The Sex Offender Dilemma: Zachery Anderson

There is a sex offender dilemma that never occurred to me until I read the story of Zachery Anderson, a 19-year old, who through a dating app called Hot or Not hooked up with a 14-year old who presented on herself on Hot or Not as a 17-year old.  Well, since 16 is the age for consensual sex, Zachery Anderson has been convicted of being a sex offender.  And technically that is exactly right.  But this is one of those moments when the actual truth widely misses the mark.  Or so it does if, as it seems, Zachery Anderson had no reason at all to believe that the female was actually 14 instead of 17.  Of course, there is the precept “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”.  And I shall eventually say something about that.

The case of Zachery Anderson hooking someone one Hot or Not is one of those moments when the question that mightily presents itself is whether teenagers who hook-up through Hot or Not should provide evidence to one another that each is at least 16-yerars of age.  Interestingly, an affirmative answer to that question hardly settles the matter, since it is way too easy nowadays for a person to have false ID.  But would someone still be considered a sex offender if she or he had sex with a 14-year old that presented false ID according to which the teenager is 17-years old?  Of course, there is clearly the question of reasonableness.  After all, a 12 year old could also present false ID.  But the odds of a 12-year old passing for even a 16-year old seems to be pretty much out of the question.  But I can easily enough imagine the case, where appearance wise, a 14-year old passes for a 17-year old and the 17-year old also has fake ID.  The point here is that the moral and social backdrop of the circumstances simply do not point to 19-year old Zachery Anderson being a sexual predator.

What is more, and most significantly from a moral point of view: If we look at the matter in terms of intentionality, we do not get the scenario where Zachary Anderson intentionally set out to hook-up with a minor.  And reality mightily distinguishes Zachery Anderson’s case from the typical case of pedophilia, where the adult intentionally sets out to have sex with a minor, often engaging in acts of tremendous secrecy and duplicity in order to achieve that end.

As I noted at the outset, it is undoubtedly the case that the conviction of Zachery Anderson is tied the precept “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”.  Interestingly, though, this law does not apply to the issue of believing information that another provides one, where there is simply no reason whatsoever to question the information that the other provides one.  Absolutely none.  Much of social interaction works precisely that way.

It would be one thing if Zachery Anderson and the female met-up and there was every reason to believe that she was not at least 16 years of age.  But if there is no reason whatsoever to doubt her age, should Zachery Anderson have nonetheless asked to see some ID?  But then suppose that the ID she showed turned out to be fake.  Well, the present wording of the law with respect to pedophilia still classifies Zachary Anderson as a pedophile, as if his very intentions were to have sex with someone under the age of 16.  Clearly, this treatment of Anderson counts as unequivocally wrong.

I fully realize that I am opening the door to an honest mistake in the case of pedophilia no doubt strikes some as unacceptable.  But is that because (a) there cannot be any mistakes with respect to pedophilia or both (b1) honest mistakes are so extremely rare and (b2) it is extremely difficult to determine whether a mistake is an honest one.  I hold that the correct answer is both (b1) and (b2).  In the case of Zachery Anderson, there is not a shred of evidence that suggests that he would have pursued the 14-year old female even if he knew that she was 14-years old.

Most disconcertingly, the case of Zachery Anderson reveals a deep harm that pertains to the issue of trust that is being caused by technology.  By way of technology, a person can concoct all sorts of images of herself or himself that are not true to the facts.  Preventing this would require that persons submit extremely detailed and personal information about themselves to various on-line sites.  But that move, of course, mightily increases the vulnerability of individuals.  With a brilliance that is without parallel, technology has mightily enhanced the wherewithal of individuals to present false conceptions of themselves in all sorts of ways.  And there is not an ounce of evidence that in general human beings have the self-command, as Adam Smith would say, to refrain from deep and horrendous forms of self-misrepresentation.  And that reality suggests that technology may be more akin to the handmaiden of evil than most of us would ever have imagined, with the case of Zachery Anderson being an ever poignant illustration of that reality.  A society will survive—nay, flourish—if and only trust is a deep, deep aspect, in general, of life between the members of that society.  There is not an iota of evidence that would suggest that human beings are moving in that direction, with the simple example of Zachery Anderson standing as a most poignant reminder in that regard.

Notwithstanding all the gadgets that I own, few things matter more to me than being trustworthy.  It is my hope and prayer that I can stay the course in that regard.  In that regard, the wrong that Zachery Anderson has suffered has been a catalyst like none other.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Excuses: Yours and Mine

A Good Excuse constitutes a good reason not to hold someone accountable either (a) for not doing what she or he was supposed to do or (b) for doing what would typically be the wrong to do someone.  If, for instance, I was supposed to meet you at the restaurant for diner, but I did not show up because I had been shot and severely wounded or I was helping someone who had just been shot and severely wounded, then I clearly have a very good excuse for not showing up.  Broadly put, the point of an excuse is to block moral blame with respect to the person who did not perform the action that the individual was expected to perform, either because (1) it is the individual’s responsibility to perform the action in question or (2) the individual had given everyone good reason to think that she or he could counted upon to perform the action in question.

But consider the case of killing someone versus spitting in someone’s face.  Most interestingly, it is far easier to think of cases in which a person might understandably kill someone than it is to think of cases when a person might understandably spit in someone’s face.  If, in tremendously open space, Leslie can running after Adrian with a knife, the most reasonable thing for Adrian, who is an undercover officer, might be to kill Leslie.  But what would make it reasonable for Adrian to spit in Leslie’s face?  Suppose Leslie called Adrian all sorts of despicable names.  Would that make it reasonable for Leslie to kill Adrian?  Indeed, suppose that Leslie killed Adrian’s child.  Notice that here we might perhaps understand Adrian’s killing of Leslie.  Indeed, we might even excuse Leslie’s immediate killing of Adrian.  But it is far from obvious that we understand Adrian’s spitting in Leslie’s face.  It looks for all the world as if the more damaging harm is the more understandable one.  Why is that?

Interestingly, spitting upon someone is often thought to be an expression of superiority with regard to the person spat upon.  Firing back, by contrast, is not so much about expressing superiority, if at all.  Rather, firing back is about an attempt to do harm to someone who has committed an egregious harm.  And that motivation does not at all require a sense of superiority.

Alas, the question of self-deception presents itself.  Is it the case that it is true that (A) there are more legitimate excuses to day than there were during yesteryear?  Or, are things the other way around, and (B there were legitimate excuses in the past than there are now?  Another way of framing the question is as follows: Is it more difficult to have self-command now than it was in the past?  Or, are things the other way around and acquiring self-command has become a challenge like none other, whereas that was not the case in the past.

If it is more difficult to have self-command nowadays than it was in the past, why is that the case?  Is it not the case that there are ought to be a strong positive correlation between societal progress and the acquisition of self-command?  I had always thought so.  But I do not hold that view any more.

What has brought about a change in my thinking is that, to my tremendous surprise, there seems to be a quite positive correlation between progress and the capacity for self-deception.  Owing to technology, there is a very real sense in which it has become easier for enough people to say the same.  And history shows that when enough people say the same thing amongst themselves, then the position is taken as true by the relevant group of people, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.  Most poignantly, technology has facilitated that end way beyond anything that most of us would have imagined a mere two decades ago.

I conclude with a very simple question: Are people to be excused for embracing such horrific beliefs nowadays?  And what if the explanation here is that suppleness on the part of human beings is being mightily exploited.  After all, how can people be held responsible for an impropriety that they can barely grasp, let alone actually articulate.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas


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Sex, Technology, and Moral Decency

A whopping 20% are said to answer the cell phone during sex.  I can make sense of doing that if, for instance, one is a physician on call or a family member was admitted to the emergency room many hours earlier.  Otherwise, answering the phone during sex is about as incomprehensible to me as is an ordinary swimmer jumping into a shark filled pool.  But the behavior just described is an indication of the impact of technology.  On my view, the very best indication of the impact of a new device is the use to which the ordinary user puts that device—a matter which can change with time.  Back-in-the-day, television used to be a family affair.  That ain’t so any more.  But this particular shift is not particularly problematic—not at all.

The question that I am routinely asking myself these days is the following: “Will technology get the better of human beings or will human beings get the better of technology”.  If human beings get the better of technology, then using technology for the better should be become rather routine.  Of course, what counts as “better” can be debated.  But there is absolutely enough clarity in that regard.

By contrast, if technology gets the better of human beings, then there will be increasingly many absurd stories like the one with which I began this blog entry.  Even when I become senile I shall remember the incident when a professor was talking about death and she used the death of a family member to illustrate a point that she wanted to make.  Well, in the middle of the professor’s remarks, a student, who was no more than 5 rows from the professor on stage, pulled out her I-phone and began texting.  When I have gone utterly senile, I shall still remember that example of horrendous and callous indifference on the student’s art.

As I walk the streets of the various cities in which I find myself, one thing that I am seeing over and over and over again is horrific indifference on the part of people as they occupy themselves with their gadgets.  So one thing I am absolutely clear about is the following: Technology has occasioned a level of indifference in public that would have been unthinkable a mere 2 decades ago.  And one reason why I can be confident that “indifference” is the right word here is that it is rare that anyone is attending to a life-and-death matter while walking along and fidgeting with her or his gadget.  And facial expressions mightily support that assessment.  So in effect technology has mightily increased the attitude of f-you on the part of individuals as they occupy themselves with their gadgets in public.

I can imagine some reader of this blog-entry maintaining that “LT is just an old man sounding off”.  All that I shall say in response is that I am that old man who has a very, very, very good command of technology.  I could do lots of things that my students cannot do.  And I can count on one hand and not move all 5 fingers the number of times the typical student (and thus one who is not a specialist with respect to technology) has made some move with technology that left me utterly baffled.

My considered view is that technology has contributed much more to an egotistical attitude than an altruistic attitude.  How often do any of us hear of some wonderful thing that a friend has done for someone who is a perfect stranger or a very mere acquaintance?   How often do such an act occur on the streets?  And I am not talking about some major act of goodwill; but rather a simple act of goodwill that nonetheless meant so very much to the recipient, such as a young person giving up her or his seat on a crowded subway that an elderly person has just boarded.  The answer to the question that I have just asked a sentence ago is a resounding “No”.

I am as confident as the night follows the day that owing to technology people spend significantly less time engaged in genuine self-reflection.  Since late days of childhood, reflective walks have been—and continue to be—a fundamental part of my life, with the result being that my very soul has been nourished with insight as well as a deep and abiding of measure of self-understanding.

That ain’t much happening these days.  Instead, there is a very, very poignant respect in which, owing to technology, human beings are becoming more and more like zombies.  That is, their basic moral sensibilities are declining mightily.  And the explanation is very simple: Nowadays people are way too besotted with their gadgets to be mindful of others.  Indeed, it is arguable that in sufficiently many cases what people observe with their very own eyes simply does not register.  That is surely the explanation for the fact that three young healthy men (between 19 and 24) on a Paris metro looked at a pregnant woman holding a baby standing in the entrance section of the subway; and not a single one of them offered her his seat.  They were all too busy listening to their music.  Upon looking behind me to see what had occasioned the sound that I heard, I saw the woman; and I jumped up and immediately offered her my seat.  She was grateful.  But she was also surprised.  She asked me whether I was getting of the subway; and when I said “No”, she inquired as to whether I really wanted to give her my seat.  When I was a young man, giving a pregnant woman one’s seat on a crowded public transportation vehicles was an altruistic act that had the indisputable force of a moral duty.   It is an indisputable reality that technology has mightily eliminated that moral sentiment.  Nowadays, people are marvelous at tweeting and sending text messages and engaging folks on Facebook and enjoying music while going from one place to the other that it very much looks as if the person right in front of them could faint and they would step over that individual and continue with whatever they were doing with their gadget.  I hope that the claim that I have just made is a horrific exaggeration.  But one very, very, very, very good reason to think that the claim is not a horrific exaggeration is none other than the claim with which I begin this blog entry about people answering the phone during sex.  Indeed, I can make more sense of some minor morally wrong acts than I can of individuals answering the phone during sex.  Such behavior is as clear a sign as any that at the level of our moral psyche technology may being doing us far more harm than good.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Justice, Equality, and Fitting-In

Justice and Equality are not two forms of the very same thing.  We should always want justice to be done by the members of society.  But it is just plain silly to suppose that all the members of society should be equal in all respects.  Indeed, that is simply not possible—at least not without a major invasion of human freedom.  And the point that it is silly to aim for equality in all respect applies not only to physical features, but also to intellectual abilities and talents.  Regarding talent, some people are marvelous at drawing; whereas others are marvelous at singing.  And so on.  Regarding intellectual abilities, some are brilliant writers; others are brilliant mathematicians; others are brilliant biologists; and so on.  While there might be some brilliant mathematicians and biologists who could trade places, the odds are that most cannot.  In general, it is rather out of the question for a person to exchange one phenomenal talent for another.  While there is obviously a straightforward sense in which all human beings are equally human, there is no respect at all in which it can said that all human beings are equal with respect to some talent or the other.

As is well known, the Declaration of Independence of the United States claims that “All men are created equal”.  Alas, that is not at all a claim about talent and abilities.  Rather, that is a claim about freedom and just treatment: All human beings should have basic freedoms and all human beings should be treated fairly.  While there is obviously a straightforward sense in which all human beings are equally human, there is no respect at all in which it can said that all human beings are equal with respect to some talent or the other.

A question that mightily presents itself is the following: In a truly just society, it should be the case that the differences in talent among human beings are distributed relatively equally across ethnic groups? So, an affirmative answer would entail that cultural differences between ethnic groups have no bearing on the realization of intellectual talent. Alas, an affirmative answer yields a quite disconcerting conclusion, namely the following: Rationality is not the defining feature of human beings that we would like to think that it is. That is the view that I have come to hold and recently defended in an essay: Human Survival vs the Kantian Conception of the Self. The evidence is just overwhelming that human beings are not given to anything like the level of rational behavior that Kant had in mind and defended. Of course, philosophers will go on with their theories that human beings are configured to be rational above all else. But the facts simply do not support that view. The fact that human beings are not quintessential rational creature is very much part of the explanation for why culture often dominates even when it would be far more rational for the members of the culture in question to pursue a difference course of action.  Alas, the rational argument for equality must often bow to the irrational argument for fitting-in.  And that reality explains so very much human behavior.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Moral Sensibilities and the Human Reality

Without the (right) Moral Sensibilities humanity will mightily flounder because human beings will be more like programmed machines rather than creatures who make sublime assessments of both their own behavior and the behavior of others which they witness, it being understood that the moral sensibilities are a fundamental part of social sensibilities.  There are no other creatures on the planet who are capable of seeing the implications of behavior to the extent that human beings are capable of doing.  Human being begins life entirely lacking of a conception of the self.  And they go on to acquire a level of self-knowledge with respect to social sensibilities that is surpassed only by the gods, if there be any.

However, it is not a necessary condition of being human that the social sensibilities develop.  For whether the social sensibilities develop or not is necessarily tied to the environment in which human beings primarily live.  It is my view that the social sensibilities of human beings is in the midst of such a steep decline that within the next 50 years social interaction among human beings will pretty much become a disaster.  And the cause of this tremendous decline will be what I refer to as personal use technology (PUT).

A clear sign that PUT (personal use technology) is clearly having a negative impact upon the social sensibilities of human beings is that there are countless many individuals these days who attach more importance to the number of “likes” they receive on their Facebook page than do to actually having meaningful interactions with another.  Or to take a different kind of example, nowadays people are so busy walking and texting or walking and listening to music or walking and conversing on their cellphone that it is not at all out of the question that they would fail to notice an individual who fainted right before their very eyes.  Indeed, it is increasingly the case that people do not see the implications of their own behavior.  I have received emails from students where it is so very, very, very clear they could not possibly have meant what they said in the email that they sent to me.  But the students have so relied upon auto-correct that they do not even notice the egregious error.  And yes, it has sometimes turned out that the error is quite egregious.

As is well-known, self-driving cars will certainly be a part of the not-too-distant future.  But the question that I ask myself over and over again is the following: Is the advantage of self-driving cars worth the horrendous decline in perceptivity that will occur?  I do not think so.  Does that sentiment on my part simply reveal (1) an old-school mentality on my part?  Or, does that sentiment reveal (2) a deep, deep concern over the diminution of human sensibilities?

When I consider all the gadgets that I have acquired, the view that I have an old school mentality strikes me as entirely out of the question.  There is nothing at all old school about having a commitment to maintaining abilities that are constitutive of the intellectual and psychological powers of being a human being.  If a student tells me that she or he has just received a phone call in which the student learned that her or his parent just died, I would be one morally callous bastard if I turned to some point that I had made in class or to some magnificent movie that I had recently seen or to some tremendous song that I had just heard.  And so on.

Attaching the right significance to things is one of the defining features of being a human being.  But that feature is also one that requires tremendous and sublime reinforcement precisely because, among other things, the indisputable reality is that things can be tremendously significant in quite fundamentally different ways which, in turn, makes all the difference in the world in how a person should react to what she or he has just been told.  The compassion owed to a student who has just lost a parents is not at all the same as the compassion that is owed to a student who had been raped an hour ago.

It is my considered view that increasingly technology is destroying the defining features of being a human being, among which is the ability to being perceptive in just the right ways and then to respond appropriately.  Obviously, there some individuals who have done some truly wonderful things with technology.  But they are the exception.  The norm is in a very different and tremendously less admirable direction.

An indisputable truth is that the general positive use of technology requires a significant level of self-command.  We have the biological configuration to achieve that level of self-command.  But most of us are opting-out.  Unless human beings change in that regard, the future does not look good at all.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Bill Cosby: The Man I Now Despise

I now despise the man whom I once deeply admired.  Bill Cosby is his name.  The Cosby Show was magnificent.  In so very many instances, the show was humorous in just the right ways.  Cosby always came across as a morally upright man who genuinely believed in human beings exhibiting responsible behavior.

Indeed, Cosby was once loudly criticized by the NAACP because in the speech he delivered in 2004 to the NAACP he spent more time criticizing blacks for not exercising sufficient responsibility than he did accusing whites of being racist.  I actually thought that he was right on point in holding that at that time in American history black irresponsibility was more of a problem than the racism that still existed in the United States.  Oh how I admired him for having the courage to speak what I took to be an incontrovertible truth.

If anyone had asked me back-in-the-day what I thought about Bill Cosby’s character, I would have claimed that he is very much a morally upright human being.

What is so very, very painful is that I could not have been more wrong.  For years, he was buying drugs—Quaaludes, in particular—to give to women so that he could sexually seduce them.  So we are not talking about a moment of weakness that some of the very best of people can have.  No, we are talking about an utterly horrendous form of behavior in which Cosby deliberately chose to engage time and time and time again, namely doping women so that they could not resist his sexual advances.

It is unequivocally the case that a man who, throughout many years, repeatedly dopes women so that they cannot resist his sexual advances is an evil person who is psychologically deranged.  Interestingly, his case is quite analogous to repeated child sexual offenders.  For in both cases there is a manifestly straightforward sense in which there is no symmetrical affirmation in the sex.  None at all.  A child takes no pleasure in sexual abuse.  A psychologically impaired woman takes no pleasure in sexual abuse.  So, we have a most disconcerting parallel between Cosby and the child sexual abuser.  The child sexual abuser derives considerable delight from an obvious asymmetrical sexual encounter.  And Cosby derived considerable delight from a no less obvious asymmetrical sexual encounter.

Lord Acton wrote the following: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.  William Henry Cosby could be the posterchild for Lord Action’s observation.

Bill Cosby is a man whom I once tremendously admired, as did countless many others.  He is now the man whom I now ever so deeply despise.  He is unequivocally an evil person.  If there is a hell, then I should like for his very soul to burn there forever and ever and ever.  In my assessment of the matter, William Henry Cosby has joined that list of people whose soul should never, ever rest in peace.  Perhaps it is an indication of the limitations of own intellectual abilities.  But I simply cannot imagine Bill Cosby ever being worthy of forgiveness.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Homage to Brandon Closure

Brandon ClosureA majestic act of sheer goodwill.  That is what was exhibited by Brandon Closure who died trying to get a car, with its driver, out of a pool of water.

When one Googles Brandon Closure’s name, the only thing that comes up is that he died trying to get a car out of pool of water.  And that mightily speaks to the reality that he was simply a man of goodwill.  There was no public of image being a morally upright person that Mr. Closure was trying to preserve or reinforce.  Nor was he in any way trying to exploit the vulnerability of the driver of the car.  He was simply trying to help.  What is more, he was not at all involved in saving the life of a family member.  No, the person in the car was a complete stranger to Brand Closure.

Needless to say, there is no better indication of the excellence of a person’s character than the significant good that the individual does for a complete stranger without any concern at all for either public recognition or personal gain.  And this point holds all the more so when a person puts her or his very life on the line in order to help that individual.  Indeed, the evidence suggest that Brandon Closure was so pre-occupied with helping the driver of the car that was overtaken by water that he (Brandon Closure) either did not notice the rise of water all around him or he was entirely indifferent to it.

I do not know whether Brandon Closure is Catholic.  And I did not know whether the Catholic Church can promote to sainthood someone who is not Catholic.  But if ever a person deserves such a promotion, surely Brand Closure does.

The philosopher David Hume remarked that the mind of human beings is a mirror to one another’s soul.  Brandon Closure stands as an ever so bright and pristine mirror whereby we can each reflect upon our life.  Most of us have done far less.  Indeed, by comparison to what Closure’s did most of us have barely lifted a figure.  Clearly, the world would be a much better place if there were significantly more people like him ‑ an ordinary person who, without a moment of hesitation, put his life on the line in order to save the life of another.

One rightly observes that there was absolutely nothing ordinary about Brandon Closure character.  And that is indeed correct.  In terms of social standing, a person can be ever so ordinary.  Yet, in terms of moral character, the life of that very same individual can be absolutely extraordinary.  Brandon Closure’s life is an indisputable example of that reality.

At the age of 28, Brandon Closure put his life in the hopes of saving the life of a complete stranger.  May he rest in peace.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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The English Language and the Term “Racism”

A neat fact about language is that the meaning of a word can evolve.  My favorite example in this regard is the word “bad”.  As every native speaker of English knows, there is the negative sense of the word “bad” and there is the complimentary sense of the word “bad”.  If I say to my best friend “I love you, man.  You are so bad,” there can be no doubt about it: I am complimenting my friend.

I have no idea how the word “bad” came to have a very positive sense.  But there can be no doubt about the fact that it does.

Now, one day the term “racism” may be such that when one says something like “There is a surprising amount of racism taking place at so-and-so institution,” one has to ask for clarification.  Is ethnic group Alpha being racist towards ethnic group Beta?  Or, is that ethnic group Gamma is being racist towards ethnic group Beta?  And so on.  But at this point in the history of the United States, we do not need that sort of clarification when a person says that racism has occurred.  Hopefully, we will get there.  But we are not there yet.  Racism is typically understood to be about whites towards blacks.  Indeed, there are blacks who (wrongly) insist that blacks cannot be racist.

So when Barack Obama claimed that racism is still in our DNA, there is no reason whatsoever to suppose that he is simply making the general claim that there are human beings of every ethnicity who succumb to racist behavior.  No, there is every reason to believe that what he meant is that racism is still a part of the very character of whites generally with respect to blacks.  And Obama is way too smart to not have supposed that his words would be thus understood.

And it is precisely that understanding of Obama’s words that I found most despicable, especially in light of the extraordinary support that the whites of Charleston (South Carolina) gave to blacks after the killing by Dylan Roof of 9 black members of the AME Church.  To make such a claim about whites in the face of such an extraordinary show of support by blacks by whites bespeaks a despicable degree of moral callousness on Obama’s part.  100 years ago, such support by whites in the face of the wrongful mistreatment of blacks would have been entirely unthinkable.  Whatever else is true, there has been considerable moral progress.  And not to acknowledge that progress reflects a horrendous degree of moral callousness on Obama’s part.

Even if—as someone claimed—Obama was talking about the capacity for racism on the party of all human beings, it is nonetheless the case that he should have acknowledged the considerable moral good that was being displayed by whites with regard to the killing of the 9 blacks of the AME Church that occurred.  His failure to do so is absolutely inexcusable.  If 10 very capable swimmers stand by and watched folks drown, but one person jumped into the water and, at great risk to herself or himself, saved the life of three people, surely the moral good that the one person did should be tremendously acknowledged whatever else folks goes on to say about those who stood by and watched folks drown.

To conclude, I am reminded of a marvelous remark that was made in the novel The Color Purple.  It is said that a good listener listens not only to what a person says but also to what a person does not say.  For instance, a very clear sign that a person is modest in terms of having considerable economic means is that the individual says virtually nothing about having the means to buy all sorts of expensive gadgets.  Likewise, a scholar is modest when she or he says very little, if anything, about her considerable professional standing.  For example, the late-John Rawls was a tremendously modest person.  One could say next to him day after day after day and not hear him say a word about being the author of one of the most important books in contemporary moral and political philosophy ever to be written, namely A Theory of Justice.

And that is well worth acknowledging even if there is still progress to be made.  Imagine that a foreign student wrote an absolutely brilliant essay on moral responsibility.  However, there lots of grammatical errors in the paper.  Of course, I should help the student to overcome her or his grammatical shortcomings with English.  But clearly, my doing so should very much be in the shadow of my conveying to the student the tremendous excellence of the argument of her or his essay.  This point holds mutatis mutandis with respect to Obama and the matter of racism, given the truly majestic response on the part of whites in Charleston (South Carolina) to the evil committed by Dylan Roof.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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Barack Obama’s Morally Despicable Remarks About Whites

Barack Obama is a morally despicable person.  And his remarks about racism being in the genes of white Americans is proof par excellence of that claim.  And precisely what I cannot begin to grasp is how he could categorize all white people as having a genetic disposition to be racist.  When a person of his intellectual ability makes such an utterly indefensible claim, then a profound reality about him is thereby revealed: He has a deep and abiding distrust—if not outright hatred—for white people.

White person after white person expressed their pain and sorrow over the killings that took place in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston (South Carolina).  Did Obama think that those white people were just putting on a front and that they really took enormous delight in the killings committed by Dylan Roof?  That is the only way it is even remotely possible for Obama to make the claim that he made in the face of the extraordinary outpouring of support and goodwill on the part of whites in Charleston.

There can be no doubt about it: The mere fact that he could make such a horrendous claim in the face of the extraordinary outpouring of support by whites reveals just how morally callous a person Obama is.

Let me put my point another way: By his remark that racism is in the genes of white people Barack Obama has revealed himself to be an utterly evil person.  For evil has two very clear signs.  One is that of inflicting harm upon innocent people.  The other is to be absolutely indifferent to the unquestionable good that people are doing.  Obama’s remarks an unequivocally clear manifestation of the latter.

Of course, I fully grasp that there are whites who racist just as fully grasp that there are blacks who equally despicable human beings.  But just as it would morally horrific for any white to characterize all blacks as morally and spiritually inferior, it is no less horrific for any black to characterize all whites as having a genetic disposition to be racist.  Of course, the moral monster known Barack Obama cannot literally mean what he claimed, since there is not a shred of evidence that racism is anchored in the biological make-up of any human being, whatever her or his ethnic configuration might be.

At least Obama’s despicable claim about people fully eliminates any doubt as to why he attended Pastor Wright’s church for some 20-years.  In a word: Barack Obama is a black racist.  By definition, a racist is so committed to attribution either evil or inferiority to a people that either (a) the person ignores the reality that persons of other ethnic configurations are behaving ever so wonderfully or (b) the person refuses to acknowledge the good that members of the group are doing.  Regarding (a), there is the poignant reality that blacks have exhibited horrendous behavior in recent years, as the case of Baltimore makes unequivocally clear.  Indeed, blacks destroyed the CVS store that was put into a black neighborhood in order to make life easier for blacks.  Most significantly, that is a most obnoxious level of moral callousness that was displayed by blacks towards blacks.  But as far as I can tell, ne’er a comment has been by racist Barack Obama regarding the horrific behavior committed by black people against one another.

A very poignant reality, it that it is simply absurd to take Dylan Roof as a symbol of the attitude of white people towards non-whites—blacks, in particular.  Roof’s horrific behavior is no more proof that racism is still a problem for America than the rioting on the part of blacks count as a proof that a black president is a morally despicable human being and that blacks generally are morally and intellectually deficient.

I must choose my words carefully.  But whatever respect that I had for Barack Hussein Obama has completely vanished.  The year and some months of his presidency that remain cannot go by fast enough.  In the language of John F. Kennedy: “Is America better off on account of having had Barack Obama as President of the United States?”  The answer strikes me a manifestly obvious: Absolutely not.  Indeed, not even blacks can say that they are actually better off on account of his presidency.

My suspicion is that psychologically is Obama constitutionally a bitter person.  I do not grasp why he is bitter.  But in view of the extraordinary show of support of blacks by whites with regard to what happened in Charleston, it is manifestly obvious that Obama’s remarks about whites having a biological propensity to be racist are so very, very, very untimely.  And that is just the point: Obama is too psychologically callous to grasp that the depth of his morally despicable remarks.  He is a schmuck.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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When a Letter of Reference is Meaningful

It is obvious that a good letter of reference has to be positive.  Most interestingly, though, is the quite substantial truth that there are better and worse ways for a letter of recommendation to be positive.  On the one hand, it has to be clear that there was a substantial intellectual bond between the professor and the student.  On the other hand, though, it has to be equally clear that the bond was not in any way a sexual one or otherwise inappropriate.  And with regard to the second point, it really does not matter nowadays whether we are talking about two people of the same sex or a heterosexual pairing.  Regardless of sexual orientation, the more descriptive the professor’s letter of reference is about the actual ideas put forth by a student, then the more credibility the professor’s letter for the student will have.  In this regard, it can even turn out that the student’s idea are mistaken here and there just so long as it is clear that there was considerable novelty and originality in the student’s line of thought.

Quite significantly, the grade of “A” is not the mark of intellectual excellence that it once was.  There was a time when in a class of 50 students, it would be very rare for any more than 5 students to earn a grade of “A”.  Not so nowadays.  Thus, the mere claim that a student earned a grade of “A” in this or that class is almost insignificant nowadays unless enough is said in terms of concrete examples that bring out the considerable creativity of the student’s thinking.

A very good letter of reference will bring out that the student showed a level of intellectual maturity, curiosity, and insight that clearly went beyond what was expected of her or him.  Likewise, the student also showed a level of productivity that exceeded what was required of her or him.  An obvious example of such productivity would be that a student writes an excellent essay that is quite a few pages longer than was required for the course.  Or the student used resources that were not part of the reading required for the course.

As to intellectual creativity and curiosity, it suffices that the student offers quite substantial insights that clearly surpasses the ideas presented in the readings or discussed in class.  Or, in any case, the student’s views give rise to much insight even though there are mistakes in the views initially presented by the student.  In other words, the mistakes made by the student prove to be the catalyst for a very fecund intellectual learning experience.

I have never understood the origin of the expression “The devil is in the details”.  But what I do not know is that with respect to letters of reference the expression is extremely applicable.  It is manifestly clear that the right set of details give a letter of reference a tremendous level of credibility.  And here it has to be understood that we have the right set of details when and only when a reasonable person reading the details will understand them in just the way that the details were meant be understood.  This means that any professor who is excels at writing good letters of reference is also one who has an excellent sense of how her or his words will be understood by the readers of the letters that she or he writes.  And if a professor is good at writing good letters of reference, it will also be true that the professor will be extremely selective in writing letters of reference unless the professor is in the very unusual position of teaching students where virtually each of them turns out to be an intellectual genius.

Let me conclude with a word that applies essentially to students.  (1) Students should do their very best to forge an intellectual bond with a professor sooner rather than later.  (2) An important implication of (1) is that students should meet often enough with the professor during office hours in order to discuss ideas.  Doing so gives the student a good sense of the professor and gives the professor a good sense of the student.  (3) Students should make a point of taking at least three courses with a professor and be sure to excel in each course.  There is nothing in academia that can take the place of a pattern of success.  Nothing at all.  Indeed, this point holds as much for the professor as it does for the student.  Several courses with a professor allow for both professor and student to witness excellence on the part of one another.  In particular, taking several courses with the same professor and doing well in each class gives the claims of excellence by the professor with regard to the student a credibility that it would be very difficult for the claims to otherwise have.

Teaching is at its best when and only when it is the pursuit of excellence on the part of both the student the professor.  And in that regard, both can be ever so affirming of the other.  A letter of recommendation at its best is none other than a majestic and sublime testimony of the ever so fruitful experience occasioned by that majestic intellectual affirmation on the part of both parties.

© 2015 Laurence Thomas

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