Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Jacques Derrida on Terrorism

In July, Ethics Forum focused on the theme of ethical concerns surrounding aliens and extraterrestrial life. In August, we considered the theme of political manipulation. September is dedicated to the issue of global terrorism, and we begin with a reflection by Jacques Derrida on the nature of terrorism.

Pakistani policemen observe security personnel demolishing the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad on 26 February 2012. (Photo credit: Aamir Qureshi)

Derrida on Terrorism before 9/11

"It cannot be denied, as an empiricist of the eighteenth century would quite literally say, that there was an "impression" there, and the impression of what you call in English—and this is not fortuitous—a "major event." I insist here on the English because it is the language we speak here in New York, even though it is neither your language nor mine; but I also insist because the injunction comes first of all from a place where English predominates. I am not saying this only because the United States was targeted, hit, or violated on its own soil for the first time in almost two centuries—since 1812 to be exact—but because the world order that felt itself targeted through this violence is dominated largely by the Anglo-American idiom, an idiom that is indissociably linked to the political discourse that dominates the world stage, to international law, diplomatic institutions, the media, and the greatest technoscientific, capitalist, and military power. And it is very much a question of the still enigmatic but also critical essence of this hegemony. By critical, I mean at once decisive, potentially decisionary, decision-making, and in crisis: today more vulnerable and threatened than ever."

"The concepts with which this "event" has most often been described, named, categorized, are the products of a "dogmatic slumber" from which only a new philosophical reflection can awaken us, a reflection on philosophy, most notably on political philosophy and its heritage. The prevailing discourse, that of the media and of the official rhetoric, relies too readily on received concepts like "war" or "terrorism" (national or international)."

"Assuming that "bin Laden" is here the sovereign decision-maker, everyone knows that he is not Afghan, that he has been disavowed by his own country (by every "country" and state, in fact, almost without exception), that his training owes much to the United States and that, of course, he is not alone. The states that help him indirectly do not do so as states. No state as such supports him publicly. As for states that "harbor" terrorist networks, it is difficult to identify them as such. The United States and Europe, London and Berlin, are also sanctuaries, places of training or formation and information for all the "terrorists" of the world. No geography, no "territorial" determination, is thus pertinent any longer for locating the seat of these new technologies of transmission or aggression. To say it all too quickly and in passing, to amplify and clarify just a bit what I said earlier about an absolute threat whose origin is anonymous and not related to any state, such "terrorist" attacks already no longer need planes, bombs, or kamikazes: it is enough to infiltrate a strategically important computer system and introduce a virus or some other disruptive element to paralyze the economic, military, and political resources of an entire country or continent. And this can be attempted from just about anywhere on earth, at very little expense and with minimal means."

Friday, September 6, 2019

Terrorists Target African Christians

Women from a Christian village in Cameroon recover after having their ears chopped off by members of Boko Haram in July 2019. (Photo: Open Doors)

Islamic terrorism has been directed against African Christians for the past 12 years in an attempt to eliminate Christianity and to force conversions to Islam. Nigeria has experienced the most attacks on Christians. Nigeria’s conflict with Boko Haram has resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 civilians and a large-scale humanitarian crisis. Approximately 2.1 million people have been displaced by the conflict while 7 million need humanitarian assistance. The crisis is likely to expand as Boko Haram broadens its ruthless attacks.

This year (2019) the terror has spread to Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burkina Faso.

In Burkina Faso a series of attacks began on 28 April in Silgadji, when gunman rounded up a pastor, his son and four of his congregation and demanded they deny their Christian faith and convert to Islam. After refusing they were executed one-by-one. Six were then killed at a church on 12 May and four at a Christian parade on 13 May. Four were then murdered at another church on 26 May. The fifth and sixth reported attacks took place on 9 and 10 June in which 29 were butchered by Islamist extremists.

Burkina Faso is part of a five-nation regional force against extremism, known as the G5 Sahel. Islamic extremist violence has increased in Burkina Faso's north and east near its Mali border. Hundreds have been killed in the attacks thousands have fled.

Islamic terrorists attacked the Christian village of Kalau in the North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo on 6 March 2019. They attempted to infiltrate the village under the guise of being security agents, but some village youth  warned the villagers. The militants shot the village leader’s guard dogs and then opened fire, killing six Christians, including three women and a child.
The attack was launched by members of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group that attempted the overthrow the Ugandan government in the 90’s, seeking to replace it with an Islamic regime. The group has ties to other terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda. They are responsible for thousands of deaths throughout Uganda and eastern DRC.

Related reading: Boko Haram Spreads Terror; Islamic Militants Attack Village in the Congo; Boko Haram Slaughters Christians in Nigeria

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Small Guy Can Play that Game too!

Political agendas advance through propaganda, social media, lobbyists, and political infiltration. Bots and trolls work to infiltrate social media platforms and influence public opinion and elections.

Political infiltration is sometimes called entryism. The strategy involves encouraging members or supporters of an organization or a state to join a larger organisation in an attempt to influence ideas and/or subvert the programs and objectives of the larger group.

The threat of political infiltration is not a new one. The Founding Fathers feared foreign interference and took steps to prevent it, as former Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter noted in a 2017 speech.
"The founders took steps to guard against such [interference] by including in our Constitution guardrails like the requirement that the president be a 'natural born citizen."
Another measure to protect the new nation from foreign influence was the Emoluments Clause, prohibiting any government official from accepting a title or a gift from a foreign government.

Likewise, journalists who accept money from the large media corporations are not going to bite the hand that feeds them. They will promote the acceptable narrative.

A Marxist view of the struggle between political parties and between the elites and the common man would have us focus on who controls the means of production. These are impersonal entities that influence policies through their seemingly inexhaustible purchasing power. They own the mainstream media outlets. They own the lobbies, and they influence through political infiltration and gaslighting.

In some ways the availability of social media balances the influence of powerful corporations. A discerning and articulate individual can offset the manipulation by naming it. This must be done without violating community standards of discourse. It requires self-promotion with humility.

The secret to having a positive effect as a public critic using social media is to be honest, to back up your claims with substantial sources, and to produce a large body of work. This must be done as an independent writer, and without accepting money from anyone. That is the only way to cut the puppet strings.

Every person exercises influence on someone; a friend, a room mate, or a younger sibling. You may chose how you will you influence those around you. With internet access, a critical thinker can expose a great deal of corruption and manipulation. If you speak the truth grounded in reality, you will gain a following. The small guy can play the influence game too.

Related reading: Public Debate and Search Engine Politics; Do You Know What Your Algorithms Are Up To?; The Facebook Algorithm Explained; Social Media Bots and Political Propaganda;
The Media Stokes Anger and RadicalizationTrapped in a Web of Punditry

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Social Media Bots and Political Propaganda

Wars are launched, waged, and often won by the use of political propaganda. The same can be said for political campaigns. Today the propaganda spreads through social media.

Social media platforms circulate political ideas and hope to sway public opinion through manipulative disinformation campaigns. Some of these campaigns are carried out by individuals, but most are waged by software bots, programmed to perform simple, repetitive, robotic tasks. Individuals can direct can coordinate campaigns made up of bots, fake accounts, and often present themselves as a group of people, to give the illusion of large-scale consensus. The social media platforms usually catch up with these people and neutralize their campaigns.

Some social media bots collect and distribute legitimate information. Less benign bots communicate with and harass people, manipulate trending algorithms, and inundate systems with spam. Political regimes use bots to silence opponents and to push the regime's message. These attempt to sway the vote during elections, and to defame political opponents, critics, human rights defenders, and journalists.

A person to follow for information on social media as propaganda is Samantha Bradshaw, a researcher at the Computational Propaganda Project and a doctoral candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute. She’s been tracking the phenomenon of political manipulation through disinformation on social media.

Samantha’s work examines government use of social media for coordinated digital disinformation campaigns. Her research has been featured by numerous media outlets, including the Washington Post, Bloomberg, and the Financial Times. She holds an MA in global governance from the Balsillie School of International Affairs, and a joint honors BA in political science and legal studies from the University of Waterloo. You can find Samantha on Twitter at @sbradshaww.

A timely book on this topic is Computational Propaganda: Political Parties, Politicians, and Political Manipulation on Social Media (Editors: Philip N. Howard and Samuel C. Woolley, Nov. 2018).

The book gives details on how automation and platform manipulation amounts to a new political communications mechanism. Howard and Woolley call it “computational propaganda.”

Computational propaganda differs from older styles of propaganda in that it uses algorithms, automation, and human curation to purposefully distribute disinformation over social media networks. At the same time, it learns from and mimics real people so as to manipulate public opinion across a diverse range of platforms and device networks.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Boko Haram Terrorism Spreads

Women from a Christian village in Cameroon recover after having their ears chopped off by members of Boko Haram in July 2019. (Photo: Open Doors)

Nigeria’s decade-long conflict with Boko Haram has resulted in the deaths of over 20,000 civilians and a large-scale humanitarian crisis. Approximately 2.1 million people have been displaced by the conflict while 7 million need humanitarian assistance. The crisis is likely to expand as Boko Haram broadens its ruthless attacks.

Boko Haram terrorists stormed the Christian village of Kalagari in northern Cameroon on July 29, taking eight women hostage and cutting off their ears before releasing them. The women are being treated for their injuries but Open Doors UK said it was not clear whether all of the abducted women had been released.

The militant group has been attacking Christian communities in Nigeria for the last decade and has now spread its violent ideology into Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

Boko Haram was responsible for attacks that killed more than 425 people, including police officers, soldiers, community leaders, politicians, Islamic clerics, Christian pastors, and church members. The attacks on November 4 resulted in the highest death toll in a single day since Boko Haram began its campaign of violence in Nigeria in July 2009.

Boko Haram was was responsible for hundreds of deaths in attacks in Maiduguri on government buildings, markets, schools, media houses and churches, including church bombings that sparked a new wave of sectarian violence in late June 2012. The violence killed about 100 people between the bombings and the fights.

Boko Haram murdered three North Korean medical doctors, beheading one, in Yobe State. Boko Haram also murdered nine female polio workers in Kano.

Boko Haram murdered a Christian pastor and a Muslin cleric who were traveling together. They were ambushed in Zaria. In Feb. 2014 Boko Haram slaughtered 43 students in a Christian school in Buni Yadi.

The 300 schoolgirls abducted by Bolo Haram from the village of Chibok in 2014 are still missing.

Boko Haram militants razed the entire town of Baga in north-east Nigeria. Bodies lay strewn on Baga's streets. At least 2,000 people were killed. Boko Haram now controls 70% of Borno State, which is the worst-affected by the insurgency.

In March, soldiers from Niger and Chad who liberated the Nigerian town of Damasak from Boko Haram discovered the bodies of at least 70 people, many with their throats slit, scattered under a bridge.

In June Boko Haram lauched attacks on the villages of Debiro Hawul and Debiro Bi in Borno state, killing at least 40 persons.

In a separate attack, a 12-year old female suicide bomber killed at least 10 people in the town of Gujba in Yobe State.

In Feb. Boko Haram killed at lest 65 people in Dalori in Kaduna State. A suicide bomber infiltrated the group that was hiding.

The same month Boko Haram gunmen in pickups stormed the villages of Yakshari and Kachifa in Damboa district, slaughtering at least 30 villagers, in two separate attacks on Friday night and Saturday morning.

Boko Haram militants kidnapped about 40 young adults, women and children and killed 18 in the town of Banki in Borno State, on the border of Nigeria and Cameroon. Boko Haram is blamed for the murders of about 400 people between April and September 2017 in the Lake Chad area. 

In 2107, Boko Haram launched 90 armed assaults and 59 suicide attacks.

In June, Boko Haram attacked and killed 9 soldiers and wounded two others in Gajiram, headquarters of the local government of Nganzai in northeastern Nigeria.

In July, Boko Haram swarmed 81 Division Task Force Brigade in Jilli in Yobe State. Three Nigerian Army officers and 28 soldiers were killed.

Boko Haram began targeting soldiers. In Oct., Boko Haram attacked and killed 15 soldiers near the Niger Border and around the Lake Chad.

In Nov. gunmen overran a Nigerian army battalion at Metele Village in Guzamala Local government in Borno State killing 70 soldiers.

In July, Boko Haram attacked a funeral procession, killing at least 60 people and injuring 11.

Earlier in the month Boko Haram attacked soldiers near the village of Damboa, killing five. Another 14 soldiers and two civilians were also wounded.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Trapped in a Web of Punditry

Alice C. Linsley

The citizens of the United States of America are facing what promises to be another contentious presidential election in 2020. We can expect heated rhetoric and further polarization. The election campaigns will be flashy and pander to fears on all sides. Opponents will be presented in the most unflattering way, with suggestions and accusations of deceit, corruption, and bigotry. The discourse will reach a moral and intellectual low, and the usual gaslighting will occur.

The term "gaslighting" is taken from the movie, Gaslight, in which Charles Boyer manipulates and confuses the mind of Ingrid Bergman. This type of manipulation is found inside both political parties and doubtless it will occur more frequently in the months ahead.

Gaslighting aims at causing confusion in the minds of the public. Confusion makes it difficult for people to make informed decisions. The gaslighter seeks to impose his narrative to prevent people from perceiving the reality. Dr. Bryant Welch writes about this in his book The State of Confusion (2008). He argues that various forms of political manipulation undermine the nation's ability to confront real problems.

Thinking people will be able to cut through the confusion, but few will be able to communicate the reality to others in a clear and concise way. In part, this is because we fall into the traps. We use the language of political slogans instead of simple English. We are caught in a web of punditry.

Punditry involves opinions more than data and resembles entertainment more than reporting. It dominates the mass media, and the examples are often ludicrous. As Dorothy Sayers pointed out in her famous speech "The Lost Tools of Learning" (1949) modernity has produced a climate favorable to bishops airing "their opinions about economics; biologists, about metaphysics; inorganic chemists, about theology; the most irrelevant people are appointed to highly technical ministries; and plain, blunt men write to the papers to say that Epstein and Picasso do not know how to draw."

To further complicate matters, there is a deficit of articulate communicators who hold telling the truth as their first priority. I am reminded of the sage advice Wendell Barry gave to my writing students. He wrote:
The first obligation of a writer is to tell the truth--or to come as near to telling it as is humanly possible. To do that, it is necessary to learn to write well. And to learn to write well, it is necessary to learn to read well. Reading will make you a better writer, provided you will read ever more attentively and critically. You will probably read a lot of contemporary writing in your textbooks, in magazines and newspapers, in popular novels, etc. The contemporary is inescapable. You may more easily escape the writing that is most necessary to you. I mean the books we know as "classics," books that have been read for generations or for centuries and so have proved their excellence.

The first obligation of a communicator should be to tell the truth, and in order to do that, the communicator must read, think, analyze, pay attention to details, and make distinctions. Unfortunately, less than truthful narratives dominate the public domain, and obfuscation has become an art in the political arena.

If there is an antidote to the poison, it must involve turning off the pundits, reading to learn, telling the truth, and taking responsibility for oneself.

Related reading: Wendell Barry: Telling the Truth; The Media Stokes Anger and Radicalization;
Public Debate and Search Engine Politics; Binary is a Bad Word These Days; G.K. Chesterton Explains U.S. Political Insanity

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Media Stokes Anger and Radicalization

The recent mass shootings in El Paso, Dayton, and Chicago are still under investigation. However, they have much in common with other mass shootings: they are violent acts of angry men. Angry people find "sinister ideologies" helpful in justifying their aggression.

The anger has been stoked by faceless voices in American society. It is easy to blame President Trump because there we have a face. Homegrown terrorism appears to be stoked in the U.S.A. by the polarizing Media and through social media, both of which should step up their efforts to defuse the anger and to identify the radicals.

In Muslim countries young men are radicalized by Imams and Mullahs. In the United States they are radicalized by a faceless media. When we buy into the polarized narrative of the Media we dehumanize our opponents and it is easier to kill them.

Related reading: Mass Shootings by Country: 2019; Dayton Shooter Truly Sick; Anger Issues From a Young Age; Trapped in a Web of Punditry

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Public Debate and Search Engine Politics

As G.K. Chesterton noted in his book Heretics, the more people debate in a public forum the more firmly entrenched beliefs become. He wrote, "Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them their limits and their plain and defiant shape." (Read the full quotation here.)

Algorithms add to the dynamic shaping of political bias in society. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter stated that within the Twitter organization, “We have folks that are at various points in the political spectrum and they don’t feel comfortable today bringing up certain issues or their viewpoints on certain issues. And I don’t believe that is acceptable.”

Despite his efforts to create an inclusive environment at Twitter’s headquarters, Twitter’s behavior on the internet appears to favor Democrats and liberals. Dorsey admitted that there is a “left-leaning bias” among Twitter employees, but he maintains that this liberal bias does not translate to the algorithm Twitter uses to return search queries.

A recent Harvard University study showed that Google’s search results do have a bias towards Democrats. (Read more here.)

There are growing concerns about the fairness of computer programs in shaping public opinion and political bias. A 2018 survey of the Pew Research Center found that age and ethnicity were factors in how people view the fairness of social media.

The survey also found that people believe that "humans are complex, and these systems are incapable of capturing nuance. This is a relatively consistent theme, mentioned across several of these concepts as something about which people worry when they consider these scenarios. This concern is especially prominent among those who find the use of criminal risk scores unacceptable. Roughly half of these respondents mention concerns related to the fact that all individuals are different, or that a system such as this leaves no room for personal growth or development."

Automated decision making uses automated reasoning to aid or replace human decision-making, and this has been discussed at conferences and policy meetings around the globe. These conversations have revealed that there are "no ethical or legal frameworks comprehensively describing personal responsibility for the tools’ application, safety of their implementation or the rights and obligations of the states and citizens in this regard."

This report states that "none of the researched countries established a coordinating body responsible for monitoring automated decision making implementation, including the creation of tools and their performance."

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Life Beyond Earth: Does it pose a theological crisis?

By Deborah Haarsma, Director at BioLogos

Astronomers are discovering thousands of planets in orbit around other stars. They now estimate that there are billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy. Could intelligent life be living on some of those planets? This is the subject of much scientific speculation and entertaining science fiction. While we haven’t yet detected signs of alien life, what would such a discovery mean for Christians?

Some atheists claim the discovery of aliens would destroy organized religion or invalidate the Bible. However, a survey of religious people found that most are comfortable with the idea of intelligent aliens and do not see it threatening their beliefs. Astronauts such as John Glenn actually found their trip to space to bring them closer to God and to a deeper faith. The Bible is still relevant in the space age; it makes claims far beyond the people and places of Earth, describing God as the Creator of all life and the entire cosmos. Yet many questions remain.

Let’s think about some of the common questions Christians ask about intelligent life beyond Earth. While we ponder these, we can remember that the significance of humanity is based on God’s actions toward us here on Earth. On our planet, God became incarnate as one of us and sacrificed himself to save us. Whether there are aliens or not, we are significant in God’s eyes. We can stay curious about life beyond Earth and celebrate all life that God chooses to create.

Read it all here.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Ethics Forum Has a New Format

Beginning in August 2019, Ethics Forum will have a new format. It will be more aesthetically pleasing and user friendly. This blog has been around for eleven years and it is time for a fresher look!

Additionally, we will approach ethics thematically. Each month will focus on one theme. Perhaps you noticed that we explored the theme of aliens and extraterrestrial life in July. A few articles about politics were woven in to prepare for the August focus on political discourse and concerns about manipulation.

In September, we will consider global terrorism. Please suggest additional themes that you would like to explore.

Readers are invited to suggest themes of interest in the comment box. If you have written something that relates to the announced theme of the month and would like to have it published here, send it to Alice C. Linsley, aproeditor-at-gmail-dot-com

Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing from you.

Alien Adolescents

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Chesterton Explains US Political Insanity

G.K. Chesterton wrote:
"Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them their limits and their plain and defiant shape. We who are Liberals once held Liberalism lightly as a truism. Now it has been disputed, and we hold it fiercely as a faith. We who believe in patriotism once thought patriotism to be reasonable, and thought little more about it. Now we know it to be unreasonable, and know it to be right. We who are Christians never knew the great philosophic common sense which inheres in that mystery until the anti-Christian writers pointed it out to us. The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed.” (Heretics)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Terrestrial U.F.O. - An Unclassified Encounter

John Williams

When I saw the UFO Welcome Center billboard, a hokey Route 66 style trinket shop came to mind. If I was really lucky, I thought, perhaps I’d find a curtain that could be brushed away for $5 a glimpse to reveal a shriveled grey body. Then I recalled, this wasn’t a UFO themed welcome center at all. It was Bowman S.C.’s legendary docking point for alien spaceships on earth.

The edifice eschews architectural conventions, contemporary or classical. Its imposing appearance is supplemented by cautionary signage. The way the floor gives and the wall shakes affords those who enter a sense of slight danger; adventure, as the ancients called it.

There was a deep stillness in those first moments, save a television silently relaying the black and white programming of a serial western. I sensed that this place’s sexton would present himself abruptly, as would only be appropriate. And suddenly, he emerged. Jody; an old, thin man with long hair, a Hawaiian shirt, and a beard.

“Do you want to go up?” he asked. 
“Yes, please.”

Overwhelmed by the beauty of this place, I was reminded of the cathedral. The environment envelops man and takes him somewhere fresh and new. As I climbed ladder after ladder behind Jody, I sensed the ascension that the architect sought to convey. When we reached the penultimate floor, pictures from the windows were encouraged. 

“We’re having fun!” he observed.

“Did you make this place?” I asked, knowing the answer.

“Yes. Human hands.” He showed them to me. I admire the pride in his species. The human hand is a comparatively rudimentary technology, but even the most ardent futurist finds it is most useful in overcoming alienation from his daily surroundings.

“For our otherworldly friends?”

“Yes for the aliens.. yes the otherworldly. If they ever come back again.” 

He exaggeratedly clasped his hand to his mouth. “I’ve said too much,” he said with a grin.

“What are you going to do in your life?” he asked me.

I stood silent. I’m very familiar with the question. It feels like an insurmountable weight at times. However, in Jody’s kind face I saw the dissolution of the egoism that typically drives the interrogation. It was as if he asked “What are you going to do in your life… disregarding Babylon.”

“Have fun!” He implored before leaping back into the hull. In climbing to the highest level, we found ourselves in a small cylindrical disc covered in Pyrex saucers. I felt tremendously welcome, and believe any ET worth his salt would concur.

Upon exiting the spacecraft, we saw a clan of pilgrims resting outside the walls of the sanctum, newly joined by Jody. Two children left an old woman’s side to approach us, showing the front pages of two local newspapers prominently displaying the feat.

After some pleasant conversation, Jody excused himself.

“I have a date!”

I thanked him for his hard work before he left.

“Don’t worry,” he replied, “It’ll still be here when you’re ready to go.”

My feelings regarding the alien grey are as complicated as the technology and intelligence that it signifies. It is easy to sense the spiritual or extra-dimensional progression of things.

Greys are reported to illumine, to rape, to give purpose, to manipulate. When pondering technofuturism, I consider the ways that paradigm-shifting intelligence does all of these things to the human spirit.

But in the microcosm; in Jody’s shuttle, filled with ancient, expended technology, far removed from Crowley’s invocations of Lam, far removed from L Ron Hubbard’s social manipulation through the use of alien archetypes, far removed from the extraterrestrially inspired self destruction of Heaven’s Gate, I felt an angelic hope. A feeling that, in earnest, when I’m ready to go, the joys of ascension, fun, pure creation, and ultimate revelation will be waiting.


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Ethics and Partisan Politics

Recently, accusations of racism, pandering to fears, and questions about ethics have taken center stage in American politics. The polarization of Americans seems more pronounced than usual. What roll does ethics play in this drama?

"In a Pew Research Center survey conducted last summer, 91% of Americans said it is essential for someone in high political office to be honest and ethical – the top attribute out of nine asked about in the survey. There were no partisan differences in this assessment: Nearly identical shares of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (90%) and Republicans and Republican leaners (91%) said this."

The survey showed disagreement on Trump and his administration, as there has been for other elected officials. Similar disagreement surrounded the Clinton administration.

The Pew survey found that "People generally view presidents from their own party as trustworthy – and presidents from the other party as not trustworthy."

Read the January 2019 report here

Saturday, July 6, 2019

An Ethical Consideration of Aliens

Space Tapestry: Faraway Missions, Tate Liverpool, 2017

Alice C. Linsley

I work at the intersection of Philosophy and Science. The first discipline requires an open mind and the second requires that my mind clamp down on hard data. Both are helpful when considering aliens and unidentified flying objects (U.F.O's). There is no hard data to prove the existence of aliens and U.F.O's, and yet the obsession persists.What motivates the obsession?

It has been suggested that the Media keeps the obsession alive. This is the view of the journalist Keith Kloor in his article "America’s Enduring Obsession With UFOs: How the media keeps extraterrestrial infatuation top of mind."

Another explanation for the longevity of the UFO-alien obsession is cult-like groups. According to William H. Swatos, Jr, many of these groups have a religious quality. Swatos explains:
To their alleged encounters, "contactees" such as George Adamski and Orfeo Angelucci attached religious meaning, which often incorporated spiritualist and theosophical principles with apocalyptic and millennialist themes. These themes reflected growing American cultural fears of communism and nuclear destruction, combined with faith in the salvific nature of technology. Masonic and Rosicrucian ideals and rituals also appeared within some of the early groups and, most recently, in the Order of the Solar Temple. Contemporary UFO groups additionally borrow from "New Age" and Christian doctrines (as did Heaven's Gate) as well as from the general science fiction milieu. The range of beliefs among these groups is quite wide, including people who claim to have seen UFOs, alleged contactees, alleged contactees who have visited ships or other worlds, reputed victims of alien experimentation, and alleged aliens who live among humans.

In another article by Keith Kloor he asks, "A community of believers in extraterrestrial visitations continues to push its story, and the media and Pentagon continue to listen. Who benefits from these tales of close encounters?" 

The speculation gains legitimacy when the Navy issues guidelines for reporting UFO's. In an age when people read only the headlines and the headlines are often misleading, few will note that the Navy is not acknowledging encounters with alien spacecraft. Rather, it is acknowledging the importance of recording unusual sightings by trained military personnel.

Perhaps some people follow alien lore as a way of gaining attention. Attention seekers thrive by keeping a speculative conversation going, and there are attention seekers in every arena of society. Add an element of conspiracy and religious indignation, and the movement is bound to draw followers.

Claire Coffey finds that what was once a fringe belief system has taken hold of the imagination of many. The religion of the UFO is also the religion of technology and is disseminated and popularized through the narratives of Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The X-Files. She sees this as a new religion with adherents as loyal as Roman Catholics who claim to have had visions of the Virgin Mary.

In an attempt to find legitimacy in the Bible, some insist that the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4 refers to aliens. Here we have a case of selective reading or what some call "cherry picking" biblical passages. The verse makes it clear that it refers to men, not aliens.
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

The nephilim were powerful early rulers, also known as gibboriym, which means the mighty ones. They are also called "the mighty men" of old in Genesis 10. Further, the term "nephilim" comes from the same root as the Aramaic npyl (nephil) which means great in rank or stature. This is equivalent to the Arabic nfy, meaning hunter. It is said concerning Nimrod that he was a “mighty hunter” or a “mighty man” before the Lord.

Since there is no hard evidence for aliens and U.F.O's, how should one respond to those who adhere to this belief? Humoring is perceived as condescending. Confrontation is likely to stir antagonism. People don't like to have their worldviews challenged. Empirical reasoning is useless since the worldview of adherents is a substitute for empiricism.

In today's world one may discuss ethical encounters with aliens. It is time we talk about ethical engagement with alien-embracing religionists.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Why We Observe Memorial Day

Each year on Memorial Day Americans pause to remember the fallen and honor their sacrifice. First established as Decoration Day after the Civil War, the holiday was set aside for families and friends to visit and decorate the graves of troops lost in the conflict.

As time went on, the observance instead became known as "Memorial Day," until 1971, when Congress declared it an official holiday set to fall annually on the last Monday in May. 

Three years after the Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans -- the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) -- established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30.

It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country.

Read more here and here.

Related: The Poppy Wall of Honor

Monday, May 13, 2019

Features of Islamic Extremism

Apologists for Islam claim that Islamic terrorism is the work of a few religious fanatics. However, that Islam demands this level of extremism from its adherents as is evident from Islamic writings and  teachers.

Devout Muslims believe they have a duty to expand the rule of Islam. They justify abuse of "infidels" and "idolaters" and under the right circumstance, any one of them can be turned to violence. The most prominent leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, admits that the "killing of apostates is essential for Islam to survive." He simply is reiterating what is said in the Qur'an.

"If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him." (Qur'an 3:85)

Qur'an 9:30 states that Christians and Jews are perverse. Allah himself fights against them.

"He it is who has sent His Messenger (Mohammad) with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam) to make it victorious over all religions even though the infidels may resist." (Qur'an 61:9)

The Qur'an contains 109 verses that call Muslims to war against non-Muslims in order to advance Islamic rule globally. Some include commands to chop off heads and fingers. Terrorist acts are encouraged. "If thou comest on them in the war, deal with them so as to strike fear in those who are behind them, that haply they may remember." (Qur'an 8:57)

After capturing Mecca in 630 A.D., Mohammad delivered this speech:
"Bear in mind that every claim of privilege, whether that of blood or property is abolished...I reject all claims relating to life and property and all imaginary honors of the past, and declare them to be baseless... A Muslim is the brother of another Muslim and all the Muslims are brothers of one another and constitute one hand as against the non-Muslims."
The Turkish journalist Uzay Bulut studies religious movements. She has written:
"Sadly, the founder of Islam did not leave behind a humanitarian message to respect people of other faiths and to be on an equal footing with them. What the Islamic State (ISIS) and other barbaric Islamist groups have been doing to people is horrific beyond words; but it is meticulously based on Islamic scriptures. So it is not the West causing these human tragedies; it is Islam and Muslims."

Consider these words of the Islamic theologian Syed Abul A'ala Maududi:
"Islam wishes to destroy all states and government anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and program of Islam regardless of the country or the nation which rules it. The purpose of Islam is to set up a state on the basis of its own ideology and program."

Related reading: Islamic Violence Against Women; Facing the Facts About Islamic Extremism; Is Islam Ethical?; Islamic Extremism and Iconoclasm

Monday, April 1, 2019

Moratorium on Heritable Genome Editing?

Bioethicists have voiced a global plea for a moratorium on heritable genome editing in the wake of the recent Chinese experiment aiming to produce HIV immune children.

From Science Daily. Read it here.

In an article in the latest issue of international scientific journal Nature, Professor Jing-Bao Nie together with another 16 academics from seven countries, call for a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing to make genetically modified children.

They would like an international governance framework -- in which nations voluntarily commit to not approve any use of clinical germline editing unless certain conditions are met -- to be created potentially for a five-year period.

Professor Nie says the scientific scandal of the experiment that led to the world's first genetically modified babies raises many intriguing ethical, social and transcultural/transglobal issues. His main personal concerns include what he describes as the "inadequacy" of the Chinese and international responses to the experiment.

"The Chinese authorities have conducted a preliminary investigation into the scientist's genetic misadventure and issued a draft new regulation on the related biotechnologies. These are welcome moves. Yet, by putting blame completely on the rogue scientist individually, the institutional failings are overlooked," Professor Nie explains.

"In the international discourse, partly due to the mentality of dichotomising China and the West, a tendency exists to characterise the scandal as just a Chinese problem. As a result, the global context of the experiment and Chinese science schemes have been far from sufficiently examined."

The group of 17 scientists and bioethicists say it is imperative that extensive public discussions about the technical, scientific, medical, societal, ethical and moral issues must be considered before germline editing is permitted. A moratorium would provide time to establish broad societal consensus and an international framework.

"For germline editing to even be considered for a clinical application, its safety and efficacy must be sufficient -- taking into account the unmet medical need, the risks and potential benefits and the existence of alternative approaches," the opinion article states.

Although techniques have improved in recent years, germline editing is not yet safe or effective enough to justify any use in the clinic with the risk of failing to make the desired change or of introducing unintended mutations still unacceptably high, the scientists and ethicists say.

"No clinical application of germline editing should be considered unless its long-term biological consequences are sufficiently understood -- both for individuals and for the human species."

The proposed moratorium does not however, apply to germline editing for research uses or in human somatic (non-reproductive) cells to treat diseases.

Professor Nie considers it significant that current presidents of the UK Royal Society, the US National Academy of Medicine and the Director and Associate Director of the US National Institute of Health have expressed their strong support for such a proposed global moratorium in two correspondences published in the same issue of Nature. The editorial in the issue also argues that the right decision can be reached "only through engaging more communities in the debate."

"The most challenging questions are whether international organisations and different countries will adopt a moratorium and if yes, whether it will be effective at all," Professor Nie says.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Murder of Journalists in Mexico: "Historic High"

National Public Radio (2107)

According to the New York-based nonprofit, six journalists were killed in Mexico this year, putting it just behind Iraq and Syria as the deadliest places in the world to work in the media.

Another reporter may be added to Mexico's murdered list for 2017. On Tuesday, Gumaro Pérez Aguilando was killed in the state of Veracruz. The 35-year-old crime reporter was gunned down while attending a Christmas party at his son's elementary school.

Pérez was registered in the state's journalist protection program. But Wednesday, state investigators said he was no longer a working journalist and had ties to organized crime. That drew an angry protest by the secretary of the state's Commission for the Attention and Protection of Journalists.

"A discussion of a person's character, with the intention to judge him and criminalize him, does not help those of us who desire justice for journalists who have been assassinated," said Jorge Morales Vázquez.

Read it all here.

Related reading: 50,000 Murdered in Mexico in Twelve Years; Three Journalists Found Dead in Veracruz; Mexico Fails to Protect Wornat and Monroy; Mexico Leads Latin America in Media Professional Murders; Zetas Dismember Female Journalist; Mexican Drug Lords Killing Journalists

Friday, January 18, 2019

Is Islam Ethical?

Alice C. Linsley

The rise of Islamic terrorism due to the radicalization of younger people across the globe has raised questions about the ethics of Islam. Are violence, intolerance, and imposition of Sharia inherent to this religion? If so, is peace and co-existence possible?

One might argue that Islamic ethics is essentially about domination. The religion provides justifications to kill non-Muslims, rape, seize lands, behead those who commit adultery (mostly pinned on women); dismember law breakers, enslave women and boys for sex, and tell lies to advance Islam. This ethical system is contrary to the values espoused by most Western young people who oppose discrimination, segregation, and the destruction of priceless artifacts. However, many do not realize that Islam and the values of the secular West are at odds. The naive have fallen prey to sophisticated Islamic propaganda. They also have not learned to think critically about their own culture.

Were one to read only the writings of Dr. Khaula Rehman, the view of Islamic ethics would be very different. This revisionist perspective would have us believe that Islam promotes freedom of speech and human rights. Yet the sacred texts of Muslims expose this false narrative. Consider the following:

Hadith Bukhari, 52:260; Bukhari 59:643 3
Muslims may kill Jews and Christians if they do not convert or pay.

Qur'an 8:12; 8:60 5
Muslims are justified in terrorizing non-Muslims.

Qur'an 4:3; 4:24; 5:89; 33:50; 58:3; 70:30 6
You can enslave others for sex and work:

Qur'an 65:4 7
Muslim men may rape, marry (consummate marriage), and divorce pre-pubescent girls.

Qur'an 33:27, 8:69, 48:20; 8.
Muslims may seize land, houses, and the wealth of non-Muslims.

Qur'an 5:38
Islamic justice requires that the hands of thieves be cut off.

Hadith Bukhari 81:792 9
Muslims may lie to advance the cause of Jihad.

Qur'an 98:6; 11
Muslims may treat non-Muslims as vile creatures deserving no mercy.

Qur'an 4:10
Treat non-Muslims as sworn enemies.

Concerning Christians who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, we find this condemnation:

And on the Day of Resurrection you will see those who lied against Allah (i.e.attributed to Him sons, partners, etc.) their faces will be black. Is there not in Hell an abode for the arrogant ones? (The Groups: 60)

Choose your darkness

It is easy to criticize the ethics of Islam, but western secularism is equally dark and evil. It would have us believe that the earth and all life results from random material processes; that life is meaningless; that the individual controls his destiny; that there is nothing special about humans; and that the unborn child is a lump of flesh to be removed, like an unwanted tumor.

Our politics and social policies are dictated by activism and lobbyists, rather than Sharia. Our public system of education excludes all metaphysical conversation (thanks to John Dewey). Consumerism and coddling characterize the universities so that it is easier to enroll in a course on transgender studies that it is to study logic or quantum physics.

When it comes to religion, our social conventions are across the board, at least at first glance. We want the freedom to believe and practice our own religion, be it "churchy" or secular. In reality, we all are herded down the same path of feel-good religion, away from intimacy with our Creator. The accepted places of prayer are noisy entertainment venues. No bowing on prayer rugs facing Mecca. Rather a casual worship in jeans, sipping Starbucks coffee, and keeping God at a distance.

Related reading: Facing the Facts About Islamic ExtremismIslamic Iconoclasm; Muslim Style Segregation; The Heresy of Worshiptainment; Secularism: A Christian Heresy?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Ethics and Christmas

'Tis the season once again for shopping, long lines and short tempers. This is the only Christmas many Americans know. How have we become so detached from one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar?

The ethics of Christmas are discussed in this PBS video.