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Monthly Archives: September 2010

I was reading “Ayn Rand Answers, the Best of her Q&A” when I came upon an interesting quote. When asked ‘what is art?’, she responded with this:

“Art is the re-creation of reality according to one’s values. By ‘re-creation’ I mean neither copying reality nor creation in a mystical sense. I don’t mean going contrary to reality or indulging in fantasies. I mean (paraphrasing Aristotle) creation what could be and ought to be.”

I find that an interesting view although I don’t agree with it. I don’t think that Stephen King’s works indicate that he thinks Maine should be populated with monstrous rabid St. Bernards or classic cars that murder people on their own. I do agree that his character interactions represent his worldview.

I do think you can learn a lot about people simply by looking at the artwork they produce and/or admire. This is why I don’t like the Young and the Restless, because Victor Newman never watches football or even sits down to eat a plate of nachos. I like pool, football, boxing, kung-fu movies, Family Guy, and all the science and history of religion stuff on the smart channels. People who like different stuff than me are just wrong. Stop being so self-absorbed and start liking the stuff I like. Oh yeah my biggest fear is a midget with a crossbow. Why? Because why not! That is all.

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Something that has long puzzled me is the fact that in our society the highest compliment you can pay someone is to say that that person is selfless. Anakin Skywalker did it in Revenge of the Sith “The Jedi are selfless. . . they care only about others.” My question is, as a society, why would we want to encourage people to have such little regard for themselves that concern for the self ranks so low on the scale of human values? This concept could only be good in a worldview that regarded the interests of the individual as being diametrically oppose to those of the group. A more rational view is that the interests of the individual and the group often coincide or at the very least don’t conflict which is why individuals choose to become members of a group in the first place. In this view, the dichotomy of caring about one’s self and caring about others proves too simplistic because it leaves out an option not properly identified in those options, that of cooperation (and you know it’s important because I put it in italics).

Contrary to what some may think, cooperation is not the antithesis of individual ambition. If I’m a baker and you are a cook and we discover that by working together we can sell hamburgers at a profit level higher than if we sold our wares separately, that is cooperation that is not likely to be mistaken for altruism. There are other forms of cooperation, however, that might be. Tit-for-tat reciprocity (you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours) might be mistaken for altruism if someone witnesses only one side of the dynamic (they see me lend you an amount of money while they don’t see you returning the money and perhaps extending me other in-group benefits later). Saving a fallen comrade in battle is a classic example of cooperation that might be mistaken for altruism. It is cooperation because the success of the group depends on such actions and since the individual has a vested interest in the outcome of the battle rescuing a fallen comrade cannot truly be viewed as selfless.

The problem with these examples is that the casual observer doesn’t necessarily readily distinguish between acts of altruism and cooperation. The most likely thing is that the people often misidentify these all as selfless and proceed from there. Our popular conceptualization of ethics reflects this which causes us to glorify selflessness as such with some drastic and unfortunate consequences. When selflessness is upheld as a virtue, it is a necessary consequence that self-interest comes to be characterized as a moral failing. This is a bastardization of the correct moral construction wherein cooperation should be extolled because it enables groups of people to voluntarily work in their collective self-interest. In this formulation self interest is not the enemy, it is actually the goal which is important because people are not then left with the choice of whether to be good people or to work in their own self-interest (a dilemma which could only be pleasing to an enemy of humankind).

As a hypothetical example, imagine a universe where Kevin Durant was convinced that selflessness was the highest virtue. In this alternate world his performance in team USA’s FIBA final against Turkey would have been one where he was constantly deferring to his teammates and passing up open shots even though he’s the best player on the team and in this scenario the US would have lost. As it stands, however, Kevin Durant acted in a cooperative fashion meaning that he did what was best for the team. What was best, in this case, is that he scored 28 of the USA’s 81 points leading the team to a gold medal victory. This is an example of the fact that cooperation is a more effective strategy than altruism both for the individual and for the group.

The point I am making is that our cultural and social mores should be changed to reflect the fact that cooperation, not selflessness, should rank among the highest of values for human society. This would work both to encourage traits that are actually useful rather than focusing on the negative by-products of heroic action such as the pain and suffering that is often endured by our heroes (we can all admire people like Dr. Martin Luther King but who in their right mind would encourage their children to get shot like him?) I would think of a better concluding sentence but if you’re gotten this far into the reading I think you get the gist of it. Peace out!

In my writing I frequently make allusion to “rights” without properly clarifying what these are. This is no minor detail as the term can mean very different things whether it is used by a Marxist, religious fundamentalist, or a Founding Father of the United States. If we accept the dictionary.com definition of the term, definition #19 which describes it as “that which is due to anyone by just claim, legal guarantees, moral principles, etc.”, it is apparent that the meaning of the term is necessarily contingent upon which set of moral principles are presumed.

The fact that the premises of the countless ideologies in existence are in many cases contradictory with each other gives rise to the erroneous idea that morality is itself relative. While it is true that viewpoints of morality are relative depending on the beliefs and experiences of the observer, it does not then necessarily follow that moral absolutes do not exist. The proper basis for rights is human nature. Ideological tenets that conflict with human nature are inhumane and must be rejected as such. This is not to say, however, that since human nature sometimes impels people to commit murder that murder is therefore ethically permissible. It means simply that, in order to ascertain what constitute human rights, it is necessary to weigh natural human drives and aspirations versus what expectations we can logically expect of our fellow man. If everyone had the right to murder then no one could be said to have the right to life. Since rights cannot conflict with other rights, the right to murder fails in that respect.

A better example would be property rights regarding inheritance. Most societies recognize the right of a person to bequeath to his heirs (or whomever he chooses) property upon his death. If a society or government were to mandate that inheritance rights no longer existed and that all property must revert back to the state (a concept actually proposed in the Communist Manifesto), this would be an example of a policy that is in violation of human nature. It is in the nature of humankind that we prefer ours close relatives and friends over other members of our own community. Humans are not like bees or termites who share most of the same genetics with their entire hive or colony and make no distinction among individuals. The dynamics of genetic commonality, reciprocity, and evolution have resulted in a human drive to show preference to those with whom we are more closely related and associated and it is therefore logical that our right to bequeath inheritances to relatives and close friends should not be constrained. Any principle that would violate that right would therefore be an improper principle to apply to human beings, improper both because it runs against our very nature as human beings and also because ill-conceived policies such as these prove unsustainable in the long run. Humankind violates these rights at our own peril (I do not use the term “abolishes” when speaking of rights because an inherent right cannot properly said to be taken away, its non-recognition is always a violation and should be stated as such).

If we accept as a premise that the duty of a government is to secure the rights of its people then an ethical system flying against human nature is a contradiction because on cannot secure a person’s rights by violating them. A trade-off of rights is possible (e.g., sacrificing the right to free speech in the name of securing personal safety) but is an entirely different kind of evil than a wholesale violation of rights for the so-called “good of society”. Incidentally, “society” cannot possibly benefit from the violation of individual rights inasmuch as society itself is merely a concept and a word to denote a collection of individuals and the whole of a macro-organism cannot benefit when each individual is harmed (if you’re thinking about making an example of a sports team succeeding by operating collectively, save it because sports teams operate by cooperation which is the precise opposite of coercion as practiced by governments).

Writer’s note: The majority of the above are ideas that originated with Ayn Rand and can be found in her written works although I haven’t quoted her verbatim, the recapitulation of her ideas is mine and consequently any corruption, deviation, or even change for the better from her ideas in the above is also mine. Although I agree with the majority of what she has written, I disagree with her on a few subtle points and on other occasions I have no idea what the fuck she’s even talking about so I can neither offer agreement or disagreement, I usually drift off and start thinking about tacos. She’s not my favorite Russian though, that honor would go to Fyodor Dostoevsky and his character Grushenka if she was a real person. Am I the only person with a crush on a fictional character?

I sometimes wonder what percentage of religious leaders are in their field because they are consciously hustling people for money and what percentage are ideologues who actually believe in the message they are spreading. I am inclined to believe that Terry Jones, a Florida pastor who has recently made news for his plan to publicly burn Qur’ans is an ideologue because his idea seems heavily based in his emotional reaction to 9/11 with nary a profit angle in sight.

Because I believe strongly in the right of free speech I support this person’s right to burn religious books. At the same time I think his idea is stupid and counter productive to any motives I can possibly impute to him. For this reason, I am composing an Open Letter to Terry Jones in hopes of weighing in on this issue before he makes the decision on whether or to go through with this action.

Dear Dipshit;

As a self-professed religious leader, what do you hope to accomplish by burning Qur’ans in the United States in such a provocative fashion? Are you under the impression that burning Islamic religious texts will leave your book the last scripture standing making it the heavyweight champion? It won’t. Historically book burnings are famous in their inefficacy at stomping out ideologies and often have the opposite effect. Remember that Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”, which was a moderate piece of literary work at best, became a bestseller after the Ayatollah banned it. If anything your plan to burn Qur’ans hitting the news will probably result in more people actually reading our of sheer curiosity (I would recommend the N.J. Dawood translation by Penguin Books although orthodox Muslim scholars prefer the translation by Yusuf Ali. I meant for reading, I have no opinion on which one is more flammable). At any rate my point is that if your point is to lead people away from Islam, from a logistical standpoint intentionally drawing attention to the Qur’an is one of the worst tactics imaginable. I think you should reconsider.

For didactic purposes let’s think about this scenario. Suppose you are a militant Christian who believes the Crusades should be resumed and you are trying to convert other Christians to your way of thinking. Further suppose that on television you see a group of Muslims burning burning Bibles in public. Would this make you more inclined to convince others of your views or less? Better yet, suppose you are a moderate Christian who sympathizes with Crusaders but doesn’t actually participate and again you see Muslims burning Bibles in public. Isn’t it possible that actions like these could push certain people who would not have otherwise participated to cross the line into action? This is the second reason to reconsider. These kinds of actions will serve only to fuel the sympathies among the jihadists and the consequences of your actions are likely to be suffered by others who have taken no part in your short sighted and stupid activities.

I must take care to point out that I’m not saying people don’t have the right to engage in such symbolic speech. Sure you have the right but is it a good idea, will it effect the kind of change you are hoping for and worse yet, is it possible that your actions could provoke a response you don’t want? These next four words are going to kill me to say but the government is correct in stating that such actions “could cause significant problems” for American troops overseas. Deliberately offending the sensibilities of your ideological enemies might feel good in the short term but the possible repercussions are many and there’s not really an upside so you should quit it.

And in case you are inclined to think that the government’s response to this is the product of Obama’s views on Islam, I will remind you that in the aftermath of 9/11 George Dubya visited a mosque and stated that terrorism is not the true face of Islam. Now George Bush and Obama don’t agree on much but since both agree that accepting Bin Laden’s characterization of the war on terror as a war on Islam would be a bad thing for the US, why are you agitating precisely to that end? What the last two Presidents understand and you don’t seem to is that the major world religions are not going anywhere anytime soon so please do try to not piss them off, your potential theological jollies notwithstanding.

Sincerely,

Scribebaby

As an aside, it occurred to me that if this man’s congregation actually goes through with the book burning, I think atheists should attend as well and toss copies of the King James Bible into the fire as well. I actually don’t think any religious texts should be burned but I would pay to see the expression on this guy’s face if atheists actually went through with it.

Howdy.  I am here having felt impelled to create this blog after looking at some blog posts by Rainbow Ally.  Rainbow is a friend I know from way back and, as I just discovered, an ally of the LGBT community (hence the blog name).  This brought to mind the fact that I used to work in the HIV/AIDS field in office which strongly advocated for the LGBT community.  I thought I’d begin this blog by stating my position on these issues.

It is my position that sexual orientation has nothing to do with morality.  Actions such as murder, rape, and robbery are wrong because they violate the rights we acknowledge in society such as property rights and the right to be free from violence (the self being the most basic property).  Sexual orientation and the actions thereof violate no such right.  Likewise (and here is where I part ways with the LGBT advocates) I don’t believe sexual orientation is a properly a matter of pride although I understand the rationale for that emphasis.  American culture has long discriminated against anything non-hetero and employed shame and ostracism to this end.  The gay pride theme was borne (huh huh! I almost said “erected”) in response to this worldview.  It brings to mind the “black is beautiful” rallying cry during the Civil Rights era which was necessary for people of color to throw off the mental shackles of racial oppression although in a perfect world color of skin and sexual orientation would be as unremarkable as birthmarks or the question of whether ones belly-button is an innie or an outie.  An ideal result but we are not there yet.

I believe that the basis of rights resides in human nature which is what the forefathers meant when they spoke of “inalienable rights”, the whole God subterfuge notwithstanding (Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were only nominally Christian at best if not, as is more likely the case in looking at their writing, closet atheists).  I believe the basis of American freedom is the recognition of property rights and our right to be free from compulsion in nearly everything, especially what the Founding Fathers referred to as the tyranny of the masses.  The idea behind a constitution based democracy is that the majority is sometimes wrong which is why a constitution is necessary for a proper system of checks and balances. Remember the purest form of democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner.

I’m going to part ways with everybody here and say that I believe the government shouldn’t be in the business of deciding what constitutes a marriage as that is properly a religious issue.  I think every couple seeking legal acknowledgment of their relationship should be recognized as a civil union and that the designation of marriage should be left to religious mystics to hash out.  I don’t mean this to demote the recognition of gay marriage, I mean this to effect a proper separation of church and state on  the marriage issue.  The main issue as I see it is the question of the proper role of government in a free society.

In short I don’t see myself as an advocate for the LGBT community except inasmuch as I advocate for the recognition of individual rights and equal protection under the law for all human beings. What else? Oh yeah I like Lady Gaga and “Fame” by Irene Cara.  I think that’s worth about as many points as having a rainbow bumper sticker. 

In summation boomkins need to be nerfed and the 7-layer burrito isn’t actually Mexican food. More details to come as the situation develops!