Be Careful What You Wish For (Why I Hate Hate Crimes Legislation, But I Love Hate Speech)

By Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

In loving memory of my baby brother, Jacob Michael Braasch (01/28/86 - 02/02/10)

I saw a woman in niqab on the UC Berkeley campus the other week. I was shocked. I didn't approach her. I didn't speak to her. She was with two other women in hijab, on the opposite side of a wide walkway.

But, I was shocked. And, appalled. Here was a woman (or, at least, I assume she was a woman), in the heart of what is arguably the most politically liberal university campus and city in the US, a fount for civil rights and 60's hippie culture, engaging in a brazen act of gender segregation and slavery in the egalitarian public space of a secular, liberal, constitutional, democratic republic. I think it is a great shame for a woman living in a secular democracy to perpetuate a barbaric, patriarchal religio-cultural tradition when women are fighting and dying across the globe to be free from gender segregation and slavery.

My views on public anti-mask laws (burqa bans, colloquially) as both public safety and gender desegregation measures are well known. We can no more tolerate gender segregation in the public space than we can tolerate racial segregation in the public space, above and beyond the simple fact that we can neither protect nor prosecute those whom we cannot identify, creating an untenable public safety and security hazard.

I expressed my great upset at witnessing this barbarism on the UC Berkeley campus on the English-language facebook page, which I maintain for Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores Nor Submissives). Ni Putes Ni Soumises (NPNS) is the amazing women's rights organization, with global headquarters in Paris, France, which grew out of the outrage over the egregious gender violence being perpetrated upon the Muslim immigrant women and girls of the ghettoized suburban housing projects surrounding the major cities of France. I maintain this page to spread the Ni Putes Ni Soumises message of Secularism, Gender Equality, and Gender Desegregation throughout the English-speaking world.

There are a handful of misogynistic Islamists who occasionally try their hand at debating me on such subjects as US constitutional law and abortion rights on my NPNS facebook page. There's little I enjoy more than publicly humiliating them online. In truth, I owe them no small amount of gratitude. Every time they bait me, and I engage them, my readership jumps precipitously. And, I relish the opportunity to vent a little of my barely contained rage.

So, of course, my misogynistic Islamist readers couldn't pass up a choice opportunity to point out my obvious anti-immigrant racism and bigotry. (I'll admit to being purposely and purposefully provocative in describing the event as an abomination.) But, after comparing the burqa/niqab to the offense of having to watch a woman walk across campus in a mini-skirt, my Islamist interlocutors took a more interesting tack.

They accused me of having perpetrated a hate crime against Muslims and threatened me with hate crimes prosecution, under the guise of being terribly concerned that I not place myself in legal hot water, of course. It was a public service on their part, really. Of course, I pointed out that, not only did I reject their presumption of the role of spokespersons for the Muslim community as a whole, but that gender-based hate crimes are also included in the federal hate crimes act, not to mention the fact that I refuse to be deterred from exercising my constitutional right to free speech.

But, here's the thing. They're right. I have reason to be worried. And, they don't. Because it's always ok to hate women in America. This is why they felt no qualms about hatefully haranguing women with impunity and turning around and intimating that I was opening myself up to hate crimes prosecution by attacking the niqab. (In fact I said nothing hateful whatsoever about Muslims, or even Islam. Ni Putes Ni Soumises is not anti-religion or anti-Islam, just anti-religionism and anti-Islamism. Most of the women advocating on behalf of secularism for NPNS are Muslim immigrants themselves.)

But, they understand that religious groups enjoy a privileged position, which is denied to women. They understand that the likelihood that they should ever be prosecuted for a gender-based hate crime is all but non-existent, while the possibility that I could ever be prosecuted for a religion-based hate crime is quite real. They understand that even if they should decide to go on a raping rampage against women, that their misogynistic diatribes will never be unearthed, nor will any serious attempt ever be made to unearth them, in all probability. Because no one cares if you hate women in America.

For the rest of my life, if I should ever get into any kind of a dispute or altercation with anyone who claims to be Muslim, I could conceivably be prosecuted for a hate crime. My vehement anti-religion, and especially anti-Islam, ramblings on facebook, my personal blog, the Freedom From Religion Foundation's website, and Daylight Atheism could be used against me in a court of law.

What my misogynistic Islamist pals don't know, and how could they, since I was representing not myself, but Ni Putes Ni Soumises during our little exchange, is that literally nothing can deter me from exercising my right to free speech to advocate on behalf of women's rights as universal human rights without compromise. I am a loner. I will never marry nor have children, which is a tactical choice. I am responsible for no one. I have no possessions. I have no money. I have no family. I have no community. I have no allegiances to any person or group or organization or corporation. I am as free as can be. I have my freedom, which is the only thing I value. I am beholden to no one and nothing, save my dead brother's memory and my own conscience. Jacob's suicide freed, enraged, and empowered me. I also know a thing or two about the law. In other words, you can't scare me. What are you going to do? Kill me? Put me in prison? We're all going to die someday. I choose to take advantage of every possible moment, while I'm still here, to leave a glorious legacy for my beloved sibling and myself. And, I choose to use my freedom and my knowledge to fight for secularism, gender equality, and gender desegregation.

Since I hate to mince words, let me just say: Hate crimes legislation is stupid. Seriously stupid. Abominably stupid. I hate hate crimes legislation. But, I love hate speech. Hate crimes legislation has a chilling effect on free speech and freedom of association. This is why hate crimes legislation is in direct contravention of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Under hate crimes legislation, anyone who has ever said anything, which might be deemed hateful, directed at one of the groups protected under the legislation, opens themselves up to hate crimes prosecution in perpetuity, if they should ever find themselves in a dispute or altercation with someone who claims membership in any of those aforementioned protected groups. I want the haters out in the open, in the disinfecting sunlight of free and open discourse in the public marketplace of ideas. When people feel like their voices aren't being heard, that's usually when violence erupts. Thus, the paradox of hate crimes legislation. Hate crimes legislation couches the criminal penalty for hate speech within a crime of violence. But, in my opinion, nothing moves one to violence so much as being denied the right to speak one's mind.

Hate crimes legislation is thought crime legislation. Hate crimes legislation criminalizes the motive behind a crime. Criminalizing the motive is criminalizing the why. Criminalizing the motive is criminalizing thoughts. A hate crime is an additional penalty, above and beyond the penalty imposed for whatever crime of violence. It is an additional penalty to punish the perpetrator for his/her motive. It is an additional penalty to punish the perpetrator for his/her thoughts, for his/her reason for having acted violently. This is thought crime. Pure and simple.

But, since we don't live inside a Philip K. Dick story, we can't read people's minds, which is why we can only know someone's thoughts by their speech, or, in some cases, their actions. Which brings us back to my point about the chilling effect that hate crimes legislation has upon free speech. If my speech opens me up to legal liability in perpetuity, then I'm not going to speak. (Well, I am, but my imperviousness is rather anomalous, I would think.)

There are two most commonly cited justifications for implementing hate crimes legislation, and both are egregious errors. First, proponents of hate crimes legislation argue that we already penalize perpetrators of crimes for their thoughts, because mens rea (mental intent) is always an element of any crime. Second, proponents argue that, even if hate crimes legislation is thought crime legislation, this is ok, because it is thought crime legislation, which is only ever prosecuted after the point at which the perpetrator has acted violently against someone.

Mens rea (mental intent) and motive are NOT the same thing. Mental intent is always a required element of whichever crime. We don't punish people for perpetrating crimes, which they do not intend to perpetrate unless they should have been aware that they were perpetrating crimes. We don't charge people who have seizures behind the wheel, precipitating fatal car accidents, with murder. But, if they were aware of a dangerous medical condition and failed to take reasonable precautions, then that degree of negligence or recklessness could rise to the level of criminality.

The Model Penal Code defines mens rea as having done something purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or in a grossly negligent fashion. What should already be obvious to even the legal layperson is that none of these criteria for satisfying the mental intent element of a crime addresses the issue of motive. Motive is a wholly separable and severable issue. Motive is equivalent to the reason behind having perpetrated a crime. Motive asks the question, "Why did the accused perpetrate this crime?" Motive does not ask whether or not the accused intended to perpetrate the crime. If I am behaving in a criminally negligent fashion, I still have a motive, presumably, for my behavior. Perhaps I am aware of a dangerous medical condition of mine, which induces seizures. Perhaps I fail to take reasonable precautions. Perhaps, I get behind the wheel, because I am feeling incredibly ill, and I intend to drive myself to the hospital emergency room. I have a seizure and get into a fatal car accident. What was my motive? My motive was to drive myself to the hospital emergency room for medical care. What was my mental intent? Did I intend to have a seizure and get into a car accident, resulting in the deaths of innocent bystanders? Should I have been aware of the possibility of having a seizure and getting into a fatal car accident? Was my degree of negligence gross? Does my motive tell you anything about whether I should have been aware of the possibility of having a seizure and getting into a fatal car accident? What if my motive was to drive myself to the movies?

Motive is never an element of any given crime, EXCEPT in the case of hate crimes legislation. Motive can be admitted as evidence of mental intent, but it is not an element of the crime. If I chose to drive myself to the movies, and I bought a ticket online immediately before getting behind the wheel, this can be admitted as evidence that I behaved in a grossly negligent fashion. But, I am not being penalized for wanting to go to the movies; I am being penalized for failing, in a gross manner, to act as a reasonable person would have done under the circumstances. Likewise, without inventing an even more extravagant scenario, perhaps there were extenuating circumstances, in the case of my having chosen to drive myself to the hospital, which led me to believe that I had no other options than to do so.

Conflating motive and mens rea is a serious error, which places our entire American legal system in jeopardy. Allow me to explain why. I'll continue with the preceding example, because I find that examples serve best in explaining difficult legal concepts. And, these concepts are difficult for everyone, lawyers included. Let's say that our legislators, responding to a popular mandate, decide to promulgate stupid crimes legislation, wherein those who perpetrate crimes of criminal negligence for particularly stupid motives, like, say, going to the movies, face additional penalties, and that this legislation is a response to moral majority outrage over the loss of life and the infliction of serious bodily harm while engaging in frivolous activities for frivolous purposes. The public is incensed by the flagrant disregard for public safety and welfare.

Stupid crimes legislation entails the imposition of vastly harsher penalties for particularly stupid motives. But, it only imposes those penalties upon those who actually end up negligently killing someone or inflicting serious bodily harm. The legislation is justified as a response to the increased and senseless harms inflicted upon the general public for especially stupid reasons. If you accidentally kill someone in the course of attempting to save someone's life, you're ok. You might still be punished for your criminal negligence, but you won't face additional penalties. But, if you accidentally kill someone in the course of going to the movies, you receive additional penalties, if convicted. The laws penalize only those motives, which are considered frivolous or stupid. Entertainment activities are generally considered frivolous or stupid.

Makes no sense, does it? It's going to make you think twice about going to see that brand new movie release or concert, won't it? Either way, you didn't intend to either purposely or knowingly kill someone. Your intent is no different. You weren't aware that you would kill someone, but you should have been aware that you could kill someone, and that negligence on your part was gross. But, now, you're going to receive additional penalties on the basis of the stupidity of your motive during the course of perpetrating a crime of gross negligence. Because the jury will be morally outraged that you ended someone's life while doing something as frivolous as going to the movie theater. You're not actually being criminalized for going to the movies, but for wanting to go the movies.

Does it make a difference that you won't actually risk these penalties until you've killed someone? None whatsoever. You're still being penalized for the additional crime of wanting to go to the movies, of thinking that you want to go to the movies. Which evokes a myriad equal protection concerns. Someone who wants to go to the movies is being punished differently than someone who wants to save someone's life. For the same crime. The only difference is motive.

Additionally, hate crimes legislation violates the constitutional rights of the accused. You can almost always bring in evidence of a defendant's motive to prove mental intent. However, Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence still applies. Rule 403 of the Federal Rules of Evidence says that if the prejudicial nature of the evidence outweighs its probative value, meaning that if the evidence is going to so inflame a jury so as to call into question the defendant's right to a fair trial, then the evidence is out, no matter how on point and illuminating it is. But, hate crimes legislation throws the Federal Rules of Evidence out the window, as well as their goal of protecting the constitutional rights of the accused. Hate crimes legislation specifically says that if evidence of motive is so inflammatory that it calls into question the constitutional right of the accused to a fair trial, because it will provoke moral outrage in the jury, then it's admissible. And, not only is it admissible, but it is an element of the crime, and the accused faces harsher penalties, because of the inflammatory and morally outrageous nature of the evidence. It is no longer about merely proving mental intent. It is about purposely and purposefully enraging the jury. It is about criminalizing morally outrageous thoughts/speech. It is about penalizing the perpetrator for his/her morally outrageous thoughts. Hate crimes legislation tells the jury, "If you are morally outraged, then not only consider this evidence, but convict and punish on the basis of your moral outrage." If we uphold the Federal Rules of Evidence, then the Federal Rules of Evidence, which prohibits egregiously inflammatory motive evidence, will negate the existent of hate crimes legislation.

Regarding the second justification for hate crimes legislation, let's return to the Philip K. Dick story, in which we seemingly live. Hate crimes legislation is essentially future crimes legislation. If you speak hateful speech, then you will be penalized both now and in perpetuity, by the imposition of a legal liability, for some future violent crime, which you may commit. You will forever be in a position of legal vulnerability, especially with respect to anyone who claims membership in any group protected by hate crimes legislation. You are no longer fully and equally protected by the law. You are no longer a full citizen of the US.

Finally, hate crimes legislation is the granting of rights and legal personality to social groups, placing individual human rights, especially women's and children's rights in jeopardy. Proponents of hate crimes legislation also put forth the argument that hate crimes don't just affect the individual who has been transgressed, but that these crimes are harms against communities of persons, social groups. But, I'm afraid that someone is going to have to define these protected groups with some degree of certitude, including their boundaries, their membership, their protocols for inclusion/exclusion and acceptance/rejection (coming, staying, and going), their rules, their leadership, etc., etc..

Human beings are real. Social groups aren't. Not nations, not religions, not ethnicities, not cultures, and not races. Group identity is inherently arbitrary and illusory and fluid. There is no objective definition of a social group. The experience of being a self-identified member of a social group is a wholly personal and subjective experience, which only exists in the mind of one or another group member. It matters not that human beings are social creatures that evolved to live in social groups and make decisions communally. This says nothing about the objective reality of social groups. Each member of a social group experiences the group in an entirely different way than any other member. He/she understands his/her role, value, and status within the group differently. There is no objective leadership, no objective set of rules of conduct, no objective protocol for entering, maintaining, or leaving a social group. And, this is as it should remain. Social group identity should remain an arbitrary, illusory, and fluid entity, entirely the process of self-initiation. In the same way that government should pay no heed to religion whatsoever, neither to advance nor deter, government should pay no heed to social groups whatsoever, neither to advance nor deter.

Why? Why should this be so?

Just think about the consequences of legally defining social groups. By recognizing a social group as an objectively definable entity, and legalizing this so-called objective definition of whichever social group, and granting this legal fiction rights and legal personality, we do nothing so much as violate the personhood, autonomy, integrity (bodily and otherwise), and humanity of whichever social group's members. Group identity is no longer an ephemeral process of self-identification. It is now a process of government indoctrination. Typically, the government cedes its authority to write this legal fiction for whichever social group to the "leaders" of the group, which almost always means the powerful group members, and usually means men. Legalizing group rights is a license to oppress the less powerful members of a group, rendering individual human rights meaningless.

A recognized group with legal rights and personality is an entity, which will seek to perpetuate itself. The group leaders, powerful male group members most likely, will seek to control the means of reproduction of the group members, i.e. women's bodies and children. Is it any surprise that group leadership will define women group members, who may or may not have had a choice in residing within or without the group, as the sexual and reproductive property of the group? Is it any surprise that a legalized group will defend its right to police its own members, promulgate and enforce its own laws, and defend itself against attack by other groups? No one suffers more under religio-cultural / legal communitarianism than women and children. No one loses more rights than women when groups are granted rights.

Religio-cultural / legal communitarianism is a threat to our secular democracy. Legal communitarianism renders equal protection, rule of law, individual human rights, and secularism meaningless. If a religio-cultural social group can hold itself apart from our secular law and democratic institutions and make itself immune to our Constitution, then our democracy will not survive. And, our government will not be able to protect the most vulnerable and least powerful group members from egregious human rights abuses. Hermetic groups, which are impervious to government intervention, are human rights abuse laboratories. Power differentials coupled with a lack of transparency inevitably lead to human rights violations. And, women and children suffer most of all in these scenarios.

You might think I extrapolate too far from the purpose and effect of hate crimes legislation, but I don't. We lose a little more of our secular democracy each day. I want to take some of it back. I want to start with the repeal of hate crimes legislation.

I would extrapolate even further. We are a single, global human family. A single, global human race. We are one tribe. One global community. We are one. Nothing divides us. If we are not able to come to terms with this fact, then we will not survive. It is really that simple.

Promulgating criminal law based upon a subjective sense of moral indignation, be it moral majority outrage or otherwise, always sounds like a good idea until you're on the receiving end of that moral indignation. In other words, be careful what you wish for.

Additionally, hate crimes legislation raises Due Process and 5th Amendment Double Jeopardy questions. But, this essay is already sufficiently lengthy. Suffice it to say that Due Process questions particularly arise in the instance when the accused is subjected to sentencing enhancements determined by a judge, in lieu of determination of guilt by a jury. Fifth Amendment Double Jeopardy issues are evoked, because the accused is being prosecuted twice over for the same crime.

There are so many ways to think that hate crimes legislation is stupid. Even if you're not convinced by one argument, it is hard to imagine that anyone can remain immune to the persuasive power of the aggregation of arguments against hate crimes legislation.

And, now we see why it's always ok to hate women in America. Women having full access to their humanity is a direct threat to the existence of social groups. Both women and groups being able to wield the power of hate crimes legislation at the same time, against one another, renders hate crimes legislation meaningless. They cancel each other out. Like matter and anti-matter.

And, so, we wait for someone to be prosecuted for a gender-based hate crime.

And, we wait. And wait.

Excuse me if I don't hold my breath.

August 22, 2011, 10:20 am • Posted in: The LibraryPermalink60 comments

Religious Gas-Lighting

By Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

In loving memory of my baby brother, Jacob Michael Braasch (01/28/86 – 02/02/10)

Religionists are those who wish to make religious law the law of the land and impose their personal interpretations of religious law upon others. They come in many flavors, be they Christianists, Islamists, or what have you. The Republican Christianists in the US are a particularly vile sort of religionist.

See, we have a little thing called the First Amendment to the US Constitution, including both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The First Amendment is a thing of great beauty, and whatever else may be said about the Founding Fathers, they got this point right. The First Amendment to the US Constitution establishes a near-impenetrable wall of separation between religion and state, despite the Republican Christianists’ efforts to tear it down.

So, the Republican Christianists in the US, since they can’t pass through the wall, are forced to scale the wall. They have to make like wolves in sheep’s clothing and disperse themselves amongst the secularists. They have to feign secular purposes for their religious doctrinal commandments, which they would impose upon the American citizenry. They have to pretend that their personal interpretations of religious canon just happen to coincide with moral majority opinion. It’s not that they are trying to impose religious law upon the citizenry. Oh, no. It’s just that moral majority opinion just happens to coincide perfectly with their personal interpretations of religious law.

This is why you will always see an anti-abortion and anti-women advocate begin with sweeping pronouncements about how EVERYONE wants to make abortion rare. EVERYONE wants to reduce the number of abortions to an absolute minimum. EVERYONE hates abortion. EVERYONE thinks abortion is evil.

They don’t want to make women sex slaves and baby incubators, as God demands. Oh, no. They just care so much about the human rights of the unborn babies.

They don’t want to shove their religious doctrine into my uterus. They don’t want to rape me with religious law. Oh, no. They just care so much about the health and safety and wellbeing of women, that they are willing to forego their commitment to small government and a free market and their libertarian principles, in order to spend time with me in my doctor’s office to help me make my own medical decisions.

They don’t want to legalize the sub-human and second-class citizenship status of women. Oh, no. They just want women to make fully informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive choices. They want them to have all of the information.

Or, all of the misinformation.

We can’t let them get away with this anymore. We have to call a spade a spade.

This is also why I would broaden the definition of secularism to preclude the consideration of, not just religious doctrine, but also subjective moral opinions, in the promulgation of secular law. And, think about it. Religious opinion is just another subjective moral opinion. Regardless of the number of adherents.

This is also why I refuse to play their game. This is why I reject the moniker of pro-choice. I am Pro-Abortion and proud. I do NOT want to make abortion rare. I do NOT want to reduce the number of abortions to an absolute minimum. I do NOT regard abortion as a necessary evil or as an evil at all. I do NOT hate abortion. I LOVE abortion. I want to encourage women to have abortions. I think abortion may save our overpopulated, dying world and our species. Abortion is safer than pregnancy. It is almost always in a woman’s best medical interests to abort a pregnancy. If you want to save the world, have an abortion.

I am not going to let them get away with their misinformation campaign. I am not going to let them get away with pretending that the moral majority agrees with them. I am not going to let them spread lies.

We will not be gas-lighted anymore. The best way to counteract the societal effects of cultural gas-lighting? Counter-stories of truth and facts and reason and logic.

I am so incensed by the prevalence of “Pregnancy Crisis Centers”, I can’t even tell you. Why are we letting them get away with this? Why? Why are we letting them masquerade as medical professionals to trick and coerce women out of having abortions? Why are we letting them put women’s health and lives and wellbeing at risk? Why are we letting them advertise under false pretenses and spread potentially harmful medical misinformation? Why are we letting them violate the privacy of private citizens? When the government turns a knowing blind eye to violations of our secular laws, based upon religious doctrine, it perpetrates egregious Establishment Clause violations. The charade is over. The cat is out of the bag. The jig is up. Everyone knows where the white elephant is. The emperor is naked.

To show what an abomination it is to allow these “Pregnancy Crisis Centers” to continue operating as they have been, consider the following scenario:

Jehovah’s Witnesses oppose blood transfusions. Blood is regarded as sacred. Knowingly and willingly giving blood or receiving a blood transfusion is regarded as the gravest of sins against Jehovah God.

Now, the blood supply in the US has actually had a checkered safety record. There have been real concerns, in the past, about the hazards that blood transfusions pose. I am not intending to be an alarmist. I know that every precaution is made to keep the blood supply safe and that transmissions of diseases from blood transfusions are now rare. But, my point is that, compared to abortion, there have been real reasons to be concerned about the safety of blood transfusions on a large scale.

Imagine for a moment that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are the majority Christian sect in the United States. Suppose that they decide to create a slew of non-profits, which they refer to as Blood Crisis Centers, with the goals of dissuading persons from having blood transfusions and of spreading medical misinformation about blood transfusions. Suppose that they employ insidious tactics, such as placing their Blood Crisis Centers near the entrances of hospital emergency rooms, making their Blood Crisis Centers look like medical clinics, and having their staff look and act as if they were medical professionals.

Would we stand for this? Not for one moment.

Would we be confused about the religious motivations of the perpetrators? Not for one second.

Would we allow the perpetrators to feign secular purposes? Are you fucking kidding me?

I find that removing the issue from a context to which we’ve been desensitized, after having been bombarded with religious propaganda and sophistry disguised as secular in nature, and placing the issue in the context of a non-mainstream Christian sect, illuminates the problem as little else can. Therefore, I’ve taken the liberty of employing a recent op-ed piece in The New York Times and changing all instances of abortion to blood.

The following is a parody of a recent opinion piece in The New York Times, which can be found here:

This parody constitutes a ‘fair use’ of this copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C. § 107.

Why Won’t They Say?

In a setback for ill persons facing a particularly vulnerable moment in their lives, a federal judge has temporarily barred New York City from enforcing a new law that would require so-called blood crisis centers masquerading as licensed medical facilities to disclose basic facts about their services.

These centers, run by blood opponents, have sprung up in many places around the country. They typically draw clients with advertisements that appear to promise neutral blood counseling. Staff members in medical attire collect information and perform blood tests and try to convince ill persons not to have a blood transfusion. Ill persons who share personal information are also unaware that the centers are not covered by medical confidentiality rules.

The New York City law would require these centers to disclose in ads and waiting-room signs whether they have a licensed medical provider supervising services and whether they make referrals for blood transfusions. Client information they collect would be subject to confidentiality rules.

The decision by Judge Adam Lee of Federal District Court in Manhattan acknowledges the city’s interest in preventing deception related to time-sensitive health care. The judge still granted a preliminary injunction, mistakenly perceiving a violation of free expression in the law’s modest consumer protections.

The law does not prevent the centers from disseminating their anti-blood message or discriminate against the centers on the basis of their viewpoint. Rather, it requires them to make truthful, factual disclosures about their services. The judge claimed the measure’s description of the facilities it covers is too vague. But the criteria seem adequate to guide enforcement.

As the law stands, medical doctors can be required to convey certain factual information to ill persons to help them make informed choices. Under Judge Lee’s ruling, blood crisis centers pretending to be real medical facilities cannot be made to disclose essential facts about their real services. That makes no sense at all.

August 2, 2011, 5:52 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink62 comments

An Atheist's Confession

By Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

In loving memory of my baby brother, Jacob Michael Braasch (01/28/86 – 02/02/10)

My beloved baby brother, Jacob, hung himself last year in my parents' basement. I wouldn't wish my pain on my worst enemy. It's been a year and a half, and, sometimes, I still can't get out of bed or stop crying. I'll be in public, and I'll inexplicably, to anyone else, burst into sobbing, jagged tears. I blame a lot of people for his death, especially my parents. But, mostly, I blame myself. I walked away from my life to save my life, when I was still a child myself, but, in doing so, I walked away from Jacob. I had promised to take care of him, to love him, to keep him safe and well, and I broke that promise. Now, I am broken. I will never forgive myself.

I would make a Faustian bargain, I would sell my soul to the devil, I would torture myself, to get five more minutes with him, to be able to tell him one last time how much I love him, to tell him how sorry I am. I would gouge out an eye. I would hack off a limb. I would sacrifice my life.

I would try to contact his spirit. And, I did try. When I was in Paris still, in the months following Jacob's suicide, I spent my days curled up in a fetal position on the floor of my apartment, screaming, and intermittently vomiting. At first, I couldn't even get up off the floor to go to the bathroom to vomit. I would just vomit on the floor and lie in it. It was the one time I was grateful for the indifference of my Parisian neighbors. I thought I would die of grief. I wanted to die, but I was stopped from killing myself when I thought of the pain I would be inflicting upon my remaining two siblings.

I begged Jacob's ghost or spirit or essence or alternate version living in a parallel universe to visit me, to communicate with me, to contact me in some way. I promised not to be scared. As I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, which is a demon and occult-obsessed cult of demonology, not being scared of demons or evil spirits is not something that comes easily to me, even decades after leaving the religious community. They believe that demons are real. They believe that demons can hurt you physically, sexually, and psychologically. They believe that demonic attack is an ever-present threat. They don't believe in hell, so they have to bring hell to earth. I was already in hell, and I would have let a demon rape me, if it meant being able to see my baby brother again.

I tried everything. I bought all the books. I lit the candles. I did the research. I burned his ashes. I prayed to his picture. I cast a sacred circle with salt after I swept it clean with a broom. I built an altar to the four directions/elements. I cast the spells. I recorded my ceremonies and played back the video/audio, searching desperately for a message from the beyond.

I sat in my fucking sacred circle of salt, before my altar, and I screamed for Jacob to haunt me, even if he wanted to hurt me, even if he was mad at me, even if he hated me. I cut myself.

But, he didn't come.

I am slowly creating a new life for myself. Each day is a struggle. I can't tell you how maddening it is to want justice for your loved ones and for yourself when there is none to be had. You go crazy, you kill yourself, or you continue on. I sometimes envy my other beloved baby brother, Aaron. He's a heavily medicated paranoid schizophrenic. I sometimes just want to let go and lose my fucking mind too.

I've decided to devote the rest of my life to trying to fix all of those things, which hurt me and mine so much. In Jacob's honor and in Jacob's name. I am going to leave a glorious legacy for the both of us. I am going to live for the both of us.

Jacob is my savior. Jacob's death gave me back my relationship with my baby bro, Aaron. Jacob's suicide released me from my fear. It enraged me, and I am using that rage as motivation.

And, in a funny way, Jacob helps me to be less afraid of the dark and less afraid of demons.

Because, if there is a spirit world, then I know that Jacob is in it. And, I know that he would never let anyone or anything hurt me.

I know he would kick a demon's disembodied ass before he'd let him touch me.

I will always love you, Jacob.

And, you can come visit me anytime you want.

July 26, 2011, 4:55 am • Posted in: The LoftPermalink16 comments

Walk Like An Egyptian

No Simo to be seen in Cairo, and God's Son has no place in Madison

By Sarah Braasch

In loving memory of my baby brother, Jacob Michael Braasch (01/28/86 – 02/02/10)

I am sure that most of you are aware of the massive grassroots demonstrations that have been taking place at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison in response to Governor Scott Walker's emergency budget repair bill. I have been demonstrating all week on behalf of workers' rights and public employees and unions, alongside public school teachers and firefighters and nurses and many, many more hardworking, middle class workers and their families.

I have been amazed by how peaceful and civil the protests have been, even when a small Tea Party contingent showed up on Saturday, February 19th. The Capitol Square has been teeming with tens of thousands of teachers, students, kids, and families. There is an overwhelming spirit of camaraderie and purpose. Despite the gravity of the historical and political moment, the protests have been fun and festive, with musical acts and drum circles and insanely clever protest signs. Each and every time the firefighters procession shows up, with firefighters in uniform and led by bagpipes, the crowd goes wild. The firefighters were exempted from Walker's attacks on the other public employee unions, but they have been coming out in force to support their brother and sister unions.

Many of the protest signs reference the recent demonstrations in Egypt, which toppled Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, and many political pundits in the media have commented on similarities between the two movements. Both movements are fights for democracy (and the movement in Madison does have far reaching implications for the future of the Democratic Party and democracy in the United States, because the downfall of the unions would be the downfall, after Citizens United, of the last remaining institutions that give the people any kind of a real voice in our elections, which are now overwhelmed by the political campaign contributions of corporations). But, it does seem a bit extreme to compare those risking their lives to overthrow a brutal dictatorial regime with Governor Scott Walker's implicit threat to call out the National Guard to quell the peaceful protests of public school teachers and his explicit threat to lay off thousands of public employees if his demands are not met.

But, there is one aspect of the demonstrations in Egypt, which I would like to see duplicated in Madison. As was reported by most mainstream media outlets in the English-speaking world, almost all of the demonstrations in Egypt were secular, and purposefully and purposely so. While the Muslim Brotherhood played a role in the protests, as part of a larger coalition of democracy advocates, including secular democracy and civil society advocates, the Brotherhood agreed to refrain from using any religious slogans and from taking an obvious leadership position. Additionally, displays of religiosity were discouraged at the protests.

The Egyptians knew that the whole world was watching them, waiting to dismiss and discredit their movement as theocratic, not democratic. (It remains to be seen how steadfast will be the Muslim Brotherhood's commitment to secularism. I, for one, am not expecting any miracles, but, for now, they have at least demonstrated an ability to abstain from explicit Islamism when politically expedient.) The Egyptians knew they had everything to gain, i.e., worldwide support for their grassroots movement to overthrow Mubarak, by remaining secular. They also understood how easily they could lose global public approbation, by casting their movement as overtly religious, with the implied goals of establishing an Islamic theocracy and implementing Sharia (Muslim law). They also understood the power of a visible female presence at the demonstrations, as an ostensible manifestation of secularism, and granted the women participating in the protests a reprieve from their gender punishment of unrelenting verbal and physical sexual harassment and assault, which is the norm on the streets of Cairo. (The vicious sexual assault on reporter Lara Logan, while she was covering the victory celebrations, certainly does not bode well for the status of women in the Egyptian public sphere.)

Religiosity is the determining criterion by which the West judges Egypt's resolve for both democracy and women's rights. And, rightfully so. Religiosity and democracy are at odds with one another; they are mutually incompatible, as are religiosity and women's rights. They are overlapping magisteria, which destroy one another, like matter and anti-matter, releasing devastating gamma radiation in the process. That is why Thomas Jefferson built up a wall of separation between state and church, to avoid just such a destructive conflagration.

As quick as the protesters are to make comparisons between Wisconsin and Egypt, I wish Wisconsin would mimic the Egyptians' insistence on maintaining the secular nature of their demonstrations. I wish the organizers and protesters in Madison were worried about keeping the protests democratic, not theocratic, for fear of being discredited.

Now, to be fair, the protests in Madison have been largely secular. But, to my dismay, each day of the protest has had to suffer one or another speaker's ill-conceived attempts to inject Jesus Christ into the proceedings. Someone feels the need to pray to Jesus or refer to Jesus or try to motivate us by preaching and praising the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When this occurs, most of the crowd seems palpably uncomfortable, and everyone sort of looks around at each other quizzically and incredulously. A few persons feel obligated to humor the speaker and embark on half-hearted and bungled renditions of whichever hymn or prayer.

But, I resent the concerted crescendo of Christianity being perpetrated upon the masses at the Capitol. Ours is a secular government. I think it represents a complete miscalculation on the part of the perpetrators. This began as and remains a secular, democratic movement with secular, democratic aims. I do not want to see it usurped or adulterated or obscured by religionist interlopers. Additionally, those who are waging a war on workers' rights and public and private sector unions and the lower and middle classes are those same persons who are waging a war on women and children and social safety nets, and they typically invoke religious ideology as justification for their malfeasance. They would love nothing more than to see the U.S. turned into a White American Christian Theocracy. The evangelical Scott Walker (who stated at his inauguration prayer breakfast that there is no "freedom from religion") ran on a platform that cow-towed to the religious right and was anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-stem cell research. At his inauguration prayer breakfast, he also made clear that "our freedoms are derived" from the "Great Creator" and "not the government." The religionists' insistence upon insinuating themselves into the protests in Madison comes across as unctuous and opportunistic and mercenary.

And, of course, because the Christianists are attempting to impose Christian religious law upon the American citizenry and not Sharia, they are incapable of appreciating the double standard of judging the Egyptian protesters' commitment to democracy according to their displays of religiosity, but not the Wisconsin protesters. In their minds, Christianity is compatible with democracy, but Islam is not. This is a fallacy. When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops drafts U.S. federal legislation, which relegates American women to sub-human status, something has gone very, very wrong. This is Sharia. It is Christian Sharia. And, there is nothing democratic, and everything theocratic, about that. I would love to see how the Christianists would respond if someone stepped up to the podium in front of the Capitol and declared the fight for workers' rights an Islamic jihad, in the proud tradition of Mohammed's example.

Go sell crazy somewhere else. We don't want any in Cairo. And, we don't want any in Madison.


February 27, 2011, 10:23 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink26 comments

Morality Has No Place in the Law

By Sarah Braasch

"Surely if we have learned anything from the history of morals it is that the thing to do with a moral quandary is not to hide it." —H.L.A. Hart

"This lesson is that the distinguishing characteristics of true law must be sought for somewhere else than in the nature of the authority from whence it proceeds, and in the certainty of the punishment by which its infraction is attended." —Sheldon Amos

In loving memory of my baby brother, Jacob Michael Braasch (01/28/86 – 02/02/10)

"Morality has no place in the law." I remember the first time I asserted this claim. In the fall of 2004, I was a reluctant guest at a book club meeting in LA, at which the assembled motley crew discussed a recent book on the gay marriage debate. I hadn't read the book in question, and my unsolicited commentary came as something of a surprise, to myself included. I was met with a bevy of incredulous stares and, subsequently, protestations. How could I assert something so obviously preposterous, so patently ridiculous, and so demonstrably asinine? Almost immediately thereafter, I decided to change the direction of my life, to attend law school, and to become an international human rights lawyer.

At law school, I was met with more disdainful scoffing and eye rolling. Of course, law and morality are inseparable. Of course, morality serves as the basis for any legal/political system. Of course, a law is nothing if not a moral claim, a moral imperative, a moral prescription. In all of human history, had there ever existed a legal system, which hadn't purported to further justice, as grounded in morality? And, if so, from whence would the legitimacy of the government derive? Why would the vast majority of the society feel any sense of moral obligation to conform to the law's dictates? What is a legal norm if not a moral command, constraining the behavior of the citizens/residents, of whichever state/society, upon whom the law (moral code) is imposed? How could I claim otherwise?

I will begin by laying out my definitions of both law and morality, since in my opinion most debate is the result of misunderstandings over definitions and premises. I will not defend these definitions (well, maybe a little), because this essay purports not so much to define law and morality, as to show why and how to create a legal/political system devoid of conceptions of morality and communitarianism.

Law is the mechanism (usually a set of norms/rules with corresponding sanctions) by which we define interpersonal relations. Morality is the categorization of human behaviors as "good" and "bad", which, I would argue, is a wholly personal, subjective exercise without recourse to objective moral truth or authority.

How is this not necessarily the same thing? In the mid-20th century, H.L.A. Hart, the father of modern legal positivism, argued the separability of law and morality in his seminal writings. Hart argued for the distinction between the law as it is and the law as it ought to be. Law does not cease to be law based upon one or another moral criticism. It is possible to study and practice law in a descriptive sense (how people do behave), instead of a normative sense (how people should behave).

Also, it is possible to use deontological (moral) language without making moral claims. As Hart pointed out, use of the word ought "need have nothing to do with morals". One may use the moral language of ought and should (and rights and duties) to further a specific aim without the attendant implication of categorizing whichever human behaviors as "good" and "bad". (The error theorist/non-cognitivist debate about whether we should refrain from the use of such language will not be addressed here.)

But, the legal positivists leave much to be desired. They concede far too much to the natural law theorists for my taste. Even H.L.A. Hart conceded an appeal to the overlap of law and morality at the moment of creation of a legal/political system. He questioned whether a legal system, on the whole, which did not espouse some notion of "justice" as its central aim, had ever or could ever exist for long, despite the brutal imposition of severe sanctions, because the vast majority of persons living beneath its reach would feel no sense of moral obligation to abide by its dictates. He asked whether the nature of law itself demands recourse to a bare minimum of the most basic and general moral precepts, such as equal protection. However, he largely dismissed the question as holding little interest for him and as an "innocent pastime for philosophers".

Brian Leiter is anything but dismissive of this methodological debate about the nature of law itself. He describes the challenge posed to legal positivism by natural law theorist John Finnis as significant and outlines it as such: "If the very enterprise of understanding the concept of law requires positive moral appraisal of law, then it turns out that questions about the moral foundations of law can not be treated as conceptually severable from questions about the nature of law."

I find the legal positivists disappointing and hypocritical. They forego one fantasy, but dare not forsake another. Even Hart. And, especially Leiter. Hart is a bit like an evolutionary biologist who doesn't feel many qualms about not being able to explain the origin of the universe. Just because he cannot disprove the existence of God doesn't mean he has to accept Christianity. But, despite his admonitions to refuse to address moral quandaries at one's peril, I see him rather as a Christian who scoffs at the foundational myths of a Muslim while unable or unwilling to acknowledge the folly in his own foundational myths.

The legal positivists are the Stephen Jay Goulds of legal/moral philosophy. They espouse the NOMA position, i.e. they hold to the stance that descriptive/analytic legal theory (legal positivism) and normativity are Non-Overlapping MAgisteria, except for when they don't, but they fail to acknowledge the usurpations of morality perpetrated upon the law and how the law suffers as a consequence. They are accommodationist agnostics, uncomfortable with identifying as atheists or noticing the lack of evidence for any objective moral truth or authority. Maybe it's better to perpetuate the myth. Maybe we all really will take to raping and pillaging without the reassurance or threat of some objective moral authority looming large, to which we may seek recourse. Maybe our societies really will fall apart like a house of cards, if people realize that their foundations are nothing more than foundational myths.

I stake the case that burying one's head in the sand is never a good idea. Nor is pretending to know things that we, in fact, do not know. Denying the existence of or refusing to deal with a philosophical quandary neither negates the dilemma nor ameliorates the situation in question. So, imagine my relief when I discovered the moral anti-realist philosophers.

The moral anti-realist philosophers, like Joshua Greene, deny the existence of objective moral truth or authority. Morality (the categorization of human behaviors as "good" and "bad") is a wholly personal, subjective exercise. Any moral claims, which claim to be objectively true, are false. There is no objective moral truth or authority. Therefore, there is no objective legal truth or authority. I am not a legal positivist. I am a legal anti-realist, just as I am a moral anti-realist. Laws are not real, and neither is morality, and they certainly aren't natural. The determination of legal validity (deciding whether or not any law or legal/political system is valid, just, moral, and, thus, merits adherence) is a wholly personal, subjective exercise, just as any moral viewpoint is a wholly personal, subjective exercise.

The most common retorts to this position, which I have encountered, are that: 1) this position is itself a moral claim, and 2) I have left myself in an untenable position in which I will never be able to justify my approbation or disapprobation of any other entity or act ever, and I cannot justify advocating for any legal/political scheme in particular or any legal/political scheme at all. I have condemned myself to anarchy, or, at least, absolute and universal moral relativism. If someone wishes to keep me as a slave, I can have no objection worth considering. If someone wishes to keep someone else as a slave, I can have no objection worth considering.

First of all, denying the existence of objective moral truth is a meta-ethical claim, not an ethical claim. Second, I am free to advocate for whatever I wish. I am free to condemn whomever I wish. I am free to try and convince as many others as possible to adopt my personal, subjective moral viewpoint. It is possible to advocate on behalf of my subjective moral viewpoint, informed by evidence and science and reason, while maintaining a moral anti-realist stance. Moral anti-realism does not condemn one to moral relativism or anarchy. It is possible to advocate for the establishment of a legal/political system without recourse to the myth of objective moral/legal truth. Greene's dissertation, available on his website, lays out this position nicely.

But, these common retorts just seem like either fatuous delusions or disingenuous and specious sophistries. Because objective moral/legal truth or authority does not exist. And, there is no evidence that it does. And, in fact, there is a great deal of evidence otherwise. And, yet, we, or the vast majority of we, do, in fact, create and abide by and live under legal/political systems. We, or the vast majority of we, do, in fact, advocate for our personal, subjective moral viewpoints.

And, anyway, whatever happened to looking philosophical/moral quandaries in the face without flinching? When has burying our collective head in the sand ever made our problems better? Or, go away? When has pretending to know things that we do not know improved our lives?

Even secular humanists, rationalists, materialists, freethinkers and atheists can fall prey to that human, all too human thirst for order, structure, pattern, authority, and explanation. The noted "New Atheist" Sam Harris takes his turn at the fount of foundational myth in his latest book, The Moral Landscape, in which he advocates for a science of morality. He claims that, with the proper application of our reasoning faculties to enough factual evidence, we can access objective moral truth via the scientific method. His definition of "good" is that which promotes "well-being", which he admits he is unable to define, and his definition of "bad" is whatever detracts from "well-being". While he isn't so foolish as to suggest that evolutionary biologists should be the new moralists, he rejects Hume's contention that there exists an impermeable barrier between facts and values; that values are never objective; that we can never get an ought from an is.

This indulgence in myth is understandable, but regrettable. The objective moral/legal truth fairy is not going to save us, and no amount of data, experimental results, or observations will conjure her. This latest indulgence is a considerable threat to our secular, liberal, constitutional democracies. When religionists draw from the fount of myth, we are protected by the wall of separation between church and state. When scientists pretend to have in their possession objective evidence of moral truth, humanity takes a step backwards into the Dark Ages.

Facts reveal nothing about morality. Facts and evidence are always separated from moral viewpoints by subjective value judgments. To pretend otherwise is to play into the hands of the religionists, to open us up to the threat of tyranny, to call into question our concepts of individual civil, constitutional, and human rights, and to provoke a societal existential crisis. Instead of religious wars, we will have morality wars. Instead of prophets in possession of the one true revealed scripture/religion, we will have scientists who are able to divine morality from indifferent facts and extract policy from apathetic data.

Do we want judges engaged in gleaning nonexistent moral truth from the evidence presented in their courtrooms? The judiciary has been moving away from any incorporation of concepts of morality in judicial decision-making and as a valid basis for legislation. The line of recent cases, including Lawrence v. Texas and Perry v. Schwarzenegger, are explicit in their rejection of subjective moral viewpoints as a legitimate basis for legislation or the denial of constitutional rights, and also take the time to point out that the side advocating for the imposition of its subjective moral viewpoint upon others lacked any evidentiary basis for its morality. The District Court in Perry stated, "A private moral view... is not a proper basis for legislation," and "Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights," as well as "...those individuals' moral views are an insufficient basis upon which to enact a legislative classification." The Supreme Court in Lawrence decided that the moral majority may not "use the power of the State to enforce these views on the whole society through operation of the criminal law". Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's concurrence in Lawrence was particularly scathing in its denunciation of the suggestion that moral disapproval, in and of itself, was a legitimate government interest. In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, the Supreme Court made plain the obligation of the Court, "Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code." Let us not take a step backward after we have made such strides to eradicate any notion of morality from our jurisprudence.

Sam Harris also fails to grasp the nature of our democracy when he suggests that we need not pay heed to those ill-equipped to interpret factual evidence and to derive objective moral truth therefrom. We are constantly engaged in conversation with mob rule. The moral majority gets a say in how you and I live our lives. As far as Justice Scalia is concerned, the moral majority may dictate to you and I as they please, as long we are not claiming an explicitly and specifically enumerated constitutional right or membership in a constitutionally protected class, and he includes gays and women in the category of persons whose rights may be curtailed at the whim of the moral majority. Do we really want to say that, given enough evidence and reason, anyone can access objective moral truth? If you read the data the right way? If you perform the correct exegesis? No amount of evidence and reason will ever result in a definitive determination of objective moral truth, and to pretend otherwise is not only folly but dangerous.

As an example, consider the recent slew of suicides by young gay men, often after having been bullied, much publicized in the media. Much of the commentary focused on the statistically significantly higher incidence of suicide among gay teenagers than their straight peers. The higher incidence is a fact (a fact which is called into question by the cited article). But what objective moral truth is to be derived from this fact? And, what policy decision should result? Is the higher suicide rate demonstrative of the inherently morally reprobate nature of homosexuals? Does the higher suicide rate indicate that homosexuality is good? Bad? Does it indicate that homosexuality or the homosexual lifestyle is conducive to well being? How should we respond? Should we outlaw homosexuality? Should we outlaw homosexual sex acts? Should we segregate gay teens from straight teens? Should we implement a Don't Ask Don't Tell policy in public high schools? On the campuses of public universities? Should we attempt to employ gene therapy to eradicate homosexuality? Should we enact hate speech legislation, which criminalizes gay slurs?

I don't know about you, but I don't want to have to care about my uneducated and ill-informed next door neighbor's personal, subjective moral opinion about my life choices, and I don't think I should have to care. No matter how much evidence he thinks he has in support of his personal, subjective moral viewpoint.

So, I have been thinking a lot about how to devise a legal/political system, which eradicates any conception of either morality or communitarianism. Don't get me wrong. The moral majority serves its function in our current (American) democracy. The moral majority fills the void of authority left vacant by the lack of objective moral/legal truth. The moral majority, as expressed by the electorate, is the majoritarian half, representing the interests of society, of the precariously balanced equation in the conversation between the majoritarian (the electorate, the moral majority, culture) and counter-majoritarian (the judiciary, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, case law) elements, which is our system of government.

But, wouldn't we be better off without having to constantly be in conversation with mob rule? Wouldn't we be better off without having to constantly wage a fight to hold back the tide of moral majoritarian tyranny? Wouldn't we be better off without the threat of theocracy constantly looming large over our heads? Wouldn't we be better off without religious/moral communitarianism in a pitched battle with secularism and individual rights, especially women's rights?

Sam Harris wants to defeat religion and the threat it poses to democracy and to humanity. And, so do I. But, in a paradoxical twist, which he seems unable to see, he, too, wishes to perpetuate a myth, which will only serve to strengthen the resolve and the position of the religionists and the cultural relativists.

But, how to create a legal/political system, which balances the needs of the individual and society, without resorting to false notions of morality and communitarianism? I think the answer is to create a legal/political system based upon game theory to maximize individual liberty.

The choice of maximizing individual liberty is not arbitrary. And, it isn't about creating a moral code, which holds liberty in higher esteem than the values of happiness or well being or goodness or utility. It also isn't about a classical libertarian's or an anarchist's liberty fetish. It is about trying to replicate our current form of government without resorting to a relationship with mob rule. Our current majoritarian / counter-majoritarian push-pull is a crude approximation of a legal/political system based upon game theory to maximize individual liberty.

The interests of society will fall out of the exercise. This is the case, because I am not free to live my life as I wish without a minimum threshold level of security and safety and order. I wouldn't be terribly free to live my life as I desire in the midst of chaos or anarchy. I am not terribly free to live my life as I see fit, if I can't afford to feed and clothe my children, if I'm dying for lack of decent healthcare, or if I can't get a decent education. And, I'm not going to be at liberty to pursue my individual goals, unless there are minimum guarantees in place for my societal peers as well.

Unlike happiness or well being or, even, utility, liberty may be assessed objectively, not subjectively. Is one or is one not constrained in one's physical behavior? This is not a subjective assessment. The vagaries of the mind are not in play.

While I recognize that I can advocate for the creation of an amoral legal/political system, which employs deontological language, based upon my subjective moral viewpoint (which is informed by science and reason and evidence) that I wish to live in a society structured as such, without pretending to be acting under the authority of some objective moral/legal truth, how will I ever convince anyone else to adopt my approach?

This is like asking how the very first human society came into being. Or, like asking how life or the universe began. We exist. We live in societies. We live under human-devised governments. Societies evolve. The law evolves. Culture evolves.

The old mind games and tricks don't work any longer. We've seen the man pulling the levers behind the green curtain. We know that our foundational myths are just that – myths. We will adapt and evolve or we won't survive.

Maybe we should be asking how we are going to continue to convince everyone to keep pretending to believe in our foundational myths.

January 14, 2011, 7:33 am • Posted in: The LibraryPermalink130 comments

Gender Desegregation Wednesdays

By Sarah Braasch

In loving memory of my baby brother, Jacob Michael Braasch (01/28/86 – 02/02/10)

Kat and I were working on an English translation of a section of the French website for the women's rights organization, Ni Putes Ni Soumises (NPNS – Neither Whores Nor Submissives). We were struggling with the word mixité. We toyed with "the mixing of the sexes". But, that sounded like one of those speed-dating events. We settled on "desegregation". But, then we included the antecedent "gender", to distinguish our meaning from the more common American connotation of racial desegregation. "Gender desegregation" does capture, in English, the intended meaning of the French word "mixité". But, we were left somewhat dissatisfied. NPNS uses mixité as the last in a three-word chant representing the three ideological pillars of their movement. Laicité, Egalité, Mixité. Gender desegregation doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

As I plowed away, I came to an expression that made me roar aloud with laughter. Kat demanded to know the cause of my apparent mirth. As often occurs in such situations, a painfully literal translation had tickled my funny bone. It just sounded so weird and precious in English. I had translated "Mercredis de la Mixité" as "Gender Desegregation Wednesdays". When I told Kat, she laughed too. Then, we both laughed. Then, we laughed so hard we cried. It was one of those irreplaceable and singular moments of cosmic comic connection, otherwise known as, "you had to be there". It's ok if you don't get it.

But, then, after we had finally stopped laughing, we had a serious conversation about our reaction to my lacking translating skills. Obviously, it was the combination of the ostensibly esoteric with the ostensibly quotidian, like Theosophy Thursdays. But, why did "gender desegregation" sound so academic, so arcane, so removed from the populist vernacular that it incited uproarious laughter when "racial desegregation" or just "desegregation" does not?

Racial equality has been cemented as an indispensable ideological pillar of liberal, constitutional democracy while women continue to struggle for full recognition as human beings and as citizens. While religious justifications for racism are considered barbaric and archaic notions of yesteryear and beyond the pale for a modern, civilized society, religion remains the foremost obstacle thwarting women's aspirations to humanity and citizenship.

The evolution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (popularly known as the LDS or Mormon Church) during recent decades illustrates this point perfectly. The Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) Church broke away from the main sect of "Saints", because they refused to give up polygamy (so-called celestial plural marriage) as a central tenet of the Mormon doctrine, among other complaints.

Imagine, for a moment, an even more strident version of the FLDS Church. Let's call them the Super Fundie Latter Day Saints (SFLDS) Church. Imagine this SFLDS Church breaking away from their Mormon brethren, because they refuse to give up racism as a central tenet of the Mormon doctrine.

If you question whether either or both polygamy and racism were, have been or are foundational tenets of the Mormon doctrine, I invite you to peruse the LDS Church's own literature on their own website. It's quite eye-opening. Copious documentation indicates that generations of Mormons were taught that dark skin is a curse from God, as well as evidence of a less than entirely virtuous pre-human existence, serving to justify everything from racial slavery and segregation and discrimination to Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation laws. Only public outcry and condemnation and boycott, rising dissent among the rank and file, and the risk of losing federal funding for BYU's students provoked Jehovah into revealing a doctrinal change to the church leadership in 1978.

But, back to our imaginary Super Fundie LDS Church that is incensed with the original LDS Church for abandoning the foundational doctrinal tenet of racism. Imagine that this Super Fundie Mormon sect decides that the best way for it to propagate its originalist vision of Jehovah's intentions for mankind is to adopt as many black babies as possible. The goal of the program is two-fold. It will give these decrepit black souls an opportunity to redeem themselves while in their human incarnations, hopefully with the added bonus of turning their putrid black skins white. And, the black babies will be brainwashed into submitting to their divinely ordained, sub-human status, thereby furthering God's plan for differentiating amongst his creations, according to moral uprightness, by segregating them by race and geography.

Turns your stomach, doesn't it? Strikes you as pretty much the most disgusting, despicable agenda ever, doesn't it?

It was real. This actually happened, or something very similar. Except that black kids weren't the targets. Native American kids were. And, it took place during the latter half of the immediately preceding century.

It was called the Indian Student Placement Program. Mormon families took in thousands of Native American kids and brainwashed them into believing that they were the cursed Lamanites, the black sheep descendants of ancient Middle Eastern Jews. The program's creator and leader, Spencer W. Kimball, former President of the LDS Church, once bragged about the program participants' complexions turning noticeably whiter, as evidence of their having left savagery behind for a Mormon life and salvation.

Do you know what is even more disgusting and despicable? This is still happening. Every day. All over the US. Right now. To women and girls.

All over the US, in religious communities and families, women and girls are being brainwashed into believing that they are sub-human, meant only to obey and serve the men in their lives, meant only to birth and raise more adherents. They are brainwashed into believing that they are the sexual and reproductive chattel of their families and communities. They are brainwashed into believing that they will either submit to God's divinely ordained plan and subject themselves to sub-human treatment, or face dire consequences in the here now, the hereafter, or both.

How do I know? Because, it happened to me. I was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. I was raised to believe that men dictate the lives of women, because women are inferior by design, by God's design.

If it isn't ok to adopt an African American or Native American baby and raise it to believe that it is sub-human on account of its race, why is it ok to take a girl baby and raise her to believe that she is sub-human on account of her gender? I don't care if you birthed her yourself. Your children are not your property to abuse as you please. They are human beings with rights.

How do they get away with this? By claiming this blatant abuse as a religious liberty. We don't let them get away with that anymore with respect to race, but we still let them get away with it with respect to gender. At least, according to Spencer Kimball, the dark-skinned kids can grow lighter as they grow more virtuous. But, what about the poor girls? No matter how much a little Mormon girl prays for her clitoris to grow into a penis, I'm guessing that wasn't part of God's plan. Instead of being so concerned with gay couples adopting and raising children, maybe we should be scrutinizing Christian Fundies who want to adopt girl children and raise them as sex slaves.

Where is the public outcry and condemnation and dissent and government response for gender segregation and slavery as exists for racial segregation and slavery?

Nothing exemplifies this cognitive dissonance as well as the global uproar over public burqa / niqab bans. In the U.S., it is far easier to craft a legal argument against the burqa / niqab as a simple safety measure and general prohibition against identity obscuring masks in the public space than it is to even begin to speak about addressing the ban as a women's rights provision, as an affirmative action provision, as a gender equality provision, as a prohibition on gender segregation in the public space, or as a prohibition on gender slavery in the public space.

Why? Because everyone is ready to bend over backwards to defend the burqa / niqab as the free expression of religious liberty. Because religious liberty still trumps women's human and civil rights in American jurisprudence. Because we still view women as the sexual and reproductive chattel of their families and communities.

History repeats itself. Again and again and again. How quickly one forgets the Civil Rights Era. It boggles the mind how no one seems to realize that we already had this argument. But, it was about race. First, it was about slavery and then it was about segregation. And the opponents of progress and democracy made all of the same arguments. They denounced the Civil Rights Act as the federal government overstepping its constitutional bounds by regulating the behavior of private citizens in the public space. They said that the federal government was trampling on the First Amendment rights of US citizens. And, the proponents of progress and democracy made the same arguments. They said that separate never equals equal. They said that a liberal, constitutional democracy cannot sustain itself with a substantial portion of its citizenry disenfranchised and debased.

Recently, Rand Paul appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show. Rachel Maddow was shocked and aghast at Rand Paul's seeming suggestion that the portions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that touched upon the behavior of private citizens in the public space should never have been.

Rachel was eloquent when she replied, "The Civil Rights Act was the federal government stepping in to protect civil rights, because they weren't otherwise being protected. It wasn't a hypothetical. There were businesses that were saying black people can not be served here. And, the federal government stepped in and said no, you actually don't have that choice to make. The federal government is coming in and saying you can't make that choice as a business owner."

You don't get to make that choice, even if you are a member of the persecuted minority, and you want to segregate yourself from the persecuting majority. We are not going to allow racial segregation. We would no more allow a black owned restaurant to refuse to serve white patrons than we would a white owned restaurant to refuse to serve black patrons.

Why shouldn't you be able to segregate yourself? Segregation is not a choice you get to make in the public space of a secular, democratic republic. Segregation is the antithesis of democracy. Segregation is the antithesis of human rights. Segregation is the antithesis of equality. Segregation is the antithesis of equal protection. Separate but equal does not exist. I thought we already arrived at that conclusion in the US with Brown v. Board of Education.

What about the freedom of association? This is not about forcing people to be friends or lovers or cohorts of whatever variety. The woman in the burqa in public is not the black woman with her black friends entering a white owned store. She is the white storeowner putting up a "no blacks allowed" sign in her store window. She is saying, "I demand the right to participate in society fully, but I also demand the right to discriminate regarding with whom I will interact, with whom I will engage in the public space. I demand the right to treat other human beings and other citizens in a discriminatory fashion. I demand the right not to acknowledge the humanity of the other citizens in the public space while I also demand that they acknowledge my humanity."

This is unacceptable in a liberal, constitutional democracy. We must not tolerate gender segregation in our public space, even in the pursuit of religious liberty. It matters not if the "choice" to segregate oneself was coerced or no. It matters not if the woman wearing the burqa is a victim or no. We simply cannot tolerate gender segregation any more than we can tolerate racial segregation. Public segregation is not a choice you get to make.

This is not treating women like hapless and helpless victims, unable to choose their own style of dress. The anti-burqa ban argument is not only condescending to women, it is also contradictory. It is saying that women can and do and should be able to choose gender segregation and slavery of their own accord and volition, but that they may not be held accountable for the choices they make. Talk about having your cake and eating it too. If you can "choose" slavery, then you can be held accountable for choosing slavery.

Undoubtedly, the Civil Rights Act relied upon the Commerce Clause. While the Commerce Clause has been interpreted in an incredibly expansive manner, the Supreme Court has been narrowing the scope of this interpretation as of late. The questionable nature of applying the Commerce Clause to implement federal civil rights legislation could be avoided if we brought back the Privileges and Immunities Clause. But, regardless of the constitutional basis, our federal government acted to end racial segregation in the public sphere by regulating the conduct of private citizens in the public space. Is it really such a stretch to jump from racial segregation in public accommodations to gender segregation in the public space? I think you could make an even stronger argument that gender segregation in the public space impedes interstate commerce in the aggregate than you are able to make regarding racial segregation in public accommodations.

The fully integrated veil (the burqa or niqab) is more than segregation; it is effacement; it is dehumanization. It is slavery. This is not about morality. Morality has no place in the law. Desegregation, either racial or gender, is not the moral choice. It has nothing to do with morality. It has everything to do with democracy.

It is an issue of democratic representation and power distribution. It is the same issue that inspired the framers of the Constitution to separate powers within a tripartite federal government to create a system of checks and balances and to leave the balance of power in the hands of the states and the People. If any one class or group or entity has too much power, discrimination and oppression are quick to follow. This is why diversity is a compelling government interest. This is what makes affirmative action policies possible. Gender equality and desegregation should be every bit as compelling a government interest as diversity.

Per the current state of American jurisprudence, religious liberty trumps women's rights. This is a violation of the Establishment Clause. This is a violation of international human rights law. This is a violation of the principle of secularism. This places our liberal constitutional democracy in jeopardy. This is why we need the Equal Rights Amendment. Racial equality has had its constitutional moment, and now we need to enshrine gender equality in our Constitution in the same way.

I am a human being, not a whore, even if Jehovah or Allah or Yahweh or Jesus or Krishna or Mohammed or Buddha or Confucius or Rael says otherwise.

Maybe one day Gender Desegregation Wednesdays won't sound so absurd anymore.

We can dream.

September 9, 2010, 5:52 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink115 comments

Simo Says

By Sarah Braasch

In loving memory of my baby brother, Jacob Michael Braasch (01/28/86 – 02/02/10)

The other night I fled for my life. I fled a brawl in Paris. No, I didn't get entangled in a drunken bar fight. Again. Actually, I was in an elementary school.

Ni Putes Ni Soumises (NPNS – Neither Whores Nor Submissives), the women's rights organization in Paris where I have been working as a human rights fellow, organized a public debate on the issue of the anticipated public burqa ban in France. The French Parliament is in the process of enacting a public ban on identity obscuring face coverings in France, which would include both the burqa (the all encompassing body covering) and the niqab (the face covering that leaves a slit for the eyes). The debate over the ban has embroiled all of France, and all of Europe, for that matter, in a battle over the role of religion in both government and public life in a democratic republic that espouses a strict secularism as the only foundation for equality amongst its citizens, including gender equality.

We chose a location, Montreuil, which is an inner ring suburb of Paris with a diverse population. We showered the local community with flyers and volunteers, engaging the inhabitants and inviting them to participate in the debate, both those in favor and those opposed to the ban. The goal was to have a real and meaningful exchange of ideas and opinions. Local community leaders and politicians were on the docket, as well as women's rights activists, such as Lubna Al Hussein, the Sudanese journalist who faced 40 lashings of the whip for wearing pants in Khartoum, and Sihem Habchi, the current President of Ni Putes Ni Soumises. Ni Putes Ni Soumises has, since its inception, made a point of holding open, public debates and panel discussions in the heart of the cités and quartiers of France (the ghettoized suburban housing projects surrounding France's major cities, which are primarily composed of marginalized Muslim immigrant communities).

I was absolutely heartbroken by the way in which the evening unfolded. It confirmed many of my worst fears about the fate of humanity and the utter incompatibility of religion and the survival of our species.

One of the women's rights activists would get up to speak. He or she would speak about secularism and gender equality and gender desegregation as the foundational pillars of a safe and egalitarian public space in which all citizens enjoy equal rights and equal protection under the law in a democratic republic.

Then, one of the Islamists would respond by telling us what Mohammed said or did as was recorded in the Quran or the Hadith and how wonderful Islam is for women, because it gives them rights according to their differentness. And, sum up with a lovely comment about how Jews are pigs or something or other and the speaker is an anti-immigrant racist who hates Muslims and is in league with the Zionists.

Then, a veiled woman would tell us that she is afraid of being attacked by Christian and Atheist Frenchmen, and that she thinks French society is disgusting because women wear thongs and Christie's auctioned off a portrait of Carla Bruni.

Then one of the secularists would state that any discussion of Islam is completely irrelevant and that anti-Semitic slurs will not be tolerated.

And, then someone would lunge at someone else.

One of the elected officials would get up to speak. He or she would speak about secularism and gender equality and gender desegregation as the foundational pillars of a safe and egalitarian public space in which all citizens enjoy equal rights and equal protection under the law in a democratic republic.

Then, one of the Islamists would respond by telling us what Mohammed said or did as was recorded in the Quran or the Hadith and how wonderful Islam is for women, because it gives them rights according to their differentness. And, sum up with a lovely comment about how Jews are pigs or something or other and the speaker is an anti-immigrant racist who hates Muslims and is in league with the Zionists.

Then, a veiled woman would tell us that she really likes being the property of her husband, because that's what Allah commands, and no one can tell her that she shouldn't be a slave.

Then one of the secularists would state that any discussion of Islam is completely irrelevant and that anti-Semitic slurs will not be tolerated.

And, then someone would lunge at someone else.

And, so on and so forth.

Eventually the situation became scary enough that the police were called and the debate halted. At one point, my mammalian survival instinct usurped control of my bodily functions, and without a second thought, I fled the premises. I made a beeline for the nearest exit, and I wasn't the only one. Once outside, I turned back to peer in through a window to see what was transpiring. I was standing alongside a woman in hijab, and we both turned to look at each other. Without speaking a word, our faces communicated what we both were thinking, "These mofos are crazy."

It was truly an exasperating, disheartening experience. I literally walked out of that truncated debate thinking, "We're doomed. It's all over. Don't bother. Instead of just metaphorically drinking the Koolaid, we should all just go ahead and literally drink the Koolaid."

Did the Islamists really expect the secularists to acquiesce after a little Quranic exegesis? Oh, ok, well if Mohammed said it or did it, I guess that settles that.

Refusal to consider the religious viewpoint in the context of secular, democratic governance is not bigotry; it is not racism; it is not intolerance. It is common sense. This is why freedom from religion IS freedom of religion. How would you even begin to prioritize the litany of religious opinions on even a single subject? The only results would be either tyranny or anarchy. Do you think the participants in that room would tolerate being lectured on the tenets of Judaism? Of Christianity? Do you think they would say, "Oh, ok, well if Moses or Jesus said it or did it, then I guess that's the way it has to be"?

Islamists are called Islamists for a reason. They really do want to impose Sharia upon the societies in which they reside, and not only upon the Muslim populations within those societies. For them, there is no compromise. There is no other viewpoint worth considering, other than the Islamic viewpoint.

This is the result of brainwashing and indoctrinating and inculcating in religious cults. These people were incapable, quite literally incapable of allowing for a society structured on any other principles than those enumerated in the Quran and the Hadith. It was simply inconceivable to them that someone would not accept and conform to the example of the Prophet. Their brains were hardwired for Islam. All neural networks were devoted to Islam. All synapses were firing for Islam. The notion of the irrelevancy of Islam to the conversation about good democratic governance left them without an argument. They didn't know how to respond. In their desperation to respond to such a blasphemous suggestion, they short-circuited and the unspent energy exerted itself in eruptions of violence. It was scary. Quite simply – it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Not because of the violence, but, because of the futility of the exercise. For that debate to have actually taken place, in any sort of realistic, credible, viable manner, years of religious deprogramming of all participants would have had to occur first.

I know some, even many, will say that religion is not the problem; fundamentalism is the problem, or fanaticism is the problem. I think this argument is asinine.

Imagine a society in which we brainwash all children to believe that they can fly. From the moment they are born, all children are taught that, if they jump off any sufficiently high precipice, and they are worthy and morally sound, they will be able to flap their arms and take flight, saving themselves from a deathly plunge. With the modernization of society, many parents have ceased to inculcate their children in this belief, having realized its fallacy. And, of those who persist in perpetuating the custom, most reveal the hoax to their children before they are old enough to test its claims. Others have reformed the tradition, advising their children that they best not attempt to test the belief, given that few are so worthy. But, regardless of the claims of modernity, the custom persists, and, as young adults, a certain percentage of our youth attempt just such an act, resulting in many needless deaths.

Now, imagine that the purveyors of this custom defend the practice by claiming that the problem is not that they brainwash their children into believing that they can fly; the problem is that a certain percentage of these children believe it. The problem is that a certain percentage of these children grow into adults who persist on believing it. The problem is the fundamentalists and the fanatics who refuse to reveal the hoax or admonish their children against attempting flight. The belief simply needs to undergo a reformation, an enlightenment, if you will. A moderate version of the belief is acceptable in a modern society, and even compatible with science.

I acknowledge that I work with many wonderful Muslim women who claim their religion and the right to interpret their religion for themselves, who strive on behalf of secularism and gender equality and gender desegregation. We are able to work together in harmony, regardless of our disparate views on religion, because we are both striving for the same goals: secularism, gender equality and gender desegregation.

Obviously, I think it is a waste of time to try to reform Islam into a gender-friendly, or, even, a gender-neutral doctrine. I think women would be better off rejecting religion all together. Trying to find a place for gender equality in the context of religion is like trying to find a place for racial equality in the context of Nazism. But, despite my abhorrence for religion, in a legal context, this is not my fight.

In a legal context, my fight is secularism. My fight is women's rights. The fight for secularism is NOT an act of aggression against religion. The fight for women's rights is NOT an act of aggression against religion. It might appear this way to religionists, because religion is the institutionalization of misogyny. But, the way in which secular, democratic governance appears to religionists could not be more beside the point. I hate religion. I fight against religion, but NOT in a legal context. But, in the open, public marketplace of ideas, as it should be. I would never support the criminalization of religion. Never. I just wish religionists would extend me the same favor.

After the debate, I found myself standing on the street guarding Lubna Al Hussein's luggage and the amp and chatting with Sihem Habchi. Someone who was obviously having trouble cooling off took a last lunge at Sihem. I was impressed by how quickly the police and security guards acted. They swooped in, scooping up Sihem and whisking her away behind a line of stern-faced police officers. Then I realized that no one had swooped in and scooped me up and whisked me away behind a line of stern-faced police officers. And, I was on the wrong side of that line of stern-faced police officers. I was on the side with all of the bearded and veiled Islamists who were having trouble cooling off. "What should I do?" I wondered. I tried to get rid of my scared face and affect an angry face instead.

It was an impossible situation, and a perfect metaphor – law and order standing between the secularists and the violent Islamists.

And, while I hate to be fatalistic, more and more I fear that, eventually, reason will lose out to faith to the downfall of humanity.

But, I'm not going down without a fight.

June 18, 2010, 5:47 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink28 comments

Yes, That's Me in the Burqa

By Sarah Braasch

In loving memory of my baby brother, Jacob Michael Braasch (01/28/86 – 02/02/10)

I am an incipient First Amendment lawyer and a staunch church-state separatist. I surpass even my most progressive friends and colleagues in my unflinching and unwavering support of the freedom of speech and expression, including religious expression. I am pretty much the only person I know who hates hate crime legislation as little more than bald-faced thought crime legislation. I am not infrequently verbally vilified for asserting the claim that morality has no place in the law.

And, I support the anticipated public burqa ban in France. And, I would support a public burqa ban in the United States. In fact, I would support a global public burqa ban.

(I will pause briefly for what I am sure are the many gasps of incredulity.)

I am working in Paris, France for a year as an international human rights fellow at Ni Putes Ni Soumises (NPNS). Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores Nor Submissives) is a well-known international human rights organization, which advocates unequivocally for women's rights as universal human rights without compromise. They condemn both cultural relativism and obscurantism. They wholeheartedly support the anticipated public burqa ban in France. One of the reasons why I wished to work there is because I wanted to support this effort.

We have been marching and rallying and demonstrating and speaking and speechifying and writing and posting and blogging and publishing up a storm. We marched in front of the National Assembly (their lower house of Parliament) in burqas. We marched in front of the Socialist Party headquarters in burqas. We marched in front of the UMP Party headquarters in burqas. Lubna Al Hussein, the Sudanese journalist who was threatened with 40 lashes of the whip for wearing pants in Khartoum, has embraced the effort while she is visiting France as the guest of NPNS. I have been doing my utmost to spread the word throughout the English-speaking world and especially within the US. Unfortunately, the greater part of the US, including Obama, is woefully misguided on this issue. The US should pay greater attention to the European debate on this subject, instead of dismissing it offhand.

The US needs to hear the message of Ni Putes Ni Soumises. NPNS rose up out of a ferocious grassroots response to the unfathomable violence being perpetrated against the women and girls of the quartiers and cités in the banlieues (the ghettoized suburban housing projects surrounding France's major cities, which are comprised predominantly of marginalized Muslim immigrant communities). Ni Putes Ni Soumises continues to be led by the women of the quartiers from sub-Saharan and North African Muslim immigrant backgrounds. They are not anti-Islam. They claim their religion, and they claim the right to interpret their religion for themselves. They wholly reject the burqa as a barbaric patriarchal cultural tradition that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Islam.

To me, the issue of whether or not the burqa/niqab is mandated by Islam is irrelevant. In fact, in this instance, as far as I am concerned, Islam is irrelevant. We don't make laws based upon whether or not they coincide with Islamic doctrine or scripture or apocrypha or tradition or custom or what have you. We make laws based upon secular principles and concerns and objectives. Likewise, Ni Putes Ni Soumises fights on behalf of secularism, gender equality and gender desegregation as the foundational elements of a truly egalitarian public space, in which all citizens may participate as equals.

The burqa ban should be a non-issue. To me, it's such a simple issue that it's stupid simple. It's ridiculously simple. Of course there should be a ban on identity obscuring face coverings in public. Of course. I don't even think of it as a ban. It's a requirement to reveal one's identity in the public space.

But, before I get ahead of myself, I'm setting some ground rules. I am speaking of the burqa/niqab ban. I am not addressing the hijab or the chador (which do not hide the face). I am not addressing issues of national identity or immigration. I have entirely different takes on those very important issues, but I am not addressing those issues here. I am addressing simply a proposed ban on identity obscuring face coverings in public. I am addressing a proposed ban on public self-effacement, a requirement to reveal one's identity in the public space.

The argument against the burqa ban always takes a very decided path, which I will follow quite plainly here, addressing each concern as I go.

1. A lot of people will be exempt from the ban, so why not Muslim women?

The argument that the person drilling into the sidewalk is wearing a mask, and has been exempted from the ban on face coverings, so everyone else should also be able to walk around in public with identity obscuring face coverings is asinine.

The person in a bright orange vest surrounded by orange traffic cones and yellow caution tape standing next to a dump truck emblazoned with the local municipality's name and operating heavy machinery in the midst of his or her similarly attired co-workers, one of whom is the foreperson who is ready to present his or her official documents of authority for engaging in such activity – an activity that had been publicized in advance in the local press, no doubt, is NOT obscuring his or her identity.

Can we move beyond this point already?

A doctor wearing a mask while performing surgery (or a masked EMT/paramedic or some other similarly masked medical professional) is NOT obscuring his or her identity.

Are you with me yet?

A skier fully decked out in skiing regalia and flying past you on the slopes at a ski resort while wearing a face mask as protection against the biting wind is NOT obscuring his or her identity.

Is this clear already? And, by the way, I grew up in Minnesota, so I understand this point well. The cold winters. Not the skiing.

What's next? Oh, yeah.

2. You just have a problem with banning things.

I'm not sure which nation you happen to reside in or which planet you happen to reside on, but if this is a serious issue for you – "the banning of things" – then you have bigger fish to fry than the burqa. Additionally, I see the burqa ban not so much as a ban, but as a requirement to reveal one's identity in the public space.

3. You see the burqa ban as a limitation on the free exercise of religious faith.

A legitimate government CAN and MAY and MUST be able to tell its citizens what is and is not permissible behavior in public, EVEN IF these laws incidentally encroach upon expressions of religious faith.

The freedom of religious expression is not unlimited. This would result in anarchy. Each and every single law in existence encroaches upon someone's ability to express his or her religious faith. Snake handling? Girl child marriages? Hunting bald eagles? Female genital mutilation? Smoking peyote? Polygamy? Public nudity? Compulsory childhood education? Military draft? Vaccinations? Photo ID's? Taxes? I could go on ad nauseum.

Nowadays, religion is just as likely as not to be defined as an all-encompassing tautology of spiritual mysticism. Whatever that means. It's hard for legislators to come up with laws that don't violate someone's expression of their all-encompassing tautology of spiritual mysticism.

If a law is being enacted for a wholly secular purpose, and it happens to impinge upon someone's religious expression – too bad, so sad. We don't live in a theocracy. We don't make laws, which pay any heed whatsoever to religious doctrine. Thank gods.

The burqa ban is analogous to drivers' licenses and childhood vaccinations. If you don't want to follow the rules, fine, but then you don't get to play. No one is forcing you to play. But, if you want to play the game (i.e. participate in society), you have to follow the rules.

A ban on identity obscuring face coverings in public is not a violation of the Free Exercise Clause. The government turning a knowing blind eye away from egregious human and civil rights violations being perpetrated under cover of religious liberty is a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Batter up.

4. You don't see the issue of the rapidly increasing use of identity obscuring face

coverings in the public space as an issue of public welfare or safety or security or protecting our democracy.

First of all, you're wrong. If I had to write down a recipe for lawlessness, I think I would start by having everyone walk around with black tarps over their heads. There's a reason why burglars and bank robbers and suicide bombers wear masks. If you still fail to grasp this point, I suggest you try an experiment. Try walking into any federal building with a sheet over your head and let me know how that works out for you.

I have a right to know with whom I am interacting in the public space. The public space does not only belong to those citizens who wish to wear the burqa or niqab. The public space belongs to all citizens. It belongs to all persons. Revelation of one's identity is pretty much the most rudimentary step towards participation in society.

A high level of trust is one of the defining attributes of a highly functioning, socially cohesive society. How much trust do you think is engendered by the citizenry walking around with black tarps over their heads?

If you remain unconvinced on the point about security, how about as an issue of protecting our democracy?

It is beyond ludicrous to think that any society can maintain a liberal constitutional democracy with its electorate walking around in public with their identities wholly obscured. You first have to claim your humanity before you can claim your human rights. You first have to claim your citizenship before you can claim your civil rights. This is not possible without claiming one's identity. Identity is power. Why do you think misogynists impose the burqa upon women? To render them powerless.

5. But, it's just a handful of women, you say.

So, doesn't that seem like a good time to nip the problem in the bud? Before it becomes an even more serious issue? And, when has it ever been ok to violate the human rights of just a few persons?

6. But, these women will be sequestered in their homes, because their

husbands and families will not allow them to venture outside without burqas, thereby rendering these women prisoners without contact with the wider society, nor access to public services.

I find this particular argument to be something of a thinly veiled threat. It reeks of the same sort of fear mongering and paternalism that takes place every time women's rights take a step forward. Men will force women to take the pill. Men will treat women like dirty whores, if they can't get them pregnant. Men will force women to have abortions. And, now, when I speak of our need in the US for over the counter abortifacients, I hear the same horror stories: men will force women to take them. Truth be told, in France, when the law against ostentatious religious symbols in public schools was enacted, the same horror stories were recited: the families that demand that their daughters wear hijab will simply pull them out of school. By and large – never happened. But, the French legislators are proposing a burqa ban, which meets the needs of the fear mongering paternalists: the second portion of the French bill includes a severe penalty for forcing a woman to wear a burqa or any garment whatsoever by reason of her gender.

7. But, you're still just incensed, absolutely incensed, about the ostensibly (to you)

unnecessary limitations on the freedom of expression and religion of Muslim women.

Where were you when the massive waves of protests were overwhelming our major cities to protect the right of Native Americans to hunt bald eagles? Where were you when the write in campaigns were flooding the offices of our legislators in Congress to protect the right of Native Americans to smoke peyote?

Oh, that's right. You weren't there. Because that never happened. Because no one cared.

Oh, and as a side note, it seems pretty obvious to me that a handful of Native Americans smoking peyote or handling (not hunting) bald eagle feathers is far less of a public safety issue than identity obscuring face coverings.

But, for some reason, you've decided that you need to take up the cause of the Muslim women who wear the burqa or niqab in Western nations. You are tremendously invested in their ability to express their religious faith, even though you understand that, for the vast majority of Muslim women, the "choice" to don the burqa or no is anything but free.

I would strongly encourage you to search deep within your freedom loving soul to examine the true nature of this stance.

I just find it interesting that no one has any issue with the whole litany of laws, be they federal, state or local, that encroach upon religious expression, but everyone has an ardent opinion on a simple public ban of identity obscuring face coverings, a ban which should be a non-issue.

Why is that?

Could it be because it violates our deeply rooted notions of women as the sexual and reproductive chattel of their families and communities?

I'm just asking.

Or, maybe you're afraid of Muslims.

That's Islamophobia -- treating Muslims as if their hypersensitive feelings have to be endlessly coddled lest they blow something up.

Why don't we treat the Muslim community like intelligent, sophisticated adults who can appreciate the merits of living in a liberal constitutional democracy?

And, just for the record, I'm tired of the suggestions that I'm being played for a fool by the fascist, anti-immigrant Religious Right, as if their tantrums were a good reason to abandon women to misogyny and sex slavery.

Since I'm encouraging soul searching, I want to assure you, dear reader, that I, too, have engaged in some soul searching of my own. I have scoured and examined my motives. I have interrogated my super-ego, my id and my inner child.

I'll admit it: I hate the burqa and the niqab. I hate everything it represents. The oppression of women. The demonization of female sexuality.

But, this, in and of itself, would not be reason enough to restrict a woman's choice to wear it as an expression of her religious faith. And, I do understand that issues of coercion and consent are muddy waters indeed. (I'll save my argument that the liberation of women is a compelling government interest in and of itself for another day.)

But, having turned my (nonexistent) soul inside out, looking for ulterior motives, I am comfortable with my stance on the burqa/niqab ban. The burqa ban is a straightforward issue of public safety and security coupled with democratic representation. The fact that this seemingly benign issue gets so much media and political play is a direct result of our continued and ugly perception of women's bodies as communal property.

And, I mean, think about it for more than one second. Move past the knee jerk reaction.

All of the same arguments could be made both for and against regulations requiring parents to vaccinate their children before enrolling them in public schools. If it is against your religious beliefs to vaccinate your children, fine. Don't vaccinate your kids. No one is forcing you to vaccinate your children. But, then, congratulations! You just won the grand prize of being able to home school your kids, because you don't get to send your unvaccinated kids to public schools. If you don't want to follow the rules, no problem, no one is forcing you to play. Someone could argue that this is an undue burden upon the parents that will disproportionately fall upon the mothers, confining the women to roles as housewives. Someone could argue that this is an unfair constraint upon the children, punishing the kids for their parents' ignorance, further isolating them from the wider society. It is unfortunate, that is true, but these women and these kids are not the only parts of the equation. The other kids, the vaccinated kids, or kids who simply cannot be vaccinated (for health reasons, etc.), should not have to suffer for the sake of someone else's religious beliefs. The argument that some kids cannot be vaccinated for health reasons, so those whose parents harbor religious concerns about vaccination should be exempted as well, is plainly stupid. The goal is to minimize the number of unvaccinated children in the community, so as to increase the potency of the community's herd immunity.

Same scenario removed from the context of women's bodies and female sexuality. Are you shocked by how differently you feel about the subject? You should be.

I support the anticipated public burqa ban in France.

I am reclaiming this discourse, which has been hijacked by the cultural relativists and the obscurantists. I will not be booed out of the theater. I will be heard. Let the name-calling commence.

I am not afraid of you.

May 12, 2010, 11:48 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink182 comments

Magister Ludi Magisteria

By Sarah Braasch

In loving memory of my baby brother, Jacob Michael Braasch (1/28/86 – 02/02/10)

Masters of the shell game have been swindling and duping the overconfident and the ignorant for millennia. The game operator places a "pea" beneath one of three "shells". The operator then shuffles the shells in front of the player before asking the player to guess at the pea's location. Unbeknownst to the player, the operator has removed the pea via a sleight-of-hand technique. It is impossible for the player to best the operator. The operator is in complete control of the outcome.

Cultural relativists and obscurantists employ a similar sleight-of-mind technique to maintain control over human rights discourse and to deflect attacks from activists and the international community. They like to play a rousing game, which I like to call the Religio-Cultural-Racial Shell Game. The goal of the game is to hide the human rights violation by removing the violation from the discourse and entrancing any malcontents with the hypnotic effect of shell shuffling. The three "shells" in this game are comprised of the unholy trinity of Religion, Culture and Race.

If someone wishes to defend a practice, it is best to describe such a practice as a religious tenet, thereby bestowing upon it the greatest degree of protection from condemnation. It is almost enough to boggle the mind – the resulting effluvia of apologetics, if one only claims religion's bigotries as religious liberties.

However, some practices are beyond the pale, even by gods' standards, which are exceedingly capacious. The most horrific practices are becoming intolerable and unjustifiable, even in a world that pays the utmost obeisance to religious idiocy. This is the case with respect to such misogynistic practices as honor killings and female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced girl child marriages.

In such cases, it behooves the religious to disown their former bread and butter. They admit the existence of the practices in their societies, but impute it to the unorthodox work of culture's unwieldy and nefarious ways. They thereby immunize themselves against attack. This is the now all-too-familiar "it's not religion; it's culture" switcheroo. Of course, some religious diehards will remain unswayed by reformation, no matter how politic. And, unflappable cultural relativist purists will be undeterred by the pejorative connotation of the attribution.

But, the cultural relativists have an ace up their sleeve, a magic trick long employed by the obscurantists. And, even the religious are beginning to take note. Besides the potent defense mechanism of screaming cultural imperialism, one may artfully dodge any accusations of having perpetrated human rights violations by obscuring the issue with indictments of racist intent. The stultifying effect of such a charge has been duly noted by the religious. They have wasted no time in doing their utmost to attempt to equate religion with race.

The greatest operators of the Religio-Cultural-Racial Shell Game move the pea as it suits them, beneath whichever shell of obfuscation that happens to serve best in the moment. Thus, they leave the human rights activist bereft of options. It's not religion; it's culture, unless we wish to claim it as religion, but, regardless, if you attack it, you will be accused of racism.

Case in point: the burqa. It's not a religious tradition. It's a cultural tradition. How dare you impugn Islam or Allah as commanding such an odious practice? Except when it is claimed as a religious tradition under cover of religious liberty. How dare you deny a woman's free choice to express her religious faith? And, if you attack the practice, you will be charged with racism against Arabs, and, surprisingly, or not, Muslims, as if Islam were a race and not a religion.

Of course, all of these shenanigans are nothing but a ruse comprised of fetid, putrid smoke and shards of broken mirrors. Religion and culture are NOT non-overlapping magisteria. Religion is culture. To say that religion has some objective or absolute meaning or objective or absolute doctrine when wholly removed from its cultural context is asinine. This is simply an attempt to bolster the idea that religion bears some objective or absolute truth. This is false.

Religion has no meaning when removed from its cultural context. Religion was born from culture. Culture exists without religion, because humanity exists. But, without culture, religion ceases to exist. To pretend otherwise is to buy into the delusion of the objective or absolute truth of religious doctrine.

Religion is not the realm of divine values while culture may lay claim to the realm of human values. And, even if such were the case, no mere human is able to divine the distinction between the divine and the worldly. This fact has been borne out by the ages of human history, so I would be quite wary of the charlatan operators claiming to be able to do so now. Our understanding of what lies inside the realm of the divine evolves and fluctuates according to the whims of human culture. Strange that.

As we evolve away from religious idiocy, more and more barbaric religious customs and traditions will be relegated to the cultural realm and disowned by their respective religious forebears. Like a child who refuses to relinquish its disintegrating security blanket, the faithful are loathe to give up their cults. Instead, they are shedding tenets and customs and traditions and doctrinal commandments like a molting diseased emu, most of whose brethren are long extinct. The religious hang onto an illusory distinction between religion and culture as if their beliefs depend upon it. And, they do.

In the game of Hide-the-Human-Rights-Violation, cultural relativism is religion's bitch. The religious are not cultural relativists. They are not moral relativists. They believe that they possess an objective and absolute moral truth. Their gods are supposedly infallible. So, when their religious traditions and tenets and doctrines and beliefs fail to live up to the most rudimentary human formulations of moral behavior, how to respond?

Well, those faults must be the result of imperfect human culture intruding upon the sacred and divine and pure religious space. So, of course, if one discovers that culture, including human, all-too-human frailty and cruelty, has set up camp in the campground of divinity, it has to be expunged.

But, this is all just lip service. All of those so-called cultural practices are staples of the diet upon which the world's major religions feed. Misogyny, bigotry, slavery, genocide, rape, torture, racism and the list goes on and on. If those "cultural" practices go away, the world's major religions will shrivel up and die, turning into emaciated carcasses to rot upon the garbage heap of dead religions.

This is cultural relativism's raison-d'être: to do religion's dirty work. And, isn't that always how religion operates? Privately dependent upon that which is publicly disowned. Isn't it ironic that those who proclaim moral absolutism rely upon those who aver moral relativism to protect those practices without which religion has no purpose and cannot survive?

And, religion protects culture, as the ostensible linchpin of any given culture, by bestowing an aura of respectability and sanctity. It's part of their culture, but, at the same time, it's their religion, so show some respect.

The same may be said for the race shell. Religion breeds racism, as does cultural relativism, yet both rely upon most persons' abhorrence for racism as protection.

So, if you buy into the game, if you agree to play, as so many human rights activists do, out of western imperialist and colonialist guilt, what result?

If you refuse to acknowledge, for example, the role that religion plays in the subjugation of women, what are you saying as a human rights activist? You are saying that those societies that perpetrate the most egregious atrocities upon their female populations are sadists or idiots or both. You are saying that they are incapable of grasping the concept of human dignity or don't care. And, you are perpetuating the religious patriarchy that created the problem in the first place. In other words – you have been duped. Thanks for playing.

Can we call a farce a farce already? Can we expose the little wizened man pulling the levers behind the green curtain? Or, must we continue, blind, deaf and dumb, politely and purposely oblivious to the sufferings of our fellow travelers?

I, for one, am no one's mark, and I'm not religion's bitch anymore.

May 5, 2010, 5:44 am • Posted in: The LoftPermalink33 comments

I Hate You

By Sarah Braasch

In loving memory of my baby brother, Jacob Michael Braasch (01/28/86 – 02/02/10)

In an internet café in downtown Rabat in Morocco, a middle-aged, middle-class Muslim woman told me that her fondest wish would be to have all of the Arab nations rise up as one and slaughter every Jew on the planet. A young and brilliant male Chinese engineer and co-worker at a small high-tech firm in the San Fernando Valley in California told me that the Japanese are vastly inferior to the Chinese, and that the Chinese are vastly superior to any other race on Earth, as evidenced by all of their technological and cultural achievements at a far earlier date than any other race. My Chinese and Taiwanese colleagues derided me for my Tiger birth year. As a woman, I could not have been born on a less auspicious year. Tigers are ferocious and proud and aggressive. Woe to the Tiger woman. She will certainly never marry. And, I never have.

A Pakistani taxi driver in New York City told me that he hits Muslim women who proposition him for sex as a show of respect. He then propositioned me for sex. A family of Polish immigrants told me that they wouldn't vote for Obama, because blacks are lazy and entitled, and Obama's victory would only render them more so. They also told me that they hate Jews and believe them to have been responsible for 9/11. A German tour guide on the Cote d'Azur told me that the French hate the Italians for being stupid, and the Italians hate the French for being snobs. As a young Jehovah's Witness girl, I relished my secure knowledge that I would survive to enjoy an eternity of earthly paradise while the rest of humanity would suffer horrifying and well-deserved deaths at Armageddon for having rejected Jehovah God. I looked forward to the spectacle with genocidal glee.

Christians have told me that they hate Muslims. Muslims have told me that they hate Jews. Whites have told me that they hate blacks. Florentines have told me that they hate Sardinians. Sunnis have told me that they hate Shi'as. Ethiopians have told me that the Amhara hate the Oromo who hate the Amhara, all of whom hate the Tigrays. But, they really hate the Somalis and the Eritreans. Everyone tells me that they hate gays. And, women. Well, for the most part, no one says that they hate women, but they certainly act like they do.

There seems to be something about me that elicits honesty and trust. People open up to me. They reveal their true feelings. They seem to trust that I will not judge them. And, I don't. They seem to feel that I will not condemn them. And, I don't. They seem to think that I understand the darker sides of their natures. And, I do.

Perhaps I betray that trust. Perhaps I manipulate them. Perhaps I lure them into a false sense of security. Perhaps there is no perhaps.

Maybe it's because they sense my utter lack of group allegiances. I claim no membership in any tribe. Of course, I must function in a world in which more than a handful of group memberships are imposed upon me by accident of my birth, but I feel no particular pride or obligation or prejudice as a result. No one can be outside of your group, if you don't have an in-group.

I was raised in an abusive, lower middle-class Jehovah's Witness home in suburban Minnesota by white parents of Northern European ancestry, and, if family lore is to be believed, a dash of Native American. Those are my ostensible tribal identities by birth. One of the few positive aspects of being raised as a Jehovah's Witness was the fact that I grew up in a racially integrated religious community, even if my residential and academic communities were anything but. Nonetheless, I walked away from all of my tribes at the moment I turned 18. I rejected everything I had been. I decided to recreate myself anew.

I turned myself into a human rights activist and writer, intent on raising public awareness of the atrocities human beings perpetrate against one another in the name of their respective tribal identities. I seek the truth, but I have no desire to victimize anyone. I seek to expose and dismantle institutions and cultures of tribalism and oppression, not individual lives. I would never reveal anyone's identity. I reveal their bigotries, their hatreds, their genocidal desires, their misogyny, their ethnocentrism, their fascism and their racism. I see them as victims too, not just perpetrators. They are also victims of indoctrination, of their divisive group ideologies, perpetuated by their respective tribes, be they defined by race, religion, creed, ethnicity, class, nationality, culture or what have you.

Tribalism seems to be the defining characteristic of humanity. The adulation of one's own group and its defining attributes while also condemning and demonizing all outsiders and their respective groups, including their allegedly contrasting attributes. We will either learn to overcome this vestigial proclivity or be overcome by it, like an infected and inflamed appendix. Evolutionary sepsis, if you will.

And, does it really need mentioning that all of these tribal identities that we hold so dear don't actually exist? They are arbitrary and illusory social constructs. Man made. Artificial. Fake.

Racial distinctions? Not real. National boundaries? Not real. Religious affiliations? Not real. Cultural distinctions are nebulous and amorphous, fleeting and evanescent. Cultures rise and fall and twist and turn like the unrelenting and dispassionate vicissitudes of the turbulent seas. Efforts to protect and maintain cultures and to grant groups rights invariably lead to the most egregious human rights violations.

Many of my colleagues would recoil at such a claim. This approach ignores the wrongs of biblical proportions, which have been perpetrated against human beings because of their group identities. How do you go about seeking justice for the countless persons who were murdered or tortured or dehumanized in genocidal campaigns without addressing the fact that these atrocities were committed because of the victims' tribal identities, social constructs or no. Real or illusory though they may be.

What is the alternative? Sometimes when you act as if the circumstances are as you wish them to be, you can effect positive change via a self-fulfilling prophecy. We may just have to resign ourselves, as a species, to letting go of our lust for retribution, in order to create a world in which we all may live. We may need to shed our tribal allegiances in order to survive.

So, what's a well-meaning human rights activist to do? It seems positively hopeless. Never-ending cycles of oppression and victimization based upon artificial divisions within humanity or wish fulfillment.

Tribalisms, including religion, probably served important evolutionary purposes at one point. But, times have changed. Circumstances have changed. Our well-honed ability to distinguish ourselves from one another based upon imaginary distinctions no longer serves the purpose of perpetuating ourselves as a species. We are too many. We are running out of water and land and oil and other resources. We are destroying what habitable geography we now possess. We are no longer served by trying to outbreed one another into submission. We are no longer served by keeping women as sex slaves to generate a ready source of slave child labor. And, our well-honed ability to invent illusory group divisions is matched only by our well-honed ability to invent very real methods for killing one another on a massive, even global scale.

To grant credence to these so-called differences and group characteristics is to divorce one's self from reality. We no longer have the luxury of ignoring one another. We no longer have the luxury of isolating ourselves geographically or otherwise. All of our divisions have been rendered meaningless except in the id dominated portions of our minds. Global transportation, migration, and communication have eradicated any notion of difference.

We must either accept our new reality as a single global family of individual human beings, or destroy one another. It is really that simple. Anyone who avers otherwise is not willing to see the stark and bleak future confronting us.

The problem is time. We don't have enough of it. Maybe if we had started the process of shedding our idiocies earlier, we wouldn't have found ourselves in such dire straits at the latest possible moment. Maybe if we had figured out a way to colonize other planets sooner, we could have established a Christian colony on Venus and a Muslim colony on Mars and a Jewish colony on Mercury. The Hindus could take Jupiter. No one would be able to keep Earth, as this would inspire far too much rancor over one or the other religious group being able to retain their earthly holy sites while the other groups would be forced to forego theirs. No doubt there would be much bickering over who gets which planet, over who has to share, and the astrological and theological implications of the assignments.

The problem is arrogance. We have too much of it. Arrogance and self-conceptions of victimization and persecution. Everyone thinks they are better than everyone else. And, everyone wants to be able to claim past grievances, past victimizations, which bestow upon them privileges not to be enjoyed by others. Here's the honest-to-god truth: You're shit. Not the shit. Just shit. And, so is everyone else. You're not better than anyone else. Your culture was not superior to anyone else's. If it were, it wouldn't have died. And, the current leaders will die out too. Your religion or prophets or whatever don't possess any truth that has been denied all others. You are human. You are nothing more and nothing less. You are just like everyone else.

But, being human is wonderful. Or, at least, it can be. It could be. And, it is enough. Or, at least, it should be. But, human beings seem to be too stupid to enjoy their extraordinary good fortunate to have won the cosmological super lotto. We exist. Woo hoo. We are here. Enjoy.

Is just getting rid of religion enough? The so-called New Atheists are often criticized for taking aim exclusively at religion. Attacks against religion as a divisive group ideology, which may lead to humanity's downfall, are derided as ignorant and facile. Opponents of the anti-theists claim political and territorial and national and military disputes as the real culprits.

In a sense, they are right. Religion is but one aspect of the greater problem. The problem is tribalism. Religion is a particularly virulent form of tribalism, because it also presupposes truths without evidence and demands uncritical devotion and impunity and immunity from criticism. The other tribalisms also have their respective dogmas. But, maybe not to the extent that religion does.

Sam Harris often says that he is not really attacking religion so much as dogma. He is attacking faith – belief without evidence. I would suggest a counterpoint to that position. I would suggest that we should broaden our attack to include all tribalisms, not just religion. We should attack all divisive group ideologies. This includes race, religion, class, creed, nationality, culture, ethnicity, etc., etc..

Even the relatively benign stuff disturbs me. The pride in artistic accomplishments or scientific feats of one's fellow in-group members. The riotous and bacchanalian celebrations over the sports victories of the team bearing the name of one's in-group, regardless of the actual origin of the players. The incessant retelling of military conquests by one's ancestors of long ago.

I am not suggesting that we destroy our cultural heritage or force everyone to conform to a homogenized and sanitized set of characteristics. Not in the least. I am arguing for the maximization of freedom. I am arguing for the maximization of anarchy. I am arguing for the maximization of individualism, including the individual choice to self-identify with whichever cultural norms one wishes. I am arguing against the absurd notion of group rights. I am arguing against the even more absurd notion of cultural rights. We cannot maintain or protect cultures. History, yes. But, cultures, no. Any attempts to protect or maintain groups or cultures or nations inevitably leads to oppression and human rights violations, especially of the most vulnerable members of any group, the women and children.

Groups wish to perpetuate themselves. A group is an entity, and, like any other entity, a group will seek out its own survival. Women and children are the means of perpetuating the group. Inevitably, the group leaders will seek to subjugate and control the women and children. Religion has been a particularly useful tool in realizing this aim.

In order for humanity to survive, the individual must rule. Only individual rights may have any political or legal currency. All group ideologies must enter the free global marketplace of ideas. No special privileges any longer for religion or nationality or race or culture. Sink or swim. The clergy and the other ideologues will have to win over their adherents like shop owners have to win over their customers, like intellectuals have to win over academia. An individual may choose or not choose to participate in whichever culture or religion or group, and, if it ceases to serve him or her, leave it just as easily without death threats and labels of apostasy.

But, in a sense, I am arguing for communitarianism, but only on a species-wide, global scale. Our in-group needs to include the entirety of humanity. Each and every single, individual human being is in our tribe.

A young Kazakh man I had met told me that he was really angry about a travel program he had seen on TV. The travel program described an ancient city in Uzbekistan, near the border with Kazakhstan, as an Uzbek city, not a Kazakh city. I asked him why this would bother him so much. He said that that particular city had always been a Kazakh city for millennia and millennia, and that the Uzbeks had stolen it from the Kazakhs about 1200 hundred years ago, and that it riles him each and every time he hears this city mentioned as an Uzbek city.

I suggested that it might be time to get over it.

April 2, 2010, 6:36 am • Posted in: The LoftPermalink35 comments

Older Posts >

Now available from Big Think!


MUST-READ POSTS (view all)


SITE CATEGORIES (explanation)




see all >













SSA Speaker Page
Find Me on Facebook Find Me on Atheist Nexus
Kiva - loans that change lives
Foundation Beyond Belief
The Out Campaign
Winner of the 2009 3 Quarks Daily Science Writing Prize