Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sex, gender, and binary thinking

Lately, I have started questioning the facile way many of us think about reality. I soon discovered that many concepts that I thought I understood were much more complex than I had previously assumed  I asked myself why, and was led to investigate binary thinking. While this is not the sole reason for my confusion, it certainly contributes to the problem. I want to share some preliminary thoughts with you. I admit that I do not have all the answers, but I do have many questions. Please join me in my quest.

How many sexes are there? Two, you reply, with great authority. After all, didn't God make people (as well as most animals) "male and female"? The great Abrahamic religions agree on this, but that doesn't mean that the issue is therefore settled. If it were only that simple!

What about people who don't fit neatly into the two categories of male or female? For them new terms are needed."Intersex" is a term that has been developed to cover a variety of conditions in which someone is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't fit these two categories.

For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or someone may be born with anomalous genitals. Someone else may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of their cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY. Other chromosomal variations are also possible. These make sex a complex matter.

Which variations of sexual anatomy count as intersex? In practice, different people have different answers to that question. That’s not surprising, because intersex isn’t a natural category but a socially constructed one.that reflects real biological variations. These categories are simplified into male, female, and sometimes intersex, in order to simplify social interactions..

Humans, usually doctors, decide how a person with various chromosomal variations or hormonal anomalies should be categorized. I don't want to get too technical, since I don't understand all of it myself, but I do want to demonstrate the complexity involved. Male and female are the two simple categories that we have traditionally used to describe sex.

The situation gets even more complex, however, when the term "gender" is added. This was originally only a grammatical term, but it is now often used as a synonym for sex. In feminist theory, this term was adopted  in order to distinguish between biological sex and the social construct of gender. This distinction has been widely adopted in the social sciences. Sometimes a further distinction is made between psychological and social gender.

Someone has explained succinctly that sex as what a person has between their legs and gender is how they identify themselves. As you may have noticed, both sex and gender are social constructs. As such, they are culturally shaped. It is dangerous, therefore, to impose the views prevalent in any culture and make them normative for all.

One reason why Christians often do this is because we tend to engage in binary thinking in which our own views are given normative status. We must be careful not to elevate even those views of sexuality that prevailed in differing biblical periods.. Male and female is one example of this.

The Bible is not a scientific textbook. Even though male and female are what we traditionally define in terms of sex and gender, intersex, for example, id not dealt with with. Yet intersex must have occurred in biblical times as well. To dismiss it simply as sinful, does not deal with the chromosomal and hormonal aspects. These cannot be dismissed as either sinful or the results of sin.

To widen the net even further, the issues that LGBT people raise cannot be dismissed in that way either. To label all of them as sinful does not address the issues that they raise, issue such as the nature of love. Are LGBT people engaging in sinful acts simply because they love each other?

Is such love permitted as long as they remain celibate, as some Christians argue?  What makes the love of  homosexuals sinful? Is the act of sexual intercourse the problem? Yet sex between heterosexual people can also be sinful. Are we not guilty of binary thinking when we limit sexual intercourse to heterosexuals?

Binary thinking can be defined as a system of thought that predominantly considers things in an "either/or", "right or wrong", "black or white" way, ignoring any subtleties or consideration of  any other alternatives. In philosophy, this is known as a "bifurcation fallacy.".

Binary thinking can be distinguished from binary opposition which deals with concepts that cannot exist together at the same time. Some examples are a light switch is either on or off; in a sports match, a team either wins or loses;;water is either hot or cold;;something in relation to something else can be left or right, up or down or in or out; it is basic to the digital world which consists of ones and zeroes.

Binary opposition is fundamental to the ideas of later twentieth century by thinkers like Claude Levi-Strauss, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. This theory is called structuralism. It maintains that all the elements of human culture can only be understood in relation to one another and how they function within a larger system.

I would prefer not to discuss binary opposition and structuralism at this point, binary; thinking is already too intimidating, even though the idea itself is not difficult to understand. We are so used to binary thinking that we are unable to grasp that alternatives exist. Why not consider an alternative?

Some examples of binary opposition

Plato utilized the principle of divisio. This principle is basic to the binary thinking that has prevailed since then. How can binary thinking be overcome? Quantum physics suggests at the very least that we consider possible alternatives to the prevailing binary thought.

Some of what quantum theory predicts and states is almost like something out of science fiction. Matter can essentially be in an infinite number of places at any given time; it is possible that there are many worlds or a multiverse; things disappear and reappear somewhere else; you cannot simultaneously know the exact position and momentum of an object, although some physicists are now questioning this claim, which if they are right would simplify quantum physics.

Even quantum entanglement, where it’s possible for two quantum particles to link together effectively making them part of the same entity or entangled. Even if these particles are separated, a change in one is ultimately and instantly reflected in it’s counterpart. 

Einstein found it difficult to accept what he referred to it as spooky action at a distance. In fact, he could not tolerate it and deemed tit the result of erroneous thinking.. Many of us find that equally difficult, but it should cause us to question the priority of binary thought.

Quantum theory is already leading to the development of quantum computers. In contrast with a classical computer which has a memory made of bits where each bit represents a one or a zero (binary code), a quantum computer will operate on what is called "qubits." A single qubit can represent a one, a zero, or, crucially, any quantum superposition of these; moreover, a pair of qubits can be in any quantum superposition of 4 states, and three qubits in any superposition of 8 and so on. 

This progression is exponential. As a result, a quantum computer will essentially be able to crack any algorithm, solve mathematical problems much more quickly and ultimately operate millions of times faster than conventional computers.

Quantum physics says that particles can behave like waves, and vice versa. Researchers have now shown that this 'wave-particle duality' is simply the quantum uncertainty principle in disguise.

Even if quantum physics turns out to be closer to the classic model of reality, the idea that reality is not as simple as it seems, the nature of quantum computers forces us to question binary thinking, so that male or female, black or white, one or zero are not the only possibilities. This can be liberating.

Then, perhaps, we need not get upset by transsexuals using the facilities that they prefer. Then we might not get hung up about nudity at a Pride parade or accepting LGBT people as full members of our churches and even allow clergy to officiate at weddings. 

For decades now I realize that everything in the world is black or white and that the concept of truth is not as simple as I thought it was at one time, More recently, I have been forced to struggle with the concepts of male and female and I discovered that even that it is not always easy to distinguish them.I suspect that others may  have had similar struggles. If not, maybe it is time to dismiss the simplicity off binary thought and open ourselves up to alternative ways of thinking.

I hope you are ready to go for a ride of discovery with me. I will appreciate your thoughtful contributions. The journey will not be easy, but at the end we may discover a way out of many of the problems that we are currently struggling with or at least make it possible for them to be understood better.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Lament for America

This is an open letter to American Christians in which I lament what is happening there in both the foreboding spirit and the poetic form of the Book of Lamentations. But there is also a note of hope. God has not deserted America, but he must be very disappointed at what is happening there. Americans, however, seem to have forgotten God, if their present behavior is any indication. Yet, as Lam. 3:22-23 reminds us, God's compassion never ends; it is renewed every day again.

Dear God, what is happening to America?
What motivated all this violence?
People everywhere are scratching their heads in wonder.
Why are Americans so intent on killing each other? 
Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas are a few recent examples.
Police shoot blacks because of the color of their skin color
or poor men simply trying to eke out an existence.
Killings were broadcast live around the world on social media. 
A black man then shot police officers because they are white.
But why do police draw their weapons when approaching a car?
It's not done where I live nor in most parts of the world.
And why does a black man go hunting for police officers?
Not to trivialize black lives, but all lives matter!

Are these the first shots of a new civil war,
a war rooted in racism and being waged 
by black and white and black and blue?
Now the blue have been militarized the battle is even bloodier.
America is one of the violent countries in the world.
Why all the guns that make such shootings possible?
More than one for every man, woman, and child in the country.
Who runs the country when it comes to guns? The NRA?
Is the current interpretation of the Second Amendment correct
or has the US Supreme Court has misconstrued its intention?
Did the Court originally intend to permit every citizen to carry guns
wherever and whenever they want 
or only for a militia to protect the country?
If you feel unsafe, why do you resort to guns?
Is "In Guns We Trust" the new motto of your country?
Many of you call yourself Christians, 
but you don't behave like Christ believers.
How can you kill people who are also made in the image of God?
How can you say you love everyone, 
and then point a gun at your neighbor
who may be white, brown, black, Muslim, or whatever.
What difference should race, ethnicity and religion make?
Your love is short-circuited and limited to those who look like you.

This behavior is capitalized on by unprincipled politicians, 
people like Donald Trump. How can you support him? 
Do you realize the hatred and division he fosters?
Is Trump a Christian? He knows nothing about the Bible.
He is a narcissistic, philandering, misogynistic loudmouth
who has aspirations to the presidency and may yet achieve his goal.
For the sake of your country, please don't vote for him!
The man is not worthy of the highest office in the land.
But he understands one thing well: America is an unequal society.
Many of his supporters are white males who feel powerless.
Trump promises to change that and make America great again.
Unfortunately, Trump is hardly a poor, powerless male.
Instead, he peddles a vision of an exclusionary country --
a country where Mexicans and Muslims are not welcome.
He has sowed fear and earned the endorsement of the NRA.
Is this the person you want to run your country?

If you want a country that is truly great again, 
there are at least three things you ought to do: 
1. Pray that Trump does not win the election;  
and, whatever you do, don't vote for him.
2. Pray for an end to the systemic racism that pits 
black against white and black against blue.
3. Practice unconditional love of your neighbors,   
irrespective of race, ethnicity, or religion. 
Then and only then will some of it's major problems be solved 
and Americans be able to live in peace again.

There is hope for America because God has not deserted her.
But God requires one very important thing from Americans:
To trust in him, and to live accordingly.
That is a tall order, but it is not impossible.
What it asks of every Christian, and all who believes in God:
To live as God demands, starting with these three things.
Is this too much to ask of all believers in America?
Remember, God's compassion never ends; 
it is renewed every day again.
God bless America!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

My Family Tree

We all have ancestors, but we don't always know who they were, where they lived, and what they did. During much of  the 70 plus years that I have been alive, I knew only a handful of people from my grandparent's generation and a few from my parent's, especially those who had immigrated to Canada.And I did know some of my many first cousins, but there are many more whom I have never met, although their names are recorded on my family tree. I often asked myself: where did my family originate, and who were all these ancestors?

My paternal grandparents were very prolific, so that is where I began my search. A few years ago I had received a Helleman family tree from someone bearing that name, but who was not a member of the many branches of this family that he had discovered. He had also learned that not all these different branches were related either, as far as he was able to determine.

Recently, I decided to start my own investigation. Although I have not yet discovered any connection between these major branches bearing the Helleman name, I was quickly  surprised to learn of how many relatives I have on both my father's and mother's sides. For reasons of privacy, I will refrain as much as possible from mentioning names. As someone once wrote, "Some family trees have beautiful leaves, and some have just a bunch of nuts. Remember, it is the nuts that make the tree worth shaking."

One problem with family trees is that they grow larger and larger. In the first month alone, my tree acquired more than 600 members. Not all are direct ancestors, but there are more ancestors than I had anticipated. My tree also has a descendants portion which is growing as well.


Nearly all my mother's descendants, with spouses, after her funeral (2014)

On my father's side, I have traced this clan as far back as Gerrit Helleman, who was born in Germany in 1728. On my mother's side, the earliest ancestor I discovered died in 1609. His son, who was born in 1600,  was the first to bear her maiden name, Wildschut. Other surnames, of course, also appeared and more are being revealed every day.

The problem with going back that far on my mother's side is that by the 12th generation from me, which is the earliest I have found thus far, there are more than 4000 other people in that generation from whom I am also descended, even if I assume that some of them may have entered my tree at several points. If I could trace all their descendants, this is no longer a tree, it is a forest where many of us can discover that we are related.

Even my ancestor who came from Germany is one of only 128 ancestors in hids generation, again assuming that none of them appear more than once in my tree. His descendants now number in the hundreds. My paternal grandfather, who is my namesake, alone left about 100 direct descendants when he died. If I think too much about these ancestors, I am much like the man that Henry S.S. Cooper talked about: "A man who thinks too much about his ancestors is like a potato -- the best part of him is underground."

Yet it is remarkable how much I have been able to discover about these long deceased ancestors, including information about date and place of birth, date and place of marriage, spouse, children, date and place of death, and even burial site. In some cases the information is complete; in others, it is sparse and even non-existent, and is often labelled "Unknown." What is also noteworthy is how many children died in infancy and are listed as dead or their names live on in siblings who were born later.

Model family tree

There is nothing morbid about building family trees. Last year I discovered the truth of what someone has written, "Genealogy is collecting dead relatives and sometimes a live cousin!"  when I found a cousin in the Netherlands, one of many; her grandfather and mine were brothers. Since then, we have been in contact with each other on Facebook. No doubt there will be more such discoveries.

By building this tree, I have been able to establish contact with many other families when we discover connections, in some cases, going back many generations. This is wonderful, as some unknown person once said, "Families are like fudge… mostly sweet with a few nuts."  These nuts, by the way, are not crazy people, but rather the exceptional ones who make the entire investigation worthwhile.

So far, I have enjoyed my search, although I have not yet found the gems, as I would prefer to call them, that pop up in other family trees. I have yet to find aristocrats in mine, much less royalty. My ancestors were humble farmers or tradespeople. Not a single one had such pretensions, as far as I have been able to ascertain, unlike in the TV ad which shows a woman holding a portrait of her cousin, George Washington.

My ancestors were born, lived, and died, often in the same communities, in Friesland or in other parts of the Netherlands. By now their descendants have multiplied and can be found in many parts of the world. Because of this multiplication, the odds are that the further back all of us would go, we would discover that we are all related and share common ancestors.

The Family Tree of Jesus Christ

In the Bible, ancestry is important as well. There are many genealogies in the Bible. Some of them relate to Jesus Christ, whose ancestry is traced back as far as Adam, who in turn is described as the son of God. These family trees are often stylized and serve a theological rather than a historical purpose.

I consider myself a hobbyist genealogist, in the sense that I am only concerned with my own genealogy and that of my wife, Her family has its own family tree which can be traced back to the 14th century. Although it follows the paternal Elgersma line, her mother also appears in it, since her parents were distant cousins. Such marriages were not uncommon in many communities in the Netherlands. What is unusual in her family was the use of the surname from a very early period in history.

In Friesland, where all of Wendy's ancestors and half of mine lived, the use of patronymics was very common. This involves using the father's first name as the middle name of the children. This is useful in helping to  determine who the father was, but since many names were common in families, confusion is still possible. On my father' side, there was the practice of repeating the same first names in every generation. Dirk and Gerrit alternate many times, which can also be confusing.

Family names are simultaneously one of the most important pieces of genealogical information, and a source of significant confusion for researchers such as myself. Mistakes are inevitable, especially in earlier generations when records were poorly kept. Memories are often faulty and the possibility of transcriptional errors also contributes to the errors. I know that I have made such errors myself, not all of which can be blamed on my sources.

A family tree with a specific purpose

Purposely, I am not including details of my family tree. The current practice is to avoid information concerning living persons as much as possible in order to protect their privacy. In this blog, my interest is to present my family tree as an example. Genealogy has become a popular hobby for many people today. There are countless ads by companies that will assist people in this research. 

The Mormons are in the forefront of such research because of their practice of baptism for the dead. For this reason, they have assembled the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, which houses over 2 million microfiche and microfilms of genealogically relevant material, These are also available for on-site research at over 4500 Family History Centers worldwide.

My project has just begun. In the last month, I have been able to compile more than 800 names in almost 200 families. This tree is growing by the day. Much work remains to be done. Any suggestions will be much appreciated.  I currently have more than 50 members who can access my family tree. 

If you would also like to do so, please send me your name and explain the reason why I should let you join. You should list any contributions you can make to my search. If you suspect that you are somehow related to me, you are especially invited to apply and enlarge this family tree.

For those who might be interested, here is some data from another source of the descendants of Gerrit Helleman who was born in Germany in 1728. I do not have similar data from other families to whom I am related. There are other branches of the Helleman family that are not (yet) connected with this one.

Gerrit Helleman
Catharina Margrita Vreese
9 generations, 160 members
1755 - 2008
Given Names
Aafina, Aafje, Aart, Adriaan, Adriana, Adrianus, Amber, Anna, Anneke, Annie, Antje, Arnold, Atze, Barbara, Berent, Bouke, Brenda, Caroline, Catharina, Christina, Cornelia, Cornelis, Daniel, Derk, Diewertje, Dirk, Donald, Eduard, Eleonora, Elisabeth, Emma, Engelbertus, Engelina, Erwin, Esther, Eveline, Evert, Evertje, Folkert, Francina, Francine, Frank, Fred, Frederieke, Frederik, Frits, Geert, Geertje, Geertrui, Geertruid, Gerardus, Gerrit, Gert, Gertrud, Gijsbertus, Hans-Dirk, Harmanna, Harmien, Harry, Hendrica, Hendrik, Hendrika, Hendrikje, Hendrikus, Hendrina, Henk, Henri, Henrick, Henrietta, Henriette, Hermannus, Hilda, Hugh, Iet, Ineke, Jacob, Jacoba, Jacobus, Jan, Jannetje, Jansje, Jeanette, Joanna, Joany, Johan, Johanna, Johannes, John, Joseph, Josephine, Jozina, Kim, Kornelis, Lambert, Lambertus, Lana, Leendert, Leon, Leonora, Lianne, Liesje, Lucas, Lucienne, Luuk, Machteld, Marc, Margaretha, Margrieta, Margrita, Mari, Maria, Marianne, Marinus, Maritje, Marjan, Marjolein, Mary, Meintina, Monique, Nathalie, Niesje, Patricia, Paul, Peter, Renata, Renate, Renee, Richard, Rick, Rob, Robert, Robin, Roelf, Ronald, Rudolf, Sanne, Siem, Simeon, Simon, Sofie, Theresia, Tjitske, Tom, Trijntje, Wendy, Wilhelmina, Willem, Willemtje, Wouter
In-law Names
Akerboom, Albert, Asselen, Beek, Berghuis, Boendermaker, Bos, Burger, Buytelaar, Chevalier, De Boer, De Fouw, Dell, De Putter, De Vrieze, Dirksen, Elfering, Gravesteyn, Hagg, Heijstek, Huetink, Hulleman, Hulsebos, IJzerman, Korenhof, Kranenburg, Langelaar, Lemmen, Lunenberg, Maring, Messchaert, Moek, Nouwen, Pas, Rense, Ronnenberg, Schaffers, Senechal, Slot, Sluerink, Stam, Teerink, Van der Kleij, Van der Kooy, Van der Pols, Van Dijk, Van Donkelaar, Van Egmond, Van Ekeren, Van Enk, Van Geest, Van Loon, Van Veen, Van Wezel, Veenman, Verdel, Verleur, Vervoorn, Vreese, Wiegerink, Wildschut, Zijlstra
Alblasserdam, Almere, Alphen a/d Rijn, Amersfoort, Amsterdam, Arnhem, Assen, Axel, Bad Kreuznach, Balikpapan, Bergen op Zoom, Brandwijk, Bussum, Calcutta, Canada, Delft, Den Haag, Den Helder, Davonport, Deventer, Dordrecht, Drachten, Dronten, Edam, Ede, Geldermalsen, Groede, Groningen, Haarlem, Heemstede, Hellevoetsluis, Hilversum, Hoorn, IJsselmuiden, Kampen, Lemelerveld, Lisse, Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Makassar, Mannheim, Naaldwijk, Naarden, Nieuwegein, Nieuw-Lekkerland, Nunspeet, Pernis, Pladju, Rotterdam, Sliedrecht, Sneek, Soest, Surabaja, Tasmania, Ter Aar, Utrecht, Vlaardingen, Voorburg, Wageningen, Wormerveer, Zaandam, Zutphen, Zwolle

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Golden Age Fallacy

Blogging is difficult. It is easy to find topics to write about but not so easy to do the necessary reflection that turns the topic into something more meaningful than a news item. I am not a journalist, but a blogger, a word that rhymes with plodder. Blogging takes much time and effort., at least for me. It does not spring out of my mind overnight, although some of my best thoughts originate then or grow there. This is just my way of indicating the process is more arduous than it may seem. So, if I do not write as regularly as you and I might like, be patient with me. It takes a while. The best is yet to come!

What do the "Leave" voters in the recent Brexit vote, the supporters of Donald Trump in the US, the troops of Daesh (aka. ISIS or ISIL), the Russians who adore Putin, and not to forget those in many churches all over the world who oppose same-sex relationships, all have in common? Among other things, they are victims of the Golden Age Fallacy.

This is the belief that things were better in the past,.in a Golden Age. It is a fallacy because we make an invalid inference, in this case from what ought to was. Another form of this fallacy is called the Primitivist Fallacy in which an invalid inference is made from was to ought. This sometimes involve a return to nature, as in the thought of Jacques Rousseau. The result is the same: the focus is exclusively on the past.

This fallacy is committed by conservatives of all kinds who conclude that, since the past was better than the present and since we live in an age of decadence and decline, we should try to turn the clock back to a golden age. or at least retain as much of that age as possible. Such an age never existed, in spite of the many eras that go by that name.

Remember when you were a child and the world wasn’t so complicated and messed up as it is today? Many of us have had this fantasy, We have a deep-felt nostalgia for a long-lost, idyllic past when life was simpler and we did not have to deal all the problems we face today. Discontent with the present causes many to look back for concrete examples of better times. But the argument for this involves a fallacy since we confuse what was with what ought to be.

This is wrong on at least two levels. First, that simpler or better past never existed. Each age has its own problems and difficulties, Second, even if such a simpler past had existed, we can never go back to it. One cannot enter the same river twice, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus put it.

The idea of a Golden Age first appears in the Greek poet Hesiod, who identified five ages, the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, the Heroic Age, and the Iron Age. The Roman poet Ovid simplified these age to four, each age being worse than the one that went before, The Golden Age was the best. Because of this constant decline, by definition, one is never in a Golden Age. The Bible uses this image of decline in Daniel 2.

Every country has had its own Golden Age. Sometimes, this has been called the "Good old days,"a term that is tinged with more than a bit of nostalgia, so much so that it becomes a fallacy. It is important to distinguish between a fallacy and legitimate comparisons with the past. Not every positive appraisal of the past is wrong, because the world really has changed and not always for the better. It's just that the past too has always been complex and uneven, and no period or people have ever had a monopoly on virtue.

We all have  selective memories. We tend to remember only what we want to remember. That is why the memories of our childhood are so often distorted. Our memories are also limited in scope; our time frame is so short that we are unable to get the right perspective. We need the divine perspective if we are to see everything correctly. Only God does so, since for him the past, present, and future are the same.

Terry Pratchett, the British fantasy/science fiction writer and humorist/satirist, wrote this delightful piece in 199 in which he spoofs the limited perspective that all mortals have. His Discworld, of which this is a part, may have influenced the author of the Harry Potter series. Discworld is a fantasy that is no more real than any Golden Age one, nevertheless, there are lessons that  we can learn here. Also, it adds a note of whimsy to this otherwise serious topic,

The sun was near the horizon. The shortest-lived creatures on the Disc were mayflies, which barely make it through twenty-four hours. Two of the oldest zigzagged aimlessly over the waters of a trout stream, discussing history with some younger members of the evening hatching.
"You don't get the kind of sun now that you used to get," one of them said.
"You're right there. We had proper sun in the good old hours. It were all yellow. None of this red stuff.
"It were higher too."
"It was. You're right."
"And nymphs and larvae showed you a bit of respect."
"They did. They did," said the other mayfly vehemently.
"I reckon, if mayflies these hours behaved a bit better, we’d still be having proper sun."
The younger mayflies listened politely.
"I remember," said one of the oldest mayflies, "when all this was fields, as far as you could see."
The younger mayflies looked around.
"It’s still fields," one of them ventured, after a polite interval.
"I remember when it was better fields," said the old mayfly sharply.
"Yeah," said his colleague. "And there was a cow."
"That’s right! You’re right! I remember that cow! Stood right over there for, oh, forty, fifty minutes. It was brown, as I recall."
"You don’t get cows like that these hours." …
"What were we doing before we were talking about the sun?"
"Zigzagging aimlessly over the water," said one of the young flies. This was a fair bet in any case.
"No, before that."
"Er … you were telling us about the Great Trout."
"Ah. Yes. Right. The Trout. Well, you see, if you’ve been a good mayfly, zigzagging up and down properly—"
"—taking heed of your elders and betters—"
"—then eventually the Great Trout—"
"Yes?" said one of the younger mayflies.
There was no reply.
"The Great Trout what?" said another mayfly, nervously.
They looked down at a series of expanding concentric rings on the water.
"The holy sign!" said a mayfly. "I remember being told about that! A Great Circle in the water! Thus shall be the sign of the Great Trout!"


                                          The  Golden Age (fresco by Pietro da Cortona)

The Golden Age Fallacy has also been called the Nostalgic Fallacy  By whatever name it is known, it is wrong. In Russia, even today, there is a nostalgia for strong leaders, people like Stalin. This explains Putin's popularity at home, especially among elderly Russians but also among te young. This nostalgia lies deep in the Russian psyche.

Donald Trump has capitalized on a similar nostalgia with his campaign slogan to "Make America Great Again." Unfortunately, he does not specify when precisely America was great; he simply assumes it was. This is part and parcel of American exceptionalism. The US is the greatest and most powerful nation in the world. And, if it is not at the moment, it should be.

Trump uses the fear of some specified threats to the US and its people to bolster his fallacious argument. He has been successful thus far in his campaign. Whether it will bring him all the way to the White House or not remains to be seen. I hope not! His success will come at the expense of countless Muslims, Mexicans, and whoever else he can tar and feather before November. because they supposedly pose a threat.

The leaders of the Brexit vote were equally evasive in their campaign to have the United Kingdom leave Europe. What country did they have in mind with their demand to take our country back. Fifty years ago or five hundred? Are they nostalgic about post-WWII Britain, the Victorian era, or the Elizabethan? Or are they afraid, as the US is, about uncontrolled immigration?

What about Daesh? They too are looking to the past, to the re-establishment of the Caliphate that marked an era when Islamic nations were powerful and Muslims the intellectual leaders of their age. Their retrospective ideology has managed to captivate thousands of young men and women, many of whom know little about Islam but are, nevertheless, willing to sacrifice their lives for this cause.

What about Christians who are opposed to same-sex relationships because they regard such relationships as evil and sinful? In churches everywhere they too look back at a time when such relationships were largely unknown and, if mentioned, were quickly dismissed. LGBT was unheard of.

The beliefs of many Christians were not questioned in those not-so-long-ago eras that were marked by theological and moral certainties. This was true until recently in many churches all over the world. Some churches in Africa and Asia are still unwilling to tolerate what they regard as unbiblical behavior.

These are all rational people who know that older is not necessarily better, but many are taken in by this fallacy and seem no longer able to reason with any degree of reliability. Whatever else may be motivating them, this fallacy in all its variations and under diverse names plays a role.

The supposed simplicity of the past with its many certainties is attractive to people all over the globe, coming from every nation, every religion. and every philosophy. They tend to be conservative in the sense that they prefer the traditional over the new. They are fearful of change, regarding change as a threat to the established order that they have inherited from previous generations.

Change is not necessarily bad. While change for the sake of change can be wrong, the inability or even reluctance to change is not healthy, especially if change is necessary. We must not idolize the past, since not everything in the past was necessarily good. Nor should we idolize the future by wanting to change everything. That too is a fallacy, one that we must studiously avoid.

Yet change is inevitable, Let us not resort to fallacies in order to hide these changes nor to supposed certainties, hallowed by age, to interdict those who advocate change. Churches are notorious for this. In a previous century they defended slavery as biblical. The apartheid regime in South Africa did the same to perpetuate their hideous ideology.

Only recently did my own denomination allow divorced people to be members of the church in good standing. But this privilege is not yet accorded to same-sex couple who are married. In all these instances, the Bible was touted as the reason why change should not be permitted. Only reluctantly, did change come about. In some cases, it still has not happened, I belong to an older generation, but I recognize the need for change, I am not afraid of the future and thus I am willing to let go of the past.