Good news for people who like good news

In the long run, the arc bends toward justice and love wins. In the short run, things don’t often look quite so hopeful. But sometimes they do.

Here are some reasons to celebrate.

• “Rhode Island Becomes 10th Marriage Equality State.”

• “And Delaware Makes 11

Men demonstrate in support of women’s rights. And not just any men — fraternity brothers. And not just any fraternity brothers — Muslim fraternity brothers. And this happened in Texas.

• Maryland takes a big step toward offshore wind.

• And Cape Wind gives them some competition, winning billions in backing for offshore wind in Massachusetts.

(I’ll believe it when I see the turbines up and spinning. Based on America’s dismal track-record, I still doubt we’ll have any operating offshore wind farms until sea levels rise enough to swamp turbines now based on shore.)

Five evangelical pastors and a gay activist walk into a coffee shop

This is not a joke. Nor is that story a conclusive step in any particular direction. But it’s a good step, a good start, and good news.

• Bunk will give you a ride to the grocery store. To his grocery store, anyway.

Actor Wendell Pierce — who played Det. William “Bunk” Moreland on The Wire — started the Sterling Farms grocery chain to provide access to healthy, affordable food in underserved neighborhoods in New Orleans:

Pierce, along with his business partners, has been working to place markets and convenience stores in food deserts in his native New Orleans. Sterling Farms is not just putting nutritious, fresh food where there was none before — the people behind the business are working to figure out how to tackle the problem of food access from many different angles. One perk the stores offer is especially great — the chain gives free rides to those who spend more than $50.

• “Scientists find new key ingredient for anti-malaria drug

US scientists … said they had used baker’s yeast to make a key ingredient of malaria drugs, a feat that could iron out fluctuations in supply caused by sourcing the chemical from a Chinese herb.

One of the revolutions in malaria treatment in recent decades has been the advent of artemisinin drugs, whose active ingredient comes from a traditional Chinese herb, Artemisia annua.

But weather can affect harvests of the plant, causing shortages and price spikes.

This discovery could prevent those shortages and price spikes. Cool.

• “U.S. Infant Mortality Falling

Infant mortality in the U.S. has declined 12 percent since 2005 after holding steady for many years, according to data released … by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The infant mortality rate in 2011 was 6.05 deaths per every 1,000 live births, down from 6.87 in 2005, according to the report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Greensburg, Kansas, is coming back. The town was hit by a massive tornado six years ago, killing nine people and leaving nearly all of its 1,383 residents homeless. They resolved to rebuild — and to do it right by making Greensburg the greenest town in Kansas, a model of sustainable living. And it’s working.

The HPV vaccine seems to work — at least in places like Australia, where it’s actually used and not rejected, as it is by many here in America, by those who feel that our daughters will turn into slutty little sluts if we remove the sexual deterrent of preventable cancer.

• People can be pretty cool: “College Athlete Gives Up Final Event to Save Someone’s Life

• People can be pretty cool, cont’d.: “Tender moments caught on Russian dash cams” (via)


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  • arcseconds

    Actually, something almost exactly this happened in Western society when the Romantic period came along.

    In the classical/enlightenment period, reason was everything, Newton was the apex of existence, and women were second best because they were too emotional.

    At this time, art often wasn’t considered all that, but at any rate, it too was regarded as very much a rational endeavour. Just look at Sonata form and fugues for examples about what an intellectual exercise music had become.

    Intellectual endeavour of all sorts were all about shedding the light of reason on everything.

    Then somehow reason became unseated, Beethoven disposed Newton, and art was super-important, and was all about the artist dredging up emotional stuff out of the darkest recesses of the soul.

    Of course, what happened then was women became the most important sex, because it had long been established they feel emotions deeper than men women couldn’t be artists because they were superficially sentimental and didn’t feel emotions deeply enough.

  • arcseconds

    actually, I vaguely recall reading a mention once that there was a moment of confusion there, when the Romantic period was taking hold. But only a moment before the ‘men have always felt emotions more deeply than women, and we’ve always been at war with Eurasia’ took over.

  • arcseconds

    That’s exactly what I was going to suggest. Rationality has a certain domain of application, and it’s only within this domain that we can talk about something being irrational or rational.

  • arcseconds

    In sufficiently simple cases I can intuitively see whether arguments are deductively valid or not.

    I can justify them either using informal reasoning or I can get out the vels and horseshoes and derive it using any of the standard formulations of first-order predicate logic if you insist.

    But that requires more, extra thinking after the fact.

    (this has been known to bug the hell out of first-year logic students “that’s invalid. now, why is it invalid…” “how the hell do you do that!”

    OK, so it’s not a very amazing superpower, but it’s the only one I’ve got… try to look impressed)

    So, are you saying my ability to intuit logical results is irrational?

  • Dash1

    I was going to say Iranian, but I see P.J. Evans got there first. And I had not thought of Western Europe’s Romantic period, which arcseconds has added.

  • Along the lines of the five evangelical pastors/one gay activist story, I spent this past weekend at the Generous Spaciousness Conference Retreat sponsored by New Direction Ministries in Canada. It was an amazing experience to spend a weekend with roughly forty other people — all with diverse points of view, life experiences, and backgrounds — committed to the process of listening and engaging in dialogue.

  • AnonaMiss

    Yes, but don’t let that stop you :)

  • If you go south of Chicago down 55 or west either 88, 80, or 90 (I forget, or maybe it’s more than one) there are huge wind farms rising up over the flat flatness of the Illinois corn- and soybean fields.

    I think Fred’s obsession with offshore wind farms is a product of his North-east-coast-ness. There’s a lot less room if you’re in eastern Pennsylvania or New England for wind farms inland and the terrain is probably less than ideal. But in the Midwest and west there’s land everywhere and in the Great Plains it’s flat with a pretty constant wind most of the year. We’ve got wind energy all over the place.

  • JustoneK

    lurking is healthier.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I don’t define them like that, and your generalization implies everybody does it.

    Then I miscommunicated somehow, because I don’t define them like that EITHER.

  • I’m a registered unaffiliated voter living in Maryland, and IIRC I got three brochures in the mail asking me to vote in favor of marriage equality, none against. Then again, I live in one of the DC suburbs that’s pretty solidly liberal, so the anti-folks might have figured they were better off spending their money elsewhere.

  • Speaking about religious views of marriage, fairness, etc. isn’t against the law. Specifically endorsing a political candidate by name would be. I’m not sure where “vote for/against the proposed tax increase” fits, though.

  • VMink

    I’ve sometimes found myself descending into near-eliminationist (and frankly scary/unfortunate) thoughts, where the world would be better off if so-and-so disappeared — not died, I amend in a mealy-mouthed manner, but just… not be here anymore.

    “Sudden interest in fishing,” is much, MUCH better! =) Thank you! *yoink*

  • ReverendRef

    I did not see the piece on Colbert with Bp. Robinson. I’ll have to see if I can find it on the intertubes. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • ReverendRef

    I’m thinking that, for them, this falls under what they refer to as “civil disobedience.”

  • Alix

    Um, yes?

  • Alix

    empathy and other emotional responses are what inform logically sound arguments in the first place.

    Oh, sure. But that doesn’t make those themselves logical.

    I’m also not entirely sure that the only logical arguments are ones informed by empathy, etc. The only moral/ethical ones, sure. But it seems to me that logic-the-process is dispassionate and morally neutral, and depending on your starting assumptions and what you use to inform your arguments, you could end up building a really solid logical argument off of pure selfishness, for example, or fear.

  • Alix

    to me pragmatism is a bit more risk-averse and conservative

    Interesting! To me it isn’t necessarily – those risks just have to be worth taking. And I would totally call your forcing yourself to be outgoing to build momentum pragmatic.

  • Alix

    Heh. I would probably frame it as rationally embracing the irrational, but yeah. It came down to either undermining my trust in my own mind or embracing the weirdness.

    I see where you’re coming from on the whole subconscious-thinking thing, I just don’t think I’d call it rational. I can’t get away from the “conscious” thing.

  • As someone who makes moral/ethical decisions without the benefit of empathy, I — am somewhat intimidated by the conversation and have nothing to contribute. :p

    Well, except that as a generally unemotional person, one would think my decisions were rational all the time, but they’re not. My tendency to be dispassionate doesn’t automatically yield more efficient or effective thought processes. Rationality doesn’t come prepackaged with the information to make the best decisions, or the objectivity to make a decision without bias.

    Come to think of it, I try not to think carefully about a lot of things. In the face of cold rationality, a lot of things start to seem utterly futile.

  • Alix

    a claim is being made that people acting, speaking, or writing rashly can never happen solely because “you’re being emotional” has been used to discredit valid arguments.

    I … hope I didn’t give you that impression, because I never meant to say that rash action never happens.

    But it’s also true that “you’re being emotional” absolutely has been used to discredit both valid arguments and valid emotional reactions – to dismiss people in general – and that’s also problematic. I’m … kind of getting a vibe from you that you don’t think that’s something that actually happens enough to bother pushing back against.

  • Make a CD (or DVD if you want to be videoed) of your next marriage equality sermon and then mail it to them in the envelope from the feedback form (or with the feedback form envelope pasted on the front of the package).

    Once they hear/watch your sermon, you will likely never hear from them again.

  • P J Evans

    Someplace, preferably, where the fish have a good chance of taking home a trophy.

  • Alix

    I think that’s a really valuable perspective, actually.

    Your post pretty well gets at the heart of one of my major problems with the “rationality = good” argument – that rests on certain underlying assumptions about what counts as truly rational, like the idea that the only really rational arguments are ones resting on empathy. That … to me, that’s redefining rationality to exclude any bad applications of it, and (heh) I don’t think that’s rational.

    In the face of cold rationality, a lot of things start to seem utterly futile.

    This is my main argument with utilitarianism, actually.

    As someone who makes moral/ethical decisions without the benefit of empathy

    Is it horribly intrusive for me to ask how you formulate your ethical decisions?

  • Not at all, but it’s hard to put it to words. I just try to preface anything I do that affects someone else by imagining what it would be like if it happened to me — living by the Golden Rule, as it were. I have certain biases and assumptions I make (who doesn’t?) which colors what I find important, but when it comes to people, no matter whether they’re unhealthy or poor or have fifteen children, I try to embrace the meaning behind John Donne’s No Man is an Island and see value in everyone. It’s hard, especially when some people seem actively determined to tear down society, but I try.

    That said, I do have a certain disdain for measuring value using one’s ability to make money or keep a job. My ideal society would be one in which resources are shared to free up citizens to pursue the arts, intellectual endeavors, spirituality and further emotional well-being.

  • Alix

    I just try to preface anything I do that affects someone else by imagining what it would be like if it happened to me

    More people ought to do that. :/

    And if I had to define empathy, I’d basically define it as that, but unconscious. For what it’s worth.

  • Dash1

    Here it is: April 25. If the link works.

  • That’s consistent with what I’ve read. The problem I’ve seen is that not only do a lot of people not seem to do this; their sense of proportion seems to be completely off.

    Example: Person wants to deny marriage equality. They see no harm done by refusing to let people marry or giving them the same marital rights because those people’s feelings aren’t really being hurt because they’re just selfishly living in sin and being depraved and hating God. And in fact!, person insists, they’re the one harmed by marriage equality because it tramples all over their religious liberty to have to see people living in sin everywhere!

  • Alix

    their sense of proportion seems to be completely off

    Weren’t there studies done that show that we humans are really, really bad at both determining how much we were harmed by something and how much we harm others? Not exactly a very comforting thought. :/

    (Then again, I find issues of perspective really screwy to begin with. Thinking about this stuff too hard is paralyzing.)

    Well, the other thing is, people like in your example aren’t really putting themselves in others’ shoes. They’re not reflecting on what it would be like if they were gay, to keep with the marriage equality example; they’re assuming that gay people are just like them (i.e. sharing their exact beliefs). That’s the inverse of empathy, it seems to me.

  • Hmm. Makes me wonder about how often I hear that they hate the entire concept of relativism. They’re frequently very keen on an arbiter, an unchanging standard of law and ethics which bends for no one — and then they themselves seem to have trouble with seeing anything outside of one unchanging perspective…

  • ReverendRef

    Yes, the link worked — thank you.

    “Being Episcopalian is like Advanced Placement Religion.”

    That made me crack up.

  • Lori

    And Minnesota makes it 12—the marriage equality bill just passed the Minnesota senate. The governor had already committed to signing it if it passed, so the rest of the process should be completed quickly.

    Congratulations to everyone who worked hard to make this happen, and to all the people who will now be free to marry.

  • Just had a prime example of what I was talking about: Minnesota just voted (and passed) the SSM bill and it’ll be signed into law Tuesday. But-

    Senator Carla Nelson, a Republican, opposed the measure, saying it “denies the right of a different opinion.”

    “We must respect religious freedom at the same time that we advance rights,” she said.

    So. To advance rights, we should… not advance rights, because it denies people the right to… not have people with rights…

    Here’s one of the people who make it hard for me to value every individual.

  • Oh, I totally get that people using “oh, you’re just being emotional” is a major asshole move and ought to be smacked down.

    But what seems to be emanating from the pushback seems to be an unncessary corollary move to insist that emotions can’t interfere with thinking in ways that lead to rash decisions.

    Maybe it’s just me.

  • Sure, but at the same time, people who insist on totally cutting out the emotional component of anything (except where there is not one in the first place, such as in mathematics) are usually the same people who manage to come off as the most jerkwaddy of people, because they can’t or won’t acknowledge that it’s things like a rather emotionally-laden flashback which can motivate a searching discussion (to which, incidentally, I still have no satisfactory answer) about how to engage the working poor white people who vote Republican into re-examining which party will, in the long run, act better in their interests.

    A person who claims logic as the only effective discussion tool would completely miss the point of the linked narrative, which is that human feelings and failings play just as much a role in how we inform ourselves about the world around us and how we communicate to one another, as the role of logic and reason.

  • Alix

    Okay, that makes sense. Thanks for clarifying.

    I find both hugely problematic, but in my own experience I run into the “you’re being emotional/you’re too irrational” thing way more often, so that tends to be, naturally, what draws my focus.

  • Alix

    I agree with all of that.

  • arcseconds

    You don’t see that as odd?

    OK, maybe I better be more clear about where I’m going with this. Formal logic, and reasoning more generally, is a skill (or maybe a set of skills). Just like playing a musical instrument or learning to dance or any other skill, to start with it usually requires thinking hard about every single step along the way.

    However, once someone’s achieved a level of mastery with it, they don’t have to think about most of it consciously any more, and they can use their conscious mind to think about other things — it could be about the overall argument strategy, or thinking about the properties of the system that allow for that result and what would happen if those properties changed, or how Beethoven should really be performed in the 21st century, or focus on turning out the foot more because you’ve decided you want a more open style, but could even be what’s for dinner.

    Of course, a master never (or very seldom) gets the basics wrong and generally does them better than everyone else, without having to think about it.

    By making conscious thought a necessary condition for something to be rational, the upshot is that the people who are most capable of reasoning(*) usually have irrational beliefs and irrational behaviour (even though their beliefs and behaviour are reliably rationally defensible) because they usually don’t need to consciously deliberate about their beliefs and behaviour.

    Whereas someone who’s a novice at this, and has to plod through everything line by line, and is much more likely to make mistakes, and isn’t very capable of much second-order thought about what’s going on (partly because they’re so occupied with the first-order thought) is more rational, even though they’re not very good at it and tend to make mistakes, just because they do need to consciously deliberate about everything.

    That seems like a rather strange outcome to me. I don’t really want to get into a semantic argument here, but it seems to me that we would want to pick out the people who have the highest level of ability and most reliable in their judgement as being the special ones, not the ones who are least able and least reliable, just as we do in every other area.

    (the best pianists don’t think about where they’re putting their fingers, the best pilots know immediately that there’s something wrong with the plane (they don’t have to think about ‘what does that juddering sound mean’?), the most moral people don’t need to think through list of rules when handed incorrect change, etc. )

    So I think it’s more useful to drop the requirement of conscious deliberation, because we’d want to single out people who have mastered this stuff as being rational, not the people who have to labour at it.

  • arcseconds

    If you don’t mind me asking — why were you so reluctant?

    I mean, I would have thought you wouldn’t care too much about what everyone else thinks of you.

    (… I’d have to confess it doesn’t bother me terribly much what people think of me, and I don’t have APD.)

    For what it’s worth, I think your contributions are very worthwhile.

  • I was still recovering from bad experiences with Christianity. I assumed everyone here was Christian and that we, at best, would have absolutely nothing in common. It took quite awhile before I felt comfortable enough to start letting old wounds heal, but I hold this community and its host as almost solely responsible for helping me do that.

  • arcseconds

    I don’t think moral relativism is really a coherent concept either

    (if you follow it through I think you end up with either moral nihilism (which I suppose you could say is a form of moral relativism — every moral viewpoint is equally worth nothing at all) or some kind of moral realism which transcends culture and individuals, even though it might be pretty skeletal, so to speak)

    but that doesn’t mean I’m not open to discussing the matter, because moral realism means I could be wrong.

    (and anyway, discussion can be interesting even on matters on which I’m infallible ;-] )

    The problem with these people isn’t that they’re against relativism. It’s that they refuse to admit even the possibility that they might not be right, or even give a remotely charitable or sympathetic ear to an opposing view.

  • Alix

    All I’ll say, since I feel rather like I’ve rehashed the same thing over and over already, is that I see where you’re coming from, but I still don’t see logic as anything other than a conscious, active reasoning.

  • arcseconds

    ‘Logic’ is a different word from ‘rationality’, though, and although they can be used synonymously or near-synonymously, they’re also often used to refer to different things.

    It’s not uncommon for people to use ‘logic’ to mean explicit reasoning, especially if it’s got some connection with formal logic, and ‘rationality’ to mean something wider.

    So I don’t quite the same objections to defining ‘logic’ to mean conscious reasoning.

    The question to my mind is, what do you gain by insisting on a definition that’s different from the way everyone else uses it, and has counter-intuitive results like the one I just demonstrated?

    Why not just say ‘conscious reasoning’?

    That way you can say things like “highly rational people often don’t use a conscious reasoning process to come to a rational conclusion’ (which doesn’t sound odd at all to me) rather than ‘highly reasonable people often have a lot of irrational beliefs.’ Which sounds odd, and particularly odd when, on questioning, you cheerfully admit that there’s nothing wrong with those beliefs, or how they got there.

    If you didn’t use your terms so idiosyncratically, then you wouldn’t need to have these discussions :)

  • Alix

    1. I’m hardly the only person who uses these definitions. In fact, I’ve rarely encountered people who use the definitions you and Foelhe do.

    2. The definitions work for me, which is the same reason anyone sticks with their definitions.

    3. Highly reasonable people often don’t have irrational beliefs? Really? That sounds odd to me.

    4. I still don’t think irrational necessarily means something negative, and so no, I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with those beliefs or how they got there. It really, truly boggles my mind that you equate “irrational” with “bad”. Honest to god, I had, prior to this discussion, only ever heard the “irrational = anti-rational = bad” thing from the same kind of jackasses who use the “you’re being emotional/irrational, so I can dismiss you” thing. Everyone else I’ve met uses a definition of irrational as not-rational, not anti-rational.

    So this discussion has been both very helpful for me, because if nothing else it’s broadened my understanding of the different ways people use “rational” and “irrational,” and incredibly frustrating for me because it seems like it is amounting to semantic differences, and like I’m being asked to prove that my own experiences of how the terms are used really happened, which isn’t really possible. And like I said elsewhere, to me my definitions are obvious and sensible, and I find the way you two define rationality/irrationality as baffling as y’all apparently find my definitions, and we all seem to just keep circling around each other repeating ourselves.

  • Alix

    I don’t think moral relativism is really a coherent concept either

    Out of curiosity, could you say why? From my perspective, moral relativism is about the only way to explain the vast diversity in human moral and ethical systems – even things we often think of as universally moral aren’t.

    I’m also a bit confused by what you mean by “moral realism.” If I’m reading you right, it’s the idea that there is some kind of objective morality?

    Or is this another definitional problem again? :P

  • From my perspective, moral relativism is about the only way to explain the vast diversity in human moral and ethical systems

    There’s also the vastly more popular “Yes, but what we consider moral is objectively moral; everyone else is simply mistaken.”

  • Alix

    There’s also the vastly more popular “Yes, but what we consider moral is objectively moral; everyone else is simply mistaken.”

    Um, that’s not moral relativism, though. Is it?

  • That’s my point; you said that moral relativism is the only way to explain the vast differences in human moral systems. An alternative explanation is that one or fewer human moral systems is objectively right. and the rest are objectively wrong.

  • Alix

    Ah, okay, thanks. I’m sometimes a bit slow on the uptake, sorry.

    I agree, which is why I actually like moral relativism. I don’t know that my morals are objectively right – I don’t know that objectivity can really apply to morality. I do know that my morals seem to work well for me – and that’s relative/subjective by default.

  • If followed without interruption, then yes, one could wind up in a spiral where everything is relative and thus has little or no meaning. To me, though, relativism is a tool for understanding people better. Failure to take into account what someone considers moral and why seems likely to lead to making assumptions about their behavior, which is what I see all the time.

    “Oh, those gay people? They’re just pridefully rebelling against God. They’ve made the choice to reject Christ, so they have no reason not to defile themselves with sin.”

    “Or, you know, they just might not believe in your religion at all. Or they might interpret their sexuality in regards to Christianity completely differently, as the Episcopalians do.”


    It’s so ethnocentric, it leaves no room for any other possible motivation to do things than “because God wants it” or “because they hate God”…