On Assisted Dying

David Young is one of Hong Kong’s thinking elites. He is a philosopher, a sceptic, an atheist, and a vociferous critic of all things pseudo-science (pronounced ‘bullshit’). He has also been kind enough to spend his time giving me the benefit of his experience when I had mentioned that I was considering starting a podcast – his advice was more or less ‘don’t do it’

Like everyone else in Hong Kong’s philosophical community I was saddened to hear that David had been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease – a shitty, shitty disease that is has but one outcome: death. While some ALS sufferers survive 10 years past diagnosis, David’s ALS will likely end his life in the next 12 months.

I’ve said many times before that we, in the West, have forgotten how to die. We struggle to talk to those who are terminally ill. We don’t know what to say. We fetishise longevity, craving longer and longer lives. Maybe it’s a deep seated belief that if we openly embrace our mortality, that death will come for us sooner. What has impressed me so much about David’s decision to openly confront his own mortality, to discuss his illness and impending death, is that he has seemingly managed to avoid this: he hasn’t forgotten how to die.

Recently, David appeared on the ‘Beyond the Pale’ podcast, where he discussed his illness, his diagnosis, its progression and his thoughts about death. The conversation was unsurprisingly both inspirational and thought-provoking. At the end of it, I had remarked to a friend that that one subject he didn’t touch on, was the subject of assisted dying. It’s a REALLY tricky subject to bring up with someone who is terminally ill. With anyone else, I wouldn’t have even considered bringing it up – but knowing that David talks about these profound topics like you or I would discuss the weather, pollution or politics – the people whom I had asked, who know David, had assured me that he wouldn’t take any offence.

As a devout atheist, I thank almighty God that David has in fact decided to give a talk on precisely this subject. I’m off the hook. So next week, at Hong Kong’s long-running Philosophy Cafe, the other attendees and I will get the benefit of David’s perspective on assisted dying.

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Do we have a right to die at the time and in the manner of our own choosing?

The libertarian in me knows there is but one answer: yes. And the same libertarian in me has a follow-up question: What the fuck does it have to do with you what I decide to do with my own body?

But the starting point for a libertarian is different. A libertarian starts with the assumption that I have the right to do whatever I please, as long as I’m not violating the rights of others. The liberal standpoint is the reverse, namely that we have no rights beyond those granted by our rulers, guardians and masters.

I for one reject the notion that the government, or any other body, has the right to interfere with the wishes of a competent patient to die.

Episode 029: Living Life with a Deadly Diagnosis with David Young

Intro music: Tyler Bates Featured Music: Ramble On Led Zeppelin On episode 029 we have my friend David Young who has recently been diagnosed with ALS or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease” It’s a fatal degenerative illness of which there is no cure.

On the Lesser of Two Evils

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My assessment of Trump and Clinton as candidates has remained pretty constant throughout this grotesque chapter in American electoral history. They are both corrupt, dishonest, self-serving sociopaths who crave power and will tell any lie to make sure they get it. Donald Trump is a serial sexual predator. Hillary Clinton has spent decades enabling the sexually predatory behaviour of her husband by openly lying, going after his victims and so on.

They are both utterly despicable candidates.

I’m also pretty firm on my stance on voting. It’s a terrible idea. I’d even go so far as to say that there is a moral imperative NOT to vote.

There’s an argument that I’ve seen a lot of people put forward. A lot of people, from close friends to public intellectuals, most recently, Sam Harris – the argument goes like this:

You should vote for Hillary Clinton because she is the lesser of two evils.

I have historically disagreed with this line of thinking for two reasons. Firstly, I was sure that Hillary was NOT the lesser of two evils, she was simply the more competent of two evils. And secondly I saw the argument as non sequitur.

There were a number of things which I had missed in my calculus regarding the magnitude of Trump’s evil (if it is even possible to gauge such a thing). I learned during the debates just how protectionist he is (an area where he agrees with Bernie Sanders) – he believes in policies which would harm a lot of developing economies around the world, and would push poor people living in those countries further into poverty.

Also, there’s the question of his outrageous misogyny and bigotry. I think this has been something of a perfect storm, this election. We know Trump is a serial sexual predator – but because Hillary is so vulnerable on this subject, she hasn’t been able to go after him for it. And the press have been worse than useless, as always.

There are a lot of people who aren’t sexual predators, but who are perhaps young and inexperienced men who haven’t been exposed to ideas around consent who will see Trump’s antics, see the things he has got away with, hear the things he is saying and will adopt some or all of his views – in short, he will become a poster child for rapey men. Thanks to Anudari for correcting me on this point.

A Clinton presidency will be a disaster for many people – particularly women, and a disaster for the country. She will set back feminism 30 years, in my view. A Trump presidency, on reflection, will be a disaster for far more people, including women and people around the world, and will set back feminism 70 years.

So on balance, I think a Clinton presidency will be marginally less terrible than a Trump presidency. This does not mean I have changed my mind on voting – a vote for anyone is still a vote for the system which gave you two sociopaths from which to choose. Abstention is still a moral imperative.

So the inevitable is happening. Now Americans have to fight off Clinton’s attempts to crush free speech, to attack privacy and encryption, to support Saudi Arabia, to support Israel’s brutalisation of Palestine, to support the military-industrial complex, and probably to bomb some brown people.

Now, Americans. Choose the form of the destructor. (h/t Reason for the video)

British Gymnast Suspended for Ridiculing the Ridiculous

British gymnast Louis Smith has just been banned for two months by British Gymnastics after he appeared in a video mocking Islamic prayer. The video was in poor taste to be sure, and he apologised unreservedly for it.

But there’s an important point here. Religion, and religious practices deserve to be mocked and ridiculed. Take prayer for example – prayer is a practice where a person attempts to communicate telepathically with an invisible, iron age sky god. If it isn’t worthy of mocking, then I don’t know what is.

Any comparable belief would immediately be fair game for ridicule. If I told people that I firmly believed that Aliens were walking amongst us and that I could telepathically communicate with them, I would pay an immediate price. I would lose credibility, I would be ridiculed, I would be laughed at, I would be unlikely to get a job, I’d be lucky to get a second date. And rightly so.

But if I make the exact same claims about an invisible, iron age sky god, not only is this taken to be a reasonable belief, it is also elevated to a position where ridicule is considered bad form. This is something we need to push back against. Ridicule is a perfectly acceptable response to religious beliefs and practices. It might not be the most productive or desirable response, but it should be acceptable.

4-time Olympic gymnast Louis Smith suspended for mocking Islam in video

British gymnastics has suspended four-time Olympian Louis Smith for two months for his part in a video in which he appears to poke fun at Islamic religion. In the tape, which Smith also filmed, the gymnast mocks the faith with a fellow athlete and former gymnast Luke Carson, who dropped to his knees and shouted “Allahu Akbar.”

Protecting religious ideas from criticism

We’re all subject to an amount of body shaming and coerced body covering. Body shaming and coerced body covering are a spectrum, and our individual societies sit somewhere on that spectrum.

We rightly reserve a special criticism for religiously motivated body shaming, and religiously motivated coercion – not simply because they are religious in nature, but because they are usually inextricably linked to the Abrahamic (and let’s be honest, predominantly Muslim) cults of purity, modesty and virginity – the idea that a woman’s worth is a function of these things, because heaven forbid that her hymen isn’t intact on her wedding night.

Author Laurie Stone was invited onto Columbia University’s radio station to read a selection of her work over the air – but was explicitly forbidden from reading the following line:

Women who live in secular countries and conform to religious dress codes make the lives of all women less free and less safe.

I’ve not read her work, but taken as a stand alone statement, I can see an argument in favour of this. And whether or not you agree, it’s a sad indictment of where academic institutions are in the US, when they are so determined to shield bad ideas from criticism simply because they are religious ideas.

Columbia U. Radio Station Admits to Censoring Author, Wanted to Shield Religion from Criticism

Never underestimate the capacity for secular institutions of higher education to protect religious belief from scrutiny. Columbia University’s radio station invited author Laurie Stone to read her work over the air, but prohibited her from uttering the following line: “Women who live in secular countries and conform to religious dress codes make the lives of all women less free and less safe.”

On the criminalisation of prostitutes for non-crimes

Human trafficking is a crime.

Sex trafficking is a crime.

Prostitution is a non-crime.

Yet time and again we see the two conflated, as in this piece. Demand for sex, food, water and shelter are the oldest market forces our species knows. And the supply of sex, food, water and shelter for fair exchange has been around as long as our species learned to trade.

The USA has one of the most confused relationships with sex and sexuality of any country on Earth. On the one hand, women are highly sexualised within the media, on the other hand, there is an abrupt demarcation – this far and no further.

A woman’s body is her own. If she wants to provide sexual services to other people for money, that is her business, no one else’s. These kinds of operation simply push prostitutes further into the shadows, where they are more at risk.

Pushing more and more women into the shadows won’t help find underage girls who have been trafficked. If you stop criminalising these women, if you let them live and work in plain sight, you will naturally make it easier to find girls and women who are being trafficked.

Casper police arrest five in undercover prostitution sting

Casper police arrested four women suspected of prostitution and one man suspected of soliciting prostitutes in an undercover operation Thursday evening. Police arrested Bailey Bruce, of Evansville; Cassandra Combs, of St. Paul, Minnesota; Canisha Martinez, of Casper; and Alexandra Tyler, who was homeless, on suspicion of prostitution.

On the Compulsion to Remove Clothing

I saw recently a tweet from a young Muslim woman comparing Switzerland to Saudi Arabia for dictating the clothing choices of Muslim women. I think that is a mistake. Saudi Arabia has a lot more in common with the USA than it does Switzerland on the clothing front. Sounds ridiculous? Good.

I’m over 99% sure that every single person reading this has been taught to be ashamed of their body since they were young, or at the very least since puberty. Almost every society teaches its citizens that the human body, or at least parts of it are very private and should be hidden from public view by clothing, and it is a source of shame or embarrassment if those parts are accidentally exposed. In most cases, covering those ‘secret parts’ is not optional. In my home country of England (where we are all very proper), a man caught in an improper state of undress at the wrong time will be committing a criminal offence. If he breaks the clothing code – he will be punished by the state. Women too are compelled by law to keep parts of their bodies covered or they will be punished by the state.

Saudi Arabia follows the same principle. Men and women must keep their bodies covered with clothing to an amount determined by the society and the state, and will be punished for breaking this dogma. The only thing that differs in a country like Saudi Arabia is the amount of the body which should be covered.

What countries like France, and now the canton of Ticino in Switzerland have is a very different thing. They have laws compelling women, on threat of state violence NOT to wear certain items of clothing and to keep parts of their bodies visible at all times.

There are many Muslim women who are coerced into wearing the burka. And there are many who have been sufficiently indoctrinated to the point where they WANT to wear it. But let’s be clear on two things:

1. To ensure a patriarchal control system, the Abrahamic faiths are obsessed with controlling the female body and female sexuality, and as a result we have the cults of virginity, purity and modesty. Islamic clothing like the hijab, the niqab and the burka are an extension of this – they are designed to hide the female form, her shape, her hair, her face – all the time trying to make her as asexual as possible.

2. Laws against Islamic clothing are not passed in support of the liberation of Muslim women. They are attempts to use state power to attack Muslims and the visible signs of Islam.

You cannot legislate away bad ideas. Attacking the liberty of adherents of a faith will not serve any purpose other than to cause them to close ranks and become more insulated from the normal pressures of integration.

Muslims face fines up to £8,000 for wearing burkas in Switzerland

A controversial Swiss law prohibiting Islamic dress has been used to fine a Muslim convert and a businessman, who protested the ban. The rule, which came into effect in Ticino on Friday, was voted in by referendum and outlaws face-covering headgear.

On the denial of religious motivation in Orlando

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The killer says:

I pledge myself to ISIS

The corporate media say:

CNN: “He was religious but she said she doesn’t think his religion played in to the attack.”

Al Jazeera: “The father said he was not aware of any plan by his son, adding, “this had nothing to do with religion”.”

Huffington Post: “Not Motivated By Religion”

I sit quietly seething at the toothless commentary on the Orlando attack. It lays bare, quite starkly the depths of dishonesty the media will go to in order not to criticise Islam.

Let’s make this abundantly clear – the attacker personally pledged his allegiance to ISIS. What more does he have to do in order to convince you of his motives? He’s telling you, in plain English.

I ring 911 and say “I’m really tired of being poor, I really want to be rich, so I’m robbing this bank”. If I then go on to rob the bank, wouldn’t it be ludicrous for the media to write “Not motivated by money” or “this had nothing to do with money”?

Orlando Gunman’s Father Says Son Was Upset By Gay Kiss, Not Motivated By Religion

The father of suspected Orlando gunman Omar Mateen says his son was not driven by religious ideology, but did grow upset after seeing two gay men kissing in Miami a few months ago. In a statement to NBC News, Mir Seddique said his family was “in shock” after the shooting at a gay nightclub early Sunday morning.

The NUS and the Holocaust

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I’ve become vaguely aware of this happening at the ‪#‎NUSConference‬ in the UK – where a discussion is being had over whether to formally remember the Holocaust with people arguing for and against – The latter attracting significant vitriol. The arguments for and against the motion have been made clumsily – that much is clear.

So what is the context here? The backdrop is two-fold: Firstly, we have anti-Zionism on campuses across the country. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. And, as I’ve pointed out many times, it is absolutely inevitable that within a population of anti-Zionists, anti-Semites will have a disproportionately large representation. This means that we also have antisemitism on campuses across the country. The presence of this antisemitism will naturally blunt attempts by anti-Zionists to be heard.

But it also should be noted that Zionism is the primary engine of antisemitism. Zionist doctrine and Zionist propaganda is, at its core, virulently antisemitic. One example of how Zionism not only causes antisemitism, but also incites violence against Jews goes like this – and this is something we’ve all heard:

Anti-Zionism is antisemitism.

In other words, criticising Israeli policy, criticising it’s treatment of Palestinians is antisemitic. Not only is this false, conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism is itself antisemitic, since to make this argument you have to view Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians as being an essentially Jewish phenomenon. Only yesterday, I criticised an article on IsraellyCool for openly stating that supporting Israeli policy is part of being a Jew. To associate Jewishness with Israeli policy is antisemitic, and is inciting violence against Jews.

So what of the Jewish genocide, what of HaShoah, what of the Holocaust? Zionism has appropriated it, and has appointed itself as its guardian. In this role, Zionists are taught to harness the memory of six million dead Jews to use as a political cricket bat to silence criticism of Israeli policy. It ceased to be an historical event, and became a political one. Even the term “Holocaust”, if you examine where the term comes from, is a deeply political, deeply cynical, Zionist term. It comes from a Greek translation of the Hebrew bible, and refers to animals being consumed entirely by fire – an expiatory offering to the Gods. The message? Six million Jews were sacrificed in fire to God for the creation of Israel.

So we have two parallel frameworks for remembering. We have the Nazi genocide – solemn rememberance of millions of Jews and other ‘undesirables’ whose lights were systematically extinguished by the most murderous regime in history. And we have the Holocaust – an historical-political event inextricably tied to the Zionist conquest of Palestine and the creation of Israel. Sadly, so dominant is the Zionist hegemony over this horror, that “Holocaust” is the only word many of us know.

If we drew up a list of genocides from the last 100 years, which are the NUS proposing to formally remember? And why?

I think much of the opposition to the motion is not opposition to remembering the Holocaust, but opposition to its politicisation. It seems that anti-Zionists on the left are torn between not letting this politicisation happen, and wanting to support the rememberance so they can wear that support as a shield against allegations of antisemitism. It’s all very clumsy.

People Just Argued Against Commemorating The Holocaust At NUS Conference

The National Union of Students conference today heard arguments against the official commemoration of the Holocaust. An amendment to a motion combating anti-Semitism on campuses argued that “education is vital” and the NUS should coordinate events on Holocaust Memorial Day. Yet some attendees sparked controversy by speaking against the move.

What is the Point of Barak Ravid?

Those of us who spend any amount of time criticising the stenographers of the Fawning Corporate Media™ are well aware of the low standards of corporate journalism. For the most part, this is not in any way an attack on the writing skills of the journalists themselves, but more a lament over the structures of corporate content creation and the propensity for acting as a state mouthpiece.

So I’m asking “what is the point of Barak Ravid?” And in this context, I’m asking what is the point of his job position existing at all?

This morning, an article of Ravid’s came across my Twitter feed regarding Bibi’s latest demand for the international community to recognise the spoils of expansionist nationalism. Anyone familiar with the subject knows that the international community is actually prohibited by law from such recognition, but I digress. If ever you wanted to see how so-called journalists are in fact faithful regime stenographers, take a look at Ravid’s article. To be fair, this could have been written by anyone, and there’s nothing particularly remarkable about it. But let me quote bits of the article to show you the problem. I’m going to quote the sourcing of the article:

  • The Prime Minister Says
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said
  • Netanyahu said
  • Netanyahu stated
  • Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office say
  • Netanyahu’s senior aides say
  • the prime minister stated empathically
  • Netanyahu said
  • Netanyahu also said
  • Netanyahu said
  • said Netanyahu
  • Netanyahu said
  • the prime minister said

You see the problem? That’s what you’re being fed. There is absolutely no need for Ravid to have been involved in the production of this article. It could have been emailed directly from the PM’s office and gone straight to production. You could even rename Haaretz to “Netanyahu Said”, sack the journalists and reduce the cost base considerably.

Netanyahu: It’s time the world recognize that the Golan Heights will always remain part of Israel – Israel News

Speaking at the start of a special cabinet session convened in the Golan Heights, the prime minister says he told Kerry the same thing in a phone call the day before.

Teju Cole and the Mangling of Charlie Hebdo

Charlie Hebdo is at it again. They are saying the unsayable. And once again, we have to sit back and enjoy the ménagerie of muddled thinking on offer. I was hoping that the recent editorial would go unnoticed by the standard bearers of the regressive left. I should learn to curb my optimism.

The worst of the bunch seems to have been penned by Teju Cole. In his response to the Hebdo editorial, he makes the usual charges that are levelled against Hebdo by the regressive left, but he does so dishonestly – twisting the meaning to suit his regressive agenda.

Like any true orator wanting to frame his readers’ understanding of a piece in terms that will serve his pre-determined conclusion, he opens with the crushing and dishonest accusation that Hebdo states “clearly that Muslims, all of them, no matter how integrated, are the enemy.”

No it doesn’t. At all.

Cole isn’t alone in his dishonest depiction of the editorial. The Independent screams “Charlie Hebdo criticised for calling Brussels attacks tip of Islam ‘iceberg'” – notice the use of the phrase “Islam ‘iceberg'”.

What was actually written? Hebdo wrote that the Brussels “attacks are merely the visible part of a very large iceberg indeed. They are the last phase of a process of cowing and silencing long in motion and on the widest possible scale.” If you actually read the article, it’s not an Islamic iceberg – it’s an iceberg made of fear. It’s the fear felt by the secular, a fear of criticising or offending the religious.

Attacks like the ones in Brussels cannot happen in isolation. They require the existence of a rich spectrum of connecting opinions, norms, customs, interactions and thoughts.

As an example – take the recent summary execution of an injured and prone Palestinian by a Jewish State militant in Palestine. That attack, undoubtably a war crime, is only the visible tip of a much larger iceberg. The support and impunity that the soldier receives requires a wider complimentary framework. The framework touches every part of Israeli society. It requires the conformity of thought, the nationalism, the racism, the impotence and malleability of Israel’s Arab minority. It requires countless small interactions, innocent exchanges. I write this, and only Zionists would accuse me of bigotry. No reasonable person would assume I was being antisemitic.

Hebdo’s article is about connectedness. It is about the thousand inconsequential thoughts and interactions we have and the tapestry they weave. This tapestry has edges. At one edge is the seemingly insignificant. The innocent. And at the other edge is a confused young man carrying explosives.

I don’t like the word ‘Muslim’. I don’t like the word ‘Islam’. I think it makes this tapestry possible, or at least binds together a patchwork that doesn’t need to be bound together. In linguistics, there is a thing called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It essentially posits that the language we use to describe something frames, guides and alters the way we think about a particular subject. The Inuit, for example, have over 50 different words for snow. And because of this rich linguistic framework, they think differently about snow. The different snows are distinct. Separate. It is inconceivable to the Inuit that we can have any kind of meaningful discussion about snow with such limited vocabulary.

And yet, we take 1.6 billion people, people all over the world, people with such a wide spectrum of beliefs, and use one word to describe them: Muslim. This is a sentence which Muslims impose on themselves. It creates a linguistic and therefore cognitive framework lumping them together. A framework that allows the Muslim baker and the veiled mothers described by Hebdo to be part of the same patchwork tapestry as the young man in the taxi carrying the bomb.

You and I can’t talk to the man carrying explosives. We can’t talk to the man who convinced him to blow up an airport. We can’t talk to the man who supplied the explosives. We can’t pull on that edge of the tapestry – but make no mistake – there *are* people pulling on that edge of the tapestry – and that pull is virtually unopposed, and the effect is that it drags the whole shambolic patchwork that way.

It is the job of secularism to pull back, unafraid.

I’m a devout atheist. I reject religion. I reject the worship of invisible sky gods. I don’t like any of the Abrahamic faiths – and Islam is the worst of the bunch. By far. It is embodies the worst of regressive misogyny. It embodies the worst of individual subjugation. It embodies the worst of violence.

I’m unafraid to offend people and lose friends. I’m unafraid to pull on my side of the tapestry.

If you think Hebdo’s article is racist – you’re part of the iceberg.

Teju Cole – Charlie Hebdo was given last year’s PEN/James… | Facebook

Charlie Hebdo was given last year’s PEN/James and Toni C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award, despite the objections of hundreds of members of PEN.