Traditional Values

As you may have heard, Dan Cathy, president of Chic-Fil-A, came out and denounced same-sex marriage, citing support for the “biblical definition of a family”. As you can imagine, this turned into a huge media firestorm, which consequently got the fast food chain banned from Chicago. Then Santorum and Huckabee decided to get behind the company’s statement and declared a “Chic-Fil-A day”.

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”
-Dan Cathy

I believe the first thing to do when investigating this delicate situation is to look further into what exactly was said by Cathy. Most news sources are citing this interview. In it, Cathy states that the company is firmly based around Christian values. Just to clarify, I am totally on board with that. It’s pretty incredible that a huge company, especially a fast food chain, would have the balls to do that in this modern age of anti-Christian rage. Some examples of this support include being closed on Sunday and training employees in Christian values and excellent customer service.

While citing the Bible as providing a Christian definition of marriage is fine (it is quite clear on the subject that marriage is only between a man and a woman), I don’t think it should be used to dictate the law. And I really don’t think it is proper to cite the Bible as a reason against homosexuality. Not only is the good book’s stance questionable when it comes to gays, but it also has some other “values” that the company seems to disregard. Take for example, Leviticus 19:19.

“Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”
-New International Version

Wat. Guess you’re going to Hell for wearing those polyester-cotton blends. In fact, it seems that Chic-Fil-A employee uniform shirts are 55/45 cotton/poly.

“…a deep blue, ¾-sleeve, 55/45 cotton/poly woven shirt with stain-protection and wrinkle-resistant treatments, and flat-front, 60/40 cotton/poly pants with soil-release properties.”
Nicole Rollender

And that chicken Chic-Fil-A is serving? Bet that was bred to be the meatiest chicken possible.

“We are proud to have many long-standing relationships with our chicken suppliers, who highly value their association with the family farms where the chickens grow. Often these farms are diversified – they raise a variety of crops and livestock. Our suppliers follow strict animal welfare and nutrient management practices.”
Chic-Fil-A’s website

But wait! Many, including myself, would argue that when Jesus makes the New Covenant, the Mosaic Law no longer applies to Christians. Ok, so that nullifies any argument made with the Old Testament. And by the way, those arguments tend to cite the destruction of Sodom and Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination”
-Leviticus 18:22
“If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act.”
-Leviticus 20:13

Ok, so where in the New Testament is homosexuality denounced? In fact, the subject is only mentioned in 3 passages: 1 Romans:26–27, 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, and 1 Timothy 1:8–11.

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.
-1 Corinthians 6:9–10, NRSV

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, 10 fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
-1 Timothy 1:8–11, NRSV

Two of these passages, specifically those in 1st Corinthians and 1st Timothy, only mention homosexuals in passing, if at all. The offending terms are placed in the middle of a generic laundry list of undesirable people. This is the equivalent of using the term “gang banger” to refer to any sort of any delinquent. Moreover, the translation of the Greek to “male prostitutes” and “sodomites” is questionable. Here I cite from William O’ Walker.

“The Greek word translated as ‘male prostitutes’ is the adjective malakoi (plural of malakos). This adjective means ‘soft,’ as in a ‘soft’ bed or a ‘soft’ pillow. When applied to people, it can mean ‘lazy,’ ‘self-indulgent,’ ‘cowardly,’ ‘lacking in self-control,’ and the like. When applied to males, it generally refers to what are commonly regarded as feminine-like ‘weaknesses:’ such men might be regarded as ‘soft,’ ‘flabby,’ ‘weak,’ ‘cowardly,’ ‘unmanly,’ or ‘effeminate.’ But to call a male ‘effeminate’ might or might not carry implications of homosexuality.”
The Fourth R

He goes on to explain how the terms “arsenokoitai” and “malakoi” could be interpreted in many different ways.

People have assumed that malakoi does refer to homosexuality in 1 Corinthians primarily because the next term in the list is arsenokoitai (defined below)—the assumption being, of course, that the two words are somehow linked in meaning because they appear side by side in the list. This, however, is by no means necessarily the case. “The greedy” and “drunkards” are also juxtaposed in the list, and it would be difficult to see any link between them.

But even if malakoi and arsenokoitai are somehow linked in meaning, it is not at all clear just how arsenokoitai should be translated. It comes from two Greek words: arsen, which means “male” (as opposed to “female”), and koite which literally means “bed” but by extension can be a euphemism for sexual intercourse (like “going to bed” with someone). This would appear to suggest that arsenokoitai refers to males who “go to bed” with other males. But Dale B. Martin has pointed out that the meaning of a compound word cannot necessarily be determined by breaking it apart, looking at the meaning of each of its parts, and then simply combining these meanings to determine the meaning of the compound word. As an example, Martin cites the English word, “understand,” which has nothing to do with either “standing” or “being under.”

Numerous other examples could be cited, but I want to mention one that is closer to the topic under consideration. The word I have in mind is the vulgar term, “mother-fucker.” We know what this word means literally. But when people use it, they typically are not referring to someone who has sexual intercourse with his mother (or even with someone else’s mother). In fact, the word normally does not refer to sexual activity at all. The point is, however, that its original sexual meaning is often not apparent in its actual usage. And the same thing may very well be true of the Greek word arsenokoitai. It is a rare word. According to Martin, though, when the word does appear independently, it is typically found in conjunction not with sins of sexual immorality but rather with sins related to economic injustice or exploitation. … We often use sexual language to talk about things that have nothing to do with sex. For example, someone might say, “I really fucked up!” without having sex in mind at all. Or think about how we sometimes use the word “screw.” If I say, “I really got screwed on that business deal,” I’m not talking about sex, but I am talking about exploitation. … The bottom line is that we simply do not know what the word meant or how it was used in the first century.

In a way similar to how slave traders quoted parts of the Bible that, out of context or interpreted in certain ways, seemed to legitimatize their actions, those opposed to homosexuality or homosexual marriage could easily use these passages to support their advocation of the “traditional” family.

Leaving those passages aside for now, let’s examine what Paul says about homosexuality in his letter to the Roman church. In short, homosexuality is not mentioned as a sin, per se, but as punishment by God for idol worship. I’m not sure what the Bible has to say about Masochism, but if it does forbid the enjoyment of punishment, then why are anti-gay groups only targeting gays? They should also go after the greedy (recording industry), gossips and slanderers (news corporations), and God-haters (anti-Christian groups). Also those who disobey their parents.

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

-1 Romans 1:21-32, NIV

As for the argument that homosexuality is somehow a “sin against nature” or otherwise unnatural, I find it interesting that such an argument would be made in the first place. First of all I’m not even sure what that is supposed to mean; would a proponent of that argue that anything specifically human is a sin against nature? In that case, homosexuality wouldn’t even fall under that category, since animals also show homosexual behavior. On the other hand, technology, speech, and writing actually ARE sins against nature.

But why hold up animals as a standard for behavior? Animals eat their children sometimes, but we don’t do that. At least not usually. Well, think about it this way: animalistic behaviors in humans can be divided into three categories; necessary, unnecessary, and harmful. Necessary behaviors are things like breathing, eating, pooping, etc. Unnecessary are things like playing. Both of these categories are legal. Harmful activities, like killing, raping, cannibalism, and infanticide are, with the last one being an exception, illegal. Since innocent homosexual behavior is neither harmful nor necessary, I see no reason to think it any more unnatural than playful behavior.

Of course, I digress. When Dan Cathy said that his company adheres to Christian values and he supports the “biblical” definition of a family, he wasn’t denouncing homosexuality (although I’m sure he has some beef with it). After really thinking about the controversy, I don’t actually see any conflict of interest.

All Cathy is saying is that he and his company stand behind one definition of a term. The government might stand behind a different definition. Activists may support another. The point is that if I announce “I believe that marriage can only happen between two people of the Caucasian race, regardless of gender” (which I don’t), that doesn’t mean that I can legally discriminate against married couples that fit a different definition. In fact, what I think doesn’t matter to anyone, until I make actions based on those opinions.

Obviously, whether or not the government thinks gay marriage should be legal is a MUCH bigger deal. And while we’re on the subject, I might as well give my two cents.

The only reason marriage exists in the legal system at all is because of tradition; but while its there, it might as well serve its purpose. When you think about it, the only possible reason the government should care about whether two people are symbolically bound together in an arbitrary ceremony is that children are born afterwards. The difference in taxes and other legal differences as a result of marriage are merely helpers to this function; marriage is not for the taxes, the taxes are for marriage. The government needs to ensure that children are being raised in an environment that will not turn them into criminals.

Based off of this definition of why legal marriage exists, one could make the argument that gay marriage should not be legally recognized because two people of the same sex cannot produce children. But by the same logic, a marriage in which one or more of the partners is sterile should also not be recognized legally. But of course both straight and gay married couples have the option of adoption. Following this line of reasoning to its conclusion, allowing gay marriage but disallowing gay adoption is paradoxical and a waste of government resources. The two rights should, by necessity, come bundled together.

Thus, the only remaining line of defense for those opposed to gay marriage and/or adoption would be that children raised by a gay couple are somehow deficient when compared to those raised “traditionally”. In response, I quote Judith Stacey, a professor at USC and holder of the Streisand Professorship in Contemporary Gender Studies. From the sound of the article the quote comes from, homosexual parenting is actually beneficial in many ways.

“We found that despite the ‘no differences’ mantra, many studies do report evidence of some intriguing differences, and even of some potential advantages of lesbian parenthood. A difference is not necessarily a deficit.”
Judith Stacey

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The Parabola of Technology

Today I completed the February USA Computing Olympiad. If you have any coding interest, you should check it out. It has three divisions: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. If you do well enough in Bronze, then you are promoted to Silver for the following competitions, and then similarly to Gold. You have 3 hours to complete 3 problems; the Gold problems require pretty advanced knowledge of algorithms and a quick coding skills. Contests are held monthly.


The Growth

I’ve always thought of human progress as a parabola or exponential curve. That is certainly true for population:
graph of world population
The human race has made so much technological progress recently, especially taking off after the Industrial Revolution. Starting in the 17th century, the intense competition between Western countries (and then all industrialized countries) has advanced knowledge and created an infrastructure in which that knowledge can be used. Every piece of knowledge allows us to learn more, every invention allows us to learn faster. Then, in the 19th century, politics was overturned and industrialization began. Near the turn of the 21st century, technology has taken off. We are looking at an unprecedented age ahead of us. Today, some of the things we can do seem like science fiction. Yet we are still using 19th and 20th century frameworks. This restricts our ability to use the new technologies.

Education and Infrastructure

For instance, our education system is archaic. Now, that statement may seem radical and uninformed to you, but bear with me. The education systems of industrialized countries are designed for industrializing agricultural societies. The majority of people (farmers and factory workers) would only go to school through elementary grade levels; they don’t need much education to work, but they do need to be literate. Accountants and other people who are going to work white-collar jobs would continue on to high school. Judges, lawyers, doctors, and professors would go on to a university.

Now, there has been educational inflation. College degrees have gone from rare to necessary. If you want a job which pays even moderately, you need a degree. And they are becoming less valuable even now. With the Computational Revolution, we no longer need a large amount of factory workers or farmers. Most of all, we need people to produce content; we need people with creativity and ideas. Yet the school system still focuses on a core of math and science. It progressively excises creativity and focuses on particular learning conduits. For years, schools have been preparing people for a past that is obsolete in this future. This fundamental failure of the educational system is partially responsible for the huge system failure we have seen over the past few years and will see in the coming years. Even though people have realized that the school system is inadequate, our current social infrastructure lacks the capability to facilitate such a major change.
(Inspired by this TED talk)

Restructuring

Why are we still burning fossil fuels? Why are we still digging up metals from the Earth when we could be sustainably mining them from asteroids? The answer lies in our industrial infrastructure. As much as I hate to say it, the capitalist structure we use right now may not be sufficient in the coming age. Certain technological switches, such as those regarding energy and raw material acquisition, may take time and money to complete which makes them seem immediately unattractive. However, their eventual gain over current methods in regards to sustainability makes them desirable in the long run. It seems that the only way to make the switch is to wait for cheaper technology or to rely on buying power independent of market forces, like a government. Unfortunately, our government is doing the wrong job. It isn’t really doing a bad job, just the wrong one. 19th century political changes have established government obligations those of welfare and public works. Bank regulation is necessary as well. Ensuring a certain level of public education must be necessary. But is the government’s bureaucratic grip slowly suffocating the education system? Probably. The government just isn’t built to deal with things like the Internet, which has decreased communication times so much that ideas are being synthesized faster than ever. The government can’t respond quickly enough to the future. Without even looking at other areas of our infrastructure, we already see problems in the educational set up.

If the government can’t do a good job giving education, should we leave it to private enterprise? Private schools are too expensive for everyone, although they often give quality education. That leaves us with two options: a mass-migration of education onto the Internet, or a fundamental restructuring of the educational system. Let me give you my takes on both of these options.

Online Education

Education on the Internet has seen a small trial with things like the Stanford AI Class, which is exclusively online and open to everyone. The interesting about that and their upcoming follow-up classes is that it took place in a set time, with homeworks and tests. In terms of static lectures, which teach non-interactively, you can look at MIT OCW (open course ware) and Khan Academy. Then of course there are classes which you can pay for (usually a couple hundred), in which you are with a class of other people online, and you periodically read notes, have debates, and turn in homework. Overall, I’m not sure how much online education is going to play into education in the future. Will online courses supplement public education? That is certainly an interesting idea. It would allow schools to focus purely on the most fundamental parts of the education, and people who are further interested in a specific subject could learn more about it online, perhaps within a mini-course, and then get a credit for it. That would allow people to make the most of their education and focus only on things that interest them. Similarly, people could build a “mini-degree” that consists of small courses based on an underlying concept, such as studying human-machine interaction or social networking and its effects on the market.

The Guild System

One idea I’ve been kicking around for a while is that of guilds. Instead of educating people around a core of math and science, we could limit and individual’s education to one field, such as biology, physics, computer science, business management, economics, material engineering, electrical engineering, etc. Which guild you belong to would be determined either by birth or at a young age after essential low-level education. Guilds would control all of the experts in the field, and could lend them out to other guilds or to joint-research projects. They would also have access a large of amount of knowledgeable teachers. They could even make teaching mandatory after retirement. Companies could lease teams of experts.

More over, retirement would be pushed back. Currently, an average person spends half of their life producing. That means the other half is spent passively consuming. Roughly speaking, from 0-20 a person is soaking up resources. From 20-60, they are working. From 60-80, they are retired and again consuming. So unless you can produce enough during your working years to sustain your consumption years, you need to either work longer or die sooner. On the same thread, retirees should not receive welfare from the government. If either a company, foundation, or descendant isn’t willing to pay for an old person, they are a needless burden. While harsh, it is the most logical course of action. Even if this was put in place though, people would adjust. New insurance companies would take the place of government welfare agencies.

Anyways, more to come. Food for thought.

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