Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chomsky's Foreign Policy Methodology in a Nutshell

In his own words:

"One lesson is that to understand what is happening we should attend not only to critical events of the real world, often dismissed from history, but also to what leaders and elite opinion believe, however tinged with fantasy.  Another lesson is that alongside the flights of fancy concocted to terrify and mobilize the public (and perhaps believed by some who are trapped in their own rhetoric), there is also geostrategic planning based on principles that are rational and stable over long periods because they are rooted in stable institutions and their concerns."

From Losing the World from American Decline in Perspective, Part I

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Some thoughts on "Drug Culture"

The other day (actually a week or so ago) I had the pleasure of viewing a forum/discussion on drugs. How I got to that topic or the video itself, I cannot recall. Here is the link. The panelists were the psychologist Susan Blackmore, journalist Peter Hitchens, philosopher Edward Skidelsky, and some anthropologist. They discussed the ethics of drug use, the war on drugs amongst other things. Peter Hitchens rather stole the show with his contrarian conservative opinions, though the other panelists had interesting things to say as well.

For example Skidelsky defended alcohol and marijuana as certain goods. However it seemed as though his case was that these drugs were a means to goods, not good in and of themselves. For example he cited an author who wrote all his books while drunk, and how marijuana can cause one to think of ideas which stand up to "philosophical scrutiny." These examples focus on the specific ends: novels and thought--not on the experience of the drug as good in and of itself. Further using marijuana and drugs clearly aren't necessary conditions for writing good novels and having good thoughts. Neither are they necessary for good lives. Still perhaps they help, for example many persons (Roger Scruton's book comes to mind) defend the proposition that moderate alcohol use enhances life. Some (Carl Sagan) do the same for marijuana. Skidelsky also warned of the dangers of solipsism from drug use. On this he is spot on; drug use doesn't enhance moral behavior in any way, and has much ability to do the opposite. Like other forms of recreation it enables one to ignore moral obligations to others.

Susan Blackmore defended not only marijuana, but powerful psychedelics. She stipulated, quite rightly that hallucinogens (psilocybin, LSD, Etc) can bring on quite powerful, changing experiences. I think tripping as such could properly be classified as religious experiences. Like religious experience she claimed they can be events in a life from which the tripper gains knowledge. In an article she claims and describes this phenomenon, pertaining to a specific LSD trip:

"Instead,  the onslaught of images eventually taught me to see and  accept the frightening depths of my own mind - to face up to the fact that, under other circumstances, I might be either torturer or tortured. In a curious way, this makes it easier to cope with the guilt, fear or anxiety of ordinary life. Certainly, acceptance is a skill worth having - though I guess there are easier ways of acquiring it."

She rather undercuts her argument by the last clause. If there is religious experience it is the experience itself that is valuable, not the knowledge. For as she acknowledges the knowledge could be gained otherwise, and there is in fact a good chance that it is false. For examples of the latter, if you feel like torturing yourself you may want to read Daniel Pinchbeck's book 2012 (which is in short druggie/jungian nonsense). Further many religious experiences cause knowledge of conflicting beliefs. There is a wide spectrum of Christian-Hindu-Anamistic-New Age etc. experiences which cause logically incompatible beliefs. This fact is enough to show that the actual knowledge will come from critical analysis that is independent of the religious experience. And analysis of thoughts that can come otherwise, without the physical and mental risks.

Peter Hitchen's was completely alone due to his antagonistic relationship with drugs. The conservative contrarian was probably the most interesting, because of this. He claimed that there was no war on drugs in the UK (A claim which I can't criticize or endorse. I am completely ignorant of the situation, and neither side made an entirely convincing case). He also mentioned the fact that marijuana can cause psychosis and can impair those who use it at a young age.This was a refreshing fact, that many manage to ignore. But this isn't relevant to issues of marijuana legalization for consenting adults; for we don't prohibit alcohol use for these reasons. So I am hardly convinced about his case against marijuana legalization. In fact quite the opposite. Since there aren't any sufficient reasons for making marijuana illegal to the public it shouldn't be illegal! Peter Hitchen's also made the banally stupid claim that addiction is just another word for "weakness of will." Apparently he is completely unaware of the work done by psychology and neuroscience on addiction. If he means by weakness of will something for which persons are responsible for he is completely wrong.

The anthropologist had little to say on the topic other than some nifty historical tidbits. That concludes my thoughts on the discussion.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Existence of Humans is Evidence that God does not Exist

In this post I will attempt to succinctly state the anthropic argument against the existence of God (A morally perfect, powerful, and knowledgeable being). I take a lot of inspiration from Mark Walker's piece here, though my discussion will proceed differently. It's basic form is as follows:

(1) If God exists humans would not exist (2) humans exist (3) hence God doesn't exist.
The 2nd premise is uncontroversial, the 1st is where we shall focus our sights.

Imagine this case: You are to procreate a child. We have designed a pill where you can choose what moral, mental, and physical traits your child has. You have two options (a) take a pill where the child in question will have just as much moral, mental, and physical abilities as you do or (b) take another pill where the child in question will be severely morally, mentally and physically deficient to you. In case (a) the human will be, so to speak, average in abilities, but in case (b) the being will have less moral knowledge, be intellectually handicapped, and physically handicapped. Now it seems wrong to take pill (b) since the deficiencies of the child will harm both the child and others; hence you ought to take pill (a). Further if you were to be the child you would clearly wish that your parents chose pill (a) in a case like this.

Lets think of another case, this time from Mark Walker. Suppose humans knowingly create Chumans;

"Chuman’, as this species is known, is created from a human chimpanzee cross. Chumans are mentally and physically challenged in comparison with humans, and have been genetically altered to have a strong propensity for violent outbursts (a propensity they wish they did not have)."

Further these Chumans survive humanity, yet lacking the tools and intellect for modern medicine and agriculture many starve to death. Their history is full of war, disease, starvation, and rape. Wouldn't it be wrong to create such beings? Why create such beings instead of more humans?

In fact there are several real world examples of the results of something like pill (b) and the chumans. There are actual persons who are physically, mentally, and morally handicapped. This causes harm to others due to the lack of moral knowledge and ability, and harm to the person in question who may lose out on many goods of the average human (social, physical, intellectual etc.). If given the choice most parents would choose pill (a), as they ought to.

Hence we can extract the procreation principle like this: 

It is wrong for X to cause, knowingly and voluntarily, the procreation of a Y; which is morally, mentally, and physically deficient to X

Using the procreation principle (PP) we can support premise (1). If PP is true God wouldn't create humans since she can do no wrong (being morally perfect and all). Because humans are morally, physically (in terms of ability--since God isn't a physical being), and mentally disabled from God, she wouldn't create such beings.

An Objection Concerning the Impossibility of PP

Suppose it's impossible for God to create creatures that are not morally, mentally, and physically deficient to her. Then one might be tempted to say that PP is false since it is logically impossible for God to create other beings like her in the required senses, yet it is still permissible for her to create beings. I am not inclined to think this is true but suppose it is, lets stipulate that it is logically impossible for God to create other Gods and that it is permissible for God to create a world even so. We then could amend the principle as follows:

It is wrong for X to cause, knowingly and voluntarily, the procreation of a Y; which is UNNECESSARILY morally, mentally, and physically deficient to X

Lets call this idea PP*. In it, unnecessarily means, that X shouldn't create a Y insofar as another Y* could logically be morally, physically, or mentally better off. So PP means X shouldn't create Y's that are deficient, but PP* says that X's can create Y's that are deficient but only as least deficient as possible.

How does this relate to the anthropic argument? Well according too PP* God can only create beings that are least deficient as possible. Do humans fit this criterion? Bluntly stated no they don't. We don't even come close. God could have created Angelic beings with more knowledge, power, and moral goodness. She could have made beings that are good by nature as she is. These beings don't have to be as powerful or knowledgeable as she is, all that is needed is that they be better then humans. 

So to the objection that PP is logically impossible hence premise 2 of the argument is false one can reply as such:

No. God could create or sustain other beings with the same mental, moral, and powers as she (even if these beings lack necessary existence or something like that). Further supposing she can't beings like her that in itself is no reason for thinking PP is false. If that were the case God simply wouldn't be morally perfect if she created any world with beings.

Suppose we are mistaken in thinking PP is true, than we can replace PP with PP*. Since there could be better beings than humans the anthropic argument goes through and God isn't justified in creating humans. And as such God as defined does not exist.

I think is one of the strongest arguments against the existence of God. This is probably because it taps into my strongest intuitions of morality and reality. Object away!