Natural rights and wrongs?

One of my commenters recently speculated in an accusing tone that I might be a natural-rights libertarian. He was wrong, but explaining why is a good excuse for writing an essay I’ve been tooling up to do for a long time. For those of you who aren’t libertarians, this is not a parochial internal dispute – in fact, it cuts straight to the heart of some long-standing controversies about consequentialism versus deontic ethics. And if you don’t know what those terms mean, you’ll have a pretty good idea by the time you’re done reading.

There are two philosophical camps in modern libertarianism. What distinguishes them is how they ground the central axiom of libertarianism, the so-called “Non-Aggression Principle” or NAP. One of several equivalent formulations of NAP is: “Initiation of force is always wrong.” I’m not going to attempt to explain that axiom here or discuss various disputes over the NAP’s application; for this discussion it’s enough to note that libertarians take the NAP as a given unanimously enough to make it definitional. What separates the two camps I’m going to talk about is how they justify the NAP.

“Natural Rights” libertarians ground the NAP in some a priori belief about religion or natural law from which they believe they can derive it. Often they consider the “inalienable rights” language in the U.S.’s Declaration of Independence, abstractly connected to the clockmaker-God of the Deists, a model for their thinking.

“Utilitarians” justify the NAP by its consequences, usually the prevention of avoidable harm and pain and (at the extreme) megadeaths. Their starting position is at bottom the same as Sam Harris’s in The Moral Landscape; ethics exists to guide us to places in the moral landscape where total suffering is minimized, and ethical principles are justified post facto by their success at doing so. Their claim is that NAP is the greatest minimizer.

The philosophically literate will recognize this as a modern and specialized version of the dispute between deontic ethics and consequentialism. If you know the history of that one, you’ll be expecting all the accusations that fly back and forth. The utilitarians slap at the natural-rights people for handwaving and making circular arguments that ultimately reduce to “I believe it because $AUTHORITY told me so” or “I believe it because ya gotta believe in something“. The natural-rights people slap back by acidulously pointing out that their opponents are easy prey for utility monsters, or should (according to their own principles) be willing to sacrifice a single innocent child to bring about their perfected world.

My position is that both sides of this debate are badly screwed up, in different ways. Basically, all the accusations they’re flinging at each other are correct and (within the terms of their traditional debates and assumptions) unanswerable. We can get somewhere better, though, by using their objections to repair each other. Here’s what I think each side has to give up…

The natural-rightsers have to give up their hunger for a-priori moral certainty. There’s just no bottom to to that; it’s contingency all the way down. The utilitarians are right that every act is an ethical experiment – you don’t know “right” or “wrong” until the results come in, and sometimes the experiment takes a very long time to run. The parallel with epistemology, in which all non-consequentialist theories of truth collapse into vacuity or circularity, is exact.

The utilitarians, on the other hand, have to give up on their situationalism and their rejection of immutable rules as voodoo or hokum. What they’re missing is how the effects of payoff asymmetry, forecasting uncertainty, and decision costs change the logic of utility calculations. When the bad outcomes of an ethical decision can be on the scale of genocide, or even the torturing to death of a single innocent child, it is proper and necessary to have absolute rules to prevent these consequences – rules that that we treat as if they were natural laws or immutable axioms or even (bletch!) God-given commandments.

Let’s take as an example the No Torturing Innocent Children To Death rule. (I choose this, of course in reference to a famous critique of Benthamite utilitarianism.) Suppose someone were to say to me “Let A be the event of torturing an innocent child to death today. Let B be the condition that the world will be a paradise of bliss tomorrow. I propose to violate the NTICTD rule by performing A in order to bring about B”.

My response would be “You cannot possibly have enough knowledge about the conditional probability P(B|A) to justify this choice.” In the presence of epistemic uncertainty, absolute rules to bound losses are rational strategy. A different way to express this is within a Kripke-style possible-futures model: the rationally-expected consequences of allowing violations of the NTICTD rule are so bad over so many possible worlds that the probability of landing in a possible future where the violation led to an actual gain in utility is negligible.

My position is that the NAP is a necessary loss-bounding rule, like the NTICTD rule. Perhaps this will become clearer if we perform a Kantian on it into “You shall not construct a society in which the initiation of force is normal.” I hold that, after the Holocaust and the Gulag, you cannot possibly have enough certainty about good results from violating this rule to justify any policy other than treating the NAP as absolute. The experiment has been run already, it is all of human history, and the bodies burned at Belsen-Bergen and buried in the Katyn Wood are our answer.

So I don’t fit neatly in either camp, nor want to. On a purely ontological level I’m a utilitarian, because being anything else is incoherent and doomed. But I respect and use natural-rights language, because when that camp objects that the goals of ethics are best met with absolute rules against certain kinds of harmful behavior they’re right. There are too many monsters in the world, of utility and every other kind, for it to be otherwise.

257 thoughts on “Natural rights and wrongs?

  1. Ok, right, people aren’t good utility-maximizers, you need guardrails.

    I wonder what you’d make of “Darkness at Noon.” I actually thought Koestler was too quick to reject utilitarianism.

  2. esr> One of my commenters recently speculated in an accusing tone that I might be a natural-rights libertarian.

    For the record, I didn’t mean for my tone to be accusing. Rather, I imagined that your relationship to utilitarian arguments for (some) government activism parallels your relationship to utilitarian arguments for (some) proprietary software. (You wrote about it a few years ago.) If my model of your thought process there was off, I’m sorry. And with that, I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your post. :)

  3. >I wonder what you’d make of “Darkness at Noon.”

    I have a dim memory of reading it perhaps 40 years ago. I believe it helped strengthen my anti-Communism and my hatred of totalitarianism in general, but I can no longer separate its effects from those of other things I was reading around the same time – including Animal Farm, 1984 and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. How do you see it as relevant?

  4. (Housekeeping note: I think you mean Sam Harris, not James Harris.)

  5. “The utilitarians are right that every act is an ethical experiment – you don’t know “right” or “wrong” until the results come in, and sometimes the experiment takes a very long time to run.”

    This is an assumption without basis. I do not have to conduct experiments placing two objects, then two more objects into an originally empty container and see if four objects are now present. You do.

    This is what CS Lewis was getting at with the Abolition of Man. Either Morality is objective, like mathematics – arithmetic. Or it is subjective – merely opinion. Which is it. If it is subjective you cannot assert anything in your post without doing the various experiments – torture enough children to be certain. What the Tao (CS Lewis term) says is you cannot do evil even if some good results, so even under threat of someone who says he will detonate a nuclear weapon if you fail to torture someone, you cannot do so and remain true to the Tao. (The Tao is the natural law written in our hearts, Knowable through reason).

    Either morality is objective or subjective. Choose. Don’t straddle. Ayn Rand said it is objective. So do most religions. If it is objective, then sin is an error in the program. A contradiction. A bug. If it is subjective, then it is just a matter of opinion.

    You may have already stated your opinion. If it would be more convenient in a given circumstance for 2+2 to equal 5, then let it equal 5. If it would be better for everyone for a child to be tortured to death, who cares if it would be objectively evil, we can suspend reason, logic, objectivity.

    You cannot claim any special knowledge of ” the bodies burned at Belsen-Bergen and buried in the Katyn Wood” for the reasons you state. You can’t or won’t tie that in to karma or whatever. If they are random events, they have no relevance, any more than those who died on the titanic or in the earthquake featured in Candide. If they are not random other than they annoy or disturb you, of what significance are they? You cannot turn on objectivity only when you want.

  6. As to whatever nonsense you have about probability, Abortion tortures innocent children to death in their mother’s womb. The medical and scientific evidence is they can feel pain, and unless you consider yourself not human but potentially human except for elapsed time when you sleep, they are human. Do we allow the painful dismemberment of babies who are merely inconvenient or unwanted? What is the overriding, greater purpose? Do we simply ignore what is visible in ultrasound or in the results or if – horrors – the baby is delivered and would need to be killed?

    Does allowing the painful, torturous destruction of unborn children create a paradise? Is what it creates short of paradise adequate for you to justify it?

    Do you justify the choice or not? If so, how? Is that much different?

  7. If all homo sapiens die, then the issue of consequentialism and deontic ethics is moot. Therefore the species must survive and persist as a first condition. Whether we like it or not, evolution is going to play a role in this process. It’s going to do what its going to do no matter what we think about it, right or wrong. If NAP contributes to evolutionary survive and thrive, then it’s a good idea to sustain this principle (you like your bicameral vision don’t you?). If it doesn’t, then our descendents will have noted the extinction of this esoteric principle as a failed philosophical trait.

    It seems to me that there is a whole lot of conceit in this debate. I always thought that being a libertarian meant that you were self-reliant, made up your own mind about things, and then took responsibility for your actions.

  8. >You may have already stated your opinion. If it would be more convenient in a given circumstance for 2+2 to equal 5, then let it equal 5.

    Please reread my post, then go away and calm down. I have nothing to gain by responding to you until you comprehend that this is not my position. It’s not even a plausible parody of my position – I violently disagree with it.

    You’re not stupid and you’ve been presented with enough evidence. Go figure it out.

  9. I am not convinced that maximum utility should be the goal. Partly because it is plainly impossible to measure, and partly because — says who? Of course if you redefine “utility” to mean nothing much of anything, some amorphous blob of unmeasurable whatever, then you can both say anything you want about it, or nothing at all.

    Honestly, I think that morality doesn’t really have any solid foundation at all, it is purely a heuristic thing.

    In fact it seems to me that morality is a discovered thing, in the same way that the human eye is a discovered thing. It is an evolved mechanism that society has developed to maximize its propagation, with all the artifacts and errors you see in evolutionary systems, such as getting stuck in wells, and optimizing sub-optimal earlier decisions, diversification due to adaption to local conditions, sexual diamorphism and so forth.

    Morality is a little different than evolution because it has included an actual “intelligent designer” in the sense that various people have specifically tried to manipulate moral codes to their advantage.

    Let me give a specific example: why are women considered sluts if they sleep around, but men are considered studs? The answer is an anachronism in our moral system, specifically changing technology that allows women to control their fecundity, and men to determine their paternity. Men, who wanted to make sure their biological progeny got their assets, had to control the fecundity of women for obvious reasons (when little junior arrives, it is obvious who mama is, not so obvious who papa is.) Technology changed that a lot, but morality is kind of stuck in a well that it is only just climbing out of.

    That, it seems to me, is what morality is. What a person’s personal moral code is, is an entirely different question. I don’t feel bound by any god given commandments, or attempts to maximize utility. I’m just trying to have a good time.

    I do feel the need to genuflect to the hypermajority — which is to say I try not to do stuff that is going to cause the pitchfork and torches gang to be outside my door. That seems like a good plan to me.

    However, if my personal moral code were adopted by everyone, we would be screwed. Which of course makes me a free rider, but I am kind of OK with that.

  10. “My response would be “You cannot possibly have enough knowledge about the conditional probability P(B|A) to justify this choice.” In the presence of epistemic uncertainty, absolute rules to bound losses are rational strategy. “

    Your response is crap, because you are not acknowledging evolved human nature, you are ignoring the fact that we have external and internal knowledge of what other people are like.

    In the soviet Union, they set children on fire with petrol to force their mothers to reveal where the seed corn was hidden.

    In Khmer Rouge Cambodia they crucified children for “stealing from the people” by eating grass when they supposed to be working.

    From which the proper conclusion is not that the commissars lacked sufficient knowledge that this would bring about utopia, but that the commissars were evil people, who pretty soon would be doing similar things to each other, that the measures the commissars were using to bring about utopia revealed that they did not really care whether their actions would bring about utopia or not.

    Given that we are products of evolution, given that humans have a definite and knowable nature, we can perform the same natural law reasoning from evolved human nature as we can from divinely designed human nature.

    Bad people are people who do hurtful things for frivolous reasons, the type specimen being Snow White’s stepmother.

    We don’t need any elaborate philosophical and religious justification to dislike, and indeed kill, people who do hurtful things for frivolous reasons.

    What does the word “X” mean? X is what a mother points to when she says “X” to her baby. Snow White’s evil stepmother is what mummy gives as an example of evil. Bringing in religion and philosophy and all that makes complicated what is very very simple.

    I intuitively and naturally don’t like people who harm other people frivolously, because they might harm me, and mummy told me the word for such behavior and such people is “evil”. Every child know that. Natural law follows.

  11. esr> If someone would say to me “Let A be the event of torturing an innocent child to death today. Let B be the condition that the world will be a paradise of bliss tomorrow. I propose to violate the NTICTD rule by performing A in order to bring about B”.

    esr> My response would be “You cannot possibly have enough knowledge about the conditional probability P(B|A) to justify this choice.”

    . . . and Utilitarians would agree, for this very reason.

    Let’s start by recalling Jeremy Bentham’s framing of the issue: “By the principle* of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words, to promote or to oppose that happiness. I say of every action whatsoever, and therefore not only of every action of a private individual, but of every measure of government.”

    So if somebody proposed to torture a child to cure Malaria (James Donald’s example in the other thread), the proper Utilitarian analysis is to observe that —

    (1) no evidence ever established that torturing a child would, in fact, cure Malaria — and it’s not for lack of children having been tortured throughout history.
    (2) some pretty decent evidence suggests that adopting a rule like that would have pernicious side effects. In particular, it might well encourage sadists and ideologues who’d end up just torturing the child, never mind the malaria cure.

    Having considered this evidence, Bentham would would therefore disapprove of torturing a child to end Malaria: Apparently these things have a strong tendency to destroy rather than furnish happiness.

  12. esr> The natural-rightsers have to give up their hunger for a-priori moral certainty. [...] The utilitarians, on the other hand, have to give up on their situationalism and their rejection of immutable rules as voodoo or hokum.

    Have you considered rule-utilitarianism? It’s a two-layer system that judges actions by their conformance to a set of rules, and tests those rules by their consequences. Hence, the rules you end up having to follow are almost-immutable in the short run because the preponderance of the evidence regarding their consequences is almost-unchanging in the short run. In the long run, however, rules can adapt quite fluidly as new evidence comes in about the happiness and suffering they cause.

    On a slight tangent, wasn’t there a word for this in the Jargon File? It described substances that flow like liquids on the timescale of days, but prove tough as solids when you hit them with a hammer. Whatever the name, It seems to me that rules with this property would elegantly solve the dilemma you describe about deontic vs consequentialist ethics.

  13. ESR: Darkness at Noon is not just about the horrors of Communism, but a meditation on consequentialism.

    The character Rubashov, a former revolutionary now condemned to death, has lived all his life with the philosophy that his duty is to do whatever it takes to make the world better. Even if it means he suffers or dies — and even if it means getting his hands dirty with violence, or confessing to imaginary crimes. If you’re really a consequentialist, you care more about causing good outcomes than getting to call yourself a good person.

    In the end, of course, Rubashov reflects that this is too bloody, and so maybe humans can’t really handle consequentialism, maybe we need rules, traditions, moral codes to forbid us killing each other. We can’t be trusted to take *final* responsibility, as individuals, for the outcome of history — we’ll inevitably screw it up, we’ll end up slaughtering innocent people.

    This seems a little bit of a cop-out. Just because Koestler didn’t know ahead of time that Communism would end badly doesn’t mean that nobody could have possibly foreseen it. The book winds up being almost an argument for tradition –”You can’t trust yourself, so better stick to your fathers’ laws.”

  14. @tz:

    Either Morality is objective, like mathematics – arithmetic. Or it is subjective – merely opinion.

    The point of the article is that it is neither yet both. The universe is infinite in every extent, and we never get the final answer, thus excluding some outcomes because the locality is desirable is more rational than waiting forever to find out if there was a gain from the otherwise unlimited (in potential) pain. It is sort of analogous to delaying gratification forever on the small chance that staring at the computer screen without moving my fingers might make a successful computer program– some experiments have poor trajectory so we can create local rules without infinite global evidence.

  15. >Your response is crap, because you are not acknowledging evolved human nature, you are ignoring the fact that we have external and internal knowledge of what other people are like.

    That was me speaking as a philosopher reasoning about consequentialism, as should have been obvious from the ridiculous way my villain framed the question.

    In the real world, the conversation would probably go more like “I am going to torture this child to death because the dialectic of history requires the triumph of world socialism!”, to which I would reply “You are insane and evil.” Then I would attempt to kill him by any means available, including hands and teeth.

  16. >Just because Koestler didn’t know ahead of time that Communism would end badly doesn’t mean that nobody could have possibly foreseen it. The book winds up being almost an argument for tradition –”You can’t trust yourself, so better stick to your fathers’ laws.”

    I either missed this argument entirely (I was in my early teens at the time) or have forgotten it.

    A very few years later, certainly by the time I was 17, I would have known how to answer Koestler. Of course it could be foreseen that Communism would end badly. It privileged the collective over the individual. Atrocity follows as inevitably as sunrise.

    I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Randite – she was a lousy synthesist with embarrassingly bad ideas about a lot of things. But she was spectacularly capable at one relatively narrow kind of moral critique, and she finished what Robert Heinlein had started for me. After those two, no form of communism or socialism could fool me about what it really stood for – I could never miss the death’s head beneath the mask.

  17. @ESR – “Then I would attempt to kill him by any means available, including hands and teeth.”

    I love this blog.

  18. @Nancy Lebovitz
    > Even a smallish war includes a high probability of imposing a painful death on more than one child, and for much lower stakes than achieving utopia.

    That is part of a series of questions that are designed to make you think about what you really think about morality.

    A train is coming down the track out of control. You have a switch that can set it down track A or B. It is currently heading for track A.

    1. at the end of A are ten kids stuck in a bus, at the end of B is one kid stuck in a bus. Do you flip the switch.

    2. same question, but you can’t handle the guilt, so you “accidentally” flip the switch

    3. Same situation, but the kid on bus B is your child

    4. Same situation, but bus A contains ten convicted murderers, bus B an innocent child

    5. Same situation but bus A contains ten terminally ill people with less than a week to live, B an innocent child.

    6. Same situation, but bus A contains your ex boyfriend who treated you like shit and dumped you at a low point, cheated on you with your best friend and then dumped her, and bus B contains your best friend. The jerk boyfriend was mean to you, but didn’t do anything actually illegal or objectively wrong.

    7. Same again, but bus A contains 100 cuddly kittens.

    8. Same again, but bus A contains ten innocent children, and bus B contains you.

    And so forth. Isn’t it fun? The purpose is to demonstrate that most people don’t really know what they believe about morality. It asks questions about how you value life, about circles of caring, about the value of animal life and so forth. People don’t like the idea that they would consider some lives more valuable than others, though they plainly do.

    Of course, most people can’t deal with these questions and tend to answer what they think they should rather than what they would actually do…

  19. Either Morality is objective, like mathematics – arithmetic. Or it is subjective – merely opinion.

    Or perhaps it’s real – quantum mechanics. Eric’s point, which I think applies to a much broader variety of human decisionmaking, is that, even assuming an objective correct answer exists, we are in a position of limited knowledge and can’t reliably make many of the pronouncements we’re prone to. One of the larger-scale takeaways is that it is absolutely critical to foster a willingness to admit past errors and correct them; perhaps the early, say, Bolsheviks really had a fair justification for attempting the communist experiment, but it was clear to everyone inside by 1930 that the so-called workers’ paradise was a horror. The continuation of the enterprise past that point, and especially the failure of any of the myriad of individuals who could have put a quick if personally expensive end to Stalin is damnable beyond the excuse of ignorance.

  20. I’ve always viewed deontological ethics as essentially being reducible to sufficiently complex utility functions; except for a few fringe traditional Christian who really believe “all sins are equal, we are all damned”, most deontologists would probably find two violations of a given ethic to be worse than one.

  21. >In re utilitarianism: Even a smallish war includes a high probability of imposing a painful death on more than one child, and for much lower stakes than achieving utopia. Does this have ethical implications?

    Sure it does. The difference is that a war may be connected to some large-scale achievable good – defeating a genocidal totalitarian regime, say – whereas it is hard to even imagine circumstances in which deliberately torturing a child to death could lead to a good end. Which is not to claim that warfare in general is redeemed in this way, either.

  22. >I love this blog.

    My wife says she wants to sell tickets. To the part where I do the hands and teeth thing.

    My wife trains with me. She knows I’m not kidding.

  23. >Eric’s point, which I think applies to a much broader variety of human decisionmaking, is that, even assuming an objective correct answer exists, we are in a position of limited knowledge and can’t reliably make many of the pronouncements we’re prone to.

    DING DING DING DING!

    Gold star to Mr. Smith.

    To unpack it slightly, the uncertainty of prediction changes the way we should evaluate ethical bets in which we are proposing to trade a large evil in the present for a large anticipated good in the future. We are prone to way overestimate conditional probabilities, treating the future as a reified place in which the outcomes we want are so certain that we are licensed to do harm in the present to achieve them. This is often a very serious mistake.

  24. >There’s an orthogonal argument for the non-aggression principle: it’s a relatively obvious place to draw the line.

    Right. This, too, is an a result of high search costs in the space of possible ethical solutions. Simple rules increase our capacity to reason to useful conclusions, which are often nearly as good as we could reach with a more complex and situational decision procedure. When we have to make repeated decisions, each one of which would be extremely complex and risk a bad outcome if resolved situationally, it may maximize utility over the entire set of decision to adopt a simpler decision procedure even when you’re aware that it has troubling edge cases.

    Under these circumstances rules that bias towards not doing predictable harm are especially important.

  25. >I’ve always viewed deontological ethics as essentially being reducible to sufficiently complex utility functions; except for a few fringe traditional Christian who really believe “all sins are equal, we are all damned”, most deontologists would probably find two violations of a given ethic to be worse than one.

    Part of what I meant when I said that being anything other than a utilitarian is incoherent and doomed is that deontic ethics requires elaborate maneuvers to conceal the fact that you’re reasoning from an unacknowledged utility function. It’s exactly parallel to the case of non-confirmationist theories of truth.

  26. To unpack it slightly, the uncertainty of prediction changes the way we should evaluate ethical bets in which we are proposing to trade a large evil in the present for a large anticipated good in the future. We are prone to way overestimate conditional probabilities, treating the future as a reified place in which the outcomes we want are so certain that we are licensed to do harm in the present to achieve them. This is often a very serious mistake.

    I think that the ethical question is basically similar in form to the economic question (i.e., the information problem), and though I’m not mentally focused enough right now to fill out the analogy, I’m feeling a nagging parallel between the totalitarian catastrophes and Enron/TARP.

  27. esr on Tuesday, April 2 2013 at 10:06 pm said:
    > In the real world, the conversation would probably go more like “I am going to torture this child to death because the dialectic of history requires the triumph of world socialism!”, to which I would reply “You are insane and evil.” Then I would attempt to kill him by any means available, including hands and teeth.

    Well of course it would, because you are sane.

    But whenever someone starts philosophizing about good and evil in the abstract, he usually takes positions that are at best insane, at which point we need not to say “well this hypothetical is about an unreal world”, but rather to reconsider our philosophy, for good and evil is absolutely rooted in how the world actually is and how people actually are.

    Our philosopher says “Let us suppose we have to kill this child, or else a comet will hit the earth destroying all life”

    To which the correct response is “Hang on, how the hell could such a situation arise. Tell us a short science fiction story where this is at all plausible?”

    Considering stories, it becomes apparent that we are likely to view someone willing to sacrifice near people for far people as evil. Considering actual real life in practice, we observe in practice that those willing to sacrifice near people for far people really are evil, hence my comment that there are no utilitarians: That he who is willing to hold the child in the fire to end malaria will hold the child in fire and entirely forget he was originally planning to end malaria.

    People are what they are, and we have a lot of intuitive knowledge of what people and what makes them what they are. An evil person is someone who we reasonably suspect might do bad things to us, an evil deed is a deed indicative of propensity to do bad things to us. Fairy tales explain good and evil better than philosophers.

    Utilitarianism is bad not for any abstract philosophical reason, but because it is in practice an indicator of willingness to do bad things.

    We dislike male homosexuals and are fine with lesbians not because the New Testament or ancient tradition tells us so, but because male homosexuals really are dirty, and lesbians really are not. Also lesbians generally reproduce just fine, but male homosexuals do not.

    The New Testament mandates behavior that would cause Christians to reproduce and Christian men to invest in their offspring in the late Roman environment, and forbids behavior that would interfere with this, which may reflect cynical institutional design by Jesus and Saint Paul, or natural selection of memetic systems, or may reflect their and our moral intuitions about good people doing the right thing to those nearest to them, thus pro family behavior reflects goodness and anti family behavior badness.

    Morality really needs to be understood as chimpanzee politics: Who should you ally with, who should you ally against? Thus our intuitions of good and evil are designed by natural selection to get us to ally with good people against bad people, because allying with bad people tends to turn out badly almost by definition.

  28. This essay reminds me about the question that tore apart the protestants in my country:
    Did the serpent speak to Eva or not?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reformed_Churches_in_the_Netherlands

    I read your essay, and I think these are all just hair splitting excuses to justify the fact that you find it morally wrong to initiate violence.

    Sorry, but I agree with Jessica, people have no idea why they act morally. Philosophic treatises about morals tell you just as much about the “real” origin of morals as philosophic treatises about language or health tell us where language and disease come from.

  29. >Sorry, but I agree with Jessica, people have no idea why they act morally.

    Most people. I am not most people.

  30. @esr: I am not sure if I agree that most people don’t know why they act morally. Maybe not consciously if that is what you meant, but the collective experience of mankind has worked out that certain actions have no definable utility over the long-term and very severe potential adverse effects. I think humans do work out the probabilities on effects they can see, e.g. torture and use of hollow point bullets in war. It is the insidious effects they can’t see which the collective is horrible at getting correct, e.g. your Iron Law of Political Economics.

  31. . . . and the cause & effects that repeat only every third generation. Collective knowledge degrades if not reminded frequently with real effects; reading about it in history books isn’t equally effective.

  32. > Suppose someone were to say to me “Let A be the event of
    > torturing an innocent child to death today. Let B be the condition
    > that the world will be a paradise of bliss tomorrow. I propose to
    > violate the NTICTD rule by performing A in order to bring about B”.
    My response to these sorts of hypotheticals is to say “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” while counting on the fact that I never actually will. There’s no reason I should have to apply this kind of contrived example to a system of ethics that was optimized for the real world, unless the real world actually puts me in this situation.

  33. > Belsen-Bergen

    The Germans write it as “Bergen-Belsen” (borough – village).

  34. > (1) no evidence ever established that torturing a child would, in fact, cure Malaria — and it’s not for lack of children having been tortured throughout history.

    To cure malaria, we really need to experiment on people. For some experiments, obtaining volunteers is likely to be difficult, and if one experimented on non volunteering adults, they would probably create very severe difficulties. Female children old enough to have competent immune systems, but no older, would be ideal.

    Further, utopians have with great regularity tortured children in pursuit of all manner of noble goals. It is a common characteristic of utopia in power. The nobler the goal, the more drastic the means. You cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs.

  35. Let us suppose our enemies have decided to attack us. Being evil people, they hide behind women and children. Happens all the time.

    We are losing. Happens all the time. We have a some mortars with napalm rounds. What are we going to do?

    Obviously in this case, setting children on fire is justified, particularly if, as tends to be the case, they are our enemy’s children. But setting children on fire to force the mother to reveal where the seed corn is buried is not justified.

    I know why. Natural law, laws of war. Some people don’t know why because they have a muddled philosophy. Some people don’t know why, because they do not know right from wrong. But the child who has read his fairy tales knows why.

  36. @esr
    “Most people. I am not most people.”

    I live with the same delusion

  37. Suppose are a general. There is a war going on.

    If a child has the misfortune of living near a military base used to make war upon the your men, it would be wrong to protect a thousand such children at the expense of the life of one of your men.

    Suppose one of the children was held hostage by your forces. Then it would be wrong to sacrifice that one child’s life to save a thousand of your men.

    To address such questions by cost benefit criteria is irrelevant, immoral, and odious.

  38. Pingback: Daily Linkage – April 3, 2013 | The Second Estate

  39. @JAD
    Talk about morals is cheap. It tells us very, very, little about what will happen when we do have to cross that bridge.

  40. On the article:

    One deeper question would be: why is force automatically considered worse than all the other ways to put pressure on someone’s choices? What makes “I’ll punch you if you don’t bring me a beer” automatically worse than “I’ll fire you from your job and terminate your apartement rental contract if you don’t bring me a beer?”

    The problem with the natural-righters is that natural right violations are not a good enough predictor of the actual suffering people feel. It can come accross as protecting those stuff that we may not care that much about, while leaving us vulnerable to stuff we care about.

    The problem with utilitarian approaches is essentially the same – is the best predictor of suffering is force?

    One possible way to approach it is to say that private force is not really that wrong, only governmental force. Or: only deadly force. I really do think that there are insults so grave that a punch in the mouth i.e. the initation of private force is not a morally reprehensible thing. So I would not write off all kinds of force as the ultimate evil all the time.

    If you qualify force as deadly force or governmental force, you probably get a better predictor.

    Perhaps, like the term “organized religion”, “organized violence” should be formed: military, police etc.

    Also, how to deal with the fact that a certain enjoyment of violent conflicts and the challenges they represent seems to be hardwired into us men? I of course do not yearn for a real war but I do enjoy it on the computer screen. This warriorhood seems to be so in center of the masculine essence, isn’t there something wrong with a philosophy that defines it (OK a subset of it: initation) as the greatest evil?

    Should we solve the dilemma by making violence… consensual? This sounds weird today, but not so long ago duels were legal. I could easily imagine that in a world with legal duelling there would be less damage caused by gang wars and suchlike. And by making violence consensual it would not be seen as some kind of an automatically evil thing.

    This are weird thoughts, I admit, I am just trying to cope with multiple thoughts contradicting each other.

  41. ESR,

    > It’s exactly parallel to the case of non-confirmationist theories of truth.

    Well, at the moment I buy into the coherence theory of truth. We don’t really have such a magic thing as a purely objective empirical fact, more like we have observation-ideas and theory-ideas, and instead of a one-way checking of theory-ideas with observation-ideas, we better make sure it _all_ is coherent: theories match other theories, observations match other observations, even observations match theories. When an observation seems to contradict a large body of accepted theory, doubt the observation first. This is actually how practical science works – a one-way empiricism is just too optimistic about the accuracy of our fact-sensing capabilities.

  42. Sarah,

    >The book winds up being almost an argument for tradition –”You can’t trust yourself, so better stick to your fathers’ laws.”

    You make it sound a bit ridiculous. But actually it is not a binary decision between 100% sticking to tradition or “making it new”, but we have a whole range of options how seriously to weigh the argument from tradition. It is not a bad argument in itself – it says simply that new ideas can be better, can be worse, while something that ran for a while and was functional is at least a know quantity.

    The best approach I’ve found at Chesterton: we should be focusing on understanding what a given tradition was _for_. If we do so, and realize that circumstances changed, or we have a better tool for that goal, then we can remove it. The mistake is typically removing them without even knowing what they were for, or using entirely wrong assumptions (“it was for group X to oppress group Y!”).

  43. Jessica,

    >Let me give a specific example: why are women considered sluts if they sleep around, but men are considered studs? The answer is an anachronism in our moral system, specifically changing technology that allows women to control their fecundity, and men to determine their paternity. Men, who wanted to make sure their biological progeny got their assets, had to control the fecundity of women for obvious reasons

    Bad example. Pretty much all the slut-shaming I’ve seen was done by women who considered some other woman too “cheap”, “giving herself too cheaply” or “having no self-respect”. Clearly it was a bargain-chip attitude to sex, where the price – as in, for example, emotional commitment as a price – reflects the value of the woman. Those who “sold” sex too “cheap” such as without forcing the man to do a lengthy courtship or emotional commitment, were assumed to have done so because having a general low value. So I think the “gatekeeper theory” is more apt than the inheritance theory. Most men I know had a more relaxed, slightly condescending but also joking, humorous, on the whole much less aggressively insulting attitude to easy women – as long as they were not their partners or god forbid, daughters. Fathers with daughters are generally worse than jealous husbands – which again is not really explained well by inheritance theory.

  44. @Shenpen
    “which again is not really explained well by inheritance theory.”

    Personally, I think people generally just rationalize their emotions.

    It pays to investigate the source of the emotions. Often, the source is rooted in some real fears about future prospects or personal safety. In other cases, there is some deep, primordial fear hard wired into us that has become linked to some random stimulus. Sometimes it is a “holier than thou” status competition. But mostly, we simply do not know.

    About the “slut” thing being a women’s thing. That is wide-spread. It is known that female genital mutilation is largely forced by other women. In general, it is the prospective mother-in-law that will prevent her son from marrying an unmutilated wife, which drives the girl’s mother to mutilate her daughter to get her married. At the other side of the spectrum, I understood that “slutty” dressing is often a between-girl competitive thing. Boys care much more about attention than about clothes (but you can signal prospective attention with clothes too).

  45. Oh, I don’t think the argument from tradition is silly. After all, Burke and Chesterton weren’t idiots.

    If your traditions have done pretty well over the years, your E.V. is a lot better following them, than if you have this grand revolutionary plan that you’re willing to follow no matter the cost. If it starts to look like “I have to kill a lot of people to save the world,” or even “I have to be kind of a Machiavellian jerk to save the world”, more likely than not we’d all be better off if you stayed home.

    But.

    Koestler really tends to frame Communism as “clear, merciless logic” and opposes it to Christianity, which is “instinctive, irrational mercy.” I’m neither a Communist nor a Christian, but I definitely come down on the “clear, merciless logic” side. I think you *can* reason your way to improvements on the status quo that may not be traditional or feel right to most people’s emotions. (For example, the ways to save the most lives are not always the most emotionally compelling or charismatic causes and charities.) Call it arrogance or ambition, but I do think that sometimes individuals can make humanity better off by *thinking*. I do, in some cases, trust myself to know better than the wisdom of many years of tradition. I’d never trust myself so far as to think I’m justified in murder, but I do have cases where I think traditional by-the-book protocol is bunk and I’m trying to do something new that offends a lot of folks. “What gives you the authority to differ from the establishment?” Well, sometimes, a good logical argument is enough!

  46. ESR,

    On the uncertaintly of prediction: recently I have discovered something interesting. Basically you take a standard libertarian system and introduce that one modification that property rights are not permanent but when renting property out or employing workers to work it instead of working it yourself it gets “homsteaded away”. The astonishing thing is that with one fairly simple modification, the pretty much everything that socialists and communists (of an anarchistic type, like Proudhon) wanted can be solved without even resorting to any sort of regulation. This surprised me a lot. If a huge political rift can be healed so easily, why not? I started reviewing arguments for permanent property rights, as opposed to this kind of usage-based possession so basically impermanent property that can be homesteaded away once not in personal use, and basically what I have found is that it would be simply too hard to resolve conflicts. Instead of showing a deed to a judge, it would go into proving usage in complicated ways, which would in the best case mean spending too much time at the courthouse and too little time working, and in the worst case turf wars.

    So my take home lesson was that even though we can say that the permanence of property rights is not ideal, a fairer society could be mare where property is more flexible and can be “homesteaded away”, the easiness of resolving conflicts by simply looking at a paper property deed has to be considered more important than fairness.

    At the end of the day a simple ruler is better than a perfect rule.

    Is it something related?

  47. Sarah,

    OK I get what you mean. Koestler, when you look at his other works, like The Sleepwalkers or The Ghost In The Machine, was a bit of an unusual kind of an intellectual, hard to categorize. I grew up in the same culture so maybe I grok him on a bit deeper gut level than some: I think he was very strongly influenced by Central European cultures strong focus on the Age of Enlightenment narrative even in the 20th century when it was clearly outmoded. So I think when he young he was a strong believer in history somehow marching for the inevitable victory of “clear logic” and got a very painful process of waking up and getting disillusioned. But he did not become a neoconservative, he stayed something sort of an even more skeptical liberal, busting certain seriously untenable elements of the “Aufklärung” myth in order to perhaps salvage the rest. The Sleepwalkers is about busting the whole ridiculously oversimplifed myth of the Scientfic Revolution, brave rationalists vs. stupid, oppressive church, he demonstrated how it was almost the opposite, Galilei and co. being dreamy Neo-Platonists and basically what the church demanded was just hard evidence. The Ghost In The Machine is about busting the incredibly behaviorist, vulgar-materialist approach to psychology that was popular in the first half of the 20th century, and with that, that overly positivist view of science that focuses so much on collecting quantifiable data that it forgets about the big picture. In the Enlightenmentist narrative, the Age of Enlightenment was supposed to be the dawn and many intellectualls believed Soviet Communism is the “noon”, the fully embodiment of enlightenment, the final goal of that process. Hence “darkness at noon” – it is not merely about Communism but about the whole narrative that there is a clear line of progress towards a more rationally organized society starting with Galieli & co. “inventing rationality”, Voltaire, Rousseau etc. bringing it in the social, political shpere and basically Lenin and co. are the culmination of this process. It’s hard to see why would anyone see Communism as clearly logical, and it is more understandable if we see that the narrative attacked as the Age of Enlightenment narrative and the idea that Communism is it’s highest embodiment.

    BTW when it is about human matters I am neither for nor against rationalism. I am for pattern matching. We cannot really reason about it, because one mind cannot predict the combined result of actions done by millions of minds. We should not simply give up and have irrational emotions. We can pattern-match, which is basically the Burkean kind of focus on common sense and experience and practice over theory. I learned a lot from Michael Oakeshott too, generally the demonstration that rationally guided action is not only undesirable but downright impossible, because nobody can learn to cook from merely reading a cookbook.

  48. >One deeper question would be: why is force automatically considered worse than all the other ways to put pressure on someone’s choices? What makes “I’ll punch you if you don’t bring me a beer” automatically worse than “I’ll fire you from your job and terminate your apartement rental contract if you don’t bring me a beer?”

    Coersion = Force for the purposes of the NAP.
    In actuality, your second statement is far more “aggressive” than the first!

  49. A lot of what people think of as ‘morality’ us the result of our evolution. It’s biologically driven. Other animals have displayed behaviors that we would consider to be ‘moral’, such as mercy to the vanquished (wolves) or sacrificing individuals to save the females and children (baboons). In that sense, then yes, there are ‘natural laws’. C. S. Lewis thought that it was God speaking to us in our hearts; Dawkins knows that it’s just our selfish genes.

  50. Either morality is objective or subjective. Choose. Don’t straddle.

    Is it too simplistic to think that ““Everything in moderation, including moderation.” is a much better perspective?

  51. How do you build an ethical system from consequentialism/utilitarianism alone, without making a deontological judgement about which consequences are better than others?

  52. @jessica I don’t see how those questions are difficult for anyone even moderately honest with themselves.

  53. … aaaand since we have some defenders of deontology, let me jump in the shoes of the defender of virtue ethics. A lot of ethical arguments are basically reducable to “this is what rational people / good people would do”. It means there is this assumption that it is somehow _good for you_ to be rational & good. That you _want_ to be rational and good. That not only others benefit from you being rational and good, but it somehow helps you, too. That it does not necessarily mean sacrificing your self-interest – you of course have to sacrifice some selfishness, but somehow, some way it is not such a bad deal. That when you committed an irrational, evil act and say unjustly beaten up or robbed someone, it is not only the other person who suffers, but in some way it made you yourself worse off. This is the essence of virtue ethics. Call it pride maybe – people just want to see themselves as rational and good.

    But why does this matter? Because perhaps being or seeing ourselves as rational and good are not necessarily everything we want to be or be seen. So perhaps occasionally other virtues can override it.

  54. Jessica Boxer , the answer to your conundrums is C) Ignore the artificial constraints placed on you by the question, and find a Better Solution.

    That’s what I would do ;)

    I would probably find a way of disabling the train – cause it to crash in such a way that at most, the passengers on board would end up with bruises or a broken limb at most, or somehow cause the wheels to lock such that the train would slow down in time before impacting either bus.

    Your conundrums artificially constrain the people being asked, and I for one refuse to accept there would be any other solution than switching to track A or B in that scenario – yes, I am one of those assholes who would scoff at your artificial scenarios in such a study. :)

  55. >@esr And so if neither consequentialist nor deontological then would you say pragmatic?

    No, because in this context “pragmatism” is a term of art that stinks like a dead fish. It’s what William James did when he corrupted C.S. Peirce’s “the truth is what predicts” to “the truth is what is useful”.

  56. @esr
    At some level you have to make a fundamental decision about what you think is good or bad. Traditionally, this has been done philosophically in esthetics, because what is good is what is valuable in itself, which is a definition of beauty.

    Obviously, in the end it is all rooted in emotions that cannot be dissected by ratio anymore.

  57. @Kevin, but for the purpose of examining the question “why do I act morally?” or “what is this thing I am doing that may or may not be moral?” or “what are these things that global warming alarmists are doing that appear to me so untruthful?” – why not ask a very tightly constrained question and pursue the reasoning behind it? If given the choice to let the runaway train hit Einstein (knowing that he has already given us the special theory of relativity) or five very capable road menders, who would you elect to die and why?

  58. I confess I stumble over that “axiomatic” Non-Aggression Protocol. I can think of situations where violence did — or would have — prevented great evils. Among other things, it basically rules all wars of independence or armed rebellions immoral. It means, for instance, that sitting idly and watching a rogue state like North Korea develop and deploy nuclear weapons is somehow absolutely better than a strike against their reactors (or Kim Jong Un’s puffy stupid head).

    It’s also just another exercise in semantics. Is “violence” only limited to hitting people with swords or bullets or bombs? Consciously causing economic harm would then be perfectly all right? The pre-WWII Japanese government denounced America’s oil embargo as “aggression.” What about cutting off a water supply? These aren’t nitpicks.

  59. Excellent analysis and explanation, sir. I would just make the one minor suggestion of “You shall not construct a society in which the unwarranted initiation of force is normal”, because I have no problem with the initiation of sufficient and necessary force to halt or prevent an atrocity — but that may be an issue of semantics, because you may well in that case consider the atrocity to be the initiation of force and the action to stop it a response to the initiation of force. In which case I would believe we would be in complete agreement.

  60. >I confess I stumble over that “axiomatic” Non-Aggression Protocol.

    Post-NAP reasoning is certainly interesting to discuss. but not on topic here.

  61. @patrioticduo

    Because in my opinion, asking such artificially constrained questions results in answers relevant only to the artificially constructed scenario. Such answers will be limited in scope. There are too many variables in Reality for those answers-to-a-limited-reality-scenario to be of any use, in Reality.

  62. >I confess I stumble over that “axiomatic” Non-Aggression Protocol. I can think of situations where violence did — or would have — prevented great evils.

    Note that it’s not an Non-Violence Pact, it’s non-*aggression*. It rules out pre-emptive strikes, but not going in to oust a tyrant or defend against a bully.

  63. @Jessica, Shenpen, & Winter

    Speaking as a father interested in quality grandchildren, I very much want my daughter to be choosy about her boyfriends. I do not want her to have children out of wedlock.

    Raising children is a lot of work. There is nobody with more motive to help than those children’s biological father. It’s best to have him sign a formal promise on the bottom line beforehand.

    Children do best with both biological parents raising them. Step parents do not do as good a job. Step parents are much more likely to be abusive.

    It is a serious mistake to intentionally concieve a child out of wedlock. The sire, if he knows, is a poor choice because he is not the kind to commit to help raise his children. The child will probably not have the benefit of a biological father’s attention. The tendency to single-parenthood will likely be passed on.

    These things are generally true despite contraception and women’s liberation.

    Most of us are not smart enough to correctly derive the principles of correct behavior on the fly. Few of us are smart enough to derive them correctly in advance. We rely on general rules and heuristics. Fairy tales of various sorts are one way to transmit them.

    Human attention is the only truly limited resource.

  64. >So my take home lesson was that even though we can say that the permanence of property rights is not ideal, a fairer society could be mare where property is more flexible and can be “homesteaded away”, the easiness of resolving conflicts by simply looking at a paper property deed has to be considered more important than fairness.

    Well, assuming you think the “homestead away” rule is fair or good. I don’t. Among other problems, it would kick the hell out of the kind of capital investment you need to build factories. It would also price housing out of the market for a lot of people, because who would build rental units if they would just be alienated away by the tenants?

    But yes, simplicity and definiteness in conflict resolution are significant here. You missed part of the reason; they reduce incentives to resort to violence instead.

  65. “At the end of the day a simple ruler is better than a perfect rule.”

    Especially since you can’t make a perfect rule.

    Unfortunately, to the legal profession in general and governments in particular the consequences of complexity are a feature, not a bug.

  66. @ Jessica Boxer:
    “I do feel the need to genuflect to the hypermajority — which is to say I try not to do stuff that is going to cause the pitchfork and torches gang to be outside my door. That seems like a good plan to me.”

    It often is. But sometimes going along so as not to tick off the pitchfork-and-torch crowd means being complicit in the sort of abomination that resulted in Auschwitz and Belsen-Bergen.

  67. @Peter Scott
    > There’s an orthogonal argument for the non-aggression principle: it’s a relatively obvious place to draw the line.

    I think the idea of the non aggression principle as a schelling point is pretty fascinating.

    @Nigel
    > I don’t see how those questions are difficult for anyone even moderately honest with themselves.

    You are a better man than me then Nigel, because I don’t know the answer to all those questions. Nonetheless, I think that all we thinking people can agree that the cute kitties are toast.

    @Kevin Cave
    > the answer to your conundrums is C) Ignore the artificial constraints placed on you by the question, and find a Better Solution.

    Ah, the Kobayashi Maru solution to moral dilemmas. You win the gold star Kevin. :-)

  68. Just to be contrary, at the end of the day, all utilitarians rely on an assumption that what is best for the most people should be their goal. At some point, every ethical system depends on an axiomatic assumption that is not objectively provable. I don’t think deontology and consequentialism are as separable as many people like to think, and that arguments between them are really between which set of simplified assumptions work best without first agreeing on a value function to judge them.

    Ethical systems are subject to something like Godel’s theorem (this is just my simplified take on it). Finite, Consistent, Complete: Pick any two.

  69. @Catherine Raymond
    > It often is. But sometimes going along so as not to tick off the pitchfork-and-torch crowd means being complicit in the sort of abomination that resulted in Auschwitz and Belsen-Bergen.

    No doubt that is true, however, I have a theory that a person can change the world in one or at most two ways in their lifetime. Because changing the world is so damn hard. I don’t think everyone in Germany during the Third Reich who did nothing is necessarily complicit in that evil. Perhaps they chose to expend their “one or at most two” thing in a different direction.

    There is only so much you can do in one life.

  70. @phlinn
    > Ethical systems are subject to something like Godel’s theorem (this is just my simplified take on it). Finite, Consistent, Complete: Pick any two.

    Not true. Here is an ethical system that is finite, consistent and complete. “I have all the guns in the world, do what I say exactly or I will kill you.” (BTW, this ethical system is called “Traditional Christianity.”)

    An ethical system needs to be correct in some sense, whatever that means.

  71. Nonetheless, I think that all we thinking people can agree that the cute kitties are toast.

    Call in a drone strike on the runaway train….there should be one buzzing around nearby

  72. @BobW
    > Speaking as a father interested in quality grandchildren, I very much want my daughter to be choosy about her boyfriends. I do not want her to have children out of wedlock.

    I think she should be choosy about her boyfriends, and about all the people she spends time with. I agree, human attention is a limited resource.

    > Raising children is a lot of work. There is nobody with more motive to help than those children’s biological father. It’s best to have him sign a formal promise on the bottom line beforehand.

    Lets say your daughter chose a non traditional route. She “married” another woman, they had kids by an anonymous sire, and her wife decided to stay home with the kids. How would you feel about that? Or lets say she decided to marry two men at the same time, and had one child from each of them. Surely if one biological father is good, then two is even better. Would you be OK with that?

    > Children do best with both biological parents raising them. Step parents do not do as good a job. Step parents are much more likely to be abusive.

    But that is such a broad brush. I was abused by a step parent, but I don’t think that means all step parents are bad. So if you apply a one size fits all rule you are going to have a lot of kids who loose the opportunity for a healthy parenting relationship. One place kids are almost guaranteed to be abused in one way or another is when the government is in loco parentes.

    > It is a serious mistake to intentionally concieve a child out of wedlock.

    It is in some circumstances, but not in all. There are many women who find themselves toward the end of their fecundity who don’t have a suitable partner, and so choose to conceive and be a single parent. Many of them are fabulous mothers. Who are we to tell her that is is a serious mistake to do so. I don’t think so. I think it can often be a beautiful thing.

  73. It is in some circumstances, but not in all. There are many women who find themselves toward the end of their fecundity who don’t have a suitable partner, and so choose to conceive and be a single parent. Many of them are fabulous mothers. Who are we to tell her that is is a serious mistake to do so. I don’t think so. I think it can often be a beautiful thing.

    Statistically speaking, yes that woman is making a serious error driven by selfishness. One that is likely to cost society dearly, especially if she has a boy. Don’t be led astray by “it’s so heartwarming, it must be good”.

  74. >I think the idea of the non aggression principle as a schelling point is pretty fascinating.

    Curious that you haven’t encountered it before; it’s pretty commonplace among libertarians who have any idea what a Schelling point is (which is actually quite a lot of them).

  75. You are a better man than me then Nigel, because I don’t know the answer to all those questions. Nonetheless, I think that all we thinking people can agree that the cute kitties are toast.

    Ah, you think that because you didn’t know my honest answer to 8 is “I don’t know”. The one for which that answer isn’t a cop out because no one can know with any certainty and those that believe they do probably aren’t being honest with themselves. The answer isn’t “difficult”, just not known.

    The rest are either no brainers or coin toss (like #6).

    One that would require more thought is if you change question 2 (which isn’t a question) to “same situation but you know the single child on B”.

    The #4 is a potential gotcha question in as much as you can claim after that the ten convicted murderers are George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, etc caught and convicted by the British. Congrats, you just killed America, never mind there were no buses or trains back then…

    /shrug

    As for the cute kittens you might have quite a few surviving kittens at the end of the day. That one isn’t the gimme depending on how fresh the event was. When it comes to sex and betrayal few folks are “thinking” folks in the heat of the moment.

    It would be interesting to know if male answers significantly differed from female answers on #6. Probably too situationally dependent to predict.

  76. @Nigel
    > Ah, you think that because you didn’t know my honest answer to 8 is “I don’t know”.

    No, I don’t really know the answer to any of them, except kitties. (Meowwwww, splurg.)

    Not on an emotional level, on a logical level. Not what you would do, but what you think you should do. Should I sacrifice myself to save ten random strangers? That is a question of how you value life, and the discount factor you apply to the value of a life based on its distance from your circle of caring.

    My life is more important to me than the lives of ten strangers. I know that for sure, in fact I can prove it. Today I bought lunch for $8. I could have eaten more cheaply and sent the excess to a charity who could have given a mosquito net or two to a child in some god forsaken jungle somewhere, and made a fractional contribution to reducing his chance of catching malaria. I had pizza instead. It is mostly the same moral question in a slightly different form.

    The others are similarly subtle, they are mostly about how you measure of value of a life. In regards to kitties, there are lots of people that would send the train down the track to kill a few strangers to save their dog from such a terminal fate. If you think they are wrong, what basis do you have for making such a claim.

    Maybe I am just not a smart as you, but your certainty makes me think you haven’t thought about them deeply enough.. But maybe not. Maybe I am just a quivering mass of moral incertitude.

  77. > Hence “darkness at noon” – it is not merely about Communism but about the whole narrative that there is a clear line of progress towards a more rationally organized society starting with Galieli & co. “inventing rationality”, Voltaire, Rousseau etc. bringing it in the social, political shpere and basically Lenin and co. are the culmination of this process.

    Roger Bacon and Galileo did popularize rationality, but Voltaire and Rousseau abandoned it. That the planets go around the sun follows from the evidence. That all men are created equal defies the evidence.

  78. the answer to your conundrums is C) Ignore the artificial constraints placed on you by the question, and find a Better Solution.

    Ah, the Kobayashi Maru solution to moral dilemmas.

    Folks will rationalize their answer to #8 this way.

    “I absolutely know that I will opt to have the train hit my bus because I believe I will change the scenario and get away! Ha HAH!”

    Never mind that in the “real” world we make the decision to doom the 10 kids regularly. I know that in scenario #3 that I would pick my own kid. This probably is not surprising nor worthy of condemnation.

    However, I also know that I lavish extra opportunities on my kids that if I did not do would be enough to “save” 10 more kids from starvation. So from an honesty perspective I know I just let the starvation/poverty train hit 10 kids I’ve never met so my daughter can take ballet lessons and prance about in pink tights.

    A better man? I think not, not even in sarcasm. A lucky man? Yes.

    Folks should not pick too much at the complicity scab lest they not like what they see in the mirror. I’m not responsible for the deaths of those 10 kids just because I choose to waste money on ballet lessons or starbucks coffee or whatever. Complicit? Well now…lets not go there shall we?

  79. @Jessica Boxer

    Your writing often impresses me. I still remember you capping my classification of conservatives, liberals, radicals, and reactionaries. I don’t want to push any buttons here, but…

    I’m trying to influence my daughter away from “choosing a nontraditional lifestyle”. My son is autistic, so barring a miracle I only get one set of grandchildren, if I’m lucky. I choose to play the probabilities. The probabilities are that what has worked better will continue to work better. If my daughter wants children her best bet is to marry a good man with good prospects in her early to mid twenties and have children right away.

    “Many” is a larger number than a few. It may even be an objectively large number. “Often” is more than once-or-twice. In a country of 300 million odd people some of us will be agreeably, successfully, or even beautifully odd. They may merely be lucky. It’s not the way to bet.

    This ties into the OP this way:

    We cannot have perfect information. Most of us cannot plan our lives or make our ethical decisions from first principles. We have to go by what has worked before, even though we don’t fully understand it. Understanding would be better, but we can’t understand everything.

  80. @Shenpen:
    > One deeper question would be: why is force automatically considered worse than all the other
    > ways to put pressure on someone’s choices? What makes “I’ll punch you if you don’t bring me > a beer” automatically worse than “I’ll fire you from your job and terminate your apartement
    > rental contract if you don’t bring me a beer?”

    > The problem with the natural-righters is that natural right violations are not a good enough
    > predictor of the actual suffering people feel. It can come accross as protecting those stuff that
    > we may not care that much about, while leaving us vulnerable to stuff we care about.

    Good question. I’m going to answer that it depends upon the law and the terms of the contract (or, specifically, the complete set of terms known by both people when the rental agreement or employment started). In some parts of the US, you can be terminated at any time for and reason or no reason (but not an illegal reason … I’m ignoring this for the moment). This is known as “at-will” employment. When you start working for such a company, you do so knowing that you could be terminated at any point. Thus, being told that somebody might choose to exercise this option is known a-priori. All you need to do is decide whether continued employment is worthy of the effort of fetching somebody a beer. However, if you had signed an employment contract which guaranteed employment for certain amount of time (say 1 year), or you lived in an area where the law specified a minimum amount of pay upon termination or minimum notice or some other criteria which you relied upon when taking the offer of employment you have somebody who is unilaterally “changing the deal”. That is force. The same reasoning applies to an apartment rental contract.

    As for the subjective pain, this results in three interesting conclusions:
    First, it means that any centralized attempt to maximize happiness/minimize pain because the evaluations of pain/pleasure are nearly impossible to measure.
    Second, if the pain is subjective then the person suffering can simply choose not to suffer. That is, the amount of pain the person experiences is largely self-created, meaning that the responsibility for that pain lands on that person as well.
    Third, one of the only externally-visible, quantifiable measures of actual pain/pleasure which exists is economic activity. People willing to part with cash in order to get certain benefits indicates that something *really* is important to them. Covering up economic activity is an attempt to cover up the real state of happiness of people.

    @Bobw: How old is your daughter? ;-)

  81. @Jessica: That’s not really a system of ethics, that’s a raw assertion of power. If the ethic is “do what i say, no matter what” then it would take an infinite amount of time to consult you for every possible event. If you set broad rules, and speak no further, than I believe those rules would either not cover every case or would be inconsistent with each other in some cases. Possibly both.

  82. In regards to kitties, there are lots of people that would send the train down the track to kill a few strangers to save their dog from such a terminal fate. If you think they are wrong, what basis do you have for making such a claim.

    Yes, I think that would be the wrong decision but I think I’ve already pointed out that I believe it could happen. I don’t believe I would rush to judgement and say they are bad people because I know people are often irrational about specific things and these things differ from person to person. I believe that they will regret their decision but that’s neither here nor there.

    In contrast, you seem to have made the value judgement that folks that would decide in favor of the kitties as not “thinking people”. Hmmm…

    Or you simply hate cats.

    your certainty makes me think you haven’t thought about them deeply enough.

    That’s probably true but you stated:

    “Of course, most people can’t deal with these questions and tend to answer what they think they should rather than what they would actually do…”

    and to now say

    “No, I don’t really know the answer to any of them, except kitties. (Meowwwww, splurg.)

    Not on an emotional level, on a logical level. Not what you would do, but what you think you should do.”

    to imply lack of intelligence, understanding or subtlety on my part is not very ethical now is it?

  83. > > there are lots of people that would send the train down the track to kill a few strangers to save their dog from such a terminal fate.

    Nigel on Wednesday, April 3 2013 at 5:48 pm said:
    > Yes, I think that would be the wrong decision

    If someone supposedly cares about far away strangers, he is probably lying. If he would sacrifice his dog, would sacrifice his friend, so you should not be his friend.

    Instinct should tell you not to be his friend, and our word for people stigmatized by this instinct is “evil”

  84. Sacrificing the near person for the putative benefit of far persons is not a hypothetical case.

    It comes up in nearly every decision to go to war. Many times, the “near person” sacrificed (or put at grave risk) is the self. Read Major Sullivan Ballou’s letter to his wife.

    Ballou knew he might be killed; he knew that he was risking not only his own life, but the happiness of his wife and children. And for what? The abstract cause of “the Union”.

    There was no direct threat of harm to him, to his family, to his neighbors, to anyone in the Union states. (There were many residents of the Confederate states who were at risk of being taken from the United States against their wills, and oppressed by the Confederate government.) The fate of the slaves was not then at stake. (Ballou wrote a week before First Bull Run, when the U.S. was explicitly pledged not to interfere with slavery.) Yet he volunteered for the Union Army, helped recruit other volunteers (he was a prominent Rhode Island Republican), was prepared to kill any Rebel soldiers he faced, and was himself killed a week after he wrote the letter. A million or so other men shared his convictions and volunteered similarly.

    Were they right to do so? I believe so, but a lot of other people don’t, including a lot of libertarians.

    At other times, a similar decision had to be made by political leaders. For instance, the government of Great Britain had to decide whether to declare war on Imperial Germany in 1914, and on Nazi Germany in 1939. In both cases Britain itself was not attacked.

    Some libertarians may deny that the head of a “state” has any moral authority, and certainly not the authority to sacrifice the lives of others. But when that head of state was chosen by the clearly expressed intent of the people, and his previously defined authority explicitly included such decisions, it seem legitimate to me. (In the British cases cited above, replace “head of state” with “the national legislature”.)

    This does not contradict the NAP; but it tests it on a vastly larger scale in material and time, increasing the potential cost, the potential benefit, and the uncertainty.

  85. Pingback: Liberals Aren’t the Problem, Statism Is | Christian Michael

  86. esr> To unpack it slightly, the uncertainty of prediction changes the way we should evaluate ethical bets in which we are proposing to trade a large evil in the present for a large anticipated good in the future. We are prone to way overestimate conditional probabilities, treating the future as a reified place in which the outcomes we want are so certain that we are licensed to do harm in the present to achieve them. This is often a very serious mistake.

    That sounds as if you believe in the precautionary principle, in practically the same way as environmentalists do. The main difference between you and them is that you apply it to rises in the size of government whereas they apply it to rises in global temperatures. Politically, that’s a legitimate disagreement, on which I’m actually closer to your side than to theirs. But ethically, I don’t get what makes your moral outrage about them so superior to their moral outrage about you. From where I sit, I see the same outrage, the same selectively-risk-averse utility function (or duty-assignment), and the same conviction that their side’s pet peeve deserves precaution over everybody else’s pet peeve. Only the pet peeves themselves are different, which seems irrelevant to deontological ethics, consequentialist ethics, and everything in between. What gives?

  87. >What gives?

    What gives is that you don’t understand the “Precautionary Principle”. At all. It’s not invoked in attempts to avert large but certain evils in the present. It’s invoked in attempting to prevent change that has no obvious prompt harms attached, but (in the opinion of the invoker, anyway) has poorly estimated and potentially large future risks.

  88. Full disclosure about the precautionary principle: My position on it is that the Cato Institute’s Regulation magazine has ably debunked it (PDF). I read it in 2002, when it first came out. Together with Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, it turned me from a Green into a soft-core libertarian by driving home the precautionary principle’s intellectual vacuousness. But it only made me a soft-core libertarian, because I recognized that the principle is equally hollow no matter which cause one applies it to. That includes the cause of small government.

  89. esr> It’s invoked in attempting to prevent change that has no obvious prompt harms attached, but (in the opinion of the invoker, anyway) has poorly estimated and potentially large future risks.

    Then we agree on what the precautionary principle means. We just disagree on the application. You think that Hayek’s slippery-slope argument about Social Democracy being a slippery slope towards totalitarianism precautions against one of those poorly estimated and potentially large future risks. I don’t.

  90. Me, in a momentary lapse of brainpower> You think that Hayek’s slippery-slope argument about Social Democracy being a slippery slope towards totalitarianism precautions against one of those poorly estimated and potentially large future risks. I don’t.

    I should have proof-read that one more time before hitting “post”, and hereby change it as follows: Hayek’s slippery-slope argument, about Social Democracy leading to totalitarianism, cautioned against what Hayek saw as one of those poorly-estimated and potentially-large future risks. You just accept the argument as applied to increasing government size. I don’t.

  91. >Hayek’s slippery-slope argument, about Social Democracy leading to totalitarianism, cautioned against what Hayek saw as one of those poorly-estimated and potentially-large future risks.

    The key to the Precautionary Principle is that people invoking it are trying to equate two things that are different: “uncertainty about future harm” with “large future harm”.

    Neither Hayek nor I accept that social-democratic policies are a net good in the present, either. So the “no prompt harm” precondition doesn’t apply.

    Both Hayek and I believe the result of increasing institutional coercion is a certain evil, not an uncertain one. So the uncertain-future-harm postcondition doesn’t apply either.

    The Precautionary Principle is simply irrelevant to our thinking.

  92. > “But ethically, I don’t get what makes your moral outrage about them so superior to their moral outrage about you. ”

    They want power over me. I don’t want power over them.

    I am worried they might intentionally harm me to coerce me, might enslave me, might kill me as they have killed so many others. They are worried the weather might be two degrees warmer.

    If they were worried the weather might be one hundred degrees warmer, then our concerns would be comparable.

  93. @ESR – “Both Hayek and I believe the result of increasing institutional coercion is a certain evil”

    I would argue that it is a cancer that will continue to grow until it kills the host. As an individual, my interest is in not being killed by it.

  94. TomA on Wednesday, April 3 2013 at 9:13 pm said:
    > I would argue that it is a cancer that will continue to grow until it kills the host. As an individual, my interest is in not being killed by it.

    Charles Stross’s argument is that it is a benign cancer – that it will stop growing eventually. At its present size, this, if true, is small consolation.

  95. @JAD – “that it will stop growing eventually”

    It is a fact that it will stop growing when the host is dead. That it may stop short of that outcome is conjecture.

    I don’t understand the mindset . . . “let’s get cancer and hope its benign.”

  96. I liked what Bryan Caplan said about utilitarianism a while back:

    “The key difference between a normal utilitarian and a Leninist: When a normal utilitarian concludes that mass murder would maximize social utility, he checks his work! He goes over his calculations with a fine-tooth comb, hoping to discover a way to implement beneficial policy changes without horrific atrocities. The Leninist, in contrast, reasons backwards from the atrocities that emotionally inspire him to the utilitarian argument that morally justifies his atrocities.”

    http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2012/03/the_roots_of_le.html

  97. If someone supposedly cares about far away strangers, he is probably lying. If he would sacrifice his dog, would sacrifice his friend, so you should not be his friend.

    It’s a dog. A pet or a working animal. I’ll save the life of a pet but not at the expense of any human. Not even you.

    Do I care about far away strangers? Yes. More than close acquaintances? No. Hence the comment about 10 kids you don’t know vs 1 kid you do. However, at some point the math overrides near and far. At some point the math overrides even self and far. Rich’s example of Major Ballou (which amusingly I read first from a Star Wars fan movie…Civil War ain’t my period) is echoed across time. That you don’t get it simply means you ain’t nearly as bright as you think.

    But don’t worry, I don’t want to be your friend either.

  98. Nigel on Wednesday, April 3 2013 at 11:25 pm said:
    > However, at some point the math overrides near and far

    Interestingly, we observe that people who supposedly care about far away strangers, about people very different from themselves, have a striking propensity to murder friends and kin, and a marked tendency to commit suicide.

    Assuming that morality is an evolved sense, that morality is instincts created by natural selection to warn us “Evil approaches. Beware!”, if that instinct fires when it senses utilitarians, as mine does, twentieth century history indicates that it is firing accurately.

  99. The difference between you and me is that I don’t believe that people are very different from me. They eat, they sleep, they love their kids. Some are good, some are evil, etc. They are human.

    It is folks that try to accentuate the differences and de-humanize people that are responsible for genocide and atrocities. The fact is we have to do that to train soldiers to kill. To have them see targets/threats and not people. Most people need this conditioning to in order to kill other people.

    If your value system is that your dog has more value than a busload of kids just because you don’t personally know them then the evil warning bell is ringing off the hook.

  100. Peter A. Taylor on Wednesday, April 3 2013 at 10:27 pm said:
    > “The key difference between a normal utilitarian and a Leninist: When a normal utilitarian concludes that mass murder would maximize social utility, he checks his work!

    Communists believed that they would only need a wee little tiny itsy bitsy bit of terror, torture, and mass murder to bring about utopia. Therefore not distinguishable from “normal” utilitarians.

    When utopia failed to eventuate, the communists gradually and cautiously escalated terror, torture, and mass murder, expecting each small escalation would be sufficient to turn the corner. Simultaneously, they escalated the hoped for wonderfulness of the proposed utopia.

    Most utilitarians have political goals and objectives that strike me as more appropriate for Angels of the Lord, than mere mortals, so the same dynamic is apt to work with pretty much all of them.

    Observe the steadily escalating level of political repression. Supposedly, with just a teensy bit more repression, homosexuals will get married and stop spreading aids, mestizos will move into green leafy suburbs, get middle class jobs, pay middle class mortgages, and vote republican, women will contribute significantly to science, Obama will no longer stumble when he reads a long sentence on his teleprompter, and boys won’t need fathers because a village will raise them. Just a teensy weensy bit more repression, and we will turn the corner.

  101. Nigel on Thursday, April 4 2013 at 12:52 am said:
    > The difference between you and me is that I don’t believe that people are very different from me. They eat, they sleep, they love their kids. Some are good, some are evil, etc. They are human.

    And during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a lot of humans have committed mass murder and created artificial famines.

    You little homily reminds me of Barack Obama’s spiel on Palestinians:

    “In Israel, President Obama broke from the text of his prepared speech to describe a conversation he had with some Palestinian kids: “Talking to them, they weren’t that different from my daughters, they weren’t that different from your daughters or sons. I honestly believe that if any Israeli parent sat down with these kids, they’d say, ‘I want these kids to succeed, I want them to prosper, I want them to have opportunities just like my kids do.’”

    This is of course a lie, the homily was scripted, not a departure from the text, and in the unlikely event that he talked to actual Palestinian children, they probably claimed that they want to grow to be suicide bombers and were willing to continue war forever until the last Jew anywhere in the world dies.

  102. @Nigel,
    “The difference between you and me is that I don’t believe that people are very different from me. ”

    It is odd to hear a sane voice among this madness.

  103. “The parallel with epistemology, in which all non-consequentialist theories of truth collapse into vacuity or circularity, is exact.”

    I agree the parallel is exact, but the premise is incorrect. This is the Wikipedia understanding of epistemology.

    “The correspondence theory of truth states that the truth or falsity of a statement is determined only by how it relates to the world and whether it accurately describes (i.e., corresponds with) that world. The theory is opposed to the coherence theory of truth which holds that the truth or falsity of a statement is determined by its relations to other statements rather than its relation to the world.”

    Correspondence and coherence are the same theory. Statements about evidence are also statements, which means coherence reduces to correspondence. Similarly, statements about evidence must be consistent with true statements about statements, which means correspondence reduces to coherence.

    “As an epistemological theory, coherentism opposes foundationalism and infinitism and attempts to offer a solution to the regress argument.”

    Foundationalism is also true. There are certain facts which not only can be known with 100% accuracy, but must be so known by definition. Specifically, your own thoughts and sensations. What I’m thinking is defined by what I think I’m thinking. What I’m perceiving is defined by what I perceive myself to perceive.

    Assume I think I’m thinking of a blue mug, and you posit I’m actually thinking of a red lamp. But who is in fact perceiving this lamp? By definition, it isn’t me. If I look at my supposedly red-lamp thought and perceive a blue mug, the thought is in fact a blue mug.

    The statements of coherentism are at this level, and the evidence of correspondence must pass through this level. When a coherentist says they conclude that two statements are coherent, look how absurd it is to respond, “No, you did not reach any such conclusion, and you never thought of those statements.” When the experimenter reads the scale as 13.67g, it is absurd to conclude that they did not see the scale as 13.67.

    To my amusement, idealism and materialism reduce to each other too.

  104. ESR,

    > It would also price housing out of the market for a lot of people, because who would build rental units if they would just be alienated away by the tenants?

    Very good point, then this homesteading away should only be considered for land, natural resources etc. uncreated stuff, if at all. But the uncreated is always mixed with the created, as it is improved and not used in its natural state, which may lead us to georgism / geolibertarianism hmmmm there is a lot to consider here.

  105. >Correspondence and coherence are the same theory.

    It doesn’t matter. They both pop like a bubble when you analyze the purported meanings of ‘correspondence’ and ‘coherence’ carefully enough to get past the appeal to intuition. The question that destroys both is “How do you test ‘correspondence’ or ‘coherence’?”. That is, what are the decision procedures for these predicates?

  106. @Nigel,
    “The difference between you and me is that I don’t believe that people are very different from me. ”

    @Winter,
    “It is odd to hear a sane voice among this madness.”

    Considering your left-leaning politics, THAT is a truly unique position to take on the nature/nurture debate.

  107. @esr
    “They both pop like a bubble when you analyze the purported meanings of ‘correspondence’ and ‘coherence’ carefully enough to get past the appeal to intuition.”

    Actually, what you are after here seems to be a theory of meaning, eg, semantics.

    The semantics of a statement can only be expressed in other statements. The meaning of words is given in an encyclopedia in other words, which too are only known from the encyclopedia. That would be the ‘coherence’ part.

    The grounding problem, that is where the encyclopedia connects to reality, is a difficult problem that pops up in all symbolic systems, e.g., software. That would be the ‘correspondence’ part.

    The meaning of words and statements (or programs) can only be discovered by observing how they are used. Like in the old riddle of how to explain color to the blind, or “fire” to someone who has never seen a flame. In the end, an “apple” is a thing you can take in your hand and eat. Unless you have experienced an “apple”, words can bring you only so far. But without an encyclopedia of words and their relations, you can only express what you have experienced directly.

    In the end, that would not be EITHER ‘correspondence’ OR ‘coherence’, but rather two orthogonal dimensions:
    To have meaning, statements must be build from words whose definitions are shared with the readers, i.e., from an encyclopedia, but the statements must also be grounded in some real experiences (however remote).

  108. >The question that destroys both is “How do you test ‘correspondence’ or ‘coherence’?”. That is, what are the decision procedures for these predicates?

    I believe a correspondencist – that is, an empiricist, operationalist etc. – takes some sensory input, measurable, empirical facts as unshakable truths, and tries to reduce statements or theories else to them.

    The coherentist approach is basically the probability of a statement being true is that how closely matches with with other statements we accept as true and how many other ones it does not match, so it is about mutual reinforcing. A good example is that empirical reports about a perpetuum mobile can be dismissed, because it does not match with our theory of the conservation of energy, which in turn matches with a gazillion other empirical reports, which are in turn accepted as valid observations because they match with another accepted theories and so on.

  109. In the beginning . . . there was the universe and reality.

    Then along came homo sapiens; and they evolved into sentient beings, created complex language, and could express conceptual thoughts.

    The word “truth” was invented and it meant “an accurate perception or conception of reality.” And reality didn’t care what humans thought of it.

    Using the word “truth” is nothing more than a human attempt to get more than one person to agree about what constitutes some aspect of reality.

  110. “Let A be the event of torturing an innocent child to death today. Let B be the condition that the world will be a paradise of bliss tomorrow. I propose to violate the NTICTD rule by performing A in order to bring about B”.

    esr> My response would be “You cannot possibly have enough knowledge about the conditional probability P(B|A) to justify this choice.”

    Even if we knew with absolute certainty that P(B|A)=1, that alone could not justify the choice. Even if the person proposing the torture said “agree to torture this child AFTER you see that Paradise has in fact arrived”.

    What is P(B|~A)? What if the sadistic bastard demanding we torture the child knew that Paradise was going to arrive in any event, like the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court used an eclipse that was going to happen anyway? Progressives use a lot of “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” to “prove” that without the A they ask us to endure, we would not have the B we now enjoy.

  111. James A. Donald probably sleeps with his dog. That doesn’t make him evil, just weird. Weird in such a way that I probably won’t be looking to him for moral guidance.

    Who among us would send the train toward living humans to save his pet goldfish?

  112. @The Monster

    I do know quite a number of progressives. None of them would torture children or defend torturing any people at all.

    Are there many left wing people in the USA advocating torture?

    The people from the USA I see defendind toture on TV seem more Republican types.

  113. @Winter
    > The people from the USA I see defendind toture on TV seem more Republican types.

    But you raise a good point, torturewise. Is there a case for torturing a child? Say it is a 17 old boy who has kidnapped your daughter. She is buried in a hole somewhere and has 24 hours of oxygen left. He wont tell you where.

    Many people, I’d say even most people would say “bring out the thumbscrews” in practice even if not in theory. (Why? Because proximity in your circle of caring increases the cost of suffering of your child against a discounted value for the suffering of the boy who is both a stranger and manifestly a bad person.)

    All these moral questions are very situational. As far as I know, if you keep picking there isn’t a floor. I guess that is why schelling points appeal to me, but to be honest, having thought about it, I doubt that is anything more than an illusion anyway.

    I believe it was that great philosopher the Apostle Paul who advocated that those where were not Jesus followers should “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die.” Sounds like a good plan to me.

  114. >To have meaning, statements must be build from words whose definitions are shared with the readers, i.e., from an encyclopedia, but the statements must also be grounded in some real experiences (however remote).

    That is so. The important (defining) characteristic of truth claims is that they have to cash out as a set of predictions about an observable.

    Coherentism fails because it shuffles the problem of evaluating an ungrounded truth claim off to its consistency with other truth claims which may themselves be ungrounded.

    Correspondentism fails to the extent that it pushes aside the question of how we decide that a given truth claim “corresponds with” reality. Historically, correspondentism simply appealed to an intuition that we already knew how to do this. Correspondentism can be repaired, but when you repair it it becomes Peircean predictivism; as given it’s just a hand-wave.

  115. @Shenpen
    > Clearly it was a bargain-chip attitude to sex, where the price – as in, for example, emotional commitment as a price – reflects the value of the woman.

    Sure, it is a cartel, right? Cartelizing the providers of pussy increases the value for all members of the cartel. Scabs and strike breakers have to be intimidated into line. Moreover, it is a union mentality, so that the ugly chicks get laid as much as the hot chicks by increasing the general scarity of sexual access.

    Me? I believe in a free market in sex. Social opprobrium be damned. Nonetheless, economics explains it all :-)

  116. >The people from the USA I see defendind toture on TV seem more Republican types.

    Yes, that has been true. All you have to do is wait, though. The moment the Obama administration is caught doing it, the entire American left will rush to rationalize torture while continuing to maintain that the Bush regime was evil when it did the exact same things.

    If you think this sounds overly cynical, you haven’t been paying attention. The U.S. “anti-torture” movement, like the U.S. “anti-war” movement, no longer exists except when a Republican is in office.

  117. @ESR – “The moment the Obama administration is caught doing it, the entire American left will rush to rationalize”

    Case in point. Juanita Broderick goes public with having been raped by (then Attorney General) Bill Clinton, and she gets vilified instead of being offered the Anita HIll defense by the national media and women’s rights groups.

  118. @jessica
    “I’d say even most people would say “bring out the thumbscrews” in practice even if not in theory.”

    There is a nice answer to this. Umberto Eco (of “The name of the rose” fame) is a staunch opponent of capital punishment. He was once asked a question close to yours (murdering his son): He said that, out of grieve and revenge, he too would try to kill that person in a cruel manner. In return, he would expect his government to punish him for it like a criminal.

    His point is that we are human and when pushed hard enough, will do things we personally strongly disagree with in other circumstances. Therefore, there should be laws binding us not to do such things.

    You see the same reasoning on your own news. The US government will not negotiate with terrorist hostage takers, even though those involved would want to negotiate to get their loved ones free.

    @esr
    “Yes, that has been true. All you have to do is wait, though.”

    So you think they will support torture in some indefinite future. But we know who are defending, even advocating, torture now. Who even have made it to be applied.

    In my mind there is a difference between people who I think might in future, under certain circumstances do something and those who have done so already with a lot of enthusiasm. You are only guilty after you commit the “crime”.

  119. @winter
    > He was once asked a question close to yours (murdering his son):

    That is a different situation — retribution. The purpose of torture in my example was to obtain information to prevent a great evil, not as a payback.

    I also think that this position is silly. If it everyone feels that they would demand capital retribution for the murder of a loved one would be their response, then how is it just to deny such a thing to the loved ones of a murder victim? It is a classic case of do as I say, not as I do.

    Morality is what people say it is.

  120. Winter:
    > The semantics of a statement can only be expressed in other statements

    If so, how could any child ever learn its mother’s tongue?

    That total immersion language teaching works implies we have direct contact with reality, that naive realism is simply and uncomplicatedly true, that I see the real red of the real apple, and that Johnson kicked the real stone.

    If a philosopher wants to know “how do we know X, how can we know X, where X is so basic and simple that every child knows it, he should watch children learning X.

  121. Winter on Thursday, April 4 2013 at 12:53 pm said:
    > I do know quite a number of progressives. None of them would torture children or defend torturing any people at all.

    Oh come on. 100% of progressives, every single one, gave the politically correct answers at school. The politically correct answers implicitly defend and support the torture of children.

    Stalin gave progressives tours of the gulag, and every single one of them loved it.

    The type example of utilitarianism and/or Kantianism leading to the torture of children is the Ukraine famine, where commissars would burn children with petrol to force the their mothers to reveal where the seed corn was buried.

    Take a look at any university course covering the Ukraine famine or the hungry ghosts famine. They defend the confiscations, they treat confiscation as legitimate, thus implicitly defending and supporting the torture of children. They piously avoid describing the methods used to confiscate, which silence silently endorse the torture of children.

    And, similarly, reporting on famines related to food to fuel, the reporters do not say “Damned good thing, too many humans for poor suffering victimized Gaia” explicitly in so many words, but that is the implication.

    Again, remember “We are the world, we are the children”. Progressives around the world united to provide relief for the 1984-1985 Ethiopian famine – by giving money to the Ethiopian government, somehow overlooking the fact that this was a terror famine created by a that communist government to crush armed rebellion by the peasants. If they really cared, would have sent the peasants guns, rather than the government butter.

  122. Jess on Thursday, April 4 2013 at 11:33 am said:
    > Who among us would send the train toward living humans to save his pet goldfish?

    Assume the train is headed for a bridge that has collapsed, and we could leap forward to divert it to run over our dog.

    No normal human is going to divert it over his dog and anyone that does so is a monster.

  123. Yeah, that’s what I thought James. Have fun with your dog. I don’t think the railroad switching yard will be hiring you.

    You should visit a farm sometime in your life. Animals are not people. Animals are eaten by people.

  124. Assume the train is headed for a bridge that has collapsed, and we could leap forward to divert it to run over our dog.

    No normal human is going to divert it over his dog and anyone that does so is a monster.

    Seems a bit much to call someone a monster for tearfully sacrificing his dog to save the crew of the train.

    I’d agree with you if it was an unmanned remote-operated train, but…

    (That said, hey. People love their pets. I wouldn’t necessarily condemn someone for not being able to make that call.)

  125. >Animals are not people. Animals are eaten by people.

    True, in general. But if you attempt to eat my cat I will not be pleased.

  126. esr> Neither Hayek nor I accept that social-democratic policies are a net good in the present, either. So the “no prompt harm” precondition doesn’t apply.

    Fair enough.

  127. > …if you attempt to eat my cat I will not be pleased.

    What if, by eating your cat, I’m able to cure malaria or divert an asteroid? b^)

  128. I’m sort of a “theoretical game-theoretic utilitarian” at the moment, but a “practical deontologist”. It’s sort of like being pretty sure that there is something like a state that the external universe exists in, and that it propagates forward in time according to coherent laws, and being unable to really use this to predict the weather tomorrow.

    With respect to the utility monster argument, I think where this becomes problematic is that you can’t simply add a ton of people’s utility functions as if they were functions with some absolute value. They are simply orderings of preferences for each agent involved. Collective decisionmaking may have to solve for some collective objective function – which is why collective decisionmaking is often pretty bad. At best you get something that loosely satisfies the preferences of a majority and doesn’t provoke revolt from a minority.

    Agents have preferences on which they make decisions. If you take any given utility function and multiply it by 0.1 or 100,000, you’ve altered no information about the preferences of the agent involved. Collectives have collections of arrangements between agents seeking their preferences (at best), and some top down collective decisionmaking at worst. Global utility is in general an incoherent concept, IMO.

  129. Sigivald
    > Seems a bit much to call someone a monster for tearfully sacrificing his dog to save the crew of the train.

    But, if you don’t know anyone on the train, don’t see them close up, don’t hear their individual voices, you will not weep for them. Therefore, if you decide to sacrifice your dog for them, it will not be tearfully, but gleefully, gloatingly, like the commissar holding the kulak’s child in the fire..

    If you knew someone on the train, then you might well decide to sacrifice your dog, even though doing so would make you weep. But if they are far away strangers, you would not weep for them, and the decision to sacrifice your dog under those circumstances would reveal you would not weep for your dog either.

  130. No normal human is going to divert it over his dog and anyone that does so is a monster.

    My personal intuitions on the subject :-

    I’d argue that anyone who specifically chooses to not divert the train and save human lives is probably a lot closer to being a monster.
    Someone who hesitates and thus misses the chance or makes a choice and regrets the consequences is probably merely human.
    I’m more worried about someone who makes their choice based on who to kill rather than who is their first choice to save.
    Anyone who makes strong moral pronouncements such as the quoted is embedded in the same mental failure mode that makes religion cause so many problems.

    Make of them what you will.

  131. Some of you are failing to understand James Donald’s explanation. He is saying that willingness to sacrifice is often a proxy for being an evil person outside the hypothecated examples.

  132. >What if, by eating your cat, I’m able to cure malaria or divert an asteroid? b^)

    You asked that as a joke, I think, but I’ll answer it seriously: my response would depend largely on how I estimate the conditional probabilities.

  133. >I’m more worried about someone who makes their choice based on who to kill rather than who is their first choice to save.

    What a very tempting thought. Given a choice between saving the dog and ten politicians I might have a tough call to make.

  134. What a very tempting thought. Given a choice between saving the dog and ten politicians I might have a tough call to make.

    I’d hope that your choice would be based on saving the dog being a higher priority than saving 10 parasites… i mean politicians. But you raise an interesting edge case to my intuition.

  135. Morality codes of conduct are endlessly debatable (and frequently tiresome), but I think Jessica Boxer has the right take on this.

    If you conduct yourself in such as way as to often incur the wrath of others, then there is a reasonable likelihood that you won’t be returning your genes back into the gene pool. Proof test – let some numnuts visit Eric’s house and threaten Sugar.

    Before the advent of high civilization, a lack of common sense got you killed.

  136. Jess on Thursday, April 4 2013 at 6:07 pm said:
    Animals are not people. Animals are eaten by people.

    esr on Thursday, April 4 2013 at 6:31 pm said:
    True, in general. But if you attempt to eat my cat I will not be pleased.

    I don’t think Jess would be pleased either. Probably get his face clawed to btis.

  137. @Jessica
    “If it everyone feels that they would demand capital retribution for the murder of a loved one would be their response, then how is it just to deny such a thing to the loved ones of a murder victim?”

    Nope, Eco feels he would be wrong to kill the murderer of his son. However, he knows he is only human and could be driven to do things he is convinced are wrong. The whole point of “morals” is that they are bigger than an individual.

    Your position is that you never have to feel guilt, because what you did in the past must have been good, because you felt like doing it then. Experience tells us most people really do experience feelings of guilt.

  138. @JAD
    “Oh come on. 100% of progressives, every single one, gave the politically correct answers at school. The politically correct answers implicitly defend and support the torture of children.”

    Your disconnect to reality seems to be complete. People do not become monsters just for their political preferences.

    The people in question detest violence. Moreover, they became socialist because they have such strong moral feelings. I know they would lose their believes before they would lose their morality.

    In that, they seem to differ fundamentally from you.

    And with your “throw your dog for the train” question, I know people who I suspect would throw themselves for the train to safe the passengers. In case you missed it, every year there are stories of people who jump in the water or run into a burning building to save complete strangers. And then I even exclude police, fire brigades and other such.

    And that heroism is independent from political conviction.

  139. Winter:
    > The people in question detest violence. Moreover, they became socialist because they have such strong moral feelings.

    Until the Soviet Union changed its policy on the Khmer Rouge on 1979 January the first, there was scarcely a word of criticism from the left about the Khmer Rouge.

    Then the Soviet Union changed its line, and suddenly and abruptly the entire left demonized the Khmer Rouge.

    Progressive concerns about morality and violence get abruptly turned on and off like a tap.

  140. Since Eric’s cat seems to have taken on the same archetypal properties in the realm of morality as Schrodinger’s cat did in physics… let me extend the question chain.

    If a stranger was going to kill Sugar would you kill them to prevent that outcome (ignoring other reasons you might want to kill that person, such as the fact that they are a stranger in your house.)

  141. @Winter
    > Your position is that you never have to feel guilt, because what you did in the past must have been good, because you felt like doing it then.

    That isn’t my position at all. When I say “morality is what people say it is” I didn’t mean to imply “morality is what I say it is.” My point is that morality is a socially derived meme, not some externally defined set of rules. That isn’t the whole truth since various powerful people have manipulated the meme to their advantage (just listen to some politicians or preachers for a while and you will see this in action.)

    An important point here is that morality is not some systematically derived set of rules, based on a small set of axioms. It is far more like the common law. A lot of messy rules made up situationally over a long period of time, occasionally skewed by the manipulation of legislative action. A large part of school and parenting is conveying this messy set of rules to children.

    Nonetheless, my point is that even if everyone thinks it is wrong, but would do it anyway, one must ask the question, is it really wrong?

    > Experience tells us most people really do experience feelings of guilt.

    Sure, but people feel guilt because they violate the arbitrary code of morality that society imposes on them. It is a mechanism that society has built into us, and trained into us, to give it some control over our behavior, along with such tools as shaming, legal consequences, and pitchfork wielding mobs.

    In some communities women feel guilty if they speak out of turn to their husbands. I have a friend who feels intense guilt because she had sex with someone besides her husband (years before they were married.) In some cases teenage boys feel dreadfully guilty because they engage in masturbation. Those feelings of guilt are invalid, because they come from bugs in the moral code.

  142. Oh, BTW, in regards to the messiness of the moral rules I mentioned above, here is a question that Paul Graham asked in an essay which illustrates that messiness.

    Why is it generally OK for parents to swear but utterly unacceptable for children to swear.

    (You might not agree with this moral rule, but it is, for sure, commonly accepted in most of suburban America.)

    BTW, if you are interested here is a link to his essay:

    http://www.paulgraham.com/lies.html

  143. “…I know people who I suspect would throw themselves for the train to safe the passengers… every year there are stories of people who jump in the water or run into a burning building to save complete strangers. And then I even exclude police, fire brigades and other such.

    “And that heroism is independent from political conviction.”

    When a leopard appears, the young male baboons move between it and the troop, and try to harass and delay it so that the females and young can escape. This sort of behavior is instinctive, built into us, naturally selected because it helps to preserve our species. Many commenters on this blog have expressed a desire to carry firearms so that they can be a ‘sheepdog among the sheep’ and help defend society against its enemies. Years ago, I joined the Auxiliary Police in New York City for the same reasons. People continue to join our military, ditto.

    Stop trying to derive morality from logical axioms. It is far older than your logic. Logic only comes into play when you find that what evolved for small groups of hominims 150,000 years ago might need a bit of tweaking in modern times. Techno evolution runs much faster than the genetic type. We just have to deal with it.

  144. @Jessica Boxer

    > If a stranger was going to kill Sugar would you kill them to prevent that outcome ….

    Of course, I’m not Eric, nor do I presume to speak for him, but let me hazard a guess as to his response, based upon what I’ve read and heard from the man -

    If someone threatened Sugar, Eric would use the least possible effective force to dissuade the fool. { Stranger (wielding a butcher knife and stewpot): “Yummy looking cat!” Eric (draws pistol, points it at fool): “Don’t do it!” Stranger: “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty! Come to The Chef!” Eric: “Touch my cat and you die.” Etc., etc. }

    If said fool persisted in the face of reason backed with overwhelming force, Eric would do what he had to do. And Sugar would end up with long pig for dinner….

  145. @LS
    “Stop trying to derive morality from logical axioms. It is far older than your logic.”

    I do not understand what you want to say here. I believe morals are part of the genetic make-up of humans. You can find homologues it in social animals, as in your example.

    I simply do not believe for a moment assertions that all people will rather see a trainload of people die than throw a dog on the tracks.

  146. “I do not understand what you want to say here. I believe morals are part of the genetic make-up of humans. You can find homologues it in social animals, as in your example.”

    @Winter: Sorry, my comment was not directed at you. I simply quoted you as further examples of “instinctive altruism”. I should have made that clear.

    @Everyone: What I do want to say is that our ‘moral sense’ is founded on the evolution of our brains. Evolution is random, not deductive. Trying to produce a consistent and logical set of moral axioms and theorems might be fun, but it is futile. Our instincts are heuristics, they work most of the time, but are often contradictory. Such is life.

  147. Morality and ethics are traits of cultural evolution, and the norms we perceive today merely reflect the current state of civilized development. It’s a work in progress, not an “absolute” handed down from on-high or a “truth” to be revealed by thoughtful analysis.

    We are born with opposable thumbs, an evolutionary trait long in the making. It’s here because it works, and how each individual utilizes this trait is an individual choice. We then bear the consequences of these choices.

  148. >If a stranger was going to kill Sugar would you kill them to prevent that outcome (ignoring other reasons you might want to kill that person, such as the fact that they are a stranger in your house.)

    But I don’t think the context can be ignored. In the abstract, I don’t consider the life of a cat (even my cat) to be as valuable as the life of a human being. But the kind of person who would invade my home to eat my cat is a present danger to other human beings, as well. More extremely, consider John D. Bell’s jocular hypothetical – stranger (wielding a butcher knife and stewpot): “Yummy looking cat!”. Anybody who would charge into somebody’s home exhibiting that behavior is not merely criminally dangerous but deranged and probably better off dead from everyone’s point of view, not just mine. My cat, on the other hand, reliably makes every human she meets happier. Not a difficult call at all, and unlikely to cause me much distress afterwards.

    On the other hand, consider the classic lifeboat scenario, in which I’m days from land in a small boat with Sugar and a bunch of strangers and no food. Under those circumstances allowing a stranger to kill Sugar might be the best choice, especially if the stranger has the means to do it quickly and cleanly.

  149. @TomA
    Language is a human trait hard wired in our genes and brain. The language we speak is a cultural system handed down by previous generations.

    Morality is a human trait hard wired…etc.

    Which morals are possible is determined by genes. Which morals are actually realized is cultural.

  150. @LS
    >What I do want to say is that our ‘moral sense’ is founded on the evolution of our brains.

    Some behaviors are indeed hard wired, but the moral context for it is really an memetic add on. I don’t think the baboons are really acting in a moral way but rather in the way they have been programmed and, arguably, to increase their chances of copulation with said females. I don’t consider this an example of morality at all.

    However, here is a question I have been struggling with from a moral point of view. Recently two football players in Steubenville, OH have been convicted of rape. It was a huge story here, there is a big piece on it in wikipedia.

    There is some dispute of the facts, but the most commonly believed story is that the girl got really drunk, and was partying with the boys who were also super drunk. She passed out, and the boys digitally penetrated her vagina, and slapped their dicks on her thigh. The next morning she woke up naked, not remembering what had happened, and continued in that ignorant bliss for a couple of days. However, the events had been captured in social media and she soon found out. After she found out, she complained, and the boys were charged, and ultimately convicted.

    I am baffled by the morality of this case. The harm caused to her was the embarrassment from being told what happened. No actual physical harm came to her directly, she wasn’t even aware of the harm. Especially so with the specific nature of their actions, with fingers only. But clearly the boys acted very badly. Honestly, I am a little confounded on the morality of this case. You read the comments on news sites and people want to string these boys up by their necks. But to me they acted badly, but it was just a bunch of drunken revelry, especially since the girl’s actions earlier in the evening indicated that she would welcome their advances, and the fact that there is some question as to whether she was in fact conscious and at least a little participatory in the action.

    Am I the only person who thinks this is less morally clear cut than the press and the raging mob would have us believe?

    > Evolution is random, not deductive.

    Evolution is not random. Individual mutations are random, but evolution is directed by very strong logical forces. It is most certainly deductive; really, in fact it is remarkably similar in its operation to a distributed neural net. (Hey, am I advocating for intelligent design? I guess I am :-)

  151. >Am I the only person who thinks this is less morally clear cut than the press and the raging mob would have us believe?

    Oh, hell no.

    The real point of prosecuting those boys had nothing to do with morality at all. It was to reinforce a narrative in which women are never held responsible for slutty and sexually risky behavior that invites men to use them while drunk or drugged, but men who take them up on the invitation are classed as rapists and predators. This is called “feminist empowerment”, and it is now a far more important goal than teaching young women not to treat themselves like public conveniences. Didn’t you get the memo? And if the boys have to live with unjust felony convictions for the rest of their lives, who cares? They’re only males, and therefore not actually entitled to equal protection under the law – it says so right there in Title IX!

    The correct disposition for this case would have been for all three idiots to spend a day in the stocks with big signs above them reading “Stupid when drunk” and piles of rotten vegetables nearby with which bystanders could express proper contempt.

  152. @esr -

    >consider John D. Bell’s jocular hypothetical

    I admit I was comically exaggerating on purpose, but I can envision a somewhat more plausible scenario that you might wish to comment on -

    In many SE Asian cultures, people routinely eat cat and dog meat. Suppose you were visiting there, and you had your cat (or another pet) with you, but not immediately at hand. Some cook might possibly mistake your animal for a stray, and try to scoop them up to put into tonight’s meal. If you came across them while they were trying to turn Sugar into satay, I’m sure you would strenuously object. Now add a tall language barrier, and the assumption that the cook is poor enough that harvesting a “stray” cat is the only way they’ll eat tonight.

    How far would you go in using force against that (assumed not crazy, and also not maliciously intentioned) strange human to save your pet animal?

  153. >Some cook might possibly mistake your animal for a stray, and try to scoop them up to put into tonight’s meal. If you came across them while they were trying to turn Sugar into satay, I’m sure you would strenuously object. Now add a tall language barrier, and the assumption that the cook is poor enough that harvesting a “stray” cat is the only way they’ll eat tonight.

    I pose an obvious lethal threat to get cookie to cease and desist – if that takes drawing a weapon, I’ll do it. But I’m not really willing to kill him outright in this circumstance, so if the prompt threat doesn’t work I assault him with intent to subdue (I am willing to risk damaging him to the level of a broken bone or two). He’s not going to continue trying to catch or kill a cat with me coming at him like a freight train – I may be slow on my feet, but I look hard enough that people generally do not want to mess with me when I’m obviously pissed off. When Sugar is separated from the poor bastard, I desist and leave him money to buy food.

    Part of the ethical calculus here is that Sugar is very obviously not feral – she’s well-kept and very human-friendly. Cookie is not merely willing to eat a cat, he’s willing to kill one that trusts people and is visibly likely to bonded to a human (in your scenario, she probably wandered up to him and solicited some petting). Even some dogs can make this distinction; I know a Malamute who will eat feral cats but is polite and friendly to pet cats. If cookie can’t or won’t I don’t mind damaging him a little.

  154. Butbutbut if you don’t agree with branding these kids for life as dangerous sexual predators, then YOU SUPPORT RAPE and might as well be a rapist yourself!!!!!!!!!!111111111111eleventy.

  155. @Jessica
    The fact thst all humans have morals is as much based in genetics as the urge of baboons to protect their kin. The content of the morals is cultural.

    I have not followed the rape case you mention. However, in my country this would not be a moral but a crominal matter. It is simply the law that penetrating a person without his or her consent is considered a crime (rape). That is less arbitrary than jailing someone for the possesion of herbal extractions for consumption.

    Lex dura sed lex

  156. @Winter
    > The fact thst all humans have morals

    That makes no sense. That is like saying the fact humans program is genetic. The languages they program in is cultural. Is true, but not a very interesting thing to say. Genetics gives humans the ability to think. Morals are a tiny fraction of that. Baboons protecting the females bears almost no resemblance to the moral conundrums we are discussing.

    > However, in my country this would not be a moral but a crominal matter.

    But the criminal code is supposed to be an enforcement of the communities moral code, at least to a large extent. So I totally don’t see your point.

    > Lex dura sed lex

    Perhaps, but sane and decent people question the the law when it is wrong. Which is the point here. In the USA there is a doctrine called jury nullification, which allows juries to find accused not guilty in case if they think the law is unjust in a particular case (just as the police and the prosecutor has similar discretion.) So the lex does not need to be dura.

    (BTW, jury nullification is one way only, juries are not allowed to find an accused guilty despite the law. Thank God!)

  157. @Jessica
    All humans speak a language, or sign it. Language is “part of our genes”. But the specific languages that are spoken are cultural. The same with morals.

    If you do not like the law, change it. Laws and morals are very different animals. I do think it can be argued that boys should be made unambiguously clear that you do not enter a woman’s body without her expressive consent. Whether it is immoral or not is irrelevant here. Your law seems to agree with me.

    That your legal and criminal system is completely disfunctional is another matter.

  158. Genes are the instrument of heredity in physical evolution, and there is also ample evidence that certain behaviors encode genetically. As such, some degree of psychological evolution is playing out in parallel with our physical evolution.

    Nevertheless, Jessica Boxer is correct to point out that the primary instrument of cultural evolution are memes and the dynamics of cultural memetics. Morality is a complex set of behaviors and predilections, that have largely evolved over the past several thousand years rather the the past two million years. It’s interesting to note that barbarism yielded to civilization at about the time that memetic communication became widespread in the form of religious texts.

  159. Winter on Friday, April 5 2013 at 10:37 am said:
    > I simply do not believe for a moment assertions that all people will rather see a trainload of people die than throw a dog on the tracks.

    All people (not counting monsters as human), will rather see a trainload of people that they have never met and will never see up close and personal, die in the far distance, than throw their own dog on the tracks.

  160. Winter on Friday, April 5 2013 at 5:47 pm said:
    > I do think it can be argued that boys should be made unambiguously clear that you do not enter a woman’s body without her expressive consent.

    Our ancestors had sex, and indeed had marriage, before we had language or contracts. It is an ancient mating dance. Women seldom express consent verbally, and are seldom consciously aware of expressing consent non verbally.

    Verbal consent only works in patriarchal societies, where it is contract between families. Thus for example Khadija sent her servant to talk to Mohammed, then Mohammed talked to his uncle, then his uncle talked to her uncle, then her uncle talked to Khadija, and then, after everyone had talked to everyone, then, after much back and forth, explicit verbal consent. Requiring verbal consent to sex would only work if we required paternal consent to marriage, husband’s consent to abortion, etc. Romantic relationships with dating necessarily revert to the more ancient courtship dance.

  161. @Jessica Boxer: You are not only arguing for Intelligent Design, but putting our species on a higher plane than others. “We have knowledge of Good and Evil.”

    Recent research, still controversial, indicates that the decision is often made before we are conciously aware of it. This make evolutionary sense, as a table lookup is going to be faster than an algorithmic choice, and speedy decisions mean survival. You should consider the possibility that decisions made in an emergency are like that, with the moral rationalizations being made in the aftermath.

  162. @LS on Friday, April 5 2013 at 10:35 pm said:
    > but putting our species on a higher plane than others. “We have knowledge of Good and Evil.”

    We don’t have knowledge of good and evil, we invented good and evil. They are human artifacts.

    > Recent research, still controversial, indicates that the decision is often made before we are conciously aware of it.

    Recent controversial research? Perhaps you can be a little more specific. Nonetheless, your terminology bristles with assumptions that I don’t share about how decision processing takes place, how brains work and what consciousness even means. So I really don’t get your point at all.

  163. @Jessica Boxer: I highly recommend Jonathan Haidt’s _The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion_. Also Steven Pinker’s _The Blank Slate_. Consciousness is mostly a sort of “press secretary” (Haidt) or “spin doctor” (Pink) that works for the subconscious. The press secretary’s influence over his boss is very limited.

  164. I believe that Tara Smith argues against both deontological and consequentialist views in Moral Rights and Political Freedom. She calls the position she argues for “teleological,” meaning that respecting rights is not a duty handed down by God or the categorical imperative, but a necessary means to the end of leading a happy life. As I recall, she objected to consequentialism on the ground that being neither omniscient nor infallible, we can’t actually determine the detailed consequences of our actions; we need general principles. This seems at least somewhat related to the point you’re making.

  165. >[Tara Smith] calls the position she argues for “teleological,” meaning that respecting rights is not a duty handed down by God or the categorical imperative, but a necessary means to the end of leading a happy life.

    That is well-phrased. Different language from mine but your summary does suggest she has ended up at a similar place.

    Actually, I think there’s a colorable argument that Kant was fumbling towards a similar position when he developed the concept of the categorical imperative.

  166. esr:
    > Actually, I think there’s a colorable argument that Kant was fumbling towards a similar position when he developed the concept of the categorical imperative.

    The trouble with the categorical imperative is that all the big crimes of the twentieth century were done by people acting their damnedest to make their maxims universal law.

    “Serve the people!”

  167. Jessica Boxer on Saturday, April 6 2013 at 12:24 am said:
    > We don’t have knowledge of good and evil, we invented good and evil. They are human artifacts.

    Cats don’t know good from evil, being completely innocent. Dogs, however do, and are weighed down by the burden of that knowledge.

    It looks as though we domesticated wolves shortly before we settled down to farming and herding. Maybe the wolves taught us property rights, rather than us teaching them.

  168. Pingback: Daily Linkage – April 6, 2013 | The Second Estate

  169. @James A. Donald
    > Dogs, however do, and are weighed down by the burden of that knowledge.

    That is a good point. Clearly they are pack animals like humans, which would suggest that they too transmit it memetically, though obviously not orally. However, it is possible that it is transmitted also as part of the genetic propensity for hierarchical packs.
    I wonder if other higher order mammals with a pack structure also have a manifest moral structure, or did we teach it to dogs. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any pack animals we deal with that have that necessary hierarchy, not one we participate in anyway. Perhaps someone else can.

  170. @Jessica Boxer: Edward O. Wilson sees morality as having a definite biological basis, has a thought experiment in his book, _Consilience_, about what a State of the Union address would sound like if it were given by the queen of a hive of large, intelligent termites. Cannibalism would be a sacrament. Individualism would be regarded as unthinkably evil. There is an excerpt from the book in The Atlantic:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/98apr/biomoral.htm

  171. @John D. Bell

    >In many SE Asian cultures, people routinely eat cat and dog meat.

    Only specific kinds of breed raised as livestock. The distinction between pet and livestock is just as clear as in the West, except that line of separation runs between breeds, not species. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nureongi

  172. @Jessica @ESR,

    I have the stupid masochistic habit of reading a lot of SRS (won’t tell you what it is, it’s a dumb waste of time) so I got a bit acquainted with contemporary progressivism – ideological feminism (as opposed to pragmatic feminism), and my impression is that the reaction to the Steubenville case was largely driven by this ideology, how to put it, focusing on _consent_ or the lack of it much beyond what can be justified as consent being the predictor of actual psychological trauma caused or other harm done or something similar. Rather, it seems like instead of consent or its lack predicting harm, violating consent seems to be the essence of the crime in their logic, because it negates human autonomy, will, basically sees people as objects, not subjects. It’s surprising but it seems a popular media outrage and a conviction can be tracked back to philosophical ideas, mainly those about objectification i.e. the negation of will, autonomy, agency. So they see autonomy or agency as something sort of sacred in itself, and see its violation a crime in itself, and not merely a predictor of actual harm. This is what I have gathered from such forums.

    BTW I personally do not know if I agree with it – partially it looks logical, going even back to Kant, but there is something fishy about it. Somehow it does not sound realistic never to treat anyone even sligthly like an object. We even treat ourselves as objects, when we push ourselves to fulfill a task, do a job, and not what we would like to instead.

  173. >So they see autonomy or agency as something sort of sacred in itself, and see its violation a crime in itself, and not merely a predictor of actual harm.

    Yeah, I know that’s what many schools of feminism say. But they’re either lying about it or deeply delusional. When you really consider autonomy sacred, you end up where I am – as a hard-core anarcho-libertarian. Whereas if you judge these gals by their actions rather than their words, pimping for increases in the power of the state is their priority number one.

  174. @Shenpen
    > Rather, it seems like instead of consent or its lack predicting harm, violating consent seems to be the essence of the crime in their logic,

    I don’t think that is fair. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of whackos in the feminist movement, but clearly the crime of rape is a combination of things, and the possibility of physical harm is the dominant one. (Of course, thankfully we can’t get pregnant from rape, since our uteruses have a magical feature to reject rape originated swimmers. Thank Jesus for that.)

    Nonetheless, that doesn’t deny the fact that there is also psychological harm involved too. If someone broke into your house, even if they did no actual physical damage, they have still violated you, and you would probably be pissed and demand some consequences. If they further violated your privacy by reading your private emails, for example, that would be a further crime.

    So when they violated the most intimate property this girl had, her body, and gawked at her naked, something she probably wanted to keep private, then they definitely violated her, and there should be some consequences. For all you guys, if you were drunk ass unconcious, and some other guy stuck a dildo up your butt, and you didn’t know until a pic appeared on your facebook, I think you would probably think that that action was a pretty severe violation, and would expect and demand consequences.

    So I don’t think it is fair to dismiss this as whacko feminists. I think Eric is right to an extent that we have entirely eliminated victim culpability from the equation, but just because I am unconscious drunk doesn’t give you the right to steal my wallet.

    I think it is generally true though that the crime of rape covers a range of behaviors that are not equivalent. A spectrum surely needs to be defined, with consequences appropriate to the level of crime.

  175. Jessica Boxer on Monday, April 8 2013 at 12:23 pm said:
    > So I don’t think it is fair to dismiss this as whacko feminists.

    Women, particularly in the company of alpha males, behave in ways that renders the concept of consent ill defined.

    Consent is only well defined in a patriarchal society, where women are expected to give it under the supervision and advice of their patriarch after much consultation, and the family lawyer is called in for particularly high status arrangements.

    But in a patriarchal society, where consent was well defined, the traditional assumption was that if a female spent five minutes alone with an attractive male, she would probably jump his bones and bang him like barn door in a high wind. Therefore, women were not allowed five minutes alone with an attractive male, and rape charges were only given credence if the woman was bruised and the man was clawed.

    Thus, the traditional assumption would be that by getting drunk with these guys, she intended to have sex with them. And, knowing human nature, would you doubt it? They were the high status guys. She was not the high status girl. She was just drinking to give herself plausible deniability. If there had been a five minute time limit, she would have jumped aboard.

    And, traditionally if the woman had volunteered to spend five minutes alone with the man, and the man was fairly attractive, people were inclined to doubt even that. Arguably most violence between males and females is female initiated and sexually motivated.

    It is physically impossible to rape a woman unless one physically subdues her. And very difficult to physically subdue a woman without leaving marks. Thus, that most rapes are acquaintance rapes, and most rapes do not have any physical evidence of physical violence, and that very few rapes are alleged to involve weapons, inclines me to believe that most rape accusations are false.

    If a large proportion of rape accusations were true, a large proportion would have physical evidence of violence.

    We should return to the traditional system, where female consent is assumed the moment the woman gives a man the opportunity, barring contrary evidence such as bruises or screaming for help.

  176. @James A. Donald
    > Women, particularly in the company of alpha males, behave in ways that renders the concept of consent ill defined.
    > [...] We should return to the traditional system, where female consent is assumed the moment the woman gives a man the opportunity, barring contrary evidence such as bruises or screaming for help.

    Ah, thanks James, after your one previous comment that I read above and agreed with, I forgot that you were an idiotic ass. Thanks for reminding me.

    I know a lot of women and, hard though it might be to believe, they do not want to “jump the bones” of every guy they are left alone with. Must just be you James, ya big stud.

  177. > I know a lot of women and, hard though it might be to believe, they do not want to “jump the bones” of every guy they are left alone with

    Only about one guy in thirty.

    That a woman has no bruises does not necessarily mean she was not raped, and that she has bruises does not necessarily mean she was raped, but, if a large proportion of rape convictions were legitimate, we ought to be seeing a lot more bruises in evidence.

  178. James A. Donald
    > > the traditional assumption was that if a female spent five minutes alone with an attractive male, she would probably jump his bones and bang him like barn door in a high wind.

    Jessica Boxer on Monday, April 8 2013 at 9:16 pm said:
    > they do not want to “jump the bones” of every guy they are left alone with.

    I notice you saud “every male” where I said “attractive male”

  179. Pingback: Daily Linkage – April 9, 2013 | The Second Estate

  180. James A. Donald
    > the traditional assumption was that if a female spent five minutes alone with an attractive male, she would probably jump his bones and bang him like barn door in a high wind.

    These films do not portrait reality very well.

  181. James A. Donald
    > > the traditional assumption was that if a female spent five minutes alone with an attractive male, she would probably jump his bones and bang him like barn door in a high wind.

    Winter on Tuesday, April 9 2013 at 5:27 am said:
    > These films do not portrait reality very well.

    By “traditional” I refer to the period from the Restoration to the reign of George the fourth.

    The theory that women are naturally chaste and therefore men are always in the wrong was first advocated by the whigs during the reign of George the fourth, and was controversial and left wing at that time, kind of like Gay Marriage today, though today it is the unchallenged and unchallengeable orthodoxy.

  182. >By “traditional” I refer to the period from the Restoration to the reign of George the fourth.

    To be fair, a large body of historical evidence suggests that it is possible to train most women to be uncontrollably lustful with strange men. All you have to do is limit their sexual opportunities enough, as in a system of purdah or strict gender segregation that almost totally prevents close contact with males other than close relatives.

    In the modern West we tend to find the they’ll-fling-themselves-at-any-male model of female behavior that was believed by strict patriarchal societies so repellent that we dismiss it as a fantasy concocted to justify oppression. I think it more likely that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy – that is, as your society begins to evolve towards purdah, women (who have only a limited fertile period) adapt by becoming more sexually aggressive. This motivates stricter customs; vicious circle.

    At the extreme, the societies in which everyone expects women to bang strangers on five minutes’ notice elicit exactly that behavior with the methods they employ to suppress it.

  183. > Ah, thanks James, after your one previous comment that I read above and agreed with, I forgot > that you were an idiotic ass. Thanks for reminding me.
    > I know a lot of women and, hard though it might be to believe, they do not want to “jump the
    > bones” of every guy they are left alone with. Must just be you James, ya big stud.

    Jessica,
    James is an expert in climate science, psychometrics, genetics and he knows *statistics* better than most working scientists, so don’t dismiss his insights too quickly. All you have as an argument are your personal anecdotes – James already mentioned that women are incapable of understanding the ways of science, therefore it is naturally hard for you to accept the truth. Try to be openminded, when we finally gets the society he envisions you will realize, how good real freedom feels.

  184. @Norbert
    “James is an expert in climate science, psychometrics, genetics and he knows *statistics* better than most working scientists, so don’t dismiss his insights too quickly.”

    You forget history, politics, economics, and cultural anthropology. And, given that he found out that all scientists are frauds who confabulate their data, you can change “most working scientists” into “almost all scientists”.

    If James had only been there to instruct Francis Galton, what could they both have achieved?

  185. @esr
    > At the extreme, the societies in which everyone expects women to bang strangers on five minutes’ notice elicit exactly that behavior with the methods they employ to suppress it.

    I think it is VASTLY more complicated than that. It hurts me to say this but James is right in a sense that the traditional model of the chaste female is entirely bogus. I think women are generally speaking more sexual than men. However, women are also have much higher levels of sexual dysfunction than men too. And these oppressive systems tend to drive women to the two extremes, either horny sluts or ice queens.

    But James’ idea that women can’t control themselves around even the most attractive men is a his wet dream, female sexuality is vastly more complicated than that. Really James, put down the pron, real women aren’t like that.

    OK I was going to stop there, but I’ll give you the whole thing: the basic difference psychologically between men and women’s sexuality is that women have a far wider dynamic range of sexual experience. For men great sex is good, bad sex is still pretty good. But for women great sex is “holy crap, I think my legs are going to fall off, please scrape me off the ceiling.” and bad sex is humiliating, disgusting, and sometimes painful and frightening.

    Consequently, women are far choosier about their partners because dropping below that line is not a good idea, just on the basis of physical enjoyment. This runs directly contrary to James’ viewpoint that we are all out of control, libido addled whores. In a sense, exactly the opposite it true.

    Of course, as ESR points out, if the pool of men available is tightly controlled, eventually libido does overcome choosiness. But that more justifies James’ point of view that the fact that a starving woman will eat beetles to survive some how proves that women are at heart insectivores.

  186. ESR,

    >When you really consider autonomy sacred, you end up where I am – as a hard-core anarcho-libertarian. Whereas if you judge these gals by their actions rather than their words, pimping for increases in the power of the state is their priority number one.

    This is a very interesting question, which I was wondering a lot about. Obviously to support something like wealth redistribution one needs to adopt a certain kind of a marginal utility based utilitarian philosophy, which is in start contrast with a philosophy that optimizes for autonomy. Using the principle of charity, what idea would sound remotely like a justification for this? What I was thinking that maybe there are two different kinds of autonomy, freedom, or even hedonism.

    There are people who primarily see freedom as the freedom to derive enjoyment through various kinds of productive activities. It’s about the self going out and changing stuff in the world. This is the more “conservative” vision of freedom or enjoyment, and I think you tend to think like this. This may be contrasted to another kind of freedom, that seeks enjoyment in consumption of various kinds of experiences, sexual or otherwise.

    For example, this second consumption oriented person would see a businessman owning $100M in shares and he/she would see this as $100M spendable on personal enjoyments, trips, yacths, and sees it as inherently unfair, take away half of it, give it to the poor person, and this guy can still have many nice things. While a more production oriented person like yourself would see this property more like a job: that guys job is to run that business, so when someone would try to take away half of it would interfere with that job, with the freedom to do that kind of job, and it is not that different from taking away half of the job of say a musician or writer, an inherently repressive thing. Am I getting this right?

    You know I am a bit more culturally conservative than you, and tending to be therefore more pessimistic. But I can’t help but see how even the most radical person 100-200 years ago mostly have understood freedom or autonomy as generally the freedom to productive things, like write books (freedom of speech), raise families and produce kids (marriage without the need for paternal consent), pursue a profession (they did away with the need to follow the fathers profession) or worship (a special case, but more production than consumption). And today freedom is something more and more seen as the freedom to get, not do, the freedom to consume, not create, instead of what people should do or not do the attention is more on the passive voice “how people should get treated by each other”, a really topsy-turvy way of looking at it, and so on. (For example the current gay marriage debate in the US, regardless of what side you side with, isn’t it weird how people invest a lot of effort into something that is ultimately not that productive? And wouldn’t the pro-gay side would be easier to support if they would focus less on gaining or getting esteem, i.e. a consumption thing, and more on adoption i.e. raising kids, a productive thing? Why doesn’t this happen?)

    At any rate, as usual, I am rather pessimistic regarding these things. Do you have more reasons to be optimistic about this?

  187. For example, this second consumption oriented person would see a businessman owning $100M in shares and he/she would see this as $100M spendable on personal enjoyments, trips, yacths, and sees it as inherently unfair, take away half of it, give it to the poor person, and this guy can still have many nice things.

    I’ll defer to the late Ric Locke’s excellent metaphor on the subject:

    “How dare that guy have a stash of corn while others go hungry? We should take half of his corn and feed those hungry people!” And next year’s corn crop is half the size it would have been, leaving even more people hungry. Agriculture requires that we learn a way of thinking for which the Ancestral Evolutionary Environment did not prepare us, so such instinctive, hard-wired thinking processes as we have lead us to eat the seed corn if we are not disciplined to understand why our emotional reaction to seeing someone with a pile of wealth is so destructive.

    Industry requires not only the seed corn for the next season, but capital investment that may not be amortized for decades, and which requires additional resources to maintain, repair, and replace when worn out or obsolete. Capital is usually built up slowly, in many cases over generations, but if the class-warfare people have their way, it can be dissipated in an instant for “fairness”. “Why should the children of the rich be able to just inherit all of that wealth!”

    The knock on US corporate thinking is that it’s so focused on this quarter’s P/L numbers, rather than those enlightened Europeans with five year plans, or the inscrutable Chinese who think in terms of generations. But in an environment where there is no long-term stability, what other behavior should we expect?

  188. @The Monster

    This is an excellent argument, except for the usual kind of cheap shot taken at “Europe”. Frankly this five years plan is an insult uncalled for. Let me just add that for example the German concept of a welfare state is not even about redistribution or equality or fairness, but about a social contract where the state is contractually obliged to provide certain services in return for certain mandatory contributions, it is a much more… mature thinking thing than the usually “progressive” yammering about equality of opportunity and fairness and redistribution and whatnot. Still there are obviously problems with it – captured by the term mandatory, and the lack of competition and choice etc. – but on a deeper level than these cheap shots, really. It’s something that can use quite some criticism at the very roots of its fundamens, but on a more mature level than cheap soviet jokes.

  189. esr on Tuesday, April 9 2013 at 7:02 am said:
    > In the modern West we tend to find the they’ll-fling-themselves-at-any-male model of female behavior that was believed by strict patriarchal societies

    This is PC demonization of patriarchal societies. Patriarchal societies did not believe that women would fling themselves at any male, but at some males.

    Which seems to be happening as much, or more, today, as it happened in patriarchal times.

    When a woman jumps the bones of a near stranger, or casual acquaintance, and subsequently regrets it, or is socially inconvenienced by it, she is apt to cry rape. Thus a lot of women jumping guys, then as now, may well explain the curiously large proportion of rape convictions in which there is absolutely no objective evidence of violence or threats.

  190. > Consequently, women are far choosier about their partners because dropping below that line is not a good idea, just on the basis of physical enjoyment. This runs directly contrary to James’ viewpoint that we are all out of control, libido addled whores

    Being choosy about her partner does not stop a woman from behaving like an out of control libido addled whore. Indeed, it makes her more likely to stalk, and have sex with, a guy who is not all that keen on having sex with her and is absolutely unwilling to have sex with her twice, and makes her subsequently do increasingly stupid and dangerous things after he declines a second round.

  191. I wrote:
    > Being choosy about her partner does not stop a woman from behaving like an out of control libido addled whore.

    Indeed, if women were not choosy, they would never act like libido addled whores, for there is plenty of dick. When women act like out of control libido addled whores, it is precisely because they choosing someone of higher value than they are, who is therefore unlikely to stick around, or even be conveniently accessible.

  192. @James A. Donald
    > Being choosy about her partner does not stop a woman from behaving like an out of control libido addled whore. Indeed, it makes her more likely to stalk,

    Sorry James you don’t get to change the subject. The subject is your contention that we out of control, libido addled whores will fuck any reasonably attractive man we are left alone with. That is entirely different than a claim that we might stalk one particular guy, in a sense it is almost the opposite of that claim.

    FWIW, I think there is a grain of truth in the stalking thing, though it is spun and exaggerated in such an ugly way as to make it disagreeable to offer any level of agreement.

    But my objection is to your ridiculous contention that we need to lock up our daughters lest they go down to the docks to force themselves on those poor innocent sailor boys. That is, to use the fabulous British idiom, complete and utter bollocks.

  193. Women always want better, and men always want more, which leads to approximately equal amounts of evil, desperate, and self destructive sexual behavior in both sexes.

    Before 1800 or so, this was correctly perceived. Everyone took the truth for granted.

    After 1800 or so, to the present day, the official truth came to be enforced that evil, desperate, and self destructive sexual behavior was an exclusively male phenomenon. This leads to grossly unjust application of the laws, among them one hell of a lot of false rape convictions.

  194. @Shenpen

    Call the “five year plan” a cheap shot if you like. I’m a monster. I’m used to people saying I have bad manners.

    Now pretend I phrased it as politely as you’d wish, but made the same substantive point. It’s conventional wisdom that Europeans do better long-term planning than Americans, and Japanese are better yet (they take out 50-year home mortgages expecting their children will pay off) and the Chinese are best of all (99-year lease for HK comes to mind).

    I say that it’s impossible to do generational planning in a culture that no longer condemns envy (“coveting”) but actively seeks to seize any identifiable pile of wealth in the name of “fairness”. Just look at what’s happening in Cyprus and ask yourself how an industrial economy can function if the very government tasked with protecting property is perverted into predation.

  195. Jessica Boxer on Tuesday, April 9 2013 at 3:23 pm said:
    > Sorry James you don’t get to change the subject. The subject is your contention that we out of control, libido addled whores will fuck any reasonably attractive man we are left alone with.

    I said “attractive male” I did not say “any reasonably attractive male”

    You keep changing what I said, which implicitly admits that what I originally said was true.

    You are defining whorish behavior downwards, so that it describes fewer women

    As it says in the bible, a good woman is hard to find. The big lie, which leads to so many unjust rape convictions, is that all of them, or almost all of them, are good. As bible says, and as eighteenth century gentlemen believed, good women are rare, which is why women need external sources of discipline to restrain them from wicked and self destructive behavior.

    Of course a feminist might well ask what keeps men from wicked and self destructive behavior, but men, of course, are expendable.

  196. Jessica Boxer on Tuesday, April 9 2013 at 3:23 pm said:
    > Sorry James you don’t get to change the subject. The subject is your contention that we out of control, libido addled whores will fuck any reasonably attractive man we are left alone with.

    I think a fair paraphrase of your disagreement is that you don’t act like an out of control libido addled slut very often at all.

  197. Ms. Boxer says:
    > But James’ idea that women can’t control themselves around even the most
    > attractive men is a his wet dream, female sexuality is vastly more complicated

    Without agreeing with what Mr. Donald is saying, that is NOT what he is saying. In fact it’s pretty much the *opposite* of what he is saying.

    Mr. Donald’s thesis is that women what to snag “high value” men, where value can either be “good quality genes” or “good provider” (but rarely both), and that when confronted with either situation the woman will do what is in her (and her offspring’s) best interest.

    There is even more pressure during certain times of the month. This leads to a feedback loop as the pheromones released during the fertile period “start shit” as it were.

    I suspect that there is some truth to this, but not as much as Mr. Donald seems to think. I agree that it is MUCH more complex than that, especially factoring in things like “getting caught” and etc.

  198. > The big lie, which leads to so many unjust rape convictions,
    > is that all of them, or almost all of them, are good.

    There are not “many” unjust rape convictions, not statistically.

  199. William O. B’Livion on Tuesday, April 9 2013 at 11:25 pm said:
    > There are not “many” unjust rape convictions, not statistically.

    If a substantial proportion of rape convictions are just, we should see a substantial proportion of purported rape victims with black eyes. We don’t, except, of course, in stranger rapes by losers. Similarly, we should be seeing a lot of convictions on the basis of dna under a woman’s fingernails.

    Feminists respond with outrage at the suggestion that raped women should be expected to have resisted, although very few alleged rapists were armed. This outrage reflects guilty conscience, a conscious or subconscious knowledge that the vast majority of rape convictions are unjust.

  200. >There are not “many” unjust rape convictions, not statistically.

    Questionable. While most estimates cluster around 8%, I’ve seen credible arguments that the general incidence of false reports may be as high as 40%, and one very thorough regional study in 1994 found an incidence of 41%.

    I’m suspicious of the low-end figures because commonly-cited rape statistics seem in general to be politicized hooey aimed at inflating the problem.

  201. @esr
    “and one very thorough regional study in 1994 found an incidence of 41%.”

    And what is your estimation of the other side of the coin, unreported rapes?

  202. >And what is your estimation of the other side of the coin, unreported rapes?

    I don’t have any firm idea. I will say that, given the kind and direction of distortion I’ve seen in statistics on lifetime incidence, you probably want to take any estimate you see in the media and reduce it by a factor of three.

  203. I’m really going to need to see something very credible in writing. I’d almost be willing to accept the 8% stat, if you mix it between having the wrong guy picked out of a line up with wrongful allegations.

    I am also assuming you’re not putting child sex abuse allegations in here too, right?

    Given the (historically at least) resistance to prosecuting rape cases (only turning around really in the 80s and later) I *REALLY* have trouble believing that the convictions are unjust. Although, in thinking it through there is a probability, especially in the 80s and 90s of wrongful convictions (meaning they got the wrong guy). This would be unjust, but is NOT what Mr. Donald is talking about. He is talking about, essentially a wrongful *accusation*.

    And as to the black eye bit, I, Mr. Raymond and at least 2 other people I’ve seen post here can beat you within a hairs breadth of your life and not put a single mark on your face.

    There are lots of joint locks and holds that can do a VERY credible job of keeping a person pinnned down and leave no marks. There will be (in most cases of rape) some vaginal bruising, but that’s not going to be photographed.

    I know there are women, especially with the expansion of “date rape” in the 90s to include “regretted sex” who are making allegations for various reasons, but 40%? Nah, doesn’t pass the smell test.

  204. @William O’Blivion
    We had a case (maybe cases, I am not sure anymore) here where the attacker brutally murdered the dog of the victim before her eyes and then tried to claim he did not threaten or force the lady. It did not fly in court.

    Another serial rapist used his own dog to scare the victims. He tried to get away with the fact that he only had oral (even a minor was involved). Did not fly either and he was jailed, but they changed the laws to grade all penetration equally hard. That was overboard, so now they start to differentiate some more.

    I think the main problem with mister Donald is that he is convinced women are just pets and should be treated as such.

  205. Winter on Wednesday, April 10 2013 at 1:35 am said:
    > And what is your estimation of the other side of the coin, unreported rapes?

    We had sex before we had contracts, and before we had speech, and that, by and large, is the way we are doing it these days. Thus, in a non patriarchal society, it is very difficult to define rape.

    Consent is really only meaningful in patriarchal societies, which wholly contain sex within contract and reason. If you don’t forcefully contain sex in that way, everyone starts acting according to pre-verbal and pre rational instincts, which makes it extremely difficult to say what consent is. When you diddle a girl, often enough, she cannot move voluntarily, and then you can start fucking her without her making any protest or resistance. Was she then raped? Surely not, but neither did she consent. She might have been thinking no the whole time. In truth, probably not thinking much at all the whole time.

    In a society where most children are fatherless, most sexual acts approximate lekking. In a lekking species, how can one say which matings are coercive and which are not? One would generally say that if a female in a lekking species shows up at a lek, she sort of consented. By that standard, acquaintance rape seldom is rape. The patriarchal standard is that if a woman voluntarily participates in immoral acts, she probably consented to whatever those immoral acts were likely to lead to. Because mating behavior is, in practice, largely pre verbal, that is probably not far wrong.

  206. @JAD
    “Thus, in a non patriarchal society, it is very difficult to define rape.”
    “Consent is really only meaningful in patriarchal societies, which wholly contain sex within contract and reason. ”

    No, that is very simple.

    It is very easy to ascertain whether a man has raped you (JAD) or whether it was consensual sex. We can use the same procedure for when a man rapes a woman.

  207. >I am also assuming you’re not putting child sex abuse allegations in here too, right?

    The framing of the studies described on Wikipedia’s rape statistics page makes it seem very unlikely to me that sexual abuse of children is included in those figures.

    If you’re implying that you think that would move the numbers, I agree, but possibly not in the direction you expect. Fifteen or twenty years ago there was a huge surge in convictions for child sexual abuse based on bogus “recovered memory” techniques in which children were effectively being talked and pressured into believing they had been sexually abused. It was all quite like the Salem witch trials, and quite a few lives were ruined before sanity set in.

  208. @esr
    Note there was also a huge backlog of cases from earlier times when child abuse was not prosecuted.

    Just recently we had a thorough investigation of catholic priests in (boarding) schools ranging back decades ago. It showed that probably half of the cases had been known from the start but never followed up.

  209. @esr
    About unreported rapes.

    Here in the army, and in Germany everywhere, there is a rule: You cannot have sex with a subordinate (I am not sure about married couples).

    That is considered “abuse of power” and leads to dismissal and a lot of legal problems. It is not directly prosecuted as “rape”, but is a category in itself. This solves a lot of the legal problems with establishing consent in situations where one party can be cajoled into “consent or else” situations.

  210. Winter on Wednesday, April 10 2013 at 3:32 am said:
    > Note there was also a huge backlog of cases from earlier times when child abuse was not prosecuted.

    Oh come on. Child abuse has always been prosecuted.

    If normal rules of evidence were applied, there is no way you could prove someone guilty of twenty year old sex crimes.

    Therefore, normal rules of evidence are not being applied. Therefore you could prove a ham sandwich guilty of twenty year old sex crimes.

  211. Winter on Wednesday, April 10 2013 at 3:16 am said:
    > It is very easy to ascertain whether a man has raped you (JAD) or whether it was consensual sex.

    That is because I am male heterosexual, therefore would never consent. With a female heterosexual, generally impossible to say what is consent. We need a considerably stricter criterion for rape. That the woman has to fight, or the male make terrifying threats – by which criteria very few “rapes” would pass.

  212. @JAD
    “That is because I am male heterosexual, therefore would never consent. ”

    That is your word against theirs. So many men have had done it with other men. It is up to you to prove that you are strictly heterosexual and never wanted to try.

    But if we have to believe you on your word that you would never do it with these men, we can also believe a woman’s word that she wouldn’t do it.

  213. Winter on Wednesday, April 10 2013 at 3:43 am said:
    > Here in the army, and in Germany everywhere, there is a rule: You cannot have sex with a subordinate (I am not sure about married couples).
    >
    > That is considered “abuse of power

    And what if your female subordinate dives under your desk, which I have seen happen?

    In practice, I am sure the rule is enforced as “if any female points the finger at any male, he is toast” – because that is the only way it can be enforced.

    What you actually need is a no sex rule, not a no abuse of power rule, a rule against sex, courting, or flirting in the workplace, in which the least senior person, the subordinate, will always be fired.

    In practice, sex in the workplace is almost always a female lower in the hierarchy having sex with a male higher in the hierarchy, that being what females are attracted to, and then after having sex with that higher status male for a while, that female usually acts disruptively, by demanding that she be treated with status equal to the person she is having sex with, so that her hitherto furtive sexual activities disrupt the workplace.

  214. @James A. Donald,

    You are ignoring the drugged, passed out drunk etc. kinds of rape. (Although personally I never understood why would anyone want to do that… a normal person loves getting enthusiastic consent, and perhaps a sadistic person likes getting vigorous resistance and using violence. But an unreacting, passed out “meat doll” ? What would be the appeal in that? Yet, it happens. Even by gynecologists.)

  215. @JAD
    “And what if your female subordinate dives under your desk, which I have seen happen?”

    These laws are made especially for such cases. If a subordinate jumps on his/her superior (or teacher), that superior should flee. S/he would make her/himself vulnerable to blackmail otherwise.

    @JAD
    “if any female points the finger at any male, he is toast”

    FYI, the Norse have even convicted a woman for raping a man:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/apr/28/2

  216. Winter on Wednesday, April 10 2013 at 6:55 am said:
    > That is your word against theirs.

    Since I would never consent, I am quite sure that I would kill them, or they would have to kill me. You could tell the truth by the corpses, removed eyeballs, etc. I see no indications of violence in the vast majority of “rapes” of females. It is very easy to pop out someone’s eyeball, but in the vast majority of “rapes”, no one is even scratched, no one even has a black eye.

  217. @JAD
    > > ” Child abuse has always been prosecuted.”

    Winter:
    > An example for the inquisitive reader:
    > https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Wales_child_abuse_scandal

    This assumes that which is to be proven: That the child abuse happened.

    If normal rules of evidence were being followed, it would be damned near impossible to prove in 2012 that sex happened in 1974, which is why we normally have the statute of limitations.

    Therefore, normal rules of evidence are not being followed, in which case they should have no difficulty proving that the children were eaten by space aliens.

  218. @JAD
    “Since I would never consent, I am quite sure that I would kill them, or they would have to kill me.”

    Some gay men can be found that can get you without your consent and without leaving traces. Be it by force, threats, or drugs. This sentence alone tells us you have delusions about your own powers.

    @JAD
    “This assumes that which is to be proven: That the child abuse happened.”

    No, this shows that valid complaints at the time were never investigated and therefore, could never have lead to a conviction. The point was not that pedophiles did not exist, but that they were not prosecuted.

    The same story runs about Jimmy Savile. There were formal accusations deposited against him at the police decades ago, and they were never investigated.

    As usual, you fight will fight reality to the last breath.

  219. > @JAD
    > “Since I would never consent, I am quite sure that I would kill them, or they would have
    > to kill me.”

    > Some gay men can be found that can get you without your consent and without leaving
    > traces. Be it by force, threats, or drugs. This sentence alone tells us you have delusions
    > about your own powers.

    Btw, when hearing your usual talk, I am pretty confident most judges in the world will qualify you as a delusional witness. Someone whose words should not be given too much weight.

  220. 2005 Crime victimization survey, table 13
    Rate of rape/sexual assault for wife of head of household 0.1

    Rate of rape/sexual assault for other categories of female, 1.0 to 2.0

    So, what sort of things would a wife of head of household not do, or be forbidden by the head of household from doing?

    The obvious answer is, forbidden to go out at night looking for a dicking.

    If you have an alternative theory, let us hear it.

    And no, the answer is not protection by the male head of household. Children over 18 in male headed households were half as likely to raped or sexually assaulted as children over 18 in female headed households, indicating that male protection had substantial effect, but wives were one tenth as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted, so the difference is not just protection, but, far more importantly, something wives do not do, or are forbidden from doing.

    And if, as seems likely, the victims of rape and sexual assualt were, in at least nine cases out of ten, out looking for some, can they be called victims?

  221. @JAD
    “2005 Crime victimization survey, table 13″

    Your abuse of this report could be straight out of How to lie with statistics, but then the “advanced” edition.

  222. @JAD
    “If you have an alternative theory, let us hear it.”

    I forgot the question.

    My answer:
    You painted yourself into a corner above and flee to a new subject hoping to divert attention from your failings?

  223. Winter on Wednesday, April 10 2013 at 7:56 am said:
    > Some gay men can be found that can get you without your consent and without leaving traces.

    This is absolutely physically impossible. I, or they, or both, would show massive and terrible injuries, and very likely one of us would die.

  224. @JAD
    > I, or they, or both, would show massive and terrible injuries, and very likely one of us would die.

    And if you survived, you’d be guilty of the “hate crime” of “gay bashing”. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to extend this logic to unwanted advances from other protected groups.

  225. @JAD
    “This is absolutely physically impossible. I, or they, or both, would show massive and terrible injuries, and very likely one of us would die.”

    Just a movie plot:
    - James’ drink is spiked/get chloroform on his face/gas sprayed in his hotel room.
    - James wakes up strapped into an accessible position. Maybe blindfolded.
    - Kidnappers do their thing.
    - James gets heavy drinks forced into an orifice, enough to make him pass out.
    - James is dumped somewhere.
    - James has to convince police he is not some closet gay that got too drunk and now regrets.

    See, less than a minute’s work from my inexperienced imagination. Thanks to some cheap horror novels, C movies etc.

  226. @ESR:
    > If you’re implying that you think that would move the numbers, I agree,
    > but possibly not in the direction you expect.

    See, that starts to make the numbers make more sense. I think there are (as you indicate) MORE unjust child sex abuse convictions, especially during divorces, and because there’s not nearly the same amount of “real” evidence required.

  227. > You are ignoring the drugged, passed out drunk etc. kinds of rape.
    > (Although personally I never understood why would anyone want to do that…
    > a normal person loves getting enthusiastic consent, and perhaps a sadistic person
    > likes getting vigorous resistance and using violence. But an unreacting, passed out
    > “meat doll” ? What would be the appeal in that? Yet, it happens. Even by gynecologists.)

    There’s two classes of this. The most common is the guy who is pretty drunk himself, and the flirtation/making out started with a marginally responsive partner and went from there. In this case neither party is really capable of “informed consent”, and neither party is really aware enough to put the brakes on. My opinion is that this sort of case it is *way* to difficult to determine which party should have done what, when. If the woman is too intoxicated to give informed consent or to resist, but the male is *almost* as far gone why should HE be expected, in a legal system were there is “gender equity”, to be the only responsible party? If *he* is expected to remain sober enough to make responsible decisions, why doesn’t that go both ways?

    The answer is because culturally we still expect men to behave with some semblance of chivalry, and that women are the responsibility of men. Otherwise we would expect women to remain sober enough to make rational decisions regardless of how drunk the man is.

    Which leads us to the OTHER class of cases, where a man who is relatively sober *deliberately*, either through Rohypnol, or other drugs (including “spiking” otherwise lower alcohol drinks) gets a woman too drunk to consent (or even move).

    This I truely do not understand, and frankly this sort of male should have his genes taken out of the pool.

  228. @JAD:
    > This is absolutely physically impossible. I, or they, or both, would show
    > massive and terrible injuries, and very likely one of us would die.

    No, it’s not. It would look like the plot of a spy thriller, but a little b&e, a little rohypnol, a video camera and you’re done.

  229. Winter on Wednesday, April 10 2013 at 12:40 pm said:
    - James’ drink is spiked/get chloroform on his face/gas sprayed in his hotel room.

    If you saw an allegedly hetero male hanging out with gays and drinking, you would be strongly inclined to believe that male was also gay, and in the process of coming out the closet. If he subsequently got very drunk and got screwed, you would assume that he had accidentally-on-purpose drunk too much to give himself an excuse to get screwed. This is far more probable than the spiked drink, since it is well known that alcohol itself is the best truth serum and the best rape drug.

    Rape drugs are, invariably also truth serums. The intent is not render the victim entirely unconscious, which might turn one’s boner limp, but to disinhibit the victim.

  230. William O. B’Livion on Wednesday, April 10 2013 at 3:25 pm said:
    > Which leads us to the OTHER class of cases, where a man who is relatively sober *deliberately*, either through Rohypnol, or other drugs (including “spiking” otherwise lower alcohol drinks) gets a woman too drunk to consent (or even move).

    Spiking with alcohol generally works better than spiking with just about anything else.

    Such “spiking” is generally done pretty openly (“mixed drinks”, with sweet stuff, cream, bright colors, and whatnot, to obscure the potent alcohol content. Liqueurs seem to be designed for this purpose – the purpose of rendering it difficult to judge alcohol content.)

    Persuading a woman to drink more than she should used to be considered, and still is widely considered fair play. Hence the rule that a chaste woman does not consume mixed drinks or liqueurs except with family or husband. In older movies, if a woman consumes a mixed drink, this is a signal that she intends to immediately get laid on the spot. The camera focuses on the mixed drink to signal to the viewers that character holding the drink is down to fuck..

    And I would say it is as true then as ever it was, but these days it is politically incorrect to say so.

    She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice
    She was fair, she was sweet seventeen
    He was old, he was vile, and no stranger to vice
    He was base, he was bad, he was mean
    He had slyly inveigled her up to his flat
    To view his collection of stamps
    And he said as he hastened to put out the cat
    The wine, his cigar and the lamps

    Have some madeira, m’dear
    You really have nothing to fear
    I’m not trying to tempt you, that wouldn’t be right
    You shouldn’t drink spirits at this time of night
    Have some madeira, m’dear
    It’s really much nicer than beer
    I don’t care for sherry, one cannot drink stout
    And port is a wine I can well do without
    It’s simply a case of chacun a son gout
    Have some madeira, m’dear

    Unaware of the wiles of the snake-in-the-grass
    And the fate of the maiden who topes
    She lowered her standards by raising her glass
    Her courage, her eyes and his hopes
    She sipped it, she drank it, she drained it, she did
    He promptly refilled it again
    And he said as he secretly carved one more notch
    On the butt of his gold-headed cane

    Have some madeira, m’dear, I’ve got a small cask of it here
    And once it’s been opened, you know it won’t keep
    Do finish it up, it will help you to sleep
    Have some madeira, m’dear, it’s really an excellent year
    Now if it were gin, you’d be wrong to say yes
    The evil gin does would be hard to assess
    Besides it’s inclined to affect me prowess
    Have some madeira, m’dear

    Then there flashed through her mind what her mother had said
    With her antepenultimate breath
    “Oh my child, should you look on the wine that is red
    Be prepared for a fate worse than death”
    She let go her glass with a shrill little cry
    Crash! tinkle! it fell to the floor
    When he asked, “What in Heaven?” she made no reply
    Up her mind, and a dash for the door

    Have some madeira, m’dear, rang out down the hall loud and clear
    A tremulous cry that was filled with despair
    As she paused to take breath in the cool midnight air
    Have some madeira, m’dear, the words seemed to ring in her ear
    Until the next morning, she woke up in bed
    With a smile on her lips and an ache in her head
    And a voice in her ear ‘ole that tickled and said
    Have some madeira, m’dear

  231. William O. B’Livion commented:
    > You are ignoring the drugged, passed out drunk etc. kinds of rape.

    Popular “rape drugs”, alcohol being the most popular of all, are truth serums, not anesthetics.

  232. Pingback: Daily Linkage – April 11, 2013 | The Second Estate

  233. “…and frankly this sort of male should have his genes taken out of the pool.”

    Sure he should, but the opposite is what happens. Natural selection doesn’t give a shit about us.

  234. William O. B’Livion on Friday, April 12 2013 at 11:06 pm said:
    > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flunitrazepam
    >
    > What part of “Sedative, muscle relaxant” do you not get?

    Sedative is not anesthetic. Roofies are not used to put girls unconscious. Further, most roofies are not slipped into people’s drinks. They are a party drug, widely and heavily used at raves and clubs. Subsequently the girl discovers she partied harder than she intended to.

  235. The wikipedia article on roofies tells us A recent study conducted by doctors in the UK found that none of the subjects reporting spiked drinks had any traces of flunitrazepam or other medications popularly believed to be associated with drug-assisted rape, such as GHB.

    In other words, date rape drugs are a myth. Have some Madiera.

  236. @JAD
    “In other words, date rape drugs are a myth. Have some Madiera.”

    Indeed, so it is known over here. European criminal systems (this was a UK study) prosecute rape charges on normal rules of evidence.

    So what was your point about our criminal prosecution again?

  237. Winter on Saturday, April 13 2013 at 8:52 am said:
    > Indeed, so it is known over here. European criminal systems (this was a UK study) prosecute rape charges on normal rules of evidence.

    Quite a lot of supposedly evil males have been convicted for spiking some supposedly poor innocent female’s drinks and raping her, despite the fact that no traces of date rape drugs have ever shown up in any of the poor innocent female’s blood, which might lead one to suspect that absolutely none of them are innocent.

    Which indicates that normal rules of evidence are thrown out the window in rape cases.

    By and large “date rape drugs” are taken voluntarily and intentionally for all the usual reasons – in particular the most popular and effective “data rape” drug of them all, alcohol.

    The usual argument is, well time passed, the test was done too late. But it is interesting that in all the convictions the test was always too late.

    If some tests sometimes were done too late, or not done at all that is consistent with normal rules of evidence being followed. If no tests are ever done on time, normal rules of evidence are not being followed.

  238. @JAD
    “Quite a lot of supposedly evil males have been convicted for spiking some supposedly poor innocent female’s drinks and raping her, despite the fact that no traces of date rape drugs have ever shown up in any of the poor innocent female’s blood, which might lead one to suspect that absolutely none of them are innocent.”

    Where? In the UK? Germany? France? Netherlands? Sweden?

    Citation needed.

    The UK police actually did the investigations to clarify the issue. The results where widely published all over the continent.

    On the other hand, sex with unconscious women has been recorded from classical times. There have even been reports of women in coma getting pregnant.
    https://www.nytimes.com/1996/01/25/nyregion/woman-29-still-in-10-year-coma-is-pregnant-by-a-rapist.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

  239. Justthisguy on Friday, April 19 2013 at 6:51 am said:
    > Jessica Boxer is that scariest of all critters, a smart rational woman.

    Smart, perhaps, but no woman is rational until menopause lowers their hormone levels. That men think with their dicks is not nearly as incapacitating, since this only makes them idiots in quite narrow circumstances, whereas female hormone driven idiocy affects just about everything they do and say.

  240. Err, you do know that the official name of ‘consequentialist’ truth is correspondance truth? You just claimed that your own theory pops like a bubble.

  241. >Err, you do know that the official name of ‘consequentialist’ truth is correspondance truth?

    That is incorrect. The two have different origins and meanings. “Correspondence truth” is associated with the Vienna logical-positivist school, while consequentialism derives from Anglo-American analytical philosophy. The latter refers to a theory of confirmation, the former to a definition that sounds like a definition of confirmation but has severe ungroundedness problems – which is the reason logical positivism is dead and now only of historical interest.

  242. esr:
    “Correspondence truth” is associated with the Vienna logical-positivist school

    Broader than that: Aristotle proposed what is also called the correspondence theory of truth.

    If someone is a direct realist, for example your grandma, or a child, or myself, or Aristotle, then the correspondence theory of truth is entirely unproblematic.

  243. ESR – I am a great admirer of yours on both politics and of software. Although I’m more of a BSD guy than a Linux guy…

    For what its worth, in an argument between David Friedman and Murray Rothbard, I’d side with Rothbard. I think the a priori grounding of the NAP on “man’s natural state of freedom” is more useful in a practical sense than utilitarianism. Making utilitarian arguments to people rarely convinces them. People’s ideals of right and wrong will blind them to utility. Its much easier to convince a communist to give up their ways by appealing to a sense of freedom and right and wrong than it is to prove the utility of libertarianism because *they don’t care about utility.*

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