“Israel is what’s right with the Middle East”

Excerpts from Netanyahu’s speech to AIPAC.  Please note his clarity, as opposed to the muddled, self-exculpatory, whining, ahistorical, ignorant speech of our own “great communicator.”

Yesterday, they let me out.

My wife got to visit Washington’s majestic memorials.

I read Jefferson’s timeless words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”

I read Lincoln’s immortal address reaffirming “Government of the people, for the people, and by the people.”

You know why these words resonate so powerfully with me and with all Israelis.

Because they are rooted in ideas first championed by our people, the Jewish people.

The idea that all men are created in God’s image.

That no ruler is above the law.

That everyone is entitled to justice.

These revolutionary Jewish ideas were spoken thousands of years ago when vast slave empires ruled the earth.

Israel is the cradle of our common civilization, crucible of our moral ideals.

The Jewish state was founded on these eternal values.

This is why Israel’s more than one million Muslim citizens enjoy full democratic rights.

This is why the only place in the Middle East where Christians are completely free to practice their faith is in the democratic State of Israel.

And this is why only Israel can be trusted to ensure freedom for all faiths in our eternal capital, the united city of Jerusalem.

[snip]

Now, more than ever, what we need is clarity.

Events in our region are finally opening people’s eyes to a simple truth.

The problems of the region are not rooted in Israel.

The remarkable scenes we are witnessing in town squares across the Middle East and North Africa are occurring for a simple reason.

People want freedom.

They want progress.  They want a better life.

For many of the people in the region, the 20th century skipped them by.

Now 21st century technology is showing them what they missed.

[snip]

It’s time to stop blaming Israel for all of the region’s problems.

Let me stress one thing.

Peace between Israelis and Palestinians is a vital need for us.

Peace would be the realization of a powerful and eternal dream.

But it is not a panacea for the endemic problems of the Middle East.

It will not give women is some Arab countries in the Middle East the right to drive a car.

It will not prevent Churches from being bombed.

It will not keep journalists out of jail.

What will change all this?  One word.

Democracy.  Real, genuine, democracy.

By democracy, I don’t just mean elections.

I mean Freedom of Speech.  Freedom of the Press.  Freedom of Assembly.

The Rule of Law.   Rights for women, for gays, for minorities, for everyone.

What the people of the Middle East need is what you have in America, and what we have in Israel.

Democracy.

It’s time to recognize this basic truth:

Israel is not what’s wrong about the Middle East.

Israel is what’s right about the Middle East.

You can read the whole thing here.

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Comments

  1. abc says

    Y, the internet bubble occurred because people lost touch with the numbers and facts.  They no longer independently checked assumptions around internet traffic rates, monetization rates, etc.  There is an entire literature around this showing that when people stop checking the facts, the bubbles and mania prevail.  This dynamic cannot be controlled, as history has clearly shown.  I really don’t know what you are talking about, but it bears no relationship to the explanation for manias that I am describing here.

  2. Charles Martel says

    “They also didn’t foresee trains.”

    Squiffy, thank you for showing for the umpteenth time your uncanny ability to zero in on the inconsequential while earnestly avoiding taking on the big stuff: What is the good, Squiff? Not what research and scholarship—your twin gods—say, but what you say.

    PS: Given the inability of airlines to deliver on-time performance, I’m not surprised that Aurelius eschewed airbuses as a means of moving legionnaires up to the Rhine and Caledonian borders. <–Quick, tear into that! Arf! Snarl!

  3. abc says

    Claude Shannon is the most important scientist that you have never heard of.  His ground-breaking information theory is the foundation for our entire digital economy, since he laid the basis for it.  The theory also explains information content in signals, including those that occur in a market.  Essentially, we have built on his theory that makes CDs and DVDs and computers possible the notion that markets and, to a lesser extent, elections cancel out the errors and leave the factually accurate information.  This is because statistically, the accurate information is more likely to persist after all the random errors are eliminated.  The problem occurs when a false belief becomes more pervasive than reality, and this occurs when you no longer have rational, empirical minds doing independent work (i.e., thinking for themselves) rather than merely believing what someone else told them (e.g., their stock broker or their priest) even thought that person doing the telling is as clueless as they are.  The pervasiveness of a false meme can wreak havoc on a market, and famous examples include overestimations of internet traffic growth that came out of Worldcom (to abet their fraud) or the wrong-headed notion that real estate prices on a national average only rise.  The same can be said for decisions made in democracies by vote, where the risks are actually higher, since the “vote” is a single event rather than a continous process that occurs for much of the time.

  4. abc says

    Martel resorts to ad hominems but lectures me on what is inconsequential.  Note that you haven’t addressed the issue at hand:  how could Aurelius be an atheist but govern more ethically than most religious leaders?

    Oh, I forgot.  You don’t need to answer anything.  You just have to tear down by any means–rational or otherwise, truthful or otherwise–any argument that conflicts with the conservative narrative.  Fine.  Don’t answer it, but let all here take notice of the glaring omission.

  5. Charles Martel says

    “. . .rather than merely believing what someone else told them (e.g., their stock broker or their priest).”

    This from a man who compulsively drops scholarly names right and left and has never offered an original insight or theory on this blog.

    That is rich!

  6. Charles Martel says

    “how could Aurelius be an atheist but govern more ethically than most religious leaders?”

    Squiff, I would take your rhetorical question more seriously if you were to add another one: How could Louis IX be a Christian but govern more ethically than most atheists?

  7. abc says

    Actually, it is extremely difficult to offer an original idea.  Most people do not make it to the edge of a field to contribute in this way, but that is okay.  It is hard enough becoming knowledgeable on what is factually accurate and what is not.  I haven’t claimed to offer original insights, since I understand how high that bar is.  What I object to is the spreading of ideas that are obviously wrong, but are clung to for irrational reasons.  And I especially object to those who defend such false memes with dishonest methods.  Deceit is worse than ignorance.

  8. abc says

    Charles,

    You claimed that one needs religion to avoid descent into immorality, correct?

    Assuming I have that right, I showed an example of a very powerful leader that didn’t, although he is an atheist.

    It is incumbent upon you (assuming you want to logically defend your position) not to show me a Christian leader who did better than some unspecified and unnamed group of atheists.  Rather is is incumbent upon you to show me that either Aurelius was religious, or that he was not more ethical than the average Christian leader.  I doubt you can do either.

  9. abc says

    I think it was clear from the “i object” part that I was speaking normatively.  It is my opinion, although I reasonably believe it widely shared, that one who injures on purpose is worse than one who does it accidentally, all else being equal.

  10. Danny Lemieux says

    ABC “What I object to is the spreading of ideas that are obviously wrong, but are clung to for irrational reasons.”

    And so spaketh ABC at the Galileo inquisition. 

    In fact, one of the key reasons for bubbles, manias and violent revolution is a failure for the facts to win out.

    In a perfect world…

  11. Charles Martel says

    “You claimed that one needs religion to avoid descent into immorality, correct?”

    Nope, never did. Come back when you’ve run out of red herrings.

    By the way, Aurelius’s stoicism was hardly the kind of atheism that so charms you among your modern Mandarin-speaking Mandarins. It imposed limits on passions—actually, a studied indifference to them—such as power seeking and power wielding.

    As to the “average Christian leader,” I have no idea what you are talking about. If you’d care to offer a definition of average, I’d be all ears.

    Now, back to the big, scary elephant in the room, Squiff: What is the good and on what basis do you define it? You refer to it all the time in one form or another, yet seem to be unable to offer an explanation for its source or substance.

  12. abc says

    So I’ll assume, Charles, that your warning about ignoring religion was just tongue-in-cheek.  Thanks for the clarification.  I’m glad you recognize that you don’t need religion to be moral. 

    As for Aurelius, his stoicism was not based upon a belief in religion.  His writings include passages in which he clearly states that belief in the gods is for the masses and not an idea to which he subscribes.  You can be stoic without being religious, afterall.

    I think you must understand that if an atheist were merely better than the very last Christian, then my argument would be pretty weak.  If that atheist were better than the best Christian, then that would be a strong case.  I picked the middle and assumed a normal curve.  Hence the average.  If you have a better way to look at it, please let me know…

    The source of good is what we collectively work out  in markets and democracy.  It changes with context and over time.  It is something that we figure out with new information.  Some of it is obvious and rarely changes much, like “do not kill little children.”  Other parts of it are tougher to figure out, like the question of trying terrorists in military or civilian prisons. I personally like to maximize utility, so I like markets when they are functioning and hate them when they are not.  I also personally like beliefs that tend to increase the happiness of the greatest number while setting minimum requirements for all, including protections against tyranny of the majority.  But context matters and more narrowly tailored questions are easier to address than this “what is the good?” business, since much brighter minds than mine, from Socrates and Confucius to Sartre and Nozick cannot answer them as well as the collective, dynamic systems found in markets and democracies.  You ask very large questions that require what I consider to be static generalizations that do not work for me.  In any case, no ethical theory makes sense to me that cannot be born out by empirical data.  If it doesn’t fit the facts about human nature and the world around us, then it is most likely a bad ethical theory.

  13. abc says

    Danny:  “ABC “What I object to is the spreading of ideas that are obviously wrong, but are clung to for irrational reasons.”
    And so spaketh ABC at the Galileo inquisition.”

    I don’t get it.  The Church leaders were obviously wrong…  Oh, right, I would be, like, speaking on BEHALF of Galileo.  Thanks. 
    Danny:  “ABC “In fact, one of the key reasons for bubbles, manias and violent revolution is a failure for the facts to win out.”
    In a perfect world…”

    Not a perfect world.  Our world.

  14. Charles Martel says

    Squiff, thank you. I knew you couldn’t find the quote you attributed to me that I never said. But nice try to rescue your, uh, misstatement by repeating it.

    I’ll address your other statements in a bit. Unlike you, I prefer my dissections to be based on actual thought, not knee-jerk reactions to somebody talking about ancient Roman railroads.

  15. abc says

    Charles, it’s just not worth the time to go look up your quote.  And you’ll keep shifting what you say anyway.  Example:  you brought up railroads, not me.

  16. Charles Martel says

    Squiff, I’ll translate:

    1. I know the quote doesn’t exist.

    2. It would be embarrassing to admit that I made it up.

    3. And anyway, even if it did exist, you’d just twist things to make me look foolish.

    Speaking of looking foolish, I joked about railroads in ancient Rome because I thought even a humor-challenged savant would get that it was meant as a riff on Italian efficiency. . .

    Oh, never mind. This is like talking to Exidor.

    I’ll be back later to fisk your theory of good. Ta!

  17. Charles Martel says

    A response to abc. His statements in boldface.

    The source of good is what we collectively work out  in markets and democracy.  It changes with context and over time. 


    I derive from this statement the following:

    You can name a source for good, but cannot define the good.

    Whatever the good is, it can only be determined by markets and democracy. If there is no democracy or markets, good cannot occur.

    Good changes according to context, although that context is not described or defined. Does context mean a change in political parties, in which case the good is defined by who’s in power as opposed to being something all agree on?

    For example, what about abortion? If a democracy eventually decides to ban it, will that be the good? If so, why wasn’t it a good before? If a democracy votes in National Socialism, is that the new good? The Soviet Union, which was neither a democracy nor a market economy, fought against Nazi Germany. By your lights, was that then not a good?


    It [the good] is something that we figure out with new information. Some of it is obvious and rarely changes much, like “do not kill little children.”  Other parts of it are tougher to figure out, like the question of trying terrorists in military or civilian prisons. 

    This is a partial attempt to provide context, but it still fails to tell us what the good is. It simply says the good is something that will come if we have enough information, and will change as we have more information. (An aside: Does new information from sonogram technology change your attitude toward abortion? Also, it’s interesting that you believe we have to figure out the good anew with each added piece of information. Exhausting!)

    What is obvious to you, such as the admonition not to kill little children, does not define the good, it only defines a point you will not cross in your system of good. Some systems of good, such as terrorists’, think it is a great good to kill children to make a (good) political point. Of course terrorists lack markets and democracy, and that may disqualify them from generating good the way you propose above.

    As for trying terrorists, that is a procedural question, not a question of good or evil. But if you want to make it that, then you’d have to answer—which you are extremely reluctant to do—what is your moral basis for considering something not good?


    I personally like to maximize utility, so I like markets when they are functioning and hate them when they are not.  I also personally like beliefs that tend to increase the happiness of the greatest number while setting minimum requirements for all, including protections against tyranny of the majority. 

    I knew that your Benthamite beliefs would eventually will out. Utilitarianism is a seductive philosophy since it flatters its holders into believing they know things that they cannot possibly know:  

    ·         It pretends to provide maximum happiness, but cannot define happiness. By what standard do you define happiness? Could you give us examples of it?

    ·         You “personally like” beliefs that tend to increase happiness, which means that your core beliefs are based upon what pleases you rather than any objective standard. So why should I subsume my differing, equally subjective, ideas of happiness to yours? Since you have no objective standard that you can/will articulate, how do we decide what is this “happiness” you talk about? Gallup polls?

    ·         You believe that you have enough data and information to empirically determine what creates happiness for the greatest number. How could you possibly know this—ever?


    But context matters and more narrowly tailored questions are easier to address than this “what is the good?” business, since much brighter minds than mine, from Socrates and Confucius to Sartre and Nozick cannot answer them as well as the collective, dynamic systems found in markets and democracies. 

    I don’t disagree with you that I’ve asked difficult questions that are hard to address, thus, your desire to steer questions into “easier” realms where you feel more comfortable.  It is interesting that your tack here is to try to steer the discussion from what Socrates, et al., might have said about the good into a restatement of your contention that markets and democracies are what create the good.

    Still, you are so wary of defining the very thing that you claim they create.

    (I have to chide you for putting the second-rate Sartre in the same sentence as Socrates. The man who described the psychotic killer Che Guevara as “the most complete human being of our age”? The man who advised that the Soviet gulags be ignored lest the French proletariat be disheartened? Wow, abc.)


    In any case, no ethical theory makes sense to me that cannot be born out by empirical data.  If it doesn’t fit the facts about human nature and the world around us, then it is most likely a bad ethical theory.
     

    An interesting idea. Say you live in China and are a member of the ruling elite. A group of college students begins demonstrating in Tiananmen Square, directly challenging your legitimacy and rule. What is your ethical response to them based on what empirical data?  (I’m going to assume that you will have them killed, since the empirical data indicate that you could lose power—a bad thing—if you don’t, since you know what’s best [happiness for the greatest number] for the country.)  

    Your wife comes to you and says that she is having an affair. She says that, empirically speaking, she is far happier and more satisfied with her lover than with you, as indicated by her suddenly frisky and energetic behavior. What empirical data-based argument do you offer to persuade her to quit the affair? And why would you, considering that she is so happy—happiness being the summum bonum of your philosophy?

  18. Mike Devx says

    abc 119, to Charles Martel: Only #3 is true, and you just aren’t that funny.

    Rosie O’Donnell to Angelina Jolie: You read stupid books, and you just aren’t that beautiful.

  19. Michael Adams says

    A, the panel that examined Galileo’s claims was  convened by the Church because the Church was the most respected institution in that century.  It was not The Inquisition, which most half-educated moderns do understand at all.  It was an “inquiry,” which might be called an inquisition, but it was not a Church court charged with rooting out diversion of eleemosynary funds to private use, nor was it interested in heresy, as the Inquisition was sometimes asked to examine.  Rather, a panel of the leading scientists of the day, including theologians, examined Galileo’s assertions, and found his mathematics severely deficient. A few years later, when Copernicus made similar statements, but with better math, his findings were rather quickly accepted.
     
    I am sorry to say that much of the bad rap on the Inquisition was circulated by Protestants like me, at about the same time that the English had the Court of the Star Chamber, which in its turn had more in common with the Spanish Inquisition, a largely political court. As a matter of fact, Benefit of Clergy refers to the right to be tried by the Inquisition, because they did not usually use torture, nor mete out death sentences. Remember Henry and his quarrel with Beckett? That was over the Benefit.
     
    Oddly, while anticlericalism dates back at least to the time of Chaucer, people still looked to the Church to restrain the worst excesses of the State, e.g. Thomas More.
     
    One of the delights of age is the ability to laugh at ourselves. It is unfortunate for you that being no longer able to take ourselves very seriously, we are likewise somewhat lacking in according you the dignity you might believe that you deserve.  And, just in case you are wondering, one of the indicators, for many of us, of your tender years is an apparent dearth of humor. (I do not mean snark.  Just laughing, even at yourself. )
     
    I could cite several examples of your apparently offended dignity, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll choose just one:  I did not say that that Church held us to a higher standard.  I said that our standard is a difficult one, having to do with restraining sexual impulses and greed.  In church, every Sunday, Danny, Chuck and I say a prayer, called the Confession of Sin (Well, that’s its Anglican title.  I think Hammer is RC) Whether God is listening or not, we are surely reminded of our sinfulness. While we generally believe that we are better people than we would be without our Faith, we never, ever hold ourselves out as better than other people. We are extremely leery of people’s praise.
     
    Also, I did not threaten you with Hell. I made a joke about unbelief.  We laugh about that, too. Deal with it ;)

  20. says

    Michael Adams: It was not The Inquisition, which most half-educated moderns do understand at all. 

    “Sentence of the Tribunal of the Supreme Inquisition against Galileo Galilei, given the 22nd day of June of the year 1633″
    http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1630galileo.html

    Michael Adams: nor was it interested in heresy, as the Inquisition was sometimes asked to examine.  

    I, Galileo, … have been pronounced by the Holy Office to be vehemently suspected of heresy, that is to say, of having held and believed that the Sun is the center of the world and immovable, and that the earth is not the center and moves:
    http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/galileo/recantation.html

  21. Michael Adams says

    Oh, I see another one above.   You need to read Master A’s comments, so you can understand the necessity of reading and studying multiple sources, to have some context.  The Supreme Inquisition would be what we would call a Blue Ribbon Commission. Inquisition just means inquiry. It is also the type of courts that they have in Continental Europe, as distinct from our Anglo-American adversarial system.
     
    I hope you understand what heresy means, “religious teaching that differs from the received truth, the straight skinny, Orthodoxy”.  Galileo confessed to “heresy,” because that had become the catch-all term.  However, there is nothing religious in his teaching. In any case, reading the proceedings, one can see that there were serious scientific objections to Galileo’s theory, and, again, context, a few years later, Copernicus said the same thing, and had no problems.  He was also not so unfortunate as to lose his political and financial backing. The Catholic Church, of which I am not now nor have I ever been a member, was not opposed to science, but to bad science, and sloppy math.
     
    Enmity between church and science arose after Rousseau.
     
     

  22. says

    Michael Adams: The Supreme Inquisition would be what we would call a Blue Ribbon Commission. Inquisition just means inquiry. It is also the type of courts that they have in Continental Europe, as distinct from our Anglo-American adversarial system.

    Galileo was tried by the same “Supreme Tribunal of the Holy Office of Rome” that burned Bruno. 

    Michael AdamsI hope you understand what heresy means, “religious teaching that differs from the received truth, the straight skinny, Orthodoxy”.  Galileo confessed to “heresy,” because that had become the catch-all term.  However, there is nothing religious in his teaching.

    Read the findings of the Inquisition, and Galileo’s abjuration. The Inquisition found that the Earth’s movement was contrary to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, while Galileo was forced to confess that the Earth’s movement was a false doctrine contrary to Holy Writ. Let’s review:

    Michael AdamsIt was an “inquiry,” which might be called an inquisition, but it was not a Church court charged with rooting out diversion of eleemosynary funds to private use, nor was it interested in heresy, as the Inquisition was sometimes asked to examine. 

    It was a capital trial of the Inquisition, with the sentencing options including death by being burned alive. And the charge was heresy.

    Michael AdamsThe Catholic Church, of which I am not now nor have I ever been a member, was not opposed to science, but to bad science, and sloppy math.

    Or anything that would upset the apple cart. 

  23. abc says

    Charles reveals himself as a slippery commentator who refuses to be pinned down on much of anything and who is untroubled by the profound contradictions in his own writing that facilitate this.  He is much more comfortable criticizing other’s opinions, although even doing this he continuously puts words in people’s mouths and twists things because he fails to understand all the assumptions that he makes that reflect someone who assumes too much.  He also fails to recognize that natural language is not math, so he cannot possibly make the kinds of deductions from other comments that he tries to.  Before delving into the rubbish that he writes, I will demand that he answer the same very large and impossibly difficult questions that he asks, and I will demand that he do better than simply regurgitate the Bible or his favorite theologian…  Maybe for once he will demand of himself what he demands of people on the left…

    Charles Martel:  “A response to abc. His statements in boldface. The source of good is what we collectively work out  in markets and democracy.  It changes with context and over time.

    I derive from this statement the following:
    You can name a source for good, but cannot define the good.”
    I do not use the word source as you do because I don’t view the good as you do.  The good is not some platonic idea out in space or given by God.  It is what we say it is.  The only difference is that I admit it, while you pretend that some mythical superior being that you cannot prove handed it to you when the reality is that you are simply deciding what is good and then claiming some mythology to make your good and source of it superior to mine.  It is a difficult thing to understand that one decides what is good, although it is hardly the wanting-to-be-God vice that you think it is.  And unless you can establish God’s existence empricially, then you cannot prove that your source of good is superior to mine, so it is opinion only.  As one of my college professors once said, the phrase “this is just” often really just means “I want it this way.” 

    Charles:  “Whatever the good is, it can only be determined by markets and democracy. If there is no democracy or markets, good cannot occur.”

    Another logical failure from someone who assumes too much.  Because the good is subjective, in our society, we determine what the aggregated collective good is through markets and democracy.  In societies that lack this, obviously they still have subjective good, since they have sentient minds–they also love and enjoy their children afterall–but they make decisions and harmonize differing views on what is good in different ways.  Perhaps it is what the chief wants, perhaps it is historical tradition, who knows.  I don’t presume to understand societies that I do not live in or know much about.  But, unlike you, I don’t have a one size must fit all version of what the good is, since I think that it doesn’t exist in some platonic ideal form given by God.  And until you can find it floating in space somewhere and show it to me with the Hubble, your expalantion of this using 2,000 or 5,000 year old texts is really not very compelling to me.
    Charles:  “Good changes according to context, although that context is not described or defined. Does context mean a change in political parties, in which case the good is defined by who’s in power as opposed to being something all agree on? ”
    It might.  It might not.  If you are asking me personally, you’ll have to give me a specific example.  If you are asking about our society collectively, then the markets or elections will decide.  I think perhaps you understand better.  And if you are asking my personal opinion on the markets and democracy, then I would say that I don’t always like the results, but it is the best system that we have.  Much better than theocracies or belief in a dictatorship in the sky.

    Charles continues:  “For example, what about abortion? If a democracy eventually decides to ban it, will that be the good? If so, why wasn’t it a good before?”

    Okay.  A specific example.  On abortion, people will continue to disagree with differing views on what is the good in this specific case, driven by different views of when humanity begins.  But the collective decision on what is good will have changed, as reflected in a change in the law.

    Charles:  “If a democracy votes in National Socialism, is that the new good? The Soviet Union, which was neither a democracy nor a market economy, fought against Nazi Germany. By your lights, was that then not a good?”

    I think you know the answer to the last question, since I do not maintain that good only can exist where markets and democracy exist.  As for the decision to become a socialist state, if collectively a democracy votes for such a system then that is the good.  Now, there are issues around tyranny of the majority that are inherent risks in both markets and democracy, which need to be addressed with safeguares, which I mentioned previously, but you didn’t (I believe) give me credit for, as discussed below…
    Charles again, first quoting me:

    “It [the good] is something that we figure out with new information. Some of it is obvious and rarely changes much, like “do not kill little children.”  Other parts of it are tougher to figure out, like the question of trying terrorists in military or civilian prisons. 

    This is a partial attempt to provide context, but it still fails to tell us what the good is. It simply says the good is something that will come if we have enough information, and will change as we have more information. (An aside: Does new information from sonogram technology change your attitude toward abortion? Also, it’s interesting that you believe we have to figure out the good anew with each added piece of information. Exhausting!)”
    It should be clear by now that my view of the good is not fixed and static as yours is, which is why your questions are more revealing of your view than mine.  And it might be exhausting, but that is the best we have to work with.  The good is normative, not positive, although positive data informs the normative view or ought to if one is ratinoal.

    Charles again:  “What is obvious to you, such as the admonition not to kill little children, does not define the good, it only defines a point you will not cross in your system of good.”

    It does neither.  But I don’t have an external, immutable definer of good, as you do and demand.  And the admonition against killing children is not breachable, but in very limited situations. 

    Charles:  “Some systems of good, such as terrorists’, think it is a great good to kill children to make a (good) political point. Of course terrorists lack markets and democracy, and that may disqualify them from generating good the way you propose above.”

    I don’t know which terrorists’ systems of good you are referring to, since different groups resort to terrorist tactics over time.  You assume that people are always terrorists or not, but I see people who use terrorist tactics at points in time, but some are more committed to those tactics than others.  And different people that have used terrorism have vastly different value systems, belief systems, religions, etc.  As for the use of child murder as a political tool, I don’t think that is good for anyone, including those that do the killing.
    Charles:  “As for trying terrorists, that is a procedural question, not a question of good or evil.”

    Bad procedural rules can lead to bad outcomes, like innocent people being executed.  That isn’t a lack of good?  Surprising!

    Charlles: “But if you want to make it that, then you’d have to answer—which you are extremely reluctant to do—what is your moral basis for considering something not good?”

    This is the converse of asking what the source of good is, so the answer is the same.  It is subjective, although it should have rational basis in teh empirical world, since that is the realm in which humans live.
    Charles again, first quoting me:

    “I personally like to maximize utility, so I like markets when they are functioning and hate them when they are not.  I also personally like beliefs that tend to increase the happiness of the greatest number while setting minimum requirements for all, including protections against tyranny of the majority. 

    I knew that your Benthamite beliefs would eventually will out. Utilitarianism is a seductive philosophy since it flatters its holders into believing they know things that they cannot possibly know…”

    Actually, no.  I recognize the risks of utilitarianism and call for safeguards against tyranny of the majority.  Bentham may not have approved of the Bill of Rights and the non-democratic minority rights that are enshrined within it, but I appreciate it.  You continue to assume far too much.
    “It pretends to provide maximum happiness, but cannot define happiness. By what standard do you define happiness? Could you give us examples of it? ”

    Actually, modern economics uses utility as the concept, and economics is very good at evaluating this.  It uses rational choice theory and markets to discern it.  But I am not a slave to the market alone, unlike many pro-business conservatives, as you know and perhaps have criticized in the past…
    “You “personally like” beliefs that tend to increase happiness, which means that your core beliefs are based upon what pleases you rather than any objective standard.”

    You take one comment and make it my core belief.  You assume too much (again!).  My core beliefs cannot be reduced to this, despite your argument’s demands.  Also, there is no objective standard.  There are objective causal arguments, and there are “objective” market and democratic outcomes.  But there is no objective standard.  Just subjective ones.

    “So why should I subsume my differing, equally subjective, ideas of happiness to yours? Since you have no objective standard that you can/will articulate, how do we decide what is this “happiness” you talk about? Gallup polls?”

    First, you shouldn’t.  Utility is a personal and individual concept.  Second, it is based upon rational choice theory, which assumes that you formulate your ordering of utility based upon rational thinking.  You should have to establish that your ideas surrounding happiness to reason, logic and facts.  So if you say that you are happy and life is good if marriage remains sacrosanct, tradition-bound and between a man and a woman, but you cannot show harm if the opposite were true, then I take your opinion less seriously (as you should) than if you say that you are happy and life is good if you are not stabbed by me.  The point is that normative statements about your personal happiness or society’s collective happiness cannot be fantasy.  They ought to be based upon empirical evidence and causal relationships.  Third, we have democracy and markets to aggregate your and my competing views of the good.
    “You believe that you have enough data and information to empirically determine what creates happiness for the greatest number. How could you possibly know this—ever?”

    Another key difference, it seems, between you and I is that I view all knowledge probabilistically, while you view it apparently as revealed truth.  Only someone with such a view of information would lament or be surprised by the idea that we live in a world in which we have to make decisions under tremendous uncertainty and with limited information.  This doesn’t mean that all decisions have the same limited amount of information.  I can know with reasonable certainty what I want for breakfast this morning, but I have much more limited information as I determine what stock to buy and hold for 10 years.  But since we have done pretty well for 10,000 years making decisions, even very important ones, under uncertainty, this is hardly a reason to stop now.  Particularly, since there is no alternative.  Your “certainty” is a myth, and cannot be empirically proven, so you are trading the making of decisions under uncertainty with eyes wide open for the same behavior with eyes closed.  You don’t solve the problem.  You just ignore it.
    Charles again, first quoting me:

    “But context matters and more narrowly tailored questions are easier to address than this “what is the good?” business, since much brighter minds than mine, from Socrates and Confucius to Sartre and Nozick cannot answer them as well as the collective, dynamic systems found in markets and democracies. 

    I don’t disagree with you that I’ve asked difficult questions that are hard to address, thus, your desire to steer questions into “easier” realms where you feel more comfortable.”

    Again, assuming too much.  The reason for looking at things case by case is because grand systems fail and become hypocrtical on a case by case basis, and frankly the questions get too big to solve.  Solving smaller problems and then cmoparing solutions to see that there is consistency across them is what we can do better.  And given my definition of the good, it is actually how I believe we determine the good anyway.  It isn’t a cop out.  It is reality, or at least my rational view of it.

    Charles:  “It is interesting that your tack here is to try to steer the discussion from what Socrates, et al., might have said about the good into a restatement of your contention that markets and democracies are what create the good. Still, you are so wary of defining the very thing that you claim they create.”

    It is not a tactic.  The history of philosophy is a history of different explanations of what the good is.  And they all differ from one another in key aspects.  That history proves my point.  And that inconsistency is why I am “wary” to provide what you demand:  a fixed, objective standard of good.
    “(I have to chide you for putting the second-rate Sartre in the same sentence as Socrates. The man who described the psychotic killer Che Guevara as “the most complete human being of our age”? The man who advised that the Soviet gulags be ignored lest the French proletariat be disheartened? Wow, abc.)”
    First, because I believe all of these explications of the good are subjective, I would highlight that yours is an opinion to which you are entitled.  Second, I would note that Sartre’s theories are separate from his opinion of Che Guevara, so I don’t think the latter should enter into the discussion on the former, just as I might rank Richard Wagner’s music higher than you do even if he was an anti-Semite, since I don’t hear anti-Semitism when I hear his music.  Third, given the second, it really is no sullying of me if I happen to have randomly put Sartre and Nozick in a sentence with Socrates and Confucius–I was trying to establish a line of philosophical thought running from the ancients to the very modern and contemporary.

    Charles, quoting me first:  “In any case, no ethical theory makes sense to me that cannot be born out by empirical data.  If it doesn’t fit the facts about human nature and the world around us, then it is most likely a bad ethical theory. 

    An interesting idea. Say you live in China and are a member of the ruling elite. A group of college students begins demonstrating in Tiananmen Square, directly challenging your legitimacy and rule. What is your ethical response to them based on what empirical data?  (I’m going to assume that you will have them killed, since the empirical data indicate that you could lose power—a bad thing—if you don’t, since you know what’s best [happiness for the greatest number] for the country.)”

    I don’t understand the question.  I live in a democracy and believe in human rights.  I care about those students because I care about my fellow man–and I happen to personally know one of the three leaders of that movement, so that concern is actually personal.  On that basis, I have a different view on the right action than Deng Xiao Ping, who cared about maintaining stability and Communist control of the country.  I don’t understand how you get from my demand that empirical data matters, to insisting that I must agree with Deng.  My point is that if I believe that aliens are coming to earth to take away the elect and I must proselytize and gather my flock to be swept away on space ships, I ought to rethink my ethical system.  Similarly, if I believe that I get 97 virgins in heaven for killing innocent people who don’t happen to love Allah or Mohammed, I ought to rethink my theory.  Or if I say that letting gays marry will cause straight marriages to fail, I ought to rethink my theory.  There is no rational basis for these last three beliefs.  As for Deng, he has a rational basis for his belief–he killed fewer people than Lincoln by having a Civil War to hold together the US and make it a democracy with no slavery on a nation-wide basis (i.e., maintain control by non-slavery parties)–but I happen to not agree with them.  Importantly, the majority of Chinese likely would side with me, which is why the events in Tiananmen have been expunged from the record and many students studying at Beida don’t even know about them.  Hopefully, the point is clear now.
    Charles:  “Your wife comes to you and says that she is having an affair. She says that, empirically speaking, she is far happier and more satisfied with her lover than with you, as indicated by her suddenly frisky and energetic behavior. What empirical data-based argument do you offer to persuade her to quit the affair? And why would you, considering that she is so happy—happiness being the summum bonum of your philosophy?”

    Why do you assume that I would demand that she quit the affair?  I have friends who have learned of wives’ affairs and immediately asked for a divorce.  Others have done the opposite.  You assume a lot here.  I don’t even know how I would react to that situation, but you seem sure of how I would respond. Curious.

  24. abc says

    Charles,

    The link to the Nature article was very interesting.  This view differs markedly from the view of a lot of other historians of science, but it is well argued and should be considered.  It made me rethink some of my views on the role of the Church during medieval times.  Having said that, the author does also state in both the article and in his book that religious dogma has been an enemy of science.  His point is that the Church hasn’t been as dogmatic throughout its history as its critics claim, and I can accept that.  My problem is that I see much relgious dogma continuing to hinder science even today, as the fights over evolution in school or climate change research highlight.  As I stated when you originally asked me why I hated religion, I do not hate religion–and I should add religious institutions–but I do hate religious dogmatism, which closes the channel that must remain open to new ideas wherever they lead.  So thank you for the link and the added insight on the level of dogmaticism demonstrated by the Church over its history.

  25. abc says

    Devx, assuming that you are a superior authority on what is beautiful or funny, your comment makes sense.  Otherwise, it is useless noise.  But thanks for playing.

  26. abc says

    Michael, even the authority that Charles has supplied admits that Galileo was wrongly threatened and imprisoned by the Church, so this is beyond dispute in my opinion, and your defense here appears weak.  As for prayer and being reminded of sin, that is well and good for you and others.  It doesn’t have to be the only way to maintain humility, which many religious people lack, or peace of mind or whatever.  It works for you, and that is great.  As for hell and damnation, I couldn’t tell what was a joke–conservatives are not very good comedians, as their paucity in mass media highlights–but I think you understand that many Christians sincerely believe that I am going to hell for my atheism or for a another’s belief in a false god or another’s desire for a lifestyle that those religious people find objectionable for faith-based reasons only.  Those people can be dangerous since they have no rational basis for a belief that leads to harm to others.

  27. says

    Btw Z, your problem isn’t whether you were or were not pointing something. Your problem was trying to make other people, like Martel, do things your way via verbal intimidation and hectoring. 

    When you say “we are free”, you don’t actually mean anybody other than yourself in the end. Such is the presence of arrogance and the distortion of deception.

  28. Charles Martel says

    abc, thank you for your lengthy response to my questions about your thinking. I’ll respond at greater length later.

    Your reply tells me what I and others here have suspected for a long time, that you are a relativist who does not believe in objective truth, especially when it comes to moral conduct. For instance, your answer that a democracy like Germany could vote in National Socialism if it wanted to was followed by some quick boilerplate about necessary safeguards—something that obviously cannot happen when a regime like that is voted into power. But what you neatly evaded addressing was the subjective morality of the new regime once it proceeded to slaughter 12 million Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Russians and homosexuals.

    Based on your response, because your morality is contigent and subjective, the Germans did no evil. Perhaps your faith in epiricism would lead you to claim that the German ethical system was faulty because it empirically invited its own destruction. Beyond its clumsy statescraft, though, I don’t know what the basis of your condemnaton of Germany’s (or Russia’s, or Rome’s) atrocities (a subjective word, no?) could possibly be since each society and individual is free to determine good and evil based on the information at hand—such as, “Jews or Kulaks are parasites.”

    Another thing I noticed is while you scream to high heaven about being pigeon-holed regarding your moral beliefs or philosophical bents, you love to throw references to a sky fairy or divine dictator (I’m paraphrasing) or such into any discussion you have with me. Since I did not mention God even once in my discussion, you are as guilty of flying into a non-existent breach as you claim I am.

    You have your own private Eternal Return, don’t you? In your case it is an eye-bulging, neck-popping, spit-flecking hatred for God and dogma that you return to again and again, like a dog to its puke. This despite what others in the room have commented on as your almost slavish regard to authority if it comes from the same preppie elitist well that you’ve drunk from all these years. (Unless you disagree with it. Then it’s right-wing swill that the goddess Reason has sent you here to correct.)

    As for your comment on the humorlessness of conservatives, I hope you have a mirror with immense light-gathering power. It’s going to need it to reflect an image of the room’s darkest, duskiest, swarthiest pot evuh calling us kettles black.

  29. says

    As for your comment on the humorlessness of conservatives, I hope you have a mirror with immense light-gathering power.

    Mentally weak people have to project their problems unto other people, and thus they receive relief two ways: they get to blame others and they get to feel superior about themselves.

    This would be the opposite if they realized the faults they found in others never existed in others, only in their original and true selves. It is much worse than the accuser and accused both having the same faults, with one blaming the other. In that scenario the accuser may not be entirely justified in his complaints, nonetheless his complaint was right on target about the accused.

    I consider Martel’s 137 striking in the power of imagined imagery but I would make a correction; we are not the kettles but the fine white china.

  30. abc says

    Charles, I disagree with your response.

    “Your reply tells me what I and others here have suspected for a long time, that you are a relativist who does not believe in objective truth, especially when it comes to moral conduct. For instance, your answer that a democracy like Germany could vote in National Socialism if it wanted to was followed by some quick boilerplate about necessary safeguards—something that obviously cannot happen when a regime like that is voted into power. But what you neatly evaded addressing was the subjective morality of the new regime once it proceeded to slaughter 12 million Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Russians and homosexuals.”

    You didn’t ask directly, so I didn’t answer.  Now that you do, I happily will.  The Holocaust doesn’t comport with my personal value system or belief in what the good is.  I avoid words like “evil” not because I think other people cannot use them, but because they are inherently subjective and meaningless terms.  But that doesn’t mean that my view of how offensive the Holocaust was is any different than yours.  I just get there in a different way.  You speak of moral relativists in seemingly pejorative terms, as though I might find th Holocaust acceptable, just because I don’t share your moral system.  That is not true, and your assertion of it (if my inference is remotely correct) would be another example of your assuming too much.
    “Based on your response, because your morality is contigent and subjective, the Germans did no evil.”

    Wrong.  As I just explained above, I don’t need to follow your value system to arrive at a similar (or maybe even stronger) aversion to what the Nazi’s did.  I don’t need God to love humanity.  Without a belief in God and an afterlife, the loss of those lives is more tragic, so perhaps I feel worse about it than you do…

    “Perhaps your faith in epiricism would lead you to claim that the German ethical system was faulty because it empirically invited its own destruction.”

    I live in the empirical world in which I can easily understand pain and suffering.  I don’t need a belief in God to feel empathy for the people who were hurt.  That the German system led to such tragedy–and it is tragedy of epic proportions–is not lost on me merely because I don’t believe in your moral system.

    “Beyond its clumsy statescraft, though, I don’t know what the basis of your condemnaton of Germany’s (or Russia’s, or Rome’s) atrocities (a subjective word, no?) could possibly be since each society and individual is free to determine good and evil based on the information at hand—such as, “Jews or Kulaks are parasites.”

    I don’t remember ever saying that.  I specifically stated before that I could object to China’s oppression without resorting to fantasy beliefs about magical Gods in the sky.  The same applies in this case.  I value the lives of people, so I can object to their senseless murder.  Further, I think I can safely assume that they didn’t commit suicide, so that group would not agree to such treatment.  In the case of China, that would be a majority suffering, so I would point out that under a functioning democracy their desire to be left alone and not harmed would aggregate up and prevent Deng from doing what he did.  In the case of Germany, where it was a minority that was oppressed and killed, my belief in theBill of Rights and safegards for minority rights would have done the same.  I am at a loss to see how you get from my argument to your assertions.
    “Another thing I noticed is while you scream to high heaven about being pigeon-holed regarding your moral beliefs or philosophical bents, you love to throw references to a sky fairy or divine dictator (I’m paraphrasing) or such into any discussion you have with me. Since I did not mention God even once in my discussion, you are as guilty of flying into a non-existent breach as you claim I am. ”
    Well, the difference is that I have asked for you to give the same kind of lengthy explanation that I have and I have asked for data or sources of authority from you on multiple occasions, but you don’t afford me the same courtesy I supply you.  So what can I do but draw inferences based upon what you write, your moniker, etc.

    But make no mistake, it is clear that you believe in a moral system ordained by God.  I think we can both agree on that.  Otherwise, there is no point discussing this, since you are too shifty for anyone to understand your position, so any misunderstanding on my part is your fault, not mine.

    “You have your own private Eternal Return, don’t you? In your case it is an eye-bulging, neck-popping, spit-flecking hatred for God and dogma that you return to again and again, like a dog to its puke. This despite what others in the room have commented on as your almost slavish regard to authority if it comes from the same preppie elitist well that you’ve drunk from all these years. (Unless you disagree with it. Then it’s right-wing swill that the goddess Reason has sent you here to correct.)”

    This is weird. How can I hate what  I don’t believe in?  I hate it when people use dogma to ignore facts, but that has nothing to do with a hatred toward a fictitious character.  It has to do with the harm that is done to real characters (i.e., people).  My slavish regard for authority comes when the authority is, in fact, an authority, so it is perfectly rational.  I have slavish regard for the doctor that saves my child’s life.  Don’t you?
    “As for your comment on the humorlessness of conservatives, I hope you have a mirror with immense light-gathering power. It’s going to need it to reflect an image of the room’s darkest, duskiest, swarthiest pot evuh calling us kettles black.”

    I know that I am not funny.  I never said I was.  You have commented that I am humorless, and I never offered a retort.

  31. Charles Martel says

    “we are not the kettles but the fine white china.”

    Of course I agree with you, Ymarsakar. But I was referring to Mike Adams’ fine observation that whereas all of regulars here are aware of our foibles and poke fun at ourselves a lot, Mr. Grim has not yet learned how to do that, let alone detect it.  

  32. Charles Martel says

    abc, I’ll cut through your endless chatter and summarize your last reply:

    A tragedy is what you say it is. No more, no less. As to why it’s a tragedy (or even what a tragedy is), you simply cannot say because it is obvious that you fear treading on ground where you yourself said you are highly uncomfortable.

    I’ll repeat: There is no way here that you can coherently explain what as wrong/evil/tragic about Nazi Germany without wrapping yourself in logical knots.

    This leads to another thing: What lies exposed here is your fear of engaging in a philosophical discussion because there are no URLs and Authorities you can run to. You have this rigid set of permissions in your head that you have consult before you can discuss something.

    That’s the difference between you and me: I don’t believe I have to be a genius or authority-dependent to venture thoughts or speculations about why we believe what we do. Isn’t that ironic? You, who accuse us here of needing priests or stockbrokers to think, is scared shirtless by the idea of answering a simple question: What is the basis of your discomfort with the [non-evil*] Nazi regime?

    (*Evil being such a useless word.)

    Imagine us sitting on a bench in Harvard Yard having a typical college bullshit session that wanders over to “the meaning of it all.” You refuse to engage becasue you do not enjoy examining your own beliefs. Your loss.

    (A kudos to you for admitting your lack of humor. I just thought is was hilarious that the room’s least humorous person nevertheless assumed his default position of intellectual superiority to inform us that our side has nobody funny batting for it. How the hell would he know?)

  33. abc says

    Charles writes:

    “abc, I’ll cut through your endless chatter…”

    Wow.  And you call me an elitist and imply that I am arrogant.  At least I show the courtesy of revealing how I think, while you ignore my repeated requests and supply only put-downs.  Not that they bother me, since my respect for someone who argues with such an obvious double standard is very low.  

    “… and summarize your last reply…”

    Translation, I will continue to put words in your mouth, as I have done since day one.
    “A tragedy is what you say it is. No more, no less. As to why it’s a tragedy (or even what a tragedy is), you simply cannot say because it is obvious that you fear treading on ground where you yourself said you are highly uncomfortable.”
    I thought I did.  I value human life, so I view it as a tragedy.  You value human life because God tells you to, so you view it as a tragedy.  If God is a fiction, then you either join my view or you don’t.  And you cannot prove God isn’t a fiction, so you really cannot assail my viewpoint with empiricism.  You could use the rack to force me to recant, but let’s not go there, shall we?

    “I’ll repeat: There is no way here that you can coherently explain what as wrong/evil/tragic about Nazi Germany without wrapping yourself in logical knots.”

    I just did.  I hope to avoid pain and suffering and value human life, so I seek to avoid the former and protect the latter whenever possible.  I take those as starting points.  There is nothing incoherent about it.  You are making unsupported assertions.

    “This leads to another thing: What lies exposed here is your fear of engaging in a philosophical discussion because there are no URLs and Authorities you can run to. You have this rigid set of permissions in your head that you have consult before you can discuss something. ”

    I see the opposite.  I have answered all of your questions as best i can, while you have avoided answering mine.  There is no fear on my side, but perhaps some on yours.  If not fear, then maybe just a lack of reciprocity…
    “That’s the difference between you and me: I don’t believe I have to be a genius or authority-dependent to venture thoughts or speculations about why we believe what we do. Isn’t that ironic? You, who accuse us here of needing priests or stockbrokers to think, is scared shirtless by the idea of answering a simple question: What is the basis of your discomfort with the [non-evil*] Nazi regime? ”
    I don’t know what you believe.  You haven’t really written as much about what you believe as you have about what I believe that is wrong.  What authority do you rely upon to determine climate science, cancer treatment, etc.?  Maybe you’ll answer for once…

    “(*Evil being such a useless word.)”  I think I said meaningless to me.  Others find more use in it.  Mistatements and twisting continues, with no alternatives explained in any detail.  Typical.
    “Imagine us sitting on a bench in Harvard Yard having a typical college bullshit session that wanders over to ”the meaning of it all.” You refuse to engage becasue you do not enjoy examining your own beliefs. Your loss.”

    I answer your questions.  You ignore mine, but I refuse to engage.  Go figure.  What are you afraid of?  Or are you that rude??
    “(A kudos to you for admitting your lack of humor. I just thought is was hilarious that the room’s least humorous person nevertheless assumed his default position of intellectual superiority to inform us that our side has nobody funny batting for it. How the hell would he know?)”

    Intellect and a sense of humor don’t have to correlate, do they?

    So questions that you should have to answer:

    1. where does good come from?

    2. what is the source of your moral authority?

    3. should it matter if your source of moral authority cannot be proven empirically to even exist?

    4. why do people need an objective authority to care about human life, denounce tragic events (e.g., the Holocaust)?

    5. what good is the objective moral authority if it doesn’t lead to less tragedy?

    There are more, but I’ll stop there…  We’ll see if you can hold yourself to the same standard that you hold me.  If not, it really isn’t worth responding to you anymore.  Even atheists understand reciprocity.

  34. Charles Martel says

    Again, abc, it is not incumbent on me to explain good to a man who believes it only exists if he says it does.

    If he cannot define what it is, because the definition is contingent, and he cannot exlain why he thinks human life is valuable when he freely admits that others are free to consider it otherwise, how am I to talk to such a man?

    My goal—accomplished—was to show that your moral reasoning, because it has no foundation other than subjectivity, has no basis for objecting to “tragedies” and other icky un-preppy things because it lacks a coherent basis for arguing against them. In your world, all moral systems have to be equal. Otherwise you’d have to criticize them against an objective standard (which I take to mean your “personal likes”). Even then, their adherents hold to them as fiercely as you do to yours. Your claim that the best ethical system is based on the best available empirical data carries no weight in face of the fact that many other moral systems (Marxism, feminism, post modernism) don’t care one jot about such data.

    PS: I’d be happy to answer your question about how objective morality leads to less tragedy if I knew what the hell you’re talking about. What is a “tragedy?” You keep using the word, but never define it.

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