Compulsiveness Prompts Letters, Emails, and (So Much) More


Scribe at DeskWelcome to this latest edition in my “…Prompts Letter(s)” series. The materials following should bring you and this site up to date.

Not addressed in detail in my various items below, though touched upon by one of them, is the efforts by Democrats to claim the moral high ground based on Trump’s long history of poor personal morals and on the simultaneous widespread support of Trump by self-identified evangelical Christians. As indicated in prior Pious Eye site posts, I left the Republican party when, with the help of some prominent Christian leaders, Trump won the GOP nomination. I have no plans to return to the party, nor do I side with any of the personal-morals-don’t-matter, “we’re electing a president not a pastor,” more-Republican-than-Bible-believing people who presently support Trump because his tax cut and still-pretty-much-free money from the Federal Reserve have made their investment and retirement accounts look so huge. The practical gamble of voting for him in the hope he’d really appoint conservative judges, defend religious liberty, and promote a pro-life agenda has paid off, no doubt about it (so I don’t criticize anyone who voted for Trump because he wasn’t Hillary Clinton), but Trump still isn’t the sort of man Bible-believing Christians should be pleased to have as president. His election was a lesser tragedy than Hillary’s would have been, but it was still a tragedy.

Still, a party that rabidly supports both the murder of unborn children (and even born children, should an abortion attempt fail to kill them) and the celebration (not just the legal tolerance) of sodomy will never be able to claim moral status superior to anyone’s. Most convicted felons are better models of virtue that the Democrat Party. This party of corruption and abomination makes Trump’s past sexual escapades and dodgy use of eminent domain look petty and amateurish by comparison. Tragically, those who insist on voting only for candidates with “a chance of winning” (by secular, this-worldly standards) have no choice but to vote for the mostly sorry bunch that run for office as Republicans. These voters have my sympathy.

Ultimately, of course, the only sound solution to the people-of-low-character-in-office problem would be to return our government to the small size permitted it when the Constitution is rightly understood to grant the federal government only those powers explicitly and specifically enumerated in its pages. Like voting for a third-party candidate rather than the Donald or the Hillary, working to establish a properly small, constitutionally correct government defies secular, this-worldly standards of planning and decision making. If one is not willing to factor in God’s sovereign influence, and probably his miraculous intervention, one should not waste one’s time speaking out against the blob-like entity, intruding into everything and consuming everyone, that our government has become. A government with this much power, and this much ability to make those in or close to it wealthy and influential, naturally attracts people of the worst character. Moral duty still attracts some with good motives, of course, but the very character that could make them great statesmen reduces the likelihood that they will succeed in competition with the amoral cheaters running against them.

This post contains the following items:

As attempts to expose others in San Diego County to views they might find unfamiliar, all but a couple of these items must be judged futile efforts, since policies at the San Diego Union-Tribune (SDUT) set a very low limit on how much writing by any reader can get printed. As part of my ongoing work to make my own thinking more self-consistent, clear, and exact, however, I’ve found them quite useful. They also give me something to post during this years-long interval during which I’ve delayed, then delayed some more, then scheduled for later, then put off preparing my various academic papers for posting—much as I’ve put off an overdue book review for years rather than months, and put off reading a book provided for review for months rather than weeks. (Note well: The preceding sentence should not be construed as a promise to stop procrastinating at some point and post the papers and reviews mentioned. I reserve the right to continue procrastinating until whatever far-future date I might choose.)

The Even Bigger Valley: A Digital-Era Fable ^

I emailed this fable to the SDUT on 21 March 2019. It was printed in the SDUT on 30 March 2019 and may also be found on the paper’s Web site. Apparently the only response deemed acceptable to the week’s your-say “essay” question (no others were printed), this instructive tale was assigned the title “Facebook’s Future? Tech Giant Brought It on Itself.” (I intended to use Facebook as a stand-in for today’s increasingly censorship-happy tech companies in general.) For reference and comparison, here is a quotation of the version I emailed (see if you can spot the differences from the printed version):

Internet Valley was big, untamed, full of opportunity, and always changing. Buildings came and went, and no one missed those that went because better ones replaced them.

One such building was Facebook. Superficially, it seemed little different from other meeting places. Its offices, meeting halls, and phones weren’t unlike those in the old Forums building. True, Facebook added some appealing new features. But none of them was what drew us to the place in such great numbers; none of them was what made us willing to share personal information and put up with the advertising stuck to every wall.

What drew us there was freedom. Anyone could say anything. No one had to listen, but anyone could. We’d found truly free expression, never censored, never filtered, never blocked. Anyone with Valley access could promote any idea or person or product, without having to pay any money.

No one’s quite sure how the change started. I suppose the first tenant censored, then ejected, was that nut-job claiming the Holocaust never happened. We all knew he was crazy, and none of us liked him. None of us defended his “right” to speak. Some ideas are too disgusting to allow. Besides, he was using fake data and making false claims. We were glad to see him go.

More were censored after that. Religious weirdos with outdated values, climate-change doubters, people wearing offensive caps. Irritable Lawyers of the South led the way, telling Facebook which hateful tenants to ban. Security censored them, removed signs from their doors to confuse searchers, then revoked their building access. So was Facebook rid of undesirables.

Some objected. It was a matter of principle, they said. Freedom of expression, they urged, is all about protecting expression you find offensive and disagreeable. We laughed.

By the time we started thinking these “matter of principle” people were onto something, it was too late. The earlier freedom had been a ruse. Now that we were all using the building, those running it had plans for us. From now on, we would be “edified.” No bad ideas and unpleasant words would be permitted. Our views would be shaped, made better. We would believe what we should believe, vote for whom we should vote, be good people in a good world doing good things. Facebook would save us.

Only then did the Regulators take notice and start debating what rules they should impose. Since new Valley immigrants were still discovering Facebook and signing on as tenants, the Regulators didn’t notice the smaller numbers of tenants leaving for buildings more like Facebook used to be. As the Regulators debated, the number of people finding other places to share their thoughts and hear the thoughts of others grew.

Fully regulated now, the building stands empty. The only sign of what Facebook once was is some graffiti next to the locked and boarded-up entrance: a stylized hand with thumb extended, pointing down.

For further reference and comparison, here is what the document looked like when it was about 166% the permitted length:

The Valley of Internet wasn’t exactly beautiful. About all you could say about it was that it was big, so big you couldn’t see across it, and it was untamed. Buildings came and went there faster than the seasons, and no one missed those that went away because better ones always replaced them.

One such building was Facebook. When they first built the place, there was nothing very impressive about it. As meeting places went, Facebook was much like any other: plenty of offices and chairs; dedicated meeting halls that groups could use, free of charge, to talk about common interests; free interoffice phones for easy, apparently private communications; and so on. But there had always been places with some of those features. Even the old Forums building had never struck anyone as inadequate. True, Facebook had some appealing new features, but none of them was what drew us to the place in such great numbers, none of them was what made us willing to share personal information with the owners and put up with the advertising they’d stuck on every wall.

What drew us there was freedom. Anyone could say anything he wanted. No one had to listen, but anyone who wanted to could. This, we thought, is what the First Amendment was all about: truly free expression, never censored, never filtered, never interfered with in any way. Anyone with Valley access could promote any idea or person or product he wanted to, free of charge. A Utopia of liberty had arrived!

We should have known better. No one can say just how the change started. I suppose the first tenant censored, the first to get locked out of his office, was that nut-job claiming the Holocaust never happened. We all knew he was crazy, maybe dangerous, and none of us liked him. None of us defended his “right” to speak. Come on, some ideas are just too disgusting to allow. And besides, he was using fake data and making patently false claims. We were glad to see him go.

More were censored after that. Religious weirdos with outdated values, conspiracy theorists, people who doubted fossil fuels were making the world hotter, people who wore offensive hats and t-shirts. The EAP (Elites Against Phobics) and the ILS (Irritable Lawyers of the South) led the way, telling us which crazies were just hate groups that Facebook needed to ban. They’d be censored, signs removed from their doors so you couldn’t find them when searching the building, then, finally, they’d get messages from Building Security that their access to the building had been revoked. So was the building rid of undesirables.

Some objected to this. It was a matter of principle, they said. Freedom of expression, they urged, is all about protecting expression you find offensive and disagreeable. Most of us laughed that off. At first.

By the time we began to think that those bringing up “principles” of “free expression” were onto something, it no longer mattered. It became clear that the earlier freedom had been a ruse. Now that we were all using the building, those running the place had decided they could make us all think the way they wanted. From now on, we would be “edified” by all we saw there. No bad ideas and unpleasant words would be permitted. Our views would be shaped to the ideal. We would believe what we should believe, vote for whom we should vote, be good people in a good world doing good things. The building would save us from ourselves.

Only at this point did the Regulators arrive. They thought now was the time to start imposing rules from outside. This building’s too-powerful owners had to be controlled.

As the Regulators argued among themselves about what specific rules to impose, they didn’t notice the many new buildings being built. Since people who’d never heard of Facebook until now were still signing on as tenants, no one noticed the smaller numbers who, remembering the old freedom, were leaving for buildings more like Facebook used to be. As the Regulators debated, the number of people finding other places to share their thoughts and hear the thoughts of others grew. Finally, more were leaving than joining.

In the end, the Regulators reached agreement and imposed all sorts of rules. A whole department at Regulators’ Central was dedicated to monitoring Facebook’s compliance. But it didn’t matter. Almost the only tenants anymore were merchants trying to sell each other stuff. What few potential customers remained only visited occasionally, reluctant to let go but not much motivated to hang around. The place just wasn’t the same. What had been wild, free, and unpredictable was now the same boring stuff all the time, with advertising.

Fully regulated now, the building stands empty. Everyone has moved on, even the merchants. The only sign now of what Facebook once was is some graffiti next to the locked and boarded-up entrance: a stylized hand with thumb extended, pointing down.

And in case that’s not enough to meet your reference-and-comparison requirements, here’s an even longer, still earlier version I saved for some reason:

The Valley of Internet wasn’t exactly beautiful. About all you could say about it was that it was big, so big you couldn’t see one side of it from the other, and it was free, or wild, depending on whether you liked its undisciplined character. Buildings came and went there like the seasons, just more frequently, and no one much missed those that went away after they were gone because better ones always replaced them.

This is the story of one such building. Because it came along at just the time when lots of new people from outside the Valley were immigrating, it grew bigger and faster than just about any building ever had before. A few that started about the same time or a little sooner grew just about as big just about as fast, but this story isn’t about them.

When they first built the place, there was nothing very impressive about it. As meeting places went, Facebook Plaza was much like any other: plenty of chairs, dedicated meeting halls that groups could use for free to talk about common interests, free interoffice phones for easy, apparently private communications, and so on. But there had always been places with some of those features. Even the old Bulletin Boards and Online Forums buildings had never struck anyone as inadequate. True, Facebook Plaza had some appealing new features, but none of them was what drew us to the place in such great numbers, none of them was what made us willing to share personal information and view the advertising stuck to every wall of the Plaza.

What drew us to the place, till we numbered in the billions (can you believe it?), was…freedom. Anyone could say anything he wanted there. No one had to listen, but anyone who wanted to could. This, we thought, is what the First Amendment had been written for: truly free expression, never censored, never filtered, never interfered with in any way. Anyone with Valley access could promote any idea or person or product he wanted to, free of charge. The Utopia of libertarian dreamers had arrived!

We should have known better. No one can say now how it started. I suppose the first user censored, the first to get his account closed, was that nut-job claiming the Holocaust had never happened. We all knew he was crazy, maybe dangerous, and none of us liked him much. None of us defended his “right” to speak. Come on, some ideas are just too bizarre to allow. And besides, he was using fake data and making patently false claims. We were glad to see him go.

The next censored were, I guess, some religious weirdos who insisted that some really old books condemned homosexual activity (including gay marriage) and so they did too, since, they said, those old books were written by God or something. Well, that was just nuts. Both the EAP (Elites Against Phobics) and the ILS (Irritable Lawyers of the South) verified that these crazies were just a hate group. Out with them! And good riddance, we all thought.

So it went with many undesirables. They’d be censored, signs removed from their doors so you couldn’t find them when searching the building, then, finally, they’d get messages from Building Security that their access to the building had been revoked. Some objected to these things on principle, said that freedom of expression was all about protecting expression you find offensive and disagreeable. Most of us laughed that off, though. Good riddance to bad rubbish, we said.

Those now objecting, bringing up “principles” of “free expression,” were too late, anyway. By the time more of us began to think they might be onto something, it no longer mattered. It now became clear that the earlier freedom had been a ruse. Now that we were all using the building, those running the place had decided they could make us all think the way they wanted. From now on, we would be “edified” by all we saw there. No bad ideas and unpleasant words would be permitted. Our views would be shaped to the ideal. We would believe what we should believe, vote for whom we should vote, be good people in a good world doing good things. The building would save us from ourselves.

Only at this point did the outside building inspectors arrive. They thought now was the time to start imposing codes from outside. The owners of this building had become too powerful. Their manipulative activities had to be regulated.

As different inspectors argued among themselves about what specific regulations they should impose, they didn’t notice the new and better buildings being built elsewhere in the Valley. Since people who’d never heard of this building until just now were still signing on as tenants, no one noticed the smaller numbers who remembered how it all began leaving for buildings where they were still free to say and listen to what they felt like. As the regulators debated, the number of people finding other places to share their thoughts and hear the thoughts of others grew, though for a long time the new people joining from far away places remained more numerous than those leaving. The building’s power, therefore, seemed undiminished, and the regulators were desperate to take the unruly place in hand.

In the end, the regulators reached agreement and imposed all sorts of regulations. A whole department at Inspectors’ Central was dedicated to monitoring Facebook Plaza’s compliance. But it made less and less difference, since now the number of people leaving outnumbered those joining. Portions of the building were being leased to others and the glory that once was had been forgotten. Almost the only tenants anymore were merchants trying to sell stuff to each other. What few potential customers remained only visited occasionally, reluctant to let go but not much motivated to hang around when they were there. Somehow, the place just wasn’t the same. It just wasn’t fresh and new anymore. What had been free and untamed was now the same basic, boring stuff all the time, with advertising.

Fully regulated now, the building stands empty. Everyone has moved on, even the merchants. The only sign now of what Facebook once was is some graffiti next to the locked and boarded-up entrance: a stylized hand with thumb extended, pointing down.

The Green New Deal is for Chumps. The Green Nuke Deal, on the Other Hand…. ^

The following letter, emailed to the SDUT on 21 March 2019, was printed in the paper’s South+East “Community Dialog” on 26 March 2019 and posted to the SDUT online, with the editor-assigned title “People who still doubt nuclear power must wake up.” Below is a quotation of the emailed version for comparison and reference:

It seems that convincing conservative legislators and the president that climate-change theory should be doubted won’t be enough to preserve an affordable and sufficient energy supply in America. As the new socialists promote an all-renewables fantasy (#GreenNewDeal), a judge shows his willingness to impose climate-change doctrine on unwilling regulators (“Judge Casts Doubt on Trump’s Drilling Plans,” March 21).

In light of this, it seems a shame that Bob Annett’s fine letter, “The deck is stacked against smart use of nuclear power” (March 21), only made it into your South+East edition’s “Community Dialog.” From Energy for Humanity’s online “resources” page to the “Pandora’s Promise” documentary, proof that we need a #GreenNukeDeal abounds. People serious about reducing “carbon” emissions need to start supporting the only sufficient alternative to fossil fuels: nuclear power.

The Verdict Is In: No Government Spending May Ever Be Cut ^

That Trump is not a small-government guy has never been in doubt. Neither has it ever been in doubt that Republicans rarely support smaller government in their lawmaking, though they may support it vigorously in their campaign rhetoric. A pair of stories at the end of March really drove these realities home for me. Alas, I was already over my SDUT quota and my letter, emailed to the paper on 29 March 2019, went unprinted. But not unposted:

Re “Devos defends axing Special Olympics funds” (March 28) and “Trump backs off cuts to Special Olympics funds” (March 29): The Education Secretary’s willingness to defend these cuts made me briefly hopeful that someone in D.C. might actually be willing to cut spending somewhere. Should’ve known better.

If a “conservative” president can’t even stick by his people when they propose pulling federal funds from a program that (1) is already mostly funded by private donors and (2) could realistically expect to succeed in funding itself without federal money (about 10% of its revenue), then there is indeed no hope that any of the much greater cuts needed will ever happen.

Will politicians of either major party ever realize that just because an organization or project is worthwhile doesn’t mean it should be funded with taxpayer money and federal borrowing? Seems the answer is no.

Must Government Justify Spending Cuts? ^

On 08 April 2019, I emailed the following letter to the SDUT. My email’s subject line read “Re April 7 letter opposing GOP safety-net cuts.” The letter I was responding to seemed a good illustration of how today’s Americans have lost touch with our nation’s founding principles.

“How can the government justify cutting financial support for programs such as Medicare, Medicaid or coverage through the Affordable Care Act?” asks a recent letter writer (“Don’t let GOP cut the safety net for so many,” April 7). Having used the safety net myself (vocational errors are costly, and only “a sucker” refuses assistance when eligible), I respect the writer’s feelings. As well, when a big-government guy like Trump challenges the ACA’s [Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare] constitutionality, his motive can’t be principled dedication to the Constitution.

Still, asking that government “justify” safety-net spending reductions seems fundamentally at odds with our Founders’ philosophy of government. This philosophy would have us ask, instead, “Which among the powers granted the federal government by explicit enumeration in our Constitution justifies having these safety-net programs, at any amount?”

Or is America now too focused on ends to question the constitutionality of means?

Ignorant Columnist Loved by Local Paper ^

Also on 08 April 2019, I emailed this next letter, under this subject line: “Letter re April 8 column attributing racism to Constitution.”

A professional columnist should know better than to claim that “The American Constitution did not recognize the full personhood of black Americans” (“Structural Racism,” April 8). The constitutional wording taken to mean this, the so-called “three-fifths clause” (Article I, Section 2, Paragraph 3), concerned population-based representation in government, not personhood. The whole point was to reduce the representation of states with large numbers of slaves. In fact, the clause, after noting representation based on non-slaves, describes the slave-based representation as “three fifths of all other Persons,” acknowledging by its “other” that slaves are (“full”) persons. [Personhood, I should note, is not a relative but an absolute attribution. There are no degrees in personhood; one either is a person or is not a person.]

It was supporters of slavery who wanted slaves fully counted for representation. Opponents of slavery did not want to count slaves at all. The three-fifths clause is the resulting compromise. When race-baiters like this columnist malign the Constitution, they ironically side with the supporters of slavery.

The Unprinted, Uncredited Inspiration for Trump’s Immigration Plan: My Border-Security Position Paper ^

I emailed the following 500-word “essay” to the SDUT on 15 April 2019. As I learned recently, the paper’s more detailed online guidelines indicate that letters from a single writer will not be printed more than once per month, and commentaries (700–750 word pieces, I believe) by a given writer will not be published more than once every three months. However, as of the mid-April day I checked, no per-author limit had been set for the new 500-word “Your Say” essays, so, though I doubted they would print something so soon after my Facebook fable (which may have been the only one submitted; at least, it was the only one printed), even if they found it otherwise tolerable. Since it brings together ideas I’ve been thinking through for a while, I’m fairly fond of it. Though Trump’s adoption of essentially the same immigration plan as I propose here might incline me to doubt my 15 April 2019 judgment*, I still think it fundamentally sound, though demographic realities might require some modest adjustments (noted in brackets below). (* Every time Trump says something I agree with, and just as I’m starting to grudgingly give him some respect, he changes his mind and makes me think, #WhateverTrump. Yes, I often think in hashtags now. Disturbing.)

While we U.S. citizens benefit from having our rights protected explicitly in our national charter, the same founders who crafted that document also held that all individuals possess the same God-given rights. In light of this, the ideal state would be one where all people could cross national borders at will and seek citizenship in the nation they liked best. As is often true of ideals, practical reality rules this one out, so we must look to our Constitution and founding principles for guidance.

Like every government our founders would consider legitimate, the government established by the U.S. Constitution was instituted to secure the rights of the citizens consenting to its formation. Functioning as a contract between the government and citizens, the Constitution tasks the government with protecting the rights, and serving the interests, of those citizens. Non-citizens are not party to this contract, so it is not the job of the U.S. government to protect their rights or serve their interests. Neither is it the job of the U.S. government to improve living conditions in foreign nations or to pay for foreign nations’ defense. Each of these things might be the moral duty of U.S. citizens who have the financial means to assist people abroad, and citizens should be free to donate money to foreign-aid organizations and foreign governments they support. But the U.S. government should not be spending taxpayer (or borrowed) money on such things.

One thing the U.S. government should be spending money on is border security. Where physical barriers are practical and useful, in the judgment of the people whose daily job it is to secure the border, the money needed for them should be provided, even if this means cutting elsewhere. Congressional enemies of Trump need to stop obsessing over his “Mexico will pay for it” guarantee and “wall” terminology and do what is right for the citizens they serve. The surveillance technologies that Democrats have lately touted as alternatives to physical barriers, calling to mind the LifeLock commercial where a bank’s “security monitor” announces but does nothing to stop a robbery, will usefully supplement artificial and natural barriers. More “boots (and vehicles) on the ground” patrolling the border, and more personnel to enforce visa expirations, will also be needed. Cutting foreign aid and closing foreign military bases could help with funding.

Yes, immigration has always been an important contributor to American greatness. But immigration must be legal and limited, based on what will best protect the rights and serve the interests of current citizens. The “general Welfare” of U.S. citizens would likely benefit from high numbers of educated and skilled immigrants who have already learned English. Though displacement of current citizens from their jobs should be avoided, we probably can’t get enough of these immigrants. As for unskilled immigrants from impoverished nations, we probably don’t need very many of them to optimize current citizens’ welfare. [Actually, world and U.S. demographic trends may mean that the U.S. would benefit from more of even these unskilled immigrants than I initially thought. Take a look at Director Rick Stout’s documentary, The New Economic Reality: Demographic Winter.]

Of course, we won’t know for sure until we get our border under control.

Unscriptural Norms Have No Authority: Unsent Remarks on a Misplaced Column ^

On 14 April 2019, the SDUT printed a column concerning “how change happens” that was essentially an endorsement of the use of insights from social psychology and anthropology to better manipulate people to bring about desired changes in society. Since the article pointed to the shift from a norm where there was a penalty for supporting homosexual “marriage” to one where there is a penalty for not supporting this denial of created nature and God’s revelation, I think it a good illustration of the fundamental groundlessness and irrationality of all unbelieving thought.

When not based on revelation, that is, when not grounded in Scripture, norms have no real authority. Their only “authority,” as this column made clear, is the coercive influence of the mob: whatever a large majority of people happen to prefer comes to be enforced as though it had some moral warrant behind it. Individualists are right to reject and resist such norms (insofar as any action can be “right” or “wrong” in the amoral realm of unbelieving thought). If one rejects Scripture, if one rejects God’s authority, one may not reasonably assert that any norms humans happen to dream up have legitimate authority to direct anyone’s choices. One person’s preferences have no authority over any other person. This remains true no matter how many persons share the same preference: no majority, however large, has the right to impose its purely human preferences, its norms deriving from no higher authority than humans, on any minority, however small.

We Christians, in accord with Paul’s example (1 Corinthians 9:19–22), try to live in accord with any norms of our host cultures that do not run contrary to Scripture. Support for homosexual marriage, as for any homosexual activity, is a norm that does run contrary to Scripture. Such activities fall into a class of sins, typically labeled “sodomy,” that Scripture, the very words of God (in the understanding of Bible-believing Christians), deems especially abominable because they violate nature as God created it. Creative eisegetical evasions can always be invented when one wishes to profess to believe Scripture when one does not (why some pretend to believe a revelation they reject is unclear, but it happens), but these evasions do not deserve to be taken seriously by anyone who believes the Bible. Those who do not believe the Bible may believe what they like about what it means; they are even free to believe it means nothing.

Norms with no revelational foundation have no real authority. The preferences of the pack should not be seen by any individual as obligating assent.

On the Bible, Slavery, and Those Trump-Loving Evangelicals: More Unsent Remarks ^

These remarks were prepared on 15 April 2019, but I opted not to send them. Trimming to the 150 words permitted didn’t seem worth the effort given that SDUT rules probably wouldn’t allow the letter to be printed anyway. The remarks respond to a syndicated column by New York Times columnist Timothy Egan.

The New York Times columnist behind “The WWJD Democrats” (15 April 2019) likens prevalent support for Trump by evangelicals to the attempt of Southern slaveholders to justify slavery from “a line in the New Testament from mere mortals presuming to speak for him.” In evangelical terms, this “mere mortals presuming to speak for him” is rank unbelief that ignores Scripture’s verbal plenary inspiration, so the columnist has clearly made no effort to get inside the mind of evangelicals.

As a Bible-believing Christian (an “evangelical” in an older sense not always meant today) who opposed Trump in the primary and left the GOP when he was nominated, I can appreciate some of the columnist’s criticisms.

As was true in the days of slavery, anyone today may profess Christian faith, even the evangelical variety which holds that all of Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). Using the Bible to defend an ungodly institution based on manstealing (Exodus 21:16, 1 Timothy 1:10) was never sound, since the “slavery” regulated rather than abolished in Scripture was nothing like the lifelong, race-based slavery at issue before the Civil War. Similarly, the minority of evangelicals who portray Trump as though he were a virtuous man specially anointed by God to return America to her Christian roots have no biblical basis for their behavior.

Most evangelicals I’ve interacted with have a much more realistic view of Trump. They know he has never been a man of virtue, but he has kept his promises to defend religious liberty, oppose abortion, and appoint conservative judges. Their gamble on him has paid off.

Brunei’s Punishment May Be Excessive, but Adultery Isn’t Victimless ^

This letter, emailed to the SDUT on 23 April 2019, was printed by that paper on Sunday 28 April 2019 with the editor-assigned title “There actually are victims of adultery,” but seems not to have made it into that paper’s online edition. I here quote the version emailed:

Re “Brunei’s barbaric law must not stand” (April 22): Few will disagree with your condemnation of a law making acts of adultery and homosexuality punishable by death. [Few, but some. See under the heading “Problem Content 3: Whom Would Jesus Execute?” in my review of Kevin Swanson’s Apostate.] And none should find cogent Minister Yusof’s assertion that a law authorizing execution aims to “rehabilitate.”

But do you really believe that there are no victims in adultery? “But who are the ‘victims’ in consensual sexual relations between adults?” you ask. Those who [unlike myself] deny that such relations can aggrieve God by violating his creational intent will agree with you that homosexual acts are victimless. [I would say that the primary victim in these acts is God’s honor, to speak in the style of Richard Burton’s Beckett, since God himself cannot be harmed by human actions. Participants in homosexual acts may also be considered victims, since Satan and their own impulses have left them ignorant of just how great an affront to God these acts are.] But even homosexuals should doubt your suggestion that adultery is victimless. After all, when our highest court declared that homosexuals could marry, it also made them potential victims of adultery.

Though my faith wouldn’t execute adulterers (John 8:3–11), their acts do have victims, something divorce law (for example) should take into account.

I should note that it is not my belief that homosexuals betrayed by their same-sex spouses really are victims of adultery. Since persons of the same sex can’t really be married, violation of their union cannot properly be called adultery, since there is no real marriage to be betrayed. I am simply speaking in terms of the secularized perspective that now rules American law and which has declared that a homosexual couple can constitute a marriage. From that perspective, homosexuals are potential victims of adultery, since any marriage may be betrayed. Anyone who supports homosexuals and their right to “marry” should also grant that adultery is not victimless.

Bad Ideas Need to Be Refuted, Not Censored: Part 1 ^

Not knowing my prior letter (see above) would be printed the next day, I emailed the following to the SDUT on 27 April 2019.

Shouldn’t a newspaper’s editorial board support unfettered free speech? Seems the U-T thinks not, at least not when people feel unsafe.

“Time for National Action on Vaccinations” (April 27) begins with reasonable calls to oppose demonstrably erroneous speech with demonstrably correct speech. If opponents of vaccines are all gullible people believing false claims, evidence-backed persuasion should bring them around.

Alas, the editorial doesn’t stop at calls for more vigorous persuasion. In addition to making it harder for people who don’t want vaccines to refuse them, the writers want to further encourage social media sites’ trend toward censorship. Sad.

Though I get every vaccine I can, I’m not convinced everyone who chooses differently is a fool duped by liars. For example, John Bergman, a DC on YouTube, seems to have respectable philosophical reasons for disliking vaccines. Shouldn’t he be free to express his views and choose for himself?

Bad Ideas Need to Be Refuted, Not Censored: Part 2 ^

The following submission for the SDUT’s “Your Say” 500-word-essay feature was printed in that paper’s 11 May edition with the editor-assigned title “Meet Objectionable Opinion at the Source.” It also appears as the second of two items sharing a page on the paper’s Web site. Following is the version I emailed to the paper on 08 May 2019 (at around 2 AM).

On the question of what elected leaders should do about “despicable viewpoints online” (“Next: Your Say on Social Media,” May 4), I suggest that this is a problem that the people, not the government, should fix. As for what the people should do….

Kicking law-abiding sites off servers and law-abiding speakers off platforms isn’t the answer. The Internet has put out for public view much that was once hidden, but these things do not exist because of the Internet, and hiding them from the Internet community will not make them go away. Wrong ideas and baseless emotions can only be effectively opposed by right ideas and emotions grounded in sound moral reasoning and cultivated empathy. To paraphrase an organization typically portrayed negatively in this paper, “the only answer to a bad guy with an Internet post is a good guy with an Internet post.”

One principle behind the NRA slogan is that, in a typical would-be mass-shooter situation, good guys greatly outnumber bad guys. Were good guys generally armed, and were they generally trained in firearms safety and marksmanship, would-be mass-shooters would very often meet with a deserved end. [God’s common grace seems responsible for a reliable preponderance of good guys over bad guys—in all but the most degenerate, God-defying cultures.] The same should be true of bad guys online. Those who disagree with what bad guys are saying should outnumber those who agree. Were those who disagree more generally prepared and willing to counter the bad guys’ rhetoric, bad guys’ assertions would very often meet with a deserved refutation.

The basics of a proper approach, one requiring neither the government nor hosting platforms to act as censors, is modeled for us near the end of a nicely detailed recent U-T column (“Some Forums Give Extremism a Place to Fester,” May 5): “To slow the spread of hate on Twitter, WeCounterHate used machine learning to automatically identify ‘hate-tweets.’ Those tweets were then marked with a reply that informs users that every retweet will result in a donation to a nonprofit fighting for equality, inclusion and diversity.”

Now, what WeCounterHate is doing does not model the final and ideal response to pernicious online materials. Most importantly, WeCounterHate’s replies don’t address the substance of the opposed tweets, just try to scare potential retweeters with terms sure to make far-right types (and many who are merely conservative) squirm. But the basic idea is sound and deserves to be emulated: identify and respond to bad speech with good speech. The ideal would be to use machine learning to locate posts likely to be objectionable, and then to flag them for review and response by a thinking human with a superior viewpoint. (Less ideal would be to have bots post responses with links to materials correcting common errors associated with certain keywords and phrases.) Bad ideas grow when suppressed (censored); they fare less well when refuted.

Abortion-Ban Protesters Miss the Point ^

I emailed the following to the SDUT on 20 May 2019. It is another 500-word “Your Say” essay, one I doubted would get printed given that I’d had one printed earlier in the month. I added the first paragraph on 29 May 2019 because I was going to submit this to a syndication service and see what happened. Alas, it turned out the service only accepts submissions in bundles of five or six at a time. That syndicator’s loss is the Pious Eye site’s gain.

Like Roe v. Wade, protesters of recent state-level abortion bans and restrictions fail to grapple with the central issue. Allow me to explain.

Years before making compromises in the Constitution, key founders signed their agreement to an uncompromising statement of our nation’s moral and philosophical basis: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [all human individuals] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Some may disagree with this philosophy, but I will assume it’s correct. [The bracketed “all human individuals” was included in my email to the SDUT. In view here are human persons.]

Most notable among the compromises incorporated into the Constitution was the one permitting slavery to continue. If all human individuals are created with an inalienable right to liberty, lifelong denial of liberty, not merited by any crime but effected by force and “justified” by race, cannot be legitimate and should have been banned. There was no practical way to make this happen at the time, since too many important people profited from slavery, but slavery remained illegitimate and immoral nonetheless.

This is typically the way of things with moral issues. The morality is clear to anyone willing to think it through, but the practical implications often make thinking it through undesirable. People prefer peace and comfort, and the best way to maintain these is to just mind one’s own business and not think too much about moral controversies with political implications.

Like slavery before it, abortion is not an issue that permits the sort of moderation and compromise that peaceable, conflict-averse people prefer. Are unborn children, either at conception or at some other point before birth, human individuals? If they are (What else could they be?), then induced abortion, like imposed slavery, cannot be legitimate and should be banned. Were there a case where abortion was the only way to prevent a pregnancy from causing a mother’s death, the mother’s right to life, and the right to self-defense that goes with it, could justify abortion, but no other “justification” seems defensible.

If these unborn “entities” are not human individuals, then there can be no justification for denying the non-mothers carrying them the liberty to have them killed and removed, except perhaps on the basis of such arguments as entity-rights activists might propose.

The tragedy of Roe v. Wade, and the reason it must be overturned, is that it didn’t address the human status of the unborn at all. Instead, it justified legal abortion based on a right to privacy. Enslaving someone outside public view, as some kidnappers have done, torturing children outside public view, as parents in a high-profile case did, and killing people outside public view, as most murderers do, are no less criminal because private.

Are unborn children human individuals with an inalienable right to life? If they are, women’s privacy rights are irrelevant to the issue of induced abortion.

If you say that unborn children are not human individuals, you should have to prove that in court before killing them. Keeping the killings private doesn’t resolve the issue. Nor did Roe v. Wade.

Live Action We-Know-When-Life-Begins Video Might Also Miss the Point ^

Since it is my policy to remove myself from mailing lists that don’t permit dialog, that is, that come from unmonitored email addresses (as evidenced by my never getting a response when I respond to mail received), I’ve just removed myself from the Live Action mailing list. I thought I’d share my two recent messages to the organization, since they relate to the “essay” directly above.

This first email is a revision of a letter I sent in error to the Susan B. Anthony List (SBAL). I received an email entitled “We DO know when life begins” from the SBAL, but I mistook it for a second video-link mailing from Live Action. I responded “This video looks familiar…” then added some thoughts to my prior email to Live Action. When I noticed my error a few moments later, I sent an “Oops” message to the SBAL and modified my SBAL email so that it seemed suitable for mailing to Live Action.

While I don’t agree with either of these organizations on everything, I do typically agree with and participate in their calls to action. Though aspects of the pro-life movement as it currently exists dissatisfy me, so that I can’t really consider myself a part of the movement’s mainstream, the only sense in which I am “pro-choice” on this issue is that I believe everyone who isn’t married and seeking to have children should exercise the right to choose not to have sex.

From: David M. Hodges
Date: Sun, May 26, 2019
Subject: Re: When does life begin?
To: Live Action

I’m going to take myself off your list since I only stay on lists where I can interact with the mailers, and it seems you never respond to emails sent to this address. Anyway, as noted in my prior email [this appears below], the issue of debate is not when “life” begins but when human personhood begins, so some pro-abortion people might argue that your video misses the point. We freely kill all sorts of “life” all the time, for food and other reasons.

In any case, thank your for the resources. I will continue to follow your YouTube posts. The only issue I know I disagree with you on (assuming your stance is the same as such other pro-life groups as the Susan B. Anthony List) is your stance that women who contract to kill their own children should never face any penalty for doing so. While some women who have abortions have no clue what they’re doing, some others know perfectly well. Should abortion ever be banned or severely restricted, there must be some penalty for women who violate the ban, even if it’s only a fine or probation in many cases. These recent bans that impose no penalty on abortion seekers seem to me ill formed for that reason.

Thank you for your time….

———- Original message ———
On Wed, May 22, 2019 David M. Hodges wrote [after reading Live Action’s email but before viewing the video it introduced and linked to]:

I’m not sure one can provide a scientific answer to a philosophical question without presupposing a philosophical viewpoint [Live Action’s email (dated 22 May 2019) described the video as giving “a scientific response as to why life begins at the moment of fertilization” and as showing “the humanity of preborn children during all stages of the pregnancy”], but thanks for passing along the video link. It seems to me erring on the side of caution would mean that anyone who believes “we don’t know when life [better, human personhood] begins” should be pro-life in order to avoid inadvertently killing potential persons anyway, making the “we don’t know” objection self-refuting as a defense of the pro-abortion position.

[The following was sent a little while after the preceding:]

P.S. Since I’ve never received a response when I’ve written to this address, I suspect it’s unmonitored. In case it is monitored, I’ll note that, having now reviewed the video, I’m pleased the self-refuting aspect of the pro-abortion argument was addressed at the beginning. I’ve added the video to my “Bias Corrections” playlist. Like other of your [“Pro-Life replies”] videos I’ve watched, this is a good one.

The philosophical push-back you’ll get from pro-abortion people will be based on the “functional” view of personhood, which holds that it is some level of cognitive function, sentience, or the like that determines personhood. [On this view, proving that an organism is human does not prove that it is a person, so showing that preborn humans are in fact human misses the point.] I don’t think this view ultimately stands up under analysis (according to it, someone under general anesthetic would be a non-person and could freely be killed, for instance), but I thought I’d mention it for no good reason. I, of course, share your speaker’s view that personhood is a matter of substance and that the only clear point when a new substance comes into being is at conception.

Always happy to share my thoughts with unmonitored email addresses,

DMH

So ends this latest collection of writings. I hope they prove of some use.


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