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Showing posts with label free speech. Show all posts
Showing posts with label free speech. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

That Google Memo and the Glory of Motherhood

Saying that men and women are different is now a very dangerous thing. Notice I didn't say anything about one being inferior or another being better. Just calling out the fact that males and females as broad groups have differences in motivations, desires, and place different values aspects of life is something that can now get you fired, even though these findings are agreed upon by a consensus of scientists who study such issues.

Google employee James Damore wrote that now-famous (infamous?) Google Memo (read it here), asking some poignant questions of the company's diversity push. Damore did his homework and did not stereotype. He didn't say that women were biologically incapable of doing tech jobs, as is being repeated ad nauseam in the press. He simply talked about trends and interest differences between men and women. In fact, he explicitly wrote :
I'm not saying that all men differ from women in the following ways or that these differences are "just." I'm simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there' s significant overlap between men and women, so you can't say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.1
Damore cited his sources, too.  Scholar David P. Schmitt confirms there is scholarly evidence for Damore's claims and then observes:
Culturally universal sex differences in personal values and certain cognitive abilities are a bit larger in size (see here), and sex differences in occupational interests are quite large. It seems likely these culturally universal and biologically-linked sex differences play some role in the gendered hiring patterns of Google employees. For instance, in 2013, 18% of bachelor's degrees in computing were earned by women, and about 20% of Google technological jobs are currently held by women. Whatever affirmative action procedures Google is using appear to be working pretty well (at least at the tech job level).2
So 18% of women choose to graduate with a degree in computer science and Google' s hiring rate for jobs that would require this type of degree is 20% female. Why is this controversial?

The Unmentioned Assumption: Women without Powerful Careers are Losers

One has to wonder why there's such a virulent backlash against this memo. I think part of it is simply because many women hear that they are being repressed given the vast majority of tech jobs being held by men and they believe there is some kind of systemic sexism going on. However, they themselves may not personally want to become a computer programmer, they just don't like the way the numbers look.

The Guardian ran an interesting article where one woman was talking to her friend about the pressures placed upon women in today's drive for equality. The friend argued that since all the women now go to work, the country has seen a fairer distribution of jobs than before, but women aren't happier for it. She claimed that women who aspire to have children actually got the short end of the stick because the pressure to not be a stay-at-home mom was great.  The author reflected on this and concluded:
I avoided parenthood for the best part of 40 years, having been led to believe it would feel like a stultifying trap compared to the excitement of wage-earning work. Turns out, at the last minute before the door closed, to be more fulfilling than anything I have ever done!3
That's the unspoken piece in this whole debate. Maybe there are a lot of women who are like the author above, who think  that a successful career is the key defining metric for a woman and then become shockingly surprised to find out how natural and fulfilling it is to nurture and mold the very lives, values,  and sensibilities of the next generation can be.

When women argue about their value coming from their careers, they are really using a man's yardstick. Why should we assume that this is the best way to measure success? I think G.K. Chesterton summed the controversy up best. He wrote:
When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.4


1. Damore, James. "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber." Letter. July 2017. Google Diversity Memo. N.p., July 2017. Web. 08 Aug. 2017.
2. Schmitt, David P. "On That Google Memo About Sex Differences." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 07 Aug. 2017. Web. 08 Aug. 2017.
3. Mitchell, Victoria Coren. "Women Can Still Have It All. Can't They?" The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 10 June 2017. Web. 08 Aug. 2017.
4. Chesterton, Gilbert Keith. What's Wrong with the World? London: Cassell & Co. Ltd., 1910. Print. 132-133

Monday, May 11, 2015

Proofs Society Is Regressing: Abdicating Our Right to Speak

Imagine you had two children. One became a philosophy professor, the other an engineer. Which would you say chose the more valuable occupation? Would the choice of their respective careers demonstrate which child was more intelligent? Which one knew the world better? Today, it is the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses that are emphasized in schools. The humanities, like literature, history, and philosophy are considered additions to the sciences, not equally necessary to them. But that's because our society is terribly biased.

The bias stems from a widespread belief that society always progresses forward. That is, the beliefs and knowledge we have today supersedes those of a century ago. Three hundred years ago humanity was even more superstitious and ignorant than the people of the last century and a thousand years ago they were even worse. Humanity has been marching in an upward trajectory and we've never been smarter or understood our world better than we do today.

I think that such a belief is itself indicative of the poor intellectual shape to which modern culture has succumbed. Of course we know more about science. We can do things that were heretofore unimaginable. But while it is true we know more about the workings of our world, it is equally true we know less about the workings of ourselves and what makes civilizations prosper. We've emphasized our ability to manipulate our environment while abandoning the values and philosophies that allowed us to achieve such feats in the first place.

Living in The Age of Feeling

Historians sometimes classify human history into specific ages where the culture stresses specific aspects of their society. We had the Age of Empires with Greece and Rome. Then, as Fulton J. Sheen notes, the Middle Ages would be classified as the Age of Faith. After the renaissance, humanity entered the Age of Reason. So, what age now we are living now? Sheen says we are now living in the Age of Feeling.1 We are living is what Sorokin labeled a sensate culture. We place too much value on the feelings we and others feel, and it is making us stupider as a culture.

I can think of at least three ways our culture has demonstrated it values feeling about all else:
  1. We would sacrifice our rights rather than feel uncomfortable
  2. We would ignore our biology instead of recognize human limitations
  3. We would sacrifice excellence in exchange for parity
Let's look at the first of these; our society is giving up our rights as human beings in order to promote the comfort of others.

Uncomfortable Speech is No Longer Tolerated

During the Age of Reason, very intelligent people recognized that a free and modern society could only prosper through the free exchange of ideas. This meant that freedom to express unpopular ideas would be crucial to advancement. Today, we have taken the opposite position, and this has been never more apparent than in our institutions of higher educations. Colleges were viewed as the place that promoted the free exchange of ideas. Now, they shelter and cloister their students from anything that a small elite defines as "hateful" or offensive.  Schools like Oberlin College offer "trigger-warnings" on course material that may upset a student.

Other schools like Rutgers University and Smith College have disinvited speakers because a small group of students and faculty disagreed with their political positions. Oberlin did host Christina Hoff Sommers, only to have students protest her presence, try to shout her down, or like those at Georgetown create "safe spaces" for students where they wouldn't listen to the speaker and instead take comfort in the seclusion of comfortable ignorance. How is this helping to shape the future leaders in society? How can we take Oberlin or its students seriously when instead of listening to an intelligent, articulate adult present her case on a position you may disagree with, you instead want to act like a child and hold your fingers in your ears? That isn't progress; that regress.

There are two additional ways our society demonstrates that it is becoming less advanced rather than more advanced. I will look at each ibn upcoming blog posts. But for now, pray that enough people become sickened by such antics that they stand up for our right to free speech, even speech with which they disagree. One good way of doing this is to not give money to any college or university that upholds things like speech codes on campus. See the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's latest report to find out which schools meet this criterion.

Continue to part two of this article ».


1. Sheen, Fulton J. Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J. Sheen. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980. Print. 23.
Image courtesy Emanuela Franchini and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) License.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

What Islam Really Teaches About Images of Muhammad

The world is in shock at the grave tragedy in which twelve people were gunned down at Charlie Hebdo by Muslim extremists. The French satirical newspaper had published several cartoon caricatures of the Islamic prophet Muhammad over the years, many of them placing the prophet in scandalous or obscene positions.

Islamic activist and Sharia law lecturer Anjem Choudary seemed to justify the attack in a USAToday Opposing Views piece where he said that freedom of expression "comes with responsibilities" and explained that "the potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad are known to Muslims and non-Muslims alike."1 He seems to place the emphasis on the satirical aspect of the portrayals rather than the fact that these were images of Muhammad. However, it's being reported that any depiction of Muhammad is banned in Islam. A CNN report entitled "Why Islam forbids images of Mohammed" wrote that "The prohibition again illustrating the Prophet Mohammed began as an attempt to ward off idol worship." They also note the prohibition extends to other prophets and noted that "some Muslim countries banned the films Noah and Exodus this year because their leading characters were Hebrew prophets."2

But that's not quite what Islam teaches.

No Images of Any Living Creature

To be clear, there is no prohibition whatsoever against images of the prophets in the Qur'an. The closest one gets is Sura 21:52 where Abraham rebukes the idol worship of his people with the question "What are these statues to which you are devoted?"3 However, it isn't only the Qur'an that informs the religion of Muslims. Muslims must also rely on the traditions of Muhammad, as recorded in a series of books known as the Hadith. There are different Hadith for different factions of Muslims, but most Muslims are Sunni by far and their Hadith bans not simply depictions of Muhammad or the prophets, but any visual representation of any person or animal is forbidden!

One such Hadith has Muhammad rebuking a woman who purchased a pillow for him to recline upon because it had images of people on it:
Narrated ‘Aisha: (the wife of the Prophet)

I bought a cushion having pictures on it. When Allah's Apostle saw it, he stopped at the gate and did not enter. I noticed the signs of hatred (for that) on his face! I said, "O Allah's Apostle! I turn to Allah and His Apostle in repentance! What sin have I committed?" He said, "What about this cushion?" I said, ‘I bought it for you to sit on and recline on." Allah's Apostle said, "The makers of these pictures will be punished (severely) on the Day of Resurrection and it will be said to them, ‘Make alive what you have created.'" He added, "Angels do not enter a house in which there are pictures." (Sahih Bukhari, Book 72, Number 844)4
Another Hadith has Muhammad stating, ""Angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or there are pictures." (Sahih Bukhari, Book 72, Number 833)5 According to an article on, Muslim scholars both ancient and recent have concluded that anyone making depictions of living creatures will be required by Allah to breathe life into them on the Day of Resurrection. When one cannot, that person will be punished for idolatry. 6 The article goes on to state that: "'No pictures' includes no photos (still or moving). ‘No pictures' might reduce idolatry, but the reason given is not that, but that Allah will torment all who have made pictures" and "No pictures in the home includes no television in the home."7

The prohibition on images in Islam is wide and sweeping. The Answering-Islam article notes that for some reason while images on a pillow are banned, Muhammad didn't have a problem with little girls playing with dolls.8 This makes little sense as the doll makers are certainly doing the same thing as sculptors or pillow manufacturers. Also, most Muslims today don't seem to ban television or cameras from their homes.

The ban on images is simply one more way to underscore the fragmented nature of the teachings of Islam. The press misunderstands the ban and in some ways helps justify the offense in the eyes of the west by limiting it to some kind of attack only on the holiest figures of the Islamic faith. That is a misrepresentation, since even a harmless depiction of an anonymous individual is not allowed. Choudary allowed the USAToday web site to publish his Op-Ed with images of people accompanying the piece. He also has his own web site that shows his picture.  Such actions show the hypocrisy of his stance.


1. Choudary, Anjem. "People Know the Consequences: Opposing View." USA Today. Gannett, 08 Jan. 2015. Web. 08 Jan. 2015.
2. Burke, Daniel. "Why Islam Forbids Images of Mohammed." CNN. Cable News Network, 8 Jan. 2015. Web. 08 Jan. 2015.
3. "Surat Al-'Anbyā' (The Prophets) - سورة الأنبياء." Qur' Qur', n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2015.
4. Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 72, Number 844. Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. University of Southern California, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. .
5. Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 72, Number 833. Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement. University of Southern California, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2015. .
6. "Are Pictures of Muhammad Really Forbidden In Islam?" Answering Islam. Answering Islam, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2015.
7. Answering Islam, Ibid.
8. Answering Islam, Ibid.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Beware the Thought Police Against Religion!

Although I'm considered an early-adopter on the technology front, I still subscribe to the newspaper and read it every day at breakfast. A story in this morning's Los Angeles Times almost made me spill my cereal. The Public Health Director for the city of Pasadena, Eric Walsh, was placed on administrative leave by city officials because the officials learned of "controversial statements" Walsh had made about evolution and homosexuality online.

It seems that Walsh, who also serves as a minister in the Seventh-Day Adventist church, has some prior sermons that speak against homosexuality as a sin and evolution "the religion of Satan" that are available to watch on YouTube. That was supposedly too much for a city official to believe and the city said they needed "to assess the impact those statements might have on his ability to effectively lead the city's Public Health Department." Forget the fact that Walsh has been effective at leading the department, even providing needed services to those in the community diagnosed with AIDS.

Of course, Walsh is only the latest in an increasingly long line of people who either have or are in danger of losing their jobs because their beliefs were not considered politically correct. Mozilla Corporation fired its CEO Brendan Eich not for anything he said, but simply because he gave money to support a proposition that the majority of California voters favored—and he did so six years before the dismissal. Frank Turek's consulting contracts with both Bank of America and Cisco Systems were terminated because of his pro-natural marriage views. And of course the whole Phil Robertson fiasco had A&E networks firing then backstepping quickly as they were threatened by the Robertson family with losing their cash cow entirely.

When did the First Amendment Require an Asterisk?

This whole idea deeply concerns me. Even the NBA's actions against Donald Sterling are troubling. Lest this be taken out of context, let me say that I find Sterling's comments repugnant. Most who knew the movers and shakers in L.A. will tell you that Sterling's racism was no secret. He's a pig. But, should a pig be denied their business when his comments were made in the privacy of his own home? Should those who disagree with the politically correct view of homosexuality or evolution when their track record shows they are more than capable of executing their positions effectively? When did the First Amendment require an asterisk linked to a disclaimer?

The concept of freedom of speech has been misunderstood by people today, partly because people are ignorant of the historical roots of the concept and partly because our society has been so awash in free speech that no one knows what the alternative looks like. In the united States, our Constitutional protection of freedom of speech is an outgrowth of John Locke's philosophy. His book On Liberty makes a great argument for even why opinions that are considered wrong need to be open and accessible:
Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them; to fetter the development, and, if possible, prevent the formation, of any individuality not in harmony with its ways, and compel all characters to fashion themselves upon the model of its own. There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence; and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism (emphasis added).[1]
Locke is right in this. Free speech means more than "protection against the tyranny of the magistrate." It also means keeping ideas other than the politically correct ones available without the threat of loss on wages. It means weighing the ideas and views of diverse opinions in a thoughtful manner, but always with a goal of finding truth, not silencing dissent.

Perhaps the most poignant comment came from @naughtnorris on Twitter. "Maybe Dr. Eric Walsh shouldn't preach personal beliefs on his own time. Maybe he shouldn't even have his own beliefs & he should have yours."

This is to what our culture has sunk.


1. Locke, John. On Liberty. The University of Adelaide Library.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

C.S. Lewis on the Oppression of "The Good"

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals."
C.S. Lewis "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment" AMCAP Journal Vol.13 No1. 1987. 151.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Using a free Christian society to disparage Christianity

How Christianity Changed the World
Many today who disparage Christianity may not know or believe that were it not for Christianity, they would not have the freedom that they presently enjoy. The very freedom of speech and expression that ironically permits them to castigate Christian values is largely a by-product of Christianity's influences that have been incorporated into the social fabric of the Western World, as chapter 10 documents. This freedom, similar to the freedom that Adam and Eve once had, ironically permits the possessors of freedom to dishonor the very source of their freedom. As Fernand Braudel has so eloquently stated, "Throughout the history of the West, Christianity has been at the heart of the civilization it inspires, even when it has allowed itself to be captured or deformed by it."
               - Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World. p.13.

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If Christianity truly originated with God, then we would expect that following its precepts would have dramatic implications for societies as well as individuals. See how humanity is better off because of the Christian faith.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Is the University Becoming Something Driven by Fundraising and Fear?

Photo by Donald Lee Pardue
Todd Gitlin, chair of the interdisciplinary doctoral program in communications at Columbia University, wrote an interesting op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times concerning the recent brouhaha at Brooklyn College. It seems the political science department co-sponsored a forum where an anti-Israel group was to provide speakers who would condemn the Jewish state and call for cutting off all economic ties. Given that 15% of Brooklyn's 2.5 million residents are Jewish, the backlash against the poly-sci department was severe and the college quickly found itself in a question of what its role is in providing a voice to people who hold unpopular opinions.

Gitlin used this example of just how far our institutes of higher education are moving from their original role as institutions that expose and build ideas and critical thinking to something... well... less.

He notes the Brooklyn College department chair told disgruntled students that "You and like-minded colleagues should attend the event, voice your views and use this event as an opportunity to generate more dialogue and discussion among students. Perhaps you and your colleagues could even organize a panel discussion of your own."

Gitlin goes on to explain:
With these words, Currah was channeling John Stuart Mill, to the effect that education and enlightenment benefit when minority views are heard, partly because these views may, in the end, turn out to be right to some degree, and partly because the majority, when forced to confront objections, may well find its understanding sharpened and its previously stale views refreshed.

Mill is evidently not so much in vogue now, as Israel-right-or-wrong advocates seem to believe that their case is a delicate hothouse flower that will wither under any adverse exposure.
He sums up the problem with keen insight later in the article when he writes:
There is a sinister pattern at work. Misunderstandings of the purposes of universities run rampant today in an America driven by fear that somebody, somewhere, may be thinking incorrect or unprofitable thoughts. Fundraising is paramount. Established universities expand by raising hundreds of millions of dollars, hoping that the research they cultivate will eventually profit the school financially. This can lead to remarkable new academic ventures, but also to timidity.

Christians have seen this same concept played out in their science classes, their ethics classes, and anywhere else groupthink is only to be allowed. I think Gitlin has nailed some of the problem.
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