Archive for March, 2013

The Supreme Court and Marriage

Is there anything more pathetic than having a panel of geriatric neo-scholastics as society’s self-proclaimed ultimate arbiters of right and wrong?

We should be immediately suspicious of this black-clad gang as they are supposed to use sane first principles, the facts of reality, and reason to arrive a just decisions, and yet not one of them is an atheist. In fact the currently represented religions (6 Catholic and 3 Jewish, I think) are demonstrably expert and ginning up internally consistent bullshit whirlwinds that can avoid, dismantle and adapt to any reality based objection–other religions aren’t slackers in this department either, but certain religions have truly raised this nonsense to an artform, or more aptly, an academic pursuit.

Supreme Court deliberations also sound remarkably similar to the early-bird dinner hour at Luby’s.

Reading the court transcript has much in common with reading a sci-fi forum about who would win in a fight between the Enterprise and a Star Destroyer. In both instances, the participants have powerful intellects that can make coherent, compelling arguments about anything, no matter how fanciful the context. In both instances a baseline fantasy story is held by all the participants, each then adds a few individual fantasy premises and then the reasoning process begins. In both cases, the conclusions are meaningless outside of their fantasy settings and nothing about reality has been decided at all. To be fair to the sci-fi folks, only the Supreme Court has millions of armed brutes enforcing their arbitrary conclusions.

As a quick demonstration of what a reality-based court transcript might look like (courtesy of a friend’s Facebook post):

I don’t know what kind of vaguely legitimate arguments anyone could make in defense of the DOMA. I take an adult’s right to enter into a contract of any kind–marriage or other– with another adult as so much of a given that trying to explain myself would be like trying to explain why slavery is wrong. If you’re still one of those people who believes that a Bronze Age collection of stories justifies you imposing your hangups on others’, I got nothing for you. Please go fuck yourself in the most hetero way you please.

Case closed.

Control of One’s Body (or, Freedom of Conscience Part le Deux)

Another quick (probably not that quick) example where people’s freedom of conscience is most obviously violated comes to us from science magazine. Briefly, it’s one of those reports of a drug that successfully fights cancer (in this call, *all* forms) in petri dishes an mice. I have no expertise to evaluate the claim–though it is coming from *science* magazine. It’s an interesting article and compelling enough that the top level comments are from folks desperate for a miracle cure. This shit is tragic, so don’t read any further if you’re having a down day:

Husband and father of 3, age 31, high grade spindle cell sarcoma, stage 4 with mets- help! [email address] or find me (spouse) on fb, Heather Cimino in Fort Myers, Fl, willing to travel anywhere, just save my husband!

my wife has tumor that are killing her will you hurry up and get this sorted – is there anyway one can volunteer for a trial
[email address]

where do i sign up I have colon cancer i am 24 and it sucks I do not wanna go to the bathroom in a bag for my life!!!


Soooo, I get the feeling there are plenty of willing participants for a study; most of whom are facing death in the very near term. They have full access to all sorts of non-cures (I’m a skeptic) in the forms of crystals, charged water, intense prayer, tinctures and the like, but they can’t get access to prototypes of drugs that, by definition, can’t make them worse off and have already been shown to be effective against human cancers in test mammals (mice).

It’s fucking tragic, tragic and awful, and frustrating, and infuriating.

The comments on this page are mostly a fight over some particular alternative healer. At Hacker News, where I read the story–and where very few alternative healing folk hang out, you can get a sense the frustration at this obvious and heinous injustice. Providing the foil are the usual apologists claiming that

. . . exemptions will invite snake-oil salesmen . . . the rules weren’t created in some blind bureaucratic power-grab. They’re responses to actual problems that existed in their absence. They aren’t without their downsides, but they remain better than the alternative on balance

I found among the comments, an acronym that I hadn’t seen before, FUD, or “Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt”, have no doubt I plan to use it liberally in the future. The identification of this reactionary strategy when it was deployed was a highlight of the HN comments. A large number of people clearly grasp that the final word on what does or does not get done to a body should be made by the “owner” of that body; nobody else can legitimately intervene with force to compel a forfeiture of conscience.

And that is heartening. Clearly a growing number of people “get it.” Overriding the exercise of control a person has over their body is instinctually repellent in a healthy adult human. Beyond what should be an obvious moral case is the practical one. The idea that a tiny clan of self-aggrandizing control freaks can access and weight the subjective experiences and priorities of millions of complete strangers is ludicrous. The notion that they thereafter can craft a single set of rules that do anything other than confound the daily lives of the subject of those rules is, uhhh, even more ludicrous.

Add to that the fact that these petty tyrants are bought and paid for by entities who profit from illness and from having a monopoly on all manner of healthcare resources and it becomes clear that the purpose of the FDA and similar agencies can’t possibly be the health and well being of the subjects.

What is laughable and sinister becomes heartbreaking when these sorts of forces prevent people from seeking solutions to life threatening medical conditions. And let’s be sure I beat this dead horse deader, the FDA and it’s enforcers are so completely certain that they know categorically what all 300 million of us should consume/not consume, that they are willing to kill people, if need be, to prevent them from harming themselves. Shit, sometimes I can’t believe how fucking loony this all is.

Freedom of Conscience

I’ve had an idea bouncing around in my head to little effect. I’m going to disgorge it here just to see what it looks like written down and also to drop a March post for my weird Archive column length vanity thing.

I don’t know the origins of the concept of “freedom of conscience.” I associate it with 17th/18th century enlightenment authors writing about religious freedom. The topic was hot after hundreds of years of “religious” warfare based on the premise that a monarch or government could discern which of a number of unprovable, highly subjective religious experiences were true and which weren’t. I haven’t heard the phrase in use much lately, but it is a good stand in for a whole category of problems/decisions that belong in the hands of the individual–which is all of them.

You should be able to believe any ol’ crazy thing.

Nobody really knows *exactly* how dangerous Waziristani goat herders are to the health and well being of a westerner. My estimation is that I endure nearly 0 risk from said goat herders. My conscience says that it’s wrong to kill somebody like that–somebody who poses absolutely no risk to my well being. If I were allowed the freedom to follow my conscience, I would spend 0 dollars attempting to kill the goat herders and their coreligionists on the far side of the planet. However, I am not allowed such freedom and my future labor has been used as leverage to incur trillions of dollars in debt (well, not just *my* labor) by people who supposedly believe they’re protecting me from some awful menace. On the flipside, other than denouncing you for a dangerous lunatic, I’ll not stand in the way of your spending however many 10s of thousands of dollars you wish trying to exterminate the muslim menace on your own.

Nobody knows how important a building-code compliant structure is to a given person. Sure, it’s nice to live in a safe structure with modern electrical and plumbing, but there are costs associated with doing so. I might find it more important to eat healthier food and save money for my child’s education than to spend money ensuring that my windows are the appropriate distance off the ground or to build a fence around a camper in my driveway. Maybe another person would prefer precisely the opposite for their own reasons. We should both/all be granted the freedom to follow our own consciences in these matters–the idea that a rule can be made that enforces the correct priorities for thousand or millions of people is laughable on its face.

Nobody knows when life begins, there’s a near consensus that, after being born, a human should be given a shot at living. Except under situations of extreme large scale deprivation, there are people willing to take custody of a child that would otherwise die. Before birth, however, this is a matter of debate and each person has their own opinion about “when life begins.” Each person should be allowed the freedom of their conscience in this matter. Nobody should be compelled to give birth or to abort a fetus against her will. It seems silly to even have to say it.

Always remember the alternative. I can honor your freedom of conscience in a matter, or I can compel you to go against it through force or threat of force. Of course there are circumstances, however rare, when I my conscience may dictate that I violently intervene to override your freedom of conscience (maybe you’re walking drunk into traffic, maybe you’re sleepwalking with a loaded gun). Currently, our rulers intervene as soon as we choose to purchase beverages that are too large, or to buy unpasteurized milk, or to visit a un-permitted wilderness camp. People who are brave/foolhardy enough to attempt to withhold their resources from the imperial prison/surveillance/warfare state can have any or all of their possessions taken from them and spend some or all of the rest of their lives in cages.

Of course there are complex and mind-bending rationales for all of these and other crimes against humanity carried out by those calling themselves “government”–just as there are complex and mind-bending rationales for an omnipotent, yet omniscient, god that allows humans free will. The simple truth is, no such god exists, and “government” is simply a group of humans who wish to rule over other humans. A simple litmus test of whether a human relation is just and equal or unjust and hierarchical is whether the freedoms of conscience of all the participants are being honored.