Thursday, May 29, 2008
Genes propagate which are successful at surviving and reproducing. The twin pressures of survival and reproduction vary depending on the demands of the physical environment, the consumable resources available, and the level of competition between varying phenotypes for those resources. The genes--inherent in the genetic combinations embodied by the "gene machines" which carry them--are propagated in direct correlation to how well that body is adapted to the demands on its reproductive and survival capacity. Due to the imperfection of the reproduction process of genes and the cumulative effect of evolutionary pressures over time, diverse species come into existence. This is the essence of our modern understanding of evolution. Having reached this point, I can see how it would be tempting to drive the Darwinian argument even further. I mean once we have established the social behavior of animals as attributable to their genetic make-up and Darwinian pressures not only on their genetics but on their learned behaviors, then I can see how it may become difficult to draw the line on where Darwin ends and psychology begins.
It is at this murky middle ground that Dawkins introduced the idea of the meme. His argument runs that just as genes are units of genetic information which guide how a being is constructed, memes are units of conceptual information, ideas. He holds that evolutionary pressures apply to memes in a way similar to the way in which they apply to genes. This is basically proposing that ideas battle for survival in the same way as genes do. Ideas compete to be propagated by receptive brains.
The error in this analogy should be glaringly obvious and it frankly surprised me when I saw it wedged into his latest book, The God Delusion. I could understand the nature of the thought experiment when it was first introduced in The Selfish Gene back in the 70s. It seemed a playful hypothesis the intent of which was to illustrate how a Darwinian system could apply to other things than genes. Taken as a simple illustration or an analogy I suppose it's harmless enough. But put forth as a serious concept of how ideas come to be in our heads, it is blatantly irresponsible.
The force which eliminates faulty combinations of genes, or gene complexes, is death. The inability to sustain life sufficiently to procreate means that that collection of genes isn't passed on. If a gene complex is arranged such as it is ineffective at procreating it also fails to continue. Death and disfigurement are brutal adjudicators of whether a gene survives or not. The root of how they evolve is in their imperfect reproduction. But the measure by which inefficient genes are eliminated is death.
So, the basic fallacy of memes lies in this. Whereas genes require no conscious adjudicator to evolve, their ability to survive or not is purely decided by the factual constraints of their existence, memes require a conscious adjudicator to reproduce, modify, and also to be negated.
Dawkins vision of the meme paints us as passive receptacles for our ideas just as we are passive receptacles of our genes. The fault should be readily apparent. Whereas I have absolutely nothing I can do about the genes that I have in my body, I actively choose which ideas I adhere to, which ones I bother to propagate, and which ideas I reject and fight against. I choose this. This "I" is my consciousness. And even if this I is reducible to deterministic parts, the self-referential capacity of people's minds to modify and monitor their own internal content is not something which should be passed over so lightly or surrendered so readily as the argument for memes would have us do.
This self-referential capacity is what grants us the power to monitor our ideas, to select them by standards that we set ourselves. That is why it matters little what instincts and genetic persuasions are embedded in our genes. We have the power to choose the ideas, the beliefs, the ideologies we desire to pursue. We have the power to do this, because we are self-referential and self-modifying beings. We, in short, have the power to rise above our genetic limitations. This is what most prominently sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Memes also differ from genes in that memes are non-verifiable. You cannot isolate a meme. You can't test for it. You can't even define it. How much of an idea is a meme? Dawkins tries to cover this by broadening the concept to cover "meme-plexes" Well, this makes as little sense as memes. We arrive at the same question. What is a memeplex? How can you isolate it? How do you even begin to define what one would be in reality? As a scientifically unverifiable concept, it is strange that it should be introduced by an author who has a reputation for scientific rigor.
There is perhaps one possible circumstance under which the meme theory of the propagation of ideas may have some merit. And that would be to describe the manner in which ideas come to be in people who either do not have the ability or lack the capacity to be self-referential or self-modifying, if such people truly do exist. Children , perhaps, could be considered to be in this state and that is a good argument for having special rules to protect them from abuses of their burgeoning conceptual system. For everyone else, the acceptance and survival of ideas is something which is actively decided.
Even as is the case with bad ideas that we held prior to receiving some new piece of information or being introduced to some new perspective that we hadn't been previously aware of, we make a choice as to whether to continue holding our prior belief or to discard it in favor of something new. Yes, this can be traumatic, especially the more deeply held and fundamental the belief in question. But it is done on a regular basis by people every day. The whole long history of science is a documentation of this process. Things which were not known before, were discovered. Answers were actively sought and explanations obtained.
To render the whole history of human thought as a passive process inacted on our brains by some vague undefined process of memes entering our brains without our consent and potentially reworking our mental processes, is to spit in the face of every scientist who has ever contributed to the advance of knowledge, to every person who has ever attempted to advance our comprehension of morality.
In short, it annihilates the very concept of morality. Something which becomes less surprising as one continues reading the God Delusion to see Dawkins' argument for evolutionary morality. He does not waste much time before referring to Kant to back up his claims that altruism is somehow an evolutionary imperative. Something which is ironically diametrically opposed to his entire argument for the gene's eye view of evolutionary theory.
What he insists on calling "reciprocal altruism" may just as easily be labeled "natural capitalism" for it has the same net effect and apparently the same motivations as any parties which would come to work together for mutual advantage. He makes the subsequent logical misstep of sliding between definitions of altruism. He starts with "reciprocal altruism" something which arises out of different creatures developing symbiotic relationships in response to evolutionary pressures and then proceeds to equate this with moral altruism, the belief that it is good to sacrifice oneself to strangers. Cooperation between friends and family which has obvious survival benefits cannot be directly connected to anonymously altruistic behavior. And in order to explain this away, Dawkins says that this is perhaps due to a misfiring of the altruistic protocol in our genes.
This could, perhaps, have saved him from stumbling into the trap he'd set for himself, but he repeatedly marches into the morass of claiming how much better altruism is than selfish pursuits and how science and all creation back him up on it. Unfortunately for Dawkins, his argument for altruism is bound entirely to his careful merging of definitions and a kind of lexical sleight of hand. Despite the word "altruism" being used in two ways, there is absolutely no similarity between observed "reciprocal altruism" as perceived in the biological world and "moral altruism" as promoted by Kant and company. This connection is false, and if an argument is to be made for it, it must be made explicit. I do not accept at face value that altruism is "good". This is simply a clever way to try and avoid justifying the claim.
The unfortunate thing is that this casts a shadow over the entire book. One that I thoroughly enjoyed until I started getting into where Dawkins starts grasping for moral straws from evolutionary science. His arguments against religion are succinct, logical, and damning. Theists will have a hard time convincing anyone who has read this book of the existence of God. And I wager that it will be an encouragement to many others to renounce their belief as irrational.
That is why I cannot understand why he had to try to foist this arbitrary Kantian nihilism into another perfectly salient critique of religion. The only possibility that comes to mind is that he has an ideological agenda apart from that of removing religiosity from its dominating hold on people's lives. Just like Sam Harris had to squeeze in an arbitrary assertion for the legitimacy of torture into his End of Faith, so too has Dawkins had to try and squeeze in an argument for moral altruism into a book on the same subject and with the same goal.
What baffles the imagination is that the issue of severing our subservience to religion is too important to risk in harnessing it to pet political and ideological pursuits especially those which effectively harness the morality of most organized religions and swallows them whole without question. Altruism is the morality of the religious. And religion cannot be swayed effectively until the proponents of reason learn to reject altruism as axiomatic of good. As long as the moral high-ground is effectively surrendered to the institution if not the literal word of religion, then all we can expect is a replay of the tragedies of the 2oth century as many critics rightly point out.
The reason why Dawkins, Harris et all cannot effectively combat the criticism of Stalin, Hitler, Zedong, etc, as being atheists is because they are all inherently committed to the idea that altruism is the moral ideal. Religious institutions are often committed to expressing the same values that they are proposing as being good. Their argument is that the literal teachings of religions are usually brutal, incoherent, and incompatible with modern society, which is true. They handicap their arguments because they don't want to accept the alternative to altruism, which would be objectivist rational self-interest.
They could easily repel the accusations that Stalin, Mao, and Polpot were all atheists. They could do this by pointing out that yes, they were atheists but their brutality was not a factor of their atheism. It was a factor of their altruism and the altruistic systems which they were manipulating. They were thrust into power because of movements that cried for sacrifice for the common good. They were revolutionaries seeking to establish a collectivist utopia on earth, and the sick thing is that they succeeded. Apologists come afterwards to say that well, that's not really how socialism is supposed to work. But the dedication to an altruistic moral ideal is the only unifying explanation that can be used to condemn both the horrors of religious authority and the horrors of secular collectivist authority.
Avoiding this argument leaves proponents of atheism in the much weakened position of claiming that religions are brutal because of their ideas, but that the brutality of atheist regimes stems from their leaders. It is obvious that the brutality stems from the ideas on both sides. The thing that Dawkins does not accept is that the true terror is one that is deeper than religion, it is rooted in altruism. Altruism is the death cult. Altruism is the cause greater than oneself that all can be sacrificed for. Altruism is the greater good for whom Jihad is deemed necessary. If only Dawkins would shift his arguments just a bit deeper and aim at the heart of the problem, then his arguments would be stronger and the cause of atheism would be greatly furthered. Unfortunately, he still chooses to cling to the morality of Christian tradition, even having renounced Christian fables. And the choice he leaves us with ends up not to be that much of a choice after all.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
For the story thus far see this link:
and then this link for his counter-argument:
Now, to get down to business.
1. By stating that "Existence exists" is a tautology, you are stating that existence is something which is. If existence is something which can possibly not be, then "existence exists" is not necessarily a tautology. It could then be wrong. If, however, you state that existence must by definition exist, and therefore be a tautology, then you have conceded that existence does indeed exist. You can't have it both ways. You concede that you don't believe that you're in the matrix, so basically you're arguing a moot point. There isn't anything debatable about it. What is, is. It's purely a statement of identity. It is not an argument. How you can hope to disprove the identity of everything around you, is a matter for you and your grasp of reality to work out. For anybody else, it is clear that the very fact that we are having this debate is proof that we have both accepted that there is a common experience of existence through which we can negotiate meaning. The very use of language or any communication medium, presupposes that there is a common reality external to us both through which we are communicating.
You have yet to offer any counter to this except to say, well, "It doesn't have to be that way." To which I shall reply thus: If there isn't then there is no point to our even debating. Because I am then just a figment of your imagination. As is the whole universe. And while it may be comforting to place yourself at the center of a delusional dream-world, it runs against the entire scope of scientific knowledge. If you want to argue that existence is debatable and therefore not a given, then you must take the opposing stance that existence is not real. But if you do so, then you lose the ability to use science as a justification. Since all science is built on the presupposition that what you are measuring is measurable by others in the same way and with significantly replicable results. This is something which would not hold in a largely subjective universe.
1.2 Hofstadter's points on free will are on pages 710-714 of the 1999 paperback version of Godel, Escher, Bach. He lays out how what we consider free will could be expressed in terms of how a self-referential self aware system may perceive its choices. He also states that it is not intuitive and it may be one of those things which is not intuitively comprehensible. The long and the short of it is though that these cycles of self-referential mechanistic systems would give rise to the phenomenon that we perceive as free will, namely our ability to choose between courses of action. This is in effect what free will is all about.
Of course this argument is well after Rand's, so she couldn't draw on these concepts in the expression of her philosophy. But the practical upshot is that free-will is rendered explainable in a mechanistic view of the universe. Hofstadter does not remove "our" responsibility for making decisions. Especially as the cumulative effect of what "I" comes to mean in this perspective of consciousness is the meta (meta-meta? meta-meta-meta?) level of the system of which we are aware. It by no means removes from people the option of choice, anymore than the knowledge that atoms are mostly empty space removes us from the restriction on not falling through the earth or walking through walls. It is simply a 'quantum' level explanation of consciousness and free-will, where it comes from, so to speak.
2. Your argument on ethics once again does not go deep enough, and I think it's interesting that you consciously avoided referencing Rand's footnote to that quote, which I will restate, properly quoted. As you say, Virtue of Selfishness, p. 16-17.
"Only a living entity can have goals or can originate them. And it is only a living organism that has the capacity for self-generated, goal-directed action. On the physical level, the functions of all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex--from the nutritive function in the single cell of the amoeba to the blood circulation in the body of a man--are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism's life.*"
To which I now add, the footnote (italics in the original):
"When applied to physical phenomenon, such as the automatic functions of an organism, the term "goal-directed" is not to be taken to mean "purposive" (a concept applicable only to the actions of a consciousness) and is not to imply the existence of any teleological principle operating in insentient nature. I use the term "goal-directed," in this context, to designate the fact that the automatic functions of living organisms are actions whose nature is such that they result in the preservation of an organism's life."
Her argument then is that since man is not born with automatic 'knowledge' of how to sustain his life, then he must discover it. That is to say, that the genetic programming of animals seems to provide them the skills necessary to survive in their environment, but that man's genetic programming does not seem to have this information hard-wired in.
Because of this, man has to choose, has to learn. There is no necessity in man choosing values which will lead it to a full, healthy, and rewarding existence. However, choosing the right values, will. Values guide a person's long term goals. If that value is life, then the long-term goals of a person will be the preservation and elevation of that life. If the value is death, well then that is also another option. But happiness, is only possible by choosing life as a value. Choosing death as a value leads to pain, because death is painful.
You're also neglecting that Rand states that organisms incapable of choice cannot have values, as such. Once again, I quote from The Objectivist Ethics, VOS, p. 16.
""Value" is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The concept "value" is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible."
As for your spurious accounts of the animal world, you have yet to provide an example of a creature which consciously works against its own survival genetically or otherwise. Unless that you are arguing that something with the brain the size of a praying mantis or a peacock is conscious enough to have values, then those examples still stand invalidated.
As for Zahavi's hypothesis that some animals display colorfully precisely because it is dangerous and thus makes them more appealing to females, mathematical modeling by Alan Grafen has shown that this may possibly lead to an evolutionarily stable state and may well be an adequate explanation of such behavior. But I stress again that the goal is to live and pass on one's genes. The display is a result of both the pressures for survival and the pressures to reproduce acting in concert on the genetic make-up of the animal and it's mode of behavior. The peacock is successful in mating because it is good enough to survive in spite of it's tail. If it were to be a handicap that guaranteed death then it would not be able to reproduce. If anything it makes it that much harder for the peacock to survive, but it does not entail that the peacock is not directed to survive by the same forces which drive all other animals. It has simply developed to respond to the pressure on its evolution in unique ways.
3. The "is-ought" gap.
Virtue of Selfishness, p.17
"Life can be kept in existence only by a constant process of self-sustaining action. The goal of that action, the ultimate value which, to be kept, must be gained through its every moment, is the organism's life.
An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means--and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organism's life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil.
Without an ultimate goal or end, there can be no lesser goals or means: a series of means going off into infinte progression toward a nonexistent end is a metaphysical and epistemological impossibility. It it only an ultimate goal, an end in itself that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of "value" is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of "life". To speak of "value" as apart from "life" is worse than a contradiction in terms. "It is only the concept of 'Life' that makes the concept of 'Value' possible."
In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of the ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between "is" and "ought." "
And if that isn't clear enough, let me connect the dots.
1. To have values, one must have choice, so one must be conscious.
2. If a conscious organism wishes to continue surviving then it must choose life as it's ultimate value. Especially as human beings are not hard-wired with values, or knowledge of how best to survive, this is not a default choice. Humans must reason in order to solve the problems of survival. Reason is an active process, actively decided upon.
3. If a being chooses survival, and therefore life as a value to be pursued, then the facts of reality dictate what it should do in order to pursue that goal effectively. Every "is" therefore implies an "ought".
The argument for objectivist ethics doesn't rest on the desires of animals. It rests on the necessary consequences of what values a conscious being sets . Of the ultimate goal it decides to pursue. And on the influence of the environment in which we live (i.e. existence) on what is necessary to ensure survival. There's nothing arbitrary about it at all. Unless you wish to choose death as your ultimate value, then you are welcome to it. Let's see how far that gets you.
I apologize on the Albert Ellis criticism. Like I said, I am not well-versed in his theories. I might point out, however, that the "reference" to objectivism was not in the article proper (actually none was) it was merely the title of a book in the bibliography which was phrased as a question and provided no indication of his stance on the matter.
So, in all fairness, I researched Ellis's views in more depth. Well, the first thing I noticed is that Ellis does not seem to be in the mainstream with regards to the psychological evaluation of the value of self-esteem and self-worth. While I would agree that it would be destructive to deify Rand as some are wont to do, this is not something promoted by her philosophy in and of itself. It is the misguided knee-jerk reaction of some of her followers. And just as ad hominem attacks do nothing to disprove a theory in any other field, they do little to provide serious criticism in philosophy or psychology either.
I will fully concede that Ayn Rand was capable of making wrong decisions, that she did not have all facts, as not even science has all facts. But the framework she laid out for her philosophical system was rational, just as the empirical assumptions which drive the scientific method are rational. They are consistent with what we know of reality today, just as they were then. The concept of our ethics being determined by the facts of our existence and our happiness being determined by our individual natures in the details, but overall by the biological necessities of our survival is a solid one. The details and arguments of merit are therefore, those which focus on what is indeed our nature as human beings, and what are indeed the facts of our existence.
You will get nowhere by challenging notions of existence or of survival. These are well accepted concepts in the sciences. You can continue beating a straw man if you wish, but I fail to see the merit in it and shall waste no more time trying to disprove you of this notion.
If you can come up with a truly scientific argument that supports your claim, then please spell it out explicitly and I will take it on. But I have a limit to how many times I can reiterate the same argument.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Here's the link to the article which inspired my commentary this time: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24792627/
Well, it seems that once again, our leaders have to bow and plead and beg forgiveness for what should normally be a non-issue. So what? So the guy shot at a Quran? So what? It's a book. Paper, ink, glue. The man's job is to shoot people. But he wasn't doing that. He was practicing by shooting at a sheaf of paper. For this he gets sent home? While I think that there are better uses for books than shooting, a book ultimately is no more special than any other object. The only difference is the meaning that believers assign to it. And is that belief rational? Let's see, in Afghanistan they rioted and KILLED people because someone shot a book.....a BOOK!
Now, while his act MAY have been in bad taste, perhaps it wasn't culturally sensitive. But, after all, he was not a diplomat. He was a soldier. And a soldier's job is to kill. Killing is not a particularly nice job. And who is it that our soldiers are fighting? They're fighting Islamic fanatics. It doesn't take a lot to see why he may have some hostility towards the holy book that goads those fanatics on to ever more shocking displays of barbarism. So, let's be fair. Let's be egalitarian. Let's be honest. There's nothing that makes this soldier's act condemnable aside from our irrational concession to religion in general that it deserves to be treated with respect by default.
There is absolutely nothing respectable about religion. Religion has offered nothing to the advancement of mankind. Science has. Science can exist without religion. Religion is unnecessary. We should be more offended when our politicians cater to the spiritual vagaries of bigoted idealogues then when trained soldiers practice on inanimate objects. We should be more outraged when people riot and KILL in the name of their outrage, then when a man whose job is to kill quietly protests by shooting something which has no consciousness, no precious life to be snuffed out.
So, in the interest of fairness, I propose that we should line up the Bible alongside the Torah, the Quran, the Bhagavad Ghita, The Book of Mormon, and Dianetics. I say take a shot at all of them. They all have the same net value for human advancement....ZERO. If every copy of those books disappeared from the face of the earth tomorrow, the net impact on our knowledge of our existence, our universe, and the moral fabric of our society would not be shifted one iota.
If Newton's laws were forgotten, or Einstein's relativity ignored, or the Declaration of Independence lost to time, then we would notice the difference and severely. If the germ theory of medicine was condemned as heresy and forbidden, to be lost in the swamp of cloudy spiritualism, then we would notice the difference. There would be no condemnatory thunders of flame. The result would be no less subtle though for lack of theistic pyrotechnics. We would simply notice things stop working. We would notice people start dying in larger and larger numbers. They would die of diseases we could no longer fight. They would die of hunger because of food we could no longer grow or transport as effectively. They would die of cold and heat and exposure to an environment we had surrendered our only means of optimizing for human survival.
It's easy to talk about respecting ancient myths and fanatical ideologies when you're sitting in an air-conditioned room, with electric lighting, world-wide internet access and a TV chirping consolingly in the background. But try imagining the world ruled by those 'pleasant' myths. You would quickly lose all of those things. The engine that drives those creations, which keeps them working, and which ensures that you don't have to worry about where they come from is the human mind. Thousands of human minds working in freedom, with reason as their guide.
Betray those minds to a misguided respect of religious insanity, and they will leave you. Perhaps not immediately. The living minds are generally more tolerant than is best for them. They are forgiving. They will let us march towards darkness for quite a while. But once the line is crossed, those minds will be cut off. They will retreat, surrender. And where will all this faith leave us then?
Friday, May 23, 2008
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Here's the link to the Scientology video:
And here is Thunderfoot's proposed battle plan:
And here is a justification of Thunderfoot's Scientology = Nazi analogy.
This is truly terrifying. What are these teachers thinking? What are the parents thinking? Why are these teachers still working? They should be fired for child abuse. School is not to indoctrinate our children with religious propaganda. Even worse, if they come away from these classes believing in creationism, believing that the world is less than 10,000 years old...then they are basically being handicapped from any career in the sciences.
Scientists cannot afford to accept arbitrary judgments at face value. And by saying that there is even a shred of respectability to the ideas of creationists, then those teachers are gutting their students' ability to make valid scientific judgments. There is no proof of ID. There is no proof of creationism. Teaching it as part of a science course flies in the face of everything that science is about.
Teachers have a responsibility to teach children how to reason critically. It is a skill which is essential to negotiating one's way through life. Without it, children are malleable, controllable, programmable creatures with no notion of what ideas are worth accepting and which are worth rejecting. Well...I guess that makes it pretty easy to see what the creationists want. They don't want truth, religious or otherwise. They want a world of slaves.
Fight this! If you are aware of this going on at your children's schools, fight it or face the reality that your child is being set up for a blue collar job in a propaganda state. Go to the school board! Go to the newspaper! Scream bloody murder until these irresponsible and vicious abusers of children's minds are kicked out of academia and back into the pulpits where they belong. After all it's your child's future. Are you willing to throw it away for the sake of whim and superstition?
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Monday, May 19, 2008
This article is a fairly even-handed and thoughtful explanation of the way in which free trade between nations actually helps people in the working class and not just the movers and shakers.
It's easy to forget sometimes, what with all the political and media spin on the marketplace. It's easy to forget because Obama and Clinton spout off about how they want to help the little guy by gutting 'big bad' business. They never stop to think that 'big bad' business is what is giving the little guy a job to do. If they make it harder for businesses to set up in the US, then they will go abroad. It's that simple.
Free trade makes sense, but a free economy at home makes even more sense. Just imagine how much prices would drop if there weren't tariffs, taxes, and surcharges latched on to everything. Of course, the reason why people don't realize this is because they're hopelessly dedicated to the morality of altruism. They think that making money for yourself is evil, so they want to make it as hard to make money as possible. What people don't realize is that if you can't make money, you can't live. So which do you want? A new morality that will let you make money and feel good about it? Or the old morality which will drive you to die for a notion of good which makes it impossible to live?
You decide. After all the choice is only yours.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Yep, the above article is another vivid portrait of just how effective religion is at keeping our society on a moral course. I mean really, if preachers, pastors, holy men cannot be led to a path of moral righteousness by their devotion to religion, then just how is it that they expect it to keep the rest of the world on a moral footing? Isn't this just one more proof of how morality has nothing to do with religion?
Morality is a choice. It is a framework of choices built upon values. And a person's values are what make them either good or evil. God cannot save you, because there is none. Belief in god cannot make you moral. Understanding WHY something is wrong is what makes one moral. And you don't have to be religious to understand why it's wrong to solicit little girls on the internet (Baptist), rape choir boys (Catholic), or sentence rape victims to death because they commit adultery (Islam).
What you have to do to be moral is to THINK about your actions, to THINK about your values, and to THINK about what values are good for yourself in the long term. If you really think about these things then you will find that moral decisions are easy. But you will also lose the pleasant reassurance that your evil will be forgiven. Evil cannot be forgiven. The best you can do is to work to undo the damage you have done and never do it again. In the worst cases where there is no sign of rehabilitation or remorse, or where compensation is impossible, you must be removed from the company of civilized men and women forever. There is no easy way out of your responsibility. If this seems harsh, then let it be a warning to whoever would shirk the awareness of their own actions. Ignorance of morality is not a defense. Defaulting to religious doctrine to defend you is not a defense. You must KNOW whether your actions are right are wrong. And if you still do evil things then all will KNOW that you are evil.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Friday, May 16, 2008
Well, the inspiration for this post comes from the following video. :
Please watch the video as I'll be destroying the objections raised therein one by one.
(First of all: the Axioms)
The video claims that objectivist axioms are not automatically accepted by anyone trying to attack them. I hold that they are. Let us see what his arguments are.
(1.1 Existence exists)
The video claims that the statement of identity is tautological and that this renders it meaningless? It's an axiom. Axioms are simply statements of reality. They are the bedrock upon which an argument is based. A tautological axiom would seem to be a given. I fail to see what the problem is in starting a logical derivation from something which is universally accepted (i.e. tautological).
The video then goes on to propose this question as being the truly essential point, "Is there existence apart from my experience in the first place?" Well, in short....yes. And of course the creator of this video accepts this because they went to the trouble of making the video in the first place. If this person truly rejects the idea that there is a common existence outside of his experience, then to make the video in spite of that would be truly mad. That, in itself, would be enough to disqualify this person from the status of "rational".
He then proceeds to prove that he is mad by proposing that "existence can be denied". How then is it possible that I am writing this critique of something which he created, put on the internet, and I subsequently viewed? Existence exists. This statement, which the video's creator initially conceded was a TAUTOLOGY (something which is ALWAYS true), is now contradicted by the statement "existence can be denied." This is a contradiction and renders this line of argument invalid. At best, this approach is intellectually dishonest. To paraphrase koenichfuerst, I think that's a sneaky way of pushing relativist nonsense down your throat from the very start. If "existence" exists by definition, as it would have to in order to be a tautology, then, by definition, it cannot be denied.
He then moves on to suggest that the great debate of metaphysics is to establish whether or not sense perception actually exists or if we are all Keanu Reaves in the Matrix. (Oh, boy....pop analogies here we come...). Once again, if all of our perceptions are wrong, and he truly believes this, then why are two human beings able to communicate at all? Why are we able to read each other's words and understand the content? How are we able to reach any agreements on anything whatsoever if the nature of existence is indeed so subjective?
I'm jumping ahead but koenichfuerst later invokes evolution as a support of a later argument. Evolution would have no meaning if our perceptions were all illusory. The whole theory of evolution is based on the idea that living beings change bit by bit over time. But one of the agents of that change is the environment in which they live. The better adapted to that environment they are, the better they are at surviving and in passing along their genes. Those who aren't as well adapted die off without the chance to pass them along. Evolution demands a direct correlation between survival and reality, between existence and life. You can't dismiss the identity principle as "begging the question" and subsequently use a theory which would be meaningless without it for support. This is another sign of intellectual dishonesty. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I hope that this is sufficient to brand koenichfurst as a charlatan and a liar. No wonder he didn't want to stick his face to this nonsense.
But, let's continue just to clean up all his inaccuracies.
American Antitheist: 1
(1.2 Free Will)
Basically he is saying that free will cannot exist in a deterministic system. So, he says that if we accept physics, evolution, biology...in short the scientific explanation of existence and rule out any supernatural mumbo jumbo, that there is no room left for free will. If the man had any familiarity with cognitive science at all, then he would realize that this is just not so.
Of course objectivism supports the scientific view of our existence which rules out the possibility of a metaphysical soul. But, if you take a look at cognitive science, and in particular the work of Douglas Hofstadter, you will begin to see that it is possible to explain consciousness from within a deterministic framework. The window is called self-referentiality. For a detailed exploration of this concept I recommend you to Hofstadter's book, Godel, Escher, Bach. Although I must note that Hofstadter is in no way connected with objectivism and some of his personal opinions run definitely counter to it. However his initial theory of strange loops and tangled hierarchies seems to have a lot of value in the fields of cognitive science and artificial intelligence. And it is an eloquent depiction of just how likely it is that deterministic science and free will can co-exist.
Never say never, dude.
American Antitheist: 2
(2. Ethics)...oh, goody...let's see what he has in store for us....
He is saying that the biological goal of life is reproduction not survival.
Well, he's half right, but mostly wrong.
The biological goal of genes is reproduction. And they have worked under evolutionary laws for so long that the "gene machines" or bodies they have constructed to carry and reproduce them have become highly effective at enabling them to do so. From a post-Dawkins Darwinian perspective, genes are the principle actors in evolution and from the gene's perspective it is most definitely concerned with survival. A gene can survive for thousands and thousands of years and the gene's "goal", so to speak, is to survive indefinitely. It is by the process of evolution that it "hopes" to do so. Of course the gene doesn't actually "hope" for anything or have goals, but the analogy helps to visualize the aggregate effects of natural selection at the gene level. Of course, this is too highly intricate a concept to be dealt with in a paragraph. I refer the reader to Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene for a fuller treatment of the idea. Of course, Dawkins is not an objectivist either, but since objectivism is a philosophy of reason, it can freely draw from science to support itself. And Dawkins is a brilliant evolutionary biologist.
The problem here is that genes are intent on survival which means that we have a drive to replicate, but for the genes to continue to exist and to optimize their chance for survival, their hosts or bodies must survive, and be able to survive for as long as necessary. And even then, aside from gene theory, let's just look at observations of the animal kingdom. How many animals knowingly commit suicide? Let's see..........ZERO. The reason is that any animal that had a genetic propensity to kill itself off, would succeed and would no longer exist. Evolution would allow it its wish and it would cease to be. Let's weaken it then, would any animal even exist which worked against it's own survival? NO. Why? Well, same thing. If an animal worked against itself (or did not work to preserve its own life) then this would be a huge disadvantage and it would become extinct due to evolutionary pressures. So, you can't use evolution to say that animals don't try to sustain their lives.
Furthermore, Ayn Rand does not claim that life is the ultimate value of all living beings. Animals cannot have values, because they do not have choice, they are merely programmed by those genes. Human beings, on the other hand, have that already established free-will. So, they can CHOOSE not to live and commit suicide. They CAN work against themselves if they wish. Only IF you choose life as your ultimate value, will the is-ought gap be bridged. Why? Because then the answer to things' optimal use is answered. If the ultimate goal is life, then all things, all rules of existence must be utilized in the way which is optimal for your own survival and then again survival in accordance with your nature as a human being. Continued survival in a state which is in accordance with your human nature is what we call happiness. If you choose to hold death as your ultimate value, then you are free to do so, but it will not bring you happiness.
Of course, if you choose not to hold life as your ultimate value, then you are in an immoral state, as he points out. As such, you can leech off of whoever is willing to support you, whether it be the blood money raped from the labor of others and dispensed by a welfare state, or if it is simply the charity of others upon which you can depend (or demand as the case may be). Of course, you can also die as do people who commit suicide, or do suicidal things.
As for the example of the praying mantis, it is highly debatable whether the male is aware of the fate that will meet it when it copulates. Most likely, it is simply driven by its genes as are all animals. I'm sure that it would much prefer to go on living if it could, but once again a praying mantis has no choice in the matter. People do. And I fail to see how surviving genetically equates with existing. The male CEASES to exist. It dies. Once again (third time) this is a case of intellectual dishonesty where koenichfuerst is switching definitions mid-sentence. The intent is to confuse your frame of reference so as to cram his argument down your throat, so to speak. (Pardon the paraphrase.)
American Antitheist: 3
Finally, the Albert Ellis defense holds absolutely no weight whatsoever. Ellis developed Rational Therapy. And just by checking out the Wikipedia article here:
"RT required that the therapist help the client understand — and act on the understanding —that his personal philosophy contains beliefs that lead to his own emotional pain. This new approach stressed actively working to change a client's self-defeating beliefs and behaviors by demonstrating their irrationality and rigidity. Ellis related everything to these core irrational beliefs such as "I must be perfect" and "I must be loved by everyone". Ellis believed that through rational analysis, people can understand their errors in light of the core irrational beliefs and then construct a more rational position."
I fail to see how this is an attack on objectivism. Demanding that everyone love you would seem to be a chronic problem of someone without self-esteem or self-worth who is desperately seeking validation from everyone around them. As for the seeking of perfection, it depends entirely upon what your concept of "perfect" is. If it is based on the irrational, then of course pursuing it will lead to problems. If it is based on the rationally attainable, then there is nothing impossible about it. Perfection can be attained as long as your notion of perfection is defined by reality and does not consist of an attempt to redefine reality to meet your conception. As a philosophy which preaches that full acceptance of the reality of the world is fundamental to all else, objectivism would demand that people keep their goals realistic. If anything, given this article, I would think that RT is fully compatible with objectivism. Of course I'm not fully versed in the method, but the principles seem non-contradictory.
American Antitheist: 4
Obviously, he's too busy to read any of the works he refers to, or research any of the ideas he's criticizing. Remember, koenichfuerst...ignorance is not a rebuttal. Just because you don't understand it, doesn't mean it isn't true.
(If you're interested, Koenichfuerst replied to this post, and I posted a link to his rebuttal along with my counter. It should be interesting to note that he has yet to respond to it. Here's the link: http://anamericananti-theistabroad.blogspot.com/2008/05/further-defense-against-koenichfuerst.html)
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
I'm not sure what it is. Do Americans watch too much 24? Is it that they actually believe that Jack Bauer is a decent human being? It seems that as long as you're a patriot, you can be forgiven any sin. Seems a lot like Christianity to me. You can be a filthy evil bastard and as long as you're doing for God by asking for forgiveness, well, then God bless you and Hallelujah.
It cannot be a coincidence that intellectuals and those who are supposedly representing reason have basically handed out a philosophical carte blanche to the CIA and all of those paranoid 24 fans eager to fantasize about a real-life Jack Bauer cutting up, real-life 100% guilty terrorists to stop an imminent 100% confirmed ticking-time bomb.
Come on, gimme a break! You gotta be kidding me! It brings me right back to Sam Harris, who stands prominently as a person who has argued for torture and reason in the same breath. I agree with his estimations of the religious threat to personal freedom, but the kind of nationalistic justification he offers to support his ideas of torture, undermine those very same freedoms. And we still see this hesitation, this dedication to opening the bag on this travesty and I hold Sam Harris partly responsible for this. I hold anyone who has argued for the acceptability of torture as responsible for this.
I debated with myself whether to publish this or not since I didn't formally ask for an interview, but given that there has still been no recanting of his endorsement, I'll post it and let you decide for yourselves what you make of this. I approached Sam via e-mail to present a counter-argument to his rationalization of torture. What follows is the complete exchange, I have selected to replace my real name with my screenname. Also any additional commentary is bracketed [in green font]:
Dear Mr. Harris,
First I would like to say that I am a great fan of your work against religion and religious thought. I also think that the concept of rational morality is something that has been abandoned for too long in public discourse and the default has yielded far too much ground to the irrational or corrupt. I would like to applaud your efforts in trying to stimulate discussion along these lines and especially outside the confines of a purely academic audience.
However, I think that one of the greatest dangers to the foundation of rational ethics is the potential for it to be derailed by red herrings and inadvertently lead to false justifications of atrocity under the guise of reason. Having throughly read your writings on the subject and responses to your challengers I am convinced that this is in no way your intent in arguing for the use of torture. I instead see it as a result of 'test-driving' so to speak your conception of a rational ethics and seeing where it can take you. I applaud this effort as well. However, I see the torture issue as a possible misfire of that conception.
I understand that you are rejecting arguments based on the efficacy of torture and are looking for a purely ethical argument that would rule it out in all cases. However, I think that efficacy is a major factor in what makes torture unethical. But, in respecting your desire for a purely ethical argument, I would also like to attempt to convince you of some errors in your reasoning on a purely ethical basis. So I will present two distinct arguments against torture. One will be based on efficacy. One will be based on ethics.
THE ARGUMENT FROM EFFECTIVENESS
You have argued that the effectiveness of torture need only be as effective as the dropping of a bomb to merit its consideration from utility. However, there seems to be little evidence for the efficacy of torture in producing information. The efficacy of bombing in destroying targets is readily apparent. Both techniques do create "collateral damage" as you have pointed out. However, the target of the bomb is known from the start, whereas the target of torture is not necessarily known. You have said that we should consider that if we are going to drop bombs to kill a single man, then we should be willing to possibly torture innocent men in order to save many more lives. Although I would doubt the rationale of using a bomb to target a single man, perhaps this phrasing doesn't do adequate justice to your position.
Let me rephrase it like this:
Intentionally inflicting misery on innocents due to flawed intel is the same as accidentally inflicting misery on innocents due to flawed targeting. That is to say that the collateral damage of bombing inaccuracies bears the same moral weight as the possible misery inflicted on innocent people by being falsely subjected to torture. The problem is in the efficacy of intel gathering.
Whereas in the first iteration of a cycle of torture or bombing, the results appear to be equivalent, the ethical disparity makes itself known in the way future targets are generated. Bombing does not generate subsequent targets of bombing in the same way that torture generates future targets of torture. If a bomb, misfires, innocents suffer. This is a fact. If torture misfires, then more innocents face torture, which in turn forces more innocents to face torture. How does this work? You have already laid out the process in your appraisal of the Inquisition and how it managed to generate massive numbers of witches when there were none. An innocent man has only one recourse when faced with torture, to try and incriminate as many people as possible, to try and tell the inquisitor what he wants to hear. This generates a new cycle of people eligible for torture as suspected terrorists. The only way to mitigate this would be by objective methods of investigation to corroborate or dispel the intel gathered under torture. If there are sufficient methods in place to corroborate such information, then the necessity of reverting to torture seems less urgent. But this is, of course, assuming that we are not 100% certain that the prisoner has information that would save lives.
For the sake of argument, let us say that we have Osama bin Laden in custody. We know that he is privy to scores of plots to kill innocent people all over the world. We need to know what he knows. Would torture enable us to do so? Possibly. And as you have said the probability of obtaining usable intel need only be as great as the possibility of killing him with a bomb. But would torture have any effectiveness in producing information from a devoted zealot such as bin Laden? Would he not simply try to mislead, misdirect, and stall our efforts to avert disaster as much as he could. He could tell us lies that we would have to waste resources on to follow up. He could incriminate innocent men which we may be forced to torture in an attempt to secure that 'real' intel we need. If a bomb goes astray, we do not successively target greater and greater numbers of civilians. If we inadvertently torture innocents, we may find ourselves inadvertently targeting more and more innocents.
This is, in fact, exactly what happened at Abu Ghraib. I'm sure we tortured some guilty men. But the fact was that our original intelligence, the intel which labeled many innocent men as terrorists and granted us our 'certainty' of the permissibility of torture, came from warlords who were both assaulting US bases and running checkpoints at the same time. The flawed nature of the intel bred more false intel which bred more false intel. It was a spiral which got out of control because the premises guiding decisions were flawed to begin with.
But as you have correctly pointed out, this is not a 'purely' ethical argument. So, let me phrase an objection in ethical terms.
THE ARGUMENT FROM ETHICS
First, we need to look at the fundamental ethical premises in play. One assumption inherent in your argument is that the greater the loss of life, the greater the tragedy. In effect, the more human lives threatened the more urgent the need to remove the threat. As such, it would seem that failing to find the ticking bomb in time would be a greater tragedy then the torture inflicted on one man. And in the extreme case, as you say, what if that man is Osama bin Laden, a man who without a doubt has blood on his hands and who very probably knows things which may save lives.
A human life has value. But do more human lives have more value than a single life? If it is ethical to torture bin Laden to save many lives, is it ethical to torture a man to save the life of a little girl for instance? And if it is, would that mean that torture should be used as a judicial as well as a military instrument? The American constitution is based on the premise that all people are created equal, that we ALL have inalienable rights. The reason for this is simple. The minute we start to arbitrarily decide who gets what rights in which circumstance, we start to see our ethical certainty slide away. Many lives are precious because any one life is precious. Any rights of the masses, or of a group of people exist because every individual has that right. If it is inalienable for one then it is inalienable for all. If it is alienable for one, it is alienable for all. The only way the concept of rights and freedoms work is if it is applied across the board. Otherwise we will always have the specter of relativism hanging over our heads. If rights are not universal, then who is it who decides who gets what rights when? Government? Can we really trust the government to preserve rights if we grant them the authority to revoke them?
One possible objection concerns the principle of the right of a government to punish criminals. This principle seems to imply that by violating the rights of others, one cedes their own claim to those same rights. However, in our society we have extended certain rights even to criminals. This is embodied in the doctrine of "innocent until proven guilty". A key assumption in this doctrine is that it is better to let a guilty man go free for want of evidence than to persecute an innocent man in error. If we let a murderer go free for want of evidence, then he may kill again. We have made the choice as a society that it is better that an innocent may die then to punish an innocent. If we turn this on its head and adopt the code Napolean, that we are "guilty until proven innocent", then suspicion is enough to elicit punishment. Fear becomes the focal point. We would be forced to say that it is better to punish an innocent man then let a guilty man free. And this is what it means to say that it is better to torture an innocent man in the hopes of saving many lives. But once again, you're assuming 100% certainty of guilt. So what is the ethical objection to punishing a guilty man, to torturing someone whose guilt is not in doubt?
Perhaps it is better to rephrase the argument in terms of warfare, and this is where the second possible objection to the universality of human rights can be found as well. War is a state where one group of people uses physical force to kill, subjugate, or neutralize another group of people. Under this umbrella is everything from genocide, to UN "police actions". It would seem that war is a state in which human rights are unilaterally abrogated. The stakes are kill or be killed. It would appear to make no sense to handicap ourselves with rights in such situations, except that it is clear that there is a moral distinction between targeting non-combatants and inadvertently killing them. Simply from this we can see moral issues and issues of human rights enter even into the domain of warfare. It is clear that there is something being held more important than winning at all costs. The principle at play here seems to mirror the principles we adopt to justify our judicial system. We consider it appropriate to punish combatants because they are actively involved in the military threat, they are 'guilty' of fighting us. These 'guilty' parties in war have apparently ceded their rights by choosing to fight in the same way that criminals have ceded their rights by choosing to commit crimes. And yet, if we extend certain rights to criminals so as to err on the side of caution, might we not have the same ethical necessity to err on the side of caution in war? I think most people in the world would agree that we do. This is why we have developed things like the Geneva convention in the first place.
Just as rights must be applied universally if rational, so too must our treatment of criminals be universal to be just, or our treatment of enemy combatants to be civilized. The principle of justice works, because the laws are applied systemically to all people irregardless of affiliations. If we start to make exceptions or treat some criminals worse than others for similar offenses then the sense of justice inherent on our system quickly begins to crumble. We are forced to hold ourselves to the same standards that we hold others, and this lends us the moral certainty to criticize countries like China and Egypt for their treatment of prisoners and the inherent bias in their systems of 'justice'. Without this universality, it would all be "relative". The principle of justice in warfare works because we must hold all enemy combatants to be eligible for the same treatment if we are to have the moral certainty to criticize our enemies on ethical grounds.
An enemy soldier is unquestionably a 'guilty' party in war. For whatever reasons, they are involved in actively trying to kill people on our side. As such they surrender some or all of their rights to be treated as we normally would treat other human beings. The extent to which we revoke our consideration of their rights must be equally applicable to ourselves if we are to judge rationally which side has the ethical superiority in a given conflict. So, if our ethical terms are such that it is acceptable to torture the enemy if it may yield information which could save lives on our side even if it means the loss of more lives on their side, then we must allow that it is ethical for our enemies to torture our captives to gain similar information with opposing goals. From the perspective of both sides, the captives are equally 100% guilty of attempted murder and very probably possess useful information. Where then is the ethical distinction?
If it is ethical for us to torture bin Laden so that we may perhaps be better able to kill and torture more terrorists and thereby possibly prevent further loss of American lives, then is it ethical for Jihadists to torture captive American soldiers to perhaps be better able to kill American soldiers and thereby remove us all the more speedily from their land? Of course that isn't their end goal and I am sure that they wouldn't be satisfied until the whole world was Islamified, that our very existence makes us their perceived enemies. But, on what can our ethical claims rest if we do not treat combating sides equally? If it becomes simply a matter of it's ethical because we're doing it for our side, then doesn't the whole concept of rational ethics fall apart? Doesn't it just become might makes right?
The answer is in the universality of human rights, in what constitutes humane treatment of human beings. It is this principle of universality which lends us certainty in our moral superiority in the conflict against terrorism and terrorists. And it is the hypocrisy of trying to circumvent it which undermines our moral credibility in the eyes of the world and of our own people.
I hope that this argument has been sufficient to convince you that the use of torture is not rational or humane. Although I am sure there are probably things which I may have not explained sufficiently, I am certain that these are some core reasons why your hypothesis is in error. If you would like to debate it further, I would be eager to engage in a discourse on the subject. I think that the lion's share of what you have said in your works is admirable and I would like to support many of your causes as much as I, in my limited capacity, can do. However, I can't in good conscience sit by and let reason be used to justify what I perceive as an injustice. I, too, wish to see the further development of the "science" of ethics. It is in pursuit of this that I have offered up this challenge to your views on torture. I think it is vitally important that we provide a rational alternative to the mystical ethics of religion if we are ever to have a hope of driving it into the dark vestiges of our history. But we must be careful not to let it be merely a rationalization of future tragedy.
Hi [American Antitheist] --
Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my e-mail. I understand that you believe that a war can be right in absolute terms, and I share the same view. However the basis for claiming which side is morally superior must be based on a universal standard of rights. If it is moral for one side to use torture, how can it be immoral for the other side of a conflict to do so? If we wish to maintain our moral superiority, isn't it necessary for us to take the high road? I apologize for not phrasing it more clearly in my initial e-mail, but I definitely do not support relativism. I am only saying that the standard for determining the moral character of the combatants has to be universal, or else it just becomes a statement of "It's my side so I'm right." This is most certainly not objective. Anyways I will try to give it more thought so that I can phrase my argument in a clearer and more convincing manner.
It may be moral or immoral to wage war. Likewise, it may be moral or immoral to kill, torture, steal, lie, etc. Needless to say, such things are generally immoral (or tainted by immorality). But the details of the situation matter. I suspect that the two sides in a conflict are rarely truly equivalent in moral terms. There are situations in which we may want to pretend they are equivalent, to serve some larger good. But I don't think we need pretend with Al Qaeda.
I would also agree there as well. What I am saying is that what makes us morally superior to Al Qaeda is that by a universal application of ethics, we come out better. That we generally don't think that things like torture are good is one of the things which grants us moral superiority. However if we rush to embrace them, we would become as evil as Al Qaeda and we would lose that superiority. Otherwise, what would be the standard by which we gauge our ethics? If you are saying that we need to judge morality on every single isolated situation, then you, yourself are veering from an argument on principle and supporting a relativist ethical stance.
[And that was the end of the exchange]
And THAT is the problem with all justifications of torture. They come down to the idea that, well we're in the right, so anything we do must be right. It neglects the fact that if we stop being moral, then we lose the ability to assert that we are in the right. And he can't justify torture and human rights at the same time. He speaks of "a greater good" as thought that cultural bromide actually meant anything. The Islamists are also supposedly working for "a greater good" but simply saying that something is better doesn't make it so. It is for this reason that the Islamists are wrong. And for the same reason the advocates of torture are wrong. A concept of rights cannot exist if they are applied selectively. From the standpoint of rights, there is no greater good. There is only the individual. The minute you say that it is okay to sacrifice people, any people, then you surrender the whole concept of rights.
But admitting the supremacy of the individual in the conceptualization of human rights is the antithesis of socialist thinking. The whole premise of the welfare state and of the large part of liberal politics is that the great mass of people which constitutes society, the aggregate statistical faceless mass of humanity has the priority. What socialists cannot and never will be able to answer is how human rights can be granted to a mass of people if individual rights are not guaranteed. The reason they cannot answer this is because it is an impossibility. Society is only the sum of all the individuals which constitute it. If you negate the rights of any individual, then the entire mass loses their claim to those same rights. And if in a civilized society, we have a right to our lives, a right not to face torture, even when we are accused or convicted of a crime, then all human beings must have that right, regardless of whose side they're on. If we remove that from one group, we remove it from all.
That is why, the socialists in trying to remove God, have only found another shapeless idea which they call Society to mount in its place. That is why, despite the inevitable truth that there is no god, the socialists cannot embark on providing a reasoned alternative to morality by religious fiat. Because the best thing they have to offer is morality by social fiat, by the domination of popular opinion or the relativistic cadence of nationalism and what is called pragmatism. And it doesn't take one long to see how weak a proposal that would be. No, to truly embrace a morality based on reason, reason must be it's foundation. And reason dictates that human rights, if they are to be valued at all, must be inalienable for all, or inalienable for none.
Until our so-called advocates of reason recognize, embrace, and proclaim this then the great rally against the enemies of reason will ultimately fail, and we will collapse into one of two fates. Theocracy or Socialism. Both absolute in their power. Both rooted in the same ethical system, namely altruism. And both doomed to stifle freedom and intellectual advancement. The only way to avoid this is to recognize the primacy of individual rights. And to be prepared to err on the side of reason.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
What follows is a comment that I left on the MSN forums in response to this question: "Do you believe in spiritual apparitions?" It was a forum topic associated with this news item:
My initial comment and Mr. Lawrence's "rebuttal" and my response are presented for your entertainment. I feel this is the appropriate way to respond to anyone of this character. Enjoy...
05/06/08 11:52 PM
05/07/08 03:35 AM
wow, AmericanAntitheist, if you have such a problem with people of faith practicing their rights, using their freedom of speech and so on than you should shut up also, you are getting angry with a group of people who DONT CARE what you say about them or let alone what YOU think they should do, If you choose not to believe fine, but seriously we live in a world of diversity, of multiple different races, and faiths, who cares...who cares...move on with your life just as the billions of believer will also without your petty misinterpretations of what you think they believe..you dont understand and by your post you dont care to, so whats the point. your peeing in the wind.
05/11/08 07:53 AM
I have absolutely no problem with Christian demagogues spouting their laughable madness from every rooftop. But they should be prepared to be laughed at for the ridiculously ignorant louts they are. My suggestion is not that you be "shut up" so to speak. I think that the proper response to such a blatant and willfull ignorance as yours and your like is ridicule. Something which I will be glad to heap on anyone so moronic as to propose that the vast litany of simply preposterous claims held in the Bible is the ultimate truth.
And the reason I care is because all the believers of this farce of a creed are making claims to truth, claims that they seek to force on the rest of us with political power. And the standard of their belief is not evidence but the mouldy scribbles of some bronze age tribal leaders. The bible couldn't even get pi right. How could it have anything revealing to say about the universe? And yet these proponents of mindless devotion to an anachronistic faith would seek to influence the lives and decisions of every living man and woman on this earth.
Whether they be Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, Jews, Protestants, or even Scientologists, the main principle of faith is to believe without thinking. And the result when that is married to political power is evident whenever we look at news from the Middle East or listen to the rantings of psychopaths like Falwell or Graham or Robertson.
Sure, say what you like. Believe what you like. Just be prepared to be laughed at. There is nothing which makes religion more respectable than any other form of discourse. If you say something ridiculous, be prepared to be ridiculed. And there is no religious claim which is not laughable when compared to the vast body of scientific knowledge which we have at our disposal. Religion is as plausible as alchemy or astrology and should be rendered as impotent in the influence of our beliefs as carnival fortune tellers and the horoscopes are today.
My interest is not in changing your mind. I think you would need some serious therapy to do that. My interest is in working away the veneer of impenetrability that religion has built up over the years. It deserves to be as accountable for its propositions as any scientist is accountable for his claims. If a scientist proposes a new idea, he must battle with the entire scientific community, most of whom want to see him fail, in order to win acceptance.
And yet all someone has to do is have the letters "Rev." in front of their name and they can spout racism and fascism with impunity. If they are challenged they cry, "oh, you can't oppress me...it's a matter of faith." Well, faith be damned. If you can't support what you claim to be true then be prepared to be laughed out of the room. It's what you deserve.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
And here is an interesting interview where he talks about capitalism:
Friday, May 9, 2008
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Americans Are Right To Resist An Atheist As President
By Michael Medved
To start with, what a wonderfully smug title. I propose a little thought experiment to reveal the true nature of this new attempt to paint fascism in the colors of civility. Let us take all the references to "atheists" and change them to "black". And let us change all the references to other religions to that of race. If it helps just imagine that this editorial was published about 50 years ago. Let us do this and see what it makes you feel like. Then you will see just how slimy Medved is. My alterations will be in red ink. My comments are in italics.
Let's start with the title, "Americans Are Right to Resist a Black President".
"Despite the recent spate of major bestsellers touting the virtues of blacks, polls show consistent, stubborn reluctance on the part of the public to cast their votes for a presidential candidate who is of black heritage."
"Of course, some civil rights activists respond to this state of affairs by decrying the American people as backward and benighted, while dismissing our politicians as hypocritical, falsely egalitarian blowhards. These activists point to the huge popularity of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X among others as evidence that the public resistance to racial equality and black candidates may be overstated."
"Actually, there’s little chance that blacks will succeed in placing one of their own in the White House at any time in the foreseeable future, and it continues to make powerful sense for voters to shun potential presidents who deny the superiority of the white race. A black may be a good person, a good politician, a good family man (or woman), and even a good patriot, but a black as president would, for three reasons, be bad for the country.
Hollowness and Hypocrisy at State Occasions. As Constitutional scholars all point out, the Presidency uniquely combines the two functions of head of government (like the British Prime Minister) and head of state (like the Queen of England). POTUS not only appoints cabinet members and shapes foreign policy and delivers addresses to Congress, but also presides over solemn and ceremonial occasions. Just as the Queen plays a formal role as head of the Church of England, the President functions as head of the “Church of America” – that informal, tolerant but profoundly important civic religion that dominates all our national holidays and historic milestones. For instance, try to imagine a black president issuing the annual Thanksgiving proclamation. To whom would he extend thanks in the name of his grateful nation –-the slave traders who enslaved his forefathers?"
"Skeptics may suggest that a black president would give the nation the long-overdue chance to purge itself of these inappropriate racist trappings in our governmental and public processes, but truly overwhelming majorities cherish such traditions. The notion of dropping segregation to avoid discomfort for a single individual amounts to a formula for a disastrously unpopular presidency."
I could go on, but seriously, why bother with this nonsense? And truthfully the task of rephrasing this malice in terms of race makes me uncomfortable. But the point is obvious isn't it? The so-called defenders of religious freedom are once again trying to make the cloak of free-speech into a cloak of invulnerability where they can spit malice with impunity and everyone can be expected to jump on the band wagon saying, "Well, of course he has a point..."
Shut this fascist down! Not with violence and not with law. Don't ban him, or cut him out of the spotlight. Instead push him into the merciless light of full attention. Comment, blog, e-mail, respond, protest. Get his name and this vicious attack out into the open. Evil only breeds when it has shadows to hide in.
Monday, May 5, 2008
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