Category Archives: Politics

The Donald and the Fury

Donald Trump is not the problem with democracy; he is the revelation of the problem with democracy. He stands for all to witness as Exhibit A of the tendency of democratic governments to move in a direction toward a kind of populism that elevates nationalistic bromides, identity- and/or envy-politics, and alluring but impossible promises over reason, individual rights, and civil discourse. The rise of Bernie Sanders exhibits this phenomenon also, but Sanders, for all his fallacious and dangerous philosophy of governance, is at least not the boor that Trump is. And in the case of Trump, it seems to be his very boorishness that is winning him the most votes.

Trump has been despicable, insulting and belittling others, denying true accusations, and being boastful. He is an egomaniac (of Obama-like proportions), plainly lacking any discernable core values or driving sense of life other than his own aggrandizement. He is a bigot, an unprincipled opportunist, a buffoon, a serial liar, and generally just an all-around ass. These observations make it difficult for me to understand his success in the primary elections up to this point. I have tried to look at it from different angles, but from every one, Trump seems just as unqualified to be President as ever. Perhaps even more mystifying is that his bad behavior does not appear to affect his support or to influence his supporters. Trump supporters are a stiff-necked people, more determined to vote for him the more distasteful he becomes.

Trump’s success has hit me rather hard, both as an American citizen, and as a registered Republican. As a Republican, I am embarrassed—embarrassed that Trump can be winning so often in the primary election cycle, gaining support from so many other self-identifying Republicans. This tells me that something is wrong with the voter base of the party. Apparently, there is a large swathe of Republican primary voters who don’t identify with the party for the same reasons I do: for a belief in limited, constitutional government, a distrust of executive power, for balanced budgets, private property rights and individualism, etc. Rather, they just want someone to yank the power from the other side, not someone who will try to scale it back. And you see endorsements for Trump coming from every angle as well: from the shock-talking Ann Coulter, to the mild-mannered Ben Carson. Carson’s endorsement was especially surprising to me. (It turns out he has been promised a place in the Trump administration.) Neither of these people, apparently, were as conservative as I thought. For Ann Coulter in particular, endorsing Trump has served to show her true colors: did she really want smaller government or just nationalistic right-wing government (more in line with European conservatism than American classical liberal conservatism). I think Coulter long ago got so caught up in her extreme persona, she lost her roots, such as they were. To me, the Trump endorsement proves it. And Breitbart.com has also drunk the Trump Kool-Aid (not that I have followed Breitbart in years).

As an American citizen, I am beginning to lose my faith in the democratic process. The rise of Donald Trump evinces the idea that any clown can win the highest office in the land if he just riles up enough discontent. Both Sanders and Trump operate by arousing envy and dissatisfaction. For Sanders in particular, mob bloodlust against a pre-picked class of people is his go-to stump speech. For Trump, we see a similar M.O., though, being himself among the group of Sanders’ fall guys, he picks on migrant workers and Muslims instead. Hence his asinine promises to build a giant wall along the southern border (and make Mexico fund it) and to deport all 11 million illegal residents. Who believes this gas? Apparently a lot of people, which is my point. Meanwhile, cooler heads and sensible candidates like Rand Paul and John Kasich get left in the dust.

This upsurge in support of a rascal is disillusioning but probably not a permanent shift in American politics. It will come and go. However, rather than cause depression, it serves as a reminder that my ultimate allegiance is not to a democracy, but to a monarchy, in which an absolute Autocrat reigns with supreme and unquestionable authority over all. I speak of the Kingdom of God. And while God rules sovereignly, he also rules with goodness, kindness, wisdom, and grace. He rules over earthly rulers as the King of kings and Lord of lords. He puts heads of state in office and takes them out. It was the will of God that George W. Bush and Barack Obama be presidents of the United States, and the next President likewise will only have his magisterial authority on loan from God.

God does not promise only to put good people in power. But we can be sure that whoever comes into power is there, in the end, to serve some (often mysterious) purpose of God’s. If I lose sight of this, I have cause to be depressed, but in light of God’s sovereignty, I can press on with those things I do have control over, like trying to live faithfully day in and day out, regardless of the politics of moment.

For further reading on the Donald, try:

http://thefederalist.com/2016/03/16/the-lesson-of-2016-people-are-the-worst/#.Vum5Jg3aX3U.twitter

http://www.dennyburk.com/why-social-conservatives-should-support-nevertrump/

http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/la-na-transcript-mitt-romney-trump-speech-20160303-story.html

http://www.worldmag.com/2016/03/the_sewer_politics_of_donald_trump

In fact, just go to thefederalist.com, search “Trump,” and start reading articles. The Federalist represents, for the most part, exactly the kind of insightful, principled, and engaging conservatism that appeals to me (as opposed to the hot-headed, cringe-inducing variety). It may be the best op-ed news site on the Web.

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Legislating Morality

Apparently, some people think it’s improper for the government to impose moral standards on citizens. After all, whose moral standards would be imposed? Who would get to decide which standards everyone else should live by? And would this be fair? Because not everyone individually adheres to or believes in the same set of ethical rights and wrongs, how can the government of a society that is supposed to respect individual rights and liberty choose a particular set of moral standards and demand that everyone live by them?

Well, I’ve got news for you: almost all legislation legislates morality … and we’re all okay with that.

Intent vs. Motive

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This tweet from @ImusZero was a reaction to a headline in Reason Magazine (a libertarian political journal) that Pat Robertson had changed his mind about legalizing marijuana. He had supported it, but recently came out against it, saying that “little kids are getting high.” ImusZero says we should stop legislating morality and let God be our judge.

God is our judge, which is no light matter. It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But we have human judges too. And these human judges are appointed by God for the time being to carry out his work of promoting justice. But what about this stuff about not legislating morality? I responded that almost all legislation legislates morality. She later “liked” my tweet, making me think she misunderstood me as agreeing with her and saying that almost all legislation should be done away with.

What I really meant is that she had no clue what she was saying. Laws against rape, embezzlement, kidnapping, dog fighting, dumping toxic chemicals in the river, and drunk driving all legislate morality. They impose certain moral standards on everyone. But these are obvious laws to have, you might say. Clearly, these things cannot be allowed, and they’re not like a personal choice to smoke a joint. They may not be like the choice to smoke a joint*, but they are all matters of morality. Whether rape or polluting the river are wrong are moral questions. Even whether they are “bad for society” is a moral question, for what is “bad” is a moral question. Is the spread of disease bad? Why? On what grounds do you say so? Are peace and order good? That’s self-evident to most, but it is also a moral question, and ultimately, one must ask whether one’s foundational beliefs can provide the scaffolding for such assertions. They may be called goods because they promote happiness, but why is happiness good? And if happiness is the basis for morality, that leads to conflicts, as someone may derive happiness from doing that which hurts someone else.

In the end, some general moral principles must be reached, moral judgments must be made, and those, through the law, must be imposed upon everyone. We can argue legitimately about what should and what should not be enforced. But to make the general claim that we should stop legislating morality is utter nonsense.

 

* There is a difference between “mutual acts” in which everyone involved is involved voluntarily, and acts in which there are willing and unwilling parties involved. ImusZero may believe everything in the first category should be allowed, though not all those things are necessarily good. My saying that they’re not all good is itself a moral judgement that she may not agree with, depending on her definition of good.

Protect Hate Speech

People can say stupid things. Some people say stupid things frequently, and others may say things with the intent to inflame or offend certain other people. Especially with that latter group, it may seem that it would be reasonable, whether for the preservation of public order or peace, or to protect groups of people from verbal persecution, to use the law to put a stop to the kind of speech or literature that demeans or ridicules people or portrays them in a false light. Some might even suggest that not doing so would be ignoring the right to privacy or freedom of religion, expression, etc., by creating an environment where a group of people may feel oppressed simply because of their race, beliefs, lifestyles or whatever else.

While people are rightly entitled to legal action against personal slander, libel, and defamation, we must be clear about what kind of proclamations do and do not fall within those categories. It is illegal to say something false about a particular person that damages his reputation or costs him financially. It is not illegal to say something true about a person that damages his reputation or costs him financially.

What else does not qualify as slander or libel is offensive speech or speech that demeans a group of people. If it did, there’d be a line of ex-comedians at the unemployment office. And what even more emphatically does not qualify as slander is the expression of beliefs or the expressed disagreement with someone else’s point of view or way of life.

In England on September 5, Rob Hughes, a street preacher in Basildon, was arrested after a lesbian woman accused him of engaging in hate speech against homosexuals. He was asked by police whether he had said that homosexuality was sinful, as if such a statement would have been hateful. He replied that although he had not said so that day, it was something he would say. Hughes was subsequently arrested, fingerprinted, and detained for seven hours.

Let’s be honest: the statement that homosexuality is sinful and morally wrong is 1) true, and 2) not in itself hateful. However, let us assume someone were saying hateful things against homosexuals. Assume someone were saying hateful things about anyone. What should be done about it? By government, nothing. The right to free speech must protect the peaceful expression of all view points, hateful or otherwise, or it is no guarantee of any right to speech at all. This is especially true since the definition of “hateful” is fluid and often subjective. In fact, the definition has changed so much in recent decades, that the word is now frequently used merely to intimidate and silence those whose views one does not like (see Rob Hughes case above.)

Free speech includes the right to say nasty things about religions, lifestyles, behaviors, beliefs. It means we protect the right of others to say things we do not like or that we find offensive, distasteful, ignorant, or inflammatory, because we ourselves, if we say anything of value, are sure to sound that way to someone else.

Understand, I believe very strongly in civility. I believe in expressing and exchanging ideas and arguments in a respectful, courteous way. But many people falsely believe that “respectful” means you must concede some degree of correctness or value in someone else’s beliefs (it does not). Also, civility is connected to attitude and manner, not to the ideas expressed and furthermore, wrongheaded, ignorant, and hateful speech must be corrected and ended only by citizens of society through counter-argumentation and persuasion and not by the state, because there is no telling what ideas the state may at any time consider “hateful.” Granted, the state must prosecute acts of violence. But if the state begins prosecuting the expression of certain ideas—regardless of how hateful some may think those ideas or how much some may not like them—then our right to free speech is gone with the wind. In a free society, the right to make hate speech must be protected.

Why I Will Never Vote To Recognize Same-Sex Unions as Marriages

In 2008, Californians passed Prop 8, a state constitutional amendment providing that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Many called it a gay marriage ban, but the language of a ban was misleading in a couple ways. One, homosexual “marriage” was not legally recognized before. You can’t really ban something that isn’t already happening. Second, the amendment was not banning same-sex “marriage,” and I do not know of any proposition anywhere to ban same-sex “marriage” across the board or to prevent same-sex couples from having a ceremony performed for them and calling it a marriage privately—nor would I support such a prohibition. What Prop 8 does is make plain that same-sex “marriage” simply will not be legally recognized by the state or be of any legal status qualifying such relationships for the legal benefits associated with real marriages.

I believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry on their own terms. They may have relationships and call their relationships whatever they want. But these private “marriages” should not be legally recognized nor given the same legal benefits as real marriages. Here’s why.

1.) Same-sex relationships, whatever they may be, are not marriages.

I did not say they should not be marriages. They cannot be marriages. No one can alter that. As I stated, they can be pretend marriages, and I’m certainly not trying to take that away from any couple. But by definition and by nature, same-sex relationships cannot be marriages (regardless if they were legally recognized as such, I might add). Marriage is not an institution that is invented or defined by culture, by society, by government, or by majority opinion. Marriage exists independent of these social infrastructures, and human culture simply expresses marriage in unique ways, through various ceremonies or rites. These rites do not have to look anything alike. You do not have to use the 1549 Book of Common Prayer for a marriage to be valid. You only have to be uniting by solemn vows a man and a woman into an exclusive relationship with each other.

Marriage, I believe, has a natural teleology, or an origin or cause that exists as a built-in part of the natural order. In fact, this natural teleology is easily discerned. There are two sexes, male and female. The proportion of these in the population averages 50/50. A man and a woman are the only pair of human beings that can procreate or start a family. Procreation is only possible for adult (post-pubescent) persons. Marriage, therefore, is the union of an adult man and an adult woman, and these two only. Different cultures and subcultures have institutionalized other forms of marriage, such as polygamy and polyandry, but these aberrant forms of marriage were incorrect. That is to say, because marriage has a natural teleology, a culture can get it right or get it wrong. Marriage is expressed by a culture, not defined by it.

Thus I will never vote for the legal recognition of homosexual relationships as marriages because such recognition is contrary to fact. Public policy should operate in accord with the facts. It should live in the real world. Because marriage is one thing and not another, and is not an arbitrary social construct, same-sex “marriage,” along with other aberrant kinds, although not prohibited among private citizens, should not have any legal standing or special legal recognition.

2.)  Their is no reason for the government to be involved with same-sex relationships.

The state has no interest—social, economic, or otherwise—in encouraging same-sex relationships and should therefore not be involved at all. The government only has a vested interest in encouraging heterosexual marriage because such marriages create families and families make up society—the society that the government is there for. The only familial relationships that should be acknowledged and recorded by the state are those of close kin, and those of husbands and wives. For instance, I have a best friend, but the government takes no particular notice of it. Homosexual relationships should be treated the same way because they are of no more value to the survival of society than my relationship with my friend. We are not barred from being friends—we are just not afforded any special legal privileges for it. The government should recognize only monogamous heterosexual marriages because only these unions can keep a society from extinction by attrition, and because the two-parent home is the best nurturing environment for children, who are the future of any society.

Of course, not all heterosexual couples can procreate and not all choose to do so. Why then should the government recognize their marriages? Because the pattern for marriage in nature is normative. The government’s role is not to granularly pick which people may get married—it is everyone’s right to get married. It is the government’s role to acknowledge and foster the kind of marriage that produces and nurtures the next generation. That kind of marriage is conjugal marriage, heterosexual monogamous marriage. The circumstances surrounding any particular couple do not affect the rule, standard, or pattern established in nature that the government is to acknowledge.

For these two reasons, I will never vote for the recognition of same-sex “marriage.” A public policy that treats homosexual relationships the same way as heterosexual relationships does not make sense in regards to either social policy or factual integrity.  I have one other thing to add: If marriage is ever treated as though it has no basis in nature and is only a societal construct that we define, then marriage will mean anything, and therefore nothing. There will be no compelling moral reason for legal marriages to exclude any kind of consensual amorous configuration of persons (hopefully persons), whether it be polyamorous, pedophilic, homosexual, incestuous,  or whatever. Marriage is the covenantal unifying relationship between one man and one woman. Public policy that does not reflect that is both grounded on false premises and is uselessly involving itself in relationships that are not societally different from platonic relationships.

Bloomberg Rex

BloombergRex

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York loves his constituents so much—like an mother, in fact, not willing to let her children get wet without a bright orange inflatable on each arm. And the citizens of New York should really thank him for looking after them so closely. If left to themselves, they would engage in self-destructive behavior because they don’t know what is best for them. But Mother Bloomberg does. Mother always knows best.

Take sugary drinks, for instance. Mother Bloomberg has pushed forward a prohibition on the sale of soda in quantities larger than sixteen ounces. This is not the Mayor’s idea of a joke. He really does believe that New Yorkers are too stupid to make their own choices, and too irresponsible to bear the consequences of the choices they make. This kind of government management of the personal dietary decisions of the governed would be funny if it were not real. But as it is, it should be alarming, because it reveals something about the nature of those in power: that without checks, they tend toward greater control. When we talk about someone buying a 24 oz. Coke at a McDonald’s, we are talking about the conduct of two consenting adults; why does Mayor Bloomberg need to be peeking in the window making sure this doesn’t happen? Bloomberg’s ban on Coca-cola had to be approved, of course—approved by a health board whose members were appointed by, well, Bloomberg. So this was hardly a real mechanism for stopping the overreach of the long arm of the state. And politicians love telling people what they can and cannot do, worse still the more leftist they tend to lean.

There is another important factor not to be overlooked. One of the prime justifications for prohibitions of this sort is highlighted by one of the measure’s supporters. He says, “Anyone who pays taxes and thus bears the health care costs of obesity should support this.” Be aware, when the public pays for health care, not through private insurance, but through government programs, the government, who also makes law, then has a justifiable financial interest in controlling your behavior. To keep the costs of health care down, mandates of all stripes may present themselves to the ruling class. And the more government bears the burden of health care, the more this becomes the case. This is not merely theory. Bloomberg’s patronizing restrictions are scary, but just a beginning. Japan, where health care is run by government, has already passed a law regulating waist sizes. Reporting on this, the New York Times notes that “the Ministry [of Health] also says that curbing widening waistlines will rein in a rapidly aging society’s ballooning health care costs, one of the most serious and politically delicate problems facing Japan today.”  The people who are sounding a warning about the Orwellian ramifications of government-run health care do not sound like wild-eyed alarmists anymore.

Majority Rule and Minority Rights

A while back, I was listening to the Michael Medved show—a great forum for discussion, or, as the host likes to put it, your daily dose of debate. A gentleman called in advocating increased taxation on the wealthy. This seems to be the progressive panacea, and the idea has popular appeal right now due to the perception that “the rich” are gliding by unaffected while millions of Americans are struggling to pay their daily expenses. But taxation of the rich is a feel-good measure without any real problem-solving teeth to it. And in any case, the rich are already paying an awful lot. The host rattled off some figures to this effect, but the caller was not dissuaded. He said that it didn’t matter how much the rich were paying now. Why? Because most Americans want them to pay more.

What I want to address is this idea that as long as the most Americans want something, it should be put into practice. The caller’s philosophy seemed to be that the majority defines right and wrong. What if it isn’t right to confiscate more from a certain class of people? This question did not seem to enter into his mind. But it has entered into mine. Thomas Jefferson recognized the the potential of a straight democracy to trample the rights of the minority when he said, “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” This is why rather than a pure democracy, we in the U.S. have a constitutional democratic republic, in which we elect representatives and in which minority rights are protected. Majority opinion can never justify the violation of the rights of men, no matter how few. Numbers do not determine right and wrong. To me, it doesn’t matter if most Americans want to hike up tax rates on people making a certain amount of money. Creating, as someone else has put it, a tyranny of the middle class is not okay whether it it is popular or not.  Most Americans could want anything. My point here, though, is not about tax rates. My point is that the mere fact that most Americans want something does not justify it. That way of thinking suppresses nonconformists—and while par for the course among radical leftists, such suppression is a chilling thought to those who wish to conserve free thought and free action and self-ownership. Human rights are not subject to change.

Progressive Inequity is Alive in American Politics

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/hJNRgf3_bgI%2Em4v%5D

This set of clips was something of a shock to me. Maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention. I knew there were progressives affecting and trying harder to affect the American landscape, but I didn’t realize how many and how hardline these progressives were. There desire is plain: to socialize U.S. economics, allocate more power to government over companies and individuals, and to redistribute wealth in a socialist fashion. This is serious because such an economic system is not merely unsustainable; it is immoral. It is a moral wrong for the government to use the force of law to redistribute wealth from some citizens to others. It is a violation of the property rights of the citizens whose wealth is expropriated and a mockery of the human dignity of the citizens to whom it is distributed, and the whole process is an affront on the freedom and rights of the people.

Why is redistribution evil? Quite simply, because all human beings are created equal. As an intrinsic law of nature, you own yourself. This is what makes involuntary servitude immoral—because it forces people to invest themselves without reaping the fruits of their own investment. That is, it is forcing people to give away a part of themselves, and this is stealing. Let me break it down. You own yourself. When you labor, that labor comes from you and belongs to you by right. As it is your natural possession, you are free to trade it for any compensation you agree is fair. For most of us nowadays, we trade it for money, in an amount we have agreed to with the party receiving our labor (our employer). They want our time and energy more than they want the compensation we get from trading it to them, and we want the money more than that same allotment of our time and energy, so we enter into contract and are both satisfied.

Now, say someone stronger than you made you work for him without pay. That is immoral because it is stealing. He is taking what is yours without giving you anything in return. It is also immoral because it necessarily denies the self-ownership of the one in forced, uncompensated labor, thereby making a person into a possession. We know what to call this: it’s slavery.

When the government takes what some people have legally earned and gives it to someone else, this is also stealing, and it means that a certain amount of work those people have done has been done as slave labor. I don’t know about you, but I want a society that has left slavery behind! It also denies the total self-ownership of the people whose wealth is being “spread around.” The government is saying, We own part of you. The amount of wealth a person has legally earned or inherited is not relevant to the question of the immorality of expropriating that wealth by force.

On the other hand, any possessions you own you are free to give away. Since this is done with your consent, such charitable giving is moral, not immoral, and does not result in slave labor nor is it demeaning to the recipients.

Socialism is an evil system of economics. Communism is an evil system of government. Capitalism is simple the practical consequence of freedom, and I want to live in a free country. Think before you vote. Then vote—even if you come to different conclusions than I have.


As a note of clarification, it is morally permissible for the government to levy taxes to provide for the general welfare and the common defense. This means the government can use tax money to provide services for all, but not for particular people. This would include certain infrastructure, and more importantly, the ability to enforce contracts, and protect the people from violence and fraud or any violation of their natural rights, which are infringements upon their persons. I think of it like this: the government should provide the people with an environment in which they have the liberty to pursue happiness and prosperity, should defend their natural rights and protect from internal and external enemies, but must never guarantee happiness or prosperity to anyone (the only means of making good on such a guarantee being to violate the natural rights of other citizens, which the government is supposed to be preventing or punishing).

Free Speech and the FCC

Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

When people, even people who have the power of addressing many others via various media outlets, begin to say things that I don’t like, there are two ways I can react. Either I prefer that their ideas be engaged in a free and open interchange of ideas, or I prefer that their voice be squashed. The latter may be superficially gratifying, but it goes against everything I believe about how society should operate.

Right now, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, with about thirty other organizations, have written to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking them to grant their “Petition for Inquiry on hate speech in media.”  The petition was filed in January 2009. Inquiry on hate speech? What is this, the Inquisition? The NHMC insists that hate, extremism, and misinformation have been increasing and that the “current media landscape is a safe-haven for hate and extremism.”  While having no clue what extremism they’re talking about, I must add that I know popular media outlets are very selective about what they report, how they report it, and often, supposedly hard news programs add a lot of commentary. (Even a quick perusal of MRC.org will leave you no doubt.) In addition, the commentary programs can become vitriolic or unreasonable. I’m not defending [insert news outlet here].  I’m defending free speech. In other words, I believe that the FCC should not be involved in either regulating what things are said on television and radio (or any other medium) or mandating that counterpoints and opposing views be aired. (How they could do this is a mystery). I believe that it is of no concern to any government agency what people say, or with what intent.

People have the right, and must have the right, to say hateful things, to try to convince people of false things, and to say inflammatory things—even if with the specific intention to inflame.  Maybe people shouldn’t say such things. But people have the right to say things they shouldn’t. If they don’t, we must ask, who decides what is okay to say, and on what basis? If you’re okay with some speech being shut down, what will you do when they come to shut you down?

Furthermore, fairness should not (and anyway cannot) be imposed by the government. “Fairness,” if it must exist, should come about much more organically: by the freedom of those who disagree to express their views as much as anyone else! No speech should be either supported or suppressed by the government. If there is a grossly overwhelming bias towards, say, a particular stand on an issue or a particular political leaning in some region or among some demographic, it is the government’s duty to… do absolutely nothing about it. They have other duties altogether. The letter written by the NHMC says that “as the [FCC] deliberates how the public interest will be served in the digital age, it should consider the extent of hate speech in media, and its effects.”  No, actually, it shouldn’t! Besides, “hate speech” is code for “speech I don’t want people to hear because I disagree.” Bogus designations like “hate speech” open the door to shutting down all kinds of speech—whatever is deemed unacceptable by those in power at any given time. It’s a hideous idea that the FCC would consider implementing any actions in accordance with NHMC’s asinine requests, and hopefully they are not. If we lose freedom of speech, we lose the freedom that undergirds all the others.

If you disagree with a point of view, engage it in rational debate, don’t silence it. Silencing opposing views reveals the weakness of your own view. The NHMC has the right to express its frighteningly oppressive views. And I have the right to express my views. At least for now. And my view is that First Amendment rights are vital to any society that wants to call itself free.

Cellphone Bans

USA Today reported that “The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI), an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), examined insurance claims for crash damage in California, Connecticut, New York, and Washington D.C., before and after handheld [cellphone] bans took effect and found no reduction in crashes.” Adrian Lund, president of IIHS, says she is surprised by the findings, and that the key finding is that “crashes aren’t going down where handheld phone use has been banned,” even though, according to Barbara Harsha, Executive Director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, “we know cellphone use goes down when it is banned.”

Cellphone bans do reduce cellphone usage while driving. Reduced cellphone usage while driving does notreduce accidents. Bottom line: it doesn’t make any difference. Leave us alone, please.

Intent vs. Motive

There is always a tension, as it relates to law, between an act committed and the reasons it was committed, and whether to judge the active agent of the crime by which of these. In the second chapter of Orson Scott Card’s novel Speaker for the Dead, there is an interesting tidbit about motivation versus action. Says Card,

It was the fashion of Calvinists at Reykjavic to deny any weight to human motive in judging the good or evil of an act. Acts are good and evil in themselves, they said; and because Speakers for the Dead held as their only doctrine that good or evil exist entirely in human motive, and not at all in the act, it made students like Styrka quite hostile to Andrew.

I don’t know whether to be impressed that Card grants, in this universe, that Calvinism will have lasted over 3,000 years, or to be offended at his description of its adherents. But I digress. The question of motive is an important one, I believe, in judging the morality or immorality of an action. Was it done with the intention to hurt or help? Did the agent know what he was doing and its ramifications, or did he or she act in ignorance, or with the expectation of different results? These, it would seem to me (even as a Calvinist) bear upon the question of how good or evil an action was. However, I do sympathize with the Reykjavician Calvinism of the future in this: that I do believe–I am sure, in fact–that wrong things can be done with the highest ideals as their impetus, and remain wrong things. That is, even sincerely done for good, the act is wrong. It is independent of the motivation behind it, in some way. Only this belief is respectful to the victim of the action in question. I suppose, then, that I lie in between Andrew and Styrka in this debate. But, if you will allow, I will move on.

I wanted to discuss the difference between intention and motivation, and to comment on their relevancy to the administration of justice. I believe, and I believe strongly, that intent is extremely germane to the question of justice in any given case. I believe just as strongly that motive is not. What I mean is this, that in court, intent must be judged, it must be weighed, in making a ruling, but motive must be ignored. We understand this already, and generally, this is how judgments are determined. For example, in the case of one person killing another. We have words like “involuntary manslaughter” and “premeditated murder” to help us distinguish between intentional and unintentional killing. Indeed, in there are degrees of murder, in which the extent and degree of a person’s intent is weighed. A killer receives a more severe sentence for committing murder in the spur of a heated moment (this is a crime of passion) than for accidentally hitting and killing a pedestrian in his car. And again, a more severe sentence for planning in detail, months ahead of time, to kill someone, and how to do it, than for the unplanned crime of passion. This is appropriate. However, it is not appropriate to decide a sentence based upon motive. That is, if you have two cases of first degree murder, in which one man committed a premeditated murder for one reason, and another man for another reason, they should not receive different degrees of punishment because of it. Intent deals with whether a person wanted or planned to commit an act. Motive deals with why he wanted to commit it.

Determining the motive of a crime is sound detective work, because it will help discover who the criminal was. But it has no place being factored in behind the bench. To do so is to do two things. First, it is to punish not only a crime (an action), but what a person was thinking when committing it. I do not want to live in a country in which thoughts are criminalized. That is thought control. It means that, although some actions are rightly regulated, I am no longer free to believe whatever I want. I want to live in a country where people are free to believe whatever they choose, and are not judged for their beliefs. This is why I am so disturbed by the designation of “hate crime,” not merely to assault, but to assault with a presumed motive. This is the beginning of thought policing. Second, judging motive apparently makes some of the victims of a crime less important, or less victimized, than victims of the same crime (done with different motives). This is because, as I see it, the measure of punishment a criminal receives is a measure of how much his victims were hurt. (Hence pick-pocketing receives a less severe punishment than identity theft, and murder is capital.) To use the example of severer punishments for “hate criminals,” it would it would imply that one innocent victim of battery is less valuable, or was less hurt by it, than another, because the victims were beat up for different reasons. That’s unfair to the victims and deplorable to justice.

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