Forum, April 10: ‘Steppin’ Up’ so no one must stand alone against violence

Tuesday, April 09, 2019
‘Steppin’ Up’ so no one must stand alone against violence

I write this letter as I sit on the floor of my living room watching my first baby — a little girl — try to roll over. This letter is challenging to write, not because I am sleep-deprived (although I am), but because I desperately want people to understand, the way I do, why supporting Turning Points Network is paramount to the safety and well-being of our community.

I want you to know what it is like to hold the hand of a mother as her kindergartner receives a sexual assault forensic exam because he had been raped by his uncle. Or about reading court forms to an elderly woman who wants protection from her husband because he threw their kitten into the woodstove when she dared to disagree with him. I want you to know the stories of all 906 of our neighbors, friends and family who received help from Turning Points Network last year.

Now, as a board member of Turning Points Network, I need you to know how fragile the funding for these services is. Each year we scrimp and save and fundraise to ensure that advocates can meet with clients, shelter space is available, and that age-appropriate prevention education is provided to area schools. Because as truly terrible as those stories are, the more horrific story is of a victim standing alone with no support. We have the power to make sure that crisis services are always available, that my little girl — now fast asleep — lives in a safer community, one that is prepared to handle cyberbullying, revenge porn and trauma because Turning Points Network was there and no one stood alone.

Join us on May 4 for Steppin’ Up to End Violence, a 5K walk and fun run to support Turning Points Network and stand with survivors. For more information, visit turningpointsnetwork.org/steppin-up or call 603-543-0155.



Humans and machines are distinctly different

In reference to the recent Associated Press article on artificial intelligence (“Robots will never laugh at your jokes,” April 1): It’s worth pausing to reflect that laughter isn’t the only way humans differ fundamentally from machines. Humans (and many other living things) have a basic sense of rationality that machines lack. It consists of emotions that lead us to avoid, to the extent we can, bringing evil upon ourselves — death, pain, sorrow, disability, loss of freedom. And humans, unless we’re psychopathic, have a moral sense leading us to act, at least most of the time, in ways that avoid causing those evils to others.

Machines and algorithms have no evil-avoidance motivators or any other innate values. As complex as they may get, they are mere tools. Machines can’t suffer the basic evils that rationality and morality seek to avoid. A robot could be programmed to pretend to feel pain or sorrow, but it won’t truly be having those feelings, any more than an actor in a play.

Real emotions had millions of years of fine-tuning by natural selection, in service to survival. Animals can suffer real pain, and most states now penalize cruelty to animals. None penalizes cruelty to a machine. If you destroy a robot, you may be violating the rights of its owner or users, but you’re not committing murder. Thus, I’m deeply leery of the phrase “artificial intelligence.” How can there be “intelligence” that lacks basic rationality? The expression ignores decades of evidence on the importance of emotions to human intelligence, and it implies, falsely, that living things and computers are essentially alike and will soon merge. It’s gratifying to hear folks starting to have deep qualms about putting weapons under the control of “artificial intelligence.” I’m even more of a curmudgeon — I keep Siri deactivated and refuse to talk to robots. Hey, what could be more vital than preserving — unblurred — the line between beings within the family of mutual moral obligation, and stuff outside that family, like robots and algorithms?



Immigrants built our country

I was deeply saddened to see a recent headline in the Valley News that referred to “catch and release programs” on our southern border (“U.S. expands ‘catch and release’: Number of families crossing border overwhelming centers,” April 3).

“Catch and release” refers to fish. It should not be applied to people, immigrants seeking freedom, security and opportunity. They should not be demeaned, but applauded for risking their lives to make a long and hazardous journey to our country.

After all, we are a nation of immigrants. Immigrants have contributed to this country in so many ways. Most American recipients of the Nobel Prize have been immigrants, or the children or grandchildren of immigrants. Immigrants and their descendants have built our economy, contributed to our literature, music and arts, funded libraries, etc.

I take this issue personally. My grandfather left Germany as a teenager (as did President Donald Trump’s). He started out as a tailor on the Lower East Side of New York. My father went to the City College of New York and then to law school. He worked for 39 years for the Department of Justice, rising to acting assistant attorney general for the Tax Division. All my great-grandparents were born in Germany or Russia and came here in the 1880s. They built lives here as bakers, labor organizers and shopkeepers. Their children became lawyers, doctors and teachers and contributed in many ways to their new home.

Referring to people as fish, or as cockroaches or vermin, helps create an atmosphere in which it is easier to justify inhumane treatment. You can rationalize the separation of adult immigrants from their children. You can detain them in inhuman conditions.