A Philosopher's Blog

Birkini Ban

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on August 29, 2016

In response to terrorist attacks, some French politicians sprang into action and imposed ordinances aimed at banning the burkini. For those who are not theological fashionistas, a burkini is essentially a more fashionable wet suit intended primarily for Moslem women who want to swim in public while remaining modestly dressed. The burkini is in some ways reminiscent of women’s swimwear of the early 1900s, but far less likely to result in death by drowning. The burkini is also popular with women who want to swim but would prefer to lower their chances of getting skin cancer.

To be a bit more specific about the ban, the ordinances did not name the burkini, but rather forbid bathing attire that is not “appropriate,” that fails to be “respectful of good morals and of secularism,” and does not follow “hygiene and security rules.” There is a certain irony in the fact that being scantily clad on the beach was once considered in the West to be inappropriate and disrespectful of good morals. Now it is claimed that being well covered is not respectful of good morals.

While I am not a legal scholar, the specifications seem rather odd. I would think that appropriate attire that is “respectful of good morals” would be one that covers up the naughty bits—assuming that covering the bits is the right thing to do. While not an expert on hygiene and security, I do not see how a burkini would be any more a threat to hygiene or security than other common swimming attire such as bikinis, speedos, and wet suits. After all, the typically burkini is effectively a wet suit. There is also the fact that Christian nuns who dress conservatively for the beach are not targeted; presumably their attire is in accord with both hygiene and security.

As with France’s 2011 burqa ban, these ordinances seem aimed at creating the impression that a leader is doing something, to distract the masses from real problems and to appeal to religious intolerance and xenophobia. Since women going to swim in a burkini are unlikely to present a threat to public safety, there seems to be no legitimate basis for these ordinances in regards to preventing harm to the public. And this is the only rational moral justification for laws that forbid people from dressing or acting certain ways.

It could be countered that ordinances are actually intended to protect the women from oppression; that it aims to prevent women from being forced to cover up if they do not wish to do so.  While many Westerners probably assume that Moslem women are all forced to cover up, this is not the case. Some women apparently do this by choice and regard the right to do so as protected by the Western notion of freedom. While some might be skeptical about how free the choice is, it is reasonable to think that some women would, in fact, freely decide to cover up in this way. After all, if some women are willing to show lots of skin in public, then it hardly seems unusual that some women would rather show far less. There are certainly women who prefer modest attire and women who willingly embrace religious traditions. For example, some nuns who visit beaches dress very modestly; but they seem to do some from choice. Presumably the same can be true of Moslem women.

Some might argue that women who cover up too much and those that cover up too little are all victims of male oppression and are not really making free choices. While it is reasonable to believe that social and cultural factors impact dressing behavior, it seems unreasonably to claim that all these women are incapable of choice and are mere victims of the patriarchy. In any case, to force someone to dress or not dress a certain way because of some ideology about the patriarchy would also be oppressive.

It might also be argued that just as there are laws against being naked in public, there should also be laws against being improperly over-covered on the beach. After all, a woman would (probably) get in trouble for walking the streets of France with only her face, feet and hands covered, so why should a woman be allowed to go to the beach with only her face, hands and feet exposed? Both, it could be argued, create public distractions and violate the general sense of appropriate dress.

While this might have some appeal, such ordinances would need to applied in a consistent manner. As such, if a Christian woman were spotted walking the beach in jeans and a shirt, she would have to be removed from the beach or forced to strip. The obvious counter is that the ordinances are not used to target anyone but Moslem women in birkinis, although the secular part of the ordinances would allow targeting any attire with a non-secular connection. This would, obviously, ban nuns from the beach if they wore religiously linked attire, such as modest swimsuits.

This sort of ban would be a clear attack on religious freedom, which is problematic. While I am not particularly religious, I do recognize the importance of the freedom of faith and its expression. While there can be legitimate grounds for limiting such expressions (like banning human sacrifices), when a practice does not create harm, then there seems to be no real ground for banning it. As such, the ban in France seems to be completely unjustified and also an infringement of both the freedom of choice and the freedom of religion.

While some might point out that some Muslim countries do not allow such freedoms, my easy and obvious reply is that these countries are in the wrong and we should certainly not want to be like them. Two wrongs do not, obviously, make a right.

Lastly, it could be argued that the bikini is a very serious matter—the bikini is rejection of French culture and an explicit statement in support of Islam against France. The challenge is, of course, to provide evidence that this is the intention behind wearing the bikini. While attire can be used to make a statement, thinking that wearing a birkini must be an attack on France is on par with thinking that a person who eats a Big Mac or hummus in public in France is also attacking France. Even if a person is wearing the birkini as a statement, then it would seem to fall under freedom of expression. While it might offend some, offense is not grounds for imposing on this freedom.

While there is some appeal to the idea that people should assimilate into the culture, there is the obvious question of why one view of the culture should be granted hegemony over everything. That is, why the burkini cannot be as accepted as the bikini, why Islam cannot be as accepted as Methodism. Going back to the food analogy, it would be unreasonable to require French citizens to only eat food that is regarded as properly French and to see people who eat other food as a threat.

In closing, the birkini bans are unwarranted and morally unacceptable.

 

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What is the Worst Thing You Should (Be Allowed to) Say?

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on January 26, 2015
Members of Westboro Baptist Church have been s...

Members of Westboro Baptist Church have been specifically banned from entering Canada for hate speech. Church members enter Canada, aiming to picket bus victim’s funeral (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The murders at Charlie Hedbo and their aftermath raised the issue of freedom of expression in a dramatic and terrible manner. In response to these deaths, there was an outpouring of support for this basic freedom and, somewhat ironically, a crackdown on some people expressing their views.

This situation raises two rather important issues. The first is the matter of determining the worst thing that a person should express. The second is the matter of determining the worst thing that a person should be allowed to express. While these might seem to be the same issue, they are not. The reason for this is that there is a distinction between what a person should do and what is morally permissible to prevent a person from doing. The main focus will be on using the coercive power of the state in this role.

As an illustration of the distinction, consider the example of a person lying to his girlfriend about running strikes all day in the video game Destiny when he was supposed to be doing yard work. It seems reasonable to think that he should not lie to her (although exceptions are easy to imagine). However, it also seems reasonable to think that the police should not be sent to coerce him into telling her the truth. So, he should not lie to her about playing the game but he should be allowed to do so by the state (that is, it should not use its police powers to stop him).

This view can be disputed and there are those who argue in favor of complete freedom from the state (anarchists) and those who argue that the state should control every aspect of life (totalitarians). However, the idea that that there are some matters that are not the business of the state seems to be an intuitively plausible position—at least in democratic states such as the United States. What follows will rest on this assumption and the challenge will be to sort out these two issues.

One rather plausible and appealing approach is to take a utilitarian stance on the matter and accept the principle of harm as the foundation for determining the worst thing that a person should express and also the worst thing that a person should be allowed to express. The basic idea behind this is that the right of free expression is bounded by the stock liberal right of others not to be harmed in their life, liberty and property without due justification.

In the case of the worst thing that a person should express, I am speaking in the context of morality. There are, of course, non-moral meanings of “should.” To use the most obvious example, there is the “pragmatic should”: what a person should or should not do in regards to advancing his practical self-interest. For example, a person should not tell her boss what she really thinks of him if doing so would cost her the job she desperately needs. To use another example, there is also the “should of etiquette”: what a person should do or not do in order to follow the social norms. For example, a person should not go without pants at a formal wedding, even to express his opposition to the tyranny of pants.

Returning to the matter of morality, it seems reasonable to go with the stock approach of weighing the harm the expression generates against the right of free expression (assuming there is such a right). Obviously enough, there is not an exact formula for calculating the worst thing a person should express and this will vary according to the circumstances. For example, the worst thing one should express to a young child would presumably be different from the worst thing one should express to adult. In terms of the harms, these would include the obvious things such as offending the person, scaring her, insulting her, and so on for the various harms that can be inflicted by mere expression.

While I do not believe that people have a right not to be offended, people do seem to have a right not to be unjustly harmed by other people expressing themselves. To use an obvious example, men should not catcall women who do not want to be subject to this verbal harassment. This sort of behavior certainly offends, upsets and even scares many women and the men’s right to free expression does not give them a moral pass that exempts them from what they should or should not do.

To use another example, people should not intentionally and willfully insult another person’s deeply held beliefs simply for the sake of insulting or provoking the person. While the person does have the right to mock the belief of another, his right of expression is not a moral free pass to be abusive.

As a final example, people should not engage in trolling. While a person does have the right to express his views so as to troll others, this is clearly wrong. Trolling is, by definition, done with malice and contributes nothing of value to the conversation. As such, it should not be done.

It is rather important to note that while I have claimed that people should not unjustly harm others by expressing themselves, I have not made any claims about whether or not people should or should not be allowed to express themselves in these ways. It is to this that I now turn.

If the principle of harm is a reasonable principle (which can be debated), then a plausible approach would be to use it to sketch out some boundaries. The first rough boundary was just discussed: this is the boundary between what people should express and what people should (morally) not. The second rough boundary begins at the point where other people should be allowed to prevent a person from expressing himself and ends just before the point at which the state has the moral right to use its coercive power to prevent expression.

This area is the domain of interactions between people that does not fall under the authority of the state, yet still permits people to be prevented from expressing their views. To use an obvious example, the workplace is such a domain in which people can be justly prevented from expressing their views without the state being involved. To use a specific example, the administrators of my university have the right to prevent me from expressing certain things—even if doing so would not fall under the domain of the state. To use another example, a group of friends would have the right, among themselves, to ban someone from their group for saying racist, mean and spiteful things to one of their number. As a final example, a blog administrator would have the right to ban a troll from her site, even though the troll should not be subject to the coercive power of the state.

The third boundary is the point at which the state can justly use its coercive power to prevent a person from engaging in expression. As with the other boundaries, this would be set (roughly) by the degree of harm that the expression would cause others. There are many easy and obvious example where the state would act rightly in imposing on a person: threats of murder, damaging slander, incitements to violence against the innocent, and similar such unquestionably harmful expressions.

Matters do, of course, get complicated rather quickly. Consider, for example, a person who does not call for the murder of cartoonists who mock Muhammad but tweets his approval when they are killed. While this would certainly seem to be something a person should not do (though this could be debated), it is not clear that it crosses the boundary that would allow the state to justly prevent the person from expressing this view. If the approval does not create sufficient harm, then it would seem to not warrant coercive action against the person by the state.

As another example, consider the expression of racist views via social media. While people should not say such things (and would be justly subject to the consequences), as long as they do not engage in actual threats, then it would seem that the state does not have the right to silence the person. This is because the expression of racist views (without threats) would not seem to generate enough harm to warrant state coercion. Naturally, it could justify action on the part of the person’s employer, friends and associates: he might be fired and shunned.

As a third example, consider a person who mocks the dominant or even official religion of the state. While the rulers of such states usually think they have the right to silence such an infidel, it is not clear that this would create enough unjust harm to warrant silencing the person. Being an American, I think that it would not—but I believe in both freedom of religion and the freedom to mock religion.  There is, of course, the matter of the concern that such mockery would provoke others to harm the mocker, thus warranting the state to stop the person—for her own protection. However, the fact that people will act wrongly in response to expressions would not seem to warrant coercing the person into silence.

In general, I favor erring on the side of freedom: unless the state can show that silencing expression is needed to prevent a real and unjust harm, the state does not have the moral right to silence expression.

I have merely sketched out a general outline of this matter and have presented three rough boundaries in regards to what people should say and what they should be allowed to say. Much more work would be needed to develop a full and proper account.

 

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Weather Defense Initiative

Posted in Environment, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 3, 2012
Temperature difference in Europe from the aver...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Humans have always faced off against the impersonal power of the weather, sometimes winning and sometimes not. In many ways, humans are at war with the weather of our world and the damage inflicted by weather can be comparable to that which we inflict on each other. But, while some might attribute an intelligent design behind the ravages of the weather, it seems most reasonable to hold that the climate does not wage intentional war against us. Rather, the world simply does as it does and sometimes this kills us and destroys our cities. However, destructive weather, as it has historically done, does raise questions about the alleged benevolence of our alleged creator.

Sticking with the war metaphor, there are clearly times in which the conflict is more damaging than others. In recent years, the damage has stepped up considerably. The September 2012 edition of National Geographic featured “Extreme Weather” by Peter Miller discussed, as might be imagined, the recent extreme weather that has impacted the world. The article was, obviously, written before Sandy hit the United States. However, Sandy was, in some ways, just another example of extreme weather.

While there are some who are skeptical about climate change, it is possible to discuss the matter by ignoring the alleged causes of the extreme weather and focusing on the damage done by weather incidents.

Weather disasters have been rather costly financially in the United States and the damage done has increased significantly. From 1980-1995 there were 46 disasters causing $1 billion or more damage. In 1996-2011 there were 87 disasters causing that amount of damage. Insurance companies reported insured losses of $36 billion in 2011, which is 50% greater than the average for the past decade.

Part of this can be attributed to the fact that Americans increasingly live in areas that are subject to destructive weather, such as the coastal regions of the United States. Part of this can also be attributed to the greater value of the structures being built, especially in risky areas. After all, the destruction of a beach mansion costs more than the sweeping away of a beach cabin. However, even taking into account such factors (and the obvious factor of inflation) the damage being done has increased.

There is also the cost human life.  The 2003 heat wave in Europe killed about 35,000. In 1970 Tropical storms killed 500,000 in Bangladesh. There are, of course, many other sad examples of humans being killed in large numbers by weather events.

While the exact costs in deaths, suffering, property loss and economic damage can be debated, it is clear that weather events cost us dearly. If the damage inflicted by the weather was done by a human attacker, there would be screams for war, defense and retaliation. Look, for example, how the United States responded to 9/11.

Naturally, retaliation against the weather would be absurd—there is no intelligent agent to seek vengeance against (except, perhaps, God) or deter. However, it does make sense to establish a developed defense against the damage of weather.

People are, of course, establishing defenses against weather events. For example, France took steps, such as building air conditioned shelters, and cut the heat deaths in 2006 by two thirds. While storms still tear through Bangladesh, the construction of shelters and warning systems has reduced the death toll from hundreds of thousands to thousands. These are still heavy losses for humanity, but an improvement over the old system.

While these defenses have shown some effectiveness, our response has been largely reactive (we tend to slap together a response to the last disaster rather than preparing for the next one properly) and piecemeal.

So what I propose is a worldwide weather defense initiative (WDI—yes, this is blatantly stolen from SDI) to address the damagers presented by our planet. Many steps, such as large scale tsunami warning systems, are in place. However, most of our cities are woefully underprepared and our defenses are very limited. Meanwhile, we waste and squander resources making war on each other. I contend that at least some of these resources would be better spent (morally and practically) on defense against the weather rather than against each other. Such spending would, of course, allow for the profits and political dealings that defense spending now involves. However, at least the results would probably be more positive in terms of lives saved. I am not, of course, proposing that military defense be neglected—after all, I know us and I know that we are obviously not to be trusted unless guns are pointing at us. Even then we should probably not be trusted.

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AeroShot

Posted in Business, Ethics, Law, Medicine/Health, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on February 22, 2012
English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

Why drink this when you can inhale it?

In our society people tend to stay up later and sleep less than in the past.  As historians have noted, part of this is due to electricity. Of course, there are other factors that have caused people to sleep even less these days. One likely factor is the increase in work (at least for Americans-though we are often cast as lazy, we work more than other Westerners and take less vacation time). Children also are apparently sleeping less, perhaps due to the impact of electronic gadgets and the internet.

Because of the lack of sleep, it is hardly a shock that people have been increasingly turning to energy drinks. While coffee has been around for a long time, recent years have seen the proliferation of high energy drinks. Some of these were combined with alcohol, thus allowing sleepy folks to party all night (and drink themselves into the hospital). Apparently consuming a drink now takes too much time and a new product, AeroShot, is available.

AeroShot is more or less a small plastic tube loaded with caffeine powder. The user inhales it and gets the equivalent of a large cup of coffee in one huff, nicely avoiding all that tedious drinking. Currently it is available in the US and France.

In the United States  the AeroShot was able to bypass FDA testing because it was classified as a dietary supplement. Some critics see this as a dangerous loophole that allows products to get on the market without testing. Others see it as a legitimate category that allows companies to get products on the market without onerous government testing.

In the light of Four Loko (or “blackout in a can” as people called it) it is hardly surprising that Senator Schumer pushed the FDA to review the product. His concern is that kids will abuse the product by taking hit after hit while partying. As might be imagined, this raises the usual moral concerns about testing and limiting products.

On the one hand, the state does have a legitimate moral role in testing products so as to protect citizens from harm. After all, protecting citizens from harm is one of the basic functions of the state-whether that harm comes from foreign invaders, domestic criminals or dangerous products.

If AeroShot does present a health risk, then it would seem to be morally correct for the state to take action, based on the state’s obligation to protect citizens. Naturally, a utilitarian argument can also be made that the state should act in this way to protect the citizens so as to avoid said harms.

On the other hand, caffeine is already an established and accepted (legally and morally) product. As such, concerns about AeroShot’s ingredient would thus seem to also extend to all forms of caffeine. Thus, if it is morally acceptable for people to have access to coffee, then the same would seem to hold true of AeroShot. After all, if the kids want to stay up all night partying, they can legally buy all the coffee they might care to consume and this would seem to make any attempts to limit AeroShots pointless.

One reply is, of course, that the AeroShot makes it easy to rapidly dose oneself with caffeine. As noted above, a quick huff of AeroShot is like drinking a large cup of coffee. In the case of a large cup of coffee, the time to consume it will be longer and there is also the rather important fact that the coffee will fill up the drinker’s stomach, thus limiting the dosage.  Thus, the concern about AeroShot is not so much that it contains a lot of caffeine but that it provides a very rapid and efficient means of delivering caffeine.

The obvious counter to this is that kids can go to the grocery store and buy a bottle of caffeine tablets quite legally. These tablets have 200 mg of caffeine (twice that of the dose in the AeroShot) and usually sell for $5-1o per 100 tablets (AeroShot sells for $2.99 a dose). Taking a tablet is far quicker than drinking a cup of coffee and tablets are rather small relative to the volume of a cup of coffee. As such, these tablets would seem to be as dangerous as AeroShot (if not more so, since they are cheaper and have more caffeine per dose). As such, if these tablets are morally and legally acceptable, than AeroShot would seem to be just as acceptable.

One final counter is that perhaps AeroShot poses a special threat because it is “cool.” That is, kids will be more inclined to overuse AeroShots because of the novelty of inhaling caffeine relative to drinking it or taking a tablet. While this is a point of concern, there is the obvious worry that restricting such a product on the basis of its “coolness” rather than its contents would be rather problematic. After all, how would labs test for “coolness” and how would such a standard be established in a principled way?

People more cynical than I might suspect that the “attack” on AeroShot was motivated by some factors other than concern for the youth, such as the desire to get media attention or to get the makers of AeroShot to cough up lobbying money to ensure that they can keep selling their product (that is, a political shakedown). But, of course, I am not that cynical.

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Pictures of the Dead

Posted in Aesthetics, Ethics, Law, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on May 11, 2011
Princess Diana on a royal visit for the offici...

Image via Wikipedia

In addition to the fact that the both died violent deaths, Bin Laden and Princess Diana both share the fact that their post death pictures have generated controversy. In the case of Bin Laden, the decision was made to not release the photos of his corpse. In the case of Princess Diana, the infamous paparazzi photo of her death is featured in the upcoming film Unlawful Killing.

As far as the legality of the matter, this is easy enough to settle. Obama certainly has the legal right to not release the photos of Bin Laden. Legal steps can be taken to have the photos released, of course. In the case of the photo of Princess Diana, it is perfectly legal for it to be shown, at least in the United States and France. The UK is less enamored of the freedom of the press and the film will, as of this writing, not be shown there. What is more interesting than the legality is the matter of ethics.

The main argument given against the release of the Bin Laden photo is that it would incite people to violence. From a moral standpoint, this can be seen as a utilitarian argument (or simply as a pragmatic argument): releasing the photo would have harmful consequences, therefore it should not be done.

Given the power of images, this does have a certain appeal. An image of the dead Bin Laden would certainly have more emotional impact than the mere statement that he is dead. However, it also seems reasonable to consider the obvious: if killing Bin Laden would not inspire a person to violence, then seeing a photo most likely would not push the person over the edge. As such, this argument is not particularly strong. Perhaps a better reason can be found by considering the death photo of Princess Diana.

One argument that can be used in the case of Princess Diana is that such a photo should not be shown out of respect for her and her family. On the face of it, it seems reasonable to hold that a graphic death photo should not be shown unless there is a compelling reason to show the photo. As such, the burden of proof would be on those who contend such a photo should be shown.

In some cases compelling reasons can be given. For example, the photo of Princess Diana was shown (with her face blurred) during the investigation of the crash that killed her. This sort of use seems to be legitimate. Another example would be when showing the picture serves a laudable purpose, such as revealing the true horror of war or crime. However, to show such an image merely to amuse, shock, or make money would seem to be morally unjustified. This is not to say that such a showing should be prohibited by law. Rather, it is to say that it should not be done. If this line of reasoning is solid, then the film should not include the picture-unless it can be shown that there is compelling reason to include the image.

Turning back to Bin Laden, it is rather tempting to hold the view that he is not worthy of such respect. After all, he planned the deaths of thousands and showed no concern over the harm he did to them or their families. As such, there would be no compelling reason to not show his image so as to protect his dignity. In fact, it could be argued that if showing the photo would somehow harm him or those who care about him, then this would be a reason to show them.

That said, I do believe that an appeal to dignity can be made against showing the picture of Bin Laden and the picture of Princess Diana.

In the case of Bin Laden, showing the graphic photo would not be an unjust affront to his dignity. However, it would be an undignified act on our part. While it is tempting to take a trophy from a fallen foe and parade it about in bloody splendor, we should be better than that and it should be beneath our dignity as a people.  Just as we pride ourselves on not wantonly slaughtering innocents, we should also pride ourselves on not showing graphic images of  Bin Laden. In short, if we claim we are better than our enemies, we need to actually act better than they do and this includes not treating the dead as trophies.

In the case of Princess Diana, showing the graphic photo of her would seem to be a clear demonstration of the lack of dignity of those who elected to show the photo (presumably to attract attention to the film). As such, this is something that they should not do-after all, they should be better people. Naturally, if it can be shown that the image is being used in a way that is compelling (because it is critical to the aesthetic value of the film, for example) then it could be used in a way consistent with dignity.

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France’s Burqa Ban

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 12, 2011
Women wearing burqas in the street

Image via Wikipedia

France imposed its “burqa ban” yesterday. This law does not, of course, specifically ban burqas. Rather, it bans people from covering their faces (presumably mimes get a special exemption). However, it is understood that the law is, in fact, specifically targeting Muslim women.  Interestingly enough, Muslim women in France generally do not wear burqas. Rather, they tend to wear the niqab. There are also relative few Muslim women in France who engage in the practice at all.

The main motivation for the law seems to be Sarkozy’s desire to do something to improve his dismal approval ratings. By appearing tough on Muslims he, perhaps, can counter the growing appeal of the right. His military adventures in Libya also seem calculated to that end.  Obviously enough, this reason hardly justifies the law.

The main stated justification for the law is that it is intended to protect Muslim women from oppression. The idea seems to be that Muslim men in France force women to wear the veil. As such, it is a sign of male oppression. This line of reasoning has been used to win over support on the left in France.

This does have some appeal. After all, Islam does not have the best track record when it comes to the treatment of women. It is also the case that some Muslim women are forced to cover themselves against their wills.

However, the law does not  merely forbid forcing women to cover up. Rather, it also outlaws appearing in public while covered. While the fine and jail sentences for forcing someone to cover up are greater than those to be imposed on those who are caught covered up, it seems reasonable to question the claim that this law is aimed at protecting women from oppression. A law aimed at protecting women would, it seem, only punish those who forced women to cover up. Women who freely chose to cover themselves should, one would imagine, be exempt from such punishment. After all, a person who chooses to dress in a certain way would not seem to be the victim of oppression-even if others might not approve of her choice.

While many Westerners probably assume that Muslim women must all be forced to cover up, this is not the case. Some women apparently do this by choice and regard the right to do so as protected by the Western notion of freedom. While some might be skeptical about whether the choice is actually free, it does not seem unreasonable that some women would, in fact, freely decide to cover up in this way. After all, if some women are willing to freely expose lots of flesh in public, then it seems no less unusual that some woman would want to cover up much more.

Some people might argue that women who cover up too much and those that cover up too little are all victims of male oppression and are not really making free choices. While it is reasonable to believe that social and cultural factors impact dressing behavior, it seems unreasonably to claim that all these women are incapable of choice and are mere victims of the patriarchy. In any case, to force someone to dress or not dress a certain way because of some ideology about the patriarchy would also seem to be oppressive as well.

It might also be argued that just as there are laws against being completely naked in public, there should also be laws against being completely covered. After all, a woman cannot walk the streets of France with only her eyes covered, so why should a woman be allowed to do so with only her eyes exposed? Both, it could be argued, create public distractions and violate the general sense of proper dress.

While this might have some appeal, this justification would require having laws against anything that created a distraction and anything that went against the general sense of proper dress. This, one might suspect, would justify a far too broad range of laws.

As a final point, there is also the religious aspect. While many scholars of Islam contend that covering up is not actually required by the faith, this mode of dress does seem to be an expression of faith. To ban it would thus seem on par with banning Orthodox Jews and Catholic nuns from wearing their distinctive clothing in public. Such bans would clearly be attacks on religious freedom and hence the ban in France should also be regarded as such.

While I am not religious, I do recognize the importance of the freedom of faith and its expression. While there can be legitimate grounds for limiting such expressions (like banning human sacrifices), when a practice does not create harm, then there seems to be no real ground for banning it. As such, the ban in France seems to be completely unjustified and also an infringement of both the freedom of choice and the freedom of religion.

While some might point out that some Muslim countries do not allow such freedoms, my easy and obvious reply is that these countries are in the wrong and we should certainly not want to be like them.

(Shameless self promotion: 42 Fallacies)

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Fraud, France & Scientology

Posted in Religion by Michael LaBossiere on October 27, 2009
A visitor to a Church of Scientology public in...
Image via Wikipedia

A French court recently convicted the Church of Scientology of fraud. The church is still allowed to operate in France, but has been warned to stay on “the correct side of the law.”

The basis for this case is the fact that Scientologists use a electropsychometer or E-Meter, to “locate areas of spiritual duress or travail so they can be addressed and handled” and then (the plaintiffs claimed) try to sell vitamins and books to those “tested.” Obviously enough, there is no scientific evidence that this device does what it is alleged to do and hence it seems quite reasonable to regard this sort of behavior as fraudulent.

Not surprisingly, the Church is characterizing this ruling as being an Inquisition. This is, of course, hyperbole. Now, if Scientologists were being tortured and killed for their beliefs, then it would be like the Inquisition. Also, the church is not being persecuted because of its religious views. Rather, it was prosecuted for trying to sell people things using what certainly seems to be a  bogus machine.

While religions are generally granted a great deal of leeway in many countries, fraud and other misdeeds by churches are still crimes. The Church of Scientology certainly seems to be committing fraud and hence should be treated like anyone else.

Of course, the Scientologists might see themselves as being unfairly singled out. After all, churches routinely ask people for money and often imply that such giving will win favor from God. Since none of these churches can prove this claim or even that God exists, all that would seem to be fraud as well.

Of course, many of these folks are no doubt sincere in their beliefs. Hence, they are also deceiving themselves. From a moral standpoint, this does seem to be an important difference. After all, if I sell you a holy relic that I think is real and will really heal your H1N1, then I am not engaging in intentional deceit. I am just mistaken and making money from the fact that you are also mistaken. This is like selling medicine that is believed to work, yet actually does not.

But, if I am selling “holy relics” that I make myself and sell them to people believing that it is all bull, then I am engaging in fraud. This is because I know that what I am selling is not really what I claim it is and I am counting on people believing this deceit in order to make money.

So, if the Scientologists truly believe in their E-Meter and are sincerely trying to help people with their ills, then they would not be acting in an immoral way. However, if they know that the E-Meter is a hoax and are using it to push vitamins and such, then they are acting immorally.

Naturally, I am open to the possibility that the E-Meter works and that Scientology is true. I just need proof. As with divine healing, I’d be happy to help set up a properly controlled experiment to test the E-Meter. But, Tom Cruise would not be allowed to jump around on my couch during any testing. That would freak out my pets.

 

 

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