Smart people saying smart things

Smart people saying smart things August 11, 2012

David Brin, interview with Wired magazine

The notion of self-righteous indignation being a drug high seems to develop naturally out of recent scientific results that show that addiction is actually the most natural of human processes. You’ve heard the phrase “addicted to love.” Well, you can deliberately enter less salubrious mental states. You can deliberately go to Las Vegas, and the slot machines are now tuned to track the pattern of your behavior at the slot machine and change their rewards pattern so you start getting more rewards when it calculates that you’re about to stand up and give up and leave. So there’s gambling, thrill addiction. Well, it turns out that there’s substantial evidence that self-righteous indignation is one of these drug highs, and any honest person knows this. We’ve all been in indignant snits, self-righteous furies. You go into the bathroom during one of these snits, and you look in the mirror and you have to admit, this feels great! “I am so much smarter and better than my enemies! And they are so wrong, and I am so right!”

And if we were to recognize that self-righteous indignation is a bona fide drug high, and that yes, just like alcohol, some of us can engage in it on occasion — as a matter of fact, when I engage in it, I get into a real bender — but then say, “Enough.” If we were to acknowledge this as a drug addiction, then it might weaken all the horrible addicts out there who have taken over politics in America, and allow especially conservatism to return to the genteel, calm, intellectual ways of Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley.

Paula Kirby: “How would Jesus vote?

Let us start with the question of wealth. Far from emphasizing the importance of wealth-creation, Jesus repeatedly told his followers to forsake it; that it would get in the way of their relationship with God. His advice to a wealthy would-be disciple? Sell all you have and give it to the poor. And give it to the poor! No sign here that he thought of the poor as being to blame for their own predicament, people to be frowned on, people who did not deserve to have their well-being taken into account. Suppose Jesus really were alive today. Would he despise the poor? Ignore their needs? Begrudge their miserable welfare hand-outs? Cheer at the idea of letting the uninsured die of disease?

When did the Jesus of the Gospels ever proclaim that the poor and sick and unfortunate do not deserve your compassion? That you are not your brother’s keeper? That paying tax is an abomination?

The Gospels show us a man who shunned the respectable, reaching out instead to the poor and weak, seeking out society’s rejects and publicly aligning himself with them. Would the Jesus who healed abundantly have been outraged at the idea of “Obamacare”? At the suggestion that he should put his hand in his pocket to help ensure the poorest in the wealthiest nation on Earth did not have to live in fear of illness?

James Fallows: “The Certainty of Even More Shootings

One person who (unsuccessfully) threatened the lives of his fellow airline passengers ten-and-a-half years ago has changed air travel for every single passenger on every U.S. flight in all the time since then. We responded (and over-responded) to that episode with a “this won’t happen again” determination, like other countries’ response to mass shootings. It is hard to know what kind of mass killing with guns would evoke a similar determination in America. The murder of six people including a federal judge and near-killing of a Congresswoman last year obviously didn’t do it. Nor, in all probability, will these latest two multi-death shootings. In their official statements of condolence yesterday, both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney replicated their achievement after the Aurora murders: Neither used the word “gun.”

This will happen again.


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  • Beroli

    If they don’t believe abortion is murder and don’t have qualms about
    having one, then how is what I am saying bothering them?   

    If you don’t believe that, by pushing the attitude that procreative sex is the only moral sex and a woman who is pregnant for any reason is obligated to bear the baby to term, you make rape more widely accepted and large numbers of people more likely to commit suicide, why do you whine about other people observing that, in fact, you do? Apparently, even mired in the depths of your delusions, it bothers you when people lay the blame for suicides at your feet. By your own argument, I could argue that you know you’re responsible.

    I’m not going to. Because your argument is absurd. No matter how confidently you know–or “know,” in your case–that you’re not a murderer, being called one by someone on the Internet is hardly a pleasant experience.

    I will, however, observe that your phrasing “do not affirm” is dishonest. “Do not affirm” would involve silence*. You aggressively push your beliefs, stating “With LGBT, the sex drive is ordered wrongly.”

    *And no, I’m not saying you’re obligated to be silent. I am saying you should either be silent, or accept the effects of your words. Since you say, “How fucking dare you,” to someone who points out those effects, you do neither.

  •  Indeed, why would being told that they way they are is “ordered wrongly” contribute to the emotional states that lead to suicide?

    And why should anyone be bothered by you calling them a murderer?


  • Lunch Meat

    Furthermore, a Catholic understanding of marriage understands it as a
    relationship that is fundamentally tied to the raising and nurturing of
    children.  That’s not all what marriage is, but it is an essential
    part.  It is ordered to the welcoming of children into this life.  It’s
    why the Church doesn’t allow contraception, because it severs
    procreative functions from sexual activity.

    I don’t believe this is a logically consistent position, but I could be wrong, because I don’t know what being “ordered” is supposed to mean. So I would like to know, simply, clearly, and precisely, what it is that makes married sex with contraception wrong.

    I can think of two possibilities:

    1) The physical act of sex where a result of pregnancy is impossible is immoral. This would mean that it is immoral for infertile/no longer fertile people to have sex. Further, it would mean that I should not have sex with my husband unless I know there is a good chance that I am ovulating.

    I cannot find anyone willing to admit this is the case, mostly because it sounds ridiculous and no one could get away with restricting marriage to fertile people, so the only other possibility I can see is:

    2) The act of sex where there is not the intent or desire for children is immoral. This makes more sense, but I can still see a problem. If it is okay for me to have sex when I know for a fact that I cannot get pregnant (say, for instance, I’m on my period), as long as I intend to have sex and get pregnant next week or something, then why is it not okay to delay or prevent pregnancy when the intent to have children is there? I can think of several reasons why this would be the case:

    a) I am working to put my husband through college so he can support our family. He is taking time-intensive classes and has over a year left to go, and my line of work does not pay enough to support childcare.

    b) I was just in an accident and must take heavy pain-killers for the next six months, which would cause severe birth defects.

    c) I am in therapy to work through issues from a traumatic childhood. I am afraid that I would get angry and hurt my baby if I gave birth before completing my therapy. This is a situation where I think I may not ever be capable of having children, even though I desperately want them.

    d) I have an infection or genetic disorder that I believe would be immoral to pass on to my children. Instead, I intend to adopt.

    I know that you can say, because you have said previously in this thread, that in every case the couple could just choose not to have sex, for a limited time or, in the third or fourth cases, possibly forever. I’m aware of that possibility. But I want to know what, specifically, is wrong about having sex in these cases. Why is it immoral? I know people can choose not to. Why should they have to?

  • Isabel C.

    I was going to say.

    There are many reasons why I’m uninterested in becoming Catholic. “Sex is bad when it’s not for procreation” is right up there.

    Blather all you want about God’s plan for my plumbing and the sacredness of life and “disordered sexuality”, but when you do that and *then* clutch your pearls about how fewer and fewer people are observant Catholics? I have zero sympathy. I have, in fact, a Nelson-Muntz esque “HA ha” for you.

  • Lunch Meat

    I forgot to add, some people would say it’s okay to use the rhythm method to delay pregnancy in cases where they really can’t support a child. But in that case, for the months/years before you start trying to get pregnant, you’re intentionally delaying pregnancy, which means whenever you have sex during that time, you are having it without the intent or desire to get pregnant. How is that more moral than the pill or condom?

  • AnonymousSam

    Which US politicians who have been responsible for executing someone have been denied communion by a bishop?

    Not sure if this was rhetorical, but I can name a few politicians who have been denied communion for what would be considered murder by the Catholic church — John Kerry, Douglas Kmiec, Patrick Kennedy (I count this one because “you’re not denied communion, we’d just rather you not receive it” is a meaningless distinction) and the politicians Raymond Burke criticized (along with anyone who voted for them).

    Denying communion has been a thing for awhile, apparently.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The irrational hatred of those who are LGBT is a terrible thing, but the
    main thing here is that I don’t reduce sexual orientation as something
    fundamental about a person

    There’s this one story I really wish everyone would read. (I haven’t asked the author to file off the Stargate serial numbers in order to publish it professionally, but I think she should.) It’s about John, who’s a straight guy in the US military in an alternate world where the US military is modeled on Sparta’s: team bonding involves a fuckton of gay sex and it’s only very recently that military men have been allowed to marry women or acknowledge having children. If you were John, Shane, if you were heterosexual in a culture that considers heterosexuality an aberration, can you tell me honestly that you wouldn’t consider yourself less than the people around you? Or at least that you would know that they consider you less, and you would give serious thought to the possibility that they’re right?

  • Kiba

      I don’t believe this is a logically consistent position, but I could be wrong, because I don’t know what being “ordered” is supposed to mean. So I would like to know, simply, clearly, and precisely, what it is that makes married sex with contraception wrong. 

    The Catholic church hand waves away the problem of old or infertile couples having sex by stating that sex in marriage has two functions: procreative and unitive. For them the two functions are tied together and can’t be separated (one of the reasons they say contraception is wrong) yet old or infertile couples are spared a lifetime of celibacy because their infertility is “natural” and not artificially imposed.   


     This becomes a question of political authority within a pluralistic society that I do not want to get into; suffice to say that there needs to be a public morality that governs the social order.

    So basically you want to be able to tell me how to live my life according to your particular religious tenets but not have to justify what gives you that right or what makes your religion so damn special.  Yeah, that doesn’t work. 

  • Kiba

    Again I think the reason why the rhythm method is acceptable is because it doesn’t involve anything man-made (condoms, the pill, etc.). It doesn’t make any sense to me since both end results are the same and both interfere with the whole procreative aspect of sex.  

  • Lunch Meat

    I’ve heard that before, but in that case I’d like to know why using technology to interfere with or affect natural processes is immoral–not just unhealthy or undesirable, but actually immoral. Are other instances of that also immoral? If not, why? For instance, we use electric lights, and in some cases, sleep aids like sleeping pills, to force our bodies to conform to a continuous 8 hour a night sleep cycle instead of a more natural one. That may be unhealthy, but is it actually immoral?

    One counter-argument could be that usually we counteract natural processes in order to improve people’s comfort, health, and pain level, like fighting aging and other diseases. However, sometimes pregnancy can damage people’s health, such as in women who are prone to miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies. And a lot of people think that there are always horrible side effects that come with the pill, and it wreaks havoc with your reproductive cycle, but in fact, taking the pill reduced harmful effects of my periods and made it completely regular, which it never was before.

  • Kiba

    Yeah, I don’t understand it either. According to the Vatican:

    The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).

    Which, again, makes no sense to me. Regulating births is an aspect of responsible parenthood but you can’t use contraception to do it because? 

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    They were politicians who supported abortion laws, though, weren’t they? Not capital punishment?

    Texas executed a man with the mental capacity of a child last week, if anyone cares. Intrinsic moral evil, right there.

  • AnonymousSam

    Aye, they were — but I’m not sure it’d be considered more acceptable in their books. Going by the old argument, an unborn child can’t be anything but innocent, whereas (the assumption is) at least death row prisoners were convicted of a heinous crime. I’m… not actually sure I have a point to this, so feel free to ignore it.

    My own position is that I’m not sure whether capital punishment is more humane or not — torturing someone by locking them in a small box for several decades until they die*, miserable and socially neglected, does not strike me as merciful compared to a (relatively) painless removal from life. The outcome either way is to permanently remove a person from society.

    Not that I’m certain that’s a good thing either. Isn’t the lack of connections to one’s brethren a likely cause of committing such crimes? I know it’s what keeps my impulses in check. It would seem like life imprisonment wouldn’t be necessary if there were a means to impress upon people the meaning of their actions. In theory, a person could eventually be redeemed and brought back into society regardless of their actions.

    Regardless, due to social inequalities, holes in the justice system and it having much the same impact on the rest of us either way, I have to acquiesce to the logic of life sentences over the death penalty. Whether or not the alternative is evil, it’s unnecessary.

    * Someone posted a story a couple days ago in which technological advances had resulted in a person’s lifespan becoming “indefinite” — from the perspective of a man who had “beat the system” and escaped the death penalty, only to spend centuries in prison serving out his life sentence. A life sentence means something else today than it would have a hundred years ago, and I can’t wonder but that it’ll mean something else a hundred years from now. What if, some day in the future, a life sentence really does come to mean eternity behind bars? Would it truly be more merciful then?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Again I think the reason why the rhythm method is acceptable is because it doesn’t involve anything man-made (condoms, the pill, etc.). It doesn’t make any sense to me since both end results are the same and both interfere with the whole procreative aspect of sex.
    You mean to tell me you’ve never heard the word for people who use the rhythm method? Hint: it ain’t the word for people who reliably use hormonal and/or barrier contraception. Unless those people have kids already and don’t want more, rather than not wanting any to begin with.

  • Kiba

    You mean to tell me you’ve never heard the word for people who use the rhythm method?

    Parents? ‘Cause when my brother and his wife tried it it didn’t work out all that well for them. Prior to that they used condoms (which they bought in an area where they were sure no one they knew would see them) but stopped when they went hyper conservative Catholic. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    Exactly. My point being, any method of contraception is anathema, and when they say the rhythm method of contraception is okay, the part they don’t say is that it’s okay because it doesn’t actually prevent conception.

  • Lunch Meat

    In that case it should be okay to use condoms half the time, or just once…but they say using them at all is wrong.

    (I think I have a pretty good argument that this is inconsistent, but as no one has stepped up to actually explain to me what “ordered to the welcoming of children into the world” means, I guess I’ll never know. Sigh.)

  • Kiba

    I wish I could help you with that but, and I’ve read through this stuff many times, I have no idea what they mean either. It’s probably uncharitable of me but what I end up walking away with is basically: Because we say so with some half-assed attempts to justify it with the bible and philosophy. 

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Second, the notion of consent is never absolute.  It’s why we try to
    stop suicide, don’t allow consensual  cannibalism, or allow a person to
    consent to their own murder.

    These three sound pretty funny coming from someone who is claiming to follow Jesus – I’m pretty sure He got AT LEAST two of three.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     suffice to say that there needs to be a public morality that governs the social order.

    “…And this morality is ENTIRELY about sex, rather than economics, because SHUT UP.”

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     With LGBT, the sex drive is ordered wrongly.


    So, why’d God make them that way?