Atheist v Muslim

An atheist who appeared in a Halloween parade dressed as the Prophet Muhammad while shouting provacative phrases was allegedly assaulted by a Muslim. The case has taken a turn for the controversial when the judge in the case dismissed the charges citing a lack of evidence. In dismissing the case, however, the judge admonished the alleged victim for being needlessly provocative on an issue sensitive with Muslims. Critics of this decision have accused the judge of siding with Islam or at the very least of not protecting the rights of atheists.

This appears to me to be a question of whether blatantly offensive speech negates an individual’s right to be free from physical violence. It is a question I find difficult to answer because, while I strongly support the right to free speech, I also believe that there is a certain level of speech which is sometimes referred to as “fightin’ words”. For example, I think that if I were to walk up to a married couple and say to the woman “I would like to f*** you right in the mouth”, I am inviting physical violence upon myself. If I wind up busted up in the ensuing chaos I think the police, prosecuting attorney, and judge of any potential court case would be correct in turning away any effort on my part to initiate legal action for the trouble I invited. My only real question in the case of this atheist v Muslim is whether this particular incident rises to this standard.

The question as to whether or not people have the right to offend each other is moot. In a society where free speech is the standard, we have the right to offend each other all day. The real questions are:

  • Is this particular case a genuine instance of behavior that invites/provokes violence, and;
  • If so, does the individual who provokes violence against himself therefore forfeit the right to protection under the law in such a case?
  • In addressing the first question, I find myself thinking of my own behavior. Personally I would never specifically go out of my way to offend someone’s religious sensibilities unless that person had used their religion to insult me first. The one exception I can think of is the time some Jehovah’s Witness walked up to me and tried to hand me an issue of The Watchtower and I replied “No thanks, I’m already in a cult”, but even then the offense on my part was minor and in my opinion warranted. If someone does use their religion to attack me, I believe I am within my rights to attack their religion, even to the point of insensitivity, blatant offense, and theologically dismantling their theological tenets piece by piece. There are times, however, when my insensitive counter to an offensive attack by a Christian might have resulted in offense to other Christians within earshot (or blogshot) who had done me no ecclesiastial wrong. It is for this reason that I would be very careful in labeling a religious offense as a blanket provocation to violence. I do not want to live in a world where religious debate is considered an invitation to physical violence, especially since the person giving offense might have simply been responding to offense that was given by the other side first.

    In short, I believe that all people have the right to be free from physical violence but I also believe that if you goad another person to violence either through boorish behavior or intentional offense, you should basically live with the result and that seeking judicial action against the other side in such a case is in poor taste. I state this as a matter of street credibility an ethics, not as a matter of law (it is also important to note that this in no way is to be construed as a justification of death threats such as those which were lodged against the creators of Southpark after the Muhammad episodes which I consider to be extreme overreaction which should be taken seriously and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law). The above case strikes me as a case of intentional provocation which is akin to saying the n word, chink, or Barbara Streisand in public and I think it’s like pissing on a flag at a NASCAR event. Whether or not one has the legal right to do these things, I think they are all terrible ideas and I think if someone happens to get roughed up as a result of something like this one should be prepared for the possibility that the ensuing case might very well be dismissed. Theoretically you have the right. As a practical matter, a court might not care to pursue it. I file this one under ‘assumption of risk’.

    Heh

    Clown injured in circus mishap.

    Superbowl

    My prediction: Patriots 27 Giants 17

    and there WILL be a safety in the game. Which screws up my score unless there are a lot of field goals or at least a missed extra point but oh well. And I predict that Casey Anthony will smother a baby during the halftime show but that she will be exonerated. BOOK IT!

    Casey Anthony Video Diary Log Part II.

    This is my second installment addressing the Casey Anthony issue and specifically addressing her detractors commenting on her video diary log. In this section I will address the claim that we all know who did it and that Casey Anthony got away with murder. In doing so I must bring up the testimony of the medical examiner Dr. Jan Garavaglia who testified that she could not determine a cause of death for Caley Anthony and then followed that up with stating that the death was due to “homicide by undetermined means.”

    The problem I have with this is that the medical examiner was brought in to testify as a medical expert (which she most certainly is) but that her determination was not based on the medical facts but rather on the other facts in the case. The reason this is a problem is that in doing so strayed away from her area of expertise and asserted a statement of fact on one of the very issues the jury was brought in to decide. Does the non medical evidence (e.g. duct tape) in the case support a charge of murder? This issue is not her call to make and is no more appropriate than if the defense was to bring in a handwriting expert to testify that Caley’s death was an accident because babies can’t get out of swimming pools.

    The truth is that since nobody besides Casey knows for certain how Caley died the facts in the case most strongly supported a case for child neglect, failure to report a death, and improper disposal of a dead body. The problem is that people are often most strongly motivating by pursuing what the “know” without actually knowing. Oh, we all know that Casey committed murder. Oh really? How do you know? Because normal mothers call 911 when their kids die. Bullshit! The fact that Casey did not call 911 only proves that she did not call 911.

    Hypotheticaly if Casey was using chloroform to render her child unconcious so that she could go to the club without having to arrange for a babysitter and she accidently killed Caley in the process isn’t it possible that Casey would have been afraid to report the death out of fear of prosecution? Of course it is. Given that possibility the facts in the case do not a finding of murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Strangely enough, my hypothetical scenario would support Dr. Garavaglia’s determination of homicide (which does not mean murder) by undetermined means, however I still maintain that as a medical expert who didn’t have enough medical facts to go on that was not her call to make.

    If Casey Anthony had been convicted of murder in this case I have no doubt that an appeal would have been filed based on the medical examiner’s conclusion and that the appeal would have very likely have prevailed on that issue. For Casey’s sake it was good that it did not have to come to that. In the future I think that the judge in this case needs to reign in the expert witnesses and make sure that they stay within their area of expertise. I also think that prosecutors should also think long and hard about bringing forth charges that are not supported by the facts.

    Casey Anthony Video Diary Log Part I.

    This is the first in what I intended to be a multi part series about Casey Anthony. As most of you probably already know, Casey Anthony released a video diary log on youtube. Many people are absolutely offended at this development and I’m writing this in order to confront her many detractors.

    Point 1: Attacking Casey Anthony does not make you a good person

    Many of the people who are impelled to attack Casey Anthony do so under the misguided notion that to attack someone else’s morality somehow does something to elevate their own moral standing. It does not. Whatever shortcomings, flaws, idosynchracies, and negative attributes you may have as a person, these are not ameliorated one bit by your criticism of Casey Anthony. The self righteous feeling you get from attacking others is a fool’s gold and at the end of the day, when all your onlining flaming is done you still have to live with yourself.

    Point 2: Unless your name is Casey Anthony, you do not know what happened to Caley

    You may think you know but the facts do not support your presumptions. Contrary to popular belief, chloroform is not necessary to murder a toddler and in all likelihood it was probably used to render the child unconcious so that Casey could go to the club. This does not make Casey a candidate for mother of the year but neither does it support a charge of murder. If this theory is correct it is a moral infraction that goes right along the lines of parents who give their kids over the counter medications when they’re not sick for the sole purpose of making them go to sleep. In fact, the worst thing you can say for certain about Casey Anthony is that she failed to report her daughter’s death in a timely manner. As crimes go, that is a pretty minor one and, given that she’s served four years already, I would say her debt to society has been paid.

    Point 3: Casey Anthony is good looking and has a nice rack!

    These are almost entirely beside the point except for that fact that I think it helps fuel some of the rage against her. Many people and chicks especially really enjoy piling on when good looking women threaten their self esteem. This is not something I just made up, it’s been document by numerous studies, some of which I may link later if people press the issue (I regard this fact as nearly a foregone conclusion but I will back it up with documentation if I have to.)

    I will continue this thread at a later time after hearing counter-arguments which I expect will be forthcoming. More to come as the situation develops.

    Pokemon is Relevant B7tch3s!!!

    Herman Cain’s Pokemon reference.

    Unemployment Figures and their Effect on Presidential Reelections

    I was just looking at US unemployment figures going back to 1976 and found that, with only one exception in that time frame, US Presidents who end their first terms with worse national unemployment figures than at the beginning of their terms are not reelected. The fact that George W. Bush was reelected despite reverses in national unemployment numbers in 2004 can be explained because the nation was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks, American approval for the invastion of Iraq not having passed 50% until 2004 which was not quite in time to sway the election against him at that time although had the election occured even one year later it almost certainly would have been a different story. Similarly, there is only one instance of a President not being reelected in that time frame despite improving unemployment figures. Jimmy Carter’s reelection bid was doomed both by the abject failure of his attempts to free the 52 Americans who were held hostage in Iran as well as double digit inflation rates. Except for these two anomalies, the reelection prospects for US Presidentsin the past 30 years has been directly tied to changes in the unemployment figures during their first terms.

    In light of this dynamic, unless national unemployment figures are to take a dramatic turn in the next 12 months, the reelection prospects of President Obama are dead in the water. Even the killing of Osama Bin Laden during the current term will not be enough to help, both because people widely credit Bin Laden’s death to the members of the US military rather than to the Presidentand because the event did not occur close enough to the election to remain fresh in the minds of the electorate. Add to that that Obama squandered all of his political clout on the passage of universal health care which is as reviled by the right as it seems to be forgotten by the left and you have now the most unelectable incumbant President since Jimmy Carter. I have never felt this much certainty about an election in my life and I don’t think that even a late breaking scandal on the part of the eventual republican nominee would be enough to counfound fate. And lest anyone think I’m gloating at this development, I’m not certain that anyone on the repulican side can right what’s wrong with America in a timely fashion either. At this point I think it would necessitate a shovel, directions to Reagan’s grave, and extremely powerful smelling salts.

    Martyrdom

    The above is a song by Flyleaf written about Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott who died in the Columbine school shootings in 1999. Cassie is widely believed (although erroneously identified according to Wikkipedia) as the girl who was asked the question “Do you believe in God?” before being gunned down by the Columbine killers after she replied in the affirmative. This song is proceeds on that assumption but whether or not the girl in question was correctly identified is not an issue here. My point is that the song and the underlying story is compelling and inspirational even to a non-Christian like me, not because of the religious undertone but because it is the story of a person refusing to capitulate to a bully even in the face of overwhelming force. This is the quintessential hero story for our times and as such it is the kind of stuff cultural icons are made of.

    This sort of heroism is admired in every culture and is the basis of many of our shared mythologies, back to and including the story of David and Goliath and even modern day ballads such as Jim Croce’s Leroy Brown. It is part of human nature that admiration for this type of bravery is ubiquitous and upheld and for good reason. Among the myriad things that human beings regard as exceptional, the ability to hold to your principles in the face of certain death is among the highest on the order of worldly deeds. Stories like this fulfill the need humans have for creating heroes (sometimes out of whole cloth) in order to impose meaning and redefine senseless tragedies as the Columbine massacre as battles between good and evil. This happens in part because as ego driven entities, human beings are repelled by the notion that our lives and death may exist devoid of purpose. This mythical Cassie image is raised up as the personification of a heroic believer who willingly chooses death rather then to deny her faith when faced by the ultimate theist’s dilemma.

    A close examination of the public record in the Columbine case, however, will show this interpretation to be almost entirely fictitious and created after the fact, a reality the public willingly ignores because the story fulfills our need for cultural heroes. In this instance, this deception fuels a hyper moralized worldview where the nihilistic rage of the Columbine killers is transformed into an anti-Christian action. I point the misrepresentation because, while this tendency for self deception in creating cultural icons serves a psychological need, it necessarily does so at the expense of truth. The fact is that the person who was asked “Do you believe in God” by the Columbine killers was said to have given conflicting responses, which is understandable given the circumstances, and that even when she did reply in the affirmative, when she was further asked why she said that it was because it was what her family believed. On top of that the girl who was actually reported to have been asked the God question, Val Schnurr, was shot but in fact did not die which is probably the main reason that the question/answer was later attributed to Cassey Bernall. In all of cultural mythology there is nothing quite so problematic as a martyr who doesn’t have the decency to die. I believe it is for this reason that the Flyleaf song is entitled “Cassie” rather than “Val.”

    Secondly this story opens up an interesting window into the human fascination with martyrdom. The subject is most often associated with religious figures such as devout (if theologically suspect) Christians and Muslims but the non-theistic types have their fair share of admiration for this type too. The most common non theistic martyr worship occurs with military exploits (e.g. phrases such as “He gave his life for the nation”) but there also exist a good amount of people who honor the sacrifices of cultural icons such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King for entirely non-religious reasons (I would include JFK in the present example but, while certainly the victim of assassination, one would be hard pressed to make the case for his being a martyr in any strict sense of the word). If there is any question as to the value our culture places upon martyrdom, imagine the irrelevance and even ignominy these figures would have experienced had they lived out the term of their full natural lives. In the case of MLK much is already known about his extramarital affairs with white women (a revelation which would have played out very badly among members of both black and white races) but his assassination overshadows all that. As is often the case death goes a long way to improving ones public image.

    Also lost on the concept of martyrdom is that simply dying for ones cause in no way establishes that the cause in question was just in the first place. If Muslims martyr themselves on one side of a battle while Christians martyr themselves on the other side then what? Neither cause was proven in such a case and it’s still quite possible that both sides were wrong (not to mention the fact that the ensuing hero worship serves only to exacerbate the rift between the groups). Besides that, speaking of the Christian camp I don’t think any group that extols martyrdom as a virtue has any business propping itself up under the banner of pro-life in a different argument but that’s another argument entirely. My point is that martyrdom does nothing to sanctify a cause (else we would be obligated to hold Japanese kamikazees in the highest regard rather than vilifying them as the sneaky jackasses of all time) and in fact, by its insistence of using human beings a means to the ends of others (a concept which flies against our inherent sense of morality), it does everything to corrupt it. No ethical philosophy demands martyrs or self-sacrifice. I quote Ayn Rand on the subject:

    “Of course whether a man should die fighting for freedom is a different issue. Such a man is not dying for the nation. I honor the men who died fighting for freedom in the past, and I honor them when I say I hope they died fighting for their own freedom. Because we profited from their actions, we should appreciate what they did; But it was not their duty to be martyrs for us.”

    In conclusion I love this song but don’t be a martyr because martyrs have to die and being dead is dumb. Thank you drive through.

    The Rationality Problem

    The philosopher Ayn Rand held as a postulate that the inherent rights of humankind stem in part from the fact that man is by nature a rational animal and can only exist properly by being allowed to use his mind. This is correct in its essence but should come with a caveat. The human psyche did not evolve strictly for its ability to divine truth, it evolved for its propensity to cause the user to perform actions that contribute to the propagation and success of the genes. An inherently unbiased human mind, if it ever existed, would presumably have been selected against in competition with people who had minds that skewed the worldview in their favor. In a reality where competition is the norm, a self-righteous certitude that one’s own actions are just is indeed a potent armament. Rationality does not come naturally in human beings, it is achieved through the conscious suppression of various internal devices that cause us to fudge calculations in our favor which is why both sides in litigation often feel simultaneously that they are in the right. A true dispassionate reckoning is possible only with effort and this underlies a great weakness in attempting to deal rationally with people; rather than being geared toward rationality, the default mode of thinking in human beings may well be a mysticism invoking misunderstanding of existence.

    Enter now the consideration that in a world of increasingly complex ideas a bias toward self deception is not always helpful. Self interested action, when it is not combined with respect for the rights of others (and this is an important distinction), can be a source of interpersonal conflict. It is both in the interest of the individual and of society at large to avoid these types of mutually debilitating conflicts whenever possible. Morality, as we know it, is a code by which society attempts to reign in the most egregious excesses of the individual especially in regard to the commission of wrongs against society or torts against individuals. This is of course the understanding in abstract terms of ultimate cause, it’s not how ethical breaches are experienced by people in real time. In the world ethical breaches are experienced (except in the case of clinical sociopaths) with the concomitant feelings of guilt, shame, contrition, and in some cases social ostracism or other group oriented consequences. The emotions that underlie these actions evolved because they can incite the individual to useful interpersonal behavioral strategies. This is to say that while the ultimate cause of these emotions is indeed rational, the proximate cause (the emotions themselves) are not. As such nature often points the way and drags even a stupid individual kicking and screaming toward an ensmartened path. The flipside of this, however, is that when our instincts don’t match well with a situation, they are also capable of leading us to the wrong answer. The ick factor of humanity can cause us to avoid harmful contaminants such as mice and carrion. It can also cause us to act unfairly to the detriment of people of a different sexual orientation.

    What is my point dear readers? My point is that the basis of human morality does not reside in some metaphysical pie-in-the-sky abstraction, morality is based in the things that are endemic to the human condition which is to say that it is properly founded upon human nature. Absolute rights and wrongs do exist in the world, the root of which are are to be found in humanity which is also where redress should be focused when those rights are violated. Moral perfection is realistically unattainable not because we are in need of some Divine Being who will ultimately give a sense of worth to an unworthy humanity (a criminal and anti-human philosophy if I ever heard one) but simply because we implicitly acknowledge the potential for conflict between the individual and the group and as civilized people we set the bar high. As such we also value mercy when transgressions occur because a world where a ubiquitous tit for tat reciprocity exists for bad actions would in many ways be inhumane which is why familial blood vendettas, as entertaining as they can be, are largely avoided by decent Charles Darwin fearing people and are now regarded as a social faux pax.

    I actually don’t remember my original point. Fuck.

    In summation Walt Whitman is a douche and the writings of Peter Nguyen should be upheld as the standard for all humanity. This message will self destruct in 15 minutes.tatu illuminati

    Rae

    Rachael is blogging again. For some reason we’re friends even though her political views are completely different than mine. Everybody visit her site. She begins by blasting my old and dear friend, Coca-Cola Classic.