Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What is best in life...

Rawls' famously suggests that persons are free and equal by virtue of their having two 'moral powers'. The first is a sense of justice, understand as:

...the capacity to understand, to apply, and to act from the public conception of justice which characterises the fair terms of social cooperation....a sense of justice also expresses a willingness, if not the desire, to act in relation to others on terms that they also can publicly endorse

Essentially this limits our desire for instituting systems which infringe upon each others liberty...i.e. by allowing power to be concentrated in the hands of a few, or instituting discriminatory practices which leave the worst-off in states of abject poverty for the greater glory of the majority.

The second moral power, is the cacpity to have a conception of the good, or:

...the capacity to form, to revise, and to rationally pursue a conception of one's rational advantage or good.

Essentially we can understand how we form these conceptions as the perennial question, commonly asked of young men on the open steppes: "What is best in life?"

In view of Conan's musings, what are we to say about his fitness as an equal and free person, and the tenability of Rawls' political liberalism (on the open steppes, or elsewhere)? Certainly Conan has a conception of the good: crushing enemies, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of their women. Tick for Conan.

But would Conan publicly endorse his concept of the good as being reasonable? Obviosuly he thinks it is perfectly reasonable from his current position in the social order (sitting on that lovely throne of his). It is debatable, however, whether he would be as keen for slaughter if he didn't know what his position in the social order would be and whether his conception of the good would include the pleasures of pillage. But he might...indeed much like feudal systems of yore, the worst-off in 'Barbarian' society might be strongly resigned to the divine justice of a might-makes-right philosophy. The justice of death at the hands of Conan might be reasonable and rational...but probably not.

In any case, Conan the Barbarian shouldn't be acting as our representative when formulating the social order - atleast if we want Rawls's version of it. In fact putting Conan in a position of any political power would be an act of collective madness. Only a society so enamoured with the reflected glow of the powerful that it wishes for and actively encourages the accumulation of power and wealth in the hands of a small minority would conceive of such a scheme....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Satan's Game

Thought I'd not rant about how the health care saga continue to turn into bizarro world, but rather on something that comes from a place rather closer to my heart.
I'm an avid fan of Jerry "Tycho" Holkins and Mike "Gabe" Krahulik and their long-running comic strip Penny Arcade. Today they linked to a story about a man who attempted to kill two friends of his with a hammer. The story describes how the man apparently got into some form of violent rage, and in the article motive was assigned to two things: 1) a Dungeons and Dragons game gone wrong; and 2) a girl. Horrific to be sure, but mundane in a sense -- people kill each other for much, much less. The story is a month old, the original article reporting financial issues as part of the motive. The guy it seems, has a pretty rough life, is a missionary of some sort, which can be hard on people, and it was claimed completely uncharacteristic of him. Pretty standard really.

What seems to have Holkins incredulous is the apparent blaming of the attack on Dungeons and Dragons. The comments section seems to be following (or preceding, I haven't checked the time stamps rigourously) Holkins' lead. Now, the moral panic over Dungeons and Dragons seems to be a particular piece of American history, and something I'm not personally familiar with (apart from this hilarious depiction). But I can't see the implication. The piece explains that motive was established as involving D&D. That's a correlation, certainly, and there are causal elements to it, but it certainly doesn't follow that the implication is that D&D causes people to bash each other in the head with hammers. What does follow is that this particular individual, by a particular game, was lead to do this. He's still culpable, and it doesn't line D&D up for the burning. If you replaced every instance of D&D with "card," we'd have a poker player gone mad. That's not something we'd blame poker on.

What D&D does cop is its status as an involved game. D&D is an involved pursuit. No more than philosophy (recall Popper and Wittgenstein), football, or finance. I can understand the concern at the future construal of D&D as "Satan's game" considering the events of the past, but I don't believe that this article presented that facet. In fact, the comments seem to indicate that the people most concerned about this are D&D players. The rest of the comments were along the lines of "this guy is a crazy person, chill out!" As to the status quo comment response that follows the line: "I play D&D, I haven't brutalised anyone, therefore D&D doesn't make you brutalise people," -- that doesn't follow either. D&D can lead to you brutalising people. It can be a direct causal factor in leading to someone snapping. How do we know? Because this is the motive established. But it is just that - a motive. It doesn't follow that arguments like the one Langton has used on pornography (more specifically, sexualised violence in pornography).

Why is this of so much interest to me? Because in liberal society we seem to suffer this problem. Hell, forget liberal, as people we suffer from this distinction's nuances tripping us up. As it is, most of my thesis revolves around a non-D&D (unfortuantely, it'd be so much fun to write a thesis on the ethics of gaming) version of this. Scientists claim that they haven't exploited or subjugated a population with science, therefore science doesn't cause this. It may not cause in the sense that it alone creates the disposition to subjugate, but it certainly fulffils a causal process. Its parsing this that interests me, because humans are notoriously bad at cause/correlation and necessary/sufficient distinctions, and we get wrapped in them very easy.

Maybe the article is stating that D&D is once again Satan's game. I don't believe so, I believe it is stating that this person had it as a causal contributor to some pretty horrific stuff. I approach it with the same level of interest that I do science, football and philosophy being causal factors in terrible things. But that's the mens rea. That's what it is all about.


EDIT: My apologies, that's a Legal Fail. Motive and Intent are distinct in modern law, with mens rea covering the latter. Carry on.

Oh, PPS, I'm thinking I'll change the drapes on this site soon. The brown is getting to me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The latest in a string of riciulous moves.

So the picture to the right appeared this morning on Digg. I must say, this little piece of rhetoric from the right has gone beyond the traditional rhetoric of the free market, and into something a little bit more crazy.

The pamphlet is distributed by a lobby group, LaRouche Political Action Comittee. LaRouche has cited that the US health system reforms proposed by Obama and his cabinet are akin to the eugenics programs of the Nazi Party in the lead up to and druing the second world war. Their justification (based on my understanding of this video)

  1. The German eugenics program pre-world war two involved a panel of experts to decide who was clinically unfit to foster the German people.  Obama's new healthcare will be streamlined and rationing decisions will be made by a panel of experts (because of limited resources and a large distribution problems).  The existence of this panel of experts, much like the panel of experts in Hitler's regime means Obama is evidently a facist.
  2. The creation of an independent board of experts to oversee health reforms is beyond congressional oversight, and thus is the sign of a dictator.
Now, if I remember correctly, this board that is being set up is in direct response to republican concern that medical treatments would be distributed by non-professionals.  As it is, although Peter Orszag proposed the new board, he is not on it.  If Ezekiel Emmanuel is on it, his "fascist" tendencies come from a number of articles he's written over the years about the allocation of medical resources when we can't meet all required needs.

Because the market so obviously can meet those needs.

Have a look if you can stomach it.  I'm a bit too busy on this particular day to trawl through all the mindless rhetorical maneuvering that goes on in the video.  The sad thing of it is, most people who see that flier aren't likely to follow it around the webs tracking down what's moving underneath.  Its just another piece of lunacy by those who believe in freedom (TM).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I love drugs

So, I am in the Netherlands, the oft claimed home of drugs and hookers, and was sitting in my room, reading this article from the UK Times about 'love shyness'. In essence, this is supposedly an emergent phenomenon (very very weak epistemological emergence, if you could even call it emergence) whereby a bunch of lonely adult males piss and moan about the fact that they were ten years old when had their last girlfriend. Observe:

John has been in love. “Probably just the once. When I was 10 there was this girl I really liked. She was younger than me, so when I went to secondary school I lost contact with her and never saw her again.” He has an enduring memory of playing outside with the girl, and of the sun slowly going down, and never feeling happier. In fantasy he often takes the memory further and, imagining himself as a child again, he kisses her.

Now, this is clearly indicative of some deep seated emotional abnormality, and I don't mean to be cold hearted and lacking empathy when thinking about this - clearly I read this article for a reason, and if I am in a culture renowned for its liberal approach social norms yet sitting inside and reading newspaper articles, I think it safe to say that I am not the most successful pants-man who strode the earth. But then I read this section, and my humour and cynicism and bitterness returned:

Seb says the first step to getting better is recognising that something is wrong and the label helps with that. “I believe LS can be overcome,” he says, “but it’s a long, hard road.”

There are drugs to treat shyness, mainstream antidepressants such as Paxil. But the many possible side-effects include sweating, nausea, lowered libido and suicidal tendencies

Nice. You want to treat a problem that has depression and sexual relations central to it, by application of medications known to lower libido and increase suicidal tendencies? And make the people sweaty and nauseous while on dates? Nice thinking, arse-clown. Maybe just force these guys to smoke Ice and give them a handgun. Might solve their problems, sure it might also have some negative side effects, but hey, as long as we're helping these people, who cares what happens to them.

Which brings me to the vague point of these ramblings - that labelling of socially non-standard behaviour dances easily to the music of medicalization, which as i'm sure we all know is perhaps not the best solution to a given set of problems: I'm lonely, cold inside and my last girlfriend was an eight year-old, twenty-two years ago. Clearly I need drugs to find love.

The words 'parasite' and 'exploitation' seem to bounce around in my head for some strange reason.