Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Chris Kyle: A War Hero Who Did Not Fight For Our Freedom - A Brief Review

Much has been said about Chris Kyle and American Sniper.  Criticism and praise have run the gamut between calling him a mass murderer and a coward, to an American Hero who died fighting for our freedom.  Those who decry Kyle use his own words, and those who laud him do so with the jingoism of patriotism.  However, the truth is rarely at an extreme and this is an example.

Examples given of Kyle's words used to show he was a murderer who liked to kill Iraqis, include: calling them 'savages', that he'd 'like to shoot people with a Koran, though he doesn't', that he 'wished he had killed more' and that 'he didn't fight for and didn't care about the Iraqis.'  Let us put him in context, with the base of understanding that he was a soldier who was a member of an elite force [SEALs] and from that wanted to be active, as well as having a problem with bureaucracy in the government and military, as well as the press; Chris Kyle was also a staunch Christian.  Regarding the savages comment, he was not talking about all Iraqis but those militants who fought Americans and also other Iraqis (for example Iraqi 'Johnny Walker' was a teammate and esteemed highly by Kyle); about shooting people with a Koran, he was under investigation for an improper kill (of which he was cleared), but being kept out of a fight and protecting other American soldiers, he mocked the investigators, upper command and press for lambasting actions he took to defend fellow soldiers; as an American soldier, his first priority was to protect other soldiers.  Chris was a killer - that is what he was trained to do; however, he was not a murderer as murder brings with it a context that is incorrect for what Chris had done.  He was a soldier, a highly-trained warrior who enjoyed a good fight and killing 'bad guys' was part of that. 

At an even broader context, Iraq has a geographic boundary delineated by the British early 20th century; however, that boundary was put upon the people there who are not unified.  Iraq has an ethnic division of Arabs and Kurds (largest two), with religious divisions of Sunni and Shia Muslims (largest two).  With the ethnic and religious divisions, many of the people there consider the foreign delineated borders as a secondary concern to religious (and by extension, political) ties.  This division has claimed the lives and caused suffering of thousands yearly as those opposing factions battle each other.  In addition, as religion and ethnic ties are prepotent over country borderlines, members of religious sects cross those geographic borders to assist their religious brothers: they come from Iran, Syria, etc.  From the warring of people against others there, based upon animosity held over centuries, various groups were already inflicting great harm against one another.   Additionally, and especially with the more fundamentalist groups who push religiously-based laws upon the rest, many end up acting in ways that would be labeled 'savage', including stoning adulterers, beheading apostates, hanging gays and lashing rape victims, among other punishments.

This was the world into which the 'American Sniper' was sent - him, along with thousands of American soldiers who fought, killed and died in foreign lands.  It is a land of civil war on different levels.  With that, Chris Kyle did not fight for the freedom of Americans.  He served four tours as he earned his 160+ confirmed kills.  These kills were against people who were not engaged in a war against the United States; they were people who were engaged in a religious and civil war in their own lands.  The people fighting in those streets wanted to lay claim to the lands they lived on, but were not any imminent threat to cross the oceans to lay claim upon American soil.  The ones who are threats to American freedom were ones Chris Kyle had contempt for, but not the ones he actually fought.

As a soldier, shielded with his own religion, he was doubly-blind to the cause, though he had some semblance of an issue which if he removed those two blinds would have revealed to him the true threat to American freedom: politics and religion.  In his own words “The rules are drawn up by lawyers who are trying to protect the admirals and generals from the politicians; they’re not written by people who are worried about the guys on the ground getting shot."  Chris repeatedly chastised one commander he had that Chris considered a coward, refusing to send Chris and his team out on missions, and praised another commander who was a 'badass' (an estimable trait to Chris) and sent out the team on numerous missions; the cowardly commander was promoted, while the other was not.  Chris saw [others'] religious devotion causing harm upon the people, but didn't review his religious fervor.  He saw the attacks upon American citizens and soldiers, prompting him to want to 'fight the enemy' but didn't review that the same actions he was doing as well as the overall 'War on Terror' - directed by politicians - would be creating people like him, but on the other side.  Sure there were those who would be fulfilling his definition of 'savages', but how many were regular citizens who saw too many of their friends get killed, and decided to pick up a gun?-there isn't a way to verify that number.  'They hate us for our freedom' is a diversionary statement by politicians trying to sell us something, in the same vein that we were ferreting out weapons of mass destruction.

A final point regarding criticism toward him, and that is regarding 'just following orders' mentality, with comparisons to Nazi's killing of Jews and the like: there is a difference that makes the base not equal.  People should be free to follow the paths and systems they want; however, if the system by its nature does not allow freedom of people to choose, any free man may oppose it.  Nazi extermination of Jews for being Jews is not equivalent to American soldiers killing combatants for the goals of their organizations are different.  It is the difference between Charles Whitman's killing of 14 people and people killing Charles Whitman.  Free men have the right, though don't have the obligation, to find those who are violating another's rights and stop the aggression appropriately.  Regarding whether or not Chris and his fellow soldiers should have been in Iraq and elsewhere in the first place, that is a problem politicians created, and religionists entrenched.   

To conclude (as this is to be a brief review), Chris Kyle was a 'badass' and served his country proudly, but his uncritical review of his place in the war and what he was doing did not help protect our freedoms.  He was a war hero protecting his fellow soldiers and was conflicted when he wasn't with them  in action as he felt they were in harm's way without his overwatch.  But killing members of different factions in a civil war in another country is not an example of protecting American Freedom. 


Sunday, January 18, 2015

In Defense of Offensive Speech: Maybe Your Mother is a Bitch, or your God is Evil

Much has been said as of late regarding offensive speech, with various calls to shut down speakers or fine places that engage in ‘hate speech’, and blame those who are victims of people who act upon their anger at being offended. Recent examples range from Bill Maher, All Coulter, Ayaan Hirsi Ali who each have had calls by protesters to prevent speeches that were arranged at various schools, to the murders of Theo Van Gogh and the staff at Charlie Hebdo. In each case, the aggrieved party’s status of being offended by the authors’ words was sufficient base in the [self-created] victim’s eyes as well as others who want to seen as doing something positive in the community.

What is advanced by them is that there are some things of which one should not discuss, not talk about in any critical evaluation. This is especially the case with anything that is based upon religion; however, the essence of not being able to criticize religion is based upon the belief that there is something so sacred, so beloved, that to criticize it is to assail the highest in life, and one so lowly as a person, in particular a person who is not a member of and ‘doesn’t properly understand’ the true beauty of one’s religion.
Though speaking authoritatively from a point of ignorance is not good, for by definition it is making a positive assertion about what one doesn’t know, there is also the point where one knows enough to be able to review what they do know, make inquiries about it and from what they learn, make judgments about it. With this, there is nothing so sacred that it cannot be reviewed and properly criticized. Denying criticism negates our rational faculties to make our own judgments, robbing us of the freedom to learn the truth about a thing of contention. If we don’t properly understand, how are we to come to understand? In such a case what is to replace understanding is obedience.
Denying this review is intellectual robbery on multiple levels: 1) it robs the one seeking inquiry (or offering an opposing viewpoint) for they are denied the ability to pursue that which they are curious; 2) it denies the audience who may be curious about the issue to be reviewed; 3) it denies the authoritarian a reasoned base of defense of his own beliefs. In denying each party a review to truth, what is taken for truth is nothing but a dogmatic stamp to be imprinted upon everyone’s forehead. It matters not whether this is at a personal-relationship level, or at a philosophical-religious level.
At a personal level, if I were to use the pejorative ‘bitch’ about your mother, you may feel insulted and come to your mother’s defense (or not depending on your relationship with her, for you could also say ‘you are so correct’, though your sibling may disagree). You may be angry, berate me and defend your mother. But through this defense, you are using words: giving examples as to why my statement is incorrect and if not try to convince me to change my mind, to convince others that my statement is incorrect. If, however, you simply responded by proceeding to physically attack me then words are not used and the attack is an attempt to stamp a dogmatic belief into my head, and be a threat for those who watch. Lost in the physical attack is the possibility of explanation that justified (rightly or wrongly) my judgment as to why your mother is a bitch. When we were children, she may have been an angel to you, but to me she broke my toys, had her dog chase me and routinely berated me. All of the past happening to me would be lost denied to me my own experience, denied to others as to what her real past included so they do not form a proper image as to who she was… possibly still is. Or, I could be entirely incorrect and who I thought was your mother was actually your aunt, who we both agree was a bitch, while who I thought was your aunt but was actually your mother, was good. Not reviewing that, we’d never learn that it was a faulty understanding.
At a philosophical-religious level, if I was to say your God (Yahweh, Allah, etc.) was an evil entity, and I was attacked for blasphemy to get me to stop talking, then the same issues remain. My understanding of the text and base for the religion is being denied, as is the ability of others to come to a greater understanding, and yourself for you are not coming to a better understanding of the belief to verify you actually believe what you purport to believe. Lost will be the review of why I said your God was evil. Instead of a review to look at contextual understanding or just to verify that I was not misinterpreting the text, so that each person could come to a better understanding, we are denied and are just to obey the dogmatic teachings. (there is no contextual way of literally understanding Moses’ treatment of the Midianites as ‘good’; metaphoric understanding is by its nature up to review). In a similar vein, if I say one’s religious texts are foolish in their interpretation of the nature of the universe, denying my criticism doesn’t take away the reasoning for the criticism: moon splitting, stars falling from skies, sun stopping in the sky at noon. It all could be that I misunderstood; it could be that you do. Maybe you are the one who focusing on certain verses, forgetting some others… or do not consider the context that the words were used. For example, the original law given to the ‘chosen people’ was not ‘thou shalt not kill’, but thou shalt not murder’… was it referring to all, or just to other members of the chosen people?
Without reviewing anything that is held sacred or beloved, we hold that cherished item as a truth that overrides reality. However, reality is not outdone by our wishes. If your mother was a bitch if not to you, at least to me then denying that will not change her treatment to me, or others. Similarly, just saying God is good, and not taking the time to review the reasons why I say God is evil, doesn’t take away the reasoning why I made my assertion: e.g. Moses’ treatment of the Midianites (Moses being a prominent figure in the three main monotheistic faiths), or foolish, e.g. sun stopping in the middle of the sky.
As John Stuart Mill advised, let the competing ideas clash, for the truer of the two will win out and the beneficiaries will be all those who learn the truth. This can only be done when we can critically review any and all beliefs. After all, your mother may be a bitch and your God may be evil, or they may not… but they just might.
Let us review.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How Do We Know What We Know

[Hu]mankind is not the rational animal; he is the potentially rational animal.  He can be every bit as reactionary and mindless as any other animal; however, man has the capability to reason which takes more effort, or can just react which is easier.  Whether through reason or some non-reasoning method, we can claim knowledge, rightly or wrongly. 

The way by which we gain knowledge comes in one of three different ways: by revelation; by experience; by authority.  These each have their respective place in the accumulation of knowledge, but that does not mean they have equal value.  They differ in where the origination of knowledge comes and from where it is understood.

Revelation is the formulation of an idea without empirical input; it is generally sudden and taken as divinely inspired. or a 'gut feeling'.  Most often, this is embraced through the emotional experience that one 'felt' the presence of God, and therefore how correct is the knowledge.  There is a second kind of revelation that is not actually revelation, though it gets attributed the same - that type will be addressed later.

Experience is based in empiricism, and expanded to concept formation through processing and contemplation (i.e. reasoning), that can again be affected by empirical findings.  Things are expected to be and act in accordance to how our experience of them says they should be, with the expectation that things of a similar nature will act in a similar way unless there are other factors to understand before a different expectation can be expected: e.g. we know that water will freeze at a certain temperature and know that all liquids will also freeze, unless there is something else to change the results, such as a sufficient amount of alcohol to prevent freezing of the liquid.

Authority is the taking of knowledge as granted by another, because they said so.  A minimum degree of ethos is granted to whomever, and from that we take their word that what they say is true because their ethos grants them that status.  For example, if the question was regarding the nature of volcanoes, a vulcanologist would be best, though because of the nature of scientific inquiry and the related aspects of the fields, a geologist's advice would (should) be more valuable than the advice of one whose specialty is in medieval literature.  It is expected that whoever is talking, knows their field well enough to be able to speak from and about it.

Revelation is by itself in that it can be wholly subjective.  There does not need to be any reference to empirical validation in any way as the verification of the knowledge through revelation is the emotional sensation that accompanies it.  Experience necessarily is objectively based as it is empirical, for one experienced a thing or event and takes the learned information through sensory organs to store for processing and later retrieval.  Though the interpretation may have subjective elements, it is based upon an objective event in order to be interpreted.  Authority is the deferment of either revelation or experience, granting the knowledge to a third party as a valid source to speak on behalf of actually having the revelation or the experience. 

Most of the knowledge we have is based upon authority.  Believe that the Koran or Bible is the word of God?-that is based upon authority.  If one believes they actually existed according to their respective texts, no one is alive today who spoke to Moses, Jesus or Muhammad, or witnessed any of the acts or 'miracles' they are purported to have done (one reading this definitely did not see them), so authority is granted to those who told the believer: that would be the messengers of today, and the long line of authors who transcribed and 'spread the word' ultimately to the authors themselves.  Each has to be granted authority to believe what is read is actually real.  Believe in the theory of evolution?-unless you are a scientist working on the theory, your belief in evolution is based upon authority.  If you did not conduct the experiments, you grant authority to those who did perform the experiments; authority would still be granted to others in one's field of study.  But whether this is from another’s revelation or experience, as a deferment the issue remains that the one who originated that which is taken as knowledge either did so based upon their subjectively or objectively-based perception of reality. 

This brings up the crucial distinction between revelation and experience, whether one’s own or deferred through authority: it is the difference between that which is verifiable and that which isn’t.  Experience is that which any may have and come up with similar results – the more similar the variables, the more similar the results.  For example, if different people take a certain amount of water with the same composition and apply the same heat to it in the same environment, it will turn to vapor in nearly the exact same manner; however, if some variable changes through different attempts, such as the environment in elevation then there will be a change in the results by some degree.  The more variables that are introduced, the greater the variability in results, such as different chemical makeup, heat source and the like.  Anybody can take the same events and variables and come to the same conclusions.  The issue in life is finding the appropriate variables, and reading them properly.

Revelation is not tied to experience of the world, but of a feeling of something inside oneself.  There is no way to confirm it, for it is wholly subjective; there is nothing that anyone else can do to verify one’s revelation, for by the nature of revelation it is granting authority to one who said they had it.  There is no way to externally verify it.  Revelation is actually a claim to come to knowledge from an outside source, but without experience of any means of accumulating or transmitting said knowledge; it is to be a direct inspiration from God or another divine source directly into one’s mind/soul.  How can an individual attest to that the revelation was correct?-he ‘feels’ it, but how does he know that feeling is correct?  There is nothing outside of that feeling.  If they point to an external source, then it is experience and subject to interpretation.

This brings us to our last point: regardless of whether it is through revelation, experience or authority, each method of accumulating and processing knowledge is done through our mental makeup from our biology, evolution, society, education and more: the base from which we make our understanding of what we take as knowledge.  For experience, it is the reason why we know nature is not playing tricks upon us when we see a bent stick when it is partially submerged in water; for revelation, it is the reason why remote and primitive tribes who never heard of Christianity or Islam don’t attribute their revelations to Jesus, Muhammad or other Abahamic figures, but to their own interpretations of divinity – the reverse is true with why Christians and Muslims don’t attribute their revelations to the deities of those remote and primitive tribesmen.

Each level has its potential for contributing to knowledge in its own way: experience is limited to what we have done ourselves; authority is letting the expertise that another has earned contribute to our knowledge; revelation, on the other hand, is valid in one way that is not true revelation but how it can actually come about and that is as any knowledge gained is based and filtered through our mental maps (schemata) what is taken as revelation is the subconscious connections that exist within our minds – not actually ‘divine inspiration’ but the attempts at making connections that haven’t been made yet.  Newton’s realization of gravity from the apple falling is such an example – it wasn’t a wholly new idea, but the culmination of ideas he had been reviewing beforehand that got the last piece added to complete the picture’s organization.

This is important for any level may be improperly attributed, leading to invalid conclusions and false knowledge.  This is most readily apparent with revelation – especially divinely inspired – for there is no way that it can be verified.  One says he felt the hand of God – how can that be proven or disproven?  Equally, I can say I felt that his feeling was actually a gremlin making him believe it was God’s presence to try and trick him – how could I prove what I said, or be disproven?  For both claims, as Hitchens quipped: what is advanced without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.  This does not mean that experience and authority are immune to error.  Science is never fully settled, and phrenology is an example of what was scientific at one point, but found to be erroneous at a later time.  Where revelation cannot be reviewed; experience through science can be amended. 

It is up to us to recognize how we get knowledge and where that knowledge comes from.  This is especially the case granting authority for the one relaying knowledge does so based upon their understanding, in addition to their bias and interest in the world.  Just as we each have our cognitive maps through which we interpret things, so do any we grant authority – where did they get their knowledge they are trying to persuade us to accept?-are they trying to 'sell' us something? 

Are we to believe the worldview of those who limit themselves to the information gathered from their culture only, in a dogmatic way that it was given to them from an original source of revelation meaning that it cannot be verified in any way?-are we to believe the politician who has a vested interest in us believing his side of an issue?-are we to believe the scientist speaking in his field of expertise?  It is the difference between an illiterate tribesman from millenia ago as contrasted to Dawkins' and Hawking's findings in evolution and cosmology telling us how life and the universe came to be.  Revelation or 'gut feelings' may coincide with truth, but to verify we go beyond.  Being mindful does not involve thinking with one's gut.

Ultimately, it comes down to the distinction: know reality from reality or from those who say what is reality through a means not tied to reality. It is through this uncritical review where man can repeat like a parrot, or bark upon command, but not actually reason to come to the truth of a claim.  This is why mankind is the potentially rational animal for though he can reason, he also has the greater sin in not living up to his potential - acting as humans are capable.