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Most violence in the world is motivated by moral sentiments (qz.com)
383 points by kawera 715 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 323 comments



One of the most perennially popular courses at my alma mater was entitled "Murder". It was an exploration of the moral justification behind state-sponsored violence, from capital punishment to war to genocide.

The realization that most violence is morally motivated comes with interesting quandaries when you consider what the response to such violence should be. Say that society successfully develops the norm that violence is never acceptable. What do you do with people who do not agree with this norm? Are you justified in using force against them? Does the state ever have a right to put people to death for what they believe, even if what they believe is that large classes of people deserve to die? What if it's just the threat that someone may wish to do another harm? Are police officers justified in shooting a suspect if it appears that he might have a gun and is reaching for it?

There are also interesting questions about whether you should respect moral norms that are part of your moral code but not part of anothers'. For example, many Native American tribes did not believe in property rights, instead believing that the land and everything grown from it was communal property for the benefit of all; European settlers took this to mean that it was all theirs for the taking. Several of Ayn Rand's books extoll the virtue of selfishness, holding that the only bounds to your conduct should be freely agreed-upon contracts with others: knowing that other people do not hold to this moral code, is it moral to behave selfishly to them until they explicitly defend their rights, or do you have an obligation to consider what's commonly held to be moral amongst people unlike yourself when dealing with them?

There are plenty of implications for startups too, many of whom would not exist without a different conception of social norms than mainstream society.


> What do you do with people who do not agree with this norm? Are you justified in using force against them?

Annoyingly enough, the Quakers -- despite being doctrinaire pacifists in all other areas -- answered this question with a resounding "yes". Flogging, stocks, and various other brutalities (I don't remember if they used capital punishment, but I think they did) were routine in colonial Pennsylvania...


Quaker here. I can't speak for Pennsylvanian quakers two centuries ago, but I'm very surprised to hear about stocks and flogging in a Quaker context. To be clear, Quakers renounce all violence, including against those who perpetrate it.

The central tenet of our faith is that there is that of god in every person, so it follows directly that violence against any person is violence against god, and therefore unacceptable. Quakers have put their money and actions where their mouth is - they have always rejected capital punishment, and have been very active in prison reform since the 1800s. They set up the Friend's Ambulance Unit so they could serve during the Second World War. Quakers also recognise that there are many forms of violence, and sponsor the Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP) training for schoolkids.

To get back to the original question about dealing with violent people, of course you need to use force against them, to prevent them doing more violence. But that force should be as non-violent as possible, to make it clear that society's norms are intact. Norway's treatment of Anders Breivik is inspirational - it is clear that his incarceration is in no way violent - there is no element of revenge, much to many people's fury. But imagine a Breivik sympathiser - seeing a civilised society treating him in a civilised way leaves very little to spur them on to similar acts.

And what about Daesh? They have successfully used resentment against the violence done to muslims to build a society where violence is the norm. This is not sustainable - it won't be long before the flood of recruits reverses, as they discover what arbitrary violence means to them and their loved ones.


I'd certainly agree that the use of violence should be minimal, and should contain no element of vengefulness; but I'd say that preaching full nonviolence almost necessarily ends in either hypocrisy or persecution.

My reference for colonial Pennsylvania is _Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America_, by David Hackett Fisher. Pennsylvania was a remarkable place, with a lot of very impressive accomplishments. Fisher is full of praise for their Old World-quality infrastructure, much of which is still in use today; he also points out their peaceful coexistence with the American Indians, their roughly equal rights for women, and their rehabilitative prisons, concern for animal welfare, and interest in vegetarianism. But there's also how they refused to bear arms and expected the British military to protect them -- and how they enforced sumptuary laws and the like with corporal punishments, and drove off the Scotch-Irish as being just this side of subhuman.

Admittedly, one could make a very strong case that the Scotch-Irish really were just this side of subhuman. They were lawless, xenophobic, and economically improvident, as well as scornful of the laws and customs of war; they committed savage atrocities in just about every war they engaged in, and were more or less responsible for the Indian Wars, the Mexican War, and the lawlessness of the Wild West. Andrew Jackson, who ethnically cleansed the Cherokees and the other Five Civilized Tribes, is still regarded as a hero in Appalachia today, and his atrocities are either brushed off or openly celebrated.

A large and politically powerful Scotch-Irish population would have poisoned Pennsylvania; the Quakers had the choice between self-destruction and rejection of their principles. They chose to reject their principles -- and then they kept preaching them, completely unmodified, as if they'd never rejected them at all.

I'm Catholic, so it's not surprising that I'd say this, but I'd say that Catholic social doctrine -- with its strict criteria for just wars, and various prescriptions for government and suppression of crime -- is a better choice than denying the necessity of violence and then having to improvise a solution when violence turns out necessary anyways.


I think that you (or your source) are reading too much into the actions of Quakers in Pennsylvania. Quakers like all people are fallible, and Quakerism especially embraces the idea of continuing revelation and moving beyond previous barbarisms. There were early Quakers who did own slaves for example. While there were actions that us modern Quakers would not condone, I don't know of any interpretations of history (other than perhaps the book you cite, which I admittedly have not read) that indicate that the Quakers of Pennsylvania engaged in some kind of barbaric war with the Scotch-Irish. While they still wielded considerable power they were never the only residents of the colony and it by-and-large still followed the norms of the day. Quakers were proponents of (what were thought to be at the time) humane punishments such as solitary confinement. I'm not going to condemn the idea of pacifism due to the fact that we were unable to obtain complete purity of fact two hundred years ago in an entirely different society.


Again, I would just say, read _Albion's Seed_ -- with a close eye on its sources, of course.

I certainly do condemn pacifism, because it doesn't work; but at the same time, I'm pretty thoroughly impressed with most of the Quakers' accomplishments, and I certainly accept the importance of using minimal force and humane policies.

I should also add that I was too hard on the Scotch-Irish in my previous post. _Albion's Seed_ discusses the conditions that shaped them: for 500 years, from the foundation of Scotland to Prince Charlie's rising, every king of England except three invaded Scotland, was invaded by the Scots, or both; and in every one of these invasions, the Scotch-Irish bore the brunt of it.


_And_ I was too hard on the Scotch-Irish in my retraction. I like them, at least in Appalachia as it was not too long ago; Appalachia is the only Old World society in the United States, with the possible exception of the Mormons. (What do I mean by Old World? It would take a long while to explain...)


I noticed that you didn't capitalize god in your writing, unlike many Christians. Is this personal preference or specific to Quakers?

Sorry to distract from the actual content of your well written post. I simply found this an interesting choice.


Personal preference. The reason I am a Quaker is the lack of dogma - no "thou shalt do this one weird thing every alternate Thursday because the priest/book/tablet says so". Put another way, you have the responsibility for working out your own values, and this leads to a delightful (and healthy, I think) diversity. There are Quakers who don't drink alcohol and those that do (usually only in moderation, but even there you get exceptions!), carnivores, vegetarians and vegans; and they all get along!

This acceptance of personal witness extends to our concept of god. So you often get Quakers discussing what each understands by "god". Some are very biblically influenced and imagine some kind of omnipotent "person", but the concept of a shared spirit that comes from ourselves makes more sense to me. For me "god" is not a person's name, and is not an entity that will be hurt if I don't dignify it with a capital letter.

But I'm very happy for you to do otherwise.


Setting aside the question of specific methods (flogging and stocks), I don't see why you consider the idea of force being justified only in cases of retaliating against an attacker to be "annoying". Hard pacifists are extremely rare (Jainists are an exception) and more often than not set up as straw men to promote an agenda.

Capital punishment's issues primarily stem from the fact that you're using an exogenous body of collective action (the state) as a proxy to put people to death, with all the problems of public choice that come as a result.


What annoys me about the Quakers isn't quite what you'd thought; it's that the Quakers preached that no one should be violent (up to and including preaching peaceful resistance against military invaders), and then they turned around and practiced violence. It's like if Martin Luther King had sponsored terrorism.

If you're going to preach pacifism to others, you should be pacifist at home. As it is, the Quakers feel like they were using pacifism as a weapon...


Do you have any citations to say that Quakers were particularly disposed to capitol punishment during the colonial era? While people of their time what I've been able to find indicates the opposite: [Who Should Die?: The Evolution of Capital Punishment in Pennsylvania, 1681-1794](http://preserve.lehigh.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2390&...)

The above seems to show that Quakers resisted the use of capitol punishment and its use increased as Quaker control of the colony waned.


I don't know if they used capital punishment or not, and it sounds like they didn't; but _Albion's Seed_ talks of the Quakers using flogging, stocks, and the like in early Pennsylvania.


This would not surprise me - the colonial penal code was derived as far as I can tell from the English penal code, although less harsh. It is possible to simultaneously be much less harsh than the contemporary norms and still be abhorrent from a modern viewpoint. A more interesting comparison would be to contrast the usage of corporal punishment in early Pennsylvania versus other nearby colonies.


I'd have to check _Albion's Seed_ for the details, and how their penal code compared to England's and their neighbors' -- but isn't it obvious that there's a contradiction between "preaches mutual love and respect" and "flogs people"?

The Quakers were perfectly capable of innovative thought, and of thinking through the consequences of their principles (thus relative sexual equality, concern for animal welfare, and encouragement of vegetarianism); but they were fine with using brutal violence against anyone who didn't accept their doctrine of nonviolence -- especially those from different cultures, and followers of different religions (or different Protestant denominations; they were particularly cruel towards the Presbyterian Scotch-Irish). This is why they get under my skin.


"but they were fine with using brutal violence against anyone who didn't accept their doctrine of nonviolence -- especially those from different cultures, and followers of different religions (or different Protestant denominations; they were particularly cruel towards the Presbyterian Scotch-Irish). This is why they get under my skin."

If you don't defend your culture you'll go extinct, the same way you don't want to be contaminated by outside ideas an ways of life that you worked hard to protect. Hypocrisy isn't quite the word I think you'd want to use. People get violent because they passionately want to protect something from what they deem as evil. They can be misguided in that sense but, ultimately they do have a point - those who do not defend themselves find commitments to their principles/ways of life and doctrines waning and their communities will suffer death by mixing and mediocrity.

Think of it like cultural entropy, they are trying to resist things that corrode their way of life.


I don't particularly mind when people exercise their right of collective self-defense (and for the sake of the argument, I'll grant that this is what the Quakers were doing); but I do mind when they deny that anyone has a right of collective self-defense, and then they turn around and exercise their own anyways. That's their hypocrisy: they preached pacifism, and used violence.


To be fair, any ideal which is unwilling to do this is likely to die out when those who are not opposed to force use force against them.


the Anabaptist tradition has lasted about 5 centuries, not by using force, but by being willing to inspire others by facing death courageously (when persecution is targeted and limited), or by fleeing en masse (when persecution is structural and absolute).


Good point. The Yazidis have done much the same in the Middle East; and I imagine the Jains must do something similar. Christianity before Constantine is probably also an example.


Do you have citations for your libelous claim?


_Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America_. The book has a whole chapter on "Quaker Order Ways," complete with stocks and flogging.


The article is missing the forest for the trees. It assumes morality is relative. Morality is the product of the intersection of narrative and mythology on a group. Morality is the story a particular group (or civilization) is enacting: the program they're executing. All groups hold myths. Even atheist groups hold myths. They just think their myths are just "the world" or "reality" or "how we got here". Civilizations that have (generally) nurturing, curious, equanimous, generative, cooperative myths survive and grow. Civilizations that have (generally) destructive, punitive, insular, judging, self-righteous, and violent myths don't.


Civilizations that have (generally) destructive, punitive, insular, judging, self-righteous, and violent myths don't.

This seems to be the opposite of history. Until recently, violence was one of the only ways for any civilization to persist. The advent of nuclear weapons changed that somewhat (but not if civilizations begin to use them). And most of the myths of a civilization seem to be a byproduct of their actions.


Despite complaining about the Quakers below, I'd have to disagree here, too. It's possible to be too peaceful, but it's also possible -- and very easy and common -- to be too violent.

Being warlike enough to defend your society is one thing; being warlike enough to conquer neighbors who hate you, or to throw away lives and wealth in pursuit of glory, is something else. Sparta, Assyria, and the Aztec Empire didn't turn out so well, after all...


In the case of the Aztecs, they quite arguably happened to run into someone even more destructive, punitive, insular, judging, self-righteous, and violent then they were.


Cortez and his 300-odd men could never have taken down the Aztecs, were it not for how all their neighbors hated them so passionately that they'd rather be ruled by smelly, strange-looking, gold-hungry space aliens.


Far more important were the western diseases they had no idea they were carrying


The diseases certainly had an effect (after the Night of Sorrow and before the conquest of Tenochtitlan, smallpox struck the whole Valley of Mexico); but Tlaxcala had an effect too, and if the Aztecs' subject peoples had rallied to their arms in the same way the Tlaxcalans rallied to the Spanish (after some initial fighting against them), there's no way Cortez could have won.


The Aztec civilization was already in a massive decline for over 150 years when Cortez arrived.


The Aztec Empire wasn't even 150 years old; if memory serves, Tlacallel flourished about 80 years before Cortes. Nor were they in decline -- Montezuma had stopped the empire's opportunistic conquests, and was focused on conquering the independent countries that still formed pockets of resistance geographically surrounded by the Aztecs. Tlaxcala was the most important of these, as it happens...


The empire is not the civilization. The civilization arguably goes back more than 1000 years, certainly since the Toltecs, which was a considered successor and collector of the Olmec, Teotihuacano and Maya people's cultures. The Aztecs themselves considered the vanquished Toltec their cultural superiors. By the time Montezuma II came to power, the Aztec world was already winding down, consumed by resource wars; and had entered a period of insular medieval-like culture that shunned their once great, open cities in favor of fortress-like enclaves.


Didn't Sparta get taken down by Macedonia. Who in turn got taken down by Rome? Sparta existed for ~500 years.

By that standard, we have extremely few dynasties who could be called "successful" these days. But I do agree that transitioning from very warlike to just somewhat warlike tends to help survival.


Sparta _existed_ for 500 years; they flourished for zero. They existed at the cost of innumerable distorted or ruined lives, and contributed nothing to the human patrimony except possibly the idea of totalitarianism (which is not much of a contribution).

They fell well before the Macedonians, too: a commander of a minor city -- Corinth, I think -- noticed that the Spartans always used the exact same tactics, deployed his troops in a preposterous formation that ensured that the Spartans would lose if they changed nothing, and won decisively. The Helots immediately revolted and recovered their independence, and that was the end of Sparta.


Case in point: Nassim Taleb, The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dominance of the Stubborn Minority

http://fooledbyrandomness.com/minority.pdf


Your claim brings to mind the idea that a man falling from a 50 storey building passes the 25th floor thinking "Everything is going great so far!"


Since "myth" has massive connotations of "it isn't true", I'd sooner use "worldview" for what you're speaking of. (Or "Weltanschauung" if you don't mind being hard to spell in English.)


Atheist world views aren't true (in general). I know dozens who (claim to) believe in Darwinism and evolution and yet claim that we can (and should) protect species from extinction.

Yet an argument based on Darwinism that we can't fight extinctions by compensating for maladaptation is so blindingly obvious ... Compensating for maladapted species will need an amount of resources that evolves exponentially over time, even if the numbers of the "saved" species don't increase. Therefore it will fail, it is only a question of time.

Atheists at least see that particular myths are utilitarian. To make a society work and produce, for instance. Or to make a society fight, like some other religions. But they fail to look in the mirror and see that their myths are utilitarian as well, and when they are true, that's not a great factor in their adoption. Belief systems are like computer viruses : correctness, correct use of the system, style of the code doesn't matter (in fact it is often an obstacle). What matters is whether the code spreads.

And just like atheist myths can be true, religious myths can be true. The bible contains quite a bit of true history, and I would argue at least a bit of good advice. It also contains lots of instructions for various things, from architecture to agriculture, and those instructions work, even if they can be said to not be perfectly optimal. Likewise, you can make an argument that the quran contains instructions for warfare that are certainly not stupid, even if some of those tactics make "realpolitik" look like two girls trying to feed bambi.

Of course the above is the non-cynical view of their position. The cynical view would be that conservation is not in fact done to help species, but rather to increase the luxuries surrounding rich conservationists. That conservation efforts are just a very expensive 50" tv, and the beneficiaries of conservation efforts will be chucked in the bin when something else catches our fancy just like said tv.


>article ... assumes morality is relative

I didn't get that from the article. The author seems to have looked at how people justify violence and found they gave moral explanations. Whether their morality is relative or absolute doesn't seem that important to the argument.


Yes, exactly. It's an article about the psychology of violence, not morality. It's point is that people who commit violence believe themselves to be moral. ie, they are acting in accordance with whatever system of morality they happen to hold. Their actions might be totally immoral according to another morality system, but that person is still moral in their own mind.


> What do you do with people who do not agree with this norm? Are you justified in using force against them?

'Eliezer once wrote a pretty neat sci-fi story dealing with exactly that issue. I highly recommend it; it gives a pretty nice workout for one's moral intuitions.

http://lesswrong.com/lw/y4/three_worlds_collide_08/

> There are plenty of implications for startups too, many of whom would not exist without a different conception of social norms than mainstream society.

Now this is a pretty good euphemism for describing Uber's business model. Thank you.


I don't think it describes Uber's business model at all. Talking to non-tech people, Uber is immensely popular. If anything, it describes the taxi business model.


It describes the free-agent taxi model, which is not the business model in most (large) cities where they've been succesful.


What a presumptuous perennially popular course at your alma mater. The presumption being that morality is relative.


The paradox of intolerance


> What do you do with people who do not agree with this norm? Are you justified in using force against them?

It's same as the question: Can I beat up retarded child because it bites, spits and screams.

Answer is, of course not, but you can and should overpower it and prevent it from harming themselves and others.

It's all silly pseudo-philosophical question as the one with the cart and the switch and killing one to save five. Question is framed so that people are tricked into doing math and forgetting that saving people is optional while not killing them is mandatory.


I find that the most anti-intellectualism, cheap-shot emotional abuse, and stereotyping on the Internet is motivated by moral sentiments through online pseudo "activists" who are really working out their anger and self-esteem issues under the supposed imprimatur of one cause or another. This goes for select subsets of both ends of the political spectrum, and select subgroups on both sides of any hot-button issue.

Attention is the currency of the Internet, and outrage is the easiest way to get it. Underlying most forms of injustice, especially systemic injustice, is the psychology of "othering." Any group that says it is furthering a cause of justice, but which does not go to careful lengths to check the natural tendency of groups to out-group outsiders, is a corrupt doppleganger, buying online social currency with the coin of outrage. Such groups do not heal society, but harm it, regardless of the ideology or cause they espouse.

There is no major cause which is free of such intellectually malformed pseudo-activisism. Neither are there any significant causes that are entirely formed of such. Calling out such hateivism should not be seen as taking or opposing a particular side. Activism worthy of the name should fight such hateivism done in its name. Those who would knowingly exploit such tendencies for more social currency and expanded membership are not worthy of the name activism.


"The Toxoplasma Of Rage", an excellent essay[0] by Scott Alexander, points out that sadly there are only two choices for activists today - behave nicely, gather universal agreement to their cause and then get completely ignored, or draw attention to their cause by being so hated by everyone, that half of the audience starts working against the cause just in spite.

[0] - http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/12/17/the-toxoplasma-of-rage/


I know what you're saying but it isn't true. Let's look at 2 examples, the LGBT community and Feminism.

LGBT celebrates its differences. It welcomes everyone. It is open minded and tolerant.

Feminism bullies, ridicules, excludes, creates us/them divides and is continually hypocritical.

You could not have 2 more different different approaches. You don't need to be a bully. You don't need to threaten or ridicule or divide.

A few (repeated examples) to highlight my point. Matt Taylor bullied by large numbers of feminists for wearing a shirt designed by a woman, showing women wearing bikinis. Do women wear bikinis? Yes. Yet, he was mercilessly attacked by at least 10,000 radicals.

Domestic violence. It's repeatedly reported as a man thing (note: someone close to me was stabbed by his wife while she was high on drugs - but it wasn't domestic violence.. As the media says, that's only a man thing). Also note the absence of mental abuse that goes almost ignored.

Code.org who didn't bother to put a link to encourage boys, but explicitly put one to encourage girls on their main page. This was no accident - they have a quota to meet, apparently at any cost. Mind you, this could equally be attributed to political correctness.

I greatly respect how the LGBT community has embraced most people to support their cause without alienating anyone or demanding ridiculous quotas. I am totally gay friendly. Yet, I strongly oppose feminism. I believe in equality, but not equality for one gender or skin colour or sexual orientation.

I respect movements that embrace differences rather than reject them. Bullying is not required.


Now you're elevating a vocal subset of "feminists" to represent the entire group. There are plenty of old-school feminists, from when feminism was about equal rights. They just don't create as much internet drama as the other kind, so you hear about them less.


Its hard to disregard that subset here in Sweden when there a government that self-identify itself as feminist.

Several years ago there was a initiative to create equality in education. Any student that was a minority in their class received a minor bonus as an incentive. The initiative was however deemed a failure when it was realized that the majority of student fulfilling the requirement was men and not women. Afterward it was sent to the courts which promptly declared the initiative as discriminative against students who weren't minorities. Now only a short time ago a new initiative was suggested by a government study, with the primary difference from the old one being that it will now only apply in studies where men are the majority.

So excuse me for having a hard time finding those old-school feminists that talks about equal rights. The only time I saw one was in a opinion piece a year ago where equal rights was described as the "old" feminism movement, and I saw a lot of hatred directed at her rather than support in the comments.


> So excuse me for having a hard time finding those old-school feminists that talks about equal rights. The only time I saw one was in a opinion piece a year ago where equal rights was described as the "old" feminism movement, and I saw a lot of hatred directed at her rather than support in the comments.

That was my point: the people most active in online discussions do not necessarily represent a majority view. They are simply the most vocal. Talk to people around you - family, friends and coworkers. Does a significant proportion of them share these beliefs?

The people most likely to comment on matters like this in online discussions are people with extreme opinions on them.

I cannot comment on the swedish initiative as I'm not familiar with it.


The issue is that different races and even different value systems are ... different. In more than skin color.

The implication of that is that in any given pursuit, true equality will not create proportional representation. (And common sense tells you that fixing that with incentives is impossibly complex and therefore will never be achieved)


Were you responding to anything in particular in my comment or is this just something you wanted to get off your chest?


Ironic, too, because the worst part of $hypothetical_feminist_subgroup is that if you disagree with the policy prescription de jure (say, spending $3 trillion annually on pre-K education) then they will hit you back with an accusation that you are a terrible misogynist who doesn't acknowledge the fundamental dignity of women as human beings. Don't aid and abet this rhetorical crime.


Nitpick: I think you actually meant to say "policy prescription du jour", meaning the current policy prescription.

I normally would not nitpick that, but "de jure" has a different meaning, "According to law; by right", that would be applicable in this context.


The extremist/radical subset aren't just overly "vocal" though. Their behavior causes real world negative consequences for a lot of people (women and men). That's pretty hard to just shrug off. Like it or not, they appear to be the face of the modern feminist movement. Radical islam has the same issue. Is radicalism the minority? Or course. But when the media (social or mainstream) continues to shove the radical message in people's face over and over... well you know.


Reducing feminism to extremists who co-opt the term feminism is the same as holding up "Islamist" terror groups as a representation of all Muslims. Initiatives to bring up a group that has is underrepresented have to be explicit about welcoming people outside the current reigning majority, that's not discrimination, it's an attempt for equality.


Actually, in addition to the sibling comments notes about plenty of non-bullying feminists that just perhaps aren't as visible, there are plenty (and highly visible) LGBT activists who will be just as bullying as you claim feminists, distinct from LGBT activists, are. The same is true of.pretty much any movement that has a political, or more generally "how people should act", aspect.


You're actually sort-of proving the point of the essay. Just like Scott contrasts well-known and hated PETA to decent but almost completely invisible Vegan Outreach, you're contrasting toxic Social Justice Warriors to friendly neighborhood LGBT people who just want to feel safe and accepted by society as equals. The second group is not the one known from the media, or the one directing the public discourse.


Isn't chalking LGBT as "tolerant" and feminism as "intolerant" (whatever these labels mean) yet another example of the us/them duality?


Noting a difference does not imply intolerance. You can be inclusive and still call a spade a spade; the issue is whether you respect others regardless of their race, gender, sexual preferences, religion, et cetera, and offer them the same opportunities. Talking about the way things are with respect is not an issue, and should not be an issue.


I have a gay friend activist that claims that there are no bisexual people and that gay republicans are in perpetual state of self hatred. LGBT has ita hardline factions too.


I have a gay friend activist who held such beliefs when we were both in college. At the time, groups of gay men were going around and yelling at bisexuals and calling them "fence sitters." I even received a bit of attention like this. Angry young 20-somethings, projecting half-baked ideas onto you and yelling at you about extremely significant and intimate details of your inner emotional life -- always So Very Helpful!


Both womens rights and LGBT right sit at a strange point in history. The bad behaviour has largely become socially unacceptable, but a lot of the people who committed crimes are still extant in society. We have collectively decided to forgive and forget without any kind of process. Why should we expect the anger to just disapear?


I understand that crimes have been committed against the LGBT community (including prosecution of Turing). But crimes based on women's right ? Do we base them on the same scale ?

(genuinely curious)


This kind of argument kind of baffles me. Surely you're aware that women have suffered violence as a result of their lack of rights, aren't you? For large parts of history, domestic violence against women has been ignored or joked about, or in some places explicitly made legal. Until relatively recently, spousal rape wasn't even considered a crime.

I guess there's this notion that, pre-feminism, women had fewer rights but were otherwise left alone and unharmed, in peaceful domestic spaces. But that's really the wrong way of looking at it. Prisoners in solitary confinement are left and alone and not physically harmed, but no one would say they aren't suffering. The way women have historically been denied access to the public sphere and convinced of their inferiority is itself a kind of imprisonment, and it's a massive crime.


>For large parts of history, domestic violence against women has been ignored or joked about

And the same doesn't happen concerning DV towards males?

>or in some places explicitly made legal

Duluth model anyone?


>Do we base them on the same scale ?

I am not sure why we need to assign a badness rating to this kind of thing. And people should not need to equivocate based on some sliding scale of injustice. Anger does have a role to play in changing society. It just gets tricky when people base their whole world view and identify on a single issue. Feminist views are interesting and elucidating but need to be read with a critical eye. Of course a lot of the victims will have no choice in how profound these issues are to them so it is best to be forgiving.


Brendan Eich was forced to resign as CEO of Mozilla by the LGBT movement because he supported this: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."


>LGBT celebrates its differences. It welcomes everyone. It is open minded and tolerant.

While I find them more tolerant on average, this is not true of the entire group and they do not welcome everyone.

>Domestic violence. It's repeatedly reported as a man thing

Haven't recently studies found that lesbian couples are the most violent and among heterosexual couples the violence is far more equal than public perception?


The topic is about violence. Feminists aren't violent; in fact they're a reaction against gender-based violence.

> Yet, I strongly oppose feminism. I believe in equality, but not equality for one gender or skin colour or sexual orientation.

That means you're a feminist. I'm sorry you're not able to get your definitions straight.

> Bullying is not required.

Calling people out on their bullshit isn't bullying.


Calling people out on their bullshit isn't bullying.

When the effect is merely to pressure, and not to convince, then in that particular context, people who may have been legitimately oppressed have (temporarily) become the oppressors.

The difference between calling people out on their bullshit versus bullying is this: In "calling people out" -- people are shown their self-contradiction in such a way that they are given a chance to better live up to their moral system. It becomes bullying when people are only vilified, placed in an irredeemable category, then effectively punished in some way.


> When the effect is merely to pressure, and not to convince, then in that particular context, people who may have been legitimately oppressed have (temporarily) become the oppressors.

Putting pressure on someone to behave themselves isn't oppression. You can't possibly have gone through life without seeing actual oppression.

> It becomes bullying when people are only vilified, placed in an irredeemable category, then effectively punished in some way.

Nobody is irredeemable; but some people don't want redemption. When people refuse to behave themselves, they get shunned. This is a normal human defense mechanism.


You can't possibly have gone through life without seeing actual oppression.

I have, in actuality, been the subject of ethnic/racially based harassment, to the point where the police got involved. (The perpetrators were caught, but I was pressured by the police to not file charges.)

I grew up in a part of the country where the family had to drive 45 miles to visit with friends who were also asian, but not the exact same ethnic group. Yes, I know a little about actual oppression. Yes, there were other weird group hazings I experienced in my youth.

When people refuse to behave themselves, they get shunned. This is a normal human defense mechanism.

The default human reaction is to label the different as the wrong and the other. The normal human defense mechanism, when not properly cultivated and educated, is precisely the psychological foundation of oppression. I know this first hand.

Do you know why the Freedom of Speech is enshrined in the US Constitution? It's precisely because normal human defense mechanisms result in the outright oppression of those with different points of view. And it's precisely this sort of lack of self-awareness and self-examination that allows normal people to take on the role of oppressor.


> Putting pressure on someone to behave themselves isn't oppression.

Oppression is usually viewed by oppressors as putting pressure on the oppressed to behave properly.


Right, so like using the police to criminalize a minority population.

Or the real estate industry colluding to keep out a minority from living in a certain area.

Or asking someone not to wear a demeaning shirt.

All totally the same thing.


what you are condoning is not politely asking, as if that ever got anything accomplished in this world. polite requests can be politely ignored.

you are condoning bullying. bullying is threatening and demeaning in a way a shirt can only hope to one day accomplish, for the record.


Threatened with what? Severe disappointment?


Being excluded from a group is a pretty severe penalty, emotionally. Our instincts associate group membership with survival. Membership in groups can have significant impacts on the quality and status of contacts.

If wearing a t-shirt once can make others feel uncomfortable and not included, and this situation is wrong, then it is also wrong to permanently or too severely sanction the t-shirt wearer. Such a situation should be discussed calmly and resolved.


>When people refuse to behave themselves, they get shunned.

and who decides what behavior is acceptable? you? don't make me laugh.

you, and those like you, are bullies. plain and simple. cut and dry. black and white.

some might even call you "thought-bullies."


You do realize that "behave themselves" is subjective?


Apparently when certain people exercise their subjectivity instead of remaining silent, it's bullying.


Actually, what you call "calling people out" is literally indistinguishable from bullying. You justify bullying another person with "bullshit" qualifiers from a imaginary moral high-ground while in reality being no better than the bullies you grew up with middle school.


>That means you're a feminist. I'm sorry you're not able to get your definitions straight.

Old school maybe. Old school feminism is incompatible with the new stuff.


> Yet, I strongly oppose feminism. I believe in equality, but not equality for one gender or skin color or sexual orientation. That means you're a feminist. I'm sorry you're not able to get your definitions straight.

I disagree with that definition. I think that view means the parent poster is an educated, rational person. Are you sorry for me as well?


>The topic is about violence. Feminists aren't violent; in fact they're a reaction against gender-based violence.

This is board with many nerds. It is fair to say that we have all been bullied to some degree. Bullying may not be violent to the degree that it physically hits people over the head, but it is far more violent than anything feminism complains about.

And Doctor Matt Taylor was bullied for what clothing he choose to wear. By feminists.


> Bullying may not be violent to the degree that it physically hits people over the head, but it is far more violent than anything feminism complains about.

Anything? Like rape, beatings, and murder? You have some listening to do, friend. In fact, your comment is a perfect illustration of the fact that misogynistic men are bitter because of their experience of being shunned or ignored by women -- essentially the non-act of not getting loved -- while women are afraid of getting abused, raped or murdered by men; acts that happen in communities all over the world.

Not all men; but the minority that do are poisoning the well. If a woman didn't risk slander, abuse and rape she would be free to be flirtatious and gay, but if she's experienced that, she will put up her guard, and rightly so. Responding to that with more bitterness and slander, well that's just rushing down the spiral.

People want to have fun with each other. But if one has interactions with 100 others every week, and even one of them threatens you, then you will be threatened every week. Racism and sexism exist and is carried out by a minority, but that doesn't mean that you won't meet it constantly throughout your life. If you don't have that experience, then you are privileged. But since you haven't seen the other side of the coin, you will think that those who do are hysterical and exaggerating.

I wonder how we ended up here.


> Bullying may not be violent to the degree that it physically hits people over the head

Then it isn't violence. Bullying implies violence. You're describing something else.


One of the most stereotypical cases of bullying is to be openly mocked and made fun of in front of your peers for a perceived difference. There's no violence involved in that.

Have a look at what constitutes bullying [0]

Violence is but a subset of it.

Unless we were to water down the definition of violence to include any manner of ridicule. At which, you're diluting the definition of violence under the guise of staying steadfast on the definition of bullying necessarily including violence.

[0] http://www2.gov.bc.ca/myhr/article.page?ContentID=44eaf3f0-f...


There has been an extraordinary semantic creep of the term "violence" under feminism. Everything they don't like is classified as violence, from one's mere gaze, to so-called "cyberviolence", to one's body posture, tone of voice, lack of social deference, or any other perceived arrogation of status.


>>Bullying implies violence.

That is incorrect. Dictionary definition: "Persistent acts intended to make life unpleasant for another person."

So if I followed you around HN for the rest of the week responding to all postings/comments with insults and browbeating, that would be completely non-violent but still bullying.

https://www.wordnik.com/words/bullying


I mean if we're going to use that definition, then the shirt itself was harassment.

Or is it just if I'm oblivious to the harassment I cause & don't care to find out, then it's somehow morally superior to someone repeatedly and strenuously asking me to stop?


>>I mean if we're going to use that definition, then the shirt itself was harassment.

I'll just assume you meant "bullying" instead of "harassment" since that was the immediate topic.

From my brief research it seems Matt Taylor wore the shirt because he liked it, not with an intention to harass women, so it fails the intent clause of the definition. And it appears he only wore it once, so it would also fail the persistence clause. Thus it wouldn't be bullying by that definition.

I suspect that wearing that shirt would qualify as harassment under some definitions, such as US workplace law. And I personally think it's in terrible taste in most contexts.


How is wearing a tacky bowling shirt "persistent acts intended to make life unpleasant for another person"? Can you, at the very least, point to that person?


Dictionary definitions inherently lag behind practical usage; I would have no problem classifying harassment as a non-physical class of violence.

Especially given cases where it can be more damaging to a person than physical assaults against their meat.


Isn't that an apples to oranges comparison? The LGBT community isn't a sociopolitical belief-based community, it's a community defined by its members' inborn state. You can't bully someone in and out of being what they are.

Feminism, on the other hand, is a sociopolitical movement, based on a particular understanding of history and what the future should look like. Sociopolitical movements (for example, the various anti-LGBT movements out there), can bully because they are trying to change society's beliefs.


Sociopolitical movements (for example, the various anti-LGBT movements out there), can bully because they are trying to change society's beliefs.

But it's not bullying that changes a society's beliefs. It's commerce, coexistence, and exposure which does this. If anything, bullying can produce the opposite of the intended effect. Pseudo-activism can be recognized by the primacy of outrage in its actions. Pseudo-activism actually thrives on the generation of outrage among the "enemies." This in turn generates more outrage on "their" side in a (literally) vicious cycle. When observing activists, ask yourself -- What has primacy: a moral message, or the generation of outrage? Hateivism lives through outrage, and it optimizes the maintenance and generation of more outrage.


Great read, thanks.


You call out activists, but this strategy of hate and othering is mostly used by esteblished political groups and religions.

They just don't have to be as aggressively vocal about it, because they already yield enough power and influence to use a more moderate tone of voice. But what they actually do is equally hateful and vitriolic.


You call out activists

False. I call out a specific subset of activists, and provide functional, factual/behavior-based criteria for identifying the subset. Furthermore, the criteria are independent from any particular political position or ideology.

this strategy of hate and othering is mostly used by esteblished political groups and religions.

Such "strategies of hate and othering" lead to bad and problematic behavior. The psychology involved has been foundational in the all the greatest crimes against humanity in history. The embrace of hate and othering by a group in its ideology and internally accepted conduct lead to cognitive distortions that make problematic behaviors far more likely. It doesn't matter the cause such things are done for. It's the psychology and behavior itself which are foundational problems.

So, you're saying that everyone does the same things, but activists have to do it louder? I'm sorry, but the embrace of hate is a problem, no matter what cause it's supposedly done "for" and no matter what name it goes under. That's a truth of human history and the human condition that MLK and Gandhi knew well, and which large swathes of online "activism" vocally denies and even argues against it applying to them.


>>I find that the most anti-intellectualism, cheap-shot emotional abuse, and stereotyping on the Internet is motivated by moral sentiments through online pseudo "activists" who are really working out their anger and self-esteem issues under the supposed imprimatur of one cause or another.

I'm starting to come round to the Joe Rogan theory of these people - they are deeply unhappy, angry people with issues, but finding a "cause" lets them express these antisocial tendencies in a semi-legitimate way. Basically their chosen issue gives them an outlet for their asshole tendencies.


But certainly, entire causes can't be reduced to being only such behavior. And while they all "brand" themselves under the name of a cause, it's often easy to tell the difference through the anti-intellectualism, bad use of logic, and inability to justify their actions other than through relative comparison to the sensational evil they are supposedly opposing. (But which they are actually indirectly fueling through their promulgation of hate.)


> This goes for select subsets of both ends of the political spectrum, and select subgroups on both sides of any hot-button issue.

This is fucking garbage. It's garbage because the status quo isn't neutral, the status quo isn't necessarily just, and actually, the status quo is upheld with lots and lots of violence that isn't considered controversial.

For example, France is clamping down really hard on civil liberties and the UK just authorized bombing Syria because it thinks its righteous violence will cleanse the Earth of Daesh and the status quo moral framework of the West exculpates them of every civilian murder they commit. The moral framework of the West allows the most powerful nations on Earth to escalate to untold levels of violence over sporadic attacks that quite unfortunately kill dozens of people; then they retaliate destabilizing entire countries, uprooting the lives of millions, and causing thousands and thousands of direct casualties from their ordnance.

The point is that it's a massive, massive joke for anyone to distinguish themself from this group of people who engage in 'intellectually malformed pseudo-activism' because there are no apolitical stances and being complicit members of societies that shape the world through incredible violence is no different a hypocritical perversion of morality as anyone who rustles your jimmies on the fucking Internet.


The point is that it's a massive, massive joke for anyone to distinguish themself from this group of people who engage in 'intellectually malformed pseudo-activism' because there are no apolitical stances and being complicit members of societies that shape the world through incredible violence is no different a hypocritical perversion of morality as anyone who rustles your jimmies on the fucking Internet.

So, if I understand your point correctly, it's that the world is so mired in the use of violence, that logical discourse, a respect for facts, and the avoidance of mental patterns of hate is pointless hypocrisy because everyone is essentially either already guilty of being part of the violence or on the receiving end of it. Therefore, there are no moral limits on the behavior or speech of the victims and those who claim to be siding with them.

Strangely enough, such an ideology could just as well justify the actions of groups like ISIS as much as your "rustling of jimmies" on the Internet. And by this, I am not merely tarring your idea by association. The logical structure of it is essentially identical to the ideology of groups who adopt tactics commonly called "terrorism." The magnitude of the evil of one party doesn't give free reign to the victims. That can only lead to an eye for an eye.

Outrage is a powerful force. It can be harnessed for good as well as evil. So whether outrage is being harnessed for good, or whether it has become the "tail wagging the dog" using the cover of a pseudo-activism like a parasitic host to create more outrage is an important distinction. I would posit that a clear sign of this is a concern for morality in the conduct of activism, a concern for morality and fairness in its communications, and a clarity of moral understanding in its teachings. What's more, the immorality of "the oppressors" cannot modify the moral requirements of the activism in a way that renders the activism indistinguishable from the oppressors.

Lastly: From the tenor of your comment, it would seem that my writings have touched a nerve.

EDIT: It further occurs to me -- Activism must inherently contain some measure of extra-legality. Often it contains some small element of violence. Even holding hands to block stock brokers from entering a building for an extra 3 seconds is technically an act of violence. However, these actions are carefully considered in an overall moral framework. The care with which actions are considered and taken must be much like the care taken by surgeons. While it can well be energized by outrage, it is the very last sort of thing which should be ruled and guided by outrage.


> Lastly: From the tenor of your comment, it would seem that my writings have touched a nerve.

Let's establish one thing first, and it's that I'm not a teenager and therefore my command of language is such that I have some degree of control over the tone I convey in writing. It does not take a struck nerve to litter someone's writing with fucks and write pointedly. Your writing style is as artificial as mine and I find its dryness uncomfortable to the eyes.

> So, if I understand your point correctly, it's that the world is so mired in the use of violence, that logical discourse, a respect for facts, and the avoidance of mental patterns of hate is pointless hypocrisy because everyone is essentially either already guilty of being part of the violence or on the receiving end of it. Therefore, there are no moral limits on the behavior or speech of the victims and those who claim to be siding with them.

You have a moral framework. It emphasizes rationality and strongly penalizes emotion. I could write endlessly- but I won't, about how naive frameworks like this can be. I won't say yours is because we're speaking in ridiculous abstractions and I don't have a concrete example. You haven't even named a single instance of outrage on the Internet to demonstrate the validity of your sentiments. So really there's a lot of vague language that clearly resonates with many people but clearly doesn't resonate with me; it's possible a more concrete example would sit better or it might be that I could vehemently disagree with any particular moral judgment you'd like to offer up.

Moral frameworks exist strictly in the mind. This is not to say that morality isn't real. I personally am a moral realist but I acknowledge the epistemological problems inherent in applying a mental framework to the world. When you talk about "logical discourse" you are merely saying that if you disagree with someone, they are being illogical. When you talk about "a respect for facts" you are merely saying that if you disagree with someone, they are being disingenuous about their observations. When you talk about "mental patterns of hate", which is a real mouthful for "hateful behavior", what you are saying is that if someone claims grievance or conflict that you disagree with, they are being hateful.

I am emphatically not saying that there are no moral limits. That's fucking asinine. The issue is, everyone is justified in their own moral framework. Everyone sees themself as logical. Everyone sees the facts as they see them. Everyone thinks their anger is righteous. You have named your values "logical discourse" and a "respect for facts" but that does not say what your values are. It does not say what logical reasoning you use to come to your conclusions. It does not say what your observational context is that determines how you interpret your experiences into facts. Your moral indignation is as petty and boring as everyone else's. You are not taking a high road. That's the point. No one has the right moral framework. The reality of morality is not making judgments according to the right principles because human principles can be internally consistent in one's mind or in a group's discourse without being reified into action consistently.

So when the West bombs Syria to stop Daesh, it is righteous according to their moral framework, but when they ravage the levant, install dictators, deny people their autonomy, reduce their cities to rubble and plunder them of their resources, their morality is deafeningly silent. Your moral framework is just as pernicious and flawed: It cannot police itself from being inconsistent. It cannot verify itself. It cannot claim possession of the truth.

People who engage in 'pseudo-activism', whatever the FUCK that is because it is your description is sorely lacking in specifics and feels like a philosophical boogeyman, they, too believe that they are being logical, and have a respect for the facts, and are fighting hate. It so happens that we were all inculcated in Enlightenment (capital L) values since the day we were born. I believe the difference between you and me is actually quite minuscule, because I wring my fingers over the failure of those values as they are reproduced materially.

I know this is, like, the most offensive word on Hacker News, but it pays to become acquainted with postmodernism. A little, tiny bit of critical theory goes a long way in ripping away the veil of false consciousness every moral framework and ideology creates. There is always a gap between mental conception and material implementation. It is that gap where good and evil fight.

Anyway: People get outraged because they think things are worth getting outraged about. You're not more correct because you aren't outraged. Your values are different. Your experiences are different. A human being is a vast, overwhelming compilation of lived experience. It is a cognitive bias that must be consciously suppressed that we can know other peoples' lives better than they can with a relative paucity of observations. You're not outraged because your values aren't being violated. They are outraged because they are. This is tautological.

Judging people is cheap. Finding out how they think, why they think it, what they see, how they see it, and what they value is difficult. A skillful apprehension of morality is one which enables understanding and communication. Blaming others for their failure to measure up to one's own morality is dry pablum for people who want to be reassured that the world is mad and they are not. It is moral elitism.

Also, those Internet activists aren't killing people. Seriously. There are far greater violations of morality in the world and they are in service of a status quo you take no outrage in. Because outrage is bad or something. Whatever.

People like you have existed since time immemorial. Pick any fight that moved the moral barometer in society towards a more harmonious status quo: There were people like you complaining about fake activists doing everything wrong and being just as bad as their oppressors because you don't like their behavior. You're not as knowledgeable of their motivations as you think you are and the world wouldn't magically solve all its problems if everyone just listened to you. I really hope your biggest complaint with the world isn't that people on the Internet have a greater stake in changing the status quo than you do.


Please stop posting inflammatory ideological rants to Hacker News. Please also stop posting personal attacks, which this comment crosses into and which you've done before. Those are not allowed here.


I have often appreciated your quick interventions to stop snark and abuse on this message board. But this doesn't seem right.

This thread by its definition is controversial and lends itself to subjective option and heated discussion, more than others. At what point does opinion become 'ideology' as every single comment can be described as such, who decides the thin line between ideology and opinion and worse cross it to label and dismiss a 'comment' in this context as an 'inflammatory ideological rant'? This is extremely subjective and dangerous territory.

Abuse, snark and insult do not lend themselves to subjectivity and are easily flagged. But in this case I think the comment makes a genuine attempt to engage, reason and articulate a point of view, and is not dismissive or abusive but veers slightly to the personal as did the original commentator. But still deserves to be heard and not hidden. The warnings about abuse or bad language is not subjective and hold.

But it would be unfortunate to want to hide away articulated and reasoned responses one may not agree with as that inevitably leads to an echo chamber bereft of diversity, pushing away diverse opinions, and in effect making discussion pointless. In my case, rightly or wrongly, it discouraged me from reading the rest of the thread, as it appears anything diverse will be flagged and leave behind a sterile and uninteresting discussion.

Perhaps Hacker News is not the right forum for this discussion. How does one discuss violence against people and sometimes entire populations for political or other ends with a distant and dispassionate tone without coming off as passive and unfeeling, unlike a more technical subject in which passion may be misplaced and derail discussion.


You may be right that "inflammatory ideological rant" wasn't a perfect fit for that comment. And I'm afraid I don't have precise definitions for you.

The problem here isn't just one comment, though, but a history of making HN threads more toxic with incivility and inflammatory rhetoric. Doing that doesn't improve discussion; in the long run it destroys it. The whole of HN is organized to try to stave that off. If we have an existential concern, this is it.

I don't think bit-flipping arguments are valid here, i.e. arguments that acting to dampen one thing (incivility) will flip the system to its binary opposite (sterility). That's not how complex systems work. There's plenty of room for thoughtful discussion to flourish. On HN this happens when people take up the challenge of remaining civil and respectful, even when others are wrong or provocative. One can do that while still feeling strongly about a topic. Yes, it's hard, but not because of any contradiction in the spec.


If you think I'm a barbarian at the gates then honestly I'll stop. Where you say inflammatory, I probably think polarizing. When you say incivility, I wonder why the top-level comment which just trashes a whole group of unnamed people in the most condescending way possible isn't considered uncivil; but I also don't think the top-level comment was problematic. I haven't thought my posts were toxic because they get good replies and they don't get downvote-hidden. If you're saying I bring the wrong kind of conversations to the threads, then that's fine.

Like, I'm not going to tell you how to run this ship because moderation can be a thankless job at the best of times.


Thank you for replying so politely. Yes, some of your comments—the riled-up ones—have brought the wrong kind of conversation to the threads. I'm confident that you could change that if you wanted to, and would be happy to discuss it by email (hn@ycombinator.com) if you wanted to.

The combination of ideology with indignation is most destructive of the discourse we want here. That doesn't mean your views aren't welcome. If you would err on the side of courtesy, it would probably solve the problem. Many HN users, including some of the most courteous commenters we have, have gone through a similar transformation. It mostly takes willingness, which comes more easily when you understand the problem the community faces.

The counterargument that matters of high moral importance deserve to be discussed with strong emotion has some truth to it, but only emotion that isn't contaminated with personal abusiveness qualifies. That takes self-discipline, especially in an online forum like HN, where we don't know each other personally, have only sparse signals to go on, and the bias when disagreeing is to fill in the picture uncharitably. To avoid that requires a conscious effort.


I wonder why the top-level comment which just trashes a whole group of unnamed people in the most condescending way possible isn't considered uncivil

It's because I do not trash an arbitrary group of people. Instead, I condemn very specific emotional states resulting in very specific kinds of behavior -- ones which are specifically recognized as being uncivil and inherently intellectually dishonest. (And if you think otherwise, please provide quotes and justification. As I've noted elsewhere, you have this habit of assuming falsehoods about me and writing them in this thread, and never acknowledging them when called out.)

My understanding of your objection is this: Either you are embarrassed because you do these things, or you feel that I have concocted the above construction to purposely tar certain (unspecified) groups in a dishonest way. Please note that in your comments, you apparently jumped to conclusions about my political views. Can you provide quotes (relevant) which say what they are? (You'll be able to do this somewhat with sibling quotes, but this doesn't logically help you in terms of demonstrating you did not jump to such conclusions.) My objections are to particular psychological states and succumbing to the resulting cognitive distortions. You then proceeded to provide a demonstration of precisely these phenomena! Thank you!

I haven't thought my posts were toxic because they get good replies and they don't get downvote-hidden.

Strange, but some of your longest posts were very clearly downvote-greyed, particularly the most salient one referenced in this thread. This seems counter-factual.

Another falsehood of yours: You stated that I discount emotion. This is another clear example of your jumping to conclusions. Emotion cannot act as an "oracle" but nowhere do I state that it is worthless.

Let's break this down simply. I spoke out against (unspecified) misguided words and actions in the name of "activism" which are motivated by anger and outrage. I say that the same psychological mechanisms that are involved in out-grouping and hate are involved. You then produced a very long post trying to justify (unspecified) words and actions through the magnitude of crimes of oppressors, and apparently did this in a way many interpreted as a personal attack against me. (Then edited, apparently)

I would ask this -- what psychological state are you in, where you can have such a strong reaction to a opinion about unspecified words and actions? What psychological state are you in, where you keep on jumping to conclusions, writing falsehoods, then fail to acknowledge them?

Is it correct to say that you are attempting to defend and justify some prior words and actions of yours which were guided by outrage? Are you defending intellectual dishonesty, stereotyping, and emotional bullying done in the name of a cause? I sincerely hope you are, because in doing so, you have done much for my own cause. (Which is politically neutral and specifically against a particular group-psychological phenomenon.)


'stdcredzero made a pretty straightforward and neutral point about the interplay between activism, outrage, identity politics and cliques. He didn't single anyone out and was at pains to point the finger up and down the left right spectrum.

'danharaj responded by cherry picking a quote, calling it "fucking garbage", and then writing a short essay about why 'stdcredzero is a bad person.

Just because a comment doesn't contain the string "LOL UMAD" doesn't mean it's civil. There are very few occasions where a comment whose purpose is to single someone else on HN out as a bad person will survive, and I'm glad of that.

I'm glad I found this weird little thread, though, because I think those 'stdcredzero comments are great.


I agree, there are parts of the comment that get personal.

I disagree with the "ideological rant" part. Yes, Western military action in the Middle East is a classic flamewar topic, but for an article about violence that the perpetrators think is the moral thing to do, it's very much on-topic. Also, nobody else seems to be talking about the Overton window with regard to "extremes".

Ideally, everyone would steer clear of personal attacks regardless of the topic and regardless of provocation. (I see "it would seem that my writings have touched a nerve" as provocation.) But that's an awfully high bar to hold people to.

I vouched for the flagged comment because of its unique contribution to the discussion, even though I didn't like all the "you" parts.


(I see "it would seem that my writings have touched a nerve" as provocation.)

Well, for one thing, are you asserting that it's not self-evident that he was incensed? It's pretty evident that he is. If the gentleman is indeed in a state of cognitive distortion driven by hate and groupthink, it could be useful to point it out to him. Getting him to at least the point where he acknowledges his hate, then has to justify having that hate is a step in the right direction.

Also, pointing such out for 3rd party readers may be beneficial for related reasons. He has at least admitted openly that he is in a state of anger and is in the process of justifying why he is right to be ruled by this mindstate.


I do think it's evident that he was incensed, therefore pointing it out for 3rd party readers is not beneficial.

It's the same as if you had said, "I see you're feeling emotional about this." It's technically true, but carries an implication that he's favoring emotion over rationality, when he could simply be rationally deciding that the status quo of how the West uses its military is something that one should be incensed about.


I do think it's evident that he was incensed, therefore pointing it out for 3rd party readers is not beneficial.

Some of those 3rd party readers may themselves be incensed. Some of those 3rd party readers may be so engaged in their anger-driven thought processes, they might benefit from an self-awareness of their being anger-driven. This is the sense in which I made my point regarding 3rd party readers.

It's the same as if you had said, "I see you're feeling emotional about this." It's technically true, but carries an implication that he's favoring emotion over rationality, when he could simply be rationally deciding that the status quo of how the West uses its military is something that one should be incensed about.

I thought it was clear that I'm not against his interpretation of military intervention as being either unjust or harmful. On that, we actually agree. Nor have I ever said he's wrong to feel outrage. (Note how he jumped to conclusions on both those counts! Part of the psychology!) Rather, I'm pointing out how he has used his outrage stemming from that as the justification for moral license based on moral relativism.

It's not the particular positions I'm speaking out for or against. I'm speaking out to raise awareness of certain psychological states which can arise in the practice of activism, and pointing out the problems they cause.


"He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster."

"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."

Outrage culture activists are children, morally speaking, who discovered a weapon, but have not learned how to use it responsibly.

Thinking others "have all the power" and themselves powerless, they ignore the harm they cause.

And one day they may awake to discover that they became the very thing they hated.

"You aren’t superior to the people who were cruel to you. You’re just a whole bunch of new cruel people."


When you talk about "logical discourse" you are merely saying that if you disagree with someone, they are being illogical. When you talk about "a respect for facts" you are merely saying that if you disagree with someone, they are being disingenuous about their observations. When you talk about "mental patterns of hate", which is a real mouthful for "hateful behavior", what you are saying is that if someone claims grievance or conflict that you disagree with, they are being hateful.

Thank you very much for this excellent example! Please provide prior quotes that support your assertions with regard to my speech. If you cannot, then you are making things up in your comment, which is illogical and which does not run in accordance with a respect for facts. (And no, it's clearly not "kosher" to quote the above paragraph as evidence, as it directly references your text and was written after it. But please go ahead and provide more evidence for my position!)

Also, it is patently false to say I only label positions I disagree with as "hateful behavior." I would agree that there are certain standards in our society which should be changed, but I find some of the speech and actions taken in support of my positions to be intellectually void and repellent. Please provide quotes to the contrary, or be intellectually honest and admit you just wrote that with no factual justification.

Good cannot come of activism if hate is the driving force behind it. Expecting otherwise is like giving advice while being motivated by anger, then being surprised when some harm has resulted. Expecting good to come of activism that's guided and motivated by anger is like being a parent while working out your anger from childhood traumas, then being surprised when some harm comes of this.


Well, I think it's a logical consequence of how morality works. It's basically a matter of definition: Your moral values are as I gathered "logical discourse", a "respect for facts" and an avoidance of "mental patterns of hate". Therefore if you are making a moral judgment about people, you are going to be judging them based on these and probably other values. But it's an essentially syntactic substitution of terms without giving a semantics to those terms.

> Also, it is patently false to say I only label positions I disagree with as "hateful behavior." I would agree that there are certain standards in our society which should be changed, but I find some of the speech and actions taken in support of my positions to be intellectually void and repellent

Well I don't think we should distinguish between the position and its means of implementation. Actually, that's exactly what I don't want to do. The means and the end, morally, aren't different. Every means is itself an end, composed with other ends in order to arrive at a final end. Moral judgment is valid at every stage. If the position is the tip of the spear, the means are the shaft.

So you are making a distinction that I am not. If you label something as "mental patterns of hate" and rejecting it on those grounds, you are, by definition making a moral judgment against it. Conversely I assume you have some set of values that constitute your moral framework and thus if you are judging something to be morally wrong, there exist some values that you would say are being violated. This, to me, is merely manipulation of definitions.

So the point I'm trying to convey is that the meaning of your morality beyond its internal model in your head depends on two things, which happen to be the same thing in different lights: How you interpret your observations into your moral framework, and how you reify your moral judgments into reality.

Again, it is the gap between the mental and the physical where good and evil fight.

What you consider hateful, I may not consider hateful, and conversely. What you consider illogical, I may consider logical, and conversely. And so on and so forth.

I have given you a concrete working example to demonstrate my moral logic. If you want me to engage yours in anything more specific than these generalities, I'd like you to produce a particular instance of this hateful pseudo-activism you condemned in the original post. Otherwise I'm not sure what more is to be said?

> Good cannot come of activism if hate is the driving force behind it. Expecting otherwise is like giving advice while being motivated by anger, then being surprised when some harm has resulted. Expecting good to come of activism that's guided and motivated by anger is like being a parent while working out your anger from childhood traumas, then being surprised when some harm comes of this.

I really don't want people unmotivated by anger to be activists. It means they don't actually perceive a personal injustice. If they don't perceive an injustice, what are they pushing for? There are too many activists who are along for the ride because they think they stand to gain from being an activist for the sake of being an activist. An angry activist is one who has a material goal in being an activist, who has some grievance or conflict that they demand be resolved. Anger is a valid emotion. Anger can be logical. Anger can flow from factual experience. Anger need not be hateful.


So you are making a distinction that I am not. If you label something as "mental patterns of hate" and rejecting it on those grounds, you are, by definition making a moral judgment against it.

Excuse me, but have you read any history at all? The psychology of othering and its role in the justification of human evils is long and sordid.

What you consider hateful, I may not consider hateful

This is your word game of double standards. The hateful mindset in human brains is a tangible, measurable thing. There is no debate about this. Your cop-out is nothing more than a common-sense defying ideological re-labelling.

I have given you a concrete working example to demonstrate my moral logic.

I also note that you have not given me quotes to back your 3 unjustified assertions (attempt to put words in my mouth) which I called out. This kind of cognitive distortion resulting in a lack of intellectual dishonesty is something that I have observed in association with hateivism, and is simultaneously a symptom and pernicious effect.

I really don't want people unmotivated by anger to be activists.

Read carefully much? In a preceding comment, I make a point of saying it's ok for people to be motivated by anger in activism. The problem is when it becomes the guiding force.


No one hates you. You're not really doing anything worthy of hate. You're just making grandiose statements about your comprehension of other human beings and it's slightly more obnoxious than stepping on gum, but probably less obnoxious than being hit with the stink of sewer gas while walking through Cambridge.

I'll just put this here and leave:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusion_of_asymmetric_insight


No one hates you. You're not really doing anything worthy of hate.

Have you noticed that you keep generating falsehoods because you keep jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about me? (I keep having to point these things out. None of which you have bothered to acknowledge, by the way. That is not intellectually honest.) On the contrary, I have often encountered de-facto hate. To the point where police got involved, caught the perpetrators, then had to ask me not to press charges to keep the event of their records.

You're just making grandiose statements about your comprehension of other human beings

There is a wealth of historical and philosophical writing about how group psychology and hate works. You might recognize some of the names, like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. There are a number of relevant psychological studies as well. If you study those writings then re-read what you have written here on HN and were honest with yourself, you might well become embarrassed.

> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusion_of_asymmetric_insight

It's amazing how people who have succumbed to ideologies of hate and who are self-justifying this manage to point fingers in a way that implicates themselves -- and how unaware they are of this.


This comment and the one prior add quite a bit to the dialogue. These downvotes are unfortunate.


While I haven't made up my mind on this issue entirely, I am often one of the people downvoting these kinds of comments, or even flagging them if they're more extreme.

The reason for this is that I've become increasingly convinced that the health of a community, especially one that relies on a relatively poor medium (text comments), is very dependent on the civility of said community.

I'm a bit surprised to find myself believing this, as only a few years ago I would've argued that civility often gets in the way of the facts, that it obfuscates 'true' discussion and exchange of information, and 'enlightenment'.

I changed my view because I started noticing that even in 'rich' face-to-face interactions, once a certain 'detached' civility is abandoned, the more intense language almost inevitably leads at least one of the parties involved to become more emotionally invested in the conversation, and this in turn pulls a 'discussion/conversation' into the direction of an 'argument/fight'.

This is not always a problem in rich media. In the same way that a parent getting angry can sometimes be more effective than a parent logically dishing out an appropriate punishment, I've experienced plenty of situations where the visible emotions of someone I disagreed with were necessary to make me pause and reconsider my point of view (because I respected said person and/or clearly they didn't hold their beliefs lightly).

But the 'poorer' a medium, and the weaker the bonds of a community, the more important civility is. Because it's really easy to get exceptionally pissed off, misinterpret, project, or escalate things in reaction to a piece of text linked to a pseudonym.


>In the same way that a parent getting angry can sometimes be more effective than a parent logically dishing out an appropriate punishment

There is no way to know if that statement is ever true.


Perhaps not, but at least from personal experience it can be made plausible. The handful of times that my actions caused one or both of my parents to 'lose their shit' (and at times even apologize for that later) are etched in my mind, deservedly so, and they kept me from ever doing that particular thing again. In contrast, the vast majority of other things I was punished for required repeat offenses and repeated and increasing punishment before I cleaned up my act.

So while I can't prove if it's true, in the same way that I can't prove a lot of things to be true, I don't think it's such an outrageous statement, both based on experience and based on logical reasoning.

I'm curious why you decided to comment on this though. Mind elaborating? Is it because anger is not generally a very good parenting technique? Because if so, I fully agree with that, and was not suggesting otherwise.


It's not necessarily outrageous, it just seems that you are basing further reasoning upon that proposition. The problem is that you can't ever verify that proposition, which means you can't ever verify any thing else that is reasoned on top of it (so, why not try to find reasonings that can be verified (or, at least, nullified)).

I'm not sure what the right answer (if there even is one) in this situation is, but one interesting thought I had while reading your most recent comment:

>The handful of times that my actions caused one or both of my parents to 'lose their shit' (and at times even apologize for that later) are etched in my mind, deservedly so, and they kept me from ever doing that particular thing again. In contrast, the vast majority of other things I was punished for required repeat offenses and repeated and increasing punishment before I cleaned up my act.

Was:

One way to resolve this with the original statement ("In the same way that a parent getting angry can sometimes be more effective than a parent logically dishing out an appropriate punishment") is to say that your parents losing their shit over your behavior was the logical punishment. :)


Ah, I see what you're getting at.

It was just one example, but I could name many others like it. From the discussions I've had with friends over issues where clearly my or their getting 'upset' effectively ended the discourse and made both of us 'dig in', to situations with colleagues where my or their increasingly forceful insistence only led to the opposite outcome. In most cases my experience has been, over and over again, that most of the time, once civility and a certain emotional distance is abandoned, the outcome suffers from it, often for both parties.

That said, I think you make a good point. There's a time and place for abandoning civility, and I do occasionally feel that also here on HN civility is used defensively for the wrong purposes. I'm inclined to think the dangers of abandoning this 'civility' are greater on HN and other internet forums than their benefits, in part because HN is one of the few places where I still feel there's worthwhile discussion going on, and I want it to remain that way. I've found myself reading, say, /r/programming threads where I was surprised by the high amount of memes, personal attacks and/or knee-jerk comments because I thought I was on HN. I've left a number of forums in my lifetime because they turned to shit because of toxic members. That's the main reason why I err on the side of civility.

But, again, all that said, I do agree with you, and you provided a valuable counterpoint that I haven't considered in a while. Sometimes losing your shit is the right thing, and just as much as I don't want to be a reactionary, knee-jerk, over-emotional commenter, I also don't want err toward the opposite end of the spectrum.


I agree. It's not that I prefer to validate those comments.

No, it's more about understanding. Personally, I would rather see the context and know something about the conflict than see [flagged] and see worthy rebuttals out of context.


I third this opinion. I didn't / wouldn't upvote it but primarily due to the tone: it should be edited down and a bit more civil. That's it. No major objection from me. The note from Dang is good, it can help steer the commenter for the future.


Well I strongly disagree with this. I see no reason to believe civility and meaningful communication are directly correlated. Quite the contrary. Forcing others to maintain a tone you find pleasant (poorly defined variable) strips an entire sideband from a conversation. What's up with the insistence that everyone be warm and fuzzy at all times anyway?


I agree with you. I'm not easily impacted, or offended and can easily give as good as I get.

That said, we don't do that here, and there is value to be had. Happy to comply. There are lots of places to have that kind of dialog. I enjoy them, as I enjoy it here.

One thing I have noticed is rules about civility do tend to elevate and favor people with highly toxic views. Rebutting them without violating the rules is difficult.

But, it is possible to do. There is value in that skill as well.

My objection centers on the violation and valid, compliant responses to a hidden comment. We lose something there I would rather not lose.


It's the rules of HN:

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

if you want an awful toxic place, go to any other forum on the Internet with as many readers. There you can find knee-jerk, shallow, abusive arguments from people who, actually, don't even mean it and often have nothing to say. The reason you enjoy HN is because it has rules against this kind of discourse.

jsprogrammer's reply to you is a great example: it is a very civil comment that follows the discourse here, i.e. is written in the exact opposite way from what it argues for. It would not be improved if intsead it read, in full, "only third-rate management cocksuckers need to obfuscate everything in warm fuzzies."


It's a mistake on your part to speak to what I do or don't enjoy about Hacker News or to even assume I take any kind of pleasure in the community here. That said, the comments in question, while clearly dismissive of another poster's assertions, is hardly a profanity-laden screed. It's substantially better constructed and contains more relevant information than all of the posts in response to it put together. Are you saying the odd fuck here and there in some way invalidates the content of the post, and if so through what mechanism?

Edit: typo.


Communication requires logic and logic requires the presentation of counter-examples. Wrapping counter-examples in warm fuzzies is merely obfuscation; it's a third-rate management technique.


This rings incomplete to me.

For technical, business, and many policy type conversations, your comment has merit. Some. I do not agree much with third rate...

But, a lot of conversation is actually advocacy, and when it goes there, all modes are relevant: emotion, reason, character.

Requiring people to limit advocacy to the rational only is not realistic, nor inclusive enough to make sense.


Emotional tone is communication of values. If one does not allow people to communicate their values verbally, then they will communicate them in less productive ways. Like downvoting/upvoting people based on values. Even worse, it selects for people who argue without acknowledging their values. Even worse, personally, if one personally doesn't acknowledge their emotions and their value systems, then they risk hobbling their self-understanding. It contributes to the introspection illusion[1]. I think this happens a lot on the Internet in the 'rational discourse' communities (like HN, or LW, etc.): You can't choose not to be emotional. You can merely fail to express your emotions, which of course I believe impairs communication. After all, if I thought my own writing was objectionable, I wouldn't write it.

I think there is a similar trend in such communities (cf. Yudkowsky's Politics is the Mind Killer) to pretend to be apolitical, but insisting that one is apolitical merely obfuscates ones political values. Civil tone and apolitical politics are a popular sentiment amongst the type who seek to align their values with rationality.

You can be perfectly logical and also completely emotional. There is no antagonism between the two. Logic is emotional. One wouldn't bother writing out a logical argument without feeling it has some worth, right? Value is fundamentally emotional. Emotions are logical: They are responses and interpretations of stimuli that are predictable and behave according to rules that vary from person-to-person but have a common basis in all human beings. They have meaning, they can be analyzed and synthesized, and they can be communicated to others just like logical propositions and proofs.

Failing to communicate emotionally can lead to strong emotions on two sides of a discussion. One can think of it as boosting a signal to try to get it through. If one or both sides are unreceptive to the other's emotions, then this leads to a death spiral for the conversation. I think it is this phenomenon, the failure to communicate emotionally, which is being conflated with the presence of emotion. The solution isn't to maintain politeness and throw out emotions altogether, it is to learn how to spot breakdowns in communication and bring them into the conversation so they can be resolved.

Breakdowns in logic happen all the time. If one values rational discourse highly, then these are considered important to resolve, not ignore. God knows I've stood in front of a blackboard trying to get a mathematician to explain something to me, with the explanation failing to get through to me. I once spent 2 hours trying to construct the tensor of two vector spaces because I was a wee undergrad and constructing such widgets was new to me, but I had a patient grad student to guide me along. The breakdowns in logical communication were immense, and certainly there was communication of frustration and reassurance. Ironically in such a dry, logical matter, the emotional communication was excellent and the logical communication-- not so much.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introspection_illusion


Great comment.


I like this comment too, but find it a few paragraphs too long. I suggest you edit down after writing - here is a great guide: https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/135/King_Everything.html (Stephen King's "Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully – in Ten Minutes")

After you've written all that, spend a few minutes eliminating some of it. you would be one of the best contributors after doing so. no, you don't actually need to swear but can if you want to. good luck.


Thanks. I think there is an antagonism between trying to be conversational, which entails rambling, circling back, and exposing one's thought processes to others, and writing a compact, polished piece of writing. I prefer to leave my scatterbrained thoughts in Internet comments because I see it more as verbal conversation than written communication.


While I disagree with him, I disagree with HN's censorship more. It's disgusting that posts are grayed out or flagged all the time whenever someone has a strong opinion. Should we all avoid judging anything?? disgusting


1. Parent post was not talking about statu quo.

2. Statu quo is not what you try to make out of your examples (there is no such thing as an unanimous moral framework in the West, and what you describe is not even building a statu quo, but more chaos).


But he did mention the ends of the political spectrum. The absence of the middle, the status quo makes an implicit statement. The middle is just as culpable. People who are comfortable with things as they are are not neutral. They ought to be put on the same footing as people who are not comfortable with things as they are.

There is a de facto unanimous moral framework in the West. It is the moral framework of the states and supranational institutions like the UN, the IMF, etc. Authoritarian ideologies always try to make themselves invisible, neutral, but they are not.


The principle of relativity is for velocities not morality.


The principle of relativity arises from observer dependence in measured quantities. Human experience is observer dependent. Morality is a logical system based on human observations. Therefore morality has a logic of relativity.

Relativity comes up in mathematics all the time. Relativity isn't the idea that there is no one truth, it is the idea that there is one truth but it cannot be described from a single point of view. The points of view are relative, but they are all views into the same truth.

Morality can be the same way. You can be a moral realist and still acknowledge that apprehension of morality is observer dependent. Then the game becomes figuring out the rules of relativity for morality. That is, figuring out how to communicate moral perceptions and judgments between people.


Morality is not purely a matter of opinion, not more so than say the theory of evolution. You can say that evolution is just an opinion of how things work, but you have to be willing to take very unreasonable or illogical assumptions for your reasoning. It is the same with morality. To say that all morality is relative requires unreasonable assumptions, like saying that minimizing harm is sometimes harmful. Let's say that morality aims to minimize harm, well, we can make some definitive conclusions from that, like saying that killing people is bad unless it is to prevent further harm they or others would do. That throws a completely different light on the death penalty, where it is hard to argue that it is morally justified, unless you again force your way through contrived reasoning.

I think the biggest cause of immorality is that we assume morality cannot be treated logically and scientifically, and instead call it the province of faith. Faith has proven itself wholly unsuited as arbitrator of morality. Maybe it's time to give science and logic a go at it.


To say that all morality is relative requires unreasonable assumptions

Moral relativism is invoked almost exclusively by people trying to justify their own actions, after they find that many object to their actions.

Faith has proven itself wholly unsuited as arbitrator of morality. Maybe it's time to give science and logic a go at it.

Any evidence-based system would be better than any system that ignores evidence. We have scientific evidence that the psychology of hate is tangible and specific in how it manifests. We have literally thousands of years of observations and ruminations on this topic, including the teachings of the major world religions.

Culture and society can be surprisingly good at dealing with largely invisible and quite subtle psychology. (Example: love/lust/dating -- Average people are actually quite sophisticated in how they perceive and deal with this.) But societies and cultures are constructed in such a way as to make group psychology around group membership invisible. Group psychology is part of what societies are made out of so the products of group psychology are promulgated as truth.

It's no accident that two different activist movements that are praised for their moral understanding -- those of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. -- were effectively structured around the prevention of pathological group-think and othering. I think a subtle societal understanding of such group-think is the last great barrier to humanity's "Waking up from History."


> Therefore morality has a logic of relativity.

Your syllogism equivocates on the concept "observation" and does not follow. The "observation" of measuring velocities and the "observation" of self and others to derive a moral principle are not the same concept or cognitive process.

> Morality can be the same way. You can be a moral realist and still acknowledge that apprehension of morality is observer dependent. Then the game becomes figuring out the rules of relativity for morality.

Moral discussions are not a "game" since lives and, ultimately, civilization hangs in the balance.

>That is, figuring out how to communicate moral perceptions and judgments between people.

But by rejecting any objective basis for morality you throw out any possible means for agreement. Moreover, your position assumes two things that the radical Islamists do not share; the value of a human life (in the here-and-now not some fantasy world) and that reason, not guns, are the means for resolving disagreements among civilized men.

How do you deal with someone who not only doesn't share your moral "sentiments" but wants to actually kill you? Is there some basis to compromise in this case? Why do we shoot lions and bears instead of trying to reason with them? Is it moral for you to kill a fly in your house? What if I disagree and claim all life is sacred and you have a moral duty to leave the bugs alone and I am willing to use my guns to protect them from you? On what grounds could you possible oppose someone like that if you really believe morality is relative (i.e. subjective)?


> Your syllogism equivocates on the concept "observation" and does not follow.

I was going more for an analogy than an equality. I also did not mean to imply that the relevant moral observations are how one derives moral principles. The relevant observations are the questions: "I perceive situation X in reality. Is injustice present? Who has been aggrieved, and is there an aggressor?"

These are clearly observer dependent.

> Moral discussions are not a "game" since lives and, ultimately, civilization hangs in the balance

I vacillated on using the word game. The game isn't morality, but pondering what morality is. If I had called it a thought exercise I think it would have had slightly better connotations. I call processes of cognition games perhaps too often.

With respect to objectivity: Not even scientists attempt to achieve objectivity. They merely attempt to reach consensus. It can be a bitter and contentious process in even the most quantified sciences. For example, the disagreement over whether tetraquarks exist [1]. Objectivity is a naive concept. You cannot prove that your perception of objectivity is, well, objective. Objectivity is at best a useful fiction. It's actually a very useful fiction! But it can fail because one's understanding of objectivity cannot verify that it is objective.

I think you can imagine a kind of person who claims that others lack objectivity when they are disagreed with. They exist everywhere. There's a named logical fallacy for this kind of behavior. Demanding one's morality be objective does not make one's morality objective, but it means that every moral judgment one makes is now self-judged to be objective. The moral framework can be internally consistent but inconsistent in its reification into material judgments and actions.

> Moreover, your position assumes two things that the radical Islamists do not share; the value of a human life (in the here-and-now not some fantasy world) and that reason, not guns, are the means for resolving disagreements among civilized men.

Ok, so we're talking about "radical Islamists" now, so I'll assume you mean Daesh because the vague "radical Islam" is just a snarl phrase. Is Saudi Arabia an example of radical Islam? They're an ally to the United States. Notice how the countries that claim "reason, not guns, are the means for resolving disagreements" quite willingly and openly and readily act in direct contradiction of those ideals. There is a discrepancy between what people say morality is and what they do. Everyone loves their morality when it permits them to dominate others and shape the world the way they see fit. Everyone's morality permits them to commit atrocities.

I am a moral realist. I merely make the claim that a person should not believe they have a direct apprehension of moral truth because such a belief compromises the ability to apprehend moral truth. Therefore I demand of a person's moral framework that it be oriented towards analyzing and understanding differences between people's moral judgments. If I assume I am capable of understanding moral reality and meet someone who disagrees with me, I can either conclude they are incapable of the same understanding or the disagreement stems from different vantage points.

Believing two moral individuals can come up with different moral judgments in the same situation is the only sensible starting point towards reconciling conflicts. Understanding why moral people can come to different moral conclusions is the fundamental mechanism of justice. Otherwise violently asserting one's moral truth is the only mechanism.

> How do you deal with someone who not only doesn't share your moral "sentiments" but wants to actually kill you? Is there some basis to compromise in this case? Why do we shoot lions and bears instead of trying to reason with them? Is it moral for you to kill a fly in your house? What if I disagree and claim all life is sacred and you have a moral duty to leave the bugs alone and I am willing to use my guns to protect them from you? On what grounds could you possible oppose someone like that if you really believe morality is relative (i.e. subjective)?

I think you're missing the point. Just because science is supposed to be done via reproducing experiments and corroborating results between different scientists doesn't mean that science is paralyzed by the existence of a person who believes in crank theories and cannot properly run experiments and thus cannot effectively communicate their scientific activities to other scientists. Likewise my morality isn't paralyzed by hypothetical bug-zealots who act maximally unreasonably. If you believe the world is filled to the brim with brutish idiots with whom you cannot possibly communicate moral sentiments, well, I'll have you know there are plenty of them that feel exactly the same about you. How are you different? Your internal moral framework is no proof to me that you have a correct moral understanding of anything.

Here's a better example: You come across two kids at a playground. One sticks their tongue out at the other who then throws a punch and starts a fight.

30 seconds earlier, I saw the kid sticking their tongue out shove that other kid to the ground. Then I saw exactly what you saw.

I'm pretty sure our moral judgments are going to be different.

The real world is vastly more complicated than this contrived example. When you come into moral conflict with other people you can either assume they're a bunch of illogical, fact-spurning hate machines like the top-level comment in this thread[2], or you can believe that your difference in values and moral judgment of a situation arise from a difference in context which can be reconciled through communication and deliberation. If humans can't practically know everything in order to come to an absolute moral judgment, human morality is functionally observer dependent. That doesn't mean there isn't a moral reality that doesn't care about the vagaries of human perception and social context, it's just not practically accessible.

[1] https://www.quantamagazine.org/20140827-quark-quartet-fuels-... [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusion_of_asymmetric_insight


So, do you have an objective source of morality for us to refer to?


Most human beings and human societies agree on the same general points of morality.

    - Killing -- Try really, really hard not to do this!
    - Lying -- Please try really, really hard not to do this!
Or there's George Carlin's formulation: "Really try hard to not be a jerk!" I think everyone has a pretty good idea of what this means, and most people agree on the broad outlines. The devil is in the details, of course. Then there's "Love thy neighbor as thyself." A pretty good general principle that most would agree on in the broad outlines. Again: Devil is in the details.

But the points I am making in these comments aren't really about details. In the broad outlines of morality, when someone starts proclaiming loudly that they are justified in being a jerk -- it's time to start getting very skeptical! This applies just as well to people, governments, and "activist" groups.

And by all means, please take some time to be a bit skeptical about yourself! Again, this applies just as well to people, governments, and "activist" groups.


I'd go bit further.

Let's assume everybody agreed with the "Really try hard to not be a jerk!" and everybody would have 100% similar general picture of what is moral.

Two people still interpret a situation from two points of view. Both making the judgement that the other guy is out of bounds. Which justifies some apprehension. But they both experience wrongful apprehension, which justifies pretty big apprehension. Which could result in full riot.

My point is that you cannot talk about ethics from individual point of view and expect to solve problems. You have to take into account societies as whole. Then consider with how it's done in practice. Ethical society cannot exist without good laws and good guardians for those laws. (And with 99% of population behaving good 99% of the time.)

Skeptical is not enough. Society has to be a instant jerk towards individuals who try to jerk around. Clear cut boundaries are needed, so you know to stay inside them.

I'd say there is no place for moral relativism inside a country. But between countries it's even necessary.


My favorite example:

1) Randomly divide people into two groups.

2) Ask everyone in the first group this question: "If someone sues you and loses, is it fair that they should pay your legal costs?" Most people will say yes.

3) Ask everyone in the second group this question: "If you sue someone and lose, is it fair that you should pay their legal costs?" Most people will say no. Even though it's the same fucking question.

That's why we need shared enforced norms :-)


I like this example and might steal it.

But I'd offer you a [bayesian] counter-argument: Say an HIV test is 99% accurate and responds positive on a randomly selected person. What's the chance they actually have HIV? About 5%! [0]. However, if you have prior reasons to believe you may have HIV, the chances are a lot higher than 5% given a positive test.

To tie that back to lawsuits, your participants in the study have their priors set so that they don't expect to engage in frivolous lawsuits towards anyone. However they will likely recognize that they could fall victim to a frivolous lawsuit, and if they're normal, then the only type of lawsuits they could imagine being forced on them is a frivolous suit.

Another way to say that is: probably 90% of the ridiculous lawsuits originate from 1% of the population. Then 99% of your participants will mentally model themselves as a sincere plaintiff (thus they shouldn't have to pay even if they lose), while a 1% frivolous rate is certainly high enough to make plausible the threat of being the defendant, and thus worthy of protection through legal fee reimbursement.

[0]: http://cs.wellesley.edu/~cs199/lectures/34-bayes-rule.html


Yes, fair enough.


I feel like you missed the point of the article. While the world agrees that killing, or generally being a jerk is bad, we are hopelessly divided on the issues like the death penalty, honor killing of rape victims, applying the death penalty to the mentally disabled, use of drones in armed conflicts, etc.

As the grandparent comment pointed out, there is no objective source of morality on any issue. As the OP pointed out, most people don't loudly proclaim themselves to be jerks. Outside of sociopaths and those with mental disorders, most people lie, kill and hate because they think it's somehow the right thing to do. Or because they can rationalize acting in their own self interest to be somehow fair or in the greater good.

Though the article tried to end on a positive tone, I found it to be pretty disheartening. It's easy to say "Don't be hateful", but much more difficult to say "Don't do what you think is right". Ain't no solution for that.


How about, "The ends don't justify the means?"

What was done under the leadership of MLK and Gandhi had an acute awareness of how the instincts around "othering" could take hold of an activist group. I wish there was much more of that today.


There may be a moral concensus on lying, but that's probably more because the word itself has a negative connotation, not the act. The lies that are permitted are called "white lies" or "plausible deniability" (insert many other forms of political speech here).

As another example (from what I've understood about some Asian cultures), "no" is considered rude in some cultures. It's quite acceptable in those cultures to end a business conversation with "I'll get back to you on that" and then never do. They wouldn't even consider it lying, they would consider it "the right thing to do".


I think people have much more relaxed stance towards lying than you think.


By source do you mean way to know what is moral, or reason that there is a fact of the matter as to whether something is moral?

I don't think one necessarily must claim to know /why/ there is a fact of the matter as to what things are moral, in order to be justified in one's claim that there /is/ a fact of the matter?

Moral nihilism can fall down a well. (Note: I mean moral nihilism, not moral nihilists. Rhetoric. I don't have much against nihilists, except that I believe they are incorrect, and it is sometimes kind of scary to need to trust them?)


'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you', does a pretty good job of covering things.


[deleted]


>which has given you the mistaken belief that it makes up a large portion of activism.

but, the point made was that no causes are free of it, but neither are they made up entirely of it. (it being "intellectually malformed pseudo-activisism" in this case)

I don't think anyone said it makes up a large portion of activism, or even implied it.


I don't think anyone said it makes up a large portion of activism, or even implied it.

However, such pseudo-activism makes enough noise, that I have seen the following: There are young people out there that have labeled in their minds some pretty unsavory activities as being somehow noble or intellectually worthy. There are young people out there who believe such shallow notions, like that the use of certain phrases and/or the wearing of certain articles of clothing by complete strangers gives them free license to attribute certain attitudes and ideologies to those strangers, and that the emotional abuse of such strangers is then somehow a morally worthy activity. (And if you point out that they are stereotyping, they look at you strangely.)

Pseudo activism and hateivism comprise only a sad fringe. However, it does make an outsized amount of noise, especially on social media. In doing so, it produces a kind of corrosive misinformation that reduces society's awareness of the underlying causes of systemic injustice.


What are some causes that you personally agree with but think are marred by hateivism?


I very rarely agree wholesale with a cause nowadays. Most often, I can be sympathetic to certain elements of a cause. That said, here are some key examples: There are some parts of Feminism that I agree with, but I also find some feminists to be hateful and repellent. There are select points made by Men's Rights activists I also agree with, though I find some Men's Rights supporters to be hateful and repellent.


Apparently you've never been beat up, kicked, hospitalized, in Baltimore, spit on, while smothering your 17-month old daughter from harm.

Activism isn't passive. Hence the term.


I'm confused. Is that an inclusive (AND) list or alternative (OR)?

I have been beaten up, but I've never been to Baltimore. Am I on that list?


What is the opposing hypothesis here? That violence happens in a morally neutral setting? How would you define morally neutral? Could you make a claim, for example, that a bank robber is motivated by morality (the bank robber believes that robbing the bank is the morally correct thing to do - to redistribute wealth to himself?) Under what circumstances would that NOT be the case? Would the bank robber have to say, "well I know this is wrong, but..." (and how would we characterize that "but..." as not just another dimension of morality)?


I'm also not sure what sort of violence the author would classify as not motivated by morality. From the article:

> ISIL members believe they are morally justified and obligated to commit acts of terror, while US soldiers accept some loss of civilian lives to achieve the deaths of those terrorists. In all of these scenarios, the violent act is perceived by the perpetrator as virtuous.

In the case of ISIS, the author is correct. They really do believe their actions are an unqualified good. But I seriously doubt that drone pilots in US military feel the same way. They may know where a terrorist leader is, but not be able to isolate him from innocents. In other words, if they had more accurate weaponry and better information, they would harm fewer innocent people. Sadly, current bombs and armies are crude tools. In contrast, lack of ability is the only thing stopping ISIS from killing more innocent people.

I think the author is confused because the term "morality" covers everything from self-defense to religious fanaticism. There's practically nothing it can't explain.


Well, pure self-interest would probably fall outside of morality, but one could make an argument that many conscriped ISIS fighters, US soldiers, and perhaps US leaders are acting out of self-interest.


Self-interest is not a well defined concept. The notion of self is not somehow objective or immutable. Describing someone's self-interest is just another framework for describing the same underlying system that morality and all that is trying to describe. There is a bit of circularity when one tries to make self-interest an essential feature of brains:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_egoism#Circulari...

In cases like extreme nationalism, the zealot has essentialized the nation-state into their identity and is thus acting in their 'self-interest'. If one defines self-interest as interest in the health and reproduction of the body, then humans are emphatically not drive solely by self-interest.


Why was this down-voted? The parent makes an excellent point that self-interest relies on a moral judgement about who the "self" is.


I think things could get a bit ambiguous when you consider something like the Stalinist purges. Those would seem to be an intersection of self-interest and self-righteousness. Although their morality was not theistic, they clearly believed that they must prevail over those who had wronged them.


> but not able to isolate uim from innocents

I often wonder what's the internal thinking of professional- and military-trained people. It could be closer to "I don't know whether they are guilty, but this is just my job" or "Precision destruction is a notch better than bombing a whole city like UK did in 1944 to win the war". Or "There isn't a right or wrong, but I'm on the US side, which has determined that this is "our" truth".


> In other words, if they had more accurate weaponry and better information, they would harm fewer innocent people.

That already exists. You could send someone to assassinate that single person. So yeah, some soldier would have to risk their life (kinda what the profession is about), but the innocent civilians won't have to pay with their lives.

Also, using the same logic, if a few serial killers are hiding somewhere in an apartment complex, why doesn't the government bomb the neighborhood?


That when you commit a "wrong" act, your conscience is screaming "no!" but loses the battle for the drivers' seat to some other element of your consciousness, such as anger ("crime of passion" murder of a cheating spouse) or desperation to meet physical needs (stealing to feed a meth habit).

The idea of sometimes-opposing parts of your consciousness vying for control is an ancient and quite popular idea. It is, for example, the basis of justice in the Republic (that the balance of power among the parts of your soul is correct).

>Would the bank robber have to say, "well I know this is wrong, but..."

Yes! The end of that sentence is "I needed the money" and that kind of thing happens all the time.

The thesis of the article is that this kind of violence is in fact very small-scale compared to violence committed with complete faith in its own justice. Which is pretty plausible: state military action, non-state terrorism, the criminal justice system, "legitimate" administrators of corporeal punishment, etc. operate on a much larger scale than wives killing their husbands for the life insurance money. The latter is the primary focus of the enormously popular television genre of police procedurals and obviously pretty far forward in people's minds, where international relations and the ethics of spanking may not be.


It's also possible that in a study where you ask people "why you did it?" they don't tell the real reason.

Significant part of violence could be motivated by emotion and then rationalized as the just thing to do. Either before or after the act.


Opposing hypotheses: that violence is a choice driven by self interest; that violence happens when someone is angry enough they don't think things through; that violence is an expression of some primal instinct.

I think all of these are somewhat defensible: the bank robber motivated by self interest; assaults driven by personal arguments; drunken street-fights. But I think the article is very interesting and possibly has a very valid point, especially regarding potentially different approaches.

One thing I would like to see teased out, though, is just how much the 'moral motivation' involved in various violent acts boils down to an assailant retaliating for some non-violent but supposed outrage of their personal dignity. I think a lot of fights could be described that way but that doesn't make it a valid moral motivation.


What about the scenario in which a person sees a child being sexually assaulted and intervenes? This is certainly not self-interest on the part of the rescuer, other than satisfying a deeply-held moral conviction. It may also be well thought-out. For example, my children have never been raped but I know I would use lethal force if necessary to prevent it.

Even violence based on self-interest is ultimately grounded in morality. For example, if one has a right to life, self-defense is morally justified and murder is wrong. Both are motivated by self-interest (one licit, the other illicit).

If violence does not contain some moral component, then we're stuck with very bizarre consequences (e.g., genocide and violently stopping genocide are on equally amoral footing).


The original author never mentions the word "valid" in regards to moral motivations. Trying to define what would make a moral motivation "valid" seems quite difficult.


Violence could take place in a moral vacuum. Killers just do what they feel like, take what they want, kill randomly or whoever gets in their way. Or, the morality of the situation might be of some concern, but the killing would be motivated by something else, like emotions or practical considerations.


Well, that sometimes happens. There was a case in the UK recently where some gang was just beating up random people on the street for amusement. There are always a few who who just have zero empathy for anyone and find violence 'amusing'.

But thankfully, that's rare.


If that's the case then isn't most of the violence in the world not motivated by morals (ie in a vacuum), but also mostly committed by things like spiders, bacteria, cows (or do you ignore the plight of grass?), etc.


The article mentions several categories: We analyzed records of all kinds of violence, ranging from war to torture to genocide to homicide. That other stuff seems out of scope.


Why does it seem out of scope? In terms of biomass humans seem kind of insignificant. Some ants make slaves [1]. Some wasps torture cockroaches [2]. I don't know enough about them, but I imagine that bacteriophages would happily commit genocide [3].

I believe that humans are special because we're made in the image of God, but I mentioned the spiders et al because it felt like this whole thing was sliding into a philosophical realm where no one was defining their terms. Personally, I think if you're going to talk about morality and violence without indicating why you think humans are so important you should have a good reason why we aren't concerned about grass being oppressed because otherwise it's just opinions without consistency.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave-making_ant [2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerald_cockroach_wasp [3] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacteriophage


Because the scope of the study was limited to human against human violence.


I think opposing hypothesis is that violence is in some form a more primitive behavior driven by our emotions or instincts (by ego and id, if you will), and only our moral sense (our rational superego) keeps it in check.

I recently submitted this article which makes this distinction: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22830471-000-syndrome...


"Most violence in the world is defended by expressing moral sentiments"


Why can't the bank robber say "sure, robbing a bank is immoral, but I want money, so I don't care enough to not do it"?

I think eating animals is immoral. I still eat animals. I like the taste more than I dislike the immorality.


I'd guess that the opposing hypothesis would be that violence is economically /politically/religiously motivated. Maybe thought of as extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation?


I have to laugh when I read your post because you use "redistribute wealth" to refer to bank robbery. I have to imagine you have likely referred to taxation as "theft" at least once.


He isn't using the term to refer to bank robbery, his hypothetical bank robber is. Just like right now you did not refer to taxation as "theft", even though that phrase is in your comment.


I'm gonna guess that PhDs working on non-profit public domain cancer research probably don't overlap all that much with the taxation-is-theft crowd.


Surprise! I am in that camp (sort of; I think individual income taxes are bad, but not corporate taxes, or tariffs - as long as they are indiscriminate and not used as a tool for social engineering). I'm not that dogmatic about it, there are far worse things that states do.


Mea culpa. While my general experience doesn't show much overlap between the groups, my making assumptions about you was just as wrong as the other guy making assumptions about you.

Carry on with your interesting research, whatever your opinions on taxation.


The non-profit is presumably tax-exempt, which doesn't help your point.


Honestly though, non-profit public domain cancer research should be tax-supported.


why should it be? I'm okay with not being tax-supported.


I guess I'm just feeling that non-profit public domain cancer research done to benefit mankind could use some additional money from the society :).


Which part is supposed to convince me otherwise? The PhD? Non-profit public domain cancer research? There's nothing inherent in either of those personal qualities to suggest such.

I have never heard anyone refer to theft as "redistributing wealth" without corresponding usages of "taxation = theft."


I just meant that working in the non-profit sector and working on public domain research generally coincide with wanting to benefit society at the expense of your own bank account, whereas the taxes are theft people would usually preserve their own bank account at the expense of society.


You should check your assumptions. There are plenty of people who are opposed to public (as in state-sponsored) good works that think it should be done publically (as in out in the open) through private funding.

“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”

-Frederic Bastiat, ca. 1850


I can see theft being excused as redistributing wealth and I don't necessarily think taxation is theft.

But I also say I can see a situation where redistributing wealth is not theft and in some cases I can think that taxation is, in fact, theft.

It all depends on context.


A pastor of mine once talked about this in context of Martin Luther and Zwingli ( in context of the Kappel Wars ), and talked about how violence is often the moral outgrowth of those who have grown so assured of their righteousness (in a Christian context) that they felt they could not sin by committing violence. He pointed to Matthew 5:21-26 and 5:38-47 (The Sermon on the Mount) to bolster his argument against violence by Christians, and I feel that it is generally a correct one. (Further strengthened by Romans 12:9-21) Thus, the case laid out in this article is one that I agree with, generally. It's a case long laid out by a succession of Christian Theologians, albeit using different language.


> violence is often the moral outgrowth of those who have grown so assured of their righteousness

I like that.

This idea is also present in Buddhism, though they take it a step further and say that all suffering (everything from external violence to internal dissatisfaction with life) is caused by some form of judgment. They say the same thing that you mentioned above: violence is caused by the judgment, "I am right, you are wrong".


I'm not sure that I expressed myself the best above based on your response, but partly that's because of the difficulty in discussing topics like this across religious traditions.

I would disagree that violence is caused by the judgement, 'you are right, I am wrong'. I think that violence is ultimately caused by sin, vis a vis Augustinian total depravity. But the justification for violence, often among Christians, is self-righteousness (or put another way, pride).

But again, this is a difficult issue to discuss between religions because the basic assumptions are different and terminology has slightly different meanings.


Where "sin" means essentially not being Christian enough, I am skeptical that the correct diagnosis for violence is "sin" when people who identify as Christian do not seem especially less likely to commit violence than people who identify as adhering to some other worldview with moral entailments. Frankly, if you want everyone else to believe that Christians are less violent than people of other religions, you have to bring data rather than just saying that "sin" (non-Christianness) is the cause.


> Where "sin" means essentially not being Christian enough...

"sin" in Christian theology is disobedience (and therefore rebellion) against God. Defining it as "not being Christian enough" is problematic for at least two reasons:

1. If people self-identify as Christian, how do we identify the liars and the self-deluded?

2. If we can't trust people to identify themselves properly, how do we identify each other as Christians? What is the standard?

The Bible actually says that we can know Christians by how well they follow the commandments of Christ (a). Among the commandments of Christ is the commandment to be at peace with each other; we are supposed to reconcile with each other even before we perform (therefore insincere) religious rituals (b).

...the Bible doesn't say that "sin" is the cause of violence since violence (and hate generally) is itself sin. Instead, Paul teaches that sin, including murder, is a result of rejecting God for other things (c).

So given all that, it's tautological from Biblical principles that violent people are not followers of Christ. In fact, the Bible is full of warnings about people who claim to be Christian and are actually false teachers. It's actually where the "wolf in sheep's clothing" metaphor comes from.

(a) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+John+2%3A4-5&...

(b) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5%3A21-...

(c) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+1%3A28-3...


    > So given all that, it's tautological from Biblical
    > principles that violent people are not followers of
    > Christ.
Then, given that all wars are inherently violent, is it your opinion that all wars are unjust?

Would you also consider that every human life that is ended prematurely by another "murder" (capital punishment, war, abortion)?


I have opinions, of course, but I aspire to have them grounded in scripture. However, you asked, so I'll try to share my take on violence and sin. Keep in mind that I'm not an expert theologian. I'm willing to be wrong on these points if someone can show me how I'm missing some detail or theme in the teaching of the Bible.

Also, since the importance of sin is in the intention behind the thoughts and actions and not in the actions themselves, it's possible for both violent and nonviolent acts to be sinful (a).

To start, most forms of violence are currently illegal, and Christians are supposed to submit to their government, even oppressive ones. There are quite a few references for this (b) (c). Finding more examples isn't difficult if you want more. So for violence to be OK, it has to be legal, at a minimum, which is a reasonably high bar in Western countries.

In the Bible, it is made clear that governments are supposed to enforce justice, including with violence (d). It's not clear if "the sword" must extend all the way to capital punishment, but given the fact that capital punishment was prescribed in the Mosaic Law, it seems to be in the picture in some contexts. That being said, I think people can argue in good faith that modern Western countries are civilized and rich enough to afford every possible chance at rehabilitation. But to insist that capital punishment is necessarily murder is ethnocentric at best and possibly false teaching if someone claims to speak for God.

As far as war, it's clearly not sinful in itself (e). Neither is being a soldier or general. Many (most?) of the judges in Judges were involved in battle in one way or another. As were Abraham and Moses. As was King David (he killed Goliath, remember?). But can countries sin by prosecuting unjust wars? Certainly. Can soldiers sin in their behavior on the battle field? I'm sure it's difficult not to.

Ultimately in any behavior, violent or not, God promises rewards and punishments will be fair at the end of the day (f). Christians are supposed to live without sin, with truth, and in love. Of course they have failed and continue to fail in this. But God promises to make everything right, with his blood if necessary. And according to the Bible, it was necessary, because Jesus came to save the world, not condemn it (g).

Is abortion murder? It's a sin in the cases that it's motivated by self-interest, callousness, or even fear. For a Christian that should be reason enough not to do it. What would the point be in calling it murder? To damn people? We don't have to reach far to find that we are all flawed (h). Lust, lying, hate, despising people, neglecting charity, being unforgiving, envy, greed, addiction, gossiping, cheating, consumerism, coveting... everyone does these things already. There's not much point in trying to rub peoples' noses in how they don't follow God's commandments. They either already know they're not following God or don't care (which is basically the same thing).

(a) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+14

(b) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+13

(c) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Peter+2%3A13-...

(d) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+13%3A4&v...

(e) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ecclesiastes+3%...

(f) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=collosians+3%3A...

(g) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+3%3A17&ver...

(h) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%205:21-...


First of all, thank you for your contributions to this thread. They've been very interesting.

I noticed a couple of points in this post that I would like some clarification on, if you have the time and inclination.

Christians are supposed to submit to their government, even oppressive ones. There are quite a few references for this (b) (c). Finding more examples isn't difficult if you want more.

Where does this sentiment come from, considering that Christianity was illegal in the Roman empire at the time? To an extent, I can understand requiring submission to persecution for reasons unrelated to the faith, but it seems strange to me that early Christians would be required to submit to a government that is persecuting those that attempt to obey God, for attempting to obey God.

They either already know they're not following God or don't care (which is basically the same thing).

Is it really impossible to be 'good' if you don't follow God, according to scripture? Is an atheist sinful by definition?


> Is an atheist sinful by definition?

In typical Christian theology, everyone is sinful -- "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God", "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves", etc.

As to whether not being Christian is itself a variety of sin, or makes you especially bad, or guarantees damnation rather than salvation, the tradition (even the particularly important subset of it called the Bible) is not perfectly consistent. A few examples:

For": the "Letter to the Hebrews" says something like "Without believing in God it is impossible to please him".

Against: one of St Paul's letters speculates that pagans' consciences will "accuse or perhaps excuse" them when they are judged.

For: There's a rather nasty idea embedded in the Christian tradition, that deep down everyone knows* that God is real and is the way Christians say he is, and therefore people who aren't Christians are being dishonest with themselves. The main source for this in the Bible is early in the "Letter to the Romans" where St Paul says something along these lines: "God's anger is being revealed against people who wickedly suppress the truth. For since the creation of the world God's existence and nature have been apparent just from looking at what he made, but some people deny it." He goes on to link this with gay sex, weirdly enough. Anyway, I think most Christians have the decency not to assume that everyone who doesn't share their religion is a liar, and most of the rest have at least enough decency not to say it out loud, but the point is that if you think that everyone really knows that Christianity (or at least something like it) is right then it becomes more reasonable to think that those who reject it are doing so out of wickedness.

(But unless my memory is deceiving me, which it might be, the Pauline letter speculating about pagans' consciences excusing them is in fact the same one as the one that says pagans are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Make of that what you will.)

Disclaimer 1: I'm not a Christian, but I'm pretty familiar with this stuff. Disclaimer 2: Christians do not all agree about any of this, and in particular some will disagree with any given bit of the above. (Probably quite a lot will disagree either with my characterization of the thinking in Romans 1 as a "rather nasty idea" or with the idea that it's "embedded in the Christian tradition".)


> ...one of St Paul's letters speculates that pagans' consciences will "accuse or perhaps excuse" them when they are judged

The Bible is clear that Christ himself will judge the good and the bad in the afterlife (a) (b). Those with faith in Christ believe His decisions will be ultimately fair.

The ideas that there are many ways to God or that 'try your best' is good enough is absolutely not supported in scripture (c), though the idea that there's no specific action or ritual that earns salvation is certainly supported (d). Sometimes the people confuse verses that downplay the importance of rituals to also downplay the importance of Christ himself.

Why would Jesus leave perfection in heaven and die a painful death if His death was not strictly necessary? And then why would He command His followers to make disciples of all the Earth?

That point of view doesn't make sense to me from a Biblical perspective. But, then again, people are free to not believe in the Bible, at least in this life.

(a) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Corinthians+5...

(b) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%207:21-...

(c) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A13-...

(d) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+2%3A8...


I'll answer your questions in reverse order, if you don't mind, because the second one is more important.

> Is it really impossible to be 'good' if you don't follow God, according to scripture? Is an atheist sinful by definition?

It is completely possible to be good and not a Christian. It is completely possible to be a Christian that is a worse person than an atheist. There is actually a lot of confusion around this point, even among Christians. A lot of the problem centers around what "Christian" means. It could mean:

1) Someone who feels like they're a Christian. Even Richard Dawkins considers himself a "secular Christian" (a). He doesn't believe he's going to heaven or doing God's will on Earth.

2) Someone who Christ will admit into heaven when they die.

3) Someone who strives to follow Christ's teachings on this Earth.

For the purposes of this conversation, it sounds like you're asking about #2 (feel free to clarify if I'm making the wrong assumption here).

As far as that goes, gjm11 gets some elements right but seems to miss the mark for some reason. The Bible is very clear on this point. Salvation is given to people by God, through Christ. Period (b). We are supposed to have faith that He will be fair about granting eternal life. If you don't believe God is fair or that the Bible is true, then I suppose what the Bible teaches on this point is not interesting.

So what does God want from us? To trust Him, believe in Him, and have faith that He will take care of everything (c). It's hard to see how an atheist can have this perspective. It seems impossible to me.

How does this relate to being a "good person"? Well, eternal life is supposed to be the default state of things, but when we reject God and His teachings, we accept responsibility for our own eternity (d), and I certainly can't make myself live forever. When we are "bad people", it should be extremely obvious that we are rejecting God (e).

So while some of us may be good, or even great, people, all of us have rejected God on some level and blown our chances to enjoy entrance into heaven on our own merits (f). Christians who think they're "better people" than atheists need to re-examine the Bible and work on that part of themselves (g1) (g2).

On to the next question:

> ...but it seems strange to me that early Christians would be required to submit to a government that is persecuting those that attempt to obey God, for attempting to obey God.

It is strange from many perspectives. The Bible actually says that (h).

Anyway, Daniel (i) is a great book to read for an example of how to both obey God and submit to oppressive rulers. At times, Daniel and his friends would ask politely for exceptions from rules that would cause them to disobey God's commands (j). When that was not possible, Daniel and his friends would respectfully refuse and accept the consequences, even if that meant death (k) (l). That seems pretty harsh, but if you have faith that the all-powerful God is good and that He's watching you, all sorts of things are possible, even a peaceful death under persecution (m).

In certain ways, the physical world is the Matrix to someone with strong faith in God. When you have guaranteed salvation and are following the commands of an all-powerful God, you don't have to dodge bullets. You don't have to.

I realize that sounds silly to many, but it's what the Bible teaches.

(a) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/hay-festival/10853648/Ric...

(b) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=john+14:6

(c) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+3%3A16&ver...

(d) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+6%3A23&v...

(e) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke%2010:27

(f) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+10%3A17-27...

(g1) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Timothy+1%3A1...

(g2) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+2%3A8...

(h) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+14%3A1...

(i) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel%201

(j) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel+1%3A8-21...

(k) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel%203&vers...

(l) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel%206&vers...

(m) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+7%3A54-60&...


> I have opinions, of course, but I aspire to have them grounded in scripture.

I have two simple questions:

1. Why do you aspire to have your opinions grounded in scripture?

2. Do you care about the consequences of your opinions (given that your opinions inform your actions, which in turn affect both your future and other people)?


Regarding 1, there are a few things to say. First, I believe the scripture is the Word of God. If I were OK with spouting off whatever comes to mind without grounding it to scripture, I'm putting my thoughts on equal (or even greater) footing than the Bible. I am tempted to be this proud at times, but I aspire to be more humble than that.

Why the Bible is true has a few answers:

1. It has proven to hold a lot of counter-intuitive truth in my life. When I follow the teaching in the Bible, things go better for my and the people I love. Of course, you don't know me, so it's probably not a very convincing thing to hear from a stranger on the internet.

2. The teachings of the Bible are a very complete and internally consistent, which is a quality you would expect from a Holy Book, but is surprisingly absent from many (most?) life philosophies, in my opinion.

3. There is a lot of discussion of the history and archaeology of the Bible by John Piper. He does a very thorough breakdown in a five-part sermon series complete with notes (in case you want to read instead of watch video). http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/why-we-believe-the-bible...

----------------

> Do you care about the consequences of your opinions...?

Of course. Though I'm having a hard time understanding exactly what your question means. Perhaps you are asking if I think the material world is important? The answer to that specific question is also yes.

A scriptural basis for this is the story of the resurrection of Lazarus. In the story, Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead. But he took time to mourn with the family of Lazarus. If the physical world was unimportant, mourning a physical death wouldn't make sense. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John%2011

I suppose you could also be asking if I think I'll get blowback for my opinions? I consider that likely, actually. But if I let personal concerns take precedence over my loyalty to God, then how much do I really believe that God is real, powerful, and loving? I've been lonely and poor before. I'd rather go back to that than reject the person who means the most to me.


> I am tempted to be this proud at times, but I aspire to be more humble than that.

I guess I would want to encourage you to be a lot less humble, it's not particularly difficult to be better than the bible, at least as far as moral rules go. Just drop the slavery and you have a better moral guideline, to give a trivial example.

> 1. It has proven to hold a lot of counter-intuitive truth in my life. When I follow the teaching in the Bible, things go better for my and the people I love. Of course, you don't know me, so it's probably not a very convincing thing to hear from a stranger on the internet.

Better than what? I can well imagine that there are far worse books/doctrines/ideologies to follow than many forms of christianity--I would just question the suggestion that there aren't far better sources of life advice than the bible.

> 2. The teachings of the Bible are a very complete and internally consistent, which is a quality you would expect from a Holy Book, but is surprisingly absent from many (most?) life philosophies, in my opinion.

(a) What is your measure of completeness?

(b) Well, I am not particularly convinced of the internal consistency.

(c) Any good story is internally consistent, inconsistencies are a sign of a bad writer, and not much more.

(d) "Holy book" isn't really a well-defined term to me that I could say what I would expect from one.

(e) There is one important thing that's IMO missing both from your list and from the bible: Consistency with reality.

> Of course. Though I'm having a hard time understanding exactly what your question means. Perhaps you are asking if I think the material world is important? The answer to that specific question is also yes.

Well, the problem is: What do you do if the consequences of actions the bible tells you are morally right that you can observe in reality turn out to be bad? Do you stick to the bible, thus causing harm, or do you dismiss the bible, thus acknowledging it can be wrong? Don't try to give me an answer, I have an idea what it would be, it's more important that you think about it, because that is the type of harm the article is talking about, where people cause harm with the intention to do good.

> I suppose you could also be asking if I think I'll get blowback for my opinions?

No, I would be far more concerned about other consequences for yourself. Living with a delusion (or similar, this is not a medical diagnosis) can have quite bad consequences once the affected person notices their state of affairs and the missed opportunities and all that.

> But if I let personal concerns take precedence over my loyalty to God, then how much do I really believe that God is real, powerful, and loving? I've been lonely and poor before. I'd rather go back to that than reject the person who means the most to me.

Seriously, and I am neither joking nor trying to be mean, but you possibly might want to seek professional help. If your religious belief means much to you, I wouldn't want to take it away from you unnecessarily, and maybe things aren't as they seem to me, but unlike real people, god does not actually exist, and you cannot expect anything tangible from god if you need help, so if your religion keeps you from having real social contacts, I would urge you to change that, it's probably not good for you in the long run. Other people will largely honor your loyalty with their support for you, god won't. If you have social contacts in a church or similar, my concerns might not apply, as long as it's not a church that tries to isolate you from the rest of society.

I hope you don't take this wrong, but the way you write in that last paragraph really makes me concerned.


1. Slavery

First, I want to emphasize that freedom is a very strong theme in the Bible (a) (b). It's frankly not true that the Bible condones slavery. When certain portions of the Bible describe slavery, it was more of a form of indentured servitude than the abomination we tend to think of. For various reasons, people would put themselves into lifelong work contracts. The Mosaic Law has very progressive laws (at the time) for how masters were to treat their servants.

In fact, the Mosaic Law specifically condemns forced slavery, under the penalty of death (c).

The Bible does encourage the forgiveness of debts (d), and in this context, masters releasing their indentured servants from their contracts was considered a part of this. The entire book of Philemon was basically about this.

Anyway, the American abolitionist movement absolutely had Christian underpinnings, as did the British equivalent (read up on Wilberforce). At a minimum, there are many modern and historical black ministers, like Theodore S. Wright and Dr. King, that would disagree with the idea that Bible says slavery is OK. That sort of thing clearly violates both the golden rule and the idea of imago dei.

Finally, black-market slavery is still a concern, especially sexual slavery. I don't see much in the press about this sort of thing, but I haven't been to a church in the last ten years that didn't make fighting it a special focus in its ministry (e).

2. Causing harm with the intention of doing good.

I absolutely think Christians do this. When this happens, they need to listen and be humble enough to ask for forgiveness and change their ways. The greatest two commandments are to love God completely and to love others as we love ourselves (f). If we're not willing to stop harming and start helping people, we're breaking the second most important commandment directly and the first most important commandment through disobedience.

You probably see people (in shallow understanding of scripture, IMO) justify themselves with Bible verses when people are hurt. This is not Biblical. In fact, the harshest things Jesus said were to religious hyprocrites (g). Jesus has been, and still is, extremely counter-cultural. And religion, in the Bible, is all about charity and doing the right thing (h).

Anyway, I see many, many more Christians deciding to sacrifice their time, money, and energy to help people than I see harm. It's hard to put to fine a point on the hypothetical premise, though.

3. ...if your religion keeps you from having real social contacts, I would urge you to change that, it's probably not good for you in the long run.

Yes. I agree. The Bible is fundamentally about relationships, so a Christian faith with no relationships is incomplete at best.

I actually have much better friendships and my relationships with my family are also better now that I take the teaching in the Bible seriously. With salvation and assurance of a meaningful future, I don't have to worry about myself (i) (j), so I can focus on others' needs, whether they're physical, emotional, spiritual, or relational.

I have never seen someone with worse relationships because of their obedience in the Bible. I have seen people oppressed, mocked, and attacked for their faith and insistence on doing what is right. That's what I was talking about. Sorry if that was not clear.

4. ...unlike real people, god does not actually exist, and you cannot expect anything tangible from god if you need help.... Other people will largely honor your loyalty with their support for you, god won't.

It shouldn't shock you that the Bible teaches the opposite.

And it probably won't impress you that I've found the opposite to be true. God has never let me down, but people let me down all the time. I don't hold that against them, though, since they're my brothers and sisters and they're not doing anything I haven't done before in some way. But God is always there. Often not in the way I want or expect, but God isn't a wingman or a genie that He's obligated to follow my mission and fulfill my wishes.

I will say that you are very assured that God doesn't exist, and logically you shouldn't be. There is no way to prove that the God of the Bible does not exist. There is no scientific experiment you could whip up to use matter to prove the immaterial isn't there. I've wrestled with atheism or perhaps deism before, and I've found that it takes a lot of... well, faith... to assume a negative.

(a) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+5%3A1 (b) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+3%3A2... (c) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+21:16 (d) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+18%3A21... (e) http://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/christians-human-traffic... (f) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2022:36... (g) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+23 (h) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A27&ve... (i) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+6%3A25-... (j) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+1%3...


> 1. Slavery > > First, I want to emphasize that freedom is a very strong theme in the Bible (a) (b). It's frankly not true that the Bible condones slavery. When certain portions of the Bible describe slavery, it was more of a form of indentured servitude than the abomination we tend to think of.

I know that you can justify just about anything with the bible. Figuring out a justification for a given conclusion is not a reliable path to truth.

> For various reasons, people would put themselves into lifelong work contracts.

Which isn't moral either, and which doesn't change that the bible also condones slavery.

> The Mosaic Law has very progressive laws (at the time) for how masters were to treat their servants.

Yeah, god was very progressive for the time he lives outside of ... or whatever it is that you believe. Seriously, I have heard it all, and I have heard other people justify the opposite using the same book and just as broken logic.

> In fact, the Mosaic Law specifically condemns forced slavery, under the penalty of death (c). > > The Bible does encourage the forgiveness of debts (d), and in this context, masters releasing their indentured servants from their contracts was considered a part of this. The entire book of Philemon was basically about this.

See above.

> Anyway, the American abolitionist movement absolutely had Christian underpinnings, as did the British equivalent (read up on Wilberforce).

As did the supporters of slavery.

> At a minimum, there are many modern and historical black ministers, like Theodore S. Wright and Dr. King, that would disagree with the idea that Bible says slavery is OK. That sort of thing clearly violates both the golden rule and the idea of imago dei.

Yeah, just as supporters of slavery would agree very much, because <other reason from the bible>.

> Finally, black-market slavery is still a concern, especially sexual slavery. I don't see much in the press about this sort of thing, but I haven't been to a church in the last ten years that didn't make fighting it a special focus in its ministry (e).

Yeah, and it's great when churches to good deeds. But that neither justifies any supernatural claims nor does it depend on holding beliefs without evidence. The same people could just forget about the god stuff and continue doing good deeds, and often better deeds, as evidenced by lots of non-religious charities.

> 2. Causing harm with the intention of doing good. > > I absolutely think Christians do this. When this happens, they need to listen and be humble enough to ask for forgiveness and change their ways. The greatest two commandments are to love God completely and to love others as we love ourselves (f). If we're not willing to stop harming and start helping people, we're breaking the second most important commandment directly and the first most important commandment through disobedience.

You avoided the question.

> You probably see people (in shallow understanding of scripture, IMO) justify themselves with Bible verses when people are hurt. This is not Biblical. In fact, the harshest things Jesus said were to religious hyprocrites (g). Jesus has been, and still is, extremely counter-cultural. And religion, in the Bible, is all about charity and doing the right thing (h).

Yes, I still know that you can justify just about anything using the bible. It's great if you justify good things using the bible. It's just risky to use the bible as a source of justification, given how many bad things people have justified using it without realizing how bad it was, so chances are it could happen to you as well.

> Anyway, I see many, many more Christians deciding to sacrifice their time, money, and energy to help people than I see harm. It's hard to put to fine a point on the hypothetical premise, though.

Yes, they decide to. But do they actually help, or do they just decide to help, and then end up causing harm?

And if they do actually help (and I agree, many certainly do), that's great, of course, but, see above, doesn't need the bible or belief without evidence.

> 3. ...if your religion keeps you from having real social contacts, I would urge you to change that, it's probably not good for you in the long run. > > Yes. I agree. The Bible is fundamentally about relationships, so a Christian faith with no relationships is incomplete at best. > > I actually have much better friendships and my relationships with my family are also better now that I take the teaching in the Bible seriously. With salvation and assurance of a meaningful future, I don't have to worry about myself (i) (j), so I can focus on others' needs, whether they're physical, emotional, spiritual, or relational.

Except this assurance is actually worthless, so it's risky if you stop worrying about yourself because of that worthless promise.

Nevertheless, great to hear you have great relationships with real people, those do actually provide a certain assurance of a meaningful future.

> I have never seen someone with worse relationships because of their obedience in the Bible. I have seen people oppressed, mocked, and attacked for their faith and insistence on doing what is right. That's what I was talking about. Sorry if that was not clear.

Well, you are aware that there are churches that isolate their members from outside society, right? And that they justify that using the bible (or whatever, possibly related, holy book they are using)? And not only small ones either.

> 4. ...unlike real people, god does not actually exist, and you cannot expect anything tangible from god if you need help.... Other people will largely honor your loyalty with their support for you, god won't. > > It shouldn't shock you that the Bible teaches the opposite.

Well, no, books teach lots of things. Doesn't mean it's true, though.

> And it probably won't impress you that I've found the opposite to be true. God has never let me down, but people let me down all the time. I don't hold that against them, though, since they're my brothers and sisters and they're not doing anything I haven't done before in some way. But God is always there. Often not in the way I want or expect, but God isn't a wingman or a genie that He's obligated to follow my mission and fulfill my wishes.

You do notice that you start with the conclusion that god exists and then go and find excuses for anything that with any other entity besides god you would count as evidence against their existence, right?

> I will say that you are very assured that God doesn't exist, and logically you shouldn't be. There is no way to prove that the God of the Bible does not exist. There is no scientific experiment you could whip up to use matter to prove the immaterial isn't there. I've wrestled with atheism or perhaps deism before, and I've found that it takes a lot of... well, faith... to assume a negative.

You are misunderstanding my position. "<x> does not exist" is just a colloquial formulation people use for what epistomologically correctly would be expressed as "I don't believe <x> exists because I have not seen any convincing evidence for its existence". When people say "santa clause doesn't exist", they usually don't mean that they have proved that santa clause doesn't exist either, after all. I don't affirm the negative, I simply withhold belief on your claim due to lack of evidence, just as with myriads of other baseless existence claims you could make and people have made, and withholding belief does not require faith.

Also, either "the immaterial" has some sort of predictable effects that we can observe, in which case that claim can be tested scientifically (not the immaterial cause, but the effect and the supposed rules according to which it happens), or it doesn't, in which case the existent immaterial is indistinguishable from the non-existent immaterial, and in particular you cannot make any claims about its supposed effects on us.

In any case, you don't get to shift your burden of proof onto me. You made the claim that some particular god exists, so you are responsible for providing the evidence, it's not my job to disprove any claim you throw at me and to believe it until I have done so.

If you want to understand the standpoint of a skeptical/scientific atheist and what you can expect people like myself to reply to your arguments, I guess I would recommend this playlist to you as well:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOkwq0YkXJA&list=PL8U_Qmq9oN...

In particular the videos about specific topics. He is a former christian-nearly-became-minister, so I guess he might be better at putting things into words that make sense from your frame of reference? If you just repeat the same arguments that "we" have heard and refuted thousands of times, chances are pretty low you'll make much of an impression, so understanding those might help you have more productive conversations.


There are a lot of particular points to respond to here, but it seems your general critique is that treating the Bible as truth can be circular reasoning and that people are smart enough to twist any holy book to evil. The Bible actually agrees on these points and asks the readers to test groups and people against objectively good things to see if there is truth in action.

Look for: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, appreciation of truth. These things are sometimes disdained and derided, but they're never wrong. On the other hand, be suspicious of: hate, abuse, envy, boasting, arrogance, rudeness, insistence on one's own way, irritability, resentfulness, and celebration in wrongdoing. It may seem odd to you, but a valid criticism of a Christian's ideas is pointing out where there out of line with these lists. A point delivered with irritability is a weak point for a Christian to make. And I guess you could extrapolate that to ideas and books... at least how they generally affect people.

Edit: Regarding who has to prove God exists... I think nobody does. I don't have to prove it. Neither does He. I think it's better for you if you accept it, but that's your choice. You could ask God to prove Himself before you believe, I suppose. But understand that He is the creator of the universe and He feels He has already gone above and beyond for us. But He has also done amazing things to prove to people that He cares for them. I don't see how it could hurt to ask.

There are good answers to your specific objections and concerns, and I'm interested in sharing thoughts on them, but there seems to be more contest than sharing here. I'm pretty sure continuing won't benefit you any, and I'm pretty sure there isn't an audience that would benefit from me responding to your points. But thanks for the discussion. If I didn't appreciate strong criticism, I would have some particular pride issues to work out.

I do think that perhaps you aren't exposed to orthodox Christians on a regular basis, so you may not really appreciate how the Bible really works on people. If you're interested in more diversity in what information you're exposed to, I'd recommend finding some friends who think the Bible is fundamentally true. If that doesn't interest you, I understand.

For what it's worth, I've prayed for good things in your future, and that God tries again to convince you that there are better things out there for you.

Enjoy your weekend.


> Look for: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, appreciation of truth. These things are sometimes disdained and derided, but they're never wrong.

I disagree.

> On the other hand, be suspicious of: hate, abuse, envy, boasting, arrogance, rudeness, insistence on one's own way, irritability, resentfulness, and celebration in wrongdoing.

I can live with that.

> It may seem odd to you, but a valid criticism of a Christian's ideas is pointing out where there out of line with these lists.

If there is anything odd, it's the idea that I should need a list to know what valid criticism of anyone is. I will criticize anyone who I perceive to be causing harm, whether it's on their list or anyone else's list or not. And maybe that you try to speak for all christians.

> A point delivered with irritability is a weak point for a Christian to make. And I guess you could extrapolate that to ideas and books... at least how they generally affect people. > > Edit: Regarding who has to prove God exists... I think nobody does. I don't have to prove it. Neither does He. I think it's better for you if you accept it, but that's your choice. You could ask God to prove Himself before you believe, I suppose.

Now you are being disingenuous. Just throwing out unsubstantiated claims and then refusing responsibility for substantiating them isn't how you conduct respectful conversations.

> But understand that He is the creator of the universe and He feels He has already gone above and beyond for us. But He has also done amazing things to prove to people that He cares for them.

Yet another bunch of unsubstantiated claims. I suspect you don't feel like providing evidence for these either?

> I don't see how it could hurt to ask.

That's my point. You don't see how your dogma causes harm, because you just assume that it can't cause harm. That's how much of the harm in this world is caused. Now ask yourself, how could it hurt if you spent the limited time of your life "asking" an imaginary entity for whatever? Like, how could it hurt to spend an hour every day asking superman for a relationship? Do you see at least the potential for harm there, in case your god might turn out to actually not be real?

> There are good answers to your specific objections and concerns, and I'm interested in sharing thoughts on them, but there seems to be more contest than sharing here. I'm pretty sure continuing won't benefit you any, and I'm pretty sure there isn't an audience that would benefit from me responding to your points.

Well, if you actually have good answers, I'd certainly be interested. But if you just repeat arguments that have long been refuted (and so far that's pretty much all you have done) and don't bother to first put in some effort to understand those well-documented refutations (just as I have done to understand those well-documented arguments of yours, which is how I happen to know why they don't hold up), I guess it's kindof pointless for me to just regurgitate them to you, which is why I gave you a reference to a good collection of explanations that could help you to get up to speed, so that you then maybe can avoid known-bad arguments in future discussions, and cut directly to good arguments where your "opponent" (for lack of a better word) doesn't just recite well-known refutations without having to engage their brains.

> But thanks for the discussion. If I didn't appreciate strong criticism, I would have some particular pride issues to work out.

Except you don't actually appreciate it, you just tell yourself that you do. That's an immunization strategy of your religion. If you appreciated it, you would try to actually understand the arguments.

> I do think that perhaps you aren't exposed to orthodox Christians on a regular basis, so you may not really appreciate how the Bible really works on people. If you're interested in more diversity in what information you're exposed to, I'd recommend finding some friends who think the Bible is fundamentally true. If that doesn't interest you, I understand.

I don't deny that the "bible [...] works on people", it sure does. There is just no evidence that there is anything supernatural about it, and the claims in it don't seem to be any more reliable than any other book, and often less so. What's difficult to find aren't people who think the bible is true--it's people who have any good evidence for it.

> For what it's worth, I've prayed for good things in your future, and that God tries again to convince you that there are better things out there for you.

Well, if you feel like wasting your precious time in this one life with that, I don't mind. But your chances of actually doing good would be higher if you used your time to do something with an observable effect in this world.

> Enjoy your weekend.

You too :-)


This entire post is an amazing textbook example of "No true Scotsman" fallacy.


I actually realize things appear that way. I started discussing it but thought it would be a tangent and deleted it.

First, just because there is a fallacy doesn't mean the conclusion is false. It just means that the middle part is not a strong logical argument.

Second, the final judge for who receives eternal life is Christ. There is no circular reasoning as far as that goes, assuming you believe the Bible is true. To have a "No True Scotsman" fallacy, you need to have moving goalposts. The goalposts on this are very clear but not very useful for several purposes.

Third, some of those purposes are legitimate from a Christian, or even non-Christian, perspective. People do lie, including to themselves (cognitive dissonance, even). How do you know if your pastor or fiance believes in Christ? The Bible gives us some heuristics for determining how spiritually mature a person is. One of those is the presence and absence of certain character traits and behaviors. Humility, peace, truth, love, selflessness, and absence of sin are all part of that heuristic. And that heuristic, again, has been fixed for two thousand years. No moving goalposts, so no "No True Scotsman" fallacy.

Anyway, maybe all that is not convincing to you and you still think it all adds up to a No True Scotsman fallacy. If so, maybe we should leave it at that. The labeling of the strength of argument is not very interesting to me.

I do find, however, that for the intents and purposes I've experienced, looking for evidence of a Christ-like character, or at least growth towards one, has proved to be useful as long as I understand that I'm working with partial information since I'm not omniscient. But I don't really need a full set of information to know Pol Pot didn't really follow the teachings of Christ.


This is my least favorite logical fallacy, because it's misapplied as an argumentative shortcut in almost every case, including this one.

In particular, with No True Scotsman being flung about as carelessly as it is these days, there's no way for any group to exclude certain positions or ideas as outside their own.

As an example, the US Army has certain eligibility requirements regarding age, citizenship, and physical fitness. Imagine an ISIL member dresses in fatigues, goes into a shopping mall, and blows himself up. The news headlines might read "Suicide bomber was Army Soldier".

Under most applications of No True Scotsman I see today, any attempt by the Army to differentiate themselves from the terrorist would be met with howls of "No True Scotsman!".

Indeed, even if the terrorist was active duty Army, I believe the Army should have able to claim, "This action and these beliefs are demonstrably inconsistent with ours as a group." but that too would be met with "No True Scotsman!".

It seems to me that the logical conclusion of this line of reasoning leaves mankind with no ability to organize itself in groups around certain ideas without also allowing anyone to define the group as they see fit.


On the contrary, this fallacy is very important and applicable. Without it you cannot criticise any group G on the basis of X when a member of this group happens to declare that "I'm not X and anyone who is X is not a member of G". This is seemingly a perfect defense as long as there's a single member who is not X.

It's important to call out this fallacy, because the membership in a group can't be defined on the basis of a person's conduct, since there's no way to monitor that every member of the group adheres to this conduct. Therefore you can't know if anyone is a member or not unless you watch this person 24/7. There must be a different way to assign membership. A membership of most religions is decided on the basis of self-declaration. A membership in US Army is decided on the basis of application and being approved by the powers in charge. For example if US Army has a tendency to employ rapists, it's valid to criticise US Army for this fact even if they have a rule that forbids such behavior. If self-declared Christians tend to persecute and kill people in the name of religion, it's valid to criticise Christianity for this behavior.


    > On the contrary, this fallacy is very important and applicable.
I don't claim that it's an unimportant fallacy to understand and recognize and apply. Instead I said it was my "least favorite", because of it's so rarely applied correctly. By the rest of your comment, I get the impression you didn't catch my meaning.

    > For example if US Army has a tendency to employ 
    > rapists, it's valid to criticise US Army for this fact 
    > even if they have a rule that forbids such behavior.
Here, the critical point is not that the US Army employed a rapist or even several rapists. Instead you're saying they have a tendency to employ racists. No True Scotsman would only apply if someone from the Army made a statement in complete denial of that fact, hand waving it away by pointing out the rule and saying something to the effect of "The Army has a rule against rape, so anyone who does that isn't a real soldier". It's a valid No True Scotsman because the behavior is clearly evident in a non-fringe component of the group.

If someone did make that statement in sincerity, sure, send in the No True Scotsman patrol and take 'em out. But that's not how it usually happens. Typically, there's a singular incident. That's often followed by a careless article which paints with an overly broad brush: "Does the Army have a rape problem?".

And that is the point where I start looking for the misapplied No True Scotsmans to crop up. There's no way for anyone to defend the Army by pointing out that it's against the rules, or that the number of rape incidents in the army is lower than the general population, or really any other facts.

    > It's important to call out this fallacy, because the 
    > membership in a group can't be defined on the basis of a 
    > person's conduct, since there's no way to monitor that 
    > every member of the group adheres to this conduct.
I believe this idea right here is the source of all these misapplications. And it's just false. Of course membership in a group can be defined by a person's conduct. Try comparing Hacker News to Reddit in 3 or 4 comments and see how quickly you get shadowbanned. In fact, I'd say defining group membership based on conduct is the rule, not the exception.

No True Scotsman is intended to point out the fallacy of someone inside a group avoiding criticism by constantly shrinking or changing the group rules in order to draw a distinction from some negative person or incident. If the goalposts aren't moving, then its likely the person really isn't a True Scotsman, and you should maybe try to understand why not.


It seems, based on your comment, that you have experienced Christian practice not meeting Christian teaching, which saddens me.

Sin, in Christian theology based around total depravity, is not 'essentially not being Christian enough', but is rather a failure to obey God. As I said before, this is an area where different religious backgrounds or experiences make discussing this issue difficult.

I certainly don't mean to say that Christians are less violent, but that they should be.

This feels like a discussion quickly falling away from the article and off-topic for the thread, so if you'd like to continue it, feel free to email me, my username at gmail.


> Sin, in Christian theology based around total depravity, is not 'essentially not being Christian enough', but is rather a failure to obey God.

Except that when you say "failure to obey God" you mean "failure to behave as christians have defined a supposed god wants you to behave", or in short "not being christian enough". Simply attributing your rules to an entity whose existence you haven't even demonstrated is simply a rhetorical device to obfuscate the easy to understand statement "sin is when you don't follow my/our rules".

Just consider whether you would be willing to substitute any definition of god out there in your statement instead of the christian one. How about Allah? Then your claim would be that in christian theology, it's sin to not obey Allah (that is, behave as Muslims define that god wants you to behave). If you aren't willing to accept that, your argument doesn't hold, and if you are, you have to deal with a huge pile of self-contradictory doctrine from all the world's religions.


You make a compelling argument based on your presuppositions.

If one doesn't hold a Christian theology based around total depravity, then yes, sin does seem like an arbitrary construct. In fact, even among Christians who hold to essentially similar theological views, there is disagreement about what actions are disobedient to God's instructions, and that's not an easy task to sort through.

As for if I would be willing to substitute any definition of God, no, I wouldn't. But my argument still holds up due to my personal presupposition that the Christian Scriptures are the inspired Word of God, and other religions that deny part or all of them are not correct.

Again, this is heading way off topic for the article, so if you are interested in continuing, feel free to email.


> You make a compelling argument based on your presuppositions.

You are confusing presupposition with lack thereof.

> But my argument still holds up due to my personal presupposition [...]

Yes, of course your argument holds up if you presuppose that it holds up, big deal. Except that just claiming something is true and then deducing from that that it is true isn't really an argument, it's still just an unsubstantiated claim.

I, for example, presuppose that at the center of the sun, there is a big oven with lots of bread in it. Therefore, there is a big oven with lots of bread in it at the center of the sun. You might have different presuppositions, but this argument still holds up due to my personal presupposition that there is a big oven with lots of bread in it at the center of the sun.

Also, that you are not convinced of the claim that there is a big oven with lots of bread in it at the center of the sun (I suppose you are not?) is just because of your presuppositions. If you didn't presuppose that you weren't convinced, you would now have been convinced by my argument.


> Except that when you say "failure to obey God" you mean "failure to behave as christians have defined a supposed god wants you to behave",

Its a not-uncommon bit of Christian theology that sin is not acting how God has specifically and personally directed you, individually, to behave.

Now, Christians holding to that model have (varying, even among Christians) beliefs, to which they ascribe varying degrees of certainty, about things which they thing God commands of all people generally, which are therefore incorporated into that. But those beliefs are conceptually separate from the definition of sin.


"sin means essentially not being Christian enough"

The Apostle Paul would strongly disagree with that definition, I think.

"The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." http://ref.ly/1Tim1.15

Note his use of the present tense in that last phrase.


In this case, "sin" doesn't quite mean "not being Christian enough." Other religions (and ethics in general) often advocate very similar behaviors, so it wouldn't be surprising to see a Christian who is more of a sinner than a non-Christian.

The argument is that violence comes when someone has convinced themselves that they are already righteous enough to override the sin inherent in the violence.


I think it's more than that. It's when the logic of their position means that the violence is right. (In doing so, they usually go off the deep end even within the framework of their chosen ethic...)


Or even that their lack of violence is wrong. Its the old "if youre not for me, then youre against me" view.


This is neither constructive, nor based on anything that your comment's parent's author has said anywhere in this discussion.


When I was a theatre student a thousand years ago my teachers used to say every character you play feels like they have the gods on their side. Bad guys (with the possible exception of Iago) generally don't go around thinking "today I'm going to be particularly evil". They think what they are doing is right and will make the world better in some way. That is the challenge with moral relativism, people are very good at rationalizing their violence.


Since you referenced one of Shakespeare's plays, I think this is one of the great lessons to be taken from Hamlet. Hamlet finds himself caught up in a moral drama — Did his uncle murder his father? Did his mother knowingly condone the act or is just wrong to marry her husband's brother? Is his love interest betraying him by reporting on his behaviour? etc, etc. Hamlet eventually determines he will endeavour to step outside it, but unfortunately doesn't succeed and gets drawn back in, resulting in more violence and his own death.

The best answer to moral drama is often to try to rise above it, not by ignoring it but by addressing it from a higher moral level. But that higher level has to be real and not faked and there's the great challenge.


Yes, this is an old completely classical idea. No one can psychologically bare the thought that they are doing something really wrong and get motivated by it. We are defined by what we think is right. That's why true sadism always requires a layer of sentimentality. It's a little strange to see this so "rediscovered".


This is where the article goes wrong for me:

> The commonality was that the primary motivations were moral. This means that the perpetrators of violence felt like what they are doing was morally right.

The first sentence is about motivation. The second is about justification.

As an example, I think back to when I was a little kid and fought with my younger brother. My motivations for hitting him would be things like feelings of anger, shame, or urge to establish dominance. My justification would be something like "he hit me first" or "he deserved it" or "he can't talk to me like that".

The motivation was primary, and something I didn't choose. (I did choose to indulge it, of course.) The justification was secondary and situational, constructed to avoid accountability (both internal and parental). Sometimes it was true and sometimes it wasn't, but it was always secondary. As an adult, the justification (and critical examination of it) is part of my gatekeeping of what motivations I indulge, but it's not the motivator.

I think this matters because fixing the claimed justification won't always change the behavior. This quote from a Jon Ronson article gets at why:

"I once interviewed a prison psychiatrist, James Gilligan, who told me that every murderer he treated was harbouring a central secret – which was that they felt humiliated. 'I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed or humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed,' he said. His conclusion: 'All violence is an attempt to replace shame with self-esteem.'"


Some personal philosophy (as if the Internet needs more):

I always watch out for the dogmatic idealogues, the ones without moderation. You can identify them when they say that the welfare of others, often including their lives, should be sacrificed to the idealogue's cause - and of course the others should have no say in it.

Pragmatism and humility are the wisest forms of morality. There should always be something higher than your ideals and goals, either the ideal of other people's lives and welfare, or their self-determination (whether or not you agree with their opinions), or your humility: Unless you are God, you should hesitate to sacrifice others based on your judgement. For me, that's also the philosophical foundation of democracy.


That doesn't make any sense. "There should always be something higher than your ideals and goals" is a contradiction; if there were something higher, it'd become your ideal or goal.

It seems especially incongruous to suggest that I should be putting other people's ideals over my own. Just how would you propose anybody accomplish such a thing? How is anybody supposed to make the best possible decisions when they are to assume that only someone else could make better decisions? That's idiotic.

And why would you ask anyone to place self-determination above their own ideals? Despite the fact that this is a contradiction as I mentioned above, it isn't a thing worthy of intrinsic praise. Self determination isn't good unless you're determined to do good, and determined enough to actually do what it takes to achieve your ideals. So it can't be above your ideals.

>Unless you are God, you should hesitate to sacrifice others based on your judgement.

Most of those that do will hesitate. But they'll end up sacrificing them anyway, and you'll still be lambasting them for their short-sightedness, because you can't understand the scope of that hesitation from atop your pedestal. Of course, you can see just fine in hind-sight. That's not really a talent.

All in all, you're just saying "People are morally corrupt unless they do what I think is right," which is exactly the same thing they'd say about you. What you offer isn't a solution, it's a complete failure to understand the conflict.


"There should always be something higher than your ideals and goals" is a contradiction; if there were something higher, it'd become your ideal or goal.

It's only a contradiction if you're aware of what that higher something is. Part of humility is realizing there are things you don't know. Your ideals and goals are imperfect, and will change over your lifetime. Why didn't you choose the "highest" ideals to begin with?


You can't make decisions based on information you don't have.

An unknown ideal is not "higher" -- it's unknown -- as in, you don't actually know that it's "higher," and you couldn't do anything about it even if it were. You certainly can't believe in the unknown.

"Pursuit of the unknown" is not itself an unknown ideal. You should look for new information. That's not a mystery, that's an ideal you can have right now. If you think there's a better ideal than that, then I don't know what to tell you.


> You can't make decisions based on information you don't have.

You can't. But you can make decisions based on the information that your information is incomplete. A sort of 'bias towards inaction' in those cases in which the action would be irreversible.

Consider the death penalty. You may think that's morally right to apply the death penalty to, say, mass murderers. You may also, without contradiction, decide that this should never be done in practice. The reasoning being that it would require infallibility on the part of the persons deciding to apply such punishment.

So you don't even say "the highest moral imperative is that thou shall not kill". There might very well be cases where the best moral decision would be to kill someone under some 'higher' ideal you know nothing of. But you can still simply say "I do not trust my moral judgement to the point were I'd take another's life because of such judgement, no matter how righteous my judgement feels to me".

Of course, you are also unlike to trust any other person to make such determinations, either. How to try and dissuade others from taking actions that you don't consider acceptable, without resorting to actions for which you know you are not qualified to make the moral call, is a whole other matter.


Inaction is just another kind of action, and an ideal that demands it it just as much an ideal as any other. You can't say "the best moral decision is to wait for more information" and "there is no best moral decision" at the same time. That's nonsense.

You can be aware that you don't know the best course of action, but if you can't take the best course of action, that matters very little.

I get what you're trying to say, but I don't approve of the mechanism you are using to say it. You are essentially asking me to agree with you as a matter of social ritual; we should all go bow our heads and whip ourselves every time we think we know something! Here's the thing, though: you can't preach humility without being a hypocrite. You've taken "don't stick to a moral stance!" as a moral stance and you're sticking right to it.

I get that there is no roadmap to perfection. You can't sort the points on a plane. But we live our lives sequentially, and you will order those points, because you cannot do anything unless you do. So you get busy trying to find an order that will maximize your goals, and you make sure that "you" is broad enough to include everybody else as well. You don't sit around beating on yourself because you can't handle the fact that the plane has no intrinsic total order.


Well said. The implicit assumption in "There should always be something higher than your ideals and goals" is that the status quo should always be maintained. Any goal or idea that disrupts business-as-usual is obviously wrong because changing anything, taking any action is wrong, not because the result of the action is bad but because nobody save the invisible maintainers of control should be agents of change.

This is top-down, hierarchical society at its finest.


I believe the author's hypothesis is probably correct. It seems the only way to avoid the "well my case is different; violence is justified in this situation because..."-bias is to instill or promote a common moral that "violence is not okay – ever". It's the only way you can be sure that you're not falling into the same biases that our "enemies" have fallen into.

The more I learn about cognitive biases, the more I think they're probably the cause of almost all interpersonal conflict in modern society (unfortunately, awareness of this fact doesn't make you immune to the phenomenon).


> promote a common moral that "violence is not okay – ever"

I guess that's generally was is tried in the Western world. Especially (marginally more) in Europe, where even being in the army is not as regarded as in the US, and there is nowhere the same support for the troops even when deployed.

But then all of that is drown in a sea of entertainment, the majority of which not only promote virtuous violent reaction, but also show that non-violence generally lead to ridicule or painful death.


It's easy to believe that violence is not the answer if you can outsource the application of it (to police, other governments, etc.)


> It seems the only way to avoid the "well my case is different; violence is justified in this situation because..."-bias is to instill or promote a common moral that "violence is not okay – ever". It's the only way you can be sure that you're not falling into the same biases that our "enemies" have fallen into.

I agree. I love how this point is made by O'Brien in Orwell's 1984. On the surface, the book is pretty morally clear; but if you look deeper, it's full of moral ambiguities like that (another example is that Winston is himself a party member). Just like in life.


> -bias is to instill or promote a common moral that "violence is not okay – ever".

I haven't read it, to be honest, but that's what Kant was saying in his "Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_Peace:_A_Philosophic...). I'd say that even though we're not there yet, we have been getting closer and closer to that ideal in the last 200 years, with the well-known hiccups along the way.


Maybe that's just me, but latest hiccups sometimes look suspiciously like an attempt to turn this trend around.

Nice nickname btw. Is it from Captain Grant's Children?


> Nice nickname btw. Is it from Captain Grant's Children

Yeap :)


> The more I learn about cognitive biases, the more I think they're probably the cause of almost all interpersonal conflict in modern society

Whereas the more I understand about affective impulses, the more I think they're definitely the root cause of all interpersonal conflicts in any society.

There is no doubt that cognitive biases play a part, but they ultimately hinge on -- and stem from -- the affective impulses.


And when confronted with someone violently harming defenseless children in your care?

Some believe violence is wrong even then, others believe pacifism is wrong then.


My morals don't necessarily match up with what I would do in certain situations.


That's like saying you don't believe in monsters, yet refusing to open the closet. Your morals match exactly what you would do. What you say about your morals doesn't. What you are is what you do, after all, not what you imagine yourself to be.


Our morals guide what we hope to become, but aren't always reflected by what we are today.


Your morals and your instincts are two different things.


Instinct is just an innate morality.


I can't say I agree fully.

We have instinctual behaviour that leads us to group cooperation, avoiding theft and murder etc. A lot of our morality and legal systems stem from this.

On the other hand instinct can lead people to do some seriously shitty things and we try to suppress it in those cases.

Morality is a code or system of conduct that you aspire to in order to become a better or more virtuous person. We derive some of it from instinct and some from philosphy.

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