Nothing You Can Know That Isn’t Known

[1] If you don’t know me very well, you’d think I’m exactly the type of person who would hate Valentine’s Day.

But I don’t.

Actually, I kind of like it.

I like seeing the explosion of red and pink hearts in store displays. I like the chocolate-heavy array of confections for sale. I like the idea of celebrating love for love’s sake.

Of course, I don’t think anyone should feel obligated to recognize it or acknowledge it, and I feel bad that it makes my fellow single people feel lonely.

I do take issue with the idea from popular media and advertisers and basically every movie I’ve ever seen that we aren’t fully validated as human beings unless we’re in a romantic relationship. Of course, that’s just wrong. And the fact that people don’t realize that it’s wrong is way more troubling to me than watching Savannah Guthrie interview someone on The Today Show about last minute gift ideas. (Really, I don’t have 95% of the problems that most people do because I’m happily and much better off alone.)

But I also take issue with the people who use Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to rail against capitalism and commercialism. Because there are threads of capitalism in everything, and I think I mean that literally. And, yes, the economy is fake, and, yes, globalization is kind of alarming when you think about it too hard. But I like being able to eat avocados all year round and talk to people on the other side of the world through the internet, so I deal with it. And, frankly, I sleep pretty easy at night.

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Just Don’t Look

[1] I understand the fear about invasion of privacy.

Privacy just one more of those case where we think it means one thing and the government thinks it means another. I do think there are a lot of sinister things the government could do with certain information they collect from us. I also think that we hypocritically support some of these measures when they are done to other people, like airport security measures, GPS to track criminals, etc.

On the surface, it’s creepy to think about ads being tailored to you based on your internet activity, and it doesn’t seem right that your personal information can be shared to third parties via a social networking site or your internet search history.

But people are making Google and Facebook seem like purveyors of identity theft.

Yes, advertisers are trying to target ads to you based on your personal interests. They aren’t collecting your social security number, and they aren’t going to tell your employer that you are a closet Buffy fan. Frankly, if this means I never have to see commercials for Luvs diapers or ambulance-chasing lawyers or Kay Jewelers again, then I would be all too happy.

Advertising is a form of mind control and manipulation, but it’s not so pervasive that it takes away your ability to resist.

You still have a choice NOT to buy the products being advertised.

You don’t HAVE to spend money on things you don’t really need.[2]

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Just Another Trick

The state should abolish marriage.

Let me clarify. I think states should issue licenses for civil unions for all couples of legal age wishing to be legally bonded. Churches could still perform marriage rites for those who wanted it, of course, but the “marriage license” should be a thing of the past. Why? Because marriage is recognized both by the state and/or by a religious authority and there is a clear conflict of interest there as well as a conflation of the civil with the religious.

The history of marriage varies depending on culture. Generally speaking, though, marriage was often seen as a transfer of property (the wife), but it should be noted that marriages did not always have to be registered with the state. It was John Calvin who changed things with the Marriage Ordinance of Geneva which claimed that marriage should be constituted by “the dual requirements of state registration and church consecration.”

Marriage in the U.S. today is formalized in a ceremony by a government official or a religious official. It’s a dual act in the latter of these cases, a civil act and a religious act. The majority of arguments I’ve heard against same-sex marriage have been religious arguments (predominantly Christian and Islamic).[1] The flaw with this reasoning is that religious marriage is incorrectly seen as the same thing as a civil marriage. That said, I’ve also heard people argue that when put to popular vote, no state has voted to expand marriage beyond a heterosexual couple.[2]

Neither of these arguments work, because they both point to flaws in our particular brand of democracy for which the Bill of Rights was attempting to reconcile.

Civil rights laws exist in order to protect the minority. Thomas Jefferson, a “founding father,” put it best when he said that: “the rights of the minority should never be voted on by the majority.”

Furthermore, there is supposed to be a separation of church and state in this country, because the Bill of Rights affords all citizens freedom of religion. If church officials do not want to perform marriages for same-sex couples, that is perfectly within their rights. But a Christian (or any other religious) marriage shouldn’t be conflated with a state recognized union for any couple, because it’s not the same thing. The legal benefits of being married should apply instead to all civil unions. The spiritual benefits of a religious marriage shouldn’t have anything to do with insurance benefits or taxes or next-of-kin rights. This is the domain of the secular state.

Arguments to the contrary don’t work, because same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue. It doesn’t matter what the majority says about an issue of civil rights.

“The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” -Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, in W. Va. State Bd. of Education v. Barnette (1943)

A person who opposes same-sex marriage on religious grounds can refuse to recognize the marriage if they choose, but the State cannot refuse to grant civil unions to any citizen without violating the supposed rights of that citizen.

To me, the only solution is a clean break between marriage and civil union. Leave marriage (and its disturbing paternalistic heritage) in the domain of the religious, and give all the legal benefits and responsibilities to civil unions.

Is it just convention that keeps us from this? Or am I missing something?


[1]Of course, some churches do recognize same-sex marriage. The people who argue against same-sex marriage just tend to be religious.

[2]I’m lazy and haven’t double-checked this.

People Kill People

Names have been cropped.

Much as it pains me to admit because I think the woman is the exact opposite of what is truly needed in a government official, I don’t think Sarah Palin really had much to do with the shooting in Tuscon this weekend. Even with the awful map that she promptly took down from her website.

There’s nothing the news media loves more than a tragedy. It’s a time when anchorpeople can try out their “solemn voices” and they can interview people who went to elementary school with the cousin of a victim and pretend that they have anything to say other than what is obvious: when people die from the gunfire of a mentally unstable person, it’s awful.

And it shouldn’t happen.

The worst part of the media coverage is all the speculation about “why?” and “how?”.

It’s times like these that I want to start passing out Hume tracts. Let me sum up: According to Scottish philosopher and empiricist David Hume, there is no such thing as causation. It’s not real. We don’t experience it. There is only constant conjunction, and we human beings try to explain things by causation because it’s easier for us than to admit that there’s really no infallible way of understanding or predicting any of this.

The alleged gunman (Jared Loughner, 22) in this weekend’s attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was known for having bizarre, nonsensical outbursts in classes at his community college. He smoked marijuana and salvia. He was a stickler for grammar. He found skulls aesthetically pleasing. He liked conspiracy theories. He was known to be mentally unstable and possibly an undiagnosed schizophrenic.[1] He had access to guns.

The media likes to lump all of these things together as causes, playing into the stereotype that being a little morbid or skeptical of reality makes you a violent lunatic capable of murder. That he had access to guns I would say we can reasonably call a cause, even with the Humean stipulation, because any idiot will tell you that getting shot can kill you. That he was prone to crazy outbursts and threatened to kill people I think we can reasonably consider a warning sign, though having schizophrenia (or whatever label you want to stamp on him) does not necessarily entail violence. That he smoked marijuana has a lot less bearing on the matter, unless a) he was smoking something that was a bit more potent than marijuana, or b) that he had smoked enough marijuana in his short lifespan that he suffered severe brain damage.

But the media doesn’t distinguish and stamps a big “cause” sign on all of these things.

It doesn’t work that way.

We’ll never know all the contributing factors. We can never really identify a true series of causes because we aren’t omniscient, but it worries me that we don’t even separate between reasonable conjunctions and completely contingent correlations. The fact that the obvious contributing factor – access to a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and extended clips[2] – is being lumped with a fondness for conspiracy theories really troubles me.

If we were truly interested in preventing things like this from happening, we’d at least be logical about this. Nearly 12 years ago Marilyn Manson’s name got unfairly lumped in with the Columbine High School massacre, when the fact that the highly constant conjunction that gunfire kills people is never dealt with in legislation. I can only conclude that lawmakers don’t actually want to prevent people, including children, from being shot to death.

You tell me why.


[1]I don’t know how accurate that bit of speculation is, and I think perhaps the discourse of “mental illness” needs to be re-examined.

[2]I should probably note that I’m not opposed to gun ownership for hunting, but I live in a city where errant gunfire is a legitimate risk, and I don’t think civilians need to own handguns. I find it troubling that people who cling to the 2nd Amendment refuse to treat the Constitution as a living document, thus missing the original point of it entirely. (I’m looking at you Justice Scalia.)

A Word About Solitude

I have to say a word about solitude
For the soul it sometimes they say can be good
And I’m partial to it myself, well I must confess
Nobody knows the meaning of loneliness

~Van Morrison in “Meaning of Loneliness”

~*~*~

“It is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.”

~Rainer Maria Rilke

~*~*~

“Only in solitude do we find ourselves; and in finding ourselves we find in ourselves all our brothers in solitude.”

~Miguel de Unamuno

~*~*~

“Language… has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”

~Paul Tillich

~*~*~

“A truly happy being is a solitary being.”

~Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Emile

Maybe I'm Just Paranoid

I’m not sure what this says about my general psychological state, but whenever I hear about new technology, I immediately think of all the ways it could be used for untoward activity.

For instance, there is a feature on Google Maps that allows you to have a street view of the address you search.  Now, I can see why this might be helpful. Suppose I wanted to get to the U.S. Post Office in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  I can see why someone not great with directions might want the visual aid.

From that angle, it looks more like a prison.

But, what if this was your house? There is a feature on Google Maps that allows you to “walk” along the street. Any creep who knows the general area in which you live can easily find what your house looks like. If your car was in the driveway at the time the image was gathered, anyone can see what you drive, as well. While only street views are provided (and not your backyard), it still seems like a burglar could still reasonably case your house for possible points of entry.

Is this really a good idea?

It doesn’t end at Google Maps, either. Most communication-based technology frightens me. Look at cell phones, for instance, are they really anything more than devices with which the government can spy on you and track your location?

Seriously, though, there are a lot of really disturbing web applications and pages that blur the line between public information and the implied right to privacy the Supreme Court has ruled can be found in the U.S. Constitution. Having your phone number in the white pages of a phone book in 1985 wasn’t a big deal. The people in your home town could call you. If you didn’t want this, you could have your number unlisted.

Now, anyone in the world can find information on you by typing your name into a search engine. Threats of identity theft abound, but this information could be used for even more unsavory purposes.

There are many upsides to being able to connect to people all over the world through the World Wide Web, but at what cost?