Notes and Comment Blog

For the sake of abstract future benefits

Aug 31st, 2014 3:45 pm | By

I’m reading a piece by Paul Bloom in the Boston Review arguing that empathy is a bad thing. I say it in the present tense because I haven’t finished yet; I stopped to argue with something he said, before finishing the whole thing, because I feel like it. If I were reading it offline I would do the same thing in a notebook. (So it will probably turn out that he answers the question, but I want to say anyway.)

Most people see the benefits of empathy as akin to the evils of racism: too obvious to require justification. I think this is a mistake. I have argued elsewhere that certain features of empathy make it a poor guide to social policy. Empathy is biased; we are more prone to feel empathy for attractive people and for those who look like us or share our ethnic or national background. And empathy is narrow; it connects us to particular individuals, real or imagined, but is insensitive to numerical differences and statistical data.

As Mother Teresa put it, “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” Laboratory studies find that we really do care more about the one than about the mass, so long as we have personal information about the one.

In light of these features, our public decisions will be fairer and more moral once we put empathy aside. Our policies are improved when we appreciate that a hundred deaths are worse than one, even if we know the name of the one, and when we acknowledge that the life of someone in a faraway country is worth as much as the life a neighbor, even if our emotions pull us in a different direction.

No I don’t think so; I think without empathy we don’t care for the one death or the hundred deaths; we don’t care about any. Empathy is the building block for caring about any. It’s not enough by itself; you do need more; but if you have zero you just don’t give a rat’s ass. You extrapolate from close up and personal empathy to a kind of (admittedly attenuated) empathy for the distant millions.

Without empathy, we are better able to grasp the importance of vaccinating children and responding to climate change. These acts impose costs on real people in the here and now for the sake of abstract future benefits, so tackling them may require overriding empathetic responses that favor the comfort and well being of individuals today. We can rethink humanitarian aid and the criminal justice system, choosing to draw on a reasoned, even counter-empathetic, analysis of moral obligation and likely consequences.

That’s just not very convincing. The future benefits aren’t really abstract; they are about the suffering or rescue from suffering of future people. Remember those videos about pertussis? Remember watching that poor infant gasping and choking for breath? Made us all feel super-passionate about vaccination, didn’t it? Because without it you risk people gasping and choking. A whole bunch of people who had had a bout with pertussis told their stories of it right here. And I think a rethink of humanitarian aid and the criminal justice system that’s completely stripped of empathy would be a dud of a rethink. Here in the US we’ve already got a criminal justice system that’s damn short on empathy, and it’s a fucking disgrace.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

I knew it all along

Aug 31st, 2014 12:32 pm | By

Uh oh.

Photo: A cat at the right place on the right moment.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Talented mediocrity

Aug 31st, 2014 12:08 pm | By

Will Self says Orwell was a talented mediocrity.

The curious thing is that while during the post-war period we’ve had many political leaders, we’ve got by with just a single Supreme Mediocrity – George Orwell.

I don’t doubt characterising Orwell as a talented mediocrity will put noses out of joint. Not Orwell, surely! Orwell the tireless campaigner for social justice and economic equality; Orwell the prophetic voice, crying out in the wartime wilderness against the dangers of totalitarianism and the rise of the surveillance state; Orwell, who nobly took up arms in the cause of Spanish democracy, then, equally nobly, exposed the cause’s subversion by Soviet realpolitik; Orwell, who lived in saintly penury and preached the solid virtues of homespun Englishness; Orwell, who died prematurely, his last gift to the people he so admired being a list of suspected Soviet agents he sent to MI5.

Orwell who wrote decent, readable, but far from brilliant prose. Yes, that Orwell.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Orwell’s writing as much as the next talented mediocrity. I’ve read the great bulk of his output – at least that which originally appeared in hard covers, and some of his books I’ve read many times over – in particular The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London, the long pieces of quasi-reportage that made his name in the 1930s.

Same here, but I have also realized that his writing is not as good as I used to think it.

As for the essays, they can be returned to again and again, if not for their substance alone, certainly for their unadorned Anglo-Saxon style.

It’s this prose style that has made Orwell the Supreme Mediocrity – and like all long-lasting leaders, he has an ideology to justify his rule. Orwell’s essay, Politics and the English Language, is frequently cited as a manifesto of plainspoken common sense – a principled assault upon all the jargon, obfuscation, and pretentiously Frenchified folderol that deforms our noble tongue. Orwell – it’s said by these disciples – established once and for all in this essay that anything worth saying in English can be set down with perfect clarity such that it’s comprehensible to all averagely intelligent English readers.

And that’s bullshit. It’s not true. Much of what he says in “Politics and the English Language” is not true, and is anti-intellectual and anti-a good many other things that matter.

The Beeb helpfully provides Orwell’s List O’Rules, so that we can see how wrong some of them are.

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never use a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Two, three and five in particular are terrible “rules” – and he didn’t even obey them himself. (Never use a long word where a short one will do? You’ve got to be kidding. A short one will always “do”; but good writers want words that more than just “do”.)

Those are ok rules for a newspaper that wants the largest possible audience and thus wants to be very careful that might be over the heads of some of the potential audience, but for anyone else, they’re instructions on how to be dull.

I said some of this back in 2005 on the ur-B&W.

I’ve been reading a little Orwell lately – prompted partly by my offhand comment in an email to Norm that Orwell was good but Hitchens is better – which itself was prompted by Philip Dodd’s introduction of Hitchens on ‘Night Waves’ in which he quoted someone (someone unnamed, I think) as writing in a review that Hitchens is as good as Orwell, or almost as good as Orwell, or some such. That annoyed me. It is my considered opinion – despite the offhandedness of the comment alluded to above – that Orwell is over-rated as a writer. Really quite seriously over-rated. That his language is very often decidedly tired and uninspired, even banal, and that there is a lot of commonplace thought in it. Phrases like ‘dirty little scoundrel’ come to mind.

But when Harry at Crooked Timber did a post about Fascinating Hitchens in which he quoted Norm quoting me there was a lot of disagreement (along with some agreement) with my relative estimation of the two – which is why I got Orwell off the shelf to check my impression again. And – I still agree with myself. He’s good, he’s interesting, he’s definitely worth reading, but he is not a great writer or stylist or thinker. He’s not as good as Dwight Macdonald, for instance.

That’s just a flat assertion, obviously. It would take extensive quotation to make my case – because he is good, so I can’t just quote a terrible sentence and leave it at that. But if you read a good chunk of him, the flatness and uninspiredness become increasingly noticeable.

I don’t like flatness in writing. “Politics and the English Language” gets way too close to telling people to write flatly.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

It was finally time to “do the right thing”

Aug 31st, 2014 11:27 am | By

The BBC News Magazine has a longish piece by Shaimaa Khalil about not wearing hijab then wearing it then not wearing it and now wearing it again – in which, bizarrely, she never mentions the actual (and obvious) gender politics of it. It’s just a religious requirement or duty that she either accepts or doesn’t accept, but the content of the requirement/duty is left out.

She talks about photos from the 50s and 60s that speak volumes about social change in Egypt.

There they are in short-sleeved dresses, impeccably cinched at the waist. The dresses of some of the younger ones actually stopped well above the knee. And the hair!

The beautiful and complicated hairdos that my aunties and their friends pulled off just to go shopping or to their universities looked like something out of a vintage glamour magazine.

But times change. In the 1980s and 90s the strict Wahhabi version of Islam was arriving in Egypt – brought back by the millions of Egyptians who’d gone to work in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

Political Islamic movements were gaining ground too, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood. Soon all the adult women in my family were wearing the headscarf or the hijab.

She says it’s a long and complicated debate, whether or not hijab is “an Islamic obligation for women” – but she doesn’t ask why it should be an obligation for women alone.

I didn’t start wearing the headscarf until I was in my 20s – and I wasn’t forced to do it – despite several years of pressure from my mother.

“What are you waiting for?” she’d ask. “What if something happens to you? Will you meet God looking like this?” she would say, pointing at my trousers or T-shirt.

Sometimes I would nod, smile and walk away. On other occasions I’d fight and argue.

But deep down it was becoming ingrained in me that wearing the headscarf was the right thing to do. So, towards, the end of 2002 I decided it was finally time to “do the right thing”.

But why? “The right thing” how, and for what reasons? Why was it becoming ingrained deep down? What was the substance of those arguments? Why resist, then why give in?

She doesn’t say. She started wearing it; she moved to London and worked for the BBC.

Then, last year, I went through a very personal and private journey of questioning many things about my religion: about practice and belief, what was I doing out of conviction and what out of habit?

How much of my faith did I want to exhibit? Would I, I asked finally and crucially, be any less Muslim if I took off the headscarf?

The final answer was no.

So, after months of indecision, the day came when I’d decided to remove it. It took me hours to get dressed and when the time came when I’d normally put the headscarf on, I just didn’t.

But why? Why didn’t she? She doesn’t say. The whole thing is weirdly emptied of content and discussed solely as an external.

Now she’s going to Pakistan as the BBC’s correspondent there, so she’ll have to wear it again. But since we don’t know why she cares either way, the irony doesn’t amount to much.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Frowned upon by the bien-pensants

Aug 30th, 2014 6:07 pm | By

I love this Jesus and Mo:


Author’s caption:

I’m a cultural imperialist. I believe in universal human rights.

Mo perches his steaming hot tea on the arm of the couch. Risky.

Author’s Patreon is here.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Different rules for different f00ts

Aug 30th, 2014 5:11 pm | By

Oh looky here, what do you know – Phil “Thunderf00t” Mason who thinks Anita Sarkeesian is lying about getting threats for the sake of “PR” – that Phil Mason posting in October 2011 about threats he gets.

October 8 for instance.

So here I am at the Texas Freethought convention, where I’ve met for the first time Matt Dillahunty from the Atheist Experience, and been having a great time with folks such as Aronra (also met in person for the first time) and many others when I get email from the infamous ‘crying muslim’ (dawahfilms).  He STILL seems to be operating under the delusion that universities base their hiring and firing policies based on how much a v. whiney pussy complains about how someone explained to him that his religion made him both behave like an ass, and why his religion was evidently stupid.  The baffling thing is he seems to think that I will be intimidated by his delusions.

And October 11.

YES Dawahfilms, giving away my docs to people who ask is doc dropping, and you were doing this, not only to me, but to at least one other member of my family.  What’s even more pathetic is that EVEN NOW, after you have been caught, dropping my docs, you insist on trying to use weasel words to try and define your way out of this.  Not just in your latest video (thunderfoot, lies vs truth), where you state:

“none of my VIDEOS doc dropped” -Dawahfilms

but in the email you wrote to me:

 Im also pissed still at your “Dawahfilms doc dropped me” accusation, which is bullshit. You know as well as I do this info has been around for awhile. The fact that you had to pin it on me is nonsense.  -Dawahfilms

I mean really, you expect to be this comically frugal with the truth to my face and expect me not to notice IMMEDIATELY?  All that ‘belief in god’ had addled your brain with unrealistic wishful thinking.

And October 17.

Recently I wrote a blog post highlighting the wonderful irony of dawahfilms, the notorious moderate ‘death threating/ I hunt you down and destroy your career’ Muslim claiming that everyone should be held accountable for their youtube activity.  Ironically, this man who claims that he wants to be a future public educator is also advising people to kill themselves.

Lots of screen shots.

Clearly I was not alone as evidently many others could not distinguish these options.  So I propose ‘Dawahs Law’.  When an individual is such a professional jerk, that it is impossible to distinguish them from a troll pretending to be an utter jerk merely by what they say.  Dawahs Law, the professional jerks answer to the Poe!

He talked about his threats; why is Sarkeesian supposed to shut up about hers?


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

All things that do not please god

Aug 30th, 2014 3:41 pm | By

Here’s a terrible thing you can look at.

It’s a compilation of bits from training videos by The Good News Club, so you can see what absurd frightening wrong things they tell children…on school property.



The first one quotes Romans saying there is no one who is right with god, no not one. The instructor says no one is right with god because sin. What is sin? It’s anything you think, say, or do that does not please god. She says it twice, to make sure it sticks and frightens the children. Then she lists some of those things – disobeying your parents or teachers, lying so you don’t get caught, or taking something that doesn’t belong to you, are all things that do not please god.

You know what she doesn’t say? How she knows. How does she know disobeying the teacher does not please god? Hey what if the teacher tells the child to disobey her parents? What pleases god then?

Then she says god say sin must be punished. The punishment (breathlessly) is to be separated from god.

Sounds good to me!

It’s basic fundy bullshit, the small fraction I’ve been able to make myself watch so far. Just mindless rule-reciting and pretending it all comes from god and that the people saying this actually know it when they don’t know it at all. But it’s an outrage that they’re shoving it at children. (And much of the material, I know from Katherine Stewart, is much worse than this.)

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Bing swear-generator

Aug 30th, 2014 3:17 pm | By

A friend of Simon Davis’s commented on a Facebook post of his in Greek.

Ουφ, με τρόμαξες

Bing offered to translate and for once I accepted the offer.

Ouf, with tromaxes.

That’s my new favorite swear. Do admit.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: Percept and its related concepts

Aug 30th, 2014 3:03 pm | By

Originally a comment by Brony on We’re adept at masking inconsistencies from ourselves.

percepts [the object of perception]

That word. Percept and its related concepts have been invaluable to me in getting an understanding of how brains and minds unify with respect to human behavior. When I consider that word a whirlwind of brain anatomy, journal articles, psychology and sociology stream through my thoughts. It’s so relevant to unifying how emotion, reason, logic, what is in perception, and resulting system one and two responses operate in a functional, real-world sense. The picture is not complete but so many useful pieces are already there.

The precept is the world that exists in your perception. Sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, position of your parts relative to each other and objects, direction of motion and gravity. All of those break down into a fascinating array of sensors that are combined in a hierarchical assembly of what you experience.

I wish could easily, and conveniently describe how all of that functionally assembles reality here, but the resulting picture and how it works functionally is another matter. In this picture once you assemble an image and identify components, you start classifying and ordering pieces based on emotional tags attached to previous percepts due to past experience. Think about the emotional resonance of a swastika, a recognized logical fallacy, a “dog whistle” like the word feminism that means totally different things to different people, or a kitten.

Once you have assigned meaning to what you perceive, you prioritize what should do based on the content (in positive/negative, or good/bad terms. sometimes neutral terms). What you interact with first or interact with at all, how you choose to implicitly and explicitly portray what you see to yourself and others, what perspective you choose to apply, whether how or what you choose to attack defend or obfuscate about, or if you choose to neutrally understand and reason.

Reason and logic are like “apps” here. They are learned analysis tools that are compatible with the learning machinery that are applied by implicit or explicit choices and those choices are driven by emotional signatures like the puffs of gas from a spaceship’s maneuvering thrusters. They are targeting systems (I wish I remember who made that analogy). The emotion drives you down paths of actions and the amount self-awareness that you have about the whole process is a learned thing as well. We do not tend to choose to use logical fallacies (I leave room for people that do for dishonest usefulness), we are driven to use them because they work in a social sense based on past experience and like a martial artist learning a form, one has to gain an awareness of the forms of “primate chess” that drive social interaction like we see in sociopolitical conflicts.

Here is where our routines create the inconsistencies that blind us to how we treat others differently for social convenience. It’s unconscious strategy on a group level. We don’t do it on purpose, but neither do we just “do it” in a way that removes personal responsibility. One reasons many are resistant to accepting knowledge is because it ALWAYS comes with a price. One you know what you are doing you are responsible in a way that can be stark and unpleasant. Catharsis sucks, but driving another to one has it’s uses.

The logic of the system is a reality that can be used for wonderful or terrible purposes. But make no mistake we are all using it or letting it use us. However greater understanding of it can make a person an angel or a demon, so don’t think that the moral and ethical worries will all disappear with self-awareness. There are many paths to psychopathy, and empathy.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Smart marketing, good business

Aug 30th, 2014 12:47 pm | By

Dave Futrelle is getting death threats for blogging about the death threats sent to Anita Sarkeesian. Meta-death threats. Second order death threats. Death threats to punish exposure of death threats.

And if this is what my inbox looks like for merely writing about Sarkeesian, I can only imagine what her inbox looks like. I suspect she gets threats like these all the time; the reason she called the police about several of the threats she got this week is that the threateners posted her personal information as well.

But, according to some observers, it’s your own fault, and her own fault. You should both shut up about them, because.


thunderf00t ‏@thunderf00t Aug 29
the first advice the FBI gave me (which I knew already) is never respond to real death threats. @femfreq goes straight to twitter and blogs!

D.J. Grothe ‏@DJGrothe Aug 29
@thunderf00t Just like Watson. I certainly have never publicized death threats I’ve received over the years, tho it may have gotten me PR.

@thunderf00t A “Page-o-Hate” is smart marketing, good business. But bad if you want less hate (“don’t feed the trolls,” etc.).

That’s impressive, isn’t it? Phil Mason thinks Sarkeesian should keep her threats a secret – and he insinuates that they’re not “real.”

That’s an interesting idea, isn’t it. No threats are “real” until they’re carried out. But guess what – nobody knows ahead of time which ones are going to be carried out and which ones aren’t. It’s really not up to random onlookers to say “oh that’s not a real threat” about threats that are sent to other people.

But Grothe’s contribution is even more disgusting, if only because Phil Mason, fortunately, is not the head of a big skeptics’ organization, while Grothe is. It’s not becoming for Grothe to belittle threats sent to Rebecca Watson. It’s even less becoming for him to say she does it as a marketing ploy.

But hey, maybe the threats are real. Or maybe not. Who knows, who knows.


thunderf00t ‏@thunderf00t Aug 29
@DJGrothe IF they were credible threats I would have told no one but FBI. Else u just undermine any possible investigation. I think its PR!

D.J. Grothe ‏@DJGrothe Aug 29
@thunderf00t Maybe so, who knows. With things like that, I say just err on the side of caution: report to authorities, full stop.

“Maybe so, who knows.”


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The side-taking hypothesis

Aug 30th, 2014 11:25 am | By

Is morality not morality at all but just in-group solidarity? Peter DeScioli suggests it is.

Developmental evidence shows that children are nice to people before acquiring adult-like moral judgment. Moreover, when children develop moral judgment, it does not prevent them from taking actions they judge wrong such as lying or stealing. In adults, research shows that moral judgments differ from and can even oppose altruistic motives. Research on hypocrisy shows that people are mostly motivated to appear moral rather than to actually abide by their moral judgments.

Altruism can be in tension with morality – or at least with “morality”: reputation and appearance, as opposed to the real thing. Yes, that makes sense.

Here is a distinctive human problem that just might explain our distinctive moral condemnation: Humans, more than any other species, support each other in fights, whether fistfights, yelling matches, or gossip campaigns. In most animal species, fights are mano-a-mano or between fixed groups. Humans, however, face complicated conflicts in which bystanders are pressured to choose sides in other people’s fights, and it’s unclear who will take which side. Think about the intrigues of family feuds, office politics, or international relations.

Yes, because human social arrangements are so complicated.

For moral side-taking to work, the group needs to invent and debate moral rules to cover the most common fights—rules about violence, sex, resources, etc. Humans are quite motivated to do just this. Once moral rules are established, people can use accusations of wrongdoing as coercive threats to turn the group, including your family and friends, against you.

The side-taking hypothesis fits many otherwise puzzling observations from the laboratory and the world around us. For one thing, it explains why people sometimes oppose their own family or friends if they act immorally. Of course, people are not always impartial because they must weigh the value of their relationships against the costs of opposing other bystanders. Morality makes us betray friends and family when their (alleged) wrongdoing causes us too much trouble.

Hmm. Interesting, but perhaps more interesting than convincing. Of course, I haven’t seen the relevant research…

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

What we are used to isn’t automatically what’s right

Aug 30th, 2014 10:58 am | By

Some people on Fox News – to be more precise, four women and one man on Fox News – have a conversation about catcalling women in the street. Olivia Kittel at Media Matters comments.

On the August 28 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered, hosts highlighted a New York Post opinion article that suggested women “deal with” “flattering” catcalls. Co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle defended street harassment saying, “let men be men,” and, “look, men are going to be that way. What can you do?”

She summed up with:

They mean it in a nice way, I think, like they find you attractive or they want to pay a compliment.

Which is a stupid and irresponsible thing to say. Some do, maybe, and up to a point, but not all do. You know how we know that? Because many get hostile if the women react in ways they don’t like.

But after that the one man took over, and did far more talking than any of the women had, until I got irritated and stopped watching at 2:40. But how classic is that?

Guest host and Fox contributor Arthur Aidala reenacted his personal signature “move” – aiming a slow round of applause at women on the street, which one host said she’d find flattering.

He said his slow clap – which he stood up to perform, standing over all the women, just in case we’d gotten confused somewhere along the way – gets him “a 90% success rate” – he gets a smile. Really? It looks incredibly creepy, to me. But he’s confident that he would just love the same treatment. He said “I don’t know about the ladies but” – he gets up in the morning and tries to dress nicely, he’d love it if more people would let him know. Really? Strangers in the street? I don’t believe that for a second. He’d be repulsed and outraged if men did it, and if women did it he would assume they were hookers – that’s what I think.

Strangers squawking at you in the street just isn’t that much fun. The Fox women actually mostly did admit that to some extent along with minimizing it or dismissing it or saying they’d gotten used to it.

Yes, we can get more or less used to various things, some of us more easily than others. That doesn’t mean the things we get used to are fine. We get to expect better treatment even if we are accustomed to shitty treatment.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

For offences including drug smuggling and sorcery

Aug 30th, 2014 10:08 am | By

Al Jazeera reports there has been a surge in beheadings in Saudi Arabia in August.

At least 19 people have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia this month for offences including drug smuggling and sorcery, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The dead include four Saudi men executed in Najran province on Monday for smuggling hashish, and two foreigners - a Syrian and a Pakistani, accused of the same crime.

Authorities beheaded Saudi national, Mohammed bin Bakr al-Alawi, on August 5 for allegedly practicing sorcery, the Saudi Gazette reported.

That’s a lot of beheading, for one trivial crime and one nothing. Saudi Arabia is even worse than Texas.

On Wednesday, Saudi authorities executed a Pakistani national for the murder of an Afghan man, the AFP news agency reported.

At least 34 people have been put to death in the country in 2014, including the 19 people killed in August.

Amnesty International denounced what it called a “disturbing surge” and called on the Saudi government to immediately halt all executions.

“Any execution is appalling, but executions for crimes such as drug smuggling or sorcery that result in no loss of life are particularly egregious,” said HRW’s Sarah Leah Watson.

And yet Saudi Arabia is an “ally” of both the US and the UK. I hate realpolitik.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

We’re adept at masking inconsistencies from ourselves

Aug 29th, 2014 6:16 pm | By

In pleasanter news than most of what I’ve shared today, Rebecca Goldstein talks to The Humanist about Plato at the Googleplex.

The Humanist: Can you say more about how philosophy benefits humanity?

Goldstein: We’re adept at masking inconsistencies from ourselves, most especially moral inconsistencies, since they make it easier for us to act in ways that we want to. At its best, philosophy exposes presumptions that we’re not aware we harbor—presumptions that nonetheless influence our judgments and actions. It examines whether these presumptions are justifiable and consistent with other beliefs and attitudes we’ve committed ourselves to.

The Humanist: Unmasking moral inconsistencies: this is where your notion of “mattering” comes in, correct?

Goldstein: Yes. At the heart of our moral inconsistencies lie attitudes and judgments about mattering: about what matters and, even more importantly, about who matters. We are unthinkingly committed to our own lives mattering, as well as the lives of those we care about. But the egoistic privileging of “me” and the tribal privileging of “us” both lead to moral incoherence. The very notion of a person entails certain facts about mattering. Philosophy, in insisting that attitudes and beliefs be grounded, forces the recognition that any reason I can give for why I must be treated as mattering is also a reason others can give for why they must be treated as mattering. The facts about mattering apply not just to me but also to you, not just to us but also to them, not just to affluent, straight, white, adult males but also to women, children, the poor, the enslaved, the colonized, the imprisoned, the LGBT community, and so on.

I love that.

And then they get to that thing I’ve been harping on lately – the fact that we need feeling as well as reason to discuss issues in moral philosophy properly. It’s not just logic; it’s not just facts. You need both feeling and reason; both reason and feeling.

The Humanist: So philosophy imparts a kind of impartiality. But reasoning, identifying inconsistencies, revising our judgments—how does any of this touch our moral sensibilities? Aren’t our attitudes and behaviors driven by feeling rather than thinking? Both the Scottish philosopher David Hume and the contemporary psychologist Jonathan Haidt have argued that reason does little to moralize us.

Goldstein: What Hume said is that reason in itself is perfectly inert; and he was right. Without such moral emotions as empathy, sympathy, indignation, and outrage, reason couldn’t gain any purchase on us. But that doesn’t mean reason is irrelevant. This isn’t an either/or situation. Here’s an analogy: Kant famously said that concepts without percepts [the object of perception] are empty, and percepts without concepts are blind. Adapting the adage, I’d say moral reasoning without moral emotions are empty, and moral emotions without moral reasoning are blind. Moral emotions can’t make progress on their own. They aren’t self-correcting. The mere fact of moral progress reveals the hidden hand of reason. A view like Haidt’s denies the possibility of progress; it collapses into a relativism inconsistent with humanism.

Indeed, which is what I’ve always objected to about Haidt. He feels sympathy with the men in the front room eating with him, and he forgets about the women in the back.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Heaping unbound shame on her family

Aug 29th, 2014 5:08 pm | By

Ruzwana Bashir is upset about the media focus on the abuse of white girls while under-reporting the abuse of Asian girls by Asian adult men. She shares her story in hopes of tearing down the wall of silence and encouraging others to do the same.

She was abused by a neighbor in Skipton at the age of 10; she felt too much shame to say anything. Years later she went back to testify against him.

When I first told my mother about the abuse I’d suffered, she was absolutely devastated. The root of her anger was clear: I was heaping unbound shame on to my family by trying to bring the perpetrator to justice. In trying to stop him from exploiting more children, I was ensuring my parents and my siblings would be ostracised. She begged me not to go to the police station.

How appalling is that? The shame would have been on them, so she should have kept quiet and let him go on abusing other children.

If I’d still been living in Skipton, surrounded by a community who would either blame me for the abuse or label me a liar, I’m not sure I could have rejected her demands.

Once the police began the investigation another victim came forward. Sohail described how he too had been abused almost 20 years before I was. Due to our combined testimony, the perpetrator was jailed for eight years.

So that’s some children who had time to grow up in his absence, free of abuse.

Within a few weeks another young woman in the community, emboldened by the conviction, told the police that a relative had raped her for several years. It had started before Sara was in her teens. We have supported her through the process of taking this to court.

Although Sohail and I had removed a proven paedophile from the community and helped empower another woman to end her torture, we were not celebrated. On the contrary, we were shunned.

She found out that some people had known about the neighbor all along, and done nothing. His many victims had refused to testify against him.

Much has been made about the religious background of the offenders in the Rotherham report. But this problem isn’t about religion race: it’s about a culture where notions of shame result in the blaming of victims rather than perpetrators.

Although painful to read, the Rotherham report presents an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for leaders in the British-Pakistani community to stand up and speak out about the sexual and physical abuse in their midst. The Asian community isn’t unique in having evil-doers, and the overwhelming majority of its men and women are good people who care about protecting others.

I am and always will be proud of my Pakistani heritage, but I firmly believe community leaders must take responsibility for the fact that the taboos that prevent others from identifying perpetrators and supporting victims enable further abuse. And those taboos must be challenged.

She has suggestions of things that need doing in the future.

The biggest risk of this terrible situation is that once the shock of this report dissipates, it will get swept under the rug, just like three previous reports in Rotherham. We cannot let that happen. We don’t need any further reports: we need system-wide change in the way we approach fighting sexual abuse against children of all backgrounds. This is not a problem in Rotherham or a problem in Oxford or a problem in Rochdale. This is a problem in the United Kingdom. And we need to tackle it together.

Tackle means tackle, not bury.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

For a long and painful time

Aug 29th, 2014 4:17 pm | By

From last December, Huma Munshi talks to Lifting the Veil about the concepts of ‘honour’ and ‘shame’

Huma is a writer and poet who writes on many issues including feminism and tackling ‘honour’ based violence. She sees writing as a means to connect with others and healing. She tweets at @Huma101

She started #fuckhonour and #fuckshame hashtags on Twitter; here she explains her thinking.

Muslim Women’s Network launched a report, entitled Unheard Voices, in autumn of this year describing the prevalence of young Asian, Muslim girls being sexually abused. There were a number of things that made me extremely angry but what led me to start the “#fuckhonour” hashtag was the concept of ‘honour’ to victim blame[1] and silence young girls who had been victims of abuse.

In one case, parents of a sexual abuse victim felt that the young girl had brought shame on to the family. As a result, they forced her to undergo hymen repair surgery and then into a forced marriage.

A child being abused is horrific and but what compounded my anger was (yet again) family and community ‘honour’ had come before the needs of a child.

I started the hashtag whilst reading the case studies in Unheard Voices but I have heard stories of young people being abused and murdered in the name of honour for a long and painful time. I know this only too well. I allude to my own experience in my #fuckhonour and #fuckshame article of being a survivor of honour based oppression. I found the writing and the twitter hashtag extremely cathartic.

It’s the saddest thing, isn’t it? That wrong-headed ideas of “honour” and “shame” can be stronger and more salient than parents’ love for their daughter?

Lifting the Veil asks her to explain what she means by “honour.”

The Crown Prosecution Service define honour based violence as “practices which are used to control behaviour within families or other social groups to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and/or honour. Such violence can occur when perpetrators perceive that a relative has shamed the family and / or community by breaking their honour code. Women are predominantly (but not exclusively) the victims of so called ‘honour based violence’, which is used to assert male power in order to control female autonomy and sexuality.”

The final sentence is particularly import to understand the impact of honour in patriarchal societies. Honour is a means to oppress and subjugate women. In societies where ‘honour’ is put above the well-being of women, a woman’s intellect, autonomy, sexuality and identity and all supressed. They are seen as a threat to family standing within the community. Within these patriarchal communities, what could be more dangerous than an unmarried sexually active young woman?

Two unmarried sexually active young women.

[1] There are a number of campaigns tackling this, Everyday Victim Blaming is a good campaign to combat this @evb_now


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

One more horror

Aug 29th, 2014 3:32 pm | By

One more horror out of the many every hour of every day.

Dr. Rou’aa Diab was a dentist in the Deir ez-Zor Governate city of Al-Mayadeen, located on the border of Iraq.  Two days ago, she [was] arrested by the Islamic State, along with 4 others, and summarily executed. The reasoning for the execution was under the crime of “treating male patients” – a crime she was not tried for in a court room. Dr. Diab’s death has sparked anger in the historical city of Al-Mayadeen, an area where the Islamic State continues to assert its governance over.

A dentist – murdered for treating patients. You know what life would be like without dentists? Very nasty, that’s what.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Police regarded the victims with contempt

Aug 29th, 2014 11:57 am | By

Shaheen Hashmat says the Rotherham report struck a note of personal horror for her.

I’m a Pakistani woman born and raised in Scotland, as part of a Muslim family. And, at the age of 12, I relied on the help of police and local authorities to help me escape from honour abuse and the threat of forced marriage. As a result of my experiences, I now dedicate most of my spare time to raising awareness of these issues. I’m currently working to establish a free mental health service for those who have suffered similar abuses.

Doing the work she does, she’s learned that rape victims get a terrible time if they report their rape.

While some may believe that the handling of rape and sex abuse cases has become more effective in recent years, it’s now clear that this is simply not the case.

The Rotherham report states that police regarded many of the victims involved with contempt; disbelieved reports containing ‘stark evidence’ of child sex exploitation; closed cases of such abuse prematurely; and failed to follow up on information they had been given. (Indeed, a young female victim speaking on Radio 4′s Today programme alleged that a bag of clothes she’d collected as evidence was ‘lost’ by police).

A former leader of Rotherham Council agreed that the organisational culture was ‘macho’ and sexist, and there was mention of an issue with members accessing pornography on council computers. One officer, who was interviewed as part of the inquiry, recalled a colleague being told that “she ought to wear shorter skirts to meetings and she’d get on better”. Another remembers a senior member of staff saying, “I know what I’d like to do to you if I was ten years’ younger”.

This attitude goes some way in explaining why professionals tasked with the job of protecting vulnerable individuals, might arrest a 12-year-old girl for being drunk and disorderly in a derelict house with a number of adult males, without questioning why she was there in the first place.

And then, she says, there was the fear of appearing racist issue.

And, contrary to popular belief, this lack of understanding didn’t only endanger white victims. Cases were cited where Pakistani landlords and taxi drivers targeted Pakistani girls. Some victims were described as vulnerable because they were separated from their families, as I was at that age. There were issues of forced marriage and child abduction described. In 2005 alone, 12 cases of forced marriage were investigated in Rotherham – the highest statistic in the South Yorkshire area.

Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West, has extensive experience in dealing with this type of abuse, particularly after his involvement in the Rochdale ‘grooming trial’.

Afzal told me: “no community is entirely safe for women and girls. Many perpetrators were Asian but they did not limit their criminal behaviour to white girls, though many were. In many cases, non-white victims are even more reluctant to report these crimes, in part because of honour and shame issues.”

She also addresses the problem with the police habit of asking local imams to help with communication. The trouble with that is, imams don’t have the right training and expertise. (I would add, they’re also male. That doesn’t help either.)

Hashmat was one of the lucky ones, but only relatively lucky.

I consider myself lucky – the police took my situation seriously and worked with discretion, speed and sensitivity. However social services did not follow up adequately after my escape and made the mistake of trying to mediate, saying that a continued relationship with my abusers was in my best interests. Most devastating of all was the lack of support offered in recovering after abuse.

It has had a lifelong impact and further cuts to mental health services have put me at risk on a regular basis.

This report demonstrates that lessons are not being learned. Isn’t it time they were?

Way past time.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Machine guns and cat condos

Aug 29th, 2014 11:30 am | By

More Charles Vacca, because it’s…just…so…


Exciting life change. Didn’t work out all that well.

Caption: “Yes it is!!!!!”

Photo: I went to see her the day before I left Germany and I told her Goodbye Frauline.  I will miss you my old M2HB Browning .50 Caliber machinegun!! Ah, I wonder where SHE is TODAY??? LOL This,SCOUTS OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Caption: “Yep”

Photo: An Important Memorandum to All American Patriots Watch This Video Now Or You’ll Hate Yourself Later On

Caption: “Lol”

Photo: Dear Ladies,  Valentine's Day is Coming! #Barrett #Gunhumor #2A

But then, back in November…

Photo: Whoa..Fat ass made it to the top of the cat condo. Haven't seen her do that in a while.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

The weapon recoiled and she lost control

Aug 29th, 2014 10:20 am | By

There was that grotesque incident on Monday, at an “Outdoor Machine Gun Adventure” in the Mojave Desert not far from Las Vegas.

A 9-year-old girl at a shooting range outside Las Vegas accidentally killed an instructor on Monday morning when she lost control of the Uzi he was showing her how to use.

The girl, whose name wasn’t released, visited the outdoor shooting range while vacationing with her parents. She’d fired the 9mm weapon, designed for use by the Israeli defense forces in the 1940s, several times in single-shot mode. But when it was set to fully automatic, the weapon recoiled and she lost control.

In other words the girl’s parents visited the shooting range and allowed her (or perhaps even compelled her, who knows) to play with a machine gun. Why? I can’t help wondering why that seemed like a good idea.

The instructor, Charles Vacca, 39, of Lake Havasu City, suffered at least one gunshot wound to the head. He was airlifted to a Las Vegas hospital where he died Monday night. A Facebook account under Vacca’s name says he’s from Greenville, S.C. His wall is full of pro-gun posts…

So of course I go to that Facebook page, and sure enough -

Photo: Yep

Charles Vacca’s comment on the image is, succinctly, “Yup.”

And there’s this, with “Lmfao.”

Photo: Lmfao

And this, with “Must read, lol.”

Photo: Must read, lol

“Same with Arizona.”

Photo: Same with arizona

More about that firing range/amusement park.

Sprawling across more than 30 acres in the Mojave desert 26 miles from Vegas, Bullets and Burgers advertises itself as an “Outdoor Machine Gun Adventure” with a “Desert Storm atmosphere.” “Our guests have the opportunity to fire a wide range of fully automatic machine guns and specialty weapons,” the Web site says. “At our range, you can shoot FULL auto on our machine guns. … Let ‘em Rip!”

The shooting range’s Web site says the minimum age for the “ground adventure” is 8, and children ages 8 to 17 “must be accompanied by parent or legal guardian at all times.”

It’s embarrassing to be an American much of the time.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)