Archive for January, 2012

Social Justice

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on January 25, 2012 by RWZero

(Written for a separate discussion)

It is difficult to properly address what is, perhaps, a fundamental problem regarding our existence, in a medium like this. Nonetheless, I have a few thoughts on this.

First, my biases. Without going into the details, my family was poor when I was a kid. We never went on welfare, though. During this time, I saw people who received government benefits designed to aid the poor–yet these people still had more than me, and bought things I couldn’t buy. I will always be slightly biased against government benefits for the poor because of these experiences. I figure I should be up front about that.

This issue is complex, but ultimately I believe that there are severe errors in both the strong right-wing and left-wing philosophies that are commonly espoused.

The strong right-wing view is “every man for himself, nobody should be given any free money that’s forcibly taken from the populace, etc.” The problem with this is that our society is not supposed to be Lord of the Flies.

A rich right-winger has rarely deserved or “earned” all his money without luck, privilege, or gaming of the system itself. Taken to the extreme, this right-wing attitude amounts to no more than an attempt to deny comforts to others, simply because you were lucky enough to get the lion’s share of them yourself. You didn’t earn the fortunate circumstances of your birth, and the impoverished do not necessarily deserve the circumstances of theirs. Also, people suffer from all sorts of physical and mental conditions that inhibit their ability to make money and be “useful” to society. Certainly, I think it is morally permissible to tax the wealthy, within reason, and use that money to help the impoverished people of the same society that permits such wealth-building.

The strong left-wing view is that the government is like a big giant set of parents, who ought to take care of all the children. No person should ever be without food or shelter, no one should be hungry, and nobody should die. Simple as that. The problem with this is that it doesn’t work that way. There’s no big caring government, there’s just us and our clip-on name tags. I think this takes more detail to pick apart than the strong right-wing case.

In my (tenative) view, the problem with right-wingers is not giving a damn about the way it is, and the problem with left-wingers is being unrealistic about the way it is.

Motivation

The first problem is that our behaviours are based on incentives, motivation and rewards. We are designed / evolved to satisfy our needs with as little work as possible. Certain left-wing people seem to believe that the population of earth wakes up and goes to work out of sheer glee, and only the few poor souls who cannot find work are left behind. Well no. I work because if I didn’t work, I wouldn’t have money, and I couldn’t live. I have a decent job, but let’s face it–for most of us, a decent job is merely a softening of the fact that we have to work jobs at all. If I could have free food and shelter, I think I would take it, using my time to philosophize, study science, write, make music, etc. (all those things that don’t make money). Lots of us would take that offer. So who’s left to pay for it?

Nobody wants to *have* to wake up every day and go to work. Plus, those of us who *do* have “good” or “normal” jobs had to get a couple of degrees, work hard during those degrees, and still not get paid as much as someone who decides to write “The Book of Awesome,” about how warm pajamas are awesome, and so on. So if you think I’m going to pay your rent and meal allowance while you sit at home and WRITE the Book of Awesome, you’ve got another think coming. I’ve got some things I’d like to finish writing myself.

People who decide to pursue self-actualization instead of financial security are making a choice. They have to choose based on the risks and rewards. Life today is the same as it was in the past–you have to wake up, hunt for food, and make yourself shelter, or else you die. The only difference is that with so many of us working together, we can catch the ones who would otherwise die. But if you introduce a system that systemically cares for the ones who don’t hunt and gather, nobody will hunt and gather, because few of us really prefer to be *forced* to do it. Many of us would spiral into lethargy if left to ourselves.

So we cannot have social programs that are too forgiving, or which take care of people without any consequences (or at least stringent conditions).

The Objective, Globally

What is the goal of social justice? Presumably we want to keep people from suffering. However, there is an unstated opinion, held by some, that the goal of life is simply to keep everyone comfortable and alive. Nobody should ever be allowed to die. A death is the worst of all possible things. War is the worst of all possible things.

Though I hate to think about it, we are all going to die. If people dying is the absolute worst thing in the world, and you cannot permit it, then you are in denial about life itself. Which is fine. Just don’t *talk* about it so much.

While we are alive, we have the option of pursuing a number of goals, discoveries and pleasures. If we spend all our time trying to keep any human from dying his/her inevitable death, we will not only fail in our goal, but we will never be able to pursue any of the very things that move us to delay death. Harsh as it may seem, life is neither fair nor capable of being made fair, and in order for anyone’s life to be worth living, human life must have a finite value. There is a limit to the amount of resources we will spend to save one life.

However, if our lives have a finite value, then we will see people dying whose lives it is not worth saving. Unfortunately, this reality, and it is what we see.

At this point in history, all of the things that make life worth living are produced at the cost of other people’s lives. That is, there are always lives that we could save by not doing the things we are doing now, in pursuit of our own desires. But why do we need to save those people’s lives? Presumably so they can do the things in life that we do, when we are not helping save lives.

You can be one of two places. You can either be in this universe, or you can not be in it (and at some point we will all not be in it). While we are here, there are only so many goals we can pursue. If our primary goal is to simply extend the amount of time that the average person spends here, that seems absurd. If it is to make everyone basically comfortable while they are here, then it needs to be counterbalanced by having various reasons to be comfortable and alive (exciting possibilities / things in the world worth pursuing), AND it must not turn into the forgiving social system of the point above, or else it will tank. People will abuse it. (The reader may say that friends and family are enough reason, so we do not need to pursue greater things–but friends and family do not sit around for years on end, smiling at each other just because they are alive. They need more.)

So it is not clear that we must completely end premature deaths and suffering before we can justify pursuing other ends, since we all necessarily die and suffer, but our reason for delaying death (in most of our cases) is to do things that can be done, while here. (Matt has supported this point previously–what is considered “enough” mitigation of suffering? How would we decide when all was well enough to move on?)

Children

There are now ~ 7 billion people on this planet, many of them in poverty. If you get close to any particular one of these people, you start to care. However, it is impossible for you to care about too many of them, or you will will crack under the strain.

Human lives do not begin entirely by accident. Each generation is bred by the previous. Children who live in impoverished conditions were bred by parents who oftentimes knew that the child would have such a life. Now you are implored to give up your earthly comforts, desires, and time, to help the child of these parents.

This is a corrolery of the first point–not only will humans take advantage of not having to work, but they will have children that they cannot support, if someone else will help (and perhaps even if nobody will help). I don’t mean to use evolutionary language as an excuse for people’s choices, but nonetheless, this is what we are programmed to do.

If you have a child in a “civilized” country, the state (other people) must take care of your child if you are unable. The child is not allowed to die of starvation. You may avoid having a child because you want your child to have a good life, but some people have no such constraints.

Obviously we can’t let children die, but neither can we lobby for a system that encourages people to have children they cannot support. This is a sensitive topic–but I am not suggesting that children who are already born shouldn’t have been born. Rather, there is a point at which we must admit that people do not come into the world randomly. They are created in a clearly-defined manner, and since this can be exploited, manipulated, or even handled poorly, we must work towards a system that treats birth as something we can manage–as a variable we have some control over as a society. We can do this as one race, rather than waiting for impoverished children to be born into our world, and suddenly heaping concern on them after the fact. There is a limit to how far that can go. But we should not say that it is injustice to manage births: there are an infinite number of children who could be conceived, and we are not committing an injustice by not having them all.

It may be difficult to draw the line. Some will say that everyone has a right to have a child, in whatever condition they please (so long as the conditions are not lethal), even if the state must bear the cost. However, it is more tenuous to say that people have a right to have, say, 5 children, in whatever condition they please.

Solutions?

The first thing I would like to point out is that it is not 100% certain that there is a solution. People with strong political or moral opinions would have us believe that the world only has suffering because of “they,” “the government,” “fundamentalists,” or “greed.” This is true, but the world also just has suffering because it is this way, and the world can only work so many ways. There is no proof that a world without these terrible things can function, or exist–it is possible that this is the best the earth can be, and you have to either blame God, or nobody at all.

Now, that being said, I don’t believe this is the case–I think it can be better. I am not quite sure how. We have tried installing very big, powerful governments that will take care of all the people (spectacular failure), and we have tried letting everyone run wild and free (less spectacular, but it isn’t looking like success). What is there left to try?

Things are easier than they were in the past, and it seems to be related to science and technology. The new methods of healing, housing, clothing, and feeding people are vastly superior to the old ones. Even our justice-enlightened mindsets are due, in part, to the organization and exchange of information and ideas; and our empathy for one another has increased greatly due to the interconnectedness of people groups. The reader may point out that we have invented more efficientways of killing each other–but aside from the greater number of people who are alive (and hence, who die), the actual experience of human life appears to have much improved. Perhaps this is debatable–but from a humanitarian standpoint I think it is a fair statement. Few of us would leave this era to travel backwards in time, for anything other than historical interest.

So I support the advancement of science, technology and, more generally, education. I think these investments, though indirect, have great benefits. The more people learn, and the more they are connected, the better things seems to get. They realize that they are just like other people. It becomes clear that there is no good reason for women to be in a lower class than men. It becomes clear that the world works in a logical way which can be understood (to some extent) and manipulated to serve the good of people, or fulfill one’s own needs. Harmful or counterproductive practices, which arise from mistaken understandings of the world, are eliminated. It becomes clear that people with different coloured skin and cultures are mostly similar to us (in basic terms… I accept that lots of people are actually almost like aliens to one another). It becomes cheaper and faster to clothe, house, feed and educate people. Armed with better resources, and minds that can think for themselves, people can more easily change their circumstances.

Therefore, I also support grassroots movements that teach people self-sufficiency, and all that wonderful environmental stuff that Matt, my sister, and various others are always talking about. I think these will help.

I also support movements that “raise awareness” and cause people to care more about each other. But I am pessimistic about effecting some kind of change in the Zeitgeist that will carry home a victory over poverty. We are all selfish to some degree, and we enjoy the game of life in which people try to achieve goals for themselves. If everyone simply knew that the rewards would be redistributed in the end, nobody would work hard to get rewards, and that is why capitalism has (shakily) “worked” so far.

But what is my overarching view, for the long run?

I think that in order for us to make the next big gains for “social justice,” humans have to *generally* be on the same page. We are not on the same page, however.

I believe (and my ideas are speculative; I am not specially educated in these fields and do not always have all the information) that in order to make headway on problems we face right now, we would need changes in legislation. We would have to change what is profitable, and what is not profitable. We have to make it illegal to carry on exploiting each other in the fashion that we currently do, and force ourselves to pay the real price of things. We need to put an end to absurd and unsustainable debt and unsustainable environmental practices. To accomplish this, governments around the world would have to agree on some fundamental things. For governments to agree, our societies would have to have the same overall goals and ideas of justice. However, we do not.

There are a number of fundamental divisions between the world’s people right now that would prevent them from overcoming those barriers. When I say “a number of divisions,” what I mean is the collective philosophy or a country, or culture–our religions, or something like them.

A quarter of the world’s population is Muslim, and while many moderate and philanthropic Muslims exist (like the Aga Khan foundation), I remain unconvinced that the goal of most of the Muslim world is to make peace with everyone, and accept the rest of the world as it is. Most of the countries ruled by Islam at a state level still lack certain essential freedoms, and they disagree with many Western values on religious grounds. I am also unconvinced that their attitude has been softened by us bombing them to bits over the last 10 years. I sincerely doubt that all is forgiven, and I think that they will find a way to express that. Ultimately, though, the evidence tells me that the Muslim world wants the world to run according to Muslim rules; I think that’s their objective, and I do not foresee compromise in the near future.

Most Christians are charitable, but there are also a bunch of them who believe the world is nearly at an end. A lot of those Christians live in the U.S., without which you cannot get any global initiative off the ground. Evangelical Christians, even if they don’t think the world is going to end right away, are often soured by the idea of “building a utopia” on earth, and are unlikely to try to figure out a system for “fixing” this world, because they believe that God is in control of these things, and the real concern is the life after death. That is my experience, at least.

There are not as many Jews in the world by comparison, but their nation is situated in a very contentious spot that is pissing off a lot of people and mobilizing a lot of money, military, and Christian/Muslim resources. There has been quite a lot of blood, ink and money soaked into that land, and it will continue to be a source of tension. The situation in this region will prevent not only peace in the Middle East, but peace between the West and the Muslim World.

China is still Communist, and it has a huge proportion of the entire world’s population. We overlook pretty much everything it does, because we want the Olympics to go well, we want our toys and gizmos made for pennies, we don’t want them to take over the world, and so on. But it is serious business, as I’m sure any reader will agree. China, as a nation, is not a nation with the same ideas as us. Its human rights record is bad. Freedom of expression is stifled. It has a history of persecuting the religions above (or at least Christians, at any rate). China doesn’t care about a lot of the things we care about, as much as we care about them–there are authoritarian/totalitarian methods in place there, and none of us can do anything about it, for now.

I apologize to the reader if I have gone too global in my scope. This started out smaller.

But my point remains the same. Social justice hinges, implicitly, on overarching attitudes about who we are, what is just, and what we are trying to do. We have very different views on this, from the local to the international, and we cannot draft legislation or build a common society together if we do not agree on the goal. However, some initiatives help us reconcile our views, and others appear to improve our lives in spite of our differing views.

Therefore I support science and technology (including space exploration), education, the proliferation of information, free inquiry, grassroots initiatives, environmentally sustainable practices, legislation that makes it profitable to be “just,” and an increased interconnectedness (since we are already economically interconnected, we must talk to one another–I am not a big fan of globalization or mixing us into one big pot, but we have to at least acknowledge the connections that exist). All these things, I think, will make a more unified and “on the same page” humanity that can see what’s best for “itself.” It is perhaps better for humanity to all agree, than to be “right,” in some metaphysical sense of the word! While I think that increased taxation for social programs, protests, welfare, wealth redistribution and private acts of charity can have positive effects, I think they address problems after the fact, rather than at the root.

That’s what I think, right now.

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Short-Term Missions

Posted in The Narrow Path on January 23, 2012 by RWZero

You guys can’t fool me into thinking you’re “sacrificing” or being altruistic for doing short-term missions.

You can’t fool me, because I did some short-term missions.

They were sweet.

I’d much rather be doing that than sitting in this chair.

To Scathe and Protect

Posted in The Narrow Path on January 18, 2012 by RWZero

There are things about Christianity, and Christians, that I want to protect. There are people whose faith I don’t want to harm. There are ideals and pleasures that I don’t want to ruin for anyone.

On the whole, however, there are many things that I hate. I want to wipe them from the face of the earth, and put a stop to the spread of them. I want to keep people from the damage that comes with being infected by them.

It’s a tough dilemma, which I face every time I open my mouth or start chattering away on a keyboard. It’s all part of the same animal, and I am not sure I can attack the false, the deceitful, the harmful and the delusional without scathing the kind, the true, the hopeful, the helpless, the innocent and the selfless.

Double Standards

Posted in The Narrow Path on January 17, 2012 by RWZero

There are a lot of double standards out there that tend to seep into the Christian worldview. This Youtuber has already done the work of compiling a lot of them. He uses the word “atheist,” but I think it applies to anyone who isn’t a Christian.

“Oh, that’s not how *I* view…”

Look, the reason I know that these are accurate is because I was a part of this. I saw things this way. Maybe not all of the examples, and maybe never in a way that I openly admitted to myself, but the attitudes are pervasive enough that I was able to find them in a multitude of books, sermons, conferences and social mixers. I did not get my impressions from a different source as the guy who made this video. It’s the same source.

The point isn’t that one of these views is right; the point is that one must pick and stick.

“I don’t know”

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on January 12, 2012 by RWZero

This point is so important to me that I am going to write it again, and post it again.

There are some questions that may have answers that are totally beyond our current perspective. In that case, saying “I don’t know” means “there is probably an answer that is compatible with my point of view.”

But in some cases, there are a finite number of answers from one’s point of view. To the Christian: am I going to hell?

Yes, or No.

You don’t get to say “I don’t know.”

Are you OK with me going to heaven?

Are you OK with me going to hell?

The intent of “I don’t know” in these cases is to avoid answering a tough question. It implies that some alternative, unknown answer may be more satisfying. However, if you know all the possible answers, and all of them are unacceptable, you must address that.

This question of heaven and hell is a good example. There are a finite number of end results to the Day of Judgement Scenario, from a Christian view (2^N, where N is the population). There is not one of those that I would find anything less than absurd–and I don’t have to think about them all individually to know this.

Next time you’re about to answer “I don’t know” to one of these tough questions, please consider the possibility that you do know, and just don’t want to think about it.

Religion and Money

Posted in The Narrow Path on January 9, 2012 by RWZero

I never understood this one. Aside from obvious problems like Benny Hinn and corrupt or fanatical ministries, Christians have always seemed to do pretty good things with money and I have never felt that they were abusing religion to get it (in present day). So I don’t support this critique.

In fact I was almost always mad that many Christians were intentionally lazy and refused to earn more money or support themselves adequately.

The Christ Myth Theory is Bullshit

Posted in The Facts and Ideas on January 6, 2012 by RWZero

I can’t stand hearing about this.

It’s almost as bad as creationism (but not quite as bad).

Stop making the problem worse, you sensationalist, teenaged, Internet-based atheists.

You’re never going to convince anyone that you’re right about anything else if you keep throwing Christians bones like this. Read about it. Read the *actual* sources and see whether these “similarities” between Jesus and ancient mythological figures *actually* line up. It’s worse than trying to make Old Testament prophecies line up with modern events–and the teenagers at the Rational Response Squad wonder why more Christians aren’t licking their boots. Just unbelievable.  It displays all the exact traits of intellectual dishonesty and stupidity that Christians get accused of themselves. They relish it when you make these kinds of mistakes.

Bill Maher mentioned this idea in Religulous–I hope somebody slapped some sense into him for that. I hope someone canes Brian Flemming and Tom Harpur with scroll rollers. It’s nonsense. You point out that scientists overwhelmingly agree about evolution, and you expect people to take that point seriously (because you’re right; they should). Well, scholars overwhelmingly agree about this. If that doesn’t matter to you, you are no better than a creationist.

There is no reason, outside of bias, to believe that the whole Jesus movement sprung up with no Jesus. Without a man who walked around in the sand and got crucified under Pontius Pilate. Paul is riding around in 50-55 AD writing letters to people, very many of them within living memory of this supposed guy who had a following and died a public death. But hush, the secret is… there was no Jesus. We made it up. The disciples went out and got themselves killed. It’s like my parents being devoted to a movement over a guy who they knew in our neighbourhood when I was seven years old, who SURPRISE, didn’t actually EXIST.

Yes, atheists are right: the “die for a lie” argument fails because people really do “die for a lie.” But they don’t die for lies on PURPOSE.

It’s not at all like a cluster of islanders talking about a mythical U.S. Navy officer who reputedly appeared out of nowhere as a “spirit vision” for an unspecified period of time, saying things that no Navy officer would say or believe, with no recorded place of origin, family, followers, trial, or death under a historically verified prefect after an itinerant ministry allegedly lasting *years*.

There is no reason for a non-scholar–with no special intimate knowledge beyond what’s available to me–to believe that Jesus never existed, except to emotionally provoke Christians, flatter oneself with refined notions of “skepticism,” and fabricate a needless excess of certainty that Christianity is wrong.

Jesus was almost certainly a man. He was born, he walked around, and he was killed. If Jesus bothers you enough that you need to magick him out of history, you should keep that to yourself. I can just imagine how that looks to Christians. They’ll have a field day over that.