Posts Tagged ‘Ethics’


(For the last few months we’ve been running the best posts from years past, posts that will be new to most of our subscribers. This one is from July 2013. We’ll be posting more blasts from the past for the next several months, and will intersperse them with new material.)

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A FEW QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE

1. Why do the Ten Commandments forbid worshipping false gods, graven images, and taking the lord’s name in vain, rather than slavery and torture?

2. Why doesn’t the Bible condemn slavery  or torture anywhere in its pages?

3. Why does the Bible command slaves to be obedient to their masters? (1 Timothy 6:1, 1 Peter 2:18, Ephesians 6:5)

4. Why does the Bible instruct slaveholders on how to treat (and mistreat) their slaves? (Exodus 21:20-21, Exodus 21:2-6)

5. Why does the Bible endorse slavery? (Leviticus 25:44-46)

6. Why does the Bible command female subservience? (Ephesians 5:22-23, Colossians 3:18, I Corinthians 11:3, I Corinthians 14:34, I Timothy 2:11-12, Genesis 3:16)

7. Why does the Bible treat women as “unclean” inferior beings? (Job 25:4, Revelation 14:4, Leviticus 12:2-5, Leviticus 15:17-24, 32-33)

8. Why are Christians fixated on the “abomination” of homosexuality, when the Bible also lists remarriage (Deuteronomy 24:4), “lying lips” (Proverbs 22:12), usury (Exodus 18:10-13), sex with an “unclean” woman (Leviticus 18:19, 27), short-weighting (Deuteronomy 25:13-16), and, of course, sacrificing a blemished ox (Deuteronomy 17:1) as abominations?

8. Why is the Bible filled with contradictions, such as “[F]or I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger forever” (Jeremiah 3:12) vs. “Ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn forever” (Jeremiah 17:4)?

(See also Ezekiel 18:20 vs. Exodus 20:5; James 1:13 vs. Genesis 22:1; Matthew 6:19 vs. Proverbs 15:6; Exodus 21:23-25 vs. Matthew 5:39; Proverbs 3:13 vs. Ecclesiastes  1:18; Ecclesiastes 1:4 vs. 2 Peter 3:10; Matthew 10:34 vs. Matthew 26:52; John 5:31 vs. John 8:18; John 5:28-29 vs. Job 7:9; John 10:30 vs. John 14:28; and Genesis 32:30 vs. John 1:18 vs. Exodus 33:23).

10. If these blatant contradictions are the result of mistranslation, why should any other part of the Bible be more reliable?

11. Why does the Bible mention only plants and animals found in the region familiar to its authors?

12. Did the same god who created sunsets, hummingbirds, and butterflies also create cockroaches, scabies, Donald Trump, and Bill O’Reilly? (Helpful hint: google O’Reilly falafel.)

13. What happened to all of the water after the great flood? (If all of the ice on Earth melted, it would raise the sea level by less than a hundred meters.)

14. Why does the Bible command “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18)? (See also Leviticus 20:27.)

15. Why does the Bible command the murder of EMTs, firemen, nurses, doctors, convenience store clerks, and everyone else who works on the sabbath? (Exodus 35:1-2, Exodus 31:14-15, Numbers 15:32-36)

16. Why does the Bible command the murder of rebellious children? (Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Leviticus 20:9)

17. Why does the Bible command parents to beat their children? (Proverbs 23:13-14)

18. Why does the Bible command mass murder and the taking of juvenile female sex slaves? (Numbers 31:17-18)

19. Why does the Bible command murder (burning alive) of those who have sex with their mothers-in-law? (Leviticus 20:14)

20. Why does the Bible command the killing of innocent beasts that are victims of sexual abuse? (Leviticus 20:15)

21. And while we’re on the topic, doesn’t the death penalty for bestiality seem a bit over the top? (Leviticus 20:15)

22. Why are your morals so much better than those of the god of the Bible?


With one of the most painful years in memory behind us, and an upcoming year that seems certain to be worse, it’s time to imagine a better world:

  • Imagine if people were responsible, self-directed adults who thought for themselves rather than followers who abdicate their responsibilities by worshiping power-grubbing sociopaths and their sacred texts (both religious and political).
  • Imagine if religious and political true believers had a live-and-let-live attitude rather than believing that they have the right, or even the duty, to impose their beliefs on others.
  • Imagine if people knew how to reason logically and allowed evidence to determine their conclusions rather than engaging in wishful thinking while ignoring inconvenient facts.
  • Imagine a world in which there wasn’t an inverse relationship between the usefulness of work and pay for it, a world in which those who do the dirtiest, most necessary work — farm workers, childcare workers, garbage collectors — were the highest paid, and parasitic hedge fund managers, day traders, and lobbyists weren’t paid at all.
  • Imagine if people wanted to hear original music or see original artwork rather than hearing or seeing things they’ve heard or seen ten thousand times before.
  • Imagine a world in which justice wasn’t a term of vicious mockery (as in “equal justice under the law”).
  • Imagine a world in which social isolation wasn’t the norm, in which architecture, housing design and patterns, the transportation system, and the economic system reduced social isolation rather than fostered it.
  • Imagine if the Ten Commandments prohibited slavery, torture, and subjugation of women rather than swearing, worshiping graven images, and thought-crime (coveting thy neighbor’s wife or ox).
  • Imagine if no one thought they were better than other people simply because they’re “the chosen,” “the elect,” “God’s people.”
  • Imagine a world in which some people didn’t make money by locking other people in cages.
  • Imagine if ethical conduct in business didn’t put you at a competitive disadvantage.
  • Imagine a society based on cooperation, voluntary association, and mutual aid rather than coercion, economic inequality, economic insecurity, and frantic accumulation of material goods (at any cost — to others).
  • Imagine an economic system that didn’t provide constant temptation to lie to and to cheat others in the pursuit of profit.
  • Imagine if the Catholic, Mormon, and other churches prohibited their members from breeding like rabbits rather than commanding them to worsen the population problem.
  • Imagine if the churches emphasized the Golden Rule rather than punishment of those who transgress their “moral” dictates.
  • Imagine if the churches’ concept of morality wasn’t focused on controlling the private sex lives of consenting adults  and instead focused on reducing harm to others.
  • Imagine if the Democratic Party was actually democratic.
  • Imagine if Donald Trump was a compassionate, ethical human being.
  • Imagine (and I know this is a stretch) that America really was the land of the free.

Steven Weinberg

“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

–Steven Weinberg (winner 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics), address to the AAAS Conference on Cosmic Design, Washington, D.C. , April 1999


Quantum Night, by Robert J. Sawyer front cover(Quantum Night, by Robert J. Sawyer; Ace, 2016, 351 pp., $27.00)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

There’s a lot to like and a lot to dislike in Canadian science fiction writer Robert Sawyer’s new novel.

On the positive side, this is the most ambitious sci-fi novel I’ve read in ages. The writing is skillful — among other things, seamlessly switching between first person and third person narration — and the primary character is believable and sympathetic, if a bit on the irritating side. Sawyer uses the novel as a platform to talk intelligently about philosophical and ethical big issues — something all too rare in contemporary science fiction: Quantum Night makes you think. As well, Sawyer obviously did a thorough job of researching the novel’s background, the supposed quantum-related nature of consciousness — an area in which I’m totally out of my depth.

On the negative side, it’s difficult to buy the political background in which Quantum Night is set, especially that in the U.S. border areas (where I live). As well, Sawyer sets up an essential (for the secondary plot) series of events (riots) for which he provides no explanation.  Beyond that, from the point of view of psychology (an area in which I do know a bit), it’s very difficult to buy Sawyer’s underlying deterministic premise about the nature of consciousness and how it varies in the population. Beyond that, Sawyer provides the most nauseatingly graphic description of violence I’ve ever read; I found the scene so disturbing that I put down the book for several days before deciding that I really did want to see how the novel concluded.

Yet despite the gruesome violence, Sawyer adheres to the standard sci-fi bowdlerization of sexual scenes. Why? Why is sex more taboo than explicit, horrifying violence in sci-fi? (The only exceptions to that prudishness that immediately come to mind are some of the works of Walter Mosley and Richard K. Morgan.)

Quantum Night begins with a cringe-inducing series of scenes in which the protagonist, academic psychologist Jim Marchuk, a specialist in diagnosing psychopathic tendencies, learns that he has no memory of six months of his life as an undergraduate, and that he apparently did terrible things — things totally out of character — during those six months.

Marchuk shortly reconnects with his girlfriend from those lost six months, Kayla Huron,  a quantum physicist who, to quote the endflap, “has made a stunning discovery about the nature of human consciousness,” and not coincidentally has developed what she considers a foolproof method of diagnosing psychopathy.

Her discovery is that the quantum state of electrons in certain portions of the brain determine whether a person is a “philosopher’s zombie” (“p-zed” — a non-self-aware being with no inner voice who merely responds to external stimuli–in Sawyer’s schema 4/7 of the population), a psychopath (a self-aware being without empathy–according to the schema, 2/7 of the population–an astoundingly high proportion, far higher than the common estimates of 1% to 5% of the population), or a self-aware being with empathy (1/7  of the population). I have essentially no knowledge of quantum physics nor brain physiology, so I have no way to judge whether this is plausible; however, Sawyer always does his homework, so I suspect (in terms of quantum physics and brain physiology) it is, however barely. (The breakdown of the numbers of p-zeds, psychopaths, and self-aware, empathetic people is purely arbitrary, purely a plot device.)

There are, however, nonphysiological reasons to doubt that it is plausible. If people were pure behavioral animals reacting mindlessly to external stimuli (p-zeds), they wouldn’t react radically differently to identical stimuli and wouldn’t be almost universally at least somewhat emotionally disturbed. (We’re talking about the garden varieties of emotional disturbance here, such as anxiety and depression, not trauma-induced PTSD.) Pertinently, the most effective type of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, is, to simplify, based on the premise that what people (often subconsciously) tell themselves largely determines their emotions: change what you tell yourself — deliberately tell yourself rational instead of irrational things — and you’ll minimize your emotional disturbance. And it works. So there go your “philosopher’s zombies,” who by definition don’t tell themselves anything.

Sawyer sets all this against a backdrop of ever-worsening rioting (for no apparent reason) in both Canada and the U.S., pogroms against Mexicans in Texas (based on a law restricting legal protection — including protection against murder — to U.S. citizens) , and belligerent psychopaths in both the White House and Kremlin. (What else is new?)

The unmotivated rioting is difficult to buy, the pogroms are equally difficult to buy, and it’s inconceivable that any U.S. court, no matter how reactionary, would ever declare such a law redefining murder constitutional, even in Texas. And if pogroms ever would break out down here along the border, it’s absolutely certain that there would be armed resistance; people would not meekly accept it.

The reason for this dire background is to set up a secondary plot — what can our heroes do about these things?  This is unfortunate, as the primary plot — Marchuk’s journey of discovery about what he did and why — is more than adequate, and the secondary plot seems implausible.

Even worse, much of the philosophical discussion in Quantum Night revolves around utilitarianism, the philosophy that ethical behavior is that which promotes the greatest good for the greatest number. Sawyer seems very much in favor of this concept. So far so good. However, he goes beyond this and seems to be making the case that it’s okay, in fact ethically necessary, to play god with the lives of other people as long as you consider it necessary to the “greater good.”  In other words, the ends justify the means. (My apologies to Sawyer if I’m misreading him, but I don’t think I am.)

This is a horrendous belief, one that is an integral part of the foundation of some of the worst forms of totalitarianism. Leninism, a conspicuously utilitarian political philosophy (which is supposed to produce the greatest good for the greatest number), is the example par excellence, and its terrible results when imposed are too well known to enumerate here. Suffice it to say that a very large number of human problems, both individual and societal, are a direct result of those (such as Sawyer’s protagonist) who consider themselves more enlightened than the great unwashed masses and play god with the lives of others — for their “own good,” of course.

Still, despite its warts, Quantum Night is well worth reading. The writing is first rate, Sawyer provides much thought-provoking discussion of philosophical and ethical problems (mostly in chapter introductions recounting Marchuk’s class lectures), the characters are believable and somewhat sympathetic, and the plot will have you on the edge of your seat throughout most of the book.

Recommended.

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Free Radicals front cover

 

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on the sequel and on an unrelated sci-fi novel in his copious free time.

The first six chapters of Free Radicals, are avaukable  here in pdf form.


ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITY, n. A term useful in reminding one’s ethical inferiors of their inferiority. Also useful in reminding them of their neglected “responsibilities” — that is, neglecting to do what you want them to do. Synonym: “Moral Imperative.”

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–from the revised and expanded edition of The American Heretic’s Dictionary, the best modern successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary

 

 


by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

The most nauseating aspect of the current “debate” over torture is that it’s over the efficacy of torture. Think about that for a moment.

We’re not debating whether or not it’s right to inflict prolonged and agonizing pain on helpless people. We’re not debating whether or not it’s right to terrorize helpless people with the threat of more pain, or death. We’re not even debating whether it’s right inflict physical damage on helpless people. We’re talking about whether or not it works.

Those who condone torture  should have no moral problem with the Nazi torture of resistance fighters. No problem with the torture of political prisoners by the North Koreans. No problem with the torture of heretics by the Inquisition. And for that matter no problem with the torture of Jesus Christ. Those who condone torture have no moral basis for objecting to any of these things. They only object to who does it, not to torture itself. And as long as it “works” and “our side” does it,  it’s justified. Right?

So, when done by those opposed to the U.S., torture is one of the most loathsome crimes and those who engage in it deserve severe punishment. When the U.S. does it, it’s a “regrettable necessity.” And those who engage in it shouldn’t even be revealed, let alone prosecuted.

I won’t get into the question of torture’s efficacy–discussing that in itself is obscene. But I will note that those who condone torture seem heavily invested in maintaining that it “works,” when the evidence seems to indicate that it doesn’t. They seem to desperately long for torture to “work.” They seem to want the United States to continue inflicting agonizing pain on helpless prisoners. They seem to want the United States to continue to terrorize helpless prisoners. They seem to enjoy the idea of torturing helpless people.

Waterboarding? Prolonged sleep deprivation? Chaining near-naked people in stress positions in freezing temperatures? Anal rape with a foreign object (“forced rectal feeding”)? No problem–as long as “we” do it and it “works.”

Pardon me while I go puke.


ETHICAL, adj. An archaic term. In the world of commerce, it has been supplanted to some extent by the concept “legal,” and to a great extent by the concept “detectable.”

The Devil’s Dictionaries. Definition by Chaz Bufe.

The Devil's Dictionaries front cover