tommorris.org

Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.




Singer and Animal Sex

Browsing through my referral stats today, I found that somebody had found my review of Richard Dawkins' Root of All Evil? by searching for peter singer nambla on Google. I redid the search (the FBI are gonna be after me now!) and found that my review is number two.

But it brings up a couple of nutjob websites. Before we go in to those, refamiliarise yourself with Singer's meta-ethical statement that I put in the previous post. Here it is:

"I approach each issue by seeking the solution that has the best consequences for all affected. By 'best consequences', I understand that which satisfies the most preferences, weighted in accordance with the strength of the preferences. Thus my ethical position is a form of preference-utilitarianism"

"I approach each issue by seeking the solution that has the best consequences for all affected. By 'best consequences', I understand that which satisfies the most preferences, weighted in accordance with the strength of the preferences. Thus my ethical position is a form of preference-utilitarianism"

And, while we're at it, here's some more of Singer's meta-ethics:

"I'm a Utilitarian, so I don't see the rule against lying as absolute; it's always subject to some overriding utility which may prevent its exercise."

"an action contrary to the preference of any being is, unless this preference is outweighed by contrary preferences, wrong. Killing a person who prefers to continue living is therefore wrong, other things being equal... For preference utilitarians, taking the life of a person would normally be worse than taking the life of some other being, since persons are highly future-oriented in their preferences. To kill a person is therefore, normally, to violate not just one, but a wide range of the most central and significant preferences a being can have."

"I'm a Utilitarian, so I don't see the rule against lying as absolute; it's always subject to some overriding utility which may prevent its exercise."

"an action contrary to the preference of any being is, unless this preference is outweighed by contrary preferences, wrong. Killing a person who prefers to continue living is therefore wrong, other things being equal... For preference utilitarians, taking the life of a person would normally be worse than taking the life of some other being, since persons are highly future-oriented in their preferences. To kill a person is therefore, normally, to violate not just one, but a wide range of the most central and significant preferences a being can have."

Google points us to an article by Dorothy Anne Seese called Get the Real Criminals: we haven't begun to gittem (that's Sun City, Arizona for those of you who haven't honed their American dialect radar). Ms Seese "is a Christian conservative, a part of "the greatest generation" and proud to be an American. She is striving through her writing to help this nation go back to the constitutional and moral foundations she knew in her youth".

In this article, Ms Seese draws an analogy between the death of a neglected child at the hands of their evil, perverted parents, and the "real criminals who have perpetrated this and other crimes of violence, lust and perversion on our society, because if they are allowed to continue unhindered, no child in America will be safe and no adult will dare go out without a gun in the coming years". Those criminals are, of course, liberal profesors like the aforementioned Princeton ethicist Peter Singer.

Why Singer? Because he "strongly advocates bestiality, sex with animals (as well as lifting all taboos off all sexual relations as long as no one harms the animals)". We'll ignore the logical discontinuity in the latter bracketed clause. We all make mistakes, right?

Does Singer "strongly advocate" bestiality? Well, he's written a review of a book about human-animal sexuality entitled Heavy Petting. He doesn't so much advocate it, in the sense of being a spokesman or flag-bearer of it. He describes the history of it, and then really dismisses the issue. If you accept Singer's meta-ethics (I don't accept them, but I do think a fairly convincing case can be made for them), then voluntary bestiality logically follows as a non-issue.

Voluntary sex with animals satisfies the preferences of both the animal and the human, and so there is, under Singer's meta-ethics, no case to answer for. He is not advocating it, he is dismissing it from his ethical courtroom. Seese then links to an article by one Jackie Patru. This website is a lovely feast of camp. I particularly like the statement at the top imploring God to "Bless All The Little Children", presumably because when they grow a bit older they get acne and God could never bless acne.

Patru's article, It's official: Diversity Includes Sex with Children and Sex With Animals, seems to go back to that little search query that hit my site, drawing an analogy between Peter Singer's statements about bestiality with those of the North American Man-Boy Love Association. You can judge that one for yourself, and you'll find it to be pretty ridiculous.

What you don't find with either Seese's or Patru's articles is actual reasons why Singer is incorrect - no argument is given against his meta-ethics. They doubt the statistics he use, but these are not in any way essential to his argument, even though they are used in his article.

Instead, we get rhetorical fluff about how "so-called intellectuals and liberal progressives [...] are not only attacking Christianity but dragging our nation into the mire and muck and sewage of moral filth and depravity" followed by statements about how we should look forward to "God's great Judgment Day". You know, where God, who, if his historians are accurate, has killed and savaged thousands of people, creating the category of sin, then providing the only medicine.

As a brief interlude, not everything said is bonkers. She does at least acknowledge (and posthumously tries to curry the support of) the existence of Thomas Paine, although ascribing atheism to him rather than deism.

Then back to NAMBLA and a condemnation of human sacrifice. Good, so she doesn't support the usual Republican line on capital punishment, then. "Thou shalt not kill" and all. Oh wait...

I also managed to find this amusing list of the 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. Roy Moore is screwing up America only slightly more than Michael Newdow. Both are screwing them up more than James Kopp, the guy who murdered an abortion doctor. Good old hypocrisy.

What this equation of evil people with (broadly) left-wing thinkers (and I say that as an ex-socialist, now left-wing libertarian) all comes down to is that these people don't do convention. They think the unthinkable. In Seese's statements, she seems to be saying that we ought to use this new technology in order to push old opinions around forcefully. Great. I say we ought to use the technology, and our abilities, to push the discourse in to places we would be afraid to plumb.

Love him or hate him, Peter Singer is saying things which people find unpalatable. His critics provide a knee-jerk reaction, without looking at his reasons why. As someone who sits on the fence on a lot of the things Singer writes about, here's a tip to his critics: stop waffling about America's "moral foundations" and actually look at moral foundations for proper.

Singer left a trapdoor open for his critics when he said: "I don't think there's much point in bemoaning the state of the world unless there's some way you can think of to improve it. Otherwise, don't bother writing a book; go and find a tropical island and lie in the sun."

Cut the crap about how repulsive Singer's ethic is. By making this type of argument against Singer's ethic, you don't answer the question set. Point out the flaws in Singer's arguments. This is exactly the point about Dawkins. Spend some time with religious folk and you get a lot of words, but no actual points. I saw this after the broadcast of Dawkins' first "Root of All Evil" programme. Religious people condemned it for reasons none of them wanted to actually elucidate, thus proving Dawkins right. Religious folk are condeming Singer for no reason at all, proving Singer's unwritten thesis - that Judeo-Christian morality is based on hysteria and taboo - to have some merit.

Is it because it's easier to get het up about liberal professors advocating bestiality and call people to action, than to actually look at the reasons behind them? It's far easier to say of people like Singer (or Dawkins) that they are moral monsters, luring children away to have their values aborted in a fit of atheism, utilitarianism or, worst of all, Darwinism. It's far harder to read them with an open mind.

When reading, writing and thinking about morals, one can be brought to tears because of the importance of the task. That's why we have defence mechanisms like humour and insults. If we are going to take part in this task, we need to do it properly. Singer, however repulsive some of you may find his views, does this properly. His critics don't.

On that note, now go and read Mark Oppenheimer's article Who Lives? Who Dies? The Utility of Peter Singer. It's a religious author reading Singer and actually thinking about it rather than just objecting mindlessly.





One overlooked feature of OPML.app is that because you've got a full copy of your blog on your machine, you can use all sorts of UNIX tools to spellcheck entries and other housekeeping.


I'm currently testing RMail as a method for improving syndication for the RSS-o-phobic. The FAQ says that it takes a few hours for posts to get through. I'm not going to recommend it until I can see it.





Syndication

A 'think tank' at my college produces an interesting weekly newsletter called "Rapid Response" which is all about topics of religion, public policy and ethics. I don't agree with quite a number of the things it says each week, but it's well worth reading. It's also written by one of my current lecturers and two lecturers who I have had in the past. It only seems to be distributed via their website, and there doesn't seem to be any way of syndicating what is basically an institutional blog.

I'm trying to find an online service that generates an RSS feed of the site. The first service I've tried is called FeedFire. It requires a slightly intrusive registration (phone number, for instance) and doesn't let you change the feed title which is based solely on the TITLE tag in the HEAD of the HTML. Which in the case of the site is "Main Page" - hardly useful.

But it just about works. You get notified when the page is updated, though if they change the formatting too much, it'll probably break the feed. It doesn't contain any description, so you don't know what you're going to get unless you click the article.

But that page title thing gnawed at me. So I checked out FeedBlendr (blendr ought to have an extra 'e', but I'm just being fussy!). You just put the FeedFire RSS url in, give it a new title, and it turns out an RSS and Atom feed.

If anyone knows of a better way to do this without having to install software or pay money, please do tell. Perhaps we could also work out an OPML index of academic departmental and institutional blogs and publications (like this one).

I saw a "Web 2.0"-ish version of FeedFire recently, but I can't remember the URL.

We've got the following then: RSS, Atom all being sourced from here. There seems to be a decent list of online services here if you want to play.

Update: (5/5/06) I've set up another feed using Ponyfish, here.


Vile

I like this comment over at Hellbound Alleee's blog:

With respect to hell, I just loved what Richard Carrier said during the movie The God Who Wasn't There. Brian Flemming asked Carrier if he would be regretful if, when he died, he ended up in the Christian hell. Carrier said not at all; indeed, the Christian heaven would be a true hell for him. He pointed out that, if he knew billions of people were suffering agonizing torture for all eternity, and he couldn't do a thing about it while sitting up in heaven, that would be the worst afterlife he could imagine.

The very concept of hell demonstrates the inherent immorality of Christianity. No virtuous religion would envision a place filled with agonizing tortures and horrendous suffering. Envisioning such a place seems downright psychopathic.

With respect to hell, I just loved what Richard Carrier said during the movie The God Who Wasn't There. Brian Flemming asked Carrier if he would be regretful if, when he died, he ended up in the Christian hell. Carrier said not at all; indeed, the Christian heaven would be a true hell for him. He pointed out that, if he knew billions of people were suffering agonizing torture for all eternity, and he couldn't do a thing about it while sitting up in heaven, that would be the worst afterlife he could imagine.

The very concept of hell demonstrates the inherent immorality of Christianity. No virtuous religion would envision a place filled with agonizing tortures and horrendous suffering. Envisioning such a place seems downright psychopathic.

I post this while I listen to very happy-clappy gospel music. Am I a hypocrite, or do I just know which bits of religion are worth bothering with?

Now, to free the rather interesting concept of 'conscience' from it's theological dogma for an essay on the ethics of religious 'hatred'.

The discussion of Luke 16:23 in P. Z. Myers' comment thread certainly is interesting. If Abraham is really the father of faith, then torment awaits. Real good endorsement of the Religious Life isn't it, Mr Kierkegaard? You can start the whole idea of faith off, but if you don't accept the salvation of a man born after your death, you're gonna burn. What a sexy religion.


Take That rehearsal

Funny news from the front: a colleague told me today of how faded teen pop band, Take That, were recently found rehearsing at the hall of my college, right next to the office where I spend my days.

The now significantly older, balder and distinctly less heart-throbbish attracted a small following of female university students sadly reminiscing over their pre-teen years. It's funny how Plato and Jason Orange can mix.

If you really need your memory jogged, Take That had eight number one hits in the United Kingdom between 1991 and 1996, Wikipedia describes their 1996 breakup as "cataclysmic" (Oxford American Dictionary: "relating to or denoting a violent natural event [or] something unpleasant or unsuccessful on an enormous scale"; hardly NPOV, if you ask me). They've only had one hit in the United States.

After Take That broke up, according to Wikipedia, hotlines were set up in Britain to "cope with fan's grief". Oh, for crying out loud. Shed a tear for talent, but shed nothing for these guys.

Take That was the signal to the music industry to spoil the nineties with manufactured boy band acts, though they obviously didn't start it. They just reactivated the clean cut, happy clappy boy-band act that's pissed off anyone who likes music for decades now.

How do I feel working in the room next door to where Take That are rehearsing for their UK tour? Pretty apathetic. I'm testing out and evangelising technology that will hopefully replace the industry which makes Take That popular, and that's really exciting.

It's a technology that doesn't care about your age, or your "image", or your sexuality or any of that jazz. It only cares about ideas.


BT are rather het up. People have bought these funny things called "broadband services", then they decide to use them. Having used them, BT then have to buy bandwidth to supply them. This is all rather confusing for a company whose raison d'etre is to, erm, supply bandwidth. So they rant and rail at the users for using the service they've paid for.


Hmm. The BBC are reporting that "one in five pupils" have tried drugs. That figure is extremely low considering that alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and pharmaceuticals are all drugs. Oh, they mean illegal drugs - which are just like the other drugs (sometimes safer) but just not given a government meal ticket.


Yes, it's slow, Suw. Try GPRS every day. If I wasn't doing nothing else when using it, it would rile me right up. It's good to know how most of the world lives though.




MeFi has a very tedious thread on the Atheist Image Problem, which devolves in to stupid religious arguments by people who know no better.