Moral Premises

Before I write any posts regarding emotionally sensitive issues, such as genocide or our perception of death, I feel that I should lay out the idea and importance of regarding moral premises as being non-inherent and transient.

A premise is simply an idea, specifically an idea about an issue from which some conclusion can be drawn.  For an extreme example, which will hopefully have some gravity…

Moral Premise: Human life is invaluable and must be protected.
Moral Premise: Committing murder destroys human life.
Conclusion: Committing murder is impermissible.

For some people, probably most people, these moral premises can be permanently and universally accepted.  Others might need to add the premise that “I wouldn’t want someone to kill me, so I won’t kill anyone else”, but it all falls into the same category of thought: faith leaping.  You need to accept certain foundations of irrationality in order to permanently and/or universally adopt any moral premise; for anyone who desires to be truly free-thinking it is necessary to question them instead.

So to question these example moral premises: why is human life invaluable, and why must it be protected?  We are .05% molecularly different from one another, and only .09% molecularly dissimilar from chimpanzees.  We have overpopulated to the threat of our own species, and we procreate quite easily- it’s even fun.

As far as I have been able to formulate, there is no rational reason for placing some “special” or “sacred” value on human life (in the consideration of ethics, that is.  Obviously societal order requires this).  They certainly have social value, that is to say we feel the social loss of someone we have come to care for, because they will no longer be in our lives.  And there are numerous rational reasons not to kill one another, my personal favourite of which is as follows.

(Rational Premise: Rationality is functional and desirable.  Rational Premise: Arrogance is the defiance of rationality, believing oneself to be better in some way than evidence supports.  Rational Conclusion: We should seek to not be arrogant.)  (Rational Premise: We have no idea of truly understanding the value of a person.  Rational Premise: Murder requires the conclusion that oneself is valuable enough to decide who else is sufficiently inferior so as to exterminate.  Rational Conclusion: Murder requires arrogance.)  (Rational Premise: Murder requires arrogance; it is irrational.  Rational Premise: We should seek to not be arrogant; arrogance is irrational.  Rational Conclusion: We should not commit murder.)

I hope that wasn’t too hard to swallow, it was my explanation of a defense against the act of murder without resorting to emotion, morality or circular arguments.  The point is that when we subscribe to moral premises without thinking, without questioning, we surrender a significant amount of our freedom to various mechanisms of social control.

So the point is that no moral premise, whether that premise is “always brush your teeth before bed” or “don’t hunt your own children for sport” is never automatically defended or intrinsically defensible, and therefore should never be accepted implicitly without skepticism.   At the furthest, we should only adopt premises temporarily in order to consider and experiment with arguments which we could not do without that adoption.

For example… “it seems that most people in the world feel that genocide is significantly worse than simple mass murder… this justifies a movement to develop frameworks and systems of genocide prevention”.  The person making that argument does not need to believe in the premise, because the issue is whether or not genocide prevention is feasible/practical/useful, not whether genocide constitutes some special evil.  You accept the special evil argument to facilitate the debate over the real issue of prevention.

The phrase that so-and-so remembered where they were when so-and-so died has been passed around a lot in society, and it symbolizes what I am trying to talk about here;  moral premises exist in societies as categorical imperatives, which we are expected and compelled to adhere to.  But we don’t need to.  Next time you hear about a massacre of 12 Catholic school children being horribly violated and killed, and on the same day hear about 12 Serbian militants dying of a land mine, as well as 12 senior citizens dying of old age…  Ask yourself why your feelings are different about each case.  In the posts which follow, ask yourself why you mourn, and why genocide is such a horrible thing.  Or don’t.

Published in: on 11 December 2009 at 10:32 am  Comments (1)  

Catching Up: Under the Panamanian Sea

Right.  Going to get caught up on these travel logs ‘ere I return to the Great White North.

After UPaz Media’s murkily monotonous methodology course, made more than a modicum for Master of Arts ameliorated after accommodations of Amer Abdalla and Alvaro (alliteration ending now…) I joined a large host of UPeacers for some diving fun in Panama to shed my surface-woes.

The voyage between Costa Rica and Panama is kind of rough, I’m not sure what kind of immigration problems the two countries have been having but the measures they’ve both taken are obscene.  Three passport checks on the way there, five on the way back, and over an hour wait at the border for processing on each side (on the way there, my bus left without me, but fortunately a kindly taxi-driver chased it down to its destination with all the fervour of, well, Taxi Driver).  Once arrived in Bocas del Toro after a refreshing boat ride things calmed down, mellowed out and kicked back.

There’s not a whole lot of description to describe really, I got my Advanced Open Water certification (which a nasal congestion had prevented me from attaining in time to catch my plane a couple of years back in Honduras), involving a wreck dive which was delightfully more spooky the second time, at night.  In addition to a wreck dive and a night dive, we also had to do an annoying navigation dive and a “deep dive” which required a fellow Canadian UPeacer, an old German broad, a douchey Dutch dude and myself to go down to 100 metres to experience nitrogen narcosis, the effects of which are similar to those felt if you inhale a goodish amount of laughing gas.  It was pretty fun.

The best dive was our elective, “underwater naturalist”, which very leniently required us to spot a number of vertebrates, invertebrates, coral and plant life.  Now, the other options were Peak Performance Buoyancy which teaches precise control over one’s lungs and therefore movement, and a Drift Dive which puts us out into a fast moving current.

The reason the Underwater Naturalist dive was so much fun, is that we had to do it while necessarily incorporating these other skills, as we were plunked into the ocean in a very strong current at a very shallow depth.  This meant spotting aquatic life very, very quickly while zipping along through the water and controlling our movement perfectly so we didn’t get our heads bashed in by spikey (and firey) coral and such things.  The instructor got his leg torn up pretty good.

Apart from diving, there was drinking.  Now, this may sound simple, but as we arrived just before the national Panamanian day of independence which inexplicably bans the sale of alcohol, it became somewhat complicated.  Being the proactive alcoholic that I am, I secured some rum in the hostel freezer – which was more than sampled by the family of the owners (bastards!) so I jacked their blender, procured some pineapples and coconut milk, and with the aid of the life-saving, rum-hoarding Katelyn we still made a merry time of it.

That’s all there is to say about the trip really; swimming like a fish and drinking like a fish.

Pura vida.

Published in: on 9 December 2009 at 5:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Best Film of 2009

Pirate Radio.

Story of an underground (technically over water) rock radio station in an otherwise bleak and cheerless Britain circa 1966.

Laughing and interested frequently throughout, at 1:55:40 I completely burst into tears.  Absolutely unbelievable film, easily in my top ten if not top five of all time.  Watch it.  That is all.

Published in: on 9 December 2009 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

The State of the International Order

A broad and basic understanding of the world is probably necessary to comprehend a lot of what I’ll be writing here, at least up to the end of this year.

We are living in a very interesting and complicated time for the global system: a realist reality governed by a liberal paradigm.

Since 1648 we’ve had a structured world based on sovereign states, with the most powerful of these (almost always five, throughout history) determining what does and does not fly, usually called a “Great Powers” system.   As Otto von Clausewitz perceived and prescribed, war was simply an extension of politics by other means, and virtually no one (Grotius, Kant and Hume are examples of rare exceptions) thought that there was anything wrong with open violent conflict being completely unrestricted.

This paradigm shifted in the 20th century, with advents like heavily armoured tanks which could fire building-leveling shells, bomber airplanes which could destroy cities at an eagle’s view, and of course, nuclear bombs capable of annihilating countries from an underground bunker.  Our reactions to these were the League of Nations, a widely-recognized failure but important beginning, the Kellogg-Briand pact, an impotent but tangible agreement of peace, and the United Nations, which is only moderately better than the League of Nations at the best of times and in many ways a very dangerous and damaging institution (this will probably be addressed as opinioa later), though it is still critical for this paradigm.

These institutions and treaties are collectively, however, much greater than the sum of their parts; they represent, constitute and engender a liberal ideological shift.  We still have five Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia, China and the United States) in the United Nations Security Council, represented by their veto privilege which is basically a stop/go button for every political issue on the planet, but they are not as free to do what they would as they were a century ago.

There is a reason why George Dubya came before the General Secretary to beg permission for attacking Iraq, why China has taken moderate measures to scale back, or at least hide their human rights abuses, why NATO undertook a massive propaganda campaign to justify bombing Kosovo, and why Russia had to defend itself for the recent Georgian invasion; the criteria for international prestige and popularity has changed, even if the reality has not yet adhered to it.

The most fundamental question that this systematic circumstance raises is whether strong enough collective belief in an idea can make it real, and this remains to be seen.  But currently, this situation is very much a double-edged blade; while on one side, we see a decline in open violence and the imperative for states to behave themselves, at the same time the UN and these institutions of the liberal paradigm serve to wrongly legitimize the indiscretions of Great Powers, such as the Iraq invasion and including economically criminal and openly genocidal organizations such as the World bank, not unlike the slightly scolding forgiveness of a mother who is terrified of their sociopathic child.

That should be enough of a basis for later entries, such as Why and How we are about to see the End of States, Why Just War Laws are Bullshit, and Why the Initiation of Violence can and should be Categorically Opposed.

Pura vida.

Published in: on 2 December 2009 at 10:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Opinia and Objectivia

Full disclosure, I just made these words up.

I think I’m going to start writing down certain unusual opinions I hold and some important conclusions I have come to in case I am ever captured by rabid orangutans who bring me to a cave and every day beat me with whifflebats until I have suffered amnesia at which point I am allowed to wander out of their island cave of doom and collapse onto the sand and then am rescued by friendly hermit crabs who carry me along the sand and hand me over to dread pirates who at first hate me for my shining lavish hair but eventually make me their leader due to my tremendous proficiency at Arrghing and I take us on a rum-pillaging campaign around the Caribbean and eventually we crash up on an Honduran shore and I wander into an opium den in Utila and someone recognizes me and tells me my name and I google it and find this blog and then I’ll be able to discover some of the things I thought and knew.

Published in: on 2 December 2009 at 9:30 am  Leave a Comment