Good news for people who like good news

In the long run, the arc bends toward justice and love wins. In the short run, things don’t often look quite so hopeful. But sometimes they do.

Here are some reasons to celebrate.

• “Rhode Island Becomes 10th Marriage Equality State.”

• “And Delaware Makes 11

Men demonstrate in support of women’s rights. And not just any men — fraternity brothers. And not just any fraternity brothers — Muslim fraternity brothers. And this happened in Texas.

• Maryland takes a big step toward offshore wind.

• And Cape Wind gives them some competition, winning billions in backing for offshore wind in Massachusetts.

(I’ll believe it when I see the turbines up and spinning. Based on America’s dismal track-record, I still doubt we’ll have any operating offshore wind farms until sea levels rise enough to swamp turbines now based on shore.)

Five evangelical pastors and a gay activist walk into a coffee shop

This is not a joke. Nor is that story a conclusive step in any particular direction. But it’s a good step, a good start, and good news.

• Bunk will give you a ride to the grocery store. To his grocery store, anyway.

Actor Wendell Pierce — who played Det. William “Bunk” Moreland on The Wire — started the Sterling Farms grocery chain to provide access to healthy, affordable food in underserved neighborhoods in New Orleans:

Pierce, along with his business partners, has been working to place markets and convenience stores in food deserts in his native New Orleans. Sterling Farms is not just putting nutritious, fresh food where there was none before — the people behind the business are working to figure out how to tackle the problem of food access from many different angles. One perk the stores offer is especially great — the chain gives free rides to those who spend more than $50.

• “Scientists find new key ingredient for anti-malaria drug

US scientists … said they had used baker’s yeast to make a key ingredient of malaria drugs, a feat that could iron out fluctuations in supply caused by sourcing the chemical from a Chinese herb.

One of the revolutions in malaria treatment in recent decades has been the advent of artemisinin drugs, whose active ingredient comes from a traditional Chinese herb, Artemisia annua.

But weather can affect harvests of the plant, causing shortages and price spikes.

This discovery could prevent those shortages and price spikes. Cool.

• “U.S. Infant Mortality Falling

Infant mortality in the U.S. has declined 12 percent since 2005 after holding steady for many years, according to data released … by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The infant mortality rate in 2011 was 6.05 deaths per every 1,000 live births, down from 6.87 in 2005, according to the report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Greensburg, Kansas, is coming back. The town was hit by a massive tornado six years ago, killing nine people and leaving nearly all of its 1,383 residents homeless. They resolved to rebuild — and to do it right by making Greensburg the greenest town in Kansas, a model of sustainable living. And it’s working.

The HPV vaccine seems to work — at least in places like Australia, where it’s actually used and not rejected, as it is by many here in America, by those who feel that our daughters will turn into slutty little sluts if we remove the sexual deterrent of preventable cancer.

• People can be pretty cool: “College Athlete Gives Up Final Event to Save Someone’s Life

• People can be pretty cool, cont’d.: “Tender moments caught on Russian dash cams” (via)


"So much for the free speech right!"

Some notes and rules for a ..."
"I have a book around here that describes how some Biblical stories (e.g. Jacob and ..."

LBCF, No. 164: ‘That girl’
"WWII documentaries and Christmas carols - the only way the English-speaking world hears about anything ..."

Some notes and rules for a ..."
"You're quite welcome! Personally I don't care much for their theology, but damn that guy ..."

Some notes and rules for a ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • schismtracer

    Based on America’s dismal track-record, I still doubt we’ll have any
    operating offshore wind farms until sea levels rise enough to swamp
    turbines now based on shore.

    At which point, Republicans will still deny climate change could ever exist because the Bible says so and also it snowed that one time so there.

  • TheBrett

    I think it’s more likely that they’ll deny that it’s human-caused, and when that’s no longer tenable, they’ll say there’s nothing we can do about it.

  • D Johnston

    The sequence of climate change denial goes something like this:

    1.) It’s not happening.
    2.) It’s happening, but it’s not human-caused.
    3.) It’s human-caused, but it’s not serious.
    4.) It’s serious, but it’s not imminent.
    5.) It’s imminent, but it’s not fixable (or too costly to fix).

    Of course, these aren’t fully discrete – many people argue that there is no climate change, but the climate change that doesn’t exist is a natural occurrence. And some people (particularly libertarian “skeptics”) skip the first few and just argue that stopping/fixing climate change would be worse than letting it go on.

  • Abel Undercity

    5a.) And anyway it’s God’s wrath upon a sinful Earth so it’s your fault anyway, you damned un-RTC heathens, you.

  • Space Marine Becka

    The strangest argument I ever saw against Anthropogenic Climate Change was by a libertarian with a small l (They were British and we don’t have a Libertarian Party).

    It went something like this.

    * Nothing good ever comes of government regulation.
    * All economic and social good comes from complete deregulation and massive profits for huge corporations.
    * Anthropogenic Climate change would be a bad thing.
    * Anthropogenic Climate change would be the result of not regulating corporations.
    * Bad things can’t result from regulating corporations.
    * Therefore it can not exist.

    The clearest case I’ve ever personally seen of the tendancy of human beings to mistake ideology for evidence.

  • Foreigner

    Wouldn’t UKIP be our Libertarian Party?

  • Space Marine Becka

    Possibly – UKIP is certainly our teaparty.

  • Benjamin Thomas

    Absolutely not in any way shape or form. Libertarians are socially liberal – UKIP have a few libertarian supporters but the party itself is hugely socially conservative

  • P J Evans

    That second step is pretty much equivalent to ‘then a miracle occurs’, with less reasoning behind it.

  • Space Marine Becka

    Isn’t it just – guy’s an atheist but he has more faith than I do (even if it is misplaced).

  • TheBrett

    I hope it does. Sometimes it doesn’t, as with the horrific nadir and “reclamation” after the Post-Civil War Reconstruction promised to bring out a new era of improvement and racial equality. But on gay marriage I think it’s finally looking bright.

    Good on the anti-malaria news. Malaria is one of the Great Scourges* of history, alongside Smallpox, Bubonic Plague, and AIDS. I’d love nothing more than to see it wiped out in the wild, but so far it’s been unsuccessful – a major push to eradicate it decades ago fell apart.

    * Charles Mann makes a good case in 1493 that it played a big role in the spread of slavery in the Americas.

  • Alix

    Totally off-topic, but speaking of plague, I loved the introduction I got when I first arrived on campus (at my first college, wow, a decade ago):

    The glow over the mountain’s pretty – that’s a forest fire. Don’t go near the ground squirrels – they carry bubonic plague. And be careful leaving your dorm at night – bears sometimes wander through the campus.

    Welcome to Santa Fe. :P

  • FearlessSon

    Based on America’s dismal track-record, I still doubt we’ll have any operating offshore wind farms until sea levels rise enough to swamp turbines now based on shore.

    While not offshore, I know that Washington state has gotten a lot more inland wind farms up in the last five years or so. They rise above the rolling plains of eastern Washington where the wind is more constant than the mountain-bracketed western half of the state. This supplements the already considerably cheap power we get from hydroelectric dams (which admittedly are very dependent on the local geography.)

    Stimulus money for green power? Sure, we are happy to take that. :)

  • SisterCoyote

    This is something that is utterly boggling to those of us who just moved into this state, by the way. Driving over the mountains to CWU with my boyfriend, I was rendered speechless by the sheer majesty of the mountains – driving to Spokane with SPJ, I was blown away by the enormity of the desert landscape and the rolling hills. Driving down to Portland with a Comm group, I was torn between being blown away by the majesty of the Columbia and the hills and the cliffs, and feeling like I’d just stepped into a sci-fi novel, from the windmills. Which blink red at night, making their silhouettes so much weirder.

  • Geds

    If you go south of Chicago down 55 or west either 88, 80, or 90 (I forget, or maybe it’s more than one) there are huge wind farms rising up over the flat flatness of the Illinois corn- and soybean fields.

    I think Fred’s obsession with offshore wind farms is a product of his North-east-coast-ness. There’s a lot less room if you’re in eastern Pennsylvania or New England for wind farms inland and the terrain is probably less than ideal. But in the Midwest and west there’s land everywhere and in the Great Plains it’s flat with a pretty constant wind most of the year. We’ve got wind energy all over the place.

  • Dan Hetrick

    From the “five evangelical pastors and a gay activist walk into a coffee shop” article…I was amazed at some of the cognitive dissonance that the pastors exhibited. That they accepted that homosexuality was not a choice, but still a sin…that ALL sex outside of marriage was a sin, so, because LGBT people couldn’t get married (and shouldn’t), that, therefore, their sexual activity was sinful.

    I wish I could be as understanding as the person who wrote that article, but, damn, it’d be hard for me not to laugh in their face and/or slap them.

  • Baby_Raptor

    There’s just so much to unpack in there it makes my brain hurt.

    First off, if they accept that homosexuality is not a choice, then they would logically have to accept that God created people that way, yes? So they’re acknowledging that God created people to fail to adhere to his standards…And apparently are okay with that.

    And not only are they okay with it, they’re okay with compounding it. Because of the evangelicals’ collective sins (refusing to love, not obeying the government as told to, refusing to respect the fact that laws cannot be based on religious ideology, refusing to respect other peoples’ rights, the constant lies that are rampant in the anti-equality arguments), they were successful in the past and are attempting to continue being successful now in denying LGBTs the right to marry. So if you buy into the idea of sex outside marriage being a sin, they’re essentially forcing these people to sin via depriving them of the “correct place” for sex to happen.

    Add in the usual gall felt when people like this decide that they have some inherent right to dictate how others get to live their lives and it’s just one giant headache.

  • Alix

    …That’s much more coherent than my response, which was “arglebargle” and “but you people are the ones defining marriage so it can’t include gay marriage!

  • ngotts

    So they’re acknowledging that God created people to fail to adhere to his standards

    But isn’t that a fairly standard (I know, not universal) Christian belief? Original sin and all that? And aren’t we supposed to emulate Jesus’s supposed sinless existence, even though he had the unfair advantage of being some sort of divine-human chimera?

  • FearlessSon

    Compartmentalize thinking, to use Altemeyer’s term. It prevents the cognitive dissonance that we would normally associate with these kinds of contradictions. It allows them to believe all these things sincerely without the ideas coming into contact and thus conflict. It is the source of the weaknesses in the argument that Baby_Raptor is talking about.

  • WayofCats

    Very true; and utterly counterintuitive to more independent thinkers, who persist in understanding that gears are SUPPOSED to mesh.

    Dr. Altemeyer’s The Authoritarians is based on a man’s life work studying the mental processes of Right Wingers. It’s a free, and fascinating, book.

  • AnonymousSam

    I’ve been arguing with people all day on whether or not a person can be Christian and gay, or even Christian and accept homosexuality.

    What saddens me is the fact that the vast majority of people I’ve been arguing with (who’ve been saying that both scenarios are impossible) are atheists, not conservative Christians.

    Once again, I find myself feeling more like a Christian than an atheist, even while having to remind them that I don’t believe in Christ at all. I just love my neighbor, inasmuch as my imperfections allow.

  • AnonaMiss

    I’m surprised at this. You’d think that “They’re not rational thinkers and are experts at cognitive dissonance, they can believe whatever they want” would make your point fair and square.

    For atheists-who-think-religious-people-are-irrational to argue that it’s impossible for said thought-to-be-irrational-people to hold certain beliefs because… it’s incompatible with their other beliefs… that just makes my brain twist in weird knots.

  • Alix

    Well, that, and it drastically oversimplifies Christianity. It’s not like any religion is a monolith.

    You can’t really talk about what “all Christians believe” anymore than you can talk about what “all atheists think”. There are a few commonalities, but they’re very few, and even a lot of things people think are fundamental to the definition aren’t necessarily so.

    This is why it bothers the hell out of me when atheists or pagans or other people try to tell Christians what Christianity really is, and vice versa. It’s one thing to argue against particular strains of Christianity, or particular people whose views are known, or how, say, certain predominant ideologies affect politics or whatever; it’s something else entirely to reduce the entire mass of Christians to what you* think Christianity is – whether you’re atheist, Christian, or other.

    *Generic you, not you, AnonaMiss.

    …FWIW, I’m not comfortable with the reduction of religious belief to irrationality, either. (It strikes me as oversimplified and, usually, condescending.) But then again, I’m religious so of course I’d say that, and I’m also a person who doesn’t think something being irrational is necessarily a bad thing. :/

    (My complicated thoughts, let me show you them.)

  • Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    Unfortunately, I think there’s a significant tendency among some atheists, Pagans, and other ex- or non-Christians (certainly not all!) to conflate their greatest objections to Christianity with Christianity itself. Sometimes that’s appropriate, as when the objection is to an identifying feature of the religion; sometimes less so, as when the the objection is to people doing unfortunate but unnecessary things in the name of the religion.

    So if someone vehemently rejects Christianity over the gay-bashing that so many vocal Christians have claimed as a tribal marker, it makes sense for that someone to reject the notion of a gay Christian or even a non-gay-bashing Christian. The religion has been represented to them as requiring gay-bashing, after all. They may later meet a member of a church which is accepting of all people and realize that the religion comes in gay-friendly flavors too–or they may assert that the accepting church is Christian In Name Only.

    I’ve seen that logical progression at work in (a thankfully small number of) acquaintances who, upon learning that I’m an ex-Catholic Pagan, immediately assume that I share their opinion that all Catholics are homophobes/misogynists/child-molesters, and that I have righteously disowned my family just as they evidentally would have done were they me. The conversation tends not to go well after that. While my family have their flaws — some of which I have described here — you do not endear yourself to me by accusing them all, uniformly, sight-unseen, on the basis of one adjective, of crimes against humanity.

  • Alix

    Yeah. :/ And I understand how that happens.

    I’ve had similarly problematic conversations, and it gets compounded when the pagans in question find out that I still borrow some stuff from Christian beliefs, and yet identify primarily as pagan. You’d think I’d just identified myself as a devil-worshipper at a revival meeting.

    (What always gets me? The pagans who believe that “all gods are one” – except for the Christian deities. There are a multitude of expressions of the divine, as seen in the beautiful variety of human religions, all of which are equally valid, except Christianity, which is just a horrible perversion by patriarchal assholes hell-bent on murdering the wonderful and gentle pagan wise-women, dontcha know.)

  • FearlessSon

    I had a friend who was a pagan priest for many years (since retired from that aspect) who said that, for all its diversity in expression, what tended to mark someone as “pagan” is a willingness to embrace mythology as a core part of one’s spiritual identity.

    Of course, it is not a stretch to remind people that Christianity has a mythology too, despite how strenuously some of its more “tribal” believers might take exception to the term “mythology” in that context.

  • Alix

    That is probably the single best definition for “pagan” I’ve ever heard. I might have to steal that.

    Christian mythology’s not even entirely unique, or even mostly so. Which is why it blends so nicely with other mythologies… (My theological processes in action, let me show you them.) :P

  • gpike

    honestly in my experience, all humans are capable of making the same types of logical fallacies – even people who try to live by reason end up doing it. Being nonreligious isn’t a guarantee that someone won’t still be hypocritical or illogical about SOME things. That’s just part of being human, I think.

  • AnonaMiss

    Oh definitely. I was describing the way Sam’s argument-partners think, not the way I think. ^^

  • Alix

    all humans are capable of making the same types of logical fallacies – even people who try to live by reason

    Evo-psych bullshit comes to mind…

  • guest

    I’m in the process of writing an article which explains, among other things, that science, reason, etc. are ways to know things, not ways to make decisions. It’s sensible to accept the results of science, reasoning, etc. as input into decisions, but these thinking and knowing tools cannot make the decisions for you–ultimately decisions are based on our ethics and priorities. I realised while writing it that when we do use science to inform our decisions, e.g. climate science, we don’t actually mean ‘science
    tells us that we must do x’ but rather ‘science tells us y is very likely to be true, and our ethics dictate that if y is true we must do x.’

  • Alix

    I … honestly sometimes think we over-value rationality. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I think rationality and reason and logic and all are good, important, valuable, etc.

    But not everything is logical. Not everything is rational. We’re not entirely – or even mostly, really – rational. And I don’t see anything necessarily wrong with that, and sometimes trying to shoehorn things into a strictly rational framework fails hard. IMO.

    I am also a bit leery of it because, well. We have a long history in the West of splitting the world into rational/irrational, intellectual/emotional, male/female, right/wrong. And so weighting things too much on one end of the rational-irrational spectrum discomforts me, because it feels like we’re making the same mistake of privileging one kind of experience/reaction/worldview/mindset over another, and then there are complicated problems over how we decide which things/beliefs/etc. are “rational” or “irrational.”

    And then there’s the problem of the label “irrational” being used to dismiss, demean, and ignore people. “You’re too irrational/emotional – come back when you can be rational/logical/calm about things.” And, well, I should be able to express “this hurts me, this threatens me, this angers me” and have it be respected as the genuine experience of a real person, not dissected and dismissed for not being a logical argument.

    …complicated feelings, lemme tell ya.

  • Foelhe

    There’s a weird and frustrating tendency for people who value pure logic to act like emotion shouldn’t even be worthy of discussion. It’s almost funny, in a way, that people use logic to completely ignore anything they can’t perfectly quantify, even though ignoring something that clearly effects a lot of people, when you’re trying to deal with people, is one of the most illogical things you can do.

    I don’t know if I agree that rationality is overrated, but I think rationality should be about knowing what you want and how to get it, not some arbitrary standard all the thoughts you have need to pass through before you’ll deign to acknowledge them. If you want to be happy, and you have a belief that makes you happy but is totally irrational, the rational decision might be to let yourself be irrational. So… I don’t know if I’m disagreeing with you or not. Rationality is a way to reach the end goal, it’s not exactly a goal in itself.

  • Alix

    Rationality is a way to reach the end goal, it’s not exactly a goal in itself.

    I agree with that. I think my disagreement is with people who do seem to hold up Rationality as some end goal, or as the way to approach anything, as if no other approach could be valid.

    I mean, I’m not dissing rationality. I like rationality. But I also find value in irrational things, and, yeah, it doesn’t seem rational to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

  • Dash1

    Well said! And I speak as one of those people who tends to think that rationality is the absolute best way to do everything, all the time.

    About which, as you and Foelhe have aptly pointed out in your last two comments, one may very well be wrong.

  • Foelhe

    It’s possible I’m not making my point very well. I actually do think rationality is the best way to do everything. I just don’t think that’s as constrictive an idea as people try to make it look.

  • Foelhe

    The thing is… I’d still argue that rationality is the right way to approach things, I just think Rationality as a concept isn’t something people always understand, partly because Team Pure Vulcan Logic has twisted the term for their own purposes. Being angry can very much be the rational response, and there’s no reason to think otherwise unless you’re just trying to lazily dismiss anger as a reasonable concept. Which is why you so often hear “You should chill out, no big deal” from people who are mired in their own privilege.

    Thinking that people have to pursue Rationality over everything else is illogical. Thinking a belief can’t be both wrong and useful is illogical. Thinking people can turn off their emotions at the flip of a switch – and people who don’t are proving how stupid they are – is illogical. Unfortunately, all of those have become a huge part of Rationality-as-coda, but if you really examine those ideas with rationality-as-mental-tool, they all fall apart.

    Basically, I think rationality is the most important thing you can learn, and the fact that some idiots use it completely wrong shouldn’t change that.

  • Alix

    If that were a right way, I’d agree, and I agree that logic (which is not the same thing as rationality, but an important aspect of it) is absolutely something that should be taught. But, well, there are other “right” ways to approach the world – taking things as they come, for example, without thinking about it all overmuch. Not my style, but not an invalid one.

    Being angry can very much be the rational response

    And here I disagree. Being angry can be the right response and the sane response, but it is never rational. It’s not reasoned.

    This is part of what frustrates the hell out of me about the creeping focus on rationality: the more positive/useful irrational things get twisted around to fit an increasingly broad (and therefore increasingly meaningless) definition of rationality. It’s the justification of emotions I talked about before. That you can justify something doesn’t make it essentially rational.

    Like, something tastes good. And so you want to eat it. And you use that sensation (not rational) and that desire (not rational) to justify your desire to eat it. And depending on your assumptions, eating that thing that tastes good is a rational choice, but that doesn’t make either the impulse to eat it or the gut-level liking of it reasoned, rational, or logical.

  • Foelhe

    “And here I disagree. Being angry can be the right response and the sane response, but it is never rational. It’s notreasoned.”

    Now we’re getting somewhere! I think we have a very different view of what constitutes rationality.

    (So fun fact: normally at this point I’d pull up the dictionary definition of “rational” so we could use that as a starting point. Most of the definitions I’ve found of “rational” use the word “reason”. Most relevant definitions of “reason” I’ve found use the word “rational”. Thanks, Merriam-Webster!)

    To me, rationality is just another term for deductive reasoning. The thing is, when it comes to emotions, it’s easy to assume that there’s no deductive reasoning going on. This is not true. There is deductive reasoning, it’s just on such a basic level that the mind is handling it on autopilot:

    Premise: I am being disrespected.
    Premise: Being disrespected is harmful
    Premise: Being harmed makes me angry
    Conclusion: Therefore, I will get angry.

    Those premises are a little clumsy, sorry, but they get the point across. There’s a logical process going on, it’s just subconscious and so basic we don’t really acknowledge it. If you want to say it’s a rational or irrational you need to examine your premises and your conclusions and make sure you aren’t introducing false data or jumping to false conclusions.

  • Foelhe

    Whoops. How the hell did I break italics there?

  • Alix

    Yeah, the dictionaries are singularly unhelpful on the issue, and we’re basically rehashing a really, really old and still unresolved philosophical argument.

    I … actually agree with your definition of rationality, in that it is deductive reasoning. I just really fundamentally disagree on whether or not you can reason without actively being aware of and in control of the reasoning process. You think so. I don’t – to me, conscious control and awareness is a necessary prerequisite to reasoning.

    I’d also argue that your third premise is still not rational, in that it’s a cause-and-effect reaction, not something done deliberately. “This makes this happen,” not “I have logically concluded this is the rational thing to do.”

    But this whole thing boils down to you having a much broader definition of rationality than I do. Which is cool, and it’s helped me pinpoint some places of disagreement that I honestly had never recognized before since my personal definitions of rationality and irrationality seemed obvious to me.

  • Foelhe

    I see the subconscious as basically being you on autopilot, though. Your own personal logical conclusions are still what you’re reacting to, you just aren’t having to walk through the process consciously, in detail. Some people don’t examine their own conclusions, so their reactions might seem arbitrary, but that’s just a case of accepting what other people tell you without judging for yourself, which is very much a choice, and your subconscious reactions still spring from that choice.

    Example: I think people can decide for themselves who they want to sleep with. So if I ask someone if he wants sex, and he says, “No thanks,” I’m not going to get angry. I won’t have to choose not to get angry, I just won’t, because obviously the guy in question isn’t doing anything wrong.

    If someone else asks the same question, and then gets angry when the person they’re talking to says no, then on some level they obviously believe that the other person shouldn’t say no, regardless of how they feel about it. They might not claim to believe that, but on some level they obviously do, otherwise their anger doesn’t make sense. It’s a subconscious reaction based on conscious choices. That’s my take on it anyway.

    (Very much enjoying the discussion, by the way)

  • Alix

    I see the subconscious as basically being you on autopilot, though.

    The funny thing is, I agree entirely with that statement, but the “autopilot” part means I don’t think it can be classed as rational.

    I think part of my disconnect is that I see logic as a process of examination and analysis, and I think that can only really take place consciously – and to me, logic is the bedrock of rationality. And I see rational acts as deliberately done with full awareness. So if you can’t consciously examine something, it cannot be rational, and if you didn’t deliberately, consciously examine your options and make a decision you were aware you were making, it’s irrational.

    I think a large part of where I’m coming from on this is that I’ve had too many experiences of my own emotions where they damn well weren’t rational – like the occasional panic attack – and I’ve had a number of spiritual experiences that were irrational, unless logic is no longer a crucial component of rationality. I’ve also had my share of moments where I’ve not decided to, say, walk somewhere, but my body went there anyway, which are very wtf. And my own creative process very definitely does not feel rational. I very much experience the world and my self in a largely intuitive way*, and it sure in hell seems from my perspective that that runs contrary to rationality. Sure, that’s subjective, but what isn’t?

    *Which is why I find it kind of hilarious that my major hobbies are meticulously mapping trade routes and writing detailed essays on aspects of Mediterranean civilization. I guess my way of cutting loose from a world I perceive as largely irrational is to be really really rational for a while…

    And I tend towards the conservative when it comes to defining things, and I spend much of my time reading mythology and reading about mythology, and that’s had a definite impact on my thinking. Whether or not that’s a legitimate base to be working from is something others get to decide. :)

    I’m curious as to what led you to your own views on rationality. Anything specific, or your own experiences/observations?

    (Oh, good!)

  • Foelhe

    The only part where I disagree, and this is almost certainly where most of our disagreement is coming from, is that I think examination and analysis is more or less what the subconscious is for. It’s why you respond to stimuli before you’re even consciously aware of it, like ducking when you see something coming at you out of the corner of your eye. Now granted, the untrained subconscious can be incredibly fucking stupid, and it takes training to make it work effectively, but we’re training it all the time, every time we have an experience or make a decision.

    Y’know it’s funny, because I’ve gone through the vast majority of the things you’re describing and it’s why I value rationality so highly. Panic attacks? Been there. And… okay, I’m no doctor or psychologist, and even if I’ve been through them myself this might come off as blaming the victim, so apologies if it does. But I think this really does come down to training the mind as best you can. If you get dumped into situations you can’t handle, your brain starts frantically trying to do something, and a lot of that something is totally unhelpful. And if you keep getting dumped into those situations, or if one of those situations leaves a huge impression on you, that becomes SOP. So it’s in your best interest to try to retrain that pattern, generally with therapy.

    The spiritual experiences, you’d have to explain why they were illogical, because I’ve had them and they made perfect sense to me. (… Perfect sense isn’t exactly what I mean, but, well.) I’ve had “against physical laws”, which is hard enough to pin down when a powerful deity isn’t involved, and “I don’t have proof but I’m choosing to believe it”, which is just making a choice that’s more complicated for some people than it is for others.

    Walking without thinking and creative process are… not something I’ll get too far into, since they’re your personal experiences and my own have come across differently to me. Personally, though, they just seemed to me like my subconscious mind is filling in a complex equation with a lot of free-range data, and therefore coming up with something unexpected.

    Anyway. I feel like I’m missing something from your post, so let me know if there’s anything else you wanted me to answer.

  • Alix

    That’s interesting. And again, I find myself in the position of agreeing with the bulk of what you say, yet disagreeing on what it means.

    For me, rationality requires conscious awareness, and yeah, I’m repeating myself at this point, but it’s really a core part of it for me. I tend to view rationality as a particular kind of mindset, rooted in logic (which is learned), and requiring conscious examination and decision-making based on the principles of logic.

    I … tend to find subjective experiences problematic, because while some can or can’t fit into a neatly rational framework, others blur the line. I’d rather not get into the specifics of my spiritual experiences, if you don’t mind, because they frankly make me sound insane – and I guess this is something I really waver on, whether or not they can be classed as rational, because either experiences are pre-rational (part of the data that one uses to build one’s own personal rational framework) or experiences can be classed as rational or not. And I’m not sure which, because it’s not like I can prove any of these experiences, and so in that respect there’s something really irrational about them, aside from the fact that they were kind of bizarre. And yet personal experience and observation is valid? I’d actually be really interested in your thoughts on this, because like I said, I really don’t know what I think about this.

    …I suppose I can give one example, though this isn’t exactly spiritual. I’ve had an out-of-body experience that resulted in me seeing things, accurately, that I absolutely did not know about before (the roof of my upper elementary school). I will swear unto my dying day that that was a genuine experience … so is it rational? Is it problematic because I can’t prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, even to myself, given the faultiness of human memory and the fact that science doesn’t support OBEs? Do I just roll with it and incorporate it into my own worldview – and is that response to an unconfirmable and questionable experience rational? I don’t know.

    I think this gets to the heart of why I find the to-me-overwhelming focus on rationality as an unqualified good problematic – not only do people not agree on what that means (obvious statement is obvious), but it seems like it forces me to either prove my worldview and experiences or be deemed stupid-or-crazy. And it seems like if there was less of a focus on everything being logical, I would feel freer to just … go with the flow, when weird things happen.

    I mean, I do anyway, out of sheer necessity, really. But it makes me weirdly anxious, and this whole thing is why I get really, really touchy when some atheists throw around the old “religious people are all mentally ill” canard. Because no, I’m not sure I’m sane, but at the same time I am?

    That doesn’t really make sense, but it’s the best way I can phrase it. :/

  • Foelhe

    I agree, let me tell you why I disagree.

    “For me, rationality requires conscious awareness, and yeah, I’m repeating myself at this point, but it’s really a core part of it for me.”

    … So, since this conversation started, I’ve been considering the subconscious argument, and my opinion has both changed and not changed. I’m starting to think you might be right about the subconscious not exactly being a strictly rational thing… but, I still think calling subconscious actions rational makes sense. I’ll let you decide if I’m splitting hairs or not: in my opinion, the subconscious is still a reflection of the conscious mind. The decisions we’ve made consciously have had a direct effect on the decisions we make subconsciously. So if someone gets angry because of stupid reasons, they’re being irrational, not because of the anger itself necessarily, but because the anger’s root cause is based on a conscious, irrational decision.

    I don’t really know if that makes sense, I’m still kind of feeling out the edges. But I thought I’d see what you thought of it.

    “I’d rather not get into the specifics of my spiritual experiences, if you don’t mind, because they frankly make me sound insane”

    Once again, I am right there with you.

    “Is it problematic because I can’t prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, even to myself, given the faultiness of human memory and the fact that science doesn’t support OBEs? Do I just roll with it and incorporate it into my own worldview – and is that response to an unconfirmable and questionable experience rational?”

    That’s our different definitions of “rational” again. For me, rational is partly about examining a thought from all the edges to see if it’s worth keeping. So when I had something similar happen to me, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I’d get out of embracing it and what I’d get out of ignoring it.

    I go back and forth about whether it would’ve been smarter to assume it was just my brain misfiring and pretend it never happened. From a scientific standpoint you could definitely make a case. But I felt like I’d gained a lot more from dealing with everything honestly and directly (I won’t go into the details, since it’s personal and a little embarrassing) and I didn’t see the point of ignoring all that so I could pat myself on the back over how very discerning I was. It basically came down to the option of either proudly embrace my inner cynic, or take an opportunity to grow and learn as a person. By my definition, at least, the “rational” reason seemed pretty obvious.

  • Alix

    Heh. I would probably frame it as rationally embracing the irrational, but yeah. It came down to either undermining my trust in my own mind or embracing the weirdness.

    I see where you’re coming from on the whole subconscious-thinking thing, I just don’t think I’d call it rational. I can’t get away from the “conscious” thing.

  • arcseconds

    In sufficiently simple cases I can intuitively see whether arguments are deductively valid or not.

    I can justify them either using informal reasoning or I can get out the vels and horseshoes and derive it using any of the standard formulations of first-order predicate logic if you insist.

    But that requires more, extra thinking after the fact.

    (this has been known to bug the hell out of first-year logic students “that’s invalid. now, why is it invalid…” “how the hell do you do that!”

    OK, so it’s not a very amazing superpower, but it’s the only one I’ve got… try to look impressed)

    So, are you saying my ability to intuit logical results is irrational?

  • Alix

    Um, yes?

  • arcseconds

    You don’t see that as odd?

    OK, maybe I better be more clear about where I’m going with this. Formal logic, and reasoning more generally, is a skill (or maybe a set of skills). Just like playing a musical instrument or learning to dance or any other skill, to start with it usually requires thinking hard about every single step along the way.

    However, once someone’s achieved a level of mastery with it, they don’t have to think about most of it consciously any more, and they can use their conscious mind to think about other things — it could be about the overall argument strategy, or thinking about the properties of the system that allow for that result and what would happen if those properties changed, or how Beethoven should really be performed in the 21st century, or focus on turning out the foot more because you’ve decided you want a more open style, but could even be what’s for dinner.

    Of course, a master never (or very seldom) gets the basics wrong and generally does them better than everyone else, without having to think about it.

    By making conscious thought a necessary condition for something to be rational, the upshot is that the people who are most capable of reasoning(*) usually have irrational beliefs and irrational behaviour (even though their beliefs and behaviour are reliably rationally defensible) because they usually don’t need to consciously deliberate about their beliefs and behaviour.

    Whereas someone who’s a novice at this, and has to plod through everything line by line, and is much more likely to make mistakes, and isn’t very capable of much second-order thought about what’s going on (partly because they’re so occupied with the first-order thought) is more rational, even though they’re not very good at it and tend to make mistakes, just because they do need to consciously deliberate about everything.

    That seems like a rather strange outcome to me. I don’t really want to get into a semantic argument here, but it seems to me that we would want to pick out the people who have the highest level of ability and most reliable in their judgement as being the special ones, not the ones who are least able and least reliable, just as we do in every other area.

    (the best pianists don’t think about where they’re putting their fingers, the best pilots know immediately that there’s something wrong with the plane (they don’t have to think about ‘what does that juddering sound mean’?), the most moral people don’t need to think through list of rules when handed incorrect change, etc. )

    So I think it’s more useful to drop the requirement of conscious deliberation, because we’d want to single out people who have mastered this stuff as being rational, not the people who have to labour at it.

  • Alix

    All I’ll say, since I feel rather like I’ve rehashed the same thing over and over already, is that I see where you’re coming from, but I still don’t see logic as anything other than a conscious, active reasoning.

  • arcseconds

    ‘Logic’ is a different word from ‘rationality’, though, and although they can be used synonymously or near-synonymously, they’re also often used to refer to different things.

    It’s not uncommon for people to use ‘logic’ to mean explicit reasoning, especially if it’s got some connection with formal logic, and ‘rationality’ to mean something wider.

    So I don’t quite the same objections to defining ‘logic’ to mean conscious reasoning.

    The question to my mind is, what do you gain by insisting on a definition that’s different from the way everyone else uses it, and has counter-intuitive results like the one I just demonstrated?

    Why not just say ‘conscious reasoning’?

    That way you can say things like “highly rational people often don’t use a conscious reasoning process to come to a rational conclusion’ (which doesn’t sound odd at all to me) rather than ‘highly reasonable people often have a lot of irrational beliefs.’ Which sounds odd, and particularly odd when, on questioning, you cheerfully admit that there’s nothing wrong with those beliefs, or how they got there.

    If you didn’t use your terms so idiosyncratically, then you wouldn’t need to have these discussions :)

  • Alix

    1. I’m hardly the only person who uses these definitions. In fact, I’ve rarely encountered people who use the definitions you and Foelhe do.

    2. The definitions work for me, which is the same reason anyone sticks with their definitions.

    3. Highly reasonable people often don’t have irrational beliefs? Really? That sounds odd to me.

    4. I still don’t think irrational necessarily means something negative, and so no, I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with those beliefs or how they got there. It really, truly boggles my mind that you equate “irrational” with “bad”. Honest to god, I had, prior to this discussion, only ever heard the “irrational = anti-rational = bad” thing from the same kind of jackasses who use the “you’re being emotional/irrational, so I can dismiss you” thing. Everyone else I’ve met uses a definition of irrational as not-rational, not anti-rational.

    So this discussion has been both very helpful for me, because if nothing else it’s broadened my understanding of the different ways people use “rational” and “irrational,” and incredibly frustrating for me because it seems like it is amounting to semantic differences, and like I’m being asked to prove that my own experiences of how the terms are used really happened, which isn’t really possible. And like I said elsewhere, to me my definitions are obvious and sensible, and I find the way you two define rationality/irrationality as baffling as y’all apparently find my definitions, and we all seem to just keep circling around each other repeating ourselves.

  • arcseconds

    Well, I evidently haven’t done a good job of explaining myself, because you seem to have thoroughly misunderstood my position, so this isn’t actually just a semantic argument. It seems worth clarifying.

    (this is my third attempt at doing so, because I keep finding different mismatches with how we’ve both approached this. )

    I’m not equating ‘irrational’ with ‘bad’.

    Although, I do think normally when someone says something is ‘irrational’, this is a complaint.

    I think we agree on this linguistic point, actually, because you’ve been noting that people often say that emotions are irrational, and you don’t like this, and you also mistook me for saying that the irrational is bad. I don’t like people saying emotions are irrational either, but for different reasons.

    (OK, not entirely different reasons. I agree that it’s usually a way of dismissing the reaction, and that this is a bad thing.)

    To stop this being a semantic argument, I’m going to adopt ‘reason’ (or its cognates) as a synonym for my ‘rational’. it’s not a perfect fit, but it will do. You can have ‘logical’, and you got the better deal :-)

    So, firstly, I don’t divide up the universe of discourse of into ‘reasonable’, and ‘unreasonable’. To my mind it’s a category mistake to say a rock, for example, is unreasonable: it’s just as absurd as saying constitutional democracy is massless, or gas giants are economically impoverished (none of them earns over the poverty line!). The things that can be reasonable or unreasonable are beliefs, actions, and people. A reasonable belief or action is one that’s done by employing reason, which as I said before, I view as much like a skill (or a set of skills).

    Now, I’d normally take it that beliefs should be reasonable beliefs, that you shouldn’t just believe anything whatsoever, but believe those things that are supported by reason. But that’s not the same thing as equating reasonableness with goodness. It may be that excessive reasoning makes people unhappy, and accepting some stuff on faith, or because it sounds cool, or just ’cause, might be good. Even if there’s actually quite a lot of good but unreasonable behaviour or beliefs, given my default assumption that it speaks against a belief that it’s unreasonable, if I say something’s unreasonable chances are good that I’m drawing attention to its badness. And that seems likely for anyone who shares this presumption. If we wanted to emphasize the goodness of a belief, we’d just say it was good.

    So emotions, in my view, are neither reasonable nor unreasonable. They just are. In this way, they’re like external perception — and in fact this seems very appropriate to me, because I think there’s a lot of parallels between experiencing emotions and experiencing sights. Being angry is therefore no more reasonable (or unreasonable) than seeing a bright light. And just like visual experience, they’re the input to the reasoning process, but not identical with it.

    And dividing the universe of discourse up like this for this reason seems useful. It means I can easily adopt the intuition that emotions are not reasonable, and the intuition that they don’t need to be. Whereas if I just had the class of reasonable things and the class of non-reasonable things, I’d have to put emotions in the non-reasonable things along with rocks, Hamlet, the Republic of San Marino, holocaust denial, and affirming the consequent. That class just doesn’t seem useful at all.

    If I get angry during an online discussion, then that’s what my emotional state is, and I have to deal with it, but in and of itself it can’t really be criticized from the standpoint of reason. However, if it results in me believing that everyone is out to get me, that belief is unreasonable, because me being angry doesn’t give me a reason (by itself) to suppose that everyone’s out to get me.

    Now, what we could say about emotions is that they could be appropriate or inappropriate (which is highly culturally bound), or that they lead us to be unreasonable (or, in certain circumstances, even lead us to be reasonable). There’s even a sense in which they can be said to be reasonable, but it’s a derived sense, and I won’t get into it now.

    The other thing I wanted to re-emphasize is that because I don’t think a conscious process is necessary for reasonableness, this means I can say that people who are masters of reasoning do a lot of it subconsciously, just like any other skill. It seems to me that what’s thought through consciously is of secondary interest. What we really want to know is whether someone is coming to conclusions through reason or some unreasonable process. So if we have three people who are thinking about a topic, and one person plods through everything step by step in a logical fashion, and another is a virtuouso who’s really good at this sort of stuff and just gets to the reasonable conclusion in a single bound, and a third who can’t reason their way out of a paper bag and comes to a conclusion because it fits with their prejudices and sounds really good, the most important distinction to make is to group the first two together.

    The problem I have with grouping the second two together is not that unreasonable = bad and we’re saying the virtuouso is bad. Maybe the unreasonable person here is coming to conclusions that are instrumentally good and dramatically awesome and morally praiseworthy. Maybe they’re even getting there in a cool way, because they’re really imaginative or something. Maybe they’re worth far more to society than either the plodder or the virtuoso. But whatever makes them awesome is very different from the case of the virtuoso, who is doing the same thing that the plodder is doing, just more fluently.

    by ‘highly reasonable people have a lot of irrational beliefs’ being an odd thing to say, I meant it in the sense that you call reasonable beliefs that have come about through a subconscious process ‘irrational’, so they’re distinguished from everyone else in having more irrational beliefs, not less. Same distinction as highly unreasonable people have!

    So hopefully you’ll now understand my position better and why I like my way of drawing distinctions better than yours. As i don’t really understand why you think your way works for you, there could be something i’m missing, but I’m supposing I’m going to have to accept my continued ignorance on this matter.

  • arcseconds

    Wow, that looks a lot longer on the page than it did in my text editor…

  • Alix

    LOL. That’s pretty much my response to every comment I’ve ever written.

  • Alix

    I actually agree with your comment until the “emotions are neither reasonable or unreasonable” part, but I at least understand the whole thing, even if I don’t completely agree.

    I was thinking over my insistence that rationality is conscious, and I think the major reason for that is that if it’s not conscious, you have no way of knowing how you really arrived at a conclusion or decision. And we’re extremely good at rationalizing things after the fact, so just because you find a decision sound later doesn’t mean your subconscious arrived at it rationally, and you can’t prove that it did. You can only think of ways it might have done that.

    And, to me, reviewing a subconscious decision consciously to decide if it’s rational would basically amount to reconsidering it completely, and after that you could confirm a decision as rational. If that makes any sense at all.

    Thanks for the detailed explanation. It’s really helpful.

  • arcseconds

    But there’s no guarantee that reasoning through something consciously will mean you have done things correctly. People make reasoning mistakes consciously all the time.

    Both the plodder and the virtuoso can make mistakes, although the virtuoso is much less likely to. Either one might later find that their conclusion was wrong and have to go back and reconsider things.

    Remember I’m basing this in part on my own experiences with symbolic logic, and also (I didn’t mention this before) with mathematics — not so much my own experiences in that case (although a little bit), but reading and hearing about the experiences of mathematicians. The experience of the intuition coming first and the explicit proof coming later is very common. And it happens on a smaller scale when producing a proof, too: one is often able to see five or more steps ahead. There’s no way this is random luck or post-factum rationalization or anything like that: it’s a manifestation of a very high level of skill. And if that skill is a lot greater than yours, it seems like magic.

    (also, one typically doesn’t care personally too much about the validity of an argument when it’s just a mass of symbols! )

    Yes, with informal reasoning about things you value frequently people rationalize things after the fact. But just because this is a possibility doesn’t mean we can ignore the other possibility, that some people are very good at this and almost always make the right moves without having to think about it much.

    Keep in mind that the way this typically works is that the logician or mathematician spends a lot of time doing step-by-step work (although there is the odd prodigy). You seem to be tempted by the thought that after they no longer need to depend on the step-by-step work they’re somehow back in the position of a naïve person, but the opposite is the case: they’re now more capable than both the naïve person and the novice.

  • Alix

    But there’s no guarantee that reasoning through something consciously will mean you have done things correctly. People make reasoning mistakes consciously all the time.

    That’s … a complete non-sequitur.

    And we’re going round and round again. You’re basing things off your own experiences; I’m basing things off mine, which are clearly very different. I understand your point, still don’t agree, and still found this whole thing valuable, but at this point I really am bowing out. :) Thank you for taking the time to explain things for me.

  • arcseconds

    I don’t think it’s a non sequitor.

    You say that someone might not arrived at something rationally if they didn’t consciously go through all the steps, and we’d have no way of knowing without going back and going through the steps.

    But going through the steps consciously has the same problem: just because you’ve gone through a series of steps consciously, does not mean you’ve arrived at a rational conclusion!

    You think you’ve arrived at a rational conclusion, because you think you made every step correctly, but you can’t be completely certain of that. You may have made a mistake, in which case your conclusion isn’t rational.

    So I don’t see any difference between conscious and subconscious reasoning here. Either can be wrong, and either might require double-checking.

    Also, what about logic that you did six months ago, that you only dimly remember doing, but you remember the conclusions? Do they remain logical conclusions, even though you can’t remember the logic? Of course, there’s a possibility of mis-remembering here, too.

    I also don’t really understand your point about me basing these things off my experience. The point about mentioning my experiences is to point out that there are people who are capable of impressive feats of subconscious reasoning very reliably. We have every reason to think this is a result of their training, so it’s strongly connected to step-by-step conscious reasoning, and isn’t simply guessing or thinking something’s right because it fits with their prejudices.

    On the other hand, obviously a lot of people do just guess or grab hold of ideas that the like for whatever reason and call these ‘rational conclusions’ or ‘the truth’ or whatever, and I’ve experienced that too, so I see why you’re concerned about this, but it’s not the only possibility.

    How do your experiences differ from mine in this area? And why are those differences relevant? Do they, for example, conflict in some way?

  • Alix

    I feel it’s a non sequitur because I never said all thinking is rational or logical. In fact, I explicitly denied it, and it seems like you’re saying that somehow all reasoning is rational? Which seems really weird to me.

    I have to think about this. My own experience of the world is as a deeply weird, deeply irrational place, and my experiences both of my own mind and the way other people around me act supports the idea that rationality is nowhere near the bulk of human experience, but a particularly small slice of it. It is also my experience that the vast majority of people claiming to be logical/to be thinking rationally … aren’t. So.

    And so, to go waaaaay back to what generated this whole monster thread, I find calls to prioritize rationality over every other way of being and of experiencing the world often (not always, but often) deeply alienating, because such a call seems to be not only denying that I might find anything of value in the irrational, but also that any other way of dealing with the world/self is invalid. And I really cannot stand that.

    FWIW, having a broader concept of irrationality has actually helped me get a grip on my weird experiences, something that pure rationality hasn’t, because IME, such prioritization of rationality essentially requires me to deny reality as I’ve experienced it, and thus undermine my own mind.

    I joked upthread somewhere that to me, embracing the irrational is a rational decision, and in a very real way, that’s not really a joke.

  • arcseconds

    We must be really talking past each other here. I don’t think all thinking is rational either, and I don’t know why you think I’m saying that.

    I thought I’d adopted ‘reasoning’ as my term for what I’d normally call rationality, to try to avoid having a semantic argument over the definition of the word ‘rationality’ but this doesn’t seem to have worked! Now it seems like you’re treating ‘reasoning’ as a synonym for ‘thinking’… I’m not sure how I can explain myself if you keep pulling the semantic rug out from under me. Do I have to invent an ugly neologism to keep you away from my terminology? :)

    I also thought I was fairly clear that I wasn’t prioritizing rationality over every other form of experience or being. I’m not even prioritizing it over irrationality, necessarily!

  • Alix

    Okay, let me see.

    On the reasoning thing – sorry, I was unclear. I guess my assumption was that if your reasoning/rationality is faulty, it is by definition irrational, and so I don’t really see why faulty rationality would still be rational.

    On the prioritizing of rationality – well, I did get a bit of that impression from you, but that part of my comment was more trying to explain my own experiences with rationality advocates, with reference to something mentioned by someone else way upthread. You’d asked about my own experiences with reasoning and how they colored my view of rationality, and I was trying to explain as clearly as I could. And, clearly, not really doing that good a job of it. :)

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Are you denying that being angry or upset can often lead to people making rash and bad decisions? I think I’ve already related the story of a teacher who, in a fit of pique, yelled at me in front of the entire class and then proceeded to have me suspended over a relatively minor verbal altercation with another student.

    In grade 7.

    People damn well can be irrational and it often is counterproductive to smooth social functioning.

  • Dash1

    First, I am sorry you had that experience.

    As I read your account, though, it seems to me that the problem may not have been so much the mere fact that the teacher was angry but that s/he was refusing to acknowledge his/her anger. It’s the refusal to recognize that one is being angry and irrational that leads to doubling-down and trying to pretend that one’s (irrational) reaction was in fact perfectly rational and was therefore the consequence of what the other person did.

  • Alix

    It’s the refusal to recognize that one is being angry and irrational that leads to doubling-down and trying to pretend that one’s (irrational) reaction was in fact perfectly rational

    My dad in a nutshell, and a lot of other people I know. Mostly men, fwiw; most women I know are more likely to have been on the receiving end of the “you’re too emotional and therefore aren’t capable of thought” bullshit, and also tend to be more socialized to recognize and embrace their emotions, though I’ve certainly known plenty of people who didn’t fit that dichotomy.

    It seems to be a characteristic of a certain kind of jackass, that they are always right and everything they do is perfectly justified in their own head, and what do you mean they’re not being rational? Everything they do is justified! It’s you that’s irrational, never them.

    And in the meantime they’re reacting really badly to personality conflicts, or annoyances, or anger, or fear, and they don’t know how to handle any of it ’cause they can’t admit their reactions aren’t perfectly rooted in sublime logic.

  • Alix

    No, I’m not denying that. I never have.

    But, well. I sometimes think part of the reason we’re so bad at handling our emotions is that we often demonize them. There are productive ways to handle anger and other unsettled emotions, but they usually involve not repressing them.

    I’m not saying “rationality can go to hell, let’s be merrily irrational together.” I’d never say that. I’m saying that rationality to the exclusion of anything else is deeply problematic.

    I’m sorry that happened to you. :/ But anger and suchlike aren’t themselves negative, in my opinion, and can be channeled into productive things. And I’d argue that learning to handle that means learning to handle the irrational, not forcing those emotions into a strictly rational framework.

    My dad was an abusive asshole who used a lot of the “you’re so emotional/irrational, and therefore you’re stupid/wrong and I must by default be right” stuff. So I may be … a touch oversensitive to the idea that feeling an emotion or accepting that emotions exist and should be expressed means that I’ve therefore somehow invalidated any experience I ever have and anything I’ll ever say.

    Edit: I’d also note that you seem to equate the irrational to only negative expressions of emotion. But things that aren’t rational include generally positive emotions like joy – hell, all emotions – and things like imagination, and intuition, and all the other mental processes we are not fully in control of.

    Trying to stamp out all irrationality in favor of pure rationality destroys a lot of valuable parts of the human being. This is largely why I object to forcing art into a strictly rational framework – it’s not, and making it wholly about the craft/mechanics destroys the intuitive side of it.

  • Foelhe

    Why is it irrational to feel joy? Even if you’re not feeling joy for a solid reason, that’s still a positive experience for the most part. Why wouldn’t a rational person want to be happy? Happiness is as much a part of our mental map as logic.

  • Alix

    Because irrationality isn’t defined by whether it’s positive or negative, and whether rational people like something or not has no bearing on whether or not it’s rational.

    Joy just happens, like any emotion. Sure, it has causes, and so there’s a sort of base “logic” to emotions, but that holds for any of them. And yes, happiness is a part of our mental map – but my whole point is that our mental map is not even mostly logical/rational.

    Logic and rationality are modes of thinking*. No emotion is about thought, or a thought. And so they’re not rational. Hell, memory’s not rational/logical. At best, they’re pre-rational, but not rational yet.

    …I am starting to think we are operating off of extremely different definitions of rationality and especially logic. Logic is a particular style of reasoning – a mental toolkit, but not the entire mental toolkit. Rationality is likewise about reasoning. We do more than reason – and emotions aren’t things generated by reason, and are thus irrational.

    *Obviously, not all thinking is logical or rational.

  • Foelhe

    “Because irrationality isn’t defined by whether it’s positive or negative, and whether rational people like something or not has no bearing on whether or not it’s rational.”

    Okay, then what does define irrationality?

    “Joy just happens, like any emotion. Sure, it has causes”

    Sorry, but that sounds like you’re contradicting yourself. It just happens, but it’s cause and effect. Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, though.

    “Logic and rationality are modes of thinking*. No emotion is about thought, or a thought. And so they’re not rational.”

    I find out my neighbor is hitting his wife, I get angry. Thought, therefore emotion. Cause, effect.

    I honestly don’t know what you mean when you say emotion isn’t about thought. Maybe not conscious though always, but I don’t think subconscious thought is inherently irrational. That’s part of why cops train so hard as a way to develop muscle memory – they’re training their subconscious reactions to handle dangerous situations rationally.

    “…I am starting to think we are operating off of extremelydifferent definitions of rationality and especially logic.”

    Very possibly! :D

    Let me be clear about one thing, because I’m not sure I’ve gotten this across. I don’t think rationality is about “What data should I have?” I think it’s about, “This is the data I have, what should I do about it?” Anger is a kind of data. It should be considered in context if you want to understand it, but that’s true of all data. Dismissing it as inherently irrational is not a rational way to deal with it.

  • Alix

    It’d probably be easier for me to say what I think rationality is, since that’s more easily defined.

    Rationality, to me, has three key factors:
    -it must be conscious (i.e. you must be both aware of it and in control of it)
    -it must be a thought
    -it must be reasoned out by logic (regardless of the specific system of logic used)

    A lot of things we do mentally aren’t consciously under our control. Receiving data is passive – thinking about it is conscious. What we feel (for however we define feel) is usually (but not always…) uncontrollable. Dreams aren’t under our conscious control, unless you’re a lucid dreamer, and sometimes not even then. What we like or dislike is not usually consciously decided. Instinctive things (whether truly instinctive or learned but ingrained) aren’t consciously done.

    And there are a lot of things we do mentally that seem to me to be distinct from thoughts – here meaning thinking. I guess thinking seems to me to be a distinct process, different from simply absorbing sensory information or, say, recollecting something. Or imagining, though that has to me a bit of a complex border with thinking.

    And then not everything we do consciously think about is rational.

    And to throw another wrench in the works, I don’t think our subjective experiences are rational, either. :P

  • Foelhe

    I hope you don’t take this personally, but I think “it must be conscious” is both arbitrary and totally unworkable. By that argument walking is irrational. Unless you stop every time you take a step and think, “Can I step forward? Will my knee collapse? Will I fall into a carefully-hidden hole? Will the force of my footsteps launch me into space?”

    I can more or less agree with thought and data being kept separately, though given how we file and misfile data it’s hard to say they’re completely separate. But that to me just argues that data is a building block for rationality/irrationality, not something you can apply those terms to directly. And naturally you can be rational or irrational when you gather data, so there’s that. (I don’t think you can really say that creativity is separate from though, to be honest, but that’s just me.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    Not irrational, but maybe arational? A thing where rationality or lack thereof does not come into play?

  • Foelhe

    Basically, yes. “The sky is blue” is not a rational or an irrational fact, it’s just a fact.* When you’re dealing with facts you don’t need to be rational or irrational, you just accept the facts. How you deal with the facts is irrational or rational.

    Which is why I find it ridiculous that people act like emotion is irrational. “I am angry” isn’t rational or irrational, it’s fact. “I am angry, so I’m going to tell you why you made me angry so you don’t do it again,” is a rational reaction. “I am angry, so I’m going to punch this brick wall,” is irrational.

    *Why do I only say this when the sky isn’t blue? It’s pitch black outside, what am I doing?

  • AnonymousSam

    Sometimes “the sky is blue” is irrational!

  • Foelhe

    Man, I really have to give myself bonus points for cluelessness on that one: I am actually outside right now. Mentioned the sky was blue without thinking, typed half a paragraph, then stopped, looked up and went “…Huh.”

  • Alix

    So – are you defining irrationality strictly in relation to reactions, then, or bad logic? From your example, it looks like you’re focusing on the way one deals with things, not the nature of the things.

    See, to me, yeah, “I am angry” is a fact. But anger is an unreasoned reaction. Your two example reactions to anger I agree with your framing of.

    I’m starting to think our fundamental mismatch is that I have a narrow definition of rationality, and therefore irrationality to me is anything that doesn’t meet the criteria, and you have the inverse. I … honestly, I couldn’t give you an actual definition of irrationality, except that it is something that is not rational.

    For what it’s worth, your “the sky is blue” thing strikes me as moving the goalposts. Rationality and irrationality are only sensical in relation to consciousness and the processes of the human mind. The sky being blue is therefore neither, like you say, but the process of sensation and interpretation of that sky is irrational.

    It also seems you’re ascribing a judgment value to irrationality, such that something that is irrational is always negative, and that strikes me as a faulty assumption.

  • Foelhe

    In retrospect “I am angry” was sort of an irrelevant tangent, and didn’t quite connect to what I was trying to say. Sorry about that.

    I still think you can be rational on a subconscious level, but I discussed that up-thread, no point in going through it again here. As for the word “irrational” itself, though, this might be another sticking point. You define irrational as “not rational”, I define irrational as “anti-rational”.

    While I disagree with your stance on rationality, I think it makes a certain amount of sense and I get where you’re coming from. But if you define rational narrowly, and then say that everything else is irrational, it makes the word irrational so vague that it doesn’t really convey any information, which seems like a misstep to me.

  • Alix

    You define irrational as “not rational”, I define irrational as “anti-rational”.

    And that definitely seems to be the major root of our disagreement. Also, you seem to define rational, unless I’m majorly mistaken, as anything that leads to a positive benefit to the person? In which case, we really are talking two different sets of things, that simply share terms. (Goddamn English language…)

    I think, working off of your definitions, I agree with the gist of what you’re saying. I just disagree with the specific terms you’re applying. :P

    if you define rational narrowly, and then say that everything else is irrational, it makes the word irrational so vague that it doesn’t really convey any information

    To me, that’s what’s both problematic (and often terrifying) and fascinating about irrationality, though. It is huge and vague and not really a unified thing – more of a giant category.

    And it’s funny, because if you flip “rationality” and “irrationality” in your quote, that’s how I basically feel about your definitions – rationality as you define it seems too broad to be useful, and it seems to me that a working, useful definition of rationality is more useful than one for irrationality, if that makes any sense.

  • Foelhe

    “Also, you seem to define rational, unless I’m majorly mistaken, as anything that leads to a positive benefit to the person?”

    … Sorta? That’s kind of one step removed, but it’s not wrong. I think being rational means perceiving the world clearly, and then making decisions based on that perception and on what outcome you want. There’s always the possibility that things will go wrong, because there’s always things we have no way of perceiving, but for the most part people who understand their options are in a better position to capitalize on them.

    “I think, working off of your definitions, I agree with the gist of what you’re saying. I just disagree with the specific terms you’re applying.”

    If I may say, after some of the threads we’ve had lately, it is so incredibly satisfying to have a genuine semantics discussion with someone.

    “And it’s funny, because if you flip “rationality” and “irrationality” in your quote, that’s how I basically feel about your definitions – rationality as you define it seems too broad to be useful, and it seems to me that a working, useful definition of rationality is more useful than one for irrationality, if that makes any sense.”

    I think to me the word rational kind of encapsulates a whole concept of “Where am I? Where am I going? Why? What’s the best way to get there?” It’s practical philosophy in a nutshell, trying to analyze the world to the best of my ability and then apply that analysis as I can. So yes, I can see that being a bit broad. :)

  • Alix

    It’s also, frankly, fun and interesting and valuable to me to have conversations that really challenge me to think things through, even if I just end up reaffirming my original positions. And, actually, I was really anxious when we started this whole conversation, because, I don’t know. I get anxious about upsetting people, and I’m still new enough to posting here that I still feel kind of like an intruder. But if anything this whole thing has just ended up reassuring me that I was right to delurk.

    I think to me the word rational kind of encapsulates a whole concept of “Where am I? Where am I going? Why? What’s the best way to get there?” It’s practical philosophy in a nutshell, trying to analyze the world to the best of my ability and then apply that analysis as I can.

    See, I’d call that “pragmatism.” :P

  • Foelhe

    I’m normally the guy who takes these kind of discussions very seriously – not because I think it’s life or death or anything, but I enjoy getting down to business and really taking arguments apart piece by piece, then building them back up again. Plus I love it when people call me on my shit, so I do the same to other people without thinking about it, which… yeah, doesn’t always end well. So I’m used to accidentally pissing people off when I think we’re having a fun-but-serious conversation. Plus I’m a bit socially anxious, and I haven’t been posting here very long myself – eventually we’re going to have to have the “Seriously, are you me?” conversation.

    I don’t exactly think pragmatism gets the same point across, though it is close, because to me pragmatism is a bit more risk-averse and conservative (in the traditional, useful sense). Sometimes I do things that feel risky because it feels like the rational thing to do. Because I’m shy, for instance, I’ll force myself to be outgoing for a solid minute at the beginning of a social thing, and that’ll help me build momentum for the rest of the evening. It can backfire, but in the long run it’s been helpful and it feels like the right choice. I’m not sure pragmatism really covers that.

  • Alix

    to me pragmatism is a bit more risk-averse and conservative

    Interesting! To me it isn’t necessarily – those risks just have to be worth taking. And I would totally call your forcing yourself to be outgoing to build momentum pragmatic.

  • arcseconds

    That’s exactly what I was going to suggest. Rationality has a certain domain of application, and it’s only within this domain that we can talk about something being irrational or rational.

  • Alix

    Deciding to walk might or might not be rational, depending on how much thought you put into the decision. The process of walking is indeed irrational for the exact reason you give – you’re not thinking it through.

    Rationality, to me, is intimately tied to logic, and logic is a conscious process.

    And honestly, I find your notion that these unconscious processes are logical thoughts arbitrary and unworkable, so I guess that makes us even. ;) More seriously, nothing you’ve said has offended me – I like discussion, and you’ve been very patient. I hope I haven’t offended you with anything I’ve said.

    To me, it seems like you’re operating on some unsupportable assertions – that the same processes we use to consciously make logical analyses are the same as the ones that go on unconsciously, and it also seems to me that you’re conflating something having an understandable cause with something being rational.

    I mean, are fish rational? (Can you tell I’m watching River Monsters right now? :P) I’m not trying to play some kind of “gotcha” game – that’s a serious question. And are people ever capable of acting irrationally? Because it seems to me you’re casting your net of rationality so broadly that almost nothing a person feels, does, or experiences can count as not rational, and that pretty much everything capable of reaction is rational.

    I guess I wonder where you draw the borders between the rational and the irrational, because I honestly cannot figure out, given the definition of rational you’ve provided, what would ever really be irrational.

    Edit: I also wanted to respond to something you said upthread – that calling something irrational is dismissing it. I fundamentally disagree – that’s only true if you think the only valuable, worthwhile things are rational, and I clearly don’t. Calling something irrational, to me, is a matter of proper categorization, not a way to say that what’s irrational should be dismissed or is less valuable/worthwhile.

    Indeed, given the sheer number of things I think count as irrational, and the fact that I don’t think they can be effectively understood by being forced into a rational framework, I think people need to pay more attention to the irrational, in some respects, and really come to grips with it.

  • Foelhe

    Oh, I almost missed this point.

    If rationality is about perceiving the world clearly and making choices that move you to your goals, irrationality is about perceiving the world poorly, and then making choices that actively make your goals harder to reach. …Which is a little vague, yeah.

    If you think the used book store is going to sell cookware, odds are you’ve either never shopped in one, or you’re being irrational. If you think the line “Do you believe in love at first sight, or should I walk by again?” is going to get you a lot of takers at the bar, you’ve either never spoken to another human being in your life, or you’re being irrational. If you think voting Republican will get you more job opportunities, you either know nothing about US politics and current events, or you’re being irrational. This doesn’t apply to people who are ignorant, but to people who have access to the information they need, but refuse to acknowledge it. Willful stupidity gets pretty close.

    (… Which is why if I called someone irrational, I’d be insulting them or at least severely criticizing them. But I shouldn’t have assumed that was true of everyone else, sorry.)

  • Alix

    (Separate because tangent.)

    Creativity … I think it’s a complex interaction. Aesthetics are irrational – what you consider beautiful, what appeals to you, that sort of thing. How things make you feel is irrational. And symbolism is quasi-rational, and becomes less rational the more intuitive it becomes.

    But there are technical aspects to creative endeavors, and while I’m not entirely sure actions themselves (as in the actual execution of an action, not the decision to employ it) are rational, the parts of creative endeavors I generally lump under “craft” – those are, hm. Conscious and deliberate, and often but not necessarily logical?

    But that’s what makes creative things fun, to me, because it’s almost like a sort of dialogue with myself.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I … honestly sometimes think we over-value rationality.

    Rationality is masculine. Emotions are feminine. Therefore all the value attaches to the former to the exclusion of the latter.

    Cynical Ellie is cynical but also thinks ze’s right.

  • AnonaMiss

    Chicken and egg. Are emotions bad because feminine, or are emotions feminine because bad? (I lean towards the latter)

  • Alix

    I suspect they’re so intertwined – the juxtaposition goes back at least to ancient Greece – that it’s really rather impossible to separate the strands now and figure which came first. :/ FWIW, I lean the same way you do, but there’s no way to know.

  • Dash1

    Actually, there’s pretty good evidence that it’s the latter. In cultures in which women are thought to be rational and men are considered emotional, it’s presented as men having the “poetic soul” and women being nothing but purely practical and therefore lacking.

  • Alix

    Ooh, interesting. Out of curiosity, can you point me to any cultures that view things that way?

  • P J Evans

    I ran into that description also – it was in one of Hall’s books on culture and society: apparently n Iranian culture, men are supposed to be poets and dreamers, and women are supposed to be rational.

  • Alix

    Thanks. I’ll have to look that up.

  • ngotts

    OT (and I admit I haven’t read the whole conversation), but that’s interesting. I recently did a bit of research on Iran for a talk to my local CND group (which overturned a number of beliefs I’d absorbed from mainstream media), and discovered that just over half of all students in Iran are now women, but that rises to 70% in science and technology.

    They still can’t be judges or run for President, though.

  • Dash1

    I was going to say Iranian, but I see P.J. Evans got there first. And I had not thought of Western Europe’s Romantic period, which arcseconds has added.

  • arcseconds

    Actually, something almost exactly this happened in Western society when the Romantic period came along.

    In the classical/enlightenment period, reason was everything, Newton was the apex of existence, and women were second best because they were too emotional.

    At this time, art often wasn’t considered all that, but at any rate, it too was regarded as very much a rational endeavour. Just look at Sonata form and fugues for examples about what an intellectual exercise music had become.

    Intellectual endeavour of all sorts were all about shedding the light of reason on everything.

    Then somehow reason became unseated, Beethoven disposed Newton, and art was super-important, and was all about the artist dredging up emotional stuff out of the darkest recesses of the soul.

    Of course, what happened then was women became the most important sex, because it had long been established they feel emotions deeper than men women couldn’t be artists because they were superficially sentimental and didn’t feel emotions deeply enough.

  • arcseconds

    actually, I vaguely recall reading a mention once that there was a moment of confusion there, when the Romantic period was taking hold. But only a moment before the ‘men have always felt emotions more deeply than women, and we’ve always been at war with Eurasia’ took over.

  • Alix

    I think you’re right, too. :/

  • Dash1

    Cynical Ellie may be cynical but dense Dash is occasionally dense. Just to make sure I read you right, you’re not claiming that men are truly more rational than women, right? Rather, that it’s our cultural construct that assigns rationality to the masculine, emotion to irrationality, and hence emotion to the feminine, yes?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yes, of course it’s all cultural constructs. Bullshit constructs, mind, but they exist and must be accounted for.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    I don’t define them like that, and your generalization implies everybody does it.


    Bad arguments can be based on bad dispassionate logic just as much as they can be based on emotional responses.

    The vibe I keep getting – and it’s a vibe I don’t like – is that a claim is being made that people acting, speaking, or writing rashly can never happen solely because “you’re being emotional” has been used to discredit valid arguments.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I don’t define them like that, and your generalization implies everybody does it.

    Then I miscommunicated somehow, because I don’t define them like that EITHER.

  • Alix

    a claim is being made that people acting, speaking, or writing rashly can never happen solely because “you’re being emotional” has been used to discredit valid arguments.

    I … hope I didn’t give you that impression, because I never meant to say that rash action never happens.

    But it’s also true that “you’re being emotional” absolutely has been used to discredit both valid arguments and valid emotional reactions – to dismiss people in general – and that’s also problematic. I’m … kind of getting a vibe from you that you don’t think that’s something that actually happens enough to bother pushing back against.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Oh, I totally get that people using “oh, you’re just being emotional” is a major asshole move and ought to be smacked down.

    But what seems to be emanating from the pushback seems to be an unncessary corollary move to insist that emotions can’t interfere with thinking in ways that lead to rash decisions.

    Maybe it’s just me.

  • Alix

    Okay, that makes sense. Thanks for clarifying.

    I find both hugely problematic, but in my own experience I run into the “you’re being emotional/you’re too irrational” thing way more often, so that tends to be, naturally, what draws my focus.

  • AnonymousSam

    That’s just yet another kind of tone argument. It’s basically saying, “Yes, I know we keep stepping on your foot, but until you can something nicely, we’re under no obligation to stop doing it.”

    In a way, this can even be tied to the “it’s better to do X than to be called X” behavior I’ve been trying to narrow down and codify. In this case, “it’s better to be hurtful than to be accused of being hurtful, so we feel the right to continue being hurtful until our pride and feelings are sufficiently assuaged by you bending over backwards to accommodate us. While we continue hurting you.”

    … I usually respond to these things by demonstrating exactly what a rude, emotional person I can be and how that contrasts with the rationality I was previously exemplifying. This typically begins with the words “Fuck your tone argument” and continues from there. ^_^

  • Alix

    More saying that you need to give a perfectly airtight logical argument for why they should stop stepping on your foot, complete with how you know it’s really real harm in the first place. :/

    I … yeah. I’m pretty much at the point where if someone starts pulling this shit on me, I just walk away. If you (generic you) can’t accept “that hurts me, stop,” then nothing I say will convince you.

    While I’m at it, I ought to note that empathy and compassion are also irrational, though like any emotions/mental states it’s always possible to logically justify them. But justifying things rests on assumptions, and we tend to think that the assumptions we agree with are right, logical, rational, and justified, and the ones we don’t aren’t any of those things … but they’re all assumptions. And it bears noting that “rationality is always better” is an assumption.

  • Foelhe

    Okay, here’s where I really have to start disagreeing with you. Empathy and compassion are a strong part of our ability to network socially, and that’s a huge benefit to us humans. They may not always show up in the most rational ways, because our brains are imperfect tools at the best of times, but at a base level they are certainly rational.

    And you shouldn’t make assumptions… to a point. When you start to examine logic and philosophy as a whole you realize that there really is no part of reality that is inherently, inarguably true. The whole point of solipsism is that we don’t know for sure anything but our own minds exist, and I’ve heard some people argue that solipsism doesn’t go far enough, that maybe even our existence is some sort of hallucination. (Granted, I don’t think that makes any sense, but I’ve heard it argued.) It really is turtles all the way down – as soon as you refuse to accept anything without evidence, you realize you can’t call anything evidence because nothing’s been supported well enough. Eventually you need to pick a point and get started, otherwise you’ll never get anywhere.

  • Alix

    Something being a benefit does not mean that thing is rational. Something being justifiable doesn’t mean it’s rational. Empathy as an impulse is not reasoned. It’s not built off of a conscious logical argument. Neither is compassion, as a feeling.

    Like, I really honestly don’t understand how things relating to conscious reasoned thought are suddenly being applied to things that are a) not conscious, b) not consciously reasoned, or c) not thoughts. There is a serious fundamental disconnect here, and this is exactly what I meant by the creeping over-focus on rationality – everything good gets justified as rational, because anything that gives us a positive benefit must be rational, because ~assumptions~. Because nothing irrational could possibly give us a positive benefit. Because irrationality is always bad. :/

    Irrationality merely means that a thing was unreasoned, not that it is unreasonable. The things our subconscious throws up are irrational – dreams, impulses, emotions, gut-level likes/dislikes, survival instincts. Conscious imagination is often irrational; there’s a pretty solid argument for imagination itself being irrational. And perceptions aren’t rational, either, and I’d argue neither is memory. Humor is irrational. Etc.

    there really is no part of reality that is inherently, inarguably true.

    That’s half the fun of reality. :P

  • Invisible Neutrino

    The way I like to see it, empathy and other emotional responses are what inform logically sound arguments in the first place.

    Being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes is half of the process of being able to have a discussion where both people walk away feeling happy about it.

    You have probably noticed it’s precisely those people who display a conspicuous lack of upset about the status quo (insofar as the status quo is unfair), or a conspicuous lack of ability to understand how another person’s lived experiences or feelings contribute to the perspective they bring to a discussion – those people are the most abrasive, self-centered and generally rude and who are the most likely to bring off the snotty tone argument so often used to dismiss valid points.

    (A notable example is Chris Hadrick or Ginny Bain Allen)

  • Alix

    empathy and other emotional responses are what inform logically sound arguments in the first place.

    Oh, sure. But that doesn’t make those themselves logical.

    I’m also not entirely sure that the only logical arguments are ones informed by empathy, etc. The only moral/ethical ones, sure. But it seems to me that logic-the-process is dispassionate and morally neutral, and depending on your starting assumptions and what you use to inform your arguments, you could end up building a really solid logical argument off of pure selfishness, for example, or fear.

  • AnonymousSam

    As someone who makes moral/ethical decisions without the benefit of empathy, I — am somewhat intimidated by the conversation and have nothing to contribute. :p

    Well, except that as a generally unemotional person, one would think my decisions were rational all the time, but they’re not. My tendency to be dispassionate doesn’t automatically yield more efficient or effective thought processes. Rationality doesn’t come prepackaged with the information to make the best decisions, or the objectivity to make a decision without bias.

    Come to think of it, I try not to think carefully about a lot of things. In the face of cold rationality, a lot of things start to seem utterly futile.

  • Alix

    I think that’s a really valuable perspective, actually.

    Your post pretty well gets at the heart of one of my major problems with the “rationality = good” argument – that rests on certain underlying assumptions about what counts as truly rational, like the idea that the only really rational arguments are ones resting on empathy. That … to me, that’s redefining rationality to exclude any bad applications of it, and (heh) I don’t think that’s rational.

    In the face of cold rationality, a lot of things start to seem utterly futile.

    This is my main argument with utilitarianism, actually.

    As someone who makes moral/ethical decisions without the benefit of empathy

    Is it horribly intrusive for me to ask how you formulate your ethical decisions?

  • AnonymousSam

    Not at all, but it’s hard to put it to words. I just try to preface anything I do that affects someone else by imagining what it would be like if it happened to me — living by the Golden Rule, as it were. I have certain biases and assumptions I make (who doesn’t?) which colors what I find important, but when it comes to people, no matter whether they’re unhealthy or poor or have fifteen children, I try to embrace the meaning behind John Donne’s No Man is an Island and see value in everyone. It’s hard, especially when some people seem actively determined to tear down society, but I try.

    That said, I do have a certain disdain for measuring value using one’s ability to make money or keep a job. My ideal society would be one in which resources are shared to free up citizens to pursue the arts, intellectual endeavors, spirituality and further emotional well-being.

  • Alix

    I just try to preface anything I do that affects someone else by imagining what it would be like if it happened to me

    More people ought to do that. :/

    And if I had to define empathy, I’d basically define it as that, but unconscious. For what it’s worth.

  • AnonymousSam

    That’s consistent with what I’ve read. The problem I’ve seen is that not only do a lot of people not seem to do this; their sense of proportion seems to be completely off.

    Example: Person wants to deny marriage equality. They see no harm done by refusing to let people marry or giving them the same marital rights because those people’s feelings aren’t really being hurt because they’re just selfishly living in sin and being depraved and hating God. And in fact!, person insists, they’re the one harmed by marriage equality because it tramples all over their religious liberty to have to see people living in sin everywhere!

  • Alix

    their sense of proportion seems to be completely off

    Weren’t there studies done that show that we humans are really, really bad at both determining how much we were harmed by something and how much we harm others? Not exactly a very comforting thought. :/

    (Then again, I find issues of perspective really screwy to begin with. Thinking about this stuff too hard is paralyzing.)

    Well, the other thing is, people like in your example aren’t really putting themselves in others’ shoes. They’re not reflecting on what it would be like if they were gay, to keep with the marriage equality example; they’re assuming that gay people are just like them (i.e. sharing their exact beliefs). That’s the inverse of empathy, it seems to me.

  • AnonymousSam

    Hmm. Makes me wonder about how often I hear that they hate the entire concept of relativism. They’re frequently very keen on an arbiter, an unchanging standard of law and ethics which bends for no one — and then they themselves seem to have trouble with seeing anything outside of one unchanging perspective…

  • arcseconds

    I don’t think moral relativism is really a coherent concept either

    (if you follow it through I think you end up with either moral nihilism (which I suppose you could say is a form of moral relativism — every moral viewpoint is equally worth nothing at all) or some kind of moral realism which transcends culture and individuals, even though it might be pretty skeletal, so to speak)

    but that doesn’t mean I’m not open to discussing the matter, because moral realism means I could be wrong.

    (and anyway, discussion can be interesting even on matters on which I’m infallible ;-] )

    The problem with these people isn’t that they’re against relativism. It’s that they refuse to admit even the possibility that they might not be right, or even give a remotely charitable or sympathetic ear to an opposing view.

  • Alix

    I don’t think moral relativism is really a coherent concept either

    Out of curiosity, could you say why? From my perspective, moral relativism is about the only way to explain the vast diversity in human moral and ethical systems – even things we often think of as universally moral aren’t.

    I’m also a bit confused by what you mean by “moral realism.” If I’m reading you right, it’s the idea that there is some kind of objective morality?

    Or is this another definitional problem again? :P

  • Ross

    From my perspective, moral relativism is about the only way to explain the vast diversity in human moral and ethical systems

    There’s also the vastly more popular “Yes, but what we consider moral is objectively moral; everyone else is simply mistaken.”

  • Alix

    There’s also the vastly more popular “Yes, but what we consider moral is objectively moral; everyone else is simply mistaken.”

    Um, that’s not moral relativism, though. Is it?

  • Ross

    That’s my point; you said that moral relativism is the only way to explain the vast differences in human moral systems. An alternative explanation is that one or fewer human moral systems is objectively right. and the rest are objectively wrong.

  • Alix

    Ah, okay, thanks. I’m sometimes a bit slow on the uptake, sorry.

    I agree, which is why I actually like moral relativism. I don’t know that my morals are objectively right – I don’t know that objectivity can really apply to morality. I do know that my morals seem to work well for me – and that’s relative/subjective by default.

  • arcseconds

    Moral realism isn’t the position that someone knows the true moral facts, though.

    That’s what i was eluding to before: moral realism means I (or you) could be wrong.

    So moral realism has room for moral uncertainty and moral questioning. Am I really right about this? Was that really the right way to treat them?

    Whereas it seems to me that moral relativism, while often of course held by people who have a great respect for other people’s viewpoints, is quite compatible with complete certainty and inflexibility. After all, I know perfectly well what my culture’s norms are, and if there’s no further question about whether they’re right or not, I can just set about promoting them with gay (or rather heteronormative) abandon.

  • Alix

    Interesting. I would say that if one knows their own cultural norms and goes applying them with merry abandon, that’s very much not moral relativism.

    moral relativism . . . is quite compatible with complete certainty and inflexibility.

    I have honestly never heard moral relativism used to indicate any kind of moral certainty or inflexibility. It seems to me that those are entirely incompatible with the whole concept of moral relativism, which is that morals are, well, relative, and very much not certain and not inflexible.

    I’m kind of curious if you can elaborate on a context in which moral relativism does lead to certainty/inflexibility? Because I’m clearly failing to get something here.

  • Ross

    I don’t know that my morals are objectively right, but I am not sure I want to give up being able to say that some people’s morals are objectively wrong.

  • Alix

    Well, what are you using as an objective standard?

    It seems to me that morals are subjective by definition, so objectivity in terms of morality seems really strange to me.

  • arcseconds

    Well, it could be, but it seems more like a substantive difference to me :)

    At any rate, I don’t understand where you’re coming from.

    Yes, I think that there’s some kind of objective morality, although some emphasis needs to be put on ‘some kind’. I don’t think, for example, that there are definitive list of moral rules that God wrote in a book somewhere (or incarcerated in a platonic heaven) or something like that.

    One of the reasons I have for this is exactly what I told AnonymousSam: I don’t think moral relativism is a stable position, if thought through. I think it results in either realism (although maybe of a pretty minimal sort) or nihilism.

    Your stated objection to this idea seems like a non-sequitor to me.

    Why would you think that one’s position on relativism when it comes to morals should explain the diversity of moral beliefs?

    I mean, like most people, I think that there are facts about the natural world, and there’s nothing much that is relative about these facts, although potentially they can be described in different ways.

    It’s very evident that there’s considerable disagreement about what these facts are.

    But that by itself doesn’t seem like a reason to embrace reality relativism. Or, at least, it doesn’t to me. Does it to you?

    If not, why is morality different?

    The other thing I’m wondering about is whether or not you see moral relativism as being distinct from moral nihilism, as I suggested in my reply to AnonymousSam, and if so, how is it distinct?

  • Alix

    But that by itself doesn’t seem like a reason to embrace reality relativism. Or, at least, it doesn’t to me. Does it to you?

    Um. Funny you should mention that. Yes, to an extent, because in my experience people’s worldviews greatly impact how reality actually seems to them, moreso than a lot of people are willing to admit.

    On moral relativism vs. nihilism, I do see them as different. Moral nihilism, as I understand your definition of the term, is that all moral systems are equally worth nothing – I’d actually flip that on its head and say that moral relativism is that all moral systems are equally worth something, in that they clearly help people navigate their interactions with the world and other people. But I hold to a very practical notion of morality anyway, and I firmly believe that virtually all of morality is a human social invention, and that very little if any is innate.

    So in a way the question of worth when it comes to morals is almost nonsensical, and I really cannot wrap my head around the idea of a universal morality. I can maybe get behind a really sketchy, really simplistic universal framework – maybe. But, and I don’t mean this to sound combative, I’m genuinely curious, can you name me some examples of universal morals?

  • arcseconds

    Well, there’s two different questions here in the natural case, right? Of course, if you want to understand someone’s beliefs about the natural world thoroughly (in order to understand them more thoroughly), you will probably need to do some bracketing of your own beliefs. I mentioned this to AnonymousSam: you can’t understand ancient greek natural philosophy if you keep plonking the results of modern science on the table and getting all het up because what they say doesn’t agree with it.

    But that’s a different question to who has the correct picture, or at least a more accurate picture, yes? I mean, we don’t think the world is ruled by two opposing principles Love and Strife, or that a lot of things (maybe everything) has small amounts of fire in them, or that this fire is trying to get to its natural place in the sphere of fire.

    And we don’t think these things because in the last four centuries or so people went to a lot of effort to investigate how the natural world works — it’s not simply that intellectual fashion has changed.

    The question of who has the behaviour and nature of fire right comes in not so much when we’re trying to understand people, but when we’re trying to design our homes to be fire safe, say. If you were doing this, would it be best to consult Heraclitus and Aristotle, go with your own intuition, or consult a fire engineer?

  • Alix

    (Here’s hoping I’m following the thread right…)

    If I’m right and this is in response to my views on the subjectivity of reality, I sort of agree?

    Thing is, as I mentioned to Foelhe somewhere in the comments here, I’ve had a number of extremely weird experiences, some (most?) of which flat-out defy how the world “should” work. And because this whole topic makes me crazy edgy, I’m really only willing to keep talking about the example I already brought up, that of out-of-body experiences.

    I’ve heard all the skeptical arguments against OBEs. I’ve honestly, seriously researched and considered them. And I still don’t find that they match the reality I’ve experienced. Can I prove that experience happened? Nope, but that’s the problem with experiences.

    So I either have to basically decide I can’t trust my own mind and go with what everyone else tells me is fact, or trust my own mind and roll with my own lived experiences. I … frankly, I can’t not trust myself. If I don’t, I have no starting point for anything. That’s where I was going with the subjective reality thing.

    On an entirely different topic, can you point me to any good overviews of bracketing? The whole concept really intrigues me.

  • arcseconds

    Bracketing is a term of Edmund Husserl’s. Husserl was a phenomenologist, which means (at least in his case) he was trying to describe the structure of human experience. It turns out this is pretty difficult to do. At a given point in time, what is it that you experience? Certainly not flat regions of colour you consciously assemble into 3-dimensional shapes: you experience them as already 3-dimensional.

    You can spend hours looking at objects on your desk trying to work out what you’re experiencing and what you’re assuming :)

    One of the important things he wants to bracket in the process of doing phenomenology (the ‘phenomenological reduction’) is the ‘natural attitude’, which is the kind of common-sense somewhat scientifically-informed (for those of us in Western society, at least) view of the world we all have (or most of us, at least). The ‘natural attitude’ involves the assumptions that the world is external to our experiences, that we’re a part of the world, and that sort of thing.

    So, crudely put, when engaged in phenomenological reduction you’re sort of a solipsist (although I have a feeling Husserl does think that we don’t end up experiencing other people as simply objects, even in the phenomenological reduction).

    But it’s important to stress that Husserl isn’t a solipsist or a sceptic about science.

    Unfortunately I can’t give you any decent references on this. Husserl wrote rather a lot, he changed his mind a fair bit, and he’s difficult to read. I’ve read a couple of introductory books on him, and frankly I found those a struggle, too. You could give Stanford a try, but it’s not exactly transparent either.

    Normally I’d say if you want to actually get right into philosophy, you should be prepared to do a bit of toe-to-toe with the primary texts, but I think in Husserl’s case it might be better to find a decent expert who can explain themselves clearly and stick with that. And I haven’t found one yet.

  • Alix

    Thanks for the info! I’ll definitely have to dig into this; it all sounds really interesting.

    if you want to actually get right into philosophy, you should be prepared to do a bit of toe-to-toe with the primary texts

    That’s generally been my approach, but I’ve shot myself in the foot that way enough times that I now usually try to find a good intro text to read prior/with the primary texts. I guess I’ll just have to do some preliminary reading, take a deep breath, and muddle through. Sometimes, that even works. ;)

    If you ever do find a good clear explanation on all this, please let me know.

  • arcseconds

    Well, it seems to me that you, in fact, believe in objective moral principles and values. You certainly talk as if you do.

    You appear to think, for example, it’s a universal moral principle to respect other people’s cultures, and to hold back from inflicting your own moral values on them.

    You also seem to think that helping people navigate their social worlds is a good thing — although it’s not quite so clear in this case.

    And this is the usual impression I get from people who say they’re moral relativists. They’re really moral realists who believe in the principles of tolerance and mutual understanding.

    This is just the ‘well, what if I’m a Nazi?’ cheap shot, of course, but in this particular case i think the cheap shot has some substance to it :]

    A really thorough-going moral relativist wouldn’t give ‘respect other people’s cultures’ any special status. That’s a value held by lefty pinko liberal arts western subculture (amongst others). And enforcing conservative Christian values on everyone is a value held by the conservative Christian community. One is not more justified than the other.

    That doesn’t mean that you (or we) don’t hold back from combating cultural imperialism. And it also means we need have no qualms about trying to foist our principles of tolerance on other people: we’re just doing the same thing as Christian conservatives are, with the same justification, and for much the same (or maybe parallel) reasons.

    (edit: oops, pressed post a little early there).

    Which is why I think moral relativists can be consistently moralists of the worst sort. If their culture’s values are to be moralizing, it’s fine!

  • Alix

    Interesting. Three things:

    1. I’m not sure I’d phrase the respecting others’ cultures or helping people navigate their social worlds as moral, though, but practical. I don’t tend to think of them as good/bad but as useful/not useful. Then again, I can be pretty damn dispassionate about morality in general, so I may be splitting hairs here.

    2. But “moral relativism” to me does imply that there needs to be a base of tolerance and mutual understanding, or at least non-judgment. Your argument sounds, to me, akin to the old “but you’re not tolerating my intolerance” thing thrown at people espousing tolerance – in the case of both tolerance and moral relativism, there are some underlying assumptions that the terms require.

    3. I am honestly still not sure what you mean by “moral realist,” because it still sounds to me like what you mean when you say that is what I know as moral relativism.

  • arcseconds

    A moral realist is someone who thinks there are moral principles that aren’t relative to a particular culture, that in some sense transcend or stand outside cultures.

    As you are prevaricating about the word ‘moral’, I’m going to change that to ‘normative principles’ — anything that is supposed to direct our actions.

    It doesn’t matter what those principles are. Someone who believes that the only normative principle is to aim at increasing one’s own happiness is just as much a moral realist (assuming they really do think it’s a normative principle) as a conservative Christian who has any number of things that God wants us to do as the objective moral principles.

    And it sure sounds like you are a moral realist by this definition, I’m glad you agree :].

    I’m not really objecting to the term ‘moral relativism’ for your position too much, as there is a sense in which it is relativistic — most normative principles are relative to a certain culture, or so it sounds like (although we could have a further discussion as to what you mean by that) and have value within those cultures. But it’s a form of moral realism nevertheless because there do seem to be principles that stand outside culture in some way.

    But you’ve got an argument against moral realism: there’s widespread disagreement about morals, so how could there be any universal moral principles?

    There’s widespread disagreement about tolerance, too. So why does that disagreement not prove that tolerance, too, has no particular special status, but rather just something that some people believe in and others don’t?

    It seems to me that your arguments work just as well against tolerance and the other values and principles you want to apply across cultures.

    I’m not going to let you wriggle out of this just because you’ve decided to use terms like ‘practical’ where i would use ‘moral’ and ‘needs to be a basis of tolerance of mutual understanding’ where I would say ‘there is an objective moral principle of tolerance and mutual understanding’ :-)

  • Alix

    See, this is interesting to me, because you’re the first person I’ve ever encountered who uses the term “moral realism.” Thank you for the explanation.

    As you are prevaricating about the word ‘moral’, I’m going to change that to ‘normative principles’ — anything that is supposed to direct our actions.

    Well, I’m not lying or intending to deceive, so I don’t understand how I’m prevaricating. :/ (I keep getting the sense in a few of your comments that you’re … kind of talking down to me. And, well, it’s of course your right to think I’m stupid, but … it bothers me, a little, or I wouldn’t be bringing it up. :/)

    I also don’t know that “moral” can be redefined as “anything that is supposed to direct our actions” – “moral” to me has very strong connotations of right/wrong in a good/evil sense. Which is one of the things that gives me fits in discussions of morality, and it’s why I do like moral relativism, because to me moral relativism is basically the position that no moral system is inherently more good or evil than any other. As I said, it’s a position against absolutism.

    tolerance, too, has no particular special status

    I’d agree, with a caveat. As a moral principle, tolerance has no particular special status. But in practical terms, it’s generally best for everyone (assuming a pluralistic secular society, which is admittedly a huge assumption) to practice tolerance over applying more restrictive beliefs to whole populations that disagree with them.

    IOW, if you want to hold or practice less tolerant beliefs yourself, fine, as long as they don’t cross any legal lines or infringe on the rights of others. The latter two aren’t moral positions so much as necessary compromises for living in a pluralistic society.

  • arcseconds

    I don’t have time to write anything more right now, but no no no I don’t think you’re stupid! You’re clearly extremely smart.

    I tend to have a bit of an ironic and sometimes playful way of expressing myself, which might come across as ‘talking down’, but isn’t intended as such.

    On this topic, though, I’m going to be honest and say I reckon I am better equipped than you are (which I should be, given I studied this stuff for several years) and I think there is a bit of confusion in your view as you’ve stated it. On the other hand, I’m not sure I fully understand it, and you have mentioned some things I haven’t thought of before.

    So that might be coming through as well, but that doesn’t mean I think you’re stupid, any more than you getting to sound authoritative about the ancient mediterranean means you think other people are stupid. I’m sure I often say dreadfully naïve and ignorant things about the ancient world, and may well have done in our recent conversation!

    I just looked up ‘prevarication’ — I thought it was basically a synonym for ‘equivocation’ (which is listed), but its primary meaning does seem to carry overtones of dishonesty. That wasn’t what I intended to convey, so I’m sorry I used the word. Learn something new every day!

  • Alix

    Oh, okay! I’m not really very good at telling tone, in person or in writing, so I generally find it better to just ask. Thank you, by the way, for taking the asking well.

    I’ve … tried to study this stuff. My first go-round at college (long story short: had to quit because finances) was at a weird liberal-arts college where we discussed the philosophy of everything, but the discussions were so freeform and self-directed it actually made it harder (for me, at least) to learn. And I’m perennially interested in pretty much everything to do with the human mind, philosophy, and especially human culture (‘s why I’m now working towards a history degree), but … yeah. Mostly self-directed, with all the scattered stabs at it that implies.

    I’d actually be really interested in any resources you could point me to, if you have the time (or, hell, even if you could just let me know if the wikipedia pages are reasonably accurate) on … well, anything we’ve discussed, even the rationality/logic thing. (I just … have this pattern where I need to take breaks from discussions to mull things over. It doesn’t mean I don’t find those discussions interesting.)

    I think there is a bit of confusion in your view as you’ve stated it.

    Oh, knowing me, probably. I’m not always very good at putting things into words, and I’ve gotten the distinct sense throughout this entire comments section that I’m missing key vocabulary.

    you have mentioned some things I haven’t thought of before.

    And you’ve mentioned things I haven’t thought of before, which is half the fun.

    On the whole morality subject, though – I do feel rather in over my head, often, because so many people seem to have an intuitive grasp of morality, and … I don’t seem to. So I feel sometimes like I’m trying to talk in a language I only half understand. If nothing else, this conversation has already been valuable because you’ve introduced me to terms like bracketing and moral realism (which is a concept I’m still turning over in my head).

    Thanks for being patient with me. :)

  • arcseconds

    the online Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy is usually pretty good:

    Wikipedia is it’s usual mixed-bag sort of self.

    My vocabulary is very much shaped by contemporary western analytic philosophy, and this sort of stuff is its bread-and-butter.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean it necessarily matches the way other people in other disciplines use it, and there’s not even agreement over terms within analytic philosophy.

    Having said that, my use of ‘moral realism’ is pretty standard.

  • Alix

    Thanks for the link!

    I have to admit, I love wikipedia, because it is hilarious. And usually intriguing. But yeah, I’ve been tempted to put my fist through the screen a time or two, surfing that site.

    contemporary western analytic philosophy

    Okay, this is probably a really dumb question, but could you point me towards some terms or people to look up? If this thread hasn’t made it abundantly clear already, I haven’t the first clue about this.

    my use of ‘moral realism’ is pretty standard.

    Interesting! I’ll definitely be doing some reading this week, because this entire branch of philosophy apparently completely passed me by. (The danger of hanging out with people interested more in things thousands of years gone, I guess…)

  • arcseconds

    Oh, and it totally doesn’t feel like I’m being patient with you :-)

  • Alix

    It does from my end. :) Most people give up on my annoying nitpicking pretty quick.

  • arcseconds

    Also, why would objective moral principles have to be innate? there’s no reason I can see to suppose innate beliefs would be correct beliefs. In fact, I’d be extremely suspicious of innate beliefs, if we had any of them.

    Most of our pre-theoretical intuitions about the natural world or mathematics or any other area are just plain wrong.

  • Alix

    why would objective moral principles have to be innate?

    I … don’t think I said that. But if morality is not innate (and I agree that while it may have some innate mechanisms backing it, like empathy, moral codes themselves are not innate) that means they’re products of human culture. And what moral relativism tries to get at is that no one human culture has cornered the market on “right.”

    And besides, I still can’t think of a single real example of a universal moral. It’s quite possible I’m missing something obvious, but I don’t see that there is anything humans universally agree on, morally speaking.

    You brought up how I as a relativist must see tolerance as universal. I actually don’t – it’s obvious to anyone who looks at just the US that it’s not, and you pointed that out yourself. I think tolerance is the best possible compromise, but that’s a different thing, and I’m fully open to the notion that there are times when tolerance is not a moral thing.

    But I just reread this conversation, and I’m almost wondering if we’re talking two different things. There are plenty of people out there who think that their own moral codes are obviously right/superior/whatever, and others’ are just as obviously wrong/evil, and that therefore those other people are stupid at best and monsters at worst. Moral relativism only exists in response to that argument, and says no, nothing’s obvious when it comes to morality. It’s all learned and shaped by culture, and therefore it’s all equally open to questioning.

  • Alix

    This whole thing, actually, is why I sort of hate policies hinging on moral arguments. Yes, people do have differing sets of morals, sometimes wildly. And no, I don’t think it’s fair to sit in judgment, especially because that almost always implies one’s own beliefs are obviously superior.

    Which is why policies should be exercises in practical compromise.

    More to the point, I see moral relativism as explicitly combating moral absolutism.

  • AnonymousSam

    If followed without interruption, then yes, one could wind up in a spiral where everything is relative and thus has little or no meaning. To me, though, relativism is a tool for understanding people better. Failure to take into account what someone considers moral and why seems likely to lead to making assumptions about their behavior, which is what I see all the time.

    “Oh, those gay people? They’re just pridefully rebelling against God. They’ve made the choice to reject Christ, so they have no reason not to defile themselves with sin.”

    “Or, you know, they just might not believe in your religion at all. Or they might interpret their sexuality in regards to Christianity completely differently, as the Episcopalians do.”


    It’s so ethnocentric, it leaves no room for any other possible motivation to do things than “because God wants it” or “because they hate God”…

  • arcseconds

    Right, but that’s not asserting moral relativism as your own position, it’s just adopting it as a methodology.

    You can (and probably should) do the same with propositions about the natural world, too. You’re not going to get far understanding Aristotle’s views on biology or the chinese concept of qi or Wiccan views on magic if you keep harping on about But The World Isn’t Like That And You’re All Stupid.

    I prefer the phenomenological term ‘bracketing’ than ‘relativism’ for this kind of thing, because it’s more general (you can in principle bracket any set of beliefs, and also attitudes, etc.), because it’s more obvious you have and retain your own views on this matter (albeit suspended for the purpose of the exercise), and it seems more descriptive of the actual process (and suggests that it is a process, rather than a position).

    So the problem, as I would describe it, is not that these people believe in God and think they know what God wants, but rather they’re completely unable (or unwilling) to bracket those beliefs in order to try and make sense of someone else. Which means that they’re completely unable to make sense of someone else.

    And this isn’t true of everyone who’s an ethical and metaphysical realist who believes in God, obviously, so the problem isn’t their philosophical position, per se. It’s the death-grip they have on it.

  • Alix

    I’ve never heard of bracketing before. That’s interesting, and useful.

    I would say the concept of bracketing doesn’t actually encompass all of moral relativism, only part of it. The ability and willingness to bracket your own beliefs to understand someone else’s is a major part of relativism, but the other part is being open to reevaluating what you believe. It’s not just about understanding other people’s morals, but about recognizing that your own aren’t prioritized somehow as more obviously or objectively right or less a product of your culture.

  • AnonymousSam

    I had to take awhile and chew this over. It’s been awhile since I debated these kinds of subjects and I’m not used to thinking so hard about it. ~_^

    I wasn’t actually aware that relativism was a position, rather than a tool. For me, it’s always been something like what I imagine empathy to be, mentally placing one’s self in another’s position to see things from their point of view. Since it doesn’t come naturally to me, anything related to the concept is an intellectual exercise — sort of like running a mental simulation. I usually do such things when interacting with people, trying to determine what kind of reaction I might get if I said something.

    I’m not actually sure how my morals were formed or even really how to describe them beyond that they’re still in a state of growth as I expand my way of thinking of others to encompass more and more people instead of those with which I directly interact. My goal is to leave the world a better place than before I came, which I want to do by contributing emotionally, intellectually and in some cases physically to society. I suppose my morals are shaped around actions which seem to be most likely to further this goal.

  • Alix

    I wasn’t actually aware that relativism was a position, rather than a tool.

    I see it as something of both. A tool in the way you describe it, and also a position against the kind of moral absolutism that, for example, fundamentalist Christians have.

  • arcseconds

    Well, often people do seem to be treating it as a tool. Or as both a tool and a position. Or they’ve conflated a tool with a position.

    Which is exactly why it’s useful to distinguish the tool from the position!

    The fact that ‘-ism’s tend to be positions, not methodologies, doesn’t help.

  • arcseconds

    Thinking hard is good for you! but don’t worry, I don’t charge…

    Empathy means a variety of related things, as far as I can tell:

    1) feeling what someone else is feeling
    (also 1.5: not feeling what someone else is feeling exactly, but feeling happy if they’re having a good time and bad if they’re having a bad time – but not necessarily feeling excitement or grief alongside them – I’d normally call this ‘sympathy’)
    2) being able to tell what someone else is feeling
    3) caring about what someone else is feeling

    Now, normally if someone says ‘so and so is very empathic’, they mean all three, but they don’t need to coincide. We could imagine people who are very empathic in sense 1 who don’t really care about other people and find it troublesome to be constantly feeling other people’s pain, so they just stop associating with people who are having a bad time of things, and only hang out with happy people.

    I suppose it could mean ‘putting yourself into another’s shoes’ as well, but I’d probably say that’s something different, although I’m sure empathy helps the process. It requires a lot more than perceiving someone’s emotional state: you also have to understand their worldview and values and that sort of thing. So it requires a lot of imagination and straight-up reason as well as emotional perception.

    I can imagine someone knowing another is in pain, and caring about it, and wanting to relieve it, but making horrible mistakes because they can’t really see things from the other person’s perspective. And i think I’ve seen things along those lines happen from time to time.

    I certainly know that while I don’t have any particular difficulty knowing what other people are feeling (although I don’t think I’m astoundingly good at it either, and no-one gets this right all the time, and online is much harder of course so don’t expect to see any great displays of empathy from me!) understanding why they are feeling that way and what I should do about it don’t necessarily follow.

    Incidentally, do you have trouble with all three of the above?

  • AnonymousSam

    To your question, less so these days than if you’d asked me a couple of years ago, but it’s something that’s still developing and growing. I feel at this point that I have a habitual, simplistic form of artificial empathy where I automatically glean how a person feels and give them the appropriate reaction, but complex displays usually require asking a few questions (not always with tact) to figure out exactly what’s going on.

    (The scenario I live in fear of is when a friend no longer has someone in their life, but they’re simultaneously sad and happy because of things that person did. When my significant other’s mother had a second stroke, it was “Sad! This is very bad! Oh, wait, the brain damage turned her into a horrible monster for over a decade. So… happy? But sad. Hapsad. Sadplyhapad.”)

    I’m getting better about caring, though, since I’ve made efforts to internalize the value of other people. Now it more directly impacts me that someone else feels good or bad, because, at the very least, if they feel bad long enough (let alone because of something I’ve done), then that person will stop being around for me to enjoy. It’s very egocentric, but I have to trick myself into being concerned that way. Left up to nature, my automatic response would be “SO? That’s not me!

    These days, depression makes the first two even harder than they would be anyway, since there are days when I’m unable to muster an emotional response to anything, but I like to think that a sincere effort to respond appropriately is, at some level, similar enough to responding appropriately that I’m not a complete monster.

    (That’s another fear, again tricked out of my system. I might have trouble caring what people think of me, but what about what I think of me? What if I hold myself to higher standards than that? Well, then I guess I have to muster the effort to interact like a human being.)

  • AnonymousSam

    This may prove an interesting experiment.

    Social intelligence test: Try to guess which of four emotions a person is experiencing by the set of their eyes.

    I scored 24 out of 36. “Average” is 26. I was expecting to score much lower, since I really had no idea for a lot of them…

  • FearlessSon

    I suppose my morals are shaped around actions which seem to be most likely to further this goal.

    That sounds a lot like Utilitarianism to me, a view which I hold myself. The idea is to not view an action as necessarily moral or immoral in itself, but rather see whether that action can be reasonably expected to serve some stated value of moral good or not. Suppose for example that you value the preservation of life as a moral good, then actions taken that can be reasonably expected to aid this goal can be considered moral, while actions which interfere with this goal can be considered immoral. It is not so much about intention, nor the moral value of any specific thing, but evaluating each thing as it fits into a larger framework.

    That said, the moral hazard of Utilitarianism lies in falling into an “ends justify the means” kind of rationalization. The ethics considerations enter when one is prepared to take actions which damage one held value in the name of serving another held value. This kind of conflict happens more often than one would like and one needs to set priorities to resolve it (being able to choose the lesser of two evils,) but the ethical problem is when one set of values is too damaged by an action to justify the moral gain for another set of values.

  • AnonymousSam

    I’m not sure I have an example of that dilemma to use as a model for contemplation… although what jumped to mind was a dilemma someone raised to my attention here on this blog. I said that Christians should reclaim their identity from the conservatives and their hateful ideology, he pointed out that to do so would be making a public spectacle of the faith — exactly what the faith itself said not to do.

    I still debate that dilemma to this day. Should Christians violate the tenets of their faith, judge a brother or sister, make a public matter of their faith? How, then, could they complain about people violating the tenets of their faith?

    I still have no answer for that and I dread the thought, generations from now, of Christianity being synonymous with hard right attitudes. But once you start down the path of breaking rules to uphold rules, where does it end?

    Admittedly, things like this are paralyzing…

  • AnonymousSam

    Just had a prime example of what I was talking about: Minnesota just voted (and passed) the SSM bill and it’ll be signed into law Tuesday. But-

    Senator Carla Nelson, a Republican, opposed the measure, saying it “denies the right of a different opinion.”

    “We must respect religious freedom at the same time that we advance rights,” she said.

    So. To advance rights, we should… not advance rights, because it denies people the right to… not have people with rights…

    Here’s one of the people who make it hard for me to value every individual.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Sure, but at the same time, people who insist on totally cutting out the emotional component of anything (except where there is not one in the first place, such as in mathematics) are usually the same people who manage to come off as the most jerkwaddy of people, because they can’t or won’t acknowledge that it’s things like a rather emotionally-laden flashback which can motivate a searching discussion (to which, incidentally, I still have no satisfactory answer) about how to engage the working poor white people who vote Republican into re-examining which party will, in the long run, act better in their interests.

    A person who claims logic as the only effective discussion tool would completely miss the point of the linked narrative, which is that human feelings and failings play just as much a role in how we inform ourselves about the world around us and how we communicate to one another, as the role of logic and reason.

  • Alix

    I agree with all of that.

  • ngotts

    Do you think reason cannot be applied to ethics and priorities? If so, why?

  • dpolicar

    I can’t speak for guest, but I would certainly say that reason can’t tell me what my priorities and ethical values ought to be, but it can tell me what they in fact are, and it can tell me how to best optimize my environment for them, and it can tell me whether they’re consistent.

    I’m not sure if you would agree or not, since “applied to” is a pretty broad term.

  • Alix

    I find myself feeling more like a Christian than an atheist, even while having to remind them that I don’t believe in Christ at all.

    I … keep feeling like I’m caught in the middle. My religion is a syncretism of Christianity and older Mediterranean/Near East syncretism, and … I don’t know. I am deeply uncomfortable with siding with anyone in these Christian vs. atheist debates, because in my experience both sides are either happy to lump me in with the other and slam me too, despite me explaining that I don’t fit there, or they’re happy to ignore my existence, and the existence of other people who don’t fit neatly on either side, and spray their criticisms so broadly it hits us anyway.

    And it ignores Christians who do care about social justice and work towards that, because somehow they can’t be Christian and compassionate people at the same time, and it ignores atheists who aren’t progressive, though admittedly the latter’s much less of a problem than the Christians who are anti-human decency and have disproportionate impact on policy. And generally I am very not okay with out-groupers defining the boundaries of the in-group, or dictating how people are allowed to define themselves. If that makes any sense.

    It’s like I’m being forced to choose between people who think I’m stupid or mentally ill, and therefore clearly a lesser being, on the one hand, and on the other hand people who think I’m willfully evil, deluded by Satan, or don’t exist on the other. And I … don’t even agree with mainstream Christianity on much at all, theologically, but it seems like the vast majority of groups in my area that do social-justice stuff and work towards the things I also want to work towards are Christians, and so it hurts to see them ignored and their contributions minimized in this debate.

    FWIW, the one place I’ve ever felt actually accepted in all my crazy heresy was a Christian church that met at fast-food places because they didn’t have a building. We disagreed on tons of stuff theologically, but they honestly never minded a heretic showing up for their service (I asked. Repeatedly.), and they were genuinely welcoming. We just had a lot of fun debates. (Goddammit, I miss them. :/)

    And omg, I need to learn to be concise. Sorry. :/

  • AnonymousSam

    I hope you feel more welcome here. I think you fit in just fine among us. ^^

    Conciseness is overrated, says the writer.

  • Alix

    I lurk for a loooong time at sites, before I comment. It’s safe to say that if I’m actually delurked and participating, I feel pretty damn welcome. :)

    Thank you. Sometimes, even when you feel welcome, you just need to hear it, y’know? You just made my evening.

  • AnonymousSam

    I know the feeling! I started following the blog for the Left Behind posts. I had read… everything up until somewhere near the end of the second book before I dared make a single post, and it took awhile before I started using a quasi-not-anonymous name.

    I’m glad it meets with your approval. I try and do the things that I know I like for others. I kind of have to follow the Golden Rule a bit literally at times since (not sure if you’re familiar with me?) I have APD, so empathizing doesn’t come naturally to me, to say the least.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I started reading the Left Behind posts back when Fred was at the other site, and posted under a different name. Then there was an incident where I made a complete ass of myself, and I stopped commenting and just lurked for quite sometime; until the move over here.

    I already had a Disqus account, so I just started posting under this name. In the intermediary I learned a fair bit about talking to people about things we don’t share an opinion of, and hopefully am better at the whole talking thing now.

    But, yeah. Lurking seems to be a really common trend.

  • JustoneK

    lurking is healthier.

  • arcseconds

    If you don’t mind me asking — why were you so reluctant?

    I mean, I would have thought you wouldn’t care too much about what everyone else thinks of you.

    (… I’d have to confess it doesn’t bother me terribly much what people think of me, and I don’t have APD.)

    For what it’s worth, I think your contributions are very worthwhile.

  • AnonymousSam

    I was still recovering from bad experiences with Christianity. I assumed everyone here was Christian and that we, at best, would have absolutely nothing in common. It took quite awhile before I felt comfortable enough to start letting old wounds heal, but I hold this community and its host as almost solely responsible for helping me do that.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I adhered to that thinking for awhile when I first left Christianity. Part of it, at least for me, was that I was raised in a very fundie sect, where they taught these claims. That gets stuck in your head, and not everyone ends up hanging out at a place like Fred’s, where you end up learning that there are other views out there.

    Of course, they could just be trying for the typical innerant jerk argument.

  • AnonymousSam

    I think it’s the latter. The argument technique seems to be attempting to invert clobber verses. They’ll say something like “I could never belong to a religion which upholds slavery,” and if the Christian tries to protest that on any grounds, the atheist argues “Then you aren’t a real Christian, because your Bible clearly says that it does.”

    I’ve seen this in about a dozen iterations now. The worst one recently was where the atheist was arguing that the Christian had to believe that all atheists were going to Hell. I just kept thinking, “Why are you arguing this? Don’t you know how like a fundamentalist this sounds, seeking reasons to feel persecuted, viciously offending people based on a heartless and condemning interpretation of the text?”

  • Alix

    Atheists keep telling me that they know more about Christianity than Christians do. In my experience, that’s not really true – most atheists are just as ignorant about Christianity as most Christians are, and stories like yours underline that.

    (Obligatory caveat, in my personal experience, generalizations, doesn’t apply to every possible configuration of atheist and Christian, etc. etc.)

  • Ross

    Haven’t you heard? Atheists know what christians believe better than christians do.

    Hell, I’ve had people here tell me that, with citations.

  • D Johnston

    I grew up not that far from Greensburg, and it’s been really interesting to watch it grow again. For a while, people believed that the former residents would just settle in to the communities that took them in (including my hometown, which was temporary home to a few hundred). The early efforts were focused on rebuilding the major structures, which would have been a major boondoggle if no one moved back. They built a really nice hospital that had no staff for a long time. But over the last year, you started to see houses pop up, and then shops, so in the end it all went according to plan. Nice to see that happen for a change.

  • victoria

    • “Rhode Island Becomes 10th Marriage Equality State.”

    • “And Delaware Makes 11”

    And tomorrow Minnesota is on track to make it an even dozen:

  • Carstonio

    Illinios may be next after that. What does everyone her think the odds are of the Court overturning either Proposition 8 or DOMA or both? Roberts may be astute enough to recognize that history cold compare him to either Earl Warren or Roger Taney.

  • ReverendRef

    I have no idea what the odds on that would be. But don’t ask me for odds or to pick a horse — I had Gonzaga and Georgetown in the championship game of the NCAA tourney last month, and look how THAT turned out.

    Back on track . . . .I don’t know what the odds would be, but if what I’m starting to get at the office is any indication, the pro-hate groups will be ramping up their campaign. I’m starting to get “information packets” from the Oregon Family Council (the local arm of the Family Research Council) about how we need to protect marriage because our religious liberties are at stake yada yada yada. In all likelihood, OR will have a marriage equality issue on the ballot this fall, and I’m guessing we’ll be in for a long round of crap from this particular pro-hate group.

    I did have to laugh, though. Included in their packet was a Feedback Form so they could determine the anticipated level of involvement from “Pastors and Leaders.” One of the topics was: Address the marriage issue from the pulpit.

    I have been doing that. They probably don’t want to hear what I have to say, though.

    So I’ve been debating — do I send them a request to remove me from their mailing list, or do I keep getting their junk so I can be aware of exactly what kind of garbage they’re putting out?

  • Carstonio

    My state had a referendum last year, and oddly I never saw any mass mailers for either side. Maybe your colleagues here had experiences similar to yours.

    If the issue weren’t currently before the Supreme Court, I can imagine the SSM map in 10 years looking almost like the US during the Civil War, with the Northeast and Far West legalizing it and the Old South and Plains states banning it.

  • Hummingwolf

    I’m a registered unaffiliated voter living in Maryland, and IIRC I got three brochures in the mail asking me to vote in favor of marriage equality, none against. Then again, I live in one of the DC suburbs that’s pretty solidly liberal, so the anti-folks might have figured they were better off spending their money elsewhere.

  • Dash1

    Well, if they send you a questionnaire, AND they send a postage-paid return envelope, well, it would be a shame not to indulge their desire to support the USPS by paying for you to return the envelope with your answers to the questionnaire in it. However, you need not be overly specific. Just answer the question as asked (“addressed from pulpit, check”). If it gives them a false positive, gee, that’s too bad.

    More seriously, I do think it’s important to know what kind of garbage they’re putting out. Of course, it’s awfully easy for me to be willing to sacrifice someone else’s sanity and/or blood pressure this way, so don’t take my advice too seriously.

    By the way, I don’t recall whether this was addressed on this blog or not, but you did see Bishop Robinson on the Colbert Report? He was exceedingly excellent in all respects.

  • ReverendRef

    I did not see the piece on Colbert with Bp. Robinson. I’ll have to see if I can find it on the intertubes. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • Dash1

    Here it is: April 25. If the link works.

  • ReverendRef

    Yes, the link worked — thank you.

    “Being Episcopalian is like Advanced Placement Religion.”

    That made me crack up.

  • Baby_Raptor

    So they’re actively encouraging Pastors to break the law.

    Surely this is in some way actionable and can be used to shut them up?

  • Hummingwolf

    Speaking about religious views of marriage, fairness, etc. isn’t against the law. Specifically endorsing a political candidate by name would be. I’m not sure where “vote for/against the proposed tax increase” fits, though.

  • ReverendRef

    I’m thinking that, for them, this falls under what they refer to as “civil disobedience.”

  • PepperjackCandy

    Make a CD (or DVD if you want to be videoed) of your next marriage equality sermon and then mail it to them in the envelope from the feedback form (or with the feedback form envelope pasted on the front of the package).

    Once they hear/watch your sermon, you will likely never hear from them again.

  • Lori

    The informed guesses that I saw when arguments wrapped up seemed to lean toward SCOTUS striking down the key provisions of DOMA on really shitty states’ rights grounds (so a good news/bad news thing) and punting on Prop 8 in a way that would require yet another vote in CA to settle the issue.

    The good news there is that I don’t see any way a new version of Prop 8 would pass. The tide has turned against it and the Mormons are no longer funding anti-equality votes the way they did for Prop 8 (bad for business). Without all that Mormon money the whole project is doomed. The Catholics just can’t raise enough on their own and there’s really no other organized resistance left.

    I’m not sure which state is considered up after Illinois, (Colorado maybe?) but I think that without Mormon money it’s going to be very hard for hate groups to keep other blue states from going for equality in pretty short order.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    The justices, who probably will rule next month, signaled
    during the March 26 argument that they might sidestep the
    underlying constitutional questions and decide that the
    defenders of the 2008 gay-marriage ban lacked “standing,” or
    legal eligibility, to bring the case.

    God, I hate those kind of wilting jelly-spined responses to questions of fundamental social good.

    Scalia urgently needs to discover a sudden liking for fishing somewhere. (>_<)

  • VMink

    I’ve sometimes found myself descending into near-eliminationist (and frankly scary/unfortunate) thoughts, where the world would be better off if so-and-so disappeared — not died, I amend in a mealy-mouthed manner, but just… not be here anymore.

    “Sudden interest in fishing,” is much, MUCH better! =) Thank you! *yoink*

  • P J Evans

    Someplace, preferably, where the fish have a good chance of taking home a trophy.

  • Carstonio

    The Mormons raised money from donors across the country to get Proposition 8. I heard a few grumbles about out-of-staters manipulating California’s politics, but that was the same argument used by Southern segregationists. We applaud lawmakers in other states when they vote for marriage equality. The difference is that one cause is about safeguarding equality and rights for all citizens, and the other cause was about safeguarding inequality and lack of rights for some citizens.

  • Lori

    My point wasn’t about the legitimacy of the Mormon’s fund-raising, just the necessity of it for the anti-equality side. It should also be noted that the LDS is not only not giving money, it’s also not organizing volunteers. That’s probably almost as big a deal as the money. The LDS church is very well-organized and when it turns that organization to a particular cause it makes a real difference. They’re no longer doing that for anti-marriage equality fights. Not only is the church not doing it from Salt Lake, the hierarchy has actively discouraged local Mormons from doing it under the Mormon name. The church has apparently decided that there’s no benefit in continuing to make this an LDS issue in any way.

    Without them I don’t see the remaining anti-equality folks being able to mount effective campaigns in any of the remaining relatively easy states. Baring an unlikely ruling from SCOTUS i expect that by the end of 2014 we’ll have marriage equality in all the states that don’t have anti-equality amendments in their state constitutions. When we get to 20 + DC we’ll hit that amendment wall and progress will get a lot harder and slower again.

  • Carstonio

    No disagreement that organized resistance to same-sex marriage is crumbling, at least financially. I wasn’t accusing you of lending legitimacy to the Mormon campaign, but instead emphasizing that the campaign itself was unjust no matter where it originated.

    If Wikipedia is right, the non-amendment states left are Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia, Indiana, Illinois, Wyoming and New Mexico. Hawaii is trickier since its amendment only grants legislative authority to ban same-sex marriage.

    Michigan’s amendment leads off with, “To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children…” Too vague is the best thing I can say about that. I would look up what the amendment’s drafters meant by that, but their rhetoric would probably make me too angry.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    One perk the stores offer is especially great — the chain gives free rides to those who spend more than $50.

    This will be a huge moneysaver for people who can’t afford a car. When you have to fork out another $5 or $10 for a cab ride back home every shopping trip, it adds up. Props. :)

  • Carstonio

    Would it be hokey to say that the two smallest states are big on marriage equality?

  • AnonaMiss

    Yes, but don’t let that stop you :)

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Speaking of more good news:

    “We should be similarly energized about improving conditions in the labor market,” he said. Bernanke, for one, seems to have his hair on fire. He told reporters that high unemployment is “an enormous waste of human and economic potential.”

    This is quite encouraging, considering that less than 10 years ago it was still fashionable to benignly neglect unemployment as an important part of the economy to be watching – and certainly in Canada, since John Crow’s appointment in 1987, a single-minded focus on inflation as a key plank of “monetary credibility” has held sway through Gordon Thiessen’s reign as Bank of Canada governor, only slowly dying out with the unavoidable surge in gas prices in 2000*.

    Many Canadian economists of a left-wing persuasion have written pages on the topic of purposeful lack of concern over high unemployment in governmental circles, so if the crash of 2007/8 has taught governments anything, I would say that it has taught them that one cannot do this.

    * Leading to such amusing subterfuges as targeting “core” inflation only, which implicitly builds an inflationary bias into monetary policy, since actual inflation is almost always higher than the core inflation.

  • JarredH

    Along the lines of the five evangelical pastors/one gay activist story, I spent this past weekend at the Generous Spaciousness Conference Retreat sponsored by New Direction Ministries in Canada. It was an amazing experience to spend a weekend with roughly forty other people — all with diverse points of view, life experiences, and backgrounds — committed to the process of listening and engaging in dialogue.

  • Lori

    And Minnesota makes it 12—the marriage equality bill just passed the Minnesota senate. The governor had already committed to signing it if it passed, so the rest of the process should be completed quickly.

    Congratulations to everyone who worked hard to make this happen, and to all the people who will now be free to marry.