On the Morality of: Open Borders

My recap of the Maryam Namazie-Sam Harris exchange spurred a debate about open-border policies, so I wanted to write a post focusing on that topic. Unfortunately, I believe this is only going to become more relevant, not just because of the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis, but because it's likely that the next few decades will see millions of people forced to migrate by climate change.On a first pass, it's hard to see what argument could be made against open borders. Shouldn't travel be … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?

Atlas Shrugged, part III, chapter VIIIWith Mr. Thompson's failure, the rest of the looters are taking turns appealing to John Galt, trying to convince him to step in and save the world. Needless to say, it's not going well:"I... I'll just throw myself on your mercy, Mr. Galt," said Chick Morrison with a frantic smile. "You're right. I'll concede that you're right — and all I can appeal to is your pity. Deep down in my heart, I can't believe that you're a total egoist who feels no pity f … [Read more...]

The One-Percent Difference

I posted the other day on Facebook about Richard Dawkins being disinvited from NECSS for promoting a grossly sexist video, which provoked an onlooker to comment that he agreed with Dawkins and not with me. (It was a white man, if you wanted to know.)Since I curate my Facebook wall and don't care to share details of my personal life with people who hold such retrograde opinions, I unfriended him, which he apparently took as a grave insult. He sent me an angry, huffy message, then stopped by … [Read more...]

Welcome Stranger: A Humanist Sermon

I've said in the past, and will have occasion to say again, that the world is slowly becoming a better place despite the tragedies and outrages that parade before our eyes. But just because the overall picture is brightening doesn't mean that there aren't real and lingering dark spots that ought to command our attention. One is the continuing civil war in Syria and the exodus of people, mostly Muslim, it's scattered across Europe and the United States.Last month, I mused about the astounding … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: Antiheroism

Atlas Shrugged, part III, chapter VII've been contemplating the concept of the antihero in literature. It's always struck me as an odd term. Just going by etymology, you'd think it meant the opposite of a hero, but it doesn't. All it means is a different kind of hero - someone who has more obvious character flaws, or a different moral code, than traditional, white-hat, truth-justice-and-the-American-way heroes.What would it mean for someone to really and truly be the opposite of a hero? … [Read more...]

Are Atheist Kids More Altruistic?

When I see a story that promises evidence for something I'd very much like to be true, I try to apply an extra measure of skepticism. That's why I'm hesitant to believe a new study in the journal Current Biology which claims that children raised in atheist households are more altruistic and less judgmental than children of religious families:The children played a game intended to measure their altruistic tendencies (or lack thereof). First, they were presented with a bagful of stickers and … [Read more...]

On Moral Superheroism

I have thoughts about this essay in the Guardian about extreme altruism, seen through the life of an atheist named Julia Wise:Julia believed that because each person was equally valuable, she was not entitled to care more for herself than for anyone else; she believed that she was therefore obliged to spend much of her life working for the benefit of others... She reduced her expenses to the absolute minimum so she could give away 50% of what she earned. She felt that nearly every penny … [Read more...]

What Is the Economy For, Anyway?

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Consumerism Gone Wild. Read other perspectives here.The Guardian ran a column on a group of unsung heroes: the therapists to the super-rich, whose job it is to help their clients deal with the stress and strain of having all that money. According to one of them, Clay Cockrell:"I shifted toward it naturally," he said of his becoming an expert in wealth therapy. "We are trained to have empathy, no judgment and so … [Read more...]

Atlas Shrugged: Kinder, Küche, Kirche

Atlas Shrugged, part III, chapter III've mentioned the missing women of Atlas Shrugged, but there's another omission that's even bigger. Although the men far outnumber the women, we have Dagny as a main character, plus there are a few other women to provide representation, unequal as it is. However, there's a hole that has no such compensation: the almost total absence of children.Despite all the sex in Atlas - Dagny has long-term sexual relationships with Francisco, Hank, and later John … [Read more...]

When Rationalists Reinvent Religion

I enjoyed this story by Dylan Matthews on Vox about effective altruism, an idea I'm all in favor of and wanted to say more about.EA is the philosophy that we should use science, rather than warm fuzzy feelings or guesswork, to direct our charitable giving where it will do the most good. Compared to the enormous need in the world, the amount of money and energy available for charity is small to begin with, and too many of those scarce and precious dollars and volunteer hours have been … [Read more...]