Class Warfare Blog

November 7, 2019

Morality and Manners

Filed under: language,Morality,Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 7:40 am
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I frequent the Quora site and since I am interested in atheism, I see the question “If you don’t believe in God, how can you be moral?” and its many variants over and over and over (and . .  over . .  <sigh>). . . . This “question” is more of a statement than a question and is usually categorized as a “Gotcha Question,” right up there with “If God is all-powerful can He make a rock even He cannot lift, Father?”

An interesting variant of this question showed up this morning in the form of “Atheists, do you respect other people’s beliefs though you yourself do not believe in a deity? It is morally right to respect people’s beliefs, right?

The obvious answer is “no;” respecting other’s beliefs has nothing to do with morality. Consider Hitler’s profound belief that Jews were abominable and were to be exterminated. But then I realized that the questioner hadn’t used the best words available for his question. I believe he meant to say “Atheists, do you respect other people’s religious beliefs though you yourself do not believe in a deity?” Just because others often compound ordinary beliefs with religious beliefs, we should not fall so easily into that trap. If this is the intended question, and it seems to be, then the Hitler example is not all that good, although one could make an argument that the hatred of Jews was promulgated by Christianity. So, how about another example, how about Pope Urban II? Around the year 1095, he gave a speech calling for armies to embark on a crusade to the Holy Lands to take back Jerusalem from Muslim rule. Between 1096 and 1291, this speech was the impetus for eight major expeditions into the “Holy Lands” where untold numbers of unspeakable acts of savagery resulted in 200 years of bloodshed, and more than 1.7 million deaths. Should I respect old Urban’s belief that Christians are the rightful rulers of Jerusalem as opposed to the Jews who were there first or the Muslims, who were in possession of it at the time, both of whom are partial “rulers” of that city today?

I think there are many religious beliefs that are less mainstream that most people would find it difficult if not impossible to respect: any Scientology belief, for example.

Another immediate thought I had was it should be good manners to strive to understand someone else’s belief before adopting an opinion on that belief and to not just dismiss it out of hand. And, then . . . manners . . . manners? Why are there no questions regarding how we can have manners without God? Why are their no Christian manners? Surely manners are on the same spectrum with ethics and morality. Even if it were not immoral to covet one’s neighbor’s spouse, surely it would be bad manners? Aren’t manners intended to help us live together amicably, just like ethics and morals?

And where did manners come from when there isn’t a peep about them in the holy scriptures? Surely manners couldn’t have been created by people and, ugh, be like, you know, subjective and everything.

August 13, 2019

Free Will and the Problem of Evil

Filed under: Morality,Philosophy,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 9:49 am
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If you are unfamiliar with the “Problem of Evil” the earliest record we have of it is from the philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BCE) and it goes like this:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence comes evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Among all of the arguments for the existence of a god or gods, this is the most powerful one against the existence of a god or gods, so this is a favorite of atheists.

The apologists have many answers (many) but the first and foremost was the defense of Free Will, which goes like this:

God gave mankind free will and if one human wants to harm another God can only prevent that by taking a way his free will, something of greater value, so He does not do that.

Basically people doing evil is a tradeoff for free will. Many atheists take the approach to grant that this is a good argument, but then point out that this only addresses evil created by humans, not by other animals or Nature (earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, landslides, etc.)

This is a mistake, actually several mistakes. The Free Will Defense is bogus. The comment is usually made that without free will, we would all be a bunch of robots, acting only as god wants us to. WTF? Making a jump from not having a desire to do evil to being a mindless robot is ridiculous, in the extreme. The idiocy is the claim that all free will is being taken away, not just the will to do evil.

Most people alive today choose not to do evil. Heck, I go further and try not to suck! But think about this. If you were to go up to a neighbor and suggest they help you kidnap neighborhood children to torture and kill them, what response do you think you would get? At a bare minimum it would be a visit from the police. Most people have no desire to do evil. Now, if “God,” the “Creator,” created us without the will to do evil, how would we know? How would we differentiate between that dislike and say a dislike of pizza with pineapple on it, or a dislike of the New York Yankees or any other distaste we possess? How would we come to the conclusion that we were nefariously programmed not to do evil, but having an intense dislike of poetry or sports is “normal?” Would scientists immediately start work on how to remove this ridiculous restriction of our autonomy?

If we all had a severe eschewing of evil, how would that improve our lives? No Hitler. No Pol Pot. No autocrats at all. Put all of that (Think about it!) on one pan of a balance and on the other put “not having free will to do evil, but having free will in every other circumstance.” How does your balance move? Mine slams down under the weight of the immense amount of good created from the setting aside of an ability the vast majority of us do not want in the first place!

The Free Will Defense for the Problem of Evil is bogus, a piece of deepity that is ridiculous. (It sounds deep but is actually shallow.) If you were to survey a million people today with the question: “Should we universally give up the ability to do evil, to prevent all of the human caused evil in the world, with no side effects?” How many “no’s” do you think you would get?

So, dismiss the Free Will defense for what it is, then move on to address natural evils. (This is exactly how a world would be if there were no supernatural creator and we just had to live with it.)

May 20, 2019

A Moral Tale

As I have mentioned I have been working my way through the book The Moral Animal (Why We Are The Way We Are; The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology) by Robert Wright. I was planning to do a book report when done, but there is so much in this book that that is probably futile. If you are interested in where morals really come from, get this book! It is by no means the final word on the topic but it is an excellent start!

What I am writing on now is based upon a comment made in a chapter on ethics. Here it is:

“Why should we have a moral code? Even accepting the basis of utilitarianism—the goodness of happiness—you might ask: Why should any of us worry about the happiness of others? Why not let everyone worry about their own happiness—which seems, anyway, to be the one thing they can be more or less counted on to do?

“Perhaps the best answer to this question is a sheerly practical one . . . everyone’s happiness can, in principle, go up if everyone treats everyone else nicely. You refrain from cheating or mistreating me, I refrain from cheating or mistreating you; we are both better off than we would be in a world without morality. For in such a world the mutual mistreatment would roughly cancel out anyway (assuming neither of us is a vastly more proficient villain than the other). And, meanwhile, we each would incur the added cost of fear and vigilance.”

This resonates on the political stage in current American life. A small minority of wealthy individuals has decided to run this country for their benefit alone and to hell with the rest of us. To claim that legislatures around this country are motivated by expanding the happiness of their constituents is to make a rather bad joke. They seem to be motivated only to please their paymasters.

That issue aside, this quote brings up the utilitarian ideal of each of us treating the others well (not necessarily as well as we treat ourselves, mind you, just well), that this can be a source of greater happiness in all of our lives and that brings me to my tale.

Back in my working days, I was part of a training group. We trained people in our enterprise (a community college district) in the process of interest-based decision making. Our first few attempts at doing these trainings was fraught with anxiety . . . on the part of us trainers; the trainees apparently didn’t notice our discomfort.

To allay these feelings, we spent a great deal of time (a really great deal of time) creating a master training schedule for each training. On this schedule, every presenter, every volunteer, was listed as to time and task, for example: At 10 AM on Thursday Steve goes to Room XYZ and does Task W or on Friday at 3 PM, Steve presents Topic A in the Main Training Room. Every task was supported with instructions; every presentation had a list of key points that was monitored and if any were skipped over, the Monitor doing that task would bring it to the attention of the presenter.

This went swimmingly . . . and then I noticed something happening. Following the master schedule, I (at time X in Room Y) was expected to go set the room up in a particular fashion. At that time, I went to that room, only to find my job already done! This was a gift from an anonymous volunteer. Since I now had nothing else to do, I looked down the list of tasks to find something worth doing and went to do that instead. Before long, in our daily debriefs, we discovered that everyone was doing the same thing, doing someone else’s job for them. When we teased this out we didn’t look at this practice as undermining our Master Plan for our trainings. Instead, each of us felt that we had received gifts, gifts of other peoples’ time and attention and work. This became an unscheduled practice for all of the subsequent trainings I participated in.

Interestingly, the same amount of work got done, but instead of us just wading through mundane tasks, each of us felt like we were giving a gift of our better self, and that we were receiving gifts, anonymous gifts, that left us feeling respected and, well, very happy indeed. In our end-of-training debrief sessions, volunteer after volunteer claimed that this work was the best and most satisfying work they did in their job! It was on their own time and sometimes on company time, but in no case were their job expectations lessened. It turned out that others voluntarily filled in for them while they were away at our trainings.

So, if you take author Wright’s point, that treating each other well is superior (for all) than the libertarian ideal of “every man for himself,” then there is another level of additional happiness available if we treat others more than just “well.” Not oppressing people, or taking advantage of an other, is one form of treating others “well.” But if you go beyond that, as the volunteers in our training group did, and actively treat others very well indeed and we all pay it forward, as the saying goes, a level of happiness unthought of before becomes available to us.

And if you immediately react with “what about the freeloaders” just taking and not giving, read the book. That topic is covered, too.

February 7, 2019

Finding Meaning in Life

Many theists argue that without their god(s) life would have no meaning. This, of course, belies the efforts of many to establish their bona fides in their lives for themselves.

The current era of plutocracy in the U.S. shows the wealthy over and over acting upon the belief that they are rich for a reason, that their wealth makes them worthy, worthy of providing guidance (by funding philanthropic endeavors … of their choice, of course), and in funding political movements, e.g. the Koch brothers, because they know what is best for us.

All of these efforts bring to mind a quotation from a giant of social commentary: “The fortunate man is seldom satisfied with the fact of being fortunate. Beyond this, he needs to know that he has a right to his good fortune. He wants to be convinced that he ‘deserves’ it, and above all, that he deserves it in comparison with others … good fortune thus wants to be legitimate fortune.” (Max Weber, 1915)

In this I am reminded that for those “fortunate” enough to make over one billion dollars per year (there have been as many as over a dozen in recent years) that making a billion dollars of income in one year equates to making $532,000 per hour for every working hour of the year. This means one of these “worthies” made more in one afternoon than I did in almost 40 years as a college professor. I do not think of this as compensated labor as no one’s labor is worth that much. The only way one can “make” such an income is by scamming the system. If we need a name, we could call it “legitimized theft.”

So, if the theists are right and the meaning of our lives is granted by their god, why are these plutocrats scurrying around “cementing their legacies” or “managing their brand” or all of the myriad things they are doing to legitimize their wealth? These legitimized businessmen all claim that capitalism is based upon competition, but have acted to reduce the amount of competition in their area of business like beavers (think Bill Gates and all of his European monopoly law suits). I guess saying one thing while doing the opposite comes easy to those “of wealth” which is what they seem to have in common with the theists who support them.

December 5, 2018

The Rich, They Are Not Like Us

The Republicans like to frame the rich as “job creators.” Well, one of the very rich, Alice Walton, reclaimed the crown as the richest woman in the world, as her fortune leapt from $33.8 billion to $46 billion over the past year. In September 2016, she was reported to own over US $11 billion in WalMart shares alone.

So, did she earn that money? Did she make that money? What did she contribute to society that so much money came to her? Is she creating jobs?

Owning stocks and investing in stocks has been shown to be the sham it really is. We are taught in school that selling stock is a way for businesses to finance their growth. This is clearly poppycock. Stocks are purely speculative instruments. The Apple corporation acquired $95 million in its initial stock offering. It hasn’t issued stock or gotten money from a new sale since. It has paid out billions to its stock holders in dividends. Imagine a bank load for $95 million that required billions of dollars to be paid back and the loan is still out!

Alice’s father, Sam Walton (founder of WalMart) made the money, she has simply played money games to expand the quantity.

The Founding Fathers comment often and long, as have many other prominent Americans since, that allowing accumulated wealth to accumulate by inheritance is un-American and counter to democratic principles. Yet, our inheritance taxes have been reduced to pure vapor under the guidance of bribes from rich people to Republican and Democrat politicians. This is what the rich like to call a “good investment.” They offer bribes of a few hundred thousand dollars here and there and they benefit by the many millions, if not billions.

Did you notice that Alice Walton’s net worth went up $12.2 billion in just one year? The Republican tax cuts played a big part in that. And, in case you are wondering, to spend that additional $12,200,000,000 in one year, she would have to spend $6,500,000 every hour of every work day of the year! How much money is enough? Apparently in a capitalist system there is no upper limit.

November 7, 2018

Sometimes You Don’t Have to Even Read the Book! Part 3

Filed under: Culture,Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:07 am
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Subtitle: Making My Point For Me

Yet another Amazon listing provides all one needs to know about a book without reading it, this time with a nod to one of my main theses. The book is Straight to Hell by John LeFevre. Here’s the blurb:

“Straight to Hell pulls back the curtain on a world that is both hated and envied, taking readers from the trading floors and roadshows to private planes and after-hours overindulgence. Full of shocking lawlessness, boyish antics, and win-at-all-costs schemes, this is the definitive take on the deviant, dysfunctional, and absolutely excessive world of finance.

“‘LeFevre’s workplace anecdotes include tales of nastiness, sabotage, favoritism, sexism, racism, expense-account padding, and legally questionable collusion.”’ —The New Yorker

This book is a collection of stories focused on the bad behaviors of the Masters of the Universe-types, you know, Wall Street money grubbers.

The book’s title tells you about the main role religion has in America, that of forestalling any action against such miscreants. These bad boys are going straight to Hell, so what do we need do now … nothing, of course. Anything we could do pales in comparison to what is going to happen to them in the Afterlife™. It is all taken care of, don’t bother getting up from your Barcalounger.

That would be quite reassuring if the whole afterlife punishment scenario were not a fairy tale.

 

 

November 1, 2018

#3 of the 10 Reasons to Believe God Exists

A few days back I covered #1 on this list, so if you need to see where this list was posted and by whom, please consult that post. Here is #3!

  1. Objective Morality (Moral Argument). Leaving the scientific realm for the philosophical and ethical, objective morality argues for an Objective Lawgiver. God is the best explanation for why objective morality exists. As Brian Manuel, a good friend of mine, said recently, “We can just know certain things to be right and wrong without even being taught.” He is absolutely right! People have an innate sense of morality. That comes from a Moral Lawgiver who we know to be God.

This argument, of course is not new; none of them are, even though the premises refer to things newer. This one is even incoherent. If morals are dictated by gods then they are hardly objective. This is the very definition of subjective (“Behave the way I tell you because I said so … or I will punish you.”)

An obvious argument is there have been so many gods, if the same morals are dictated, then there is some source for those morals higher than the various gods. For those who wish to claim the Abrahamic god as this source, the other gods do not acknowledge that authority, so such a claim is unsubstantiated. We could just as easily claim that morals that evolved naturally from societal structures are that “authority.”

And just what are these vaunted god morals? Many Christians point to the ten commandments, eschewing the other 600 or so from the Old Testament. (There are two lists of the ten to add to the confusion.) And, of course, there are obvious things missing from both lists. Maybe if there had been a commandment forbidding the sexual molestation of children, the Catholic Church might be a less deplorable institution right now. In fact, there are no commandments protecting children and women from molestation. There is no commandment against slavery in scripture. So, where does the general disapproval of slavery now in existence come from? Even if you claim that your god changed his mind about slavery, this is hardly becoming of an entity claimed to be omniscient. Can an omniscient being change its mind, without being perfidious or worse?

This is another argument that has premises and a conclusion, but nothing really connecting them.

October 28, 2018

How Do We Know Drugs are Overpriced in the U.S.?

Hundreds of millions of dollars flow to lobbyists and politicians on Capitol Hill each year to shape laws and policies that keep drug company profits growing. The pharmaceutical industry, which has about two lobbyists for every member of Congress, spent $152m on influencing legislation in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Drug companies also contributed more than $20m directly to political campaigns last year. About 60% went to Republicans. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House of Representatives, was the single largest beneficiary, with donations from the industry totaling $228,670.” (Source: How Big Pharma’s Money – And Its Politicians – Feed The US Opioid Crisis by Chris McGreal in The Guardian)

Drugmakers have poured close to $2.5bn into lobbying and funding members of Congress over the past decade.” (Source: same article)

Obviously the pharmaceutical corporations don’t need those dollars for profits or running their businesses, they represent just the cost of maintaining a system in which drugs are always more expensive for Americans than they are anywhere else in the world (you will find the same drugs, with the same licenses, but with lower prices everywhere else). The return on that $2,500,000,000 investment in U.S. politicians is quite healthy. We are obviously being charged that two and a half billion, over ten years, more than is necessary and since they are unlikely to spend that amount only to make that amount more than they would otherwise, I think it is safe to say that the amount we are being overcharged is far more than that.

October 17, 2018

Holy Shit (Bull Variety)

Filed under: Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 9:37 am
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On my Quora feed the following paid advert was posted:

Where did the four gospels in the Bible come from?
The Church of Jesus Christ
Promoted
“As Jesus taught, His disciples wrote what He said. Order a free Bible to learn what He taught.”

And here I thought that lying was a deadly sin.

It is a scholarly conclusion that we do not know who wrote the gospels that were included in the Bible. None of the earliest manuscripts we have of those works has an author listed. All seem to have had multiple authors. Most of the gospels seem to have been written at a point in time that all or most of the disciples claimed to have followed Jesus would have died.

I wonder if Donald Trump got his ability to string lies one after the next from his religious training?

Focus the Blame … Elsewhere, Anywhere!

Filed under: Morality,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 8:52 am
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According to an article in Reuters (Pope Blames Devil For Church Divisions, Scandals, Seeks Angel’s Help, October 8, 2018) the Pope is casting blame for the Catholic Church’s scandals, and all other problems on the Devil.

“(The Church must be) saved from the attacks of the malign one, the great accuser and at the same time be made ever more aware of its guilt, its mistakes, and abuses committed in the present and the past,” Francis said in a message on Sept. 29.

“Since he was elected in 2013, Francis has made clear that he believes the devil to be real. In a document in April on holiness in the modern world, Francis mentioned the devil more than a dozen times.

“We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable,” he wrote in the document.”

Of course, I cannot but be reminded of Flip Wilson’s famous tagline “The Devil made me do it!” (It’s on YouTube, youngins’!)

The Pope, in one sentence, takes “responsibility” and casts blame elsewhere. (‘(The Church must be) saved from the attacks of the malign one, the great accuser and at the same time be made ever more aware of its guilt, its mistakes, and abuses committed in the present and the past,’ Francis said.”)

It must be immensely useful to have an imaginary friend to take the blame for all of the bad things one does, kind of a spiritual whipping boy. As an atheist I feel limited in my ability to blame others for my failings … I want an imaginary evil friend toooo!

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