Testudineous Agency

In chapter 71, Ultimate Responsibility, in Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, author and philosopher, Daniel Dennett presents a counterargument to the notion that an agent, a person, is not absolutely responsible for their actions. He questions some premises in the ‘the way you are’ line of argumentation, but I question some of his questions.

Here is a nice clear version of what some thinkers take to be the decisive argument. It is due in this form to the philosopher Galen Strawson (2010):
1. You do what you do, in any given situation, because of the way you are.
2. So in order to be ultimately responsible for what you do, you have to be ultimately responsible for the way you are—at least in certain crucial mental respects.
3. But you cannot be ultimately responsible for the way you are in any respect at all.
4. So you cannot be ultimately responsible for what you do.

Dennett, Daniel C.. Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking (p. 395). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Dennett continues.

The first premise is undeniable: “the way you are” is meant to include your total state at the time, however you got into it. Whatever state it is, your action flows from it non-miraculously.

Dennett and I are in agreement with Strawson. There is not much to see here. It’s akin to saying the now is the result of all past events until now. This is “the way you are”.

The second premise observes that you couldn’t be “ultimately” responsible for what you do unless you were “ultimately” responsible for getting yourself into that state—at least in some regards.

This second premise asserts that one cannot be responsible for any action that one had no part in performing. Two scenarios come immediately to mind.

First, you are not responsible for being born. As Heidegger notes, we are all thrown into this world. We have no say in when or where—what country or family—or what circumstances.

Second, if one is hypnotised or otherwise incapacitated, and then involved in a crime, one is merely a cog and not an agent, so not responsible in any material sense.

But according to step (3) this is impossible.

Whilst Dennett fixates on the absolute aspect of the assertion, I’d like to be more charitable and suggest that we still end up with a sorites paradox. Dennett will return to this one, and so shall I.

So step (4), the conclusion, does seem to follow logically. Several thinkers have found this argument decisive and important. But is it really?

As Dennett invalidates step (3), he insists that the conclusion is also invalid. He asserts that the notion of absolute responsibility is a red herring, and I argue that Dennett doesn’t get us much further, perhaps redirecting us with a pink herring.

I’ve created an image with tortoises to make my point. There are actually two points I wish to make. The first point is to determine where the responsibility is inherited. This point is meant to articulate that the world can not be strictly deterministic and yet one can still not have significant agency. The second point is that culpability is asserted as a need, and acceptance of this assertion is the problem.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-14.png
Testuditude

The image depicts an evolution of an agent, with time progressing from left to right. The tortoise on the right is a product of each of the recursive tortoises to its left. The image means to convey that each subsequent tortoise is a genetic and social and social product of each tortoise prior. Of course, this is obviously simplified, because tortoises require pairs, so feel free to imagine each precedent tortoise to represent a pair or feel free to add that level of diagrammatic complexity.

This is not meant to distinguish between nature and nurture. Instead, the claim is that one is a product of both of these. Moreover, as genetic, epigenetic, and mimetic influences are transmitted in family units, they also occur through social interaction and the environment, as represented by the orange and green tortoises.

…if one is a product of genetic and mimetic forces, how much agency remains for culpability?

The point here is that if one is a product of genetic and mimetic forces, how much agency remains for culpability? Each person is an emergent unit—autonomous, yes, and yet highly programmed.

If I programme a boobytrap to kill or maim any intruder, the boobytrap has no agency. I assert further, that the maker of that boobytrap has no more responsibility than the killing device.

The old hand grenade wired to a doorknob boobytrap trick

But who do we blame? you ask, and that’s precisely the problem. Asking questions doesn’t presume answers. This is a logical fallacy and cognitive bias. This heuristic leaves us with faulty jurisprudence systems. Humans seem hardwired, as it were, to blame. Humans need to believe in the notion of free will because they need to blame because they need to punish because vengeance is part of human nature to the extent there is human nature. There seems to be a propensity to frame everything as a causal relationship. Dennett calls this the Intentional stance. To borrow a from Dennett…

This instinctual response is the source in evolution of the invention of all the invisible elves, goblins, leprechauns, fairies, ogres, and gods that eventually evolve into God, the ultimate invisible intentional system.

Dennett, Daniel C.. Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking (p. 374). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Fire Trap in Home Alone

Sins of the Fathers (and Mothers)

Let’s wrap this up with a sorites paradox. As I’ve already said, I agree with Dennett that the absolute aspect is unnecessary and undesired. The question remains how much agency™ does a person have once we account for the other factors? Is it closer to 90 per cent or 10 per cent? Apart from this, what is the threshold for culpability? Legal systems already have arbitrary (if not capricious) thresholds for this, whether mental capacity or age, which basically distils back to the realm of capacity.

I have no basis to even venture a guess, but that’s never stopped me before. I’d argue that the agency is closer to zero than to one hundred per cent of the total, and I’d propose that 70 per cent feels like a reasonable threshold.

I could have sworn I’d posted a position on this after I read Robert Sapolsky’s Behave. Perhaps it’s never made it out of drafts.

In closing, I don’t think we need to settle the question of determinism versus free will to recognise that even without strict determinism, personal agency is still severely limited, and yet as our political systems presume a level of rationality that is not apparent, so do legal systems presume a level of agency not present.

Trustwise

The lamb spends all its time worrying about the wolf and ends up being eaten by the shepherd.

— Unknown

I think one could look at this from several perspectives or through different lenses.

We worry about the wrong things.

At some level, this is about trust.

We trust the wrong people. Those whom we most entrust do us in. But I feel this is contextual.

One might feel this shepherd is Capitalism or the State or organised religion. Perhaps it’s culture or identity cohorts. Or all or these or none of these.

On another level, it recalls the inevitability of death. This shepherd reaper is always waiting in the wings whether or not one worries.

In the words of RATM, Know Your Enemy.

Atheism Defence

Curse YouTube and Drew—but in a good way. Drew created a video titled I took a Christian class about atheism. It was worse than I expected. Although I don’t find I need to engage with anyone to defend my atheism, I sometimes do. Perhaps, the devil made me do it. I’ve been an atheist for decades—literally for at least half a century. (Man, that’s revealing.)

Spotify Link

The magic gods of social media tossed this gem in my face, and I was fated to watch it—a 45-minute video nonetheless. Who posts long-format content on YouTube these days? Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to watch the entire thing—at least without skipping ahead.

I jotted down my thoughts—on paper no less—as I engaged the content. But before delving into that, I want to say that Greg Koukl is a formidable communicator. He knows how to engage his audience. Drew, the Genetically Modified Skeptic, is a strong communicator himself, employing cogent logic in defence of atheism—well-considered and articulated. Although I was watching the clock—cuz 45-minutes; plus I was stopping to take notes. Capturing a couple dozen bullet points, I’d comment here instead of in situ. I’ll link from there to here when I’ve published my reaction.

Drew responds so well that, generally, I avoid stepping on his responses, with which I am in agreement. Instead, I share my own observations either on topics Drew did not address or that I have a nuanced take on.

Below are the points I make with a time reference to the clip. In some cases, the link starts earlier than the point I am addressing if only to provide a reader with context.

3:25 Greg points out that he is going to focus on areas where Christianity can make sense but atheism cannot.

Response: Things do not have to make sense. This is a belief humans impose on the world. Even if one believes in a world of causes and effects, it does not follow that we have a privileged perspective into these causes. Some effects may be caused by any number of correlated and covariant factors, and to claim that A causes Z, because it’s expedient and somewhat linear over some more complex multifactor causal model, is weak tea. As humans, we want things to make sense. It’s effectively in our nature, but it doesn’t follow that the universe needs to comply with this need. Human psychology compensates knowledge and perception gaps with any number of tricks from Gestalt to apophenia. It may be comforting for some to use gods as putty to fill the cracks, though, in my mind, it’s rather Silly Putty.

3:35 Greg defines the terms theism and atheism. Drew points out the reduced, self-serving definitions Greg tries to slide by.

4:44 Greg tries to frame atheism as an assertion rather than an absence, so he can fabricate a strawman to attack.

Response: As Drew points out, this is sometimes, but not always, true. Here my thoughts (or soul, as the case might be—orthogonal, or otherwise) wandered to the Dawkins Scale, which parses atheism and agnosticism into a spectrum rather than a binary pair. Idiomatically, it’s a non-assertion. If you claim there’s a dog in my yard, it’s incumbent for you to provide evidence. If I claim, there is no dog in my yard, I am under no such obligation. Besides, my looking for evidence of a non-dog in my yard would require additional scrutiny. Perhaps it’s hidden.

Moreover, Greg attempts to make this a semantic issue. Drew points this out. For me, I reflected on the political situation where some cohorts within the US public decried Obamacare (AKA the Affordable Care Act or ACA) and yet were substantially supportive of its features. Obamacare acted as a pejorative to taint the act with negative connotations for Obama detractors. People’s cognitive faculties as deficient as they are, this was super easy—barely an inconvenience. Anarchism triggers the same sort of reaction. I attribute this to an unceasing negative propaganda/indoctrination campaign.

9:00 We have reality on our side.

Response: Translation: We have subjective experience, and we are going to pose this as some objective reality.

9:40 Greg asks: Where did everything come from? What caused the beginning of the universe.

Response: Where is thy stuff? I don’t even need to engage this question directly because the chestnut of an argument he is presenting has a recursion problem. If everything needs a beginning, then God needs a beginning. This argument just kicks the can down the kerb. And ‘He just is‘ works just as well as ‘It just is‘. Nuff said.

11:25 Greg recounts a scenario where he purportedly asks a recently converted atheist, Do things exist? to which the subject responded affirmatively.

Response: The nature of existence and reality is not resolved science. ‘“Things” are perceived‘ is about the best we can get to at this moment in time, and this doesn’t even define things very precisely.

11:30 Have things always existed? is the question posed next.

Response: I like Drew’s response here. Instead, I went to the definition of time because the notion of time is a social construct. It could be that there was a Biblical void from which the universe sprang whole cloth as depicted in the Genesis version or a Big Bang version. It could as well be that at some point time was invented. An imperfect analogy is the BCE-CE split. CE simply starts at year 1 and we’ve run with it. The universe doesn’t have an equivalent notion of BCE, but perhaps it’s similar to spinning up the universe as a virtual machine. There was a literal void of bits awaiting a cue to instantiate a VM universe. For all intents and purposes, this is the beginning of time for that virtual machine. In this example, we could extend the metaphor to a multiverse, or we could stay with a physical machine and virtual machine metaphor. Sure, the physical machine might be a god or another meta-universe—I refuse to say metaverse—, but the virtual machine has no insights earlier than its own time-zero.

The other things Greg’s approach misses are the notions of quantum mechanics and emergent properties. I won’t spend any time elaborating here.

16:50 A big bang needs a big banger!

I addressed this regressive Big Banger point earlier. Moving on.

20:00 Explanatory power of intuitions

Response: Without getting into the weeds of Kahneman and Tversky’s Systems 1 and 2, intuition and heuristics have a place, but they are very fallible for all but the most mundane of tasks. They are not very precise and are a poor foundation for any theory. I can feel it in my bones just doesn’t go very far—and that includes intuitions about reality

22:15 The problem of evil is apparently the most common objection to the existence of God.

Response: This is a sophomoric position to adopt. Greg tries to frame this as an out-there objective reality affair as opposed to an in-there subjective, emotional problem. He posits that things in the world—including people—are inherently bad or evil. Again, Drew reframes this as a uniquely Christian problem. As for me, I don’t even believe in the existence of evil. Good and bad are functional yet still social constructs. Evil is just trebled bad with a metaphysical twist. The problem with evil is more of a problem with bad narrative than anything more substantive. Somebody created a storyline and didn’t run it by strong editors or continuity reviewers.

26:15 Lawmaker Transcendence: In order for there to be laws to be broken, there have to be laws

Response: Knowing his intended audience, Greg keeps hammering on the objective reality nail. Whilst this may play well to the choir, as Drew points out, it’s not likely to score any points in a debate with atheists. Morals, as well as laws, are social constructs. And as universals, they don’t map as closely across cultures except at the most abstract of levels.

It should go without saying that even if there were a god passing out commandments, there would be no way to validate the authenticity of this exchange.

32:30 All people have souls… You are not just a piece of meat in motion

Response: Just rambling. I’m not even going to waste my time on this one except to redirect you to my previous response relative to human psychology and apophenia.

34:00 A soul is not a brain

Response: This bit is juvenile, too. Here Greg explains that the soul is not the brain, that you can’t disassemble your brain to find thought. But, he doesn’t mind ignoring that your soul is nowhere to be found either. This feels quite similar to the need for a creator, but these evidentiary needs don’t apply to their positions. Drew’s computer analogy is apt here.

39:10 Existential crisis is a problem for Greg and other Christians.

Response: Because Christians are wired the way they seem to be, any modality that severs the connection to meaning sets them off. Greg confuses hubris and ego for something more substantial, attributing meaning to it. As it happens, people also cherish their pets more than some random squirrel.

40:30 Humans feel guilty because humans are guilty.

Interestingly, there is a school of belief, psychologically speaking, that the default state of humans is one of anxiety, but given that I don’t give psychology any more credibility than religion, I’ll just leave that here. People feel guilty because they are indoctrinated to feel guilt. A hypothetical person raised on a desert island or in the woods, like Victor, the feral child of Aveyron, or in the jungle, like Tarzan or Mowgli, would not know guilt, empathy, shame, or any of a host of other social “emotional” responses.

All told, Greg raised nothing new nor offered any new support for Christian belief, let alone a broader theistic defence. Ostensibly, the approach he takes is more akin to choir preaching than any other rhetorical purpose. In the end, he’s promoting a smug superiority complex in believers. He understands that although people will accept blind faith rationale for religious belief—especially those indoctrinated from birth—that people do have a mild penchant for rationality. I don’t think most humans operate beyond a cursory level of reasoning, but it’s enough to exploit and construct social reflection mechanisms as part of personal image-building. This allows Greg to propose a homoeopathic logical, rational framework and have it uncritically adopted as being rational.

As for otherwise rational Christians, they likely see through the charlatanism, but since emotion proceeds reason, they are allowed to check out and compartmentalise this nonsense whilst otherwise simultaneously retaining the ability to process the most challenging and tortuous logical conundrum.

Which Laws of Nature are Fundamental?

Reading Dennett has gotten me down a rabbit hole. I decided to take a break from book-reading and spend the day reading essays and blogs and watching YouTube vids such as this one. The question posed by the title is Which Laws of Nature are Fundamental? The topic I find curious is an established dichotomy where intelligent design or multiverses are the only possible reasons why we as humans are here to question our existence.

Full disclosure: I don’t pretend to be a physicist, so although I have tried to keep current on, let’s call it, lay physics, there is much I don’t know. But that doesn’t make me stop questioning propositions.

In the case of intelligent design versus multiverses, I feel that both go overboard. I don’t particularly cherish Occam’s Razor, but I do find it apt here. As David Deutsch states in this piece, intelligent design only manages to kick the can down the kerb.

In a nutshell, intelligent design arrives at a place with a claim that all of this can’t have been the result of chance and random events, so [insert the entity of your choosing] had to have designed and constructed it, leaving open the question of how that entity came to be. This is a spin on the age-old issue that many defenders of intelligent design-like theories seem to cling to: The universe cannot have spawned from nowhere, so its genesis must have been due to an intelligent (read: divine) entity without recognising or admitting the circular reasoning involved.

On the other hand, the multiverse solution—which I don’t entirely rule out—also seems unnecessary. In another nutshell—or perhaps repurposing the first—, the main idea is that there are many if not infinite parallel universes. Given the large number—in the manner of the infinite monkeys typing Shakespeare’s sonnets, at least one is bound to be configured just so to enable life and humans in particular.

Typing Monkeys

I don’t subscribe to intelligent design in the least. I dismiss it as implausible. And whilst multiverses may exist, I fail to see why there can’t be a single universe—this one—that just so happens to be configured. If it had been configured any other way, there would have been no life as we know it—and certainly no human life and no life to question how it get there and why.

In my mind, just because we can ask why doesn’t mean there is an answer or that we can find it. More to the point, even in a world of cause and effect, the results can be emergent on one hand and multlivariant on the other. So whilst we want to discover a causal chain of A ⇒ B ⇒ C ⇒ n, it is not likely so linear. Humans do understand the notions of stochsticism and chaos, but we don’t necessarily know how to deal with them causally. Moreover—and Deutsch has specialised in the quantum space—, our understanding of quantum processes is extremely primative. We are probably operating more from conjecture than knowledge, but one needs to start someplace. The trick is not to believe you’ve reached India when you’ve only just departed Spain.

Seven Types of Atheism

Some geezer, John Gray, wrote a book having this title. It was, let us say, ‘suggested’ that I watch it in video format—over an hour-long at that. I decided to search for a summary instead.

It’s not particularly up my street. The bloke who suggested the vid posted a statement:

Atheism is a narcissistic apostasy; the adoration of the things humans do & make; the worship of the golden calves of science & technology.

When I responded thusly « This quip reduced and conflates, almost creating a strawman. I suppose some atheists might be narcissists, though I don’t see that they would significantly differ from a sample of the general population. I’m guessing the second clause is intended to connect from the first, which is to claim that an atheist is a human who chooses STEM over gods as if there are no other alternatives, which creates a false dichotomy. But to treat atheism as some monolith is to treat all religions as ostensibly identical », his response was

What is atheism?.

To which I replied, « Atheism is the absence of belief in gods (or supernatural beings, if that’s a more generalisable concept). »

well, that is not enlightening at all. Explain atheism clearly.

That is all there is to it. There are different reasons why people are atheists, but that’s the definition. Etymologically, ‘theism’ is ‘belief in a deity or deities’. Atheism, applying the Greek prefix ‘a-‘, is the negative state of ‘theism, so the absence of ‘belief in a deity or deities’.

Atheism is not science. A large number of scientists believe in God. They see no contradiction between God and science, in fact they find the order behind everything reinforces their belief.

And so here the conversation, as it was, went off the rails. At no point did I invoke science. And then he promotes the John Gray video.

Interview with John Gray on Does God Exist

And we’ve been there before.

  1. New Atheism: the debate between science and religion was a result of confusing myths with theories. Religion is no more a primitive type of science than is art or poetry; scientific inquiry answers a demand for an explanation; the practice of religion expresses a need for meaning.
  2. Secular Humanism: a hollowed-out version of the Christian belief in salvation in history; the widespread belief that humans are gradually improving is the central article of faith of modern humanism
  3. Science-Religion: Gray reflects on the twentieth century’s strange faith in science – a faith that produced the false equation of evolution with progress and the racist ideologies that infect our social arrangements and political institutions
  4. Political Religion: Modern political ideologies are de facto religions; the belief that we live in a secular age is an illusion
  5. God-hatred: absorbed by the problem of evil; suffering, if inevitable, is at least infused with moral significance
  6. The Unsentimental Atheisms of George Santayana and Joseph Conrad: Santayana dismisses any idea that civilization is improving; everything in this world is a progress towards death. Conrad wrote that man is a wicked animal; his wickedness has to be organized; society is essentially criminal – otherwise, it would not exist
  7. Mystical Atheism: Schopenhauer was deeply and articulately antagonistic to religion in general; he rejects the notion that history has any metaphysical meaning, or that human beings are somehow advancing

Disclaimer 1: This summary list is copy-pasted from the linked source and edited ever so slightly to fit here.

Disclaimer 2: Neither did I watch the video nor read his book, so the summary might be off-kilter.

Still, I offer my reaction/reflection.

Firstly, this comes off not as an attack on atheism; rather, it’s an attack more particularly on Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers, predominantly Scientists—as in those who practice Scientism religiously.

Secondly, this limited attack garners the same critique as I give Dawkins’ God Delusion. I liked this book, but whereas Gray limits his attack on a thin slice of atheists—despite offering up 7 flavours—, Dawkins limits his attack to Christians; perhaps, some Abrahamic denominations. This is a particular God and particular disciples.

I address these in turn.

  1. New Atheism: I agree that Scientism simply switched faith from God to Science or it deified Science, whichever vantage you prefer. This ilk simply swapped God for Naturalism. These are the same lot who offer up ‘Self-evident truths’ and Natural Law. Please. I agree with neither.
  2. Secular Humanism: Whilst admittedly secular, I am not quite a Humanist and decidedly not a Secular Humanist™. Here, I disagree with the underlying teleological notion of both.
  3. Science-Religion: The only nod I am willing to give to science is the evidence-based, falsifiability over faith, but much of science is still faith-based. It just operates from a different metanarrative. Again, Scientism is no one’s friend.
  4. Political Religion: I agree that this is as much a scourge as organised religion. By now, one might notice a trend—a healthy does of whataboutism: We can’t suck because we’re no different to this other thing that you might be attached to. Except they are all bollox through and through. Political ideology is religion without the blatant metaphysical nod—though it is still there beneath the surface.
  5. God-hatred: Even having not read the book, this makes no sense whatsoever. How can one hate what one doesn’t believe exists? I suppose I could hate unicorns, faeries, and Harry Potter, but I don’t think that’s the same thing. The summary suggests that it’s more about an obsession with evil, but I don’t have enough context to respond meaningfully. Do atheists actually believe in evil? I don’t. And, except idiomatically, I don’t personally know of others who do. Feels like a red herring.
  6. Unsentimental Atheisms: Satayana refutes the Secular Humanists. I’m buying what he’s selling. Conrad is taking a spin on evil but opting to label it wicked—a bit of a drama llama. I’m not buying it.
  7. Mystical Atheism: I like Schopenhauer—probably because he’s such an underdog. He did glean a bit from Buddhist philosophy. So have I. But Buddhism ranges from the secular to the sacred. I don’t tend to stray too far from the secular. I fully agree that history has no metaphysical meaning and human beings are not objectively advancing.

If anything, this is one of the longer posts I’ve made in a while. Thanks to the Copy-Paste Gods. Allahu Akbar, Oh Mighty. In the end, Santayana and Schopenhauer notwithstanding, I am still left with a why not neither.

FSM

Consciousness Is Religion

I expect that consciousness is a human nominative concept. Like religion, it will become smaller as science encroaches. In 1994, David Chalmers presented his idea of the hard problem of consciousness in a lecture, Toward a Scientific Basis of Consciousness, but I feel this is more due to the insufficiency of language than anything else. To me, consciousness isn’t well defined. It’s like a medical syndrome. It’s just a grouping of seemingly related conditions that haven’t yet been parsed. In time, it may be determined that they weren’t even related in the first place. Apophenia and cognitive dissonance are two significant human biases that affect perception.

At core, consciousness might be functionally reduced to that of an interpreter. Some have posited that the only thing that exists is ‘information’, whatever that means, so there only needs to be an interpreter—a translater. If that interpreter is defined as consciousness, then so be it. This appears to lead us to a Cartesian place—though it doesn’t follow that the self or ego exists. This would be a second-order event.

Anyway, just rambling. As seems to be the case lately, I’ve got little time to develop my thoughts. At least I’ve captured them for now.

Dear diary…

Millennial Morality

Surfing the Web, I happened upon a blog wherein Wintery Knight riffed on a conversation about morality with an atheist millennial man. My interest was piqued, so I scanned it and then read it. I scanned the About page, and it’s apparent that we hold diametrically opposed worldviews, and that’s OK.

As a result of the encounter with this millennial man, the post intends to answer the question: How could I show him that happy feelings are not a good basis for morality? But let’s step back a bit.

In the words of the author, ‘I asked him to define morality, and he said that morality was feeling good, and helping other people to feel good.’ Here’s the first problem: Although a conversation about morality may have occurred between the author and an atheist millennial man, the post is not in fact a reaction to Millennial morality. Rather, it’s of the respondent’s dim characterisation of what morality is (whether for a theist or an atheist). His reply that morality is ‘feeling good, and helping other people to feel good’ sounds more like hedonism and compassion. The author does pick up on the Utilitarian bent of the response but fails to disconnect this response from the question. The result is a strawman response to one person’s hamfisted rendition of morality. The author provides no additional context for the conversation nor whether an attempt to correct the foundational definition.

A quick Google search yields what should by now be a familiar definition of morality: principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour.

morality (noun) : principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour

Oxford Languages

Clearly, conflating utility with rightness and wrongness, with goodness and badness, is an obvious dead-end at the start. This said, I could just stop typing. Yet, I’ll continue—at least for a while longer.

At the top of the article is a meme image that reads ‘When I hear someone act like they’re proud of themselves for creating their own moral guidelines and sticking to them’.

This is one of the memes from the Wintery Knight facebook page

Natalie Portman sports an awkward facial expression and a sarcastic clap. Under the image is a line of copy: If you define morality as “whatever I want to do” then you’ll always be “moral”, which is tautological, but a bit of a non-sequitur to the rest, so I’ll leave it alone.

Let’s stop to regard this copy for a few moments but without going too deep. Let’s ignore the loose grammar and the concept of pride. I presume the focus of the author to be on the individually fabricated morals (read: ethical guidelines or rules) and that the fabricator follows through with them.

That this person follows through on their own rules is more impressive than the broken New Year’s resolutions of so many and is a certainly better track record than most people with supposed religious convictions.

May be a cartoon of text
New Years’ Resolutions

First, all morals are fabricated—his morals or your morals. And you can believe that these goods came from God or gods or nature or were just always present awaiting humans to embody them, but that doesn’t change the point.

Let’s presume that at least some of his morals don’t comport with the authors because they are borne out of compassion. Since we’ve already established precedence for cherry-picking, allow me to side-step the hedonistic aspects and instead focus on the compassionate aspects. Would this be offensive to the author? Isn’t, in fact, in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31, the do unto others Golden Rule edict, is a call for compassion—at least sympathy if not empathy?

After a quick jab at abortion (tl; dr: abortion is bad) taking the scenic route to articulate the point that atheists typically don’t think of unborn children as people, apparently without fully grasping the concept of zygotes and gametes. The author then confuses the neutral notion of a probabilistic outcome with accidents, having negative connotations—as if I flip a coin, the result is an accident. Let’s ignore this passive-aggressive hostility and move on. Let’s also forgive the flippant—or at least facile—articulation of biological evolutionary processes as ‘the strong survive while the weak die’. We can let it slide since what is meant by strong in this context is wide open.

child (noun) : a young human being below the age of puberty or below the legal age of majority

Oxford Languages

The author continues with a claim that ‘you aren’t going to be able to generate a moral standard that includes compassion for weak unborn children on that scenario’. This feels like an unsubstantiated claim. Is this true? Who knows. Some people have compassion for all sorts of things from puppies to pandas without having some belief in rights. Some people like Peter Singer argues that rights should be extended to all species, and all humans should be vegans. I wonder if the author can live up to this moral high watermark. Maybe so. Probably doesn’t mix linen and wool because it’s the right thing to do.

“If the rule is “let’s do what makes us happy”, and the unborn child can’t voice her opinion, then the selfish grown-ups win.” This is our next stop. This is a true statement, so let’s tease it a bit. Animals are slaughtered and eaten, having no voice. Pet’s are kept captive, having no voice. Trees are felled, having no voice. Land is absconded from vegetation and Animalia—even other humans. Stolen from unborn humans for generations to come. Lots of people have no voice.

People are into countries and time and space. What about the converse situation? Where is the responsibility for having the child who gains a voice and doesn’t want this life? Does it matter that two consenting adults choose to have a child, so it’s OK? Doesn’t the world have enough people? What if two consenting adults choose to rob a bank? I know I don’t have to explicitly make the point that once the child is thrown into this world, the voice is told to shut up if it asks to exit or even tries to exit without permission. Unless circumstances arise to snuff out the little bugger as an adult.

Finally, the author is warmed up and decides to focus first on fatherhood. The question posed was whether the interlocutor thought that fatherlessness harmed children, to which the response was no.

Spoiler alert: The author is toting a lot of baggage on this fatherhood trip. Before we even get to the father, the child, or the family, there is a presumption of a Capitalist, income-based, market economy. Father means the adult male at the head of a nuclear family with a mum (or perhaps a mother; mum may be too informal), likely with 2 kids and half a pet. The child is expected to also participate in this constructed economy—the imagined ‘right’ social arrangement. It goes without saying that I feel this is a bum deal and shit arrangement, but I’ll defer to pieces already and yet to be written here. But if fathers are the cause of this ‘Modern’ society, fuck ’em and the horses they rode in on.

She asks him, if a system of sexual rules based on “me feeling good, and other people around me feeling good”, was likely to protect children. Evidently, he was silent, but here you can already determine that she unnecessarily links sex to procreation. And reflecting on a few paragraphs back, how is forcing a child (without asking) to be born and then told to become a wage slave or perish not violent and cruel?

(Self-guidance: Calm down, man. You can get through this.)

So the question is surreptitiously about procreative sex. By extension, if the couple can’t procreate for whatever myriad reasons, it’s OK? Sounds like it? Premenstrual, menopausal, oral, anal, same-sex coupling is all OK in this book. Perhaps, the author is more open-minded than I am given credit for. Not all humans are fertile, sex with plants and animals won’t result in procreation. A lot of folks would call this author kinky or freaky. Not my cup of tea, but I’m not judging. Besides, I’ve read that book—though shalt not judge. I’m gonna play it safe. And they couldn’t print it if it wasn’t true.

Spoiler Alert: Jesus dies at the end.

Seeking credibility, the author cites Bloomberg, as Centre to Centre-Left organisation as Far-Left. Clearly another red flag. Excuse me, your bias is showing. This piece is likely written for choir preaching, so we’ll take the penalty and move along.

A quick jab at the bête noire of ‘Big Government’ facilitating idle hands and, presumably genitals, to play. The idle rich as Croesus folks are idols to behold. At least I can presume she opposes military spending and armed aggression on the grounds of harm, so we’ve got common ground there. They’re probably an advocate of defunding the police, though by another name. so there’s another common platform. It just goes to show: all you need to do is talk to ameliorate differences. We’re making good headway. Let’s keep up the momentum.

Wait, what? We need to preserve a Western Way? I was shooting for something more Zen. Jesus was a Westerner—being from Bethlehem and all. (That’s in Israel—probably on the Westside.)

r/memes - Everyone else in the Middle East Jesus Christ
White Jesus from the Middle East

No worries. Just a minor setback—a speedbump. It’s just a flesh wound. But we’ve pretty much reached the end. A little banter about some other studies. There’s an impartial citation from the Institute for Family Studies on cohabitation they beg the question and employs circular logic. And another from the non-partisan Heritage Foundation finds that dads who live with their children spend more time with them. How profound. I’d fund that study.

And it’s over. What happened? In the end, all I got out of it is ‘I don’t like it when you make up morals’. You need to adopt the same moral code I’ve adopted.

Emotivism
AJ Ayer – Emotivism

Where was I? Oh yeah. Fathers. So these people don’t mean generic fathers. They mean fathers who subscribe to their worldview. In their magical realm, these fathers are not abusive to their mothers or children; these fathers are not rip-roaring alcoholics; these fathers are the dads you see on the telly.

Suspiciously absent is the plotline where the fathers are ripped from their families through systematic racism and incarcerated as if they didn’t want to be there for their children. And this isn’t discussing whether it’s an issue of fathers or an issue of money. It isn’t discussing whether someone else might serve as a proxy for this role. Indeed, there is nothing magical about fathers unless you live in a fantasy world.

Comment below or by email.

Organised Government

Is organised government already on the same downward spiral as organised religion?

Faith in government is low. Without exception, the system has weakened and is clearly broken. The same power corruption that is bringing down organised religion is weighing heavy on governments.

In the US, Canada, and the UK, governments have become polarising entities, and most participants don’t even try to practise statesmanship. Perhaps not the governments, per se, but the forces trying to wrest control. It’s usually us versus them. This has been going on for about half a century and accelerating. Regarding religion, we hear many say they are spiritual or have faith, but they eschew the structure of religion. What is the parallel for government?

Its easy to support the concept of government—or at least of governance—and still complain about the particular instantiation: Trump’s Republicanism is good, but Biden’s Democracy is bad, and vice versa. But I’ll argue that organised government as an institution is as fatally flawed as organised religion.

organised government as an institution is as fatally flawed as organised religion

Government participation like that of religion attracts sociopaths and power-mongers. Are there acceptions. Yes. Are these people corruptable? Yes. Do the become corrupted? Some. Many simply become complacent.

In religion, some defend that they are spiritual but not religious. In politics, we have quasi- and pseudo- anarchists and Libertarians who just haven’t yet realised the source of their malaise, so they tilt Quixotically.

People haven’t quite sussed it out and can’t really seem to put their collective fingers on it, but it’s not governance most of us don’t like, it’s the misuse and abuse of power—as rendered by the NASCAR-themed political meme.

In the current environment, it’s ‘the other party’ that’s the problem. I hope that as with religion, we’ll see a turning point where people realise that it’s the system, the organisation, that’s the problem, not some aspect of it. It’s not a few bad apples. Like in a Stephen King novel, it’s the barrel that’s possessed. That barrel is the system.

Should the Criminal Justice System Be Abolished?

Much of jurisprudence is based on logic founded on faulty premises of regurgitated theological concepts shrouded in naturalistic theory and pseudoscience. This is not about the defund the police social trend of 2020. This is to say that the justice system is smoke and mirrors writ large. It’s ostensibly built on anachronistic concepts such as volition, evil, soul, blame, and forgiveness that should be tossed into the dustbin of history along with phrenology, humours, and will.

The titleof this post is taken from Robert Spapolsky’s proposed chapter concept for Behave, published in 2017, where until now, it’s languished on my Want to Read list, having entered via the vector of my interest in behavioural economics. Chapter 16 was eventually published with the title of Biology, the Criminal Justice System, and (Oh, Why Not?) Free Will.

I’ve been writing for years about the nonesensical attachment to these notions, so it gives me comfort in solidarity to discover others who share, at least to some degree my perspective, knowing, of course, that this doesn’t make this perspective any more correct.

To be fair, I’ve held a low opinion of so-called justice (and government) systems pretty much since I was taught about them almost 50 years ago. In the US, much teaching is really propagandising about how fair these systems are and how peers and reasonable persons concepts make is superior. In my mind, those were the being failings. Later, when I hopped onto my language insufficiency bandwagon, it only fell apart more. Kafka’s The Trial represents the internal workings of most justice systems than the logic and reason of propogated but proponants.

Stopping here. Much to do. I recommend reading Behave. If you’ve read it, I’d love to see what you thought about it.

Compatible with Compatibilism?

Full Disclosure: I consider myself to be a determinist. I looked for something like Dawkins’ spectrum of theistic probability to evaluate where one might be oriented on a scale of free will to determinism to fatalism whilst also considering compatibilism.

Dawkins’ spectrum of theistic probability

Let’s lay some groundwork by establishing some definitions from most constrained to least:

  • Fatalism : a doctrine that events are fixed in advance so that human beings are powerless to change them
  • Compatibilism : a doctrine that maintains that determinism is compatible with free will
  • Determinism : a theory or doctrine that acts of the will, occurrences in nature, or social or psychological phenomena are causally determined by preceding events or natural laws
  • Freewill : freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention

It seems that freewill and fatalism are bookends with compatibilism attempting to moderate or synthesise freewill and deteminism. But it also seems that one’s selection may be contexual. Ultimately, this argument is fraught with semantic challenges insomuch as some underlying concepts are yet unresolved.

Crash Course Philosophy does provides a nice summary of the challenges in defending even compatibilist positions away from detemininism and even fatalism.

As this video notes, our choices may appear to be free, but it doesn’t take much effort to perform a 5-whys investigation to remove anything but homoeopathic amounts of agency.

Taking a short example, let’s look at the cases of the trial judges mentioned by Sapolsky (Behave) and Kahneman (Noise). Given all of the factors entering into sentences, prior offences, sex or gender of either the defendant or the judge, education, income, and so on, but far the largest factor in determining the length or severity of a sentence was the time between the sentencing and the judge’s last meal—effectively their blood glucose levels.

Some may argue that this is a short interval, but behaviourists would argue that a person now is a culmination of all of their experiences to date. That the decision of the so-called criminal to rob the liquor store (going for the stereotype here) was not the result of low blood sugar. This may be true, but there is still an unbroken chain of confluent events that brought them to that place.

From a culpabilty perspective, even absent true agency, the offender should still be incarcerated or whatever to prevent this behaviour from repeating. Of course, if you believe in rehabilitation, you are necessarily a behaviourist in soem shape or form: the idea is to effectively repattern experience impressions. The other problem is one of probability. That you did X once, are you lilkey to do it again? If not, then there is no further risk to society, as it were. Given the probability of recitivism—and some argue that mass incarceration increases the probability or attempting criminal actions post-release—, is this even an effective deterence? It’s time to get out of the rabbit hole.

From my position, it is impossible to reconcile experience and freewill. The best you can argue is that one is free in the moment—like some strange improv exercise, where you are shown a film that stops abrutly, and you are instructed to act out the remainder of the scene. Is this free, or is this extrapolating on your experience.

Skipping to fatalism, how probable is it that absolutely everything is determined. Reality is just a film we are both in and observing or experiencing, but all of it is already laid down. We are just unawares. Every strange plot twist and early exit was not only already scripted, but it’s already been captured. There is no room for improvisation or flubbed lines. There is no opportunity to go off-script. Even these words are predestined. Even unpublished thoughts were not meant to be published.

There is no way to test this sort of system from inside the system, and there is no way to get a vantage above it, so here we are.

The notion of determinism affords humans some modicum of agency, perhaps akin to one part in a trillion trillions. Practically, we are taking credit for a butterfly effect—and punishing for this degree of freedom. As Sapolsky has noted, most instances of perceived agency are trivial. We can ‘instruct’ finger movement with our brain. Ostensibly, we think: move finger; bend; point; stop. And even so, what was the cause of the thought to move the finger? Was there truly a non-causal event?

Cognotive dissonance ensures that we can’t allow ourselves to be NPCs or automotons. We have to omuch hubris for that. We must have some free will. Some religions say we not only have agency here in this life but that we chose the life to begin with. Even so, we’ve not seen the script in advance; we’ve merely chosen which lessons we want learnt.

So what about compatibilism? Sort of, who cares? Whilst I can define some interstitial state between free will and determinism, it seems that it would not be even tempered or would otherwise skew heavily toward determinism.

What keeps me from being a hard determinist is that I hold out hope for statistics, chaos, and stochasticism. One might argue in return, that these, too, are determined; we just don’t see the underlying connection. And that’s my cognitive cross to bear.

To be fair, it seems that the notion of free will or even compatibilism are secondary, let’s say, reactions to the need for culpability, for moral responsibility. Societies are built upon these notions, as are legal systems. Necessary ingredients to invent are:

  • ‘Individual’
  • Agency and Volition
  • Choice, Motivation, and Intent
  • Responsibilty and Blame

None of these actually exist, so they need to be invented and constructed in order to associate self-control to actions. In fact, we have insanity escape clauses to recognise that there are cases where control is lost, whether temporarily or permanently, or never had in the first place for any number of ‘reasons’. At core, these attributes are necessary to exert power in a society. The next goal is to convince the actors or subjects that these things are ‘real enough’— as the saying goes, ‘good enough for the government’.

Even if we accept these things at face value, the interpretation and processing of these are different animals still. The notion of Will itself is likely speceous or another fabricated notion. Perhaps, I’ll address Will on another day. Probably not, as all of this is distracting me from my language insufficiency work.

When I think about free will, it is foisted on humanity in the same manner as gods and religion. With gods, we have been defending against theism for millennia. The gods fetish and free will are inextricably linked. As with the chicken and egg connundrum, the question is whach came first. Is God a reaction to fee will, or is it the other way around. Did we create free will to allow for responsibility and then fabricate Supreme busy bodies to act as ultimate judges? Or did we create the gods and build out the myth of free will to accommodate punishment of deviant behaviour. Or are these just parallel constructions? Enquiring minds want to know.