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Friday, June 19, 2009

Freedom of Speech and "Political Correctness"

I consider freedom of speech and what is considered to be "politically correct" to be hot button issues these days. As a matter of my own personal political stance, I think we are beginning to lose our freedoms and the American manner of lifestyle via the Obama administration, at an alarming rate. Honestly, compared to Bush, it would seem that Obama is triple to the effect. Crazed deficit spending and all of this talk about "creating more alternative energy solutions, creating more jobs and affordable health care" is just that: Talk. So far it would seem that the president is blinded to the harm he is inflicting upon this country and would rather be optimistic than realistic. And it still seems that the president has a high approval rating due to his "personality." Thus the new motto of the times to live by is that personality should replace policy. Vomit.

Moving on, Loftus' latest blog entry is an intersection of what constitutes free speech and how the protectional rights as stated in the First Amendment of the US Constitution apply and don't apply in certain circumstances. The gist of this particular post I'm talking about now is based on a previous post arguing that Edward Feser, a California community college professor, Should Be Fired From His Teaching Post! According to Loftus here, Feser is guilty of comparing the recently slain abortionist, Dr. George Tiller, to the serial killer/sodomozing rapist Jeffrey Dahmer. Loftus argues in this post:

Feser teaches for Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California which is a community college. I call upon that college to fire him for this highly inflamed rhetoric which will probably bring on more murders of abortion doctors. And I ask others to do likewise. No professor should use such inflammatory rhetoric or be so ignorant about some crucial distinctions.

Loftus might have a point here. But he goes about it the wrong way. What we should be asking is whether or not Loftus is in the appropriate position to make that call or put forth such a suggestion? Well, in his latest post, John just so happens to cite a blog post which argues against Loftus on this very point (quoting from the cited blog and not Debunking Christianity):

I’d be the first to call for Feser to be charged if what he’s said rises to the level of incitement, and I certainly believe he should be held accountable for the horrific implications of his argument. But he should be challenged on the poor quality of ideas, not forced out of his job for what he’s said as a private citizen. Feser is most definitely not calling for violence against abortion providers, and while his rhetoric certainly may encourage dangerous people to do horrible things, he is not calling for violence, nor does he appear to be crying crocodile tears: he seems sincere in his view that violence against doctors isn’t okay.

Come to think of it, this guy has a much better handle on things than Loftus does from what I can see. And perhaps that's one in a list of many "crucial distinctions" Loftus should pay attention too when he goes about something either inane or overly exaggerated. So of course, Loftus responds with the latest:

I was claiming Feser ought not to say what he did in the most vocal way I can, precisely because I find it reprehensible in the worst way. How would he feel, as unlikely as it would be, that someone kills an abortionist and upon being arrested quotes him? I think he would feel terrible. That's the point. We must tone down such inflammatory incendiary rhetoric on occasions like these, because of what it could lead to. One is indeed responsible for the repercussions of the rhetoric they use. One must be careful not to use such inflammatory rhetoric when it comes to human beings who simply disagree on the issue of abortion. It’s like pouring gas on the fire.

Now perhaps you were expecting that I was going to express my disagreement with Loftus on this one. But as much as the point of firing Feser is a bit inappropriate, when Loftus himself admits to Feser being against incited violence against practicing abortionists, he does have some valid points here. Still, the issue of firing him is backed by a whole load of bogus sub-arguments, and ones which could be in themselves, detrimental to society.

As far as free speech goes, there have been many people fired for expressing chauvinism, racism and homophobia in academia, as sportscasters, and as pundits. Hate speech is not something the law tolerates, nor do employers. Whether you like it or not this is "politically incorrect" speech, which I applaud. One cannot call an African American the "N" word nor a woman the "B" word, for those words have a history of oppression to them in the English language.

Actually, that whole point about "Hate speech is not something the law tolerates, nor do employers" is, unfortunately, an invalid one. I just returned about a week ago from a trip out to Kansas to begin my documentary film on the Westboro Baptist Church. Several online sources confirm that members of the WBC lead normal lives outside of the church, to include employment. Additionally, the protests conducted by the Phelps are indeed under protection by law enforcement (of course, while we are talking about Tiller's death, this applies in both ways due to the church calling for support from law enforcement to keep the Phelps' protesters at bay). But something I find greatly disturbing is the concept of "political correctness". Does Loftus really want to go there? He could just as well be put up for being "politically incorrect" for being an atheist. Arguing that some action should be taken, or even for that matter, by merely making a point based on the idea of 'political correctness' is to me nothing short of a logical fallacy. It is an invented figment of the imagination which seeks out to replace words such as "hate" with "strongly dislike" and so on.

The same applies in terms of racial and sexist slurs. Although I'm not arguing against the importance of acknowledging the historical context in which these words have been used, I'm also not in favor of advocating that we should just simply keep our mouths shut or NEVER use these words, EVER. It sets things up for a double standard. Why? In contemporary America, the "oppressed" minorities that have been afflicted upon with these words have asborbed these terms into their daily vocabulary. It has now become racially acceptable, for instance, for the majority of blacks to use the word "nigger" when referring to social situations involving primarily the black community. It has become unacceptable, however, for white people to use these words even if they are used in the same context, or, for that matter, are used between whites. And it's also somehow "okay" for racial minorities to use implicitly derogatory names when referring to whites (e.g., cracker, honkey, etc.) and yet no one gets upset, because it's "politically correct".

An argument commonly interpreted as racist yet valid nonetheless is that slavery was abolished 130 + years ago. It is a thing of the past. Women have voting rights in our country, and we have had female candidates for the presidential and vice presidential offices in the past. We now have an African-American president. We need to come to a period in time where we can shed these stereotypes about words. Words in and of themselves have no meaning other than the relative context they are placed into. But to merely say you "can't" say something and equate to (or imply that you are equating) taking radical actions is to instigate a situation of control. Does this mean that Loftus' politics are consistent with his own behaviors, in that they are somehow influenced by his political thoughts?

Another somewhat disturbingly confusing point Loftus makes out is this:

When the government is involved and when we are the government, we have a say in what we want to allow and support.

So does John happen to know that the people in our government are put there by electoral vote? That basically sums it up that the government is represented by "us" so to speak because we put them there in the first place. But just because they happen to have the title of "representative" does not make it so. Politics requires that you are a good manipulator. One such example of this being true is Hillary Clinton. So, according to the arguably delusional Loftus, if "we" begin making up the government and therefore the government is enlarged, we will have more freedoms? Whatever happened to less government, more individuality, PERIOD? Loftus' politics are exactly the reason why we are in such a mess today. The government makes all of these proposals to make things better, but their approach is awful. And since when was it ever an American idea that failing companies and businesses should receive financial bailouts? Is there some sort of connection between Loftus' distorted views and the fact that he helped vote Barack Obama to the White House???

And just in case you are not aware, there is no such thing as free speech. It’s a political prize won by the diligent, so argues Stanley Fish, in his brilliant and thought provoking book. That's why there is something called "politically correct speech" in the first place!

Another point I disagree with strongly. If this statement were to be more accurately stated, it would be the other way around. "Political correctness" does not exist. It is a logical fallacy because in many cases, it can be applied in both ways. "Freedom of speech" however, is described in our First Amendment Rights quite clearly, and has only been tainted as the result of "political correctness" having been introduced into the public forum:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Freedom of speech is neutral, "political correctness" is based on majority-minority principles and usually involves an ignorance of proper context, or a negligence of freedom of speech rights. This is the difference between the two.

Finally, in closing, to demonstrate my own self-proclaimed wisdom:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rules Policy

Recent notable controversial feuds which have taken place here on Debunking Loftus have made it more of an urgency to develop a democratic-means of establishing rules of conduct for this blog's guests and staff.

As founder of the blog, I will make it clear that in no way, shape, or form will Debunking Loftus model itself after the policies of Debunking Christianity. Censorship is a common theme found on John's blog because he is able to control the input of what commentators have said on his blog in order to escape public embarrassment and fatal flaws to his reputation (even though by matter of simple searching, he already has a track record rife with them). Here, at the Debunking Loftus blog, I welcome any guest who wishes to provide their thoughts and opinions on matters even if they are highly disagreeable in the perspective as viewed by myself and the fellow contributors to this blog. 

However, it should also be noted that each and every contributing author to the blog has administrative rights. They are capable within their own discretion to remove comments that they find are endangering or grossly inappropriate towards others in a way that reflects badly upon this blog and causes meaningless disputes. It is with this in mind, that instead of providing a long list of dos and donts, of which, a small specific list has already been established by myself, as indicated in the description above the 'Comments' box, the policy regarding proper protocol to the blog will be determined by means of popular vote and suggestions from authors and guests alike. In other words, this sticky post shall be used as a medium and as a reference, for implementing new rules and or emphasizing already existing ones. Anyone authorized to comment on here is given the option to throw out suggestions and ideas for what may be acceptable and or inacceptable. This can be something as simple as specifying what should be within boundaries and what certain behaviors violate them, to listing the name of a specific blogger with a formal complaint. All suggested ideas will go into consideration and will be listed in a voting poll where commentators and non-commentators alike can help determine where the majority vote leans. So even if there is a doubt in your mind if what you have in mind is worthwhile and or sensible, feel free to post it and see where the votes will get you.

Voting polls shall be open to public vote for a total of seven days duration time or an entire week once a suggestion has been inputed. This should be enough timing for regular readers to reach a verdict in correlation with the verdict of the blog administrators, not excluding random or in-and-out guest readers. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

Why John Loftus Runs Away from TheologyWeb

According to recent statistical study, posts over at Debunking Christianity these days can be broken down as follows:

* 87% by John Loftus, consisting of either self-congratulatory rhetoric because he has either deconverted another Christian whose intelligence quotient can be stated in terms of a single-digit number; or, because he has received a good review at from an atheist teenager who is mad that a loving, all-powerful God won’t give him a cell phone.

* 10% by Harry “Obscene Phone” McCall, who is either whining about some Christian being mean to him, or else believing in some screwy Neanderthal-fundamentalist doctrine that Harry himself used to believe, and assumes that all Christians everywhere still do.

*2% by one of the other Useful Idiots at DC, such as Lee Randolph complaining that because he can’t figure out the Bible, obviously no one can.

*1% by Loftus actually arguing something.

It’s not hard to see why Loftus so seldom ventures into that last territory – especially when it comes to “hard data” questions that don’t rely on him sniveling that a really, REALLY good God wouldn’t have caused mosquitoes to exist. Back when he first ventured on to TheologyWeb, I challenged Loftus to defend a number of premises from his first book related to hard, practical issues such as the authorship of various Biblical books. Like a spoiled child, each time I did he said, “Waaah, not interested!”

You can see why based in his June 1 reposting of a scholar’s assessment of the authorship of 2 Thessalonians. As usual in such cases, Loftus just puts his mind on “NUMB” and uncritically swallows whatever he is told – just like he did when he was a fundy Christian. That’s why he ran like a screaming little girl each time I challenged him on such things: He wouldn’t know how to defend such views even if you offered to buy all the leftover copies of his second edition.

Having just completed my own book which includes a serious study of authorship issues, I can tell you that Loftus and his source haven’t got a clue how to arrive at epistemic determination for how authorship of a document – especially an ancient document – is determined. In the main, internal and external evidence of attestation tends to be ignored in favor of contrived, statistically meaningless arguments based on writing style and content that scholars who have the knowledge, but not the ability to process it meaningfully, come up with after smoking mushrooms.

Arguments like the ones Loftus cites would draw little but jeers from persons with a background in serious literary study and/or statistical study (myself included, on both counts). (By the way, I am assuming that he has represented the scholar accurately; but with Loftus, you never know. It could be a fake citation like his fake blog was.)

How so? Let’s look at some examples, but with a preface first.

One of the critical factors in analyzing ancient documents has to do with the presence and use of scribes in the ancient world. Writing was such a cumbersome, tedious business that even fully literate people would hire scribes to do their writing for them at times. As Randolph Richards shows in his classic study on the subject, the role of a scribe could vary considerably based on the trust ascribed to them by the named author. It could range from straight dictation to, “write a letter to so and so about such and such” and letting the scribe do the whole thing, with the author merely “signing off” after reviewing the text.

Many scholars, because they have lived in a society where writing is so simple to do, have failed to appreciate the implications of this factor when it comes to tests of authorship. By itself, it makes arguments based on statistics completely worthless. In the case of 2 Thessalonians especially, we have three people – Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy – credited as authors of the letter. Any arguments against authenticity that fail to take this point seriously themselves do not deserve to be taken seriously.

But that’s assuming that the arguments are even meaningful in the first place, and in this case, nearly all the arguments Loftus quotes are statistically and epistemically meaningless in terms of usefulness for deciding authorship. Let’s look at some examples from the area of vocabulary and style.

We can skip a section after which the scholar quoted rightly says, “Such word statistics allow no firm conclusions.” Indeed they don’t, but the scholar fails to see how this expands to other matters. Here’s one:”Rigaux (1956: 89) called attention to Paul’s development of thought by triadic groupings in 1 Thessalonians. He identified sixteen such triads. But 2 Thessalonians has only one such triad (2 Thess 2:9).”

That’s nice. The question is, “so what?” Triadic groupings, actually, are an artifact of a carefully-crafted oral style. The use of a triadic pattern serves as a memory enhancement and rhetorical device, even today.

Counting noses for this kind of thing, however, is no more worthwhile than counting word uses as a means of determining authorship, in the way the scholar already rejected as valid a few lines before. Paul (or any author) does not have a list of techniques that they have to check off on a list to use, nor do they have any requirement laying out how many times they have to use any particular technique.

At the same time, the most critical aspect of comparing 1 and 2 Thessalonians has to do with their respective situations. 2 Thessalonians was written under far more stressful urgent conditions, with Paul and his friends answering for a crisis that had occurred due to a misunderstanding. In such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that Paul et al. are not crafting a carefully-structured treatise full of balance and harmony – though not because of the urgency of the situation per see. This is not just a matter of Paul’s own situation, but a matter of the situation of the recipients of his letter.

Paul was well-trained in Greco-Roman rhetorical techniques. He would knew when to use certain techniques and why. Carefully-structured triads would not as well reflect the urgency of the situation, and Paul (or any writer) would know this.

On the other hand, “pleonasm” and “fullness of expression” – which is said to reflect a striking difference between the two letters – would. Paul is anxious to be understood in light of a crisis where it seems he has not been understand. Something like pleonasm is just what we would expect a skilled author to employ under the circumstances. Keep in mind especially that this letter, like all ancient works, would be read aloud to a mostly-illiterate audience – so that it is all the more important for Paul or any writer to get the point across in an effective, memorable way.

Let’s take a second example under the heading “verbal similarity”. It is said:
“Bornemann (1894: 473) already pointed out that the similarity of 1 and 2 Thessalonians went far beyond structure to include ‘sequence of thought, clauses, turns of phrase and expressions.’ Wrede (1903: 3–36) provided massive documentation by presenting the parallels in tabular form, by showing that every paragraph in 2 Thessalonians has a conceptually related section in 2 Thessalonians. He demonstrates that these significant parallels occur in the same order in both letters… Wrede finally concludes in an impassioned paragraph (pp. 29–30) that the coincidence of memory or historical situation is not adequate to explain the similarity.”

That’s nice. Unfortunately, Wrede wasn’t particularly well-versed in ancient rhetorical technique either. Memory and situation are not the answer, no – mimesis is. This was the ancient art of recombining prior written material in a skillful yet seemingly new way. For this reason, it is no surprise to find this sort of similarity between the two letters. It’s exactly what we would expect – even if by the same authors.

Finally, there is what is frankly the most idiotic of the arguments, “Lack of Personal Warmth.” Once again, critics are often clueless to the relative context of these letters. One is reflecting an answer to an urgent crisis situation; the other is not. “Personal warmth” in a crisis letter is the last thing we would expect from someone skilled in the practice of ancient rhetorical composition. This is not to say it could not possibly be found – but the person who did use it in this situation would be a remarkably inept rhetorician. Paul was not one of those.
To indicate the idiocy of this argument, it can be compared by analogy to one saying that Loftus himself could not have written his desperate “I quit” posting a few months back, because so many of his other posts seem so happy-go-lucky. Obviously no one is saying Loftus didn’t write that post because of his lack of “happy go luckiness” (or in his case, Dunning’s disorder).

So in sum, that Loftus uncritically swallows arguments like these speaks for itself – and speaks for his gullibility as well as his lack of academic rigor.

It’s little wonder he doesn’t come to see us at TWeb any more.