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Discussion Topics

Previous Topics

May 6th Session: Richard introduced the topic of 'The Narrative" in politics. How does it influence public opinion and voting? A lively discussion followed his presentation.

March 4th Session: was presented by Jay Gonen. Topic: Fatherland (German), Motherland (French), Birthland (Israeli), Settled Land (Arab), Homeland (American) - by love and honor this land is my land.

Jay discussed how "psychological and cultural differences among historical groups in their modes of mystical identification with their own lands."

February 4th Session: Obesity and Impulse Control

What does that have to do with philosophy, you may well ask?

How does weight control relate to philosophy? Come to this Philosophy Group session, 2015 to find out: “Can Stigmatization of Obesity Ever be Morally Justifiable?” A short paper appears on the HUSBAY Blog and at dontdumbdown.com. Here's a link to Richard's piece.

PS. The luncheon was not be catered by Nutrasystem™.


January 7th Session: Why Atheism Cannot Compete with Organized Religion (presented by Richard Kessler and Rafael Haddock)

Synopsis: Atheists constitute only 1.6% of the American population. This means that 98.4% of the remainder are potential customers for the marketplace supplied by religious affiliation. Why is no one buying what Atheists are selling?

For more on this session, please refer to the following links:
Barren Outcomes
Religious Landscape Survey
Ted Talk on Atheism

Topic for the December 3rd Session: We were in for a real humdinger of a Philosophy Program when discussing Death with Dignity, with reference to what secular humanism has to say on the subject. Dan Dana explained his quantum theory for end-of-life decision-making. Rafael discussed why Kant said we should not do it but may have really meant it was permissible. I will argue that a secular humanist has a moral duty to die with dignity but not by seppuku (a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment). As a Stoic might ask: Can one really live well if unprepared to die well?

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Topic for the November 5th Session:  Tolerance and Intolerance. In the U.S., in the aftermath of 9-11, the fear of radical Islam, as evidenced by America's counterterrorism efforts here and abroad, have led to a greater intolerance of Islam. At the same time, intolerance of western values and the global economy have increased the sway of radical Islam( Al Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram, for example) and its intolerance of western societies. This raises our question for discussion: When is it proper for a moral person to be intolerant, and, conversely, when is it improper for amoral person to be intolerant?

Please note: It was a very successful presentation with much audience participation. There were over forty comments spoken during the session. Who says Chinese food puts you to sleep?

Please note my essay on this subject consisting of 8 pages is available on Richard's blog at: http://www.dontdumbdown.com/tolerance-and-intolerance/<-Click here, or copy the URL to your browser.

Topic for the October 1st Session: From National Conflict to Religious Conflict:
Is the Israeli army the army of God?

Topic for the September 3rd Session was : Who is a Liberal, and What is Liberalism? If you missed this session, you missed a great one. You can still learn more about it by clicking on the links below.

Richard has published a 10 page extract of a book he is writing which you may read on his blog, dontdumbdown.com

For a more detailed description of Richard's discussion topic, please click HERE.

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Topic for the August 6th Session:  Neuroscience and Murder

Mary Coleman was the presenter for this session.

We live in a society that has three kinds of murder – 1) a few individuals murder other people, 2) society imitates these killers and murders them (capital punishment), and 3) society trains young people to lose their usually inborn reluctance to kill and to become members of an armed force trained in the arts of murder (war). This talk will focus on the first topic – people who murder others and what neuroscience and other disciplines so far has and has not revealed about the minds of these individuals.  

This talk will focus on the first topic – people who murder others and what neuroscience and other disciplines so far has and has not revealed about the minds of these individuals.

In the July 2nd Session: Jay Gonen discussed two of Kafka's works, "The Castle" and "The Trial".

For a free read of "The Castle", click here. For "The Trial", click here.

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In the June 4th Session: The fourth of July is a federal holiday to celebrate the nation’s independence. For many Americans, it is a day for backyard barbecue, parades and fireworks. However this holiday is much more than hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream in July. Do you agree it is an annual holiday which celebrates American Exceptionalism? Does America’s history justify the nation’s celebration of American Exceptionalism? How do you feel about the 4th of July? You can read Richard Kessler's answer. This was an active session with many HUSBAY members participating.

In the May 7th Session: What is Power? Read the cover letter.

The meaning of power is best understood through a linguistic analysis of the structure of its meaning.

  1. Power is an expectation. It is not an action
  2. The expectation is expressed in a counter factual conditional sentence.
  3. The expression requires a social or institutional context to become meaningful.
  4. The expectation must identify the actor in the premise who can actualize, perform or carry out the expectation. It refers back to a person or a human institution.
  5. Power is exercised by a person or people but not by a thing. The definition of power requires linguistic examination of the grammar of power and its specific syntax. Such an examination results in a definition that “power” is a statement of an expectation expressed as a counter factual conditional in a social context relating to human agency. Read the rest of "What is Power" by clicking here. To see an abbreviated essay, click here.

The discussion also includes the Bases of Power.

Appendix A
Bases of Power

(French and Raven)

Some scholars have attempted to provide a classification system for different types of
power. In a notable study of power conducted by social psychologists John R. P. French
and Bertram Raven in 1959, power is divided into five separate and distinct forms.

a. Coercive power
b. Reward power
c. Legitimate power
d. Referent power
e. Expert power
f. Informational power

Click here for the appendix.

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Topic for April 2, 2014: "Explanation" - see below.

The theme is explanation (Part 2). We all know that there is a lot of 'splainin' to do. On February 5th we looked at Scientific Explanation. Click here for specific details. April 2nd is Historical Explanation.

Wayne amd BrainThe photo at left shows the middle stages of the operation in which ideas are grafted to Jack's brain each year.

Jack Wayne Bio

Below are some of the programs we enjoyed in 2013:

Valentine's Day

On February 6 we will celebrated Valentine’s Day by connecting love and marriage with social welfare support provided by the state. It will be argued that the reproduction of the working class depends on transfers of money from the government to workers. These transfers diminish the social worth of the specific recipients and lead to more social control of families but are necessary for the economy. The fantastical notion that keeping laborers alive so that they can toil in repetitive, low-paid jobs under poor conditions makes them ‘freeloaders’ is now more than 150 years old.

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Family Affairs

Families have long been a site of violence and oppression for many. The fetish about conserving this version of the family has become prominent in recent years, particularly among social conservatives. The ‘traditional’ family has been celebrated as a positive institution. But given the amount of damage inflicted by families and family life it is appropriate to question the value of the ‘traditional’ family.

The March 6th meeting considered how the ‘traditional’ family became so dysfunctional for individuals, and so positive for business and government, as it evolved in the industrial era. Here are some of the issues:

1. The emergence of rigid gender roles as the idea of true womanhood developed within a spermatic economy. The invention of heterosexuality.

2. Courtship, sex and procreation. Getting caught and doing the right thing.

3. The transformation of housework. Modern appliances and more work for mother.

4. The obsession with normal. Trying to act normal if you’re different.

5. Family violence. See more by clicking this link.

Scientific Explanation

Program for Feb. 6, 2014

1. The Search for Explanation Humans live in a bewildering world and have sought ways of explaining and predicting outcomes in it. Science has provided several approaches to understanding stuff but has never produced an explanation of any outcome that is completely valid. Scientists are always correcting and adding nuance to their explanations. The limitations of scientific findings are always identified in Good Science, but unfortunately are obscured in Bad Science.

2. Types of Scientific Explanation The Oxford English Dictionary defines the scientific method as: “a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.”

Causal Explanations: Scientific explanations of a phenomenon (y) often begin with speculations about the cause or causes of y (x). These speculations—hypotheses—are derived from a framework or theory. They are not random speculations but are generally seen as worthy of investigation by a community of scholars because there is some reason that the cause will, under some circumstances, create the effect. We may speculate that ‘stepping on a crack breaks your mother’s back’ but no scientific group has ever received a grant to examine that hypothesis. On the other hand there is some good theoretical basis to consider the effects of smoking on lung cancer. We’ll consider that subject a little later.

Another feature of causal explanations is the use of counterfactuals. Would we have the same outcome if the explanatory variables were changed? Would Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation apply in a spaceship where gravitational forces are much reduced? (Answer next Wednesday).

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Some causes of an event and their counterfactuals are trivial. It is perfectly true that if a meteor had struck my condo last night I wouldn’t be here leading this discussion. Is the absence of a meteor a cause of my involvement in today’s meeting?

Functional/Teleological Explanations: This type of explanation reverses our usual understanding of cause and effect. Functionalists argue that the effect produces the cause. You are probably familiar with the theory of Intelligent Design. All living things have various components arranged in a specific way. Most of these parts serve specific functions. It cannot be by accident that this marvelous arrangement has come into existence. There must have been a designer.

Charles Darwin also used a functionalist approach. His great contribution was to replace the designer (God) with the Theory of Natural Selection. In so doing he turned a religious belief into a subject of scientific investigation.

Essentialist Explanations: For centuries, beginning with Plato and Aristotle, we have explained outcomes by looking at the properties of entities. The entity—a physical object, an animal, a group of people—is understood to have specific properties which identify them and which cause them to function as they do. As Popeye tells us over and over again, “I am what I am.”

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Essentialist explanations are very weak. In historical explanation, to be discussed next month, they tend to replace serious approaches. “The Germans are a warlike people” is not an explanation of the origins of World War II, even if it were true. In terms of April’s topic, explanations of human behavior, essentialist views of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, or other group characteristics lead to stereotypical thinking.

Determinism: Determinism is the theory that if x (the cause) exists then y (the effect) will necessarily follow. Causal determinism leads to the proposition that what happens today was determined at the origin of the universe. There is no demonstration of how this unending chain works, and free will is eliminated from the discussion. We seldom accept the thought-preventing explanation, ‘it had to happen.’

Overdetermination is a more useful concept. An effect usually has multiple causes. But sometimes we don’t require that many causes to generate a scientific explanation. The answer to “Why did the egg break?” does not require an elaborate description of why it was dropped on the floor by the distracted cook, the physical structure of the egg, the breeding of chickens so that they lay very thin-shelled eggs in these times, etc.

Freud used this concept artfully in The Interpretation of Dreams, arguing that many features of dreams are usually ‘overdetermined,’ in that they are caused by multiple factors in the life of the dreamer, from the "residue of the day" (superficial memories of recent life) to deeply repressed traumas and unconscious wishes, these being ‘potent thoughts’. Many events in history and in our lives appear to be overdetermined.

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3. Smoking and Lung Cancer

Does Smoking Cause Lung Cancer?

Our belief that smoking causes lung cancer is derived from studies by Epidemiologists. They have assembled data that consistently show much higher rates of lung cancer in smokers versus nonsmokers. These studies do not show causality. The data merely show a statistical association. The causal sequence (smoking ➡ lung cancer) is not proven. Here are some issues:

(i) The counterfactual, that without smoking the afflicted individuals would not have developed lung cancer, is assumed but cannot be established.

(ii) Most smokers do not develop lung cancer. In a 40 year British study the rate of mortality from lung cancer of smokers was 2.49 per 1,000. Rate of death from medical conditions not normally associated with smoking was 3.49 per 1,000.

(iii) Some of the data are questionable. An early study of British Physicians’ mortality rates over 20 years showed the Number of Deaths per 100,000, age standardized, was Nonsmoker 23, Former smoker 21, Current smoker 28. It appears that it is better to have smoked and then quit the habit.

Final note: Although the statistical association between smoking, lung cancer, and other diseases does not establish causality there is a powerful correlation between the two. Point (iii) above shows a 22% increase in mortality for smokers, and other studies—however limited and qualified—also show a strong association. The explanation of this correlation will never be established by epidemiological studies but by basic research on the effect of cigarette smoke on cell structures.

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The Value of Families

On April 3rd we considered the increasing value of families to individuals in the new millennium. The ‘traditional’ family is being replaced by the post-modern family in which:

1. Gender roles are becoming more flexible as the sexual identity of individuals is changing from a dichotomy to a continuum. (A self-evaluated Gender Aptitude Test will be distributed to the group.)

2. Women are more likely to enter the labor force. Peer marriage is emerging.

3. Sexual orientation is increasingly perceived non-judgmentally. Same sex marriage creates new options for family life.

4. We can choose family members from a wider population. No need to be stuck in a dysfunctional family with oppressive relationships; pick people you like and make your own family.

5. New reproductive technologies broaden our options for family formation.

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Jack Wayne - Brief Bio

Jack Wayne taught Sociology at the University of Toronto from 1968 to 1999. His areas of interest and publication included Urban Sociology, African Studies, Historical Sociology and Sociology of the Family. He was seconded for two years to the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and was also Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University. While at the University of Toronto Jack directed the Transitional Year Programme, which brought students to the university from minority and working class communities. He was also Advisor to the University President on anti-racist initiatives.

After retirement Jack turned his full attention to Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc., a company that he had founded to provide educational materials to post-secondary students. CSPI grew to become the leading Canadian-owned company of its kind. Jack served as President of the Association of Canadian Publishers for two years.

Jack is also featured on our Who's Who at HUSBAY page.


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