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We Can Talk about philosophy later !

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It’s really hard for me to talk about ‘gay stuff’. Be it the justification for homosexual behaviour in general, or issues like gay marriage. The discomfort I feel stems from the fact that I have a very conservative Christian and elitist upbringing, and so even though, I consider myself very liberal, I still find it hard to let go of the ‘security’ that fundamentalism provides.

After careful consideration however, there is no doubt that fundamentalism does not provide any genuine ‘security’. Conservative Christianity is blind, and any security it claims to provide is false! Its only security is in the fact that it does not change, but what exists that does not change?

Fundamentals continue to provide age old arguments, for new issues. Although homosexual behaviour is a not a practice that is new among humans, the discourse surrounding gay marriage and gay families, is one that is new, and in fact, different from the discourse that has surrounded homosexuality.

What response do conservative Christians have to gay marriage? It’s the same old talk about “Sodom and Gomorrah”, and the bible passages that condemn homosexual behaviour.

Fundamentalism embodies sterility, in my mind. They bite the hand the feeds them. The ideas and values that they vehemently oppose create and shape the world they live in. They seek to escape the world because of its sin and waywardness, yet they do not realise that their rejection of the world only shapes it. It defines the world, and makes it the same world they live in.

There are good arguments for gay marriage, but fundamentalists will not hear it. Their view of the world as given, or as having aspects of it that are given, debars them. I doubt however, and hope, that members of the LGBTQ community will not allow such attitudes to impede them.

They forget that to live, is to create.

This post expands on the last discussion on The Ambiguity of Human Existence. See it here. I objected to De Beauvoir’s claims that human beings not only have to accept their ambiguity, but they have to deal with it. It seems that De Beauvoir exaggerates the ambiguous situation that humans are in.

The merit to De Beauvoir’s work on the ambiguity of human condition, however, is the resulting ethics. De Beauvoir tells us how to exist genuinely. The first step to genuine existence is to will yourself free. Being free is what can allow humans to justify their existence. The human existence is ambiguous because humans do not know why they exist. Humans simply find that they exist. They therefore have the responsibility of justifying their existence, according to De Beauvoir. In order to justify their existence, however, they need freedom in order to allow them to embark and conclude projects. This is how value is created in the world. When writers and musicians create art they enrich the world with value. Freedom is therefore an imperative.

In order to exist genuinely, humans must do two things: first, humans must make themselves free. Thereafter, they must make others free.

The second requirement, making others free, is necessary because no man can save himself alone. When as humans we try to justify our existence through the various projects that we embark on, we need the help of other people to achieve those ends. But if other members in society are oppressed, there is no way they can help each other to achieve their ends in justifying their existence.

Freedom then, is a thing of absolute value. We must all strive to have freedom, and after having it, we must protect it such that whatever ends we set up do not in any way make us un-free.

This is all well and good. But the moment I decide to adhere to De Beauvoir’s ethics, a couple of questions immediately plague me: How do I define freedom? Can this freedom be quantified? Is total freedom attainable? Is genuine existence attainable?

These questions need to be considered. What use is an ethics that cannot help those who adhere to it deal with the difficulties that the ethics produces?

I will do that in the next post.

First off, I do not pay too much attention to U.S politics. Not that it is not important, it is. There is just too much information to grapple with. There is also the burden of filtering all the information you get for genuine, true and relevant information. As a liberal though, I would cast my vote for Obama.

But there is something that the current political climate in the U.S brings to bear. It is the battle of values. The religions and beliefs of the respective candidates become important. Does McCain support gay marriage? Is Barrack ‘Hussein’ Obama a Moslem? Would that be a security risk to the U.S?

What role, if any, should religion play in politics? None. But that is all idealistic talk. In the U.S, there is the so-called separation of “state and church”, but is there really? Why does anyone care that McCain sought the endorsement of John Hagee – the man who called Catholicism the great whore, and said that Hurricane Katrina was a punishment from God on America? McCain only reluctantly denounced him after there was a backlash. What should be said about Obama being under fire because of the statements made by the Pastor of his church?

Many people, republicans and liberals alike would want to argue that the religion of their president does not matter. But religion is tied so closely to the morality, and values by which a person lives that I believe that it would be difficult for someone in power to divorce his religion from his work, especially when he is in a position of power and control, and he is able to even somewhat forcefully impose his wishes on others. There is also the issue of voters not trusting candidates of other religions not to pursue their own agenda. Conservative Christians will fear that they might legalize gay marriage or euthanasia.

Below Rachel Maddow, host of The Rachel Maddow Show on Air America Radio discusses Values Voter Debate 2008. It’s also really funny.

So, I ask again, should religion have a role in politics? Realistically, I would say that religion should have a role in politics. Because as human beings, we hold very strongly to our convictions, and those convictions define our lives, and our morality. We cannot therefore escape the collision of religion and politics.

But what role should it have? To what extent can private convictions be extended to the public sphere? Roger Williams argues that there has to be a difference between public morality and private morality. Public morality is the type of morality that is inclusive to people of all religions. To force a religion on others, Williams argues is “soul rape”. Conservatives cannot say things like ‘America is a Christian nation’, and on that basis oppose gay marriage. Public morality has to include everyone. I agree with Williams.

I think that what we have to do as a society is to decide what our public morality. What are those rules that we can all agree to regardless of our convictions? It would no doubt be a difficult task, but it is something we can hope for.

Martha Nussbaum’s lecture “Equal Respect for Conscience: The Roots of a Moral and Legal Tradition” focuses on the role of religion in society, and especially on the views of Roger Williams on this topic. It’s about 45 minutes long, but it is worth listening to. Here’s a link to the lecture.

Big Love, TV Show on HBO about a polygamous family in Utah

Big Love, TV Show on HBO about a polygamous family in Utah

This is my response to Martha Nussbaum’s blog post titled “Debating Polygamy” on the University of Chicago Law School blog. Please check this post out yourself here.

I agree pretty much with everything she says. I want to try to expand on a few things though.

First, Nussbaum makes a very important point: polygamy is not the same as child sexual abuse. When people think of polygamy, they think of fifteen year old girls being forced into marriage with nasty old men. Nussbaum does not deny that this happens, but abusing a child sexually is an offence that should be punished and I doubt that Nussbaum or many others will object to that. The issue of child abuse is one that is different, and should be dealt with seriously whether in a monogamous setting or a polygamous one.

In addition to, and besides the polygamy that exists in religious sects, she argues that plural marriages between mutually consenting adults are well within the rights of those individuals. She asks, “What about a practice of plural contractual marriages, by mutual consent, among adult, informed parties, all of whom have equal legal rights to contract such plural marriages?” “What interest might the state have that would justify refusing recognition of such marriages?”

There seems to be no basis for the government to make polygamy illegal. Period. Religion, and sexuality are examples of the factors that play a role in a person choosing to be in a polygamous relationship. There is no need to go into how personal a person’s religion or sexuality is; and so, it makes sense that religious and sexual freedoms are protected by the Constitution (Charter of Rights and Freedom in Canada).

Children can be hurt by polygamy, as they can be by monogamy. But children do not have to be hurt in order for three or more consenting adults to be in a marriage. If the majority in society (those who influence policies) were sincere about their claims that they respect equal rights to freedom (in a democratic and free society), then they would create laws and regulations that would allow groups of mutually consenting adults to enter into a marriage, and at the same time providing safeguards that would prevent sexual child abuse. Safeguards currently exist that prevent adult women and men from being forced into monogamous marriages. So, why can those protections not exist in polygamous ones? Nussbaum rightly points out that monogamous marriage as we know it today has evolved, as women did not have the rights they now do (such as getting a divorce on grounds of cruelty). If monogamous marriage has been able to restore itself from its barbarity, why is polygamy not given a chance to emerge from its darkness

The only reasons for debarring mutually consenting adults from entering into a marriage that suits their sexual wants, needs or desires, is hypocrisy, and a fear of those that are different. Polygamy, like gay marriages challenge the norms of the majority. It is understandable that the very existence of others whose lives are based on values that are opposed to those of the majority will be challenging and threatening; it is not understandable however to feel so threatened and challenged as to deny others of their rights. That is what happens when mutually consenting adults are denied from entering a polygamous marriage!

Simone de Beauvoir

Let me start by saying that I do not know what is meant by the ‘ambiguity of the human condition’. I have reason to think, however, that it is something that one should at least think about. Simone de Beauvoir claims that at one point or another every human being will of necessity feel the ambiguity of his existence. So here are the two things I would like to consider: first, what is the ambiguity of the human condition; and second, how does this ambiguity affect me as a person, if it has any effect at all.

Simone de Beauvoir, like Sartre, is an existentialist. Sartre and De Beauvoir had a professional relationship, as well as, a romantic one (they were partners). De Beauvoir agrees with Sartre on many points and, in fact, completes his work on different occasions. De Beauvoir expands on Sartre’s idea of ‘anxiety’. Sartre claims that humans feel anxious because ‘existence precedes essence’. Human beings simply find that they exist; and it is up to them to give meaning to their lives. Humans are not like calculators that come with manuals stating their functions. Humans have to create a manual for their lives. This is a huge responsibility that humans have to face, and it no doubt makes them anxious.

The fact that the human ‘existence precedes essence’ partially explains why the human existence is ambiguous, according to De Beauvoir. Simply, put humans just find that they exist; their existence is “pure contingency” (De Beauvoir 15). “There is no more reason to exist than not to exist” (De Beauvoir 15).

In addition to the fact that human existence is pure contingency, humans are faced with the problem of being neither fully mind nor matter. This lack of synthesis between the physical aspect of humans, and the mental aspect is disconcerting for humans. Only God, De Beauvoir claims, is unified in this way (De Beauvoir 10). Humans, as pure rationality, view themselves as masters of everything around them (De Beauvoir 9). Humans in fact master the world through their actions. Machines such as airplanes, cars, buildings, and even simple objects like rakes, show how humans, through intellect, have subjected the world around them to humans use.

But that is not the end of the story. In order to make appliances, humans need their body. But the human body is not indestructible. Natural objects like fire, and ice, and the very objects that humans have created can harm the body. Death is the finality of humans, and humans cannot escape their death. Therefore, even though human rationality seeks to place humans above all else around them, human physicality links humans to the rest of nature and there lies the inability of humans to truly master the world.

Therefore, not only can humans not achieve a synthesis of their mind and body; they are faced with the responsibility of giving meaning to their existence. I can see how this situation will be disconcerting for any human being. I have wondered myself the meaning of “all this”. Why do I exist? Why is there a world at all? And like Heidegger, I have asked, “why is there something rather than nothing?” I fail to see however why existentialists take these questions so seriously. Heidegger believes that the question, “why is there something rather than nothing?” should be the first philosophical question. De Beauvoir believes that it is dubious to try to ignore this ambiguity.

Even if it were true that every human feels the ambiguity of his existence at one point or the other, why must he or she take cognizance of it? My point is this, when humans come to the world, they have the world already defined for them. They can follow in the foot – steps of their parents and others. So, why should humans bother with this situation? It seems that the ambiguity of the human condition is something that as a person you encounter at some point in your life, realize you have no answers to your “whys”, and you simply move on. In fact, you have to move on.

I am also weary of De Beauvoir’s claim that humans view themselves as the masters of everything around them. I know that will be unfair to say now, after the fact, that humans do not view themselves as masters of everything around them, as humans are clearly are not. But, is it really true that all humans think of humanity as superior in that sense? Different cultures see humanity in different ways. I think that cultural insensitivity might contribute to De Beauvoir’s claim that humans view themselves as the “supreme end to which all action should be subordinated” (De Beauvoir 9). Some cultural groups worship nature, for example. It will be incoherent for a group of people who view nature as being worthy of their worship, to at the same time view nature as being subject to them.

I understand that at first it is disconcerting when you realize the lack of explanation that is your existence, but you move on. Simple. I am just finding it hard to understand why this ambiguity of the human condition is something we should dwell on. De Beauvoir has reason to believe that one should consider this ambiguity seriously, because as she claims, there are better or worse ways to cope with it. It is on this basis she develops an “ethics of ambiguity”. I will not discuss that here.

 

Works Cited

De Beauvoir, Simone, The Ethics of Ambiguity, Citadel Press, 1976

Sartre

Sartre

This is by no means an exhaustive discussion of Sartre’s existentialism. I find Sartre’s views on human existence interesting, and in fact agree with him on some points. But there are some claims that seem problematic, and that is what I am going to explore.

According to Sartre, the human “existence precedes essence” (311). What this means simply is that human beings do not come to the world with a manual explaining why they were created or their purpose on earth, unlike a calculator would. Human beings simply find that they exist. But once humans start to act upon the world, they begin to create value, and in doing this give meaning to their lives.

The reason that the human existence, at first, has no meaning is because there is no God to define it. The theistic God, which is the God Sartre is referring to, is thought to be the creator of the universe. If such a being existed, then the existence of this being would precede the existence of man; and human beings would be his handiwork. If it were to be the case that humans were created by God, then human existence would be explained by divine purpose. Since Sartre believes this is not to the case, Sartre argues that the human existence at first has no meaning. Meaning is created by humans.

It is at this juncture that I disagree with Sartre. Sartre seems to be arguing that the fact that God does not exist makes the human existence devoid of meaning, until humans define themselves. Is the theistic God the only source of meaning that humans have besides themselves?

One does not have to subscribe to theism, in order, to believe that the human existence has an essence outside of it’s self. Neither does one have to seek to define his or her life, in order, for one’s life to have meaning. Human life has an essence, from a biological stance, whether or not humans know this or not. Humans are part of a biotic community, and human activities ensure the survival of that community. One can be an atheist, and conceive of human existence as having meaning in its role as a part of the biotic community. Also, note that such a definition of human kind is not created by man.

Sartre is giving humans only two ways to find meaning to their existence: God or themselves. I do not agree that humans have only two options before them. Or at least, let’s look for other options!

Works Cited

Sartre, J.-P, “The Humanism of Existentialism”, from Essays in Existentialism, ed. Wade Baskin, tr. B. Frechtman, Secaucus, NJ: The Citadel Press, 1972