White evangelicals, ignoring the Bible, are least likely to say U.S. should accept refugees

Stephen Johnson writes:

It might seem like non-religious people would be most likely to say the U.S. doesn’t have a responsibility to accept refugees. After all, nonbelievers don’t follow a unified doctrine that explicitly tells followers to offer love, shelter and compassion to foreigners — you know, like Christians do. For example, the Bible states:

Leviticus 19:34 — “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreign in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Matthew 25:35 — “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Jeremiah 22:3 — “Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.”

Exodus 22:21 — “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

It’s not difficult to decipher the main moral message here: Be kind to foreigners. But that directive seems to be lost or ignored by a particular group of modern American Christians: white evangelicals. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s concentration camps

Charles M Blow writes:

I have often wondered why good people of good conscience don’t respond to things like slavery or the Holocaust or human rights abuse.

Maybe they simply became numb to the horrific way we now rarely think about or discuss the men still being held at Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial, and who may as well die there.

Maybe people grow weary of wrestling with their anger and helplessness, and shunt the thought to the back of their minds and try to simply go on with life, dealing with spouses and children, making dinner and making beds.

Maybe there is simply this giant, silent, cold thing drifting through the culture like an iceberg that barely pierces the surface.

I believe that we will one day reflect on this period in American history where migrant children are being separated from their parents, some having been kept in cages, and think to ourselves: How did this happen?

Why were we not in the streets every day demanding an end to this atrocity? How did we just go on with our lives, disgusted but not distracted?

Thousands of migrant children have now been separated from their parents.

As NBC News reported in May:

“At least seven children are known to have died in immigration custody since last year, after almost a decade in which no child reportedly died while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”

Homeland Security’s own inspector general has described egregious conditions at detention facilities.

And, last week, an attorney for the Trump administration argued before an incredulous panel of judges on the Ninth Circuit that toothbrushes, soap and appropriate sleeping arrangements were not necessary for the government to meet its requirement to keep migrant children in “safe and sanitary” conditions.

As one of the judges asked the attorney:

“Are you arguing seriously that you do not read the agreement as requiring you do something other than what I described: Cold all night long. Lights on all night long. Sleep on the concrete floor and you get an aluminum blanket?”

Stop and think about that. Not only do these children in question not have beds, they are not even turning off the lights so that they can go to sleep. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, plain and simple.

How is this happening? Why is this happening? [Continue reading…]

Most people seem to value integrity more than money

The Guardian reports:

Here’s a moral dilemma: if you find a wallet stuffed with bank notes, do you pocket the cash or track down the owner to return it? We can each speak for ourselves, but now a team of economists have put the unsuspecting public to the test in a mass social experiment involving 17,000 “lost” wallets in 40 countries.

They found that a majority of people returned the wallets and – contrary to classic economic logic – they were more likely to do so the more money the wallet contained.

“We mistakenly assume that our fellow human beings are selfish,” said Alain Cohn, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Michigan and first author of the study. “In reality their self-image as an honest person is more important to them than a short-term monetary gain.”

The findings defied the expectations of both professional economists and 2,500 respondents to a survey, who predicted that people would act in self-interest. [Continue reading…]

GOP lawmakers are quietly turning against the death penalty

Madeleine Carlisle writes:

David Welch’s wife died on Christmas Day 2016. He doesn’t remember much of what happened that next year. But in the grips of grief, he came to a fundamental realization, he told me: The death penalty is “just morally wrong.”

Welch has served as a Republican in the New Hampshire state House for more than three decades. For most of that time, he had consistently voted to uphold the death penalty. But after his wife’s death, he came to understand that when the state executes someone, it puts another family through the intense period of mourning he went through. “There is no reason for it,” he told me. “They’re innocent.”

Though law-and-order conservatives have long championed the death penalty, New Hampshire is one of a growing number of states where Republicans like Welch are joining Democrats to push for a ban. Last week, New Hampshire became the 21st state to outlaw capital punishment, one of 11 states this year—including GOP strongholds such as Kansas, Wyoming, Kentucky, and Missouri—where Republican lawmakers have sponsored bills to end the practice. The movement is the result of several political factors, including Republican and Democratic concern over the country’s criminal-justice system. But it’s also been motivated by lawmakers’ personal experiences, just like Welch’s. Death-penalty reform has quietly broken through as a bipartisan issue—one that could portend a shaky future for capital punishment in the U.S. [Continue reading…]

Good Samaritan faces 20 years in prison for giving food and water to migrants

Lending practices like those behind 2008 financial crash devastated a generation of taxi drivers

The New York Times reports:

The phone call that ruined Mohammed Hoque’s life came in April 2014 as he began another long day driving a New York City taxi, a job he had held since emigrating from Bangladesh nine years earlier.

The call came from a prominent businessman who was selling a medallion, the coveted city permit that allows a driver to own a yellow cab instead of working for someone else. If Mr. Hoque gave him $50,000 that day, he promised to arrange a loan for the purchase.

After years chafing under bosses he hated, Mr. Hoque thought his dreams of wealth and independence were coming true. He emptied his bank account, borrowed from friends and hurried to the man’s office in Astoria, Queens. Mr. Hoque handed over a check and received a stack of papers. He signed his name and left, eager to tell his wife.

Mr. Hoque made about $30,000 that year. He had no idea, he said later, that he had just signed a contract that required him to pay $1.7 million.

Over the past year, a spate of suicides by taxi drivers in New York City has highlighted in brutal terms the overwhelming debt and financial plight of medallion owners. All along, officials have blamed the crisis on competition from ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

But a New York Times investigation found much of the devastation can be traced to a handful of powerful industry leaders who steadily and artificially drove up the price of taxi medallions, creating a bubble that eventually burst. Over more than a decade, they channeled thousands of drivers into reckless loans and extracted hundreds of millions of dollars before the market collapsed.

These business practices generated huge profits for bankers, brokers, lawyers, investors, fleet owners and debt collectors. The leaders of nonprofit credit unions became multimillionaires. Medallion brokers grew rich enough to buy yachts and waterfront properties. One of the most successful bankers hired the rap star Nicki Minaj to perform at a family party.

But the methods stripped immigrant families of their life savings, crushed drivers under debt they could not repay and engulfed an industry that has long defined New York. More than 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records. Thousands more are barely hanging on.

The practices were strikingly similar to those behind the housing market crash that led to the 2008 global economic meltdown: Banks and loosely regulated private lenders wrote risky loans and encouraged frequent refinancing; drivers took on debt they could not afford, under terms they often did not understand.

Some big banks even entered the taxi industry in the aftermath of the housing crash, seeking a new market, with new borrowers. [Continue reading…]

Face it: A farmed animal is someone; not something

Lori Marino writes:

We’ve all heard them and used them – the common references to farmed animals that appeal to the worst part of human nature: ‘pearls before swine’, ‘what a pig’, ‘like lambs to the slaughter’, ‘bird brain’. These phrases represent our species’ view of farmed animals as not particularly bright, uncaring about their treatment or fate, and generally bland and monolithic in their identities. My team of researchers asked: ‘What is there to really know about them?’ Our answer: plenty.

I’ve had the privilege of being the lead scientist for the Someone Project, a joint venture of two US nonprofit organisations, the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, and Farm Sanctuary. The Someone Project is an exploration of our scientific knowledge of the minds of farmed animals. My co-authors and I have explored the peer-reviewed literature on intelligence, personality, emotions and social complexity in pigs, chickens, cows and sheep, and the journey ‘inward’ into the minds of these animals has been nothing short of revelatory.

While most people accept that farmed animals possess simple emotions such as fear, they are less open to the idea that the animals’ emotions can be familiar and complex. One example is cognitive judgment bias, also known as optimism and pessimism. We all know the feeling of being able to take on the world when bolstered by good experiences and praise. And, unfortunately, we also know what it feels like to give up when we are pummelled by bad experiences. Cognitive bias is a deviation in judgment as a result of emotional experiences. How we interpret ambiguous stimuli or situations depends upon whether we are depressed or anxious, or feeling on top of the world. Pigs, chickens, sheep and cows feel it too. Just treat cows, sheep or chickens roughly through exposure to loud noise or the presence of a predator, or any other uncontrollable negative condition, and assess how they perform on a typical discrimination task differentiating between two stimuli to get a reward. Just like you, all that stress biases their brains and ability to do well. [Continue reading…]

Martin Buber’s vision of Zionism as a cultural rather than political movement

Adam Kirsch writes:

In 1917, when the Zionists were celebrating Britain’s endorsement of their aims in the Balfour Declaration, Buber objected that he did not envision the redemption of the Jews as something that could be achieved through political victories. Later, after Buber moved to Jerusalem, in 1938, he opposed a Jewish declaration of statehood, arguing that Palestine should become a binational state shared by Arabs and Jews. And, after the State of Israel came into being, in 1948, Buber continued to criticize its policies and its leadership on many issues—including, especially, its treatment of Arab refugees—becoming a thorn in the side of David Ben-Gurion, the Prime Minister.

Characteristically, though, Buber would not renounce the Zionist ideal just because he was disappointed in its reality. “I have accepted as mine the State of Israel, the form of the new Jewish community that has arisen,” he reportedly told a friend. “But he who will truly serve the spirit . . . must seek to free once again the blocked path to an understanding with the Arab peoples.” Like other liberal Zionists then and since, Buber found himself exposed to criticism from all sides. In Israel, he was famous but unpopular, suspected of disloyalty to the Jewish community. “Whether on the street or in a café, among the intellectuals of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv,” a disappointed follower told him, “nowhere did I hear a kind word about Martin Buber.” The man also upbraided him for displaying a cross in his house. (The offending item, Buber explained, was actually a Piranesi engraving of a church.)

Meanwhile, Buber also had to face progressives and pacifists who condemned Zionism altogether. In 1939, he engaged in a polemic with Gandhi, who had published a statement saying that Zionism was an injustice to the Arabs of Palestine, and also recommending that the Jews of Nazi Germany stay there and resist by means of nonviolent satyagraha, or “soul force.” The agonized open letter Buber wrote in response explained that, although such a course might work against the British Empire, against Hitler it was meaningless: “An effective stand in the form of non-violence may be taken against unfeeling human beings in the hope of gradually bringing them to their senses; but a diabolic universal steamroller cannot thus be withstood.” Buber insisted that Zionism was not an aggressive or violent movement. “No one who counts himself in the ranks of Israel can desire to use force,” he wrote. This was its own kind of wishful thinking, and Buber admitted that his attitude toward violence involved a contradiction: “We should be able even to fight for justice—but to fight lovingly.”

Buber’s escape to Jerusalem underscored the need for a refuge for Jews. Had he remained in Germany, he surely would have perished in the Holocaust. Instead, he went on to live for another twenty-seven productive years, in Palestine and in Israel. Yet the destruction of the Jews of Europe also destroyed the basis of much of Buber’s work. He had hoped to provide modern European Jews with a sustaining connection to their tradition, and now those Jews were almost all dead or scattered. He had preached the importance of saying “You,” but the Holocaust represented the ultimate triumph of the “It,” reducing human beings to mere things.

In old age, Buber was the perfect image of a sage, with twinkling eyes and a white beard. Mendes-Flohr opens his book by recounting a perhaps apocryphal story of children pointing at Buber in the street and calling him God. Late in life, when he was living in Jerusalem, he was visited by a stream of young kibbutz members seeking solutions to their religious quandaries. Buber responded by denying that he had anything to teach. “I do not know what ideas are,” he claimed. “Whoever expects of me a doctrine . . . will invariably be disappointed.” His words sound like the utterance of a Zen master contemplating a koan, and, indeed, Buber had long been fascinated by Taoism and Buddhism. The best way to understand Buber, ultimately, may be not as a thinker but as a seeker—a religious type that became common in the twentieth century, as many Europeans and Americans turned to Eastern faiths or modern ideologies in their search for meaning. [Continue reading…]

Is a more generous society possible?

By Leah Shaffer

In January 2016, Cathryn Townsend set out to live among “the loveless people.” So named by anthropologist Colin Turnbull, the Ik are a tribe of some 11,600 hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers living in an arid and harsh mountainous region of Uganda.

Turnbull studied the Ik in the 1960s and famously characterized them as “inhospitable and generally mean” in his book The Mountain People. He documented how young children were abandoned to starve and how people would snatch food from the elderly. Townsend, a Rutgers University anthropologist, visited the Ik decades later to see how a culture that supposedly lacked basic kindness operated.

Her interest stemmed from an ongoing, multidisciplinary investigation called The Human Generosity Project, which examines why and how human cooperation, in the form of generosity, threads its way through different cultures. The project began in 2014, through a partnership between Lee Cronk, a Rutgers University anthropologist, and Athena Aktipis, a psychologist at Arizona State University. Together, the pair wanted to investigate the cultural and biological factors behind generous behavior. Today, through this project, more than 20 participating researchers use an array of tools, including economic simulations and computer modeling, to study altruism and cooperation at nine field sites.

In certain communities, giving to those in need, with no expectation of return, is normalized and expected. The project researchers have found such behavior around the world, including among herders and hunter-gatherers in East Africa. And findings thus far suggest that such generous societies are more likely to survive during difficult times.

If that pattern holds up, lessons from The Human Generosity Project could be vital as the world faces a multitude of unpredictable challenges from the onslaught of climate change and increasing economic inequality. “Ultimately, it would be nice if we could encourage higher levels of cooperation and higher levels of generosity,” Cronk says.

Townsend, a member of the project, went to study the Ik to find a counterexample to generous cultures. She and her colleagues wanted to see how an allegedly “selfish” society operated. But when she arrived, she found something different: Even among “the loveless people,” there was a thriving tradition of generosity.

[Read more…]

What science can tell us about how other creatures experience the world

Ross Andersen writes:

Amid the human crush of Old Delhi, on the edge of a medieval bazaar, a red structure with cages on its roof rises three stories above the labyrinth of neon-lit stalls and narrow alleyways, its top floor emblazoned with two words: birds hospital.

On a hot day last spring, I removed my shoes at the hospital’s entrance and walked up to the second-floor lobby, where a clerk in his late 20s was processing patients. An older woman placed a shoebox before him and lifted off its lid, revealing a bloody white parakeet, the victim of a cat attack. The man in front of me in line held, in a small cage, a dove that had collided with a glass tower in the financial district. A girl no older than 7 came in behind me clutching, in her bare hands, a white hen with a slumped neck.

The hospital’s main ward is a narrow, 40-foot-long room with cages stacked four high along the walls and fans on the ceiling, their blades covered with grates, lest they ensnare a flapping wing. I strolled the room’s length, conducting a rough census. Many of the cages looked empty at first, but leaning closer, I’d find a bird, usually a pigeon, sitting back in the gloom.

The youngest of the hospital’s vets, Dheeraj Kumar Singh, was making his rounds in jeans and a surgical mask. The oldest vet here has worked the night shift for more than a quarter century, spending tens of thousands of hours removing tumors from birds, easing their pain with medication, administering antibiotics. Singh is a rookie by comparison, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he inspects a pigeon, flipping it over in his hands, quickly but gently, the way you might handle your cellphone. As we talked, he motioned to an assistant, who handed him a nylon bandage that he stretched twice around the pigeon’s wing, setting it with an unsentimental pop.

The bird hospital is one of several built by devotees of Jainism, an ancient religion whose highest commandment forbids violence not only against humans, but also against animals. A series of paintings in the hospital’s lobby illustrates the extremes to which some Jains take this prohibition. In them, a medieval king in blue robes gazes through a palace window at an approaching pigeon, its wing bloodied by the talons of a brown hawk still in pursuit. The king pulls the smaller bird into the palace, infuriating the hawk, which demands replacement for its lost meal, so he slices off his own arm and foot to feed it.

I’d come to the bird hospital, and to India, to see firsthand the Jains’ moral system at work in the world. Jains make up less than 1 percent of India’s population. Despite millennia spent criticizing the Hindu majority, the Jains have sometimes gained the ear of power. During the 13th century, they converted a Hindu king, and persuaded him to enact the subcontinent’s first animal-welfare laws. There is evidence that the Jains influenced the Buddha himself. And when Gandhi developed his most radical ideas about nonviolence, a Jain friend played philosophical muse. [Continue reading…]