Saturday, December 31, 2011
I've written before about why exactly abuse is such a wide-spread phenomenon in the church, but one point in particular is worth being made again. While there was a huge outcry in the media about celibacy, and many demands that the custom be dropped, nobody ever seemed to wonder what other reasons there might be.
Nobody ever considered that the huge number of sexual deviants in the church might be a direct result of the churches' appearance.
However unpleasant it may be, please do try to put yourself in the shoes of an adolescent male who realizes that he gets turned on by children. Who realizes that, as he grows older, the age-gap only grows larger and larger. Consider this: It must be a painful process to realize you are part of a group that is despised by society unlike any other, that you are on your way to become one of those creepy strangers that Mommy always warned you about.
Pedophiles are tortured souls.
They know perfectly well that if they ever tell anybody about their urges, they’re socially doomed. They will instantly lose everything: Their job, their friends, their family, even if they haven’t even done anything wrong yet, even if their only crime so far were nothing but thoughts. Nobody will even pity them.
In such a situation, what possibilities are left to you? Suicide? Consulting a shrink? If people are your main problem, perhaps turning to personal help doesn't seem such a good idea.
So you turn to God.
It's the obvious choice: The church promises forgiveness for even the worst of ‘sins’, it promises acceptance, and most importantly: The custom of celibacy seems to promise that these are people who are in control of sexuality, who know how to defeat the urges that torture you. The church appears to be the panacea to these people, a solution to all their problems. The one way to live a benign life, to be left alone and not hurt anyone, perhaps even do good.
Devoting your life to god is not just the obvious, but for many also the only option.
Friday, December 30, 2011
The argument from fetal potential usually is presented like this:
Premise 1: All persons have a moral right to life.
Premise 2: Since all persons have a moral right to life, all potential persons also have a moral right to life.
Premise 3: The human fetus is a potential person.
Conclusion: The human fetus has a moral right to life.
Usually, neither side disagrees with premise #1. Premise #3 is also largely uncontroversial, although one might argue that the reality of stem cell research involves using embryos that are left over "spares" from in-vitro fertilization, which would simply remain frozen or go to waste if not used for research. Anyhow, for obvious reasons this defense does not apply to the abortion debate, so we'll ignore it for now and take the argument from potential at face value.
The usual defense is an objection to the second premise of the argument ("people have a right to life, so the same must be true for potential people"). It has been pointed out that the argument from potential is never brought up outside the abortion and stem cell debates. To claim that if Z is true for X, it must also be true for a potential X is seen as logically lacking. Bioethicist Peter Singer, for example, points to cases where this is obviously not the case:
There is no rule that says that a potential X has the same value as an [actual] X, or has all the rights of an [actual] X. There are many examples that show just the contrary. Pulling out a sprouting acorn is not the same as cutting down a venerable oak. To drop a live chicken into a pot of boiling water would be much worse than doing the same to an egg. Prince Charles is the potential King of England, but he does not now have the rights of a king.
(Peter Singer, Practical Ethics. Cambridge University Press 1993, page 153)
More absurd examples are thinkable: As a physically healthy young male, I am a potential soldier, yet I do not have the rights or duties of one. I am also a potential husband and father, but that is hardly enough to make me eligible for the states family support. I am also physically able to rob old women, but can't be convicted for crimes unless I actually committed them.
Pointing out examples like this is usually enough to win the average pro-life-vs-pro-choice-debate. There are some people though, who are not that easily thwarted.
I've recently stumbled across a paper by Bertha A Manninen, published in "Philosophy, Ethics and Humanities in Medicine". (All following quotes are from this paper.) In it, she seeks to refute Singer and those who share his views, arguing that in many cases potential does, in fact, matter:
The task that the pro-potentialist now faces is to explain why the fetus' potential is a morally relevant characteristic that justifies extending to it a right to life. I believe that this can be done. What I want to do now is refute Paul Bassen's point that " [n]owhere outside the abortion debate itself is there a precedent for supposing that future prospects can create a present sake " by discussing examples that seems to run contrary to this assertion.
The first example she gives is the moral right to a health insurance, as demanded by article 25 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
[...] potentially ill individuals, like my child or myself, also have a moral right to health insurance. But why do we accord this latter group health insurance, even though they are not actually sick? Because possessing health insurance, even in the absence of an impending illness, also constitutes a great benefit for potentially sick people and a deprivation of health insurance also constitutes a harm for potentially sick people. (Emphasis in the original)
She goes on to cite the moral right to an education and some other examples, to finally arrive at the conclusion that
A potential X may be granted the same moral rights as an actual X in virtue of its potential if its potential generates an interest in such a moral right; that is, if possessing the moral right constitutes a benefit for the potential X and a denial of the moral right constitutes a harm. (Emphasis in the original)
Which, I think, is spot on. The only problem is that it does not at all relate to the case of a bunch of cells that we call an embryo, not even to an advanced human fetus. The key point here is the term of "interests", which a bunch of cells cannot be said to have. In all the cases Mrs. Manninen mentions there is indeed a benefit to the potential person, but not because of its potential.
Taking away a healthy person's health insurance, for example, does not constitute a harm because the person is a potentially sick person and thus has a potential need for health insurance. A healthy person has a very current interest in health insurance, because it provides a sense of security and thus quality of life. Having health insurance is a current interest, because it is the basis of current considerations and actions. It is the mental capacity of the human of perceiving himself as a person in time, of being able to think about the future and to acknowledge the fact of dying that makes the adult human exceptional in this regard.
The harm is not in taking away a health insurance that is not currently needed. The harm is in taking away the comfort and security such an insurance provides. Being able to perceive the future makes us able to feel discomfort, insecurity and fear at the prospect of having to face every day dangers without an insurance to lessen the impact of possible accidents.
Embryos, on the other hand, distinctly lack that property. An embryo cannot be said to have an interest in its future life, while grown humans can very well be said to have an interest in health and other aspects of their future.
Finally, the center of the argument from potential remains the equation of a tiny bit of biomass to a fully conscious intelligent being. This argument must fail because the extent of "harm" one can inflict on something is depending on that something's interest in avoiding that harm. Indeed, harm can be defined as the disregard of an interest.
Slapping a person's face , for example, is generally considered to be harmful, but only because most people have an interest in not being slapped. In a consensual situation between a sadist and a masochist, however, slapping might even be considered beneficial to both parties because interests are being served rather than disregarded. Much like a stone, an embryo cannot be harmed because it has no interests - not even in its own continued existence.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Before we start, I feel I should point out that I'm not a user; I don't even drink alcohol. I say this only anticipate the unhelpful reaction of "Oh, here's another junkie calling for a free ticket to get high", and hope to trigger some interest in what my reasons might be for proposing legalization of all drugs when I don't have any stake in that game. My motivation is, once more, common sense. The advantages of legalization are so obvious to me that I fail to understand why there is a controversy in the first place, and I hope for some enlightening reactions to this.
It's quite obvious that there is no winning the „war on drugs“. You simply cannot control all the borders, all the traffic and all the streets – Trying that is a pathetically doomed enterprise right from the start. Also, it is simply not necessary, since the problem of illegal drug-trafficking can be quite simply and elegantly solved by making it legal.
Here is what I propose: States ought to buy drugs right from the producers: Buy Iran's opium, Bolivia's cocaine, Brazil's pot and so on – then sell it legally either in pharmacies or special shops designed for the purpose. Keep strict control over who buys what and when – sell drugs pretty much the same way guns are sold now. Purchase would require identification, and some sort of maximum limit per person per week or month would probably be advisable. We also ought to use that opportunity to make sure users are accurately informed about the dangers of the substances they're buying. Perhaps introduce a „User's License“ akin to a driver's license – a certificate for which they would have to prove a decent knowledge of the dangers involved in the consumption of controlled substances.
That would be about the size of it. Doubtlessly there are still flaws, but there are enough people available qualified to come up with a working system. It's not that different from selling prescription medicines or guns, it would just be a different scale. Anyhow, the details aren't worth bothering with in order to get the general idea across. A legalized system to sell drugs, within sensible limits, to anybody of legal age. I propose an age higher than that required to buy alcohol and cigarettes: Perhaps 25 or so. Again, this is a detail which could be agreed upon later on. Whatever the system may eventually look like in detail, there are a number of indisputable advantages it would entail in any case. Here are some of them:
Safety & Health
Legalizing drugs would actually reduce the danger involved in their consumption, by enabling the government to ensure buyers are accurately informed about the dangers of the substances prior to use. There are various ways to go about this; for example one could introduce the already mentioned „User's License“ requiring the attendance of some lessons and a test, or introduce laws that require the user to be lectured in the shop upon purchase. I'm sure there are other workable solutions. More importantly, perhaps, it would make drugs clean. Purchasers would actually know what they bought, instead of buying mystic powder that might actually be what the dealer says it is, or might aswell contain all sorts of unknowable rubbish. Also, there would be a known concentration, reducing the risk of overdoses. Users would actually know how much they take and how strong it is, rather than having to estimate by belly feeling and rule of thumb.
At the same time, this would permit an accurate assessment of the size of a population's drug habits, rather than the pathetic estimates of just how huge the black market really is.
Economy & Humanitarianism
Third world farmers who provide the substances in the first place would likely prefer legal buyers to the crime mobs they have to deal with now. It'd make business a lot less dangerous for them. Also, it would provide a more consistent income, since unlike the illegal trade, the business would not anymore be subject to unforeseeable fluctuations whenever the borders security measures are upgraded or another drug-lord is imprisoned. Legalization would provide a considerable boost to a great many of third world economies.
During the prohibition, illegal alcohol trade was huge. The moment the trade was legalized again, the black market for alcohol simply vanished. Organized crime is not able to compete with a legal market. At the moment, drug-traffickers are forced to take huge risks to get drugs across borders, around existing controls and onto the streets, but it still pays off for them because they have a monopoly and can charge correspondingly high prices. Legalizing the farming and selling of drugs would decriminalize farmers and enable them to call for the state's protection against the cartels, thus rob the drug-lords of their providers. Because the state is able to run the trade more effectively (larger and more direct shipments, not having to bother with cleverly hiding tiny amounts) and with a much smaller span of profit, legal traders would be able to pay the farmers higher prices and still sell the product to the end-user for much less than the current street-price, simply because legal trade takes the risk-factor out of the equation.
Let's not forget the point that ought to make this option incredibly interesting to governments around the world: Legalizing drugs would generate an enormous amount of tax-revenue. Just have a look at how high the alcohol- and tobaco-taxes rank among the income of most western states, and then think about what being able to tax the rest would imply. Most drugs are actually quite cheap – what makes them so expensive isn't the production, but the risks involved in the illegal trafficking. Not only would first world governments be able to make a decent profit taking over the trade and selling the drugs in the first place, but they would also be able to make huge money by taxing the whole business. Considering the low cost of production and of hypothetical legal transport, there would be the possibility to levy huge taxes without the end-product getting any more expensive than the black market price already is. At the same time, third world countries would profit from the boost to their economies, and also be able to levy taxes.
That about sums up the most important points. As I said, I'm not a user. I don't have a personal stake in this. But still the matter bothers me greatly. It's just so mindboggingly stupid that this controversy exists at all. Legalizing drugs would boost the income of all nations concerned, significantly raise the life-standard in the provider nations, lower crime rates both in provider- and western nations, make drugs more secure to use and less dangerous to get, (probably cheaper, too) allow for some amount of government-control (certainly more than now) and provide us with definite statistics on consumer habits.
Yes, it probably means many kids will try some, but if they want to, prohibition is unlikely to keep them from it. Legalization on the other hand means that it will be an informed choice, that they'll have less risk of taking stuff that was mixed into the cocktail without their intention or knowledge, that the habit will be registered and help will be advised and available if consumption becomes a habit, that they won't have to mix with the wrong kind of people just to find out how it feels to get high, and that they won't wreck their careers by getting a criminal record for being young and reckless. You won't keep them from taking drugs anyway, but this way you can at least keep them from getting in touch with organized crime.
All in all, it's a win-win situation only opposed by people in blatant denial of reality. Legalizing drugs will mean they are slightly (And let's face it: only slightly) more available, but the benefits outweigh that handicap by orders of magnitude.
Part II: Reality
For a long time I simply assumed that drugs are illegal everywhere. It was only when doing research while writing this that I noticed how mistaken I was. It seems that more than just a few people have noticed the possible benefits. While ligalization is still a long way off, decriminalization is under way in many countries around the world. The bright star leading this movement of preferring common sense over outraged and outdated notions of morality is the small European nation of Portugal.
Portugal has reformed its drug laws in 2001, removing penalties for drug possession and consumption, while the consequences of dealing and trafficking remain unchanged. This is an approach apparently called "decriminalization" and not quite the same as legalization, but driven by the same essential idea: That focusing on prevention and treatment is more effective than punishment. Since 2001, Portugal recognized drug consumption as a public health issue rather than an act of crime, and changed its law accordingly.
Portugal is not the only country to take this approach, though it notably differs from other countries in the extent to which this policy is applied. Portugal is also the most notably successful model - I quote here from an article published by the Scientific American, which in turn cites a 2009 report by the Cato Institute that reviewed the success of Portugal's new policy after five years:
Five years later, the number of deaths from street drug overdoses dropped from around 400 to 290 annually, and the number of new HIV cases caused by using dirty needles to inject heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances plummeted from nearly 1,400 in 2000 to about 400 in 2006, according to a report released recently by the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C, libertarian think tank.
"Now instead of being put into prison, addicts are going to treatment centers and they're learning how to control their drug usage or getting off drugs entirely," report author Glenn Greenwald, a former New York State constitutional litigator, said during a press briefing at Cato last week.
Other countries are already considering to copy the successful model:
Last year, Denmark discussed implementing the Portuguese system. The Czech Republic already changed its laws, allowing the possession of up to 15 grams of Marijuana and 1,5 grams of Heroin for personal use. Mexico decriminalized a range of drugs for personal use, including some synthetic drugs, while establishing a very low threshold and a very strict definition of personal dosage. In 2009, the Argentinean supreme court ruled the prosecution of citizens for the possession of drugs for personal consumption to be unconstitutional, citing that:
the second paragraph of Article 14 of Law Nº 23.737 should be invalidated, since it violates Article 19 of the National Constitution, in the sense that it invades the sphere of personal liberty, which is excluded from the authority of state organs. [...] [The law] incriminates the possession of drugs for personal use under circumstances that do not bring any concrete danger or harm to the rights and welfare of others.- Supreme Court Judge Elena Highton de Nolasco
For some reason, they think this to be a very profound question. It really isn't. In fact, I find the question rather preposterous. Whoever asks it is implying that if they wouldn't believe in a God/Afterlife/Higher Purpose, if they believed life was finite, if believed that life ends at the grave, they would certainly not bother living - Which I think is a rather pathetic statement to make and a testament to a lack of serious consideration of the matter.
Let's try an analogy: Why do you ever go on a holiday trip even though it inevitably ends? Even though there is no higher purpose to it other than that you enjoy it? How can you enjoy a sunset over a beautiful beach if the time you spend there is finite, if it's only two weeks before you'll have to go back to the same old life in the office again?
If theists were actually serious about this mindset, I should expect them to step out of the plane, take a look around the astonishingly beautiful place they've landed, frown, and say something like:
"Pff... yeah it's nice, but so what? How can I enjoy this stay, knowing I have to leave eventually?
Of course, if there was a book subjecting me to nonsensical rules during my stay and promising me that, if I subject to these rules, I get to go on an even better, eternal holiday after this one, then, and only then! could I enjoy my brief stay in this wonderful place."
So, does it make a difference whether I die tomorrow or in fifty years? Certainly not to the universe, that's true. Maybe not even to other people, though I like to think it does. But be that as it may, in any case it does make a rather huge difference to me, and I don't know why I should need any more incentive than that to go on living. I am not opposed to suicide; If you are in full control of your mental faculties and make the informed and well-considered decision that your life really just isn't worth it any more, I think it's your right to end it. But as for me, well, I really like living. For now at least. I enjoy my life, and I will go on living it as long as my life stays enjoyable. So the short answer to "why do you bother living?" is because it's fun. Being alive simply seems to be a more enjoyable state than 'not being alive' - so I'd rather live than not.
In the end it's simply a pretty nonsensical question to start with. Living is a bit like having sex: Affirmative is the default position. The question shouldn't be Why?, it should be, Why not?
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Let's assume that by some random chance, or maybe out of desperation, the police actually take him seriously. So they ask him in, lead him into a room, sharpen their pencils, switch on the tape-recorder, and take a statement. This is how it goes:
PAUL: "You ready? Can I start?"
OFFICER: "Sure. Please tell us what you know."
PAUL: "You see, he was murdered. Frank did it."
OFFICER: "Frank... Frank who?"
PAUL: "Well, Frank of course. Frank Frank. Who else would I mean?"
OFFICER (With disappointment at the realization that this won't be the clue they'd been hoping for): "That's it? That's what you came to tell us?"
PAUL (Genuinely puzzled): "What do you mean? I told you what happened. What more could you want?"
We could imagine this going on indefinitely, but this little conversation is enough to illustrate my point. Merely tossing a name out there and proclaiming that a murder took place is not the same as truly solving the mystery of an unidentified body.
Yet, this is exactly how religious people tackle the question about the origin of our universe. They proclaim that it was "made", and that it was "God" who made it. And then they lean back, satisfied with their accomplishment of having "solved" the mystery, gaze us a beaming smile, and react confused when we reject their "explanation" as preposterous and stupid.
To complete the analogy, let's have Paul defend his thesis by proclaiming that it's more likely Frank committed a murder than that the water of the river simply morphed into a dead body.
This is analogous to the claim frequently made by theists that, due to the apparent fine-tuning of our universe, it being made is more likely than it just coming into existence "by a giant explosion". Of course, nobody ever said that a giant explosion was the origin of the universe, just like nobody at the police-department proposed that the body is actually magically transformed water of the river.
The Big Bang Theory is actually not about the origin of the universe: Like the police, we're still pretty clueless regarding that mystery; like the police, it's likely we'll solve it eventually. What the Big Bang Theory actually is about is the early development of the universe: The theory states that the universe transformed from a very hot, very dense state to a less hot, less dense state, which is analogous to the police stating that it's very likely the case that the body they found was, at some point in the past, alive. It's something we know beyond reasonable doubt. It's something we can prove pretty much for sure.
There are tons of people like Paul out there; People who really do not see the problem with the sort of oversimplified skyhook-explanation they give for complex problems. They are ubiquitous, and while they tend to be annoying, their existence does not actually bother me.
What does bother me is that my analogy fails in one very important point: Paul the potential witness is regarded as a lunatic by society, and will probably find himself in a mental institution in the near future. Paul the theologean, on the other hand, is a highly respected member of society, gets invited by TV-stations to comment on enormously important political topics and has a huge influence on public opinion regarding an incredible variety of topics.
The answer is actually quite simple. My morals are based on compassion and, well, Just a Little Common Sense: “suffering” is bad, “happiness” is good – so I seek to minimize harm and maximize pleasure. Empathy makes me recognize that other people too seek happiness, each according to their own subjective definition of what “happiness” is, and reason tells me that cooperation and a mutual agreement not to stand in each other’s way is the most efficient way for all of us to achieve that.
The fact that (mentally healthy) human beings are capable of empathy is also the reason why cooperation is a better way to achieve happiness than an ego-trip and stepping on other people’s heads to climb a little higher: Seeing others suffer is a bad feeling in itself. Causing others to suffer even more so. Creating happiness for others, on the other hand, is a great source for our own happiness.
Most people would agree that not having to worry about existential problems and having a fulfilling social life fits the definition of a happy life better than making a dad you hated proud by becoming rich and despised all on your own.
So really, being good without god doesn’t really have much to do with godlessness. Coincidentally, being good with god doesn’t, either. Wether you’re a believer or not, try to just be nice to people and trust that they’ll be nice in return. As a general rule, whether one is religious or not has little bearing on this one way or the other. I’d venture to say that religious belief is more of a hinderance than a help in leading a good life, but that’s a topic for another post.
The bottom line of this one is that religion sure as fuck is not a prerequisite.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Whenever that happens, a reasonable person is usually left with only few options:
a) Leave the room
b) Stay silent and sit through it
c) Start a long-winded and probably pointless discussion about equality, values, and gay rights.
None of these are particularly pleasing. But luckily, the list is not complete. There is one more option, another way of ending the derailed-anti-gay-rant-situation. It's been my personal favorite for years. Today, I'll share it with you.
One can end this tired old discussion in a short and easy (and fun) way, simply by pointing to one of the dusty little forgotten gems of scientific research, published in 1996:
There is a strong positive correlation between homophobia and homosexual arousal.
Yup, that's right: Homophobes are closeted homosexuals in denial. I quote here from the abstract of the paper:
The men were exposed to sexually explicit erotic stimuli consisting of heterosexual, male homosexual, and lesbian videotapes, and changes in penile circumference were monitored. They also completed an Aggression Questionnaire (A. H. Buss & M. Perry, 1992). Both groups exhibited increases in penile circumference to the heterosexual and female homosexual videos. Only the homophobic men showed an increase in penile erection to male homosexual stimuli. The groups did not differ in aggression. Homophobia is apparently associated with homosexual arousal that the homophobic individual is either unaware of or denies. [Emphasis added](Doubters may follow this link to view the publication on PubMed.)
That translates to "We showed a group of guys a lot of porn, and the self-professed homophobes were the only ones getting turned on by the gay porn."
Gotta love the phrasing, too: "exhibiting an increase in penile circumference" must be the nerdiest possible term for "getting a hard-on". The findings also explain why almost every evangelical anti-gay preacher gets caught with male prostitutes sooner or later.
The story of pretty much every homophobe is basically the same: As children these people have learned that homosexuality is evil, and then experienced a mental conflict at some point in their lives, as they felt a tingling between their legs upon seeing a gay couple making out. They then solved the ensuing cognitive dissonance by telling themselves that that feeling was actually disgust, not sexual arousal. Naturally that's not a very convincing lie, and hence the need to keep reassuring themselves by voicing their disgust so loudly and publicly.
So that's it: Now you know every homophobes dark little secret. And perhaps the next time you're subjected to one of their rants, you may consider using that knowledge to pull a little psychic on them.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.
Treat your life as a book, filled with chapters, some dark, some bright, and continue writing each page with broad strokes of honesty working your way towards a beautiful and happy ending. Many characters will remain in those dark chapters forever and a few key players will never leave your side. It’s your life, you get to write it.- Hemley Gonzalez, CEO of Responsible Charity
When I got untethered from the comfort of religion, it wasn't a loss of faith for me, it was a discovery of self. I had faith that I'm capable enough to handle any situation. There's peace in understanding that I have only one life, here and now, and that I'm responsible.- Brad Pitt, Actor
Saturday, December 10, 2011
As the url implies, it's a blog about Humanism. I write about all the stuff that makes my heathen life worth living; My blog is also a platform for me to share my ideas, to engage in discussions, and to rub my mind against others. I also comment on various events from a Humanist perspective.
I value constructive criticism as much as I despise mindless prosletyzing. I hope to change other people's minds and for them to change mine.
For those who wonder just what Humanism is, a page explaining just that