off two weeks later. “I was just amazed when it didn’t,” he said from Dubai.

He visited Europe, the Balkans, Britain, North Africa and Asia before his benefit was finally axed late last month.

Mr Freedom used the nearly $28,000 – $287.12 a week, which later increased to $293.04 – to see some tourist meccas. Note: NZ dollars are worth a lot less than US dollars.

Peter Freedom

Peter Freedom in front of the Pyramids of Giza.

His favourites included the Pyramids of Giza, the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower and bullfighting in Spain. “The trip was funded by the benefit,” Mr Freedom said. “What started as an accident soon became an opportunity.”

He sometimes slept in a car during his travels to save money. “I would always eat at the cheapest place I could find. It wasn’t very much money.”

Mr Freedom “didn’t feel good” about spending taxpayer money but said he was happy to expose the authorities. “I guess I did rip them off but I needed something to get me on my feet again.”

Before he left New Zealand Mr Freedom had been living in Hawera, Taranaki. He said he was keen to work but when a job came up outside town and he asked Work and Income to stump up some money for transport, he was refused. “I just needed a little bit of help but I never got it.” ~Full story here.

No doubt our centre-right government will use this as an excuse to go harder on welfare payments; they’ve already been making hints about it and this provides the perfect opportunity to beat down the 98% of beneficiaries who are honest.

Peter Freedom (great name!) would have to acquire other income or savings, as there is no way one could purchase airfares on a welfare income. I don’t think we’ve yet heard the full story. Still, nice life if you can get it.

Edit: Updating the story, turns out my prediction was right and this story came to light because of a crackdown on long term beneficiaries where hundreds have had their payments axed.

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Why Do We Support A Morals Police?

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 10, 2011

A fascinating article reminded me of Saudi Arabia’s morals police. The rest of the article lists some nutters in our own society lest we feel too self-righteous. However, Saudi’s morals police are state sanctioned. How come we make official outcries over torture and human rights violations in countries like China, yet remain remarkably quiet on our Saudi ally?

The religious police in Saudi Arabia are employed in direct order of command from King Abdullah. They are tasked with enforcing Sharia as defined in Saudi Arabia. In addition to having the power to arrest anyone engaged in homosexual acts, prostitution, fornication, or proselytizing of non-Muslim religions, they can also arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing, enforce Islamic dress-codes, Muslim dietary laws (such as the prohibition from eating pork) and store closures during the prayer time. They prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and seize banned consumer products and media regarded as un-Islamic (such as CDs/DVDs of various Western musical groups, television shows and film). They also actively prevent the religious practices of other religions within Saudi Arabia. (Wikipedia)

western music

At the time of writing, various Middle Eastern governments are nervous that democratic protests in Egypt and Tunisia might spread to their countries. (Jordan has already had protests.) I wonder what it would take for something like that to happen in Saudi? I wonder what it would take for our Governments to stand up for justice there?

In May of 2007, a 28 year old man in Riyadh named Ali Al-Huraisi had a run-in with the Saudi CFPVPV. Because they believed that he possessed alcohol, they broke into his house, arrested his entire family, handcuffed him, and then beat him to death. In August 2008, a member killed his own daughter for converting to Christianity. These are just two examples of what is an extremely conservative and brutal organisation– I say again: Sanctioned by the Saudi Government.

Why do we consider these people allies?

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Sepultura | Under Seige
“Religious domain is all I see
Suffocate the scum with mediocrity”
(Saw these guys live in 1991)

Posted in ethics, Islam, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Gun Nuts and Peaceniks

Posted by spritzophrenia on January 9, 2011

Right now the major news in the USA is the tragic shooting attempt on an Arizona congresswoman. At the time of writing she is badly wounded, but 18 other people were also shot. Six are dead, including a nine year-old girl. I offer my condolences to my US friends; this is sad and wrong.

As an outside observer, I want to offer a few thoughts, partially based on the Twitter and Facebook commentary I’m seeing.

A Culture Of Blame

To me, it’s strange that many immediately jumped to a political motive. For example, a friend tweeted “I wish the sheriff would just name Rush and Beck and Fox News [as responsible].” Sure, Gabrielle Giffords, the target, is a politician. However it may be a little premature to jump in and reduce this to GOP vs Dems. As Lavika tweeted, “Many are choosing sides & using their vitriol to numb pain. Vitriol on behalf of ‘good’ is still vitriol, btw”. To me, the shooter looked a little mentally unstable on paper. This is not to say he wasn’t politically motivated, but there may be a lot more nuance to this story. Lavika also tweeted: “Mental health care, especially youth mental health, is very political; they have no voice, they can’t get care, but they can get guns.”

One commentator writes “We have no idea what motivated the shooter and whether it had anything to do with politics.”

man with pistol

Us and Them

Given the immediate politicization of this attack, I’m also continually amazed at the polarization in US politics. Either you are a Democrat or a Republican, there is no other choice. This leads to an “us and them”, “black and white”, “right and wrong” circling of the wagons that I believe is deeply unhelpful. How can political progress be made when the other side is always characterised as the enemy? In places like New Zealand, Australia, most of Europe… In fact, every other decent Western nation I can think of, there are multiple political parties. This leads to a) more nuance b) more choice and c) the need for co-operation between various political groups.

What if you are “left” on some issues, but “right” on others? In the US there is no party that fits you. Congresswoman Giffords, who was attacked, is a perfect example of exactly this. As a former republican, she characterises herself as a “blue dog” democrat. In other words, she had to make a hard choice as neither party truly represents her views. There aren’t any other political options.

Is This Terrorism?

SquintingInFog tweeted “Why is this not an act of terrorism? Apparently white people are lone wackos, brown people are terrorists”, and, “If shooter were Muslim, it would be called terrorism, even if he acted alone & was psychotic”.

My answer: If it was ideological, then yes, it’s terrorism. Welcome to another “terrorist attack” by a non-Muslim US man, born and bred within Uncle Sam’s bosom.

We Have A Right To Kill

I’m writing this in a country where hunting is popular. We have a lot of guns here in New Zealand. But we don’t allow handguns (except for target shooting, a minority pastime). We certainly don’t allow people to carry them around in public. Even our police do not carry weapons on their person. So to hear about a “right to bear arms” frankly sounds bizarre to us. It sounds as silly as “the right to buy cars” or the “right to chew gum”. (Don’t laugh, gum is banned in Singapore.) Yes, we are legally allowed to buy hunting guns in New Zealand. And that’s how I’d prefer to phrase it. Maybe the USA would benefit from leaving the word “right” out of the equation? The word “right” gives the purchase and use of an item a moral gravity that I just don’t think is warranted. It makes carrying a gun seem somehow holy, instead of fearful and potentially lethal. I can’t compare the right to own a killing weapon with the right to life or the right not to live in poverty. (I’d like to hear more about the right to a fair wage, having just read Nickel and Dimed.) At least I’m not the only one to see a need for handgun control.

Hope

Turning from the killing in the USA, I want the whole world to know about the peace activism in Egypt— by Muslims, no less. Regular followers will know I write from time to time trying to understand Islam and its relation to the West. Egypt has recently had some horrible attacks on Christian churches. What is wonderful is this story of a Muslim initiative where Muslims attended christian churches in order to shield christians against extremists.

I have no idea how we would “shield” minorities in our countries from attack. But isn’t it a wonderful thing to consider? Perhaps a cadre of straight people could walk with gay people seeking marriage equality. Or upper middle-class people could walk with Wal-Mart staff seeking to establish a union. Any ideas?

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Pink Floyd | Us and Them

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Paradise Now: A Powerful Movie

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 16, 2010

Yesterday I asked if Muslims would find the movie “Four Lions” funny? Well, at least some Muslims do:

Humour allows us to conquer our own fears of terrorism and terrorists, and allows us to feel brave. We see the human weaknesses of our opponents, instead of buying into the myths of an invincible robotic terror machine. The fear created by the myths – whether perpetuated by the bin Laden’s or the Bush’s of this world – is itself part of the terrorisation process. If we can defuse the myth, we can get down to tackling the criminals at the heart of the violence and destruction…

explosion NYC

…In a global Gallup poll of 50,000 Muslims across 35 countries, the results showed that of the seven per cent of Muslims who said the 9/11 attacks were justified, absolutely none quoted the Quran to support their view. Again, it is politics, not religion.” From Can Terror Be Funny? at AltMuslim. More Muslim commentary here and a good US-based review here. (Some spoilers in these.)

On to another movie on the same topic, much more serious and equally important. Released in 2005, I think Paradise Now is one of the most thought-provoking movies made. (Along with “Dead Man Walking”, “Milk”, “Food Inc”, “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Lord of War”.) Don’t worry, it’s not boringly didactic.

The movie follows Said and Khaled, two Palestinian friends who are recruited to be suicide bombers. This may be the last 48 hours of their lives. Drama, humanity, evil, love, romance, tragedy, comedy, it’s got it all. The movie is not really about the Israel/Palestine question, it merely assumes this as the background to the question of whether killing others in protest is valid. Perhaps even realism, not just humour, can take some of the scariness away. The film is not simplistic, and without giving away too much it portrays both the terrorist and pacifist points of view well. Both men and Khaled’s girlfriend have doubts, but I won’t tell you how it ends.

I was stunned by it.

Independent trailer for Paradise Now:

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Posted in ethics, hardship, Islam, life, Meaning of Life, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Sex, God, Science and Music (Part One)

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 11, 2010

You say, “Don’t talk about Sex, God or Politics”. I say, “Why not? Let’s face it, we’re all interested in them”. Books I’ve dipped into recently include:

Sex At Dawn

“The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality”
Authors Ryan and Jetha say humans evolved in egalitarian groups that shared food, child care and often sexual partners. Apparently this is against the mainstream scientific opinion. They use primatology, anthropology and other fields to argue that humans are not naturally monogamous and thus we should ease up a little in our sexual mores.

Despite centuries of religious and scientific propaganda, the basic illusions underpinning the supposed “naturalness” of the conventional nuclear family are clearly exhausted. … We need to seek peace with the truths of human sexuality. Maybe this means improvising new familial configurations. Perhaps it will require more community assistance for single mothers and their children. Or maybe it just means we must learn to adjust our expectations concerning sexual fidelity.
~ p 308

Bonobo monkey and friend

Bonobo monkey. Apparently we’re related. The Bonobo is the hairy one.

I’d like to mention that in New Zealand we have pretty good welfare for single parents which has led to big social changes, and I would argue, good changes.

Sex At Dawn‘s approach also seems fairly propagandist to me, but the book finishes abruptly and the authors acknowledge they don’t offer many solutions. They do have a far-too-brief look at open marriages, swinging and similar. In my admittedly tiny sample size of people I know who’ve tried “polyamory” as it’s now called, all three couples found it too hard, and even damaging to the primary relationship. Ryan and Jetha suggest that the positive evidence of successful polyamorous couples is hidden, as we like to be private about that sort of thing.

Some of the book’s use of the evidence has been criticised too:

As a primatology/anthropology graduate student, I’m SO glad to see this review! Just reading through this book annoys me because of the vast amount of inaccuracies and flaws. The positive reviews genuinely confuse me so it’s good to see a more critical reader. ” (Sarah Soffer)

and

I’ve studied primatology, evolution, and especially evolution of sex, so this book infuriates me too.

I nearly did not buy it as it is so ‘wrong’ but seeing how so many people have been uncritically accepting all these weak arguments I felt I had to read as much as I could stomach and try to at least make people think more critically and hopefully look to the literature themselves.” (L. Saxon)

Even if they’ve over-interpreted the research, it’s still possible some of their conclusions may be true, they aren’t the first to suggest we should just loosen up and relax our ideas around sexual fidelity. But as for how to include that in my own life? That’s a hard one, and I’m not sure I want to include them. Regardless, it’s a well-written, entertaining and interesting read. What are your thoughts?

Thanks to HappyGirl for lending me great books relevant to my research, or just plain interesting. Hey! What about the science and music? Check out Part Two.

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How Can We Stop The Killing?

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 3, 2010

Yesterday I couldn’t write. The violence of the world sickened me, and I was in shock.

In the news is the story of 58 people killed in a Baghdad church by attackers who systematically shot them, and detonated explosives when the security forces tried to free them. If that wasn’t enough, today scores more are killed in markets and workplaces by ten car bombs.

I’m so sick of the violence and evil of fanatics. They kill Muslims, Jews, Christians, Atheists, and even themselves.

The thing is, this is not new. Violence, death and hate have been going on for decades centuries, in many places around the world. I don’t know why the news yesterday affected me so much, but it did.

Muslims and Christians chant anti-terrorist slogans during a funeral of slain Christians in Baghdad, from here.

We can argue about whether religion ’causes’ this kind of violence, as some do. I think it’s a little more nuanced than that. “It’s all being blamed on the failure of Iraqi politicians to agree on the formation of a government”, according to Rawya Rageh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Baghdad. Politics, not (just) religion. (For those interested, there’s evidence Al-Quaeda only grew in Iraq AFTER the invasion by Western forces)

But that’s not what concerns me here. Mostly, I just need time to grieve.

I could write a long piece analysing this and that, trying to create the definitive statement for peace. But in the end, others have done it far better than I and there’s really not much more to say. All of us hate the killing of innocents.

For me, the bigger question is: What can I do? How can I stop it? Can anyone tell me?

Here’s a few ideas:
* Join an organisation which works to bring peace. (Which one? Do they do any good?)
* Nuke Iraq out of existence (Military “solutions”.)
* Use my skills as a writer to change the world. (*cough*)

To repeat something I said on Crystal’s blog: I know that love is more important than belief. Sadly, I don’t know how that will ever get through to fanatics.

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Will You Take The Pain I Give To You?

Posted by spritzophrenia on October 4, 2010

Yesterday we looked at pain in Genesis, and discussed the Christian idea of the distortion of the world, the breaking-down which theologians call “the Fall”. Remember, I’m agnostic, but I’m wearing my Christian hat today.

Matthew Fox is one modern heretic who focuses on Original Blessing rather than original sin, as do Jewish theologies, but I see this as the other side of the paradox. Humanity, and all of nature are full of good, as well as broken-ness. We can hold this alongside the belief that pain came into the world very early on.

“Fall” has a nice Autumnal feel about it don’t you think? The leaves are no longer green, they retain their structure but are beginning to die.

Literalists claim there was no death before the fall. Conceptually, it’s rather hard to see how Eden could have been anything like the forests of today without leaves dying and rotting to provide mulch and minerals, to give one small example.

leaves

Can theistic evolution cope with the pain inherent in an evolutionary view?

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

~ Richard Dawkins, “God’s Utility Function,” published in Scientific American (November, 1995) p. 85, via Iain at Phrenic Philosophy)

Does Dawkins paint his story rather too thickly? My suggestion at this point is to hope that perhaps less “conscious” beings than humans don’t truly “suffer”, in the way that we do? A purely materialist universe, as Dawkins says, is pitiless, indifferent and cruel.

The problem of pain and evil is not an easy one for theists either. It’s something I’ve pondered for many years, even as an agnostic. Philosophy is not a static field and I understand, contrary to popular belief, that the weight of argument is in theists’ favour at present. Check out contributions by Swinburne, Plantinga, contributors to God and the Philosophers and others. Ergo the problem of evil is not a proof against God, it’s at best a probability. More on this another time.

However, when considering the horrors of suffering, the recent floods in Pakistan for example, I always keep in mind two approaches: One can cope with suffering via the intellectual path or the emotional path. (Most likely a mixture of the two.) Even if I present a watertight case defeating the argument from evil, this won’t satisfy someone whose friends have recently died of disease, or remain permanently disabled. Knowing the arguments didn’t satisfy me, after all, when I merely experienced betrayal and a broken heart some years ago. It was this which caused me to walk away from God.

If we know the intellectual reasons I believe this may help, in the big picture. However, when in pain, we don’t want sophistry, we want comfort and strength. On that note I recommend Philip Yancey’s modern classic Where Is God When It Hurts?. It’s a profound book and I rate it highly.

Buddhism takes the reality of suffering as one of its foundational starting points. Alternately, I believe if there is some kind of pure Being there, who knows us intimately, then this g0d somehow shares in our suffering, and the suffering in nature.

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What Do You Think?

How do you think about suffering and spirituality? Does a higher power disgust you, or help you when you think about these things? This is part three of a series, starting with part one.

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Pleasure constricts us
That is the way
Empty perversion
Crippled by fate
(I believe in pain! In disease, cruelty and infidelity.)
Front Line Assembly | Final Impact, Bio-Mechanic

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