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Invalid comparisons, invalid conclusions

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The image above is making the following argument:
Premise 1: Things that look the same should be treated equally
Premise 2: Under the skin, we all _look_ the same
Conclusion: Therefore we should disregard all of the categories above and treat each other as equals.

The first problem is that its not true that we are all the same under the skin. There are numerous differences between us even in our skeletons. These differences are such that archeologists will still know a lot about us even when we are dead and gone.

Next, there are a number of problems with both premises. And a lot of it has to do with disregarding what the categories above are based on.

For example, black and white are two categories that deal primarily with skin. Therefore its invalid to show a picture of a skeleton in order to prove that no difference exists between blacks and white. Martin Luther Jr didn’t base his argument that he and his people should be treated equally on that argument. Instead he based his argument on the Bible which teaches us that we are all equal by virtue of our relationship to our creator. Not because we all “look” the same under the skin.

Then there is the issue with comparing one set of categories with another. For example, the black and white categories can be considered two elements of one set that we can express as (black, white). The next set of categories is gay and straight as those both deal with sexual orientation. That can be expressed as (gay, straight). And the final set, just for completeness, is (religious, atheist) which is based on acknowledgement of the supernatural or not.

Comparing the three sets of categories based on what the author supposes is a good argument for the equality of the first category (that we are all equal under the skin based on the general fact that we have bones) isn’t valid. Even if it were true that elements of the (black, white) set could be shown to be equal by the “everyone’s equal under the skin” function, it doesn’t follow that we can apply that same function to the other sets.

For example, we can’t say that the categories of gay and straight are equal simply because the have equivocal bone structure. That would be like saying that Mother Teresa and Hitler were really the same (ie equal) because they both had feet and hands.

The biggest difference between Mother Teresa and Hitler isn’t primarily physical. So a comparison based on a physical measure isn’t going to help us come to a correct conclusion about the relationship between these two people or elements.

Likewise, the difference between the sets above are not primarily physical so it follows that the image is wrong in its premise that things which look the same are the same since physical appearance is not the distinguishing characteristic of any of the categories above.

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Exploding TV sets and government regulation

Many people today consider government regulation to be a necessary evil. Without government overseeing greedy corporations, the thinking goes, attention to quality, and especially safety, will degrade.

It is assumed that government is the only entity with the ability and motivation to look out for the interests of everyone.

To help illustrate how faulty the notion of government regulation being our saving grace is, let’s take a look at how the Soviet Union regulated the production of its most effective propaganda outlet, the common TV set. Keep in mind that the USSR had an interest in producing quality TVs in order to govern more effectively.

Soviet television sets tended to explode, because of faulty manufacturing. The surprising and alarming propensity of Russian receivers to blow up, and by extension the apprehension it causes in Soviet viewers, was one of the stranger features of Soviet life. By one estimate, sixty percent of all apartment fires in Moscow are caused by mass-produced Soviet television sets, which hada tendency to explode. Of the 715 apartment fires in Moscow in November 1987, 90 were blamed on exploding television sets, a statistic the Soviet press viewed as an alarming commentary on Soviet technology. Police said three television models notorious for defective wiring are being removed from the market, and millions of warning leaflets have been mailed to television owners.

Its true that markets aren’t efficient (in terms of the efficient market hypothesis ), but as inefficient as they are, governments are worse. It is a fallacy to think that a small subset of the market can do a better job than the whole market in ferreting out bad products.

Worst possible misery for everyone

Sam Harris, in his book “The Moral Landscape”, defines good as that which moves away from “the worst possible misery”.

Once we conceive of “the worst possible misery for everyone” then we can talk about taking incremental steps towards this abyss. -Sam Harris, Moral Landscape, pg 39

While listening to Sam’s opening speech in his recent debate with William Lane Craig (audio, video), it occurred to me that by “misery”, Sam means, “physical misery”. That made me wonder, what about nonphysical misery? It seems that Sam’s dedication to physical materialism could prove to be a great hinderance here.

The best example of non-physical pain in my estimation is phantom pain experienced by amputees. In this case its the memory of a limb is the source of pain. I’m sure physicalists would argue that the neurons in the brain which supposedly constitute memories are the physical source of pain in this instance, but it seems like a stretch to think that memories themselves could be the source of pain since, in our memories, our limbs are still in tact. Phantom pain is not only the recollection of a limb that no longer exists, but an extrapolation from there that the body must be in pain since the limb is no longer providing feedback to the nervous system.

Next to phantom pain for non-existent limbs would be psycogenic pain, ie mental disorders. Mental anguish is one of the most common forms of pain we experience all the time. From mild discomfort (ie small insults or slights) to insurmountable pain (ie the loss of a loved one).

In conclusion I believe there is sufficient evidence for the claim that metaphysical pain trumps physical pain in

  • Duration – it is not possible to remove metaphysical pain through medication or amputation.
  • Intensity – while both metaphysical pain can be mitigated somewhat through medication, its intensity is not limited by natural constraints.
  • Capacity – physical pain does end at some point. Nerves get overloaded and either shut down (become numb) or the body builds a tolerance or the body itself shuts down (ie the person passes out). Metaphysical pain is bound by none of these physical constraints.

So if the greatest possible pain is not confined to physical states of affairs, it follows that any solution to the problem of pain would need to entail a metaphysical component to it if it is to be a complete and coherent. Sam’s solution is simply incomplete. It fails to adequately address metaphysical pain which would still exist even under the most ideal physical circumstances. And since it is possible for the metaphysical to effect the physical, and not vice versa, it also follows that any solution to the problem of pain should come primarialy from a metaphysical source, not a physical one.

So while I agree with Sam that morality would entail the transition from a state of pain to a state of pleasure, I find Sam’s solution to be shallow and incomplete. The greatest possible pain is not physical, its metaphysical. So the solution we ought to be looking for, if we are serious about looking for an exhaustive solution, should be metaphysical, not physical.

All I need to know I learned in kindergarden

Last week my daughter graduated kindergarten. My wife and I decided to send her to public school figuring “what’s the worst she could pick up at such a young age?”. Apparently we were a tad naive.

Here are some of the things my daughter learned this year in her kindergarten class:

Green ideology

My daughter learned that it’s wrong for us to cut down trees for any reason.

While talking with my wife about whether we should obey God or man my daughter made the observation “If a polieceman tells us to cut down a tree, we will have to disobey him?” To which my wife responded by reminding our daughter that God had given us dominion over nature and that cutting down a tree is not morally wrong if we own the tree and have a use for it.

Guns are bad

My daughter now considers guns “the G-word”. She was taught in her class that its wrong to even make a gun with her hands (something her brother does all the time).

What’s also funny about this is that in the 2nd week of school we learned from our daughter that a little boy was running around the playground kissing little girls during recess. So we told her to warn him once and then punch him in the mouth if he ever came near her.

So in the interest of complying with anti-bully laws (which, I later found out, Georgia has some of the first anti-bullying laws on record), we end up planting the seed that self defense of any kind is wrong, especially if it involves the use of a firearm.

Parent’s don’t know best

As responsible parents we want to know what goes on in our daughter’s world. So we make a regular habit of asking everyone in the family how their day went at the dinner table in the evenings. For some reason our daughter picked up this notion that her parents shouldn’t know what goes on in her classroom. That her classroom and her family were two completely seperate worlds.

Of all the things my daughter picked up this past year this one is the most insidious in my opinion. My wife tried to have a conference with our daughter’s teacher but that didn’t change anything.

As parents we also learned that the PTA is not an interface for providing feedback regarding teaching practices and lessons, but rather it is a glorified boosters club directed by teachers and staffed by lemming parents.

So given what my daughter was exposed to in the span of one short year, its no longer a mystery to me why 80% of our children walk away from the faith when they go to college. They are indoctrinated in school and alienated from their parents. And we allow, encourage, and fund it!

A different kind of Christianity

Brian McLaren, a rockstar pastor in California, describes “A New Kind of Christianity”. However when he’s done deconstructing every central tenet of Christinaity as defined by Scripture, its quite clear that what he’s really offering is something completely different he’s calling Christianity.

Government endorsement of particular forms of marriage

From a comment on Reddit:

If libertarians believe that government allowing same-sex marriage is in fact an expansion of government, they should also support the abolition of government-allowed opposite-sex marriage in an attempt to reduce the imposition of government into our lives. I do not see any explanation in this article as to why endorsing the so-called “aberrant” sexual practices is any more imposing than supporting “normative” sexual practices.

The issue here is not of endorsement but of proper management of national resources. In this case that resource is new citizens. New citizens can only come about through the sexual activities of a man and a woman. Because that is the only way new citizens are brought about the government has a vested interest in making sure that new citizens are properly cared for by its progenitors (everyone has a mother and a father) and raised in a stable home and given the tools to become well adjusted citizens. Not that any of hat is impossible for a homosexual person, but it has statistically been shown that a child who enjoys the benefit of their biological parents are better off than those who haven’t. In short, we make laws and policies based on the ideal standard, meaning a mother and father and children in a stable home, and not the exceptions to the rule.

So since the government has no vested interest in affirming the individual sources of happiness of its citizens and since children are the only real reason marriage is treated differently than any other contractual situation, it stands to reason that any attempt to redefine the institution of marriage is inherently counterproductive to the goal of producing well adjusted citizens.

Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged Part 1

Even if you dislike Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy of objectivism, and her subsequent exaltation of free market capitalism, you should appreciate this movie.

Atlas Shrugged is about everything that Hollywood is currently against and as a result needed to be privately funded for $10 million. A fraction of the cost of what most A-list actors charge.

There were some minor alterations to Ayn Rand’s massive 1000+ page tome. The time-frame has been set in the not-too-distant future, 2016, and current events and trends were used to set the stage for the dystopian future. But while the overall story may have been given a contemporary polish, much of the core storyline has remained in tact. As someone who hasn’t read the book yet, the first installment of three managed to accomplish the director’s goal of enticing newcomers to pickup the book and read it.

Those who don’t ascribe to objectivism (or its close cousin, utilitarianism) will be put off by the mechanistic view of man portrayed in the movie. This is shown most explicitly in the first of two sex scenes in the movie.

This, in turn, means that bleeding heart liberals, who Rand explicitly loathed, will find the content of Atlas Shrugged to be particularly unpalatable.

Overall, however, I highly recommend this movie because it does do a good job of portraying both objectivism as well as free market capitalism.

The trailer:

One of my favorite scenes:

John Stossel on Hollywood’s opposition to the movie:

On the Set of Atlas Shrugged: 53 Years in the Making

On the right of healthcare

Healthcare is not a right.

Since that sentiment has been shared quite a bit by itself, allow me to elaborate.

To say something is a right is is to obligate others to perform services and provide goods in accord with that right, otherwise the right is stripped of its meaning.

Traditionally rights have been seen as derived by God. So with healthcare we should ask why God is not providing that right for us in the world he has made.

This traditional view of rights is why we historically have worded rights as the right to pursue, not have, something. For example, I have the right to life, liberty, and happiness in our country. That doesn’t mean anyone is obligated to provide those for me, but rather that I should have a reasonable chance in attaining them.

Some might object that:

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, proclaimed that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of oneself and one’s family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care.”

PS – ratified with the United States vote!

The UN fails to ground human rights in anything other than an agreed-upon consensus of nations. That means that their notion of rights is highly subjective and not a little whimsical at the outset.

But if we want to base our notion of rights on what the UN decides, why don’t we take a look at their record.

Oh, and the UN also considers the circumcision of children to be a violation of human rights.

And they consider the application of the death penalty to “children” (broadly defined) to be a violation of human rights.

In short, I do not see a reason to consider the UN to be an authority about what rights humans do and do not posses. Neither the US nor the UN are our creator and as such neither are able to confer rights.

Remember the deceleration of independence. The rights we recognize (or used to anyway) are the rights conferred to us by our common creator. Not by politicians, not by collective vote, not by international decree.

Another way to put it is this: Rights are not declared, they are derived.

In order to invoke a sense of moral obligation with regard to human rights you must first establish from whence these rights come. If you want to say that rights come from the government then I would agree with your assertion that healthcare is now considered a human right by virtue of the law. However that does nothing to address the question of whether healthcare ought to be a right or whether the law can be amended to remove that right or not.

If, however, we want to base our definition of a right on something more objective we need to look beyond what the law says and look, instead, to what God says.

The reason I brought up the constitution is to show how rights were thought of at our country’s inception. That is they are inalienable by virtue of being derived from God and not conferred to us by other men (like a king or parliament).

We used to operate based on an understanding of natural law. That is, our laws were created and enacted based on universals, generally rooted in a Judaeo-Christian framework. Now, however, laws are created and enacted based on the whims of those in power.

  1. ‎The US is a sovereign nation and not subject to the UN. I know we operate in a grey area at the moment on this but I am glad that my decision to have my sons circumcised does not mean I’m likely to face a UN panel on human rights violations any time soon.
  2. I’m not sure how you are extrapolating your scenario on abortion from my position. We are given the right to the pursuit of life, liberty, and justice by our creator. This doesn’t mean those things will be given to us automatically, we have to undergo the task of pursuing them. What it does mean is that preventing someone else from that pursuit is a violation of the rights we derive from our creator.

That doesn’t mean we can’t be aided in our pursuit, but it does mean that such aid is not automatic, expected, or to be demanded. In other words, if I aid someone on their pursuit of life, liberty, or justice I am doing them a favor. I am not obligated to do that for them. Likewise with God. He is not obligated to aid us, but he does as a free gift of undeserved grace.

When we misunderstand the relationship of rights and responsibilities we end up cheapening grace and charity by thinking they are obligations that can be demanded of others instead of gifts we should be thankful to receive.

Uniting Sunday and Monday

Spiritual Capital and Virtuous Business Leadership