nazi-parade-brandenburg-gate

A modest moral objectivism

Featured image is an iconic photo of the Nazi parade through Brandenburg Gate.

Usually the passion with which I hold a position is directly proportional to how concrete the stakes are. Defending moral realism/objectivism is an exception to this. It’s incredibly abstract, but nothing spurs me to the barricades like someone saying morality is subjective. To further incriminate myself, I’ll admit at the outset that I’m not terribly well versed in the topic. So with this post I want to lay out some ideas about moral objectivism because I keep thinking about them. In part this will be a reference for myself to come back to as I learn more, but I also want to submit these ideas to criticism. I’ll start with a naïve kernel morality that takes objective moral truth for granted based on intuition. I’ll then tack on various serious qualifications to the naïve kernel that, I believe, preserve objectivism. I use the term objectivism instead of realism because I think some people understand realism to imply some kind of spooky objects in some Platonic realm that I’ll have no part of.

Skepticism and the burden of proof

I don’t think there’s a formal burden of proof in this debate. That is, there’s no strictly logical reason to start as a(n) (non)-objectivist and then resist persuasion by the other camp until your defenses are overrun. But in my case, I  begin as an objectivist based on some powerful intuitions. Intuition demands we be able to condemn certain beliefs and actions as evil. To name a few obvious ones: slavery, genocide, torture, and oppression as exemplified by the American Confederacy, Hitler’s Nazis, and various 20th century communist regimes. On a smaller scale, murder, rape, theft, and abuse without overriding justification are widely condemned as immoral actions. These provisional commitments are nearly universal across human societies, and I take this as a good reason to begin with the belief that these evaluations are true with a confidence similar to my confidence in the truth of complex scientific theories like quantum mechanics or biological evolution. Continue reading “A modest moral objectivism”

The Intersection at the End of the World

“The most quintessentially American band to have ever existed, Sam,” Dave began as something of a preamble, “and mind you I’ve no love for the word ‘quintessential’ thanks to an alarming overuse of it, was Creedence.”

“As in Clearwater Revival? Willy and the poor boys? The dudes with an alarming aversion to commonplace meteorological phenomena? Four white dudes from California are the most quintessential American band to have existed?” We were on foot at this point, having abandoned the pickup after bouncing the drive shaft clean out of it while merrily attempting to jump a fallen log, in the style of the Duke Boys. “I can’t wait to hear you justify this one.” Continue reading “The Intersection at the End of the World”

Edouard_Manet_-_Luncheon_on_the_Grass_-_Google_Art_Project

Coping With Contradiction

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

-Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself

Featured image is Luncheon on the Grass, by Edouard Manet.

Practices are organized around constitutive goods that we strive to articulate, however imperfectly. But how adept are we at this, by nature? Is there a natural harmony between theory and practice?

Not only do I suspect this is far too optimistic a framing of the relationship between theory and practice, I suspect it is too optimistic about the internal divisions of theory and practice themselves, considered separately. And I think it is precisely this sort of optimism that leads people to trample over the politics of truth without noticing what they’ve done.

Continue reading “Coping With Contradiction”

Joseph_Highmore_-_The_Angel_of_Mercy_-_Google_Art_Project

Social justice, mercy, and healing

Featured image is The Angel of Mercy, by Joseph Highmore, c. 1746.

A deeply political knowledge of the world does not lead to a creation of an enemy. Indeed, to create monsters unexplained by circumstance is to forget the political vision which above all explains behavior as emanating from circumstance, a vision which believes in a capacity born to all human beings for creation, joys, and kindness, in a human nature which, under the right circumstances, can bloom.

Susan Griffin, The Way of All Ideology

The solution, in tangible terms, is community care and a great deal of awareness of how most of us did not get our needs met at key developmental stages, which means we did not move out of those stages and must do so now. Collective healing is possible. We can heal when we can finally be our whole, unguarded selves, in human community, without shields or guards, and be liked, accepted, seen, held. This is systemic change, spiritual change, at the core levels of our culture, lived each day.

Nora Somaran, The Opposite of Rape Culture is Nurturance Culture

Justice, equity, and mercy

In her essay, Equity and Mercy, Martha Nussbaum contrasts three concepts of moral and legal adjudication: strict justice, equity, and mercy. Strict justice observes that a crime has happened, and demands it be balanced with some proportional retribution. Details of personal history, environment, even ignorance of relevant knowledge have no bearing on strict justice. Continue reading “Social justice, mercy, and healing”

Grief

PAINTINGS
painting
Israels, Josef (1824 - 1911, Dutch)
oil on canvas
18 1/8 x 22 7/8 in; 46 x 58 cm
  


Painting entitled 'Grief', by Jozef Israels


2912

Farewell Gord Downie

Featured image is Grief by Josef Israels

I was never really a Tragically Hip fan, and this isn’t really about the Hip. I’m a little too young and a little too western to be fully within the demo, though cancon rules means that no Canadian could every fully escape them. You can get a taste of it here or here or here if you’re not familiar with them, but it’s a bit too late for that. Though the coverage has been ubiquitous north of the border I don’t know how much the rest of the world knows or cares, so I might as well tell you that the lead singer, Gord Downie has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and just finished giving his (nationally televised) last concert.

On Twitter, in between the reminisces and appreciations and early eulogies was a link to Johnny Cash’s 2002 cover of Nine Inch Nail’s Hurt. It’s soulful and haunting, perhaps the best cover of my lifetime, and I mourned Johnny Cash. Part of culture is engaging with the dead, their thoughts and ideas, their arguments and art. I grew up on Shakespeare, the Everly Brothers, Beethoven, Wagner, and Monet and the rest of the dead white guys. But they died well before I was born. I don’t mourn them anymore than I mourn the great-grandparents I never met, who fled civil war, poverty and persecution to Canada and put me here. But I mourn Johnny Cash, and I mourn Terry Pratchett, and I will mourn Gord Downie whenever I hear their songs or read their books.

This is perhaps just what getting old feels like. When I was a boy I talked to the living and to the dead. Now I talk with the living, and with the dead and with those who have died. Their memories will always be tinged with sadness even in triumph, and their share of my memories is only growing. Farewell Gord Downie. We’ll miss you.

Simple Greed

As I’m certainly the least-popular and least-educated Sweet Talker, my ideas aren’t formed from a deep dive into the academic literature, they’re based on experience and observation. I won’t deny having read my fair share academic tomes, and like any good nerd I do read journal articles for pleasure. But that’s just my evening gig; by day, I’m a regular old beer-chugging Joe Sixpack who finds himself caught up in a volatile world, and who has occasionally been known to articulate his thoughts well. For my money, one won’t find real explanatory pay-dirt shoveling through the literature. Instead, we’ll find it in a person’s ability to fuse a workable and ever-updating narrative out of the details of his or her life. The more consistently one’s narrative anticipates and produces good real-world results, the more accurate it is.

Continue reading “Simple Greed”

mother-of-exiles

Mother of Exiles

Cryptoconservative moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt has delivered another important essay in light of the ascension of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for POTUS. The piece follows his usual pattern of rebuking liberals and progressives for failing to appreciate the rich, technicolor palette of conservative—in this case literally authoritarian—morality. Liberals see racism and conclude their analysis there. But Haidt argues persuasively that this is just the beginning of understanding the conservative moral mind.

[Authoritarianism is] a psychological predisposition to become intolerant when the person perceives a certain kind of threat. It’s as though some people have a button on their foreheads, and when the button is pushed, they suddenly become intensely focused on defending their in-group, kicking out foreigners and non-conformists, and stamping out dissent within the group. At those times they are more attracted to strongmen and the use of force. At other times, when they perceive no such threat, they are not unusually intolerant. So the key is to understand what pushes that button.

Authoritarian conservatives are different from Burkean conservatives, who merely wish to uphold the dominant traditions and norms of the status quo.

But status quo conservatives can be drawn into alliance with authoritarians when they perceive that progressives have subverted the country’s traditions and identity so badly that dramatic political actions (such as Brexit, or banning Muslim immigration to the United States) are seen as the only remaining way of yelling “Stop!”

Continue reading “Mother of Exiles”