Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D
www.igc.org/gadfly


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JOTTINGS

(Formerly "The Gadfly's Blog")

2006
 

2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010,
 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004

Before 2004

I offer below, random musings, reflections, correspondence, scraps of work-in-progress, and other such miscellany, perchance worth sharing but not ready for the prime time of formal publication.  

Much of this material  has been adapted from personal e-mail correspondence. While I am perfectly free to use, revise and expand on my side of these exchanges, use of the "incoming" correspondence is problematic. I have neither the right nor the inclination to include the words of my correspondents if they can be identified either by name or description.

If I am confident that the correspondents can not be identified and if their part of the exchange is essential to the exchange, then I might quote them directly. Otherwise, their ideas will be briefly paraphrased, only to supply context to my part of these conversations. In no case will I identify the correspondents by name.

On the other hand, signed letters to The Crisis Papers and The Online Gadfly are fair game as are other comments published in the internet. They were submitted with the clear understanding that they, and their signatories, might be made public.

Incoming correspondence will be identified by italics. My contributions will be in plain text.

 


 

January 26, 2006

On Proving a Negative.

A Crisis Paper reader writes:

[In] your essay, The Gulliberal Problem. [you ask]: "Can you prove that the elections of 2000, 2002 and 2004 were not stolen?"

I'm familiar with the arguments and evidence that it was. However, as an academician, you surely know within logic you cannot prove a negative. For example, you cannot prove the non-existence of, say, Santa Claus, or God, or alchemy.


My Reply:

I welcome the question, since it gives me the opportunity to deal with a persistent and mischievous popular myth; namely, that "you cannot prove a negative."  Of course you can prove negative assertions, as surely as you can prove positive assertions. Both deductively and inductively.

The rule "you cannot prove a negative" may have its origin in a quite distinct rule, fundamental to science and rational inquiry: "The burden of proof rests with the affirmative, not the negative." Put simply: "failure to prove the falsehood of an assertion does not constitute proof of the assertion." (It's called the "ad ignorantum" fallacy). In law, this rule is exemplified in the presumption of innocence of the accused. (I explain this rule in my Is Science Just Another Dogma?  Find: "burden"  near the end of the essay).

"The burden of proof" rule applies equivalently to affirmative and negative assertions.  First of all, note the simple grammatical fact that any positive assertion can be restated as a negative assertion. Thus if you can prove a positive assertion, you can equally prove it's equivalent negative formulation.

I could go on and on about the nature of scientific inquiry -- falsifiability, hypothetico-deductive confirmation, confirmation of universal v. particular propositions, and all that (see Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery). But this isn't the place for that. Suffice to say that for an assertion to be empirically meaningful, it must be falsifiable in principle, which means (as David Hume argued) that no empirical assertion can be 100% proven "in principle," though of course many are, for all practical purposes, certain. E.g., that Newton's laws of motion are true, that Abraham Lincoln is dead (neg: "is not alive"), that the earth is round (neg: "is not flat"), that Germany invaded Poland in 1939 (neg: not 1950), that George Bush is an incompetent idiot.

Santa Claus? Define Santa Claus, and the rest is easy. If you describe him as, among other things, a fat adult male who navigates up and down chimneys, who rides a sleigh driven by reindeer treading on thin air, and who simultaneously at midnight visits millions of homes, then I think we can say, with practical certainty, that there is no Santa Claus. If you define Santa Claus as "the sentiment of love and giving," then, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus."

Alchemy? Describe alchemy in such a way that it yields observable and falsifiable implications. Then I will be prepared to prove it true or false. Ditto astrology. As both are generally understood, both can be proven false, as they have been many times.

God?  Let's not get into that, I 'm trying to be brief.  (But if you are up to it, see David Hume's "Dialogue Concerning Natural Religion").

But putting all this scholarly Choctaw aside, here are three negative statements that I submit that I can prove:

(a) There is no 800 pound gorilla standing next to me in my study as I write this.

(b) A nuclear submarine is not, at this moment, parked in my driveway.

(c) Laura Bush was not devoured today by an escaped T-Rex.

If this isn't "proving a negative," then I don't know what is.

Getting back to your original point: proving that an election was not stolen.

1. I can prove that [Canadian elections are] not stolen, because they use paper ballots that are counted and validated by three individual election officers. (How I envy the Canadians!)

2. I can not prove directly that paperless touch-screen machines cheated in 2000 and 2004, simply because they were ingeniously designed to prevent verification (e.g., they use secret software). For precisely the same reasons, the "winners" cannot prove that the the elections were not stolen. However, the indirect evidence of fraud is overwhelming and, I submit, for all practical purposes conclusive. (But not absolutely proven since, qua empirical and scientifically meaningful, it is falsifiable -- ditto Newton's laws, historical events, the shape of the earth, etc.).

(February, 2006)


Finally, a worthy and troublesome excerpt from a Science Magazine Editorial:


"More than 50% of new faculty appointed in U.S research universities are foreign born.

In ignorance or defiance of the global reality of modern scientific research and the transient nature of its leading edge, the United States is embarked on a path to further its national security by enacting policies that will inevitably degrade its scientific strength.... New U.S. policies could restrict ... the base of scientists who fuel the technical engine here at home. Government-imposed limits on the publication of research results, in the name of homeland security, would inhibit the international collaboration hat in turn fertilizes the global community and advances our own programs. In short, the international character of the scientific enterprise is in danger, and, if lost, the U.S  technology edge will go with it.

David J. Galas and Henry Riggs.
Science, 20 June, 2003. p. 1847

 


On Conspiracy Theorists

A critic writes The Crisis Papers:

Conspiracy theorists always think they're being suppressed. True, people often tell them to shut up. But that isn't because everyone else is in on it or is trying to keep the sinister status quo. It's because the ideas of conspiracy theorists have no merit. The election was not stolen, and even if it were, which, again, it was not, it would not matter. Because it sounds ludicrous. And, as correct as you think you are, if you sound like a nut, you will get nowhere in politics. Better for liberalism that you forget about politics and move on to UFOs, Zionists, and the Illuminati.


Ernest Partridge Replies:

Just because many, and possibly most, conspiracy theorists are certifiably nuts, doesn't mean that there are no conspiracies. To believe otherwise is to commit that most prevalent of fallacies: hasty generalization.

If Julius Caesar. Nicholas Romanov and Abraham Lincoln had taken "conspiracy theories" more seriously, they might have lived to old age.

I don't believe in UFOs and the Illuminati for the same reason that I believe the 2000 and 2004 elections were stolen. In a word: evidence.

So put the question of "conspiracy" aside and examine the evidence: circumstantial, anecdotal, and statistical. This is exactly what I did in the essay. And evidence is what we have collected, in abundance, at this website. My evaluations of the evidence, not my fondness for conspiracies or my untreated paranoid dementia, led me to my conclusion.

You might try to stifle your insults, open your mind, and do the same.

By the way, it is simply not true that 97% of the population believes that the election was fair. During 2001 from 15 to 24 percent of the population believed that the 2000 election was stolen, and as many more had serious doubts. Exactly half believed that Bush won the election "fair and square." In December, 2004, 20% believed the 2004 election was stolen. My stats are from The Gallup organization. Your stats, apparently, are from your fertile imagination.

Finally, while, as you say, truth may be irrelevant to politics (and surely Bush/Cheney/Rove are providing abundant evidence of that), truth is not irrelevant in a court of law, which is where, I devoutly hope, these culprits will end up.

 


February 7, 2006
 

A Letter to my Russian Friends
 

At the beginning of each year, I send a holiday package of gifts to my friends in Russia -- each of whom is a professional scientist, an NGO activist, or a university professor.  That package included this message, which I now share with my readers.

Seasons Greetings from a very troubled United States of America.

It is customary for annual holiday messages to be optimistic. However, in these times it is difficult for me to write you a positive letter. Perhaps the best news that I can send you is that the American public may at last be waking up, however slowly, from its slumber of ignorance of and indifference to the political disaster that has befallen our country since the aborted election of November 2000. Perhaps we are beginning to see the vindication of Abraham Lincoln's observation: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time; but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." Those of us actively opposed to George Bush and his regime are sustained by the hope that Lincoln was right, and that truth and our American traditions of liberty and democracy will at last prevail.

As I continue my work of active opposition to the Bush regime, I am encouraged by the example of Russia, and of the people of the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe. The political subjugation of our once-free media rivals that of Soviet era: Pravda, Izvestiya, and Gostelradio. But the Soviet people withdrew their trust in these media, and the dissidents established, at their grave personal peril, Samizdat. I have repeatedly cited the Samizdat phenomenon in my political writing. Now our own Samizdat is emerging in the final free medium: the internet, as the public is becoming ever more skeptical of the so-called "mainstream media."

The Russian counter-revolution of August, 1991, demonstrated to the world that the flame of liberty can not be extinguished even by seventy years of despotism. (Had I remained in Russia for only one additional week, I would have been witness to that great event). We Americans knew freedom and prosperity a mere five years ago. One day of terror, September 11, 2001, and five years of relentless propaganda, can not erase our collective memory. We can overcome this nightmare, for you have shown us that a determined people can prevail over a more firmly entrenched dictatorship.

In the meantime, public opinion polls show that Bush's approval is now below 40% and continues to decline. Solid majorities of Americans disapprove of the Iraq War and of Bush's economic policies. What is truly astonishing is that as many a 40% continue to approve of Bush, but bear in mind that our public is immersed in a soup of propaganda. Investigation of the greatest political scandal of all, the almost-certain Republican theft of the 2004 election, is totally absent from the mainstream media, as the Republicans and their media allies strive desperately to keep this scandal hidden and under control. Meanwhile, the internet and a few remaining independent publishers are keeping the issue of election fraud alive.

My part in the resistance is my writing, which originates at my websites, The Crisis Papers and The Online Gadfly, and is re-published in numerous progressive websites. I am also at work on a book, "Conscience of a Progressive" which is about 80% completed. Now retired from teaching, I am devoting full-time effort to these projects, which I intend to sustain until either liberty and democracy are restored to the United States, or until I am silenced by the government.

I long to revisit Russia, as I did seven times from 1989 to 1999. I have come to greatly admire your land and your people, as I cherish our continuing friendship. But I fear that the deteriorating political and economic conditions may make another visit impossible. Sadly, my work has distracted me from a more active involvement with the Russian environmental movement, which is further complicated by President Putin's discouragement of NGO activity and foreign cooperation. Paradoxically, it seems to me that the most appropriate work that I might do in behalf of the international environmental movement is precisely the work that I am doing, for the government of the United States will be of little value to our common environmental concerns for as long as the Bush regime and his right-wing allies remain in power. Thus our first priority must be to remove this regime from power.

Twice in the past century, the United States -- "the New World" -- came to the rescue of "the Old World." We may soon see the time in this new century, when "the Old World" will return the favor, and come to our defense. Far better if we Americans can lead ourselves out of this crisis. For only the American people can restore the honor of their country.

Please remember this above all: George Bush and his regime are not America. He was not elected in 2000, and when the evidence finally comes forth, it may eventually be proven that he was not legally re-elected in 2004. Bush and all that he represents is a malignant aberration that has achieved and sustained political power on the strength of money, corruption, media control, election fraud, and public fear caused by the attacks of September 11, 2001. And now, seeking absolute power, he is beginning to turn on those of us who actively dissent. The outcome is uncertain, but ever more Americans are resisting. Those who despise the cruelty and arrogance of Bushite imperialism, must not forget that many, and probably a majority, of Americans agree. We struggle on with the hope and expectation that we will finally defeat this political atrocity in Washington. We must do so, not only for our own sake, but for the sake of our common planet which is facing unspeakable environmental emergencies.


For the past week, an avalanche of e-mails have fallen into our Crisis Papers mailbox from numerous activists in the election reform movement.  Selecting and editing these would be a worthy task, but it would consume far more time than I have at the moment.  Maybe later.

After I had read several dozen of these, through to the very last in the In-Box, I wrote the following general reply:

Hello All!

I've read this glut of messages with varying degrees of interest -- at worst, with much impatience, at best, acute interest and admiration. Now that I've come to the end of them, here's my take:

1. If Karl Rove or one of his coterie of scoundrels is reading this collection, all this side talk about female and minority "balance" must be giving him (or her!) chills of excitement. For a golden opportunity is staring them in the face: divide and conquer. Fer Gawd's sake, people, recruit all the citizens you can, and don't be distracted by the gender, racial and ethnic distribution of those who answer the call!

2. Election fraud is the "keystone" which, if taken out, will cause the collapse of Bushism, and the Busheviks well know it. We have the evidence, they have the media and the smoke machines. But there are intimations of defection by a few Republicans, libertarians, and authentic conservatives. More and more corporate and financial poobahs are beginning to awake to the notion that where Bush is leading, they don't want to go: economic collapse, and global retaliation is bad for business. So we must get the message out: This is not a GOP v. Dems issue; this is our Constitution and our liberty v. despotism. Given present conditions, the GOP is a lead-pipe cinch in 2006 and 2008. It is a near certainty that present conditions will not continue throughout this year. Which leads to:

3. Screw your predictions! They are based upon a constant assumption: "provided conditions remain as they are." Well, here's my prediction: things will not remain as they are. All revolutions begin as hopeless causes. All proceed on a course that encounters surprises and unanticipated opportunities, and the most successful revolutions create these opportunities and skillfully deal with surprises. "Impossible" winners: Washington, Gandhi, Mandella, King, Sakharov -- and you can extend the list as well as I can. Bush, with his voting fraud, is less secure today than were LBJ and Nixon on election day 1964 and 1972. Meanwhile the pressure of discontent mounts and the ratings fall. The mask is falling off the simpering idiot "Preznint," ever faster the more he tries to put it back. The time may arrive when a critical mass of the public will ask aloud, "why on earth did we elect these guys." They will then be receptive to the message, "we didn't! Those damned machines elected them." That will be the day that The Bastille falls.

4. Jonathan Simon may be right (brilliant post, by the way): 99.9% of the time, we're talking to each other, but I am more inclined to agree with Brad -- we've got a lot more support out there than we might think. 90+% of the population (including Bushophiles) prefer to live in a democracy where their votes are counted. And 100% of the population does not like being taken for suckers. I read somewhere that a year ago, 20% of the population believed that the 2004 election was stolen. The entire Bushevik empire depends upon keeping the curtain intact between the public and the Wizard. Where's Toto when we need him?

5. Make the next fraud exorbitantly risky. Support the polls. If Mitofsky sits out the next election, set up alternative exit polling. Raise the expectations of GOP defeat so high that when the next theft is attempted, all hell breaks loose. They fooled the public once, they fooled them twice (2002), and then again in 2004. It is not at all that certain that they can bring it off one more time.

6. I'm afraid that Lynn Landes (bless her!) will loose with the Supremes, though I devoutly hope that she will not. But that "loss," if it happens, can be used to advantage -- as a further erosion in the credibility and legitimacy of SCUSA, which isn't all that hot right now.

7. Where is our media? Why can't George Soros, Warren Buffett, etc. get together and buy a cable channel? We have a lot of talent out there. Retired and very pissed-off celebs: Dan Rather, Walter Cronkite, Ted Koppel (maybe). Then there are the heroically fired: Bill Moyers, Phil Donahue, Ashleigh Banfield (remember Ashleigh?). It's just not fair to ask Keith Olbermann and Jon Stewart to carry all the burden. Get these worthies together, and they will blow FOX, CNN and MSNBC away.

8. Election theft is a national crime carried out on a state and local level. Therein lies an opportunity, for legal action on state or local level might crack the election fraud case. Did the "black box voting" industry make the tactical error of operating in some state with a democratic governor and/or attorney general and/or secretary of state? Then it's past time for that state government to get crackin'. Election fraud is a felony that can and should be subject to criminal investigation. Such investigations could also be conducted at a local level by an aggressive District Attorney. Are any such investigations now under way? If not, why not?

9. Finally, where is our leadership? Reading all these messages can only remind one that we are a bunch of passionate, dedicated, and well-intentioned individuals, running about randomly, craving organization and marching orders from Command Central. Leadership and organizational discipline is the key to GOP success, as lack of same spell doom for the Dems. And when I speak of leadership, I don't mean Hollywood or Show Biz Celebs, though we welcome their participation, endorsements, and charisma. So bring in the pros. Since his Constitution Hall speech, Al Gore is once again eligible. Russ Feingold has certainly earned a nomination. Perhaps you have better candidates in mind. If so, I'll listen. But once we find our Washington, Gandhi, Mandella or Sakharov, let's get organized and keep our eyes on the prize.

 


3/28/06

Two responses to  "The right and left in a nutshell" with replies:

[Partridge writes:]  "the progressive regards society not as an aggregate of autonomous individuals but as an "emergent" entity that is more than the sum of its individual human components."

So then contributions from American individual inventors such as the telegraph, telephone, water closet, light bulb, record player, personal computer and airplane have had little impact in the development of America? So there would be little difference in the state of America if those individuals never existed? More so, if two countries are separated only by one having 100 of the most productive entrepreneurs, then there will still be little difference between the two countries? People like Henry Ford really have no significant impact on an economy?

Entrepreneurs take risks and create businesses while some shy away from risks and simply take whatever comes to them. Businesses do not magically arise from the ground. They take people to create them, often "selfish" people that you denigrate as "regressive," even though they are ultimately responsible for the development of the economic activity that you see today. These businesses are then taxed, which goes to fund government programs that you seem take a sanctimonious pride in. However without the "selfish" risk takers there would be far less economic activity, and thus far less of a tax base. You are aware at least that the U.S. tax system is dependent on the wealthy, aren't you? The wealthy tend to be free-market, or "regressive" and yet they pay for the majority of federal welfare programs. So essentially "progressives" are dependent upon "regressives" and cannot exist without them. This is essentially why communism failed, as the "regressives" were either shot or sent to labor camps for what was believed to be in the public interest. Yet it seems some still do not want to learn this lesson and want to deny the importance of the individual.



Ernest Partridge replies:

What on earth does that opening quotation have to do with the paragraph that immediately follows? That a society is an emergent entity in no way entails that the individuals within that society are not, capable of inventing, investing, and taking risks. They have done all this under progressive administrations, not despite the progressivism of the government but because of it.

Consider the invention of the computer and the development of the internet. Granted, these could never have been developed without private individual initiative and investment. But neither could they have developed without public (which is to say government) investment in basic research and development. The transistor, while invented in the private Bell Labs in the forties, employed physical principles discovered in public universities. The microprocessor was developed out of the need of the space program for compact and lightweight computing equipment. The internet emerged from DARPA, a network that conjoined government agencies and university research facilities. Neither government nor private industry nor the free market were sufficient, while all were necessary, for the development of computers and the internet.

Similarly, for the building of the transcontinental railroads in the nineteenth century. This is not idle speculation or theory, it is historical fact.

Much of what Mr. Conrad writes in his second paragraph, I agree with -- absent the abusive tone and distortion of my views. The progressive endorses markets. But he doesn't worship them, and he recognizes the need for regulation, in part to protect the market place from itself. To be sure, the wealthy provide most of the taxes -- precisely because they are wealthy. And yes, a healthy economy requires risk-taking and investments the results of which "trickle down" to the benefit of society. But typically, my critic has less to say about the economic-social benefits that "percolate up" from the labor and initiative of the workers.

I am quite aware of the shortcomings communism, having encountered its consequences first-hand in the Soviet Union. So the implied red-baiting is uncalled for and unworthy. (See my Two Lessons from Russia ).



No matter how you try to package it, “progressives” stand for huge government programs financed by draconian tax rates, which effectively strip individual liberties from citizens. At best, socialism; more realistic, eventual state control of everything, and what we used to call communism.

Why for once doesn’t one of you clowns calculate the actuarial cost of your proposed entitlement/social programs, and calculate the tax rates necessary to generate tax revenue to fund those programs on a long-term basis? You and I both know why. If the American public were ever given the truth from “progressives”, you would be out of business, quickly.

And our country would not last long-term with your continual stripping of our military services. Progressives have been wrong on defense matters time and time again since the 1960’s.

The real fact is that “progressives” such as you are long-term dangers to this country, and no amount of propaganda on your part will change that.

Thank goodness the Internet allows the truth to be told on a widespread basis.



Ernest Partridge replies:

Pop Quiz: What percentage of the federal budget, in the Clinton Administration, was devoted to welfare payments? Most American polled put it at about 20%. In fact, the number is one percent And what about the military budget? Don't even ask! Suffice to say that the US military budget is approximately equal to the sum total of all other military budgets. Still, not enough for the regressives now in charge. We simply must, we are told, build missile defense, super carriers and missile submarines to protect ourselves from Islamic bandits and their box-cutters. Otherwise we will be "stripping our military services."

Mr. Green is trotting out the usual balderdash about "huge government programs" and "draconian tax rates" that we've heard time and again. It just happens that the historical record does not confirm his dire warnings. And so, predictably, lacking support in facts and history, he resorts to insult and red-baiting -- the tired old argument of "the slippery slope" slide from liberalism to socialism to communism.

And once again, history is his undoing. Just look at the record. Every communist regime resulted from the overthrow of radical right-wing despotisms: Russia, China, Cuba, you name it. And the post-WWII advancement of communism in Europe was halted by social-democratic ("liberal") governments in Scandinavia, France and Italy.

Regarding his final point, we agree -- though not entirely in the sense that he intends. Yes indeed, "thank goodness for the internet." With the right-wing capture of our once-free and diverse mainstream media, the internet is just about the last remaining refuge of free, unfettered, diverse and progressive thought.

As long as this regressive, and increasingly repressive, government tolerates its existence.

 


 

June 6, 2006

A typical right-wing criticism of The Crisis Papers:

Thomas Paine would turn over in his grave if he knew that a left-wing, anti-American operation such as (...with the sound of panic in the streets rising to a crescendo...) "The Crisis Papers!" had usurped, and utterly misrepresented, the comments he spoke in defense of our fledgling nation. And your use of a 'minuteman' statue --with a militia man standing armed and ready to defend our country-- would be a real hoot, were it not so vile and disingenuous. (I’d like it noted for the record that I have no doubt that you and your followers would prefer (nay, legislate) that that minuteman be disarmed, for the nation’s greater good.) What a sick, twisted outlook you people share. I’m quite sure Thomas Paine would have spoken out vociferously against the establishment of any government grounded in the “progressive” (say, isn't that just another word for ‘communist’?) philosophy. I also have no doubt that that minuteman would have used his Musket to protect his upstart nation from the likes of you folks at The Crisis Papers.


Ernest Partridge responds,

If I remember my history lessons correctly, Tom Paine railed against the violation of human rights by an oppressive government, against miscarriages of justice (e.g. arbitrary arrests, incarceration without trial, warrantless searches, etc.), and against rule by a despot without consent of the governed who regarded himself as above the law. (For a full list, read The Declaration of Independence).

Seems to me that Old Tom would be enlisted by our side in the new American Revolution.

And no, "progressive" is not another word for "communist." I've seen communism close-up in the Soviet Union. There I encountered a regime that tapped phone conversations, read private mail, arrested private citizens arbitrarily and without warrant and held them indefinitely without trial, held fake elections, had a meaningless "rubber stamp" Congress, had total control of the media. In short, identical in significant respects to the Bush regime and diametrically opposed to all that the progressive stands for.

If you don't believe that the Progressives are authentic defenders of the fundamental precepts of our republic, read the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, and ...

Oh, what the Hell, I'm wasting my time. I can tell from your diatribe above, that you haven't the slightest notion of what America stands for and how your heritage is being stolen from you, and worst of all, you haven't the slightest interest in taking the trouble to study and find out for yourself
 


June 20, 2006

My essay, "Where are our Heroes Today?" prompted this reply:

I am not against the primary concept of this article but its wholesome admiration of Sakharov and Bonner, also referring to Putin is kinda, ..excessive. The outcome of the turmoil which Sakharov wanted so much is tragic. In Russia proper Sakharov is justifiably despised as a person who was at least irresponsible if not utterly treacherous in spirit. Thousands died so far due to the 'transformation' Bonner and Sakharov so desired. There is an irony of tragic proportions that Putin, the small KGB operative is now a President of the country. I am not even talking about vulturous and irresponsible promoting of the secession of the territories with the subsequent stupid and mean attacks on the Russians on those territories. You cannot play with nations, people, lives, destinies. Sakharov surely is not responsible for those; he wanted a good thing. But the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. And the current 'democratic governments' in the new formations already has proven themselves much more corrupt and cruel in many cases. There is no peace there, far from it....


Ernest Partridge replies:

I did not intend to convey my personal approval of Vladimir Putin. He has turned out to be a disappointment to many of my Russian friends, although polls seem to indicate that he is very popular with the Russian public. Still, I find it interesting that the President of Russia uttered his spontaneous tribute to Sakharov.

I doubt that "thousands died" as a result of Sakharov's struggle for human rights and peaceful co-existence. But it is clearly the case that thousands of political prisoners owe their release and freedom to the dissent of Sakharov and his associates in the Soviet human rights campaign. And I seriously doubt that he is widely despised in Russia today. In fact, from what I have heard from the Russians while in their country, it seems that he is greatly admired.

As for the rest of your note, I must say that I am quite perplexed, and even more astonished by what seems to be the position lurking behind these remarks. Do I correctly surmise that you regret the demise of Soviet Communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union? Do you really believe that the citizens of all the fourteen newly independent republics would prefer to live as subjects of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union)? Well, perhaps the people in several of the central Asian "stans" are worse off, but surely not the Ukrainians, the people of the Baltic republics, or of the Caucasus republics.

Suffice to say, judging from the many books and articles that I have read by and about Andrei Sakharov, from the testimony of many personal Russian friends, and from the tributes of the Nobel Prize committee, it appears that your assessment of Sakharov and Bonner stands alone. I confess that I have never encountered anything quite like it.
 


 

November 14, 2006


What Would Jesus Do?  Take up the sword?


A friend writes: "In your essay "What Would Jesus Do?" you haven't dealt with one of Jesus' most contradictory/puzzling sayings: Matthew 10:34. "I came not to send peace, but a sword." Why did you leave that out? Don't you think you should also deal with that one!"


How should I reply? It depends upon to whom I am addressing the answer. Is my audience secular and open to scholarly interpretations, or are they Christian fundamentalists?

Here's my reply to the secularists:

I suppose that verse would present a problem if I regarded the Bible (specifically Matthew) to be authentic scripture -- "the word of God," or even as the moderate Christians have it, "the Word of God as far as it is translated correctly."

But, of course, I don't. The four gospels were written long after the events that they report. (Mark, the earliest, was apparently written around 70 AD, possibly by the "secretary" to the disciple Peter). Furthermore, the four gospels are inconsistent (e.g., concerning the Nativity). So there is no compelling reason to believe that Jesus ever said "I come not to send peace, but a sword." Or that he spoke the Beatitudes, for that matter.

But even if he did, he did not call upon his followers to take up the sword. Instead, he was saying (correctly as it turns out) that there were difficult times ahead for his disciples.

I cannot claim to know anything at all about Jesus of Nazareth, except that he probably existed and taught a moral message similar to that conveyed by much or most of the gospels. Nor, I contend, can anyone know much more than this -- an opinion which greatly discomforts my many Christian friends.

Furthermore, that moral message is not entirely consistent, indicating faulty memory and "ax grinding" by later writers, commentators and translators.

"I come not to send peace, but a sword," strikes my as inconsistent with the with the message of love, pacifism, and forgiveness, that is found throughout the gospels. But it is something that one might expect to come out of the context of persecution that the early Christians faced at the time the gospels were written.

If the gospels are regarded as primarily works of fiction, like Khalil Gibran's "The Prophet," they are still valuable as statements of a worthy moral philosophy. Their accuracy regarding the life and words of Jesus is unknown and unknowable, and perhaps of secondary importance -- at least to secular heathens like myself.

However, a vast majority of our fellow Americans believe that The Bible is The Word of God -- or at least approximately so. "What would Jesus Do?" is directed at them. And they should come to terms with the clear fact that many (most?) of these "Christians," and the "Christian" leaders that they support, are, morally speaking, "anti-Christians." Jesus is reported to have said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."  Clearly, these so-called "Christians" do not.  They are not peacemakers, they do not care for the poor, they are not humble ("meek"), tolerant, or forgiving.

And that's the point I wanted to make in "What Would Jesus Do?"


So how would I address a fundamentalist?

After all, many (self-identified) "Christians" have used that passage to justify the slaughter that stains the history of Christendom.  How would I respond to a "Christian" who used that verse -- "I came not to send peace, but a sword." -- as proof that Jesus called upon his followers to "take up the sword."

To begin, let us acknowledge that it is a virtually futile enterprise to try to convince a fundie of anything contrary to his/her religious convictions. But one never knows.

Second, the fundie's enthusiasm for war is most likely based, not on the gospels, but on the Old Testament: e.g., Joshua (Ch. 10), Deuteronomy (2:33-4 and 20:16), and Numbers (31:17-18), wherein The Lord orders, or at least sanctions, the slaughter of entire cities. Today we call this "genocide." (See my "Warriors of the Lord").

Even so, if given the daunting task of trying to "convert" a militant (so-called) "Christian" to the pacifism of Jesus, here is how I might go about it.

I would ask if s/he could cite any verse in the Gospels where Jesus called upon his disciples to "take up the sword."

Then s/he might cite Matthew 10:34. I would reply that the verse does not call upon disciples to take up the sword, rather it prophesies the coming of turmoil and bloodshed which, as it turns out, was quite accurate. Aside from that, I believe that s/he would find no call for violence in the Gospels -- not, at least, from the presumed words of Jesus.

I would further point out that when a Peter drew his sword in Jesus' defense at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus rebuked him. (Matthew 26: 51-52, and John 18: 10-11). "Put up again thy sword into its place, for they that take the sword shall perish with the sword."

Then I might cite Jesus' instruction to "resist not evil," "turn the other cheek," and "love thy enemies." And finally, as a capper, Matthew 5:9: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."

I would then ask if s/he truly believes that the cryptic verse about sending "not peace but the sword" nullifies all that Jesus is reported to have said about peacemaking, forgiveness and tolerance?

My guess is that the typical fundie would be unmoved by all this. But a few might, and more importantly, the much "moderate" Christians, inclined to support right-wing militancy, might be receptive.
 


December 29, 2006


From  Crisis Paper reader:

Your recent article on moral relativism contained the following statement:

"Last month I was visited by two Mormon missionaries, who read to me the Twelfth Article of Faith of their religion: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

I asked, “what do you do if the President that you are subject to violates the law, or still worse orders you to violate the law? Which do you obey, the President or the Law?”

He replied: “I’d pray on it, and ask the Lord for guidance.” Touching, but not very helpful."

"Touching, but not very helpful." Yes, touching, but not very helpful would be how the atheist, agnostic, or spiritually challenged would view this approach to decision-making. But those of us who take the leading of their God seriously, this is a rational approach.

What other approach is there when the choices appear, from our perspective, to be equally unacceptable, such as in the example given? Flip a coin? Make a decision based on personal bias? Make up an arbitrarily binding, one-size-fits-all immutable law?

I would not be so quick to dismiss the advice of the missionaries.



Ernest Partridge replies:

Search the historical, biographical and autobiographical record, and you will find that far more often than not, God (allegedly) provides "answers" that confirm what the prayer-giver wanted to hear in the first place. Most psychologists and psychotherapists will concur. So either the word of God is inconsistent (impossible!) or fallible (blasphemy!), or else prayer is a demonstrably imperfect source of moral guidance.

You ask, "what other approach is there?" I hope that my essay gave at least a hint of an answer: namely, moral intelligence -- "acquired by individuals who are endowed with the requisite moral sentiments of empathy, benevolence and respect, who adopt a moral point of view [the perspective of an impartial benevolent observer], and who encounter, in a varied and abundant life, a myriad of moral puzzles and conflicts. As they face and deal with these issues, their moral intelligence increases in scope, coherence, subtlety and sophistication."

"Moral intelligence" comprises much more, and is assuredly more reliable, than coin-flipping or personal bias. And if my essay conveyed any message at all, it is a rejection of what you call "an arbitrarily binding, one-size-fits-all immutable law."

The "moral intelligence" approach that I propose places moral responsibility precisely where it belongs: on the individual agent. If prayer provides validation of one's biases, as the evidence indicates, then it is not a reliable guide to a moral life. Never forget that Nazis, Islamo-Fascists, the bombers of abortion clinics, and Presidents who launch wars against non-threatening countries all pray, and seem to hear the "answers" that they want. More often than not, "God told me to do it" is not an affirmation of piety, it is a moral cop-out.

A final thought: if I am asked to accept the advice of the missionaries, then which missionaries (which is to say, which of many conflicting and mutually exclusive faiths) am I to follow? On what grounds do I make a decision? "Flip a coin? Make a decision based on personal bias? Make up an arbitrarily binding, one-size-fits-all immutable law?"

I trust you see the problem.

 

 


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .