"And if there were a God, I think it very unlikely that He would have such an uneasy vanity as to be offended by those who doubt His existence." - Bertrand Russell
Boston University professor Stephen Prothero claimed, “Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion.”
Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religious and Public Life developed and administered a nationwide 32-question phone survey from May 19 – June 6. The survey called on 3,412 Americans to better gauge a baseline of where Americans stand in knowledge of their own religion, other religions
On average, American respondents answered 16 of the 32 questions correctly. Atheists and agnostics ranked highest in religious knowledge, answering an average of 20.9 answers correctly. Jews, who answered 20.5 questions correctly, and Mormons, who averaged 20.3 in correct responses, closely followed them. Protestants trailed behind with an average of 16 correct answers, and Catholics came in at the bottom with an average of 14.7 correct answers. Muslim, Hindus, and Buddhists were surveyed, but their response numbers in comparison with the other groups were too small to report statistically significant results.
Twelve of the survey questions focused on Christianity. On average, Mormons (7.9) and Protestants (7.3) demonstrated the highest levels of knowledge out of all the groups. Jews (7.9) and atheists/agnostics (7.5) came out much more strongly in their understanding of world religions, which accounted for 11 of the survey questions. They were also strongest in correctly answering questions about the role of religion in public life.
Among the findings, here are some I find particularly interesting:
53% of the Protestant respondents couldn’t correctly identify Martin Luther as the force behind the Protestant Reformation.
43% of the Jewish respondents did not know that Maimonides, one of the most revered rabbis in history, was Jewish.
47% of the total respondents knew that the Dalai Lama is Buddhist.
38% of the total respondents correctly correlated Vishnu and Shiva with Hinduism.
27% of the total respondents correctly answered that most of Indonesia’s population is Muslim (the country is also home to the largest Muslim population in the world).
36% of the total respondents correctly answered that comparative religion classes are allowed in public schools.
So what drives the rate of religious knowledge amongst the different sects? Researchers point out education as the single best predictor. On average, atheists/agnostics and Jews maintain higher education levels than Mormons, Protestants and Catholics. They also found that whites scored better than minorities, men scored better than women, younger generations scored better than those over 65, and respondents in other regions of the country scored better than those living in the South.
Perhaps the most talked about finding is that according to this representative sample, the average American atheist knows more about religion than the average Christian. Alan Cooperman, associate director of research at the Pew Forum, says this is because many atheists and agnostics tend to come from religious upbringings, went through periods of reflection and study, and consciously gave religion up. ”I gave a Bible to my daughter,” said American Atheists president Dave Silverman, “That’s how you make atheists.”
Assume that because I know about the Bible, I must believe in the Bible.
(It’s the opposite that’s true.)
Perform a skit that is supposed to tell the day’s message.
(They’re not funny. And frankly, the kids are bad actors. Let’s get to the sermon already.)
Tell me I’m on the “right path” by being there.
(I was doing just fine a couple hours ago, thank you very much.)
Pass out Christian business directories.
(It’s like saying the Christian lawyer is trustworthy, but the Jew lawyer will take your money and the atheist lawyer will try to lose your case on purpose, and don’t even get me started on those brown lawyers… these directories aren’t helping me understand “Christian love.”)
Ask me if they can pray for me.
(If you want to, just go ahead and do it.)
Ask me if they can pray for me, then put their hands on my shoulders and begin praying.
(Stop touching me.)
Mischaracterize people of other faiths or no faiths.
(“Those atheists know God is there; they just don’t want to follow His rules!” “Those Muslims really want to become Christians—to the MissionaryMobile!”)
Assume that everyone who is not Christian must be “saved.”
(I’m quite alright. And stop putting your hands on my shoulder.)
Bring their children, then proceed to fall asleep during the sermon.
(If you don’t want to be there, don’t drag your kids with you.)
Say that those of other Christian denominations aren’t practicing “true” Christianity.
(“They believe in Christ… but they speak in tongues! The heretical bastards!”)
The good Christian should beware of mathematicians. The danger already exists that mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and confine man in the bonds of Hell.”
― Augustine of Hippo
Unfortunately for the hubris of mathematicians, it seems that Augustine actually meant "astrologers." Barry Cipra provides the original Latin text:
Quapropter bono christiano, sive mathematici, sive quilibet impie divinantium, maxime dicentes vera, cavendi sunt, ne consortio daemoniorum irretiant.
He also provides a more modern translation and some context:
37. Hence, we must admit that when astrologers speak the truth, they are speaking by a mysterious instinct that moves a man's mind without his knowing it. When this happens for the purpose of deceiving men, it is the work of evil spirits. To these spirits some knowledge of the truth about the temporal order has been granted, partly by reason of their keen and subtle senses, since they possess bodies of a much more subtle nature than ours, partly because of their shrewdness due to the experience they have had over the long ages they have lived, partly because the good angels reveal to them what they themselves have learnt from Almighty God, at the command of Him who distributes man's merits by the right principles of His hidden justice. But sometimes these wicked spirits also feign the power of divination and foretell what they themselves intend to do. Hence, a devout Christian must avoid astrologers and all impious soothsayers, especially when they tell the truth, for fear of leading his soul into error by consorting with demons and entangling himself with the bonds of such association.
Cipra says this is from "a relatively recent (1982) English translation by J.H. Taylor, S.J., in the series Ancient Christian Writers (No. 41), published by the Newman Press."
Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote his great Summa Theologica, he could find only two objections to the existence of God, even though he tried to list at least three objections to every one of the thousands of theses he tried to prove in that great work. One of the two objections is the apparent ability of natural science to explain everything in our experience without God; and the other is the problem of evil.
The Argument from Evil
(1) If God exists then he is omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good.
(2) If God were omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good then the world would not contain evil.
(3) The world contains evil.
(4) It is not the case that God exists.
Some attempts to solve the problem of evil are general, applying equally to all of its forms. It is sometimes argued, for instance, that God is not morally good, and so that the first premise of the argument from evil is false. The third premise has also been questioned; there are some that deny that evil exists. If either of these solutions is successful, then all forms of the argument from evil fail.
Feudalism through the ballot box is similar to real feudalism in that as a system it relies on keeping the majority of the populace poor and illiterate. The good thing about poor and illiterate people is that they can be relied on not to protest even in the face of horrible injustice. Not because they like it that way but because they cannot afford to do anything else. More than 4,000 people were gassed to death by Union Carbide on December 3, 1984 and our political leaders have behaved as if it were just another industrial accident. Worse still, the victims have accepted this in virtual silence. Social activists led a few protest marches but these were sporadic since most victims were too poor to do more than get on with their lives. This would be unthinkable in a country that had real democracy and people who were literate enough to understand that their rights as citizens went beyond voting in elections.
In India, ninety per cent of voters exercise their democratic rights only at election time and then wait for their lives to improve without realising that for real change you need real policies not just a leader who comes from the right family. Today, the roots of democratic feudalism have spread so far and wide that most Indian political parties revolve around personalities and not ideas or ideology. Even apolitical observers cannot fail to notice that nearly every political party from Kashmir to Kanyakumari is the property of some family and always there is an heir waiting in the wings. Among the heirs in waiting the most powerful is Rahul Gandhi because his inheritance is not Punjab or Tamil Nadu but the whole of India.
The Million People March, dubbed by some as the first massive rally in the country organized mostly through social media, did not end there. Anti-pork gatherings after August 26 included a prayer vigil dubbed “EDSA Tayo” on September 11 at the EDSA Shrine, another protest in Luneta on September 13, a rally with a noise barrage on September 21, and another on October 4 at Ayala Avenue, Makati City.
All in all, there appears to be no stopping the tide of frustration among ordinary citizens, nor their determination to hold corrupt officials accountable. The Million People March could almost be the Philippines’ Arab Spring or Occupy Movement—a mass movement intended to bring in a change in governance and to take a stand against social and economic inequality.
Almost. But in the midst of our anger at a level of corruption that scars the soul, a question arises: Are we really ready for a political system that does not lead to pork-ridden scandals?
Working the system
“My answer, unfortunately, is no,” said Dr. Michael Tan, dean of the UP Diliman College of Social Sciences and Philosophy.
“The reason I’m pessimistic is that I believe—and this is one of the biggest problems we have—we are still held by the throat by a feudal system.”
UP College of Social Sciences and Philosophy Dean MIchael Tan
This feudal system, which Tan described as “distorted,” acts as the matrix or framework that informs, influences, manipulates and controls all aspects of our society—from our individual thoughts, beliefs and behavior; to our family structures and practices; our community and cultural traditions; our social, political and economic institutions; and ultimately, our national consciousness.
It is a mostly unconscious, largely unquestioned pattern of societal rules and roles, built up over hundreds of years of colonial experience and renewed generation after generation.
It is through this feudal system, culturally and psychically embedded in us, that we create the kind of government that is creating the chaos we are railing against today.
As unnoticed as the nature of this system is, its workings are easy enough to spot if one observes closely. In explaining his answer to the question of whether or not we are ready for a porkless political system, Tan recalled the first Inquirer Conversations forum, launched by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on September 25.1 During the forum, Inquirer columnist Cielito Habito shared how a friend had complained about the furor over the pork barrel scam, saying: “Why all the fuss? The money had been spent anyway, yet why are they making all this noise?”2
This willingness to write off the billions stolen from public funds as an unfortunate yet somehow excusable loss “really got an outcry from the readers, but I’m afraid he’s not atypical,” said Tan. He himself had heard radio listeners and commentators express the same views as Habito’s friend.
“The perception, unfortunately, is that the pork barrel helps the poor. What many people don’t know is it’s actually squeezed out of the poor. It’s squeezed out of us,” said Tan.
“A horrible part of feudalism is what psychologists call ‘learned helplessness,’ where you are told so often that you are convinced you cannot do something,” said Tan. “[The poor are always told that] they will never be able to do things on their own, that they have to rely on the good hearts [of our leaders and elite], and that is why they are so ever grateful to the people who oppress them.”
Forces within the feudal system keep the poor shackled to their sense of helplessness, producing in them a deeply ingrained belief that they are beholden to the elite.
The feudal system creates large numbers of poor who believe they must rely on the scraps of the rich. The rich are in turn obligated to provide said scraps for the poor—noblesse oblige is part of the rules of feudalism after all.
On the flipside, this system also creates an elite with a distorted sense of entitlement and an arrogance stemming from over-attachment to hierarchy and its perceived privileges. In the face of this unconscious sense of entitlement, personal responsibility and concern for the greater good often take a back seat.
To illustrate, Tan offers the continuing battle against littering in his college.
“When we say [to the students], collect your own trash and use the waste basket, the very common answer is: ‘What are janitors for?’ Yes, these are UP students. Look around: they leave their Styrofoam boxes here and there, they leave their trash in the classrooms.”
This sense of entitlement is not limited to those occupying the loftiest perches in society. Tan shared his own experience at a University Council Meeting: At the end of the meeting, he took up some of the food boxes that had been left behind to throw in the trash, only to be admonished by a faculty member who told him it wasn’t his job to clean up. Another common example: In the US, people eating at fast-food restaurants bus their own tables, while in the Philippines, fast-food patrons leave their used boxes, trays, wrappers and utensils on the table, because “what are waiters for?” Tan asked wryly.
“It’s very feudal. ‘Why must I pick up my own litter? People will pick up after me. It’s beneath me to do things like that.’
In a country whose population is 80 percent Catholic, it is second-nature to look to the Church for the ethics we desperately need. However, studies4 have shown that corruption levels are greater in Catholic countries5 than in Protestant countries.6 Even in the European Union, Catholic countries such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain have needed more bailouts than their Protestant counterparts.
University of California political scientist professor Daniel Treisman described the possible factors behind the Catholic Church’s tendency to foster corruption, in contrast to Protestantism. First of all, the Catholic Church is less tolerant of challenges to authority, individual dissent and threats to social hierarchies, which makes it less likely to discover and punish abuses. The Catholic Church also places more emphasis on the inherent weakness and sinfulness of human beings and the need for the Church to be forgiving and protecting, while Protestants focus on personal responsibility for avoiding sin. Another is the Catholic Church’s focus on the family rather than the individual, which can lead to “amoral familism” and nepotism. Lastly, it has been observed that in Protestant countries, separation of church and state is more pronounced.
THE ROMAN Catholic Church is the last feudal institution in the Western world, a mediaeval bastion of secrecy and privilege that cannot survive in the modern world, according to a visiting theologian.
As the church is shaken to its foundations by the clergy abuse scandals - with the lid to be lifted in Asia next - bishops are vainly trying to maintain their plummeting credibility through authoritarian control, Donald Cozzens of John Carroll University, Ohio, said in Melbourne yesterday.
The first step would be to let laypeople and priests elect their bishops, as happened in the earliest days, Father Cozzens said.
In a public lecture on Tuesday night titled ''God's holy people or God's holy empire? Towards a healthier, humbler church'', Father Cozzens said the feudal system dated back 1000 years when a diocese became a bishop's fiefdom.
But in a feudal system, the loyalty was always to the sovereign (Pope) or the lord of the manor, not to the people.
Yesterday, he told The Age the abuse scandal highlighted the failure of the feudal system, because calls for transparency and accountability made no sense.
Father Cozzens said he was not optimistic about the church's short-term future because the previous and present Popes promoted men who supported the feudal view of church, where bishops led and the people's role was to ''pray, pay and obey''.
Young seminarians were being taught the same view.
The alternative view saw the church as ''God's pilgrim people''.
The Catholic Church risked losing all its educated women because they felt so oppressed, he said.
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Disputes regarding biblical consistency have a long history.The church father Origen replied to the writer Celsus, a critic of Christianity, who had complained that some Christians had remodelled the Gospel to answer objections, admitting that some had done so.
Classic texts that discuss textual inconsistencies include The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus by Baruch Spinoza, the Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot, and the Dictionnaire philosophique of Voltaire.
Most allegations of inconsistency relate to contradictions in the narrative. Several Apologetic arguments have been developed by Christians, aiming to refute such allegations. Some of the alleged inconsistencies are minor, for example: the number of soldiers in an army (e.g. 1 Chron. 21:5 vs. 2 Sam. 24:9), the year a certain king began his reign (e.g. 2 Chron. 36:9 vs. 2 Kings 24:8), the details of Apostle Paul's itinerary (Acts 9,11,15,18:22,21 vs. Galatians 1:18,2:1). In some cases, seemingly trivial points of differences can actually have an enormous significance for the interpretation of a book or the reconstruction of the history of Ancient Israel, how the world was created, why God allows suffering, or the religious significance of Jesus' death.
The Cat Sìth (Scottish Gaelic: [kʰaht̪ ˈʃiː]) or Cat Sidhe (Irish: [kat̪ˠ ˈʃiː], Cat Sí in new orthography) is a fairy creature from Celtic mythology, said to resemble a large black cat with a white spot on its breast. Legend has it that the spectral cat haunts the Scottish Highlands. The legends surrounding this creature are more common in Scottish folklore, but a few occur in Irish. Some common folklore suggested that the Cat Sìth was not a fairy, but a witch that could transform into a cat nine times.
As proposed by British cryptozoologist, Karl Shuker, in his book Mystery Cats of the World (1989), it is possible that the legends of the Cat Sìth were inspired by Kellas cats, which are probably a distinctive hybrid between Scottish wildcats and domestic cats only found in Scotland (the Scottish wildcat is a subspecies of the European wildcat, which is absent from elsewhere in the British Isles). Typical Kellas cats resemble large black wildcats, but with some peculiar features closer to domestic cats, and have probably been present in Scotland for centuries, maybe even some two millennia or more. Others believe that the Cat Sìth was inspired by the Scottish wildcat itself.
Black cats pop up frighteningly frequently in all sorts of culturally based bits of folklore, and though much of their mythos is actually of the positive variety, Western tradition has so maligned the critters that black cats as bad luck have become something of a given in various circles (at least, that’s what it looks like once Halloween decorations start popping up, “scaredy cats” and all).
The Middle Ages
It seems that the association between bad luck and black cats dates all the way back to the middle of the fourteenth century. It’s not known exactly how and why cats became associated with the Devil in the Middle Ages, but the belief was so persistent that they were all but exterminated during the Black Death pandemic around 1348 CE. (Pause to cry.) Ironically, killing off the cats only worsened the plague, which was often spread via rodents, which all those dearly departed cats could have helped kill. Oopsie!
Scottish folklore includes a fairy known as the Cat Sith, a giant black cat (with a small white spot on his chest) who was believed to have the ability to steal a dead person’s soul before the gods could claim it. That belief led to the creation of night-and-day watches called the “Late Wake” to guard bodies just before burial. The Scottish also employed such tried and true methods as “using catnip” and “jumping around a lot” to scare off potential Cat Sith soul-stealers. (Some things never change, even when you’re dealing with possibly fairy-infused felines.)
The Age of Witchcraft
Blame black magic. As chatter about nefarious witchcraft began to spread around Europe in the sixteenth century, cats (particularly black ones) found themselves tangled up in the hunt, simply because many presumed witches had taken in alley cats as companions. Somehow, the concept of “companion” turned into “familiar,” and the belief that witches could turn themselves into their (typically black) cat companions became a persistent one, even carrying over to America, where it was an indelible part of the Salem Witch Trials.
It didn’t help matters that the Puritan pilgrims who helped populate Salem, Massachusetts were devout Bible believers, and the combination of a major fear of anything Devil-related (dating back to the Middle Ages) and the lingering belief that black cats were a classic part of witch lifestyles was a lethal one.
There’s also plenty of folklore and legend associated with the actual movements of black cats. In many of the European countries where the felines are still seen as bad luck, it’s an extra bad omen when a black cat actually crosses your path.
However, the Germans seem to have lightened up this piece of legend, believing that a cat that crosses from right to left is bad news, while one that moves left to right signals good things ahead. Good luck trying to get a cat to move the way you want them to; as any cat owner knows you’ll already need good fortune, skill, and a whole of patience to get any kind of cat (black or not) to follow direction as related to paw placement (maybe just let them walk the way they want to, and simply reposition yourself—again, it’s a cat world).
Superstitious gamblers also adhere to the cross-path bad news brigade—if a black cat crosses a gambler’s path while they are heading out to gamble, they are meant to turn back.
Even some pirates subscribed to movement-based beliefs, holding fast to the idea that if a black cat moves towards you, that’s bad luck, but a cat moving away from you means good news. Particularly piratey? If a black cat walked onto a ship and then walked off, the ship would sink on its next outing (keep your ship’s cats close, people).
While black pigmentation isn’t limited to specific breeds (in fact, the Cat Fanciers’ Association lists “solid black” as a color option for 22 breeds), the Bombay breed is likely the kind of cat you picture most often when you imagine a classic black cat. Most black cats also come with golden yellow eyes, thanks to the high melanin pigment content in their bodies. And though all-black cats can be either boys or girls, there’s a slightly higher prevalence of the coloration in male cats.
It's not all bad luck
In some legends, black cats are actually good luck, as is the case in Great Britain (though not Yorkshire!). The belief in the power of black cats is so strong that they’re still given as gifts to brides in the English Midlands in order to help bless new nuptials.
It does seem that the influence of the Egyptians and their love for cats held over in some European cultures. Sailors and their wives alike believed in the good luck power of the black cat, with some fishermen keeping such cats on board while their women kept black cats at home for a double dose of fortune.
The Japanese also honor black cats as symbols of good luck, and they are viewed as particularly important to single women, as having a black cat is believed to lure in many fine suitors. Up in Russia, all cats are viewed as lucky and have been for centuries.
Plenty of black cat imagery shows its whiskers during Halloweentime, but while you can (and should!) spread the good word of inky felines and their more positive associations during the autumn holiday, you can also honor the animals come summer, celebrating “Black Cat Appreciation Day” every August 17th.
Vox in Rama (Latin: A voice in Rama) is a papal bull supposedly issued by Pope Gregory IX in either 1232, 1233 or 1234 condemning a German heresy known as Luciferian, a form of devil worship. The bull was issued to King Henry, son of Emperor Frederick II, in June 1233 and subsequently to Archbishop Siegfried III of Mainz demanding the use all efforts to stop the practice.
Conrad the Inquisitor, detail of a 13th-century church window, Elisabeth Church, Marburg. It was Conrad's report on the cult that inspired Vox in Rama.
The 1100s were a time of great superstition and saw the start of the “demonisation of heretics” by the Church, attributing their lack of belief in the Catholic faith to the devil. Barber claims that it was during this time that there was a great zeal for the sending out of inquisitors by both the Pope and local bishops with the aim of seeking out potential heretics. In 1233, Conrad of Marburg began an inquisition in Mainz at the behest of either the Pope or the archbishop.
Through alleged torture and terror, Conrad reported he had uncovered a satanic cult who worshiped both the devil himself and a diabolical black cat. The inquisition of Conrad was controversial, shortly after Conrad arrived in Mainz a papal official called Bernard wrote to Gregory stating that Conrad had been forcing innocent people to confess by threatening them with burning at the stake if they refused to do so.
The issue of the bull was a response to Conrad's allegations, urging Siegfried III and King Henry, representing the ecclesiastical and temporal authorities respectively, to seek out and destroy the heretics.
Some historians have claimed that Vox in Rama is the first official church document that condemns the black cat as an incarnation of Satan. In the bull the cat is addressed as “master” and the incarnate devil is half-man half-feline in nature. Engels claims that Vox in Rama was “a death warrant for the [cat], which would be continued to be slaughtered without mercy until the early nineteenth century. It is said that very few all-black cats survive in western Europe as a result.
Cat burning was a form of zoosadistic entertainment in France prior to the 1800s. In this form of entertainment, people would gather dozens of cats in a net and hoist them high into the air from a special bundle onto a bonfire. In the medieval and early modern periods, cats, which were associated with vanity and witchcraft, were sometimes burned as symbols of the Devil.
According to Steven Pinker, the assembled people "shrieked with laughter as the animals, howling with pain, were singed, roasted, and finally carbonized."
"It was the custom to burn a basket, barrel, or sack full of live cats, which was hung from a tall mast in the midst of the bonfire; sometimes a fox was burned. The people collected the embers and ashes of the fire and took them home, believing that they brought good luck. The French kings often witnessed these spectacles and even lit the bonfire with their own hands. In 1648 Louis XIV, crowned with a wreath of roses and carrying a bunch of roses in his hand, kindled the fire, danced at it and partook of the banquet afterwards in the town hall. But this was the last occasion when a monarch presided at the midsummer bonfire in Paris. At Metz midsummer fires were lighted with great pomp on the esplanade, and a dozen cats, enclosed in wicker cages, were burned alive in them, to the amusement of the people. Similarly at Gap, in the department of the Hautes-Alpes, cats used to be roasted over the midsummer bonfire."
Cat-burning was also described in The Great Cat Massacre, a scholarly work by American historian Robert Darnton:
Cats also figured in the cycle of Saint John the Baptist, which took place on June 24, at the time of summer solstice. Crowds made bonfires, jumped over them, danced around them, and threw into them objects with magical power, hoping to avoid disaster and obtain good fortune during the rest of the year. A favorite object was cats - cats tied up in bags, cats suspended from ropes, or cats burned at stake. Parisians liked to incinerate cats by the sackful, while the Courimauds (or "cour à miaud" or cat chasers) of Saint Chamond preferred to chase a flaming cat through the streets. In parts of Burgundy and Lorraine they danced around a kind of burning May pole with a cat tied to it. In the Metz region they burned a dozen cats at a time in a basket on top of a bonfire. The ceremony took place with great pomp in Metz itself, until it was abolished in 1765. ... Although the practice varied from place to place, the ingredients were everywhere the same: a "feu de joie" (bonfire), cats, and an aura of hilarious witch-hunting. Wherever the scent of burning felines could be found, a smile was sure to follow.
Cat-burning was the subject of a 1758 text from the Benedictine Dom Jean François, Dissertation sur l’ancien usage des feux de la Saint-Jean, et d’y brûler les chats à Metz, recently published.
Jean Meslier, a French Catholic priest who privately held atheist views, briefly mentioned the practice of cat burning in his Testament as follows:
Among other things, these mischievous, brutal madmen make [the cats] cruelly suffer harsh and violent tortures in their entertainments and even in public celebrations; they tie up nipping cats to the end of some pole they set up and at the bottom of which they light the fires of joy where they burn them alive to have the pleasure of seeing the violent movements and hearing the frightening cries that these poor unfortunate beasts are forced to make because of the harshness and violence of the tortures.
Meslier largely attributed these customs to Cartesian philosophy, wherein non-human animals were viewed as possessing no soul, and thus, no sentience. He posited that this "tends to stifle in the heart of man all feelings of gentleness, kindness, and compassion that they may have for beasts...
Many of the engineers state that, "They don't work for the money", meaning they work for the challenge of inventing and creating. The motivational system is akin to the game of pinball, the analogy being that if you win this round, you get to play the game again; that is, build the next generation of computers.
A running theme in the book is the tension between engineering quality and time to market: the engineers, challenged to bring a minicomputer to market on a very short time-frame, are encouraged to cut corners on design. Tom West describes his motto as "Not everything worth doing is worth doing well," or "If you can do a quick-and-dirty job and it works, do it." The engineers, in turn, complain that the team's goal is to "put a bag on the side of the Eclipse" — in other words, to turn out an inferior product in order to have it completed more quickly.
Tom West practices the '"Mushroom Theory of Management" — "keeping them in the dark, feeding them shit, and watch them grow." That is, isolating the design team from outside influences and, instead, using the fear of the unknown to motivate the team.
The "Soul" of the new machine comes from the dedicated engineers who bring it to life with their endless hours of attention and toil. The soul is theirs, stored in silicon and microcode.
Marc Bekoff, emeritus professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is one of the pioneering cognitive ethologists in the United States, a Guggenheim Fellow, and co-founder with Jane Goodall of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. This essay is adapted from one that appeared in Bekoff's column Animal Emotions in Psychology Today. He contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
In June, during a series of lectures I presented in Germany, a number of people asked questions of the sort, "Isn't it about time we accept that animals are sentient and that we know what they want and need? Shouldn't we stop bickering about whether they are conscious, feel pain and experience emotions?"
Of course, this isn't the first time I've heard those questions, and my answer is always a resounding, Yes. Scientists do have ample, detailed, empirical facts to declare that nonhuman animals are sentient beings, and with each study, there are fewer and fewer skeptics.
Many people, like those at the lectures in Germany, are incredibly frustrated that skeptics still deny what researchers know. Advocates for animal welfare want to know what society is going to do with the knowledge we have to help other animals live in a human-dominated world.
As I was flying home, I thought of a previous essay I wrote called "Scientists Finally Conclude Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious Beings" in which I discussed the the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness that was publicly proclaimed on July 7, 2012, at that university. The scientists behind the declaration wrote, "Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates."
They could also have included fish, for whom the evidence supporting sentience and consciousness is also compelling (see also). And, I'm sure as time goes on, researchers will add many other animals to the consciousness club.
A universal declaration on animal sentience
Based on the overwhelming and universal acceptance of the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness I offer here what I call a Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience. For the purpose of this essay I am defining "sentience" as "the ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to experience subjectivity" (for wide-ranging discussion please click here.)
I don't offer any specific, geographic location for this declaration because, with very few exceptions, people worldwide — including researchers and non-researchers alike — accept that other animals are sentient beings.
One notable exception is Oxford University's Marian Dawkins who continues to claim we still don't know if other animals are conscious — using the same data as those who wrote the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. I call this Dawkins's Dangerous Idea.
But, the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare is instead based on what I believe is the indisputable fact that animals are sentient and that they can suffer and feel pain, as recognized by the Treaty of Lisbon and the rapidly growing field of compassionate conservation. Evidence of animal sentience is everywhere — the remaining questions are a matter of why sentience evolved, not if it evolved.
Research supporting animal sentience
The database of research on animal sentience is strong and rapidly growing. Scientists know that individuals from a wide variety of species experience emotions ranging from joy and happiness to deep sadness, grief, and post-traumatic stress disorder, along with empathy, jealousy and resentment. There is no reason to embellish those experiences, because science is showing how fascinating they are (for example, mice, rats, and chickens display empathy) and countless other "surprises" are rapidly emerging.
A large amount of data are available on an interactive website called the "Sentience Mosaic" launched by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA; for more details please see also), which is dedicated to animal sentience.
An essay written by Helen Proctor and her colleagues at WSPA provides a systematic review of the scientific literature on sentience. The effort used a list of 174 keywords and the team reviewed more than 2,500 articles on animal sentience. They concluded: "Evidence of animal sentience is everywhere."
Of particular interest is that Proctor and her colleagues also discovered "a greater tendency for studies to assume the existence of negative states and emotions in animals, such as pain and suffering, than positive ones like joy and pleasure." This is consistent with the historical trend of people who readily denied emotions such as joy, pleasure and happiness to animals accepting that animals could be mad or angry (see also Helen Proctor's "Animal Sentience: Where Are We and Where Are We Heading?"). There is also an upward trend in the number of articles published on animal sentience (identified using sentience-related keywords) from 1990 to 2011.
Solid evolutionary theory — namely, Charles Darwin's ideas about evolutionary continuity in which he recognized that the differences among species in anatomical, physiological and psychological traits are differences in degree rather than kind — also supports the wide-ranging acceptance of animal sentience. There are shades of gray, not black and white differences, so if people have a trait, "they" (other animals) have it too. This is called evolutionary continuity and shows that it is bad biology to rob animals of the traits they clearly possess. One telling example: humans share with other mammals and vertebrates the same areas of the brain that are important for consciousness and processing emotions.
Humans are not uniquely sentient
People surely are not exceptional or alone in the arena of sentience. We need to abandon the anthropocentric view that only big-brained animals such as ourselves, nonhuman great apes, elephants and cetaceans (dolphins and whales) have sufficient mental capacities for complex forms of sentience and consciousness.
So, the interesting and challenging question is why has sentience evolved in diverse species, not if it has evolved. It's time to stop pretending that people don't know if other animals are sentient: We do indeed know what other animals want and need, and we must accept that fact.
Nonhuman-animal minds aren't as private as some people claim them to be. Surely, we might miss out on some of the nitty-gritty details, but it is safe to say that other animals want to live in peace and safety and absent from fear, pain and suffering, just as we do.
(Nonhuman animals even worry — despite the erroneous claim that they don't, ample evidence shows they do worry about their well-being ("Do Animals Worry and Lose Sleep When They're Troubled?") and that excessive worrying and a lack of rest and sleep can be costly.)
While some people still claim that we do not know that other animals are sentient beings, countless animals continue to suffer in the most egregious ways as they are used and abused for research, education, food, clothing and entertainment. And indeed, animal sentience is assumed in many comparative studies and recent legislation — such as policies protecting chimpanzees from invasive research, based on what is known about these amazing sentient beings. [America's Fleeting Chance to Correct Chimps' Endangered Status]
Society really doesn't need any additional invasive research to move on and strongly declare that other animals are sentient, though studies continue. For example, Farm Sanctuary has put out a call for proposals for observational research on the cognitive and emotional lives of farm animals. Some researchers are indeed looking into using brain imaging to access the minds of other animals (see for example Emory University's Gregory Berns's work with dogs; Dr. Berns told me that he now has 11 dogs who are "MRI-certified").
Moving forward as a society
The time is now to shelve outdated and unsupported ideas about animal sentience and to factor sentience into all of the innumerable ways in which we encounter other animals. When the Cambridge Declaration was made public, there was a lot of pomp, champagne and media coverage. There is no need to have this fanfare for a Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience. It can be a deep, personal, and inspirational journey that comes from each of our hearts — and such a realization has a strong, and rapidly growing, evidence-based foundation.
The animals will be grateful and warmly thank us for paying attention to the science of animal sentience. When we listen to our hearts, we are recognizing how much we know about what other animals are feeling and that we owe it to them to protect them however we can. Please, let's do it now. It is easy to do and we can do no less.
Price controls, that is, the fixing of prices below the market level, have been tried since ancient Rome; in the French Revolution, in its notorious "Law of the Maximum" that was responsible for most of the victims of the guillotine; in the Soviet Union, ruthlessly trying to suppress black markets. In every age, in every culture, price controls have never worked. They have always been a disaster.
Why did Chiang-kai-Shek "lose" China? The main reason is never mentioned. Because he engaged in runaway inflation, and then tried to suppress the results through price controls. To enforce them, he wound up shooting merchants in the public squares of Shanghai to make an example of them. He thereby lost his last shreds of support to the insurgent Communist forces. A similar fate awaited the South Vietnamese regime, which began shooting merchants in the public squares of Saigon to enforce its price decrees.
Price controls didn't work in World War I, when they began as "selective"; they didn't work in World War II, when they were comprehensive and the Office of Price Administration tried to enforce them with hundreds of thousands of enforcers. They didn't work when President Nixon imposed a wage-price freeze and variants of such a freeze from the summer of 1971 until the spring of 1973 or when President Carter tried to enforce a more selective version.
The first thing I ever wrote was an unpublished memo for the New York Republican Club denouncing President Truman's price controls on meat. I was a young graduate student in economics at Columbia University, fresh from my M.A., and I wrote the piece for the Republican campaign of 1946. Price controls, I, and countless economists before and since, pointed out, never work; they don't check inflation, they only create shortages, rationing, declines in quality, black markets, and terrible economic distortions. Furthermore, they get worse as time goes on, as the economy adjusts out from under these pernicious controls.
In 1946, all federal price controls had been lifted except on meat, and as a result, meat was in increasingly short supply. It got so bad that no meat could be found, and diabetics could not even find insulin, a meat-derived product. Radio disk jockeys implored their listeners to write to their Congressmen urging them to keep price controls on meat, for if not the price would triple, quadruple, who knows, rise to infinity. (Ignored was the question: what's so great for the consumers about cheap meat that no one can find?)
Finally, in summer, President Truman went on the air in a nationwide radio address. Summing up the dire meat crisis, he said, in effect, that he had seriously considered nationalizing the Chicago meatpackers in order to commandeer hoarded meat. But then he realized that the meat-packers had no meat either. Then, in a remarkable revelation that few commented on, he disclosed that he had given serious consideration to mobilizing the National Guard and the Army, and sending troops into Midwestern farms to seize all their chickens and livestock. But then, he reluctantly added, he had decided that such a course was "impractical."
Impractical? A nice euphemism. Sending troops into the farms, Truman would have had a revolution on his hands. Every farmer would have been out there with a gun, defending his precious land and property from a despotic invader. Besides, it was a Congressional election year, and the Democrats were already in deep trouble in the farm states. As it was, the Old Right Republicans swept both houses of Congress that year in a landslide, and on the slogan: "controls, corruption, and Communism." It was the last principled stand of right-wing Republicanism, and, not coincidentally, its last political victory.
Truman reluctantly concluded that there seemed to be only one course left to him: to abolish the price controls on meat, which he proceeded to do. In a couple of days there was plenty of meat for consumers and the diabetic alike. The meat crisis was over. Prices? They did not, of course, go up to infinity. They rose by something like 20% from the unrealistic control level.
The most remarkable part of this affair went unremarked: that President Truman, apparently without knowing it, had conceded the crucial point: that the "shortage" was, pure and simple, an artificial creation of his own price controls. How else interpret the fact that even he admitted that the last, unfortunate resort to end the crisis was to abolish the controls? And yet, no one drew this lesson and so no one initiated impeachment proceedings.
Twenty-five years later, President Nixon imposed a price-wage freeze because inflation had reached what was then an "unacceptable" level of 4.5 % a year. I went ballistic, denouncing the controls everywhere I could. That winter, I debated Presidential economic adviser Herbert Stein before the Metropolitan Republican Club of Washington, D.C. After I denounced price controls, Stein remarked that, in essence, the price controls were my fault, not his and President Nixon's.
Stein knew as well as I did that price controls were disastrous and counterproductive, but I and others like me had not done a good enough job of educating the American public, and so the Nixon Administration had been "forced" by public pressure to impose the controls anyway. Needless to say, I was not convinced about my guilt. Years later, in his memoirs, Stein wrote of the heady rush of power he felt at Camp David when planning to impose price controls on everyone. Poor Stein: another "victim" amidst the victimology of American culture!
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