Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Parable #9: The Navigation System

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Once upon a time, a young man walked into his local electronic store to purchase a GPS navigation system for his car. He was assured by the salesperson that the Navigon 2100 was the ultimate in directional technology. It was time-tested, infallible, and never made an error. "How do you know it's good?" asked the young man. The salesman smiled and said- "I just know in my heart. Anyone who truly knows electronics will tell you that what I say is true". The young man didn't want to be exposed as ignorant (he prided himself on being technologically minded) and so he purchased the Navigon 2100 and installed it the next day.

On his first drive, the young man set out to the grocery store. It was a Friday afternoon at rush hour. The Navigon proclaimed "Turn right at the next intersection". He complied, and found himself turning the wrong way onto a one way street. Cars rushed towards him, he veered, and pulled into a vacant lot, mud splashing his passenger windows.

Hmm. He thought. I hope the salesman kows what he's talking about. I must have done something wrong or misinterpreted the directions.

On his second drive the next day, he set out for his girlfriend's house. The Navigon piped up "turn left here" and, though he was certain the direction was wrong, the young man complied. He found himself on a dead end back street, lost, and found that the Navigon had no further advice to give. He spent that whole saturday backtracking his route. After much trial and error he found his way back home.

This is ridiculous, he thought, and that night he tore the Navigon off of his dashboard and took it back to the electronics store. "This system is exactly backwards!" He shouted. "Everything it tells me is the exact opposite of what I know I should do! It's going to get me killed!". The salesperson sneered "You just don't understand electronics."

The young man left the store, determined to never make the same mistake again.

The next morning he went to church. He was told that the teachings of Jesus were time-tested, infallible, and never made an error.

How do you know? He asked the preacher. "I just feel it in my heart." Was the reply.

And the young man went out into the world with his Bible in hand. It told him to love his enemies, forgive those who stole from him, to sacrifice his values, to spurn money, to feel guilty about sex, to give up, to be meek, to 'consider the lilies of the field' and not be productive. He was taught that pride goeth before the fall, that this life was a veil of tears to be suffered through, that death was the true aim of life and that happiness after death was the greatest goal to be achieved. He listened, and turned away from this life and towards the next. He turned away from joy, veered from success, avoided pleasure, backed away from self-esteem, gave the right of way to others, yielded to authority, and found himself at the end of his life at a dead end having never reached any destination.

Hmm. He thought. I hope the preacher kows what he's talking about...

And he never saw the connection.

-Richard Gleaves
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Friday, May 14, 2010

The Ten Commandments and American Life

Bookmark and Share I'm constantly told that the Ten Commandments somehow underlie our moral and judicial system, but has anyone really thought about this? What are moral commandments and how can they be the basis of our laws?

First of all, the term "moral commandment" is itself an oxymoron (like "wireless cable", "standard options" or "nondairy creamer"). Morality involves ethical choice, not mere obedience. If a man wants to murder, but abstains not out of respect for life but out of fear of hell-- because it is "commanded" by authority-- that does not make him a good man. It makes him an evil man who is too scared to engage in his evil. If a man wants to sleep with other women and obeys the "commandment" out of fear of punishment and not because he loves his wife, that doesn't make him a good husband it makes him a lousy husband who prefers sexual dissatisfaction and heaven over sexual gratification and hell. So, first of all, I think the idea of "commandments" in morality is ludicrous. Commanded, by whom? For what? Validated by what argument? How is one to judge context? A proper understanding of morality as a code of values accepted by choice is incompatible with any authoritarian grab-bag of arbitrary edicts and directives.

Now, to the commandments themselves. Even if you were to grant religion and a commandment-based morality (and I don't)-- which commandments do you go by and how are they to be implemented? You may not know, but there are two sets of "commandments" in the Hebrew bible.

You have to choose one to call the "Ten Commandments" now.

So we must be selective and ARBITRARILY choose the more popular "standard" set. AND we are already arbitrarily choosing the commandments over every other passage, law, commandment and recommendation in the christian bible as well as arbitrarily choosing the christian creed above every other religion past or present, over every ethical philosopher, over the teachings of Shakespeare or the writings of Homer or Euripedes-- again, arbitrarily.

So-- we have settled on the popular ten. What are they and what does it mean to "base our laws upon them"?
1 "I am the Lord your god-- you shall have no other Gods before me". Okay-- if that is a basis for law, then the implementation of it would be to forbid everything that god forbids. Therefore, implementing the first commandment honestly would mean no other god but Yahweh the Lord of the bible shall be worshipped or tolerated in the United States. Religious pluralism is against God's commandments. Jews can stay, so can muslims. ALL OTHERS MUST LEAVE. They are criminals. They are lucky if we let them leave. The punishment for an apostate (murtad) in Islam is death.

2 "You shall have no graven images or idols"
So we must now hack down the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, Mount Rushmore, take all pictures off of the money.  The Oscars have got to go, and every public statue of Jesus also. It is not in keeping with God's will. All crucifixes in the United States are hereby banned. For good measure, we must also forbid showing Mohammed on "South Park".

3 "You shall not take the Lord's name in vain"
This should lead to the immediate arrest of all living people that were involved in the making of "Oh, God", "Oh, God: Book II", or "Oh God, You Devil" (this means you Larry Gelbart & Carl Reiner!). Every person who says goddamit!, Jesus Christ!, or fucking christ on a cracker! whether toe-stubbed or not, shall be put to death in the United States.

4 "Remember the Sabbath Day"
We tried to make this a law for many centuries. Read "The Crucible" in which the hero is accused of witchcraft because he plowed his field on the Sabbath. Here's a long list of other statist attempts to impose this commandment:

5 "Honor your father and mother" again, how is this to be implemented as the basis for law in the United States?
We know how they implement it in the middle east What if your parents are monsters? Certainly they exist, and certainly there are cases where the moral thing to do is to denounce and disown your parents and the evil they commit, just as it is sometimes moral for parents to renounce children if they do great evil.

6 "You shall not murder" here's an example of a good ethical rule (finally) six commandments in. But do we need God to command this? Murder is wrong because it destroys man's life which is the standard of all moral values. In an Objectivist list, this one would come FIRST. That it comes sixth here is testament to the low regard for human life in the Abrahamic religions, and how they place it beneath and secondary to concerns of faith and obedience to god and submission to your parents.

7 "You shall not commit adultery" how do we implement this in law? Jesus said that if you think of adultery you have committed it. So if we base our laws on the bible, is every man who thinks of unmarried sex at any time committing a crime? Is adultery punishable by jail? Why, if it is heinous enough to be condemned by god in the commandments (obviously worse than slavery, which isn't in the top ten) is adultery not an offense punished by criminal law in the united states? In the islamic world they are consistent. We aren't.

8 "You shall not steal" again, we have a good ethical teaching with no moral content. Why shall we not steal? What constitutes stealing? If a Marxist says "property is theft" is property stealing? No? How do we know? How do we prove to him what is objectively true? Where is the instruction manual for these ethical teachings? Is there really NO reason not to steal besides fear of hell?

9 "You shall not bear false witness" a sensible teaching. But, again, it raises the question: why is this a commandment and "thou shalt not enslave your neighbor" is not? And how do we institute this one in law? If I lie to a third party about my neighbor is that punishable? Are gossips to be stoned to death? The punishment for false witness in Islam is 80 lashes. I look forward to seeing Palin introduce that to Congress.

10 "Thou shalt not covet"
All advertisers shall be buried to the neck and stoned with cans of Campbell's Soup.

I honestly do not know how any reasonable or educated person can look at this list and find hardly anything in it that is praiseworthy or moral. Most of it (the first half) is demands for submission and obedience, which any American of self-esteem should reject. The rest, to the degree that they are sound moral principles, are barely the outlines or rough draft of a moral philosophy. They may have been revolutionary 2,000 years ago, but at that time so was indoor plumbing.

What would an America honestly governed by the Ten Commandments look like? In all essentials, like Sharia law in a muslim theocracy. Apostates, adulterers, those who dishonor their parents, who make images of the prophet, who work on the sabbath etc would be punished, and the few sound ethical teachings would be subservient to the will of Yahweh and his worship.

The Ten Commandments can never be the foundation of individual rights and liberty-- they can only be the pretense by which those values are destroyed.

-Richard Gleaves
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