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Category Archives: Freedom
ROBERT PRICE: Freedom from tyranny isn’t freedom if it just lasts two weeks – The Bakersfield Californian
Posted: May 24, 2020 at 3:30 pm
Theres a homemade sign planted along Stockdale Highway a short distance from my house that makes what seems like a patriotic declaration: Stop the Tyranny, it shouts. Open California Now. A small U.S. flag attached to the top certifies the sign-makers credentials.
The tyranny in question is apparently that of California Gov. Gavin Newsom and, perhaps by extension, the Kern County Public Health Services Department, whose leaders have said they intend to follow his directives regarding containment of the coronavirus.
What is that little roadside sign saying to Ryan Alsop? Last week the countys chief administrative officer, though eager to reverse the direction of Kerns unemployment rate, now up to 18.6 percent, suggested that neighboring Tulare County recalculate its recent decision to defy the governors cautious approach to reopening the economy.
Theres some irony here as we honor the sacrifice of Americas war dead this Memorial Day weekend: Over the course of the past 245 years, men and women, military and civilian, have invested their trust, and their lives, in leaders compelled to make decisions based on a broader view. Sometimes the generals were overly cautious; other times they were reckless. Sometimes they knew what to expect and let it happen anyway: The U.S. anticipated a Japanese attack in the Pacific for a decade before it happened at Pearl Harbor.
Weve all heard the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic likened to war, and though it obviously differs greatly, the comparison is not without merit: Both fights require unity, intelligence, commitment.
They also both require trust: We trust that the strategists know where and how the enemy may strike, and how we might defeat it. In Americas conventional wars, those strategists were men like Washington, Grant and Eisenhower, who weighed factors like troop numbers, artillery and battlefield landscape. In this war, they are the epidemiologists who understand how viruses thrive and how their interaction with the social behavior of humans affects their growth or decline. Their soldiers are doctors, nurses and other medical professionals trained to understand and respect science and have seen the damage this enemy wreaks.
We have so trusted the leadership of American war generals, we later elected 13 of them to the presidency. Epidemiologists get no such respect. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top medical expert on the pandemic and a member of President Donald Trump's coronavirus task force, has received death threats for urging restraint. Now the U.S. Marshals Service is protecting him.
I find myself reflecting on the idea of unity, too. A form of that word forms a portion of this countrys name: Thats how much the Founding Fathers those guys with the powdered wigs we love to quote and misquote valued the concept. When people are united, all work for the benefit of all. One way they do that is by, as in times of conventional war, trusting the public and private institutions that have proved themselves over time. In our current circumstance, those are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, university research labs like those at Johns Hopkins and Harvard, and, yes, some of the major pharmaceutical companies.
Some Americans have chosen not to participate in this united effort. Wearing masks in stores and hanging back from crowds just a little is, after all, a terrible personal imposition that surely violates some constitutional right or another. Then they wave the flag.
The most courageous Americans among us today, the front line of the medical community, are the same ones urging us to take simple precautions. We disrespect them by criticizing the leaders and institutions that actually listen to them.
Reopening too carelessly and recklessly invites a second wave: Two studies released in recent days suggest the virus is waning in about half the states but primed for a possible resurgence in the South and Midwest.
That also is the case in California, which, according to a Los Angeles Times tracker, has averaged 1,965 new cases and 73 new deaths per day over the past week, with 48 percent of confirmed cases in a county that adjoins Kern Los Angeles. The number of new cases in Kern is doubling every 31 days, about 25 percent faster than in San Francisco, where the population density is six times greater than that of Bakersfield and 20 times that of Kern overall.
Its not just science that warns of a second wave, its history, too. The Spanish flu of 1918 was devastating, but Americans tired of the governments impositions and relaxed or revolted, hastening a surge worse than the first. COVID-19 has already played out that way in parts of the world.
Bakersfield and Kern County have largely escaped the pain COVID-19 has wrought elsewhere. The dire scenes depicted on the nightly news do not reflect what weve seen here. And now were tired of the tyranny of science and history and of governments, local and state, that acknowledge those things.
We want to get back to where we were.
And this weekend some segments of the local economy started trying.
Thats a good thing. But we must not treat it like a jailbreak.
The noise you hear is history clearing its throat. Sometimes we know what to expect and let it happen anyway.
I'm ready for a platterful of chicken piccata from Uricchios Trattoria and I dont mean in a to-go container in front of my TV. I am ready for an Esthers Delight from Mexicali, but not delivered to my door in a paper sack. And I am ready for those businesses to profit again, and profit grandly.
But I want my freedom to last. Two weeks of freedom from the restraints of due caution, followed by another three months of lockdown, isnt what Id call an escape from tyranny.
Robert Price is a journalist for KGET-TV. His column appears here on Sundays; the views expressed are his own. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter: @stubblebuzz.
Posted: at 3:30 pm
Ben Ament, Times Writers Group Published 5:00 p.m. CT May 22, 2020
We are suffering from a collective identity crisis. We have lost sight of who we are in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
I used to think that we were a nation of people who loved freedom but loved each other more. We would pull together to do the right thing. These days I am not so sure that is true. Armed protests are evidence that my freedom is at risk and love is definitely not in the air.
Ben Ament(Photo: Times photo)
Our belief in ourselves has been dashed and we are not quite sure how to move forward from here. Until we can come together as community making human rights paramount over profit, we will struggle to find our way.
True freedom, said Franklin D. Roosevelt in his speech before Congress in 1941, means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. This was before the United States entered World War II. It was a basic recognition, however, of the reason that Americans were already sacrificing to fight a common enemy.
Today our common enemy is not a flawed and tragic ideology, but a virus. Sadly, we are not showing signs of unity in the battle. And too many are not showing love of neighbor.
Our frustrations have been spilling over into shows of force and seeming threats of violence at capitol buildings and other venues around the country. The "rally" at the governors mansion and the unmasked crowd outside an Albany, Minnesota restaurant recently showed that Minnesota nice has not made us immune to the viral notion that our freedoms have been abridged.
True freedoms have not been curtailed. Limiting movement is not the same as reducing freedom or democracy. Our movement is limited in myriad ways every day. Try going the wrong way on a one-way street or walking into someones home without an invitation.
FDRcontinued in his 1941 speech: there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. Though we seem to have lost sight of them today.
I believe, as did Roosevelt, that the basic things we expect of our political and economic systems are simple. Equality of opportunity, including jobs and living wages for those who can work. We must feel secure at all stages of life, including affordable health care and safe food supplies. And our civil liberties must be preserved.
But these systemic needs are, for the most part, not tied to freedom. Freedom is not, or at least should not be, dependent upon money. Opportunity and security in our system are tied to money. Perhaps that should change, but I digress.
Freedom is a whole other ball game. Rooseveltlisted four freedoms. First up is freedom of speech and expression, followed by freedom of worship. Today, as then, this would mean Christians, Jews and Muslims should be treated equally. It seems that many of those protesting a lack of freedom would deprive some of these religious groups their freedom of expression. People tend to be silenced when guns are brandished.
The third freedom mentioned by FDR is freedom from want in world terms, that means economic want, not your choice of eating establishment.
FDRs fourth freedom is freedom from fear. In a world threatened with continuous war, we need a worldwide reduction of armaments so that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor anywhere in the world.
In COVID-19 times, physical aggression includes others invading our space without faces covered.
Many times in our history we have been called to sacrifice for the sake of the nation and our fellow humans. Roosevelts people assured him of the willingness of almost all Americans to respond to that call. It turned out that the American people had to sacrifice for years to be victorious in WWII.
Too many modern Americans are showing that a few months is too long to be inconvenienced.
I am not ignorant of the pain that sometimes comes with sacrifice. But the people yelling the loudest and carrying the biggest sticks are not suffering like our poorest communities, especially communities of people of color.
Our willingness to put patriotism ahead of pocketbooks is being tested. History will record the answer to question of who we decided we are.
As we mindfully reopen our favorite hangouts, be kind to one another.
This is the opinion of Ben Ament, world citizen and Times Writers Group member. He hopes to leave that world slightly better than he found it. His column is published the fourth Sunday of the month.
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Posted: at 3:30 pm
I grew up in a family of Democrats with parents whose hero was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. During the Great Depression, he reassured them that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. When eligible to vote, I also enlisted in the ranks of Democrats, greatly inspired by John F. Kennedys call to service on behalf of my country. Although I have since become an Independent, I never dreamt that my choice would be validated to the extent that it has been by the recent comments of our Pennsylvania governor concerning the growing discontent of local officials with the rigidity of state-imposed restrictions.
How can any rational individual equate an attempt to foster commerce and free enterprise in the face of a pandemic as cowardly? What then is his definition of courage cowering in place while doing nothing? The new leaders of my old political party seem to have transmuted FDRs message into be afraid; be very afraid.
The collective mind further boggles when our states chief executive advises jobless workers to remain unemployed when their old jobs are offered back to them. Doesnt this contradict the very purpose of the massive federal aid package that was intended to preserve the jobs of those who had been employed in the businesses distressed during the quarantine? The political heirs of JFK are now telling us to ask not what we can do for our country but rather seek all that your country can do for you.
As we debate the timing of our states reopening, it is crucial to be clear on what it actually means. We can start by understanding that it does not mean we are free to act irresponsibly. Rather, the precautions and procedures that remain in place will now occur within different parameters which hopefully will allow us to revitalize an economy that is currently unable to support even our most basic needs. Reopening does not mandate that anyone go shopping or dine out, or go bar hopping; it only restores the ability to decide such questions to individual choice, rather than a coercive central authority. We know the risks by now. Its time our leaders started to treat us like adults and restored our freedom to decide for ourselves and bear the responsibility for our own acts.
Ronald Andidora, Mechanicsburg
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Posted: at 3:30 pm
On May 6, Anand Giridharadas set off a bit of a firestorm in a "Morning Joe" previewof his "Seat at the Table" monologue:
There is a primordial American tradition going back to the Founders of being freedom-obsessed, even though we are a country founded on slavery and genocide, being freedom-obsessed to the point that we're always so afraid of the government coming for us that we're blind to other types of threats, whether it's a virus, whether it's bank malfeasance, climate change, what have you.
He went on to note how Ronald Reagan had intensified the fear of government, how neoliberal Democrats after him had distanced themselves from government, and how Donald Trump has epitomized the logic of "Government doesn't work elect me and I'll prove it" that's now the icing on the cake. But it was that initial formulation that really grabbed people's attention.
Fox News ran a story about this, as did the conservative site Townhall. Giridharadas tweeted his thanksfor their amplification of his ideas, to which I added:
Not just obsessed with the idea of freedom, but with strangely perverted versions of it, defined by slaveholders at nation's birth, defined by settlers claiming others' land before & after, defined as "market freedom" by neoliberal theorists, the list goes on & on. "Free for me!"
The right is always appalled that anyone would ever say anything remotely critical about "freedom," because conservatives have spent decades trying to brand the word and the concept as their private property. Efficient branding is pretty much the opposite of critical understanding. Yes, liberals may care about equality, right-wingers may acknowledge, but in doing so they trample on freedom! This is why, for example, Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act, and why Sen. Rand Paul struggled incoherently when Rachel Maddow asked him how he felt about it half a century later, and never owned up to where he stood. The ghost of slaveholder freedom is not easily laid to rest.
Of course progressives do believe in freedom, of a very different sort: The freedom sought by slaves and their descendants, most starkly, echoed in freedom songs and an explosion of liberation movements in the 1960s. Now, in the age of coronavirus, what could be more pressing than to be free of the virus not just individually, not just nationally, but globally, as a species?
It's not government tyranny that's keeping us from living normal lives. It's the virus that's doing that. Those who are demanding their freedom to spread the virus are just prolonging its tyranny over the rest of us. They are furthering our oppression, and endangering our lives.
Two models of freedom
There are many ways you can slice this, but perhaps the simplest comes from George Lakoff in "Whose Freedom?: The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea." He explains that abstract notions of freedom all derive from physical, bodily ones. The physical experience of being able to move freely is the foundation of all ideas of freedom.
Liberals and conservatives may have different ways of shaping their concepts of freedom, based on different worldviews, but this is what they have in common making freedom an "essentially contested concept," as first described in an essay by W.B. Gallie. It's vital to understand what these two concepts of freedom have in common, as well as what they do not, and the reasons for both. Otherwise conservatives will continue to wield "freedom" as a sword, blinding us to what's actually going onas they imperil the freedom of all.
"The central thesis of this book is simple," Lakoff writes. "There are two very different views of freedom in America today, arising from two very different moral and political worldviews dividing the country. The traditional idea of freedom is progressive. One can see traditional values most clearly in the direction of change that has been demanded and applauded over two centuries."
He provides a wealth of examples, starting with the expansion of voting rights and citizen participation, from white male property owners to all white men, then to formerly enslaved men, then women, then younger voters. Lakoff goes on to cite the expansion of economic opportunity, working conditions and workers' rights, public education and "the expansion of knowledge," public health and life expectancy, consumer protection and so on.
These popular examples might not immediately seem like instances of freedom, at least partly because progressives haven't used that term nearly as much as conservatives have even when talking about the black freedom struggle. Indeed, conservatives have used the term far more often to invoke rolling back those expansions of freedom.
But if freedom is at least partially about having the capacity to realize your dreams, then everything Lakoff lists above surely belongs in that realm of freedom as progressives could and should claim, if they used that language more robustly. As we struggle to free ourselves from this pandemic, that's exactly what we should be doing.
"Progressive freedom is dynamic freedom. Freedom is realized not just in stasis, or at a single moment in history, but in its expansion over a long time," Lakoff writes. "You cannot look only at the Founding Fathers and stop there. If you do, it sounds as if they were hypocrites: They talked liberty but permitted slavery; they talked democracy but allowed only white male property owners to vote. But from a dynamic progressive perspective, the great ideas were expandable freedoms."
The opposite is true of conservatives, he concludes:
What makes them 'conservatives' is not that they want to conserve the achievements of those who fought to deepen American democracy. It's the reverse: They want to go back to before these progressive freedoms were established. That is why they harp so much on narrow so-called originalist readings of the Constitution on its letter, not its spirit on "activist judges" rather than an inherently activist population."
A common core and contested views
Despite these deep differences in how freedom is viewed, there is a common core meaning and logic involved.
"Freedom is being able to do what you want to do," Lakoff writes, "that is, being able to choose a goal, have access to that goal, pursue that goal without anyone purposely preventing you. It is having the capacity or power to achieve the goal and being able to exercise your free will to choose and achieve the goal." In addition, "Political freedom is about the state and how well a state can maximize freedom for all its citizens."
This represents the uncontested core of what simple freedom and political freedom are all about. And the underlying physical foundation is straightforward:
We all had the experience as children of wanting to do something and being held down or held back, so that we were not free to do what we wanted. These bodily experiences form the basis of our everyday idea of simple freedom for reasoning about freedom as well as for talking about freedom.
"Freedom is being able to achieve purposes," Lakoff summarizes, which in turn is "understood metaphorically in three fundamental ways of functioning with one's body." First, "Reaching a desired destination (by moving through space)." Second, "Getting some desired object (by moving one's limbs)." Third, "Performing a desired action (by moving one's body)."
He goes on to make two important points. The first is about freedom asa visceral concept,"tied, fundamentally via metaphor, to our ability to move and to interference with moving. There is little that is more infuriating than interference with our everyday bodily movements."
The second is about its cultural significance in America:
Part of being an American, culturally, goes beyond achieving isolated purposes to having a purposeful life. Thus, life itself becomes structured in terms of space goals you want to reach (where you want to be in life), things you want to get (rewards, awards, things that symbolize success), and things you want to do or achieve. Dreams are seen as lifetime purposes. "The American Dream" is based on this metaphor.
All the above applies to the uncontested core meaning of freedom, Lakoff explains. But liberals and conservatives differ sharply on how that uncontested core is fleshed out. Conservative talk a great deal more about freedom, he notes:
The radical right is in the process of redefining the very idea. To lose freedom is a terrible thing; to lose the idea of freedom is even worse.
The constant repetition of the words "liberty" and "freedom" by the right-wing message machine is one of the mechanisms of the idea theft in progress. When the words are used by the right, their meaning shifts gradually, almost imperceptibly, but it shifts.
What distinguishes the progressive from the conservative version of "freedom" is the underlying worldviewthat in both cases fill in the contested areas in metaphorical logic.Lakoff first characterized these competing views in "Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think" (my review here) as metaphorically structured by two distinct parentingstyles, first distinguished by Diane Baumrind: that of the nurturant parent ("authoritative" in Baumrind's typology) vs. the strict father family ("authoritarian"), as Lakoff calls them.
Lakoff's terms underscore their differences, while Baumrind's capture something critical about their more nuanced relationship. Authoritarian parenting is often justified by the false assumption that the only alternative is indulgent, "permissive parenting," a third alternative that Baumrind described. (A fourth alternative, "neglectful parenting," was added later.) But authoritative parents combine permissive parents' nurturing, responsive approach with the authoritarian parents' willingness to set high standards albeit sometimes quite different ones.
As Lakoff notes, authoritative parents are more successful in raising children to be the autonomous moral agents, capable of acting freely and responsibly,that authoritarian parenting is supposed to produce. So there's a valid argumentthat progressives have a better grasp of freedom than conservatives do.
Threats to freedom and the role of security
One part of Lakoff's discussion involves interference with freedom, specifically in the form of harm, coercion, or limitations on property each of which is also a contested concept. These lay the foundations for understanding the fundamental role that security plays in protecting (and thus advancing) freedom. There is, in short, a common logic, which gets filled in differently by progressive and conservative worldviews.
By harm, Lakoff means something serious: "sufficient to interfere with normal functioning." For example: "If someone breaks your leg, she is interfering with your freedom to move. If someone kills you, he is interfering with your freedom to live your life."
Metaphorical harm such as economic harm can be trickier. What counts as harm? As Lakoff notes: "Many conservatives believe that social programs harm people because they make them dependent on the government, while progressives tend to believe that they help people."
This is a direct consequence of Lakoff's characterization of progressive and conservative worldviews: that of nurturant parenting vs. the strict-father family. It's also an empirically testable question:Only a tiny fraction of social spending goes to people who could even conceivably fit the conservative stereotype of the "welfare cheat" people who could work but do not, for whatever reason.
In contrast, recall that Giridharadas spoke about "other types of threats," and mentioned the pandemic, financial mismanagementand climate change. These are all forms of harm that can limit our freedom. As Lakoff explains, such limits must come from human actions someone breaking your leg, not having a tree fall on you. But if government fails to protect you when it should as happened with Hurricane Katrina, for example that malign neglect certainly qualifies as interfering with your freedom.
Coercion is being forced to act against your will, which has a straightforward physical foundation: "One of our major metaphors for the freedom to engage in purposeful action is the freedom to move to a desired destination," Lakoff explains. "Coerced action is, metaphorically, forced motion to an undesired location." What's more, "Further metaphors map physical coercion onto economic coercion, social coercion, and religious coercion."
Property is linked to freedom in two ways. As Lakoff puts it, "the freedom to achieve one's purposes is, metaphorically, the lack of any interference in getting and keeping desired objects." Second is the literal fact that "wealth can buy many kinds of freedom." So property means freedom, literally as well as metaphorically. But as Lakoff cautions, "[I]t is often contested whether certain property is properly yours."
In a nation built on land dispossessed from its native inhabitants, whose vast wealth was in large part created by slave labor, this is a touchy subject. Lakoff takes a less confrontational approach:
Take the issue of taxes. Conservatives say, "It's your money. The government wants to take it away." But almost everyone gains part of his or her income through the use of a government-supplied infrastructure (highways, the Internet, the banking system, the courts). Is there a moral debt to pay to maintain that system?
Thomas Paine certainly thought so. Here he is, from "Agrarian Justice":
Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land originally.
Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man's own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.
While theTea Party movement, funded by the Koch brothers, tried to give its anti-taxation agenda a patriotic Boston Tea Party gloss, America's anti-tax tradition actually stems from the Southern slaveholding economy, as Robin Einhorn explained in"American Taxation, American Slavery."
"What I found is that in early American history, slaveholders in particular were terrified of majorities deciding how to tax them," Einhorn told me in an interview. "So they came up with strategies of how to stop that. There is a long tradition of denying majorities the right to decide how to tax wealth in this country." You can call that tradition anything you want, but it's strange to insist that it's quintessentially about "freedom."
Finally, Lakoff discusses the crucial role of security:
If harm, coercion, and limitations on property interfere with freedom, then security is a guarantee that such freedom will be preserved. Just as physical harm and physical coercion are the prototypical forms of harm and coercion what we first think when we think of harm and coercion so physical security is the prototypical form of security. Physical security of oneself and one's property is central to the concept of freedom.
Security is central to the Anglo-American idea of freedom in another way. It lies at the very foundation of John Locke's legitimation of government in Section 123 of his "Second Treatise on Government." Rights are God-given, enjoyed without limit in a state of nature, Locke argues. But the "enjoyment" of the property a person has in this state "is very unsafe, very unsecure," he argues. "This makes him willing to quit a condition, which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers," so governments are formed voluntarily, surrendering absolute claims to all rights in order to secure what is most fundamental. Locke's thinking was echoed as well in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, with its declared purpose to "promote the general Welfare, andsecure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."
The role of security is thus fundamental to any conception of freedom in modern liberal democracies. It is the very reason why we form such political orders in the first place, and it is also why Donald Trump and his fellow authoritarians, from Vladimir Putin to Jair Bolsonaro to Viktor Orbn and so on,revel in making us all so existentially insecure.
When Giridharadas spoke about "other types of threats," including the virus, "bank malfeasance" and climate change, those are threats to our freedom in a fundamental sense, because they undermine the social foundations on which all our freedoms rest. Not the abstract, theoretical foundation of "God-given rights," but the pragmatic, real-world foundations that secure them for us in the here and now.
I've only scratched the surface of Lakoff's book,tracing a few consequences of the simple core message: Freedom is an essentially contested conceptrooted in physical experience, and its liberal and conservative versions derive from very different worldviews. Three more points Lakoff touches on are worth noting.
First, political conservatives often want to live in nurturant communities too. As Lakoff observes, "Fundamentalist communities can be nurturant and loving toward members who fit in." There's an underlying sense in which "liberal" values grounded in nurturance and empathy are universally recognized, although conservatives perceive them as conditional, only for those who are deemed worthy.
For example, there's significant conservative support for large government programs like Social Security and Medicare, and Donald Trump made a point in 2016 of pretending he would defend them, while accurately noting that other Republicans would not. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic having claimed nearly 100,000 American lives, Trump's lack of empathy and abdication of nurturant leadership are painfully clear.
Second, Lakoff notes a difference in understanding causation in moral and political disputes, "where the progressives argue on the basis of systemic causation (within a social, ecological, or economic system) and the conservatives argue on the basis of direct causation (by a single individual)."
This helps explain why progressives see moral harm in environmentally destructive practices like mountaintop removal mining, for example, while conservatives "tend to argue that your coal mine would not directly cause any known particular deaths or illnesses, and so you and others should be free to mine your coal." If the government preventsyou from maximizing potential profits, that specific, individual restriction of "freedom"is the only one they claim to see.
That's similar to how the "reopen" demonstrators seem to think. They don't recognize the systemic risk posed by the virus, and claim not to believe that their activities make it easier for the virus to spread. They only see government action which they mistakenly blame for shutting down the economy as an act of tyranny or spiteful malevolence.
Third, Lakoff argues that political freedom has a common, uncontested core:
Political freedom begins with the idea of self-government: Tyrants and dictators can be avoided if we choose those who govern us and make sure that none of them has overriding power. The attendant concepts to simple political freedom are self-government and its democratic institutions within the national government: Congress, the administration, and an independent judiciary, with a balance of powers and similar structures at lower levels; within civil society: free elections and political parties, a civilian-controlled military, a free market, free press/media, and free religious institutions.
At this level of oversimplification, all of this is uncontested. The details are, however, thoroughly contested.
At least that's how things stood in 2006, when "Whose Freedom?" was published. That's no longer the case 14 years later, with severe democratic backsliding underway in America. If Donald Trump is leading the way, he's by no means alone. The "contested" details of the past have prepared the way for our current crisis, and there's considerable continuity over the decades, as I've discussed in previous articlesabout "constitutional hardball," for example. But it is clear that Trump has utter disregard for any balance of powers that would curb his own, and we're now in a qualitatively different place than before the 2016 election. It's no longer the case that progressives and conservatives both believe in the uncontested core of political freedom. The American right appears to have turned its back on that shared assumption once and for all.
"Whose Freedom?" is not the only guidebook to our current situation, but it helps delineate major aspects of the task before us: First, not to let conservatives claim to be the only ones who care about freedom, as if it had a simple, uncontested meaning. Second, to articulate a more robust progressive model of freedom, and make clear how it applies in the current moment. Third, to prioritize combating the most grave and substantial threats to freedom threats like the coronavirus that is killing thousands of us every day, and like the climate catastrophe that may devastate our world for centuries to come.
If we can preserve ourselves and our freedoms from these threats, we will have time and opportunity for legitimate debate on the contested aspects of the idea of freedom. In other words, we will have the freedom to shape a better future for everyone.
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Posted: at 3:30 pm
The stakes for the Allied forces in securing victory during World War II could not have been higher.
They confronted malevolent ideologies enforced by powerful and determined militaries (Germany and Italy in Europe, and Japan in the Pacific). The lives of millions of people across the globe were put at great peril.
What would all the nations involved look like had the Axis powers won? How would relations between the many cultures engaged in the struggle been altered?
Seeing the evil carried out in the name of conquest, it is a horror to contemplate such a result. Humanity itself hung in the balance.
The governments prosecuting the war on the Allied side had dirty hands themselves in some respects. Black Americans, for example, were proud to serve the United States in this conflict only to be relegated to second class citizenry once they returned home. We as a society are still fighting some of these battles.
But forcing numerous people worldwide to live under the tyranny of the Axis forces was unacceptable. We needed to defeat this wickedness for good.
And we did achieve victory, but it came at a frightful cost in human lives. According to the National WWII Museums website, about 45 million people military personnel and civilians died during the war. Of those, about 418,500 were Americans.
The individuals who died came from all across the country. They were united in their resolve to help restore liberty to people around the world and, thus, preserving it here.
It was a noble cause, but that likely was small comfort to all those who lost loved ones. Many people mourned the death of their children, siblings, spouses, parents, relatives and friends.
World War II ended 75 years ago. Victory in Europe Day was observed May 8, and Victory over Japan Day will be marked Aug. 15.
We witnessed the worst of human cruelty against other humans during this period. Carried out with depraved efficiency by the Nazis, the Holocaust resulted in the systematic slaughter of at least 6 million Jewish people.
How did the world get to the point where this atrocity was even possible? Why did so many stay silent and let it happen?
Such questions haunt us to this day, and we may never answer these questions. That being the case, its our moral obligation to oppose any attempt to rekindle the evil that prompted it.
We owe a tremendous debt to the men and women who contributed to the efforts to halt the forces of oppression in World War II. And over the Memorial Day weekend, its fitting for us to pay special attention to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice: their lives.
Andy Rooney, who regularly appeared on CBSs 60 Minutes, summarized whats most important about this occasion in 2005:
For too many Americans, Memorial Day has become just another day off. Theres only so much time any of us can spend remembering those we loved who have died. But the men, boys really, who died in our wars deserve at least a few moments of reflection during which we consider what they did for us. They died. We use the phrase gave their lives, but they didnt give their lives. Their lives were taken from them. There is more bravery at war than in peace, and it seems wrong that we have so often saved this virtue to use for our least noble activity war. The goal of war is to cause death to other people, said Mr. Rooney, who served as a correspondent for Stars and Stripes during World War II. Remembering doesnt do the remembered any good, of course. Its for ourselves, the living. I wish we could dedicate Memorial Day, not to the memory of those who have died at war but to the idea of saving the lives of the young people who are going to die in the future if we dont find some new way some new religion maybe that takes war out of our lives. That would be a Memorial Day worth celebrating.
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In the freedom of love God created this beautiful world and human beings. We were to be caretakers of creation gifted to us by our Creator. Sadly, we behave as if we are the supreme owners. We left Gods path of love, and history offers tragic proof of our selfish behaviour. We prefer to be labelled spiritual but our self-centred ways painfully witness against us of having polluted the very eco-system that supports life on earth, be it earth, water or air. We have abused our freedoms.Since the sphere of necessity determines human behaviour, in the face of Covid-19 pandemic, in fear we retreat to our homes, our citadels of safety, enforced by law to preserve life. We have been jolted from our slumber to control nature, to understand it and learn to control it, through science and technology. And progressively move toward self-determination. This first freedom means power over nature. You cant embrace covid-19 virus or it is not divine.However, we have abused our freedom of power over nature for evil and destruction of nature from which we need to repent and turn to God for healing of our land. Our behaviour betrays our fallen self, separated from Gods life of love and captive of our greed that oppresses and enslaves people. Divide and rule is an old and familiar way of domination.Lets remember, beyond necessity and freedom, we need to live in the realm of Good from which moral purposes and values shine. Freedom as lordship destroys community and is a lie. The truth of human freedom is grounded in love that breaks down barriers. This is how Jesus lived and sacrificed Himself to reconcile us with God and one another. Its in following Jesus way of love, service and sacrifice and empowerment of the poor that we will joyfully live and work for the common good, promoting justice and love for all of Gods beautiful creation.
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Posted: at 3:30 pm
If youre at all a student of history and philosophy (or have even listened to "Hamilton" a few times) you know that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand.
Hobbes said that in our natural state, without a sense of obligation to one another, our lives would be nasty, brutish and short. Locke and Rousseau said that we gain rights and freedoms in return for the obligation to respect and defend the rights and freedoms of others. Dewey said that as societies grow, our freedoms and responsibilities grow in equal measure, because we have increased opportunities, but there are also increased consequences for our actions. In "Hamilton," George Washington says, Winning was easy, young man. Governings harder.
A simple glance at the comment section of any COVID-19 news article or the aisles of a shopping center show that there are many people in Wyoming, and in the U.S. in general, who love the idea of freedom, but refuse to take any responsibility.
Shoppers want the freedom to go out and about, but dont want to take the responsibility to protect their community members by wearing a mask. Business and restaurant owners want the freedom to open back up, but dont want to take responsibility if their policies result in someone getting sick. Legislators want the freedom that comes with increased federal funding, but dont want the responsibility of passing the same measures that allowed that funding to arrive. (Hint: it rhymes with baxes.)
People, in general, want the freedom of returning to normal, but dont want the responsibilities that come with reshaping our society in a way that will allow that to happen safely.
This isnt all Wyomingites. Or even most. But there are enough careless freedom lovers out there to ensure that the freedoms of others are actually more curtailed after quarantine than during. The final result of this nonsense will be many deaths, and even more draconian restrictions than we can currently imagine.
Those who want freedom should accept responsibility, or they will lose the former due to the lack of the latter.
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Posted: at 3:30 pm
When a major hurricane threatens a coastal community, evacuation orders are given by the state and local governments. Sometimes these orders are mandatory, which simply means that the resident should evacuate because there will be no assistance during the storm.
Additionally, the authorities ask the resident for next of kin, in the event of his or her death. That all seems very reasonable: If a person is going to assert the freedom to ride out a storm, then that same person should be expected to bear responsibility for that decision.
Likewise, heres a simple suggestion for all those COVID-19 protesters who think they are just as qualified as health scientists to judge when its safe to return to normalcy. Can the state not give them a bracelet or necklace that says, In case of COVID-19 infection, do not treat.
I suspect that, while many of the protesters and bar flies would wear the bracelet proudly as a badge of honor, most would remove it before going to the hospital.
A similar approach could be provided to those motorcyclists who prefer not wearing helmets or for smokers who ignore the voluminous health warnings.
After all, its just personal responsibility. Right?
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Posted: at 3:30 pm
Pres. Trump is requesting Sen. Lindsey Graham to have Pres. Obama testify in the hearings of Michael Flynns unmasking. Lindsey Graham said that it would not be good for our country. To me, what would not be good for our country is not getting down to the root of the problem. The old saying goes, if you dont take the root out, the week will come back. I think that Lindsey Graham is afraid that if he has Obama testify and finds out that Obama is involved, it will divide our country. I feel that the country is already divided. It does not matter what nationality or religion you are. We are all Gods children. We are sisters and brothers in this word. If we want to live in a peaceful and free country, we need to be honest with ourselves. Do the right thing and have Obama be subpoenaed to testify. If the shoe was on the other foot and it was Pres. Trump, the Democrats would demand Trump to testify. We as American citizens let some of the Democrats continue to corrupt our country. If we do nothing about it by not voting them out we can thank ourselves when we dont have free and peaceful country.
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A Conversation With UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye: COVID-19 and Freedom of Expression – Just Security
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Editors Note: This piece is part ofJust Securitys United Nations Special Rapporteurs on #COVID-19 series, in which mandate holders offer their views on pressing issues related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ryan Goodman, Just Securitys co-editor-in-chief, recently posed a series of questions to David Kaye, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression.
1. Your report makes several references to the successful work of the World Health Organization including in setting standards for government communications of risk and standards for government transparency, as well as in providing trusted medical guidance that helps to counter disinformation. Could threats to cut off funds arbitrarily or delegitimize the work of the WHO during this pandemic potentially interfere with the right to receive critical health information?
No organization is perfect, and organizations that are established to advance and protect the public interest should be subjected to rigorous public oversight. They should have in place accessible processes to ensure the public, especially journalists, access to information (a subject that I reported on to the UN General Assembly in 2017). There is especially good reason for the WHO, at a time of global pandemic, to be scrutinized to ensure that it performs in a way that best protects global public health. I am not sure the resolution the World Health Assembly adopted on Tuesday will provide the basis for the kind of scrutiny the pandemic demands; it will be up to the Director-General to initiate an investigation that genuinely and independently explores the WHOs response.
In any event, genuine investigation was not really the Trump administrations demand. It is not pursuing a strategy of scrutiny to ensure a better performing WHO. The strategy is one of blame-avoidance, developed as a political answer to the administrations failure to address COVID-19 during the two or three months when interventions would have had a meaningful impact. We can see that in the letter President Trump sent to the Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros, which was so full of factual errors that The Lancet had to publicly correct them.
Clear and dangerous consequences flow from this broad attack on the WHO: the Trump administrations efforts to cut funding delegitimize whether intentionally or incidentally the important public health work that the WHO does. Trump is not the only one to politicize the WHO; there is evidence of Chinese influence as well, from early in the outbreak (though I do not know if it is as consequential as some make it out to be). But Trumps funding threats signal to Americans, or at least that part of the United States that pays him serious attention, that the WHO guidance is not necessary to follow. They got it wrong then, why follow them now? he seems to say. It fits with the overall anti-science attack the administration is pursuing in other areas. Whats more, this approach goes directly contrary to the WHOs own guidance that governments and public health authorities adopt responsible strategies of risk communication pay attention to rumors and correct them, do not amplify and promote false information and risky, or untested, behavior. I am afraid that Trumps approach will have near-term effects on the way in which many Americans consume public health information, how the press presents it (if they fail to resist Trumps disinformation strategy), and the course of the pandemic itself.
2. Your report states that due to the severe public health threat and need for accurate information, internet search and social media companies should aim towards maximum transparency of their policies and engage, on an urgent basis, not only with public health authorities but with affected communities wherever they operate. In 2018, you issued a report (A/HRC/38/35) specifically about user-generated online content, including a description of different kinds of transparency. With specific regard to the coronavirus pandemic, should these companies provide greater transparency about how they monitor content, how they use and share individuals information, and how they target information to individuals online?
We are now witness to the consequential power of the platforms. For some, the signal moment for platform consequences may be Facebooks contribution of a platform for genocidal hate and incitement to violence in Myanmar. For others it may be departure of a journalist from Twitter due to misogynistic or racist harassment or the censoring of evidence of war crimes in Syria by YouTube. The power in the context of COVID is just as clear. The platforms are serving as stand-ins for government authorities, posting public service announcements and links to government guidance benign and public-minded enough or taking down calls to action and protest against the lockdowns.
Many of the platforms have done a good job informing the public about their new COVID rules related to content. The same cannot be said about implementation of those rules. Now, its early, so there is certainly time for the companies to offer real transparency about their enforcement. And they should do it, disclosing as much as they can about takedowns and other account or content actions due to disinformation or other public health threats. Granted, they have privacy obligations to their users, and they also need to be mindful about disclosing (for instance) disinformation in a way that reinforces or amplifies the content. But just as they should do with all content of concern, they should create a kind of case law to enable observers to understand exactly what decisions they are taking about COVID content. They should ensure genuine access to researchers, particularly those with expertise in computational propaganda or with research agendas focusing on the impact of platforms on public institutions. That research and analysis, in turn, should be available to policymakers and legislators and the public. If the companies are targeting information on specific individuals as a result of algorithmic functions (for instance, offering up certain content because of a persons tendency to view disinformation), they should be clear about that effort, they should let users and the public know, and they should be scrutinized for it.
There is an opportunity here for everyone. For platforms, its an opportunity to move toward real transparency in a meaningful way. For governments, its an opportunity to think hard about the tools they need to provide public oversight of the companies. For civil society, its an opportunity to influence the narrative around platform decision-making in a way that resonates with the public, which can see in concrete ways how the platforms shape public debate and public knowledge.
3. From your review of responses to the coronavirus pandemic around the globe, what are some of the best practices for combatting disinformation and propaganda while still promoting freedom of expression?
What are some of the worst practices?
It is easier to identify the worst than the best practices, as always. But there are some good practices. I have been impressed with German Chancellor Angela Merkels public approach to the pandemic. She seems to have an intuitive grasp for the WHOs guidance on risk communication. She has been open to Germans about the nature of the threat and our evolving understanding about the harms caused by the coronavirus. She speaks to the public as the adults that they are, capable of critical thinking and individual and social responsibility. The German government has permitted public protest against the lockdowns but also it has been clear about the extent to which such protests must observe public health priorities. Meanwhile, Germany went through a strict lockdown period and now is emerging with a public sense of unified purpose. I am sure I am overstating it and closer observers could correct this rosy view, but this is generally what I see from the outside. We see similar kinds of good practices in Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand, Senegal, Canada, and some other places.
By contrast, there are some real troubling practices. Some have little to do with COVID, such as Viktor Orban in Hungary opportunistically exploiting the moment to expand state medias control of public space, reinforce his own authoritarian governance, and enforce penalties against independent media. Egypt has detained reporters for reporting on coronavirus. South Africa adopted legislation designed to criminalize the dissemination of false information about the virus. India has taken ever harsher measures in Kashmir, limiting the flow of information in ways that clearly interfere with basic access to public health strategies.
The list of bad practices goes on, but if we were to focus on one, I would really watch for the proliferation of laws criminalizing false information about COVID. These are noteworthy on their own, because they may have the paradoxical impact of making it harder for government to address public fears and disinformation, thus exacerbating threats to public health, but also noteworthy in terms of what governments may hope to do in other areas outside of public health.
4. How should news outlets and social media companies address the problem of senior state officials, including heads of state, who give live press conferences or use social media to disseminate information that clearly contradicts guidance from public health authorities and puts public health at significant risk?
This has been a particular problem in the United States and Brazil, where the heads of state regularly go on live television to dispute public health warnings, or at least minimize or even mock them. I think the public has a right to hear those statements and make decisions themselves, but I also think that media outlets particularly broadcast have to think hard about whether they are enabling the dissemination of information that runs counter to public health guidance. It is nearly impossible for them to do it on live broadcasts, to provide the kind of context or fact-check that is necessary to ensure that the public is well-informed. They just become platforms for Trumps dangerous disinformation and rally-like circus. Some have come around to this, but it seems to me that broadcasters could provide a delay that gives them time to contextualize statements from public leaders, whether Trump, Brazils President Bolsonaro, or others. Print media have a different editorial question, which is how to describe and analyze these and other statements. Too often they report them straight, as if Trumps assertion that hes taking hydroxychloroquine to counter the coronavirus is true and reasonable, given the degree to which public health authorities have advised against it.
5. Under the heading of access to information held by public authorities, your report states that governments must provide the public with information about the full scope of the threat posed by disease and restrictions on this information should be only on the narrowest grounds and with the greatest degree of necessity to protect a legitimate interest. Does this framework apply to governments who may, through their intelligence services or other agencies, have information that another state is publicly covering up the full extent of a disease outbreak?
The principle of access to information is fundamental to freedom of expression and to democratic accountability, and it has a legal basis as a matter of human rights law. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has been interpreted as a basis for the right to access information held by public authorities (see General Comment 34 of the Human Rights Committee, paragraph 18). Over time international and domestic law has developed to reinforce the right.
When I was writing about access to information during the pandemic, I was focused on the way in which governments often resist sharing information with their own public, typically information they have generated or gathered that is domestic in nature. Theres a good example of this from Florida, where a scientist managing a public site to track COVID cases has alleged she was fired because she resisted manipulating data to serve a political agenda to reopen the economy.
Of course, the principle could just as well apply to other kinds of information, as the question suggests. That said, I think we need to be careful. The Trump administration has clearly been seeking to weaponize intelligence to provide a basis to argue that Chinese malfeasance, or some kind of incident at a coronavirus lab in Wuhan, China, caused the disease to spread (which The Daily Beast recently discredited). Selective access to information, like selective leaking by officials, may just be another form of disinformation. Intelligence is often raw and subject to interpretation and debate; we saw in the run-up to the war in Iraq in 2002 and 2003 just how government could, in bad faith, manipulate raw intelligence to sell a policy to the public. A government acting in good faith, however, might also resist sharing intelligence if they could demonstrate it was necessary to protect national security (a limitation permitted by Article 19 of the ICCPR and often abused by States).
6. Your report provides a set of principles that should govern the use of digital surveillance technologies to combat the pandemic, including rigorous record-keeping so that individuals and oversight bodies can assess whether the surveillance is used appropriately and strict privacy protections that ensure personal information is provided only to people authorized for public health purposes. This list draws in part from your 2019 report on the more general subject of surveillance and human rights. Do you think best practices in the public health realm in addressing the coronavirus pandemic may also lead to greater compliance with human rights in the use of surveillance for counterterrorism and other national security purposes? Or are you concerned that the ramping up of surveillance to address the coronavirus, even if complaint with human rights, will lead to greater unnecessarily expansive uses of surveillance in other realms?
I would like to say yes to the first question. With the pandemic, public health surveillance has become a necessity, and it will apply to everyone. It will be a new kind of mass surveillance. With everyone subject to it, perhaps it will give people another way to think about the protections we need even when surveillance is justified. Perhaps we will develop a set of principles and a normative understanding that any surveillance must be necessary to achieve a legitimate purpose and proportionate to that aim. I am hopeful but Im not naive.
Instead, I suspect that governments will compartmentalize the kinds of surveillance were talking about here. Its not as if national security and counter-terrorism officials typically run in the same circles as public health professionals. The same is just as true in Congress, where the cult of national security and counter-terrorism will be hard to dislodge even after the pandemic ends. Also militating against the best practice is the news that many of the actors involved in national security surveillance actors like NSO Group out of Israel are seeking access to the public health surveillance market. Many of these private companies are used to operating with limited legal, let alone human rights legal, constraints. Many are content to sell their tools to governments that lack basic rule of law standards. If they become serious players in the health sector, I am not sure we can trust them to be promoting the kinds of principles my report describes.
Maybe I could put this another way. The lessons available from public health surveillance, if we learn them, can be applied to national security surveillance. But that will only happen if we have legislators who ensure that surveillance is governed by rule of law standards that are similar in both contexts. That means legal and policy advocacy can be consequential here, and it means that the 2020 congressional elections will be meaningful for this and countless other reasons.
7. Your report discusses the 2017 Joint Statement made by you with your counterparts from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Organization of American States, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and, in particular, a principal standard in that Statement, which is:
State actors should not make, sponsor, encourage or further disseminate statements which they know or reasonably should know to be false (disinformation) or which demonstrate a reckless disregard for verifiable information (propaganda).
Do President Donald Trumps statements about the coronavirus pandemic (e.g., concerning the scale of the threat) violate that standard?
No question. We have had three-plus years of Trumps lies (is there any other way to put it?). His statements since the COVID outbreak have repeatedly emphasized, in a reckless way, how the disease is no worse than a bad flu, that it will disappear when the weather warms up, that hydroxychloroquine and zinc can prevent infection, and so on. Trump, the guy who has co-opted fake news as an assault on independent media, is himself the countrys most important platform for disinformation. Whats astonishing is not the level of his con but the inability of the media to unmask it and the willingness of the Republican Party to aid and abet it. I am sorry to end on a seemingly political note, but this is how I see it objectively. As they say, if this were any other country
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