Tag Archives: Philosophy

Monday Mini-Rant: The “VS” Concept.

This entry may interest a tiny amount of my viewer’s but I’m going to post it anyways. Cats vs Dogs. Republicans vs Democrats. PS3 vs Xbox 360. Xbox One vs PS4. DC vs Marvel. Red vs Blue. Left handed vs right handed. Seriously, what’s with all of the controversy?!

What got me thinking about this was a video published by IGN. They blew something DC did with one of their premiere dates out of the water. DC announced that their (hopefully) blockbuster film Superman vs. Batman is now scheduled for a May 6, 2016 release. The same day Marvel has scheduled a release date for an as of yet unnamed film. 2 “experts” spent almost 10 minutes discussing how Marvel needs to change their game plan because no film that would fit into that slot would be able to “rival superman vs batman, and wouldn’t even be able to rival batman’s name alone.” They concluded that Marvel needs to change their previously mentioned release date because any movie they put out couldn’t possibly compete with DC’s biggest stars. My question is… how are they competing? I for one, as a comic book/superhero fan, would look forward to two major franchise releases more than I would look forward to Christmas. If Star Wars and Star Trek both had a major release on the same day, I’d go to both. If I didn’t die of EXCITEMENT BEFOREHAND!! Why has this “Us vs Them” mentality prevailed for so long. Who decided that competition was preferable to collaboration? Why are we expected to compete with people who don’t agree with us instead of trying to understand their point of view?  I would rather intelligently discuss topics with someone than try to “win” by being the loudest voice in the room. When did we start believing that stubbornness was preferable to compromise? Or did we simply never consider the alternative? I’m sure there are those who echo my point of view but until they start speaking out, nothing is going to change. People will continue to believe that their view of the world is the only one that is correct and that anyone who opposes them is wrong. That A is true and will always be true no matter how many people believe that A is wrong. People wonder what’s wrong with society? What’s wrong with society is that it views people of differing opinions as opponents. As someone who should be defeated. The human race isn’t divided by color or creed or geographic location. It’s divided by dogmatic views that refuse to even listen to what someone else has to say. It’s divided by stubbornness and an overwhelming urge to refute anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with a single group. The sooner we realize that cooperation and collaboration should be preferred over competition the sooner we can make actual progress. But what do I know? I’m just a college student.

Entry 18: Phil Robertson and Family

Well the year is now 2014 and welcome back to my little pet project! I say pet project because I’ve been too lazy to regularly update like… I… promised. Never fear! I’ve been hurranged into writing again and a few people actually griped about me not staying true to my word about posting regularly. With that in mind, let’s kick off 2014 with a bang! By bang I mean all of the hub ubb surrounding Duck Dynasty and one Phillip Robertson.

Phil Robertson did an interview with GQ magazine (who might be the real winners in this whole ordeal.. when was the last time they were relevant?) during which he made a few pointed remarks. Remarks that got under some skin in some places. The leading question, the “teaser question” if you will, is “What, in your mind, is sinful?” Ok, ask a conservative redneck from the south what is sinful and you expect… the politically correct response? Ha! Good one. Phil replied with “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.” Ok liberals you’re right he did say that he believed that homosexuality was a sin. He also said IN THE VERY NEXT SENTENCE that bestiality was wrong. Why isn’t the ACLU swooping in on this nugget? A man who is featured on the most popular reality television show EVER speaks out against sex with animals and no one causes an uproar?! Simply outrageous… Ok. Maybe having sex with animals is a stretch, they can’t verbally give consent so we won’t fuss over someone who doesn’t endorse that. What did Phil say next? “sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men” Hmm… he’s talking about one person sleeping with more than one gender and more than one individual. He’s already talked about his view on homosexuality. In this situation he’s not specifically talking about homosexual relations though, he’s talking about multiple partners. That sounds a lot like promiscuous behavior. Sleeping around just for the sake of sleeping around. Ok so… why aren’t people up in arms about that part? Oh wait… I know why. It’s because homosexuality is THEE HOTTEST TOPIC IN THE WORLD TODAY!!!! After ya know, overpopulation, famine, the economy, the middle east… etc etc etc… but no! We need to talk about a 2nd rate cable channel that airs a tv show about people with beards who make duck calls. My bad, news channels you were right. Lets talk about Phil for a few months. On to the next topic!

The fallout from the whole “Phil Robertson hates gays” thing is just the jumping off point. A magazine (of which I don’t know the name of because I work at Kmart and don’t care about pop culture) had a short piece, one page, on the Duck Dynasty controversy.  They threw a little square on the front page to say “Look at us! We’re talking about Duck Dynasty!!” and admittedly, it did catch my attention enough to read the article. Basically, everyone in the Robertson family is behind Phil 100% The article even states that Willy, the man most likely to disagree with Phil (because he’s more business/public image/politically correct minded) didn’t turn on his father. So basically any opinion that a member of the Robertson family expresses is not going to be denounced by the family members. Which leads me to one conclusion. The second highest (behind God) power in the most popular reality TV show to ever exist is family. Not money, not fame, not screen time, not advertisements. Family. I was once asked to do something for one of my siblings, I don’t remember the specifics and they were probably boring anyways, but I had asked someone else why I’d go out of my way to do that and the response was “because they’re your family” and I immediately felt like the worlds biggest *expletive* because I didn’t realize sooner that your family is one of the biggest, most important, most influential entities that you will ever encounter in your life. And that you should be willing to do anything for them. So… the next time your home from break or have some free time and your mom or dad asks you to sweep the floor or clean your room (I’m looking at you Nate, Nik, Emma, Magnus, Conor, Claire, Colleen, Austin, Ethan, Ivy, Luke and Gene) just do it. It’ll take you 5 minutes and save both you, your parents, and your uncle a headache. 😀 Oh and by the way… I love all of you to death.

Alright I think that’s been enough for people to handle. Two paragraphs about conservative America and ol’ fashioned values?! Lets not get carried away here. I need to keep my liberal readers (of which i have none) interested. Keep checking on my page if you find what I have to say worth reading. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to post content more regularly and I plan on keeping this one. I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

Entry 17: The Burden of Proof and Atheism

As some of you may know I finally cracked and posted about God and Christianity yesterday. It certainly received more attention than I thought it would have. I shouldn’t have been surprised, once someone starts talking about God others are quick to join the discussion. Tonight I’d like to address 2 comments I received that I thought warranted more than a Facebook response. The first is where the “burden of proof” lies when talking about God or a creator. The second is when I carelessly used the words “arrogant” and “ignorant.” The context was slightly misunderstood and since it was a close friend that brought it up, and honestly, sounded quite offended, I thought I’d address it here.

First off, the burden of proof. When considering “truth” the farthest we can take this discussion is whether or not a creator exists. After that, the only arguments you can make are based on faith. So, does a creator exist? Look around you. Do you see anything that did not come from something else? When the “burden of proof” is brought up I think of one thing. Which side is making the most sensational claim? Creator vs. Coincidence. Most people’s gut instinct is to say Creator. Who in their right mind would think that there’s some unseeable, unrecognizable and unprovable thing that made everything? Some entity outside of our known realm of existence that made everything we see around us? Sounds pretty far-fetched if you really think about it. Hold on just a second though. Let’s consider the other side of the conversation for a second. Coincidence. Atheists believe that there is NO creator. Anywhere. at all. Hmm… let’s consider what that means. Atheists are saying there is absolutely no realm of existence in the universe, no single example of space or time where a creator could exist. None. Well, in order to claim that, and claim that it is irrefutable, someone would have to have complete knowledge of everything ever. Is that not a more sensational claim than to say a creator COULD exist? It’s “I don’t know everything and that leaves room for the existence of a creator” vs. “there is no realm of existence in which a creator exists or could exist because I have absolute knowledge of everything that shall ever exist. Ever” That last ever was just for dramatic effect. Which brings me to my next point. Atheism.

Atheism. The definition according to Merriam-Webster is “a disbelief in the existence of a deity.” For the sake of argument I’m going to address the phrenology of the word. Theism is the belief that one or more deities exist. Atheism translates to the belief that deities, in any form, do not exist. It excludes the existence of all deities. ALL deities. Atheists are essentially saying they have complete knowledge of the universe and that nowhere in the universe is an example of what might be considered an act of a deity. That sounds incredibly arrogant to me. To claim to have absolute knowledge of everything ever? Come on. The other side is that they just don’t care. Which is the ignorant side. Those who claim they’re atheists because they just don’t care about whether or not a deity exists are just as incorrect as the Atheists who seem to claim they know everything. If you’ve ever looked at something that was created, say a can of pop, and not recognized that it was created, you are ignorant. If you’ve ever seen something that exists and refused to believe that it came from something that existed before it, I question your intelligence. I challenge anyone to provide me with an example of something that exists that they can prove came from nothing. Give me one example of something that came from nothing. I dare you.

My post about God existing was meant to draw attention but it wasn’t meant to alienate people. I merely wanted to spur discussion about a topic that people previously thought they didn’t care about. Judging by the number of responses I’ve received in the last 24 hours it appears that people do still care about the existence of God. I encourage any feedback you have but I must say I’d prefer it in the form of a Facebook message. This would allow me to keep the different branches of debate separate and address each reaction without muddling them with other reactions. I look forward to hearing from all of you. Don’t worry, my inbox is prepared this time.

God’s Not Dead

Tonight’s entry is a simple one. No catch phrases. No cheeky/catchy sayings. It’s simple. God’s. Not. Dead. For weeks I’ve been fixated on this trailer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMjo5f9eiX8#t=43 The name of this film? God’s Not Dead. Some memorable quotes from this trailer include “You prayed, and believed, your whole life; and here you are.” accompanied by a women seemingly in the last stages of her life. Another memorable quote is “Life, is really a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing!” There are other quotes I’ll address soon but we should get started.

The antagonist for this movie is Professor Raddisson. The first clip of him in a lecture hall that we see progresses like this: I would like to bypass all senseless debate altogether and jump to the conclusion that every sophomore is already aware of; there is no God. All that I require from each of you, is that you fill in the paper’s I’ve just given you with 3 little words: God. Is. Dead. Alright hold up. Individuals are entitled to make whatever claims they wish. Say the Earth is flat, I’ll prove you wrong. Say that the Minnesota Vikings are going to win the Super Bowl this year. I’ll prove you wrong. I’m not inhibiting your right to express your opinion, I’m merely illustrating why you are wrong.  The portion of the trailer I’m going after here is the statement “I would like to bypass all senseless debate.” Honestly, no debate is senseless. Every incorrect opinion, no matter how radical or far-fetched, is worth consideration. The only outcome from considering opposing arguments is the strengthening of your own. There are 2 outcomes here. The opposing argument is incorrect; in which case you’ve strengthened your own opinion by refuting one that tries to refute your own and fails or; the opposing argument has some value and merit which allows you to discard weak points within your own viewpoint and exchange them for ones that are more correct.

I’ve often heard the phrase “I’m a Christian.” I’m not a fan of that saying. If asked outright I’ll say I’m a Christian but I won’t say so without a continuation statement. I am not content to label myself as a Christian. I will then continue on to say that “if I had to put a label on my faith, that I am an Evangelical Covenant Christian.” As such, I have 2 guiding “bylaws” if you will. The first; where is it written? If there isn’t biblical scripture pertaining to the topic at hand I will default to Utilitarianism. However; if the Bible does speak to the issue at hand, that guideline will take precedent. The second; How goes your walk with God? The Evangelical Covenant Church tends to focus on the relationships its practitioners have with God. Seeing as how I’m from Minnesota, which for those of you who don’t know, is not a big sharing community, it’s sometimes difficult for us to open up. We don’t want to admit our struggles. We don’t want to admit that we’re weak. Admitting our weaknesses and short comings happens to be a fairly significant part of the Evangelical Covenant community. At least the real part of it. I’m sure I’ll get into that in a future post.

This entry may end up being slightly (read: incredibly) more controversial than most of my posts. Usually I make cheap jokes and puns and try to gain views by catchy slogans or cheap phrases. Not this week. This is one of the… truest… posts I’ve had and I more than welcome anything you might have to say about it. Yes, I’m talking to anyone, positive or negative. I hope to hear from all of you soon.

Regular Entry 16: 18 Things Everyone Should Start Making Time For Again

Before you worry about having to read 18 long, rambling paragraphs-let me first assure you that I will not be tackling the entirety of this list. I stumbled across this list that was posted by one of my High School English teachers and the list makes a lot of good points. Here’s the original post: http://thoughtcatalog.com/brianna-wiest/2013/11/18-things-everyone-should-start-making-time-for-again/#K04tzGcK4rpcF0bD.01 I will be tackling #3: Thinking Before Responding and # 11: Spending Time With Kids. I encourage you all to check out the full list

Ok. #3: Thinking Before Responding. Here’s the author’s full entry. “Thinking before responding. We’ve become too conditioned to require things immediately. Someone asks a question, and we have to respond that second. Such was not the case before instant messaging and comment threads. A sign of true intelligence and confidence, I think, is someone who takes time to consider the question at hand in a little more depth, and then offers a response.” Now let’s not blow this outta proportion. Taking time to think about the appropriate response to “What’s my total?” isn’t exactly what I had in mind. The problem with taking time to do this is that opportunities to think before acting or speaking never present themselves anymore. No one cares about the deeper issues, all they care about is their routine. Wake up, go to work, run errands on Wednesdays and refuse to think outside the box every step of the way. When’s the last time you took a different route to work? Tried a new restaurant? Brought up a topic that other people might not agree with? When is the last time you broke the norm and tried something new? When is the last time you prompted a discussion that forced another party to think before they spoke? The weather, the price of gas, the local High School’s latest victory or defeat. These have become our default exchanges. They may have their place but come on, God gave you a brain for a reason and it wasn’t to discuss tomorrow’s chance of precipitation. Here’s an idea, the next time you think “this topic/latest current event/latest tragedy is really bothering me but I don’t know how the person across from me feels about it so I’m not going to say anything about it” SAY SOMETHING ABOUT IT!! The reason real issues get brushed under the rug are because we are too afraid to go against the norm. We’re too afraid to have and voice an opinion that may upset others. The next time you see the chance to light a fire in a conversation, do it.

Alright it’s time for this post to get a little lighter. #11: Spending Time With Kids. The original author says: “Spending time with kids, and doing kid things with them. They just know what’s up.” They just know what’s up. This might be one of the most accurate things I have ever read. Somehow, without an explanation, this statement just… makes sense. Kid’s just get it. Playing with kids, heck just being around them, somehow makes everyone… happy. Working in retail I see tons and tons of screaming, whiny, entitled kids on a daily basis. Kids crying and throwing a fit because they didn’t get a lolly pop. This is why I’m glad I don’t live in retail. The kids I see, the children I enjoy being around, are completely different. When people mention children the first thing that comes to my mind are my nieces and nephews. The first thing I think of when I think of my nieces and nephews, is a pickup game of baseball during one random summer. They don’t know the rules, they don’t know what to do, and they don’t care. Neither do I. The only thing I recognize and remember from this game are their smiles. I somehow hurranged my siblings into “playing baseball” which was way out of their comfort zones, but they did it for their kids. I smiled and laughed, my siblings smiled and laughed, my nieces and nephews smiled and laughed. My point is this. No matter how cranky/crabby/whiny/entitled or seemingly selfish children seem to be at their worst; when they experience joy and happiness there is no better representation of true joy. When a child smiles, laughs, and has fun; there is no stronger positive emotion in existence. So when you see a kid crying, just remember, when they’re happy, any amount of sadness just disappears.

In conclusion: the list I posted has a lot of good things going for it. Out of the 18 things the author reported, there are a lot more than 2 that I have something to say about. That article may be the foundation for at least a few more of my regular entries; we’ll see how this one does. Just remember, those who are slow to speak and even slower to anger are the people I believe we should try to emulate. Thinking before speaking has a huge advantage over a quick reaction. Also, don’t forget that it’s hard to frown around smiling children. That’s all for this week. I’ve got a lot in store for the days and weeks to come… and I mean A LOT!! For now, thanks for reading what I’ve got to say. Thanks for commenting and suggesting new topics. You will hear from me soon.

Philosophical Friday: Revolution

Almost everyone knows that Martin Luther King Jr. stood for equality.  They know he strove for equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of color or creed.  What some may not know however; is how he set out to achieve this goal.  MLK Jr. was a revolutionary in the way he sought change.  Non-violent protests were his weapon of choice in fighting injustice within the United States.  He did not burn houses or public buildings.  He did not seek vengeance against those who had instituted the Jim Crow Laws that segregated much of the South into “separate but equal” public facilities.  His philosophy worked.  It is difficult to persecute and condemn a group of protestors that knows the consequences of their actions and willingly accepts them.  It worked in the United States at least.  He was not combating genocidal crimes against a nation though.  While civil disobedience and non-violent protests may have their place in civilized nations, what of those still developing or those under tyrannical rule?  There is a realm of existence where MLK Jr.’s philosophy will not work.  There exist circumstances that may require violence and active revolution to combat and correct injustice.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy was simple, straightforward, and effective.  He chose peaceful civil disobedience as his way of fighting injustice.  Those who chose to demonstrate with him needed to show an understanding of what they were trying to accomplish.  In his Letter from a Birmingham City Jail he outlines his philosophy in a real world setting.[1]  There are four main steps in his campaign of nonviolence.  These steps are: (1) collection of facts to determine whether injustices are alive, (2) negotiation, (3) self-purification, and (4) direct action.[2]  The necessity of the first step is obvious.  It would be pointless to demonstrate against an injustice that isn’t present in the place you are protesting.  The second step, negotiation, is a civilized attempt at solving the injustice.  Many repeated failures at this stage are necessary before moving on to the third stage, purification.  This stage is central to MLK Jr.’s campaign of nonviolence.  It forces the participants of the demonstration to “make peace” with their actions and accept the fact that they may break the law and they may be punished for it.  It forces the demonstrators to remain true to their cause by making punishment a real and possible, sometimes inevitable, consequence of their actions.  The fourth step is where the rubber meets the road.  Direct action refers to the actual demonstration.  In the case of Birmingham, direct action was used after repeated failed attempts at negotiation.  In MLK Jr.’s own words, nonviolent direct action of this nature “…seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.  It seeks to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”[3]

Change was instituted in Birmingham, Alabama after these demonstrations, and eventually in the entire country.  In the face of injustice, Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers prevailed.  They sought change and equality and received it through their peaceful and violent free protests.  MLK Jr. was an incredible leader and unifier of the oppressed.  He is still looked to today for revolutionaries and those being oppressed as an example of what to do and how to conduct themselves to enact change.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a pioneer in fighting injustice.  He faced institutionalized racism, oppression and bigotry endorsed by the government and won.  He saw injustice in the form of segregation and discrimination.  There are far greater evils than the things he faced however; genocidal states, rebellious nations, and countries that threaten the very lives of their citizens.  While nonviolent direct action worked in the United States it would be difficult to believe his philosophy would work under these types of circumstances.  While it is true that nonviolent direct action has its place in social and governmental revolution; there exists a realm where that is not enough.  There exist circumstances that require a more direct course of action, a more violent one.  Violent, but controlled, revolutions are necessary to correct injustices that have arisen in the past.  Had the Jews used nonviolent direct action to protest against Hitler, they would have just made what he was trying to accomplish easier.

In order to justify using violence as a form of revolution, one must consider is violence ever truly justified.  Entire essays have been written on this topic but that is not the purpose of this particular essay.  The combination of violence and just conduct must still be discussed however, in order to fully explore the topic of violent revolution.  In a perfect world no; violence would never be justifiable, but we do not live in a perfect world.  One must consider the world they live in before they consider how the world ought to be.  Living as though the ideal world will come about by one person living the way they’re supposed to be is not only foolish but dangerous.  Injustice does not quiver at the sight of the just.  Unjust beings do not become just merely out of proximity to justice.  So what types of violence can be justified in an unjust world?  The main, and possibly only type, would be in cases of self defense.  Self preservation in the face of threatening circumstances must certainly be considered just, as long as the threatening circumstances are unjust.  Therefore; retaliation towards an unjust person or act that threatens one’s life would be considered a just act.  If you accept this principle, it is not difficult to see how violent revolution could be justified.

The idea of violent revolution is not a new one.  In fact, it may be one of the oldest to date.  Violence has frequently been the tool of revolutionaries around the world.  It is also one of the most harshly criticized ideas in recent decades.  Everywhere you look you can find someone willing to denounce violence in every form.  People hear the words “violent revolution” and they instantly think of uprisings or religious zealots willing to do anything to further their cause.  However, that is not the context in which “revolution” will be discussed in this essay.  Webster’s online dictionary states that revolution is “a fundamental change in political organization; especially the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed.”[4]   James C Davies, a professor at the University of Oregon, describes revolution as “most likely to occur when a prolonged period of objective economic and social development is followed by a short period of sharp reversal.”[5]  For this essay, the term “revolution” will represent; a dramatic change in or complete overthrow of an established government (or other forms of ruling parties) by the people through violent means caused by an injustice (or injustices) suffered by the governed and perpetrated by the ruling group.  An injustice incorporates extreme mental, physical, or emotional harms (or any combination of the three) that is unwillingly forced on a group of people who have not given their consent freely to the treatment previously mentioned.  A beautifully written piece of French realism paints a picture of a justified revolution.

Emile Zola’s Germinal is a story of revolution against the ruling bourgeoisie in mid 1860’s France.  It is a story about a coal miner, Etienne Lantier, who sets about overthrowing the owners of the mines.  The workers are exploited so thoroughly by the bourgeoisie that there is absolutely no hope of escaping their circumstances.  They are born into poverty, forced to work every day, typically for more than 18 hours a day and in terrible and life threatening environments, and are taken advantage of by the store owners, who are also working for the bourgeoisie.  Eventually, Etienne organizes a revolution to destroy the mines as a way of breaking the owners after many failed negotiation attempts.  While the revolution does not produce all the desired results, they become free of the ruling class and are able to take more of the profits of their work.[6]

This example illustrates two key points that should be followed when considering whether or not a revolution is justified.  First, and most importantly, negotiation attempts must be made.  If a group does not make its protests known, it has no right to violently demand change.  Revolutionaries who act but do not speak are not revolutionaries, but terrorists.  Repeated attempts must be made to bring about change without violence.  Revolution must be the last resort of a group wishing to institute change.  In this Martin Luther King Jr. is correct.  The demands of the oppressed must be known to those in power, and need to be ignored or discounted by those with the power to change them, before revolution can ever be justified.

The second key point is that the miner’s attacked the mines, not those who owned them.  No deliberate attempt can be made to end the life or lives of those in power.  When one soul falls to a revolution, dozens typically follow.  The government itself is what must be revolted against, not the individuals within the group.  To show prejudice against, or even favoritism towards, an individual within the government is to treat them as the revolutionaries were treated.  This has the potential to create a vicious cycle in which the revolutionaries are committing the same injustices as they are revolting against.  The government or ruling group must be considered a separate entity in and of itself.  This distinction allows the revolution to occur against a gaseous invertebrate as opposed to flesh and blood.  Also, when attacking individuals within a group, it becomes difficult to draw clear conclusions as to who is actually perpetrating the injustices.  Attacking the individuals within a corrupt or oppressive government allows for mistakes to be made and blame to be incorrectly placed on the innocent.  It would be like reproaching a puppeteer because something a character did in a puppet show was morally wrong.  One has no way of knowing whether or not the puppeteer is actually the one controlling the puppet or not, or if the puppeteer truly wanted to commit the moral wrong or if he was just playing a part in a much larger performance.

A third distinction that must be drawn between a just and an unjust revolution is the type of harm being done to those wanting to revolt.  In the case of Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement, they were being oppressed, but their lives were not in jeopardy.  While some may say that to be oppressed is to have one’s sense of well being stolen and therefore their way of life threatened, that was not the purpose or result of the Jim Crowe laws they were combating.  Another objection would be that many blacks were lynched or killed during the civil rights movement; these acts were not committed by the government that instituted segregation, but by racist bigots who could not stand to see blacks and whites living together and took matters into their own hands.  In this case, a case where the lives are not being threatened by the oppressors, revolution could not have been justified.  During the 1860’s however, when slavery threatened the lives of African Americans in the South, revolution would have been justifiable.  Lives were threatened and injustice was rampant in the South during this time.  It would have been easy to justify a revolution under these circumstances.  Furthermore, revolution against the establishment is necessary so that the instruments used to bring about injustice are effectively disabled.  Take away the tools of oppression and the need for violence against those using them disappears.

This allows for the third premise of justified revolution to become clear.  There must be a tangible threat to the lives of those who are to revolt.  It cannot be simply oppressive circumstances in which their lives are lessened or their standards of living reduced, but circumstances in which they are at risk of being killed or where their continued existence has become impossible.  Non-violent oppression calls for civil disobedience, which was the case in America during the 1960’s.  Violent oppression, which was the case in 1940’s Germany, calls for revolution.  This is a very important place to make the distinction between ideal reality, what we ought to do, and actual reality, what is ideal.

In the ideal world, people’s lives would not be threatened by those ruling them.  In the actual world however, examples abound of oppression and genocide.  The fact that there are those who do not do what ought to be done entirely changes what courses of action are permissible.  This form of revolution; following the previously mentioned criteria of failed negotiation attempts, revolution against the government and not those within it, and a threat to the lives of those being oppressed, is the purest form of self-defense.  An easy way to illustrate this is to narrow our sight to an individual, as opposed to an entire social revolution.

Imagine a dark alley where two people meet each other and one draws a gun on the other.  Person A, the gunman, demands all the money Person B, the victim, has or he will be shot and killed but if the victim gives the gunman his money he will be set free.  The victim has three choices: comply, flee, or fight.  If the victim complies he is giving up all the money he has, which depending on extenuating circumstances may or may not be a big deal, but he is now in a dark alley with the gunman and has given up any leverage he had, trusting a man with a gun who is willing to kill someone to keep his word.  If the victim flees he will be running away with what the gunman wants down a long and very dark alley, making it possible for the gunman to shoot him and take the money anyways.   If the victim fights, his chances of survival may be slim, but he hasn’t given that decision up to the gunman.  The victim has expressed his dismay at the situation and his unwillingness to be robbed.  He also has a clear and immediate threat to his life present in the form of a firearm.  This victim, fortunately for him, has the tools and training to disarm the gunman without hurting or killing him, effectively removing the threat to his life.  You would be hard pressed to claim the victim committed an injustice or some moral wrong by disarming the gunman and removing the threat to his life.

From this example it is easy to draw parallels in which it would be acceptable for a group of “victims” to fight (or defend themselves from) a group of “gunmen.”  Change the gunman to a tyrannical ruling party and the victim to an oppressed minority.  Change the gun to laws and regulations made to objectify the aforementioned minority group.  Change the long and dark alley to a country rampant with censorship and a world willing to turn a blind eye to injustice.  Compliance with those in power results in destitution and poverty with a still present risk of death.  Fleeing the situation would result in lowered defenses and the threat of extermination with little to no resistance.  While fighting against the oppressive may still result in death, there is a possibility of life as well.  Not just life either, a better life; one free from oppression and injustice.

While some may argue that for the first two options death is only a possible, not a guaranteed, consequence; the point of this essay is not to discount viable, if somewhat undesirable responses, but to argue that revolution is a morally acceptable choice.  While fleeing and complying both carry with them a chance at survival, it is not guaranteed and therefore do not endorse nor oppose revolution as an acceptable course of action.  The fact that there are alternatives speaks nothing to the options already given.

Revolution may be an acceptable course of action in certain cases; but it must be considered and carried through with in only the most extreme circumstances.  First; there must be an immediate threat to one’s life or the prevention of someone’s continued existence through laws or stipulations that target a specific group of governed people.  Second; there must be attempts at peaceful negotiations with the ruling party to have aforementioned conditions changed, and these attempts must be met with repeated failure before revolution can be considered.  Once these two conditions are met a plan may be developed for enacting change in the ruling party or parties.  This plan must include the prohibition of harm to individuals within the ruling group and instead focus its attention solely on the ruling body itself.  The oppressive government must be considered its own entity, separate from the individuals that comprise it; and it is this larger entity that must be the target of the revolutionaries before a revolution can ever be justified.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s process for civil disobedience had four steps: (1) collection of facts to determine whether injustices are alive, (2) negotiation, (3) self-purification, and (4) direct action.[7]  The process for revolution would be similar, but not identical.  First, the injustice would have to be rampant and incredibly apparent to those in the situation so the collection of facts would have been done far before revolution was even considered.  The negotiation step has been discussed earlier in this essay; but in short, negotiation attempts must be made and denied before revolution is a viable option.  The “self-purification” stage in this model would include the barring of attacks on any individuals within the oppressive group as well as the full disclosure of all possible outcomes; both on a large and a small scale.  This would ensure that no members of the oppressed group would be unwillingly coerced into a course of action they did not endorse and would ensure that those willing to participate in a revolution fully understood the consequences of their actions.  Finally, direct action would be taken.

At the center of revolution, despite all the guidelines and the process outlined earlier, lies a component that still leaves a sour taste in most people’s mouths.  Violence is still not something easily endorsed, no matter how strong the arguments may be.  One particular objection is that violence breeds nothing but more violence.[8]  While this argument is certainly one that can prove to be true in certain cases, it is not guaranteed.  Police apprehend out of control criminals through the use of violence; this does not always lead to more violence.  Go further and the arguments against violence only become more sensationalized.  Some absolute nonviolent supporters claim that violence will only lead to our complete destruction.[9]  While it may lead to this in some cases; not all types of violence lead to annihilation.  This argument does nothing to discourage the use of violence in instances where there is no possibility of destruction on a massive scale.  This seems to be a slippery slope argument; that while possible, the chances of occurring are extremely remote.

While Martin Luther King Jr. pioneered civil disobedience as a way of enacting change and bringing about the end of injustice; he did not extinguish the necessity for revolution.  Civil disobedience is certainly preferable to revolution; in some cases it may simply not be enough.  There are cases in human history where violence was the only way to end injustice and cases where revolution was the just cause.  While it has the potential to become the go to type of social reform; the things argued in this essay provide safe guards against its misuse.

The three criteria that must be met before revolution can be enacted provide protection against its overuse and against its unjust or immoral use.  1.) Negotiation attempts must be repeatedly made and refuted before revolution can be justified.  This allows those participating in the revolution to know that all other options had been considered, tried, and rejected.  2.)  The oppressive group must be treated as an entity separate from those that comprise it.  This ensures that the unjust institution is what is being destroyed as opposed to those within it.  When individuals are attacked the blame is much more difficult to cast; which is not the case when attacking the institution as a whole.  3.)  There must be a direct threat to the lives of those being oppressed or circumstances instituted that make it impossible for their continued existence.  This ensures that the threat to the revolutionaries is real and tangible.  It helps to argue that the injustices being suffered are so terrible that it is threatening their very lives and not just lowering their standards of living.

The path towards revolution is based roughly on Martin Luther King Jr.’s path for civil disobedience.  The repeated negotiation attempts that were step one of MLK Jr.’s process have been previously discussed as being a part of the criteria that must be met before revolution can be considered.  The first step towards revolution must be education of the revolutionaries.  After the revolutionaries are prohibited from attacking the individuals within the oppressive entity and after they fully comprehend the consequences of the actions they are planning to take the revolution may continue.  This step ensures the justness of the revolution and also ensures that all parties involved are not coerced into revolution out of ignorance of the consequences.  Finally, direct action can be taken against the oppressive entity.

While it may seem undesirable to use force or violence to enact change; once considered, circumstances in which it would be acceptable arise.  MLK Jr. laid the groundwork for his own type of revolution; a nonviolent one, but he did not eliminate the necessity for violent revolution.  While it can be said “we ought not to use violence under any circumstances;” this is an archaic way of thinking.  It is a way of thinking that holds on to the ideal world and refutes the one that exists.  The real world demands real courses of actions.  Revolution, if used properly, can be a tool to correct the injustices that are rampant throughout history and throughout the world today.  While certainly not the only way to social reform; it is a viable option in some cases.  Injustices perpetrated by those in power gave rise to the notion of morally justifiable revolution.  Until the ideal world philosophers cling to so much nowadays exist; revolution will remain a morally justifiable course of action for those wanting to correct injustices.


[1] Cahn, Steven M., and Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham City Jail.” Classics of political and moral philosophy. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. 1212-1221. Print.

[2] Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham City Jail”

[3] Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham City Jail” 1214

[4] “Revolution – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary.” Dictionary and Thesaurus – Merriam-Webster Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/revolution&gt;.

[5] Davies, James C.. “Toward a Theory of Revolution.” American Sociological Association 27.1 (1962): 5-19. Print.

[6] Zola, Émile. Germinal. New York: Scribner, 1951. Print.

[7] Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham City Jail”

[8] Marty, William R. “Nonviolence, Violence, and Reason.” The Journal of Politics 33.1 (1971): 18. JSTOR. Web. 13 Dec. 2011.

[9] Marty, William R. “Nonviolence, Violence, and Reason.” 19

Philosophical Friday: Freedom Of Speech

            “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  The first amendment of the Constitution has guaranteed the freedom of speech since December 12, 1792.  “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”  The United Nations have recognized the freedom of speech as a Universal Human Right since December 10, 1948.  The freedom of speech is present in more than 150 countries that are members of the United Nations.  It is obvious that the freedom of speech is extremely important to any civilized country.  The right to freely express one’s thoughts and opinions is at the forefront of what it means to be a free nation.  When one typically thinks of an infringement of the freedom of speech they envision an authoritarian government squashing the citizens who cry out for freedom and equality or the end to some other mistreatment.  That is not the only type of speech defended by these many countries.  It is not the “freedom to speak what others will not be offended by and to (only) think what may offend others.”  If the freedom of speech operates in a way that it defends the rights of one person to offend someone else, should it be changed? Is offensive speech something that should be restricted? Or do we, as a civilized society, need to tolerate the ignorant or dogmatic views of some so that we do not become dogmatic ourselves?  And if the freedom of speech does not operate as it should, what alternative do we have?

In his essay, On Liberty, John Stuart Mill addresses the issue of freedom of thought and expression.  He illustrates the benefits of having the freedom of speech.  In the case of a false opinion, which Mill believes we can never fully prove, allowing it to be heard and expressed only serves to reinforce the correctness of the opposing argument.  In the case of a true opinion, it allows us to exchange falsity for the truth.  While some may view opinions to be subjective, and therefore neither absolutely correct nor incorrect, there are certainly areas in which an opinion can be concretely right or wrong.  Take slavery for example.  The opinion would be “slavery is acceptable” or “slavery is acceptable if and only if such and such requirements are met” or some other variation.  Slavery helped to draw the line between the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War.  In this example there are large bodies believing in either opinion, but would the belief that slavery is immoral have been any less correct had there been only one person to believe it?  It is a commonly held belief that only the “true opinions” will prevail long enough to become the popular opinion, but that would require massive amounts of people to reconsider all of their opinions at the same time.  The rejection of incorrect opinions serves a unique purpose in how society functions.  It allows us to review an opposing opinion and reject it, thereby allowing our own opinions to be strengthened.  Allowing people to freely express their ideas becomes more important when you consider a correct opinion held by another.  Without the ability to express opinions and thoughts the world would be stuck in a dogmatic funk.  Society would be a one-minded almost robotic being that functioned without thinking and without innovating.  With the inclusion of opposing opinions in society, our own reasoning is tested and either validated or revised, based on the portion of truth contained in the opposing argument.  When one considers a reasonable opinion held by another, there is no downside.  They either strengthen their own by incorporating correct portions of the differing opinion, or they reinforce the opinion they already held by rejecting a false opinion.  The benefits outweigh the harms in this scenario, but what if the opinion is not reasonable?  Is it still permissible to allow an “incorrect” opinion if the harms outweigh the benefits?  Would we be justified in reinforcing our own opinions by rejecting an opinion that caused harms to others?  Would it be moral for a person to allow hateful speech, which has no other discernible upsides than strengthening our own opinions, if it in fact harmed others?  I am of course alluding to the Westboro Baptist Church.

The Westboro Baptist Church, headed by Fred Phelps, has been actively picketing the funerals of homosexual males, AIDS victims and dead soldiers since 1991.  They have conducted over 45,000 demonstrations at funerals of homosexuals and other events including “funerals of impenitent sodomites (like Matthew Shepard) and over 400 military funerals of troops whom God has killed in Iraq/Afghanistan in righteous judgment against an evil nation.” (About Westboro Baptist Church)  They picket using signs depicting extremely offensive material such as: God hates fags, Thank God for AIDS, Fags burn in hell, Thank God for Dead Soldiers and other ridiculously hateful speech.  Recently, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church 8 votes to 1. (Washington Post) The justices said that “no matter how hurtful the speech employed by members of the Westboro Baptist Church, the First Amendment protected them from having to pay damages to the grieving father they targeted.”  The one dissenting judge, Samuel A. Alito Jr., stated that the protestors did not have a right to “brutalize” the family.  Is this the kind of behavior a civilized nation allows?  According to a survey done by the Associated Press, 78% of American’s think that Freedom of Speech should mean that “people should have the right to say what they believe even if they take positions that seem deeply offensive to most people.” (Washington Post)  Is this really the way our Freedom of Speech should operate?  Would Mill defend this type of speech?  If he did, it would be only because this type of speech did not cause harm to others.

Mill’s harm principle lays out a guideline for the interference of the Government on individual liberties.  Only when harm is caused to an individual outside the person committing the act is a government permissible in making a law to restrict an individual’s right to act.  In the case of the Westboro Baptist Church, it would be impossible to prohibit this type of action if one believed in Mill’s harm principle.  The actions of the protestors cause no harm to the grieving family; they are just incredibly disrespectful and offensive.  Mill draws a distinct line between offensive behavior and harmful behavior.  The fact that a behavior is offensive is not sufficient cause to make a law against it, no matter how offensive.  The offended have to suck it up and deal with it.  The fact that the Westboro Baptist Church is verbally assaulting a family at their time of grieving would not matter.  Mill would defend their right to thought and action, as did the Supreme Court.  Is this what the drafters of the Constitution had in mind?  Did they envision a future where religious zealots were able to verbally attack and harass grieving widows and family members of soldiers of their own country?  Would we be justified in prohibiting such behavior?  Or would we merely become oppressive bigots who silence the opinions of anyone who has a differing opinion?

Whenever a government throws around the word censorship, people tend to perk up their ears.  They get jumpy when “big brother” attempts to tell them what they can or cannot say; which is why freedom of speech is so important.  Would the restriction of hate speech truly be considered censorship?  While it would obviously restrict people’s freedom to speak or act how they see fit, perhaps some people need to be regulated.  There are certainly people who the vast majority of the population would like to be quiet but is putting a clamp on their freedoms the way to get them to stop spewing their hatred upon the masses?  Probably not.  While the Westboro Baptist Church has absolutely no intention of changing their ways because they are unpopular, a public demonstration that their behavior is unacceptable would surely discourage some from joining their ranks or starting up a loud and boisterous cult of their own.  Their website even claims zero as being the number of “nanoseconds of sleep that WBC members lose over your opinions and feeeeellllliiiiiings.”  True bigots or religious zealots who portray their views in such a distressing way seem beyond help short of anything but a miracle, but the masses as a whole need to publicly demonstrate that this type of behavior is not acceptable in a civilized society.  In the case of the WBC, an anti-protest would be a solution to the problem, not government involvement.  This has in fact worked in the past.  One march was planned for April 30th, 2011 and has become an annual event.  In some areas people have protested the WBC in such a way that they have just given up on their demonstration and gone home.  This is the type of reaction needed, not government intervention.

Hate speech is an interesting topic for many reasons.  First, the speakers are typically extremely enthusiastic about their opinions.  Second, they tend to be close minded, so much so that no amount of reasoning or logic will change their minds.  Third, it seems to be passed down from one generation to another, which the grown generation teaches their children to be the same way they are.  Fourth and finally, they care absolutely nothing for those they are speaking to; no amount of consideration is given to the feelings or opinions of anyone but themselves, or those that think like them.  In times of crisis or disaster, this type of behavior appears to be infectious.  After 9/11 an alarming number of anti-Muslim opinions were voiced.  People throughout the United States wanted someone to blame so they chose the Islamic community without considering the fact that there are individuals within that religion and that the ones who were responsible for that tragedy were in fact extremists of Islam and not the overarching population.  During the years preceding the Second World War, the common belief amongst the German people was that the Jews were responsible for all of the misfortunes that had befallen Germany.  Both of these examples did not last to become the common opinion throughout the world.  The German opinion took a little longer to change but eventually it did.  Yet these opinions still prevail.  The Neo-Nazi party is still active, putting forth a candidate for the presidency for every election.  These examples make it clear that hate speech has been around for a long time, and will remain for a long time, if not forever.  The fact that it seems to be here to stay does not mean that it should be tolerated however.

While people will always maintain their own opinions, there exist behaviors that are universally unacceptable.  These behaviors should not be curbed by ruling governments or institutions, but rather those who are forced to listen to them.  In the face of “adversity,” the Westboro Baptist Church backed down.  The Patriot Riders, a biker gang started in August of 2005, seem to be a direct response to the WBC.  The Patriot Riders mission is to “attend the funeral services of fallen American heroes as invited guests of the family.”  At each of these funerals they have 2 main goals.  The first goal is to “show our sincere respect for our fallen heroes, their families, and their communities,” and the second is to “shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors.” (Patriot Guard Riders)  This is a prime example of how the public should respond to such ridiculous behavior.  The Patriot Guard works within the law and non-violently to lessen the effect the Westboro Baptist Church can have on the grieving families.

While the government may not be justified in restricting hateful speech, something can be done to limit such outrageous behavior.  While Mill may not be able to set forth an example of harmful and hateful speech that would justify the interference of the government, I don’t think he would have a problem with people of differing beliefs voicing their own opinions.  In fact, he would probably encourage it.  While dogmatic minds may not be changed easily, if at all, that does not mean that it is pointless to try.  If nothing else, we may discourage less enthusiastic bigots to keep their mouths shut by showing them that there are real consequences for their actions.  There is no point in allowing people to express their idiotic, disrespectful and just plain stupid opinions if we express our intolerance for such opinions.  The government may protect the freedom of speech for those who use it to spew their hateful nonsense, but it also protects our right to loudly and publicly disagree with them.