Let these two asses be set to grind corn!

In The Book of Lies, the diabolically brilliant occultist Alesteir Crowley once wrote:

“Explain this happening!”

“It must have a natural cause!”
“It must have a supernatural cause!”

Let these two asses be set to grind corn!

In the original, there is a sort of grouping bracket connecting the second and third lines lines and pointing at the fourth. Crowley was asserting, in both lucid and poetic terms, that to the understanding mind the distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” is meaningless, an argument conducted about language categories with no predictive value.

Alfred Korzybski would have agreed with him. The founder of General Semantics built his powerful discipline on the insight that “The map is not the territory; the word is not the thing defined”. This matters because, too often, we fall into dispute over features of our maps, blithely ignoring the territory underneath.

Ever since reading the Book of Lies, I have considered “Let these two asses be set to grind corn!” to be the most appropriate thing to say when two people or factions have fallen into an argument that is strictly about map rather than territory. It does the job just as well as a more reasoned argument, I find. The imagery makes both sides look absurd, which can be a much more effective way than logic to jolt them out of their fixed categories.

I was reminded of this recently in connection with the longstanding argument between natural-law and consequentialist libertarians. Like the more general and historically much older argument between virtue ethicists and utilitarians, the dispute is interminable because it rests upon a false distinction from which nonsense follows. Utilitarians don’t get that virtue ethics is an evolved tactic to prevent destructive short-termism in one’s utility calculations; virtue ethicists don’t get that without a consequential check on the outcomes of “virtue” it rapidly becomes sterile or perverse.

Similarly, “human rights” is properly understood not as some mystical intrinsic property of humans ordained by God or natural law or whatever, but as the minimum set of premises from which it is possible to construct a society that isn’t consequentially hell on earth. But carving those in stone – using the language of rights and absolutes — is functional, too; it’s a way of protecting them from erosion by short-term expediency. For the best outcome, we must reason like consequentialists but speak and legislate like natural-law thinkers.

The universe doesn’t care about the human distinction between a-priori and consequentialist arguments; that’s all map. The territory is what people do, the actual choices they express in action. Thus…

“Human rights are founded on natural law!”
“Human rights are justified by consequential considerations!”
Let these two asses be set to grind corn!

44 thoughts on “Let these two asses be set to grind corn!

  1. I think thats all being stated from the consequentalist perspective, and only holds true from such.

    There’s no reason a consequentalist should be bothered by the natural law philosophical morals if it lines up in terms of consequence.

    From the philosophical view of the natural-law guy, the actual ‘stuff’ is different, not just syntax or mapping.

    As for futility, it may be axe grinding for the natural-law guy too, unless you consider that the means they intend to accomplish may not be adherence to the moral, but the intention beneath in and of itself.

    Could be right or wrong, but I can’t consider the issue rubbish.

  2. “the minimum set of premises from which it is possible to construct a society that isn’t consequentially hell on earth”

    I view a ‘right’ as “an aspect of individual sovereignty that may not legitimately be arbitrarily preempted by another”.

    There is nothing mystical or magical there, no ‘intrinsic’ anything (I tend to cock an eye when I hear that word being used – eg. “intrinsic value”).

    ‘Rights’ are a human abstraction, a figment of our imagination, that (as you point out) are crafted to help us ‘lubricate’ our interactions. When this concept is extended outside our species, its meaningfulness seems to break down.

  3. >I think thats all being stated from the consequentalist perspective, and only holds true from such

    Ulitimately, there is nothing but “the consequentialist perspective”. It’s not just that no other position is right, it’s that no other position is even possible. For how else do you test a theory, ethical or any other kind, except by observing consequences?

  4. I think the archtypical natural-law philosophy would be that your base moral has no logical justification. It is the abstract godlike force. Logic is the adherence to that base moral for each specific case.

    But I think your argument, which I don’t disagree with, still makes the issue legitimate and not rubbish.

  5. >I think the archtypical natural-law philosophy would be that your base moral has no logical justification. It is the abstract godlike force. Logic is the adherence to that base moral for each specific case.

    You can’t get there from here. Because when you present your “abstract godlike force”, the human question will be “what’s in it for me?” That is, humans will demand consequential reasons for buying the premise of your moral system. If they don’t get any (e.g. “You’ll live forever in heaven!”), they’ll ignore you.

  6. Incidentally, Lee Harris has a nice section in his book “Civilization and its Enemies” about the evolution of ‘rights’ – he starts with a big caveman and a little caveman that has just caught a rabbit, and builds up from there. It’s really quite enlightening.

  7. This seems to me to be a convenient after the fact explanation. Where do rights really come from? Ultimately from the point of the sword.

    It is not so much:

    “as the minimum set of premises from which it is possible to construct a society that isn’t consequentially hell on earth.”

    but rather, “Rulers, grant us these rights or we will make your life a hell on earth.” That is to say, rights are not formed, generally, from a historical retrospective, but rather from a populace reaching its breaking point, and saying “we are not going to take it anymore.”

    That seems to be a far more accurate representation of where rights really come from, whether the declaration of Arbroath, the Magna Carta, the English Civil War, the French revolution, the various Russian revolutions and so forth.

    The one interesting historical exception seems to be the American constitutional process. In their debates there was quite a surprising amount of historical retrospective, especially regarding the classical empires and republics. However, still ultimately, it was a room full of natural rightists, students of the enlightenment, looking to define what they thought was the right utopian society, with an oblique reference to the practical realities of history. To them, rights were self-evident, not derived from the human experience of history.

    I also note you used the word “minimum”. Of course their is no historical precedent to accept that the set of rights we have are minimum in any mathematical sense. On the contrary, which rights exist and which don’t are largely accidents of history rather than some grand plan. However, I understand why you put it in there, because without it, your description descends us into chaos. “Give us a right to healthcare, or we will make your life hell”, “give us the right to a living wage, or we will make your life hell”, “give us the right to be free from second hand tobacco smoke, or we will make your life a living hell.”

    Your definition of rights opens all that up, and is distinctly unsatisfying, since, I think for most people, rights conveys the general sense of something fundamental, something undeniable.

  8. “Where do rights really come from?”

    Have you satisfied yourself that you know what a ‘right’ is, before you debate its origin?

    Right to life
    Right to a job
    Right to healthcare
    Right to self-preservation
    Right to an education
    Right to liberty

    Are these all ‘rights’, or only some of them? What differentiates the ‘rights’ from the ‘non-rights’? Does that provide you with any insight as to what a ‘right’ actually is? Given that insight, do you think a ‘right’ can be derived from some natural phenomena (like heat), or is it an imaginary abstraction of some sort (like time)?

  9. Dan says:
    > Have you satisfied yourself that you know what a ‘right’ is

    There is clearly no commonly agreed definition of what a “right” is. It is a word with a massive, complex political payload. The common view is simply that it is a fundamental rule that transcends the caprice of the legislator. It is something that belongs to people and is outside of the authority of rulers to override or change. However, that definition begs the question as to what exactly is included under this category. Every vagabond and charlatan wants to toss their agenda onto that pile so they don’t have to actually convince everyone else of its virtue. And so “right” eventually means nothing at all.

  10. Rights are those privileges without which a people refuse to be governed.

  11. > Because when you present your “abstract godlike force”, the human question will be
    > “what’s in it for me?” That is, humans will demand consequential reasons for buying
    > the premise of your moral system. If they don’t get any (e.g. “You’ll live forever in
    > heaven!”), they’ll ignore you.

    Then how do you explain the stoics? What do atheists get out of heroic self-sacrifice? What’s in it for them?

    I believe you’re mostly right, but this falls short. Why do men who do not believe in karma or an afterlife or whatever willingly sacrifice their lives for others?

    Some men adhere to honor for honor’s sake.

  12. “Utilitarians don’t get that virtue ethics is an evolved tactic to prevent destructive short-termism in one’s utility calculations; virtue ethicists don’t get that without a consequential check on the outcomes of “virtue” it rapidly becomes sterile or perverse.”

    Hmmm. This sounds like something Henry Hazlitt wrote in The Foundations of Morality. http://mises.org/books/foundationsofmorality.pdf (Has this book been an influence on you?).

    Basically, for example, isn’t it crazy that some people think suffering pain for no good reason, and doing it with a stiff upper lip, without any good reason, is somehow virtuous? And he explains that first, suffering pain for a good reason, for something that has a big payoff, of course, worths if from the utilitarian point of view. Then, just like soldiers are trained for battle or athletes train for competition, you could train yourself by suffering pain for no good reason to be able to suffer pain better, so that when / if the time comes to suffer pain for a good reason, for a big enough payoff, you can do it. Makes sense. And of course if you train to suffer 4X pain with a stiff upper lip, that’s an extra bit of training, because then probably, when you need to, you can suffer 5X without a stiff upper lip, with moaning and complaining. Makes perfect sense. I suppose this is mainly what you mean?

    I agree that large parts of virtue ethics can be explained this way. But the whole pleasure/pain basis ignores the most important thing we can learn from Pre-Modern thinkers, or from Buddhism, even from the more intelligent kinds of Christianity: the Paradox of Hedonism ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_hedonism ) which basically comes from the problem of the ego. This sort of stuff is called perennial philosophy exactly because you can find traces of it in everywhere, except Modern and Post-Modern philosophy, sadly. If you want to take a – kinda – scientific look at it, Transpersonal Psychology ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transpersonal_psychology ) or Positive Psychology ( http://www.happinesshypothesis.com/ ).

    Basically, the problem of the ego and the paradox of hedonism means we do not become happy by pursuing the satisfaction of our desires. It doesn’t mean we should be ascethics, but we must not put our own satisfaction into the center of our efforts. We must put someone or something else, for no other reason that we can blissfully forget about ourselves (see: Csíkszentmihályi’s “flow”, that’s one of the many ways of forgetting about ourselves), because, as my Lama said it, if you think about yourself, you will have problems, if you think about others, you will have tasks or challenges. And of course having problems is worse than having tasks or challenges.

    This is why the whole idea underlying idea of modernity: the Kantian-Millian idea of autonomy is wrong: we don’t get happy by extending our autonomy but by voluntarily sacrificing at least parts of it. Happiness doesn’t come from feeding the ego but from getting rid of as much ego as we can, by trying to see ourselves as unimportant as possible, or in other words, trying to feel as little separation between ourselves and others.

    And all real virtues are about reducing the ego, about reducing our self-importance or the separation between the world and other people and the self. Take ESR’s (probably) favourite virtue, sheepdog-courage and it’s opposite, when someone’s so scared that he freezes in place. Being frozen in place means the world, the situation around you feels so dangerous that you basically want to shut down the connection between the world and the self and want to turn inwards and exclude the world. And this is basically a strong separation between the self and the world. And why do freeze? Because you think your skin is very important. And on the other hand, courage means you manage to maintain enough connection with the world to act f.e. to fight. And sheepdog-courage means it’s your connection with (love for) the “sheep” that helps you in maintaining this connection with the situation. And thus the utilitarian result (saving the sheep) is just one part of this thing, the other part is that it’s all about keeping your ego small, keeping the separation between you and the world and you and other people fairly small, and learning that you aren’t very important. Which means being happy.

    This is the basis of my philosophy – which was the basis of many Pre-Modern philosophies and religions, this is the “perennial philosophy” – and thus this is the basis of my political philosophy as well.

    This is my problem with mainstream Libertarianism: too much focus on individual desire and autonomy.

    Nevertheless, Libertarian political goals are still acceptable for me, just not their explanation. I’d rather put it this way: if everything is regulated, how are we supposed to develop individual conscience: refusing to do something that’s allowed, but we regard it wrong? If state-enforced welfare outcompetes individual charity then giving is without compassion and receiving is without gratitude. And without conscience, compassion and gratitude, just what sort of base, lowly, ignoble, and ultimately: unhappy creatures will we become in the long run?

    It’s really horrifying if take a look at it this way. Over here, our salary is basically pocket money, we are free to spend it on little treats, because the state takes care of the important stuff, thus, we do not learn to voluntarily limit our desires when it comes to money, to save, to make a long-term budget, we are free to buy as much little treats as we can every month, thus, it teaches us to live our desires to the full until we hit an external limitation, like, our pocket is empty. We do not learn to care about others because the state does it. We do not give with compassion and we do not receive with gratitude. We do not develop conscience because everything that’s allowed is usually ethical and OK, thus we must only take a look at what’s allowed and can pursue our own desires within the framework of what’s allowed. Thus, the only limitation on or desires, the only check on our egos is external ones, the rules, the emptiness of the pocket, this sort of stuff. In Holland your employer even deducts 8% of your salary and gives it to you in May so that you have money for a holiday, thus, you don’t even learn to save up for a holiday.

    This, of course, has a horrible effect on the character: we completely forget how to limit our egos, how to limit our desires, we are becoming slaves of our own desires. This trains us to care about nothing else but pursuing the satisfaction of our egos until we hit an external barrier. (And of course hitting an external barrier is always frustrating!) We lose the real freedom, the most precious kind of freedom, the internal one, the freedom from the internal tyrant, the ego.

    So I can agree with the Libertarian political goals, but not with the Libertarian language. Libertarian language seems to be a Modern language, as the language of modernity is the language of celebrating our own wretched egos. Time to get Pre-Modern.

    This is why I’m getting more and more interested in Distributism, Distributism seems like Libertarianism placed in a Pre-Modern context. Distributism is surprisingly intelligent, it’s not some sort of “technophobia” as some people think it is, take a look at their ideas about an ideal healthcare system and tell me it’s not the best one you ever saw: http://distributism.blogspot.com/2008/12/health-care-system-and-guilds.html

  13. Universal rights – natural, human or other – are based on a strange inversion of reality. Basically, what we an observe in the real world is that people act. Thus, it makes sense to formulate your ethical system as “do” and “don’t”. “Do not kill”, for example.

    Universal rights means turning this active voice into a passive one: ignore reality, which means people act, and imagine up all sorts of metaphysical attributes of people that cannot be deduced from observation, and deduce from the that people are passive “rights-bearers”, which means f.e. “a right to life”, which means “you are not to be killed”: a passive statement, not an active one.

    It’s blindingly obvious what’s wrong with it: a tiger or a hurricane won’t give a fuck about your right to life. Only other human people will. And what will they do when they do give a fuck about it? They won’t kill you. And will probably punish those who do. So why not just do the obvious, throw away the passive voice and use the active one: “do not kill”, as it is what a right to life ultimately means anyway?

    I have no idea why this bullshit got so popular. I have only a hypothesis: sometime around the Age of Enlightenment some coffe-shop philosophe, probably under the effect of pot (f.e. Hegel loved pot, but of course he lived much later) must have thought: ah, this “do not kill” stuff just sounds so booooringly quasi-religious. We are the cool and hip folks and we don’t want to sound like that bore of a bishop, do we? Why not imitate the currently hip and cool thing: the natural sciences, and try to make it sound “scientific”: tigers have tails, objects have gravity, and people have a right to life? Bah.

    A right makes sense only as a privilege: you rent a flat, you have a right (privilege) to use it and others don’t. This what it originally meant. As an adult and sane citizen, you have a right (privilege) to vote, others don’t have, etc. But universal rights? C’mon. There are only universal taboos and duties, for the above reasons.

  14. I was thinking a little more about my comments relating to the historical origins of rights. One thing I did not say, which perhaps I should have, was that oftentimes the sword is not wielded for the rights of the sword holder but of others unable to hold the sword. For example the emancipation of slavery in the British Empire was the result of the efforts of someone who was not a slave, but was horrified at the concept that civilized Englishmen should hold men in bondage. So too, the liberation of children from child labor. Another important part is the liberation of women from being the chattel of men, as they were for most of human history (and still are in many parts of the world) to being fully free and liberated human beings, though it was mainly women who achieved that on their own.

    I mention this because it seems relevant to this discussion. Eric, correct me if I am wrong, but I think this blog post was in part motivated by the comment thread in the previous discussing animals and intrinsic rights. Of course animals do not wield a sword on their own behalf, yet the story of the twentieth century in this regard is the story of people choosing to stand up for the rights of animals, whether to be free from cruelty, or humane farming, or to be liberated from farming altogether. It may be that animals do not have intrinsic rights today, but perhaps that is because no-one has yet successfully advocated for them. No-one can deny that the story of history is one of a changing meaning of what is encompassed by “fundamental rights”, and the definition in civilized society is expanding not contracting.

    Frankly, I think 100 years from now we will not eat animals and we will look back on it as a barbaric practice. But I could be wrong.

    My personal view on this is simply this: I think killing creatures is a bad thing. However, I think the fundamental flaw in the vegetarian argument is that there is little if any evidence that vegetarianism kills less creatures than animal farming. All those fields of soybeans are full of small creatures that are chopped up when the harvesting equipment comes through. Whatever diet you choose, animals die to make the food available to you, whether bean burger of beef burger. In a sense, if you wish to minimize the death to meal ratio, we are wise to eat big animals which produce multiple meals. So perhaps we need to start up whale hunting again. In the meantime, cow seems a fair compromise.

    We are animals, we need to eat, however, we are also ethical creatures and we need to do so in such a way to minimize the suffering and death in our wake. That, for me, is the basis of food ethics.

  15. “There is clearly no commonly agreed definition of what a “right” is.”

    Couldn’t agree more :) I had a personal reason to embark on a voyage to satisfy myself what ‘rights’ were. I naively figured that there might be some consensus out there, but all I could find was “all map, no terrain”, as ESR might say. I decided to start from first principles – with the above thought experiment – taking the scientific “observe, deduce, theorize, repeat” approach. Not because I expected to discover that a ‘right’ was something like an atom, but because I wanted to establish, for myself, what I considered to be a more formalized and functional understanding of rights; and, perhaps more importantly, the manner in which the concept of ‘rights’ has become so corrupted in contemporary political discourse.

    “Every vagabond and charlatan wants to toss their agenda onto that pile so they don’t have to actually convince everyone else of its virtue.”

    Indeed. This is the dreadful corruption I wish to dissect.

    “And so “right” eventually means nothing at all.”

    Tragically so, at least in the minds of many that are hopelessly bewildered by this orgy of ‘rights-mongering’. The danger of this, apart from its ‘soullessness’ is that these very people are then mentally disarmed in the fight over legitimacy in government, and will be of no use in preventing fascism wash over us all.

    There may be no consensus, but that doesn’t mean we can’t figure one out amongst ourselves….and take it from there.

  16. > There is clearly no commonly agreed definition of what a “right” is.

    Sure there is. A right is just a claim you have regarding either your own behaviour or someone else’s behaviour. But there isn’t any commonly agreed way of determining which of these claims has moral validity. It’s true that we very frequently slip into the language of treating rights as moral facts rather than moral claims, but that’s an error, no matter how common it is.

  17. … I should say more precisely – a right is a claim you make regarding either your own liberties or someone else’s obligations.

  18. “a right is a claim you make regarding either your own liberties or someone else’s obligations.”

    I have certainly never encountered this as a ‘commonly agreed’ definition.

    It seems far too weak to me. There is no constraint on the nature of this claim; I could justify slavery as a right in accordance with this definition. Is that the intent?

  19. >Hmmm. This sounds like something Henry Hazlitt wrote in The Foundations of Morality. (Has this book been an influence on you?).

    Nope, never heard of it.

  20. >Some men adhere to honor for honor’s sake.

    Yes, it’s called “secondary reward”. A form of egotism. (A very positive ome.)

  21. One axiom I began with was “a right for one is a right for all”.

    One niggle I had with that axiom was that we can exercise our ‘right to liberty’ to negotiate contracts privately that bestow ‘rights’ – a service contract frex – that are not shared by all. I decided that this was a misuse of the term ‘right’ as it violated my definition with respect to preemption. A better term to use in that example would be that we exercise our ‘right to liberty’ to privately negotiate contracts that define [i]obligations[/i], not ‘rights’.

    Is that a reasonable axiom? Can it be said that there are ‘natural rights’ that some humans have that others do not?

  22. “Ever since reading the Book of Lies, I have considered…”

    Dude, you actually read that whole thing? I followed your link and only managed to stomach maybe a dozen pages of the most impenetrable gibberish I ever saw.

    Does it require a hit of acid?

  23. “I followed your link and only managed to stomach maybe a dozen pages of the most impenetrable gibberish I ever saw.” – read some Derrida, Crowley will almost make sense after that, in comparison :-)))

  24. >I could justify slavery as a right in accordance with this definition.

    People assert all sorts of stupid rights. The European Union has documents enshrining a ‘right to an open future’ and a ‘right to an unaltered genome’. I’m sure people used to think they had a right to keep slaves, since they used to think that slaves had a mental illness when they kept running away (called ‘Drapetomania’).

    Some rights-claims have a reasonable basis, and many don’t. Almost all of them are at least somewhat controversial though, which is why you should define rights as claims rather than as moral facts. Some rights claims have the advantage of being written into the constitution, but as Bush rightly pointed out, it’s just a piece of paper, at least when it comes to determining what’s morally right or wrong. (Disclaimer: I’m not pro-Bush)

  25. >Dude, you actually read that whole thing? I followed your link and only managed to stomach maybe a dozen pages of the most impenetrable gibberish I ever saw.

    The lucid moments are worth it.

    And Crowley is a far more interesting thinker than Derrida :-)

  26. “But universal rights? C’mon. There are only universal taboos and duties, for the above reasons.”

    Perhaps I should elaborate on this one to make it a bit clearer.

    If you have an apartment, and you want to make it clear it’s OK for three people to enter the apartment (a privilege) but it’s not OK for the 6 billion other people to do so it makes sense to wrap your argument around those three people and thus use the passive voice: “you guys have the right to enter it”, instead of using the active voice and making a list of 6 billion names and saying “y’all, do NOT enter it”.

    But when you have one person and you want to explain him not to murder any of the 6 billion people it makes no sense to use the passive voice i.e. to make a list of 6 billion names and say they all have a right to life, you just use the active voice and say “do not kill”.

    Is it clear enough, then, why universal rights make no sense, only universal taboos and duties, and why rights should only be used as privileges of clearly defined groups?

  27. >Some rights-claims have a reasonable basis, and many don’t. Almost all of them are at least somewhat controversial though, which is why you should define rights as claims rather than as moral facts.

    While this may be useful in avoiding the discussion of whether a given claim is a ‘right’, it in its place opens up the debate of whether things called ‘rights’ have moral validity; I think this may be dangerous, as if people are in the habit of calling any more-or-less stupid claim a ‘right’, then it takes the teeth out of claims of, for instance, the ‘right’ to free speech. It has the effect of syntactically lumping in universal rights that all agree on–free speech, etc.–with random claims, which I tend to think is not a good idea.

  28. “I could justify slavery as a right in accordance with this definition.”

    Be careful. It’s one thing to agree in a ground, in a basis, in a foundation upon which people can argue for the rights they thing make sense. It’s a different thing how we build the walls upon this foundation: how we argue for certain specific rights.

    (Or we could just abandon this unreasonable passivism, adopt the natural, active voice and argue for universal taboos and duties instead.)

  29. >While this may be useful in avoiding the discussion of whether a given claim is a ‘right’, it in its place opens up the debate of whether things called ‘rights’ have moral validity;

    I guess I’m trying to suggest that if these things have moral validity, it isn’t because they’re called rights, because there are loads of things called rights which are not actually morally valid claims. Suppose I assert a right to free association, for example. This assertion amounts to a claim that it would be wrong for other people to prevent me from associating with whomever I want to. The validity of this moral claim does not depend on the fact that I’m saying it’s a right.

  30. My definition of rights I think will cover those things that everyone agrees are rights, but not a lot of the other accretions: “Rights are socially, rather than politically, derived rules which have the primary purpose of protecting the individual from the concentrated power of groups, especially the largest, most powerful group – the government.” What you really have isn’t a right to life, or liberty, or freedom of speech, what you have in a right is the claim that others should not violate your life, liberty, freedom of speech, or whatever, backed by social sanctions, which may or may not in turn be backed by legal sanctions, against violators.

  31. You might find “Natural Law or Don’t Put a Rubber on Your Willy” by Robert A. Wilson useful when thinking about these topics http://www.librarything.com/work/2449040 . I always equated rights with power and liberty with privilege. The power is the ability to make choices, and the privilege is to be unmolested while exercising your freedom. I also find it useful to remember that Freedom (the ability to make choices) and Liberty (living with a govt that respects your rights) are variables, not constants.

  32. Wilson’s book is good and so is Rollin’s “The Myth of Natural Rights”; I have read both several times, they are very small, entertaining reads. Wilson’s is the more entertaining. Both are currently out of print, since they used to be published by Loompanics.
    http://www.amazon.com/Myth-Natural-Rights-L-Rollins/dp/1559500077/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1252385598&sr=8-2
    http://www.amazon.com/Natural-Dont-Rubber-Your-Willy/dp/1893626164/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1252386244&sr=1-1

  33. esr:

    And Crowley is a far more interesting thinker than Derrida :-)

    Most likely this is at least partially a result of heavy drug use, but yes, I agree. :-)

    Ultimately, though, I have to agree on your main point: it doesn’t matter whether human rights make sense because of consequentialism or natural law; that they make sense is all you need to know. Legislating from the natural law point of view makes the most sense in the United States, mostly because our founding documents were written by Enlightenment Age thinkers like Jefferson and, thus, are written from the natural law viewpoint.

    Additionally, I agree with your salient point that by writing our legislation from the natural law viewpoint of expediency, especially since it continues to let the Christians think they are (and have been all along) in charge, since it speaks their language of absolutes. ;)

  34. ESR: “For how else do you test a theory, ethical or any other kind, except by observing consequences?”

    That assumes consequentialism. If one is not concerned with consequences, then the “test” of a theory is its logical consistency, either with itself or with previously determined premises.

    “Natural-rights” philosophy has this advantage over consequentialism: one can say something iswrong before it is proven so by results; or in spite of predictions that it will have “good” consequences.

  35. “Natural-rights” philosophy has this advantage over consequentialism: one can say something is wrong before it is proven so by results; or in spite of predictions that it will have “good” consequences.

    Not really. The problem with the concepts of “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “bad” is that they only make sense in light of a given culture. The concepts of “right” and “wrong” from a natural law perspective is that “right” and “wrong” are social norms and social norms only exist within one culture.

    For example, amongst conventional faith-holding mainstream Christian Fundamentalists, polyamory, premarital sex, and so forth are “wrong”. Amongst neopagans, polyamory is generally accepted and quite common even. Probably few neopagans would perceive it as “wrong,” especially considering that polyamory is actually a part of some neopagan traditions, particularly amongst Tantric groups. Though moral relativism is far more common amongst neopagan thought. (I hate that term because Christian Fundamentalists have co-opted it to mean “evil” or “devoid of morals,” which it clearly does not mean.)

    Which is it? “Right” or “wrong”? The answer to that question will differ from individual to individual and culture to culture.

  36. > Amongst neopagans

    Apologies, a trifle off-topic, but I couldn’t help it. Are any of these something like what you mean when you talk about neopaganism?

    Presumably there’s an explanation for why people find it necessary to pursue the invention of belief systems to the degree evident in that wikipedia article?

    Without meaning to cause offence (particularly to you, Eric), I can’t help but see sincere belief in name-a-brand-of-neopaganism in a pretty similar way that I see sincere Christianity or Islam. I have no doubt about the sincerity (and I suppose really no severe Dawkins-like opposition to it) – I just can’t see the need for and don’t understand why people bother with assuming these beliefs. (By which I mean I do not see the utility of the belief systems themselves, separate to the “community” benefits one might expect from associating with other individuals around those systems).

    To put it another way, why is such a belief system necessary or helpful? What questions does it answer for people?

    ESR says: Read this for explanation.

  37. ” The problem with the concepts of “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “bad” is that they only make sense in light of a given culture. ”

    Except that there is a common subset of values so common to most advanced cultures that we can actually dare to call them “objective”, in the sense that they are intersubjective. (Of course, all objectivity is intersubjectivity.)

    Read this:

    http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/lewis/abolition1.htm

  38. @Tom, that’s pretty accurate, but it’s entirely besides my point. I only used Christians and neopagans as examples because I’m very familiar with the morals and ethics of both groups. If you’re interested in neopaganism beyond reading a Wikipedia article and ESR’s explanation of why he considers himself neopagan, check out Isaac Bonewits’ site or Wren and Fritz’ site. Lots of information on both of those sites for neopagans or even just the merely curious.

  39. >And this is why I am implacably hostile to Christianity in particular and the other Zoroastrian-offshoot religions in general. [...] They create huge chasms of disconnection between us and our Gods, and then tell us that is inevitable because we are `sinful’. They associate the spiritual domain with so much dogma, cant and irrational garbage that anyone with a functioning brain has to either live in hypocrisy or reject the whole package — and then wonder why life is so empty. [...] They warp the language of spiritual discourse; they exert a sinister gravity on living mysticisms, tending to remake them in their own diseased images. In the name of God, they strangle mystical experience; in the name of love, they murder; in the name of truth, they tell lies. [From "Dancing With The Gods"]

    Not all Christians are like this. There are “Christian mystics” who ignore (and eventually end up hating) all of the dogma creep, and constantly reform their “religious beliefs” to fit their personal experiences.

    >It doesn’t have to be that way. I have seen.

    In fact, it isn’t all this way – not even within Christianity. Christians who don’t fit your description may even be so rare that you have never met one… that doesn’t mean we’re not out here. Let me add the fact of my own existance to your mystical experience. :)

  40. Not all Christians are like this. There are “Christian mystics” who ignore (and eventually end up hating) all of the dogma creep, and constantly reform their “religious beliefs” to fit their personal experiences.

    I assume you’re referring to stuff like Rosicrucianism? Isaac Bonewits would call these people “paleopagans.” I’m not really qualified to say if he’s right or not, but I can see his point.

    If you did what Thomas Jefferson did — took the Bible, ripped out the Old Testament, and cut out everything but what is attributed to Jesus, what you’d have left is a far cry from the absolute trainwreck Christianity is today.

  41. >I assume you’re referring to stuff like Rosicrucianism?

    Probably not. Usually apologists who wave around this kind of language about Christianity are talking about quietist mystics like Quakers and (sometimes) Unitarians. Which is all well and good – these groups are in fact pretty benign – except for the inconvenient fact that the quietists can get to a healthy place only by discarding all of what is essential about Christianity. Some Quakers admit this and cop to no longer being Christians; Unitarians often enter symbiosis with neopagan groups.

  42. There are “Christian mystics” who ignore (and eventually end up hating) all of the dogma creep, and constantly reform their “religious beliefs” to fit their personal experiences.

    Morgan, I believe this is referring to stuff like Dukhobors and other forms of “Spritual Christianity”

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