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IEET > Staff > J. Hughes > Hank Pellissier > Fellows > Affiliate Scholar > Mike Treder > Nick Bostrom

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Big Changes Afoot for the IEET in 2012

Posted: Dec 16, 2011

After six years serving as the IEET’s Chairman of the Board, Nick Bostrom will be stepping down and assuming the role of IEET Senior Fellow. And after three years service as managing director of the IEET, Mike Treder will be stepping down to be an IEET Fellow.  IEET Affiliate Scholar Hank Pellissier will be replacing Mike as Managing Director.

First, about Nick Bostrom. It is a testament to our affection and admiration for Nick that we implored him to stay as Chair this long. For years he has had more than enough on his hands running the hugely successful Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, and working on its conferences, papers and collected volumes on Human Enhancement and Global Catastrophic Risks.  We thank him for his guidance and support, and look forward to continuing to promote his work as one of our Senior Fellows, especially his much anticipated forthcoming work on superintelligence and its associated catastrophic risks. 

Second, Mike Treder. Mike was one of the first people who recruited me (J. Hughes) to transhumanism back in 2001, and he was in from the beginning in our work on the World Transhumanist Association Board of Directors, and then the founding of the IEET. After several years of Mike directing the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, and after I was facing the diminution of my time available for running the IEET due to my promotion at Trinity College, I was able to persuade Mike to come on full-time as IEET Managing Director. His passionate engagement has shaped us since then, from his fierce anger at the injustices and idiocies prevalent in the world, to his fervent optimism and hope for a better, more rational, future. He recruited dozens of new contributors, Fellows and Affiliate Scholars, and edited all their disparate contributions patiently and compassionately. He will continue to be an active part of our community, and we look forward to more of his own writing now that he has less of other people’s to edit.

Third, Hank Pellissier. Since Mike recruited him a year ago Hank has had an unerring sense for identifying issues and articulating viewpoints that ring like a bell in the blogosphere. He has generated the most hits on articles, and pages and pages of comments from our community.  Now Hank will be stepping up to help us grow to our next stage, by fundraising, building a more international network of collaborators, and organizing meetings. In the last couple days he has me feeling quite exhausted by his boundless energy and creativity. I think we’re all in for an exciting ride. But I’ll let him speak for himself:

I am thrilled and honored to be assisting the IEET in the future as Managing Director. 

Aside from fundraising and managing the website, and publishing fresh articles by our excellent staff of mind-bending scholars, I will be focusing on organizing conferences, such as “The Moral Brain” conference March 30-April 1 at New York University; then a “Cyborg Buddha” event, an event on technology and secularization, and an event on the enhancement of animal intelligence. I hope to meet many of you as we travel around the United States and the world building the technoprogressive community.

Each event’s success depends on the funding support that IEET obtains.  Please help? Donate to IEET here.

Thanks for your support, and thanks again to Nick and Mike.

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Warm congrats to Hank, and thanks to Mike. Both the artlcles we read and the debates we have on this blog are of truly high quality, and both are in large measure due to Mike’s style of moderation.

Thanks to Nick and Mike. Congratulations and good luck to Hank!

Hank is good luck. Many others here are as well. However if it is for some reason difficult to convince more women to write at IEET, might you convince younger men to do so? would you ask Christian C. to write a piece to be edited and enlarged for posting?

You don’t want IEET to be excessively dominated by middle-aged men, do you?

“You don’t want IEET to be excessively dominated by middle-aged men, do you?”

Good point. And yes it would be good to get some more female voices on this blog as well.

First,  a warm embrace to Nick and Mike for doing such an awesome job—and a hearty congratulations to Hank!  It will be a pleasure to work with you and I hope to meet you f-t-f soon!

We’ll post the Top Twelve 2011 IEET articles soon,
and women are extremely well represented.
A woman wrote the #1 most-popular article last year,
and 7 of the top 12 were either written by women,
or were about a women’s issue.
Mike did a tremendous job of bringing more women in.

In 2012 there’ll be at least two new women writers added to the blog,
a Canadian ethicist/feminist and a Russian biochemist.
Plus there are articles slated on women’s rights topics.

To find out about writing for IEET, contact

I guess it’s the comment threads that still tend to be quite male-dominated.
So Linda, keep posting!

For fuck’s sake, let’s try to move beyond this gender war, shall we.

A good article is a good article, a bad article is a bad article, a good comment is a good comment, and a bad comment is a bad comment, regardless of the writer’s gender.

I enjoy the many good articles and comments here, and I am totally uninterested in what type of genitals the writers have, or what they like to do with them.

Hi Giulio -

I don’t think it is unhealthy or foolish to be, in your words, “interested in what type of genitals the writers have, or what they like to do with them.” I appreciate your point of view, but it makes sense to me that many readers want to hear the opinions of a more diverse staff.

Hank - so do I. I want to hear many opinions here. Regardless of gender, skin color, or sexual preferences.

Sorry to see you step down Mike! Here’s hoping to see more articles and social comment from you, now that you have more time on your hands? Thanks for your contributions and critical thinking.

Hank.. Good luck! Mike has set a benchmark in standards to maintain here, (you may perhaps now find yourself with less time on your hands?) ;0]

It would be good to encourage not just more female commentators, but “more” commentators? It’s obvious that there are many readers here at IEET and yet many do not find motivation to comment?

I find that strange?

@Giulio Yes, this is the old debate between “affirmative action” (or whatever you want to call it) and trying one’s best to be gender-blind, race-blind, etc. The latter is tempting, but like so many of your extreme liberal/libertarian views it is a counsel of perfection. In other words, it’s naive. It just doesn’t work like that. Suggesting that it would be good to have more female voices on the comment thread here isn’t carrying on a gender war. And in case you’re about to come up with a thin-end-of-the-wedge argument like “then why don’t we insist on having more race diversity, more physically challenged commenters, more left-handlers” or whatever, the answer is “because we happened to be focusing on gender, and we don’t want to complicate things.” Relax. (And by the way I’m left-handed, in case it’s any consolation. My one claim to being in a discriminated-against minority, unless not being in a discriminated-against minority is itself a discriminated-against minority. Hi Godel).

@Hank Taking about discriminated-against minorities, maybe I should get round to writing that article about bankers. smile

Cygnus—interesting idea - yes, I would love to recruit more commentators, not sure how to do it—I suppose I could search the internet for garrulous, obsessive, and perhaps female posters and encourage them to move here.

Whenever a new poster does appear, it’s always nice to say HI and encourage them to drop by on a regular basis.

@Peter - yes, I think affirmative action is crap. I know many highly skilled women who rose to the top with talent, dedication, discipline, and hard work… and everyone assumes they are at the top only because of their genitals. Like many inventions of bureaucrats, AA hurts especially those it wishes to protect.

@Giulio - yes, that’s the argument we’ve all heard 10000 times before. It has some merit to it, sure. But can you really not see the other side of this one? Have you come across empirical studies that shed light on this? How would one design them? These women you know (and I also know several) who have “risen to the top” (though personally I dislike this kind of gravitational metaphor, I’ve seen what damage *that* can do) through talent dedication, discipline, and hard work… can you be so sure that affirmative action hasn’t played a role in creating the conditions that made that possible. It would be lovely if we lived in a world where talent, dedication, discipline, and hard work ensured one’s rise to the top. Unfortunately it also depends on other things, such as what you’re surname happens to be, and yes, what kind of genitals you happen to have. My impression is that affirmative action has played a positive role in correcting at least some of these problems. Like most remedies, it also has side effects, such as the one you mentioned.

Bankers, bureaucrats… seem to have a lot of scapegoats Giulio.

Giulio, I wouldn’t be so quick to condemn affirmative action—I have witnessed a number of occasions (particularly when it comes to law enforcement and especially in the 1980s) where the AA laws forced certain bastions of male dominance to at least interview women.  And guess what? These same men were really surprised when they found women candidates who were qualified.  And given a choice, they would have not even looked twice. 

The motivation of the law was to have people in charge look at candidates they would not have previously consider because of their biases.  My observation was that it worked in many circumstances and helped bring about a change in attitudes.

@Linda - you said it: in the 80s. That was 30 years ago. Nowadays, selection committees interview women first, and always give them preference when other factors are equal. This battle has already been fought, and won, and if f today there are discrimination, they are very often in the other sense.

@Peter - “scapegoats” are those who take the blame for things that they are not responsible of. I know as _facts_ that many bankers have raped society with their greed, and many bureaucrats have screwed it up with their corruption and idiocy.

@Peter, to make the point even clearer. I could start making examples very close to your home, which used to be mine until a few years ago. Everyone who has been in a selection committee, and I have been in a lot, can remember situations where a committee has been forced by political pressure to take an idiot, just because she was a woman.

@Giulio “many bankers have raped society with their greed” is not a fact, it’s an opinion, and a rather simplistic one. Similarly, accusing bureaucrats of “corruption and idiocy” is not particularly helpful.

This discussion started because intomorrow suggested it would be good to convinced more women (and younger men) to write here. How did we get from there to idiotic bureaucrats?

On your last point, Giulio: since all bureaucrats are apparently idiots, I guess choosing “an idiot, just because she was a woman” at least didn’t make things worse.

Last comment (I see that I am outnumbered by the PC army, and I don’t consider this issue very important). I am blind to gender, race, and sexual and lifestyle preferences, because I don’t consider these things relevant in the least. A few months ago Hank published a great interview with a very smart new politician, much younger than most of us here. She said: “<i>We see ourselves as post-gender, so we don’t even ask for gender in the member application.</i>” This is, I think, the right attitude.

If only everyone were blind to gender, race, sexual and lifestyle preferences, like you, Guilio! ;>)  It surely would make life easier!

“If only everyone were blind to gender, race, sexual and lifestyle preferences, like you, Guilio! ;>) It surely would make life easier!”

Indeed, but simply wishing it were so isn’t going to make it happen. Unlike Giulio I *do* see this as an important issue. Furthermore, *nobody*, including Giulio, is blind to gender, race, sexual and lifestyle preferences. Numerous psychological studies have shown this. Affirmative action works precisely because it compensates for deeply ingrained prejudices that we *all* have. Sticking one’s head in the sand and hoping the issue will go away isn’t a clever strategy.

Besides, making life easier isn’t the goal, is it? Life would be easier if we were all dead.

@ great comments here!  I do plan on bringing in more women writers, and people “of color” from distant corners of the world. - BUT I hope Giulio lets me know if he regards them as idiots, and suspects they got on only because of skin color or genitalia.  I am sure that he will!

@Peter re “*nobody*, including Giulio, is blind to gender, race, sexual and lifestyle preferences.”

Sorry Peter, I really am. In most cases, it just come natural to me. In those rare cases where it doesn’t, I force myself to be blind to these things anyway. I can do this myself, without being forced by Big Brother, thank you very much. Note: if BB wants to force me, I might stop doing this, just for the fun of disobeying BB. So, BB, please keep the fuck away from me.

@Hank re “I hope Giulio lets me know if he regards them as idiots, and suspects they got on only because of skin color or genitalia. I am sure that he will! “

I most certainly will. No blank check here, my friend, I will judge each case by its specific merits:-)

Can somebody fix this? Replies are converted from smart text with some <b>html markup</b> to plain text, and newlines are ignored.

Hank, here is a suggestion for you:

“Sorry Peter, I really am. In most cases, it just come natural to me. In those rare cases where it doesn’t, I force myself to be blind to these things anyway.”

Giulio, I’m sure you make conscious efforts to contemplate for any biases you become aware of, without, as you say, the help of Big Brother. But how do you know what’s going on the rest of the time? What about the subconscious biases, the ones you’re not aware of?

Yeah.. that’s right!

And another thing, let’s not leave out the “little people”

“Oompa Loompa, do-ba-dee-doo,
I’ve got a perfect puzzle for you.”

Luv that “people of color?” - WTF! Does that mean? People are not different colors are they?

It’s no wonder nobody else comments at this site these daze - it reads like a technoprogressive old peoples home! (Oopsie - NOT that I’m ageist, obviously)

Geeeeezus.. it is just so difficult to communicate progressive ideals with all this PC nonsense obfuscating the real issues.

And it’s called “Positive discrimination” not “Affirmative Action”?

@Peter re “What about the subconscious biases, the ones you’re not aware of?”

If I am not aware of them, then they don’t influence my actions. If they don’t influence my actions, I leave them alone: I don’t censor others’ thoughts, and I certainly don’t censor mine. When biases can influence my actions, I consider ignoring them as an act of basic decency to the other persons affected. Without BB’s help.

“If I am not aware of them, then they don’t influence my actions.”
??? Do you know *anything* about psychology? I am influenced every second of the day by biases of which I am unaware.

Interesting, though, how Europeans too can be neurotic…in this case when it comes to anything that smells vaguely “PC”. Still I quite like the idea of a technoprogressive old people’s home!

CygnusX1 - you live in London, so perhaps you know some Oompah-Loompahs that would like to write for IEET?  that would be great!  They are very under-represented on our staff, especially the female queer Ooompah-Loompahs of color.

You and Giulio seem to be presenting yourself as a bit more evolved than the rest of us. Congratulations to you on your high self-esteem!

I am going to continue looking for more diversity on our writing staff, because many people are as un-evolved as I am, and we think wide representation is interesting.

If you want to write for IEET yourself, and express your superior opinions, you can send me an email at describing what topic you’d like to address.

So who is replacing Bostrom as Chairman?

@Peter - Perhaps I have not expressed myself clearly, let me try again. If the consequences of my actions can affect others, I consider ignoring my biases as an act of basic decency to the other persons affected, and try hard to ignore them. If the consequences of my actions don’t affect others, my biases are my own business. Is this clearer?

@Hank re “you seem to be presenting yourself as a bit more evolved than the rest of us.”

Not at all. I think I have made it very clear, and on many occasions, that I just don’t believe in absolute right or wrong. I don’t say that my way is better or “more evolved” than your way. I just say that it is my way.

@ Giulio - I was being ironic, and it was largely addressed to Cygnus, but also to you.  I am sincerely sincerely sincerely glad that you have the point of view that you have, and I sincerely do want you to notify me if you think I am behaving in a too-PC manner.  But I am also proceeding to look for Ooompah Loopahs and other demographics that we have not given voice to.

@Hank re “I am also proceeding to look for Ooompah Loopahs and other demographics that we have not given voice to. “

And I will be happy to read their articles and comments, if they are good (and I am sure they will be). But because they are good, not because they have been written by persons belonging to specific demographics.

Hank, I don’t have a sense of superiority, this may be you projecting your sense of inferiority onto me? And I always offer my points of argument openly for contemplation and debate and rejection with a question mark?

And yes indeedy let’s encourage more diversity, more people, young, fresh, vital, energetic, open-minded, critical-thinking, positive-thinking, minds? Let’s have these article threads busting at the seems, with solutions seekers and comments and debate flying at you from all parts of the globe, at all hours!

Anyway, this is turning out to be the most obscure “PC” orientated old peoples thread I have ever, ever read?

The point that poor ole Giulio was tryin’ to make, (once again), was one of neutrality - that you should direct attention to accepting contributions from queer/not-queer, female/non-female, short/not-short, colored/non-colored, Oompah-Loompahs? Now calm down, it’s nearly Xmas, this is only your first week, moderation requires critical thinking and diplomacy and a sense of fun – and transhumanism can be fun? (Thanks for your invite, if and when I feel that I have something of “quality” to offer I may just take you up on your offer). Perhaps you could also claw some writers back from hplus magazine, (Valkyrie)? And also, there is loads and loads of archived stuff and subject matter here at IEET that could do with a re-surface, you could dig some out, dust it off, and it may just provoke new and fresh debate?

“If the consequences of my actions can affect others, I consider ignoring my biases as an act of basic decency to the other persons affected, and try hard to ignore them. If the consequences of my actions don’t affect others, my biases are my own business. Is this clearer?”

Clear as water, Giulio, but IMO insufficient, for three reasons. 1. It’s impossible to “ignore” biases, even if you are aware of them. What you can do is try to compensate for them. 2. The whole thing we’re discussing is how to compensate for biases of which you are unaware, but which nevertheless affect your actions towards others. We all have them, and by definition you can’t compensate for them consciously, on a case by case basis, because you are unaware of them. So you need some overall approach, which will necessarily be crude and have negative consequences (such as the one you cited), but are likely to be helpful in addressing systemic obstacles as alluded to by Linda. 3. All this is assuming that everyone is as enlightened, careful and (I assume!) honest as you are. They aren’t.

Cygnus - I have a long list of topics - with headlines - I’d like to get writers to write, many are just interviews, easy to do. I thought of contacting Valkyrie but he is quite comfortable I think at Acceler8or, I’m glad he found a regular place, also I am sure IEET likes “real names” because I was Hank Hyena at hplusmagazine but here, I’m required to use my birth name.  And I like it that way.  I like IEET’s more academic stance. There will be lots of new and unexplored topics at IEET in the immediate future because there is new and unexamined tech arriving all the time that requires new ethical discussion. I particularly like the promises and perils of neurotechnology

Placing to one side for a moment gender/ethnicity, let’s think on how youths need to access vox populi a bit more. Both the Arab Spring and OWS share a common denominator, putting it in the vernacular, youths get busted (in the Mideast, youths get their heads busted: change=casualties).
Elders possess the wealth; Bill Gates reportedly has $98 billion, and though it is his money to keep, he has no right to power and no right to be remotely involved in sending youths to die and be maimed in defense of the status quo—which includes Gates’ status quo. Pastor Alex can tell us in more detail how everyone plays the game of pretending their actions aren’t actually affecting others and the substrate negatively in some ways, when they sense that they are in fact doing so.
Getting off the social science soapbox, there is a simple way to inveigle a youth or two to do a piece at IEET and the other h+-oriented sites: have the youth canvass peers and others to discover if they are aware of h+. That way the youth can write an article on their peers’ reactions, plus if the surveyees don’t know of h+ beforehand, they will know after the subject is broached.
Naturally, the topic of the survey can be something else, say just for example life-extension. Leave it up to the writer.

There seems to be this notion that there are no “youths” writing for IEET.  There are a number of 25 year olds writing - and writing heavily read articles - and certainly many under 30’s.  Is that young enough or are you wanting 20 year olds?  There was also an article written about the German Pirate Party where the entire leadership was under 30.  I am sure AGE is not a criteria here, no one has ever been refused a writing spot because they were too young.  I have a list of many articles that I’d like to see written, especially interviews, and I am open to new writers who want to contribute. I do like the idea of a survey, but I’m not sure it would reveal much.  I didn’t know anything about IEET until I was interested in the topics it covered… if anyone at any age is interested in IEET topics, I’m sure they’d find the site…

@Peter re “you need some overall approach” - I prefer a case by case approach, perhaps with a very lean “overall approach” if we really need it. But if we do need an overall approach, it can only be “do not discriminate against anyone on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual preferences, etc.” Because, you see, _any_ other overall approach will discriminate against someone.

@Giulio Yes, I like the idea of a lean overall approach”, and of course non-discrimination has to be the overarching principle. Our disagreement concerns the extent to which it is legitimate to introduce “positive discrimination” (to use CygnusXI’s indeed less euphemistic terminology) to fix systemic biases within society.

One way in which such biases work is through the development of mores and practices that resonate well with the in-group that happens to dominate a particular profession, social or business stratum. Affirmative action is a crude but very effective way of breaking down that kind of monopoly. We don’t need to agree here and now on whether the benefits of such an approach outweigh the costs, but can you at least agree that there are benefits?

@Peter re “can you at least agree that there are benefits?”

I agree that there _have been_ benefits in the past, for example in the 80s where (as Linda mentioned) positive discrimination was used to force selection committees to consider candidates that they would not have considered otherwise. But I fail to see the benefits of positive discrimination in today society. Today, if there is discrimination, it is usually in the other sense, or at least this has been my own experience so far.

5.3.5. Positive discrimination

Positive discrimination ( affirmative or positive action) is an efficient way of fighting discrimination because de jure equality alone is generally not enough to guarantee de facto equality. So-called positive action is used to grant preferences in a specific area to specific sections of the population which are under-represented in that area.

Thanks Giulio. I have a somewhat different perspective on this, perhaps because of my personal preferences and circumstances. My general impression is that here in Europe we’ve got the balance about right, on the whole. I think the systemic obstacles often tend to be *very* subtle, while the sometimes absurd consequences of positive discrimination are clear for all to see. Certainly I know plenty of women who feel that the glass ceiling is still very much in place, and who indeed perceive (and deplore) a retrenchment of the advances made in women’s rights. I don’t necessarily agree with them either, but I do think their concerns are real.

@CygnusXI Exactly.

@CygnusX1 - Keywords in this definition: discrimination, preferences. Look my friends, there is no escape. Four is an even number, or otherwise four is an odd number. There is no discrimination, or otherwise there is discrimination. I prefer a society with no discrimination.

@Peter - if there are glass ceilings, we must break them, but not by replacing them with other glass ceilings. A pink glass ceiling and a blue glass ceiling are both glass ceilings.

hello fellas—This affirmative action topic could be used in an IEET poll, or as a pro-and-con article.  There are enough comments here… maybe it’s nearly complete!
by the way, here’s two women futurists I’ve approached to be writers, they have 12 books between them, etc etc.—Sohail Inayatullah and Ivana Milojevic at—one is Serbian, the other is Pakistani—who remembers the Rainbow Coalition of Jesse Jackson about 25-30 years ago?  that was fun, wasn’t it?

@Hank - I suggest a pro-and-con article with an attached poll. It is important to make the poll complete and all options clear.

@Giulio How about I write the pros and you write the cons smile

I love the idea—I can run the article in early January and then put up the poll after the article has been up about 5-6 days.  Do you want any assistance?  I think you don’t need it.  And I think it is already 3/4-written.  I think it would be fun if it started with, “We decided to write this article after Hank announced in the comments section that he was going to bring in more women and ‘people of color’ as writers for the IEET blog.” That way it becomes immediately relevant to what the readers are doing. I hope the article maintains the slightly pissed-off-at-each other tension that’s evident here.
I wish we could get Cygnus involved too - what say ye Cygnus?  I do think this debate form has potential to be very interesting—what do you want to debate Cygnus, and with whom?  But you will have to reveal yourself with your real name, you masked bandit. WE should dig up post-futurist and expose him as well, and he and Cygnus can go at it.  Valkyrie Ice is also a hotbed of opinions, I will notify her…
BTW - I need to correct my earlier posting, Ivana is indeed a woman, but Sohail is not. He’s a man. My apologies.

My real name indeed! how dare you sir? (with only rudimentary investigative skills this may yet be uncovered, even here at IEET?), and me thinks that Postfuturist is much closer than you are aware Hank.. HELLO!!!? Thanks again for your kind invitation, (and “positive discrimination”), but I really must help Santa as promised this year, and.. I also have a day job to hold down, so don’t have much time presently. However, your plan seems intriguing, a sort of head to head, article/counter article type format.. Hmm?

Dear Cygnus - cloaked commenter, poster-in-the-shadows - do contemplate the argumentative format that I have proposed, and are you implying post-futurist, that Jackal, is lurking close amongst us ?  I don’t recognize his demented writing voice.  But you… I will track you down with Investigative Skills 101. I do have someone, Nikki Olsen, who might be willing to debate a dastardly Libertarian.  Also, the daring Dane, Joern Pallensen, is a pitbull in the forensic ring is anyone wishes to verbally spar with him. Or should we have Giulio and Peter battle repeatedly on a wider variety of issues, like the value of the EU?

Well, I’m in! Like you say Hank, it’s already 3/4-written…

@Hank re postfuturist, you really haven’t been paying attention! smile

PS I seem to remember going head-to head with Joern (and yourself), would love to do that in article format as well!

Ooh, and I could also debate with Alex on whether Christians should be allowed to post here! Although come to think of it there are more radical atheists here than I.

Peter—I know postfuturist is now post-postfuturist but I haven’t encountered him recently - am I waaay behind?
What did you debate Joern on?  That would be fun - Danes vs. Brits, a reenactment of King Arthur times.

Peter, I would think a more useful subject for debate would be whether there is still a use for religion in the trans humanist world. 

there are virtually no bean counters at IEET; you must be thinking of Tip O’Neill’s office—but he went South.

“Is that young enough or are you wanting 20 year olds?”

Old enough to write, old enough to publish.

@Alex Indeed, my previous suggestion was somewhat flippant. Yours would indeed be an interesting and useful subject to debate.

@Hank re post(-post)futurist, do you think he might even be lurking on this thread? smile
By contrast we seem to have lost iPan…scared off by the need to register?
Re Joern…remember “draw Mohammed day”? Btw I gather the King Canute (or rather Knud) story has a completely different interpretation in Denmark: more heroic and less foolish! But Joern can confirm or correct…

I think you have more females that comment than you think, however often we don’t stir quite the controversy some of our male counterparts do.  I’ve been reading, posting, etc on this site for at least 4 years (Probably more).  However I find my ideas don’t always ive with the mainstream thought here.  But I digress, just keep in mind you probably have more females here than you think.

Post (post) futurist has been sent to prison for Rootless Cosmopolitanism.

@Intomorrow And for being nasty to Christians! smile It had to happen eventually.

@Pendula This is very interesting. There are a number of men, including myself, who like to comment *very* regularly and occasionally get into long ding-dong debates, such as the one above with Giulio, which in some cases can stretch over dozens of comments. I first started doing that at school with a (male) friend. Kind of a hobby I guess. With women I tend to come to some kind of a conclusion more quickly.

To be honest I haven’t thought deeply about *why* I think we need more female voices here, I kind of got sidetracked by the debate with Giulio! It just seemed like a good idea I guess. Perhaps the wider question is: what kind of debates do we want to have on this blog?

If women aren’t stirring up as much controversy here as some of us men, I don’t think it can be because you’re ideas don’t fit with the mainstream. Surely this would have the opposite effect? I think it’s maybe because you don’t hammer away trying to convince others of your point of view to quite the same extent. Maybe because you’ve got better things to do. smile

By the way, one female contributor and regular commentator I haven’t seen for a while is Dorothy Deasy. (Hope I remembered her last name correctly.) Where did she disappear off to?

Yes!  Where is Dor?  I am going to find her… she was a great commenter

@Peter re “I haven’t thought deeply about *why* I think we need more female voices here” -

Because we need more voices! I wish to hear many points of view and interesting thoughts from many voices and, as I may have said on occasions, I don’t care about their gender.

re “@Giulio How about I write the pros and you write the cons” -

I think you can write about pros and cons. Basically, I have just one, very simple argument: discrimination is discrimination, and the only way to avoid discrimination is not to discriminate.

Giulio, you were the one objecting to the idea in the first place! But I’m glad you’ve come round to our way of thinking. So: shall we move away from arguing about discrimination to thinking about *how* we can get more diverse voices? At least that’s something we agree on, right?

@Peter - I have _never_ objected to the idea of having more female voices!!! I am always in favor of diversity and thousands flowers. I just don’t think women are better than men, or the other way around. Some women are better than some men, and some men are better than some women, and that’s all I have to say on gender.

@Giulio Similarly, neither I nor anyone else on this thread has come close to suggesting that women are better than men. It was ALL about getting more female (and younger) voices. Nobody was fighting any gender war. But the issue about affirmative action is, I still think, an important one. Unlike you, I think discrimination in favour of under-represented groups can be beneficial as a way of reducing unfair discrimation globally. Otherwise, it’s a bit like saying the only way to end violence is not to be violent, or the only way to end poverty is not to be poor. It’s just more complicated than that. If you want to avoid discrimation, you need to take affirmative action of some sort. When you are hot, you try to cool down. You don’t just declare that being hot is bad.

Santa, Jesus and rationality..
Do you like Tim Minchin? Then you may just like his blog?

? But the only way to end violence IS not to be violent? Now that really is “Affirmative Action”?

But it’s a serious point CygnusX1. All of us posting on this blog benefit from the civilisation that we like to criticise, supported as it is by the armies, drones, police forces and spies that we like to despise. It is a fantasy to suggest that if by some political decision Western democracies were to do away with these things then the world would suddenly become peaceful. That this argument (like other “ends justifying the means” arguments) has been used to justify all sorts of atrocities does not make it wrong. It means it needs to be applied with caution.

Basically this pertains to a very fundamental belief I have about causality. There’s what you want, and there’s how to make it happen. Suppose we want a peaceful world. Will we get that by unilaterally being peaceful ourselves? No. It just doesn’t work like that. We have ot understand where violence comes from, and put in place effective strategies to eliminate it, based on evidence, monitoring and adaptation of policy in response to new evidence.

Simplistic arguments like, “The only way to end discrimination is not to discriminate” will not end discrimination.

I just read an excellent book on human violence, by Steven Pinker, called “The Better Angels of Our Nature” - the author’s conclusion is that violence has been decreasing steadily in the last 2,000 years, particularly since the Enlightenment.  His statistics show that factors leading to a decrease in violence include education, nation-states, and increased secularism.

The notion that the State=Violence, according to Pinker, is wildly wrong. Quite the inverse is true.  I heartily recommend the book to people with libertarian impulses, and to those of us who find ourselves constantly arguing with them.

We use violence to get what we want because it works at an instinctual level. Any toddler will react violently when he or she doesn’t get what they want. The trick is to teach non violence. Ironically many parents do this with violence (spanking). It doesn’t work. Teaching and modelling non violence with non violence works. More than once I stood while my young tried to force me to give him what he wanted. I collected a couple of bruises, but he learned that violence will not get him what he desires.

Non violence in and of itself will not remove violence from our culture, you are quite correct. Yet non violence in our own lives will give us a place to start. How can we say to the government to stop war if we beat our children, or intimidate our employees?

If we create policy to stop violence or discrimination, we much be sure that those policies don’t just create a different form of violence or discrimination. They need to come from a play of personal non violence and non discrimination.  Thus “The only way to end discrimination is not to discriminate” may be naive, but it is the first and foundational step.


You are absolutely right about Pinker and the anti-libertarian conclusions of this fantastic book. I plan to interview him, but we should make a bigger deal out of his major points. Maybe a JET colloquia?

@Hank re state education, state control and forced secularism - you are welcome to come visit me here in Eastern Europe anytime. I will introduce you to several persons who remember these things very well. Of course I can introduce you only to those who have survived them—many have not.

@ Peter – I understand your point of argument, yet you are not contemplating the true depth of the statement, so let me first state it again for clarity for all - ? But the only way to end violence IS not to be violent? Now that really is “Affirmative Action”?
Once again this guide to peace and ethical progress dates back thousands of years, before Christ, the Buddha actually practised his ethics of non-violence, his ethic was indeed to “turn the other cheek” and to use mindfulness to overcome anger, fear and the other impulses that lead to violence and conflicts. And it does not stop with the Buddha, his wisdom and ethics was gained from other seers and yogis, and theirs from yet others etc.
This is not to say that we should not protect ourselves from harm and the violence of others, or even help protect others, and this includes intervention of nation states etc. And unfortunately that is still the current state of the world at present, it’s still one of violent unrest and conflicts, all conflicts originating from a failure in reconciling “Human politics” including religious politics?
Yet to prove the point of the statement, (as Alex has already highlighted), let me ask you how many times in your life you have acted with violence? I am guessing there are not many occasions, therefore you already apply the ethic of non-violence yourself everyday? Your nature is one of rationalism and peaceful existence? And so, you already know and understand that it makes sense? The goal is for all Humans to practice this ethic and livelihood of non-violence, and thus the need for the aggression of nation states, wars and conflicts, all of these, will ultimately become redundant? Is this ethic too much for the Trans-human and Posthuman goals and ideals? If not, when should we begin to apply and promote this ethic?

@ Hank – “I heartily recommend the book to people with libertarian impulses, and to those of us who find ourselves constantly arguing with them.”
Not sure what you really mean here? Are you implying that libertarian’s are by nature violent? If so, this must be wrong on so many levels, it makes no sense? This is the main problem concerning polarizing of political views and labelling, that leads to conflicts in the first place?
There are many shades of grey between folks that favour socialism and libertarianism, and I’m not even sure myself where my politics lies exactly, because I am constantly learning and evolving, and the world is also changing around me, so I guess all I can say is that I am “left of centre”? (always choose the middle way Grasshopper, when permissible)? I understand the need for progressive ethics and socialist values to ensure that every child is raised from poverty, starvation and suffering, I understand the need for taxation as a means to share responsibility to promote basic needs for all, yet I also understand that ” The notion that the State=Violence”, can be applied to the oppressive polices of both western democratic nations and communist totalitarian states. Ask any Greek about that statement? When you fail or refuse to pay your taxes, or even fail to send your kid to school, park your car in the wrong place, drop some litter or gum where you should not – what happens? Fines first, then enforcement, (state violence), or worse still, forceful arrest and imprisonment and punishment? That is the meaning of state violence is it not? And it may be equally applied to liberal, libertarian, (conservative), and especially socialist and communist politics?
Haven’t read Pinker’s book, yet it is obvious to me that global and individual violence has been decreasing since the dark ages, I don’t really need any stats to prove that to me? Again, if you really want to promote progressive ethics and non-violence, all you need do is read some ancient wisdom from a “peaceful prophet”, (and not a vengeful and spiteful Human subjective view of God or demiurge)? And I do believe that the world would be a better place if folks did read some basic Buddhism or understood the peaceful ethics promoted in the gospels of the new testament? We all know the words of Jesus Christ, (whether he existed or not as a prophet), promotes brotherly and sisterly love, and “total forgiveness”, yet no one really concerns themselves with this ancient wisdom of the idealist do they? Christmas is, and has been since even I was a kid, promoted purely for reasons of economic misdirection and an exercise in consumerism, to provide increased fiscal stimulus in times of economic downturn, and profiteering in times of economic boom?
Lastly, can’t quite understand why announcements and poll pages are formatted not to permit line breaks, because then it would make it a whole lot easier to read lengthy comments?

Hi Cyngus - I agree with you about the line breaks, it is difficult to read. I don’t know a thing about that yet, my job starts January 1st and then I will look into it.  thanks for the tip!

regarding my comment, yes, libertarians occasionally assert that the state is the root of all violence, and the world would be more peaceful if all nations and armies were disbanded, but history contradicts this.

Personally, I don’t think reading books on peace is going to make people more peaceful. Well, maybe a little.

There’s a lot of damage already caused by the time kids are old enough to read. Studies show that a large percentage of violence is often caused by an IQ range from 80-90.  Certain factors like fetal alcohol syndrome and high lead content in the bloodstream are enormously correlated with violent behavior.

I think violence will decrease if people are fed better, educated better, and allowed to grow up in homes and neighborhoods without violence.

I really am sorry about the lack of line breaks, I understand that it mars the ability to communicate, and I will see what I can do about it

@ Hank - Yes nurture, (by parents who understand rational behaviours, mindfulness, and have read some progressive and ancient ethics that promote non-violence), would help kids before they are able read and to understand this wisdom for themselves? We’ve had this discussion at length before, so I won’t bore everyone with it all again. All kids need to learn the difference between right and wrong behaviours - from us - don’t they? Yes, let’s tackle problems with low IQ, chemical and hormone imbalance that leads to mental behavioural problems - Medicine, Bioethics, diet, lifestyle, philosophy, nurture, are all factors requiring focus. Reading books does not make people more peaceful, yet reading ethics and wisdom leads to enlightenment that makes the “individual” rationalise and choose to follow a more peaceful, and ethical existence? It begins and ends with Self-understanding and reflection and the “lesser vehicle”, we can only change ourselves, and therein lies the responsibility for each of us?

Cygnus—I think a lot of children, a lot of people, and even a lot of us IEET posters, know the difference between ethical and unethical behavior, but we’re unable to control ourselves when we have impulses to be violent or unethical. OUr brains are just not up to the task of being as good as we want ourselves to be, or as good as the books that urge us to be peaceful want us to be.  I think being “better” people is a complicated neurological question, we need a healthier and better-developed neocortex with a larger hippocampus a well-connected corpus calloscum and an amygdala that is restrained. And to get all that, we need a brain-healthy lifestyle from the moment we are conceived onwards.  That is my opinion.  I regard the brain as considerably like a muscle, it needs healthy food and exercise and proper training and just-the-right-amount-of-stress to improve all of its functions.  Religious thought has been around for many many years and has failed to bring anything remotely like world peace to us. The best intentions fail.  To really have peace I think we might need… neurotechnology—MRI scanning knowledge and smart drugs, and maybe some genetic engineering.  I think scientific knowledge can contribute enormously to promoting less violent brains and a less violent society.

@CygnusX1…I don’t actually hold that the goal is for all humans to practise the “ethic and livelihood of non-violence”. Non-violence is more, for me, a means to an end, the end being happiness, well-being, whatever you want to call it…not merely the absence of non-violence.

You suggest that there are not many occasions in which I have acted with violence, and that I already understand that non-violence - reason and peaceful existence - make sense. Well yes, up to a point, although I’ve killed plenty of mosquitoes smile But as Hank says being “better” people is a complicated neurological question, and it has a strong genetic component. Perhaps I just didn’t have the physique when I was growing up to be violent? Perhaps I was just too much of a scared-y-cat? Then I got a job as a civil servant, of all things. Comments I’ve made elsewhere to Alex about intellectuals tending to over-value thinking and reason apply also to non-violence: to those of us whose physique, nature, upbringing or whatever predispose us to non- (or at least limited, or indirect - I eat meat as well) violence, it is comforting to tell ourselves and others that violence is always bad.

So: we’re the police wrong to bring down the guy who was shooting and killing people in Liege the other day? Or was that a good example of using violence to reduce violence? And if it was, why should we not also use discrimination to reduce discrimination?

@Giulio You use straw men far too often. To point out that people have suffered and died at the hands of murderous states is to raise a straw man. Nobody said that states are always benevolent. The claim of Pinker, as quoted by Hank, is that nation-states, overall, have proved to be a factor reducing violence overall. And that’s the whole question: what reduces violence, discrimination, overall. It is irresponsible to take a position on these matters that is so extreme that it would, if applied, cripple the ability of those who want to do good to actually do it. I would love to live in a world without armies, spies and police. Provided that the evils they are protecting me from are also absent.

Good comment, Hank! Gets right to the old family jewels. What I was attempting to tell Pastor Alex is: economics alone trumps morality just to start with, for instance America is more… unruly… IMO than its dear ally Canada—yet also more productive. Ethics is far below economics as a ‘priority’. Pleased you have given Asians a voice at IEET; the following Asian-related subject is what I would like to see written about:

Intomorrow, yes ethics is far below economics because the people allow it to be. There are a great number of groups in the US (check out YES magazine) that are working to change that, the occupy movement among them. I strongly doubt that Americans are that far behind the rest of the world in growing up. People are people regardless of what culture or country they come from. For all Hank’s love of top ten lists, I doubt aside from language if you could tell what country you were in from the way people acted on a daily basis.

Loathe your country all you want, just don’t keep dragging me into it. I am more interested in change than excuses. I believe that change starts with the individual. The more ethical individuals there are the more likely they are to hold government and corporations accountable. We get to choose whether we will be one of those individuals or just a hand wringer on the sidelines.

Hank, yes there are neurological and genetic components to violence, just like everything else, but to suggest that the answer is only in science being able to change us away from our baser nature is back to fatalism. Why would science bother if we don’t choose to take the first steps ourselves? There is, as Intomorrow points out, little economic value at the moment to be had from ethics, so the people who pay for research aren’t going to invest in a morality pill.

We need to start without them, and that means setting aside genetics et al and just getting on with being as ethical as we can.

Intomorrow—I will check out that Asian topic you suggested —I am very interested in covering many Asian topics in 2012—we have articles from India and Israel scheduled, and I am looking (no luck yet) for writers from China, Singapore, Japan, and Pakistan.  Also Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and Australia.

Pastor Alex - IEET defines itself as “techno-progressive” because, yes, we think technology and science can contribute enormously to future betterment of human life, including “ethical behavior.” I think researchers, corporations and governments will all prosper with science/tech contributions to ethical enhancement of our brains - I suggest you read The Ethical Brain by Michael Gazzaniga, a neuroscientist at my alma mater, UC Santa Barbara, and you could also read The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World by Zack Lynch. You could also fly over to attend the IEET conference in March at New York University, it’s called “The Moral Brain.” Plus, IEET is working on another conference for the West Coast, called “Cyborg Buddha” that will be about the intersection between Buddhism and neuro-technology.

Alex, please don’t be a Luddite on this topic - urging people to just “get on with being as ethical as we can” sounds completely ineffectual, pathetic really, very old-fashioned, do you think humans with genetic, environmental and emotional damage or just the normal exasperating stresses of modern life - just need to hear some Church of England sermons? Pardon my opinion, but your urging ethics in this way, and only in this way, sounds like pulpit bullying.

I don’t mean to suggest that this is the only way to improve our species. I am interested in the enhancement through technology and medication. But, as the title of your own book suggests, we need to do what we can while we wait. Striving to live the most ethic lives we can before enhancement will only make enhancement more effective when it comes.

I fear that that our species is like an author who is just waiting for a computer that will lift their book from their mind fully formed so refuses to put fingers to keyboard in the meantime.

Actually I do think the people you describe need to hear encouragement. Better encouragement than to be told that they are hopeless and unable to effect any positive change in their lives. Unfortunately many preachers are so caught up with preaching “you’re sinners and need to be SAVED” or “Just be happy and wait for God to come back and kick ass” to spend and time or thought encouraging their people to actually try living better lives in this world.

When we create medication that improves our ability to empathize, when the Cyborg Buddha project approaches completion, how are we going to convince the people to be part of the change? Will we slip drugs into the drinking water because people are afraid of them?

At some point the neuro-technology will need to be introduced. And we will discover that the book we want to transfer from mind to paper without typing still needs work. We are still the subjects of our need to improve ourselves. At some point along the way are we not going to need to deal with that?

If I don’t just sit back and wait for God to fix things, why would I just wait for technology to do the same thing?

I would dearly love to attend the Moral Brain conference, but even with the generous continuing education allowance I get, it would be too expensive. I have ordered The Ethical Brain and look forward to reading it in between everything else I’m reading.

Alex, no-one is suggesting just sitting around and waiting for technology to come along. That’s another straw man. The issue is rather to what extent do we try to lead by example (whether we’re talking non-violence, non-discrimination or whatever), and to what extent to we promote science and technology to solve problems, and/or the use of violence to combat violence, the use of (positive, or perhaps we should say “compensatory”) discrimination to combat discrimination, and so on. I think it’s clear that at some level change has to being with ourselves - be the change and all that - but my experience to date forbids me to believe that leading by example, amd only that, is always the most effective way to make a difference. Sorry, but that’s just how it is. So Hank is right: we should not set aside genetics. We have a moral responsibility to use and promote technology to improve the world, including ourselves. Otherwise we are *not* being ethical.

Well anyway, Merry Christmas everyone!

Hi Alex—Perhaps I am being naive, but I think many people would like to be ethically better than they are.  I’ve read that the majority of people in prison are there because they lack impulse control - which is tragic, They lack impulse control because their neocortex can’t control their deeper brain impulses, so they are susceptible to acting with poor judgement and violence. 

You’re right, promoting ethical behavior constantly is wonderful, but I don’t think it is enough.  Many of our brains need considerable help so that we can behave better—

I was more thinking of people who think they are just fine and make a great deal of money from not being empathetic. There will also be a lot of people who really desire more self-control.

Happy what ever you celebrate, folks!

“Loathe your country all you want, just don’t keep dragging me into it.”

America is a bad country- yet preferable to the alternative. As Churchill said,
“democracy is a bad system, but better than the rest.”
IMO it isn’t a system, though; more akin to syndicates working in loose concert than a ‘system’.
At any rate, if jingoists in America want to thoroughly demonise Islam, America’s flaws ought to be aired as well. Democratic critique begins at home.

This is the verbatim quote from Churchill:
“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
My judgment call is that America is the worst nation except for all the others. I increasingly dislike the Jingoist Right in America for their insistence on saying America is the “greatest country in the world”—which though it worked in 1945 when the US was the colossus bestriding the globe, today no longer cuts the mustard.

@Intomorrow Quite so, although of course “home” doesn’t necessarily need to mean the nation. Notwithstanding the positive role that nation states have (arguably) played in reducing violence, I think over time we really need to move away from the nation state as the main focus of cultural identity and governance.

By the way, have any of you guys seen the film Carnage? I saw the original French play a couple of years ago (and more recently a much less convincing Broadway version), and I thought both the film and the play were brilliant, but I gather the review in the New York Times was quite negative. It’s quintessentially European, of course, but I think it also gets to the heart of some of the issues we’ve been discussing here.

@Alex I will always celebrate Christmas (which my wife and I did this year by seeing Hugo, another brilliant film), and I will always call it Christmas. I owe at least that much to my Christian upbringing.

Think I’ll become an Islamic, perhaps a Sufi. Living through the ‘70s, I knew all about Hinduism from the Hare Krishnas; you couldn’t get away from them at the airport or at a campus. Buddhism was as prevalent as tofu ‘n’ sprouts.
Islamics in America leave one alone; and we can sympathise with their discomfort at the thinking that America saying it is “the greatest country in the world” is saying ‘to hell with you’ to the rest of the earth—which includes the Mideast.

I find all the discussion of Christianity(etc) that seems to permeate anything tah Pastor Alex sticks his hand into (and not of his own doing might I add) fascinating.  First of all to be a member of a non-aceepted religion or anti religious doesn’t make you more or less rational.  It dies not make you more or less ethical.  You do.  Lets talk for a few moments about moral responsibility and interactions while living on a lower middle class income.  It is then, that one truly has to argue ethics vs finance in daily life.  Now confound the lower economic status with midlevel education and a nonstandard belief system (or lack thereof) and things get really exciting.  Because at that point it doesn’t matter how smart you are, it just matters how you feed and care for and support those who count on you.  I frequently get frustrated with the ivory tower academia I see in here.  Probably not a nice thing to say, but it is very true.  How many of you had to budget this month just to balance the needs of your family, holiday obligations and simply keeping the water and heat on????????  Not whining, just challenging perspective and offerring a distinctly different voice from inside the trenches.

My personal gratitude to Mike for his encouragement, patience and compassion, Thank You!

As far as gender bias and neutrality, lol, Lady Justice still has a job to do, as the scales are still out of balance. Those who deny this may be too lost in their own privilege to see the need.

I find the point (raised by Pendula) about the discussions here being too academic quite interesting. I half agree, in the sense that we might do well to reflect on what each of us wants or expects to achieve by posting comments and articles, or otherwise engaging in them. On the other hand, part of what keeps me coming back is precisely the intellectually rigourous nature of the discussions. We really get to the heart of important issues, and I think religion is one of them. For sure, it’s primarily one’s actions that make one ethical or unethical, but as I have argued elsewhere what we choose to believe and say about religion is also ethically relevant, because it affects others.

@ Peter I did not say they were too intellectual.  I simply raised a point of perspective.  I too come here for the level of conversation, and I actually enjoy the educated levels of discussion.  What I was saying is that the ethics that are so often expounded upon here are only from the perspective of academia and not from the lower working class.

Hi Pendula, I have been both a scholar and spent time living out of the back of a friend’s van. While I’ve never been rich, there were far too many times I needed to make exactly the kind of choices you talk about.

The challenge with ethics is that they need to be useful. I’m not terribly interested in airy fairy philosophical questions. I want to change the world for the better, and start yesterday.

Having said that, true ethics are going to be the same whether you are living in poverty or as a “rich” academic. What will differ is the priorities and way we make the decisions. Pay my hydro or feed my kid? I’ll feed my kid first, then deal with the hydro later. I think ethics should be very pragmatic. One of the reasons for my suggestion of a Code of Responsibility is that I think everyone should be responsible for feeding all the children. That will make life easier for all.

Too often we have a different code of ethics for the rich and the poor. It is OK to steal, but only by the millions of dollars. We need a middle ground between laws carved in stone and no rules at all. Peter has mentioned rule based utilitarianism which is likely very close to the way I operate.

Speaking of Peter, as long as my religion doesn’t affect you, what does it matter? Are you going to argue against my religion if it affects you in a positive way? Religion is only relevant, like everything else, because of the consequences of actions and words taken because of that religion, only then is it relevant to the discussion at hand.

@Pendula Sorry to have misunderstood you. Usually when people say discussions are too academic they mean something like “intellectual”. What would you say is the academic perspective on ethics that you feel is too limited? What is it that you feel we’re missing as a result of our limited experience?

@Alex I generally argue against statements with which I disagree. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “airy fairy philosophical questions” but I do like to get to the bottom of things. Focusing exclusively on the immediately practical can also be limiting. As for “your” religion, I think I’ve made it clear that I see good in it as well as bad (where by “it” I basically mean Christianity, in all its different manifestations). My main point (in response to Pendula) was that, whatever we choose to say about it, discussions about religion ARE ethically relevant. The fact is that, as long as you choose to talk about it (which you do frequently), your religion DOES have an effect on me, and others, both positively and negatively (and in ways that are not obviously either).

Alex got it right: for instance if the hedonist inside a given person overrides better judgment, priorities are naturally warped. If you hypothetically gave a poor family guy $10,000 a month but he spends it on booze, sports events tickets, and hookers, it wouldn’t do his family much good- if at all.
Thus—as in correctional institutions
—rehabilitation needs to change those at the bottom. Everyday I meet those sort of people, and theirs’ is a “get it while you can” outlook. Get It While You Can and responsibility are not mutually inclusive. And if you examine the world carefully you see such is not airy fairy. This is probably obvious to you, Pendula, however you are mistaken if you think IEET is out-of-touch; they know what is going on- they simply don’t know exactly what to do about it.


“As for ‘your’ religion, I think I’ve made it clear that I see good in it as well as bad (where by ‘it’ I basically mean Christianity, in all its different manifestations). My main point (in response to Pendula) was that, whatever we choose to say about it, discussions about religion ARE ethically relevant. The fact is that, as long as you choose to talk about it (which you do frequently), your religion DOES have an effect on me, and others, both positively and negatively (and in ways that are not obviously either).” [didn’t want to do this, but since there can be no paragraph breaks] .................................................................................................................. Pete, good (positive) and evil (negative) are of course interlinked and cannot be separated; the good in Christianity is apparent: forgiveness is the mind, charity in the outside world. As for the negative: one of the most salient negatives of Christianity is how Christians subconsciously want to crucify others.

@Intomorrow Well, it’s certainly not only Christians who want to crucify others - I think that’s pretty well ingrained in human DNA - but the crucifixion, and its connection with atonement - is indeed a pretty horrible symbol to have for one’s religion. There’s something utterly sadoamasochistic about it. It least it needs to be treated with much more care than many Christians do, but perhaps Alex has something to say about that. Alex, how do you relate to the symbol and concept of crucifixion? What is the positive aspect here?

I actually think the concept of forgiveness itself has a punitive sting in its tail. If I forgive you, that still implies I think you have done something wrong. I prefer acceptance: we accept the world as it is, including everything that has happened, everything that we and others have done and said, and then we attempt to propel ourselves towards the best possible futures. There is nothing to forgive, only lessons to be learned, and (sometimes) corrective action to be taken.

With regard to IEET knowing what is going on but not knowing what to do about it…well, it’s a think tank after all. And many of the articles do address possible courses of action, not only analyses of the problems.

@ Pastor Alex I agree that ethics “should” be the same at all economic levels.  What I see of ethics on upper economic levels frequently falls into 2 categories that I fail to connect with:  1. The assumption that people of lower economics are their because they are unintelligent and childlike so we need to exercise parent like protections over them and tell them how to live (Like Licenses to be parents) or 2. People of lower economic standing are there because they are lazy and just need to work harder (To a certain extent I would almost agree with this one except for the fact that in the majority of lower income households I know the participants usually have 2 or more jobs each, then those households are statistically annihilated by the households where no one works at all).  For the record I really don’t see the latter perspective here very often.  What I do see is the former, Frequently, and I find it frustrating. A lower economic standing does not equate a lack of intelligence or a lack of education.  Often it means a lack of employment opportunities in a community or poor paying jobs, despite education.  Also most “Protective theories” of basic income, grant parenting via licenses, etc, seem to encourage people to stay at where they are or insult the potential of people in lower economic circumstances with an assumption they have a lack of will or capability to rise to better. 

I will say I have lived at a number of different economic levels myself.  Over the years I have been privileged and nearly destitute.  This has varied radically from time to time and I have seen the same circumstances for my peers.  The greatest Irony for me has been living in places where a large vocabulary, a voracious appetite for knowledge and perspectives, and an overall openness to change has actually barred me from both academic achievement in some of my classes over the years and from many employment opportunities.  I understand that in the best of situations, ones where all the participants are well educated and living is surrounded in the upper levels of fulfillment of Maslow’s Hierarchy certain perspectives are granted.  Those perspectives, unfortunately, do not always play in the “world of the masses”.  I have been saddened to find that a vast number of persons do not want to be more educated, they do not want to learn, they do not want to grow, and they do not want to “do”.  They are angered and resentful towards those who do want those things and often have the drive and capability to either cripple or suppress those who do.  It is a very sad thing.  I wish I could simply say I see this because I am some how bitter, but I have seen it happen so many times to so many people, that I often wonder if advancement, by ethical means is a tangible possibility.  When the vast majority of humans that you meet in your travels and daily life are resentful of technology, education and intelligence (Except when it grants them new escapes like video games etc), then it is harder to connect to concepts of empowerment via ethics that seem light years away from any reality you may know.

This being said, I am still hopeful, and still look to new and exciting ideas.  I come here for just that reason.  I often find part way through an article, though, that this voice in the back of my head screams “Have they lived where the masses are?”  “Do they really know how the vast majority of people really interact????”  or “Wow, that’d be so wonderful if that actually applied anywhere outside of academia.”  I hope and strive toward a world where this all applies but still have to look after my children and realize that despite my hopeful and lofty ethical and philosophical ambitions, I am responsible to parent and prepare them for a world that does NOT conform to my ideals.  A world, that if I left them solely with a hopeful nature, will delight in crushing that hope and snuffing any academic ambitions they may have, or leave them so emotionally void in order to achieve that they’d be better off not pursuing.  I WANT a different world.  But often find that the hope and optimism that drives towards wellness of mind and spirit is a social poison in it’s own right. I work for a better future for my kids but I wish the steps I see proposed were more in touch or at least had a stepping off point that connected somewhere in the same galaxy as the world I live in.  (\end rant)

@ Peter

The crucifixion as sacrifice for atonement for sins is only one understanding of why it happened. Unfortunately atonement theology is pretty much the only understanding for most of the conservative church. They take a couple of verses in which Jesus talks about eternal life put it together with the crucifixion and that becomes their entire understanding. “Jesus died for your sins.” Even this particular understanding of sin is flawed. The Greek word that we translate as sin is hamartia which literally means “missing the mark”. It is an archery term. The idea is that we are like arrows sent in a particular direction, but we “miss the mark”. This understanding of sin is much broader and easier to take than the idea of “doing bad things” which is the common notion of the word.

The crucifixion is the embodiment of our sin, both individual and corporate. Jesus came and willingly chose a path of radical love knowing that his challenge to the powers that be would have a cost. In effect, the crucifixion is us killing God because he isn’t the kind of God that we wanted. God accepts our judgment and dies on the cross.
What the resurrection says is that the way of radical love is stronger than the brokenness of the world. The essence of this idea is the willing submission of God to the judgment of the world in order to show that love is stronger.

As for forgiveness, again the idea has been malformed by the world’s misunderstanding. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person. It is about us. We don’t need to tell the other person that we’ve forgiven them unless they have asked for it or there is some other powerful reason for doing so. What forgiveness is is accepting the pain of whatever happened and not passing it on. Someone hurts us, but instead of trying to hurt them back or hurting someone else, we let the pain flow through us and then we let it go. As the bumper sticker says “Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

This isn’t to say that we wallow in the pain, but more we recognize it, name it, then let it run out of us like sand out of our hands. It takes a lot of work because we love to blame other people for our problems and forgiveness stops us from doing that. But it is possible.

Acceptance is good, but it is hard to simply accept that someone abused us or our child. Forgiveness is harder and rarer.

“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.”
“Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”
“Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.”
“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life.”

Buddha (563 BC - 483 BC)

Before anyone makes anyone makes any comments about Jesus’ and Gods’ existence, here’s an excerpt from a book I’ve been reading called “God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists” (you’d have to read the book to understand the title).  It reminded me of a lot of things that were argued on this site and may relate to this discussion in a way.

“From my own experience and from listening to many objections to Christianity, I have found that the subject of faith is often offensive to the nonbeliever.  My own thinking was that faith was for the weak-minded, for little old ladies, and for those near death.  yet every belief we have about history, other countries, science, biology, etc., exist because of faith.  You only believe as you do because you believe the person who has told you the information.  You don’t “know” who discovered America.  You simply have faith that what was told to you is indeed true.  Neither do you “know” if General Custer died at the hands of Indians, or if Napoleon really existed.
  We can’t live without faith.  Try it.  Say to yourself. “Today, I refuse to exercise any faith at all.”  Then before you eat your corn flakes, go through every corn flake, scientifically testing it before you eat it.  Refuse to trust that the manufactures have obeyed health regulations and mixed the ingredients correctly.  Do the same tests for the milk before you pour it on the corn flakes, in faith.  You don’t know that the milk processors have done their job and given you pure milk.  They may have mixed in something that could be harmful to your health.
  Don’t trust the sugar producers either.  God only knows what they did while they were processing the sugar.  Then check the microscope and other tools you used for your analysis.  How can you really trust the information you gather from them is reliable?  Don’t trust your weight to the chair at the breakfast table.  Don’t believe today’s weather report or any news item until you actually go to the proper location and see for yourself what they would have you believe is true.  Even then you will have to trust your senses (which can’t always be trusted).
  Before you drink your coffee, don’t trust that the cup is perfectly clean.  Wash it yourself.  Don’t trust use untested water, in faith.  We really don’t know what’s in it nowadays; it may be contaminated.  And be sure to analyze the coffee.  If you decide to take a taxi to work, you will have to trust your life to the vehicle and the taxi driver, and trust the other drivers to stay on their side of the road.  You will have to trust elevators, stairways, airplanes, the post office, and banks.  Believe me-we either live with faith or fall victim to paranoia” (Ray Comfort).

Christian you’re absolutely right in saying that we all need faith, it’s something I have also argued here. And it’s also true that some nonbelievers lose sight of this and like to imagine that their beliefs are entirely objective “facts”, with know ingredient of faith. Such people should read philosophers like Hume and Wittgenstein, who have shown that everything, even our own existence (pace Descartes) can be doubted.

However I don’t agree that we *only* believe things because someone has told us. We also believe things because we see them with our own eyes or otherwise experience them ourselves. More generally, we all develop some kind of (more or less consistent) worldview, whether or not it contains a concept of God, within which we interpret our experience and weigh the opinions of others.

One of the more fundamental decisions we each have to make is what kind of balance to strike between faith and doubt. while we indeed can’t live without faith, we also can’t live without doubt. Imagine trying to live in the world if you were never willing to question your beliefs. We all know people who cling doggedly to certain beliefs, somehow managing to evade or interpret away all evidence to the contrary. For some this takes an extreme form where they become so out of touch with external reality that we rightly call them insane. They are not good role models.

To paraphrase Ecclesiastes: there is a time to believe, and a time to doubt. There is nothing that I am not willing, at times, to question. We should not be afraid of doubt. Or rather, we can be afraid of doubt, but then we should feel the fear and do it anyway.

@Alex Thanks for the reply. Do you really think we killed God because he wasn’t the God we wanted? And if so, do you see that as a historical reality, or is it more that you see the Christian concept of crucifixion as distinct from the actual historical event (assuming it actually occurred), and as a symbol of our non-acceptance of God? And if the latter, what aspect of God is it that we have failed to accept? To the last question I would hazard the answer that it is the dichotomy between our wish to believe in His goodness (I use the masculine pronoun here with deep reservations) and our wish to believe also in His omnipotence, and the logical impossibility (notwithstanding centuries of attempts by theologians to address the problem of evil) of believing both while accepting that the world as it is is not perfect. (in other words: “by good, I do not mean *this*”).

With regard to your interpretation of the resurrection, I see drawbacks to this as well as benefits. It is certainly encouraging to believe that the way of radical love is stronger than the brokenness of the world, but it can also be dangerously misleading. The resurrection is, in a sense, the archetypal “happy ending”, a bit like the epilogue to story of Job (which I gather some believe was added later). It makes a more inspiring story. But the truth is that if we want the way of radical love to be stronger than the brokenness of the world, we have to make it so. Simply believing it to be so won’t bring it about, and on the contrary can leave us vulnerable to neurotic reactions (basically denial, i.e. non-acceptance) when faced with evidence to the contrary.

In some ways, the success of Christianity in the West can perhaps be attributed to the fact that the Roman world was largely innocent of the insights of Buddhism and other Eastern religions at the time. It obviously filled a void, but one that did not exist to the same extent in the East.

From a similarly historical perspective, I cannot accept the implication that the focus on eternal life and death is an invention of modern conservatives. In early Byzantium, it was widely believed that correct belief was indeed a matter of eternal life and death, which is why, as a contemporary observer noted, one could not go into a bakery to buy a loaf of bread without getting drawn into a discussion about whether the Son was begotten or unbegotten. This was no airy-fairy issue for them, any more than it was for the millions over the years who have craved the indulgence of the Catholic church in return for eternal salvation (and some of whom are dissuaded from using condoms to this day as a result). Indeed, it seems to me that the conservatives’ understanding of theology is actually much closer to that of the early church, at least once these questions had been somewhat clarified, than more liberal/progressive interpretations. Which is why, on the whole, I think it is better to break with the Christian tradition altogether, take inspiration from it of we wish (again: there is plenty of good stuff there that we can draw on, I have never said the contrary), and simply state that you don’t believe in the rest.

Because ultimately, a debate with conservatives within the Christian tradition is a debate you can never win, which is one of the reasons why conservative Christians and their political spokesmen do so well. I would guess that much the same can be said for Islam, although I am much less familiar with the actual teaches of the Koran and early development of that religion. By contrast, the moment you stand up, much like Martin Luther, but taking the matter a step further and question not just the contempary church but the whole shebang, and say, “Sorry, I don’t care what the “real” meaning of scripture is, I don’t believe it, because there is no evidence for it,” then suddenly it becomes clear that they have built castles in the sand.

By the way, I think somewhat similar comments also apply to the US constitution. I’ve witnessed Glenn Beck using the Constitution quite convincingly to back up some kind of anachronistic idiocy of his (I don’t remember precisely which one). Rather than trying to convince people that the constitution says something different, better just to recognise that the constitution, wonderful as it is as an inspiration for modern constitutions around the world, badly needs updating.

@Alex (again) I think you slightly contradicted yourself regarding acceptance forgiveness. On the one hand you say “acceptance is good but…hard”, as if forgiveness is to be favoured because it is easier than acceptance, then you say “forgiveness is harder and rarer”. In any case, the way you’ve defined (reinterpreted?) forgiveness I’m not sure I understand the difference.

So let’s go beyond arguing about these two words and consider the three realities that need to be grappled withy in relation to past “sins”: 1. What actually happened, 2. How we feel about it, and 3. Whether some kind of moral code has been breached, and if so what is the nature of that code.

What I think we should be doing in such cases (let’s say, for example, that I post a comment that you find incredibly irritating), whatever we choose to call it is, 1. Try to be as objective as possible about what happened, and what caused it (this will usually be quite a complex affair and ripe with useful lessons for the future; 2. Observe and accept any feelings we might have, be they anger, resentment, irritation, guilt, shame,, fear or whatever, and 3. Clarify in our minds whether we think some kind of moral code has been breached or not. If we think it has, we might also consider to what extent that moral code is shared by the “sinner”, and if not why not.

This last step is, of course, the realm of ethics, and if you start (as I do) from my subjectivist viewpoint on metaethics, you will find it somewhat easier to accept that different people subscribe to different moral codes, and that there is no a priori reason why they shouldn’t.

Of course this does not mean that we should accept everything. We might find someone’s “moral code”, or lack of one, or lack of any genuine interest in implementing it, so repugnant (from our own moral/ethical standpoint) that the only option is war. There are many situations in which I would consider such a position justified. But you are still starting from a position of acceptance both of what happened and of your feelings about it (over which you have only very limited control), and are thus able to see much more clearly to plot an appropriate course of action.

This, in a nutshell, is what positive psychology recommends when somebody pisses you off. Of course for minor offences one may wish to be somewhat more spontaneous and less “mindful” in one’s reactions. Sometimes you just need to have a good rant…

@ Peter Wicks

I fully agree that we need the ability to question things (its especially useful for overthrowing tyranny), but the point the author was making in the excerpt was that non-believers shouldn’t be offended by belief sense it is such a fundamental part of our lives.

Pete, you’d make a good professor: I learn something everytime you reply. Something S&M homoerotic about Jesus hanging half-nude on the Cross. It is extremely difficult for one brought up on Christianity (and naturally other faiths) to be objective on Christianity—I like the religion but such is probably merely because of having been raised one.
One solution is religious ‘bots; a Christian ‘bot for example can read prayers at bedtime, sprinkle holy water, and many other tasks. A Westboro baptist ‘bot can say “God hates fags” over ‘n’ over.

“Acceptance is good, but it is hard to simply accept that someone abused us or our child.”  Is the exact quote from my comment. My intent was to say that we may be able to accept some things, but other things will eat away at us unless we deal with them in some way. Acceptance doesn’t deal with the pain of an event. It may internalize it, but there is no release. Forgiveness allows us to let go of the pain, along with the anger and bitterness that follow.

With your three step process, which is good BTW, the problem is that it it diverges at the first step, not the third. Perception is reality is a common phrase in counselling. What people think happened is much more important than what actually happened. This is why stories are different even of the same event.

The acceptance of our own feelings is essential, which is your step two. Without acknowledging the reality of our feelings we are stuck, but we must also connect those feelings to the reality of the event. It doesn’t matter if people share a moral code. If I feel hurt by a particular action, even unintended, I will need to deal with that. Notice I haven’t put any onus on the other person yet. Step 2.5 might be a conversation with the other person to clarify their intentions about the event. Did they know they caused hurt? Do they care? What is their experience of the event? As discussion takes place the door is opened to really move past the problem. This assumes that there is some balance of power between the people. Mediation is about this step.
I don’t agree that a common moral code is necessary for forgiveness, or that different moral codes are necessarily a problem. Remember I said that forgiveness is about us, not the other person. What we are doing is recognizing the hurt and letting it go. To blame the other person is to pass the pain back to them and is not forgiveness.

I think that different moral codes are common, but there are core values that apply. People want to be accepted and respected. Gangs give young men that acceptance and respect within the gang. It isn’t important to them that they are breaking the code of the community around them, adherence to their own code is everything. Changing that isn’t a matter of argument or punishment, but of providing the possibility of acceptance and respect in a different setting.

@Christian Indeed, although the author did seem (judging from the excerpt) to be missing was the importance of doubt, and respect for evidence, as a counterbalance to faith. Tyrannies can come in many forms, not only overt ones.

@Intomorrow Lol, I love the idea of religion bots! Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert do a great job in using humour to expose the absurdities of then religious right, but they need allies. What better form of caricaturencould there than building robots to do the job? Some comic strips on the subject would also help.

Stranger than fiction. Reverend Phelps, by protesting military funerals, is laughing all the way to the bank: donations, recognition among fundamentalists who secretly agree with him. Reality TV sans the camera.

Indeed. By the way I’ve just noticed that my long reply to Alex’s latest didn’t load for some reason. Oh well. The jist was 1. I think we’re pretty close on these issues, 2. The focus on “release” seems a bit too Freudian to me, better to accept our feelings (e.g. of resentment) rather than to attempt to “let go” of them (that’s still easier said than done of course, but there are techniques, and the feelings of resentment might come in handy in helping us to prevent future injustices), and 3. Different moral codes are fine up to a point, but not if a gangster is about to burgle my house. It’s not so much that “there are core values that apply”, as that there are core values (such as your “code of responsibility”) that we would like to be respected, and (where necessary and possible without too much collateral) enforced.

It is not that a ‘code’ isn’t possible, however we have not reached the stage in our evolution. Most men are such pigs, it will be decades—probably at least a half-century—before a code could be practical. In the meantime, I want to fight anyone who wants power they do not deserve; which means almost the entire GOP, starting with Flash Gordo,
er, I mean Newt Gingrich.

Hmm…I still think you’re being too pessimistic about the code. Fighting people who want power they don’t deserve is one way of following the code, right? The point of the code is that it’s voluntary: those of us who want to can allow ourselves to be influenced to it. One may wish to be circumspect about the amount of influence such a code is likely to have in the short term (maybe this is basically what you meant?), but to dismiss it as “impractical” still seems a bit counterproductive to me.

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