Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Overcoming White, Jewish, and Hungarian Privilege


Alice C. Linsley

At times and in places black and Hispanic Americans have been greatly inconvenienced. They have had to deal with discriminatory practices and abuses that "white" Americans have not. This is called "white privilege" but it isn't about race as much as it is about abuse motivated by fear of the unknown and self-serving attitudes. 

Palestinians experience great inconvenience when they try to take their children to school and have to cross Jewish checkpoints where they are often held up for hours. Should we call this "Jewish privilege"?

Muslims trying to immigrate to parts of Europe can't go through Hungary. This is a great inconvenience to them. Do we call that "Hungarian privilege"?

People who discriminate are motivated by many factors: fear, personal and familial histories, culture, economic forces, and socio-political trends.

Early exposure to people of other ethnic groups has a tremendous impact a person's perspective. Parents should introduce their young children to people, customs, and beliefs that are different from their own.

As I young child my parents provided many such experiences and these formed my love of Humanity in all its diversity. At age 9, I visited a remote village in the mountains of Luzon where we were greeted by the chief of the headhunters. The outskirts of the village were circled by shrunken heads on stakes.

In India, I saw extreme poverty, leprousy, ornate palaces, and Hindu temples. I saw the faces of hungry children as they pressed against the windows of our passing car. 

In Thailand, I ate unfamiliar foods and observed the Buddhist monks in their saffron robes enter the gilded temples. I heard the temple bells and smelled the incense as it was carried on the breeze.

Experiences like these made me who I am, and laid the groundwork for my research in anthropology. I realize that most parents cannot take their children to far-away places. However, they can expose them to diverse peoples where they live. Perhaps a neighbor is from Iran. Reach out to that person to learn about their culture. It takes effort, but the child will become a better citizen of the local community and of the world. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Arguing About Social Concerns

In a nation as polarized as the United States of America it is difficult to discuss social concerns in a rational way. This undermines democracy, and causes us to forget that as a nation of diverse peoples, we hold many essential things in common.

This article is not for ideologues and political fanatics. It is for people who genuinely want to discuss social concerns to become better informed. If you are driven to promote your political party, favorite candidate, single issue, or ideology, stop reading now.

To those who think ethically about social engagements, read on!

During the recent election, I sat with my family to watch the returns and projections on Fox News, CNN, and Bloomburg. My family members were fairly evenly divided. Some voted for Trump and some voted for Biden. That night we had an beneficial conversation about politics and our hopes for the future of the nation. The first rule of our family conversation is to respect disagreement. The second rule is to ask questions in a non-confrontational manner. Why do you believe that? What do you think is at stake for you? Questions like these help us to gain a better understanding of the concerns of the other person.

These days, social conversations are like cutting through thick brush to reach a sunlit clearing with open sky overhead. We have to navigate through gaslighting, misinformation, and heated rhetoric. We face shifting lines as news sources that have been considered reliable in the past are increasingly politicized. In other words, getting at the facts is hard work. Read and consider all sources with equal skepticism. Don't rely on official fact-checking. Check the facts for yourself.

Poorly informed people who cannot address the substance of an argument often resort to in-explicit language and obscurantism. If you are unable to understand what someone is saying, this may be the reason. Asking the person non-confrontational questions can help them to consider the topic on a deeper level.

In politics, obsurantism or the refusal to address issues of concern to the general public may be due to a hidden agenda. In this case, attempts to draw out pertinent information by asking questions usually does not work. A better approach is to research the political figure's past voting record.

In social media, the humble poorly informed tend to remain silent, and the arrogant tend to resort to ad hominem. Discern the difference. Engage the humble and ignore the arrogant. Respect traditional wisdom and community knowledge, but remember that the unconventional thinker may offer something of value. 

Social media platforms are mainly used to interact with family and friends. Many do not regard social media as a serious venue for social conversation, but it can be. This medium has great potential for sharing informed positions in a non-confrontational way. Consider social media a tool that should be used ethically.

Always consider your motivation when engaging others on social issues. Self-awareness is important for measuring your sensitivity to how issues are presented and discussed. Avoid presenting opinions as fact, and be respectful of all opinions. However, do not hesitate to present facts with reliable links. Social engagement should be viewed as an opportunity to learn and to share learning.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Questioning Aristotle on Democracy


Alice C. Linsley

A proper understanding of Aristotle's view of democracy requires recognizing his assertion that the Polis, or city-state, is prior to family and the individual. He sees this as a natural development along with nature's endowment of humans with speech and the ability to articulate moral concepts such as justice. As human beings are by nature political animals, we seek positions of power from which we can shape our communities.

The ideal of democracy is that we should be fair in the exercise of power. Yet "democracy" is elusive. No political system exists that is entirely fair. Further, the democracies of the world do not share a common political system.

This leads to another of Aristotle's questions: Does "democratic behavior" refer to actions that are pleasing to world democracies, or to actions that preserve world democracies?

If democratic behavior refers to actions that are pleasing to world democracies, some common substance must be universal to the ideal. What is that common substance? Is it that all are equal before the law? Sadly, that often is not the case in the best political environments. Is it that each citizen's vote counts for something? Unfortunately, sometimes those who scream the loudest about democracy manipulate voting. Perhaps the ideal of democracy is a nose ring by which the citizenry is yanked about?

Given Aristotle's view of government and human nature, it is likely that "democratic behavior" refers to actions that preserve the state. By this definition, insurrections and revolutions pose a grave threat to democracy. Too often they lead to unchecked power by those who take control. Congress is a community of communities, each working to tilt the balance in their favor. Winning the votes, passing the pork bill, getting the dirt on one's opponent - these non-democratic behaviors break bonds of friendship.

True democracy entails power sharing, conscientious public service, and mutual respect. These are fundamental. For Aristotle, the polis is held together by friendship. He regarded men with many friendships as good men. Today friendship in Washington is less important than politically advantageous alliances, and sharing power is rare because there is no trust between the parties.

Beyond these democratic behaviors, there is the necessity of a common vision of a good society. As we near the November 2020 presidential election it is clear that the Democratic and Republican parties have very different notions of what makes a society good. 

Related reading: Thoughts on Democracy; What Makes a Good Society?; When a Riot Becomes a Revolution

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Thoughts on Democracy


This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately. And the second principle is merely this: that the political instinct or desire is one of these things which they hold in common. Falling in love is more poetical than dropping into poetry. The democratic contention is that government ... is a thing like falling in love, and not a thing like dropping into poetry. It is not something analogous to playing the church organ, painting on vellum,..., being Astronomer Royal, and so on. For these things we do not wish a man to do at all unless he does them well. It is, on the contrary, a thing analogous to writing one's own love-letters or blowing one's own nose. These things we want a man to do for himself, even if he does them badly. .... In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves--the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed. ”

― G.K. Chesterton

I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they are not true. And whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure. I find that they're not true without looking further than myself. I don't deserve a share in governing a henroost, much less a nation. Nor do most people - all the people who believe advertisements, and think in catchwords and spread rumors. The real reason for democracy is just the reserve. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows...."

― C.S. Lewis

"Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is a force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action."

― George Washington

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Women's Opportunities Throughout History

Alice C. Linsley

In the ancient world, priests' daughters, widows, and indentured virgins lived at temples and shrines. This provided a better way of life for women who might otherwise be destitute.

The custom is observed today in Africa and in India. Poor parents may chose to give their daughters to the local shrine of temple as a servant. In India, low caste girls are sometimes dedicated to the temple. These are called Devadasi (Deva - God and Dasi - female servant). They are sexually exploited and despised, but they can acquire status by joining the Yellama cult which confers power and responsibility. One of the most important duties of the Devadasi is the performance of votive dances in the temple.

This Harappan dancing girl of the Indus Valley resembles the dancing girls of ancient Nubia.

Some women gain patrons and are able to buy their way out of the system. Patrons often set them women up as inn keepers. Professional dancers worked in these inns. That was the case in ancient Nubia and Harappa, and continues in modern Ethiopia where the women dance in coffee houses. (See Egypt and Nubia by James Augustus Saint John, pages 240-242).

This may be the situation with the biblical figure Rahab. Different biblical sources use different Hebrew words to describe Rahab. One refers to a sacred prostitute, and the other to an inn keeper. The first word is qādēš and the second is the radical zn. Leah Bronner notes that the ZN root could refer to zona (one who sells her body) or to the word zon, an inn keeper. D. J. Wiseman points out that tzond can be translated as barmaid. Rahab married Salmon, a Horite Hebrew chief.

In West Africa, women consult deities at the water shrines in order to have children. These children are often pledged to the shrine or to the deity (as Hannah pledged Samuel to God in return for blessing her with a child). Osofu Ahadzi, a director of one such shrine, says that people who fail to redeem such pledges eventually lose those children. Ahadzi explains, “If there is a calamity befalling a family and they go back to the divinity or shrine and it is said that such a person should be trained in the shrine to learn the skills and acquire the power of divination to protect the family, that is when that person is devoted to the shrine." 

Ahadzi says that men may not marry a trokosi (indentured girl) without permission from the shrine. This is because the girls are regarded as spirit wives of the deity. He said marrying a trokosi without going through the proper procedure will attract severe punishment.

“There was a situation where the divinity asked one of the keepers not to marry this woman and he decided to go forward and marry. He thought that he was powerful and he went ahead and married. The mother died, he was going and the car had an accident. He died with his wife. In the traditional African religion the commandment is thou must not do this, if you do that you will get your punishment,” he said.

Ahadzi says, “It is completely out of place for anybody to claim that the keeper of the shrine plays around with the girls. You can’t do that. When you go against any of the regulations, it is not human beings that will punish you. The deity will punish you because all the girls who go in there for training are the daughters and princesses of the divinity. So if you take liberties with them you will be punished,” he said.

He believes that the girls, some of whom are as young as age 2, have a good life at the shrine, although they do not receive a formal education.

Ahadzi said the girls are not taken advantage of even though they are used as free labor on the farms. He said the chores they perform can be likened to what students are made to do in boarding schools.

Hindu temple dancer performs traditional hand language called "Mudra".

Similar practices are evident at Hindu temples. Dr. Shabhash C. Sharma writes, "Regarding the treatment of people (including the young girls and widows) in shelters, temples and orphanages, Hinduism is quite emphatic in its opposition to any abuse and exploitation at the hands of those in positions of power and authority: 'He who betrays one who has sought refuge, will meet destruction. The very earth will not let the seed that he sows sprout.'"

Dr. Sharma further explains: "Sometimes even if the parents of a young girl or boy are alive, they might not be in a good socio-economic condition to take care of their kid and thus could decide to send her/him to live in a temple thinking that the temple would do a better job in raising their child. Thus the temple might be considered by some people an ideal place to raise their child where free room, board and education (in spirituality, arts, music, dancing etc.) are available, perhaps in return for a small or light physical service to the temple."

Dr Sharma says: "The same type of consideration, as indicated above for young girls, is generally applicable to adult women, especially the widows, when they decide to live in temples and religious places like Vrindavan. Note that even though the widows living in such places (temples etc.) might number in several thousand they still represent an extremely small minority relative to millions of Indian widows..."

Even the daughters of rich families and royalty have been dedicated to the temple, shrine, or to the Church. Royal virgins posed both potential trouble and opportunity for rulers. Marriage was a way to form alliances between royal families and kingdoms. Sometimes rulers sought to avoid alliances and refused to give their royal daughters in marriage, and at other times such arrangements were politically advantageous. In some cases, the virgins themselves appear to have sought the ruler’s protection from marriages they found displeasing. One way to escape undesired marriages was to enter the convent and to become a "bride of Christ."

In the Middle Ages, many royal daughters were destined for the monastic life. Only in circumstances of political advantage were their marriages allowed. Not surprisingly, female convents sprung up in all the regions were monarchs had residences. Some royal women lived saintly lives in the monasteries and others lived much as they had in their father’s palaces. The rich and powerful royal abbeys of Europe provided a luxurious lifestyle for the women who resided there.

The precedent for placing a royal daughter at a temple is found as early as the reign of Sargon (c. 2334-2284 BC). He appointed his daughter Heduanna as the En (Mistress-in-charge) of the shrine at Ur. En-Heduanna is credited with a large body of cuneiform poetry.

Likewise, some royal Egyptian daughters were appointed to the two highest positions a woman could hold: the positions of the God’s Wife (Hemet Netjer) and the Divine Adoratrice (Duat Netjer).

Pharaoh Ahmose’s principal wife was appointed to the office of the God’s Wife of Amun, and Ahmose endowed the office with more than adequate means, providing financial income, servants, real estate, and her own royal retinue. Many royal women attained high rank as priestesses in charge of Hathor shrines. The celibacy requirement for royal daughters dedicated to the temples and shrines certainly had religious significance, but it also served the ruler’s political purposes. Were some political advantage to be gained, the holders of the offices might be granted permission to marry.

Social reforms that benefited women were introduced when Christianity became institutionalized under Emperor Justinian (482-556 AD). The Imperial Code criminalized cultic prostitution and the practice of fathers selling their daughters into slavery. Noble women were able to exercise political power.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Mass Hysterectomies of Detainees in Georgia

Michael Cook, Editor of BioEdge

More than 170 members of Congress have called for an inquiry into allegations that women immigrants in an ICE detention centre in Georgia had unnecessary hysterectomies.

The charges were made by whistle-blower at the facility, run by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Health Service Corps. Dawn Wooten, a nurse, claims that several women told her that a local doctor who works in the facility had removed their womb. “That’s his specialty, he’s the uterus collector,” said one woman.

These claims are vehemently denied by the doctor and have not been verified. However, they are a disturbing echo of abuses alleged to have taken place a few years ago in two California prisons.

Ms Wooten told activists at Project South that that detainees complained that they didn’t fully understand what the doctor was doing. She said: “I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor and they’ve had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going.”

She also said: “When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.”

Dr Ada Rivera, of the ICE Health Services Corps, told the New York Times that the allegations would be investigated, but that the agency “vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures.”

A letter from members of Congress demanded an immediate investigation:

The reports of mass hysterectomies cause grave concern for the violation of the bodily autonomy and reproductive rights of detained people. Everyone, regardless of their immigration status, their language, or their incarceration deserves to control their own reproductive choices, and make informed choices about their bodies.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Liberty and Justice Cancelled?


Men sleeping in front of an abandoned building in Whiteclay, Nebraska (population seventeen). Whiteclay is two miles from the Pine Ridge Reservation and consists of four liquor stores that sell an average of 12,500 cans of beer a day, mostly to the residents of the Reservation.

Alice C. Linsley

The recent violence in some of America's cities has focused attention on the failure of the American Republic to secure liberty and justice for all.

Black lives matter. To be black in the United States is not an identity. Some black Americans are rich and some are poor. Some commit crimes and some are law-abiding. Some are uneducated and some are well-educated. Some are on the Left politically and some are on the Right. Many are moderates who simply want to live securely in peaceful neighborhoods. 

Among the black Americans are African immigrants from Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and Somalia. Their problems and concerns are different from native black Americans.

The Black Lives Matter protests appear to represent a generation of left-leaning activists whose concerns for liberty and justice are focused too narrowly. Not all black lives matter to them. Some black voices are cancelled because they don't share the narrative of overthrow of the structures that make America a republic. 

Cancelled are the voices of black persons who applaud efforts at criminal justice reform.

Cancelled are the voices of black persons who speak against killing the unborn.

Cancelled are the voices a black persons who have decided to vote for the Trump-Pence ticket in November.

Cancelled are the voices of black persons who question the motivation of BLM leaders and organizers. 

Some wonder why recent photos of inner city riots do not show many black people? 

Some wonder if the Black Lives Movement has itself been cancelled by the violent actions of groups like Antifa?

Where is the "liberty and justice for all" that the socialist Francis Bellamy (1855-1931) hoped to see and which is enshrined in the words of the Pledge of Allegiance?

Who is speaking for other Americans who have suffered injustice? The Cheyenne Nation was once a proud and strong people. Today they are among the poorest in America. The most recent U.S. Census estimates show Zieback County, home of the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, as the poorest in the United States. In fact, of the seven poorest counties in the United States, South Dakota has over half of them - all homes to Indian reservations.

Do Native American lives matter?

Do the poor whites of Appalachia matter? Although the Appalachia region’s poverty rate declined 1.2 percentage points since 2009–2013, Appalachia’s poverty rate remains higher than the U.S. average. However, the difference is not great: Appalachia 15.8% vs the nation 14.1 %.

Poverty in the United States poses the greatest threat to our Constitutional Republic. Consider how the Covid-19 slowdowns, lockdowns, and shutdowns have worsened this problem. Until we as a nation care about all lives equally and take immediate steps to address poverty, our fragile hold on liberty and justice for all may slip away, possibly forever.

Related reading: History of the Pledge of Allegiance; When a Riot Becomes a Revolution; Anxiety About New Poverty Guidelines; What Makes a Good Society?