mtraven2

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A Rational Argument

This has approximately zero relationship to the way political campaigns (or anything else) happens in the real world, where campaign managers are part of an ideologically biased social network. In fact, their job is essentially to strengthen the connections between voters and a candidate, by whatever means necessary, mostly through propaganda (aka advertising) that combines emotional appeal with the occasional smidgen of rational argument.

Maybe it would be a better world if people didn't work this way, but they do, and I don't see any prospect of changing this. I'm not even sure how rationality can be applied to most electoral issues. Take the issue of abortion. Either you believe abortion is immoral, or not. You can apply rationality to figure out which candidate supports your moral point of view, but it's not much help in setting your root moral values. So how can you make an unbiased choice?

Elections are all about trying to get people who share your biases into power. I know the self-proclaimed rationalists here think the whole process is icky, but part of being rational is dealing with the real world, not the world as you would like it.

That being said, there's room in the electoral process for a bias in favor of rationality, science, humanism, and enlightenment. I think it's pretty clear which of the two major political parties in the US favor those values.

Human Evil and Muddled Thinking

HA, you may have your personal single life goal worked out but I'm not sure why the rest of us should be interested. My goal is emphatically not persisting my subjective reality as far forward in time as possible, let alone yours. I have other people I care about, I probably care more about the quality of my life than quantity, I do have memes that I place a great deal of value on. Most other normal people feel the same way, I suspect.,

Robin, what evidence has been brought forth to support the proposition that torture may be a good idea? I have cited books that study the history and deployment of torture, and groups that work with actual torture victims and would be happy to supply you with data. There's some evidence for you. It may not be objective, but objectivity about such issues is unobtainable even in theory -- you can't even define torture without taking a stance about what constitutes torture as opposed to "harsh treatment".

You say I certainly hope that when issues arise here people here are willing to set aside what they think they know enough to imagine being uncertain and then trying to evaluate which way the evidence and analysis leans.. Carl Sagan (I think) said we should be open-minded, but not so open that our brains fall out. It's even more important when discussing issues as morally fraught as torture, that we don't open our minds so far that our souls fall out.

Human Evil and Muddled Thinking

Whoops, messed up a link there, was supposed to read: comes from an old union song. The link is to my own blog where I am basically taking the opposing view, that forced-side-choosing is bad, in many circumstances. But I did say I was contrarian...

Human Evil and Muddled Thinking

that reads as deliberate bait to me. Presenting 2 options as if they're the only options seems to be preying on a dualistic/binary bias common in most people, and that I think stems from our primate roots.

Everything we do stems from our primate roots. I don't know you well enough to deliberately bait you, but using that expression (which comes from ) is meant to signify that at some point, when dealing with politics, you have to stop spouting hot air, choose which side of an issue you are on, and fight for it. That attitude seems somewhat antithetical to the prevaiing ethos of this blog, but I'm a contrarian.

If you like, you can see it as a dominance battle between two large coalitions of primates, with Amnessty International, other anti-torture groups, the authors of the 8th amendment, and those who have some measure of respect for basic human rights on one side, with the other side consisting of various shadowy govenment organziations (parts of the CIA and military), fans of 24, Alan Dershowitz, and the hopelessly authoritarian. Which side are you on? Which band of primates do you think deserves to win this battle, which side do you want to associate yourself with?

I think what I am most opposed to is the epistemologically naive idea that you can talk about matters like this in an objective, apolitical way. So -- I have a bias against torture, I have no desire to overcome it. Orwell is not around to ask, but I think he'd feel the same way.

Human Evil and Muddled Thinking

HA, that's exactly the sort of argument I'm talking about. It is too easy to convince oneself by some bit of reasoning that doing an evil act is OK -- maybe it reduces some other evil, maybe it gets rid of the Jews who you have convinced yourself are a source of evil. Maybe you can convince yourself that implementing some torture will reduce the total amount of suffering in the world. I would be extremely dubious. Reasoning from first principles about practical affairs is extremely unreliable, and has to be augmented with heuristics, intuition, and gut feelings. You have to be extremely suspicious when supposedly rational arguments lead you to morally revolting conclusions. (BTW, Ursula Leguin wrote a short story on these themes which is worth reading).

Now, "trusting your gut" is something of a metaheuristic, and not a very reliable one. For example, one of my least favorite philosphers, Leon Kass, uses similar arguments to argue against homosexuality, assissted reproduction, and eating ice-cream in public. His gut is apparently very sensitive to things like that; mine isn't. How do we reconcile our positions?

The answer is, we don't. Such disagreements can't be resolved by pure reason and thus enter the realm of politics. I know politics isn't popular around here, but that's how things work. Pro-torture and anti-torture factions will have to fight it out politically, just as the pro- and anti-homosexuality factions do. Which side are you on?

Human Evil and Muddled Thinking

Clear thinking is a necessary but insufficient condition for avoiding evil. Eichmann is a paradigmatic case of local rationality in the pursuit of evil ends. And right here on this blog, we see proudly rational thinkers advocating what most normal people would think of as evil, namely the employment of torture as a judicial punishment. I've argued against them, but perhaps my arguments aren't any good. Maybe it is more rational to apply shocks to the genitals or waterboarding than to lock someone in a cell. Maybe we don't have anything better than instinctive revulsion to keep us from evil. In which case, we should not be overcoming our biases, but listening closely to them.

Human Evil and Muddled Thinking

So let us be absolutely clear that where there is human evil in the world, where there is cruelty and torture and deliberate murder, there are biases enshrouding it. Where people of clear sight oppose these biases, the concealed evil fights back.
Funny, I seem to recall some leading anti-bias advocates promoting torture right here on this blog. Apparently one can be comfortably against bias and for torture without losing a moment's sleep about it.