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Let’s Talk!

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

I don’t mean to offend anyone who enjoys sports, but professional sports have become a primary distraction keeping us from our due diligence to be well informed and actively engaged in the level of civil discourse our democracy requires.(This doesn’t apply to everyone who likes sports). So when folks are upset that politics is infringing on sports, they affirm the role of sport as a means to avoid uncomfortable conversations.

Most Americans have developed a superficial relationship to politics (Including many in the media who cover it like a sport). Politics as sport is all process and insider intrigue. It is devoid of real substance or depth behind the reported facts. We lose sight of the real world consequences that bad policy decisions have on our lives.

Current events are forcing us to confront politics as we haven’t done in years. It’s a good development, but it will take time to get use to talking about politics with our neighbors again. It will take time to gather the essential facts we should have, facts that have been missing or withheld from us for years. And it will test our patience and tolerance as we begin to bridge the gaps that have come to divided us. So let’s hang in there and keep talking.

Should I Stand or Should I Kneel?

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Are the NFL players who kneeled in protest at the National Anthem to be reviled, or were they being courageous?

Did they insult our nation, or is their freedom to action what our flag stands for?

Were the protesting players disrespectful or patriotic?

These questions vexed the nation in recent days. People argued and took sides. Tempers sometimes flared. Angry posts or tweets were exchanged. And somewhere in a Russian troll farm cyber warriors were smiling.

This National Anthem flap is a perfect example of how we are being manipulated by higher powers in the media sphere every day. Some of the bad actors are foreign, such as the Russia operatives at the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, with its army of automated bots, who took to Twitter once again to polarize our public discourse over the NFL protest flap.

The truth is that Russia has been doing this type of thing for years; Using social media platforms on the internet to post extreme and inflammatory messages on opposite sides of every issue. This is just one of Russia’s many methods to sow discord and to splinter our national unity. Their goal: Polarize our politics, widen our political fault lines, pit us against one another and make America ungovernable. Russia is targeting other democracies this way in Europe as well.

But Russia isn’t the only player fomenting disunity and despair. They may even be minor players next to some of our own “stateless” oligarchs who benefit from governmental paralysis at every level. These billionaires don’t want to pay any taxes, support the public commons or be told what they can and can’t do. They are among a oligarchs from around the world who control more wealth and power than most countries. They see self-governing entities as obstacles to be overcome in pursuit of wealth, or as competition in their exercise of power, and some have been messing with our politics and social perceptions for years.

To borrow from a prior article:

… there is strong evidence that the rogue interests of certain Western billionaires and Russian oligarchs have converged. Breaking down the economic barriers that keep wealth and power in check under civilian controlled democracies, and the goal of undermining the strength and unity of Western democracies (strengthening Vladimir Putin’s global influence) are essential aligned.

This is the bigger picture. It is a picture so large it’s hard to take in and even harder to accept as true. Yet here we are, confronted by a clear case where a foreign power used Twitter to influence the personal conversations we are having with each other.

Mainstream media also has its part to play in this NFL protest story and countless others like it. It is the “for-profit” news outlets that select what we will be talking about tomorrow. NFL players protesting during the National Anthem is a real money topic. It attracts a much wider audience compared to another story about race relations. It’s important to remember here that we are the commodity the broadcast media delivers to advertisers. What they choose not to cover, we don’t talk much about. A simple internet search for “NFL protests” proves this point. Lost in the hoopla about the flag is any discussion of why there is a protest.

So what was the protest about?:

1. Police in this country kill too many civilians.

2. If your skin is black, you are twice as likely to be one of those killed.

NFL players were trying to bring attention to these issues, one superimposed on the other. On average, police kill about two people per day. For perspective, in all of Great Britain police kill about two people per year. If the rate of police homicides were that low in the US there wouldn’t be enough of them to reveal any sort of pattern. But a pattern does exist, and African-Americans are too often the victims.

These same racial patterns come up time and again in the American justice system because we have a pervasive and persistent problem with race. Whether we are looking at statistics about arrests, convictions, incarcerations, police stops, etc., the same pattern is superimposed on the data. Racial disparity, by far, is the more stubborn of the two problems listed above. We do need to address it. The other part of the problem, the high number of police killings, is a more solvable problem. We can all agree that the fewer number of civilians killed the better. That might mean better police training, better vetting of applicants and changes in police tactics or philosophy.

But here’s the thing. When we try to have that discussion, the social media platforms light up with extreme, emotionally charged messaging that polarizes our public discourse. Conversations quickly become adversarial. Efforts to separate one issue from another to make problem solving easier are sabotaged. Fake news stories begin popping up to further cloud the issues and crazy websites emerge to sustain the divisions thus created. These are often organized disinformation campaigns to reinforce political disunity. They can be so successful that we sometimes can’t even agree on the same set of facts. We get locked into an ideological battle and don’t how we got there. We can’t see the nefarious forces at work behind the scenes.

To understand how this is happening we have to consider the massive social media platforms though which we can broadly and anonymously communicate with millions of strangers. Never before have we had a cyber presence where everything we write or reveal about ourselves exists forever and is available to anyone. The whole internet is a gigantic, ever growing database that can be searched and analyzed. It’s a mercurial universe of ones and zeros. Yet, to an ever greater degree, our world view is molded by our social media experiences. Even as we become more enmeshed in the cyber world, this new medium is increasing falling under the influence of powerful people with weaponized information technologies and the motivation to alter our perceptions, our behavior and our culture. Our vulnerability to manipulation by bad actors has never been greater.

We need to educate ourselves about this new virtual world in which we find ourselves. We have lost control over our public discourse and need to win it back. We have to learn how to recognize when we are be targeted with propaganda messaging and how to resist falling victim to it. We mustn’t let our authentic narratives become hijacked by those who would alter our perceptions to serve their own ends? If democracy is to survive, if America is to survive, we have to overcome our differences and fight back against those who want to see our people’s Republic fail.

Heart of the Matter

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

I knew a boy once who had a long red mark on his neck that someone thought was from physical abuse by his father. I talked to the boy. When I asked how he got the mark on his neck, he fell silent. Then he motioned for me to follow him.

He brought me outside to a shed in the back yard and opened the door. He pointed to a piece of rope on the floor and said,”I tried to hang myself, but the rope broke,” I put my hand on his shoulder as we both just stared at the rope.

I went back to the house to speak with his dad, The man clearly loved his son. He said he just wanted his boy to grow up “the right way.” He admitted he yelled a lot, but said he would never touch is son because of the way his own dad had beaten as a child.

I asked the father to show me his scars from those beatings. He pointed to his heart and said, “They are all here inside me.”

“That,” I said, “is where your son’s scars are as well.” Then I told him how his son got the mark on his neck. The man called his son into the room, grabbed him in a hug and wept. The scars that harm us most are almost always the ones no one else can see.

It Has A Name: FASCISM

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Fascism: A political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition. – Merriam-Webster

It’s time to call a duck a duck. Putin’s Russia is a fascist state.

PutinWink

While scholars may debate what fascism is, we all know it when we see it, or so we think. We have been slow to see it in Russia. Perhaps the shadow of communism in the former Soviet Union is blinding us to what Russia has become, a totalitarian fascist regime.

Correctly applying that label to Russia is important to understanding our own national politics and the growing swirl of suspicious connections between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. The most direct links, so far, appears to be a network of contacts between a shady collection of Trump’s operatives and shadowy Russian oligarchs. Whether or not Russia influenced our elections as alleged, this web of contacts by crony capitalists and intermediaries is just what one would expect between two fascist authoritarian leaders. Yes! Trump’s political movement in America has a name. Fascism!

Growing income inequality, the insurgence of the political right here and abroad, rising nationalism, the vilification of differences (racial, religious, ethnic, etc.), the ascension of an authoritarian leader in the U.S. and the confluence of billionaire capitalists bent on undermining democratic institutions for self-gain are unmistakable signs that fascism is reemerging in the 21st century.

A few words about fascism may be necessary since the term has been muddled, perhaps intentionally so. In general, it is an authoritarian form of government empowered by a multi-class nationalistic populism and a power sharing alliance with the wealthy elite. Fascism may take different forms as it metastasizes, but it is always built on three legs: A ruthless authoritarian leader, an extremely nationalistic base and a loyal cadre of uber-wealthy crony capitalists. The goal of fascism is always the same, to optimize power and prosperity for the fittest members of society, as defined by those aligned with their leader.

Without this understanding it is difficult to grasp the trans-national collaborations we see surfacing, not just between some conservative billionaires in the West and Russia, but also between them and other rich oligarchs the world over. Without understanding fascism it is impossible to grasp the national transition undermining our own democracy. It is impossible to grasp the extent to which fascism has already infected our democracy.

With or without Russia’s help, Donald Trump won the election without the popular vote through every available method used to rig elections. These included voter suppression measures in all its forms, traditional precinct dirty tricks, exploitation of electronic and mail-in voting, publication of hacked DNC emails, an FBI email investigation dust-up days before the election and the latest in mass marketing methods funded by billionaire campaign supporters. But it also included something new, the latest in “cognitive warfare” technology. These are essentially internet mind control techniques unleashed on us by Cambridge Analitica, a political propaganda company employed by Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. (See Propaganda in the Digital Age – Mind Control on a Massive Scale)

All of this activity requires coordination among highly loyal followers, the kind of coordination that the Alt-right’s alternative media machines and crony capitalists’ connections can accomplish. And it requires the kind of loyal followers who know what Donald Trump will do for them when in power regardless of what he says to get there.

Does all this seem too incredible to believe?

Good! We should all be skeptical about what we read on the internet and what messages issue from the halls of power. So in keeping with my Data Drive Viewpoints theme, let’s conduct a rigorous, scientific style thought experiment to test my hypothesis.

The hypothesis is: Donald Trump is the leader of an American fascist movement.

The goal of experimental methods is to disprove the hypothesis by proving the opposite to be true. This thought experiment must therefore prove the opposite by showing that Trump does not do what fascist dictators do. Here there is space for readers to pick their most important markers of fascist dictators. There are many such lists to help you choose fascist characteristics.  Select the characteristics most convincing to you and state them as their opposite. Wikipedia offers helpful lists under their definition of fascism page. So for example, characteristic on one of the list, entry #4 reads:

#4. Anti-equality: Fascism loathes the principles of economic equality and disdains equality between immigrant and citizen. Some forms of fascism extend the fight against equality into other areas: Gender, sexual, minority or religious rights, for example.

To state this in its positive form, the null hypothesis is: Donald Trump and his administration will:

  • Assure all immigrants are afforded the same rights and due process as U.S. citizens
  • Respect and enforce the civil rights of members of LGBT community
  • Respect  and enforce the civil rights of ethnic and racial minorities
  • Guarantee freedom of religion and civil liberty for all religious groups, including Jews, Muslims and other religious minorities in America.

We can now count up all the qualifying future incidences where this proves true or false. Let’s try one more example from a different list of fascist characteristics. This list contains the following point:

Disagreement Is Treason” – Fascism devalues intellectual discourse and critical reasoning as barriers to action, as well as out of fear that such analysis will expose the contradictions embodied in a syncretistic faith.

[Note: The word syncretistic used here means the merging of different ideological strains to assert an underlying unity that may or may not exist.]

The null hypothesis to prove might read:

Donald Trump and his administration will: Encourage intellectual discourse from a diverse variety of stake holders to critically examine and analyze legislative and policy options best suited for the common good.

Or this:

Donald Trump and his supporters will: Express appreciation for those who may disagree with him).

The point here is to keep looking for signs that President Trump, his administration and supporters are not acting like fascists. Be as objective as possible and take a fairly large sample over the next several months. Once you have your own results you can decide for yourself if my hypothesis is true.

Algorithms Hidden Impact on How We Think

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Algorithms are powerful programs that increasing influence an individual’s world view. Their ubiquitous use may explain our growing political polarity, our growing knowledge gap in current affairs and even why our neighbors seem radicalized. But for impressionable or vulnerable individuals the impacts can be devastating.

Dylann Foot Roof is a case in point. You will recall he was a 21 year old white male who killed nine people in a 2015 massacre at a historical black church in Charleston, South Carolina.  He left behind a manifesto that showed he was  involved with white nationalist websites on the internet for about three years. A recent report by the Southern Policy Law Center details how Google search engine algorithms served a key part in radicalizing this young man who grew up in an otherwise stable, normal home.

dylannfoot

Increasingly, algorithms decide what gets attention, and what is ignored; and even what gets published or censored in our search for knowledge on the internet. It is a powerful force with unforeseen consequences at best. Just as easily they can be used for sinister purposes as well if we aren’t careful.

The following are excerpts from a report presented by the Center for Internet and Human Rights (CIHR) entitled, Ethic of Algorithms. It serves as a good primer on what these powerful programs are and can do.  CIHR promotes academic research about technology and society to inform public and academic debates.

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  • Algorithms are increasingly used  in hiring (and firing), deciding who gets a job and who doesn’t. It is among the most powerful gate-keeping function in society.
  • Algorithms influence how we perceive the world, often without us realizing it. by channeling our attention.
  • Facebook algorithms decide what we see or don’t see. Newsfeed algorithm filters content without our knowing why.
  • Facebook won’t say how the algorithm works, It’s proprietary. Without knowing the exact code, nobody can evaluate how your newsfeed is composed.
  • Complex algorithms are incomprehensible to outsiders but they have values, biases, and potential discrimination built in
  • Without algorithms many applications would be unusable. We need them to cope with the enormous amounts of data. But we must be aware how they work
  • Algorithms are not neutral, but rather they perpetuate the prejudices of their creators.

They must be known to the user

“Since algorithms make increasingly important decisions about our lives, users need to be informed about them. Knowledge about automated decision-making in everyday services is still very limited among consumers. Raising awareness should be at the heart of the debate about ethics of algorithms.”

We are already at the point where regulating computer algorithms is essential for our collective well being, yet most people aren’t even aware the threats and problems they pose. I know I wasn’t until very recently. I hope this brief blog posting and the links above encourage others to explore this topic further.

Of Poverty and Proverbs – An Excuse to Blame the Poor

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

There is some wisdom in this old English proverb. It seems obvious that our survival instinct compels us to use our skills to meet our basic needs. The point being made by this proverb is that It’s more worthwhile to teach someone to do something for themselves than to do it for them.

As a nugget of wisdom, however, the expression is also insufficient. It assumes that resource and circumstances are otherwise favorable for the fisherman. The proverb shouldn’t be taken too literally or applied too broadly, but it often is. This is especially the case when it is applied to social welfare.

Specifically, it becomes a problem when policy makers believe that all you have to do is give someone the skills they need they can do the rest on their own. It’s the notion that skills plus self-determination are sufficient for success. This reductive thinking forms the rationale behind the conservative politics of poverty. It’s destructive corollary is a belief that when skills have been properly transferred, yet success remains elusive, the fault lies within the character of the person. It is a belief that fails to consider scarce resources or other barriers beyond a person’s control.

To make this point, take the proverbial fisherman as an example and ask yourself the following question: What else, other than skills, might be required for the fisherman to catch his daily meal?

You won’t get very far down your list before you see the point here. The fisherman’s success still requires the right conditions, many of which are beyond his personal control. And some of the conditions are dependent on social factors, or environmental factors over which we have societal influence. Examples of these include having clean water, allowing public access, or requiring a fishing license.

The devil is always in the details. There are no simple formulaic ways to think about poverty. There is only the need to critically evaluate the impact of policies that influence everyone’s well being, and to seek out, and overcome the barriers people face every day to putting food on their table. Do that and every able bodied person will act with self-determination.

Police Involved Homicides – Where’s Our Outrage?

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Here’s a very disturbing story that has not been reported in the national press. You may not have heard about this even though it has been happening for decades.

There is a growing number of African-American men infiltrating local police departments and abusing their authority to intimidate predominately white men within their communities. Some of these black officers are bulking up on steroids. In some cases these black cops are affiliated with Black Power movements. These rogue officers of color are stopping and harassing white men on the street, frisking them without cause or illegally searching their cars. When white citizens object or complain, these black cops turn hostile and become aggressive. Hesitate to comply with an order and these innocent detainees are taken down, handcuffed and arrested. Any further resistance or any small suspicion that these guys are armed leads to the threat or use of deadly force.

In March of 2004 the US Department of Justice issued a report on the use of anabolic steroid abuse by police officers. Reported as specific concerns related to the psychological side effects anabolic steroid use were these:

  • · Mood swings (including manic-like symptoms leading to violence)
  • · Impaired judgment (stemming from feelings of invincibility)
  • · Depression
  • · Nervousness
  • · Extreme irritability
  • · Delusions
  • · Hostility and aggression

The infiltration of American police departments by radical racist cops was document by the FBI in a report and warning written in October of 2006. The report’s release was held up by Congress for years out of fear of the political repercussions.

And despite the growing number of police involved homicides of civilians every year, the FBI is unable to keep accurate statistics on how many white citizens are being killed by overly aggressive black cops. By some non-government sources the number is as high as 600 deaths per year.

Where is our outrage? Where is the media? Why aren’t government officials putting a stop to this carnage? Why aren’t they holding these black cops accountable for the deaths of hundreds of innocent white men every year?

If this reporting shocks you or doesn’t sound familiar, then you are among the millions of American’s who aren’t paying attention. If you can’t see the little white lies I told you above, you are part of a much bigger problem.

The white lie above is that it is actually white cops who are actually abusing their authority and victims of abusive policing are disproportionately African-American. The truth is that it is white supremacists that are infiltrating police departments. The rest is all true. It is true that hundreds of innocent black males are killed in police actions every years. It is true that the FBI is not able to collect accurate statistics on civilians killed in police actions in the US because all such reporting is voluntary. And if you didn’t recognize where my story was going, if you thought black cops are killing white civilians, then you just discovered that the media is failing us and government officials aren’t doing all they can to stop this carnage.

If my story above hadn’t contained those few white lies, if white men really were being killed by overly aggressive black cops,  you would lionize a football player sitting down during the National Anthem to call your attention to the problem. You would recognize his courage and commitment.  As it is, the misplaced outrage of sports fans against Colin Kaepernick for his lonely protest is a self indictment of our complacency and callous disregard for our fellow citizens.

The Great Abortion Divide – Part III

The Theory and Evolution of The Soul

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

PREFACE: This is the final part of a series of short essays called The Great Abortion Divide. It is less of an original essay than an organized compilation of my notes on the evolving history of the human soul. Its purpose is to give an overview how concepts of the human soul originated and developed over time. It is not my purpose or intent to minimize or refute anyone’s belief in the human soul, but only to point out that a rigid adherence to a specific doctrine regarding the human soul cannot be fully justified. My notes are taken from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and other sources, as noted.

During the time period of writing The Great Abortion Divide there have been a number of attacks on Planned Parenthood facilities nation-wide, including a mass shooting on November 27, 2015, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. A police officer and two civilians were killed. Five police officers and four civilians were injured. The attacker, Robert Lewis Dear, Jr., surrendered and was charged with first-degree murder. In his December 9th court appearance, Dear repeatedly expressed anti-abortion and anti-Planned Parenthood views, calling himself “a warrior for the babies.”

It may be that Mr. Dear is mentally ill, we shall see. Even so, his belief that every fetus, at any stage of development, is “a baby” reflects a religious doctrine shared by many. Biologically speaking, a single cell or even a fertilized egg is clearly not a baby with complex, fully functioning organs and a conscious, intelligent brain. Gestation is a biological process where cells develop to become” a baby”. You can argue, as I have in the past, that even an early stage fetus is treated by a woman’s body as a foreign object, but it is clearly not a baby. At what point that transition happens is open for debate. It is, in fact, at the core of the abortion debate.

From a legal perspective, personhood and certain (not all) human rights have been conferred at the time of birth. Even after a child is born, there are limits on the constitutional rights they have until they become legal adults. In limited cases, and under special circumstances, the courts have granted status to unborn fetus’ prior to birth. This was done, in one case I know, to protect the life of a child at birth from a schizophrenic mother who threatening to drown her baby at birth. The concept of assigning personhood to a zygote (a fertilizes human reproductive cell) and characterizing it as a human being is a more recent theological development. The principal argument for extending personhood to a fertilized egg (or even unfertilized eggs as some see it) is that it contains a human soul. (See Part II)

In most of our childhood religious training the existence of the soul is assumed. It is a self-evident fact and It receives no other explanation. We all have a soul. In Christian theology our soul contains or supplies our essential self and it collects the history of sins and good deeds while we are on earth. Human beings are “ensouled” by the time of our birth and leaves us (or our bodies) at the instant of our death. It continues its existence after death and (at some point) our souls are judged by God as worthy or unworthy of entering eternal paradise. If our souls are found to be unworthy they is cast into hell and eternal damnation. It is an essential tenant of Christian theology that our souls are not born pure. They are born with original sin that must be restored before we die. This is at the root of salvation theology. This concept of being “ensouled” with an imperfect soul speaks to one philosophic concept about how the soul originates. It suggests that souls, like people themselves, are somehow begotten from the souls of Adam and Eve who committed the first sin. There are other philosophic positions on the origin of the human soul.

These matters about the nature and origin of the human soul are not scriptural. The Torah, Bible and Koran offer no solid clues or specific instructions. It is therefore useful to a discussion about the morality of abortions to consider the philosophic theories of soul and how they evolved over time. Only then may we see the inherent uncertainty underlying the premise that a fetus is fully human in a spiritual sense. The categories that follow are my addition to the notes, but the content is not my own. This discussion below starts in ancient Greece, but the concept of soul goes back much earlier in time. The reason I start in Greece is because it was the Greeks who first introduced the concept of soul to the Hebrews in the Middle-East, according to many Greek and theological scholars.


GREEK theory of soul

Notes taken directly from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/ancient-soul/

Life Force: The soul is, on the one hand, something that a human being risks in battle and loses in death. On the other hand, it is what at the time of death departs from the person’s limbs and travels to the underworld, where it has a more or less pitiful afterlife as a shade or image of the deceased person. It has been suggested (for instance, by Snell 1975, 19) that what is referred to as soul in either case is in fact thought of as one and the same thing, something that a person can risk and lose and that, after death, endures as a shade in the underworld. The suggestion is plausible, but cannot be verified. In any case, once a person’s soul has departed for good, the person is dead. The presence of soul therefore distinguishes a living human body from a corpse. However, this is plainly not to say that the soul is thought of as what accounts for, or is responsible for, the activities, responses, operations and the like that constitute a person’s life. Homer never says that anyone does anything in virtue of, or with, their soul, nor does he attribute any activity to the soul of a living person. Thus, though the presence or absence of soul marks out a person’s life, it is not otherwise associated with that life.


Human Life Force
: … whatever precise way the soul is conceived of as associated with life, it is in any case thought to be connected not with life in general, or life in all its forms, but rather, more specifically, with the life of a human being.

General Life Force: In ordinary fifth century Greek, having soul is simply being alive; hence the emergence, at about this time, of the adjective ‘ensouled’ [empsuchos] as the standard word meaning “alive”, which was applied not just to human beings, but to other living things as well.

The semantic expansion of ‘soul’ in the sixth and fifth centuries is reflected in the philosophical writings of the period. For instance, once it becomes natural to speak of soul as what distinguishes the animate from the inanimate, rather than as something that is restricted to humans, it becomes clear that the domain of ensouled things is not limited to animals, but includes plants as well.

Thales of Miletus, who is credited with successfully predicting a solar eclipse occurring in 585, reportedly attributed soul to magnets, on the grounds that magnets are capable of moving iron (Aristotle, De Anima 1.2, 405a19-21). Thales’ thought was presumably that since it is distinctive of living things to be able to initiate movement, magnets must in fact be alive or, in other words, ensouled. Thus, while Homer spoke of soul only in the case of human beings, in sixth and fifth century usage soul is attributed to every kind of living thing. What is in place, then, at this time is the notion that soul is what distinguishes that which is alive from that which is not.

Socrates explicitly appeals to the idea that it is the soul that animates the body of a living thing

Motivational Force: It is also the case that an increasingly broad range of ways of acting and being acted on is attributed to the soul. Thus it has come to be natural, by the end of the fifth century, to refer pleasure taken in food and drink, as well as sexual desire, to the soul. People are said, for example, to satisfy their souls with rich food (Euripides, Ion 1170), and the souls of gods and men are claimed to be subject to sexual desire. In contexts of intense emotion or crisis, feelings like love and hate, joy and grief, anger and shame are [became] associated with the soul.


Soul as Conveyer of Attributes:
In the Hippocratic text Airs, Waters, Places, the soul is thought of as the place of courage or, as the case may be, its opposite.

The connection between the soul and characteristics like boldness and courage in battle is plainly an aspect of the noteworthy fifth century development whereby the soul comes to be thought of as the source or bearer of moral qualities such as, for instance, temperance and justice.

Soul as a Source of Conscience: To educated fifth century speakers of Greek, it would have been natural to think of qualities of soul as accounting for, and being manifested in, a person’s morally significant behavior. Pericles acts courageously, and Hippolytus temperately (or chastely), because of the qualities of their souls from which such actions have a strong tendency to flow, and their actions express and make evident the courage, temperance and the like that characterize their souls. Once we are in a position properly to appreciate the connection between soul and moral character that must already have been felt to be natural at this stage, it should come as no surprise that the soul is also taken to be something that engages in activities like thinking and planning. If the soul is, in some sense, responsible for courageous acts, for instance, it is only to be expected that the soul also grasps what, in the circumstances, courage calls for, and how, at some suitable level of detail, the courageous act must be performed.

Thus in non-philosophical Greek of the fifth century the soul is treated as the bearer of moral qualities, and also as responsible for practical thought and cognition.

[The soul].. as Plato conceives of it in the Phaedo, is crucially characterized by cognitive and intellectual features

Body/Soul Distinction: As a result of these developments [the semantic expansion of the word “soul”], the language made available something that [earlier] Homeric Greek lacked, a distinction between body and soul. Antiphon says of a defendant who is sure of his innocence that though his body may surrender, his soul saves him by its willingness to struggle, through knowledge of its innocence. For the guilty, on the other hand, even a strong body is to no avail, since his soul fails him, “believing the vengeance coming to him is for his impieties”

Plato [later] furnishes the conceptual framework needed for saying that body and soul differ in kind, the one being perceptible and perishable, the other being intelligible and exempt from destruction. What he does, in fact, conclude is that the soul is most like, and most akin to, intelligible being, and that the body is most like perceptible and perishable being.

Immortality of Soul: It is probably true that in mainstream fifth century Greek culture, belief in an afterlife of the soul was weak and unclear

.. Socrates’ arguments for the immortality of the soul, most prominently in the Phaedo, are offered to interlocutors who, at the outset of the discussion, are by no means convinced of the idea. “Men find it very hard to believe”, Cebes says at Phaedo 70a, “what you said about the soul. They think that after it has left the body it no longer exists anywhere, but that it is destroyed and dissolved on the day the man dies.” This view .. includes the idea that the soul is a material thing, and is destroyed by being dispersed, “like breath or smoke” (70a). Glaucon, in the last book of the Republic (608d), is taken aback by Socrates’ question,

“Haven’t you realized that our soul is immortal and never destroyed?”

He looked at me with wonder and said: “No, by god, I haven’t. Are you really in a position to assert that?”

Qualities of an Immortal Soul: Moreover, apart from the question of immortality or otherwise, there is the further question whether the soul, if it does have some form of existence after the person has died, “still possesses some power and wisdom”. Answering both questions, Socrates says not only that the soul is immortal, but also that it contemplates truths after its separation from the body at the time of death.

[Again,] … the soul is most like, and most akin to, intelligible being

Socrates attributes a large variety of mental states (etc.) not to the soul, but to the (animate) body, such as, for instance, beliefs and pleasures (83d), and desires and fears (94d). At the same time, the soul is not narrowly intellectual: it too has desires (81d), even passionate ones (such as the non-philosophical soul’s love [erôs] of the corporeal, 80b), and pleasures as well, such as the pleasures of learning (114e). Moreover, the soul’s functions are, as we have seen already, not restricted to grasping and appreciating truth, but prominently include regulating and controlling the body and its affections

Where Immortal Souls Reside: The argument that sheds most light on what Plato takes the nature of the soul to be is the affinity argument (78b-80b). This argument confronts head-on the widespread worry that the soul, at or soon after death, is destroyed by being dispersed. It begins by distinguishing between two kinds of things: on the one hand, things that are perceptible, composed of parts, and subject to dissolution and destruction; on the other hand, things that are not perceptible, but intelligible (grasped by thought), not composed of parts, and exempt from dissolution and destruction. These two categories are obviously mutually exclusive.

JEWISH theory of soul

Notes taken directly from The Jewish Encyclopedia http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12340-preexistence-of-the-soul

Life Force:  There are no direct references in the Bible to the origin of the soul, its nature, and its relation to the body

The Mosaic account of the creation of man speaks of a spirit or breath with which he was endowed by his Creator (Gen. ii. 7); but this spirit was conceived of as inseparably connected, if not wholly identified, with the life-blood (ib. ix. 4; Lev. xvii. 11).

[T]he Alexandrian Jewish school, especially of Philo Judæus,.. sought [in an] allegorical interpretation of Biblical texts the confirmation of his [God’s? Plato’s? not clear from the text] psychological system.

Body/Soul Distinction: Only through the contact of the Jews with Persian and Greek thought did the idea of a disembodied soul, having its own individuality, take root in Judaism and find its expression in the later Biblical books, as, for instance, in the following passages: “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord” (Prov. xx. 27); “There is a spirit in man” (Job xxxii. 8); “The spirit shall return unto God who gave it” (Eccl. xii. 7). The soul is called in Biblical literature “ruaḥ,” “nefesh,” and “neshamah.” The first of these terms denotes the spirit in its primitive state; the second, in its association with the body; the third, in its activity while in the body.

In the three terms “ruaḥ,” “nefesh,” and “neshamah” Philo sees the corroboration of the Platonic view that the human soul is tripartite (τριμεής), having one part rational, a second more spiritual, and a third the seat of desire. These parts are distinguished from one another both functionally and by the places occupied by them in the body. The seat of the first is the head; of the second, the chest; and of the third, the abdomen

In rabbinical literature the dualism of body and soul is carried out consistently.. .”The soul of man comes from heaven; his body, from earth”

Immortality of Soul: An explicit statement of the doctrine of the preexistence of the soul is found in the Apocrypha: “All souls are prepared before the foundation of the world” (Slavonic Book of Enoch, xxiii. 5); and according to II Esd. iv. 35 et seq.the number of the righteous who are to come into the world is foreordained from the beginning. All souls are, therefore, preexistent,

Both the rational and the irrational sprang like two scions from one root, and yet are so strongly contrasted in their natures that one is divine, while the other is corruptible.

[The Jewish philosopher ] Saadia devoted the sixth chapter of his “Emunot we-De’ot” to questions concerning the human soul.. According to him, the soul is created by God at the same time as the body. Its substance resembles that of the spheres; but it is of a finer quality.

General Life Force: Maimonides, except in a few instances, closely followed Aristotle with regard to the ontological aspect of the soul. The life of the soul, which is derived from that of the spheres, is represented on earth in three potencies: in vegetable, in animal, and in human life.

The Status of Soul: Philo does not say why the soul is condemned to be imprisoned for a certain time in the body; but it may be assumed that, as in many other points, he shares also in this one the views of Pythagoras and Plato, who believed that the soul undergoes this ordeal in expiation of some sin committed by it in its former state (see Philo Judæus).

Even before entering the body [presumably as the animating life force] , the mind [one aspect of soul] possesses not only rational faculties, but also ascending powers which distinguish the lower orders of creation, the habitual, the organic, the vital, and the perceptive.

As a divine being the soul aspires to be freed from its bodily fetters and to return to the heavenly spheres whence it came.

The Rabbis [tradition, however, holds] that the body is not the prison of the soul, but, on the contrary, its medium of development and improvement. Nor do they hold the Platonic view regarding the preexistence of the soul. For them “each and every soul which shall be from Adam until the end of the world, was formed during the six days of Creation and was in paradise, being present also at the revelation on Sinai. . . . At the time of conception God commandeth the angel who is the prefect of the spirits, saying: ‘Bring Me such a spirit which is in paradise and hath such a name and such a form; for all spirits which are to enter the body exist from the day of the creation of the world until the earth shall pass away.’ . . . The spirit answereth: ‘Lord of the world! I am content with the earth, where I have lived since Thou didst create me.’ . . . God speaketh to the soul, saying: ‘The world into which thou enterest is more beautiful than this; and when I made thee I intended thee only for this drop of seed.'”

The Rabbis question whether the soul descends to earth at the moment of conception or after the embryo has been formed

[NOTE: This is the likely origin of Christian beliefs that human life is sacred from inception, or even before inception, but even in the origin of the concept it was a debated point as to when the soul entered the body, at inception or upon the development (birth) of the formed body.]

Mutability of Human Soul: This belief was rejected by the scholars of the Talmud, who taught that the body is in a state of perfect purity (Ber. 10a; Mek. 43b), and is destined to return pure to its heavenly abode. When God confides the soul to man He says, according to the Haggadah. “The soul I have given thee is pure; if thou givest it back to Me in the same state, it is good for thee; if not, I will burn it before thee” (Eccl. R. xii. 7; with some variations in Niddah 30a).

The soul has control over [the inclination towards good or evil], and, therefore, is responsible for man’s moral conduct.

The descent of the soul into the body is necessitated by the finite nature of the former: it is bound to unite with the body in order to take its part in the universe, to contemplate creation, to become conscious of itself and its origin, and, finally, to return, after having completed its task in life, to the inexhaustible fountain of light and life—God.

Where Immortal Souls Reside: [again, the soul] is destined to return pure to its heavenly abode.. if not, [God] will burn it before thee” (Eccl. R. xii. 7; with some variations in Niddah 30a). [NOTE: The threat here is not that our soul will be consigned to hell, but that it will be destroyed, its immortality terminated.]

The entry of the soul into the embryo (see Golem) is similarly described in a conversation between Judah the patriarch and the emperor Antoninus. The spirits which are to descend to earth are kept in ‘Arabot, the last of the seven heavens, while the souls of the righteous dead are beneath the throne of God. Associated with this belief is the Talmudic saying that the Messiah will not come till all the souls in the”guf” (the super-terrestrial abode of the souls) shall have passed through an earthly existence (‘Ab. Zarah 5a; comp. Gen. R. viii. and Ruth R., Introduction).

[In the Talmud tradition the] soul’s relation to the body is an external one only: when man sleeps the soul ascends to its heavenly abode (Lam. R. iii. 23). There it sometimes receives communications which appear to the sleeper as dreams.

Good and Evil of Soul: A parallel is established between the soul and God. As the world is filled with God, so is the body filled with the soul; as God sees, but cannot be seen, so the soul sees, but is not to be seen; as God is hidden, so also is the soul (Ber. 10a). The Rabbis seem to have considered discernment, reflection, and recollection as faculties of the soul; but they held that the power by which man distinguishes between right and wrong and the inclination to one or to the other are two real essences which God places in the heart of man. These are called “yeẓer Ṭob” (good inclinations) and “yeẓer ha-ra'” (evil propensities).

[The Jewish philosopher ] Saadia devoted the sixth chapter of his “Emunot we-De’ot” to questions concerning the human soul.. According to him, the soul is created by God at the same time as the body. Its substance resembles that of the spheres; but it is of a finer quality.


The Body as Incubator For The Soul:
[The Jewish philosopher, Saadia, also postulated that].. like every created thing, the soul needs a medium through which to attain activity; and this medium is the body. Through its union with the body three powers which are latent in it are set in motion: intelligence, passion, and appetite or desire. These powers or faculties are not to be considered as three separate parts of the soul, each having a different seat in the body, but as belonging to the one and indivisible soul, which has its seat in the heart. It is to the advantage of the soul to be united with the body. Without this medium it could not attain paradise and eternal bliss, because these are vouchsafed to it only as a recompense for its obedience to the will of God.

POSTSCRIPT: A review of the history and evolution of human thinking on the concept of “soul” makes it clear, at least to me, that there is enough uncertainty to question the religious doctrine that all abortion is murder. It certainly is not a doctrine on which one should justify murdering healthcare professionals who assist woman wanting an abortion. Yet this is exactly the moral basis that anti-abortion advocates use when trying to extend the existing statues on murder. It clearly is a religious belief for which there is no consensus or certainty among Christians or the population at large. This account may not persuade anyone to change their firmly held beliefs, but it is my hope that it opens up a more fruitful and well considered dialogue.

The Great Abortion Divide – Part I

http://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2015/10/the-great-abortion-divide.html

The Great Abortion Divide – Part II
Religious Dimensions of the Abortion Debate

http://aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2015/11/the-great-abortion-divide-part-ii.html

How Free is “Free Will”

by Brian T. Lynch

This is purely my opinion, but my understanding of “Free Will” is very narrow compared to most people I talk to about it. I see it as something that emerges gradually along a continuum from actions that are totally coercive to purely rational and independent. It isn’t an all or nothing phenomenon, as some see it. I exclude all impulsive actions taken due to internal urges from my definition since urges aren’t rational and follow from completely different pathways in the brain. Also, actions that spring from emotions may or may not involve free will in my view. It is here that the gradual blossoming of free will is most evident. 

When ever we act to satisfy urges or emotions we really cannot distinguish “free will” from the actions taken since acting on a urge feels identical to acting by choice.. That is why people don’t even know they are addicted to something until they discover they can’t simply choose to stop. Addiction in insidious that way. No one can say for sure that they smoke by choice after that first cigarette because even six months later the brain can trigger powerful urges for another cigarette.

The same holds true, by degree, with our emotions. We can’t know for certain if we are acting on free will when we acquiesce to our feelings since emotions can also overpower free will. We even say we are “acting on our emotions” to explain certain behaviors, but it still feels exactly like a choice, even if we can’t help it. So inwardly speaking, we can only no for sure that we are acting on free will when our actions are contrary to both our urges and our feelings. It is only when we place them in check that we can know for sure we are acting on our own free will.

That said, what about free will in circumstances when our only available options for action are proscribed by others, or by circumstances out of our control? If we have no choice but to act, do we have free will? If we have only bad choices, are we exercising free will by making that bad choice? Was Socrates exercising free will when he choose to drink hemlock rather than face a public execution? It so, and I believe he was exercising free will, then a limited form of free will must exist even under extreme forms of coercion.

How we define “free will” has enormous social and political implications because it thereby defines how responsible individuals are for their actions. It is here we see the continuum of emerging free will run its course. Some folks believe everyone is 100% responsible for their actions. They might then blame the poor for being poor, or the sick for being sick (live style choices) and would probably not accept an insanity defense for crimes committed by the insane. Speaking of justice, we see the role “free will” plays in our action played being calculated in criminal sentencing hearings when mitigating and aggravating circumstances are used to determine appropriate punishment. We punish people for criminal intent but not acquit them, or lighten their punishment if they were not in control of their actions.

These are just examples. In fact, we use these sort of calculations everyday with each other or our children in judging their actions and in modulating our responses. So the idea that free will is an all or nothing phenomenon just isn’t born out in our every day experience.

Anyway, here is an interesting article on the subject.

It has become fashionable to say that people have no free will. Many scientists cannot imagine how the idea of free will could be reconciled with the laws of physics and chemistry. Brain researchers say that the brain is just a bunch of nerve cells…

SLATE.COM

The Profit Driven Rise of Domestic Armies

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Our founders never wanted a standing army, much less combat troops patrolling our towns and villages.  The role and methods of solders is much different than the role and methods of local police, and that is the way we wanted it from the beginning. But now, without public debate or voter input, the culture and the very nature of law enforcement is being changed.  The changes began with little notice well before 9/11 but accelerated after that terrible day, bring together both military equipment and military police training in the name of “homeland security.” I’ve written about the military equipment part of this change in May, 2012, but didn’t know much about how local police were being trained. That part of the story begins with the rise of PMCS.

PMSCs is the acronym for private military and security companies. These are  mercenaries incorporated. They provide private solders to protect government or business interests in unstable parts of the globe. They have multi-billion dollar contracts with the US and other world governments and they represent a huge growth industry since the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. As these conflicts wind down, these PMSC corporations have searched for new markets and places to do business. One of those new markets has been local and state domestic police training here in the United States.

(Credit: Reuters/Steve Nesius)

BLACKWATER, a large private solders-for-hire corporation, is one of the leading companies currently training many of our domestic police officers. They teach them with military style training and train them on how to use military style weapons provided to local police departments at no cost through the gov’t 1033 program. While the rationale for the 1033 program was stated to fight the war on drugs when it first began in 1997, the amount of brand new military equipment given away to local police departments has grown every year since.  The mere possession of this equipment is enough to alter the culture of local police departments, but coupled with military training on its use clearly militarizes law enforcement. The development of this police training is well documented in an article in Salon (below).

Here is a brief excerpt from the Salon article explaining the difference between “Serve and Protect” training and military training:

The difference between a police officer trained to “keep the peace” and a soldier was quite easy to identify. A policeman was legally required to protect and to serve the citizens of the state, to assume innocence unless there was a reasonable suspicion of illegal activity, and to use weapons against a citizen only as a last resort. A soldier was trained to identify enemies and if necessary to kill them while protecting any non-enemies in the vicinity. “I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat” was their creed. And although most policemen trained by a private military company would remain dedicated to their oaths to serve and protect the public, there was the possibility of the exception.

This is an article that everyone should read and discuss.  Is this development to be our future or our past?  the answer is up to us all.

http://www.salon.com/2014/08/30/militarized_police_are_everywhere_when_police_officers_are_armed_and_trained_like_soldiers_its_not_surprising_that_they_act_like_soldiers/