Racism

On racism

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor Racism

Racism. We don’t seem to get enough of this topic. Most of us have intuitive ideas of what constitutes racism, but only few of us have bravely waded through the proverbial swamp of grey areas, where questions like ‘is a subject to racism conforming to racials stereotypesa a form of racism?’, ‘are jokes based on race racist?’ And ‘can racism be benevolent or morally neutral?’ Reside. This is exactly what I will try to do in the following words; to take the reader on a perilous journey into one of the hardest social questions and biggest social problems that are plaguing our societies at this time.

Racism, a definition

The Oxford living dictionary defines race as;

[mass noun] 1. Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior:
1.1 The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races

In this definition, at point 1, we find a working definition for the practice of racism, which seems to be what we are looking for. It tells us that prejudice, discrimination or antagonism are important factors in declaring something or someone racist, but the most important factor seems to be the basis upon which these remarks are made or these persons functionally form their assumption; they must believe their own race is superior. More importantly, the definition works only for differences in ‘race’, race being of course, a controversial subject.

Investigation of the definition

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At this point, we must ask ourselves the question; is this definition a practical one? I always prefer doing this Socratically. That is, by means of investigative questions, because not only is philosophy, simply put the asking of questions about questions and answers, it also allows us the peace and respect to take our time and figure this out for ourselves. I also want my readers to disagree with me. Not because I want to write shit articles, but because it means I have stimulated thought. So, please, take your time to judge my questions on accuracy and relevance and do try to answer them yourself.

We may for instance ponder the question; ‘If I do not believe my race to be superior over that of someone else, can I still be racist?’

The definition, as given above, tells us the source of a racist remark has the basis of a belief in one race’s superiority. Then again, it does not expressly limit itself to such occasions.

        A point in defense of this definition, can be made in the difference between racial discrimination and racism, racial discrimination then being a more incidental type of racism, or a-structural racism. This might be a good working definition, after splitting a-structural racism from the whole. But, this would logically mean that we’ll have to redefine the whole of racism to fit both definitions of structural and a-structural racism. Let’s put a pin in this one, for the time being.

Another question we must ask ourselves, ought to pertain to the first part of the definition and perhaps one of the most entered grey areas of racism;

‘are jokes based on race, racist?’

There are certainly a lot of jokes that fit the nomers of prejudice (stereotype) and antagonism. The point of a race joke is to be discriminatory, but either lightheartedly or shockingly so, as to create a comedic effect. So, we can constitute, with relative ease, that many if not all race jokes are racist. Now, if this is the case, we have a choice to make; the answer is either yes and we continue with this definition, or we re-postulate our definition and try again.

If we continue with this definition, we will need to search for two more kinds of racism; hurtful racism and non-hurtful racism, as it is not evident that not all race jokes are hurtful.

If we postulate a new definition, we must reason from the ground up and include our findings thus far.

As our definition still has some possibility of life, and has served us well thus far, I will allow it the courtesy of seeing if it can be revived, or at least follow the trail to it death.

Harmful and benign racism?

Racism

Civil rights groups have on occasion claimed that there is no benign racism, and that race jokes are harmful, because they are often sources for stereotypes, set apart people from different races and have a diminishing effect on the quality of interracial relations. This had of course been disputed by many, mostly on the questions of whether it is really hurtful to joke about stereotypes. A lot of comedians would reply by saying that stereotypes help us take each other and ourselves less seriously, though we can all ascribe to the fact that there is a difference between the racism in jokes by Chris Rock and the approach to hecklers taken by former Seinfeld-actor Michael Richards.

To answer this question, we must first define for ourselves harmful racism.

Let us start with; ‘a racist statement or action that serves to harm (members of) a different race.’

This seems like a fair start, as we are speaking of the practice of racism, it seems like ‘statement or action’ bears the load sufficiently. To stay true to our previous definition, harmful racism also refers to race. Seeing as we are speaking explicitly about harmful racism, I refer to the harm we expect it to cause; namely either (groups of) individuals of another race or another race in its entirety. Notice, too that this definition holds the word ‘racist’ in it, to refer to our earlier definition.

Now, we can proceed to once again, to ask ourselves if this definition works. We can ask ourselves, firstly, if our definition carries its load, by asking:

‘Do we need to clarify this definition?’

Well, we have yet to define what racist harm is, which we need to do in order to get our definition to work. An obvious start would be the deprivation of rights and/or privileges of (members of) a different race. This is, historically the biggest problem of racism, after all. But is there perhaps more to it? Does harm exhibit itself in other ways? If we believe those who say they are subject to racism, they say they experience a general mistrust as a result of racism.

Remember here, that we are not discussing whether or not this is the case. We are rather discussing if this can be a result of racism. The answer here is plainly yes; through dehumanizing rhetoric and the association of people from different races as in any sense less trustworthy, we might imagine a general mistrust toward people of certain races.

Thusly, we can define racist harm as;

‘That which serves to deprive people of certain or different races of rights or privileges or to establish mistrust among people of certain races’

This seems a bit long and hard to understand. Considering this is only a supportive definition, we might consider shrinking it to a more portable size. We can do this by finding a common denominator in ‘deprivation of rights and privileges’. These pertain to equality. We can also see that mistrust is negative trust. Thusly, we may postulate our definition of racist harm as such;

‘That which serves to reduce equality and/or trust among (people of) different races’

We ought to again check ourselves before we wrickety-wrickety-wreck ourselves, by asking;

‘Are we missing another form of racist harm?’

At this time, there doesn’t seem to be, but we will revisit the topic, should the need arise.

To recap; we have thus far decided that we must define for ourselves, irrespective of whether or not its counterpart exists, harmful racism. We did this initially by defining it as ‘a statement or action that serves to harm (people of) a different race’. We then clarified that, by harm in this sense, we mean ‘that which reduces the equality or trust between (people of) different races’. This means or definition of harmful racism is ‘a statement or action that serves to reduce equality or trust between (people of) different races’.

Let’s take this definition back to our question about the comedians, if you’ll remember, our question was; ‘are all racist jokes harmful?’, or ‘do all racist jokes cause racist harm?’ Considering the civil rights groups at the beginning of this article, who claimed jokes based on race set apart different races, we must ask ourselves if being ‘set apart’ necessarily contributes to reducing equality or trust between different races.

We can assert that, at least in terms of attention, being set apart means equality is reduced; those who are set apart are more closely observed. However, aside from the obvious down-sides of this, such as less anonymity and privacy, this also entails more influence in the way people act around you, depending on the situation and the reason for being set apart. This essentially, is a function of the crudeness of the joke and the sensitivity of the person or persons being discriminated against as a punchline, as is the influence of a joke on general trust among races.

This means, that we can only really define benign racism as a negative to harmful racism: Harmless racism is then ‘a racist statement or action that does not serve to reduce equality or trust between races’.

Again, remember that this does not necessarily mean harmless racism exist, but that it could exist, if an action or statement is conducive to the conditions mentioned in the definition.

What is ‘race’?

Racism

A looming question that we have yet to answer, but is at the center of all of this, is the following;

‘What is a race exactly?’

The Oxford living dictionary defines race as follows:

1.Each of the major divisions of humankind, having distinct physical characteristics

1.1[mass noun] The fact or condition of belonging to a racial division or group; the qualities or characteristics associated with this.

1.2 A group of people sharing the same culture, history, language, etc.; an ethnic group

1.3 A group or set of people or things with a common feature or features:

1.4[Biology] A population within a species that is distinct in some way, especially a subspecies

We can see, then that we are offered a plethora of choices, allowing for racism to be attributed something as randomly as one would desire. One could, for instance, state that Europeans are a race, but that Italians and Greeks have a significantly different history and culture than other Europeans and be right, only to go on and be equally right when you say all Europeans are the same race. So, we must see if we can in a way refine this.

A combination of 1 and 1.2 seems to suffice, at first glance. These together would form:

‘a group of people sharing the same culture, history, language and major division of humankind’

Testing out new definition, we may ask ourselves: ‘does this definition include or exclude groups that our attention?’

One possible objection to this definition of race, is that it doesn’t mention religion. This objection stems from the fairly recent international debate that sparked on ‘Real time with Bill Maher’ in a discussion with Ben Affleck;

‘Are muslims their own race?’

According to our definition, they are not, because cultures within the ‘Dar-al Islam’ are very diverse, they only share a part of their history as muslims, languages differ per country of origin and they are born on all continents.

Honestly, the only reason to make an extra exception for religion, is that muslims or people who look like them are often subject to systematic discrimination and are looked down upon as inferior by other people. And though I do not want to give off the impression that I find this a lesser problem, because it is a big problem, we can’t in good conscience make this exception, as it would be a special pleading fallacy.

Conclusion

With our questions answered to satisfaction, and a working concept of ‘race’ established as; ‘a group of people sharing the same culture, history, language and major division of humankind’, we can now aptly and I believe accurately describe racism as;

‘A statement or action based on the shared culture, history, language and major division of humankind of a certain individual or group of individuals’.

In which we can discern between harmful racism: ‘A racist (see; racism) statement or action that serves to reduce the equality and mutual trust between (people of) certain races’.

And benign racism: ‘A racist statement or action that does not serve to reduce equality and mutual trust between (people of) different races.

And motivational influences, using the terms structural/intentional racism: ‘A racist statement or action that is brought about by a belief that ones own race is superior’

And a-structural/incidental racism: ‘A racist statement or action that is not motivated by a belief of racial superiority’.

These definitions show us that the issue of racism is a hard one to ponder and harder yet to solve. Because that is what the goal ought to be; for each and every one of us; black, white, green and purple, to recognize our racism, whether it be harmful or benign, structural or incidental and make sure we can all exist equally and together in an open, trusting society.

I hope that, even though I am a privileged, white cisgender European male, I have been able to take you through the swamp of grey and applied some contrast, or at least to have given you some tools with which traverse this hard-to-tread intellectual terrain with.

Humbly yours,

Mvdgoes

Racism




Freedom of speech

The right of rights – Freedom of speech

 

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speechFreedom of speech. An essential and beautiful right, that we all use to near exhaustion. We all have our ideas, our opinions and things we think “must be said”, and we have the freedom to say them; to communicate our ideas, present our opinions and to say what “must be said” according to us. We are happy to do so, whenever, wherever and however we see fit. Though, we might be remembered sometimes of the episode “auto erotic assimilation” of the great cartoon series Rick and Morty, in which Morty’s sister says: “I didn’t know freedom meant people doing things that suck!”

Summer is actually getting at a very essential problem regarding any right here, the fact that rights may be, in our eyes, misused. The right to freedom of speech is no exception. This is exactly the reason for this article; to clear up some common misconceptions around the right to freedom of speech by explaining it in the detail that is allowed to us, considering the fact that it varies from country to country. I will do this by first globally outlining what the right to freedom of speech is meant to do, after which I will explain some of the nuances that are in effect in most countries. I will conclude with some of the common misconceptions we experience in our day to day lives.

Freedom of speech rick and morty

The reason for the right to freedom of speech

Political right

The right to freedom of speech, must firstly be understood in the right context. It is, first and foremost a political right. That is to say, not that it only applies to politicians, but that it is aimed at furthering the realm of politics. The right to freedom of speech is a right we will only encounter in societies that are more or less democratically organized. The reason for this is quite simple, but nonetheless elegant. It aims to increase the number of opinions and ideas that are present in the public debate, to further the democratic decisionmaking.

This right is rooted firmly in both the classical (Athenian and some era’s of Roman rule) and the enlightenment principles that every idea might have value and that every idea must be based on rationality. The ultimate test of this value and rationality was, of course, the rational/philosophic discourse as we experience in debates and discussions everywhere to this very day. In this way, we can see that the aim of the right to freedom of speech is not just to give people who are politically relevant a voice, but to give them the right to be a dissenting voice; the right to disagree. This, then, shows us again that it is a democratic right. Dictators have no need for, in fact they mostly despise, dissenting voices.

Civil right

However, since the Romans and Athenians, somethings have changed. Where they used to have a system of direct democracy, in which all free males of a certain age and later as noblemen of a certain age, were allowed to vote on important matters in gatherings, and were thus politically relevant, we now have systems of representative democracy. We now vote for representatives who are expected to vote on that which is in the best interest of their voters. Not only that, but with the abolishment of slavery in most democratic societies, and the inclusion of women in the voting process, we find that the general population is now both more and less politically relevant. We are more politically relevant because more of us are eligible to partake in the democratic process. Less politically relevant, because once we have voted, our governance(save referrendi) is pretty much out of our control. This has however lead to more flexibility within our democratic systems. Where in the days of Athens one could with a fair amount of certainty predict which member of the gathering would vote which way, we now have the ability to change the makeup of our respective parliaments with a single vote, leading to different outcomes every time. To accommodate this new swing, and to give every relevant person or party a fair shot, the right to freedom of speech was to be expanded in such a way that even those who are no longer politically relevant (the people, after voting), would be more politically relevant by being able to exercise influence on both their representatives and the rest of the people. As such, the right to freedom of speech was now a civil right as well.

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Significance

This process had, in most countries, gone a lot more organic than the above text would make you believe. But the significance here is this: the idea behind the right to freedom of speech was not so much to “free the people”, as it was to further political discourse. It was to give those who would vote on what action the government would take the ability to review and debate as much possibilities as they could, in order to find the best course of action. It was only later that the noble idea of “freeing the people” was attached to this right.

But free the people it did. You see, by legalising everyone’s ideas and opinions, a sort of equality was created. Every living human being has ideas and opinions, after all, and none are now inherently more valuable than others.

Taking away hindrances

Another important context in which we must think about the right to freedom of speech, is that it aims (with some exceptions to which I will return later) mostly to remove any hindrances one might experience in voicing their ideas or opinions beforehand. Most notably, it removes the ability to be prosecuted for the voiced ideas or opinions in a legal sense. The right to freedom of speech goes no further than to allow, without fear of prosecution, a person or group of persons to say what they want to say on public property.

Limits and nuances to freedom of speech

This all sounds fairly uplifting. We have the right to say what we want to say, when or where we want to say it. Or do we?

Freedom of speech VS Ownership rights

As we look at the last sentence of the previous paragraph, we can already conclude that there is one important limit to the exercise of free speech: private property. While everyone is free to speak their mind at all times, they may not be at every given place. A good example for this is for instance a newspaper. A newspaper, aside from presenting its readers with the latest news and celebrity gossip, usually provides these services within some sort of political framework. They have a message they want to spread, about how they think the problems of the world are best approached. Because the newspaper itself is private property, the owners and shareholders are free to decide what is and what isn’t printed on their pages. They may even decide, without any penalty, to censor an interview as long as it doesn’t amount to libel. This may seem like a violation of the free speech rights of the person being interviewed. And it jolly well is, to be honest. But the nuance here is property rights vs. civil rights. As the person interviewed has the choice to present the exact same case to a different, more accommodating medium, and is free of libel, the choice to allow this breach of freedom of speech in favor of ownership rights is an understandable one, if not an acceptable one.

Libel and slander

We have touched on another limit in applying freedom of speech here, ‘libel’ and ‘slander’. These are actually both the same thing, but one is in writing (libel) and the other is in word of mouth (slander). They both amount to the intentional and malicious misrepresentation of another person’s possessions, character or history. For instance, during the 2016 Presidential campaign, someone somewhere started the rumor that Hillary Clinton was running a child prostitution ring from a pizza place somewhere in New york. This, as many already thought was nonsense. This is a case of libel. The character of Mrs. Clinton was misrepresented, because it wasn’t true. This was done in a malicious way, because the intent was to make voters second guess their voting for the democratic candidate. It was intentional, because there was no evidence that she indeed had run a child prostitution ring.

Hate speech

Yet another limit in applying freedom of speech is ‘hate speech’. This is a tricky one, because every country defines it in its own way, whereas the previous two limits are very similar globally. Generally though, the term hate speech amounts to the calling for violence against a person or a group of persons, based on ethnicity, country of origin, religious or political affiliation, sexual preference, gender or (dis)ability. This seems to speak for itself, but there is a nuance here, that is noteworthy enough to merit some attention. Generally speaking, it is allowed under the banner of free speech to say: “I want muslims to be deported.”, which some would categorize under the nomer of calling for violence. On the other hand, it is often not allowed to, under that same banner, say: “Let’s get rid of all the muslims!”. The difference here, is that -depending on the context, of course- the latter may imply a more physically violent event then mass deportation, which might lead to physical violence being committed on the group in question. However, I can not stress enough the differences that different countries maintain in their outlooks on hate speech.

 

Freedom of speech misconception

Common misconceptions:

Saying: ‘Well, that’s my opinion, so I don’t have to defend it.’ Is a correct use of the right to freedom of speech.

As we have concluded in the section “Reason for freedom of speech” above, the intention of the right to freedom of speech is to find out what ideas are rationally supported or can be rationally supported. Failing or refusing to rationally support your ideas, is thusly not a correct use of the right to freedom of speech. Rather, the person who is doing this, is impeding the discussion that the right to freedom of speech is supposed to support. they are doing so by introducing needless and unfounded chatter into the conversation, which can only distract from the issue at hand.

Social media companies deleting comments are violating my right to free speech.

As we have concluded above, in the section “limits and nuances to free speech”, that which is privately owned is not obligated to provide every statement with a platform for being voiced. Rather, they have the right to censor or delete entirely any comment that does not support their mission statement. the free speech of the commenter may be hindered by this, but the diversity of media and often pages within that media (such as on Facebook) will allow for sufficient opportunity to voice the opinion or idea. Considering this, the ownership rights the befall Facebook and respective page holders is more important.

The threat of being physically abused because I’ve said something is a violation of my freedom of speech.

First of all, I understand how it feels that way and I never condone any disproportional verbal violence, let alone physical violence, save self defense. However, being hit by anyone other than a government agent because of what has been said, is not a violation of freedom of speech. The freedom to say these things has not declined. It is the result that has gotten more expensive. Rather, it is your right to not be threatened and eventually your right to bodily integrity that is being violated.

I don’t want those who disagree with me to have freedom of speech.

We all disagree with one another from time to time. We can do so passionately. But if a person, for any other reason than are mentioned above, disagrees that their opponent is using their right to freedom of speech, I would say they do not believe in the freedom of speech. As we have concluded in the section “the reason for the right to freedom of speech” above, the whole point of free speech is the right to disagree.

Final thoughts

The right to freedom of speech truly is one of, if not the most important right that we have in democratic societies. Nonetheless, some limits ought to be imposed on it, to keep our societies from crumbling under its massive weight and possible implications. However, we should be duly vigilant when it comes to these limits, in order to safeguard this great piece of cultural heritage.

We must remember that, though it is a political right by origin, it is now one of our most vital civil rights as well. It frees us all to say what we want and when we want within or upon public property and gives us a great amount of equality as well as the right to disagree with others and the status quo. It is now our own prerogative to determine what to say, when and with who we say it, and if we are ready to pay the eventual price for it. We are also, in our use of and by our debt to the right to freedom of speech obligated to do the best we can in defending our ideas and opinions against the inevitable attack from others. And whilst some regulations can, in my opinion, be a bit too strict, we must recognize that they are in place for legitimate reasons and vary from country to country.

I hope this article has clarified the misconceptions I spoke of earlier. And I await your commentary and will defend it as best I can. And remember Voltaire, when he said: “I disapprove of what you write(say), but will defend to the death your right to keep writing(say it).”

 




Life and Death

Life, purpose and dealing with death

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If you are reading this, you might be alive. You might be a computer program, simulating my life to me. We never know. To me, cogito ergo sum, to you, not so much. I think, therefore I am. But I don’t know that you think, so you might not be. This applies to our entire environment. And should it be true that our entire environment, the way we perceive others and the universe, be simulated, do we even classify as ‘alive’?

Because we are the rational human, homo sapiens, or at least because we can contemplate abstract principles, we can contemplate our lives. It is a blessing. It has made us able to build bridges and estimate their maximum carry weight beforehand, make increasingly complex buildings and objects and increasingly useful, safe and complex products. Our abstract mind is a great thing, which has enabled us to adapt like no other species before us; to the point of cultivating and maintaining our own ecosystem, the cityscape. But like many great things, it has its downsides. Because it enables us to contemplate our lives and objects around us, we can have fears. Fears of objects and/or concepts, people or death.

Especially this last one, the fear of death, is one that wreaks havoc, to this day, on human freedom. This is why I am writing this article; to clear up misconceptions around the concepts of life and death. To do this, we will start by handling the presumed current affairs; life. We will look at how close we can come to getting to a purpose for being alive. After that, we will look at the question ‘what to do with life in the face of death?’, at the hand of a few examples, such as Abortion, Euthanasia and Suicide and the Death Penalty.

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Life

Regardless the fact that most of us know intuitively how to separate life from non-life or death fairly flawlessly, there is quite some contention on what ‘life’ means. There are various definitions in contention. In the light of being inclusive, I will use the present biological definition: ‘an organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction’. It is important to note, that this definition is under contention, because some forms of plants, and animals -including humans with certain diseases-, though alive, show no reaction to stimuli. The same goes for reproduction; a dog that is neutered is nonetheless alive. Even while the dog is temporarily unconscious after getting neutered, he is not dead. So we have established that our definition is lacking. Therefore, I would ask the honored reader to attach this baggage to my starting definition, so that we may adequately and completely discuss the concept of life.

Valuing life

Many people say the value life, implying -purposefully or not- that they value life intrinsically. They have a good point in this. After all, it is a spectacular occurrence. The way each animal and human have their own goals, go on their own ways to survive is very impressive, as are the high trees. But, so too are the high, inanimate mountains and deep seas.

That being said, we don’t treat other lifeforms like we care about life itself, do we? If we set aside the fact that literally all of our food was once alive are killed for the express purpose of feeding us- we have no choice but to. But we cut up our house plants, squash bugs and hunt. These don’t really seem indicative of valuing life itself, do they? Moreover; when our home is infested with life, we call in an exterminator. So, at the most we can say that we “value life as long it conforms to the desires we have for it.” That is to say, that while we value life, we don’t necessarily consider life life when we want to make alterations to, or use of it. In cutting the plant, we don’t stop to think we are mutilating it. Yet, we are. In squashing the bug, we don’t stop to think we are ending a life. Yet, we are.

It is for this reason that I am convinced that, instead of life itself, we actually value awareness, or at least the potential of awareness. What do I mean with awareness, exactly? Awareness, as I mean to define it, is: “the state of being able to perceive, react upon and sensually experience one’s surroundings and to remember these experiences”. For a formal layout of the idea of awareness I am getting at, I will refer you to my earlier article; Cognicism; a secular moral system, I will here layout only the rudimentary case as it pertains to this article.

For any stimulus to have an effect on an organism, a certain processing of these stimuli should be present. If it isn’t, the stimulus wouldn’t have an effect, simply because the organism isn’t aware of the fact that a stimulus has occurred.

For any stimulus to an organism to have an effect on the moral status of the stimulus, there must be a certain processing of the stimulus so that the organism can take notice. This means that the organism shouldn’t only be able to process the stimulus, but it must be able to notice the results. If, for instance you hurt an animal, but it has no capacity for memory, it will have forgotten the pain right after the incident, leaving there be no pain.

In short, awareness is what we value about our own lives and the lives of others, because it is what we empathize with and what we base ourselves, our own actions and personality, on.

Purpose of life

Now that we established what it is that we value about life and about living creatures, it is time to start exploring what the purpose of life is. By ‘purpose of life’, I mean something similar to, yet completely different from the classic-theistic approach. The difference here, is mainly one of cause. In the classic-theistic sense, we typically start out (re-)affirming that we were made by god. (Re-)affirming of faith is significant, in this instance, as you can make the argument that purpose follows the intent of the creator, leading us to the conclusion that the purpose of life, is simply to live according to god’s plan, whatever that may be.

Let us stop for a minute, to acknowledge that; “to live according to god’s plan, whatever that may be.” It seems interesting, but is actually entirely vacuous. God is often silent, apart from the manual he left centuries, if not millennia ago. To make matters worse; most gods are omniscient and omnipotent, so you can’t not live according to god’s plan.

There’s not such an easy way out for us, here. If we want to get a satisfying answer, we’re going to have to look around. We do this by finding other things or beings in our environment that do have an established purpose. The first thing that comes to mind, are objects designed for use. They are designed for a certain use and they fulfill this use as a purpose. Knives and scissors, for instance, have the purpose of inflicting controlled damage on an object/individual, cars are meant to transport human beings and their belongings with a relatively high speed at a very specific location.

We can notice here, that purpose is a result of design. So, what does our design, or form, tell us about ourselves? A bit too much, I am afraid. We have a form that enables us to do almost everything. And it has enabled us to do everything we have done so far. But, does this mean that simply ‘being human’ is the purpose of human life? This does brush on what many non-religious people will give as an answer to the question. They will say: “to be” or “to live”. This is essentially a good answer. It takes into account all that we feel when trying to answer this question; the fact that there is no discernible god, the fact that no purpose is given beforehand and that we experience both good and bad things. But this fails to take into account that ‘being’ or ‘living’ itself has no purpose without an environment, so our purpose must have something to do with our environment. Not to mention that ‘living to live’ seems unsatisfying and circular, so we must keep on looking. If we take the car, mentioned above, we see a similar problem. A car, too, has many different functions and abilities. It typically has air conditioning, radio, mirrors etc. Yet, we do not consider the purpose of the car to be providing air conditioning, radio and reflections to be the purpose of the car. This is because we separate the primary functions from the secondary and tertiary functions; we only use these features when we are in the car, using it already. This, of course begs the question; how do we separate the different grades of functions.

I am convinced that we can find the answer to this question in the use of fuels. When we look at a car, we see that it has many functions, as laid out above.  But, we might also notice that uses the majority of the energy its fuel supplies in motion. When we consider humans, then, science tells us that 20-30% of our fuel is used to provide our brains with sufficient energy. Of this energy, most goes to recognizing, simulating and traversing our environment and surroundings. Thus, we have established our link to our surroundings. The rest of the energy that goes to our brains, that is not used for staying alive or knowing our surroundings, are used for contemplation of life or questions in life.

In conclusion, we can now show a hierarchy in purposes for life, which we can apply not only to human life, but to all forms of life:

  • To sustain life through procreation and nourishment
  • To experience life and the world
  • To contemplate life and the world

These all follow from our reasoning about awareness and function, in addition to having the neat attribute of connecting what we value about life with a sense of objective purpose.

This purpose to life is of course very universal and this probably makes it not very helpful in your day to day life. Alas, No one can be expected to craft you a personal purpose for life. But, the upside is that we are entirely free to shape our own personal purpose and legacy in this world. For me, I just try to spread compassion and understanding so that we might stop arguing. But you are free to do whatever you think best suits you.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor death

Death

All of this; life, our reasoning… our purpose… leads to the question of what we should do with life, considering death. The value of life and the inevitability of death combined, lead to a plethora of interesting dilemma’s. In this article, to avoid endlessly considering different kinds of medical dilemma’s, we will limit ourselves to the best known examples of these dilemma’s, known to be Abortion VS the right to life, Suicide VS Right/will to live, The death penalty VS the right to life and Euthanasia VS the sanctity of life.

Before we do this, however, let’s discuss the concept of death.

Death is, as we all know, the loss of life and/or the status of no longer being alive. Death is often considered an unpleasant or even scary subject to talk about, because we are confronted head-on that at a certain time, a certain day in the future, we too will die. This makes people anxious, because life is all we know. In this respect, death is the ‘great unknown’.

This also explains that many people, apart from being anxious about death, have an inexplicable fascination with it. Things that are unknown but (at the time) harmless, are very interesting. They challenge us to think outside the box, confront our fears and challenge our minds. It has done this to the point that we have significantly raised the age expectancy over just a few decades. But, alas, death remains inevitable.

Why exactly death is inevitable, or if it will in the far future remain to be, is unclear. But for the time being, it seems that we will all die. So why, if it is a fate we all share, are we so afraid of it?

One of the reasons, I have already mentioned, albeit briefly. “Death is the great unknown.” All we know, all we love, is in this life. Our stuff, our friends and family, but even the sun and the greater universe. These things make sense to us, give us a reason to get up in the morning. Parting with it, gives us a sense of alienation and insecurity. We are going into the unknown, and we never know what horrors or joys we might encounter.

A second reason is the process of dying. The fact that we will all die, doesn’t mean that the way we die is universal. Rather, there are quite different ways to die. We might die in our sleep, but we can also catch a piece of space junk on our head, and everything in between is a more or less viable way to die. So, too do the degrees of lain in this all vary. We might assume that we feel next to nothing when we die in our sleep, while when we die from a disease that slowly eats away at our body is likely near unbearable. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel; death in the sense of being dead and no longer feeling the pain of disease and existence. So, how do we handle this mixture of suffering and angst? Let’s examine this.

Abortion

Abortion is the first kind of death we might encounter in our lives. Namely, when we reside safely in our mother’s womb. Or well, in case of abortion, perhaps not so safely. Many atheists fight what they consider the good fight to legalize abortion, and are quite easily done with the topic after that. This I find regrettable, since many haven’t gotten their perceptions about life and death clearly in order and abortion is -in my opinion- one of the cornerstone-tools in finding clarity about life and death. Abortion is a good tool in this respect, because it contains elements not only of life and death, but personal bodily integrity, different facets of consciousness, legislation and autonomy. We find ourselves considering whether autonomy trumps the right to life or not. This is in and of itself a fascinating question, in which both sides have valid and good arguments.

For instance, the argument of deprival of choice for the fetus resonates with most people and initially rings true. A human baby and indeed a fetus, might not yet have the awareness to make this decision, but as I argued above, it is not so much ‘life’ or ‘awareness’ that we value, but the ‘potential for awareness’ and certainly a fetus has this potential.

However, it is only a potential for awareness (this will be further explained in the next section of this article). Up until a certain point, a developing baby isn’t conscious. This means that, though it is alive, it doesn’t know it’s alive. Because it isn’t aware that it’s alive, and abortion is a tough-to-grasp concept, it isn’t aware that there is a choice to be made, until long after the choice has been made, if it will ever be aware of the choice. Of course, this lack of awareness also impacts the moral status of the fetus; because it has little to no awareness, it has little to no ability to notice its environment, much less to interpret and remember any suffering inflicted upon it.

It may be noted that this argument does little to allow the removal of the fetus. The fact that committing an act leads to little to no damage, doesn’t mean you should commit it. If swatting a fly doesn’t do much damage, that doesn’t mean you should go out and kill every fly you encounter. In fact, depending on its location, this might be quite a dangerous undertaking. This is in effect the same when it comes to abortion, if you change ‘location’ to ‘state of development’ and ‘dangerous’ to ‘immoral’. At the stage of development (I say state of development instead of naming it, because this might shift) where we have significant reason to assume that the developing baby does have the ability to feel and remember joy or suffering, its moral status, and thus the moral status of abortion, change entirely. It is at that point, as we have clarified above, it becomes a creature that we have to morally account for beyond its potential for awareness.

The argument about the sanctity of life is also one that resonates. After all, we are here because life exists and removing the special ‘sacred’ status, might expose it to danger by ruthless treatment. The facts that our planet has life is barely short of miraculous and that we, as diverse life, sustain each other significantly on most every level, make life one of the most praiseworthy things. However, this only means that the preservation of life as a whole should be morally accounted for. This doesn’t mean every individual is worthy of such consideration. We can value the machine without valuing every part. And we seem to know this intuitively, as most of us eat animals.

But, at the end of things, abortion will always be a weighing of the values attached to the potential for awareness of the fetus versus the bodily autonomy of the woman in question. It will come as no surprise, that I find the ready awareness of the woman to be of higher moral status than the not-yet-existent awareness of the developing child. And as the woman’s awareness and experience of life are inseparably connected to her bodily autonomy, we must conclude that she is entitled to make such a decision in her best judgments

Suicide and Euthanasia

Sooner or later, most of us will confront ourselves with a great question, that might have even greater consequences. “Should I just end it all?” The brunt of people who entertain this thought don’t seriously intend to do so and a greater number refrains from both suicide and euthanasia. But some people do commit suicide, and it’s understandable. We have never chosen to live and should we have had the choice before conception or birth, many of us might well have refused the offer. Living hurts. We might get hurt ourselves or be hurt by others, there’s wars, famine, slavery and disease. Not to even talk about the troubles money and love may cause. And because we have the power of contemplation, we might estimate the impact of these troubles in our life. They can seem insurmountable and sometimes, they are.

When troubles are severe and insurmountable, by which I mean that they cause great suffering that shows no reasonable sign of halting, suicide or euthanasia might be a viable option. However, aside from abstractly thinking, we are also an emotional species. This leads us to often make our problems seem bigger than they are. This is why, before one goes through with suicide or euthanasia, they ought to be sure they have sufficient reason to. After all, it is a hefty trade. We leave behind all we know and all we love. Everything that we can be sure of, and trade it for something we can’t be sure of. We can’t be sure about how it is to lose awareness permanently. In this sense, suicide and euthanasia are like making an all-in wager at an international casino; you cash in your chips, but you don’t know in which currency they’ll pay you back.

We should thus conclude that both suicide and euthanasia should be acts that are only committed after lengthy and intense reflection as well as seeking psychological or otherwise professional help. And when and if we reach the conclusion that they are the best course of action, our thoughts ought to immediately go out to those we have during our lives surrounded ourselves with; friends, family and other loved ones. The ways people get to know about a death can be of great influence on their life. To minimize their suffering, arrangements ought to be made to keep trauma at a minimum. In the case of euthanasia, this is often the case. People who apply for euthanasia often share their plans with their loved ones. Their deaths will be professionally assisted and the body equally professionally taken care of. In suicide, this is often not the case. It are often loved ones who find the body, in all kinds of compromising positions and conditions. This is why euthanasia ought to be available to everyone who has been deemed to have sufficient reason to want to give up life. These reasons can vary from being terminally ill and severely suffering, to just not wanting to live.

The Death Penalty

Of the many forms of death we humans can succumb to, the death penalty might well be the hardest to reach a definitive conclusion on. This is in part because we hear a lot about the death penalty in our daily lives. We hear about a murderer who killed one person getting the death sentence, while those who have killed entire families may get life in prison and the other way around. My opinion about the death penalty is an unpopular one, simply because I don’t explicitly side with one side or the other.

Let’s start by setting up a framework for this discussion.

The death penalty should be considered in a reasonable context. That is to say that subjects who undergo the death penalty ought to be rightfully convicted in a fair trial with sufficient evidence, of a crime that is proportional to the penalty. The desired amount of evidence ought to be left to be derived from what is scientifically acceptable to reach consensus, as science has proven to be the most trustworthy way to determine reality, and that proportionality ought to be established in all moral reasonableness. This in turn means that we use good reasoning to determine when someone is eligible for the death penalty. Certainly, we don’t want to hang people for throwing their cigarette on the ground.

If we consider the death penalty this way, we see that it is a very viable option. It becomes a viable option, if -rather than punishment- we see it as a means of increasing utility (utility, in philosophy, is the amount of ‘usefulness’ in a resulting situation, varying from the amount of options that result to the amount of happiness and/or contentment), as long as you do it humanely.

The first reason for this, I regret having to mention it, money. People who pose a danger to society and can’t be rehabilitated, will otherwise spend their lives in jail. Jails, which are either publicly owned, or publicly funded in most cases. This means tax dollars would be spent on a ‘hopeless matter’.

A second reason, is the criminal himself. Many who pose a danger to society, and can’t be reasonably rehabilitated, will otherwise spend their lives in jail, where they will have little meaning in their life and constant threat of violence. As long as they are executed humanely, it seems that at least a choice must be given to these people.

However, the above is almost never the case. Juries and judges get the assignment to establish ‘beyond the shadow of a doubt’ that the defendant did it, but estimations (since courts don’t usually entertain the possibility of innocence after the fact) range between 20-30% of people who were executed being innocent. So clearly, there was a shadow of doubt looming over the conviction. We see, in many countries, that dissidents are silenced using the death penalty and/or undue sentencing. In short, we “get the wrong guys” too often.

The implications are severe. When we kill the wrong person, we are slaying an innocent person. In doing this, our system itself commits murder. Now, depending on the legislation for when exactly someone becomes eligible for the death penalty, this may quickly mean that the system that enacts the death penalty must itself be charged with murder and sentenced accordingly. But this is not all. If we consider the murderer a danger to society, how do we treat the executioner, who by all means has killed at least one, but may very well have killed multiple people. Do we consider him a threat to society? at the very least, he has killed innocents, which means he directly participated in murder. At the very least he ought to be considered an accessory to murder. So do we sentence him? And what about the judges and/or juries? surely, they gave the order for the execution. Do we charge them with a criminal conspiracy?

Of course, this would be both ridiculous and untenable. So though the value of life is not to be too highly estimated, we must also consider our state’s and nation’s practical moral implications. These show us that the death penalty isn’t the best course of action, though it has some very strong arguments in favor of it. These arguments, however, are insufficient when compared with the chance for committing a moral evil inadvertently. We must err on the side of life, rather than the side of death.

Natural Death

What then, do we do with natural death? Medical science has evolved rapidly over the course of the past 150 or so years. We have managed to -in large numbers- abandon the relative quackery of herbs and spices and get to pills, supplements, scans and vaccinations. this has allowed us to increase our lifespan significantly. However, the same can’t be said for our bodily health, which is collectively dropping. We eat a lot of strange, sweet and fatty foods, which makes our bodies ever fatter, our immune systems lacking.

It is truly a beautiful thing, what we have accomplished. I consider it a moral blessing that we have been able to elongate our most precious asset; awareness. This allows us to fulfill more of both our objective and our subjective, personal purposes. However, we must also acknowledge the fact that the age at which our body starts seriously deteriorating has largely remained that same, between the ages of 55 and 65. This is when many chronic disabilities and illnesses start to set in. Alzheimer’s becomes a real concern, but so do several forms of cancer, arthritis and sight-, hearing- and motion problems. These problems, though precautionary and preventative measures are in place and exceedingly prominent, persevere.

So what do we make of this? Firstly, we must understand that these problems, though life threatening, may be experienced as a threat to life. For many old people (especially those who have Alzheimer’s) any problem with the functions they used to have function as a premonition of their inevitable death. On the other hand, there are also older people who fare fairly well in these kinds of circumstances. Some, on the other hand, don’t very much mind, but would choose a younger body should they have the possibility. At any rate, getting older can be a serious burden, but it can also *just* be a burden. What we are effectively doing by elongating human life, is stretching this period of suffering and decline. This seems fairly damning at first hand, but we must also realize that, in saying this, it is the last of such periods a person will experience. In fact, from beginning to end, it might be their last experiences.

This makes the situation profoundly complicated, as on one hand, you would want to end the suffering, but doing that entails ending the awareness of the person suffering. The only reasonable option I see in this is to simply allow euthanasia for these people and keep on working on enhancing the medication we have available for these people, in whichever way that may come. In this way, we make it possible of those who are not ready to leave life to exit it with dignity, surrounded by the people they love or in any other way they see fit. On the other hand, we allow those who are not yet ready to leave life to continue going on, all the while reducing their suffering by introducing new ways to avoid, adapt to or numbing it.

Conclusion

What I have tried to argue in this text, is that though life is valuable in and of itself, we mustn’t apply that to every organism. The value of life is often made to out be sacred, while we all know -as I have shown- that life itself isn’t the quality from which we gather that position, but that it is rather awareness as seen in animals and humans. Taking this, I have shown you that an objective purpose can be found in life by investigating its forms and circumstances.

Using this, I have tried to show you how we can use the notion of life being less than sacred to actually reach conclusions that are very much in line with the intuitions many of us have when it comes to life and dealing with death, at the hand of Abortion, Suicide and euthanasia, the Death Penalty and Natural Death.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor the end




Honesty

Enjoy your life; Honesty

The ancient Greek philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca said; ‘Why weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.’ Though I do not agree with this particular quote, I must admit that the sentiment is useful. And when push comes to shove, that’s all that matters. In this piece, I will attempt to show you the use of honesty in leading an enjoyable life.

The point Seneca was most likely making, and was in fact moderately famous for making, was that most people have too high expectations for life, which inevitably leads them to become disappointed and view life more as a burden than a joy. We’re told as kids that we may be the next president, that we’re very smart, that we’re beautiful. In short, all children are told they are special in some grand way. Yet, most adults end up hopelessly mediocre.

So how do we combat this? How can we manage not only our own expectations, but also the expectations others have for us?

Honesty

The first and most important point of discussion, is honesty. Not just towards others, but towards yourself. If we are to manage expectations, we must first realize we have to keep them at an acceptable median; our goals must be realistic, our expectation of achieving a goal should be no less realistic.

self assessmentHow do we use honesty to manage our own expectations of ourselves?

I’d say the key part is self-reflection. Before you commit to completing a certain task at a certain level, you should look back at previous tasks that are somewhat alike and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I complete this task the last time?
  • How did I complete this task the last time?
  • (How) Can I improve the way I complete this task?
  • Do I feel up to completing this task?

This will give you a more accurate reading of your qualities in different situations and allow you to assess your relative success in a better, more structured and thus dependable way, and in turn sync your expectations with your own qualities and abilities.

How do we use honesty to manage expectations others have about us?

Simply tell them about the results of your own assessment as described above. It’s actually that simple; let them know your weaknesses and own up to them.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable toward others. A handful will indeed exploit your vulnerability, maybe even humiliate you, but most people will appreciate it and view you not as a vulnerable person, but as a person with strength and character. It takes some cojones to allow yourself to be vulnerable and most people can relate to that. More over, it is admirable.

But honesty to your fellow human being goes further than just telling people what you can and can’t do. It also exists out of being honest about your opinions, beliefs and desires. It also encompasses your fears, dislikes and history. All the above might lead to an extraordinarily vulnerable position within your social context. Of course, you might want to look out, because this might not be compatible with your specific situation. It seems, for instance, a bad idea to say you fear gunfire when you’re an army member. But aside from compatibility issues, it doesn’t hurt to be a bit more vulnerable.

And when you think about it, the fact that we are often taught to be invulnerable or less vulnerable, is counter-productive. It chips away at the honesty in society, which inevitably means trust becomes increasingly scarce, which leads to suspicion and lying to cover up ones shortcomings. Not only are suspicion and lies bad for business, it’s bad for your wellbeing, too. Having to juggle lies, checking up on every promise that has been made to you, it’s tiresome and takes valuable time better used for other purposes.

expectationsHow do we use honesty to manage our expectations of others?

We can use honesty in curtailing our expectations of others and conforming them to the realistic. In other words, by being honest about our own capabilities and our expectations of others, we can incentivize others to be equally honest about their capabilities. In this way, we avoid being disappointed and can better plan our actions ahead.

Another way to use honesty to the same ends, is to be honest about your doubts. If you think someone is less capable than they say they are, you can be honest about this and tell them (gently, preferably). This will often illicit a more or less hostile, apologetic reaction, and rightfully so, it is a statement that can be considered an attack on the other person’s capabilities, or more often an attack on the other person in general. After settling this argument a more comprehensive and certain assessment of capabilities might be made.

Other reasons for honesty

Through honesty, there is a lot more we can achieve than just expectation management. First off, an honest person is a reliable person. This is true not just factually, but also perceptively, and being perceived a reliable person can have a myriad of benefits for both your professional and social life; people might trust you more and give you chances more easily. Honesty is also perceived to be a virtue by many people in modern society. This makes honesty an admirable quality within society, contributing to being perceived to be a great, morally gifted individual.

It’s better than lying. The weird thing about lies, is that we have trouble maintaining them, coming up with them and keeping them apart. Yet, when asked, most people say they lie to get ‘an easy way out’. Out of what? Mostly responsibilities or unsatisfactory appointments. It’s simply time that we realize the ‘easy way out’ that lying seems to offer, isn’t so easy and is actually a great bother.

Last but not least, it’s just the right thing to do. You might remember one of my previous pieces, called cognicism; a secular moral system, in which I advocated that awareness should be the main factor in determining the morality behind a moral event. To be dishonest, is to allow another conscious (i.e. aware) person to function on the basis of misconceptions or delusions. The consequences of this vary, but generally do not exceed the consequences of acting based upon honesty and real information. A case can be made however for certain cases, in which it is reasonable to assume that a little “white”, if you will, lie can help someone to function better.

Summary

In this part of the series “Enjoy your life”, we have spoken about honesty. A number of ways to help you in your professional and social life have passed review and we have examined moral, practical and individual reasons to be honest, as well as examine the possibility to use honesty to curtail false or baseless expectations across the spectrum.




The significance of ethical consideration in politics.

Politics and ethics

In this day and age, where war, fear and hatred are so abundantly present, we encounter more and more fellow human beings who seem ruthlessly pragmatic when it comes to solving world problems. When discussing ISIL, for instance, the comment ‘just nuke ’em’ is far from scarce.

Other people, like a prominent businessman and politician speak of ‘killing their families’ and ‘implementing tortures such as waterboarding, even if it doesn’t work.’ These are instances of reactionary rhetoric and gives the impression that many amongst our fellow humans do not care to fully examine current political problems on an ethical level.

That’s sad, as we have a great abundance of even greater philosophical works by some of the most enlightened minds throughout history to help us with this. Aside from that, the world of ethical consideration is just wondrous and educative, even if you reach no conclusion. It just is such a waste to reserve ethical consideration for mere judgement.

So why should people ethically consider social or political problems?

Let’s take a trip to the present. If you, like me, enjoy discussing news articles online, you will have noticed that political, social and military factions are basically sorted into four categories: acceptable good, unacceptable good, acceptable evil and unacceptable evil. Let’s examine these categories for a minute.

The acceptable good;

The acceptable good, often also perceived as good by default, is the category for the factions that are perceived to have a right of existence and to strife for ‘good’. An example here is the US in the western world. Though specific opinions may vary, within the west, the US is generally accepted as the police of the world.

The unacceptable good;

The unacceptable good is a faction that is perceived of having good or noble goals or commits good or noble actions, but is in a way unacceptable, often due to its means of aspiration. An example for this category is found among a number of Muslims, whom typically support the erecting of a caliphate (Islamic state run by a caliph, who is a successor to Muhammad), but reject ISIL on the grounds of their un-Islamic ways of treating infidels and fellow Muslims.

The acceptable evil;

The acceptable evil is a faction that works to achieve a goal that is generally considered to be bad or evil, but either has redeemable qualities or is to powerful to terminate. A good example for this is Russia for the US and vice versa. Russia is the US’ prime evil. But it is accepted because going to war would engulf the world in fire and nuclear radiation.

The unacceptable evil;

The unacceptable evil is a faction that works to achieve a goal that is perceived as bad or evil and has little to no redeeming qualities or the redeeming qualities it possesses do not weigh up to the depravity of their intents and actions. A good example would be any faction that is perceived to be ripe for regime-change. Let’s take Al-Qaida, for westerners.

Description of the problem;

While it might not seem to be irrational or ignorant to have a system of four categories to neatly organise (geo-)political factions and events, a problem arises when one of these factions, mostly the one to which they (feel they) belong, is perceived as ‘good by default’ or even ‘better by default’.

Yet we see this is the case in most modern countries. Where the government of “country A” admits to having committed war crimes, their civilians are at the ready to defend them, no matter the case. A good example of this we find, once again, in the US with both Guantanamo bay and the CIA torture report. In both cases, innocent people were hurt, sometimes for years on end, without the fair trial each human deserves (see the Geneva treaty). And in both cases, droves of people were at the ready to defend this choice, saying it was absolutely necessary and a good or the best move.

But we know for a fact that they were not a good move, nor were they the best move. In the case of Guantanamo, the US government made agreements with afghan and Pakistani warlords to imprison and extradite Al-Qaida members. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of history and power could have predicted that rather than Al-Qaida members, these warlords extradited their competitors and pesky civilians. Yet, these men were kept in Guantanamo and tortured for years.

In the case of the CIA torture report, in which it was found that 52% of tortured captives turn out to be innocent and not in possession of the desired information, a military trial would have at the very least diminished the percentage of innocent or ignorant victims. But even this, I would say, is too lenient toward the US government. The fact is that they signed the treaty of Geneva, declaring the UN Human rights to be accepted -though the US never ratified the treaty- and the human rights provide protection against cruel and unusual punishment. This should never have happened and is thusly NOT a good or the best move.

So what difference does ethical consideration make?

Ethical consideration for political problems and questions, might seem to be irrelevant for the political landscape. This is in large parts due to recent politics, which haven’t focused on doing ‘the right thing’ for a long time.

These days, politics is almost synonymous with economics, and that’s a great shame. While politicians care about running the economy their way (which is funny, as both the left-wing and the right-wing proposed policies tend to run the economy into the ground, but that’s perhaps the subject for a future article), the population has to be submitted to higher taxes or increasing freedom and thus immoral behaviour by companies and corporations.

This makes sense economically, because a person registered as a company brings in more tax revenue than a person registered as a person. This is not because taxes for companies are higher (which isn’t the case), but because companies move more money and therefore make more money.

This leads to a tendency of giving more freedom to companies by lowering their tax-burden and giving them certain benefits, which in turn leads to terms like “too big to fail”. The term too big to fail in turn leads to a form of corporate welfare, in which the government is basically forced to maintain failing too big to fail companies in order to save the population from the consequences of said company failing. So we see that our economic policies are directly victimizing the population, the very population who voted for the people who created said policies, who are voted into office by the population. These are, by the way, entirely basic and predictable economic patterns.

 

Now, you might think to yourself; “But what about capitalism?” Well, I contend this isn’t capitalism. Capitalism is more meritocratic than the system we currently have. Capitalism is the principle of free market trade, where the market decides whether or not a company has what it takes to be founded and to prolong its existence. There is no “too big to fail” in capitalism, because once it fails, it no longer has the approval of the population, which means the product sold by the company is no longer in favour with the population. This is why there is such an emphasis on competition in the capitalist economic theory. Yet, in this day and age, we are left to deal with companies that have bankrupted thousands of us, simply because they are our only options and our “representatives” thought they were “too big to fail”.

So, we can see here the primary influence ethical consideration would have on politics; a more balanced stance regarding the economy. There would be an understanding for the needs and wants of companies and corporations, but there would not be special privileges that would undermine the link between companies, corporations and the population. The special welfare privileges would then be used fort he population itself and failing too big to fail companies would just be taken apart and the subsets would be left tof end for themselves.

 

The same thing can be said for foreign affairs. When we look at the refugee crisis for instance, we see that the panic in the EU has lead to an inability to decently distribute refugees across Europe. This is actually kind of a funny incident, as the influx of refugees had remained more or less stable from 2014 until 2015. The problems only started in late September of 2015, after the word ‘crisis’ was added to the description. The term crisis was added, because some reporter somewhere thought that the ‘massive’ influx of refugees would be unbearable for the delicate recovery of the economy. This turned out to be untrue, as most countries in the EU are showing signs of growth, regardless this new “crisis”.

 

This is a great example of how words can effect our thinking and actions as well as how easy it is to cause social upheaval. It’s altogether beautiful and terrifying.

 

When we introduce ethical consideration to the decision making in politics, we might have leaders that are willing to look beyond the potential problems fort heir own country and think more like a union ought to; spreading the risk, instead of avoiding it. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das(We will make it)”, but the actions taken after that, resemble more a “wir schaffen das nicht(We will not make it)” approach, even threatening to close their borders to new refugees in may of 2016.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, we can say that politics is the governing of people, yet it has –over the last decades- changed to governing money. We also know that when governing people, the focus should be on “what is right/fair” than “what is cheapest or most lucrative”. This is leading to more and more situations in which innocent civilians are falling victim to government savings, only to see the government spend more and more on companies who go on to pocket their newly found benefits. But most importantly, we see that just a bit more of ethical consideration could change the world fort he better. I’d like to thank you for your time reading this and hope you have a good day.




pride

Pride and Consequence

Pride

Among the many qualities a person can have, and emotions they can muster, pride must be among the most fascinating. Like appreciation and conflict, it has the potential to be both destructive and constructive.

We see it a lot these days, from politicians who exclaim their pride for their country and people, commonly known as populists, to civil rights movements of every kind. I mean, from the gun lobby, advertising with its proud gun owners, to gay pride, straight pride, black pride, white pride, hispanic pride… the list is virtually endless and all types of pride are shown as a good thing. But is it? Are these prides even warranted?

What is Pride?

Among other uses, pride is defined as: pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself. This is significant for us, because we need a basis upon which to decide whether the different types of pride are really warranted, or that they are just arbitrarily picked subjects shown in a favourable light. So lets examine this definition.

It shows us that pleasure or satisfaction must be exhibited regarding the subject of pride we are discussing. Next, we get a whole lot of “ors”. It is important to keep these separated neatly, lest we get confused. Something that is done by oneself or believed by oneself or believed to reflect positively upon oneself. These are the only expectations to be met and they are as such final.

Pride is, as I mentioned above, a fascinating subject. Administered in little relevant doses it can build a person up from their greatest depths, make them feel appreciated, worthy, admired and needed. It can make the beggar feel like a king, the slave like a worker. An individual person with balanced pride, can make fun of himself, while taking himself seriously. They can decide someone else to be more important, without it affecting their own self-worth. In short, it may make one a well-rounded person, someone to be admired.

But when administered in greater, more irrelevant doses, pride becomes destructive and even dangerous, fuelling hubris, arrogance and loathing. It is, after all, no secret that many atrocities have been at least in part fuelled by pride. The many instances, for example, of Russian nationalist violence are as countless as they are brutal. But the same goes for German, French and American nationalism. All of them in the very least fuelled partly by pride. In short, it may make one an unstable, petty and vindictive person, someone to be feared.

Like I said, a fascinating subject. It seems, at the face of it, to resemble an addiction to hard drugs; we have the frequent user on one hand. Who retains his balanced composure and can afford to miss a hit, but still needs it every once in a while. Then there is the full-on addict who craves his hits like they are the air he breathes and experiences every bit that’s missing as a personal theft. Of course, this is magnifying the issue to a rather large extent, but I believe this to be necessary in order to discuss a matter so densely populated by grey areas.

The Flip Side

When I was younger, about 15 years of age, My father told me: “Son, everything in this world has at least one flip side.” Thus far, I have discovered this to hold up. So, what is the flip side of pride?

It seems that pride is often tied into some bigger group of people who fit the same nomer. Whether it’s gay pride, national pride or black pride. This then goes on to strengthen the ties within that particular group of people. For instance, I used to be a goth kid. And though I was a shy little man, I always identified more with fellow goths than anyone else, because I genuinely believed that goths were better people. This is the use many advertisers hope to use to get people to buy their products and it is also the same kind of pride civil rights organisations of every kind hope to use to get unwavering support from its benefactors.

And almost immediately, we notice a flip side to group pride. Unity. As many instances teach us, unity all too often means a common enemy. Many of us have been taught that this works the other way around; that having a common enemy will bring unity. And while this is true, it is often taught one dimensionally, while the reverse may also be true; that unity within a group gives rise to a common enemy, which then goes on to strengthen the unity. In other words, the pride that many people have may lead to them to exclude them from their activities, to mistrust them and possibly abuse them, simply because they are “the other”.

And just like that, we’ve found another flip side to group pride. front formation. This may not seem to a problem at first, but it leads to a group having a more intimidating exterior, deterring any scrutiny and closing them down for criticism. This is potentially dangerous, as the members of such a group might start becoming increasingly alienated to the world outside their group. This is for instance very clear in the many reports of cult victims, often directly tying their pride in their path of life to dismissing criticism of their cult.

Before we go to the flip side of individual pride, there is one that is applicable to both; the need for people to keep their pride in tact or to restore it when lost. Many people go to extreme lengths to keep their pride in tact. Whether it’s choosing to ignore facts, deny facts or to apply varying degrees of cognitive dissonance, almost all of these things contribute to increasing irrational belief, which in turn may lead to irrational behaviour.

The problems with individual pride, are mostly the same to that of group pride, to start with.

The first would be; Arrogance. A person who feels a lot of pride, will be a more arrogant person. This also applies to subject-specific pride, like we are speaking of here, only the pride would of course only apply to that field. Though it is not uncommon for a person to take his debating prowess for instance to mean for them that they are intelligent, in which case the pride in debating skills would be included in a greater pride of their greater intellect. This arrogance would then risk going to be used to marginalize peers in that same setting. The debaters among us may already have reminiscent feelings and thoughts of the countless times they were called stupid by someones who otherwise has great debating skills. In other cases, the arrogance might not surface, but rather be replaced by hubris, making the subject careless in their actions, because they know they are “that good”.

The second, would be intimidation. We are used, perhaps by media, perhaps by our own insecurity, to our heroes being reserved and unavailable. This is why people with too much pride often show themselves to be more reserved toward others. Almost never really unavailable, but mostly reserved, giving the other the feeling they are unworthy of such highly regarded audience. This intimidates anyone that may need or want to approach these people, which will soon feel like a futile effort and will result, for both involved, in a missed opportunity.

 Examination of different forms of group pride

National pride:

 National pride is a phenomenon that most of us will be familiar with. People feel pride regarding their culture, government policies, demographic makeup etc. This is a form of pride politicians often try to appeal to, pandering to their audience. This pride can be found in smaller amounts in the country, depending on scale. Many countries for instance, have a certain pride that happens in different regions, provinces, or cities. This area-pride, for lack of a better term, is most commonly observable at sports events, like national pride is with international sports events.

There is a sort of beauty that comes with this pride, as it seems to have a fraternizing effect on those subject to it. Having experienced it myself when I was younger while subject to a turbulent period of puberty, I can testify to having a good night with one of my biggest enemies at that point, only because we met in a bare and watched our country play a soccer match. But you don’t have to take my word for it. After all, anecdote isn’t evidence, right? Luckily, we are surrounded in this day and age by populism. From le Pen in France, Wilders here in the Netherlands, Johnson in the UK and Trump in the US, we have ample testing grounds, and that’s not even naming half of them. What we see in all of these politicians, is that their supporters become more like a fan base, a cult of personality. They are willing to forgive them their missteps, because they “speak for the people”. This is abundantly clear when we look at Trump, as he has held approximately every policy position one can hold, and he is still going strong and his supporters have not changed their tone.

Aside from this originating brotherhood and support, we need only to look at the same Donald Trump to witness the aforementioned flip side of group pride, we called front formation. It has happened at least 5 times that I had the displeasure of watching videos of trump campaign riots. Now of course, these instances are not just related to front formation, but have also been fuelled by a fairly aggressive speaker, the physical discomfort o being within a mass and the psychological comfort of that same mass. You can read more about this here: http://www.uni-kiel.de/psychologie/ispp/doc_upload/Reicher_crowd%20dynamics.pdf.

For the same, one need only open the index of a history textbook and search for the word ‘nationalism’ to find countless atrocities commited in the name of national pride. This kind of pride meets two distinct problems when investigated, though. The first is that in the earlier mentioned cases of sports and other recreational events, it is more or less harmless, save hooligans (who mostly target each other, anyway). The second is that it barely ever goes unaccompanied. Most times when destructive national pride is observed, it has been observed with present feelings of racial superiority, political events, policy differences (like we see all over the EU with the refugee crisis, for instance) or populism.

Religious pride:

Religious pride spells itself out by its own name; people feel a sense of pride for being an adherent to a certain set of rules and regulations, often giving these rules and regulations the attribute of increasing a persons morality or being decisive for one’s moral fibre. Like national pride, religious pride is a subject for appeal to many politicians. This is clear when we look at political discourse all over the world, but specifically in the US and the middle east. This pride mostly follows clear lines of major religion, all the way down to minority denominations.

While religious pride, like national pride, has the ability to fraternize otherwise hostile groups, there is much ado about whether or not it causes more or less conflict in the world. This is because of the potential religion has. Religion, if it is/were true, has the potential to unify the entire world. If it isn’t true, it has the potential to fragment it. The problem here is that many (almost all) religions can’t be unified. Where one religion says we should pray daily, others say weekly and still others say several times a day. Where one religion forbids you to eat beef, the other stimulates you eating beef. Where one condones violence, the other forbids it. This means that, in practice, religious pride tends to cause more conflict than it resolves.

It is here, contrary to popular belief, not so much the religion itself that causes the problems as it is the pride people have in the religion they follow. If there wasn’t any pride involved in this, people wouldn’t care too much that their scripture was either being violated or not abided by in daily life.

What can we learn from pride?

Pride teaches us that every idea has a certain value to it, that every idea and every person has its merits. It does so by showing us that every person has his pride and prideworthy attributes, regardless their ideas and their appearances. This means that everything we know has an element in it that could be considered praiseworthy, however small it is. We can vehemently disagree with, for instance, Islam. But we can agree that somewhere within its teachings lie valuable ideas; whether it be the zakkat (the giving to charity) or martyrdom (dying for an idea) that you consider valuable.

However, value is a very subjective lesson. Perhaps that is the most valuable lesson here; that everything of value simultaneously has no value and all possible value.

But the most important of the lessons we have learned today, is the one that says we must be careful with our pride and where we locate it. That the ideas we value may actually not be as valuable as we perceive them to be and that we should only be proud for those things that merit our pride such as achievements, parts of our character and the achievements of others in our name. We shouldn’t, on the other hand, place our pride in abstracts or identities. For not only is it the path to folly, it is dangerous at that!




Dismantling the watchmaker

Broken watchWe all know it, “If you walk across the beach of an uninhabited island, having never met another human being and find a watch, you would know it was made by a fellow human being. This is apparent too when we look at nature” – The Watchmaker Argument. We come across this argument, or attempt to argue this point all too frequently, and quite frankly, it’s annoying to say the least. Annoying and wrong, and here is why….

The premise of this argument is that there is a significant difference between man-made objects and objects designed by god or “an intelligent designer”. The experienced debaters among you, might already have raised their red flags and sounded the fallacy alarm, because this is a self-defeating premise. The problem is that if we accept this argument, the premise becomes void, because the one thing we understand to not have been designed, would be designed. This would mean that in fact, we haven’t the ability to discern between designed and not designed features, as the premise would have us believe. If, on the other hand, we do not accept this argument, the premise would remain in tact.

Reasoning behind the watchmaker argumentThe thinker

The reasoning behind this argument is that because there is a difference in aesthetics and function we can discern the difference between designed and not designed objects, systems etc. just by looking at them. There is, however,  no reason why we would recognize the work of a fellow human being as being the work of a fellow human being, without having an additional reason to. If, for instance, we stumble upon a cave while trekking through the mountains, we have no reason to assume it was man-made, nor that it formed naturally as a result of plate tectonics and rocky structure. Similarly, if we do not know what a watch is or what the watch is for (which is the case when we look toward nature, our planet and/or our existence) we have no reason to say it was man-made.

Evidence for this, is obtained from a documentary that aired first somewhere in the ’90s on BBC, I believe it was called Meet The Natives, but I haven’t been able to track it down, unfortunately (if anyone knows exactly which documentary it is, please notify me so I can insert a link and watch it again) in which a tribesman was taken into a modern city. afterwards, he was asked what he saw. The man replied: “nothing, except for a weird beast that could carry very much bananas.” The man, of course, didn’t see nothing, he just lacked the frame of reference to describe what he saw. But the fact that he referred to a truck carrying bananas as a “weird beast”, is the significant part of this documentary. The man had mistaken a man-made, mechanical device for a product of nature. Of course, the absence of a frame of reference, makes this argumentation rather doubtful. The fact remains, though, that the man had no frame of reference. Seeing as we have no better frame of reference for the situation this argument puts us in, we are forced to conclude the obvious; that this reasoning is baseless and/or an assumption.

There is another well-known analogy to explain the phenomenon behind this argument; that of the puddle. This analogy is centered around a puddle of rainwater. The puddle thinks to itself “this indentation in the ground was made for me especially, or I would not fit in so ideally.” However, the puddle formed the way it did because the indentation in the ground was there, the puddle formed in the indentation, the indentation dictating its form. The same is true for human beings in nature. when we look at forests, grass plains, shrubbery etc. We might get the distinct feeling that these things were made for us, placed there for our benefits, its fruits made to feed us. It has its logic, to be honest, as it helps sustain our lives and provide countless benefits. The same reasoning, however, forgoes the countless more inedible plants, deadly animals, poisons and gasses that naturally occur. The perception of intelligence behind this supposed creation, originates from the fact that nature is highly sustainable. Because us humans have thus far failed to create anything truly sustainable. To create something truly sustainable, would be an amazing feat of engineering. This is why it seems s appealing to ascribe that feat of engineering to a superior mind, a creator. a god. However, there is no objective reason for this, as the theory of evolution tells us. It is perhaps the most elegant part of evolution, that sustainability arises from lack of sustainability. That those life forms that are unsustainable fade away or evolve, to keep the sustainability of nature itself at a fairly consequent level.

To conclude the part of the watchmaker, I would like to state briefly that the argument is cheating. A watch contains at least a number of metal parts, as it must contain cogs and springs. Metal is not encountered in its refined form in nature. The argument therefore misleads its recipient, as the mental image encountered while treating this argument, is often that of a metal watch, which would indeed help us to assume a fellow human made the watch.

A more honest example to use in this argument, would be that of a refined walking stick; it has it’s ties to nature by being made of wood, yet it has been refined to show the touch of a human being. Odds are that this argument would be received with less enthusiasm, and bring about a number of different conclusions.

Oxygen Volume 14Authority from creation

Another argument we often encounter, that is closely related to the watchmaker argument, is often not considered to be a separate argument, or at least it isn’t treated as one, yet it mostly follows the establishment of a creator. The argument elevates the watchmaker to the level of an artist and it goes a little like this: “If God created the universe, our planet and us, he can destroy it all and still be morally perfect; the artist can destroy his own art, without being a bad person.”

It should be immediately apparent that this is not a valid comparison. Artwork is inanimate, non living matter, arranged in an aesthetically more or less pleasing way, while the creation this god is supposed to have engineered is a universe, containing at least one planet with sentient life. In the case of god as an artist and humanity as his artwork, we forgo on the negative consequences the destruction of the artwork will have for the artwork itself. It thus has to have moral ramifications as long as the artwork is, has or contains consciousness (see also; cogniscism, a secular moral system).

The second way this argument falls flat on its face, is simple ethics. That you can create something does not absolve you from the responsibility to treat it ethically, in accordance to its level of consciousness. This is the reason we have laws on the minimal requirements of good treatment for both infants and pets. A being that possesses at least a modicum of awareness, will be able to register the way it is being treated, or to register the negative effects of such treatment. This means the moral scale is affected, as both beings are affected in their well being. A moral consideration then follows, which we can use to form a moral verdict of sorts.

Another interesting factor is the fact that god and humanity would be interdependent. God receives validity by its creation, the creation is dependent on god’s good will to allow them to live. How does god receive validity through its creation, you might ask. Well, that’s fairly simple; A god is called a god because it has given rise to at least one universe, world or species. Were a god exist that did not give rise to any such subjects, we are basically talking about a powerful ghost. To have god destroy the world, would be to end god’s divinity.

So, as we see, not only is god in its essence limited, it has to be bound to a form of human morality, leading us right back to the problem of evil.




Feel good

Enjoy your life; The significance of beauty

Feel goodIn our rational mindset, many devote their lives to obtaining and maintaining knowledge and reason. We run the risk of being obsessed to the point that we forget to appreciate the better things in life. To enjoy ourselves, to enrich the soul. In this small series, I will discuss these things with you in an attempt to help you improve the enjoyment of your life.

Why beauty?

You might be wondering; why would the first thing to discuss be beauty? How can beauty help me better enjoy my life?

Well, the answer is fairly simple; it’s around us all the time, everywhere. Beauty can be found in so many ways; from a good result to a bad event, the intricacy of nature, a flower, a painting, a building or a sunset. If we could harness this beauty, the powerful, positive energy that it is, our lives would be a lot more bearable than it often is. It will help us appreciate those moments of peace and quiet, of joy and excitement there is so much beauty that surrounds them. We could then use this to put into perspective our sorrows, failures and depressions.

Arts

Probably the least original subject on this list, is arts. The aim for aesthetics, the search for perfect compositions, balance and sometimes even automotive ingenuity, the arts offer us a full range of both beauty and ugliness.

Many people have come to view the art world as ‘elitist’, ‘vague’ or ‘expensive’. Admittedly, many museums require exorbitant entrance fees to get admission, but that doesn’t mean art is necessarily expensive. In many public buildings these days, there are expositions of artists hoping to sell their work to passers-by.

The very purpose of these expositions, is exactly what I urge you to do next time you pass by one; to stop and take a good look. Not to just turn your head and judge, but to really study it. If you like it, try to make clear to yourself exactly why you like it. If you don’t like it, challenge yourself to find at least one thing you do like.

I admit, sometimes this can be a challenge that seems insurmountable. Personally, I can look at a Picasso for hours and not find anything I actually like. But the excercise is useful nonetheless.

Perhaps more valuable than this, is the tendency of art to have amazing back stories. For instance, I love the Picasso work ‘Guernica’. Not because I like it aesthetically, but because of the back story, mixed with the chaos Picasso reoresents using triangles, squares and barely recognizable body parts which cross each other, flying around, all sizes. (The painting resembles the bombing of a market in Guernica, Spain) Not only does it speak to the imagination, but it also warrants the style of painting.

Last but not least, art is often a form of social commentary. This too, especially for the political junkies among us, is a quite satisfying and often admirable aspect of the arts; the use of imagery to influence the world around you. This in itself is a remarkable and therefore beautiful feat of humanity.

So you see, one doesn’t need deep pockets of money, knowledge or status to enjoy the arts. All that is needed is some time and an eye for wonder and beauty.

Architecture

While buildings tend to cast a long, dreary shadow over us, they can and should be a great source of happiness as they are built to be as beautiful as can be.

Of course, beauty is ver much subjective, but that’s  the fun. Like with arts, the challenge is to find things you do like and figure out what it is that makes you dislike certain buildings. Another good idea is to try to understand the history of architecture. This will unlock entirely new ways to appreciate the world around you. It will enable you to recognize when certain buildings were built and what their original use was.

Nature

Many of us already know the vast wealth of beauty nature has to offer. Most of us will know either a bird watcher, amateur fisherman or a sporting hunter. Even more of us will periodically look at a tree or flower in awe of its beauty.

But there is more to it. Especially us, as free thinkers and people who are aware of the science behind nature, we are in an unprecedented position to appreciate this wonder in its true form; we can appreciate the fact that everything is made up of the same molecules and atoms, the processes of the circle of life, the fact that this all originated from a great expansion about 14 billion years ago. The fact it is all fuelled by our own personal star. The beauty of it all expands exponentially with our understanding of it.

Beauty in performance

We have seen that the experience of beauty need not be through aesthetics. Rather, it applies to almost everything on earth. It can be hidden in the flips of a falling object or in the smile of a less privileged person.

So why not seek out this beauty? Care for people more than you might have up till now, become a volunteer perhaps! Aim to embody that beauty and to spread it, but also look around you. In our current societies, of which many people say it’s rough and careless, it is still very easy to find the beauty, the love and the friendship.

In conclusion

We have established that observing beauty makes ones life simpler and more enjoyable. We have increased our potential for observing beauty by disconnecting beauty from aesthetics. I have given you some simple ways in which you might further increase your potential for the observation of beauty.

I wish you luck and happiness and I hope to see you again in the next installment of this series; enjoy your life; expectation management.




Lady Justice

Cognicism; a secular moral system

Cognicism; a secular moral system

Lady Justice    As an atheist, we are often asked, “how can you be good without god?”. I have tried to explain this time and time again, each time resulting in a slightly different description. I understand the wish for people who might not be familiar with secular moral systems, to take look inside the moral reasoning of an atheist. Hence, I am writing this piece as much for myself as for those who inquire about secular morality to offer a consistent grounds upon which I –and if I am lucky, some others with me- may be criticized or in other ways confronted in moral discussion. So without further ado, I present to you; Cognicism, A secular moral system.

Application

To properly set up and utilize a moral system, we must first determine upon whom we want it to apply. While most moral systems and reasoning tend to only apply to human beings, I choose to differ here. I differ in the sense that I think more than just human beings might profit from a well-reasoned moral system, and I can’t refuse to include them in my reasoning. Of course, I am not talking about vegetation, nor am I talking about beetles, ants or bugs. Though I am talking about some natural life aside from that of a human being.

In order to experience some kind of benefit from a moral system, an organism needs to have a number of things. It needs at first to have a form of awareness. This is often characterized by organisms interacting with their environments in varying ways, depending on the situation. In other words, the organism must at the very least be –in some way- aware of its surroundings and cognizant of its own existence. The awareness of the environment is essential in this case, because an effect of a moral decision is often exacted by circumstance or the immediate environment of the organism in question. If the organism is unaware of its environment, there is no reason to assume that it does experience the negative effect of a moral action.

The second ability an organism must have, is the ability to feel pain and/or pleasure. This seems to be a rather obvious point, as organisms unable to pain and/or pleasure, will not be able to experience any negative or positive outcome of a moral action exacted on them. Therefore, no suffering or joy is inflicted and morality stops being applicable, as utility is effectively absent. The critical and morally experienced eye will notice that utility has no bearing on intent. This is true, but as we are discussing a moral system rather than a calculation of arbitrary moral values, we are forced to disregard intent for the time being as this discussion serves as a framework for formulating moral intent.

The third and last ability an organism must have in order to have this moral system applied on them, is the ability of memory. To some this seems obvious, while to others it seems rather enigmatic. Because of this, I will try to explain it in as much detail as possible. The point to having a memory, is to remember what has happened. This is a means to elongate suffering or joy beyond the initial infliction. If an organism forgets what has happened to it immediately after it has happened, or even while it is happening, there is no actual suffering or joy to spoken of. This might seem somewhat weird, as the organism –perhaps both able to feel pain and/or joy and aware of its own existence, can feel pain or joy long after it has been inflicted. The problem is, though, that if an organism has no memory, but is cognizant of its own existence and can feel –for instance- pain, to that organism it would be as if it had been suffering pain for all its existence. This means the organism doesn’t really acknowledge the pain as being of an outside source, perhaps not even experiencing it as pain, negating any moral effects. Disregarding again moral intent.

Purpose

So what is the exact purpose of this proposed system? Well, contrary to religious moral systems, the purpose of this system is to improve the experience of awareness for all sentient beings involved in a moral decision or action. This is contrary to most religious moral systems because, well, most religious forms of morality do not enhance the experience of awareness in any way, they rather force people to keep to arbitrary rules which have little to no bearing on “earthly” life. We are for instance reminded of the systemic treatment of women as less valid than men, vague rules like “treat others like you wish to be treated” and so forth.

Still, at this point I would like to extend an olive branch of sorts to my religious brothers and sisters, in that the ultimate goal is to achieve and/or maintain a sort of saintly morality. Though of course the saints of many religions would disagree with this moral system, I too disagree with their habits of respectively introducing a place of eternal torture to frighten people into believing or robbing and pillaging caravans. The idea behind this system is rather to have people behave in the way the religious speak of their prophets or saints; to really be the understanding, forgiving, loving individual they have failed to be.

Applicable moral rules

Before we are able to start morally judging decisions or actions it would be useful to describe a number of relevant rules.

  • Morally desirable actions/decisions are those actions/decisions that are taken free of compulsion and (are intended to) lead to an increase of enjoyment of a sentient organism’s awareness.
  • Morally undesirable action/decisions are actions/decisions that are (possibly) taken under compulsion and (are intended to) lead to a decrease in enjoyment of a sentient organism’s awareness.

The compulsion becomes relevant, because when someone isn’t free to choose to do otherwise, the factor of intent becomes inaccessible to the realm of morality as no moral judgment need be made before taking said action/decision.

  • Every viable organism has the right to sustain its own life and awareness.

There are a number of important parts to this rule that need an explanation; Many religious forms of morality would simply state that every living thing has a right to life, included but not limited to unborn life. I disagree with this on the simple basis that animals –humans included- eat other animals. To say every living organism has the right to life would therefore ultimately be in conflict with itself, as providing the right to life for the prey, would violate the right to life for the predator and vice versa.

  • Every viable sentient organism has the right to physical integrity.

This rule is the basis of this moral system; the fact that sentient beings are aware of their surroundings, means they feel harm or joy being applied to them from an outside source. They should therefore have the right to decide what happens to them and to not have their bodies arbitrarily attacked; their integrity must be preserved.

  • Every organism has the right to take their own life.

Living is hard. That is ultimately the reason for (moral) philosophy, psychology and a myriad of other disciplines we see in the world today. It is then not only useful but in fact of great importance that we keep in mind that we did not ask or decide to live. It is also important to remind ourselves that every organism is responsible for their own actions. It is in this light that I feel compelled to conclude that there must be a right to take one’s own life.

Morality and the Context of rights

There is a certain way in which we must regard rights, that is being missed by society far more often than is beneficial. The cause of this, seems to be directly proportionate to a number of controversial subjects that our societies have had to decide about in recent years, such as abortion, euthanasia etc. The context we miss is the actual legislative nature of a right. Too often when politicians and thereby civilians alike, discuss rights, the rights are seen as an order leading to a direct result. When discussing euthanasia, for instance, the opponent will often say something like; “so you think we should end human life?”. This is not the context of a right. A right is merely a legislative option. It is the possibility of a choice, not the choice itself. This difference might at first glance seem insignificant, but it really does constitute a large discrepancy in the way we think about rights. If we look at rights as options, as possible choices, we are forced to leave the responsibility of a choice with the person who made the choice, as opposed to the person who gave the chooser his rights.

Personally, I think that if this context would be better illustrated by politicians, teachers and other public educators, we would have less people opposing rights and consecutively have more rights, which would lead to a freer society.

At this point, I would like to introduce two final principles; that of the blind choice (also known as Rawls’ veil of ignorance) and the perpetual blindfold.

  • Blind choice (veil of ignorance): The idea that John Rawls put forward, was that in order to truly assess the morality of a decision or action, was to do a thought experiment. His idea was that to estimate the value of a moral decision or action, one ought not be involved in the process beforehand. The veil of ignorance serves this purpose; Using the veil of ignorance, the subjects of a moral act or decision are forced to take some distance from the situation at hand and examine the oversee able consequence of the decision or action at hand. They distance themselves in that they are forced to examine the action from all perspectives involved. If we for instance take the fairly black and white issue on whether or not to legalize torture, the legislator and the constituency as well as the prisoner or future prisoner must examine the consequences as if they were all mentioned parties. Specifically, this means that the legislator consider the pros and cons of being the torturer as well as the pros and cons of being the tortured.

The reason for using this thought experiment is most likely obvious; to take into account more than the own needs and respect the suffering or potential suffering of other parties.

  • Perpetual blindfold: The perpetual blindfold is a principle that is taken from the economic “ceteris paribus-clause”. This roughly translates as “all other things the same” and has to do with the unexpected consequences of moral decisions or actions. It states: “The decision or action taker is responsible -in the field of intent- only for those consequences that are in any way to him foreseeable.” This blindfold is perpetual, because there is no way, nor has there ever been, to oversee the full extent of the effect of a decision or action. One decision or action might for instance move others to make a new decision or action and so forth. Because of this influence a single deed or decision must be treated to the extent that the consequence of said decision or action is knowable.

Summary

Once we acknowledge that consciousness is the driving force between experience and thus the effects of moral decision/action, it becomes possible to erect a close to objective (because we can’t yet be sure about the degree of consciousness an organism might have) morality, without the need for a god. This moral system can then also be stretched to apply to a broader range of organisms then merely ourselves.

Using the veil of ignorance and the perpetual blindfold, the intent of the decider or action taker can be tempered and led to the right destination. Maintaining the three rules above, serves to guarantee a humane treatment of all involved, as well as give an extra impulse to the unification of human beings with their natural surroundings.

I hope this helps those who have questions on morality without god at least see a part of my perspective. And that my fellow atheists and free or critical thinkers might find this piece at least thought-provoking