This is Twitter Feminism

Do double standards get any more explicit? It’s enough to turn you MHRA.

 

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Subjective Morality

What are morals? Are they relative values? Are they subjective or are they objective? Where do we get them from?

Morals are (sometimes) codified criteria by which we decide what is good and bad, right and wrong.

Morals are relative because they vary from culture to culture, time period to time period and are also situational. An Aztec would have considered it a good thing to be sacrificed and to have their heart cut out. Slavery was considered morally acceptable up until mid-way through the 19th century, and isn’t today. We would be more lenient with someone with someone who stole a loaf of bread to feed their starving family over someone who stole diamonds purely for personal gain.

Even these are relative, there are bound to be people who disagree with me even on these.

Are they subjective or objective? Given that they’re relative as we’ve already established and given that people’s opinions and reactions differ it is obvious that they are subjective. Even if we reduce it down to the level of ‘what’s good for humans?’ in the way Sam Harris has tried to, or in the way utilitarian or epicurean systems have tried to, that’s still only applicable to humans (or given the evidence from other primates, some of them too). If a snake, a lion or any other creature with a different evolutionary history was intelligent enough to codify a moral system then we would expect their conception of right and wrong to be very different indeed.

Where do we get them from? The evidence would suggest evolutionary psychology being where. Instincts and behaviours can be passed on biologically as well as socially. We see that in the behaviours of all manner of creatures, many of which are quite complex and cannot reasonably be considered to have been passed on culturally. We also see natural variation on morality within humans, though we only recognise its negative extremes (sociopathy/psychopathy). Genetics are a reasonable predictor of where someone will fall in allegiance to political parties. Most of human contention in politics and in personal relationships seems to be about this tension between selfishness and altruism, though even selfishness is excused as an appeal to naturalism (Randian Objectivism, trickle-down economics, the invisible hand of the market).

I think of morality as existing in three layers (foundation at the bottom):

Individual: Our own moral decisions from experiences, thought etc. A personal code of ethics.
Nurture: The moral codes and behaviours instilled in us by our culture, parents and education.
Nature: Our inherited, evolutionary moral sense.

The higher ones on the chart can override those lower on the chart.

For example, our instinct might be to provide care for someone in need. Our received notions of morality might override this by telling us that someone got themselves into trouble or somehow deserves what is happening to them. Our individual, personal sense of ethics might override this by leading us to make exceptions for friends or people we think are ‘the deserving poor’.

What hope, then, of finding any kind of universal morality?

Well, none.

There is hope of finding a human moral system, or multiple human moral systems that work though. There will be some things that are natural and universal to humans but there may be multiple ways of getting to them. The idea of ‘least harm’ and ‘most gain’ is a good guide, as is accurate information upon which to make decisions. Any moral system must have room to flex, to deal with situations, exceptions to bend and change with new information.

Utilitarianism and epicureanism are an obvious place to start as they measure relatively objective factors. We can test things and judge their results. Thereby finding our way to things that work, much in the same way we might seek to find a new design of wing. Of course, we cannot turn this into dogma, we would need to constantly reassess, explore and test as we would in any other field.

There’s hope, but the old way of thinking needs to be torn down first. Intellect needs to overcome ideology, faith and black and white thinking.

Aethics: Male Reproductive Rights

soaps-eastenders-4700-5Women’s reproductive rights are, quite rightly, a major issue. Autonomy over one’s own body, sexuality and reproduction is incredibly important and attempts to restrict or ban abortion are an infringement on human rights. Those who are against abortion typically cite irrational reasons – religion – for opposing it while rationalists, almost always, support a woman’s right to choose.

But what about a man’s reproductive rights?

Specifically, I’m talking about parental rights and responsibilities.

If a woman gets pregnant she has several choices.

  1. Abortion.
  2. Giving the child up for adoption.
  3. Parenthood.

The man has absolutely no say whatsoever in the matter and whatever decision the woman makes he is saddled with.

Obviously there are biological concerns here. Only women can carry children – at the moment. There is no way to safely transfer a pregnancy to a surrogate and even then similar issues can come to apply. Any attempt at applying fairness and gender equality must here, as anywhere else, bow to the demands of nature.

Ethically we cannot demand a woman carry to term a child that she does not want.
Ethically we cannot force a woman to have an abortion she does not want.

The man involved cannot, therefore, be afforded the privilege of dictating what a woman does with her own body and the potential human being inside her. We can only, then, extend a man’s reproductive rights outside of the sphere of directly affecting a woman’s body. As such a man can only be afforded reproductive freedom in one way.

A legalistic abortion.

In the event of an unwanted pregnancy the man would have the option to give up all rights and responsibilities to the child. He would have no visitation rights, no involvement and no financial burden. This is not a new idea, dating back to 1998, and it is one that has been picked up on by Father’s and Men’s Human rights groups. It’s even been – tentatively – tested in court (Dubay Vs Wells). It didn’t go to the Supreme Court and the excuse for not upholding it was concern for the child, the same language used to defend constrictions on abortion.

As things stand this is the only way to even slightly redress the balance when it comes to reproductive autonomy between the genders. Yes, the withdrawal of support will increase pressure on the woman and may influence her eventual choice but there remains a choice, whereas the man has no choice whatsoever at present. If the child is born, against his wishes, he’s on the hook for 18+ years supporting a child that he never wanted to and in all likelihood a woman he didn’t intend to support. The negative impact on him is considerable and has even driven men to suicide.

It is not a perfect solution, but then nor is the current situation. There are issues and problems, but then there always are. These would need to be discussed (Who will pay to look after the child? When is the cut-off date? What if the pregnancy is kept secret or isn’t realised? What if the man changes his mind or the child wants to know who they are?) The starting point, however, and one that is necessary is that rights between men and women should be as equal as possible and this is the only way to pursue that just end.

What has been disturbing, when discussing this idea, is the arguments coming from women – and men – who are very pro women’s rights and abortion in this context, but are steadfastly against extending even an abridged version of those rights to men. Women, even progressive, feminist women, seem shocked and appalled by the idea that a man should not be forced to look after an unwanted child. Many of the arguments given against the idea echo the kind of shaming tactics used by the religious right against abortion. Arguments that one should simply abstain from sex if you don’t want a child and so forth.

This is a shame and a stark example of where feminism diverges from egalitarianism, prioritising women’s rights over those of their male counterparts. It’s also an example of where we are forced to admit the biological differences between the genders and how they might have bearing on ethics, law and equality.

A Tale of Two Islams

Asghar Bukhari is an interesting chap, a relatively moderate Muslim who has a good way with words and doesn’t appear to be afraid of calling ‘bullshit’ on any particular side in any debate. Not that I agree with him on anything and everything, maybe 50% on a good day, but nonetheless, he writes well and it makes you think.

This article made me think. It’s about how Islam is portrayed, historical context and a number of other things. I want to address some of what he says here.

The first is the story of Western political elites. Their story is about Islam. They tell you that Islam (or if they can’t be honest ‘ Islamism’), is a threat to the world, that this medieval religion is violent and barbaric, a faith that leads to violence and one that the West must take action against in order to defend itself. It is a story that inevitably leads to a clash of civilizations.

I am both sympathetic to the point that the political and business elites will exploit anything to make a buck and flex their muscles and unsympathetic to the idea that Islam is, somehow, completely blameless. As an atheist and anti-theist I believe that all religion is a threat to the world. In the west I don’t think Islam is as big a problem as it has been presented to be (as compared with Christianity, especially in the USA) but it is a real and growing problem. It is a bigger problem than numbers would suggest because it is strident, militant and uncompromising. Christianity and Judaism have been ground down into a more liberal form by The Renaissance, Enlightenment and secularism in a way that Islam has not (Turkey, perhaps, being somewhat of an exception to varying degrees down the years).

Islam is a violent faith, many of its practices and beliefs are barbaric and anti-human. This is also true of Judaism and Christianity, but they choose to ignore or minimise those parts most of the time. Islam, it seems, at best tries to excuse them. You can argue that these areas (child marriage, female oppression, non/religious oppression, genital mutilation, honour killings, wife-beating, murdering homosexuals and apostates) are down to culture or a ‘wrong’ interpretation of Islam but they are very widely held on an individual and national basis and are a problem.

None of which changes the fact that the powers that be have exploited Islam as the new bogeyman in order to perpetuate a mentality and militarism that really has no place in the post Cold War era. There are threats – nuclear proliferation and terrorism – but these are overstated and, more importantly, made worse by the people who claim they’re protecting us. I wouldn’t trust an Iranian Supreme Leader with access to the bomb in the context of a belief in an afterlife any more than I was comfortable with George ‘God told me to do it’ Bush with his finger on the button. It also doesn’t change the horrific human rights abuses ongoing because of Islam (or in the name of Islam if you prefer).

Muslims also tell a story, and it also involves Islam. This is the one that could get you killed. They tell a story of an American Empire pushed by Israel and its lobby and old European hatreds into yet another war against Muslims. In their story the West had been waging wars to uphold the manufactured borders across the Muslim world and maintained them by propping up ruthless dictators. The resulting deaths and broken lives now measured in their millions.

American pseud0-imperialism is also a problem and as a Brit I wish our government would stop going along with everything they do, but our democracy is ailing and unrepresentative and most people are at the point where they simply don’t care any more. So what can one do?

I refuse, however, as an individual who just happens to be white and to be British by accident of geography, to be held accountable for the criminal actions of my government. The operations in Afghanistan were – at least – slightly justified but other actions undertaken by the coalition were not. The war in Iraq was illegal under international law and I make no bones about that.

Israel is a complicated issue but the fact is that there are people there now and we have to deal with the situation as it is. Religion complicates this matter horribly and makes it hard for people to compromise. Any solution is going to have to be based on sharing, in the manner of Northern Ireland, a glacial process towards mutuality. It’s that or genocide one way or the other. This would be so much easier if religion hadn’t gotten involved.

The West is unlikely to abandon Israel without something extremely major happening, largely because of guilt over the events of WWII but also because they are surrounded by enemies using extremely worrying rhetoric and have strategic value. Plus, you know, they’re just people like everywhere else in the world. Separate from their government and its actions.

What makes me wary of this narrative is that it is a) not entirely accurate and b) plays into anti-semitism and paranoia about Jews. In discussions with even seemingly moderate Muslims the conspiracy theories run rife (including 9/11 inside job conspiracies) and it’s not that unusual to run into someone retelling the blood libel or referencing the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It’s all a bit uncomfortably 1930s. Of course, my sympathy for Israel is tempered by the fact that they seem to have learned nothing about the treatment of others from their own harsh treatment and the plight of Palestine is always heartbreaking.

Black lists are complied, previously apolitical institutions like Universities and the Charity Commission are used to spy on and intimidate Muslims into silence. If that failed, calling them ‘extremists’ was a catch-all and could smooth the way to silencing them by putting them in prison or house arrest, ASBO’s, press vilification, black mail and harassment by the intelligence services. The power structure was guaranteed public support, they had been taught to fear these ‘buzz words’ surprisingly even Muslims were silent — no one after all wanted to be seen defending an ‘extremist’.

There are problems the other way too. Asghar slipped into racial language a couple of times in the article describing actions as being ‘white’ rather than actions of government. Similarly there is an extremely stifling atmosphere when it comes to critical examination of Islam. If it’s not fear of the – often violent – backlash from Muslims it’s fear of being branded a ‘racist’, ridiculous when you’re criticising a religion. Of particular concern to me of late is the aggressive nature of Muslim creationism which, while decades behind the rhetoric of Christian creationism seems to have a much tighter grip on Muslim youth (if such a term can legitimately be used). This is a concern in the west where we want more people in STEM roles and should be of enormous concern in Islamic nations because it will be contributing to holding back progress and development in those nations.

And these men and women are no longer willing to accept that they must live under Western backed dictators, in Western manufactured states and do not think their lives are cheaper than anyone else’s. They do not see it is their lot in life to see their people slaughtered by drones or kidnapped never to be seen again — they intend to stop it.

And this is what we should have encouraged. For me, as a left-liberal and progressive sort of chap the Arab Spring held a great deal of promise – promise that hasn’t fully materialised. We should have been supporting what was going on, not dithering. This is what a genuinely ethical foreign policy would have been, to provide aid to dissidents and the young, intellectual, progressive revolutionaries. Instead those movements, one by one, seem to have been eclipsed by the very sort of radicalised Islam we were allegedly fighting against in the first place.  An opportunity to draw a line under the past, shake hands and look to the future appears to have been squandered.

Muslims are human beings. No human being can live under an unjust order for ever. Eventually they will fight to overturn that order — and that is exactly what they are doing.

And this is the situation across the world, though not as starkly obvious. In Britain our political system is unrepresentative and unresponsive. Apathy towards politics in the general population is at an all time high and the ones who should be taking to the streets are divided against each other by a blaming culture. People struggle to survive, with no time or thought to change while bankers and warmongers continue to get sleek and fat. Their budgets and bonuses never get cut.

Where do we go from here? I don’t know. I hope something good will come of all these geopolitical shifts but it remains to be seen.

Still, Islam’s unreformed and absolutist theocratic rule is no better than the dictators it would displace, perhaps worse. Probably worse. The USA and its tag-alongs trying to ‘win hearts and minds’ while bombing and shooting people is no solution either.

Where we are now, the differences look irreconcilable.

Examples of the Oppression of Men

godswrathI was challenged to come up with examples of this on Twitter when I objected to some rather extremist feminist positions on the basis of egalitarianism. The argument was that feminism is in response to systematic oppression of women over centuries[1] and that the idea of men being oppressed for being men was ludicrous. I don’t believe that to be so. I do not think women are – or ever truly have been – entirely powerless and that the society that we might see as being oppressive is so to both men and women.

Is this shifting? Yes. Is this shift even? No.

Issues where men are discriminated against and oppressed have received no redress while women’s largely have been (presuming we’re talking about the liberal west). Men have lost a lot of rights and privileges (in the non social justice meaning) but they have retained a lot of the duties, responsibilities and expectations that those rights and privileges were paid for.

If some of these seem petty to you, consider the response to many supposed feminist issues that are brought up – such as ‘No more page three’ or ‘Lose the lad’s mags’.[2]

Many of the things that are apparently seen as being the rights and privileges of men, things to be valued and sought after, are seen by men as duties and responsibilities. Things that are expected or demanded of them.

Here’s a few ways in which men are systematically oppressed:

  • Abuse Support
  • Addiction
  • Campus Culture
  • Capital Punishment
  • Censorship and policing via social media
  • Child Support
  • Circumcision.
  • Combat Duty
  • Custody Battles
  • Dating
  • Divorce
  • Domestic Violence
  • Draft.
  • Education
  • Emotional expression
  • Father’s Rights
  • Feminisation of workspaces
  • Harsher and longer sentences for crimes
  • Homelessness
  • Lack of emotional support
  • Lifespan
  • Media Portrayals
  • Medical Services
  • Objectification
  • Online Misandry
  • Paternity Fraud
  • Presumed to be inherently violent and dangerous
  • Public exposure when sexual allegations are brought
  • Rape Victimhood and Support
  • Reproductive Rights
  • Schroedinger’s Rapist
  • Sexual Liberation
  • Sexual Performance
  • Shaming
  • Societal devaluing of non-academic male skills and contributions
  • Stay-at-home Husbands
  • STEM support
  • Suicide
  • Suspension of presumed innocence
  • Suspicion of Paedophilia
  • Tax Contributions
  • Victims of Violence
  • Wealth Control
  • Weddings
  • Welfare Support
  • Work/Life Balance
  • Workplace deaths and injuries

As an exercise for the reader I’m not going to explain these. I’m inviting you to think about how these may be problems for men, where the disparity lies and to consider whether it is fair.

No these are not things that can be addressed by feminism, which is concerned with women. No this is not ‘what about teh menz’ as a way to dismiss women’s legitimate issues, rather to point out that men have issues as well and that people should work together for genuine equality.

Yes some of these are petty and I don’t, personally, consider them to be real problems (the same as with some feminist issues) but I was trying to mirror what I see from feminism and so included them.

[1] – The argument is not that women are being oppressed or have been oppressed. Rather that this is also the case for men and feminism, explicitly concerned with women’s issues is not set up – or even named – to deal with these issues. Rather an equal and active ‘masculinism’ movement is needed or an egalitarian movement of humanist concern. Yet we see the attempts to get MHRA movements off the ground treated with hypocritically dismissive and sarcastic disdain by feminists who claim they are misogynistic etc. Ironically, the mirror of the very claims they so strenuously deny when they’re aimed at them.

[2] – Given the existence of the internet, complaining about and trying to ban the softest of softcore pornography and pin ups is like locking the stable after the horse has not only bolted, but enjoyed a long and illustrious career at another stable, won many races and retired to a paddock in the south of France with a couple of saucy mares.

God, Not a Rational Necessity

So yeah, social media arguments don’t really go anywhere and usually just ends up with people posting links to interminable Youtube videos that fire off fallacies at a rate like a machine gun. Still, this chap actually linked to something he wrote, so given the effort it’s only fair to reply to it properly and Twitter etc aren’t really the best venues. So this’ll do.

The link’s here if you’re interested, but I’ll quote the necessary.

“…Let them reflect on the camels, and how they were created; and the heaven, how it’s raised aloft; and the mountains, how they are hoisted…”

For the people of thinking, reflection and introspection, these aspects of creation are signposts to the Divine Reality.

Problem number one.

‘How they were created’ is a presumption. ‘How it’s raised aloft’ is a presumption. ‘How they are hoisted’ is a presumption.

What you have here are questions. Not evidence. Even if we had no answers ‘God did it’ is an answer that would need evidence in support of it. As it happens we know how camels came about naturally, we know how space came to be as it is and we know how mountains come about and there’s no indication of any design or divine interference at any stage.

In all my discussions with atheists, whether online or in person, I’ve identified a recurring trend: they attempting to refute theists, but can’t, and don’t, present their own reasons for the rejection of God’s existence. For instance, some say:

(1) Why’s there so much evil in the world?
(2) Why’s Hell promised?
(3) Everything originated from evolution.
(4) Religion causes war.

There’s no need to refute theists. The burden of proof is on them to provide evidence that their god exists. Without evidence for a god one is forced, logically, to hold the negative position on the proposition. While everything you list is also true and likely to also come up these are more attempts to show to the stubborn believer the problems internal to their belief system even if you accept it at face value.

The incoherence of some atheists extends from one nonsensical idea to another: if we, the theists, say that there’s a God, they immediately ask, “Well, who created your God?” If we say He’s eternal, they say that such a statement is illogical. However, when they’re asked regarding the life of the universe, they’re prepared to say that it’s eternal. Atheism is self-contradictory.

The point seems to have been missed here as well. If you think the universe – in all its complexity and wonder – demands a creator, and that’s the basis of your argument (argument from design) then god, more complex and more wonderful would demand the same. This would go on forever. If you make an exception for god then you’re leaving the door open to other exceptions. That’s why you run into the counter that the universe could be (or maybe is) eternal. Again it’s a way to illustrate the weakness of your argument.

Some atheists, such as Betrand Russell, state that the universe eternal, it’s just there.

Bertrand Russell was a man from another age when the universe was considered most likely to be static. Observations that confirmed an expanding universe would come late in his life. So this is a bit unfair to Mr Russell.

From the outset, it should be noted that mathematical infinites exist in what philosophers call “a mathematical realm of discourse”, but this infinite exists as an assumption or axiom; it exists conceptually, but not in actuality. If we scratch the surface on this Betrand Russell’s statement, we find that it’s archaic and absurd. The infinite can’t exist in the real world; that is, an infinite number of elements or discrete parts can’t exist.

There are infinites that are present in the world but let’s not get sidetracked into that. Another meaning of ‘eternal’ would be that something exists ‘forever’. Given time doesn’t exist until the universe does (space and time being one) we can say the universe has existed forever, without running into this problem. It’s also possible that the universe will continue to exist for an infinite time, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a ‘starting point’ (scare quotes because this isn’t an accurate description).

This also creates a problem for the idea that the universe was ‘created’, since you cannot have a ‘before time’ or an ‘outside space’ there is no context in which a cause can occur.

This is a strange position, as things can’t come into existence via nothing; the idea is mentally incomprehensible, let alone illogical. Professor Lawrence Krauss, in his book attempts to redefine the word ‘nothing’, so as to fool the untrained reader. His use of linguistic gymnastics to try and convince the reader surely hasn’t worked. Even a cursory reading of his book reveals that his attempted redefinition of ‘nothing’ to means the quantum vacuum. In short, the quantum vacuum is a sea of fluctuating energy. Many physicists have adopted a deterministic approach in that these events do have causes.

As vacuum fluctuations and virtual particles show you can have effect without cause, radioactive decay demonstrates this as well. It also shows you can get something from nothing. This is not a redefinition and as Krauss points out, philosophers etc seem unable to meaningfully define nothing. He uses the term as a physicist and has demonstrated amply in the book that modern understanding demonstrates that you can work up to the whole universe from nothing. A philosophical ‘nothing’ (whatever that might be) may not even be possible.

In asserting that it ‘must be a god’ you still have the problem of no evidence. If your premises are invalid your conclusions are also going to be invalid and an assertion is no use without evidence.

Kalam, which is the argument that you’re trying to put forward, doesn’t dodge the inherent self contradiction present in the original cosmological argument. I go into this more here.

The rational position is the one based on the evidence and the evidence is not there in support of a god at any step of the path. Everywhere we look we see naturalism, undirected natural laws unfolding over time without any divine interference. The last bastion of any sort of remotely credible theism is a weak deism, that some sort of deity started off the universe and hasn’t been seen or heard of since. Even this has no evidence and so, without evidence, must be considered false. This last bastion of theistic belief is also under assault from science, as Krauss has demonstrated, even if you don’t/can’t agree with him on every point he – and Hawking – have taken us back further.

What you have here is a long – and relatively eloquent – argument from ignorance and personal incredulity. You still lack evidence for a god and until you have it, all you have is unsupported assertion based on weak logic spun from false premises.