To Impeach, Or Not To Impeach

 

Donald_Trump_August_19,_2015_(cropped)

Some Americans (and Canadians, as interested observers) are talking longingly about impeaching the president of the United States, but very few, even among the Americans, understand the process and the criteria. To listen to liberal progressive media coming from the United States, even right wing commentators like David Frum, one hears the steady rise in sonorous background thunder as the storm looms closer for The Donald.

The most recent “Real Time with Bill Maher” was perhaps the most frightening when one listens to the rising fear and anxiety of the panellists about the degradation of the world’s most famous democracy.

We, in Canada, are perplexed, and concerned. One of our own, David Frum, has raised the alarm with his book, Trumpocracy (reviewed elsewhere on the blog). And Robin Williams famously quipped a prescient simile, “Canada is like the cozy little apartment sitting above a meth lab,” well before Trump was Trump. Years ago, Tom Lehrer wrote his satirical and not so funny song, “We Shall All Go Together When We Go,” in reference to nuclear annihilation. “Every Hottentot and every Eskimo” (a no longer politically correct appellation for Canadian aboriginal). So Canadians are justifiably threatened by Trump, not just by his tariffs.Trumpocracy

But will the destruction of modern democracy be with a bang or a whimper? The latter, I suspect, if heads full of straw prevail.

With this in mind, truly in the forefront of many minds, thoughts turn to impeachment. Twice in my lifetime, watching from above (the north), this spectre has been raised, with Nixon who resigned before it occurred, and Clinton who escaped by politics, perhaps due to a lack of modern appreciation of dominance hierarchy in employment situations (Monica was his intern, for God’s sake, something even Bill seems still not to appreciate).

But what is impeachment, and what is it not?

Recently, October 2017, Sam Harris interviewed Cass R. Sunstein , the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School, author of Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide. [Worked in White House for Obama. Group on Surveillance and National Security, Defence Innovation Board.]Impeachment

Professor Sunstein has researched the impeachment process and gives a very pithy review of the law and purpose, an explanation all Americans, and a lot of observers, should absorb. Several points are worth summarizing.

 

Abuse of Power

Impeachment is used for egregious abuse of power, presidential power, not just because the president may be a jerk. Character will not suffice. Being a boorish pig, a misogynist and racist, will not suffice. The key to impeachment is the abuse of the power of the presidency. You may not like him, tough. You can’t impeach him because you don’t like him…he’d be gone by now, were it so.

 

Real Crimes May Not Be Impeachable

As in the first criteria, jay walking, shoplifting, tax evasion, may not be enough to warrant the initiation of impeachment processes, because anybody can do this stuff. Indictment for these crimes can wait. Impeachment does not apply. But shooting James Comey, a suggestion made by Trump’s lawyer as something for which Trump could not be indicted, would almost certainly result in impeachment, followed in seconds by indictment…so it’s a bit silly.

 

Incompetence

Nope. Not impeachable. You should have known this when you elected him. ‘W’ was no bright light (though he is looking good now, isn’t he?) but never impeachable. You can’t impeach Trump just because he doesn’t know the difference between a Canadian and a Brit. Or why Russia is no longer welcome in the G7 (well, G6 + 1).

 

Display of Lunacy

While not impeachable, this is subject to the 25th Amendment, quite possibly under too much partisan control to do much good until it is virtually death or hospitalization in an asylum. But even pseudo-death is not impeachable. When Woodrow Wilson had his stroke and his wife took over, few knew. When Reagan became increasingly demented, few cared. When John Cleaves Symmes Jr. (a distant relative of the author) posited that all planets, including Earth, were hollow, and proposed an expedition to the North Pole to find the ‘North Pole Shaft’, he was supported in this activity by President John Quincy Adams, demonstrating that politicians then were just as nutty as they are today. Nobody impeached Adams.

And yet other noncriminal actions are impeachable.

 

Playing Hooky

Just not doing your job is impeachable. Shuffling off to play golf too much, watching TV all day, failing to undertake important activities, such as daily security briefings and skipping out on G6+1 meetings. Well, not sure about the last two…

 

What Crimes are Impeachable

The core criteria are based on the idea of wielding power like a king, or a dictator. Anything which looks like a monarch, for example…no going back to King George III, even if his excuse might be porphyria. Abuse of the pardon process, clearly a presidential prerogative, rises to an impeachable level of sin. Disturbing investigative processes or manipulating personnel to effect a dishonest but favorable outcome in evaluation, by hiring and firing key people, would be another. Involving other countries (enemies essentially) in the disruption of democracy, to enable your own election is yet another.

All are grist for the mill because they involve the misuse and misdirection of incredible power…like a king.

 

Process of Impeachment

The issue is first taken to the House of Representatives, where a 50% + 1 vote after suitable wrangling and discussion, can send the president to impeachment. Then the  Senate decides by 2/3 majority vote, whereupon, if guilty, the president is removed from office. Following removal from office, the Senate may decide further to prevent further holding federal office, and whether emoluments may accrue, such as pension.

 

What of Trump?

Abuse of pardon, clearly a power which only the president enjoys, has not been highlighted as a problem to be resolved by impeachment of Trump to date, but it is getting close. It should be. Yes, Trump could pardon himself, he has the power. He claimed it only yesterday. And yes, he may not have considered it, but the House could then vote to impeach him, and almost certainly would. Immediately.

Pardoning Arpaio seemed to me to be pushing the limit, given the nature, and recency, of Arpaio’s crimes, and the appearance of ‘quid pro quo’, since Arpaio was one of the first to endorse Donald Trump during his campaign. Certainly this sent a signal to others helping Trump…the purpose of serving justice appears to be secondary to the purpose of serving Trump.

Now, the spectre of pardons handed out to any and everybody in recognition of loyalty to the president could run the risk of being viewed as abuse of power.  How better to encourage criminal loyalty than by pardoning perps against possible subsequent  incarceration? Is Trump doing this? How can we know?

Paul Manafort is looking at life in prison. He better be hoping Trump will pardon him, or rely on Mueller to do something gentler than incarceration. Is the spate of pardons suddenly enjoyed by the president a message? But if Trump does this, would the country view this as kingly abuse?

Obstruction of justice can lead to impeachment, particularly when conducted using the power of the presidency. Here we see the efforts of Trump to prevent investigation into his alleged collusion with Russia possibly to obtain illegally stolen information on Hillary. Might this be granted by Putin in return for reductions of Obama-imposed sanctions, or other favours? Is this all an effort to prevent the airing of a ‘Golden Showers’ tape, as Linda Javez on Bill Maher’s Real Time claimed the other night, for example? Investigations into the meetings with Russians are being opposed by Trump (he calls it a witch hunt) by his allegedly demanding (though not receiving) loyalty from his employees (such as Comey), or openly claiming he would never have hired someone who, like Sessions, would not ‘protect him’ or ‘have his back’; perhaps even the diversions such as accusing others of similar crimes (wire-tapping and spying by Obama, collusion by Clinton), could be viewed as attempts at obstruction by diverting FBI or Department of Justice efforts; but this would be hard to prove.

Trump’s obvious reluctance to implement sanctions against Russia, the desire to curry favour from Russia (inviting them back into the G6+1), the disregard for the serious cyber-attack by Russia against the US democratic process (which may well have helped Trump into office, and may well help him again), the efforts to hide the truth by allegedly lying about subsequent actions taken (such as dictating that letter for Don Jr.), or by degrading his own institutions of intelligence gathering…these all have by some been alleged to represent attempts to obstruct the investigation into collusion with Russia in return for diplomatic favors. As Trump says, we’ll see.

Another potential abuse of presidential power might be the use of the presidency to advance his own greed through his power as president to negotiate favourable business relationships for his or his family’s businesses. Consider the putative Argentinian deal reported by David Frum in ‘Trumpocracy’:

“On November 14, 2016, Trump spoke for fifteen minutes to the president of Argentina, Mauricio Macri. According to reports in the Argentine media, Trump mentioned that a Trump-licensed building in Buenos Aires was stalled in the permitting process. The next day, Trump’s local partners triumphantly announced that the building was moving forward. It would later emerge that not only had Trump’s daughter Ivanka joined the call, but that Trump’s son Eric had arranged it, at the request of Trump’s lead partner in the Buenos Aires deal.”

Is this abuse of presidential power? Who knows? Perhaps the Senate will know!

 

Impeachment is Political

The House of Representatives can vote to impeach. The Senate can then find him guilty by a vote of 2/3. The courts, including the Supreme Court, do not have much input, apart from the leadership of the Chief Justice during the Senate presidential impeachment hearings.

The president can be indicted for any crimes once impeached and removed from office. It is open to discussion whether the sitting president can be indicted, but once his term is over, he certainly can be, provided the statute of limitations allows.

Americans seem increasingly worried about the state and viability of their democracy, and observers, such as Canadians, are almost equally worried. Some think the state of affairs has gone so far now that recovery in the eyes of the world may only be achieved by removal of Trump from office. But it seems he cannot be removed for his misogynistic behaviour (barring supportable accusations of sexual assault), his objectification of women (invasion of privacy at his beauty pageants, labels of aesthetic classification (“She’s not a ten”), and greaby behaviour with his daughter), let alone his locker room talk. tj5qdp4yur7rfbmelfiv

He cannot be impeached for his lies, except as they advance other sins such as obstruction of justice.  He cannot be impeached for his malignant narcissism, his stupidity, or his brash braggadocio. He cannot even be impeached for his foreign policy of favouring despots (Putin, Kim, Duterte, Erdogan) and snubbing allies (Trudeau, Macron, May, Merkel), unless it were to translate into some ‘quid pro quo’ for his business, his family or his election.

But when he IS impeached…when it does occur…it is a couple of voting sessions! Not a court with rules of evidence, per se. Not a jury pondering all the evidence. It’s a consensus by the House, a campaign rally by the Senate. Once he is impeached for the right thing, he could be out on his butt in a heartbeat. He might be crying foul, he would almost certainly be blaming Obama, he might be asking why Hillary didn’t suffer this disgrace (and someone would dutifully remind him that she didn’t win the presidential election)…but he would be out.

And maybe democracy will be saved.

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BOOK REVIEW: Trumpocracy. The Corruption of the American Republic by David Frum

Trumpocracy

Ipecac

In my life as a physician, I am aware of Ipecac, a medication used in emergencies to induce vomiting, in those cases where the substance taken does not further endanger the patient by the induction of vomiting.

It is an emetic…it induces emesis.

Well, if you need to induce emesis, this book is for you.

Not because of the writing…the writing is excellent, up to the standards of the journalist, David Frum, respected for his honesty and and clear analysis, Republican though he is, and has been, to this day. In fact, Frum voted for HillaryClinton, something he never would have thought he could do, because, as he reported, “I was voting for the American system. I was voting for the rules, the norms, the Constitution that I expected her to respect even as she implemented policies with which I disagreed—unlike Donald Trump, who would subvert those standards even in those cases where he did things I might approve.”[p195/274]

In the first half of the book, Frum outlines Trump’s sins in detail, and this is truly one of the very few times a book has brought me that dreaded sensation of nausea; it is terribly hard for me to quell the sense of revulsion I feel when reading about Trump…the concentration of details is more than I can physically take.

Bully

Reporting, “He’s the meanest man I’ve ever met,” [p69/274] uttered by one reporter in Trump’s entourage, Frum outlined the incident of Sean Spicer, a devout Catholic, being denied an opportunity to meet the pope for no apparent reason other than Trump could do it, he could play with that kind of power.

I certainly remember the reporting of his rages, and ‘Trumper tantrums,” as they at first became known. Apparently those who work for Trump know that he might embarrass or denigrate anyone, at any time, for any reason.

His self-centered self-pity translates into nasty behavior towards others, without necessarily obvious cause.

“Trump has created a snake pit working environment, seething with hatreds and perforated by mutually vindictive leaks. He extracts grovelling flattery in public and private, but never requites even the most abject loyalty,” Frum writes. His anger is most stirred by any who criticize  him, surprise him, or stop him from doing what he wants to do. He hates criticism, and demands flattery. With this type of temperament, Frum argues, he ends up surrounding himself with people who believe they will do the right thing when the time comes, but end up by struggling to curry his favor with lies.  Frum asks, “If the Trump administration were as convinced as you are that you would do the right thing—would they have asked you in the first place?”[p69/274]

To make sure it stays that way, Trump insists on reviewing the resume of every cabinet and sub- or sub-sub-cabinet member, in search of abject loyalty.

Lies

Frum reports that no American president has dealt out more lies. He rattles off a representative list: birther hoax, popular vote difference and illegal voting, New Jersey Muslims cheering 9/11, demographics of terrorists, Russian collusion with Democrats, his own inauguration attendance, his legislation record, Trump University, reasons for not releasing tax returns, not to mention his persistent deceitful defaming of those who oppose him from Crooked Hillary to Lying Ted to Little Marco.

Recently, since Frum’s book was published, this seems to be getting even worse, with such things as ‘Spygate’ and accusing Mueller and the FBI of planning to meddle in the next election!?!

Collusion

Frum neatly outlines a timeline of events (and again we are learning of even more after this book went to press) of interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian contacts. He reports as well, “it certainly looks as if the Trump campaign coordinated its strategy and messaging with Russian-sponsored hacking and disinformation efforts.” The appearance of aiding the Russians for this work by threats to NATO, and reappraisal of President Obama’s sanctions through General Michael Flynn is frighteningly stark.

This, to Frum, represents the most successful foreign espionage attempt against the country, facilitated by a political party that is circling the wagons to protect Trump.

Foreign Affairs

Many former allies in Europe and abroad appear to be losing faith in the USA. Frum quotes polls demonstrating increasing distrust that the United States will do the right thing, by former allies such as South Korea, Japan, Australia, Europe, United Kingdom. Frum argues that Trump favors non-democratic countries because of better commercial opportunities with dictators and oligarchs.

Worse still, Trump has revealed information which can be used by America’s enemies to interfere with intelligence assets when “he described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot” to Russian foreign minister Lavrov, prompting one of his former campaign workers to comment that “…he looks like a comlete moron…”.

Leaks

Trump complains about leaks in the White House, leaks which the administration has never been able to control or root out. Frum writes, “Donald Trump says more things that should not be said than any president in American history. But also more than any president in history, he works in an office he cannot trust and knows he cannot trust.” You really have to wonder if some of those leaks are designed to protect the country from it’s lazy, dishonest and narcissistic president.

Frum recounts the story of nine senior officials in multiple agencies who told a Washington Post reporter of Michel Flynn’s references to the Obama administration’s election-related sanctions against Russia, and how that matter might be reviewed following Trump’s election.

“It had to be assumed that the Russian embassy would immediately alter its communications methods, denying the United States future information flows, at least for some period of time. To protect the United States from a compromised national security adviser, nine senior intelligence officials agreed to burn an important American national secret.”

Money

When Trump began his campaign and announced he would not take a salary as president, I was certainly puzzled. But as Frum points out, “The people who could write large checks had noticed Trump’s practice of diverting campaign funds to his own businesses…” and goes on to list various ways money was transferred to his bottom line. One source, for example, donations to fund the inauguration, can be distributed without reporting requirements. “The Trump inaugural committee promised that any unused funds would be donated to charity. No charity ever announced receipt of any gift from this source, nor did Trump’s inaugural committee offer any accounting for the money it received.”

Remember the Megyn  Kelly debate fiasco leading to Trump’s boycott of the second Fox News debate? Trump promised to donate money he raised at a rally to charity, trying to take TV ratings away from the televised debate. Frum writes, “…it would take months for Trump to be shamed into disgorging the money he raised and to honor his own million-dollar pledge”.

Conclusion

The summary of Trump’s actions as president and his character is actually stated on page 10, in the book, though my copy is an ebook and finding proper reference points is tricky (my apologies here for lack of specific references for quotations above…you’ll have to read the book in entirety):

“President Trump has plunged the government of the United States into chaos that enhances his personal power. He has persuaded millions of Americans to ignore information they need as “fake news” from a “corrupt media.” He has allowed foreign states and local politicians to tamper with the integrity of American elections to his own benefit. He demands that high officials disregard the law in favor of personal loyalty to him. He has concentrated power in the hands of military men—better men than himself, but not the right hands for the job of civilian government. He has alienated allies, appeased large enemies, and goaded small ones to the edge of war. He has brutally inflamed the ethnic and class divisions that empowered him in the first place. He has enriched himself in government in a way that disheartens every honest public official, and invites dishonest ones to imitate him.” [p10/274]

Frum’s penultimate paragraph gives guidance for the next election, but takes it even further and engages Trump’s enablers, who Frum clearly disparages (so if you are one of them, take heed):

“As President Trump is cruel, vengeful, egoistic, ignorant, lazy, avaricious, and treacherous, so we must be kind, forgiving, responsible, informed, hardworking, generous, and patriotic. As Trump’s enablers are careless, cynical, shortsighted, morally obtuse, and rancorous, so Trump’s opponents must be thoughtful, idealistic, wise, morally sensitive, and conciliatory. “They go low, we go high,” a wise woman said,” (who said that first, Michelle Obama or Hillary Clinton?)

It is a good book. I suspect it was hastily written, and published in order to inform the mid-term elections in the United Sataes. I was particularly intrigued by the fact it is in the library immediately after publication. Cory Doctorow has written of the value of providing some of his books for free because obscurity is the enemy of authors, but obscurity is not something David Frum needs to worry about. What Frum worries about is his adopted country.

Buy it, or borrow it through your local library, read the book. And if you need an emetic, ask your doctor…there are safer ones, but none more effective.

Book Review: A Higher Loyalty

comey

 

If you don’t think that Trump is a dirtbag right now, as CNN’s Phil Mudd calls him, you just might after reading this book…but even if you don’t, even if you are an Always Trumper, if you are an honest one, this book is still fascinating on several different levels

I first watched James Comey giving testimony in a senate hearing. You notice him because he is tall, and not a little geeky, with his ‘Lordy, lordy’ expression he seems not to have extirpated from his speech patterns. Very quickly, as I listened to him, I got the impression he was honorable, honest, and desperately trying to do the right thing.

A lot of people like to criticize him, though, because many think he single-handedly (with the help of Russia, and a little Hillary) brought down Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president, or worse, elevated Donald Trump to where he is today…which frankly can make Comey the anti-Christ to Democratic eyes.

The Book

James Comey was the seventh director of the FBI, appointed by President Barrack Obama and fired by President Donald Trump. He had served George Bush as  Deputy Attorney General under AG John Ashcroft, where he had opposed that administration’s use of surveillance and torture, but his most recent notability has been his awkward ouster by Trump for continuing the Russian probe and declining to swear fealty. The book is not just payback; it may more rightly be a rallying cry for presidential impeachment.

Comey outlines his early years as a wimpy geek who grows to an awkward 6 foot 8 inch and achieves his desire of a position at highest levels in American law-enforcement, that might allow him perhaps to save the country…it’s too early to tell. In the course of his description of events in his life, we experience his take on, and successful opposition to some sinister legal procedures of the ‘W’ administration, his investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email fiasco when she was Secretary of State, which lead to her political upset, and the initial phases of the Russia Investigation which shines an ominous light on the 2016 presidential election, not to mention Trump’s toxic narcissism. Comey’s major conclusion is that Trump is morally unfit to be president, and is quite possibly guilty of obstruction of justice necessitating the appointment of  perhaps yet another special prosecutor.

Media Opinion

Pundits who have not yet read the book…it just came out today (April 17th, 2018)…are critical of the excerpts they have seen, and interviews of Comey himself, because they find the descriptions of Trump’s urolagnia and enjoyment of Russian sex trade, tawdry, and thus unbecoming of Comey’s position as a former Director of the FBI (perhaps forgetting the first director). The mental image of the President of the United States of America titillated by watching two prostitutes urinate on a bed once used by Michelle and Barrack Obama, however true it might be, seems to be a picture too voyeuristic for television political junkies. On CNN, coming from this conservative nerd, it seems out of place, but within the description of the entire book, it is rendered more of a police blotter report, making one think the excerpt has been salaciously selected for best marketing.

The journalists all question Comey’s motives as a disgruntled employee, bent on getting even for the nasty way

384px-James_Comey_official_portraithe was fired.

The pundits quibble that he should not be talking at all because he is leaking classified information (he is not…some of this info has never been classified, and he is now a private citizen, thanks to Trump).

The talking heads seem to think he should just accept Trump’s dreadful epithets and lies, but Comey will not.

 

It is breath-taking how they expect the bar of behavior to be so incredibly higher for Comey than the one expected of Trump himself, who has actually called for (well, tweeted for) Comey’s immediate incarceration (trial? what trial? who needs a trial?).

Trump is claiming the former director of the FBI is exhibiting impropriety, uncivil behavior (for which Comey should be jailed?).  Partisan surrogates, otherwise known as Republicans, say ‘good riddance’ to an honest man.

Comey is accusing Trump of being morally unfit to be president, and in this even Comey’s detractors probably agree.

Dishonest?

Yes, they call him dishonest, while Trump calls him ‘Lyin’ Comey,’ apparently forgetting he applied this appellation to ‘Lyin’ Ted Cruz’…you remember, that guy whose father, according to the dignified Trump, was an assassin of John F Kennedy.

In this book, the beginnings being a short auto-biography, Comey exposes with considerable transparency his craven behavior the night Ramsey the Rapist threatened him and his brother, reflected by his leaving his neighbor’s wife and daughter locked outside with the rapist during the melee. Fortunately, they were unharmed.

He also confesses his weaknesses. “Some of mine, as you’ll discover in this book, are that I can be stubborn, prideful, overconfident, and driven by ego. I’ve struggled with those my whole life.” Frankly, to the reader, this seems very much like the reverse or other side of some Dunning-Kruger effect applied to character rather than intelligence. I frankly see none of those faults.

Comey describes his own insecurities which culminate in one of his worst ever sins, trashing some unpopular kid’s dorm room in order to get along with his peers, “Four decades later, I’m still ashamed of myself,” he writes. Is this something Trump might write? You know better.

Comey is guilty of lying about his basketball prowess in order to avoid ubiquitous comments about his excessive height. “I don’t know why I did that. Maybe I was insecure. Maybe it was just easier.” You know to Trump and his surrogates, this will be the greatest lie ever.

Petty Descriptions

One of the biggest criticisms of the book is that Comey appears to belittle Trump based on his appearance, including Trump’s ridiculous hair, orange tanning outline to his eyes, and the question of Trump’s small whatever. Out of context, in the marketing excerpts, it does sound pretty petty, but within the book itself it is simply part of the paragraph of description of Comey’s first meeting with Trump. Nevertheless, one of the fascinating insights of the book is how the media scramble to find some egregious criticism…and this was it.

 

This was the first time I’d ever seen Donald Trump face-to-face. He appeared shorter than he seemed on a debate stage with Hillary Clinton. Otherwise, as I looked at the president-elect, I was struck that he looked exactly the same in person as on television, which surprised me because people most often look different in person. His suit jacket was open and his tie too long, as usual. His face appeared slightly orange, with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles, and impressively coiffed, bright blond hair, which upon close inspection looked to be all his. I remember wondering how long it must take him in the morning to get that done. As he extended his hand, I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.

Remember how it was portrayed on CNN? Here, this appears a description of someone, who, in 100 years, will be hopefully just a footnote.

Clinton

It is easy to see why Hillary is bitter about Comey, and Comey’s explanation of the email debacle is tricky, difficult to follow, but fascinating. It is hard for me to see this as attempts at self-aggrandizing, though; more likely naive expectations that he might effect some correction to what he saw as a flawed and unfair process for both himself and Clinton. It all depends on how much liberty you give the man. It could simply be a desperate struggle of someone trying to do the right thing when there was really no ‘right thing’.

The explanation, however, exposes a lot of misinformation of the pundits and talking heads, conjuring up rules of behavior that are undefined. But, as Comey writes, “There was much hysteria about how we were violating Justice Department rules and policies. Of course, there were no such rules and there had never been another situation in the middle of an election like this.”

It is notable that Chuck Schumer and Barrack Obama acknowledged the impossible position Comey was in. Comey was in a lose lose situation which the book explains moderately well, though you have to read this part carefully.

In Return

In contrast to the minor faults of the author which even people on his side of the argument try to exaggerate, the description of the president’s behavior is every ill that we have come to normalize about the most powerful leader in the world.

Trump is accused roundly in the media and by Comey of many things: egotistical in the extreme, ignorant of anything (let alone nuance) remotely related to governance, flagrantly and willfully dishonest, clearly immoral even by today’s loose  sexual revolution standards…but by far the worst characteristic which is not out and out illegal, Trump is really, really nasty.

Nasty

We saw some of that with his manipulation of the firing of Andrew McCabe, engineering the event to rid him of his pension just two days before the limits. We see it again when Trump turns a private conversation with McCabe (it is hard for decent people to read this passage):

Still in a fury at McCabe, Trump then asked him, “Your wife lost her election in Virginia, didn’t she?” “Yes, she did,” Andy replied. The president of the United States then said to the acting director of the FBI, “Ask her how it feels to be a loser” and hung up the phone.

McCabe’s wife is a pediatrician and Democrat who ran for public office and lost. The president of the USA is behaving like a hideous fourteen year old.

Nudged by the president on several occasions to swear some oath of loyalty to Trump,  Comey steadfastly declines. Trump fires Comey in the most petty, childish act possible, allowing him to discover his own loss of employment as TV monitors about the room in which Comey was addressing an audience of FBI staff displayed the announcement of Comey’s resignation, then swiftly it changed to Comey’s firing. Comey was mid-sentence when he saw this above his audience in California. Contrast this despicable example of Trump’s type of human interaction, with Comey’s subsequent and immediate consideration:

I told the audience, “Look, I’m going to go figure out what’s happening, but whether that’s true or not, my message won’t change, so let me finish it and then shake your hands.” I said, “Every one of you is personally responsible for protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution of the United States. We all have different roles, but the same mission. Thank you for doing it well.” I then moved among the employees, shaking every hand, and walked to a private office to find out what was happening.

This is leadership. Trump’s behavior is pure childish vindictiveness. All this for the man that Trump had openly praised only three months before, but Comey would not kiss Trump’s ring, and that was the non-kiss of death.

Trump’s attempt to insult and embarrass Comey even went so far as to deny Comey access to the FBI plane that brought him out to California, though the Deputy Director Andrew McCabe authorized Comey’s return by that flight, raising the fury of Trump that his childish sadistic prank was subverted.

Unfit

While Comey paints a picture of an impulsive, selfish, nasty, vengeful, ignorant imbecile in the country’s president, whose morals and treatment of people is despicable, Comey also builds a case for obstruction of justice with respect to Michael Flynn (over whom Trump tries to negotiate with Comey regarding Flynn’s illegal behavior) and to Trump’s  own alleged culpability in the Russian probe (trying to prevent Comey from pursuing the investigation into Russian meddling, and the distinct but currently alleged possibility of Trump’s election being illegitimate in the first place because of  collusion with Russian oligarchs).

Comey calls for a special prosecutor to find the tapes Trump referred to of Trump’s many conversations with his administration and possibly uncover a plot of obstruction of justice.

Without a doubt, the picture Comey paints of Trump is of an incredibly insecure  man devoid of ethical behavior or a desire to lead and filled with vituperative vengeance. Comey comes across as honest and transparent man dedicated to the law and protecting others from the bullies that made his own childhood miserable.

Does Comey come across as weak, as some partisan pundits argue? Well, he is taking on the most powerful man on earth who wants him jailed immediately without bothering with a trial. He is opposing his own political party. He has a past history now of taking on the most powerful woman in the USA in the pursuit of truth and the law.

No, he is not weak. Will he win? I doubt it, but I truly hope so.

Conclusion

I will add to this, and clean it up a bit, but there will be errors in my haste to get this out (the book went on sale yesterday, and I read it in a single twelve hour sitting, sidelined as I was by a knee injury). To this point in time, I see the media making some disparaging claims about the book which I attribute to the fact they have not yet read it…when put together as this is, the result is actually horrifying about the alleged behavior of the 45th president of the United States.

There is a curious unexplained entry which has, as yet, not been touched in the media.

First, in mid-June, the Russian government began dumping emails stolen from institutions associated with the Democratic Party. It began with entities calling themselves DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0. They were stolen emails intended to harm Clinton and the Democrats. This made very real the prospect that the classified material relating to Loretta Lynch might drop at any moment, not decades from now. [Emphasis added.] As noted earlier, the release of that material, the truth of which we had not verified, would allow partisans to argue, powerfully, that the Clinton campaign, through Lynch, had been controlling the FBI’s investigation.

The potential exposure of unverified classified information about Loretta Lynch seems to have altered Comey’s thinking about what to tell the American people, but we may never know how, nor just what that material was.

My own conclusion is that Comey’s primary reason for this production is to call for the investigation of a man whom he believes may be dishonest, illegitimate, criminal and possibly treasonous. James Comey is the former director of the FBI, former Deputy Attorney General of the country, and a man known by his friends, acquaintances and enemies as honorable, honest, moral and yes stubborn. I think Comey is right, and I think we should all buy and read his book. The counter-punch is coming as soon as Trump gets someone to read and translate the best parts to him.

By far, the most startling statement in the entire book, one that runs a chill up your spine and essentially commands all Americans, and many others around the world, to read this book:

Donald Trump’s presidency threatens much of what is good in this nation. We all bear responsibility for the deeply flawed choices put before voters during the 2016 election, and our country is paying a high price: this president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven, and about personal loyalty. We are fortunate some ethical leaders have chosen to serve and to stay at senior levels of government, but they cannot prevent all of the damage from the forest fire that is the Trump presidency. Their task is to try to contain it.

This, from a man heretofore well known for his integrity and honesty, a man who was the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and formerly the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, a man who was praised frequently by both sides, and a man who, mistakenly or not, did what HE thought was right, a slave perhaps to his own righteousness, even though he must have known the incredible dangers.

The stuff that gets me the most is the claim that I am in love with my own righteousness, my own virtue.

But you should be in love with your own righteousness, when you think about it. You should want to protect it at all costs, even your career. You should be proud of your own righteousness. God knows Comey has earned it. Can ANYONE say the same of Donald Trump?

Buy the book. If you Americans love your country, buy the damn book.

Sure, this will make him money…he’s going to need it.

 

Notes

 

Comey, James. A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. Flatiron Books. Kindle Edition.  ISBN 978-1-250-19246-2

A Level Playing Field for Capitalism

800px-Chimpanzee_and_stick
Early use of tools

The Child Grows Up

I learned, very young, not to use my precocious mesomorphic stature to ‘beat up’ on the competition in the schoolyard. Youngest in a family of three boys, living in the back woods of southern Ontario, rough and tumble play gave way to down-right nastiness, until that fateful day I found myself dominating my eldest brother. It was a shock to us both, I being fourteen years old, he nineteen. And although he would forever tower over me in my mind, he was already diminutive on my path to 5’ 11 3/4”. His 5’ 6” just didn’t cut it.

We had passed the level playing field unnoticed some time before, and this test of strength found him face down in the yard, with me holding him in a hammer-lock. It proved a Pyrrhic victory.

“Go ahead. Break it,” he growled through the dirt, rather than capitulate, and my own conquest melted away in my horror. I was defeated by my own sense of fairness, of decency (there are those who say I should have broken his arm then and there). In an instant it was obvious this would never again be a ‘fair fight,’ just as it had never been a fair fight during all those years that I had suffered.

But then, we never fought again; his abuse of me became one that earns the ninth level of Dante’s inferno (treachery), rather than simply the seventh (violence).

I was a peculiar child, introverted in spite of obvious athleticism, lost in my thoughts and aware of my intelligence which blessedly loomed larger as well.

Lucky Advantages

It was about this very moment that I drew the analogy of strength as an unfair and undeserved advantage, to intelligence as a cudgel I also must not abuse. I actually reasoned, philosophically at fourteen, eschewing philosophy publicly for the rest off my life, that to ‘beat up’ on someone intellectually was just as bad as to do so physically.

I was a peculiar child. Thoughts like this should not have surfaced for at least forty years.

Since then I have watched the constant tennis match between the Left and the Right, the spectator calmly rotating his head back and forth following the long rallies.

Pock, pock.

Survival of the fittest because incentives work. Capitalism.

Pock. Pock.

Universal basic income because nothing works. Socialism.

Pock, pock.

We used to have a dog, a large Springer Spaniel, that would chase our tennis balls in those halcyon summer days before courts had ball-encompassing wire fences. The dog’s incentive was a morsel of white bread. WonderBread, in fact. The balls would come back a little slimy, sometimes canine punctured, especially when the bread was stale, but dutifully dropped in the centre of the court.

Milly_Springer_Spaniel
Retrieving is what I do!

That is, until we ran out of bread. Curiously, then the balls started disappearing, hidden deep in the surrounding forest, only to reappear the next day when we came with a new supply of fresh bread.

Incentives work, and the damn dog was beating up on us intellectually.

I needed a level playing field with my brothers, my schoolmates, and even my dog.

The polarization of the political landscape in the USA has captured my attention for these last fifteen months. Distracted by that orange orangutan who inhabits the building we Canadians desperately tried to burn down in 1814, my thoughts have turned obsessively, repeatedly, to solutions that might bring those opposing political ideologies together.

Capitalism works, but gouges deep caverns out of playing fields, creating socioeconomic gaps which destabilize the populace. As a spectator in a country that enjoys its socialism without daring to call it socialism, that enjoys universal health care which does not suppress business development, that enjoys a moderately effective safety net, that enjoys a democratic government which actually has a process for extirpating orange orangutans who accidentally gain ascendancy…we Canadians collectively watch the ball going back and forth, in that country to our south.

Pock. Pock.

Contradictory Platform

I fantasize running for some political office in the USA, standing on a dais in front of a crowd as a Democratic candidate and fool them all by cheering on Capitalism. 350px-Roll_call_DNC_2008Let the race begin. Survival of the fittest. Spoils to the winner. Work hard and make it big, the American Dream.

But…

Start from a level playing field. Start with the basics as equivalent as possible: intelligence, education, health, safety. Then fire the starting gun and let them go.

House them comfortably and nourish them, keeping families together with dignity. Educate them as far as they can productively progress. Secure their minds and their bodies with universal, free health care. Provide them with basic room and board. Keep them safe.

Then let them compete for the largesse. Some will innovate, work hard, get rich by the sweat of their brow. Some will discover cures and stars and ideas. Some will entertain. Some will govern. And all will be paid accordingly. But all will start, at the very least, with the basic health and education, room and board, safety and governance, under a progressive tax system which still maintains substantial incentives.

Remove inheritance. Reduce class divides. Remove the initial imbalances. Include many more people in the workforce at appropriate levels of ability.

Socialism Through Capitalism

Capitalism, with a level playing field. Capitalism without the handicaps. Capitalism without the cheating. Capitalism without the poverty, without the monstrous gap. Capitalism without personal empire. Capitalism with nobody left behind.

There are those who would say that some will freeload. Some will simply enjoy subsistence living. Drugs and a life of crime offset by policing and governance. Well, so what? At least you don’t have that guilt of the uncaring middle-class.

There are those who will claim it is against God’s commandments. There are those who will say, ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ ever the harking call of the strange business-Evangelical bedfellows (1.) who want wealth redistribution wrested from big government and given, far more cheaply, to big religion where it belongs. Soup kitchens dragging in the faithless indolent to become the faithful penitent, amounts to the ‘right’ type of progress.

There are those who would claim the right to perpetuate family dynasties. Tell them they should earn it at each generation. Or show them the orange orangutan, and ask if family dynasty truly helped him.

There are those who would say it cannot be afforded, it is too costly. They forget it is already happening, or that they claim it is. The undeserving poor are getting health care, education, room, board, one way or another, but without the dignity commensurate to those who ‘earn it.’

To a very real extent, physical strength and intellectual quotient are, largely, pure dumb luck. No one of us provides our own nature or nurture which causes either inborn trait to excel. Both can be improved within narrow limits. Both can be destroyed within no-so-narrow limits. If you want FAIR incentives to reward invention, determination, hard work, and unswerving focus, you have to start out equal…or as close to equal as possible. If you want FAIR  incentives.

Capitalism from a level playing field. Socialism with nice big morsels of fresh WonderBread. Just don’t call it socialism.

  1. Kruse, Kevin M., One Nation Under God, How Corporate America Invented Christian America, ISBN-13: 978-0465049493. Basic Books, New York, 2015

Post-script: “People confuse intelligence with value.” Jordan B. Peterson. Yes, this is part of the problem. We should view intelligence more like we do strength; even there the value is becoming questionable over time.

 

 

Modern Messiah? or Father Figure to the Orphans

 

Peterson_Lecture_(33522701146)
Picture of Jordan B Peterson lecturing at U of T

 

I find this (link below) a fascinating and entertaining talk, from an equally fascinating man. I will probably have to get the book to examine the issues properly…

I don’t think I have ever ‘held in abeyance’ an opinion about someone for such a long time. The crowd seen in the video, typical of many who come to see Peterson, is large, focused and inquisitive, and gives him a standing ovation wherever he goes. Right or wrong, it is an amazing phenomenon!

https://youtu.be/pfbA_3adRrw

This is what I said about Peterson a YEAR ago:

A friend of mine, Mario Coniglio, shared an article about Jordan Peterson some months ago. It offended me because I felt Peterson’s sensitivity to LGBT community was insufficient, and that his objection to abiding their request for different gender specific pronouns was picayune. I think Mario was a little surprised by my objection, but I just felt there was more trouble in the world to deal with than fighting with a bunch of people who were being marginalized and denigrated, even over something as important as free speech. I still think that way, that his objection was ‘over the top’.
But I was curious, because Mario is a pretty smart guy, a professor at UW, and because the story actually involved some university demands on free speech, demands which as an Associate Professor in Medicine at Western, I was not experiencing (after all, it’s not like Medicine is part of the Humanities).
Then, seeing complaints about Peterson … I took a look at some of his lectures and interviews.
The man, Peterson, is very intelligent, thoughtful, and intellectually honest. Many of his ideas are very interesting and certainly align with a lot of what I think as well. ‘The meaning of life is proportional to the responsibility you take.’ Was that his?
I still don’t think he should have made such a fuss over the pronoun issue, but I have a little more understanding of that…I need to find one of his talks on that subject, and to the extent that the issue is mixed in with a threat on academic freedom, perhaps he has more justification than I thought.
There are things he says that I do not agree with, though I believe we don’t have enough evidence to decide:

He seems to believe humans are inherently irrational without moral grounding and further believes a moral structure arises from religion. Curiously, I am not at all sure he believes in an all-powerful, omniscient god, or that if he did he would tell us honestly (notwithstanding his intellectual honesty; his support for God may be strategic and a little manipulative, I don’t know), but more importantly he thinks it is necessary to have the concept lest humanity descend into moral chaos. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath-water.”

I think this issue is one of Peterson’s main objections to New Atheism, and his tone when talking of Dawkins and Harris is certainly disparaging to my ear, but I could be hearing what isn’t there. To summarize, he doesn’t like throwing out religion not because he thinks God is important, or real, but because he thinks humanity cannot survive without God. I think this is overly pessimistic, although for years I believed that proselytizing atheism was intellectually honest, but strategically silly. So maybe he and I actually agree, …
I am going to read a lot more of Jordan Peterson. I think he is worth reading, and worth listening to. ‘Velut arbor aevo. May she ever thrive-o. Toronto ever is my alma mater.’

That’s what I wrote a YEAR ago.

Well, that was then. I have listened to a lot of Jordan Peterson since then. The best I can say about myself after all this is that I am capable of keeping my mind open enough that I can turn 180 degrees when I have sufficient reason…and that’s pretty good.

I know now that I fall into the 25% who write to him to say that his talks have allowed me to now put into words those things I already understood but didn’t know how to say.

I know now that he is probably one of the ‘most likely to be misunderstood’ intellectuals because he does not protect himself from…or pre-empt…that misunderstanding, as when he says he agrees with ‘equality,’ but not ‘equality of outcome’…or when he argues that you cannot lay ‘hierarchical inequity’ at the feet of capitalism, because “That’s just wrong,” or when he rails on the post-modern neo-Marxists, whatever they are, who seem to inhabit a world I don’t (Humanities…I may just be unexposed).

I know now that you have to listen very carefully when he speaks, because the Alt-Right really should not applaud him at all.

I know now that he will speak to anybody, as if ‘on principle,’ even Bill O’Reilly.

I know now that his put-down of the doom-mongering Evangelists (i.e. William Lane Craig) who argue there is no meaning to life without God is one of the most beautiful passages of oratory I have heard in a long, long time, and after that, Jordan B Peterson has earned enough of my tolerance to let him do a lot of wrong before I will think that ill of him again.

So, as stingy as I am, I can’t get this at the library, and I really want to understand, lest I claim his Rule # 1 to be infantile (“Stand up straight”) when in fact, I just was listening too fast and not far enough. It turns out that Rule # 1 is the one I believe the most (possibly because I can’t remember Rule # 2)…

Cobalt Nebula uploaded this in parts and I have…
YOUTUBE.COM

Morality and God. Part II

 

 

Prevailing_world_religions_map

Distribution of World Religions

 

 

While writing Part I of this essay the other day, I had an epiphany (a moment of sudden revelation, not a manifestation of something divine). I thought I’d better write it down before I forget…I am of that age. So if there is some repetition here, from Part I, forgive me, but this is important (maybe all of you already know). It suddenly struck me that…

God is an Atheist Hoax!

One of the most irksome and unsupported bits of Jabberwocky is the idea that non-theists (atheists, agnostics, etc.) have no morality on which to base their lives. No one has ever successfully demonstrated a causal link between lack of religious belief and immoral behaviour, although a logical association is certainly possible to conjure up, and the correlation is certainly obvious, and for good reason. When you go looking for law-abiding people, you tend to find them among groups dedicated to abiding laws.

But we all know that correlation does not equal causation, and to extrapolate to the idea that non-theists are immoral is illogical. To conclude that non-theists cannot be moral is ridiculous, and there are lots (billions) of counter-examples. Examining the issue conclusively is probably a waste of time. There are simply too many confounding issues.

Human History and Law/Morality

The earliest evidence for something human is millions of years ago. Various forms of our pre-historic ancestors date back 1 to 3 million years. Our modern form of human, bipedal, increased brain size, with longer childhoods and decreased differences in gender appearance (sorry ladies, apparently ancient hominids were more feminine, or at least, more easily differentiated from males), leading to social learning, language and other cultural pursuits, developed no less than 50,000 years ago. It took a while to get out of the hunter-gatherer stage, but about 10,000 years ago civilizations, in terms of agriculture and communal living, began to develop.

The timing is mildly important, because the laws as codified in the Bible and set down on paper (or papyrus, or stone, I suppose), were written about three thousand years ago. And yet, historical evidence of formal laws date back to four or five thousand years. While the Old Testament dates back to about 1200 BC, parallel civilizations in Greece, Egypt, Rome, India, China and Mesopotamia all had codes of behaviour.

The point is, there is good reason to believe humans are capable of producing, and indeed did produce laws to live by long before the god of the bible gave his rules to Moses.

Alternative Explanation

Suppose there is no god to hand down rules. Almost by definition, the final arbiter of rules to live by, if you are inclined to believe in an absolute morality, is God. This, at least, is the argument given by William Lane Craig. Existence of absolute morality implies a god. In fact, this argument is circular because existence of absolute morality is God.

I cannot really think of any other method of getting to absolute morality. Could there be a supreme sets of laws somewhere that has no living embodiment, no intellectual existence? If there were, one could never prove it, not without some live (even if historical) being to defend it.

Could there be two supreme intelligences, both giving different accounts of an absolute morality. This is even more complicated than one god, and puts the definition of supreme in question. So lets agree for the moment that absolute morality and God are essentially the same thing.

Non-Theists and Relative Morality

We all ‘feel’ that there is a right and a wrong to most, if not all questions. Sometimes, in fact, we are sorely puzzled by the position taken by others, and we look to colleagues to agree with us, essentially expecting such agreement out of hand. It may be that this feeling of knowing, this empathy or understanding of some human plight, is basic to our biochemistry and DNA. Or it simply may be tacit, almost subliminal, learning, often by modelling behaviour from those we know, respect and love.

This overwhelming feeling of ‘knowing’, what I have referred to (metaphorically) in the past as ‘listening to the voice of God,’ may indeed be a stimulus to concluding the existence of absolute morality, and thus that God exists.

I have argued, also in the past, as have others in publications, that morality is a result of natural selection and communal living. Rules of behaviour leading to control of anarchy and chaos tend to improve the survival of communities and thus promote the dissemination of DNA. Such sensations as empathy, guilt and fairness would then lead to a general understanding of what is considered ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ without really thinking about it much, reinforcing that feeling of some ‘voice of God’.

Morality thus arises in us as a selection advantage.

Short-Cuts to Morality

We were all, once upon a time, non-theists. We may have thought periodically that maybe some god existed because we didn’t understand things like thunder and lightning, but at some point, formal theology didn’t exist.

Gradually all these non-theists evolved morally, and taught their children and their community members. But, as always, a group or groups misbehaved, and would not respond to general rules. “So you say…but I believe otherwise.” With all the work to be done, who has time to explain the need for communal behaviour to these recalcitrant and miscreants? So the non-theists used threats of violence, and punishment, but implementation was always a problem that could only be settled by more threats of violence and chaos.

“You need to do this.”

“Who says?” Bingo.

“God says.” Brilliant. In one fell swoop, a whole bunch of problems can be addressed.

Atheists created God in order to keep theists in line. And it worked. The theists took the bait, hook, line and sinker. They ran with it.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice

The non-theists returned to their fields, content they had taken care of law and order, and the theists ran with it. The concepts of God and redemption, forgiveness and sin, Hell and everlasting torment, Heaven and everlasting paradise, all became carrots and sticks for new theists who needed moral tutelage. Before we knew it, the whole thing had run amok.

Hundreds of religions, sects, cults, hundreds of rules monitored and implemented by clever people who saw a sinecure. A whole new industry of largesse. A whole new industry of control . Methods to keep people in line, to obtain power, to control entry into the elite, to justify inequities like slavery and economic gaps, anti-democratic power distribution.

Subtle refinements, such as supporting the poor and the sick gave justification to protection from taxation or military service, influence peddling and power-mongering.

And the ever-present promise of forgiveness, if only you would choose the right church, the right religion.

Survival of the fittest lead to survival of the church, using the same basic rules. If you take the fears and exploit them, create a political base of believers, you can win by force of ‘conscience’ others to your side by supporting their favourite cause: white nationalism, jingoism, racism, anti-Semitism, even slavery and elitism. Even anti-science disdain for experts. Even excuses for property hoarding, misogyny and other inequities and iniquities. Even protection of paedophiles because the image of the church is more important than anything secular.

Even war: “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Religion is the great recruiter. Only family competes successfully with religion when it comes to recruiting for a fight.

So the original good idea of using an all-powerful all-knowing god to enforce rules of civil behaviour in people who do not feel the empathy required for fairness and ethical or moral behaviour has been used by those self-same guiltless heartless people to achieve their own goals. Of course, not every theist is a psychopath. Very few, in fact. Most are good-hearted kindly people who have been gathered up by all these arguments, who believe earnestly in the idea of loving their neighbour and helping where they can. They believe non-theists about them will suffer badly if they do not comply and convert. They are full of good intentions, with their eyes firmly fixed on the values and morals of the past, of the original contractual obligation with the non-existent god. A few will recognize it for what it is, a hoax, though very few will see that the hoax was originally the atheist’s hoax. And maybe the original huckster thought, “Maybe there is a god, and if there is, he would do this, providing a tool to control the community. Maybe the idea of the god is faulty, but you have to admit, the tool it is a great idea.”

And little by little, people would add to the tool, to promote ideas they favoured (celibacy of priests, once they’d had their fun), to remove adversaries from positions of power (excommunication of non-believers), to promote friends in high places (royalty by divine right), to advance their personal views of moral behaviour (protection from legal consequences for people discriminating against homosexuals), to control competing religions (entry into heaven only through Jesus Christ).

Religion As A Tool

Viewing religion as a tool to solve community control issues addresses a number of problems. It clarifies a powerful incentive to the development and continuation of an idea which has no visible evidence. People support this idea of organized religion because it works, because it has worked in the passed, and because many others agree.

It explains why there are religions in most cultures on earth, whether they be theistic or not, because of its civil order need. If one geographical section of the world was largely out of reach, it developed a parallel but similar structure to control its people, a different religion.

It explains why something with virtually no evidence can persist in the minds of intelligent people. But it also explains why the strength of its arguments falters as the populace becomes more educated.

It explains the need to proselytise. It explains the desire to encompass all. It explains the incredible popularity of religion. It explains the public display of what many might expect to be a very personal relationship, the believer and God. Non-believers need to believe, or need to be seen to believe. Even non-believers know they need to be seen to believe.

It explains why religion cannot change, because God had to be always right to provide absolute morality to all people. After all, absolute morality cannot change…it’s absolute. It explains why holy books can never be revised. It explains why certain contentious parts of the Bible get ignored.

The tool is weakened by disbelief, by non-acceptance. So impossible parts of the story are skipped, contentious parts are reinterpreted, certain policies are characterized as parables, myths, fantsies or literary devices.

“We don’t stone people for apostacy.”

“But the Bible says…,”

“No. No. That’s just literary license.”

“Well, how am I going to figure out what is correct, God damn it…”

“Don’t take the Lord’s name in …” and punishment is applied.

Yes, viewing religion as a tool explains its popularity, its past almost total acceptance, its intransigence, as well as its inconsistencies.

God is an atheist hoax. And it got away from us. Boy, did it get away from us.

Morality and God. Part 1

William_Lane_Craig
William Lane Craig

This blogpost was published last year, lost, and now rebound. To err is human, but if you really want to screw up, you need a computer.

 

 

 

Dangerous Man?

William Lane Craig argues that he has proved there is a god, that god teaches that homosexual activity is abhorrent and that therefore it is right and proper to condemn the behavior, if not the gender preference. He is somewhat more modern than many, or at least he reduces his cross-sectional area as a target, by pointing out that nowhere in the Bible does it say that being a homosexual is bad;  rather that homosexual activity is bad. Homosexuals, then, must abstain to be good people. Craig does seem to admit that homosexuality is not the gay person’s choice, but nevertheless, this is their cross to bear, unfairly perhaps (but who ever said God was fair: certainly not Job, nor Abraham, nor even Jesus, really).

 

The two criteria are that according to the absolute morality given to us by God, we must eschew homosexual behavior, and that there really is a God who defines this absolute morality.

 

It is an interesting position to take, to claim to be moral by doing God’s bidding. Craig is clever enough to consider a…to him hypothetical…thought experiment.

 

What if God Does Not Exist?

One of Craig’s arguments appears to be that absolute morality exists and therefor God exists. To show that absolute morality exists he appeals to emotion; torturing babies is bad…everyone agrees (well, everyone except baby torturers, I suppose).

 

But I would like him to imagine that there is no God, and then answer the following question? Is torturing babies no longer bad?

 

Let’s pretend he says torturing babies is still bad, then his line of reasoning that morality comes from God loses some support, the quantum of which is dependent on just how good he is at imagining stuff. Here, he would have to admit that the morality he relies upon is coming from humans, not God. He will deny this and say he cannot put the specter of God out of his mind sufficiently to rid himself of God’s absolute morality.

 

OK.

 

Try anyway. Consider the state of affairs where there never was any God, and two people on the desert island are told that a baby is about to be tortured. One is told he must oppose such an evil act, or he will be immediately shot in the head and killed. He complies, and his behavior in this test is consistent with a moral person. The other is told nothing of the sort, simply asked what he thinks, and let’s suppose his answer too, is consistent with the behavior of a moral person.

 

Assuming you can quantify morality, and I guess you can, who is the more moral?

 

I do think Craig, and most sentient people, would argue in favor of the guy who makes the right decision without the gun to his head. Well, Dr. Craig, that is the atheist. The first guy, the one who needs a gun to keep him moral, is the theist (I admit that not all theists require this coaxing. In fact, I think most theists would be quite moral without God, they just don’t realize it). God was created by atheists (among others) to keep the rest of the populace in check, as a quick method of teaching morality. Atheists knew that people needed something, something to keep them on the straight and narrow, so they created God. And it worked. Sort of. It was not our greatest invention, but it served its purpose.

 

The above is hyperbole, clearly, but the point is that the person who requires hell and damnation to be moral, is not moral, they are simply rule-abiding and risk aversive. In fact, the guy who only occasionally tortures babies is more moral than the guy who never does this because of the gun, but who would always do this if God did not exist.

 

Rules of civil behavior have developed over time, and pre-dated the Bible by at least a thousand years. It’s hard to argue that such civil behavior was demanded by God before the Ten Commandments, or rules in Leviticus, because prior to that is seems God had not voiced His concerns. Thus there is every reason to think some people, including all those who never heard of God, live on another planet, can’t read, or whatever…there is every reason to think some people figured out some semblance of morality before being taught by a deity. History tells us that rules of law pre-dated the Bible, anyway.

 

Animals Have Rules

Look at animals. Those who spend any time with animals can see evidence of love and nurturing, as a mother and newborn, certainly among the mammals at least. Such bonds clearly develop between dogs and their owners, and while I realize the anthropomorphic attributes we project onto them are problematic, many of us, myself included, have been helped by our pets. As a young boy, my dog tried to pull me out of a fast running river.

 

Of course, among the carnivorous animals (which includes us), there is a competition of behavior. Eating your enemy is a pretty efficient way of a gaining a useful quantity of energy. But rampant cannibalism is held in check by…what? By rules of civil behavior. By instinct. By species memory or whatever instinct turns out to be. By social learning.

 

There is a component of volition in instinct, as opposed to reflex, and sometimes the drive can get muddied, as in breathing, for example. Or sex. Or eating. No one seems to question these issues of instinct or inherited memory, but somehow civil behavior is interpreted by theists as taught by God. We atheists often suffer the “Oh, how can you have a moral code if you don’t believe in God?” Bigotry much?  Since God ‘taught it’, there must be absolute morality. This leads to the circular argument that God creates absolute morality, and thus there is an absolute morality, and because there is an absolute morality, God must exist (do I need to provide the reference for that one?).

 

But no one seems to question that animals, in the varied hierarchy of life, show evidence of instinctual behavior, of volition, of empathy and nurturing, of friendship and even of codes of civil behavior. Do animals listen to the voice of God? Well, I suppose the theist can argue about that, and I have no idea what the Franciscans might say, but if you think, as I do, that ‘the voice of God’ is a metaphor for our code of behavior, I would say, “Yeah,” animals have a code which they consider, and which is subject to their own volition, and which varies from species to species as well as from individual to individual.

 

If humans get theirs from God, where do animals get it?

 

Let’s back up a bit. A lot of Craig’s argument seems to centre on the existence of absolute morality. But is there such a thing, really?

 

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Unless God tells you to, in some sort of indemnification by divine command. Unless you are defending yourself, which to the best of my knowledge does not show up in the bible. And when this commandment was handed down (written in stone, no less, just to emphasize the point), there was no equivocation about the perp stealing, or murdering, or messing around with someone else’s husband (remember, there are gender distinctions in the Bible…this degree of punishment is pretty straight forward for the female…if you can define what female is, which is a whole other story). Thou shalt not kill is pretty absolute. And yet, very few God-fearing individuals quibble with it in all circumstances.

 

War, punishment, self-defense, treason. All of these are stimuli for looking the other way when it comes to this commandment, this absolute morality. In fact, it seems to me that the only time the theist really complains about justifiable killing is when it is done in order to help the person being killed, as with the relief of pain and suffering. Very strange, don’t you think?

 

Slavery

Is keeping slaves contrary to some absolute morality? Certainly the bible, the word of God, mentions slaves several times, though never that I am aware of in some way that suggests slavery is wrong.

 

And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free. Leviticus 19:20 (KJV)

 

We certainly accept this to be wrong now, and have done so for the last 200 years (well, 150 or less for the Americans) though most people are hard-pressed to see the obvious slavery inherent in the socioeconomic ‘gap’.

 

One can safely infer that absolute morality has changed. To me, this means it is not absolute. [Please, biblical scholars, don’t quibble that slaves are different from bondmaids. Other translations of the bible call them slaves in the spirit of literary honesty, and the author of the bible could have given his writing more clarity, if he had been concerned about misinterpretation.]

 

Relative Morality

Moral relativism asserts that different groups have different codes of conduct, and that there is no absolute morality. The problem with denying absolute morality is that religious apologists lose their best circular argument for the existence of God. And unfortunately, I believe that is what guides their arguments. Instead of reviewing the facts to develop the conclusion, they appear intent on finding the ‘facts’ that support their conclusion.

 

But we all know that torturing babies is wrong (though we treat neonatal cancers and leukemia). And that killing is wrong (though we defend ourselves to the point of lethal force). And that keeping slaves is wrong (though on this the bible does not seem to concur). And that homosexuality is wrong (though we don’t know how to define same-sex intercourse, because we really don’t know how to exhaustively define gender. See second half of LGBT).

 

Where Does Morality Come From?

When we think of morality, it seems to me most of us are thinking about some internal guide, some innate knowledge that certain things are wrong. Not simply that God declares it wrong. To be truly moral, we have to feel that it is wrong. Like those two guys on the desert island. What I like to call, “Listen to the voice of God,” in part because it confuses my theist friends. Morality, to me anyway, is not simply a list of rules, but is an instinctual or learned deep seated knowledge that some behavior should not be carried out.

 

How did we get it, those of us who have it, those non-sociopathic members of our society.  To answer that we learned from our parents, and others in our community, is ducking the question. To say ‘God gave it to us’ is the result of our arrogance that we think we should be able to explain everything (and when we cannot, it must be God). I think it is evolution. I think there is random variation in possible behavior with respect to morality, and that the selection advantage of Darwinian evolutionary theory promotes communal living as an survival improvement over isolationism. The survival of the community of fittest beats out the survival of the fittest every time.

 

We evolved to be moral, though it is by far a work in progress, and is easily subverted. We evolved toward moral behavior. And then we started teaching our children. How much is in the gene, and how much is in the meme, I don’t know. But given that memes may be hard things for other animals to develop, I would have to guess there must be a lot in the biochemistry and physiology. All for the general purpose (anthropomorphizing again) of promoting our DNA.

 

Jared Diamond points out (Guns, Germs and Steel) that getting people of the same religious faith to spill blood for you is the next most successful recruiting device to getting family to fight for you. Which, by the way, may well be the selection advantage of theism over atheism.

 

Why Do I Think WLC Is Dangerous?

I have spent a lifetime interviewing people and quickly getting a measure of them by appearance, behavior, ideas, body language, education, demeanor and so much more. I have probably treated close to 25,000 patients in the course of my career, and have interacted with many times that in terms of family. It is rare indeed that my initial impressions prove wrong.

 

I have listened now to several talks, debates and speeches given by WLC, and while I have heard of disagreement from others, I really find him to be amiable, pleasant, and kind. I know, as with any prominent individual, that opinions will vary, and I am aware that some find fault with him, his education in spite of two PhDs, his logic (which I also question, well, mostly his premises), and his tactics in debates. I do know that I am at one extreme of people who truly have to find something egregious and undeniable about someone before I relegate them to the categories of nasty and indecent.

 

So, I think I would quite like WLC if I met him, recognizing that such an opinion necessarily is shallow. So what. I don’t like everybody, but largely because I don’t know everybody.

 

But I think William Lane Craig is dangerous, as many moderate theists are, because the moderates provide guidance and shielding for the radicals.

 

I can’t get away from the feeling that if WLC were convinced there was no god, no higher authority, he might well make up his own mind that homosexuality and homosexual behavior is not immoral. Although I have read or heard him make some highly questionable and derogatory statements about disease in homosexuals related to sexual behavior, setting those rather breath-taking misunderstandings of the medical and physiological aspects aside (as examples, I suppose, of trying to find facts to support your conclusions), with time he might come to accept that there is no inherent immorality in homosexual behavior. But as it stands now, his view of the existence of a God which has condemned homosexuality as an abomination, essentially by Divine Command, can lead to hate crimes in people who believe WLC.

 

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:13 (KJV)

 

Combine that with WLC’s reported acceptance of genocide as justified by Divine Command Theory, it is not so much of a stretch to think some misguided disciple of WLC could use an AK-47 on a gay night-club.

 

William Lane Craig would consider such an horrific action to be, itself, an abomination, but I think he would still have blood on his hands. Words matter; words are powerful; unintended consequences can be predicted sometimes. I just don’t think it is worth all the sophistry.