Truth on tap

Some people have put together an alternative to Wikipedia called Conservapedia. But, I won’t grace it with a link. I’d rather not let the Internet become more dangerous as a form of mind control.

The site is meant to provide explanations of world-wide phenomena in conservative terms. This brings full circle the blurring notion of truth in the Internet Era, as was described quite well by Clay Shirky in his essay, “Truth without scarcity, ethics without force.”

For example, the many-thousand word article on “Public Schools” includes a section entitled “Gender Disparity”. It explains that “Public schools as of late have seen girls’ scores soar above boys’ because schools have been geared toward the needs of girls”. It goes on:

Schools seek to emasculate boys by preventing healthy roughhousing and having psychologists put boys on drugs such as Ritalin. Then boys often come to hate school because radical feminists seek to prevent men from being men and forcing males to go through counseling to “discuss their feelings” and other liberal hogwash treating all students as if they were female. Colleges, because of this trend, see a trend of 60/40 female to male ratio because of feminist drivel such as romance novels in literature and ineffective therapy and attempts to push feminine traits on boys and young men making them frustrated and fed up with the system unless they agree to the school’s desire to become effeminate.

Now, certainly, there are valid conservative arguments against public schools. You don’t have to look far to find them. You might feel that a public school is a poor use of taxpayer dollars, is a violation of parental child-rearing rights, or is a form of mass indoctrination.

But, a feminist conspiracy?

Continue reading Truth on tap

The End of Philosophy?

David Brooks has written a column for the NYTimes entitled, “The End of Philosophy”. The basic thrust of the article is that moral reasoning is less about reasoning and more about intuition. In other words, morality is more like aesthetics than logic.

A representative section:

Think of what happens when you put a new food into your mouth. You don’t have to decide if it’s disgusting. You just know. You don’t have to decide if a landscape is beautiful. You just know.

Moral judgments are like that. They are rapid intuitive decisions and involve the emotion-processing parts of the brain. Most of us make snap moral judgments about what feels fair or not, or what feels good or not. We start doing this when we are babies, before we have language. And even as adults, we often can’t explain to ourselves why something feels wrong.

In other words, reasoning comes later and is often guided by the emotions that preceded it.

The major hole I see in Brooks’ article — and argument — is what he himself recognizes here:

Moral intuitions have primacy, Haidt argues, but they are not dictators. There are times, often the most important moments in our lives, when in fact we do use reason to override moral intuitions, and often those reasons — along with new intuitions — come from our friends.

It’s true that moral intuitions may have evolutionary (or other) roots distinct from reason, but that’s why they’re called “intuitions.” Brooks recognizes that at the “most important moments in our lives”, we cast those intuitions aside. Well, doesn’t that suggest that there exists a moral “right answer” outside our intuitions? Perhaps people should use reason to override impulse at more mundane moments of their lives, too. For example, when deciding whether one deserves those alligator skin shoes, or whether the dying children in Africa might be better candidates for that money.

There have been many attempts in recent years to justify the less rational sloppy moral thinking of individuals by pointing to evolution and saying that an individuals’ beliefs are just derived from their primordial roots. I simply disagree with this line of reasoning. The fact that you can override your moral impulses means that at times you must! I much prefer to frame my decisions in terms of Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept of “radical” or “unlimited” freedom. And with that freedom comes responsibility.

Brooks quotes Haidt,

The emotions are, in fact, in charge of the temple of morality, and … moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as a high priest.

My analogy is that moral intuitions are more like the inmates in a psychotic ward. In people who don’t think their moral choices through, “the inmates are running the asylum.”

Unanswered questions

I passed by a church on the way to work today, and read the following:

Unanswered questions are far less dangerous than unquestioned answers.

This may just be the most succinct quote I’ve seen that summarizes my view on the distinction between honest religious beliefs and religious fanaticism.

If one uses religion as a way to cope with unanswered questions, that is fine. However, the moment you say this is true because my scripture says so — in other words, the second you stop questioning an answer which lacks evidence — you become a fanatic, and lose all credibility in my book.

Religion gives you an answer, not the answer. For certain questions (for example, “How did the universe begin?”), religion may give you just as good an answer as modern science.

This may be due to a current lack of convincing evidence that could provide answers to this question, as is true with many of the larger questions about existence and our “place” in the universe. Looking back in history, science failed to provide answers to questions like, “Why do diseases randomly afflict human beings?”, and religion was looked to for an answer, as when many believed that the Black Death was an earthly manifestation of divine justice from God, or the beginning of Armageddon.

It may also be due to epistemological constraints — in other words, it may be something that may never be known through empirical methods. An example of the unknowable would be the answer to “Is there an afterlife?”, since supposedly, there would be no way for those of the afterlife to communicate its existence to the presently living.

But for other questions (for example, “How did humans develop on Earth?”), science can provide evidence, and answers. These answers have been questioned, have been tested empirically, have been peer-reviewed. Accepting the religious argument in this case — saying, “science is just wrong because my scripture says so” — is fanaticism. And it should not be tolerated by intelligent people.

I Choose the State

On Robert Reich’s blog, aly k wrote:

“And without a normative justification for the State, whether it be in the form of democratic government or a horrific tyrant, taxes can’t be justified (philosophically).”

I responded with the below message:

The most moving argument from the state can be stated in economists’ terms. It is sometimes called “the public goods” justification. Goes something like this (paraphrased from Wikipedia):

A market may allow individuals to create and allocate many goods optimally. But there are some goods — “public goods” — that are not produced adequately in a market system. These collective goods are ones that all individuals want (hypothetically — this is often a normative judgment, but comes from very basic things we consider to be “human rights”) but for whose production it is often not individually rational for people to secure a collectively rational outcome. The state can step in and force us all to contribute toward the production of these goods, and we can all thereby be made better off.

For example, it is true that if we had only private schools, people with a lot of money could ensure the best education for their children without having to pay for both the private school and the taxes necessary to fund the public school. But poor parents will have no choice but to send their children to less well-maintained and more poorly-staffed schools.

Supposedly, for society to progress we would prefer if all members of society had access to good schooling, regardless of the social class into which they were born. (That is, whether my parent is a millionaire investor or a plumber, I should have access to a good education.) Therefore, it makes some sense for us to pay a tax to the state, and for the state to provide good (and equal) schooling for everyone. What’s more, because the state needn’t turn a profit on schools, their overall cost through taxation can be lower than private schools would be.

Schools are one of those things you would prefer not be left to the market, because supposedly it’s good for everyone that everyone else is educated above a certain level. These people, after all, will become your neighbors, employers, employees, clients, etc. They also will be voting in elections.

In other words, if you value a high level of education as a universal right which should be secured for all citizens regardless of the socioeconomic class they are born into, then you are essentially already arguing for the state, because the market, per se, will not secure a high quality education for every individual.

Similar arguments can be made about health care, large pieces of infrastructure (like highways, roads, traffic lights), and certain components of institutional security (like firefighters, police officers, etc.). The state shouldn’t do everything — it should only make the level of quality equal across a market for certain goods, due to moral concerns we have. People shouldn’t have access to worse roads, or worse health care, or less firefighter or police protection, just because they live in a town of poor people.

We are okay with poorer people having less access to shiny new BMWs, bottled water, and Starbucks coffee, because these are frivolous private expenditures anyway. The poor person who drinks less Starbucks coffee than me won’t grow up to be an ignorant, sick, armed and desperate person ready to murder me on the street for the $40 in my pocket. But the uneducated person, without access to healthcare and who lives in a violent neighborhood with no police officers will certainly slay me for the $40 in my pocket.

To bring out the goodness in Man, I choose the state.

(That said, some states are better than others!)

Slashdot becomes Philosophy forum

Before reading this post, make sure to read yesterday’s. So, my post on Slashdot turned it into a little Philosophy forum. Some really great comments came back, I want to try to summarize them here.

My favorite rebuttal was Jim Callahan’s post, which I’ll reproduce below:

Actually, its just the potential moral value = actual moral value argument that’s invalid. The “all organisms with complete human genomes have souls (usually, one soul per genome, thus excluding dead skin cells, etc, separated from the largest mass posessing the unique genome)” + “things with souls have moral value” => “Embryos have moral value” is entirely valid, since embryos are organisms with a complete human genome. It’s perfectly rational.

The simple “embryos have no inherent moral value” is not itself a rational statement, but an assertion devoid of logic. To demonstrate rationality, you have to demonstrate a chain of causality from base assertions to a nontrivial solution. In this case the extent of the logic is “non-conscious things have no moral value” + “embryos aren’t conscious” => “embryos have no moral value”. The rest of the grandparent is a series of strawmen, which are fine for making points but don’t actually support the main point in any way.

When it all comes down to it, the two assertions in question are equally valid. They are both one step removed from the base assertions, and the base assertions both consist of an arbitrary statement of an ill-defined term (consciousness and soul) and an arbitrary, unsupportable assertion as to the moral value of said term (soul = good, consciousness = good). Careful definition can swing science into the favor of the consciousness decision, but careful definition can do the same for the soul argument. Even then, science cannot by its nature make moral commands, so wether the people involved are scientific or not is irrelevant.

So, in conclusion, your point on the ‘scientificness’ of the debaters involved is irrelevant, and both of your examples exhibit roughly equivalent rationality. Rebuttal complete.

Although I think Jim was very careful to point out the logic behind my argument and the logic behind the “other side’s,” I think he stops short when he says that both are essentially logically equivalent. The thing about the souls argument is that the proponents refuse to provide any reason why an embryo should have more or less of a soul than, say, a chair or a rock. He says the fact that embryos have a complete human genome is the contributing factor. But I can only imagine a chair which has the “entire human genome” injected into it (i.e., with DNA for human beings “bonded” into the chair) to be a pretty easy refutation of this.

My argument does arbitrarily say that “consciousness is good”, but consciousness isn’t just some cooked up concept like souls (it isn’t as metaphysical as my opponents make it out to be, in other words). Consciousness is a concept that encompasses the ability to “lead a life” in the sense we understand it. That is, to have hopes and aspirations, to establish relationships, to create art and adapt flexibly to our environment, all those wonderful qualities of human beings. And neuroscientists, more and more, are finding out that consciousness has a real basis in the physicality of the brain–nowadays they describe consciousness as a series of information “loops” with “feedforward” information in the brain as well as “feedback,” that ultimately results in “awareness” and “perception,” and finally in “sentience” or “consciousness.” And consciousness makes sense as a moral requirement because it essentially says, “all those things which lead lives should not be harmed.” This nicely excludes inanimate objects from having moral value when deciding whether they can be harmed, and this nicely includes animals, to a great degree, who do lead lives (albeit less complex ones than we do), and can be deprived of leading that life.

I also don’t think my arguments were just straw men. 😉

Some other arguments. One interesting one on AI:

Ever worry about that “gray period” sometime in the (probably far) future which we will experience when AI systems start to approach the point where almost everyone will consider them as having consciousness? By your argument, after that point, we will have to start treating them as people (something which I generally agree with).

and, on consciousness of people who are sleeping…

“The crux of the matter is, the rock or chair isn’t conscious, and that’s why they have no moral value.”

So a human who is sleeping, and thus not conscious would have no moral value?

To respond to both of these, I’ll post my actual Slashdot response.

“So a human who is sleeping, and thus not conscious would have no moral value?”

Sorry, again, here I was assuming some background reading about what “consciousness ” is. Unfortunately, in Philosophy (this is a flaw of the subject), terms are often quite vague to start off with, and Philosophers make a habit of trying to really define a term. When debating with people who haven’t studied it, I forget that consciousness takes on a different meaning in regular discussion. “Consciousness” as I’m using it has nothing to do with “being awake” or “being asleep.” Whether you are awake or asleep, you are conscious. You are not “unconscious” when asleep, merely with a potential to awake–your brain doesn’t “shut off” when you’re asleep. It simply doesn’t provide you with the constant stream of sense-input you associate with a waking state.

Comas are definitely a gray area. I really don’t know enough about the brain states of humans in comas to make any judgement about whether they are still “conscious,” but I’d say they probably aren’t, especially if it’s a coma from which that person will never recover. If it is a coma which one can recover from (and, after which, be conscious) I can only assume that the brain was either a) in a conscious state the whole time or b) “broken” into an unconscious state (i.e., it no longer functioned) but then “healed” and went into a conscious state again. Again, this (b) possibility makes comas very much a gray area. However, as I like to say to friends: gray areas don’t mean you have the wrong principle, as long as your principle works when we have clear-cut cases. For example, the moral principle that “killing is wrong” has lots of grey areas: what if the person you are killing killed your entire family? What if you fire a gun at a target on a wall and slip and shoot your friend instead? But that’s not to say the moral principle–“killing is wrong”–is bad, just because one can find “grey area cases” in which killing may not be wrong. It just means that things like time and causation can be confused, and things like intent or potential to avoid an accident or negligent action are hard to measure.

Even some concepts we have that seem very clear-cut have gray areas. Take your concept of a “table”. What is a table? Think of modern artists in furniture design who fused the concept of “table” and “chair” to produce something that seems to be a hybrid between the two. Okay, so maybe you define table functionally: something onto which one can place objects. But now imagine a “table” whose surface spins around at high speed, so that nothing can be placed on it. Is it still a table? Okay, so maybe you define it physically, like a surface atop any number of “legs”. But now imagine a table that hangs from the ceiling by steel wire. Etc. etc. I know this seems rather nit-picky, but that’s really what gray areas are, and that’s why I think they’re fun to think about, but ultimately one should evaluate a moral principle by its general-case performance, and then make sure it doesn’t do “insane” things in rational gray areas.

What my argument above tried to do is show that a) since embryos are clearly not conscious beings (nor were they ever conscious beings), they don’t demand a special moral protection and b) moral protection has only been granted to them because embryos have the potential to become conscious beings, the so-called potentiality principle, which has other unacceptable implications.

I really think some great points were raised, however.

For example, one problem with my consciousness argument is what another poster raised: that “strong AI”, should it ever come about (and thinkers like Jeff Hawkins in “On Intelligence” make me believe it just may some day) would give us responsibility to give these new robots moral value. I don’t know if there’s something wrong with that, it just may seem unnatural because AI machines are so different from us, but then again so is the example I gave of an alien life form.

What I think is funny is that we are all thinking about this way more than the people who really have the burden of thinking about it: anti-abortion activists.

Potentiality Principle Strikes Again

Someone asked,

OK, I’ll play, but only because I’m curious. What is the ethical problem with using embryonic stem cells from fertalized eggs that are being thrown away from a fertility clinic? They are other wise going to be thrown away or disposed of, so why not put them to use?

What I get confused with is how people are against that particular use, yet aren’t against the fertility clinic itself, which outside the scope of this argument is throwing away fertalized eggs…aka “murder” to the extremists.

Now granted, there are plenty of other ways to use embryonic stem cells as well, but weve completely killed on good use but claiming all uses are bad.

So this person responded,

What is the ethical problem with executing all the people in jail for life terms? They are otherwise going to die in jail anyways.

What is the ethical problem with using said prisoners in medical research when they are going be die anyways? They are otherwise going to be executed anyways.

Having looked upon those rationalizations look again at your arguement.

Typical Slashdot–fine, I’ll bite. You guys don’t read much actual Philosophy, do you? Makes it kind of hard to analyze Ethics if you’ve only done it from the comfort of the omniscient armchair.

Embryos being disposed of and prisoners who are given life terms being killed early are two very, very different things.

The main argument trumpeted by people against embryonic stem cell research is that embryos are worthy of “being saved,” which is to say, they have “moral value.” These same people, to be consistent, have to be against forms of very early abortion and even some forms (if not all forms) of contraception.

The basic thing that vexes these people is that they have never studied the potentiality principle. They think the mere fact that an embryo has the potential to become a human being gives it moral value, makes it “worthy of being saved.” This is because they know human beings have moral value, and so conflate “a thing with potential to be something of moral value” with “a thing that has moral value.” However, this argument is spurious, as I’ll try to show.

For one thing, many things have the potential (i.e., have some causal relationship) to the creation of a healthy infant child. As someone else once suggested to me, one such thing is a glance of flirtation toward a fertile young woman. From that glance, there exists the potential for intercourse; from that intercourse, the potential of conception; from that conception, the potential of a human child in the form of an embryo.

If that example seems too cooked up, think about miscarriages. Hundreds of thousands of “babies” die from miscarriages every year. So, since that constitutes an essential mass death of a significant portion of the human “population,” shouldn’t we be devoting massive scientific research dollars to stopping miscarriages?

The reason both these things seem absurd is because saying that embryos have moral value is completely arbitrary. Harm cannot be done to embryos in the same way harm cannot be done to chairs or rocks. The chair or rock doesn’t have a hope, an aspiration, or a direction which is thwarted by the said harm. The rock or chair doesn’t care about the said harm. The crux of the matter is, the rock or chair isn’t conscious, and that’s why they have no moral value.

The only people who might care about the rock or chair’s harm is the owner of the said rock or chair. But that is only due to a relational property between the owner and his objects, and hasn’t a thing to do with morality. (For example, when considering whether humans have the right to harm other humans, it serves no one to say, “Okay, but what if the person harmed were your mother?” Introducing the familial relationship simply distorts the inherent morality of a thing, since it makes the decision relational, based on other notions such as loyalty to one’s family, etc.)

The reason we see harms to dogs or cows as worse than harms to chairs is because we know that dogs or cows can a) experience pain, b) in dying or being severely harmed, be deprived of their right to continue the life they were already living. Chairs experience no pain, conceive of no harm, and have no life of which to be deprived.

One can make an argument for defending the late-term fetus (which may be conscious) from abortion, but preventing the embryo from use in scientific research based on the idea that the embryo is a “human life” is, morally speaking, quite unsound. This is because embryos have no moral value of their own. They are things which may, one day, become things of moral value, but that does not mean they are morally valuable now.

To take to your prisoner example, human beings have moral value even if they are savage criminals sentenced to life imprisonment. This is because they are conscious human beings who still have a right to life within our moral framework. Using them from scientific research sets a moral example that humans, in general, are usable in harmful scientific research, since the fact that this is a prisoner does not mean that this person has no moral value at all. Prisoners are not lacking in moral value, even if the individual’s morality might be bad.

This thoroughly shows the distorted logic of the parent poster, but I’d like to go on for one moment about yet another oversight in this argument. What’s funny about people who are against embryonic stem cell research based on the potentiality principle is that they often don’t realize that even the potentiality principle may not be able to help them.

Embryos are simply configurations of human cells, with genetic code to eventually become a human fetus, and, from there, a human child. But the embryo cannot make this journey without the support of a host mother’s biological system, and thus that biological system is just as accountable for the potentiality of the fetus as the embryo is (perhaps moreso). Once the embryo is removed from the mother, there exists no potential for this combination-system to produce a fetus: therefore, the embryo even lacks the said potentiality. In the end, embryos outside the mother’s system are like any other configuration of cells, and thus definitely do not have any moral value, even if you don’t buy my argument above.

To conclude, embryos have no inherent moral value. They only have moral value if you believe potential to have moral value gives something moral value, which I believe to be a kind of circular argument and a conflation of ideas. The example of embryos becomes even more difficult to defend when potentiality is removed. I have tried to show that it can be, and thus the position granting moral value to embryos is quite difficult to argue even for believers in the moral power of potentiality.

UPDATE: /. moderators liked my little piece of analysis above, and I got some nice responses. (“I just wanted to say that was one of the most intelligent and well thought out posts I have ever read on Slashdot. I truly enjoyed reading it and now I am even considering getting an [Intro. to Philosophy] type book to read” and “I rarely post on slashdot, but i just wanted to agree with zbode and thank you for one of the only ‘read more’ comments that i’ve read in its [entirety]. Very well done.”) This despite the fact that in the original post, I spelled “principle” as “principal” (what got into me?) and left out a word in a critical concluding sentence 😉

Nonetheless, I like the responses I got. One person pointed out that reading Philosophy is exactly commenting from the armchair. Well, not exactly. Philosophy, it’s true, doesn’t have much “action” associated with it, and is mostly thought, but when one says you’re an “armchair philosopher”, it means you just have opinions about philosophy without ever having “done” philosophy. In other words, you just perpetuate misleading preconceived notions. At least, that’s what I meant by it. Philosophy is a way of understanding arguments in terms of inherent properties to those arguments, and in terms of soundness and validity. People who shoot about talking about embryonic stem cell research as being “immoral” without a justification other than “God told me” are being lazy, armchair Philosophers.

the mere fact that an embryo has the potential to become a human being

There’s your mistake… I think those on the other side of the fence treat an embryo as a human being. Assume this other sider believes in a “soul”, and it is this “soul” that is the defining mark of a human being. I really can’t see any point for the soul to come into existence except at the moment the egg is fertilized. Though perhaps I have misunderstood those on the other side.

No, I think he did understand those on the other side. They do think humans have souls, which is an argument even I can understand, since I’ve studied it and the implications of not having a soul. But I don’t think anyone, not even Christians, can tell me that whether a thing might be connected with a soul tells me how I should treat it in this, physical world. There is simply no grounding for that. Furthermore, I don’t know how one is to know that fertilization is when the human being gets a soul. I think Christians for the most part used to believe that souls came at birth, not fertilization. Otherwise miscarriages means the embryo’s soul goes to hell, due to original sin, which doesn’t seem right.

“To conclude, embryos have no inherent moral value. They only have moral value if you believe potential to have moral value gives something moral value, which I believe to be a kind of circular argument and a conflation of ideas.”

Which would be a great argument if you were debating with a rational, scientific person. However, most of the objections come from people who have a religious orientation and some level of belief about association of a “soul” to the embryo (potential child). Miscarriage (many of which happen before the pregnancy is even evident) is a “natural” event and therefore within the realm of God. As in, you might not like it, but it’s in God’s plan and so it is acceptable. Deliberately creating and harvesting the embryos is not natural and not God endorsed.

Yea, I could see people holding this view, it just really is beyond me how they could. That’s not God’s will? Well, neither is giving poor, homeless people money to survive with. “It’s God’s will for the poor guy to die, God gave him that lot in life.” And for that matter, neither is amniocentisis or any other medical method God’s will. This argument isn’t very appealing to me. It sends you back to the stone age.

We don’t know what God endorses outside of the Scripture. God never mentioned embryos, therefore we can do what we want. “Guessing” what God endorses within your religious framework is nothing more than making moral policy based on your own whim. If you believe in the Scripture as the Word of God, then, by God, you better stick to the Scripture. If you don’t believe the Scripture is the end-all source of all your decisions, then you better not speak about God’s will, because you obviously haven’t an idea what God’s will is (since you are unable to communicate with him or witness any of his actions), and so you’re making it up.

Loaded Terms: Pro-Life, Anti-Abortion, or just True Believers?

I recently read an amusing article about a LA Times editor who changed a review of an opera which included the sentence “an incomparably glorious and goofy pro-life paean” to read “an incomparably glorious and goofy anti-abortion paean.”

If you didn’t get it the first time around, it may be clearer if you see that the author meant “pro-life” in the sense of “life-affirming,” and that the opera actually had naught to do with abortion.

Someone responding to the report pointed out that he was an LA Times reporter, and understands that the error was made because of an LA Times style guide entry about abortion, reproduced below:

abortion

Those who favor maintaining legal access to abortion are abortion rights advocates, supporters of legal abortion or those who favor abortion rights. They should not be called abortion advocates or be characterized as being pro-abortion. Those opposed to abortion may be called opponents of abortion or abortion foes or may be characterized as being anti-abortion. Do not use the term pro-life.

Conservatives immediately lunged a response, claiming for example:

The ban of “pro-life” only makes ethical sense if its part of an even handed treatment of the abortion argument that includes a ban on the equally loaded and misrepresentative term “pro-choice”, for example phrasing the sides as pro- and anti-abortion. It’s very telling that the pro-abortion people are only characterized in positive terms (advocates, supporters, favor) while anti-abortion activists are entirely negative (oppponents, foes).

Here, the conservative missed the point. People who support the right to abortion aren’t “pro-abortion.” To be “pro-abortion” would mean you favor abortion over all other options–such that, for example, you think all pregnancies should end in abortion. Of course, pro-choice people are only focused on the right to abort–they don’t, for example, extol the virtues of aborting a fetus, but only want the option available. Pro-choice people support the right to choose whether to have an abortion, instead of being told one way or the other about it.

To put it another way, though one may support the right one has to murder another man in defense of one’s own life, one would be quite illspoken to call such a right “pro-murder.” The killing may be justified in this or that case, but there almost always exists the riskier and less convenient route, say, to capture the attacker, tie his hands behind his back, and bring him to the police. Likewise, abortion rights advocates believe that when a pregnancy is unwanted, one should not be forced to carry the pregnancy to term, since doing so forces risks and inconveniences upon the woman in question (such as, for example, complications during pregnancy, complications at delivery, being unable to perform in school or work during the ultimate months of the pregnancy, and having to care for a born human being after birth). If the woman was raped and seeks an abortion afterwards, things are even more complicated, as there may be serious psychological issues at play.

Ultimately, the pro-choice crowd sees this issue as a decision only that a woman and her doctor should be allowed to make–not lawmakers or priests or the Vatican. As I will argue in my future article evaluating the ethics surrounding abortion, the decision to abort a fetus who has the potential of becoming a full-grown human-being rests entirely with the creator, and, ironically, this view of the creator’s power over its creation is entirely consistent with Christian scripture (not that it has to be to be morally true, but this just happens to be a nice and elegant if-I-may-say-so-myself consequence of the ethical analysis).

On the other hand, anti-abortion is a completely proper term for the conservative crowd, because they think abortion should not be allowed in any instance (in other words, women shouldn’t be give the choice of abortion), so not only don’t they support the right to have an abortion, but they equate abortion with a kind of murder, and are therefore almost unequivocally against it.

The reason “pro-life,” as a term, is so grossly distorted, is that it equates a love of innocent life with being against a woman’s right to choose to abort a fetus which she created and about which there is no consensus whether it can be considered to be a “human life.” (The only consensus, lest you forget, is that the fetus has the potential at becoming a human life, but as I argued earlier in my blog, so too do my glances at a fertile woman.)

It also equates the morality of abortion with the morality of euthanasia, two issues that are so crazily opposed on the ethical analyst’s scale that it is strange to find them uttered in the same sentence. It also plays into the love that spiritual and religious people have of life, and tries to place them as diametrically opposed to people who are implied to be “anti-life,” or life haters. This is quite a distortion, and as a newspaper editor, I’d leave this term out of the debate as well.

The reason I, personally, am disgusted by the term “pro-life” is because of how inconsistent (and, sometimes even racist) the people who declare themselves pro-life tend to be. Now, here I am speaking in generalities, so please don’t take the following paragraph as the ultra-serious analysis you come to normally expect from me ;-). Coming from an Italian background, I think speaking in generalities is sometimes important, as often the “stereotypes” arise from somewhere.

There are many “pro-life” people who support the war in Iraq and our general military presence in the world, and there are many “pro-life” people who are very much against this war and all others. But just to point out the general moral inconsistency, I have to say that I find it quite laughable when a person claims he or she is “pro-life” but accepts as a consequence of our war in Iraq “collateral damage,” namely “innocent life lost as a means to an end.” I again am speaking in generalties, but I’m sure you can also find more than a few thousand “pro-life” people who believe we were justified in dropping the atom bombs on Japan (see earlier articles on my blog). The term pro-life only refers to fetuses and euthanasia because ultimately the issue is not at all about practical political or secular philosophical issues for these people. The issues revolve entirely around scripture, the Bible, and moral righteousness, seeing the people who ask for abortions as the same people who also do such evils as having sex for fun, smoking marijuana, and using swear-words.

When I analyze the issue of abortion from a philosophical standpoint (I am currently working on a WordPress draft that does just that), I leave miracles out of it. But these people can’t help but cite the scripture. It’s funny and sad that we see the same trend emerging as they aim to stamp out evolutionary theory, as well.

That said, as a newspaper editor I’d leave the term “intelligent design” out of the evolution debate, preferring instead to refer to those people as “people who believe that the only way to explain the natural diversity of this planet is to say that a higher being–call him “God”–designed each and every species on this planet, and on all the other planets in this universe that may have life forms. But those who support this view have no explanation for who created this higher being, or where he may have come from.”

As Bill Maher recently said in his wonderful New Rules from last show:

And the reason there is no real debate, is that intelligent design isn’t real science. It’s the equivalent of saying that the thermos keeps hot things hot and cold things cold… because it’s a god. It’s so willfully ignorant you might as well worship the U.S. Mail. It came again! Praise, Jesus!

No, stupidity isn’t a form of knowing things. Thunder is high pressure air meeting low pressure air. It’s not God bowling. “Babies come from storks” is not a competing school of thought. In medical school, we shouldn’t teach both. The media shouldn’t equate both. If Thomas Jefferson knew we were blurring the line this much between church and state, he would turn over in his slave.

Perhaps the grossest distortion of views ever engaged by the “pro-life” crowd was related to Terri Schiavo. I’m glad that even after that woman finally got to rest in peace, a Roman Catholic University will continue to mourn her death with a scholarship for priests in her name.

Right after my Mom had me, she had an aneurysm of her brain. The operation that had to be performed on her had a 30% chance of success, with a high chance of intense brain damage (leading to a vegetative state).

When my Dad found the doctor to perform the surgery, he spoke with him in confidence, and said to him something to the effect of, “My wife has told me she doesn’t want to end up a vegetable. Either she survives the operation, or she doesn’t–understand?”

My Mom survived the operation, thank goodness. But if the operation had failed, and my Mom would have been left there in a vegetative state, I would have thanked anyone who gave my father the right to end her life as someone who truly understands humanity, and the morality of life and death. Since then, my Mom has said the same thing to me. She was utterly disgusted by the Terri Schiavo case, and how so-called religious people’s could support keeping alive a woman who was clearly suffering so much, just to push forward their biological-life-obsessed agenda. But perhaps the concurrence between intelligent design theorists and “pro-life” people isn’t so far-fetched. After all, it’s quite hard to get so very excited about saving embryos, 1- or 3-month-old fetuses, or braindead human bodies, if you don’t believe that “God” had a hand in creating each of them, if you don’t believe that each of those configurations of cells are works of art from an Almighty Creator.

The Potentiality Argument

In my first philosophy class, I remember putting forth an argument for why abortion cannot be defended on the “potentiality principle,” that is, that the human fetus has the potential to be a human being, and thus must be saved.

Someone on /. recently replied to an article about stem cell research, with some nice observations about the abusers of this principle:

Now, someone might argue that a process is started at conception which would end up with a functioning human. The potential is critical. There are a few problems with that position:

  • When a fertile woman smiles back at me, there is a potential for a new human.
  • The use of condoms stops the potential for a new human being.
  • Soon, all our cells will be potential humans with a little “twist”…
  • Half of all conceptions ends soon with a spontaneous abortion. That means, according to the bible belt, that half of all people dies at an age of a few days. To be consistent, the believers should argue that half of all medical research should try to stop this mass death!

The retort often flung back is that a fetus doesn’t merely have potential to be a human being, but it is a human being. This, however, is interesting when taking this poster’s last point about “spontaneous abortions.” If you’re willing to save a fetus from a willing abortion, shouldn’t you also see spontaneous abortions (and miscarriages, for example) as equally tragic, and thus deserving of serious medical research?

Ah, the arguments against early-term abortions really amaze me. How can you be so philosophically inconsistent?

Socialism is not the abolition of property

If you look up the definition of socialism, like I recently did, it seems to be the same definition given for communism. Socialism is sometimes called the “intermediary stage to communism,” representing the stage in which workers take control of the means of production.

I was talking to my Dad, and explained to him that this is what annoyed me about all the active socialist groups (ISO/SEP) across the country. They all want violent overthrow, and the complete destruction of capitalism. They even want the abolition of property, and this sort of utopian future. But I don’t buy that. I don’t want to eliminate capitalism… I would just prefer a “fair capitalism,” where the government (and thus, the people) still has the power to regulate industry. Where corporations aren’t given the final word on all their decisions, where the people’s interest enters into things.

Wikipedia gives a better definition of socialism, with a lot of the history of the term, but I really don’t care about the terms. I just wish there was some movement that I could easily support that is simply calling for corporate accountability and industry regulation that is sensible and benefits the people at large.

Murphy’s Law: Murphy was an optimist

Well, I have to hand it to you, Murphy. I really wasn’t expecting it this time. But you managed to do it. I thought I was free, but clearly I was not.

It’s 5:44am, the birds are starting to chirp, and here I am, finally with a working computer. I am still not entirely sure why it works now. I believe that the clips on the HT800 CPU cooler push down to hard on the CPU or the socket, and are causing instability problems. It doesn’t surprise me. Right now I have the clips off and it boots every time. I put the clips on and it doesn’t boot. I’m pretty sure it’s not coincidental. It’s also the only thing that has changed.

In any event, this has significantly slowed down my work on the summer project, but I’m going to make it up by working all weekend. angry

The question becomes, how am I gonna clip this CPU cooler to the motherboard without causing the instability? I tried only using 2 clips but that seems not to work either. And I can’t even lift up the HT800 since the thermal paste is acting as an adhesive (maybe I did too good a job?). In fact, I’m starting to think perhaps I put too much thermal paste, and that’s why the CPU is getting crushed. I guess things like that really make a difference when you’re talking millimeters.

Throughout all of this, I thought the reason for POST failure was: (a) thermal paste hotspots again; (b) BIOS issues with the installed video card, causing me to do CMOS resets about 40 times with mixed results; (c) bad memory, becuase sometimes taking a DIMM out helped; (d) bad IDE controller, because sometimes removing the drives helped. In all a-d, I believe I was wrong. This was Murphy playing games with me. He gave me four red herrings. The problem, I’m sure, was the clips all along, but Murphy took me for a ride and provided the coincidences to make it possible. All-expense paid trip into my own personal hell: a malfunctioning computer with all my data on it.

I am still not entirely sure of my theory. If Murphy breaks it here, though, I will be quite upset. What a bastard he can be.

Tomorrow I have to do UAC work all day. It’s imperative. Hopefully it’ll keep booting so I don’t have to use the Mac.