Tag Archive | subjective

Why the English Language is Broken Fundamentally

It was years ago that I sat down to evaluate and rebut Matt Slick’s modified Cosmological Argument for the existence of a deity–a common Transcendental Argument for the existence of God, although modified slightly so that Slick took the “existence” of the Logical Absolutes, and the alleged characteristic of “transcendence,” and attempted to hold them up as proof that a deity exists. In that paper, I pointed out that Slick’s primary mistake was in misunderstanding the nature of the Logical Absolutes, because they are not things with existence; they are events, or, to be more specific, they are extrapolations of events into generalized form.

The easiest way to explain this is to take the first of the three Logical Absolutes–that something is what it is, and is not what it is not–and to say that “A tree is a tree.” It may seem a silly statement to the uninitiated, but the tautological nature of this statement forms the very basis of all possible knowledge; it is neither trivial nor silly. Before we can “know” anything, we must establish the parameters by which we can know things, and this is the purpose of the Logical Absolutes.

Anyway, “tautologies are true” is essentially the first of the three, which itself is a tautology and presumed to be truth only if it is already true. If tautologies were not true, then our tautology that “Tautologies are true” could not be true, and we end up with a logical paradox. We’ll come back to this.

It’s not because of any transcendent property of nature or reality that we would say that “A tree is a tree,” and it’s not an existent thing that allows us to make that assessment. It is an observation of an event–the verbiage should be instant giveaways. “Is,” after all, is a verb, and it means that something is presently engaged in being or doing something. The statement “A tree is a tree” is shorthand for saying “A tree is presently engaged in the act of being a tree.” We could ask, if we wanted, whether it was possible for the tree to be engaged in the act of being anything else, and that is where the Logical Absolutes come into play, but prior to that it’s nothing but the observation of a subjective being.

Whether the tree is actually engaged in the act of being a tree cannot be ascertained. To make this a statement of “truth,” we would need to modify it further, such that we’d say, “It appears that the tree is presently engaged in the act of being a tree.”

However, such a statement contains its own ellipsis, just as the initial one did. “It appears to me that the tree is presently engaged in the act of being a tree,” is what the sentence actually says, once we remove those banes of non-native English speakers that make grasping the language so difficult. This is because English often assumes one perspective or another, and hides the assumption in an ellipsis that the average native English speaker isn’t even aware of. Quite literally, they are unaware of the assumptions they are making, because the language of expression provides the means by which they can hide their own assumptions away from themselves and instead claim to be Heralds of the One True Value System.

And yet, what did we say? What were the words we initially used to express this sentiment?

“A tree is a tree.”

The English language is so full of self-deceit. The only way to begin to think freely and without this self-deception is to think in concepts rather than the words we use to (allegedly) represent those concepts. Language is infinitely valuable for communication, when it is built on the basis of the Logical Absolutes, which thereby allows us to agree that when we say “tree” we are both referring to the same thing, which is itself. But the language is only useful if the word “tree” actually calls up in your mind the essence of a tree. If you instead picture a flying fish, then communication is impossible, and one or the both of us is engaged in considerable self-deceit or a butchering of the shared medium of communication.

As always, it’s important to remember that we did not move from “A tree is a tree” to “It appears to me that the tree is presently engaged in the act of being a tree” accidentally or arbitrarily; we got to here by dissecting the statement and pointing out possibly errant assumptions.

First, how do I know that you aren’t lying? How am I to know how a thing appears to you? The English language allows us to make this statement of subjective experience as though it’s objective fact, but I cannot tell you whether or not “a tree is a tree,” because I can only tell you whether the tree appears to me to be presently engaged in the act of being a tree. Perhaps you’re wrong, or perhaps I’m wrong–we’d have no way of knowing.

If our senses are reliable, then they would report to us that they are reliable. We would not commonly see things that turned out to not be there upon closer inspection. Except… this does happen, doesn’t it? And quite regularly. Just last week I experienced an extended period of sleep paralysis where I not only saw a scythe-wielding reaper standing before me, but actually saw and felt a woman lift up my leg and stab me in the foot with a knife. These ghosts appeared entirely real–and, in my condition, I thought that they were–but closer inspection revealed that my ocular information had to be discarded as pareidolia, and the pain of having my foot stabbed was entirely imaginary. There are also mirages, aural and ocular hallucinations, feeling bugs crawling on the skin–why, just by suggesting it to you, I can make you feel like there is a spider crawling very slowly on the back of your neck.

More to the point, it’s a logical paradox that reliable senses could report that they are unreliable in the first place, because this would be a falsehood, and reporting falsehood to the perceiver would make the “reliable” senses unreliable. Reliable senses can only ever report that they are reliable.

Unreliable senses, however, have the freedom to report anything they like–they can report that they are reliable, as long as their consistency is unreliable. If this was the case*, we would find ourselves perceiving things and regularly having to evaluate them further, to determine whether or not the initial perception was accurate. Sometimes it would be, and sometimes it wouldn’t be, and there would be no immediate way of knowing when we perceived something whether it was one of those reliable pieces of input or an unreliable one. They could not regularly report that they were unreliable, as this would make them reliable, which is another logical paradox.

Alarmingly, this is precisely what we have found. It appeared that the Earth was flat and orbited by the sun, for example. I’ve no doubt that we all have experiences that we can point to where something appeared to be one way, yet turned out to be entirely different. Whether our correction of the situation and recognition of it as “something different” to what we initially thought is any more “correct” than the initial one of appearance is immaterial, because the truth of the matter is simpler: “Initially, we perceived one thing; upon closer inspection, we perceived something else.” The truth or falsehood of the perception has no bearing on how the subjective being experienced it, and neither does it matter that our unreliable senses are the metrics that we used to separate what we came to think of as “falsehood” (the initial perception) from “truth” (the modified perception).

Of course, this isn’t to say that we should stand in the street and question whether the oncoming car is actually there, or whether our unreliable senses are relaying inaccurately to us that we should probably move out of the way of the vehicle. For whatever reason, it appears to me that we must make assumptions as we go about our lives, and there couldn’t possibly be anything inherently wrong with that–neither does being an assumption make it any more or less likely to be true–but I do think it’s important that we not lose sight of the fact that we are making assumptions.

One such assumption was my critique of Slick’s work, wherein I didn’t dispute the notion that the Logical Absolutes are transcendent. First, what does “transcendent” even mean? “Above or beyond the range of human experience,” according to Google, which is fair enough as a definition but needs expansion. For something to be transcendent, it must not be dependent upon any particular perspective and must be universally true without regard to perception.

“Possibly, but probably not,” then, is the answer. They can appear to be transcendent, but whether they are or aren’t cannot be determined by subjects who rely upon perception to experience the world–perceptions that are dependent upon perspective in the first place. I cannot say whether the Logical Absolutes are transcendent any more than I can say that the tree is a tree; I can only say how they appear to me–or, in the case of the Logical Absolutes, how my fallible and weak human mind can imagine them to be.

Once more, we are not dealing with reasonable certainty here, but claims of absolute certainty. One can be reasonably certain or not that a car is coming down the highway, but one can never be absolutely certain of it. What is “reasonable” to one person isn’t necessarily reasonable to another, either.

TheraminTrees did a wonderful video on this subject, where he posed the hypothetical that you were having a party. A friend is known to be clumsy, and gets drunk, exacerbating his clumsiness. He breaks your lamp and apologizes. Most people would agree it’s reasonable to accept the apology. Then he breaks your television. At this point, if you were to fly into a yelling rage at the friend and demanding that he pay for the damages, many people would decry you as responding unreasonably to the situation. But surely if your friend is prone to clumsiness, he has incorporated that into his life such that he takes responsibility for it? Is it not unreasonable to allow someone to come into your home, get drunk, and break your things?

Where you or I disagree on what is reasonable is also irrelevant; the point is just that there is no universally agreed criteria where something qualifies as “reasonable” or “unreasonable,” and too often it’s nothing more than a matter of perspective. From the limited and narrow sense that shouting at a friend and demanding they pay for something is unreasonable, our hypothetical partier is unreasonable. From a greater perspective (I would probably argue)–one that takes in a wider view of the situation–it is, in fact, unreasonable of the friend to ignore their own mistakes and shortcomings, particularly when damage is caused to their friends.

So I can say that “I’m reasonably certain that the tree appears to me to be presently engaged in the act of being a tree, per my understanding of what it means to be and per my definition of what a ‘tree’ is,” and this is a statement filled with quite a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity. Not everyone seems equipped to handle that level of uncertainty, and thus–the English language, which provides them with the means to hide from all that uncertainty by presenting a tenuous and unfalsifiable statement of subjective experience as an absolute truth.

* As part of my attempts to dissect the English language, this is intentional. “This” is singular, and there is no good reason that it should be treated as though it is plural.

Reconciling the NAP & “Reality”

There are three main threads through everything that I write:

  • A rejection of absolutist black & white thinking.
  • Strict adherence to the Non Aggression Principle, to the extent that punishment becomes off-limits in favor of forgiveness and prevention of future crimes.
  • What I now call Nietzscheanism*–that is: morality is a human construct that primarily exists to keep the strong from abusing the weak; it is a luxury of the middle class, one not allowed to the lower class and one that the upper class isn’t held to.

It’s immediately clear, from the second two bullets–the first is only mentioned because it simply is a common thread, but it’s not the point of today’s discussion–that there is a conflict.

Can there be a greater example of middle class morality than the NAP? In fact, I would say that the NAP is the shining bastion of middle class morality–fully swearing off and condemning all force, violence, and coercion and asking that everyone else do it. Obviously, this can only happen in a world where everyone compromises the middle class. This is the crux of anarcho-capitalism, and the reason I insist that Nietzsche would be an AnCap if he lived today, knowing what we know.

nietzscheGoodness, there’s just so much ground to cover to bring my ideology full circle. It’s always difficult to explain to people exactly what I advocate, because it is very much circular, and that makes it hard to pinpoint a beginning. Here, we’ve started from Nietzscheanism and objectivism, and that works, but only if there isn’t a deity. After all, if there is a deity giving some sort of meaning to our existence, then life does matter. So before I could really get anyone on board with Nietzscheanism, I have to get people on board with atheism–Nietzscheanism, after all, is nothing but Applied Atheism. But before I can get anyone on board with atheism, there is a whole lot of groundwork to lay, and it’s groundwork that I’m not going to attempt to lay, because atheism and theism are irrelevant to the larger point. I can be right or wrong about individual pieces regardless of the existence of a deity.

However, I would say that before I could attempt to convince someone that there isn’t a deity, I would have to convince them the value of reason over emotion since, by any measurement, faith is an emotion-based position. We will keep going back and back and back until we arrive right back at subjective value determinations, which lands us right back in the territory of Nietzsche and the Austrian economists. I actually made a few years ago a document–a flow chart, for the most part–where one ideology led to the next, and it was clear by the end of it, after I was able to connect Nietzscheanism back to subjective value determinations–because the essence of Nietzscheanism is that morals are subjective–that I had just created a giant web. I know I still have it somewhere, but I can’t be bothered to find it, and it’s not that important anyway.

Morality, Very Briefly

There is no such thing as “morally good” or “morally bad.” These are values that we prescribe to various acts based on the consequences of those acts, the motive behind those acts, and the circumstances around which that act was committed. This is virtually a tautology at this point, but I will take the time to explain it anyway.

Let’s say that I push you down, causing you to break your arm. I have assaulted you. Everyone would agree that I was morally wrong to do so.

However, let’s say that I push you out of the way of an oncoming train that, for whatever reason, you aren’t aware is coming, and I cause you to break your arm. Suddenly most people would call me a hero and say that I’d saved your life.

In both scenarios, I did exactly the same thing: I pushed you, you fell, and you broke your arm. However, in the first scenario I was just being an aggressive bitch. In the second, I was saving you from being hit by a train. Yet the act itself and the consequence of that act are the same in both scenarios: the act was that I pushed you; the consequence was that you broke your arm.

What changed? In reality, what changed were the imagined consequences of me not pushing you. See, morality, as Henry Hazlitt observed in The Foundations of Morality, arises as a result of imagination, that wonderful characteristic that homo sapien has but so few animals share. It is our ability to imagine that gives rise to morality. Without even realizing it, so gifted are we at doing this, we imagine hypothetical alternative scenarios where I did not push you, and we compare the likeliest result of those scenarios with the reality that transpired. Marvelous creatures, we humans! And, in this way, imagination is literally the cause of morality, as it is precisely what allows us to envision these alternative realities.

In the first example, the most likely hypothetical alternative is that you continue standing unassaulted, and your arm is not broken. You go on about your day without a broken arm. By most criteria, that is certainly a better outcome for you, and since I am the reason you do not get to enjoy that superior outcome, it is determined in a fraction of a second that what I did was morally wrong. We do this innately; I’d almost say that we conceive these hypotheticals instantaneously, and the speed and proficiency are the reasons why we forget that morality is the result of imagination.

In the second example, the most likely hypothetical alternative is that you continue standing unassaulted right up until a train plows into you and utterly destroys you. By most criteria, that is certainly an inferior outcome for you, and since I am the reason that you were spared that inferior outcome, it is determined, perhaps instantaneously, that what I did was morally good.

These value statements themselves, though, are built on a few assumptions:

  • Empathy: This person is generally like me, and I should do unto this person what I would like this person to do for me. In most cases, what I want is much the same as what this person wants.
  • My own preferences: I prefer to not be in pain. I prefer pleasure. I prefer happiness. I prefer to not be sad. I prefer to remain alive.

By combining our own personal preferences with an extension of them onto other people–the very essence of what “empathy” is–we arrive at a criteria by which we assess whether something was good or bad. It’s by no means a perfect system–how could it be, when we are imperfect creatures?

Whenever I think of empathy and the application of my preferences onto others, I recall the time in college that I was behind the desk unplugging my laptop because class was over. While back there, without even asking, I took it upon myself to unplug my neighbor’s laptop, because he was in the process of packing his backpack. It seemed perfectly reasonable to assume that he’d like me to go ahead and unplug his while I was back there. Because I have all the social graces of Dexter, it didn’t occur to me at all to ask if he’d like me to do it; I simply did it. And I immediately learned that his laptop’s battery didn’t work, and that I did a cold shutdown on his laptop. Not a big deal, but something that has always stuck with me about assuming that our preferences automatically apply to others. They don’t. However, generally, they do. I mean, what are the odds that his laptop battery wouldn’t work at all? Under 95% of circumstances, the person would have said, “Oh, cool, thank you!” instead of “Oh, hold… What the hell? Did you unplug me?”

Nietzschean Morality

Nietzsche described good as “the will to power” and happiness as “having power.” From a strictly Darwinian perspective, he’s not wrong. He’s clearly not wrong; he can’t be wrong. However uncomfortable it makes us, he’s right. If our criteria is “survival of the species,” then the only thing that makes sense is to let the powerful do what they can. Do the powerful want to wipe out the weak? Turn them into sex slaves? Install governments throughout the world and use those governments to control the weak? Then they must be allowed to, under this perspective, because we do live in a universe that is trying to kill us, where only the strong survive. It’s a straight line from there to Eugenics, to forced breeding programs to breed the “most capable human.” It’s a sickening path.

Now, to be clear, Nietzsche most certainly did not go that far, and he did not advocate any of that. He was merely arguing that morality is a tool used by the weak to neuter the strong, creating three classes of people in the process: the middle class who were strong and obeyed the morality, the lower class who were weak and therefore didn’t have the luxury, and the upper class who were strong and rejected the morality.

The NAP

With all the above being true, we can see that the moral statement “force, violence, and coercion are unacceptable” is the epitome of Middle Class Morality. For one, this maxim is as close as we can get to a universally applicable morality. Is it true that absolutely no one wants force, violence, and coercion done to them? Certainly not. It’s no longer acceptable to say for some reason, but there are people out there who would genuinely like to be raped, for example. I’ve met a few, and their problem is always the same: they want to be raped without consenting to it, but giving someone permission to rape them is consenting to it, and the odds that a random stranger is going to rape them are not good. Beyond that, if they ran around clearly looking to be raped–wearing excessively revealing clothes and being unnecessarily sensual–it is passively consenting to it. I raise all this to make the point that they don’t want to consent to have it forced on them; they want it genuinely forced on them.

Rumor has it that Angelina Jolie once paid a hitman to kill her. She genuinely wanted someone to do violence to her, assuming it is true–and I don’t care whether or not it is, because there have been enough suicides by cop that it’s provable that some people genuinely want violence done to them. My own mother apparently sought out violent and coercive men. So obviously these things are not going to be universally applicable, because nothing is universally applicable to a species filled with individuals as varied and wild as we are.

Rights

In essence, all rights can be distilled to the following: we have the right to not have force, violence, and coercion used against us unless we consent to it priorily. This statement is all-inclusive. Just as you have that right, as does everyone have that right. This means, then, that you do not have the right to use force, violence, and coercion against someone without their consent. The right to free speech, free religion, free trade, free employment, and free everything else–they all stem from this basic right to not have force, violence, and coercion used against us. They are applications of this maxim to specific issues.

Are these inherent rights? Perhaps and perhaps not. It could be argued you have the right to attempt to stop someone from using force, violence, and coercion against you; in essence, it could be argued that you have the right to try to be strong, and, by being strong, subjugate the weak. It depends upon our subjective values–our criteria for determining morality. If we go with the Darwinian approach, then we arrive at this latter system of rights, where one has the right to do anything they can–this is an underground system of rights, the one that lives in the underbelly’s shadows in society, when certain behaviors are outlawed and black markets thrive.

Because that is, after all, the essence of the black market: a place where the forced middle class morality doesn’t apply because it happens in the shadows. The black market is generally created when the state outlaws something it has no business outlawing**, creating a new dichotomy of the strong and the weak, instead of the trifecta of those who can’t, those who do, and those who don’t. Since middle class morality ceases to apply to anyone, you’re left with only the strong and the weak–the victims and the aggressors.

It follows, then, that if outlawing things leads to the creation of a black market–which we know it does, from indisputable proof and countless examples from the drug war to abortions to ration stamps–that is differentiated from society by the fact that middle class morality doesn’t apply at all and we’re left only with the strong and the weak, then if we outlawed nothing, we would utterly eliminate this black market characterized specifically by the rule of the strong and Darwinian morality.

Application of the NAP Against Nietzscheanism

There are two things that must be done for the NAP to be realized, for middle class morality to be universally applicable–as much as it can be, at least. First, the lower class has to abolished and lifted up into the middle class. So let’s state this loudly and clearly:

No nation other than the United States has come close to eliminating its lower class.

This isn’t a bad thing. We look around the United States and, yes, we have a lower class still, but they aren’t really “lower class,” not in the grand scheme of things. They aren’t poor like the man in Ethiopia who throws out middle class morality to steal food for his family. By an overwhelming degree, the American poor abide middle class morality, though they have no qualms about stealing from the state. Seeing as the state is stealing from everyone, I don’t think it’s fair to condemn them for that one. Besides which, without the state and taxation, they wouldn’t be able to game the system to get “back” finger-quotes-wink-wink ten thousand dollars anyway.

Our “lower class” has electricity, clean water, running water, indoor plumbing, heating, air conditioning, vehicles, iPhones, laptops, steroes, flatscreen TVs, cable/satellite, Internet connections… Our lower class is so high on the totem pole that they’d be considered upper middle class in most parts of the world. This is actually part of the problem, since our lower class, our “poor” have totally lost all perspective on how luxurious their lives are.

To clarify the phrasing, the goal is not to kill off the lower class, not by any means. That’s horrible. No, the goal is to lift up the lower class and bring them into the middle class. Yes, this creates a new middle class, because humans naturally form hierarchies, but none of that matters. The point is that the applicability of middle class morality must be extended to the lower class and, if it is, then it is also true that they are not generally facing the threat of starvation, which is the escape clause that gives them an out from middle class morality in the first place.

Secondly, the upper class must be made to abide middle class morality. Currently, they don’t. I couldn’t even begin to guess how much shit the upper class gets away with in the United States. I’m positive that a solid portion of them engage in child sex tourism and pedophile rings. I’m not referring to the Podesta leaks, but a lifetime of hearing whispers and accusations directed at the upper class. It all may be false, but, in most cases, where there is that much smoke there is usually a fire.

But beyond that, does the upper class get away with theft? Holy crap, absolutely. Not only do they take part in the state and steal from us directly while calling it taxation, but they also use the mechanism of the state to create things like intellectual property and eminent domain, utterly gutting our property rights in the process.

Does the upper class get away with murder? Again, holy crap, yes. The death toll of the 20th century was 160,000,000 from war alone as upper classes in various parts of the world put the lower class to use killing lower class members who were fighting for other upper class groups. They call it “war,” but it is murder.

It’s indisputable that the upper class doesn’t just reject middle class morality; they do so brazenly and openly, in full view of everyone else, and they get away with it by using carefully constructed euphemisms, deceit, and manipulation. There are countless people who will insist that taxes aren’t theft. Except… they are, by any definition of theft. And sending a group of armed people to go kill another group of armed people is unequivocally murder. We cannot allow euphemisms and a refusal to face the truth obscure these basic facts.

Combining

So yes, it is true that we are animals who need to be strong in order to survive, and that our species as a whole must embrace strength and shun weakness. This does not mean a lack of compassion, though, as I’ve explained elsewhere. See, we have mistaken “compassion” as being hardly anything more than getting down in the floor with someone and crying with them. That is fake sympathy; it is empty sympathy.

If you are a herd of gazelle [humans] and are trying to get away from lions [the universe that kills the weak], and you have a loved one who is injured [weak, for whatever reason], then you are doing no one but the lions a favor by laying down with your weak gazelle friend and crying with them. This is empty sympathy. This is virtue signaling. This is nihilistic.

True sympathy leads one to help the other gazelle get up, heal their injuries, become strong themselves, and flee the lion.

We absolutely must have compassion and must be guided to help the weak–it is why we have our middle class morality. It is as close as we can get to “objective morality,” after all. However, if our gazelle friend refuses to get up, if they instead embrace their injury and their victimization, refuse to try to heal, and refuse to try to escape the lion, then we must cut our losses and flee before the lion gets us, too. There is a line between sympathy and nihilism.

Based on observable cause and effect–since it is impossible to speculate too much into our hypothetical alternate realities, and since we lack omniscience and can never know exactly how anything would really have played out if we had acted differently–we know that leaving the gazelle to be eaten by the lion would be bad, and our application of empathy derived from our own personal preferences compels us to help the gazelle. We know with reasonable certainty that the lion would eat the gazelle, and that, if we did not help, we would bear a portion of the blame in that.

We should all be strong; we should all be middle class, with no one enshrined above [through the state] or below [through poverty] anyone else. Now, what is the mechanism that allows that to happen? What mechanism eliminates the state that allows the upper class to escape culpability for their moral violations? Anarchism. What mechanism has provably lifted up virtually the entire population into middle class territory, where the fear of starvation is exceedingly remote? Capitalism.

So how do we create this world of people abiding the NAP, of all people being strong and none being weak?

Anarcho-capitalism.

Boo-ya, bitches.

 

* Thanks to the overwhelming number of angst-ridden ultra-emo millennials who think nihilism means “life sucks and death is cool,” I’ve been left with no choice but to change the label, but that’s fine; Nietzsche wouldn’t have approved of “nihilism” as the label anyway. Of course, these people have never read a word of Nietzsche and don’t fully understand the philosophy, because:

nothing-mattersand they get lost on that second part: nothing matters. They don’t fully apply it, though, or they would realize that it doesn’t matter that nothing matters. That is completely and utterly meaningless.

** Anything they outlaw is something they have no business outlawing.

Yes, Sexism Exists

Remind me to never, ever argue with theists about whether morality is subjective again. My contention is pretty simple:

Morality is subjective because humans are subjects who assign values to things.

It’s a tautology, and it is self-evident. It is as self-evident as a statement can get. It needs no argument, no substantiation, and no more evidence than direct experience. We are humans, and we assign values to things. As we are subjective beings and our experiences and existences are subjective, it follows that the values we assign are subjective.

Then theists come along and say, “No! The values we assign are objective!”

Why are we even discussing this? The burden of proof is so obviously and completely on the people arguing for objective morality that no more of my time should be wasted trying to explain a tautology. If you want to argue that the values you assign are objective, then you have to demonstrate the source of those objective values. Until you can do that, the entire conversation is moot.

So I spent a little while arguing on Facebook–banging my head against the wall would be more accurate–and in the course of the conversation I said two things that really pissed people off:

That is utter nonsense.

You can’t possibly be that thick.

These were taken as personal attacks. I’ll grant that the second one comes pretty close to being a personal attack, but the first one is obviously not. “That is utter nonsense” clearly refers to a statement, and not a person. Ergo, the statement has been attacked. What statement did I attack?

I’m not going back to the thread right now because they’ve kept going and I’ve washed my hands of it, but basically I pointed out that the very fact that we have disagreements about what is moral and what is immoral is strong evidence that morality is subjective. He replied something to the effect of, “So if one person thinks that something is more morally wrong than someone else does, obviously he’s measuring that with some objective criteria.”

No, it doesn’t make sense. Yes, it’s obviously utter nonsense. It’s such utter nonsense that it’s honestly not even wrong, and I wouldn’t begin to know how to explain what is wrong with it. So that two people use internal criteria to assign different subjective values to things is somehow a demonstrate of some external, objective criteria? What? When the guy threw this statement back at me as a “personal insult,” I gladly stood by it. What he said was nonsense. “The sky is blue because the sky is blue, so clearly the sky is red.”

And no. No one can possibly be thick enough to believe such a ridiculous statement. These two insults were tied to the same comment, I should point out; I said them both in reply to this utter nonsense. I stand by that, as well. No one can be thick enough to really believe something so horrifically nonsensical.

But it’s not my goal here to reiterate the argument. They are responding too quickly and Facebook’s medium too limited for it to take place effectively. Moreover, they are repeating themselves and denying that the burden of proof is on them, even though my contention, from the start, has been that morality is subjective because we are subjective individuals and we assign values to things.

Tell me: how shall I convince you that a circle is round?

For more than a decade, I have been arguing with people on the Internet and discussing things with people. I have engaged in undoubtedly thousands of online arguments, started probably a fourth of those. And in my career of arguing with people online, I have never been called “emotional” or “overly emotional.”

Until last year, when I officially switched from being a male to being Aria.

In the past year, I have been called “overly emotional” at least ten times in various online arguments. I am not exaggerating when I say that this never happened when I presented myself as a guy. It never happened, and no one who knows me could agree that I’m prone to becoming emotional in discussions. If I was, I wouldn’t have evolved from pro-life Republican and die-hard Christian to dyed-in-the-wool socialist liberal to pro-choice anarcho-capitalist. My loyalty is to reason, not to emotion, and I’ve written a goddamned book on Nihilism, which is an utter rejection of emotional thinking. It’s not finished, though it’s about 200 pages in.

It wasn’t even that long ago that Thomas Knapp corrected my position on libertarians and abortion, by making me see that I was wrong, and that pro-life people weren’t automatically un-libertarian. Yes, I’m so emotional I reversed my old position because it couldn’t be rationally supported. Totally ruled by my emotions. It totally explains why I’m still saying that Austin Petersen isn’t a libertarian because he’s pro-life.

Except… Oh, wait. I did change my position. I did ease up on Austin Petersen. I still don’t think he’s a libertarian, but it’s because he rejects the NAP, not because of his abortion stance. Recently I wrote specifically about abortion and that libertarianism isn’t automatically pro-life or pro-abortion. This is where a bit of a fracture comes in, as you can see in the comments there. I’m also not a big fan of abortion. I’m really not. I don’t think it’s right, because there are so many ways to prevent pregnancy in the first place. I’m 29, and I’ve only once gotten a girl pregnant. She aborted, but that was beyond my control, and it was only last year that it happened.

I’m certainly not pro-abortion, though. I’m pro-choice. Part of the problem is that most people do take “pro-choice” to mean “pro-abortion,” and it doesn’t really mean that. It means pro-choice. It means being in favor of people having the choice to get an abortion if they so choose, not being happy about them getting an abortion. A pro-choice person can still choose to reject abortion and condemn it, after all.

Recently, a girl on Twitter challenged me to demonstrate sexism in the United States. No, I honestly can’t do that. I could, if I cared to spend the time doing it. I could run two simultaneous online presences for the next year, carefully tabulating the results that I get. It would take too much effort, though, and it’s not worth it to me. I know what I’ve experienced.

And what I’ve experienced is that no one ever accused me of being overly emotional until they knew I was a female. Yes, the anarcho-capitalist who recently made a video called “What is Capitalism?” that said “being poor is a state of mind” is “overly emotional.” For pointing out that an argument is absurd and undermines its own point, and for saying that the person who made the argument couldn’t possibly be “thick” enough to believe it–which some could take as a compliment, honestly–I’m “overly emotional.”

And no one ever said that to me when I wasn’t wearing lipstick, you know?

As a cool little bonus, because this came out shorter and filled with more digression than I wanted, here is a chapter from Shattering the American Illusion that I’ve been writing.

Chapter 6: Morality

Warning: We are about to ask a LOT of “What if…?” questions.

Many arguments are presented by theists in an attempt to give their god something to do, and one of the most common among these is something along the lines of, “Oh, yeah? If there’s no God, then how do you explain morality? Western Law is built on the Ten Commandments!” Before we proceed much further, let’s stop and bask in the unabashed glory of this argument—and the one that says “America was built on Christianity!”

A precursory glance at the latter claim will reveal why Science and Christianity have stood at odds for so long: a little bit of reading is a very dangerous thing, especially to the theistic reasoning. Written in 1796, under the leadership of George Washington and John Adams (two of the people directly responsible for the creation of “America”), the Treaty of Tripoli is as follows:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of [Muslims][1]; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan[2] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries (Dawkins “God” 40).

Let no more be said (ever, preferably) of the idea that the United States was founded on the religion of Christianity. At best, what can be said is that our ancestors fled to these shores to escape religious persecution and then embraced the notion of religious freedom, which requires a secular state by any measure. Not only did our forebears reject the notion of any state-sanctioned religion, they would be scandalized to see the state of American politics today, when a man or woman’s religious beliefs is listed as the second or third most important attribute of them (generally followed only by their name and political association—Democrat or Republican) (Dawkins “God” 40). This is a deplorable state. Using a person’s religious beliefs as a motivation for voting for or against them sets us on the path toward abolishing the separation of church and state.

Moving on to our main discussion, there is the question of morality and why humans have a notion of it if there is no god. Many ideas have been put forth to explain morality, but before we get into that, we must ask: “What is morality? What is moral behavior? What is immoral behavior?” These questions, whether you “feel” the answers intuitively in the form of examples you can easily imagine, are not really so simple to answer as “doing good” and “doing bad.” In fact, it’s very difficult to explain moral and immoral behavior without using words like “good” and “bad.”

In the simplest terms, moral behavior can probably be defined as “doing to others as one would have done to themselves,” and immoral behavior can be defined as “doing to others as one would not like to have done to themselves.” You’ll notice the teaching of Christ buried in this philosophy; that is not accidental or coincidental. I doubt you’ll ever find an atheist who claims that Christ had nothing useful to say (though what he said was certainly not original). At any rate, these definitions don’t really help us very much, because what one person would like might be different from what another person may like. One person may dislike what another person would like. One person may like what another person may be indifferent to. One person may be indifferent to what another person likes.

We have no “universal person” who we can use to make these assertions that any given act “would be liked” or “would be disliked.” So we haven’t really come any further with these definitions than if we simply had attributed them as “good” and “bad” behaviors. Henry Hazlitt, in The Foundations of Morality, likens moral behavior to attempts to “make an is from an ought,” and this is difficult to get into without explaining the context around which he says this (5). We’ll still show, after explaining what he means, that he’s wholly incorrect because “is” and “ought” are just as subjective as anything else we’ve tried so far.

“The world ought to have peace” would be an exemplar statement, but the problem here is obvious: the conditions we’ve created with the word “ought” are an illusory world that is most certainly not the one in which we live. In order to make such an “ought” statement, we must be capable of comparing the “world as it is” to a hypothetical “perfect” world wherein “what ought, is.” Making such a comparison, of course, requires being able to compare any two states of existence (regardless of the disparity between them), and this therefore goes quite a long way in explaining why dogs and cats don’t have such a system: they lack the cognitive processes to imagine this “world of oughts.”

“Women ought to have equal wages” would be another example, and it has the same problem; in the world currently, there is not peace and women, even in the United States (bastion of “freedom” though it is) women do not earn wages equal to men. In fact, one of the presidential debates of 2012 established that women earn 76% of what their male counterparts make.

Moral behavior, then, is a vehicle with which we travel from “what is” to “what ought be.” The actions we take toward establishing peace in the world (as ought be) would be considered moral actions, just as the actions we take toward giving women what they actually deserve would be considered moral behavior (as this is what ought be). Moral behavior is any action that decisively transitions “what is” toward “what ought be.” But this is a minefield of problems, because it automatically presumes that “the greater good” is better than “a local good,” and we can’t justify that.

For example, what if the only possible way, after every other avenue has been explored, to achieve world peace is to nuke the Middle East and turn the entire region into a deadened tundra of snow and ash? Do the many (the rest of the world) outweigh the needs of the few (the Middle East inhabitants)? Would we be justified in killing hundreds of millions of people if we were to spare some countless number of theoretical future victims from dying in needless wars?

I can’t answer this question for you; it is one you must ask and answer for yourself. But I presume that you, like me, would say, “Absolutely not.” I say this because the people in the Middle East are real—we can see them, touch them, love them. They feel as I feel, they think as I think, and they know as I know. The theoretical future people that may be spared from needless wars are not quite so real, even if they are potentially of infinite number. I cannot condone the sacrifice of real people to protect the lives of imagined people—and I sincerely hope that you cannot, either. My sense of empathy forbids it.

What about a simpler, less illusory example? What if you could go back in time to 1940 and kill Hitler? What if you knew that killing Hitler would (somehow) immediately end World War 2 and would cause all the imprisoned Jews to be released from the concentration camps? What if you knew (thanks to your coming from the future) that Hitler would go on to be responsible for all those deaths[3] if he lived and you knew that a great many of those deaths would be prevented by the death of Hitler? You can kill him, press a button on your wristwatch, and return the present, with no negative repercussions on the world as a result of your tampering with the past. What if the only outcome of going back in time to kill Hitler was that there would have been deaths prevented and those people went on to live normal, productive lives? Would you kill him?

I tend to think the average reader would. If my intuitions are in touch with the average reader’s, then I am correct, because I know that I would kill Hitler in the above circumstances. That’s right: I would take the life of another human being. And I wouldn’t even feel slightly bad about it, and I doubt that you would, either. Why is this? Why is it that we can murder a human being and not feel, at the very least, immoral, much less can feel that it was the most moral thing we could have done? Why is it that you could approach a random person in the street and murder them, and this act would then be judged immoral, but you can murder Hitler and (I imagine most people would agree) the act would be judged moral?

In either case, you’re performing exactly the same act: killing another person. You might hold up a gun, take aim, and pull the trigger, ending the life of the victim—in both examples. But in one, you are moral (or, at the very least, morally neutral) and in one you are immoral.

This fundamental truth (that statements of moral value are subjective, rather than objective) is universally true, even for such contemptable acts as murder and rape. Though we would be hard-pressed to imagine up any scenario in which rape would be considered acceptable, we can do so, no matter how far-fetched that scenario might be. It follows, then, that rape cannot objectively be immoral, as it depends upon other factors and circumstances. Even though such circumstances would be so rare that they are unrealistic, any proclamations that we make that rape is immoral are still dependent upon circumstances that are almost always true.

The problem with moral claims is that they cannot be demonstrated, for the most part, as moral or immoral, because we lack omniscience and can never identify all of the effects of a given cause.

[1] The exact wording is “Musselmen,” which is antiquated term that means “Muslims.”

[2] “Mohammadan,” perhaps?

[3] We are so not going there.