Alan Turing was perhaps one of the greatest minds the human race has ever known. He transformed the way we think of systems, and is often referred to as the father of computer science. But even now, in death, he is helping us to analyze a different kind of system, the system of human governance.
Alan Turing was convicted of the crime of being a homosexual. The punishment for that crime led to his taking his own life. Many now understand how egregious such conviction was, and have worked hard to change the laws around homosexuality. We are witness to one of the great advances in human rights as the system of democratic pluralism is leading the way in recognizing the fundamental right to the free expression of sexual orientation.
Human institutions make mistakes. Recently, the Queen of England granted Turing a Royal Pardon. I’m glad to see this action taken. There are many acts that our Government has taken, much more horrific even than this, for which we have yet to make amends.
Most important is to learn the core lessons of such mistakes, and to implement changes to the system of government to avoid similar mistakes going forward. Alan Turing is a hero; we honor his sacrifice by learning and applying the lessons.
“Nearly 60 years after his death, Alan Turing, the British mathematician regarded as one of the central figures in the development of the computer, received a formal pardon from Queen Elizabeth II on Monday for his conviction in 1952 on charges of homosexuality, at the time a criminal offense in Britain.” New York Times
This is an amazing conversation; perhaps the pinnacle of modern sexual morality presented by seasoned voices of reason.
The mating and social behavior of animals is of particular interest to humans. In our effort to understand the animal kingdom, we classify and document behaviors and traits, labeling a species as either “this” or “that”. Leaving aside a Western or religious understanding of monogamy as lifelong and exclusive pair bonding, there are animals that tend toward monogamy (3-5% of the animal population) and animals that do not.
At best, these classifications give us approximations. Not every species fits nicely into categories, and individual members of a given species may behave differently than the norm. These qualifications aside, we’re comfortable taking a 30,000 foot view of animal behavior and classifying them accordingly.
We tend to wear blinders, however, when looking at ourselves, the human animal. It is, perhaps, simply bias that prevents us from studying ourselves in the same way we do birds and bees.
“The death penalty is a human system created by human beings, run by human beings. That means there is human error built into it. A human system is not capable of perfection. Government does nothing flawlessly. Government cannot flawlessly kill people. If you give government the power to kill people, you are giving government the power to make mistakes killing people, and government will make those mistakes. You couldn’t stop Troy Davis’ execution by just protesting Troy Davis’ execution. The only way to stop Troy Davis’ execution is to stop all executions.” – Lawrence O’Donnell
Ask: Could a woman ever be appointed to lead your religion? Should they?
Mitt Romney is sexist. He adheres to a philosophy, Mormonism, which denies women equal rights. Mormon women are not allowed to hold leadership positions within the church and forbidden ordination into the priesthood.
Similarly, before 1978, the Mormon church did not allow black men to hold the priesthood. Had they not changed that position, Mitt Romney would have no chance to run for President; he’d rightly be branded as racist; that he’s not being asked to reconcile his sexism in a similar fashion reveals a troubling double standard.
Sexism isn’t sexy, it appears. Racism? That’s hot. Homophobia? Get a room. However, when it comes to the most dominant form of inequality, many seem complacent.
The foundational Mormon treatise “The Family, A Proclamation To The World” holds:
By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.
Mitt Romney’s vision of a healthy society puts men in the boardroom and women in the bedroom
Here’s how the Mormon Church practices this: Women are not allowed to hold the priesthood. Women are not allowed to hold any position of leadership over men. Even within the Mormon organization for women, they are not allowed to set their own budgets or to structure their own teaching materials. Women are not allowed to bless their babies, or even to hold their babies while they are being blessed.
To match the ideals outlined in the U.S. Constitution, we must define and measure our values.
We have already defined our values. We do not yet measure outcomes.
Science is the only tool capable of abstracting human experience over populations, allowing us to know whether we are achieving our goals.
By choosing not to measure, we violate basic human rights and empower the strong over the weak, the majority over the minority. This threatens to make meaningless our chosen values.
Therefore, Science should be a human right.
Sam Harris’ Missing Chapter: Government and The Moral Landscape
Sam Harris recently published a controversial book titled The Moral Landscape, wherein he argues that science can answer moral questions:
Questions about value—about meaning, morality, and life’s larger purpose—are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures. Values, therefore, translate into facts that can be scientifically understood.
Stephen Gould provides a common dissent:
Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people…The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner.
I side with Harris.
Most criticism of his position rests in a critique of Utilitarianism; an ethical position that holds the right course of action is the one that creates “the greatest good for the greatest number.”
Harris, by presenting his theory abstractly (“some science somewhere could do this”) and by responding to the abstract criticisms of his opponents, actually misses the strength of his argument when applied to practical use.
What else are we doing than safeguarding the well being of individuals when we form governments?
Harris’ theory can be grounded in Governance. U.S. Democracy, for example, is functionally utilitarian.
What else are we doing than safeguarding the well being of individuals when we form governments? In this light, arguments about whether we can define and measure moral positions are nonsense; we’ve been attempting to do so since the beginning of recorded history. We’ve just been doing it poorly.
If, as Harris’ opponents argue, this endeavor is impossible, then we should immediately dispense attempts to define communal values and form governments.
George Lakoff suggests that Obama’s April 13, 2011 speech provides a solid guide for how to talk about progressive issues:
“Last week, on April 13, 2011, President Obama gave all Democrats and all progressives a remarkable gift. Most of them barely noticed. They looked at the President’s speech as if it were only about budgetary details. But the speech went well beyond the budget. It went to the heart of progressive thought and the nature of American democracy, and it gave all progressives a model of how to think and talk about every issue.”
I’ve recently been working through George Lakoff’s “Moral Politics” and am persuaded that his research is vital to the future of rational politics.
Take the time to watch the speech, and then let’s discuss in more detail.
Ask: Was the Mormon Church wrong to deny priesthood to black members before 1978?
The official policy of the LDS Church is that the racist practice was commanded by God, and not a result of racism among its leadership.
The Church has never apologized for the practice nor specifically repudiated racist teachings by LDS prophets.
Mitt Romney is skilled at evading this point, aided by general misunderstanding of the LDS Church.
He should be able to unequivocally denounce the racism of his church and of his past. He hasn’t.
During his 2008 campaign, Mitt Romney appeared on Meet The Press with Tim Russert. This specific question arose, and Russert came close to getting it right. Watch the clip:
At the end of that section, Russert asked:
“But it was wrong for your faith to [deny priesthood to blacks]?”
“I’ve told you exactly where I stand. My view is there’s no discrimination in the eyes of God and I could not have been more pleased than to see the change that occurred.”
What’s critical here is to note what Romney did not say; Russert asked “was it wrong?” Romney evaded. No apology. No repudiation of the Church or its racist practice.
Earlier in the interview, Romney states:
“I’m very proud of my faith, and of the faith of my fathers. And I certainly believe it is a faith, uh, well it’s True and I love my faith. And I’m not going to distance myself in any way from my faith.”
He will not separate his position and the position of the Church. The church has not apologized for the racist practice, nor will he.
David Frum reversed his position on gay marriage. Conservatives would have you believe that the case for or against it requires a review of evidence.
In framing his reversal this way, he’s misrepresenting his previous position, and glossing over the deeper question: is conservatism capable of producing coherent policies in a nation whose foundational values include equality, justice, and union?
Conservatism has been wrong on the most fundamental questions of human rights. The questions of slavery, women’s right to vote and interracial marriage were not decided by weighing evidence, and neither is the question of gay marriage.
David Frum, a conservative columnist, recently admitted “I Was Wrong About Same-Sex Marriage.”
In linking to his article on my facebook page, I stated:
“Oops! David Frum tries to backpedal his previous opposition to gay marriage. What he doesn’t understand is that this is an indictment not just of his previous position, but of conservatism generally.”
A friend asked about my strategy of chastising a person who has come to agree with me on one of my core issues. “Why not just pat him on the back and welcome him into the tent?”
David Frum didn’t invent his opposition to gay marriage ex nihilo; his core principle, conservatism, predictably led him to make this fundamental mistake.
In his reversal, Mr. Frum states:
“…the case against same-sex marriage has been tested against reality. The case has not passed its test.”
Frum’s conservatism seems to suggest an evidence-based requirement of change, and yet his position is not now nor ever was informed by evidence.
In his former arguments, Mr. Frum wasn’t asking that gay marriage be tested; quite the opposite. He and most other conservatives have viciously fought any attempt to grant rights to homosexuals.
To claim now that gay marriage has been tested and found innocuous is to subtly, but importantly, misrepresent the prior position. What is more important, it’s an attempt to ignore the core problem, which is the philosophy of conservatism.