Sunday, April 20, 2014
I can’t remember where I heard this, but someone once said that defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you’re saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it’s not literally illegal to express.

http://xkcd.com/1357/ (via researchtobedone)

Hm, I don’t agree with this. The right way to fight censorship is not to defend each potentially-censored thing on a case-by-case basis, but to attack the very policy of censorship on the grounds that it violates free speech. Going for the bigger picture is the better strategy, and is not conceding the debate at all.

(via antichrist-owls)

Except people don’t usually cite free speech to fight censorship, they usually do it whenever there are bad consequences for having bigoted, hateful, or otherwise shitty opinions. As tumblr loves repeating, free speech means the government can’t stop you from saying shitty stuff, but in any debate that doesn’t involve the government shutting you up, even bringing free speech up is a sign that you don’t really have much more to use to defend it.

how-much-farther-to-go asked: Do you feel that there is racism in the ASOIAF books' representation of its PoC other than the general lack of them? (It seems like very many live in its WORLD but don't proportionally participate in the story). Which brings up another question I have: Have you ever written a post concerning the extent to which individual authors have a responsibility to represent PoC? If you have, I would very much be interested in reading it.

rkidd:

medievalpoc:

Absolutely.

If you want to talk about “responsibility” on the part of individual authors, you can go ahead and read it from the horse’s mouth.

He really believes he is basing this story on history, and that is his response to lack of and poor representation of people of color in his stories:

So let’s talk about the internet controversy about Oberyn Martell. Do you have any thoughts on that?

I commented on my blog. You can find a more studied response there. I made a couple of comments as to what people said about that. I always pictured Oberyn Martell in my head as a — what I call a Mediterranean type. I know people attacked me for that by saying “He’s ignorant, he doesn’t know that Africa is on the Mediterranean.” No, I know Africa is on the Mediterranean. But in common parlance, when you say Mediterranean you are thinking Greek, Italian, Spanish. When you are thinking Moroccan or Tunisian that’s North African. That’s the way people talk about that.

I always pictured the Martells and the salty Dornishman as Mediterraneans, so the casting I think is perfectly appropriate with what I wrote in the books. I do sympathize. I mean, I understand.

Some people have written me some very heartfelt letters, and I’ve tried to respond to them about how they wanted to see someone who looked like them in the books, and how they were [disappointed]. They had pictures of the Martells looking like them, and they were disappointed.

I understand that, but it still wasn’t my intent to make… Even the terminology here is such a land mine. I don’t even know what words to use here “black” or “African.” I used African at one point, sort of like African American. [But] if you use “African” you are guilty for saying all Africans are the same.

I don’t know. I am drawing from history, even though its fantasy. I’ve read a lot of history, The War of the Roses, The Hundred Years War. The World back then was very diverse. Culturally it was perhaps more diverse then our world, but travel was very difficult back then. So even though there might have been many different races and ethnicities and peoples, they didn’t necessarily mix a great deal. I’m drawing largely on medieval England, medieval Scotland, to some extent medieval France. There was an occasional person of color, but certainly not in any great numbers.

^ I consider this to be a cop out. Added on to the fact that he seems more concerned about getting criticized for using the wrong word than massive disappointment on the part of his own fan base. It more or less reeks of “everyone’s so P.C. these days! Ugh!”

I mean, there is plenty of historical precedent for even large numbers of various people of color in all of those nations. You can read articles about forensic archeology and recent discoveries that have challenged these notions to the breaking point. Like, as in 20% people of color. Take 4th Century York, England. According to Dr. Hella Eckhardt:

It helps paint a picture of a Roman York that was hugely diverse and which included among its population, men, women and children of high status from Romanised North Africa and elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

Eboracum (York) was both a legionary fortress and civilian settlement, and ultimately became the capital of Britannia Inferior. York was also visited by two Emperors, the North-African-born Emperor Septimius Severus, and later Constantius I (both of whom died in York). All these factors provide potential circumstances for immigration to York, and for the foundation of a multicultural and diverse community.

I can tell you the same things about Scotland, France, Central Europe…all these regions had seen large influxes of immigrants in the late Roman and early Medieval Eras. After all, these people didn’t just disappear hundreds of years later when historians decided a new “period” of history had begun! There’s plenty of primary sources and documentation that many specifically Black people lived and worked in various Medieval European cities and towns.

Also, speaking of Empires, there was also a rather important Mongolian Empire that happened firmly within an time frame that is pretty universally recognized as “Medieval”. Which, very unfortunately, brings us to the Dothraki.

Here’s GRRM, from the same interview, on the Dothraki:

People complain that the Dothraki are this one-dimensional barbarian society.

I haven’t had a Dothraki viewpoint character though.

I guess it’s too late to introduce one now.

I could introduce a Dothraki viewpoint character, but I already have like sixteen viewpoint characters. I could kill some of my viewpoint characters, to get down to the seven or eight I started with, or some numerical equivalent. The Dothraki are partially based on the Huns and the Mongols, some extent the steppe tribes like the Alvars and Magyars. I put in a few elements of the Amerindian plains tribes and those peoples, and then I threw in some purely fantasy elements. It’s fantasy.

Are they barbaric? Yeah, but the Mongols were, too. Genghis Khan — I just saw an interesting movie about Ghengis Khan, recently. I’ve read books about Genghis Khan, and he’s one of history’s more fascinating, charismatic characters. The Mongols became very sophisticated at certain points, but they were certainly not sophisticated when they started out, and even at the height of their sophistication they were fond of doing things like giant piles of heads. “Surrender your city to me, or we will come in and kill all the men, rape all the women and make a giant pile of heads." They did that a few times, and other cities said, "Surrender is good. We’ll surrender. We’ll pay the taxes. No pile of heads, please.”

*puts hands over face*

*groans*

Okay, let’s talk about how and why a guy who “reads a lot of history” gets this kind of idea about Mongol people, and apparently friggin Plains NDNs people as well (TW for murder gore, rape at link and f*ck you very much Mr. Martin, jeeeeebus.)

There is no equivalent for the Dothraki in history. What people point to most often is the Mongol invasions in Asia and Europe, but these generalizations are originally extrapolated mostly from the accounts from invaded nations written by someone who had heard this or that about what had happened. I’m not saying like, “such and such never happened” I’m saying it didn’t always happen, and also that there’s a lot more to the story, and also that this narrative dominates for a reason.

We’ll do an example. Here you have something like this from UWGB, which heads up their “Mongol Values” section with a supposed quote from Genghis Khan. Here’s what the claim is, right? We have this translation of something he supposedly said here:

The greatest joy a man can know is to conquer his enemies and drive them before him. To ride their horses and take away their possessions. To see the faces of those who were dear to them bedewed with tears, and to clasp their wives and daughters in his arms.

Okay, so basically, Conan the Barbarian. The article, which, might I remind you, is on a college site, goes on from this to say:

Or to paraphrase it in the bluntest possible modern terms: “To kill people, take their property, see and enjoy the pain you have caused their families, and rape their women as a final gesture of power.”

Okay, well that’s is a pretty big “I decided this means exactly what I already expected someone I think Genghis Khan was like would say.”Even if you did decide to take this at face value…that’s still not the casual attitude toward sexual violence the Dothraki demonstrate, it’s the opposite.

I could go into how women in Mongol culture had a great deal of power (which doesn’t necessarily translate into conquered women being perceived as equivalent, but might I remind you that Dothraki women in ASOIAF appear to be chattel with zero bodily autonomy evidence of sentience, for the most part), or how women having sociopolitical power does not equal a lessening of sexual violence by necessity….but.

I could mention that the way in which Genghis Khan was able to stabilize and actually rule such a vast empire was by giving conquered MEN to his DAUGHTERS in marriage, but then took these husbands out on campaign with him, and replaced them as needed when they died. Or that his empire was actually inherited by his daughters.

And then this article goes on to make statements about we know from Genghis Khan’s attitudes and sadistic enjoyments (more or less) that hope for humanity’s goodness will always be futile, because there will always be Hitlers and Stalins.

^^^That is their section on “Mongol Values”. D:

Soooooo……yeah.

People who claim that GRRM’s Dothraki are realistically based on Mongolian or Plains NDN culture are pretty much in “Einstein and Hammurabi Disco Dance in a Hot-Air Balloon" territory.

Thanks to Historians like the above and GRRM, people think “Mongolian=pile of heads, nonstop rape” . There’s no Khutulun, Wrestler Princess, among the Dothraki. There is no Queen Manduhui, no Lady Hö’elün, no Empress Chabi, no Sorghatani Beki, no mention of The Great Khanum and eight princesses Ruy González de Clavijo saw and marveled at in 1403.

GRRM took a society of women who could own property, divorce at will, hold political office and positions of military command, and replaced them with visibly dirty, grunting animals being raped publicly in the dirt [tw link for an image of what i just described].

Because “historical accuracy”.

Because oh, well it’s already done and it’s too late to change it now.

Actually, all of it sounds incredibly familiar:

image

"We cannot simply change it"

"I could introduce a Dothraki viewpoint character, but I already have like sixteen viewpoint characters"

"I guess it’s too late to introduce one now."

It’s always too little, too late, try again, make your own, better luck next time.

So, when do we get to stop being force-fed vile stereotypes with our fantasy? When do we get wish-fulfillment and escapism?

The bottom line is, I don’t know because the this is the industry right now:

image

How are supposed to break the vicious cycle of whiteness in publishing, whiteness of SF/F authors, whiteness of characters, othering, misogyny, degradation, stereotypes, and a history of a Black-White Good-Evil dichotomy?

Why does it matter? Because people think this is real, people think this is accurate, people think this is acceptable, people think this is historical, including, apparently, the people who are writing these stories.

We must change the narrative to change our stories, because lies about the past are in danger of dictating our futures.

I’m simply not buying the outrage.

Game of thrones does have people of colour. Are they front and centre? no. Should they be? no. 

Even allowing for the fact that historically, there were immigrants into feudal france, etc. They were by no means a majority. And guess what? Game of thrones features POC immigrants, like Sallador Saan. 

But here’s the main point: Game of Thrones is about various people’s struggle of power and agency. A lot of the time, this is hinged on what family and culture they belong to. 

And that’s a vital thing to think about. It’s exactly what the rights of POC hinges on. 

Is Game of Thrones perfect? Of course not. Is it doing a terrific job at bringing marginalised people to the front of the spotlight? Absolutely. 

But there are three points here I think you may be missing.

One, 20% may not be a majority but it’s certainly much more than we see on the show.

Two, one of the problems of SF/F is exactly that people are choosing to write stories that do not involve PoC. And GoT is a fantasy world, why not have one of the families in Westeros be mainly PoC? It has a family with purple-eyed people, for crying out loud. 

And three, I agree that GoT is doing a better job than average at bringing marginalised people to the spotlight, but it’s certainly not fantastic. It is, let’s say, the Winter Soldier of SF/F literature. Sure, maybe Winter Soldier is one of the most diverse blockbuster movies out there that’s not itself about diversity, but it doesn’t even pass the Bechdel test. And of course asoiaf passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, but it’s still not the paragon of representation it could be.

how-much-farther-to-go asked: Do you feel that there is racism in the ASOIAF books' representation of its PoC other than the general lack of them? (It seems like very many live in its WORLD but don't proportionally participate in the story). Which brings up another question I have: Have you ever written a post concerning the extent to which individual authors have a responsibility to represent PoC? If you have, I would very much be interested in reading it.

medievalpoc:

Absolutely.

If you want to talk about “responsibility” on the part of individual authors, you can go ahead and read it from the horse’s mouth.

He really believes he is basing this story on history, and that is his response to lack of and poor representation of people of color in his stories:

So let’s talk about the internet controversy about Oberyn Martell. Do you have any thoughts on that?

I commented on my blog. You can find a more studied response there. I made a couple of comments as to what people said about that. I always pictured Oberyn Martell in my head as a — what I call a Mediterranean type. I know people attacked me for that by saying “He’s ignorant, he doesn’t know that Africa is on the Mediterranean.” No, I know Africa is on the Mediterranean. But in common parlance, when you say Mediterranean you are thinking Greek, Italian, Spanish. When you are thinking Moroccan or Tunisian that’s North African. That’s the way people talk about that.

I always pictured the Martells and the salty Dornishman as Mediterraneans, so the casting I think is perfectly appropriate with what I wrote in the books. I do sympathize. I mean, I understand.

Some people have written me some very heartfelt letters, and I’ve tried to respond to them about how they wanted to see someone who looked like them in the books, and how they were [disappointed]. They had pictures of the Martells looking like them, and they were disappointed.

I understand that, but it still wasn’t my intent to make… Even the terminology here is such a land mine. I don’t even know what words to use here “black” or “African.” I used African at one point, sort of like African American. [But] if you use “African” you are guilty for saying all Africans are the same.

I don’t know. I am drawing from history, even though its fantasy. I’ve read a lot of history, The War of the Roses, The Hundred Years War. The World back then was very diverse. Culturally it was perhaps more diverse then our world, but travel was very difficult back then. So even though there might have been many different races and ethnicities and peoples, they didn’t necessarily mix a great deal. I’m drawing largely on medieval England, medieval Scotland, to some extent medieval France. There was an occasional person of color, but certainly not in any great numbers.

^ I consider this to be a cop out. Added on to the fact that he seems more concerned about getting criticized for using the wrong word than massive disappointment on the part of his own fan base. It more or less reeks of “everyone’s so P.C. these days! Ugh!”

I mean, there is plenty of historical precedent for even large numbers of various people of color in all of those nations. You can read articles about forensic archeology and recent discoveries that have challenged these notions to the breaking point. Like, as in 20% people of color. Take 4th Century York, England. According to Dr. Hella Eckhardt:

It helps paint a picture of a Roman York that was hugely diverse and which included among its population, men, women and children of high status from Romanised North Africa and elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

Eboracum (York) was both a legionary fortress and civilian settlement, and ultimately became the capital of Britannia Inferior. York was also visited by two Emperors, the North-African-born Emperor Septimius Severus, and later Constantius I (both of whom died in York). All these factors provide potential circumstances for immigration to York, and for the foundation of a multicultural and diverse community.

I can tell you the same things about Scotland, France, Central Europe…all these regions had seen large influxes of immigrants in the late Roman and early Medieval Eras. After all, these people didn’t just disappear hundreds of years later when historians decided a new “period” of history had begun! There’s plenty of primary sources and documentation that many specifically Black people lived and worked in various Medieval European cities and towns.

Also, speaking of Empires, there was also a rather important Mongolian Empire that happened firmly within an time frame that is pretty universally recognized as “Medieval”. Which, very unfortunately, brings us to the Dothraki.

Here’s GRRM, from the same interview, on the Dothraki:

People complain that the Dothraki are this one-dimensional barbarian society.

I haven’t had a Dothraki viewpoint character though.

I guess it’s too late to introduce one now.

I could introduce a Dothraki viewpoint character, but I already have like sixteen viewpoint characters. I could kill some of my viewpoint characters, to get down to the seven or eight I started with, or some numerical equivalent. The Dothraki are partially based on the Huns and the Mongols, some extent the steppe tribes like the Alvars and Magyars. I put in a few elements of the Amerindian plains tribes and those peoples, and then I threw in some purely fantasy elements. It’s fantasy.

Are they barbaric? Yeah, but the Mongols were, too. Genghis Khan — I just saw an interesting movie about Ghengis Khan, recently. I’ve read books about Genghis Khan, and he’s one of history’s more fascinating, charismatic characters. The Mongols became very sophisticated at certain points, but they were certainly not sophisticated when they started out, and even at the height of their sophistication they were fond of doing things like giant piles of heads. “Surrender your city to me, or we will come in and kill all the men, rape all the women and make a giant pile of heads." They did that a few times, and other cities said, "Surrender is good. We’ll surrender. We’ll pay the taxes. No pile of heads, please.”

*puts hands over face*

*groans*

Okay, let’s talk about how and why a guy who “reads a lot of history” gets this kind of idea about Mongol people, and apparently friggin Plains NDNs people as well (TW for murder gore, rape at link and f*ck you very much Mr. Martin, jeeeeebus.)

There is no equivalent for the Dothraki in history. What people point to most often is the Mongol invasions in Asia and Europe, but these generalizations are originally extrapolated mostly from the accounts from invaded nations written by someone who had heard this or that about what had happened. I’m not saying like, “such and such never happened” I’m saying it didn’t always happen, and also that there’s a lot more to the story, and also that this narrative dominates for a reason.

We’ll do an example. Here you have something like this from UWGB, which heads up their “Mongol Values” section with a supposed quote from Genghis Khan. Here’s what the claim is, right? We have this translation of something he supposedly said here:

The greatest joy a man can know is to conquer his enemies and drive them before him. To ride their horses and take away their possessions. To see the faces of those who were dear to them bedewed with tears, and to clasp their wives and daughters in his arms.

Okay, so basically, Conan the Barbarian. The article, which, might I remind you, is on a college site, goes on from this to say:

Or to paraphrase it in the bluntest possible modern terms: “To kill people, take their property, see and enjoy the pain you have caused their families, and rape their women as a final gesture of power.”

Okay, well that’s is a pretty big “I decided this means exactly what I already expected someone I think Genghis Khan was like would say.”Even if you did decide to take this at face value…that’s still not the casual attitude toward sexual violence the Dothraki demonstrate, it’s the opposite.

I could go into how women in Mongol culture had a great deal of power (which doesn’t necessarily translate into conquered women being perceived as equivalent, but might I remind you that Dothraki women in ASOIAF appear to be chattel with zero bodily autonomy evidence of sentience, for the most part), or how women having sociopolitical power does not equal a lessening of sexual violence by necessity….but.

I could mention that the way in which Genghis Khan was able to stabilize and actually rule such a vast empire was by giving conquered MEN to his DAUGHTERS in marriage, but then took these husbands out on campaign with him, and replaced them as needed when they died. Or that his empire was actually inherited by his daughters.

And then this article goes on to make statements about we know from Genghis Khan’s attitudes and sadistic enjoyments (more or less) that hope for humanity’s goodness will always be futile, because there will always be Hitlers and Stalins.

^^^That is their section on “Mongol Values”. D:

Soooooo……yeah.

People who claim that GRRM’s Dothraki are realistically based on Mongolian or Plains NDN culture are pretty much in “Einstein and Hammurabi Disco Dance in a Hot-Air Balloon" territory.

Thanks to Historians like the above and GRRM, people think “Mongolian=pile of heads, nonstop rape” . There’s no Khutulun, Wrestler Princess, among the Dothraki. There is no Queen Manduhui, no Lady Hö’elün, no Empress Chabi, no Sorghatani Beki, no mention of The Great Khanum and eight princesses Ruy González de Clavijo saw and marveled at in 1403.

GRRM took a society of women who could own property, divorce at will, hold political office and positions of military command, and replaced them with visibly dirty, grunting animals being raped publicly in the dirt [tw link for an image of what i just described].

Because “historical accuracy”.

Because oh, well it’s already done and it’s too late to change it now.

Actually, all of it sounds incredibly familiar:

image

"We cannot simply change it"

"I could introduce a Dothraki viewpoint character, but I already have like sixteen viewpoint characters"

"I guess it’s too late to introduce one now."

It’s always too little, too late, try again, make your own, better luck next time.

So, when do we get to stop being force-fed vile stereotypes with our fantasy? When do we get wish-fulfillment and escapism?

The bottom line is, I don’t know because the this is the industry right now:

image

How are supposed to break the vicious cycle of whiteness in publishing, whiteness of SF/F authors, whiteness of characters, othering, misogyny, degradation, stereotypes, and a history of a Black-White Good-Evil dichotomy?

Why does it matter? Because people think this is real, people think this is accurate, people think this is acceptable, people think this is historical, including, apparently, the people who are writing these stories.

We must change the narrative to change our stories, because lies about the past are in danger of dictating our futures.

joshc72 asked: What do you think happens when we die?

cosmo-nautic:

I hate this question and I don’t like thinking about it because I don’t like the idea that our existence just stops. But we are our brains essentially, it makes up our thoughts and our personalities and our actions. Whats keeping your brain going once you die? Nothing. 

We live, we produce ideas, we create, hopefully leave behind some legacy. Then we die and our atoms break down and become something new. We serve as building blocks to the universe. The oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus that make up 99% of our mass become something new. It could be as simple as a flower, or as complex as a newborn star. 

So even if our existence, or soul, our sense of being doesn’t live on, we will always be in the universe. 

But I myself find this… very sad.

And I don’t want to die. And I don’t want anyone else to die. I don’t want anyone else to stop existing that doesn’t want to, I don’t want anyone else to lose someone they love.

And… I’m not going to shrug my shoulders and sit by. That’s just not me. I’m not going to accept death as inevitable, because it isn’t. It’s not in the laws of physics, there is no part of the Schrödinger Equation that says human beings have to die. So I’m going to do what I can.

For example, I’m going to right now tell people about cryonics. It’s the idea of, well, freezing your brain after you die. Not really freezing, more like vitrifying. Preserving every bit of information in it, so that in the future you may be reanimated. You can check the Cryonics Institute and Alcor for more in-depth questions about it.

It is not ridiculously expensive. If you’re not struggling to buy textbooks, you probably have enough money for a lifetime membership at CI.

And for whether it works… First, we see no reason why it wouldn’t. If you’re your brain, then being vitrified and then reanimated in the future should restore you. Second, it certainly has a higher chance of working than being cremated, that’s for sure!

So please, please, check it out. Go look at their website as soon as you can, and if you can, sign up. I don’t want you to die, and I don’t want anyone else to die, and this can make a difference.

Let’s face the future together.

Closing your eyes isn’t going to change anything. Nothing’s going to disappear just because you can’t see what’s going on. In fact, things will even be worse the next time you open your eyes. That’s the kind of world we live in. Keep your eyes wide open. Only a coward closes his eyes. Closing your eyes and plugging up your ears won’t make time stand still.

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore (via arabarabarab)

It’s like a slightly more poetic version of the Litany of Gendlin.

(via nihilsupernum)

(Source: creatingaquietmind)

twinkletwinkleyoulittlefuck:

cell-mate:

crackerhell:

ethanwearsprada:

i think it’s a universal truth that everyone in our generation takes pluto’s losing its planetary status as a personal offense

yes

pluto is smaller than russia. why did we ever even consider it a planet?

BECAUSE IT’S A PART OF OUR SOLAR SYSTEM

OHANA MEANS FAMILY

OHANA MEANS NO ONE IS LEFT BEHIND

Ja sure but so are the huge asteroid belts and a few other dwarf planets beyond Pluto that are not only part of our Solar System but also possibly even larger than Pluto itself!

So uh. Unless you want to call each and every asteroid a planet and then find all the other planets we conveniently didn’t see there, Pluto is not a planet.

(Of course, that’s just because after the discovery of Eris we had to actually define technically what a planet is, and found out that Pluto isn’t one.)

eccentric-opinion:

scientiststhesis:

First, when you decide to define the word “right” to mean the thing you did in your example, of course it becomes objective. Once you bind a variable on a predicate, it stops being a predicate and becomes a proposition, and that’s what you did there. When I say that morality is subjective, I mean that, before I have come to a conclusion about what morality ought to refer to, it doesn’t forbid/recommend any specific acts.

If you define “morality” to refer to something that’s not objective, the word “morality” will refer to something not objective. This is not surprising. But I don’t see why you’d want to do that. The common usage of the word “right” is nebulous and it’s not productive to try to figure out what it really means, because different people mean different things by it, and even the same person may use it differently in different contexts. However, the usage of (political) “rights” as something like “the product of mutually agreed-upon self-restriction” falls under the broad umbrella of how the word is used in general.

Indeed. But just the fact that different people mean different things by it should start suggesting that the thing is, well, subject-dependent.

Also, “figure out what it really means”? What does that mean? Nothing really means anything, words are just levers in brains to invoke certain concepts.

As for the common usage of the word morality:

Morality (from the Latin moralitas ”manner, character, proper behavior”) is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are “good” (or right) and those that are “bad” (or wrong).

Morality - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

…it’s not very objective by itself, is it? It depends on what one means by “good” and “bad” and well we all know how that one goes.

Furthermore, I could not be any of those people mentioned in your example because… I actually don’t care about my neighbour’s stuff? Or, in other words, the epistemic state you are asking me to occupy there is not one that I would ever occupy, because no matter how much I wanted my neighbour’s stuff, I would never ever take them without permission (unless I had to because doing otherwise was a threat to something I value higher like my life and I had no third alternative yak yak), and even then I would never ever murder them for it (again, same conditions apply).

First, even if you don’t want your neighbor’s stuff, it would still be to your advantage to be a credible threat to your neighbor so he’d have a reason to make this agreement instead of plotting to murder you and steal your stuff. Second, the benefits of the agreement in my example are not only that you and your neighbor wouldn’t steal from or murder each other, but also that the two of you would be in a state where you could cooperate (rather than live in fear of each other), and that would be in your advantage even if you don’t want to steal your neighbor’s stuff. Third, this particular example is about a specific case, and the reasoning can be applied more generally. For example, suppose you and your neighbors drive cars, and cars produce pollution. In a pre-contract world, all of you would drive without being constrained by the amount of pollution you impose on others, and this would produce a certain amount of pollution. However, you and your neighbors could get together and agree to a certain amount of compensation for pollution produced, paid by a driver to the rest of the neighbors. This would mean that in return for you having to pay others for the pollution you impose on them, others would pay you for the pollution they impose on you - and people would pollute less in general, now that it wasn’t free. Making such an agreement would be to your and your neighbors’ advantage in this case.

Okay? I still don’t see the point you’re trying to make with this, could you enlighten me?

Which is to say… I myself am not a moral externalist! My morality is internal, and utilitarianism is internal to me: I, in fact, have an interest in other people’s lives. I, in fact, have an interest in other people being happy and having their stuff and leading fulfilling lives and not being in (unnecessary and undesired) pain, etc. My moral intuitions are those of an altruist, to the point that I have to sometimes actively and consciously stop my own brain from thinking too deeply about some things (like how many people die per minute) otherwise I will stop functioning and become a ball of misery.

I’m sorry to keep repeating this, but you’re not a utilitarian, because you don’t think that other people are obligated to maximize world utility. What you refer to as your moral intuitions are what a moral realist would refer to as mere personal preferences. You may want to maximize world utility, but unless you think it’s a moral obligation that binds everyone, it’s only a preference and not a normative ethical theory. People’s interests in general include other people’s interests - that’s human nature. But that’s not synonymous with utilitarianism. It’s the difference between “I like helping people” and “People are obligated to help each other, regardless of whether they like it”. The former is benevolence, and is compatible with a lot of ethical theories (even egoism). The latter is more like utilitarianism.

Okay, so you’re arguing over the definition of “utilitarianism.” Alright, then. I do believe other people ought to want to maximise world expected utility. No one is obligated to do anything, obligating people to do stuff doesn’t maximise world utility. I wish everyone wanted to do so, and if they did that would probably maximise world utility - which is to say, one level down, that if everyone was moral then everyone would be moral, according to me.

So, what name do you give to a non-moral-realist who believes the correct moral course of action is maximising world utility, believes other people should maximise world utility, and doesn’t believe that this belief is about the territory?

See this SEP article, specifically the section “Hobbesian contractualism”:

The correct moral principles are those that would be produced by rational agreement because they are mutually advantageous… rational agreement does not simply show which moral principles are correct; rather, the correctness of moral principles is constituted by the fact that they would be agreed upon in the specified circumstances.

That is not what my moral intuition says :P My moral intuition is altruistic and would actually do things that reduced my own utility in order to raise another agent’s utility by a higher value. That is, I do not in fact object to the idea of not buying the cheese I want if that would ensure someone else who needed that cheese more than me were to get it.

I think you may be interpreting “mutually advantageous” too narrowly. If you like helping people, it’s to your advantage to do so. Mutual advantage need not be about each person getting as much “stuff” as possible. For example, if someone you care about wants cheese, and I’m a shopkeeper who wants to sell cheese, it’s to our mutual advantage for me to sell the cheese to you and for you to give it to the person you care about.

Oh. Okay. Indeed, I was being narrow.

Anyway, let’s not forget to think one level up: that passage means that the author believes the correct moral principles are those yak yak. And you may agree with them or not, which is a fact about your mind, and not the world.

Anyone with two drops of metacognitive inclination would go “this feels like the right thing to do… but this feeling is generated from within my brain, so what this actually means is ‘what I believe to be the right thing to do.’”

The two are not mutually exclusive. You can say something similar for gravity - “It feels like objects will fall when I drop them, but that feeling is generated from within my brain, so what this actually means is ‘I believe objects will fall when I drop them’.” But this belief can be correct or incorrect, depending on whether objects actually fall when you drop them. The same is true for morality - you can believe that something is the right thing to do, and that belief can be correct or incorrect.

No, “correct” and “incorrect” is not an exhaustive list of everything a belief can be. A belief can also be for instance “empty,” i.e. not a proper belief. Believing that blarghs are blorbs and blorbs are blarghs is all good and fine, but it’s not a correct belief, nor is it an incorrect belief, it just doesn’t refer to anything. It’s empty.

They are not mutually exclusive, but they’re not sufficient or necessary to each other. You’re supposed to find out whether a belief refers to anything at all, and then you find out whether it’s correct or incorrect.

(It’s also very suspicious that you explained how a belief about gravity can be correct or incorrect, but not how a belief about morality can be correct or incorrect.)

Whether that belief is factual - i.e. can be checked against reality, can be experimented upon and objectively determined without ambiguities - is a thing that we discovered it not to be later. For example, you did not provide me with an example of what would count as evidence against your definition of the word “right” being the correct one. You did not tell me what evidence you used to define that the correct morality is yours, and not another. So still don’t think I am - as I will elaborate in a bit - a moral realist.

How do you check whether a definition of the word “cat” is the right one? If you’ve never seen a cat (and live in a world where most people don’t know what cats are) and I show you one, and say “This is a cat”, you wouldn’t say “How do you know that’s a cat?”, would you? The thing I show you is what a cat is, and it’s a cat because the object I place before you is called a “cat”. Or, to use a more realistic example, when J. J. Thomson discovered the electron, no one said anything like “You’ve shown me that there are tiny negatively charged things that are parts of atoms, but how do you know they’re electrons?”

Similarly, a right is constituted by it being arrived at by the process I described. Asking “What’s the evidence for it being a right?” is a similar question to “What is the evidence that furry whiskered mammals that meow are cats?”

You say “Normative ethics presuppose moral realism.” What does “moral realism” mean? I do not understand it, no one has ever been able to give me a good definition of it that doesn’t sound like confusion over how a mind reasons or bogus mysticism.

Moral realism is the metaethical theory that there some ethical propositions are true, and they are true because of objective features of the world (and not subjective opinion). This does not necessarily mean anything like stone-tablet morality that is independent of anyone’s nature or preferences. The ethical theory in my example, contractarianism, is also a normative ethical theory (and thus presupposes moral realism), even though what contracts would be made depends entirely on the contractors’ preferences - because for some group of contractors with certain objective preferences (i.e. what their preferences are isn’t a matter of opinion), there would be a contract that would be beneficial for them, and the fact that this contract would benefit them would be an objective fact. Utilitarianism (which also presupposes moral realism) disagrees with contractarianism about which ethical propositions are true, but agrees that some are true.

Moral realism doesn’t bind anyone to any specific ethical theory - different ethical theorists disagree about what ethical propositions are true, and what makes them true. But all normative ethical systems presuppose that the ethical propositions that constitute the theory are true, which is why you can’t have normative ethics without moral realism.

The thing about all this is that you’re not using the word “true” in the “usual way.” When you say “X is true” one would reason that X is a proposition about objective reality that can be tested against and about which evidence can be gathered.

Moral propositions do not have that property. If an utilitarian (in the way you defined an utilitarian) and a contractarian disagree about whether an ethical proposition is “true,” there is no experiment even in principle that could determine which one of them was right! There are just the opinions/preferences of the agents, but there is no evidence, there is no testing and falsifying, there is just what the agents have reasoned out as the most convincing arguments to them. But a thing whose “truth-condition” depends on the reasonableness of an argument to an agent could not possibly be regarded as an objective fact about the world!

It’s not a matter of defining words like your game with cats and electrons. If moral realism says that morality is a thing that exists in the territory, which can be true or false independently of an agent reasoning about it, then it has to show its work and point to the feature of the world that’s objectively a morality. A person who says “this is a cat” can point to one and describe exactly what propositions are true about cats that anyone else can test for and check. A person who says “this is morality” cannot do so.

(Source: raginrayguns)

paradoxicalechoes:

scientiststhesis:

I have changed my mind about human moral intuitions yesterday, in fact!

Mainly because I was reminded that some people have moral intuitions that are completely incompatible with mine. There are people whose moral intuitions do not value other people’s preferences, I have a friend whose moral intuitions are basically nonexistent and who sometimes has a hard time thinking his own preferences are valuable (ok, he’s a special case).

So uh… I’ve come to give high probability to the proposition that maybe humans cannot in fact agree even if both parties reason soundly because they simply disagree about what to give inherent moral weight to. I mean, unless you have some great argument in favour of valuing other people that convinces every human in which case I’d love to hear it because I’ve been trying to convince two friends of mine of that for ages.

I mean there’s times in the past where I would believed nobody preferences (including my own) mattered but I now believe differently. I don’t think this is a case of my underlying values changing. I would identify two reasons for my earlier beliefs, faulty reasoning and hmm let’s call them emotional issues.  It is possible to be mistaken about what you value. So I think that just because people profess to value different things doesn’t necessarily mean that their morals are fundamentally incompatible.

Of course just the fact that moral disagreement could be caused by factors other than people not actually giving inherent moral weight to the same things doesn’t demonstrate that it usually is. Unfortunately I’m not quite able to articulate why I think that it is likely that moral disagreement among humans is largely caused by factors other than that at this moment (I might try to later).

I see. Well, it might be that, though that friend said he doesn’t feel like they’re emotional issues. He’s just never felt most of the things people profess to feel, morally speaking. And he’s one of the clearest reasoners I know.

But anyway. I wouldn’t be too surprised if some people simply didn’t value some things I do. Mainly because, well, since I don’t expect most minds in mindspace to agree with me, unless I had incontrovertible evidence that human brain architecture was enough to guarantee a few things, well, it might just not.

I’m not sure I was very clear.

Anyway, if you ever do try, poke me!

(Source: raginrayguns)

somervta:

Normative ethics presupposes metaethical cognitivism*, not realism.

*(maybe)
In general, there seems to be a lot of metaethical misunderstanding going on in the half dozen or so tumblr threads about these issues that have been popping up on my wall, and this seems like the biggest and most common. This is not a mistake I have seen scientiststhesis making, it’s just that it was his post which set me off.

On thing that scientiststhesis is saying that looks wrong to me is this

//When I say that morality is subjective, I mean that, before I have come to a conclusion about what morality ought to refer to, it doesn’t forbid/recommend any specific acts. By its “definition” it says that some acts are not cool and some are, but which is the subject of metaethics.//

I’m not sure what the exact problem is, because he doesn’t seem to think he’s talking about what I think he’s talking about. For one thing, it wouldn’t be the subject of metaethics.

It’s possible that he means approximately what I think he means and is just using that term wrong? scientiststhesis, could you clarify?

Hmm… maybe I am using words in nonstandard ways?

When I say “metaethics” I’m referring to the simples possible interpretation of the word I could think of: if ethics is the thing that tries to figure out what we should do, then metaethics is the thing that tries to figure out what our ethics should be.

From the W:

Ethics, sometimes known as philosophical ethicsethical theorymoral theory, and moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct, often addressing disputes of moral diversity.[1]

Ethics - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In philosophymeta-ethics is the branch of ethics that seeks to understand the nature of ethical properties, statements, attitudes, and judgments. Meta-ethics is one of the four branches of ethics generally recognized by philosophers, the others being descriptive ethicsnormative ethics and applied ethics.

While normative ethics addresses such questions as “What should one do?”, thus endorsing some ethical evaluations and rejecting others, meta-ethics addresses questions such as “What is goodness?” and “How can we tell what is good from what is bad?”, seeking to understand the nature of ethical properties and evaluations.

Meta-ethics - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Yeah, that seems to be the standard idea, and it’s how I’m using the terms. Maybe I just phrased that thing in a confusing way? What I said,

When I say that morality is subjective, I mean that, before I have come to a conclusion about what morality ought to refer to, it doesn’t forbid/recommend any specific acts. By its “definition” it says that some acts are not cool and some are, but which is the subject of metaethics.

is supposed to be isomorphic to saying that my ethical rules depend on me, on my environment, on what I believe to be “right” or “good” or “correct,” on the society I grew up in, on my species, on the details of my mind’s implementation, etc etc etc, and therefore are not in any way “observer-independent” or, well, objective. That is, there is nowhere in the laws of physics (or mathematics) that says that this and not that moral theory is the “right” one.

(If anyone comes up to me to say that Quantum Mechanical phenomena are observer-dependent and therefore I’m implying QM is subjective I’m going to smack them upside the head and then redirect them here or here.)

It has long struck me that there are many problems that are talked about in ethics, usually in normative ethics, that are simply not problems for the ‘moral’ part of a theory of normative moral decision theory.

For example, the particular type of contractualism in the  example linked above seems to be an attempt to solve with a moral principle what is rightly in the domain of decision theory: Avoiding mutual defection in Prisoner’s Dilemma-like situations.

scientiststhesis confesses that he does not understand moral realism, because every definition he has encountered seems confused. I considered trying to explain it, but I think that it would be better to simply remind him that this may well mean that he understands it perfectly well,  perhaps better than many philosophers. 

It is quite a common statement, among metaethicists I have read and  to, that categories like moral realism are, if not fundamentally confused, not particularly useful for nuanced discussion. Certainly they are not as well-separated as the neatness of the terms like weak/strong cognitivism and internalism/externalism imply.

I… see? Then I’m going to have to read eccentric-opinion's reply to see what they mean.

—EDIT: Read it. Still don’t get it.

(Source: raginrayguns)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

paradoxicalechoes:

scientiststhesis:

paradoxicalechoes:

So if I understand you correctly you are saying that morality is about minds and not all minds agree on morality therefore morality isn’t objective? That makes more sense than what I thought you were saying which was that for anything to be objective all possible minds must agree on it.

Something like that, yes. I mostly mean something like, “If a thing depends on the subject, then it is subjective; otherwise it is objective.” It could be logically translated as “If there are free variables in the logical sentence describing the thing, then it is subjective,” in which case, “plus two equals four” would be a subjective predicate because it is true of some subjects but not of others.

And then the problem with morality is that when you say “An agent should do X when in situation Y,” that’s a three-place predicate disguised as a two-place predicate. While X and Y are indeed variables that ought to be bound, when you bind them you still have that pesky word “should” there. What is the agent trying to do? The “morally correct thing”? But then you just pass the buck to “what is the morally correct thing to do?” which is just again the question of what the word should means.

So I’m saying that the word should is a one-place predicate disguised as a proposition. For it to make any sense, it has to make reference to some moral theory which tells you what it means, so even though you’re not saying it explicitly, the sentence ”An agent should do X when in situation Y” in fact means ”A moral theory Z says an agent should do X when in situation Y.”

Just to clarify my position on morality isn’t that it is objective. I don’t know if morality is objective or subjective and I don’t really care. I mean either my morality is objective in which case I’ll follow it or it is not objective in which case I’ll still follow it. There is a third option am objective morality that contradicts my personal morals in which case I wouldn’t accept the objective morality. So since whether morality is objective or not doesn’t change how I’ll act I don’t see why I should particularly care.

We’re pretty much on the same camp there.

Even if morality is not objective I don’t think that one group of humans believing that rape is wrong and another believing it is right (to use your example) should just throw up their hands and declare their personal morals differ. There is at the very least a lot of overlap in human morality and reflecting on your moral beliefs and listening to others reasons for what they believe can lead to agreement. This has no chance of working with many non-humans (debating babyeaters about whether eating babies is right or wrong is unlikely to be productive) but with humans it is at least worth attempting. This is because I believe that often when humans disagree about morality it is because someone has made a mistake in reasoning (or not fully thought something true) not because different humans have fundamentally incompatible morals.

I don’t actually think humans even could have morals that are incompatible in any fundamental way - barring brain damage. But the thing is, these “morals” are just our intuitions which were evolved with us, and they’re… not super good? They favour people who are close to us over people who aren’t, they can create a lot of outrage against gay marriage, and they did allow us to keep other humans as slaves for the majority of human history.

So the fundamental morals we humans have may not be the best things ever. But a more thorough discussion of this is given by Scott.

While human morals intuitions aren’t perfect and have favoured in groups, supported slavery and justified homophobia the recognition that our morals intuitions are flawed and the desire to improve on them is also part of human morality and must come from within. Rebelling within nature goes more into this. When I said that human moral differences didn’t necessarily point to fundamentally incompatible morals I didn’t just mean that the intuitions that underlie morality in human brain do not differ but also that the process of reflecting and reasoning upon morality if done without errors would (probably) lead humans to the same ultimate conclusions about what is moral. Agreement doesn’t happen in practise because reasoning without any errors is really difficult.

I have changed my mind about human moral intuitions yesterday, in fact!

Mainly because I was reminded that some people have moral intuitions that are completely incompatible with mine. There are people whose moral intuitions do not value other people’s preferences, I have a friend whose moral intuitions are basically nonexistent and who sometimes has a hard time thinking his own preferences are valuable (ok, he’s a special case).

So uh… I’ve come to give high probability to the proposition that maybe humans cannot in fact agree even if both parties reason soundly because they simply disagree about what to give inherent moral weight to. I mean, unless you have some great argument in favour of valuing other people that convinces every human in which case I’d love to hear it because I’ve been trying to convince two friends of mine of that for ages.

(Source: raginrayguns)