Sunday, February 11, 2007

Brief Statement of Principles

This blog won’t be an exercise in feverishly linking, with obligatory know-it-all comment, to every event in the news as it happens. There are (literally) about a million sites doing that already. This site, I expect, will be more likely to respond to books and other long-form, detailed arguments or ideas. The Web could use a little cautious reflection, maybe even some peace and quiet once in awhile.

That tone may allow some actual philosophizing to occur, so that maybe we’ll all learn something. One rarely philosophizes from a complete blank slate, though, so it’s worth briefly noting, in the interests of full disclosure, some of the beliefs — not mere prejudices, mind you, since they are the conclusions of years of prior logical analysis (nor mere assumptions or axioms, since I’d happily revise each or all in the face of new evidence) — that I already bring to bear and which are likely to be reflected in future posts:

•Claims should not be made without good empirical evidence, so it is intellectually irresponsible, indeed immoral, to claim that God or other supernatural phenomena (ghosts, psychic powers, astrology, etc.) exist.

•The only rational, non-mystical basis for ethics is rule utilitarianism (that is, behaving in accord with the rules most likely to foster the greatest long-term happiness among all morally-relevant agents — I avoid saying “people” to sidestep for now the question of the moral significance of animal welfare), and moral thinking should pervade all of our decisions, leaving no rooms for lying, cheating, cruelty, infidelity, taking credit for others’ work, or even the lackadaisical sort of callous irresponsibility (as on the dating scene) that seems to characterize much of the thinking of many young adults these days.

•Property rights are the most important manifestation of ethics and law and the often unappreciated basis of civilization, the alternative to which is violence and poverty, as socialist governments have made abundantly clear; capitalism, in short, is not only good but is humanity’s greatest accomplishment.

•Government should be abolished, or at least minimized (it is likely, though harder to demonstrate empirically, that law itself could be turned over to decentralized private courts somewhat in the fashion of old common law courts and modern arbitration firms, and that the military could be far more rationally directed on a subscription basis by capital-intense insurance firms, but at the very least all unbiased observers can agree that we should end most Cabinet agencies, government-run schools, regulation, public sector unions, and welfare/social security programs in favor of allowing an unfettered economy to make everyone far richer — and freer — faster); limiting government has been the key to America’s greatness, though it has strayed far from that founding ideal, one now largely forgotten by both left and right, though not, fortunately, by libertarians.

•Because science is easily distorted by the media and other forces, most health scares are overblown, as is the threat of global warming, for the purpose of attracting attention to research or to pro-regulation political causes (and a pro-regulation bias is likely to exist in government-funded or -directed research).

•Evolution is the best and most powerful explanation for the workings of life and, contrary to politically-motivated claims of intelligent design theorists and the like, is confirmed by mountains of evidence from the fossil records of the past to the continual arms race against bacterial development and adaptation in our own day.

•Feminism is bunk, based in virtually all its formulations on the irrational, radically anti-empirical, a priori assumption of equal mental or rational capacities (in essentially all areas of human endeavor) in the two demonstrably different sexes (as unwarranted as assuming that two similar species, say, elk and moose, must prove to be “equal” by some empirical or, failing that, metaphysical measure); while belief in God may be the most erroneous commonly held view and belief in government the most socially destructive, feminism is perhaps the most manifestly false commonly held view in our culture, refuted as it is by virtually every daily interaction experienced by virtually all people, sustained only by the kind of borderline-schizophrenic, compartmentalized thinking that enables someone to claim men and women are mentally the same one moment and then bicker over whether to see a “guy movie” or a “chick flick” the next, without noticing the contradiction.

•The masses are by and large cretins (keep in mind that the average IQ is roughly 100), and all political factions of which I am aware, from Marxism to fascism to libertarianism, are guilty of flattering the masses (appealing to the “good sense of the average person,” etc.) in the vain and demagogic hope of receiving popular affirmation for their own agendas, which most people will never grasp, let alone endorse; similarly, intellectuals must, despite the great temptation, beware taking too indulgent an “ironic” interest in the mind-rotting trash that generally passes for popular culture, tending as it does to contribute to the masses’ impulse-driven lack of self-discipline, forethought, or morals — and must instead pause from time to time to appreciate the storehouse of wisdom and aesthetic achievements we inherit from tradition, which tends to dwarf the accomplishments and sophistication of any one mind.

•Biotech and cybernetics offer the best long-term hope of improving the human race, particularly making humans more rational (anyone who complains that people are “too rational” already is likely insane or highly intellectually irresponsible) and sooner or later making us immortal.

•Until biotech and cybernetics make fundamental improvements in the human mind, voluntary (as opposed to government-run or otherwise coercive) eugenics is something all honest, sober-minded people should endorse — not in the irrational, crude, ethnicity-based form that the Nazis promulgated but in the common-sense form of politely discouraging stupid, violent people from passing on their ways or inclinations to any more offspring (or indeed non-relative members of their social circles) than necessary; people who claim to oppose eugenics in this milder, decentralized form unwittingly demonstrate their hypocrisy every time they engage in mate selection and pick better rather than worse mates.

Those are just a few simple ground rules that I think we can all agree upon for starters — the sort of nearly-self-evident things I can’t be bothered to go back and re-prove in every single entry but which, if kept in the back of your mind, will help smooth your reading experience and make more sense of the many other ideas to come.

The logical outcome of the ideals described above, should enough of you come to share them (perhaps as a result of regularly reading this blog), is a world of highly intelligent, anarchist-atheist yet property-respecting and moralistic, pro-American cyborgs (likely of multiple subspecies and possibly diversely transgendered) who are immortal, have an appreciation for high art, show an almost Amish respect for certain elements of tradition, and are kind to animals. I don’t expect to see this almost-perfect world within my lifetime, but all of us who work to bring it a bit closer to realization can at least sleep with clear consciences at night. Every little bit helps: registering Republican instead of Democrat (if the Republican Party returns to its limited-government principles), listening to synthesizer-based New Wave music, discouraging acquaintances from respecting the Bible, or discussing robotics in a frank and open way with your friends and family. Little by little, each of us can make a difference and set a good example — and remember, you are not alone.

UPDATE 1/15/08: I admit this list was dashed off quickly and that I may have erred by giving feminism such short shrift, for instance, or by lightly invoking the term “eugenics” when I might have said merely “biotech and picking a smart mate” — but this entry on utilitarianism may be a better way of explaining my underlying principles.


Jennifer Dziura said...

Your definition of feminism is a bizarre straw-woman! Surely you can find a couple of holdover sixties-academe feminists who really believe gender is entirely a social construct, but I guarantee that if you engage (for instance) Jessica Valenti over at Feministing on the topic, that will not be her view. Virtually all relevant modern-day feminists acknowledge that men and women are different in a variety of ways; a lack of identical abilities is entirely irrelevant to fighting for reproductive rights or sexual harassment or whatever. Read backwards, this is a great blog, up until this weird blurp!


Todd Seavey said...

I concede that I am a very, very old man whose idea of feminism was largely shaped by Brown University — an institution about which I will likely have more to say on this blog in the future — back around the end of the Cold War, which was a conflict, early in human history, rooted in radical yet calcified right-vs.-left thinking far older than the fluid “text messaging” and “body modification art” of our era. Everywhere I looked, in short, a bunch of goddam hippies, often quoting Catherine MacKinnon, or Andrea Dworkin, who was still alive at the time.

And they would have been alarmed to hear, by the way, that Ms. Dziura will argue the “no” position (against Charles Star) at our May 2 (8pm) Debate at Lolita Bar on the question “Does the Beauty Industry Oppress Women?” But just the fact she’s arguing it while still proudly claiming the feminist label probably means I’ve been out of touch, thinking about science and economics, while some things have changed, like Captain America being frozen in an iceberg by Baron Zemo at the end of World War II.

At the end of the day, though, I still don’t think the feminists have really accepted the logical consequences of differential abilities (and simply differential interests) until they’re ready to abolish affirmative action and hiring quotas. We’ll see if that happens anytime soon. But perhaps I should save all this for the 5/2 debate (though I’m just hosting and thus as steadfastly neutral as Switzerland).

Red Stapler said...

I agree with every word Jen said.

We’ve talked about this in person, so I know you’re not even close to being a misogynist. That said, you need to know that in print, the phrase “feminism is bunk” is surprisingly offensive!

“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”

Just because I suck at math doesn’t mean that it’s a product (heh) of my chromosomes. I assure you, my very macho and masculine brother is similarly poor at math.

Your language drifts perilously close to saying that gender roles should be fixed and constant. You know too many women who hold jobs they couldn’t just a few decades ago to use such language carelessly.

As to affirmative action and the like…well, read some essays about white and male privelege sometime. I also think affirmative action is lame, but in some places, the kind of privelege that necessitates still exists.

Red Stapler said...

This blogger more eloquently says what I just tried to.

Todd Seavey said...

Maybe one month from now, when commenter Jen — who faced Red Stapler/Jill in debate at Lolita last year but now, like Gilgamesh allying with Enkidu (except that they’re dames), is joining forces with her against a common foe — does her new Lolita debate (May 2!) would be a good time for me to go into the whole feminism issue in greater detail, but I will briefly say that in discussing it, I sometimes feel the same way I do when confronting certain theologically-liberal folk who object to me calling myself an atheist.

I naturally respond by asking them to define God, if they’re claiming I’m not an atheist, and they refuse to define the term — yet still maintain it’s something I can’t deny believing in. Similarly, some people get very incensed when I say I’m not a feminist (as the blogger Jill links to probably would) but don’t seem to be able to provide any definition other than one that either (a) makes the term so watered down that I still wouldn’t want to use it since it seems near-meaningless or else (b) clearly does entail precisely the things I’m rejecting, such as affirmative action laws. Feminism seems fraught with such contradictions, and it’s not my job to iron them out. You do the ironing and get back to me when it’s clearer what the (ongoing) point of it all is. But I promise we’ll go into it more circa May 2.

Red Stapler said...

You’re welcome to say you’re not a feminist. Just don’t say it’s bunk. ;)

It’s like me saying “Libertarianism is bunk” based on an outdated faction of Libertarianism, generally disagreed with by “modern” Libertarians.

Many “modern” feminists enjoy sex and (good) porn these days. I know I certainly do…

JD said...

“That said, you need to know that in print, the phrase “feminism is bunk” is surprisingly offensive!

“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.””

Now, personally, *I* find *that* offensive. Why? Because it states, in almost so many words, “Everyone who believes this is a feminist, and those who do not identify as feminists do not think women are people.” That’s basically “You’re with us or against us.”

I think women are people. Does that mean I’m a feminist? Seems like a pretty watered-down if not useless definition, if you ask me. How many people do you know who are going to specifically disagree with the statement that women are people?

To me, “feminism” means framing debates about society in terms of male/female dichotomies, and believing that gender roles are the most important thing in and about individuals and society. That’s just my view as a self-identified non-feminist, of course, but I believe there’s more truth to it than there is to your definition. Take a look at feminist anthropology, for example. Part of its bases was/is the belief that the commonality in the experience of being female was more significant than the differences of being of a different culture. (e.g., Burundian women and American women have more in common because of their gender than they have different because of their culture.)

I’m not bashing feminists here – I have known plenty of good people who identify as feminists, and I know there are lots of different kinds of feminists – and I’m only bashing feminism, as I describe it, insofar as taken to extremes I don’t think it’s a way of looking at the world that leads us to particularly interesting and correct conclusions.

Todd Seavey said...

[...] And, it strikes me, there are probably some feminist readers — perhaps even Jen Dziura and Jill Friedman, who posted comments objecting to my anti-feminism — who find themselves thinking “Why should we be at all troubled by sex change operations, given all the bizarre things we expect normal women to do to maintain their bodies?” [...]