Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Liberty to Take Liberties with Reality

You recall the immortal distinction, graven into our cultural memory by James Bond. 007, as he is fondly called, wanted his martinis: “shaken, but not stirred.”

One might fairly apply this pithy piece of wisdom to the recent Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. Justice Kennedy’s words stirred many people, but left others shaken.

Justice Kennedy’s opened his opinion with the following stirring statement:

The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity. The petitioners in these cases seek to find that liberty by marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex.

To which Justice Scalia, in his dissent, replied that he had been shaken, but not stirred:

If, even as the price to be paid for a fifth vote, I ever joined an opinion for the Court that began: “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity,” I would hide my head in a bag. The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie.

If I may take exception to the view of a man who is a great aphorist himself, I would add that Justice Kennedy’s opinion would never be good enough to make it into a fortune cookie. If it did, the unfortunate soul who opened it up would be most likely to laugh at the absurdity of it all. As for the head-in-a-bag trope, Scalia is cleverly pointing out that Kennedy's opinion is shameful.

Surely, one needs to mention, if only to avoid misunderstandings, that those who dissented from the Kennedy opinion did not oppose same-sex marriage. They asserted that it was a matter for public debate and discussion, accompanied by legislative action. Since the general will of the populace has been quickly moving toward legalizing it, the dissenting justices saw no reason to take the matter out of the marketplace of ideas and effectively shut down debate.

After all, there's more it than the way things are seen in the metaphoric eyes of the law.

And yet, one sympathizes with Scalia’s larger point about freedom. The notion that individuals are free to define and express their identities is pop psychology and postmodern critical theory. More accurately, it’s mental drool.

When Kennedy added a few more freedoms to marriage, he went further off the rails of rational thought:

The nature of marriage is that, through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms, such as expression, intimacy, and spirituality.

One expects better of the Supreme Court. In truth, freedom comes in many different shapes and forms. Free love is not the same as free will. Freedom from responsibility is not the same as freedom for responsibility. Free will is not the same as free lunch. And, of course, free expression and the free trade in ideas do not constitute a free-for-all.

By extending the concept of freedom indiscriminately Justice Kennedy has sowed confusion.

As for Kennedy’s musing about pop psychology, it’s one thing to say that marriage has evolved to include the possibility that a couple be in love. It’s quite another to say that the “nature of marriage” is to grant access to a freedom for intimacy and spirituality. In truth, Scalia pointed out, marriage circumscribes and restricts your access to intimacy. It limits your freedom to covet your neighbor and to commit adultery.

In the past Americans believed that intimacy and sexual freedom were divine rights that people could practice premaritally and extramaritally. What happened to all that?

Unfortunately, Kennedy’s idea makes no sense within the context of gay marriage. If gays were free to create themselves as they wished they could recreate themselves as straights.

Admittedly, some people who are involved in homosexual activities are not, strictly speaking, gay, but homosexuality, nearly everyone will agree, is not a choice. It is a natural predisposition.

If Kennedy meant that gays should be allowed to define themselves as straight, thus, to marry as though they were straight he was suggesting that gay relationships, those that differ from socially recognized marriages, are somehow inferior to marriage.

One notes that Kennedy also mentioned, rather mindlessly, that the alternative to marriage was loneliness.

In fact, once you enter into the marital institution that institution defines and delimits your relationship. Those who have avoided entering into the institution of marriage have done so in order to gain a greater liberty in defining their relationship. Feminists, for example, have insisted that marriage is an oppressive institution, one that would unduly constrain the exercise of their freedom.

Dare we mention the obvious point, that a married couple is not free to change the definition of their marriage without passing through a judicial process called divorce.

Kennedy seems to have granted us the liberty to take liberties with reality.

One ought to note that the Supreme Court decision has not transformed reality. It has changed the way that certain couples are treated “in the eyes of the law.” The law can confer dignity and it can deny dignity, but it is not the only arbiter of the way dignity is conferred or denied.

Most Americans would probably agree that the law should be blind to gender differences. And yet, the problem is not so much the way it looks to the law, but the way it looks to people, here, there and everywhere.

Keep in mind, marriage is a universal institution. If Jack and Jill are married in Timbuktu they are recognized as married everywhere else on the planet. The same is not true of same-sex couples. It is unlikely that it will be true of same-sex couples in our lifetime. In America, it would be closer to realization if the people, through their votes and representatives, had decided the case.

Assisted Suicide as a Treatment for Depression

One understands that people who are in the last stages of an inevitably fatal disease would prefer to die sooner. Some of them refuse further treatment, the better not to prolong their agony.

One understands that some people disagree with this view on the grounds that… once you legalize euthanasia, where do you draw the line?

In Belgium the law says that an individual can receive a lethal injection—which sounds rather similar to an execution—if he or she is in “intractable and unbearable pain.”

But, who knows whether your pain is intractable and unbearable? And, what if your pain is mental, thus, not associated with an identifiable physical illness.

Now,we have the answer. Doctors in that nation have decided to help a 24 year-old-woman to put an end to her life—under medical supervision—because she is suffering from … depression. Since she has often failed when attempting suicide, doctors want her now to be able to succeed. Do they think it will make her feel better?

Newsweek has the story:

Doctors in Belgium are granting a healthy 24-year-old woman who is suffering from depression the right to die, as she qualifies for euthanasia, even though she does not have a terminal or life-threatening illness.

The 24-year-old female, known simply as Laura, has been given the go ahead by health professionals in Belgium to receive a lethal injection after spending both her childhood and adult life suffering from "suicidal thoughts," she told local Belgian media.

Laura has been a patient of a psychiatric institution since the age of 21 and says she has previously tried to kill herself on several occasions. She told journalists: "Death feels to me not as a choice. If I had a choice, I would choose a bearable life, but I have done everything and that was unsuccessful." The date of Laura's death is yet to be decided.

Pay close attention: because just because it does not feel like a choice... that does not make it less of a choice. It’s almost as though Laura is saying that she is going to die anyway—doesn’t everyone?—why prolong the agony?

Besides, if this is what she really, really wants how can anyone deny her her heart’s desire?

How does one fail to note that she is wallowing in depressive thinking? Surely, there are treatments for such thinking. A dose of optimism might do wonders for her. Haven’t the latest cognitive and behavioral treatments for depression, to say nothing of the latest medical treatments reached Belgium.

Belgium, a nation that does not have the death penalty, is going to put Laura to death by lethal injection because she is depressed.

If Laura were an nonagenarian with terminal cancer, we would understand. Since she is a young woman with her life ahead of her, we do not understand why physicians would give up on treatment and allow her to be put to death.

Clearly, this sends the wrong message. It feels like a physician’s revenge, an effort to wipe a difficult patient off the books. It also looks like the kind of problem you encounter when you base medical decisions on a person’s beliefs and when you confuse a deeply held conviction (which used to be called a delusion) with reality.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pimping Out the Coeds

Certainly, it feels harsh to say, as I have been wont to, that young women, especially college coeds are being pimped out. Others prefer to use the slightly more glamorous name of the hookup culture. Whatever you call it, it seems decidedly disrespectful of young women.

I have also had occasion to say that the current furor over “rape culture” on college campuses seems to be an effort to shut down the hookup culture. One would think that raising the cost basis of random drunken sexual encounters would diminish their appeal and their frequency.

I may have spoken too soon. After reading Suzy Lee Weiss’s account of her freshman year at the University of Michigan, I am having doubts. ( via Maggie’s Farm) Apparently, the hookup culture is alive and well. One would like to call it drunken debauchery but it sounds like much less fun than that.

As Weiss describes it, that college administrators and the fraternity system have conspired to sacrifice the honor and dignity of these young women.

Even before these first-year coeds are thrown to the tender mercies of the fraternity system the university prepares them. Should we say that the administration, in a strange way, grooms them? Or that the administration, acting in loco parentis, is setting down guidelines for good sexual behavior… in a context that does not involve dating.

Weiss describes her experience:

During the first six weeks of my freshman year, I attended no fewer than four "safe sex" seminars. I've watched a sex educator slip a blue condom onto a dildo before a room of 200 18-year-olds; witnessed a 30-minute fight between a student and a peer advisor over whether a nod counted as consent; and participated in a mock date proposal to practice how to politely turn someone down. ("No, thanks.")

I've clicked and peer-discussed my way through myriad sexual scenarios, many of which explored the gray zone of drunken sexual encounters. What if it's happening late in the afternoon on a Sunday after four shots, but before a solar eclipse, and she said she didn't want to go too far but seemed really into it?

If the statistics and headlines are to be believed, never has there been more assault and rape on American colleges campuses. Yet the same time, never before in the history of the American college student has there been more open, and increasingly procedural, talk about how to have sex.

Of course, the statistics and headlines have been vigorously contested. Be that as it may, one comes away with the impression that the college administration is telling these young girls that it is good to have sex… consensual, of course… protected, of course… because it is the normal thing to do.

Since college freshmen are especially desirous of fitting in, of being like the other students, any official message that tells their vulnerable souls what they need to do to fit in, will exercise an outsized influence on their behavior.

Can there be any doubt that these young women are being told that they should put this knowledge to use, that it is normal to do so?

Somewhat timidly, Weiss suggests that the college administrators’ emphasis on the mechanics of sex and on which words might or might not constitute consent among drunken teenagers ignores the emotional side of the equation. Assuming that the emotional connection is especially important to young women, the lectures are treating these women as though they were men.

Or better, a caricature of men. By ignoring the relationship side of the sexual equation and failing to respect human beings as something more than organs and orifices, educators diminish and demean everyone, but especially women.

Weiss explains:

With free STD testing and countless free condoms lobbed down the stairwells of dorms across the country, there is doubtlessly more "safe sex." But dental dams don't protect feelings. I'm not talking here about sexual assault, but about sex of the consensual but haphazard variety.

Weiss continues to describe what is called the “date party.” She makes it sound more like choosing an escort for the evening than like what used to be called mixers:

Take the date party — a traditional rite of passage of [insert your favorite Greek letters here] — in which pairings are arranged through mutual friends. Everyone wants to get invited, but a girl will only be asked if she is all but certain to put out. Often times, a boy's profile picture will be posted in a sorority-wide group text, with a comment along the lines of: "Who's interested? His date party is this weekend."

Then, a few texts will be exchanged between the duo. "What type of alcohol do you want?" and "The pregame starts at 8" are among the vital logistical concerns. No one goes to date party to talk about their childhood dreams in a corner of a loud dance club or the basement of a frat.

Combine the unspoken promise of some sort of sexual encounter with a heavy pregame- and sometimes even a pregame to the pregame — and the result is exactly what you'd expect. Order your Ubers early, ladies; chances are no one is making you pancakes. And certainly don't expect a text the next day.

Call it the Walmartification of sex: It's cheap, quick, easy and not built to last.

“ … all but certain to put out…” about what kind of women would you use that phrase?

Naturally, Weiss finds someone to hook up with. She does not call it a friends-with-benefits arrangement, but clearly she is being used. Of course, this is what her sex educators and peers were encouraging her to do, so she keeps hoping that she is involved in a relationship:

The weeks proceeded, our awkward daytime interactions a necessary hurdle to get to the parties and late nights where our "romance" would flourish. Coming back from a suspiciously non-communicative winter break, I found him distant and brusque. A few days of nervously — and obsessively — checking my phone culminated in pathetic display of waterworks and pent-up hysteria on a frat house lawn.

I imagined an enthusiastic reunion. Or at least a wave. He simply walked away, leaving in his wake the girlish monster we had both created.

The sad part is that he technically did nothing wrong. We weren't dating and hadn't even defined ourselves as exclusive for fear that if either of us assigned a label it would indicate that we wanted to go stroller shopping for our future child the next day.

One friend was similarly stung when she found out the boy she had hooked up with was in an open relationship with someone else. Another slept with someone all year who would only commit to the cringe-worthy expression "hanging out." The vast majority refused to be tied down in any way, citing a desire for "the real freshman experience."

Are we talking about a real freshman experience or a girlfriend experience?

I do not think that we are stretching things to say that Weiss might very have come away from her initiation and grooming feeling used, abused, disrespected and even violated.

Since she was fully consenting she does not see it that way, but she is right to object that her initiation into college sex was a transaction where she gave herself up and got nothing in return, not even a nod of recognition.

But she is not correct when she writes this:

Sexual assault-and various shades of not-totally-consensual episodes — is a real problem on college campuses, including my own. And I don't think that a return to old-fashioned mating rituals would do away with the problem.

In truth, the current college sexual scene, which resembles something that used to be called a meat market, came about because certain people decided that old-fashioned mating rituals were disrespectful to women. Would a return to the latter solve the problem? It would certainly go a long way toward that end. Compared to today’s hookup culture, old fashioned dating rituals were a model of decorum and respect.

Be that as it may, Weiss ends her essay with a cri de coeur to her feminist foremothers:

As a feminist, I ask: Is this the victory feminism imagined for itself?

I am confident that this is not what feminism imagined. And yet, as the old saying goes: you broke it, you own it. Feminism overthrew the old mating rituals. Even though feminist opinion is sharply divided on these questions, feminism bears some responsibility for the way Suzy Lee Weiss and her fellow coeds were pimped out in college.

If you prefer not to think such thoughts, you can also ask yourself whether Weiss-- had she not been a feminist-- would have done what she did.

Creating an Unreal Reality

Writing in National Review Peter Kirsanow offers a sobering look at our new reality. It’s not the reality you used to know and perhaps even like, but it’s a new fictional world that fulfills a certain number of ideological preconceptions. 

Strangely enough, no one seems to care any more that its unreal.

Kirsanow sums it up:

Exchanges established by the federal government are exchanges established by the state. Rachel Dolezal is black. Iran will honor an agreement not to develop nuclear weapons. ISIS is a JV team. There’s an epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses. Michael Brown had his hands up and pleaded “don’t shoot.” Caitlyn Jenner is a woman. Obamacare is working. 2+2 doesn’t necessarily equal 4. The polar ice caps are disappearing. The IRS is doing a decent job. The border is secure.We’ve ended two wars responsibly. Hillary Clinton turned over all work-related e-mails. An $18,200,000,000,000 debt can grow without mention. People who burn down buildings and overturn cars aren’t thugs. The OPM hack is manageable. We’ve reset relations with Russia. Entitlement reform can be kicked down the road. We’re more respected around the world.

One might call it a mass delusion, as Kirsanow does, but, whatever one calls it, he is right to say that it is not going to end well.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Giving and Taking Advice

It shouldn’t come as too much of a revelation. We are better at giving advice than at taking it. To be more precise, we are not very good at taking our own advice. Of course, this assumes that the advice we give to ourselves is as good as the advice we give to other people.

Yet, Melissa Dahl’s New York Magazine column about giving and taking advice does not address the question of whether we are better at taking advice that others give us than we are at taking our own advice.

And that is not the only level of complexity here. When we give someone advice, our remarks exist within a conversation and within a constituted social connection. When we give ourselves advice, we are often thinking to ourselves. Self-advice does not count as a verbal act and it does not constitute a commitment.

To make the comparison more germane, the researchers should have considered the difference between the advice we give to others and the advice we tell others that we are going to follow. 

If I tell my friends that I am going to stop smoking and if they see me smoking, I will lose face. If I tell myself that I should stop smoking and I keep on smoking I will compromise my health but I do not lose face. 

But then, if I advise a friend against smoking, I am saying that I am willing to take responsibility for what happens when he follows my advice. If I give advice and my friend follows it and it turns out badly, I will be held accountable. Evidently, this rule does not apply to stopping smoking.

Supposedly, we give the best advice when we are objective observers of a situation. If a friend asks us what he should do in this or that circumstance, we often know the answer. If we find ourselves in the same situation, we might think about the same solution, but we are unlikely to follow the same piece of advice.

Apparently, we do not trust ourselves to give ourselves good advice. The example, as given, does not consider what we do when someone else, an objective observer, or perhaps even a friend, offers similar advice.

Note well, the advice has a different value if comes from a friend or from a random stranger. We are surely more likely to follow the advice of a friend than that of a stranger. And we are most willing to follow advice if the person giving it is a recognized authority.

It’s not just about objectivity. Some people know more than others. Some people have more experience than others. Some people are smarter or wiser than others.

Psychologists suggest that we do not often take our own advice because we are too emotionally involved. Or else, we might distrust our advice because we know that we are not being objective about it.

Of course, reality is often far more complicated than questions posed to college students. 

Take this example, from Dan Ariely, reported by Dahl:

Ariely tells me about an experiment he once did that neatly proves his point. “Think about something like getting a second opinion from doctors,” Ariely said. Imagine, Ariely asked his study participants, that your regular doctor has given you some serious diagnosis. Would you ask for a referral so you can get a second opinion? Most people, he found, say no — they don’t want to offend their doctor, even if the health stakes at hand are high. “But if we ask them if they would tell somebody else to go for a second opinion, they say, Of course, yes,” Ariely continued, adding that the insight is applicable in a wide range of situations.

This feels like a trick question, so one must question the way it has been reported. Asking your own doctor for a referral for a second opinion is not the same as recommending that someone else seek out a second opinion.

Obviously, you can seek out a second opinion without asking your own doctor for a referral. When you tell someone else to seek out a second opinion, you are not necessarily telling him to ask his own physician for a referral.

Why would you not ask your own doctor for a referral? Perhaps you do not want to offend someone who might literally have your life in his hands. This is not irrational.

Also, you might question whether anyone chosen by your doctor can be truly objective. Perhaps, the other doctor will be a colleague or friend of your doctor. If so, he might be less inclined to offer an objective opinion because of the risk to a friendship or a referral source.

At the least, we see that these situations are often far more complex than we imagine and that the subjective/objective division does not suffice.

Let’s examine another of Dahl’s examples:

You definitely should just confront your friend about how much it annoys and hurts you that she has a habit of canceling plans at the last minute; I, on the other hand, have known my own flaky friend for far too long to bring it up at this point. It’s complicated. Don’t worry about it.

Here she is suggesting that advice given in the abstract, advice that articulates a general principle might not be applicable in a specific situation. Most of us know a certain number of moral principles. Applying them in specific situations with different people is not as easy as it seems.

In this case, another problem lays in the principle of confrontation. It is wrong to believe that you need to choose between confronting and saying nothing. If that is the choice, many people, who reasonably want to avoid giving offense, will do nothing. It’s like advising women to “lean in” and then being surprised to see that the women who receive this advice are less likely to lean in or are more likely to lean in at the wrong time, in the wrong place with the wrong person.

Is it so obvious that people normally follow the advice they receive from their peers? Your close personal friends do have an objective perspective. In general, however, they probably do not know any more than you do. Following a friend’s advice might feel like following your own advice. True, it’s objective… but it is not based on wisdom or experience. It’s like the blind leading the blind.

And then, Dahl continues, we commit what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error:

It’s a consequence of something psychologists call the fundamental attribution error, the idea that people explain their own actions by the circumstances, but judge others’ behavior as clear signals of their glaring character flaws. “So if I trip on the sidewalk, it must’ve been uneven,” Hershfield said. “But if you trip, you’re clumsy.”You need to follow this writing advice because you’re a beginner; I, Professional Writer, am above it, and that lede wasn’t coming to me because … because I just needed caffeine, or something.

Dahl had offered the example of a friend who asked her for advice about how to overcome writers’ block. She responded that the friend should not worry about having a great opening paragraph. She should just start writing.

Is this good advice? Effectively, it is. The only way overcome writers’ block is to write. The more you think about it, the more you think about what you are going to write, the less you will get down on the page or the screen.

The amateur who has writers’ block does not know the basic rule and therefore is not following it. The professional, like Dahl, knows the rule but might not believe that the rule applies to her... she is a professional. When she has writers’ block, the reason must lie elsewhere.

Of course, it might also be the case that she is a young writer and has not yet fully developed the habit of sitting down and writing even when she does not know what she is going to say.

Intriguingly, Dahl then offers a quotation by William James:

Famed 19th-century psychologist William James, for instance, spent much of his career harping on the subject of habits: The key to a happy, productive life, he often argued, was to automate as much of it as possible. “There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision, and for whom the lighting of every cigar, the drinking of every cup, the time of rising and going to bed every day, and the beginning of every bit of work, are subjects of express volitional deliberation,” James wrote in his book Psychology: A Briefer Course. 

Is this good advice? Yes, it’s very good advice.

And yet, it gets critiqued by authors like Mason Currey:

But, as Mason Currey points out in his (delightful) 2013 book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, James might as well have been describing himself — all his life, the psychologist struggled to stick to a regular schedule, according to his biographer.

Perhaps James did not fully succeed in living his life according to strict rituals and habits. Few people succeed fully at anything. Yet, James was not ignoring the advice. He was trying to live according to the principle. 

Besides, the notion was certainly not unique to William James. The concept of "habit" goes back to Aristotle, and the theory of learning to do the right thing without thinking is intrinsic to military training. In another context, it's called resilience.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Why Didn't Anyone Think of Same-Sex Marriage Before?

Hanging over the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage is a simple question: Why didn’t anyone think of it before? Why did the question never come up? Why has no other culture institutionalized marriage between two members of the same sex?

In his dissent John Roberts wrote:

And a State’s decision to maintain the meaning of marriage that has persisted in every culture throughout human history can hardly be called irrational.

He adds that there are reasons why marriage has always been between a man and a woman. He dismisses the notion that marriage was defined in order to exclude gays and lesbians.

In his words:

Marriage did not come about as a result of a political movement, discovery, disease, war, religious doctrine, or any other moving force of world history— and certainly not as a result of a prehistoric decision to exclude gays and lesbians. It arose in the nature of things to meet a vital need: ensuring that children are conceived by a mother and a father committed to raising them in the stable conditions of a lifelong relationship.

Of course, the Court majority pointed out that we no longer have arranged marriages, but have marriages based on love. As I pointed out in my book The Last Psychoanalyst this represents a misunderstanding of history.

Marriage was revolutionized when women gained the freedom to choose a mate. Perhaps romantic love is more important to women than it is to men, but surely women do not choose husbands purely on the basis of romantic love. Saying as much is saying that women are hopeless sentimental and irrational. Most women do love their husbands but their choice is based on a myriad of other factors—good character, status in the world, capacity as a breadwinner, parental approval.

Women do not fall in love with just anyone. Men don’t either.

When arranged marriage was supplanted by what we call love marriage no one imagined that marriage expressed romantic love. It remained a social institution, albeit one where women gained more freedom and more responsibility for their choices.

Even when love enters the equation, it does not make marriage as an expression of romantic love. Throughout most of human history the province of romantic love has been adulterous relationships. And those, we know, have been open to both men and women.

Roberts makes the same point.

In his words:

They did not, however, work any transformation in the core structure of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

But then, Roberts makes the following statement, statement that led Washington Post reporter Ishaan Tharoor to do some historical research.

Roberts wrote of the Court’s decision:

As a result, the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the states and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis for human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?

Of course, five justices are saying that their wisdom is greater than that of nearly the entirety of the human species. It may be true, but then again, what if it isn’t?

When he read Roberts’ statement, Tharoor responded that the four cultures mentioned did not have “traditional unions.” It would be a useful argument if Roberts had said that these cultures practiced traditional unions. More likely the chief justice was saying that even some of the most extreme human cultures, cultures that experimented with sexual behavior and rules, recognized marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Tharoor summarizes the customs and behaviors of the four groups, beginning with the Kalahari Bushmen:

The Kalahari Bushmen don't have very strong wedding practices, and don't pay much attention to ceremonies around mating.

Early European accounts of tribes and kingdoms encountered in southern Africa included details of warrior women styling themselves as kings (not "queens"), polygamous households where lesbianism was common, and even ancient Bushmen rock paintings depicting explicit homosexual sex.

What about warrior women depicting themselves as kings? Doesn't that sound familiar?

As for the reference to paintings depicting explicit homosexual sex, if I recall correctly, Giotto’s Last Judgment at the Arena chapel in Padua shows homosexual sex. And surely, the Decameron does not depict a very virtuous group of pilgrims. So what?

As for the Kalahari Bushmen, are we really sure that we want to make them our role models? Do we really want to emulate them?

Tharoor mentions that gay marriage is not and has never been legal in China, not even among the Han Chinese. What exactly does he think that that proves? He adds:

During the Han dynasty, the ancient lineage of kings that gives the Han their name, homosexuality was rife. Almost all the emperors -- you know, the lawgivers of the land -- of the Western Han dynasty apparently had same-sex lovers.

Again, so what? Plato talks about homosexual love. Having gay lovers has not throughout the course of human history had any effect on the institution of marriage. If these relationships were openly acknowledged, then perhaps they were not always considered to be shameful. Gay sex, after all, does not hold the risk that other forms of adultery had: conception.

Tharoor mentions that Carthage was a paradise for homosexuals. It may or may not have been true, but recall how Carthage fared in the Punic Wars with Rome. They were not fought over the question of homosexuality: they were fought for dominance in the Mediterranean. In the end Carthage was completely destroyed.

Again, do we really want to emulate Carthage? And besides, however rife homosexual love was in ancient Carthage it did not change the nature of marriage.

Tharoor then quote a description of marital customs in Aztec civilization:

Marriage was conditional in that the parties could decide to separate or stay together after they had their first son. Marriages could also be unconditional and last for an indefinite period of time. Polygamy and concubines were permitted, though this was more common in noble households and marriage rites were only observed with the first, or principal, wife. Aztec families could live in single family homes, though many opted to live in joint family households for economic reasons.

But, what is a conditional marriage? Doesn’t it exist in a slightly different form in a culture where divorce is easy to obtain… like ours?

Tharoor mentions that the Aztecs also practiced human sacrifice, so perhaps we should not be too eager to emulate their way of doing things.

As for living arrangements, these have differed in different places and at different times throughout human history. So what. Obviously, these arrangements do not resemble the nuclear family, but that might merely demonstrate the flexibility of some human customs. It might tell us that the nuclear family is a better solution. It might also show that cultures that practice these alternative living arrangements do not survive for very long. Surely, the Kalahari Bushmen are not leading the world in technological innovation and industry.

And, by the way, where are the Aztecs now? How did all of that work out for them?

Pope Francis Embraces Naomi Klein

Think what you will about Pope Francis’s foray into climate change politics, he is making no effort to appear to be fair and balanced.

Having already resurrected the South American radical leftist doctrine of liberation theology—an unholy amalgam of Catholicism and Marx—he has now chosen extreme leftist firebrand Naomi Klein to co-chair this Friday’s Vatican conference on climate change.

The Guardian reports:

She is one of the world’s most high-profile social activists and a ferocious critic of 21st-century capitalism. He is one of the pope’s most senior aides and a professor of climate change economics. But this week the secular radical will join forces with the Catholic cardinal in the latest move by Pope Francis to shift the debate on global warming.

Naomi Klein and Cardinal Peter Turkson are to lead a high-level conference on the environment, bringing together churchmen, scientists and activists to debate climate change action. Klein, who campaigns for an overhaul of the global financial system to tackle climate change, told the Observer she was surprised but delighted to receive the invitation from Turkson’s office.

At a time when the horrors of Communism cannot be denied, Klein continues to wage war against capitalism. Communism may have murdered around 100 million people and destroyed the lives of many, many more, but Klein refuses to accept reality. She has decided that capitalism will destroy everyone and everything because it has made it impossible to combat global climate change.

Otherwise she would have to admit that she and her fellow-travelers were grievously wrong, and people like Klein are constitutionally incapable of doing so.

For example:

Indeed, the three pillars of the neoliberal age—privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector, and the lowering of income and corporate taxes, paid for with cuts to public spending—are each incompatible with many of the actions we need to take to bring our emissions to safe levels. And together these pillars form an ideological wall that has blocked a serious response to climate change for decades.

One ought not to have to say it, but in the post Mao era in China privatization succeeded in feeding hundreds of millions of people and raising nearly a billion people out of abject poverty. So naturally, Klein wants to return to Communism.

Among her other pronouncements, Klein attacked the Iraq war as an effort to bring capitalism to Iraq. As Wikipedia notes, she pledged her allegiance to Muqtada as Sadr:

Klein's August 2004 "Bring Najaf to New York", published in The Nation, argued that Muqtada Al Sadr's Mahdi Army "represents the overwhelmingly mainstream sentiment in Iraq."[34] She went on to say "Yes, if elected Sadr would try to turn Iraq into a theocracy like Iran, but for now his demands are for direct elections and an end to foreign occupation"

Obviously, Klein is more than just another committed leftist. Her support for a man who would turn Iraq into a theocracy, given the consequences for women and gays, makes her a crackpot and a flake.

She is an ideological fanatic whose hatred of America and free market capitalism is so great that she prefers to consign people to an Iranian theocracy rather than to a liberal democracy. Since hatred knows no limits she has no concern for human life or human beings and should be disqualified from appearing at international forums on political economy.

By making Klein, a notorious atheist, a co-chair of a conference the Pope discredits himself.

Naturally, Klein is also a committed anti-Semite. Comparing Israeli policy toward Palestinian terrorists to South African apartheid she supports the Boycott Divest Sanction movement against what she calls Israeli “criminality.”

In 2009 she wrote:

The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa. In July 2005 a huge coalition of Palestinian groups laid out plans to do just that. They called on "people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era". The campaign Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions was born.

Every day that Israel pounds Gaza brings more converts to the BDS cause - even among Israeli Jews. In the midst of the assault roughly 500 Israelis, dozens of them well-known artists and scholars, sent a letter to foreign ambassadors in Israel. It calls for "the adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions" and draws a clear parallel with the anti-apartheid struggle. "The boycott on South Africa was effective, but Israel is handled with kid gloves ... This international backing must stop."

One does not, in her article read a single word condemning Palestinian terrorism. About the fact that Hamas has pledged not only to destroy Israel but to kill Jews everywhere, she is silent.

Naomi Klein is a left-wing extremist and fanatic. She has no place in a Vatican conference on climate change or on anything at all. One would have thought that Communism was dead and buried. And yet, some political and religious leaders are still irresistibly drawn to it.

No respectable political leader ought to enhance the reputation of Naomi Klein. Not if he wants to remain respectable.