Your Morals

I was commenting elsewhere on morals and was directed to Jonathan Haidt and his work. Notably, the questionnaire at YourMorals.org, where you can get your own assessment and contribute data points to the body of work.

Full disclosure: I am not a fan of this type of survey, as I’ve mentioned previously. Still, I made an attempt. Better still, I’ve copied the questions to critique. There are 36 all tolled. Perhaps, I’ll respond to a dozen at a time. The next dozen responses are here. Generally speaking, they present each question and provide a Likert scale as follows:

  1. Does not describe me at all
  2. Slightly describes me
  3. Moderately describes me
  4. Describes me fairly well
  5. Describes me extremely well

Standard fare. It starts off bad:

1. Caring for people who have suffered is an important virtue.

Why include an abstract concept like virtue? I don’t ascribe to the notion of virtue, so it’s an empty set. Given that, my response would be a 1. If I ignore the offensive nomenclature and assume it translates idiomatically into ‘beneficial for some target society’, then I still have to question what is meant by suffering, and how far does caring extend. Is it enough to feel bad about the homeless person, or does one have to care enough to provide sustenance and shelter? Talk is cheap.

2. The effort a worker puts into a job ought to be reflected in the size of a raise they receive.

This is fraught with all sorts of problems. In fact, it’s a reason why I consider myself to be a Postmodern. The inherent metanarrative is that societies are effectively money-based. I don’t happen to believe that, so I am again faced with responding to an empty set. Even if I attempt to abstract the ‘raise’ aspect to mean that effort represents input and output is a direct and (perhaps) proportional function, I am still left to wrestle with how this effort is measured and what could have been achieved had the others not been present.

Using a sports analogy—always a dangerous domain for me to play in—, what if LeBron James was to play an opposing team by himself? He needs the other team members. Of course, his teammates are compensated, too. But in his case, his salary is not only based on his athletic talent but on his celebrity power—rent in economic parlance. Perhaps LeBron makes a lot of baskets, but without the assists, he’d have fewer. And because he is the go-to guy, some other teammates might be sacrificing baskets as part of their winning strategy.

Finally, how do you measure the effort of an accountant, a janitor, and an executive? The question is fundamentally bollox.

3. I think people who are more hard-working should end up with more money.

On a related note, I can abbreviate my commentary here. Again, what is harder? Are we asking if construction workers should earn more than CEOs? More bollox.

4. Everyone should feel proud when a person in their community wins in an international competition.

Yet, again, an empty set and a sort of mixed metaphor. I don’t agree with the notion of identity and even less at scale—states, countries, and nationalities. Putting that aside, why should I derive pride (that cometh before the fall) because someone succeeds at some event anywhere? It’s facile. If the question was focused on whether I would be happy for that person, the answer might shift up the scale, but where would I have derived pride for that person’s achievements?

5. I think it is important for societies to cherish their traditional values.

First off, why? What values? Not to beat a dead horse, but what if my tradition is slavery? Should I cherish that? This is really asking should I cherish the traditions of my society. Clearly, it’s not asking if other societies should enjoy the privilege of cherishing theirs? From the standard Western vantage, many want to cherish their own, but not Eastern values of eating dogs or Middle Eastern values of burqaed women and turbans. Is this asking should the world subscribe to my society’s values? I’m not sure.

6. I feel that most traditions serve a valuable function in keeping society orderly

Speaking of tradition… We are not only dealing with the vague notion of tradition, we are discussing another vague concept, order, and elevating order over (presumably) disorder. Order connotes a status quo. And why is the superlative most present? Has someone inventoried traditions? I believe I am supposed to translate this as ‘I feel that the traditions I am familiar with and agree with help to create a society that I am content with’. Again, this betrays the privileged perspective of the observers. Perhaps those disenfranchised would prefer traditions like Capitalism and private property to be relics of the past–or traditions of two-party rule, partisan high court judges, or money-influenced politics, or politicians serving themselves and their donors over the people or Christmas.

7. We all need to learn from our elders

Learn what exactly from our elders? Which elders? The bloke down the block? That elderly Christian woman at the grocery mart? The cat who fought in some illegal and immoral war? The dude who hordes houses, cars, and cash at the expense of the rest of society? Or the guy who tried to blow up Parliament. I believe this is asking should we learn how to remain in place as taught by the privileged wishing to maintain their places.

8. Everyone should try to comfort people who are going through something hard

Define hard, and define comfort? This harkens back to the first question. Enough said. As far as lying is concerned, we should by now all be familiar with the adage trying is lying. Or as Yoda would restate it, do or do not, there is no try.

9. I think the human body should be treated like a temple, housing something sacred within

Obviously, this one is total rubbish. Here, I don’t have a structure that makes it difficult to answer. I may have sprained my eye rolling it, though. This said, what is a temple treated like?

10. I get upset when some people have a lot more money than others in my country

This one is interesting. Whilst I don’t believe that countries or money should exist. In practice, they do. So on its face, I can say that I get upset when we are thrown into a bordered region and told we need to exchange paper, metal, plastic, and bits for goods and services–that some people have more and others have less primarily through chance.

11. I feel good when I see cheaters get caught and punished

Which cheaters? Cheating requires perspective and a cultural code. It can privilege the individualist over the communalist. This reminds me of the cultures that are more interested in ensuring that all of their members finish a contest than having any one win.

Academically, it is considered to be cheating to work together on an exam because the individual is being tested. Of course, the exam is on certain content rather than on the contribution of the human being.

Again, the question feels targeted at cheaters getting caught circumventing something we value. If someone cheats becoming assimilated into some military-industrial society, I will encourage and support them. If they get caught and punished, my ire would more likely be directed toward the power structure that created the need to cheat.

12. When people work together toward a common goal, they should share the rewards equally, even if some worked harder on it

I’ll end this segment here on another question of meritocracy. I think it’s fair to judge the authors as defenders of meritocracy, though I could be wrong. This feels very similar to some other questions already addressed. The extension here is about sharing the rewards, whatever that means. Are we baking a cake? Did we build a house for a new couple? Did we plant trees in a public park? Did we clean up litter on a parkway? Did we volunteer to feed the homeless? And what was the work? Again, how are we measuring disparate work? Did the chicken farmer work harder than the cow farmer? Did the carpenter work harder than the organiser?

If the remainder of these questions is different enough, I’ll comment on them as well. Meantime, at least know you know more why I have little faith in the field of morals. This does nothing to change my opinion that morals are nothing more than emotional reactions and subsequent prescriptions. I don’t mean to diminish emotions, and perhaps that might be a good central pillar to a vibrant society. I’ll need more convincing.

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.

Metanarrative Problem

Postmodernism was summarised by Lyotard as having an incredulity toward metanarratives.

What does this mean? What are metanarratives, and why harbour incredulity toward them?

Metanarratives are narratives. Stories presented through a lens with a certain perspective. These stories provide a historical account of how a culture arrived to where it has. They can be viewed as origin stories. Metanarratives are also teleological, as they provide the foundation to progress, to advance the culture to a better future. Embedded in these metanarratives are the rules and conditions necessary to navigate, both from the past and into the future.

We’ve got stories. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian, Yuval Noah Harari tells us how important stories are for having made human progress. Hooray for us!

This sounds good so far. Right? We’ve got Caesar, Cornwall, and Kahn. We’ve got triumph of us over others. Good prevailing over evil. Right over wrong. So why the incredulity?

Let’s keep in mind that Lyotard is suggesting incredulity and not rejection. The narrative could be fine and accurate enough. One might argue that the benefit of the narrative for the purpose of cohesion outweighs the detriments posed.

There are several notable problems with metanarratives.

Firstly, the past suffers from a cherry-picked survivorship bias. The story threads that don’t support the narrative are abandoned, and some threads are marginalised. So, there’s a dimensional problem. As with any historical account, one needs to adopt a perspective and create a story. Let’s not forget that the word history comes from the word story. In fact, French only has one term: l’histoire. History is story.

Secondly—and this is somewhat related to the survivorship bias problem—, is that we privilege the perspective we take to view this history. In his book, We Have Never Been Modern, Latour uses this line of argumentation to arrive at the conclusion that we have never been modern. It is only because we are here now and surveying history through a rearview mirror that we can even look into the past. And we feel that we have somehow overcome this past. The past was primitive, but we are modern. Some time in the future we’ll deservedly be viewed in the same light because that’s how progress works. But there is no reason to accept this privileged assignment. It’s a function of ego—and to be even more direct: hubris.

Lastly, there’s the issue of teleology. Through this privileged vantage, we orient toward some alleged destination. Like fate, it’s just there for the taking. The only barriers are time, not keeping your eyes on the prize, and not following the rules to get there. There’s an embedded deontology. Those other societies don’t understand what it takes. You need to follow this path, this religion, this sports team. Because this is the best there is.

But there are no crystal balls. We cannot divinate the future. There is no particular reason to believe that our imagined path is the best path. If you don’t believe this, just ask the culture next door.

I’d like to think that somehow Progressives would be more aware of this tendency—and perhaps in some sense they are, but it’s not very apparent pragmatically. I don’t want to get distracted by the notion of institutionalism, but that is evidence of taking a privileged position regarding the status quo—even if your vision of the future would take a different path than your more conservative brethren and sistren.

In closing, this has been a summary of the problem postmoderns have with metanarratives. It could be that the metanarrative you believe to be valid is valid. It could be that your religion is the true religion. It could be that your sports team is the best sports team. That your system of government is the best of all other alternatives. It’s more likely that you’ve convinced yourself that these things are true than them being true.

We can either adopt the perspective of Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss and consider our world to be the best of all possible worlds, or we can step back and consider that we haven’t exhausted all of the possibilities.

Opiates of the Masses

No, really.

Memories are fallible. I’d thought I had written on this topic of opiates and public policy at length. And perhaps I have. Just not here. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Searching my blog for my take on opiates, I find that I cite Marx’s ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses‘, four times—make that five. But nothing more.

Carl Hart recently published a book on his heroin use—Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear. By some accounts, Carl might appear to be the stereotypical heroin addict in the United States. Well, he’s black, so there’s that. But that’s where the stereotype ends.

Carl Hart is a professor of neuroscience in the psychology department of Ivy League, Columbia University—at least before he published his book. I’ve not read his book, but at my blog I’ve provided a link to the Guardian article, which prompted this post.

The gist I get from having read the Atlantic article is that the public health narrative surrounding heroin and other illicit drugs is akin to the hype of the days when Reefer Madness was all the moral outrage. And make no mistake—this outrage has everything to do with moral one-upmanship and nothing to do with health outcomes. This is pure and simple cultural performativism signalling the higher ground one occupies. As is common enough, many people have actually internalised their misinformation and disinformation to the point they truly believe there is a medical basis to their belief systems. If they are at all introspective, they would see that morals and Calvinism have nothing to do with this purported health care policy. It’s a seemingly reasonable, logical place to arrive. No emotional element is necessary.

But allow me to step back for a moment. Am I saying that there are no possible harmful effect for consuming drugs and other chemicals? No. Am I claiming that no one has ever died as a result of chemical intoxication or overdose? No, again. Am I saying that drug abuse does not incapacitate some people? Nope. I am saying none of the above. I am claiming that hyperbole abounds, the causal connection is overattributed, and cofactors are ignored in favour of an orthodox etiology.

For the record, I am a teetotaler. I do not abuse or even use chemicals referred to as drugs—illicit or otherwise. I don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke cigarettes. I don’t even drink coffee or covfefe. I do drink Coca Cola, so my big vice in this regard is caffeine. Even rarely do I take ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

As I note in my Defence of Capitalism post, it’s difficult to get good second-hand information of illicit drugs. The medical-industrial complex and the official police state peddle fear and disinformation. Whether they believe the information they dispense is true or not is irrelevant. What is important is the low truth content. It makes one wonder what to trust and what not to when these agencies routinely propagate falsehoods and misrepresent truth.

This misrepresentation isn’t limited to opiates. I found it interesting when Michael Phelps won gold at the Olympics, only to announce that he was the consummate pothead, and smoking weed was part of his daily routine. Here’s what the official Olympics website says about him, by the time he retired at Rio 2016 at the age of 31, Michael Phelps had collected a total of 23 golds, three silvers and two bronzes at the Olympics, a record-breaking haul that looks unlikely to be bettered for many years to come. So much for the lazy stoner stereotype. As marijuana becomes more accepted by mainstream culture, we come to notice that many of the so-called mental health issues were just fabricated. The purpose was to shroud a moral argument in medical legitimacy. Whether the healthcare industry was complicit or it was the law enforcement regime gone rogue is a separate question. Yet again, it undermines the legitimacy of any claims.

In 2020, the world encountered the Coronavirus, COVID-19. And medical expertise, particularly around immunology and the spread of pathogens, came into question. In the United States and United Kingdom, their misinformation was further exacerbated by administrations hostile to science. But given the history of misinformation for political purposes, it may be premature to blame the general public for being reluctant to trust the alarms. They’ve created the classic Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario. And so the question becomes what health information can one trust? And who is the authoritative source?

Listen to this as a podcast on Spotify

Humanism is Speciesism

Why is racism wrong but speciesism OK? Primarily, other species have no voice, and to have no voice is to have no say. This advert got my attention.

Joaquin Phoenix Advert

Humanism is part and parcel of specious Enlightenment tripe, where ‘coincidentally‘ humans put themselves at the forefront. Copernicus removed Earth from the centre — though to be fair, even Christians had elevated gender-non-specific-Man above other animals — , but Humanism makes it more poignant that it’s Man at centre not God. Gods be damned. In fact, it’s often an afterthought that humans are animals at all, despite only the slightest veneer of consciousness and, more to the point, language to separate us from them.

Otherness has proven itself to be an evolutionary survival aspects, one that has brought me tho a point where I can write this, so one can call it natural, another term fraught with connotational baggage. To be able to differentiate and discriminate appear to be valuable attributes, but how much is enough, and how much is too much.

Buddhism teaches that we are all one with the cosmos, that any distinction is an illusion. Buddhist Enlightenment — not to be confused with Western Enlightenment — is to understand this, to not be bound to the illusion.

But, if racism is wrong, why is speciesism OK? Humans do give some animals some rights, and some places give different animals different rights, whilst other give animals categorically more and fewer rights. Some places ascribe divinity upon animals, elevating them above humans.

Racism seems to be more wrong because humans are more genetically homogeneous — at least phenotypically. Other mammals and herptiles don’t look so much like us. In observation, when they do, we have an additional layer of empathy, so chimps and canines with expressive eyes gain sympathy not afforded crustaceans and pinnipeds.

I don’t have an answer save to say that it’s just convenient and some day we may see a world as portrayed by science fiction where some — mostly bipedal species — live quasi-harmoniously with humans. But even there, humans are always the start, front and centre to provide to moral POV.

Afterlife

My girlfriend’s mother with whom we live was raised a Catholic. She asked me what my religious beliefs are, and I responded that I don’t believe in gods, angels, divine anything, a higher intelligence or power in the manner people ascribe to gods. She conveyed that she had been upset with her husband but got the last laugh after he died.

As she related it to me, the night after he dies, he came to her in a vision and told her that he was wrong and she was right, so now she knows that there is life after death. I’m not entirely sure if he was heaven-bound in this scenario.

So, as she finds comfort in this belief (and of the other spectres she’s seen, heard, and felt, I just nod and smile and say ‘that’s nice’). I try my best not to sprain anything as I roll my eyes on the inside.

At least Descartes admitted that his senses might be deceived. No such thing here. One of the issues I have with so-called religious tolerance is that it is not politically correct to call BS on nonsense like this. Of course, I am not about to jeopardise my relationship with my girlfriend by mocking her mother.

My girlfriend is a different story still. she was raised in a Catholic household but was not subjected to the church or parochial school like her mother, but she was still fed a diet of religious nonsense growing up. To her, hell is real. The fear of a hell actually influences some moral decisions. To the righteous, this is a fine consequentialist approach, the ends (of normalised behaviour) justify the means (of believing a lie).

To me, the lie is immoral, but to some, they actually believe it (or believe it enough) that they don’t see it as a fabrication. I suppose it’s easier for people like me who consider morality to be fabricated from whole cloth.

True Believer

I’m an unabashed atheist, a position I’ve defended since 5th grade when I refused to pledge allegiance* in class—primarily on account of the God clause, but I’ve never been a fan of fealty. It was difficult as at the time I was being raised a WASP in a town comprised of 70-odd per cent of Roman Catholics.

I’d wrestled with the concept for years, even taking a middle-ground agnostic position until I decided to get off the fence and pick a side. Dawkin’s God Delusion made it easier when he published his 7-point spectrum, stretching between an absolute believer to an absolute atheist. Here I was able to remain agnostic but defend the atheist notion as, say, a 6 of 7 on the scale—or 6.9999 as the case might be.

The spectrum of theistic probability is published on Wikipedia:

  1. Strong theist. 100% probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: “I do not believe, I know.”
  2. De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100%. “I don’t know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.”
  3. Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50% but not very high. “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.”
  4. Completely impartial. Exactly 50%. “God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.”
  5. Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50% but not very low. “I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be sceptical.”
  6. De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. “I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”
  7. Strong atheist. “I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one.”

I leave open there could be such a higher ‘energy’ or some such, but I feel the probability is pretty remote—something less than homoeopathic.

Unicorns are the new black

Allow me to sidestep the distinction between an atheist meaning not believing and an agnostic meaning not knowing. For the average person, this distinction is lost—sort of like the use of who versus whom or of fewer versus less at grocery checkout stations.

So why does an atheist care about religion enough to write about it? He doesn’t write about unicorns—except when discussing religion. Why can’t he just agree to individual religious freedom and leave it at that? And why does he refer to himself in third-person?

Religion…is the opiate of the masses

Karl Marx

Marx infamously wrote that religion is the opiate of the masses. He was correct, but religious belief is a cancer. It is not benign. Various people have exclaimed that ‘your right to swing your arm ends at my nose.’ Religion violates this sensibility and smacks you in the face.

Although moral sentiment a precedent to religion, religion is a crucible that codifies it. And like cancer, it spreads into the public sphere as law. I’ve written about the moral outrage of prostitution, and it seeps into legislation around abortion, adoption, and restroom usage. It’s not that one could not have developed these positions independently, but in the US these positions are highly correlated to religious beliefs.

It doesn’t much matter to me the causal direction of this relationship; the correlation is enough for me. I don’t want to say that all religious activity is harmful, but the basis of it is delusional. We consider psychiatric treatment for those with different delusions.

God is dead

Friedrich Nietzsche

And so my interest in religion is that I would prefer to pull it out by the roots. As Nietzsche notes, if God is dead, we don’t really have a suitable concept to keep society focused. The masses will go into withdrawal. Enlightenment Age Humanists tried to replace it with Natural Law and then some abstract notions that serve as philosophical mental masturbation, but society will not congeal around it, and so politicians prey on the delusional masses.

*The history of the US Pledge of Allegiance is fairly insidious.

Homo Hubris

I’ve been engaging in a bit of friendly dialogue countering a claim citing the demise of atheism with a mate (Neal Mack) at a blog named The scientific case against evolution, but I’ve decided to pose some points here so I can leverage some of my expended energy on my own content.

Although I don’t believe in the supernatural or metaphysical, I’ve got no dog in the race as to how others believe. Where I draw the line, though, is where religious doctrine seeps into the realm of political philosophy, jurisprudence, and governance because then it’s not about a ‘personal relationship’ with God. It’s about imposing that God upon me.

Parent scolding child

As the sayings go, if you feel abortion is wrong, then don’t have one; if you don’t approve of gay marriage, then don’t marry a same-sex partner; if you don’t believe that two (or more) adults should be able to engage in safe, sane, and consentual sexual acts, then don’t participate; if you don’t believe that a woman should be able to earn money from sex, then don’t pay her any; and on and on and on and on…


if you don’t approve of gay marriage, then don’t marry a same-sex partner

But don’t impose your sense of morality on me. Keep it to yourself. If it were up to me, I would prefer that there be no religion and no superstition outside of the domain of fiction. But a key reason that these things even work in fiction is the sense that they could be or might be true. It fits into the evolutionary psychology the got humans to where we are instead of withering and dying on the evolutionary vine. But give us time. Homo sapiens sapiens is a relatively young species, and they appear on course to extinguish themselves relatively soon anyway, making all of this moot. Perhaps a more fitting name would have been Homo hubris.

I’ll keep this post short, as I’ve got nothing new to add, and it’s getting late. If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know that I am a non-cognitivist, and I don’t believe in any objective truth. I also understand—and as Nietzsche pointed out—the difficulty in forming a cohesive society without this orientation and supporting meta-narrative. Yet, this is not my problem.