Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why Occupy Wall Street is a Legitimate Movement

In this short post I am going to argue that some of the grievances of the Occupy Wall Street movement are legitimate. In particular those having to do with economic inequality and the role of money in government. These two issues are quite similar. By legitimate I mean that the concerns of the protestors are at the very least morally permissible. Even more so they are in the moral right.

Economic Inequality
The wealthiest 1% of Americans own somewhere between 30-45%  of the wealth in America. The wealthiest 10% own something like 60-70% of the wealth in the USA. This is one of the central concerns of the OWS signified by the "we are the 99%" slogan.

Why is this wrong? Perhaps first we should consider why some believe it isn't wrong. The thought would go something like this: the wealthy worked for their money, they earned it, they are completely responsible for their wealth. The reason for thinking that it is wrong is opposite: the wealthy are not completely responsible for their wealth, in fact a large part of their prosperity is due to luck (or perhaps by cheating--this is not what I will argue here though). I think the sciences support the latter proposition much more so then they do the second. Sciences, such as, psychology show that humans are strongly influenced by their genetics and environment. For example people are much more likely to help strangers if there is a nice smell of bread as opposed to a more murky location. If such weak environmental factors as smell influence persons, how much more so does the home and community a child is raised in? If the sciences don't give reason to doubt freewill all together, at the very least they establish that it plays a relatively small role. So here is the argument,

  1. The economic status in the United States is determined by chance
  2. If something is determined by largely by chance and it's consequence is unequal then it is unfair
  3. The economic situation in the United States is unequal
  4. Hence, The economic situation in the United States is unfair
The argument appears to me to be logically valid. If the premises are true then the conclusion must follow. I do not think p2 or p3 will be denied. Premise one will be slightly controversial. But surely everyone agrees that persons are strongly influenced by factors outside of themselves. These factors are environment and genetics. The sciences show that these factors determine a persons future life immensely. A person who comes from a troubled household will usually not be as economically successful as other persons who come from stable homes, since due to resources they probably won't be as intelligent  etc.This is common knowledge which is empirically confirmed.

Thus it can be confirmed that the United States of America is unequal as well as unfair. Protesting this is right. Another consideration which is even more so morally relevant is economic global inequality. Anything which brings into question the global inequality is also in the right insofar as it brings the scale inequality into question. By attacking the economic inequality in the States the OWS movement also attacks inequality on a global scale. Although it could certainly do this more so.

Democracy and the 1% aka Banks "Frankly Own the place!"

Money plays a extraordinarily large role in American politics. In order to get be elected a politician must raise an enormous amount of money. Media commentators/actors constantly analyze how much politicians rage during election seasons as sports commentators/actors would analyze the trends of a given player's performance. This isn't to say doing so is wrong, just to emphasize how large a role finance plays in election. Obviously, the largest donations come from the richest persons, as such politicians are more likely to follow the desires of their richer donors. Further rich donors have much more power then the average voter in deciding who will actually run in an election, and then who will win. This process doesn't stop after the election, it merely continues through lobbyists and other means. Taking this into consideration one can conclude that the political power of the 99% is (generously) something like 1/100 of the power of the 1%, and then 1/1000 the political power of the .01%. Is this democracy? Rather it's government of some of the people,  by some of the people, for some of the people. If it is democracy it is a primitive, hierarchical version of such a thing. Insofar as democracy is a good thing, the occupy movement is right in criticizing the role of money in politics. One way to begin to solve this issue, would be to increase economic equality. This could be done in many ways, by increasingly increasing the quality of education (particularly in poorer areas since there is a direct correlation between educational achievement and income, as shown by this map), abolish the Bush tax cuts, granting universal healthcare, reversing the trends of what is increasingly proving to be a two-tiered justice system, creating a livable wage, implementing the Robin Hood Tax and so on...

There are of course some different morally issues that can be discussed such as: are Occupy's means of protest effective? Where should occupy go from here? Is it really worth protesting the woes of America in the face of much more grievous global issues? And so on.

However I take it that the central message of Occupy Wall Street is a legitimate on for the reasons given. Now go forth and consider Occupying!

As a side note Paul Krugman has a decent article on this subject which can be read here: Oligarchy, American Style

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ambient Mini Album: Free Download!

I recently made a few ambient/experimental tracks and compiled them into a mini-album. It is good for naps. Some of the pieces are quite nice if I say so myself (my personal favorites are asign, chimes, and choir). There are 7 total tracks, which I decided to reverse making the album a total of 14 tracks. The track list is as follows:

  1.  asign
  2. chimes
  3. clock water
  4. a bit dif
  5. fith
  6. choir
  7. low e
  8. e wol
  9. riohc
  10. htif
  11. fid tib a
  12. retaw kcolc
  13. semihc
  14. ngisa
You can download all the tracks at http://hulkshare.com/4l083ez2dsex.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Christopher Hitchens: a nincompoop?

For some reason I feel like writing about the "New Atheist" journalist Christopher Hitchens. He has been something of an inspiration for me: he is devastatingly eloquent, brilliantly funny, and is very outspoken. However his speaking style is very rhetorical, not always entirely logical, and he has held some puzzling positions in his lifetime. This post will surprisingly contain mostly criticism.

God is Not Great

Hitchen's book God is Not Great is really quite bad. Through a few antidotes he falls terribly short of showing that "religion poisons everything." He provides a few weak inductive arguments against God's existence that I might explore later, but for the most part I was quite disappointed. At one point he states that Kant had demolished the cosmological and teleological arguments by showing that they reduce to the ontological argument. He left that statement asserted and unexpanded. In his debates he never argued (as far as I know) for this conclusion that Kant had "proved" which leads me to think he doesn't quite understand Kant's line of thinking. On the topic of understanding philosophers, Hitchen's includes the conclusion of Mackie's The Miracle of Theism (which is a very good book, but a bit dry, heavy, and at times dull) in The Portable Athiest. Mackie expands quite nicely on Kant's arguments, but again Hitchens didn't feel like bringing Mackies arguments into debates--perhaps he only read Mackie's conclusion?

All this being said God is Not Great is still probably better then many popular books arguing for theism or Christianity but that is not saying much (D'souza and Strobel, now there are two nincompoops).

Simply evil

In this piece Hitchen's nicely lays out his neoconservative views. Many, including myself, have found these views quite confusing from the former left Marxist. At any rate he argues that 9/11 was "simply evil" and as such demanded a response.
"The proper task of the "public intellectual" might be conceived as the responsibility to introduce complexity into the argument: the reminder that things are very infrequently as simple as they can be made to seem. But what I learned in a highly indelible manner from the events and arguments of September 2001 was this: Never, ever ignore the obvious either."

What was so obvious about the 9/11 attacks?

“To the government and most of the people of the United States, it seemed that the country on 9/11 had been attacked in a particularly odious way (air piracy used to maximize civilian casualties) by a particularly odious group (a secretive and homicidal gang: part multinational corporation, part crime family) that was sworn to a medieval cult of death, a racist hatred of Jews, a religious frenzy against Hindus, Christians, Shia Muslims, and "unbelievers," and the restoration of a long-vanished and despotic empire.”
And he continues:

"To me, this remains the main point about al-Qaida and its surrogates. I do not believe, by stipulating it as the main point, that I try to oversimplify matters...Moreover, many of the attempts to introduce "complexity" into the picture strike me as half-baked obfuscations or distractions. These range from the irredeemably paranoid and contemptible efforts to pin responsibility for the attacks onto the Bush administration or the Jews, to the sometimes wearisome but not necessarily untrue insistence that Islamic peoples have suffered oppression. (Even when formally true, the latter must simply not be used as nonsequitur special pleading for the use of random violence by self-appointed Muslims.)"

The problem with this is that the 9/11 attacks were hardly random, insofar as random events do not have reasons. Osama bin Laden was also terribly explicit about the reasons for 9/11, there was his fanatical Muslim aspirations but there was also his desire to change American policy towards the Middle East. Specifically the murderous embargo against Iraq (which to Hitchen's credit, he criticized), the support of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, and primarily the United States military presence in Saudi Arabia. Hardly random. This is of course not to say that  9/11 was justified, but that there were legitimate grievances behind it. As such we should have both resisted Al Qaeda (Maybe start by accepting the Taliban's offer of Bin Laden?) and the causes behind it. Instead we have accentuated and surged the causes of terrorism: immensely popular bombing campaigns and wars, the support of dictators in the region, the continual military presence, and mindless support of Israel's policies. There will probably be a blow back to these policies. This of course will be random violence by pure evil monsters whose motivations we should not investigate.

Have I established that Hitchens is a nincompoop? Hardly, this piece is quite short and perhaps too poorly and quickly written to establish that conclusion. Hopefully though I have given some reasons for supposing that at least some of his views are false.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


School starts tomorrow. Because of this my blogging future is an absolutely open mystery....................

Friday, August 19, 2011

New Music!

I, for those of you who do not know, also make music. I recently “released” an album called The Completely Planned Mixtape. 

The Completely Planned Mixtape is a collection of new and old tracks mostly in the trance/electronica genre. You can listen to some of the tracks here and download it here. The highlighted tracks down below can also be downloaded individually.

Here is the tracklist:
1. A New Breed of Blue
2. Sunrays of Epic Proportions
4. Triangles
7. District 6
8. Landscape
10. Peculiarity
11. Blue are Everywhere
12. Different Adagio

Friday, August 5, 2011


School will be starting up again soon, this probably means that I will be blogging less frequently then I already am. I have essentially finished with the Common Sense Atheism Challenge, this is not to say I finished it. For it I read, as well as blogged on these books:

Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig
The Christian Delusion by John W. Loftus
Scaling Secular City by J. P. Moreland
Arguing for Atheism by Le Poidevin
The Miracle of Theism by Mackie
The Existence of God by Swinburne
Arguing About Gods by Oppy
I was planning to read Warranted Christian Belief by Plantinga but that will have to wait for the future. On that note it is really not fair to say that I read Arguing About Gods, because I only read about half of the book and managed to understand less then that. I also did not read portions of the books that dealt with the evidence of (or lack of) the resurrection of Jesus, at least not in detail. At some point in time I will have a quick post on some of my "concluding" thoughts which will do absolutely no justice to the arguments that I have covered. Nevertheless perhaps it will showcase  how much I have learned and thought on the subject--as well as how much more I have to learn and think on the issue.

I would also like to blog a bit summarizing other books I have read: The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder and The Case Against Israel
Finally it would be nice to write a bit about music as well...

Monday, August 1, 2011

A quick case against the existence of the US military

Here is a sketch of an argument against the existence of the US military. It is quite presumptuous, it may be safer to argue for a weaker proposition; that most of the US military should not exist (or perhaps some military operations should not exist); but I will ignore that issue and assume that the argument that I am putting forward--even if not completely convincing will support the weaker proposition. This argument will deal with the ethics of the existence of the military but it will not be an a priori argument; it will deal with empirical data. I will argue that the data supports the following proposition:

it is true that at this point in time the military ought not to exist and that the structures and resources that sustain it shall be redirected for more effective and ethical purposes; to combat the mortal threat of poverty.

At the most basic level the US military M exists for the self defense of  American Citizens. It is concerned with saving lives and combating mortal threats. Thus it follows that if something x saves more peoples lives in more efficient way then the military M we ought to eliminate and change M insofar as the elimination of M supports x. It also follows that if there is a more grave mortal threat x to American Citizens (a more grave mortal threat either takes more lives or threatens to take more lives then then another mortal threat) that M ought to engage with decreasing x.

One of the primary catalysts of the US military operations was the terrorist attack of 9/11. In this attack about 3,000 people died. Let us suppose that the military did not respond to the terrorist attacks but instead completely eliminated itself and poured all the financial prowess of the military-industrial complex into other means of saving lives. Because of this the US was struck with 50 attacks in the year 2001 and each attack caused the death of 3,000 people. In this hypothetical situation 150,000 people died because of the military's non-existence.

What did the military (in this hypothetical situation of course) pour it's energies into? It poured it's energy into reducing poverty. Because more people die due to poverty then they do due to terrorism. As this recent study in the American Journal of Public Health reports in  2000:

162,000 people died due to low social support
133,000 people died due to individual-level poverty
119,000 people died due to income inequality
39,000 people died due to area-level poverty

This study calculated that "4.5% of U.S. deaths were found to be attributable to poverty -- midway between previous estimates of 6% and 2.3%." The total number of deaths were 453,000. Supposing that the study is wrong and that instead of 4.5% of U.S. deaths attributable to poverty, the correct number is 2.3%. This would change the total to 231,533 (100/4.5*453,000*.023). So 81,533 more people die due to poverty then do because of terrorism in this hypothetical situation. Poverty forms a much greater mortal threat then the "war on terrorism." Introducing the assumption that the resources and structure of the US military could significantly reduce deaths attributable to poverty and the case is completely sketched.

I have formulated two basic syllogisms, whether it is necessary that there are two arguments as opposed to one is not a question I will pursue now.

1. The US military exists in order to defend the lives of US citizens.
2. If the US Military redirected it's resources to combating poverty, it would save more US citizen lives then doing otherwise.
3. In order to save more citizens the US military ought to be eliminated and redirected toward combating poverty.

4. The US military exists in order to combat the most grave mortal threats to US citizens.
5. The most grave mortal threat is the existence of poverty.
6. The US military ought to eliminate and change itself insofar as that allows for decreasing the existence of poverty.

Premise 2 and 5 are probably the most questionable. 2 could certainly use more support, unfortunately their is limited empirical examples of what I am proposing. Concerning 5, I may not have done all the research to proclaim that "the most grave mortal threat is the existence of poverty" but I think I have certainly shown that concerns over poverty are more legitimate then concerns over terror. I may pursue the validity of these arguments, as well as weaker arguments on this subject later. What is absolutely true is 2'" If the US military redirected it's resources to combating poverty it would save more lives then doing otherwise." 2' is not restricted to the lives of American Citizens, but instead to all human lives. Certain NGO's save the lives of 3rd world peoples successfully and much more cheaply then they would1st world peoples. So if the US Military doesn't discriminate in the value of American Citizen lives to 3rd world lives it follows that it really ought to be redirected toward combating global poverty. (Not to say that this discrimination is unjustified, though it may be)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Violence by Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is, as the Village Voice described "a one person culture mulcher," I think this is an adequate description! Žižek can dissect a a popular movie or event and then ramble on the event by referencing Hegel, Lacan, or even Kant. I have found his talks interesting and amusing so I thought I would read one of his books. Violence served as a useful introduction to his work.

The thesis of  Žižek book is something like this: behind the contours of salient subjective violence (crime, terrorism etc.) there may  reside systemic violence, that is violence that is inherent in our basic social relations that may help sustain subjective violence (from now on I will name this thesis the violence principle). When discussing violence most people tend to naively address subjective violence while ignoring the fundamental properties of society that cause subjective violence, namely systemic violence. Žižek also ponders on misuse of the liberal notion of tolerance and on what "divine" violence is. I will address some of his examples of subjective vs systemic violence, sketch his critique of tolerance, and then try capture his image of divine violence.

Subjective Violence vs Objective Violence
Žižek offers several examples of his violence principle some of which are plausible, others are completely ridiculous. Despite the lack of convincing evidence for the violence principle as he formulates it, I think it can be still be quite useful.

One example Žižek gives is philanthropy, as a specific example he gives us Bill Gates and George Soros; I will focus on the former. Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world is also one of the worlds largest philanthropist (an atheist as well I might add). His foundation attempts to improve the lives of indigent peoples, it addresses the subjective violence of poverty. This however, Žižek claims is a false problem. Because Bill Gates ignored the systemic violence of capitalism, in fact he thrived on it. Mr. Gates exploited workers and crushed competition through a system that demands the existence of the poor he now tries to help. In Žižek's words he "took with one hand, and gave with the other." So what Mr. Gates is doing by "helping" others is really amplifying and continuing the true injustice or true violence. Should this conclusion be taken seriously? I don't think so, it has the appearance of being picayune nonsense. As Julian Baggani asks in his review, "is it too much to ask that, if you claim that George Soros has "ruined the lives of thousands", you should provide the evidence?" Žižek simply asserts that Gates and Soros have sustained the sufferings of other people through economic exploitation. I am tempted to conclude that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Further even if that isn't the case, one could argue that Mr. Gates crushed his affluent competition but saved the lives of impoverished others. This could be morally justified.

As another example of Žižek's violence principle, of which there are quite a few, is terrorism vs counter-terrorism. In approaching this topic Žižek quotes Brecht "What is robbing a bank compared with founding a bank?". This quote epitomizes Žižek's fondness and use of psychoanalytic reversals, in Baggini's words:

"There is the simple psychoanalytic trope of claiming that however something seems, its true nature is the precise opposite. Then you have the repeated claim that a certain position entails its opposite, but that both sides of the paradox are equally real. Then again, there is the reversal of common sense, in which whatever the received wisdom is, Žižek postulates the opposite."
Now I think this can be useful, as well as fun, but reversing ideas in this manner can run the risk of generate garbage. Back to robbing banks. Here I think the phrase should include the assumptions and be said thus: "what is the crime/immorality of robbing a bank to the crime/immorality of founding a bank." Now if someone is to argue that robbing a bank and founding a bank are morally equivalent, the burden of proof is on them to show that founding a bank is indeed immoral (or that robbing one is).  Žižek however rephrases it thus: "what is the robbery that violates the law compared to the robbery that takes place within the confines of the law." Oddly enough I think my change is preferable because it doesn't assume that founding a bank is some sort of robbery (something else which is just asserted). At any rate, In the same vein as Brecht,  Žižek asks "what committing an act of terror to a state power waging a war on terror." This example I think is more legitimate then "what is economic exploitation to philanthropy." Yet again it is not supported by much evidence. Only later does Žižek mention the Abu Ghraib scandal which about which he claims "in being submitted to humiliating tortures, the Iraqi prisoners were effectively initiated into American culture. They were given a taste of its obscene underside."

I have already blogged a bit on what Žižek thinks about tolerance. Here is a good quote that I missed in that post:

"The formula for revolutionary solidarity is not "let us tolerate our differences," it is not a pact of civilisations but a pact of struggles which cut across civilisations, a pact between what, in each civilisation[sic], undermines it identity from within, fights against its oppressive kernel. What unites us is the same struggle. A better formula would thus be: in spite of our differences, we can identify the basic antagonism or antagonistic struggle in which we are both caught; so lets share our intolerance, and join forces in the same struggle."

This formula ignores the subjective violence of cultural clashes and differences and instead tackles systemic violence that is inherent in a system. This application of the violence principle is, at least, more initially convincing then those previously discussed. When discussing religious tolerance Žižek is also quotable:

"Respect for others' beliefs as the highest value can mean only one of two things: either we treat the other in a patronising way and avoid hurting him in order not to ruin his illusions, or we adopt the relativist stance of multiple "regimes of truth," disqualifying as violent imposition any clear insistence on truth. What, however, about submitting Islam--together with all other religions--to a respectful, but for that reason no less ruthless, critical analysis? This, and only this, is the way to show true respect for Muslims: to treat them as serious adults responsible for their beliefs."

Divine Violence
Before attempting to answer the question what is divine violence, one must ask "what is violence?"   Žižek has labeled two types so far (well actually three but I ignored objective violence because it is essentially synonymous with systemic violence) the subjective and systemic. Subjective violence appears to disturb the basic social relations whereas systemic violence is the basic social relations which sustains the existence of subjective violence. This seems like a contradiction violence cannot be (a) the basic social relations and (b) what disturbs the basic social relations. To solve this problem Žižek dismisses subjective violence as an illusion, it is not "true violence." True violence is the fundamental causes of all things that make us worse off; systemic violence. What then would divine violence be? Divine violence would be the combatant of systemic violence, instead of reacting to the existence of subjective violence, it is active in imposing its own rules in order to combat systemic violence. It is pure radical social upheaval of the fundamental properties of a society that sustains "reactive" subjective violence. This leads Žižek to say "Sometimes, the most violent thing to do is nothing."

Final Thoughts
The things to take away from this book, are I think what follows:

  • Sometimes what makes us worse off is our currently existing systemic structures.
  • We must think critically about ways to end things and actions that make us worse off; there are a horde a possible factors which contribute to the existence worse off things or actions.
  • Perhaps the best way to be tolerant is to share our intolerance.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thoughts on "A Tragic Legacy" by Glenn Greenwald

Last month I read the book A Tragic Legacy by Glenn Greenwald. You can check out his, usually quite insightful, blog over at Salon. The book was a fairly interesting read, at times quite amusing. It extensively analyses Bush's Manichean rhetoric and his unpopularity. At times the reading could be a bit repetitive when dealing with these topics. But despite this I would still recommend this book as a good description and critique of Bush's paradigm and policies.

One of the most relevant issues discussed in the book was US policy toward Iran. Despite Iran's aid in deposing with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iran was labelled as part of the "axis of evil" along with Iran and North Korea. Later in the Bush presidency we were told, and frequently reminded, that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose "a grave threat to the security of the world" (which is probably quite true for a host of reasons). Comments like these, by now presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, were and still are quite common: "This is 1935 and [Iranian president] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is as close to Adolf Hitler as we've seen. We now know who they are--the question is who we are. Are we Baldwin or Churchill?" (As an amusing aside Greenwald documents  how overused the comparisons to Churchill and Chamberlain are by certain neoconservatives, so much so that is very hard to take them seriously). Despite the fact that at the beginning of the administration it looked as though our relationship with Iran was improving, it only got worse. Sentiments like Gingrich's, which adequately represents the neoconservative base, were entirely helpful in this regard. In fact now it's quite hostile; Iran went from helping fight the Taliban, to perhaps aiding them and as well as aiding insurgents in Iraq. How has this happened? Greenwald offers this answer:

"The president's rhetoric of threats and demonization severely exacerbates almost every Iran-related problem. By refusing to negotiate to Iran and directing unambiguous threats to it, the president (a) emboldening the very Iranian extremists whom the administration claims pose the real threat, (b) forcing the Iranians into an increasing militaristic posture, and (c) moving the U.S. ever closer to a military confrontation which--whether commenced deliberately or accidentally--could not possibly be in America's interests under any conceivable scenario."

It's by no means clear why during Bush's term we rejected Iran's offer to negotiate (though it probably has to do with Israel or US hegemonic interest in the region), but perhaps we can understand how we got ensnared by the hostile situation we are in today: by consistently refusing to negotiate and by making stupid threats. Unfortunately this legacy has continued, with Obama failing to pursue "a new way forward" with Iran despite proclamations to the contrary in his 2009 Cairo speech. Similarly in his more recent address regarding the revolutions in the Middle East, he condemned Iran for their hypocrisy:

“I find it ironic that you’ve got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt, when in fact they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully in Iran.”

Iran certainly deserves to be condemned in this regard, but Obama failed to mention Saudi Arabia's similar actions and human rights abuses. It is rather strange for him to say this when America hypocritically preaches of the virtues of democracy while simultaneously supporting dictators in the middle east. Language like this probably causes activists like Gigi Ibrahim, to correctly point, out that the speech was "insignificant" and not at all different from what any other US president has said in the past. It seems quite obvious that it would be in our interest to improve relations with Iran, and not get ourselves stucked in another Iraq. It would be instrumental to not view Iran with Bush's Manichean lenses; they are not pure evil and neither are we pure good, especially as we "prepare to withdraw" from the region. Perhaps its to trite to assume that when fighting for political power in the Middle East we should exhaust all other diplomatic options before turning to military ones.

Obama has managed to continue (without all the "political" democratic outrage of course) most of the policies of the Bush legacy--of which policy toward Iran is just one example. As I was reading this book I had the nagging thought that A Tragic Legacy could be followed by A Tragic Legacy Part Two: Obama. Although there should be a much more clever title. Although the rhetoric has changed, the policies have not. The US is now undertaking wars in Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and most recently Somalia, has failed to prosecute the Bush torture regime, has launched an aggressive war against whistle blowers, and continued the Patriot Act amongst other things. All things Obama appeared to be against during his campaign. Glenn Greenwald has a worthwhile article on the "Great Generational Threat" which justifies a slew of wonderful policies which will arguably define the Bush and Obama presidencies. Towards the end of the article he says this:

"I long believed that the most patently irrational American policy -- the one that would cause future generations to look back in baffled disgust -- was the Drug War: imprisoning huge numbers of citizens for years and years for nothing more than possessing or selling banned substances to consenting adults.  But now I think it's this: that the U.S. Government is able to persuade the populace to continue to support and pay for blood-spilling and liberty-destroying policies in the name of Terrorism when nothing sustains and exacerbates the threat of Terrorism more than those very policies."

And that appears to be a tragic legacy (one that should be argued over at greater length); a legacy that is being continued to this day...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Zizek on Tolerance

Today I was messing around with ARGUNET and made the above map. I just tried to outline how I understood Slavoj Zizek's thoughts on tolerance, from his book Violence. I am quite positive that I mapped it out incorrectly, with all the arrows pointing aimlessly all over the place. Any way as you can see Zizek does not like the notion of tolerance, why? The map should explain most of it. If it doesn't then here is basically what Zizek thinks about it:
"Today's liberal tolerance towards others, the respect of otherness and openness towards it, is counterpointed by an excessive fear of harassment...My duty to be tolerant to the other effectively means that I should not get too close to him, intrude on his space. In other words, I should respect his intolerance of my over-proximity. What increasingly emerges as the central human right in late-capitalist society is the right not to be harassed which is a right to remain at a safe distance from others." (41)
(As you can see I shamelessly quote Slavoj in my map.) Is this a reasonable representation of "tolerance." Somewhat! For example it does seem as though an absurd frenzy erupts whenever someone says something that is ever so vaguely racist, and yet keep mum about more pressing issues. This  composes an atmosphere which greatest fear is the fear of harassment. By being tolerant, in this sense, one manages to leave the "other" alone, estranging them to their own sociocultural group. And when conflict erupts between different factions it is essentially because (in this framework) the factions aren't keeping to themselves. Because one faction intruded on the others space. Of course this only applies to the certain groups who don't get along (such as the West and Islam, during the cartoon riots). In order for these groups, with conflicting ideologies to get along, they must keep proper distance from each other. They must build up walls in order to tolerate one another.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

In Defense of Non-Natural Non-Theistic Moral Realism

In Wielenberg's paper In Defense of Non-Natural Non-Theistic Moral Realism, Wielenberg rebuts what is usually called the moral argument for God's existence. He does this by showing that both the theist and atheists of the moral realist type, are committed to the existence of basic ethical facts.

What is a fact?
Facts are "obtaining or actual states of affairs." A states of affairs are "necessarily existing abstract entities that obtain or fail to obtain." Some facts are necessary, others are contingent. A necessary fact obtains in all metaphysically possible worlds, a contingent fact obtains in some but not all. For example the state of affairs where my dog is sitting next to me obtains contingently, the state of affairs where my dog is not identical to a number obtains necessarily. Some facts obtain because of the obtaining of other facts or state of affairs. For example the fact that my dog is sitting 3 feet in the air obtains because another state of affairs obtains, namely, that she is sitting in a chair. Whereas other state of affairs that obtain, can be called brute facts; "their obtaining is not explained by the explaining of other states of affairs." Many theists believe that the existence of God is a brute fact. God's existing cannot be explained by the obtaining of other states of affairs.

Some facts involve ethical states of affairs. These obtain either contingently or necessarily. As Wielenberg says "that pain is intrinsically bad is not explained in terms of other state of affairs that obtain." The state of affairs that pain is intrinsically bad is a brute fact (in the same way the existence of God is a brute fact). Wielenberg calls such facts basic ethical facts. On a side note a contingent ethical fact would be as such: Imagine there exists a button that when pressed causes immense pain to a person, it is wrong to press this button, but only contingently so because there are possible worlds in which a pushing this button would not have such a bad ethical result. Wielenberg's continues to explain:

"such facts are the foundation of (the rest of) objective morality and rest on no foundation themselves. To ask of such facts, "where do they come from?" or "on what foundation do they rest?" is misguided in much the way that, according to many theists, it is misguided to ask of God, "where does he come from?" or "on what foundation does He rest?" The answer is the same in both cases: They come from nowhere, and nothing external to themselves grounds their existence; rather, they are fundamental features of the universe that ground other truths."
This then is the gist of non-natural ethical realism, their exist basic ethical facts, and these facts are brute meaning they can not be explained in reference to other facts.

How are Theists Committed to the existence of ethical facts
I will focus on the theistic ethics of Robert Adams and Wielenberg's analysis of Adams ethics as it pertains to his argument, because I think this is the most significant point of Wielenberg's paper. Adams puts forth a sophisticated divine command theory, moral laws derive from God's commands which in turn derive from God's necessarily Good nature. God's nature then "is the standard of excellence." The degree in which a persons character and actions resemble the divine nature is the degree in which this person is moral or good. Adams account then appears to describe the supervenience of the moral on the non moral. As Wielenberg explains:

"The supervenience of goodness upon the character of Marcus Aurelius. On Adams’s approach, this supervenience is grounded in the resemblance between Marcus Aurelius’s character and the necessarily existing divine nature.To keep matters simple, let us suppose that the aspect of Aurelius’s character that makes it good is mercifulness. On Adams’s account, the supervenience of goodness on Marcus Aurelius’s character is explained by the fact that the divine nature is essentially merciful. In any world in which Aurelius’s character is merciful, that character resembles the divine nature and hence is (in one respect at any rate) good."
Adams claim is then Good=God, this is modelled on a similar claim that water=H2O. Wielenberg explains in greater detail"Adams’s account is reductive in that it implies that (at least some) ethical facts and properties just are supernatural facts and properties. Facts about finite goodness just are facts about a certain sort of resemblance to God, and facts about moral obligation just are facts about God’s commands." These then are the basic ethical facts which Adams view is committed to: Good is just, merciful, and loving. Are these really basic ethical facts, aren't they grounded in the existence of God? No because Good=God! As Wielenberg enlightens us:

"In the context of Adams’s view, the claim that God serves as the foundation of the Good is no more sensible than the claim that H2O serves as the foundation of water. Indeed, once we see that, on Adams’s view the Good = God, we see that Adams’s theory entails that the Good has no external foundation, since God has no external foundation. It is not merely that Adams’s view fails to specify where the Good came from; the theory implies that the Good did not come from anywhere."

This is not to say that Adam's view is deficient, rather that non-naturalism and theistic theories of morality have the same basic structure. They both posit basic ethical facts. These facts have no further foundation other then themselves. Thus it is rather silly to claim that objective moral facts cannot obtain if God does not exist, because theistic ethics posit basic ethical facts in the same way as non-theistic non-natural moral realism does.
Ultimately the foundation of objective morality rests on nothing. Although theists may critique non-naturalist for a shopping list approach to morality (as William Lane Craig does), they do the same thing. For example Wielenberg's list includes the following ethical items:
  • Pain is intrinsically bad
  • Inflicting pain just for fun is morally wrong
  • It is just to give people what they deserve
And a theist like Adams will include these basic ethical facts:
  • There is a being that is worthy of worship
  • If the Good commands you to do something, then you are morally obligated to do it
  • The better the character of the commander, the more reason there is to obey his or her commands
And that is how the cookie crumbles!

You can read a more detailed summary of this paper here and the actual paper here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Creeds to Live By

Creeds to Live By
There is an idea that Wielenberg discusses which is often brought up in discussions of naturalism & Christianity. It is that "we should try to inculcate certain beliefs about the supernatural on the grounds that widespread acceptance of those beliefs will make us better of in general." I think that this idea is clearly nonsense, but will at least summarize what wielenberg says about the matter. His response to this argument is: "Certain views in the Old Testament are very dangerous, and the less widely these views are held the better off we are." The following are "dangerous elements" in the OT:
  • "There is a God who has selected a particular group of people to be his chosen people"
  • "There is a God whose commands trump all other considerations"
  • "There is a God who sometimes commands invasion, killing, and genocide--sometimes when there is no apparent justification other than that they have been commanded by God"
  • "Some people have the authority to order such activities on God's behalf."
Wielenberg then gives examples of these activities highlighting their application in the OT, most of these have been linked accordingly. It is plausable to hold that just as these beliefs case suffering in the OT so would their widespread acceptance in the modern age. On the opposite side of tis equation naturalism is "devoid of these dangerous ideas." Given naturalism, there is no God, no one special group of people, and no one with the authority to give commands that must be obeyed because  of their intrinsic nature. Positively, naturalism can produce solidarity with fellow human beings as described in this quote by Bertrand Russell:
"United with his fellow-men by the strongest of all ties, the tie of a common doom, the free man finds that a new vision is with him always, shedding over every daily task the light of love. The life of Man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible forces, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long. One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent Death. Very brief is the time in which we can help them, in which their happiness or misery is decided. Be it ours to shed sunshine on their path, to lighten their sorrows by the balm of sympathy, to give them the pure joy of a never-tiring affection, to strengthen failing courage, to instil faith in hours of despair. Let us not weigh in grudging scales their merits and demerits, but let us think only of their need -- of the sorrows, the difficulties, perhaps the blindnesses, that make the misery of their lives; let us remember that they are fellow-sufferers in the same darkness, actors in the same tragedy with ourselves. And so, when their day is over, when their good and their evil have become eternal by the immortality of the past, be it ours to feel that, where they suffered, where they failed, no deed of ours was the cause; but wherever a spark of the divine fire kindled in their hearts, we were ready with encouragement, with sympathy, with brave words in which high courage glowed."
Although Wielenberg continues to discuss other issues, I will not summarize the rest of this book. This is because the objections which he discusses are not very interesting, and I just discovered a useful synopsis of this book which renders my project of summarizing the book completely pointless.
At any rate this concludes my discussion of the book Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe. Since Wielenberg has established that a naturalist can live a meaningful and moral life without God all that is left is for the naturalist to go out and do so!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ethical Character in a Godless Universe

In this chapter Erik Wielenberg defends the notion of naturalistic virtues. More specifically he explains how naturalism can accommodate the Christian like virtues of humility, charity, heroism, and hope. 

A naturalist can be humble by giving proper credit to their accomplishments. This seems like the opposite of humility, but it is not. This is because in the naturalistic universe, just as in the theistic there are many matters that are out of our control. Thus when a naturalist gives proper credit to their accomplishments they must realize that their accomplishments are contingent on multiple factors environment, genetics and so on. Wielenberg says "In the naturalistic universe, each of us should recognize the tremendous accomplishment dumb luck has made to all human accomplishments, and that in the case of any such accomplishment, the majority of the credit goes to blind chance." 

From Humility to Charity
Our economic status is completely contingent on our demographic location (there are arguably other factors as well, but this one is obvious). Some of us are born in affluent countries, others are not so fortunate. Since our socioeconomic status is simply a matter of where we born, in the majority of cases it is out of our hands. Realizing this, the naturalist (and anyone else it seems) is obligated to help alleviate the sufferings of their brethren. Wielenberg gives the following metaphor: Imagine a planet where everyone parachutes down at random places on the planet. Some people are fortunate and land in a luscious forest full of food and luxury, others land in a desert where they are on the brink of starvation. Do the fortunate have an obligation to help the unfortunate. It seems as thought they do since their roles could have easily been reversed, and because the created situation is out of human control. The natural world is similar in this way, some of us are affluent others are poverty stricken due to factors out of our control. Thus humility can lead to charity.

Heroism and Hope
Wielenberg says that "the naturalists self-concept out to be as a hero, struggling to satisfy the demands of morality and secure a life of internal meaning for the individual and for loved ones in a universe which is at best utterly indifferent and at worst downright hostile to both projects... I suggest that the naturalists view themselves as engaged in  a struggle against a wild animal. The struggle is not on the battlefield where conflict rages between the forces of dark and light and where victory and salvation are assured only for the right side. Rather, the struggle is to tame an uncaring, irrational beast, and success is anything but certain; everyone has something of the beast inside and an important part of the struggle is conquering this inner monster." And where does hope fit in? Well we can be hopeful for several reasons. One which Wielenberg gives is science. Science gives us hope because it helps understand this "wild animals." Through science we can understand our biases and inner prejudices and test empirical methods which can improve peoples behavior. Further it seems plausible to suppose that history has progressed, moral standards have improved at least a little. The practice of slavery and sacrifice has been cut back significantly by human beings. Although there are problems galore and immense daily suffering, the naturalist can be hopeful for a better future.

This concludes the discussion of Wielenberg's conceptions of virtue in a godless universe. His final words are poignant: "Without God, there is no guarantee that we will be able to save ourselves from ourselves. But neither is there a guarantee that we will fail. There is room for hope. My suggestion is that we focus on the attempt."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why Be Moral?

In this chapter Wielenberg asks the question why be moral in a naturalistic universe? He also deals with Kant’s argument on the divine guarantee of a morally perfect universe. I will only focus on the fist issue; why be moral? In this chapter Wielenberg offers two answers.

The Moral Challenge
The challenge or argument that Wielenberg is interested in responding to is as follows:
1. A person has a normative reason to be moral only if it is that person’s best interest to be moral
2. It is never in anyone’s best interest to be moral.
3. Therefore, no one ever has a normative reason to be moral.

Because Morality and Self-Interest Coincide
One way to respond to this challenge is to deny the 2nd premise. Aristotle and Hume both do this in their own unique way. There are two ways to think about self-interest which Wielenberg gives us; a revisionist axiology and a commonsense axiology. The commonsense axiology incorporates the “commonsense” values of human pleasure and virtue. Hume accepts a commonsense axiology of sorts; he believes that “being virtuous is the best way to attain wealth, power, and pleasure.” This claim is dubious, first of all it seems that those who have the most power and wealth are not the most virtuous people. Second it is difficult to specify the type of pleasure that comes from virtuous activity. Aristotle supplies something to answer the second question. On Aristotle’s view “virtuous activity is its own reward.” He explains:
“[Many] actions of a [virtuous person] are performed in the interest of his friends and of his country, and if there be need, he will give his life for them. He will freely give his money, honors and, in short, all good things that men compete for, while he gains nobility of himself…A good man would freely give away his money if it means that his friend would get more, for (in this way) the friend’s gain is wealth, while his own is nobility, so that he assigns the greater good to himself.”
So in this paradigm one ought to be moral because doing so allows you to attain a higher good. Even a life a martyrdom, in which there is no afterlife, is a life worth living because the act of martyrdom is one of the highest goods available in the natural world.

Because You Ought To
Another way of dealing with the argument presented in the beginning is to deny the 1st premise. As Wielenberg explains; "That premise is based on the notion that the only reason there could be for performing a given action is that the action is in on's interest. But it seems to me that such claim is straightforwardly false. There are many possi ble different kinds of reason for performing a given action; that it is in one's interest is but one. another reason for performing an action is simply that it is morally obligatory for one to do so." This view may seem to short or trite, but as Wielenberg mentions it is not that different from other reasons for action; "To the question  "why be moral?" a perfectly acceptable answer is "because it is moral." This might seem odd until one notices that to the question "why do what is in one's interest" a perfectly acceptable answer is "because it is in one's interest." No further explanation is required in either case."

Monday, June 13, 2011

God and Morality

In the second chapter of Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe Wielenberg critiques theistic ethics and argues for a basic account of naturalistic ethics. I will focus on the later.

God as the Source of Ethics? Naturalism as the source of Nihilism!
Some philosophers argue that God is the source of all moral duties and commands and that as a consequence of this, the naturalistic framework cannot account for objective moral values. Wielenberg argues that this is false because "we have some moral obligations that derive from our relationship with other human beings and we have other moral obligations that derive from intrinsic values." I will only focus on the first, and quickly sum up the second.

God as a Divine Commander
Many, if not most, theists believe that moral obligations arise out of Gods commands.Wielenberg contests this for two primary reasons. The first is that although God can and may be the source of some moral obligations he cannot be the source for all moral obligation. This is because for God to command an action x he must have the right credentials and go through a proper process. Divine Command theorists suggest that a person x must obey God because he is an all-good God, these are the proper credentials for an ethical command. Wielenberg has no qualms with this. But for an all-good God to command an action or moral obligation via a sign is not enough to establish a moral condition. God must make sure that the receiver of the command, understands that the sign is from her. Wielenberg illustrates this as such:
"Suppose your friend (call him "Dave") sends you an anonymous note. The note reads: "Loan Dave your Car"...Are you now morally obligated to loan Dave your car? The answer clearly enough is no, and it is not hard to see why: You have no idea who issued this command. More specifically, you don't know that the command was issued by dave. Moreover, Dave (We may reasonably suppose) knew that you would not be able to tel who issued the command. In these circumstances, it seems clear that Dave, despite being capable of imposing on you the obligation to loan him your car, has failed to do so in the case at hand. He has failed to do so because he has failed to recognize that the command is coming from a legitimate source."
So now a argument can be constructed to show that not all moral obligations derive from God's commands:
1. When issuing a command which instills moral obligation, God must show that the command comes from a legitimate source, namely, himself.
2. Naturalists have moral obligations.
3. But naturalists do not recognize God's existence, let alone her commands.
4. Therefore, God cannot be the source of all the naturalists moral obligations.
There may be some objections to 3, perhaps the naturalists does not recognize that God exists or that she has issued a command because of some moral or rational fault of their own. But it doesn't at all seem controversial to suppose that there are reasonable naturalists.That is, naturalists who are in a position where they may be epistemically justified in the belief that God doesn't exist. Well perhaps that is a bit controversial, but remember that Wielenberg assumes that naturalism is true in this book and is only seeking to establish that if naturalism is true then there exists value and virtue! He does not argue for the truth of naturalism. Thus saying that the naturalist is suffering from a significant defect (spiritual, moral, or rational) would be to beg the question of God's existence. So through all this I think one could establish that if naturalism is true there still exists moral obligation.

Necessary Moral Truths
Some things are contingent (they could or could not exist) and others are necessary (they cannot not-exist). The typical example of a necessary truths is 2+2=4. It must be the case that 2=2+4. In the same way the naturalist cannot insist that it must be the case that pain is bad. Pain may lead to good things, but it is in and of itself bad. It is intrinsically bad and it could not be otherwise. God could not make the badness of pain go be a goodness, because the badness of pain is not contingent it is necessary. Thus it is the case that the naturalist can insist on moral truths that derive are true in virtue of their intrinsic and necessary nature.
This I think constructs a basic case for the existence of moral facts in the naturalistic framework, that is quite successful.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

God and the Meaning of Life

In the first chapter of Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe Erik Wielenberg considers three arguments that render life in a Godless universe meaningless. He ultimately rejects them all by offering three different "theories of meaning" by Aristotle, Richard Taylor, and Peter Singer.

The Meaning of Life
Wielenberg identifies three ways in which life may have meaning. It may have supernatural meaning that is "purpose that is assigned by a supernatural being." Or it may have external meaning, when a life has meaning if "the universe is better than it would have been had the life not been lived." Or finally internal meaning. If a life has internal meaning; "the individual is better off having lived than had that person never existed at all. Moreover, the life is one in which something worthwhile is accomplished it is a life that has a point. It is the urge to live a life like this that is revealed in the expression "I want to do something with my life.""
Though there are reasons to squabble with these definitions of meaningfulness, for the purpose of the summary I will assume that they are for the most part correct, which I think is true.

Arguments that Life Lacks Internal Meaning Without God
Wielenberg gives three arguments which conclude that life is meaningless without God, they are the final outcome argument, pointless existence argument, and the nobody of significance cares argument.

Final Outcome Argument (Hereafter FOA)
FOA goes something like this: if there is no God, and no immortality then the final outcome of life makes it meannigless. Because the universe will inevitable become extinct, either in a heat-death or something else like life will lead to nothing of significance or value. Because everyone dies life is absurd.

Pointless Existence Argument (Hereafter PEA)
PEA follows the proposition that "life only has meaning if it has supernatural meaning." Without an assigned goal by a supernatural agent life is pointless.
Nobody of Significance Cares Argument (Hereafter NSCA)
NSCA can be put as follows: "a life has meaning only if a suitable significant being cares about or takes an interest in that life." If God loves us life has meaning, but if she doesn't exist she can't love or care for us thus life is meaningless.

In response to these arguments Erik ponders offers three different theories of meaning

Creating Your Own Meaning
Wielenberg begins with Richard Taylor's response to these arguments in the last chapter of his book Good and Evil. The sum of Richard's view is that life can have internal meaning if a persons desires and activities correspond with each other. He mentions the famous case of Sisyphus. Sisyphus was condemned by the Gods and "sentenced to an eternity of frustration." He must roll a large rock up a hill for all eternity, and every time he gets to the top of the hill, the stone rolls down again. Clearly this is not initially a meaningful activity. But Taylor asks what if Sisyphus enjoyed rolling the rock up the hill? What if he had the desire to roll the rock up the hill for eternity and this desire was satisfied by his activity? Then Taylor argues Sisyphus's life would have internal meaning.
To FOA and NSCA Taylor would respond that the end situation and whether any one cares or not has no relevance to meaning, they represent improper criterion. To PEA Taylor would say that you create your own meaning, and don't need supernatural guidance or commands when doing so.
But Taylor's account is clearly not without problems, if objective values exist then some things are meaningful whereas others probably are not. Wielenberg has us compare the case of a jazz musician who loves what he does and a grinning excrement eater who feels the same about his existence. Even though both of their desires correspond nicely with their activity it seems as though the jazz musician lives a much more meaningful life. If objectively some activities are better then others then it would certainly be the case that being a jazz musician is better then being a excrement eater, whether you like it or not. Thus if  objective values exist we have good reason to say that Taylor's account is wrong. If there are no such things, then Taylor's idea of meaningfulness can be of use.

Meaning Through Eliminating Pain
The second conception of how a human life can have internal meaning is constructed by Peter Singer and analyzed by Wielenberg. Singer's view is that "we can live a meaningful life by working towards goals that are objectively worthwhile." Singer takes pain to be intrinsically bad, and thus the elimination of pain is objectively worthwhile. As Erik explains "At the heart of Singer's view then, is this principle:
(S) An activity of S's, A, has internal meaning for S just in case (i) in doing A, S is trying to accomplish goal G, (ii) G is objectively worthwhile, and (iii) A in fact leads to G."

So a life is meaningful for a person who is spends their life trying to eliminate pain. Under Singer's view a life could also have internal meaning for a person who spends their life trying to create pleasure for other people, as long as that pleasure is objectively worthwhile.
In reply to FOA Singer can respond that that argument fails because it arbitrarily puts to much emphasis on the future as opposed t other present. He in fact says this
"We should not, however, think of our efforts as wasted unless they endure forever, or even for a very long time. If we regard time as a fourth dimension, then we can think of the universe, throughout all the times at which it contains sentient life, as a four-dimensional entity. We can then make that our-dimensional world a better place by causing there to be less pointless suffering in one particular place, at one particular time, than there would otherwise have been...We will have had a positive effect on the universe."
Wielenberg quotes Paul Edwards who says, that FOA fails because of a "curious and totally arbitrary preference of the future to the present." PEA fails because it doesn't matter whether eliminating suffering is mandated by God or not. It is still objectively worthwhile. And to NSCA Singer can say that actually significant beings do care! The beings whose suffering is being decreased care very much indeed and surely they are significant! 
So although Singers theory could use a bit more support it comes out as a substantial improvement over Taylor's.

Intrinsically Good Activity
Wielenberg finishes with Aristotle's view. "Aristotle divides activities into two categories--those that are good because of what they produce, and those that are good in and of themselves." His "insight" is "Some activities are intrinsically good." That is these activities are good even if they lead to nothing of value. So "That suggests a third way of bringing internal meaning to ones life: Engage in intrinsically good activities, activities that are worth doing for their own sake." I think this is a satisfying idea of meaning, but are their such activities that are intrinsically good? I am not sure if there are, to be more specific I am strictly agnostic about the manner. I don't think there are any good reasons for thinking there are not intrinsically good activity's or very good reasons for thinking that their are. Perhaps the burden of proof falls on the person who claims that their are such values? At any rate Wielenberg lists includes such activities as "falling in love, engaging in intellectually stimulating activity, being creative in various ways, experiencing pleasure of various kinds, and teaching." How do you find these intrinsic activities and values? He suggests using "a version of G. E. mores isolation test... To see if an activity is intrinsically good, consider whether you would find it worthwhile even if it had absolutely no consequences." Aristotle's theory can dispense with the arguments against meaning in a godless universe in a similar way that the previous theories did so; FOA, PEA, NSCA all do not use the proper criteria of meaning and are not relevant. I think the challenge of this idea is to somehow show more conclusively that their are intrinsic activities. Either way whether God exists or not has nothing to do with whether there are or not. Thus this idea can be seen as a useful theory of meaning in a Godless universe.