Archive for February, 2011

On Civil Discourse: Part I- Broaching the Subject

Posted in Politics, Religion, and Society with tags , , on February 28, 2011 by Justin S. Smith

I disagree with many people on most things and all people on some things and so it is with a certain frequency that I find myself in a conversation concerning an opposing opinion. The free flow of verbal conversation not allowing for the formal rules of a proper debate, there should still be some matters of consideration in order to maintain civility. The first of these is on the initiation of the conversation or broaching the subject.

There is a large group of people who feel that they are entitled to share their opinion without having to back it up, respond to queries, or listen to opposing views. If this is you, keep your opinion to yourself. You do no good with your expression and refusal to go further. If you refuse to back it up or answer questions, you show weakness in your view. If you refuse to hear opposition, you give an air of superiority that your opinion is worth being heard but opposing views are not. If you think that you “win” by being the only person allowed to speak, you should know that you only win in your own mind. Stating your opinion is like stepping in a ring, you can’t punch your opponent and jump back out. This is especially important to remember when you know your opinion is disagreed with before you state it.

As opposition, if the subject is broached, you are entitled to respond if you choose. Most people know this. What most people don’t recognize is their right to not respond. You have the right, after someone has stated his/her viewpoint, to plainly state that you disagree but do not wish to engage. I do see it is good to state that you disagree even if you do not wish to engage because to not say so is to give tacit approval to the preceding statement. Depending on how strongly you disagree or the implications that could be drawn from your tacit approval, this may be unnecessary.  The importance for the second party is recognizing the choice point of engagement. If you don’t want to don’t. If you do, you should realize that you are subject to the same rules as the initial speaker; prepare to back yourself up, respond to questions and entertain counterpoints. Again, imagine the subject broached is a ring, you don’t have to step in, but the moment you do you are open to everything permissible in the ring and will have to weather the blows of your opponent.

We can learn a lot by having in depth discussions with people of varying viewpoints, but not everyone is cut out for doing so while keeping their emotions in check. Also, there are times and places when such discourse may be inappropriate. If you don’t have the time or endurance or the venue is wrong, don’t engage.  If you choose to engage, whether by initiating or responding, be prepared to engage fully. No one likes sucker-punch conversationalists. Get in there and duke it out. If your opinion is worth stating, it’s worth defending. If it’s not worth defending, you should probably keep it to yourself.


Identity Confusion

Posted in Reflections with tags , , , on February 23, 2011 by Justin S. Smith

The first time I recall seeing the name Justin Smith in reference to someone other than me was at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, MA. Somewhere there exists a photograph of a teenage me posing next to the marker. My mother refused to take said picture as it would invoke some bad juju or other such nonsense. My father, on the other hand, had no such reservations as he is a primary contributor to my own warped humor.

Before seeing this, I had no illusions about the commonality of my name. Statistically Justin has been in the top 30 most popular names since I was born and I don’t think anyone has questions concerning the abundance of Smiths in the world. I started using my middle initial fairly early, though not knowing other Justin Smiths, in order to separate myself. Justin S. Smith is only slightly less common, but still better. I still end up using numbers on email addresses online account names because justinssmith is always already taken (see address bar.)

When I was working at Blockbuster video in Jackson, TN we would frequently make call-in orders for lunch to nearby restaurants. They would always ask for last name and first initial. J. Smith usually got a sarcastic “yeah, right” response from the other end. So I started using aliases. B. Buster was a favorite and never got any questions even after arriving to pick up wearing a Blockbuster shirt. They actually preferred to be lied to, but that’s a topic for another time. It seems with the ubiquity of J. Smiths in the world, believing that you are talking to one would not be difficult.

When I hired on with my current employer, I was assigned an alias for my email. There standard is first initial + last name + numbers (if necessary.) Currently the number is near 150. To make matters worse, they recently removed location markers from the email addresses which helped you determine whether you were sending to Houston or Africa. Because of all of this, I have received emails for at least 3 other Justin Smiths in the company. My favorite three:

3. Request for release of a purchase order from a different division in Australia. I replied by telling them that I had no access to that BORG, they might want to check their address book and try again.

2. PDFs of needed forms to acquire a work visa for Ecuador. I replied by saying that I had no intention of going to Ecuador and had doubts about my manager releasing me for a field trip. I got the response saying that if I ever changed my mind, the sender was the one to talk to about paper work.

1. Flight schedule for a helicopter going out to a drilling rig off the Gold Coast; apparently I was to be on said helicopter at 6 AM in two days. I replied saying my attendance would not be possible because of my lack of qualifications for offshore work and the fact that I was in west Texas.

I do get the occasional humorous response, like the one from my Ecuadorian travel agent, but usually it is just a quick apology before promptly forgetting the lesson and needing to relearn in two weeks time.

But now things have gotten more strange. I recently made an online purchase and after days of tracking realized that I had mistyped my address. I contacted the seller and the post office and we still weren’t sure what was going to become of the package sent to an undeliverable address 200 higher than where my street ends. The post office said that the carrier would probably see the error and match the name and I would receive the package a day or so late. Then I got a bizarre email from someone saying the had received the package by error. they were able to contact me using the cart number on the invoice and google checkout forwarded the message to me. I called the number that they had sent and found the post office had corrected and sent to the Justin Smith closest to the address provided (numerically closest not logically.) The other Justin Smith lives less than 300 feet from me.

I am convinced that if I ever had to go into hiding as a fugitive, I could do so without changing my name. If I ever had to relocate with witness protection, the agent would probably look at my name and say “yeah that’s good enough.” At least my parents didn’t name me John…or Jason.  

Anti-Choice Fringe

Posted in Politics, Religion, and Society with tags , , , , , on February 10, 2011 by Justin S. Smith

So according to a recent call to action from Planned Parenthood, I am part of “the anti-choice fringe.” I’ll own that, I am unequivocally, in all cases, without exception, opposed to abortion. Always, I think it is wrong. Always, without any lingering doubt or reservation. I hope that was clear enough. I have no problem with Planned Parenthood calling me part of the fringe (though most polls show this is still very much a split issue.) I do take issue with the continued use of the political rhetoric “anti-choice.” But this really gets to the core of the argument that continues to rage on nearly 40 years after Roe v. Wade.

What Planned Parenthood tells me by calling me “anti-choice” is that they have made no effort to understand where I am coming from. I understand that to them, and those that agree with them, it is a matter of choice and freedom. These are two things I am in favor of. However, those of us that call ourselves “pro-life” do so because we view the issue as a matter of protecting the life of an unborn child over protecting the choice of the mother. We view abortion as ending a life. A methodically planned, premeditated murder. I know that’s harsh rhetoric, so let me prop it up a little.

Most pro-life people believe that life begins at conception. Most have a religious conviction that children are a blessing from God, that we are formed by the hand of God in our mother’s womb, that we (humans) are the image bearers of God and therefore should be protected above all other life. We believe that a human life is sacred and we believe that that life is sacred from its origination as a fertilized egg forward. Yes our opponents are confused by are claiming of belief in the sanctity of life while also believing in the death penalty, but the same scripture that defends and teaches us that our lives our sacred also teach that the penalty of taking another life is death (Exodus 21:12) and that includes taking the life of an unborn child (Exodus 21:22-25.) Saying that we are “anti-choice” because we oppose abortion is like saying that we our “anti-freedom of religion” because we oppose human sacrifice. We are in favor of choice and freedom but not where those rights impose on the rights of another, born or unborn, especially a right that is enumerated in the Declaration of Independence as “inalienable”: life. More importantly, something that God takes so seriously; human life is his image.

But not everyone believes in God or in the scripture that we on the “anti-choice fringe” use as our guidance. But without such there still remains some legal issues. Legally should nonviable human babies be treated as less than human? For consistency, no they should not. The Endangered Species Act levies equal penalties for killing the adult of the species as it does for damaging the egg of a protected bird.  Protection for the bald eagle (though no longer endangered) does the same. Further, if a murderer takes the life of a pregnant woman, he can be held culpable for 2 counts of murder not 1. Our laws already recognize that taking the life or possibility thereof from a baby, fetus etc., whether that individual is on its own able to survive or not, is equal to taking the life of an adult of the same species. Religious beliefs aside, we are terribly confused.

To my pro-choice readers, please note that I willingly call you by your own term: pro-choice. I don’t call you “pro-abortion”; I know many of you though pro-choice are anti-abortion. I don’t call you “anti-life” because that is just as ridiculous as calling me “anti-choice”; it’s simply not true. However, if you continue to call me and those that believe like me “anti-choice” I will call you intolerant hypocrites; the ones who cry “intolerance” the loudest when someone states an unpopular belief like abortion is wrong or that their religious system is the only right way but hold just as firmly to their own belief to the point of putting false labels on their opponents. That is hypocrisy without question. I am pro-choice. I am pro-freedom. I am however opposed to the choice of killing an unborn child and against the freedom to do so.

I have seen things the other way; I understand the opposing viewpoint; I vehemently disagree with it, because I believe that the unborn child is still a life and to terminate that life is murder. I am not in favor of the bombing of abortion clinics or the assassination of doctors that perform abortion. I am not in favor of vigilante justice to right the wrong, so do not take anything I have said as a call in that direction. I only want an attempt to understand where I (we) are coming from. We are for the protection of life. We are pro-life, and though rhetoric may attempt to claim us to be a small minority, we are not.