Has Justice Been Served?

For those of you that have been following the story, Amber Guyger was just found guilty of murder in her trial.  You can read about the incident here.  I’ve been trying to find out some hidden facts about this case, but unable to find anything that convinces me that the jury came to the wrong conclusion.  I guess witnesses get to speak today before the actual sentencing, but Ms. Guyger faces up to life in prison for the killing of Botham Jean.

If you didn’t read the article, the basics of the incident is that Ms. Guyger, for whatever reason went into what she thought was her apartment, but it belonged to Mr. Jean.  She thought there was an intruder, and feared for her life and ended up shooting Mr. Jean dead.  The prosecution rightly proved that Ms. Guyger had other choices available to her that she could have taken, including backing out and taking cover while she called for back up.  The prosecution also showed that she didn’t do enough in medical aid after the incident in trying to save the victim’s life.  She clearly wasn’t thinking very clearly when she walked into the wrong apartment or in the immediate aftermath of the incident.  All this I grant and she made a horrible mistake that cost an innocent person their life.

But is it murder?  There was no motive, and it’s clear that Ms. Guyger is feeling great remorse for what happened.  To the point where she wishes she had been the one killed and not the other way around.  I guess I’m just wondering how putting her away for life in prison is going to make any of this tragedy better?  From the evidence presented from the 911 call, she clearly believed that she was in her apartment, and while she didn’t act like a well-trained cop in the moment, as we’ve seen there are very few cops who might have been cool in that situation.  Ms. Guyger clearly feels a great deal of remorse and pain for the what she has done, is she a danger to society?  I don’t think so. Is she a racist?  Well there was evidence that she definitely saw black people differently.  If she didn’t have this implicit bias would things have gone differently?  Perhaps.  I don’t think she is the poster child for an exemplary police officer, but I also don’t see her as being so racist that she was simply looking for an opportunity to gun down a black person.  I don’t see how this terrible incident is made less terrible by putting her in jail for murder.  It seems clear that many people are only excited by the verdict because a cop is finally being sentenced to murder for killing an unarmed black person.  There have been many of those cases where I’ve been outraged at the police being acquitted by a grand jury.  I don’t think this is case to make up for all those other cases that should have been ruled differently?  I don’t think the law should work like that.  I feel like we aren’t setting a precedent for cops being charged with crimes for killing unarmed people, I feel like we are saying that the verdict for one person’s crime should make up for past injustices.

Ms. Guyger made some bad decisions, but I don’t feel she’s a murderer.  I hope that testimony today will convince the judge that she doesn’t deserve life in prison.  In the end and innocent man was killed, and that is the greater tragedy, I’m just not convinced that the verdict render changes anything other than adding more tragedy.  Maybe Ms. Guyger could do more good to make up for what she’s done instead of just sitting in a cell.

I am also willing to be talked out of this position with some good arguments.  Perhaps my thinking is narrow here.  I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

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Huma Abedin = Radical Islam = Radical Christianity

Today I decided to address a trending topic on Facebook to show the world that I’m paying attention to what’s important. 🙂

A NY Post article that exposes Hillary Clinton as someone who is going to bring the

Huma Abedin

dangers of Islam into the white house.  Now how does the article do this?  By pointing out that her possible future chief of staff and campaign aide Human Abedin has ties to radical Islam because she was an assistant editor for the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, and because her mother is still editor-in-chief of that publication. The NY Post claims is a radical Islamic publication, because of the content of what it publishes and because the journal was founded by the Muslim World League and then refers to a radical article posted in the journal from 1996 (yes 1996) by one of the top members in that organization.

This radical article says all sorts of nasty Muslim things that I guess imply that should Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin be in the Whitehouse, radical Islamic values will be forced onto the American People.

The article represents all sorts of fun stuff for conspiracy theorists and people who love to play the game 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon.  Forget the fact that the journal is an academic one, and they misunderstand what an editor actually does.  Also let’s ignore the fact that an important part of every academic field is discord, debate, and even in opinion.  Editors don’t usually censor opinion provided that it is clear that it is opinion, and would rather leave it up for debate in the community. The NY Post also says that this radical article destroys Hillary Clinton’s progressive feminist views because this article is very anti-feminist.  So even if this unconstitutional forcing of Sharia Law on everybody were to come to pass in the post apocalyptic vision that is being painted of  a Clinton presidency, it all rests on the idea that this Journal actually produces material that represents radical Islam, which the NY Post doesn’t really go to prove other than quoting passages from this 1996 article.  So therefore I decided to look at this article which I was able to find through my University Library.  I couldn’t find it free on-line, but I will quote passages here and reference it at the end of this article. So let’s look at what the NY Post says about this article:

Headlined “Women’s Rights Are Islamic Rights,” a 1996 article argues that single moms, working moms and gay couples with children should not be recognized as families. It also states that more revealing dress ushered in by women’s liberation “directly translates into unwanted results of sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility and indirectly promote violence against women.” In other words, sexually liberated women are just asking to be raped.

“A conjugal family established through a marriage contract between a man and a woman, and extended through procreation is the only definition of family a Muslim can accept,” the author, a Saudi official with the Muslim World League, asserted, while warning of “the dangers of alternative lifestyles.” (Abedin’s journal was founded and funded by the former head of the Muslim World League.)

“Pushing [mothers] out into the open labor market is a clear demonstration of a lack of respect of womanhood and motherhood,” it added.

The NY Post goes on to quote plenty of opinions by Huma Abedin’s mother such as:

““Among all systems of belief, Islam goes the farthest in restoring equality across gender,” she claimed. “Acknowledging the very central role women play in procreation, child-raising and homemaking, Islam places the economic responsibility of supporting the family primarily on the male members.”

Now I was not able to find her mother’s 31 page treatise report in the NY Post because they did not name that article, but given the selective quoting they did for the first article they talk about, I have no doubt there is a much large message that was being discussed than what they are trying to portray.

Let’s also remember the context.  American progressive values are not going to transform Islam instantly.  If Islam is going to become more moderate and enlightened such things happen in stages.  So despite some disturbing things that are quoted out of context some of views are going to remain conservative and not very progressive at all.  Also as to why the daughter, who clearly has a career and has entered the labor market, would have the same views as her mother is not clear either.  Ronald Reagan has a son who is an outspoken atheist.

To quote some of the article entitled “Women’s Rights are Islamic Rights” here are some other quotes which are quote progressive:

“We need not only to provide more opportunities for women but we need to increase the involvement and responsibilities of men in family life. We should recall here that the Cairo Conference resoundingly endorsed the principle that the full participation and partnership of both men and women, including shared responsibilities for the care and nurturing of children and maintenance of household is essential. The burden of poverty on woman can be lightened not just by placing greater economic responsibilities on them that will ensue from their increased participation in the economic sector. Evidence indicates that this burden is intensified when men do not discharge their obligations towards their families.”

This is actually quite progressive as it is a call to men to be more active in family life and sharing responsibilities in the home.  This point also appears before the quote about pushing women out into the labor market.  Without men taking more of a responsibility in domestic duties this does put additional stress and strain on women.  Hell we have that problem here.  Our society proves that point.  There are many articles by feminist who talk about this very thing.  The article also says:

“…we feel that the declared objectives of equality, development and peace can be achieved only by recognizing the inherent and inalienable dignity of women, by respecting the fundamental values and universal norms prevalent within each society and by accepting the importance of women’s presence and participation in all aspects of social life.”

And:

The Islamic package of women’s rights is, therefore, tailored to women’s specific needs, under which women enjoy all the basic rights that men are entitled to as members of the human race, plus additional privileges as mothers, wives, sisters and women. Islamic women’s rights recognize women’s specific needs and honor their special role in the family and society with a view to maintaining harmony and peace in society.

Radical indeed.

But look I’m not saying that there aren’t some issues with the Islamic view of women’s rights and I would like to see Islam be even more radical when it comes to women’s rights and become radically progressive, but that isn’t going to happen overnight.  However what caught my eyes is how what is considered radically dangerous Islamic views by the author are so amazingly similar to the extreme views of the conservative Christian right.

  • No family structure is valid but that of one man and one woman (in the U.S. this is referred to as traditional marriage)
  • alternative lifestyles are harmful to children and therefore society
  • A woman’s place is in the home to raise children.  Much like he article they quote nothing forbids a woman working outside the home as long as she is doing her wifely and family duties first.
  • Accusing the female victim for being to blame for the abuse.  For example here, and here.
  • Laying blame on women for their provocative clothing and the sexual violence enacted upon them.

Now I’m not saying that all these views represent mainstream Christianity today, but they were certainly more prevalent in 1996 and the fact that a conservative paper like the NY Post would criticize Hillary Clinton’s aide for views that are espoused by radical elements in the U.S. which you never see right leaning publications criticizing seemed very hypocritical.  But that’s par for the course for fundamental Christian conservatives in the U.S.

two-women1

The article fails to prove that Huma Abedin has any radical Islamic views, or even held them at one time.  It fails to recognize that the article in question was an exerpt by an address to the U.N. not some biased academic research and was the opinion of the speaker.  It’s pure fear mongering.  Let’s worry about the radically conservative views against women by our current group of citizens before we worry about such an influence from a different religion. A fundamentalist Christian recently told me that if I didn’t like America I could go to the middle east with my liberal ways.  I think that person might be confused on who should move.

  • Women’s rights are Islamic rights. By: Ali, Ahmad Mohammad, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 13602004, Jul96, Vol. 16, Issue 2

Evidently it’s Evidence Part I

It is a common message from atheists that ultimately faith and science are incompatible.  Science forms conclusions based on evidence, and faith forms conclusions despite evidence.  In various debates I’ve had with people of ‘faith’ it occurs to me that there might be a slight problem with this statement.  While it’s true that people who hold strong religious beliefs often do not bother trying to explain evidence that is contradictory to their views.  Sometimes they will simply rationalize contradictory evidence away as not being accurate, or say some blanket statement “well science doesn’t know everything” or “science isn’t always right”.  These always seem like strange arguments of course.  Science doesn’t claim to know everything, and while it is true that science isn’t always right, but in proving a current hypothesis or theory wrong the bonus is that you end up with something that is more correct than what you had before.  And of course it’s true to say that faith isn’t always right either.  If faith was unfailing in the results it provides, I would certainly be willing to submit that perhaps scientific investigation wasn’t always the way to go.

But I would like to look just beyond religion and talk more about belief in general.  People who hold strong beliefs whether it is about religion, their country, or even their sports team (okay being a little glib there about sports) all share something in common.  Not only do they ignore evidence to the contrary, they also seem to have a different idea than most scientists about what evidence actually is.

As a scientist it feels fairly obvious to me what I should count as evidence and what I should not.  In the so called “hard” sciences this is fairly easy to grasp.  As an atmospheric scientist I have often dealt with vast quantities of data, measured from some unfeeling

From images.bwbx.io

instrument.  It’s unlikely to have any personal bias.  Of course instruments are not perfect and they have errors.  As a scientist I always need to be aware of the errors in the evidence.  Then once I have those hopefully close to perfect measurements I must then analyze the data.  My interpretation is thus subjective, perhaps to my own biases.  I of course try to minimize my biases by being well aware of the body of knowledge that surrounds the particular problem I am trying to solve.  I try to be aware of conflicting perspectives and points of view from previous scientist to help me keep as open a mind as possible about what my results might mean.  But in the end, even in a field that is steeped in physical equations, I might present results that are biased.  Most likely I have just made a mistake, but bias is also a mistake. 🙂

So any one study can be biased, but ultimately my mistakes will be revealed by others who are using my conclusions as truth to their study.  If I am wrong, their study will fail, and someone will say, perhaps my conclusions were incorrect thus their experiment started with a faulty premise.  An important part of science is verification and repeatability.  When there is a lot of disagreement amongst researchers, this probably means we don’t understand the problem yet very well.

In the social sciences, disagreements are more frequent, because here data and valid evidence are harder to obtain because so much depends on effective sampling and dealing with imperfect forms of subject material (namely us!).  For instance let’s say I wanted to see how humans felt about death, and I only sampled people in the U.S. who were of a Christian faith.  Meanwhile somewhere in India somebody wanted to perform the same study, but only sampled Hindus.  Any conclusion either of us made about how humans feel about death is incorrect.  Because really all we’ve addressed is how Hindus feel about death, or how Christians feel about death.  At best maybe we could draw some conclusions about how Americans or Indians felt about death.  Someone looking at our studies would say, well there are a few similarities in the our study so perhaps together you are one step closer to answering your original question, but for the most part you have only illuminated cultural difference between Indians and Americans on how they view death.  And if we were responsible scientists we would at least admit at the end of our study that our sampling was biased and thus we can only make limited claims about what humans think about death.

So ultimately any good scientist, regardless of the field, is aware of the errors and uncertainty of their data, and the scope to which their evidence is able to support their

From cdn2.edutopia.org

hypothesis.  And it is through the body of evidence in a particular field that we can turn hypotheses into theories and be confident in our conclusions.  We have a peer-review process to evaluate our application of the scientific method, and we have the process of verification and repeatability to strengthen the findings of any one scientist.

What one should gather from this is that science is actually really hard.  It takes a long time to learn how to interpret results accurately, be familiar with the types of errors that can be made, and to understand to what degree of certainty you can attribute to your research.  Nevertheless no other system has found to work better.

In my next post, I will get back to my original idea, which is what many seem to view as evidence and how much certainty they associate with that evidence.

Game, Set, and Match

“Nothing in the world is harder than convincing someone of an unfamiliar truth”  – said by Kvothe in A Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Every person on the planet can agree on one thing.  The world could be a better place.  For those of us who strive towards equality, wish to reduce human suffering, and care about the planet as a whole the world looks fairly messed up.  Some people  ignore the problems.  That’s a bit selfish perhaps, but the weight can be a lot to bear and we all have our limits, so who am I to judge?  Some people are definitely selfish because instead of trying to fight it they simply become part of the problem.  Trying to get a share of what they think is theirs.  If the world is going to be unfair then why not do whatever it takes to be a winner and not a loser?  In recognizing that we are a cooperative species, to me the fight to making the world more fair is always worth it even if the goal is never achieved and feels like a continual uphill battle that sometimes gets steeper and not gentler.  As a whole, we are simply better when we are working together to solve problems.  Problems do arise, even ones not of our own making.  Even ones that do arise because of our own making we can’t always blame ourselves, because hey nobody’s perfect and hindsight is 20/20 (at least we hope).

In this age of information and social media the amount of people that can be in contact with each other has expanded exponentially.  As a result we see the vast array of opinions out there.  Some people are clearly uneducated about the subject but seem very excited that they can say something and somebody will see it.  Some people make comments simply to anger people and cause an outrage or what is known as being a troll and this has been a topic of much discussion lately.  How we deal with people who make inflammatory comments or are very hostile towards the author of an article or another person commenting on a thread.  Interestingly inflammatory comments that support the view of a particular piece is not seen as negative, only the person who disagrees.  I would argue that if you read an article that say expresses a Democratic point of view and in the comments you say something like “Just another example that Republicans are pieces of shit” then you are just as bad as anybody you consider a troll in the ensuing comments.

Spurned by a few incidents in the recent past and also by this excellently written article about making better arguments in politics I wanted to express my thoughts about how we might be able to engage people we disagree with in a more meaningful way.  The quote that starts this article is something that just struck me as the wisest words ever written when I read them and speaks to why if you like to debate and engage people with different points of view, why you are rarely successful.

Picture from Amazon.com

The article that I linked in the previous paragraph talks about biases we have.  For a very comprehensive look at our biases and beliefs I also strongly recommend reading the The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer.  It’s a brilliantly constructed book and very educational.  His argument is that we believe first and rationalize later.  I think your immediate intuition sees the truth in that.  Right now you might think well that’s what the other guy does, but if you are really honest with yourself you’d realize you do it too.  It takes a lot of discipline to let your reasoning side take over, and suppress that “gut feeling” to believe what you think is right.  As a result of this tendency to believe first and then rationalize those beliefs, when absorbing a new piece of information we tend to see it in a light that supports our beliefs rather than negate them.

Another bias we have that is the main part of the article is the self-serving bias.  The idea that in order to protect our self-esteem or sense of self-worth we must reject ideas that make us feel like we are wrong about something.  As the article says is we are wrong about one thing, then what else might we be wrong about, and then how do we deal with the idea of not being as smart as we think we are?  This is why I think one of the most important human virtues we can have is humility as I wrote about in a previous blog post.  Being wrong about something is a tough thing to deal with.  What is strange to me is that I think we can all agree that we’ve experienced being wrong before.  If you reflect on your life you’ll realize you actually got through it and you are actually okay.  Nevertheless we still tend to not deal to well with it in the moment.  Just like dealing with addiction, admitting you have a problem is the first step. 🙂  In this case, don’t worry because everybody has these biases and so everybody has this problem.  So I would like to provide what I think is a helpful guide to getting people to see things from your point of view.  And if right now you are asking, “Why should I listen to this guy?”  Well because quit frankly I’m right dammit! 😉

Be the person you would like others to be

Painting by Miles Halpern

Don’t you hate it when someone is not sympathetic to you and the oppression or struggles you face?  It makes you angry, it makes you not really like that person, and it makes you frustrated.  So what should your response be?  Most people seem to respond by being equally dismissive to others and their problems.  What if, however, you tried to remain that sympathetic and compassionate person you hoped the other person would be?  What if you said “I’m sorry you can’t understand how the incident made me feel, and even though I don’t know why you can’t be sympathetic to my struggles I sincerely hope that you never have to feel the way that I do right now.”  If someone cannot demonstrate compassion for your genuine reason for being angry about something or being hurt about something, being afraid of something, or whatever is causing a negative emotion that is all the more reason to give sympathy towards them in return.  Give them an example of what sympathy and empathy is all about.  Maybe nobody has ever showed them any and so they literally don’t know it’s value or what it’s about.  Maybe they had an ultra-chauvinistic father who never allowed them to show their feelings and were always told “Buck up and be a man you pussy!”  Imagine growing up with that all your life.  How much compassion would you have as an adult?  Gandhi said “Be the change you’d like to see in the world” and so if you feel your worldview is superior in making this world a better place, make sure that you are genuinely being the type of person you would like to see in others.

Also haven’t you ever had someone in your life who you really respected because they seemed like a good person.  You admired them.  You wanted to be like them.  You are more likely to cause a change in someone’s behavior by being a positive role model rather than someone who berates them for their ideas.  Why would anyone want to be like someone who just belittles people for their beliefs even when those beliefs are misguided.  Because to the person with those beliefs…well they believe it and thus think they are not misguided.

Make sure you have a good sense of self-worth

What’s this you say?  I thought this was the problem.  The article I linked actually talks about using daily affirmations to enhance your self-worth as being important in being able to face things that you might be wrong about so that there is no net loss in self-worth.  I think the author glosses over this to almost make it seem like a trick you are using rather than genuinely building your self-worth.  If you have low self-esteem it can be hard to debate or argue with someone in a constructive manner.  Obviously if you barely value yourself, the few things that you do value about yourself, you will be even more afraid of losing.  Building a true sense of self-worth takes time and experience.  It takes an admission of your faults and the continual persistence to improve.  It takes trying not make the same mistake twice, even if it sometimes happen.  Practice humility, forgiveness, and spend time just observing and reflecting on those experiences before forming an opinion.  Then learn about how other people experience the world and try to pick out the commonalities in your experience rather than focusing on the differences.  Your self-worth will grow actually when you recognize that the world doesn’t revolve around you.  Self-worth and self-centered are completely different but often get tangled.

Make sure you respect the self-worth of others

From hellobeautiful.com

I’m not asking you to admit you’re wrong or say somebody else is right, but when you are humble and are willing to at least to consider the possibility that you might be at least partially wrong about your point of view, you will find that you move to a place of being inquisitive about where someone else’s point of view comes from.  This will lead you to ask more questions to see where that person is coming from.  It will help you get to know the person and that person now knows that you are interested in who they are, and are simply not just interested in making them feel like they are wrong.  After all who wants to listen and take seriously someone who is only interested in pointing out how right they are, and how wrong you are?  It doesn’t matter if you are actually right and that the other person is actually wrong.  People have a lot of wrong ideas not because they choose to be wrong but because they have been conditioned in their environment to see the world differently.

Recently there has been a lot of arguments in social media about racism and reverse racism.  What if someone is trying to advance the position that reverse-racism of blacks against whites is just as big of a problem as racism against black people?  You can respond angrily, dismissively, you can throw out all sorts of data and you’ll probably notice this makes no difference whatsoever.  What if instead you said “Hmmm…you know that hasn’t been my experience.  Can you tell me what makes you think that way?  Have you experienced racism as a white person?  If you have I am really sorry about that because I have personally experienced racism as well.  Maybe we could share our experiences.  Because I know how much it hurts when someone assumes something about you based on the color of your skin.”  In reality of that interaction with someone it doesn’t matter that as a whole blacks are not treated as equals and that white people do enjoy a position of privilege in society, because that person has simply been shaped by their experiences and their interpretation of those experience.  Sometimes being able to see the big picture is also a position of privilege.  It probably means you have had greater opportunities for education and slightly better income so that you have leisure time to explore a topic in more detail.  Perhaps parents who were interested in different points of view, valued diversity, etc.  Not everyone is lucky enough to have that.  Showing respect for a person and their experiences that led them to what they think is true today, is a better way to be heard by that person.  You might just tear down a few walls and find that you might not be that different at all.

Be willing to walk away

This seems pretty obvious.  A common piece of advice told by parents who want their child to not get into a physical fight.  It is true for fighting with words as well.  If you are hitting a wall with someone and trying harder each time, you will probably find that the wall is only getting thicker and harder.  You probably don’t even notice the tone of your dialogue change, but in my observation not just in other arguments I have watched, but when I’ve had a chance to look back at my own words I realized that the angrier I get, my logic gets worse and my tone becomes more inflammatory.  Being a more experienced teacher I now have more experience in just watching people who have trouble learning.  Being a good teacher is to find alternative ways in which someone can learn what you are saying and all those ways require patience and understanding.  So I think I am better at it that I was, but one can always improve.

More importantly of course getting angry, frustrated, and stressed because someone simply doesn’t “get it” is no way to live life.  It could be your inability to argue effectively, it could be your tone, and of course it could be completely and absolutely all their fault.  So what?  Maybe it is possible that they will simply never, ever agree with you so why waste your time and energy?  If you really feel convinced that you could make your argument better, then don’t keep arguing maniacally, but step away and reflect.  Pay less attention to the content of what you have said, but how you have said it.  Look less at the content of what they have said but try to pay attention to the experiences that may have led them to that line of thinking and try starting again.  The point is, if you feel yourself starting to get angry or frustrated, you should probably just stop.  Because I guarantee that you will not only not win, but you will have to deal with an emotion that can quite honestly ruin your day.

True change takes time

Photo by Alan Cleaver via flickr

Plenty of times in my life I have thought I have made no impact and sometimes weeks, months, or years later I see someone who has changed their position on something that they seemed so sure of in the past.  Most teachers will have stories of students who they couldn’t  motivate, were often at odds with, and felt sadness that they weren’t able to “reach” that student.  Only to get an e-mail a year later with an apology, or a revelation from that student, saying that they realize now how their behavior was wrong and that they appreciate you for trying to motivate them and believing in them.  Many times in the moment I have felt frustrated at being told I’m wrong about something.  I might even argue my case further even if I am out of additional legs to stand on.  Then I sit and think.  I read some more.  Realize that maybe something I read, or something somebody told me was wrong.  Or perhaps I realized that I hadn’t looked at a previous experience in the right way, and that I hadn’t perhaps learned all the lessons from it I should have.  Nowadays I try to let that person know that they were right about something and I was wrong.  In the past when my own self-esteem wasn’t strong I was often too embarrassed to admit it to that person.  That doesn’t mean that person didn’t have an effect on me.  So it may seem like wishful thinking, but don’t ever think your exchange didn’t have any value at all.  Because you never know.  It may happen years down the road, or the change may be ever so slight but because it caused someone to look in a different direction, it sets them down a path of learning they never would have gone down before without you.

——–

As a final thought I want to make it clear that I don’t pretend any of this is easy, or that I am the awesome person that I describe here.  I HATE being wrong and in my experience most other people do too.   Perhaps its because I have gotten older that the accumulation of things I have been wrong about has added up to such a proportion that it has humbled me.  I don’t know.  What we consider right and wrong however is a product of many things.  A function of space and time. Perhaps instead of thinking of yourself as being wrong about something, think of it as “Maybe I don’t know everything there is to know about something.  So maybe I’m not wrong, just not as right as I could be.” 🙂  Play nice and remember it’s a big sandbox.  There is room for a lot more people in it than you think. 🙂