A middle-aged man dreaming of the day when he can stop begging for scraps and write for a living.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Modern Voter Suppression

For forty years it's been an article of faith that low voter turnout favors Republican candidates. It's one of the reasons why people attribute more electoral victories for Republicans in mid-term election seasons than for Democrats. The truth is that low voter participation favors extremism and further polarizes our politics, but that's neither here nor there. For at least the past twenty years Republicans have been working to discourage voter participation under the guise of voter fraud.

By the most amazing of coincidences, the voter ID laws being passed by Republican state majorities tend to discourage minorities and the poor more than anything else. Of course, conservatives are quick to argue that these laws aren't racist at all, that people disenfranchised by these laws are too lazy. But the fact is that these laws are responsible for lower voter participation among Democratic-voting citizens. The fact that it also tends to target voters who are minorities is apparently just icing on the cake; the racism is incidental rather than intentional.

Republican defenders of these laws insist it's about fairness and combatting fraud, but since Republicans have spent millions of dollars trying to prove voter fraud over ten years and have found only a handful of cases to support their claims, this argument falls flat. Instead we should listen to what Republicans are saying among themselves when it comes to these laws:

So yes, Republicans can argue that this is really about fairness but if your idea of fairness is to discourage a few cases of fraud at the expense of hundreds of thousands or millions of voters, I really have to question your motives.

Friday, July 17, 2015

God is intangible, unknowable and ineffable. Except when he isn't. (updated)

One of the fundamental flaws I often criticize about religious belief is when believers want their cake and eat it too. Specifically, I refer to when their arguments rely too heavily on special pleading. And no, adding caveats to the definition of a god does not bypass special pleading. I can redefine chocolate as the essential first cause of the universe, but that doesn't make the definition valid.

But other examples of special pleading include arguments like this: god is mysterious, unfathomable and uknowable but somehow believers are granted special knowledge of who this god is, what it is and what it demands. Believers typically justify this via "special revelation," that they or their religious founders have been granted special knowledge by that god to carry out the divine will. Each religion and sect claiming special revelation typically considers the special revelation other religions and sects as heresy or at least attributed to human error. But since there are so many special revelations, how does someone not raised or converted to one particular orthodoxy distinguish which are the truly divine revelations and which are heresy? This problem is informally called the argument from inconsistent revelations. One of the supporting criticisms against divine revelation is the way it tends to follow cultural and geographical boundaries.

A point I've made before is that no religion has any better argument or evidence to support it than any other. Believers aren't basing their claims on independently observable phenomenon, they're projecting what they think should be true rather than what they can demonstrate to be true. There's no common experience for believers to reference so revelations vary from culture and region and even among different believers. This leads us to the skeptical position that if a god does not leave any traces for us to observe, then we have no reason to assume that anything we see supports the existence of this god. If this god is unknowable and incomprehensible, then we have no reason to assume anyone understands anything about it and can accurately represent it.

So which is it? Is a god knowable or not? If not then the discussion is closed. If so then show us examples that clearly demonstrate how this knowledge is valid and not human bias. Excuses aren't enough.