Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Are You Asking To Get Killed?

Delusion Damage has an essay on those who use violence as part of their regular communication, and warns against doing more than instructed when confronted by such a person.

Most people in our society don’t understand violence. We’re taught to feel like it’s a “bad” thing to even think or talk about, and what this leads to is that most of us never learn much anything about it. That’s not a good thing.

Those who are furthest removed from violence in their daily lives are the most vulnerable to it when they suddenly run into it on a dark street precisely because they don’t understand it and therefore act stupidly and end up “asking for it” and getting killed. Most churchgoing taxpayers just have no idea how violent people think. Women, especially. If there are any women you give a shit about, you will make sure they know about this stuff. They probably have no clue about any of this, and it may one day save their lives.

Read it.

Although men generally grow up better acquainted with violence, the scuffles of the playground still leave a person totally unprepared for violence on the streets.

The writer's advice is basically, give the mugger your wallet and get on with your day. Your wallet isn't worth losing your teeth, or your life.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Predestination, Free Will, or both?

One of the prevailing arguments in Christianity is whether we are predestined to be saved, or whether we choose to be saved.

In my view the answer is "yes."

Let me explain.

The Christian conception of God is one who is eternal. He has neither beginning, nor end, and may have only an intellectual appreciation of the concept of past and future, existing in the eternal "now." He is also all knowing, which I translate as knowing all true propositions.

An illustration I've used proposes that we first imagine a librarian. Now let us imagine that this librarian inhabits a library. This library exists at the end of time. This library also contains nothing but history books, and within those history books are written every decision ever made by a person from the beginning of time. Our imaginary librarian has read every book and hence knows every decision made throughout history.

Does the existence of these history books preclude those who are recorded therein from making free choices? No. The knowledge in these books was obtained passively, from recording observations. Hence the mere fact of such knowledge does not preclude free will.

If we give our librarian a time machine and send him back to the beginning of time with his library, he can live alongside the people who fill his books, even telling them ahead of time things that will happen. He has not caused those things to happen, but he has foreknown or predestined them.

So it is with God. He knows every decision made, because the act of making that decision causes him to know it. Those who choose to accept his authority, he foreknew. Those who choose to rebel he foreordained. The conflict between them arises from our applying our own temporal limitations to an entity who does not possess them.

Predestination and free will are not contrary to each other. In my view they are simply two sides of the same coin.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Culture Good and Strong

Orson Scott Card presented an argument of why the culture of the West is in decline.
The greatness of a society does not arise from their monuments or superhighways or empires or the internet. Great nations persist through time and space only when and if they develop patterns of culture that meet the basic needs of the baboon and the chimp that lives inside all human beings and then, beyond that, make people happier than competing cultures.

1. A community has to provide reproductive opportunity for the maximum number of its members. In other words, the sex drive of the individual must have a reasonable chance of being satisfied as long as it persists. Reproductive opportunity requires large numbers of people of mating age made available to each other. Governments ignore this at their peril.

(The abortion practices of China have left them with a 60:40 ratio of males to females. That's one-third of all males with no reasonable prospect of reproduction. Anybody who thinks the inner baboons will stand for that doesn't know human nature. The whole world is in danger from those men whose genetic desperation must somehow be mollified or turned outward if the Chinese government is to survive.)

2. A community has to provide reproductive success to as many of its members as possible. Reproductive success, for a long-lived species like ours, is measured by the grandparent test. You not only have children who thrive to adulthood, but you see those children mate and have children of their own.

Reproductive success requires:

1. Prosperity: plenty to eat, protection from the elements.

2. Safety: protection from physical dangers inside and outside the society.

3. Confirmation: males must have reason to believe that they have actually reproduced -- that their genes have been passed on.

(This is why the argument that abortion is solely the woman's decision is absurd, in practical, society-wide terms: The need to reproduce, and know that one has reproduced, is exactly as strong in males as in females, and a society will not last long that leaves men reproductively helpless.)

In summary, then, Reproductive Success requires a strong economy, public safety, and paternal certainty.

Let's agree that any culture that does these things well (i.e., to the satisfaction of its members) is a Good Culture.

It's in the best reproductive interest of the members of a Good Culture that the culture survive and continue to provide its benefits, generation after generation. So a Good Culture also has to be a Strong Culture -- one that can endure over time.

A Strong Culture must be able to:

1. Defend itself against outside enemies.

2. Propagate itself across generations: The children must be educated in the values of the culture that made it Good and Strong and become believers and participants, so it can continue to be both.

3. Command such strong allegiance from its members that they are willing to sacrifice some of their individual desires or even of their compelling interests in order to promote the survival of the culture as a whole.

4. Know itself -- a Strong Culture must have a community of people that identify themselves as its true believers in and defenders.

There is no perfect society, but America came closer than any other known to history. Yet in the 1960s, we began to dismantle it, piece by piece. And today, we have taken a remarkably Good, Strong culture and so deeply damaged it that its ability to survive or to be worth upholding is in serious doubt.

That a community called "The United States of America" will persist for some time is likely, though not guaranteed. But the Goodness of the culture has already been so damaged that it can barely be said to exist. And the Strength of the Culture is eating itself up from within.
The characteristics of a Good and Strong Culture?
A Strong Culture must have powerful stories explaining why it is a Good Culture -- or it will die. Even the best culture can destroy itself if those who hate the culture are successful in getting its members to believe stories that discourage them from having enough allegiance to make sacrifices for it, like:

1. Paying taxes and other costs in property or service.

2. Obeying laws even when they don't fit in with your desires of the moment.

3. Letting the culture educate your children in its values.

4. Sending your children off to fight in wars to defend the culture from its rivals, or going yourself to fight and risk death and injury.

5. Tolerating people and events that the culture insists its members have to tolerate -- including such obnoxious groups as the rich and powerful, the poor and untidy, the foreign and odd, and all others who deviate from the norm in ways that the culture has determined to allow.

6. Confining your sexual and reproductive actions to the boundaries set by the culture.

7. Making the effort to become educated enough in the culture to participate in its propagation.

8. Conforming with the outward values of the culture even when you disagree with them, in order to help maintain the illusion of unity.

These sacrifices are hard, every one of them. That's why it's essential, for the survival of a Good Culture, that it constantly propagate stories that support the willingness to sacrifice. (Propagate shares its root with propaganda -- propaganda is only evil when it promotes an evil culture; it is essential to promoting a good culture as well.)

That's why there is no such thing as a thriving culture that does not have the story "Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori": "Sweet and proper it is to die for your country." A culture that no one is willing to die for will soon cease to exist, having been supplanted by a culture that does have members willing to die for it.
What has changed to destroy the Culture Good and Strong?
In the 1960s, we started listening to stories that struck at the very heart of our Good, Strong Culture. These destructive stories fall into several groups:

1. The old morality is stupid. You can't stop kids from having sex. Sexual fidelity is old-fashioned and selfish. It will liberate women to let men have sex with them without demanding any kind of commitment from them. Fetuses are not persons and you can kill them without conscience. Men have no right to have opinions about abortion. A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Marriage should last only as long as you're enjoying it and it's nobody's fault if it ends. Everybody lies about sex.

2. Amerika isn't really a good culture. We mistreat other countries. We mistreat the poor. When we're in conflict with other countries it's our fault. Of course they hate us -- we deserve their hatred. Their cultures are just as good as our culture -- in fact, they're better. Anybody who wants to be a soldier to fight for Amerika is a crypto-fascist, a violent dangerous person. Good people don't want to be soldiers because soldiers are just killers with permission.

3. God is dead. People who believe in God are ignorant or stupid or, at the very best, deceived. Conservative Jews and Christians who try to promote their values are forcing their religion on other people. Political decisions should all be made without regard to the desires and opinions of religious people.

4. People who don't have the same political beliefs as me are evil or stupid. They should be fired from their jobs. The law should be whatever I want it to be, and laws I don't like should be struck down in any way possible. Speakers, writers, and demonstrators on their side are a public danger and must be stopped, but speakers, writers, and demonstrators on my side are exercising their sacred rights. (Please note -- it's easy to see how this paragraph describes your opponents, but you're not getting the point if you don't also look at the same attitudes when they show up within your own ideological camp.)

5. My side should have complete control of the education of everybody else's children. School is only a meal ticket; all education is vocational training.

6. If you don't give unlimited overtime to the company that hired you, then you're not serious about your career. If you put your family first, you're not a team player. The only law in business is do what works, as long as you can get away with it. The answer to all doubts is: It's business.

7. Forget about the time when the "American dream" was to be independent and self-reliant. Now it's to have all the same stuff other people have and to be guaranteed that you'll have the same rewards as people who are luckier or harder working or smarter than you.

Do these stories sound familiar? They should -- and because so many people believe them, we have the horrible social chaos that surrounds us. Millions of fatherless children, unwed mothers, broken homes, delayed marriages -- in other words: Visible widespread reproductive failure. The inner chimp and the inner baboon are getting frightened and angry, even if they don't understand why.

If you really believe that all the old American stories were evil and worthless (even though they led to America's world dominance, economically, militarily, and culturally), then of course you should try to replace that culture with a better one. But it's a good idea, before striking down the old stories, to be sure you have new stories that will create a culture at least as Good and at least as Strong as the one you're tearing down.
Orson is a writer of science fiction, and he can see how a unifying story holds together a Culture Good and Strong. To remain Good and Strong the Culture needs to either recover its story, or replace it with one that can provide an equally strong culture. No such new story has been presented, so the only real choice is to recover the old stories.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Whose Problem of Evil?

From a philosophical perspective there are two "arguments from the problem of evil."

The first is the "logical problem of evil."

It can be expressed in the form, "if there is an all powerful good being who hates evil, then evil should not exist." Since it is obvious that evil does exist, the arguer concludes that an all powerful, good being does not.

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has pointed out that the propositions are too absolute. A more nuanced argument would say that, "if there is an all powerful good being who hates evil, then lacking good reason, evil should not exist." The conclusion then may be stated, either there is no all powerful good being, or that such a being has reason to allow evil to exist.

Do we know why evil is allowed to exist? Some people have theorised and hypothesised. They may be correct or not. Is it possible that an all knowing being would have reasons that we wouldn't know? I'd say that was highly likely.

Although this seems like a simple argument, in philosophical circles it was considered dynamite. Even atheist philosophers have conceded that Plantinga robbed the logical problem of evil of any force.

The second is the "emotional problem of evil."

This is our gut reaction to events like the Japanese tsunami. "Why God, why?" It has force because we are human beings and we empathise with other human beings, however it has a flaw that destroys it as an argument.

The atheistic world is one of brute facts. We are not headed for a destination. There is no "ought" to the world, no way that it should be. There just is. It is what it is, to borrow a phrase.

When we describe something as evil we are making a value judgement. We are saying that there is a gap between what is, and what ought to be. The Christian can say, "yes, there is something wrong with the world. Things are not as they should be." What can the atheist say? Remember, there is no "ought" in atheism. "I don't like tsunamis?" I don't like mashed potato. Preferences only describe our reaction to something, they say nothing about whether it is right or wrong.

The atheist is hoisted on his own petard. The very fact of saying that "things ought not to be this way" is an argument against his atheism. What is supposed to be a problem for the theist is turned into a problem for the atheist. It also demonstrates how incoherent atheism is when measured against actual human experience.

Fortunately for atheism rationality isn't a prerequisite.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Link to Vox Day's The Irrational Atheist

Noticing that Vox Day has let the site housing his book The Irrational Atheist lapse, I uploaded my copy to 4shared where it can be accessed here.