Mountains of Mail (and Snow Too)

Oct 292002

The mountains of e-mail piling up in my inbox will simply have to sit for a while, as Paul and I are headed to Front Sight for a repeat of the Four Day Defensive Handgun Course. (Sorry folks!) Unfortunately, I haven’t yet gotten any sort of reply from Piazza about my most recent e-mail to him. (For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, go check out my Front Sight, Ignatius Piazza, and Scientology? mini web site.) Nevertheless, I hope to be able to talk to Naish while I’m there — if only to turn my Ambassador Program materials in to him.

Original Sin

Oct 282002

Arthur Silber has served up an excellent post on original sin. Having been raised an atheist, I’ve never managed to wrap my mind around the moral monstrosity that is the doctrine of original sin. How anyone could look at a newborn baby and declare him or her sinful is beyond me. But John Calvin managed:

The two things, therefore, are to be distinctly observed, viz., that being thus perverted and corrupted in all the parts of our nature, we are, merely on account of such corruption, deservedly condemned by God, to whom nothing is acceptable but righteousness, innocence, and purity. This is not liability for another’s fault. For when it is said, that the sin of Adam has made us obnoxious to the justice of God, the meaning is not, that we, who are in ourselves innocent and blameless, are bearing his guilt, but that since by his transgression we are all placed under the curse, he is said to have brought us under obligation. Through him, however, not only has punishment been derived, but pollution instilled, for which punishment is justly due. Hence Augustine, though he often terms it another’s sin, (that he may more clearly show how it comes to us by descent,) at the same time asserts that it is each individual’s own sin. And the Apostle most distinctly testifies, that “death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” (Rom. 5: 12;) that is, are involved in original sin, and polluted by its stain. Hence, even infants bringing their condemnation with them from their mother’s womb, suffer not for another’s, but for their own defect. For although they have not yet produced the fruits of their own unrighteousness, they have the seed implanted in them. Nay, their whole nature is, as it were, a seed-bed of sin, and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God. Hence it follows, that it is properly deemed sinful in the sight of God; for there could be no condemnation without guilt. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter 1, Section 8, emphasis added

Oh yes, Christianity is a religion that loves humanity!

Jesus The Scientologist?

Oct 272002

I just got my first pro-Scientology e-mail from someone called “Beka,” under the subject “Jesus The Scientologist”:

If Jesus came back to Earth what would he see. He would see folk being electroshocked in asylums rather than being shown a little kindness and allowed to recover. He would see the education system decaying with the students being prescribed drugs rather than having their study problems addressed. He would see drug-crazed kids going on shooting sprees wiping out their teachers and classmates. He would be in grief with what he saw….

(The post on the message board also added this tidbit: “Jesus would look around for those people in society who were doing something effective to handle the situation and he would find the Church of Scientology. And Jesus would become a Scientologist himself.”)

I wrote her this note in response:

Hi Beka,

I fear that you may have me confused with someone who is an advocate of Christianity or Christian ethics. I am not. I am an atheist and an ethical egoist. As such, not only do I deny that Jesus was divine, but I believe his teachings of renunciation of the world and self-sacrifice to be deeply wrong. (That isn’t to say that I don’t regard the problems you cite as genuine problems though.)

Additionally, the fact that some Scientologists retain their Christian beliefs only indicates that people are often philosophically confused and inconsistent. Christianity is just as incompatible with Scientology as it is with Hinduism.

Thanks for the link, diana.

Hypocricy and the Marketplace of Ideas

Oct 262002

The ever-insightful Arthur Silber has an interesting post on hypocrisy and public intellectuals. His basic argument is that the question of whether an idea is true or not is wholly and entirely separate from the question of whether the advocates of the idea consistently practice it. From a purely logical reasoning perspective, I agree with Arthur. Simply put, tu quoque is a fallacy. Critics of hypocritical intellectuals should focus on the failures of their ideas, not on upon the failures of their personal lives.

That being said, we should be aware that a more complicated picture emerges when we consider the process by which people rationally investigate ideas. There are countless intellectuals in the world all vying for our attention. But there simply isn’t enough time in the day to consider all of these ideas equally. So we use various heuristics to weed out the likely bad ideas.

For example, we generally don’t bother listening to people who are unfamiliar with the major research in a given field. Of course, it is possible for someone to do brilliant work without being familiar with all of the relevant research. But it far more likely that such a person will make elementary mistakes. All else being equal, we’re far better off attending to the ideas of those knowledgeable of their field than ignorant. (Advanced degrees are at least a sign of being well-versed in a given field, which is why they are taken fairly seriously.) Of course, none of this reasoning constitutes proof by any stretch of the imagination. But it is a useful heuristic that allows us to more effectively manage the flow of ideas in our life.

Similarly, we tend to pay less attention to ideas advocated by people who fail to live up to them. Why would that be?

First, intellectuals commonly advocate all sorts of loopy ideas that could never consistently be practiced, such as genuine altruism. So by looking at whether the adherents of an idea actually practice that ideal may serve as a rough estimate of whether the idea is at all consonant with the facts of reality. After all, doesn’t the whole priest-pedophelia scandal in the Catholic Church tell us something about the ideal of chastity and the Church’s actual concern for children? At least that information should raise doubts. So hypocrisy in public intellectuals is a sign (but again, not proof) that something is amiss with their ideas.

Second, intellectuals sometimes advocate ideas as a means of controlling others rather than because they believe the ideas themselves. For example, some people argue that religion is false — but necessary for the stupid unwashed masses. Without the fear of God, such pragmatic elitists argue, the filthy hordes would run amok with no moral constraints at all! But of course, educated and refined people have no need for such delusions. So the fact that such intellectuals do not practice what they preach is a consequence of some rather nasty underlying views about humanity.

Third, intellectuals will sometimes advocate ideas because they fulfill some pathological psychological need, rather than for their relation to reality. For example, someone might argue that its morally acceptable to steal from corporations because to condemn the theft would be to condemn their father, who routinely stole from work. Or a woman might stridently argue against pre-marital sex due to her own guilt about lying to her fiancee about her virginity. Here hypocrisy alerts us to the possibility of non-rational motives for advocating an idea.

So to ignore certain intellectuals due to their hypocrisy is not irrational. We have limited time to spend investigating ideas, so we ought to use that time wisely.

That being said, I agree with Arthur that critics of ideas ought to focus their attention on the ideas themselves rather than the personal conduct of its advocates. But once the ideas have been demolished, the hypocrisy may well be noteworthy, as something of icing on the cake.

Scientology Update

Oct 262002

I’ve just updated my “Front Sight, Ignatius Piazza, and Scientology?” mini web site. The most important addition is my third e-mail to Piazza. There I provided links to reliable information about the misdeeds of the Church of Scientology, argued that Piazza’s personal involvement the Scientology would likely seriously damage Front Sight as well as the gun rights movement, and let Naish know where my line in the sand is on this issue. I would urge anyone who thinks Piazza’s personal involvement with the Church of Scientology isn’t all that important to read that e-mail.

Piazza’s reply will be critical for me, I suspect.

An Update on "Michel Paquerot"

Oct 242002

The largely one-sided dialogue with “Michel Paquerot” continues. In response to his previous inquiries as to whether his comments constituted enlightenment, I simply responded, “No. Anything enlightening requires more periods.”

I have since received two e-mails from him. On Tuesday, he simply wrote, “i wonder if such is the case inasmuch as interpretative labor may be enlightening”. (Normally I wouldn’t put the period outside the quotes, but I want to quote him exactly.) Then today, he wrote:

the first e-mail I sent can be given the following summary or rather analysis.Remember that we anted to argue that the empirical is the logical.The argument has two clauses.According to the first of these clauses for a theory of what is proof ( logic or epistemology )we can only adduce as empirical,proof that is truth-conditions.According to the second a theory is in every case a theory of what is proof or its own logic(epistemology).Taking into account the first clause we may infer what was to be argued for.I`d like a comment of what may be grossly said to be the content of the argument rather than such formalities as punctuation marks.

I’m not sure what my reply will be. Any suggestions?

Coercive Pacifism

Oct 232002

Eugene Volokh has some interesting comments on coerced pacificism, namely the will to ban others from defending themselves. After some examples of this view, he writes:

Pacifism is not my view of the world, but at least those who practice nonviolence in their own lives are just taking their own lives into their own hands. If they tell me (as some friends of mine have) that they don’t think they could pull the trigger to kill someone who’s trying to rape or even kill them, that’s their choice. But the proposal on the list isn’t just pacifism: This is an attempt to force nonviolence on others, by threatening to imprison them for exercising what I see as one of their most fundamental rights. Let’s call it the pacifist-aggressive approach. I don’t like it.

Me neither!

Enlightenment? Not!

Oct 212002

Someone calling himself “Michel Paquerot” sent me these two messages under the subject heading “enlightenment” while I was away. Anyone who can make sense of them deserves a gold star.

Sunday’s message:

consider the possibility that there is identity of the logical and the empirical first because in logic or in epistemology proof-or truth-conditions are all the empirical we can adduce and second inasmuch as we consider that any theory is a theory of what is proof or as we may otherwise say a proof apparatus or that each theory is its own epistemology or logic and as such by our first clause can adduce as empirical proof-or truth- conditions.I wonder whether you will deem this enlightenment.

Monday’s message:

imagine that a criteriological device or proof apparatus is quantification over truth values no matter how much then there is a higher order such criteriological device or a meta-criteriological device addording to which every fully general theory of what is proof is a theory of what is the proof of all such theories.


Up Up and Away

Oct 172002

I’m headed out of town tomorrow morning for a Camp Indecon meeting. I’ll be back on Monday evening.

Console yourselves while I’m gone with this hysterical parody of Objectivism. (Thanks to Eric Barnhill for the link.)

If you are looking for something a bit more weighty, read Testimony: The Autobiography of Margery Wakefield. It’s sad and disturbing.

An Announcement

Oct 172002

I have created a mini web site devoted to the issue of the involvement of Front Sight’s Ignatius Piazza with Scientology. I chose to do this not because I have an ax to grind, but because (1) I think the issue is terribly important, (2) the information is scattered around on the web, and (3) too much of the debate is polarized. So in my Front Sight, Ignatius Piazza, and Scientology?, I will be carefully and judiciously gathering and weighing evidence.

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