Friday, July 25, 2008

Contributions to a Stereotype

I am posting two items back to back. This item here on PZ Myers, and nother posting on Bill Donahue.

PZ Myers

"Contributions to a stereotype are not tax deductable."

I do not know why this particular quote, from a popular television series several decades ago called Barney_Miller, has stuck with me all of these years. The episode in question involved one in which the precinct arrested a black man for assault. The person he was accused of assaulting was a voodoo priestess that he believed had cursed him.

The quote above was uttered by Detective Harris (played by Ron Glass), who was also black.

It applies today to the stereotype that atheists lack any connection to morality or, in the absence of a belief in God, are capable of committing horrendous deeds that a person with a belief in God would not commit. These claims are used to promote an attitude of fear and hostility towards atheists.

The question of "contributing to a stereotype" in this case means acting in a way that contributes to the belief that atheists lack a fundamental understanding of morality.

When PZ Myers called for the 'scoring' of a consecrated communion wafer, Myers not only became guilty of the crime of promoting fraud or stealth as a way of acquiring the property of others, he also became guilty of contributing to a stereotype. He provided others with a tool that they can use to argue that atheists have no connection to morality and see themselves free to do evil (to engage in fraud or burglary) whenever it suits them to do so.

This contribution to a stereotype is an additional moral crime – even though it is grounded on the wrongful acts of others. In this case, in order for Myers' act to promote bigotry, others have to be guilty of making a hasty generalization from the specific (Myers' endorsement of the use of fraud or stealth to acquire property from Catholics) to the general (atheist disregard for morality). This is as bigoted as drawing an inference from a black person's robbery of a convenience store to the conclusion that blacks are criminals.

However, in an environment in which one is aware of the fact that others will behave immorally, that is a fact that the moral person would consider, and which we can morally blame a person for failing to consider.

Suppose I discover that a co-worker of mine is a serial killer with a preference for young long-haired brunettes. I have a neighbor who is a young long-haired brunette who regularly keeps me awake with loud parties, fights with various boyfriends, and a dog that never stops barking. As a way of dealing with this issue, I invite my co-worker home and introduce him to my neighbor.

In this case, I would be guilty of her murder. The fact that the murder was committed by somebody else – without a word of encouragement from me – does not change the fact that if I have reason to suspect that a particular outcome would result from my actions, then I am morally responsible for that outcome.

Similarly, even though it takes an act of bigotry to apply an individual atheist's detachment from morality to all atheists, and bigotry is itself a moral crime, it is a moral crime that we are all aware of. As such, there is an additional level of moral condemnation that is appropriate whenever any atheist demonstrates a detachment from moral requirements – particularly when their detachment from moral requirements is as public as Myers' has recently become.

This criticism does not only apply to Myers, it applies to all who decided to blind themselves to the moral prohibition against acquiring property through fraud or stealth – those who acquired consecrated communion wafers through fraud or stealth, and those who cheered them on.

When responding to the 9/11 attacks, I have often made the comment that it is illegitimate to blame anybody for those attacks who did not participate in them or who did not celebrate them. To celebrate a wrong done to others is to endorse that wrong, and is itself a moral crime.

So, in the Case of the Communion Cracker, moral condemnation for promoting fraud or stealth as a way of acquiring the property of a Catholic Church applies not only to PZ Myers, but to those who actually performed those actions, and to those who endorsed it

[For those who deny that Myers promoted fraud or stealth as a way of taking the property of others, I ask you – how else was somebody going to score a consecrated communion wafer other than fraud (pretending to participate in the ritual of communion) or stealth (grabbing one when nobody was looking and sneaking it out of the church)?

I have also dealt with the claim that the stealing of a cracker is a minimal crime that deserves only mild condemnation. Yet, the damage done from such an act is not the loss of a cracker. The principle that it is a trivial concern to take the property of another whenever one does not agree with the reasons the owner has for valuing that property puts all of our property at risk. We are made worse off whenever people think they can enter somebody else's property and walk off with anything that the other person (in the opinion of the thief) does not properly value.]

It is also the case that moral condemnation for contributing to the stereotype that atheists are detached from morality, and will abandon moral restraints when it suits their purpose to do so, belongs not only to Myers and those who acquired consecrated communion wafers through fraud or stealth, but those who embraced those acts.

The entire atheist community has been made worse off by this demonstration of the eagerness of atheists to ignore moral the moral prohibitions on fraud and stealth when acquiring the property of the Catholic Church. Because, by this action, those atheists have reinforced the stereotype that a lack of belief in God is associated with a lack of conviction to obey moral restraints. They have done us harm.

Note: I am not condemning the desecration of the consecrated communion wafer. I have also said that, if Myers had acquired rightful possession of such a cracker, he would then be free to do with it what he choose, including the use of it in a demonstration like the one he performed. However, the need to have a particular prop for a demonstration does not give one the right to acquire that prop through fraud or stealth. Nor does it give legitimacy to asking others to score such a prop when one knows (or should have known) that the only way to score one is through fraud or stealth.

The best thing for Myers and those who supported using fraud or stealth to acquire the property of a Catholic church to do now is to admit that moral transgression, to apologize for it, to disavow the legitimacy of using fraud or stealth to acquire property from another, and to disavow the principle that a person may take property from another whenever he disagrees with the reason the owner has for valuing that property.

This, then, would repair some of the damage done by those who contributed to the stereotype that atheists are incapable of comprehending or of being motivated to live within moral constraints.

57 comments:

Ron in Houston said...

It shocks me and somewhat dismays me that a number of atheists just don't "get" this.

Try saying this on PZ's blog and see what happens.

Tep said...

It's really not that surprising. I think Myers and fans feel they are performing a more important task, pointing out the absurdity of Christian dogma (and other religious beliefs). As such, while they probably agree that obtaining the wafer was morally wrong, they feel they were after a greater moral good. Likely they are reluctant to admit it, feeling it would damage their cause. Lying like that is probably a greater moral fault (in my mind at least) than the theft of the wafer.

Yet, I have to admit that if we required everyone to take every action w/o any sort of moral error in their process, no one would be able to accomplish much of anything. Obtaining the wafer by fraud doesn't take anything away from the overall message about the absurdity of religious belief.

Also, I think it's important not to make inappropriate equivalence comparisons. If we compare fraud in obtaining a cracker to the fraud that the average Catholic priest (and any religious proselytizer) performs on a daily basis, it's clear to me one fraud stands out very much greater than the other. The fraud of asserting the existence of non-existent deities, of an absolute (but nonetheless frequently faulty and reprehensible) moral code, and promising eternal life when obviously they cannot give it.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Tep

Morality contains provisions for 'lesser evils' and civil disobedience.

In the case of civil disobedience, a class of actions that are considered forms of violence that are supposed to be used in a last resort. Theft is in that category.

For example, tresspass is a legitimate form of protest. A 'sit in' in a Catholic Church would have the same legitimacy as the 'sit ins' to protest segregation. Or blocking the enterance of a church as a symbolic act, where the individual agrees to be hauled away and charged with a crime.

However, neither of these involve the theft or destruction of somebody else's property - and that is the difference. Civil disobedience, in this case, remains civil because it agrees not to cross certain boundaries. Those boundaries are the point at which two sides begin escalating the amount of harm they do to each other, often to the point of serious violence.

The limit is that the physical person and property that belongs to another must be left unharmed.

The theft of property does not qualify.

A case of 'lesser evil' may still involve violence, but it must be a regrettable violence. I have written a few times using the example of a parent who must take a car to get his sick child to the hospital. A recognition that his lesser evil was still evil is borne out by his admission to having done evil, offering to compensate those harmed for the damage done, and with having sought every opportunity (in the time allowed) to find a better way.

Whether we are talking about civil disobedience, or lesser evil, the theft of property from a Catholic church does not qualify.

Jim RL said...

Little kids pocket these things all the time. They are of no value. It's no worse than getting a cookie from an event with free food that you weren't invited to.

I think PZ was being a bit of an ass, but I support him because of the batshit lunacy of his opposition. Bringing their absurd and violent beliefs to light is worth cracker theft.

Emu Sam said...

[For those who deny that Myers promoted fraud or stealth as a way of taking the property of others, I ask you – how else was somebody going to score a consecrated communion wafer other than fraud (pretending to participate in the ritual of communion) or stealth (grabbing one when nobody was looking and sneaking it out of the church)?

One such way would be if a person had legitimately removed the wafer from the church as a talisman. I am not sure of Catholic doctrine, but I understand it is common practice. If it is also accepted practice, then fraud does not take place.

PZ Myers has stated that some of the wafers he received were years old. If a person took the wafer legitimately and later changed their mind about how they wished to use it, is it still fraud? There was no deception at any time. Should the Catholic Church then have been given the opportunity to say they wanted the wafer back? Should it have been considered a form of rent, only good as long as the person with the wafer chose to revere the wafer?

Stephanie Zvan said...

I'm unimpressed by this reasoning. A Jew should not exercise business acumen? Young black men should refrain from swaggering or scowling? A Catholic should keep displays of ritualized piety behind closed doors?

If you have a point to make about PZ encouraging fraud or theft, let it stand on its own merits. Don't blame the victim of stereotyping for the stereotype and don't declare him responsible for making it go away. His only responsibility in regard to the stereotype is to be the complex human that he is whether the stereotype exists or not.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Stephanie zvan

The traits that I am referring to, of course, are negative qualities. "Displaying business acumen" is not a negative trait. But, then, that is not nature of the prejudiced accusation against Jews, is it? They're accused of consiratorial manipulation of markets for their personal gain. That's not the same thing.

Greg Laden said...

I am pretty sure Myers did not ask anyone to commit a crime. I do think, however, that you need to examine your own atheism more closely. (And this may apply to some of your commenters as well).

Please don't forget what precipitated this sequence of events. And please don't forget that he Eucharist actually has no special powers. Noting is sacred. Nothing.

Stephanie Zvan said...

They are accused of many things, including overly "sharp" individual business dealings. And you're cherry-picking in your response. Being threatening and angry are negative stereotypes as well. Does that make the young men responsible for being meek and suppressing a reasonable response to being stereotyped? Are "holier-than-thou" Christians required to exercise their religion in private? Are "strident" feminists responsible for keeping their voices low?

Jim Lippard said...

"The fact that the murder was committed by somebody else – without a word of encouragement from me – does not change the fact that if I have reason to suspect that a particular outcome would result from my actions, then I am morally responsible for that outcome."

I think this proves too much. By this reasoning, a woman who gets raped after wearing short skirts in the wrong part of town becomes morally responsible for that outcome.

There are cases where, simply by standing up for and acting in accordance with what one believes, a person will become the victim of a crime such as assault or murder. For example, protesting on behalf of black civil rights in the south in the 1960s. Yet even if one knows that one's actions will cause a violent response, that does not make a person morally responsible for the fact that irrational others choose to commit violent acts.

I conclude that the principle you suggest requires further qualification.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Jim Lippard

I think this proves too much. By this reasoning, a woman who gets raped after wearing short skirts in the wrong part of town becomes morally responsible for that outcome.

In this type of case, the victim of the crime and the person who may have caused the crime are the same person. From which we may assume that the person harmed consented to the risk.

The same is true of the person who stands up for a cause and gets himself shot.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, did not consent to the risk of having their property taken from them. In fact, they were quite vocal in their non-consent.

Remember, nowhere in my argument did I use the moral culpablility of the person who sets up a crime against another person to mitigate against the wrong of the person who commits the crime. So, even though the woman or the speaker creates a situation where they may get raped or killed, this does not in any way reduce the moral culpability of the person who commits the crime.

The problem occurs when the victim is an innocent third person.

Greg Laden

I am pretty sure Myers did not ask anyone to commit a crime. I do think, however, that you need to examine your own atheism more closely. (And this may apply to some of your commenters as well).

Well, Myers did use the word 'score' - which is commonly used as a slang term for 'steal'.

Furthermore, how did he expect people to 'score' a cracker? What methods are available for this and, of those methods, which are morally legitimate?

However, even without actually asking people to steal a cracker, there is the moral crime of negligence. The person who leaves a loaded gun on the livingroom table, where one child picks it up and shoots another, did not intend the shooting. However, a morally responsible person considers the possible consequences of his actions and acts accordingly.

However, what Myers actually did was blind himself to the fact that taking a consecrated communion wafer was theft. He rationalized the theft in his own mind, using the exuse that the cracker was of almost no value and that the church was handing them out anyway.

He ignored the fact that people have a right to determine the conditions under which they give away property (e.g., "I will give $10 to anybody whose birthday is today.") and when people give away property with strings, and a person lies to get the property, that this is a form of theft.

These are simple moral principles that Myers overlooked as a matter of convenience.

Please don't forget what precipitated this sequence of events. And please don't forget that he Eucharist actually has no special powers. Noting is sacred. Nothing.

You will not find the premise that the Eucharist has special powers anywhere in my argument - explicit or implicist. Taking property from another through fraud or stealth is theft. This is true even when the property stolen has no special powers.

Justin said...

I walk into a building listen to a lecture and take a free item of food that is offered to me. Where is the theft? In my stomach it's not theft, but in my hand it is? What if I insert the food into another orifice in my body, is that a gray area?


This repeated charge of theft is just weird to me. Catholic churches have no way of knowing if some one is catholic or not. That is their problem. If they want to believe that the crackers are magic, that is also their problem. But is still comes down to fact that they are GIVING you a piece of food. What part of my body I choose to carry it out of the church with seems to be more of my choosing then the theirs. And the church claiming theft really just seems to make them sound like a bunch of crybabies.

Anonymous said...

AE, Your argument that the church is allowed to set conditions on the person who takes their communion wafer sounds correct. But, like emu sam, I have some questions. When I was a Catholic in the 1960's, communion wafers were always directly placed on the tongue. Is it not the case that the current practice of allowing the wafer to be handed to the communicant is an implicit acceptance of non-immediate consumption, or even, as emu sam said, its use as a takeaway talisman? When I dine at an all-you-can-eat buffet, I must eat all I can on the premises - I can't get any to-go without paying extra. I can see the real harm in sneaking food out of such an establishment. But if I contribute the cost of the wafer to the collection plate, where is the real harm in getting "my" wafer? Isn't real harm a necessary condition to a crime being committed? If everyone is ignorant of my intentions, who is harmed?

I disagree that "score" necessarily means "steal". It often simply means "obtain". So if Myers' desecrated wafer was un-"stolen" and un-consecrated, then regardless of what Myers thought about its provenance, was there a fraud committed? If not, then you seem to be arguing only that a crime may have been committed.

As to your other point that Myers is ruining it for all us atheists, I can assure you that no amount of civil behavior on our part can possibly make the least bit of difference to most theists. After all, when GHW Bush said atheists could not be good citizens, he was serious. Yet he asserted it on the basis of no known evidence. It is an article of faith to them that we are not to be trusted.

I'm still struggling to make a final decision about the ethics of what Myers did. But despite my opinion that what he did was immature, I can't see my way clear to lamenting that he makes atheists look bad in the eyes of a bunch of people who think it ethical to believe that even "good" atheists are going to hell. Such people should be scorned, not coddled.

I look forward to your replies.

Ed

Stephanie Zvan said...

Did you really--really--just say that a woman who wears a short skirt somewhere is consenting to possibly being raped? Are you really perpetuating the idea that sexiness has the least bit to do with rape?

Are you still ignoring my other questions about blaming the victims?

And yes, I have to agree with the other commenters on the meaning of "score." It doesn't mean to steal something. It means to obtain something that is difficult to get. Thus the sports metaphor.

Dave W. said...

It's the "only way to score one is through fraud or stealth" that gets me. When failing to say "father, I'm not a Catholic in a state of grace" is considered fraud and stealth, then it is undoubtable that thousands (if not millions) of people receive Communion through fraud and stealth every Sunday.

When the Catholic Church has - for centuries - failed to protect its "most sacred" Host against such incursions, how can a tu quoque argument fail to be both appropriate and correct? The Catholics obviously do not feel that it is a moral failing of any significance, or else they would have taken steps to prevent it.

Nobody should be holding atheists to a higher moral standard than the Catholics hold themselves to.

On the other hand, if I've learned nothing else over the last couple of weeks, it is that Catholics vary in their appreciation of the Host as much as any other group varies in their appreciation of pretty much anything. I just read a comment at PZ's blog in which a Lutheran relates his story of going to Catholic services for a year, and taking Communion from a priest who knew he wasn't Catholic and had never been to confession.

And stories abound of kids pocketing the wafers because they don't like the taste. Could none of those wafers have wound up in PZ's hands?

Was there no possibility of a very "liberal" Catholic priest who was also sick of Donohue's nonsense, willing to help PZ out? I, for one, would have gladly ponied up the eleven bucks for a thousand wafers if I had a consecrating connection. Furthermore, I hear tell that once a person is a preist, not even excommunication can take away the mojo-making ability, and so finding a disgruntled ex-preist perhaps wouldn't have been too difficult.

The idea that "fraud or stealth" were the only plausible possibilities demonstrates nothing more than a lack of imagination.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Justin

If somebody says, "I will give you this under conditions C," and you say "Okay," when you had no intention to meet conditions C, then that is fraud, a form of theft.

It does not matter what 'this' is.

Consecrated communion wafers are handed out under 'conditions C' where C = participation in the ritual of mass.

Stephanie Zhan

Did you really--really--just say that a woman who wears a short skirt somewhere is consenting to possibly being raped?

No. Absolutely not. In fact, I said the opposite - that a person who wears a short skirt and is raped is NOT morally responsible for the rape.

I am getting the impression that you are eager to create whatever you may need to twist my claims into something you can criticize.

And, yes, 'score' does not necessarily mean to steal something. In fact, 'steal' does not necessarily mean to steal something.

And if we want a sports metaphore for that, we can talk about a stolen base in baseball.

However, my argument did not depend on that premise. And the problem still exists that the term 'score' in this context certainly does not stress honesty.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Anonymous

As to your other point that Myers is ruining it for all us atheists, I can assure you that no amount of civil behavior on our part can possibly make the least bit of difference to most theists.

My argument does not depend on whether Myers' actions make a bit of difference to most theists, or even many theists, as long as it makes a difference to some theists.

It is true that there is virtually no action that a person can do to change the mind of the hard-core bigot. It is the person who is sitting on the fence who is of concern, or the person who is near the fence on either side.

But if I contribute the cost of the wafer to the collection plate, where is the real harm in getting "my" wafer? Isn't real harm a necessary condition to a crime being committed? If everyone is ignorant of my intentions, who is harmed?

There is no understanding - explicit or implicit - that putting money in a collection plate is payment for a wafer.

If you were to give me money as a charitable act, this does not then give you the right to take property of mine at a later date. Not unless, when you give me the charity, you make it clear that "you accept this money only on the condition that I can come and take this property from you at a later date."

And, if everybody is ignorant of your intentions, this does not mean that your actions were right. It only means that you got away with it.

If you give me an object to give to somebody else, and I pocket it (and the stranger never finds out that the object was intended for him), then I have stolen the object - regardless of who becomes aware of the fact.

The object might be $100 in cash, or it might be something that merely has sentimental value to the two people involved, or it might be something that they falsely believe has magical properties. It does not matter. My walking away with the object would still count as theft.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Dave W.

The idea that "fraud or stealth" were the only plausible possibilities demonstrates nothing more than a lack of imagination.

Imagination is not necessarily a virtue when it comes to morality. The principle that, "X is yours, if you can imagine a story in which you were the owner of X," is a very dangerous principle to promulgate.

Morality has a way of dealing with these types of situations. If you are uncertain about the terms in which I would transfer ownership of my property, then your obligation is to either ask me, or leave the property alone.

If I am giving a speech, and I bring donuts for all who attend. You want to take some donuts home for your child, who is sick and could not come. If you are uncertain as to whether I would transfer ownership of a donut to somebody who would take it out of the meeting and give to their sick child, then your obligaiton is to ask me.

This is what it means for the donut to be my property. This means that I get to determine the conditions for transferring ownership. Your ability to imagine a story in which I would transfer ownership is not relevant.

To the degree that we are uncertain as to the terms under which the Catholic Church transfers ownership of its consecrated communion wafers to others, then our obligation is to ask, and to abide by the results. I strongly suspect that they would limit transfer only to those people who are participating in mass.

On this issue, the degree to which the Church takes care to prevent others from fraudulently taking consecrated communion wafers is not relevant either.

There is no principle of morality that says that it is more permissible to shoplift from a store that does not have security cameras than it is to shoplift from a store that does. There is no principle of morality that says that it is less of a theft to take a car with the keys in the ignition than to take a car without keys in the ignition.

Or to take property out of a house where the door is unlocked, compared to taking property from a door that is locked.

These things might make it easier to steal the property, but it does not make it less wrong.

Gregory Kusnick said...

If somebody says, "I will give you this under conditions C," and you say "Okay," when you had no intention to meet conditions C, then that is fraud, a form of theft.

So if I invite some friends over for dinner, and as I'm serving the entree one of them announces that he's not hungry and would rather take it home to feed his dog, he's guilty of theft for not honoring the contract implied by my dinner invitation? With all due respect, that's nonsense. The guy may be a boor, and not much of a friend, but he's not a thief. I gave up all rights to control the fate of that food the moment I set the plate in front of him. For me to accuse him of theft and demand that he give it back just makes me look ridiculous.

As far as I can see, this dinner-party fiasco is exactly equivalent to the Case of the Communion Cracker. (Indeed, Communion is a symbolic reenactment of the Last Supper.) The expectation is the same (that the item will be consumed by the recipient on the premises); the disparity in perceived value is similar (to me the meal is a token of friendship and a symbol of my culinary prowess; to my boorish guest it's dog food). I may hope and trust that my guests will behave courteously and do the honorable thing with the meal I offer them, just as the priest hopes and trusts his parishioners will do with the Communion host. But we're both fools if we think that gives us any moral right to dictate what happens after we hand it over.

Dave W. said...

Mr. Fyfe, you say you get to determine the conditions for transferrance of ownership of the donuts, but to accurately continue the analogy, you've been laying out donuts for a long, long time and you've admitted to worrying that the donuts get to only the right people for 800 years, but you've set things up in such a way that you can't actually make any such determination without assuming the worst about your audience, you haven't significantly enforced your conditions in all that time, and you cannot know if your conditions have been followed unless a rule-breaker tells you so after the fact. In such a scenario, it should be clear to reasonable people that you simply do not care whether your rules for transfer are followed or not. Not caring if such rules are followed must mean, for all practical (and moral) purposes, that your conditions for transferrance do not exist.

(It is the unreasonable people who believe the stereotype, anyway. A stereotype which, you assert and admit, requires that atheists have no morals, not simply fewer morals. And so therefore a stereotype which is broken by the fact that atheists aren't pillaging churches worldwide, and which thus isn't strengthened by the theft of a few wafers, even if I were to agree it was theft.)

Furthermore, your own strong suspicions about any alleged limitations are what are irrelevant in light of the fact that dozens of people (at least) with relevant experience have said that such limitations do not always apply. Unless you have evidence with which to impugn them all as mistaken or as liars, you'll have to admit that your suspicions are wrong.

Finally, I wasn't imagining a scenario in which X was mine, I was offering up plausible scenarios in which X was freely and knowningly handed over to me to falsify your implications that any such scenarios were flat-out impossible. You were engaging in nothing less than the "I can't see how the human eye could have evolved, therefore it did not evolve" mindset. It's a logical fallacy when applied to evolutionary biology and it's a logical fallacy when applied to the ethics of property transfer. Because you couldn't see how the transfer in question could not involve either fraud or stealth does not mean that all such transfers require fraud or stealth. It only means that you can't see. An argument from ignorance is no good basis for ethics.

ema said...

Just to be clear:

Original comment:

"By this reasoning, a woman who gets raped after wearing short skirts in the wrong part of town becomes morally responsible for that outcome."

In this type of case, the victim of the crime and the person who may have caused the crime are the same person. From which we may assume that the person harmed consented to the risk.


Your reply to Stephanie Zvan:

"Did you really--really--just say that a woman who wears a short skirt somewhere is consenting to possibly being raped?"

No. Absolutely not. In fact, I said the opposite - that a person who wears a short skirt and is raped is NOT morally responsible for the rape.


Actually, what you said was that, because the person who wears a short skirt [the person who may have caused the crime] and the person who is raped [the victim of the crime] are one and the same, we may assume that the rape victim consented to the risk of being raped.

Just brilliant!

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Gregory Kusnick

So if I invite some friends over for dinner, and as I'm serving the entree one of them announces that he's not hungry and would rather take it home to feed his dog, he's guilty of theft for not honoring the contract implied by my dinner invitation? With all due respect, that's nonsense. I gave up all rights to control the fate of that food the moment I set the plate in front of him.

There is a counter-example to this that has already been mentioned several times here and elsewhere.

The all-you-can-eat buffet.

Where the 'condition C' is that you do not take any food with you.

Or, imagine that you are a chef trying out new recepies, and you say to your guests, "None of this food may leave the room." If one guest takes the food home to have it analyzed so that he can make the same dish for his restaurant, is he not guilty of theft because "I gave up all rights to control the fate of the food the moment I set the plate in front of him?"

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Dave W.

In such a scenario, it should be clear to reasonable people that you simply do not care whether your rules for transfer are followed or not.

So, what is all the noise about? It would seem that these people are doing a very poor job of "not caring".

If they truly did not care, then Myers would have been able to desecrate the Eucharist without protest. Protest indicates caring. And, in fact, if they, in fact, did not care, then Myers act itself would have been pointless. Myers act was built on the assumption that these people cared.

Indeed, the question to ask when determining whether one should ask the owner of a property whether one's actions in taking that property is legitimate is, "Do you think the owner would mind?"

The owner, in this case, might not mind the child who spits out the cracker and throws it away - after all, it is just a child. The church might well mind the adult who might take a cracker and desecrate it but are stuck with the real-world problem that "there's not much we can do about it but hope that it does not become too wide spread," which makes the public act that includes a request to 'score' Eucharists a legitimate target of protest.

However these other options play out, if we apply our test, "Do you think the owner would mind," to this particular instance, we get an emphatic 'Yes'.

Again, I am not saying anything about an obligation to respect absurd beliefs. What I am talking about here is respect for property.

Finally, I wasn't imagining a scenario in which X was mine, I was offering up plausible scenarios in which X was freely and knowningly handed over to me to falsify your implications that any such scenarios were flat-out impossible. You were engaging in nothing less than the "I can't see how the human eye could have evolved, therefore it did not evolve" mindset. It's a logical fallacy when applied to evolutionary biology and it's a logical fallacy when applied to the ethics of property transfer.

As I said, the case has nothing to do with imagination. If Person P owns X, and we want to know what the terms and conditions for transfer are, we ask Person P. That gives us the definitive answer.

This is a part of what it means to say that P owns X, is that P gets to provide the difinitive answer on what it takes to transfer X to some other person.

I am not basing anything on what I can or cannot imagine. I am basing it on what the owner of the property says is or is not the case.

Now, it may well be that, if we asked the Catholic Church about the terms for transfer of ownership of consecrated communion wafers, that they will give an answer that will make it possible that Myers legitimately acquired ownership of such a cracker. In which case, he may do with that cracker whatever it would be permissible for him to do with any other cracker.

However, his obtaining ownership has nothing to do with what you and I can imagine. It has to do with what the Catholic Church has established as its conditions for transfer of ownership of its property.

The same goes for all of us.

If you want to know the conditions under which I will transfer ownership of some property of mine, you have no legitimacy to take ownership simply because you can imagine how I might have transferred ownership. It is my property - if you have any doubt as to what my terms and conditions are, then you ask me what they are.

And I will do the same to you. And I will do the same for the Catholic Church.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Ema

Actually, what you said was that, because the person who wears a short skirt [the person who may have caused the crime] and the person who is raped [the victim of the crime] are one and the same, we may assume that the rape victim consented to the risk of being raped.

Remember, we have two agents here. There is the agent that created the risk of being raped, and the agent that performed the rape.

Saying that the person who put the woman at risk of being raped is not morally culpable (because she gave her consent to the risk) does not, in any way, imply that the rapist himself is not morally culpable. Agent A's (person who created the risk) moral permission does not imply Agent B's (rapist's) moral position.

Stephanie asked if I said that the woman became morally responsible for the rape (for Agent B's actions).

The answer is 'No'.

If Agent A allows creates a sition that puts the woman at risk of being raped, but the woman says, "I don't care," then Agent A is off the hook.

The rapist (Agent B) is not off the hook. He is still guilty of rape.

But Agent A is off the hook, since the woman consented to Agent A's creation of risk.

gregory kusnick said...

Or, imagine that you are a chef trying out new recepies, and you say to your guests, "None of this food may leave the room."

If the purpose of the gathering is to share trade-secret information with trusted clients, then that trust should be formalized in a non-disclosure agreement (verbal or written). And the time to impose such conditions is before the meal is served, not after. Absent such prior agreements, I stand by my claim that dinner guests are free to do as they wish with the food set in front of them.

Similarly, in the all-you-can-eat buffet there's clearly a prior agreement not to take food home that sets this case apart from dinner parties and restaurants with doggy bags.

So the question comes down to whether there's a prior agreement on the part of Communicants not to make off with the host. You seem to think there is. I claim there is not, since the doors of the church are open to anyone who cares to enter. The priest does not and cannot know who has or has not agreed to any conditions he might wish to set; therefore no agreement can reasonably be construed to exist. He forfeits the right to complain when he unilaterally hands out hosts to strangers whose knowledge of and consent to his terms have not been established.

Dave W. said...

Mr. Fyfe,

So, what is all the noise about? It would seem that these people are doing a very poor job of "not caring".

You're kidding, right? The "noise" is about the desecration, not about the theft. If it could be proven to every Catholic's satifaction that there was no theft or fraud involved in Dr. Myers' obtaining of a Host, the "noise" would still be as great as it is.

Your blog post didn't address whether or not the desecration itself was moral, you were instead focused like a laser on the method by which Dr. Myers acquired the Host, and condemning everyone who "celebrated" or aided its acquisition, not its final disposition.

To now shift the goalposts to the "noise" is to suggest that Dr. Myers was getting hate mail and death threats for merely being in possession of a consecrated wafer, which is certainly not the case.

You also said:

As I said, the case has nothing to do with imagination. If Person P owns X, and we want to know what the terms and conditions for transfer are, we ask Person P. That gives us the definitive answer.

Once again, you are assuming that the observers of Communion constitute a monolithic "Person P" who would all have the same opinion on the matter. I gave you examples of other persons who own X and would give a different answer than Bill Donohue. You are making as much of a mistake in suggesting that there exists a definitive answer as anyone who says "black people like watermelon."

That you now seem to be back-pedalling, and suggesting that the motivation for obtaining object X is relevant (instead of overly simplistic transfer-of-ownership questions that ignore motivation) is a step in the right direction, in my opinion. A blanket condemnation fails in many respects.

Because if it is morally acceptable to violate other peoples' moral standards when those standards appear to be lacking or hypocritical, then Dr. Myers may have acted morally and your stereotype argument would hold no water. I'm sure we agree that a small evil is sometimes acceptable in the face of a larger evil, otherwise no wars would ever have been fought (all invadees would simply accept that forcefully repelling their invaders would lead to someone's unacceptable death by violence).

Of course, such questions are still being grappled with. When is a freedom fighter a terrorist? When is killing acceptable at all? When is it okay to steal a loaf of bread to feed one's family? The idea that Dr. Myers' protest was morally wrong simply because it might have required subterfuge is sophomoric (and the idea that it required subterfuge obviously isn't settled, either - as laid out above).

In other words, the "line" that one never crosses while aiming for civil disobediance is motile and depends upon an accurate assessment of the context of the act. The fact that nobody in their right mind would arrest or prosecute Dr. Myers for theft doesn't mean that he wouldn't agree to be imprisoned for it.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Dave W.

You're kidding, right? The "noise" is about the desecration, not about the theft.

gregory kusnick

So the question comes down to whether there's a prior agreement on the part of Communicants not to make off with the host. You seem to think there is.

Let's remember how this all started.

A college student who had received a communion cracker durring mass started to walk off with it. He was accosted by fellow members of the church who demanded that he consume the wafer as is required during mass. He nonetheless left with the wafer.

He made no mention of desecration.

Furthermore, since Myers made his threat, the problem of theft had come up several times, and Myers himself was asked about it (See Myers and "This 'theft' nonsense.".)


Dave W.

Your blog post didn't address whether or not the desecration itself was moral.

Along side my criticism of Myers, I have written several posts critical of William Donahue, the President of the Catholic League, and his arguments about the immorality of desecrating the host.

There, I have argued that it is no more legitimate for the Church to demand that atheists treat a consecrated communion wafer as 'sacred', then it would be for atheists to demand that Catholics treat the wafer as unsacred.

If Myers were to acquire actual ownership of a consecrated communion wafer, then Myers may do to it what he may do to any other cracker - for any consecrated wafer that truly became the property of PZ Myers.

See, for example: The Case of the Communion Cracker II - PZ Myers (July 12th):

Why is the denial of the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation 'hate speech', but the denial of the atheist doctrine of non-transubstantiation not 'hate speech'? What gives the Catholic Church the right to demand that their beliefs not be questioned, but denies the atheist the right to make the same claim about their beliefs?

Also, Dohanue on Swastikas and Burning Crosses:

The desecration of a Eucharist cracker is quite like the eating of pork, or the wearing of a bikini at the beach, or of working on the Sabbath, or of taking the Lord's name in vain. These are the types of acts that those who follow a religion that condemns these acts must nonetheless tolerate in others, because they have no right to impose their purely religious requirements or restrictions on others.

Furthermore, I have argued that we may have an obligation to concern ourselves with the sentiments of others for their harmless beliefs. However, when an institution's beliefs are used as a basis for policies that are averse to the interests of others, that those others acquire a right to question those beliefs. (See: The Reasonable Person Test)

Ron in Houston said...

Alonzo

Obviously you can see that a number of people have been posting on PZ's blog asking him to reply to the issues you've raised.

Good luck.

ema said...

To all,

Apologies for the OT, but you know how it is; someone's wrong on the Internets.

Alonzo Fyfe,

When you're caught with your pantaloons down it's unbecoming to insist you're fully attired.

{snark}[Not to mention counterproductive since, as per your repeated assertions that a skimpy outfit equals consent to the risk of rape, you've just put yourself at considerable risk of being raped so you have more important things to worry about.]{/snark}

Let's review:

Remember, we have two agents here. There is the agent that created the risk of being raped, and the agent that performed the rape.

Alonzo Fyfe says that one agent, the woman [wearing, you know, clothes] is the agent that created the risk of being raped.

Saying that the person who put the woman at risk of being raped is not morally culpable (because she gave her consent to the risk) does not, in any way, imply that the rapist himself is not morally culpable. Agent A's (person who created the risk) moral permission does not imply Agent B's (rapist's) moral position.

Alonzo Fyfe says that the person who put the woman at risk of being raped is the woman herself, and that she gave her consent to the risk of being raped [you know, by wearing clothes and all that].

Alonzo Fyfe also says that Agent A, the woman, is the person who created the risk of being raped.

Stephanie asked if I said that the woman became morally responsible for the rape (for Agent B's actions).

No, Stephanie asked if you really just said that a woman who wears a short skirt somewhere is consenting to possibly being raped. (emphasis mine)

Your answer was a clear "Yes", both in your original comment, and in the follow-up.

In the original, Alonzo Fyfe says that, because the victim of crime and the person who may have caused the crime are the same person, we may assume that the person harmed consented to the risk.

In the f/u, Alonzo Fyfe says that the woman at risk of being raped gave her consent to the risk.

Moving on,

If Agent A allows creates a sition that puts the woman at risk of being raped, but the woman says, "I don't care," then Agent A is off the hook.

Alonzo Fyfe says that Agent A, the woman at risk of being raped, creates a situation that puts [her] at risk of being raped.

The rapist (Agent B) is not off the hook. He is still guilty of rape.

I acknowledge your persistent attempts at misdirection but, as you may have noticed, your strategy isn't working.

This is about you saying that Agent A, the rape victim, consents to the rape by wearing, you know, clothes, not what you said about Agent B, the rapist.

Last, but not least:

But Agent A is off the hook, since the woman consented to Agent A's creation of risk.

Alonzo Fyfe says that Agent A, the woman at risk of being raped, created the risk of being raped [and that Agent A, the woman herself, not suffering from multiple personality disorder, also consented to her own actions!].

Once again, well done!

Tep said...

Alonzo

You make an important point, and I agree with it, obtaining the communion wafer is theft (no matter what other argument, Catholics obviously do not wait their wafers to be taken from the church and trifled with, and the people taking them knew that). There should be some kind of punishment for such an act, but I feel the punishment there is more in the "Myers should apologize" category.

Still, my main point was that it is inappropriate to view Myers' action as an equivalent moral wrong to the actions of the Catholic establishment and for that matter almost any religious hierarchy. Myers should apologize, but these guys have a whole lot more to apologize for.

Gregory Kusnick said...

tep:
Catholics obviously do not wait their wafers to be taken from the church and trifled with, and the people taking them knew that

While this may be obvious now (and then again maybe not), it's not at all clear that Webster Cook knew it when he took his wafer. Apparently Cook felt he was within his rights in taking it as a souvenir, and if previous posters are to be believed, this attitude is not uncommon among practicing Catholics.

It's not obvious even now that a majority of Catholics would object to such behavior, since (to my knowledge) no scientific polls have been taken on the subject. All we have is the evidence of a self-selected group of vociferous objectors.

In any case, what Catholics as a group want is irrelevant, since according to Alonzo's theft argument, the wafer is the property of the Church, not of Catholic practitioners in general. In the absence of a clear prior statement from Church authorities that wafers must be consumed on the premises (irrespective of the supposed spiritual benefits of consuming them), I think Cook and Myers are justified in assuming they're entitled to remove wafers from the church, even over the objections of fellow Communicants (who by the property-theft argument have no legal or moral standing to object).

Anonymous said...

If somebody says, "I will give you this under conditions C," and you say "Okay," when you had no intention to meet conditions C, then that is fraud, a form of theft.

It does not matter what 'this' is.

You're over-generalizing. First of all, fraud and theft are distinct. Fraud involves deceit, where theft involves depriving another person of something. You can commit fraud without depriving another person of something, and you can commit theft without deceit. One is not a subset of the other.

As for this specific argument, if an employer says, "I will give you this job under the condition that you are not a Jew", and you say "Okay", are you being unethical if you happen to be Jewish? The employer is discriminating based on religion (or ethnic origin). Replace "a Jew" with "atheist", and you have the current situation.

Should all contracts be enforceable? If not, is it unethical to dishonour unenforceable provisions of a contract?

PZ's 'call for crackers' was just an off-the-cuff response to Webster Cook being assaulted and then being told that it was his own fault. Paraphrasing, Myers said, "You think that some Catholic taking a cracker outside the building is desecration? Give one of those crackers to me; I'll show you desecration!"

Dave W. said...

Mr. Fyfe,

It's been clear that you think it is impossible for PZ Myers to become the actual owner of a consecrated communion wafer. Part of my point has been that in the abstract, it is not impossible.

Obviously, if Myers attempted to obtain a wafer from the Catholics who participate in Communion at UCF's student union, it would be impossible. But we have a few dozen examples of other Masses in which the Communicants and/or representatives of the Church are not so restrictive.

Anonymous said...

I always find it interesting that internet commenters seem to consistently forget that hyperbole, while endlessly fun, is almost always a clumsy and often double edged tool. Let's put aside the absurdity of panting Myers actions, culpability or, (for the love of all that's good and holy,) victimhood in this as anything equivalent to any rape victims. And let's put aside the attempt to draw parallels between catholics refusing to give their magic crackers to any and all comers to refusing to employ someone due to race. The tortured straining and the deliberate obtuseness required to even present such arguments serves as ample evidence that they are complete non-sequiturs, used more for their emotional content and button pushing potential than anything resembling a reasoned, or reasonable, defense. In that respect, they resemble most of the responses by enraged catholics I've seen.

I do think, however, it might be interesting to look at the actual content of the two main arguments here, stripped of their high dungeon and questionable claims:

Essentially, these are both attempts at painting blame as an all or nothing affair, which conveniently ignore the point of the OP- evaluating the rightness of PZ's actions, apart from those of the RCC, Donahoe, or random believers in the sanctity of baked goods.

On the one hand, we have the 'keys in the cracker lock' argument “if entity A is giving something away, even though it is clearly being done with the expressed intent that it be given to people who meet and agree to condition C, person B is entirely in his rights to also take that thing unless A lock's it away, requires signed contracts, and enacts a double-secret code word and handshake known only to the initiates in order to enforce C. Open doors? Allowing members of the public in? Well, then, it's a free-for-all! Their problem. Also- they're bad people if they get mad. And inconsistent as well”

An interesting concept, to be sure- although I quail to think what wide spread adoption of such a position would do to open-bar receptions, which are about the only thing I can stand at most weddings.

On the other hand, somehow, we also have the competing “I can wear what I want to” argument. (Which I personally agree with generally in the case of rape, although I fail to see any relevance to the matter at hand,) A line of reasoning which says that, '”just because person A puts something on display to the general public, or even gives it away freely to person or persons meeting some set of criterion- let's call it C- they have an inviolate right not to have it taken by person who doesn't meet those criterion. Say, person B- who is entirely out of his right, and morally culpable if he does so.”

See what happens when you strip the arguments of all their strum and drang, zero-sum morality, and references to water-melon, short skirts, and EOE employment violations? You now have now have two, very lengthy, impassioned attempted defenses of PZ that are mutually exclusive.

On the other hand, one could look at the thing rationally and dispassionately, realizing that the situation being discussed involves neither Rosa Parks or Jody Foster in an academy award winning role. It is a minor blip on the cultural radar, most of the people running around claiming victimhood have spent equal amounts of time deliberately acting like asses, and it is possible for everyone involved in a spat to actually be in the wrong to varying degrees and on differing issues.

Trust me- same thing happens on COPS every week.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

ema

I have discovered that you are not only intent on misrepresenting my views on this forum, but you have now sought to misrepresent my views elsewhere

So, with that in mind, I remind you of the context.

I argued that if Person A puts Person C at risk of becoming the victim of a crime, that Person A has done something immoral.

For example, if I introduce somebody I know to be a serial killer to a neighbor that I wish to see dead then, even though I did not tell the serial killer to kill my neighbor, I would have done something immoral.

The case was brought up about a person who puts themselves at risk of being the victim of a crime - by wearing provocative clothing or taking a stand on a controversial issue and risk being assassinated.

I argued that it is not immoral for a person to put himself or herself at risk of being the victim of a crime because the person who is put at risk consents to the risk.

In other words, you cannot morally blame the woman who wears provocative clothing for putting herself at risk of a crime because she voluntarily assumed that risk.

Now, of you want to argue that we should blame the woman who wears provactive clothing, then be my guest. Because that is the position you would have to take if you disagree with the position I actually defended.

Now, you owe me a apology.

Kagehi said...

First off.. There are people that go around wearing "no" clothes too, and its only a *risk* to them when they do so in places where there are sick people willing to find flimsy post-action justifications for doing things too them. Post-action, because no one commits rape because of what someone else wears, unless **what they are wearing** is the trigger for their behavior, and that can be anything from a short skirt, to a burka, to a fracking clown suit, or it might be because they have blue eyes, brown hair and a bent nose. You are at risk of rape for **being** what ever that rapist obsesses over, even if its something as simple as being blond, or and complex as being 30-35, wearing a business suit, with a southern drawl, on a rainy day, in the wrong fracking neighborhood. The claims being made that someone wearing something presents some sort of risk that they "choose" is bullshit of the same grade as the moon landing being faked or space aliens abducting farmers to probe them. Not one single scrap of scientific evidence suggests that you are more likely to be raped in a short skirt than a long one, ***unless*** the rapist just happens to have that as one of his criteria. If he likes long skirts, then you are just as screwed.

As for the argument of theft.. Sigh.. Most people have already covered most of this. But lets try again anyway, with, what I hope is a better analogy. I am in a room with 50 people. I say, "I badly need a laptop." Most people listen to why, nod, tell me a desktop is better, etc. Two people though hear me and send me one via UPS. One of these people stole on two days earlier from a store, the other happened to stinking rich and accidentally ordered two of them from TigerDirect, so figured it wouldn't hurt him to give it to me. If I accept "one" persons, then I have received stolen property. All I did was suggest that I badly needed one. In the end, what matters isn't whether or not my *reason* for doing so was to post about something on a blog, or run a bot net. If the later, then whether or not what I do with it is illegal matters a "lot" with respect to what I mean by both "bot" and "net". If it means running bots for a game, networked so they can talk to each other, then not so much, even if it "sounds" illegal.

Whether or not what PZ did "sounds" illegal in some circles, and may be in some insane foreign countries, isn't relevant, only if its illegal *here*. Well, no one is arguing that what he did was anything other than childish, so the question comes down to two things - Receipt of stolen property, and knowledge that it was, or might be, stolen.

Well, now we have a real major problem. That you *think* someone in a groups of 50 people "may" have stolen a laptop doesn't means that "I" would expect that. If it was a recovery convention for ex thieves, you might have a point. If some of them had proven stupid in the past may even make me naive, but it doesn't "prove" that I knew or intended anyone to steal anything. Same with PZ. Naive, maybe, but that is far from "knowing", or, "expecting" that it was stolen.

So, we come to theft. And, here again, we have a problem. In my example, one of them was "stolen", but, without evidence, I have no idea that either of them was, or which one. All I have is two laptops. In the case of the crackers, you can't even prove that one "was" stolen, never mind which, if any, of them where. Worse, as many people have pointed out already, you can't even identify with certainty that *any* of them qualify as stolen, unless they where taken from the few places that "have" protested the act. This would be roughly the equivalent of, if the business one of my hypothetical laptops was taken from, they where giving them away are promotions, and the "theft" amounted to no more than someone walking in off the street, dressed appropriately, attending the business seminar, but ***no one*** bothering to check ID, to determine if they should have been in there. I don't give a frack if they posted a sign outside saying, "Meeting for attendees of Blah.", or it was sent out in secret memos and emails. Unless they check the people's IDs, or they figure out, while they where there, that they didn't belong *and* have them expelled, they don't have a leg to stand on in claiming that someone they **allowed** into the meeting should be called a thief for taking something they where given away to those attending.

Basically, your assertions about PZ's actions come down to assuming he is guilty of inciting something he, at worst, might, if less naive, have predicted, from a person that *may* have committed such and act, with the result of him receiving what "could have been" stolen property, of such a nature that you can't even identify *if* it was stolen, and which, as has already been established, can't be proven to have "been" stolen by any legal or ethical definition, without knowing a) the intent of the alleged thief, b) which one he sent PZ, c) when they obtained it, d) under what circumstances, or e) from who and/or where.

In other words, you have a vague accusation of complicity, or incitement, of something you can't even show *any* evidence implying was, always is, or happened to be, in any specific case, what took place. Since, unlike my laptop example, you can't even bloody provide serial numbers to trace, even if the circumstances I gave wouldn't have effectively negated the *entire* claim, due to *greater* negligence on the part of the party supposedly stolen from, who wouldn't be able to "prove" that they thief really stole anything, instead of just getting damn lucky that the company was run by idiots.

I mean, do I have this right? Because, if not, then I must have missed some key issue in the ranting about how it was theft, even if it wasn't, or at least incitement, even if it wasn't intended to be, etc.

Kagehi said...

Sorry Alonzo Fyfe, but I read it the same way he did, and I have and had no "intent" to misrepresent what you stated. At best, your statement was ambiguous enough that it could be, and was, **badly** misconstrued. At worst, you might be accused of back peddling after posting something stupid. I will give you the benefit of the doubt that no one, including the blog owner, will give PZ, and presume that your "intent" was something other than what you *seemed* to be implying, given the ambiguity of what you wrote.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Dave W.

Once again, you are assuming that the observers of Communion constitute a monolithic "Person P" who would all have the same opinion on the matter.

AS far as I can tell, there is only one person to ask . . . the Catholic Church. Specific priests are agents of the church with no permission to violate Church policy. It does not matter how careless the local priest becomes. What matters is what policy the owner of the property establishes for its transfer.

Tep

Still, my main point was that it is inappropriate to view Myers' action as an equivalent moral wrong to the actions of the Catholic establishment and for that matter almost any religious hierarchy. Myers should apologize, but these guys have a whole lot more to apologize for.

This is an understatement. This is also why I felt it necessary to post the Myers article with a link to the Donahue article - to make it clear that this is not a case of "Myers is wrong and Donahue is right." Rather, it is a case of "Myers is wrong, but Donahue is so much more wrong."

anonymous

[F]raud and theft are distinct. Fraud involves deceit, where theft involves depriving another person of something.

Fraud involves using deceipt to deprive another person of something.

As for this specific argument, if an employer says, "I will give you this job under the condition that you are not a Jew", and you say "Okay", are you being unethical if you happen to be Jewish? The employer is discriminating based on religion (or ethnic origin). Replace "a Jew" with "atheist", and you have the current situation.

Employment is a special case because of it is essential to survival. You can also make the case for the selling of food.

If a bowling league only offers prizes to bowlers, this is not discrimination.

Dave W. said...

If we're going to look to the Roman Catholic Church for its policies, then we must also consider that it claims to derive its authority to make policy from God. So in effect, you're now saying that PZ Myers obtaining a wafer is stealing because some human claims that God says it's His wafer. How much weight must we give to fictional entities under your ethics? [wink, wink]

Anon Ymous said...

I'd like to second Kagehi's second post (not sure I followed all of the first one well enough to second it lol).

I was all ready to write a really biting, nasty response to Mr Fyfe's indignant response to Stephanie Zvan asking for clarification on whether Fyfe had actually said what it looked like he'd said (that a woman wearing a short skirt was consenting to the risk of getting raped).

After reading the whole conversation, I don't think I can do much better than Kagehi - Mr Fyfe, either you said something unclear, and then got narky at people for not understanding you, or else you said something dumb, then backpeddalled while getting narky to try to cover your whoopsie.

Personally, I think you owe Stephanie Zvan an apology for accusing her of reading into your words exactly what you wanted to see... from a third person's perspective, that would appear to be exactly what you yourself were doing when you wrote that.

[Post Script:

What S.Z. actually wrote:

"Did you really--really--just say that a woman who wears a short skirt somewhere is consenting to possibly being raped?"

She was asking a question. And she kept the word "possibly" in there, which is more or less equivalent to the word Mr Fyfe used - "risk".

Mr Fyfe's response:

"I am getting the impression that you are eager to create whatever you may need to twist my claims into something you can criticize."

When you are unclear, and you are asked for clarification, I do not believe that it is fair or decent to accuse the person asking you what you meant of twisting your claims.

Gah, Kagehi said it so much better... I'm going to leave you all alone, now... :P]

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Anon Ymous

I was all ready to write a really biting, nasty response to Mr Fyfe's indignant response to Stephanie Zvan asking for clarification on whether Fyfe had actually said what it looked like he'd said (that a woman wearing a short skirt was consenting to the risk of getting raped).

What I wrote was clear in the context in which it was written.

It only becomes unclear when a careless reader lifts it out of that context and then falsely asserts that it was found in the context of blaming women for being raped.

To say that a writer is morally responsible for the fact that somebody else distorted his work is to say that writing is always an immoral activity. Words get their meaning from their context and it is impossible for a person to write anything or to carry on any discussion that will not contain elements whose meaning changes in a different context.

For this reason, there is no option but for the burden of the responsibility to be on the reader to understand a statement in that context.

The same is true of my statement, ""I am getting the impression that you are eager to create whatever you may need to twist my claims into something you can criticize."

You took THAT out of the context that this was the THIRD comment that Stephanie had made in this blog, every one of them showing a disposition to twist what I had written.

It was "strike three". Clearly, no matter what further response I gave, she was going to distort its meaning. To say that a writer must only write things that others can to distort is to put an impossible demand on the writer.

Clearly, there was nothing that I could write in response to her "requests for clarification" that she was not going to distort.

And you say I owe her an apology?

Craig C Clarke said...

I have NEVER heard the word "score" used as a synonym for steal. "I scored some tickets to tonight's game," etc. is the sort of context I've heard it used in.

Or, back in my drug-taking days, people might "score" some dope, meaning they found a source to buy some from.

I'm not saying it has never been used to mean steal, just that I, as a typical american, can't recall ever having heard it used that way... so I think to suggest that it's somehow a prevalent or even predominant meaning of the word is really deliberately stretching things.

Craig C Clarke said...

Oh, and a woman creates the risk of being raped by wearing something revealing?

By that logic, it could also be said that a woman creates the risk of being raped by being a woman.

That's just insane. You need to change the title of your blog.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

craig c clark

Oh, and a woman creates the risk of being raped by wearing something revealing? That's just insane.

Your statement here makes as much sense as that of someone who hears somebody say, "If a nuclear bomb goes off next door, then we are all dead," and answering, "Oh, a nuclear bomb has gone off next door? That's just insane."

Anonymous said...

Let's take a look at another one of the items in that bin which has been largely ignored. It's a pretty safe bet that the publishers of that particular Koran intended it to be read, rather than torn up. In fact, I suspect it is quite likely that if you went up to the publishers and told them that you wanted a Koran for the specific purpose of desecrating it, then they would refuse to sell it. Was PZ (or whoever acquired it for him) therefore committing theft by, presumably, going into a bookshop and handing over his money without telling the seller what he intended to do?

I'm sorry, but I simply don't buy your argument. As far as I'm concerned, once you hand something over to another person it becomes their property and it's up to them what they do with it, you don't get to retroactively decide that you didn't actually give it away in the first place.

Tep said...

...once you hand something over to another person it becomes their property and it's up to them what they do with it, you don't get to retroactively decide that you didn't actually give it away in the first place.

In that case, may I borrow your car?

The transaction in a bookstore is not exactly equivalent to participating in a religious ritual, now is it?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Anonymous

Let's take a look at another one of the items in that bin which has been largely ignored. It's a pretty safe bet that the publishers of that particular Koran intended it to be read, rather than torn up.

It does not matter what the publishers intended to be the case.

What matters is what the publishers set up as the terms for transfer.

If you can walk into a bookstore and purchase a copy of the Koran off the shelf, then the terms for transfer are quite obvious - you pay the money, you get the book.

I'm sorry, but I simply don't buy your argument. As far as I'm concerned, once you hand something over to another person it becomes their property and it's up to them what they do with it.

If you turn over something to another person who lied to get you to turn it over to them then it is not their property.

If I lie to you . . . I say that I have a special package for you but you have to pay the $100 delivery charge, you pay the money, and I hand you an empty box, then the $100 is not my money.

If I know that a bookstore has a box of books that are intended to be donated to a local school library, I lie and say that I am from the school, and they hand me the books, the books do not become my property.

If a person lies and indicates through his actions that he is there to participate in the ritual called 'communion', the church hands him a consecrated communion wafer, and he does complete the ritual, then the wafer does not become his property.

Sheldon said...

Hey atheist blogosphere. This is unprecendented! Over 40 comments on a post with numerous responses by Alonzo.

Delaying him from moving on to new subjects. For what? For going against the grain in not celebrating the feats of the atheist hero PZ Myers.

Hey all, did you here there were hearings on impeaching President Bush last week over questions of torture and mis-leading the nation into war?

Just slightly more important than a Eucharist and a Koran thrown into the trash can with a bannana peal. Just slightly. :)

Eneasz said...

Hello Alonzo. As you know I've been a reader since almost day one, and love your blog and DU, so I have every reason to try to read something that is ambigious in the most charitable light possible. But I must admit, even I was confused by the skirt comment, and also had a moment of "Did he just say what I think he said....??" So I think it's not unreasonable to say that other commentors where NOT attempting to twist your words, they honestly were pretty confusing.

I also think a large part of the reason you're getting so much blowback is due to the signalling effect. In our lives so far, in 100% of the cases we heard something like "That slut was wearing a short skirt and deserved to be raped" it was made by a mysogonistic asshole who believes a women's role is to subservient to her husband and any women who shows independance deserves to be punished in such a manner. They are always racist and homophobic and authoritarian. So whenever someone says something that sounds similar it is a very strong signal of "This is the hated enemy!" It's a pretty effective signal too.

On rare occasions there can be a mistake. Someone may make a statement along the lines of "No woman should ever have to fear being raped, regardless of any circumstances. However given the state of the world currently, this is an honest fear, and based on what we know if you want to minimize the chances of this happening you can take steps X, Y, and Z." This sounds close enough to "Do X, Y, and Z or you are to blame for being raped" that it sets off all the same alarms. It is a case of mis-signaling, but it will draw the same reaction because that's how humans respond. Going into this sort of territory is a minefield and the subject has to be handled with extreme care due to the ultra-sensitivity people have developed to these signals. Personally I'd stay out of it entirely unless I was willing to dedicate a lot of energy to make sure I wasn't misunderstood.

Anyway, I think that's what happened here.

Also, now that I think of it, could the theft-blowback be a similar phenomenon? You say that the Myer's-theft is a minor footnote of poor behavior, and the Donahue-affair is a much more severe case of immoral action. Unfortunatly simply saying that doesn't have much emotional impact. What has more effect is number of posts and word-count dedicated to each infraction. Both are reliable indicators of energy spent on chastizing someone, and that normally translates to how strong one views the action as wrong. Right now I believe the Myers-theft has both a higher post-count and word-count than the Donahue-reaction and the Catholic-death-threats.

I realize this is an ethics blog, and you are interested in finding unique situations to anylize and dissect, especially ones that are directly applicable in the present. Unfortunatly most humans will assume (not without reason) that word-count is directly related to strength of condemnation and will view this as a strong rebuke of a minor act accompanied with a weak rebuke of death-threats, harrasement, intimidation, and flaming religious stupidity. :(

Anon Ymous said...

Thanks, Eneasz - once again, someone else manages better words for something I was struggling to find the right phrasing for.

I expect Alonzo doesn't know how long I've been lurking here, wanting to post positive responses to his articles and being unable to do so because I was on a work computer that declared the "add comments" page to be blocked due to "Global: chatrooms". I'm currently between jobs, so on my own computer and able to comment, and my first one is on something I disagree with him on. So I don't have your track record of being supportive - though I do in my own head.

The way I was going to phrase how confusing it was was related to basic intelligence. I'm not going to give a number, but I'm firmly above average in all aspects measured by the standard IQ test. I tend to feel that if someone phrases something in a way that *I* cannot understand them, even after re-reading and attempting to see it in a positive light, then they cannot legitimately condemn another person for misconstruing what they meant. Alonzo, I don't feel you owe an apology for your poor communications - as you say, anyone can be unclear, as I obviously was - but rather for your condemnation of a person for not understanding you correctly. Maybe an apology is too strong a word. Maybe a retraction of that condemnation based on the fact that other readers have read it in exactly the same way she did.

(for the record, I read her other posts, and didn't see them as badly as you did. I saw her as disagreeing with you, sure, but I didn't see her as intentionally misconstruing you. Maybe I'm too charitable. I'm not sure.)

Oh, and Eneasz - thank you for bringing up the whole "signalling" thing. I've read a bit about it on shakespearssister.blogspot.com (hope I spelled that right - should be a feminist's blog, anyway), but not enough to be fully conscious of when it happens. The only signalling that I am *consciously* aware of responding to are things like "pro-family", which make me hostile, even when the person doesn't really mean "anti-gay"... But you're right, talking about a woman creating risk *does* trigger the same emotional response that talking about her being to blame for her own rape does... even when it's explicitly in the context of her *not* being to blame for it.

[bit of context for myself: I'm female, gay, and the victim of an attempted rape in the past. He didn't finish it because I got a good kick in to his nether regions, but I was still condemned for needing to kick him - I'd said "no" several times, tried to run away, yet the fact that I was wearing a slightly low-cut top, and had smiled at him when introduced, were apparently enough that he wasn't to blame for thinking I wanted him, and didn't deserve to be kicked so hard... Yes, I probably react more to the signals you're talking about than I realise.]

Kaerion said...

Hell, I'm still confused, even after several attempts to clarify the comment(s) in question.

"In other words, you cannot morally blame the woman who wears provocative clothing for putting herself at risk of a crime because she voluntarily assumed that risk."

In reading this, I see (at least) three claims being made by you.

1. "The woman did not do something morally wrong by wearing provocative clothing."
- I agree.
2. "We can (should) not blame the woman for doing something wrong, even if she is the victim of a crime, since wearing provocative clothing is not wrong."
- Again, I couldn't agree more.
3. "The woman voluntarily assumed the risk of being raped, by wearing provocative clothing."
- And this is where my mind comes to a screeching halt, wondering how you reached that conclusion.

Your comments seem to suggest that you never said such a thing, but in looking at your own words, quoted above, "...because she voluntarily assumed that risk.", I just can't see any other way to possibly interpret it. Or is this nothing more than you not thinking the actual example you're using through enough?

So, having shown clearly that you did, in fact, say such a thing, I'm hoping we can get around to you explaining your words more clearly. I don't know if the people you've accused of intentionally misrepresenting you are in fact guilty of such a thing, but I can promise you that I am not; I'm hoping this will make you expend on your thoughts, enough that I'll understand them clearly.

Oh, and if you'd care to expand on the (more general) position that we can/should not morally blame someone for being the recipient of an action that they have voluntarily consented to, I'd very much appreciate that as well, since it seems (intuitively) wrong to me.

I'm a new reader of your blog, but I have to say that (so far, at least) I'm very much enjoying your writing, even when I disagree with you. This specific case withstanding, you have a very clear writing style that appeals to me, and I'm hoping I'll soon have time to go through your older material.

Anon Ymous said...

Had to do a bit of a search since I *had* misspelled the blog I was trying to plug. Here's a better url:

http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com /2004/10/feminism-101.html (no spaces)

And yes, I'm giving a shameless plug to a blog I haven't explored thoroughly, because hey, that's how I found this one in the first place (a url in a comments thread in a discussion I was interested in linking to someone who was able to discuss those issues a lot better... Think the linked post was the original Perspective on the Pledge.)

Basically, before I read that blog I'd never heard of signalling, I honestly didn't know why some people really hated the term "bitch" or "fag" so very much (because I'm young enough not to have seen a whole lot of the sexism, racism or homophobia that used to be a lot worse than it is today), and I honestly didn't know why it was okay to do a whole page of photos of Bush next to photos of chimpanzees with the same expressions on their faces, but it wasn't okay to have a T-shirt likening Obama to Curious George. Heck, I even thought the t-shirt was *pro* Obama...

For anyone who's curious, this is the post I saw first, the one about the curious george t-shirt:

http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/
2008/05/double-whammy.html (again, no spaces)

Kaerion: I think you're making the same mistake in interpretation that I made when I first read his comment... Thing is, I don't know how to put what he really means into non-inflammatory language, but here goes (and Alonzo, if I still don't get it, correct me - but don't condemn me for deliberately twisting your words, because I promise you I'm not).

Basically, when he says that the woman voluntarily assumes the risk of being raped, he does *not* mean she volunteers to get raped. He means that no one else forced her to do things that might incite a sociopath to do her harm - so there's no moral fault for the creation of risk.

In this case, the whole "accepting risk" thing is a bit hard to grasp because the risk is of a person harming you. An equivalent would be that you do no moral wrong to walk the streets of Johannesburg at nighttime, even though this act puts you at risk of being robbed. I think this is a better example, because it doesn't stir up the gut-reactions that the rape case does, about blaming the victims - there is no history of blaming the victims of robbery (that I know of), so it is a less inflammatory example to use when pointing out that there is no "third party" who forced the victim to do something that made them more likely to get victimized.

I hope I've made things clearer here, rather than more confusing.

:o)

Anonymous said...

If I may comment on the "All you can eat" metaphor that has been used a few times throughout the cracker debate, it seems to me that there is one crucial difference. When you go to an All you can eat restaurant, they do not give you all the food on the buffet, rather they give you a certain percentage of that food, albeit rather vaguely defined as "All you can eat". If I decide to carry some of the food out with me, then I am stealing by taking more than I was allotted - "All you can carry". As most people can carry a significantly larger amount than they can eat, a restaurant that allowed this would go through much more food than one that enforced the rules.

A closer analogy would be a cafe that allows customers to take sugar packets to put in their tea. Suppose I walk in there, buy a cup of tea, take my sugar packet, and then put the sugar in my pocket and drink the tea unsweetened. In this case I have clearly broken the rules about sugar and depending on the specifics you could also argue that I had lied and/or broken a promise. I'm not comfortable with describing it as theft though, for the simple reason that "honest" and "dishonest" customers take exactly the same amount from the cafe.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Eneasz, Anon Ymous

Regarding your recent comments, I wish to point out that there is a difference between explaining an action and justifying it. While I agree that every action can be explained, it is not the case that every action can be justified.

I also need to point out that my criticisms applied to two people; Stephanie Zvan and Ema.

While I had grown suspicious that Svan was going to give a negative interpretation to whatever comments I made, my harshest condemnation was aimed at Ema, whose insulting tone (as opposed to the tone of somebody asking for clarification) and decision to take her mistaken interpertation to another forum made her deserving of harsher criticism.

I am aware of the role that the signalling effect had. However, I also hold that we have an obligation to be aware of these tendencies and to try to avoid them if possible.

It should have taken only one sentence from me to refute the original accusation.

"I did not say X. I said not-X."

At this point, the responsible reader would go back and try to plug not-X into the original statement, look at it in context, and find an interpretation where not-X makes sense. If she cannot do so, she can come back and say, "I tried plugging not-X into your original statement, and I still don't get it. Help me out here."

Or, one can use Ema's response.

"You said X. I know you said X. And, furthermore, you are a filty liar for denying that you said X, and I am going to tell everybody I know that you are somebody who believes X!"

That's the point at which I responded, "Ema, here is how not-X fits into the context of the original discussion. Now, you owe me an apology."

Perhaps it was missed that my comment where I asked for an apology was addressed to Ema, not Stephanie. And it was not for misinterpreting my original statement. It was for calling me a liar when I said that they had misinterpreted what I had written, and for going elsewhere to tell others about the so-called ethical atheist who thinks that women who put them selves at rape consent to being raped.

Emu Sam said...

The idea that we should just ASK seemed reasonable to me, so I looked up who the Catholic Church is willing should receive communion.

From http://www.catholic.com/library/Who_Can_Receive_Communion.asp :
The Church sets out specific guidelines regarding how we should prepare ourselves to receive the Lord’s body and blood in Communion. To receive Communion worthily, you must be in a state of grace, have made a good confession since your last mortal sin, believe in transubstantiation, observe the Eucharistic fast, and, finally, not be under an ecclesiastical censure such as excommunication.

However, I have received communion. According to this it was a mistake; I thought I was just supposed to follow the person in front of me and had no notion that you had to be Catholic, or indeed that I was going to be expected to drink wine at the front.

Morally speaking, if I make a mistake, I am expected to correct the mistake, and make ammends for any inconvenience anyone should suffer as a result of my mistake. Which probably means I should go to a Catholic Church again some day and make a donation equivalent to the value of the cracker, plus the value of the priest's time used to bless the cracker, plus the value of sitting in the church in order to make the donation, plus interest.

To those who are arguing that the Catholic Church has show itself not to care: in the current instance (of PZ Myers's proposed 'score'), it is saying that it most definitely DOES care - or at least Bill Donohue is saying that, and some Catholics agree with him.

To the matter of the defrocked Catholic priest blessing the wafer, Wikipedia says this: A dismissed priest is forbidden to exercise ministerial functions. So that would probably be fraud again.

In the matter of a sympathetic, but more current, priest there are probably similar rules about what can be done with the crackers, and not following them would similarly be fraud or embezzlement. Even if the priest was not currently emplayed at a church and bought the wafers with their own money, there are probably oaths the priest takes with relevence on the matter or following doctrine would be part of the price of receiving priestly training.

The ridiculousness of it has no impact on the morality.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Anonymous

We can continue to dream up examples and counter-examples.

For example, perhaps we should view the taking of a communion wafer like taking a private art class. The teacher says, "You can have whatever materials you need to complete this project." If you abandon the project, you abandon all unused materials as well.

But the main principle remains the same.

You do not get to decide when and how I distribute my property - no matter how clever the story is. I get to decide. It is, after all, my property. If I say, "I will give you a quarter if you hop on one foot for an hour while singing 'Peter Cottontail' - then those are the conditions under which you get the quarter. If I say that you get a communion cracker only as a participant in the ritual of Communion, then those are the conditions for getting a communion cracker.

The owner of the property gets to decide, and it does not matter how absurd his decision is, it is still his property.

Jim Lippard said...

Alonzo: You wrote: "In this type of case, the victim of the crime and the person who may have caused the crime are the same person. From which we may assume that the person harmed consented to the risk.

The same is true of the person who stands up for a cause and gets himself shot."

This is grossly incorrect. The victim did NOT cause these harms, even if they recognized and accepted the risk.

I recognize that I have a risk of theft in my neighborhood, and I take precautions to prevent it. If I choose not to lock my door and get robbed, this may affect my ability to be compensated on my insurance policy, but it does not mean that I consented to be robbed or that I caused the crime. My action may have made the crime easier, just as my choice of neighborhood may make me a target, but I am most certainly not the proximate cause in either a legal or a moral sense.

You seem to agree with this in a later comment where you write that "There is no principle of morality that says that it is more permissible to shoplift from a store that does not have security cameras than it is to shoplift from a store that does. There is no principle of morality that says that it is less of a theft to take a car with the keys in the ignition than to take a car without keys in the ignition."

This seems completely at odds with what I quote from you above.

You also wrote: "The Catholic Church, on the other hand, did not consent to the risk of having their property taken from them. In fact, they were quite vocal in their non-consent."

They did and do accept the *risk* that some communion recipients may not consume the host in virtue of the fact that they do not implement measures to ensure that it is consumed or to verify that recipients are Catholics in good standing. That doesn't mean that they *consent* for that to happen.

The real question is whether they have any moral right to insist that those to whom they provide wafers must consume them, in the absence of an explicit agreement and consent of both parties, merely on the basis of custom or tradition. If I'm handing out big foam fingers to patrons of a basketball game on the assumption that everyone who receives one will wave it wildly in the air at the game, and this is also the expectation of most of the recipients, I don't have a right to complain if one of the recipients isn't aware of this tradition, takes the foam finger, and instead of waving it wildly at the game, decides to compress it into a ball, put it into their pocket, and take it home and use it to clean up a spilled drink.

Those with a Protestant rather than Catholic background who consider communion to be purely symbolic could conceivably take a host similar to the way Webster Cook did, in order to show one to a friend and compare to their own. I had a Protestant upbringing but my family then started attending a Franciscan church, so I've had both Protestant and Catholic communion as a child, and the latter occurred in circumstances where I had not been confirmed or baptized as a Catholic, had not gone to confession, and had no idea about Catholic notions of transsubstantiation--I thought it was purely symbolic. The thin round Catholic wafers were different from the tinier square hosts I had previously been familiar with. Under Catholic doctrine, I was not an authorized recipient of the host, but did I commit theft by deception in my ignorance?