Hello there MU SASHA blog readers! This is my first blog post and it will be a direct quote of my recent persuasive speech given in speakers circle in support of dissident Bangladeshi bloggers.
“What is dissent?
Dissent is the disagreement through the criticisms of prevailing ideas, politics, government, or social movements. Dissent is the counter analysis of existent systems, laws and Ideas. But….
Is the freedom of dissent important?
If we are not allowed the freedom to voice our objections we are forced to, as a society, accept the belief systems in place. We are forced to abide to complacency of inequality and the illegalization of our very thoughts.
When the freedom of dissent is illegal; when thoughts are no longer considered within the free market of ideas; when criticisms of any social, cultural, or political rhetoric are deemed untouchable; when we are punished for simply questioning, not challenging, but questioning authority; we have lost our ability to attempt to foster a better society.
Dissent can foster a better society by allowing the development, and implementation of complex ideas. When Martin Luther King Jr. set foot behind a podium, he did so with the intent to change the world as he and countless others saw fit to do. Dr. King criticized the social systems and laws in place that accepted and facilitated racial inequalities. What would the United States look like if iconic figures like Dr. King were not allowed to voice their concerns without knowledge of imminent, government-facilitated retribution?
Opponents of concepts of free speech in Bangladesh have been beheading, beating, maiming, and jailing those who are dissident. Some of the dissidents bloggers have criticized leaders for crimes committed during the 1971 liberation of Bangladesh from Pakistan. During that liberation leaders have been found guilty of, and not limited to, 344 counts of murder, rape, and torture. Surely these leaders deserve to be tried for their crimes and surely no citizen of any country deserves to be killed or imprisoned for calling for the justice of murderers, torturers, and rapists.
We, MU SASHA and Columbia Atheists, are the defenders of dissidence. Our weapons are our minds. Our ammunition is our words. Today we stand in solidarity and fight on behalf of the Bangladeshi bloggers. Today we stand against human rights violations of the government of Bangladesh.”
This post is in response to Dave’s Dear Secular Community: Lest we forget, we’re on the same side.
Lately in the atheist blogosphere (I can not believe I am using that word non-ironically now; I think I just threw up a little) there has been much conversation about instituting harassment policies at conferences. That is actually only tangential to what I want to discuss in this post. What I actually want to discuss is the idea proposed in Dave’s blog post, including the tweet. The tweet (by Florida State Director of American Atheists, and Vice President of Outreach for Secular Woman, Bridgette Gaudette) read:
“Dear Secular Community: We agree on 95% of the same stuff, can we focus on that and not the 5% that we disagree on?!”
There are a few issues I have with this idea, as well as the suggestions that come of the application of this idea. Firstly, on the most basic level, let me grant the arbitrarily decided on percentages and even then most of that 95% that we agree on is going to be things like gravity, that humans require oxygen, that 2+2=4. There is nothing to discuss with these issues.
I am not setting up a straw-man argument. I realize that what was meant by the original comment were issue about church-state separation, science education, LGBTQ rights, etc. However, I think it is important to point out that that would not make up this full 95%. Most of what we agree on we have no need to discuss because everyone else agrees with it as well. Then there are the “movement issues” that most of us agree on within the movement, but that a large part of the rest of society does not. These get a lot of discussion, as we want to convince those that disagree of our viewpoint in an attempt to mold society into one that shares our values. This is precisely why these things need to be discussed in the movement. The only way to promote positive change in society is by discussing the issues with the rest of society. The only way to promote positive change within the movement is by discussing the issues with the rest of the movement.
I understand the sentiment behind the idea; the whole “let’s be friends” mentality. And I completely agree with it. However, I think we need to tread carefully lest we enable the silencing of complaints and discussion. We can, and should, discuss these ideas respectfully. There should not be long-standing feuds and resentment due to discussion of these issues and we should certainly not have different camps forming. For Thor’s sake people, we have escaped this herd mentality once, lets not jump into it again. So I certainly sympathize with the desire to get along, but I think that can still be done while discussing important issues that people within the movement disagree upon, and I do think it is necessary. The complaints about not wanting to read about it on the blogs anymore are not at all helpful. For one, you have the ability not to read them if you do not care about the issue being discussed. There are titles and tags that can help you with this endeavor if skimming the article first to too time consuming for you. Secondly, and more importantly, these comments seem to me to be showing quite a bit of privilege. ”This does not affect me personally, and I don’t want to feel like I am doing anything wrong, so I don’t want to read about it anymore.” This may all be true, but it does affect other people within the movement, and they just as much of a right as anyone else does to try to keep people safe and treated equally. If you disagree with arguments being made in favor of some of these issues, then engage in the discussion, but to say that we should all stop talking about it is edging towards censorship and is not at all productive.
Tony Lakey is the President of MU SASHA. He is currently interning with the Center for Inquiry On Campus in Amherst, NY. He will be starting his fourth year at the University of Missouri – Columbia in August 2012, majoring in Philosophy and Sociology.
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Hello all, Dave Muscato here, and I’m going to talk to you today about Rush Limbaugh.
Sure, you’ve heard his name. You’ve heard reports about some of the things he’s said. He’s been in the news lately for two reasons especially: for calling Sandra Fluke a “prostitute” and a “slut,” and for being inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians at the Missouri State Capitol. For each inductee, there is a bust of the person in the foyer, right between the rooms where the House and Senate meet. Other famous Missourians represented here with busts include Samuel Clemens (pen name: Mark Twain), Sacajawea (who appears on the United States $1 coin), writer Dale Carnegie, President Harry S Truman, Walt Disney, scientist/inventor George Washington Carver, saxophonist Charlie Parker, astronomer Edwin Hubble, and 30 others.
The initial announcement of Limbaugh’s consideration for induction pissed a lot of people off, especially Missouri’s Democratic lawmakers, who signed a letter protesting the selection. Limbaugh is a major advocate of conservative Christianity and right-wing politics, despite being married 4 times (divorced 3) himself. His on-air accuracy has been called into question by Senator Al Franken and others. Quoting the previous link:
A defense fund report authored by Princeton University endowed geoscience professor Michael Oppenheimer and professor of biology David Wilcove lists 14 significant scientific facts that, the authors allege, Limbaugh misrepresented in his book The Way Things Ought to Be. The authors conclude that “Rush Limbaugh … allows his political bias to distort the truth about a whole range of important scientific issues.”
Limbaugh was also, during a period in the early 2000s, a drug addict. He was arrested and charged with “doctor shopping” (seeing multiple doctors for the same condition for the purpose of obtaining duplicate prescriptions, usually for narcotic painkillers, without notifying each doctor that another doctor is already treating the condition).
I am barely scratching the surface with this guy. Feel free to poke around Google for more info. He is a hateful man, a shock jock who says anything he wants so long as it gets attention, and he has seemingly no problem with making up information, or at least with failing to fact-check. He is not a role model, unless you desire to be a bigot.
The reason for the title of this article is that there is another English word that fits the bill much more appropriately:
Rush Limbaugh is not famous. He is infamous.
There is an important difference. Famous means “much talked about; well-known; honored for achievement; celebrated.” Infamous means “having a reputation of the worst kind; notorious as being of vicious, contemptible, or criminal character; having a bad name as being associated with something disgraceful or detestable” (see citations below).
Limbaugh is vicious. He is contemptible. He is — literally — a criminal. He is a disgrace to journalistic integrity, and I detest him for what he has done (and is doing) to twist and poison the minds of his listeners with false information and heavily-spun political rhetoric and bias.
As someone originally born in Missouri, and as someone who has lived here 26 out of my 28 years, this really pisses me off. I remember going to the State Capitol in Jeff City on elementary school field trips and seeing the Hall of Famous Missourians. It was inspiring. It was exhilarating. I am angry that the excitement I felt as a kid, visiting the Hall for the first time, will be contaminated, corrupted, poisoned in this way for future generations of young Missourians.
The person who selected Limbaugh for inclusion in the Hall, House Speaker Steven Tilley, when asked about the choice in a radio interview I heard Monday on our local NPR station, said that (paraphrasing) although some people may not agree with the choice, the Hall of Famous Missourians is intended for famous people who are from, or heavily associated with, the state of Missouri (emphasis in original). He stressed that not everyone likes the same celebrities, but that doesn’t mean Limbaugh isn’t deserving of this. In other words (my words), it’s not a Hall of Heroes; it’s a Hall of Well-Known People from this state.
Tilley took some extra heat on Monday following the induction ceremony, because the time and date of the ceremony was not made public until literally 20 minutes before it began. Unlike previous induction ceremonies, which have been open to the public and to other members of the House & Senate, this was an invitation-only ceremony, with armed Highway Patrol officers guarding the room. Democratic lawmakers were not invited. Republican members of the House & Senate & their staff attended, as well as Limbaugh and his entourage.
Representative Tilley, I have a suggestion for your next inductee:
How about inducting the outlaw Jesse James?
Jesse James was a gang leader, bank robber, train robber, and murderer who was assassinated at the age of 34 by a member of his own gang, Robert Ford, in an attempt to collect a state reward for his head. He became a legend of the Wild West. There are a half-dozen museums dedicated to him. He is a very high-profile figure of Missouri history and symbolic of an entire era in the history of the the post-Civil War United States. He is arguably one of the most “famous” people ever to come from the great State of Missouri. There was even a major Hollywood movie made about him in 2007, starring A-list actor Brad Pitt.
I personally do not see Jesse james as much of a role model, but surely someone as well-known as he deserves a place in the Hall of Famous Missourians.
Looking forward to your response.
“famous.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (17 May 2012).
“infamous.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (17 May 2012).
Until next time,
Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.
and don’t forget… other SASHA members! We are here for you, too!
Welcome to the official MU SASHA daily blog!
First time here? Read this.
Today’s article is a guest post by computer scientist and long-time friend of SASHA, Benjamin Schulz.
In the five decades since its original publication, Milton Friedman’s “Capitalism and Freedom” has become a landmark of libertarian politics and neoliberal economic thought. It is a sign of the book’s tremendous influence that many of its arguments are taken starkly for granted in the political climate today. The broad popularity that “Capitalism and Freedom” has enjoyed masks the challenges presented by the climate in which it was originally composed: in the 1950s and 1960s, Keynesian theories of the economy held considerable sway, and memories of the Great Depression provided a powerful political impetus for many of the initiatives to which Friedman’s argument is opposed. If nothing else, the subsequent changes to the intellectual climate in the following decades give considerable force to Friedman’s retrospective on his own work: “Only a crisis — actual or perceived — produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend upon the ideas that are lying around.” “Capitalism and Freedom”, an appeal to the general public, marks Friedman as a public intellectual, and his subsequent success in that role is worthy of note by all intellectuals, regardless of their stance toward Friedman.
Friedman’s main argument is simple and very direct: the principles of classical liberalism entail that individuals should be able to exercise as much personal discretion as possible in the conduct of their own business through market exchanges. As a corollary, government regulation of market exchanges should be as limited as possible. While this argument was not new at the time of Friedman’s work, Friedman’s exposition of the ideas is articulate and clear. The subsequent conclusions of the work, that less regulation is both more conducive to smooth economic development, and better in accordance with the liberal democratic ideal, have since become a standard part of the political discourse. Friedman deserves credit as one of their essential forebears.
What distinguishes “Capitalism and Freedom” from many other expositions of the libertarian argument is its distinctly economic perspective. The book’s strongest portions make simple and fairly convincing arguments, for instance, that occupational licensure prevents and undue barrier to gainful employment without increasing the quality of services offered, and that social welfare programs, such as public housing, are less economically efficient than direct cash giveaways. In particular, the ingenuity displayed in the argument against even the licensing of physicians is impressive and, though certainly controversial, is well worth contemplation. Overall, Friedman shows considerable knowledge of the ways in which state-administered programs may thoroughly fail to achieve their intended ends, and skillfully raises important practical considerations in the pursuit of such goals. The book’s argument also touches upon the elements of monetary policy and currency exchange, which are the lesser-known but more essential foundation of Friedman’s economic career. These would perhaps have enjoyed a lengthier treatment. These subjects nonetheless fit well with the other parts of the book, and serve as interesting introduction to some of the related problems.
“Capitalism and Freedom” is weaker, unfortunately, in its philosophical and theoretical elements. Although the book’s popular audience probably makes it unsuitable for a highly technical discussion of economic theory, many of its further flung generalizations rest on much shakier foundations than its more specific points. To his credit, Friedman does a good job of pointing out those specific economic issues on which he is asserting his professional opinion, but about which could be some considerable debate, e.g. tax policy, and the financing of Social Security. There were other points at which I found justification to be lacking, such as Friedman’s lightly argued assertion that a private monopoly is preferable to a nationalized or government-regulated industry. The greater danger, I fear, is that Friedman’s contemporary fame as an economist may be an invitation to overestimate the sophistication of his stated philosophical positions and their underlying assumptions. A prime example of such simplistic assumptions is found in the Chapter X, “On the Distribution of Income”, in which Friedman asserts that “we are generally much readier to accept inequalities arising from chance than those clearly attributable to merit.” Certainly, there can be some honest debate on such an assumption, but it is by no means self-evident. This lack of self-evidence is illustrated by considering that the precise negation of Friedman’s assumption, namely that we are and should be less, not more, willing to accept inequalities of chance than of merit, is the cornerstone of John Rawl’s highly influential work of political philosophy, “A Theory of Justice.” Similarly, Friedman makes irregular, patchwork use of the notion of “neighborhood effects” (costs to persons not willingly participating in an exchange) without more closely examining why they should be applicable in some cases but not others. While a theory dealing with these issues more thoroughly presents a tremendous challenge, and is well beyond the scope of the book, it is important to separate Friedman’s expert economic observations from his occasional political and philosophical leanings.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the book is Friedman’s impressively principled stances, which occasionally straddle conventional political lines. For example, Friedman argues controversially against forced desegregation of private businesses, while applying the same reasoning to reject so-called “right to work” laws which prohibit the formation of “closed shops”, wherein union membership is required for employment. Although something of an anachronism today, Friedman’s stance against the draft provides another interesting example.
“Capitalism and Freedom”, is still a fairly short work, and would probably be well supplemented with further reading. An obvious recommendation is Robert Nozick’s classic, “Anarchy, State, and Utopia”, which better develops many of the arguments for libertarian theories of property and exchange that Friedman seems to presume. Interested readers would probably also enjoy Thomas Friedman’s (no relation) “The World Is Flat”, a very popular anecdotal discussion of the future of global capitalism. Naomi Klein’s painstakingly researched expose, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism”, directly criticizes Friedman’s position by describing many very serious contemporary problems that free markets seem unable to resolve.
All told, “Capitalism and Freedom” is a worthwhile read for persons of all political persuasions. Conservatives and libertarians will find much to sympathize with, and leftist thinkers will find an engaging examination of some of the practical problems that attend constraints on the free market. While I do not personally agree with many of Friedman’s conclusions, it is nonetheless refreshing to read an opposing viewpoint that retains its force and directness while remaining principled and well-reasoned.
Benjamin Schulz is a computer scientist and long-time friend of SASHA whose regular blog, “Hot, Cold, Sun, Rain: Practical Spirituality, Irregular Philosophy, and Personal Civics” appears here.
I’m Seth Kurtenbach, and I like Game Theory.
I rarely pay attention to the news, but I couldn’t help overhearing something about Congress failing to reach an agreement about raising the debt ceiling. Apparently, John Boehner has just walked away from talks with Obama, and Obama cannot understand why he would do such a thing, given the quickly approaching impending doomsday date of August 2. I have a hypothesis.
See, the Republicans and Democrats are locked in a game of Chicken with each other. This game takes its name from the 1950′s games toughguys would play with each other, racing each other’s car toward one another at breakneck speeds. Whoever swerves is the chicken. Whoever goes straight is the tough guy. Right now, the two political parties are barreling toward one another, and neither wants to swerve. In Game Theory, we call a particular kind of solution a Nash equilibrium. This means that each player is playing his best response to what the other player is doing. In Chicken, if Sammy decides to swerve, then Johnny does best by going straight. If Sammy decides to go straight, then Johnny does best by swerving. Here is a game matrix of the player’s strategies and payoffs:
Okay, now clearly neither player wants to end up ramming into each other, the payoffs of which can be seen in the bottom right cell. The outcome (straight, straight) is the worst-case scenario, in which the U.S. defaults on its debt. Obama seems to have been hoping that Boehner would realize how deadly Chicken is and opt for the (Swerve, Swerve) cell, in which both parties avoid disaster and reach a reasonable agreement to neither’s benefit or loss, all things considered. However, (Swerve, Swerve) is not a Nash equilibrium. If Boehner thinks Obama will swerve, then Boehner does best to play Straight, because then his payoffs change from 0 to 1.
Another aspect of Chicken is the use of signaling. Sometimes, a player can issue threats or behave irrationally in order to throw off the other player’s strategy. Here, Boehner is basically ripping the steering wheel off of his car, to signal that he has no intention to Swerve. Thus, if Obama wants to avoid collision, he’ll have to be the one to Swerve. The Republican party are masters of this technique. They essentially say, “we refuse to compromise, so we guarantee that the game’s outcome will be in the right column; it is up to you guys whether we collide or you Swerve to avoid us.”
Obama said he will veto the “cut, cap, and balance” bill, hoping to signal to the Republicans that he has no intention of Swerving. Unfortunately, given the track record of the Democratic party, they are virtually unable to issue credible threats. In order to issue credible threats, one must commit to non-compromise every once in a while, and perhaps suffer short-term loss. If defaulting would be as bad as it is made out to be by the media, then now is not a good time for the Democrats to prove their willingness to play Straight. I predict that Obama will Swerve and the Republicans will play Straight. This means that the Republicans will essentially benefit slightly by their more believable willingness to ruin the country’s financial credit, and the Democrats will take a hit in order to prevent disaster.
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