(In)tolerance at Mozilla

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

-The Friends of Voltaire (1906)

Tolerance in the face of disagreement, even incredibly odious disagreement, has been a hallmark of American civil discourse. The idea as we know it today crystallized with Voltaire, although Jacques Barzun informs us that it was the English Puritans who first gave it to us.

Today, it seems tolerance is gone. I was watching this Red Eye clip just yesterday, where Reason‘s chief editor Nick Gillespie was marveling that, in America’s post-scarcity economy, consumers can afford to make political statements by boycott. This in response to news that dating website OK Cupid blocked Mozilla Firefox users from its service because Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich gave a $1,000 political donation to California’s Proposition 8. That was the overturned state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Gillespie was right; boycotts are a luxury of those fortunate enough to be able to choose how to spend their money and time. They are a possible solution to the first-world problem of having to live with someone who makes you uncomfortable by virtue of their seeing the world differently from you. Some progressives seem to be very good at wielding this blunt, destructive, stigmatizing tool of social ostracization and economic isolation. Recall the Oregon bakers whose painstakingly-built business was shuttered by boycott and intimidation in 2013.

On Thursday, after just a few days of pressure, Mr. Eich stepped down because some of his employees simply did not like how he spent his own money. They did not like his political speech, so they cut short his career. He happened to be a Mozilla co-founder. Oh, and he only invented javascript. That kind of tearing down of someone who makes things for a living, transforms the way we live our lives, but just happens to see things differently from you, that’s what I call progress.

It would seem an apology is in order to Mr. Eich, but as it turns out, the apology went the other way around. The Wall Street Journal reports:

In a blog post Thursday, Mozilla’s executive chairwoman, Mitchell Baker, apologized for Mr. Eich’s appointment, writing, “We have employees with a wide diversity of views. Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public…But this time we failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community.”

Amazing. Baker’s apology was not for Mozilla’s being intolerant of Eich’s views, but for his alleged intolerance to the company. On what evidence? Now that he’s gone, everyone can feel safe “to share their beliefs and opinions in public.” Orwellian. Chilling.

Maybe Mr. Eich was hateful. I don’t know. How does one determine that? According to the Journal, he made conciliatory moves. But even if he were a hateful, smoldering homophobic imp, I will have to make the point as I have a few times before by asking, why think that it is inherently immoral, blameworthy, or hateful for government to restrict the kinds of relationships it recognizes?

 

Equal protection? Piece of cake!

Sugar Daze / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

The week after Arizona governor Jan Brewer’s vetoed “anti-gay” bill SB 1062, The Atlantic ran this headline on its story feed: “How Religious-Freedom Laws Could Come Back to Hurt the Faithful.” Jonathan Merritt lays out a hypothetical turning of tables, where a Unitarian refuses service to a Baptist. Then he asks:

Would conservative Christians support this storeowner’s actions? Because if not, they better think long and hard about advocating for laws that allow public businesses to refuse goods and services to individuals anytime they believe the person’s behavior conflicts with their sincerely held convictions.

The moral lesson seems simple and airtight:

If you are able to discriminate against others on the basis of religious conviction, others must be allowed to do the same when you are on the other side of the counter.

But was the bill really about legally enshrining anti-gay discrimination? The actual text makes no reference to sexual orientation. Read the bill, it’s short. Neither does it say anything about discriminating against a customer on the basis of the customer’s religious belief.

It is very easy to imagine a criterion where a business owner may refuse service: when the requested service violates her conscience. This can happen when an artist is forced to render service to an event she personally finds unconscionable. Maybe she is a florist, photographer, or baker; these people have already been sued and boycotted for refusal of service.

Consider if a caterer, who is a strict vegan by conviction, were forced to serve meat to carnivores. That would be a clear violation of conscience, unjustified and wrong. Some would argue that she should not be in the catering business in the first place, but that’s illiberal and hard-hearted.

However, if the caterer were forced to provide a vegan meal to carnivores, that would pass muster according to the correct understanding of equal protection.

Refusal of service based on an immutable trait of the customer is one thing. But refusal of service based on the impact the service would have on the producer is one possible rational basis for the right to refuse service.

Why hasn’t the mainstream media picked up on this?

Henry Ford wage hike: boon or bust?

A Rube Goldberg machine may be more efficient than a Henry Ford wage hike. | Profound Whatever / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

One hundred years ago, Henry Ford defied his fellow capitalists by doubling his workers’ wages.  It was a profitable boon, enabling his employees to finally afford the product they produced, the automobile.  Daniel Gross at the Daily Beast suggests that employees today should emulate Ford’s wage hike.  Is this a sound recommendation?

“All else being equal”–ceteris paribus–is an indispensable caveat to all economic theories.  A little scrutiny reveals that nothing is equal in comparing Henry Ford to employers today.

Gross literally describes Ford as a “dictator.”  He’s right.  Back then, Ford answered to a few private investors, but major employers today are accountable to open market shareholders.  Ford Motor Company eventually went public in 1956, and it was a good thing, too.  Market accountability makes the difference between CEO-approved assembly lines and Politburo-inflicted bread lines.

Differing labor market conditions also advise against a Ford-like wage increase.  Turnover and its associated costs were higher in 1914.  HR departments have learned a lot since then.  Significant overhead savings have already been captured, unlike in Ford’s pioneering days.  High turnover remains the norm for low-value added jobs like fast food service.  Still, crack open the Wall street Journal, which Gross dismisses as “revanchist,” and one will learn that employers are far from uninterested in improving work conditions.  Think of Google’s work site barbershop and sleep pods.

Not only do market conditions make the Ford wage hike inadvisable, but its accomplishments are oversold with a rhetorical sleight of hand.  Gross credits Ford with achieving an economy of scale, enabling the first “democratic car.”  But prior to the wage hike, the company was already moving 250, 000 cars a year, hardly an elite clientele.

Missing from the heart of Gross’ s case are findings that Ford’s own employees significantly broadened the consumer base.  It may as well have been an exogenous factor; perhaps instead it was World War I that boosted demand and decisively convinced Americans of the automobile’s utility.

In debunking an earlier incarnation of the Ford myth, Forbes writer Tim Worstoll notes another major deficiency.  Take Boeing, another durable goods manufacturer.  Paying a worker more there will not enable her to buy her own 777 airliner to enjoy on the weekend.

The Ford hike is a shot in the dark, an indirect Rube Goldberg way to increase demand.  Not to mention a blunt instrument.  Employers have more precise methods for such ends, like commercial advertising.  Some loathe ads as vacuous and soul crushing, but they increase demand by raising the value of the product in the mind of the consumer.  And the ad industry employs many thousands.

Other ways of increasing consumption include the tried and true coupon, the sales discount, and the rebate.  These only induce voluntary transactions.  Even if government wanted to raise consumption on a macro level, these inducements are much more equitable than the job killing minimum wage increase, which 85% of economists opposed in one recent survey (h/t Wintery Knight).

So it seems there’s no substance to recommend Ford’s wage hike.  What is Gross accomplishing with this piece, then?  He paints a straw man of inexplicably stubborn industrialists, saying that “. . . bosses have been choosing not to raise wages even when they can.”  If Henry Ford saw what employers are doing now, he’d be “shocked and dismayed.”

The straw man ultimately issues from a pervasive, unnamed menace:

There’s something deep in our contemporary and political culture, in the public and private sectors, that supports the proposition that employers should pay as little as possible at all times, at every point in the economic cycle.

He doesn’t say it, but he may be alluding to the misleading Keynesian bogeyman known unflatteringly as “trickle down economics.”

Employers are diverse and face many different circumstances.  Rather than acting as some monolithic cabal, each pays what their market and their bottom line allows.  Second-guessing employers is bad policy, and shaming market competitors into “doing their part” is harmful politics.

Certainly, there are often times when workers should get raises.  And cost of living adjustments are a good way to make sure that a rising tide keeps lifting all boats.  But the Henry Ford wage hike is more like income redistribution agitprop than good business advice.

Sagan’s pale blue dot: tribal confession or transcendent truth?

In a new year’s post, Adam Frank of 13.7 invites us to contemplate our place in the cosmos.  The professional stargazer asks, “What, really, is the point of it all?” He directs us foremost not to religion, or to philosophy, but to Carl Sagan.  Cue a four minute animation set to Sagan’s famous reflection on “the pale blue dot.”  Frank insists that “it will fill you with a sense of pure wonder.”  This invitation is too good to pass up.

This Voyager 1 photo of Earth as a pale blue dot, suspended in a sunbeam, captured the world’s imagination in the 1990s.   |   Wikimedia

But after watching it, I fail to feel wonder at the late Dr. Sagan’s deprecation of the human race.  Sagan insists of humanity, “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.”  In virtue of what principle does the pale blue dot challenge human importance and privilege?

Further, by what authority does Dr. Sagan diminish his fellow man as deluded?  John writes in his first epistle, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  Is Sagan’s brand of collective anthropic humility more palatable to some because it issues from a 20th century modernist tribe rather than a first century religious one?  A defender of Sagan’s myth would have to ironically claim some sort of epistemic privilege as well as self-importance.

The four minute animation–at one point summing the human condition via battling tanks with “H8″ painted on their sides–concludes with these words:

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Now I wholeheartedly agree that we have an imperative to be kinder and preserve our home, the Earth.  If one wants to hold a sense of wonder from passing judgment on fellow human beings and thinking that reality consists chiefly in void, empty space, and is merely the curious fractional remnant of a clash between matter and antimatter, he or she is entitled.  But moral responsibilities and good feelings do not automatically follow from such a vision; it may as well be just another unreasoned affectation, a tribal confession.

In light of entropy, mortality, and the heat death of the Universe, Bertrand Russell provides a logically consistent outlook: “only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

Possibly, Sagan’s pale blue dot really is the vaunted God’s eye view.  But if there were anyone who could speak to humanity depravity and conceit with logical consistency, we should not be surprised when he self-importantly declares, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Study: journalists report think tank leanings selectively

Conservative-leaning think tanks like the Hoover Institution are much more likely to be ideologically identified than their liberal counterparts. | Photo credit: darkmatter / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

Reason.com recently highlighted a study in the Journal of Media Economics which suggests selective media bias in reporting think tank leanings:

Leading news outlets were 14 times more likely to identify the Heritage Foundation as conservative than they were to categorize the Brookings Institution as liberal, reports a new study in the Journal of Media Economics. The study, conducted by the Department of Justice economist Wayne Dunham, analyzed 25,000 news articles from six large daily newspapers and the Associated Press over the past couple of decades.

Reason correspondent Ronald Bailey points out the implicit bias in this lopsided ideological identification.  It seems reasonable to me that reminding readers of a source’s ideological affiliation tends to make them dismissive of that source.  It follows then that liberal think tanks get less scrutiny than conservative and libertarian ones.

Free societies rely on some semblance of balance and objectivity from the press. It won’t help for government to intervene, as with the Fairness Doctrine.  Rather, news consumers should signal their displeasure to the editorial boards.  To that end, it would be good to know which major papers Dunham examined.  If the report is accurate, then some of America’s most influential journalists need to explain, or else cop to, their own bias.

Top 10 uncogitated posts of 2013, part II

Here are the final five posts that should have been in 2013.

5.  Neuroscience and the Soul.  This year I mentioned a peer-reviewed philosophical journal put out out by the Evangelical Philosophical Society, Philosophia Christi.  If you have ever felt uneasy about the certitude with which neuroscientists, naturalist philosophers, and science populizers have pronounced the nonexistence of the soul, the irrelevance of essences, or the fully deterministic nature of human behavior, then the Summer 2013 issue of Philosophia Christi is for you.  It features ten or so excellent articles, by contributors who take time to interact with the work of prominent philosophers of science and mind, including Jaegwon Kim, John Searle and Daniel Dennett.

Mouse neurons, or Piers Morgan’s? (Wikimedia)

Eric La Rock draws deeply from scientific facts to propose a fuller account of consciousness called “emergent subject dualism.”   J.P. Moreland undermines the foundation of naturalistic top-down causation, and commends interactionist-dualism.  Daniel Robinson situates the stakes of neuroscience well within contemporary culture.  Be warned though, this is heavy reading!  If you proceed, it will acquaint you with the top Christian thinkers who are addressing metaphysical naturalism, materialism, and all those ideas which have subjected people alternately to despotism, decadence, or despair.

4.  Two posts from 13.7:  Cosmos and Culture.  This NPR-hosted forum is my favorite popular science blog to “pick on,” so to speak.  I discovered it this spring while googling in the aftermath of the epic William Lane Craig versus Alex Rosenberg debate.  Any references to substantive Christian metaphysics or perspectives on science are pretty scarce.  Some contributors are self-professed atheists, but all I think are at least deeply committed to keeping science divorced from traditional theism, even if they flirt all the time with spirituality.

Adam Frank wrote a post called, “Let’s Get Creative And Redefine The Meaning Of Religion.”  Reflecting on it, I realized that Thomistic ontology can be overlaid onto anyone’s worldview.  If one thinks that “science,” Captain Crunch, the material world, or any other thing is the maximally greatest being (MGB) in all possible worlds, then I would suggest that that is their conception of “God.”  Then, I would commend adding the quality of agency, that is the capacity for intentionality, to that MGB.  Then we’re having a discussion about theology.

Digging back to 2012, I discovered that Alva Noe reviewed Alvin Plantinga’s book Where the Conflict Really Lies.  And while I haven’t read the book, I have a sense enough from other reviews and interviews to say that Noe didn’t engage it adequately.  Particularly, he offered an illustration comparing the necessity of an epistemic warrant for science to the need to justify improbable theories as to why a “check engine” light is on.  Basically he’s saying there is no need.  This dodge falls flat.  The facts that the mechanic exists, that the car exists, and that the mechanic knows how to go about fixing the care are in need of explanation!  The dismissal seems to be another instance of equivocating “I don’t need God to do X,” where it’s not clear whether Noe intends the need to be epistemic or ontological.

Despite the disappointment, writers like Frank and Noe offer provocative reflections on the nature and limits of science.  I’m still hoping they will one day successfully engage with thoughtful theism.

3.  Francis Beckwith’s Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft.  I read this book in the first half of the year, and writer and apologist Kurt Jaros has reviewed it chapter by chapter at Values and Capitalism.  The big take away for me comes from Beckwith’s brief discourse on moral ecology, the idea that a citizen of a democracy has a vested interest in policy that shapes her surrounding culture’s morality.  This is because even if she is able to model good morals to her children, an overwhelming presence of moral degeneracy among her neighbors will still adversely impact her and her children.  It’s the kind of rousing call like in The Lord of the Rings film, where Merry and Pippin convince the apathetic Ents to go to war, because their fate is tied to the world around them.

One chapter provides an invaluable reference on the origin of the idea of the separation of church and state.  That phrase itself is not explicitly in the Constitution; rather it comes from a private correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and the Danbury Baptists, that was conscripted for jurisprudence in the 1940s.  Every proponent of religious freedom should learn the facts contained therein, given that groups like Freedom From Religion Foundation use the wall of separation to intimidate and silence public exercise of religious freedom.

Another chapter, detailing the history of religious freedom in America, draws heavily on the Catholic experience.  There is an analogy between Catholics in the past and evangelicals, broadly defined, today.  Each have been persecuted minorities in their respective times.  Lovers of freedom would be wise to learn from the relevant history Beckwith provides.

2.  Ryan T Anderson withstands Pierce Morgan and Susie Orman’s bigotry.

From Merriam Webster:

Bigot : a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially :  one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance

I discovered this phenomenal YouTube video months after it first aired in the spring.  For an extended segment of The Piers Morgan Show, Ryan Anderson, editor of The Public Discourse and co-author of an academic and a popular work defending traditional marriage, endures lame challenge after lame challenge, and booing from the audience to boot.  Susie Orman serves as an unfortunate prop to make the same sex marriage issue personal.

Toward the end, Morgan accuses Anderson of being on the wrong side of his age demographic.  At the tender age of 31, he is in the minority among his peers in his opposition to government recognition of same sex marriage.  All told, Anderson’s appearance is a perfect study in composure and sticking to the facts in the face of ad hominems and vitriol.  Mr. Anderson, you are the real deal.  I salute you!

1.  William Lane Craig featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Dr. Craig garnered unprecedented attention in the world of academia when he was highlighted in a major story in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  The piece opened by introducing him as the man who at the mere mention of his name makes New Atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, snarly and defensive.  “Why are you publicizing him?” Dawkins demands.  The story goes on to detail, in a fairly balanced way, the ambitious long range intellectual project first undertaken at Biola University to disseminate scores of thoughtful, committed, first-rate Christian scholars into the ranks of universities around the world.  The author notes that this kind of effort is simply unparalleled by other communities.

*****

And so it is with great excitement, as we head into 2014, that I myself will be partaking in some of that Biola goodness as I start earning a Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics.  I’ll be busier come January, and I can’t say for sure what things will look like at this blog.  Dear reader, God bless you in the new year!

Top 10 uncogitated posts of 2013, part I

Photo credit: Puzzler4879 / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Hi cogitators!  Somehow it came upon me, now that we’re at the end of the year, to post a list of of the top 10 posts that did not make the cutting floor in 2013.  Since I have written a bit on each item, I will split the list into two posts, counting down to the most remarkable posts of the year.  I will supply the top five on the flip side of Christmas.  Without further ado.

10. Sam Harris’ s Free Will.  A Facebook conversation about the implications of a Libet-type neurological study prompted me to Sam Harris’ brief 2012 monograph Free Will.  He attempts to bury the concept by inviting us to imagine a hypothetically completed science.  That is, we are meant to indulge a  science of the gaps.

As for the root of cognition, Mr. Harris thinks free will libertarians are hopelessly lost in the blizzard that is the unending chain of causality.  He doesn’t consider that he is equally adrift as a determinist.  Neither does he engage much philosophy beyond Daniel Dennett.   Hardly a comprehensive take on the question.

I think Harris tries to be clever in his final pages with a “meta” discourse about what he is thinking and writing on the page as he is writing it.  But the worst offense is his reverse psychological claim that people who earn their income and wealth are not actually responsible for the acquisition, and are therefore not entitled to it.

I’ve mentioned Ayn Rand’s statist scientist character, Floyd Ferris before.  Dr. Ferris authors a book titled, Why do you think you think?  It’s fitting that his name rhymes with Harris.  If you want to see the utter inadequacy of this popular pseudo-yourself, the book is short enough to dispatch in a couple of hours.

9.  Steven Pinker’s scientism apologia.  Social scientist Steven Pinker sparked quite a conversation in August with his New Republic article extolling the virtues of scientism.  I think it caused some added hand wringing among the humanities community, even though it was purported to dispel such concerns.  Good thing scientism is a self-refuting theory of knowledge; that is, the scientific method is principally incapable of inducting itself into its own body of knowledge.

8.  Paul Ryan, Scott Walker ascend in GOP 2016 field.  After Paul Ryan and Patty Murray coauthored a politically viable if universally reviled compromise federal budget, Mr. Ryan’s 2016 presidential prospects shot up.  As I often learn first from Michael Medved, an Iowa poll put him far atop the GOP field.  Of course the usual disclaimer follows, that the next presidential election is very far away, and much can change by then.  Further, Ryan has signaled no clear intention to run.

Ryan’s boost, and recent attention on Scott Walker are welcome at a time when many commentators are still spewing a lot of hot air about how “mainstream” or “establishment” Republicans are not true conservatives, whatever that means.  Last I checked, winning elections so as to govern the country was still a part of the conservative platform.

7.  Presidential approval, Democrats’ 2014 chances tank. Nothing has been as remarkable in politics this year as the stark turn around in public opinion that occurred in October.  One day, there was that silly poll about how Congressional Republicans were as popular as toe fungus.  Then, the President and Congressional Democrats tanked on the Obamacare roll-out, and more significantly, the “if you like it, you can keep it” prevarication.  Clearly, government shut downs are not popular.  And neither is that disaster extraordinaire, Obamacare.

6. Millennials care less for culture war; culture war still cares for them.  Progressive evangelical blogger Rachel Held Evans used her highly visible CNN Belief Blog to disown the culture wars on behalf of millennials.  If the writing at Relevant magazine bears any truth, the rhetorical volleys between millennials and their elders have been exchanged for quite some time.  I know that in the public sphere, the back and forth gets old, especially when each camp is just indulging its own echo chamber.

Hat tip to Dr. Craig for bringing his own frank critique of Evan’s piece to bear in his current events podcast.  I don’t think the culture warrior label is to be shunned.  Indeed, there’s a real war going on.  As Medved notes, it’s not cultural conservatives who are the instigators, but cultural progressives, who are continually extending newly invented rights, even into grade school bathrooms for crying out loud.

That rounds out the second tier of 2013′s counterfactual cogitations.  Now enjoy the holiday, with thanks and reverence for the God who subjected himself as an infant to humanity’s mercies so that in time he could extend to us the gift of his mercy.  Merry Christmas!

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