Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

30 January 2012

The Impossibility of Re-Creating Religions

By Diana Hsieh

I've never read Penn Jillette's book God, No!, but I love this quote from it:

There is no god, and that's the simple truth. If every trace of any single religion were wiped out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.
I'd make a stronger claim, namely that the myths of all major religions are so absurd that any new religions would be wholly different. The reason is simple: they're fantasies based on the desire to believe. Science, in contrast, is based on observations of empirical facts. That's the difference that makes all the difference!

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27 January 2012

Rick Santorum on Pregnant Rape Victims

By Diana Hsieh

Rick Santorum says that pregnant rape victims should "accept the gift of human life" and "make the best out of a bad situation." And yes, that's what every advocate of "personhood for zygotes" must say.



As Ari and I said in The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties:

In [a] 2004 survey, around 1.5 percent of women who got an abortion cited rape or incest as the cause of the pregnancy. Forcing a woman to carry an unwanted fetus to term when the pregnancy was caused by a sexual assault victimizes her yet again. Even if she gives up the child for adoption, she must live with the ever-present physical reminder of her assault for the duration of her pregnancy. Moreover, the woman might feel a torturous conflict over the born child: she might desperately want to raise her own child, but abhor the thought of raising the child of her rapist.
That last point, I think, is particularly important.

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25 January 2012

Saudi Textbooks: Atrocities in Print for Children

By Diana Hsieh

The Arabic school textbooks which show children how to chop off hands and feet under Sharia law:

Barbaric textbooks handed out in Saudi Arabian schools teach children how to cut off a thief's hands and feet under Sharia law, it has emerged.

The shocking books, paid for and printed by the Saudi government, also tell teenagers that Jews need to be exterminated and homosexuals should be 'put to death'.
Go read the whole thing... and then remember that Saudi Arabia, however much oil might be under its land, is not our ally and should never have been treated as such.

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23 January 2012

Rick Santorum on Free Speech

By Diana Hsieh

In this video, Rick Santorum answers a question on SOPA. He doesn't express an opinion about the bill, but he does explain his view that he regards all rights as limited and subject to regulation, including free speech rights:



Here are some highlights, but I recommend listening to the whole video:

My general feeling is that we have a free market and a free market should work. But like any freedom, there has to be regulation. We're not unlimited in any right, even rights that we have within our Constitution: they're not unlimited rights. There is, and can be, limitations on that. Freedom of speech, there are things that you can't say: you can't cry "fire" in a crowded theater. There are limitations to all freedom: there are no absolute rights. There are rights that have responsibilities that come with them. If you abuse those rights -- piracy -- if you abuse those rights, then you have a consequence of abusing that right. ...

I would make the case that ... there are limits to freedom on the internet. The internet is a powerful source for good. And, as we all know, it has been a powerful source for bad in this country. So the idea that we should just "hands-off" -- and it's a moral-free zone, it's a regulation free-zone, and that people should be able to do whatever they want -- I don't know of any other zone in America where that's the case. Why should the internet be different than everything else?

So I would say that responsible, well-[something], discussed regulation -- if there is abuse, taking someone's private property -- if there is abuse, as there is in pornography and a lot of other areas where we are destroying the moral fabric of our country -- to say, "well, it's just tough, let people to whatever they want -- let a 12 year old -- let them do whatever they want."

There are limitations that have to be put in place because your free speech rights can be incredibly harmful to someone else. Your desire to go a grab something that doesn't belong to you can be very harmful to someone else. ...
Rick Santorum views liberty as mere license to indulge in whims, including stealing from others. That's an utterly corrupt conception of rights. A person does not have the right to violate the rights of others! Yet on Santorum's view, protecting intellectual property from theft is on par with banning pornography to protect the moral fabric of society. They're both a matter of limiting rights to prevent harm to others.

Oy vey.

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20 January 2012

Why It Doesn't Matter That Life Begins at Conception

By Diana Hsieh

In a recent discussion among fellow opponents of "personhood," someone raised the question of how to effectively counter the claim made by "personhood" advocates that "science establishes that life begins at conception [i.e. fertilization]." Here's how I answered... and yes, I did write more than I intended!

Here's my take on these issues:

The discussion of "when human life begins" just isn't relevant to the question of rights in pregnancy or "personhood" for zygotes. Biologically speaking, a zygote is a new human life... but that doesn't imply that the zygote has any rights. The crucial question is philosophical: When does the embryo/fetus become an individual, meaning a person in its own right, such that rights apply to it?

Those questions can (and should) be answered based on a fact-based theory about rights. So to say "God imbues the zygote with the light to life" -- as "personhood" advocates do -- will not suffice. People are entitled to hold that view as a matter of personal faith and practice it in their own lives. Yet for them to attempt to impose it on others by force of law is a violation of our rights, as well as a violation of the proper separation of church and state.

To answer questions about rights in pregnancy, we must first understand the nature and purpose of rights. Rights are not part of our DNA; they're not some kind of organ that develops at some point in fetal gestation. Instead, rights are moral principles that establish boundaries for our social interactions: they permit people to interact only by mutual consent, so that no one is robbed, enslaved, theatened, murdered, and otherwise brutalized by others. Right are -- or should be -- the basic moral principles governing society: by demanding that every person respect the life and autonomy of others, they enable people to live peacefully and happily together.

On that understanding, rights only apply to autonomous beings in society -- meaning to biologically separate individuals. That's why Ari Armstrong and I argue that rights begin at birth -- because only then do you have autonomous individual. The infant is a person, entitled to the full protection of rights. The embryo or fetus is not: it's wholly encased in and hence a part of the pregnant woman. The pregant woman has rights, and her rights protect the embryo or fetus from assault and other harms if she wishes to bring the pregnancy to term -- or permit her to abort, if she doesn't. Any attempt to grant rights to the fetus (even at the point of viability) denies rights to the pregnant woman, including the right to make her own decisions about medical care, giving birth, etc.

Whether you agree with that analysis or not, I'd recommend explicitly rejecting the debate about "when human life begins." That's not the relevant question, and the "personhood" advocates will gain the upper hand by framing the debate in those terms.

Instead, remind them that they're not proposing to write biological textbooks, but to fundamentally change our laws by granting rights to embryos. Insist that they defend that. If they attempt to say -- as they usually do -- that every human life has rights, then you'll have to ask them whether kidneys or lungs have rights. Why not? Because they're not individuals, but just parts of a person. That gets you to the question of what qualifies as a person -- and that's the critical question. Or, you might remind them that all rights are individual rights -- and demand that they explain how the zygote can be an individual when wholly encased in and depending on the pregnant woman.

More generally, remember that our opponents have the burden of proof here. It's clear that infants and onward are persons. We might debate whether viable fetuses are persons. Advocates of "personhood" are making the extraordinary claim that embryos are persons -- before any awareness, before any movement, before the development of functional organs, and even before pregnancy begins at implantation. Such an extraordinary claim requires an extraordinary proof -- meaning a compelling and detailed argument about the nature and source of rights -- not glib assertions about "the tiniest boys and girls." If they fail to provide that proof, then you're entitled to reject their view, even if you're not quite certain of your own.

Moreover, you're entitled to reject "personhood" on the grounds that granting legal rights to embryos would violate the known rights of known persons, such as the right to birth control and in vitro fertilization. (Rights can't conflict -- if they do, then you're not talking about rights but something else like interests or desires.) Hence, to establish that granting rights to embryos would violate the rights of women is to proof enough that "personhood" is wrong.

Whew! I wrote more than expected... but I hope that's helpful!
For further exploration of these issues, I recommend Ari Armstrong's and my recent paper for The Objective Standard: The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties, as well as our much longer 2010 policy paper, The 'Personhood' Movement Is Anti-Life.

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17 January 2012

Video: SOPA and Online Piracy

By Diana Hsieh

In Sunday's Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed SOPA and online piracy. The question was:

Should SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) be supported or opposed? SOPA was recently introduced to the US House of Representatives, then shelved temporarily, and many people are urging businesses and their representatives to oppose it. Would the bill promote prosperity and creativity by protecting copyright? Or does it justify internet censorship and cripple free access of information through online media?
My answer, in brief:
SOPA and PIPA claim to protect copyright, but in fact, they'd break the fundamental architecture of the internet, subject innocent people to major legal battles, destroy large internet sites, and establish government control over the internet. To top it off, these laws would not stop pirates. They should be opposed.
Here's the video of my full answer:
If you enjoy the video, please "like" it on YouTube and share it with friends in e-mail and social media! You can also throw a bit of extra love in our tip jar.

All posted webcast videos can be found in the Webcast Archives and on my YouTube channel.

Update: While SOPA (the House bill) seems to be comatose, PIPA (the Senate bill) is still alive and kicking. Please call and e-mail your senators! You can also blackout your site, which I'll be doing tomorrow.

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16 January 2012

Good Riddance, DADT

By Diana Hsieh

Imagine having to hide a totally innocent and loving picture like this from the world, lest you lose your ridiculously low-paying job of DEFENDING AMERICA. Good riddance, DADT!



(Via Unicorn Booty)

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06 January 2012

Is Criticism of Islam Racist? Are Most Muslims Peaceful?

By Diana Hsieh

In the Facebook Group for Front Range Objectivism, a reasonable person posted the following remarks:

Fabulous discussion last night [at an event where some Front Range Objectivists spoke]. However, I was truly disturbed to meet some among us, who are influential in the Objectivist community, who express prejudice against Muslims in general. I was hoping this kind of racism was going away, but it appears to be alive and well. We alienate reasonable people who might otherwise ally themselves with us when we make statements about all Muslims being terrorists. Yes, there are Muslims who are subversive terrorists. Unfortunately we have one in the White House right now. But we don't do ourselves any favors by stating that the Koran itself promotes terrorism, and that anyone who is a Muslim wants the world to be run by Sharia law. If you look carefully at the Bible, there are lots of dated and outrageous statements which no good Christian would incorporate into their lives today.

I have been fortunate to have many Pakistani Muslim friends, who are American citizens, who are patriots. Most if them are conservatives, too, and quite closely aligned with the Objectivist philosophy. They are disturbed and alienated by the kind of prejudice I heard last night. And they are voting with their votes and their substantial campaign donations. So am I.
Those themes are common, and I wanted to lay out my own view. So here's my reply, slightly edited. I could have done better, rhetorically speaking. Still, I think that I articulated my own position reasonably well.
Islam is a chosen religion, not a race. So it's not "racism" to criticize Islam or Muslims, any more than it's racism to criticize Christianity or to regard theocratic Christians as a major threat to liberty in the America. It's not proper to discriminate based on race, because race is unchosen, and has nothing to do with moral character. Religion is chosen, and has a huge impact on a person's character, values, and actions. A person should be judged for his chosen religion, not given a free pass.

As for how many Muslims are jihadists -- or support that -- that's another question. Given that Muslim violence against "the infidel" and others is not strongly and loudly condemned by Muslims in the US (and elsewhere), but instead often excused, condoned, and urged on, I can only regard most Muslims as either active or passive supporters of violent jihad. In contrast, that's not true of Christians in America. While the political views of most Americans are influenced (for the worse) by Christianity, most American Christians oppose attempts to impose sectarian dogmas by law, and they deplore violence. That's because Christianity, unlike Islam, has been tempered by the Enlightenment. (Alas, that's disappearing slowly...)

Muslims opposed to violent jihad are disobeying the explicit commands of their religion. If that's their true view, however, then they ought to stand up and say that, particularly given the barbaric acts of their fellow adherents. But they're almost entirely silent. Hence, the rest of us are entitled to assume that they really don't have a huge problem with fellow Muslims blowing up Jewish children, murdering daughters for being too western, executing gays, stoning rape victims, killing apostates, and so on.

Of course, if you know particular Muslims who support American values... that's AWESOME. However, just as with Christians, those Muslims ought to abandon their religious beliefs, because they're wholly incompatible with any concern or respect for individual rights.

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04 January 2012

People Are Not Animals: Evolution Versus The Bible

By Diana Hsieh

This video -- People Are Not Animals -- is just brilliant. (And yes, it's satire!)

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02 January 2012

Creeping Theocracy in Women's Dress in Egypt

By Diana Hsieh

Theocracy is on the march in Egypt: Egyptian women fret as 'modesty' becomes election issue:

CAIRO -- Marwa and Heba are polar opposites, at least outwardly. Both 23 years old, Marwa, a recent university graduate and unemployed, is veiled, while Heba displays her hair in a pony-tail uncovered. Both take drags from their shisha (water pipe) at a local cafe.

Yet, in spite of their appearance, both are frustrated at the campaign promises being touted by leading politicians over how women should dress and act. A lengthy elections season has begun in Egypt, with legislative polling starting November 28 and continuing in stages until March, followed by a presidential vote in 2013. And, freed from the strictures of the Mubarak era, politicians are pushing forward on an Islamic agenda.

"It's so frustrating," says Marwa, who told The Media Line that she wears the veil in part because her mother wants it and partly out of the conviction that "it was the right thing to do." But at the same time she is critical of politicians "who would dare tell a woman what is appropriate. That is un-Islamic."
And:
The controversy over the status of women in post-Mubarak Egypt came to a head at the start of November after Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail, a leading presidential candidate and Muslim cleric, gave two television interviews in which he outlined an Islamic future for the country that would impose Saudi Arabian-style dress and behavior on the public.

In an interview on the 90 Minutes television program, Abu Ismail said he supported what he called "Islamic dress" for women, meaning the hijab, or veil. Asked about what would happen to a woman wearing a bikini on the beach, he responded, "she would be arrested."

Days later, he went on the Biladna Bil Masr program and lashed out at the show's popular TV host, Reem Maged, and all other unveiled women in the country. He declared al-tabarouj (the failure to cover one's hair and of wearing makeup) a "mortal sin" and said he would make such actions "criminal," citing his interpretation of Islamic law.

He told Maged he wouldn't have agreed to the interview at all because of her dress but said that in politics "things are different" and he has to meet with people from all walks of life.
To underscore his point, a Facebook-based Salafist news outlet re-aired the interview with Maged's head and face covered by a dark filter to "veil" her.
Read the whole thing.

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