Greater Good, Lesser Evil

Often, when justifying someone’s action, you hear the phrase, “for the greater good.”

It took awhile for me to realize that the proper question isn’t “greater than what?”  The proper question is, “greater for whom?”

The phrase is used as an unanswerable justification for an action that would otherwise be judged as bad or evil.  It’s as though if something is done “for the greater good,” it is unquestionably virtuous.

Think of the alms for the poor that religions have demanded from their congregations for hundreds of years, threatening hellfire for disobedience.

Or, consider the justification given for funding welfare programs through taxation.  There are people in need; those who are meeting their own needs must provide for them.  If your question about the good is, “greater for whom?” the answer comes easily; at least, it does if you’ve read Ayn Rand on altruism.  The “greater good” means what’s good for other people, as opposed to what is good for an individual.

The “greater good” is given as a Christian way of dealing with the “problem of evil”.  This latter is often raised in discussions about the existence of God.  How can the Christian god exist when there is so much obvious evil in the world?  Evil becomes less problematic — it can even be seen as necessary —  if it contributes to bringing about the “greater good” of fulfilling God’s wishes.

What unites the religious “greater good” with the political “public interest”?  They both based on the premise that sacrifice is good.

“The greater good” fits right in with the Christian duty to self-sacrifice.  It also fits in with the political Left’s maxim that the good is whatever benefits the most people.  Thus we get “the public interest”, which is said to justify the sacrifice of the productive to the “needy”.  So, what might be thought of as “bad” or “evil” for some thus becomes a “greater good” for other people.

In essence, sacrifice is the giving up of something you value for something you value less or not at all.  Christianity expects you to do so in order to have any chance of reaching Heaven.   Leftist politicians exhort you to forego your own interests for:  future generations, or the poor, or the environment, or health care for everyone or — fill in the blank with whatever goals they may currently specify.  (Conservative politicians agree with most of their goals, but differ in their methods.)

The flip side of the “greater good” is the “lesser evil”.  Lesser evil is necessary for there to be a greater good.  (That’s what it’s greater than.)

The sacrifice entailed by the “greater good”, then, turns out to be the standard of morality. But how can something that’s admittedly evil — sacrifice of your values — be a moral standard?  There is a contradiction here.

As always when encountering a contradiction, the principle is: check your premises.  The premise that sacrifice is good contradicts the premise that values are good.

The alternative to the Christian/Leftist call for self-sacrifice?  Rational egoism.  Your responsibility is to yourself; not to any god nor to everyone else.

–Ken

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Terrorism vs. Freedom of Speech

Here we go again.

Sherry Jones, an American journalist, wrote a book entitled The Jewel of Medina. She got and advance of $100,000 from Random House, and the book was scheduled to come out in August of this year. It reportedly concerns the love story of Muhammed and his child bride.

A professor who was asked to read the book and perhaps provide a blurb for the cover, instead panned the book. Her derogation of the book as “softcore pornography” was leaked to the press.

The result was to cause Random House to withdraw. Jones responded, “That one of the biggest publishing houses in the world refuses to publish a book because of warnings is a sobering comment on the state of freedom of speech in the USA.” http://tinyurl.com/4b5osy

What Jones said is true; freedom of speech is eroding in this country. That is happening, not because of any conspiratorial suppression, but because of our government’s defaulting on its job of protecting this freedom.

The default, ongoing for years now, was highlighted when American publishers and book sellers were terrorized from publishing Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, and the government did nothing. It’s hard to blame Random House for being scared off.

Sherry Jones was able to find another publisher, Gibson Square, an independent in Britain. The threats followed the book across the ocean. The home/office of this publisher, Martin Rynja, has been firebombed, lending credence to Random House’s fears. At least, the British authorities acted quickly and well, arresting the perpetrators and charging them with terrorism.

–Ken

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Church and State

Since I have nothing but scorn for religion, you can be sure that I abhor its recent creeping entry into government in the United States. I had intended to blog on this subject; however, Diana Hsieh is doing such a superlative job with the new Coalition for Secular Government that I can do no better than to direct anyone interested to:

http://www.seculargovernment.us/

An ongoing blog examines various relevant topics:

http://www.seculargovernment.us/blog/

Be sure to read the position paper by Diana and Ari Armstrong, linked in the URLs above.

–Ken

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To the Republican Platform Committee

In a fit of pique, I submitted the following to the Republican Platform Committee. I don’t expect a great return for the effort, unless …many others express the same ideas as emphatically as they are able:

“My family has always voted Republican. The Party has changed in recent years.

“The important issue: the Republican Party must stand for strict separation of church and state.

“But the Party has now allied itself with the religious right, with such pet issues as anti-stem-cell research, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage.

“I will not vote Republican under such terms. Protection of individual rights is the most important political issue. Citizens have the right to indulge in their religion, but only privately. There is no right to force one’s religious views on others, as the religious right hopes to do through the Republican Party.

“My hope is for the Party to get back to issues of individual rights, national defense, and free markets. Leave the “social” issues to Americans’ free choice. Until then, the Party will not have my vote.”

–Ken

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Dr. Geeta Shroff

Imagine having a paralyzing spinal cord injury. Imagine being unable to move your arms or legs, or even to breathe on your own. Then imagine that a physician has developed a treatment using injected embryonic stem cells which can actually improve your condition, allow you to, say, breathe again without mechanical aid. Or begin to regain some use of your limbs, and find yourself on the road to recovery.

Such treatment now appears to be on the horizon for sufferers of heretofore incurable conditions such as SCI, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.

Every now and then, I run into a new candidate for the title, “a hero of mine.” It’s too early to tell, but I may have found another.

A medical researcher in New Delhi, India, Dr. Geeta Shroff, is reportedly doing wondrous things with embryonic stem cells. She has been called a “maverick,” already an attractive description in an age of regulated conformity. The reason for the appellation: her fierce determination to do her work under her own terms and in her own way.

This means that Dr. Shroff did her research without any government financial assistance. As with the early Bill Gates, she at first worked out of her garage, where she set up her own small lab.

She first became famous in the early 90’s for developing a technique for determining the sex of a fetus in the womb, without taking a scan. After regulators curtailed that practice, she worked at treating couples for infertility problems.

She began her controversial work on stem cells in the late 90’s. At present, she has two hospitals in New Delhi, where she treats people who have terminal conditions or incurable diseases. Her patients have mostly been countrymen, but lately she has been approached by many international patients from Britain, Australia, America, and other countries which tightly control the use of embryonic stem cells.

Dr. Shroff gets criticism from the conventional medical establishment because she doesn’t publish on her research and technique. Instead of publishing, she has applied for a patent in order to stop competitors from copying and profiting from her work.

Dr. Shroff is to be commended for steadfastly being her own person in an era when such independence is frowned upon. She will have huge forces aligned against her: the medical profession’s disapproval and consequent ostracism, condemnation by religious “pro life” groups, castigation by self-styled “ethicists”, censure for insisting on making her own use of her discoveries rather than giving them away — the list goes on.

It’s too early for me to tell whether this remarkable woman and her breakthrough methods are for real, or a flash in the pan, but I have to say, I like her style.
–Ken

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Intelligent Design Yet Again

A cynical curmudgeon named Ben Stein has been making the rounds of talk shows, promoting a soon-to-be-released movie.
(http://expelledthemovie.com/)

Judging from the trailer for the movie, it will be yet another rehash of Intelligent Design. The trailer shows a teacher at a chalkboard, talking to his class about evolution. Stein, at the rear of the class, interrupts to ask how life could arise from inanimate matter.

The teacher acts caught out. He mumbles and stutters. He says they have gone over this time and again. Stein responds that the teacher never answers the question. He brings up the possibility of ID, and the other students all nod approvingly.

Leave aside for the moment the fact that several hypotheses about the origin of life are presently being scientifically explored. (See, e.g., http://tinyurl.com/z2ylv.) Stein’s notion of ID demonstrates once again a fallacy that constantly shows up in ID claims. In fact, this fallacy has been pointed out so frequently that it has acquired a title: God of the Gaps.

Religion loves a mystery, meaning anything currently unexplainable. Theistic people can then “explain” the unknown by positing a god or gods who make it all happen.

An excellent article, “The Last Gasp for the God of the Gaps” by Greg Perkins is still available: (http://tinyurl.com/5ox38o)

When you already “know” — throughRevelaton — that God exists and created everything, you can safely ridicule any scientific teaching that contradicts your “knowledge.”

Stein, and ID proponents generally, already “know” how life got started; how the universe itself got started. God did it, and they “don’ need no steenking” scientific theories.

The focus of the ID movement is to ridicule the theory of evolution, which, they are correct in fearing, gives the lie to the notion of “creation ex nihilo.” The deeper purpose of ID is to more firmly embed religion into politics so that education and legislation will reflect the religionists’ views of the world and morality.

Of course, Stein’s movie is bent on deriding any idea of a universe with no God to make it go, so the focus (in the trailer) is the humiliation of the teacher who can’t answer it.

–Ken

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Morality Laws

In Iran, there are religious courts. Their decisions are enforced, brutally and sometimes publically, by the police. There have been many reports of the harsh punishment dealt out to those who break Islamic law. I saw another such report the other day.

“His face covered by a balaclava, an official brandishing a cane repeatedly lashes the back of a man found guilty of breaking Iran’s morality laws.

“Two police officers hold the legs of 25-year-old Saeed Ghanbari and another his arms to ensure there is no escape from the punishment of 80 lashes handed down by a religious court.

“Traffic was brought to a halt in Qazvin, 90 miles west of the capital Tehran, as more than 1,000 men gathered behind barricades to watch the public flogging…”

Pictures are inserted showing a hefty, masked official obviously putting all his weight and strength behind the blows as he lashes the man.

“…Both men then lashed Ghanbari, taking the cane back behind their heads to guarantee maximum impact, each stroke leaving a distinctive red mark and bruising on his back.

“Several wounds began to bleed.

“It was unclear exactly what his offense had been as the country’s strict morality laws cover many areas, but it was reported he had been convicted of abusing alcohol and having sex outside of marriage.”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=477088&in_page_id=1770
Fundamentalist Christians have no problem with the idea of criminalizing immoral conduct. After all, they say, God made the rules, and those are the rules men should be obeying. Man’s rights have little bearing where God’s wishes are concerned. Today’s Christians might not be willing to go so far as public flogging, but give tomorrow’s Christians the chance to be truly in power and I fail to see how they would be any different from the Muslims.

As brief evidence, there were some comments from readers in England and Wales following the above report, to the effect that this is the kind of punishment needed in the West. The lawbreakers know the law so they deserve the punishment, “unlike this country (Wales) where the victims pay the price and the guilty walk free.”

–Ken

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Sunnis? Shiites? Sheesh!

Shiites? Sunnis? It’s often been hard to keep them distinguished, in my mind. Iraq apparently has both varieties of Moslems and they hate each other and war upon each other, although both are sects of Islam. The government under Saddam Hussein was mostly Sunni, I believe.

I do know, from repetitions ad nauseum on the news, that the Shiites are in charge of Iraq’s new democratic government. I am pretty sure that the leadership in Iran is also Shiite. Both Iran and Iraq are Moslem, but Iran is not Arab.

Anyway, Condoleeza Rice says that
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/19/world/19rice.html?ex=1176091200&en=d36130c87b46aa2b&ei=5070
Iraq’s government (Shiite) sees itself as Arab. It wants a place in the Arab world (does the Arab League still exist?). She thinks the only way Iraq’s government would ally itself with Iran is if they are denied a place in the Arab world. So, I would guess that “our” policy is to encourage Iraq’s inclusion with other Arabs, thus adding to Iran’s isolation.

If our government would only do what it should — take Iran out of the picture — I wouldn’t have to get headaches trying to figure out all this tribal/religious folderol.

–Ken

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Religion & Objectivism

Somebody calling himself “The Forum God” here says:

“I have always enjoyed Ayn Rand’s philosophy and have madea (sic) sort of hobby when there’s nothing else to do to try to mix Objectivism into a philosophy that would still allow me to keep being a proud Lutheran.”

Now, I know practically nothing about Lutheranism, except that it is counted as a (the?) Protestant religion. I do know something of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Enough to know that Objectivism won’t “mix into” any religion. It’s the polar opposite of religion.

Why, you ask? So I’ll tell you.

The cardinal tenet of Objectivism is rationality. Objectivism says, in effect, “Look at reality, at the evidence, and then use reason to draw your conclusions on that basis and only that basis.”

Way over at the other pole, religion’s chief tenet is faith. Religion says, “Believe, whether there is any evidence or not. Truth is what God says it is. (That is, what Lutheranism, or Catholicism, or Islam, Judaism, etc., etc., says God says it is.”)

The Forum God wants to mix rationality — ” relying only on evidence and reason to reach truth” — with proudly proclaiming his faith that Lutheranism is true. The contradiction is insurmountable.

He wants to make a change in himself without changing. He wants to mix something he sees as good, Objectivism, with something else that feels good to him, his habitual Lutheranism. Apparently, he doesn’t see, or else doesn’t care about, the contradiction.

–Ken

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