Sunday, February 6, 2011

What Gives "You" the Right? Let the Children Decide

This is my reply to a Facebook thread about public education. For the most part the thread was written by males with one lone female trying to get her point across, i.e., that there are communal issues to be taken into consideration, that public education and private education have the same issues, (there are good ones and there a bad ones), that illiteracy is a bad thing, that there are people who could never send their children to school if everything was private, etc.

Tim: "Not to mention that I might have the option to choose the type of education I wanted my child to have. Perhaps I want him to have a "classical" education, or perhaps I want him to learn a trade, a career path, or develop some particular skill that he discovers along the way. Who knows? Why should we trust the state to decide what our children learn?"

And why should we trust you to know what is right for your child? Why do you think that you have the right to decide what type of education your child should have? Simply because you and your partner (assuming female for the purposes of the argument) donated genetic material to make this human being. That's all it takes???

This really is a question of does a child have rights? Is a child an equal human being with inalienable rights? If yes, then just what are those rights?

Everyone on this thread needs to go and read Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society and then A.S. Neill, Summerhill and then come back to the thread.

Libertarians should believe that children have inalienable rights (or are potential self-owners) - read the blog on "The Ethics of Adoption in Haiti: A Libertarian Approach" or read the master, himself, Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty (you can buy a copy on

In The Ethics of Liberty, Rothbard argues that children are potential self-owners, and that "The child has his full rights of self-ownership when he demonstrates that he has them in nature — in short, when he leaves or "runs away" from home."[p. 102]

Remember, children are the one group in many western societies whom one can assault - people can hit their children with impunity. Hit a stranger in a bar, you will be charged with assault and you could go to jail.
Needless to say, nothing is simple. Raising children is difficult at times. It is even more difficult when your belief systems differ from the societal norm. But children have the right to be exposed to all ideas. All socialization is "brainwashing". In our society, most people use the term brainwashing for child-rearing methods that differ from their own. (See my earlier blog for a sort of rant on this, It's the Socialization, Stupid). If you are a libertarian, then your child's desire to become anything s/he wants to be must be respected - that is the true nature of freedom.
I find that that is seldom the case - even in supposed die-hard "my freedomers" - it seems that often "my freedom" doesn't extend to someone else's freedom to choose to live as if other people have something to say that matters.
I did a Libertarian quiz a little while ago - 100% libertarian on social/intellectual rights issues, only 40% libertarian on economic issues. I believe in funding the public school system. It isn't perfect. It wasn't for me; it wasn't for my children. However, the idea of all these ideological private schools running around and splitting one community from another is a horror that I don't like to think about.
The public school system tries to give a broad non-ideological education. It is where all sorts of different groups of people with different beliefs, cultures, priorities meet and have to try to get along. It doesn't always succeed and when I teach sociology, I am as hard on the public system for its "hidden curriculum" as anybody - teaching everyone to work for "the man". However, the public system is still better than the alternative whose goal is to divide rather than unify the society in which it exists.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Crossposting from So They Think We're Crazy.

There was this wonderful joke that went around religious scholar types in the mid to late 1980s. First, the info so that those who don't belong to this esoteric field can get the joke. This is my version of the story.

The Players:

Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI as head of the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith was always considered to be entrenched in the (radically) conservative theological position of the Roman Catholic Church.

Hans Kung was a Swiss Roman Catholic theologian who was considered to have deviated somewhat from the "party line". For example, he wrote a book on the Priesthood that suggested that since a celibate priesthood was historical in development, it could be changed and priest should be allowed to marry. The hyperlink is the Google hyperlist of his books. He wanted change, but did not think that it needed to be as radical a other theologians. Mind you, I saw him Carleton University years ago (c. 1983), and then met him at the after-reception. I couldn't understand why he just didn't convert to Lutheranism. His talk was sooooo Martin Luther. I'll bet he never studied Luther, except from the POV of Roman Catholic "history".

Edward Schillebeeckx was a Dutch/Belgium Roman Catholic theologian. He was considered a radical liberation theologian (this link may have problems, but in general will give an overview of the issues & the issues between Ratzinger & Liberation Theology).

Saint Peter and Jesus: Do I have to explain?

The Story:

Ratzinger, Kung and Schillebeeckx all died on the same day. No surprise, they all ended up in the waiting room at the Pearly Gates of Heaven and were met there by Saint Peter. Saint Peter told all of them that they would have to have a discussion with Jesus to decide whether or not they had been good enough Christians to go straight into heaven, or whether they needed to spend a little time in Purgatory to ponder on their errors.

The first one to sit down with Jesus was Hans Kung. They had an amiable discussion that lasted about 2 hours. Then Kung walked back to the waiting room. Ratzinger and Schillebeeckx wanted to know how it went. Hans answered that he guessed that he hadn't been a good enough Christian because he was going to spend the next 6 months in Purgatory.

Schillebeeckx said that he would go next, and Kung said that he would hang around just to see what happened to him. After all, Schillebeeckx was the really radical one. Well, the three of them sat around for what seemed like forever waiting for Edward to come out. After about ten hours, he came out shaking his head saying "I guess I really wasn't a good enough Christian. I'm going to Purgatory for three years."

Now it was Ratzinger's turn. He went in to see Jesus while the others waited to see what would happen. They all thought that it would probably be a shoo-in. The first day passed; then a second. The three in the waiting room sat around discussing this in amazement. St. Peter said that this had never happened before. None of them could imagine what was going on.

About noon on the third day, a stunned Jesus walks out. They all look at him with various expressions on their faces. "What happened? What happened?" they clamoured. "Why are you here?"

"Well," said Jesus. "I guess I wasn't a good enough Christian. I have to spend the next five years in Purgatory contemplating my sins!"

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Girl 27: Watch It

It is free on the Internet at SnagFilms. It is called Girl 27. It tells the story of one rape case from 1937 in Hollywood. It is a such a compelling story. You watch all of the people's lives that were destroyed because of the rape. First Patricia Douglas, but also her daughter, her mother, the parking attendant who perjured himself at the trial. The betrayal by her mother and lawyer.

This is not just a story about about corruption in Hollywood; it is a story about the long term and devastating impact of rape.

This is the blurb for the film from SnagFilms website.

Girl 27: (2007) 86 min

The reclusive Patricia Douglas comes out of hiding to discuss the 1937 MGM scandal

Hollywood 1937—Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the world’s most prestigious and powerful movie studio, tricks 120 underage chorus girls into attending a stag party for its visiting salesmen. When dancer Patricia Douglas tries to flee, she is brutally raped; defying the studio’s order for silence, Douglas files a landmark lawsuit while MGM launches the biggest cover-up in Hollywood history-until six decades later, when author-screenwriter David Stenn stumbles upon the story. Stenn’s decade-long search for the truth leads to Patricia Douglas herself, nearly ninety and still in hiding. Will she go public once again, or will Hollywood’s best-suppressed scandal die with her?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

There's always a dark side - even to progress

Someone asked me if I knew that Margaret Sanger had been a "crazy eugenicist". This led me to a discuss of abortion and the Human Genome Project. Another of those cautionary tales? The following post is expanded from my reply and is a bit rambling.

Yes I knew that Margaret Sanger was a crazy eugenicist. It is amazing how many people were in the 20s and 30s. It was all the rage. You can find it in the writings of some of the most esteemed people in Canada. It was a theoretical position that came out of Darwin's evolutionary theory - survival of the fittest as social Darwinism. Humans just decided to help nature along. Tommy Douglas, for example, wrote his Master's of Divinity thesis on the religious justification for sterilization of "defective persons". Nellie McClung, she of the "women are persons" case, supported some forms of eugenics. Alberta was the last province to strike its eugenics laws from the books in 1972. In 1995, Leilani Muir successfully sued the Alberta government for wrongful sterilization when she was 10 years old. Anyone who had Down's Syndrome, was mentally ill, or cosnidered socially disruptive (read prostitutes, criminals), etc. could be sterilized. There is a play by Betty Lambert called Jennie's Story that deals with this issue. It is so sad and angry. There are a couple of books that give us some idea of just how prevalent the eugenics movement was: Our own master race : eugenics in Canada, 1885-1945 by Angus McLaren (1990), and War against the weak : eugenics and America's campaign to create a master race by Edwin Black (2003). Just a place to start, if anyone is interested.

I see the Holocaust as a logical outcome of eugenics thinking. In fact, it was the Holocaust that sent eugenics theory underground. It horrified too many people who then had to rethink their attitudes. However, it is still around in other forms. All you have to do is look at sociologists who differentiate between the "races" based on IQ levels to see a masked eugenics agenda.

One of the real dangers of our scientific revolutions, despite the good that it does for humans, is that there is always the flip side. For example, amniocentesis was a leap ahead from one perspective. It allows us to make personal decisions about whether we want to bring a child with severe birth abnormalities into the world. On the other hand, it allows people to abort a child just because it is the "wrong" sex. If these choices are coerced, as in China's one child policy, it becomes a real problem. The right to abortion should be a personal decision, not coerced by anyone, just as noone should be coerced into having a child that they don't want.

The Human Genome project is an amazing feat of scientific engineering/progress. People love it because we will eventually be able to figure out - and possibly fix - genetic diseases like Huntington's Chorea, MS, Alzheimer's, in the womb. Sounds like a good thing. But, of course, this means that we can also start messing around with the genes and change the brain functioning, change hair colour, eye colour, - all the things that are embedded into our genetic code. It is the new eugenics theory, writ large.

The amazing thing is that we don't let nature takes it course. We keep babies alive today who would have been miscarried years ago, and call it a "miracle" of modern science. Miscarriage, I still believe, is nature's way of telling us that there is something wrong. My fahter-in-law had heart problems that would have killed him in his early 60s years ago. Instead, they were fixed. Then he developed Alzheimer's and descended into that hell until he died. As his primary caregiver in the last 5 months of his life, I could only say, his heart problems should have taken him. On the other hand, I have a son and two nieces who wouldn't have survived the first year of their lives if it hadn't been for medical breakthroughs. Damned if we do, damned if we don't. It is why there must always be a caveat on our scientific breakthroughs/progress.There is always a dark side. And the eugenics movement, social engineering, whatever you want to call it, is definitely the dark side and should be guarded against at all costs.

Science fiction is one form of writing that deals with the dangers of all of our scientific breakthroughs. For example, Star Trek has done more than one episode on this subject. The original series had an episode called Khan that was about genetic engineering that created a race of superhumans who then tried to take over the enitre planet. Then Deep Space Nine did an episode about how its doctor, Bashir, had been illegally genetically engineered to be brilliant at the request of his parents, two brilliant people who couldn't stand the idea of having a less than brilliant child. Both these episodes are worth looking at.

Human beings have an amazing capacity for technological breakthroughs and innovation. We always need to know why and how. We can envision a future different from the one that we live in. We want to survive at all costs. We have to make decisions about how we use these scientific breakthroughs. Probably the greatest strength of the theologian and the moral philosopher is that they bring the issues of values about human life to the forefront. However, they don't always agree and they are not always right. They are as bound by the social constructs of the eras in which they live as we are by ours. Just remember the story of Tommy Douglas, the beloved father of Canada's health care system.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

They came for everyone else; now they're coming for you

A friend sent me the following link: Man Branded a Pedophile. I posted the following to Sky News under Bedazzled Crone.

"And if it had been Mr Geraghty-Shewan's son who had disappeared in that shopping centre, what would he have been saying then. The situation could have been handled better, but that security guard was doing his job, what the society now expects him to do. The headline is as much of a problem. The man was not "branded a pedophile". He was questioned; who called "Sky News" - I'll bet it wasn't the security guard or the police! People want all this added security, they shouldn't be surprised when the system sometimes overreacts."

People should watch Snoops (on the BBC - I think it's called MI5 in the U.S.) if you want to see just how CCTV cameras invade every aspect of British life. If we want to stop this kind of Orwellian world, people have to step up and educate themselves on reality. One of the realities of child abuse and abduction is that it is usually someone the child knows who is the abuser. The media, academia, the governments and society at large create these "moral panics". People buy into the scare tactics  and demand something be done. Then they accept the curtailment of their freedoms "for the greater good". Then, somebody comes for them. Do people not understand that you can't have it both ways?  
Even though there has been a decrease in crime in Canada, there is this constant screaming for harsher crime legislation, for more prisons, for American-style justice. This is just the slippery slope down the road to giving up more and more of our freedoms. The thought police, the smoke police, the fat police, the drug police, the terrorist police. Create enough fear in the general population and people seem to willingly give up their freedoms. There is that old adage, "give an inch and they'll take a mile". In places, they have taken hundreds of miles.
What is rather ironic, I think, is that the Rights Revolution has turned into increased monitoring of the population as a whole, leading us, willynilly, into a potential police state. I doubt that that was the original intention!
The following is a quote from the conclusion of a wonderful little book about multiculturalism and the Canadian experiment called The Rights Revolution:
     "We have reason to be hopeful, and not just because places like Canada are rich and have capacities to conciliate conflict that are denied poorer societies. We are lucky too because, as colonial peoples, we were schooled in the life of liberty. Today, in our multi-ethnic, multicultural cities, we are trying to vindicate a new experiment in ethnic peace, and we have learned that the preconditions of order are simple: equal protection under the law, coupled with the capacity for different peoples to behave towards each other not as members of tribes or clans, but as citizens. We do not require very much in the way of shared values, or even shared lives. People should live where they want, and with whom they want. The key precondition is equality of rights; it all depends whether our differences can shelter under the protecting arch of legitimate legal order.
   So the unity and coherence of a liberal society are not threatened because we come from a thousand different traditions, worship different gods, eat different foods, live in different sections of town, and speak different languages. What is required of us is recognition, empathy, and if possible, reconciliation. .... "Let's face it, we're all here to stay."" (M. Ignatieff, 2002, pp. 140-141)
This is what we should be aiming for. It many ways it harkens back to the origins of liberalism (& dare I say libertarianism). The idea of equality of persons and rights has been turned into "my rights" and people don't seem to give a damn if somebody else's rights are trampled on.
However, if you let them come for everyone else, they will, one day, come for you.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

DWMs (Dead White Males)

The original post
She said:
and Aristotle and Tommy were misogynist fools, which means that you really have to take what they say with a mountain of salt
He said:
Thomas Aquinas also supported the Inquisition. Nietzsche was a misogynist too. Aristotle did not oppose slavery. All horribly deplorable characteristics, of course. Of course. But it does not negate the overwhelming body of philosophic truth that these people discovered.
She said:
and it is not because they are DWMs that I disparage Ari & Tommy – their systems are useful to figure out how not to do things

So the DWM:
The players: Aristotle and Aquinas; St. Augustine makes the Trifecta and Plato makes the Superfecta (in proper order, Plato, Aristotle, St Augustine and Aquinas bringing up the rear)

The problem, as I see it, is that there is a major problem when you pick and choose. This I can accept, but that isn't so good. Then I can just disregard the stuff that I don't like. And misogyny isn't some little tweek to the system. Misogyny is about the hatred of half (actually, usually a little more than half) of the human race by those in power. The minute that you have a system that dismisses half of the human race as not really human, you set up a massive system of inequality that is rife with abuse. Therefore you must call into question every aspect of the system that these men have set up, because in the end, their systems are dependant on the subjugation of half of humanity - and the half of humanity that gives birth to those in power.

Now we don't really understand how this happened. Greek philosophy and Greek life was one of the most misogynist in the ancient world. One argument for why this was so might be that it was extrememly difficult in Greek society to dethrone the worship of the goddesses as critical to human existence. Gerda Lerner's book, The Creation of Patriarchy does not focus on the Greeks, but focusses on the process of the dethroning of the goddesses in Mesopotamian and Hebrew cultures. We do not have the same written information on early Greek society that we do for the early semitic cultures.

What we have of Greek philosophy is predominantly Socratic, Platonic and Aristotelean. There are a few interesting pre-Socratics, but we have very little of what they wrote and they weren't the "winners" in the hearts and minds of Greek men. These philosophies are dualistic, particularly Plato's philosophy. There is a focus on reason over emotion, which has haunted western civilization in all of its structures. It is argued that Plato has a place for women in his ideal state, The Republic. That is true, but only if they behave like men. His society is also oligarchic and communal (for example, with respect to child-rearing, which I suppose allowed women to then act like men). Aristotle, while disagreeing with Plato in a number of areas, made women even more subhuman by insisting that they were deformed males - conceived when the north wind blew. (I wonder what Aristotle would make of the x and y chromosones - in the fun heydey of the 70s & early 80s in the feminist resurgence, women were want to talk about how the "y chromosone" was actually the deformed one, with only a touch of irony). All of this means that when they set up their ideals, be it the family, the state or their class systems, they did not take into consideration the insights of half of their populations. The women were only really good for breeding and keeping the "home fires burning". Since few women were educated in the literate arts, they didn't actually leave their feelings about the subject to posterity. One of the few plays to show how women might have felt is Euripides' Medea, a heartwrenching portrayal of a woman betrayed by her husband, the father of her children and the norms of the society in which they lived.

Platonic dualism (and more clearly, its child, neo-platonism) is characterized primarily by the split between the mind and the body. The mind/soul is good but it is trapped in the body, and thus, the body is something that one must escape from at all costs. Platonic dualism had a major impact on the development of Christianity. It is already evident in the Gospel of John, some of the NT letters and extra-canonical New Testament writings. However, it reaches its zenith in the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo, the man who had so many problems with sex, that he embedded Christianity with the theological justification for its hatred of sexuality, and he did this by blaming Eve for the introduction of original sin into humanity. Everything would have just been perfect if only Eve had behaved herself and obeyed Yahweh. The focus on celibacy and the cult of the Virgin Mary are logical outcomes of this distaste of sex. The one thing to be said for the Augustinian position was that, since he based, as much as possible, his theology on the biblical books, he believed that women were equally capable of salvation as men - after all, Paul said so in Galatian 3:28.

That was the state of affairs until Thomas Aquinas decided to embed Aristotle into Christian theology. Where women were concerned, there was absolutely no redeeming value in this shift. Women were now deformed males, and they were less capable of salvation. Read Question 92: The Production of the Woman in his Summa Theologica. Enough said!

For the record:
Women sometimes look at Spartan society as really good for women (I have a hard time believing that women in my history classes can actually believe that this is a place where women have "made it"). Plutarch gives us some idea of the dimensions of Spartan women's lives in his Sayings of Spartan Women. The problem is that Spartan warrior society was based on institutionalized sexual abuse of its male children, and was one of the few societies that we know of that murdered male infants in a greater proportion than female children. Not a society that I would want emulated.

It is my contention that you have to look at the whole, you cannot look at little parts of things. It is imperative that we look at the presuppositions of any writer. In the case of these DWM, one has to ask one's self, how could they structure up a system that treats females this way? What is it about their belief systems about how the world works that would allow this misogyny to go unquestioned? All these writers created philosophical systems that justified sexism, racism, classism. They had an anthropology that believed that half the human race was less than human (read male). In my book, this makes their entire systems suspect.

Life should be joyful. Men and women should be able to have happy and fruitful relationships. They should be able to treat one another with care, emotion, and equality. They should have respect for one another. I see little of this in the DVMs and their philosophical, religious, or social systems; the ones that have dominated the world's thought since recorded western history began. I do not believe that they left us with an "overwhelming body of philosophic truth." We are socialized into these women-hating systems, both men and women. Why are we so surprised that the world is full of hatred; hatred of the self, and hatred of others. Misanthropy begins with the hatred and the disparaging of women that is built into the systems that we so revere.

I am not saying that it is easy to change, to find a different way to look at the world and at ourselves. The thorns of our socialization dig deep into our souls. We can only try to remove the thorns one by one. It is a struggle; a struggle that won't be completed in my lifetime. I have faith that the world will get better as we question every presupposition that we grew up with. The world is better for women today than it ever was. I would never want to go back into the past. The world that we live in is the sum total of the past. Much of it is a mess - the old philosophies, social systems, religious sytems and other "isms" haven't worked - and please don't tell me that this is because we haven't followed those prescriptions perfectly - they weren't and aren't perfect. In fact, perfection is a red herring that keeps people from changing what they can. People keep trying to find that platonic ideal. Why do we keep thinking that we fail to live up to some ideal? Give it up, it doesn't exist. Human beings are what we are - we live, we make mistakes, we move forward, we have children, we work, we play. Some of us fight for change, when we think there is injustice. Being separate, as well as collective persons means that we won't ever build a consensus, however much we would want to. There is no perfection, but lord knows, we have to stop leaning on the failed solutions of the past if we ever hope to find a better way.

Some days, life sucks; other days, it is glorious. Some days, you get up at 3 am and write for almost 3 hours. That's just the way it is.

Use stuff from the DVMs, if you must, but to reiterate, always take what they say with a mountain of salt.

As always, if you want change, prepare for the backlash!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Reason to Believe

One of my favourites. I picked this version to embed because of Springsteen's opening words. This is the problem that all of us face day to day. What to we believe? What are our reasons for getting up in the morning? Often we don't actually think about it. We are still humans and we still need to live within relationships. How we do that is a measure of who we are. Our world is changing. Religious systems still give many people the answers to these questions. Too often, people leave one religious sytem to go to another - and sometimes those are secular belief systems. They function in the same manner as the "old time religions"; however, they can be just as damaging to the world, as the belief systems left behind.

True believers are the bane of the world - and there are all sorts of ways to be a true believer. It is not easy to keep one's self open to new ideas, particularly when they can be disconcerting. Years ago, someone told me that I shouldn't be asking so many questions and reading so much stuff - it would destroy my faith. My response was, "If it destroys my faith, it wasn't much of a faith to begin with." Thus, begins the life long journey that all us travel, whether we want to or not - unless, of course, we opt out.

For the rest of us, the answers are not simple. The world is one of chance - we do not choose where and to whom we are born.  Sometimes we are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. We are socialized into different views of the world - and it is hard to break the stranglehold that early socialization has over us. There is a great tendancy to "go with the flow". Hats off to those who don't want to accept the status quo - it too often sucks. My final tagline for anyone trying to hold those in power to account:

If you want change, prepare for the backlash.

and, as always Power to the People