New on AlterNet: What Atheists Actually Agree About

I’m pleased to announce that my second column for AlterNet, 6 Ways Atheists Can Band Together to Fight Religious Fundamentalism, has now been posted. My first column, asking why nonbelievers haven’t become a political force, drew rejoinders from a lot of people saying that it’s impossible for atheists to organize because we don’t agree about anything other than the existence of gods. Well, I decided to answer that criticism by listing the things that most atheists actually do agree about. Read the excerpt below, then click through and see the rest!


If atheists were as politically organized as the religious right, we could accomplish a world of good in combating theocracy and standing up for human rights and secularism. But whenever an atheist political alliance is proposed, the objection is inevitably raised that “atheists don’t all agree,” and that this would be an insurmountable obstacle to forming a unified political movement.

I believe, however, that this objection overstates the difficulty we would face. In fact, atheists have more in common than most people realize…

Continue reading on AlterNet…

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    An excellent overview, however I must quibble with your take on “hate speech” laws. The examples you cite are certainly egregious distortions of what hate crimes legislation is meant to achieve, however that is what they are, misuses and distortions. I recommend the works or David Neiwert and Sarah Douglas collected at the blog Orcinus, for some great essays on the correct way to apply hate crimes legislation and why we do need it.
    http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Great piece. Yeah, I don’t agree with every single point, but I think the most important thing is for atheists to work together to fight for secularism. We are losing our secular democracy.

    And, we can actually work with minority religious groups and persons on this issue.

    Because, many, many Muslims (and other minority religious groups, including minority Xtian groups) in the US and around the world understand that secularism is the only safeguard against being persecuted by the Christianists.

    I actually think that if you just work on secularism, the other points follow.

    (But, I would go further than just saying that secularism precludes consideration of religious doctrine in promulgating laws; I would say that secularism precludes consideration of subjective moral opinion in promulgating laws.)

    If you notice, that is the current tactic of the religious right in the US.

    They aren’t trying to push their personal interpretation of religious law upon US citizens.

    Oh, no, it’s just that the moral majority happens to hold a stance, which exactly coincides with their personal interpretation of religious law.

    This is how they try to get around the thorny issue of separation of church and state.

    You’ll notice that every piece by a religious right advocate begins with a sweeping generalization like:

    “Everyone wants to make abortion rare.”

    “Everyone agrees that we want to reduce the number of abortions to the absolute minimum.”

    This is why I fight against these memes.

    This is why I say — no, I am pro-abortion and proud. I love abortion. I do NOT want abortion to be rare.

    This is why I reject the moniker of pro-choice.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    @Comment #1: Lou, though I’m aware of poisonous expression by many people, in my view hate speech and hate crime laws in general are unacceptable. I will go further and say the very concept is that of thought crime. My view is that only speech directly incites violence, with an immediate action, should be punishable. Hate speech is necessarily subjective, and practically anything could fit this criteria to some offended person. I do not wish to see a US version of the Human Rights Commissions in Canada, or European hate speech laws. See this video, for instance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuJokedltPs Such laws always seem to be used, predictably enough, on the expression of certain segments, while for instance Islamists who advocate violence seem largely to go untouched (while using these laws against critics themselves).
    In any case, do we truly believe that genuinely dangerous bigots are going to be deterred with such laws? Rather, it may serve to lend them an air of legitimacy due to being prosecuted for their opinions. I have the same objection to laws which prohibit Holocaust denial, repugnant as that is. Hence the burden of a free society.

    @Comment #2: I agree with Sarah that we should not compromise on abortion. The right to control your body is sacrosanct, from conception to birth. In any case, wider availability of birth control will reduce abortion-they do not support that, of course. To compromise when your opponents are disingenuous is self-defeat. Let us be honest to say the life of a parasite does not have equal standing with its host.

  • http://darkenedstumbling.blogspot.com/ Leum

    @Lou (#1): any chance you could link to some of those articles? Neither blog has a great search engine and I wouldn’t really know what to look for in any case.

    And while you say that the examples Adam listed are “egregious” I’m afraid of a slippery slope once we start allowing any but the most basic restrictions on freedom of speech.

  • Penguin_Factory

    Since my earliest days in what I will for lack of a better term dub “the atheist community” I’ve been incredulous at some of the reactions to the suggestion that atheists should organize politically. In particular, I remember the one guy on youtube hoping to one day be part of a million-strong atheist march on Washington. The atheists who responded acted as if he had suggested overthrowing the government.

    Frankly, for all the talk of disagreement among atheists and the perceived difficulty of herding cats, I think the real cause of this refusal to organize has more to do with sheepishness, of seeming to be taking this whole atheism thing too seriously. If you go onto any general audience forum and talk about this stuff you tend to get the same response- “I don’t believe in God, but I just get on with my life. A political movement? What are you talking about? That’s stupid.”

    Or by way of analogy, it’s often said that in a school or college when the teacher or lecturer asks if there any questions, something like half the class will want something clarified, but won’t dare to ask. It’s intimidating to be the first person to raise your hand.

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    I seriously doubt that all evangicals agree, or all members of Greenpeace, or any group that is made up of humans.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Suppose you were successful in organizing the godless based on your 6 points. (Adherence to these 6 points is not necessarily agreeable to al atheists, but i think it’s safe to say that the opposition to them is dominated by religious sentiment.) then you would probably be faced with mission creep. What I mean is, if you were able to organize support for gay rights, reproductive rights, etc., and actually make an impact, then those would be settled issues. You would either have to seek new causes to support, or else your organization would become moribund. Who wants to bother with a political organization which doesn’t actually do anything?

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    @Leum, here’s a good sampling from the archive.
    http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2003_06_08_dneiwert_archive.html#200406177
    http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2007/05/hate-crimes-not-thought-crimes.html

    @Micheal, I think I need to be clearer, I actually agree with you and Adam about “hate speech” laws, i object to such laws being conflated with “hate crime” laws because I believe there is an important difference between the two concepts. For example, Germany’s laws against Holocaust denial are an example of the former, a prescription against speech. The second Orcinus post I linked two actually addresses the difference better than I can while a two year old is clawing at my leg…
    ;)
    Here’s a good quote from David (or sarah…)
    “Bias-crime laws no more create “thought crimes” than do any other laws consigning greater punishments for crimes committed under certain species of mens rea (or the mental state of the perpetrator), including anti-terrorism laws. Differences in intent and motive can make the difference between first-degree murder and manslaughter. Enhanced punishments are especially warranted when crimes are believed to cause greater harm — and hate crimes quantifiably do so. These are standard features of criminal law, and no more create “thought crimes” than do laws providing the death penalty for first-degree murder.”

    and

    “Unfortunately, the basic falsity of the “hate crimes=thought crimes” meme has not prevented its broad success. You can hear it being offered as justification for opposing bias-crime laws by sources ranging from such religious-right entities as the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family (not to mention the predictable opposition raised by various white supremacists) to such civil libertarians as Andrew Sullivan.

  • Jormungund

    There is a lot we can agree on here. But there are a few side issues mixed in that I’m not sure all atheists support.

    create a fairer distribution of wealth … implement progressive taxation … [goals] shared by every progressive … we can expand the Overton window on the left to create space for genuinely progressive candidates to get elected … give the country a much-needed jolt of progressive energy

    These things are all common goals for progressives. They are all bad things for conservatives and probably most libertarians.
    I would support an atheist political movement. But I would also be very wary of people claiming that it is there to support progressive politics and how it will shift all politics to the left a little. That is a bad thing, in my opinion. I don’t support that. I hate to be the cat who refuses to be herded, but once again we are ending up with the clear message that ‘atheism = progressive politics’.
    Oh well, I’ll still be stuck choosing whether to vote for a somewhat progressive candidate who supports only some of the things I like or a somewhat conservative candidate who supports only some of the things I like.

    which is more or less the only rationale for homophobia, once you can no longer rely on God’s decrees regarding the proper usage of genitalia

    Those homophobes are smart enough to phrase arguments as opposing the radical and illegitimate alteration of social institutions and fundamental definitions of marriage. Some also like to use the naturalistic fallacy (‘no gay animals in nature = there should be no gays in society’) or claim that marriage is for the purpose of procreation only. They have a variety of ways to phrase their opposition so that it can sound secular.
    I think they secretly are thinking ‘gays are gross’ and/or ‘God doesn’t like them’, but they have at least contrived a few arguments that don’t directly invoke grossness and God.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    The assertions being made about hate crime legislation are just plain wrong.

    Motive and mens rea are NOT the same thing.

    Construing their meanings is a serious error.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Hate crime legislation is thought crime legislation.

    It is the criminalization of motive.

    That is the definition of thought crime.

    Mens rea (mental intent) is something completely and wholly different.

    The most typical justification for hate crime legislation is this false analogy.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    And, also, why do people say that hate crimes cause greater harm?

    Because they attack a group identity or a group of persons, and not just an individual.

    But, groups don’t have rights, only people do. And, the moment you say that groups have rights, you place individual human rights in jeopardy.

    A group or a group identity is an idea. It doesn’t actually exist. It isn’t real. Group identities are imaginary and arbitrary, just like religions. Human beings are real.

    So, hate crime legislation is the criminalization of thinking that you hate the imaginary and arbitrary idea of something.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Sorry, but I just have to point out:

    What’s the only hate crime in the federal hate crimes act, which isn’t based upon something illusory, but which is almost NEVER prosecuted. In fact, I don’t know of a single instance, but I’d love for someone to prove me wrong.

    Hate crimes based upon sex. The only one, which is based on something more than an idea of a group identity, and it’s the one which is never prosecuted.

    Think about why that is.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    @Comment #8: I’m sorry Lou, but the distinction between hate speech or hate crimes is not clear to me. I agree with Sarah in posts 10-13 as to why this is so. Groups have no rights, as she said. Only individuals. Moreover, Comment #13 makes a very good point. I also feel the arbitrary nature of protected categories undermines the entire concept. For instance, many countries essentially view men killing an unfaithful partner and or her lover as justifiable homicide which they cannot be convicted of. Is this a hate crime against adulterers or cheaters? Did Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols commit a hate crime against IRS employees, as opposed to mass murder? Except that category is not protected by hate crime laws, to my knowledge at least. The existing prohibitions of murder, bombing, arson, etc. would apply without any “hate enhancement.” Let us suppose that someone were beaten because of their political belief and left to die. Assume further their politics are virtually unknown, therefore no wider group will likely be affected. Is it still a bias-motivated crime if there is no collective behind them? Of course there are more objections as well.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    [Sarah]: Motive and mens rea are NOT the same thing.

    Construing their meanings is a serious error.

    You mention this often, Sarah, but I find it quite difficult to understand what the justifiable difference is between motive and intent. In my mind, motive indicates the criminal’s purpose (underlying reason) for committing the crime. Whereas intent describes the actual goal to be accomplished through the crime. Although there is some space for distinction between the two, it seems relatively self-evident that the venn diagram between them would contain a great deal of overlap. In some cases, the conjunction would be overwhelming.

    The first question to be asked, then, is for what reason do we allow the consideration of mental intent in judging criminals? Presumably, a large part of it is that intent influences two factors: (1) whether the crime itself was a matter of unfortunate chance, and (2) how likely the defendant is to commit this or another similar act again. I may be omitting a few other relevant factors; these are merely the first that come to mind.

    After that, the next question is whether and how motive differs in influencing the same relevant factors that intent does. I don’t see it as having obviously any less impact, and that is one of the main points which ought to be shown.

    In any case, another distinction drawn was that consideration of intent is somehow not thought crime, even though motive is. Why? To me, neither is thought crime. That’s because the definition of such is the criminalization of the thoughts themselves, not actions taken as a result of those thoughts. Varying the punishment according to the mind of the criminal is entirely fair and doesn’t by any means criminalize the thoughts they had. If all they had were thoughts, they wouldn’t be on trial.

    Let me also note that saying that groups and group identities are false and non-existent because they are rooted in ideas that people have doesn’t make it so. Mathematics is also based entirely on ideas existing in people’s heads. It has no independent existence in reality, and there’s no room in the universe where we will find the platonic forms of the integral, the multiplication operator, and the number four. It doesn’t become any less “real” from the fact that it is composed of ideas. Ideas are very real, and the fact that people hold them and use them has observable effects on reality.

    [Michael]: I also feel the arbitrary nature of protected categories undermines the entire concept. For instance, many countries essentially view men killing an unfaithful partner and or her lover as justifiable homicide which they cannot be convicted of. Is this a hate crime against adulterers or cheaters?

    Do adulterers have a long history of oppression, stigmatization, and violence against them? If that’s really the case to such a notable degree (I doubt it), then perhaps they should qualify.

    You’d still need to show as part of the prosecution’s case that the murder was committed with the clear intent to make adulterers fear for their lives and safety. That’s going to be very hard, most of the time, unless the assailant happened to write out a personal treatise on the topic and left it at the crime scene.

    Oh, and the entire concept of “justifiable” homicide based on adultery is utter nonsense. If someone flies into a fit of rage upon discovering simple cheating and kills another human being, that’s second degree murder. Common social attitudes about what kind of sexual behavior is permissible should not be casting a curtain over our ability to understand events fairly.

    [Michael]: Did Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols commit a hate crime against IRS employees, as opposed to mass murder? Except that category is not protected by hate crime laws, to my knowledge at least.

    Focusing on the IRS is far too specific, but federal and other public employees do have some history of targeted violence and intimidation against them.

    Using a case like the McVeigh bombing is going pretty far out there, though. There’s no need for a harsher punishment in that case; the absolute minimum sentence was already life in prison without possibility of parole.

    However, if we were to focus on less damaging cases of terrorism where no one was killed, there is sometimes reason enough to increase the degree of punishment. That’s not necessarily a bias or ‘hate’ crime, however, considering that the typical target is the general public.

    [Michael]: The existing prohibitions of murder, bombing, arson, etc. would apply without any “hate enhancement.” Let us suppose that someone were beaten because of their political belief and left to die. Assume further their politics are virtually unknown, therefore no wider group will likely be affected. Is it still a bias-motivated crime if there is no collective behind them?

    No. A murder committed against an individual for reasons particular to that individual is not a bias crime, by definition.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    @Comment#15

    Quote: “Do adulterers have a long history of oppression, stigmatization, and violence against them? If that’s really the case to such a notable degree (I doubt it), then perhaps they should qualify.”

    I feel a case could be made that they do. Many societies, even in the present, punish adultery, at times by death. Aside from physical violence, adultery and cheating are “stigmatized” in general.

    “Focusing on the IRS is far too specific, but federal and other public employees do have some history of targeted violence and intimidation against them.”

    So can we make government employees (especially federal) into a protected category?

    “Using a case like the McVeigh bombing is going pretty far out there, though. There’s no need for a harsher punishment in that case; the absolute minimum sentence was already life in prison without possibility of parole.”

    Yes, but that is also true of many bias-motivated homicides we know about. Which is kind of the point-this is already punishable.

    “However, if we were to focus on less damaging cases of terrorism where no one was killed, there is sometimes reason enough to increase the degree of punishment. That’s not necessarily a bias or ‘hate’ crime, however, considering that the typical target is the general public.”

    So if terrorists target US citizens generally, to intimidate the rest, it seems that falls under hate crime criteria.

    “No. A murder committed against an individual for reasons particular to that individual is not a bias crime, by definition.”

    This is my problem with it. Bias is equally true against an individual, not a group. For instance writer Salman Rushdie being targeted. Unless we include publishers of the Satanic Verses who were also targets as a protected category.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Whoa, kagerato, you are not describing an open and free society.

    I am actually working on a piece exactly about this issue, based on a chilling experience I had recently.

    I decided that instead of commenting about this for the millionth time, that I should definitely write a guest post to which I may refer persons, because it is such a commonly occurring mistake.

    I’ll just say — when you think of motive think of the question Why? Why did someone do something? Why?

    When you think of mental intent think of the word intended. The question is did someone intend to do something or no. The question is not why they chose to do something or no.

    That is, legally speaking, the difference between the two concepts, and this difference makes all the difference in the world.

    If you have to ask why someone did something and you want to make the answer to this question an element of the crime, then you are criminalizing the why, you are criminalizing the motive, and you are, definitely, promulgating thought crime.

    But, people often think, but we’re not supposed to have thought crimes in the US. That’s against the US Constitution.

    Yeah, well, we’re not supposed to have a lot of laws, which we do in fact have, which are also against the US Constitution.

    How can they get away with it? Why do the legislators do it?

    To ride the wave of overwhelming moral majority outrage to political victory.

    It takes time to bring cases to the Supreme Court.

    And, the Supreme Court can be reluctant to undo the damage, which Congress has wrought.

    Be careful of saying that you like laws, which mete out moral retribution, based upon your own sense of moral indignation.

    Because you never know when you’ll be at the receiving end of that moral indignation.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Oh, I just want to say about the math thing –

    Math/logic is a language to describe the universe as it actually is. Not as we imagine it to be. Not as we wish it were. But, as it is.

    A group identity requires self-identification, which is wish self-fulfillment. But, in the mind of each self-identified member, he/she has a different value, a different role. The group has different boundaries, different members, different structure, different rules. The experience of self-identification with a group is a wholly subjective experience with no objective reality. Each group member has a different definition/experience of the group. And, this is how it should remain. The only way to identify with a social group is to self-identify, without any legal constraints or repercussions.

    Claiming an objective reality for social groups, which exists outside of the minds of the group members, is dangerous.

    Because who gets to decide where the boundaries lie? Who gets to decide who the group members are? Who gets to decide who is protected/punished by the group? Who gets to come, stay, or leave? Who gets to decide the rules?

    The powerful. Of course.

    Religious communitarianism, or, I should say, legal communitarianism, is an elevator with a man and a woman in it, alone, at 4 am.

    It is a power differential coupled with a lack of transparency. Thus, human rights abuses.

    We should all be wary of this scenario.

    This is why the moment you say that groups have rights and legal personality, you place individual rights in jeopardy.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    The way that hate crime works is this:

    First, it says, we’re going to punish you for what you did (which you actually intended to do).

    Next, it says, now we’re going to tack on some extra punishment, because we’re morally outraged, because of why you did what you did.

    That last part is the thought crime part.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    I am so in love with Ireland right now.

    This is why this issue, which we are discussing in this thread, is so so so important.

    If you don’t understand why group rights and legal communitarianism and hate crime legislation are threats to individual human rights and rule of law, then read this:

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jiE4EVwSGLX4IFx8V8pmpZoD5PVA?docId=197b25fca34b411b88970296fc4bf49a

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

    @Michael (#16)

    I’m on board with most of your points, but calling ‘adulterers’ a stigmatized group in the same way that homosexuals are isn’t right. Adultery carries a clear moral problem – breaking a promise of fidelity to one’s partner – while homosexuality absolutely doesn’t. While adulterers shouldn’t be stoned, and of course disproportionate punishment for female adulterers displays entrenched cultural sexism, there’s still something wrong with cheating on your partner.

    All this ‘prevailing social norms’ jive is irrelevant. If you’ve made a promise to be monogamous, you ought to be; if you can’t be monogamous, you shouldn’t tell your partner that you can.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Philboyd,

    Adultery is a contract law problem (or should be), to be adjudicated in civil courts, not criminal courts. This is not a criminal law problem.

    When people break contracts in the US, we have them compensate the injured party, but we don’t throw them in prison.

    The tenor of your comment makes me a little nervous. But, I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

    But, I’d be careful about pronouncing anything a clear moral problem.

    Clear to whom, exactly?

    Regardless, Michael was making a very cogent point about the arbitrary and illusory nature of group identity.

    And, I concur.

  • http://indiscriminatedust.blogspot.com Philboyd

    Sarah, I should have expressed myself more clearly. I’m not calling for any laws or prosecution of people who cheat – anything but! As somewhat of an anarchist, I try to be very careful before calling for anything to be made illegal. The heaviest punishment I’d consider acceptable for adultery would be mild social ostracism, and certainly no physical violence.

    I still think that if I promise to be faithful to my partner, I’ve got a clear moral obligation to keep that promise. Certainly that idea requires an assumption about the nature of ethics, but in my opinion it’s a reasonable assumption.

    It’s worth saying that Michael’s point was cogent, well made, and I agree with it. My only issue was that he seemed to be ignoring the ethical implications of adultery; perhaps I misunderstood. In any case, I’m sorry that my post came off all throw-them-in-prison, and I’ll try to watch what I say more carefully in future.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    [Michael]: So can we make government employees (especially federal) into a protected category?

    We the people can indeed, if a sufficient number find it important enough and useful enough. We, a few commenters sitting discussing this in an arbitrary thread on a website, cannot do much of anything.

    In a democracy, the laws should follow the people’s will. The only legitimate objection to this is when the will of the majority would harm someone unjustly or violate a recognized constitutional right.

    I assume, then, that you will make your argument for the rights of convicted criminals to have normalized or shorter sentences? In particular, to omit all evidence of motives from all trials so that consideration of motive cannot possibly influence the decisions of judge and jury?

    If not, I see this discussion proceeding rapidly to a dead end.

    [Michael]: So if terrorists target US citizens generally, to intimidate the rest, it seems that falls under hate crime criteria.

    No, those laws are separate as I understand it. Harsh sentencing guidelines for terrorism may have arisen at a similar time as some hate crime laws, but the two are conceptually and legally tangential at best.

    I presume you’ll next argue that recent anti-terrorism laws have an anti-Muslim bias and therefore fit into the same framework?

    [Michael]: This is my problem with it. Bias is equally true against an individual, not a group. For instance writer Salman Rushdie being targeted. Unless we include publishers of the Satanic Verses who were also targets as a protected category.

    I have no qualms with harsher sentences for crimes irrationally committed against an individual for their actions toward social justice, discovering the truth, and so forth. I would have lent noticeably harsher sentences to the assassins of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. than the arbitrary daily murders that happen on the streets. The reasoning is precisely the same: the punishment for a crime should be proportional to the damage done by that crime.

    [Sarah]: I’ll just say — when you think of motive think of the question Why? Why did someone do something? Why?

    When you think of mental intent think of the word intended. The question is did someone intend to do something or no. The question is not why they chose to do something or no.

    I’m curious as to whether you think this is actually in conflict with my definitions, and if so, how?

    The only area which appears to be fuzzily different is that you reduce intent here to a binary state, instead of a very complex continuum of several factors. That’s not even consistent with the laws of many states. If all you have is a binary decision factor, you can’t even delineate between first and second degree murder. Are you intending to say that the distinction of premeditation is meaningless and should not affect sentencing? I doubt it.

    Therefore, the issue is to explain how you describe intent with enough detail to divide the two (and other potential “levels” of crimes) without falling into analysis or other consideration of motive.

    I would also like to ask whether you think prosecutors actually follow your description of a wall of separation between intent and motive. Do you know of any? Can you explain their methodology?

    From what I have seen and read of high profile trials, prosecutors seem almost too interested in using motive to demonstrate intent. This is highly consistent with my declaration that there is a wide overlap between the two.

    [Sarah]: Be careful of saying that you like laws, which mete out moral retribution, based upon your own sense of moral indignation.

    Because you never know when you’ll be at the receiving end of that moral indignation.

    Are you speaking to someone else? I am not nor ever have been a judge or a member of any jury. I did not write the laws in question nor lobby their passage, or even as far as I am aware support any organization which furthered their passage.

    The really strange part is that you think it’s based on moral indignation. That may be true for some, but I’m about the last person to advocate for any judge or jury to make decisions based on indignation of any kind (whether moral or not).

    I’m reasonably sure that I explained the sentence should be based on the degree of harm done by the crime, and only that. Did I not? Am I missing something here?

    Apparently, detractors of bias laws don’t think there is any notable harm done by intentionally committing crimes to hurt and intimidate others based largely on their gender, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or other personal statuses. Is that right?

    Will you give the same sentence to murderers in a KKK lynch mob as a inner city stabbing over a drug deal dispute? Do you think that the harm to the community is the same?

    [Sarah]: Math/logic is a language to describe the universe as it actually is. Not as we imagine it to be. Not as we wish it were. But, as it is.

    One of the first things they teach in the higher tiers of (good) mathematics and philosophy courses is that all of that is nonsense. As soon as you start talking about the universe “as it is”, you’re talking science, not mathematics. Mathematics, logic, and philosophy can describe all possible self-consistent systems. They are emphatically not limited only to the real ones. Oh, if only that were true. How much simpler a world we might live in.

    It’s not even that systems which fail to describe reality are useless. At the very least, there is plenty of room in games, fantasies, and simulations for algorithms which make absolutely no sense on empiricism concerned with the actual world.

    This is just another case were steadfastly stating a half-truth doesn’t make it correct.

    [Sarah]: The experience of self-identification with a group is a wholly subjective experience with no objective reality.

    Who claimed that group identifications were subject to empirical tests?

    More importantly, why is this relevant? This reminds me of all the recent dismissals of a woman’s feelings based upon the fact that “nothing happened”. There was no attack and no obvious harm done “in reality”. Somehow, this makes an individual’s emotions unimportant and their basis as in decision making irrelevant and stupid.

    The part you’re missing and must explain is why the feelings of people in groups become less important or less relevant to decision making than when those people are alone.

    If you admit that they are of equal significance whether inside or outside group membership, then what connection does any of this have to the rest of the discussion? We cannot silence people’s opinions merely because they belong to a group and appear to be advancing a shared agenda. I think you agree about that much, so do explain.

    [Sarah]: Because who gets to decide where the boundaries lie? Who gets to decide who the group members are? Who gets to decide who is protected/punished by the group? Who gets to come, stay, or leave? Who gets to decide the rules?

    The powerful. Of course.

    I don’t disagree in the slightest; the powerful do make the rules, in reality. That’s been the case in all societies throughout history. What you don’t seem to understand here is that the purpose of bias crime laws is to address injustices dealt by the powerful to relatively powerless minority groups. It is not to further entrench and expand the existing power base through the creation of “false” or meaningless groups.

    I would think and hope that you agree with the (real) purpose there. So, I would ask how you intend to accomplish it without the use of the law disproportionately punishing transgressions against the powerless.

    Or is it that you think that disempowered groups receive a more than fair hearing from the justice system without any such laws?

    As usual, none of the questions I ask are used in a purely rhetorical sense. I do want the answers, especially a meaningful answer as to the alternatives.

    [Sarah]: First, it says, we’re going to punish you for what you did (which you actually intended to do).

    Next, it says, now we’re going to tack on some extra punishment, because we’re morally outraged, because of why you did what you did.

    That last part is the thought crime part.

    Part II is wholly dependent on Part I. At most, this could be called a “motive punishment”. It is not thought crime unless the thought itself is directly or independently punishable.

    I’m not sure whether you’re aware that extraordinarily similar declarations are used by many right-wing politicians in advocacy of the elimination of all bias crime laws. I’d ask, either way, that you not repeat their mistakes of loose semantics and false equivocations for dramatic emotional impact.

    ————————————————-

    TL;DR : I see what you did there.

  • Discoverer

    Thought I’d chime in with a vote of full support for your six points, Ebon. If anything, I’d say you could’ve been even stronger about them!

    About point 5, it seems a shame that LGBT equal rights doesn’t automatically include marriage equality rights, and that you felt you had to point it out, first, specifically. It’s like if Thomas Jefferson had needed to not just say ‘absolute liberty for all’, but also add ‘and freedom of choice of breakfasts, just in case that wasn’t clear (mmm, waffles)’. Perhaps “Support for full LGBT rights, including marriage equality” would put it the right way round :)

    It’s also a shame you had to hedge the point on reproductive rights — but as someone who had to overcome his own massive squick factor about abortion, I can feel a lot of sympathy for those who haven’t yet realized that all their hesitations are based on superstitions or fuzzy thinking. Or just plain old ugly misogyny.

    So I love the idea of a political movement based on shared interests, regardless of differences — it’s like getting the Federation, the Klingons, the Romulans, and the Cardassians to join together to fight the Dominion. B)

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Kagerato,

    I’m going to save the rest of this discussion for the piece that I’m working on, but I wanted to address one thing.

    I have a substantial math background (two summa cum laude engineering degrees), and I just finished a formal logic course at UC Berkeley.

    So, yes, I do understand math and logic, and I have taken “good” math and logic courses.

    So, sure you can use sentential, modal predicate, or first order logic to talk about a world in which, say, vampires and werewolves exist.

    But, what are you doing?

    You are still only using a language (logic) to talk about whether or not certain things that you might or might not say about those vampires and werewolves are logically valid or invalid. Sound or unsound. That one thing you might say about werewolves is a logical consequence of another thing you might say about werewolves. Or that one thing you might say about werewolves contradicts another thing you might say about werewolves. Or, that the two things are consistent. Etc., etc..

    My point is — logic is the language to describe the relationship between things you might say about werewolves, in this world.

    There is no reason to think a true antecedent and a false consequent on a conditional in another world would still preclude validity.

    Sure, we can argue about the language, and if there are errors, and how well it does or doesn’t describe the universe in which we live.

    But, we’re still talking about relationships in this world.

    And, we can show, empirically, that those relationships hold. (Sure, there are theoretical branches for every field — I’m obviously not arguing that no one can ever use their imagination ever again.)

    So, yes, math/logic is a language to describe the universe as it is.

    The other thing is:

    I completely understand that hate crimes legislation is meant to protect minority groups.

    I just don’t care.

    Because I understand that the second you say that groups have rights, and legal personality, and an objective reality outside of the minds/subjective experiences of the group members,

    you place individual human rights in jeopardy, especially women’s and children’s rights.

    If people want to be in groups, be in groups.

    I don’t care, and you’re right, it’s not relevant.

    The ONLY thing I care about is religio-cultural / legal communitarianism.

    I care that groups not be granted rights or legal personality.

    Why do I care about this?

    Because the second that you grant groups rights or legal personality, you place individual human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights in jeopardy.

    I don’t care that people are social creatures who have evolved to live in social groups and make decisions communally.

    If that’s what they want to do, so be it.

    Makes no difference to me.

    But, the groups cannot have rights or legal personality.

    And, last point, I’m going to pull my lawyer trump card here:

    Motive and mens rea are different, completely different, and I’ll save my definitive explanation for why this is for the piece that I’m working on.

    If they weren’t different, if we chose to conflate the two, that undermines our entire American legal system.

    And, criminalizing the motive is criminalizing thoughts, is thought crime, even if you want to employ specious sophistry and couch it within another crime.

    Still criminalizing the motive? Still thought crime.

    But, thanks so much for taking the time to address my comments.

    I appreciate your interest in this issue.

    Obviously, it is of great interest to me as well.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    I think that’s a good rule of thumb:

    I only care about things that are real. Only things that are real get rights and legal personality.

    But, if anyone wants to care about things that aren’t real, that’s great. Go care about them.

    But, those unreal things don’t get rights and legal personality, no matter how much you care about them.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    For some reason, each day when I pop over to Butterflies and Wheels (Ophelia Benson’s site) to check it out, she has posted yet another perfect example of everything that is wrong with group rights, and religio-cultural / legal communitarianism, and hate crimes legislation.

    Thanks, Ophelia.

    And, here it is:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/8609531/Chief-Rabbi-Equality-laws-leading-to-new-Mayflower-exodus.html

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    @Comment#21: Phil, my intent was not to equate adultery or infidelity with persecution of homosexuality (and of course homosexuals can be adulterers/unfaithful partners as well). However, both were traditionally (and to this day in some places) crimes punished by death. Per your Comment#23 to Sarah: Phil, I am an anarchist, and violence would not be acceptable against either adultery or homosexuality. Would social ostracism be ok against homosexuality though, in your view? (Before anyone asks, I do not have a problem with homosexuality, but others certainly do). I agree that adultery could be penalized say in a prenuptial or similar agreement. In my view all marriage should be private contracts, but that’s another topic. Hope that clears up my take on this.

    P.S. Thanks, Sarah.

    @Comment# 24 [Michael]: So can we make government employees (especially federal) into a protected category?

    Quote: We the people can indeed, if a sufficient number find it important enough and useful enough. We, a few commenters sitting discussing this in an arbitrary thread on a website, cannot do much of anything.

    Well, “our” legislators can, yes.

    “In a democracy, the laws should follow the people’s will. The only legitimate objection to this is when the will of the majority would harm someone unjustly or violate a recognized constitutional right.”

    What if the “people’s will” is to not have those constitutional rights? In a true democracy, majority rules, full stop. This did not end too well in ancient Greece. Understand, I know you don’t support that “mob rule” kind of system. It’s worth pointing out the necessary limit though.

    “I assume, then, that you will make your argument for the rights of convicted criminals to have normalized or shorter sentences? In particular, to omit all evidence of motives from all trials so that consideration of motive cannot possibly influence the decisions of judge and jury?”

    I will refer you to Sarah’s explanation of the difference between motive and intent.

    “I presume you’ll next argue that recent anti-terrorism laws have an anti-Muslim bias and therefore fit into the same framework?”

    Please do not anticipate my arguments. If you recall, the example used was that of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols’ bombing of the IRS building. That was used for a reason. I believe terrorists should be judged not based on their ideology but the violence perpetrated, including ones whose goals I agree with but whose methods I cannot accept.

    “I have no qualms with harsher sentences for crimes irrationally committed against an individual for their actions toward social justice, discovering the truth, and so forth. I would have lent noticeably harsher sentences to the assassins of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. than the arbitrary daily murders that happen on the streets. The reasoning is precisely the same: the punishment for a crime should be proportional to the damage done by that crime.”

    Gandhi’s assassin was hanged; King’s pled guilty to avoid the death penalty and got life without parole. He died in prison. How much harsher can you get? So, if my life is not “valuable” like Gandhi’s or King’s, then my killer deserves a lower sentence? I won’t bother with objections-they should be obvious.

  • http://darkenedstumbling.blogspot.com/ Leum

    Because the second that you grant groups rights or legal personality, you place individual human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights in jeopardy.

    Sarah, you’ve said this repeatedly, without backing up the claim. Could you explain why giving groups rights places individual human rights in jeopardy?

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    Leum,

    Just read the two articles I posted from Butterflies and Wheels.

  • Sarah Jane Braasch-Joy

    BTW, it’s super irritating to be told that you’ve never explained something, which you have explained ad nauseum and ad infinitum.

  • http://darkenedstumbling.blogspot.com/ Leum

    My apologies Sarah. I should have said that I’d never seen you explain it.

  • http://darkenedstumbling.blogspot.com/ Leum

    Also, going back to September 2010, you have no articles on Butterflies and Wheels. A search of your name on the site also revealed no articles. If you could post links to those articles, I would appreciate it.

  • http://avoiceinthewilderness-mcc1789.blogspot.com/ Michael

    @Comment#28 Sarah, like you I strongly believe that individuals, not groups, have rights. However, those rights include freedom of association. By definition, that includes the right to associate, or not, as we see fit. Otherwise, there is no freedom of association. I do not agree with it, but the examples Lord Sacks’ cites in the linked article, if true, are in part at least violations of those individual rights. Obviously, in certain jobs the employee must realize that conditions of their employment include associating with people that in their private life they would not. This is something they must accept, or not take such a job. Giving pamphlets to your co-workers is something an employer should be able to forbid during work hours. It’s not clear in the article if this health care worker is a government employee or not (though since this is the UK she probably was) and if so that complicates things. A private organization which has voluntary funding can associate with whom they wish. From this, a corollary is that private organizations taking public money do not have the same freedom. As the Boy Scouts, for instance, takes public money yet at the same time bar homosexuals as scout leaders, they essentially say: “we use money compulsorily taken from people that are prohibited from leadership in this organization.” That is entirely wrong. I do not believe private organizations should have public funding to start with, but if so, they cannot forbid those same people that forcibly contribute. The very idea speaks to shameless hypocrisy, of which there is plenty.


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