August 15th, 2005


Veins of the Leif

Some kinds of games inspire deep thought, and I admire that. For instance, Nationstates has forii attached to it, and on those boards I've seen a number of discussions, many of them naive but leading no doubt to intellectual growth, on a number of historical political events as well as modern areas of disagreement in politics. For instance, I happened upon a discussion of the four main armies in the Russian revolution, their interactions, and the strategies and morals embodied therein. Similarly, the game advocacy promoted (when it was still alive), through the sheer perversions of logic it employed, the cynical thinking that is necessary to understand modern politics. There are also social games, things like Illuminati and munchkin -- games designed with the understanding that many types of gaming are really about hanging out and having a good time with other people. With these types of games, it's actually a plus that not everyone is playing, or even necessarily at the table, at once. It's missing the point entirely to get too into the game while playing it.

In the news, China's religious leaders appeal for peace. Not itself noteworthy, but they mention China's five religions, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Christianism. I find myself wondering what they mean by the last two -- is "Christianism" Christianity? If so, why is it listed as such compared to Catholicism? It also, as a "can't we all just get along" kind of thing, says some really stupid things, like "Peace is the common aspiration of all religions". Despite what a lot of religious liberals will tell you, religions are not all about peace. Read the christian bible, the qur'an, and try to grasp what they really mean -- they're about imposing their value system on the world. This isn't to say that that, ipso facto, is bad -- most moral systems want to grow, but that growth is hardly peaceful, tolerant, or harmonious with other viewpoints. Of course, dishonest people who pretend that we all can get along without making any sacrifices will pretend that any actual meaning in the foundational texts that happens to disagree with what they're trying to sell is being misunderstood, and provide interpretations that are amazingly torturous in order to pretend that the difference between religions is trivial and meaningless. Ahh, but that's one of my favourite rants, so I probably make it too often.

In other news, for BushJr declaring war on and rebuilding two countries isn't enough -- he apparently has Iran in his sights. Apparently the pretext this time isn't too different from last time -- fears that they may make weapons. Frankly, I don't care of Iran has a number of nukes -- it is inappropriate for the United States to invade other nations because they might be dangerous. I wish that Europe would stand up to the United States even more than Schro"der has -- a military from a European nation that would actually stand against America's agression would be a good thing.

It wouldn't be the first time American government workers attempted to foster trouble in countries they didn't think were friendly enough to them. Chavez is, fortunately, handling it in an admirable way.

In case you haven't been following the news in the middle east, Israel has been withdrawing from Gaza, barring Israeli citizens from the area and evacuating settlements. The question of what happens now is high in everyone's mind -- tensions between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have been especially high recently, and it may be impossible to form a government. It is quite possible that the Palestinians, abused as they were by the Israeli system, will be abused by their own Islamist factions far more. In some ways, the Palestinians find themselves in a similar situation to the Kurds during their brief period of power in the 90s -- during that time, the two political movements (PUK and KDP), with cooperation only made possible by mutual dislike of the enemy, found a need to actually get things done, and failed utterly, killing thousands of each other and giving up, to a large extent, their shot at an autonomous government.

One of my sisters sent me this link because I occasionally enjoy, when my cats are asleep, putting coins on them and watching them twitch until they wake up. In response, they often annoy me by nibbling on me when I'm asleep :)

Oh, in other news, I am beginning to look into taking a trip to Persia sometime soon. I'm attempting to convince a Persian friend to go with me, so I wouldn't be alone in a foreign country without the faintest knowledge of the language. Looks like the plane part would be quite expensive though -- $700 for roundtrip tickets. I wouldn't want this to be another europe-style bank-busting trip -- hopefully I'd find ways to make the actual stay there not overly expensive. Alternatively, if he's not game for the trip, I may just make a trip to Cuba instead, which would be less expensive and where I would at least speak a bit of the language.

My "library" software is coming along well.


Dancing with Seven League Boots

From recent conversations on a mailing list..

The notion of objective morality typically is meant to indicatethat there are acts that, inherent in the nature of things and thusoutside any value system, are wrong. This is typically part of aperspective that states that the nature of morality is that there isno "wrong within a perspective", but rather that there is only onetrue perspective for morality, and the person making the argumentclaims that they have access to at least part of that one trueperspective, and that everyone else has either blinded themselfto what they know is right and wrong, deep within themselves, orhas deformed their moral sense to the extent that they can't use itanymore.

I have come across this attitude often with religious folk, but alsowith objectivists (and Randians). I find it immensely frustratingwhen I do, because

  1. Whoever I'm arguing with on this point typically has a shocking lack of understanding on how cultures have differed in their value systems over time -- cultures untouched by Islam or Christianity were quite different in their perspectives and notions of value systems
  2. They almost invariably ask irrelevant questions like "If there's no absolute morality, how are we to keep a society together?", not understanding that this is a deep philosophical point, not a pragmatic stance, and that it should not be decided on things like the good of society.
  3. In either case, there's such a vast gap between viewing the world with absolute morality and without it that it's difficult to stretch one's mind enough to truly understand both, and almost impossible to forcibly stretch someone else's mind to understand the other perspective.
  4. Because of that vast gap, people also show difficulty in understanding more subtle differences between beliefs on the other side of the pond. For example, I understand that there are variations in the source and nature of absolute morality on that side, but I often have trouble discussing this intelligably with fellow moral relativists, who just dismiss the other side as nonsense and won't grasp the subtleties within what they see as an empty and apparently nonsensical perspective. Similarly, moral absolutists fairly frequently caricature my position as being one whereby I would be unwilling to act on my value system because it would be arrogant to do so, not understanding that within moral relativism, the "Who am I to judge?" faction is not the only one, and typically is populated with folk who still have inner doubts about the issue. If you're really moral relativist, there is no standard in front of which you should hide your judgement -- "Who died and made you god?" is answered by "No one, but the position of refusing to impose moral order and perspective is lazy and amoralist in practice, and takes noninterference as being a surprisingly strong and singular value. Why is noninterference privileged above everything else?". Of course, I have met true amoralists in my life, occasionally having fierce debates with them, but the distinction between me and them is typically invisible from the perspective of moral absolutists. In sum, misunderstandings are very easy, and most people don't stretch their minds to the different perspectives on the issue.
That, in a nutshell, is moral relativism versus moral absolutism, frommy perspective. It differs a lot from what we were talking about, whichcomes down to situations where it is easier to judge, given whateverwe believe about morals, the morality of a situation by understanding afew key facts, hence my insistance that we use different terms.

And from another discussion,

I don't believe that was the discussion, though. My suggested "intention-based objectivism" was not saying our _judgements_ of moral/immoral depend on the mental states of those involved---it was saying that the _objective truth_ of the morality of the situation depends on the mental states of those involved, regardless of what we as observers know. Whether or not I as an observer can know enough about the situation to discern whether it's torture or S&M does not change the facts of the matter, and does not change whether the situation is moral or immoral (as far as an adherent to this system is concerned).

I think I understand now what you meant, and misunderstood.Not that your notion of "objective truth of the morality of the situation"is still one that I would not use -- instead, it would be more acceptableto me to call that the "moral judgement given complete information",in light of my perspective that moral judgement must involve both aperspective (i.e. value configuration/system) and information, andhaving perfect information would not permit one to make the leapto proclaiming any moral judgement one makes to be from any magicalperspective that's outside of a value system, hence the unacceptabilityof making a claim to having a grasp on something which does notexist -- objective moral truth.

As someone who I would presume is a moral absolutist, it still maybe appropriate for you, given your beliefs, to say that there areobjective morals that you could apply to the situation to acquireobjective truth of the morality of the situation. Just don't expectmoral relativists to see it as anything but vain and wrong :)For me, it is appropriate and necessary to distinguish these things.

I've been listening to a lot of old music, partly to further my categorisation of things into music I want in my random mix and music that I need to seek out to play, and came across my collection of corporate anthems. One of the songs, by Honeywell, has a number of people whom I presume are managers, or at least people who are not professional singers. Some of the voices sound rather bad, but there's something somehow charming about that.

I also found music from ROM-dumps from some of my favourite video games, and have been enjoying some of that music too. With the NES8, only the basic tune of things was available to catch the ear. The NES16 offered considerably more sound capability, and some of the music is near (but not quite at) full, modern pcm audio when it comes to wholistic (that is, with-frills) enjoyability. Many video game companies after that actually, from what I understand, hired bands or orchestras to manage their music. A particular memory that might amuse -- when I was much younger, I was very much into the music from Zelda 3 (for the N16). Although my favourite music from the game was the Dark World/Death Mountain theme (geez, that sounds geeky when I think about it), the "between-worlds" sound effect was very interesting and strange. Like so many things musical that interested me, I took a recording on a tape deck and made use of the accidental feature that if the play button were pressed down a faction of the way, it would play either much more quickly or slowly than normal (which probably contributed to the relatively short life of my tapes, in retrospect). That sound effect had an interesting set of chords in it that couldn't be heard individually, but that tape recorder was like an auditory magnifying glass for time. I still have a few bagfuls of those tapes in my apartment, three quarters of them with recordings of the Dr Demento show, the remaining with crazy mixes of music from video games and the radio or sound experiments. If I ever have a lot of time and hard drive space to spare, I'll probably digitize the whole lot. Concievably I could do so now, and burn them to sets of CDs.. hmm.