At the Edge

Commentary on the Big Issues

Author: Tejas

A Quick Note on France

Haven’t been able to post much on here — and will not for another month or so — because I’m extremely busy at the moment. But I will say one thing: I hope En Marche! wins.

Update: En Marche! has won, and I’m relieved. But the fact that right-wing populism came so close to victory is deeply regrettable.

Understanding Feminism

I’m a feminist. And I’m tired of people coming up with criticisms of feminism that don’t even rise to the level of idiocy. To be sure, there are legitimate criticisms of the modern movement. That doesn’t change the reality: sexism exists today, and needs to be fought. Feminism is the movement that challenges that sexism. To the extent that there is a society with minimal or negligible sexism, feminism is merely the ideology that the state of gender equality is desirable. No misrepresentation will change that fact.

I’m a feminist because, throughout the world, individuals face the denial of social, political, and economic opportunities just as a result of their gender. I’m a feminist because I want to resist this system of oppression which defines the lives of multiple individuals: the lives of soldiers who are denied the ability to serve because they are trans men or trans women, the lives of same-sex couples merely seeking the right to marry and live their lives together, the lives of adolescents being abused in cruel “gay conversion” camps, the lives of men who defy gender roles imposed on them, the lives of women who are denied the right to equal pay and to employment, and who are shunned as “impure” during their menstrual cycles, the lives of nonbinary folks who’re simply trying to resist social impositions that confine them to certain standards they don’t want to meet.

Mary Frith scandalized British society by wearing “male” clothes and behaving in a way that society perceived to be masculine. Photo Credit: Wikipedia. Public Domain.

In this post, I’m going to help readers understand feminism, and give you my views on it (i.e. why am I a feminist?). I’m also going to redefine patriarchy. Finally, I’ll take a look at why the so-called “difference feminism” and large portions of the modern feminist movement defy these principles of feminism by perpetuating patriarchy (which is a concept we’ll explore below).

Defining ‘Feminism’

The definition of feminism I’m going to use is an ideology which resists discrimination or the violation of individual rights based on gender, and the movement that advances the ideology through actionable social and political change.

To understand that definition, we first need to understand what “gender” means. It’s difficult to come up with a definition because different people mean different things when they say “gender.” However, gender does notmean having XX or XY chromosomes. There’s a distinction between biological sex and gender that we should not blur. Gender is understood as being a social construct corresponding to biological sex. Specifically, gender is the expectations of a community placed on individuals belonging to a certain biological sex. It restricts the freedom of individuals of certain biological sexes and places expectations on them.

Gender is often framed as a binary. In the gender binary, there are two ideal groups of characteristics, the masculine and the feminine, which are expectations placed on members of the two biological sexes. Intersex individuals are excluded. All individuals who defy the group of expectations placed on them are excluded and shunned. This means folks who ascribe to the opposite role to the one placed on them, and those who don’t ascribe to either of the two overly restrictive roles.

Why did these roles arise? Insignificant neurological features that cause behavioral differences in infants, e.g. in the preference of toys, which dissipate later on. These have primarily been observed in chimpanzees. These neurological differences correlate with the biological sex of individuals. While they’re too mild to have a real impact, when families notice behavioral differences in infants and observe that these correlate with sex, they ascribe gender roles to their children. Since then, cultures have emerged ascribing various gender roles, in most cases in the form of a binary.

In general, feminism argues that gender roles are harmful, and disproportionately affect women and nonbinary individuals.

The Case for Feminism

The system of gender roles that is followed in much of the world today is a patriarchal system. This isn’t the traditional definition of patriarchy (i.e. a “world of male domination”). It’s more nuanced than that. Patriarchy is a specific kind of gender role in which people who belong to the “male” gender are expected to be the breadwinners of stable families, and are given a notion of “masculinity” to fulfill wherein they should be dominant/aggressive emotionally, professionally, and sexually (in the latter case, feminists often call it “toxic masculinity,” an expectation of sexual dominance which has probably led to the majority of rapists being men). Similarly, people who belong to the “female” gender are forced into being homemakers, and are expected to be passive and demure emotionally and professionally, and they lack any sexual freedom given to them.

The notion that patriarchy?—?as defined above?—?doesn’t exist in most of the world today is indefensible. Because patriarchy exists, and is the predominant system of gender. It’s why “homosexuality” is seen as weak. It’s also why women are often not allowed to be in the military or to pursue free professional lives. Feminism suggests that patriarchy is disproportionately harmful to women. There are multiple examples to prove this. I’m going to use the examples of female genital mutilation, sexual assault, and workplace discrimination.

Female Genital Mutilation. In efforts to constrain the sexual freedom of women, families practice female genital mutilation, the ritual removal of parts of the external female genitalia, a dangerous and often painful process. In a study of merely 30 key countries, UNICEF found that thirty million women and girls had undergone such processes. Harms include chronic pain, fatal bleeding, and the development of cysts.

Sexual Assault. I’m going to mainly talk about rape, i.e. sexual penetration without a person’s consent. With the sole possible exception of the United States [see note], rape is disproportionately suffered by women. This is because of a culture of sexual dominance, in which masculinity often requires male sexual domination, whereas women are expected to be “passive” and docile. Note: In the U.S., when considering in-prison rape, men are raped more often, but the rapists are still males over 90% of the time. This is also an unclear statistic because, in many cases, people?—?both males and females?—?don’t report rapes.

Workplace Discrimination. I’ll talk about this more in later posts, but, in short, women are often not paid equally compared to men, they’re not hired due to fears of pregnancy, they’re denied paid parental leave, and they face sexual harassment in the workplace disproportionately, especially in workplaces with insufficient sexual harassment policies.

Regardless, patriarchy is harmful to the freedom of men, women, and nonbinary folks. In fact, all forms of gender roles are harmful. If a biological male wants to pursue activities that are typically considered “feminine” in nature, they’re rejected and shunned, unless they undergo sex-reassignment surgery and change their gender identity (and then, they’re shunned as trans women). Similarly, when a biological female wants to pursue “masculine” activities, they’re excluded unless they change their gender identity, after which they’re discriminated against because they’re trans men. People who don’t fit into this rigid binary are discriminated against and rejected. Patriarchy exists everyday: standards of beauty and appearance (e.g. “clothes for men” and “clothes for women”), casual sexism (e.g. so-called “chivalry”), and so on. And the more dangerous forms are equally pervasive. Patriarchy is when men are scared to report their rape by women because they’ll be rejected; it’s when equal marriage isn’t granted; it’s when women are disproportionately raped and rejected by society. Feminism is simply the quest to fight this patriarchy. That’s a good quest, without question, and one we should all support.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, society ascribes to?—?and accepts?—?a patriarchal system. A system which normalizes the sexual and professional repression of women, glorifies the ostracism of nonbinary individuals, and the emotional repression of men [though the latter are probably better off than the former two]. A system which rejects the LGBT community and parades the pervasive discrimination inherent within society.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. At any level plausible for us, it is our obligation to resist the structural injustice experienced by individuals—many of them our friends, family, and acquaintances—and to fight the patriarchal system, a system which infringes on equal protection and on freedom. The institution of gender, as a whole, is one built upon subjugation and oppression. It is exclusionary, both to those who conform to the binary, and to outliers. And the goal of feminism is equality and justice, so we all must fight the patriarchy.

American Health Care Act

I predicted that the Republican healthcare plan wouldn’t be good, here and here. My prediction was correct. The American Health Care Act is an utter failure. In this post, I’m going to talk about the specific characteristics that make the AHCA a failure, though I think John Oliver’s excellent piece on the subject sums it up.

The AHCA makes a few key changes to Obamacare. First, it slashes Medicaid substantially, by preventing registration for the ACA Medicaid expansion after 2020, defederalizing it and block granting it to the states, and, in the words of Speaker Paul Ryan, “capping its growth rate.” Second, it changes the income-based tax credits of Obamacare, and makes them age-based, while substantially reducing the amount of money given to people. Third, the individual mandate is repealed, and a different penalty is introduced. The bill has a lot of issues. I’m going to talk about (1) the harmful effects of the new penalty, (2) the structure of the new age-based tax credits, (3) higher premiums for the old, the poor, and the middle class, (4) the damage to Medicaid, and (5) as a result of all of these things, lower coverage.

Penalty. The new penalty for not buying insurance is especially punishing to the poor. In general, people in higher income brackets sometimes pay less than the poor, and the poor pay more in the mandate.

Tax Credits. The tax credits are structured in an especially bad way. Those who’re poor often get less than the rich. And the tax credits are substantially smaller. According to the Kaiser Foundation, low-income groups often obtain lower tax credits under the AHCA. Substantially lower than what the ACA gives them. To quote Vox:

[A] 40-year-old making $20,000 (or 160 percent of the poverty line) would get $4,143 in subsidies under the ACA but only $3,000 under the GOP plan. A higher-earning 40-year-old, making $75,000 annually, would get no tax subsidy under the ACA but $3,000 under the Republican plan.

Premiums. While estimates suggest a moderate reduction in healthcare premiums in the long term, the CBO suggests that, for older, poorer Americans, an increase in premiums by 750% is expected. The CBO’s own example is that of a 64-year-old individual earning $26,500 annually. That person would be forced to pay $14,600 for premiums, more than half their annual income, as opposed to the current $1700 in premiums. While there would be moderate reductions in premiums for younger individuals, there would be massive rise for older persons.

Medicaid. Curtailing Medicaid to this extent isn’t a good idea outside of the reasons already mentioned above. Simply, it portends a future in which the Republican Party might decide to stamp it out entirely and rely on the free market — which, as I’ve explained before, is a really bad idea; in short, because the private health insurance industry has a strong incentive to raise prices, and the free market doesn’t solve.

Coverage. The Congressional Budget Office estimates substantial difference in terms of the number of people insured. According to this estimate, by 2018, 14 million less people will be insured under this plan, 21 million lower in 2020, and 24 million in 2026, relative to the Affordable Care Act. The bill is especially hard on the middle class, because either there are people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but still can’t entirely afford premiums, who will eventually drop their health insurance, or the people who maintain their coverage but only require preventive care, who won’t meet their deductible under this plan at all (considering the effect on premiums) — both these kinds get frustrated and drop their insurance. Meanwhile, those who rely on Medicaid, i.e. the poor, lose out too, as I will explain below.

President Trump discussing a replacement for Obamacare with lawmakers. Photo Credit: Vice President Pence @ twitter, via Wikipedia. Public Domain image.

In summary, the healthcare plan harms both the poor and the middle class of the United States, causing so many people to opt out of health insurance in the long term that the industry itself may fall. While there is a moderate decrease in premiums for the upper middle-class youth and insubstantial difference for the wealthy, the remaining middle-class and the poor are hit hard, because of the penalty, the poorly structured tax credits, the harms to Medicaid, and higher premiums for the poor and the middle class, which, together, reduce insurance coverage.

I probably won’t post anything again this week, because I’m pretty busy, but I’ll try to post more in the upcoming weeks to keep up with my attempt at posting once a week.

Why I Oppose Jallikattu

With the four-day harvest festival of Pongal emerging in January, precisely one month ago, so did the debate about jallikattu, a 2000-year-old sport typically celebrated on the third day of Pongal, referred to as Mattu Pongal, in which individuals try to latch on to the humps and horns of bulls in an effort to tame them, with gifts of money and gold tied to the sharpened horns of the animal.

The sport of jallikattu was banned when bulls were added in 2011 to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act which restricted animals performing for entertainment under the fear of animal abuse. In 2014, the Supreme Court, presented with evidence from the Animal Welfare Board of India with regard to the “torture and cruelty” endured by bulls during jallikattu fights, upheld the ban. On January 8, 2016, the Ministry of the Environment revoked the order to add bulls to the PCA Act and, by extension, legalized jallikattu. However, the Supreme Court issued a stay on the order in response to a petition issued by the Animal Welfare Board of India and PETA India, leading to protests in January 2016 statewide, with the World Youth Organization demanding a ban on PETA.

MarinaProtests1.jpg

Thousands of pro-jallikattu protesters at the Marina Beach. Credit: Gan13166 via Wikimedia Commons. 

By Gan13166 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55146270

However, when the debate on jallikattu was reignited this Pongal, so too were the protests, with much greater intensity. It began when hundreds of jallikattu supporters organized a rally at Chennai’s Marina Beach protesting the ban on jallikattu and calling for immediate change. 220 pro-jallikattu protestors at Madurai were detained one week later. In response, many more students gathered at the Marina Beach to protest, and many volunteer groups and individuals began protesting, leading to a push for an ordinance by representatives of the Tamil Nadu state government to repeal the ban on jallikattu. Soon, in the push for the ordinance to be signed by the President of India, 2 million people gathered at the Marina Beach in what was termed “Occupy Marina.” Most organizations in Tamil Nadu shut down in solidarity with the protesters. On January 23, with protesters refusing to leave, forceful evictions occurred. In response, the protesters engaged in arson and stone-pelting, using “petroleum bombs,” and torching police stations. The Tamil Nadu State Assembly passed a uninanimous bill legalizing jallikattu in Tamil Nadu temporarily.

These protests require us to answer tough questions. Is it justified for the police to forcibly evict protesters? Is democracy on the streets, or on the ballot box? Those are questions that require abstract, philosophical answers: ones that are too vague and abstract for ordinary debate. What is up for debate, however, is whether it is justified, in such a scenario, to pursue a sport that engages in animal exploitation. In this post, I’m going to argue against jallikattu — specifically, I’m going to provide my arguments against it, and refute some common arguments in favor of it.

The Case Against Jallikattu

Animal Cruelty

The first reason I oppose jallikattu is direct: it harms the bulls. A common claim among supporters of jallikattu denies any harm to animals caused by jallikattu. Consider this article, which suggests that that jallikattu is a “fair sport” in which “both human and animal are aware of the game,” and that regulation is sufficient to end animal abuse. All of that is nonsense, and is provably false. The idea that animals are “aware of the game” is obviously false. Animals can’t “consent” to doing something like that when the people initiate it. The fear displayed by bulls also demonstrates clearly that the bull doesn’t consent.

Regulation is insufficient simply because jallikattu is fundamentally abusive. It may not be as harmful as Spanish bullfighting — which, for the record, organizations such as PETA do fight — but it’s still pretty abusive. Inspections jointly conducted by PETA and the Animal Welfare Board of India demonstrate that under regulated jallikattu, massive physical abuse takes place to incur the bulls to respond. In the arena, multiple people pounce on the bull, inducing massive psychological trauma, in which, according to PETA’s conclusions from the inspection, “the bulls become so frightened by the mob of men who participate that they slip, fall, run into barriers and traffic – and even jump off cliffs in their desperate attempts to escape – frequently leading to broken bones or death.”

Just a few days ago, three bulls fell into wells due to their fear. There’s also physical harm from the participants actually hitting the bulls, and even the weight of multiple participants together. Which means, even if abuse is “regulated,” the sport becomes fundamentally about harming the bull. Furthermore, the police themselves engage in abusing the bulls, which means they won’t enforce regulation — but they will enforce a blanket ban because it’s easy to prove that a jallikattu event happened. It’s hard to prove specific abuse.

The government should legislate to prevent animal cruelty. As I’ve already argued before, animals have rights. Since bulls are self-aware and are sentient, under a utilitarian framework, they ought to have rights. While it’s downright impossible to ban meat eating, for instance, and doing that would be demonstrably harmful to society, the only benefit from society is “entertainment.” Jallikattu is a directly harmful sport that should be illegal, as should other, similar sports, such as Kambala.

Edit 3/14/17: The claim that jallikattu as it is currently practiced does not follow the “real rules” of jallikattu — and that those real rules are humane — is ridiculous. First, that’s absolutely not the case, considering that these rural areas built the practice of jallikattu. Second, and more importantly, that doesn’t matter. Insofar as it involves even a single person holding on to the bull’s hump, the bull is going to panic. The sheer psychological trauma is what causes so many bulls to die in jallikattu games. Furthermore, these “real rules” aren’t going to be enforced, and I’ve already explained how a jallikattu ban solves.

Marginalization

Jallikattu is not merely a tradition that oppresses animals. It discriminates among humans as well — as alluded to in T. M. Krishna’s popular column on the issue. Jallikattu inadvertently perpetuates casteist and sexist marginalization. For instance, feminists have objected to the relegation of women to merely caregivers of bulls, while men are the only ones who actually “wrestle” the bulls — spreading notions of “masculinity” and sexism within rural communities.

Similarly, others have noted that jallikattu is casteist. Dalit activists decry jallikattu as divisive, because the sport is often exclusionary to members of “lower caste” individuals. The same article mentions that Tamil Nadu’s villages are often segregated on the basis of caste, and Dalit portions of villages, which are typically slums, have much more subdued jallikattu events. If there is an integrated event, Dalits are disproportionately pushed away to unpaid and less glamorous jobs, like “playing a percussion instrument to set the tone” and to “take care of the bulls” [quoted from the same article]. Other opinion articles have condemned jallikattu as sexist and casteist as well.

Rebuttal to Common Arguments

Proponents of jallikattu have consistently argued the same things: that jallikattu protects indigeneous breeds, that it is an integral part of Tamil culture, and that organizations such as PETA are somehow conspiracies to erode this culture. All of the arguments fail. I’ll address each of them here. Comment if you have anything else; I’ll respond to it.

Indigeneous Breeds

The argument that jallikattu protects indigeneous breeds is based on the idea that the bulls used for jallikattu are used to impregnate other cows, thus allowing for indigeneous breeds to be protected from extinction. This argument fails for three reasons.

Bos taurus indicus.jpg

Zebu (Bos taurus indicus), one of the breeds used in jallikattu. Credit: Scott Bauer, USDA ARS, via Wikimedia Commons.

First, this impregnation can happen anyway. Farmers won’t get rid of cows if jallikattu is prevented since there’s no monetary benefit from jallikattu. These bulls aren’t going to be sold to slaughter. Second, “preserving indigeneous breeds” doesn’t benefit the bulls. The members of these breeds are just going to suffer and die. The only supposed benefit is from the milk of the cattle — which is fundamentally and inherently tied to animal exploitation. Third, the idea that jallikattu is the only way to preserve indigeneous breeds is preposterous. Economic and market support for cattle farmers is possible. It just never happens. If preserving indigeneous breeds is the reason to support jallikattu, that’s much more effective.

Culture

Cultural norms are discontinued or reformed all the time, to make way for social progress. Sati (the practice of a widow ending her life on her husband’s death upon social pressure to do so) and child marriage — both barbaric practices — have been ended to make way for social progress. This isn’t a strong or compelling argument. As an article in The Diplomat explains:

The monolithic entity that Tamil culture seems to have become during the progression of the debate over Jallikattu has culminated in the proponent camp decrying any and all opposition of Jallikattu as inherently anti-Tamil.

The idea that jallikattu is intrinsically tied to ‘being Tamil’ isn’t necessarily true — because culture should not be about cruelty and oppression. It should be about inclusion.

Conspiracies

Most conspiracies surrounding jallikattu are ridiculous. The idea that PETA is trying to “open the market for Western companies to advertise their cattle,” or, even more ridiculous, trying to “sell bull semen” is ridiculous. There’s no evidence whatsoever for these assertions, and none of it forms any offensive reason to allow jallikattu.

Conclusion

Jallikattu is a sport hinged upon marginalization and animal cruelty. However, it carries with it cultural intricacies most urban individuals won’t understand. The current practice of jallikattu, however, needs to be abolished — not merely by the government, but by rural community as a whole. The reinvention of the sport as something to truly uphold culture while spreading compassion without oppression is necessary.

Insofar as that is not amended, jallikattu is fundamentally the exploitation of animals for entertainment — something that Tamil culture should not be proud of. We should be ashamed of abuse of any form.

Note that none of this criticism is unique to jallikattu. It applies to all blood sports which involve animals. Spanish bullfighting, for instance, and things like dogfighting and cockfighting, are even more horrendous than such sports. Animal cruelty in the name of entertainment or culture is unjustified, because justice requires the recognition of animal rights. We ought to end cruelty for entertainment.

President Trump’s America

Donald Trump is among the more controversial presidents in American history, with historically low approval ratings of 41% according to a Gallup poll, one of his landmark executive orders blocked by the Ninth Circuit, and anti-Trump protests all across the United States. In this post, I’m going to explore how President Trump has fared so far.

President Trump has signed an average of 1.5 executive orders per day — still short of his predecessor’s first week in office. In any case, President Trump has been active, and I’m going to take a look at what he’s done so far.

(1) Trump’s executive order on Obamacare was his very first, merely hours after taking the oath of office, rolling back the ACA financially. The implications of it weren’t substantial in terms of actual policy, but they sent a clear message: President Trump actually intends to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That’s a proposal I have criticized in previous posts, such as one about the Affordable Care Act and one criticizing Republican healthcare policy, but, in short, would cause about 19.7 million people to lose insurance in a single year, destroy 3 million jobs and result in a “$1.5 trillion reduction in gross state product from 2019 through 2023.” The reduction in taxes would add to the strain even more.

(2) Trump’s order to reduce regulations didn’t make sense. In his order, it was essentially a “two-for-one” guideline: for every one regulation introduced, two had to be repealed. The problem is that it’s completely arbitrary, merely a classically Republican rhetorical flourish suggesting that there are “too many regulations.” The reality is that some heavily important regulations might be lost, or might not be introduced, in the process, and even if Trump wanted to reduce regulations, he should have reviewed and deleted those that he deemed unnecessary. The number of regulations doesn’t matter: the necessity of them matters. This order was just absurd.

(3) Trump’s heavily controversial executive order on immigration, specifically with regard to immigration from seven countries, has actually resulted in strikes, and has been struck down as unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit. It’s probably unconstitutional on many levels: it violates the Fifth Amendment which allows for due process of law, the Fourteenth Amendment which asks for equality, and the fact that “national origin” is actually a suspect classification. Some lawyers have suggested that Trump deliberately made the EO unconstitutional so it would get repealed. In any case, it is overly vague (e.g. made green card holders suffer), harmful to people whose condition the U.S. is directly responsible for (e.g. military translators), and won’t have any effect on terrorism outside of propaganda.

(4) Trump’s orders to restart construction of oil pipelines, the Keystone XL extension and the Dakota Access pipelines, have similarly met with controversy, since they’ve made approval of those pipleines probable, which is problematic for a simple reason: the environmental effects of these pipelines. First, the risk of an oil spill could cause water poisoning for indigenous people. Since 2010, the operator of the Dakota pipeline has been responsible for more oil leaks than any other pipeline operators. Second, these pipelines would be dangerous to wildlife, with species like the whooping crane and swift fox threatened by these pipelines. The potential of an onshore oil spill is also dangerous. Wildlife extinction is harmful because it could cause ecological collapse, and because, as I’ve explained earlier, animals have rights. Third, the pipelines could harm the fight against climate change. For instance, the Keystone XL extension utilizes tar sands to extract oil, which could result in massive greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the level of oil access it would create would essentially cut off efforts to move to clean energy.

(5) The deletion of references to climate change from the White House website is concerning because it appears President Trump is serious about his views on climate change — which is particularly harmful because climate change is a massive threat. The President’s disagreement with the scientific consensus, which was firmly established through this, could pose an existential threat to the human species itself. As philosopher and social critic Professor Noam Chomsky notes, the Republican Party’s position on climate change merely accelerates the world into disaster, and that the GOP could even be the “most dangerous organization in world history.”

(6) The new POTUS’s first military raid was conducted in Yakla, in central Yemen, and has been described as “botched,” with one member of the Special Forces team dead, and 30 Yemeni civilians killed, including an eight-year-old. The intended target of the raid is still alive. The raid received heavy criticism, with John McCain characterizing the raid as a failure, with a typical response from the President on Twitter which said McCain didn’t “know how to win anymore.”

(7) Reinstating the “Mexico City” policy, as Trump did with an executive order on January 23rd, has blocked American funding to foreign NGOs who perform abortions. This has been heavily criticized, and for legitimate reason: it won’t reduce abortions, but make them less safe and cause the deaths of thousands of women across the world. The reason is obvious: politically appealing to religious conservatives; or, worse, an indicator of the President himself being a religious conservative.

(8) Trump reorganized the National Security Council to include, among others, “chief strategist” of the Trump Administration, Steve Bannon. Bannon oversaw Breitbart News, a notably far-right news agency. This move has been criticized by President Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, as “stone cold crazy.” Furthermore, his downgrading of the Director of National Intelligence and Chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been criticized from both sides of the aisle.

(9) The proposed repeal of the Johnson Amendment is another extremely concerning potential policy of the President, with him vowing to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, a provision that limits the political speech of tax-exempt organizations (e.g. churches). The reason “destroying” the Amendment is problematic is because it would encourage massive conservative organizations to influence politics, and blur the line of separation between the church and the state in one of the world’s few states that has succeeded in achieving true secularism under the freedom of expression. If religious institutions have so much influence over the government, it would likely result in heavily conservative policies: such as restrictions on abortion rights, LGBT+ equality, et cetera.

President Trump signing the Presidential memoranda to revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Public Domain. Source: Wikipedia.

Conclusion

President Trump hasn’t done too well so far. His policies have been typically conservative, with massive implications to egalitarianism, environmental policy, foreign policy, and healthcare. The “Mexico City” policy will cause thousands of deaths. The raid in Yemen has been a botched failure. His apathy toward solving climate change could pose an existential threat toward the human species. The construction of the oil pipelines increases risk of a leak, and poses a massive threat to both humans and wildlife. The executive order on Obamacare would strip millions of people of their health insurance.

All of these actions, if they actually work in achieving their objectives, would likely be exceedingly dangerous to the people of America, and essentially purge President Obama’s relatively better legacy in terms of domestic policy. There’s little wonder that the current POTUS has been one of the most controversial and least approved presidents in U.S. history. Will he defy these negative expectations? It looks unlikely — but only time will tell. 

The War on Drugs

The War on Drugs — America’s campaign against the drug trade — has been a failure. Yet, American politicians refuse to see this unfortunate truth. In this post, I’m going to argue that the U.S., and much of the developed world, for that matter, should decriminalize recreational drug usage, as the best solution to the problems drugs present.

Fuerza del Estado Michoacán.jpg

A picture from a confrontation in the Mexican Drug War. Public Domain.

Image: By Diego Fernández (autor original) / vendida con “copyright compartido” a la Agencia de Fotografía AP México (autor secundario) – self-made / publicada en La Jornada México (fuente de consulta secundaria) AP otorga permiso de difusión en dicha publicación, Public Domain. 

I believe that drugs should be decriminalized because the status quo has substantial harms, classified as follows: the black market in drugs, the disproportionate effect on marginalized groups, and the violation of the right to choose.

Black Market

When drugs are illegal, the drug trade occurs within the black market. That’s how people get drugs anyway. But the black market is substantially more dangerous, for multiple reasons, the most important one being crime. Ending the War on Drugs would allow for U.S. legal drug business to compete against the black market, and win (due to things like lower costs [70-80% cost drop is predicted] and, quite simply, legality) — legal businesses tend to compete illegal ones out of business.

However, continuing the War on Drugs would fuel the black market, and the illegal drug trade would create huge problems in terms of crime and violence. The direct harm of the War on Drugs, then, exacerbates with military violence. There are five problems created by the black market in drug trade: gang violence in the U.S. and Mexico, funding insurgent groups and terrorist networks, the direct casualties of military action, access to children, and greater health risks from drugs.

Gang Violence. The black market causes substantial violence within the United States, and in its borders. American drug demand fuels most of Mexico’s cartels, creating much of the violence along the U.S.-Mexico border. It also fuels American cartels — cartels that fight with competitors, and engage in armed robbery and similar black market activities (i.e. gang violence).  The Global Commission on Drug Policy explains:

The global war on drugs has failed . . . prohibition has failed in tackling global consumption of drugs, and has instead led to the creation of black markets and criminal networks that resort to violence and corruption in order to carry out their business. This drug-related violence now threatens the institutional stability of entire nations.

 

Terrorism. Black market trading in drugs funds insurgent groups and terrorist networks. Mark Kleiman, et al. explain,

“Drug revenues support insurgents, other armed non-state actors, and corrupt officials, while counternarcotic efforts create hostility to state power. None of this would be true if the drugs and crops in question were made legal.”

A crucial example of this is the Taliban — the opium trade is the main source of revenue for the Taliban. Drug legalization would help fight such major criminal networks.

Military Action. In some respects, the War on Drugs is literally a “war” — major portion of it involves military action. The reason for this is simple: the government needs to fight the sort of dangerous gangs and criminal networks that trade in drugs. 1,100 people are murdered within the U.S. every year due to the War on Drugs. American involvement in the drug wars of Mexico and Colombia have even larger impacts, in the form of fighting cartels — with staggering death tolls in those respective theaters, alongside millions displaced.

Children. In the status quo, in various countries — including the United States — ghettoized or homeless children are often a target to sell street drugs to; they become the victims of drug abuse. Even “young children” are often addicted in many parts of Kenya. This is unique to the black market because illegal drug sellers frequently market their drugs toward children, and get them addicted to drugs for their profit. The problem is substantially reduced when drugs are legal, because under a legal system, drug sale is going to be regulated and isn’t going to go to children.

Health. Black market drugs are frequently adulterated with toxic substances — a cost-saving measure. Multiple drug addicts and users, therefore, face substantially more negative effects when black market drugs are used. This adulteration also causes further harms such as heavy metal poisoning. However, in a legal setting, organizations like the FDA can ensure that drugs are regulated, tested for poisoning and purity, and given warning labels, allowing for information that drugs are unhealthy (that some people — like children — actually don’t possess). Furthermore, under illegality, there’s no means to issue clean needles, to prevent diseases like HIV/AIDS from spreading due to illegal drug use.

In conclusion, the black market in drugs causes multiple fatalities due to criminal networks, provides access to children, and poses a major health risk.

Minorities

The War on Drugs has a disproportionate effect on socially marginalized groups: African-Americans, Hispanics, the working class, and the socio-economically disadvantaged have all been disproportionately affected by the Drug War. I argue that this offers sufficient reason to end the War on Drugs. There are a couple of ways in which the War on Drugs perpetuates racism and classism; I’m going to look at two key things. First, I’m going to look at how the criminal justice aspect of the Drug War harms minorities. Second, I’ll talk about why black market drugs disproportionately affect communities of minorities.

The first issue is criminal justice. Although African-Americans in the U.S. aren’t more likely to use drugs, they’re more likely to get incarcerated for drug offenses. A 2009 report from Human Rights Watch reached a similar conclusion: the War on Drugs is a classic example of structural racism against African-American communities. When African-Americans are sentenced for drug-related offenses, they’re more likely to have longer, harsher sentences too — according to a 2012 report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, drug sentences for African-Americans were 13% longer than drug sentences for whites between 2007 and 2009.

Why are there such substantial racial disparities caused by the Drug War? The most important reason is that white people tend to have greater political influence than minorities. This means police officers are more likely to enforce drug laws in neighborhoods without substantial numbers of rich elites, who disproportionately tend to be white people. An analysis by Project Know found that drug laws were disproportionately enforced in black-majority communities. Since police officers get funding through drug arrests, they target the places where it’s easy to make arrests: neighborhoods with poor economic conditions (i.e. those where drug users are more likely to abuse drugs openly). In other words, white drug dealers are (1) too rich and powerful for police officers to bother arresting, and (2) tend to sell drugs indoors, which means police officers get easier drug arrests by arresting black people.

Furthermore, the for-profit prison industry continues to perpetuate the flawed notion that imprisonment is a solution to things like poverty, which explains the class-based targeting of individuals for drug offenses. Since African-American individuals are likely to be poor, they’re targeted in a similar manner. This is combined with the fact that people in power have an incentive to perpetuate fear of drugs. Political critic Noam Chomsky explains:

[T]he fear of drugs and the fear of crime is very much stimulated by state and business propaganda. The National Justice Commission repeatedly points out that crime in the United States, while sort of high, is not off the spectrum for industrialized societies. On the other hand, fear of crime is far beyond other societies, and mostly stimulated by various propaganda. The Drug War is an effort to stimulate fear of dangerous people from who we have to protect ourselves. It is also, a direct form of control of what are called “dangerous classes,” those superfluous people who don’t really have a function contributing to profit-making and wealth. They have to be somehow taken care of.

The Drug War functions alongside means to disenfranchise black people — photo ID laws, gerrymandering, zoning laws, and so on — to ensure that the upper classes dominate the electorate. This isn’t some conspiracy theory: it is fact, and most research agrees. [Note: It’s more nuanced and complicated than this, but this is essentially the base of it.] What’s the harm? The mass-incarceration of these youth leads to a stripping of economic productivity — further reducing the quality of life of socioeconomically disadvantaged minorities. Ending the War on Drugs is ending the subjugation of minorities through criminal justice. 

The second issue is that minority communities are disproportionately targeted by the black market in drugs, and the lack of rehabilitation worsens the problem. The black market creates drug-dominated neighborhoods, focusing on poor African-American and Hispanic communities, leading to a deterioration in the quality of life in such neighborhoods. When drugs are legalized, there’s no “targeting” of neighborhoods by the legal market — ensuring that people aren’t essentially coerced into doing drugs.

Freedom

The right to liberty is a fundamental right — and it is the right that grounds all other fundamental rights (i.e. the right to life, property, equality, and so on). There are only two conditions when the government can infringe on the freedom of an individual: either (1) if the action would result in harm to any non-consensual other, or would overall be detrimental to society, or (2) if the person who makes the choice is unable to make such a choice entirely. The latter is something that very rarely occurs, and I’m not going to explore that in too much detail — mostly, it’s in the case of adolescents and kids who don’t have a sufficiently developed brain to make the choice to, for instance, drive, or consume alcohol. This idea is encapsulated in John Stuart Mill’s harm principle:

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized society, against [their] will, is to prevent harm to others.

Why is the right to liberty, when these conditions are not met, a fundamental right? First, the right to liberty gives the government political legitimacy. Before the State existed, in the “state of nature” or the “natural condition of humankind,” individuals were entirely free from any form of restraint by the government. We consent to give up some of this liberty in exchange for preventing harm to ourselves, which we didn’t consent to. We want our conditions to be better. Therefore, the only legitimate purpose of the State is to prevent harm to people who didn’t consent to the “harm.” This is enriched by the right to liberty, and forms a limiting principle that the government cannot cross.

Second, the harm principle allows individuals to subjectively weigh costs and benefits. The government typically legislates in order to maximize the interests of the people — but when there’s no interpersonal calculation of interests, and only intrapersonal ones, those interests are subjective. Thus, only the individuals themselves can weigh those interests.

Why is this relevant to the War on Drugs? Quite simply, drug use is a self-regarding act. There’s no substantial third party harm — any of it is outweighed by the harm from continuing drug prohibition. While the choice to use drugs might sometimes be illegitimate (especially with overly addictive drugs which you want to quit using but can’t), most often, it is a perfectly legitimate choice, that the government shouldn’t infringe on — at least for individuals above the age of 22 or so, when they can make decisions for themselves. To be sure, drug use is a bad thing, but it’s going to continue anyway — so the government shouldn’t go beyond its legitimate limits to constrain things simply because they’re “bad.” Ending the War on Drugs protects the right to choice.

Conclusion

I’ve shown you that the War on Drugs fuels a dangerous black market, disproportionately harms marginalized groups, and violates the right to choice. What are the implications of these three truths? The answer: we must end the War on Drugs, immediately. But that’s not as straightforward as that sounds. What do I support in the process of ending the War on Drugs?

First, I think that drug use — of any recreational drug — shouldn’t be treated as criminal activity. In the case of addiction, it should be treated as an activity that should be prevented by rehabilitation. We ought to have free drug rehabilitation programs and no prison sentences for any nonviolent drug offenders, to integrate them back into society.

Second, I think the use of most soft drugs and certain hard drugs — specifically, those that the black market feeds on — should be legal. I don’t advocate the legalization of every single drug — just certain drugs to ensure that this dangerous illegal activity doesn’t continue. These drugs are obviously going to be regulated in terms of purity, the age of consumption, etc. and we’re going to ensure that people of certain communities aren’t targeted.

The War on Drugs has been an abject and total failure — causing thousands of deaths every year, violating the freedom to choose, and disproportionately harming socially marginalized groups. It’s time to end this repression of the people, by ending the War on Drugs.

Free Market Healthcare

The Republican Party is bent upon abolishing the Affordable Care Act — to fulfill both blind ideological dogmatism and gain political capital based on their so-called “free market” policies. Similarly, in India, the Finance Ministry has continued to slash healthcare spending by massive amounts in the name of abstract principles of “fiscal responsibility,” and “free markets.”

All of them are wrong. They’re wrong because free market healthcare doesn’t work — that is objectively the case. The government needs to regulate the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. So, in this post, I’m going to do two things. First, I’m going to present the simple, common sense logic behind this claim of mine. Second, I’m going to justify this claim with empirical evidence.

The simple logic I’m presenting is the idea that the market has no incentive to offer better access or lower cost to healthcare if there’s no profit to be gained from it. The conservative argument, typically, is that “competition reduces prices.” But it doesn’t change a few facts.

First, insurance companies in countries like the U.S. charge at exorbitantly high rates. So, how much ever the competition, the cost won’t reduce beyond a certain point without government regulation. In fact, the only means to end this is to work toward the nationalization of the pharmaceutical industry — which is bound to be a slow process because (1) we need to maintain the quality of the healthcare system, (2) such rapid nationalization isn’t fiscally tenable, and (3) we need to maintain the jobs created by the pharmaceutical industry. But that does mean government regulation needs to exist.

Second, cost isn’t the only dimension to healthcare access. Insurance companies will continue to discriminate against people who have underlying conditions and, therefore, need healthcare more. They’ll discriminate against people based on financial status since payment isn’t guaranteed. And that’s what they did before the Affordable Care Act in the U.S., and what they continue to do in countries like India. Regardless, conservatives and right-libertarians pretend that Obamacare didn’t change anything — or that it made conditions worse. They also pretend that the abstract “free market” can solve everything like the wave of a magic wand. Only, it can’t.

And this isn’t just my opinion. It’s the opinion of noted economists such as Amartya Sen, Thomas Piketty, and Paul Krugman. All of them agree with this logic: that the private sector is grossly insufficient to fulfill the healthcare needs of the common people.

But even if you don’t buy the plain logic, here’s some empirical evidence. In a previous post, I already outlined that Obamacare was responsible for lower inflation rates of insurance costs, and that it increased access to health insurance. Furthermore, in countries with systems of nationalized healthcare, overall insurance costs a falling sharply — take the case of Canada. In addition, greater percentage of the population is insured in countries that have greater government intervention in healthcare.

The harsh reality is that the fetishization of the free market will get both developed and developing countries nowhere, at least when it comes to healthcare. Government intervention in healthcare is required to ensure that the needs of the people are met.

The Affordable Care Act

One of President-Elect Donald Trump’s key campaign promises has been the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. In this post, I’m going to explore why that’s a bad idea.

What does the ACA do?

The ACA is a very comprehensive form of healthcare reform introduced by President Obama in 2010. The main crux of the proposal was developed by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, in the 1989. In the 1990s, something similar to the ACA became the principal healthcare plan of the GOP. Of course, since President Obama’s election, the level of extremism and partisanship within the GOP has persuaded most Republicans to strongly oppose President Obama’s plan — all of them forgetting, inevitably, that it was their plan during the presidency of Bill Clinton. The reason for that is one I’m willing to go over in another post, but, in short, it involves the problems with the American political establishment in general.

The ACA does a lot of things, and I’m going to talk about a few things it does. First, it substantially simplified means by which health insurance could be achieved for multiple people, prohibiting insurers from denying insurance to people with underlying disorders, expanding Medicaid eligibility to 38% higher than the poverty level, expanding the amount of time for which dependents were allowed to be in their parents’ insurance plan, and providing advanceable, refundable tax credits to those unable to afford health insurance. Second, it mandated that all individuals that could sufficiently afford health insurance who weren’t already covered by a public health insurance plan to buy health insurance, and mandated that businesses that employed 50 or more people offer health insurance to all their employees. Third, it substantially changed insurance standards by mandating coverage of essential diseases, contraception, etc. and created public Accountable Care Organizations to give quality care to Medicaid/Medicare patients.

Why should the ACA not be abolished?

The Republicans have been trying to abolish the ACA for a long time, since they seem to represent corporate interests more than the Democrats do. This isn’t me supporting the Democrats — my cynicism of the US political systems, or of these so-called “democracies” that serve interests of Big Money rather than the people in general, applies to all partisanship — but acknowledging the reality that the GOP is even worse, because they’ve drifted off the political spectrum into the realm of the far-right. Not nearly as far-right as fascists, but pretty right-wing.

The level of partisanship the GOP engages in is staggering — the only reason they want to engage in such mass privatization of healthcare is that their voter base doesn’t want their hard-earned money wasted on the “irrelevant” poor. President-Elect Trump is definitely substantially more reasonable in terms of economics than most of the GOP establishment, when you consider the existence of movements such as the “tea party,” and the “Freedom Caucus,” that simply don’t have a replacement plan. They simply don’t care, insofar as they get votes and campaign money.

The point is, the ACA has helped the people. Not as well as I would have liked it to have, but it has. It has given 23 million people health insurance, and has saved over 50,000 lives. The basic utilitarian argument applies. The idea that it has caused the increase of healthcare prices is similarly ridiculous — in fact, it has been credited with slowing down the inflation of insurance prices. In addition, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 18 million people would lose their insurance in the first year of ACA repeal.

If you’re abolishing the ACA, you’re going to have to have a more effective plan. Some people do. The GOP doesn’t have one, nor does the Libertarian Party (whose plan is the lack of one). Unless the US government wants to kill its own people, it would be ridiculous to abolish the ACA.

How should the healthcare system be reformed?

There’s no doubt that there are problems with the ACA. My problem with the plan to repeal it is that there’s no alternative that has been suggested, outside of extremely free market plans that are typical of the Freedom Caucus and similar far-right portions of the GOP (as well as the substantially less important Libertarian Party). Two main problems: (1) things like the medical device tax often disproportionately affect middle-income people, and (2) large pharmaceutical and insurance companies continue raising costs, harming both the people and the government.

The first problem requires some alternative means of taxation to fund the ACA, which could mean moderate hikes in the capital gains and income tax brackets, specifically at the top rates, and the closing of corporate tax loopholes. The second problem — which directly ties into the first problem — has a few solutions, which I’m going to talk about. But to explain the second problem, healthcare in the US is substantially more expensive than any other country in the industrialized world — twice as much as, for instance, Denmark.

First, a public health insurance option should be introduced with substantially lower prices than ordinary insurance companies. This would prompt more people to go with public health insurance and possibly create the competition required to reduce healthcare costs. Second, substantial cost-controlling reforms need to be introduced. Here, I would support multiple of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s proposals, such as her plan for lowering prescription drug costs. I would also propose similar measures to reduce insurance costs. Third, I would consider tougher antitrust legislation, the details of which I’m not sure of, but which would regulate insurance companies and expand the Affordable Care Act’s current regulation.

President Obama signing the ACA into law. Source: Wikipedia. Public Domain.

All of this could eventually even make Bernie Sanders’ single-payer plan possible — essentially expanding the public insurance system, or increasing Medicaid/Medicare eligibility, to one hundred percent coverage, which would be ideal but is currently not financially tenable as a result of the power Big Pharma holds over the American people.

It’s time to fight the ideological dogmatism and corporatism entrenched within the American political system, by working towards giving people a right to healthcare.

Western Foreign Policy

Western foreign policy has, for ages, tended toward imperialism. The exceptionalist and nationalist tendencies of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War, with notable examples including military intervention in Vietnam and Latin America (e.g. the virtual destruction of El Salvador in the Reagan years), have not been forgotten, under the Clinton, Bush, or Obama administrations. I doubt they will be forgotten under a Trump administration either. The two core ideas in modern international relations dialogue — idealism and realism — are both imperialist, and ignore the reality that the pursuit of economic and political interests internationally brings about massive human cost, as well as cost to international stability.

Idealism began by telling us that the pursuit of democracy, human rights, and justice was paramount. Today’s idealism tells us that when a foreign leader engages in human rights violations, you intervene immediately — and the people who do the intervening tend to be NATO countries, led by the U.S., the UK, and France. But they don’t do it for idealistic reasons. Idealism simply serves as further justification for the military action often carried out, which changes global power structures in various manners, effectively seeking to establish a hegemony based on concepts of “Western exceptionalism,” or something to that effect.

Realism is even more dangerous. The notion that the pursuit of “democracy” was why the U.S. invaded Iraq is illusory. The first claim was the presence of “weapons of mass destruction.” The reality: the dictator of Iraq was a threat to American interests abroad. They began with sanctions, which caused hundreds of thousands of children to die, and many more adults. Then, military intervention of what was probably the weakest country in the region further weakened and virtually destroyed it. That was bound to happen. The political instability that followed should have been predicted: the sanctions had already destroyed most of the country. The war was worse, of course, and led to the current state of affairs.

President Bush announces the Iraq Resolution. Public Domain image; taken from Wikipedia.

Similarly, realist motivations — possibly oil, or, more likely, the misguided quest for “international stability,” led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — led to the intervention in Libya. What did that cause? Substantial economic and political instability — Libya is currently engaged in civil war between its elected parliament and a militia coalition, while facing substantial threat from terrorist groups. Even the U.S. doesn’t benefit — this realism is misguided, and potentially destructive.

Military intervention is also influenced by what President Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex.” Corporations in many countries — especially in the West — use government spending to push their own interests. The Defense industry, for a long period, was fueled and strengthened by military intervention. To quote Professor Noam Chomsky:

Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex is not quite what is generally interpreted. In part, yes, it’s military. But a main function of the military, or the National Institutes of Health, or the rest of the federal system, is to provide some device to socialize costs, get the public to pay the costs, to take the risks. Ultimately, if anything comes out, you put it into private pockets. And, again, this has to be done in a way that protects state power and private power from the domestic enemy. You have to say it’s to defend ourselves against Grenada or Russia or Guatemala or somebody. If you get people frightened enough, they won’t notice that their taxes are going into creating the profits of IBM and Merck twenty years from now. Why not tell them the truth? Because then they might not make these decisions.

You might argue that these were good decisions, like it’s nice to have computers. But that’s not really the point. The point is, who should make those decisions? Suppose you would ask people in the 1950s. Suppose there was some pretense among the educated classes or the power system, some belief that we ought to have something like a democracy. So then you would ask people, you would try to get an informed public to decide, do you want computers twenty-five years from now, or do you want health services now and schools today and jobs today and a livable environment for your children? What’s your choice?”

At the point at which some random corporation gets to control and dictate global power structures (and not just domestic ones), the world becomes more dangerous.

I’m not a pacifist. There are obviously cases where intervention is justified — against multiple major terrorist groups, or to prevent genocide. The U.S. should have, without a doubt, intervened in Rwanda to prevent the Rwandan genocide, or reduce its effects. Similarly, India did the right thing in 1971 when it acted to prevent the Bangladeshi genocide. But at the point at which a country engages in intervention to fulfill its own political and economic interests, with substantial human cost and no humanitarian benefit, there is no justifying the destruction caused without going down to the level of sheer intellectual dishonesty.

We need to be prepared to check the abuse of international power, and to exercise restraint when it comes to military intervention.

Anti-LGBT Laws

LGBT discrimination still exists today, even in the United States, despite the fact that Obergefell v. Hodges solved for a major portion of it. It’s disgusting and despicable, and with this (very brief) post, I hope to highlight a specific issue on LGBT rights: “religious freedom” laws. 

There are still 29 states in which individuals can get fired for being gay, or face similar abject discrimination just because of who they are. Take the case of Casey Stegall, a children’s social services worker who was fired just because of his sexual orientation. That’s the sort of thing that happens in America — progressive America. Why? The push from the Republican Party’s religious right, of course, in the form of bills such as the First Amendment Defense Act and Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

All of these bills claim to be for the “preservation” of religious freedom, but the real objective behind them is obvious — this is a push against the LGBT+ community. In other words, they want to give people the right to destroy other people’s lives — making them unemployed, denying them healthcare or education, etc. — simply because they’re against the “religious principles” of those people. And by “they are against,” I’m saying that their existence is against the reactionary religious beliefs of certain individuals (including this bunch of far-right politicians).

The classic example of this form of discrimination is the example of people refusing to bake the cakes of LGBT individuals. That is hardly the main focus here. The main focus is cases such as those when hospitals can turn away LGBT people even in cases of emergency, causing the deaths of individuals. It’s when huge corporations can exploit LGBT individuals because of their conservative inclinations, by firing individuals, and thus destroying their lives, because of their sexual orientation. This should be reason enough to reject such despicable laws: engineered to rid individuals that don’t fall into the far-right’s precepts of their lives.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. This is a vast threat to social justice that the conservative establishment wants. Because they don’t care about the people as much as they care about their pathetic principles. The way these laws form a crux of politics is despicable, and they should be rejected with the deepest fervor.

Campaign Finance Reform

I firmly believe in the freedom of speech, but I only believe in that liberty for individuals. Human rights do not apply to inanimate entities such as corporations — corporate personhood is a facile notion. Giving corporations rights to “free expression” by allowing them to exercise financial power over politicians is giving possession of capital substantially more political power as an attribute. In other words, in rules of law where there are no limits on corporations funding political campaigns to advance their interests, democracy is eroded. Rich individuals and corporations could simply be kingmakers by (1) directly funding political campaigns and essentially structuring the policies of politicians, (2) funding media institutions to influence public perception by deeply biased, and even false, political commentary and (3) generally manipulate the public by dumping their money wherever necessary.

This is a problem both in Asia and in the West. In the U.S., the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC essentially declared multiple campaign finance restrictions unconstitutional as violative of the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech. The notion that some powerful corporation that simply wants to advance its interests must have its free speech prioritized over the people is fundamentally undemocratic.

The reason it is fundamentally undemocratic — as is the facile legal notion of “corporate personhood” — is that, in a democracy, political power must be decentralized. In other words, individuals should be able to play equal roles in democratic decisionmaking. When corporations can pay candidates as much as they want, then (1) there is no level playing field between various candidates because of the amount of money they have, as an extension of which (2) candidates essentially do whatever the corporations ask them to do, irrespective of whether they promised to do something of the sort, and irrespective of whether there’s a benefit to the people involved, and (3) people are deliberately manipulated in various ways, and their decisionmaking is infringed upon. Here, it is point (2) that is least obvious, and requires critical analysis.

For-profit institutions, generally, look toward short-term benefit or gain, over long-term stability of the market. Generally, public corporations have an ownership structure that requires them to impress their shareholders, so that there’s more investment, for which short-term profit is necessary. As such, corporations require the government to create conditions where their short-term goals are most profitable. That’s why corporate lobbies exist, and they’re willing to breach basic ethics to achieve their objectives. In the United States, the sugar industry has funded the deliberate publication of misleading scientific studies on the effects of sugar. In India itself, there was some level of advocacy to replace cooked midday meals with packaged biscuits under government midday meal schemes in schools. There are even larger corporate interests in question, and those are best fulfilled by placing candidates desirable to corporations in office.

The reason this is erosive of fundamental democratic values is that it is contradictory to the principle of “one person, one vote.” If each vote is to have equal value, then no corporation or individual should have greater political influence than any other. Of course, this is a utopian or quixotic ideal: but every step toward it is an objective social good. Erosion of democratic institutions is objectively harmful to social stability as a whole.

Thankfully, in India, we do have restrictions on the level of influence that individual or corporate wealth has on politics. But there have been multiple criticisms of these restrictions as “undemocratic.” I’m not qualified to do an in-depth analysis on the level of political influence campaign finance is used for in India, of course, but the notion that these restrictions are undemocratic is a myopic one. It is myopic because corporations are not people, and so don’t deserve the same legal rights. Money is not speech. At the point at which corporations looking to short-term financial gain have more power over government than the people, which they already do, what we’re looking at isn’t a democracy: it’s an oligarchy.

Campaign finance is not the only way corporations exert political influence — they will continue to use indirect, nefarious means to create conditions for their short-term objectives to be achieved. But at the point at which there are no restrictions on the structure of campaign finance, corporate managers can just buy elections directly. The enormous power of corporate lobbies, thus, is enhanced by such loose regulations. To be sure, none of this is a criticism of corporations or capitalism. I am not a socialist, or an anarchist. I’m a capitalist — a bitter one, but a capitalist nonetheless — so I am not opposed to corporations in principle. Most people aren’t. I am, however, opposed to the wreckage of the political system.

Issues such as health care costs (which affect both human welfare and long-term economic stability through their influence on productivity) and environmental protection (which is basically the most important issue of today) are affected by corporatist control: because there will always be vested interests against these long-term measures simply for the short term objective of profit. For example, lobby firms have spent millions of dollars fighting healthcare reform measures by President Obama. Similarly, multiple corporations back think tanks that deny the scientific consensus on climate change. At the point at which those very corporations gain the ability to exert direct and powerful influence over election, there’s no doubt they’ll push these interests — which are objectively harmful to long-term economic stability, and to society as a whole.

Every time a corporation buys an election, a battle in the war for democracy is lost. Only when the campaign finance system is reformed to prevent such intervention can true progress be made.

Reflecting on President Obama

It is official — successful businessman Donald Trump is the next President of the United States. In one month, President Obama will resign, and President-Elect Trump will take the oath of office. Let’s take this time to reflect on Barack Obama’s presidency, and how it has benefited both the United States and the world.

File:President Barack Obama.jpg

President Obama’s official photograph in the Oval Office on 6 December, 2012.

In 2008, everyone had high expectations of U.S. Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. He promised a strong recovery from economic recession, affordable and accessible healthcare, tax reliefs, and a strong, stable foreign policy. Unfortunately, he hasn’t fulfilled all those promises — partially due to a Republican-dominated legislature and general opposition from U.S. legislators; for instance, his proposed infrastructure investment and a minimum wage hike were both voted down by Congress.

Still, he has proven himself one of the most productive presidents the U.S. has ever had. He began by swiftly signing an $800 billion fiscal stimulus bill, and started tax relief measures, to boost competition and productivity in the midst of economic recession. In a span of two years, unemployment figures drastically dropped. With the heavily controversial Affordable Care Act, he ensured that the costs of health insurance dropped by 7%, the rate of price inflation of healthcare premiums dropped from 69% in the Bush administration to 27%, and millions of people gained health insurance. In his first term alone, he made substantial investments in clean energy, further strengthening his robust job creation schemes. Finally, his bailouts of the automobile industry ensured an end to the vicious cycle of private sector jobs in the auto industry being destroyed.

In terms of foreign policy, his accomplishments have been equally substantial. It has largely been conducive to advancing international stability, with the notable exception of intervention in Libya. Now, there’s little doubt that U.S. foreign policy has always been particularly ruthless — and has engaged in the destruction of lives — but President Obama’s foreign policy was substantially better in that regard. While Secretary Clinton’s stint as Secretary of State undoubtedly resulted in a lot of unnecessary military intervention, President Obama largely tried to prevent wars or other economic conflict, with negotiations that led to the hugely successful Iran nuclear deal, the Paris Agreement to deal with climate change, and the normalization of relations with Cuba.

Regarding social policy, he has strongly advocated — and succeeded, at least partially, in gaining — substantially greater inclusiveness for Americans belonging to the LGBT community, which began in 2010 with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and climaxed with briefs to the Supreme Court that made illegal state-level same-sex marriage bans (Obergefell v. Hodges). His veto of the Keystone XL pipeline authorization and support for restrictions on hydraulic fracturing have, alongside the Paris Agreement, advanced the quest toward combating climate change at the domestic level.

There’s no doubt that, for instance, his foreign policy leaves much to be desired — but, I daresay, no post-WWII president has had a more stable and stronger foreign, economic, or social policy as President Obama. He didn’t live up to expectations, but he did give the people of America, and of the world, substantial change: change that we can believe in.

The Censorship of Expression

There are a few features that undoubtedly characterize totalitarian regimes. The presence of a paranoiac, often-reactionary leader who lives in constant fear of uprising tries to check the keys to their power — doing so by providing the wants and needs of the crucial individuals of utmost importance to maintaining power, while taking to other means that involve less spending or fiscal intervention to check the power of the people. Censorship of expression was, as such, fundamentally brought into existence to prevent the dissemination of information against the state, thus consolidating political power in subtle intellectual repression.

Unfortunately, the legacy of such ruthless leaders as Mao Zedong and Josef Stalin, and even Adolf Hitler, at least with regard to the censorship of information, continues. This restraint exists simply to consolidate the very same political power that such authoritarian rulers wished to centralize; albeit this repression is subtler, and, therefore, more dangerous to the institutions of democracy. It brings memories of Robespierre’s “Reign of Terror,” an enforced authoritarianism with the claimed objective of replacing the wasteful, totalitarian French monarchy — when all it succeeded in doing was oppressing the people every bit as much as the monarchy did.

This repression continues in modern democracies by methods that seem justified at face value. Laws are crafted to, for instance, prevent defamation or censor what is deemed “hate speech.” We see that in grossly conservative societies such as India, where criticism of certain religions is prevented. But even in substantially more liberal societies, such as the United Kingdom and Norway, the freedom of expression is prevented — with what is deemed “bigotry” being censored or such speech prevented.

Of course, it is possible to appreciate the fact that the United Kingdom and Norway are trying to stop bigotry — for there is no doubt that expression of, for example, neofascism is intellectually and ethically repulsive. But silencing the dissemination of opinion is not the way to deal with the rise of such a blatant threat to liberal society, because then it shines under the hypocrisy of trying to ensure liberty. The purpose of preventing bigotry is to ensure that individuals can enjoy their right to freedom: but by preventing liberty, are you really censoring bigotry? For the intolerance to a perspective — however inane that perspective may be — by means of silencing it is undoubtedly bigotry. But it is not solely the blatant hypocrisy of them that causes me to oppose “hate speech” and “libel” laws. My concerns go beyond that, and branch into three broad contentions.

Note: I do not oppose laws that prevent expression that is a direct threat to security or stability (e.g. banning the shouting of “fire!” in a crowded theater), or that are a threat to confidentiality or intellectual property. I also do not oppose all libel laws — some of them genuinely attempt to prevent the spread of deliberately misleading information. But others are ridiculous, and often abused.

Political Power

The first concern of censoring expression is political power. For this, we require a critical analysis of the objective of censorship. The reason speech is censored is not “justice” or “freedom,” despite the romantic claims of even liberal societies such as the United Kingdom. It is the spread of ideological homogeneity, grounded in fear of challenge. Challenges to the fundamental political ideology or spectrum of a country prevent the consolidation of political or economic power.

There are two ways in which this objective manifests. First, the government censors expression that it deems “hateful” because it goes beyond the black-and-white political spectrum of the nation. For example, it silences homophobia, not because homophobia is bad and inclusiveness is important (of course homophobia is despicable, and of course inclusiveness is important), but because it goes against a certain specific political ideology that the state tries to spread to consolidate its power. Deviation from these norms is fundamentally criticism of the government, so even censorship of hate speech is fundamentally to prevent criticism of government and to consolidate the state’s power. This consolidation of power blurs the line between “hate speech” and what is now considered “political correctness” (e.g. avoidance of “microaggressions,” etc.).

Second, and even more dangerous, the government creates particularly rigid “libel” laws, intended to prevent criticism of individuals and corporations. It is an acknowledgement of the reality that words have power to change opinions massively, and to centralize corporatist power, you need to censor expression. In modern capitalist societies, capital is concentrated among a few individuals and functions almost exactly like political power. By challenging the current distribution of capital, you are threatening the wealth of individuals who also carry great political power (as a direct result of the fact that they can finance important political campaigns). They will try to prevent that influence by ensuring that the government acts in their favor as well, preventing any hint of resistance. Preventing the criticism of individuals similarly acts to centralize economic and political power.

Both manifestations are vastly problematic, because, in a democracy, political power and capital should be decentralized and evenly distributed as much as possible. The moment power or capital is centralized in a democracy, the public no longer has sufficient influence over political decisions. It is an already existent problem (see, for example, the level of influence corporations hold over political decisions due to broken systems of campaign finance), and any policy that exacerbates this condition ought to be prevented, if you care about democracy at all. Hate speech laws and certain libel laws (though not all of them) exacerbate the condition of near-oligarchic dominance. In other words, “hate speech laws” that seek to censor ideas often espoused by fascism are inherently fascist in nature.

Information

Speech is fundamentally about spreading information, regardless of whether the information is accurate, misguided, or deliberately false. Censorship of expression prevents this spread of information insofar as we are talking about hate speech laws and libel laws. There are three reasons it is critical to not block this flow of information.

First, blocking the flow of information directly contradicts the principle of epistemic humility. A hate speech law assumes that “hate speech” (e.g. expressions of racial superiority) is a bad thing, which in turn assumes that what it censors is false (e.g. that no race is superior to any other). Of course, I agree that racial superiority is a stupid and reprehensible notion, but that doesn’t mean I am unwilling to hear a perspective on it — in other words, I concede that I might be wrong about it. This humility is important because it is impossible to uncover information without questioning one’s own views.

Second, the dissemination of information and opinions is critical for the function of democracy. Democracy is about public participation in the political process. But only if the people are informed about every side of an issue can they participate in said political process. If they are uninformed about any opinion, then the consent of the people in the framing of laws is illegitimate because of the asymmetry of information. But if the public knows the arguments in favor of and against any opinion — including things like what certain corporations are doing, and whether they are ethical entities — they are qualified to act regarding the same. If the knowledge of the public is restrained, then they cannot participate in democracy. But more importantly, lacking opinions on certain private entities and individuals, the public cannot gain background regarding certain policies, and the impact those policies have on them. As an extension of this impact, when people have sufficient information to deal with major issues, they can act, either directly or via protest. Notable examples of this occurring include the fact that the freedom of the press is directly linked to preventing famine (as the groundbreaking work of certain economists such as Amartya Sen suggests).

Third, the presence and dissemination of information acts as a check on the abuse of power. If the people are informed of what the government or certain private entities are doing, they can spread said information and discourage entities from acting against the interests of the people. It works in the same way negative reviews of restaurants persuade said restaurants to change the way they function (but there have been actual instances where the restaurants have sued people who wrote negative reviews for defamation [i.e. libel] and won!). Critiques of major oil and pharmaceutical corporations have successfully created change before.

Thus, abolishing hate speech laws and certain libel laws aid in disseminating information to the public, in turn creating substantially positive outcomes.

Freedom

The third reason free expression is important is, quite simply, the right to liberty. Individuals have the right to self-ownership and freedom. This freedom entails that they can do whatever they want unless there is evidence of an objective net harm to other individuals resulting from any action. John Stuart Mill wrote:

“The only purpose for which power can be exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

In the context of most societies, there is no objective net harm from the freedom of expression. There are objective harms, undoubtedly, of hate speech and defamation — threats to dignity of individuals, and emotional harm, for instance — but when you weigh those impacts against the positive impacts of free expression, and the fact that such harms exist anyway, the right to liberty and democracy substantially outweighs this. The moment the government exercises control over individuals against their will with no good and legitimate reason, then it essentially becomes authoritarian. Indeed, authoritarian governments have consolidated their power in the past by censorship of speech

But more nuanced than control being exercised over the people who speak is the impact of control being exercised over those that hear. I have the right to hear and know opinions of other individuals. The government does not have the legitimate ability to take that away from me. The moment that happens, it essentially controls every process and exchange of information and ideas — becoming an essentially totalitarian entity. Christopher Hitchens writes:

“The right of others to free expression is part of my own. If someone’s voice is silenced, then I am deprived of the right to hear. Moreover, I have never met nor heard of anybody I would trust with the job of deciding in advance what it might be permissible for me or anyone else to say or read. That freedom of expression consists of being able to tell people what they may not wish to hear, and that it must extend, above all, to those who think differently is, to me, self-evident.”

 

Insofar as the state cannot take away an individual’s liberty to speak and hear, it ought not impose hate speech laws, and certain unjust libel laws.

Conclusion

Censorship of expression strips individuals of the ability to express ideas, and hear them. It blocks the flow of information, while serving to consolidate the power of corrupt governments, ruthless individuals, and oligarchic corporations. Hate speech laws and libel laws both contribute to the damage that an oligarchy causes to our democratic institutions, while allowing the spread of injustice.

Saint Augustine’s declaration that “an unjust law is no law at all” rings true — we have an obligation to fight the battle for democracy and against the endless concentration of political power and capital. Every generation, the battle for the freedom of expression needs to be refought, and in the digital age, that is our obligation — because there is always an endless urge to shut out bad news and opinions that people don’t want to hear. It is our duty to remember that democracy is on the streets, and not on the ballot box. It is our duty to ensure that, no matter what the government tells us, ideas are bulletproof.

India’s Demonetization Gamble

The Indian government made news at the announcement at what they declared was “demonetization,” a “revolutionary” move in which 500 and 1000-rupee notes ceased to be legal tender in India after November 9, 2016. It was hailed as the beginning of the war on tax evasion and black money, with the aim of forcibly destroying a substantial amount of black money, requiring proof of the means by which amounts of wealth in five-hundred and thousand rupee notes were acquired at the time of bank exchange. The popular Indian opinion is also  overwhelmingly in favor of the move, and multiple businessmen and capitalists have hailed it. Businessmen Anand Mahindra, Sajjan Jindal, Kunal Bahl, Narayana Murthy, and others all hailed the move. But it also met with vast criticism from reputed figures such as Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen and former professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University Prabhat Patnaik.

People gathered around ATM of Axis Bank in Mehsana, Gujarat. Credit: Nizil Shah (own work).

The above image is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. It has been taken from Wikipedia, which in turn credits the picture to Nizil Shah. 

While I disagree, often, with the foundations of this criticism, and am even willing to accept demonetization as a mechanism to combat black money in theory, I think the implemention of demonetization has left much to be desired, and has been counterproductive to the social welfare of the people, while failing to produce a net greater revenue. I argue that demonetization poses the following harms:

First, the rural poor who lack the infrastructure to set up deposit accounts have now had their money and finances — held in cash — completely devalued. But even the rural poor who do have access to accounts are struggling. As Padmapriya Govindarajan explains: 

Even those who do have access to accounts among them struggle with ill prepared banks and post offices, small and dispersed in number, and the need to take off several crucial hours from work – sometimes in vain.”

Second, socially ostracized communities, such as the transgender community and sex workers, are disproportionately cut off from banking systems. The level of systemic discrimination and marginalization against them has caused them a substantially greater hit from demonetization. The impact of demonetization on sex workers has been analyzed. Bindiya Chari of The Times of India explains by citing an example of a group of sex workers:

Half-a-dozen sex workers, who travel to Panaji from Vasco every day in search of clients . . . said their business has dwindled since the demonetization move.

Third, refugees, who are similarly cut off from banking systems because they lack requisite documents and are still undergoing a lengthy documentation process, see months of their savings go to waste. To quote examples from The Hindustan Times:

“Chetan Achu, a native of Tharparkar in Pakistan, is an engineer who moved to India four years ago [as a refugee]. He works on contract basis. ‘I used to get cash in instalments from my employers but now after this decision of demonetization, my employers say they cannot pay cash.’ Dileep Singh, another refugee, said they approached banks but because they do not have any bank account or identity proof, banks have refused to exchange cash for them. ‘We are shocked how we will be able to change our cash?’”

The reality: they can’t. And driving people who are already suffering to worse conditions lacks in even the thinnest veneer of justice.

Additonally, there are two glaring economic harms from demonetization. First, economic productivity. Workers are stripped of productive hours as they wait for hours in ATMs and banks wanting to exchange money, and failing to meet those very objectives. This has a direct impact both on the human welfare of these workers and on economic productivity. Second, the enforcement costs of demonetization are substantial. The need for ATMs to be filled more often and the burden on banks cannot be ignored. Note that this does not constitute a net harm, but cancels out the positive effect of gaining black money. For now, this is, of course, not quantifiable. But considering the substantial uncertainty here, it is impossible to deny that the effects of demonetization on minorities and marginalized groups is sufficient to justify the notion that the impacts might just be negative.

None of the supposed benefits of demonetization holds up to scrutiny. The benefit from regaining black money?—?government revenue?—?is small because it is substantially mitigated by the amount of money lost by the government in the process, and the definite slow in GDP growth.

In terms of “fighting terrorist networks,” the human cost still outweighs because terrorist networks can still gain money and resources?—?the impact is merely temporary and mild. And since terrorism does not rely way too much on operational costs, it was largely unaffected.

Demonetization has been a blow to the weak: the shameful, staggering human cost ignored by the elitists who proposed it. The certainty among the public following demonetization was mired by truth, and by uncertainty.

My Politics

In this post, I’m going to explain what my general political philosophy is, so that you guys (readers) can better understand what filters I’m applying when I articulate my opinions. So, here’s what I believe in terms of political philosophy:

I. Rule Utilitarianism

In broad terms, I ascribe to rule utilitarianism. Let me start by explaining what “utilitarianism” is, and then explain what the specific kind of utilitarianism I ascribe to implies.

Utilitarianism is a moral philosophy — that means it tries to explain what actions people, in general, should do, and what we shouldn’t do. In application to the government, what it does is evaluate, very broadly, the purpose of the government. In essence, utilitarianism states that the best action is one that maximizes “utility.” It defines utility as:

… the sum of all pleasure that results from an action, minus the suffering of anyone involved in the action.

It all began with a philosophy in Ancient Greece called hedonism, which held that all action has the objective of achieving happiness or pleasure. Aristotle articulated this as eudaimonia, which means “human flourishing” or welfare. In his works, Aristotle claimed that eudaimonia is the highest good. Much later, the Christian philosopher Saint Augustine wrote in his Summa Theologica:

All men agree in desiring the last end, which is happiness.

In essence, hedonism argues that all of us act in order to maximize our own positive mental states (i.e. we perform actions to fulfill our “desires,” and a positive mental state is the mental state when a desire is fulfilled) and minimize the negative mental states of ours (such as suffering).

This was first translated into a political philosophy by certain Confucian thinkers in China, and by Italian political philosopher Nicollo Machiavelli. In essence, they argued that the purpose of the state was to work for the people, and fulfill the objectives of the people. They created a political philosophy where the ends justify the means: the ultimate end being the *aggregate* good of the people (i.e. the aggregate desire of the people). As such, every action taken by the state had to weigh costs and benefits, and make decisions based on the net positive mental states produced as a result.

Utilitarianism was first developed as a moral philosophy by Jeremy Bentham, who defined morality as that which maximized utility. Bentham explained, defining the fundamental axiom of utilitarianism,

It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong.

One radically different idea that Bentham brought out was the idea that pleasure and pain were the only considerations for moral action, and, as a direct result of that, all individuals that could feel or perceive any interest subjectively were considered actors to whom morality applied: not in terms that all those individuals have moral obligations, but rather, that all of them have moral rights. In other words, many animals and humans were, as per his philosophy, morally equal. But, at the same time, Bentham acknowledged that animals did not act based on their choice or considerations, and therefore, claimed that they were free from moral obligation. But, at the same time, humans had a moral obligation toward them.

The idea of utilitarianism was further expanded upon, and spread, by the works of influential 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill. Mill noted that the “maximization of utility” was not based solely on the number of people who faced a positive or negative mental state. It was also based on the magnitude of that mental state. If a single individual was being tortured, the pain would outweigh, for example, the pain felt if ten people underwent needle pricks.

Now, to better understand utilitarianism, let us consider a situation known to philosophers as “the trolley problem.” The situation is articulated by Wikipedia as follows:

“There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options: (1) Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. (2) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person. Which is the most ethical choice?”

According to utilitarianism, the right choice is to pull the lever, because the interests of five people outweigh the interests of one person. Of course, we don’t have a lot of information (e.g. the sadness faced by a family, etc.), but assuming each person would generate an equal amount of suffering with their death, that would be the right thing to do.

Now, utilitarianism is divided into two forms: act utilitarianism, and rule utilitarianism.

Act utilitarianism looks to maximize pleasure and minimize pain in the short term, at a much smaller level. Under act utilitarianism, all moral rules are negotiable. By contrast, rule utilitarianism tries to establish certain clear moral rules that — in the long term — will act as a net benefit to humanity. Let me give you an example to illustrate the difference.

Say there are four people suffering from kidney failure, liver failure, respiratory failure, and cardiac failure respectively. The question: Would it be justified to kill one person in order to harvest their organs and save the lives of the four people? Under act utilitarianism, the answer is “yes.” However, rule utilitarianism takes a more nuanced approach. Rule utilitarianism holds that the answer is “no,” and the reason for that is that by allowing, morally, random individuals to die for more people to survive, you are creating a substantial sense of fear in society, since *anyone* could be picked. In addition, you are causing social instability by directly going against the aggregate *desires* of society, since — if any of us is asked that question — none of us is going to want to kill that one random individual. As such, rule utilitarianism establishes a moral *rule* to not kill random people to save others in society because it would lead to massive social unrest/instability. But, under rule utilitarianism, every rule has exceptions.

If you want to understand utilitarianism better, watch Crash Course Philosophy #36: Utilitarianism.

Why do I support utilitarianism in terms of the role of government?

The answer is simple. The purpose of government is to act according to what the people want, because the people *are* the government. The government was instituted in the first place to be a body that acted according to the wishes of the people. And utilitarianism weighs the aggregate interests of the people against each other by balancing the fundamental interests (i.e. rights) of every individual.

This leads me to two implications of utilitarianism, which become the second and third portions of my political beliefs.

II. Harm Principle

The first implication is that, under utilitarianism, the government should have its limits. Unless a clear limit is placed on the government, the state basically gets the moral power to do whatever it wants. At the small level, it could infringe on bodily autonomy by banning abortion… or it could go all the way to committing genocide. John Stuart Mill thought he had a way to prevent that. He articulated a limit on the government known as the “harm principle,” which, he explained:

“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

In other words, it states that the government should *only* prevent “harm” to people who don’t consent to that harm. If someone wants “harm” to happen to them, then that’s their prerogative. For example, if someone makes a choice to have cosmetic surgery, or eat unhealthy food, then that’s their choice entirely and we can’t stop them from doing it. Harm, here, is defined as inducing a substantial negative mental state (e.g. suffering) weighed against the harms of preventing that mental state from occurring (e.g. excessive government control). For example, hate speech, in some contexts, would still be permitted. This is fundamentally utilitarian in nature because utilitarianism is about allowing the people to do what they desire, consistent with what other people desire, and the harm principle does exactly that. But there are also a few conditions that make the “choice” in question legitimate. For one, the person making the choice must understand the consequences of the choice (i.e. it must be an informed choice). In addition, the person making the choice must be mentally able to truly understand those consequences. That’s why we set age limits on choices such as consumption of alcohol, as well as why we try to get information regarding, for example, the effects of unhealthy food to the public.

A logical extension of this principle is simple: the best utilitarian end is liberty. Liberty is defined as the freedom to perform an action, or the absence of restraint. If people desire something, they act to achieve that desire. Thus, they should be free to achieve those desires insofar as they do not restrict the desires of other individuals. Therefore, by extension, the role of the government is to preserve the liberty of individuals, consistent with liberty of other individuals. But this liberty is not truly enjoyable unless the government has secured society from internal threats (e.g. poverty, lack of healthcare) and external threats (i.e. international relations). I think people should be guaranteed certain basic and fundamental rights (e.g. the right to life, the right to food security) so that they can enjoy said liberty. However, it is ultimately their choice as to whether they wish to *exercise* those rights (e.g. I would want to provide universal health insurance but would allow them to decline treatment if mentally able to make that decision).

Thus, the balancing of rights comes into play, and the role of the government turns to one, more specifically, of “justice,” i.e. giving each their due. A balancing of rights decides what policy decisions are to be taken.

III. Democracy

The second implication of utilitarianism is the need to ensure social instability. This is because, in a society or civilization, we are always at the risk of failing, due to multiple threats, both internal and external. And securing ourselves from these threats is of utmost importance regarding the purpose of government.

To prevent social unrest, therefore, democracy is the best means of government, and we must seek to employ as much public participation in the political process as possible. There are two reasons. First, without democracy, we fail to adequately reflect the values of society as a whole; lacking which, there is the risk of social and political instability. The long-term social stability of a nation, and to sustain a political system without backlash, is very important. Second, only a democracy allows the government to act based on what individuals desire. The democratic process is about individuals voting on referendums or elections based on their own self interest, and the *aggregate* of this self-interest is translated into the overall good of society. Third, democracy allows for the decentralization of political power.

The third point is the one that needs expansion. To maintain adequate liberty, the core principle under the maximization of said liberty has to be the decentralization and equal distribution of political power, as well as of property. The reason for this is that if power is concentrated among a few individuals, then there will inevitably be restraint on freedom exercised by those individuals. Monopolies of corporations, for example, restrain the freedom of individuals to buy products from separate dealers. Furthermore, to reflect the values of the people, only decentralized zones can sufficiently ensure said social stability. This is because the values of people and interests of them will differ based on region, and political power needs to be placed separately in the hands of separate communities. Finally, decentralization of power gives people control over economic planning that affects themselves, allowing, directly, for the maximization of liberty.

What is my political ideology?

My political ideology is framed based on the above three considerations. Ultimately, I believe in the absence of restraint, the decentralization of political power, and the preservation of social stability as a whole. As such, I identify with the ideology known as social liberalism, which believes in maximizing liberty of individuals consistent with liberty of other individuals, given the fulfillment of certain basic and fundamental rights by the government (e.g. healthcare, education, employment, and food security). I also believe in recognizing certain basic rights of nonhuman animals, including a right against needless suffering (see my post on animal rights for more expansion). That’s my ideology insofar as the practical needs of society are concerned.

However, the logical endpoint of the three above observations is a different, albeit unachievable, outcome known as anarcho-syndicalism or libertarian socialism. It is a society based on the principle of liberty, divided into various decentralized localities, where all individuals work and where there is no true monetary system. The workers control the planning of the economy and provide to all other workers healthcare, education, and employment. Private property either does not exist (i.e. socialism), or is distributed evenly (i.e. distributism). Unfortunately, this society is unattainable, so we need to work with what we have, the best means of ensuring which is social liberalism. I deviate from conventional social liberals today in many ways, but, broadly, I believe in maximizing social and economic liberty and justice. An unjust law is no law at all.

The Case Against Capital Punishment

Capital punishment is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the legally authorized killing of someone as punishment for a crime.” This does not include killing someone in action — it solely involves punishment, after trial and conviction of a crime, by execution. Of the 195 sovereign states that are members or observers of the United Nations, 102 states have fully abolished it for all crimes. Another 6 countries — Brazil, Chile, Peru, El Salvador, Kazakhstan, and Israel — have abolished it for all cases except exceptional circumstances such as war criminals. 50 countries retain capital punishment de jure, but have not used it for 50 years, so it is not used de facto. That leaves 37 countries — China, the United States, India, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand and 24 others — that actively practice capital punishment.

I am arguing, in this blog post, that the position of those 37 countries is deeply flawed — and that capital punishment is a primitive form of punishment that should be abolished. I am going to make the case for abolition of capital punishment.

I’ve polled a few friends of mine and a few people I know about their opinions on capital punishment. The immense amount of support for the death penalty is shocking. Indeed, only four of the thirty-or-so people I’ve asked have said they do not support capital punishment. When asked to justify their position, I have primarily received three justifications for this being the case: (1) some people deserve to die, and justice requires that retribution be done; (2) the death penalty will deter would-be criminals from committing those crimes, aiding society in the process; and (3) it takes a lot of money and resources to keep a person in life imprisonment, while death will significantly reduce the amount of resources. I will refute those arguments in today’s post, in addition to providing my own case against the death penalty.

So I’m first going to tear down all the arguments in favor of capital punishment, and then, in its place, erect a case against capital punishment, thus providing reasons to abolish the death penalty.

Let’s look to the first argument. That argument makes no sense — because it’s merely blind retribution, revenge, which is utterly pointless. There’s no doubt that retribution is a part of the criminal justice system because that’s what societal values ask for, but the harms created by the death penalty (listed below) far outweigh this one.

Next, the death penalty doesn’t deter crime at all. 88% of criminologists polled agree that the death penalty has no deterrent effect. The notion that the death penalty deters homicides relies on a certain econometric model called “rational choice theory.” Rational choice theory is a model that suggests that, in the demand-side and among the common populace, choices are taken based on analysis of costs and benefits. For instance, it would suggest that, if someone were to buy a sandwich, they would subconsciously weigh the costs and benefits of buying the same sandwich, both long term and short term. The same is applied to the death penalty, wherein people suppose that would-be murderers won’t commit crimes because of the fear of death awaiting them. And it is natural instinct for people to think that, because all of us fear death.

The problem is, that intuition is probably false. The death penalty is a long term consequence, but the reality (and, upon thinking through it, we all realize it) is that people typically consider short-term consequences when performing actions and fail to properly weigh the magnitude of those actions. For instance, when a person buys some French fries, that person only thinks of the short-term consequences (immediate pleasure and relief from hunger), failing to consider the fact that it could have potential, long-term adverse effects to their health. The same applies here. When someone commits a major crime, they only think of the short-term consequence, or act impulsively. Dr. Jonathan Groner explains,

“The psychological mind-set of the criminal is such that they are not able to consider consequences at the time of the crime. Most crimes are crimes of passion that are done in situations involving intense excitement or concern. People who commit these crimes are not in a normal state of mind — they do not consider the consequences in a logical way.”

 The American Civil Liberties Union confirms that the majority of homicides are murders of passion, committed under the heat of the moment, and even pre-planned murders tend to be based solely on short-term consequences. To whatever extent that the death penalty deters homicides, other forms of imprisonment serve as an equal deterrent. Indeed, there’s no statistically significant correlation between the death penalty and reduction in crime rates either. Murder rates in states that have the death penalty are not significantly different — or are even higher — in states that don’t have the death penalty. A study by John Donohue and Justin Wolfers finds that there is no correlation that suggests deterrence.

The third argument fails too. In fact, the death penalty costs more than other forms of punishment. Why? Two reasons: (1) liberal judges that oppose the death penalty always try their best to not give it as punishment, which requires significantly more lawyers and resources in the court; and (2) when it comes to the death penalty, there needs to be some level of certainty as to whether a person is guilty (though even that isn’t successful in determining accuracy, often), so a lot of resources are spent. A study by Sherod Thaxton found that a single capital case (i.e. a case where the death penalty is being considered) costs $2 million more than any non-capital case. Indeed, even the resources spent on life without parole are less than the resources used up by the death penalty. Research finds that, since 1978, $4 billion taxpayer dollars have been spent on the death penalty in the state of California alone. That’s $308 million per execution. Indeed, the cost of (a) a capital case, combined with (b) the cost of keeping a prisoner on death row, is greater than the total cost/resources spent on life imprisonment.

Thus, the arguments usually presented in favor of a death penalty are unsound. Now, let’s move on to my own case against the death penalty: why the death penalty should be abolished.

First, capital punishment causes psychological damage. The death penalty causes significant psychological harms to people other than those convicted of the crime in question. The first people affected by capital punishment are the executioners — people who are responsible for carrying out the execution. Executions require a team of executioners to oversee what’s going out and to carry out the execution itself — no machine can accomplish this on its own. But the experience of killing another human being is incredibly traumatic. Jerry Givens, a former executioner from Virginia, explains:

“I performed the execution. So you might suffer a little. I’m going to suffer a lot, because I performed the job.”

Empirical research shows that executioners can suffer from paranoia and clinical depression as a direct effect of executions. Because carrying out an execution is painful.

The psychological trauma faced by the family of the executed is also immense. While, generally, there is collateral damage caused by any punishment, the level of damage caused by an execution is far beyond that. Children whose parents have been executed face severe psychological harm and are often socially ostracized as a result. Researchers Robert Cushing and Susannah Sheffer found that the family of the majority of executed inmates faced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Second, the application of the death penalty is inhumane to people who’re executed as well. It’s definitely worse than life in prison. People on death row often face severe psychological distress and experience suicidal tendencies, in what is called “death row syndrome.” Conditions on death row are terrible. Methods of execution are also often grossly inhumane or torturous. India uses hanging — a form of execution which fractures the spinal column and leads to death by slow, painful asphyxiation. While the method of hanging used — the measured long drop — is more humane than others, it still can lead to botched executions. Indeed, in the United States alone, there have been 43 botched executions since 1982… and the United States uses more humane methods than India does. So, quite simply, the death penalty is immoral.

The problem extends beyond this. It being “immoral” might not be sufficient reason to abolish it for some people. The problem lies in concentration of power in what seems to be an oligarchy. How much power do we wish to give to societal structures and the state which consists of a small group of people that most of us haven’t even met? In a democracy, power is spread evenly, and exists at the grassroots level. We shouldn’t give the power to torture people to death to a power structure consisting of officials we haven’t even met.

Third, the death penalty causes the deaths of innocent people — men and women who were merely at the wrong place in the wrong time, and, as a result, had to face the brutality described above under the power of the public’s own elected government. According to the National Academy of Sciences, globally, 4.1% of those on death row are innocent of their crimes. And, from the start of the 20th century, 0.5% of all those executed were innocent. Take the case of Jesse Tasero — an innocent man executed for a crime he didn’t commit, in what inmates reported to be a torturous electrocution.

The issue of erroneous application of the death penalty is one that has been seen in India as well. Led by ex-Supreme Court judge P.B. Sawant, 14 former judges sent separate letters to the President of India pointing out that in 15 years (from 1996 to 2012), the death penalty had been erroneously given to fifteen people, of whom two were hanged.

So keeping the death penalty is allowing an entity of officials most of us haven’t even met to possibly cause the death of innocent people. It gives the power over life and death to a group of faraway elected officials. That’s not a world we should live in.

Lady Justice seated at the entrance of the Palace of Justice, Rome, Italy. Public Domain. Source: Wikipedia.

As such, I have proven that (1) the commonly presented arguments in favor of capital punishment are unsound; and (2) capital punishment has serious harms that justify its abolition. In the words of St. Augustine, “An unjust law is no law at all.” Since the death penalty is such an unjust law, as proven above, it is no law at all, and should be abolished.

Recommended Reading: 

  • Christopher Hitchens. “Staking a Life.” Lapham’s Quarterly. Web. Retrieved 28 July, 2016.

Animal Rights

With the jallikattu protests in Tamil Nadu recently, and the demand for a ban on the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a new debate on whether society should recognize animal rights has spurred. I argue that justice requires the recognition of animal rights, and animal exploitation is typically unjust. [Edit 2/16/17]

The typical justification for animal exploitation is that animals are inferior to humans since humans are more rational creatures and have psychological and biological differences to non-human animals. But this is discrimination is because the same logic was applied to justify racism during the 19th century, to justify the lack of voting rights for women during the early 20th century, and so on. Only, this persecution of animals is as horrifying as slaver in the 19th century.

Animal abuse exists everywhere in India as well. People might claim India’s religions and so forth prevent animal abuse, and might point to ahimsa within Indian religions — such as Jainism and Hinduism — and the respect for species such as cattle. Sadly, this is but a delusion that still prevails. India mistreats animals just as much as any other company, and almost everyone who has paid attention while traveling on an Indian road should have noticed that. They should’ve noticed hundreds of live chickens crammed into cages, with their feathers falling out and sores on their skin, with fear in their eyes, as they see their brethren get slaughtered brutally before their eyes — knowing that they’re next.

But this abuse exists all over India, in different species. Nobody in India pays heed to cattle on the street — they think, due to the religious respect for cattle, they would not be mistreated — but cattle are mistreated in brutal ways. People might assume that the whips of the owners of bullock carts don’t hurt much, but they do. Cattle in India are let out to eat garbage since the owners can’t afford feed.

India has a fairly large population of meat eaters, much like the rest of the world. 60% of Indians eat meat — a vast majority of the Indian population. The majority of meat in India comes from factory farms. The abuse in Indian factory farms is absolutely horrendous. It begins with the journey to the slaughterhouse. An article on Indian animal abuse states:

“For farm animals the journey to the slaughterhouse entails further suffering — they are packed onto lorries, squashed together and often shipped abroad for slaughter in foreign abattoirs where their short lives are ended in barbaric ways. Broken bones, and wings, injuries and sickness over and above the lack of food water and rest. Fear, pain, frustration, despair, and hopelessness are just some of the negative emotions we are guilty of causing them.”

 Following that, animals are placed in cramped spaces, and are subject to extremely cruel factory procedures. For production of beef, cattle are placed in cramped, very unhygienic enclosures and pumped full of hormones to increase “tenderness” of meat, along with multiple artificial chemicals. They are treated rather brutally, often kicked, fed growth enhancers and oxytocin, and are given cement dust as feed to increase the weight of meat. The chickens bred for meat are given growth hormones to speed up their growth, and their breasts often grow so much their body is unable to support the weight, and they injure themselves severely in attempts to support their own body weight. During production of eggs, male chicks are just killed or discarded as useless. Chickens are kept in wire cages merely 20 inches wide, and they sit with their excreta, with complete lack of hygiene.

A commercial chicken house in the U.S. Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Public Domain.

The same article linked above says about pigs and pork production:

“The pigs are usually slaughtered at an age of six months, when they weigh about 250 lbs.! Again, these animals have trouble supporting their weight. They can hardly walk and often suffer extremely painful arthritis and deformities in their limbs. They are abused in factory farms where sows are kept in gestation crates all their lives with no room to move. To the industry, they are just piglet producing machines. They are allowed to nurse their piglets while still confined for 2 weeks after which the piglets are torn from them to be fattened for slaughter. The sows are immediately impregnated to begin another 4-month cycle.  Pigs normally form strong bonds with their young for two years, but because it is not profitable, they are deprived this natural bond by the industry. Many of these pigs raised in this captivity demonstrate extreme discomfort, but as long as they produce piglets, this goes ignored. When their bodies are worn out — which doesn’t take long — they, too, are dragged to slaughter. At the time of their demise, they are often too weak to even walk. If allowed to live out their life, these animals can live up to twenty years.”

 But abuse exists in multiple other areas as well. People with absolute respect for animal rights unknowingly find themselves using products that were produced with animal abuse. An instance of this is the usage of feather shuttlecocks used to play badminton.

The manufacture of feather shuttlecocks is horrifying. Though many people don’t know this, ducks — and occasionally geese — are slaughtered for the manufacture of these. The conditions they face in factory farms are horrendous. They are crammed into wire cages, such that sores develop on their wings. Their sensitive beaks are sawn off. Their feathers start to fall. According to this source, ducks are usually slaughtered specifically for shuttlecocks in India, since duck meat is unpopular — which means using feather shuttlecocks is endorsing a whole industry of slaughter.

This brings me to the more philosophical part of my post: why should animal rights be upheld? Does justice require the recognition of animal rights? I argue that it does — to maintain true moral obligations, one must recognize animal rights. In fact, it doesn’t matter if morality is objective — because not recognizing animal rights is an intellectually dishonest position to take, regardless of morality.

The strongest ground for animal rights lies in the philosophical position known as “utilitarianism,” which suggests that the purpose of morality is to maximize benefit and minimize harm. The reason that is a strong moral framework is that the purpose of morality is to cater to the “interests” of individuals. The fundamental interests of individuals are pleasure and pain. Therefore, those interests should be the basis for morality.

There is no coherent framework that gives much difference between humans and animals when it comes to morality. Humans and animals have no morally relevant differences. Morality is all about the ability to suffer, and animals can suffer. Most research agrees on that. Humans are more “rational” than animals — but babies and those that are mentally enfeebled have the right to life and right against torture. These rights ought to be extended to animals as well. Respecting humans over animals in certain cases is incoherent because there’s no morally relevant difference between them.

That is exactly why respecting human rights over animal rights is incoherent. If humans and animals have no differences relevant to morality, it’s incoherent to assign an arbitrarily greater value to the human species alone. Utilitarianism — weighing pleasure and suffering of individuals, treating their interests equally — is a much more rational and intellectually honest viewpoint.

The problem is this: we can’t simply place a blanket ban on all meat, or ban animal use entirely. The flaws in the “abolitionist” movement is simple: entirely abolishing treating animals as property, like we do now, is against the societal values of India and would disrupt social order as a whole. The same applies with almost every country. Social order is critical. So the alternative I propose is a more pragmatic one: (1) the government should make very strict regulations on factory farming, mandating only absolutely humane methods, significantly raising restrictions on conditions; (2) encourage pursuing organic farming as an alternative to factory farms to increase animal welfare; and (3) encourage “humane” labeling that follows much stricter standards than what the law requires as well.

But there’s one more thing that needs to happen — which is beyond the influence of merely the government. Collectively, as a society, we must all encourage greater animal welfare. We, as individuals, must promote this, by reducing/abandoning meat consumption (e.g. I’m a vegetarian), and by not using products that cause the death of animals when alternatives exist. That’s how the revolution must be carried out.

 

Marriage Equality

In the landmark decision Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that it was unconstitutional to impose restrictions on same-sex marriages. Yet it seems that — with such a conservative social attitude — India will never achieve such an objective. Most people don’t know much, or care, about the rights of same-sex couples. With this post, I’m going to try to change that, and to destroy the homophobia inherent within Indian society.

Same-sex marriages are not recognized in India. The matter of SSMs is a complicated one, because it’s very tough to determine whether — or not — SSMs are constitutional. The Indian Constitution defines marriage as a civil partnership between two people that gives socioeconomic benefits. There is no explicit allowance or rejection of same-sex couples. However, most legal experts agree that it is implicitly rejected. The laws have “heteronormative underpinnings,” and have been interpreted to not accept same-sex unions. It doesn’t seem like the future is going to be positive for same-sex couples either. 

And India’s attitude towards same-sex marriage is also hardly positive. There’s very little knowledge from anyone on the issue, and Indian society is scattered with homophobia. Most Indians are uncomfortable talking about the issue, and conservatives take this as acceptance of their homophobic position. People are often opposed to SSM because of religious reasons. Multiple religious leaders have expressed their opposition to SSM. Religious organizations and leaders all stood against such unions. The Daily News and Analysis called itthe univocal unity of religious leaders in expressing their homophobic attitude. Usually divisive and almost always seen tearing down each other’s religious beliefs, leaders across sections came forward in decrying homosexuality and expressing their solidarity with the judgment.” 

But there are multiple reasons to disagree with the position that same-sex marriage should be illegal. There’s no rational reason to ban same-sex unions at all. India’s laws against same-sex couples have no proper rationale. Every restriction on civil liberties has to be properly justified, else it certainly is discrimination. The Constitution guarantess “equality” as a fundamental right. And treating same-sex couples differently from opposite-sex couples infringes on this equality.

People should be held accountable only for their actions, and their choices. We all have choices to make, and our choices define our worth. Not allowing same-sex marriage restricts the ability to substantiate equality. Legalizing SSMs allows for the recognition of true love in all its forms. Not allowing this causes psychological distress and creates mental health disparities due to lack of recognition. Research shows,

Psychological distress is lower among lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals who are legally married to a person of the same sex, compared with those not in legally recognized unions. [A] study . . . published in the American Journal of Public Health also has implications for understanding mental health disparities based on sexual orientation: There were no statistically significant differences in psychological distress between heterosexuals, and lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons in any type of legally recognized same-sex relationship. A large body of research has shown that lesbian, gay and bisexual people generally experience higher distress levels than heterosexuals due to social exclusion, stigma and other stressors. Research also shows that, on average, married heterosexuals experience better mental health outcomes than their unmarried counterparts. Since most lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are denied the opportunity to legally marry a same-sex partner, they are potentially denied the positive emotional benefits of the institution of marriage.

John Stuart Mill, the famed utilitarian philosophy, held that — in what he termed the “harm principle” — the only purpose for which control can be exercised over someone is to prevent harm. Not following those conditions infringes on individual liberty. Therefore, governments ought to legislate using the harm principle. If they don’t, bans on using utensils to eat or singing songs could be justified — leading only to the dictatorships that challenge the principle of democracy on which India is built.

There are no real harms to same-sex marriage. All the arguments raised against it are easily refuted. I’ll try to address some of those below.

First, many people argue that homosexual feelings are “unnatural,” and therefore it should be illegal. Most importantly, this logic is bad. Just because something is unnatural doesn’t mean it should be illegal. Computers, televisions, and the progress of technology is unnatural. They aren legal. Let me phrase this in reductio ad absurdum form:

A. Anything that is unnatural is illegal under Indian law, therefore so should SSMs (assumption)

1: Computers are legal under Indian law

2: Televisions are legal under Indian law

3: Anything that is unnatural is illegal (follows from A)

4: Computers and televisions are unnatural (since they are man-made)

C. 3 contradicts 1,2,4, therefore A is false

Furthermore, being gay is not unnatural. Epi-marks, the genetic switches that regulate how genes express themselves, trigger such attraction. The superachasmiatic nucleus of a homosexual is twice the size of that of a heterosexual. Homosexual attraction has also been observed in non-human species.

Second, there is a common philosophical objection to same-sex marriages that suggests that legalizing such a form of marriage corrupts the definition of marriage — setting a precedent to legalize polygamy, child marriage, et cetera. But that is a “slippery slope” — there is no reason to believe such an impact results or such a precedent is set.

If the government justifies the legalization with the harm principle, the only precedent set is to legislate based on it. Thus, since child marriage and polygamy can bring harm, this precedent will only encourage their ban.

Some people also claim that same-sex parents aren’t as good as opposite-sex parents. That is objectively false. The majority of scientific research has consistently shown that gay parenting is, on balance, a positive for children. Children raised by same-sex couples are psychologically and socially as well-adjusted as those raised by heterosexual couples. The only proper study that suggested that same-sex couples have worse parenting is one by the NFSS, led by sociologist Mark Regnerus, that suggested children adopted by same-sex couples had some psycological harm. But that study has been thoroughly refuted for all these reasons.

The study by Regnerus focuses on children who watched short, unsuccessful, non-comittal relationships between their parents, so the impacts are similar to those children raised by divorced couples. Regnerus concedes that only two same-sex couples in his study had committed relationships, and in both cases, the children were raised as well as a committed heterosexual relationship. Gay parents, like any other adoptive parents, choose parenthood — so they are arguably better than biological parents, who have kids by accident. They actually really want to be parents. Outside of the two exceptions mentioned above, all the other same-sex couples in Regnerus’s study were adopted after birth and a year or so in foster care. The foster care system is quite bad in the locations which the study in question concerned, and, as such, the children were already affected by foster care. Furthermore, the vast majority of research contradicts Regnerus’s study, and the scientific consensus is against that position.

The White House illuminated in rainbow colors on the eve of the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. Public Domain.

There’s no reason to be against same-sex marriage. And every reason to be for it. India should embrace #MarriageEquality.

 

The Kalam Cosmological Argument

The debate of God’s existence has been raging on for centuries. In today’s world, there is one icon of the theistic side of the debate, a person who defeated the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Lawrence Krauss in debates on God’s existence formally. His name is William Lane Craig, the founder of the Reasonable Faith apologetics group. His main philosophical contribution is an argument called the kalam cosmological argument (KCA). In this post, I’m going to critique that argument.

What, essentially, is the kalam cosmological argument? It is an argument for God’s existence that rests on the following premises:

1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause

2: The universe began to exist

3: Therefore, the universe has a cause

4: If the universe has a cause, there is a personal cause of the universe

5: Ergo, there is a personal cause of the universe

Is the KCA logically valid?

The above syllogism is logically valid, in that if the premises are true, the conclusion follows. Let me first show how the syllogism is valid. Within this syllogism, there are – in reality – two syllogisms. Which are those two?

Syllogism 1

1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause

2: The universe began to exist

3: Therefore, the universe has a cause

This syllogism (henceforth S1) has two premises (1 and 2), and one conclusion (3). It is called a Barbara syllogism, because it follows the below format:

1: All S are M

2: All P are S

3: Therefore, all P are M

Barbara syllogisms are logically valid, because they represent a mode of logical validity called modus Barbara. An example of such a syllogism:

1: Anything that has a chip is ruined

2: The cup has a chip

3: Therefore, the cup is ruined

Syllogism 2

The second syllogism is tricky to find, because any normal syllogism has at least two premises, and one conclusion. But after those three propositions, we only find two more propositions:

1: If the universe has a cause, there is a personal cause of the universe

2: Ergo, there is a personal cause of the universe

It seems like it’s logically invalid. But, as any logician knows, it is valid, because there is, in fact, a third premise, that applies to the complete KCA syllogism. We’ve forgotten another premise which was the conclusion of Syllogism 1: “the universe has a cause.”

So, we re-formulate the second syllogism:

1: If the universe has a cause, there is a personal cause of the universe

2: The universe has a cause (S1, conclusion)

3: Ergo, there is a personal cause of the universe

At this point, S2 makes a lot more sense. That’s because it is logically valid. It is a form of syllogism called “affirming the antecedent,” or modus ponens. An example of this:

1: If the cup has a chip, it is ruined

2: The cup has a chip

3: Ergo, it is ruined

Therefore, S1 and S2 are both logically valid, and S1 + S2 makes the kalam cosmological argument.

Is the KCA logically sound?

The only means by which to show that the KCA is false is to prove that it is not logically sound. What is the difference between the logical validity of a syllogism, and the logical soundness of a syllogism? The difference is simple. Take the following syllogism:

1: Anyone who drinks water is immortal

2: John drinks water

3: Ergo, John is immortal

The syllogism is logically valid, as a Barbara syllogism. Nonetheless, it’s ridiculous: the first premise is false, because almost every human who has died drank water once. So logical validity doesn’t guarantee the conclusion. The syllogism is valid, but is logically unsound.

A sound syllogism is one that fulfills two criteria: (1) all its premises are true, and (2) it is logically valid. If a syllogism is sound, it is valid, but not necessarily vice versa. This post intends to prove that the KCA is logically unsound. I find almost all premises problematic.

William Lane Craig — the founder of the KCA — defends it as logically sound. I’m going to present Craig’s own defense of the KCA first, in my own words.

Defense of the KCA

In this subdivision, I’m going to outline how Craig defends the KCA.

The Wikipedia article on the kalam cosmological argument says,

“Craig has defended the first premise as rationally intuitive knowledge, based upon the properly basic metaphysical intuition that “something cannot come into being from nothing”, or “Ex nihilo nihil fit”, which originates from Parmenidean ontology. . . . Craig has defended the second premise using both appeals to scientific evidence and philosophical arguments: Firstly, with evidence from cosmology, and secondly using an a posteriori argument for the metaphysical impossibility of actual infinities. For the former, he appeals to the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin Theorem, a cosmological theorem which deduces that any universe that has, on average, been expanding throughout its history cannot be infinite in the past but must have a past space-time boundary. On actual infinities, Craig asserts the metaphysical impossibility of an actually infinite series of past events by citing David Hilbert’s famous Hilbert’s Hotel thought experiment and Laurence Sterne’s story of Tristam Shandy.”

Craig also defends that the cause has to be God via the following means:

(1) A first state of the material world cannot have a material explanation and must originate ex nihilo in being without material cause, because no natural explanation can be causally prior to the very existence of the natural world (space-time and its contents). It follows necessarily that the cause is outside of space and time (timeless, spaceless), immaterial, and enormously powerful, in bringing the entirety of material reality into existence.

(2) Even if positing a plurality of causes prior to the origin of the universe, the causal chain must terminate in a cause which is absolutely first and uncaused, otherwise an infinite regress of causes would arise.

(3) Occam’s Razor maintains that unicity of the First Cause should be assumed unless there are specific reasons to believe that there is more than one causeless cause.

(4) Agent causation, volitional action, is the only ontological condition in which an effect can arise in the absence of prior determining conditions. Therefore, only personal, free agency can account for the origin of a first temporal effect from a changeless cause.

(5) Abstract objects, the only other ontological category known to have the properties of being uncaused, spaceless, timeless and immaterial, do not sit in causal relationships, nor can they exercise volitional causal power.

I argue that these justifications fail to prove logical soundness.

Critique of the KCA

Below are my criticisms of the KCA:

Proposition 1: Everything that begins to exist has a cause

Craig’s justification for the idea that everything that begins to exist has a cause is from the axiom “ex nihilo nihil fit,” i.e. out of nothing, nothing comes. The justification is rationally intuitive, and commits a fallacy called the “appeal to intuition” fallacy. Merely relying on intuition does not work. There’s no reason to buy that human intuition–limited by the constraints of space and time–would work outside the universe. Furthermore, the idea of causation presupposes time. You can’t generalize from “who threw the cat in the well” to “what caused the universe.” Stephen Hawking–despite being a physicist, not a philosopher–made a very valid philosophical point: it’s incoherent to speak of causation when humans lack cognition of such a level of causation. Sans the universe, there is (probably) no time, and all our ideas of cause-effect relationships assume the flow of time. Without the flow of time, we can’t even conceive of a cause producing an effect. It’s beyond our cognition, since for human cognition there has to be a “when” for any cause-effect relationship.

Craig makes the argument that simultaneous causality is possible, so this isn’t a problem. I agree that simultaneous causality (the idea that the universe was caused in one instantaneous moment in time) is possible, but under such a framework, there’s no external cause of the universe — the universe could have caused itself without adding an additional assumption.

Proposition 2: The universe began to exist

What does “begins to exist” mean? Craig defines it as follows:

“e comes into being at t if and only if (i) e exists at t, (ii) t is the first time at which e exists, (iii) there is no state of affairs in the actual world in which e exists timelessly, and (iv) e’s existing at t is a tensed fact.”

Per the previous definition, e is an object, and t is a certain moment in time. By the second premise of this argument, e is the universe, and t is the moment when the universe came into existence. Craig’s evidence is threefold: (a) actual infinities are impossible, and (b) the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem entails a beginning.

Image taken from the following link: http://bicepkeck.org/visuals.html, from the “official website for results from the BICEP and Keck Array series of CMB polarization experiments,” the BICEP2 program, funded by the National Science Foundation. CC BY-SA 3.0.

I argue that the lack of an absolute beginning doesn’t entail an actual infinite. Why? I’m going to introduce a viewpoint known as “eternalism.” What is eternalism? First, we must understand the conventional view of time. All of us feel time. We count seconds, minutes. Time passes with every action. Every series of events is temporal. Humans perceive time as linear. What does that mean? It means we make a distinction between the past, present, and future. We assume the past happened once and is no longer happening. It was real, but isn’t real anymore. The same way, we think the future hasn’t happened yet–it isn’t real now, but it will be real. But our perception of time is false, according to recent research.

Eternalism is the idea that the past, present, and future are all real, regardless of whether we experience them. Our experience of time is merely an illusion. The universe is tenseless. It also holds that time is akin to a spatial dimension, and acts as a fourth dimension. Under such a viewpoint, the all four “begins to exist” criteria are false. The universe doesn’t exist at a single moment in time, it doesn’t have any “first moment”–it is a tenseless block which simultaneously is in all moments, it does exist timelessly, and tensed facts don’t exist. Such a viewpoint would holds that the universe is static at all moments in time, but since we perceive linear time, the universe expands from our point of view. From an observer’s point of view, it is just a static, tenseless four-dimensional block that never began. It isn’t infinite in time, because it’s tenseless–there’s no such thing as an “infinite series of events,” since every moment in time exists on an identical plane.

Furthermore, the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem wouldn’t halt this. That’s because the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem entails a beginning only on grounds of the universe’s expansion – but under eternalism, time is illusory, so expansion is only apparent, not necessarily “real.”

Why believe in eternalism? There’s a compelling reason. Under our view of time, the future doesn’t “already exist,” which makes travel through time or cross-temporal entanglement–referred to as time dilation–impossible. Only a view where the past, present, and future are equally real would allow such time dilation. Time dilation has been observed. Photons have been entangled through time in experiments. Both of these would be impossible unless eternalism were true.

 

Even Craig concedes that eternalism would refute this premise.

Proposition 3: The universe has a cause

Based on my refutation of (1) and (2), this is not necessarily true.

Proposition 4: If the universe has a cause, there is a personal cause of the universe

I’ll address each of Craig’s justifications for this:

(1) Craig presumes that the cause of the universe is an “external cause,” which is why he concludes such a cause must be supernatural. Since he concedes that simultaneous causation is possible, the universe might have caused itself. Furthermore, a “supernatural cause” is not necessarily personal. I argue that even if the universe was caused, the cause could have been supernatural and, yet, not personal. This is because a personal cause would have to be a disembodied mind, but minds, in requiring processes, require time and the universe to exist themselves.

(2) Craig’s arguments against actual infinities fail. He says that an infinite regress has some odd properties, since ‘infinity minus infinity,’ and similar mathematical problems, are impossible to solve. He says a hotel with infinite rooms, if full, can still hold another infinite people. Michael Martin critiques this:

“Craig’s a priori arguments are unsound or show at most that actual infinities have odd properties. This latter fact is well known, however, and shows nothing about whether it is logically impossible to have actual infinities in the real world. … Craig fails to show that there is anything logically inconsistent about an actual infinity existing in reality.”

An infinite regression is not impossible. Further, simultaneous causality would allow the universe to cause itself, so it doesn’t run into this problem.

(3) Occam’s razor is the “principle of simplicity,” and holds that, among a set of competing hypotheses, the one with least assumptions is the most likely one. Under this, the universe causing itself would remove the assumption of God, so Craig’s argument is turned against himself.

(4) The idea that only agent action can cause something sans determining conditions is false for multiple reasons. Firstly, such a principle applies only within the universe. Craig doesn’t give a reason for it to apply outside the universe. Secondly, objects that are personal also cannot act on things independently. Only if dualism or idealism were true would that be possible. I shall now frame a case for physicalism based on eternalism. Since eternalism is true, justified by quantum mechanics and special relativity, it would imply that there has to be another explanation for our perception of time. Prosser argues:

“…any physicalist or supervenience theory of the mind the nature of experience is determined entirely by the physical state of the world—experience could not be different without the physical state of the world being different. Now our understanding of the role of time in physical science suggests that the putative flow of time has no role in determining the physical state of the world. It follows from this that the flow of time could have no role in determining the nature of experience. The intuitive impression that time flows thus arises quite independently of the putative real flow of time. Consequently the nature of temporal experience provides no reason to posit a real flow of time.”

(5) Craig presumes that the cause is an external one, failing to account for self-causation. Further, under physicalism (demonstrated by Prosser), minds are not timeless and spaceless. Minds, in requiring processes, require time and the universe to exist themselves.

Proposition 5: A personal cause exists

Since all previous propositions are false, this does not entail.

Conclusion

The cosmological argument fails to demonstrate its conclusion, as it is logically unsound, despite Craig’s multiple defenses of it. All its premises are false, and its conclusion doesn’t entail as a result of its unsoundness. Thus, the KCA has been refuted.

 

Why Abortion Should Be Legal

Induced abortion has become a major debate within society and politics, in multiple countries. Conservative viewpoints question the morality of abortion, and argue that a fetus has a right to life. Liberals say that the right to bodily autonomy of women outweighs the right to life of the fetus, and hold fully developed humans to be morally superior to fetuses. I tend to lean towards a liberal view of abortion, and intend to defend the status quo in the United States, India, and multiple other countries in this post.

For clarification, I will define abortion. I will use the definition of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which says:

“[Abortion is] the termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus, as . . . the induced expulsion of the human fetus.”

My first argument is that abortion has significant utilitarian harms. Government policy is decided on the basis of “utilitarianism,” i.e. in an attempt to maximize net benefit to the citizens, and to minimize harm to them. The government lacks any legitimacy unless it seeks to do that. And adopting a ban on abortion won’t maximize benefit, for one main reason. A ban would be ineffective, except in increasing danger. The fact remains that people will seek abortions regardless of whether it’s legal. Abortion is inevitable, and the illegality of such a practice will fail to deter people from aborting.

Elisabeth Rosenthal writes,

“A comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it. Moreover, the researchers found that abortion was safe in countries where it was legal, but dangerous in countries where it was outlawed and performed clandestinely. Globally, abortion accounts for 13 percent of women’s deaths during pregnancy.”

There is more harm than benefit here. Women simply seek back-alley abortions, which are extremely dangerous. There is thus no utilitarian benefit to banning abortion, but there are harms.

Furthermore, the fetus is not subject to moral consideration. This is because a fetus is completely inanimate and non-sentient until around the 20th week of pregnancy. A fetus can’t feel pain until the 24th week of pregnancy. Utilitarian calculations of morality are based on positive and negative mental states. Utilitarianism is ideal for normative ethics, because it holds what is desirable. A moral obligation itself is an “ought,” which indicates desirability. What is desirable? Something that maximizes positive mental states and minimizes negative ones. So maximizing desirability is an ideal framework for normative ethics; that’s utilitarianism. The fetus lacks mental states, therefore isn’t subject to moral consideration; a fetus is equal to a chair, except with potentiality.

That’s why abortion should not be banned. Thanks for reading this post.

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