• Moral Dilemmas

    One reason I like science is that there is always one answer.  We might not know the answer, we might be wrong about what the answer is, but there is one and only one answer.  How do organisms adapt to changing environmental conditions?  What are the effects of a warming Earth? What processes are most effective for producing clean energy?

    These all have straight forward answers.  Oh, they might not be the answers people want to hear, but they have simple straight forward answers.  It’s easy to do a cost, pollution, energy, comparison for various power plants.  If there’s a little wiggle room, then there’s a little choice.  Maybe one is better in the Arizona desert, while another is better near the Bay of Fundy.

    Humans though… when you put humans into the equation, you might as well throw the pad into the trash. We can talk about energy and entropy and irreversible reactions, but to really fuck things up, you have to get humans involved.

    I know some people will disagree with here, but I do think that there are decisions involving humans that are fundamentally unable to be solved.  Some people think that they are easy and straight forward, but others disagree.  And that’s the problem.

    You can’t just plug a bunch of numbers into a calculator and determine which one is better.  Even the positions I tend to advocate are not perfect.  If they were, then everyone would have moved to those positions long ago.

    There’s a reason I advocate for certain positions.  In my experience and research and calculations, those positions make the world a little bit better than they would be with another position chosen.  But it’s still not that easy.

    One of my favorite literary characters is an undead general, hundreds of thousands of years old.  She was offered godhood and turned it down. She’s forgotten more about magic, technology, and war than everyone else on the planet will ever know.  She said something very profound.

    I shook my head. “I don’t see how it is that the defender starts the war.”

    “It isn’t that complicated. The attacker doesn’t want war. The attacker wants to conquer. If the defender would simply allow him to do so there would be no war.”

    “Uh… Sethra, I think there’s something wrong with your logic.”

    “No,” she said. “There isn’t.  It’s counterintuitive, but it isn’t wrong.”[1]

    Do you want a war or do you want to be conquered?  In this case, the answer is almost always war (of some kind or another).  There are people who advocate peace at any price.  There are those who advocate war for any slight, real or imagined.  There are those willing to fight and die for their beliefs and for their morality.

    Are any of them wrong?

    Are any of them right?

    Human morality reminds me a bit of tht old saying about quantum mechanics.  “If you think you understand it, then you really don’t understand it.”

    There are those who feel that we should take away all the guns.  They are dangerous. People die.  And that’s fair.  I can see that argument.  On the other side are those who say it’s a personal right to keep guns.  They are used for self-defense and are written into the highest law of our land.  I can see that argument too.  Who’s right?  Is one death from a firearm accident one too many?  Or is it just an accident with something that’s inherently dangerous?

    There are those who feel we should legalize drugs.  It’s a personal right. People should be allowed to do what they want. The government is wasting money when it could be making money from drugs. I can see that.  There are those who feel drugs should continue to be illegal.  They are dangerous.  People die from ODs.  Children are orphaned due to drugs.  People on certain drugs are unpredictable and dangerous.  I can see that too.  Who’s right?  Is one death, one orphaned kid too many?  Or is it just the price of the freedom to fuck yourself up?

    I could go on and on.  Let me say that this is not an argument for or against guns or drugs or anything else.  This is merely an expression of how I see complicated affairs.

    That’s the danger of skepticism, you must actually look at both sides of the argument.  It’s hard and it sucks to have your opinion questioned.  It sucks to have to take your closely held belief and really think about what someone who is against you says.  It really sucks to go back to those people that you supported (or support you) and say, “you know, I think I was wrong about this”.

    That being said, I prefer it to the bliss of ignorance. I would rather have thought about my position… even if I can’t decide which position to take (sometimes, I just invent a new position, just to piss off everyone I know)… than blindly follow anyone or anything.

    I really don’t like talking about things about which I am ignorant.  One reason I don’t enjoy talking about people.  I don’t grok people very well. I can’t understand someone who lies on public television, to millions of people who know it’s a lie and point it out again and again.  I can’t understand someone who thinks everyone who disagrees with them is a moron, unworthy of polite consideration (this includes a few ‘skeptics’ I’m aware of). I can’t understand why people do the things that they do based on skin color, beliefs, gender, or any of a thousand other meaningless traits.

    These kinds of decisions are going to be unfair for someone, somehow.  I wish I didn’t have to make decisions that are always going to make someone mad.  But we do.  And that’s something I think we really have to understand.

    Someone is always going to be dissatisfied with a decision or a position.  We, as humans, can only do what we can do.  We aren’t going to make everyone happy and we have to decide what group is going to be unhappy.

    The one advantage we have, as skeptics, is that we at least make decisions with all the evidence (or as much as it is possible to get). We’ll never convince everyone our decision or position is right, because not everyone uses logic and reason.  Even if they did, I still think there would be different conclusions from the same data.

    It’s no comfort to the people who are about to get the short end of the stick, but at least we can live with ourselves.  That and our willingness to say, “I was wrong.”

    I truly fear the people who don’t think about their decisions.


    [1] excerpt from Dragon (Vlad)
    Though if you want to read the series, start with this The Book of Jhereg

    Category: CultureSkepticismSociety


    Article by: Smilodon's Retreat