I am a huge fan of the website Bleeding Heart Libertarians. It’s one of the few blogs I read that is genuinely intelligent and intellectual, and while that’s probably because I don’t read too many philosophy blogs, it also makes it one of the most enjoyable. Unfortunately, every so often you get a dud. And, even more rarely, you get what can only be described as a rotten egg.
Earlier this week, public reason liberal anarchist Kevin Vallier posted Christian Belief is Reasonable, So Respect It. His basic thesis is that atheists and other irreligious folk need to give a ton of more respect to Christiansand the Christian religion.
I’m a big believer in reasonable pluralism, the notion that there are deep, pervasive disagreements about morality, politics and religion that are the unavoidable result of practical reasoning in a free society. That means I think there are non-culpable rational disagreements about all sorts of things that really matter.
But since I’m planning a series of religion posts in 2014, I thought it worthwhile to defend one of the applications of belief in reasonable pluralism that will be critical to those posts.
I believe that a reasonable, rational and well-informed person can believe in a revealed religion. That is, she not only affirms a scheme of transcendent values and a complex natural theology, but belief in a divinely inspired set of social practices and sacred texts. I am fairly confident that one can be a reasonable Confucian, Buddhist, Muslim or Jew. Due to my familiarity with Christianity, I am extremely confident that one can be a reasonable Christian.
This means that many atheists, in particular New Atheists and Objectivists, should treat the beliefs of people of faith with far more respect than they presently do.
In the above selection, the italicized parts are Vallier’s own emphasis, while the bolded fragment is my own emphasis. I intend to draw attention to the word “reasonable,” because it is upon this the crux of this argument is being made. Now, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, reasonable (in addition to the meanings of “fair, moderate no extreme or excessive”) means “being in accordance with reason.” What is reason? George H. Smith, in his seminal book Atheism: The Case Against God, identifies reason as:
“Reason,” to quote Ayn Rand, “is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses.” It is by abstracting the immediately given concretes of his experience into concepts, and integrating these into still wider concepts, that man acquires knowledge and surpasses the ability of lower life forms.
To qualify as knowledge (i.e., as a correct identification of reality), a belief must be justified; it must warrant acceptance by rational standards. If a belief meets the requirements of these standards, it is a rational belief; if a belief cannot meet the requirements–but is adopted nonetheless–it is an irrational belief.
Specifying criteria for knowledge is a complex and controversial task, and one which we shall discuss in more detail in the following chapter. For the present discussion, we may indicate three minimum requirements that must be fulfilled before any belief can claim the status of knowledge: (a) a belief must be based on evidence; (b)a belief must be internally consistent (i.e., not self-contradictory); (c)a belief cannot contradict previously validated knowledge with which it is to be integrated. If a belief fails to meet any or all of these criteria, it cannot properly be designated as knowledge.
Knowledge, of course, is basically reason’s raison d’etre. So here we have a pretty good foundation for what is reason, and thus, what is reasonable.
Vallier has three central points he addresses. His first point is theism:
The first foundational belief of the Christian is theism. It is simply obvious that theism is reasonable to anyone who is acquainted with contemporary philosophy of religion. Nearly all atheists in the literature acknowledge that theistic belief is at least sometimes epistemically justified.
Wha-ha? “[T]heistic belief is at least sometimes epistemically justified”? And this is acknowledged by “nearly all atheists in the literature”? Perhaps I have not read enough atheist literature, but this seems to me to be a rather spurious claim. Who are these atheists? When and where did they write these things? Vallier does not provide these names, so already his argument is looking weak. (Remember, evidence.)
His other point, that theism is “reasonable to anyone who is acquainted with contemporary philosophy of religion” also strikes me as rather weak. Theism is the belief that there is a god or gods who exist. Now, on the surface, this to anyone sounds like a valid claim, even if untrue. (Note that I’m not really using the word “valid” as expressed in logic.) But here comes the problem: what is (a) god?
Most people I’ve asked this question either start laughing (as in, “How can you be so stupid you don’t know what god is?”), or given me stares and/or start sputtering. (One answer was “God is god” with a nervous chuckle, as if the person saying it knew the tautology involved and it had started to crack their faith.) But the question is an important one: what, exactly, is god? As George H. Smith notes, if someone started claiming that an “unie” exists, the first thing you would do is not say “Prove it,” you would say, “Just what the hell is an ‘unie’?” As such, we need to know what, exactly, is entailed by the word “god”.
Alas, this has been a search that has been undergoing since the beginning of human civilization. You can ask innumerable people what god is, and come away with innumerable answers. This is one reason why there are so many monotheistic religions, but also within these religions so many sects, denominations, and divisions. This is not like libertarianism, where we have differences over what is the best way to achieve liberty, and what liberty in practice would mean; no, this is far deeper. At it’s core it’s that we really have no definition of god to begin with.
Many have gone through the argument that there is no coherent definition of god; George H. Smith goes into it in such depth in the first part of his book that I think it really should have been titled Igtheism: The Case Against God.. I will not reproduce Smith’s work here, but suffice to say there is a great deal of doubt as to what, if anything, the word “god” really refers to. One point is the idea that “god” is incomprehensible, lying beyond our reason. If that is the case, then by definition, belief is unreasonable. Another point, then, is to give “god” “unlimited attributes”, such as omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence. But these don’t make any sense whatsoever. How could you have these unlimited attributes, when an attribute in and of itself consists of a limitation, of a definite quality? How can there be existence without limitations when existence is defined by limitations?
So theism is not reasonable. By entailing a belief in something that is inherently unknowable, incomprehensible, and defies reason itself, it is unreasonable. You wouldn’t start believing me if I told you that we were all seeds from a celestial kumquat that cracked itself upon the world to spread salvation. Why, really, should we then believe in the existence of a “god” or “gods”? At least we know what a kumquat is. We have no clue what a “god” is.
Of course, Vallier preempts any of this by saying:
Note that you needn’t think that theistic proofs are successful to think that at least one version of one of them can be rationally affirmed by an honest person. If so, then theistic belief is reasonable. Don’t dispute me here. I’m in good company with Leibniz and Aquinas.
Vallier does not tolerate your pathetic dissent. He just dismisses it entirely. Here’s his problem: as I pointed out above, by definition, theism isn’t nreasonable (and also isn’t rational) so while an honest person may affirm it, it would not actually be a rational decision.
Perhaps this is because I am not acquainted with the contemporary literature of the philosophy of religion. Maybe I just need to get a proper education in this topic. Or…maybe it’s because the philosophers of religion aren’t half as smart as they think they are. Just a thought.
Moving along to his second point, Vallier says:
The second foundational belief is that the Gospel reports of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are reliable. Many of you probably think the Gospels are not reliable sources of information about Jesus, given that they are full of miracles and were written long after Jesus’ death by unknown individuals. That’s fine. But is your view so ironclad that a reasonable, informed person couldn’t disagree?
I think there is significant doubt as to the veracity of the Gospels. First, even though Vallier says that the gospels were written within a generation of Jesus’ death, the earliest point around when they may have been written was 50 A.D.–twenty years after Jesus died. More reliable dating by historians point around after 70 A.D., forty years later. And these were most definitely not written by eyewitnesses, but loads and loads of heresay. Now how can these be accurate? The Associated Press frequently gets things wrong minutes after they occur in a society where we have advanced technology, education, and data verification systems. Imagine trying to get the truth of something decades after it occurred in a society where irrigation is considered a bloody miracle and you think the Earth is flat.
Is my view “so ironclad that a reasonable, informed person couldn’t disagree”? Again, this gets back to what is reasonable. Resurrection is just flat out unreasonable, and I would think any reasonable, informed person would agree on that. As for the life and death of Jesus, I am not one of those atheists who says that Jesus flat out did not exist. Rather, I think there was probably a man named Jesus who did some things, was probably a social reformer and agitator, and was executed by the Romans (and backed by corrupt Jewish authorities) for his trouble. Out of his life story, without modern inventions like video and rigorous journalism and historical documentation, a tale of a divine man emerged. Mixed with previous religions who had similar resurrection stories for their divine heroes, Jesus became the son of “god” (again, whatever that is) and a new religion was born. Indeed, the most prolific promoter of Christian, Paul of Tarsus, didn’t really start proselytizing until long after Jesus was dead and the truth was in doubt.
And so what if the Gospels were written within the generation of Jesus’ death? Eyewitness testimony is notorious for being of dubious value, and that’s before we get to the truly weird stuff. If someone was saying they just saw people abducted by aliens, you would either think they’re talking about the Mexican drug cartels or were just crazy. That would be the reasonable response, at least at first.
Lastly, Vallier addresses the Trinity. This is one of the most problematic components of Christian theology, for even though Christians stridently advocate there is only one god, they worship at least three: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I won’t go into the nitty-gritty of the Trinity–that’s a journey best undertaken by people who have the time, energy, and willpower to do so–but a good summary is that the Trinity is a doctrine riddled with contradictions, holes, and much philosophical jury-rigging to get it to fit with everything else. To believe in this would also be unreasonable, as nothing is clear nor consistent, requirements for reason.
In summary, then, no, the Christian belief is not actually reasonable. Theism itself is rather unreasonable, being as it is a belief system centered around one or more supernatural entities that are undefinable. In addition, neither the Bible nor the Trinity can save Christian belief from unreasonableness; indeed, if anything, they only doom it further.
This is most emphatically not to say that we should disrespect individual Christians, whether in public or in private. To paraphrase a popular Christian saying, “Hate the belief, love the believer.” I have made it known on this blog where I stand with regards to the antics of such organizations as American Atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as well as all those local atheist groups who vandalize or do really dumb things regarding Nativity scenes. I do not believe in taking a combative approach, especially not in public. But if you’re in a private, or at least less public setting, and someone is telling you that they’ve made a decision based on (or worse, that you have to do something because of) something that a magical being that we cannot know told them, you would obligated to say, with a straight face, “Kevin, that is absurd.”
That is different from disrespecting the individual. You are pointing out that their point is ridiculous. Pointing out the ridiculous is not disrespect, but if it be disrespect, then make the most of it. We do not suffer outrageous statements and beliefs. We tolerate them for a time with children, but gradually help them grow out of it. We tend to regard anyone who seriously believes in fairies or unicorns as being either in jest or somewhat unstable. The same goes for libertarians who have discovered a bona fide socialist in this day and age.
Yet perhaps the very fact that theism is unreasonable is why it still lives. Perhaps Marx was right about the masses needing their opium. Is there a psychological or–dare I say it–spiritual need for a belief in the unbelievable? Do people need something in their hearts that exists beyond the realm of existence itself in order to give them some grounding, something to help them survive this existence? I think that’s probably the case. Just as fiction fulfills the role of “catharsis,” or release, so too does religion. (Now watch as some atheist wanders in here and says “Well duh, religion is fiction…”) So that is all well and good. The point of theism is that it is unreasonable, and humans need a dose of the unreasonable to get them through life. But that does nothing to make the belief itself reasonable or rational.
This is also, of course, before we get to some of the truly dark things about Christianity, especially those derived from its Judaic ancestry. Disobedient children are to be put to death (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), while those who mock a bald man are to be ripped apart by bears (2 Kings 2:23-24). How about killing women who are being raped who don’t scream hard enough? (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) Or subjecting wives to their husbands unconditionally? (Ephesians 5:22-24) Or how about cutting off your hands and feet that may give you temptation? (Mark 9:43-48) And let’s not even get started on Abraham almost murdering his son Isaac, because a voice in his head told him so. Against all reason, he takes his son up the mountain and gets ready to kill him there as an offering.
These are not only unreasonable, they are morally repugnant.
Of course, modern Christianity does not generally follow these points, yet they remain within the Bible and are not any less Christian for it. They are, of course, unreasonable, and that, more than anything, is why they are ignored.
Again, I want to reiterate that I do not advocate disrespecting individual Christians or being out and out assholes to them. But to argue that Christian belief is reasonable is a fool’s errand. It is built upon a foundation of irrationality and unreasonableness, and for many centuries openly attacked reason as being the Devil’s bride. For many people, that is the point.
I would suggest to anyone interested in reading books on atheism firstly the excellent Atheism: The Case Against God by George H. Smith, with the warning that it is quite deep. Part 1 focuses on claims about the existence of god; part 2 is a massive, in-depth exploration of faith vs. reason; Part 3, which I haven’t gotten to yet, examine the positive arguments for god; Part 4 looks at practical consequences of belief in god. I would also recommend Richard Carrier’s Why I Am Not a Christian, an easier to read book that goes through four major reasons why Christianity does not work: god’s silence, god’s inert state, the wrong evidence for a supernatural being, and ultimately that we are just in the wrong universe for such an entity. (I understand Carrier is associated with the Atheist+ movement, which I reject, but his book is sound. His other book, Goodness without God is, to put it mildly, a bit boring. I only got through the preface.)
tl;dr: Um, no, Kevin, Christian belief is not reasonable, and I don’t really have any reason to respect it anymore than I have a reason to respect a genuine belief in fairies.
Update: Jason Brennan of BHL quotes a response to Vallier from another blogger, and underneath the quote makes this important statement:
I’m posting this because I saw similar types of responses in the commends to Kevin’s previous post. And I wonder if Richard [the other blogger] and Kevin are actually disagreeing here. I suspect–and I invite Kevin and Richard to correct me if I’m wrong–that Kevin is talking about reasonableness, but Richard is talking about epistemic justification or epistemic rationality.
Kevin claims that religious belief and theism, or at least certain instances of them, are reasonable. “Reasonable” is a technical term in public reason liberalism. Just what constitutes reasonableness is a big topic the PR liberals debate, but they all build into the concept of reasonable that reasonable beliefs are to be respected by liberalism. A reasonable objection has to be defeated; an unreasonable one doesn’t. A reasonable lifestyle has to be accommodated; an unreasonable one doesn’t. A reasonable claim has to be heard; an unreasonable one doesn’t. Etc.
In addition, PR liberals tend to hold that the category of the “reasonable” is broader than the category of the epistemically justified or the epistemically rational. Many beliefs that are not epistemically justified or that would be epistemically irrational to hold (because they are held in violation of the correct epistemic standards, whatever they are) are still reasonable. The standards of reasonableness are less demanding than the standards of epistemic justification.
Now I feel kinda dumb. I should have been the igtheist and asked just what Vallier meant by reasonable, but I figured I had a good sense of what reasonable is. Yet he’s not talking about reasonableness as reason at all; he’s talking about a technical term within the school of public reason liberalism. Moreover, this term isn’t even really defined; it seems to be a bit fuzzy. This is why asking for definitions and setting grounds for discussion are so important. Especially now that it looks like “reasonableness,” in this context, is functionally meaningless.
By yours truly, of course:
Newsflash: government does not mitigate the excesses of “capitalism.” What it does it exacerbate the excesses of corporatism. By creating a system where profit depends on political connections and lobbying, by having a government big enough to intervene in the economy and choose winners and losers, you’re creating cronyism.
How do you have cronyism in a (classical) liberal economic system, aka capitalism? You can’t really, because the entire economic system is predicated on fulfilling customers’ needs and providing value to society, not by lobbying and buying elections.
Your legislators are bought and paid for, and not by you. Why progressives willingly continue to be Big Businesses’ useful idiots I will never understand. Quit playing into corporations’ hands by giving them the tools to ban their competition and pad their executive paychecks.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I intend to update and add to this at a later date. I consider it to be somewhat incomplete at the moment.
I apologize for this post; it’s a bit spread out because of the way I got to the topic in question.
Over the weekend, NYPD officers attempted to subdue an apparently crazy person in Times Square. I say attempted, because all they really did was bulletspray and hit two completely innocent bystanders–one an elderly lady in a walker. This, after the bulletspray fest last year outside the Empire State Building, and also earlier this year when the LAPD, during the Dorner manhunt, bulletsprayed a completely random car that didn’t look anything like the vehicle that was on their APB.
Naturally, I spoke out against this. I think police brutality and police incompetence are serious issues that deserve more of a national discussion. Unlike talk about the deficit and the debt ceiling, or foreign policy, or the minutiae of economic regulation, police reform and criminal justice reform touches on Americans directly. It affects citizens in a very immediate sense–usually by killing them. Yet for some reason, despite all the deaths logged by the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, or the other horrendous activities reported by CopBlock, or the crazy stories of civil asset forfeiture run amok, or even Third Amendment violations, it seems to me that nobody is really talking about this in a meaningful way. Politicians sweep it under the rug and go on to start another shouting match about the debt ceiling or them brown people coming over the border.
I also noted that one of the scariest things that is happening is the militarization of police around the country, something I noted last year for United Liberty, and which is the subject of a recent book by Radley Balko. This led to a gun control activist to start yelling about how the police were arming themselves with military hardware because the NRA had weakened gun laws and led to rampant armament of the populace. Naturally, I disagreed. We had a bit of a back and forth about it, and then somehow suicide entered into the equation. I’ll let my Storify speak for itself:
I went off on a rant about humanism and individual sovereignty.
This leads me to the real meat and potatoes of this blog post, which is atheism, libertarianism, and what it really means to be a humanist.
A long time ago, I blogged about the silliness that is Atheism+, a new “movement” that tried to merge atheism with third-wave feminism and far-left progressivism by basically being assholes to everybody. One of the most important points is that atheism does not lead to anything directly. Atheism, being merely the rejection of belief in a supernatural entity or entities, doesn’t really entail anything beyond that. Even though I would really like to agree with this blog post that says atheism leads to libertarianism, even that is really not true. How, exactly, does lack of a belief in a supernatural entity lead to a libertarian leap? It doesn’t. There is no underlying philosophical foundation there. The previous author talks about controlling your own life and thinking for yourself, but that is not ipso facto atheism.
There is a difference, though, between atheism and humanism. Atheism is a philosophical position. Humanism is to atheism what Christianity is to theism (sort of). While there is a long running argument over whether or not humanism is a religion (other terms include “life stance,” a “replacement for religion,” which I think both works and yet doesn’t), it sort of fits the bill. Just barely.
What is humanism, though? Let’ see a couple of definitions:
- (Philosophy) the denial of any power or moral value superior to that of humanity; the rejection of religion in favour of a belief in the advancement of humanity by its own efforts
- (Philosophy) a philosophical position that stresses the autonomy of human reason in contradistinction to the authority of the Church
Note that: human reason. Human autonomy. Exactly the things that I mentioned above in my Twitter rant.
Yes, said autonomy sometimes includes suicide. This is a tragic thing, but yet if we’re going to respect autonomy then we must respect that too. But for the most part, that doesn’t happen, that doesn’t come up. What does come up all the time are small things, small decisions. Like the size of soda cup you’re buying, or your sexual orientation, or what sort of clothes you like to wear.
These decisions stem from our sapience, and come from our rationality. And if you’re going to be a human being, and not reject humanity, then you must embrace this sapience, and moreover, individual human sovereignty. Anything else is inhuman, full stop.
That’s why I think libertarianism and humanism naturally go together. If you’re a libertarian, that leads to humanism because you’re focused on freeing individuals from the power of a large government, and letting them control their lives; and humanism is all about human lives being front and center. If you’re a humanist, focusing on human lives and humanity, then you should naturally be a libertarian, because libertarianism embraces and encourages the natural essence of humanity, sapience.
I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long time now ever since I heard about “thick libertarianism.” This is the idea that libertarianism entails other ideas that are not necessarily political, that there are consequences to being a libertarian. The idea, as far as I can determine, was formed by Charles Johnson, also known as RadGeek, a left-libertarian blogger. Here is a good reading list to start on if you want to know more about thick libertarianism and libertarian morality:
- The post where it all (sorta) began, “Libertarianism Through Thick & Thin” by Charles Johnson
- “Libertarianism: Thick and Thin“, by Matt Zwolinski
- “Libertarianism and Morality” by Fernando Teson
- “Libertarian Social Morality: Progressive, Conservative, or Liberal?” by Kevin Vallier
- BONUS: “The Libertarian Middle Way“, by Randy Barnett
Johnson explores several different forms of thick libertarianism, or shades of thickness, really. Two of these are “strategic thickness–causes of liberty,” and “thickness from consequences–the effects of liberty.” I think both of these lead toward humanism. The first because, as Johnson himself notes:
Or, to take a less controversial example, many if not most libertarians, throughout the history of the movement, have argued that there are good reasons for libertarians to promote a culture in which reason and independent thinking are highly valued, and blind conformism is treated with contempt. But if this is a good thing for liberty, it must be for reasons other than some kind of entailment of the non-aggression principle. Certainly everyone has a right to believe things simply becauseeverybodybelieves it, or to do things simply becauseeverybodydoes it, as long as their conformism respects the equal rights of independent thinkers to think independently and act independently with their own person and property. It is logically conceivable that a society could be rigidly conformist while remaining entirely free; it would just have to be the case that the individual people within that society were, by and large, psychologically and culturally inclined to be so docile, and so sensitive to social disapproval, ostracism, and verbal peer pressure, that they all voluntarily chose to go along with the crowd.
Technically, reason itself doesn’t require libertarianism, but if we’re going to promote a society where there is limited government and people have individual responsibility for their own actions, then you’re going to promote reason. And when you do that, you find yourself heading towards freethought, which heads towards humanism…
The other, “effects of liberty,” is simply the same thing but in reverse. A society of free people is going to lead towards humanism in one way or another. If we’re going to give people power over their own lives, there is going to be less power from the Church.
I’m not saying that one cannot be a Christian and a libertarian at the same time, but there is a tension there between the Christian and libertarian elements that I don’t think you get from being an atheist libertarian or a humanist one. For centuries, the Christian Church has been a state unto itself, passing edicts and laws and being very forceful in demanding people to bow to its will, or at least the will of whomever at the time was wearing the most outrageous hat. God is described as a king, with ultimate power, and everyone is to bow down and obey him. Indeed, for a long time, free will was ignored, and the Church was extremely authoritative. Although various Christian denominations have undergone rebranding efforts over the past couple of centuries, dealing with the rise of (classical) liberalism, Christianity is still very much a top-down, hierarchical, authoritative institution. “Follow our commands or burn in hell forever.” Not exactly a lot of leeway there.
I should also point out that I don’t exactly agree with many of the various “Humanist Manifestos” either. A lot of what I’ve seen published suggests that many want to make humanism lean towards some variety of socialism or social democracy–but then, I see these people as not being fully humanist either. If they’re going to take so many decisions away from individuals and put it in the hands of a nebulous, all-powerful state, then they’re not embracing the very essence of humanity either. Just because I use the term “humanist” doesn’t mean I’m talking about the party line of the American Humanist Association, the Council for Secular Humanism, or the IHEU. I’m talking solely about a human-centered philosophy that lacks supernatural elements.
That, by itself, I think goes hand in hand with libertarianism. Sort of an odd topic to come to via police brutality and suicide, but that’s what happens when something has been bubbling under the surface for awhile and gets hit with a random act of tragedy.
It appears that PZ Myers, long a bomb-throwing, shit-stirring sort of atheist, has decided to just smear Michael Shermer with allegations that Mr. Shermer is a rapist. As the above video explains quite well (and within the first three minutes) the entire story just smacks of falsehood. And even if it is true, why is Myers publishing it on his blog and not going to the police?
The video implies that the reason is for more pagehits, which I cannot deny is some motivation. PZ has been losing credibility and steam in the world, and like any attention whore he needs new marks. But I don’t think that’s all of it.
Michael Shermer is one of the leading atheists in the world, Founding Publisher of Skeptics Magazine and Executive Director of the Skeptics Society. But Michael Shermer is also a libertarian. I don’t agree with him on everything–he took a decidedly leftist view on guns after the Newtown tragedy–but overall the man is libertarian.
PZ Myers, on the other hand, is most decidedly not libertarian. He is a progressive at best, a socialist at worse. (He calls himself a “godless liberal biologist” on his Twitter bio, but that’s because he doesn’t really know the meaning of liberal.) As I’ve noted before, PZ is behind the creation of “Atheismplus,” or “Atheism+,” which is sadly not some sort of atheist social networking site but is rather a sociopolitical movement designed to sneakily convert all of atheism over to left-wing progressives. Under PZ’s view, unless you take his positions on politics, society, and just about everything else, you can’t be an atheist. It was a handy way of trying to become the spokesman for atheism, however, that move backfired horrendously. As far as I am aware–which is actually limited, because unlike many atheists I do not spend a whole hell of a lot of time focusing on atheist bitchfests–Atheism+ sort of fizzled. Well, actually, it tore the atheist movement apart, created a lot of needless melodrama, and a whole lot of arguments, then fizzled. A lot of it had to do with McCarthy-esque witch hunts hunting down supposed misogynists, but it was really another attempt at using left-wing style politics to silence political opponents, this time in the (supposedly homogenous) atheist community.
I have no doubt that Myers’ baseless accusations, backed up by no evidence whatsoever, are caused by politics. Sure, he may be wanting to get more attention after A+ severely damaged his reputation, but this will not help him. It only makes him look more like a scumbag.
What I find most interesting about all of this is that there is a lot of disgust towards PZ Myers, the Atheism+ movement, and stuff like this happening. Reading about what happened to A+ makes me feel better about atheism in general. For a long time I thought atheism was overrun with socialists, progressives, and “statheists,” but apparently I was wrong. Thank goodness.
In more immediate details, Shermer has filed a cease and desist order against Myers. The post is still up, and PZ has sought legal assistance from Ken White at Popehat. That makes me a bit worried; I like Ken, and he offers pro bono legal help to bloggers facing libel and defamation suits. That’s a good thing, but he should steer clear of this one. This is just straight up, well, defamation, really, without any facts or evidence, calculated to cause reputational damage to someone, likely because of political differences. That’s not really something you can defend in court, but Ken is the lawyer, not me. Still, I would hate to see someone like Ken tarnished by being associated with this.
In short: PZ Myers is a turd. He will defame people, destroy them, if he disagrees with them, and wants to label any atheist he disagrees with him as “not-atheist.” He’s pretty low (and apparently also a misogynist himself.)
This is what happens when you go down that road of “progressivism.”
Yesterday I finished reading A Dance With Dragons, by George R. R. Martin, the fifth and latest book in the A Song Of Ice And Fire series. I don’t really need to tell you what happens in the book, as it was published in 2011 and I’m sure everyone who actually gives a damn has already read it and then some. My blog material is spoiler free (largely.)
For me, what is truly unique about the ASOIAF series is how long it took me to read them. I started reading A Game of Thrones in about March, I believe (maybe April.) Perhaps it was because this was the first time I was reading an entire book series on my phone (using the Android Kindle app), and thus it was more strain on my eyes than a paperback book. Or maybe it was because the books were simply so dense. I don’t know. But usually, for me, I rip through a novel in about 1-2 days, maybe 4-5 at the most if I’m not reading constantly. But usually I am reading constantly. Just a few weeks ago I picked up a Kindle copy of Firebird, the latest novel in the Alex Benedict series by Jack McDevitt, who I think is a superb writer and I absolutely love his Benedict series. I read that in less than a day. I went through that thing like a Death Star beam through a moderately sized terrestrial planet. And I loved it, but still.
Dance With Dragons? That was like a month. It’s dense. And to be fair, after the third book, I stopped reading for a month or so in order to recuperate before I dived in again. And I was really reading most of this while huddling in the bathroom, not out in the open, so I would be focusing on my work. But still, this stuff is long. And, as I said, dense. There’s a lot there. I’m certain I’ve missed a ton. (Including the TV series. Bah.) There is just so much stuff you can’t possibly read it in a day, or even a week (or maybe even three.) I think if I sat here and tried to read even one book straight through, it would take me more than 36 hours, maybe even 48.
The other thing about this series–and this interests me as a writer, not as a reader–is how Martin so strongly colors his viewpoint characters’ perceptions. When you’re with a character, you really feel as if this lens has clicked into place in front of your eyes. When you’re with Cersei, you can see everyone distort into these traitorous fiends, their conspiraces billowing up out of the floorboards to choke you. When you’re Jon, you can see the doddering old fools for what they are and the bonds of honor and justice that bind you. And when you’re Tyrion–well, you see everyone for the gigantic joke that they are.
It is truly marvelous. It’s a trick I think every aspiring writer–myself included!–should developed, as it really adds a layer of depth and versimilitude to the world.
The real question for me, though, is what next. Well, in terms of writing, I need to do more of it. Particularly more fiction. Writing about politics is great and all, but it’s not the same. I need to apply the lesson I mentioned above, as well. And I need to tell my internal editor to shut up. (Though, to be fair–to me, not my internal editor–I have been writing lately. Just…not enough, I suppose.)
As for reading, I’ve always wanted to tackle Ayn Rand’s nonfiction–Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Philosophy: Who Needs It, The Virtue of Selfishness, The Return of the Primitive–but also to read J.S. Mill’s On Liberty. I think those would be good breaks from deep fiction, especially since they wouldn’t distract me nearly as much. And might also help with sleeping.
I’ve started using Amazon affiliate links for the books I have in the ebook widget on the sidebar. It’s a new thing that I’ve decided to try out, and it seems to be pretty cool.
I mean, hey, if I’m going to show you what I’m reading, the best thing I can do is give you a direct opportunity to buy the book, and maybe get some money for it.
Everyone tells me I need to be on social media if I want my stuff promoted. I gotta be on there to be heard, to be seen, to get things done.
If I’ve learned anything in the past few years, though, it’s that that may not be necessarily true. Indeed, social media has some serious pitfalls. My favorite ones are flamewars with trolls. It was one of them, in fact, that led me to this policy of taking a social media vacation.
I’ve learned that I cannot resist getting into arguments; I can’t resist trolls. That something I lost, somewhere, aand I need to reclaim that. How? I don’t know. But a prerequisite has to be stepping back from social media. It’s hurting my productivity, hurting my wider social sphere, and ultimately it’s hurting my brain.
So I’m taking a break from Twitter & Facebook. I’ve downloaded an app that only does Twitter DM’s, and I’ll keep using Facebook Messenger so people can get in touch with me. Other than that, just Gmail & this blog. Thanks to the magic of WordPress, I can still write status updates. And thanks to the magic of RSS, I can autopost these to Twitter and Facebook.
I see this as an extension of some cutting I’ve already done in my life. A few months ago I uninstalled Steam and basically eliminated computer games from my life. Now I need to continue the process and get rid of–at least temporarily–another serious distraction.
I’m not sure why I had to blog this, really, other than to tell my friends who are going to start wondering, but if you stumble across this and read this, that’s what this is about. I will still be politically minded; I will still have strong opinions about political philosophy and government. I will still write, though hopefully not on Twitter (I will maintain my vow, I will maintain my vow…) but through other channels.
That’s all I have. If you know me personally, you can still hit me up through messaging. If you don’t, you can always comment here.
I’m sure, after you read the linked story above, and read what I’m about to say, you are going to think what the headline says (except I’m the bastard, not you. Probably.)
The above story is from Tim Carney, a columnist at the Washington Examiner, who is understandably conservative. The story is about his nephew, who lived for only 442 days before dying, and suffering every one of those days with spinal muscular atrophy, being just about paralyzed at birth and getting worse as the days went on.
Carney writes about the love that the boy’s Catholic parents had for him, and how he spread love by being an object of attention:
Pat and Elena are devout Catholics from strong families, but their answer to this question can’t be set aside as some teaching in the Catechism. It’s a truth written on the human heart.
Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. This is our purpose. This view is not uniquely Christian. It’s understood in other religions and in secular worldviews.
In this regard, John Paul lived a superior life. He exuded love. Before he lost control of his facial muscles, he beamed smiles that made grown men sob. Babies can love those around him with the pure, unconditional love we all should show.
Also, JP drew love from others. Neighbors, relatives and strangers cooked meals and gave time, equipment and money to help the Kilners. JP’s brothers and sisters showered him with affection. And Pat and Elena sacrificed immensely to care for him.
Before the wake at St. Patrick’s in Rockville, during an observance called Stations of the Cross, we read a Gospel passage in which Christ explains our duty to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick.
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,” the Lord says in this passage, “you did for me.”
Clearly a call to charity, this is also an exaltation of parenthood. Even moreso, this exalts the work of caring for helpless JP.
Tribulations both reveal character and form it. JP’s struggles revealed his parents’ heroic virtue and fostered virtue in others.</span>
Pat and Elena saw John Paul as a blessing, and they generously shared that blessing with the world. They took him wherever they could, in a chair rigged with a ventilator and an IV. Elena shared wider, by penning hopeful, contemplative letters to John Paul every few weeks, which she posted on a blog.
One friend of mine, who never met the Kilners, read the “Letters to John Paul” blog. She wrote me, “John Paul’s story made me want to be a better person.”
John Paul continued shaping souls even in dying. A priest at St. Patrick’s took confessions during and after the wake. He commented afterwards that he heard some of the more honest, searching and contrite confessions he’s ever heard.
More than 500 people attended the beautiful funeral. One non-Catholic mourner was moved so much by the Mass she told Pat, “Now I understand why you’re Catholic.”
John Paul, who never spoke a word in his life, was the greatest evangelist of love, faith, virtue and hope I have ever met.
I look at this and shake my head. I don’t necessarily see love here. Yes, John Paul’s parents loved him, as any parent would, and they sacrified for him, as any parent would. But I look at this and think, “Why didn’t they just abort?”
An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn).
Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?
–”Of Living Death”, The Voice of Reason, pgs 58-59
Never mind the vicious nonsense of claiming that an embryo has a “right to life.” A piece of protoplasm has no rights—and no life in the human sense of the term. One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual, is vicious; to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former, is unspeakable. . . . Observe that by ascribing rights to the unborn, i.e., the nonliving, the anti-abortionists obliterate the rights of the living: the right of young people to set the course of their own lives.
–”A Last Survey”, The Ayn Rand Letter, IV, 2, 3
Because of this stance, which I agree with, I don’t consider an embryo or a fetus to be a person like a born human, and thus am not a “pro-lifer.” (I’m willing to accept that personhood would emerge when the fetus displays cognition, or “neonatal perception,” but that’s very late in the pregnancy, and virtually nobody gets abortions at that stage.)
That’s also why, when I look at this, I think that the parents should have aborted. If they had known that the fetus was going to have spinal muscular atrophy, and therefore was going to have a short life full of suffering, why bring the fetus to term? Why increase suffering in the world?
Shouldn’t we, you know, work at reducing suffering? And if we should be doing that, then why bring to term a fetus that has congential problems and is going to have a life full of suffering? It doesn’t make any sense, and to me, it seems pretty sick to do so. Of course, I know some will retort that he wasn’t suffering, and the love he was receiving from his family was proof he wasn’t. But that’s crap. He was clearly in pain for 442 days, he was clearly suffering, there is no way around that.
And, at the risk of sounding even more like a “douchecanoe,” as one of my friends would say, I think the parents and family were using this infant to make themselves feel better.
“Oh, look at us! We’re sacrificing so much to take care of this child!” Yes, it is a good thing to take care of others (while I agree with Rand on many things, I am not a Randroid or a bona fide, card-carrying Objectivist.) But when you’re really just using the situation to make yourself look more caring to others, and thus build your social credit (look how they made other people say “I want to be a better person”), and more to the point using a situation you could have easily avoided, I don’t think that’s good. The sad part is that I don’t think the parents even realize what they’re doing, caught up as they are in the Catholic church.
It’s similar, in a way, to Mother Teresa and what she did for years. She actually thought suffering was good:
The common belief is that Mother Teresa worked with the sick and destitute to lovingly return them to health. An examination of her missions will show that this is far from the case. Mother Teresa believed that there is spiritual value in suffering. Once, when tending to a patient dying of cancer, she said “You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you.” (Christoper Hitchens - The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, p. 41). For this reason she would not prescribe pain killers in her clinics, choosing instead to allow her patients to experience the suffering that she believed would bring them closer to Christ. Despite the tens of millions of dollars donated to her charity each year, her missions were rudimentary and offered no real health care. Her missions mainly catered to the critically ill and simply afforded them a place to go to die. It is interesting to note that when Mother Teresa became ill she would travel to the finest health care facilities to receive treatment.
This is sick and disgusting, but it is happening, with Mother Teresa and elsewhere. I see a solid connection between Teresa and the family of Carney’s nephew. That may make me a douchecanoe, but I’ll live with that.
And so will all the other people, even pro-life people, who think it is okay to have an abortion if the baby is going to be born with severe complications:
Over one-quarter of pro-life individuals think that abortion should be legal if the baby may be metnally or physically impaired. And for good reason: they don’t want to increase suffering.
Let’s actually try and reduce suffering as much as possible in this world. Stop with the displays of “care,” “compassion,” and “love,” the ones meant to make yourself look good, and actually do something. I’m not perfect–I myself need to take this up–but we can all start. And maybe one of those places is not bringing in infants into the world who are very clearly going to live only in pain and suffering.
Yes, that probably makes me a bastard in many people’s eyes. But so be it.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the stereotypical libertarian and conservative (and libertarian conservative, and conservative libertarian) approach to various topics in modern American politics. It’s pretty weird, and this will be somewhat longish, but I have to get it out of my head. [WARNING: Words ahead. Lots and lots and lots of words.]
First off, there is a huge focus on taxes, mostly accentuated by the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, their leader, Grover Norquist, and his little “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” (whereby signatories refuse to vote for any tax increases. Ever. Or something.) The end result is we pontificate endlessly about marginal tax rates and the Laffer Curve, and how we should cut taxes to boost the economy and employment, and yadda yadda yadda.
The problem with this approach, though, is that it’s misplacing the blame. The real problem with the government is not taxation. While I agree that taxation is an issue, and there can and should be significant tax reform (flat tax, anybody?), government spending and command and control regulation are way more important and far more serious. Government spending creates huge distortions in the market by moving money around in the private sector that wouldn’t have been if we left decisions up to private citizens, thus negating their power of choice in the market as producers scramble to lap up the government money that is spread around. Meanwhile, government regulation prohibits Americans from doing sensible things every day, not just by changing incentives as taxation does, but by literally saying “No, you can’t do that.”
What is really stopping American business from hiring more workers and reigniting the nation’s economic engine? It is corporate income taxes, or is it a bewildering and byzantine system of government regulations at the federal, state, and local level, that make it a nightmare to hire anyone or even to do business itself? You can get around taxation through creative accounting, and indeed, many major companies have done it so effectively they never paid corporate income taxes for years. So clearly, taxation is not the biggest problem. Government spending and regulation, which breeds cronyism, lobbying, and corruption (talk about being redundant), and prevents people from pulling themselves up on the social ladder (what eggheads call “income mobility”), is–or, at least, is bigger.
There are three more considerations to think of when it comes to taxation. The first is the debt and deficit, which are massive problems today. Would cutting taxes do anything to fix them? Au contraire–they would only exacerbate the problem! Cutting revenue would only make the debt grow larger, because you can guarantee there would be no corresponding cut in spending. So that’s a big no-no. Second, by and large the American populace accepts taxes as the cost of living in America. Sure, they want that cost to be lower, but they’ve accepted it as just the way things are. It’s like grocery shopping; you’re going to shop around the lowest price, or maybe even try to haggle for a lower one, but at the end of the day, you’re still going to buy your food. At the end of the day, Americans are going to pay their taxes because they like America, with all of its flaws and blemishes, and they want it. Running a messaging campaign that myopically focuses on taxes may gin up some support on the passionate right, but it doesn’t quite reach out to middle America and makes you look like a fool in debate with leftists, who can rightly point out that the tax rate was much higher back in the day, but millionaires and billionaires still stayed in America and made things.
The third issue is much more severe. There are many other issues out there which are far more serious and injurious to your liberty than taxes. I happen to think that being thrown in jail for unlocking your smartphone, shot and imprisoned for smoking a joint, spied on by domestic intelligence agencies through drones and wiretapping, living under the cloud of indefinite detention by the military, or potentially even being assassinated by your government, are much bigger problems than having to pay a 25% marginal tax rate. In comparison, the tax problem seems fairly mundane and just simply pales compared to the decimations of civil liberties going on today.
These thoughts started percolating in my head after reading this comment to a really long Popehat post on right-libertarianism vs left-libertarianism. As I kept thinking about it, it made more and more sense. I’m not the only one, though. Reading this page at Libertarianism.com, I’m struck by how many libertarians say “Ignore taxes; spending is the real problem.” Jeffrey Miron, who I admire for a multitude of reasons, says “Slash expenditures; then lower taxes will follow.” Congressman Ron Paul, who has his issues, notes that the real discussion is the proper role of government, not taxation; on that I completely agree. And finally, Lawrence Reed of FEE states that the “real problem is spending. We tax because we spend and if government spends too much, no resulting tax system could be called remotely ‘fair.’” Right on, Mr. Reed, right on.
In summary, we libertarians (and conservatives) focus far too intensively on taxation. We’re missing the forests for the trees, in some sense. That’s not good.
This indirectly also leads into my second topic I’ve been thinking about, which is a basic income and libertarian justifications for it. Basically, a basic income (see what I did there?) is a minimum income, or floor, provided by the state to keep people from becoming too poor. Naturally, libertarians are against this, because it consists of the state taking money from some people to give to others. Normally, I would agree…except for a few things.
One, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, two of the greatest libertarians of the 20th century, were both in favor of a universal basic income. (Hayek especially. Milton Friedman a bit less so.) So is Charles Murray, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, though he supports it only as a “second-best” system to no welfare at all, and a far superior model to the bloated mess we have today. Matt Zwolinski, of BHL fame, also makes a strong argument for a small basic income. That’s fair, and definitely one reason why I’m becoming attracted to it.
The second thing is that, while libertarians emphasis “negative liberty” and “negative rights,” if you can’t feed and clothe yourself, they don’t mean much. As one libertarian philosopher puts it:
Most, if not nearly all, libertarians emphasize negative liberties. These rights, for the most part, mean the ability to pursue an activity that does not cause harm to other parties. Thus, the right to vote, to earn a living, to read, to pursue an education, to speak freely, to enter a contract with another agent, and other similar rights are rights that may be pursued without the enslavement of others by means of force and or coercion.
One of the most common criticisms of negative liberties is ‘so what?’ Indeed, it is easy to see the dismal of the negative right to free speech when one is hungry, poor and unemployed. Negative rights for agents in those derelict conditions mean not that much, if any bit at all. For those in the said conditions the offer of positive rights, the right to be free from hunger, to an education, to a home, and to a job are understandable preferences. So of what relevance is the libertarian with his mantra of negative rights to the person in desperate need?
Most right-libertarians take the standard of self-ownership, which most declare to be an axiom, as the sole foundational pillar of libertarian thought and political philosophy. As long as you own yourself and your property, that’s all that matters. But as Matt Zwolinski has been pointing out lately at Libertarianism.org (different site than the one cited above), that’s really far too simplistic and isn’t really adequate.
Also, I recently read John Tomasi’s book Free Market Fairness, examining a “middle way” between libertarians and classical liberals on one side, and Rawlsian “high liberals” on the other. Tomasi notes that a better basis for a libertarian polity, with free markets and a “thick” conception of economic liberties, is not the self-ownership principle. Rather, it is the ability of each citizen to be a “responsible self-author,” able to write his own story and lead his own life. (I don’t have my copy with me, unfortunately, having lent it to a friend, so I can’t give you a page number, but it’s there.)
The way I see it is this: you’re on the street, homeless, starving, and begging for food. Nobody will give any to you, though, and you won’t steal from anyone because you have principles. You end up starving to death. Now, the self-ownership principle was followed, but were you really free? Of course most libertarians would argue that yes, you were, and that is is a horribly over-simplified scenario–which they’re right about, it is over-simplified–and that “positive rights” serve only to enslave others because for that to work you must force someone to provide you with food…but if we have a society where people are starving like this, is that justifiable? Can libertarians really accept such a thing? And if your number one need is survival, if you’re living hand to mouth and living on a subsistence diet, are you really free?
I myself am torn on this, in terms of moral issues. I don’t know the answers to the above questions. I certainly don’t think, though, that targeted economic interventions and wealth redistribution as the left always promotes is the answer. We’ve seen what that has done over the past century, and it’s nothing good. Therefore, in terms of consequentialist issues, I’m totally onboard; it may be “second-best,” as Murray puts it, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what we have today. I’m also in favor of it from a purely PR perspective; Americans do indeed care about the poor, and a movement and/or political party that seems to just want to let the poor starve on the streets is going to be ignored at best, and vilified at worst. A basic income would remove that weakness.
As for how to actually implement…hell if I know. The standard basic income system is simply not feasible, ever. Even if we replaced all other government spending, giving $15,000 to every American, at a population of 300 million, would cost $4,500,000,000,000–that’s $4.5 trillion a year. I don’t think that’s something we can afford, even with a rapidly growing economy (which, as it turns out, we don’t have right now.) Probably the only way we can do this is through a form of the negative income tax. Originally proposed by Milton Friedman, I think Jeffrey Miron has come up with a slightly better version. That one might actually be doable.
At the very least, though, this is something that libertarians and conservatives should be taking seriously. As Mike Munger notes in the abstract of his article on basic income, “A distinction is made between libertarian destinations and libertarian directions.” Basic income may not be–and probably isn’t–a libertarian destination. But to me it seems it sure as hell is a libertarian direction.
Finally, one last thing, again from the left-libertarian playbook, are some thoughts about our environment and natural resources. I’m not what Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear would call an “eco-mentalist.” I don’t think increased government regulation over the environment is going to solve anything. I don’t think global warming or climate change is a serious problem (and even if it were a problem, I don’t think government would be the answer.) I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan, and I don’t go into any of that crap. I like my big engines and my big burgers just like any other red-blooded American. But I am very sympathetic to an idea amongst left-libertarians that the world is common property.
The basic gist is that left-libertarians are totally free market libertarians, like everyone else, at least until we get to natural resources and the environment. This kind of left-libertarianism is known as “Steiner-Vallentyne libertarianism”–at least on Wikipedia–after it’s two major proponents, Hillel Steiner and Peter Vallentyne. This turns into a strong defense of self-ownership, but holding an egalitarian view on natural resources. I remember reading about this a long time ago when I first researched Henry George and the “Georgist” school (which also has led to geolibertarianism.)
To break it down, wilderness and natural resources are, in their “initial state,” unowned. They become owned when, as John Locke and Robert Nozick put it, someone “mixes their labor” with it. Henry George disagreed with this analysis, pointing out that we own something when we make it, but nobody “makes” or “creates” land; it is just there. How then could we own it? Although he was writing in the late 19th century, before automation and global industrialization, his viewpoint is very appealing to me. It makes a lot of sense.
I should also note that I’ve always considered myself to be a “green-libertarian.” While I’m definitely a libertarian first and foremost, I also care a lot about the environment. That’s why I don’t want to entrust it to the government. That’s probably why I’m feeling sympathetic to this view of “common ownership” of the Earth.
But while the view that we can’t own land–we can merely “rent” it from the rest of the community–because we don’t create it is appealing, it also has significant flaws. First, what’s to say that one must create something in order to own it? Why not mixing your labor with something that is unowned? If someone discards something in the trash and another person claims it, does anyone care? I don’t think so, and I think you would be hard-pressed to say that the latter person doesn’t “own” it because it took it and it had no owner.
But a more fatal argument is the tragedy of the commons argument: that without a clearly defined, individual (or a very small group) owner, the whole ecosystem will go to pot as people overexploit the area. You must have some incentive for people to take care of the land.
Of the three points presented here, this is the weakest and the faintest one. I’m just not sold on it like I’m sold on a pivot away from tax obsession and the idea of a basic income. It is merely an interest. We’re stuck in a rut right now between global warming eco-mentalists on one hand who think we should all go into “deep ecology” and hard-headed conservative types who can’t even dream that the environment may be having problems on the other. There has got to be another way to break out of this. I’m just not sure what at the moment.
I definitely think that we, as a liberty movement, can use some strategic adjustment. I think the vehement opposition to any sort of income redistribution is going to stop us in our tracks; sure, it works fine from a high philosophy standpoint, but nobody on the ground really cares, and anyways, you can make a case for libertarianism with a bit of that as the crowd over at Bleeding Heart Libertarians have shown. (Heck, even Adam Smith, godfather of capitalism, was not as market-dogmatic as modern libertarians.)
Well, those are my two cents, anyways.