The Plight of a Good Samaritan

 Posted by on 27 May 2013 at 2:00 pm  Benevolence, Crime
May 272013

This story is just amazing: Good Samaritan faces fines for stolen car.

Basically, a good samaritan stopped to help a man from his just-wrecked car. That man then told the good samaritan that his kids were in the back — and by the time the good samaritan realized that was a lie, the just-rescued man stole the good samaritan’s car!

To add insult to injury, the thief has been racking up parking tickets, and the City of Denver was demanding that the good samaritan pay those fines, because his report on the vehicle theft was lost. That looks to be sorted now, thanks to some help from 9News.

What an awful mess for a good guy — Jesus Rivera — who was just trying to be helpful to a fellow human being in distress!

Thankfully, that’s not how benevolence usually works out… and that’s why Mr. Rivera says that he’d stop again to help someone from an accident.

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May 272013

It’s commonly said that tone is lost in email in such a way that often exacerbates conflicts. Certainly, that’s true. Recently, I realized part of the reason why that’s true.

Email is just words, and tone is largely communicated by vocal patterns and body language. Hence, tone is not communicated well via email. That’s a problem, since the same words, delivered malicious or benevolently, have very different effects. However, that’s not the core problem in and of itself.

The core problem is that tone is a hugely important element of communication, such that readers will infer tone from whatever information they have available to them. With email, that means that tone is largely inferred from background knowledge about and judgments of the writer.

When a relationship is well-established as friendly (or malignant), the absence of tone in the communication isn’t much of a problem: the tone intended will likely be the tone inferred. However, when people are in conflict, the fact that tone isn’t communicated but rather inferred is a recipe for disaster.

In such cases, the reader will easily read a tone into the text that the writer didn’t intend without being aware of doing so. So a perfectly ordinary statement might be interpreted as snide or mean if the reader feels vulnerable and defensive due to an unresolved conflict with the writer. As a result, the conflict will often escalate suddenly, even though the writer intended the opposite.

That possibility is why it’s so important to pick up the phone to have some kind of real conversation when in the midst of a conflict with another person. (Better yet, meet with the person in person or via video call.) That’s often really hard for people. It’s really hard for me. I’m not concerned about the greater precision of writing, as some people are. Rather, I prefer the emotional distance of email for the simple reason that conflict is difficult and unpleasant.

Alas, that greater precision and distance often comes at a steep price — namely, prolonging or worsening the conflict. That’s worth remembering, I think, when considering whether to write that email or not.

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Activism Recap

 Posted by on 26 May 2013 at 10:00 pm  Activism Recap
May 262013

This week on We Stand FIRM, the blog of FIRM (Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine):

Follow FIRM on Facebook and Twitter.

This week on Politics without God, the blog of the Coalition for Secular Government:

Follow the Coalition for Secular Government on Facebook and Twitter.

This week on The Blog of The Objective Standard:

Follow The Objective Standard on Facebook and Twitter.

This week on The Blog of Modern Paleo:

Follow Modern Paleo on Facebook and Twitter.

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May 252013

Here I am, doing research in preparation for tomorrow’s discussion of open relationships on Philosophy in Action Radio with Miranda and Arthur. ;-)

Join us… for the show, that is… there’s no more room on the couch!

P.S. Yes, I’m having too much fun at ATLOSCon!

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 Posted by on 24 May 2013 at 1:00 pm  Link-O-Rama
May 242013

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Preview: Sunday Radio: Open Relationships, Innate Personality, Alimony, and More

 Posted by on 24 May 2013 at 8:00 am  Announcements
May 242013

On Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio, Greg Perkins and I will answer questions on open relationships, innate personality, conceiving again to save a child, the justice of alimony payments, and more. This episode of internet radio airs at 8 am PT / 9 MT / 10 CT / 11 ET on Sunday, 26 May 2013, in our live studio. If you miss that live broadcast, you can always listen to the podcast later.

This week’s questions are:

  • Question 1: Open Relationships: Can open relationships be moral? Can it ever be moral to have sex with someone else while in a relationship, assuming that you’re honest with everyone involved? If not, why not? If so, what might be some of the pitfalls to be aware of? For example, should the criteria for selecting sexual partners be stricter than if you were single? How should you navigate the tricky territory of opening a previously closed relationship?
  • Question 2: Innate Personality: Can personality be innate? In past shows, you’ve indicated that you think that some aspects of personality are innate, rather than acquired by experience. What does that mean? What is the evidence for that view? Moreover, wouldn’t that be a form of determinism? Wouldn’t that violate the principle that every person is born a “blank slate”?
  • Question 3: Conceiving Again to Save a Child: Is it wrong for parents to have another baby to save the life of their sick child? In 1990, Marissa Ayala was born in the hope that she might be able to save her 16-year-old sister Anissa from a rare form of leukemia. (The parents went to extraordinary lengths to conceive.) Happily, Marissa was a suitable bone marrow donor, and Anissa’s life was saved. At the time, many people criticized the decision as “baby farming” and treating the new baby as a “biological resupply vehicle.” Yet today, the Ayalas are a close family, Anissa is alive and well, and Marissa is happy to have been born. Were the Ayalas wrong to attempt to save the life of one child by having another? What moral premises would lead a person to condemn this act?
  • Question 4: The Justice of Alimony Payments: Should alimony payments upon divorce be abolished? Traditionally, a man was obliged to financially support his ex-wife upon divorce. Recent reforms have decreased the amount and duration of alimony in some states, as well as made it gender neutral (in theory). But are such payments ever justifiable? If so, under what conditions?

After that, we’ll tackle some impromptu “Rapid Fire Questions.”

To join the live broadcast and its chat, just point your browser to Philosophy in Action’s Live Studio a few minutes before the show is scheduled to start. By listening live, you can share your thoughts with other listeners and ask us follow-up questions in the text chat.

If you miss the live broadcast, you’ll find the podcast from the episode posted in the archive: Radio Archive: Q&A: Open Relationships, Innate Personality, Alimony, and More. It will be posted on Monday morning, if not sooner. You can automatically download that and other podcasts by subscribing to Philosophy in Action’s Podcast RSS Feed:

I hope you join us on Sunday morning… and please share this announcement with any friends interested in these topics!

Philosophy in Action Radio applies rational principles to the challenges of real life in live internet radio shows on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. For information on upcoming shows, visit the Episodes on Tap. For podcasts of past shows, visit the Show Archives.

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Horse Athletes Kick Your Ass

 Posted by on 23 May 2013 at 2:00 pm  Sports
May 232013

If you think that you’re an athlete… well, watch these horses jump cross-country fences and weep!

I’ve never seen such awesome slow-motion video of jumping, and these are insanely difficult cross-country fences. Alas, more than a few of these jumps are damn scary due to mistakes by the rider.

To see great cross-country ride, check out Andrew Nicholson on Quimbo, the winner of this year’s Rolex:

As you can see, that’s a long and demanding course — and it’s just one of three phases of the competition. His jumping phase is here, and his dressage phase is here.

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Jason Stotts on Polysexuality

 Posted by on 23 May 2013 at 10:00 am  Love/Sex
May 232013

Way back in December 2010, I answered a question on Polyamory Versus Monogamy. In response, Jason Stotts, a friend who blogs on sexual ethics, challenged some of what I said via private email. Since then, I’ve been wanting to revisit the topic… but I’ve been a bit hesitant to do so because I want to do it well.

On Sunday’s Radio Show, I’ll take the plunge, in that I’ll be answering a question on “open relationships.” Yikes!

If you’d like to read a bit more on the topic, I’d suggest that you start with Jason Stotts’ revised essay “On Polysexuality.” Here’s his summary:

Our language related to sex must be expanded to capture all of the variations that we see in real life. And we need to understand this because sex is good and a valuable part of a human life. The way we structure our relationships and sex lives has a lot of optionality that depends on the people in the relationship and can include multiple loving relationships or multiple sexual relationships, the right way for any particular couple may not be monosexual monoamory, and this would be fine because polysexuality and polyamory are natural and can be perfectly moral choices. As long as we observe some simple guidelines, leaving societally structured relationships and constructing our own can help us to live the best kind of lives possible.

I’m not sure that I’ll agree with Jason’s views, but I think the essay is worth a good look.

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Hidden Sources of Stress

 Posted by on 22 May 2013 at 11:00 am  Health, Psychology
May 222013

(I wrote this in August 2012 for Philosophy in Action’s Newsletter, but it’s still relevant today.)

I’ve been highly sensitive to stress lately, so I’ve been working to identify and better manage various sources of stress in my life. I’ve noticed some obvious culprits, like inadequate sleep and travel. I was surprised, however, to discover that doing any new activity is a major source of stress for me.

For example, I recently took my first lesson on my horse Lila with a three-day-eventing trainer. Lila had to be in the horse trailer for longer than she’d ever been, stay calm without her stable buddy, and then work in a strange new location. I wasn’t sure that she’d do it. I had to drive the truck and trailer on the freeway, which I’d never done before, then find the stable. Once we arrived, I’d have to introduce myself to this new trainer and prepare Lila mentally and physically for the lesson. Also, it was my first jumping lesson in about 20 years, and I was nervous about whether I’d perform well or not and about whether I’d like the trainer.

In the week leading up to the lesson, I was anxious about pretty much everything about the lesson — about arriving at the right place on time, about Lila’s temper on arrival, about my performance during the lesson, and more. I was excited and hopeful about all that too. I’m easily bored, and I knew that Lila and I needed to stretch ourselves in new directions. Much to my delight, everything went fabulously well. Lila was surprisingly calm, the trainer was excellent, and I learned a ton.

Still — and this seems downright silly of me in retrospect — I didn’t realize just how stressful the whole experience was. I underestimated it — first, because it wasn’t work-related and second, because it went so well. As a result, I didn’t give myself the downtime that I really needed afterwards: I just pushed myself into more work and more stress without a break. That was a big mistake! As usual, good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.

So here’s my advice du jour: Pay attention to the myriad stressors in your life — particularly the stress of new challenges and new activities, whether at work or at play. Don’t pile up one stressor after another, or you won’t be able to keep doing your best!

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New Questions in the Queue

 Posted by on 22 May 2013 at 8:00 am  Question Queue
May 222013

As you know, on Sunday morning’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I answer four questions chosen in advance from the Question Queue. Here are the most recent additions to that queue. Please vote for the ones that you’re most interested in hearing me answer! You can also review and vote on all pending questions sorted by date or sorted by popularity.

Also, I’m perfectly willing to be bribed to answer a question of particular interest to you pronto. So if you’re a regular contributor to Philosophy in Action’s Tip Jar, I can answer your desired question as soon as possible. The question must already be in the queue, so if you’ve not done so already, please submit it. Then just e-mail me at [email protected] to make your request.

Now, without further ado, the most recent questions added to The Queue:

Should concealed carry permits be required to carry firearms concealed?

In the United States today, most states have “shall-issue” concealed carry laws, whereby the sheriff of a county must issue a concealed carry permit to anyone who meets the requirements. Those requirements usually include no history of criminal activity, no history of mental illness, and some training. However, two states permit “constitutional carry,” meaning that any law-abiding citizen has a right to carry a concealed firearm, without the need for a permit. Is requiring a “concealed carry” permit a violation of the right to self-defense? Or is “constitutional carry” a dangerous form of anarchy?

Is person responsible for his incapable sibling?

Imagine that your brother (or sister) is not capable of taking care of himself: he makes poor choices, he has poor work habits, and he is emotionally immature. Are you thereby responsible for him? Should you try to help as much as possible, so long as you don’t drag yourself down? Or should you refuse to help on the principle of “tough love,” even though that won’t help him take care of himself? If you take the latter approach, doesn’t that mean that you’re foisting the care for your sibling on society? Wouldn’t that be shirking your responsibilities as a sibling? Also, does your responsibility depend on whether your brother is incapable due to his own choices, as opposed to merely bad luck?

What’s wrong with the “marginal humans” argument against meat-eating?

Ayn Rand (in agreement with Aristotle) defined man as the rational animal – meaning that man’s essential quality is that he possesses the faculty of reason, while other animals do not. In debates about vegetarianism and animal rights, many advocates of eating meat try to use this distinction to justify raising animals to be killed and eaten. They say that animals have no rights because they are not rational, and hence, we can do whatever we please with them. Advocates of animals rights, however, reject this claim via the “marginal humans” argument. They observe that human infants lack the faculty of reason, and hence, we should not use that as the relevant moral criterion. What is wrong with this argument? Does the meat-eating viewpoint conflate potential with actual rationality, in that the infant seems potentially but not actually capable of reason? Is eating animals the same as eating human infants?

What would suicide be rational?

What conditions make suicide a proper choice? Are there situations other than a terminal illness or living in a dictatorship – such as the inability to achieve sufficient values to lead a happy life – that justify the act of suicide?

When is a relationship broken beyond repair?

Relationships can be severely strained, fraught with anger and frustration, and perhaps put on ice for weeks or months or years. Yet in the end, the two people can often reconcile in some way, so that they can enjoy a genuine (even if not deep) relationship again. In some cases, however, that’s not possible. Why not? In such cases, must the problem be that one person (or both people) continue to behave badly? Or might reconciliation be impossible between two good people? If so, why?

Is philosophy deduced from axioms?

Often, I hear people claim that philosophy – particularly Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism – is deduced from axioms. Is that right? Personally, I don’t see how that can be: How can anything be deduced from “existence exists”? But if that’s right, then what’s the purpose of the axioms?

Are spouses entitled to privacy with each other?

My wife thinks that she should have access to all my online accounts, including my email. I don’t have any secrets from her, and my email doesn’t contain anything scandalous. Still, I don’t want her prying into my conversations, and I don’t see that she has any reason to do so. I’ve never given her any reason to distrust me. Aren’t I entitled to some privacy online?

How would the poor obtain medical care in a free society?

In your May 12th, 2013 show, you discussed how EMTALA – the law that obliges emergency rooms and doctors to treat patients, regardless of ability to pay – violates the rights of doctors and results in worse care for the poor. But what is the alternative? How would the poor and indigent get medical care – if at all – in a society without government welfare programs? What if charity wasn’t sufficient?

What is the individualist response to claims about “white privilege”?

You recently published a blog entry entitled, “Personal Motives for Benevolence” where you introduced the idea that prejudice is often formed by favoritism and not overt bigotry. Clearly, favoritism can extend to race too, in the same way it extended to your example of “professor” vs “quilter.” So what is the proper response to advocates of “white privilege awareness” such as David Wise and David Sirota? David Sirota recently wrote a article entitled “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American” where he argued that culturally,”white terrorists” are treated as lone wolves, whereas Islamists are treated as existential threats. Semi-noted Objectivist hater David Wise wrote an article called “Terrorism and Privilege: Understanding the Power of Whiteness” where he claims “White privilege is knowing that even if the Boston Marathon bomber turns out to be white, his or her identity will not result in white folks generally being singled out for suspicion by law enforcement, or the TSA, or the FBI.” What is the individualist answer to this collectivist viewpoint?

How should a young adult manage persistent differences with his family?

As I grew up, I turned out radically different from my family expected. They think college is necessary for success in life. I didn’t, and I dropped out. They eat the Standard American Diet and hate fat. I eat Paleo, and I glorify fat. And so on. Basically, we diverge on many points. I’ve never committed the mistake of attempting to preach to my family in order to persuade them, but many of them grew unduly concerned with these differences between us. They would argue with me on the subject for months, if not years, no matter what good results I had to show them. Assuming that the relationship is otherwise worth maintaining, how should an older child or young adult handle such contentious differences with his family? How can he best communicate his point of view to them — for example, on the question of college, after they’ve saved for two decades for his college education?

What is the proper relationship between ownership and control over property?

Today, politicians seem to want to reduce a person’s control over his property, such that it’s ever-closer to ownership in name only – such as by limiting the capacity of landowners to develop property. Also, selling plots of land on Mars would seem to be silly, given that no one controls that land. So what is the proper connection between a person’s ownership over his property and his control over that property? How does that principle affect proper principles for dealing with temporarily or permanently abandoned property?

Should individuals try to avoid online surveillance by the government?

In a recent comment thread on NoodleFood, there was a debate over the extent to which a person’s use of Internet tools such as cloud storage, password managers, wifi, smartphones, etc. exposes him to surveillance by the federal government. It seems to me that any serious effort to avoid using these tools would require forgoing many of the conveniences that make the Internet such a value – and there is still no guarantee that such avoidance would stop the government from spying on you. Since our government does have many improper powers, but it is nowhere close to being a dictatorship, is there any value in curtailing one’s everyday Internet activities to avoid surveillance?

Should DDoS attacks be illegal?

Should distributed denial of service computer attacks be illegal, like they are in the United Kingdom? Are they analogous to convincing people to send many letters to an organization or to calling on the phone repeatedly, thereby crippling its infrastructure? Or are they more like trespassing on property?

Should marital infidelity be illegal?

Many states, including Colorado, have laws against marital infidelity on the books. These laws are rarely if ever enforced. Politicians often attempt to repeal them, but those attempts are often unsuccessful. Many people think that the government ought to “take a moral stand” even if the law isn’t enforced. Does that view have any merit? Should these laws be repealed? Why or why not?

To submit a question, use this form. I prefer questions focused on some concrete real-life problem, as opposed to merely theoretical or political questions. I review and edit all questions before they’re posted. (Alas, IdeaInformer doesn’t display any kind of confirmation page when you submit a question.)

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