Saturday, December 04, 2004

Joe, that's precisely my point.
My definition of objective morality is one that is constant (what's good today is good tomorrow) and universal (it applies to everyone, everywhere). I think there is such a thing, but understanding what it is can be, to put it mildly, extremely difficult. It would appear that, no matter what you choose as your standard (human nature, religion, etc.), something will be lost in the interpretation.

Friday, December 03, 2004

The Waxman report
that was released recently has caused a bit of controversy, accusing some practitioners of abstinence-based sex-ed of teaching dopey ideas (e.g., touching someone's genitals is enough to get pregnant).

Dumb, yes, but Waxman clearly has some kind of agenda (ABC News has an interesting story about the report's selective quotations). Which is odd, to me. If you read typical responses to abstinence-based education, you'd think these teachers were practicing some kind of voodoo science and threatening to poison chilren.

When I was going through junior high and high school, my sex-ed and health classes both talked about contraception, and then ended with the comment that only abstinence is 100% effective in preventing the spread of STD's or in prevention of pregnancy. Makes sense, doesn't it? If you don't have sex, you won't get pregnant. While condomns seriously help prevent pregnancy and STD's, Trojan can't claim 100% effectiveness.

Why is this so controversial? What's wrong with the "Here's what a condomn is, but only abstinence is 100% effective" line?
David,
with regards to your post, I think you have painted yourself into the corner you criticize. Objectivism, even with its intent on formulating an objective morality, has it's own internal quibbles that are subject to interpretation. Let's look at the four moral items you've highlighted: Violence, homosexuality, the Sabbath and the status of women.
  1. Force can only be used in retaliation to force; foreign tyrannies have no rights, and we can use force to destroy them at any moment.

  2. Homosexuality violates the law of identity; homosexuality is genetic, and therefore natural and, therefore, in accordance with the law of identity.

  3. The virtue of productivity requires that every waking moment be engaged in constructive, thought-provoking pursuits; productivity is well served by the occaisional respite from thought-provoking activity.

  4. Women are equal to men; women require a strong male role model to be complete, therefore a true woman would never, for example, want to be President of the United States.
In each of these things, there are different interpretations all stemming from the same source. And I haven't even gone into the root causes of the big schism, the so-called Peikoff-Kelley Split.

The issue with any moral standard is that there's always going to be a piece that seems arbitrary or relative, especially when defining morality based on something as complex as human nature. Is man brutish? Well, look at history. Is man basically decent? Well, look at history. You could reasonably answer both of these questions in the affirmative.

Now, that isn't to say that I believe objective morality is impossible to define. Any attempt to do so, however, is going to be frought with quibbles about both essentials and peripheral issues. I suppose the danger is getting bogged down in the quibbling and the side issues.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Is it just me,
or is Jonah separating morality from God?
So yeah, I believe in God. But I also think Alexander Pope was right when he said that the proper study of mankind is man. God doesn't need me to believe in Him or agree with Him. What we should be concerned with is morality, because morality ? whether you are an atheist, Hindu, or Jew ? is the only criteria we can judge each other by. I can't tell you whether a Christian man really believes or just says he does. Similarly, my motives to be a good person or a bad person are my own. If I get my morality from a can of chicken-and-stars soup, you shouldn't care until that morality drives me to commit evil. At which point we can have an argument about whether or not soup-can religion is bad for America.
It seems odd to me that a believer would make that distinction. Besides, how would he know Mr. Soup Can's morality is evil unless Jonah's morality is based on something. What's the standard? I would think he'd need God to be that standard.

To be frank, I don't even think God (or the Bible or whatever) can even qualify as an objective standard, at least not to us imperfect humans. The message gets interpreted too many different ways:
  • Violence of any sort is evil; violence in self-defense is permissible; suicide bombings are okay, if not expected.
  • Homosexuals will burn in Hell; homosexuality is a sinful practice but will not prevent salvation; homosexuality is just another form of love.
  • Sundays are just like any other day except for church; Sundays are a day for the family to stay home (no friends, no work, no shopping).
  • Men and women are equals in the church; women should not be clergy; women should play no leadership roles at all.
And so on, ad infinum. Short of God Himself showing up and saying "Okay everyone, here's how it is", religion-based morality will always be relative.

Ah, but wouldn't that be the case of all secular-based morality, then? Well, certainly any morality that is based on the word of some higher authority wouldn't really be objective, whether that authority be a committee or a philosopher or a leader or the government or whatever. People come and go, opinions change, and really, I just don't find it acceptable to say, "I know this is right because so-and-so says so". I've argued before that an appeal to authority is not a moral standard, and that hasn't changed.

I still believe human nature itself (universal and constant) must be the standard. The hard part is understanding what it means, what sort of behavior is considered to be complementary to human nature and what is not. So maybe I just argued myself into the same position that I took on religion: if the source of the objective standard of morality can only be interpreted by imperfect human minds, does that mean there really is no such thing as objective morality, at least not in the applicable sense?

What do you guys think?
As I've mentioned before,
my views on abortion are fairly fuzzy and muddled. So are my views on euthenasia. I generally believe that people should be able to end their own lives if they want to, that they should be able to sign Do Not Resusitate orders, living wills, etc. This, however, is despicable and disgusting:
Under the Groningen protocol, if doctors at the hospital think a child is suffering unbearably from a terminal condition, they have the authority to end the child's life. The protocol is likely to be used primarily for newborns, but it covers any child up to age 12.
Parents don't have to be consulted. All power is vested in the hands of Dutch physicians.
I've been told
that I should never contribute to the International Red Cross, that any donations I may think of giving I should instead direct to the Salvation Army. This article would tend to support that idea.
One of the ancillary
benefits of the election being over is Peggy Noonan's return to the editorial page at the Wall Street Journal. Here rhetorical gifts are sublime. Her essays are always enlightening, whether you agree with her or not, and always superbly written. One of my favorite Noonan essays is this one, which she wrote earlier this year, called "'Raisin' and Falling."

She also stands as being on of my favorite guests on Hannity & Colmes. Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes will be doing rapid fire zingers at each other and other guests, and then they'll bring on Peggy Noonan, who seems to break the fast pace nature of the show. She's eloquent, but she speaks softly and in a dreamy, measured tone. You can kind of see the "Pick up the pace, Peggy" look on Hannity's face, but she deflates them both with her easy charm and calm delivery.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Do you have to believe you're evil to be evil?
Such is the question posed by Jane Galt, inspired by an article in The Atlantic that I cannot access because I'm not a subscriber. She merely asks the question without supplying an answer, but here's mine:

I've long believed that most people we normal folks would consider evil - the likes of Hitler, bin Laden, Stalin, Hussein, etc. - do not believe themselves to be so. In fact, I'm sure these folk consider themselves to be quite justified in their actions, that they are performing good deeds, even. But their own misconceptions do not make them any less evil. Of course, to believe this I would have to believe in moral absolutes, which I do. I don't think a relativist could take the same position.
As a programming Swede, I should win this contest.
EggHeadCafe is having a contest on who can write the best English-to-Swedish Chef-ish translator. It actually doesn't look like it would be that hard to do - probably just use regular expressions - but my code tends to lack the kind of elegance they'd prefer. Still, I might give it a shot. (Hat tip to Eric Gunnerson, who, judging by his last name, also has the genetics to succeed.)

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Mmmmmm...chicken.
From What Love Means to a Child:
Love is when mommy gives daddy the best piece of chicken.
So I got that going for me.

I like this one best, only because it's so bizarre it's profound:
When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouths.
Dan Rather
sees dead people.
Jonah
nails it:
Conservatives are the chief defenders of a capitalist, free-market system, and the capitalist, free-market system is perhaps the most profoundly unconservative social force in human history. Markets topple established customs, they raze settled communities and erase whole ways of life. Conservatives defend this system not out of greed, but out of principle. Freedom without economic freedom is a farce. And economic security provided by government planners has, historically, been the security of guaranteed impoverishment. But that doesn't negate the fact that as much as I like libertarian economic policies[!], they can be a real handicap at the polls. Nearly 80 years of bribing the public with entitlements has made the idea of yanking entitlements a politically risky proposition.
I inserted the "!" because Johah likes to pick on libertarians, so his positive use of the L-word must be noted.

Anyway, Jonah highlights a huge contradiction: many of those that work the hardest to defend capitalism undermine their own conservative preserve-tradition-at-all-costs goals as a result. Interesting: a case where principle defeats pragmatism. Or perhaps I should say, a case where priorities are correct. Better freedom with all the disorder it entails than a perfectly-ordered superficially-pristine fascist state.
Al Franken: Racist
Well, sort of. (Hat tip: Jay Nordlinger).
So the Phelps protest group petered out by 7:50 a.m. yesterday.
Not exactly a success for them, I would think. Probably didn't like the rain.

There's no way to know for sure, but my guess is Phelps and his on-site representative, the aptly-named Steve Drain, succeeded only in swinging people to Mathewson's cause.

Monday, November 29, 2004

"It would be miserable to be filled with so much hate."
Fred Phelps' folks (but not Phelps himself, apparently) rolled into the area yesterday and so far it's been mostly a non-story. According to the newspaper there are only six protesters, which I would call a poor turnout. The DJ on one of the local rock stations said he counted nine protesters in front of one church and they were just standing around holding signs and looking cold.

They're supposed to be hanging out in front of the Webb City High School today, which'll be fun for them since it's raining. Serves 'em right.