The Cost of Climate Change

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 1, 2009 in Ethics,Guest Post,Science

pollution

The ethical theory I currently defend is desirism. But I mostly write about moraltheory, so I rarely discuss the implications of desirism for everyday moral questions about global warming, free speech, politics, and so on. Today’s guest post applies desirism to one such everyday moral question. It is written by desirism’s first defender, Alonzo Fyfe of Atheist Ethicist. (Keep in mind that questions of applied ethics are complicated and I do not necessarily agree with Fyfe’s moral calculations.)

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A substantial portion of the leadership of the Republican Party still remains wedded to the idea that a communist system is the best way of dealing with the climate change issue.

The party bills itself as being friendly to capitalism and the free market. Yet, when it comes to climate change, the dominant view expressed among Republican leaders is that anarcho-communism is the best system to adopt for this set of issues. This is not even communism the way the Soviet Union practiced it. This is the ideal form of communism that says that everything will be fine without any form of private property and with each person freely taking only what they need, and freely giving according to their ability.

To illustrate this I wish to present two articles.

First, I would like to present Carl Rove. In an opinion piece on Newsweek he wrote:

The Treasury Department estimates that the president’s cap-and-trade approach would “generate federal receipts on the order of $100 [billion] to $200 billion annually”; the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports that a 15 percent CO2 reduction would cost an average household $1,600 a year. Other experts say the price tag could be much higher.

(See: Newsweek Scrap Cap-and-Trade)

This is one of his reasons against using cap-and-trade to regulate CO2 emissions.

Now, I call forth the second article:

A possible rise in sea levels by 0.5 meters by 2050 could put at risk more than $28 trillion worth of assets in the world’s largest coastal cities, according to a report compiled for the insurance industry.

(See: CNN Sea level rise could cost port cities $28 trillion.)

For the purposes of this article, which is a matter of principle, it does not matter whether the numbers cited in this article are reliable or accurate. Even if they are off by two orders of magnitude ($280 billion versus $28 trillion), we have an important moral question to answer.

Why pays?

Rove – with his continuing lack of aversion to deceiving people so that they will act in ways harmful to themselves but useful for the people he is trying to help – presents this issue as if we are making a choice between paying for something and getting it for free. When, in fact, the real choice is between paying for something ourselves, or sending somebody else a much higher bill that they must pay against their will. It is a bill that some will pay with their lives (and some already have).

It’s like somebody coming up to you and saying, “Well, you have a choice. Either you can purchase this refrigerator for $1,600. Or, we will charge some random person in the world $250,000 and you can take the refrigerator home with you right now.”

Or, worse yet, “You can either pay $1,600 for this refrigerator now, or we will kill some random family and destroy their property. Which would you prefer?”

Shopper: “Kill the family and destroy their property.”

Salesperson: “Very good. Now, would you like to take the refrigerator now or would you like to pay for our delivery service.”

Please note, any time anybody chooses to purchase a refrigerator using Option 2, those costs are randomly assigned. So, while Option 2 gives the shopper the ability to get a refrigerator while giving somebody else a bill for $250,000 (or a bill to be paid by the loss of life and destruction of property), there are other people who are buying refrigerators that this individual might have to pay for.

In this sense, the people of New Orleans have already woken up once to discover that they had been handed this particular bill. It came in the form of a hurricane that destroyed their homes. 35,000 people in Europe paid the bill in the form of a heat wave that took their lives.

In the case of Hurricane Katrina, the government has stepped in to spread the costs around a bit, taxing all of us to pay for the damage caused by that hurricane. We have all gotten our share of the bill. And, actually, the bill came to something quite close to $1600 per average household.

The question that is relevant to this essay is: What does it say about the moral character of a person who insists on passing a $250,000 bill on to somebody else for his refrigerator rather than pay $1,600 for the refrigerator out of his own money?

Typically, if I were to purchase something using somebody else’s credit card (without their consent) so that they get the bill for what I acquire, this is considered a form of theft. People generally have many and strong reasons to condemn this type of behavior. This is because the thieves usually end up purchasing things they would never get if they had to pay for it themselves. “If I had to purchase this for myself I would pay no more than $1000. However, because I can send the bill to somebody else, I’m willing to pay $250,000!

We all end up much worse off, paying for things that the people who acquired them never would have gotten if they had to pay the full price themselves.

Now, there is a way for a very small group of people to use this system of getting things for free and passing the bill onto others, while avoiding the risk that others will pass the bill onto them. These are people who are so exceptionally rich that they can purchase their way out of at least the “loss of life” lottery. With enough money, they can make sure that others die for what they acquire, but that their life will not be threatened by what others acquire.

This is why anarcho-communist systems fail – because people in these systems tend to do a lot of taking and very little giving. The end result is that the community that uses this system – the anarcho-communist community – is a community that tends to destroy everything that has value.

What is our future going to be like if we destroy the earth’s climate, because the leadership of the Republican Party insists on employing anarcho-communist methods to govern what happens to the climate? How much better off would we be in a society where each of us has a $1,600 refrigerator (that somebody else paid $250,000 for us to have), and a $250,000 bill (to pay for the refrigerator that somebody else got)?

Now, we cannot divide the climate into chunks and give each person their own chunk of the climate to buy, sell, or use as they see fit. However, what we can do is divide climate uses into chunks and allow people to buy and sell those.

That is what the cap-and-trade system is all about. It divides a particular use (in this case, carbon dioxide emissions) into chunks and lets people buy and sell those chunks. Market forces will help to ensure that those chunks go to their most valued uses. (Well, not exactly, but those details do not affect the argument here.)

However, people like Karl Rove hate capitalism. Rove seems to prefer anarcho-communism. He is arguing for a system where industrialists can get take whatever they want out of the climate without paying for it – effectively sending the bill to others. Those others will then pay the bill with their lives, their health, and their property.

This is the “morality” of Karl Rove and the culture he represents.

- Alonzo Fyfe

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ADDENDUM: Averages and Medians

By the way, even this statistic that this will cost $1600 per average household shows Rove’s willingness to deceive people into cutting their own throats. Many of us like to think of ourselves as being average, so we imagine that this $1600 will be our bill if we go with the plan.

That’s not the case.

Let’s assume your community consists of three people. One person makes $1 million per year, another makes $100,000 per year, and a third makes $10,000 per year. The average income in this community will be over $350,000.

However, the median income for this group – the income for the person who is right at the center – is $100,000.

This illustrates how using an average can inflate a figure – in this case from $100,000 to over $350,000. The higher figure is used to generate an emotional and irrational response on the part of the reader. The use of this emotional response to the higher number is how they manipulate their audience. It is a well-known useful tool for people who are inclined to deceive and manipulate others for their own benefit or for the benefit of their allies and associates.

It would do the world a lot of good if the followers of this portion of the Republican leadership would open their eyes and recognize the degree to which they are being used – the degree to which they are being manipulated to do things harmful to others, and harmful to themselves – by a group of amoral and immoral opportunists.

And that they have many and strong reasons to condemn that type of behavior.

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

ayer December 1, 2009 at 7:00 am

I’m not sure where you get from Rove’s article that he is some form of anarchist opposed to all government action on climate change. As he states:

Rove: “Government should invest in basic scientific research into conservation, carbon capture, energy efficiency, and new forms of energy like hydrogen fuel cells—then let the marketplace commercialize these new technologies…Cap-and-trade does very little at a very high cost. Americans would spend $100 billion to $200 billion a year for limited results: a 15 percent cut in U.S. emissions would reduce global emissions by less than 4 percent, which would have a negligible worldwide impact.”

He wants to use government to fund research into cleaner technologies because he believes the overall costs and benefits would be greater than a cap and trade system. This seems to be an area where reasonable people can disagree as to the proper prudential means of addressing the problem, and does not justifying such a hyperventilating condemnation of Rove’s lack of “morality.”

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Mark December 1, 2009 at 7:59 am

Luke, any time an argument is rife with political bias, it can be safely discarded. This guy doesn’t care about global warming, the common good, or any of the other ancillary topics he peppers his treatise with. His agenda is purely political and therefore it is perfectly useless because it lacks objectivity.

Furthermore, to assert Rove is “immoral” would not be atheistic, would it? I do not believe the atheist continuum has left any room for moral norms

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Silas December 1, 2009 at 9:04 am

Now you’ve lost me, Alonzo. What does this have to do with desirism?

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Penneyworth December 1, 2009 at 10:48 am

Why do you keep letting Alonzo Fyfe stink up your blog? Why not just let him post on his own blog?

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Mark December 1, 2009 at 11:22 am

It hasn’t anything to do with anything; it’s just a politically-motivated diatribe intended to paint Rove and Republican leaders as immoral communist fundamentalists whose mission is mass oppression and world domination.

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Chuck December 1, 2009 at 11:28 am

I do not believe the atheist continuum has left any room for moral norms  

This is still an open question. You may want to read up on desirism, either here or on Alonzo’s blog.

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Alonzo Fyfe December 1, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Hmmm. A lot of harsh words, but little in the way of substantive criticism.

Ayer

Rove is not an anarchist opposed to all government action. However, he condemns existing plans to establish a market for climate uses and does not give any alternative.

Without a market for climate uses, there is no possible way to “let the marketplace commercialize these new technologies.” No market means no marketplace for this commercialization to take place.

Using the example above, if people can purchase refrigerators by sending the bill to somebody else, then they have absolutely no economic reason to look for refrigerators that use any of these new technologies. The only way these technologies will be commercialized is if companies can reduce the costs of their carbon emissions. Under the current system – the anarcho-communist system – there are no costs because these uses are treated as common (communal) property. There is no market, thus no commercialization of new technologies.

Mark:

Please identify a false statement or an invalid inference in this posting that can be properly identified as “political bias”.

As for the “Republican leaders as immoral communist fundamentalists whose mission is mass oppression and world domination” concept, that was not my conclusion at all.

The motivation is not so grand as this. It’s the motivation of a simple con-man. What they seek is personal profit and they do not care who gets hurt (or how badly) so long as they obtain an economic and social benefit. Ultimately, this is about getting money – and a willingness to manipulate others against their own interests for his benefit.

Silas:

Luke’s request was that I write about applied desirism. In this case, I used Rove’s article to demonstrate that he lacks particular desires that we have reason to promote. Specifically, he lacks an aversion to manipulating others into doing things harmful to themselves. His article is filled with half-truths, fallacious reasoning, emotional manipulations, and distortions suggesting a person quite comfortable with the practice of manipulating others for the benefit of himself and his clients (the people who pay him to keep speaking).

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Beelzebub December 1, 2009 at 3:00 pm

I’m still not sure about my stance on desirism, but I like the general direction of this post as a political statement. Whenever corporations can externalize cost (as the economists say) it’s basically free money. Externalization is the process of incurring costs that you don’t need to pay for, but somebody does. When a corporation pollutes without restraint or obligation to clean up its mess, it externalizes the cost of cleanup. The only way they can get away with it is to neutralize the threat of public oversight and regulation. This is where people like Rove make their appearance.

The problem with allowing free markets to control common resources is that they won’t. Nobody has ever been able to demonstrate that, left to their own devices, businesses will respect the commons — and there is every reason to believe that they don’t and won’t, given their profit seeking motive (unless they’re forced to do it). The only solution that I’ve ever seen proposed is a kind of radical libertarian universal ownership, where literally everything is privatized and there are no public commons at all. Supposedly, in this hypothetical omni-ownership-society, private interests will keep the lakes pure and the forests sustained. Given the fact that some of the most polluted lands of the planet are owned by corporations, this is hard to envision.

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Bill Maher December 1, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Penney: try not saying incredibly rude things?

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Mark December 1, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Chuck, thanks. Please give me a specific link. Luke’s definition of desirism is perplexing, and I can’t find a tidy synopsis on Alonzo’s blog.

Alonzo, you said “The motivation is not so grand as this [oppression and world domination]. It’s the motivation of a simple con-man. What they seek is personal profit and they do not care who gets hurt (or how badly) so long as they obtain an economic and social benefit. Ultimately, this is about getting money – and a willingness to manipulate others against their own interests for his benefit.”

Well, that’s what you THINK they seek based on a few key quotes and a few key Fyfe inferences … right?

As for the oppression/domination thing, obviously I was being playfully bombastic (I realize that doesn’t always come through in this medium so I apologize if you took it any other way). I just think IF Rove is as immoral –let alone as amoral–as you think he is, it is highly unlikely he would stop at mere “personal gain” ESPECIALLY given his stature. For all his warts, Karl Rove is actually a highly intelligent man capable of making obscene amounts of money. I’m thinking personal gain is not on his radar anymore. Republican gain? Now that’s a different story, and one I will avoid at all costs because I am impartisan and apartisan all the way. :)

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lukeprog December 1, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Penneyworth,

I invited Alonzo to post here because I agree with most of what he writes, and I think he writes very well.

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ayer December 1, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Alonzo Fyfe: Without a market for climate uses, there is no possible way to “let the marketplace commercialize these new technologies.” No market means no marketplace for this commercialization to take place.

Under Rove’s proposal, the government will assume the cost of basic research into new technologies (which is a huge reduction in cost to companies who then commercialize those technologies–ask the pharmaceutical companies about the costs of basic research). This then gives a competitive advantage to companies that sell the new, cleaner technologies as they compete against companies selling the older, carbon-emitting technologies. Now, the empirical question is whether the competitive advantage thus given to the cleaner technologies is sufficient for those technologies to gain market share and thus reduce global warming. I don’t know, but your post has not presented evidence demonstrating that Rove’s approach will fail (in fact, his article cites more empirical evidence, namely that a 15% increase in costs will only result in a 4% reduction in emissions). Your post simply assumes the moral superiority of a cap-and-trade system, which as I said earlier is a prudential policy judgment upon which people can reasonably disagree. To assert that the situation is entirely unambiguous is just oversimplifying.

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Chuck December 1, 2009 at 8:43 pm
Alonzo Fyfe December 1, 2009 at 9:53 pm

ayer: Under Rove’s proposal, the government will assume the cost of basic research into new technologies (which is a huge reduction in cost to companies who then commercialize those technologies–ask the pharmaceutical companies about the costs of basic research).

It does not matter how much one reduces the cost of research if there is no incentive to buy the product.

The cost of carbon emissions under the current (communal) system is zero. I am paying nothing for my carbon emissions. You spend $1 billion on technology that will cut my emissions in half. Assume that it costs me $1.00 to install it. Why should I spend even that one $1.00? I would be $1.00 poorer to use half of something that I was using for free.

Unless something is done to create a system where entities pay for their carbon emissions there is no reason to them to pay anything – not one penny – for anything having to do with carbon reductions.

A system needs to be created that internalizes the cost of emissions before companies will have any incentive to do anything at all to reduce those costs.

And a system where costs are not internalized is a system where carbon emitters get all the benetifs of carbon emissions while sending the bill off to other people to make payment.

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ayer December 2, 2009 at 5:02 am

Alonzo Fyfe: I am paying nothing for my carbon emissions.

Are you not paying something for the energy (e.g., coal) that produces the carbon emissions? If you could buy an alternative, cleaner form of the energy (e.g., clean coal or solar) that costs less, would you not, as a rational economic actor, do so?

I understand your concern about externalities and the “tragedy of the commons,” but to assert that if one does not support a cap and trade system one has taken an immoral position indicates that desirism leads to some kind of Taliban-like intolerance when it comes to inherently ambiguous, difficult public policy issues involving trade-offs. I’m not necessarily arguing that Rove is right and that cap and trade is wrong; but I am saying that condemning him as “immoral” is akin to those condeming Obama as “immoral” for his “overly intrusive” health care reform plan.

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Alonzo Fyfe December 2, 2009 at 6:41 am

ayer: Are you not paying something for the energy (e.g., coal) that produces the carbon emissions?

This characterization simply shifts the problem.

“Buy your coal, but pass the harmful emissions costs on to others” still represents a significant, and extremely anti-free-market economic subsidy for the use of coal.

In the same way that if I could sell you a house and say, “Buy this brand car, and pay the interest payments out of somebody else’s bank account,” this would be a significant – and extremely anti-free-market – subsidy that automobile company.

It does not matter how much research actually goes into making competing cars cheeper. this does not change the fact (and the problems that arise from the fact) of the huge economic subsidity being provided to those who can purchase a competing product and pass a portion of the costs off to others.

The moral problem is worse when those who pay the costs are to pay with their lives and the destruction of their property.

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Alonzo Fyfe December 2, 2009 at 7:02 am

Oh, and that subsidy I wrote about in the comment above . . . it is still the fact that this subsidy comes from treating the climate as an unregulated commons (as in ‘communist’) – one in which people can use withat they wish without paying.

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ayer December 2, 2009 at 7:29 am

Alonzo Fyfe: Oh, and that subsidy I wrote about in the comment above . . . it is still the fact that this subsidy comes from treating the climate as an unregulated commons (as in ‘communist’) – one in which people can use withat they wish without paying.  

I’m not clear–are you saying that there is something immoral going on when the government chooses to use a means other than cap and trade (e.g., other than creating a “market” to internalize the externalities) to address environmental problems–e.g., direct regulation such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, etc.?

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Chuck December 2, 2009 at 7:53 am

Ayer,

Cap and trade isn’t the only solution. A carbon tax would solve the problem.

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Mark December 2, 2009 at 9:05 am

I love this part of Luke’s desirism FAQ:

{2.09} Why should I be moral?

To be added…

Define ironic. :)

Gentlemen, isn’t that the quintessential age-old dilemma of the atheist? If there is no God, and there is no grace, and there is no judgment, and there is no after life, then why not just do away with both Biblical AND civil law and leave the good primates to their own innately good beliefs and desires?

Deep down we all know the answer to that question. Because desirism, like every nontheist proposition in the history of mankind, arrogantly and ignorantly fantasizes that primates have been magically endowed with some sort of innate “good” gene, and there are enough of those good genes going around to thwart complete primal anarchy.

And you say Jesus is magic? I say desirism is magic. It would HAVE TO BE (!) for our current society to rely on it for order.

After all, without having to worry about judgment, people would be able to make up their own laws and do whatever satisfied their every impulse, right? Naturally they would gravitate towards colonization because we know humans, like dogs, have a pack mentality. In one part of town we would have the greens that practiced bestiality. In another part of town we’d have the reds who practiced polygamy. In another part of town we would have Jim Jones and his cyanide contingent. Atheism (and every mutation of it, incl. desirism) FANTASIZES all these radically diverse social groups could live happily ever after simply because there would magically be more “good” beliefs and desires–when it came to being neighborly–than bad.

History, COMMON SENSE, and Mark say: B O L L O C K S.

Sorry gang, but there is no magical primordial goodness inherent in man. Only selfishness. Hence your ideas are irrational. Without divine law, without the well-formed moral consciences of those who pioneered the societal order you see all around you today, here and abroad, we wouldn’t have the Utopian society you envision, we would have something that more closely resembled Lord of the Flies.

You want truth? Here’s the truth: When man is born he is selfish by nature. He must be TAUGHT to share, to be honest, to do the right thing. Over and over I read how really GOOD people who were raised Christian abandon their “faith” because of this or that experience or belief. They then go on to say how liberating their emancipation has been, and how GOOD they feel to finally be FREE. What is so absolutely confounding about these testimonials is that the witness would have you think the GOODNESS he feels is because of his new found freedom, when in fact his GOODNESS is the result of his Christian upbringing. And his happiness? His happiness is rooted in the awareness that he is in fact a GOOD person.

In other words, this deconverted witness for atheism I just described is like a kid who plays baseball his whole life, learns the game from multiple great coaches who teach him the fundamentals and help him refine his skills, goes on to become a major league all star, and in his first big interview boasts, “I don’t believe in all that stupid stuff all those coaches taught me anymore. I have a new glove and a new bat and my own condo I’m going to start playing baseball my way. In fact, I’m not even calling it baseball anymore; I’m calling it shwonkball. Check my stats for yourself for the past year. Dude I rock.”

Exhibit A: Lukeprog. Everyone agrees he is evidently a good person who maintains order on his blog, allows diverse opinion, respects people’s views, refrains from offensive vulgarity and profanity, et al. How do you think Luke attained those traits? Desirism? Atheism? Nope. His Christian parents, his Christian teachers, the teachings of Jesus and his acceptance of them. Had Lukeprog been raised in the church of desirism, this blog would not be here in its current form. In fact it probably wouldn’t be here at all because society would be in complete chaos.

Converts like Luke would have us believe their happiness and fulfillment sprang to life the moment they broke the chains of their horrible religion. Of course this is the most conflicting and hypocritical view one who espouses evolution could ever have because it denies their own moral evolution (!!!) but who cares about truth when one is in pursuit of fame.

But I digress.

On this whole desirism pipe dream: Mere desire and belief don’t drive human decision. Beliefs and desires are both by-products of FEAR. You want truth? Here’s the truth: the only thing standing between order and anarchy is FEAR. This is why GOD needed to give us those pesky COMMANDMENTS you all detest so much: to COMPEL us to use our FREEDOM to do the “good” and “right” thing rather than the “bad” and “wrong” thing. For when we abide with God and follow his laws thanks to a strong Christian upbringing (like Lukeprog enjoyed) we form strong moral compasses, and hence our beings come into alignment with universal divinity, which leads to–surprise!–happiness and fulfillment (which are the things Lukeprog is ACTUALLY enjoying right now, despite his musings to the contrary).

In the final analysis, desirism is intriguing and tidy when it’s safely confined to web pages, essays, and books. But in practice it would be Rome all over again and people like Lukeprog (and their individualist religions) would be its first victims once one colony became more powerful than another. Forget Switzerland, we have thousands of centuries of history to show what happens to to societies–including many theist ones!–that SHUN God for golden calves and narcissistic worship.

In the movie “When Nietzsche Wept” my favorite part is when a woman confronts Nietzsche after one of his angry “God is Dead” invectives, and through the most lovely smile asks him ever so delicately, “So Professor Nietzsche, what is the solution to your Godless proposition?”

He had no solution. Nor do you. You THINK you do, but at the end of the day, your solution is really no different than Nietzche’s “Superman” idea whereby one forms one’s own morals in a vacuum and thus the truth becomes completely SUBJECTIVE and democratic. Whether you like it or not, there is TRUTH and moral objectivity in our society and it is called THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, which are irrefutably the basis of our civil law, and the moral norms by which all others in the world are measured, ratified, and/or vetoed.

GOD makes America great.

PERIOD.

:)

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Jeff H December 2, 2009 at 10:09 am

Mark,

“Gentlemen, isn’t that the quintessential age-old dilemma of the atheist? If there is no God, and there is no grace, and there is no judgment, and there is no after life, then why not just do away with both Biblical AND civil law and leave the good primates to their own innately good beliefs and desires?”

It’s no dilemma at all. You’re confusing anarchism with atheism, and I dare say that few atheists are anarchists. Even if morals were not possible without God, most atheists believe it to be so, so your question here is nothing but a rhetorical strawman. It assumes that we are born good, which of course some believe, but is not a defining feature of atheism.

“Deep down we all know the answer to that question. Because desirism, like every nontheist proposition in the history of mankind, arrogantly and ignorantly fantasizes that primates have been magically endowed with some sort of innate “good” gene, and there are enough of those good genes going around to thwart complete primal anarchy.”

You obviously still do not understand desirism. I don’t defend desirism myself, but Alonzo, Luke, and the others that do specifically state that it is NOT a theory based on an evolved moral sense. Before making ignorant statements like this, try to inform yourself next time.

“After all, without having to worry about judgment, people would be able to make up their own laws and do whatever satisfied their every impulse, right?”

Uhh…at the very least we still have civil law (which, as I said, most are in favour of), so there is still judgment to worry about. Again, you’re relying on a misinformed strawman.

“Atheism (and every mutation of it, incl. desirism) FANTASIZES all these radically diverse social groups could live happily ever after simply because there would magically be more “good” beliefs and desires–when it came to being neighborly–than bad.”

I don’t even know what to say about this one. Where the fuck are you even getting this idea? Not all atheists believe in radical communist utopianism where everyone is free to do whatever they want and yet everyone gets along. That’s just being naive. But at the same time, we can at least respect the views and practices of others when they don’t infringe on our own rights to do our own thing. This is pretty basic rights-based ethics.

“Sorry gang, but there is no magical primordial goodness inherent in man. Only selfishness. Hence your ideas are irrational.”

You mention later that we are socialized to be good. Who cares, then? Really, why does it matter whether we are taught to be good or whether we are naturally good, if the end product is that we’re good? The more reasonable view, however, is that we have competing desires between a selfish desire for personal gain and an empathic response that helps us to feel the pain of others (and stops us from being selfish in many cases). You make it sound as if all humans are sociopaths, which is simply not the case.

“Without divine law, without the well-formed moral consciences of those who pioneered the societal order you see all around you today, here and abroad, we wouldn’t have the Utopian society you envision, we would have something that more closely resembled Lord of the Flies.”

Sociology shows us otherwise. France, for example, is specifically built on a secular constitution (i.e. not based on “divine law”), and yet they seem to be doing well. Certainly it’s not a utopia (there you go with the naive utopianism again), but it’s certainly nowhere near Lord of the Flies. I haven’t heard reports of French children eating each other. In fact, their country seems to be doing very well overall.

“You want truth? Here’s the truth: When man is born he is selfish by nature. He must be TAUGHT to share, to be honest, to do the right thing.”

Again, who cares? The end product is the same. It’s more likely a product of both – a natural endowment of empathy and desire to be part of a group, mixed with a great deal of socialization to help children become productive members of society. But whether that society is based on “divine law” or not, doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. Good people are good people, regardless of where they get their goodness from.

“What is so absolutely confounding about these testimonials is that the witness would have you think the GOODNESS he feels is because of his new found freedom, when in fact his GOODNESS is the result of his Christian upbringing.”

Again, you’re being completely ridiculous. I know plenty of “second-generation atheists” (children brought up without any religious upbringing) who are upstanding moral citizens and who work tirelessly to effect positive change for others. Goodness is the result of socialization, whether or not it is “Christian”. Besides, by this standard, all Chinese people should be terribly immoral, since they weren’t brought up by Christians. China has been around as a (fairly) unified group for longer than Christianity has existed. They seem to be doing just fine for themselves. I don’t mean that their country has always done well economically, necessarily, but in terms of being made up of “good” people, your Christian-centrism is obnoxious.

“Had Lukeprog been raised in the church of desirism, this blog would not be here in its current form. In fact it probably wouldn’t be here at all because society would be in complete chaos.”

Lol…complete chaos, eh? Again…France, and other Western European countries, prove this to be ridiculous.

“Converts like Luke would have us believe their happiness and fulfillment sprang to life the moment they broke the chains of their horrible religion.”

I won’t speak for Luke, but having gone through a similar deconversion process myself, this is not how I would characterize it. I had a good life before I left religion, and I have a good life now as well. Something about being in a middle class family in North America might have something to do with it…I have nothing to complain about.

“This is why GOD needed to give us those pesky COMMANDMENTS you all detest so much: to COMPEL us to use our FREEDOM to do the “good” and “right” thing rather than the “bad” and “wrong” thing.”

Lol at using “compel” and “freedom” in the same sentence. Great contradiction there. Truly a class act.

“For when we abide with God and follow his laws thanks to a strong Christian upbringing (like Lukeprog enjoyed) we form strong moral compasses, and hence our beings come into alignment with universal divinity, which leads to–surprise!–happiness and fulfillment (which are the things Lukeprog is ACTUALLY enjoying right now, despite his musings to the contrary).”

So…following laws leads to strong moral conscience…doesn’t that mean that eventually the laws should be completely unnecessary? If everyone becomes conitioned to do the right thing regardless of the laws telling them to do it, what’s the point of the laws? I don’t need a law to tell me not to murder and rape people…I already know it’s wrong. (And before you bring up my “Christian upbringing”, those second-generation atheists I talked about also don’t murder and rape people.)

“Forget Switzerland, we have thousands of centuries of history to show what happens to to societies–including many theist ones!–that SHUN God for golden calves and narcissistic worship.”

No, we won’t forget one of the many countries that shows your stupid views to be false. And besides, if theist societies go astray even with these laws to help create moral consciences, then God’s laws seem to be pretty pathetic.

“…your solution is really no different than Nietzche’s “Superman” idea whereby one forms one’s own morals in a vacuum and thus the truth becomes completely SUBJECTIVE and democratic.”

Yawn.

“GOD makes America great.”

Apparently he’s not doing a very good job.

Seriously, Mark, your posts show nothing but Christian arrogance at being superior and more moral than everyone else, when centuries of Christian dominance led to slavery, crusades, inquisitions, burning of witches and heretics, and other forms of oh-so-admirable “Christian morality.” Regardless of what you think, objective morality is possible without God, and society would not descend into complete chaos without some divine influence helping us to keep ourselves from killing each other. “Thou shalt not kill.” No shit, eh? This is ground-breaking stuff. I’m sure we wouldn’t have figured that out without some God letting us know that ripping people’s heads off is wrong. It definitely would have eluded me if I hadn’t been brought up in a Christian home. Because, you know, atheists are all anarchists who think that they should be allowed to kill anyone they want.

Mark, didn’t you say you were leaving? Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.

Warmest wishes,
Jeff

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Penneyworth December 2, 2009 at 10:31 am

@Bill Maher: Sorry for being rude, but consider my point of view. Alonzo Fyfe has come to a certain conclusion about the best way to handle pollution. Fine. He may be right, he may be wrong. It’s worth debating. However, with very little evidence mustered, he has jumped to the conclusion that it is immoral to take the opposite stance, and he attempts to manipulate our emotions with such language as “paying out of someone else’s bank account,” “anti-free market,” and “anarcho-communist.” These are gross simplifications of the problem. It’s like when people accuse republicans of “hating sick people” because they oppose public health care. Do republicans really need to explain that they don’t hate sick people, but actually think public health care will be worse for everyone? Remember Glenn Beck making his moral judgments on America while showing a video of someone being beaten to death? Do we really need to carefully analyze his moral statements, or can we just say “get this guy off the air.”?

Still, ayer seems right on target in rebutting Alonzo here.

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Beelzebub December 2, 2009 at 12:15 pm

Mark,
As Hitchens has pointed out on numerous occasions, how did the Israelites make it as far as Mt. Sinai without killing themselves off and without the 10 Commandments? Something to ponder.

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Chuck December 2, 2009 at 12:58 pm

Mark,

Wow. Half a day, and you’ve got desirism all figured out. Lulu must have lightening-fast delivery.

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Alonzo Fyfe December 2, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Mark

Given your recent comments it may be relevant to point out that I am a second-generation atheist. I am the son of a former carreer U.S. Air Force enlisted man – one of those atheists in foxholes – who served 12 years in the military and retired with 100% medical disability due to injuries sustained in the crash of the military transport he was riding in.

I was raised on the virtue of science – of testing theories and going with the conclusions that observation and reason best support.

He had no objection to my going to church, and I went 3 times with friends who thought they would share their religion with me. The stories – like the one we were told on one such visit of a guy being swallowed by a while – were utter nonsense. A waste of time.

Still, here I am. I have no criminal record of any type (not even a parking ticket), no vices to speak of – no drinking, smoking, using of drugs, gambling, or compulsive shopping. I’m a bit overweight and I drink too much Diet Dr. Pepper for my own good. I resolved when I was 16 that as a mortal that the only thing that had a chance of surviving my death were the effects of my good deeds, and I dedicated my live to leaving the world a better place than it would have otherwise been. I turned town quite a bit of money to go to college to study moral philosophy, because knowing the difference between right and wrong was more important to me than a fat bank account.

I wonder how that fits against your prejudice.

Desirism states that moral values are not innate, they are taught. In fact, I have several posts arguing that innate moral goodness is an absurdity. It implies that we are to be praised or blamed according to the sequences of our genes, something over which we have no control.

People are taught to be good – taught to have desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and taught to not have desires that tend to thwart other desires.

And what incentive do we have to teach others to have desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and to not have desires that tend to thwart other desires?

Think about it.

What incentive might I have to give others an aversion to doing me harm? And what incentive might they have to give me an aversion to doing them harm? It doesn’t take a God to draw the connection here.

Yes, people always do that which fulfills the most and strongest of their desires. The trick is to give them desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and to stop them from acquiring desires that tend to thwart other desires. This way, people can do what they please – but it pleases them to do that which is beneficial to others.

Not because they have an innate moral goodness.

But because we have reason to teach them to acquire a learned moral goodness, as they have reason to teach us to acquire a learned moral goodness.

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Mark December 2, 2009 at 3:08 pm

Jeff said: “Seriously, Mark, your posts show nothing but Christian arrogance at being superior and more moral than everyone else, when centuries of Christian dominance led to slavery, crusades, inquisitions, burning of witches and heretics, and other forms of oh-so-admirable “Christian morality.”

First off, I’m not showing arrogance at all. I’m defending my faith and the truth I KNOW is inherent in it. I’m not saying “I’M better than you!” I’m saying the truth is in my faith, and not in your your atheism or any of its mutations (cleverly disguised as revolutionary schools of thought). You want arrogance? Check Luke’s questions about why so-called desirism hasn’t been discovered by now. Answer? Come on you should know it. Something like” because for centuries philsophers had their heads up their bums and were searching in the wrong place.”

ARROGANCE 101. Try learning some philosophy (I recommend Descartes and Kant for starters) before you blast it as ignorant. I know, I know, it’s tough to read philosophy when all those big bad philosopher giants keep using that G word you detest so much.

If I was arrogant, I wouldn’t even come to this web site or any other atheist web site. I’d be repelled by them and afraid of their purveyors because I’d be fearful of being “jolted” as Luke was. I am not. The more I learn about atheism the more I am convinced of my faith.

Why am I so sure? Because the proof of my faith is all around us. You and I know the only way you can argue against it is to hoist up things that happened centuries ago. We all know every movement in the history of movements had its ugly chapters. Man is fallible. Of course he falls off the wagon. Ask Tiger Woods. It happens. This is why Christianity doesn’t TRUST man, it trusts GOD. The Bible holds GOD ALONE is Holy. In God we trust. All other pay cash.

France? Really? Where the term “chauvinism” was born? Where men believe they’re so superior to women they STILL haven’t addressed women’s rights in their declaration of the rights of MAN and citizen? Oh yeah, super country. Sign me up! Bollocks. If you know any history you know their declaration was crafted 13 years AFTER the Declaration of Independence and pretty much plagiarized a good part of it. Not only that, Jefferson was IN France as a diplomat at the time at was crafted. Coincidence? Sure, like mankind. Please. I could plagiarize the entire Bible and remove every reference to God and make it “Luke” instead, and then republish it as the Declaration of Luke but that doesn’t make it secular. That makes it a rip off.

Anyway, all that aside, if France is so wonderful then why aren’t you living there?

Crusades, inquisitions, slavery.. what the heck? GOD didn’t do those things—- MAN DID THOSE THINGS IN THE NAME OF GOD. Just because those people CLAIM to be representing God’s wishes doesn’t mean they WERE, any more than it would mean I was African American simply because I said I was.

Fallible, selfish, sinful man is the cause for those atrocities. Thank God they pale in comparison to the body count of atheists. What are we at now, Jeff? 400,000,000? Baby genocide, holocaust, and the list goes on and on and on. You should probably veer away from the “atrocities” argument, you will lose it every time.

As Hitchens has pointed out on numerous occasions, how did the Israelites make it as far as Mt. Sinai without killing themselves off and without the 10 Commandments? Something to ponder.

Hitchens. Was he drunk or sober when he said this? Guess it doesn’t matter because either way he knows the answer to that question. He just can’t entertain it as a possibility because he, like you, can not get his mind around the idea that there may be another reality outside the reality we perceive with our five senses. So for me to even try to explain it to you would be an exercise in futility because you can’t and won’t except the premises to any argument I put forth. What’s the point?

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Mark December 2, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Alonzo said “Given your recent comments it may be relevant to point out that I am a second-generation atheist. I am the son of a former career U.S. Air Force enlisted man – one of those atheists in foxholes – who served 12 years in the military and retired with 100% medical disability due to injuries sustained in the crash of the military transport he was riding in.

Not relevant, BUT I appreciate and respect your father’s sacrifices immensely. I too am a U.S. Army vet, but thankfully never had to experience the horror of war. Much respect to your father, Alonzo.

I was raised on the virtue of science – of testing theories and going with the conclusions that observation and reason best support.

My condolences.

[My father] had no objection to my going to church, and I went 3 times with friends who thought they would share their religion with me. The stories – like the one we were told on one such visit of a guy being swallowed by a while [sic] – were utter nonsense. A waste of time.

I recognize allegory doesn’t bode well with the budding scientist. My son, also a scientist, used to have some serious qualms with those stories too. He has decided on his own that many of the stories in the Old Testament are allegorical, and chosen to focus on the lesson to be learned from them, not their scientific plausibility. He’s a pretty whipsmart little fella — well not so little anymore! :[

Still, here I am. I have no criminal record of any type (not even a parking ticket), no vices to speak of – no drinking, smoking, using of drugs, gambling, or compulsive shopping. I’m a bit overweight and I drink too much Diet Dr. Pepper for my own good.

Great! But you have described only a tiny fraction of the human experience. Are you FULFILLED? Do you ever experience a profound sense of joy? Do you share your life, your love, and your heart selflessly with another human companion, and do you experience the joy in receiving theirs in return? Do you cry when you watch stirring movies? Do you daydream of romance, and music, and holidays, and warm fires, and family, and sunsets and ….. do you consistently wake up every morning with a deep sense of joy and peace and thanksgiving? Do you ever sing out loud with all your heart simply because you are just so thankful to be alive? Do you ever take off to the store on a whim and buy flowers for someone just because you love that person so much? Do you hug the men in your life you love tightly and without inhibition? Do you live each day like you were dying? Do you dance like no one is watching?

If many of those things sound inane to you, I will not be surprised. Many of them used to sound inane to me, too.

I resolved when I was 16 that as a mortal that the only thing that had a chance of surviving my death were the effects of my good deeds, and I dedicated my live to leaving the world a better place than it would have otherwise been.

I have had a different journey. I resolved that I was going to get married, have a family, and teach my children how to be great people and avoid the mistakes I had made. The quick math told me I could change the world for the better that way. So far so good. It’s always been about LOVE for me. Good deeds just go with the territory. No crusades or inquisitions here, just strict adherence to the teachings of Christ to the best of my ability.

I turned town quite a bit of money to go to college to study moral philosophy, because knowing the difference between right and wrong was more important to me than a fat bank account.I wonder how that fits against your prejudice.

I take it you mean “so NOW what?” Well, I have never heard of anyone going to college to learn the difference between right and wrong, but hey, we all take different paths. I think your accomplishments are very admirable, but I’ll take child-rearing over a formal education in morality any day. I always felt the Bible was a perfectly sufficient moral doctrine. I still marvel at its depth.

Desirism states that moral values are not innate, they are taught. In fact, I have several posts arguing that innate moral goodness is an absurdity. It implies that we are to be praised or blamed according to the sequences of our genes, something over which we have no control.

I agree, innate moral goodness is ABSURD. We are on the same page!

People are taught to be good –

Yes indeed they are taught to be good. But you fail to state WHERE that “good” originates. From what source shall we attribute it? Social necessity? Please. THAT is absurd, too. GOOD originates in the 10 Commandments.

we are taught to have desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and taught to not have desires that tend to thwart other desires.

Oh Alonzo, with all due respect, if only desire could be “taught.” I take it you have never had children? Please do. Then we can continue this conversation.

And what incentive do we have to teach others to have desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and to not have desires that tend to thwart other desires?

Sorry but I can’t get past the absurd premise that we can TEACH people to DESIRE things.

Yes, people always do that which fulfills the most and strongest of their desires.

This is FALSE. People do NOT *ALWAYS* do what their desires call for. Today I denied myself about 20 desires, one of which was to take the day off.

The trick is to give them desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and to stop them from acquiring desires that tend to thwart other desires. This way, people can do what they please – but it pleases them to do that which is beneficial to others.

Rubbish. The conscience is the moral compass. If it is malformed, it can not make sound judgments. If it is well formed it produces good people like Luke, Alonzo, and Mark who–presumably–are not terrorizing their fellow mankind. But again, we will always argue the SOURCE of that GOODNESS.

But because we have reason to teach them to acquire a learned moral goodness, as they have reason to teach us to acquire a learned moral goodness.

What reason? What reason do we have Alonzo? Please do tell.

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Fortuna December 2, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Mark (I know this wasn’t addressed to me, but meh);

France? Really? Where the term “chauvinism” was born?

Uh, yeah, really. They are in fact doing fine. Ever been there?

And who cares if they coined the term? That hardly means they invented the practice, ferchrissakes.

Where men believe they’re so superior to women they STILL haven’t addressed women’s rights in their declaration of the rights of MAN and citizen?

You have pretty obviously never been to France, or asked any French people their opinions on the matter. Might be enlightening for you if you did.

Incidentally, the equality of women to men is guaranteed in the 1946 draft of the French Constitution, which is itself affirmed as binding in the preamble to the modern-day Constitution.

Oh yeah, super country.

They are indeed a first-rate country by any number of common empirical standards. Look it up sometime.

Crusades, inquisitions, slavery.. what the heck? GOD didn’t do those things—- MAN DID THOSE THINGS IN THE NAME OF GOD.

Yeah, that’s pretty much the point. God is a fiction, and not uncommonly a dangerous one at that.

Fallible, selfish, sinful man is the cause for those atrocities. Thank God they pale in comparison to the body count of atheists. What are we at now, Jeff? 400,000,000? Baby genocide, holocaust, and the list goes on and on and on. You should probably veer away from the “atrocities” argument, you will lose it every time.

Hmmmkay, here’s some homework for you. Find me a scholarly paper, published in a peer-reviewed historical journal, that lays out exactly how atheism itself caused the atrocities you mentioned. Or any solid historical documentation that can make that case would do.

And while we’re on the subject, you don’t get to put “baby genocide” on our camp. Hate to break it to you, but religious women get abortions too. In fact, a rather large percentage of women of reproductive age in the United States get an abortion at some point in their lives, and there simply aren’t enough atheists around for us to take all the credit.

You also don’t get to put the Holocaust on us, either. That was not an atheist project.

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Jeff H December 2, 2009 at 6:16 pm

“First off, I’m not showing arrogance at all. I’m defending my faith and the truth I KNOW is inherent in it.”

Lol. No arrogance there, eh? Well perhaps I’m simply misinterpreting the tone of your comments. I still see it as arrogance, but I’ll retract my statement due to the ambiguity of the written word.

“ARROGANCE 101. Try learning some philosophy (I recommend Descartes and Kant for starters) before you blast it as ignorant. I know, I know, it’s tough to read philosophy when all those big bad philosopher giants keep using that G word you detest so much.”

I have. Descartes is one of my favourite philosophers, and while I am not a big fan of Kant, I did manage to squeak my way through the Critique of Practical Reason. I love philosophy. I read philosophical texts for fun. So before you “blast me as ignorant”, try not assuming that you have some special knowledge about me and who I am. Oh and by the way, I don’t “detest” the G word. I am comfortable talking about God and whether he does or does not exist…..that’s why I’m here on this site.

“If I was arrogant, I wouldn’t even come to this web site or any other atheist web site. I’d be repelled by them and afraid of their purveyors because I’d be fearful of being “jolted” as Luke was. I am not. The more I learn about atheism the more I am convinced of my faith.”

Good for you. Of course, arrogant people often like to tell everyone else how “I know I’m right and you’re wrong”. But that, of course, couldn’t describe you.

“We all know every movement in the history of movements had its ugly chapters. Man is fallible. Of course he falls off the wagon. Ask Tiger Woods. It happens. This is why Christianity doesn’t TRUST man, it trusts GOD. The Bible holds GOD ALONE is Holy. In God we trust. All other pay cash.”

Yawn. You’d think that the Ten Commandments and their development of the moral conscience would have changed that sort of thing. How is God so inept that he couldn’t even make rules that the beings he created could follow with at least some degree of consistency? I mean, these aren’t even just any random creations of his…these are the people that claim to follow him and devote their lives to him. You’d think they’d have developed that moral compass by now.

“France? Really? Where the term “chauvinism” was born? Where men believe they’re so superior to women they STILL haven’t addressed women’s rights in their declaration of the rights of MAN and citizen?”

Uhh…you’re a dumbass. France is one of the most progressive countries on earth. You should try checking the stats, because most of the European countries outclass America on almost every dimension you can think of to measure the quality of the society. Maybe they coined the term “chauvinism” in order to distinguish what they shouldn’t do. Makes you wonder why Americans didn’t have a word for it at all…

“If you know any history you know their declaration was crafted 13 years AFTER the Declaration of Independence and pretty much plagiarized a good part of it.”

What the hell is this, a school assignment? Who the hell cares if they “ripped off” the Declaration of Independence? Actually, that makes a good point. A notably secular society decided to plagiarize a large portion of the American document. Apparently they found it secular enough to use as their own. So doesn’t that suggest that the Declaration of Independence is fairly secular in nature as well? Perhaps your country wasn’t founded on the idea of “in God we trust” after all…

“Anyway, all that aside, if France is so wonderful then why aren’t you living there?”

I don’t really have the cash to pick up and move to a different country every time the stats change. Canada is a decently respectable country, although we certainly aren’t perfect. But I suppose maybe I should move south to the “greatest nation on earth” *rolls eyes*

“Crusades, inquisitions, slavery.. what the heck? GOD didn’t do those things—- MAN DID THOSE THINGS IN THE NAME OF GOD. Just because those people CLAIM to be representing God’s wishes doesn’t mean they WERE…”

Exactly. Apparently God’s way of helping us to become moral, upstanding citizens is not very effective.

“Thank God they pale in comparison to the body count of atheists. What are we at now, Jeff? 400,000,000? Baby genocide, holocaust, and the list goes on and on and on. You should probably veer away from the “atrocities” argument, you will lose it every time.”

Lol. Atheism is not a formal set of doctrines. Just because someone rejects God, doesn’t mean that I agree with him in any other area at all. On the other hand, I’m sure almost all Christians would claim to respect and follow the Ten Commandments. So again, it doesn’t appear that God’s method is very effective. Anyway, I like Fortuna’s answer to this as well, so I’ll leave it at that.

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Beelzebub December 3, 2009 at 1:26 am

Mark,
Thank you for your non-answer. The point is still valid, whatever Hitchens’s blood alcohol level, and besides, ad hominem is a logical fallacy, as you must know. The question still stands, but if you care to not answer it, duly noted.

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Alonzo Fyfe December 3, 2009 at 6:11 am

To get back to the main subject:

If the original report is accurate, what we are talking about here is a $23 trillion dollar subsidy or those industries that release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Even if this is off by two orders of magnitude, this still reflects a $230 billion dollar government subsidy. It is, in effect, a government declaration that, “You may pass those costs off on to others – you need not pay for them yourselves.” The government is not actually giving these industries the money, but they are giving the industries the authority to demand payment from others.

This only reflects the property cost of a half-meter rise in sea level. It does not reflect any of the other costs. It also does not reflect the costs of a sea level rise that could, if the ice shelves melt, increase sea levels by over 70 meters over time. The costs (and thus the magnitude of the government subsidy) could be significantly higher.

Compare that to a few billion dollars in subsidies for research into developing alternatives to such a heavily subsidized industry.

This is why these companies and organizations are lobbying so heavily for this option – because of the huge magnitude of the government subsidy they are receiving – the huge magnitude of the costs they the government allows them to force onto others.

The moral crime, in this case, is this crime of forcing costs onto others. It is a crime that I have written is comparable to purchasing goods and services using somebody else’s credit card, without their consent. Except, instead of taking money out of a person’s account, this credit card assigns the owner as somebody whose property will be demolished, and who may even end up killed, as a result of the purchases that people are making with those credit cards.

The moral crime is also in Rove’s use of rhetoric to sell this subsidy – the campaign of deception, misrepresentation, half-truths, and distortions that aim to convince people, “Hey, you are better off by letting us keep your credit card and use it as we wish, to buy whatever we want with it. After all, you still get the bonus air miles from every one of our purchases. You don’t want to lose that, do you?”

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ayer December 3, 2009 at 6:31 am

Alonzo Fyfe: The moral crime…

Your rhetoric in labeling a policy difference in a complex area involving inevitable trade-offs and cost/benefit analyses a “moral crime” is just bizarre. It also requires you to be able to read Rove’s mind to assert that his motivations are base, greedy, dishonest, etc., instead of a sincere policy difference. (This is particularly ironic since cold, hard proof of the use of half-truths, deception and misrepresentation by the pro-cap and trade IPCC and its allies was recently revealed–where is your moral outrage at their “moral crime?”)

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lukeprog December 3, 2009 at 7:37 am

ayer,

Desirism does not assess moral value on the basis of intent. It is a consequentialist theory of morality.

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Alonzo Fyfe December 3, 2009 at 8:03 am

Your rhetoric in labeling a policy difference in a complex area involving inevitable trade-offs and cost/benefit analyses a “moral crime” is just bizarre.

Some “policy differences” are moral differences. The “policy difference” with respect to slavery, segretation, the breaking of treaties against Native Americans, and the like are policy differences that also speak to the moral character of the disputants. Some policies are more moral than others.

It also requires you to be able to read Rove’s mind to assert that his motivations are base, greedy, dishonest, etc., instead of a sincere policy difference.

No mind-reading is required. A person’s desires are inferred by those that best explain and predict a person’s behavior – just as the chemical composition of a substance is inferred by what best explains the behavior of that substance. We then look at whether people have reason to promote or inhibit those desires by the effects of those desires on fulfilling or thwarting other desires.

At best, Rove can claim that his arguments were unintentionally misleading and deceptive – but this still leaves him open to the charge of negligence. It still speaks to him having insufficient interest in avoiding harm to others that would have motivated a moral individual to have been more careful.

At worst, he spoke with an intent to deceive people into behaving in ways that would put their lives and property at extreme risk for sake of securing what amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars to trillions of dollars in what are effectively government subsidies for his clients or those whose political and economic interests he is seeking to advance.

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Fortuna December 3, 2009 at 10:01 am

ayer:

Your rhetoric in labeling a policy difference in a complex area involving inevitable trade-offs and cost/benefit analyses a “moral crime” is just bizarre. It also requires you to be able to read Rove’s mind to assert that his motivations are base, greedy, dishonest, etc., instead of a sincere policy difference. (This is particularly ironic since cold, hard proof of the use of half-truths, deception and misrepresentation by the pro-cap and trade IPCC and its allies was recently revealed–where is your moral outrage at their “moral crime?”)

Oh really now? I was unaware that the East Anglia CRU had magically morphed into the entire IPCC. And what’s this talk of proof? Has the formal investigation concluded?

Citation is needed.

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ayer December 3, 2009 at 10:44 am

lukeprog: ayer,Desirism does not assess moral value on the basis of intent. It is a consequentialist theory of morality.  

Ok, then Fyfe should not have described Rove’s “moral crime” as “deception” (which is a term of intent).

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ayer December 3, 2009 at 10:53 am

Alonzo Fyfe: Some policies are more moral than others.

I agree, and to place the judgment regarding the trade-offs between growth and environmental protection in the category of slavery would be ludicrous.

Alonzo Fyfe: At best, Rove can claim that his arguments were unintentionally misleading and deceptive – but this still leaves him open to the charge of negligence. It still speaks to him having insufficient interest in avoiding harm to others that would have motivated a moral individual to have been more careful.

You are still demonstrating epistemological chutzpah in asserting that policy alternatives to cap and trade are so obviously wrong as to be “immoral” in some sense (do you take a similar view on healthcare reform? Is a bill that adopts the Canadian model “moral” while one that adopts the Swiss model “immoral”?) But aside from that, even if it were established that Rove was negligent in failing to fully research the issue, that is not a “crime” worthy of such a hyperventiliating jeremiad. The vast majority of congressmen fail to even read the bills they vote on (including the cap and trade bill passed by the House last summer)–will you condemn them as negligent “moral criminals”?

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Jeff H December 3, 2009 at 11:26 am

Alonzo Fyfe: To get back to the main subject:

My apologies at diverting the subject. I just couldn’t let Mark get away with that massive post without saying something. Back to the subject at hand :)

I was wondering if you could clarify something for me. Would you classify any action that is not the “most moral” action to be “immoral”? Like, let’s say that there are two potential solutions to a (complex) problem. Option A ends up solving 30% of the problem, while Option B only ends up solving 20%. Would classify option B as “immoral”, or simply “less moral” than Option A? I’m just wondering…it might clear up the issue that you and ayer are having.

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lukeprog December 3, 2009 at 7:38 pm

ayer,

“Moral crime” can describe something without assuming intent. “Deception” normally assumes intent but is not a moral claim.

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ayer December 3, 2009 at 7:55 pm

lukeprog: ayer,“Moral crime” can describe something without assuming intent. “Deception” normally assumes intent but is not a moral claim.  

So when Fyfe accuses Rove of “deception” he is not saying that “deception” is morally blameworthy?

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lukeprog December 3, 2009 at 9:12 pm

ayer,

It’s pretty clear that Fyfe thinks deception in this case is morally blameworthy. But he gave an argument as to WHY it is morally blameworthy. ‘Deception’ itself is a morally neutral term.

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Alonzo Fyfe December 4, 2009 at 4:37 am

ayer: You are still demonstrating epistemological chutzpah in asserting that policy alternatives to cap and trade are so obviously wrong as to be “immoral” in some sense…

First, I am no fan of cap-and-trade. It has some legitimate problems. However, the issue with those legitimate problems is that solving them is not compatible with preserving what is effectively a multi-trillion-dollar subsidy for the energy industry, which is what Rove wants to preserve, which is why he has no intereset in these legitimate problems.

Second, the immorality that I am accusing Rove of is that of advocating a system where people can acquire goods and services and force others – against their will – to pay the bill. Particularly in light of the fact that this is a bill that people pay with their lives and the wholesale destruction of their cities. Do you think that type of behavior is morally legitimate?

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Alonzo Fyfe December 4, 2009 at 5:52 am

Addendum

The legitimate objections to cap-and-trade come from a capitalist free-market perspective. However, the capitalist free-market perspective loathes multi-trillion-dollar government subsidies. It loathes external costs and holds that the shortest route to economic efficiency comes from internalizing those costs.

This is not compatible with Rove’s objectives of preserving this massive government subsidy (which is actually the objective of the industries for which Rove is the spokesperson). So, do not expect to hear capitalist free-market objections to cap-and-trade coming from the likes of Rove et al.

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ayer December 4, 2009 at 6:55 am

Alonzo Fyfe: the immorality that I am accusing Rove of is that of advocating a system where people can acquire goods and services and force others – against their will – to pay the bill.

I thought desirism was a consequentialist moral theory? If preserving the subsidy to the energy industry combined with government-subsidized basic research into clean energy technologies resulted in, e.g., a 3% economic growth rate and an acceptable level of carbon emissions in the same time frame as cap and trade; while cap and trade had the consequence of reducing economic growth to 0.5% for the same amount of emissions reduction–would it be “immoral” for Rove to support the former? I don’t think so. Thus whether costs are internalized or not is not the key issue (unless there is some kind of absolute moral prohibition on the government failing to force companies to internalize costs–and I thought desirism didn’t have any absolute moral prohibitions).

This is particularly the dilemma facing developing countries like India and China–a straight trade-off between relieving the grinding poverty in their populations vs. reduction in carbon emissions. Your position is a vast oversimplification of the prudential complexities of this issue.

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lukeprog December 4, 2009 at 7:37 am

ayer,

You are confusing desire utilitarianism for an act-utilitarian theory.

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ayer December 4, 2009 at 7:50 am

lukeprog: ayer,You are confusing desire utilitarianism for an act-utilitarian theory.  

Perhaps so, but my conclusion remains the same: if the theory produces such oversimplifying sermonizing on an inherently ambiguous and complex policy issue, it is not a valid means of policymaking, and I would hope no legislator would adopt it.

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Charles December 4, 2009 at 11:50 am

ayerif the theory produces such oversimplifying sermonizing on an inherently ambiguous and complex policy issue, it is not a valid means of policymaking

Ayer,

What exactly are you arguing for? Standing by while large number of men, women, and children die?

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Alonzo Fyfe December 4, 2009 at 12:13 pm

ayer: Perhaps so, but my conclusion remains the same: if the theory produces such oversimplifying sermonizing on an inherently ambiguous and complex policy issue, it is not a valid means of policymaking…

Or perhaps it only appears to produce oversimplifying sermonizing to somebody who confuses act utilitarianism and desire utilitarianism, and his act-utilitarian objections are actually inapplicable to the desire-utilitarian account he is criticizing.

Can you provide an argument or evidence of this alleged oversimplifying sermonizing that does not depend on confusing desire utilitarianism and act utilitarianism?

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Penneyworth December 4, 2009 at 1:08 pm

ayer: it is not a valid means of policymaking, and I would hope no
legislator would adopt it.  

It’s unlikely in the extreme that any legislator ever would. Just as no legislator will ever claim to use the bible as a valid means of policymaking (even guys like Huckabee). One reason for this is the obvious problem of interpretation. For a legislator to interpret the bible to make policy, we have every reason to believe that he is just attempting to have us see his opinion as god’s will. His quoting of vague bible verses won’t even be universally convincing to Christians. Policy is not made by considering statements derived from moral theories. Policy is made (we hope) by analysis of the consequences for certain actions: If we enforce policy X, we think Y and Z will happen.

Taking seriously the question “Is policy X moral?” can only serve to cut short our analysis of the possible consequences of policy X. This is the case if we trust a priest to reach into the black box of “god’s will” and pull out the correct moral judgement, or if we trust Alonzo Fyfe to reach into his black box for an “account” of desirism. If he complains that desirism is clear where the bible is vague, we have to assume that Alonzo has access to knowledge of all desires in existense, and that he knows the only logical way to assign values and strengths to them. This is after we have accepted that desirism is “the correct moral theory,” which is already assuming that we accept the absurdity and incoherence of moral realism. We have no need to make these leaps of faith. All we need do is examine the consequences of policy X to the best of our abilities. Moral statements about public policy are superfluous, and are only used as a tactic to add emotional support to one’s stance.

Desire utilitarianism vs act utilitarianism?
Red Herring!
It doesn’t matter if your moral theory comes from divine commands, utilitarianism, satanism, etc. Stances on policy are judged on their own merits, not on their proponent’s moral theory.

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