Showing posts with label philosophy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label philosophy. Show all posts

July 10, 2023

There's an ethical lesson to be learned from the collapse of the Dutch government over immigration policy


By Hal Brown

Here's a basic summary of what inspried todays blog from CNN

Below are three points which address what I consder to be basic ethical concerns. They are from this New York Times (subscription) article from July 7th.

  1. “One of the values that are important with the proposals is that children grow up with their parents,” a statement by the Christian Union party said. “As a family party, that is what we stand for.” The party said it wanted to work with “heart and soul for a humane and effective migration policy.”
  2. The large numbers of arrivals have strained the Netherlands’ housing capacity, which was already suffering a shortage for the country’s more than 17 million people.
  3. “Everybody wants to find a good, effective solution that also does justice to the fact that this is about human lives,” the finance minister, Sigrid Kaag, a member of the D66 party, said before the talks began.
The belief that there is a moral imperative for being willing to sacrifice your own comfort, up to your own life in extraordinary circumstances, is a core tenet of all or most of the world's religions and a basis for the philosophy of ethics. 

As Wiki explains, "ethics seeks to resolve questions of human morality by defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrongvirtue and vicejustice and crime."

Whether in the Netherlands or the United States the immigration of people fleeing persecution, sometimes risking their lives to do so, has been a major divisive poltical issue.

At the most simple level this boils down to actually giving up something tangible, for example in the Netherlands better housing capacity or something intangible like in the United States and other countries the sharing of your country with people of other ethnic and relgious backgrounds and life styles.

From immigration to human rights for everyone including groups not only demonized by Trump and more blatantly (if we ever thought this was possible by a right-winger) by DeSantis, but also like Marine Le Pen in France, it's all about ethics. More specifically it is about a lack of ethics.

When I was considering writing this I shared some of my ideas with a dear friend whose parents survived a NAZI concentration camp. She reminded me of this line from "The Diary of Anne Frank": 

“I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
She wrote this about a month before she and her family were arrested.

Anne Frank was in her early to mid-teens when in hiding and we can speculate that despite the abject fear she lived with knowing what she and her family's fate could be, she depserately tried to maintain her optimistic view that deep down all people were good at heart.

To contemplate that this is not demonstrated in real life and that while there are people who try to live their lives adhering as best as they can to an ethical code, there are those who, to put it bluntly, are just plain evil

By conincidence in relationship to my writing this blog about Dutch politics, this was written when she and he family were in hiding in Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

During World War II the NAZI's occupied the Netherlands and about 75% of the Jews living their were sent to concentration camps where most of them were killed.

Between 25,000  and 34,000 Jews fled from Germany in the 1930's. For more see The Holocaust in The Netherlands from Wikipedia.

Dutch citizens had engaged in a valient and fierce resistance againt the NAZI's which you can read about here.

Also by chance, as I did some research about the Netherlands and the Holocaust I came across tis article:

The article begins with a reference to Anne Frank:

The story of teenage diarist Anne Frank is known across the world. But a new survey suggests a “disturbing” lack of awareness about the Holocaust in the Netherlands, where she and her family hid for years before being discovered and deported to a Nazi concentration camp.

and goes on as follows:

A Dutch Holocaust survivor and Jewish cultural leaders have expressed dismay at the survey, which was released Wednesday and suggests that more than half of the residents were not aware of the deportation and murder of Jews from the country during World War II.

The survey, conducted and released by the New York-based nonprofit Claims Conference ahead of International Holocaust Memorial Day on Friday, found that 53% of the respondents couldn’t identify the Netherlands as a country where the events of the Holocaust happened — rising to 60% among millennial and Gen Z respondents, meaning those under 40.

Historians estimate more than 70% of the Netherlands’ prewar Jewish population was killed during the Holocaust, more than 100,000 in total. Frank hid in a secret room in Amsterdam with her family from 1942 to 1944 before she died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp weeks before its liberation.

I can do no better than to end this blog with a quote from Mark Lezer who was six when the NAZI's invaded the Netherlands and who lost family in the Holocaust. He said it is imperative that the story of the Holocaust should never be allowed to fade from memory.

“Because if you don’t know enough about the Holocaust and you do not know that so many people died because of the Nazi persecution, then you do not know enough to be realistic about the future.”

This should go not only for the Dutch, but for everyone whose country is facing a push by authoriatians who envision ruling over a country not too different than what Hitler wanted for Germany.

July 2, 2023

What would Thomas Aquinas say?

Thomas Aquinas, Altarpiece in
Ascoli Piceno, Italy,
by Carlo Crivelli
 (15th century) Public domain

By Hal Brown

We recently binge watched Madam Secretary. If you're familiar with the show you know that the star Téa Leoni plays Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord and that her husband Harry (played by Tim Daly) is a theology professor who often quotes Thomas Aquinas who has been described as "the most influential thinker of the medieval period and he greatest of the medieval philopsher-theologians. 

In a few episodes he related a "Thomas Aquinas walks into a bar" joke. Here's one of them:

Thomas Aquinas walks into a bar, and the bartender pours him a big goblet of mead.

Bartender says, "How ya doin?"

Aquinas says, "Oh, not so great. I've been working on this treatise for seminarians. Uh, basically explains all the major points of Catholicism. It could be the most important theological document of our time, and I even thought of the perfect title: Summa Theologica."

Aquinas continues, "So, I finish it, and I misplaced it. I can't find it anywhere, and I can't understand why God would inspire me to do this and then allow it to be taken away. What is God trying to tell me?"

Bartender says, "Eh. You win summa, you lose summa."

I am about as far removed from being a religious scholar as I am from being Kafka's cockroach, well, probably further removed. Still, I decided to see whether Aquinas had anything to say applicable to the politics of today and to my life in general. Not about to read his collected works I turned to the website AZ Quotes for his best known quotations. Below are a selection of quotes with my annotations.

This is totally irrelevant to me personally since I don't believe in God. However it should be a quote to live by for all those who do believe in God. You can ask yourself whether members of the far-right could say the above if there was a real lightning hurling god who would strike liars and hypocrites and burn them to a heap of cinders would be around to vote in the next election.
 Whether you love money, power, your family, or humanity or various combinations to different degrees, I believe this.
I agree, but this quite obviously far easier said than done. As someone who was a psychotherapist for 40 years the saying "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink" comes to mind. Of course the horse first has to be thirsty and then is willing to ask you for directions to the watering hole.
This is a tricky one because it is possible to be consumed by anger over injustice to the point where you can be immobilized. I agree it is immoral not to feel angry at immorality and injustice but anger enacted upon in a moral and productive way should be the highest goal.
When Aquinas refers to faith he means faith with no evidence he means believing in God without questioning. His going on to say that those without faith will ignore evidence of God's existence seems to be highfalutin dismissiveness.
There's love and there's love and there's hate. I love people who are in my life, and I can and do have love for people who I admire, and can have a kind of empathy which isn't really love but isn't hate either for people who I understand even though they are to varying degrees intolerant and hateful. While it is risky to be consumed by hate for someone like Trump or DeSantis or their ilk I can feel it and haven't an iota of guilt over this.
I don't know whether this is meant to mean an individual man or mankind. Either way, the assumption that there's a supernatural entity that is capable of such a feat seems preposterous to me. As a cynic I ask why if God is real what is he (or He) waiting for to do this?
Here Aquinas makes an observation tIhat seems to be his being a goody two-shoes engaging in wishful thinking. Getting back to the politics of the day, why should I will the good of Trump or Putin? I wish they were good people but I only wish bad things for them.
Before Anton van Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope there were invisible creatures nobody knew existed. Today we know we sleep because there are scientific ways as simple as being video recorded, to prove we do. If somebody invents a way to prove angels exist I won't believe in them.
By this I assume he means mankind. By ought to believe this seems to mean God. While belief in and acting on all the best of religion would indeed lead to the salvation of mankind, this isn't about to happen. The second and third ideas make sense to me. If you know that you ought to desire and act, for want of a better way to phrase it, that you live by The Golden Rule I agree.
He sure nails it here. One of the emotions that drives the hard right, that drives white nationalism, and also motivates individuals to lash out at other, is fear. 
This seems to be an indictment of self-aggrandizing narcissism. If this is what he meant I certainly agree.
Wow! Sure a person leads a happier more fulfilling life the more joy they experience. But again he has to interject spirituality when this is irrelevant to leading an ethical, moral, and happy life. You can be an abject atheist and still lead a laudatory life. He's goes even further here. What's this carnal pleasure addiction? He probably means sex although the term also means anything of the body so this could be a condemnation not only of sexual gratification but also of enjoying any other kind of sexual pleasure from sensual touching to eating tasty food to enjoying the sun shining on your skin.
Somehow the universe of which Earth is but a minuscule part of came into being. Nobody knows what was here before the Big Bang. I suppose we could call this unknown God, nothingness, Rootie Kazootie, or hell, why not El Squeako Mouse, the great Mexican matador.
This appears to be an appeal phrased as an admonition to reason and critical thinking. I'd put it as saying that it's best in decision making to consider all factors without prejudging and bias.
This is basically a prayer which I find nothing to object to about for believers who find it helpful assuming they don't distort the means of the words to justify evil behavior.
I assume this is a metaphor for an individual never taking risks. It makes sense to me.
You don't have to believe in God to do what's right. The heart is an ancient metaphor for emotions, the saying "follow your heart" usually means taking actions that feel right to you. Unfortunately for some people doing what feels right is morally and ethically wrong.
One the face of this, without going too deeply, this sounds like a valid statement. Unfortunately it could be used to exact what one group considers justice against someone who does deserve mercy. The second part describes how punishment is all too often exacted against groups of people today.
I would add true love to true friendship but I certainly agree with this. 
100% agree.
Add love and I agree.
100% agree.
This is a version of "the ends justified the means" which is often addressed in the study of ethics. Was dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified is a frequently used example. It would be interesting to bring Aquinas back and ask him what he thought.
In the language of his time soul meant something deeper than just saying person, but assuming this is what he meant, I can find an argument to support this. Everyone wants to achieve some kind of happiness even in people with some psychiatric disorders, it is by making themselves experience pain. Everyone, even those struggling to survive to the next day, wants to have some kind of meaning in their life even if it is just keeping themselves and their loved ones alive.

December 22, 2022

Musing On My Mortality: A scary dream and then scarier Covid news

Musing on my mortality:
A scary dream and then scarier Covid news
By Hal Brown

I woke from a scary dream this morning. 

I was sitting in the chair at my dentist's  office and he was about to work on a cavity in a molar and I saw that he was about to use the biggest dental drill I'd ever seen. It was about 3/8ths of an inch in diameter like this:

I said to him and his dental assistant "that's the biggest drill I've ever seen." I was girding myself for the inevitable. I was apprehensive but not terrified. I tried to relax and then I woke up before he began to drill.

Then I got up and made a cup of coffee thinking about the dream. I had no idea what I would blog about until I read an article about emerging Covid subvariants.

My morning online ritual is to first look at my email. This trending alert from Medscape jumped out at me:

Click above to enlarge to see what it looked like

It linked to:

So far I've avoided Covid although I have friends and acquaintances who have had it. Except for one who was hospitalized their cases were fairly mild. 

I did have pneumonia last month though. More than 40,000 people die of pneumonia a year in the United States. 

Mine was so severe that my doctor considered having me hospitalized. Instead he decided to treat at home with a strong antibiotic and prednisone. I was bedridden for three weeks with a vaporizer blowing mist at me and coughing up disgusting sputum which I won't describe here. 

Now recovered I feel healthy. I appreciate every day when I feel good knowing that the current triple disease threat is out there: germs to the north of me, germs to the south of me, germs to the east of me, and I have no idea what potential threat is to the west of me that will put me in the hospital or the grave.

Being fully vaccinated from Covid and having had my flu shot, and hoping I have some pneumonia antibodies, I was resting easy enough to figure I was as protected as I could be, at least from debilitating or fatal viral illnesses. 

I don't want to live my life in fear. I am prudent about mask wearing and have a stock of N95's. I still go out to eat, and did throughout the pandemic once restaurants reopened. 

Knowing I was vaccinated was the key to enabling me to going to favorite restaurants like The Colony Pub in the lovely little town of Aurora, Oregon and Wild Fin on the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington.

I missed this article on Medscape when it first was published on Dec. 22 but got it in the email this morning when it trended:

This is how the article begins:

It's a story perhaps more appropriate for Halloween than for the festive holiday season, given its scary implications. Four Omicron subvariants of the virus that causes COVID-19 will be the most common strains going from person to person this winter, new research predicts.

Not too dire so far, until you consider what else the researchers found.

The BQ.1, BQ1.1, XBB, and XBB.1 subvariants are the most resistant to neutralizing antibodies, researcher Qian Wang, PhD, and colleagues report. This means you have no or "markedly reduced" protection against infection from these four strains, even if you've already had COVID-19 or are vaccinated and boosted multiple times, including with a bivalent vaccine.

On top of that, all available monoclonal antibody treatments are mostly or completely ineffective against these subvariants.

But evidence from other countries, specifically Singapore and France, show that at least two of these variants turned out not to be as damaging as expected, likely because of high numbers of people vaccinated or who survived pervious infections, he said.

Still, there is little to celebrate in the new findings, except that COVID-19 vaccinations and prior infections can still reduce the risk for serious outcomes such as hospitalization and death, the researchers write.

The rest of the article is largely technical but you get the idea. 

The title is interesting in the inclusion of two contrasting words, alarming vs. worrisome. It begins with this sentence:

It's a story perhaps more appropriate for Halloween than for the festive holiday season, given its scary implications

Halloween, lest we forget, was mostly cancelled as a fun holiday  during the height of the pandemic.

The writer seems to be ambivalent and not sure about how loud to sound an alarm due to the scientific findings. Consider:

Not too dire so far, until you consider what else the researchers found.

All this tends to make this almost 79 year old think of his own mortality. 

There's a grave in the new portion of the historic Cemetery at the Green waiting for me in Massachusetts. My late wife grew up in a house which had its backyard adjacent to the cemetery so whenever we from from Michigan to visit my in-laws we'd walk though it looking at the colonial tombstones in the old part of the cemetery..

Click above to enlarge

No remains of me will ever be buried there. I don't particularly care where my ashes go. 100 years from now somebody may notice why there's no date of death for me on my late wife's family monument:

Something is going to get me in the end. To quote Albert Camus:

"Once one's up against it, the precise manner of one's death has obviously small importance.... 

Despite this ultimate truism, the precise (using the word literally) manner of one's death is generally unknowable, even for someone who has a terminal illness.  Only those about to commit suicide know exactly how they will die.

Some people, perhaps most people, think they know what will happen after they die. In fact, nobody knows, or at least there is no proof of an afterlife that hold up to rigorous scientific proof.

I believe with absolute certainty that in no way, shape, or form is there any life after death. This puts me among the 7% of the world population who are atheists. Others find great solace in believing with the conviction of unshakable faith that there is. 

Well meaning people sometimes tell those who are beset with grief that their loved one "is in a better place" without realizing the person beginning the process of mourning, and the person who died, were atheists. Such is the way of the world. 

So there we go... from a dream about a terrifyingly large dental drill to "worrisome" news about Covid subvarients... to my writing a non-political, dare I say philosophical, blog.

If you watch a Sinclair Broadcast Group owned local station you need to know just how right wing their reporting is. By Hal Brown, MSW

  "Morning Joe" covered this today with clips of local Sinclair owned station anchors reading the exact same script about the Wall...