Since I am a philosopher, people often ask me what I think about God. Also, religious friends are inclined to ask me what I think. Although I can present the views of various philosophers on the subject and have given the matter considerable thought, I have come to realize that my ideas of God are actually rather limited and underdeveloped. So, under the pressure of such questions and my inability to provide a proper answer, I’ve decided to ramble a bit about God.
The most common question I get about God is whether I believe in God or not. I always reply with a question: “what do you mean by ‘God’?” Since most folks really have no idea, they tend to have no way to answer beyond some vague stuff about God being God, all good, all powerful and so on. Of course, I must admit that all I have about God is that vague stuff. I, like Pascal, suspect that is about as good as it gets when it comes to God.
When thinking about this and the fact that so many folks believe in something they really have no idea about, I got to wondering about what sort of basis there could be to believe. Obviously, it is easy to explain why many folks believe: they were brought up that way and so on with the usual psychological and sociological answers. But, my interest is in laying aside what I have been told and seeing if I can find any evidence for God (whatever He is).
Naturally, people tell me that the bible will show evidence of God. But, the bible is just a book written by men. When I read it, I see no signs of a special avenue of certainty. After all, it does not glow with truth. It does not contain irrefutable arguments establishing God’s existence beyond all reasonable doubt.It contains nothing that the folks at the time did not know. To be honest, if I am going to believe on the basis of a book, it needs to contain real proof or at least do some magical glowing stuff to prove its supernatural bona fides.
As a source of proof it is biased and most of the key events in it are not properly documented in other historical sources. And, of course, there is no objective evidence remaining for the key claims: no sign of the garden of Eden, no remains of the ark, no signs of a global flood that exterminated most of mankind, no sign that the Red Sea destroyed an Egyptian army and so on. Also, even if the ark were, for example, found that would not prove that God exists.
People also point to the miracles in the bible as a sign of God’s existence. Of course, I can read about all sorts of impressive supernatural stuff in other books as well (such as the Lord of the Rings) and I have as much evidence for the biblical miracles as I do for the existence of Excalibur, vampires, and werewolves. Interesting, there are no real miracles today. True, people do talk about seeing the face of Jesus in grilled cheese sandwiches and folks do claim to be healed by miracles. However, there seems to be no objectively documented cases of miracles. As such, I have no more reason to believe in them than I have reason to lose sleep out of fear of being attacked by werewolves.
Looking at my own experiences, I have had no encounter with the supernatural or the divine, or so it seems. True, the existence of the world and its seeming design does provide a nice foundation for an argument from design for God, but this hardly points towards the sort of God most folks talk about in church. Of course, perhaps I am somewhat jaded by video games and role playing games. In these games, the fictional gods are active and grant significant powers. For example, my paladin in D&D can call on the power of goodness to smite evil creatures, to heal the sick and destroy the undead. In real life, priests are just dudes who have no powers at all. As such, there seems to be no evidence of a supernatural being that was said to answer prayers and grant powers to work miracles. Or maybe He just did that stuff back in the day, before the notion of objective record keeping and scientific investigation really got rolling. To be rather flippant, it is hard to believe that there is a miracle providing supernatural being when even the Pope can’t do so much as heal a paper cut.
At best, the world points towards a largely indifferent creator who set things up, got the planets rolling and then took an extended vacation. He doesn’t seem very concerned about our individual well being or happiness, since evil and misery strike the just and unjust alike. So, if there is a God, then He seems to be the God envisioned by the Deists.
Having rambled all that, I do believe in an objective moral order. So perhaps that points towards God. Of course, it need not. After all, Plato argued for the existence of the Good without accepting the existence of God. But, this will be the subject for another rambling on God.
Although I can only “ugly jog” for 200-600 yards at a time, I am mobile enough to volunteer at road/cross country races and did so today. While it was a bit hard working rather than cross the finish line, it was good to see everyone. When I run, I almost never wear a shirt, but when I was at the race I was wearing one. This led to the following conversation:
Friend: “Hey, how are you doing? How’s the knee?”
Me: “Okay. I can ugly jog now.”
Me: “Observe.” I commence ugly jogging.
Friend: “For the love of God stop! It hurts my soul!”
Friend: “Yes…I’ll take that memory to the grave. Hey, you’re wearing a shirt. You never wear shirts at races. Not even when it is cold.”
Me: “Well, I do wear shirts sometimes, like in January. But it never really gets cold here. This is Florida, you know. But, I’m wearing a shirt because walking around without a shirt on is creepy. Oddly enough, running with one off is fine. Standing around after a race without a shirt is fine. But just walking around without a shirt…creepy. And driving without a shirt, that is creepy as hell. I mean, where is a dude going not wearing a shirt? Nowhere good, I can tell you.”
Friend: “Are sure about all that?”
Me: “Yeah. Watch this.” I take off my shirt and start walking.
Friend: “Damn, that is creepy.”
Me: “Now, watch this. I’m going jog a bit. Don’t look at my legs, just the upper body.”
Friend: “Damn, you are one sexy beast!”
Me: “Now you’re creeping me out, dude.”
The Met had an impromptu and unexpected addition to its exhibits when Kathleen Neil disrobed so she could be photographed by Zack Hyman. Since she was naked in public, it is hardly a surprise that she was arrested. Naturally enough, people are wondering whether this is a case of art or not.
On one hand, the answer is easy: it all depends on which theory of art (if any) is correct. On the other hand, the answer is rather difficult to determine: which theory (if any) is correct? Rather than wander about in various theories, I’ll just ramble a bit about the matter.
On the face of it, this could be art. After all, photographs seem to be well-established as a form of art (within limits, of course) and art involving naked folks is also well established. So, to use an argument by analogy: if other photographs of naked people are art, then this photo can also be considered art. Of course, the focus of the controversy is the fact that Neil got naked in a public place. While this is generally illegal, what is illegal need not automatically be considered to be non-art. After all, the legal status of something does not entail anything about its aesthetic status.
Some folks have been asserting that the photo is pornographic because Neil is naked. While it is easy enough to take all naked photos to be pornographic, there seems to be an important distinction between what would be porn and what would not be. Of course, the possibility of artistic pornography should also be given reasonable consideration.
Since this is a blog rather than a major essay, I will but dip my toe in the shallow end of theory. At this depth, I would say that the intent of the photographer (and the subject perhaps) would be an important factor. While both art and porn are generally taken to aim at creating an emotional effect or stimulating a response, the types of responses that art aims for seems to be distinct from that of pornography. Roughly put, porn aims and sexual excitement whereas art (generally) tries to aim at a somewhat higher target (the heart or mind rather than the groin). In this case, Hyman and Neil seemed to have an artistic intent and hence I’d be inclined to agree with them that they were attempting to create art.
Not surprisingly, some folks dismiss the notion of artistic intent. After all, it can be rather difficult to tell what the artist’s true intent might have been at the time. In this case, the usual default is to consider the work itself. In this case, the challenge would be to lay bare the qualities that would distinguish a work of art from pure (or mere) pornography. While this might seem a simple thing, it can actually be rather challenging. True, most porn would tend to be easy to spot as such because of the quality (or lack thereof). But this does raise the obvious objection that porn might be art, albeit poor art. These difficulties serve to illustrate that we do not really have any truly effective definitions of “art” and “porn” that would allow us to properly sort things out.
We can, of course, follow the old adage and say that art (or porn) is in the eye of the beholder. If someone sees a naked photo as porn, it is porn to him. If he sees it as art, it is art to him. Of course, this makes it a rather subjective matter and would seem to imply that any obscenity would lie within the audience rather than the work.
The conclusion to be drawn is the usual one: we still lack a proper account of art, despite centuries of discussion.
Opponents of the cash for clunkers plan often criticized it because it would allow folks to buy either foreign or domestic cars. The worry was that American tax dollars would go to helping foreign car companies rather than US companies. This fear turned out to be true.
People who buy cars in the US normally buy American 63% of the time. Those cashing in on the clunker plan did so only 53% of the time. I suspect that since the plan is intended for folks to trade from low mileage cars to higher mileage ones, folks would tend to buy foreign because these cars generally seem to do better in mileage than US cars.
While critics are right to be concerned that our tax dollars are, in some cases, helping out foreign companies it is also important to keep in mind the following facts. First, these cars are purchased in the US from American dealers (unless people are doing direct buys from, for example, Japan) and this helps out the US economy. Second, many “foreign” cars are actually made in the US, thus also helping out the US economy. Third, helping out foreign car companies will help the foreign economies and this can help contribute a tiny bit to getting the world economy back in order, thus helping the US.
Of course, there are good reasons to believe that the program should have been for US cars only. However, since many foreign companies have plants in the US and have plenty of clout, that would have been an unlikely course of action.
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Edward Kennedy died today and thus another American icon has passed. I did not know Senator Kennedy personally, but as a fellow New Englander I always felt some vague connection to him. I also had considerable respect for the man.
His detractors will no doubt focus on the death that he caused. That event should not, of course, be swept under the rug or forgotten. Nor should his struggle with more private demons. Despite these dark aspects of his life, he did great things and was, to use the standard cliche, a great man. He stood up for what he believed and fought bravely against his own death to continue to contribute to the causes he valued. Agree or disagree with him, his largeness of character and devotion to his principles cannot be doubted.
I vividly recaall a comment made when he survived the plane crash that broke his back (obviously froma replay, since I am only 43). The commentator said it was a miracle he had survived. Hearing that and reflecting on what has happened to him and his family, I thought that the best way to describe his life is both tragic and miraculous.
Since, as I said above, I never met him, it follows that I do not have much to say beyond that. I cannot comment on the true person, just the public persona. However, his death does mark a loss for America and we must hope for someone worthy to step into the vast vacancy he has left.
Out of respect for the dead, hateful comments against him should be held off to at least tomorrow. Decency requires at least that degree of restraint.
In a somewhat controversial move, some US airlines have implemented a policy of charging large passengers extra. The gist of the policy is that if someone cannot fit comfortably in a normal seat, they will be required to purchase a second seat or upgrade to business class. This policy mainly targets obese people, although it would presumably also apply to other large folks.
While some have accused the airlines of simply trying a new scheme to make money, the airlines have defended this policy by asserting that large passengers “infringe” on the comfort of other passengers and point to various complaints made by passengers about this problem.
As of now, this practice is legal in the United States. Her neighbor to the north has a different policy: Canada considers being morbidly obese to be a disability and hence large passengers are entitled to an extra seat at no extra charge. Since this is an essay on ethics, the key issue here is whether or not this practice is morally acceptable. I contend that it is and will defend my view with the arguments that follow.
When assessing the morality of this action, one relevant point to consider here is what the airline is selling when it sells a ticket. If the airline is selling a single seat, then it is selling (or rather renting out) a specifically sized area. If someone exceeds that area, then they would need to buy more space. To use an analogy with time, if I rent a car for a day, but use it for two days, then I would obviously owe more for that extra day. If I refused to pay for that extra day, then I would be, in effect, stealing the car for a day. Intuitively, stealing is morally unacceptable. If the analogy with time holds, then the airlines are in the right to charge more and passengers who infringe on others would be stealing space. As such, it should be concluded that it is morally acceptable for the airlines to require larger passengers to purchase the extra space that they use rather than allowing them to steal it from other passengers.
My point is also supported by the fact that the airlines sell their business/first class seats at a higher price than the economy/coach class seats. Obviously, the first class passengers are getting transported to the same destination as everyone else on the flight. As such, they are not paying more for the actual transportation from one airport to (hopefully) another. What they are paying extra for is more space (plus perhaps a few extra amenities). So, if more space costs more, then large people should have to pay more if they need the extra space. Returning to the analogy about time, larger passengers who infringe into the space of other passengers would be like people who want to pay for one day’s rental of a car, yet keep it for two days. Obviously, if they need the car for two days, then they should rent the car for two days rather than one. Likewise, if someone cannot fit into one seat, then they would need to purchase enough space for their needs.
The point can be made even stronger by changing the analogy slightly. Since the larger passenger is infringing into the space of his/her fellow passengers, then the analogy would be to a person who needs to rent a car for two days but rather than paying for a second day s/he decides to take someone else’s rented car to use on the second day. This would clearly be a case of theft (unless the other person consents, of course) and hence would be morally unacceptable.
Such an intrusion can also be seen as a violation of the other passengers’ rights. After all, the passengers around the large person have paid for their seats and hence have a moral and legal right to that space. While property rights can be endlessly debated, if a person pays for something and there is no reason to think that the person has acted wrongly, then it seems reasonable to conclude that the person has a moral right to that purchase. Given that property rights are well established, the burden of proof would be on those who would contend that such a purchase does not provide a property right, albeit a temporary one.
So, if someone else intrudes into that purchased space without permission or compensation, then that would be a violation of the owner’s property right. Since such a violation would be, as argued above, on par with theft it is evident that such an intrusion would be immoral. To protect the rights of the other passengers the airlines would thus be in the right to require larger passengers to purchase more space so as to allow the other passengers to fully exercise their property rights.
To use another analogy, to allow large passengers to intrude into the space of other passengers would be like a property manager allowing a person to park his boat partially across someone else’s driveway because he did not have enough room to park it in on his own property. While it would be nice of the neighbor to share her driveway space, it is her driveway and the neighbor has no right to make such an intrusion. As such, if he wants to have his big boat, then he will need to find a place large enough to park it. Likewise, a large passenger who cannot fit into one seat would need to park himself in a space large enough to allow the other passengers to exercise their property rights to the space they have purchased. Since the airlines are selling the space it is acceptable and perhaps even obligatory for them to ensure that this takes place. Since the way to ensure that this happens is by requiring larger folks to purchase more space, this practice is morally acceptable.
While the above analogies are quite reasonable, there are some objections that are well worth considering. It is to these that I now turn.
The above arguments rest on the assumption that the airlines are selling space. However, if the airlines are only selling passage to a destination, then charging extra for a large person would be unfair. After all, they are receiving no more than anyone else on the plane, namely a trip to the specified destination. The fact that they take up more space would not, it might be argument, be relevant. To use an analogy, consider an “all you can eat” buffet. If I go to the buffet with a friend and I eat twice as much as she does, I would not be charged extra. After all, I am purchasing the right to eat all I can and not purchasing a set amount of food. Obviously, if I was paying by the item, then the more I ate, the more I should pay. Likewise, if passengers are paying for transportation, then the fact that one passenger uses more space would not be relevant. They need to be provided with the space they need in order to be transported to the destination in question. After all, that is what they paid for.
The obvious reply to this objection is that airlines are not just selling passage to a destination. As pointed out above, airlines charge more for the larger business/first class seats. As such, they are selling space in addition to passage. To use an analogy, think of the shipping a package. While the service is to send a package from one location to another, the price of shipping varies with the weight of the package and not just the destination. This is because it costs the shipper more to ship heavier packages. Likewise, the price of a ticket varies with both the destination and the space. Thus, it would be morally acceptable for airlines to charge more for larger passengers because they are using more space. This is a relevant difference, as shown by the analogy, and hence it justifies a difference in treatment.
Another point to consider is the fact that being obese is considered by some to be a disability. From a moral standpoint, it is generally expected that people with disabilities should receive the same services and access without being compelled to pay more. For example, if a business put a toll gate on the handicap ramps that allowed access to the store, then that would be regarded as outrageous. Likewise, to charge obese people more because they have the need for more space could also be seen as outrageous and immoral.
Of course, one important distinction is that being obese is generally seen as the result of decisions on part of the obese person rather than a true disability. While some people are genetically predisposed to being obese, how much a person eats and how much they exercise is a matter of choice. Since they could reduce their weight, the rest of us are under no obligation to provide special accommodations for them. This is because they could take reasonable steps to remove the need for such accommodations. To use analogy, imagine someone who insisted that they be provided with a Seeing Eye dog because she wants to wear really dark sunglasses all the time, even at night. Obviously, since she does not need to wear such glasses, there is no obligation to provide her with the dog. If she wants to pay to have a dog trained so she can wear her glasses, then that would be another matter. Likewise, if someone wants to live in a way that results in a size that infringes into the space of others, then they must expect to pay for their own special accommodations.
A final point worth considering is the fact that some large people are not obese. A person might simply be larger than the very cramped seats that most airlines provide. For example, I am fairly thin but I can barely fit into the typical coach seat. Since such people cannot be expected to be smaller than they are, it would seem unfair to charge them more simply because of their unavoidable size.
One reply is that if the airlines are going to charge large people extra, then they are obligated to provide adequate space based on the size of average adult humans. If they do this, then charging larger people more would be acceptable. To use an analogy, clothing companies often charge extra for extra large (and larger) t-shirts and other clothing. This is because the larger clothing uses more material. Likewise, if the airlines provide adequate basic seating, then they can charge more for larger folks based on the same logic. Naturally, the large folks cannot help being large, but this is a relevant difference that justifies their paying more. Using another shipping analogy, it is not the fault of a box of metal cups that it is heavier than a comparable box of Styrofoam cups. However, the weight difference is relevant: it costs more to transport heavier items and hence a shipping company may justly charge more. The same would, it seems, apply to large people.
Another analogy that can be used is a meal at a restaurant. Presumably, a meal is designed so that it will satisfy the hunger of an average person. If a person who is very hungry purchases such a meal and it does not fill him up, then he would need to buy more food. He cannot expect that being able to eat more than average entitles him to additional food at no extra cost. Likewise, a larger person who cannot fit in an average seat would need to buy more space.
Thus it can be safely concluded that charging a larger passenger for an extra seat or an upgrade is morally acceptable if s/he cannot fit properly in one seat.
I’m now twenty weeks out from my quadriceps tendon repair surgery. I have been pool running for a few weeks and can walk almost completely normally now. I even started jogging a bit, just to see what my leg can do.
As you might imagine, my attempt at jogging is rather ugly. I call it jogging because 1) it sure ain’t running and 2) I am jogging in the literal meaning of the term. The main thing is that my left leg doesn’t quite recall how to run, so it sort of catches a bit-thus the jogging.
Not surprisingly, the effect is a rather ugly one. No, I don’t mean how I look, although my jealous detractors might say otherwise (yes, I mean you). Mainly it is ugly because it is, well, ugly. Being sensible and sensitive to others, I try to practice my jogging out of the sight of others by sticking to the woods. Of course, sometimes people do see me.
Person:“Say, son are y’all okay? Did a possum bite your leg or maybe a rattlesnake? Or is you having one of them there seizure things? I hope not, you know that Obama’s health care plan is to euthanize sick people. Just like those Nazis.”
Me: “Nah. I’m just trying to learn how to run again. I had knee surgery a while back.”
Me: “Hey, it isn’t that bad.”
Person: “Son, if y’all could see it, you’d know I’m a’speaking God‘s own truth. Its a wonder He doesn’t put you down. You know, in all His mercy and that. If ya want, I kin get my shooting iron and put yer down.”
Me: “I’m good.”
Person: “Suit yerself son. I’m goin ta avert my eyes now while ya hobble away. My dawg is to.”
Q: Speaking of Hitler, I heard that the health care plan will be a Nazi plan. Is this true?
A: Nothing could be further from the truth.
Q: Whew, that is a relief…
A: Wait, I’m not done answering. It will be ten thousand times worse than the Nazis. At least. Probably much worse.
Q: Um, yeah. I also heard that Obama plans to kill old people. Is that true?
A: Not at all. Killing them would waste valuable resources. His plan is to put them to work at GM. After they drop dead assembling socialist cars, any usable organs will be harvested and the leftover bits will be made into pet food. Or maybe people food, perhaps something called Soylent Gray. You know, like in the movie.
Q: Soylent Green?
A: Yes. That one.
Q: Health care sounds expensive. How will Obama pay for it?
A: He’ll tax the f@ck out of everybody. Especially people like you. He’ll double f@ck you. I bet you won’t like that.
A: Yes. Here, try a sample McPerson burger.
Q: Any trans fat in it?
A: No. McPerson meat is 100% trans fat free. Plus it is free range and organic. By that I mean that the old people sleep outside when they aren’t making cars and they mostly eat what they can find around the factories. Things like weeds, mice and pigeons. Sometimes each other. It is best not to ask, really.
Q: Back to health care. What can I expect to get from the plan?
A: Taxed. And double f@cked taxed.
Q: I mean, what about my medical care?
A: Well, a Nazi bureaucrat will get between you and your doctor. Plus, you’ll have no choice. If the bureaucrat says that you need a hysterectomy, then you get one.
Q: A hysterectomy? But I’m a man.
A: You won’t be after that operation. But that was just an example. Maybe he’ll decide that you need to be euthanized. It is all up to the bureaucrats. They will probably just spin a wheel or something to see what to do. But in any case you’ll have to wait a long time before seeing a doctor. You’ll probably be dead long before your appointment.
Q: Can I keep my old insurance? I have Blue Cross and Blue Shield?
A: No. Obama is going to round up all the people who work for insurance companies and put them into camps. Like I said, it is a Nazi health care plan. You can keep your old plan, but everyone who worked for that company won’t need health care anymore. If you get what I mean.
Q: Is this all true?
A: As far as you know.
As the health care debate continues, the hyperbole gets even worse. At a recent town hall meeting, a woman asked Barney Frank why he supports a “Nazi” health policy. Frank reacted in a fairly extreme way to this question and made an inquiry about what planet the women spends most of her time.
On one hand, Frank’s reaction was quite reasonable. After all, he is Jewish and to suggest to him that Obama’s health care plan is akin to what the Nazis did would certainly strike a nerve. Further, the comparison between what Obama has proposed and what the Nazis did is an absurd piece of hyperbole and fear mongering. As such, this sort of comparison is wrong in two primary ways. First, it serves to stoke the fires of unreasonable fear in people who apparently do not know any better. This is, of course, why it works-people are not sure what the plan truly involves and are worried. Ignorance plus fear creates an easy breeding grown for even greater fear. Second, such comparisons are demeaning to the people who suffered under and those who fought against Nazism. While there are grounds to criticize the health care plans, it is nothing like Nazism and to make that comparison is both logically flawed (it is a crappy analogy) and morally flawed.
The use of such scare tactics and hyperbole is, of course, rather effective. As noted above, people are worried about health care and it is very complex. As such, fear and ignorance are available as exploitable commodities and the various folks who are against health care are exploiting them as effectively as they can. Of course, this is harmful to America. Rather than discussing the real pluses and minuses of various plans, we are being sidetracked by these absurd sort of comparisons. My thought is that if Obama’s health care plan is truly flawed, then the opponents should be able to show that without resorting to absurd Nazi comparisons, scare tactics and what seem to be outright fabrications.
On the other hand, Frank should be aware that some people are genuinely worried that Obama’s health care plan will really be on par with some sort of Nazi plan. Thanks to irresponsible rumors, there are folks who really and sincerely believe that Obama’s plan includes euthanizing old folks.
While it might seem ridiculous that people need to be told that Obama has no plans to kill grandma and grandpa, the fear is there. As such, the Democrats need to (absurdly enough) address those fears. While the fears might be manufactured, they are now genuine fears and hence worthy of some attention.
It does bother me that there are people who are intentionally generating baseless claims that are wasting our time and distracting us from meaningful discussions of the issues. I have no objection against people being critical of Obama’s policies and, in fact, I encourage that (as Socrates argued, gadflies are good). What I am opposed to are these hateful rumors. Those folks who are against Obama’s plans should be presenting reasoned arguments against them and offering alternatives rather than creating and spreading hateful rumors. These rumors do not do America any good and, in fact, hurt us by creating needless fear and dragging the discourse into absurd realms.
For the folks on the right, my comments also apply to rumor mongers on the left as well. As a specific example, George Bush is no more a Nazi than Obama.