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The Baby Is Still Not That Important

The phenomenon is for parents to choose to raise gender-neutral babies who are called “theybies.”

More and more parents in the U.S. are choosing to raise gender neutral babies. They use gender neutral words and pronouns for their children, and sometimes don’t disclose what’s in their babies’ diapers except to a very close circle of friends. These children are often called “theybies”—neither boys nor girls.

So, right off the bat, it’s really sad and wrong that “what’s in the diaper” is the very narrow way that a lot of people have come think about sex and gender. I remember a long time ago trying–and failing–to work out in my own self the curious disconnection between the mind, body, and spirit that is the property of being human. The three war against each other, which is why God commands that all three should be redirected toward him. Leaving aside the wars that human people have with each other, the internal war of the spirit against the mind against the body is painful. We all live with it in a thousand tiny, disquieting ways. All the more reason not to add to the disintegration of the self under the guise of reintegrating it. It’s not “just” what’s in the diaper. It is a whole person who has a certain kind of biology, however broken and dysfunctional.

Incidentally, I do think it is interesting that this “theybie” thing is arising at the same time as insane gender (which should be sex) reveal events, some of which are so extravagant that some of the participants have even died. Notice that the baby is still not being celebrated. It is a lot of broken people who don’t know God, don’t know themselves, and don’t feel comfortable about anything who are foisting an ideology on their children. Christians are accused of this, of course, but the accusation can absolutely be made the other way. The baby is not the important thing here. The underlying religious belief is, and the baby will have to get along as best “they” can.

So, there are five ways you can help parents raising Theybies, which is the point of the article/listicle/whatever. And the first way is to, “Remember that the intention is liberation.”

Parents who choose not to gender their children are trying to carve out space for them to be their full selves, unencumbered by gender expectations that are oh so pervasive in our gendered world. They do not want their child’s genitals or chromosomes to dictate what should play with or how they are treated by others. These parents want their children to get the opportunity to grow up to be the truest versions of themselves possible, and this is one of the ways they are trying to make that happen. Many studies have shown that children absorb gender stereotypes at a very young age, and that these implicit expectations are damaging to their self-expression and self-confidence. I sometimes hear people critiquing parent’s choices to use gender-neutral pronouns for their children as a way to force their own ideologies onto their kids. But isn’t the ideology of “girl” or “boy” even more constraining?

No, actually, it is not “even more constraining.” There is a link attached to the word “study” which I do not have time to click right now, but I happen to know that if you go looking for something in “science” you will always be able to find it because the hearts and minds of human people are darkened by sin, wickedness, and rebellion against the Creator.

Notice that the goal of parenting articulated here is “self-expression and self-confidence.” Much like the much confused American pursuit of happiness, which, having chucked the necessary element of virtue to the curb, has produced a generation of deeply unhappy people, so also recasting the purpose of parenting to be the rearing of a self-expressive child is bringing about the collapse of society. Think I’m being hyperbolic? I’m not. Children in this culture are unhappier than ever before and in any other place around the world.

Just like children are, in their created nature, sexed and gendered, so they are, by nature self-expressive. What children need in order to be happy is to discover that they are not the center of the world. Their natural selves need to be curbed. They need to discover the riches of self-discipline, self-denial, and the truth that something greater than them (God) is the ruler and judge not only of the cosmos, but of their own little selves. They learn this first by having loving parents who help them see the pleasant and beautiful walls that keep them safe. They learn it by discovering that their parents (and by extension God) are merciful. They learn that they can stop crying when told to, stop touching things when told to, to come when told to, to sit when told to. They learn that there other people more important than themselves—first their parents, then other adults and children, and most critically, God. The ears of their little minds are opened to the astonishing wonder of Jesus, and they discover that by loving him, they are able to love themselves and others, that they were created to enjoy him in peculiar and delightful ways with their minds, hearts, and bodies.

This vision is so much bigger than behavior or the paltry, ruinous idol of “self-expression.”

And I am so sorry, but my blogging hour is up and so I will pick up the second thing you are supposed to do tomorrow. I’ll destroy my routine and keep going over here at SF and do regular quick takes and book notes over on Patheos. See you tomorrow!

By Anne Kennedy and published on Patheos on January 16, 2020 and can be found here or here.

YOUR LAWYER IS YOUR PARTNER

                In some of my previous blogs I have written about the importance of consulting a lawyer as soon as possible about your case, and retaining a lawyer at an early date. This blog is about the importance of cooperating with the lawyer you have retained. You may think this is a peculiar statement because why wouldn’t you cooperate with your lawyer?

                Well, cooperate may not be the right word.  Sometimes clients “forget” to keep their lawyer in the loop; sometimes clients do not think it is important to tell their lawyer everything about a situation; sometimes clients will lie to their lawyers and think the truth will never be revealed; sometimes clients do not think it is important to tell their lawyer certain things; and sometimes clients do not consider that their actions in the midst of a case can impact their case, and do not consult their lawyers before taking such actions.

                Examples of the above are:

  1.  When testifying at a Social Security disability hearing, my client, a tiny thin man, in his early 60’s, testified that he would and could frequently lift in excess of 50 pounds, and move furniture around to vacuum.  After the hearing, his incredulous wife, who was about twice his size, told me that she recalled only once, many years prior to the hearing, that her client lifted a corner of a sofa so that she could vacuum under it, and that he never did housework.  The client was obviously trying to appear more manly than he was to impress the hearing judge.  His testimony lost his case for him. I, and all lawyers who handle disability cases, can relay similar stories.
  •  More than one client has retained me to write their employer about the discriminatory treatment they were receiving at work, and then neglected to mention their concerns when the employer met with them to discuss their complaints, or they even resigned for “personal reasons” without mentioning the true reason for her resignation.  Sometimes I have to learn about the resignation from the opposing counsel. Not only will these actions not help their cases, but certain benefits that could have been negotiated for them may be made moot by their actions.
  • More than one client has completed forms for a government agency, or has been asked to send a letter with their specific concerns to their employer, and despite them having retained a lawyer, and sometimes even sending us the forms or letter to review first, they have submitted the forms or letter in the midst of our review.  Usually, the forms as completed or the contents of their letter are not helpful, and are sometimes detrimental, to their case.
  • More than one client has testified to something as a witness at a hearing or at a deposition that has surprised or even shocked me, because despite extensive preparation of the witness, the witness has never shared this information with me.  This information often changes the entire complexion of the case.

So, the motto of this blog is to cooperate with your lawyer, confide in your lawyer, consult with your lawyer, listen to your lawyer’s advice, do not lie to your lawyer, and tell your lawyer everything, even if you don’t think it will be helpful to your case.  Your lawyer is better prepared if he or she knows the entire situation, and has been trained how to handle all information, good or bad.  

By: Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire on her blog “Toughlawyerlady.”

Firing Only Unmarried Pregnant Teachers Is Not Proper Enforcement of Catholic School’s Morals Code

In Crisitello v. St. Theresa School(NJ App., Nov. 19, 2020), a New Jersey state appellate court reversed the dismissal of a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought against a Catholic school by one of its former teachers. The court summarized its holding:

In this action brought under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49, we are asked to determine whether a parochial school’s knowledge of the pregnancy of an unmarried lay teacher, who started as a teacher’s aide for toddlers, later taught art, and had no responsibility for religious instruction, can serve as the nondiscriminatory basis for the teacher’s termination for violating the school’s morals code, where the school never made any effort to determine whether any of its other employees have violated the school’s prohibition against “immoral conduct” that is allegedly incorporated into each employees’ terms of employment. We now hold that knowledge or mere observation of an employee’s pregnancy alone is not a permissible basis to detect violations of the school’s policy and terminate an employee.

Bridgewater Courier News reports on the decision.

You can learn more about this issue here.

How America Killed Play—and What We Can Do to Bring it Back

In our last piece from our interview with play expert Dr. Peter Gray, we outlined the five criteria of play. For an activity to truly be considered play, it must:

  • Be self-chosen and self-directed
  • Be done for its own sake and not an outside reward
  • Have some sort of rules/structure
  • Have an element of imagination
  • Be conducted in an alert frame of mind

When you break it down like that, much of what modern parents think of as play doesn’t actually qualify. The truth is play has been gradually declining for the past five or six decades, but it seems to have come to a head in the last 10 years. According to the Child Mind Institute, American kids now spend an average of just 4-7 minutes a day on unstructured outdoor play, and elementary schools across the country are reducing or entirely eliminating recess. Play is an absolutely critical part of our youth, as it develops life skills in a way which is very hard to replicate elsewhere. How did this crucial component of the human experience get so diminished?

The 1950s were something of a “golden era” of play. The post-World War II baby boom left no shortage of potential playmates for a kid, and child labor laws passed in the late 1930s meant children could no longer be forced to toil inside factories or coal mines. Schools had multiple recesses throughout the day, the concept of homework barely existed, and the school year itself was about 4-5 weeks shorter.

“School was not the big deal it is today. Parents were not involved. You went home, you were home. School happened at school, when you were out of school, you were out of school,” says Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College and the author of the book Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life. The culmination of these factors created a generation where kids played for hours each and every day.

“You could go out anytime during daylight and you’d find kids playing with no adults around. Parents shoo’d you outdoors, they didn’t want you in the house—moms especially,” Gray says. Organized youth sports were still in their infancy, and if they did occur, they were a far cry from some of the ultra-expensive, ultra-regimented leagues that exist now. In some little leagues, the biggest or most mature kid on the team often acted as the coach, and there was rarely a parent to be found down the foul lines. But this golden age of play didn’t last forever.

The rise of television made the indoors more attractive, sure, but it was the shift in parental attitudes around school, sports and free time that really changed things. Elementary schools (and schools, in general) began placing a greater emphasis on testing results and homework. According to the University of Michigan, students aged 6-8 went from having 52 minutes of homework a week in 1981 to 128 minutes a week in 1997.

Sensationalistic news reports led parents to believe the world was becoming increasingly dangerous for their children, though statistics show the opposite was in fact true. As time has gone on, the outdoor world’s only become safer for our children. Either way, parents became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of their child playing around town without adult supervision, and organized sports slowly came to replace play. As the demand for organized activities for younger and younger ages increased, organizations quickly met the demand. Parents stopped allowing their kids to walk or bike to practice, instead shuttling them there themselves.

“Kids going to games themselves by bike or walking became somehow dangerous. So parents felt the need to drive them there. Then if you’re going to drive them there, you might as well watch. Then it became a sort of parental duty to stay and watch. If you don’t stay and watch you don’t care about your child. So you’re supposed to be there, you’re supposed to be cheering your child on. You’re supposed to care if your child’s team wins or loses,” Gray says. “It was gradual, it happened over time. (Organized sports) came to replace actual play in people’s minds—this is how my child gets exercise, this is how my child meets other children, and so on.”

The undercurrent among all this was the idea that play was largely a waste of time. Adults believed structured, adult-guided activities were of greater value to their children, so they began filling their free time as such. As the commitments mounted, time for play decreased. “Instead of the idea that childhood was an idea of freedom and play and children were largely free of adults, we began feeling increasingly responsible for the children’s development,” Gray says. “And accompanying that idea was that children’s own activities are a waste of time.”

Of course, we now know that couldn’t be further from the truth. A 2018 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics confirms that play enhances creativity, imagination, dexterity, boldness, teamwork skills, stress-management skills, confidence, conflict resolution skills, decision-making skills, problem-solving skills and learning behavior. Play is an essential part of the human experience, and a lack of play can have troubling short and long-term ramifications for children.

A major benefit of play is what’s known as “risky play.” This entails engaging in play that creates some sense of fear. This often involves ascending to great heights (climbing a pine tree), moving at great speeds (riding a bike or swinging on a rope swing), play fighting (wrestling), going off on your own (hide and seek) or engaging with dangerous tools/environments. Risky play is a fundamental part of play. Children like to test their limits and innately know how much fear they can tolerate, and when they engage with fear and survive the experience, they become more resilient, confident and better-equipped to handle stress and anxiety. While play in general has decreased over the last five or six decades, risky play has been hit particularly hard due to overprotective parents. Playgrounds have become increasingly sterile in America—most are now devoid of equipment that allows you to confront any fear of heights or high speeds, and offer little challenge in the way of dexterity or agility.

“Natural selection has designed children to play in risky ways so they learn how to deal with risk…I can do this thing that stretches my physical and emotional abilities and I can survive it, I can do it. What you’re practicing is controlling your mind and body in a somewhat fear-inducing situation. But it’s a fear-inducing situation that you can control, you put yourself there. But what you’re learning is you can deal with feeling fear, you can hold yourself together. So when you experience something that produces fear in real life, it’s not a new thing to you,” Gray says. “I feel confident I can handle this instead of panicking. I think that’s part of the reason we’re finding a lot of lack of resiliency today, we’re finding a lot of people falling apart when something difficult happens in their life. Because they haven’t practiced this kind of play where they’re deliberately putting themselves into difficult positions and learning how to deal with that.”

Gray notes that continually decreasing levels of play have coincided with increases in depression and anxiety among young people. In a 2014 TEDx Talk, he outlined how five to eight times as many children now suffer from major depression or a clinically significant anxiety disorder as compared to the 1950s. Questionnaires have also revealed a continuous decline among children and young adults in the feeling that they have “control over their own lives.” They’re increasingly micro-managed and have limited chance to cut loose or follow their intuitions. It’s not an exaggeration to say a lack of play may be at the heart of increased anxiety and decreased resiliency in young people. It’s not their fault—they’re simply ill-equipped to handles life’s ups-and-downs.

How can we put play back in our children’s lives? We’ll get to integrating more “true” play in a second, but you can start by shifting certain organized activities into more playful states. Are there ways to help them self-select and self-direct more of what they’re doing? Or decrease the focus on outside rewards? Or foster a grander sense of imagination? The more an adult is telling them exactly what and how to do something, the less play is taking place. The U.S. Soccer pamphlet Best Practices for Coaching Soccer in the United States sums it up nicely: “Coaches can often be more helpful to a young player’s development by organizing less, saying less and allowing the players to do more. Set up a game and let the kids play. Keep most of your comments for before and after practice and during water breaks.”

In terms of pure or “true” play, we’re not getting back to the days of the 1950s anytime soon. However, some communities are fighting to bring play back with encouraging results.

Schools around the country are integrating “play clubs” and finding great success. These clubs typically take place on school grounds for 1-2 hours directly preceding or directly following the school day. Different equipment is set out for kids to play and experiment with at their leisure, and adult supervisors (of which there are not an abundance) are trained only to intervene when something truly dangerous is occurring. Gray recently observed an elementary school play club that takes place prior to the school day once a week (though they’re trying to make it more frequent) and was delighted with the result.

“Free play indoors in the school and outdoors, it’s age mixed, all grades K-5…It’s working wonderfully. It’s working partially because the age mixing. Older children are helping to solve the quarrels among younger children,” Gray says. “Children are truly running in hallways, wrestling, playing chasing games, some old-fashioned games, very vigorous play. Here’s a situation where there are adults present, but the adults are initiating actives (and) they’re not intervening. I was there for an hour, there were 150 kids, and I did not see any single case of adult intervening. It went so remarkably well.”

Gray also offers up the idea of recreation departments including more sandlot-style activities among the more organized sports. It would be formalized in the sense it would take place at a given location at a given time, but it would really be just a way to get a bunch of kids together. A volunteer could help get games going during the first few sessions, but slowly step away and intervene less over time. New equipment could be added over time to help inspire different games or different styles of play.

“Maybe one parent is there at a time to help each other put their minds at ease. It begins with something more formal, but over time, that structure falls away,” Gray says. “I think that could catch on. I think there’s enough kids and enough parents who would want to do this as an alternative…Ideally, over time, the kids who are coming together (for this) every Saturday afternoon start realizing they can do it every other day, too.”

By Brandon Hall and published in Stack on March 25, 2019 and can be found here.

WHAT RELIEF DO YOU WANT?

                In its simplest form, every lawsuit has 2 parts.  The first part generally encompasses what the problem is, and why you feel you are entitled to some relief. The second part is what are the damages or relief you seek.  People spend a lot of time formulating their problem. Indeed, when potential clients call me to discuss their situations, they usually want to discuss every little detail of what he said and she said and did, etc., and how they were wronged, etc. This is often a cathartic process for them, and besides the verbal discussions they will often make copious notes or prepare a diary. 

                However, when I ask them what relief or damages they seek, they often seem flummoxed by this question. It appears as if they can’t get past the wrong they felt was done to them to determine what they want. Or, they ask me to determine what they should ask for in damages. 

                Damages are an elusive thing. The Internet has not been helpful as a tool to guide people as to what a realistic damages assessment is. In fact, it leads to unrealistic expectations. Every case has specific fact circumstances and individualized damages.  Further, there are many factors which impact a case, and those factors determine the results. Some of these factors may be who is deciding the case—an arbitrator, a judge, a jury, etc.; whether the case is being decided in a court or in some type of mediation or arbitration forum; who are the parties, and what type of witnesses they make; if there are expert witnesses, are they believable; what were the injuries caused; what is the law of the jurisdiction they are involved in, and on and on.

                As a result of the above, it is entirely possible and probable that even in a case with nearly identical situations, such as a person who breaks a leg in front of an apartment complex after tripping on a crack in the sidewalk, the results can be diametrically different.

                Therefore, when someone asks me what damages they should request, I can only give them an estimate or a ballpark figure. Generally the damages are whatever amount I can negotiate with the other lawyer or what a fact-finder decides to award my client.

                So, when someone tells me that they read about a case which they think is a similar case to theirs in Idaho I tell them that it is highly unlikely that the case is similar to theirs, the law of Idaho is different, and it is an individualized instance.                 A final thought is that I have noticed when a case has concluded and a client has agreed to a settlement, they sometimes have a difficult time signing the release, which ends the case, and even if they sign the release, they decide at a later time that they should have settled for more, or the opposing party didn’t apologize or suffer enough, and on and on.  I feel this because the client has been so involved in telling their story and in the lawsuit for some period of time, often years, and when it is finally ending, they feel bereft. There will be something missing from their lives. The story they have nurtured for so long is coming to an end. But, everything has to come to an end, and I feel that part of my job as a good and experienced lawyer is helping the client realize that it will be good for them to end years of drama and litigation, or that it would be financially foolhardy for them to shoulder on, or that the law doesn’t provide the panacea to their problems, and they have to accept what the law can provide and move forward.  Many clients have thanked me for assisting them in bringing to an end an unhappy situation so they can move forward.

By: Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire on her blog “Toughlawyerlady.”

10th Circuit Dismisses Objections To Attempted Search of Church

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Aguilera v. City of Colorado Springs, (10th Cir., Nov. 18, 2020), the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a civil rights claim brought by the High Priestess/ Property Manager of Green Faith Ministry who objected to an attempt by a police officer and fire marshals to inspect the ministry’s building. Officers apparently suspected marijuana usage or occupancy standard violations. The court rejected plaintiff’s complaint that one officer told her to “praise the Lord.” The court said in part:

Aguilera’s amended complaint does not allege facts indicating that an objective observer would view Officer Vargason’s purpose in saying “Praise the Lord” as an official endorsement of religion.

The court also rejected plaintiff’s free exercise claim, concluding:

Aguilera has failed to allege that any defendant burdened her exercise of religious beliefs or practices.

You can learn more about this issue here.

You Are Here Prof: Today’s Students and Professors ‘Know Hardly Anything about Anything at All’

Six months ago we shared a frightening observation from Patrick Deneen, a political science professor at Notre Dame who has also taught at Princeton and Georgetown. He described his students as “know-nothings… devoid of any substantial knowledge.”

More recently, a respected author and English professor at Providence College in Rhode Island has echoed Deneen’s concerns.

In an essay titled “Exercises in Unreality: The Decline of Teaching Western Civilization,” Anthony Esolen describes a university climate today in which many students and professors no longer possess the knowledge and skills that their peers of previous generations took for granted:

“But what if you know hardly anything about anything at all? That is an exaggeration, but it does capture much of what I must confront as a professor of English right now, even at our school, which accepts only a small fraction of students who apply for admission. Nor, I’m afraid, does it apply only to freshmen. It applies also to professors.”

He explains:

“I now regularly meet students who have never heard the names of most English authors who lived before 1900. That includes Milton, Chaucer, Pope, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats, Tennyson, and Yeats. Poetry has been largely abandoned. Their knowledge of English grammar is spotty at best and often nonexistent. That is because grammar, as its own subject worthy of systematic study, has been abandoned. Those of my students who know some grammar took Latin in high school or were taught at home. The writing of most students is irreparable in the way that aphasia is. You cannot point to a sentence and say, simply, ‘Your verb here does not agree with your subject.’ That is not only because they do not understand the terms of the comment. It is also because many of their sentences will have no clear subject or verb to begin with. The students make grammatical errors for which there are no names. Their experience of the written language has been formed by junk fiction in school, text messages, blog posts, blather on the airwaves, and the bureaucratic sludge that they are taught for ‘formal’ writing, and that George Orwell identified and skewered seventy years ago. The best of them are bad writers of English; the others write no language known to man.”

Esolen’s above lament is supported not only by similar laments from his fellow professors, but also by statistics that show only a minority of American students are proficient in reading and writing, and by the fact that billions of dollars each year are spent on remedial courses in college.

Do you think that things can be turned around in the near future? Or are we destined to slip further into an educational dark age?

Dan is a former Senior Fellow at Intellectual Takeout. He received his B.A. in Philosophy and Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas (MN), and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You can find his academic work at Academia.edu.

By Daniel Lattier, and originally published on August 8, 2016 in Intellectual Takeout and can be found here.

WHO IS AN EXPERT?

                Some weeks ago a man had a consultation with me concerning his issue which involved dealings with a federal government agency which investigates discrimination in housing. My extensive experience and background in civil rights law, dealing with numerous federal government agencies, and real estate, are outlined on our Firm’s website.  However, the person decided he wanted to have another consultation with someone who was an “expert” on his issue, and he had been provided that person’s number by a friend.

                This experience got me thinking about what constitutes “expert” status.  The media (print, television, radio, the Internet and various social media like Linked In) provide us with self-serving testimony by persons who want us to do business with them, and state they are experts in certain fields.  If one is a bus passenger or finds oneself alongside or behind a bus, one can view large photos of lawyers who proclaim that they are experts in certain fields of law. If one listens to the major local radio news station, one can hear about doctors who work at medical facilities who are experts in joint replacement surgery. If one views television station news and morning broadcasts one will see many self-proclaimed experts in all sorts of fields like beauty, fashion, food, gardening, decorating, politics, etc. Some of these self-proclaimed experts appear to be barely out of college.

                So, I have come to the opinion that anyone can declare him/herself an “expert” these days, as there really isn’t a guideline or a requirement for that designation.  Some of my recent experiences with legal experts are as follows:

  • A fellow lawyer who practices worker’s compensation law, and is a sole practitioner, told me that he inherited a case from another law firm, one of the largest in the area, who had settled part of the case for the client, and forgot to include language which ultimately cost the client over $30,000 in benefits.  Yet the larger firm is considered to have “expert” status.
  • Some lawyers I know have been called as guest commentators on television news shows because they have declared themselves experts on real estate or other areas of the law, when their practical experience regarding these areas is quite minimal.
  • Some of the most prominent personal injury firms in the area readily declare themselves experts because they have tried and won or settled 1 or 2 cases on a particular issue.
  • A lawyer who knew nothing about a certain area of the law, and I know this because he called me to pick my brain about the matter, accepted a high profile case and got his name and his client’s name splashed all over the media. The end result did not turn out well for the client.

It is highly unlikely in the legal field that lawyers will sue the same defendant over the same fact circumstances, unless it is a highly specialized area of the law.  Although lawyers may encounter some similarities in their cases, there are many variables which enter into each case.  So, take the designation of someone who is a self-proclaimed expert with a grain of salt, because these days self-promotion is the rule. Also, bear in mind that an expert may not have experience in other areas of the law which may impact on the particular fact situation.

By: Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire on her blog “Toughlawyerlady.”

Politics and Rationality: On the Uses and Limits of Science

How rational is your politics, and how rational could or should politics be, in general? What is, and what ought to be, the role of reason and of science in policy-making or in campaigning? To answer such questions in a reasonable or scientific way, it would first be necessary to define such terms as “rationality,” “reason,” and “science.” That’s a nice Socratic-style challenge, anyway, and I’m not confident that people mean anything very clear or specific by them on most occasions. And, whatever they mean, the things themselves—conceived as faculties in people’s heads or as a series of procedures or guidelines for how to gain knowledge—have little to do with why anyone has the politics they do. People who think their own politics are rational and those of their opponents irrational (that is, more or less everybody) are engaged in a self-congratulatory self-delusion.

A traditional account of the faculty of rationality might be that it encompasses the canons of deductive and inductive reasoning and perhaps the scientific method (which it then is incumbent on the rationalizers to characterize in a general way). That is, rationality is an array of techniques, variously related, for getting true conclusions from true premises, or probable conclusions from probable premises, or data from experiments, or well-tested hypotheses from mere guesses: the rational procedures are the truth-preserving or truth-conducive procedures.

Then again, the alleged science of economics deploys a seemingly completely distinct conception of rationality, oriented to actions and agents rather than to generating true theories. Here, a rational person is one who pursues their own interests (conceived by economists, of course, as economic interests) by means that are most likely, or very likely, or fairly likely, or more likely than not, to be helpful in achieving those interests. In other words, a rational person is defined (admittedly this is comparatively clear) as one who knows how to get his, or who has effective techniques for securing resources, or, in short, who makes a whole bunch of money.

These two, or several, or many, senses of “rationality” may go back to Aristotle, who defined humans as “rational animals,” which raises doubts about whether he had ever met any of us. Aristotle defined “practical rationality” in terms of a certain style of deliberation, known as the “practical syllogism”: “I want thing X; action A will help me get X; so I’ll do A.” Of course, that leaves it entirely open what X is: it could itself be an irrational or evil goal.

Aristotle thought that we all had the same goal—happiness—and that the same means (study and friendship, for example) could help us each achieve it. But he did not give any rational reasons to prefer happiness to various other possible ultimate goals (union with God, for example, or a life of self-sacrifice), nor could he. Our goal, he thought, was built into our nature. Maybe so, but that does not in itself make it any more rational than any other goal. Also, it doesn’t make it clear what happiness (or, as contemporary versions have it, well-being) is, or why we should prefer it to other candidates for ultimacy; it just insists that happiness—itself an awfully vague concept, or a variable that just means “everything we want all at once”—is in fact our goal. But Aristotle at least connects what we might call “cognitive” and “deliberative” rationality, or perhaps logic, experimental science, and economic modeling, into something like the same conceptual structure, which is as much as anyone has done since, really.

As to the scientific method, which is supposed to be something clear enough for a teacher to scribble briefly on a blackboard: a general characterization is going to have to encompass the techniques, for example, of astronomers (instrument-aided observation), psychology (questionnaires), experimental chemistry (hypothesis and reproducible test), medicine (double-blind placebo studies), anthropology (immersion and empathy), and of course economics (statistics), among many other procedures. Good luck boiling it all down, or figuring out exactly which technique to use on a political or moral question, and how.

So, for example, let’s stipulate that science (whatever it may be, exactly) has delivered to us the truth that the planet is getting hotter because of human carbon emissions. It might also give reasons to think that certain procedures will be effective to ameliorate the problem. That’s when the practical syllogism or the economic model of rationality kicks in: if I want to ameliorate climate change I should act to reduce my emissions and to see whether I can convince you to do likewise. But I have many goals that I’m trying to achieve simultaneously, including goals that economists assert to be rational, such as maximizing my income, or paying as little as possible for the things I need. The sheer fact that I’m deliberating about how to reach some goal rationally isn’t going to help me decide which of these goals to pursue when they conflict. It’s not going to help me fix my ultimate goals, or order my goals in a list of priorities. In order to do that, I’m going to have to figure out what I really want, what I think is most important. On that matter, the practical syllogism, like particle physics, is silent.

In general, fixing our ultimate values—in politics or anywhere else—is not an activity that lends itself to rational deliberation. It rests, rather, on visceral commitment. If I think that justice is more important than tradition, or world peace than national borders, for example, I am going to have to screw up my emotions one way or another and make the choice. And to persuade you to do likewise, I am going to have to express passion, not present a series of practical syllogisms or scientific papers. No one’s politics is based on deliberative rationality. And no one’s politics is based on science, of course.

This is one thing that David Hume meant when he made his famous declaration that “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions.” Another thing he meant was that while passion, emotion, or desire can motivate people to action, sheer reason cannot. Though people sometimes say that science demands that we act now, it demands no such thing. It might tell us that if we don’t act now, various things will happen. It can’t show us why we don’t want them to happen, or why we should try not to let them happen, if we don’t really care as much about being screwed in the long run as we do about what’s for dinner tonight. Reason might tell us that if we want dinner tonight we should go to the grocery store and crank up the grill; it can’t tell us how much to care, or what to care about. Perhaps reason is a group or a family of strategies for generating beliefs, but, if so, it looks like they are only tangentially related to each other. At any rate, when you’ve told me that I should select my political beliefs rationally, I still don’t know exactly what you mean, or how I possibly could.

Political scientists—who are an interesting kind of scientist—tell us that, statistically speaking, our political positions tend to follow our demographics. The sort of “predictive analytics” that drove Cambridge Analytica’s interventions in the 2016 campaign on behalf of candidates like Trump indicate the same thing. It seems that if I know your race, your region, your age, your gender, your education level, or what movies you watched last month, I can predict your political positions with a fair amount of accuracy. This would be a bizarre circumstance if people were coming to their political positions through rational procedures. The oft-remarked “tribalism” of American politics, which applies just as well to college professors as to truck drivers, gives the lie to the alleged fact that some of these people (the people you agree with, no doubt) are basing their politics on reason while other people (the people you oppose) are not. People, by and large, believe to belong. But at what rate we ought to value belonging: on that, science offers no help.

Perhaps science, whatever it may be, can provide some information that would be useful to us, given that we have certain purposes. It cannot give us purpose, however. If “rationality” meant something, our politics would turn out to be no more rational than we are, overall. What did you expect?

By Crispin Sartwell and published on December 29, 2010 in Quillette and can be found here.

Bye Bye Humanity

                Recently I took an Amtrak train trip to New York City. It used to be that one of the interesting things about traveling outside of one’s local environment was that it gave one an opportunity to meet new people and experience new things. I recall meeting interesting people over the years and having interesting conversations while traveling to and from someplace, and some of these people became acquaintances I kept up a relationship with for years. But, that is no longer the case, because it is very rare that someone initiates a conversation with strangers while traveling. Perhaps it is a generational thing, but people in their 20’s or 30’s seem to look through or not even look at, people of my generation. However, from my readings, I don’t think it is a generational thing. I think it is because people are either busy or want to appear busy working or typing, listening to music, or watching programs or movies or reading on their iPhones, Blackberry’s, iPads, Kindles, Nooks, computers, etc., and they don’t even take the time to say hello, or ask where and why someone is traveling, and they certainly do not ask a fellow traveler’s occupation, or engage in any behavior that can be remotely related to establishing some type of human contact.

                For example, the young man next to me was listening to music, and did not attempt to make eye contact once. In fact, he seemed afraid to make eye contact. The young man on my companion’s side was wearing a large set of earphones and moving in rhythm to the music. The woman in front of me was talking to a friend in a loud voice for most of the trip, and I heard the conversation clearly (something I didn’t really want to overhear) about her travels and her life. In fact, on nearly every public transportation trip I take, someone is talking in an inappropriately loud voice for the duration of the trip, and the subject is usually mundane. I always wonder how it is possible that person on the other end of the line has the time to spend hours in the middle of the day on a mundane telephone conversation. Another woman, apparently from Spain, spent the entire time looking at Spanish news. Another woman was playing solitaire on an iPad. People these days seem to be tethered to some mode of electronic device, and appear to invent things to do, such as stay on the phone, so they will appear to be busy. Of course, those of us who have e mail know the hypnotizing effect of the need to constantly check e mails and text messages, so we are always doing that.

                I recall years ago in Italy seeing people walking through Rome talking incessantly on their cell phones, years before they became prevalent in the USA. I thought it was really funny. Now, as the world has adopted this behavior, I no longer think it is funny. In fact, I see it as a diminishment of humanity. People need to speak with each other and communicate for many reasons. A “friend” has to be a real person, not someone who likes something you say and who you may never meet. We cannot make new friends or have interesting discussions or meet new people if everyone is talking to their current friends, or is entertaining themselves, or is removing themselves from humanity. Human isolation is bad on many levels—it can lead to health problems, it can lead to job problems, and it can lead to violence, as many people who commit crimes, and some of these are mass crimes, are often described as “loners”. Being a “loner” doesn’t always mean the person wants to be alone, but in today’s world, it is hard to get connected in a real, and not superfluous, way. As I am lawyer, I think this isolation will also lead to legal problems as people become less interested in trying to resolve their problems by communicating with each other, and instead rely on the legal system to assist them.    

By: Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire on her blog “Toughlawyerlady.”

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