ayjay + ethics   198

The Prophet of Envy
Girard’s anthropological interpretation of Christianity in Things Hidden is as original as it is unorthodox. It views the Crucifixion as a revelation in the profane sense, namely a bringing to light of the arbitrary nature of the scapegoat mechanism that underlies sacrificial religions. After publishing Things Hidden, Girard gained a devoted following among various Christian scholars, some of whom lobbied him hard to open his theory to a more traditional theological interpretation of the Cross as the crux of man’s deliverance from sin. Girard eventually (and somewhat reluctantly) made room for a redemptive understanding of the Crucifixion, yet in principle his theory posits only its revelatory, demystifying, and scandalous aspect. [...]

Girard’s most valuable insight is that rivalry and violence arise from sameness rather than difference. Where conflicts erupt between neighbors or ethnic groups, or even among nations, more often than not it’s because of what they have in common rather than what distinguishes them. In Girard’s words: “The error is always to reason within categories of ‘difference’ when the root of all conflicts is rather ‘competition,’ mimetic rivalry between persons, countries, cultures.” Often we fight or go to war to prove our difference from an enemy who in fact resembles us in ways we are all too eager to deny.
theory  sociology  anthropology  ethics  religion  christian  from instapaper
15 days ago by ayjay
Being There
When we talk about “the quality of life,” we need to think more carefully about what we mean. By most people’s standards, the last twenty years of my mother’s life were like the last years of Mencken’s—a dark, sad time spent waiting for the curtain to fall on a drama that was essentially over. But those of us who were privileged to know her in those years know better. Her stroke was not only an end, but also a beginning. And that is true of every one of life’s junctures, no matter how painful or frightening or sad it may seem when we go through it.

What does one woman’s story prove? Of the many possible lessons, surely this one would be at the top of the list: that our drive for mastery of the terms of our existence, as heroic and noble as its achievements have been, may also become the enemy of our souls. Aging is not a problem to be solved, my mother taught us. It is a meaning to be lived out.
ethics  family  aging  from instapaper
25 days ago by ayjay
Overcoming Bias : Social Media Lessons
But in fact ordinary people don’t care as much about privacy and corporate concentration, they don’t as much mind self-promotion and status tracking, they are more interested in gossip and tabloid news than high status news, they care more about loyalty than neutrality, and they care more about gaining status via personal connections than via grand-topic debate sparring. They like wrestling-like bravado and conflict, are less interested in accurate vetting of news sources, like to see frequent personal affirmations of their value and connection to specific others, and fear being seen as lower status if such things do not continue at a sufficient rate.

This high to lowbrow account suggests a key question for the future of social media: how low can we go? That is, what new low status but commonly desired social activities and features can new social media offer?
socimedia  ethics  from instapaper
4 weeks ago by ayjay
Language Log » More on trends in the Google ngrams corpus
Every single one of these 14 poster-child examples for the decline of "moral virtue character and virtue" (Kesebir & Kesebir) and "sacred speech" (Merritt) actually rises in frequency over the last few years of the Google ngrams dataset. Is this because the first decade of the 20th century saw a new Great Awakening? I doubt it — I'm pretty sure that those graphs just reflect a changing mix of publications in the underlying collection.

And this pattern is a serious problem for Merritt's argument. Either his personal impression that "sacred speech and spiritual conversation are in decline" is wrong, or his reliance on Google ngram data to show a similar trend across the 20th century is wrong.
language  ethics  religion  from instapaper
8 weeks ago by ayjay
The art of taking offence
No sensitive person, however ignorant he might be of the Muslim faith, would fail to take off his shoes when entering a mosque – not because he feared the reaction of the worshippers, but because he knew that long-standing custom requires this, and that not to observe that custom is to show disrespect for a sacred space. Somehow we are supposed to forget that principle when it comes to long-standing customs of our own. For us too there are sacred spaces, and the public square is one of them: it is the space that belongs to others, not to you, and where you meet those others face to face. When we encounter those who refuse to accept this we are supposed to think that the entitlement to take offence rests entirely with them, and the tendency to give offence entirely with us.

Is it not time to get this whole matter into perspective, and to recognise that we must live together on terms, that Muslims must learn to laugh at themselves as the rest of us do, and that the art of taking offence might be a profitable business to the experts, but is a huge loss to everyone else?
11 weeks ago by ayjay
Opinion | Whatever Happened to Moral Rigor?
If even a fraction of the charges against him are true, Mr. Weinstein should be banished to the distant reaches of society. But however justice is finally administered in his case, we should try to grasp what social and psychological forces made him what he is, without the shrill, distracting din of moral denunciation forbidding us from doing so.

In matters of law and public morality, let justice take its course along the lines of due process and fair play. But in the realm of the free operation of intellect and imagination that is culture, let there bloom the suspension of moral judgment for the sake of a better understanding of our moral natures. It’s not because we owe anything to the likes of Harvey Weinstein; it’s because of what we owe ourselves.
ethics  politics  from instapaper
july 2018 by ayjay
WeWork's ban on meat tells us what the company is - Chicago Tribune
The meat ban is an exercise in brand building. In today's "meaning economy," what we buy carries value-laden significance. It defines our identity and marks our tribe.

The shift from function to meaning as a source of economic value also shapes who works where. Instead of trying to be blandly inoffensive, workplaces embody the cultural values of their tribe. That's why we see Google employees refusing to work on Defense Department projects or companies boycotting the National Rifle Association.

Nothing says "We're a tribe" like food taboos. Dietary restrictions establish boundaries and define identity. Think of kosher food and Jews, halal meat and Muslims, vegetarianism and Brahmins - or the cultural differences between completely secular vegans and paleo diet devotees.

"Any food taboo, acknowledged by a particular group of people as part of its ways, aids in the cohesion of this group, helps that particular group maintain its identity in the face of others, and therefore creates a feeling of 'belonging,'" observes ethnobiologist Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow in a much-cited paper. Think of the ban as team building.
sociology  ethics  food  taboo 
july 2018 by ayjay
Marilynne Robinson at Wheaton | Civitas Peregrina
That points to the more interesting disjunction. (Liberal Protestants complaining about evangelical line-drawing is hardly new, just as is their penchant for doing their own line-drawing at the same time.) The first half of her talk was an extended defense of the idea of conscience and the ways in which that was an important spur for the Reformation. But in the second half, she trotted out what feels like now a kind of almost pro forma critique of individualism (though there were some interesting intimations from her that suggested a kind of defense of individualism). What struck me, though, was how the two sides of the critique don’t fit together. Conscience is important but when you cite Emerson, as she did, you are almost inevitably headed toward the sort of disconnected, romantic individualism that she (rightly, in my view) finds so troublesome. Here, the Catholic tradition seems helpful, for it talks (so far as I understand it) in terms of *rightly ordered* conscience, not just conscience per se. Our contemporary cult of authenticity contains within it a view of conscience that merely demands a kind of coherence to your views. In practice everyone imposes limits (that is, draws lines on what counts as *proper* conscience) but the impulse is toward a solipsistic conscience, not a rightly formed one. What’s lacking here—and this is a problem in both liberal and conservative Protestantism alike—is a sense of rightful authority, things to which we owe obedience even when, maybe especially when, we do not find it easy to consent. I don’t know that I have an especially good answer to this dilemma—I’m just as American in that sense as the next—but it does seem to me an enduring dilemma, one that even as astute a person as Marilynne Robinson seems flummoxed by.
christian  ethics  conscience 
april 2018 by ayjay
How technology is designed to bring out the worst in us
Technology feels disempowering because we haven’t built it around an honest view of human nature. The reason we called our new project the Center for Humane Technology is it starts with a view of ourselves.

Silicon Valley is reckoning with having had a bad philosophical operating system. People in tech will say, “You told me, when I asked you what you wanted, that you wanted to go to the gym. That’s what you said. But then I handed you a box of doughnuts and you went for the doughnuts, so that must be what you really wanted.” The Facebook folks, that’s literally what they think. We offer people this other stuff, but then they always go for the outrage, or the autoplaying video, and that must be people’s most true preference.

If you ask someone, “What’s your dream?” that’s not a meaningless signal. A psychotherapist going through an interview process with someone is accessing parts of them that screens never do. I think the [traffic] metrics have created this whole illusion that what people are doing is what people want, when it’s really just what works in the moment, in that situation.
tech  Technopoly  ethics  person  from instapaper
february 2018 by ayjay
Jordan Peterson: ‘The pursuit of happiness is a pointless goal’
Peterson talks a lot about the power of resentment in his writings. We hate those who are better than us (God, Abel) and want to destroy them, then lie to hide from the consequences. “Consult your resentment,” he says. “It is revelatory. Don’t underestimate malevolence and don’t underestimate the utility of your capacity for malevolence. If you’re weak, you should turn yourself into a monster. It’s a funny thing, that ‘monster’ is better than ‘nice’. But it’s not as good as ‘not monstrous’. And that’s the next thing to achieve. But cowering in your basement resenting everyone is the real pathway to darkness.

“You have to notice when you’re feeling homicidal. Let’s say you go to work and someone bullies you. If you notice, you’re fantasising some pretty nasty stuff. That tells you two things. The first is that you’re not as nice as you think. And the corollary of that is, you’re not as useless as you think.”
psychology  religion  ethics  from instapaper
february 2018 by ayjay
The Claims of the Unborn
If you could effectively make adoption safer and easier to effect than a chemical abortion or “emergency contraception,” you could reduce the overall demand for abortions. But it is very likely there would still be some abortions, and abortion would still have its apologists.

Because in many cases, the point of abortion isn’t just to end the inconvenience, embarrassment, or danger of a pregnancy; it’s not just to avoid the grave responsibilities of parenting a child. Instead, the purpose of the abortion is to completely extinguish the child’s moral claims on her parents. [...]

In truth, every child’s life is so full of possibility and risk that no parents can hope to achieve the kind of full and conscious consent we so often demand elsewhere in our lives. To accept a child is to accept the limits of our own powers, and burdens we can’t properly measure. And we know that anti-abortion laws, and cultures that support family formation, can help people to reconcile themselves to what really has happened in their lives, and what may yet still. So we have a duty to continue supporting those laws, and creating that culture.

But the pro-life movement’s final work will necessarily involve helping us to accept not just the full scope of an unborn child’s life but to the full claims of life upon ourselves. We need to protect family life from the commercial logic that we accept in almost every other sphere of life. Our lives are not conducted by the rules and stipulations of explicit contracts. We are often called up to give much more than we want, and in turn we often get much more from life than we bargained for.
abortion  ethics 
january 2018 by ayjay
Don't Be Evil
It's worth pointing out that this tradition, at least in the communes, has a terrible legacy. The communes were, ironically, extraordinarily conservative.

When you take away bureaucracy and hierarchy and politics, you take away the ability to negotiate the distribution of resources on explicit terms. And you replace it with charisma, with cool, with shared but unspoken perceptions of power. You replace it with the cultural forces that guide our behavior in the absence of rules.

So suddenly you get these charismatic men running communes—and women in the back having babies and putting bleach in the water to keep people from getting sick. Many of the communes of the 1960s were among the most racially segregated, heteronormative, and authoritarian spaces I've ever looked at.
politics  culture  ethics  from instapaper
january 2018 by ayjay
Unspoken Sermons by George MacDonald: Kingship
Jesus is a king because his business is to bear witness to the truth. What truth? All truth; all verity of relation throughout the universe — first of all, that his father is good, perfectly good; and that the crown and joy of life is to desire and do the will of the eternal source of will, and of all life. He deals thus the death-blow to the power of hell. For the one principle of hell is — 'I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject. I am the centre from which go out my thoughts; I am the object and end of my thoughts; back upon me as the alpha and omega of life, my thoughts return. My own glory is, and ought to be, my chief care; my ambition, to gather the regards of men to the one centre, myself. My pleasure is my pleasure. My kingdom is — as many as I can bring to acknowledge my greatness over them. My judgment is the faultless rule of things. My right is — what I desire. The more I am all in all to myself, the greater I am. The less I acknowledge debt or obligation to another; the more I close my eyes to the fact that I did not make myself; the more self-sufficing I feel or imagine myself — the greater I am. I will be free with the freedom that consists in doing whatever I am inclined to do, from whatever quarter may come the inclination. To do my own will so long as I feel anything to be my will, is to be free, is to live. To all these principles of hell, or of this world — they are the same thing, and it matters nothing whether they are asserted or defended so long as they are acted upon — the Lord, the king, gives the direct lie.
theology  ethics 
january 2018 by ayjay
The intolerable burden of assisted dying | Raymond Tallis
The power of the minority opposed to assisted dying comes not from reason and fact but from appeal to certain principles such as "the sanctity of life", and a multitude of factoids. The sanctity of life doctrine is usually preached by those who look to religious teachings as a guide. It is strange how readily it is shelved in "just wars" and judicial execution (both of which permit the killing of those who have no wish to die), but it is regarded as inviolable when a dying person requests assistance to die more quickly. It should hardly be necessary to make the point that my decision to choose assisted dying, to avoid a few more weeks of suffering, does not put into question the value of my life as a whole, nor the value of the life of others in particular, or humanity itself.
death  ethics  from instapaper
december 2017 by ayjay
Living well in the technosocial world – a review of Shannon Vallor’s Technology and the Virtues
The “technosocial” world in which we live is one wherein our technologies cannot be safely fenced off, instead our changing technologies are “embedded in co-evolving social practices, values, and institutions” (5). Yet, even in the midst of the “technosocial” our ability to discern where we are going, or where we even are now, is quite deficient. As Vallor notes, we are beset by “growing technosocial blindness” a condition she calls “acute technosocial opacity” which makes it “increasingly difficult to identify, seek, and secure the ultimate goal of ethics—a life worth choosing; a life lived well” (6). Our “acute technosocial opacity” keeps us from recognizing that when we choose to use certain technologies we may be choosing to go along with these technologies’ vision of “a life lived well” instead of our own. Alas, the vision of the “life lived well” by many of these technologies is simply a life that supplies an endless stream of data to be processed and sold to advertisers; it can be profoundly antihumanistic and relentlessly capitalistic. Indeed, many of the habits that technologies seem to encourage and celebrate are the opposite of virtues: they are vices.
tech  ethics  from instapaper
december 2017 by ayjay
On the translation of the Our Father | Just Thomism
The sense of the sixth petition is “lead us not into the attack, lest it try our strength”. This allows us to actually make sense of the last petition sed libera nos a malo, i.e. but deliver us from the evil one”. In other words, to fill out the scene, the sense of the last two petitions is “O God our commander, do not lead us into the attack again because we fear for our strength. Rather, conquer the attacker by your own power.”

In general, the sense of temptation in the NT is of what is fearful, not what is pleasant. One particularly telling text is Luke 22:28, where Christ tells his disciples “You are the ones who have continued with me in my πειρασμός”, clearly, Christ is not telling his disciples that they all stood around a chocolate cake and felt tempted to gorge themselves, but that they all faced battle-fear together. Or again the locus classics of temptation 1 Cor. 1-:13 “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what you can bear; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” If we are talking about seduction and alluring sights, why in the world is Paul speaking of bearing or enduring them?
theology  bible  ethics 
december 2017 by ayjay
What Are We Willing to Know?
The problem with deciding not to inform ourselves is the assumption that attempting to understand the vast web of systems on which we depend is optional. The principle that ignorance is no excuse dates back to the ancient Romans. And towering theologians like Thomas Aquinas and Jonathan Edwards have affirmed it as a theological principle, arguing that willful ignorance of things one is "bound and able to know" is a sin. In some circumstances we call it failure of "due diligence," a phrase that implies an obligation to find out those things on which our lives, welfare, and moral integrity depend. Obviously, no one of us is "bound and able" to acquire a working knowledge of all that affects us. But it's good for us to know the rudiments of anatomy to care for our bodies, and enough biochemistry to understand roughly what high-fructose corn syrup does; it's good to know something about how our cars and our waste disposal systems work (or don't) and why recycling is a good idea. It's good to understand what "free market" and "regulation" actually mean in practice. We need to know what a "carbon footprint" is, and why deforestation matters. We need to know why overuse of antibiotics and careless disposal of them are problems.
knowledge  information  ethics  from instapaper
december 2017 by ayjay
The Root of All Cruelty?
As a philosopher, Manne grounds her arguments in more technical literature, and at one point she emphasizes the connection between her position and the Oxford philosopher P. F. Strawson’s theory of “reactive attitudes.” Strawson argued that, when we’re dealing with another person as a person, we can’t help experiencing such attitudes as admiration and gratitude, resentment and blame. You generally don’t feel this way toward rocks or rodents. Acknowledging the humanity of another, then, has its risks, and these are neatly summarized by Manne, who notes that seeing someone as a person makes it possible for that person to be a true friend or beloved spouse, but it also makes it possible for people to be “an intelligible rival, enemy, usurper, insubordinate, betrayer, etc.” She goes on:
Moreover, in being capable of rationality, agency, autonomy, and judgment, they are also someone who could coerce, manipulate, humiliate, or shame you. In being capable of abstract relational thought and congruent moral emotions, they are capable of thinking ill of you and regarding you contemptuously. In being capable of forming complex desires and intentions, they are capable of harboring malice and plotting against you. In being capable of valuing, they may value what you abhor and abhor what you value. They may hence be a threat to all that you cherish.

If there’s something missing from these approaches to violence, it’s attention to first-person attitudes, how we think about ourselves as moral agents. I can resent someone, but I can also feel shame at how I treated him or her. Fiske and Rai sometimes write as if the paradigm of moralistic violence were the final scene of the movie in which our hero blows away the terrorist or the serial killer or the rapist—a deeply satisfying act that has everyone cheering. But what about doubt and ambivalence? Some fathers who severely beat their misbehaving children, or some soldiers who engage in “punitive rape,” are confident in the moral rightness of their acts. But some aren’t. Real moral progress may involve studying the forms of doubt and ambivalence that sometimes attend acts of brutality. [...]

The limitations of the dehumanization thesis are hardly good news. There has always been something optimistic about the idea that our worst acts of inhumanity are based on confusion. It suggests that we could make the world better simply by having a clearer grasp of reality—by deactivating those brain implants, or their ideological equivalent. The truth may be harder to accept: that our best and our worst tendencies arise precisely from seeing others as human.
philosophy  ethics  humanism  evil 
november 2017 by ayjay
The Ethics of Technological Mediation | L.M. Sacasas
Verbeek comments on some of the advantages of virtue ethics. To begin with, virtue ethics does not ask, “What am I to do?” Rather, it asks, in Verbeek’s formulation, “What is the good life?” We might also add a related question that virtue ethics raises: “What sort of person do I want to be?” This is a question that Verbeek also considers, taking his cues from the later work of Michel Foucault.

The question of the good life, Verbeek adds,
does not depart from a separation of subject and object but from the interwoven character of both. A good life, after all, is shaped not only on the basis of human decisions but also on the basis of the world in which it plays itself out (de Vries 1999). The way we live is determined not only by moral decision making but also by manifold practices that connect us to the material world in which we live. This makes ethics not a matter of isolated subjects but, rather, of connections between humans and the world in which they live.

Virtue ethics, with its concern for habits, practices, and communities of moral formation, illuminates the various ways technologies impinge upon our moral lives. For example, a technologically mediated action that, taken on its own and in isolation, may be judged morally right or indifferent may appear in a different light when considered as one instance of a habit-forming practice that shapes our disposition and character.
tech  ethics 
november 2017 by ayjay
White Working-Class Populism & Conservatism Are Incompatible | National Review
White people acting white have embraced the ethic of the white underclass, which is distinct from the white working class, which has the distinguishing feature of regular gainful employment. The manners of the white underclass are Trump’s — vulgar, aggressive, boastful, selfish, promiscuous, consumerist. The white working class has a very different ethic. Its members are, in the main, churchgoing, financially prudent, and married, and their manners are formal to the point of icy politeness. You’ll recognize the style if you’ve ever been around it: It’s “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” but it is the formality of soldiers and police officers — correct and polite, but not in the least bit deferential. It is a formality adopted not to acknowledge the superiority of social betters but to assert the equality of the speaker — equal to any person or situation, perfectly republican manners. It is the general social respect rooted in genuine self-respect.

Its opposite is the sneering, leveling, drag-’em-all-down-into-the-mud anti-“elitism” of contemporary right-wing populism. Self-respect says: “I’m an American citizen, and I can walk into any room, talk to any president, prince, or potentate, because I can rise to any occasion.” Populist anti-elitism says the opposite: “I can be rude enough and denigrating enough to drag anybody down to my level.” Trump’s rhetoric — ridiculous and demeaning schoolyard nicknames, boasting about money, etc. — has always been about reducing. Trump doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to duke it out with even the modest wits at the New York Times, hence it’s “the failing New York Times.” Never mind that the New York Times isn’t actually failing and that any number of Trump-related businesses have failed so thoroughly that they’ve gone into bankruptcy; the truth doesn’t matter to the argument any more than it matters whether the fifth-grade bully actually has an actionable claim on some poor kid’s lunch money. It would never even occur to the low-minded to identify with anybody other than the bully.
politics  ethics  class  populism 
october 2017 by ayjay
The Age of Consent and Its Discontents - The New York Times
Across all of these counts the Western sexual order just doesn’t seem to be working out very well. We are several generations into the post-sexual revolution world, and women are less happy than they were before, people are marrying less and (despite what you would expect from self-selection) the marriages that do happen are less contented than in the past, people are consistently missing their desired fertility, a huge share of children (especially the poorest and most vulnerable children) are growing up without both their biological parents, and some of the wealthiest societies in the world are headed for a demographic cliff. And then there’s the fact that the sexes are politically polarized as never before, that both smug marrieds and singletons are having less sex than in the past, the recrudescent of toxic misogyny (among woke Marxist bros as well as alt-righters, in some cases) now that the internet has removed certain social filters, and more.

Looking out across this landscape, a renewed social conservatism isn’t the only plausible response; there’s always the more radical Marxist and feminist alternatives, which argue that the sexual revolution we did have was fatally compromised by capitalism and male privilege. But I think a second look at sexual conservatism is much more plausible than a status quo bias, in which sexual liberalism is supposed to have created a level of social happiness and personal fulfillment that is simply not in evidence from data or anecdote alike.
sexuality  politics  ethics 
october 2017 by ayjay
Never Stop Making Moral and Religious Arguments | National Review
There are two things (at least) that render these arguments utterly absurd. First, I note that the admonitions about moral arguments tend to run only one way. The Left’s cultural success isn’t built on charts and graphs and health statistics but rather on moral arguments about dignity, fairness, and fulfillment. And yes they “judge” their ideological and religious opponents. Accusations of bigotry are intended as deeply personal condemnations.

The bottom line is that moral arguments have real power, and they’re even more powerful if only one side is making them. That’s doubly true for religious arguments. Progressive Christians have no trouble quoting scripture to support progressive arguments. Yet all too many conservatives fall for the claim that “no one cares” what the Bible says when standing on orthodox Christian moral principle.
ethics  religion  politics  HTT 
september 2017 by ayjay
Whose Motivation? Which Good? - The New Atlantis
At times it appears that Smith is simply pressing social scientists to be coherent — to recognize they implicitly assume something like personalism, to stop disavowing it and be honest and forthright in their beliefs about the telos of human flourishing. That’s a legitimate critique, and one that Smith has been pressing in his theoretical works ever since Moral, Believing Animals. On this front, the bogeyman is not constructionism or antirealism but rather the persistent myth of the neutrality of social science. “The discipline of sociology,” Smith concludes, “has generally tried either to remain neutral on an account of human goods and flourishing or has promoted an antinaturalistic cultural and moral relativism.” But this isn’t really honest or sustainable, Smith points out. “Incongruously, however, most sociologists are also personally motivated in their scholarly work and teaching by visions of and desire to promote particular views of human flourishing in which they really believe.” Ay, there’s the rub: it’s less whether social scientists are committed to specific visions of the Good, and more a matter of recognizing the status of these visions as beliefs. “So it is inconsistent if not disingenuous for sociologists to reject the idea, as I have advocated here, of the discipline being grounded upon a substantive account of a teleological human good. The only question that remains, then, is which account is best.” Yes, precisely. Which is why the first two thirds of Smith’s book expend wasted energy on the claims that most sociologists believe human motivation isn’t grounded in reality. The resulting “realism” engenders Smith’s own overconfidence in the last third of the book where he thinks he is merely describing the Good, short-circuiting a genuine conversation and debate between competing beliefs about the Good. Social situationists have beliefs about the Good but aren’t honest about it, whereas Smith seems to think realism and natural law give him access to the Good beyond belief. That’s a bit of a conversation stopper.
sociology  philosophy  ethics 
september 2017 by ayjay
Robert Jenson, “Can Ethical Disagreement Divide the Church?”
Supposing that divisions in ethics sometimes truly divide the church, how do we tell when that is the case? What are the criteria? If, as seems likely, some ethical divisions are tolerable within communion and some are not, how do we tell the difference? And the third question is, When it appears that some of us cannot for reasons of ethics be in full fellowship with others whom we nevertheless regard as church, what are we to do about that? […]

I will argue that the unbroken unity in Christ of baptized believers divided in moral discipline or public moral witness obtains at the *same* level as does the unity of baptized believers divided in doctrine. In the case of doctrinal division, the contradiction between broken fellowship and deep unity in Christ is the very motive of ecumenical dialogue. That doctrinally separated communities of the baptized are nevertheless somehow one in Christ is a mandate to *argue* the differences, not permission simply to live with them. Indeed, this shared effort is itself a necessary part of their remaining unity. Just so, I propose, the contradiction between “unity in Christ” and division about what sorts of sexual behavior are blessed, for example, is a mandate for something much like traditional ecumenical dialogue, not permission to live with the dissensus. And the necessity of that effort is again an essential part of remaining unity in Christ. […]

Now, what about that label for such regulation, the word *marriage*? Plainly, a use of the noun *marriage* paired with, for example, *same-sex* has no overlap at all with its historical use. Much public discourse about *marriage* does not notice that, and thus is mere babble; The *New York Times*’ editorial discussions of the matter seem to be produced by someone who would think that the use of the vocable *ball* both for a spherical toy and for a formal dance must indicate some common essence.

But if the culture of the world decides in its own discourse to abolish the label’s previous use, there is not much the church can do about it. Maybe it will have to find a new label for the ontological fact affirmed in Christian doctrine. Anyway, the churches within their own discourse must reckon with what the word *marriage* now denotes — or rather fails to denote — for many others, and not allow their own discourse to be confused by mere linguistic mishap. We need to rule for our own discourse: what the world (or much of the world) now means by *marriage* is not what we mean by it — if indeed we are to continue using the word at all. […]

But sometimes also, as the structure of the American churches collapses, confusion will be the determining factor. Morally opposed groups may have no alternative but to live with *partly* broken fellowship. In strict logic, eucharistic and ministerial fellowship is either intact or simply broken, but history does not always obey strict logic and neither then does God’s providence—or indeed churches’ practice....
Christianity  ethics  ecumenism  from notes
august 2017 by ayjay
Richard Rorty: Life, Pragmatism, and Conversational Philosophy - Los Angeles Review of Books
Rorty did not believe that this transformation — or, as his enemies prefer to call it, “subversion” — of philosophy’s traditional goals would solve all our problems. But it might allow us to get a better sense of everyone’s limitations, diversities, and uniqueness, and therefore increase our concern for society and the freedom of all. In this spirit he genially suggested that “if you take care of freedom, truth will take care of itself.” In other words, truth ought to become simply what a free community can agree on as true, not what foundationally makes the community true. In this way our moral duty would not be toward “rational reasons” but rather toward our fellow citizens. This idea is not really a “subversion” if we recall that the notion of “responsibility” existed in Athens even before Plato invented what we now call “reason.” If we agree that democracy is a system in which we are allowed, from time to time, to change the governors, laws, and rules of the game, then Rorty’s suggestion that it could also begin to set the goals of philosophy might help different philosophical positions receive the recognition they merit. [...]

The concept of irony has not only allowed Rorty to outline his antifoundationalist philosophy but also to articulate a different attitude toward political and religious beliefs. Irony for Rorty has nothing to do with passiveness, irresponsibility, and the cruel denigration of the beliefs, values, and vocabularies of others. The ironist instead is someone “who faces up to the contingency of his or her own most central beliefs and desires — someone sufficiently historicist and nominalist to have abandoned the idea that those central beliefs and desires refer back to something beyond reach of time and chance.” Instead, these beliefs and desires must refer to a larger “we” that has abandoned the narrow, cruel, and exclusivist versions of our inherited “we.” In this condition the ironist’s “sense of human solidarity is based on a sense of a common danger, not on a common possession or a shared power.”
philosophy  politics  ethics  from instapaper
august 2017 by ayjay
Ritual Defamation
The power of ritual defamation lies entirely in its capacity to intimidate and terrorize. It embraces some elements of primitive superstitious belief, as in a "curse" or "hex." It plays into the subconscious fear most people have of being abandoned or rejected by the tribe or by society and being cut off from social and psychological support systems.

The weakness of ritual defamation lies in its tendency toward overkill and in its obvious maliciousness. Occasionally a ritual defamation will fail because of poor planning and failure to correctly judge the vulnerability of the victim or because its viciousness inadvertently generates sympathy.

It’s important to recognize and identify the patterns of a ritual defamation. Like all propaganda and disinformation campaigns it is accomplished primarily through the manipulation of words and symbols. It is not used to persuade, but to punish. Although it may have cognitive elements, its thrust is primarily emotional. Ritual Defamation is used to hurt, to intimidate, to destroy, and to persecute, and to avoid the dialogue, debate and discussion upon which a free society depends.
HTT  ethics  groupthink  from instapaper
august 2017 by ayjay
Turn Off, Drop Out: Why Young Chinese Are Abandoning Ambition
Sang culture is actually an evolved form of the once-prominent notion of xiaoquexing — fleeting moments of joy found in everyday life. For instance, buying a loaf of fresh bread — still hot from the baker’s oven — taking it home, and gnawing on the heel as you cut the rest into slices. Slipping through the undisturbed surface of a deserted swimming pool in the early hours of the morning, and pushing off from the wall with your foot. Listening to the chamber music of Brahms as you contemplate the silhouettes of leaves on a paper window, created by the gentle sunlight of an autumn afternoon.

If xiaoquexing is an appreciation of the little triumphs to be found amid life’s monotony, then sang culture is a similar emphasis, even an exaggeration, of a pervasive feeling of loss.

Fleeting joy forms the underlying context of sang culture. To be sang is not to be in a state of complete despair; instead, the term evokes the sense of disenfranchisement that certain young people feel as a result of being excluded from some of life’s supposedly greater pursuits, such as home ownership, the accumulation of personal wealth, and the attainment of social mobility. Sang culture is a first-world problem: Its adherents wallow in grievances that contrast starkly with the much more pressing problems faced in most other developing nations.
china  Japan  ethics  youth 
june 2017 by ayjay
What Gershom Scholem and Hannah Arendt Can Teach Us About Evil Today - Los Angeles Review of Books
The first letter Scholem wrote Arendt after reading her book — the initial broadside in an exchange that was ultimately made public — began with a number of concessions to Arendt’s position on the Jewish role in facilitating the operation of the Holocaust. Having spent the past 50 years occupying himself with Jewish history, Scholem declares, he is well aware of the abysses in this narrative: “a demonic decay in the midst of life, insecurity in the face of this world […] and a weakness that is perpetually confounded and mingled with debasement and with lust for power.” It’s invariable, he asserts, that in times of catastrophe these tendencies come to the fore. The question that the young were asking in Israel of how all those millions could have allowed themselves to be killed was valid, he allowed. Arendt was right to want people to reflect on such matters. What he cannot countenance is the idea that such a harrowing dilemma could be resolved with a snappy formula. What is unbearable to him, Scholem writes, is the “malicious tone” Arendt has adopted to discuss matters of such profundity. It is Arendt’s “light-hearted style,” the note of “English flippancy” she has favored over that of pity for Eichmann’s victims — just as she has preferred snarkily caricaturing Eichmann himself to seriously analyzing his character — that repulses Scholem.
history  ethics  evil  politics  war 
june 2017 by ayjay
In Defense of Cultural Appropriation - The New York Times
In 1955, Emmett Till’s mother urged the publication of photographs of her son’s mutilated body as it lay in its coffin. Till’s murder, and the photographs, played a major role in shaping the civil rights movement and have acquired an almost sacred quality. It was from those photos that Ms. Schutz began her painting.

To suggest that she, as a white painter, should not depict images of black suffering is as troubling as the demand by some Muslims that Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses” should be censored because of supposed blasphemies in its depiction of Islam. In fact, it’s more troubling because, as the critic Adam Shatz has observed, the campaign against Ms. Schutz’s work contains an “implicit disavowal that acts of radical sympathy, and imaginative identification, are possible across racial lines.”

Seventy years ago, racist radio stations refused to play “race music” for a white audience. Today, antiracist activists insist that white painters should not portray black subjects. To appropriate a phrase from a culture not my own: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
ethics  politics  art 
june 2017 by ayjay
People Reluctant to Kill for an Abstraction, a Movement
Since the world began, we have gone about our work quietly, resisting the urge to generalize, valuing the individual over the group, the actual over the conceptual, the inherent sweetness of the present moment over the theoretically peaceful future to be obtained via murder. Many of us have trouble sleeping and lie awake at night, worrying about something catastrophic befalling someone we love. We rise in the morning with no plans to convert anyone via beating, humiliation, or invasion. To tell the truth, we are tired. We work. We would just like some peace and quiet. When wrong, we think about it awhile, then apologize. We stand under awnings during urban thunderstorms, moved to thoughtfulness by the troubled, umbrella-tinged faces rushing by. In moments of crisis, we pat one another awkwardly on the back, mumbling shy truisms. Rushing to an appointment, remembering a friend who has passed away, our eyes well with tears and we think: Well, my God, he could be a pain, but still I'm lucky to have known him.

This is PRKA. To those who would oppose us, I would simply say: We are many. We are worldwide. We, in fact, outnumber you. Though you are louder, though you create a momentary ripple on the water of life, we will endure, and prevail.

Join us.

Resistance is futile.
ethics  from instapaper
april 2017 by ayjay
The Corporation Does Not Always Have To Win
But those were actual human beings speaking to Ali, not, like, the corporation’s animating logic rendered as two CGI beings on a screen (as far as we know), and yet they were evidently unable even to conceive of courses of action that might find an agreeable middle ground in the conflict between a corporation’s policies and a human being. These were actual people, in all their mysterious and profound complexity, their unmatched imaginative capacity, circumscribed entirely by the policies of the machine—in this case, the United Airlines computer that unthinkingly selected that man for ejection from the flight.

Put the United personnel in a rental car or shuttle bus for the relatively short road trip from Chicago to Louisville to avoid displacing people who’d booked their tickets and been allowed to board the flight? Offer the passenger however much money would get him to leave the flight voluntarily? Find somebody else on the flight who might be willing to give up their seat if that passenger would not leave at any price? Literally any course of action that might force a corporate behemoth, and not the sucker who’d done nothing more than expect a service in exchange for his money, to eat a little bit of shit? No. Not possible. The passenger had to be removed. The error in the workflow had to be snuffed out, the algorithm restored to its familiar course, there and then, in the person of that guy, at that exact moment, before it propagated further delays and inefficiencies at the next node. [...]

But the point is: You are not the corporation. You are the human. It is okay for the corporation to lose a small portion of what it has in terrifying overabundance (money, time, efficiency) in order to preserve what a human has that cannot ever be replaced (dignity, humanity, conscience, life). It is okay for you to prioritize your affinity with your fellow humans over your subservience to the corporation, and to imagine and broker outcomes based on this ordering of things. It is okay for the corporation to lose. It will return to its work of churning the living world into dead sand presently.
politics  ethics 
april 2017 by ayjay
Morphosis: The Categorical Im-Pratchettive
What I mean is: rather than seeing the categorical imperative as a top-down quasi-tyrannical imposition of moral order on the universe, we could see it as exactly the opposite. After all, it takes as axiomatic that nobody is outside the moral world—that is to say, it fundamentally repudiates one of the oldest moral fix-ups in human history, the one where the world is divided into ‘us’, who deserve to be treated ethically, and ‘them’, the outgroup, the Others (the Jews, the slavs, the Blacks, the barbarians, the Muslims, the poor, the women, the gays, all those many varieties of homines sacri) who fall outside of the protection of justice, who can be treated in ways beyond the ambit of morals. Kant isn't having that, and neither is Pratchett. This manifests, for Pratchett, in a refusal to take the dramatically easy way of demonising one or other outgroup. Really, nobody is beyond the pale in Discworld. No group is demonised, actual demons least of all. This same impulse manifests for Kant in an ethical rule that obtains categorically, not only to those like us, or whom we like.

This is also why Schopenhauer's third objection to the Kantian categorical imperative, as a cold and dead matter of obedience to mere duty, misses the mark; as a criticism of Kant (I think, though it would take a lot longer than I have here to demonstrate why) and certainly as a criticism of Pratchett. Pratchett's anger was hot, and his humour was continually and wonderfully alive; and that heat and that liveliness are what power his ethical vision. And one final point occurs to me: Pratchett's strategy for communicating ethically with his readers was fundamentally story-based: he tells us stories, and we are amused, and intrigued, and moved, and in that process we are called-forth into actualised ethical situations, made to think through the business of what it means to act well and to act badly, to consider consequences and otherness and so on.  I suppose it's true that actual Kantian moral philosophers are thin on the ground nowadays, but one of the most importat and celebrated interventions into ethical thought of the last ten years or so was Barbara Herman's Moral Literacy (2008), which is not only thoroughly Kantian, but which explores how morals are a mode of existential literacy, something we learn and practice, and something for which stories are the ideal mode. Herman doesn't discuss Pratchett, but she could easily have done. Doing the right thing, Pratchett says, over and over, is not a passionless matter of obeying an inhuman universal duty; it is always particular, always passionate, and above all always funny.
ethics  SF 
march 2017 by ayjay
Mark Ravenhill on the trouble with television | Media | The Guardian
"The thing about TV drama," she said after a few ladles of punch, "is whatever they commission - docs or cops or drama-doc - what they really want is a little half-hour or 50-minute morality play." I almost understood her, but I wanted more. "TV drama hates a loose ending - it hates an unanswered question," she explained. "Script editors and directors and producers always feel they have to teach the viewer something. They always want you to get to the scene where you say, 'And the moral of the story is ...' It's very boring to write."

She's right, of course. There's a tablet of commandments in soap opera (Lou Beale has them with her, I imagine, on Mount Walford) - a set of liberal values. "Be true to yourself"; "talk about your feelings"; "learn to forgive and move on"; "accept difference"; and "you're still family even after the murder/arson/substance abuse". Most of the plots of the soaps are generated when one of the characters strays from these commandments and the others rush around the Street or Square or Village trying to get them back living by these liberal values until - whoops! - another character slips and the game is on again. And again and again. The message is clear: learn these values or be ostracised by your community and banished to panto in Crewe.

This teaching of moral values is spreading across the TV drama spectrum. The wards of Holby City now live by the same principles, as do the cops at Sun Hill. Even Billie and the Doctor had to learn this time around, in a way that Tom Baker would never have done, that "Daleks have feelings too", and "you can travel in time but you mustn't forget your family". It seems there's nowhere in time or space, or the TV schedule, that can fully escape what they call in American sitcom script meetings "hugs and learning".
tv  ethics 
march 2017 by ayjay
On Gay Loneliness
I don’t want to be misunderstood here. If gay loneliness can be alleviated through greater understanding of its causes, then by all means let’s pursue its alleviation. If any homophobia or bigotry, Christian or otherwise, is contributing to the alienation and marginalization of gay men, then by all means let’s renounce those things and redouble our efforts to fight against it. I hope I’m not advocating quietism here. But, as we fight, and as we experience the travails of the status viatoris, the ache of not having arrived at our destination yet on the pilgrim road, I hope we can cultivate some empathy and solidarity in the meantime. Wright again:
We [Christians] are to stand or kneel at the place where the world [is] in pain and need, and, understanding and feeling their sufferings, to pray with and for them, not knowing… what precisely to ask for, but allowing the Spirit to pray within us with groanings that cannot come into articulate speech.

Reading this HuffPo article on gay loneliness, in short, made want me to compare notes with my gay friends, especially my gay friends who aren’t Christians. It made me want to say, “I feel this loneliness, or at least a deeply related kind of loneliness, too.” If in some small way that instinct can lead to any kind of deeper hope, for all of us, and maybe also some kind of deeper camaraderie or loyalty between us, I would be glad.
sexuality  theology  ethics 
march 2017 by ayjay
The Kantegorical Im-Pratchettive
We could, for instance, argue that the most Kantian, in the sense of the most universalising, creatures in all of Discworld are the Auditors of Reality. They first appear in Reaper Man (1991), where we're told they ‘see to it that gravity operates and that time stays separate from space’ (and where we learn they have conversations with one another without speaking: ‘They didn't need to speak. They just changed reality so that they had spoken’. Which I've always thought was a very cool notion). The Auditors hate mess and unpredictability and they particularly hate life because it is messy and unpredictable. They would much prefer a cosmos made up of lifeless balls of rock circling stars in mathematically predictable orbits. Indeed, they would like to eliminate humanity, although they can't simply do so because it is ‘against the Rules’ (the Auditors can't break the Rules because, in a certain sense, they are the Rules). They can use proxies, though, and do so to try and extirpate the messiness of life. This drives the plots in Hogfather (1996, where they try to eliminate the titular Santa-Claus-alike because he's so messy and irrational) and Thief of Time (2001, where their plan is to stop time and so deprive humanity of its necessary element). In terms of sheer dedication to the mass genocide, the Auditors are perhaps the most evil characters in the Pratchettverse; although in fact we're told that they lack the imagination to be truly evil.
SF  ethics  from instapaper
march 2017 by ayjay
Mary Lefkowitz reviews ‘In and Out of the Mind’ by Ruth Padel and ‘The Age of Grace’ by Bonnie MacLachlan · LRB 4 November 1993
... it is a relief to turn to a book that considers one of the ancient Greeks’ most attractive concepts, charis, the grace or pleasure that results from mutual exchange. Bonnie MacLachlan shows, with a light touch appropriate to her subject, that the term can be applied to almost all aspects of life. The standard farewell, chaire, means (in effect) ‘charis to you.’ An honorarium or tip is a form of charis; charis quite literally resides in an attractive young man, or in a grove of apple trees frequented by young women in love. It is the gift that praise poetry can bestow on human achievement, or that a cure can bring to someone suffering from disease. In and before the age of tragedy the goddesses who dispensed charis were worshipped and invoked by separate names: Brilliance (Aglaia), Joy (Euphrosyne) and Conviviality (Thalia). Only later were they lumped together in the anonymous and largely ornamental collectivity of the Three Graces.

Although nowadays manners are usually considered separate from morals, the Greeks rightly regarded the reciprocity of charis as a moral force, because it served as a glue that held society together. As such, it plays a major role even in the dark world of tragedy. In Aeschylus’ Agamemnon the old men of Argos complain that ‘somehow the charis of the gods comes with violence,’ since mortals must commit murder and suffer the consequences to enforce a justice that appears beautiful to the gods. MacLachlan suggests that it is this beauty, however unattainable, that attracts us, and leads us to believe human suffering will bring wisdom. Such hard-won wisdom will be of little benefit to many characters in tragedy, who die or suffer irreparable loss before they have an opportunity to learn. The only certain beneficiaries of tragedy are the audience: they will attain wisdom as a result of the suffering of others, and of the painful invasive learning processes portrayed on the stage.
criticism  ethics 
march 2017 by ayjay
Twenty Questions for Peter Singer | Journal of Practical Ethics
You said in an interview with Andrew Denton that if you and your wife had a child with Down syndrome, you would adopt the baby out. Could you explain the ethics of this and isn’t it a selfish decision? Could you elaborate on your views about disability, in particular why you think a life with disability is of less value and what you think the implications of that are?

I was assuming that there are other couples who are unable to have their own child, and who would be happy to adopt a child with Down syndrome. If that is the situation, I don’t see why it is selfish to enable a couple to have a child they want to have, and for my wife and myself to conceive another child, who would be very unlikely to have Down syndrome, and so would give us the child we want to have. For me, the knowledge that my child would not be likely to develop into a person whom I could treat as an equal, in every sense of the word, who would never be able to have children of his or her own, who I could not expect to grow up to be a fully independent adult, and with whom I could expect to have conversations about only a limited range of topics would greatly reduce my joy in raising my child and watching him or her develop.

“Disability” is a very broad term, and I would not say that, in general, “a life with disability” is of less value than one without disability. Much will depend on the nature of the disability. But let’s turn the question around, and ask why someone would deny that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being is of less value than the life of a normal human being. Most people think that the life of a dog or a pig is of less value than the life of a normal human being. On what basis, then, could they hold that the life of a profoundly intellectually disabled human being with intellectual capacities inferior to those of a dog or a pig is of equal value to the life of a normal human being? This sounds like speciesism to me, and as I said earlier, I have yet to see a plausible defence of speciesism. After looking for more than forty years, I doubt that there is one.
february 2017 by ayjay
A Radical Politics of Solidarity in the Age of Abortion
But I wish to make another point: abortion is incompatible with true solidarity. And, for this reason, abortion is always and everywhere inimical to the common good. However, in the current stage of capitalism, the only hope for a just settlement of the state, to say nothing of productive property, is a radical politics of solidarity. This is true for a couple of reasons. First, it will be seen that solidarity and the common good are inextricably linked. Second, true solidarity, especially solidarity understood in Christian terms, is the antidote to the individualistic mindset at the core of capitalist exploitation, including the reduction of persons to mere instrumentality. It will be seen that abortion is incompatible with solidarity and, therefore, the common good. The question, then, is how a radical politics of solidarity may be forged in a society that embraces abortion and rejects the common good.
abortion  theology  ethics 
january 2017 by ayjay
Bernard Williams reviews ‘Reasons and Persons’ by Derek Parfit · LRB 7 June 1984
To put it another way, it is not always clear why metaphysical positions, arrived at in this way, have ethical consequences at all. Parfit is encouraged by his metaphysics of the merely agglomerated self to accept an ethical outlook which abstracts from self-interest and sees other people, and stages of oneself, as more like one another than we normally suppose. He thinks that philosophy should move us to a more impersonal outlook. But the extent to which it should do that must surely depend on what the world is actually like. If the experiences which constitute one person are powerfully related to one another, and give their owner (as Parfit, rather riskily, allows us to call that person) a strong sense of his or her own identity and of difference from others, why should a metaphysical belief, that he or she is really a fuzzy set of experiences, provide a reason for feeling and acting in some altered way?

Connections between metaphysical and ethical issues are central to this work, but it is not always made clear how they run. In at least one case, one which Parfit touches only very briefly, they do not run at all. He says that if, as some metaphysicians have claimed, the passage of time is an illusion, it cannot be irrational in practical thought to have no preference for one time over another, such as a preference for the near over the far. But this does not follow. If time’s passage is an illusion, so is the flow of time apparently involved in action and deliberation themselves; relative to the metaphysical truth of the matter, the whole enterprise of practical deliberation, and all the various principles that might be brought to it, would alike have to be bracketed. If time’s passage is an illusion, we live that illusion, and finding out that it was an illusion would not provide us with a reason for deliberating in one way rather than another within it.
philosophy  ethics 
january 2017 by ayjay
Our Country Split Apart > Publications > National Affairs
Now, what perplexes Cowen most is that anyone would choose to be brutish rather than be nice. The arc of liberal history is moving us all from the nasty, brutish, and short natural life described by Thomas Hobbes toward hard-won technological freedom from natural determination. One reason for his perplexity may be that Cowen is tone-deaf to the downsides of a nice world, from even the point of view of the genuine liberation of moral and intellectual freedom. In a nice world, as Hobbes explains, words still have a purpose. But that purpose is not to boldly tell the truth as you see it, even if that means starting a fight. A nice person doesn't think of the truth as a point of honor; he sacrifices controversy to public relations, thinking of manners as weapons to manipulate customers and dressing for success. The bottom line is the problem isn't so much "political correctness" but a kind of "commercial correctness"; it's more the corporations than the government (although it's true they're working in tandem) that clamp down on those who don't share the most inclusive available view of marriage or bathroom selection. It's the corporations more even than the courts that privilege "nondiscrimination" over individual or religious liberty, compelling individuals to satisfy all the preferences of customers at the expense of their personal convictions. It wouldn't be nice to let moral judgmentalism trump "the customer is always right."

The key objection to niceness amounts to the fact that it's not really a virtue. You can't rely upon it as the foundation for the duties required of friends, family members, or fellow citizens. A nice person won't fight for you; a nice person wouldn't even lie for you, unless there's something in it for him. A nice person wouldn't be a Good Samaritan, if it required genuine risk or an undue deployment of time and treasure. A nice person isn't animated by love or honor or God. Niceness, if you think about it, is the most selfish of virtues, one, as Tocqueville noticed, rooted in a deep indifference to the well-being of others. It's more selfish than open selfishness, because the latter accords people the respect of letting them know where you stand. I let you do — and even affirm — whatever you do, because I don't care what you do as long as it doesn't bother me. Niceness, as Allan Bloom noticed, is the quality connected with flatness of soul, with being unmoved by the relational imperatives grounded in love and death.
politics  ethics  election2016  from instapaper
january 2017 by ayjay
From Roe to Trump - The New York Times
It is a hard thing to accept that some elections should be lost, especially in a country as divided over basic moral premises as our own. But just as the pro-life movement ultimately won real gains — in lives saved, laws altered, abortion rates reduced — by accepting the legitimacy of the republic even as it deplored the killing of the unborn, so today’s conservatism has far more to gain from the defeat of Donald Trump, and the chance to oppose Clintonian progressivism unencumbered by his authoritarianism, bigotry, misogyny and incompetence, than it does from answering the progressive drift toward Caesarism with a populist Elagabalus.

Not because it is guaranteed long-term victory in that scenario or any other. But because the deepest conservative insight is that justice depends on order as much as order depends on justice. So when Loki or the Joker or some still-darker Person promises the righting of some grave wrong, the defeat of your hated enemies, if you will only take a chance on chaos and misrule, the wise and courageous response is to tell them to go to hell.
politics  ethics 
november 2016 by ayjay
Toward a Better Understanding of the Difference Between Conflict and Harassment
Schulman argues that conflating conflict — which she defines as a power struggle — and abuse — when one actor wields power over another — has cultivated an epidemic of “overstating harm.” Individuals’ and groups’ tendencies to inflate slights against them leads to tragedy on a personal and global scale , she argues—when thinkers don’t differentiate productive political strife and personal attacks, they foreclose possibilities of resolution and social progress.

Conflict Is Not Abuse asks readers to engage with, rather than shy away from, contentious social issues — from the definition of sexual harassment to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. One of the book’s most significant and controversial revelations is that no matter which position one takes in conflict, as a crusader for a cause or as a victim, the consequences of misreading conflict as abuse and foreclosing pathways to repair are shared by all.
ethics  conflict 
october 2016 by ayjay
A Few Thoughts on “Purity Culture”
Confessional, orthodox evangelicals have a moral obligation to correct where the “purity culture” has abused, shamed, and alienated. We have a vested interest in holding the truth with love, in preaching a gospel where Jesus died and rose again, not so that our sex lives could be spotless but so that we could be accepted by God when they’re not. There is a moral imperative on evangelical Christians to teach what the Bible says about sexuality through a lens of redemption and wholeness, not through a lens of “Don’t mess this up or you’ll regret it.”

But at the same time, how can we do this if the voices setting the agenda are ones that fundamentally reject what Christianity teaches about the ultimate meaning of sex, marriage, gender, and even love? Healing those who were wounded by oppressive legalism and graceless shaming requires healing them with something, and that “something” has to be more than a narrative of autonomy and self-authentication. Trading in the purity culture for the hook-up culture isn’t a win.
ethics  sexuality  Christianity  from instapaper
september 2016 by ayjay
A Life of Meaning (Reason Not Required) - The New York Times
Even those cognitive scientists who have been most instrumental in uncovering our myriad innate biases continue to believe in the primacy of reason. Consider the argument by the Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom that we do not have free will, but since we are capable of conscious rational deliberation, so are responsible for our actions. Though deeply sympathetic to his conclusion, I am puzzled by his argument. The evidence most supportive of Bloom’s contention that we do not have free will also is compelling evidence against the notion of conscious rational deliberation.
philosophy  ethics  freedom  neuroscience 
september 2016 by ayjay
Thomas Nagel reviews ‘Does Terrorism Work’ by Richard English · LRB 8 September 2016
something intrinsically wrong in deliberately killing and maiming innocent civilians as a means to bring about even a desirable outcome. That is what people find morally revolting about terrorism, not just the death and suffering it causes. The sense that there are limits on what may be done to people is a crucial part of the morality most of us share. Contempt for such moral boundaries is the defining mark of both state and non-state campaigns of terror. In spite of his acknowledgment of what he calls the ‘terrible human costs’ of terrorism, English seems clueless about this essential aspect of the phenomenon, and of the normal reaction to it. ‘The casualness with which we all tend to be comfortable with other people’s suffering lies at the heart of the problem of terrorism,’ he says. Note that ‘all’. To assimilate terrorism to a universal human failing is morally obtuse. It is something much more radical than that.

The persistence of terrorism appears to be impervious to its overwhelming record of failure to ‘work’, in the normal sense. Terrorists, it seems, are at least as attached to their means as to their professed ends, and to those for whom killing is an end in itself, there is not much to say by way of rational counterargument.
terrorism  politics  ethics 
september 2016 by ayjay
Why Can't We All Just Get Along? The Uncertain Biological Basis of Morality
In fact, Greene’s own book suggests they wouldn’t. Notwithstanding its central argument, it includes lots of evidence that often the source of human conflict isn’t different moral systems but rather a kind of naturally unbalanced perspective. He cites a study in which Israelis and Arabs watched the same media coverage of the 1982 Beirut massacre and both groups concluded that the coverage was biased against their side. Any suspicion that this discrepancy was grounded in distinctive Jewish or Arab or Muslim values is deflated by another finding he cites, from the classic 1954 study in which Princeton and Dartmouth students, after watching a particularly rough Princeton-Dartmouth football game, reached sharply different conclusions about which side had played dirtier. Was the problem here a yawning gap between the value systems prevailing at Princeton and Dartmouth in the 1950s? Maybe a mint-julep-versus-gin-and-tonic thing?

No, the problem was that both groups consisted of human beings. As such, they suffered from a deep bias—a tendency to overestimate their team’s virtue, magnify their grievances, and do the reverse with their rivals. This bias seems to have been built into our species by natural selection—at least, that’s the consensus among evolutionary psychologists.
[Greene wants to argue that if we were all utilitarians most of our moral conflicts would go away, but this research shows quite clearly that they wouldn't]
ethics  philosophy  from instapaper
july 2016 by ayjay
my first commencement speech | Abler.
I won’t cheapen this day by offering you a simple victory narrative. If only, IF ONLY the doors of the world were entirely made of wood and steel. If only it were so simple—to make the world better, just using atoms and bits.

Think about the doors of the immaterial kind: the portals, the thresholds, the entry points to human flourishing that are only open to some, and sealed shut for others. These are doors whose pushing open and pulling closed are social, political, interpersonal mechanisms—mechanisms that no amount of physics alone can sway.

In other words: to find yourself equipped as an engineer in the physical, technical sense—to be able to intervene and even dismantle the doors of the tangible, built world—is still to find yourself an ordinary citizen with a much harder set of questions to engage. How do we share this planet? How do we talk to each other, people unlike ourselves? How do we grapple with the legacies of history? How do we build not only the future we can construct, but the just and sustainable future we want to live in, one that includes all of us? To pry open and build these kinds of entrances, you will use your engineering, yes, but you’ll need so much more than that. You’ll need wisdom, and you’ll have to look for it and recognize it far outside of technology.
tech  engineering  ethics 
july 2016 by ayjay
Ethics of Technological Mediation | CSET
Observing that technologies mediate perception, how we register the world, and action, how we act into the world, Verbeek  elaborates a theory of technological mediation, built upon a postphenomenological approach to technology pioneered by Don Ihde. Rather than focus exclusively on either the artifact “out there,” the technological object, or the will “in here,” the human subject, Verbeek invites us to focus ethical attention on the constitution of both the perceived object and the subject’s intention in the act of technological mediation. In other words, how technology shapes perception and action is also of ethical consequence.

As Verbeek rightly insists, “Artifacts are morally charged; they mediate moral decisions, shape moral subjects, and play an important role in moral agency.”
OOO  ethics  THM 
june 2016 by ayjay
'I Want Soul' | C. E. Morgan
The idea that writing about characters of another race requires a passage through a critical gauntlet, which involves apology and self-examination of an almost punitive nature, as though the act of writing race was somehow morally suspect, is a dangerous one. This approach appears culturally sensitive, but often it reveals a failure of nerve. I cannot imagine a mature artist approaching her work in such a hesitant fashion, and I believe the demand that we ought to reveals a species of fascism within the left—an embrace of political correctness with its required silences, which has left people afraid to offend or take a stand. The injunction to justify race-writing, while ostensibly considerate of marginalized groups, actually stifles transracial imagination and is inextricable from those codes of silence and repression, now normalized, which have contributed to the rise of the racist right in our country. When you leave good people afraid to speak on behalf of justice, however awkwardly or insensitively, those unafraid to speak will rise to power.

I was taught as a young person that the far political right and the far political left aren’t located on a spectrum but on a circle, where they inevitably meet in their extremity. This question always reminds me of that graphic because its central irony is that it tacitly asserts a fundamental difference, an ineradicable, ontological estrangement, between the races. It establishes race as such a special category of difference that the writer needs to approach it apologetically, even deferentially, without the real agency, power, and passion that define mature artistry. That approach is servile, cowardly, anti-artistic. It’s also anti-novelistic, because the project of the novel is founded on the inhabitation and depiction of the Other. And the Other is everywhere and every thing, including the so-called self.

I will also say this: I have both experienced and witnessed a great deal of suffering in my life, and that has informed my art. I’m here today, because I’m a fighter. I didn’t survive my life to ask permission to write my books.
race  writing  politics  ethics 
may 2016 by ayjay
How modern power works: less Game of Thrones, more Black Lives Matter
So that, Keltner argues, is how we gain power today: by operating on the understanding that its purpose is, as he defines it in the book, about “enhancing the greater good”. This sounds like very good news. But there’s a problem – one neatly encapsulated by the Prius driver who buys his car on the understanding that it is better for the environment and comes to love it as a signal of his wealth and virtue. Keltner quotes Lord Acton, who he trusts more than Machiavelli: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The results, he writes, are not pretty. “People who enjoy elevated power are more likely to eat impulsively and have sexual affairs, to violate the rules of the road, to lie and cheat, to shoplift, to take candy from children and to communicate in rude, profane and disrespectful ways … We gain and maintain power through empathy but, in our experience of power, we lose our focus on others.”
ethics  from instapaper
may 2016 by ayjay
Tomorrow’s Headlines - Dale Kuehne
Yesterday’s discussions were about sexual morality and marriage. Tomorrow’s discussions are about human identity and purpose. If anyone wishes to revisit yesterday’s discussions, the road goes through tomorrow’s discussions on identity.

So let’s begin. I believe the prevailing cultural notion of identity, as something each of us can only discover by looking within ourselves is logically flawed. I do not believe it is possible for any of us to understand who we are merely by looking within because none of us can know who we are without a reference point outside of ourselves. The question we face concerns not whether we require reference points outside of ourselves, but which ones. Teaching needs to include the examination of external reference points to help people avoid getting lost in the abyss of the self.

If I am right, then our regime is wrong. If the regime is wrong then the consequences for ourselves, our children and coming generations is enormous. If the regime is wrong then we are embarking on a course that is destined to fail by teaching something about identity we know not to be true: that the only way we can figure out who we are is to look exclusively within.
identity  self  Christianity  ethics 
may 2016 by ayjay
Hume’s Call to Action | The Nation
Hume’s skepticism about the effectiveness of our rational faculties in moral judgment was partly directed against divines like Samuel Clarke, who tried to discover the criteria for virtue in an immutable measure of rightness accessible to the mind. At the same time, it was directed against latter-day Stoics like Shaftesbury, for whom the idea of virtue was sufficient to motivate good conduct. In fact, Hume believed, morality had its origins in moral feelings, not rational principles. Incitement to action could only be sparked by a driving passion in the individual, not purely by the notion of what they ought to do. As Hume put it in a letter to Hutcheson in 1739, “virtue can never be the sole motive to any action.”

On the basis of this insight, Hume reconceived the task of philosophy. It ought not to be championed, as the ancient schools had done, as a “medicine for the mind.” Nor was it a source of rules for action that would guarantee righteousness. Its role was critical reflection rather than exhortation or consolation. Accordingly, such Stoic precepts as were to be found in Seneca or Epictetus were deemed to be misbegotten aspirations. Mere arguments could never move us without engaging our affections. Ideas of the good, in order to be effective, had to be rooted in what was agreeable. Philosophy for this reason had to educate through taste, by appeal to active psychological preferences. It was idle to prescribe what ideally ought to obtain. More than this, enforcing ideals that had no traction in existing mores would undermine the fabric of society.
philosophy  ethics 
may 2016 by ayjay
The Most Dangerous Creep On Campus | HeterodoxAcademy.org
A third form of vertical creep can be seen in the relaxation of the intentionality criterion in workplace bullying research. As Salin (2003) observes, “intent is typically not part of the definition, but instead the subjective perception of the victim is stressed” (pp.1215-1216). Thus bullying can be said to occur even if the identified bully had no intent to harm the identified victim. This broadens the traditional concept of bullying by including behavior that might be inadvertent. This opening of the definition of bullying to the subjectivity of victims arguably represents a fourth form of vertical creep, and is also observed in school bullying scholarship. Olweus (2013), for example, proposes that “the ultimate “power of definition” must reside with the targeted student” (p. 757) as to when a power imbalance occurs. Similarly, Mishna (2012) argues forcefully that victims’ judgments of whether they have been bullied should take precedence over those of perpetrators and adult observers, such as parents and teachers…

To summarize, the concept of bullying has spread from its original meaning to encompass a wider range of phenomena. It has expanded horizontally into online behavior, into adult workplaces, and into forms of social exclusion that do not directly target the victim with hurtful actions, as distinct from hurtful omissions. It has also expended vertically so that behavior that is less extreme than prototypical bullying now falls within its bounds, primarily by loosening defining criteria. In some circumstances bullying behaviour need not be repeated or intentional, and it need not occur in the context of a power imbalance as traditionally conceived. Greater weight in determining when bullying has occurred is now given to the subjective perceptions of the victim. As a result, “bullying” can now refer to a much greater variety of actions than it did originally.
ethics  politics  academentia 
april 2016 by ayjay
The Ideology Is Not The Movement | Slate Star Codex
Scholars call the process of creating a new tribe “ethnogenesis” – Robbers’ Cave was artificially inducing ethnogenesis to see what would happen. My model of ethnogenesis involves four stages: pre-existing differences, a rallying flag, differentiation, and dissolution.
sociology  ethics  from instapaper
april 2016 by ayjay
Crypto-Gram: January 15, 2016 - Schneier on Security
Sesame Credit is largely based on a US system called FICO. That's the system that determines your credit score. You actually have a few dozen different ones, and they determine whether you can get a mortgage, car loan or credit card, and what sorts of interest rates you're offered. The exact algorithm is secret, but we know in general what goes into a FICO score: how much debt you have, how good you've been at repaying your debt, how long your credit history is and so on.

There's nothing about your social network, but that might change. In August, Facebook was awarded a patent on using a borrower's social network to help determine if he or she is a good credit risk. Basically, your creditworthiness becomes dependent on the creditworthiness of your friends. Associate with deadbeats, and you're more likely to be judged as one.

Your associations can be used to judge you in other ways as well. It's now common for employers to use social media sites to screen job applicants. This manual process is increasingly being outsourced and automated; companies like Social Intelligence, Evolv and First Advantage automatically process your social networking activity and provide hiring recommendations for employers. The dangers of this type of system -- from discriminatory biases resulting from the data to an obsession with scores over more social measures -- are too many.

The company Klout tried to make a business of measuring your online influence, hoping its proprietary system would become an industry standard used for things like hiring and giving out free product samples.

The US government is judging you as well. Your social media postings could get you on the terrorist watch list, affecting your ability to fly on an airplane and even get a job. In 2012, a British tourist's tweet caused the US to deny him entry into the country. We know that the National Security Agency uses complex computer algorithms to sift through the Internet data it collects on both Americans and foreigners.
socialmedia  ethics  politics  surveillance 
march 2016 by ayjay
Moral Psychology: An Exchange by Jonathan Haidt | The New York Review of Books
Shaw thus repeatedly asserts that researching the moral sense is tantamount to claiming to be an oracle of moral truth. She then educates us: “It is a fallacy to suggest that expertise in psychology, a descriptive natural science, can itself qualify someone to determine what is morally right and wrong.” It is indeed a fallacy. That is why Pinker wrote, in a section on morality in the book Shaw claims to have read:
The starting point is to distinguish morality per se, a topic in philosophy (in particular, normative ethics), from the human moral sense, a topic in psychology.

It is why Haidt, near the end of his book, wrote:
Philosophers typically distinguish between descriptive definitions of morality (which simply describe what people happen to think is moral) and normative definitions (which specify what is really and truly right, regardless of what anyone thinks). So far in this book I have been entirely descriptive.

Haidt then offered a definition of “moral systems” that he said “cannot stand alone as a normative definition,” but that might be useful as an “adjunct” to philosophical theories.
psychology  ethics  neuroscience  from instapaper
march 2016 by ayjay
The Psychologists Take Power by Tamsin Shaw | The New York Review of Books
In spite of the rhetoric employed by Damon and Colby concerning the search for higher moral truths, the basic moral principle that is consistently employed in this psychological literature is the bare Hobbesian one of resolving disagreement, or promoting cooperation. In his book Moral Tribes, Joshua Greene warns that even those who seek pragmatic agreement need “an explicit and coherent moral philosophy, a second moral compass that provides direction when gut feelings can’t be trusted.” So in addition to questioning whether psychological research can vindicate moral norms, we also have to ask whether the minimal moral norm of cooperation employed by psychologists is sufficient to provide them with a reliable moral compass.

Recent developments in the profession of psychology have been discouraging in this respect. [...]

This should be an important lesson concerning our moral frailty, one that should make us wary of conferring moral authority on sources that have no plausible claims to such authority, such as scientists of human behavior. Psychological expertise is a tool that can be used for good or ill. This applies as much to moral psychology as any other field of psychological research. Expertise in teaching people to override their moral intuitions is only a moral good if it serves good ends. Those ends should be determined by rigorous moral deliberation.
psychology  ethics  from instapaper
march 2016 by ayjay
Will we compile? | ROUGH TYPE
Computers can’t choose our goals for us, Wolfram correctly observes. “Goals are a human construct.” Determining our purposes will remain a human activity, beyond the reach of automation. But will it really matter? If we are required to formulate our goals in a language a machine can understand, is not the machine determining, or at least circumscribing, our purposes? Can you assume another’s language without also assuming its system of meaning and its system of being? The question isn’t a new one. “I must create a system, or be enlaved by another man’s,” wrote William Blake two hundred years ago. Poets and other thoughtful persons have always struggled to express themselves, to formulate and fulfill their purposes, within and against the constraints of language. Up to now, the struggle has been with a language that evolved to express human purposes—to express human being. The ontological crisis changes, and deepens, when we are required to express ourselves in a language developed to suit the workings of a computer. Suddenly, we face a new question: Is a compilable life worth living?
ethics  tech 
march 2016 by ayjay
Meditations On Moloch | Slate Star Codex
Las Vegas doesn’t exist because of some decision to hedonically optimize civilization, it exists because of a quirk in dopaminergic reward circuits, plus the microstructure of an uneven regulatory environment, plus Schelling points. A rational central planner with a god’s-eye-view, contemplating these facts, might have thought “Hm, dopaminergic reward circuits have a quirk where certain tasks with slightly negative risk-benefit ratios get an emotional valence associated with slightly positive risk-benefit ratios, let’s see if we can educate people to beware of that.” People within the system, following the incentives created by these facts, think: “Let’s build a forty-story-high indoor replica of ancient Rome full of albino tigers in the middle of the desert, and so become slightly richer than people who didn’t!” Just as the course of a river is latent in a terrain even before the first rain falls on it – so the existence of Caesar’s Palace was latent in neurobiology, economics, and regulatory regimes even before it existed. The entrepreneur who built it was just filling in the ghostly lines with real concrete. So we have all this amazing technological and cognitive energy, the brilliance of the human species, wasted on reciting the lines written by poorly evolved cellular receptors and blind economics, like gods being ordered around by a moron. Some people have mystical experiences and see God. There in Las Vegas, I saw Moloch. [...]

A couple people asked me what I meant, and I didn’t have the background then to explain. Well, this post is the background. People are using the contingent stupidity of our current government to replace lots of human interaction with mechanisms that cannot be coordinated even in principle. I totally understand why all these things are good right now when most of what our government does is stupid and unnecessary. But there is going to come a time when – after one too many bioweapon or nanotech or nuclear incidents – we, as a civilization, are going to wish we hadn’t established untraceable and unstoppable ways of selling products.

And if we ever get real live superintelligence, pretty much by definition it is going to have >51% of the power and all attempts at “coordination” with it will be useless.

So I agree with Robin Hanson. This is the dream time. This is a rare confluence of circumstances where the we are unusually safe from multipolar traps, and as such weird things like art and science and philosophy and love can flourish.

As technological advance increases, the rare confluence will come to an end. New opportunities to throw values under the bus for increased competitiveness will arise. New ways of copying agents to increase the population will soak up our excess resources and resurrect Malthus’ unquiet spirit. Capitalism and democracy, previously our protectors, will figure out ways to route around their inconvenient dependence on human values. And our coordination power will not be nearly up to the task, assuming somthing much more powerful than all of us combined doesn’t show up and crush our combined efforts with a wave of its paw. [...]

The Universe is a dark and foreboding place, suspended between alien deities. Cthulhu, Azathoth, Gnon, Moloch, Mammon, Ares, call them what you will.

Somewhere in this darkness is another god. He has also had many names. In the Kushiel books, his name was Elua. He is the god of flowers and free love and all soft and fragile things. Of art and science and philosophy and love. Of niceness, community, and civilization. He is a god of humans.

The other gods sit on their dark thrones and think “Ha ha, a god who doesn’t even control any hell-monsters or command his worshippers to become killing machines. What a weakling! This is going to be so easy!”

But somehow Elua is still here. No one knows exactly how. And the gods who oppose Him tend to find Themselves meeting with a surprising number of unfortunate accidents.

There are many gods, but this one is ours.
politics  economics  culture  ethics 
february 2016 by ayjay
ideas are boring | Freddie de Boer
Like so many other Big Ideas, the notion that love isn’t real (or is no longer real, a particularly uninspired flavor) is published and repeated over and over again, and each time is represented as the very first time it’s been expressed. You can chock this up to the clickfarming imperative, or to the vagaries of an attention economy, or whatever. All I know is that I read some essayist gravely intoning about the impossibility of love every six months, and each time, they give the distinct impression of someone who sees themselves as Prometheus, bringing fire down from the mountain. More likely you’re bringing click through rate down to accounting. If you think this story is true, tell it, but recognize that it’s an old folktale, not some cutting-edge provocation. I’m afraid you’ll just have to reconcile yourself to being yet another grubby plebe like the rest of us, dutifully passing around the same grey-haired old ideas. There are worse things in life.
ideas  ethics  bullshit 
february 2016 by ayjay
A scandal in the euthanasia archives - The Prince Arthur Herald
One thing is clear: if the euthanasia movement’s records have indeed been destroyed, a lot of history has vanished, Orwell-like, down a cavernous memory hole. And with it, information the right-to-die movement doesn’t want you to know.

I should know, because I saw these records and I know what was in them. I wrote up my findings in my 2003 book on the history of the movement, published by Oxford University Press.

The story of my involvement in these valuable records begins about fifteen years ago when I was given permission to explore the archives of what used to be called Partnerships for Caring, Inc. PFC was a successor organization to the defunct Euthanasia Society of America (ESA). The ESA records, housed in a law firm in Baltimore, consisted of 15 large cardboard boxes holding correspondence, financial records, press releases, published materials and minutes of meetings, much of it uncatalogued.

There were literally thousands of items in these boxes documenting the entire 20th c. history of the U.S. and non-American activists who advocated the legalization of various forms of euthanasia. The ESA archive contained materials relating to the careers of noteworthy social activists such as Derek Humphry, the founder of the Hemlock Society (now called Compassion and Choices), Joseph Fletcher, the founder of “situation ethics,” Alan Guttmacher (after whom the population-control Guttmacher Institute in New York City is named), and the birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger who, unbeknownst to all her biographers, was also a vocal proponent of legalized euthanasia.
death  euthanasia  ethics 
february 2016 by ayjay
The Head Scarf and Me - The New Yorker
This isn’t a scientific study; I didn’t try it multiple times, or measure anything. All I have is my subjective impression, which is this: walking through the city with a head scarf was a completely different experience. People were so much nicer. Nobody looked away when I approached. I felt less jostled; men seemed to step aside, to give me more room. When I went into a store, a man held the door for me, and I realized that it was the first time anyone had reached a door before me without going in first and letting it shut in my face. Most incredibly, when I got to a bus stop shortly after the bus had pulled away, the departing vehicle stopped in the middle of the street, the door opened, and a man reached out his hand to help me in, calling me “sister.” It felt amazing. To feel so welcomed and accepted and safe, to be able to look into someone’s face and smile, and have the smile returned—it was a wonderful gift.

How long can I keep wearing it? I found myself thinking, as the bus lurched into motion and cars honked around us. The rest of the day? Forever?

I wondered why it hadn’t occurred to me sooner to try wearing a head scarf—why nobody ever told me it was something I could do. It wasn’t difficult, or expensive. Why should I not cover my head here, if it made the people who lived here feel so much better? Why should I cause needless discomfort to them and to myself? Out of principle? What principle? The principle that women were equal to men? To whom was I communicating that principle? With what degree of success? What if I thought I was communicating one thing but what people understood was something else—what if what they understood was that I disapproved of them and thought their way of life was backward? Did that still count as “communicating”?

I found myself thinking about high heels. High heels were painful, and, for me at least, expensive, because they made walking more difficult and I ended up taking more taxis. Yet there were many times when I wore heels to work-related events in New York, specifically because I felt it made people treat me with more consideration. Why, then, would I refuse to wear a head scarf, which brought a similar benefit of social acceptance, without the disadvantage of impeding my ability to stand or walk?

And yet, when I thought about leaving the scarf on for the rest of my stay, something about it felt dishonest, almost shameful, as if I were duping people into being kind to me. Those girls who smiled into my eyes—they thought I was like them. The guy who helped me on the bus—he thought I was his sister."
ethics  culture 
february 2016 by ayjay
Humanism, Science, and the Radical Expansion of the Possible | Marilynne Robinson
So if selfhood implies individuality, or if our undeniable individuality justifies the sense of selfhood, then there is another mystery to be acknowledged: that this impulse to deny the reality, which is to say the value, of the human self should still persist and flourish among us. Where slavery and other forms of extreme exploitation of human labor have been general, moral convenience would account for much of it, no doubt. Where population groups are seen as enemies or even as burdens, certain nefarious traits are attributed to them as a whole that are taken to override the qualities of individual members. Again, moral convenience could account for this. Both cases illustrate the association of the denial of selfhood with the devaluation of the human person. This would seem too obvious to be said, if it were not true that the denial of selfhood, which is, we are told, authorized by the methods of neuroscience and by the intentionally generalized reports it offers of the profoundly intricate workings of the brain, persists and flourishes.
humanism  science  ethics 
january 2016 by ayjay
Virginibus Puerisque, by Robert Louis Stevenson : Chapter III
Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill. When they do not require to go to the office, when they are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is a blank to them. If they have to wait an hour or so for a train, they fall into a stupid trance with their eyes open. To see them, you would suppose there was nothing to look at and no one to speak with; you would imagine they were paralysed or alienated; and yet very possibly they are hard workers in their own way, and have good eyesight for a flaw in a deed or a turn of the market. They have been to school and college, but all the time they had their eye on the medal; they have gone about in the world and mixed with clever people, but all the time they were thinking of their own affairs. As if a man’s soul were not too small to begin with, they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a life of all work and no play; until here they are at forty, with a listless attention, a mind vacant of all material of amusement, and not one thought to rub against another, while they wait for the train. Before he was breeched, he might have clambered on the boxes; when he was twenty, he would have stared at the girls; but now the pipe is smoked out, the snuff-box empty, and my gentleman sits bolt upright upon a bench, with lamentable eyes. This does not appeal to me as being Success in Life.
ethics  leisure 
january 2016 by ayjay
How “Making a Murderer” Went Wrong - The New Yorker
“Making a Murderer” raises serious and credible allegations of police and prosecutorial misconduct in the trials of Steven Avery and Brendan Dassey. It also implies that that misconduct was malicious. That could be true; vindictive prosecutions have happened in our justice system before and they will happen again. But the vast majority of misconduct by law enforcement is motivated not by spite but by the belief that the end justifies the means—that it is fine to play fast and loose with the facts if doing so will put a dangerous criminal behind bars.

That same reasoning, with the opposite aims, seems to govern “Making a Murderer.” But while people nearly always think that they are on the side of the angels, what finally matters is that they act that way. The point of being scrupulous about your means is to help insure accurate ends, whether you are trying to convict a man or exonerate him. Ricciardi and Demos instead stack the deck to support their case for Avery, and, as a result, wind up mirroring the entity that they are trying to discredit....

Toward the end of the series, Dean Strang, Steven Avery’s defense lawyer, notes that most of the problems in the criminal-justice system stem from “unwarranted certitude”—what he calls “a tragic lack of humility of everyone who participates.” Ultimately, “Making a Murderer” shares that flaw; it does not challenge our yearning for certainty or do the difficult work of helping to foster humility. Instead, it swaps one absolute for another—and, in doing so, comes to resemble the system it seeks to correct. It is easy to express outrage, comforting to have closure, and satisfying to know all the answers. But, as defense lawyers remind people every day, it is reasonable to doubt.
ethics  media 
january 2016 by ayjay
The Evolution of David Brooks
I’ve really become disillusioned—not completely—but halfway disillusioned with neuroscience. Ten years ago, I thought that was going to teach us a lot about who we are. And it does, a little. It teaches you the importance of emotion, how the amygdala is involved in everything. But I don’t think neuroscience has taught us anything that George Eliot didn’t already know.
neuroscience  ethics 
january 2016 by ayjay
Nick Shadow and the acte gratuit
In youth the panting slave pursues
The fair evasive dame;
Then, caught in colder fetters, woos
Wealth, Office or a name;
Till, old, dishonoured, sick, downcast
And failing in his wits,
In Virtue’s narrow cell at last
The withered bondsman sits.

That man alone his fate fulfills,
For he alone is free
Who chooses what to will, and wills
His choice as destiny.
No eye his future can foretell.
No law his past explain
Whom neither Passion may compel,
Nor Reason can restrain.

— Auden and Kallman, The Rake's Progress (Act II Scene 1)
auden  ethics  from notes
january 2016 by ayjay
How Bad Are Things? | Slate Star Codex
This is part of why I get enraged whenever somebody on Tumblr says “People in Group X need to realize they have it really good”, or “You’re a Group X member, so stop pretending like you have real problems.” The town where I practice psychiatry is mostly white and mostly wealthy. That doesn’t save it. And whenever some online thinkpiece writer laughs about how good people in Group X have it and how hilarious it is that they sometimes complain about their lives, it never fails that I have just gotten home from treating a member of Group X who attempted suicide.
psychology  ethics  politics 
december 2015 by ayjay
Equality as a Model Ideal | Harry Frankfurt
Proponents of egalitarianism frequently suppose that they have offered grounds for their position when in fact what they have offered is pertinent as support only for the doctrine of sufficiency. Thus they often, in attempting to gain acceptance for egalitarianism, call attention to disparities between the conditions of life characteristic of the rich and those characteristic of the poor. Now it is undeniable that contemplating such disparities does often elicit a conviction that it would be morally desirable to redistribute the available resources so as to improve the circumstances of the poor. And, of course, that would bring about a greater degree of economic equality. But the indisputability of the moral appeal of improving the condition of the poor by allocating to them resources taken from those who are well off does not even tend to show that egalitarianism is, as a moral ideal, similarly indisputable. To show of poverty that it is compellingly undesirable does nothing whatsoever to show the same of inequality. For what makes someone poor in the morally relevant sense — in which poverty is understood as a condition from which we naturally recoil — is not that his economic assets are simply of lesser magnitude than those of others.

A typical example of this confusion is provided by Ronald Dworkin. Dworkin characterizes the ideal of economic equality as requiring that "no citizen has less than an equal share of the community's resources just in order that others may have more of what he lacks." But in support of his claim that the United States now falls short of this ideal, he refers to circumstances that are not primarily evidence of inequality but of poverty: "It is, I think, apparent that the United States falls far short now [of the ideal of equality]. A substantial minority of Americans are chronically unemployed or earn wages below any realistic 'poverty line' or are handicapped in various ways or burdened with special needs; and most of these people would do the work necessary to earn a decent living if they had the opportunity and capacity" (p. 208). What mainly concerns Dworkin — what he actually considers to be morally important — is manifestly not that our society permits a situation in which a substantial minority of Americans have smaller shares than others of the resources which he apparently presumes should be available for all. His concern is, rather, that the members of this minority do not earn decent livings.

The force of Dworkin’s complaint does not derive from the allegation that our society fails to provide some individuals with as much as others but from a quite different allegation, namely, our society fails to provide each individual with "the opportunity to develop and lead a life he can regard as valuable both to himself and to [the community]" (p. 211). Dworkin is dismayed most fundamentally not by evidence that the United States permits economic inequality but by evidence that it fails to ensure that everyone has enough to lead "a life of choice and value" (p. 212) — in other words, that it fails to fulfill for all the ideal of sufficiency. What bothers him most immediately is not that certain quantitative relationships are widespread but that certain qualitative conditions prevail. He cares principally about the value of people's lives, but he mistakenly represents himself as caring principally about the relative magnitudes of their economic assets.
ethics  politics  economics 
december 2015 by ayjay
Economic Inequality Is Not Immoral - Harry Frankfurt
Mere differences in the amounts of money people have are not in themselves distressing. We tend to be quite unmoved, after all, by inequalities between those who are very well-to-do and those who are extremely rich. The fact that some people have much less than others is not at all morally disturbing when it is clear that the worse off have plenty.

The fundamental error of economic egalitarianism lies in supposing that it is morally important whether one person has less than another, regardless of how much either of them has and regardless also of how much utility each derives from what he has.

Whether one person has a larger income than another is an entirely extrinsic matter. It has to do with a relationship between the incomes of the two people. It is independent both of the actual sizes of their respective incomes and, more importantly, of the amounts of satisfaction they are able to derive from them.

A preoccupation with the condition of others interferes, moreover, with the most basic task on which a person's selection of monetary goals for himself most decisively depends. It leads a person away from understanding what he himself truly requires in order to pursue his own most authentic needs, interests, and ambitions.

Exaggerating the moral importance of economic equality is harmful, in other words, because it is alienating. It separates a person from his own individual reality, and leads him to focus his attention upon desires and needs that are not most authentically his own.

When someone is evaluating his well-being -- his satisfaction with the resources at his disposal -- what is it important for him to take into account? The assessments he has to make are personal. What he must do is to make assessments on the basis of a realistic estimate of how closely the course of his life suits his individual capacities, meets his particular needs, fulfills his best potentialities, and provides him with what he himself cares about.

If a person has enough resources to provide for the satisfaction of his needs and his interests, his resources are then entirely adequate; their adequacy does not depend in addition on the magnitude of the resources other people possess.
politics  ethics  economics 
december 2015 by ayjay
The Orwell Lecture 2015 | The Orwell Prize
However we pursue that fight (not exactly an academic question today; and Orwell and Merton would disagree sharply here, I think, given Merton’s near-pacifism), the central moral question is whether we are going to use the language of tautology and self-justification, the language that gives us alone the right to be called reasonable and human, or whether we labour to discover other ways of speaking and imagining.  If we settle for the former, we are already planning the next round of violence.  The latter is hard and counter-intuitive because it does not promise what we most of us secretly long for, a simple end to conflict and complication.  But it is the very opposite of resignation, because it summons the writer to work, to the constant creation and re-creation of an authentically shared culture – the pattern of free and civil exchange that is neither bland nor violent.  The ‘small blue capsule of indignation’ has to be punctured again and again.  And if Merton is right, that means the writer needs rather more than just ideas; she or he needs something of the contemplative liberty to sift out the motivation towards bad writing that comes from the terrors and ambitions of the ego, and find the liberty to allow words to arrive both fresh and puzzling.  Easy to imagine Orwell’s raised eyebrows at the thought of his contemplative vocation; but if this brief attempt at staging an encounter between these two passionate and contentious writers has come anywhere near the truth, that’s what might have to be said about the calling not only of Orwell but of any writer worth reading.
ethics  writing 
december 2015 by ayjay
Shutting Down Conversations About Rape at Harvard Law - The New Yorker
The ironclad principle that you must always believe the accuser comes as a corrective to hundreds of years in which rape victims were systematically disbelieved and painted as liars, sluts, or crazies. This history, along with the facts that sexual assault is notoriously underreported and that the crime suffers no more false reports than other crimes—and the related idea that only those actually assaulted would take on the burden of coming forward—leads many advocates today to the “always believe” orthodoxy. We have seen recent high-profile instances in which that article of faith has led to damaging errors, as in Rolling Stone’s reporting of a rape at the University of Virginia, or the prosecution of the Duke lacrosse case. The extent of the damage comes out of the fact that “always believe” unwittingly renders the stakes of each individual case impossibly high, by linking the veracity of any one claim to the veracity of all claims. When the core belief is that accusers never lie, if any one accuser has lied, it brings into question the stability of the entire thought system, rendering uncertain all allegations of sexual assault. But this is neither sensible nor necessary: that a few claims turn out to be false does not mean that all, most, or even many claims are wrongful. The imperative to act as though every accusation must be true—when we all know some number will not be—harms the over-all credibility of sexual assault claims.
law  ethics  politics 
december 2015 by ayjay
The Love of God: Divine Gift, Human Gratitude, and Mutual Faithfulness in Judaism | Jon D. Levenson
At the end of this account of Solomon’s covenant making, our text employs the term šalom to describe the relationship that Solomon, in turn, has established with Hiram through the covenant between the two of them. Although some translations render the word as “peace,” a sense it often has, here the English term “friendship” is preferable. There is no reason to think the two kings would have been at war without the covenant, for there had been no hostilities beforehand. What the covenant does, rather, is to continue and renew a relationship of goodwill and mutual service: Hiram will provide the cypress and cedar logs for Solomon’s projected temple, and Solomon will provide Hiram with wheat and oil on an annual basis (vv. 22–25).

If we extrapolate from this example to the “gracious covenant” that the Lord established with Israel (1 Kgs 8:23), we see that the operative framework assumes a kind of service that is far from slavery. It is, rather, a relationship of service founded not in conquest and subjugation but in good relations and mutual benefit. We can go further. Since covenant in the ancient Near East is usually a relationship between kings, Israel’s status is best seen not as that of a slave but more like that of a regal figure. Indeed, when the Lord promises Israel at Sinai that if they keep the covenant, they “shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6), “kingdom” there may well refer not to the regime but to the people, understood collectively as a royal and sacral body. All Israel can stand, in other words, in the position of a regal figure faithfully serving his own covenantal lord—a king, not a slave.
theology  bible  ethics  friendship  Judaism 
december 2015 by ayjay
Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren by John Maynard Keynes 1930
When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession – as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life – will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease. All kinds of social customs and economic practices, affecting the distribution of wealth and of economic rewards and penalties, which we now maintain at all costs, however distasteful and unjust they may be in themselves, because they are tremendously useful in promoting the accumulation of capital, we shall then be free, at last, to discard.

Of course there will still be many people with intense, unsatisfied purposiveness who will blindly pursue wealth – unless they can find some plausible substitute. But the rest of us will no longer be under any obligation to applaud and encourage them. For we shall inquire more curiously than is safe to-day into the true character of this “purposiveness” with which in varying degrees Nature has endowed almost all of us. For purposiveness means that we are more concerned with the remote future results of our actions than with their own quality or their immediate effects on our own environment. The “purposive” man is always trying to secure a spurious and delusive immortality for his acts by pushing his interest in them forward into time. He does not love his cat, but his cat’s kittens; nor, in truth, the kittens, but only the kittens’ kittens, and so on forward forever to the end of cat-dom. For him jam is not jam unless it is a case of jam to-morrow and never jam to-day. Thus by pushing his jam always forward into the future, he strives to secure for his act of boiling it an immortality.
economics  ethics 
november 2015 by ayjay
Why Toleration Is Never Enough and Why Moral Conservatives and Free Speech Liberals Will Keep on Losing | Civitas Peregrina
But this makes for the obvious question: if recognition, not toleration, is the rule of the day, why can’t moral conservatives or others with unpopular views make similarly structured claims? Well, in my view, they should be able to and the fact that they can’t helps reveal an incoherence at the heart of the recognition claim. Given a certain range of moral and religious pluralism, it is principally and practically impossible to extend recognition to all or even most, especially once recognition extends into our everyday social lives. Recognition is, or at least can be, a zero-sum game. And so what is lurking behind the purported argument for recognition—and toleration, for that matter—is a set of moral judgments about what lives are in fact worth recognizing or tolerating, and here is where the misunderstandings of moral conservatives and free-speech liberals will continue to lead to loss after loss. It is not enough to merely beg for toleration on the grounds of tradition or conscience or some-such. Nor is it enough to suggest, as Mill did, that it is worth our while to hear scandalous or provocative views. For when our latter day inquisitors deny the requests for recognition or toleration, the reason is that the moral and psychological harms they suppose themselves to be receiving stem from what they view as morally problematic views of the world. It is the sheer existence (or at least their own awareness) of these terrible people and their ideas that seem to function as a standing rebuke to their own moral self-conceptions—and thus those terrible others must be marginalized and even run out of impolite company.
politics  ethics  freespeech 
november 2015 by ayjay
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