Blog, Politics, Religion + Spirituality

Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act Is Contemptuous: The Never-ending Battle Against the Dark and Reactionary Forces

Originally published April 10, 2015 on the Huffington Post

The April 13, 2015 issue of TIME featured a powerful interchange between two arguments, pro and con (pp. 32-33), over whether Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is necessary or not. The issues at the heart of the debate are: Are the beliefs of orthodox Christians so much under attack such that they deserve special protection? Should orthodox Christians and the members of other faiths be required to undertake actions with which go against their fundamental beliefs? Should the owners of businesses be forced to serve those — for example, gays who wish to be married or who already are — that violate their deeply held religious beliefs?

I found the proposition by Rod Dreher, a Senior Editor of the American Conservative, not only seriously flawed, but utterly contemptible. In the interests of space, I’ve recast just one of the most critical parts of Dreher’s argument into the form of various ethical propositions. This is one of the best ways of which I know to show how horrid his or anyone’s arguments are.

Putting arguments in the form of ethical propositions forces us to ask, “Can this particular ethical maxim be generalized such that we’d we wish it to be applied it universally to all persons?” Or, “Is it so odious that common decency forces us to reject it in the strongest possible ways?”

It’s not that my ethical and moral standards are universal, but that an ethical proposition of some sort underlies every important social issue. As such, they deserve to be fleshed out so that we can subject them to rigorous examination.

Let me take one of Dreher’s prime contentions, namely, that if one baker refuses for whatever religious reasons to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, in today’s world there are many more bakers who are willing to have their business; therefore, gay couples have no right to feel slighted and thus complain. Translated into an ethical proposition, the principle reads: “Whenever there is at least one other person (person 2) who is willing to serve someone (person 1) who for whatever reason person 3 refuses to serve, then person 3 is ethically justified in refusing service to person 1; in other words, person 3 is ethically justified in committing an act of discrimination.” To boil it down, discrimination in the large is acceptable as long as there is at least one other person who doesn’t practice it.

This dubious principle not only further institutionalizes prejudice, but it also puts the burden squarely on those who have been discriminated against to seek out others who do not discriminate. Worst of all, the principle is its own justification. It also conveniently sidesteps the whole issue where there is no one in a small or closed community who wishes to serve someone else. Should the person who is denied service therefore be forced to drive miles at considerable cost and time in order to find someone who will serve them?

In Dreher’s words, “What is so alarming about the opposition’s [presumably, Liberals and gays] moral panic over [the Indiana law] is its inability to accept that there could possibly be a legitimate religious defense of discrimination at all.” Really? Name one! Slavery and the treatment of blacks and women?

I accept that anyone is free to believe and to say publically anything they wish, except of course hate speech. But, since businesses are licensed by law to serve the public, one’s actions are a very different matter. In this case, the proposition that “Every belief and action that is based on one’s deeply held religious beliefs are warranted ethically” fails miserably.

No, I do not respect equally every belief. If this means that we are embattled in a deep cultural war, then so be it. It’s time for the orthodox members of any faith or belief system to grow up! Discrimination of any kind is not warranted, period!

In the end, the Indiana law is just the latest skirmish in the long and seemingly never-ending battle against the dark and repressive forces that we have fought throughout all of human history. If there is any good news, we will prevail as we have before.

The dubious principles on which discrimination are based do not hold up to the moral cleansing light of daylight.

Blog, Media + Politics, Politics, Religion + Spirituality

Dumb Arguments Are Alive and Well in America

Originally posted on The Huffington Post – March 5, 2014

From the dumb and silly to the outright paranoid and pathological, America is awash in Dumb Arguments (DAs). The constant swirl of dumb, deranged, and dangerous arguments are not only a measure of the low level to which public discourse has sunk, but they displace serious communication and analysis, thereby keeping us from addressing our most important problems.

Case in point. Rep. Michele Bachmann said recently that she is “sorry” that Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a controversial bill in Arizona that, because of their religious beliefs, would have legally allowed businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples. As Rep. Bachmann put it in her own indubitable words, “I believe that tolerance is a two-way street, and we need to respect everyone’s rights, including the rights of people who have sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Rep. Bachmann’s muddled thoughts are a perfect example of a DA. Apparently, Ms. Bachmann is totally unable to grasp the fundamental idea that religious tolerance does not entail a blanket endorsement of every wacky and evil idea that tumbles out of the mouths of religious adherents no matter how “sincerely” those ideas are held. Religiosity does not confer the right to endorse bigotry in any way, shape, or form. Everyone needs to be held accountable for actions and statements that restrict the basic dignity and humanity of others. Isn’t this the true basis of respect and tolerance?

Consider another: Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee produced immediate, strong howls of protest when he said recently:

“And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it. Let’s take that discussion all across America because women are far more than Democrats have made them t”o be [sic]. And women across America have to stand up and say, ‘Enough of that nonsense.’ [sic] “

Huckabee remarks were not only dumb, but they were one of the classic forms of a DA.

First of all, Democrats never said that women couldn’t control their libidos and that they therefore needed the government to step in and help them. So this part of the “argument” — if it can be called that — was plainly false. Democrats merely wanted to help women have access to birth control so that it was available if they wanted it. Democrats were acting in support of women, not as their dire enemies or opponents. Republicans on the other hand have repeatedly opposed any form of birth control assistance. Even worse, their proposals to inspect and control women’s bodies have been downright draconian.

Second, the argument was dumb because it insulted women under the guise of helping them. As Huckabee put it: “The fact is, the Republicans don’t have a war on women. They have a war for women…” In other words, women needed men to wage war for them. This was the second way in which women were offended.

Third, Huckabee’s remarks were dumb because they completely reversed the roles between good and bad guys. According to Huckabee, Republicans are really the “good guys” while Democrats are clearly the “bad guys.” This followed because Republicans basically trust women to manage their own bodies and sexual urges whereas Democrats do not. Huckabee’s remarks would be utterly laughable if they weren’t so transparently dumb.

None of this is meant to establish that DAs are exclusively in the hands of the right. Nothing could be further from the truth.

On Sunday, December 29, 2013, Melissa Perry-Harris, host of her show on MSNBC, stepped into a DA of her making. At one point, a panel of comedians were putting humorous captions to notable pictures of 2013. One picture in particular showed the Romney clan with an adopted grandson who was black. Off camera, in a singsong fashion, comedian Pia Glenn began mouthing, “One of these things is not like the others!” The intent was not just to call attention to the obvious fact that except for the adopted grandson, the entire Romney clan was white. The real intent was to mock the Republican Party for its underrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics.

The very next day Melissa Perry-Harris apologized profusely and tearfully on camera for the inappropriateness of the segment. Nonetheless, the damage was clearly done. The segment couldn’t be taken back anymore than Mike Huckabee’s words could be retracted.

An unstated premise of the bit, and therefore part of the underlying but unspoken DA, was that comedians have a “license” to do and say things that the rest of us can’t. After all, “It’s all in good fun; what’s the matter, can’t you take a joke?” This too is one of the classic forms of a DA: making fun of someone or something that isn’t funny.

This is not to say that ridicule is never warranted, but that one should proceed with caution, especially if one is mocking young children, the disabled, the elderly, pets, etc. The moral is that no political party, group, ideology, etc. has a monopoly on DAs and dumb actions. DAs are perfectly democratic. They are freely available to all.

I have no illusions whatsoever that we will ever be free of DAs. We must not only be forever vigilant, but do everything in our power to point them out — yea, ridicule them — as forcefully as we can. In the constant battle against DAs, that’s our only defense.

Blog, Philosophy + Systems, Politics, Religion + Spirituality, Serialized Blog

Arguments With Ourselves: Wrestling with the Key Issues of Our Times

Published as a series of blogs on Nation of Change

A Native American boy asked his grandfather, “What do you think about the world today?”

The grandfather replied, “I feel like two wolves are fighting–one with hate and fear, the other with love and acceptance.”

“But grandfather,” asked the boy, “which one will win?”

The grandfather answered, “The one I feed.”

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 5, 2013


Arguments big and small envelop us every waking moment of our lives.

From the time we wake in the morning until we go to sleep at night, we are literally bombarded with hundreds of arguments. The vast majority of arguments are of course mundane and thus of little concern or consequence: what to have for breakfast, what to wear around the house, etc. (Give the fact that we are struggling with a nation-wide epidemic of obesity and health related problems, many issues that were once considered ordinary such as what to have for breakfast are no longer mundane.) Nonetheless, increasingly, many are about matters of extreme importance, for instance, whether to go to war, whether gays should be allowed to marry, etc.

It is thus no exaggeration to say—argue—that arguments big and small make the world go around. For this reason alone, this book examines critical arguments with regard to some of the most important issues of our time.

Many fine, intelligently written books already exist that give the important issues of our day the in-depth treatment they so richly deserve. The present book could not in fact have been written without them. But literally none exist that show how the dominant issues of our times not only impact one another, but in a deeper sense are strongly connected. This fact alone accounts for why the definition of our key problems, let alone their solution, is so difficult. In short, our critical problems can neither be defined properly, let alone managed, independently and in isolation of one another.

Hard Hitting

Arguments With Ourselves is an incisive, hard-hitting examination of some of the most important issues and problems we face as a nation; for example: the persistent battles, if not out-and-out wars, between Science and Religion, more specifically between Creationism and Evolution; the frequent and bitter skirmishes between those who defend a traditional conception of marriage and those who are in favor of allowing gays to marry; those who are strongly in favor of greater gun controls and those who strongly oppose them; those who believe in the power of the “free market” and those who believe in strong governmental regulations, more generally, between those who assert the primacy of business versus those who believe fervently in the greater role of government; and of course, the current prolonged and acrimonious discord, if not the deep hostilities, between Democrats and Republicans.

A Life-Long Friend and Colleague

The story of how the author first met Vince Barabba, a life-long friend and colleague, is an integral part of this book.

Some thirty years, Barabba was the Director of the U.S. Bureau of the Census and Mitroff was a Professor of Business Administration and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh. The late Russell Ackoff (systems planner and thinker extraordinaire), who was a member of the American Statistical Association’s Advisory Committee for the Census Bureau, brought them together.

Ackoff had previously issued a challenge to the Bureau to think and behave differently. He asked the Bureau to “design an Ideal (not utopian) Bureau for the year 2000.” In a word, Ackoff asked the Bureau to go through the serious planning exercise of envisioning what an Ideal Census Bureau—that is, a Bureau that was freed from the onerous constraints of the present–would look like and how it would function. Furthermore, since Ackoff pioneered the concept of Idealized Planning, he insisted that one of the essential properties of any idealized design was that it had to be capable of being implemented. Ackoff thus challenged the Bureau to produce a strategy for actually implementing whatever ideal design it produced.

As a member of a major Advisory Committee to the Bureau, Ackoff felt that it was not proper for him to lead the challenge he had issued. He therefore suggested Mitroff instead.

Although all of Mitroff’s formal degrees are in Engineering (B.S, M.S., and PhD), for his minor field for the PhD, Mitroff studied the Philosophy of Social Systems Science with Ackoff’s mentor, life-long friend, and colleague, C. West Churchman at UC Berkeley. (Ackoff was Churchman’s first Ph.D. student in the Philosophy of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.). Indeed, his “minor field” quickly became his “undeclared major.” Mitroff was thus well suited to act as a consultant to the Bureau in order to meet Ackoff’s challenge

Many of the tools that Mitroff and Barabba developed for complex problems had their origin in response to the design of an Idealized Census Bureau.[i] However, they were particularly the result of follow-on projects such as the design, management, and policy implications of the1980 and 1990 censuses. They were also refined in additional projects at Kodak, Xerox, and General Motors, where Barabba was in senior management. Mitroff also developed the tools further in his over 30 years of work in Crisis Management.

The Toulmin Argumentation Framework

One tool in particular is the heart of this book: The Toulmin Argumentation Framework or TAF for short.

In the early 1960’s, Mitroff and Barabba made a special trip to the University of Chicago to meet the late, distinguished historian and philosopher of science Stephen Toulmin. At the time, Toulmin was a member of the University of Chicago’s prestigious Committee on Social Thought.

Toulmin had developed an ingenious framework for capturing the intricacies of complex arguments. We travelled to Chicago because we were interested in applying TAF to complex business situations in which the wrong arguments could literally spell the life or death for a new business venture, key product, etc. Needless to say, we were able to apply TAF in a wide variety of complex and important business and governmental cases. Nonetheless, to our continuing disappointment, TAF has still not been adopted as widely as we believe that it should.

One of the most distinguishing marks of this book is the use TAF to analyse important arguments with regard to significant issues. This not only allows one to capture more succinctly the essential points of the various arguments that pertain to key issues, but ultimately, it allows one to see how the arguments are connected.

Breaking the Tyranny of “Either/Or Thinking”

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 9, 2013

While I certainly do not believe that all situations have two equally compelling positions that are worthy of equal consideration, I do believe that there is always more than one position on every important issue that needs to be considered. Indeed, many demand it. In this sense, I am for breaking the tyranny of so much of the “either/or thinking” that exercises a stranglehold on our nation’s mind. If anything, I am outraged at many of the positions of both parties. To take just one example, far too many Republicans and Democrats caved in to the gun lobby in voting to disallow greater background checks before anyone would be permitted to purchase a gun. I am particularly incensed at recent Republican efforts to pass onerous voting requirements that effectively potentially block higher percentages of Blacks and other minorities from voting. Many life-long Republicans are just as outraged.

This does not mean that on every key issue, all positions are of equal value and therefore deserve equal consideration. It also doesn’t mean that on some issues, there isn’t a single, dominant position that trumps all of the others. For instance, I don’t believe for one moment that there are cases of “legitimate rape.” To think otherwise is to pile additional insult onto injury. Indeed, it is nothing less than additional injury. If anything, the phrase “legitimate rape” is obscene, if not out and out evil. Its obscenity should be enough to stop all discussion dead in its tracks.

Concluding Remarks

As much as anytime in our history, we need to move from the tyranny of “either/or” to the thoughtfulness of “both/and.”

Nonetheless, as the reader will quickly see, on most issues , I am generally left of centre. Thus, I am a harsh, unrelenting critic of the gun lobby. I am also extremely critical of those who are opposed to gay marriage. And, I am extremely critical as well of the proponents of Creationism, more generally towards those who take a hard, unrelenting stand against Science. However, when it comes to general role of Science and Religion, I am critical of both with regard to their persistent inability to reach a reasoned accommodation with one another. I am also equally critical of both Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives.

Although I am generally left of centre, I hope that my rendering of the arguments on key issues will help those that don’t agree with me to sharpen their own arguments. I am thus not asking the reader to necessarily agree with me, but in the best sense to enter into a better argument.

Finally, I need to make absolutely clear that this is not a book on the “logic of argumentation.” It is certainly not about “logical fallacies.” Instead, it about the reasoning that underlies some of the major issues of our times, if not all times.

Arguments big and small do indeed make go around. They always have and they always will.

Chapter One: TAF–The Toulmin Argumentation Framework

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 11, 2013

In 1958, the distinguished historian and philosopher of science, Stephen Toulmin, published a remarkable little book, The Uses of Argument.[ii] In it, he laid out the general structure of all arguments. It quickly became an academic bestseller. It was adopted widely in courses on Rhetoric, Political Science, International Affairs and Policy Analyses, etc. Strangely enough, it was not widely adopted in Philosophy. Such is the fate of all innovators. They are not necessarily prophets in their own lands.

Although Barabba and I first applied The Toulmin Argumentation Framework (TAF) to the analyses of complex business and governmental problems over 30 years ago, to the best of our knowledge, it has still not been widely adopted in schools of business and government, not to mention practice. Few outside of Rhetoric, Political Science, International Affairs and Policy Analyses, etc. even seem aware of it.

TAF, which is shown in Figure 1.1, is deceptively simple. It posits that all arguments (including this one!) consist of a Claim (C), a set of Evidence (E), a Warrant (W), Backing (B), and Rebuttal (R). Since none of the parts of an argument are independent of one another, taken together, they constitute a highly interdependent system. Given that arguments are one of the most prominent components of problems, examining the structure of arguments eventually provides us with deeper insight into the nature of problems and ultimately into complex systems.

Figure 1.1

All arguments, logical or otherwise, terminate in a Claim or a set of Claims. The Claim is the end result or conclusion of an argument. For instance, two very important and currently opposing Claims are: “The huge federal deficits are completely out of control and leading us straight to ruin. Therefore, government programs, and thereby spending, must be sharply curtailed. In short, we must practice austerity.” In contrast, an opposing Claim is: “Yes, the deficits are bad, certainly in the long run, but putting people back to work now is more important than saving money. We need to spend our way out of a terrible recession whose effects we are still suffering. In addition, the Evidence is in from those European countries that have practiced austerity as a fiscal policy. It has failed miserably. It has made their economies even worse off.”

At this time, the point is not to take sides with either one of these arguments over the size of the Federal deficits and what to do about them. Instead, I merely want to illustrate the nature of two highly important and opposing Claims, especially their role in the context of the broader TAF.

All arguments make use of some kind of Evidence E to support their Claim(s). Typically, E is whatever facts or data one has at hand. For instance, those who see the deficits leading us to economic ruin cite the sheer size of the current deficits in the trillions of dollars and the fact that they are growing steadily and the very high amount that is being paid in interest. Thus, the “number of dollars” and the “fact” that “it has been growing steadily” are the Evidence for this position. On the other hand, those who view the deficits differently also acknowledge the size of the deficit, but they see it as a “manageable problem in the future,” citing instances where we have recovered from deficits in the past. Thus, both sides start with very different sets of “facts.” One side starts with the “sheer size of the current deficits;” the other with “past instances where we have recovered from deficits.” The other side also wants to attack the deficits but to pay them down when the economy has recovered, i.e., pay them off in “boom, not hard, times.”

In general, both sides of an argument start with different Evidence because they are working backwards from different Claims. A Claim can thus either be the beginning and/or end of an argument. Once one has a preferred Claim, one searches for Evidence to support it. Indeed, in the vast majority of cases, one is generally working backwards from a preferred Claim or set of Claims.

The upshot is that instead of facts or more generally Evidence always leading unequivocally to or driving conclusions, more often than not, it is the other way around. One starts with a favored, pet conclusion, or typically a set of conclusions, and then works backwards to make it appear that one derived it by first starting with “Impartial Evidence,” etc.

The Warrant is the set of reasons why the Claim follows from the Evidence. A good way to think of it is that Warrant is a “conceptual or intellectual bridge” that allows one to go from a limited set of evidence E, to a general conclusion, C. (See Figure 1.1) To put it another way, the Warrant is the “because” part of an argument. For instance, a typical Warrant is: “Whenever E has resulted in the past, C has occurred because E is not only an indicator of C, but a prime factor in its occurrence or causation; since E has occurred this time as well, we are Warranted in concluding C once again.” In this particular example, the Warrant functions as a “continuity preserver.” Supposedly, whenever a particular set of facts or certain events E, etc. have occurred “n” times, then we are Warranted in concluding that they will occur “n+1” times. Furthermore, according to this line of thinking (argument), the larger n is, the more we are entitled to conclude that n+1 will result. Thus, if E has occurred 1000 times, then we feel confident that it will occur the 1001th time.

More often than not, the Warrant is the Claim of a prior argument, and so on ad infinitum. The same is true of the Evidence and all of the parts of an argument. In addition, arguments are key parts of problems. Arguments are parts of problems—indeed, some of their most important parts—because arguments are used to define what is a problem in the first place and how they ought to be handled in the second place.

Most of the time, Warrants are implied rather than stated explicitly. In fact, a great deal of the time they are unconscious. That is, the person is not fully aware of them. In general, they are reflective of a person’s entire personal history. In the case of society, they reflect its general history and current conditions.

Those who believe that the deficits are leading us straight to decline have some form of the following as a Warrant: “Whenever the deficits of a country are of a certain size, then economic decline/ruin is the inevitable and inescapable outcome.” Alternately, “Unless we curb our deficits, then we will go the way of Greece, Spain, etc.”  In other words, “Unless we rein in our out-of-control spending habits, then what is true of Greece, etc. is a forerunner of what lies in store for us.”

Those on the other side reason: “Proportional to the size of our current national GDP, the deficits are not significantly worse than they have been historically. Therefore, it does not follow automatically that economic decline/ruin is the inevitable and inescapable outcome.”

Every argument also has a Backing B. B is the deeper set of underlying assumptions, basic reasons, or values as to why a particular Warrant holds. If the Warrant is not accepted at its face value—which is often the case–then the Backing is necessary in order to support it. For instance, those who oppose increasing the deficits generally believe, “One cannot trust Democrats in general with the economy.” In sharp contrast, those who are more concerned about the well-being of all citizens believe, “All the Republicans want to do is to reduce the taxes of the wealthy who support them.” Like Warrants, Backings are more often than not implicit and even unconscious.

In general, the Backing is the larger set of general philosophical assumptions a person has about what is right (Ethics), human nature, the world (reality itself). Since Backings are generally taken for granted, they are mostly implicit and unconscious.

Another way to think of it is as follows. If the Warrant W is the “conceptual bridge” that allows us to go from the Evidence E to the Claim C, then the Backing B is the “foundation” on which the bridge rests.

Finally, every argument has a Rebuttal R. In principle, R challenges each and every part of an argument. In terms of the metaphor of arguments as a “bridge” between Evidence and Claims, R attacks E, W, and C as strongly as it can. R thus tries to “tear down the entire bridge and its foundation.”

An Example: Four Views of Change

To get a better understanding of TAF, let’s look an important issue: whether an organization or society needs to change, and if so, how much change does it need?

Table 1.1 below shows four positions regarding change and the accompanying Toulmin arguments that are needed to support each of the positions, i.e., Claims.

Table 1.1: How Much Change Does An Organization Need, If Any?

Degree of Change Claim Evidence Warrant Backing Rebuttal
Status Quo No Change Is Necessary Sales of Our Products Holding SteadyNo Serious Threats on the Horizon If Sales Hold Steady, Then There Is No Need for Change We’ve OperatedThis Way Successfully for 30 + YearsWe Are the Industry Leader Serious CompetitionHas Appeared in the Past Year
Moderate Only Moderate Change in Our OperationsIs Necessary Our Products and Operations Are Strong If Sales Hold Steady, Then There Is No Need for Substantial Change We’ve OperatedThis Way Successfully For 30 + YearsWe Are the Industry Leader Serious CompetitionHas Appeared in the Past Year
Major If We Are to Survive, We Must Make Major Changes Our Sales Have Been Dipping Steadily It Is Not Clear That Our Products Will Survive without Major Changes It Is Irrelevant That For 30 + YearsWe Are the Industry Leader This Is Not the Time to Panic
Radical We Need to Become a New Company with Entirely New Products and Services The Market for Our Products and Services Has Tanked We Will Be Out of Business in 6 Months If We Don’t Change Fast We Are No Longer the Leader in Our Industry Don’t Panic Things Will Return to Normal

The positions above are so general that my colleagues and I have used them in conducting numerous workshops with organizations of all kinds, i.e., not just with for-profit organizations. Instead of already presenting them with the table above, we’ve asked them to construct the strongest arguments they can pro and con in order to help them explore what kinds and degrees of change, if any, that are right for their organization. The table reflects the kinds of arguments we’ve heard.

The workshops proceed as follows: Twenty or so top executives and managers are brought together. They are then assigned at random to defend a particular position with respect to change. People are assigned at random because often those who are opposed to a particular policy can make a stronger case for it than its natural allies. Assigning people at random also does not bias any of the positions.

Each group is asked to make the strongest arguments they can for their assigned position. After each group has made their presentation, a timed debate then takes place to see what the strongest arguments pro and con are for each of the positions.

After the debate has taken place, four new groups are the formed by drawing people at random from each of the initial groups. Each of the new groups is then asked to consider the four initial positions and respond to the question, “Now that you heard a debate between four very different positions, what is the best, possibly new, position that is good for your organization right now?”

Note carefully that the process does not leave to chance the exploration of four different approaches to change. Further, it intentionally does not leave out any of the stances along the continuum so that later there will be charges that an important position was neglected.

The process is of course heavily dependent upon the assumptions that are made about the organization, its products, structure, customers, etc. But then, in the course of examining the arguments that are needed to support  a position, the process helps to bring underlying assumptions up to the surface where they can be examined and debated explicitly, i.e., not left to chance.

Concluding Remarks

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 15, 2013

This chapter has introduced the major tool that underlies this book. In effect, the argument is that the situations facing individuals, organizations, and societies are so complex, dynamic, important, and thorny such that whether they know it or not, they need ways of examining the major arguments on which their key decisions depend.

To be clear, I am not saying that TAF needs to be applied to every decision or situation facing an organization or society. That would render it useless and irrelevant. I am also not saying that organizations and societies need to use TAF formally, i.e., lay out the Warrant, Evidence, etc. systematically. But make no mistake about it; I am saying that whether one acknowledges it or not, one is in effect using TAF all the time. Whenever one puts forth a Claim, one is making an argument. Indeed, TAF wouldn’t make any sense at all if it weren’t already in our minds so-to-speak.

Like everything else, the more one uses TAF, the faster and better one becomes at it. Indeed, my colleagues and I have found that it’s easier for people to zero in on the really critical parts of an argument the more one uses TAF.

TAF also gives a new and important meaning to the concept of the Learning Organization and Society. In my view, a Learning Organization/Society is one that systematically keeps track of its critical Toulmin arguments and reviews them periodically to see if the Evidence, Warrants, Backings, and Rebuttals have changed significantly such that the Claims are no longer supported, and hence, are in need of serious revision. In other words, a Learning Organization/Society records and thus has an official memory of its most critical decisions. Obviously, this will not work if the records are used in any way to blame people, which they are unfortunately a great deal of the time. Instead, their prime purpose is to help an organization/society learn from its successes and mistakes. But to do this requires that an organization/society is healthy emotionally. I would be the first to acknowledge that we are far from this ideal. Thus, one of the aims of the book is to help move closer to this ideal.

Of course, historians periodically review and assess the arguments of the past; special interest groups, social scientists, etc., review and assess the arguments of the past and present as well. But they do not necessarily do it formally in terms of TAF.

It should be noted that TAF resides in the entirety of an organization and/or society. For instance, in many organizations, Marketing and/or Finance control or are solely responsible for the Evidence with regard to important business decisions. The top executives control or are responsible for the Claims and Warrants. The Backing resides in the general culture. And, the Rebuttal often belongs to groups low in power. Thus, another requirement of the Learning Organization/Society is that all the parts of TAF be coordinated as an integrated system.

For example, when Barabba worked for Kodak, he conducted a TAF to help explore if and when Kodak needed to get into digital imaging and thus abandon its traditional photographic film business. Even though it had an early opportunity to enter into digital cameras, it proved impossible for Kodak to make the switch. In essence, what Kodak was not willing to do to itself, its competitors did. Its competitors were the Rebuttal.

In effect, Kodak Park, the 2000-acre facility with 50,000 employees that manufactured film and paper, was the real underlying Backing, or better yet, “drag” on the company’s thinking. After all, how could Kodak abandon its financial and emotional investments in Kodak Park? Today, the land has been repurposed as Eastman Business Park.

Arguments are seldom coldly rational and perfectly well organized. More often than not, the clash between Claims, Warrants, Backing, and Rebuttals is better described as a war than a debate. It is anything but a “disinterested inquiry.” But this fact in itself doesn’t obviate the need for better analyses of arguments. It only heightens their necessity. My use of TAF is intended to aid our examination of important arguments, not to imply that all arguments need to be structured strictly in terms of TAF.

Finally, we need to note that arguments do not exist by solely by themselves suspended in some kind of “disembodied space.” Arguments are parts of living, breathing, life stories. All arguments not only exist but function within the larger life-space of a person, organization, society, etc. While I do not necessarily examine these larger surrounding “spaces,” I am nevertheless acutely conscious that they are always there.[iii]

Examining key arguments is no longer a luxury. It’s literally a matter of life and death.

Chapter Two: Deadly Arguments–The Role of Guns

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 19, 2013

There are few issues in U.S. society that are as contentious as guns. This is in spite of the fact that an overwhelming number of Americans are for greater gun controls. For this reason alone, I need to make it as clear as possible that at the outset I am not for the complete abolition of guns. Hunters, sportsmen, and ordinary citizens have a legitimate right to own and to use certain restricted types of guns but only under special restricted conditions. For instance, the average citizen cannot own machine guns. Furthermore, I am strongly in favor of having guns stored safely in gun clubs, as they are in most other Western industrialized societies. Thus for myself, and apparently a majority of fellow citizens, gun owners have a great accompanying responsibility to use and to store guns safely. They also have in my view a serious responsibility to lead the fight for greater gun safety and gun control laws.

The preceding paragraph is the “both/and” part of my argument. The rest of this chapter is unequivocally and unapologetically in the “either/or camp.” There is no getting around the fact that I am in strong if not total opposition to the “gun lobby,” specifically the NRA. There are very few points on which we agree.

I believe in the Second Amendment, but I don’t believe for one moment that it’s absolute or that it was ever intended to be. For instance, I don’t believe that there are valid reasons for the possession of automatic assault weapons—weapons of war– in civilized societies. To the extent that any society allows such types of weapons, it is not in my view “civilized.”

I also need to make it clear that there is no way in a single chapter that one could–assuming that it was even desirable–to cover all of the weighty arguments pertaining to guns. I also acknowledge that readers will not necessarily agree with my choice of arguments, and certainly not my positions with respect to them. In other words, I don’t expect that readers will necessarily agree with my initial choice of arguments and my representation of them via TAF. But then my hope is that my use of TAF will help readers to form their own representation of and positions on the arguments.

Before examining the arguments, I also need to make it clear that I don’t pretend to be a disinterested, neutral observer. I am certainly not proceeding from a pro-gun, pro-Right position. This affects how I state the arguments in terms of TAF. Thus, I first state the Claims in terms of a pro-gun position. I then muster the Rebuttals to the Claims in terms of a left of center position. In fact, this generally true of how I proceed throughout the entire book.

Furthermore, I mainly provide only general references for both the Claims and the Rebuttals. I don’t provide detained references for every point. This is not because the references are not there. They are more in abundance. Rather, in order not to overly burden the reader, I have not provided detailed footnotes for every point in order to make the arguments as tight, short, and to the point as possible.

For this reason, I am the first to admit that in many cases, I commit the same errors of those I am excessively critical. That is, it appears that I merely to assert Claims in the guise of Rebuttals without Evidence. For this reason, I refer the interested reader to the general references for they are crucial in supporting my depictions of the arguments I take to task. They provide ample support for counter-Claims, counter-Evidence, etc.

“Guns Don’t Kill People”: The Granddaddy of All Gun Arguments

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 24, 2013

Figures 2.1 and 2.2 are Toulmin analyses of the most basic of all the arguments for the unrestricted ownership of guns: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” Taken to their illogical conclusion, they justify the unlimited possession of any and all types of guns.



Many have noted[iv] that as far as it goes, the second part of the Claim, “People kill people,” is obviously if not trivially true. Of course people do in fact kill people. Nonetheless, the true function of the second part is to serve as a Warrant to support the first, “Guns don’t kill people.”

One of the sure signs of an invalid or disingenuous argument is that the Claim functions simultaneously as its own Evidence and Warrant. In other words, the argument is essentially pure assertion. We are supposed to accept the Claim because it’s its own proof or self-justification. True, other paltry Claims are offered as supposedly independent bits of Evidence and Warrant, but they are really thinly disguised versions of the primary Claim. Needless to say, over the centuries, philosophers have not been partial to such arguments. They have found the number of arguments that are self-justifying to be zero!

The essence of Figures 2.1 and 2.2 is contained in the Rebuttals. One of the very first things to note is that the number of items in the Rebuttals is far greater than the two main Claims. To be sure, this obviously reflects the fact that the author is not especially partial to guns. As a result, it also reflects the two main sources that I have used as references for the Rebuttals: the Brady Handgun Center, and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Nonetheless, like all arguments, the strength of the overall argument pro and con lies with the comparative strength of the Claims, Evidence, and Warrants relative to the Rebuttals. For this reason, let us turn to an examination of the Rebuttals.

The first thing to note is that all of the Rebuttals are a combination of counter Evidence, Warrants, and Backings. That is, as with the main Claims, Evidence, Warrants, and Backings, the Rebuttals are a complex mixture of counter Evidence, Warrants, and Backings. As I stated in the previous chapter, rarely, if ever, do we find so-called pure arguments.

Once again I realize that a strong proponent of guns could muster the same criticisms that I use against them against me. For instance, they could Claim that many of the Rebuttals are pure assertions. In doing so, gun proponents would be offering counter-Rebuttals to my Rebuttals. The difference is that the Rebuttals are not mine alone. They have been assembled from various references that go into the issues in great depth. I thus leave it to the reader to judge the relative merits of the arguments.

The first and most powerful argument against the uncontrolled proliferation and possession of guns is that compared to all other types of weapons, guns are much more lethal. This goes hand-in-hand with the second Rebuttal, “Guns kill people more effectively than any other types of weapons.” Since the NRA is so highly inclined to reduce complex issues to simple-minded bumper stickers-which I am pained to note are highly effective–a counter slogan is, “How many mass drive-by knifings have you ever heard of?”

The third Rebuttal is extremely important. Instead of guns conferring absolute protection and security, having a gun in one’s home ups substantially the chances of suicide. It also greatly ups the chances of intentional and unintentional homicides that are committed in the heat of passion by people who know one another intimately. It also ups the chances of accidental shootings especially by young children.

The fourth Rebuttal says that compared to all other means, suicide attempts through the use of guns are more likely to result in death. For example, taking pills is far much less likely to be “successful.”

Finally, no reasonable person would argue that “Cars don’t kill people; people kill people.” Indeed, the argument is patently absurd. Cars kill people even when one clearly doesn’t intend it. Why then should we accept the argument for guns? Why are they put in a special and protected category?

The fact that cars can be dangerous is one of the chief reasons why we require that before anyone can operate a vehicle on public lands, he or she needs to undergo successfully a course in driver training, pass a driver’s test, and get a license. One also has to be retested periodically.

The fact that cars are dangerous is also one of the prime reasons that the government has consistently pushed for greater safety devices that are built into cars. In many cases, it is far easier to modify cars than it is to modify people. Finally, the registration of cars and their owners has not lead to the confiscation of cars.

Technologies Are Not Morally Neutral

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 1, 2013

The argument in Figure 2.2 is just as insidious as the one in Figure 2.1. Nothing that humans do is ever ethically or morally neutral. All technologies are made with a primary purpose or set of purposes in mind. They are also made with a set of particular stakeholders in mind. For instance, Facebook may well have been used in responsible ways by Harvard undergraduates for whom the technology was first designed. (Even this is debatable.) But it has proved to be an unmitigated social disaster when it is used 24/7/365 for cyber bullying by young people who are not mature enough to use it responsibly.

The overriding fact is that guns are primarily manufactured, marketed, and purchased for use as weapons, not for target shooting or collectors’ items.[v] Cars are not.

Finally, I present Figure 2.3 with little comment since it is mostly self-explanatory.


In fact (E), gun laws are effective. To be sure, by definition criminals don’t obey laws, but that is not an effective argument (Claim) against having laws. We don’t abandon laws against murder because murderers don’t obey them.

Laws reflect the basic will and values of the majority to have and live in a civilized society. As such, they derive their basic existence and day-to-day support from the will of the people. In other words, while not perfect by any stretch, it is the law-abiding members of society that work to make laws work by basically believing in them. Yes, this means that law-abiding citizens have to give up previous “rights” in order to secure a more prosperous and safer society.

The Evidence shows clearly that those states with tough gun laws are more much effective than those states with weak laws in preventing guns from getting into the hands of the wrong people. Those states with weak laws are responsible for guns being imported into states with strong gun laws. This is the strongest argument for having national gun laws.

Concluding Remarks

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 10, 2013

Once again, there is no way that a single chapter could cover all of the arguments pertaining to guns. This has obviously not been my intent. Instead, the basic intent has been to show the power and the utility of TAF. At a minimum, it is a compact and convenient way of summarizing and organizing the main arguments for and against a particular issue. At its best, it gets to the root of important arguments.

For instance, the following TAF is a summary of many of the main themes of this chapter.


Lurking not far beneath the surface of all of the arguments for guns—and for most of the other issues we examine—are fear and varying degrees of paranoia. For this very reason, we need to examine in a later chapter if and how fear and paranoia can be addressed. Indeed, fear and paranoia are some of the most powerful bits of “social glue” that ties most, if not all, of the various arguments together.

In this regard, we would do well to reflect on the comments of one of the leaders of the NRA. He nailed the Backing:

“’You would get a far better understanding if you approached us [the NRA] as if you were approaching one of the great religions of the world.’ This is not a frivolous comparison. There is an unquestionably religious fervour about the beliefs of many pro-gun partisans. It is grounded in various articles of faith that form the catechism of the NRA: that law-abiding citizens are under constant risk from attack by predatory criminals, that the safety of every person and family depends on the ability of individuals to defend themselves with firearms, that the democratic institutions cannot be counted on to protect our liberties…In the NRA’s world, these are eternal truths. They are not themselves proper subjects for empirical testing and debate, but are rather a priori verities according to which the world is interpreted and understood. [Note that this helps to account for why the arguments of pro-gun advocates are largely pure assertions devoid of any independent Evidence, Warrants, and Backing.]

“To the true believer, the gun is an object of religious devotion…The hollowed place of the gun is reflected in the holy text of the gun rights movement: the Second Amendment…the gun is the ultimate means for a free people to secure and protect all other rights…”

In sum, I have no illusions whatsoever that this book with its use of TAF is for those who are “true believers,” whatever it is in which they believe so passionately. It is for those who by definition are not true believers. It is for those who want to better understand what drives the true believers of the world, not so they can argue better with them, but so they can argue better with themselves.

Chapter Three: Ugly Arguments—Savaging President Obama

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 19, 2013

By any standard, some of the worst “arguments” one could ever hope to find—if they even deserve to be dignified by the term “argument”–are those with regard to President Obama. The arguments are not just plain ugly, but in their unmitigated fear, disgust, and loathing of the President, they cross over the line from reasoned dissent to pathology. They are nothing short of venomous.

As Will Bunch makes abundantly clear in his book, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, And Paranoid Politics In The Age of Obama, there are sizable numbers of Americans—primarily members of The Tea Party and fringe conspiracy groups—who are more than willing to impute the worst attributes and motives to the President, and as a result, thoroughly demonize him.[vi]

Figure 3.1 represents my summary of Bunch’s analysis of anti-Obama sentiments. As we saw in the last chapter, in terms of TAF, the arguments are for the most part pure assertions without any real Evidence to back them up. Indeed, as in the case of rabid gun proponents and their unbridled exaltation of the Second Amendment, Evidence is beside the point.


Most of the items in Figure 3.1 are self-explanatory, and thus require little comment. However, one in particular deserves discussion. This is the plaintive cry “I want my country back!” that Bunch heard time and again as he travelled across America, listening to and talking with various people, mainly those who were dispossessed. It represents the cry of those who are unable to accept that a Black man, however gifted, is not only qualified, but was legally elected to be President. It represents all those who have been left behind by the global economy and a world more complex than anything they have ever known. It is a world with which they have not been prepared to deal. In short, it is the painful cry of those who are unable to accept and adjust to deep, substantial change.[vii]

“I want my country back!” is the wish to have things turn back to what they were, and will be no more. It is the loss of normalcy, as it was known.

However, “I want my country back!” is more than just mournful cry of those unable to accept change. It is a cry of outrage, of pure hatred against a Black man, the Other, that is not like them. As such, it has clear racist overtones. But, it represents something that lies even deeper: pathology. To see this, we turn to the creative, original, path-breaking work of one of the earlier pioneers of psychoanalysis.

Before we do this, I need to make clear that there is a form of “I want my country back!” about which the author feels strongly. I mourn the loss of civility. I am aghast at practices such as “sextexting” that demean young women. I am aghast at the unlawful taking and distribution of pictures of young women who have been raped, leading in some cases to their suicide. In other words, not all forms of “I want my country back!” are signs of the fear of progress or racism. There are legitimate things that everyone would like to preserve.

Extreme Either/Or Thinking: The Work of Melanie Klein

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 27, 2013

The path-breaking work of the child psychoanalyst Melanie Klein on splitting is crucial in achieving a deeper understanding why conspiracy groups in particular are highly prone to dividing the world into “good” versus “bad guys and evil forces.” Indeed, as we saw in the last chapter, according to rabid gun proponents, supposedly there is a clear and sharp distinction between “good guys” and “bad guys.” In this simple-minded view of the world, one is either a “good guy” or a “bad guy,” but never both. Certainly, one cannot have aspects of both at the same time. In this view of the world, “good guys” can have all the guns they want without any dangers to society.

Reference to Klein is all but absent in popular, and even academic, books on contemporary politics.  This is unfortunate indeed because Klein is indispensable in understanding some of the most important aspects of complex issues. But then, this is a consequence of the fact that despite all the talk of interdisciplinary cooperation, different fields of human knowledge still do not talk to and learn from one another as much as they need to do.

Certainly a key factor inhibiting greater cooperation is the lack of understanding and acceptance that while psychoanalysis may have started with the analysis and understanding of discrete individuals, it is no longer confined to their study and treatment alone. One of the most important contributions psychoanalysis has to make is the analysis and understanding of group and societal behavior.

Klein is without a doubt one of the early giants of psychoanalysis. Her work with children is invaluable in shedding light on the human condition. It has been said that if Freud discovered the child in the adult, then Klein discovered the infant in the child. In other words, she pushed back even further an understanding of the roots of human behavior. She did this by means of play therapy, which she literally invented.

By definition, one cannot ask children directly, or even adults for that matter, what is going on deep within their unconscious. One has to resort to other means to get a window into the psyche. To do this, Klein gave children toys and various objects with which to play and observed what they said and did with respect to them. If they behaved aggressively by banging or shoving one object representing the child into another object representing the mother or father, or between the mother and father, then Klein was able to see and assess the emotional conflicts that were going on within the child and the family. It allowed a conversation to ensue between the child and Klein.

The phenomenon of splitting was one of Klein’s earliest and most important discoveries. Klein discovered that under the age of three or so, children generally split the image of the primary caretaker—typically the mother, or at least it was when Klein worked early in the 20th century—into a “good” and a “bad mother.” The “good mother” is the “good, comforting breast” that is always available on demand to meet the child’s every physical and emotional need. In contrast, the “bad mother” is the “bad, mean breast” that withholds comfort and nurturance and disciplines the child when necessary.

Under the age of three, the child is generally not mature enough to accept psychologically that the “good” and the “bad mother” are merely two aspects of the same person. But then, the child is not yet psychologically mature enough to accept his or her own “good” and “bad sides.” If there has been trauma, then the split is prolonged. In severe cases, it may never be healed.

Even if there has been normal development, splitting generally persists throughout all of one’s life. On occasion, all of us spilt the world into “good” and “bad guys and forces.” Nevertheless, it is especially disturbing when political parties deliberatively use splitting to demonize one another so as to win votes. It is especially disturbing when the government which is We is viewed as an “alien—the Other.”

In systems terms, splitting is an extreme and dysfunctional form of differentiation. Mild forms of splitting such as analysis (breaking a whole into its constituent parts) are often necessary to allow different voices to be heard and different perspectives to emerge. But to split completely is to fracture, as for example, when we completely divorce the complex interrelationships between people and technology. When they are split completely, the components of a system are more than dissociated; the system is broken, often beyond repair. In short, to split is to break apart in such a way that putting things back together requires much more than rational integration, it requires emotional integration, that is, healing.

Splitting is also interesting for many other reasons. It is in fact the basis for most of the world’s great fairytales. The Grimm fairytales are only one example. Thus, the “good, fairy god mother” is the “good mother” and the “evil witch” is the “bad mother.”

Klein is particularly helpful in understanding situations where it appears that splitting has been successfully resolved, but it really hasn’t. Thus, in The Reactionary Mind, Corey Robin makes a strong case for the proposition (Claim) that Conservatives want to have it both ways: They are both victim and victor simultaneously. “They are aggrieved and entitled—aggrieved because entitled—and already convinced of the righteousness of their cause and the inevitably of its triumph. They thus can play victim and victor with a conviction and dexterity that [only they can] imagine. This makes them formidable claimants on our allegiance and affection…” The whole point is that if conservatives had successfully resolved splitting, then they wouldn’t need to be either victim or victor.[viii] I would only add that Liberals have their own distinctive forms of playing victim and victor. The same is obviously true of rabid gun proponents.

Readers who are interested further in how Kleinian ideas shed significant light on the motives and behavior of political figures are strongly urged to read Obama on the Couch by Justin Frank, M.D.[ix]

Concluding Remarks

This chapter has argued in effect that in the vast majority of cases, the Backing is an expression of forces that emanate deeply from within the unconscious. This helps to explain why the analysis and discussion of arguments in purely rational terms fails so much of the time.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t bring the best analyses of arguments that we can. It merely means that rational analyses are necessary, but in and of themselves, they are far from sufficient.

Finally, it should be understood clearly that I am not saying that President Obama should never be criticized. When his actions and policies are faulty, then of course he should be roundly criticized. Furthermore, while people of course have the right to portray President Obama with a Hilter-like moustache, we need to understand clearly that this is nothing more than the vilest form of human expression, if not signs of an out-and-out pathology.

Chapter Four: Gay Rights

Originally published on Nation of Change, August 7, 2013

Figures 4.1 through 4.5 represent five key aspects of the debate regarding whether gays should be allowed to marry or not. We consider whether: 1. Allowing gays to marry violates the centuries old traditional definition of marriage strictly as a union between a man and a woman; 2. Marriage is primarily for procreation; 3. Being gay is an abnormality or leads to abnormalities; 4. The Bible forbids homosexuality; and finally, 5. Prohibiting gays from marrying denies them of their basic civil and legal rights.






For the most part, the figures are self-explanatory and thus require little comment. As in earlier chapters, one thing in particular stands out. In Figures 4.1, 4.4, and 4.5, the Claims, Warrants, and Backings are relatively independent of the Evidence.

More importantly, as one scans all of the figures, there is a definite pattern. Those who support gay marriage are for substantial, if not radical, change and for a clear expansion of human and legal rights. Those who oppose gay marriage are not only in firm opposition to change, but for preserving the traditional definition of marriage. Indeed, those who oppose gay marriage do not see the issue in terms of civil rights at all. They see it as a grave threat to the very foundations of society. In this sense, “They want their world to carry on as it is!”

As with all of the issues in the previous chapters, there are huge age differences in how one feels about the issue of gay marriage. Those who are under the age of 65—especially those of the Millennial Generation—are much more strongly in favor of gay marriage than those over 65.

A famous quote by the distinguished historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn is relevant here: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents, but rather because its opponents eventually die out and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” The same is true of ideas that upset traditional social orders.

The Boy Scouts of America

Originally published on Nation of Change, August 14, 2013

As a closely relatedly postscript, recently, The Boy Scouts of America reversed a long-standing policy by voting to admit gays as members. Previously, gays were not allowed to become scouts. At the same time, the decision not to allow adults to be scout leaders was reaffirmed. Both decisions set off howls of protest.

Conservatives not only expressed their strong disapproval of the decision to allow gays to become scouts, but a number indicated that they would immediately pull their children out of The Boy Scouts. But they went even further. They expressed their desire to found a new organization that would affirm their basic values. In their view, one of the prime attributes of The Boy Scouts was that it inculcated and reaffirmed a sense of “manliness,” a “virtue” that would be lost if gays were admitted as members.

At the same time, gays were offended—“incensed” is a more accurate description–that adults would not be allowed to be leaders of scout troops. There is little if any evidence that gays are more inclined to be pedophiles and thus pose a greater danger to “straight” children under their supervision. But then, Evidence always faces an uphill battle against deeply entrenched views.

The Truths About Gay Marriages

Originally published on Nation of Change, August 21, 2013

For another, recently, The Atlantic Monthly ran an eye-opening article entitled, “What Straights Can Learn From Same-Sex Couples.”[x] The article dispelled one of the central myths about gay marriage.

One of the chief arguments of those who are opposed to gay marriage is that it threatens the sanctity of marriage. That is, supposedly if gays are allowed to marry then the institution of marriage, which is already under siege, will be further threatened. The article certainly affirmed that marriage is certainly threatened, but not by gays. If anything is at fault, it is the changing economic conditions that make it harder for young people to get married.

In particular, the article pointed out the areas where gay marriages are clearly superior to traditional ones. Freed from traditional gender roles where the man works primarily outside the home and does little housework and the women does most of the housework in addition to working, gay couple are more able to share chores and responsibilities equally. Gay couples are also more able to share emotions and feelings more easily.

Instead of gays threatening the institution of marriage, gays are helping to redefine it.

Chapter Five: Creationism Versus Evolution—Science And Religion

Originally published on Nation of Change, August 27, 2013

Nowhere is the battle between Science and Religion more bitter and contentious than the contemporary war between Creationism and Science. Figures 5.1 and 5.2 lay out some of the major issues that are involved.



Although there are many varieties of Creationism, the basic overriding idea is that Evolution in particular and Science in general are wrong in supposing that they can account for something so complicated as the existence of human beings. To take but just one example, according to Creationism, the human eye is too complex to ever have evolved from primitive organisms or cells. Thus, at a specific moment in time, God must have created humans intact.

To say that Science does not agree with Creationism is putting it mildly. Evolution is able to account for the features we see in animals and humans.

Nonetheless, there is a more significant issue that Science and Religion generally avoid, if not duck altogether. This is the generally unacknowledged “fact” that there is a deep metaphysical side of Science and that this side is not incompatible with Religion. Indeed, it is deeply compatible with Religion. At the same time, Religion has to acknowledge its compatibility and deep dependence on Science.

The Metaphysics of Science

Originally published on Nation of Change, September 4, 2013

The British physicist Stephen Hawking once posed the following question, which I paraphrase, “Suppose some day we physicists are able to write down the grand equation of Everything. That would still leave unanswered, what breathed life into the equation?” In more prosaic terms, what designed and implemented the equation?

I have no doubt that we live in a universe that is governed by the laws of Evolution and physics, to mention only two of the sciences involved. But what created the kind of a universe that is governed by such laws? To answer “God” is to replace one mystery with another. But that’s precisely what Religion does. Religion does what Science is loath to do because humans cannot live with unfathomable mysteries. But then many scientists cannot live with mysteries as well. They persist in hanging onto the metaphysical belief that “Science will ultimately be able to explain everything in terms of natural laws.”

The belief that “Science will ultimately be able to explain everything in terms of natural laws” is not a scientific statement that can be proved or disproved empirically. It is a metaphysical belief. It asserts something about the totality of reality that cannot be proved. We cannot wait until the end of time to check on its validity. The ability to “wait until the end of time” requires an ability far beyond humans.

To be sure, Science has continually expanded our knowledge of the world, but to assert that it will continue to do indefinitely and thus ultimately be able to explain everything is a belief that scientists cannot go out and test as they can other hypotheses.

The trouble is that the vast majority of scientists grow up with a deep distaste for Philosophy in general and Metaphysics in particular. Understandingly, both seem to limit the nature of Science. Even worse, they harken back to a time when Science was racked with unproven speculations of the worst kinds. But this is not how we conceive of Philosophy and Metaphysics. Their role is not to replace Science but to make it aware of its unproven assumptions that all fields of inquiry need to make.

The basic assumptions that the world is intelligible and knowable are religious in origin, not scientific. Science is thereby more dependent on Religion than it wants to acknowledge. But then equally, Creationism cannot pretend to be Science when it violates all the cannons of modern Science.

Chapter Six: Who’s Responsible?

Originally published on Nation of Change, September 10, 2013

Recently over 1000 people died when a factory collapsed in Bangladesh. It raised anew questions of the ultimate responsibility of retailers who employ thousands of poor workers to make garments for well-off consumers in Europe and the U.S. The very same issue was raised when a fertilizer plant exploded in the town of West, Texas.

Figures 6.1 and 6.2 present two typical arguments with respect to the issue of responsibility. Once again, the figures are mainly self-explanatory.

However, Figure 6.2 warrants further commentary.



The Processed-Food Industry

Originally published on Nation of Change, September 16, 2013

In the Sunday, February 24, 2013 edition of The New York Times Magazine, an important article by Michael Moss appeared on how the processed-food industry deliberately employs scientists whose specific job it is to design junk food products that are effectively impossible to resist. If there were any doubts before the article was published regarding how the industry intentionally designs products that appeal directly to our cravings for fast food, the article dispelled them entirely. The products were so successful that they not only “appealed” to our natural, built-in cravings for junk food, but they actually “heightened” those cravings.

In addition to the “distasteful” (pun intended!) disclosures about the practices of the processed-food industry, just as important were the revelations about the arguments that the industry used regularly to justify its behavior. The arguments are particularly important because with very little modification, they apply to other industries. They are used over and over again to promote dangerous, unethical, and unhealthy products, e.g., violent movies, pornography, TV shows, and video games, etc.

The major arguments are variants of: “We only give consumers what they want; if there weren’t a market for what we make—if they didn’t demand it–then we wouldn’t make it because we couldn’t sell it.” Just as frequent, “If we don’t do it, somebody else will. Better us than them.”

Stephen Sanger, head of General Mills, put it as follows. He noted that consumers were “fickle.” “People bought what they liked, and they liked what tasted good.” “Don’t talk to me about nutrition. Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good.”

Sanger is also reputed to have said that to “react to the critics would jeopardize the sanctity of the recipes that had made his products [General Mills] so successful. Thus, “General Mills would not pull back.” He vowed to “push his people onward.” And, he urged his peers “to do the same.”

One of the most disingenuous arguments that is used repeatedly by those who want to deny or evade any responsibility whatsoever for the ill effects of their products, actions, etc. is the “complex systems dodge.” The argument goes as follows: “A complex system of factors are responsible for obesity, etc.—whatever the social ill. Thus, there are no direct cause-effect relationships between the consumption/use of our products/services and some societal problem.”

What’s so disingenuous is that persons and organizations that generally show little, if any interest, in complex systems thinking, suddenly become, when it is in their direct interest, experts in systems thinking! Of course, in today’s complex world, no single factor by itself is rarely, if ever responsible, for the cause of another desirable or undesirable effect. But this does not mean that individual factors do not contribute at all.

Consider the movie/TV/video game industry. There is an over 30-year history of research that shows that there is a significant correlation between the repeated exposure of children to violence and aggressive behavior. Indeed, at-risk children from low-income environments show greater ill effects to prolonged exposure. But since correlations are not causality, the industries argue in effect, “Whenever the correlation between our products, etc. and some societal problems are low, we are warranted in not taking any responsible actions.” Of course, this only raises the prime ethical question, “How high would the correlations have to be before you acted responsibly?”

Notice carefully that in sharp contradistinction, no cardiologist would ever argue, “Because a certain factor or set of factors contribute only modestly to the chances of a heart attack, we should ignore them.” Instead, they argue, “Treat every risk factor as seriously you can to lower the chances of a heart attack.”

Clearly, we are far indeed from anything even approaching a Cardiological Society.

Chapter Seven: The Tyranny of Either/Or—Extreme Moderation

Originally published on Nation of Change, September 24, 2013

Table 7.1 and Figures 7.1 through 7.3 represent the arguments of three positions along the political spectrum with regard to the issues we’ve examined. In terms of the table and figures, I am clearly a moderate but with a tilt somewhat to the left. Hence, the term “extreme moderate” best represents my views.





The point of the table and figures is not to argue that moderate positions are always better. Nor are they always “moderate.”

As we have before in our tumultuous history as a nation, we need to move beyond the tyranny of either/or thinking to both/and. I have no illusions whatsoever that at this time in our history, that this is easy. Indeed, given the current political climate, it’s as difficult as any time we have ever faced as a nation.

In It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How The American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics Of Extremism, Thomas Mann, a liberal, and Norman Ornstein, a conservative, both place more blame on the Republican Party than they do on Democrats, although there is more than enough blame to go around for the breakdown in our inability to get along, let alone govern with any degree of respect and civility.[xi] Mann and Ornstein essentially see the House dominated by right-wing insurgents who are scornful of compromise, which of course is the kiss of death for both/and thinking. The current crop of Republicans put fealty to their party ahead of problem solving, which again is the kiss of death for both/and thinking. For this and other reasons, Mann and Ornstein view the current Republican Party more like an apocalyptic cult than a political party.

What suggestions then do Mann and Ornstein offer for ways out of the impasse? In a word, expand moderate thinking by expanding the electorate through the reduction of gerrymandered Congressional districts. It is hoped that this will help to bring out more moderate voters and candidates.

Other ideas include recreating the “public square” where hopefully more moderate ideas can be aired. The idea that has the most power is the restoration of public shame. Public shame has the most power because it penetrates to the deep emotional Backings that are the true drivers of most arguments. Public shame works by having those with more moderate voices speak out loud, clear, and long against the extreme arguments of the NRA, conspiracy groups, etc.

Concluding Remarks

Originally published on Nation of Change, October 1, 2013

In the end, the author would be naïve beyond belief if he thought that an analysis of arguments alone would be enough to prompt deep changes in how we view the vital issues of our times. An analysis of arguments is necessary, but it’s hardly sufficient.

One’s attitudes towards guns, President Obama, gays, and responsibility are more than a matter of arguments, logical or otherwise. They are a matter of lived, core beliefs.

The Backings that move men and women reside in their souls, not just in their minds alone. But then this is a fitting argument on which to close a book about the power of arguments.

[i] Barabba, Vincent P., and Mitroff, Ian I. Time to Get Real!, Tools for Navigating a Complex, Dynamic, and Messy World, in preparation, 2013.z

[ii] Toulmin, Stephen, The Uses of Argument, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge,

England, 1958.

[iii] See Walton, Informal Logic: A Pragmatic Approach, Cambridge, 2008.

[iv] See Henigan, Dennis, Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths Paralyze American Gun Policy, Potomac Books, Washington, DC, 2009; see also, Webster, Daniel W. and Vernick, Jon S., Eds., Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, 2013.

[v] See Henigan, op. cit.

[vi] Bunch, Will, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, And Paranoid Politics In The Age of Obama, Harper, New York, 2010.

[vii]  Knight, Peter, Ed., Conspiracy Nation: The Politics of Paranoia in Postwar America, New York University Press, New York, 2002.

[viii] Robin, Corey, The Reactionary Mind, Oxford University Press, New York, 2011, p. 99.

[ix] Frank, Justin, opcit.

[x] Munday, Liza, “What Straights Can Learn From Same-Sex Couples: Why Gay Marriages Tend To Be Happier And More Intimate,” The Atlantic Monthly, June 2013, pp. 56-70.

[xi] Mann, Thomas E. and Ornstein, Norman J., It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How The American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics Of Extremism, Basic Books, New York, 2012.

Blog, Media + Politics, Religion + Spirituality

The Moral Contemptibility of the Conservative Mind

Originally published on The Huffington Post, April 10, 2012

Jonathan Haidt’s new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, is highly admirable. It deserves all the good reviews it has garnered. Nonetheless, I want to take exception with it because I believe it fundamentally violates one of its own main theses.

As someone who has taught ethics for more than 45 years, I agree strongly with Haidt that virtually all of the great traditional ethicists profoundly missed the boat, especially when it comes to morality. For instance, the great Immanuel Kant, whom I admire enormously as an epistemologist, leaves me utterly cold when it comes to ethics. This is not because I think Kant is totally wrong. Kant is supreme in his rational approach to ethics. If only rationality were enough to settle the matter. Reason is certainly necessary, but it is hardly sufficient.

(Simply stated, Kant’s central principle regarding whether a proposition should be admitted as an ethical precept is to test whether it is generalizable without contradiction in the sense that it can be applied universally without harm to all persons. Thus, for Kant, suicide fails as a general ethical precept because it cannot be generalized without contradiction, i.e., without the extinction of the entire human race. Needless to say, not all ethicists have agreed with this line of reasoning.)

Haidt’s major criticism is that all of this is far too cerebral for the great body of humankind. And he is right. Traditional ethics fail to grab the emotions, hearts and, most of all, the souls of people because it’s not how people fundamentally experience ethics, and certainly not how they experience morality, which is vastly more personal. In his and the studies of other Social Psychologists, people experience morality in terms of six basic emotional or feeling-based principles: Caring/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, Sanctity, and Liberty/Oppression.

Interestingly enough, as well as very important, only the first two principles — Caring/Harm and Fairness/Cheating — essentially capture the moral precepts of liberals while conservatives generally subscribe to all six. I agree that this puts liberals at a distinct disadvantage in appealing to the general mass of voters. For instance, liberals often mock values, such as loyalty, without which no society could long endure. For this reason, Haidt enjoins liberals to make a sincere attempt to listen to conservatives and appreciate sincerely the values they hold dear, and even more, to see that that they are generally necessary for any society to hang together.

Again, I’m in strong agreement.

I part company over the fact that all of this sounds too rational, the very thing of which Haidt is so critical. If morality is grounded basically in emotions and feelings, then morality cannot be decoupled from the person or persons giving voice to those precepts and how they are expressed with a person’s entire being, e.g., idiosyncrasies, smirks, etc. This is precisely where things break down. This is precisely why there is an undeclared culture war going on in America.

As a general rule, I agree with Haidt’s list of moral precepts. But when conservatives and Republicans use them to insult women (e.g., women are not caterpillars and not to be compared to insects in any sense), then I am filled with moral revulsion to the very fiber of my soul. In the end we are left with the same moral quandary with which we began: a moral mess of unparalleled dimensions. We yearn for a leader or leaders who can speak civilly both to liberals and conservatives alike on the great issues of the day. Whether we know it or not, we are waiting for a Moral Godot.

Originally published on The Huffington Post, April 10, 2012

Blog, Religion + Spirituality

The Atheist Delusion: Why Science Is Not Always Rational!

The God killers are very popular these days!

I am referring of course to Sam Harris’s The End of Faith and Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion. Apparently, they have struck a deep chord with those who see religion as the fundamental source of all evil in the world and rationality and science as the only hope of saving ourselves. The only trouble is that Harris and Dawkins paint an overly one-sided view of religion, rationality, and science. On the one hand, they present religion in the worst possible light; on the other, they present a super idealized portrait of rationality and science. If Harris and Dawkins had merely limited themselves to criticizing and portraying religion in a bad light, I might have been able to go along with them.

I admit openly that I am deeply suspicious of, and even hostile towards, organized religion. While I am not religious in any sense of the term, I do consider myself deeply spiritual. In brief, I despise the dogma, the close-mindedness, the rigidity, and the bureaucracy of formal, organized religions. I dislike intensely how religions divide people and exclude those who are not members of the “faith.” But at the same time, I also recognize that religion was one of the most powerful forces in the Enlightenment, responsible for the very rise of science itself! Harris and Dawkins don’t talk much about this.

Although I have been a social scientist for over 40 years, my Ph.D. is in Engineering Science from U.C. Berkeley. The thing, however, that sets me apart is that while I was studying for my Ph.D. in Engineering, I took a three and a half-year minor in the Philosophy of Social Science. I was then and, to my knowledge, I am the only student since to have taken a minor in the Philosophy of Social Science while majoring in the College of Engineering. In truth, my minor became my major.

I am thus in a unique position to comment on the workings of rationality and science. Indeed, my first book, which was published in 1974, was entitled, The Subjective Side of Science. It was an intensive study of the Apollo Moon scientists over the course of the Apollo missions. It showed in no uncertain terms how science really works. It is not a pretty or a flattering picture of science. It certainly does present science as “fully rational.”

For instance, is anyone naïve enough to believe that the scientists—it turns out the very best—who are bold, creative, and smart enough to create a theory for the origin of the Moon will give up their beautiful theories just because the first-returned rocks from the Moon do not support them? Hell no they won’t! They will do everything in their power to reinterpret the evidence so that it supports their pet theories! They will even reformulate their theories so that the evidence is compatible with them.

The top 42 scientists that I interviewed repeatedly over the course of the Apollo Moon missions argued vociferously that outright bias played a very important role in science. It would not serve science well if a scientist abandoned his or her pet theories too soon. A scientist ought to abandon his or her pet theories only after he or she has done everything in his or her power to preserve them and the evidence against them is finally overwhelming, a process which could take years.

The point is that the vaunted objectivity of science is not—repeat not!—a property of individual unbiased scientists, for there are no such beasts. Instead, it is a property of the entire institution of science extending over hundreds and even thousands of years.

The great German scientist Max Planck famously observed that, more often than not, a new scientific truth does not triumph because it logically convinces its opponents, but because they die out and a new generation grows up—with new biases we might add! So much for the perfect rationality of science.

This does not mean that I do not believe in science. I do. It merely means that I recognize the limitations of science. After all, all-too human beings do science. In fact, in a lab experiment done some years ago, it was shown that Protestant ministers actually followed the dictates of the scientific method more that practicing scientists! Again, so much for the perfect rationality of science. In the end, I believe deeply in science as one of the best ways that humans have discovered to discover the truth. But, it is not the only way.

Even though I do not like religion, I recognize its truths as well. I do not take the “truths” of religion literally, but I do take them mythically and symbolically. I believe deeply in the power of myths to give meaning and purpose to our lives, a meaning and purpose that rationality and science cannot give.

Finally, something else bothers me about Harris and Dawkins. They seem to have no awareness that when they utter propositions like “Evolution is true everywhere” or “Evolution is one of the best theories that we have” that they are not making scientific assertions, but metaphysical ones. They have crossed over the line from science to philosophy. (As a grad student in philosophy, Harris ought to know better.)

Statements about the whole of reality—what reality is really like—are philosophical statements. They are not propositions that can be tested in the lab by science alone for they have to be assumed before science is even possible. One cannot observe through a microscope or a telescope that the Universe is ordered. All one observes is subatomic particles on the one hand, and huge galaxies on the other hand. One does not observe directly concepts, let alone metaphysical principles. Instead, it is the other way around. One has to assume philosophically, i.e., metaphysically, that the Universe is ordered in order to observe the Universe in orderly ways!

These assumptions are not only philosophical, but spiritual in the best sense of the term. To his credit, Harris openly admits that he is spiritual. Whether he is a “spiritual progressive” is another matter. Dawkins is consistently hostile to religion and to spirituality to the very end.

Blog, Philosophy + Systems, Religion + Spirituality

Redesigning People: Deciding Who and What Will Be Human in the Age of Cyborgs

There is no question whatsoever that we are well on the way to the total redesign of human beings. Within the next few years, we will possess the ability, if we do not already, to grow or to regenerate new organs, tissues, muscles, etc., for every part of the human body—and on demand to our specs. We will also be able to manufacture artificial, mechanical replacements as well. We will thus be able to replace and/or to augment every “part”—or “component”—of the human body. Grey’s Anatomy will look more like an issue of Popular Mechanics than a medical text!

We either currently possess, or we soon will, the ability to grow, to regenerate, and/or to manufacture artificial hearts, lungs, blood, joints, bones, eyes, and ears. What was once the stuff of science fiction is now the stuff of science fact.

This means that there is no longer any doubt that sooner rather than later, we will become Cyborgs, ungodly mixtures of flesh and machines. This raises life-altering questions that have received little serious attention, let alone the full attention they so richly deserve. In the not-so-distant future, who and what will be “human”? Indeed, what will the term “human” mean? ” (On an equally disconcerting note, we will be able to place computer chips within our bodies that, on the positive side, will constantly monitor the state of our health and administer corrective medical procedures in real-time. On the negative side, this potentially constitutes one of the most serious threats imaginable to our privacy.)

In talking with scores of medical and computer scientists, virtually none of them expressed any interest in the questions posed above. They are mainly interested only in the highly specialized issues of their particular branches of science. That is to say, they are interested mainly in the development of isolated living or mechanical parts. Thus, the lung doctors and scientists are only interested in growing new human lungs or developing artificial lungs. The same is true of the heart doctors and scientists, and so on.

None of the scientists I interviewed were interested in the potential interactions between multiple organ replacements or augmentations. They dismissed such concerns as premature. That is, it was taken as axiomatic that knowledge of the “parts” comes before knowledge of the “whole.” This is true in spite of the fact that humans are more than the mere sum of their individual parts. Indeed, humans are quintessentially the product of the interactions between all of their organs. If the scientists I interviewed weren’t even interested in parts other than those that they were working on, it therefore shouldn’t come as any surprise that none of them were interested in how people would feel about themselves and their bodies if they truly had total makeovers.

Turing’s Test
In the 1950s, the distinguished British computer scientist Alan Turing, who invented the concept of the modern computer, proposed a deceptively simple test to decide if machines, i.e., computers, could think. (The test is so deceptively simple that, as we soon shall see, it’s downright wrong.) The scientific community not only quickly grabbed onto the test, but it quickly expanded it to include any and all human abilities.

To understand Turing’s Test, consider the following: take any characteristic of a human being that you would like a machine or a computer to mimic (the technical term is “simulate”). Place the machine or computer in one room and the human being in another. Give the human and the machine the same problem to work on. When both are finished working on the problem, feed their separate responses to a judge situated in a third room. Naturally, the judge does not know beforehand in which rooms the computer and the human are located. If the judge cannot distinguish between the responses of the human and the machine, then the machine is said to have successfully passed Turing’s Test (TT). For example, if a computer program is written to play chess, and if the judge cannot distinguish between the play of humans and that of the computer, then the computer is said to have simulated human thought, at least as far as playing chess is concerned. In fact, using TT, one is supposedly entitled to assert that a machine can “think.”

According to its proponents, TT is thus an appropriate intellectual device to answer the momentous questions regarding who or what will be human in the not-so-distant future. If a judge cannot differentiate between a “normal” (that is, unaltered), human being and an “augmented” one, then both should be considered equal, and therefore the same. That is, TT would allows us to assert that a Cyborg and a human are the same. We therefore have crossed over the lines between humans and machines if we cannot differentiate between them!

(None of this is as farfetched as it sounds. Even when humans know that they are interacting with a computer, they have an extremely strong tendency to project human qualities onto the computer. For instance, if one displays on a computer screen the most minimal representation of a human being, say a simple curved line indicating either a smile or a look of distress, and if the line moves in response to what a person does, then people very quickly start interacting with the computer as if it were human. If Cyborgs are indicative of our in-built tendency to “robotize humans,” then we have an equally strong tendency to “humanize robots”!)

What’s wrong with this? An obvious objection, if not a fatal flaw, is that surely TT depends critically on who and what the “judge” is. Surely, we wouldn’t expect the same result if the judge were one’s parents, siblings, partner or spouse, boss, close friends, or even the family dog.

Why are scientists—who are supposedly so tough-minded, rigorous, and precise when it comes to most phenomena—so sloppy and tender-minded when it comes to the horrific question of who or what is human?

A quick, if not facile, answer is that the vast body of scientists has not been educated to ponder really big questions. (I found this true some 37 years ago when, over the course of the Apollo Moon missions, I studied 42 of the most prestigious scientists who studied the Moon rocks. The vast majority of the scientists I interviewed were not interested in the origin of the Moon since this was not the kind of question that could be settled in the lab. For the average scientist, cosmology, the origin of the Moon and solar system, was the equivalent of astrology!) They generally eschew issues that cannot be settled by following detailed, precise procedures. TT therefore is accepted because on its surface—pun intended!—it promises to offer a quick and easy way to answer a complex question.

We know from those who have received heart or other organ transplants that they often experience intense feelings of having alien parts in them or that they feel that they have become aliens in their own bodies. In other words, how we feel about our minds and bodies is a critical determinant of what we call “normal,” let alone “human.” And yet, it is precisely the role of feelings that scientists generally overlook.

If TT fails, then what can we use to tell when we have crossed over the line between humans and machines? What are the ethical and social implications—the very things that far too many scientists dismiss—of one of the most momentous revolutions in human history? If the answers to these and other important questions are profoundly philosophical, and not purely scientific, then to which philosophy can we turn?

Ultimately, it would take prolonged discussion of a philosophy to even begin to help answer our questions. Thus, I can only mention that it is a philosophy, Spiritual Pragmatism, that gives equal weight to human feelings and emotions as it does to reason and thought. In brief, the ultimate difference between humans and machines is spiritual, not scientific. After all, can a machine meditate or ever develop higher consciousness?

The Ultimate Boundary Warping?
The differences between humans and machines are more than spiritual. They are profoundly cultural as well. In fact, the differences may now be governed more by our culture’s obsession with unreality than by anything else.

If anything is characteristic of the phenomenon of unreality, especially in its current craze, it is the constant blurring of the lines, or boundary warping, between entertainment and education, news, and politics, or literally between everything in modern society.

In the end, the ultimate question may well be: is the “robotization” of humans the most prominent and terrifying example of boundary warping in history? Is it the ultimate blurring of the lines between humans and machines? Is it, in fact, the biggest blurring of the lines between reality and unreality?

I believe that it is. But if so, then what does the whole phenomenon of unreality (reality TV, American Idol, video games, etc.), in our culture inform us about the issue of Cyborgs?

Nearly 50 years ago, in The Magic Christian, the brilliant satirist Terry Southern wrote a hilarious and devastating critique of American culture. Southern foresaw, as perhaps only artists can, the pornographic nature, the utter tastelessness, the extreme rudeness and humiliation of today’s so-called reality shows. He predicted that people would do the vilest things for money and instant fame, such as bobbing for cash prizes in vats of excrement. In a hysterical game show entitled What’s My Disease?, if the members of a live studio audience could guess the disease of a contestant, then right then and there, he or she would receive a free operation on stage in front of a national TV audience!

Fast forward to the present. Suppose that the members of a studio audience can correctly guess what artificial parts a contestant has or does not have? And suppose, that if they guess correctly, the contestant is thereby entitled to new parts? Is the audience thereby fulfilling or playing the role of the judge in TT? Is this the fate of humankind? Have we become so numbed by unreality that, in effect, we have already become machines?

Conservatives have got it all wrong. Instead of obsessing over “Intelligent Design,” they should instead be worrying about “Dumb Redesigns” of humans.