Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Eyes on Rome

The Pope, Patriarch of Rome and the head of the Roman Catholic Church,has called for the U.N. to take new responsibilities, to more actively bea force to advance human dignity, freedom of peoples, and economic development.He recognizes (correctly) that it currently is a kind of comprimise betweensomething like this and an administrative, theoretically neutral body. Thisstatement, and the role of the Roman Catholic Church in Modern Liberal thought,is worthy of analysis. Unfortunately, like much in politics, it usesill-defined terms that most perspectives might lay a claim to and bind totheir particular arrangement of values. I've harped too often about thevagueness of 'freedom'.. instead, let's try to understand dignity. What ishuman dignity, and how do political systems relate to it? I recognize that itis a term that can be interpreted differently, of course. I'm stepping intomy philosophy here (out of "meta" land), so I'll drop the "I think" andsimilar. One important element to dignity is autonomy, recognizing the differentvalues and lifestyle choices people have, and neither biasing their environmenttoo much towards ones they might not want, nor, even supposing recognition ofwhat they want, pushing them towards that against their momentary impulses ordesires. That's perhaps the most long-term part of integrity. Much of thecontent is in the short-term, and could equally be applied to nonhuman animals.This kind of dignity mandates respect and attention for the base psychologicaland physical needs (and borderline needs-desires) of people. The first partis fairly general (e.g. provide toilet facilities), the second extends intosome amount of respect for strong cultural taboos (but not, in my view,necessarily cultural 'should's. For example, I think it would violate X'sdignity to only make available to them pork products if they are Muslim orJudaist, if/when other foods are available, while not providing a Mosque/Templeisn't such a big deal). It is worth noting that this short-term concept ofdignity is most relevant in situations where a person is confined or undersome form of custody, as generally short-term dignity is maintained byindividuals who are fairly autonomous. As such, this form of dignity istypically up against need for order/preservation, or paternalism (which itshares heavily as a foe with longer-term notions of dignity). So, given thatas an exploration of dignity, it does strike me as something worthwhile to preserve, which should of course be weighed against other concerns in any givensituation. I suspect the Pope might have a slightly different take on humandignity, or might be of the sort who says "I don't know what it is, but I cansee when it's not being given due respect". What does the Christian Bible haveto say about dignity? I'm not really certain -- I'd need to dig -- nothing comesimmediately to mind on the topic (I do claim to know the Christian Bible betterthan most Atheists -- I've read it many times). I've met many Evangelist-typeswho very much are against my first aspect of dignity, and most of the moremoderate Christians, as well as devout Catholics, seem to be for the firstaspect, within limits. Everyone seems to like the second aspect apart frombullies/thugs who delight at the idea of making Muslims, especially enemysoldiers, eat pork, and other such crap, so we'll focus on the first. It ismy impression that, given all the religious people I've talked or argued with,that, on the concept of dignity, temporarily disregarding their position onhomosexuality, devout Catholics tend to be closer to modern liberalism in valuesthan evangelical protestants. Less-devout Catholics are fairly similar to theirdevout brethren, although they seem to be accepting of alternative sexualitiesas well. Generic Protestants are, alas, too varied to generalize withoutdescribing them all. (Interesting sidenote -- for a lot of Catholics, theirfaith is much more of a family affair than with Protestants -- the notion ofa "Catholic Family" is much stronger than a "Presbyterian Family", where it'sless of a big deal when they change faiths, either within or withoutprotestantism. I wonder if this is partially because of Anti-Catholicdiscrimination creating more of a "in or out" attitude). The strong tiesbetween modern liberalism and Catholicism also have a strong affect onbelievers -- in many countries and congregations, a large percentage ofCatholics don't oppose alternative sexualities to the extent that the Vaticanwould have them do so. I have the impression, although have not spoken withenough people to feel very certain, that the Anglican/Episcopal churches,which are churches that arn't really Protestant (having broken off at adifferent time for different reasons), are largely the same as Roman Catholicson this issue. I am curious how Eastern Orthodox and other Christian churchesthat don't fit the Roman Catholic-Protestant dichotomy fit. I haven't spokenwith enough representatives of the different strands of Judaism to feelconfident talking about them yet, and it is my impression that Islam issimilar to the Evangelical Protestants but more so, although again I haven'tspoken with enough representatives of the flavours of Islam yet (speakingof which, I've never spoken with a Sufi yet. I'd love to, someday).

In contrast to its barbarism in the past, the Roman Catholic Church hasabsorbed a lot of modern liberal ideas, and so, compared to the otherChristian flavours out there, there's a certain commonality of goals/idealspresent. On this particular issue, the role of the U.N., the structure ofthe U.N. is critical -- where is direction to come from, if it is not to bepurely nation-democratic? Is nation-democratic a good idea anyhow? Ispopulation-democratic better? Is, perhaps like the U.S. legislative system,a two-part system better? Of course, even more so than the same issues in theU.S., there's an amplifying affect of majorities present in the representativestructure, and the suitability of the state to represent the interests/needsof its people might be questionable. The duality the Pope refers to issimilar to, but not quite the same, as the duality between the securitycouncil (which holds veto power) and the body of the U.N., as the councilcan (and to some degree does) protect western values from the 'rabble' ofcountries many of whom are, by standards of modern liberalism, uncivilized.If the Pope wants to suggest disturbing that delicate balance, even for reasonswe approve of (there are many cool things the U.N. could do, but also a lot ofdisagreement on what should be done, according to different philosophies andnational structures), unless this is a statement just meant to get peoplethinking about the issues (which is still worthwhile), I'd hope he has someactual ideas about how it should be done. One thing I've come to see aboutDemocracy is that one of its most important features is it doesn't lead peopleto feel too disenfranchised with the system, and the same is at least partlytrue for the current arrangement of the U.N. Altering the U.N. risks turningit into a "liberal nation only" club. It may be that the best role of theU.N., then, is to stay roughly as it is now, as it does act as a slow vehiclefor greater influx of liberalism for member nations, and its nonpoliticalend of acting for a gathering place for diplomats is too useful to risk losing.

I'm sure I've talked about these concerns on the U.N. to some degreebefore -- hopefully the new outweighs the old.

I feel compelled to share a bit of code with you I recently wrote to handlethe CSS for my BLOG.

sub css_defaults(;){my %returner;$returner{TAG}{body}{background} = "#aaaccc";$returner{TAG}{body}{"font-family"} = q{"Verdana", sans-serif};$returner{TAG}{body}{"font-size"} = q{10pt};

$returner{ID}{entrypart}{B} = q{left: 0;};$returner{ID}{entrypart}{Position} = q{absolute};$returner{ID}{entrypart}{E} = "";...return \%returner;}

sub csshash_to_css($;){my ($csshash) = @_;my $returner = "";foreach my $type (@types_to_handle)
my $intro_prefix;
if($type eq "CLASS")
{ $intro_prefix = '.';}
elsif($type eq "ID")
{ $intro_prefix = '#';}
elsif($type eq "TAG")
{ $intro_prefix = ;}
{die "Internal Error in CSS_code\n";}

foreach my $css_thingy (keys %{$$csshash{$type}})
$returner .= "$intro_prefix$css_thingy\n{\n";
foreach my $component (keys %{$$csshash{$type}{$css_thingy}})
my $content = $$csshash{$type}{$css_thingy}{$component};
if( ($component eq 'E') || ($component eq 'B'))
if($content ne
{$returner .= "$content\n";}
{$returner .= "$component: $content;\n";}
$returner .= "}\n\n";
return $returner;}

Kind of pretty, huh? Adding new tags is very simple, and the caller functionshould be able to pretty easily modify the structure on a per-user (orperhaps per-cookie, if I want) basis, based on a query to the database. Note that the 'B' tag isn't a real CSS property -- instead, typically in CSS, asI've come to understand it, if you bind an element to a side of its enclosure,you only want to bind to one side, so I stash the CSS to do that in this tag,and it being a single value makes it easier to make sure a tag only is boundto one side -- by making people override my pseudo-tag instead of adding anew bind, I don't need to provide a means for them to clear the defaultside-binding. The 'E' tag is also not real, and is just a place to stash anyadditional properties not already there. I might get rid of it, depending onhow I do things later.

So, as promised, my review of 2003. It's been a very eventful year. I've hada relationship disintegrate, and then come back better than it ever was. I'vegrown a lot as person , have started/revived a local atheist/agnosticgroup, and have started work towards that distant but slowly approaching PhDin Cognitive Science (I have a 4.0 GPA! W00t!). I'm working slowly towardsbetter health, and have some local friends. I've had a lot of good conversationson philosophy with a lot of people, and have done more work on programmingprojects that interest me, including some cool things for work. I've heard alot of new music too. I've done some research towards buying a house, andfinally gotten my finances in order. A surprisingly big event for me has beengetting this laptop -- I've several of my desktops, and don't use my workstationat work anymore. And, although I'm not going to get into it much, this yearalso marks the year that my family in Brecksville begins to disintegrate. I'veread a lot of books, and of course, have seen a lot more of the beauty ofnature. At the OSSCon, I again communed with my fellows in the Open Sourcecommunity. This last semester, I've worked the hardest I've ever workedbefore, to do a fulltime job and take classes at the same time. So, to me,that's 2003 in a (big) paragraph.

Tags: philosophy, politics, tech

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