If I can talk to you, you deserve rights too.

by Rebecca McCauley Rench

The ability to communicate between two life forms is a defining characteristic in whether those beings deserve rights, and we should re-examine our current stance on non-human rights. Human civilization has been struggling with how we define the rights of individuals in our societies for millennia. We can see the evolution of civil rights from a time when rights were decided by your gender, your land ownership, your age, and the color of your skin. In fact, to think that these are not still deciding factors in the way someone is treated in the eyes of the law suggests a limited exposure to the variety of societies in the world. In the United States, we believe that fundamental civil rights are a defining feature of an advanced civilization and necessary for stability in our culture and government. We are still not perfect, but we are continually improving our system and finding ways to be inclusive in those we grant rights.

However, how will we define a person as we begin to push the boundaries of integrating technology into our physiology and control over our genetics? How will we adapt those rights for life forms that do not fit into our current picture of a human yet are sentient beings? What does it mean to be a sentient life form and are there current beings on our planet that deserve more rights than we currently grant?

It is impossible to define a sentient being on their genetics as there is no one gene that makes one sentient nor is it necessary to have a genome to be a sentient being. As we begin to manipulate our own genome, integrate non-biological components into our physiology, and explore the Universe, defining a person by genomic similarity to a baseline is unlikely to hold up despite being very quantitative. The human race is full of genetic diversity and is not the same species it was 40,000 years ago. If one of our ancestors showed up today, would they have the same rights as all other humans on Earth or would we treat them differently in the eyes of the law? I do not think we would want to treat them differently if we uphold the values that urge us to grant rights to individuals. We do not interact with someone based off their genomic similarity to ourselves and this would completely negate the possibility of providing rights to alien life forms, silicon-based intelligence, and the emergence of new intelligent species on our own planet. The fundamental reasons we grant rights to all persons in society apply to these non-humans as well.

Perhaps the more important defining characteristic of being a sentient being deserving of rights is the ability to communicate with other sentient beings in society. For humanity, this has changed through time as we have moved from communication by verbal language, to written words, and now a plethora of media options. Soon we might even be able to communicate our thoughts directly with neural implants allowing us to have an even greater understanding to the ideas being shared. We would not deny a person of their rights in a court of law because we couldn’t understand what they were saying. We would spend time acquiring an interpreter to ensure that they could understand us as well as we understand them. We will face similar issues when communicating with other sentient non-humans and we should hold ourselves to the same standards of communication in those situations. This will become easier as we develop technologies that allow us to communicate directly with other species on our planet, such as neural implants that allow you to carry on a boring conversation with your house cat. Currently, we find ourselves capable of communicating with other primates through sign language and yet we do not provide them with the same rights as humans. Is this due to our inability to think outside the box on who deserves rights or rooted in our group definition of what it means to be a person? If we want to embrace a society where rights are granted to all sentient beings, we should re-examine the interactions we have with other life forms sharing our planet today. This would allow us to set standards and gradations in rights that can be easily adapted for the not too distant future. We already have gradations in rights that we give our children until they reach the age of majority, and these same guidelines can be used in determining the level of rights granted to varying levels of intelligence. This is a question we will have to tackle in the not too distant future as we continue to evolve and adapt humanity to a rapidly changing technological environment.

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Leadership

by Paul Syers

Two nights ago, the President gave his third televised address from the Oval office.  Given the important location and format, the country took notice, expecting a bold plan of action, hoping for stirring words from a strong leader to stir a change of national or global scale. 

The President’s address wasn’t that — it certainly wasn’t anything memorable — which made me feel the pang of the absence of great leadership in this country right now. 

Can the role of a good leader really be appreciated enough? Some famous leaders happened to fall into leadership roles, riding the crest of a wave of change that was going to happen with or without their presence.  Some leaders create great change through their own will.  It is most evident in their absence.  The movement they built begins to falter and die off soon after their death.  Their mark on the world is mainly from the momentum they build while they are on this earth.  The empire that Alexander the Great built fell apart quickly after he passed. Apple changed a number of different industries (computers, phones, music, etc.) with Steve Jobs at the helm, and since his death it has slid to merely following the pack. Amazon is another singular giant in its industry, expanding from online commerce to microelectronics, and now they have overtaken SpaceX in the race to re-use launch rockets. 

Complex problems may end up being solved, but true leaders often act like catalysts to produce a solution far faster.  Everyone agrees that a solution to the fight against ISIS exists – for the survival of free thought, it must – but everyone also agrees that finding and implementing the solution is complex.  The solution will almost certainly involve a coordinated effort amongst the world’s major powers, but current circumstances make that unlikely. We need the catalyst of a true leader: someone with the will, gravitas, and mind to hold the coalition together and steer it with a singular purpose.

I hoped that Obama’s address would be an announcement to do just that.  With those hopes dashed, I’m looking for another way to do SOMETHING; I’m looking for a plan B.  In the absence of a truly great leader, here’s a radical idea, harness the talents of someone with a forceful will: Putin.  No one can deny that he has exerted his singular will in his own country and increasingly abroad as of late. 

Many may see him as just another tyrant, but France, Great Britain, and the U.S. allied with Stalin during WWII, so there is precedent.  Granted, the aftermath of that took us into the Cold War, so making such a similar choice today would have significant risks.  It’s not an ideal solution.  I’d much prefer a different leader, but in the absence of one, maybe we need to go with plan B.

The Choice of the Governed

by Rebecca McCauley Rench

Government by Science propels us into the future. In a system driven by imagination and innovation, you create a society that is enlightened, educated, and full of potential. We can take in the knowledge of our current situation, think about how this can be used to create a better world, and see what happens when we try. This is the fundamental idea of the United States of America.

Government by Religion traps us in the past. Religion holds the thoughts and ideas of the past as truths to never be questioned. In the 7th century, after the Prophet Mohammed passed, a caliphate was established to rule. This is what Daesh is trying to re-create in the Middle East. A society dictated by the past without the ability to evolve and adapt.

Lessons From History

Paul Syers

The events unfolding in the Middle East in recent months have gotten many people questioning if we’ve reached the precipice of World War III. This immediately conjures memories of the last World War. Is Daesh like the Nazis? They both fit the description of an organization with an extreme ideology based on external control instead of reason and thought, taking territory and bent on the total destruction of an entire way life. We make comparisons to history in hopes of recognizing the faults of the past and avoiding them. In the most recent rise in tensions between Russia and Turkey I see a lesson that comes not from WWII, but from WWI.

These parallels between WWI and today’s conflict have been noticed by others and are few and broad, but the common thread is that larger powers got distracted by smaller interests and lost the larger perspective. They used alliances to escalate a small event and get pulled into a much larger conflict with each other.

The tangled set of alliances that evolved in the fight against Daesh as well as the fight over control of Syria and Iraq has begun to shake the modern balance of powers. Things were strained when Russia began bombing U.S. aided rebels in Syria. Most recently, tensions have escalated between Turkey, backed by NATO, and Russia. We cannot make the same mistakes of a century ago and let the differing national interests of Russia, Syria, Turkey, the US, and the European powers create and escalate more conflicts. It poses a needless danger and it distracts us from the real enemy, which is Daesh and the extreme ideology that terrorist organization spreads.

Syria, the U.S., Russia, France, Turkey and other nations involved need not suddenly become close allies, but they should start focusing on the bigger picture and the end-game, which is stamping an ideology that does not allow freedom of thought.

A twisted strength of Daesh is that it has a unified message and set of goals. Sadly, I can’t say the same thing about the combined actions of the international community in recent months. Putting individual national interests aside, focusing on the end game and coordinating efforts to reach it should be our top priority in the war against terrorism. A coordinated effort will make it easier to provide an overwhelming force without forcing a single nation to provide all those resources. The world needs a global, united strategy if we are to defeat not only the fighters of Daesh, but also their mindset.

I Want What ISIS Wants

Rebecca McCauley Rench

I want what ISIS wants. ISIS wants the smartest and the brightest to be a part of their caliphate. I want the smartest and the brightest fleeing the borders of Syria and Iraq to be on our side, fighting ISIS every step of the way.

Albert Einstein. Sergey Brin. Nikola Tesla. What do these people have in common? They were not Americans at birth, but rather became Americans. We are a great nation because of those that came before us—immigrants. We accepted these great minds and hard workers into the United States because we welcomed all those with the drive and ambition to make it to our country. In the modern era, immigration to the USA has become burdensome and there are many calls to limit the number of immigrants even further.

Year: 1776 Population: 2.5 million Status: Unstable, rebel colony

From the time our Constitution was drafted until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the U.S.A. had an open door policy for immigration. With a total population that barely exceeded modern-day West Virginia, and the close of the Revolutionary War, it was a no-brainer to let people in. We needed these daring explorers to help us conquer our new country. If you came to the United States before 1882, you were welcome to be here. Ellis Island, opened in 1892, was our government’s call for immigration reform when they asked those entering to simply sign a book and swear an oath. Why do we insist on having a different system in place today? Shouldn’t becoming an American citizen be as easy as getting a birth certificate?

Year: 1924 Population: 114 million Status: Post-WWI

Almost 150 years after the founding of our country, like much of the world, our population has swelled to 45x its Revolutionary War population. This was due both to immigration and advances in health and medicine. Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1924 which instituted quotas based on the current percentage of the U.S. population of that nationality. This law was extremely biased towards those of European descent and like so many other immigration laws in our history was based on prejudice. With most of the war refugees coming from Europe in the mid-twentieth century, the USA took in our fair share of refugees. With the prosperity of the US being what it is, why wouldn’t we take in more refugees, often the best and the brightest of their country, today?

Year: 1965 Population: 194 million Status: World Power on the Rise

The U.S. took another turn in its immigration policy by implementing the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This law negated the quota system based per country of origin and allowed immigration on the basis of worldwide quotas and the specific circumstances and career of the immigrant. This is the immigration policy that remains in place today with the addition of the US Patriot Act, which allows for deportation and barred immigration of individuals connected with terrorism. While there are often addendums passed to take in certain numbers of refugees, we lose some of our best minds that come to the USA for higher education. Why send those away that are the best and the brightest when they would rather stay here? Every person we take in is a person that is a person to fight against ISIS and one they can’t recruit.

Year: 2015 Population: 319 million Status: World Power

While bringing cultures together is never easy, immigrants helped build our railroads and skyscrapers. They mined our coal and created a new life for themselves and their families. Most people that call themselves Americans today are the descendants of those people who dared to come to this country. With every individual that we bring into the American fold, the U.S.A. grows stronger economically and socially as we become diverse and expand our knowledge-base. With our abundance of resources and land, we should welcome these explorers just like our own ancestors were enticed by lands and riches.

You will hear Presidential candidates speak about securing our borders as a first step in immigration policy, but you should ask yourself if there is a need to keep these people out. Harkening back to the day of signing the book at Ellis Island, immigrants should simply be required to be documented without the need for quotas or bureaucratic procedures. When we are born in this country, we are registered with a birth certificate and social security number. Shouldn’t the process of being “born” into America be the same regardless of where you came from? Change in our society and culture is inevitable and we should embrace that change with open arms and open doors to the shining city on the hill.

Too Many Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Paul Syers

The event in Roseburg, Oregon yesterday has once again shocked this nation. While the actions of the gunman have terrorized an entire community and, arguably, the nation, calling him a terrorist misses an important point: he was mentally ill.

Terrorism is different from mental illness. A terrorist is often someone who has been corrupted by an organization that preys upon his or her grief and frustration to brainwash that person into believing their twisted viewpoint. Examples include the RAF in Germany, the IRA in the 1990’s, Eric Rudolph, Al Quaeda, ISIL, Boko Haram, etc. Terrorists, and the mentally ill, can both commit mass murder atrocities. Preventing both types of people from getting to that point, however, requires two different types of action. Our government has taken action to identify and protect us from one of these types, but it has clearly not done enough with respect to the other type.

I find it a huge and telling problem that there are more people with mental illness in prison than in mental institutions. Our default policy is to react to the actions of untreated mentally ill people, send them to prison, and then give them treatment, which may or may not help. A reactive policy is too late.

In moving forward after this tragedy, we ask the question, what can we do to change things? Enacting common sense gun control laws would address a symptom, but does not get at a major cause of these tragedies. The Roseberg case, as well as other related tragedies, can only be prevented by both providing more resources to identify people with serious mental illness, and ensuring that those people and their families receive the help that they need.

Complacent Terrorism

Charles Mueller

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!

These were the famous words uttered by the fictional news anchor Howard Beale in the 1976 movie, The Network. These words were yelled on national TV because Howard Beale had finally had enough of the state of the world he lived in. He could no longer take American culture’s complacency with its slow demise to be something it was never supposed to be.

Well, here we are again and I am mad as hell. Today, an unconfirmed amount of innocent young adults were gunned down in broad daylight for reasons only the terrorist, who I’m sure we will learn all about in the coming days, knows. But here is the thing, WE ONCE AGAIN COULD HAVE SEEN THIS COMING. It is already being reported that this coward, this terrorist degenerate, was posting about the things he was going to do on social media yesterday. We seriously have the capability of being able to find people like this before they do terrible things like what occurred today. This isn’t rocket science. My credit card company can flag a fraudulent transaction at the speed of light, but for some reason we can’t keep our people safe even when the bad guys are telling us what they literally are going to do.

It makes me sick. It makes me angry. It makes me mad as hell. This is going to keep happening until we deal with it. This is the new face of terrorism. These people keep getting away with it because we refuse to address the problem for what it is. This is terrorism. This poor excuse for an American is trying to divide the country. He is trying to make us live in fear of going to school. He is trying to make us fear living our everyday lives. We’ve already seen other terrorists like this in Colorado who tried to make us afraid to go to the movies. Our social narrative keeps calling these events crazy acts of violence and categorizing these people as mentally ill, but that is just crap. All terrorists are mentally ill because they lack empathy for human life. It is our empathy that makes us humans and it is their lack of it that makes them terrorists.

We have to get mad. We have to get mad as hell and we have to decide that we aren’t going to take it anymore. This is our country, a place where we are supposed to be able to live free and challenge ourselves to become the greatest parts of humanity. Our ability to rise up and make change in our society is what makes this country the greatest, it is what makes us the United States of America. What is unfolding right now in Oregon is another notch on the belt in the sad new reality all American people face. We have the ability to stop this terrorism before it starts. We have the ability to find these terrorists and keep Americans safe. We have the ability, yet we remain complacent and try to come up with reasons that it is an issue we don’t have to address in full force. We’ve created complacent terrorism.

Well I’m mad as hell about all this and I’m not going to take it anymore. Write your Congressman, write the President, and tell them we are ready to stop being complacent when it comes to terrorism. This is our fight and the longer we put it off, the harder it’s going to be to win.