Sexism and Making Love

Real men love women as human beings, not as objects to grope or grab

Fresno Bee, November 3, 2017

Every day there is a new allegation about the lewd behavior of lascivious men. The sorry state of male sexuality is shameful. Real men do not force themselves on women.

These sexual predators give masculinity a bad name. Men need to stand up and repudiate the behavior of these creeps. It is embarrassing and pathetic to imagine grown men running around with their pants down and their tongues hanging out.

Adult men control their sexuality and channel it in morally appropriate ways. We do not behave like naughty children. We keep our hands to ourselves.

In our sexist culture, we need to further empower women. But it is men who need to stop being selfish pigs. We need to teach our sons and brothers to treat women better. We need to celebrate the joy of genuine lovemaking. And we need to understand why predatory sexuality is shameful and subhuman.

REAL MEN DO NOT FORCE THEMSELVES ON WOMEN

Real men love women as persons—not only our sexual partners but also our mothers, sisters and daughters. We value their happiness. We do not view them as pieces of meat to be conquered and consumed, grabbed and groped.

Some might prefer to avoid discussing this. Some adults even want to avoid teaching children the basics of reproductive health. But misogyny is connected to our avoidance of frank discussions of healthy human sexuality. Sexual ethics – and ethics in general – requires honesty and transparency.

The first rule of good sex is that consent is required. We each have a basic right to our own bodily integrity. “No means no” is an obvious rule. And it is “yes” that ought to stimulate desire. A shared “yes” is the ultimate turn-on. Good sex aims at mutual desire and satisfaction.

But our sexist culture warps this. Porn teach men to view women’s bodies as mere objects of male gratification. Masturbation requires no one other than you to consent. But real sex requires consent. And that requires communication and care.

SEXUAL PREDATORS FAIL TO COMPREHEND THE MORAL REALITY OF THE HUMAN PERSONS THEY ABUSE.

A further problem is that sexual predators appear to experience “no” as a turn-on. Instead of a shared experience of mutual pleasure and vulnerability, predatory sexuality treats the other person’s body as a mere tool to be used and discarded.

Sexual predators fail to comprehend the moral reality of the human persons they abuse. This reflects a serious character flaw. It is reasonable to suspect that grabbers and gropers will be rude and obnoxious in other relationships as well.

Sexual predation is as much about power as it is about sex. The predator enjoys manipulating the weak and vulnerable. But this is subhuman. The alpha dog humps the other dogs into submission as a display of power. This has nothing to do with making love or with genuinely human relations.

All animals copulate. But only human beings make love. Human beings are more than our bodies and our reproductive organs. Making love is a spiritual act. It is about shared enjoyment and reciprocal desire. Like conversation and dance, lovemaking is a give and take that enlightens, surprises and inspires. It is much more than bodies rubbing against each other. It is also a mingling of souls.

Sexual relations are – or ought to be – fully human relations. Good human relationships are respectful, kind, generous, honest and loving. They involve reciprocity and trust. This should be true in sex and in the rest of human affairs.

TO LEARN TO MAKE LOVE IS TO LEARN TO BE A BETTER PERSON.

The sexual predator fails to understand this. He takes what is not freely given. He dominates instead of communicating. And he violates trust instead of cultivating it.

Bad sex is one-sided. It is needy, selfish and narcissistic. It approaches sex as something to be done to a body and not as something to be shared with a person. But sex without reciprocity is merely masturbation, a lonely act devoid of human connection.

To learn to make love is to learn to be a better person. Lovemaking teaches us about intimacy, tenderness and care. Those lessons serve us through the whole of life.

The grabby goats of American culture have failed to learn these lessons. They are an embarrassment to masculinity. Real men do not abuse women. We love them. And we understand that making love is a spiritual practice that is degraded by shameless predatory behavior.

Love and hate at Christmas time

Love and hate at Christmas time

Fresno Bee, December 3, 2016

Hate is growing. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that hate crimes have increased since the November election. The Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno received hateful threats that mentioned Donald Trump. But hate already was rising before Trump’s election.

According to the FBI, hate crimes increased 6 percent in 2015. And hate goes both ways: Anti-Trump protests, vandalism and graffiti are a problem. Trump’s star on the Hollywood walk of fame has been chiseled and defaced.

We are in the middle of an ever-increasing hate-storm.

The Kellogg company pulled its advertising from Breitbart News, citing disagreement with Breitbart’s pro-Trump values. Breitbart ran a headline saying Kellogg “declares hate for 45,000,000 readers.” Breitbart’s editor-in-chief said, “If you serve Kellogg’s products to your family, you are serving up bigotry at your breakfast table.”

Breitbart has called for a Kellogg boycott. Will we now suspiciously eye one another in the grocery store? The fight over Fruit Loops seems absurd. But it is also symbolic of our acrimonious era.

An “us vs. them” mindset is developing. We look for allies, while fearing everyone else. Emotions are frayed. We become wary and worried. Every glance, action and word seems pregnant and portentous. A spark can easily cause this powder keg to snap, crackle and pop.

Hate, fear and violence form an unholy trinity that undermines stable and harmonious social life. These evils provoke a tit-for-tat logic. We fear those who fear us. Those we hate hate us in return. Each turn of the ratchet of fear and hate creates an atmosphere in which violence becomes likely.

We need to stop it. When asked about outbreaks of hate and violence on 60 Minutes, President-elect Trump said he is saddened by it. He said, “If it helps, I will say this: Stop it!”

Yes, it does help. We all need to say it loudly. Stop the hate. Stop the violence.

We desperately need de-escalation, reconciliation and human kindness. It sounds naïve, but the simple truth is that the world needs love. We need trust, communal feeling, generosity and hospitality. And more of us need to say to the haters, “Stop it.”

Time magazine recently published an article by researchers from UCLA and Princeton that argues that communities can de-legitimize violence and prevent hate by speaking out against it. Violence decreases when masses of people – including prominent “influencers” – vocally and vigorously condemn it. When hate appears, we should all be vocal in condemning it.

The way to cure darkness is to shed light. The way to fight hatred is to spread love. The way to stop violence is to practice nonviolence. And the first step in ending social dysfunction is to say, “Stop it.”

Violence and hate easily become normalized. It begins with a few mean jokes and insulting words. Soon, we are not surprised or offended by rough language and hateful speech. This is especially true when leaders and elites start speaking in insulting, uncivil and hateful ways.

But hateful speech and violent deeds are not normal or defensible. Normal people respect each other. We normally view each other as partners in the project of building up the common good. Normal families, businesses and polities work together, avoiding rancor. Normal people follow the Golden Rule of treating others as you want to be treated.

This time of year, we teach our children that they better be good, for goodness’ sake. And we talk about being naughty or nice. The moral spirit of the season is about generosity, hospitality, love and peace.

Of course, even Christmas has become political. But you don’t have to believe in Christ – or Santa – to understand the moral message of Christmas. The Golden Rule is common to all of the world’s traditions.

It is better to give than to receive. It is better to welcome than to exclude. It is better to build up than to tear down. It is better to live in peace than to be at war. And it is better to love than to hate.

Let’s declare December a hate-free month. Tone down the political vitriol. Reach out to the marginalized. Defuse conflict, violence and fear. And if someone says a hateful word, quote Trump, and tell them to stop it.

http://www.fresnobee.com/living/liv-columns-blogs/andrew-fiala/article118497773.html

Reproduction, Sex, and Ethics

The robots are coming

Is the world ready for sex robots?

Fresno Bee, October 16, 2015

  • Robots cannot replace some genuinely human activities
  • Sex robots and robot soldiers are morally problematic
  • Human life involves humane labor and loving relationships

The robots are coming. Robots can manufacture consumer goods, milk cows, defuse bombs, fight fires, prepare food, and serve it. Soon we’ll see self-driving cars, robot soldiers, and yes, even sex robots.

Some argue for a ban on certain robots. A group of scholars and tech experts – including Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Noam Chomsky – has called for a ban on autonomous weapons. More recently, computer scientist Kathleen Richardson started a campaign against sex robots.

The impending robot invasion creates a brave new world of ethical problems. One hyperbolic fear is that robots will turn against us, as in the sci-fi scenarios of “Terminator” or “The Matrix.” Robot defenders argue, however, that there is no need to fear a robot apocalypse. Since robots are basically rule-following machines, they will not turn on us unless programmed to do so.

But there is no perfect system of rules. Conflicting rules force hard ethical choices. Robots programmed to save humans may have to kill some to save others. For example, driverless cars programmed to avoid pedestrians may swerve into traffic, putting other humans at risk. Rule-following is no guarantee of safety in our complex world.

Robot enthusiasts will argue, nonetheless, that robots are more rational than we are. Machines can calculate probabilities and maximize outcomes in a way that human decision-makers cannot. A robot soldier might be better than a stressed-out human soldier at following the rules of engagement. Robot cars may minimize the overall harm of high-speed collisions better than frantic, angry or self-interested human drivers.

But the fact that robots do not feel squeamishness, fear or doubt is a concern for those who value the emotional component of ethical decision-making. Feelings of guilt, remorse, fear, joy and hope are important components of the moral life. A robot who feels no joy in saving a child and no guilt at killing one is a kind of moral monster.

Another worry is that robots make it too easy to do dirty work. Robot soldiers would make war easier. Since robots don’t suffer PTSD or leave behind orphans and widows, it would be easier to send them into battle. But if robots can kill without risk, we might take combat less seriously and thus be more permissive about going to war.

Furthermore, the robot revolution poses problems for human agency and identity. This is the danger of sex robots. Do we really want people having sex with machines? Proponents imagine sexbots as a humane substitute for human prostitution. But critics worry that sexbots may increase the demand for sex objects, thus contributing to sexual violence and putting women and children at risk. What would we think of pedophiles who build childlike sex robots?

Robot enthusiasts argue that robots will decrease risk, increase productivity and improve human happiness. Smart machines can kill, drive and flip burgers with more precision and less danger than sleepy and disinterested human beings. Unlike human beings, robots don’t get tired, depressed, jealous or drunk. Nor do they complain when they are ignored, mistreated or disrespected.

But creating robots to do dangerous and degrading work is only a deflection from deeply human problems. The scourges of war and sex-trafficking will not be solved by robotic soldiers or cyber prostitutes. We need human solutions to these problems grounded in humane values such as love, respect and self-control.

We also need to remember that good work is intrinsically valuable. Happiness is found in a job well done. In our effort to speed up work and create efficiency through mechanization, we forget that work is what we do and who we are. There are pleasures and virtues to be found in cooking, driving and milking cows. We need productive occupations. When the robots take over, what will we do all day besides fondle our phones and poke at our apps?

Some activities that are so important that we ought not have robots do them: killing and sex are obvious examples. A fully human life is more than mechanical tasks and rule-following behavior. Human experience includes emotional, ethical and spiritual depth, as well as concrete embodied relationships. There is no robotic replacement for the labors and loves that make life worth living.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/living/article39484851.html#storylink=cpy

Peace, Love, & Happiness

Peace, Love, & Happiness

Andrew Fiala

Philosophy Now November/December 2014Philosophy-Now-November-December-2014

You’ve seen T-shirts, posters, and even band-aids emblazoned with peace signs, hearts, and smiley faces. Bumper-sticker wisdom, building upon the idealism of the 1960s, affirms what we might call ‘the hippy trinity’: peace, love, and happiness. We suspect that if we were more peaceful and loving, we would be happier. And if we were happy, it would be easier to love others and live in peace with them. One source for this idea may be the Apostle Paul, who said in his New Testament letter to the Galatians that the fruits of the Spirit include love, joy, and peace. A more contemporary source is the blues and hip-hop artist G. Love. One lyric from his song ‘Peace, Love, and Happiness’ is:

“I got no time to worry
About troubles or misgivings
You got to let it flow, let yourself go
‘Cause if you’re hating, then you sure ain’t living
Give me some Peace, Love, and Happiness”

The Beatles made it simpler, asserting that “love is all you need.” John Lennon asked that we “give peace a chance.” Pharell Williams more recently sang that “happiness is the truth.”

Unfortunately, pop poetry can only take us so far. The optimism of San Francisco’s Summer of Love runs aground on the wisdom of Athens, Jerusalem, and Bodh Gaya (where the Buddha is said to have obtained Enlightenment). The world’s major philosophical and religious traditions tell us that life remains tragic and difficult, and that peace, love, and happiness are never easily found. Peace, love, and happiness are also in conflict with other values, such as self-sufficiency, liberty, and justice. Smiles and hugs cannot end war, eliminate religious and ethnic conflict, nor cure psychopathology. Most of the world’s traditions therefore admit that the goal of uniting peace, love, and happiness creates a difficult and chronic, even eternal, project.

One difficulty, perhaps impossible to surmount, is the fact that the conjunction of peace, love, and happiness contains internal contradictions. Consider the fact that love may require violence: love may oblige me to fight to defend my loved ones. Indeed, love of country or of God may inspire war. Love may also lead to unhappiness: for instance, the lover suffers when the beloved dies. To love is to open oneself to grief and loss. And love easily becomes jealous and vengeful. It is no wonder that the Stoics advised equanimity and emotional self-control rather than passionate love. Tranquility is not easily cultivated when love inflames the heart.

Peace may also result in unhappiness. Those who are defeated by cruel oppressors may lay down their arms. But forced submission creates an unhappy peace that conflicts with the value of liberty. Even apart from the ‘peace’ of the pacified slave, there is no denying that peace is often achieved by sacrificing other important values. We may choose to give up on legitimate claims for justice, reparation, or respect in the name of peace. Moreover, Nietzsche argued that peace was merely the pallid dream of the mediocre, while powerful men were inspired by danger, adventure, and war.

Happiness is also complicated. A certain sort of happiness develops from the single-minded pursuit of one’s aims. The creative joy of the artist, inventor, or genius often comes at the expense of those she loves. Although Aristotle thought that happiness included social virtues, he also believed that self-reliant contemplation was the highest form of happiness. The self-reliant individual finds happiness alone: he loves the truth, but does not necessarily love other human beings. And for some people, happiness is linked to competition, victory, and domination. We know for example that victory and domination give men a satisfying boost of testosterone. One source of war, conflict, murder, and misery, is the ugly fact that violence makes some people happy.

Acknowledging Suffering

Buddha
Buddha at Bodh Gaya

To resolve these difficulties we need to think deeply and clearly about the meaning of peace, love, and happiness. It may seem mean-spirited to spoil the buzz of the blissfully smiling hippy dreamer whistling Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’. Life is hard, and if people find peace, love, and happiness in a song or a slogan, we ought not begrudge them their slice of heaven. But the demands of ethics should make it difficult to smile in a world of pain and injustice. Common sense reminds us that blissful moments do not last long, and a bit of reflection reminds us that our happiness to an extent rests upon the backs of those who slave in fields and sweatshops. Is anyone entitled to peace, love, and happiness in a world in which children are raped, where slavery continues, and where species go extinct at the hands of humanity?

The problem of the suffering of others is a central concern for both theists and Buddhists. Leszek Kolakowski once asked in an essay, ‘Is God Happy?’ He pointed out that a just and loving God must be incredibly sad to see the suffering of humanity. Kolakowski also argues that the Buddha would be deeply unhappy to know that most of the world remains bound to the wheel of suffering. However, contemporary Western images of Buddhism often portray it as providing a personal path to peace, love, and happiness. For example, Mathieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk of French origin, is touted as the world’s happiest man, and his books are marketed in such a way that they appear to provide a recipe for personal happiness and peace. Ricard himself, however, makes it clear that the key to happiness is practice, discipline, and compassionate concern for the suffering of others. We shouldn’t forget that Buddhism begins with the assumption that life is suffering! Or consider another popular Buddhist author, Thich Nhat Hanh. As Hanh explains, “the mind of love brings peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others” (Wisdom from Peace Is Every Step, 2005). This sounds simple, but it takes years of training to develop a mind of love, inner peace, and joyful compassion. Buddhist practice is not merely selfish navel-gazing. Indeed, it can lead to anguished engagement with an oppressive and violent world – as witnessed by the monks who immolate themselves in protest against repressive regimes in Tibet and elsewhere. The fact that a religion of peace, love, and happiness leads to suicidal protest in the face of oppression gives much food for thought.

Christianity provides a similar source of contemplation. The turmoil, sadness, suffering and cruelty of the cross are an essential part of the Christian story. We noted already that Paul imagined the unity of peace, love, and happiness in the life of the Spirit; but like Jesus himself, Paul was arrested and executed.

For Christians, peace, love, and happiness are ultimately found far beyond the tumult of earthly life, death, and politics. Saint Augustine argued in his book The City of God (426) that happiness and peace cannot be found in this life. He contrasts Christian wisdom with that of the earlier Greek philosophers, the Epicureans, Stoics, and Cynics, who maintained that happiness could be produced in this life by philosophical reflection. Augustine claimed that worldly happiness was insufficient, and that eternal happiness, lasting peace, and true love were only possible in union with God, only fully achievable in the afterlife. For Christians, the path to peace, love, and happiness passes through and beyond this world of wickedness, sin, and suffering.

Is A World Of Peace, Love & Happiness Possible?

The Greeks criticized by Augustine thought otherwise. Epicurus (341-270 BC), for example, taught that a simple life, withdrawn from the tumult of politics, and spent in the company of loving friends, could be peaceful and happy. Epicurus also maintained that to enjoy peace and happiness you must cultivate justice, since injustice produces social conflict. But, Epicurus added, if you want to be happy and find peace, you should avoid political life and its stressful and dangerous entanglements.

There are clear Epicurean elements in the hippy dream – especially in the idea that simple living apart from the mainstream is the key to peace, love, and happiness. The problem, however, is that Epicureans can be accused of free-riding. Is it right to retreat to your garden while the outside world is plagued by war, hate, and sorrow?

In response to this problem, the Stoics maintained that we have a duty to serve society. So Stoics sacrifice their own peace, love, and happiness for the good of the many. For instance, the Stoic Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161-180 AD, would have preferred to stay home with his loved ones and develop himself as a philosopher, but his political obligations led him to sacrifice his health and tranquility for the good of Rome.

Building upon the political perspective, we might note – as Steven Pinker has argued recently in his book,The Better Angels of our Nature (2011) – that peace, love, and happiness are the result of civilizing processes, including military and police power. In other words, Westerners can enjoy peace, love, and happiness because our borders are secure, our homes are comfortable, our economies run smoothly, and our institutions are stable. Sadly, the same cannot be said for many others across the globe.

The peace, love, and happiness celebrated in counter-cultural songs and bumper-stickers may rest upon European and American military, economic, and social power. Nonetheless, many advocates of the peace-love-happiness trinity are critical of police power, military force, and obedience and conformity. Some argue that the structures of imperialistic and militaristic civilization are internally contradictory – that they create the very ills they claim to solve. So peace is undermined by preparation for war. Love is destroyed by oppressive hierarchies. Happiness is subverted by the demands of work, conformity, and bureaucracy. But it may be that military power, obedience, hierarchy, and conformity are essential for peace, love, and happiness. It may be that best place to find peace, love, and happiness is in Epicurean gardens nestled safely in the heartland of an empire.

These and other disquieting thoughts arise when we begin thinking about peace, love, and happiness. While a simplistic faith or naïve fantasy can satisfy some, the moment you begin thinking, you wonder whether the beautiful dream of peace, love, and happiness is ever a real possibility for fragile, mortal, thinking beings who live in a cruel and tragic world. It might therefore be that those who philosophize recognize that peace, love, and happiness are nearly impossible to achieve. And yet one can’t help but imagine that John Lennon was on to something when he sang of his dream of “living life in peace”:

“You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.”

https://philosophynow.org/issues/105/Peace_Love_and_Happiness

Peace and Love at Christmas

Embrace the Deeper Meaning of Christmas

Fresno Bee, December 12, 2014

The state of Texas recently passed a law making it legal to say “Merry Christmas” in schools. The law grows out of a misguided worry that secular schools should not even mention Christmas. Some even fear that there is a secular war against Christmas.

Peace, Love, Joy, Christmas

The Reverend Franklin Graham, for example, recently wrote: “The war on Christmas is a war on Christ and His followers. It’s the hatred of our culture for the exclusive claims that Christ made.” This dispute is not surprising given the history of religious conflict and ongoing divisions in our diverse culture.

It might help to recall that disputes about Christmas have a deep history. There is no consensus about Christmas, even among Christians. Eastern traditions celebrate Christmas on January 6. The manger scenes we see around Christmas take liberties with the story. Jesus was most likely born in a cave, not in a stable. The animals are also a later addition, not found in the Bible. The Gospels themselves contain different stories.

This is not surprising for people who study religion. Religions and religious stories evolve over time. This helps us gain some perspective on the so-called war on Christmas. Christmas and Christianity itself has never been just one thing.

But the point of Christmas, it seems to me, is to find a way to look beyond our disputes. We celebrate peace, love, hope and joy during the Christmas season. It would be great to focus on those shared valued and leave the divisiveness for the rest of the year.

In our diverse world, not everyone accepts the exclusive theology behind Mr. Graham’s interpretation of Christmas. But we can all benefit from peace and love, joy and hope. Indeed, it is those values that allow us to coexist despite our deep theological differences.

You don’t need to take the nativity story literally to understand values celebrated at Christmas. We can all understand the dramatic moment when Mary and Joseph are turned away from the inn. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand that this story shows us the need for hospitality and that giving birth is momentous joyous and mysterious.

In some sense, Christmas has already become a secular holiday. It is a regular part of our yearly round of holiday closures and vacation scheduling. We all know that “winter break” coincides with Christmas. Charles Haynes, a scholar at the First Amendment Center, made this point in a recent essay discussing the difficulty of managing religious holidays in our multi-religious culture. His solution is to be equitable, hospitable and respectful of our differences.

I corresponded with Mr. Haynes about this. He pointed out that schools should be free to teach about Christmas, while also teaching about other holidays in an academic fashion. Such teaching might include historic debates over the meaning of Christmas among Christians themselves. The colonial Puritans, for example, banned Christmas because they viewed its pagan elements as un-Christian.

While Christmas is inextricably linked to a celebration of the birth of Christ, the holiday is much more than that — it includes Santa and his reindeer, jingle bells and evergreen trees. These later additions have no connection to the Bible story. Christmas has evolved to be a secular — and universally accessible — celebration of joy, peace, love and hope.

The First Amendment guarantees that conservative Christians like Mr. Graham have a right to point out that Christmas originates in stories about the birth of Christ. Atheists also have a right to argue against Christmas and Christianity, if they like. But the Christmas spirit is more inclusive and welcoming than any exclusive religious or anti-religious diatribe. The values of Christmas encourage us to be warmer, gentler, kinder and more friendly. Inclusivity, hospitality, peace and love are important values for all of us.

The deep and universal message of Christmas is the hope that in an inhospitable world, we might find a peace, love and refuge. You don’t have to be a Christian to understand that. Christians layer theology onto the nativity scene, directing hope beyond this world. But the magic of Christmas is found here on earth in the joyous love of mothers and in the peaceful and hopeful faces of children, who have not yet been hardened by the world and its divisions.

Yes Means Yes But What About ‘I Love You’?

Something amiss when we are too casual about casual sex

Fresno Bee, October 3, 2014

California’s new law requiring “affirmative consent” for sex is a good one. The “yes means yes” law rules out the possibility of consent when someone is asleep, intoxicated or otherwise impaired. Neither silence nor lack of protest counts as consent.imgres

That’s a good law. But I thought decent human beings already knew this. Sex without consent is rape. And sex without communication is not very sexy. Trust, tenderness and mutual affection are the heart of erotic experience.

Erotic relations are deeply ethical. Erotic experience is heightened by shared intimacy and imagination. The zenith of the erotic occurs in seeing and feeling your lover’s desire and pleasure. Mutuality and reciprocity heighten pleasure and deepen desire. In a genuinely erotic relationship, there should be no mistake about consent.

In a culture of casual hookups, however, this may be missing. The players in the hookup culture need the reminder that only an explicit “yes” turns on the green light for sex. Indeed, as if on cue, there is a new app for consent called “Good2Go.” Prospective partners can use their smartphones to register consent (and level of intoxication) during a hookup in order to avoid messy “he said, she said” accusations after the fact.

This is an inevitable development. Erotic relationships are a lot of trouble. It is difficult to talk and listen to your partner about feelings, needs, hopes and expectations. In the smartphone universe all of that mushy emotional stuff can be dispensed with. We can send sexy photos, use an app to register consent, exchange bodily fluids and then get back to the lonely business of living.

Erotic experience is much more than a contractual relation in which we consent to intercourse. Unfortunately, our culture tends to divorce sex from social relationships and shared intimacy. Ubiquitous porn normalizes unsocial orgasms. What we used to call “making love” is described as “doing it” or “having sex.” When sex becomes an “it” that we can “do” or a thing we can “have,” we risk confusing a social relationship with an act of solitary gratification.

Some may argue that sexual acts are simply pleasant biological functions, something to be done without much fanfare or any necessary social connection. Some may also object that idealism about making love is a gourmet indulgence for those fortunate enough to have found a loving partner. Many people don’t have the time, energy or opportunity for deeply meaningful erotic relations. A quick consensual hookup may be the best we can hope for in our fast-food world.

I corresponded about this with Professor Qrescent Mali Mason, an expert on the philosophy of sex and love at Drexel University. Professor Mason thought I was too moralistic in my thinking about the importance of what I call making love. She argued that there is something to be learned from sexual experimentation without love. She suggested that experiencing sexual relations with partners we do not love can help us to understand and recognize love when we find it. Professor Mason also pointed out that some people just want sex.

Fair enough. We do have a tendency to idealize and romanticize sex, which is after all simply an animal function. But I still contend that there is something missing when we are too casual about casual sex. Animals can exchange bodily fluids. But only human beings exchange ideas, hopes and dreams.

Some may suggest that the deep problem is that sex has been decoupled from marriage. But there is no guarantee that sex within marriage is loving. Husbands can rape their wives. And people can make love and share profound intimacy without being married. The real problem is that sex is often viewed as a mere bodily function divorced from the erotic and social connection that is its greatest joy.

Technology and the law make the hookup scene easier, safer and more efficient. But consent apps and “yes means yes” laws cannot transform sex into love. Professor Mason concluded her correspondence with me by joking that one reason to like the “yes means yes” law is that we all like to hear a little “yes, yes, yes!” shouted in the bedroom. But I would add that we also like to hear a whisper of “I love you.”

 

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/10/03/4159723_ethics-something-misses-when-we.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

There’s still a long road ahead to find peace

Fresno Bee, September 20, 2014

Thirty years ago the United Nations declared Sept. 21 as an International Day of Peace. We’ve still got a long way to go.

dove-peace-14.png

Human beings are the most violent animals on the planet. No other species kills its own members in large numbers on a regular basis. And yet, no other species reflects upon its own behavior or loves itself as much as we do. Hope for peace can be found in our capacity for reason and our ability to love.

Quite a few people claim that love provides the path to peace. Bumper sticker wisdom proclaims, “No love, no peace — know love, know peace.” Martin Luther King explained that love cuts through evil and hate. He said, “Love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.” Love moves us to sacrifice and care for others. It connects us to each other in a way that should promote harmony and peace.

But love without reason is blind. Love usually stops at the front door: we love our family but not our neighbors. Sometimes we do “love our neighbors.” But love rarely extends beyond borders. We may love those who share our ethnic, national or religious identity. But it is difficult to love humanity as a whole.

The best teachers of love want to extend it broadly, even maintaining that we ought to love our enemies. That is a radical idea, which may be impossible for mere mortals. But reason does tell us to extend love in a universal direction. A moment’s thought tells us that we are all members of the same species, despite our differences. Reason tells us that racial and ethnocentric biases are unjustified. It points toward an impartial and universal point of view.

We might supplement King’s enthusiasm for love, then, by claiming that reason is also a creative and transformative power in the universe. Reason’s virtue is its demand for objectivity and justification. Reason directs us away from nepotism, ethnic chauvinism, jingoistic patriotism, narcissistic pride and other malfunctions of love.

If we admit that love without reason is blind, we should also admit that reason without love is heartless. Warmongers often make cold-blooded arguments to support their violence. The same is true for murderers, torturers and the rest of violent humanity. Explanations and rationalizations have been employed in defense of all sorts of brutality.

Some arguments in defense of violence are better than others. But things go horribly wrong when callous arguments and cold rationalizations ignore the common beating heart of human experience, which is love. The tragedy of reason is its tendency to become cruelly inhuman and unloving.

A further difficulty is that violence is often justified in the name of love. Reason tells us that we ought to defend those we love against our enemies. But those enemies are also motivated by love and by arguments of their own. All human beings love their families, friends and ideals. Even the suicidal terrorist thinks that he’s justified. The deepest difficulty of violence is that it can be fueled by love and reason — the very things that should prevent violence.

The good news is that many of us are increasingly skeptical of traditional justifications of violence. Domestic violence, for example, would have gone unremarked upon in previous generations. Recent outrage about highly publicized cases of domestic violence is a sign of progress. There is similar outrage about war crimes and military aggression around the world. A growing number of us believe that violence is an irrational remnant of the youth of humanity.

To make further progress we have to link the objectivity and impartiality of reason with the passionate motivation and empathic connection of love. We need universal and reasonable love; and we need benevolent and compassionate reason. We need to love better and think more carefully.

Violence — like hatred, stupidity and ignorance — is easy. Thinking and loving are harder. It takes persistence and patience to love, to think and to build peace. Humanity has slowly worked its way toward a global society, through millennia of horrors. We are making slow progress. But piles of corpses and oceans of tears litter the way. The hard work of the next 30 years — and the next millennium — is to make ourselves more loving, more reasonable and more peaceful.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/09/19/4133666/theres-still-a-long-road-ahead.html#storylink=cpy

 

Moral Brain-Hacking and Moral Education

Science not enough, ideas and thought needed

Fresno Bee, May 16, 2014

Perhaps the solution to crime and other social problems is to fix people’s brains or dose them with love drugs. Moral brain-hacking might be a cheap and effective way to produce moral people.

Moral behavior appears to depend upon chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin acting in our brains. Paul Zac argues in his book, “The Moral Molecule,” that oxytocin levels are correlated with empathy, trust and love. A squirt of oxytocin can make people kinder and more trusting.

Brain structure also matters. Magnetic resonance imaging suggests that a sense of justice is located in the part of the brain associated with higher-level cognition. Antisocial behavior is linked to brain defects.

Locating moral behavior in the brain — and not as the free choice of an immaterial soul — may require us to rethink traditional ideas about guilt and responsibility, punishment and reward, praise and blame. If we follow the neuroscience, it might make sense to “punish” people by requiring them to take drugs or have brain surgery. Locking criminals in prisons with other people who have similarly defective neurochemistry may eventually seem, well, medieval.

Spiritually inclined people may be dismayed by this materialistic focus. Brain-based discussions ignore the soul and the moral conscience. Neuroscience dusts the angels and demons off of our shoulders, focusing our attention on the space between our ears.

Those who think that consciousness is distinct from the brain have to explain how Prozac, Ritalin, marijuana, and St. John’s wort are able to change experience, mood and focus. The attitude adjustment provided by a glass of wine or a cup of coffee can make you wonder whether there is anything more to the mind than the brain and its chemistry.

Some may feel that this materialistic focus misses the really big picture of why morality matters. If moral experience is reduced to brain science, traditional metaphysical notions of good and evil may be lost. A brain-based view of personality rules out punishment and reward in the afterlife. The move from the soul to the brain involves a radical reassessment of the meaning of morality and of life itself.

The focus on brains does, however, overlook the importance of ideas and education. Even if we admit that experience is based in the hardware of the brain, we still need the software of consciousness — ideas and theories — that allows us to interpret our experience. A dose of oxytocin may be able to stimulate empathy. But empathetic emotional responses are devoid of content.

Ideas and ethical theories tell us how to act on our emotional responses to the world. Does caring for a loved one mean I should pull the plug and let them die — or keep them on life support? Does empathy for murder victims mean that criminals should be executed — or should empathy extend to criminals?

To answer those kinds of questions we need ideas. Pills, potions and powders can only take us so far. The brain’s capacities and responses are channeled by the stuff of thought: ideas about right and wrong, theories of the good life, models and heroes, and the whole range of issues that arise in the context of moral education.

Ideas cannot simply be reduced to chemical signals in the brain. Does that mean that ideas float freely in a world apart from physical reality. There is a deep mystery here. What is an idea like “good” or “evil” made of? Where do ideas dwell? And how do we know them? Those kinds of questions can really blow your mind (or brain or soul?).

Neurochemical enhancement can’t entirely replace moral education as traditionally understood. Religion, philosophy and literature fill the brain with ideas that guide, bewilder and inspire. Neuro-ethical hacking may make moral education easier. But the neurotransmitters cannot tell us whether brain hacking is a good idea. For that we need moral argument and critical thinking.

Neuroscientific enthusiasm may lead us to miss the moral forest as we gaze in fascination at the neurological trees. Some of us could benefit from a chemically induced compassion boost. But a compassionate brain without moral ideas is empty. A moral person is both a brain and its ideas. And those ideas come from good old-fashioned moral education.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/05/16/3930743/science-not-enough-ideas-and-thought.html#storylink=cpy

 

Happiness, Compassion, Dalai Lama, and Maternal Love

Happiness comes from caring for others

Fresno Bee March 7, 2014

Compassion is deeply rooted in our biology. Human beings are conceived in love. We are carried in our mother’s bodies. And for the first days of our lives, we are nurtured by mother’s milk. How is it, then, that we become exploitative, selfish and unhappy?

That question was raised by the Dalai Lama when he spoke recently at Santa Clara University. I was fortunate to attend that event, which began with the 78-year-old monk recalling the nurturing love of his own mother. He argued that compassion grows from the experience of maternal love.

In one of his writings, the Dalai Lama suggests we should learn “to view all sentient beings as our dear mothers and to show our gratitude by loving them all.” The idea of reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism may help. If a stranger may have once been my mother or my child, I might view that stranger differently. In another place, the Dalai Lama writes that he tries to treat each person he meets as if she were an old friend.

Religious metaphysics aside, there is no denying that we are social animals. We possess a basic tendency toward community and cooperation. But the seeds of compassion are fragile. They must be nurtured and can easily be destroyed. The Dalai Lama suggested that our mode of life promotes selfishness, which increases anxiety and undermines community.

Indeed, the Dalai Lama’s presentation was surrounded by the stresses of modern life. The Bay Area traffic was difficult. The audience had to endure long lines and security searches before entering the building. Police roamed the hall. Protesters gathered outside. The political situation in Tibet remains complicated. Before his visit to California, the Dalai Lama met with President Barack Obama. The meeting outraged the Chinese government.

The Dalai Lama’s message is a deceptively simple antidote to all of that turmoil. On Thursday he delivered a prayer in the U.S. Congress, where he said: “Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow.” Easier said than done in the U.S. Congress!

At his Santa Clara speech he said that compassion reduces stress, produces inner peace, builds trust and engenders happiness. Selfishness destroys relationships, breeds anger and leaves us lonely. He indicated that much of this has been confirmed by medical science. Indeed, some studies show that smiling can decrease anxiety and that happiness is contagious. Compassion is linked to health and longevity.

When we concern ourselves with the happiness of others we become happier. When we give happiness, we get it in return. When we ignore others, we suffer more. There is a paradox here: To get what you want, you have to give it away. But by giving happiness, your attitude changes so that you no longer selfishly desire your own happiness. You find happiness when you are no longer obsessed with it.

It is easy to dismiss this, along with the idea of reincarnation, as silly, superficial and superstitious. Some horrors cannot be cured with love. The causes of unhappiness are biological, social and political. Compassion is important. But it needs to be organized and mobilized.

Compassion cannot eradicate traffic jams, security queues and war. Hardness and cynicism are coping strategies in a broken world. Most of the time, we live quite far from the nurturing simplicity of mother’s love; and some people, like the Dalai Lama, live in permanent exile.

But strategic cynicism should not undermine imagination and hope. Love is difficult to imagine before it happens. I never imagined the transformative power of love until my own children were born. My desire for their happiness is strange and unexpected. I am happy when they are happy. I suffer when they suffer. How odd! But here is a kernel of hope.

The Dalai Lama’s focus on maternal love is a reminder that each of us can discover a capacity for care that was previously unimagined. What if we could learn to love all of our neighbors as we love our own children? What if we could see strangers as relatives and old friends? A story about reincarnation may help. Or we may simply need to remember that each of was loved and that each is worthy of love. And we might thank our mothers for that.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/03/07/3809766/ethics-dalai-lama-reminds-us-that.html#storylink=cpy