April 11th, 2012


Examples of Raising the Level of Discourse

I'm pretty happy with the way this conversation on G+ turned out. It started out moderately hot, with some insults and not a lot of actual content, and ended up (as of this writing, at least) with a few topics we agree on, some neat history and philosophy of governance, and more civility. I'd go over the bit by bit, but it's easier just to read it.

Last night, I had a choice between two social gatherings (!!), and went with a skeptics group run by (and I do mean to state it so strongly) a local philosopher. It was a lively discussion on celebrity endorsement of scientific, anti-scientific, and semi-scientific positions. I loved the sharpness of the people there and the variety in opinions. It was a bit unwieldy in size, but was a delight. There is a point of slight awkwardness in that one of the people who attends the meeting is a former would-be employer, but that can be navigated.

There's a skeptical conference coming up that I am thinking about attending; it's a bit expensive and I'm trying not to spend a lot of money (spectacularly failed at that yesterday, when I bought a Playstation Vita and a lot of oranges, haha) until I'm more employed. I probably will go, but there's another bit of potential awkwardness in that there's someone I asked out on a dating site who's going to be prominent there.

I do kinda regret not being able to attend both meetings last night; the other one was about cross-domain reasoning, which is a topic I'd like to study in grad school, but it was also hosted in the home of someone who leads a group I'm generally wary of (hive of people of the libertarian flavour of transhumanism).

I do feel that being here is good for me; my natural reclusive tendencies might not win out in the end if I can keep attending enough social events to meet folk before I feel the need to go hide.


Universalising Doctrines

A small cluster of ideas that I've mentioned in passing in past posts that probably deserves one of its own:

  • In any movement that aims for some universalising notion of the good, it is appropriate to aim to eliminate the bad and secure victory for the good, not to secure existence of the good as a "viable choice". This applies to anything from religious liberty to opensource software; if you just want it as an option, what you have is a personal preference (even if your option takes a certain number of institutions to really be viable).
  • This is not meant to disparage those who do just want their preferences to be viable; it's a definitional line that one might reasonably be on either side of
  • I contend that the multiculturalist flavour of liberalism, or at least large parts of it, actually has few notions of the good, as its notion of diversity requires most other values be reasonably quiet. The person who, for example, pushes back against universal criticism of female circumcision for the sake of respecting the cultures that perform it, even if they strongly oppose it in their own culture, is opposing the universalisation of a value-choice on that topic. As someone opposed to that flavour of reasoning (despite my metropolitan identity, I believe in universalising values), this idea of "mind your own business" is a call to neglect one's duty to one's values, or perhaps to adopt a kind of practical nihilism.

From this, I also strongly oppose the efforts of libertarians who dream of floating nations, or nations in space, to escape conventional morality; it is not enough to eliminate slavery, institutional racism/sexism, and the threats to labour where we are, we should seek to eliminate them everywhere and to prevent new bubbles of humanity from emerging that recreate past evils.

As implied by my metaphilosophy of values, I don't think that all value conclusions must/should be universal, nor that we should defend them all with the same tools or vigour. Whether and to what extent our value-conclusions are universal is something we should keep in mind when we're reflecting on our values.