"It seems to me that to organize on the basis of feeding people or righting social injustice and all that is very valuable. But to rally people around the idea of modernism, modernity, or something is simply silly. I mean, I don't know what kind of a cause that is, to be up to date. I think it ultimately leads to fashion and snobbery and I'm against it."
Jack Levine: January 3, 1915 – November 8, 2010
Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice. Richard Dawkins
Warning: Nazis will be mentioned.
The fine blogger, my friend, RMJ, has a very good post up about Richard Dawkins' recently self-generated, publicity Scheißesturm in which he presents the alleged moral imperative of aborting a child who will be born with Down Syndrome. As with all of his posts, RMJ's is more than worth reading, I'd recommend it over mine if you have to make a choice. I haven't had the chance to read through all of the various posts and tweets he links to yet. And while I've got a lot of ideas on the topic I'm not nearly ready to address those today I've been thinking of what to say, having done a lot of research into related topics and hardly having exhausted that material makes it hard to know how to get a grip on this aspect of it. I suspect there will be more posts later.
I strongly suspect that Richard Dawkins and many of his admirers have never known a person with Down Syndrome. I've known several and they were all rather nice, happy people who were beloved by their families and who got through live without ever hurting anyone. How many people with PhDs do you know who you'd have to say the opposite about on every point? Dawkins bases his chop logic "ethics" on an especially vulgar and simplistic utilitarian analysis, claiming that people with Down Syndrome subtract from the level of "happiness" in the world, a point which totally misrepresents that evidence quoted in this article in The Daily Beast. Having done a lot of research into questions of people being disposed with on the basis of utilitarian arguments, this reminds me of nothing so much than the great bass singer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, decades later, being unable to talk about the "eugenic" murder of his beloved, disabled brother by the Nazis, who presumed to know more about him and his life than his own family on the basis of alleged science and human life being subject to their own form of utilitarian analysis.
I will insert that a lot of the sciency, "evidence based" commentators don't seem to know much of anything about the issue, some of them seem to not realize that most people with Down Syndrome are infertile and that the chances of them passing "it" on are slight and relevant in only some of those with the condition.
Which leads me to being able to make my own proposal in line with this utilitarian -um- thinking.
Given the evidence presented here earlier this week, that atheists are less fit due to both their being more prone to illness and debility, more prone to bad habits (I'll leave out their habit of so often being royal pains and proponents of other peoples' deaths) and their demonstrated inability to achieve replacement levels of reproduction, the very definition of a maladaptation - it is a moral imperative that something must be done about it. I don't think that most of the big name atheists on the circuit today can be accused of adding more aggregate pleasure to the world than the pain they inflict. We should, at the very least, apply the advice given by utilitarians and analyze the question of the various ideologies in terms of their utilitarian virtue.
Is it, according to this line of logic, not desirable to discover a genetic predisposition for atheism and that those who are presented with the prospects of bringing an atheist into the world be allowed to choose to terminate the pregnancy? If it is possible to test for atheism, then it is desirable, no, even a moral imperative for parents with the possibility of producing one to "try again"?
As the Buddha noted, all life is pain, confirmed by the observation that "man is born unto trouble as surely as the sparks fly upward". Since utilitarianism could, arguably, be used to dispose of any group deemed to add to the "pain" side of the scale, that being the only standard of judgement, then people with Down Syndrome cause a lot less pain than many people who Dawkins rubs elbows with at faculty lounges and in the elite circles he frequents. I think there is certainly a utilitarian imperative to empty out the upper eschalons of finance, the military-industrial complex, the sciences and academic fields that service them in their evil doing.... etc. Oddly, I don't ever remember utilitarian analysis being applied to the very classes who invented that stuff on their own class and the class of their sponsors. You almost get the idea that they invented it to be applied only to "the other".
Tell me why I'm wrong based on the reasoning of Richard Dawkins, his admirers and other fans of utilitarian analysis.
This comment was left by mistake on a thread not related to the post it addresses, but it deserves an answer.
siuan sancheSeptember 26, 2014 at 9:13 AM
The idea that Atheism is a maladaptation because we breed less than the religious is completely unscientific, especially when you consider that a lot of religions ban the use of contraception.
If you read my post again you'll see that I make a far stronger case to reject the idea that religion is an evolutionary adaptation because the idea makes no sense. It's prominent atheists such as Dawkins and Dennett, Pinker and so many others who insist on that bizarre idea for ideological reasons. Ideological reasons masked in a lab coat, as it were.
Actually, relatively few religions ban the use of contraception and, no matter what the authorities say about it, when they have contraceptives available, members of those religions often use them anyway in the same numbers as people whose religions don't ban their use. Catholics in the United States and in Europe are proof of that in real life, what is supposed to be the real test of scientific ideas.
Ah, the perennial struggle for control of the integrity of Science vs Texas State Textbook Committee is underway again. You can read about that here if you've missedthe earlier rounds that have been pretty much in rerun for decades.
While there might not be a single solution to the problem of right-wing pressure to distort reality in textbooks, effecting the entire country, one is as easy as can be and it would cost little to nothing.
All of the educators and members of university and college faculties who periodically bemoan this have it in their power to create excellent, modern, hyper-text linked, interactive, etc. alternatives to textbooks that could be made available universally a for free online. They could be made so good, so up to date, so well supported that school districts and teachers would want to use them as an alternative to buying expensive, ideologically slanted, soon antiquated paper textbooks. They could then use their textbook budgets to provide tablets or notebook computers to their students who would then never be able to claim they left their textbook at school. Those could be produced by groups of specialists in their fields for free, what Wikipedia should have been but isn't due to its absurd "open editing" that is guaranteed to be as ideologically slanted as anything the most rabidly right-wing party in the struggle for Texas textbook purchasing would love.
So, instead of listening to the tedious whining on the blogs and in the lefty magazines, it's time for these people to put up and put the same kind of effort into a real solution to the problem that they'll put into whining about it. Make it excellent, easy to use, well supported and updated, BRILLIANTLY EDITED and FREE and you can't lose.
In order to avoid getting stuck in a rut, I like to listen to heretics of many different kinds and yesterday night I listened to one of my favorites, the eminent biologist, eminently mild mannered, reasonable and rational man and widely hated heretic of old-fashioned materialist scientism, Rupert Sheldrake, On Rediscovering God. In the course of the question session, he said something pretty interesting, though not entirely unknown.
In the end it (atheism) is bad for your
health. Studies have shown in the United States that people who have
religious belief or practice live longer and are healthier and
recover from diseases better than those who don't. For white males
it's about five years, for black men it's about fifteen years
extension of life. If any pill were known to do that it would be
hailed as a medical breakthrough.
Given how many atheists get into a lather over anyone who expresses skepticism about even some of the more dangerous and unproven treatments of medical science and how ready they are to slam anyone who is ready to try even the most obviously innocuous practice of alternative medicine, they, themselves, seem to be actively undermining a far more impressively proven health benefit, For many atheists of CSI(COP) and the competition, such as Michael Shirmer, such stuff is a major part of their reason for being .... loud and obnoxiously bossy to people who never asked for them to stick their nose into their business.
It's not only that religious people tend (on average) to have far "more" children than their non-religious peers - it's also about that ominous fact that we do not know about a single non-religious group or population that managed to retain at least the reproductive replacement level for just a century. There have been numerous attempts since Greek and Indian antiquity, not to speak about those late Western cultures and countries - but up to now, there has not been a single demographic success on the communal level.
Now that I've presented the argument for atheism being maladaptive, certainly a very strong indication that there's something wrong with the idea, it's important to establish that I don't really classify atheism as a biological maladaptation. I have good reasons to believe it isn't, though I don't see how many of the most popular atheists, especially those who work in and around evolutionary biology could hold that it is anything but one. That's especially true of those who have pushed the idea that religious belief is a biological trait, as Sheldrake mentions. Dawkins, Dennett, even a lot of those with an even more tenuous attachment to actual science are the ones who put the question into that rather artificial form of categorization.
Atheism isn't like some genetic illness that leads to people dying before they reach reproductive maturity or reduce reproductive potential. I don't for one second believe that there is any such thing as a genetic foundation for religious belief or a belief in atheism, you can go from one to the other without any mutation in any gene leading to that. Given the somewhat popular line some atheists regurgitate, that all people are born atheists, you would think they could take the tiny intellectual baby step to the conclusion that the fact most people become religious precludes a genetic explanation. Though such a minor intellectual achievement would seem to be beyond the reach of even some of what are generally considered to be among the most sophisticated atheist intellectuals we have around today.
Considering their use of Charles Darwin in their promotional propaganda, it is a rather wonderful irony that their hero also provides the means to identify atheism as a maladaptive habit of thought, one that, if widely adopted, could be expected to lead to the extinction of any group, nation or species which adopted it. As I said I wouldn't do so but, then, I'm rather skeptical about natural selection being a real thing of the type which sets up that form of categorization. I certainly don't see how natural selection can be relevant to the question, though I'd certainly be open to having an explanation of how it could be from someone more competent to do so than Dawkins or Dennett. I'd love to talk to Rupert Sheldrake about that. You're more likely to get a polite and well reasoned explanation of his thoughts on the matter, with little danger of being ridiculed. Ridicule is such a dead give-away of a shaky intellectual position.
Perhaps it was his role as one of the more prominent and early of computer scientists which reinforced Joseph Weizenbaum's ability to analyze thinking and action as well as he did, eventually leading him to become an outsider skeptic of the very science and technology he helped create. Or perhaps those habits, already established in him, led him to thinking so clearly about making machines mimic thoughts and actions.
Continuing on with his description of a fatal act of instrumental reasoning, in real life:
The second lesson is this. These men were able to give the counsel they gve because they were operating at an enormous psychological distance from the people who would be maimed and killed by the weapons systems that would result from the ideas they communicated to their sponsors. The lesson, therefore, is that the scientist and technologist must, by acts of will and of imagination, actively strive to reduce such psychological distances, to counter the forces that tend to remove him from the consequences of his actions. He must - it is as simple of this - think of what he is actually doing. He must lear to listen to his own inner voice. He must learn to say no.
This isn't true only of scientists and engineers, it is true of everyone. Those habits of removing yourself from the actual meaning of your words and acts, in real life, are endemic to the human species. I don't know if they are biologically part of our make up, what in this age of cyber-superstition is called our "hard wiring" but if so then it is something we need to fight against if we are to survive as a species and as decent individuals. I think that, in the nearly four decades since Weizenbaum analyzed this summer study group, showing how the processes of thinking learned from science could lead to good intentions turning to massive evil, we've gotten, if anything, far worse at honestly considering the full reality of our thinking.
I can almost guarantee you that if you listen to any of the major networks broadcasting news analysis this morning, even as I'm typing this out, you will be able to identify instrumental reasoning couching calls for far more direct violence and advocacy of terrible things by people regarded as being respectable. It will be in the form of government policy, in actions of world trade and economic institutions, even polices of the UN, advocated in impeccable English by people with degrees from prestigious universities and the most immaculate habits of body and dress but which will knowingly result in the misery and deaths of people, individuals and in their thousands and millions.
And they won't even be required to have motives as elevated as those who invented the electronic battlefield in 1966. They can maintain their status as insiders even if they are explicit in what will result by a mixture of the facade of respectability, credentials given to them by respected educational establishments and the guise of scientific impartiality and cool reason they present their horrific advocacy in. Making their proposed course of action or inaction seem to have the atavistic inevitability as consequences of the workings of the natural world often are the crucial part of selling depravity to even otherwise good people.
That is a habit of thinking that shows how making science into a religion can lead it to the same habits of fatalistic thinking as the old, fatalistic religions. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that so many of those who do turn science into a materialist religion are at odds with, especially, the monotheistic religions which have abandoned that fatalistic assumption for something less likely to produce evil, heightened personal responsibility for our acts and words.
Weizenbaum concludes his analysis of the summer study group:
Finally, it is the act itself that matters. When instrumental reason is is the sole guide to action, the acts it justifies are robbed of their inherent meanings and thus exist in an ethical vacuum. I recently heard an officer of a great university publicly defend an important policy decision he had made, on e that many of the university's students and faculty opposed on moral grounds, with the worlds: "We could have taken a oral stand, but what good would that have done?" But the good of a moral act inheres in the act itself. That is why an act can itself ennoble or corrupt the person who performs it. The victory of instrumental reason in our time has brought about the virtual disappearance of this insight and thus perforce the delegitimation of the very idea of nobility. I am aware, of course, that hardly anyone who reads these lines will feel himself addressed by them - so deep has the conviction that we are all governed by anonymous forces beyond our control penetrated into the shared consciousness of our time. And accompanying this conviction is the debasement of the idea of civil courage. It is a widely held but a grievously mistaken belief that civil courage finds exercise only in the context of world-shaking events. To the contrary, its most arduous exercise is often in those small contexts in which the challenge is to overcome the fears induced by the petty concerns over career, over our relationships to those who appear to have power over us, over whatever may disturb the tranquility of or mundane existence.
In the dozen or fifteen years that I have read the unedited words of many, many thousands of people who assume positions on the left than I'd ever have met and heard in real life before the internet, I've come to see look at the problems with the thinking that has caused the eclipse of liberalism and democracy in the United States, of what led to our exile, going on ten years longer than that Moses led the Hebrews on in The Book of Exodus.
I have concluded that, especially in those with some academic or professional standing to protect, this kind of thinking, these habits of thought are one of the most insidious and potent destroyers of what must be, at its foundations, a program of rigorous idealism and selfless action. This kind of impersonal, would-be scientific thinking can analyze away all of those things quite efficiently, leaving the neo-liberalism that is currently the preferred mode of coolitude in this present administration of our most nearly geek president. One whose presidency has been mostly a failure in terms of liberalism and which, I am sorry to say, seems to be being forced by events and its own desire to remain on as insiders to recapitulate the destruction of the liberal intentions of the administration in 1966.
It was The Reverend Martin Luther King jr. who pointed out that the country would never be able to achieve Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty and his other great efforts in harnessing the law of the most powerful country on Earth to produce justice, a better life and a future if it became mired in the war in Viet Nam. The next nine years of that war, the destruction of Johnson's administration leading to the lying Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and the rest of his administration, who conspired to use the war to gain power marked the real end of that effort to continue the work of our last real liberal president, Franklin Roosevelt.
In his book, The Malaise of Modernity, the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor said:
Once society no longer has a sacred structure, once social arrangements and modes of action are no longer grounded in the order of things or the will of God, they are in a sense up for grabs. They can be redesigned with their consequences for the happiness and well-being of individuals as our goal. The yardstick that henceforth applies is that of instrumental reason.
Which is the most optimistic thing that can be said about it. In reality, when society has lost a sense of the sacred, of God, the imperative of individuals with more power and greater abilities will devise methods of finding optimal gratification for themselves and to set up structures which will bend other individuals to their purpose. And some of those whose evil is, though less dramatic, no less apart of the greater evil protect far lesser levels of power and affluence, including that attainable through an academic career. It can even be true of institutions that officially stand against the very acts they end up supporting. You can see that in a very developed form in the British class system, which incorporated the nominally Christian established church within its aristocracy and so bent what most people experience as "the will of God" to its entirely Mammonist ends.*
How otherwise good people come to do bad things has to be understood if there is any hope of doing better. Especially important is for them to understand what their real motives are and that they don't tell themselves lies of convenience about those and what they do. A lot of evil is done with the doer playing the role of passive observer, even as they act in real life.
One of the things that isn't talked about anywhere often enough is the destructive force of instrumental reasoning, the default habit of thought that pervades modern culture, thinking that is derived from the methods of science and which, in the disasters that result from it, show how dangerous that can be when applied generally. This is among the most forbidden, criminal of all thoughts in the thinking class, today. It has been criminal thinking for a long, long time, especially among The English Speaking People.
I will start with a passage from the greatly neglected book, Computer Power And Human Reason by Joseph Weizenbaum.
It is hard, when one sees a particularly offensive television commercial, to imagine that adult human beings sometime and somewhere sat around a table and decided to construct exactly that commercial and to have it broadcast hundreds of times. But that is what happens. These things are not products of anonymous forces. They are the products of groups of men who have agreed among themselves that this pollution of the consciousness of the people serves their purposes. But, as has been true since the beginning of recorded history, decisions having the most evil consequences are often made in the service of some overriding good. For example, in the summer of 1966 there was considerable agitation in the United States over America's intensive bombing of North Viet Nam. (The destruction rained on South Viet Nam by American bombers was less of an issue in the public debate, because the public was still persuaded that America was "helping" that unfortunate land.) Approximately forty American scientists who were high in the scientific estate decided to help stop the bombing by convening a summer study group under the auspices of the Institute of Defense Analyses, a prestigious consulting firm for the Department of Defense. They intended to demonstrate that the bombing was in fact ineffective. They made their demonstration using the best scientific tools, operations research and systems analysis and all that. But they felt they would not be heard by the Secretary of Defense unless they suggested an alternative to the bombing. They proposed that an "electronic fence" be placed in the so-called demilitarized zone separating South from North Viet Nam. This barrier was supposed to stop infiltrators from the North. It was to consist of, among other devices, small mines seeded into the earth, and specifically designed to blow off porters' feet but to be insensitive to truck passing over them. Other devices were to interdict truck traffic. The various electronic sensors, their monitors, and so on, eventually became part of the so-called McNamara line. This was the beginning of what has since developed into the concept of the electronic battlefield. The intention of most of these men was not to invent or recommend a new technology that would make warfare more terrible and, by the way, less costly to highly industrialized nations at the expense of "undeveloped" ones. Their intention was to stop the bombing. In this they were wholly on the side of the peace groups and of well-meaning citizens generally. And they actually accomplished their objective; the bombing of North Viet Nam was stopped for a time and the McNamara fence was installed. However, these enormously visible and influential people could have instead simply announced that they believed the bombing, indeed the whole American Viet Nam adventure, to be wrong, and that they would no longer "help." I know that at least some of the participants believes that the war was wrong; perhaps all of them did. But, as some of them explained to me later, they felt that if they made such an announcement, they would not be listened to, then or ever again. Yet, who can tell what effect it would have had if forty of America's leading scientists had, in the summer of 1966, joined the peace groups in coming out flatly against the war on moral grounds? Apart form the positive effect such a move might have had on world events, what negative effect did their compromise have on themselves and on their colleagues and students for whom they served as examples? There are several lessons to be learned from this episode. The first is that it was not technological inevitability that invented the electronic battlefield, nor was it a set of anonymous forces. men just like the ones who design television commercials sat around a table and chose. Yet the outcome of the debates of the 1966 Summer Study were in a sense foreordained. The range of answers one gets is determined by the domain of questions one asks. As soon as it was settled that the Summer Study was to concern itself with only technical questions, the solution to the problem of stopping the bombing of the North became essentially a matter of calculation. When the side condition was added that the group must at all costs maintain its credibility with its sponsors, that it must not imperil the participants' "insider" status, then all degrees of freedom that its members might have had initially were effectively lost. Many of the participants have, I know, defended academic freedom, their own as well as that of of colleagues whose careers were in jeopardy for political reasons. These men did not perceive themselves to be risking their scholarly or academic freedoms when they engaged in the kind of consulting characterized by the Summer Study. But the sacrifice of the degrees of freedom they might have had if they had not so thoroughly abandoned themselves to their sponsors, whether they made that sacrifice unwittingly or not, was a more potent form of censorship than any that could possibly have been imposed by officials of the state. This kind of intellectual self-mutilation, precisely because it is largely unconscious, is a principal source of the feeling of powerlessness experienced by so many people who appear, superficially at least, to occupy seats of power.
I will continue with his text, tomorrow.
It is appropriate that Weizenbaum began with an example from the media, which the advertising industry is. I would argue that since all media, even the alleged "public" media and even those like the BBC, Deutsche Welle and others is first interested in the perpetuation and expansion of the institution, its funding source is the real determining force in how things are said, what is said and which determines the objective of its message. The participants in the summer study group allowed their considerations and conclusions to be determined by their desire to protect their status with their funders and sponsors, their vehicle to attain status as "insiders" and the entire media, especially that based in Washington DC, New York city and other centers of establishment power, have that as their real, first imperative. You can safely conclude what the perceived boundaries of permitted thought are by seeing what is said in the most prestigious media organizations and how it is said.
As Weizenbaum continued with the work of scientists, applying scientific methods and thinking - the embodiment of instrumental reasoning at its most intentional and in its most embodied form - can be at service to evil and the virtue that scientific method and thinking is reputed to be can blind even the most intelligent people to what they are really doing. Their chosen method carries an imperative force that they feel must be "allowed" to reach its end, allowing them to pretend that they aren't the authors of whatever that is, shielding them from the reality that any evil results of it are the product of their choices and their actions. The pretense that the acts of choice they make are the results of atavistic forces outside of their control is enabled by the scientific trappings in which they dress them. This shows how they, with the best of intentions, allow the prestige of science and academia to mask what they are really doing from themselves. They postpone the moment of moral choice into some never to come future in order to serve other ends that they don't admit to.
The role that science has played in almost all of the greatest acts of evil in the modern period is not much different in motive from that which is attributable to religious establishments. Even the accurate history of religion in the world - as opposed to that promoted by atheists, which is frequently about as accurate as the National Enquirer - is a record of far too many evil acts that violate the official moral stands of those religions. Only, as the real religion of the political and economic (and so academic and media) establishment today, second only to money in its pious regard, the buffer between what is supposed to be and what actually is, remains in place. That is especially dangerous when it is science that is the method of permitting evil because of the physical efficacy that science can have. Science, from its beginnings and its first glimmerings in revered figures such as Archimedes made itself of use to worldy powers in their military manifestation. To deny that is even more dangerous than it is to lie about the results of religious figures setting up kingdoms of this world. The evil that a TV preacher can do is seldom more than contained in a small sphere of influence. At worst, science can unleash physical forces that could kill us all. It is one of the most telling facts about today's intellectual climate that the fact that science, existing only in the minds of scientists, has, knowingly put us all at risk of annihilation from nuclear weapons at each and every hour since they weaponized missiles, with the full knowledge of what those can do. The scientists who did that knew exactly what they were doing, they even calculated the number of people that any one bomb could be expected to kill. They made themselves part of the military machine of mass death with the full knowledge of what they were doing, they are the ones who told the generals and politicians what they could build them. Understanding how they did what they did, how they chose to become the engine that could drive us to planetary murder -suicide is one of the most important questions to ask. It can be asked of the science that ends in environmental disasters such as BP created in the Gulf of Mexico and so many others. Bringing that up is a crime of thought in our general culture, it is heresy to point these things out. It is especially forbidden to suggest that science and its methods, themselves, are what dictated the acts of science which is, by choice, removed from the moral choices that separate decent people from evil ones.
* Which might account for why, especially in Britain, religion has been so thoroughly discredited and why in the - formerly less class bound - United States religion retains more credibility. I think it also has something to do with the class based campaigning by those who want to discredit religion, making it declasse, literally. It is one of their most typical methods, to associate all of religion with lower class people in rural areas.
I would never say that there that there are not and have never been even members of the Anglican clergy who have tried to actually follow the teachings of Jesus and the prophets, though, as with some of the various Orthodox traditions, having a church established in such close connection to the government and ruling class of a country has proved to be a notable hindrance to avoiding the evil that is intrinsic to kingdoms of this world and, on some occasions, participating in its creation. The Roman Catholic hierarchy has never been more discredited than when it has either done the same thing or acted as a worldly kingdom in violation of the words of the man it holds is divine.