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Category: Culture

This Bill Maher and Ben Affleck Exchange Is Incredibly Important For Liberals and Conservatives

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Let me first just say that I’m not sure if keeping score on something like this is good for anyone… But Bill had a strong point to make, but so did Ben actually.

Wow… I love a good debate, and this really was a huge debate to watch. On one side you have the liberal force of “tolerance” so that we don’t lump groups in a distortion of their true character (represented by Mr. Affleck), and on the other side we have the liberal cornerstone of an activism that has zero tolerance for any social and economic oppression subjugated by any ideology (represented by Mr. Maher). This article sums up a good portion of how I feel, but I think there is more to it. I think that what Bill was saying is incredibly important, and I think that what Ben was saying is crucial to actually solving the problem. Bill was pointing out that renouncing your faith should not be cause for being put to death, which it is perceived to be for many people. He quoted that something like 90% of Egyptians felt that leaving Islam should result in capital punishment, and I thought I’d heard the same about Saudi Arabia. That is astounding to me, and assuming that the polling is correct I am left terrified of how we might bridge the divide in our cultures.

Ben however, was taking a firm stance that you can’t just throw entire regions and cultures out like this – which I find admirable in terms of how we may ever have to address this problem. Where I find myself frustrated on this front is the double standard between the Middle East and the Heartland of America. Liberals like Ben (and maybe not him more specifically) almost predictably take this stance of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater on people and their cultures, until it comes to the Christian coalition (not the necessarily the actual organization with that name) of people across this country who are reamed constantly by the media for having faith. Some groups and individuals who call themselves Christians probably deserve some harsh feedback, but we don’t usually hear this same kind of nuanced approach with Christianity in America.

If someone wants to go after religion they don’t necessarily hurt my feelings – society needs people like that so you don’t end up with a population that thinks we should kill people who don’t believe in what we believe in and can’t prove. BUT, if you are going to do it you should remain consistent, and nuanced in your value judgements of these differing groups and their ideas. I wish Bill wouldn’t be so willing to throw people out like he does, and I wish Ben would clarify his standard, as well as recognize that what Bill was saying is scary. If those poll numbers don’t scare you then you must not be paying attention…

I will actually be taking a trip in November with my good buddy Gavin to Egypt, and I just want to say that I can’t wait to meet these people who are often villainized by the media – and who like me don’t have the world figured out yet. I’m sure we could come up with some astounding polling from the United States over the last century, so to side with Ben for a second I hope that we can work on finding our common ground so that maybe we can work on exchanging our best ideas, and not just harp on our differences.

So, here is the exchange, and below is a very interesting article about the whole thing. Please feel free to give me your feedback:

And due to neither of these men being representatives of Islam I figured we’d throw in this Reza Aslan interview that would most support Ben’s thinking for before you read an article about why Bill is right:

The Daily Beast
 

Bill Maher 1, Ben Affleck 0

The Real Time host’s spat with the Gone Girl star gets to the heart of a major and longtime problem within contemporary Western liberalism

Every once in a great while, something happens on television that you know while you’re watching it: Well, this is unusual. Those old enough to know what I’m talking about when I say “Al Campanis”  will remember that that was one of your more extreme cases. The exchange between Bill Maher and Ben Affleck on last Friday’s Real Time wasn’t a Campanis moment, but I knew instantly—watching it in, well, real time, as it were—that this was going to spark discussion,  as indeed it has.

In case you missed it, the two—both committed and thoughtful liberals—got into it on the question of whether Western liberals can or should criticize Islam. Mentioning freedom of speech and equal rights, Maher said: “These are liberal principles that liberals applaud for, but then when you say in the Muslim world, this is what’s lacking, then they get upset.” Sam Harris, the atheist author, agreed with Maher and said, “The crucial point of confusion is that we have been sold this meme of Islamophobia where every criticism of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry towards Muslims as people. That is intellectually ridiculous.” Affleck, as if on cue, challenged Harris: “Are you the person who understands the officially codified doctrine of Islam?” And then: “So you’re saying that Islamophobia is not a real thing?” Right after, Affleck said that such criticisms of Islam were “gross” and “racist” and “like saying [to Maher] ‘you’re a shifty Jew.’”

It was cracking good TV, but it was more—it hit home because they were describing one of the most important debates within liberalism of the last…10 years certainly, as pertains to Islam, but 40 or 50 years as relates to arguments between the developed and the developing world, and close to a century when it comes to discussions of how culture should affect our understanding of universal, or as some would have it “universal,” principles. Reluctance to criticize the failures of other cultures has been a problem within contemporary liberalism, with negative consequences I’ll go into below. So this liberal is firmly on Maher’s side, even as I recognize that his rendering is something of a caricature.

Here’s some quick history for you. First, the Enlightenment happened, and humankind developed the idea of universal rights. ’Round about the 1920s, some scholars in the then-newish field of cultural anthropology started to argue that all rights, or at least values, were not universal, and that we (the West) should be careful about imposing our values on societies with traditions and customs so removed from our own.

A big moment here came with the debate over the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which asserted the universalist position without apology and which was pushed mostly by mainstream political liberals (Eleanor Roosevelt most notably). There were many critiques of the declaration from what we would today call “the left,” but those voices had little juice in those days, and when the UN adopted the declaration, it was a great victory for liberalism.

Fade in, fade out. Then came the anti-colonialist uprisings of the 1950s, Frantz Fanon, postmodern political theory, Vietnam, the Israeli occupation, the intifada, et cetera et cetera. All of these and many other kindred events seeped into the liberal bloodstream, still rich in universalist cells but now also coursing with the competing cells of cultural relativism (invariably a pejorative these days, although it wasn’t always).

And so, yes, we have seen in recent years from liberalism, or at least from some liberals (a crucial distinction, in fact), an unwillingness to criticize the reactionary aspects or expressions of other cultures, expressions that these liberals would have no hesitation whatsover in criticizing if they were exhibited by, say, Southern white Christians.

The most obvious example that comes to mind is that of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Muslim-African-Dutch-and-finally-American feminist intellectual. She of course is famous, now mostly for some of her more incendiary comments, but recall how she first became so: She and her collaborator, Theo van Gogh, had made a film critical of the oppression of women in the Muslim world. He was murdered, and she received death threats. She fled to the United States.

Now, here was a key moment: When she came to America in 2006, where was Hirsi Ali going to plant her flag? As she tells the story in her book Nomad, she met with liberal and conservative outfits. She says the liberal ones were “tentative” in their support for her and her ideas, but the conservative American Enterprise Institute embraced her totally, even though on certain issues (like abortion rights) she’s no conservative.

Hirsi Ali, of course, has subsequently gone on to say, quite controversially, that not just radical Islam but “Islam, period” must be “defeated.” But here’s the question: Before she started talking like that, why was she unable to find a home within American liberalism? It should be, and should have been, a core part of the mission of liberalism to support secular humanists and small-d democrats from all over the world, but from the Muslim world in particular. Most of these people are themselves liberals by Western standards, and they are desperate for the United States to do what it can to oppose the theocracies and autocracies under which they’re forced to live.

Maher, and certainly conservative critics, overstate the extent to which liberals fail to make common cause with such folks. Christian evangelicals who do work on, say, genital mutilation (which Hirsi Ali suffered) get a lot more attention in the media, because it’s more “interesting” that white conservatives give a crap about something happening to nonwhite women halfway across the world. But as the writer Michelle Goldberg pointed out in a review of Hirsi Ali’s Nomad for the journal I edit, Democracy, numerous women’s organizations and feminist groups do work to advance women’s rights in the Muslim world.

Goldberg wrote: “A few years ago, I visited Tasaru Ntomonok, which is the kind of place Hirsi Ali would probably love—it’s a Kenyan shelter that houses and educates girls fleeing female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Among its supporters are the high profile feminist Eve Ensler, the feminist NGO Equality Now, and the United Nations Population Fund, a bête noire of many conservatives. There are similar grassroots organizations working toward women’s liberation all over the world.”

Even so, Maher has identified a problem within Western liberalism today. Debates about multiculturalism are appropriate to a later stage of development of the infrastructure of rights and liberties than one finds in some other parts of the world. That infrastructure has existed in Western countries for a century, and it is the very fact that it was so solidly entrenched that opened up the space for us to start having debates about multiculturalism in the 1970s and ’80s.

But in much of the Arab and Muslim world, that infrastructure barely exists. So—and how’s this for a paradox?—to insist that our Western standards that call for multiculturalist values should be applied to countries that haven’t yet fully developed the basic rights infrastructure constitutes its own kind of imposition of our values onto them. A liberated woman or a gay man who lives in a country where being either of those things is at best unaccepted and at worst illegal doesn’t need multiculturalism. They’re desperate for a little universalism, and we Western liberals need to pay more attention to this.

via Bill Maher 1, Ben Affleck 0 – The Daily Beast.

What Will We Say About President Obama’s Legacy in 20 Years?

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Pres. Obama’s future legacy continues to be hotly debated and estimated, as it has been over the last few years. Considering how the pages of his biography will read is a fascinating to me. His first big policy agenda was about Health in America. This healthcare policy has been debated, is being debated, it likely will be debated for a long time. What seems important to note however is that one way or another this will reflect in large part how he is to be remembered.

What seems to many to most likely to be the next major policy battle is immigration reform. I think it will be interesting to watch with both parties reshuffling amidst some rather chaotic times – primarily the Republicans however with the splintering factions in the party. It seems possible that The Republican Party might find a rebound from struggling lately by sponsoring and helping to pass some type of immigration reform, but I personally don’t see this as likely with this new generation of warlike primary season. I suspect that the Democrats will probably push to pass this legislation, and I would imagine it will be the second half major legislation of this president’s term. I would love to see the Republicans talk about governing on this, because they care about border security, and that’s okay. So this is just my guess, but I think this is what we’ll be talking about next.

With all of that said what I think is a fascinating topic for us to be completely skipping over his guns. With 90% of the population seemingly supporting legislation for universal background checks it was blocked by a a minority in congress. Now hear me out my conservative friends, just hear me out. While I think securing our borders is important last year we had net 0 (people) with illegal immigration… and we can talk about the effect of immigrants and society, but that is unless the debate the mass violence in this nation. People are the talking points about guns, it is very sensitive subject – well I know it is in Oklahoma at least… one thing that we must all recognize though is that we always brag about how great America is, but we are killing each other with guns more than any other nation in this world. We need to have a grown-up discussion about this, especially with their having been so many mass shootings in the last few years. It’s finally on our minds, these deaths happen all the time, but when it’s one there, anyone there, and three there, nobody cares… We need to have some serious discussions from serious people about what we can do as individuals to make a difference.

I don’t know that we should pass more gun laws, I think we probably should (although I don’t know what they are), but I don’t think we can sit here and do nothing. Maybe we should get some friendly feedback and ask others around the world why they think we have so much gun violence and they don’t. It’s what you would do if you thought you had something in your teeth, you’d ask a friend to give you some feedback really quick so you don’t look like an idiot. And of course more people are killed by other means than gun in very poverty-stricken parts of the world, so that seems probable to skew the data pool. We’re the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the history of mankind, but to the world it seems that with these challenging issues we can’t stop hitting ourselves in the face.

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One reason that the gun debate has become so divisive is the attachment to the racial divide. Some people consider it to be a conversation about race bating, but while I think that race is a part of the conversation it’s not about one race against the another, other than the blind eye that we seem to turn towards gun ravaged communities in the inner-city. There is no question that “black-on-black” gun violence is the most prevalent gun violence in our nation, but we have to ask the tough questions about how we can change our inner-cities. Even with marginal improvements in many areas of the country we are still the most violent gun nation in the world, at least on record… That just doesn’t seem acceptable to me. The main problem seems to lie with hand guns. So outside of outlawing them how can we make a dent in this situation where people can so secretively be armed with deadly force?

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The unbelievable decorum, and disrespect in the public square is really astonishing. Maybe take this opportunity to think of someone who you disagree with, and will probably never agree with on something and you let them know that you love them. You know why? You should do it because they probably mean it too when they express their beliefs, and that alone is worth something. They probably earnestly care about and fully believe in the things that they say, even if it seems ridiculous to you. Tell them why you think they’re wrong, and ask why they believe what they believe. If they freak out move on, at least you tried, but remember there were defensive because they care about something. Just let them know that you’re interested in why they believe what they believe. If you find that your discussion isn’t getting anywhere it’s okay to move on, but there’s nothing wrong with trying to get to know someone a little better. Plain and simple the sooner we start learning how to engage with others who have different beliefs the sooner we can stop being the guy sitting in the corner pulling our own hair out.

I don’t think that I’m superior because I’m an American, but I think we have a great country and we can set a good example for the rest of the world. The way that we shoot each other, and the way that we govern each other we have to ask what kind of an example we are setting for the other 95.5% of the world. Well whatever is written in the history books it will seemingly fall on the shoulders of President Obama in the minds of many, or at least that’s how it’s worked in our past. So hopefully: healthcare will become less expensive as we become healthier, will figure out how to start having the conversation about immigration reform as adults should, and we stop shooting one another. Of course there are many other things that are on the table, but the seem especially pertinent. I hope that our president end’s up with a positive legacy, because that means that we will have done well.

 

I’m including a great investigative report by VICE about guns in Chicago “Chiraq”.

Richard Dawkins vs. Cardinal George Pell on Q&A (10-4-12)

As much as people don’t seem to generally love debates, or questioning their own faith, I really love finding a good religious debate YouTube. I thought this one was pretty great. Have a great Sunday.

David Christian: the history of the world in 18 minutes – Ted Talks

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I always enjoy hearing very smart people simplify things. Mr. Christian in this talk does an exemplary job of just that. I truly appreciate people who consider themselves more so individualistic than most, however I tend to appreciate more the collectivist. I don’t know if it’s my empathy bone, or that I paid attention to what Jesus said when I was in Bible class on Sunday mornings, but I love the idea of people collaborating to make things better. This talk is about history, but of course we talk about history so that we can plan for the future.

Ground Zero: Syria – VICE (WARNING: Very Graphic)

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Feel free to skip ahead and not read all of my thoughts if you don’t have that much time, the video is way more important. But WARNING, it is very graphic.

I generally get really excited when I start hearing people, and seeing people talk about current events. However, this time around in regards to Syria it has kind of broken my heart. It’s rather bizarre to see what it takes to get people interested, however they are now interested and it’s time to pay attention.

I hate war. I really hate war. Having believed in God pretty much my entire life I always try to see other people as an extension of myself, and I don’t want them to die, especially in the midst of hatred and violence. Part of that frame of mind has led me to not get so hung up on land borders, or social groups. One of the biggest talking points on whether or not we should go into Syria has been whether or not it’s in our nation’s best interest. I think that this standard misses the mark by quite a bit. The standard should be “is their oppression, and do we have evidence that we can help?”. In the past when we have tried to help it seems that we have often ended with an enraged population, at home and abroad, that then blames us for all of their problems.

I don’t want the United States to be the police of the world, we don’t need to be in charge of being everyone’s moral authority. However, being supportive of those who are oppressed and being brutally murdered is not simply being the police of the world. For all those who want us to be an isolationist country the only way that I can find that to be a real noble cause is if they somehow think that by example or through accumulated resources we will someday be able to help others in need. Maybe this would be comparable to securing your own oxygen mask before you get the mask for the child next you on the airplane, I’ve used this example before. If being isolationist is only for our own benefit, then I hope all with that belief system never find themselves at the end of the barrel of a gun of an oppressor with only themselves to lend a hand.

Syria is different from Iraq in multiple ways: chemical weapons were used in Iraq 15 years before our war started there, chemical weapons are being used now in Syria. Of course there’s still the debate of justice and punishing those who have hurt others in the past, but we need to have a conversation about eminent threats to mankind right now. I don’t want to go to war, but if there are actions that we can take to help the people in this video I think they need to be strongly considered. Forget about the politics, rhetoric, teamsmanship, tribalism, I don’t care about that. These are people… If you don’t care about them something is wrong with you. And if in this discussion your primary goal is to find out who is wrong in America you’re missing the mark. Before you come to an absolute decision on what is right and wrong in this situation please research all of the options. I know this is an unattainable quest, as we don’t have all the information, and we won’t have all of it. But please don’t make up your mind so flippantly, we’re talking about our brothers and sisters in humanity.

I’ll finish with this, I am no military mastermind but I don’t think that we should put troops on the ground. It seems as if we aren’t going to anyways. I also don’t think that we should arm either side, and of course the only side here that we would arm potentially is the rebels, or the “Free Syrian Army”. When we’ve armed groups in the past it is come back to bite us, and even if they are on the side of lesser evil the rebels still have extremists, just look at the video of the guy eating the Syrian soldiers heart. I think that if we are going to do some isolated strikes on military bases that are attacking their people I might be open to that, but boy does that make me uneasy… What will the repercussions be? In our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drone strikes have multiplied Terrorist responses against our troops by 10 times… This doesn’t seem to be helping anybody. I understand that I can’t know the military strategy as it would be silly to make it public, but for me to support any action I would need to know that it is founded in some sort of a logical approach that will not hurt civilians, as they will turn against us, and actually prevent Assad from hurting his people as soon as possible.

WARNING: VERY GRAPHIC

“Oh, the places we’ll go!” – Burning Man Festival

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I have heard about the Burning Man festival for a long time. My cousin is actually there right now, and I’m very jealous. I don’t attend a lot of live music shows, but I love big crowds and I love music. This video is a couple of years old, but it’s still one of my all-time favorites. I hope you enjoy it too 🙂

Why Dennis Rodman Went to North Korea – VICE on HBO: Episode 10 “The Hermit Kingdom”

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This is one of the wilder experiements in journalism I would imagine that there has really ever been… I mean, North Korea being as cartoonishly backwards as it is being mixed with Dennis Rodman and the Harlem Globetrotters for a friendly game of pick up basketball just sounds like something from the show South Park.

I’m very glad that Vice has been putting their HBO episodes on YouTube, as they are all very informative and important, and news like that should be shared with as many people as possible. If you follow this blog you are already aware that I love Vice, and I recommend that you love it too 🙂

Enjoy the video, considering it’s free it is probably the best bang for your buck you’re going to get anytime soon for news or entertainment.

(Video Description on YouTube):
Chances are, the first time you heard of our HBO show was when news outlets around the world reported that we took Bad-as-I-Wanna-Be NBA Hall-of-Famer Dennis Rodman to North Korea, along with members of the legendary Harlem Globetrotters, to take on the Hermit Kingdom’s national team in a friendly, if entirely absurd, experiment in basketball diplomacy. As you probably know, the enigmatic young ruler of the country, Kim Jong Un, showed up to the game, making us the first American news organization to meet him. It was pretty much the most thrilling thing that could have happened, and when pictures were beamed back to Brooklyn that day, the poured-concrete floors of our offices rippled in cracks and dents as our jaws collectively hit the floor.

Already seen this episode, have you? But have you seen the season one outtakes? Watch them on VICE here: http://www.vice.com/vice-on-hbo-outtakes

More from Shane Smith: http://www.vice.com/author/shane-smith
Follow Shane on Twitter: https://twitter.com/shanesmith30

Subscribe to VICE here! http://bit.ly/Subscribe-to-VICE
Check out our full video catalog: http://bit.ly/VICE-Videos
Videos, daily editorial and more: http://vice.com
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A Face in the Crowd: Say Goodbye to Anonymity – 60 Minutes

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I hate to unnecessarily scare people, but this is rather alarming to me. In this report at one point they say that big brother become the private markets. Well, as a social/civic libertarian that is something that i would be afraid of. I have some fear of the government, at all levels, but also of influential industries that change the way that we live. Is there anyway for us to go back? Are we right in our complicity that all technological and social developments are good for us? Watching reports like this really challenge me with how I spend my time and resources. If you are like me and have mistrust for both big government and big business what might you suggest we do about it if we are not supposed to use either against one another?

Lisa Ling Talks with Leader of Exodus International about Abandoning Reparative Therapy – “Our America”

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Reparative Therapy, simply put is the counseling-like practice of attempting to get people who are alleged or professed to be attracted to their same gender to change their mind and peruse those of the opposite sex. This practice is a relatively common practice in America, in fact in the last Presidential election one of the Republican candidates (Rep. Michel Bachmann) helped run a family practice that implemented the practice of reparative therapy. This type of psychological practice has been deemed as unhelpful, and actually very harmful by virtually any reputable psychological board or agency.

As I’ve said before in posts such as this, I am not gay, but I feel responsible for the well-being of those who are struggling to protect themselves. I know multiple people who were either victims of this type of therapy as children or young adults, and it seems to have caused some serious trauma in each case.

You do not have to agree with the idea of supporting same sex marriage (although it might be worth considering all of the implications of limiting the rights of others on behalf of your own personal comfort / taste), however finding out that something like this has been psychologically unhelpful and flat out abusive deserves your attention, assuming you don’t actually wish ill on gay people because they are gay.

I’ve relayed this Bill Maher joke before, but I’ll do it again – one thing that I have in common with homophobic people is that I too am freaked out by the idea of boys kissing, so I guess I won’t kiss any. However, I don’t think that my comfort level should dictate their rights, or their health.

P.S. My wonderful sister was on this show last year (not this episode) speaking about childhood obesity (as she is a child psychologist). She reported that Lisa Ling is absolutely the “real deal”. She said that she was gracious and kind, and actually took it upon herself to help beyond the programming of the show to get an overweight child the help that they needed. This report from my sister of course only expanded my crush on Lisa Ling…

Lisa Ling Talks with Leader of Exodus International about Abandoning Reparative Therapy – “Our America”

20130626-071347.jpg

Reparative Therapy, simply put is the counseling-like practice of attempting to get people who are alleged or professed to be attracted to their same gender to change their mind and peruse those of the opposite sex. This practice is a relatively common practice in America, in fact in the last Presidential election one of the Republican candidates (Rep. Michel Bachmann) helped run a family practice that implemented the practice of reparative therapy. This type of psychological practice has been deemed as unhelpful, and actually very harmful by virtually any reputable psychological board or agency.

As I’ve said before in posts such as this, I am not gay, but I feel responsible for the well-being of those who are struggling to protect themselves. I know multiple people who were either victims of this type of therapy as children or young adults, and it seems to have caused some serious trauma in each case.

You do not have to agree with the idea of supporting same sex marriage (although it might be worth considering all of the implications of limiting the rights of others on behalf of your own personal comfort / taste), however finding out that something like this has been psychologically unhelpful and flat out abusive deserves your attention, assuming you don’t actually wish ill on gay people because they are gay.

I’ve relayed this Bill Maher joke before, but I’ll do it again – one thing that I have in common with homophobic people is that I too am freaked out by the idea of boys kissing, so I guess I won’t kiss any. However, I don’t think that my comfort level should dictate their rights, or their health.

P.S. My wonderful sister was on this show last year (not this episode) speaking about childhood obesity (as she is a child psychologist). She reported that Lisa Ling is absolutely the “real deal”. She said that she was gracious and kind, and actually took it upon herself to help beyond the programming of the show to get an overweight child the help that they needed. This report from my sister of course only expanded my crush on Lisa Ling…

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