Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Manhattan Mini Blues.....A Poem

The lights turn on. Cockroaches scatter towards unlit sanctuaries. Down on the street the rain has stopped. Neon lights reflect in the cold puddles of rain and then suddenly disappear when the Earth shakes. The girls in unison make high pitches noises on their way towards loud venues. The cars and trucks intermittently silence the otherwise peaceful calm. Tonight will be remarkable you think to yourself. But it hasn't even begun. You decide music will be better and put on a favorite tune, and light up a cigg. This'll put you in the mood. Outside various alphabets spell out meaningless nonsense. You make eye contact with various women whose faces you'll never know. You turn left, then right, then across the avenue narrowly avoided death. You take another puff of that cigarette that's almost done. Then you flick it away like so many lost aspirations down into an endless sewer. Tonight you are going to make a scene at the bar, but your friends aren't there yet. "Are there any willing participants?" you think to yourself. Who can blame a few more gazes of hope. The music is loud but the people are louder. You fight through the crowds for a drink like so many animals to a watering hole. It is there that you notice her. Are those reading glasses or is she just trying to look smart? Her lips are full and designed to do more that just recite feminist poetry. "What is she doing in a mad house like this?" you wonder. She looks awfully out of place amid the scores of brutes. But then one embraces her side and you realize she is coupled. Her attention gazes toward him as yours gazes away. Your phone goes off and its your best friend, late as usual. This gives you enough time to one up him on a drink before he arrives. Together you inhale more booze than you should have, you philosophize with strangers on personal topics, make a few witty remarks here and there, single your eyes on a girl that appears not taken, and then realize that you are home, in bed, alone, with a horrible hangover. "What happened tonight?" you ask. Maybe it was just a typical night after all.

Monday, April 2, 2012

On Intellectuals

Unlike most guys my age, whose heroes are over compensated sports figures, my heroes are public intellectuals and scientists. I love the public intellectual. Being a typical left leaning mid-Atlantic resident, I love and respect the stereo typical northeastern liberal intellectual. But don't think for a moment that it is only those on the left that I admire. Some of my current favorite intellectuals are those on the right, and even those who believed in god. What I respect more than anything, is not necessarily the positions of the intellectual, but rather their charisma and style.

Two deceased intellectuals I like are William F. Buckley and Malcolm X. They couldn't have been more different. William F. Buckley was a right-leaning, American conservative, though not of the neo-con stripe that we are more familiar with today. With his proper Mid-Atlantic accent, he was wildly articulate, arrogant, snobby, and in a way came to epitomize the old-school, upper class, North Eastern intellectual. He leaned toward the right politically on issues, he was a believing Catholic, and he often debated on this behalf. Malcolm X on the other hand, found Islam in prison, where he also educated himself, and became the loudest and most militant voice of black dissent towards the unjust racism that permeated through nearly all of American culture in the mid-twentieth century. I have sadly yet to read his auto biography, although that is on the agenda. What originally impressed me about him, was his articulateness and style in debates I saw of him on YouTube, even though he sometimes argued in favor of his faith. Just because I am a left leaning atheist, it certainly does not mean that I cannot recognize intellect when I see it, and these two gentlemen were prime examples.

Then of course there are the public intellectuals who are more in tune with my personal views. There's Christopher Hitchens, Noam Chomski, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer, Danielle Dennett, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Kraus, Chris Hedges, Bertrand Russell, Carl Sagan, A.C. Grayling, Albert Einstein, David Hume, Massimo Pigliucci, and so on. I love intellect and its high profile ambassadors.

One problem I think many Americans seem to have, is with public intellectuals, or intellectual-types, either running for public office, advising those who do, or being a bit to influential in public discourse. There is this perceived disdain by much of "middle America" for the scholarly, educated, ivy-league breed, intellectual types, presumably because they cannot relate to the regular "folks", who go out and earn a living not just be being smart. It also seems that educated intellectuals tend to gravitate to the left politically, and morally, and regard the uneducated in a condescending manner. They feel intellectuals focus on moral and ethical terms too much in theory, and not in practice. Sure to the scholarly intellectuals racial integration might sound good in paper, but its practical implications were another matter altogether.

One reason why I reject hip-hop culture, but not necessarily its music, is because of the glorification by so many in the culture of ignorance, and their rejection of knowledge. I can never be a part of a culture that celebrates and embraces ignorance as if it were a virtue. But that's just me. I consider myself a private intellectual. I have yet to enter the public stage and voice my intellect in favor of me. That can't come soon enough. Until then, I will rejoice in the intellectuals I find stimulating, and enjoy their better merits.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Does Islam Condone Unjustified Violence?

Over drinks a few weeks back, I had a great debate with a friend over the reasons why the West has such a big problem with the Islamic world. He maintained that our problems are all due to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and Western militaries being on Muslim lands committing injustices. While I whole heartedly agree that the Israelis have committed human rights violations in their treatment of the Palestinians, and that the U.S. military's blunders in the Middle East, (usually backed by the needs of U.S multinational corporations in their insatiable thirst for profit), have no doubt contributed to the hatred by some in the Islamic world toward the West. But what I do not agree on, is this notion that these are the sole reasons why we have terrible relations with so many in the Islamic world.

Rather, I argue that the primary reason the West has this "beef" with radicalized Islam, is due to our mutually incompatible cultures. Traditional Islam is so radically different in terms of values when compared to the moral progression and modernity of the West. It is, I argue, the forces of cultural modernity more than anything else, that are at the root of many of our problems with Islam. Even if the Israeli/Palestinian conflict did not exist, and even if the U.S. was not on any "Muslim lands", we would still have conflict, because our cultures are so different.

My friend steadfastly argued that it is all politics at the root of our problems and that religion is not at all a part of it, or at the very least it plays a minor role. He argued that he just cannot imagine, someone killing in the name of their religion. I tried to point out to him, with little success, that people throughout history, have killed in the name of their religion, and that killing in the name of religion is historically something quite common. But he could not believe that when a Muslim blows himself up, that it could be in the name of religion, but is always motivated by personal or political conflict.

I offered several examples that show Muslims can be more than willing to kill in the name of their religion. First, Muslims kill each other all the time. Sunnis and Shites have been killing each other off and on for 1,400 years. These killings have nothing to do with Israel or Westerners being on Muslim soil. Second, Muslims have been on the offensive conquering lands in the name of spreading Islam. They took the whole of the Iberian peninsula beginning in the year 711, and the Ottomans marched their way up to siege upon the city Vienna in Central Europe in 1529 and in 1683 (the latter of which was retaliated on September the 11th). This wasn't over Israel or Westerners on Muslim land, indeed this was before the Western imperial powers had colonized the Middle East and North Africa. But my friend argued that the Muslims were motivated by power, not by religion. Well it is certainly true that empires have economic aspirations for expanding and conquering. The funny thing is, Islam even has a chapter detailing the spoils of war in the Qur'an (Sura Al-Anfal) for those victorious Muslims who fight for its cause. Since Muslims put so much emphasis on the Hereafter, Earthly rewards will always pale in comparison to those awarded by god. And no action is deemed more respectable in honor than dying in the name of Islam. For it is this sacrifice, that the pious Muslim can expect his 72 virgins. Since dying in the name of Islam is its highest honor, we can infer that Muslim sieges onto what was previously non Muslim lands, were very likely motivated primarily by a spread of the faith. But I am not denying that there could have been other reasons too.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Refuting William Lane Craig: The Moral Argument

Dr. William Lane Craig has made quite a name for himself as a Christian apologist. He is considered by many to be one of the best and most talented polemicists, perhaps in the world. He is a prominent Christian theist, with a strong YouTube presence and has debated many atheist public intellectuals, including Daniel Dennett, A. C. Grayling, Lawrence Krauss, and Christopher Hitchens. Upon hearing him debate, he becomes instantly recognizable as one of the more clever arguers for theism. However, to the clever listener, his arguments simply do not hold up under scrutiny. He does have the uncanny ability to package his arguments in such a pretty neat little package, and with such emotion, which masks the underlying bullshit so well, that it can make the neutral spectators adherents. If there is one person, who enthusiastically argues in defense of god, and for theism, that I would like to see utterly defeated in a debate, it is William Lane Craig.

In almost every debate Dr. William Lane Craig makes the same basic arguments in favor for the existence of the Christian god. First, he makes the cosmological argument, then the fine tuning argument, the ontological argument and usually last but not least, the moral argument. I want to address many of what I think are Dr. Craig’s main argumentative shortcomings, starting with his moral arguments for the existence of god, because it is here where many of the weakest of all his selling points can be found.

Dr. Craig’s moral argument for god, goes a little something like this:

1. If god does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist
3. Therefore, god exists

Dr. Craig is very fond of deductive reasoning and uses it with all of his main arguments. Deductive reasoning has a way of over simplifying the rationalization of end results and relies heavily on its asserted premises being accepted as fact. So for example, if one is convinced that objective moral values and duties do not exist (premise 2), then logically they will not agree with premise 3 (that god exists). The moral relativist is not persuaded by Dr. Craig’s moral argument for the existence of god. Now while it is true that many atheists are moral relativists, I differ from them in that I believe a basis for objective morals does indeed exist naturally, and furthermore that there are also basic moral objectives, maybe not moral absolutes, that are endemic to our species and are the result of our socio-biological evolution.

The Euthyphro Dilemma for the Theist

The first challenge to Dr. Craig’s moral universe is the 2,400 year old Euthyphro Dilemma, from Plato. In it, Socrates asks a pious man to consider the origin of moral values with the following question:

Is something moral because god commanded it, or does god command it because it is moral?

Dr. Craig’s stated response is that the Euthyphro Dilemma asks the wrong question, because there is a third option. That is, that god’s very nature is moral goodness and perfection, and that whatever he does and commands is good because it is a reflection of god’s inherent moral character. In Dr. Craig’s debate with Louise Antony, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts titled “Is God Necessary for Morality”, he responds to the Euthyphro Dilemma by stating that god’s nature determines what is good, and that the atheist who uses the Euthyphro against the theist is confusing moral ontology with moral semantics. He explains that moral semantics studies the meaning of moral terms and sentences, moral epistemology is how we come to an understanding of moral truths, and moral ontology studies the metaphysics of morals, and their foundation in reality. Craig states that when we say that good comes from god, it is an ontological claim of their foundation in reality. It is not a semantical claim about the meaning of the word good. And furthermore, he states that theists typically maintain that god is the ontological foundation of moral values and without him objective moral values would not exist. Theists do not maintain the implausible semantical thesis that the word “good” means anything that is commanded by god. He concludes that the Euthyphro argument is thus a false dilemma and therefore, logically invalid. It does nothing to show that moral values cannot be grounded in god. God’s own nature determines what is good, and his commandments then constitute our moral duties. And finally he challenges the atheist that he must show this alternative to be impossible.

So here Dr. Craig is avoiding the Euthyphro Dilemma entirely and proposing the third option, that the existence of morals are ontologically grounded in god’s existence. This forces me to address, in part, the ontological argument for god’s existence. If moral goodness is an essential property of god’s existence or nature, than that property can apply to other things. It’s just like how being hot is an essential property to the existence of fire, in that we cannot have cold fire, but being hot can apply to many things completely absent of fire. One big problem I have with ontological arguments for god is that theists simply define existence as a property of god, and that therefore god must exist. This is nothing more than clever philosophical word play. With regard to morality, theists like Craig are simply defining the existence of goodness as being metaphysically tantamount to the existence of god, while ignoring the reasons why goodness is good. The ontological claim that goodness is grounded metaphysically in the existence in god, is quite a wild assertion, and it shows.

Let’s take a look here at Dr. Craig’s claim that atheists are confusing moral ontology with moral semantics. He is saying here essentially that the way we define or come to know moral terms is different from what the moral terms are ultimately grounded in. I guess an appropriate analogy here would be how we use our logic and reason to understand gravity, but gravity’s existence is ultimately grounded in the laws of physics. So in a sense Dr. Craig is saying we may use logic and reason to define and understand moral terms such as goodness (semantics), but ultimately the existence of good will be in god (ontology). In other words, god is goodness and goodness is god; the two are one in the same. But this ontological concept does not explain how god’s permittance of human slavery and commands for genocide are compatible with being essentially loving, kind, impartial, fair, and just as Dr. Craig describes god’s attributes. And furthermore, why wouldn’t attributes such as being loving, kind, impartial, fair, and just, be any less good if god didn’t exist? There must be something inherently good about these attributes for a reason. If one were to ask Dr. Craig to justify why kindness and fairness are good, he has prevented himself from saying that it is because god wills them to be so since he doesn’t believe goodness can be defined as merely that which is commanded by god. He must therefore give reasons why kindness and fairness are morally good, and presumably they would be good because of the positive benefits to the beings they affect. If this is so, why can’t we appeal to the effects or consequences of kindness and fairness as the reason and foundation of why they are morally good, instead of postulating god in determining them to be morally good? Why is god therefore needed at all?

Surely traditional Christian thinking, and certainly all of Islamic thinking on morality, must stem from divine command theory and the presupposition of human free will. The divine command theorist agrees with the first horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma, that morality comes directly from god. There is really no way out of taking a side on the Euthyphro Dilemma and as much as one likes to try to wiggle out of it, as I will demonstrate to you below. Dr. Craig’s version of divine command theory beliefs runs him into some trouble, that ultimately reveals that he really believes that morality comes from god's commandments and no other source, but is afraid to admit it.

  1. If god’s intrinsic nature is that of perfect moral goodness, as Dr. Craig maintains, and his commandments are a reflection of his character, then his commandments must also be perfectly good. If one could somehow follow all of god’s commandments, they would be perfectly good as well. If one ever broke even one of god’s commandments, one would cease to be perfectly good. Therefore, if god himself ever broke just one of his own commandments, god would also cease to be perfect moral goodness. If you are then going to argue that god is the lawmaker and not bound to his own commandments, you must concede that god is not perfectly good and moral. In order to be morally perfect, god too would have to set the example and abide by his own moral commandments, just as we expect our politicians and the police to. 
  2. If you still disagree with my first argument, you will have to subscribe to divine command theory, and agree with the first horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma. The second horn of the dilemma, implies a set of morals that are objective even to god, and that means nothing could be morally right or wrong, solely on the basis of god commanding it. 
  3. In Dr. Craig’s view, god’s intrinsic nature is tantamount to perfect objective morals. But even if I were to grant this premise, would those same morals be any less true, absent of god? For example, would kindness and generosity be any less kind or generous, absent of god? Would murder and apathy be any less murderous and apathetic, absent of god? No. They would be exactly the same and have the same exact consequences on living beings given no god. God is therefore an unnecessary middleman, to be rendered irrelevant, as is in so much of business. To refute this, Dr. Craig would have to argue that kindness and murder operate under totally different pretenses, with totally different affects if god didn’t exist. He likes to argue that absent of god, all morality is just the spin-off of socio-biological evolution, and that moral behavior is merely just socially advantageous. Craig doesn’t like this idea, and tries to use his emotional bias as a key ingredient in his argument. 
  4. Dr. Craig’s acrobatic justification for the so-called atrocities perpetrated by the Jews who were commanded by god to exterminate the Canaanite tribes (except for the unmarried girls), so that the Jews could return to the promised land that god had given them, would have been immoral had it not been for god to command such an objective. Likewise, Abraham sacrificing his son would have been morally wrong, had god not commanded it. If something objectively moral wrong, such as human sacrifice, or morally abominable such as genocide, only becomes morally good when god commands it, then you cannot plausibly retain the notion that god is intrinsically good. You will also have clearly stated your affiliation with divine command theory, or the first horn of the Euthyphro Dilemma, since what is is moral or immoral depends solely on divine commandment. 

As I said, I have never heard an argument made that successfully detoured the two horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma. It is one of the great philosophical gifts the wisdom of the ancient Greeks bestowed upon us. Dr. Craig is a divine command theorist who believes that what is moral is so because god commands it. He cannot try to pretend otherwise. The moral argument against divine command theory is not an attempt to disprove god’s existence, but rather to prove that god is not needed for a morality, at all.

We clearly do not get morality from the god of the bible as Jews and Christians so proudly proclaim. I really cannot wrap my head around the mind of someone who thinks so. I suppose they are either delusional or extremely misinformed. The god of the bible permits slavery; the forced marriage of underage girls; and the killing non-virginal brides, witches, homosexuals and adulterers. Dr. Craig’s only defense of slavery is to say that it was different in the ancient world than it was in the American South. Sure, slavery in the ancient world wasn’t necessarily based on race or ethnicity, and it wasn’t always a life sentence in that one could become free, though for many it was. He paints biblical slavery as nothing more than indentured servitude (as if this is perfectly moral). Sure indentured servitude existed in biblical times, but so did real life slavery. In the spoils of war, conquered peoples were forced into labor and servitude, sometimes for life, as were their children, and they were owned by their conquerors. So don’t tell me, “Dr”. Craig, that slavery in the ancient world was about as bad as having to paying off student loans is today. The mental gymnastics one has to go through to justify god’s “perfect” commandments is astonishing. Only religion could make an otherwise perfectly rational human being make such foolish reprisals.

Dr. Craig isn’t finished here on his moral perspective. On his site, reasonablefaith.org he states, “Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are” and that “God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgement upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel.” So Dr. Craig thinks highly of the idea that people can be used as instruments in the divine will and made to mass slaughter those deemed wicked by god, who is of course above the law. Rather than directly pass judgment on evil doers himself, as done in Sodom and Gomorrah, god tires of this and decides it is better to command others to do the dirty work for him. He knows of course that whatever he commands will instantly become moral, even if it contradicts his previous “perfect” commandments, eliminating any possible guilt. The theist who can enthusiastically proclaim that not a single moment of god’s life is anything other than absolute total moral perfection, is a testament to the moral bankruptcy that religion forces its adherents to be deeply in debt to. This is further evidenced by the fact that it is the Israelite soldiers, who massacre the terrified Canaanite women and children that Dr. Craig most sympathizes with. But then, who am I to judge “perfect” morality.

Under Dr. Craig’s divine command theory, morality is not really objective but rather subjective to the will of god. Consider that what can be commanded as being wrong, can subsequently be suspended and be commanded as being morally right; right and wrong therefore depend on whether god decides it is or it isn’t at that moment. But even Dr. Craig has expressed his disgust for the idea that morality can be so arbitrary. The theist like Dr. Craig and many like him, can never say what is so obviously true when one debates morality in the theistic concept: that the god of Abraham is clearly not a conduit from which all morality flows. He is most certainly a figment of the minds of a great many bronze and Iron Age tribal desert dwellers, and his wrathful and capricious nature is direct evidence of this. The theist will always have to justify whatever god supposedly did or commanded us to do, no matter how bizarre, and he will never be able to come to any other conclusion that god is perfect in every way.

Further reading on arguments against god:

The Kalam Cosmological Argument
The Fine Tuning Argument
Objective Morality Without God
Refuting William Lane Craig: "Is Good from God?" A Debate Review
The Logically Implausible God
The Logically Implausible God Part 2
God, Time & Creation: More Problems For William Lane Craig
The Ontological Argument: Putting the Absurd Where it Belongs

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Is Being an Atheist a Choice?

After many debates with people over the issue of whether sexuality is a choice, I recently wondered whether atheism is a choice in the same way. I believe that sexuality is innate in that we are born into our sexuality at a biological level. Gay people are born the way they are and can't help it, and straight people are as well. One cannot alter their sexuality just as one cannot alter their race. Is is because of the fact that people are born into their sexuality and gender that I support equal rights for the LGBT community.

This makes me think whether atheists are born that way too. Atheists have a certain skeptical personality type that appears to be innate. I for example, was always quick to hesitate the acceptance of extraordinary claims on faith, ever since I can remember. Like Hitchens, I am so made that I cannot believe. But was I born this way? Is Atheism a choice? Or, was I born with a skeptical personality, that is more inclined to being an atheist? If so, then it means that atheism for me was almost determined. Considering my secular upbringing, you might think that it was my environment that determined my atheism. But then there are numerous people who are inculcated into one religion or another, and who later follow their hearts, and their minds, to atheism or agnosticism because they cannot go on believing on faith. I think that I would have been one of those people had I been raise with religion.

I am inclined to believe that being an atheist is not really a choice, but a logical conclusion given a certain personality type. But if being an atheist or a theist is a condition of one's own innate personality, does this have any say on the truths of these mutually incompatible beliefs? Could theists just say that atheist are disbelievers because of their genetics, and further conclude that atheism loses its ground on that behalf? I say no, because there are certain personality types unable to grasp scientific claims, and their existence does not render evolution, or relativity false. One of us is correct, and one of our beliefs is true.

I do not think reality is dependent on your inborn personality type, because otherwise, science would be purely subjective and it is not. Rather I think, that most people are theists, because evolution it seems, has determined it to be beneficial. The believing brain makes sense when you consider that false positives are less harmful than false negatives. If our ancestors, living in small isolated tribes heard a rustle in the bushes, and imagined that it could be a saber-toothed tiger and took their guard, but later found out it was just a squirrel, they would live another day. But if they heard that rustle in the bushes, and did nothing and it was a man-eating saber-toothed tiger, then they were history. So it was beneficial for our ancestors to imagine and assume things weren't there. This is, in a nut-shell, how god concepts developed.

So if being an atheist isn't a choice, then I suppose that just like gay people we can have fabulous coming out parties, and must fight against discrimination oppressing our beliefs and lifestyles. If atheists like me cannot sincerely bring themselves to believe on faith, as theists do, then we should be treated as equals. I like to justify my support for equality towards gays and women because they didn't choose to be born that way. Why should someone's very nature, as long as it does not harm others, be grounds for discrimination?

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.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Halfway to decency

It seems that the two primary motivating emotions that guide me through life, are hate and fear. What can we say of a man driven by such forces? I am ashamed at the fact that I am not a particularly loving man. Love to me is a difficult emotion. It does not come very naturally or very easy for me. I am about to turn 30 not very long from now and I have yet to experience true romantic love. I feel that I know what it is like when I think real hard and try to imagine being in love, but I will never know for sure until it happens. I wonder if I am truly the type of man who can live his whole life free from love. Some of us are. And what scares me most is that I fear that I just might be that type of person.

It seems that my atheism is what defines me most as a characteristic. My profession means nothing more than a paycheck to me. I am not a dad to no one, so I cannot be defined or characterized as a father or fatherly. I am a son, and a brother, a cousin, and even an uncle, but these roles do not define me. They are mere labels describing my relationships to others. If I prefer to define myself as an atheist, than I should live every moment as one. It should be worn on my sleeve. My philosophy is almost entirely derived from the atheistic experience. Think doesn't mean that I am not open to the transcendent. One of my goals before I expire is to seriously try to have this experience.

Given all the things that one can achieve in one's life, I feel that I have so far achieved very little. Our tenure here on Earth is always too short. I truly fear that one day, when I am older, and perhaps ill, I will look back at all my years of able bodied youth, and deeply regret not committing myself more to what I am passionate about. I feel the clock is ticking and time is speeding up so fast. This is known to happen as one gets older. When I was a kid, summer seemed like forever. Now it comes and goes in the blink of an eye. I can't barely even remember last summer. I am having anxiety over my rapidly disappearing youth. I've had the frightening epiphany recently that I won't be young anymore, and I'll never get it back. Life is a one way street. But as such, we all come to this realization, and how we react to it is the key. I do not want to actually be younger. I hated being a teenager and would hate even more to be one now. I kind of wish time froze for all of us and we never aged anymore. Such an impossible reality could never be known with a working mind.

I have periods of intermittent hopefulness and I am in desperate need for it now. What secular form of hope does the atheist have absent of any spiritual guidance? Hope itself implies no religion, as it implies no god. It is the secular prayer. The problem with hope, and prayer, is that neither of them imply any action. When conditions are not favorable, isn't it best to do something about it instead of just hope that things get better? Things could get better on there own, but why wait for chance?

So here I spend a quiet evening at home alone, a bottle of wine and a pack of cigarettes by my side, reflecting on some of the day's thoughts. Perhaps one of my greatest burdens is that I over think too much. This is what I like to call, the thinker's dilemma. Why should I plague myself with such cognitive introspection when I can be blissfully ignorant? Well, for me at least, it isn't that I really have a choice-I was made this way. One of the most useful enterprises one can undertake is to learn how to capitalize his or her believed shortcomings and turn it into their greatest talents. This to me is where hope lies. I am halfway to decency but I'm not even there.


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