Sunday, May 29, 2011

Unshakeable faith.

A lot of the time I talk about me on here, and sometimes I talk about "them" (whoever they may be, dependent entirely on the subject matter at hand).

Today I want to talk about you, and by that, I mean I'd like to open a can of worms or two, and see if you're willing to challenge yourselves, to examine your inner workings, and to update yourself- throw away useless old thought processes or behaviours that serve to hold you back from self enlightenment. By this I simply mean, knowing your mind and why it does what it does, as opposed to the religious or New Age method hinted at by the term "enlightenment".

If anything, I'd like to cut down the bodhi tree, and let the sun of pure reason illuminate this subject.

I want your thoughts, responses, arguments (either below in my comments section, or to my email. Try and base your responses on reason not emotion. Emotion is very strong but it is also the navigation method favoured by small children and manipulative adults, so I'd like to keep it logical.

Some people have what they may call a very "strong" stance on certain issues. Issues like abortion, religion, things like that. And oftentimes, we look at those people and think "Wow- they must really know what they're talking about, they seem to have all the answers." Other people view them as smug, brainless, self-satisfied pleons that will avoid an actual argument that may challenge their belief structure at all costs. And by "actual", I mean logical.

The problem with saying "I'm conservative!" or "I'm liberal!" is that you've chosen a side before you've heard the argument.

Political parties are modeled on 'where they stand on the issues', so voters can quickly identify which party generally represents their views on a blanket of issues. Or so other voters can give up voting, because they realise the futility.

So if we're talking about abortion for instance, there are several different places you can stand. Let's make abortion our political issue for now, and take a look at what the different teams have to say about it. Afterwards, let's take a look at what logic tells us, and see what happens then.

Pro life- rights of the unborn child.

When there is talk of ending the life of an unborn child, emotions run extremely high, and rightly so. It is natural (one would hope) to protect the innocent, and so this often conservative view is exploited by right-wing and Church groups as a powerful political tool.

A typical argument is that (as they believe life begins at conception) aborting a foetus is exactly the same morally as murdering a baby who has been born, or infanticide (which is obviously a crime).

This provokes powerful images in the mind of the reader, and successfully galvanises opinion quite strongly one way or the other.

Normally I'm all for Church-bashing to be honest, but I'd like to point out what I think is a rare and wonderful statement from the United States Senator for Massachusets, John Kerry:

"I don't like abortion. I believe life does begin at conception. But I can't take my Catholic belief, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant or a Jew or an atheist...who doesn't share it. We have separation of church and state in the United States of America."

This statement sent right-wingers in the U.S. into a frenzy, inviting responses saying it " like saying you wouldn't ever drown your own children in a bathtub, but have no problem with other people doing it", (which is simply bad logic). The correct assertion would be to say it is like saying you wouldn't ever do something harmful but legal to a child, but if it was a religious custom of others to do this harmful but legal thing; due to the constitutional separation of Church and state, and also due to the fact that the law currently allows for this thing to be done, you are legally and constitutionally powerless to inflict your morals onto that group of people. Example: circumcision in the Jewish community.

Emotionally navigated people will be quick to point out the level of damage to a person between having their foreskin removed without anaesthetic is trivial compared to the level of damage experienced by a person who undergoes a procedure designed to kill them, and they'd be right. But we're not measuring levels of damage here, we're constructing logical arguments based on facts. Just because the facts don't match your argument isn't the facts fault.

Standing up for the law of the land, against his own religious moral compass is an act I wholeheartedly applaud, as it is a logical, not a moral one.

Pro choice- Rights of the Mother.

I feel that this is a bit of a misnomer, because this topic travels farther than simply a Mothers rights, but also the rights of the family, the community, and the child itself.
But to keep it neat, we'll stick to the Mother for now.

If a woman finds herself pregnant, she no doubt is confronted with many thoughts and feelings regarding the quality of her life from that point on. Some celebrate the news, some dread it, and some vacillate from one to another.

In the same way Church groups wield Pro-life arguments as a flag for morality, left-wing/liberal groups use this one. Again, it seems fairly obvious to a liberal person that a woman should be allowed to choose whether or not to see a baby through to term when she has been raped. This is a scenario most of us would give anything to avoid, and most of us would deem it in very poor taste to attempt to make a person in this situation commit to a course of action we decide for them.

So leftists feel justified in saying "It's a womans choice, and we have no say in it".
But what happens when we give the example of a girl with a lot of money and very questionable morals, who makes an active decision to not use birth control on an ongoing basis, and to instead rely on abortion procedures 4 times a year instead?

Statistics indicate that while rare, this happens. In this instance, the Mother has utilized her legal right to choose. Few, even among the left would applaud her decision making faculties. Should abortion be legal under such circumstances? Or should it be legal the first time, and after that you had better have an amazing excuse? Or obvious habitual 'offenders' could have their right to abort revoked?

OK, so most of us already know where we stand on this issue. We generally magnetically bond to one argument or another, according to our already-present system of morals and ethics. Sometimes we can be swayed, for example when a hard core Conservative sees the pain and fear in his unemployed and terminally ill daughters face, when her sexual partners condom broke, and decides his morals aren't worth the pain of his daughter, who has no chance of being a good Mother.

Now let's consider an an amazing statistic, revealed through regressive analysis by the modern champion of contemporary economics, Steven Levitt... Levitt uncovered an amazing and previously unexplored reason for why crime in certain areas of The United States dropped so markedly (as much as 50%) since the early 1990's.

The media (groan!) was running with the officially endorsed reasons: Greater gun control, more police on the streets, etc.
But the reason crime dropped so markedly, was actually due to a landmark controversial decision by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of abortion in 1973.

It was called Roe v. Wade.

Put simply, "...the women most likely to seek abortion- poor, single, black or teenage mothers, were the very women whose children, if born, have been shown most likely to become criminals. But since those children weren't born, crime began to decrease during the years they would have entered their criminal prime. Unwantedness leads to high crime; abortion leads to less unwantedness; abortion leads to less crime." (Stephen J.Dubner- New York Times Magazine).

So now, instead of looking at the issue from one perspective or the other, we now have a new contender for our attention and measured response.

Back in 1786, when I first undertook undergraduate studies in Philosophy, we encountered in a tutorial the perennial problem that all tutors love to tease their students with, regarding 'the maximum good'.
This problem is simple to explore (but harder to resolve), and sorts the sheep (idealists, morally unshakeable, and religious types) from the goats (logical thinkers/philosophers). Because the course was one in philosophy, I took the second position, and was held in utter contempt by the rest of the class for the duration of our shared education together.

A man enters your room with a gun, and says you have one choice. 1. He will shoot you in the leg, or 2. He will shoot you in the head. Choose one. For the purposes of the exercise, we won't delve into whether you also have a gun, if the police are on their way, or if you are an expert in Krav Maga and have little trouble relieving bad people of their weapons.

Who said 1? All of you? Unless you are suicidal, this is normal. It ensures the maximum good for you. The benefit is clear. Now that we understand the premise of the game, let's play on...

You are a vegetarian. A man corners you and convinces you that if you don't eat a piece of cooked bacon, he will detonate a bomb killing thousands. This too is a no-brainer. You may have very strong ethical reasons for protecting the lives of animals, but this animal is already dead and processed, your consumption of it won't provide a demand for more meat, and you can save thousands of lives by eating it. The maximum good clearly lies in eating the damn bacon.

Here's where it gets hairy:
A man with a gun tells you to shoot two of your friends dead, or he will kill a random baby. That's two lives against one. Two lives you interact with and appreciate, versus one you don't know, that has hardly begun. But you have to shoot them, which is hard. He can easily kill the baby. The maximum good dictates he kill the baby. But that's abhorrent, isn't it?

What if you merely have to choose who he kills? What if you don't have to watch? What if it's the baby versus one of your friends? What if it was one of your friends, versus a future baby that is yours? What if it was one baby you didn't know versus another baby you didn't know? What if it was you versus the baby?
As you can see, it gets harder.

In the example given to my class, it was 10 people or a baby, and you had to do the killing. I shot the baby, so you're probably not talking to me now either. But the maximum good dictates the baby has to die, because it comes down to the pain of ten families versus one.

In reality, none of this matters, because situations like these rarely happen (philosophers don't run around armed conducting heartless experiments like that), and because I have completed every level of Krav Maga training short of instructor.

So why all these examples?
Because instead of looking at the argument from a Pro-life versus Pro-choice perspective, we can look at it with the help of our new tool- the maximum good.

If a woman wants an abortion because she can't support, or feels she wouldn't love a baby enough, it is no longer her versus morality. It is her, backed up by the fact that statistically, her baby could go on to live a life of crime, hurt or kill people, end up in jail, or die anyway after what amounts to a miserable life; versus 'morality'. An interesting observation is that those toughest on the liberties and lives of criminals, and those that advocate the death penalty the loudest, are conservatives who have fought to ensure that criminal was born and not aborted in the first place.

Of course not every baby from a poor, black, unemployed, drug affected teen mother goes on to be a bad egg. But statistically, the chances are greater.

Through all of this, I'm not attempting to get you to change your position on abortion, but I would like it if you simply thought about what it is you base your beliefs on, and make sure they are consistent with what you may choose if you look at the problem through the eyes of the maximum good, or from statistical analysis. Note that I didn't state where my opinion lies, so I can't be accused of trying to win votes for my argument.

Unshakeable faith is the inabilty to see reason, or to respond to evidence. Kinda like not believing in pancakes, even though they're right there for you to experience.
When I put it like that, doesn't it sound crazy to not think about why we think the things we do? I hope you agree, and embark on a journey to discover what your thoughts actually are, how you came by them, and if they really are the best fit for you.

This is knifey, from 'the internet'.


Dxxxx said...

Jay, I am left wondering what a heartless, horrible evil creature i am, when my first thought is "Ï'm not eating the bacon"..... As mush as the thought of eating it disturbs me, its more the fact that i am so.... is stubburn the word, not sure, that i will NOT be doing what some maniac with a gun tells me to do...... Unless of course it is people i know, which i KNOW , amkes me even WORSE right... or does it just make me more nhonest than most people who wouldn't admit this? ouch..... i think i am not good...

Anonymous said...

I think it's also worth questioning why as a society we have come to place so much more value on reason and logic, rather than emotion and intuition. Reason and logic are just as subject to manipulation.

knifey said...

Dxxx- as if you're heartless! All i wanted from this post is for people to examine their motivations for thinking in certain ways. What you do with those conclusions is up to you. But there's never any point in beating yourself up. xo

knifey said...

Anon- "why as a society we have come to place so much more value on reason and logic, rather than emotion and intuition." Mainly because society is built on logic, not intuition generally speaking. New Orleans was built on emotion, and it's sinking into the mud it was built on, so there's your answer right there.

"Reason and logic are just as subject to manipulation." I'd love an example of this, because I can't think of one? Logic isn't something you can manipulate to suit an agenda. It makes a subject either solid and workable for all, or for none. Intuition is subjective and not in any way proveable (no one's intuition is right 100% of the time), and emotion is what gets us tangled up in wars we don't need, keeping up with our neighbours, and one hundred thousand other pointless acts.

Facts, not feelings...these are the things that build a strong society. Informed choice, not emotional rhetoric.

And because we have nothing of the former, we suffer through the endless servitude of the latter.