Religion in Science Fiction (1): Introduction
Ten Game Development Vices, Part One (ihobo)

Other People's Taboos

Taboo500 To what extent should we respect other people's taboos? This is perhaps one of the most difficult questions in ethics.

A taboo (or tabu) is a deeply felt social prohibition against specific words or actions, usually shared by a particular culture or community. The sheer diversity of beliefs that come into collision in the modern world inevitably create social and political battlegrounds over subjects that some people consider taboo, that others do not. Consider the following diverse examples of taboo subjects or behaviours, and worldviews that may generate them:

  • Abortion for an individual with “pro-life” metaphysics
  • Testing of medicines on rats for animal rights activists
  • Declawing of cats for a cat lover
  • The display of the image of Muhammad for a traditionally-minded Muslim
  • The burning of a the flag of the United States for a patriotic citizen of that nation
  • Gay marriage for an individual for whom “marriage” expressly implies a partnership between a man and a woman
  • Female circumcision for individuals with no such tradition

(Note that the examples of worldview are by no means exhaustive: others may also be offended by the taboo in question, but the examples serve to emphasise the relevant point).

Anyone looking at this list is likely to find something in it which causes offence, and perhaps also angry cognitive dissonance – the blind rage we experience when confronting something that should not be, and yet is. But how do we untangle the web of moral complexity that surrounds issues about which opposing sides square off with little or no common ground?

In the global village of the internet world, the barriers between cultures have fallen to an extent previously unthinkable. Furthermore, the diversification of subcultures within the wealthier cultures (such as the United States and Europe) as a result of what philosopher Charles Taylor has dubbed the Nova Effect has increased the social pressure between people of different beliefs in some areas, while eliminating it in others. The result is a patchwork quilt of different beliefs, sharing common resources and spaces (both physical and virtual) within which disputes about ethics become essentially inevitable. Against this backdrop, I have proposed that relative ethics – the accepting of the variation in beliefs as valid, even though the plurality may deny consensus – is the only viable manner to approach the modern ethical dilemma, a view in common with Kwame Anthony Appiah's principles of cosmopolitanism.

The seven examples above were chosen because nearly everyone takes offence at something in this list. In many cases, individuals would like to impose their moral values on others (to reduce their cognitive dissonance by imagining they can eliminate the offending behaviour) and when forced to accept that they cannot they instead experience extreme agitation and demonise those who conduct such practices. One only has to think of the bombing of abortion clinics to see the worst excesses of this process. But in each of the seven cases, there is a conflict of rights concerned, as we can see if we examine the counter-positions in each case:

  • The right of a woman to control her own body (for an individual with “pro-choice” metaphysics)
  • The right of an individual to take any and all steps to pursue medical treatments that could save or prolong their life (even if that means testing on animals)
  • The right of property in respects of animals and livestock (i.e. if you can kill an animal for meat, since it is legally property, you can surgically alter it provided the operation is deemed sufficiently humane)
  • The right of free speech (versus display of the image of Muhammad)
  • The right of free expression (versus burning of a flag)
  • The right of equality (versus opposition to gay marriage)
  • The right to assert tribal or cultural tradition (versus opposition to female circumcision)

(Note that I am not expressly endorsing any of these counter-positions, nor the original taboos – I am merely observing that each taboo in effect infringes on someone else's perceived right).

At this point, it is likely everyone has specific objections relating to their own preferred cause. The “pro-lifer” objects that the woman's right to control her own body doesn't extend to the “murder” of foetuses (say); the cat lover objects that onychectomy is inhumane; the opponent of female circumcision objects that tradition cannot be invoked to endorse “cruelty” and so on. In each case, these objections are essentially irrelevant because the cultures and subcultures that one is in conflict with on the relevant point do not share this value judgement. The “pro-choice” individual does not believe that termination of a foetus is murder; the person with declawed cats considers their quality of life to be only marginally reduced; the member of a tribe that practices female circumcision denies that a right of passage should be deemed cruel and so forth.

This, indeed, is the problem with attempting to enforce one's taboos upon other people: it is simply not reasonable to do so if we accept relative ethics, since we cannot force our values upon others. (And if we do not accept relative ethics, we must be prepared for other people to enforce their values upon us!) We can argue our position and attempt to sway other people's opinions, of course, although in practice when one is under the influence of cognitive dissonance on such matters what seems like a convincing argument to the objector often emerges as blathering nonsense to the target of the outrage, and is far more likely to entrench them in their opposing stance. Thus “pro-life” bumper stickers (Smile! Your mom choose life!) do not sway people towards this metaphysical stance – they simply anger people with “pro-choice” metaphysics and make them even less open to the arguments of their opponents on this issue.

You can object to other people's behaviours, and you can attempt to argue against them (although to do so while angry is to invite ridicule and thus to be ignored) but you can only decree acceptable behaviour within your own community, and even then only when your objection accords with the other members of your community. (It is worth mentioning at this point the question of where the boundaries of the notion of taboo should be placed, and the answer as usual is far from clear. But regardless, we only control and influence the laws of our own communities outside this, we have no direct jurisdiction).

Often, cognitive dissonance occurs in respect of taboos because humans have a natural tendency to take a general situation and instantiate themselves into it. Thus, parents with the relevant metaphysics are especially vulnerable to cognitive dissonance in respect of abortion because the thought of their own children having been terminated as a foetus is wildly distressing (the declawing of cats trips the same kind of upsetting connections in the cat owner, and the animal rights activist equivalentlyidentifies with those creatures being effectively sacrificed to research). Similarly, for someone who was not raised in a culture with a tribal right of passage, the details of the procedures conducted horrify because one projects oneself into that situation despite the fact the member of the tribe comes to the ritual with a wildly different cultural background, and thus has a radically different experience to the one we imagine. 

Cognitive dissonance is also triggered in the case of both the display of the image of Muhammad and the burning of a flag, and in both cases it is the intensity of respect the individual has for the founder of their religion or for their nation that leads to the offensive event being interpreted as a personal insult. Once again, the individual instantiates themselves into the general.

Opposition to gay marriage appears to run in a similar vein: the institution of marriage is intrepreted as being a sacred union between a man and a woman, and thus attempts to redefine marriage as a union of souls irrespective of gender seems a violation of tradition. It is the individual's respect for a traditional interpretation of marriage which can become the root of offense, although generally this is felt to a far lesser degree than those other instances mentioned, and this taboo may yet cease to be a major cultural battlefield in Western sociery within our lifetimes.

These kinds of situation can become further complicated by the problems of the global village, which can make the world seem like a single community, rather than myriad diverse communities. Take the case of the reprinting of the Danish Muhammad cartoons in the French newspaper France Soir (which I have discussed previously as an issue of prejudice): yes, free speech may allow you to reprint what you wish, but this freedom exercised without sufficient cause becomes simple rudeness. Part of the result of this debacle was a reinforcement of the stereotypical view that the French are arrogant and insensitive; what, if anything, was gained by the actions of France Soir?

Many serious issues will remain unaddressed until greater respect for the rights and beliefs of others become an accepted part of the background of ethical disputes. The animal rights activist, believing that their “cause is just”, feels justified in violating the rights of other members of their communities in the pursuit of their own moral goals, up to and including systematic persecution of employees of companies they find offensive. Sometimes there may indeed be justification (the Huntingdon Life Sciences scandal, in which an animal testing company was shown by activists to be violating animal protection laws, for instance), but one's own sense of moral outrage is never sufficient in and of itself to justify any action, except in the mind of an extremist. Protesting an abortion clinic is fair game in most nations, but the bombing of such an establishment – especially by someone claiming to be a follower of Jesus – can never be adequately justified.

Perhaps the most civilised way forward on these kinds of issues is to attempt to move to a place whereby we can respect the rights of others, even when we do not agree with how those rights are exercised. This is no small thing to ask! Yet an insistence on characterising the opposing viewpoint as the enemy guarantees a lengthy and intractable conflict. Conversely, if we can learn to respect other people's right to have taboos, even when we disagree with them, we will be better positioned to understand the complex social and moral currents that provide the undertow to numerous political battlegrounds. This understanding may not ultimately result in one's own moral argument winning out, but by permitting dialogue between differing camps it greatly increases the chances of working towards some kind of tenable resolution to what would otherwise remain a Gordian knot.

The opening image is Taboo by Lynn Taetzsch, which I found here on her site. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.

Comments

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A highly personal counterpoint :-).

I happen to live in the UK. I do not consider myself part of British society; luckily, British society hasn't noticed and excluded me yet. My society consists of me, and I do not subscribe to any particular notion of "rights" - I believe that the world is ultimately a human-eat-human place, no matter how some societies* choose to try to disguise this. Ultimately, power wins.

Given this view:

one's own sense of moral outrage is never sufficient in and of itself to justify any action

... what other sense do I have to go on? Although, arguably, it would simply be outrage rather than moral outrage.

what, if anything, was gained by the actions of France Soir?

Selling more newspapers.

- Peter

* Are societies that do the best job of disguise the rich ones, such as the UK? If so (I'm not sure), in how many cases were the riches acquired by the process of exploiting and/or enslaving another race, a prime example of a more human-eat-human world even where the exploiters considered it human-eat-subhuman?

"I believe that the world is ultimately a human-eat-human place, no matter how some societies* choose to try to disguise this. Ultimately, power wins."

^ Truth. Your morals and ideals are meaningless if you don't have the power to back them up. The strong will always impose their values on the weak. The weak have no choice but to either submit, or die.

A man is robbing another man at gunpoint. The victim resists, gets shot, and dies. Did either of these mens' ideals matter? Did it matter who the "good guy" and the "bad guy" was? No. All that mattered was which one was stronger (read: the one with the gun).

This same criminal is later apprehended by the police. Did either of these entities' ideals matter? Did it matter whose actions were justified? No. All that mattered was which one was stronger (read: the police). So yes, in the end, power is everything. And this power can come in many forms, be it physical strength, weapons, intelligence, numbers, even charisma.

That's why medicine gets tested on rats. Because rats are inferior to humans. That's why a species can be poached to extinction. Because they are inferior. Is it ugly? Sure. But that's just the way it is, and no one can change that.

"Selling more newspapers."

And don't forget getting a few more lulz at the expense of angry Muslims.

"Often, cognitive dissonance occurs in respect of taboos because humans have a natural tendency to take a general situation and instantiate themselves into it."

Agreed. People should just chill out a bit. I'm against abortion but I'm not about to get all angry just because someone kills a baby. It wasn't my baby, so what do I care.
And I care about animals even less. And inanimate objects such as flags? Please.
Both the one doing the burning and the one getting angry about it are stupid.

Same with gay marriage. Marriage is useless anyway.

D'oh, I just typed a huge response to all three of you and lost the whole thing!

Going to try to reconstruct here..

Peter & Sirc -- the two of you are very pessimistic!

Sirc: First I wanted to address your situation about the shooting:
A man is robbing another man at gunpoint. The victim resists, gets shot, and dies. Did either of these mens' ideals matter? Did it matter who the "good guy" and the "bad guy" was? No. All that mattered was which one was stronger (read: the one with the gun).

Do their ideals matter to whom? In what context? If the person who got shot was the Dalai Lama, his death would affect many people.
I also take issue with the way you phrased the sentence "All that mattered was which one was stronger"
What do you mean by "matter"? In what context?
In the context of the universe, the shooting was merely an event that happened.
In the context of the families of those involved in the shooting, what matters could be manifestations of anger or shame.
In the context of your jaded worldview, physical power is what "matters" most-- that powerful peoples' only goal is to shit all over the weak.
If it didn't matter to you, you wouldn't have even brought it up as a topic of conversation.
But... Why is it so important to you since you seem to not want to participate in that type of world?

If you blow it up to the scale of nations: Can you really say any one nation is more powerful than another? It is only the leaders of nations who make the decisions. The citizens have no control over the military, financial, and diplomatic decisions of nations. As a US citizen, I, myself have felt ashamed to be American due to the decisions of our leadership over the past 8 years.

You also said:
Your morals and ideals are meaningless if you don't have the power to back them up. The strong will always impose their values on the weak. The weak have no choice but to either submit, or die.

I don't agree with this. Simply because it's not that simple.
Every person has the power to attempt to get away from oppression. (Or the choice to not be oppressive). We can also decide how much we let oppression affect us.

---

Peter:

one's own sense of moral outrage is never sufficient in and of itself to justify any action

... what other sense do I have to go on? Although, arguably, it would simply be outrage rather than moral outrage.

Most notably, the process of Reasoning

---

Chris, I wanted to respond to your original post from a behavioral psychology standpoint... Because that is what I have been reading and thinking about lately (trying to figure out my own issues).
In how it relates to the rationalization process that goes on in the mind of an extremist. Particularly, those who bomb abortion clinics.

They go so far as to kill, to protect their moral values, but the ideals they are trying to protect is the value of human life.

How could somebody possibly rationalize doing something so extreme? Their thought process is likely influenced by fear of people with different moral opinions. And by the innate human desire to want everyone else to have the same values we do (which likely stems from a need for a sense of belonging?). All this is fueled by their anger and moral outrage.

They bomb abortion clinics, trying to relieve themselves of one form of cognitive dissonance - "that anyone could be so calous as to disregard human life like that".

What I find interesting, is that committing this act of murder is likely to form another type of cognitive dissonance for them -- even if it doesn't manifest itself immediately. Unless they are psychopaths, at some point they are going to feel guilt for having committed murder. Once they get far enough away from the incident for their rationalization process to start breaking down, their guilt is going to hit them harder and they will have dissonance -- difficulty believing that they, themselves killed, and therefore did not respect human life.

They may try to rationalize it away further by saying that people who commit abortions are "less human" than they are, or that they are going to hell/etc/etc.

But it will still play on their psyche, and impede their spiritual growth.

I don't really know where I was going with this, other than to point out the irony - not only the obvious irony of values of abortion clinic bombers, but also the irony of creating more cognitive dissonance by trying to eliminate cognitive dissonance.

I hope I don't hit the back button on the browser again this time. :)

Peace
-Scott


Hi Scott - don't think we've seen you before?

A few comments...

1) Am I pessimistic, or just realistic? Or does it all depend on one's world view? :-)

2) I agree with you - "to matter" is transitive. Most things matter to *somebody*.

3) A process of reasoning (with or without capitals) is not necessarily the same as a sense - is it?

4) It may be rational to bomb an abortion clinic. Run the number: kill (say) 10 humans to scare (say) 30 mothers +/- 15 into not aborting foetuses. If your goal is to maximise the total number of survivors, it is rational to set off the bomb. Like many problems in ethics, this is full of difficulties - how do we know it'll scare that number of mothers, are foetuses lives, etc.. All I'm doing is sketching a counter-argument :-). You've read more widely than I have on behavioural psychology - do arguments of this kind ever stack up?

I'd like to respond on the nations being more powerful point, but I'm tired and can't frame the point properly. It's somewhere along the lines that a) a nation is not a cohesive whole, it's made up of the people who are a part of it; b) while enough of those people act in the same way, yes, one nation *can* be considered more powerful (at that point) than another; but c) all of b) is convenient shorthand for a longer form involving the people who make up the nation. As I say, too tired to frame it properly!

--

Sirc, can I just contrast:
People should just chill out a bit.
[...]
Both the one doing the burning and the one getting angry about it are stupid.

How far does "people" include you, in the above? ;-)

--

Scott, may I wish you peace back? Nothing I say (about my perception of how the world really operates) prevents me *wanting* peace, prosperity, long life, good health, good dentistry and soft toilet rolls, both for me and those around me. I just don't think it's the normal state of affairs!

- Peter

Hi Scott - don't think we've seen you before?

... and then I checked the URL *sigh*. 'scuse me while I go and wipe the egg off my face :-).

Ah sorry about being unclear. Though I guess that's probably inevitable :(

Anyways. Let's see if I can do a slightly better job. What I'm trying to say is that, when there's a conflict of ideals, ultimately, who is right and who is wrong, whose actions are justified and whose aren't, don't matter. All that matters is whether you have the power to defend your ideals.

In the case of the shooting, it didn't matter that the dead man was in the right and the mugger was in the wrong. It didn't matter that he was the "good guy" and the criminal was the "bad guy". It didn't matter that the criminals actions were not justified. He's dead.

Here's a better (and more fun!) scenario:

A level 20 ogre has captured a level 1 damsel in distress and is about to rape her in an alley. Just then, a would-be hero is passing by and notices this. He jumps in to rescue said damsel. Now, here, unlike the previous example, we have a very clear conflict of ideals.

Would-be hero says "No. I believe what you are doing is wrong, and I will not let you go through with it."

Level 20 ogre says "You humans are all pathetic. I can do whatever I want with you."

Now, you might be inclined to side with would-be hero. To think that he's in the right. That he's the good guy. That his actions are just. But guess what? None of that is going to save the damsel in distress. None of that is going to make one bit of difference on whether or not the ogre gets to go through with his plan. That is what I mean when I say it doesn't matter. Ultimately, power is the only thing that will decide whose ideals prevail.

If would-be hero happens to be level 30, and defeats the ogre, the damsel is saved, and we get a happy ending.
But if would-be hero happens to be level 10, and is defeated by the ogre, ogre gets to break every bone in his body, make him watch as he rapes and then murders the damsel, and then leaves him to bleed out.
It didn't matter that the ogre was evil and cruel and that the damsel was innocent. He managed to go through with his plan because he was strong enough to do so, and would-be hero didn't have the power to stop him. Ideals without power amount to nothing.

It's kind of like what Vergil says to Dante in Devil May Cry 3 after defeating him and sticking a sword in his gut: "Foolishness, Dante. Foolishness. Might controls everything. And without might, you cannot protect anything. Let alone yourself." (one of the best games ever made, by the way)

I believe this is what Peter meant when he said "I do not subscribe to any particular notion of "rights" - I believe that the world is ultimately a human-eat-human place, no matter how some societies* choose to try to disguise this. Ultimately, power wins."

The constitution may grant you a series of rights, but it's just a piece of paper. Without someone to defend that piece of paper, it's nothing. The notion of rights didn't make one bit of difference for the races exploited and enslaved, just like it didn't make a difference for the countless rats killed and experimented on. Ultimately, power wins.

I hope that made what I was trying to say more clear.

"In the context of your jaded worldview, physical power is what "matters" most-- that powerful peoples' only goal is to shit all over the weak."

Wait a minute, I never said that. A powerful person's goals may range from killing and exploiting the weak, to saving and protecting them, and anything in between. What I actually said was this: "The strong will always impose their values on the weak. The weak have no choice but to either submit, or die."

In my earlier scenario, where level 30 hero defeats the ogre, the strong one (the hero) imposed his values on the weak (the ogre). The weak one (the ogre) did not submit, so he died. Reverse this for the case where the hero is level 10.

In real life, the enslaved races (the weak) chose to submit, so they lived.

And what about the damsel in distress? She is weak too. However, she was lucky to have someone with the power to defend her. This is an instance of what I like to call "currying favor with the strong". This is just another form of submission wherein the weak one attempts to appeal to a strong one's sense of values/mercy/compassion etc. This can be effective, but the problem is that the weak one is still dependent on the strong's power, and if the weak one loses the strong's favor, he/she is screwed.

Now, in this particular scenario the damsel currying favor with the hero might have been accidental. So let me paint a scenario where it happens more explicitly: no hero arrives, and the damsel instead tries to appeal to the ogre's sense of mercy. She succeeds, and is saved. Or how about this other scenario: no level 30 hero arrives. Instead, a level 99 antihero is passing by, but he's too much of a badass to even bat an eye at what's happening, and just keeps walking. The damsel in distress screams, begs and implores the level 99 antihero to help her. He is moved by her plight and proceeds to destroy the ogre in one hit. This is a more explicit case of currying favor with the strong.

"If it didn't matter to you, you wouldn't have even brought it up as a topic of conversation.
But... Why is it so important to you since you seem to not want to participate in that type of world?"

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by this. But it's not about wanting or not wanting to participate in that type of world. This isn't a game which you can choose not to play. This is the way things are and you have to accept it. The only way out is to kill yourself.

"As a US citizen, I, myself have felt ashamed to be American due to the decisions of our leadership over the past 8 years."

Perfect example. You had values that ran contrary to what your country was doing. If you were strong, you could have fought to impose your own values. But since you are weak, you chose to submit.

"I don't agree with this. Simply because it's not that simple.
Every person has the power to attempt to get away from oppression."

An attempt is not good enough. If you are weak, and the one oppressing you is strong, an attempt will only get you killed. The level 1 damsel in distress attempted to get away from the level 20 ogre. But she didn't have the power to do it.
The rat being experimented on doesn't have the power to escape its oppressors. The animal poached to extinction doesn't have the power to escape its demise. It's that simple.

" (Or the choice to not be oppressive). We can also decide how much we let oppression affect us. "

Yes, exactly. I never said people didn't have the choice to not be oppressive. And just because you submit to the strong doesn't necessarily mean you will live a bad life. Sure, the weak level 20 ogre wishes he were strong enough to defend his ideals, but he's not. If he's smart, he will just accept this and not go around challenging level 99 antihero.

This seems like a very well detailed reiteration of the old saw:
"Can't we all just get along?"

There is a problem with this idea in a competition-based world, which is that even if every 'community' agreed to make no claims on another, if your community does not involve itself in the running of its neighbours, luck or hard work may eventually favour another community to the point where yours faces extinction.
So naturally everyone does concern himself with his neighbours, and naturally this does lead to judging the practices of ones neighbour, even if they have no practical effect on one.

So from this perspective, I could say that this noble call to relative ethics and mutual respect is predicated on the kind of scarcity-free society where different communities have nothing to fear from each other. Which is a long way from what we got...

"They go so far as to kill, to protect their moral values, but the ideals they are trying to protect is the value of human life.

How could somebody possibly rationalize doing something so extreme?"

This is very simple. The answer is the same reason why the death penalty is legal in some places. Because it's easy to kill if you believe it's for a just cause, or that the one you're killing "deserves it". A person who opposes abortion and bombs a clinic isn't necessarily 100% against taking lives. Maybe they're just against taking innocent lives (the babies)? And they believe the ones doing the abortion are not innocent (because they've killed the innocent babies), therefore killing them isn't wrong. And therefore no cognitive dissonance!

"They bomb abortion clinics, trying to relieve themselves of one form of cognitive dissonance - "that anyone could be so calous as to disregard human life like that". "

Just add the word innocent before human life and you've done away with cognitive dissonance. It's easy!

"But it will still play on their psyche, and impede their spiritual growth."

I don't think so. Honestly believing that the one you've killed is evil and deserves it can do wonders to stave off your conscience.

"How far does "people" include you, in the above? ;-)"

Is this a trick question? :( I can call people stupid and be chill about it. I'm not the one angry enough at a nation to burn a flag in protest. (Though if they're just burning it for fun, that's fine)

Before I start replying to these thoughtful comments, I thought I had better explain...

This post was supposed to be part of "the Ethics Campaign" but I never got around to it because I never found the right angle of attack. I still haven't. But I had to post this because I need to bring up the idea of other people's taboos for discussion before having my next attempt to tackle the problem of abortion (I have a new take on this that might be interesting).

So this piece is rather light on new perspective, but hopefully serves as a springboard for discussion at least.

Some specific points...

Peter: Quoting me: "one's own sense of moral outrage is never sufficient in and of itself to justify any action" Quoting you: "... what other sense do I have to go on? Although, arguably, it would simply be outrage rather than moral outrage."

My point here was "*any* action", not that our sense of outrage can't justify *actions*. Clearly it can! And when I talk of justification, you can assume I mean this in the sense of socially established norms of behaviour, upon which our systems of jurisprudence operate. Thus what is justified might be seen as what one can persuade a jury of peers is justified.

zenBen: "This seems like a very well detailed reiteration of the old saw:'Can't we all just get along?'"

Well, in the broadest strokes, but what I am doing here is advancing a specific plan of action for dealing with disputes over other people's taboos, namely that these disputes cannot be resolved by direct conflict, they can only be exacerbated by this approach. Thus my call to begin by respecting the opposite camp - only when both sides have respect for one another can we negotiate a way forward. And in some cases, gaining respect for the other side is sufficient for resolution. I feel this goes beyond "can't we all just get along", personally, but I accept that it could also collapse into this adage.

Peter: although it is a very common belief held by pessimists, pessimism is certainly not realism. Neither for that matter is optimism.

When we talk of "realism" we are expressing the idea that this perspective corresponds better to reality than other perspectives - and particularly in the context of pessimistic or optimistic perspectives. Yet it should be abundantly apparent to anyone who has dabbled in enough philosophy to dip their toe here in the Game for as long as you three have that reality is what you make it - or, in Robert Anton Wilson's memorable phrase "reality is what you can get away with".

A truly realist perspective could not make generalisations of the kind "ultimately, power wins". Such claims require support from a guiding framework of beliefs, such as pessimism (or fatalism).

Permit me to sketch this with a generalised notion of a pessimist and an optimist.

The pessimist, seeing primarily negative outcomes (and most people who express Rational fall down this hole for at least part of their life) experiences reinforcement in the negative outcomes and concludes their perspective is realistic because it accords with observation.

Yet the optimist, seeing primarily positive outcomes, manages to achieve many of those outcomes - many, but not all. The pessimist views the optimist's failure to achieve the positive as reliably as they can attain the negative as proof that their pessimism is well-grounded ("more realistic"). Yet still, it is more often than not the optimist who finds more things going right in their lives than the pessimist.

In light of this, the choice to interpret pessimism as "realism" seems more like a dogmatic crutch to compensate either for jealousy of the optimists occasional or frequent successes or a self-fulliling prophecy, in which failure is salved with the balm of believing it was inevitable. :)

Let me now move onto the Nietzchean part of the discussion...

---
"Ultimately, power wins" - Peter

"Your morals and ideals are meaningless if you don't have the power to back them up. The strong will always impose their values on the weak. The weak have no choice but to either submit, or die." - Sirc

Both of you are expressing Nietzche's view that all of life can be understood as a network of power relations, a view encapsulated in the Nietzschean phrase "the Will to Power". Now there is certainly an element of this to be found, but the question, the truly interesting question for me, is just what ends up being expressed by this conflict of wills - because it transpires to be very different from the toy thought experiments that crop up in the discussions you have been espousing here. This, perhaps, is a topic for a future post, as it goes beyond our immediate subject.

I want to bring up Hannah Arendt's perspective here, because it is extremely salient. It's very easy to confuse what we mean by "power". Arendt creates very clean definitions in order to construct her political philosophy.

"Power" in Arendt's terms is distinct from "strength". She suggests: "Strength unequivocally designates something in the singular..." So in the case of Sirc's mugging thought experiment, what is involved here is a contest of strength between mugger and victim. (Although, in fact, the outcomes of muggings depend more on psychology than on actual strength). Power, on the other hand "...corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together."

This conception of 'power' as the ability to act in concert proves to be highly valuable to Arendt in exploring her issues.

She goes on to note that "Violence... is distinguished by its instrumental character. Phenomenologically, it is close to strength, since the implements of violence, like all other tools, are designed and used for the purpose of multiplying natural strength..."

The case of the mugging thought experiment is about violence and strength - it is not about power (in Arendt's terms), and this perspective can be quite valuable for thinking about the world at large. For the mugging is at best a minor random occurence - most people outside of perhaps New York and a few other places - will never experience a mugging, and this random act of violence is a poor example to hold up for how the world works. One might just as well as use a random lightning strike as one's example.

Arendt writes: "Violence... can always destroy power. Out of the barrel of a gun grows the most effective command, resulting in the most instant and perfect obedience. What never can grow out of it [violence] is power." [For example, violence and threat of violence by the emperors Caligula and Nero did not enhance their power. It diminished their power.] "Violence, she sums up, "can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it."

I'm now going to use this to respond to specific points.

Peter: "I believe that the world is ultimately a human-eat-human place, no matter how some societies choose to try to disguise this. Ultimately, power wins."

What does power win? You have predicated the idea of seeing society as competition, and are then declaring that "power wins"... but what is the power to which you allude? It is not Arendt's strength - I think you can see clearly that this is insufficient from the executions in the State of Texas, where very strong individuals are murdered by the State. And if it is Arendt's power then what does it mean to say that "power wins". Power is the capacity of the collective in her terms.

So I don't agree that in the light of Nietzche's "Will to Power" that morality is irrelevant (although Nietzche would certainly agree with you in this regard!) In fact, morality becomes quite key to establishing the pathways to power, and the fact that all politicians are weasels doesn't mean that we are unable to have our morals and ethics represented in law, no matter how inefficiently.

Sirc: "A man is robbing another man at gunpoint. The victim resists, gets shot, and dies. Did either of these mens' ideals matter?"

As I say, this thought experiment might just as well involve a lightning strike. The domains in which morals and ethics matter differ from the domain of random violence.

But then you say:

"This same criminal is later apprehended by the police. Did either of these entities' ideals matter? Did it matter whose actions were justified? No. All that mattered was which one was stronger (read: the police)."

If it didn't matter whether the police's actions were justified, our legal systems would be radically different! Laws like "fruit of the poison tree" and so forth exist to encourage the police to pursue justified action. True enough, there are many deviations from this ideal, but to suggest that ideals and justifications don't matter in the domain of law enforcement comes across as a little short sighted.

You restate your position later as follows: "...when there's a conflict of ideals, ultimately, who is right and who is wrong, whose actions are justified and whose aren't, don't matter. All that matters is whether you have the power to defend your ideals."

I'm sure this was true at various points in history. I personally don't think it's as applicable today as you seem to believe, but there is certainly room for debate!

The trouble with this perspective is that most of the ethical conflicts - in fact, all of the conflicts that I actually reference in this piece - exist within national and international social frameworks whereby *all parties have sufficient power to defend their ideals*, but insufficient power to permanently depose the opposing ideals. It's a stalemate - and in part because the power upon which *both* sides rest is *shared* power (such as the power of the law, including conceptions of rights).

So framing this issue in terms of "ultimately power wins" falls completely flat to my eyes - that adage, even if we ignore its flaws - has no bearing on the specific conflicts I was discussing. (Do you disagree?)

Neither you nor Peter seem particularly willing to entertain the idea that power might be a more distributed affair, preferring instead (it seems) to see it residing solely in the few. Perhaps you mistake the most powerful individuals as having *all* the power, rather than simply having the *most* power...? There will always be asymmetries of power, I don't believe it's worth getting bent out of shape about this - yet still we achieve some modicum of justice, in part because we now require (most of the time!) our leaders to commit to it. It's part of the terms under which we grant them power. (There is a sideline here about the State of Exception, and how this relates to the Bush administration, which will have to wait...)

Consider just how much more power you both have as a result of your nationalities, and the support of the legal and diplomatic services of those nations, (not to mention the banking institutions et al), than, say, a teenage pirate in Somalia, or a slave in the Roman Empire. You are far more powerful than perhaps you give credit for!

"The constitution may grant you a series of rights, but it's just a piece of paper. Without someone to defend that piece of paper, it's nothing."

Absolutely! And here is where our rights do have power, since there *are* people, a great many (although during the last 8 years one might argue not enough...) who do defend these rights, and thus give those rights power. The fact that they exist in many nations serves to increase this power.

Scott: Regarding your claim that the abortion clinic bombers will ultimately be hit with remorse and thus further cognitive dissonance, I side with Sirc in this regard. Having been able to rationalise those involved as "evil", they are unlikely to feel remorse. The "innocent" have been saved, and the "guilty" have been slain... that is the moral position that generally lies behind conservatism.

It would be interesting to get the case studies for this, though, as it's possible that you are in fact correct.

(On most of your other points, I broadly side with your camp!)

And in this regard, back to Peter's point:

"4) It may be rational to bomb an abortion clinic. Run the number: kill (say) 10 humans to scare (say) 30 mothers +/- 15 into not aborting foetuses. If your goal is to maximise the total number of survivors, it is rational to set off the bomb."

Ha, okay, you have fallen prey of the horrors of Consequentialism. I have ranted about this previously during "the Ethics Campaign" in the piece on Future Ethics.

So I would say: it may be rational *for a Consequentialist* to bomb an abortion clinic. But personally I find Consequentialism to be wildly unethical when "the ends justify the means" (as in your example).

*phew* Well that kills any hope that I will be writing another serial post today. :) It's a good thing I have a stockpile to fall back upon.

Happy to continue this discussion, but would like to focus upon the actual subject matter of the post if at all possible. This sideline on Nietzche versus Arendt that has come out in my response strikes me as a topic for future elaboration. :p

If I agree to table discussion on "the Will to Power" later, would we be able to discuss the other points here? Or has the conversation become so embedded in the subject of power relations that it is too late to disentangle? I leave it to your capable minds to judge this.

Thanks for the lively discussion!


Chris

This may be a bit beside the point, but I don't think a lot of the things you list as taboos are actually taboos. They are things people take conflicting ethical positions on, but a taboo is something more specific isn't it? WOuldn't it be more a sort of emotional reflex of revulsion that takes place without thought or reflection? I can see that getting hot under the collar about flag burning might well fall into this category, but I'm not sure that many of your other examples do.

I'm also not sure that it's coherent to claim that one's ethics must not make any claim on others. It's one thing to say that we need to negotiate our ethics, and to try to understand before we condemn may itself be a beautiful and ethical thing to do. That doesn't mean we can make no claim on others. That is the essence of any ethics, isn't it? Otherwise anything goes - incest, murder, morris dancing. Or cooking up a pack of lies as a pretext for war and colluding in torture...

Sirc and Peter - I find your comments disturbing. I think power is a kind of illusion, like money. Most of the economy consists of numbers moving from one computer to another. In a sense it's quite unreal, but it sure as hell has a real effect on our lives because enough people believe money is real. Even for us money agnostics, the fact that so many people believe it's real makes it real. I think the same is true of most kinds of power. And in answer to sirc's hypothetical gunman, to do that you would have to be the kind of person who would ruthlessly kill for personal gain. Would you want inhabit that kind of mind? I would not. Being that gunman would be its own punishment, I think - to be locked up inside that kind of consciousness. But you are simply stating the reality - what a big claim! I don't believe that might is right, and the only power I may have is to try to live by that. Just occasionally it has shaken empires. Power wins - but does the person with the gun always have the power?

Also, you seem very sure of your materialist metaphysics. Who is to say that a cockroach will not become Franz Kafka? Half the world takes reincarnation as a given, and they may not be wrong.

As an aside, Nietzsche would disagree with you. He entertaingly suggests that morality is precisely the tool the weak use to subjugate the strong. A situation he wished to reverse. I'm no Nietzschean but he has a point - that morality is a great way of controlling people, though as far as I can see it's usually been used to keep the people obedient and docile. That's why you get so many radio programmes like the moral maze in the UK. Power comes from inculcating morality!

So I would say: it may be rational *for a Consequentialist* to bomb an abortion clinic.

That's undoubtedly a better restatement.

Neither you nor Peter seem particularly willing to entertain the idea that power might be a more distributed affair, preferring instead (it seems) to see it residing solely in the few.

Quite the opposite: it *can only* reside in the shifting, fluid mass of the many. For bonus points, I disagree with power being "the capacity of the collective" (my emphasis), because I don't think it's possible to identify large groups of people who remain a collective across large portions of their beliefs. Cat-lovers cross national boundaries; not all English are cat-lovers; etc. Collectives collect around particular areas; I don't think they have rigid boundaries.

--

Getting back onto the subject matter? Erm... I don't have taboos per se. There are a few areas where I'll get uncomfortable, and will leave a room where they're being discussed (they generally involve invasive medical procedures, and if I stay I go green and fall over). I'll avoid mentioning particular topics to people to whom I wish to avoid causing offence, as it's to my benefit to do so. Where I don't know someone's beliefs, in general I'll avoid being too controversial... but there we're back to strength/power winning (it's not always clear which), as the reason I avoid it is that I don't especially like being punched / followed home and my windows repeatedly smashed until I leave the area / arrested for my statements / .... Other people, acting singly or in groups, can cause me anything from mild inconvenience to death, and I'd rather as few of them chose to do that as possible. I may not *respect* the taboos of the people who could cause me problems, but I *recognise* them and generally abide by them, for my own safety.

To Peter: Yep, it's me... Going through another "online identity change". I think I'll stay "just Scott" for the forseeable future though.

---
To Sirc:

I said:


    "If it didn't matter to you, you wouldn't have even brought it up as a topic of conversation.
    But... Why is it so important to you since you seem to not want to participate in that type of world?"

Sirc said:
I'm not entirely sure what you mean by this. But it's not about wanting or not wanting to participate in that type of world. This isn't a game which you can choose not to play. This is the way things are and you have to accept it. The only way out is to kill yourself.

Sirc... To explain what I mean -- Chris quite eloquently summed it up -- We create our own reality.

Chris said:
Yet it should be abundantly apparent to anyone who has dabbled in enough philosophy to dip their toe here in the Game for as long as you three have that reality is what you make it - or, in Robert Anton Wilson's memorable phrase "reality is what you can get away with".

A truly realist perspective could not make generalisations of the kind "ultimately, power wins". Such claims require support from a guiding framework of beliefs, such as pessimism (or fatalism).

So Sirc... The reality you live in is not the same one I live in.

As a Bad Religion song puts it:
"You create your own reality, and leave mine to me"

I'm not saying that anyone's view of the world is correct or incorrect, but that one person's view is just a limited perspective.

----
To Chris:

Chris said:
Scott: Regarding your claim that the abortion clinic bombers will ultimately be hit with remorse and thus further cognitive dissonance, I side with Sirc in this regard. Having been able to rationalise those involved as "evil", they are unlikely to feel remorse.

You're probably right. I was naively applying my own sense of morality on the mind of an extremist... Who likely have a very different psyche. :)

Also, to comment on your original post... Maybe the reason you haven't gotten much discussion on it is because you already stated it very well. Relative ethics is a concept I wasn't familiar with... But it sounds like a very good foundation for some kind of world peace.

Chris for worldwide president? Hear Hear!

"I think you can see clearly that this is insufficient from the executions in the State of Texas, where very strong individuals are murdered by the State."

Not really. Those individuals were weak. Or at least weaker than the state. If they had accepted their own weakness and not opposed the state, they wouldn't have been in that situation.

"If it didn't matter whether the police's actions were justified, our legal systems would be radically different!"

But it's not what made the police triumph over the criminal. What accomplished that was their superior numbers/weaponry/etc. In other words their power.

"Neither you nor Peter seem particularly willing to entertain the idea that power might be a more distributed affair, preferring instead (it seems) to see it residing solely in the few."

Actually, I did say numbers are one form of power. And realistically most likely the best kind because humans by themselves are naturally very weak.

"Absolutely! And here is where our rights do have power, since there *are* people, a great many (although during the last 8 years one might argue not enough...) who do defend these rights, and thus give those rights power."

Exactly, and that's what I'm saying. It's not the rights or morals or ethics that accomplish anything, but rather the number of people (i.e: power) willing to defend them.

"that adage, even if we ignore its flaws - has no bearing on the specific conflicts I was discussing."

Well true, but we were more discussing something Peter brought up rather than the specific conflicts in the OP. Though it is your blog, so I guess it's not very nice to hijack a thread like this.

"And in answer to sirc's hypothetical gunman, to do that you would have to be the kind of person who would ruthlessly kill for personal gain. Would you want inhabit that kind of mind? I would not."

Well, if I'm going to kill someone, I'd need a better reason than robbing them for some cash.

"but does the person with the gun always have the power?"

Definitely not.

"As an aside, Nietzsche would disagree with you."

I don't care if Nietzsche disagrees with me. I've never even read anything by him. According to Chris he has a similar philosophy, but what Nietzsche thinks has no effect on my metaphysics.

"He entertaingly suggests that morality is precisely the tool the weak use to subjugate the strong. A situation he wished to reverse."

Are you saying he wanted people to be amoral? That doesn't sound like a very noble goal :P

"Also, to comment on your original post... Maybe the reason you haven't gotten much discussion on it is because you already stated it very well. Relative ethics is a concept I wasn't familiar with... But it sounds like a very good foundation for some kind of world peace. "

Yeah, Chris, you're not controversial enough >:O you're not going to get people riled up by saying all sides have merit and everyone should be respected :P

"Chris for worldwide president? Hear Hear!"

More like philosopher king, am I right guys.

Theo: hey! How's you been?

"This may be a bit beside the point, but I don't think a lot of the things you list as taboos are actually taboos."

I have chosen to interpret them as taboos for the purpose of this exercise. I think there's a consistency in this interpretation, which is to say, I feel the term "taboo" is too rigidly confined. A taboo is usually considered a strong social prohibition or ban. What I've done here is looked at the behaviour produced by taboos, and then linked that back to ethical conflicts that produce the same behaviour. There is a stretch here, but it's an interesting one to explore, or so I feel!

"I'm also not sure that it's coherent to claim that one's ethics must not make any claim on others."

I'm sorry, I certainly did not want to make this claim! What I am suggesting is that when two ethical positions conflict, fighting in anger over that disconnect is fruitless. Unless you can begin by respecting the other party's right to their position no progress can be made.

This is all groundwork for my next stab at the abortion debate, really. :)

"As an aside, Nietzsche would disagree with you. He entertaingly suggests that morality is precisely the tool the weak use to subjugate the strong."

Nietzsche's position seems more nuanced than this to me - he distinguishes between "slave morality" and "master morality". Your description matches "slave morality" - and Nietzsche specifically accuses Christianity of inculcating this kind of morality, for the reasons you allude to here.

"I'm no Nietzschean but he has a point - that morality is a great way of controlling people, though as far as I can see it's usually been used to keep the people obedient and docile."

That's one lens. It also is a prerequisite for cities or any other conglomeration of people, isn't it? To live together in vast numbers requires an ethics capable of supporting that outcome.

Great to hear from you!

Peter: "Quite the opposite: it *can only* reside in the shifting, fluid mass of the many."

Excellent, then we are in accord! :)

"For bonus points, I disagree with power being "the capacity of the collective" (my emphasis), because I don't think it's possible to identify large groups of people who remain a collective across large portions of their beliefs."

I find Arendt frequently simplifies the pragmatic problems in order to clarify her language, and this is another case of that to my eyes. I suspect we accept terms like "the collective" even though they are largely metaphorical because it allows us to get a handle on what would otherwise be too difficult to conceptualise.

"I may not *respect* the taboos of the people who could cause me problems, but I *recognise* them and generally abide by them, for my own safety."

Ha, well, that's a kind of respect - albeit the kind that is rooted upon fear. I'm sure some fatalist would suggest that all respect was fear, although I don't personally believe that. :)

Scott: "Chris for worldwide president? Hear Hear!"

Absolutely not! Are you kidding me? It's stressful enough running a consultancy, and I am nowhere near extrovert enough to be a politician. :) "Adviser" is the most you can hope to get out of me, and even then I'm not popularist enough to pull it off! :p

Sirc: Another dip into the excitingly bleak world of Sirc's mind. :p

"[Executed State criminals] were weak. Or at least weaker than the state. If they had accepted their own weakness and not opposed the state, they wouldn't have been in that situation."

Your notion of "weak" reminds me of that of Chang Wufei in Gundam Wing; there is a very Japanese/Chinese/Anime undertow to this idea of strength as being a composite of mind, body and will, and I find it quite idealised - difficult, perhaps impossible, to apply to the world around me.

I said: "If it didn't matter whether the police's actions were justified, our legal systems would be radically different!"

You said: "But it's not what made the police triumph over the criminal. What accomplished that was their superior numbers/weaponry/etc. In other words their power."

My argument is that the police's power is grounded in jurisprudence. Without this, any police force devolves into a militia. (You may already believe each police force is a militia, of course!) I find it hard to assess the power of the police without considering the extent to which the notion of the police force is socially endorsed, and this endorsement *depends* upon their actions being justified. The power of the police rests in their claim to authority. Without this, they would be very weak indeed.

"Exactly, and that's what I'm saying. It's not the rights or morals or ethics that accomplish anything, but rather the number of people (i.e: power) willing to defend them."

And what I am claiming is that the number of people willing to defend an ethical position depends upon the nature of that position. At which point, this becomes quite circular. :p

"Though it is your blog, so I guess it's not very nice to hijack a thread like this."

All side discussions are fair game! :) I just found it difficult to respond because there were so many points under discussion! But that is not a bad thing, per se, just overwhelming! :)

Theo: "As an aside, Nietzsche would disagree with you."
Sirc: "I don't care if Nietzsche disagrees with me."

Although addressed to you, I think Theo was making a general point about Nietzsche - it was more a point about my characterisation of Nietzsche than it was an idea addressed at you, or at least that's how I interpret it. :)

"Are you saying he wanted people to be amoral? That doesn't sound like a very noble goal :P"

Nietzche wanted to move beyond conventional morality, to achieve the "transvaluation of values". But really what was going on here was a passionate hatred for Christianity and Christian values, which Nietzche saw as being "against life". He never achieved his goal here, which was noble in Nietzsche's eyes (although I think perhaps misguided), as his sanity collapsed before he could find an angle to proceed.

"Yeah, Chris, you're not controversial enough >:O you're not going to get people riled up by saying all sides have merit and everyone should be respected :P"

Well, as I say, this piece is a stepping stone to my next take on abortion. That should be a little more controversial! :)

Good discussion - thanks for getting involved everyone!

What I am suggesting is that when two ethical positions conflict, fighting in anger over that disconnect is fruitless. Unless you can begin by respecting the other party's right to their position no progress can be made.

Successive states (and no doubt smaller units) would, I am sure, claim they had made considerable progress towards their own goals by executing / imprisoning / exiling / shunning those with alternative ethical positions to their own.

Exactly what kind of progress are you after, Chris? Progress towards what? And does that "what" itself imply a broader ethical position on which both sides must agree, otherwise one (or both) won't consider it progress?

Chris

Doing well thanks, except we're moving, again!

Not sure that enforcing social conformity through Church or other means is a pre-requisite for people to be able to live peaceably together, which is what I was thinking of when I said Nitch (I get tired of trying to spell his name) had a point. But it is very useful for maintaining Church and state in power. A case in point was the Swedish reformation. King Gustav Vasa, a man who could have taught Machievelli a thing or two, quite deliberately used the Lutheran reformation to gain the power and wealth previously held in Sweden by the RC Church, and the Lutheran state church was an instrument of goverment for centuries afterwards - and part of this was through drilling the populace in moral conformity from the pulpit. This is largely why August Strindberg was so f*ckd up. It's there in Bergman too.

Sirc
re Nietzsche, I think Chris said it all. He wanted to replace one morality - Christian morality and its post-Christian offshoots - with a heroic morality he identified with pre-Socratic ancient Greek civilization.

And there's absolutely no reason why you should care what Nietzsche said or thought. I never suggested you should. It was just a bit of mental nose-picking on my part.

But- he's worth a look for his attempt to come up with an ethics from which all traces of Christianity have been eradicated. It makes you realize how much we all still stand in the shadow of Christianity (I speak as a non-Christian here).

"I need to bring up the idea of other people's taboos for discussion before having my next attempt to tackle the problem of abortion (I have a new take on this that might be interesting). " - Chris

Can't wait; sounds interesting. Mind if I link back to you from a Facebook "Pro-choice" group I'm a member of? I want to mention some of your arguments that we should respect the place our opponents are coming from. If I can just make one person stop hating I think it'll be worth it.

Peter: "Successive states... would... claim they had made considerable progress towards their own goals by executing / imprisoning / exiling / shunning those with alternative ethical positions to their own."

But would their claim be valid? Did imprisoning Nelson Mandela help the cause of apartheid, or accelerate it's demise? Did the British stop Gandhi or add to his support? One of the most interesting things about Chinese politics in recent decades has been the number of things they have chosen *not* to persecute... (Although they have far from a clean record overall).

"Exactly what kind of progress are you after, Chris? Progress towards what?"

Ah, you accuse me of a teleology - and perhaps fairly. :) I suppose I'm looking for progress towards conciliation, with an eye towards solving the problems that actually threaten the planet instead of those that we happen to have become emotionally invested in. If mankind is going to last on a geological scale, we need to make some significant improvements!

But principally, I used "progress" to mean "progress on any given issue that is stalled by intractable conflict".

I also suspect that conflict on issues is valuable - it creates homeostatic situations via negative feedback. The balance between liberal and conservative forces in politics seems to function better than most people give credit! :)

"And does that 'what' itself imply a broader ethical position on which both sides must agree, otherwise one (or both) won't consider it progress?"

I don't think it's necessary for the two sides to agree - in some cases, this is probably impossible. But considerable effort is squandered fighting against certain positions in such a way as to weaken the overall claim - PETA, for instance, alienates people who otherwise have sympathy for animals, thus acting against their goals. There are many other examples.

Is this kind of pragmatism ethically motivated? I suppose it is. In this and other issues, I strive towards an ideal of symbiosis.

Theo: there's no doubt that historically the Churches in various countries have served to prop up regimes of various kinds; any organisation that acquires social power will find itself in this situation, irrespective of what it's focus might be. How long before people are attracted to science because of the political leverage one can attain as a scientific adviser? :)

Re: Nietzsche, I never expected to like his work since he comes from a radically different position to my own, but I found it impossible not to admire his philosophy (although "Thus Spake Zarathustra" is still an overwrought mess of limited value in my estimation).

Arendt identifies Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Marx as the three "rebels" of the Victorian era - and it's impressive how the philosophy of these three would go on to influence the development of the twentieth century. It's easy to dismiss philosophy as navel gazing, yet tremendous influence upon history can originate in it.

Good luck with the move!

Katherine: follow your heart with regards to linking - I don't think you should require my permission. :) I'm not sure this piece really achieves purchase on the difficult issues, though.

I've been trying to get to this next piece on abortion for a while, but there are so many foundational points to put in place before I can address it in the manner that I intend that it's taking most of the year to achieve! :)

Best wishes!

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