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.