Showing posts with label Utilitarianism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Utilitarianism. Show all posts

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Threat from Corporate Greed


My blog is almost entirely devoted towards my atheism and dissent of religion, but it recently occurred to me that although threats from religious zealots do pose a real problem for a free, open and democratic society, perhaps the larger threat is the one posed by the seemingly unstoppable greed of corporations. It is my contention, that corporations for decades have had far too much power and influence in governments, and that they've used this influence to better themselves too often at the expense of people, animals and the environment. It is from corporate greed that we get millions in the third world exploited daily for their cheap labor. It is from corporate greed that we get various toxic elements polluting our environment. It is from corporate greed that we do not have labels on our food indicating their country of origin in the U.S. Corporations will always care more about their bottom line than they will anything else, and this lack of the most basic ethical considerations leads to so much unnecessary harm.

In other words, from an ethical standpoint, corporate entities put profit over people, profit over the environment, profit over everything. Many modern day corporations will stop at absolutely nothing to increase their bottom line, regardless of the long term impacts that they may be causing. It seems to me that the greed driven, no holds-barred approach to capitalism, is like a mild form of insanity. Are we really willing as a society to let our future become jeopardized from the unquenchable greed of the corporatists? Are we willing to let corporate interests dictate government policy from the inside? Are we willing to let energy corporations continue to pollute our Earth so that the polar ice caps melt from global warming? Are we willing to let wage and labor standards diminish in the face of the downward pressure imposed by corporate greed? Are we willing to really sit back and let this happen while a small group of people gets rich off of it? I wonder, how we can call our great nation a democracy anymore when corporations have most if not all of our politicians in their back pocket.

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"From an ethical standpoint, corporate entities put profit over people, profit over the environment, profit over everything."
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From the point of view of ethics, it seems to me that a small group of very rich people who run corporations, who care only for their own selfish interests, and who continually want more and more and are never satisfied, are deplorable in character. This brings up the whole collectivism versus individualism debate I wrote about. The corporatist is certainly not a utilitarian, nor is he a deontologist. He instead is subscribing to Ayn Rand's objectivism of rational self interest. It is individualism gone crazy. The irony here with my objections to corporate greed, is that many religious leaders in the Catholic church and within Islam, are on the same page as I am. Although my blog is a non-stop rant against religion, that doesn't mean that I disagree entirely with what all religions say. I agree with Islam's prohibition on usury, and Catholic doctrines against excessive self interest, from which greed is a result. I would certainly be willing to work with religious leaders to help put an end to the corporate domination of our entire world.

The current existence of the world's economy is completely unsustainable. We are using up the Earth's finite resources at an alarming rate and producing as a result, ever increasing levels of waste. The sanctity of humanity and the environment is literally at stake here and billions of people either don't care or don't know of the severity of this situation. This is primarily because most people are either working too hard in order to survive, so they can extend their wretched existence a little longer, or they are wrapped up in their own bubbles of pop culture and mindless self indulgence to be bothered. To know and care about this 800 pound gorilla in the room, requires one to think. I can imagine a world in the not too distant future, where giant corporations run the world through shadow governments whom they use to create wars on behalf of their corporate self interests, where they send brainwashed masses to die, who control the media to influence public opinion through a scripted, pseudo reality, and where every stream, drop of water, glaciated tundra and deciduous forest, cannot escape the suffocating ugly hands of a corporation, looking to own and privatize it. Oh wait, that's today.

We need nothing less than a revolution in how we live. If public opinion can sway in my favor, if enough consumers were educated we could bring about the type of change we need to get back on a sustainable future. It will be going up against man's natural tendency for short term happiness and greed, and this is no easy task. I don't have kids, so after I die, I have no personal vested interests in the fate of humanity centuries from now. But many of the corporatists in charge of the rape and pillage of the Earth's finite resources and the abuse of the labor used to turn them into products do have kids, and I wonder where or what they think they will do when the shit hits the fan and we deplete what the Earth can provide us because we hesitated making realistic steps towards renewable resources. Will they use their wealth to build lavish underground bunkers or floating cities while the rest of us turn to savagery on what little habitable land is left? Who knows.

Our entire monetary system is a gigantic ponzi scheme, perhaps the largest ever created. Our money is printed out of thin air by the private Federal Reserve and loaned to the U.S. Government, to be payed back with interest. Since the U.S. Government can't make its own money, this means that the only way the U.S. can pay down this debt is by borrowing more money from the Federal Reserve. And so our entire economy is built upon and endless cycle of debt that is completely unsustainable. The abolishment of the Federal Reserve is paramount to the first step towards a sustainable economy.

Campaign finance reform, though much talked about, is the only way to get most of the money from corporate special interests out of Washington. We also need real ethics in practice in the business world. There was a time when many more corporations were known for treating and paying their workers fairly with decent livable salaries and benefits. This grew and nurtured our middle class. Over the decades this has gone by the wayside as greed lead many corporations to reduce or freeze worker's wages and benefits, or move jobs overseas to cheap labor markets. There was a time when CEOs cared about their workers because they knew they were all part of an extended family. This kept many communities alive for generations. We must put an end to the exploitation of cheap labor because it is abusive and unethical.

The only thing that can truly be done is if enough leaders in the corporate world come to their senses, realize the detriment their enterprises are having on the world, and care enough about it to sacrifice some of their increasing wealth to turn the tide back. CEOs must turn profit for the corporations they run or else they will be removed by the board of directors. This means that the whole system must be changed. Society at large must have a mindset free of the extremes of greed through the a deeper moral understanding of its consequences and its motives. Critical thinking and ethics should be taught in every public school, as well as a solid financial education. But greedy corporations running Washington will never allow it. This influence must be broken.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Is Atheism a Religion?

Atheists are often accused by theists that we are just as religious in our disbelief in the supernatural as theists are to their belief in the supernatural. I've always countered that atheism is precisely not a religion; it is just the negation of the supernatural. Atheism's relationship to evolution and science is by no means dogmatic. We do not worship any one philosophical or political creed. The job of science is to discover objective facts, and once it has, atheists along with many theists will believe it as such. But belief in the truth of an objective, empirical fact, is not a dogma. Therefore an atheist's reverence for Darwin, or Einstein, or strict belief in evolution is not our replacement for the religions we reject.

The problem is that religious people have such a hard time imagining a world view free from dogma that they assume that anyone who is without religion in their life, must dogmatically follow whatever beliefs that fills the void made by the rejection of religion. So the theist thinks that the atheist's religion is Darwinism and that Charles Darwin is seen as a god to the atheist, secretly worshiped at dark and dingy makeshift shrines. But au contraire, I don't know of any atheist ever, who has worshiped any historical figure as a god or any philosophy or political view as a religion. The "atheists" in North Korea for example, who are worshiping their Dear Leader as a god are brainwashed by a state religion, and you can say that North Korea is the most religious country in the world. It is true however, that some people that have left traditional religions have worshiped rocks, or trees, or fallen into some type of "spiritual" nonsense, but in a sense they are religious.

Religion is defined as "The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods." So however dogmatic an atheist follows Communism or Darwinism or String Theory, there is no supernatural figurehead(s) to be worshiped. But the definition of religion is actually not that clear cut. What about a group of people who believe in reincarnation with out any god or gods overseeing the process? Would it be a religion? I'd say yes, if you can stretch religion's definition to include any belief in an intervening supernatural process. In this case, the deist would not be religious because their god never intervenes or needs worship.

If one strictly adheres to a philosophical creed, such as utilitarianism, you could say that he or she is behaving religiously, if you use the term very loosely. An extreme sports fanatic might be said to religiously follow and worship their favorite team. All uses of the words religion or religious here are not being used in their definitive sense, but are instead stretched to mean what they do not define. So when theists accuse atheists of being religious in some sense, they are not using the term correctly, and therefore atheism is not a religion.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On Evolving Phlilosophy and Ideas


Looking back at my earlier posts is sometimes revealing in how I thought at that time. I have certainly changed my opinion on quite a few things. My blog has become an insightful reflection on my philosophical evolution. For example, I had previously written that when it comes to ethical epistemology, I'm a consequentialist. While I haven't exactly did an about-face, I now lean more towards utilitarianism but I acknowledge the virtue of deontology. Utilitarianism largely considers the consequences for determining what is moral and immoral. Utilitarianism can be summed up in its most basic teaching, that what is moral is "the greatest amount of good, for the greatest amount of people".

Though this is not a huge moral transition, I do accept the criticisms of utilitarianism that have been pointed out over the years, largely by deontologists. I understand that no one philosophy covers ethical dilemmas perfectly as they all have their flaws. Consider the following thought experiment: 10 people were kidnapped and are being held for ransom at some undisclosed location and you have just captured their kidnapper. He knows he is already going to jail and refuses to identify where he is hiding the people for fear that in doing so he will lose all hope of escaping criminal prosecution. The10 people will die of thirst in a few days if they are not found. Would it be ethical to torture the kidnapper so that he gives up the location of the 10 people? The utilitarian says yes: one suffers, and 10 lives are saved, we have successfully maximize the greater good.

Now imagine that the kidnapper under the threat of torture isn't at all phased and doesn't give up the information, but, you discover a bargaining chip. He has a young child of his own and you threaten to torture her. This makes the kidnapper unnerved, and realizing the kidnapper's susceptibility to his daughter's livelihood, you must ask yourself if it would be ethical to torture an innocent child to save the lives of 10 people? Based on utilitarian principle alone, the answer is yes. One gets tortured to save the lives of 10. In mathematical terms, the lives of the 10 kidnapped people, are of greater value that the single child's. But this is where utilitarianism opens up some scary possibilities. When thinking about this moral dilemma, I try and imagine how differently I would consider the situation if I were the child. Why should my well being be used as a means to someone else's end, especially when I had nothing to do with the events? Is it ever ethical to use human beings as a means to an end, or are all human beings ends in and of themselves? Deontological ethics of the Kant variety would say the latter, and that it would never be right to torture the child no matter how many lives could potentially be saved. The utilitarian takes the former, in that the moral thing to do would be whatever it takes to save the larger number of lives, even if it means torturing a child.

These two classically opposed ethical schools of thought, have no easy reconciliation. I say I lean more towards utilitarianism in most situations but by no means is it a dogmatic practice. The toolbox approach is best when tacking every kind of ethical problem. I think that in this situation I have described above, I would lean more towards the deontologist rather than side with the utilitarian. There is something about the sanctity of life that I  feel is inviolable. I am torn across the belief that we should never think it is OK to kill a human being, to save the many, at the very least, in theory. I know that would violate the very heart of utilitarianism's ethics, and I am kind of stuck in the middle between this most classic of ethical arguments between deontology and utilitarianism.

Rule utilitarianism attempts to strike a compromise between the two and does a decent job. Rule utilitarianism finds the best actions to particular situations based on whether it conforms to the utilitarian principle, but turns them into rules that should always be followed. So lying to save a life is accepted since it results in the greatest good, and this ultimately becomes a rule. But it is only a rule when it results in the greatest good, and so lying never becomes part of any absolute categorical imperative as it does in deontology. Rule utilitarianism ultimately fails at resolving the debate between deontology and utilitarianism because once a rule is in place, it must be followed as a categorical imperative.

So I am left to think about these conundrums and read and learn more about philosophy more, and debate, and evolve. This is unavoidable. This is what it means to be a rational, thinking human being. I hope I can at the very least inspire others, and feed off of them, and bond, and stir the pot of ideas and philosophy.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Short Disgression on Moral Epistemology

I have written a lot on many past blogs about the topic of morality. I have affirmed that morality certainly does not come from god, and that I consider divine command theories concerning ethics to be morality repulsive. My favorite argument against this is the Euthyphro Dilemma, and I rest my moral semantics of the second horn of the Euthyphro, that there is an external set of moral standards objective to all of us, including god, if he exists. But I want to explain further, where I get my moral epistemology, or how I acquire my moral understanding. Here I am concerned with ethics and how I decide what is moral and what is not.

There are 3 major branches of ethical philosophy: consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics. Consequentialism evaluates morality based on its consequences. Deontology emphasizes the act itself regardless of the consequences, based on duties, rules and obligations. Emmanuel Kant is considered one of the most widely known deontologists. Virtue ethics on the other hand, puts emphasis on one's inner character on having desirable characteristics. Their actions would therefore not be moral or immoral based on their consequences or intentions. Aristotle was one of the more famous virtue ethicists. Finally, there is a forth branch, utilitarianism, which borrows somewhat from consequentialism. Utilitarianism determines what is moral by whether it produces the greatest possible good for the greatest possible number.

A divine command theorist would probably lay in the school of deontology because it says that there are moral absolutes and duties that one must adhere to regardless of the outcome. So if god says lying is wrong, then it is always wrong even it it will save human lives. After schooling myself in ethical philosophy, not to the level or professionality, but to a level of post-novice understanding, I have arrived closer at my ethical philosophy. Considering how all these branches of ethics contradict each other, no one school of thought is perfect. One must in some way, pick and choose from more than one in order to have a well rounded ethical philosophy. And so it is here that I have arrived closer to where I take my moral epistemology.

I am largely a consequentialist when it comes to ethics. Now I am well aware of the criticisms of consequentialism and I agreed that it has its flaws, but that is the great thing about philosophy-it's not dogma. One is free to pick and choose bits and pieces from each branch as long as they do not heavily contradict each other. With my philosophy I combine a little consequentialism with a little deontology and a little ethical egoism, and perhaps some utilitarianism. Virtue ethics I am not too concerned with, because one's desirable characteristics, in certain societies, can have negative consequences for those in it.

I believe we all consider the consequences of our actions when determining what is ethical to a degree. Torturing and killing people for fun for example, is considered wrong on a near-universal spectrum because of the needless human suffering involved. In other words, it is wrong because it has negative consequences to sentient beings. Kindness and compassion are good actions because they help others in need, and we are all in need of help at times in our lives. Consequentialism's main flaw is that is does not consider the intentions behind the action. One can intend to do good and have negative outcome, or intend to do harm and it could result in positive consequences. A careful balance between the intentions behind and consequences of one's actions, is needed in my view, for a sound moral framework.

But back to consequentialist ethics, we cannot always know the consequences of our actions immediately, and somethings that have negative consequences at first have good consequences in the long run. And somethings that have negative consequences for some, have good consequences for others. The questions then arises: consequences for who? This is where consequentialists must tread carefully. When faced with an innumerable palate of ethical dilemmas, we must often make difficult decisions. One must sometimes be faced with choosing the lesser of two evils. When we do know the true outcome of the consequences of our actions we must make it based on the best possible knowledge one has at the time. They may be wrong, but at least an informed decision should be made. When it comes to long term versus short term gain, the balance must be considered by how harmful the short term suffering would be for the long term gain. So, if we are faced with the prospects of bliss for a majority of us 5 years from now, but the price will be that until then a minority of us must suffer dire consequences, and even give their lives we must use logic and reason to deduce whether it is worth it. A well rounded ethical position should always image one as the sufferer, the one "sacrificed" for the greater good of humanity. Utilitarianism comes to play in such a dilemma. For the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people should weigh in if one must choose between several bad prospects.

This brings up the famous trolley experiment: You are at a rail crossing and you see a trolley speeding out of control. On one track there are 5 people, on the other track there is only one. The trolley is speeding on the track with 5 people on it. You stand near a rail switch that can divert the out-of-control trolley to the track with only one person, killing him, but sparing the other 5. Do you pull the switch? Utilitarians and consequentialists say yes, because 5 being killed is worse than 1 being killed. I've thought about this experiment and I am not sure what I would really do in that situation, but I think I would not pull the switch, despite being a consequentialist. I'd probably feel a lot better with myself if my hands were not responsible for anyone's death. This might be from my slight deontological streak. I also would consider the people on the tracks if possible. What if the 5 were escaped convicted murderers from prison, and the one was Barack Obama? Wouldn't then we consider the life of one more important than the many? What if the one on the track was someone you love deeply, wouldn't their life be worth more than the other 5 or 10 people on the track or however that many? An infinite number of monkey wrenches can be thrown into ethical dilemmas to challenge our perceived ethical notions. In the trolley scenario however, you know nothing of the people's lives and characteristics and have mere seconds to decide whether to pull the switch or not. Given such an opaque perspective, I stand by my decision to no pull the lever.

So with moral growth and understanding I feel I have a very good head on my shoulders on the virtue and semantics of ethics. I love probably more than anything else, to debate morality with people because it is such a fascinating and personal topic, as we are all affected by it. It makes for one heck of a good intellectual conversation. "An intellectual conversation, is the only conversation worth having", as I like to joke around. And, as the great Greek Philosopher extraordinaire Socrates said "the unconsidered life, is not worth living". Continue the conversation when I'm long gone.

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