Monday, January 31, 2011

Rick Gervais, Atheism, and Offense

I know it is a bit late, but I thought I would weigh in with a comment about Ricky Gervais' statement at the end of the Golden Globe ceremonies.

He closed the ceremonies with:

Thanks to everyone in the room for being good sports, thanks to NBC, thanks to Hollywood Foreign Press, thanks to you for watching at home, and thank you to God for making me an atheist, thank you.

Most of you readers would have already known this - it made quite a storm.

I've had a habit of criticizing atheists for making comments that are inappropriate in any number of ways, so I thought I should say something about this.

A lot of religious people have claimed to have been offended by this comment.

Do you know what you are saying - those of you who were offended? You are saying that every time an award winner gets up on the stage and thanks God or Jesus that we should be offended. You are saying not only that their thanks to God is offensive, but that you believe it to be offensive and, in spite of the fact, you are going to go ahead and do this or support those who do this anyway.

The argument seems to be, "Any time you even suggest that the God I believe in does not exist, you are demeaning my beliefs and insulting me. I am offended!

Of course, doesn't this imply that any time you say your god DOES exist that you are demeaning my beliefs and insulting me, and I should be offended

Of course it does.

There is no logically coherent sense to be made of the claim that Ricky Gervais' comment is - and ought to be considered to be - offensive, wrong, and worthy of condemnation that does not make the claims of those who thank Jesus or God offensive, wrong and worthy of condemnation. If one is to be condemned, so is the other.

If, on the other hand, the other is not to be condemned, then neither is the first.

It is a sad and arrogant position to adopt - to believe that nobody is permitted to suggest that you might have made a mistake.

I am not offended when somebody says that I have made a mistake. Sometimes they are right, and I am grateful for their input so that I can evaluate and improve on my own beliefs. Sometimes they are wrong, but I do not consider their mistake to be OFFENSIVE. Everybody is wrong about something. I am no more offended by their errors than I expect them to be offended by mine.

It is utterly nonsensical to live one's life every time somebody says something you disagree with. You are going to waste a huge amount of your life being offended and, what is worse, you are going to deprive yourself of a great many opportunities to learn.

This type of offense requires arrogance requires an unimagable amount of arrogance.

Oh, but it is so much fun - and so useful - to feign offense. Questions of right and wrong, questions of a fair standard that applies to everybody versus the double standard of the hypocrite aren't at all relevant when there is political hay to be made by feigning offense.

Egypt, Food Prices, Markets, and Governments

One of the objections I have often raised against free market systems has been highlight the fiction that it allocates resources towards its more valued use.

Speaking in terms of desire fulfillment, we can direct resources towards uses that fulfill the most and strongest desires by putting them on the market and letting people bid for them. If one person is willing to spend $30 on something that another person is only willing to spend $20 on, then the $30 use will fulfill the more and stronger desires than the $20 use.

That is the theory anyway.

Unfortunately, it only works out that way when the two people are equally wealthy. When some people have a lot more wealth then others, then those with wealth have the ability to bid resources away from those who are poor, even though the poor person has a more highly valued use for those resources.

I first spoke of this problem after hurricane Katrina where people were selling bottled water for particularly high prices. They were accused of "price gouging". Some people defended this practice using the argument above - claiming that the water was going to its more highly valued uses because those people were willing to pay more for it.

I refuted that argument by using an example of two people - one person who only has $20 and who wants a bottle of water to give to her sick (and dehydrated) child. Another person wants that bottle of water to shampoo her pet poodle. In this case, the wealthy person only needs to bid $21 for the bottle of water and it is hers. Yet, it is clearly not the case that this is the use that would fulfill the most and strongest desires.

One example of this is that, as people get wealthier, they tend to eat more meat. The production of meat takes grain. It takes, on average, 7 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat. This is quite comparable to the person above bidding up the price of water so that she can shampoo her dog. They are bidding the grain needed to feed the animals off of the tables of people who need the grain to survive.

Another example of this involves the production of ethanol. Like the production of meat, ethanol purchasers are buying grain - bidding it away from people who otherwise would have used it to eat. Again, rich people bid a resource away from poor people on the open market, even though the poor people would have used it to fulfill more and stronger desires.

In the latter case, we also have examples of government wealth-transfer systems that, for all practical purposes, tax the poor in order to provide benefits to the rich. The production of ethanol is being subsidized. So, we not only have rich people bidding the food away from poor people, but we have rich people using the government to force the transfer of food from those who would use it to eat to those who would use it to fuel their toys.

The current riots in Egypt and elsewhere in the middle east are substantially grounded on rising food prices. Some of these rising prices are caused by droughts and/or floods in various parts of the world where food is grown - Russia, Ukraine, Argentina, and Australia. Yet, another substantial part of the cause is that the rich people are bidding up the price of food so that they can eat more meat and have fuel for their toys.

(See: Rising Food Prices Can Topple Governments, Too)

Even the weather-related causes of the food shortage may be attributable in part to climate change - which results from the burning of fossile fuels - which is something that serves the interests of wealthy people more than poor people (who have a very low carbon footprint). In this case, it is people who have money saying, "We are going to engage in activities that will destroy your fields and lead you to starvation without a thought of compensation for your loss."

The reason we in America and other developed countries are not seeing much of a change in our food prices is because we pay very little for food. Look at your grocery bill next time you go shopping and realize that what you have really bought with that money is a pretty package and advertising, The food is a small fraction of your overall bill.

(People who do not want to spend a substantial portion of their annual income on pretty food containers, advertising can take steps to remove these from their food costs. But, if this is what you like to spend your hard-earned money on, that's up to you.)

To the degree that this fuels the riots (and, certainly, it is not the only objection to the governments of Egypt and Tunisia), I do not know what the protesters are going to gain even if they win. Removing Egyptian "President" Mubarik will not end the droughts. It will not stop the practice whereby those who can afford to eat meat bid grains away from those who cannot. It will not end the free market demand for ethanol, nor will it likely end the forced transfer of wealth by government from those who can barely afford corn as food to those who can afford corn as fuel.

What we need to do is to take steps to make sure that food goes to those who need it to eat first, and to those who want it for something less valuable second, even when the latter can afford to bid the food away from the former on the open market, and even when the latter have the ability to use government to force food transfers from the poor to the rich.

Friday, January 28, 2011


I recently argued that government regulatory agencies will almost. Inevitably become yet another tool that the regulated industry will use. To its advantage, it would seem like deregulation would be a good thing.


Actually, it depends on what you mean by 'deregulation'. There are two possible meanings - and some very strong incentives on the part of some individuals and companies to confuse the two. Confusing them effectively means gaining the right to maim and kill people or to destroy their property with impunity.

when you get right down to it, a system of private property is a system of rules and regulations.

In the purist of capitalist system, I'm not permitted to acquire your money by pulling a gun on you and offering you a market trade - if you give me your money, then I will not shoot you.

That is to say, there would be "regulations" in place that state that the legitimate methods I may employ to gain ownership of the money in your pockets does not include this option. My legitimate transactions must fall within the boundaries prescribed by a set of rules.

To see that "free markets" embody a set of regulations, ask yourself if we going to remove regulations on armed robbery. Are we going to deregulate the child sex industry? Are we going to use the market to regulate the hit-man industry? Are we going to permit government interference in the buying and selling of slaves?

Because "free markets" represent a set of regulations, if there is something that the free market requires that I would like to get rid of, I can easily form my argument against it as a call for "deregulation". In fact, in our current culture there is a whole set of mindless parrots - and at least one cable news network - likely to take up my call and to spread this demand for "deregulation" far and wide.

If you take a serious look at many (though certainly not all and perhaps not most) calls for deregulation, they are calls to remove prohibitions that are very much like prohibitions against slavery and the use of hit-men. For example, they include prohibitions against poisoning people and against activities that tend to cause injury to people or damage to private property. In effect, certain businesses arguing for de-regulation are very much arguing for legal permission to engage in actions that are harmful to others.

C'mon, do you know how much it will cost us NOT to kill people? This is bad for business. We will no longer be competitive. You have to let us kill people when it is profitable or we're going to have to start laying off employees - or moving our business overseas where the governments are more than happy to let us kill people for a share of the profits.

Another cry I commonly hears among supporters of "deregulation" is that we should let the market take the place of regulations. Rather than allow the government to make these decisions, we should let the people vote with their pocket book. "If you don't like what a company is doing, then, instead of turning to the government to regulate them and thus force your preferences on everybody else, you should simply refuse to buy their products."

Let's see how this type of argument works out.

We should not outlaw the use of paid assassins by private businesses. We should let the market decide these things. If you don't like the fact that a company is using paid assassins, then you are free to boycott the company. If enough people do this, then the market will favor companies that do not use paid assassins over those that continue to use them. If there isn't enough protest to force companies to give up the use of paid assassins, then it must not be all that important to people. Instead, what you have is a group of liberal cry-babies who think that the corporate use of paid assassins is just bad and they are running to the government to solve the problem. But the government does not solve these types of problems. It only makes them worse. Besides, it's un-American.

We can make the same argument with respect to slavery.

If you are opposed to the use of slaves in the production of cotton, you should not go to the government and seek to impose your interests on others. You should go to the market and simply buy products made from 'slave-free cotton.' Market forces will then push businesses to either switch to slave-free cotton production or go out of business.

Yep, that works.

Advocates of deregulation often complain about the simple scope of regulations. The set of books holding these regulations goes on for volume after volume. No one person can know them all.

I would like to see somebody who uses this argument present me with the codified rules of just a portion of the "free market" alternative to these regulations. I would like to see them write out the rules governing "consent", for example, or of "fraud", or the justification and limits for judicial adjudication of disputes, that does not take up volumes of text without using the trick of using vague and ill-defined generalities.

If there attempt contained any specifics at all, I would further challenge that he could not find even one person who would agree to all of them. Somebody will be saying, "No, that's not fraud. That's perfectly acceptable." Meaning that there are going to be disputes over exactly what this code says - and what it should say.

Once this code gets out into the public and starts to get used, we will have organizations, companies, and individuals motivated by self-interest to prefer certain interpretations over others - and to prefer interpretations that others have reason to oppose. They will no-doubt immediately get to work muddying the waters arguing for their special interpretations.

We are constantly taught that we live in a world where we face a choice either to have "regulation" or "no regulation". In fact, this is not true. The real choice is between "regulation of type A" versus "regulation of type B".

Deregulation - the removal of regulation - isn't actually one of the options.


Regulatory agencies will quite often become a tool of the very people they regulate. They will use the agency to add another source of revenue to their bottom line. Specifically, it will allow them go make money not only by selling goods and services on the open market, but by the use of government force to take it from others.

The simple reason for this is that the regulators will have the full and undivided attention of those who they have the power to regulate, and will be ignored by everybody else.

Let's say you and I are a part of a community of 100,000 people. I'm doing something that you and others don't like, so you appoint somebody to watch over me and regulate my activities.

Five years from now, you and 99,950 other people won't even be able to remember that regulator's name. You'll have some vague idea that his job is to watch over me, but that's it. You'll be off doing other things. Of the rest, half of them work for me in the Department of Regulation Compliance and Lobbying.

Meanwhile, I – or some particularly likable lobbyist type that I have hired - will be talking to this regulator on a daily basis. I will know his likes and dislikes. I will know his family and their likes and dislikes. We'll go to dinner. I’ll send him a card when his kid gets sick. I'll invite him out to a ball game or two.

I won't buy the tickets - that will look bad. However, this regulator is a human being and values more than tickets. He values company, praise, good friends, a sense that he is accomplishing something.

You're ignoring him. You don't even know his name. He's not going to get any of that from you.

What I might try to do, since I know the regulator quite well, is show support for some of his interest. Is he interested in promoting medical research on diabetes? Well, my company can make a $25,000 contribution to that particular cause. Will we make the same contribution next year? Well, that depends on how profitable we are next year.

I'm not going to say, "Adopt this regulation or adopt that interpretation of the other regulation to keep the money going."

I won't have to.

This process doesn’t even require the conscious thought that my contributions to this cause is tied to his decisions on regulation. He will FEEL the relationship, even if he doesn’t consciously think of it. The idea of doing something that would threaten those contributions will make him FEEL uneasy. If he is like most of us, he will use these feelings to weigh the evidence for and against the regulation. From this, his feelings will convince him that the regulations are a bad idea. He will honestly believe this – because it feels better to believe this than to believe the alternative.

Seriously, when it comes to beliefs, everybody, to some extent, evaluates their beliefs by 'feeling' whether or not the claims are true or false. This is not to say that they fail to base their beliefs on the evidence. Rather, this is something that they take to be evidence. "Intuition", "Gut feeling", "Divine revelation", "Faith", whatever you want to call it - these are beliefs that people adopt because it feels good to adopt them.

It is possible to influence what other people believe - what they actually think is true and false - by influencing what they want to believe. If you can make certain ideas feel uncomfortable, you can make people believe they are false. If you make them feel right, you can make people believe they are true.

The regulator is going to act so as to fulfill his own desires, given his beliefs. Every intentional action that the regulator performs is the act that best fulfills the agent’s desires, given his beliefs. One of those desires will be a desire to serve the public good. He will have an aversion to breaking the rules and a desire to keep promises. Still, he will act to fulfill all of his desires given his beliefs.

Knowing this, I can manipulate which option best fulfills the most and strongest of those desires.

I will also be able to heavily influence the flow of information relevant to the regulator’s decisions. I will have a staff of people collecting “data” and presenting it to the regulatory agency so that they can make an “informed” decision.

I am not going to do anything that would be called a lie in court. I will simply present information to the regulators the way the energy industry presents information to the public on global warming. I will offer them an interpretation, muddy the waters as much as I can, and hire the best speakers and public relations firms to put my ideas in the best packaging.

It pays for me to do these things.

You are not even going to know that the regulation is being considered, let alone put any effort into providing data relevant to that decision. If you do hear about it, it will be 2 minutes worth of information on a nightly news broadcast. One minute of that will come from my office because the news organization is going to try to live up to its obligation to “present both sides”.

If that is not enough, I have a list of reporters and talk-show hosts that will accept and repeat whatever I send them, and a few million dollars in the advertising budget, and the same marketing and packaging department that I mentioned above to make sure that the material is presented in a way that is “convincing”.

Oh, we can’t forget the fact that I have a vice-president’s position that comes with a corner office and stock options waiting for the regulator when he leaves public office. It’s going to pay a lot more than his government salary ever made. Furthermore, his experience as a regulator in the department of regulation means that he will be worth every penny to my company.

What is he going to get if he refuses the job offer? What else is he qualified to do that would justify as much money as I am willing to pay him for his expertise in regulations?

I will also be buying his friendship with other people who are still in the department of regulation – the fact that he knows them, he knows their families, he knows their likes and dislikes, he knows what charities they support and what churches they go to.

And if the regulator actually does intend to get in my way, then I still have the prospect of going to various politicians and seeing to it that he is replaced with somebody who is more cooperative at the first available opportunity. I have an edge with the politicians as well. If the politicians are disposed to push the regulatory agency in a direction that I find useful, then I have reason to give that politician a great deal of support. After all, his help is worth a great deal of money to me.

However, if the politican does not support me, he will get nothing. You are not going to base your vote on this one issue. You will not even know the politician's stand on this issue. You do not even know the name of the person responsible for this particular set of regulations, let alone what his policies will be. You can't be bothered.

And it's not because you are lazy, either. At the level at which I am talking about there are probably thousands upon thousands of regulators. You simply can't keep track of them all - even if you made it a full-time job. Neither can I. However, I can get to know those few who has the power to make decisions governing the flow of millions - perhaps billions - of dollars through my company's bank accounts.

If I can't pick the regulator, I can use the legislators to change the rules. You know . . . those hundreds of little amendments that get tacked onto bills that have nothing to do with the bills they are tacked onto. I get a friendly legislator to tack one of those onto a bill. Let's say, it's a bill expanding the rules for regulating sex offenders. This way, if any politician votes against the bill that has my amendment or any president vetoes the bill, we can say that he "voted against registering sex offenders, and I can get somebody more cooperative in the next election.

So, if you want the government to regulate Industry X, then you should ask whether it is a good idea to give the power to make and interpret those rules to Industry X. Because, a couple of years down the road, after the rest of us have moved on to other things, the industry that you have decided to regulate will be at work manipulating that body of regulations to its own advantage. And you simply will not have the time or the resources to prevent it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Need for Religion

PZ Myers has posted a response to his response to a criticism of new atheists.

(See: Stephen Asma Responds)

The response contains the following text.

A student told me recently of how his brother had been brutally stabbed to death five years ago. He and his whole family were utterly shattered by the loss. He told me that his mother would have been institutionalized if it were not for her belief that her son was in a better place now and that she would see him again.

As I see it, this responise yields four possible implications.

Choose the one you like.

(1) Statistically, atheists are more likely to need institutionalization as a result of a tragedy such as a loved one being stabbed than theists - because theists have a coping mechanism that atheists do not have. We should be able to investigate this implication empirically.

Let us assume that the empirical research shows no such benefit.

We are then left with these three options.

(2) If this student's mother had been atheist, she probably would not have needed institutionalization. She would have dealt with it the way atheists generally cope with such things. The claim that she could not have done so and needed religion is false.

(3) For every person who could not cope as an atheists and needs religion to deal with an issue such as this, there is somebody who cannot cope as a theist and needs atheism to cope with an issue such as this.

(4) Atheists are simply better than theists in that theists need to invent fictions and myths to avoid institutionalization, while atheists are just as able to avoid institutionalization without these crutches. This suggests that religion either is, or is a system of, a mental defect of some type.

I could have missed something. If so, please let me know.

However, with these options, I pick Option 2 as being the most likely.

Arguments Relevant to Cutting Spending

When it comes to balancing the federal budget, one of the possibilities that commonly come up is abolishing the NEA.

This is a nice, easy call for a certain politicians – particularly a Republican politician – to make. The National Endowment for the Arts is made up of them elitist liberal types and, clearly, represents a form of funding that the government can do without. Let’s not think that the Republicans are picking this example out of a pure interest in the welfare of our nation. They are picking an example that statistically means giving less money to people likely to vote for their opponents in the next election.

It is also the case that the NEA represents a minute portion of the federal budget and, as such, challenging it does not threaten a huge block of voters – and almost no voters who might otherwise vote Republican. We would have to abolish 1,000 organizations like the NEA to balance the budget.

However, because this is a topic that often makes it into the press and is a part of our national conversation, I think it might be useful to look at this subject as a way of assessing some of the types of arguments that are used.

These are argument types we will likely see a lot of as we move to balance the budget.

(1) The argument from Practical Political Use

Many people who argue for abolishing the National Endowment for the Arts have justified their position on the grounds that the NEA funds art that they do not approve of. In many cases, it is because the NEA funds ideas that they do not like.

This is not my objection.

My objection is that this constant threat hanging over the NEA if they should do something that does not serve the interests of various politicians guarantees that the NEA will continue to exist as an instrument for promoting the interests of various politicians.

The vast majority of the NEA funding goes for things that is ordinary - guaranteed not to raise anybody's eyebrows because it is conservative, traditional, unimaginative, and uninspired.

Every once in a while the NEA decides to go out on a limb and fund something new, and a set of politicians stand ready to pounce because the NEA is not serving their political interests.

One of the major reasons that we can expect politicians to defend these programs is because they are politically useful. Every dime of that $1.5 trillion deficit is money that a politician can hand over to a friend or use to make friends – including friends that make political contributions. The only time this does not matter is when the people one would give the money a legislator gets the money to will not support the legislator anyway.

(2) The Economic Benefit Argument

a. The Jobs Argument

The money spent on the NEA provides a genuine benefit to the economy by keeping people employed. If we were to abolish the NEA, it would put a lot of people out of work.

Generally, this is false. $150 million taken by people and given to the NEA to keep people employed is $150 million taken from somebody else who would have spent it keeping other people employed.

Let's say that you are about to spend $20,000 on a Honda. I come along with my computer hacking equipment, take the $10,000 out of your bank account, and I use it to buy me a Toyota.

Have I helped the economy?

Of course not.

What I have done is provided a benefit to the Toyota company that would have otherwise gone to the Honda company.

That's what happens when the government takes $150 million to give to the National Endowment for the Arts. It takes $150 million that would have gone to purchasing one set of goods and services and spent it instead on a different bundle of goods and services. One group of people benefit. Another group of people are made worse off.

b. The Assumption of No Other Funding

Of course, this assumes that the NEA cannot find money from other sources.

That is questionable. But what if it’s true?

If it is true, then the position of the NEA and its supporters boils down to, “You, the government, must force people to give us money – effectively by threatening to use violence (jail time for tax evasion) against those who do not give us money - because they will never give us money out of their own free will.”

That is a hard moral position to defend.

c. The Free Rider Defense

Now, there are some things that the government can spend money on that actually do help the economy. These are things that the market underfunds because they generate free riders or “positive externalities”. One example is national defense. It’s hard to defend 115 Main Street, Sometown USA without defending 117 Main Street, Sometown USA. So, if the person at 115 is paying for a missile defense system, 117 can sit back and enjoy the defense without paying. These types of projects tend to get under-funded. The result is that people are worse off. People can be made better off when the government helps to fund projects that have these types of free riders.

However, the National Endowment for the Arts is not one of those public goods. Like any other performer – a rock band, a dance troupe, a movie or television production, or a play – the performer can exclude those who do not pay. The challenge is to produce something that people are willing to pay for.

Without the free rider defense, if people are not willing to pay for it, then you are taking money from somebody and forcing them to take in return something worth less to them then the money they are giving up. You are taking $1.00 from somebody and giving him something that isn’t worth $1.00. That’s not good for the economy.

In fact, it is a net drain on the economy – to take money from people (by force) and give them something in return that is worth less than the money you take.

Even if we assume that an orchestra or an art museum provides a benefit for a community, it is still only a benefit for the community. What we have going on here is a forced wealth transfer scheme. Money is being taken from rural Americans against their will to subsidize urban Americans. The grocery store worker in New York gets to have an orchestra in his city by sending a portion of the bill to the grocery store clerk in Broadus, Montana.

At its best, this “benefit” argument argues for a tax on people within a community to support the arts in that community. It does not argue for a federal “National Endowment for the Arts”.

d. The Better Things to Cut Argument

Finally, let’s just say that the National Endowment for the Arts, over all, provides some benefit. From this, we can say, “Find something else to cut. Something less useful to the country.”

Well, even if there are $1.4 trillion dollars worth of government programs that are less useful to the country, the NEA still needs to get cut. The only way that the NEA deserves to be saved is if there are $1.5 trillion dollars worth of other programs that are less useful. Those other programs include school lunches, legal aid to the poor, college financial aid, courts and police, homeland security.

Give me a list of the $1.5 trillion that the government is spending money on that is less useful than the National Endowment for the Arts, and you can save the National Endowment for the Arts – assuming that this benefit argument is true (which it almost certainly is not). If you can’t do that, then it is time to let this government program go.

(3) The Low Cost Argument

Another argument that one can expect to hear is, "The NEA costs each taxpayer less than $1 per year".

Well, I guarantee that I can divide the entire $1.5 trillion dollar deficit into a set of programs that cost less than $1 per year. If this is a valid argument – a valid reason not to reduce or cut the funding for something, then absolutely nothing may legitimately be cut from the budget. Everything in the budget is a bundle of projects and products that cost the taxpayers less than $1.00.

Besides, it’s also false. If all taxpayers contributed equally to the government, then it will cost each taxpayer $1.00. However, the premise is false. People do not contribute equally into the tax pool. Some people contribute nothing, others contribute a great deal more. Some people will spend $0 in a year supporting the National Endowment for the Arts. Others will contribute $2.00, $3.00, or more.

Let’s say, I take $30,000 out of your savings account. Heck, this means that the average person in this country household has lost only one one-hundredth of a penny. That’s $0.0001 per American! I can perform 100 thefts like this and the average American would have only lost 1 cent! What’s the big deal? What you getting all worked up about?

While the claim about the average distribution of costs is not false – in these types of arguments it is being used into an attempt to mislead.


Okay, I have ignored the prospect of saving some of these programs by raising taxes. I have only talked about cutting spending.

However, the purpose of this article was not to discuss what programs to cut and what programs to eliminate to balance the budget. I meant this as a posting on the types of arguments one might encounter against cutting a program that are seriously flawed and, thus, have no place in making real-world decisions.

Those arguments should not ignore the fact that any program that is created becomes a tool of the politician to channel money from people he does not like into the pockets of people that he likes (or who he finds it convenient to like him). That is always its first purpose in a political system such as ours.

The fact that a government program employes people does not imply that it creates jobs - not if the money comes from somebody else who could have employed people somewhere else.

Also, it is not enough to argue that the program provides a benefit. It has to provide more of a benefit than other things that one can do with that money. If an investment makes 5% interest this is not a good enough reason to invest money in it - not if it means giving up an investment that would pay 15% interest.

Furthermore, many of these benefits are simply instances of telling people, "Either you will give me your money so that I can get something that I like or you will suffer the consequences." Those consequences are violent - they include arrest and imprisonment for tax evasion all carried out at the barrel of a gun.

And, "It's just a few pennies if you distribute the cost evenly among the whole population," would justify my taking your entire savings account - a few pennies at a time. You would not be able to protest any particular theft because "it is just a few pennies", but a few hundred thousand thefts of that type will add up to real money.

So, as the government begins to work on this project of trying to get our deficit under control, please keep in mind these arguments that people are bound to offer as to why their programs cannot be cut. It might be a good idea to refer to them, from time to time.

Or, we could borrow our country into bankruptcy and economic and political ruin. It’s not as if we have no options.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Understanding Science

Yesterday, I was treated to a headline in the Washington Post that said that National Science Test Scores Disappoint"

I am somewhat curious as to who is disappointed in these scores and why.

We all know that this group of people called "scientists" is a gang of people who have nothing positive to contribute to society. They do not do any good. Instead, they are all involved in a conspiracy to trick us into believing lies that will then inspire us to give them more money to produce "research" which, it will turn out, will simply be the next generation of lies.

And these lies do real harm.

Scientist are lying about global warming. This is a scam. A group of scientists have learned that a way to get funding is to "invent" some sort of crisis that needs to be studied, and then petition the government for billions of dollars in research grants in order to conduct the studying. Of course this research is going to support the crisis - saying otherwise will end the funding. If any scientists decide to disagree with these conclusions they are going to be run out of the industry because they are threatening the gravy train.

Given this, why would anybody want our children to understand science? Understanding science means understanding and accepting these bogus claims that are engineered to generate government funding. We should be glad that our children shun science.

Besides, we have a choice. We can have a moral and just society, or we can have a society filled with people who "understand" that humans evolved from more basic life forms over the course of more than three billion years of evolution. People who think that humans evolved are people who have no morality. They think we are nothing but animals, which means that we should act like animals.

Hitler and Stalin understood science.

Should we not be happy that our children are not following in the footsteps of Hitler and Stalin? Should we not be celebrating the fact that our children have decided not to understand science

It seems to me that these test scores are to be celebrated.

Fortunately, our country is filled with people who have taken it upon themselves to teach their children these facts about science and those who understand science - that understand science means being an evil conspirator involved in a scam that reports lies for the sake of getting funding - lies that are out to destroy the whole moral foundation of our society.

With the continuing efforts of these true Americans, we can hope - and we can well expect - that our children and their children will continue to give us "disappointing" scores in undertanding science.

The only people who are "disappointed" in our science test scores, it seems, are conspirators who are seeking to draw more and more innocent young minds into their scam.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Relating Religion and Immorality

In that last post I objected to the moral crime of spending other people's money without their consent ($14 trillion in debt passed to future generations) while, at the same time, trashing their property - including their agricultural land, killing and sickening many in the process.

I suggested that this makes us poor (temporal) neighbors.

I would like to note that neither of these moraal crimes have anything to do with scripture. People are not going to the Bible to justify the deficit, nor are they quoting scripture to justify the act of poisoning future generations and trashing their homes and property.

These moral crimes have perfectly secular roots.

Sure, there are religious people who deny that we can harm future generations because they deny that there will be any future generations to harm.

Repent! The end is near!


These people deny their victimization of others simply by denying the existence of those victims.

But they don't make up enough of the population to blame religion for these moral crimes. It doesn't justify the conclusion that "This is all the fault of religion and if we got rid of religion we would not have these problems."

Yes, we would.

Even of one were to put into scripture, "Thou shalt rob the accounts of thy children and thy children's children and destroy their property and their health and kill many so as to provide for thine own comfort and happiness," we would need to ask why people invented such a religion.

We would have to ask what will happen when they leave religion behind. What is to stop them from replacing one stupid rationalization for evil that claims the existence of God with another stupid rationalization that does not?

A lot of evil is being done in America in God's name. Homosexuals are denied marriage, children are trained in irrational stupidity, science classes fail to teach science because of troublemakers defending their myths, and the government instructs its citizens to think of those who do not trust in God or support a nation 'under God' as anti-American. This latter instruction effective bars atheists from public office.

In other parts of the world the evils done by those who claim scriptural justification are truly horrendous - competing with many of the most barbaric cultures of human history.

When you give people with a medieval mindset and morality access to weapons of mass destruction, you should expect huge doses of misery and suffering to follow.

However, this does not change the fact that there are great evils having nothing to do with religion or scripture.

Focusing too much on religion gives these other evils a free pass.

The (Moral) State of the Union

As an ethicist, I would have a hard time defending the practice of living off of somebody else's bank account without their consent while, at the same time, trashing their home.

That's America for you - or the America of 2011.

$14,000,000,000,000 in debt. That is $14 trillion in spending out of other people's bank account - the bank accounts of people who are, today, young children or not even born yet.

These are not taxes that we have decided to approve for ourselves. It is one thing for us to say that, as a nation, we agree to tax ourselves a huge amount of money and spend it on these government programs.

This is a decision to spend money on government programs - and to send the bill to somebody else. That "somebody else" did not give us permission to spend their money. We simply decided to send them a bill . . . like it or not . . . denying them the opportunity to enjoy the money they earned, because we already spent it.

In the State of the Union message, we will likely hear a lot about "investing" money in this or that project. Well, when a person who has a massive debt goes in for financial counseling, their advisor will tell them that the first "investment" they need to make is to pay off their debt. That gets them out from under the interest they have been paying, which in turn frees up income to pay off more debt, to get out from under even more interest.

Then there's the part about trashing our neighbor's home . . . our children's home . . . while we go about spending all of their money.

Environmental regulations are not regulations of the type that tell you what color you must paint your house and what insurance companies have to offer insurance for. They are regulations of the type that prohibit one neighbor from torching another neighbor's barn or spiking his drink with potassium cyanide. They are prohibitions against killing and poisoning other people and destroying their property.

People who oppose these regulations (at least those that have solid scientific support for the claim that the do cause death, illness, and the destruction of property) are simply demanding the "right" to pursue profits and personal gain over the bodies and destroyed homes of others.

There is solid evidence that the greenhouse gas emissions of today are going to do trillions of dollars worth of damage to the property of future generations. It's going to kill some of them off through the spread of disease and through heat stress. It's going to destroy their crops and flood their homes and businesses.

So, while we are sending a $14 trillion dollar bill to future generations in order to pay for what we enjoy, we are also going to do trillions of dollars worth of damage to their homes and, in the process, kill a few of them off for good measure.

That doesn't sound like the type of person I can recommend as a good neighbor - even a neighbor in time.

Well, that's America for you. That is the current state of the union, in moral terms.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Constructive Use of Time

I need to get back into the real world.

I have been wasting much of my time lately with trivial frivolities - empty wasting of time and opportunity in things that can't be defended as having real value.

Okay . . . Technically, the have real value. Value exists as a relationship between states of affairs and desires, and the things I have wasted time on fulfill my desires.

But that is about all they do. They certainly are not desires that other people have mmuch reason to promote. They are not desires that realize. States of affairs that tend to fulfill other desires.

Well, they are not desires that tend to thwart other desires either, fortunately. I have avoided vices such as drugs, alcohol, smoking, gambling - and I have sufficiently strong aversions tto doing harm through such things as violence and theft.

But the same can be said of a rock. It is not disposed to cause harrm either. Nor does it contribute much. It does not represent very high aspitations. It doesn't represent a very good role model.

So, what happens if your desires - those things all agents act so as to fulfill the most and strrongest of, given their beliefs - are not (as can be demonstrated) of much value?

See, desirism has a place for these types of situations. I can say, "Yes, I have a desire that P. And when I act, I act so as to fulfill the most and strongest of my desires, including this desire that P. But, gad, I have many and strong reason to be rid of this desire that P. Aand people generally, while they do not have good reason to condemn me so as to be rid of tthis desire that P, don't have any reason to supporrt it either. Furthermore, some desires that the do have reason to supporrt are desires that will invariably conflict with this desire that P."

A person can say all of this and realize that the world is such that it is all - all of it - objectively and knowably true. While there is room in that for errror, there is no room for mere opinion - no room for 'Here is another set of propositions in conflict with those above but equally true simply because they are believed,

When these claims aare true, they are objectively true. When false, they are objectively false.

So, we have a nice set of tools for looking at these situations in which one has desires that one has reason not to have. Do we have a set of tools for doing something about it?

Well, if praise and condemnation have some effect on molding desires, then self-praise and self-condemnation, and the related emotions of pride and shame, are among the tools that we can use to alter our own desires, just as we use them to mold the desires of others. It makes perfectly good sense, in a moment of reflection, for an agent to say, "I wish I was not interested in that over there. It's not a good interest. I'd be a better person if I did not have that interest."

This is one tool we have for molding our own interests, and for making ourselves better people than we might have otherwise been.

It's time to put away these foolish wastes of time. They're not doing me any good, and they're nothing that anybody else has any reason to see me interested in as well. And it's time to cultivate some better interests, and maybe accomplish a bit more than I would have otherwise accomplished.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Dr. Wakefield's "Deliberate Fraud"

So, when does Dr. Andrew Wakefield - and the lawyers who funded him - get arrested and put on trial?

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 5 (HealthDay News) -- An in-depth investigation just published in a prominent medical journal alleges that a decade-long effort to link childhood vaccinations with autism was really an elaborate hoax perpetuated by a British doctor who has since been banned from practicing medicine in that country.

Doctor Behind Study Linking Vaccine to Autism Accused of 'Deliberate Fraud'

These people, in their quest for money, probably killed orders of magnitude more people - mostly young children - than any mass murder working outside of government, and probably inflicted orders of magnitude more harm and suffering on children than any pedophile priest.

"We had a measles epidemic in Britain, a drop in immunization rates in [the United States]. I personally know of children who were brain-damaged as a consequence of their parents deferring immunization as a result of this concern," [said Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a child neurologist with Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, University Hospitals Case Medical Center, in Cleveland]. At the same time, he said, "[autism] research monies were diverted to disprove a hypothesis that was never proven [in the first place] rather than invested in exploring issues that would be of benefit to the public and to children with the condition."

All for money.

If mass murders and pedophile priests are due any amount of moral outrage, Whitfield and his co-conspirators appear to be due many times more.

Now, this should be handled ultimately by means of a trial - evidence presented before an impartial jury competent to determine if the evidence actually does support this conclusion.

If such a group determines that they are guilty, then the next step should be for the state to inflict punishment proportional to the crime.

I tend not to be in favor of the death penalty, and I will not make an exception in this case. I fear that a society that cheers and celebrates the killing of others will raise a portion of its population with their aversion to killing so weakened that they find it easier to kill others. I am safer in a society where people have such an aversion to killing that they are averse, even, to capital punishment.

But I am not averse to criminal punishment, and on that measure if the accusations against Wakefield and his accomplices can be proved in a court of law, a measure of punishment appropriate to people proved to be orders of magnitude more of a threat to children than the worst child rapist should follow.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


Hello. It's been a while.

I got caught up with other projects and, while I was working on them, did not have much time to come here and post. I would like to continue this blog, but it's going to have to continue on a somewhat different style as before – a style that will take a bit less time but hopefully still provide something of value.

So, let me get you caught up.

I have been working on a podcast with Luke Muehlhauser on Morality in the Real World. What happened there is that we came to a subject that we both felt we needed to do some studying up on - the question “What is a desire?”

We started to do some reading, which lead to some more reading (and writing). We are producing 10 episodes on the subject – a set of episodes we are calling "Season 2".

I suspect (but do not promise) that you'll start seeing them in late or early in February over at Common Sense Atheism.

At the same time, I have been pursuing another interest of mine – an interest in history and economics.

Unfortunately, we cannot randomly assign people to "cultures" – including study cultures and control cultures and carefully control for variables to gather data on which culture works best. Such a practice would not only be unethical, it’s actually impossible. The rigid controls put on each culture would itself have an impact on the culture. The best we can do is to study history and economics and try to come up with a set of theories that best explains those past events and uses those theories to predict the future results of our current policies.

It is . . . an imprecise way of proceeding.

Well, I’ve been listening to two podcasts related to these interests.

The History of Rome


And, of course, I continue to follow current events. It's interesting to do so as I go through the podcast episodes concerning the fall of Rome. It is interesting to study, and to try to figure out, the conditions that are required for a peaceful and prospering society, and the ways in which whole societies interest who have an interest in peace and prosperity can choose a course that leads them to oppression and violence.

It is interesting to note that America itself could disintegrate into warring factions. We could, ourselves, become a terror-ridden states in which social groups spend more time destroying and blowing up with other factions "accomplish" than we do building a secure life for ourselves and our children – and their children.

Muslim "Scholars" Promote Killing Those who Disagree

Pakistan — More than 500 Muslim scholars are praising the man suspected of killing a Pakistani governor because the politician opposed blasphemy laws that mandate death for those convicted of insulting Islam.

This quote, from an MSNBC article Muslim scholars praise killer of Pakistan governor concerns reaction to the assassination of Gov. Salman Taseer for the "crime" of saying that people should be able to offer up competing ideas to Islam without fear of being killed.

These people are not "scholars". They are 21st century barbarians who praise the use of violence against those who dare suggest that their beliefs are mistaken.

History tells us that barbarians can be poweful forces, capable of bringing down more civilized societies by force of numbers and willingness to inflict unrepentant harms.

However, force of numbers and a willignness to inflict unrepentant harms does not make one deserving of the name "scholar"

This is particularly true when we talk about freedom of ideas. How can one be a "scholar" and praise the slaughter of those who present competing ideas? This is the very antithesis of the "scholar". Scholars engage in scholarly debate. They take those whom they would say are guilty of blasphemy and ask, "Which of us can best defend our ideas by means of force of intellect, rather than force of arms."

These 500 Muslims mentioned - with their praise of violence - have declared themselves the enemies of anything that can be called "scholarly".