Monday, July 24, 2006

A Casual Little Chat

Greetings, reader.

Sit down. Relax. I promise, today, that I have nothing to tax your brain cells to any extent. Hume’s Ghost has been taxing my own enough these last few days, and they have decided to go on strike. They have forced me to grab a nice, cool drink, to sit down, and to relax, refusing to engage in any type of deep philosophical thought. You are welcome, then, to grab your own cool drink of preference and to join me.

My drink of preference, by the way, is Diet Dr. Pepper. I do not drink alcohol – partially because I like to keep my brain cells where they are, and partially because I have grown up with a healthy respect for the negative effects of any type of addiction. No drinking, smoking, the use of drugs, gambling, debt (other than a home loan), fornicating, none of that stuff.

I am amused by those who “preach” against these sins as if only a fear of God can keep a person away from them. Does one not think that a desire to remain healthy and to keep oneself out of poverty cannot serve as motivation enough to choose this type of lifestyle? I have one life. I am not inclined to see it end prematurely, or to spend it in the misery of poverty, if I can help it.

Oh, I did fall victim to the vice of chocolate, if you must know . . . a vice that requires many extra minutes on the exercise bike.

Yes, I know. I am bragging. And why not? I am happy with these choices. Relieved, actually, might be a better word – since I know that some of these things are traps that snare the unwary at a time in their life when they are less able to make rational and informed choices.

I dislike the tobacco companies, by the way. I called “public relations” the most evil legal occupation. The tobacco companies are a close competitor. The edge goes to “public relations” because they are the ones that keep the tobacco companies in business, keep people using their products, and keep government subsidies flowing into the industry. So, that business wears some of the moral taint of the tobacco industry.

Not to change the subject, but I did do a fair amount of reading today in the expectation that I will be writing a standard blog entry. Yet, as I read, I kept finding that the problems that I keep running into all eventually tie into a common point. I notice that there simply is not much respect in this culture for true belief.

See, I did not change the subject. The thing I dislike most about the “public relations” industry – and the tobacco industry – is the degree to which they have enriched themselves by engaging in campaigns of deception. We live in a culture that not only accepts lying, but embraces it as a vocation.

This “lack of respect for truth” actually has categories.

Category 1: Simple deception. A person knows that ‘P’ is false. Yet, he goes about asserting ‘P’ because it is profitable for him to do so. Or, sometimes, people lie not for profit, but for revenge. These are people who find value in doing harm to others and find lying a useful way to do this. It is better than using a knife or a gun because (a) it can inflict far more pain on the victim (if this is one’s goal), and (2) if done right, it is legal.

Glenn Greenwald provided me with an example of this in his review of John Dean’s book, Conservatives Without Conscience.

But this is just the most recent example that I have read about. I think that it is safe to say that there are senior people in the Bush Administration who like to do harm to others – particularly others who say or do things that the Bush Administration does not like to have said or done – and to inflict this harm legally through the skillful use of deception.

As I have argued several times in the past, there is the wrong of lying, and there is the wrong of “bearing false witness.” Lying is like murder; it has to be intentional. The person has act, knowing that his actions will communicate to others a proposition that he knows to be false. “Bearing false witness” is like “killing an innocent person.” It includes lying and murder respectively. However, just as it is possible to kill an innocent person through negligence and recklessness, it is possible to bear false witness through negligence and recklessness. A person who repeats gossip bears false witness through recklessness.

In fact, this is the second category of in which truth does not get its proper due that I find myself coming across far too often; intellectual negligence and intellectual recklessness. A person who is careless and puts his own well-being in danger (for example, by over-reaching when he his high on top of a ladder) can be said to reap what he sews. However, the person who is negligent or reckless in ways that make him a threat to others – such as the drunk driver or the camper who is careless with fire – commits a moral crime.

Intellectual recklessness kills and maims people – far more people than drunk drivers and the perpetrators of physical recklessness. In a comment to yesterday’s blog entry, Eric pointed me to an article on ABC News online entitled, “Defiant and Exhausted, Teens Refuse Cancer Treatments.” This article basically tells the story of one teen who refused conventional medical treatment and lived, and another who is trying to do the same thing.

The first part of the story is not unlike writing an article about somebody who jumped off of a 10-story building and lived in a way that seems to recommend it as something that other teens should try as well. There is absolutely nothing in this story that compares the survival rates for those who seek alternative treatment to those who seek conventional treatment. She only provides one case history – the story of Billy, who used alternative medicine and lived happily ever after.

The moral fault here, I would argue, rests not only with Laura Ownings, but with ABC News itself. The organization establishes the standards.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, during “Wish Week,” that one of the things I wished for was an Atheist Entertainment Network. This is one of the things I want that network for. I want it to be a network where I would read an article that actually gives the best scientific information available on issues such as this. I would like to have a network where I did not have to wade through this junk. (Also, as I said, I would like it to be a network that did not focus all of its time on the questions of whether God exists and whether the Bible contradicts itself. I would like it to be a network that takes those issues to be as settled as the question of whether matter is made up of atoms and the Earth orbits the Sun – items unworthy of further debate.)

The third category is simply intellectual laziness. There is a huge amount of information out there. One of my most sincere regrets is that I do not have the time to learn and study all of the things that interest me. Moral philosophy, decision theory, game theory, cognitive science, history, space science . . . any one topic takes an entire lifetime to study. Yet, I find a lot of people who think that the most interesting news item of the day was the fact that former “Survivor” winner Richard Hatch went to prison today.

I don’t really mind if somebody wants to be intellectually lazy. What I do mind is when somebody who is intellectually lazy and who has not researched an issue thinks that they know how to deal with the problem. I find it quite contemptible to spend one’s evenings watching sitcoms and reality shows, then to go out into the world and condemn President Bush for pursuing a course of action in Iraq that will not work. “How do you know this?” I ask.

I do not say things like, “We should pull out of Iraq,” or “We should stay in Iraq.” I do not say these things because there is no possible way that I can acquire enough information to issue an informed opinion on the matter.

I do have enough information to know that Bush can’t come up with the right answer either. Bush thinks with his gut. He thinks he already knows everything there is to know. He does not need to study. He does not need to consult experts. He only needs to consult his gut. His gut will tell him what to do. Only, his gut is not smart enough to tell him, “Ask people who have actually studied the issue and who can give you an informed decision, you idiot!”

So, if I could ask for just one thing from people, I would ask for a push for a bit more intellectual integrity. I would ask for more vocal condemnation and contempt directed at those who lie, those who bear false witness, those who are intellectually reckless or careless, and those who are intellectually lazy – that we can make this world better than it would otherwise be with a bit stronger commitment to truth.

Well, that’s the end of today’s rant.

Oh, and thanks for showing up. I don’t mention this nearly enough. I know you’re busy. I consider it an honor that you think that my words are worth a few minutes out of your day – time that I well know that you could be spending doing other things. So, I thank you. I really do appreciate it.


Anonymous said...

You're welcome.

The laziness is something that I'm guilty of more often than not - not because I am not informed, but because I am not informed enough. I haven't tried hard to research a lot of issues, though if they are important to me I feel compelled to speak.

An example of this would be the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Although I really have no experience directly with either nation, I've footed a large amount of residual effect, watching the conflict as it takes hold near me and fostering other conflicts. I've done a little research, read a dozen or so articles on the subject... ultimately resulting in little more than a survey of opinion, from which my own opinions are constructed. I've been fairly chewed out for my naievety on that particular issue.

I expect, as I adopt the scientific process more as a way of life (as a young student) that this laziness will become less of a habit.

Hume's Ghost said...

My head hurts, too.

Hume's Ghost said...

Yet, I find a lot of people who think that the most interesting news item of the day was the fact that former “Survivor” winner Richard Hatch went to prison today.

I thought it was Lindsay Lohan dropping her allegation that Paris Hilton hacked her blackberry.

Anonymous said...

I think you expect too much of people. I got to thinking about it, and I too got cought up in the shame of the wasted potential of humanity. But then I remembered that the average person has never been particularly bright or astute, and therefore never will be. People are pretty much animals, and the advancement of culture and society through extremely rational behavior and action is not a very animalistic practice.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


I would grant your point with one caveat.

If a person is not going to study an issue, then one should still have the integrity to say, "I am not studying that issue; therefore, I am not qualified to offer an informed opinion."

The person who does this would then be free to do as he or she pleases.