19 October 2016

Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem: A Non-Black-Lives-Matter Reason to Protest

Stephen Kershnar
Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 16, 2016

            Colin Kaepernick began a preseason game by sitting during the national anthem. Afterward, he explained, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." His protest is tied to the Black Lives Matter movement. He stated that he would continue to protest until, “[the American flag] represents what it’s supposed to represent”. In the 49ers final preseason game, he knelt in protest, rather than sit, as a way of showing respect to members of the U.S. military.

             In the first few weeks of the NFL season, a significant number of players joined him, including a bunch who raised their right fists during the national anthem. This was a reference to the Black Panther salute at the 1968 Olympics. Legendary running back Jim Brown, former Seattle Seahawk Juggernaut Marshawn Lynch, and U.S. women’s national soccer team player Megan Rapinoe publicly supported him. Kaepernick's jersey quickly became the top-selling one NFL jersey.

According to Mike Florio of NBC, Kaepernick and other NFL players will not be punished. Unlike the NBA, the NFL does not have a rule requiring players to stand for the anthem and the Collective Bargaining Agreement does not authorize teams to discipline players for not doing so.

Kaepernick’s protest started after he started dating a Muslim, Nessa Diab. This has an odd appearance given that, with only one or two exceptions, Muslim countries are brutally unfree. In 2014, he signed a six-year $114 million dollar contract. Still, he is morally permitted to focus on the type of injustice that speaks to him and it surely counts in his favor that would be willing to risk such a salary to speak out for what he believes.

            The evaluation of Kaepernick’s protest has so far focused on his right to protest and role in encouraging discussion. This is mistaken and irrelevant. It is mistaken because while working for his employer, Kaepernick has no legal right to protest. Legally, an employer may order to employee not to antagonize customers by engaging in in political activity when on the job. Also, Kaepernick is on other people’s private property and, with certain exceptions, individuals do not have a right to express themselves on others’ property unless you lease it or the owner gives you permission.

            It is irrelevant because even if Kaepernick has a right to protest, this still does not address whether he ought to do so. People have a legal right to do quite a number of moral wrongdoings. For example, a right of free speech allows one to say horrible, but true, things about others, including disclosing their darkest secrets (for example, a woman is an adulterer or the daughter of a prostitute).

Merely sparking discussion is not a good reason to protest. Al Sharpton’s anti-Semitic rants in the 90’s sparked a lot of discussion, but that didn’t make them worthwhile.
            For Kaepernick’s protest to be morally permissible, it has to be true and worth bringing to people’s attention. Kaepernick’s Black Lives Matter motivation largely rests on the notion that the police are killing blacks at a disproportionate manner and, in some cases, doing so intentionally.

            Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Manhattan Institute scholar Heather McDonald shows that this is likely false. She argues blacks make up a lower percentage of police-shooting victims (26%) than would be predicted by their much higher involvement in violent crime. In contrast, McDonald notes, whites make up 50% of police shooting victims. For example, in 2013 black criminals committed 23% more murders than white criminals, despite the fact that in the U.S. there are five times fewer black people than white people. Similarly, a recent study by Harvard economics professor Roland G. Fryer Jr. found no evidence of racial bias in police shootings.

Still, there are good reasons to protest the country, even if these are not the reasons that move Kaepernick. The U.S. is a lockdown nation. At any point in time, roughly one out of every one hundred adults in this country is incarcerated at any point in time. Similarly, roughly one out of every thirty five people is under the control of the criminal justice system (incarceration, parole, or probation). More generally, the U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but 22-25% of its prisoners. Free countries do not keep large numbers of its own people locked up like animals. In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey Silverglate argues that there is so many laws that even many ordinary citizens inadvertently commit felonies. It is unclear how those offended by Kaepernick’s kneeling would respond to criticism focusing on all these people in cages.

When it comes to blacks, Michelle Alexander author of The New Jim Crow, points out that in some inner city communities, one out of three black men will be incarcerated at any time. She argues that this makes the country look surprisingly like the South during the time of Jim Crow.

On average, the government on all levels takes somewhere between 33% and 40% of the middle class’ and upper income’s income. The amount is higher if one considers the cost of regulation, tax avoidance, and so on. Free people should not have to work Monday and Tuesday for the government.

The fact that the government takes an incredible amount of people’s income every year and still has a staggering $20 trillion debt is a testament to just how bad the government is. The government’s incompetence is exacerbated when one considers the trillions wasted on Middle Eastern wars or what it spent to import tens of millions of low skill immigrants who, along with their children, get massive amounts of welfare and other benefits.   

Perhaps the national anthem celebrates the American people rather than a free country and our pathetic government. Also, many of us are not in the mood to have our football contaminated with political expression. Still, one can’t help but think that somewhere or other a protest is in order.  

05 October 2016

Philosophers Fight Over Whether Homosexuality is a Disease: Richard Swinburne vs. PC Philosophers

Stephen Kershnar
A Vicious Fight in Philosophy over Homosexuality
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
October 4, 2016

            Oxford University’s Richard Swinburne, arguably the world’s leading Christian philosopher, recently caused a firestorm when he argued that homosexuality is a disease and homosexual sex is wrong.

Following his comments, a nasty brawl broke out. Notre Dame professor Michael Rea, who is part of the leadership team that invited Swinburne to the Society of Christian Philosophers, apologized for his comments.

Yale University professor Jason Stanley was harsher. He responded to Swinburne and people who think like him by posting “Fuck those assholes” on Facebook. The phrase was then repeated by Columbia University’s John Collins and University of British Columbia’s Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa. Dan Steinberg stepped it up, posting, “Fist those guys.” Georgetown University’s Rebecca Kukla outdid them. She posted, “Those douche tankards can suck my giant queer cock.” Yale, Columbia, etc. are elite institutions and Ichikawa, Kukla, Rea, and Stanley are well-known in philosophy. The controversy reached Inside Higher Education and is still swirling about.   
Swinburne gave two arguments in support of his claim that gay sex is wrong. First, God prohibits gay sex (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:24-27). Second, gay sex is wrong because a climate of disapproval would prevent some people from becoming homosexual.

Swinburne argued that homosexuality is a reversible disease (or disability). On his account, it is a disease because a homosexual cannot beget children through a loving act with a lifelong partner. He also argued that homosexuality should not be encouraged because children nurtured by homosexual parents do not do as well in life as those nurtured by heterosexual biological parents.

            Swinburne’s arguments fail. First, even if the Bible condemns gay sex, the Bible is unreliable on moral matters. The Bible also condemns money lending (Ezekiel 18:13) and permits slave-owning (Leviticus 25:44-46). These absurdities are enough to disqualify it.

            Second, the inability to directly beget children with one’s partner does not show that something is a disease unless we build into the notion of a disease something like Swinburne’s or the Catholic view of sex. This would make medicine depend on theology and they are independent. For example, one can be a fine doctor without knowing anything about Christianity.   

Third, even if homosexuality were a disease (or disability), this does not make gay sex wrong. Infertility is a disability, but this does not make it wrong for a husband to have sex with his infertile wife. If gay sex wrongs no one, then it is not wrong. Even if gay sex encourages children and young adults to be gay, no one has a duty to be a role model, let alone a moral saint. The notion that it wrongs God is even less plausible because God has no right to tell people what they can do with their lives. They are not his chattel slaves.

There are other plausible arguments that homosexuality is a mental disorder. New York University’s Jerry Wakefield has the leading theory of a disorder. His theory is that a disorder is a harmful dysfunction. He asserts that harm is what makes someone’s life go worse. He argues that an individual has a dysfunction when he has an internal body part (or mechanism) that fails to perform its natural function, that is, the function for which evolution designed it. The natural function is on some accounts, although perhaps not Wakefield’s, the part’s contribution to reproduction (more specifically, reproductive fitness) and, perhaps, longevity.

On this account, whether homosexuality is a disorder depends on whether homosexuality is harmful and whether it prevents or lessens reproduction. The evidence here is mixed. Homosexuals are less likely than heterosexuals to say they were extremely or very happy and more likely to say they were fairly unhappy or unhappy most of the time. Gay men are more likely to suffer depression than straight men. My guess is that the greater unhappiness of gays has an external cause (homophobia) and is not a result of their orientation, but this is just a guess. Gays have a lower level of reproductive fitness. They also have higher rates of mental disorders than non-gay populations, although being associated with other mental disorders need not make a condition itself a disorder.

Wakefield notes that psychiatrists held that homosexuality is not a disorder because they think it is not harmful. Specifically, they think that it does not lessen people’s capacity for loving human relationships. He argues that psychiatrists sidestepped the thorny issue of whether it is a dysfunction.

Whether homosexuality is a disorder, then, is an empirical question and not one that can be answered by mere armchair speculation. My guess is that it is not. 

Whether it is a disease or not, gay sex is clearly morally permissible because it wrongs no one. Relationships are good to the extent they make the partners’ lives go better. There is little reason to believe that gay people’s relationships contribute less to their lives than do straight people’s relationships and, hence, they are as good as straight relationships for participants. Whether it is a disorder is irrelevant to the rightness or goodness of gay life.  

The ferocity of the philosophers’ condemnation is striking. First, even if Swinburne’s arguments are unconvincing, Wakefield’s theory of a disorder opens the door to the issue of whether homosexuality is a disorder. Second, if one thinks what the Bible says is true, then one is forced into adopting something like Swinburne’s approach to make sense of the Bible’s and churches’ pronouncements on sexual morality. Thus, the vicious criticism cuts deeply into Christianity. It likely cuts just as deeply into Islam. Third, given the influence of these philosophers and their schools, it is worth considering the degree to which these schools are hostile to Christianity. If the two are going to go to war, it is good that the rest of us know it.

      Full disclosure: While at Oxford, I had Swinburne as a professor.