Aethics – Veganism

Some of my best friends are vegan or vegetarian, the reason most of them are still my friends is that they lack the same kind of evangelical zeal which, unfortunately, many of their dietary kind are prone to. I hate clashing with them, but it still inevitably happens from time to time. Those clashes are usually over interpretations of data and statistics, but sometimes that strays into areas of ‘woo’ and even science (or practical) denialism.

My hope is that by setting out by (omnivorous) position here and presenting my objections to vegan arguments and bad science I can spare myself some of these arguments in the future or at least direct them to more useful, evidence based arguments.

Aethics is what I’m tentatively calling my own attempt at an objective (or at least only human-subjective) moral philosophy. The idea being that by incorporating ideas from Epicureanism and Utilitarianism you can come to a fact-based, rational and logical moral decision on difficult problems. There’s some important key components to this though:

Facts first: Any decision must be based on facts.

Provisional: An ‘aethical’ point of view accents that any decision made through it is provisional, not absolute.

Situational: Any moral or ethical decision depends on context. What is wrong in one instance may not be wrong in another. No decision is set or settled in its entirety.

Emotions & Feelings Have Value: People’s emotional pain should be taken into account and weighed up in a decision.

Strive for Objectivity: While emotions have value and meaning they should not guide the moral decisions.

The Environment

A chief argument in favour of veganism is the environmental impact of farming. It is supposed that you can raise a great deal more in the way of crops on land that would otherwise go to sustain animals. In theory this could free up land, increase the food surplus, drive down prices etc. Animal waste (poop and methane gas) can also harm the environment and there are issues around drug resistant bacteria given the over-use of antibiotics in agriculture.

On the face of it this is all true and these are great and practical arguments for veganism. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple.

  1. Animals can be raised on land unsuitable for crops.
  2. Irresponsible farming practices (antibiotic use etc) is an argument against irresponsible farming practices, not for veganism.
  3. While slurry may be reduced, a vegetarian diet increases human flatulence and excrement, which would at least offset any gains by reducing animal husbandry in terms of both global warming and waste pressure.
  4. Plant-farming can exhaust the soil in a way animal farming cannot, requiring constant rotation and/or fertilisation of the soil. Fertilisation requires petrochemicals, industrial nitrates damage the environment nearly as much as animal slurry and – without a large source of animal fertiliser – there’s little in the way of alternatives. Using human poop would require intensive processing, due to the disease risk.
  5. More agriculture means larger, monocultivar fields, which are very vulnerable to pests and disease. This means either more GM crops (which I have no issue with) or more pest spraying, which again is more petrochemicals and industrial waste, further offsetting any supposed gains. Organic farming is only ~66% as efficient as industrial farming and other solutions such as mixed-cultivation simply don’t work on a civilisational scale and aren’t amenable to industrial harvesting and processing.

In short the much-vaunted environmental benefits attributed to forcing everyone into veganism do not consider the wider impact and the knock-on effects. While we do raise and consume too much meat and  altering that would be a good thing, eliminating meat production would not have an enormous and transformational effect on our environmental issues and could, conceivably, make aspects of them worse.

Health

Veganism supposedly carries with it some health benefits, but virtually every study I have read on this carries with it the same mistake. Vegans and vegetarians – people who are actively interested in and engaged in their diet – are compared with ‘average Joes’ – people who don’t. For a comparison to be valid, it would have to compare people who are equally as engaged and interested in their diets, just with some being omnivores and some being vegan/vegetarian. The very few studies on this grounds tend to show the omnivorous group having slightly better overall health and – in sport comparisons – performance.

So why might that be?

Put simply, humans are omnivores. We have teeth suited to both vegetation and animal tissue, we have a mid-length intestine, we have gut flora and digestive enzymes suitable for both meat and vegetable digestion. Our bodies rely on numerous micronutrients, fats and other things found in a mixed diet to operate with maximum efficiency and health. Some fats, in particular, are very important in early life while the nervous system is being ‘built’ and a vegan diet for young children may cause lasting harm and make them more susceptible to various problems with the nervous system.

To refer back to the first paragraph here, the problem is comparing like to like. Most people come to a vegan diet later on in life, ‘slip’ more than they like to admit and so minimise the negative impacts a vegan diet may have. This isn’t, of course, to say that we shouldn’t eat less meat – we should – just that people having irresponsible diets is not a good argument for veganism, but is a good diet for a balanced, healthy, omnivorous, diverse diet.

Health benefits come from being engaged with what you eat and a diverse omnivorous diet is healthier than a vegan one.

This can, of course, be offset with dietary supplements, but the need for such suggests either an underlying health problem or a dietary inadequacy and the increased production of dietary supplements would refer back to the environmentalism point, industrial production of such products is not so great for the environment.

Ethical Concerns

The environmental and health claims for veganism are, then, at least questionable or not as strong as they are claimed to be. What, then, of the ethical questions? What are the ethical questions? There’s really only one, that the raising of meat for consumption causes suffering to animals. This isn’t an easy question to tackle as it goes pretty deep into a whole bunch of muddy areas with no definitive answers.

Let’s qualify the statement a little.

‘Eating meat causes unnecessary suffering to animals’.

That’s a little better, since practically all ethical decisions require the weighing up of pros and cons. So the real question is whether more ‘good’ than ‘evil’ is done. The environmental question is up in the air, the health one is not. People are better off with an omnivorous diet… but how do we weight human health and need against that of animals?

There’s no absolute answer to this, but we have a natural inclination to favour our own species, our own friends and family. We are as ethically open-minded as our situation allows. If it came down to sacrificing a stranger over a friend most of us would do it, and would sacrifice a friend over family. If the bombs fell, most of us would resort to eating the family dog, however much we love it.

We do make exceptions for endangered species, but even if someone were to poach the last rhino, most people would baulk at killing them for doing so.

If this seems a little disjointed it’s because I’m trying to sketch out the boundaries of the situation.

  • Animals are not as concious or aware as humans (though this varies from creature to creature). They do not appear able to suffer in the same manner that humans do.
  • Inhuman and cruel farming practices are an argument against inhumane harming practices, not for veganism.
  • Can ‘food’, really be regarded as ‘unnecessary’?
  • How much of a health compromise to yourself or your children is acceptable to spare animals pain?

It seems to me that unnecessary cruelty (factory farming and poor slaughter practices) is an argument against itself, but not for veganism again. We should be wanting to minimise cruelty and pain but it’s perfectly reasonable for us to prioritise our own pleasure and health. Please, yes, meat is a pleasurable experience to eat for most people – another cue that our body needs and wants it.

The ethical side is clearly too broad and deep to adequately cover in a blog post as this last section is all over the place. The short version is that there are many good reasons to continue producing and eating meat, and the arguments against it are primarily against things like cruel farming practices, which can be eliminated without eliminating animal husbandry. Even the ethical argument is simply too subjective and personal to be more broadly applied.

Summary

Let’s return to the ‘aethics’ guidelines from earlier.

Facts first: Any decision must be based on facts.

Veganism is not the great saviour of the environment and not the best option for human health. Much in the way of farming practice is, however, unnecessarily cruel. Given we’re likely to farm insects soon it will be interesting to see whether current vegans are against that also (or vat-grown meat), and whether they avoid things like shellfish today, which have extremely minimal awareness or capacity for pain.

Provisional: An ‘aethical’ point of view accents that any decision made through it is provisional, not absolute.

As other options, such as the aforementioned vat-grown meat, become available the moral questions may shift. If we can have the meat without the animals, then it’s harder to justify any form of cruelty in farming whatsover (humane slaughter isn’t really cruel per se).

Situational: Any moral or ethical decision depends on context. What is wrong in one instance may not be wrong in another. No decision is set or settled in its entirety.

This whole discussion exists within the current structure where we have mixed agriculture, a lot of poor people who rely on cheap nutrition and have yet to develop, properly, alternatives such as insect farming, vat-grown meat or fully artificial substitutes from vegetable protein that both carry the same nutrition and the same experience.

Emotions & Feelings Have Value: People’s emotional pain should be taken into account and weighed up in a decision.

Pleasure also has value here, and an enjoyable diet is a boon to mental as well as physical health. People take great pleasure from their food and this must weigh into the equation just as animal suffering must.

Strive for Objectivity: While emotions have value and meaning they should not guide the moral decisions.

While not true of all, many vegans seem to have come to their position based on emotion, unable to stand the thought of eating a cute lamb or a smart pig. These are emotionally based decisions, not factually based.

Given all these factors, only the ethical argument holds any water and then only as a personal decision and an argument against poor farming practice, not for veganism in and of itself. As such I see no convincing arguments, whatsoever, against the farming and eating of meat. People’s conscience is their own look-out and there’s no real position from which to criticise anyone else, with these arenas of decision being so subjective.

As and when genuine alternatives appear the moral question will shift again, but until such material is affordable and available this is where I stand.

Aethics: Sexy Robots

CHERRY 2000, Pamela Gidley, David Andrews, 1987, (c) Orion

The BBC has an article up talking about a drive by a Kathleen Richardson (a robotics ethicist – yes, such a thing exists) to pre-emptively ban sexbots. If she gets her way, Cherry 2000 will never get to exist.

On the face of it, this seems silly, as silly as banning dildos or Fleshlights (or those rather creepy Real-dolls). What is a robot sex-doll other than a complicated dildo after all?

Richardson raises several concerns:

  1. That they are unnecessary.
  2. That they are undesirable.
  3. That they will reinforce traditional stereotypes of women.
  4. That they will encourage the idea that relationships need only be physical.
  5. That this will undermine relationships between real men and real women.

89e7dcd439aec524b2e23a5dcc97afabThere’s more, but it’s based around speculation on advances in artificial intelligence and so on. Let’s stick to what’s at the edge of feasible now. Physically realistic sex bots capable of limited interaction.

We know that there are already people who have ‘relationships’ with their inanimate sex-dolls, who fall in love with crude AI girlfriends on their handheld game systems. These are crude but they are representative of what we may see in the future. So are any of these concerns valid?

Are sex-bots unnecessary?

Many things are unnecessary, but desirable, so this is not necessarily a good argument in the first place. It’s not necessary to cook food, to have access to vehicles or to have a television, but these things bring comfort to our lives. Even if we take this argument at face value though, the situation in which we find ourselves may indeed make sex-bots necessary. There is a huge, building gender disparity in China with many more men than women. A powderkeg of frustrated male sexual desire that, with no outlet, may express itself in dangerous ways. Prison rape is a hideous problem in many countries, such as the US, also. Might access to sex-bots alleviate some of this? Might it not provide an outlet for sexual tension and might it not also – possible – contribute to a reduction in rape as some contend easier access to pornography has done? In that situation, sex-bots are not only desirable, but may be considered necessary.

1-robot-paintings-by-hajime-sorayamaAre sex-bots desirable?

Clearly they are. People are already buying all sorts of elaborate sex toys and customised sex dolls. There’s obviously a market for them amongst fantasists, those with social anxiety disorders and those with proclivities outside the norm. With men increasingly opting out of the dating and marriage options it seems that men and women alike may find a use for sex-bots as a masturbatory aid and source of relief while between relationships or while focussed on their careers. Whether you approve or not, there’s clearly a market for such things.

Will Sex-Bots reinforce Stereotypes of Women?

This is a hard one. People desire what they desire and the market tends to respond to what people want. I think many people have this relationship backwards, thinking the market tells people what they want. There are trends in desires which manifest in stereotypes but no two people have exactly the same tastes. The presumption seems to be, also, that only women would want sex-bots and only women need be concerned. Surely there would also be a market amongst women for sex-bots? Hung to their specified dimensions, armed with a six pack and the perfect amount of endurance. This doesn’t seem to me to be something that is only a concern for women, yet only women seem to be overtly concerned about the ‘competition’. People want what they want, if that’s uncomfortable perhaps it needs to be faced, but I think critics underestimate the value of a real, human relationship – or the role that sex-bots might play within relationships (an artificial, risk-free threesome for example).

RommieuniformWill they encourage ideas that relationships need only be physical?

Will a sexual relationship with a sex-bot be truly satisfying? Pornography and masturbation already offer physical relief and yet people still seek relationships. Why should this be any different with sex-bots? Until such bots are as good as people, and capable of relationships, I think there will still be a desire for more. Why shouldn’t some relationships be purely physical anyway? The BDSM scene has people who meet up, as friend, for play sessions. ‘Fuckbuddies’ is a thing. Hook up culture is a thing. We already have purely, or nearly purely, physical relationships and a sex-bot isn’t going to change that one way or another. Better to have sex with a nice clean sex-bot than to risk your health on one-night stands, no?

Will they undermine relationships between real men and women?

Possibly, but these already seem to be breaking if you look at the MGTOW and ‘Grazer’ movements in Japan and further afield. Despite mockery and derision they seem to be growing and marriages are now the minority in the UK and probably elsewhere. Can you undermine something that is already failing in modern society and should we necessarily mourn it? Might not sex-bots allow couples with mismatched desires to stay together, each having a robot lover they can turn to when their fleshly lover is no longer in the mood? Is that healthier than taking a flesh-and-blood lover or not? If you can’t compete with a sex-robot, should you be a relationship anyway?

IMG_1840Conclusion

There seem, to me, to be no moral or ethical reasons to deny people the development or ownership of sex-bots. The cost seems minimal or unrelated and the benefits in terms of personal pleasure and societal safety and security seem obvious. The concern also seems very sexist, assuming that only men would want or purchase sex bots when – surely – there’s as much of a market amongst women for a ‘perfect’ lover? It seems to me that the development of such devices would be of benefit to the species as a whole, including, potentially, helping with controlled population reduction.

bsg_boxy_muffySpeculation

Let us take this concept to some uncomfortable extremes though and see how that affects how you would think about this.

A sex-bot need not look normal. We already see this is Real-Dolls with unrealistic proportions or based on fantasy characters – models have been made to resemble characters from games and comics, for example. Why stop there though?

What if a paedophile wanted a realistic sex-bot that resembled an underage child? Our instant reaction is disgust, of course, but would it not be better that they wreak their desires upon a robot than upon a real child and might not the sex-bot give them a way to expend their frustration without resorting to rape?

What if a sexual sadist or predator could have access to a sex-bot that does the things that turn them on? What if they could ‘kill’ their sex-bot every night, consequence free, and have it back the next day. Might that not prevent them from enacting those desires in real life?

What if the sex-bot wasn’t even human? What if it could be made to resemble a dog, a sheep, a tentacle monster from someone’s perverted hentai fantasies?

Should we allow such things?

If not, why not?

If so, why?

Even without AI, the advent of realistic (or realistic enough) sex-bots raises some questions on these topics and challenges our views of human sexuality. Do we interfere in this most private and intimate of areas or do we say it’s nobody’s business but theirs? Why and how do we decide?

Food for thought.

#SPJAirplay – Towards a Modern Corrections Policy

3d_tipp_exOne of the things that came up at the recent SPJ Airplay event was the need for a decent corrections policy. Absent some sort of financial or other penalty process there’s currently little or nothing to stop an online publication putting out nonsense and then putting out a small retraction or amendment later when it’s already too late. It’s certainly possible for a publication to blatantly lie and make a big noise about it, and then to retract near-silently.

Any policy is also unenforcible, but in the spirit of the positivity after Airplay here’s some ideas on how such a policy could be enacted.

Step One: Correction

One of the beauties of the internet is that material can be edited live. If an article has made a wrong assertion, accusation or other problem it can be actively changed – immediately. There’s no need to wait for a new edition or anything like that. This is a two-edged sword however, given that this also allows for mistakes to be covered up.

As such an article should be corrected, but the mistake should also be acknowledged. Correct the article in the body of the text, but acknowledge and spell out the mistakes and apologise for them at the head of the original article.

Step Two: Publication

Part of the problem with corrections is their lack of reach. The corrections never travel as far as the original story. As such the full, corrected story as well as existing as a correction should probably get its own publication with the full front-page, social media promotion treatment that a new story would. This would mean that the same story would effectively be published twice and both would now be the corrected versions – and this would happen as many times as corrections would be needed.

Summary

This is not a perfect solution, but as a policy it helps ensure that mistakes are not covered up and takes advantage of the way internet publication and social media work to try and ensure the maximum spread and to encourage good practice in order to avoid making mistakes and having multiple versions of the same article up.

Thoughts?

#Gamergate How GamerGate Was Hijacked

b5miliqccaeiqt5What Gamergate is Vs How Gamergate is Seen

Gamergate is a consumer revolt against problems in gaming media. This is primarily a concern about the ethical conduct of gaming journalists but extends to concerns about one-sided ideological propagandising within the dominant games media spaces and issues of censorship. Gamergate draws on a long tradition of resistance to interference from the out-culture, previously in regards to game addiction, game representations of violence and even earlier to issues in other spheres like comics and tabletop RPGs. The difference is that this time the attacks are coming – at least in part – from the in group.

If you limited yourself to the larger gaming sites and the mainstream media, you would think that Gamergate is actually a misogynistic hate group, a gang of reactionary hoodlums intent on keeping women out of gaming. You might even think that they are terrorists, behind SWATing, doxxing, death threats, rape threats and all sorts of awful behaviour.

How is it that the reality of Gamergate and the public image of it are so wildly different and who hijacked it, and how?

How did the Message get Hijacked?

There’s two parties at fault for hijacking Gamergate. One more organised and unified, the other as chaotic and leaderless as Gamergate itself.

The first party are those called – disparagingly – ‘Social Justice Warriors’ (which you could consider in relation to actual social justice, the way you might read Islamist as opposed to Muslim). The second party are the internet’s usual legion of trolls, abusive commentators and drama-creators.

Trolls hijacked Gamergate simply because it was a magnet for a lot of drama, involving a lot of people and types of people who are perfect trolling targets. This would include the aforementioned ‘social justice warriors’ and most especially feminists, who can all but be guaranteed to takes trolls seriously and to create the drama and upset that trolls love.

For sake of clarity as the term gets misused, I am using ‘troll’ to mean those people who deliberately stir up trouble and post provocative and offensive things (spuriously) in order to garner a negative reaction. Trolling is nasty, and a problem that bears discussion, but it’s not a direct Gamergate issue.

The ‘SJWs’ hijacked Gamergate by making it about their pet issues. This was somewhat facilitated by the fact that some of the first corruption issues that emerged involved other ‘SJWs’, women amongst them. This made it quite easy for them to pretend that the ethical issues were, in fact, misogyny.

Since then, despite progress on the ethical and censorship issues, the dominant media narrative – in both games and mass media – has been misogyny, abuse, sexism and harassment, pinned on Gamergate, despite having nothing to do with Gamergate’s goals.

There’s synergy between the two hijacking parties because SJWs treat trolls as though they were part of Gamergate in addition to taking them seriously and treating them as though their threats and nonsense were not spurious. The SJWs get to smear their enemies, the trolls get to troll two parties for the price of one.

Why Was this so Effective?

It’s questionable whether it has been. Old media has lost a huge amount of influence, current games media has lost a lot of ground because nobody trusts it any longer. Still, it is distressing to see the public narrative so utterly skewed in both cases. On the other hand, this – in and of itself – is proof positive that there are issues of corruptions and ethical concerns and that they are serious.

To the extent that it has been effective, it has been effective in the following ways:

  1. Existing, dominant games media was always going to reject criticism of itself. D’uh.
  2. While Gamergate actions have exposed ‘wrong action’ by people of all kinds, the stories where women can be portrayed as victims are better press. Even if they’re corrupt (Sarkeesian) or have engaged in ghastly actions (Quinn, Alexander) there’s a psychological effect where women are seen as less villainous and more innocent than men that’s well known. Ironically the ‘damsel in distress’ is a trope that’s being taken advantage of here.
  3. Internet culture, and gaming culture, have existed for some time. Chan culture is an extreme that is often demonised, but not half as bad as it has been painted. Gamergate is just the latest in a long line of collisions between these cultures and a lot of problems are down to misunderstandings.
  4. Ideological corruption is harder to grasp than the more obvious financial corruption. While financial corruption issues have existed for years, it was ideological corruption that triggered Gamergate and has dominated much of the discussion (though the fixes for both kinds of ethical issues are broadly the same – disclosure and recusing).

Solutions & Consequences?

Are there any solutions to this? Nothing direct. The mainstream media is lazy and more interested in views (and viewers) than the truth these days. A sad consequence of the liberation of news sources and the ad/sponsorship driven model. The media can’t really be trusted to hold itself accountable, on any scale, for its own corruption and ethical issues. So far as mainstream and existing, dominant games media goes there’s only damage control and pressure.

A common complaint about Gamergate – from outside – is that it has no leaders. This has, in fact, been a huge advantage in making Gamergate more resilient and capable and has allowed it to survive internal drama and outside attacks. However, part of the reason there’s so little representation of ‘the other side’ in these media presentations is the lack of identifiable spokespeople. Gamergate doesn’t need leaders, but it does need spokespeople. It should be possible to find suitably eloquent, bullish and intelligent spokespeople that can be proposed and agreed to by a raw majority of Gamergate identifying voters in an online poll. Then you’d have people who are contactable for media appearances, to give the alternative point of view and to counter the kinds of nonsense that otherwise gets free rein on these reports.

The other solutions, beyond the successful pressure to tighten ethical policies, is to continue to act as a watchdog and to continue to promote alternative sites. Gamergate participants should also, in my opinion, strive to act well, represent the revolt well (I’m not saying mind your language, just to leave no suggestion of doxxing, no reasonable suspicion of harassment etc), and to concentrate on spreading the accurate message. Confounding the false narrative with charitable actions and NotYourShield also helps. Ultimately Gamergate wins out when people actually investigate and are pointed to the correct facts.

There are consequences to Gamergate that have deeply concerned me and I’d like to finish up by covering these and making an appeal to its enemies.

I, along with many Gamergate supporters, identify – or identified – as being on the left. We believe, passionately, in equality, justice and many of the other things that our enemies also believe in. Our differences with the other side come in when their demands come across as irrational, unscientific, unsupported, authoritarian or compromise other values – such as free expression – which we also hold dear.

My worry is that the extremists of the ‘SJW’ crowd and their hangers on, are driving a huge number of people to the right. The more right/libertarian media has been more sympathetic to Gamergate, due to their agreement on socially liberal concepts. This has earned those sources a great deal of sympathy and has meant people listen to them more, because they’ve proven themselves – at least on this topic – to be more honest and accurate.

I don’t want people to be biased in this way, by their bad experiences with a radical fringe and a corrupt media. I appeal to the opposing side to please, at least alongside everything else, to take the ethical concerns and issues seriously and to discuss those, at least, in good faith. Call Gamergate’s bluff, as PC Gamer did, by addressing the ethical concerns. The worst that can happen is that we all end up with better media and, hopefully, people will stop being pushed to the right.

Pax.

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.

Religious Spam Round-Up 3: Won’t Somebody Think of Society?!?

Every day social media users, especially those identifying as agnostics, atheists and skeptics, are subjected to a barrage of religious spam from true believers. This tends to be repeated, day in, day out, several times a day with no attempt to engage or discuss the matter. It’s spam, plain and simple. Some groups even seem to use small botnets, multiple accounts or proxies to spam hundreds of identical or similar messages all in one go.

Let’s look at some, all from one afternoon and evening on Twitter and only a small sample…

Atheist Morality!

So the claim runs, I think, that by dismissing god somehow that means an end to basic morality and empathy between human beings. Needless to say, numerous lines of evidence show nothing of the sort. The less religious the nation the less criminal and violent it tends to be (Scandinavia). Atheists are less likely to be criminals of any sort.

Why is this?

Well, it’s a complex number of interlocking things. Less religious nations tend to have better social safety nets and less existential fretting about the future. Atheists tend to come from more educated and financially secure demographics and that has been shown in various studies to be the biggest deciding factor in criminality.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that irreligiosity has fuck all to do with people being horrible to one another and, if anything, the reverse is true. Needless to say, even if religion made saints out of everyone, that wouldn’t mean its assertions were true and if atheism made everyone into monsters that wouldn’t mean its conclusion was false.

This whole line of argument is an enormous irrelevance if your concern is what’s true.