Monday, March 01, 2010

Monetizing the World

On the dashboard*, the page that does all of the nuts and bolts for blogs on blogspot/blogger, they is button to 'monetize' your blog. Needless to say as an anarchist I won't be monetizing my blog, I'd like less monetization in my life, not more. But, it's mere existence reminds me of a constant annoyance: seeing everything be monetized.

The first time I was really made aware of this was at a conference on intellectual 'property'. One of the presentations was on a program in India that patented or registered traditional remedies for various different diseases and maladies. This program was started in response to a major pharmaceutical company taking a traditional remedy, patenting it and making boat loads of money off of it. People clearly saw a problem with this. The solution, which was developed by a group of non-profits, was to register the various traditional remedies so if another company tried to do the same thing there would be legal recourse and the local communities would receive compensation.

During the Q & A one of the attendees asked if this was really the right way to go. Shouldn't the remedies be open and available for use by all, because they had been developed over centuries, if not longer, by hundreds or thousands of people. How could you consider this some sort of protected intellectual property in terms of monetization? Who exactly was deserving of the money from this? Why was the paradigm of intellectual property necessary at all in these cases, especially when many of these traditional remedies had been around for centuries?

Of course, the answer was eminently practical, and in a way right. This registering was necessary because without it the people involved would get screwed by the pharmaceutical companies. But it shouldn't be right. We really do need to stop the monetization of everything. Personally, I'd like to see huge swaths of the world, if not all of it, demonetized.

A I noted in my previous post, I've recently made the rather rash and probably bad decision to become an artist. I really don't expect to make money off of it. Sure, I recently hung some of my paintings at a show and priced them, but I priced them so high I knew they wouldn't sell. I didn't want to sell them for a number of reasons, first and foremost because I didn't want to let them go. They were some of the first things I've done and I'm rather attached to them. More than that though, I can't stand the idea of selling art. All that emotion, and sometimes even thought, that goes into it just makes it feel so much more than money.

But, I guess that's just the way the world works. For the time being at least.

*Please, don't get me started on how much I hate the car metaphors sprinkled throughout our daily lives. I don't drive a car, I drive my bike, mainly because I can't stand cars.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Career Decision

I've recently made a career decision, probably the second worse career decision in my life, right after deciding to get a degree in Philosophy. This was the decision to become an artist. Yeah, bad idea if you want anything good to do with money. Thought the who starving artist thing was just a joke. Well, it's not *just* a joke. I haven't written anything here for a while, totally not my fault, it was art.

But, doing art gives me this weird new perspective. At the beginning I though "hey, I can totally use this to communicate with people." Then I realized that people don't really pay much attention to it. There's lots of it. Really, tons. Shit loads. We have more art in our lives than any civilization than I know of. Or of which I know. Seriously, think about it.

Not good art mind you. Like everything, we prefer quantity to quality. That's what America and Anarchism is really about, isn't it? The most opinions and ideas possible. As opposed to the best ideas and the least ideas. Which sounds like a losing proposition, until you realize that what is best is malleable. There is no perfect immutable goodness. Plato was wrong, sorry. And even if there was, we'd have no way to figure out what it was, so we're doubly fucked on that one.

And that's why I can't communicate with people through my art. Because what I generally consider good, most others don't. If I'm going to be honest with the viewer of my art, or you the reader, then I can't pretend that I think and believe one thing and communicate another. I cannot make pretty art. Or nice art. Or friendly art. Except, possibly, on those rare moments where I really feel those things. And you all are just going to have to deal with that. And by "you all" I mean the vanishingly minuscule number of people who may or may not read this.

And the same goes for my writing. I do my best to convey my meaning thrugh the words and sttructures I know. Sometimes I do a crappy job or am trying to communicate something crappy. Yeah, I say fucked up things some times, I take responsibility for that. I have some fucked up thoughts in my head. But, sometimes the things I say sound fucked up because what I think is good is different than what you think is good. Often times I'm wrong about what I thinkis good, so if you think something I said is wrong, or just fucked up, then say so.

So, onward.

I'm an anarchist, an atheist, , an artist, a roommate, a singer, a logician, an insurrectionist, a typist(immediately), a cyclist and a privileged individual. I am terribly tired of hearing arguments for nonviolence from people who support court cases. The court relies intrinsically on violence. Without violence and the threat thereof the court would have no power. Nor would government. Ultimately, the reason I am an anarchist is because there is no government that does not rule though violence, and that is simple reversion to might makes right. And whatever we may think of the world, we can agree that might does not make right. Ever. Really, nothing makes right. Right is some sort of moral crap we made up, and by we I mean the classes in charge, to make people do stuff that preserves the status quo. That's it. preserving the stats quo. That's morality. That's good art, and good writing, and good prose. So if you liked this, it was probably bad for the world.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The ERA and Gay Marriage

I'm rather happy about the fact that people can marry those of the same sex now, mainly because it was such a slap in the face not to be allowed into a hospital room to see a dying loved one, or any other of the numerous indignities that a partner in a same sex relationship needs endure. But, happy as I am, I can't see that spending any extraordinary amount of resources on the fight for same-sex marriage is the best use of those resources. When there are situation like the New Jersey 7.(or 4, depending on where you look)

Clearly one needn't only focus one's resources in one direction, but I can think of innumerable issues that should be dealt with that would have a much farther reaching effect. Like making housing discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal. It is illegal in California, but a federal version would be nice. I think there needs to be a renewed push for the ERA. It may not seem to be a gay rights issue, but I think that it would open a lot of legal doors.

Let's take gay marriage for example, on a federal level. In 1996 the Defense of Marriage Act(DOMA) passed. DOMA says that neither the feds nor states can be forced by other states to "treat a relationship between persons of the same sex as a marriage." This may be unconstitutional as it stands, but a stronger case could be made were the ERA added to the Constitution. If the ERA were in effect then one could easily argue sex discrimination in the case of marrying someone of the same sex. For example, if there was a woman who wished to marry another woman, the only reason she is not able to marry that woman is because of her sex. If I wanted to marry that same woman I would be allowed to for the simple fact that I am male, and she disallowed simply because she is female.

Theoretically one could extend this to all sorts situations. Take housing discrimination. Were I a lesbian and was denied housing on those grounds then I would be denied because of my sex. A lesbian would be denied not because she she is a person who falls in love with women, but in fact because she is a woman who falls in love with women. Obviously it is her sex and not who she falls in love with that is the problem. Again, I fall in love with women and I am not discriminated against in my choices of housing. The reason I am not is because I am male. Were I female and yet otherwise the same then I would not be allowed to habitate those same places a esbian is denied.

I'll be honest, law is not my strong suit, so there may be a glaring problem with my reasoning, but it seems not to be faulty to me.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ex-Hillary Supporters to vote for McCain

Most of this has been discussed in other places as well, most of what I saying isn't that new, but I think putting it all together will be helpful for me.

There are a number of aspects of this topic. First and foremost is the way the media has portrayed it, left-wing feminists are going to go vote for McCain to punish the Democratic Party for not nominating Hillary. This would be stupid of them to do, as McCain works actively against their interests, and the interests of women the nation and world over. But, the media loves a good story about how women are going to do something stupid based on emotion, because women are always so damn emotional. This all obscures the fact that I haven't heard a single feminist say they would vote for McCain, even the ones who can't stand Obama.

Then which Hillary supporters are going to vote for McCain? Why the right-wing, racist, scare-mongering ones. Not that Hilary was the only one with the right-wing bigots on her side, Obama just got to keep his, for now, because he's the nominee. Had Hillary won the nomination I'm sure that there would have been just as many right wing bigots writing screeds that connected Hillary to Valerie Solanas and warned between the lines about how she would have all the men castrated and forced to do hard labor. Or something.

So, yes, some women are not going to vote for Obama because they are disgusted with the misogyny of the party and of Obama. So what? It's their damn right to, and the people that attack them for voting their conscience are simply wrong to do so.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An Open Letter

An Open Letter to the Democratic Party

Party Leaders, Candidates and Members,

I don't know how to put this politely so I will instead simply say it. I cannot vote for a party which is not willing to act against torture or torturers. With the release of the report Broken Laws, Broken Lives by the group Physicians for Human Rights, it has become clear that the United States has engaged in torture in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and most likely at various locations across the globe. The silence coming from all but the most sidelined of Democratic politicians is deafening. Not a single major party figure has called for even as much as investigations, much less laid out a plan for stopping the torture. This is not an acceptable position to hold in the twenty-first century. Torture is wrong and must be condemned always and confronted and stopped when occurring. But this is not the case at this time.

Because of this I can say now with no doubt in my mind that I shall not and cannot vote for a candidate for high office if that candidate has not condemned torture both in deed and in action, and I can see no candidate for high office from the Democratic Party in this year who can make that claim. Make no mistake, I do not endorse the opposition candidate, who has as of late made his position on torture quite clear, and goes beyond the tacit consent of the Democratic leadership. But all the same, I can never in good conscience work towards the election of a candidate who has not acted against the gross violation of human rights that is torture, even in such a small way as voting for that candidate.


A Concerned Citizen

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


“All ancient philosophy was oriented toward the simplicity of life and taught a certain kind of modesty in one’s need. In light of this, the few philosophic vegetarians have done more for mankind than all new philosophers, and as long as philosophers do not take courage to seek out a totally changed way of life and to demonstrate it by their example, they are worth nothing.” Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher

I like that Nietzsche guy.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Democracy Market

I was reading this article about the primary election in North Carolina today when I came across this lovely passage:

"The key will be the Raleigh-Durham market," Jackson said. It usually makes up between a quarter and a third of the overall turnout vote. "If that is creeping up to 40 percent that spells good news for Obama," he said.

No longer are the politicos pretending that population centers are composed of citizens or even simply voters. No, now we Americans are organized in "markets." It is clear that the Clinton and Bush years of deregulation and economic warfare against the poor and other disenfranchised groups has reached its logical acme. We are not individuals, we are not citizens, we aren't even politically organized, we are simply a "market" for selling candidates.

I've always been rather hateful of the marketing industry, with good reason it seems. From the days of women's suffrage to modern times marketing preys on people's insecurities and expectations of the world to convince them to buy things they most likely don't need. To extend that to marketing presidential candidates is the logical next step, especially given that there is so little difference between the two major democratic candidates. Both have environmental plans that are based on craptastic cap and trade schemes, again with the market. Both have similar "market based" health insurance plans.

Blah, blah, blah. That's all I hear these days.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Free Will

I'm a skeptic about free will. I must say that I want to believe in free will, it seems a good thing, though I suspect I have little choice but to believe that. What it comes down to for me is that free will seems not to have any sort of mechanism that could give rise to it. If one rejects the idea of the immaterial giving rise to the material then one would have to reject the idea that a free will, which is necessarily immaterial, could cause one's body to do something. How can my will *cause* anything?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Food, or the lack thereof

This is a map of the countries in which there have been food riots in the last couple weeks

There is and article about how this is likely to spread further because of the return of wheat leaf rust.

This is not pretty.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Science and Possibilities

I mentioned in the last post that I thought there were problems with science. The major problem with science is that it is funded and directed in a way that echoes the broader inequities of society. A prime example of this is the focus there is at the moment on producing a self navigating and driving car. I think the case can be made that we need to get rid of the personal auto, remove it from the way we organize society. Given that it is a complete waste of time for us to spend money figuring out how to make a car run without a driver. Of course, there is also the fact that we already know how to have a car, or transport of some sort, run without being immediately directed by humans, put it on rails. We do this all the time, mass transit works.

That won't help the military, which is the main organization behind automating cars. The idea, supposedly, is that it will save lives by not putting humans in harms way. What they really mean by this is that it will save the lives of the military that has this technology, and, probably, kill more of the people in countries whose military don't have this technology. Sure, it is likely that advances in this field will help other areas of AI research, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. But, I'll be damned sure that I don't want the military to develop the first strong AI, or really even the government. I can't think of a single government I would trust with the thing.

It's the same thing with facial recognition. It could, in theory at least, help with the development of strong AI, but doesn't the path that we take to get to the post-human future as important as the place we end up? I don't want to get to a post-human future just to have everything and everyone monitored all the time. To have that be the expectation. That sounds fully craptastic.

Friday, April 04, 2008


Of recent I've become interested in transhumanism, the idea that humans will one day transition, through the use of technology. Many of them are technophiles in an extreme sense, but not all. I am not such a technophile, but neither do I wholly reject the possibilities provided by technology. I think that a transhmanist position is the only tenable position for views on technology, but I think it doubly important that we recognize the limitations and flaws our current technological program has.

As I have noted before, I do not see technology as an amoral force. I think that it is entirely possible to have immoral technologies, most weapons would fall in this category. I think that the majority of technologies that we do have are not necessarily moral, even those that seems to be on a cursory examination, such as medicines. I think it plausible to take this view on the grounds that many technologies are not liberatory, and by their nature tie people to the structure that creates them. Drugs used to treat diseases as opposed to cure them could be put in this category, not all them then necessarily, but at least some especially in the case of those that treat non-life threatening diseases.

There is a post over at Transhumanist Goodness on Moral Realism, Transhuman Goodness: Transhumanism and the need for realist ethics, that I generally disagree with. I reject the existence of objective moral facts altogether, and while I do accept that we might need to argue within a framework of moral realism to convince people of the Transhumanist project, we can't actually accept it as a moral framework. If the goal of the transhumanist project is to move past human capabilities then it seems that we must make a radical reevaluation of not only our physical and mental abilities, but also of our moral abilities. In fact, I would argue that we have already reached a point where we can have a true post-human, in theory if not in fact, based not on physical or mental changes but on philosophical and moral changes. I think that we can say that this is possible, though it is highly unlikely that there actually is a post-human existent.

I say it is possible because there exist possible environments, physical locations, for us to reside in where it would be possible to develop a post-human moral and philosophical outlook. This is not something that we can simply do, meaning I can't simply go somewhere and become post-human. In fact, anyone able to read and understand this is not able to undertake this task. But it is entirely possible that one could raise a child in such a way as to instill an understanding of the world that is based not on human understanding, but on a post-human philosophical and moral outlook.

There is a lot to unpack here and I'll do my best to do that in future posts, but this is a quick outline.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Health Care

I checked out the plans for health care put forward by Clinton and Obama and I must say I'm totally disappointed. They are both doing pretty much the same thing as Massachusetts has done, forcing people to pay for subsidized health insurance, thus ensuring that the health insurance companies get their cut and that they run things just as efficiently as always. (read:not very efficient) They do require that companies insure people that they would not have otherwise insured.

Bleh, color me not very surprised, the democrats take a good idea, universal coverage, and turn it into a money making scheme for the health care industry. Little wonder the industry has switched their donations to the Dems. Note also that this table shows the total contribution from the health care industry to candidates on both sides and on the republican side Romney, the guy who made up Massachusetts' "personal responsibility system" (I puke just a little as I type that) The selfsame system both Dems seek to imitate.

Of course, I could just be annoyed because I'm home sick today.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Conspiracy theory time!

There is a time in life when every young man's thoughts turn to conspiracy. No, I don't mean committing conspiracy, I haven't enough time or a good enough reason for that. I mean finding conspiracy. And lo and behold it has come and bit me on the ass.

I just finished reading an article on on the republican caucuses in Washington, and how there were some very fishy happenings that took place. Essentially, the state GOP looks as if it might have called the election, erroneously, for McCain.

I wouldn't find the idea of republicans fixing elections fishy at all if it were not for the unbeleivable hatred of McCain that most of the republican pundits are spewing.

So here is the theory: McCain is the choice of the GOP and their wing of the pundits, but they are playing a fun little game of "we hate McCain" during the primaries so he gets to regain his reputation as a "maverick" and looks to be distant from Bush and the mainstream of republicans, read:far right wing nut jobs. Of course, this is nonsense. He's a warmonger, which is exactly what the right wants.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Obama looks like he has a good chance at winning the Democratic nomination, and I'm all for that. I expect that if he wins the nomination he will win the general election as well, which I would also like to see. Now, I'll note here that I don't expect him to do a whole lot as president. Honestly, I expect him to get very, very little done, for a number of reasons and this is exactly why I want him to get elected.

Right now Obama is campaigning on a platform of "Hope" and "Change," and while I don't think that he is being dishonest about his campaign, I don't think he, or most people, realize the level of change that this country is going to need if it is going to survive. There are the economic problems, the environmental problems, the social justice problems and the problems of foreign policy. The younger generations are profoundly dissatisfied with the current political order, primarily because the current order has no solutions to the problems of the world except band-aids and promises.

The high water mark of radical politics in the recent past was the late nineties, after eight years of a Clinton presidency. One of the prime contributors to that was that people were profoundly frustrated with Democratic politicians telling them that they would make progress and then seeing regressive policies enacted, from welfare to trade issues.

It isn't clear what exactly Obama intends to change, but we can be sure that it will not be enough to fix the problems of the United States, or the rest of the world. And the radical organizations of the left will benefit. As an anarchist, I think this can only be a good thing considering the increasing currency anarchist ideas and organization methods enjoy today. If Obama is elected it could be the push that is needed to get us past the roadblocks, psychological or otherwise, put up post-September eleventh.

Monday, January 28, 2008

State of the Union

I'm not watching the State of the Union speech tonight. I probably should, I should probably watch and play a drinking game or talk with some other political junkies I know. But I'm not going to, and do you know why? Because I already know what Bush is going to say. No I am not such an astute political observer that I can tell what he will discuss, or is discussing, as I type. I know it because the Bush folks have released excerpts from the speech and the news site have articles about it. Apparently there will be nothing new, just "hope," cribbing from Obama. Now, the point of me posting this is not to complain about this, though the pre-release of a speech seems stupid to me, it is to complain about how Yahoo news announces these things.

They put up articles that speak of the speech as if it already happened.

This annoys me to no end. They did the same thing last year. "Bush said this or that," and I'm reading the thing totally confused because I know for a fact that Bush didn't say anything, yet. One would assume that they might wait until after the speech, but I guess they live in the future.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I just went and got my textbooks for school. One of them I didn't get because it cost a hundred dollars. Instead I went online and got the previous edition for six dollars, including shipping. If this were a physics or chemistry text I might understand the need for a new edition, but this is an ethics text. The only difference between the two editions is the order the papers are in. I had the same experience with a Calculus text. The worst is that I know there are a ton of people out there who weren't able to return these books and got screwed out of a hundred bucks.

In conclusion, screw you textbook companies.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hitler was a Vegetarian

Or not, but if he was would it matter to vegetarianism in general. Would it be an indictment of vegetarianism? I think not.

There is a post on an ethics blog about how saying that Islam is responsible for Bin Laden's actions is different than saying vegetarianism is responsible for Hitler's actions. The reasoning is that Islam is a religion open to violent interpretations.

While I agree that Islam is open to violent interpretation, as evidenced by the fact that people interpret it in a way that allows for violence, I think this is true of nearly every religion and ideology minus those that are explicitly pacifist. Being vegetarian isn't and ideology, nor is being atheist, despite the arguments form some theists otherwise. Islam of the form Bin Laden subscribes to is an ideology. I am at a loss to find a single political or Religious ideology which has been implemented on a broad scale that has not been responsible for some level of violence.

This is not to say that Islam is somehow less violent. I don't think that Islam is anything, it's a book and the sunna'. There are a number of interpretations of Islam that allow for violence, as there are interpretations of nearly every ideology. Look at the war in Iraq. One might argue that the justifications given by Bush about democracy and human rights are not "really" democratic or Liberal arguments, but that strikes me as a "true scotsman" argument. It is clear that Liberalism can be interpreted in a way that allows for destruction on a massive scale, but does that indict Liberalism or those who use that interpretation?

More on Naturalized Ethics

Steven Pinker, evolutionary psychologists extraordinaire, has an article in the New York Times called The Moral Instinct about evolution and, what else, the moral instinct.

It it he talks about morality and how our sense of moral outrage at certain things is a function of an evolved sense, though it isn't clear if he means this in a literal manner or figurative. He repeats all the experiments and research that has been done, and then jumps to conclusions. Again, he is an evolutionary psychologist, which means that evolution must obviously have a role in everything. Of course, the role of society is left on the wayside.

"The stirrings of morality emerge early in childhood. Toddlers spontaneously offer toys and help to others and try to comfort people they see in distress. And according to the psychologists Elliot Turiel and Judith Smetana, preschoolers have an inkling of the difference between societal conventions and moral principles. Four-year-olds say that it is not O.K. to wear pajamas to school (a convention) and also not O.K. to hit a little girl for no reason (a moral principle). But when asked whether these actions would be O.K. if the teacher allowed them, most of the children said that wearing pajamas would now be fine but that hitting a little girl would still not be."

Of course, children are socialized heavily by this age. Were they not, they would not understand that wearing pajamas to school was wrong, just that hitting others was.

This is not to say that biology and evolution play no role in our actions, moral or otherwise. Obviously they do. But, claims such as Pinker's seems to be stretching the evidence. It seems clear that there is some sort of biological basis for altruism, at least to the extent that our brain allows for it through socialization. But there is also a biological basis for selfishness, as evidenced by its existence.

Another problem is how Pinker thinks this affects our idea of what is moral. In all honesty, he isn't very clear about why the knowledge of why we act moral and why we think something is moral helps us in determining what is moral. Certainly he makes a case that it helps us understand the actions of others, but that doesn't require evolutionary psychology, just some social science. This is not a shortcoming he alone possesses. This is a fundamental problem that ethical naturalists have.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Animals and Justice Part II

In Justice as Fairness the entities are restricted to those parties which possess “the two moral powers.” There are a number of problems with Rawls’ political conception of justice. The greatest of these is the issue of what entities are represented in the Original Position, and as such are considered to have rights under the basic structure. This is the major problematic aspect of Rawls’ conception of political justice because it assumes that the only entities which involve themselves in society, or are forced to be involved in society, are humans with “the two moral powers.” This is patently untrue. Society forces its rules upon not only those with “the two moral powers” but also on those without them. This includes not just humans who lack one or both of these powers, for whatever reason, be it developmental disability or the result of an accident, but also animals which are ruled by human law. This paper will argue that entities, specifically any animal, human or otherwise, should be considered under a political conception of justice if they are part of and contribute to the society that holds that conception of justice.
Rawls' description of the workings of the Original Position is roughly as follows. It is a method of determining what the members a society would rationally and reasonably agree to as fair in terms of a political conception of justice. The agreement is to be entered into by “free and equal persons” and “threats of force and coercion, deception and fraud, and so on must be ruled out[p15, Rawls].” He also introduces the idea of the “veil of ignorance,” under which the parties negotiating in the Original Position are unaware of the social position, ethnic group, gender or various other traits of themselves and of those they represent. Although he says that those represented are assumed to be endowed with “various native endowments such as strength and intelligence, all within the normal range,” he does not specify what we can consider “the normal range,” which is part of what the problem is in the first place. Because Justice as Fairness would be chosen above other political conceptions of justice under the Original Position it is a conception of justice that is superior to the other options.
There are a number of aspects of Rawls' ideal theory that are important to the scope of this paper. The first is the idea of society as a fair system of cooperation over time from one generation to the next. The Rawlsian idea of social cooperation has three primary components:
1)It is not merely coordination among people such as in an authoritarian state.
2)It includes terms that are fair and would be reasonably accepted by the participants, such as reciprocity.
3)It is to the rational advantage of those participating.
If we look at this in terms of who is represented, as noted above, we find what Rawls leaves out. We see that he includes those who are able to cooperate, that is those who are able to agree to a conception of justice that will benefit those who can agree to a conception of justice. Given that there are those entities which fall outside of this scope and yet fall within the laws of said society, such as animals or those humans who simply lack the two moral powers, we see the beginnings of the problem.
To a large extent this problem is inherent in nearly all political theory; this is certainly the case in the Western tradition, excepting some strains of utilitarianism such as more recent work by Singer and others. In this tradition anything not considered fully human, which at one time included women, people of color and children, is considered only of derivative value, or of value only insomuch as they were of value to those considered fully human. Generally the range of entities considered human has expanded over time, but it is still the fully-humanness that determines what rights, privileges and protections an entity receives. Rawls includes in his conception of humanness those with the two moral powers; these are the capacity for a sense of justice and a capacity for a conception of the good. However, the goal should not be to expand humanity to everything deserving justice, but simply to involve those things in justice.
The problem with Rawls’ Original Position is not just that it is restricted to specific entities, it is this combined with the fact that those negotiating in the Original Position are self interested that causes problems. If we assume self interestedness and assume that the entities which can enter into the Original Position are limited, in Rawls’ case by the possession of the two moral powers, then we come up against a situation where any entity not represented in the Original Position is considered to have only derivative value in the resulting conception of political justice, meaning they are of no value in and of themselves but only as a means for others or because the comprehensive belief system of some group represented in the Original Position considers them to be valuable. We see this in Rawls in that he gives no justification for the protection of those entities outside those represented in the Original Position. Because of this we have a result that I would find terribly unjust, that any entity not represented in the Original Position has no protections except those that entities which are included in the Original Position chose to give them.
This becomes a problem further because the goods of those entities which are represented in the Original Position differ by group or individual, and because the comprehensive systems which those groups or individuals adhere to give differing amount of value to entities not included in the Original Position, down to no value at all. If there exists a comprehensive system which gives no value to those entities which are not included in the Original Position then individuals which adhere to said comprehensive system can make a compelling argument that the system of political justice allows them to treat entities not represented in the Original Position in whatever way they may wish, including torture and killing said entities, because to stop the individual from acting as such would violate their rights, even assuming that the entity acted upon has no derivative value for other entities represented in the Original Position.
For example, If I am represented in the Original Position then I am given rights and allowed to pursue my goods. If I have a comprehensive system wherein torturing animals is a good, say as a religious rite, then the government which results from the two principles must allow me to torture animals to at least some extent. This is because of the second principle under which the difference principle says that if there is a possible state of distribution of goods where the goods of the most advantaged are increased then the goods of the least advantaged must be maximized. Practically speaking this means that the political institutions must be put together in such a way that even if the majority of people think that no one should be able to torture cats, their goods, or their comprehensive system in this case, must be forwarded in such a way so as to allow me some of my good, cat torturing.
What this means is that it is not only limited to cats, I can include in my goods the damaging of any entity of which I am allowed ownership. So any animal or plant or even, because they were not represented in the Original Position, people who do not have the capacity for moral development. So a sociopath or someone who is developed or incapacitated such that they have little to no rational ability are also not represented by the Original Position and as such are not considered by the basic structure. This lack of protection means that such a person is fair game for whatever treatment society wishes to heap upon them, perhaps as a medical guinea pig or as slave. This differs little from many older political systems but in the extent of entities to which protection is extended. For hundreds of years blacks in America were held as slaves with the justification being that they were not mentally fit to live as free people. Similarly, women have historically held, and in many places now hold, a position subordinate to men on similar rationale. Rawls’ conception of political justice does away with the subordination of women in theory, though not necessarily in practice, a topic outside the scope of this paper.
To give an existing wrong for which there is no provision in Rawls’ conception of political justice we need only look to the practice of factory farming. As I write this there are an enormous number of animals being treated in a way which if a human was subjected to it would be considered inhumane in the extreme. But Rawls’ conception of political justice gives no protection for these poor creatures. One could argue that they are not a part of political society and thus do not deserve inclusion in a conception of political justice, but this returns us to the situation of the sociopath or developmentally disabled. They are necessarily a part of society because they have been forced into society. They have been born and bred, quite literally, within the milieu of the state and participate society in a real way. Do they not as such deserve real protection and not just derivative value?
One of the aspects of Rawls' theory that is less than thoroughly covered is that of individuals whom are in a state where they are not able to exercise the two moral power. This may seem a minor point, applicable to only children and those who have the mental problems that sometimes accompany an advanced age. Rawls' does touch on the case of children. In the case of children they are to be considered future citizens, and raised and treated as such. It isn't clear exactly what is meant in this case, but in regards to education Rawls explains that children are to be educated such that they are aware of their political rights. In regards to the family and children Rawls notes that “the principles of justice also impose constraints on the family on behalf of children who are society's future citizens and have claims as such.” Here we can see that entities which lack the two moral powers, children, are protected under the principles of justice. If this is true then there is not in general an argument against having entities which lack the two moral powers have representation in the Original Position. Were this not the case then the principles of justice would not apply to children except insofar as they have derivative value.
One could argue that this application of the principles of justice, even in a limited form, to children could not extend to other entities which lack the two moral powers. Under this objection children are included because they will at some point in the future possess the two moral powers, or they have the potential to possess the two moral powers. The first problem with this argument is that it would only extend to children who we know will make it to adulthood. If a child had a disease which was known to be deadly before said child had possession of the two moral powers then that child would not be represented in the Original Position and would thus not be considered under the principles of justice. It seems exceptionally cruel to treat an already sick child as less than human and not deserving of consideration in a just manner. Most people would agree with this and say that the principles of justice can be extended to children, regardless of their potential development of the two moral powers.
There is a further case, which has been mentioned in brief above, that of the elderly person who is no longer possessed of the two moral power. In this case we can make no argument that they have the potential to develop the two moral powers as we did with the child. It can be argued that because these people were at one time possessed of the two moral powers then they are represented in the Original Position and are thus considered by the principles of justice. I certainly accept this argument. In both of the previous arguments we see that we are willing to admit for inclusion under the principles of justice of entities which lack the two moral powers, it is a small step to apply this to a broad class of entities which Rawls did not consider to be represented in the Original Position, specifically animals.
There are a number of possible ways to allow for the intrinsic value of those entities not represented in Rawls’ Original Position. One of these ways would be to include them as full parties represented in the Original Position and thus having them share the full protection of the two principles of justice. This has the drawback of being too inclusive. We cannot expect a mouse to have the same rights and privileges as a person who has full capabilities for rational thought and it is absurd to say that a mouse should be able to hold political office. However, if we accept that all entities should be considered to be covered by the two principles of justice then we would have to allow for mice or rabbits or dogs to hold office, or at least structure society such that their opportunity to hold offices is supported. It doesn't seem that we can expect reasonable parties to agree to be ruled by animals. This option seems out.
A second option is to represent them in the Original Position but not to give them the full two principles of justice. It would be reasonable to say that while not including all rights into the lesser conception of justice we should include some rights. It can be reasonably assumed that even those entities without the two moral powers would consider the right to life to be necessary, as would they consider the right to not have gross bodily harm inflicted upon them. Further, we can say that it would be possible to include them in calculations under the difference principle The reasoning for this is that we know that these entities participate in society and we know that they have goods which they pursue, though not in the form of a rational life plan, and so we know that if they had a choice of distribution and they behaved rationally then they would choose the difference principle, for the same reasons that Rawls gives for those entities he includes in the Original Position. This would result in a protection of those entities not included in the Original Position by Rawls and would not lead to conundrums such as whether a mouse or rabbit should hold office. I’ll admit some influence from Nozick on this point, as he recommends that the principle of utility might be used in regards to animals in a political state; but, the argument against the utility principle in Justice as Fairness give reason for people to choose the difference principle, so why not for those other entities not included?
It might be argued that this arrangement still puts those entities not represented in Rawls Original Position at a distinct disadvantage, and I do not disagree. There are a number of entities left out wholly, such as animals which are not a part of society at all, plants, and inanimate objects. The point here is not to perfect the theory of justice as fairness, but to make it more fair. We can look back to the case of factory farming for an example of how this would be more fair. The cows, or whatever animals are farmed, will be included in the political conception of justice and the calculations of the difference principle. In this case we would find that we could not, most likely, allow the death and mistreatment of the animal as an acceptable outcome for the good of someone eating meat. This would hold in other cases as well, such as for the sociopath or the developmentally disabled. In addition, it might be the case that nature would be preserved as habitat for animals, or, if we wanted to include nature in general in our calculation, nature would be protected in and of itself, though it is not totally clear that this would be the case. The last of the suggestions would clearly bring up issues far to complex to cover in a short paper, but it should be left open for consideration.
A major objection to the argument in this paper is that under it we would be forced to included entities such as corn or wheat or other plants which are included in human society in a way similar to farmed animals. This is a difficult objection to deal with because neither plants nor non-human animals are possessed of the two moral powers and yet we see the inclusion of plants within a conception of justice as being basically absurd. No one wants to argue that my spider plant deserves consideration in political conceptions of justice. There are two possible responses to this objection, the first is the more acceptable. We should exclude plants, and even some lesser animals because animals have the ability to pursue their good in an active way as opposed to a purely reactive way. For example, if one watches a cat it is clear that the cat has an idea of what it is doing when it chases birds. It does not follow a simplistic plan wherein it simply reacts to the presence or absence of sunlight, it creatively chooses the route by which it will attack the bird. It is because of these two reasons that we can include animals and not plants.
Alternatively, we can argue that this is not in fact an objection, but a natural outgrowth of the theory. Though we may find it absurd to argue that corn has rights, the majority of people alive today find it absurd for people to argue that animals have rights. If it is the case that this argument requires that we include plants in our political conception of justice then, assuming that the argument holds, could we not say that we should do so. In the same way that the arguments in Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women were argued against because they would extend rights to animals, sould we not say that it is in fact our notion of what is absurb that is flawed and not the argument herein?
An additional argument against this position might be that including entities which lack the two moral powers will denigrate the position of those whom Rawls includes in the Original Position. On the surface this seems to be a fair objection, but in fact it is just another way of saying that said entities lack moral standing. Does it denigrate the position of men to argue that women have rights? Or the position of Whites to argue the same of people of color? Further, It is good to remember here that what we have shown here is that animals should be protected by a political conception of justice, not that they have equal moral standing in a comprehensive moral conception of justice. Or put another way, If I light a candle while under a spotlight it does not decrease the light but increase it. The point is to expand the conception of justice.
The goal is to allow that those entities which lack the two moral powers to be integrated into a just society in a way that is just for those entities, not just for the entities possessed of the two moral powers. Because those entities without the two moral powers have different abilities and need there need to be a different standard applied to them, one that is not the same as that applied to those entities which possess the two moral powers. One way to think of this is as in the feminist conception of equality wherein equality is considered given the differences between the sexes. In this case saying that because men get time off if they get pregnant then it is consistent with equality for women to get time off if they get pregnant. Of course, men cannot get pregnant, so they would never get that time off. Similarly, to say that we will extend the benefits of society only to those who are able, theoretically or actually, to participate in the cooperation is misguided because we still force said entities to contribute to society and to follow the rules of society.
I hope I have shown that Rawls’ conception of political justice is lacking and that it can be expanded so as to include more entities within it. I for one cannot countenance a theory of justice which allows for torture and murder simply because of reasons of rationality or moral ability. The inclusion of those entities not possessing those traits can be included in such a way as shown above without denigrating those previously included in the Original Position.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Zeus and the Cats

Ethics can be seen as one of the most important fields of philosophical inquiry. Unlike most others, it is intended to guide our actions in life and tell us what is and is not correct. In metaethics we discuss the terms of the debate in ethics. How we can discuss ethics, what we can know and how we can know it about ethical or unethical behavior. One of the most important issues in metaethics is the ontological status of moral norms, are there objective, “real,” moral norms or are norms subjective if existent at all? This paper will argue that there is no reason to claim the objective moral norms exist because there is no successful argument for objective moral norms. An important part of this argument is that supporters of objective moral norms must positively establish their existence and have not.
The existence of the specific moral norms of our society is contingent upon our history. That is to say the normative claims about specific actions that we may or may not choose to take, killing, stealing etc., is contingent upon the historical path of our society. Had we a different history then we would have different norms. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that different societies with different histories have different specific moral norms. One could argue that because of the contingency of moral norm upon history there is a lack of objective moral norms. But this would be too quick of a conclusion, for it is entirely possible, and if they exist it is likely, that objective moral norms are not specific in nature, but general. For example, in some places it is not polite to burp after dinner, in others it is considered a compliment. It may be that the manifestation of the norm is contingent, and there is a deeper moral norm that says one should respect one's host. So the argument that the historical contingency of specific moral norms indicates that there is a lack of objective moral norms is a weak argument at best.
There is however a strong argument against objective moral norms. That is that there is no reason that we would accept their existence if it were not for historical reasons. Put simply, were we never made aware of the idea of the moral norms of our society, be they general or specific, we would have no reason to believe that they existed nor that they were objective. To illustrate this point let me use an analogy. There are likely no people who believe in the objective reality of the god Zeus. This has nothing to do with his actual ontological status and everything to do with our history. Were the Roman empire not to have adopted Christianity as its religion in the fifth century then there is a fair likelihood that there would still exist today people who believe in the literal existence of the god Zeus. In the same way, we have inherited not only the specific moral norms which we have today, but also the idea of objective moral norms, from our social history, and more specifically from Plato. It seems clear, given that there are a great number of philosophers who argue against the existence of objective moral norms, that there could certainly be a society that lacks any belief in objective moral norms, just as our society lacks any belief in the literal existence of Zeus.
It should be noted here that none of the previous arguments are necessarily arguments against the existence of moral norms; it is entirely possible that the historically contingent belief in objective morals matches up with the actual existence of objective morals. One could argue that this is the case with a number of our other beliefs. For instance, the fact that we believe cats to exist is contingent upon our history, specifically the part of history where we determined that cats exist by seeing cats. However, this case differs from the case of objective moral norms in that we cannot posit the existence of any kind of cat that exists in the same way as objective moral norms and observe said cat in the real world. We could argue, and people have, for an objective ideal cat, similar to the Platonic cat form, but this seems to be putting the cart before the horse. We are back again at the fact that the only reason that we would argue for the existence of a cat form is because of historical contingency. How is this different from my knowing that a real cat exists?
There are two possible answers here. The first is that it is not different. Both are obviously cases of historically contingent knowledge and are thus equally valid. But ,given the example of the belief in Zeus' literal existence as historically contingent knowledge I think that this is an unsatisfying answer, unless we wish to put Zeus and cats in the same ontological category. The second answer is that in the case of the cat I have an objective experience of cats. That is, I have seen, heard, touch, and, unfortunately, smelled cats. Whereas I have never had any direct experience with objective moral norms, only with specific moral norms, which we have established above as clearly not objective. The point here is not to prove that there are no moral norms, but to establish that we only believe in them for historically contingent reasons that differ from those historically contingent reasons that we believe in things like cats. Therefore, objective moral norms need not exist for us to have a belief in them, indeed, neither do cats. It could be the case that I believe in cats and have never experienced one, but merely heard stories. And if it is the case that we can believe that something exists for reasons only of historical contingency, such as the existence of Zeus, then we must marshal a stronger positive argument than mere assertion of existence. From this we can see that an argument for objective moral norms must not simply refute the general arguments against moral norms, but must positively establish their existence. In fact, the only reason that this is not more recognized, as it would be were someone refuting arguments against the existence of Zeus or unicorns, is because the belief in objective moral norms is so culturally embedded in our society.
Unfortunately, the usual tack of those in favor of the existence of objective moral norms is mostly to simply argue against the naysayers and assert that because people believe in moral then they must exist. Shafer-Landau is an exception to this, he both argues against the negative view and for the positive view. In his piece Ethics as Philosophy: A Defense of Ethical Nonnaturalism he begins by laying out his argument as follows:
1.Ethics is a species of inquiry; philosophy is its genus.
2.A species inherits the essential traits of its genus
3.One essential trait of philosophy is the realistic status of its truths
4.Therefore moral realism is true.
He takes both one and two as “extremely plausible – so plausible that [he] will proceed here by assuming, rather than arguing for, their truth.”[p62] Herein lies a major error. That is to say, unless we assume realism, Shafer-Landau must first show that all species in a genus have a trait before he can show that that trait is essential. Moreover, to say that philosophy has essential traits beyond the obvious and trivial needs to be supported. It certainly makes clear that he is a realist, but it does not advance his argument. To build a convincing argument he must build from a more solid base.
His argument is problematic in two ways. The first is that Ethics is a species of philosophy not necessarily so but contingently so. It is a historical aspect of the genus philosophy that makes ethics a species thereof. That is to say, it is only because the great Greeks included it, centrally in fact, in their study of philosophy that we consider it a part of our philosophy. It could also be considered a species under the genus theology, which talks about things related to God or gods, and thus we could say that ethics is related to God. It is only when we assume moral realism that we can say that ethics is a proper species of the genus philosophy. This is the case for of a number of reasons. The first reason is that if we allow for proper species of a genus then we must have a method of determining what those species are. The only method for doing this other than relying on historical contingency is to determine whether the species has the essential trait of the genus. In this case we see that if an essential trait of philosophy is the realistic status of its truths then it must be shown that ethics possesses this trait before we can determine whether or not ethics is a proper species of the genus philosophy.
The second though related problem with Shafer-Landau's argument is that the second premise is not true. Species do not necessarily inherit anything from their genus. Shafer-Landau seems again to be assuming a sort of categorical realism. For as noted above, we can only stake out the extent of a genus with knowledge of the species.
In response to the negative arguments he brings up two interesting points, but ultimately his points fail to rescue his argument from the problems in the earlier discussion on objective moral norms. The essence of his argument is that arguing that disagreement on the existence of objective moral norms is no more an argument against their existence than disagreement on other issues, say whether there are cats, is an argument against the existence of cats. This is obviously correct, as if it were not, the whole history of philosophical discourse would have been for naught as the mere act of disagreement, all too common among philosophers, would indicate the lack of any truth behind any position. Again, I note that this in no way establishes the existence of objective moral beliefs, it is the equivalent of saying “but, you cannot prove that Zeus doesn't exist.”
He further argues that disagreement also does not rule out epistemological access to objective moral norms, assuming they exist. This is an important point because if objective moral norms existed and we had no epistemological access to them they would be about as useful as a planet full of unicorns five galaxies away, which is to say not useful at all. His primary point is that our agreement or disagreement on things now does not necessarily mean that we will never have epistemological access to them at some point. One example of this is the existence of planets around other worlds. Prior to ten or fifteen years ago we had no epistemological access about the existence thereof. And people disagreed. Yet, now we do know where the planets are and how big and such, equivalent to knowing what the actual objective moral norms are, despite the prior disagreement. But this is no argument for the existence of said norms, only that if they exist it is possible that someday we might know them.
Ultimately, the arguments in favor of the existence of objective moral norms are weak and generally, as pointed out before, focused around arguing against the disproofs. Of those norms. If one merely argues against the disproofs of something, one can never hope to prove the existence thereof. I have shown herein the errors inherent in the present arguments for objective moral norms.