American Samoa Residents Are Declared US Citizens

American Samoa

American Samoa

A few political changes in the Pacific have taken place recently: the island of Bougainville voted for independence from Papua New Guinea, and the residents of the US territory of American Samoa either were declared to be US citizens, or appear to be on track to be declared US citizens. Up until now, they are the only US territory whose residents are US nationals, but not US citizens.

Everyone born in the states and DC is a US citizen as per the 14th amendment, and everyone born in the territories of Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, US Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico is a US citizen by unilateral declaration of the US Congress–at least that has been the opinion help up until now. The decision by a court in Utah contradicts the currently held doctrine that residents of the other four territories are not US citizens by virtue of the 14th Amendment, that they are instead citizens by congressional mandate. It also reaffirms the claims of many Puerto Rican statehooders who have been arguing for years that, under unincorporated territorial status, people from the territories are constantly subjected to biased, discriminatory, and arbitrary judicial decisions and policies whose logic is difficult to ascertain or justify.

Congress has the power to grant citizenship to the people of the territories. Courts do not–as far as I know–have that power. For this reason, the decision claims thatThis court is not imposing citizenship by judicial fiat. The action is required by the mandate of the Fourteenth Amendment as construed and applied by Supreme Court precedent.”

The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution establishes birthright citizenship. KSL reported the news as if Samoan US citizenship was a done deal, AND invokes the 14th Amendment. The Utah court established (for the first time, as far as I’m aware) that the 14th Amendment applies to people born in the territories:

People born in American Samoa are U.S. citizens, a federal judge in Utah ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups’ declaration came in a 69-page decision in a lawsuit filed last year on behalf of three American Samoans in Utah. John Fitisemanu, Pale Tuli and Rosavita Tuli sued the government to be treated as U.S. citizens under the 14th Amendment.

Waddoups agreed, writing, “Any State Department policy that provides that the citizenship provisions of the Constitution do not apply to persons born in American Samoa violates the 14th Amendment.”

The judge barred the government from enforcing any rule that says the citizenship provisions of the Constitution do not apply to people born in American Samoa.

In recent months, there was an ISIS terrorist wives fiasco. Women who had escaped to Syria to marry and bear children from terrorists were trying to re-enter the US and the UK. We learned then that international law forbids the existence of stateless persons, which complicated the controversy. For that reason, it is interesting that this non-citizen-US.-national status has existed while the international community looked the other way for about 120 years, and at least one Mother Jones article called out the racism inherent in American Samoans’ citizenship status.

Residents of American Samoa have obviously not been citizens of the independent country of Samoa all these years, and they haven’t been citizens of the US. They have been merely “US Nationals” with no complete citizenship that is recognized internationally, since American Samoa is not a sovereign country. When given the opportunity to gain citizenship, elders of the very traditional island territory decided against becoming US citizens because US citizenship comes with certain constitutional guarantees, including the right to private property–and these clash with Samoan traditional society’s rules concerning collective land ownership by the clans and tribes.

If this decision is appealed (as is expected) and stands, it could be argued that American Samoa will have been given US citizenship against the consent of the governed, triggered in part by litigative activism by mainland Samoans.

However, to be frank, almost all the US territories were given citizenship with no regard for the consent of the governed.

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Zozibini Tunzi: a Modern African Queen is Born

I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful. I think that it is time that that stops today. – Zozibini Tunzi

The winner of this year’s Miss Universe pageant is Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi, who looks like Egyptian royalty in this picture. I like how–true to her message that natural beauty is best and that Black women should love themselves–she wore her hair short with a small afro on top, and she still looks beautiful, elegant, and feminine in addition to being very eloquent. She did not attempt to straighten her hair, or to lengthen it.

As part of her work in the coming year as the new ambassador to the world on behalf of the women of her country and of women everywhere, she says she will continue to work as an activist to end violence against women.

South African society exhibits some of the worst violent crime statistics in the world. A high percentage of women have been raped at some point, and recent heinous crimes have caused increased activism by women demanding justice against rapists and killers. A World Health Organization (WHO) report in 2016 indicated South Africa had the fourth-highest violent female death rate out of the 183 countries.

What is bizarre about this is that nearby countries like Botswana and Namibia, which otherwise share a somewhat similar history and culture, are considerably much more functional. Namibia (just northwest of SA, and where the population also suffered during apartheid) is known to be one of the safest and friendliest countries in Africa, and Botswana (just north of it) is one of the least corrupt countries in the continent and has been undergoing considerable development as of lately. So why does a country that is surrounded by so many good news offer so many bad news?

I know that Tunzi is “only” a beauty queen, but together with the grassroots women’s activist movement, I think real change may happen, in part, as a result of her winning the crown and the increased attention and resources that will pour towards the causes she defends. Let’s not forget that Wangari Maathai won the Nobel Prize for her environmental work in Kenya and that today Nairobi is the greenest and cleanest city in all of Africa (followed closely by the elegant capital of Rwanda, which has recovered from genocide to become another model good-news country).

People tend to follow those who are great among them. Following Maathai, citizens of Kenya have planted millions of trees in their country and reduced deforestation considerably, reversing dangerous trends that are advancing elsewhere in places like Brasil. If one person can make a huge difference, then a legion of activists joining hands can certainly change the paradigm. South African women desperately needed some good news. All Hail Queen Tunzi!

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The Existentialism of Naked and Afraid

In recent weeks, I have been binge-watching episodes of the series Naked and Afraid. The premise of this reality show is two strangers–a man and a woman–are dropped off in the wilderness naked and must survive for 21 days. They must find, kill and cook their food, stay warm by making fire and cuddling, and deal with huge emotional and mental stress as part of the challenge. I know I arrived late to N&A fandom. I’m typically a fan of fantasy and science fiction, and this show was one I accidentally stumbled upon and could not stop watching.

Man survives by his wit. – Odin, in Havamal

Naked and Afraid is quite interesting from the philosophical perspective. Many aspects of the show remind me of Epicurean philosophy: the human need for someone to talk to, and the importance of the element of control over one’s circumstances stand out. Epicurus spoke about how nature does not give you a choice when it comes to the natural and necessary desires: in the show–which disrupts our accustomed sense of normal and places us back in the state of nature–the distinction between the different kinds of desires and their place within the priority hierarchy is seen in sharp focus.

Another aspect of our ethics that is also seen is how little we actually need to survive, and even thrive. Although at times the cast members are seen going through severe trials, once the key necessities are met there are also times when their conviviality, team work, and the victory of being able to secure a meal or a warm shelter, demonstrate that happiness is possible once the natural and necessary pleasures are secured.

The nakedness of participants is a metaphor for the inherent vulnerability of the human animal in his environment. We modern people go very far to try to forget this! Although the civilized state is not without its problems, the series is a case for the simple pleasures of civilization: the warmth and safety of a home, the presence of loved ones, the conveniences of a kitchen and a comfortable bed, or of a ready meal. These are all things we take for granted–until they’re missing and we must conjure them from our natural environment.

Below is a funny look at N&A by Ellen DeGeneres:


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Happy Twentieth! Philodemus Against Arrogance

Happy Twentieth to Epicureans and allies everywhere! In my book, in the chapter on friendship (which is my favorite chapter in the book), I mentioned that human beings need affection, and that “friends are for hugging”. While reading the essay The Life of the Skin-Hungry: Can You Go Crazy from a Lack Of Touch?, I learned that some psychologists are actually using the terms “skin hunger” and “touch hunger” to refer to the syndrome experienced by people who suffer from chronic lack of affection.

The recently-published book How to Be an Epicurean: The Ancient Art of Living Well received a mediocre review from Kirkus, and a quite hostile one from the Wall Street Journal–written by no less than an editor of a Stoic book about Seneca–which said:

Here his philosophic system seems to suggest escapism. Lucretius, in his poetic exegesis of the system, used the metaphor of a fortress, built high on a coastal headland, from which one can watch as others, aboard ship, struggle to survive a sea-storm. The watcher feels bliss at being out of harm’s way and meanwhile, as critics have noted, lends no aid.

But anyone that studies the sources knows that the true Epicurean does NOT seek “escape” (unless his life or livelihood is in danger), and DOES lend aid to others: Lucretius wrote his work as an act of evangelical zeal! Epicureanism was a missionary humanistic philosophy with a teaching mission. Our School sent a missionaries to many places, including the Middle East! Bottom line: when you read a book review, consider the filter through which it was read.

Philodemus on Arrogance

The study of nature does not create men who are fond of boasting and chattering or who show off the culture that impresses the many, but rather men who are strong and self-sufficient, and who take pride in their own personal qualities not in those that depend on external circumstances. – Vatican Saying 45

Among the Herculaneum scrolls that have been deciphered by Philodemus, one of the least discussed is the one on arrogance. Perhaps this is a symptom of how unfrequently we engage our habit of self-assessment. No one likes to swallow bitter medicine!

I suppose this is a peculiar vice of the philosophers of all the schools, and I’m sure we have all been guilty at some point or another. People of greater intelligence frequently are observed to exhibit little patience with those of lesser intelligence. It takes a good measure of virtue to be respectful and kind to those who disagree with us, particularly when it is certain that they are wrong in their views (due to superstition or lack of habitual critical and empirical thinking).

This kindness must not be mistaken for agreement, or for an ecumenical spirit–and this basic measure of humility does not mean that we bow our heads in acceptance of lies. All “truths” are not equally valid. There are lies and mis-interpretations, there is error, and there are proven facts. So the key for the true sage is to stand his ground, and engage in parrhesia (frank criticism) with suavity, with kind speech, with sincerity and patience, and respecting the dignity and humanity of the other.

The founders’ efforts to use common words and to stay away from flowery speech, in addition to their habit of clear and plain speech, were consistent with their worldview, but also served as a way to teach by example that arrogance in philosophy was unnecessary and that–unlike Socrates–a teacher of philosophy does not need to humiliate his student to make a point. Sometimes the best way to teach is by being unassuming, friendly and authentic.

Also, in Epicureanism, one does not just teach the doctrine, but one also must exemplify it by kindness to one’s friends in the philosophy. This is hard to express in online communities, where sincere disagreements easily get misconstrued into personal attacks as a result of inability to add a smile, a tone, and suavity to one’s words. But it will be made clear to anyone that studies what life in the original Garden was like, that there was an intangible curriculum in human values and in friendly interaction, in addition to the official doctrine, that theory was there connected with practice, and that a huge part of the immediate pleasure that we derive from the study of philosophy “by ourselves and with kindred spirits”–as stated in the Letter to Menoeceus, and in Vatican Saying 41–derived from the pleasure of friendship and wholesome human interaction.

Philodemus’ scroll on arrogance should be studied by every soul that wants to nurture a process of sincere moral development. It challenges us to dismiss armchair philosophy, to get out of our heads, and to develop true inter-subjective relations that lead to pleasant living and mutual advantage, to look the other in the eye and honor his or her humanity regardless of station or belief, regardless of how deep our disagreements.

“It might seem strange,” said Metrodorus, “that the pedantry of Aristotle should find so many imitators, and his dark sayings so many believers, in a city, too, now graced and enlightened by the simple language, and simple doctrines of an Epicurus. — But the language of truth is too simple for inexperienced ears. We start in search of knowledge, like the demigods of old in search of adventure, prepared to encounter giants, to scale mountains, to pierce into Tartarean gulfs, and to carry off our prize from the grip of some dark enchanter, invulnerable to all save to charmed weapons and deity-gifted assailants. To find none of all these things, but, in their stead, a smooth road through a pleasant country, with a familiar guide to direct our curiosity, and point out the beauties of the landscape, disappoints us of all exploit and all notoriety; and our vanity turns but too often from the fair and open champaigne, into error’s dark labyrinths, where we mistake mystery for wisdom, pedantry for knowledge, and prejudice for virtue.” – Metrodorus of Lampsacus, in A Few Days in Athens by Frances Wright

Further Reading and Updates:

Please support my work on Patreon!

Are You Stoic or Epicurean? Ancient Wisdom for Today’s World – a podcast

The Life of the Skin-Hungry: Can You Go Crazy from a Lack Of Touch?

To Live Unnoticed: The Epicurean Remedy Against Vanity – The Greek Philosopher Epicurus Developed a Challenging Method Against Social Anxiety, Vanity and Egotism

How to be an Epicurean: A philosophy that values innocent pleasure, human warmth and the rewards of creative endeavour. What’s not to like?

The video Epicurus: The Philosophy of Pleasure was published this month. It’s not perfect (for instance, it claims–without citing a source–that Epicurus was “celibate”), but it’s a good introduction to Epicurean ideas and conversations

The upcoming book How to Live a Good Life: A Guide to Choosing Your Personal Philosophy will include chapters on Epicureanism, Stoicism, Aristotelianism, Christianity, Progressive Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Existentalism, and more

Lucien Greaves wrote a piece for Patheos on the Harmful Superstition of Exorcism which is reminiscent of Lucretius’ quote: “To what evil deeds does religion persuade!”

Philodemus On Arrogance

This week, an Aeon article mentioned Epicureanism while arguing that being happy does not mean relentless, competitive work.

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Thank You God for the Vatican Bankruptcy!

This Spanish-language Mexican paper has announced that Vatican City is headed towards bankruptcy, and this piece for The Stream says that a Saudi Prince could end up “owning St. Peter’s Basilica”. It’s not clear how deep in the red it is, but El Progreso says that the Church will likely be completely bankrupt by 2023 and that employees of the Church will lose their pensions by then.

The Church owns over 3 billion dollars worth of properties throughout the world, and it’s possible that a sale of many or most of its idle property would enable the Church to function for a bit longer. But with never-ending legal entanglements due to a culture of sexual abuse, with people in the developed world leaving religion altogether or joining other movements (and the considerable reduction in tithing that has resulted), and other miscellaneous corruption scandals, bankruptcy is likely inevitable.

For generations, the Vatican has been seen as a sovereign country. This legal device has allowed the Church to keep its property, and–most importantly–to evade the law in foreign jurisdictions in sex scandal cases. For instance, former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law escaped to the Vatican after meeting with John Paul II during the scandal involving his covering up the crimes of multiple predator priests, including one who had sexually abused over 200 children. The media–frequently complicit when it comes to the excesses of religious privilege–made it look like JPII had “admonished” him (for obeying his orders? … by moving priests from place to place to avoid scandal and protecting them from legal repercussions?). The cardinal ended up in the Vatican, with his own cathedral and personal assistant. This helped to slowly get him out of the news cycle, and also off the hook. And he helped to elect Pope Benedict …

I, for one, have no sympathy for the crucifixion of their public image. For many years now, we’ve been reading about their corruption and culture of predatory sexual behavior among priests, which begins in the seminary. The documentary The Keepers (which I’ve blogged about before) made a case study of the city of Baltimore, uncovering not just sexual abuse, but also the murder of a nun who was about to speak up, and the cover-up of this crime by the local authorities.

But the most close-to-my-heart reason why I loathe the Catholic Church and its detrimental effects on human society is represented by the picture that went viral in December of 2012 of Pope Benedict giving his blessing to Parliamentary Kadaga of Uganda, who had just promised that she was going to pass the “Kill the Gays” bill as a “Christmas gift” to her voters. In the picture, she is kneeling and kissing his hand. He obviously did not admonish her or try to stop her from committing genocide against LGBT Ugandans, because she went right back to her home country and continued to advance her theocratic agenda.

I will NEVER forget this picture. It says all we need to know about the nature of the Catholic Church, about the true repercussions of its detrimental influence in the Third World (not to mention its fight against safe sex during the AIDS crisis in Africa), about its hypocrisy and daily destruction of lives in spite of labeling itself “pro-life”, and about why this institution does not belong in the 21st Century and we would all be better off if it went bankrupt and we should all root for its downfall.


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Film Review: Some Cultural and Philosophical Notes on Joker

I watched Joker last night. I do not wish to give away spoilers, except to warn you not to take children to watch the movie, as it contains difficult imagery and themes. This is not the only sinister clown film this year: the sequel to It also came out, but as I am not particularly a fan of the horror genre, it never caught my interest.

This arch-villain contains two main archetypal images: the fool (or clown) and the victim. I will discuss a bit about both.

Clowns: a Brief History

Our modern clown is based on the medieval court jesters, who were based on the rustic fool character of ancient Greek and Roman theater. However, it’s possible that the classical fool was based on an even older archetype, as there is hieroglyphic evidence from 2,400 BCE that shows that clown characters entertained the Fifth dynasty of Egypt.

According to,

Several North American native tribes used clowns to play a sacred function, often revealing the truth about a given situation in a comical way. Some tribes thought laughter opened up their spirits to the Gods.

As a side note, Nietzsche in his Thus Spake Zarathustra also accentuates the importance of laughter for our existential health and in the creation of meaning.

The Renaissance clown was also based on the Italian zanni character of the commedia dell’arte:

 … Zanni’s survival instinct is the strongest. Zanni is also always hungry which leads to a vision of Utopia where “everything is comestible, reminiscent of the followers of gluttony in carnival processions”. A Zanni also has an animistic view of the world in that he senses a spirit in everything, so it could be eaten. Zanni is ignorant, loutish, and has no self-awareness. The simple act of thinking does not seem to be natural to Zanni. He is a very faithful individual who prefers to live in the present day e.g. with stoic and samadhi presence. Zanni never looks for a place to sleep it just seems to happen to him often in situations where it shouldn’t, like a drunkard. Lastly, all of his reactions are completely emotional.

The above description will remind us of the ancient cynics. Now, Joker is a movie and it’s meant to entertain. It’s not intended as a philosophical or nihilist manifesto or treatise. But Joker does remind us of both the ancient cynics (marginal and rejected, and who also rejected societal mores–think of “Diogenes the Dog” living inside a barrel, masturbating and defecating in public), and the more modern existentialists who focus on the absurdity of life. The Joker is, ironically, a tragic nay-saying character.

Just as the rustic clowns of antiquity were often based on migrant workers who were uneducated, in the US, the clown’s origins are tied to the hobo and the tramp, who are tragic migrant workers. According to Wikipedia,

The Hobo: Migratory and finds work where he travels. Down on his luck but maintains a positive attitude.

The Tramp: Migratory and does not work where he travels. Down on his luck and depressed about his situation.

And so the clown archetype appears at times to fit within the tradition of the laughing philosophers insofar as he reveals “the truth about a given situation in a comical way“. He’s also a commentary on marginalization. He dwells at the margins of society (a migrant, a peasant worker) and is an unfortunate man according to conventional societal standards. Being rustic and uneducated, he also seems to reveal something about man in his natural state, as he only awkwardly adapts to cultural expectations.

The Joker

Joaquin Phoenix’s 2019 Joker is, thus far, the darkest and most dangerous avatar of this character. He also elaborates the psychological and personal history of the character like never before. In some scenes, he retains a bit of the campy effeminacy of the Joker from the 70’s, which was played by Cesar Romero and set the prototype for the character.

This film’s deeper look at him shows us the uglier side of the archetypal victim. The victim must be sacrificed to a higher ideal or god in order to be dignified through this sacrifice. If the victim’s sacrifice does not lead to a higher good (in Epicurean terms, if the pains we suffer do not yield higher pleasures and pass hedonic calculus), then his victimhood is pointless, meaningless, and this is the most hurtful wound of the archetype. The Joker was never able to dignify his suffering, and his victimhood ended up renouncing the possibility of redemption, and turned into a lethal weapon.

In history there have been other unredeemed, bitter victims of this sort. We’ve seen it in ancient Jews (who escaped slavery in Egypt only to massacre entire nations in Canaan in order to steal their land, punishing the innocent for their oppression in a foreign land) and in modern Palestinians (who, pushed into corners, have turned to terrorism), in women under Boko Haram in northern Nigeria (whose life is so insufferable that they at times choose to engage in suicide attacks). There are many other groups and individuals–often terrorists and mass murderers through gun violence–who sought to justify their vulgar levels of violence as piety, or through some other intellectualization, after being unredeemed victims.

We see greater degrees of violence in poor communities, where there are higher degrees of hopelessness. There are many Robin Hoods in many ghettos who believe that stealing from the rich to give to the poor is justified–and in some cases of extreme despondence, it’s true that they have few other options. Victimizing individuals and groups may have dangerous repercussions for the rest of society. If state and societal mechanisms that are supposed to exist to protect vulnerable people fail to do their job, it seems to some people fair to resort to unconventional, vigilante, violent models of justice. A society that fails to be just, must be ready to bear this burden.

I do not think Joker is saying that vengeful bursts are necessarily justified when one is victimized in a senseless manner. It’s possible that the film isn’t really saying ANYTHING: that’s the point, that it’s pointless. Joker is, to some extent, a nihilist art piece–it’s raw, although it’s not without its criticism of many aspects of modern society. But if it IS saying something, it is echoing that–as the existentialists say–life can be absurd and that, for some people in particular, it can be very difficult to find or create meaning.

“I Ain’t Got Nobody”

The song That’s Life features prominently in the Joker soundtrack. The movie, however, is set in the early 80’s in order to match the timeline where Bruce Wayne grows up to become Batman. For this reason, the version that we hear is Frank Sinatra’s. David Lee Roth recorded what, in my opinion, is a much better version in the late 80’s, and he as an entertainer embodied the Joker and clown archetypes much better than Sinatra ever did.

Further Reading:

George Carlin: in memory of a Laughing Philosopher

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Maleficent: the Evolution of Fairy Tale Morality

When we were children, fables often had morality woven into them. The tale of the boy who liked to scare his village by announcing the visit of a wolf … until a REAL wolf showed up, showed us the importance of telling the truth. Many other tales warned us against envy. These were simplistic fables meant for child-like minds. They were magical, but their moralities were in black and white, with little of the complexity of normal human interaction.

But for many generations, I believe we underestimated the ability of children to form more or less sophisticated ideas about morality and about right and wrong. Modern re-tellings of old tales (like Wicked and Maleficent) show us that, sometimes, what seems “evil” is not necessarily so, and what seems “good” is not necessarily so. Good and evil have unfortunately been treated by our culture as Platonic constructs, and this–while perhaps was done with a good intention–has impeded a deeper understanding of morality. Innocent or complicated characters may be vilified unjustly. Sometimes an honest character wears a black cape, or has fangs and horns, and the truly evil ones look respectable.

These new narratives are extremely necessary if fables are to be useful, as originally intended, for moral edification. We see it in the news all the time: the Catholic priests who were supposed to embody holiness and virtue turned out to be a protected caste filled with predators who orchestrated an international conspiracy to silence their victims; the very “respectable” looking politicians or wolves of Wall-Street who are corrupt and narcissistic beyond redemption. They are not all corrupt, and not all priests are predators. On the other hand, in the film Hail Satan! we see that the members of the Satanic Temple, with their activism in recent years, have been “the good guys” in our fight against encroaching theocracy, and have been teaching everyone a valuable civics lesson about the First Amendment. But that is the point. Images that market a certain idea do not constitute the essence of the idea. They are mere images. It is up to individuals to apply critical thinking to the problems and the “facts” presented to them daily–and children who consume these fairy tales, because they are still in their formative years, are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of not applying critical thinking, and of not questioning whether the “good guys” are really good and whether the “bad guys” are really bad.

Like the Epicurean novel A Few Days in Athens, these new fables are teaching us to look at the world in an unbiased manner and to withhold opinions and conclusions until things show themselves to our faculties.

Maleficent was a very magical movie. Angelina Jolie is a gorgeous woman and a talented actress, and she carries the entire plot of the movie with her unquestionable charm. But it also is a fable, and here the moral of the story is a welcome departure from the simplistic, black-and-white, old-fashioned fairy tales.

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