Don’t Bash the Fash; objections to punching Nazis

Alice More: Arrest him!
Sir Thomas More: Why, what has he done?
Margaret More: He’s bad!
Sir Thomas More: There is no law against that.
Will Roper: There is! God’s law!
Sir Thomas More: Then God can arrest him.
Alice: While you talk, he’s gone!
Sir Thomas More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
Will Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Will Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.
Robert O. Bolt, A Man for All Seasons, 1960

I have to admit, when I saw Richard Spencer get punched while explaining his Pepe the Frog badge to a reporter, I smirked; inside me there is a kid who giggles at that sort of thing. I’m pretty sure part of me never stopped laughing at the Road Runner’s antics.

Then I scrolled further on my Twitter feed, and was disturbed by the sheer amount of glee people were displaying. Yes, it’s Richard Spencer, a carbuncle on the backside of humanity, and yes, he’s got what Reddit calls a punchable face, but come on guys; aren’t we just a little disturbed at that act of political violence in the full glare of the cameras?

Apparently not; since then I’ve seen a lot of tweets and blog posts and opinion pieces that are condoning, celebrating, or even encouraging such acts. Disturbing, to put it mildly.

Before we begin:

  • No, I’m not a Nazi, or a fascist;
  • No, I’m not a sympathiser with either;
  • Yes, I think they have the right to free speech;
  • Yes, this includes speech I find repugnant and awful;
  • Yes, I know there are other issues in the world, but I’m not talking about them right now;
  • Yes, I am aware of those cases where violent protest did have a fortuitous outcome – such as the Stonewall Riots – that will be dealt with below;
  • Yes, I know that sometimes “say shit, get hit” applies – that doesn’t mean we should be celebrating or encouraging it;
  • No, this isn’t a complete list of my objections, but it is pretty thorough; and
  • As always, all the sources used here are listed at the very bottom under the heading “Sources”, including hyperlinks where available.

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Safe No More: the neutering of the Safe Schools Programme

Yesterday the Prime Minister caved to pressure from his backbench and gave the go-ahead to make changes to a programme called Safe Schools.

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By your numbers combined…

There was a good article posted this morning on Humans In Design about the validity of the religious affiliation question in the Australian Census. They raise some very valid concerns about how the way the census asks the question regarding religion, pointing out that it’s highly likely that the census underestimates the numbers of irreligious people.

I had the following exchange on twitter with Tristan Cooke of Humans In Design;

This prompted me, when I got home this evening, to go back to my figures from yesterday’s post, and plot out the “not stated/inadequately described” trendline.

(click to enlarge)

Well, there you go Tristan – a slow but steady rise from just under 10% to around about 11% in ten years, based on the 1961-2011 fifty-year linear trend.

I decided then to embark on a bit of a thought exercise. Assume, for the sake of this, that the people falling under “not stated” would be captured by the “no religion” figure; have a look at what happens if we combine “not stated/inadequately described” with “no religion”…

(click to enlarge)

If the contention being made over at Humans in Design is correct, that people are skipping the question because they have no religion and the structure of the question is adversely impacting upon their answering this properly, then the irreligious became the largest affiliation in Australia at the dawn of the millennium (and no, writing in a real minor religion such as the Baha’i faith doesn’t put you into that category; you fall into the category of “Other religions”).

Here’s the ten-year projection, based off the 50-year linear trendline;

(click to enlarge)

…and based on the 20-year linear trendline:

(click to enlarge)

For the sake of the exercise, I projected both linear trendlines out to 2101 – should the 50-year trend hold, then there will be more Australians without a religion than with one in under forty years. The 20-year trendline flattens this rise out a little – to forty-five years. Either way, by 2060, a full forty years sooner than yesterday’s projections anticipated, the irreligious will outnumber the religious.

As with my post yesterday, all figures have been sourced directly from the ABS and the censuses they have conducted (see here, here, here, and here).

Rise of the Godless

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the 2011 Census Data today – the full enchilada is available here, free of charge to anyone who wants to get into it. All figures in this post have been sourced from the ABS and the censuses they have conducted (here, here, here, and here).

But there’s a specific demographic change that caught my eye – in the area of religious affiliation.

Here are the top five religious affiliations in Australia according to the 2011 Census. See if you can guess what caught my eye.

The top five religious affiliations in Australia

This looked intriguing. I dove into the Bureau’s databases, and plotted out the changes in religious affiliation from 1961 to 2011 – the last half-century for which we’ve had regular censuses conducted. What I found was very interesting indeed.

Australian Census - Religion Numbers 1961-2011
(click to enlarge)

Over the course of the last half-century, although Catholicism has (more or less) held steady, there has been a general decline in affiliation with Christianity. Other religions are on a steady rise, but no one predominates; Buddhism, at roughly 529,000 adherents, is the single largest non-Christian affiliation, followed by Islam (in its many flavours) at 476,300 adherents, and Hinduism at 275,500 adherents (refer ABS 2012 for the source of those figures, about three-quarters of the way down).

But what I found most intriguing was the second-largest affiliation; note the inexorable march upwards of the number of people professing to have no religion. They are, as of now, second only to the Catholics in number; the gap between “no religion” and the Catholics is smaller than the gap between “no religion” and the third largest affiliation.

Curious as to where this thread was going, I plotted out the trends for the top four affiliations (Catholic, Anglican, Other Christian, and No Religion) out to 2021.

Australian Census - Religion Numbers 1961-2011 - 10 year Projection
(click to enlarge)

Interesting, isn’t it? If the linear trends established over the last half-century hold steady, then in less than fifteen years “no religion” will be the single largest affiliation in the nation – overtaking Catholicism sometime in the early 2020’s.

But data from the 20-year period from 1991 to 2011 tells a slightly different story. In that time Catholicism has declined from 27.3% of the total population to 25.3% of the total population. Using those 20-year linear trends, we find that “no religion” will be the single largest affiliation in Australia sometime around 2018.

Australian Census - Religion Numbers 1991-2011 - 10 year Projection
(click to enlarge)

I went back to the 50-year linear trends and projected them further – out to 2101 (I’ll confess I was just messing around with the graph by that stage). I found that, should the 50-year trend from 1961-2011 hold steady, then within this century, there will be more Australians without no religion than with one. The irreligious will outnumber all the religious combined.

This century, the godless will be first the plurality, and then the majority.

Nothing new about it

There’s a line that turns up in every extended debate around marriage equality. It is the notion that same-sex marriage is a “new” right, not extension of existing rights.

Gay “marriage” is a special right. The queers already have the right to marry someone of the opposite sex just like everyone else.

The central bit – “special rights” – has even lent itself to the name of an anti-gay political action committee in the United States.

This argument is so stupid that it falls under the heading of “I can’t believe I have to do this” but it comes up so often that, well, here we go.

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If not then, when?

In “Your body, not mine” I noted that “I don’t consider a foetus prior to the point of viability to be an individual human being.” – and said that I’d revisit it later.

This is later.

I get pretty cold, a bit pompous, and talk about some pretty nasty things here; you have been warned.

This particular post was in the works already. The original prompt was an article on The Conversation regarding a paper by Philosophers Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva on “post-natal abortion”, or infanticide. Here’s an extract from the piece:

“Giubilini and Minerva’s argument is stunningly simple. There is no morally relevant difference between a foetus and a newborn baby, because their capacities are relevantly similar. Neither foetus nor newborn is really capable of forming any long-term aims. Only a person can form long-term aims that are capable of being quashed – and this is what differentiates us from other species – so neither a foetus nor a newborn are persons.”
– Andrew McGee, There’s no good argument for infanticide

Giubilini and Minerva are basing their argument on personhood, and claiming that personhood is a function of cognitive abilities and sentience.

I had a discussion with this with a friend, and he noted that, the cognitive faculties present in a typical adult (self-consciousness, survival instinct, predicting consequence, empathy, etc.), those things we use to determine personhood, “are all dulled or absent in a newborn child.” We noted in our discussion that based on that yardstick, a newborn isn’t a person, but they might become one – and yet so might a foetus, or a zygote, or even a sperm and egg. They’re all non-persons with the potential to be persons, so what is the divider?

The idea was advanced that we could use statistical evaluation of the likelihood of the infant’s survival if removed from parental care, within a certain level of technological development. While this is not without merit, there is another way to approach this; through human rights theory.

We had, in our discussion, determined that it would be unethical to terminate a foetus past the point of viability, specifically that it was unethical to abort a typical viable foetus.

The term “typical viable foetus” meant that it had no deleterious abnormalities present (a “normal” specimen in layman’s terms), and the entity could survive without being physically integrated into another organism (e.g., no need for an umbilical cord to satisfy nutritional and respiratory needs). All cases requiring radical medical intervention were excluded from consideration – not because such cases altered the point of viability, but because these cases are highly irregular, and due to their individualised and atypical circumstances are extremely poorly suited to application to the vast majority of cases. They are best addressed, case-by-case, between the mother, her partner if she desires, and her medical professionals.

The reason why I am placing such emphasis on the viability of the foetus is that, prior to viability, it is, essentially, a part of its mother’s body – no more capable, at that point in time, of an independent existence than her liver or spleen. It is not a separate and extant human life, and at that point in time, it cannot be one.

When the foetus achieves viability, it is capable of an independent existence at that point in time; all it would take is delivery (medically safe separation from the mother’s body), to become an individual, though dependent, human life. A newborn is not unlike a very elderly person, a comatose person, someone with muscular dystrophy, a child with Spina bifida, and so on, in that the newborn is a dependent entity, but it is still a separate and extant human life in and of itself; an individual human being.

Enter human rights theory; human rights are those freedoms regarded as essential to the physical and mental well-being of individuals, and you are accorded these rights by the simple virtue of your membership of the human species (See Geoffrey Robertson QC, The Statute of Liberty, 2009, and similar works for more detailed discussions). Now, I am aware of the criticisms of Marx and Bentham on the subject of human rights. The former is not a universal criticism of the concept, but rather of specific rights around property – and contemporary Marxists (the few that are left) have acknowledged that the validity of the concept. Bentham’s dismissal of human rights as “nonsense on stilts” was a criticism of rights being granted by metaphysical entities, or being purely subjective. Modern human rights theory isn’t grounded in nature or divinity, but on a broad spectrum of philosophy, including the mutual respect for the dignity of your fellow human beings. I’ll revisit this below.

The typical newborn child is an individual human being, and as terminating it now would end an individual human life, such an act is homicide; a denial of that human being’s right to life. If done intentionally (“with malice aforethought” in the parlance of the courts), then it is murder. It is also a gross abrogation of responsibility; since the parent(s) of the baby had every opportunity to prevent conception, abort, or access support services, they now have a post-birth responsibility for the life they have created. At the very least, their responsibility is to see that life delivered into the care of the State.

As stated earlier, since a typical nonviable foetus isn’t an individual human life, terminating it isn’t murder.

There is an implied question there – why should we respect the newborn’s right to life? Why, for that matter, should we respect anyone’s right to life? Because of the “dignity of our fellow human beings”? Is that enough? That this individual human life must be respected simply because it is an individual human life?

Well, yes – you monster.

But if that’s too emotive for you, consider the following; only by protecting, without distinction, the rights of all human beings, can we ensure that the rights of all human beings (including ourselves) are realised. Human rights protection it is a simple act of rational self-interest. It is in your interest to make sure that all of my rights are fully protected, because it’s the only way you can make sure your rights are fully protected; the same techniques you use to deny me mine can (and will, as history shows us) be used to deny you yours. A thought exercise commonly used to carry this point across is the veil of ignorance; imagine that you are yet to be born into a given society. You have no idea, and will not have any idea, of which station you might occupy; poor/rich, educated/uneducated, strength, intelligence, race, sexuality, sex, nothing. Not a clue. Now, in this case, create the laws, remembering that you will have to live in this society; remember your history about what happens when human rights abuses are left unchecked. To deny others their human rights is, at the core, fundamentally irrational.

The equal preservation and protection of human rights is a pure act of rational self-interest.

The question of why you are accorded human rights simply for being a human being was wrestled with by human rights theorists, jurors, philosophers, scientists, and world leaders in the late 1940’s. The catalyst, you would have already guessed, was that the horrors of Europe and the “Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere” were uncovered – it was agreed in San Francisco that the fundamental basis of being accorded human rights was membership of our species, unaffected by differentiations in the cognitive abilities of various individuals. But that just tells us what happened and the proximate trigger; beyond appeals to the dictionary or circular logic, why are you accorded human rights simply because you’re human? Well, it comes back to rational self-interest, and the awful consequences of what happens when human rights are tied to any other metric.

History teaches us that if you tie the granting of human rights, especially the right to life, to something as amorphous as “personhood”, someone will redefine “personhood” to exclude a particular group of people; the only question is when. It is inevitable that compromising the rights of others due to factors such as cognitive ability (or sex, race, sexuality, etc.), as opposed to actions (primarily committing an act that infringes on the rights of others, i.e., a crime) will result in increasing violations of the human rights of other groups. It is a dark path that leads to what is called the Ultimate Crime; genocide.

This isn’t me falling down the slippery slope; it happens with depressing frequency, so much so that serious people recognise and take it very seriously.

One could contend, at this point, that we regularly deny children certain human rights, and that hasn’t led to horrific acts of inhumanity; we deny those on cognitive ability. One major problem with the contention is that it presumes all rights are equal – when they are not. The right to life is the fundamental one; if it’s compromised the rest are utterly irrelevant – you’re a corpse. Otherwise it is factually correct; we do restrict some rights of children at law, they are not accorded precisely the same rights as adults, and while failure to protect the rights of children has led to horrific abuses, that is not a universality. The two primary examples of restricted rights are entering contracts (property rights, in other words – you have to enter a contract to take ownership after all), and the franchise – the right to vote, limited to adults. Neither case has led to a crime against humanity. I’ll address them in that order.

The most elementary limit on the rights of any human being is the prohibition of infringing the rights of others; this is encapsulated in the saying “your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins.” You can exercise your rights to your heart’s content, until you harm, or cause harm to, another. But what if the “other” is not capable of protecting their own rights or providing for their own well-being, like a child? To specifically address the case of children, we accord specific rights to them, and recognise that they are in greater need of the protection of their rights than adults – again, history has furnished us with terrible examples of what happens when the rights of children are not well-protected (I’m not linking that; it’s too depressing). Because we accept that children are, simply, not competent enough to protect their own rights or provide for their own well-being, we require that a more competent person (say, a parent, or an agent of the state) must do it for them;

“The purpose of the infancy doctrine is to protect ‘minors from foolishly squandering their wealth through improvident contracts with crafty adults who would take advantage of them in the marketplace.'”
Hauer v. Union State Bank of Wautoma, 192 Wis. 2d 576, 593 (1995), quoting Halbman v. Lemke, 99 Wis. 2d 241, 245 (1980)

The welfare of the child is the paramount consideration here, and the basis for our utilisation of legal guardianship of minors. Using our analogy, it is all too easy for an adult to swing their arm into the child’s nose; they are closer together after all, so another adult should stand between them. The restriction of certain of the rights of a child is only undertaken to preserve their basic rights around well-being – in their interests.

But all that can be rendered irrelevant with the strike of a gavel; a child can seek to be emancipated, and thus realise their human rights as relates to property and contract (among other things – residency, work, and so on). All they need do is demonstrate that they are capable of acting in an adult capacity, i.e., that they will not be unfairly disadvantaged by their age, thus endangering their welfare, and will be an adequate guardian of their own rights; again, the welfare of the child overrides all other considerations.

Regarding voting, well, we trust sixteen-year-olds to make the “adult” decision to have sex; I would not oppose extending the franchise to them. Nor would I oppose extending the franchise even younger than that, as long as a case can be made that children would be able to vote free of undue influence from their parents/guardians, and are at least as capable of understanding the consequences of their vote as any member of the general public (an extraordinarily low standard to meet, I know).

The same circumstances apply to people with “diminished capacity”, and in all such cases at no point is the individual’s right to life violated; actions are taken with the aim of safeguarding the interests and welfare of those individuals, and there are a lot of very dedicated people devoted to looking out for them.

In summary, therefore;

  • Terminating a nonviable foetus is not unethical as it is not an individual human life, nor capable of being one at that point;
  • Terminating a typical viable foetus is unethical, as although it is not an individual human life, it is immediately capable of becoming one via a safe delivery procedure and can be supported by others, voluntarily; and
  • Killing a typical newborn baby or an infant is unethical as it is already an individual human life, with all the rights accorded thereunto, and (from a utilitarian point of view) completely unnecessary where adequate support services exist to provide for it if the parents are incapable or unwilling – murder, with stupidity on top.

But what if the foetus or newborn is atypical, for example, it is afflicted with anencephaly? Well, I covered that above; in those cases, it is up to the parent(s) to decide the course of action, with the best impartial advice from their medical professional.

Your body; not mine.

In light of the various nasty things that Republicans are doing regarding women’s reproductive rights in the US lately, I’ve been musing on a woman’s right to choose.

When you get down to it, this isn’t an issue that’s very likely to concern me directly, but I still have an opinion. My stance comes in two versions; short and long.

The short version is; I don’t have a uterus, and don’t have the right to tell the people who do have one what they can and cannot do with it – frankly I don’t actually care what you get up to in there. I expect that courtesy to be extended to me and my reproductive organs, and the only real way to do this is to extend that courtesy to others – it’s kind of like the rules of war.

The long version is a tad more nuanced, and is as follows.

In an ideal world, there would be no abortions, because every single pregnancy would be planned, wanted, and prepared for; the parents would desire the child and provide them with a loving and supporting home. There would be no abortions, because there would be no need for them.

But this is the real world, and I understand that the scenario of “every pregnancy that happens is one that is wanted” simply doesn’t happen. It is a simple fact that abortions will take place, legal or not. And if they are illegal, they will be unsafe. Prohibiting abortion is a direct assault on the health and well-being of women.

I also find the notion of using the law to force women to do anything with their bodies against their will to be extraordinarily unethical; we’re talking “in the same post code as slavery” here.

A few other things;

      • Post-abortion depression is a load of old tripe. Like increased incidence of mental illness in the gay community, increased incidence of depression amongst women who have had an abortion is most likely caused by the snots condemning them;
      • The anti-abortion arguments that try to play on pity are complete and utter hogwash, in addition to being emotional blackmail;
      • The anti-abortion argument that life begins at conception is hogwash too; 50-70% of conceptions fail to pass the first trimester.
      • Arguments based on religion don’t convince me of anything, and all that happens is I think unkind thoughts about the person making them;
      • If the lady in question is under 18, but over the age of consent, then you still ought to butt out – involving her parents should be something decided by her and the medical professional;
      • If the lady in question is beneath the age of consent, then I’m afraid there’s going to have to be awkward conversations, but under no circumstances should she be subjected to any adverse treatment – a person in that position needs support, empathy, and care, not judgement or harassment; and
      • No, I don’t consider a foetus prior to the point of viability to be an individual human being (edit: this is looked into further here).

In the time I spent researching this post, I managed to develop a pet hate around the whole business; the two “what if?” questions posed by anti-abortionists.

1. What if your mother aborted you?

Well, I wouldn’t be around to have an opinion, then, would I? For around 13.75 billion years I wasn’t born, and I don’t recall being bothered by it; I doubt my stance would change if I had continued to not be born. The question is utterly inane.

2. If you encountered a pregnant woman with [insert adverse life circumstances here], with [number greater than five] children to support, would you advise her to get an abortion? If yes, you just killed [insert great cultural or academic icon here, most often Ludwig van Beethoven].

I’ve seen it many times, and it is complete rot; it’s trying (often using blatantly false and misleading information) to goad a pro-choice person into hypothetically preventing the death of a great cultural icon. It’s practically begging for this response;

If you encountered a pregnant woman with [insert good life circumstances here], with [number] children to support, would you advise her to carry the baby to term? If yes, you just midwifed [insert horrific individual like Stalin, Jack the Ripper, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, or Anders Breivik here], which led to [insert atrocity here].

See? I can play “what if” too! This is a fun game! But it doesn’t prove anything. It’s a hypothetical; at best a thought exercise, but the inverse exercise blows it apart. At worst it’s pure sophistry.

You know what’s real? That 13% of annual maternal deaths is due to unsafe abortion, mostly carried out in areas where it’s illegal, and the millions of women who suffer long-term damage or disease because of unsafe abortions (source). That women will have abortions anyway, and that to deny them this is to assault their health and their rights.

Everyone with any grip on reality owes it to the women of the world, and to sanity, to keep the procedure legal, safe, readily available, and free from stigma.

Not a difficult concept poster
I’m not sure how to simplify it further.