A guest post – “Absolutes and the Atheist Divide” by Matt Facciani

All the infighting makes sense from a scientific perspective

Fighting within the secular movement has unfortunately been all too common lately. Friendships have been lost, alliances have been broken, and terrible things have been said in situations where people are in 99% agreement. People are very quick to deal in absolutes which are quite harmful for our movement. Many good people do not even want to be involved because of all the unnecessary drama. Other good people are losing interest fast. It can be rather perplexing to see people viciously fighting one another when they agree on so much. In this post I hope to uncover why people deal in absolutes from our current understanding of how the mind works. I do this as both a curious neuroscientist, but also as simply a person who simply cares about our movement, the people within it, and is tired of seeing so much fighting when we agree on so much.

I consider dealing in absolutes to occur when a person leaves absolutely no room for a differing perspective. When dealing in absolutes, there is one absolute correct way and the mere questioning of that perspective in any fashion leads to vilifying and out casting. Skeptics have seen this kind of thinking in the dogmatic nature of religion, yet as skeptics we are often guilty of it ourselves. The reason this occurs is because we are just as human as theists and we are just as prone to cognitive biases. By not admitting this, we are only harming ourselves. Additionally, dealing in absolutes can often be quite vicious in nature. The ironic thing that people fail to realize is that being harsh can often be counterproductive for getting them to see your point. Countless studies have shown that competence AND warmth are crucial for being viewed positively in social interactions. You must be seen as capable and friendly to have your positions be viewed favorably.

I believe there are three major contributing factors to dealing in absolutes from what we know about the brain.

  1. The first reason is because it simply takes less cognitive effort to make simpler decisions. It is much easier to place a person or idea in one category or another and not evaluate them on a continuous spectrum. Our brains have developed to look for patterns and quickly classify things so it is easy to place a person in one category or another and not critically evaluate their behavior.
  2. The second reason is due to our vulnerability in committing the fundamental attribution error. The fundamental attribution error is a famous cognitive bias that many people routinely make. It can be described as when people overestimate another person’s personality as the cause of their behavior and underestimate the effect of the environment and extenuating circumstances in their behavior. Thus, when dealing with absolutes, it is easier to think that one’s personality is flawed and the environment and other contributing factors have little to do with one’s behavior (and again, less cognitive effort). This falls in nicely with dealing in absolutes because we can quickly label someone as a ‘bad person’ instead of evaluating their perspective.
  3. The concept of amygdala highjacking contributes as well. Amygdala highjacking occurs when we are dealing with an emotional topic and we automatically react with emotion rather than reason. The amygdala is a part of the brain which processes emotion and when amygdala highjacking occurs, neural resources normally reserved for reasoning in other parts of the brain (like the frontal cortex) are allocated to the amygdala.

The Brain

So basically, when humans deal with difficult or emotional topics, our brains are wired to jump to hasty absolute conclusions. So how can we possibly fight our biology? Well, we can fight fire with fire, or in this case, the firing of neurons with the firing of neurons. Despite having these built in cognitive biases, we also have a valuable resource called consciousness. We are self-aware. Our brains are malleable and we can change them by making a concerted effort to do so. We may not be able to control how our brains initially react to stimuli, but we CAN control what happens next. The great thing about the three reasons I mentioned is that they can all be alleviated with one simple process.

Okay, so our brains are built to look for patterns and minimize cognitive effort which makes us more likely to engage in such kinds of thinking. So it is very possible that when we see a perspective we disagree with we might quickly think ‘MISOGYNIST’ for example. And honestly, that’s totally fine. It’s OKAY to react emotionally. Emotions are awesome, quite useful, and it would be futile to try and stop them from occurring. The important thing to realize is that we have self-awareness and can know when we are engaging in such kinds of maladaptive thinking. Knowing that our brain is quick to react to negative emotional stimuli, we can combat it by first trying to take a step back. We can take a moment to ask ourselves questions such as:

  • “What specifically has this person said to offend me?”
  • “Is this an isolated incident or is there a pattern of bad behavior here?”
  • “What sort of environmental components could have contributed to this behavior?”
  • “Should I be more flexible in how I view this person?”
  • “What is their perspective like while viewing this issue?”

The last question might be the most difficult, but is also the most important. Making a concerted effort to view another person’s perspective is very tough. And it also requires more cognitive resources. But it’s okay! Once we take our initial step back, take a few deep breaths, and make a GENUINE effort to evaluate the situation and differing perspective, we can respond much more rationally. This is the key step. Viewing a situation from an outside perspective limits the fundamental attribution error because it forces us to relate to the conflicting perspective more

Amygdala hijacking

Also, remember amygdala hijacking? To combat that and allocate more neural resources to the parts of our brain that deal with reason, we need to make a concerted effort to activate those rational parts of the brain. By processing to ourselves what we are feeling, the frontal areas of our brain involved in reason become active. Furthermore, if applicable, we can attempt to appreciate the person in some way we are communicating with as the feeling of appreciation will counter a negative feeling. This can be as simple as “well this person obviously cares about this issue and they want to help even if they are misinformed.”

By stating to yourself, WHAT is going on which makes you upset, WHY it is making you upset, and asking HOW this person could come to such a conflicting conclusion, you will find yourself in a much calmer and rational state of mind. The blood that rushed to your amygdala will now be more evenly spread to parts of your brain which process reason like the frontal cortex. Now your brain won’t quickly jump to yelling “MISOGYNIST”, but might think things like “hey, this person is saying something which is degrading to women and I’d like to find out why they are doing so.” Then, intelligent discourse can occur. Maybe you misunderstood that person, or maybe they are indeed a misogynist asshole. The point is that you do not shut the door on them right away. You can provide an opportunity to learn and educate.

In conclusion, it is crucial to be aware of our innate thinking patterns and make a concerted effort to combat them. This is the only way we will prevent ourselves from quickly dealing in absolutes and alienating those who agree with us so much. Our brain may be wired to process our environment a certain way, but that doesn’t mean we are required deal in absolutes once we regain our composure. By first taking a step back, thinking about the situation from a more objective standpoint, and then genuinely attempting to see another person’s perspective, we can have more civil discussions and make the world a friendlier place.

Note: This post reflects only a cursory understanding of the psychological and neurological components in dealing in absolutes. Contact me if you have further questions or leave a comment below and I will try my best to provide more information.

 

http://www.relationalcapitalgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Warmth-Competence-2007.pdf

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/04/09/0910662107.full.pdf+html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_attribution_error

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala_hijack

http://www.busmanagement.com/article/What-Was-I-Thinking-Handling-the-Hijack/

http://www.sportnz.org.nz/Documents/Officials/Conflict_and_your_brain_v2.pdf

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053811905024754

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About Paul Loebe
  • No God Cast Podcast

    Can’t help but think about Atheism+ while reading this post. Really
    vindicates my reasons for not supporting their execution of their ideas.

    Great
    post, Matt. We caught you on one of our sister shows, A Matter of
    Doubt, a couple weeks ago. Would love to have you on the No God Cast –
    we can have a conversation about this article, I think our listeners
    would love it.

    • Matt Facciani

      I’m glad you enjoyed my post and I would love to be a guest on your show :)

      • No God Cast Podcast

        Very glad to hear it. We have an interview with David Smalley this week and then an episode on secular/atheist marriages and what they mean to people in them the following week. How about the 25th of this month?

        • Matt Facciani

          The 25th sounds good to me! I look forward to being on your show :)

    • Matt Facciani

      As a side note, this post wasn’t directed at any particular group or person. This is just a general theme I have been observing in the secular movement from all sides.

      • No God Cast Podcast

        Yes of course, I understand that. Just couldn’t help but think about A+ as I was reading. Merely thinking out loud.

  • Ricker

    Good post; it’s always a good idea to examine opposing viewpoints because sometimes they help you make adjustments to your own views.
    But a question: I’ve stopped and considered the other person’s view and perspective. I may even have engaged in dialogue with him so he can explain why he feels/believes the way he does. Except I still disagree with his conclusion or interpretation of the evidence.
    What happens next? I know there are some topics where one can ‘agree to disagree,’ but I do think there are certain areas where there are or should be absolutes. I present my thought process, my interpretation, in as neutral or warm a way as I can without telling the other person she’s wrong, but she still disagrees. I can understand how and why she might think that the baby has red hair because that’s how God made him, but I know the baby has red hair because of genetics and DNA. Even though I explain this, she doesn’t agree.
    How do we reach a consensus?

    • Matt Facciani

      Very good question, but I don’t believe any good answer exists for it. Obviously, reaching a consensus is dependent on so many factors and every situation is different. So I’m not sure if there can be any specific rules which cover all disagreements. I will say that there is always merit to having a solid discussion though. For example, we have all seen debates on theists and non-theists and how neither person changes their mind at the end. However, there are many people watching these debates who are on the fence. If these people see a well reasoned and calmly presented argument, they are more likely to re-evaluate their beliefs then name calling for example.

      So I would say that yes, sometimes beliefs are so ingrained in a person that we cannot change them. But having discussions at least provide a foundation for productive discourse whether or not one’s belief will change. If the discussion is public, it can provide a huge difference for many people as well.

  • Randy Gritter

    Another person saying absolutes are absolutely wrong!

    • Matt Facciani

      I never said they are absolutely wrong. There are situations where it is best to absolutely stop certain behaviors. The key is to constantly engage in self-reflection and be mindful of other people’s perspectives.

  • wlad

    Matt,
    Rape is always wrong, for everybody, whether they believe it or not.
    I’m pretty sure you would agree with that statement. If not, please clarify.

    Please give me an example of how you engage in self-reflection and are mindful of other people perspectives. For instance, many moslems believe rape is impossible in
    marriage. Would you still say it is wrong for the moslem, or would you say, “wrong form me, not necessarily for you. You believe otherwise, OK?

    • Matt Facciani

      Good question. I think the first thing I would address is the difference of distance between the areas I am talking about and the one you mentioned. I’m addressing the problems of dealing in absolutes of people within the same movement. People who are generally in agreement, but quickly form divisions often employ problematic cognitive biases like I have addressed above. So these people often are fighting people who are in a much closer proximity with their views.

      People who condone rape like in your example are much farther apart from most people. So it is quite a different example. Like I just said in reply to another comment, nothing should be dealt with in absolutes, and that includes never dealing in absolutes. Yes, of course rape is absolutely wrong and should be treated as such.

      You can still see another person’s viewpoint even if they have a harmful one. These Muslims you speak of are following their religious doctrine. They believe that rape is impossible in marriage because that is what they have been taught. I like to use the example of abortion to illustrate this.

      People who are for abortion generally feel this way because they believe it to be against their religion and that it is murder. If people think something is murder, would we want them to be okay with it? No of course not. The Muslims you speak of are adhering to dogma which creates their harmful views. So, I would take a very Socratic approach to dealing with people like them. Try to ask them why rape is impossible in a marriage if a woman does not give consent. What exactly determines rape then? Eventually you will get them to admit that they are blindly following dogma which leads into an entirely different area. People who adhere strongly to dogma are very difficult to talk to, but we can still understand where their beliefs come from.

      • wlad

        I applaud your asking for a more civilized discourse.

        ” Like I just said in reply to another comment, nothing should be dealt with in absolutes, and that includes never dealing in absolutes. Yes, of course rape is absolutely wrong and should be treated as such.”

        Being civil to the Moslem and rationally discussing your absolute moral position to convince him (or a college frat guy) is something I understand.

        However,
        Unless I misunderstand your last statement above, you still believe that rape is wrong for him, or the college student, even if neither believe it OK.
        You would NOT say, OK Mr. Mohammed, (or frat guy) “My morality says it is wrong for me, but OK for thee if you don’t share my morality.” A moral relativist position.

        You would say, “Mr. Mohammed, and Frat Guy. It doesn’t really matter what you believe, it is still wrong, for me and thee, and society should hold you accountable. A moral absolutist position.

        I don’t think have EVER heard an atheist acknowledge that he holds an absolute moral opinion binding on everybody, that I remember.

        My question to you as an atheist is, “What is the grounding for your absolute moral position?

        I have never heard an atheist answer this regarding their position on rape, and I would appreciate an answer.

        • Matt Facciani

          You do misunderstand me as I am not saying there is an absolute morality. Of course morals can vary depending on culture.

          I’m not sure I understand your question. I think rape is absolutely wrong. If a Muslim or Frat guy does not, then I would disagree with them.

          • wlad

            Matt,

            “I’m not sure I understand your question. I think rape is absolutely wrong. If a Muslim or Frat guy does not, then I would disagree with them.”

            No, you would not JUST disagree. You would hold your view on him binding. If he raped your daughter, you would say he was WRONG, despite his objections. You would work very hard for some accountability. Because the law said so? No, because it was wrong! You would absolutely NOT let him say, “Don’t force your morality on me.” And let him go.

            You would even use force to enforce your morality on him if the law was not around.

            If you were in some moslem country, and some moslem raped your daughter, and the courts there refused to do anything about it because their laws say you need four male witnesses to attest to the rape, you would raise hell and want the US government and state department to do something more in line with your moral view. It’s not just an issue of a different moral culture. It’s wrong everywhere!

            When arguing with pro-choice people, when I say, “abortion is absolutely wrong for all and work to revoke Roe vs Wade, they go ballistic and not just disagree with me, but loudly say I have no right to force my morality on them.

            Do you believe rape is wrong because the law says it is illegal, or because it is inherently wrong?

          • Matt Facciani

            Yes, I agree that I would be outraged if such a situation were to occur.

            I think I understand your point better now. I believe you are wondering if I believe anyone is an arbiter of morality. No, I don’t think anyone is, but let me explain my views on the subject.

            Yes, I think rape is wrong and I would want the law to protect those from being raped and prosecute rapists. However, pro-life people think abortion is wrong and want the law to protect the unborn. I think you are asking me then, what is the difference between these two situations? Am I correct?

            If so, I would say that the law is an interesting entity as it is built around dealing with absolutes. People are guilty or not guilty. So then what determines these laws? Legislators. How do these legislators come in power? They are elected. How are they elected? People vote for them. Why do people vote for them? Because of their beliefs. How do you change people’s beliefs? You talk to them and explain your positions to them.

            This comes full circle to my post. When discussing things with another person, it is important to not yell at them if they disagree, but have a civil discussion instead if possible. For example, if I educate Frat Guy about why rape is wrong instead of calling him names, he may vote for a politician who supports harsher laws for rapists.

          • wlad

            “However, pro-life people think abortion is wrong and want the law to
            protect the unborn. I think you are asking me then, what is the
            difference between these two situations? Am I correct?”

          • wlad

            OOPS, I posted too soon on the above comment.
            Matt,

            Yes I do want to know the difference, and you really haven’t answered it.

            Laws certainly reflect people’s moral views, but certainly are not the REASONS people believe things are wrong. If Roe v Wade was reversed, would you believe abortion was wrong for everyone because it reflected the majority view? I don’t think so.

            Law is NOT the reason for your position on rape.

            ” For example, if I educate Frat Guy about why rape is wrong”

            Exactly. He knows it’s illegal. That doesn’t bother him. He knows different ways not to get caught–spiking drinks, etc.
            Can’t use the law on him. You have to use reasons that are binding on all men (and women), and not just the law. Absolute moral reasons. You hold them in the case of rape.
            What are these absolute moral reasons, and why are they absolute?

          • Matt Facciani

            The absolute moral reasons are absolute only to myself as I have no authority to force another person what to believe. My moral code is simple, I want people to be happy. Someone who is raped or someone who wants an abortion and is denied one are both extreme examples of unhappiness. Therefore, I would try to speak out against such injustices.

            Some people will of course disagree with me. Some Frat Guys will say ‘she was asking for it’ and some religious people will say abortion is murder, but I will try to support my positions to the best of my ability.

          • wlad

            Matt,
            “The absolute moral reasons are absolute only to myself.”
            Do you mean it absolutely applies only to yourself? And it doesn’t apply absolutely to everybody!?

            Well, your statement above and your position on rape is not logically possible to hold at the same time.

            DEFINITION of absolute morality–the moral position that some moral values are absolutely binding on everybody, in all circumstances, with no exceptions, WHETHER they believe it or not. (Says NOTHING about legality or enforceability.)

            Sounds EXACTLY like your moral position on rape, no?

          • Matt Facciani

            It seems there is a miscommunication here as I do not understand what point you are trying to convey. Are we even in disagreement?

            I think rape is absolutely wrong. Absolutely wrong as in, no one should be raped under any circumstance. There are other people who disagree with this. Despite me disagreeing with them, I am not the arbiter of morality for anyone. I can only discuss with others what I believe to be right and hope to change any harmful view they have.

          • wlad

            Matt,

            “I think rape is absolutely wrong. Absolutely wrong as in, no one should be raped under any circumstance. There are other people who disagree with this.’

          • Matt Facciani

            I think you posted too soon again ;)

          • wlad

            Continuation from above.
            The first two sentences reflect an absolute moral position binding everybody, and that’s the position you hold.

            The second sentence reflects a relativist moral position, binding ONLY the person holding it. For instance, abortion is wrong for you, but not necessarily for me.

            In your comment, you say you hold the first position, and NOT the second.

            You hold the absolute moral position, not the relativist moral position.

            You don’t think rape is just absolutely wrong for you.
            You think rape is absolutely wrong for everybody.

            So please don’t say you believe that your moral position applies only to you. You believe it applies to everybody, even if they don’t hold it.

            A pro-choicer will tell me, “you can’t tell me abortion is wrong for everybody. It may be wrong for you. But you can’t tell me that it is wrong for me.”

            Seems to be a moral position you probably hold, probably think that it is the only position a rational person can hold on morals.

            You would agree that a moral position like–abortion is always wrong– cannot possibly be wrong and binding on everybody, as the pro-choicer so eloquently states.

            And at the same time you strongly hold the moral position –rape is always wrong–IS always wrong and binding on everybody.

            It seems to me you need to make up your mind–do you believe that moral values bind all, whether they believe it or not.

            Or do you believe that moral values don’t bind all, because some don’t believe.

            You can’t believe both at the same time. So which is it?

          • Matt Facciani

            I fail to see how me personally thinking rape is wrong binds everyone else to the same moral position. It appears that you are trying to force me into making an absolute claim that I either support rape on some level or am trying to tell other people what to think and both of those claims would be incorrect.

          • wlad

            1. I know that you believe rape is always wrong for everybody–I’m not trying to trick you.

            2. I am NOT saying you are trying to tell others what to think.

            I am saying that you believe rape is wrong for everybody, whatever they think. You aren’t telling them WHAT to think. They can and do think whatever they want.

            You are telling them rape is wrong, no matter what they think.

            Joe the frat guy comes up to you and says, “Look Matt. I don’t believe rape is wrong. You can’t tell me rape is wrong for everybody. It may be wrong for you. But you can’t tell me it’s wrong for me.

            I believe you would say, “Joe, rape is wrong for everybody. Wrong for me, wrong for you, wrong for everybody. And yes Joe, I can tell you that it’s wrong for you too.”

            The pro-lifer would say, “Matt, abortion is wrong for everybody. Wrong for me, wrong for you, wrong for everybody. And yes, I can tell you that it’s wrong for you.”

            You would feel very comfortable telling Joe about rape in THOSE EXACT WORDS, feeling perfectly justified and feeling not all that you are IMPOSING your values on him.

            But when I used THOSE EXACT WORDS in talking about abortion to pro-choicers, they get very indignant, and (sometimes) scream, “Don’t impose your values on me! You can’t tell me it’s wrong for me.”

            Are they right in their response? Or wrong in their response?

            If you think the pro-choicers are right, that a person cannot use THOSE EXACT WORDS in promoting a moral view of abortion, that you are imposing his values,

            WHY
            do you feel YOU can use THOSE EXACT WORDS in promoting your moral view of rape,

            but a pro-lifer cannot use the same words in promoting his view of abortion.

            Why? Why are pro-lifers imposing their values using those words, and you are not imposing your values, using those words.?

          • Matt Facciani

            Ah, I see. That’s an easy one because there is a big difference between rape and abortion. By not allowing women the choice of abortion, you are telling them what they can do with their own body. With rape, I am not telling someone what to do with their body when I say rape is wrong. I am telling them what to do in regards to another person (the rape victim).

            I suppose the argument would then go into ‘well where does life begin?’ which has been argued ad nauseum.

          • wlad

            Matt, I get it.

            You are NOT opposed to imposing your morality on people that don’t share your morality–that is, if what they do affects other people. Like slavery. Or rape. Correct?
            I would be interested in your answer to this question.

            BTW, I recently read where a woman wanted a hospital to amputate her two perfectly good legs. If your daughter wanted to do this and asked your view, would you say, “No, that’s a wrong thing to do with your body!” Or, “Go girl, it’s your body.”

          • Matt Facciani

            I don’t really like the terms ‘imposing my morality’ as it seems too black and white. Yes, generally I would not want people to do things which negatively affect others.

            And of course I would need more context, but yes, I would want my daughter to make whatever choice is best for her. If she was in severe psychological stress because she had too legs for example, then I would want her to do whatever makes her happiest, but of course we would talk about it.

          • wlad

            Matt,
            I am astonished at your answer. I think you answered the way you did jut because it fit your narrative. But perhaps you really would do it the way you said. I doubt if any other parent would.
            BTW, no hospital would perform that surgery. They all thought it was very, very wrong. Were they just silly moral absolutists, imposing their morality?

            I didn’t ask if you WANTED or not WANTED people to not do thing which negatively affects others.

            I asked you if you would support IMPOSING your morality on others who did not share your moral views. If you lived before the 13 amendment was passed, would you support passing such an amendment that would FORCE slave owners in a clear black and white mandate, to give up their slaves? Slave owners experienced the 13 amendment as clearly as a black and white issue. No allowing for “let me at least have a few slaves.” “Just a little wrong.”

            So, would you impose your values on slave owners?

          • Matt Facciani

            I’m still rather perplexed by the goal of your comments. My message has been a rather vanilla one of how I don’t like bad things happening to others and I would like engage in civil discourse with those who disagree with me if possible. I’m unsure how you take this as me imposing morality on others. I don’t even have the power to change other people’s morality so this is a moot point to me.

          • wlad

            Would you ONLY politely engage in discourse with slave-owners, hoping to convince them to your point of view?

            If everyone had adopted such a “ONLY talk point of view on how to get rid of slavery, slavery would absolutely still be here.

            “Please sir, slavery causes unhappiness. Lots and lots of unhappiness. Extreme unhappiness. It hurts people. I want people to be happy, don’t you? So, will you free your slaves?”

            No, even if not a single slave-owner gave up his slaves after you politely talked with them, you would still FORCE them to follow your morality (not change their morality).

            No one can EVER force anyone to change their morality, but can force actions consistent with their morality.

            I am sure some, or perhaps many, did give up slaves after conversations.

            BUT, if polite conversations didn’t get rid of slavery–guess what, they actually didn’t–you would be perfectly happy to work for the passage of thirteenth amendment and FORCE slave-owners to give up their slaves.

            And I a pro-lifer, believe, JUST LIKE YOU DO, that I should have polite conversations with pro-abortion folks. I know I can’t really force a change in their morality. I might convince some. But I can work for a human life amendment, or a reversal of Roe v Wade that would force abortionist to stop aborting (stop slave-owners from owning slaves).

            We both agree. Forcing people to change their behavior (free slaves, stop performing abortions) is a perfectly good thing to do.

          • Matt Facciani

            You raise some interesting points which of course have no absolute or correct answers.

            Where is the line between forcing morality and only engaging in discussion? Is it worth forcing someone against their will for the greater good? If someone truly believes that attacking people is a morally correct thing to do, is it imposing morality on them to make them stop?

            This again, comes back to my point on absolutes. There is no absolute correct way to do anything. EVERYTHING has shades of grey. This is especially true for human interaction. Yes, certain techniques may be more beneficial for social change, but this doesn’t mean they always will be helpful.

            I don’t believe we will find a solution on what is the correct way to engage in proper discourse for social change. However, I certainly appreciate our discussion and at the very least we have both learned more about different perspectives.

            Thank you for your comments and insights.

          • wlad

            Well, it seems you want to shut down the discussion before answering some major challenges to the MAIN point of your post. We should not be afraid of challenges.

            “We both agree. Forcing people to change their behavior (free slaves, stop performing abortions) is a perfectly good thing to do.”

            I say that you and I agree. But, you have not answered yes or no. You hem and haw, and say, let’s talk, we don’t where the line is between talking and forcing etc.

            1. Do you or do you not agree, that forcing people to give up their slaves was the right thing to do?

            2. Or are you unsure about it? We should have just tried to talk the slave-owners out of it?

            Simple questions. Your answers to these simple questions that you obviously have an answer to will clarify immensely what you mean in the whole point of your post.

            1. or 2. Not hard.

          • JMH

            *grin* I’d much rather him reevaluate his actions with a drunk partner (or his motivations for getting a potential partner drunk), but otherwise, I agree.

          • JMH

            When a pro-pregnancy person expresses their views to me, I do not go ballistic, I very calmly explain that unless we’re going to start harvesting organs from everyone, to donate to anyone who is dying of organ failure, than I have the right to decide for this particular organ whether I will use it as a (life-threatening by the way) life-support system for someone else. Just like we seek consent before using someone’s kidney for a life-support system for someone else. And then I calmly point out that corpses have more right to bodily autonomy than women in several cultures.
            Going ballistic doesn’t solve anything. Having a conversation does. Having a conversation about rape with men (and women, because women can also rape, FYI) prevents a lot of rapes, having them actually think about consent and their own ideas of obligation of females/others upon their sex drives. *small shrug*

          • wlad

            JMH,
            “When a pro-pregnancy person expresses their views to me, I do not go ballistic”
            Wonderful.

            if pro-lifers work very hard to undo Roe v Wade, as they are, do you feel that they are trying to impose their values on you?

          • JMH

            Yes (though, I’m not American, but there is a Canadian equivalent though much less successful, thank reason), but that’s the political process, and I encourage them to do so. (Harassing and/or bombing abortion clinics notsomuch.)
            We’re all using the political process to try and tweak society towards our own values, and I’m glad they’re participating.

            If I was American, I wouldn’t blame the pro-pregnancy people; if you want to blame someone, blame the pro-choice group for assuming they’d won and bowing out of the conversion and giving the pro-pregnancy people two decades mostly unmolested to carry the conversation.

            If all you hear is one side of an argument, most people because of the above cognitive biases are more likely to conclude there isn’t an argument being had. It’s why propaganda works so well.

            Not that anger isn’t a useful emotion, but it so rarely useful as a method of communication.

  • Luis

    General theme I see in this post and in the comment section is you saying that there are no absolutes, but that rape is absolutely wrong. I also see wlad’s challenge and I do think you have yet to ponder more about your philosophical stance on this issue.

    I really believe you do not understand the problem of absolutism / relativism regarding morality, etc., and just try to steer the conversation from that peculiarity whenever it has come up.

    While I seem to disagree with wlad’s points, I do think his challenges were spot on. How is it possible for a person to ask questions and challenge other moral points of view, if such person does not hold an “absolute morality”? I do believe there is an answer to this question, but it’s not an easy one nor should it be ignored away. We can be Socratic all we want, but given the existent absolutes in our world (religious, mostly) as the basis for many moralities, we do know where the buck stops in many such discussions.

    • Matt Facciani

      “How is it possible for a person to ask questions and challenge other
      moral points of view, if such person does not hold an “absolute
      morality”?”

      This is a good question and I do not have an answer to it. I’m a neuroscientist, not a philosopher. :)

      My major point is that our brain sometimes make us think in ways which are maladaptive. Being aware of the things I mentioned in my post can be useful for more effective communication in delicate subjects.


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