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[P]
The Right to Judge

By cmpgn in Op-Ed
Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 12:43:42 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

Does liberty rob us of the ability to judge the actions of others?


Partially in response to ObeseWhale's editorial and partially for my own understanding, I'd like to pose a question to the K5 audience. I am a smoker. I've heard and know about the negatives that are associated with smoking: yellowed teeth, shortness of breath, constant smell of cigarette smoke, increased risk of lung and throat cancer, the whole selection of problems that smoking cigarettes brings about. I've also quit smoking before. It's not an impossible process; the first three or four days are a nervous, edgy hell, but after that the addiction begins to fade and then vanish. Despite all this, I still smoke. Why? Because I enjoy it. I love the sound of the match as it catches the end of the cigarette, the feel of the smoke, the social atmosphere that surrounds smoking, the vaguely socialist way in which cigarettes are bummed and borrowed. I may not enjoy it as much when I'm forty-five and can't climb two flights of stairs, but for now, I'm comfortable with my decision to smoke. I respect those who don't agree with me (I won't smoke if someone is bothered by it nor do I litter the ground with my butts), but smoking is my decision for which I am responsible (I'm not trying to setup smokers as some persecuted minority in need of protection nor as some culture elite). As I am of legal age to smoke, I feel confident in asserting that if I want to smoke, I have the right to do so.


To digress for a moment, it seems to me that a large portion of K5 readers would to some degree agree with the following quote from Voltaire: "I may not agree with what you say, but I will, to the death, defend your right to say it." What gives speech value, in Voltaire's eyes, is not the content of that speech, but that it is speech itself. Regardless of the truth, accuracy, or usefulness of your speech, you have a right to it. Although a smaller selection of readers may agree with this, I doesn't seem to be too far of a stretch to reword Voltaire as follows: "I may not agree with what you do, but I will, to the death, defend your right to do it." In this case, it is no longer our speech that is self-justifying, but our actions. Our very desire to do something makes it acceptable. My desire to smoke needs no further explanation; I can suck tar, nicotine, and four thousand odd chemicals into my body as long as I wish to do so.


Up to this point, this has been a relatively standard discussion of liberty. Insofar as man is human, he has the right to self-efficacy. What puzzles me, however, are the sort of comments that ObeseWhale makes about her classmates: "The rich, affluent students flock to the eastern hallways of the school to discuss among themselves their latest problems, the trials and tribulations of their lives, who Jenny's latest boyfriend is, the regular garbage of American social discourse." She then follows this up with a scathing judgment: "The vast majority of what goes through their minds is irrelevant, unimportant, and vastly useless." That may be true, but does it give ObeseWhale any basis from which to condemn her fellow students? If all men have the right to self-efficacy, aren't her classmates perfectly able to discuss and do as they please?


It seems to me that if you accept every man's right to do as he pleases for no more reason than it please him, you create a liberated society but also introduce a degree of moral relativism. Following the analogy to speech, your actions are justified simply because you perform them. There is no scale of utility or societal benefit applied when judging the acceptability of actions or speech; every man has a right to his own. ObeseWhale tells us: "I'll do whatever I can to bring my mind to more `important' matters." Even with the self-deprecating quotes, how is such a judgment possible? ObeseWhale is welcome to turn her mind to whatever she pleases, but she has no moral ground for condemning what others choose to think or do.


Yet it is a common feeling (and one I know well) that we have the right to judge and make decisions about the value of speech, thought, and action. While you may feel this is a plea for tolerance, here's the catch: I don't believe that feeling is wrong. Whether it is utilitarianism, aesthetic appeal, or intelligence, we all have standards upon which we judge. The problem, however, is that many of us also espouse ideals of liberty theoretically based on self-efficacy and practically based on democracy, but want nothing to do with the relativism that accompanies such ideas. In the end, it seems that ObeseWhale is not advocating democracy or a change in democracy, but rather an aristocracy. We judge the value of books, movies, and paintings; why not judge the value of people and allow the best to lead? If not, how do we reconcile the desire for the right to self-efficacy with the desire to judge?

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The Right to Judge | 76 comments (69 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
A longstanding philosophical problem (4.00 / 6) (#2)
by streetlawyer on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 09:39:04 AM EST

This problem is about as old as liberalism; fundamentally, the problem is that the liberal maxim of doing what you want as long as it doesn't harm others works fine so long as you are talking about a fairly homogeneous community of people, who more or less agree on what "harm" means, and who actually want to do more or less the same things. If you run into people with radically different ideals, the matter of deciding on a standard of judgement becomes problematic, since liberalism itself doesn't give any standard. (I'm working on something along similar lines in my Diary; do check it out). At this point I'll note, to forestall objections, that I'm using "liberalism" in its classical sense to mean the ideology of Mill, Locke, and Hume, rather than its modern sense of American social democracy.

The most coherent approach to this problem from the liberal tradition, IMO, comes from Joseph Raz of Oxford University, who, like so many other good philosophers, has irritatingly little available online. He suggests that we move away from a concept of "liberty" and toward a cognitively richer "autonomy". He thinks that the standard of judging actions ought to be by reference to what a maximally autonomous person would choose, given a coherent set of values. Thus, things like religion, political views, family ties, etc, could count as reasons because they are choices that are compatible with being an autonomous individual, but choices motivated by tobacco addiction, ignorance, or perhaps even poverty would not be regarded favourably, because they are not compatible with autonomy. I don't necessarily think that Raz's idea works (specifically, I don't think he can handle fundamentalism), but it's the best answer to this question I've seen. For anyone interested, the text is "The Morality of Freedom".

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever

Two Separate Issues Here (4.00 / 4) (#4)
by the Epopt on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 09:59:33 AM EST

"The vast majority of what goes through their minds is irrelevant, unimportant, and vastly useless." That may be true, but does it give ObeseWhale any basis from which to condemn her fellow students? If all men have the right to self-efficacy, aren't her classmates perfectly able to discuss and do as they please?

Yes, Whale has the right to condemn anyone and anything... as long as no action is taken. [Sorry for the passive construction, but I'm too lazy to try to determine Whale's sex.] I have the right to say that the vast majority of what is posted to Kuro5hin is irrelevant, unimportant, and vastly useless. (And I am right!) I don't, however, have a right to try to stop you from posting your irrelevant, unimportant, and vastly useless drivel.

As far as I can tell, Whale isn't trying to stop the blither, only comment on its worthiness.


-- 
Most people who need to be shot need to be shot soon and a lot.
Very few people need to be shot later or just a little.

K5_Arguing_HOWTO
The spirit is willing... (none / 0) (#8)
by cmpgn on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 10:15:42 AM EST

Although not specifically stated in her piece, there is a feeling that if she could change things, she would do so. After establishing the useless nature of these people she states: "These same people who I mentioned in the beginning of my essay, from the rich social butterflies to the impoverished and undereducated, are all elements of the same corrosive system, are the people who are making our decisions."

The piece concludes with a call to action:"but it is all futile if we don't take those views to our government officials, to the media, to our school, and if nothing else, to the streets. K5ers, it's about time you all took action."

The people she mentions in the begining are the people eventual running the system she wants changed. If she had the power to do so, things would be different. (My apologies to ObeseWhale if I'm reading too much into your writing. I'm not trying to libel you.)

[ Parent ]
Response (none / 0) (#17)
by ObeseWhale on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 11:25:12 AM EST

Don't worry, I don't take offense from posts that try to put forth intellectual arguments like yours. It is only when people try to personally assault me as a human that I get a little steamed (and it's clear that you're not trying to do that).

What I am trying to say in my piece is that all humans are elements of our democratic system, but unfortunately many of them have not taken the time to deeply evaluate the world around them. Many people lie on the flipside of the issue, k5ers included. Many of us pound out our editorials on the world, but how many of us have ran for public office?

---

"The hunger for liberty may he suppressed for a time; yet never exterminated. Man's natural instinct is for freedom, and no power on earth can succeed in crushing it for very long."
-Alexander Berkman
[ Parent ]
It may just be me ... (2.66 / 3) (#7)
by StrontiumDog on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 10:06:27 AM EST

.. but I fail to see where this story's heading, or what the main thrust is. What is it?

Smoking? That you enjoy it is clear; that you are addicted is also clear (if you are still smoking, despite having "quit" in the past, then you haven't quit at all). The general low esteem smoking and smokers have been held in of late is not born of cultural elitism, but pragmatism: smoking is the deadliest common vice. Replace the words "smoking" with "sniffing glue" in the first paragraph of your essay and it will take on a different meaning to you. The same attitudes were slowly adopted in the 19th century towards the usage of substances like opium and absinthe.

ObeseWhale's somewhat elitist attitude towards her classmates? Fine, but ObeseWhale is a high school kid; probably brighter than the average kid, but a teenager nevertheless. Uncompromising and somewhat unrealistic attitudes are part and parcel of the adolescent intellectual's experience, but is that really what you want to discuss?

The conflict between relativism and the ideal of personal liberty? The people who judge you for smoking are not neccessarily the same people who believe in the ideals of liberty -- quite the opposite in fact. There are rarely any conflicts, simply because people rarely have extreme and conflicting positions on any of the two subjects. I personally believe that people do not have unlimited liberty, nor do I consider all moral positions to be equal. I have standards, somewhat arbitrary in origin, by which I judge others; these standards are not even wholly internally self-consistent, but they are the ones I apply. I would posit that most people feel this way too.

A little explanation (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by cmpgn on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 10:29:31 AM EST

First, I didn't intend the piece to focus on the issue of smoking. I chose smoking because it is something that people tend to approve or disapprove of, but they won't deny someone the right to do it. I wanted to expand from there, and investigate if there was a contradiction between granting someone the right to do something and judging them based on that action. ObeseWhale's piece simply contained what I thought were good examples for my idea. I didn't mean any offense or ad hominem attacks.

In addition, I wasn't trying to focus the piece on those who judge smokers. I was hoping for a more abstract approach. I definitely did not mean to equate anti-smoking tendencies with cultural elitism. As you point out, the piece could use a tighter focus.

Just out of curiosity, how long does one have to stop smoking to consider the addiction finished?

[ Parent ]
Addiction. (none / 0) (#12)
by theR on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 10:39:55 AM EST

Just out of curiosity, how long does one have to stop smoking to consider the addiction finished?

I believe that the common assumption and stance is that the addiction is never finished. That is why it is so hard for addicts to keep from using their substance of choice. I think many people, especially ones that have been through it, would argue that you can be an addict even if you are no longer a user.



[ Parent ]
You've quit for good (none / 0) (#23)
by StrontiumDog on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 12:07:39 PM EST

when you've quit for good. I believe that's what the word "quitting" means. I had a flatmate who "quit" several times, the longest period being about 2 months. Mostly she quit on Friday and relapsed on Monday. She was asthmatic and prone to bouts of bronchitis, which made her assertions that she liked smoking for the social aspects quite pathetic (yes, I've heard the reasons you also used before, many many times). The main reason for her to quit were warnings from her physician after a bronchitis attack. The main reasons for her starting again were peer pressure, and stress: she would generally do OK without cigarettes until exam time, or essay deadline time, or party time.

[ Parent ]
Liberty (none / 0) (#13)
by Kaa on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 10:41:40 AM EST

but I fail to see where this story's heading, or what the main thrust is. What is it?

It is that there is a problem with freedom -- if you accept that everybody can do whatever he wants as long as he harms nobody else, then you find yourself smack in the middle of moral relativism. And moral relativism has well-known problems.

The general low esteem smoking and smokers have been held in of late is not born of cultural elitism, but pragmatism: smoking is the deadliest common vice

Bullshit. Smoking is held in low esteem in the US (and you'll find the situation in Europe much different) because of many years of "education"/brain-washing of populace. Pragamatically speaking, I would argue that lack of exercise is the deadliest common vice, yet it is very acceptable socially.

There are rarely any conflicts, simply because people rarely have extreme and conflicting positions on any of the two subjects.

False on its face. People often are too polite to voice their disagreement, but having conflicting positions is very, very common. "Extreme", of course, is a judgemental evaluation.

I personally believe that people do not have unlimited liberty, nor do I consider all moral positions to be equal. I have standards, somewhat arbitrary in origin, by which I judge others;

But then, logically, you should extend the same rights to others: to wit, to judge you by their moral standards. In an extreme case, to a moslem fundamentalist you are an infidel that has no right to live -- by his moral standards he should offer you a choice between conversion to Islam or death at this hand. Would you feel this to be fair? On which basis do you want to judge relative merits of different moral positions?

Kaa
Kaa's Law: In any sufficiently large group of people most are idiots.


[ Parent ]

Clarifications: (none / 0) (#20)
by StrontiumDog on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 11:43:01 AM EST

There are rarely any conflicts, simply because people rarely have extreme and conflicting positions on any of the two subjects.

False on its face. People often are too polite to voice their disagreement, but having conflicting positions is very, very common. "Extreme", of course, is a judgemental evaluation.

"Extreme and conflicting positions" refers to the fact that few people favour absolute personal freedoms and moral absolutism at the same time. This has nothing to do with disagreement on a particular subject. Whether they be christian, moslim, republican or democrat, people's morals and ethics generally comprise a system with some slack with respect to freedom and moral relativity. How much or little slack depends on the system involved; rarely is it that a system endorses extremes of both freedom and moral relativism.

But then, logically, you should extend the same rights to others: to wit, to judge you by their moral standards.

Absolutely not. As I earlier said, my moral standards are not absolutely self consistent. I place myself in a privileged position. This has nothing to do with logic; I am a biased, not impartial arbiter of ethics. I am at the center of my personal universe, and I assign importance to external events and persons. I make no attempt to build a fully functional, impartial, self consistent and logical system of ethics, nor do most people in practice. The result is that societal morals and ethics are a patchwork of different systems, with numerous instances of compromises, co-operation, pre-emptions and violations. This is reality. This is also why I consider arguments about personal freedom and moral relativity that assume absolutist positions on the part of ordinary people as unrealistic.

Finally, an aside:
Pragamatically speaking, I would argue that lack of exercise is the deadliest common vice, yet it is very acceptable socially.

Death by lung cancer has overtaken heart disease as the number one killer in the West. Nor is lack of exercise acceptable socially, as millions of home fitness ads, weight-loss preparations etc etc demonstrate. Couch potatoes are not universally admired, nor are they offered $250 million to be watched on national TV. Like many other vices, laziness is a common factor in the perpetuation of physical sloth.

[ Parent ]

Freedom, moral, and exercise (none / 0) (#32)
by Kaa on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 01:58:31 PM EST

"Extreme and conflicting positions" refers to the fact that few people favour absolute personal freedoms and moral absolutism at the same time.

I misunderstood you. Of course, the point of the article is that absolute personal freedom necessarily implies moral absolutism.

I am at the center of my personal universe, and I assign importance to external events and persons. I make no attempt to build a fully functional, impartial, self consistent and logical system of ethics, nor do most people in practice.

Well, sure, most people do not have a coherent system of beliefs and viewpoints in their head. But we are not talking about psychology of the common man. We are talking about philosophy which usually does try to go beyong the "I am the most important person in the world" mindset. Essentially we are trying to build a picture of the world that includes such concepts as "personal freedom" and "moral relativism" and does not contradict itself at the same time. The fact that 99% of the Earth's population do not care much about it is irrelevant.

Death by lung cancer has overtaken heart disease as the number one killer in the West.

I didn't say "aerobics". Correct exercise can do much more for you than just strengthen your heart. Hard data is difficult to come by, but I would argue that exercise helps body in many, many ways of which resisitance to heart disesase is only one.

Nor is lack of exercise acceptable socially, as millions of home fitness ads, weight-loss preparations etc etc demonstrate.

You are confusing exercise with weigth loss. They do not have much to do with each other. In the US being fat is not socially acceptable on the coasts, but is socially acceptable in the Midwest. Not exercising is socially acceptable everywhere.

nor are they offered $250 million to be watched on national TV.

And, pray tell me, what the pay scales of professional athletes have to do with exercise? If anything, being a professional athlete leads to major abuse of the body and reduced lifespan.

Kaa
Kaa's Law: In any sufficiently large group of people most are idiots.


[ Parent ]

Self-contradiction (3.50 / 2) (#9)
by ObeseWhale on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 10:27:59 AM EST

You begin by saying that you have a right to smoke, and that although others may condemn you for it, it is your personal decision, and you have every right to do it. I agree with you fully on this issue. But then, you go forth by condemning me, and others, because we condemn peoples' speech. Wait a minute, aren't you sort of contradicting yourself there?

I never told anyone I would want to censor the speech of my classmates, regardless of how stupid and irrelevant it is in my opinion. Likewise, I may think your decision to smoke is senseless and ridiculous, but I would to my death defend your right to do it, as long as it does not disturb those around you.

There is a massive difference between condemning someone's speech, and attempting to censor it. The whole system as kuro5hin was invented as a public means by which we can speak AND condemn the speech of each other. It was created so that we can say whatever we want, and will not be censored unless it offends enough people or is so frivolous as to be completely useless to the community (then you can just post it in your diary).

Again, I must say that there is a huge difference between censorship and condemning others' views, and you seem to have ignored that difference in your criticism of me.

There is no such thing as the "liberty" you speak of without our right to condemn the speech of others. Didn't Voltair say that he may not agree with what others' say but will defend their right to say it. In my case I absolutely think that what people are saying is stupid, in other words, I don't agree with them, but in a more indirect sense. It's like voting 0 (I don't care) on a k5 article.

We judge the value of books, movies, and paintings; why not judge the value of people and allow the best to lead?

We do that allready, it's called representative government. I don't see you taking a stand against that anywhere in this article.

BTW, just for reference, I am male, although having a gender-neutral alias may perhaps be to my advantage.

---

"The hunger for liberty may he suppressed for a time; yet never exterminated. Man's natural instinct is for freedom, and no power on earth can succeed in crushing it for very long."
-Alexander Berkman
My apology and explanation (none / 0) (#16)
by cmpgn on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 11:18:30 AM EST

First off, let me say that I'm deeply sorry for confusing your gender in the piece I wrote. I meant no offense by it; it was simply an honest mistake.

Second, I hope you didn't take this as a personal attack of any sort. I enjoyed your piece; my response was not intended to demean or condemn you or your intelligence. With that said, let me see if I can make more sense of what I wrote.

When Voltaire defended the right to speech, he did so without relying on any outside system of value, that is, speech is worthwhile in and of itself. Therefore, if I label someone else's speech as worthless, I must be apppealing to some system of values beyond what Voltaire was using (there is a valid point here that I am using Voltaire out of context and perhaps twisting his meaning). If you carry this idea over to actions, then anytime I lable someone else's actions as 'worthless' I am appealing to some system of values beyond the action itself.

What I wanted to bring out is that if we are going to condemn someone else's actions, we have to accept another system of value beyond Voltaire's, hence the introduction of relativism. We can all agree that each person has a right to do what they want, it's just that some actions are more 'right' than others. Why do you feel that the trivial socializing going on around you is 'useless'? Most likely, I would agree with you, but you could certainly find people who would value it.

The last half of your piece seemed to be a call to action. "I want to hear what you have done, what you WILL do, to change the way the people around you think!" Why do you want us to change them? Because they are wrong; but how can they be wrong if we are working from Voltaire's standpoint? To Voltaire, all speech is valuable regardless of content. The most Voltaire allows is a differing of opinions, a failure to agree, not any sort of judgement or condemnation. Voltaire equalized speech, democratized it, if you will.

As much as we would like to support Voltaire's ideal, it doesn't seem logical that all speech is of equal value. That's where the theme of aristocracy comes into play. It does seem logical that the best (my apologies for the broad and vague nature of the term) speech is more valuable than the rest. Instead of every voice being given equal value (democracy), we would like to see the best rise to the top. Hence, we (and I certainly include myself in this classification) are aristocrats hiding as democrats.

I don't believe that a representative government truly allows the 'best' people to rise to the top. Look at our past Presidents or other elected officials. Are they the strongest or the fastest or the most intelligent or however else you wish to define best? Occasionally yes, but usually no.

Hopefully that clarifies what I meant to say in my piece; I would be the first to agree that it is a less than perfect piece of writing, and that would be generous. ;) Again, I didn't mean to attack you personally; it was certainly not the attitude I wanted in the writing. If you have any other comments, I'd love to hear them.

[ Parent ]
Representative government (none / 0) (#19)
by ObeseWhale on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 11:31:30 AM EST

No offense taken. Like I said I don't care too much about the gender issue, my name gives no indication of whether I am male or female. As well, if my posts seem a little intense as if I'm offended, I'm definately not, I'm just a very strongwilled person and may come across as such :)

As for representative government, perhaps the reason that the best people don't rise to the top is because the best people have realized a futility of trying anymore? If Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky ran for president, they would probably just be labeled as kooks. There have been only a few good world leaders that I have seen thus far. Pierre Trudeau, Yitzhak Rabin, and Nelson Mandela qualify. Realize, however, that none of these leaders are American and only one is from the western world. And that one is from Canada, a rather exceptionally peaceful nation.

Isn't this a little bit ironic from a nation that founded democracy in the modern era? (remember I used the word modern, please no flames about Greek/Roman government systems)

---

"The hunger for liberty may he suppressed for a time; yet never exterminated. Man's natural instinct is for freedom, and no power on earth can succeed in crushing it for very long."
-Alexander Berkman
[ Parent ]
founded democracy? (1.00 / 1) (#25)
by streetlawyer on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 12:22:32 PM EST

The USA has been a democracy for less than forty years!

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
Yeah, but... (none / 0) (#31)
by beergut on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 01:37:00 PM EST

You're incorrect about that "40 years" bit. We've been essentially a democracy since 1824, since the President has been more or less popularly elected. Only in this election cycle have we seen somewhat a return to the original intent of the founding fathers.

Since the 12th Amendment (I believe - no desire to look it up ATM) made direct election of Senators the rule (rather than having them elected by the State legislatures), we have been on a trend toward more democratic government. So, even though we have, in name and by machination, a Republic, it functions more like a Democracy.

Shame, really. It worked so much better the way it was supposed to have worked.

In fact, now that I think about it, I have no idea what you're talking about when you cite "forty years". Just what do you mean by this?


i don't see any nanorobots or jet engines or laser holography or orbiting death satellites.
i just see some orangutan throwing code-feces at a computer screen.

-- indubitable
[ Parent ]

universal suffrage (1.00 / 1) (#43)
by streetlawyer on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 02:37:29 AM EST

The USA has had universal suffrage since the Civil Rights Acts of 1963-65. The UK, which also occasionally calls itself the oldest democracy in the world, has only had universal suffrage since 1928 when it gave the vote to women, and arguably has only been a true democracy since the abolition of university constituencies in 1945. The world's oldest democracy is in fact Iceland.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
Action is different from speech. (3.00 / 2) (#14)
by boxed on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 10:49:46 AM EST

I may not agree with what you do, but I will, to the death, defend your right to do it." In this case, it is no longer our speech that is self-justifying, but our actions.
Actions are not, and should not, be protected like that of free speech. Speech cannot kill.

A golden rule substitute. (3.00 / 1) (#15)
by dzimmerm on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 11:11:00 AM EST

"Except that you do no one ill, do what you will." That is a common saying among Wiccans and others. That is also my take on how to live my life.

The other issue raised was that of judging other people. The dividing line I have is I can, do, and will judge anyone I meet or have knowledge of. What I will not do is give my judgements any value other than for me alone. I will not judge person A for person B. If person B asks my opinion about person A I will make sure they know it is only my opinion and that I am a seriously odd person myself. I do tend to tell good things about others as I like the returns on that sort of investment. If I have bad things that I know I tend to give generalized warnings that will help another discover these things for themselves.

I voted a +1 on this as it sounded like a good springboard for more focused discussion of peoples values and modes of operation.

dzimmerm

what kills (3.00 / 2) (#21)
by twistedfuck on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 12:03:47 PM EST

The first comment I saw posted with the quote "Do what you will, as long as you do no one ill" is a really nice ideal. Most religions have something like it, "Do on to your neighbor, as you would like done on to you". Unfortunately, many cultures and people don't follow those ideals, and those people can be a danger to others. While people can cause quite a lot of harm by their actions, they can also cause a lot of harm with what they say.

Free speech is an abused right in the US, that is often used to incite hatred and violence. If someone exercises their right to free speech and it impedes the freedom of others, then how it can it still be considered free speech?

I think people's ideas of actions versus speech, compare to people's antiquated ideas of physical versus mental illness. Just because something can't be seen, doesn't mean it doesn't cause harm in much the same its physical counterpart does.

What is law, and what is a human right, needs to be modified over time to meet the changing needs of society and the increasing ability for people to do harm to others.

Free speech as an abused right (4.00 / 1) (#40)
by Spinoza on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 08:09:09 PM EST

The growing popularity of the neo-nazis in Germany is a particularly halting example of the things that a right to free speech requires a nation to countenance. Apart from the absolute reprehensibility of their doctrine, the thing that troubles me is that the neo-nazis are willing to abuse the free speech rights they have, but I suspect they would not extend these rights to others, given the chance to retract them. Are we morally obliged to defend the rights of people who would not defend our own? I'd like to say no, but sadly, morality doesn't work that way.

[ Parent ]
Aren't all rights abused eventually? (none / 0) (#75)
by hjones on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 07:56:31 PM EST

Has there ever been a right that was not abused?
"Nietzsche is dead, but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. And we -- we small-minded weaklings, we still have to vanquish his shadow too." - The Antinietzsche
[ Parent ]
Atmosphere (2.00 / 2) (#22)
by CrayDrygu on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 12:05:52 PM EST

I love [...] the social atmosphere that surrounds smoking [...]

For me, the only atmosphere that surrounds smoking is completely unbreathable. I agree that it's your body, and you're free to do what you will with it. Just so long as you respect my wishes to *not* choke on toxic fumes. Smoke in your house, smoke outdoors, but please don't smoke at the table across from me while I'm trying to eat.

Locations (none / 0) (#24)
by cmpgn on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 12:15:18 PM EST

Like I indicated, I have no desire to foist my smoking on anyone who doesn't want it.

[ Parent ]
Re: Locations (none / 0) (#42)
by CrayDrygu on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 01:07:19 AM EST

I have no desire to foist my smoking on anyone who doesn't want it.

And I have a tremendous amount of respect for you because of it. There are far too many people, however, that don't realize or don't care that their smoking affects other people, too.

Anyway, a big thank-you to you, from me and anyone else with sensitive lungs. (I literally cannot breathe in the presence of smoke -- I choke on it, even when other people don't notice it)

[ Parent ]

Almost a good statement (3.33 / 3) (#26)
by GreenCrackBaby on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 12:28:03 PM EST

"I may not agree with what you say, but I will, to the death, defend your right to say it."

What a great statement! Too bad it has nothing to do with the article. When smoking becomes as harmless as speaking, then you have a point.

The point almost no smoker understands is that smoking harms more than just them! When I breath your smoke, you are putting my life in jeapordy. That's not my belief, that's a proven fact.

I'm all for allowing people to do what they want as long as it doesn't hurt others but that's not what you're talking about at all.



Ah (3.00 / 2) (#27)
by trhurler on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 01:04:12 PM EST

You have made the mistake of organized religion and communism: you have treated morality as a social framework rather than a personal guide to life. Certainly, there are ethical issues which arise between people and organizations thereof, but it is a mistake to regard morality fundamentally as a way of judging others or controlling the behavior of a society. Morality, fundamentally, is a set of guidelines, regardless of origin, which you use to aid your own decisionmaking. This, of course, does not mean that you cannot possibly make moral judgements about others, but only that those judgements reflect your moral beliefs - not those of some mythical entity called "society" or "God." This is different from relativism in that you are in no way required to believe that your way isn't the best, the one and only, the supreme guide to all life.

If you don't make that mistake, then "moral relativism" only exists in the mind of one who chooses to be a relativist. Judgement is something you will do as you deem it appropriate.

That said, the right to do as you please in an absolute sense cannot exist; it is a contradiction in terms, because there is no resolving the conflict between my application of it to, say, use my computer, and your application of it to -steal- my computer. The two obviously cannot both be upheld, so one or the other of us does NOT have this right. Since rights are necessarily universal, this right cannot exist at all. This observation is the first step towards formulating a sensible theory of rights; unfortunately, at this time, that does not appear to be what the majority want. They want entitlements, not rights, and they'll get them - at the price of finding that what the government gives, the government can take away.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

question (4.00 / 1) (#38)
by speek on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 06:23:39 PM EST

Why are rights necessarily universal, but morals aren't? It sounds like you're redefining "morality" to mean something different from it's usual meaning, and substituting in "rights" to fill the void that results.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Rights, morality (4.00 / 1) (#41)
by trhurler on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 08:10:25 PM EST

Until relatively recently(this century, to be sure,) rights were understood, by those who understood them, to be universal; only recently have we heard entitlements called rights and therefore had "rights" that were considered nonuniversal. Those, IMHO, aren't rights. They're entitlements, and we should call them that, because they are fundamentally different from what have traditionally been called rights.

As for morality, it has always been a guide to life; the distinction here is that most people also equated it implicitly with the specific moral strictures of, if not the spiritual aspects of, western religion, which morality is generally quite homogenous despite differences between the various faiths. I do not make this equation, and therefore I am left with morality as "a guide to life." There is nothing universal here in what we each regard as moral except to the degree that we agree on the purpose and standard of morality, but this does not imply, as relativists claim, that no answer to a moral question is inherently and universally better than another.

Personally, I hold personal happiness as the purpose of morality, but I am not a hedonist, because I do not regard it as the standard of morality; the standard by which I judge an action morally would be known to most people as enlightened self interest, although I dislike that term. It is my belief that the standard I have adopted, if followed consistently, will lead to the purpose I believe morality should serve. It is noteworthy that my chosen purpose is directly at odds with most moralities, which usually claim that the happiness, well being, or just survival of others is the important thing. I honestly believe that the conflict between needing a guide to action and choosing one which works actively against one's own interests is a large part of what makes most people unhappy(and they ARE unhappy, as many have noted on many occasions.)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
I thought you didn't like playing semantic games? (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by speek on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 08:26:58 AM EST

You're not really answering my question. You're throwing out morality as a universal issue by renaming it "guide to life". Why don't we take your advice and call things as they are. You're "guide to life" is just that - you're guide to life. Morality, however, is an attempt to make universal certain ethical rules. You may disagree that there are any universal moral rules, which is fine, but to say that there can be no attempt to find such rules is a strange thing to say. For instance, wouldn't you agree that respecting another's property rights is a universal moral rule? And if not, what the hell???

Equating morality with religion, and then destroying because of the association is a straw man. Morality is not tied to religion.

As for rights being universal, I don't have a clear view of what that means. The "right to life" seems like it should be a universal right, doesn't it? The right to property seems pretty good. The right to say what one thinks. They all seem like good rights that we can indeed apply universally. We could also apply a right to eat universally. Or a right to a home. You call these things entitlements, but if those are entitlements, how is that the right to property is not? Or the right to life? What exactly is the nature of the difference between what you call an entitlement and what you call a right?

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Morality (4.00 / 2) (#50)
by trhurler on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 12:48:26 PM EST

Well, I'm afraid I'm going to have to resort to the "you're wrong" approach this time. I have adopted the baseline philosophical definition of "morality." You are trying to claim that what is typically called "normative morality" is the only morality that exists; this simply is not true. I, as you say, do not like semantic games - but there is no other term for what I'm describing, and I'm not going to let you define an entire range of moralities out of existence just because you were raised in the highly normative Judeo-Christian moral tradition. Even normative moralities are guides to life for the people who hold them - it just so happens that they are mutually shared guides to life which create a set of expectations regarding the behavior of others.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
but this is a dodge (2.50 / 2) (#51)
by streetlawyer on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 01:10:42 PM EST

If a morality isn't normative, then how can it be a basis for rights? Universal rights aren't "guides to life"; they're absolute requirements on everyone in the world that they refrain from carrying out various actions.

If universal rights aren't based on normative morality, what on earth can they be based on?

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

He doesn't want to talk to you (none / 0) (#61)
by speek on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 05:18:19 PM EST

I'm suspicious. All your posts in this thread are rated at "1", and trhurler isn't responding to any of them. He responds to me, though, and my posts are left unrated. Personally, I like yours better - I tend to ramble to much and dilute my actual argument. Maybe that's why - yours are harder to respond to.

Keep posting though - your posts I particularly enjoy.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

OT: trhurler's diary (none / 0) (#62)
by Spinoza on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 06:43:11 PM EST

Have a glance at it today>/a>. He's noticed the same weird moderation bias. He certainly doesn't seem to be behind it. He announced his intention to ignore streetlawyer a while ago.

Unless you are desperate to get "trusted user" status on kuro5hin, moderation needn't mean much to you. If people are abusing the system, you can ignore it or do what you can to correct their excesses. It's not like other sites, wheere moderated comments disappear.

[
Parent ]

Oh, for the the love of... (none / 0) (#63)
by Spinoza on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 06:43:59 PM EST

Sorry about the bad html there.

[ Parent ]
yep. (none / 0) (#66)
by streetlawyer on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 03:50:27 AM EST

he's officially ignoring me, and so far has done a good job of keeping it up. I don't care; I'm doing this for my own amusement as much as anything else.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
An odd turnabout (4.00 / 1) (#52)
by speek on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 04:32:45 PM EST

Yeow! I really don't want to fight over definitions. We can define words anyway you want, but, we still have to refer to things that you've not attached a word to. How about "universal morality"? Universal ethics? Can we use those words? And please recognize that the words do not assert the actuall existence of such, they are simply placeholders in a conceptual space.

Anyway, how is it, that after denying the existence of a universal ethics or morality, you then turn around and assert that there are universal rights? If there are no universal ethical rules that call for the respecting of these rights, how are the rights universal? Doesn't a "universal right" imply that there is a universal obligation to respect that right? If not, then isn't this might makes right, in the sense that, you can have right, but it's not wrong for me to violate it (cause there's no universal ethic that prohibits me from violating it), and therefore, you have to have the might to make the right anything but fantasy.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

This will, I suppose, sound even weirder... (3.50 / 2) (#53)
by trhurler on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 05:21:07 PM EST

I do not believe that morality and rights are either the same thing or directly derivable from each other. They serve two often distinct purposes.

Rights are a subject that, in order to support my natural rights formulation, must border between metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. They are rooted in the nature of human beings(specifically, our independent decisionmaking capabilities and the need to utilize them,) and in the fairly safe assumption that the world around us is comprehensible(which is a necessary premise if we're going to worry about decisionmaking capabilities,) and are themselves an ethical concept - but they are not a moral code, and a moral code is not them, and you cannot derive one from the other in any reliable fashion, even though the two will certainly appear similar on occasion.

For instance, I have a right to speak as I will, but this does not make it morally proper for me to choose to say out loud anything that is put in front of me on paper. You cannot derive morality from rights. On the other hand, I consider it immoral to let a friend starve needlessly, but I do not believe that my friend has a right to be given food. You cannot derive rights from morality. (The latter is the far more common of the two mistakes, by the way. Too many people equate a "right" with something which "I really think everyone ought to have" and go no further in their reasoning on the topic.)

Now, one thing to keep in mind is that I do not deny the existence of moralities that seek to be universal - I do deny that any one morality IS universal, and this is a statement which is verifiable by walking down the hall where you work and asking people moral questions. You will get different answers. Most everyone agrees on some small core of moral beliefs, but their justifications for them can differ widely, as can their lists of exceptions, mitigating circumstances, and other moral beliefs.

Similarly, while I assert that rights are the proper birthright of any human being, I do not pretend that everyone recognizes them or that everyone who does recognize them always has his own protected by others - but I do claim that this is what should happen - rights are ours by our nature, whereas morality, while there is some obvious common ground, is also somewhat fluid: as a guide to life which must be discovered, it obviously is not a subject that everyone is going to agree on every detail of. It is my belief that eventually most everyone will converge on a "single" morality, but even then there will be disagreements on minor points, assuming the convergence happens.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
contradictions to resolve (4.00 / 1) (#54)
by speek on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 06:03:53 PM EST

You cannot derive morality from rights
and
I do not pretend that everyone recognizes [rights] or that everyone who does recognize them always has his own protected by others - but I do claim that this is what should happen

On the one hand, there is no valid universal moral imperative to do or not do anything, but on the other hand, each of our rights should be protected by others? I would have thought that there would be a universal moral imperative to not violate other's rights, but you're going even further and saying people should actively protect other's rights. In what way is that not a moral rule that you are suggesting should be universal? If it is not a universal imperative to respect other's rights, then what's the point? Talk about rights all you want, but if you're unwilling to bite the bullet and admit that this places us all under moral obligations, then your rights really aren't worth a damn.

I do deny that any one morality IS universal, and this is a statement which is verifiable by walking down the hall where you work and asking people moral questions
and
I assert that rights are the proper birthright of any human being, I do not pretend that everyone recognizes them

If I can verify that there is no universal morality by polling people, why cannot I not do the same for rights? We're all infected by memes, and I'm afraid you've got the propertarian bug. You're convinced natural rights are the way to go, and you're willing to accept illogic in it's defense, such as what you stated above.

You cannot derive rights from morality

If we're talking universal morality, then it seems to me you can. Only by denying any possibility of any universal morals is your statement true. However, if there are no universal morals, then I'm under no moral or ethical obligation to respect any rights that you assert you have. Maybe you'd play a semantic game with me and assert that I'm obligated to respect your inborn rights, but it's not a moral obligation. Spare me though. If it looks like shit, tastes like shit, and smells like shit, my bet is, it's shit.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

As usual, I wasn't clear enough:) (4.00 / 2) (#55)
by trhurler on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 06:23:52 PM EST

I would have thought that there would be a universal moral imperative to not violate other's rights, but you're going even further and saying people should actively protect other's rights.
"Not violate" is a much clearer phrase than "protect" in describing what I mean. You had it right before I confused you:)
If I can verify that there is no universal morality by polling people, why cannot I not do the same for rights?
To the extent that morality IS universal, which is not insubstantial, you cannot poll for it - but the fact is, people can and do differ on minor moral points without any ill effect, whereas rights, being protections which, if you accept their necessity, cannot be breached without irreparable harm, must be strictly universal. As it happens, you can think of rights as a sort of mutual association network: you respect mine, and I respect yours, and so on. Those who do not respect rights will find that theirs are not respected either - this is the basis of criminal law, self defense, and so on. All of this depends on the universality of rights, whereas the freedom rights are there to protect depends on people being able to disagree onand act on disagreements over any other topic whatsoever - including moral codes.
We're all infected by memes
I believe meme theory to be mistaken on several points. It is an attractive idea to those who don't want to be responsible for their ideas, but that does not make it true. There have been several theories in recent times which confuse cause and effect, and which have been quite popular for various reasons - but they're all wrong. Cause still precedes and motivates effect - not the other way around. Granted, there are self-reinforcing systems, and the human mind may be one of them, but that is NOT what meme theory claims.
and you're willing to accept illogic
As I've just shown you, I don't see any illogic. If I did, I would certainly correct it, because there are a great many ideas I hold to be more important than the political consequences of my philosophy, and among them are consistency, adherence to observed reality, and honest self-correction.
If we're talking universal morality, then it seems to me you can.
I do not understand why you are so hung up on whether a given moral code is accepted by one man or a billion men. It is not true that everything which is moral is a right, nor is it true that it is moral to do anything I have a right to do; I demonstrated this fact already. How do you propose to derive rights from any morality, universal or otherwise?

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
"if you accept their necessity" (2.50 / 2) (#57)
by streetlawyer on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 09:50:43 AM EST

If you accept the necessity of P, then it is usually quite easy to argue for P.

To the extent that morality IS universal, which is not insubstantial, you cannot poll for it - but the fact is, people can and do differ on minor moral points without any ill effect, whereas rights, being protections which, if you accept their necessity, cannot be breached without irreparable harm, must be strictly universal.

The case is entirely symmetrical; if you accept that morality is universal, then you must accept that it is universal. People differ on the nature and scope of rights just as much as they do on the nature of morality. Trhurler's attempt to deduce the existence of rights from their universality is redolent of (though not as valid as) the Ontological argument.

There is no difference in the ethical content of "X has a right that Y" and "it is morally required that Y, unless X wishes otherwise". The two statements require exactly the same of everybody in the universe.

The basic problem with trhurler's argument is that he wants to have a two-tiered morality, with "rights" being identified as the ultimate moral rules, and "morality" being reserved for matters of taste, decency and ettiquette. But nothing is gained by introducing this concept over saying "it is not moral for X to Y; but it is not moral to prevent X from doing Y". And furthermore, there is no argument which is convincing for the existence of universal rights in the first place.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Saga continues, for no apparent reason (4.00 / 1) (#58)
by speek on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 10:29:25 AM EST

As I've just shown you, I don't see any illogic

You haven't shown anything of the sort. You've avoided the heart of every question I've asked.

You are consistently saying two things that don't go well together. One, you say we have some sort of obligation to respect other's rights. Two, you say there are no universal moral rules. Fix this contradiction without resorting to more sophistry.

people can and do differ on minor moral points without any ill effect, whereas rights, being protections which, if you accept their necessity, cannot be breached without irreparable harm

Are you saying that to differ on minor moral points is equivalent to breaching rights? Why did you use the word "minor"? Why are you pretending that "to differ" is the same as "to breach"? If I assert that "thou shalt not murder" is a universal moral law, then breaching that law certainly does do irreparable harm.

It appears you are confusing yourself with your own tortured redefinitions. You want to say "it's a fact" when referring to your vision of a system of rights, but you want to say, "it's individual opinion" when talking about a universal morality. But, someone could also claim that their universal morality comes from the same basis that you put rights on (namely our human nature, and our supposed understanding of it). The only difference is the word used. So, it seems strange that your are wholly against one word, but all for another.

It is an attractive idea to those who don't want to be responsible for their ideas, but that does not make it true

You say this kind of thing a lot. It's as though, from your eyes, everyone out there is trying to shirk responsibility. Perhaps it's another meme that's infected you. Hmm, I don't see that as an opportunity to divulge yourself of your responsibilities. On the contrary, I hold you entirely responsible for allowing yourself to be infected, for not having a better immune system against these things. I also hold you responsible for holding your ideas as the most important thing about yourself.

I do not understand why you are so hung up on whether a given moral code is accepted by one man or a billion men

The word universal does not simply refer to how many people have accepted it. It's a qualification meant to indicate that something is True regardless of who believes it, or how many.

How do you propose to derive rights from any morality

Moral Rule: Thou shalt not kill.
Equivalent Right: Right to Life.
Moral Rule: Thou shalt not steal.
Equivalent Right: Right to own property.

Natural Right: Right of free speech.
Equivalent Moral Rule: Thou shalt not duct tape thy neighbors mouth.

etc....

You might argue that natural rights is a better, less ambiguous formulation of these basic rules, but I don't see how you can say that Rights exists, but universal morals don't.


--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Morality, rights, geh (3.50 / 2) (#59)
by trhurler on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 02:49:44 PM EST

The statement I've made, summed up, is this: I believe that rights are derived from the nature of human beings, and that they are universal in the sense that we are all of the same basic nature - not universal in the sense of Truth with a capital T. Some moral codes may, therefore, incorporate respect for the rights of others, and to this extent, morality may be universal in the same sense - because we are all much alike, rather than because there is some abiding Truth which makes it so. However, morality certainly does not have to be universal in all respects, nor even in most. Therefore, I don't think that morality as a whole is universal even in the weaker sense in which I am using the term. If you find a contradiction here, it is because you are replacing "morality" with "normative morality" or my weaker sense of universal with your stronger one, or perhaps because you have an unfounded preconception that all normative rules are morality and are trying to define my position out of existence. (For evidence that all normative rules are not in fact morality, consider the fact that there are laws against obscene material despite the fact that a great many people have no moral objections whatsoever to such material. In the case of every such person, there is a normative rule which is not moral in nature.)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
First two sentences make it clear (4.00 / 1) (#60)
by speek on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 05:11:54 PM EST

You're first two sentences make it clear that you agree that there is a set of moral rules which can be viewed as equivalent to the set of natural rights that you believe in. So, from that I take it that you do indeed hold that respecting the basic natural rights, as defined by you, is, in fact, a universal morality, which, if any person goes against, it makes them morally wrong. You may have a personal dislike for the work "morality", but that's your business.

I have no intention of redefining your position out of existence. I was trying to understand how it could possibly be that trhurler, the anti-relativist, was coming out and saying there was no such thing as a universal morality, when I know, from previous conversations, that you strongly believe that we all have certain rights upon birth, that all must respect. So, now it appears I have my answer.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

I am growing tired of repeating myself. (3.50 / 2) (#64)
by trhurler on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 06:47:04 PM EST

You're first two sentences make it clear that you agree that there is a set of moral rules which can be viewed as equivalent to the set of natural rights that you believe in.
You apparently only bothered to read the first two sentences of what I wrote, if this is all you got out of it. I am not going to write it all out again; the fact that a given moral code may include elements which are designed to prevent the individual possessing that code from violating the rights of others does not mean that moral code is universal - there is nothing inherent in the nature of moral codes that says they have to include such elements as correspond to rights, and there is nothing requiring any given individual to adopt any given moral code. It may well be that adoption of a moral code which does not require respect for the rights of others will have severe negative consequences, but this does not in any way make it impossible to adopt such a code.

You're trying hard to make me use the term "moral" in the religious sense of the term; maybe that's the only way you've really seen it used - I don't know. I do know that I'm not going to do it, and I'm not going to reply to any more of your "ah, but you don't really mean that" posts, because I do really mean that.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
you aren't (none / 0) (#67)
by streetlawyer on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 07:15:21 AM EST

You're trying hard to make me use the term "moral" in the religious sense of the term;

It certainly isn't; it's the philosophical, and correct term. A right which isn't a moral right has to be a legal right, and that certainly isn't universal.

Furthermore, if rights are "derived from our nature as human beings", a lot of people would like to see the derivation. In fact, there isn't one; non-normative facts don't have normative conclusions.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

normative rules from non-normative facts (none / 0) (#70)
by speek on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 07:16:08 PM EST

I'm not sure wholly agree with you when you say normative conclusions can't be drawn from non-normative facts.

If you have a goal in mind, and you have facts about your world, you would use those facts to generate a plan to achieve that goal. Human beings often represent such plans as normative rules (guidelines, do's and don'ts), probably because that's the easiest way to enact a plan across a large population of people who may or may not be aware of the goal, or don't agree with it. The goal being worked for is typically not obvious from the normative guidelines.

But, it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that one would use the facts about the world to develop a good set of such rules, and by "good", I mean effective.

This is also the reason I don't believe at all in "morality". All such things are dependent on the particular goal in mind, and these goals are not necessarily universal to all. Instead, I believe we should make explicit our goals, and make explicit our plans - not hide them both in a set of normative rules that are universal because God, or trhurler says so. So, if we say "drugs should be illegal", let's really get down to why. It's not because it's immoral to take drugs, but rather because the harm you do to yourself often spills over to others (and I'm assuming an implicit goal of maximum happiness for all), and the best way to deal with it is to prevent drug use. Put that way, it seems likely to me that we can find a better solution to the problem than blanket and arbitrary laws against some drugs. Once you remove the veil of morality, the path becomes clearer.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

I spotted it (1.00 / 1) (#72)
by streetlawyer on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 02:10:53 AM EST

and I'm assuming an implicit goal of maximum happiness for all

heh. That's your normative premis. At least one ethical premis, plus a load of facts about the world, will get you a long way. But you've got to have at least one ethical premis.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

my point exactly (none / 0) (#73)
by speek on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 08:31:52 AM EST

Then we agree completely on this.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

let's simplify (none / 0) (#71)
by speek on Sun Dec 17, 2000 at 03:28:54 PM EST

I'm getting tired of this too, but a simpler approach came to me, so I thought I'd give it one more try.

premise: you, trhurler, are asserting that there is a system of natural "rights" that can be derived from our common nature as human beings, and that the application of this system of rights would be universally valid.

question: is your assertion purely a factual one, or does it have normative aspects to it?

possible answer #1: If your claims are purely factual, then if someone violated another's rights, you would make the observation of what occurred, but you wouldn't follow that with a judgement about that person, good or bad. You would not view the violation of rights as bad, but merely as interesting factual events.

possible answer #2: If you are also making normative assertions, then you might judge a rights violator as "bad", or his/her actions as "bad", and you might hold that that judgement is universally valid, since the rights are universally valid.

possible answer #3: As number 2 above, but you don't view these normative claims as necessarily universal, even though the theory of rights they're based on is universal, thus, although you might judge a violator as bad, you don't see that as a universally valid judgement, and you would accept that others might legitimately view the violators as "good".

possible answer #4: Something I haven't thought of?

The reason I am on your case about this is because I am hearing answer #3, and I don't believe it.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Now I see what we disagree on... (none / 0) (#74)
by trhurler on Mon Dec 18, 2000 at 01:42:08 PM EST

I'm unlikely to convince you that I'm right, both because this is one of the more subtle points of distinction that I make, which makes it difficult to articulate without the immediate feedback of a face to face conversation, and also because this is one of the areas in which my ideas are decidedly unconventional. Despite the style of writing, keep in mind that I'm talking about my ideas; any dogmatism you might infer from the style, which people frequently do in fact infer, should be taken rather unseriously. I don't qualify every statement I make with the words "as far as I know," but I do regard any and all statements by anyone of any nature whatsoever to implicitly contain those words.

For a long time, people have tried to reconcile two facts that seemingly oppose each other. The first is that we need some normative rules in order to get along with each other in a society; without them, society is a hindrance rather than a help, and we'd be better off avoiding each other. People called these rules "morality." The problem is, they called a lot of other things morality too. This led to the second fact: morality is a personal choice, and people willfully and knowingly disagree on it - which makes the idea of a normative moral code problematic at best.

The reason there is no apparent solution which is acceptable is because this "morality" is a package deal: it has more than one kind of thing in it. For the sake of convenience in the present discussion, I'll use ethics to mean what you mean by morality - a broad field dealing with what "should" be, rather than what necessarily is. This field is legitimate - but it is not the finest granularity one can make among ideas. I'm going to use rights to mean my conception of rights, and morality to mean a very specific thing: a personally chosen guide to living one's own life.

There are more ethical entities than ordinary moral rules and rights, but those are the two that are immediately of interest. The distinction between the two is precisely in the fact that rights are normative and morality cannot be. Morality, as mentioned above, is personally chosen. It may be "chosen" in a coercive manner or otherwise; it may be chosen explicitly or implicitly. Regardless, it is chosen. Disagreements on moral issues are not only common, but they are inevitable. On the other hand, rights derive from the kind of animals we are; they are universal relative to human beings, and to any beings sufficiently like human beings. This does not mean that everyone knows what they are or respects them - as always, ethics is a field describing what should be, rather than what is.

One of the immediate implications of this is that the only legitimate criminal laws are the ones that protect rights - legislation criminalizing behavior based on morality is a violation of those rights. This is not meant as an argument for or against the position I've taken - and it cannot be one. All too commonly people make arguments of the form (a<->b; !b; !a) when the !b is merely a personal preference or belief rather than a known fact, as though an undesirable consequence makes a premise untrue. This is the most common objection to my position, and it is absurd. There are other objections, but most of them stem either from differences in the use of terminology, which can charitably be viewed as misunderstandings or less charitably be taken as malicious attempts to define away an argument, or else from outright misunderstandings of what it is I've said. The remainder are usually dogmatic attempts to maintain "simplicity" in the field of ethics at the expense of correctness.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Mutual respect of rights (none / 0) (#65)
by Spinoza on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 07:48:09 PM EST

I take exception to your statement that "Those who do not respect rights will find that theirs are not respected either". It is in my mind a dangerous idea. A modern example that springs to mind is the neo-nazi problem in Germany. The neo-nazis are growing in popularity, and are able to hold marches and public meetings. This is due to their free speech and public assembly rights. (Although you may be contesting the definition of one or both of these as a right...for now, that would be beside the point.) I think it is probably fair to say that the neo-nazis would not extend these rights to others, certainly not universally. That the neo-nazi movement is growing is enormous cause for concern. Is it OK to deny them the rights that others have? (Waiting until they actually break a law, and then arresting them might be an alternative, but the key members of these movements are seldom careless enough to be tied to any criminal activity.)

It would seem to be a good idea to stamp out this group with great alacrity. If this is done, however, the situation exists where free speech is extended based on a judgement call about the validity of that speech. This is not free speech at all. In order for your mutual network of rights to work, you have to negate or modify the definitions of those rights.

[ Parent ]

"border between" is a weasel phrase (2.50 / 2) (#56)
by streetlawyer on Thu Dec 14, 2000 at 09:42:14 AM EST

border between metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics

These fields "border" on each other in much the same way that Gibralter borders Spain; separated by a chasm. Non-ethical premises do not entail ethical conclusions. You can't claim rights to be non-ethical facts and then help yourself to words like "should".

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

not true historically (2.50 / 2) (#47)
by streetlawyer on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 09:39:42 AM EST

Until relatively recently(this century, to be sure,) rights were understood, by those who understood them, to be universal

Unless you're preapred to make the fairly bold claim that Mill, Locke, Hume, Adam Smith, Voltaire and Rousseau all didn't know what they were talking about, this isn't true. In fact it isn't true anyway; ever since Aristotle, rights have been thought of as being features of citizenship, and citizenship isn't universal (ask any seventeen-year-old).

In any case, trhurler needs *inviolable* rights to make his case, not *universal* ones, and he has no argument whatever for those. Otherwise, he has no way of explaining why anyone should give a flying bollock for anyone else's rights if it is not in their "enlightened self-interest" to do so.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

no universal morality, but universal rights? (2.50 / 2) (#44)
by streetlawyer on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 02:45:41 AM EST

This is palpably inconsistent. If you claim that all moral judgements are subjective, and not binding on those who do not accept that morality, then you can't just help yourself to universal rights as if they were a metaphysical fact about the universe.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]
I'm a smoker too... (3.00 / 1) (#28)
by k5er on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 01:14:38 PM EST

"Because I enjoy it"

I am also a smoker and tried to quit before, but I couldn't and it had nothing to do with nicotine withdrawl. I was on the patch(which does an excellent job of taking away the withdrawl symptoms).The reason I didn't quit is that I love to smoke. I like lighting up, inhaling, exhaling, learning new Zippo tricks and all the other "Smoking culture" stuff. I agree with everything you wrote in your article. However, I wonder if our love for smoking, is in itself, part of our heavy addiction. Maybe not just the physical dependency on nicotine, but the psychological addiction. The fact that both of us have quit in the past, suggests that we in fact do have a very heavy psychological addiction to cigarettes. Regardless if I like smoking (or I think I like it just because I am addicted), common sense and logic tell me that I should quit, regardless of the addiction type (Physical vs. Psychological).
Long live k5, down with CNN.
Absolutes Anyone? (3.50 / 2) (#29)
by pianoman113 on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 01:21:43 PM EST

Scanning through a few of the top comments I am seeing a lot of selfrighteousness and moral relativeism. The question that needs to be asked is if there can exist a society of "liberated" individuals and also moral absolutes. Moral absolutes are what give the "right" to judge. In this country we take for granted that what we call human rights were not always so. The only reason they are so is because we say they are. Many countries have little use for human rights and therefore don't respect them, but I digress. The point is, you can only judge if you believe in moral absolutes. Anyone who gives you some crap line about moral relativity or "that may be true for you but not me..." has absolutely no business judging anyone. Thats called hypocracy. I, however, believe that there is absolute truth... so here is my judgement: I don't care if you smoke, so long as you respect me enough to not do so around me.
A recent survey of universities nation-wide yeilded astounding results: when asked which was worse, ignorance or apathy, 36% responeded "I don't know," and 24% responeded "I don't care." The remaining 40% just wanted the free pen.
absolutist type thinking (none / 0) (#36)
by speek on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 05:59:32 PM EST

If you're not an absolutist, you have no business making judgements.

I don't really understand why you're coming to the conclusion stated above. Even if I'm a "moral relativist", that doesn't mean I've sworn off the rules of logic. It doesn't mean I'm not rational. If you say 2+2=5, I can still judge you to be wrong. If you say you doubt the Apollo missions ever did really go to the moon and that it was just an involved hoax by NASA, I can still judge you to be a loony. Likewise if you believe in creationism and argue till you're blue in the face against the possibility of evolution.

I can even judge you to be someone I don't want around if you make a habit of murdering people. Likewise if you smoke non-stop. I can judge your belief that eliminating taxes will create a better society for everyone as incorrect, if you did believe that.

The only difference between my judgements and your judgements is that you believe your judgements are valid in the eyes of God, or whatever absolute you happen to believe in. I am more humble, and I do not believe my judgements are necessarily valid to anyone but me. But, I am willing to share my judgements, find out what opinions of mine others find valid, and what they do not. I'm also interested in others' judgements as well - I might like them enough to make them my own.

--
al queda is kicking themsleves for not knowing about the levees
[ Parent ]

Defending "to the death" (4.00 / 1) (#30)
by meeth on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 01:23:53 PM EST

Although a smaller selection of readers may agree with this, I doesn't seem to be too far of a stretch to reword Voltaire as follows: "I may not agree with what you do, but I will, to the death, defend your right to do it."

First, I apologize for being off-topic, since I'm going to quibble with this assertion although the quibble is not really related to cmpgn's argument. However, I've been thinking about the ramifications of libertarian beliefs, and this reworking of Voltaire is pretty much exactly what I've been thinking about. Specifically, none of the libertarian posters, as far as I can tell, do agree with this quote. At least, I have not read any recent newwpaper articles about attempted jail-breaks to rescue people incarcerated on drug charges for example. Libertarians seem much more willing to provide rousing speeches about liberty than actual defenses of liberty.

I'd like to think that if the government did something I found truly ethically abhorent. that I would actively resist (e.g., resistance movements during WWII). Quite possibly my belief is inaccurate and I would be too cautious if such a situation ever arose for me.

The interesting thing is that as far as I can tell, for the libertarians out there, a "truly ethically abhorent" situation does exist. For them, the government is usurping basic rights in unjustified and paternalistic attempts to keep members of society from doing things that they should be allowed to do. But as I said we don't hear about resistance or even much civil disobedience by libertarians (barring a few cases involving 'militias').

This makes me wonder how deeply held these libertarian views are. My uncharitable interpretation is that these libertarian views are arm-chair views that people don't really hold that strongly. I'm not sure what a charitable interpretation would be. I suppose you could argue that the current "violations of rights", while bad, could be a lot worse and do not warrant resistance. Is there a better way for me to understand this phenomenon?

"libertarians" (4.00 / 1) (#33)
by trhurler on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 02:06:33 PM EST

I really dislike the term "libertarians," because it is used to describe a range of thought that really is too big to be meaningful. Often, people who despise "libertarians" and provide reasons are only attacking a tiny part of what goes by the name, and often someone who claims to be a libertarian is in fact regarded by most others who'd take the label as a nutcase.

Let's be honest. You're saying you oppose anarchy, which is only one of many viewpoints that you could mean when you say "libertarian." Many people call me a libertarian and then turn around and assault me for being one - but I am not an anarchist. I believe in government. What I don't believe in is a government that goes around deliberately violating rights and arbitrarily upending the principle of trade rather than protecting and upholding them.

It is certainly true that there are "libertarians" who are nothing but arm chair utopians. However, I suspect you'll draw a lot of criticism with blanket statements that "libertarians" must be shallow and unserious just because some people who use that term to describe themselves happen to be. I try to avoid calling myself a libertarian whenever possible, which is almost always, but just as one example, I've spent more time reading, writing, and thinking on related topics than most people with masters' degrees, and probably than some with PhDs. It is somewhat interesting that you use moral arguments as a basis for what I regard as oppressive government, because I use moral arguments as a basis of eliminating it. The difference, you would quickly find, is in the morality. The difference in morality, you'd quickly find, is a matter of things like the theory of knowability, the nature of consciousness, and so on. From there, you could move on to the fundamental nature of the relationship between man and the universe he lives in. Odds are we disagree on every one of those matters, and odds are you've never really given much serious consideration to most of them except insofar as you've accepted ideas you found around you by a sort of "indifference osmosis."

Maybe you didn't mean me - I hope not. Because you sure as hell better not tell me that I'm not serious:)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Touche (4.00 / 1) (#34)
by meeth on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 02:45:14 PM EST

I was vaguely aware as I wrote that comment that it was a bit too sweeping a generalization, and I tried to sign-post this by describing my view as "uncharitable". I certainly don't think that all libertarians are shallow and unserious, and it is fairly uncharitable to attribute that belief to me.

Nonetheless, I think the tension I was trying to highlight, between fairly extreme rhetoric and little action, is a genuine one for at least some views that can roughly be described as 'libertarian'. In part, I was (and remain) curious to see how people who would identify them as libertarian view this tension. This tension suggests some inconsistency of belief to me, and I would like to know how one would reconcile it.

By the way, somewhat ironically you're making unjustified assumptions about me. First, I, like everyone probably, "don't believe in... a government that goes around deliberately violating rights and arbitrarily upending the principle of trade rather than protecting and upholding them". However, I understand both "rights" and "the principle of trade" to be tools that help in producing a better society. I view rights as solutions to coordination problems and externalities and I value them for their unparalleled ability to help solve both. I don't believe that in some mysterious way there are "natural rights" or "natural law" out there in the world that it the purpose of humanity to follow and venerate, though. The ontology of the world is more sparse than that.

Second, I happened to be a philosophy major in college. I have studied "the theory of knowability, the nature of consciousness, and so on". It is in part because of these studies that I am suspicious of putting undue weight on the notion of a right.

Rights are important, but guaranteeing them is not the sole purpose of government. This has been the case historically and there is no reason to suspect that it will not continue to be the case indefinitely in the future.

[ Parent ]

Indeed (4.00 / 2) (#35)
by trhurler on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 04:26:21 PM EST

Replying To:
Nonetheless, I think the tension I was trying to highlight, between fairly extreme rhetoric and little action, is a genuine one for at least some views that can roughly be described as 'libertarian'.
I am convinced that there is no single reason you see this phenomenon. Some people, such as myself, honestly believe that our time is better spent trying to convince people of our ideas than in more direct forms of activism. Some people are just lazy, regardless of their views. Some people are at a loss as to how to proceed - keep in mind that a disproportionate number of people who would consider themselves libertarians are young, but most are also solidly suburban middle class - neither affluent nor poor - and have never really seen a serious political movement, much less been a part of one. Some are hypocritical jerks - the "libertarian" label is not a magic bullet that protects "the anointed" from such people. I'm sure there are other reasons, too.
However, I understand both "rights" and "the principle of trade" to be tools that help in producing a better society.
There is a hidden assumption here. Namely, the idea that "society" is the basic benefactor, rather than "individuals." I realize this is subtle and you can easily say "Society IS individuals!" but I do urge you to think about what I'm about to say: Almost without fail, when you see "society" being upheld, you are seeing some individual or individuals getting the shaft. It is not necessary to invoke vaguely defined pseudoentities if one wishes to uphold the good of individuals - it is only necessary when one wishes to violate it for some reason. Almost without fail, appeals to "the good of society" and so on are excuses to crucify a few, or even perhaps to harm the majority, in order to benefit some other group. This works because "society" has no voice, and therefore a substitute voice is found in whoever is politically powerful at the time, or whoever can be persuasive to those who are.
I don't believe that in some mysterious way there are "natural rights" or "natural law" out there in the world that it the purpose of humanity to follow and venerate, though.
Neither do I. My "natural rights" argument places the source of rights in the nature of US as human beings, not the nature of the world we live in. I believe that we are an end in ourselves; the idea of us having a "purpose" other than that is absurd to me.
Rights are important, but guaranteeing them is not the sole purpose of government.
Agreed; government should exist to prohibit and make infeasible the use of force in human relationships. Note that this is not what any government up to this point has ever done, although we have gotten closer to that goal over time.

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Vaguely defined pseudoentities (4.00 / 2) (#37)
by meeth on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 06:02:35 PM EST

It is not necessary to invoke vaguely defined pseudoentities if one wishes to uphold the good of individuals - it is only necessary when one wishes to violate it for some reason. Almost without fail, appeals to "the good of society" and so on are excuses to crucify a few, or even perhaps to harm the majority, in order to benefit some other group.

I certainly have no desire to invoke vaguely defined pseudoentities. However, I'm not sure that by using the word "society" in discourse I am invoking any entities other than individuals. I'll have to think about it. I could define the good for a society as a function taking as inputs the quality of the life of the individuals that make it up, increasing as the quality of life increases, and sharply decreasing as the quality of life decreases. I think this matches what I mean when I refer to the good of society. The exact functional specification would be extremely messy, but that would be the case for anyone.

While quality of life may strike you as slightly fictitious as well, you're going to need a similar measure in order to define what individuals "getting the shaft" involves. One aspect of quality of life is autonomy. You seem to be asserting that it is the only aspect that governments should pay attention to, while I'm asserting that there are others.

On the subject of vaguely defined psuedoentities though, "the individual" might not be a very tightly defined entity itself. As the individual changes over time, is he or she still the same being for moral and political purposes? Alternatively, if an individual's thought is made of ideas he or she has picked up within his or her cultural situation, acted on by the individual's biology, why should we value the individual and not the ideas forming him or her? Anyway, both of these considerations are probably surmountable, but I'd like to suggest that individualness may not be such a solid concept either.

[ Parent ]

Society, individual (none / 0) (#39)
by trhurler on Tue Dec 12, 2000 at 06:59:28 PM EST

The problem I have with "society" is that in seeking the good of society, people resort to active measures; it is not enough to let people find their own best way - we must "help" them! Well, that help costs, and since the resources it costs are all made possible by people, this means that we will seize the resources of some to pay for the welfare of others. The seized assets are coming from people who are, as I put it earlier, "getting the shaft." We would all find it abhorrent to seize their lives by enslaving them, even for a limited time, but for some reason all to many people can rationalize taking the fruits of time well spent even though they regard the time itself as sacred; how sacred is your time if, after spending it, you can have whatever gain you might have derived taken from you at the whim of those with more political pull, more military power, more luck, or whatever?

I do tend to agree with the assertion that autonomy is about all that government really ought to concern itself with; I am unconvinced that government can do anything else without compromising this function, and I am convinced that this function is vital. I'm certainly open to suggestions as to why any of this is not so, if they aren't just a retread of the "save the X"(where X is anything someone happens to find adorable/enjoyable/handy/fun/etc) line.

"the individual" might not be a very tightly defined entity itself. As the individual changes over time, is he or she still the same being for moral and political purposes? Alternatively, if an individual's thought is made of ideas he or she has picked up within his or her cultural situation, acted on by the individual's biology, why should we value the individual and not the ideas forming him or her?
It is clear that individuals change. However, even if we regarded the results as different individuals, if the requirements of government interaction with an individual are the same for all individuals, would this matter? Also, why should we value ideas more than the people who hold them? The entire concept of value implies not merely importance, but importance to someone. Ideas do not exist in a vacuum; the concrete entities they reference certainly do, but ideas themselves are a human product - and as it happens, an individual human product, though they obviously can be shared. Thought is something we each have to do for ourselves - which is a large part of the basis for my theory of rights(which, by the way, I hardly originated:)

--
'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
the use of force (3.00 / 3) (#45)
by streetlawyer on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 02:50:46 AM EST

Agreed; government should exist to prohibit and make infeasible the use of force in human relationships.

you mean, of course, except the use of force in the defence of private property.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

Unfair Rating Alert! (2.20 / 5) (#68)
by unfair_rating_alert! on Fri Dec 15, 2000 at 10:35:22 PM EST

Here is an intelligent rebuttal rated down to a 1.00 without cause nor counter rebuttal!

---- Canned Text ----

This comment was provided by unfair_rating_alert!, a troll account created strictly to look for intelligent comments unfairly rated below 2.00. You may not agree with the contents of the previous post, however, if you're fair you should agree that it didn't deserve a less than 2.00 rating. To preserve the integrity of this troll account no comments from here will be rated as it's simply too easy to open multiple accounts to stack a rating. The purpose of this account is not to affect or change individual ratings, not but to show bias within the rating system. Therefore, this account will not post topical or editorial content, rebuttals, story submissions, rate comments, or vote on story submissions. Readers are encouraged to reconsider a rating and act according to their conscience.

[ Parent ]

Trusted Users: Please rate 0 to hide (1.25 / 4) (#69)
by unfair_rating_alert! on Sat Dec 16, 2000 at 05:31:35 PM EST

The Unfair_Rating_Alert posted for the previous comment has done it's job and the comment is now rated fairly. Please help clean up the original Unfair_Rating_Alert post by rating 0 to hide. Someone rated the original up to a three, so it will take more than one Trusted User to clean that comment off the reply chain. Please vote 0 only on the original until it is below 1.00, then vote 0 on this comment to hide it last.

Thanks to the Trusted Users and readers who responded to this unfair_rating_alert

[ Parent ]

The Need to Stand on One's Own (5.00 / 1) (#48)
by kostya on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 09:41:57 AM EST

I think the problem comes down to this: we all have the right to say something, and so does everyone else--especially in reference to what we say.

If I post my opinion on K5, what am I looking for? This is an interesting question when you unpack it, because it reveals a lot about our own personal motivation and human nature in general. The fact is that many, if not most of us seek approval. We all want that post or story where everyone says, "Oh my gosh, you are so friggin' brilliant!" This varies from person to person, but I think most of us (especially me) can admit to some degree of craving approval.

Now what does this have to do with opinions, free speech, and discussion? Well, if I post my opinion, and, whether I admit it consciously or not, K5's opinion of me matters, I will be very sensitive to how my opinion is perceived and portrayed. If someone shreds my post or my story, I might not be able to take it because I have too much invested in gaining approval. To say it plainly, it is hard to have real discussion if many (or most) of us are too concerned about looking stupid in front of everyone.

You might argue that K5 being so semi-anonymous would change a lot of that. But I do not think it does. I actually think it might make it worse--no one knows you personally and no one has anything to judge you by except your words. So if you get nailed because you missed a key point in the argument, it becomes much more important to vindicate yourself.

Add to that one more factor: geeks are a prideful bunch, and they are not very merciful in criticism. So many (if not most of us) have a healthy dose of hubris and we are not sparing in our criticism. Making geek pissing matches or contests for who is Alpha Geek more likely to happen.

Which brings me to my point: K5 needs to be a place where we are all willing to be wrong and to stand on our own virtues. That will make us more open to opposing views. It will help us be more willing to encourage open discussion (which is not about victory, but about reaching greater understanding). It's tough to admit when you are wrong. It's even more tough to try and see that "username" as a real person who isn't a complete moron. But if we could get both of those, I think we could have a cool thing here at K5.

To wrap up with an anecdote, I took a class on Ethics. The first day of class, the professor starts illustrating the point of ethics by describing various ethical quandries. He used abortion as one, and he took a controversial point. A student starting arguing with him, and she ended the conversation (or tried to) with, "Well, that's your opinion!" Looking back, I think my prof was looking for just the right person to say exactly that. He launched into a huge discussion with a lot of great supporting evidence, but his point was this: "We all have our opinions. But not all our opinions are equal. Some are more correct or more useful than others. We all have the right to an opinion, but that does not guarantee us equal rights to being correct."

So let's discuss for real, and let's not be afraid to be wrong (as long as we are willing to admit it). Then everyone can quit being so touchy about whether they are being judged or not.



----
Veritas otium parit. --Terence
Relativism v. Absolutism (3.00 / 1) (#49)
by spraints on Wed Dec 13, 2000 at 10:58:48 AM EST

... or somewhere in between.

It seems that the issue here is moral relativism versus moral absolutism, or where in between there is Right (tm). I am of the opinion that there is a created order, in which all people have certain rights and in which there are certain limits on what we should do. Moral relativism, in a non-homogenous society, seems that it would lead to chaos and anarchy. So for practical reasons I reject the idea that morality is strictly relative. Without absolute morality, there is little ground for a government to make laws. However, with a set of ground rules that are absolute that define what sorts of actions are acceptable or inacceptable, then it approaches an imperative for the government to enforce the ground rules as best it can. But what are the rules? Who has the right ones? So then, are the absolutes relative? Talk about a recursive problem. Why in the world did Adam eat that stinking apple. Just look at the mess that it's made for us today.

I spouted a little bit more in my diary entry today, so if you're interested, go take a look.

You're wrong, I'm wrong, let's go read the Bible



The Right to Judge | 76 comments (69 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
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