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Three Rants

Entry 1690, on 2014-12-10 at 22:59:47 (Rating 4, News)

I've been working on a few different programming projects recently so I haven't had as much time as I usually do to write blog entries (you might have noticed my decreased output). But there have been many interesting issues in the last few days and I feel I need to comment on them all, so here is a "random rants" entry where I will briefly comment (or perhaps rant) on a series of seemingly unrelated topics. So, let's get started....

Rant the first, subject: politics. The CIA torture report and the moral standards of the US power structure in general.

Well there's no surprises there really, is there? I mean, the report found that the CIA indulge in torture, abuse, and other illegal activities - including on many innocent people - and then lie about it and launch propaganda campaigns supporting their case.

Surely nobody would have been naive enough to think that the CIA, and the US power structure in general, didn't partake in activities which superficially seem to be just as bad as those of their opponents.

The only question really is whether, because the Americans are the "good guys", we should accept these activities as a necessary evil. Maybe sacrificing a few innocent victims is just a price we have to pay. Maybe we have to fight immoral violent terrorist activities with similarly violent reactions. Maybe the only unfortunate thing was that these activities have been uncovered.

I would say that this isn't acceptable because not only are these actions morally unacceptable but practically they don't work either: torture has been shown on many occasions to be a poor way to gain new information from suspects.

Rant the second, subject: religion. How religious belief can lead to extreme, hateful, and anti-social behaviour.

A New Zealand pastor sent an abusive email to a prominent gay author saying he prayed for the author's death: "I pray that you will commit suicide, you filthy fag." The pastor, from Westcity Bible Baptist Church (maybe he got the church's name mixed up with Westboro Baptist!), was replying to a message the author sent to Auckland churches about his new autobiography.

It's debatable to what extent the Bible encourages its followers to despise gays. There is no doubt it partly encourages this attitude because it's clearly there in scripture. Of course, many Christians ignore this by making excuses about why a particular verse has been superseded or has been misinterpreted, and that's good because people having blind belief in an old book is one of my biggest objections to religion.

Sure, there are non-Christians who also hate gays, and there are Christians who don't. But I don't accept the idea that you can't blame the religion for the bad attitude of some of its followers. Of course you can (partly) blame it because it is a major factor in the problem.

The final rant, subject: economics. New Zealand has done well (macro-economically speaking) in the last few years largely because of its success at exporting dairy products, but what will happen now?

There is a case which could be made to say that New Zealand has done better than many other countries since the global financial crisis. Of course the government likes to claim that it was their management which lead to this success, but how true is that claim?

I would say not true at all. A case could be made that a more moderate approach might have lead to even greater success and that global dairy prices - something completely beyond the government's control - have been what saved the country more than anything else.

While dairy prices were high many people were saying how great it was and what a great job New Zealand's dairy monopoly (or virtual monopoly) Fonterra was doing. But some were warning us that it wouldn't last and that greater diversification of the economy would be a wise move and that at a minimum greater value should be added by processing dairy instead of just trying to increase volumes.

Now dairy prices have plummeted and that advice is looking like it might have been pretty good, after all. Now who did that advice come from? That's right, the Greens, who the current government like to criticise as being economically illiterate.

I'm sure that as out economy begins to fail all the people who claimed they were in charge when things were going well will suddenly claim that they can't be held responsible for this failure. Yes, the government and Fonterra are entirely responsible for all the good stuff but can't be blamed for the bad. How convenient for them!

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Comment 14 (4239) by OJB on 2014-12-17 at 11:47:01: (view earlier comments)

Why should we uphold the majority opinion? Because that's the way our society has *evolved* to work. Democracy, despite its faults, is the best system of government we have discovered so far. I'm not saying the majority are always right, that is clearly untrue. What I am saying is that in a political or social context the majority opinion is usually worth following.

Yeah you seem to be debating a rather fine point there. You agree that religion discourages people from questioning the rules, right? That can be a problem - to be honest, I can't even remember the context of where that debate started now!

You seem to be begging the question here. What evidence do you have that there are objective moral values? I think I have challenged you on this before and I don't think your answer was very convincing! I can't think of anything that isn't better explained through a social evolutionary paradigm.

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Comment 15 (4240) by richard on 2014-12-18 at 08:51:54:

Hey, I agree that usually the majority opinion is the right one to follow. No problem. Also agree that this is getting a bit off topic and don't really want to labour it, but it is an important point that most people clearly find difficult to grasp, and it was relevant to claims you were making earlier.

Wrt Evidence for objective moral values, well earlier I suggested that people may try to deny it, but very quickly give away their belief in it. When you are guarding your topic here, you deny it, but can I ask you to explain further your previous comment (14).

1 - You deny objective morals exist. So morals then MUST be based on 'something else'. You suggest a social evolutionary paradigm and mention 'democracy' as a good guide. OK, I will grant you that just for the sake of discussion...
2 - But you also said, "I am not saying the majority are always right, that is clearly untrue".

Now I am confused? you say this is CLEARLY untrue? Not just perhaps untrue, but so obvious untrue, that it is self-evident. Of course I agree with that. But are you not admitting that it is in fact completely obvious to you that there is something OTHER THAN democracy and/or a social evolutionary program (which amount to the same thing), that determines true morality?

They also knew that in the Nazi war trials when (quite rightly) rejecting the claim that faithful soldiers following 'external orders', (the result of their social evolutionary environment) shouldn't be culpable for the 'objectively evil' atrocities they committed.

It is clear that only one example of an objective moral value is required to satisfy your requirement. So lets take a recent one. Under your 'paradigm' it is absolutely required that IF the recent killing of 132 innocent school children by Taliban terrorists, could ever be shown to somehow provide humanity with an 'evolutionary advantage', then it would actually be a 'moral' act. Actually this is actually a simple enough principle to consider - being basic survival of the 'fittest'. In the 'real world' though, no one suggests that this could ever be the case.

Obviously your response will be to state that 'clearly' it would NEVER be shown to produce an evolutionary advantage' but THAT is begging the question.

I example that is perhaps easier to follow (and yes I have used before) is rape. It is hard to deny a basic evolutionary goal like spreading your genes as far across the population as possible. Again, one only has to consider that it would seem to provide an evolutionary advantage for the genes involved to then be forced to 'change the rules' and admit rape would be moral under such circumstances.

The FACT that this is completely untenable to all (but psycopaths), is the clearest and undeniable evidence for objective moral values.

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Comment 16 (4241) by OJB on 2014-12-18 at 14:07:48:

So we agree that majority opinion is a good guide but is also often untrue. We should distinguish here between truth claims and moral claims however, because I believe moral claims are simply a matter of opinion. Let's remove the ambiguous words right and wrong. Things are inherently true or untrue, but they are not good or bad. That moral claim is just an opinion.

Couldn't quite follow the Nazi war crime thing and I won't invoke Godwin's Law.

I'm not saying that any ideas of good or bad arising from social evolutionary processes have any moral standing, just that we act as if they do. There is no objective morality, just opinions.

You think that rape is an example of a rule or law arising from objective morality? Really? Should I remind you that there are many social species where individuals sacrifice their lives and/or breeding opportunities for the benefit of the community. It's all in the maths.

Just as an aside, can I also suggest that your god seems pretty keen on encouraging rape when it suits him so you're getting even more inconsistent there, I think.

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Comment 17 (4242) by richard on 2014-12-19 at 11:10:50:

Yes - precisely. Thanks for your honesty that your belief is that any moral 'law' rape or child murder is not really 'good or bad', rather those labels is simply an opinion, and we merely act as if they do have a 'good or bad' value. I understand that is your opinion, after all, it is logically the only one you can have any claim to under your world view.

With that in mind - Wrt Rape, I am only pointing out that there are simply no grounds for justifying why any 'bad' concept for it could possibly develop in a pure social evolutionary paradigm, because those genes specifying rape as a 'bad concept' in our 'opinions' should have been lost millenia ago, driven out by the only genes surviving - that have no objection at all to it.

Similarly, thank you for feeling you should remind me about altruism in many social species. Glad you did, but can't see why you'd want to. That too has no place in a purely social evolutionary paradigm either because likewise that trait should have long long LONG ago been driven from the gene pool. Those guy simply aren't around to reproduce it. Obvious stuff really.

So it seems that unfortunately for you, once again actual reality (i.e. the inherent and inescapable truth/untruth of the world) does not seem to match your preferred paradigm.

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Comment 18 (4243) by OJB on 2014-12-19 at 12:44:59:

Your use of the phrase "actual reality" is interesting since it seems to be contrary to what the vast majority of experts see as being real. Maybe this is some sort of special "actual reality" you Christians have, just like you like to think you have your own version of "faith", "truth", etc!

I would claim that altruistic behaviour in humans and other species is quite well understood and in no way contradicts my worldview. Also you seem to be assuming that every change has to based in genetics. I am saying that social norms, rules, and what is seen by the majority as good behaviour is itself subject to evolutionary pressures. These pressures affect societal attitudes, not genes.

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