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Posts Tagged ‘law’

Murder is illegal in this country.

But I couldn’t tell you where it says that in the statute-books without doing a bit of research. I can’t cite the exact law off the top of my head, or provide the precise codified wording which strictly speaking makes it illegal to murder another person.

But it’s definitely illegal. I could look all that up if I wanted to. But even if I don’t want to, I’m still justified in believing that murder is illegal. My indirect observations have led me to place a very high probability of truth on that statement, and I don’t think that’s an indicator of poor calibration.

This is relevant to yesterday’s discussion of how homeopathy doesn’t work.

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It goes like this: In 1893, a couple of lines of music were published in a book. The piece of music is eight bars long, and consists of a single-note melody which can be hummed in its entirety in about six seconds.

In 1927, this song was published in a separate compilation of similar musical pieces, with different lyrics which are known to have been informally attached to it for some time.

And now, as a result, if you want to reproduce the song Happy Birthday in any kind of media, you need to pay the Warner/Chappell Music Group for the right to do so, or risk being sued.

They collect millions of dollars every year this way. By claiming some bizarre kind of “ownership” of a universally familiar melody composed well over a century ago by some person or persons entirely unconnected with the people now profiting from it.

I’m trying to imagine a basically worse person than someone who’d demand money from someone else for the right to sing Happy Birthday. If you can think of anything more viscerally contemptible, let me know.

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If you’re in favour of the continued criminalisation of drugs, and you support law enforcement’s efforts to punish those people you’re defining as criminals, be aware of something.

People are doing what you want, in your name, on your mission, in a way that is cruel, unconscionable, vicious, and should make you feel ill.

A New Mexico woman claims she suffered for weeks after a Bernalillo County corrections officer strip-searched her and sprayed mace in her vagina.

Sadism” is exactly the right word, in fact.

This isn’t an unfortunate side effect of a necessary policy. This isn’t a tragic but unavoidable consequence of a general strategy which it’s important we maintain. And this sure as fuck isn’t an isolated incident.

This is just abuse. There’s not even a morally commendable goal being worked towards in unpalatable ways. If anything’s evil, this is.

Now, if you support drug criminalisation policies, you didn’t do this. You haven’t assaulted anyone. You didn’t ask for any police officers to sexually assault anyone on your behalf.

But you really should look into some ways of supporting the policies you want to see enacted, which won’t tacitly endorse the whimsical torture of the innocent.

Classroom discussion questions

1. Is it conceivable, even in theory, that a “war on drugs” might be effective in its goals without shit like this being commonplace?

2. How many individual instances of hard drug use do you think lead directly to physical effects more traumatic and unpleasant than being subjected to a forced anal probe or being pepper-sprayed in the vagina?

3. What the fuck is wrong with America, seriously, I mean, Jesus, you know?

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If I tried venting about every part of Peter Hitchens’s output of the last couple of months which has bothered me, I wouldn’t get to bed until it was 4am and I couldn’t feel my fingers any more. “Addiction” doesn’t exist, apparently. No, I’m not explaining what he seems to mean by that. I’ll let you extrapolate from there. (The case of Mark Duggan also demonstrates why we should bring back hanging. Somehow. Oh god, I’m losing myself down a spiralling pit of inanity. Break away, break away.)

There’s one thing he said that I do want to touch on, though, if I can do so without getting carried away. In talking about the effects of illegal drugs, he uses the phrase “unearned chemical exaltation”.

Of specific interest is the word “unearned”.

Peter Hitchens has a great moral objection to the use of drugs. That itself isn’t so bizarre or insupportable, but what’s interesting is that the “unearned” nature of the high they provide seems to be a significant part of his complaint.

He’s not alone in this; it’s an attitude I’ve seen before. Part of what some people find unacceptable and morally abhorrent about this particular form of artificial manipulation of one’s brain state is that it’s unearned. You haven’t worked for your right to feel good. You just took some drugs.

Never mind any damaging side effects that drug use might have on yourself and society; the bottom line is, you don’t deserve any chemical alteration of your mood.

You think you can just shortcut your way to physical pleasure or mental stimulation, without undergoing the toil and pain associated with the traditional ways of achieving such states? That’s cheating.

And so on.

And then this is used to justify laws against such cheating. And thus a staid, parochial attitude becomes global tyranny.

If you believe the outcomes of a liberal approach to certain intoxicants are so negative that a centralised authority needs to step in and crack down on their usage, that’s an argument to be made. But don’t just sweepingly decide that nobody deserves to feel good until they’ve earned it by suffering enough first.

Classroom discussion questions

1. If a hypothetical drug provided the “chemical exaltation” of, say, cocaine, but without the addictive nature or risk of harmful overdose, is there any reasonable grounds on which it could be outlawed? Could its use even be considered immoral?

2. How little attention does someone have to be paying if they really think that caffeine does not “in any way alter consciousness or perception”?

3. Why is Peter Hitchens?

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The justice is my penis

WHEREFORE, Captain Justice, Guardian of the Realm and Leader of the Resistance, primarily asks that the Court deny the State’s motion, as lacking legal basis.

It’s good that there are lawyers out there who appear to be having some fun. It’s not the only appropriate response to some of the more ridiculous aspects of their profession – a little more direct activism to unfuck the system would also be nice – but it’s still encouraging to see.

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My particular sheltered corner of the internet has been abuzz with European Court of Human Rights news lately. And it’s news with a non-trivial reach outside my own narrow echo chamber, for once; the mainstream media has also been covering the recent rulings on religious discrimination in the workplace, to some extent or another.

There are four cases whose judgments have just been published, focusing on four people who felt that their religious rights weren’t given due respect and deference in their place of work. One counsellor and one registrar both refused to work with same-sex couples; the other two weren’t allowed to wear some sort of ornamental cross as part of their uniform.

Lots has already been written about this, from the lucid to the utter bollocks. Andrew Copson has been kept very busy quashing some of the rumours and countering the misinformation which has accompanied these cases, and seems to have been largely alone in the most prominent news outlets as a critic of the popular “Christian persecution” narrative.

But even some of the most reliably insightful and coherent commentators seem to be blithely accepting some premises of the religious argument which don’t merit it. Nelson Jones is as worth reading on this as ever, but his passing mention of practices being “central or mandatory in a faith tradition”, in the context of Article 9 of the European Convention, raises more questions than he asks.

Here’s my concern about having legislation in place to enshrine religious rights:

Religion is an entirely personal thing, which nobody is obliged to share. If you’re a Christian, swell, but I don’t accept any of the truth-claims based upon your “faith”, and I’m not obliged to treat them differently than any other unfounded assertions about the world. I don’t believe in your God, and see no reason to act as if I should. I’m not a Christian.

(This is important, in part, because it also means your religion can be whatever you want, defined by you and you alone. Letting corporations or governments decide the legitimacy of someone’s religion – be they devout Christian or casual Jedi – and thus rule on how far the rest of us should go to “respect their beliefs”, is the kind of precedent that can’t not go horribly wrong.)

So, given that your religion is, to me, on that level, utterly meaningless… why should I care whether or not your religion affects your motivations, when I’m judging your actions?

If you want to blow other people up, it doesn’t matter to me at all if you’re doing it because you think God wants you to do it or for some other terrible reason. At least, not in terms of evaluating whether you should be allowed to do it. Being religiously motivated neither helps nor hinders your case when you seek to justify harming others.

Similarly, if your deity is a bit more chilled out and just wants you to wear plain black socks all the time, that’s fine, but it’s fine anyway, regardless of whether you consider it a religious obligation or just a personal preference. Your socks are no more or less my business when you claim God’s interested in them than they were before.

Religion is just another motivator, a reason why people feel strongly about certain things, and want to act in certain ways. It’s not a health requirement; a diabetic doesn’t take insulin because they have faith that it’s required of them.

Central point: Claiming the right to a certain behaviour should have no more moral force than claiming the right because you really want to.

And sometimes, that’s a good enough reason. “Because I really want to” is a fine reason for all sorts of things. It’s why I’m eating Toblerone right now. There’s nothing wrong with feeling strongly about taking a particular personal action. But sometimes taking action comes with consequences, and feeling strongly about that action doesn’t let you off the hook for those consequences, even if you’re calling it a religious motivation.

So when judging these “religious discrimination” cases, try imagining that religion doesn’t exist. Imagine that people are just choosing to act a certain way, in the context of doing work they’re getting paid for. Is it reasonable for them to expect to be granted the freedom to act in a way important to them (and nobody else) every time?

In the first two cases, it’s pretty clearly not. The job description for a registrar involves conducting same-sex partnerships, and for a counsellor, to offer counselling (because occasionally the world makes sense). Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane both actively declined to do their jobs, which is not usually something you can choose to do and expect to still have a job.

There were no reasonable grounds for them to make such a refusal. They weren’t being asked to do anything with any significant health risk. They weren’t having to go above and beyond their job description. Offering similar services to same-sex couples is a wholly reasonable expectation for people in their roles, and the only reason they had not to do it was “It’s against my religious beliefs”.

Which, remember, means not an iota more than “I really don’t want to”.

The other cases centre on the wearing of jewellery, which is where the notion of “central or mandatory in a faith tradition” becomes a truly powerful irrelevance. Many people like to wear jewellery, and for the most part this is absolutely fine. There are some things, however, with which it is incompatible. These may include medical practice.

My fiancée is going to start training as a midwife soon. She’s currently wearing her engagement ring, which includes a number of pointy shiny rocks. Now, when she gets to the practical part of midwifery, she’s not going to be allowed to keep wearing that ring, and I don’t suspect anyone will even bother to ask whether it’s a religious matter for her. She does have some strong feelings about that ring – I count myself immensely lucky to be so high on the list of things that my love feels strongly about – but in her role as a medical professional, this carries just as much weight as if it were religious, i.e. none. Hospital rules are what they are, and there are good reasons not to let people keep wearing pointy shiny rocks on their fingers when they’re putting their hands up women to take babies out.

Similarly, if there’s a blanket rule against dangling neck jewellery in a hospital, it’s a safe bet that it’s there for health reasons, and has zero correlation to how badly someone really wants to wear something pretty – regardless of which grisly death of a rabbi from two millennia ago that pretty something represents. This rule pays no heed to religion, doesn’t even notice it’s there. It would apply in the same way to the same shaped piece of metal on a chain, if Christianity didn’t exist and it was just a treasured family heirloom.

It’s nothing to do with your rights as a Christian. You have rights as a person, and as an employee, and while they’re important and may often need defending, they only go so far. And you don’t get extra ones just for believing really hard in stuff.

Okay. I wrote this far yesterday evening, realised it was past my bedtime and I still had more to say, so shelved it until this evening, and now I’ve completely lost the rambling, incoherent plot and have no idea what else I was planning to add to this. So… you’re welcome, I guess.

Read this, it’s shorter and smarter and makes more sense. I guess I could’ve opened with that.

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Gun pride

Something else I heard on the news in the last couple of days stuck with me. The Connecticut school shooter’s first victim was his own mother, who was found dead at her home. It was (at least partly) her guns that Adam Lanza used to take another couple of dozen lives, and she was quoted as being “proud” of her gun collection.

I don’t want to make this particular comment about gun safety, as such. I have no idea how responsible this lady may have been with her collection. I have zero information on how securely the guns in her house were kept, and no reason to start criticising the way she went about trying to keep herself and her family safe.

What I do want to comment on is the use of the word “proud” when people describe their gun collections.

I think it’s a bad idea for that to be something to take pride in.

Well, maybe not in everyone’s case. There are no doubt enthusiasts of history out there, and people with an interest in their technological development, and so forth, whose interest in guns is sincere, learned, and intellectual, who find an appeal and satisfaction to studying their function, recognising and categorising them, understanding the details of their safe and proper use. That can be all well and good. It doesn’t do anything for me, but I know people who go birdwatching to a degree that bewilders me. There’s no accounting for taste, and that’s fine.

But there’s a different flavour of pride some people take in their guns, where it becomes a macho, posturing thing. In many cases, it’s a distinctly masculine way of bragging about how powerful you are, how dominant, how much harm you could do to others if you chose.

That’s an attitude that worries me.

I’m not saying you should be ashamed, or feel like a bad person, if you own any guns, or even if you enjoy owning them. And I’ll even stipulate, for now, that you’re perfectly entitled to own whatever weaponry you’ve got your hands on so far. You want to protect your family from potential threats, intruders, attackers. Sure. There’s a noble sentiment motivating what you do, I’ll give you. This isn’t about shaming anyone.

But the fact that you need, not just guns, but a gun collection to protect your family? That shouldn’t be a point of pride. If such things really are necessary for you and your loved ones to be adequately defended against the world, that’s deeply regrettable. It should be an unfortunate truth, against which you grit your teeth and grimly accept the tragic nature of reality.

At best, a gun collection should be seen as a necessary evil. I can’t see a good reason for it to inspire pride.

Would you feel as proud of your guns as you do now, if you had to use them? If a twenty-year-old tweaker broke into your home in a desperate frenzy one day, wanting to grab something he could sell to get a fix that afternoon, and you shot him dead because you legitimately feared for your family’s safety – would you be proud of what you’d done?

Or would you feel sad and shaken by something like that? Even if you were sure you’d done the right thing, the only thing you could have done in the situation, would you regret the necessity of it? Would you agree that the outcome was a terrible one, even if there was nothing else you could do to prevent it in the moment?

If it’s the latter case, I think that’s understandable. And I think you would do well to extend that attitude toward the ownership of deadly weapons in the first place.

If not… well, if killing someone who broke into your home and attacked you is something you reckon you’d feel positive about, you’re probably such a different person from me that you don’t read this blog a whole lot. If you are, I’d strongly urge you to reconsider your feelings on the value of human life.

There are also those with concerns, not about personal defense against individuals who wish us harm, but about the increased power of centralised authority, if we vote to let them take everyone else’s guns away (which, let’s remember, is not the only thing that “gun control” means, by any stretch). The gist of the argument seems to be that living in a country where the only firearms are in the hands of the government-run military and police forces is a scary notion.

And there’s a lot of truth there, but I’m also deeply unnerved by the blithe acceptance of a police force who need to be stood up to with armed violence. I mean, if the police and the army are such a threat to citizens of their own country, that those citizens need to defend themselves against them with guns… then why the hell do you have such a scary, power-mad police and military?

It’s not that I don’t think abuses of police authority are a serious worry, but surely there are other methods of recourse to deal with the problem. I’m not sure I want a police force or a military around at all if I’m going to have to carry a gun to make sure their behaviour doesn’t get out of hand.

I guess that’d be the right-libertarian ideal, where everyone is no more than a quick-draw away from ending the life of anyone who might pose a threat, so that we can all live in perfect peace under a comforting omni-present blanket of mutually assured destruction. But I’m willing to bet that, if I bothered to do the research, I’d find that the safest places in the world aren’t the places where the most people are armed and ready to shoot each other if anyone else tries starting any shit. I suspect the safest places are those where people don’t tend to own guns, and don’t think about guns all that much.

Things need to change massively before they’re going to stop being awful. I’m rarely crazy about government intervention, but I’m having a hard time seeing the idea of state imposition of gun control laws as a more sinister prospect than the condition of the US as it currently is.

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