Obsolete Laws, Morality, and Beliefs

The world is changing, and conservatives deny this by appealing to values of a simpler past.

  • How Republicans are resorting to obsolete laws — the Comstock laws, the 1864 Alabama ruling — to enforce their morality upon everyone;
  • How the Vatican’s latest statement doesn’t amplify dignity, it only exhibits the same base morality of tribal thinking that lacks any empirical basis;
  • And a piece by Brian Karen about Donald Trump that quotes Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall.” With a comment about Three-Body Problem.

This mentality has always been with us; it’s part of base human nature.

LGBTQNation, Dr. Warren J. Blumenfelt, 11 Apr 2024: The archaic Comstock laws were named for a man who also fueled the US obsession with book banning, subtitled “Anthony Comstock destroyed 15 tons of books during his 1800s quest for a “pure” nation, which also included banning abortion medications through the mail.”

Conservatives are resorting to archaic laws, as with the resurrection of the 1864 Arizona law against abortion, to impose their morality upon everyone. The Comstock laws are now being used to try to prohibit the shipping of medications, through mail, to end a pregnancy at home. Mifepristone.

Congress passed the Comstock Act in 1873 under the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant. It criminalized usage of the U.S. Postal Service to send any materials it considered “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious,” all contraceptives and birth control information, sex education, “abortifacients” (drugs used to abort a pregnancy), sex toys, anatomy books, personal letters with sexual content or information, and any letters with information from the other categories.

The law was named after Anthony Comstock, a former U.S. Postal Inspector, member of the National Purity Party (a Eugenics organization), and founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

Comstock based his work on his faith and dedicated his life to his interpretation of Christian morality. He stood opposed to so-called obscene literature, abortion, contraception, masturbation, gambling, prostitution, and patent medicine. He was also an outspoken critic of women’s suffrage.

I’m still reading Joshua Greene’s Moral Tribes, which offers ideas about morality analogous to Kahneman’s about thinking (fast and slow, instinctive (aligning to tribal values) versus thoughtful (aligning to cosmopolitan values)), and which aligns to my own thoughts about how ‘savanna’ morality is counter-productive in the modern world. When I finish Greene, I’ll summarize.


We should expect nothing other, from the church — values that, even if indirectly, promote expansion of the tribe/church. Suppression of sexual identities that do not produce children.

Vox, Li Zhou, 10 Apr 2024: The Vatican’s new statement on trans rights undercuts its attempts at inclusion, subtitled “As one expert put it, “This is the Newsmax version of Catholic theology.”

A new Vatican document released April 8 details how the Catholic Church approaches human dignity, but it has raised concern among LGBTQ parishioners and their allies about how it describes gender-affirming surgery.

The document, entitled “Dignitas Infinita” (“Infinite Dignity”), was five years in the making and lays out the ways the Vatican believes the inherent dignity that each person possesses can be honored and protected. Though largely in line with positions the Catholic Church has expressed in the past, it’s notable for elevating some of the church’s most conservative views into doctrine — essentially, official church teachings — during a period in which the current pope has been seen as trying to steer the organization in a more progressive, inclusive direction.

Broadly, the document highlights “grave violations” of human dignity, including war, poverty, mistreatment of migrants, and abuse of women. It also lists other perceived threats, including abortion and what the Vatican describes as “gender theory” and “sex change.” In these provisions, the document criticizes gender-affirming procedures and stresses that the Vatican views gender as a clear binary between men and women.

“While Pope Francis has made greater strides in affirming LGBTQ+ Catholics than any of his predecessors, his endorsement of ‘Dignitas Infinita’ will be seen as turning the clock back by transgender individuals, both within and outside the church,” R. Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, told Vox.

The problem with this kind of thinking is that there is no empirical basis for its idea of “inherent dignity.” What about all the people this policy finds without dignity? I’m supposing the church would value their inherent dignity as embryos -!, but not as adults, given choices they’ve made as living human beings, presumably endowed by their God. Are such people then inherently evil? All of this strikes me as made-up theology, driven, as always, by the implicit priority of expansion of the tribe at all costs, including the dismissal of honest choices people make about themselves that do not involve having children.


I’m noting this piece because it quotes Isaac Asimov.

Salon, Brian Karem, 11 Apr 2024: A total eclipse of Donald Trump: First felony trial could finally humble him, subtitled “Donald Trump faces the first of four felony trials in less than a week and boy is he scared”

Sidebar quote, at the top:

“So the universe is not quite as you thought it was. You’d better rearrange your beliefs, then. Because you certainly can’t rearrange the universe.”
• Isaac Asimov “Nightfall” 1941

The article begins:

Total solar eclipses over the heartland of America are rare. But they are totally normal celestial events.

Donald Trump isn’t rare these days; unfortunately, we see him every day.  But his actions are increasingly abnormal. They’re getting that way because next week he’s potentially facing the first of four criminal trials which could lead to prison time for Trump. Three times a judge has denied him a motion that would delay his trial.

While philosophers may opine about the recent solar eclipse with far more erudition than I, let me simply say that it’s doubtful we took the hint. I know Trump didn’t. He has no ability to express humility.


The total eclipse of the sun should bring about a bit of humility. The Universe doesn’t care about our petty squabbles. It certainly doesn’t care about Trump – as much as he would like to think he’s the center of the Universe. His hubris and arrogance aren’t rare in a society that ignores science and puts people ahead of property and competition ahead of cooperation. That’s probably Trump’s mantra.


As much as evangelical Christians, astrologists, numerologists, Big Foot hunters, those who believe in spirits, fairies, conspiracy theorists, and alien hybrids would love to give credit to the eclipse for what they see as signs of society’s apocalypse, the fact is we’re back to blaming ourselves – or at least Donald Trump — for this nonsense.  I’m waiting for some MAGA member of our technologically medieval society to burn their own village as a show of support or frustration – you know, much like University of Kentucky basketball fans do whenever their team loses a coach or wins or loses an important ball game.

The facts show that all of this creepy news is due to the fact that Donald Trump has been normalized by too many members of the press. It’s as if we’re shocked and what has been going on with Trump for the last decade is new to us.

With many, many, disheartening examples, e.g.

Jim Acosta mentioned Tuesday on CNN that he was stunned that Trump faces no backlash for accusing Biden of using cocaine before a recent speech and former and former Republican presidential candidate and CNN analyst Joe Walsh backed up Acosta, saying it is part of the “normalization” of Trump by the press. The New York Times offering insights into Trump that aren’t actually anything new underscores how we’ve simply and collectively forgotten that Donald Trump is a slithering slimeball.

He denounced a near-total ban on abortion in Arizona while proudly claiming responsibility for the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade which enabled the state action in Arizona. He’s selling $60 Bibles while being unable to recite a single verse in it.

Again and again, who are the people are admire this guy? Can anyone respect *their* moral values?? The essay concludes:

In the Science Fiction Novella “Nightfall”, Isaac Asimov postulates how a civilization would face a solar eclipse in a multiple star solar system that only experienced night once every two thousand years.

“It’s one thing to predict [the complete breakdown of civilization]. It’s something else again to be right in the middle of it. It’s a very humbling thing,” a character in the novel noted.

The recent total solar eclipse didn’t lead to a breakdown of civilization – and we aren’t in the middle of one.

But Donald Trump is and the Manhattan case against him will be the first of four blows from which he will likely not recover. It should be “a very humbling thing.”

This reminds me that The Three-Body Problem, both book and TV adaptation, keys off a planet being in a complex system of stars — three, in 3BP, six in “Nightfall” — that disrupts the planet’s civilization, every few centuries. I’m not sure that these parallels extend very far, but it occurs to me that I haven’t seen any commentary about 3BP that acknowledges Asimov.

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