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That was Crane?? I knew I was supposed to recognize him but couldn't place him; I kept thinking he looked like David Tennant. There goes the only part of the movie where I thought a regular citizen was doing something interesting. I like X-Men so much largely because the mutants aren't these one-off ubermenschen. There are good mutants and bad mutants and indifferent mutants and mutants who are sometimes good and sometimes bad and mutants who start out good and become bad and vice versa. I think that once we get superhero institutions – once there are X-Men or maybe a Justice League or a Green Lantern Corps (I'm not very familiar with much outside of X-Men) – individual superbeings are a lot less dangerous and a lot less politically troublesome. Yeah, the superbeings are only really kept in check by other superbeings, but something like that is true of people with weapons and police/military training in the real world. It's especially true if the superbeings are embedded in society – if they have human family and friends and live in largely human communities. Going even further afield, I'm ambivalent on how the Superhuman Registration Act stuff is handled. Especially in the X-Men movies. There's a strong “mutants as marginalized group (mostly gay people)” thread running through the story, but a lot of the discrimination that gay people face isn't the kind that mutants would face, and while registration for gay people would be awful, registration for (some) mutants is defensible (it's important to know if there is a mutant who can perfectly impersonate anybody or if there is one who can read minds, for example). And mutants are obviously of great economic and military value; there's no way that a government can /afford/ to be so anti-mutant that a foreign government starts helping mutants escape the country (this was a bigger problem with the mutant cure storyline). Having Storm helping out with preventing hurricanes and droughts and whatnot is worth just about any amount of money she demands. But the point is that when you have enough superbeings, when none of them are clearly superior to all the rest, and when they have different loyalties (or just a bad union), you actually just have very talented individuals who only really have market power over others. They're more dangerous than most, and if they turn to crime they're going to do more damage and be harder to stop, but they can and will be stopped because the superbeings are embedded in existing institutions; it's not a super state of nature.
Toggle Commented Jul 28, 2012 on OCCUPY WAYNE MANOR! at The Slacktiverse
I thought it was okay. Not nearly as good as the pre- Two Face parts of TDK, though. Henry over at crookedtimber covered what I think Nolan was basically going for with the movie. Lonespark, you might be interested in checking that out if you haven't already – he's very good on the ALL ABOUT BATMAN thing. TDKR seems like awful political messaging to me. Not awful in that the messages are awful but awful in that they're extremely muddled. And not “makes you think” ambiguity, just nonsense. What is Bane's deal with going on and on about letting the people take over? That's not a League of Shadows thing; it's just his own completely unexplained delusion/motivation. And he never lets the people take over! He gives the detonator to a co-conspirator and brings in his own bizarrely loyal mercenaries (plus maybe the criminals that probably “the people” did not want back on the streets). He places several severe limitations on what “the people” are allowed to do (like leave, or not blow up). He's an occupying force, and it's obvious throughout the movie that he's actually in control no matter what “the people” want, two out-of-place scenes of the kangaroo court that may or may not have been supported by regular Gothamites notwithstanding. I feel like Nolan had the action all planned out and then saw some news coverage of Occupy Wall Street and decided to crib some dialogue. I hated the thing with the boats in TDK. That scene seemed like it was in the movie in order to say that most people are crappy, and furthermore lack the courage of their convictions. Basically everyone on both boats wanted a button to get pushed. No button was pushed because one convict cheated and none of the people on the other boat could bring themselves to personally push it. And nobody on either boat stopped to think that maybe they shouldn't just take Joker at his word*. But TDK did strike me as having a more coherent message. Batman is obviously the hero, and his final heroic deed (taking the fall for Dent's crimes and Dent's death) is very political. And there's very much a message there that the people are a mob and are not to be trusted. They need to be manipulated into support something for their own good. TDKR walks that back a bit with Gordon feeling guilty and Bane making a big stink about Dent, though it's not clear how many actual citizens have thereby soured on the Dent Act which has very obviously made them hugely safer and better-off. *I mean, come on. If a supervillain hands me a device and explains that he wants to play this sick game where my device will blow up somebody over there that I can't communicate with, that the distant person has a similar device to blow me up, and that if nobody pushes a button then both of us blow up, why on earth would I believe him? Why shouldn't I think that part of the sick game is to hand me a detonator for my own bomb? Maybe the other guy isn't even rigged to blow up (that'd certainly save the supervillain some work). This is just Pascal's Wager; there are more possibilities than that the clearly evil person who rigged me to explode is telling the truth, and I have very little ability to assign probabilities to the possibilities. Of course, Joker actually did tell a lie very much like that later on involving Rachel and Dent, so in retrospect I'm inclined to say that the detonators probably would have blown up the boat that each was found on. The passengers' failure to consider this gives the game away. The boats are not full of people; they are full of object lessons (and the lesson is that almost everyone is crappy and wimpy).
Toggle Commented Jul 28, 2012 on OCCUPY WAYNE MANOR! at The Slacktiverse
Learn something new every day, I guess. Actually, speaking of stickers, I still have the stickers that are supposed to go on that Lego thing. I have a vague half-intention of putting them on it someday, but I know I'm never going to. Because if they go on just slightly crooked the whole thing is ruined. Even though the stickers mostly go inside where they're not visible unless you pull off the top of the ship. I'm not going to throw the stickers away, but until they invent perfect sticker placing robots those stickers aren't getting anywhere near my precious toy. I guess I don't find that at all tragic; I still get a lot of enjoyment out of the thing, and I even get some enjoyment out of the stickers. I've never had the book problem people have been describing here. I have boxes upon boxes of the things, but I've read virtually all of them, and the ones I haven't read were gifts that I didn't want to read or books I started and didn't like. Admittedly, my Kindle is getting very cluttered, but I don't think I'm expected to read everything that I download for free from Amazon.
Toggle Commented Jun 28, 2012 on Res utenda datur * at The Slacktiverse
For me, there's not a bright line between “things for use” and “things for appreciation”, and I expect that everyone has at least a few things that they keep around only for appreciation. I picked up a Lego Super Star Destroyer last year. Putting it together was, frankly, tedious, but now I've got a Lego Super Star Destroyer sitting on the top shelf of my desk at work. And it's awesome. I don't do anything with it, and don't intend to ever do anything with it. I suppose one could say that the use of such things just is to be appreciated, but that makes this even more complicated – who gets to decide which objects are which? I don't knit, but, if I did, I might keep some particularly fancy yarn around for a very long time (maybe forever) without doing anything with it. Occasionally, I might think about the yarn, and imagine all the nice things I (or someone else) could make with it. I would get pleasure from this. Maybe I'm also bad at knitting, and keep the fancy yarn around as a “maybe someday I'll be up to the challenge of making the perfect thing from this yarn”, even though maybe I also know that I'm not actually going to spend the time needed to get better. It'd be a daydreaming aid, and there's nothing wrong with that. And I don't see it as necessarily a sad thing to die without ever having used the yarn, and looking back on one's dreams with fondness instead of regret. There can be pleasure in delaying gratification in itself, especially if we also kinda know that the actual experience of using the thing wouldn't live up to the dream. And some things can be enjoyed even without any intention to ever use them. This can be taken to an unhealthy degree, but there's nothing wrong with enjoying possessing a thing for the sake of possessing it, especially if the thing isn't rare such that your possession of it doesn't deprive others of anything (really, I'd say that owning a one-of-a-kind piece of famous art is a lot more problematic than keeping fancy yarn with no intention of using it).
Toggle Commented Jun 28, 2012 on Res utenda datur * at The Slacktiverse
I just this moment realized that the Avatar Book 1 episode by episode analysis I'd been reading after getting through Book 2 the other day was by the Froborr I'd seen commenting on here. I would love to read this new post but I've been trying very hard to avoid spoilers. Anyway, I'm looking forward to getting to the Legend of Korra posts, and I liked the older ones. Thanks!
I can imagine that many people have a huge blind spot about the ability to choose otherwise. A lot of households prepare at least half of their meals, and may put in a fair bit of work on most dinners. People in these situations might think that preparing every meal isn't really that big of a deal; it's only a little bit harder than preparing most meals. But this misses two very important facts about people who can choose otherwise. First, they can avoid cooking exactly when cooking is most inconvenient - leaving room to be too exhausted to cook one or two nights a week is hugely more pleasant than having to cook every night. Second, they don't have to cook all of the kinds of things that they enjoy eating - they can still eat everything they enjoy while only cooking the things they enjoy cooking. And preparing food is probably just less psychologically draining if it's done because you're choosing to do it rather than being forced to do it.
Toggle Commented Jun 22, 2012 on On not blaming the poor at The Slacktiverse
@whidby: I'm curious to see what Froborr says, but for my part I think it depends on what you mean by "successful". If being a Nice Guy was an effective way of initiating satisfying relationships, probably lots more would do it and very few would stop doing it - it's hard to argue with results like that. If it was an effective way of getting sex, but led to short relationships where the man, at least, didn't feel strongly for the woman, I expect it would last longer but would eventually be given up. It's an awful lot of work to do for a short fling, once you realize that sex qua sex isn't worth months of effort. Hence pick-up artistry, I suppose, which at least holds out the hope of nightly results.
Toggle Commented Jun 15, 2012 on No More Mister Nice Guy at The Slacktiverse
Oh, and on the 'Jerks get women' score - am I right in my suspicion that the Nice Guy mentality has a tendency to turn jealousy into judgement and classify a man as a jerk because he has a girlfriend? @Kit, Froborr: I don't think I'd put it that way. There's a lot of overlap with "jerks get women", but IMO/IME it's not a judgment made out of jealousy but a judgment made from not understanding what a "jerk" is. I'd say that it's another one of those double standards associated with Nice Guyism. Friends are not unfailingly polite to each other. It'd be sort of weird if friends never teased each other or played jokes. They also have their own, independent lives, and it'd be creepy for someone to put a friend's least desire above absolutely everything. They're also not even always happy with each other; sometimes shit happens and friends fight, but it doesn't mean they're not friends or that at least one of them is essentially a jerk (although often they can do jerkish things). But this is what a Nice Guy thinks of as being "nice" to women, and when he sees a man doing anything that could be construed by someone, out of context, as rude, or when a woman verbalizes any complaint at all about a man, he thinks "what a jerk - I could do better".
Toggle Commented Jun 14, 2012 on No More Mister Nice Guy at The Slacktiverse
I did some of this in high school, and then had a college roommate who was really bad about it. All of this rings true. For me it stopped when I figured out that that connection/attraction is either there from early on or won't ever be there, and certainly can't be forced. Something that bothers me a lot about this in retrospect is that it frequently comes out of a huge double standard. Nice Guys often don't like Nice Girls. That roommate I mentioned was mostly just looking for sex with the hottest girl he could find, and spent a few unhappy years not understanding why his being inoffensive and present wasn't working, even though he certainly wouldn't have been interested in a woman who was doing the same thing (nobody looks like what he was searching for without really working at it). There's something almost comical in pursuing only women you find beautiful and then complaining that women are shallow when that doesn't work out*. *I really, really, really don't mean to be endorsing "women only go for good-looking guys" here.
Toggle Commented Jun 14, 2012 on No More Mister Nice Guy at The Slacktiverse
For me, wanting many others to be atheists is about respect for their ability to decide what's important to them. If someone seems to genuinely care about believing true things about metaphysics, it's not for me to decide that, no, it's really better for them if they continue to believe something false*. It's improper to assume that everyone feels this way, but it's perfectly fine and even respectful to make an effort to persuade someone who clearly cares about the truth of metaphysical claims. I don't think it's ridiculous to think that a large majority would report wanting to believe true things about metaphysics, though I'm not aware of a poll, and, since I think that (at least a weak) atheism is true, then out of respect for this presumed desire I want large majorities to come around to atheism. There are wrong ways of trying to bring this about which are the atheist analogues of “have you heard about Jesus?” but I don't think it's an illegitimate goal, and it's perfectly fine to write any number of “this is why atheism is true” blog posts and perfectly fine for (especially US-based) atheists to write a lot of 'atheist pride' type things which really do help a lot of atheists in places where atheists are marginalized. To be clear, I know people who self-consciously don't care if their religious beliefs are true. I find that absolutely bizarre and don't really even understand how one can believe something without caring about its truth, but, whatever, it seems to be working for them. I don't hope that these people become atheists (the ones I know are religious). *But I'm also troubled by the common movie trope of lying to a dying parent/soldier to make them feel better in their last moments, and I recognize that other people have a different intuition there.
Toggle Commented Jan 17, 2012 on The Problem of Proselytizing at The Slacktiverse
@Hapax I agree completely that someone's values could be such that, even without any empathy in the usual sense, it's in the person's interest (understood very broadly as satisfaction of preferences/values/whatever) to act morally. But it's also possible that a person doesn't particularly value the well-being of zir future descendants, or that zir caring falls off quickly with each generation such that bequeathing a fortune to zir immediate descendants is worth a lot more than trying to make the world a better place. Or maybe the person just doesn't have any kids. I'm inclined to say that what you're talking about is basically just a form of empathy, which is often limited just like how people are more likely to care about their neighbors than about people overseas, but the distinction isn't terribly important – the problem is that there is a range of “caring for (future) others” among people, and you can't assume some fairly high level of that when arguing that (almost) everyone can behave morally just by acting out of self-interest (in the pursuit of one's own values sense, so including one's valuing the welfare of others). @MercuryBlue That kind of experiment or thought experiment is interesting, but it doesn't look like the real world, where in fact we aren't behind a veil of ignorance. Before I put my quarter in, I might rationally prefer that a slot machine's payouts be a lot more spread out. After the tumblers come to a stop, I rationally prefer that the slot machine's entire payout be put on the specific combination of tumblers that I've just gotten. In the real world, most of the tumblers have already stopped, and it's not rational to ignore that fact when deciding what arrangement of stuff maximizes expected value (or maybe some other criteria based on higher moments of the distribution function) for yourself. You can go full Kant here and argue that logical consistency requires treating others as we want to be treated, but it doesn't take an evil genius to decide that, if this is true, logical consistency is over-rated (and this actually shows that something's wrong with the argument, somewhere). For me, it keeps coming back to what seems to me to be the observed fact that lots of bad people seem to have been very well-off, and better-off than if they hadn't been bad people (restricting myself to dead people for this because, for a naturalistic atheist, nothing that happens from here on out can change how well-off they were/are). What do you mean when you say “that doesn't mean the sociopath is better off”? It doesn't mean that the sociopath has more of the stuff the sociopath values (perhaps integrated over the sociopath's life)? In some cases, I guess, and probability will play into it, but like I've said it does seem to me that immorality can often be a good bet. What else constitutes the sociopath's interest? You can bring in some more metaphysics here and talk about how doing evil harms the soul sufficiently to make evil not worth doing (you also have to argue that the sociopath ought to care about harm to the soul), but even so doing evil is only against a person's rational self-interest if the metaphysical claim can't rationally be denied. @Slow Learner I endorse what others have said about how some people actually don't feel a particular urge to do something just because it is moral, and that atheistic metaphysics can include things like karma. In addition, it's also possible to disagree with someone about what is actually moral; a huge part of the appeal of Ayn Rand's system is that, supposedly, morality just is doing what's smart for you to do anyway, so that acting immorally is just dumb. When a moral theory isn't self-motivating like that, you not only have to get people to understand what your distinction is between moral and immoral, but you also have to get them to buy into it and accept it as their own distinction. If conventional morality can actually be derived from self-interest, then I might be able to persuade you to act in accordance with conventional morality without ever actually using moral language; the moral system is self-motivating without requiring any sense of moral obligation on the part of the agent (or even agreement that the system is in fact a moral system). This neatly avoids the problem of moral feelings varying from person to person and being in some areas fairly subjective, which makes them somewhat hard to argue about or reach agreement on.
Hello. I mostly just lurk, but I feel like this is a pretty safe topic to comment on since it's fairly abstract. I don't think this holds up, and deriving conventional morality from self-interest in this way requires ignoring a bunch of complicating factors. You're saying that this can all be deduced from self-interest - that it is in every individual's interest to be a good person. The philosophical appeal of this is that you don't need to give people a reason to act in their own interest, and so if you can tie morality to self-interest you've not only described morality but you've also motivated it (which is really the big concern hiding behind the "how can you be good without God?" question – obviously it's physically possible for an atheist to go around performing good-seeming acts). Personally, it seems obvious to me that a sociopath could rationally behave immorally in a whole bunch of situations, but just as obviously that's not a shared intuition so I'll try to elaborate. If everyone knows me and everyone knows everything I do and everyone is prepared to harm me at least as much as I benefit by harming someone else, then this all works. But if I can personally benefit by harming someone else and not get caught, I come out ahead. Now, there might be some second-order effects because I have contributed to the lawlessness of society and now other people will be more likely to act immorally, but in a real-world modern society these effects (insofar as they affect /me/) are going to be small compared to the benefit to myself of many potential immoral actions. There are also immoral actions that don't seem to be noticed by the broader society – suppose I blackmail someone, and they pay up, in such a way that nobody else even knows what's happened? Or suppose a group of already-powerful people embark on a campaign to convince the broader public that actually immoral things are in reality moral, as long as it's the powerful people doing them? Also, there pretty clearly are and have been many apparently very well-off people who got or stayed that way because of immoral actions (and predictably so – this wasn't just them getting lucky, or at least it was a rational bet), and I doubt that every last one of them is just torn up with guilt about it. You absolutely need empathy, and a lot of it, for self-interest to lead to always or even generally moral behavior when nobody's watching. Unfortunately, it's hard to explain to people without empathy why they should want to cultivate it, which means that “morality is self-interest + empathy” isn't self-motivating in the way that religious morality is perceived as being*. I hope I'm not being unfair here, but I don't see any mention of empathy or anything like it in the post. MercuryBlue very clearly motivates caring about harm to others by pointing out that others are useful. I interpret the post as saying that Ayn Rand can be right about the foundation of morality, but went wrong when reasoning out from “self-interest”. *You can argue that religious morality is either just self-interest if it's motivated by fear of hell or hope for heaven or that it's also just self-interest + empathy if it's motivated by love of (for example) the Christian God, but since love for God is typically assumed of Christians, they have a motivation and a way to argue with each other. Love for God can also be understood as just part of how a properly-functioning human is, whereas it's hard for many atheists to talk about things or people as having this kind of Platonic (or is it Aristotelian?) function. Of course an atheist can actually believe just about anything regarding metaphysics as long as there's no actual deity involved, but I've been taking this post as wanting to be broad enough to cover even naturalists. Anyway, I think the only really effective way for a naturalistic atheist to respond to the concern expressed in the question is to try to explain how the other person is actually doing basically the same thing as the atheist – it's some self-interest, but there's also a lot of empathy involved, or at least we can all agree that there ought to be a lot of empathy involved.
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Jan 11, 2012